Part 3 out of 5
Then the Abbe told the whole story as Lucien had told it to him--the
misery of the journey, the troubles of the last days in Paris. He
described the poet's agony of mind when he heard of the havoc wrought
at home by his imprudence, and his apprehension as to the reception
awaiting him at Angouleme.
"He has doubts of us; has it come to this?" said Mme. Chardon.
"The unhappy young man has come back to you on foot, enduring the most
terrible hardships by the way; he is prepared to enter the humblest
walks in life--if so he may make reparation."
"Monsieur," Lucien's sister said, "in spite of the wrong he has done
us, I love my brother still, as we love the dead body when the soul
has left it; and even so, I love him more than many sisters love their
brothers. He has made us poor indeed; but let him come to us, he shall
share the last crust of bread, anything indeed that he has left us.
Oh, if he had never left us, monsieur, we should not have lost our
"And the woman who took him from us brought him back on her carriage!"
exclaimed Mme. Chardon. "He went away sitting by Mme. de Bargeton's
side in her caleche, and he came back behind it."
"Can I do anything for you?" asked the good cure, seeking an
opportunity to take leave.
"A wound in the purse is not fatal, they say, monsieur," said Mme.
Chardon, "but the patient must be his own doctor."
"If you have sufficient influence with my father-in-law to induce him
to help his son, you would save a whole family," said Eve.
"He has no belief in you, and he seemed to me to be very much
exasperated against your husband," answered the old cure. He retained
an impression, from the ex-pressman's rambling talk, that the
Sechards' affairs were a kind of wasps' nest with which it was
imprudent to meddle, and his mission being fulfilled, he went to dine
with his nephew Postel. That worthy, like the rest of Angouleme,
maintained that the father was in the right, and soon dissipated any
little benevolence that the old gentleman was disposed to feel towards
the son and his family.
"With those that squander money something may be done," concluded
little Postel, "but those that make experiments are the ruin of you."
The cure went home; his curiosity was thoroughly satisfied, and this
is the end and object of the exceeding interest taken in other
people's business in the provinces. In the course of the evening the
poet was duly informed of all that had passed in the Sechard family,
and the journey was represented as a pilgrimage undertaken from
motives of the purest charity.
"You have run your brother-in-law and sister into debt to the amount
of ten or twelve thousand francs," said the Abbe as he drew to an end,
"and nobody hereabouts has that trifling amount to lend a neighbor, my
dear sir. We are not rich in Angoumois. When you spoke to me of your
bills, I thought that a much smaller amount was involved."
Lucien thanked the old man for his good offices. "The promise of
forgiveness which you have brought is for me a priceless gift."
Very early the next morning Lucien set out from Marsac, and reached
Angouleme towards nine o'clock. He carried nothing but his
walking-stick; the short jacket that he wore was considerably the worst
for his journey, his black trousers were whitened with dust, and a pair
of worn boots told sufficiently plainly that their owner belonged to the
hapless tribe of tramps. He knew well enough that the contrast between
his departure and return was bound to strike his fellow-townsmen; he
did not try to hide the fact from himself. But just then, with his
heart swelling beneath the oppression of remorse awakened in him by
the old cure's story, he accepted his punishment for the moment, and
made up his mind to brave the eyes of his acquaintances. Within
himself he said, "I am behaving heroically."
Poetic temperaments of this stamp begin as their own dupes. He walked
up through L'Houmeau, shame at the manner of his return struggling
with the charm of old associations as he went. His heart beat quickly
as he passed Postel's shop; but, very luckily for him, the only
persons inside it were Leonie and her child. And yet, vanity was still
so strong in him, that he could feel glad that his father's name had
been painted out on the shop-front; for Postel, since his marriage,
had redecorated his abode, and the word "Pharmacy" now alone appeared
there, in the Paris fashion, in big letters.
When Lucien reached the steps by the Palet Gate, he felt the influence
of his native air, his misfortunes no longer weighed upon him. "I
shall see them again!" he said to himself, with a thrill of delight.
He reached the Place du Murier, and had not met a soul, a piece of
luck that he scarcely hoped for, he who once had gone about his native
place with a conqueror's air. Marion and Kolb, on guard at the door,
flew out upon the steps, crying out, "Here he is!"
Lucien saw the familiar workshop and courtyard, and on the staircase
met his mother and sister, and for a moment, while their arms were
about him, all three almost forgot their troubles. In family life we
almost always compound with our misfortunes; we make a sort of bed to
rest upon; and, if it is hard, hope to make it tolerable. If Lucien
looked the picture of despair, poetic charm was not wanting to the
picture. His face had been tanned by the sunlight of the open road,
and the deep sadness visible in his features overshadowed his poet's
brow. The change in him told so plainly of sufferings endured, his
face was so worn by sharp misery, that no one could help pitying him.
Imagination had fared forth into the world and found sad reality at
the home-coming. Eve was smiling in the midst of her joy, as the
saints smile upon martyrdom. The face of a young and very fair woman
grows sublimely beautiful at the touch of grief; Lucien remembered the
innocent girlish face that he saw last before he went to Paris, and
the look of gravity that had come over it spoke so eloquently that he
could not but feel a painful impression. The first quick, natural
outpouring of affection was followed at once by a reaction on either
side; they were afraid to speak; and when Lucien almost involuntarily
looked round for another who should have been there, Eve burst into
tears, and Lucien did the same, but Mme. Chardon's haggard face showed
no sign of emotion. Eve rose to her feet and went downstairs, partly
to spare her brother a word of reproach, partly to speak to Marion.
"Lucien is so fond of strawberries, child, we must find some
strawberries for him."
"Oh, I was sure that you would want to welcome M. Lucien; you shall
have a nice little breakfast and a good dinner, too."
"Lucien," said Mme. Chardon when the mother and son were left alone,
"you have a great deal to repair here. You went away that we all might
be proud of you; you have plunged us into want. You have all but
destroyed your brother's opportunity of making a fortune that he only
cared to win for the sake of his new family. Nor is this all that you
have destroyed----" said the mother.
There was a dreadful pause; Lucien took his mother's reproaches in
"Now begin to work," Mme. Chardon went on more gently. "You tried to
revive the noble family of whom I come; I do not blame you for it. But
the man who undertakes such a task needs money above all things, and
must bear a high heart in him; both were wanting in your case. We
believed in you once, our belief has been shaken. This was a
hard-working, contented household, making its way with difficulty; you
have troubled their peace. The first offence may be forgiven, but it
must be the last. We are in a very difficult position here; you must be
careful, and take your sister's advice, Lucien. The school of trouble
is a very hard one, but Eve has learned much by her lessons; she has
grown grave and thoughtful, she is a mother. In her devotion to our
dear David she has taken all the family burdens upon herself; indeed,
through your wrongdoing she has come to be my only comfort."
"You might be still more severe, my mother," Lucien said, as he kissed
her. "I accept your forgiveness, for I will not need it a second
Eve came into the room, saw her brother's humble attitude, and knew
that he had been forgiven. Her kindness brought a smile for him to her
lips, and Lucien answered with tear-filled eyes. A living presence
acts like a charm, changing the most hostile positions of lovers or of
families, no matter how just the resentment. Is it that affection
finds out the ways of the heart, and we love to fall into them again?
Does the phenomenon come within the province of the science of
magnetism? Or is it reason that tells us that we must either forgive
or never see each other again? Whether the cause be referred to
mental, physical, or spiritual conditions, everyone knows the effect;
every one has felt that the looks, the actions or gestures of the
beloved awaken some vestige of tenderness in those most deeply sinned
against and grievously wronged. Though it is hard for the mind to
forget, though we still smart under the injury, the heart returns to
its allegiance in spite of all. Poor Eve listened to her brother's
confidences until breakfast-time; and whenever she looked at him she
was no longer mistress of her eyes; in that intimate talk she could
not control her voice. And with the comprehension of the conditions of
literary life in Paris, she understood that the struggle had been too
much for Lucien's strength. The poet's delight as he caressed his
sister's child, his deep grief over David's absence, mingled with joy
at seeing his country and his own folk again, the melancholy words
that he let fall,--all these things combined to make that day a
festival. When Marion brought in the strawberries, he was touched to
see that Eve had remembered his taste in spite of her distress, and
she, his sister, must make ready a room for the prodigal brother and
busy herself for Lucien. It was a truce, as it were, to misery. Old
Sechard himself assisted to bring about this revulsion of feeling in
the two women--"You are making as much of him as if he were bringing
you any amount of money!"
"And what has my brother done that we should not make much of him?"
cried Eve, jealously screening Lucien.
Nevertheless, when the first expansion was over, shades of truth came
out. It was not long before Lucien felt the difference between the old
affection and the new. Eve respected David from the depths of her
heart; Lucien was beloved for his own sake, as we love a mistress
still in spite of the disasters she causes. Esteem, the very
foundation on which affection is based, is the solid stuff to which
affection owes I know not what of certainty and security by which we
live; and this was lacking between Mme. Chardon and her son, between
the sister and the brother. Mother and daughter did not put entire
confidence in him, as they would have done if he had not lost his
honor; and he felt this. The opinion expressed in d'Arthez's letter
was Eve's own estimate of her brother; unconsciously she revealed it
by her manner, tones, and gestures. Oh! Lucien was pitied, that was
true; but as for all that he had been, the pride of the household, the
great man of the family, the hero of the fireside,--all this, like
their fair hopes of him, was gone, never to return. They were so
afraid of his heedlessness that he was not told where David was
hidden. Lucien wanted to see his brother; but this Eve, insensible to
the caresses which accompanied his curious questionings, was not the
Eve of L'Houmeau, for whom a glance from him had been an order that
must be obeyed. When Lucien spoke of making reparation, and talked as
though he could rescue David, Eve only answered:
"Do not interfere; we have enemies of the most treacherous and
Lucien tossed his head, as one who should say, "I have measured myself
against Parisians," and the look in his sister's eyes said
unmistakably, "Yes, but you were defeated."
"Nobody cares for me now," Lucien thought. "In the home circle, as in
the world without, success is a necessity."
The poet tried to explain their lack of confidence in him; he had not
been at home two days before a feeling of vexation rather than of
angry bitterness gained hold on him. He applied Parisian standards to
the quiet, temperate existence of the provinces, quite forgetting that
the narrow, patient life of the household was the result of his own
"They are _bourgeoises_, they cannot understand me," he said, setting
himself apart from his sister and mother and David, now that they
could no longer be deceived as to his real character and his future.
Many troubles and shocks of fortune had quickened the intuitive sense
in both the women. Eve and Mme. Chardon guessed the thoughts in
Lucien's inmost soul; they felt that he misjudged them; they saw him
mentally isolating himself.
"Paris has changed him very much," they said between themselves. They
were indeed reaping the harvest of egoism which they themselves had
It was inevitable but that the leaven should work in all three; and
this most of all in Lucien, because he felt that he was so heavily to
blame. As for Eve, she was just the kind of sister to beg an erring
brother to "Forgive me for your trespasses;" but when the union of two
souls had been as perfect since life's very beginnings, as it had been
with Eve and Lucien, any blow dealt to that fair ideal is fatal.
