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“Perhaps it is, monsieur,” said Dutocq, dryly. “If I had had the honor to see you earlier, you would probably have not been so willing to support Monsieur Rabourdin, after reading his opinion of you.”

Dutocq opened his coat, took a paper from the left-hand breast-pocket and laid it on des Lupeaulx’s desk, pointing to a marked passage. Then he went to the door and slipped the bolt, fearing interruption. While he was thus employed, the secretary-general read the opening sentence of the article, which was as follows:

“Monsieur des Lupeaulx. A government degrades itself by openly employing such a man, whose real vocation is for police diplomacy. He is fitted to deal with the political filibusters of other cabinets, and it would be a pity therefore to employ him on our internal detective police. He is above a common spy, for he is able to understand a plan; he could skilfully carry through a dark piece of work and cover his retreat safely.”

Des Lupeaulx was succinctly analyzed in five or six such paragraphs, –the essence, in fact, of the biographical portrait which we gave at the beginning of this history. As he read the words the secretary felt that a man stronger than himself sat in judgment on him; and he at once resolved to examine the memorandum, which evidently reached far and high, without allowing Dutocq to know his secret thoughts. He therefore showed a calm, grave face when the spy returned to him. Des Lupeaulx, like lawyers, magistrates, diplomatists, and all whose work obliges them to pry into the human heart, was past being surprised at anything. Hardened in treachery and in all the tricks and wiles of hatred, he could take a stab in the back and not let his face tell of it.

“How did you get hold of this paper?”

Dutocq related his good luck; des Lupeaulx’s face as he listened expressed no approbation; and the spy ended in terror an account which began triumphantly.

“Dutocq, you have put your finger between the bark and the tree,” said the secretary, coldly. “If you don’t want to make powerful enemies I advise you to keep this paper a profound secret; it is a work of the utmost importance and already well known to me.”

So saying, des Lupeaulx dismissed Dutocq by one of those glances that are more expressive than words.

“Ha! that scoundrel of a Rabourdin has put his finger in this!” thought Dutocq, alarmed on finding himself anticipated; “he has reached the ear of the administration, while I am left out in the cold. I shouldn’t have thought it!”

To all his other motives of aversion to Rabourdin he now added the jealousy of one man to another man of the same calling,–a most powerful ingredient in hatred.

When des Lupeaulx was left alone, he dropped into a strange meditation. What power was it of which Rabourdin was the instrument? Should he, des Lupeaulx, use this singular document to destroy him, or should he keep it as a weapon to succeed with the wife? The mystery that lay behind this paper was all darkness to des Lupeaulx, who read with something akin to terror page after page, in which the men of his acquaintance were judged with unerring wisdom. He admired Rabourdin, though stabbed to his vitals by what he said of him. The breakfast-hour suddenly cut short his meditation.

“His Excellency is waiting for you to come down,” announced the minister’s footman.

The minister always breakfasted with his wife and children and des Lupeaulx, without the presence of servants. The morning meal affords the only moment of privacy which public men can snatch from the current of overwhelming business. Yet in spite of the precautions they take to keep this hour for private intimacies and affections, a good many great and little people manage to infringe upon it. Business itself will, as at this moment, thrust itself in the way of their scanty comfort.

“I thought Rabourdin was a man above all ordinary petty manoeuvres,” began the minister; “and yet here, not ten minutes after La Billardiere’s death, he sends me this note by La Briere,–it is like a stage missive. Look,” said his Excellency, giving des Lupeaulx a paper which he was twirling in his fingers.

Too noble in mind to think for a moment of the shameful meaning La Billardiere’s death might lend to his letter, Rabourdin had not withdrawn it from La Briere’s hands after the news reached him. Des Lupeaulx read as follows:–

“Monseigneur,–If twenty-three years of irreproachable services may claim a favor, I entreat your Excellency to grant me an audience this very day. My honor is involved in the matter of which I desire to speak.”