Scoundrels can draw knives on each other and make it up again
afterwards, while a look or a word is enough to sunder two lovers for
ever. In the recollection of an almost perfect life of heart and heart
lies the secret of many an estrangement that none can explain. Two may
live together without full trust in their hearts if only their past
holds no memories of complete and unclouded love; but for those who
once have known that intimate life, it becomes intolerable to keep
perpetual watch over looks and words. Great poets know this; Paul and
Virginie die before youth is over; can we think of Paul and Virginie
estranged? Let us know that, to the honor of Lucien and Eve, the grave
injury done was not the source of the pain; it was entirely a matter
of feeling upon either side, for the poet in fault, as for the sister
who was in no way to blame. Things had reached the point when the
slightest misunderstanding, or little quarrel, or a fresh
disappointment in Lucien would end in final estrangement. Money
difficulties may be arranged, but feelings are inexorable.
Next day Lucien received a copy of the local paper. He turned pale
with pleasure when he saw his name at the head of one of the first
"leaders" in that highly respectable sheet, which like the provincial
academies that Voltaire compared to a well-bred miss, was never talked
"Let Franche-Comte boast of giving the light to Victor Hugo, to
Charles Nodier, and Cuvier," ran the article, "Brittany of
producing a Chateaubriand and a Lammenais, Normandy of Casimir
Delavigne, and Touraine of the author of _Eloa_; Angoumois that
gave birth, in the days of Louis XIII., to our illustrious
fellow-countryman Guez, better known under the name of Balzac,
our Angoumois need no longer envy Limousin her Dupuytren, nor
Auvergne, the country of Montlosier, nor Bordeaux, birthplace of
so many great men; for we too have our poet!--The writer of the
beautiful sonnets entitled the _Marguerites_ unites his poet's fame
to the distinction of a prose writer, for to him we also owe the
magnificent romance of _The Archer of Charles IX._ Some day our
nephews will be proud to be the fellow-townsmen of Lucien Chardon,
a rival of Petrarch!!!"
(The country newspapers of those days were sown with notes of
admiration, as reports of English election speeches are studded with
"cheers" in brackets.)
"In spite of his brilliant success in Paris, our young poet has
not forgotten the Hotel de Bargeton, the cradle of his triumphs;
nor the fact that the wife of M. le Comte du Chatelet, our
Prefect, encouraged his early footsteps in the pathway of the
Muses. He has come back among us once more! All L'Houmeau was
thrown into excitement yesterday by the appearance of our Lucien
de Rubempre. The news of his return produced a profound sensation
throughout the town. Angouleme certainly will not allow L'Houmeau
to be beforehand in doing honor to the poet who in journalism and
literature has so gloriously represented our town in Paris. Lucien
de Rubempre, a religious and Royalist poet, has braved the fury of
parties; he has come home, it is said, for repose after the
fatigue of a struggle which would try the strength of an even
greater intellectual athlete than a poet and a dreamer.
"There is some talk of restoring our great poet to the title of
the illustrious house of de Rubempre, of which his mother, Madame
Chardon, is the last survivor, and it is added that Mme. la
Comtesse du Chatelet was the first to think of this eminently
politic idea. The revival of an ancient and almost extinct family
by young talent and newly won fame is another proof that the
immortal author of the Charter still cherishes the desire
expressed by the words 'Union and oblivion.'
"Our poet is staying with his sister, Mme. Sechard."
Under the heading "Angouleme" followed some items of news:--
"Our Prefect, M. le Comte du Chatelet, Gentleman in Ordinary to
His Majesty, has just been appointed Extraordinary Councillor of
"All the authorities called yesterday on M. le Prefet.
"Mme. la Comtesse du Chatelet will receive on Thursdays.
"The Mayor of Escarbas, M. de Negrepelisse, the representative of
the younger branch of the d'Espard family, and father of Mme. du
Chatelet, recently raised to the rank of a Count and Peer of
France and a Commander of the Royal Order of St. Louis, has been
nominated for the presidency of the electoral college of Angouleme
at the forthcoming elections."
"There!" said Lucien, taking the paper to his sister. Eve read the
article with attention, and returned with the sheet with a thoughtful
"What do you say to that?" asked he, surprised at a reserve that
seemed so like indifference.
"The Cointets are proprietors of that paper, dear," she said; "they
put in exactly what they please, and it is not at all likely that the
prefecture or the palace have forced their hands. Can you imagine that
your old rival the prefect would be generous enough to sing your
praises? Have you forgotten that the Cointets are suing us under
Metivier's name? and that they are trying to turn David's discovery to
their own advantage? I do not know the source of this paragraph, but
it makes me uneasy. You used to rouse nothing but envious feeling and
hatred here; a prophet has no honor in his own country, and they
slandered you, and now in a moment it is all changed----"
"You do not know the vanity of country towns," said Lucien. "A whole
little town in the south turned out not so long ago to welcome a young
man that had won the first prize in some competition; they looked on
him as a budding great man."
"Listen, dear Lucien; I do not want to preach to you, I will say
everything in a very few words--you must suspect every little thing
"You are right," said Lucien, but he was surprised at his sister's
lack of enthusiasm. He himself was full of delight to find his
humiliating and shame-stricken return to Angouleme changed into a
triumph in this way.
"You have no belief in the little fame that has cost so dear!" he said
again after a long silence. Something like a storm had been gathering
in his heart during the past hour. For all answer Eve gave him a look,
and Lucien felt ashamed of his accusation.
Dinner was scarcely over when a messenger came from the prefecture
with a note addressed to M. Chardon. That note appeared to decide the
day for the poet's vanity; the world contending against the family for
him had won.
"M. le Comte Sixte du Chatelet and Mme. la Comtesse du Chatelet
request the honor of M. Lucien Chardon's company at dinner on the
fifteenth of September. R. S. V. P."
Enclosed with the invitation there was a card--
LE COMTE SIXTE DU CHATELET,
Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Prefect of the Charente,
Councillor of State.
"You are in favor," said old Sechard; "they are talking about you in
the town as if you were somebody! Angouleme and L'Houmeau are
disputing as to which shall twist wreaths for you."
"Eve, dear," Lucien whispered to his sister, "I am exactly in the same
condition as I was before in L'Houmeau when Mme. de Bargeton sent me
the first invitation--I have not a dress suit for the prefect's
"Do you really mean to accept the invitation?" Eve asked in alarm, and
a dispute sprang up between the brother and sister. Eve's provincial
good sense told her that if you appear in society, it must be with a
smiling face and faultless costume. "What will come of the prefect's
dinner?" she wondered. "What has Lucien to do with the great people of
Angouleme? Are they plotting something against him?" but she kept
these thoughts to herself.
Lucien spoke the last word at bedtime: "You do not know my influence.
The prefect's wife stands in fear of a journalist; and besides, Louise
de Negrepelisse lives on in the Comtesse du Chatelet, and a woman with
her influence can rescue David. I am going to tell her about my
brother's invention, and it would be a mere nothing to her to obtain a
subsidy of ten thousand francs from the Government for him."
At eleven o'clock that night the whole household was awakened by the
town band, reinforced by the military band from the barracks. The
Place du Murier was full of people. The young men of Angouleme were
giving Lucien Chardon de Rubempre a serenade. Lucien went to his
sister's window and made a speech after the last performance.
"I thank my fellow-townsmen for the honor that they do me," he said in
the midst of a great silence; "I will strive to be worthy of it; they
will pardon me if I say no more; I am so much moved by this incident
that I cannot speak."
"Hurrah for the writer of _The Archer of Charles IX._! . . . Hurrah for
the poet of the _Marguerites_! . . . Long live Lucien de Rubempre!"
After these three salvos, taken up by some few voices, three crowns
and a quantity of bouquets were adroitly flung into the room through
the open window. Ten minutes later the Place du Murier was empty, and
silence prevailed in the streets.
"I would rather have ten thousand francs," said old Sechard, fingering
the bouquets and garlands with a satirical expression. "You gave them
daisies, and they give you posies in return; you deal in flowers."
"So that is your opinion of the honors shown me by my fellow-townsmen,
is it?" asked Lucien. All his melancholy had left him, his face was
radiant with good humor. "If you knew mankind, Papa Sechard, you would
see that no moment in one's life comes twice. Such a triumph as this
can only be due to genuine enthusiasm! . . . My dear mother, my good
sister, this wipes out many mortifications."
Lucien kissed them; for when joy overflows like a torrent flood, we
are fain to pour it out into a friend's heart. "When an author is
intoxicated with success, he will hug his porter if there is nobody
else on hand," according to Bixiou.
"Why, darling, why are you crying?" he said, looking into Eve's face.
"Ah! I know, you are crying for joy!"
"Oh me!" said her mother, shaking her head as she spoke. "Lucien has
forgotten everything already; not merely his own troubles, but ours as
Mother and daughter separated, and neither dared to utter all her
In a country eaten up with the kind of social insubordination
disguised by the word Equality, a triumph of any kind whatsoever is a
sort of miracle which requires, like some other miracles for that
matter, the co-operation of skilled labor. Out of ten ovations offered
to ten living men, selected for this distinction by a grateful
country, you may be quite sure that nine are given from considerations
connected as remotely as possible with the conspicuous merits of the
renowned recipient. What was Voltaire's apotheosis at the
Theatre-Francais but the triumph of eighteenth century philosophy? A
triumph in France means that everybody else feels that he is adorning
his own temples with the crown that he sets on the idol's head.
The women's presentiments proved correct. The distinguished
provincial's reception was antipathetic to Angoumoisin immobility; it
was too evidently got up by some interested persons or by enthusiastic
stage mechanics, a suspicious combination. Eve, moreover, like most of
her sex, was distrustful by instinct, even when reason failed to
justify her suspicions to herself. "Who can be so fond of Lucien that
he could rouse the town for him?" she wondered as she fell asleep.
"The _Marguerites_ are not published yet; how can they compliment him on
a future success?"
The ovation was, in fact, the work of Petit-Claud.
Petit-Claud had dined with Mme. de Senonches, for the first time, on
the evening of the day that brought the cure of Marsac to Angouleme
with the news of Lucien's return. That same evening he made formal
application for the hand of Mlle. de la Haye. It was a family dinner,
one of the solemn occasions marked not so much by the number of the
guests as by the splendor of their toilettes. Consciousness of the
performance weighs upon the family party, and every countenance looks
significant. Francoise was on exhibition. Mme. de Senonches had
sported her most elaborate costume for the occasion; M. du Hautoy wore
a black coat; M. de Senonches had returned from his visit to the
Pimentels on the receipt of a note from his wife, informing him that
Mme. du Chatelet was to appear at their house for the first time since
her arrival, and that a suitor in form for Francoise would appear on
the scenes. Boniface Cointet also was there, in his best maroon coat
of clerical cut, with a diamond pin worth six thousand francs
displayed in his shirt frill--the revenge of the rich merchant upon a
Petit-Claud himself, scoured and combed, had carefully removed his
gray hairs, but he could not rid himself of his wizened air. The puny
little man of law, tightly buttoned into his clothes, reminded you of
a torpid viper; for if hope had brought a spark of life into his
magpie eyes, his face was icily rigid, and so well did he assume an
air of gravity, that an ambitious public prosecutor could not have
been more dignified.