“Poor man!” said des Lupeaulx, in a tone of compassion which confirmed the minister in his error. “We are alone; I advise you to see him now. You have a meeting of the Council when the Chamber rises; moreover, your Excellency has to reply to-day to the opposition; this is really the only hour when you can receive him.”

Des Lupeaulx rose, called the servant, said a few words, and returned to his seat. “I have told them to bring him in at dessert,” he said.

Like all other ministers under the Restoration, this particular minister was a man without youth. The charter granted by Louis XVIII. had the defect of tying the hands of the kings by compelling them to deliver the destinies of the nation into the control of the middle-aged men of the Chamber and the septuagenarians of the peerage; it robbed them of the right to lay hands on a man of statesmanlike talent wherever they could find him, no matter how young he was or how poverty-stricken his condition might be. Napoleon alone was able to employ young men as he chose, without being restrained by any consideration. After the overthrow of that mighty will, vigor deserted power. Now the period when effeminacy succeeds to vigor presents a contrast that is far more dangerous in France than in other countries. As a general thing, ministers who were old before they entered office have proved second or third rate, while those who were taken young have been an honor to European monarchies and to the republics whose affairs they have directed. The world still rings with the struggle between Pitt and Napoleon, two men who conducted the politics of their respective countries at an age when Henri de Navarre, Richelieu, Mazarin, Colbert, Louvois, the Prince of Orange, the Guises, Machiavelli, in short, all the best known of our great men, coming from the ranks or born to a throne, began to rule the State. The Convention–that model of energy–was made up in a great measure of young heads; no sovereign can ever forget that it was able to put fourteen armies into the field against Europe. Its policy, fatal in the eyes of those who cling to what is called absolute power, was nevertheless dictated by strictly monarchical principles, and it behaved itself like any of the great kings.

After ten or a dozen years of parliamentary struggle, having studied the science of politics until he was worn down by it, this particular minister had come to be enthroned by his party, who considered him in the light of their business man. Happily for him he was now nearer sixty than fifty years of age; had he retained even a vestige of juvenile vigor he would quickly have quenched it. But, accustomed to back and fill, retreat and return to the charge, he was able to endure being struck at, turn and turn about, by his own party, by the opposition, by the court, by the clergy, because to all such attacks he opposed the inert force of a substance which was equally soft and consistent; thus he reaped the benefits of what was really his misfortune. Harassed by a thousand questions of government, his mind, like that of an old lawyer who has tried every species of case, no longer possessed the spring which solitary minds are able to retain, nor that power of prompt decision which distinguishes men who are early accustomed to action, and young soldiers. How could it be otherwise? He had practised sophistries and quibbled instead of judging; he had criticised effects and done nothing for causes; his head was full of plans such as a political party lays upon the shoulders of a leader,–matters of private interest brought to an orator supposed to have a future, a jumble of schemes and impractical requests. Far from coming fresh to his work, he was wearied out with marching and counter-marching, and when he finally reached the much desired height of his present position, he found himself in a thicket of thorny bushes with a thousand conflicting wills to conciliate. If the statesmen of the Restoration had been allowed to follow out their own ideas, their capacity would doubtless have been criticised; but though their wills were often forced, their age saved them from attempting the resistance which youth opposes to intrigues, both high and low,–intrigues which vanquished Richelieu, and to which, in a lower sphere, Rabourdin was to succumb.

After the rough and tumble of their first struggles in political life these men, less old than aged, have to endure the additional wear and tear of a ministry. Thus it is that their eyes begin to weaken just as they need to have the clear-sightedness of eagles; their mind is weary when its youth and fire need to be redoubled. The minister in whom Rabourdin sought to confide was in the habit of listening to men of undoubted superiority as they explained ingenious theories of government, applicable or inapplicable to the affairs of France. Such men, by whom the difficulties of national policy were never apprehended, were in the habit of attacking this minister personally whenever a parliamentary battle or a contest with the secret follies of the court took place,–on the eve of a struggle with the popular mind, or on the morrow of a diplomatic discussion which divided the Council into three separate parties. Caught in such a predicament, a statesman naturally keeps a yawn ready for the first sentence designed to show him how the public service could be better managed. At such periods not a dinner took place among bold schemers or financial and political lobbyists where the opinions of the Bourse and the Bank, the secrets of diplomacy, and the policy necessitated by the state of affairs in Europe were not canvassed and discussed. The minister has his own private councillors in des Lupeaulx and his secretary, who collected and pondered all opinions and discussions for the purpose of analyzing and controlling the various interests proclaimed and supported by so many clever men. In fact, his misfortune was that of most other ministers who have passed the prime of life; he trimmed and shuffled under all his difficulties,–with journalism, which at this period it was thought advisable to repress in an underhand way rather than fight openly; with financial as well as labor questions; with the clergy as well as with that other question of the public lands; with liberalism as with the Chamber. After manoeuvering his way to power in the course of seven years, the minister believed that he could manage all questions of administration in the same way. It is so natural to think we can maintain a position by the same methods which served us to reach it that no one ventured to blame a system invented by mediocrity to please minds of its own calibre. The Restoration, like the Polish revolution, proved to nations as to princes the true value of a Man, and what will happen if that necessary man is wanting. The last and the greatest weakness of the public men of the Restoration was their honesty, in a struggle in which their adversaries employed the resources of political dishonesty, lies, and calumnies, and let loose upon them, by all subversive means, the clamor of the unintelligent masses, able only to understand revolt.

Rabourdin told himself all these things. But he had made up his mind to win or lose, like a man weary of gambling who allows himself a last stake; ill-luck had given him as adversary in the game a sharper like des Lupeaulx. With all his sagacity, Rabourdin was better versed in matters of administration than in parliamentary optics, and he was far indeed from imagining how his confidence would be received; he little thought that the great work that filled his mind would seem to the minister nothing more than a theory, and that a man who held the position of a statesman would confound his reform with the schemes of political and self-interested talkers.

As the minister rose from table, thinking of Francois Keller, his wife detained him with the offer of a bunch of grapes, and at that moment Rabourdin was announced. Des Lupeaulx had counted on the minister’s preoccupation and his desire to get away; seeing him for the moment occupied with his wife, the general-secretary went forward to meet Rabourdin; whom he petrified with his first words, said in a low tone of voice:–

“His Excellency and I know what the subject is that occupies your mind; you have nothing to fear”; then, raising his voice, he added, “neither from Dutocq nor from any one else.”

“Don’t feel uneasy, Rabourdin,” said his Excellency, kindly, but making a movement to get away.

Rabourdin came forward respectfully, and the minister could not evade him.

“Will your Excellency permit me to see you for a moment in private?” he said, with a mysterious glance.

The minister looked at the clock and went towards the window, whither the poor man followed him.

“When may I have the honor of submitting the matter of which I spoke to your Excellency? I desire to fully explain the plan of administration to which the paper that was taken belongs–“

“Plan of administration!” exclaimed the minister, frowning, and hurriedly interrupting him. “If you have anything of that kind to communicate you must wait for the regular day when we do business together. I ought to be at the Council now; and I have an answer to make to the Chamber on that point which the opposition raised before the session ended yesterday. Your day is Wednesday next; I could not work yesterday, for I had other things to attend to; political matters are apt to interfere with purely administrative ones.”

“I place my honor with all confidence in your Excellency’s hands,” said Rabourdin gravely, “and I entreat you to remember that you have not allowed me time to give you an immediate explanation of the stolen paper–“

“Don’t be uneasy,” said des Lupeaulx, interposing between the minister and Rabourdin, whom he thus interrupted; “in another week you will probably be appointed–“

The minister smiled as he thought of des Lupeaulx’s enthusiasm for Madame Rabourdin, and he glanced knowingly at his wife. Rabourdin saw the look, and tried to imagine its meaning; his attention was diverted for a moment, and his Excellency took advantage of the fact to make his escape.