Mme. de Senonches had told her intimate friends that her ward would
meet her betrothed that evening, and that Mme. du Chatelet would
appear at the Hotel de Senonches for the first time; and having
particularly requested them to keep these matters secret, she expected
to find her rooms crowded. The Comte and Comtesse du Chatelet had left
cards everywhere officially, but they meant the honor of a personal
visit to play a part in their policy. So aristocratic Angouleme was in
such a prodigious ferment of curiosity, that certain of the Chandour
camp proposed to go to the Hotel de Bargeton that evening. (They
persistently declined to call the house by its new name.)
Proofs of the Countess' influence had stirred up ambition in many
quarters; and not only so, it was said that the lady had changed so
much for the better that everybody wished to see and judge for
himself. Petit-Claud learned great news on the way to the house;
Cointet told him that Zephirine had asked leave to present her dear
Francoise's betrothed to the Countess, and that the Countess had
granted the favor. Petit-Claud had seen at once that Lucien's return
put Louise de Negrepelisse in a false position; and now, in a moment,
he flattered himself that he saw a way to take advantage of it.
M. and Mme. de Senonches had undertaken such heavy engagements when
they bought the house, that, in provincial fashion, they thought it
imprudent to make any changes in it. So when Madame du Chatelet was
announced, Zephirine went up to her with--"Look, dear Louise, you are
still in your old home!" indicating, as she spoke, the little
chandelier, the paneled wainscot, and the furniture, which once had
"I wish least of all to remember it, dear," Madame la Prefete answered
graciously, looking round on the assemblage.
Every one admitted that Louise de Negrepelisse was not like the same
woman. If the provincial had undergone a change, the woman herself had
been transformed by those eighteen months in Paris, by the first
happiness of a still recent second marriage, and the kind of dignity
that power confers. The Comtesse du Chatelet bore the same resemblance
to Mme. de Bargeton that a girl of twenty bears to her mother.
She wore a charming cap of lace and flowers, fastened by a
diamond-headed pin; the ringlets that half hid the contours of her face
added to her look of youth, and suited her style of beauty. Her foulard
gown, designed by the celebrated Victorine, with a pointed bodice,
exquisitely fringed, set off her figure to advantage; and a silken
lace scarf, adroitly thrown about a too long neck, partly concealed
her shoulders. She played with the dainty scent-bottle, hung by a
chain from her bracelet; she carried her fan and her handkerchief with
ease--pretty trifles, as dangerous as a sunken reef for the provincial
dame. The refined taste shown in the least details, the carriage and
manner modeled upon Mme. d'Espard, revealed a profound study of the
As for the elderly beau of the Empire, he seemed since his marriage to
have followed the example of the species of melon that turns from
green to yellow in a night. All the youth that Sixte had lost seemed
to appear in his wife's radiant countenance; provincial pleasantries
passed from ear to ear, circulating the more readily because the women
were furious at the new superiority of the sometime queen of
Angouleme; and the persistent intruder paid the penalty of his wife's
The rooms were almost as full as on that memorable evening of Lucien's
readings from Chenier. Some faces were missing: M. de Chandour and
Amelie, M. de Pimental and the Rastignacs--and M. de Bargeton was no
longer there; but the Bishop came, as before, with his vicars-general
in his train. Petit-Claud was much impressed by the sight of the great
world of Angouleme. Four months ago he had no hope of entering the
circle, to-day he felt his detestation of "the classes" sensibly
diminished. He thought the Comtesse du Chatelet a most fascinating
woman. "It is she who can procure me the appointment of deputy public
prosecutor," he said to himself.
Louise chatted for an equal length of time with each of the women; her
tone varied with the importance of the person addressed and the
position taken up by the latter with regard to her journey to Paris
with Lucien. The evening was half over when she withdrew to the
boudoir with the Bishop. Zephirine came over to Petit-Claud, and laid
her hand on his arm. His heart beat fast as his hostess brought him to
the room where Lucien's troubles first began, and were now about to
come to a crisis.
"This is M. Petit-Claud, dear; I recommend him to you the more warmly
because anything that you may do for him will doubtless benefit my
"You are an attorney, are you not, monsieur?" said the august
Negrepelisse, scanning Petit-Claud.
"Alas! yes, _Madame la Comtesse_." (The son of the tailor in L'Houmeau
had never once had occasion to use those three words in his life
before, and his mouth was full of them.) "But it rests with you,
Madame la Comtesse, whether or no I shall act for the Crown. M. Milaud
is going to Nevers, it is said----"
"But a man is usually second deputy and then first deputy, is he not?"
broke in the Countess. "I should like to see you in the first deputy's
place at once. But I should like first to have some assurance of your
devotion to the cause of our legitimate sovereigns, to religion, and
more especially to M. de Villele, if I am to interest myself on your
behalf to obtain the favor."
Petit-Claud came nearer. "Madame," he said in her ear, "I am the man
to yield the King absolute obedience."
"That is just what _we_ want to-day," said the Countess, drawing back a
little to make him understand that she had no wish for promises given
under his breath. "So long as you satisfy Mme. de Senonches, you can
count upon me," she added, with a royal movement of her fan.
Petit-Claud looked toward the door of the boudoir, and saw Cointet
standing there. "Madame," he said, "Lucien is here, in Angouleme."
"Well, sir?" asked the Countess, in tones that would have put an end
to all power of speech in an ordinary man.
"Mme. la Comtesse does not understand," returned Petit-Claud, bringing
out that most respectful formula again. "How does Mme. la Comtesse
wish that the great man of her making should be received in Angouleme?
There is no middle course; he must be received or despised here."
This was a dilemma to which Louise de Negrepelisse had never given a
thought; it touched her closely, yet rather for the sake of the past
than of the future. And as for Petit-Claud, his plan for arresting
David Sechard depended upon the lady's actual feelings towards Lucien.
"M. Petit-Claud," said the Countess, with haughty dignity, "you mean
to be on the side of the Government. Learn that the first principle of
government is this--never to have been in the wrong, and that the
instinct of power and the sense of dignity is even stronger in women
than in governments."
"That is just what I thought, madame," he answered quickly, observing
the Countess meanwhile with attention the more profound because it was
scarcely visible. "Lucien came here in the depths of misery. But if he
must receive an ovation, I can compel him to leave Angouleme by the
means of the ovation itself. His sister and brother-in-law, David
Sechard, are hard pressed for debts."
In the Countess' haughty face there was a swift, barely perceptible
change; it was not satisfaction, but the repression of satisfaction.
Surprised that Petit-Claud should have guessed her wishes, she gave
him a glance as she opened her fan, and Francoise de la Haye's
entrance at that moment gave her time to find an answer.
"It will not be long before you are public prosecutor, monsieur," she
said, with a significant smile. That speech did not commit her in any
way, but it was explicit enough. Francoise had come in to thank the
"Oh! madame, then I shall owe the happiness of my life to you," she
exclaimed, bending girlishly to add in the Countess' ear, "To marry a
petty provincial attorney would be like being burned by slow fires."
It was Francis, with his knowledge of officialdom, who had prompted
Zephirine to make this set upon Louise.
"In the very earliest days after promotion," so the ex-consul-general
told his fair friend, "everybody, prefect, or monarch, or man of
business, is burning to exert his influence for his friends; but a
patron soon finds out the inconveniences of patronage, and then turns
from fire to ice. Louise will do more now for Petit-Claud than she
would do for her husband in three months' time."
"Madame la Comtesse is thinking of all that our poet's triumph
entails?" continued Petit-Claud. "She should receive Lucien before
there is an end of the nine-days' wonder."
The Countess terminated the audience with a bow, and rose to speak
with Mme. de Pimentel, who came to the boudoir. The news of old
Negrepelisse's elevation to a marquisate had greatly impressed the
Marquise; she judged it expedient to be amiable to a woman so clever
as to rise the higher for an apparent fall.
"Do tell me, dear, why you took the trouble to put your father in the
House of Peers?" said the Marquise, in the course of a little
confidential conversation, in which she bent the knee before the
superiority of "her dear Louise."
"They were all the more ready to grant the favor because my father has
no son to succeed him, dear, and his vote will always be at the
disposal of the Crown; but if we should have sons, I quite expect that
my oldest will succeed to his grandfather's name, title, and peerage."
Mme. de Pimentel saw, to her annoyance, that it was idle to expect a
mother ambitious for children not yet in existence to further her own
private designs of raising M. de Pimentel to a peerage.
"I have the Countess," Petit-Claud told Cointet when they came away.
"I can promise you your partnership. I shall be deputy prosecutor
before the month is out, and Sechard will be in your power. Try to
find a buyer for my connection; it has come to be the first in
Angouleme in my hands during the last five months----"
"Once put _you_ on the horse, and there is no need to do more," said
Cointet, half jealous of his own work.
The causes of Lucien's triumphant reception in his native town must
now be plain to everybody. Louise du Chatelet followed the example of
that King of France who left the Duke of Orleans unavenged; she chose
to forget the insults received in Paris by Mme. de Bargeton. She would
patronize Lucien, and overwhelming him with her patronage, would
completely crush him and get rid of him by fair means. Petit-Claud
knew the whole tale of the cabals in Paris through town gossip, and
shrewdly guessed how a woman must hate the man who would not love when
she was fain of his love.
The ovation justified the past of Louise de Negrepelisse. The next day
Petit-Claud appeared at Mme. Sechard's house, heading a deputation of
six young men of the town, all of them Lucien's schoolfellows. He
meant to finish his work, to intoxicate Lucien completely, and to have
him in his power. Lucien's old schoolfellows at the Angouleme
grammar-school wished to invite the author of the _Marguerites_ and
_The Archer of Charles IX._ to a banquet given in honor of the great
man arisen from their ranks.
"Come, this is your doing, Petit-Claud!" exclaimed Lucien.
"Your return has stirred our conceit," said Petit-Claud; "we made it a
point of honor to get up a subscription, and we will have a tremendous
affair for you. The masters and the headmaster will be there, and, at
the present rate, we shall, no doubt, have the authorities too."
"For what day?" asked Lucien.
"That is quite out of the question," said Lucien. "I cannot accept an
invitation for the next ten days, but then I will gladly----"
"Very well," said Petit-Claud, "so be it then, in ten days' time."