“We will talk of all this, you and I,” said des Lupeaulx, with whom Rabourdin, much to his surprise, now found himself alone. “Don’t be angry with Dutocq; I’ll answer for his discretion.”

“Madame Rabourdin is charming,” said the minister’s wife, wishing to say the civil thing to the head of a bureau.

The children all gazed at Rabourdin with curiosity. The poor man had come there expecting some serious, even solemn, result, and he was like a great fish caught in the threads of a flimsy net; he struggled with himself.

“Madame la comtesse is very good,” he said.

“Shall I not have the pleasure of seeing Madame here some Wednesday?” said the countess. “Pray bring her; it will give me pleasure.”

“Madame Rabourdin herself receives on Wednesdays,” interrupted des Lupeaulx, who knew the empty civility of an invitation to the official Wednesdays; “but since you are so kind as to wish for her, you will soon give one of your private parties, and–“

The countess rose with some irritation.

“You are the master of my ceremonies,” she said to des Lupeaulx, –ambiguous words, by which she expressed the annoyance she felt with the secretary for presuming to interfere with her private parties, to which she admitted only a select few. She left the room without bowing to Rabourdin, who remained alone with des Lupeaulx; the latter was twisting in his fingers the confidential letter to the minister which Rabourdin had intrusted to La Briere. Rabourdin recognized it.

“You have never really known me,” said des Lupeaulx. “Friday evening we will come to a full understanding. Just now I must go and receive callers; his Excellency saddles me with that burden when he has other matters to attend to. But I repeat, Rabourdin, don’t worry yourself; you have nothing to fear.”

Rabourdin walked slowly through the corridors, amazed and confounded by this singular turn of events. He had expected Dutocq to denounce him, and found he had not been mistaken; des Lupeaulx had certainly seen the document which judged him so severely, and yet des Lupeaulx was fawning on his judge! It was all incomprehensible. Men of upright minds are often at a loss to understand complicated intrigues, and Rabourdin was lost in a maze of conjecture without being able to discover the object of the game which the secretary was playing.

“Either he has not read the part about himself, or he loves my wife.”

Such were the two thoughts to which his mind arrived as he crossed the courtyard; for the glance he had intercepted the night before between des Lupeaulx and Celestine came back to his memory like a flash of lightning.

CHAPTER VI

THE WORMS AT WORK

Rabourdin’s bureau was during his absence a prey to the keenest excitement; for the relation between the head officials and the clerks in a government office is so regulated that, when a minister’s messenger summons the head of a bureau to his Excellency’s presence (above all at the latter’s breakfast hour), there is no end to the comments that are made. The fact that the present unusual summons followed so closely on the death of Monsieur de la Billardiere seemed to give special importance to the circumstance, which was made known to Monsieur Saillard, who came at once to confer with Baudoyer. Bixiou, who happened at the moment to be at work with the latter, left him to converse with his father-in-law and betook himself to the bureau Rabourdin, where the usual routine was of course interrupted.

Bixiou [entering]. “I thought I should find you at a white heat! Don’t you know what’s going on down below? The virtuous woman is done for! yes, done for, crushed! Terrible scene at the ministry!”

Dutocq [looking fixedly at him]. “Are you telling the truth?”

Bixiou. “Pray, who would regret it? Not you, certainly, for you will be made under-head-clerk and du Bruel head of the bureau. Monsieur Baudoyer gets the division.”

Fleury. “I’ll bet a hundred francs that Baudoyer will never be head of the division.”

Vimeux. “I’ll join in the bet; will you, Monsieur Poiret?”

Poiret. “I retire in January.”

Bixiou. “Is it possible? are we to lose the sight of those shoe-ties? What will the ministry be without you? Will nobody take up the bet on my side?”