Lucien behaved charmingly to his old schoolfellows, and they regarded
him with almost respectful admiration. He talked away very wittily for
half an hour; he had been set upon a pedestal, and wished to justify
the opinion of his fellow-townsmen; so he stood with his hands thrust
into his pockets, and held forth from the height to which he had been
raised. He was modest and good-natured, as befitted genius in
dressing-gown and slippers; he was the athlete, wearied by a wrestling
bout with Paris, and disenchanted above all things; he congratulated
the comrades who had never left the dear old province, and so forth,
and so forth. They were delighted with him. He took Petit-Claud aside,
and asked him for the real truth about David's affairs, reproaching
him for allowing his brother-in-law to go into hiding, and tried to
match his wits against the little lawyer. Petit-Claud made an effort
over himself, and gave his acquaintance to understand that he
(Petit-Claud) was only an insignificant little country attorney, with
no sort of craft nor subtlety.
The whole machinery of modern society is so infinitely more complex
than in ancient times, that the subdivision of human faculty is the
result. The great men of the days of old were perforce universal
geniuses, appearing at rare intervals like lighted torches in an
antique world. In the course of ages the intellect began to work on
special lines, but the great man still could "take all knowledge for
his province." A man "full cautelous," as was said of Louis XI., for
instance, could apply that special faculty in every direction, but
to-day the single quality is subdivided, and every profession has its
special craft. A peasant or a pettifogging solicitor might very easily
overreach an astute diplomate over a bargain in some remote country
village; and the wiliest journalist may prove the veriest simpleton in
a piece of business. Lucien could but be a puppet in the hands of
That guileful practitioner, as might have been expected, had written
the article himself; Angouleme and L'Houmeau, thus put on their
mettle, thought it incumbent upon them to pay honor to Lucien. His
fellow-citizens, assembled in the Place du Murier, were Cointets'
workpeople from the papermills and printing-house, with a sprinkling
of Lucien's old schoolfellows and the clerks in the employ of
Messieurs Petit-Claud and Cachan. As for the attorney himself, he was
once more Lucien's chum of old days; and he thought, not without
reason, that before very long he should learn David's whereabouts in
some unguarded moment. And if David came to grief through Lucien's
fault, the poet would find Angouleme too hot to hold him. Petit-Claud
meant to secure his hold; he posed, therefore, as Lucien's inferior.
"What better could I have done?" he said accordingly. "My old chum's
sister was involved, it is true, but there are some positions that
simply cannot be maintained in a court of law. David asked me on the
first of June to ensure him a quiet life for three months; he had a
quiet life until September, and even so I have kept his property out
of his creditors' power, for I shall gain my case in the Court-Royal;
I contend that the wife is a privileged creditor, and her claim is
absolute, unless there is evidence of intent to defraud. As for you,
you have come back in misfortune, but you are a genius."--(Lucien
turned about as if the incense were burned too close to his face.)
--"Yes, my dear fellow, a _genius_. I have read your _Archer of
Charles IX._; it is more than a romance, it is literature. Only two
living men could have written the preface--Chateaubriand and Lucien."
Lucien accepted that d'Arthez had written the preface. Ninety-nine
writers out of a hundred would have done the same.
"Well, nobody here seemed to have heard of you!" Petit-Claud
continued, with apparent indignation. "When I saw the general
indifference, I made up my mind to change all that. I wrote that
article in the paper----"
"What? did you write it?" exclaimed Lucien.
"I myself. Angouleme and L'Houmeau were stirred to rivalry; I arranged
for a meeting of your old schoolfellows, and got up yesterday's
serenade; and when once the enthusiasm began to grow, we started a
committee for the dinner. 'If David is in hiding,' said I to myself,
'Lucien shall be crowned at any rate.' And I have done even better
than that," continued Petit-Claud; "I have seen the Comtesse du
Chatelet and made her understand that she owes it to herself to
extricate David from his position; she can do it, and she ought to do
it. If David had really discovered the secret of which he spoke to me,
the Government ought to lend him a hand, it would not ruin the
Government; and think what a fine thing for a prefect to have half the
credit of the great invention for the well-timed help. It would set
people talking about him as an enlightened administrator.--Your sister
has taken fright at our musketry practice; she was scared of the
smoke. A battle in the law-courts costs quite as much as a battle on
the field; but David has held his ground, he has his secret. They
cannot stop him, and they will not pull him up now."
"Thanks, my dear fellow; I see that I can take you into my confidence;
you shall help me to carry out my plan."
Petit-Claud looked at Lucien, and his gimlet face was a point of
"I intend to rescue Sechard," Lucien said, with a certain importance.
"I brought his misfortunes upon him; I mean to make full
reparation. . . . I have more influence over Louise----"
"Who is Louise?"
"The Comtesse du Chatelet!"
"I have more influence over her than she herself suspects," said
Lucien; "only, my dear fellow, if I can do something with your
authorities here, I have no decent clothes."--Petit-Claud made as
though he would offer his purse.
"Thank you," said Lucien, grasping Petit-Claud's hand. "In ten days'
time I will pay a visit to the Countess and return your call."
The shook hands like old comrades, and separated.
"He ought to be a poet" said Petit-Claud to himself; "he is quite
"There are no friends like one's school friends; it is a true saying,"
Lucien thought at he went to find his sister.
"What can Petit-Claud have promised to do that you should be so
friendly with him, my Lucien?" asked Eve. "Be on your guard with him."
"With _him_?" cried Lucien. "Listen, Eve," he continued, seeming to
bethink himself; "you have no faith in me now; you do not trust me, so
it is not likely you will trust Petit-Claud; but in ten or twelve days
you will change your mind," he added, with a touch of fatuity. And he
went to his room, and indited the following epistle to Lousteau:--
_Lucien to Lousteau._
"MY FRIEND,--Of the pair of us, I alone can remember that bill for
a thousand francs that I once lent you; and I know how things will
be with you when you open this letter too well, alas! not to add
immediately that I do not expect to be repaid in current coin of
the realm; no, I will take it in credit from you, just as one
would ask Florine for pleasure. We have the same tailor;
therefore, you can order a complete outfit for me on the shortest
possible notice. I am not precisely wearing Adam's costume, but I
cannot show myself here. To my astonishment, the honors paid by
the departments to a Parisian celebrity awaited me. I am the hero
of a banquet, for all the world as if I were a Deputy of the Left.
Now, after that, do you understand that I must have a black coat?
Promise to pay; have it put down to your account, try the
advertisement dodge, rehearse an unpublished scene between Don
Juan and M. Dimanche, for I must have a gala suit at all costs. I
have nothing, nothing but rags: start with that; it is August, the
weather is magnificent, ergo see that I receive by the end of the
week a charming morning suit, dark bronze-green jacket, and three
waistcoats, one a brimstone yellow, one a plaid, and the third
must be white; furthermore, let there be three pairs of trousers
of the most fetching kind--one pair of white English stuff, one
pair of nankeen, and a third of thin black kerseymere; lastly,
send a black dress-coat and a black satin waistcoat. If you have
picked up another Florine somewhere, I beg her good offices for
two cravats. So far this is nothing; I count upon you and your
skill in these matters; I am not much afraid of the tailor. But
the ingenuity of poverty, assuredly the most active of all poisons
at work in the system of man (_id est_ the Parisian), an ingenuity
that would catch Satan himself napping, has failed so far to
discover a way to obtain a hat on credit!--How many a time, my
dear friend, have we deplored this! When one of us shall bring a
hat that costs one thousand francs into fashion, then, and not
till then, can we afford to wear them; until that day comes we are
bound to have cash enough in our pockets to pay for a hat. Ah!
what an ill turn the Comedie-Francaise did us with, 'Lafleur, you
will put gold in my pockets!'
"I write with a profound sense of all the difficulties involved by
the demand. Enclose with the above a pair of boots, a pair of
pumps, a hat, half a dozen pairs of gloves. 'Tis asking the
impossible; I know it. But what is a literary life but a
periodical recurrence of the impossible? Work the miracle, write a
long article, or play some small scurvy trick, and I will hold
your debt as fully discharged--this is all I say to you. It is a
debt of honor after all, my dear fellow, and due these twelve
months; you ought to blush for yourself if you have any blushes
"Joking apart, my dear Lousteau, I am in serious difficulties, as
you may judge for yourself when I tell you that Mme. de Bargeton
has married Chatelet, and Chatelet is prefect of Angouleme. The
precious pair can do a good deal for my brother-in-law; he is in
hiding at this moment on account of that letter of exchange, and
the horrid business is all my doing. So it is a question of
appearing before Mme. la Prefete and regaining my influence at all
costs. It is shocking, is it not, that David Sechard's fate should
hang upon a neat pair of shoes, a pair of open-worked gray silk
stockings (mind you, remember them), and a new hat? I shall give
out that I am sick and ill, and take to my bed, like Duvicquet, to
save the trouble of replying to the pressing invitations of my
fellow-townsmen. My fellow-townsmen, dear boy, have treated me to
a fine serenade. _My fellow-townsmen_, forsooth! I begin to wonder
how many fools go to make up that word, since I learned that two
or three of my old schoolfellows worked up the capital of the
Angoumois to this pitch of enthusiasm.
"If you could contrive to slip a few lines as to my reception in
among the news items, I should be several inches taller for it
here; and besides, I should make Mme. la Prefete feel that, if I
have not friends, I have some credit, at any rate, with the
Parisian press. I give up none of my hopes, and I will return the
compliment. If you want a good, solid, substantial article for
some magazine or other, I have time enough now to think something
out. I only say the word, my dear friend; I count upon you as you
may count upon me, and I am yours sincerely.
"LUCIEN DE R.
"P. S.--Send the things to the coach office to wait until called
Lucien held up his head again. In this mood he wrote the letter, and
as he wrote his thoughts went back to Paris. He had spent six days in
the provinces, and the uneventful quietness of provincial life had
already entered into his soul; his mind returned to those dear old
miserable days with a vague sense of regret. The Comtesse du Chatelet
filled his thoughts for a whole week; and at last he came to attach so
much importance to his reappearance, that he hurried down to the coach
office in L'Houmeau after nightfall in a perfect agony of suspense,
like a woman who has set her last hopes upon a new dress, and waits in
despair until it arrives.
"Ah! Lousteau, all your treasons are forgiven," he said to himself, as
he eyed the packages, and knew from the shape of them that everything
had been sent. Inside the hatbox he found a note from Lousteau:--
"MY DEAR BOY,--The tailor behaved very well; but as thy profound
retrospective glance led thee to forbode, the cravats, the hats,
and the silk hosen perplexed our souls, for there was nothing in
our purse to be perplexed thereby. As said Blondet, so say we;
there is a fortune awaiting the establishment which will supply
young men with inexpensive articles on credit; for when we do not
pay in the beginning, we pay dear in the end. And by the by, did
not the great Napoleon, who missed a voyage to the Indies for want
of boots, say that, 'If a thing is easy, it is never done?' So
everything went well--except the boots. I beheld a vision of thee,
fully dressed, but without a hat! appareled in waistcoats, yet
shoeless! and bethought me of sending a pair of moccasins given to
Florine as a curiosity by an American. Florine offered the huge
sum of forty francs, that we might try our luck at play for you.
Nathan, Blondet, and I had such luck (as we were not playing for
ourselves) that we were rich enough to ask La Torpille, des
Lupeaulx's sometime 'rat,' to supper. Frascati certainly owed us
that much. Florine undertook the shopping, and added three fine
shirts to the purchases. Nathan sends you a cane. Blondet, who won
three hundred francs, is sending you a gold chain; and the gold
watch, the size of a forty-franc piece, is from La Torpille; some
idiot gave the thing to her, and it will not go. 'Trumpery
rubbish,' she says, 'like the man that owned it.' Bixiou, who came
to find us up at the _Rocher de Cancale_, wished to enclose a bottle
of Portugal water in the package. Said our first comic man, 'If
this can make him happy, let him have it!' growling it out in a
deep bass voice with the _bourgeois_ pomposity that he can act to
the life. Which things, my dear boy, ought to prove to you how
much we care for our friends in adversity. Florine, whom I have
had the weakness to forgive, begs you to send us an article on
Nathan's hat. Fare thee well, my son. I can only commiserate you
on finding yourself back in the same box from which you emerged
when you discovered your old comrade.
"Poor fellows! They have been gambling for me," said Lucien; he was
quite touched by the letter. A waft of the breeze from an unhealthy
country, from the land where one has suffered most, may seem to bring
the odors of Paradise; and in a dull life there is an indefinable
sweetness in memories of past pain.
Eve was struck dumb with amazement when her brother came down in his
new clothes. She did not recognize him.
"Now I can walk out in Beaulieu," he cried; "they shall not say it of
me that I came back in rags. Look, here is a watch which I shall
return to you, for it is mine; and, like its owner, it is erratic in
"What a child he is!" exclaimed Eve. "It is impossible to bear you any
"Then do you imagine, my dear girl, that I sent for all this with the
silly idea of shining in Angouleme? I don't care _that_ for Angouleme"
(twirling his cane with the engraved gold knob). "I intend to repair
the wrong I have done, and this is my battle array."
Lucien's success in this kind was his one real triumph; but the
triumph, be it said, was immense. If admiration freezes some people's
tongues, envy loosens at least as many more, and if women lost their
heads over Lucien, men slandered him. He might have cried, in the
words of the songwriter, "I thank thee, my coat!" He left two cards at
the prefecture, and another upon Petit-Claud. The next day, the day of
the banquet, the following paragraph appeared under the heading
"Angouleme" in the Paris newspapers:--
"The return of the author of _The Archer of Charles IX._ has been
the signal for an ovation which does equal honor to the town and
to M. Lucien de Rubempre, the young poet who has made so brilliant
a beginning; the writer of the one French historical novel not
written in the style of Scott, and of a preface which may be
called a literary event. The town hastened to offer him a
patriotic banquet on his return. The name of the
recently-appointed prefect is associated with the public
demonstration in honor of the author of the _Marguerites_, whose
talent received such warm encouragement from Mme. du Chatelet at
the outset of his career."
In France, when once the impulse is given, nobody can stop. The
colonel of the regiment offered to put his band at the disposal of the
committee. The landlord of the _Bell_ (renowned for truffled turkeys,
despatched in the most wonderful porcelain jars to the uttermost parts
of the earth), the famous innkeeper of L'Houmeau, would supply the
repast. At five o'clock some forty persons, all in state and festival
array, were assembled in his largest ball, decorated with hangings,
crowns of laurel, and bouquets. The effect was superb. A crowd of
onlookers, some hundred persons, attracted for the most part by the
military band in the yard, represented the citizens of Angouleme.
Petit-Claud went to the window. "All Angouleme is here," he said,
"I can make nothing of this," remarked little Postel to his wife (they
had come out to hear the band play). "Why, the prefect and the
receiver-general, and the colonel and the superintendent of the powder
factory, and our mayor and deputy, and the headmaster of the school,
and the manager of the foundry at Ruelle, and the public prosecutor,
M. Milaud, and all the authorities, have just gone in!"
The bank struck up as they sat down to table with variations on the
air _Vive le roy, vive la France_, a melody which has never found
popular favor. It was then five o'clock in the evening; it was eight
o'clock before dessert was served. Conspicuous among the sixty-five
dishes appeared an Olympus in confectionery, surmounted by a figure of
France modeled in chocolate, to give the signal for toasts and
"Gentlemen," called the prefect, rising to his feet, "the King! the
rightful ruler of France! To what do we owe the generation of poets
and thinkers who maintain the sceptre of letters in the hands of
France, if not to the peace which the Bourbons have restored----"
"Long live the King!" cried the assembled guests (ministerialists
The venerable headmaster rose.
"To the hero of the day," he said, "to the young poet who combines the
gift of the _prosateur_ with the charm and poetic faculty of Petrarch in
that sonnet-form which Boileau declares to be so difficult."
The colonel rose next. "Gentlemen, to the Royalist! for the hero of
this evening had the courage to fight for sound principles!"
"Bravo!" cried the prefect, leading the applause.
Then Petit-Claud called upon all Lucien's schoolfellows there present.
"To the pride of the grammar-school of Angouleme! to the venerable
headmaster so dear to us all, to whom the acknowledgment for some part
of our triumph is due!"
The old headmaster dried his eyes; he had not expected this toast.
Lucien rose to his feet, the whole room was suddenly silent, and the
poet's face grew white. In that pause the old headmaster, who sat on
his left, crowned him with a laurel wreath. A round of applause
followed, and when Lucien spoke it was with tears in his eyes and a
sob in his throat.
"He is drunk," remarked the attorney-general-designate to his
"My dear fellow-countrymen, my dear comrades," Lucien said at last, "I
could wish that all France might witness this scene; for thus men rise
to their full stature, and in such ways as these our land demands
great deeds and noble work of us. And when I think of the little that
I have done, and of this great honor shown to me to-day, I can only
feel confused and impose upon the future the task of justifying your
reception of me. The recollection of this moment will give me renewed
strength for efforts to come. Permit me to indicate for your homage my
earliest muse and protectress, and to associate her name with that of
my birthplace; so--to the Comtesse du Chatelet and the noble town of
"He came out of that pretty well!" said the public prosecutor, nodding
approval; "our speeches were all prepared, and his was improvised."
At ten o'clock the party began to break up, and little knots of guests
went home together. David Sechard heard the unwonted music.
"What is going on in L'Houmeau?" he asked of Basine.
"They are giving a dinner to your brother-in-law, Lucien----"
"I know that he would feel sorry to miss me there," he said.
At midnight Petit-Claud walked home with Lucien. As they reached the
Place du Murier, Lucien said, "Come life, come death, we are friends,
my dear fellow."
"My marriage contract," said the lawyer, "with Mlle. Francoise de la
Haye will be signed to-morrow at Mme. de Senonches' house; do me the
pleasure of coming. Mme. de Senonches implored me to bring you, and
you will meet Mme. du Chatelet; they are sure to tell her of your
speech, and she will feel flattered by it."
"I knew what I was about," said Lucien.
"Oh! you will save David."
"I am sure I shall," the poet replied.
Just at that moment David appeared as if by magic in the Place du
Murier. This was how it had come about. He felt that he was in a
rather difficult position; his wife insisted that Lucien must neither
go to David nor know of his hiding-place; and Lucien all the while was
writing the most affectionate letters, saying that in a few days' time
all should be set right; and even as Basine Clerget explained the
reason why the band played, she put two letters into his hands. The
first was from Eve.
"DEAREST," she wrote, "do as if Lucien were not here; do not
trouble yourself in the least; our whole security depends upon the
fact that your enemies cannot find you; get that idea firmly into
your head. I have more confidence in Kolb and Marion and Basine
than in my own brother; such is my misfortune. Alas! poor Lucien
is not the ingenuous and tender-hearted poet whom we used to know;
and it is simply because he is trying to interfere on your behalf,
and because he imagines that he can discharge our debts (and this
from pride, my David), that I am afraid of him. Some fine clothes
have been sent from Paris for him, and five gold pieces in a
pretty purse. He gave the money to me, and we are living on it.
"We have one enemy the less. Your father has gone, thanks to
Petit-Claud. Petit-Claud unraveled his designs, and put an end to
them at once by telling him that you would do nothing without
consulting him, and that he (Petit-Claud) would not allow you to
concede a single point in the matter of the invention until you
had been promised an indemnity of thirty thousand francs; fifteen
thousand to free you from embarrassment, and fifteen thousand more
to be yours in any case, whether your invention succeeds or no. I
cannot understand Petit-Claud. I embrace you, dear, a wife's kiss
for her husband in trouble. Our little Lucien is well. How strange
it is to watch him grow rosy and strong, like a flower, in these
stormy days! Mother prays God for you now, as always, and sends
love only less tender than mine.--Your
As a matter of fact, Petit-Claud and the Cointets had taken fright at
old Sechard's peasant shrewdness, and got rid of him so much the more
easily because it was now vintage time at Marsac. Eve's letter
enclosed another from Lucien:--
"MY DEAR DAVID,--Everything is going well. I am armed _cap-a-pie_;
to-day I open the campaign, and in forty-eight hours I shall have
made great progress. How glad I shall be to embrace you when you
are free again and my debts are all paid! My mother and sister
persist in mistrusting me; their suspicion wounds me to the quick.
As if I did not know already that you are hiding with Basine, for
every time that Basine comes to the house I hear news of you and
receive answers to my letters; and besides, it is plain that my
sister could not find any one else to trust. It hurts me cruelly
to think that I shall be so near you to-day, and yet that you will
not be present at this banquet in my honor. I owe my little
triumph to the vainglory of Angouleme; in a few days it will be
quite forgotten, and you alone would have taken a real pleasure in
it. But, after all, in a little while you will pardon everything
to one who counts it more than all the triumphs in the world to be
Two forces tugged sharply at David's heart; he adored his wife; and if
he held Lucien in somewhat less esteem, his friendship was scarcely
diminished. In solitude our feelings have unrestricted play; and a man
preoccupied like David, with all-absorbing thoughts, will give way to
impulses for which ordinary life would have provided a sufficient
counterpoise. As he read Lucien's letter to the sound of military
music, and heard of this unlooked-for recognition, he was deeply
touched by that expression of regret. He had known how it would be. A
very slight expression of feeling appeals irresistibly to a sensitive
soul, for they are apt to credit others with like depths. How should
the drop fall unless the cup were full to the brim?
So at midnight, in spite of all Basine's entreaties, David must go to
"Nobody will be out in the streets at this time of night," he said; "I
shall not be seen, and they cannot arrest me. Even if I should meet
people, I can make use of Kolb's way of going into hiding. And
besides, it is so intolerably long since I saw my wife and child."
The reasoning was plausible enough; Basine gave way, and David went.
Petit-Claud was just taking leave as he came up and at his cry of
_"Lucien!"_ the two brothers flung their arms about each other with
tears in their eyes.