Dutocq. “I can’t, for I know the facts. Monsieur Rabourdin is appointed. Monsieur de la Billardiere requested it of the two ministers on his death-bed, blaming himself for having taken the emoluments of an office of which Rabourdin did all the work; he felt remorse of conscience, and the ministers, to quiet him, promised to appoint Rabourdin unless higher powers intervened.”

Bixiou. “Gentlemen, are you all against me? seven to one,–for I know which side you’ll take, Monsieur Phellion. Well, I’ll bet a dinner costing five hundred francs at the Rocher de Cancale that Rabourdin does not get La Billardiere’s place. That will cost you only a hundred francs each, and I’m risking five hundred,–five to one against me! Do you take it up?” [Shouting into the next room.] “Du Bruel, what say you?”

Phellion [laying down his pen]. “Monsieur, may I ask on what you base that contingent proposal?–for contingent it is. But stay, I am wrong to call it a proposal; I should say contract. A wager constitutes a contract.”

Fleury. “No, no; you can only apply the word ‘contract’ to agreements that are recognized in the Code. Now the Code allows of no action for the recovery of a bet.”

Dutocq. “Proscribe a thing and you recognize it.”

Bixiou. “Good! my little man.”

Poiret. “Dear me!”

Fleury. “True! when one refuses to pay one’s debts, that’s recognizing them.”

Thuillier. “You would make famous lawyers.”

Poiret. “I am as curious as Monsieur Phellion to know what grounds Monsieur Bixiou has for–“

Bixiou [shouting across the office]. “Du Bruel! Will you bet?”

Du Bruel [appearing at the door]. “Heavens and earth, gentlemen, I’m very busy; I have something very difficult to do; I’ve got to write an obituary notice of Monsieur de la Billardiere. I do beg you to be quiet; you can laugh and bet afterwards.”

Bixiou. “That’s true, du Bruel; the praise of an honest man is a very difficult thing to write. I’d rather any day draw a caricature of him.”

Du Bruel. “Do come and help me, Bixiou.”

Bixiou [following him]. “I’m willing; though I can do such things much better when eating.”

Du Bruel. “Well, we will go and dine together afterwards. But listen, this is what I have written” [reads] “‘The Church and the Monarchy are daily losing many of those who fought for them in Revolutionary times.'”

Bixiou. “Bad, very bad; why don’t you say, ‘Death carries on its ravages amongst the few surviving defenders of the monarchy and the old and faithful servants of the King, whose heart bleeds under these reiterated blows?'” [Du Bruel writes rapidly.] “‘Monsieur le Baron Flamet de la Billardiere died this morning of dropsy, caused by heart disease.’ You see, it is just as well to show there are hearts in government offices; and you ought to slip in a little flummery about the emotions of the Royalists during the Terror,–might be useful, hey! But stay,–no! the petty papers would be sure to say the emotions came more from the stomach than the heart. Better leave that out. What are you writing now?”

Du Bruel [reading]. “‘Issuing from an old parliamentary stock in which devotion to the throne was hereditary, as was also attachment to the faith of our fathers, Monsieur de la Billardiere–‘”

Bixiou. “Better say Monsieur le Baron de la Billardiere.”

Du Bruel. “But he wasn’t baron in 1793.”

Bixiou. “No matter. Don’t you remember that under the Empire Fouche was telling an anecdote about the Convention, in which he had to quote Robespierre, and he said, ‘Robespierre called out to me, “Duc d’Otrante, go to the Hotel de Ville.”‘ There’s a precedent for you!”

Du Bruel. “Let me just write that down; I can use it in a vaudeville. –But to go back to what we were saying. I don’t want to put ‘Monsieur le baron,’ because I am reserving his honors till the last, when they rained upon him.”

Bixiou. “Oh! very good; that’s theatrical,–the finale of the article.”

Du Bruel [continuing]. “‘In appointing Monsieur de la Billardiere gentleman-in-ordinary–‘”

Bixiou. “Very ordinary!”