Life holds not many moments such as these. Lucien's heart went out in
response to this friendship for its own sake. There was never question
of debtor and creditor between them, and the offender met with no
reproaches save his own. David, generous and noble that he was, was
longing to bestow pardon; he meant first of all to read Lucien a
lecture, and scatter the clouds that overspread the love of the
brother and sister; and with these ends in view, the lack of money and
its consequent dangers disappeared entirely from his mind.
"Go home," said Petit-Claud, addressing his client; "take advantage of
your imprudence to see your wife and child again, at any rate; and you
must not be seen, mind you!--How unlucky!" he added, when he was alone
in the Place du Murier. "If only Cerizet were here----"
The buildings magniloquently styled the Angouleme Law Courts were then
in process of construction. Petit-Claud muttered these words to
himself as he passed by the hoardings, and heard a tap upon the
boards, and a voice issuing from a crack between two planks.
"Here I am," said Cerizet; "I saw David coming out of L'Houmeau. I was
beginning to have my suspicions about his retreat, and now I am sure;
and I know where to have him. But I want to know something of Lucien's
plans before I set the snare for David; and here are you sending him
into the house! Find some excuse for stopping here, at least, and when
David and Lucien come out, send them round this way; they will think
they are quite alone, and I shall overhear their good-bye."
"You are a very devil," muttered Petit-Claud.
"Well, I'm blessed if a man wouldn't do anything for the thing you
Petit-Claud walked away from the hoarding, and paced up and down in
the Place du Murier; he watched the windows of the room where the
family sat together, and thought of his own prospects to keep up his
courage. Cerizet's cleverness had given him the chance of striking the
final blow. Petit-Claud was a double-dealer of the profoundly cautious
stamp that is never caught by the bait of a present satisfaction, nor
entangled by a personal attachment, after his first initiation into
the strategy of self-seeking and the instability of the human heart.
So, from the very first, he had put little trust in Cointet. He
foresaw that his marriage negotiations might very easily be broken
off, saw also that in that case he could not accuse Cointet of bad
faith, and he had taken his measures accordingly. But since his
success at the Hotel de Bargeton, Petit-Claud's game was above board.
A certain under-plot of his was useless now, and even dangerous to a
man with his political ambitions. He had laid the foundations of his
future importance in the following manner:--
Gannerac and a few of the wealthy men of business in L'Houmeau formed
a sort of Liberal clique in constant communication (through commercial
channels) with the leaders of the Opposition. The Villele ministry,
accepted by the dying Louis XVIII., gave the signal for a change of
tactics in the Opposition camp; for, since the death of Napoleon, the
liberals had ceased to resort to the dangerous expedient of
conspiracy. They were busy organizing resistance by lawful means
throughout the provinces, and aiming at securing control of the great
bulk of electors by convincing the masses. Petit-Claud, a rabid
Liberal, and a man of L'Houmeau, was the instigator, the secret
counselor, and the very life of this movement in the lower town, which
groaned under the tyranny of the aristocrats at the upper end. He was
the first to see the danger of leaving the whole press of the
department in the control of the Cointets; the Opposition must have
its organ; it would not do to be behind other cities.
"If each one of us gives Gannerac a bill for five hundred francs, he
would have some twenty thousand francs and more; we might buy up
Sechard's printing-office, and we could do as we liked with the
master-printer if we lent him the capital," Petit-Claud had said.
Others had taken up the idea, and in this way Petit-Claud strengthened
his position with regard to David on the one side and the Cointets on
the other. Casting about him for a tool for his party, he naturally
thought that a rogue of Cerizet's calibre was the very man for the
"If you can find Sechard's hiding-place and put him in our hands,
somebody will lend you twenty thousand francs to buy his business, and
very likely there will be a newspaper to print. So, set about it," he
Petit-Claud put more faith in Cerizet's activity than in all the
Doublons in existence; and then it was that he promised Cointet that
Sechard should be arrested. But now that the little lawyer cherished
hopes of office, he saw that he must turn his back upon the Liberals;
and, meanwhile, the amount for the printing-office had been subscribed
in L'Houmeau. Petit-Claud decided to allow things to take their
"Pooh!" he thought, "Cerizet will get into trouble with his paper, and
give me an opportunity of displaying my talents."
He walked up to the door of the printing-office and spoke to Kolb, the
sentinel. "Go up and warn David that he had better go now," he said,
"and take every precaution. I am going home; it is one o'clock."
Marion came to take Kolb's place. Lucien and David came down together
and went out, Kolb a hundred paces ahead of them, and Marion at the
same distance behind. The two friends walked past the hoarding, Lucien
talking eagerly the while.
"My plan is extremely simple, David; but how could I tell you about it
while Eve was there? She would never understand. I am quite sure that
at the bottom of Louise's heart there is a feeling that I can rouse,
and I should like to arouse it if it is only to avenge myself upon
that idiot the prefect. If our love affair only lasts for a week, I
will contrive to send an application through her for the subvention of
twenty thousand francs for you. I am going to see her again to-morrow
in the little boudoir where our old affair of the heart began;
Petit-Claud says that the room is the same as ever; I shall play my
part in the comedy; and I will send word by Basine to-morrow morning
to tell you whether the actor was hissed. You may be at liberty by
then, who knows?--Now do you understand how it was that I wanted
clothes from Paris? One cannot act the lover's part in rags."
At six o'clock that morning Cerizet went to Petit-Claud.
"Doublon can be ready to take his man to-morrow at noon, I will answer
for it," he said; "I know one of Mlle. Clerget's girls, do you
understand?" Cerizet unfolded his plan, and Petit-Claud hurried to
"If M. Francis du Hautoy will settle his property on Francoise, you
shall sign a deed of partnership with Sechard in two days. I shall not
be married for a week after the contract is signed, so we shall both
be within the terms of our little agreement, tit for tat. To-night,
however, we must keep a close watch over Lucien and Mme. la Comtesse
du Chatelet, for the whole business lies in that. . . . If Lucien
hopes to succeed through the Countess' influence, I have David
"You will be Keeper of the Seals yet, it is my belief," said Cointet.
"And why not? No one objects to M. de Peyronnet," said Petit-Claud. He
had not altogether sloughed his skin of Liberalism.
Mlle. de la Haye's ambiguous position brought most of the upper town
to the signing of the marriage contract. The comparative poverty of
the young couple and the absence of a _corbeille_ quickened the interest
that people love to exhibit; for it is with beneficence as with
ovations, we prefer the deeds of charity which gratify self-love. The
Marquise de Pimentel, the Comtesse du Chatelet, M. de Senonches, and
one or two frequenters of the house had given Francoise a few wedding
presents, which made great talk in the city. These pretty trifles,
together with the trousseau which Zephirine had been preparing for the
past twelve months, the godfather's jewels, and the usual wedding
gifts, consoled Francoise and roused the curiosity of some mothers of
Petit-Claud and Cointet had both remarked that their presence in the
Angouleme Olympus was endured rather than courted. Cointet was
Francoise's trustee and quasi-guardian; and if Petit-Claud was to sign
the contract, Petit-Claud's presence was as necessary as the
attendance of the man to be hanged at an execution; but though, once
married, Mme. Petit-Claud might keep her right of entry to her
godmother's house, Petit-Claud foresaw some difficulty on his own
account, and resolved to be beforehand with these haughty personages.
He felt ashamed of his parents. He had sent his mother to stay at
Mansle; now he begged her to say that she was out of health and to
give her consent in writing. So humiliating was it to be without
relations, protectors, or witnesses to his signature, that Petit-Claud
thought himself in luck that he could bring a presentable friend at
the Countess' request. He called to take up Lucien, and they drove to
the Hotel de Bargeton.
On that memorable evening the poet dressed to outshine every man
present. Mme. de Senonches had spoken of him as the hero of the hour,
and a first interview between two estranged lovers is the kind of
scene that provincials particularly love. Lucien had come to be the
lion of the evening; he was said to be so handsome, so much changed,
so wonderful, that every well-born woman in Angouleme was curious to
see him again. Following the fashion of the transition period between
the eighteenth century small clothes and the vulgar costume of the
present day, he wore tight-fitting black trousers. Men still showed
their figures in those days, to the utter despair of lean,
clumsily-made mortals; and Lucien was an Apollo. The open-work gray
silk stockings, the neat shoes, and the black satin waistcoat were
scrupulously drawn over his person, and seemed to cling to him. His
forehead looked the whiter by contrast with the thick, bright curls
that rose above it with studied grace. The proud eyes were radiant.
The hands, small as a woman's, never showed to better advantage than
when gloved. He had modeled himself upon de Marsay, the famous
Parisian dandy, holding his hat and cane in one hand, and keeping the
other free for the very occasional gestures which illustrated his
Lucien had quite intended to emulate the famous false modesty of those
who bend their heads to pass beneath the Porte Saint-Denis, and to
slip unobserved into the room; but Petit-Claud, having but one friend,
made him useful. He brought Lucien almost pompously through a crowded
room to Mme. de Senonches. The poet heard a murmur as he passed; not
so very long ago that hum of voices would have turned his head, to-day
he was quite different; he did not doubt that he himself was greater
than the whole Olympus put together.
"Madame," he said, addressing Mme. de Senonches, "I have already
congratulated my friend Petit-Claud (a man with the stuff in him of
which Keepers of the Seals are made) on the honor of his approaching
connection with you, slight as are the ties between godmother and
goddaughter----" (this with the air of a man uttering an epigram, by
no means lost upon any woman in the room, for every woman was
listening without appearing to do so.) "And as for myself," he
continued, "I am delighted to have the opportunity of paying my homage
He spoke easily and fluently, as some great lord might speak under the
roof of his inferiors; and as he listened to Zephirine's involved
reply, he cast a glance over the room to consider the effect that he
wished to make. The pause gave him time to discover Francis du Hautoy
and the prefect; to bow gracefully to each with the proper shade of
difference in his smile, and, finally, to approach Mme. du Chatelet as
if he had just caught sight of her. That meeting was the real event of
the evening. No one so much as thought of the marriage contract lying
in the adjoining bedroom, whither Francoise and the notary led guest
after guest to sign the document. Lucien made a step towards Louise de
Negrepelisse, and then spoke with that grace of manner now associated,
for her, with memories of Paris.
"Do I owe to you, madame, the pleasure of an invitation to dine at the
Prefecture the day after to-morrow?" he said.
"You owe it solely to your fame, monsieur," Louise answered drily,
somewhat taken aback by the turn of a phrase by which Lucien
deliberately tried to wound her pride.
"Ah! Madame la Comtesse, I cannot bring you the guest if the man is in
disgrace," said Lucien, and, without waiting for an answer, he turned
and greeted the Bishop with stately grace.
"Your lordship's prophecy has been partially fulfilled," he said, and
there was a winning charm in his tones; "I will endeavor to fulfil it
to the letter. I consider myself very fortunate since this evening
brings me an opportunity of paying my respects to you."
Lucien drew the Bishop into a conversation that lasted for ten
minutes. The women looked on Lucien as a phenomenon. His unexpected
insolence had struck Mme. du Chatelet dumb; she could not find an
answer. Looking round the room, she saw that every woman admired
Lucien; she watched group after group repeating the phrases by which
Lucien crushed her with seeming disdain, and her heart contracted with
a spasm of mortification.
"Suppose that he should not come to the Prefecture after this, what
talk there would be!" she thought. "Where did he learn this pride? Can
Mlle. des Touches have taken a fancy for him? . . . He is so handsome.
They say that she hurried to see him in Paris the day after that
actress died. . . . Perhaps he has come to the rescue of his
brother-in-law, and happened to be behind our caleche at Mansle by
accident. Lucien looked at us very strangely that morning."
A crowd of thoughts crossed Louise's brain, and unluckily for her, she
continued to ponder visibly as she watched Lucien. He was talking with
the Bishop as if he were the king of the room; making no effort to
find any one out, waiting till others came to him, looking round about
him with varying expression, and as much at his ease as his model de
Marsay. M. de Senonches appeared at no great distance, but Lucien
still stood beside the prelate.
At the end of ten minutes Louise could contain herself no longer. She
rose and went over to the Bishop and said:
"What is being said, my lord, that you smile so often?"
Lucien drew back discreetly, and left Mme. du Chatelet with his
"Ah! Mme. la Comtesse, what a clever young fellow he is! He was
explaining to me that he owed all he is to you----"
"_I_ am not ungrateful, madame," said Lucien, with a reproachful
glance that charmed the Countess.
"Let us have an understanding," she said, beckoning him with her fan.
"Come into the boudoir. My Lord Bishop, you shall judge between us."
"She has found a funny task for his lordship," said one of the
Chandour camp, sufficiently audibly.
"Judge between us!" repeated Lucien, looking from the prelate to the
lady; "then, is one of us in fault?"
Louise de Negrepelisse sat down on the sofa in the familiar boudoir.
She made the Bishop sit on one side and Lucien on the other, then she
began to speak. But Lucien, to the joy and surprise of his old love,
honored her with inattention; her words fell unheeded on his ears; he
sat like Pasta in _Tancredi_, with the words _O patria!_ upon her lips,
the music of the great cavatina _Dell Rizzo_ might have passed into his
face. Indeed, Coralie's pupil had contrived to bring the tears to his
"Oh! Louise, how I loved you!" he murmured, careless of the Bishop's
presence, heedless of the conversation, as soon as he knew that the
Countess had seen the tears.
"Dry your eyes, or you will ruin me here a second time," she said in
an aside that horrified the prelate.
"And once is enough," was Lucien's quick retort. "That speech from
Mme. d'Espard's cousin would dry the eyes of a weeping Magdalene. Oh
me! for a little moment old memories, and lost illusions, and my
twentieth year came back to me, and you have----"
His lordship hastily retreated to the drawing-room at this; it seemed
to him that his dignity was like to be compromised by this sentimental
pair. Every one ostentatiously refrained from interrupting them, and a
quarter of an hour went by; till at last Sixte du Chatelet, vexed by
the laughter and talk, and excursions to the boudoir door, went in
with a countenance distinctly overclouded, and found Louise and Lucien
"Madame," said Sixte in his wife's ear, "you know Angouleme better
than I do, and surely you should think of your position as Mme. la
Prefete and of the Government?"
"My dear," said Louise, scanning her responsible editor with a
haughtiness that made him quake, "I am talking with M. de Rubempre of
matters which interest you. It is a question of rescuing an inventor
about to fall a victim to the basest machinations; you will help us.
As to those ladies yonder, and their opinion of me, you shall see how
I will freeze the venom of their tongues."
She came out of the boudoir on Lucien's arm, and drew him across to
sign the contract with a great lady's audacity.
"Write your name after mine," she said, handing him the pen. And
Lucien submissively signed in the place indicated beneath her name.
"M. de Senonches, would you have recognized M. de Rubempre?" she
continued, and the insolent sportsman was compelled to greet Lucien.
She returned to the drawing-room on Lucien's arm, and seated him on
the awe-inspiring central sofa between herself and Zephirine. There,
enthroned like a queen, she began, at first in a low voice, a
conversation in which epigram evidently was not wanting. Some of her
old friends, and several women who paid court to her, came to join the
group, and Lucien soon became the hero of the circle. The Countess
drew him out on the subject of life in Paris; his satirical talk
flowed with spontaneous and incredible spirit; he told anecdotes of
celebrities, those conversational luxuries which the provincial
devours with such avidity. His wit was as much admired as his good
looks. And Mme. la Comtesse Sixte du Chatelet, preparing Lucien's
triumph so patiently, sat like a player enraptured with the sound of
his instrument; she gave him opportunities for a reply; she looked
round the circle for applause so openly, that not a few of the women
began to think that their return together was something more than a
coincidence, and that Lucien and Louise, loving with all their hearts,
had been separated by a double treason. Pique, very likely, had
brought about this ill-starred match with Chatelet. And a reaction set
in against the prefect.
Before the Countess rose to go at one o'clock in the morning, she
turned to Lucien and said in a low voice, "Do me the pleasure of
coming punctually to-morrow evening." Then, with the friendliest
little nod, she went, saying a few words to Chatelet, who was looking
for his hat.
"If Mme. du Chatelet has given me a correct idea of the state of
affairs, count on me, my dear Lucien," said the prefect, preparing to
hurry after his wife. She was going away without him, after the Paris
fashion. "Your brother-in-law may consider that his troubles are at an
end," he added as he went.
"M. le Comte surely owes me so much," smiled Lucien.
Cointet and Petit-Claud heard these farewell speeches.
"Well, well, we are done for now," Cointet muttered in his
confederate's ear. Petit-Claud, thunderstruck by Lucien's success,
amazed by his brilliant wit and varying charm, was gazing at Francoise
de la Haye; the girl's whole face was full of admiration for Lucien.
"Be like your friend," she seemed to say to her betrothed. A gleam of
joy flitted over Petit-Claud's countenance.
"We still have a whole day before the prefect's dinner; I will answer
An hour later, as Petit-Claud and Lucien walked home together, Lucien
talked of his success. "Well, my dear fellow, I came, I saw, I
conquered! Sechard will be very happy in a few hours' time."
"Just what I wanted to know," thought Petit-Claud. Aloud he said--"I
thought you were simply a poet, Lucien, but you are a Lauzun too, that
is to say--twice a poet," and they shook hands--for the last time, as
"Good news, dear Eve," said Lucien, waking his sister, "David will
have no debts in less than a month!"
"How is that?"
"Well, my Louise is still hidden by Mme. du Chatelet's petticoat. She
loves me more than ever; she will send a favorable report of our
discovery to the Minister of the Interior through her husband. So we
have only to endure our troubles for one month, while I avenge myself
on the prefect and complete the happiness of his married life."
Eve listened, and thought that she must be dreaming.
"I saw the little gray drawing-room where I trembled like a child two
years ago; it seemed as if scales fell from my eyes when I saw the
furniture and the pictures and the faces again. How Paris changes
"Is that a good thing?" asked Eve, at last beginning to understand.
"Come, come; you are still asleep. We will talk about it to-morrow
Cerizet's plot was exceedingly simple, a commonplace stratagem
familiar to the provincial bailiff. Its success entirely depends upon
circumstances, and in this case it was certain, so intimate was
Cerizet's knowledge of the characters and hopes of those concerned.
Cerizet had been a kind of Don Juan among the young work-girls, ruling
his victims by playing one off against another. Since he had been the
Cointet's extra foreman, he had singled out one of Basine Clerget's
assistants, a girl almost as handsome as Mme. Sechard. Henriette
Signol's parents owned a small vineyard two leagues out of Angouleme,
on the road to Saintes. The Signols, like everybody else in the
country, could not afford to keep their only child at home; so they
meant her to go out to service, in country phrase. The art of
clear-starching is a part of every country housemaid's training; and
so great was Mme. Prieur's reputation, that the Signols sent Henriette
to her as apprentice, and paid for their daughter's board and lodging.
Mme. Prieur was one of the old-fashioned mistresses, who consider that
they fill a parent's place towards their apprentices. They were part
of the family; she took them with her to church, and looked
scrupulously after them. Henriette Signol was a tall, fine-looking
girl, with bold eyes, and long, thick, dark hair, and the pale, very
fair complexion of girls in the South--white as a magnolia flower. For
which reasons Henriette was one of the first on whom Cerizet cast his
eyes; but Henriette came of "honest farmer folk," and only yielded at
last to jealousy, to bad example, and the treacherous promise of
subsequent marriage. By this time Cerizet was the Cointet's foreman.
When he learned that the Signols owned a vineyard worth some ten or
twelve thousand francs, and a tolerably comfortable cottage, he
hastened to make it impossible for Henriette to marry any one else.
Affairs had reached this point when Petit-Claud held out the prospect
of a printing office and twenty thousand francs of borrowed capital,
which was to prove a yoke upon the borrower's neck. Cerizet was
dazzled, the offer turned his head; Henriette Signol was now only an
obstacle in the way of his ambitions, and he neglected the poor girl.
Henriette, in her despair, clung more closely to her seducer as he
tried to shake her off. When Cerizet began to suspect that David was
hiding in Basine's house, his views with regard to Henriette underwent
another change, though he treated her as before. A kind of frenzy
works in a girl's brain when she must marry her seducer to conceal her
dishonor, and Cerizet was on the watch to turn this madness to his own
During the morning of the day when Lucien had set himself to reconquer
his Louise, Cerizet told Basine's secret to Henriette, giving her to
understand at the same time that their marriage and future prospects
depended upon the discovery of David's hiding-place. Thus instructed,
Henriette easily made certain of the fact that David was in Basine
Clerget's inner room. It never occurred to the girl that she was doing
wrong to act the spy, and Cerizet involved her in the guilt of
betrayal by this first step.
Lucien was still sleeping while Cerizet, closeted with Petit-Claud,
heard the history of the important trifles with which all Angouleme
presently would ring.
The Cointets' foreman gave a satisfied nod as Petit-Claud came to an
end. "Lucien surely has written you a line since he came back, has he
not?" he asked.
"This is all that I have," answered the lawyer, and he held out a note
on Mme. Sechard's writing-paper.
"Very well," said Cerizet, "let Doublon be in wait at the Palet Gate
about ten minutes before sunset; tell him to post his gendarmes, and
you shall have our man."
"Are you sure of _your_ part of the business?" asked Petit-Claud,
"I rely on chance," said the ex-street boy, "and she is a saucy huzzy;
she does not like honest folk.
"You must succeed," said Cerizet. "You have pushed me into this dirty
business; you may as well let me have a few banknotes to wipe off the
stains."--Then detecting a look that he did not like in the attorney's
face, he continued, with a deadly glance, "If you have cheated me,
sir, if you don't buy the printing-office for me within a week--you
will leave a young widow;" he lowered his voice.
"If we have David on the jail register at six o'clock, come round to
M. Gannerac's at nine, and we will settle your business," said
"Agreed. Your will shall be done, governor," said Cerizet.
Cerizet understood the art of washing paper, a dangerous art for the
Treasury. He washed out Lucien's four lines and replaced them,
imitating the handwriting with a dexterity which augured ill for his
"MY DEAR DAVID,--Your business is settled; you need not fear to go
to the prefect. You can go out at sunset. I will come to meet you
and tell you what to do at the prefecture.--Your brother,
At noon Lucien wrote to David, telling him of his evening's success.
The prefect would be sure to lend his influence, he said; he was full
of enthusiasm over the invention, and was drawing up a report that
very day to send to the Government. Marion carried the letter to
Basine, taking some of Lucien's linen to the laundry as a pretext for
Petit-Claud had told Cerizet that a letter would in all probability be
sent. Cerizet called for Mlle. Signol, and the two walked by the
Charente. Henriette's integrity must have held out for a long while,
for the walk lasted for two hours. A whole future of happiness and
ease and the interests of a child were at stake, and Cerizet asked a
mere trifle of her. He was very careful besides to say nothing of the
consequences of that trifle. She was only to carry a letter and a
message, that was all; but it was the greatness of the reward for the
trifling service that frightened Henriette. Nevertheless, Cerizet
gained her consent at last; she would help him in his stratagem.
At five o'clock Henriette must go out and come in again, telling
Basine Clerget that Mme. Sechard wanted to speak to her at once.
Fifteen minutes after Basine's departure she must go upstairs, knock
at the door of the inner room, and give David the forged note. That
was all. Cerizet looked to chance to manage the rest.
For the first time in twelve months, Eve felt the iron grasp of
necessity relax a little. She began at last to hope. She, too, would
enjoy her brother's visit; she would show herself abroad on the arm of
a man feted in his native town, adored by the women, beloved by the
proud Comtesse du Chatelet. She dressed herself prettily, and proposed
to walk out after dinner with her brother to Beaulieu. In September
all Angouleme comes out at that hour to breathe the fresh air.
"Oh! that is the beautiful Mme. Sechard," voices said here and there.
"I should never have believed it of her," said a woman.
"The husband is in hiding, and the wife walks abroad," said Mme.
Postel for young Mme. Sechard's benefit.
"Oh, let us go home," said poor Eve; "I have made a mistake."
A few minutes before sunset, the sound of a crowd rose from the steps
that lead down to L'Houmeau. Apparently some crime had been committed,
for persons coming from L'Houmeau were talking among themselves.
Curiosity drew Lucien and Eve towards the steps.
"A thief has just been arrested no doubt, the man looks as pale as
death," one of these passers-by said to the brother and sister. The
crowd grew larger.
Lucien and Eve watched a group of some thirty children, old women and
men, returning from work, clustering about the gendarmes, whose
gold-laced caps gleamed above the heads of the rest. About a hundred
persons followed the procession, the crowd gathering like a storm
"Oh! it is my husband!" Eve cried out.
_"David!"_ exclaimed Lucien.
"It is his wife," said voices, and the crowd made way.
"What made you come out?" asked Lucien.
"Your letter," said David, haggard and white.
"I knew it!" said Eve, and she fainted away. Lucien raised his sister,
and with the help of two strangers he carried her home; Marion laid
her in bed, and Kolb rushed off for a doctor. Eve was still insensible
when the doctor arrived; and Lucien was obliged to confess to his
mother that he was the cause of David's arrest; for he, of course,
knew nothing of the forged letter and Cerizet's stratagem. Then he
went up to his room and locked himself in, struck dumb by the
malediction in his mother's eyes.
In the dead of night he wrote one more letter amid constant
interruptions; the reader can divine the agony of the writer's mind
from those phrases, jerked out, as it were, one by one:--
"MY BELOVED SISTER,--We have seen each other for the last time. My
resolution is final, and for this reason. In many families there
is one unlucky member, a kind of disease in their midst. I am that
unlucky one in our family. The observation is not mine; it was
made at a friendly supper one evening at the _Rocher de Cancale_ by
a diplomate who has seen a great deal of the world. While we
laughed and joked, he explained the reason why some young lady or
some other remained unmarried, to the astonishment of the world
--it was 'a touch of her father,' he said, and with that he unfolded
his theory of inherited weaknesses. He told us how such and such a
family would have flourished but for the mother; how it was that a
son had ruined his father, or a father had stripped his children
of prospects and respectability. It was said laughingly, but we
thought of so many cases in point in ten minutes that I was struck
with the theory. The amount of truth in it furnished all sorts of
wild paradoxes, which journalists maintain cleverly enough for
their own amusement when there is nobody else at hand to mystify.
I bring bad luck to our family. My heart is full of love for you,
yet I behave like an enemy. The blow dealt unintentionally is the
cruelest blow of all. While I was leading a bohemian life in
Paris, a life made up of pleasure and misery; taking good
fellowship for friendship, forsaking my true friends for those who
wished to exploit me, and succeeded; forgetful of you, or
remembering you only to cause you trouble,--all that while you
were walking in the humble path of hard work, making your way
slowly but surely to the fortune which I tried so madly to snatch.
While you grew better, I grew worse; a fatal element entered into
my life through my own choice. Yes, unbounded ambition makes an
obscure existence simply impossible for me. I have tastes and
remembrances of past pleasures that poison the enjoyments within
my reach; once I should have been satisfied with them, now it is
too late. Oh, dear Eve, no one can think more hardly of me than I
do myself; my condemnation is absolute and pitiless. The struggle
in Paris demands steady effort; my will power is spasmodic, my
brain works intermittently. The future is so appalling that I do
not care to face it, and the present is intolerable.
"I wanted to see you again. I should have done better to stay in
exile all my days. But exile without means of subsistence would be
madness; I will not add another folly to the rest. Death is better
than a maimed life; I cannot think of myself in any position in
which my overweening vanity would not lead me into folly.
"Some human beings are like the figure 0, another must be put
before it, and they acquire ten times their value. I am nothing
unless a strong inexorable will is wedded to mine. Mme. de
Bargeton was in truth my wife; when I refused to leave Coralie for
her I spoiled my life. You and David might have been excellent
pilots for me, but you are not strong enough to tame my weakness,
which in some sort eludes control. I like an easy life, a life
without cares; to clear an obstacle out of my way I can descend to
baseness that sticks at nothing. I was born a prince. I have more
than the requisite intellectual dexterity for success, but only by
moments; and the prizes of a career so crowded by ambitious
competitors are to those who expend no more than the necessary
strength, and retain a sufficient reserve when they reach the
"I shall do harm again with the best intentions in the world. Some
men are like oaks, I am a delicate shrub it may be, and I
forsooth, must needs aspire to be a forest cedar.
"There you have my bankrupt's schedule. The disproportion between
my powers and my desires, my want of balance, in short, will bring
all my efforts to nothing. There are many such characters among
men of letters, many men whose intellectual powers and character
are always at variance, who will one thing and wish another. What
would become of me? I can see it all beforehand, as I think of
this and that great light that once shone on Paris, now utterly
forgotten. On the threshold of old age I shall be a man older than
my age, needy and without a name. My whole soul rises up against
the thought of such a close; I will not be a social rag. Ah, dear
sister, loved and worshiped at least as much for your severity at
the last as for your tenderness at the first--if we have paid so
dear for my joy at seeing you all once more, you and David may
perhaps some day think that you could grudge no price however high
for a little last happiness for an unhappy creature who loved you.
Do not try to find me, Eve; do not seek to know what becomes of
me. My intellect for once shall be backed by my will.
Renunciation, my angel, is daily death of self; my renunciation
will only last for one day; I will take advantage now of that
day. . . .
"Yes, I have quite made up my mind. Farewell for ever, dear Eve.
There is something sweet in the thought that I shall live only in
your hearts henceforth, and I wish no other burying place. Once
more, farewell. . . . That is the last word from your brother
Lucien read the letter over, crept noiselessly down stairs, and left
it in the child's cradle; amid falling tears he set a last kiss on the
forehead of his sleeping sister; then he went out. He put out his
candle in the gray dusk, took a last look at the old house, stole
softly along the passage, and opened the street door; but in spite of
his caution, he awakened Kolb, who slept on a mattress on the workshop
"Who goes there?" cried Kolb.
"It is I, Lucien; I am going away, Kolb."
"You vould haf done better gif you at nefer kom," Kolb muttered
"I should have done better still if I had never come into the world,"
Lucien answered. "Good-bye, Kolb; I don't bear you any grudge for
thinking as I think myself. Tell David that I was sorry I could not
bid him good-bye, and say that this was my last thought."
By the time the Alsacien was up and dressed, Lucien had shut the house
door, and was on his way towards the Charente by the Promenade de
Beaulieu. He might have been going to a festival, for he had put on
his new clothes from Paris and his dandy's trinkets for a drowning
shroud. Something in Lucien's tone had struck Kolb. At first the man
thought of going to ask his mistress whether she knew that her brother
had left the house; but as the deepest silence prevailed, he concluded
that the departure had been arranged beforehand, and lay down again
Little, considering the gravity of the question, has been written on
the subject of suicide; it has not been studied. Perhaps it is a
disease that cannot be observed. Suicide is one effect of a sentiment
which we will call self-esteem, if you will, to prevent confusion by
using the word "honor." When a man despises himself, and sees that
others despise him, when real life fails to fulfil his hopes, then
comes the moment when he takes his life, and thereby does homage to
society--shorn of his virtues or his splendor, he does not care to
face his fellows. Among atheists--Christians being without the
question of suicide--among atheists, whatever may be said to the
contrary, none but a base coward can take up a dishonored life.
There are three kinds of suicide--the first is only the last and acute
stage of a long illness, and this kind belongs distinctly to
pathology; the second is the suicide of despair; and the third the
suicide based on logical argument. Despair and deductive reasoning had
brought Lucien to this pass, but both varieties are curable; it is
only the pathological suicide that is inevitable. Not infrequently you
find all three causes combined, as in the case of Jean-Jacques
Lucien having made up his mind fell to considering methods. The poet
would fain die as became a poet. At first he thought of throwing
himself into the Charente and making an end then and there; but as he
came down the steps from Beaulieu for the last time, he heard the
whole town talking of his suicide; he saw the horrid sight of a
drowned dead body, and thought of the recognition and the inquest;
and, like some other suicides, felt that vanity reached beyond death.
He remembered the day spent at Courtois' mill, and his thoughts
returned to the round pool among the willows that he saw as he came
along by the little river, such a pool as you often find on small
streams, with a still, smooth surface that conceals great depths
beneath. The water is neither green nor blue nor white nor tawny; it
is like a polished steel mirror. No sword-grass grows about the
margin; there are no blue water forget-me-nots, nor broad lily leaves;
the grass at the brim is short and thick, and the weeping willows that
droop over the edge grow picturesquely enough. It is easy to imagine a