Du Bruel. “‘–of the Bedchamber, the King rewarded not only the services rendered by the Provost, who knew how to harmonize the severity of his functions with the customary urbanity of the Bourbons, but the bravery of the Vendean hero, who never bent the knee to the imperial idol. He leaves a son, who inherits his loyalty and his talents.'”

Bixiou. “Don’t you think all that is a little too florid? I should tone down the poetry. ‘Imperial idol!’ ‘bent the knee!’ damn it, my dear fellow, writing vaudevilles has ruined your style; you can’t come down to pedestrial prose. I should say, ‘He belonged to the small number of those who.’ Simplify, simplify! the man himself was a simpleton.”

Du Bruel. “That’s vaudeville, if you like! You would make your fortune at the theatre, Bixiou.”

Bixiou. “What have you said about Quiberon?” [Reads over du Bruel’s shoulder.] “Oh, that won’t do! Here, this is what you must say: ‘He took upon himself, in a book recently published, the responsibility for all the blunders of the expedition to Quiberon,–thus proving the nature of his loyalty, which did not shrink from any sacrifice.’ That’s clever and witty, and exalts La Billardiere.”

Du Bruel. “At whose expense?”

Bixiou [solemn as a priest in a pulpit]. “Why, Hoche and Tallien, of course; don’t you read history?”

Du Bruel. “No. I subscribed to the Baudouin series, but I’ve never had time to open a volume; one can’t find matter for vaudevilles there.”

Phellion [at the door]. “We all want to know, Monsieur Bixiou, what made you think that the worthy and honorable Monsieur Rabourdin, who has so long done the work of this division for Monsieur de la Billardiere,–he, who is the senior head of all the bureaus, and whom, moreover, the minister summoned as soon as he heard of the departure of the late Monsieur de la Billardiere,–will not be appointed head of the division.”

Bixiou. “Papa Phellion, you know geography?”

Phellion [bridling up]. “I should say so!”

Bixiou. “And history?”

Phellion [affecting modesty]. “Possibly.”

Bixiou [looking fixedly at him]. “Your diamond pin is loose, it is coming out. Well, you may know all that, but you don’t know the human heart; you have gone no further in the geography and history of that organ than you have in the environs of the city of Paris.”

Poiret [to Vimeux]. “Environs of Paris? I thought they were talking of Monsieur Rabourdin.”

Bixiou. “About that bet? Does the entire bureau Rabourdin bet against me?”

All. “Yes.”

Bixiou. “Du Bruel, do you count in?”

Du Bruel. “Of course I do. We want Rabourdin to go up a step and make room for others.”

Bixiou. “Well, I accept the bet,–for this reason; you can hardly understand it, but I’ll tell it to you all the same. It would be right and just to appoint Monsieur Rabourdin” [looking full at Dutocq], “because, in that case, long and faithful service, honor, and talent would be recognized, appreciated, and properly rewarded. Such an appointment is in the best interests of the administration.” [Phellion, Poiret, and Thuillier listen stupidly, with the look of those who try to peer before them in the darkness.] “Well, it is just because the promotion would be so fitting, and because the man has such merit, and because the measure is so eminently wise and equitable that I bet Rabourdin will not be appointed. Yes, you’ll see, that appointment will slip up, just like the invasion from Boulogne, and the march to Russia, for the success of which a great genius has gathered together all the chances. It will fail as all good and just things do fail in this low world. I am only backing the devil’s game.”

Du Bruel. “Who do you think will be appointed?”

Bixiou. “The more I think about Baudoyer, the more sure I feel that he unites all the opposite qualities; therefore I think he will be the next head of this division.”

Dutocq. “But Monsieur des Lupeaulx, who sent for me to borrow my Charlet, told me positively that Monsieur Rabourdin was appointed, and that the little La Billardiere would be made Clerk of the Seals.”

Bixiou. “Appointed, indeed! The appointment can’t be made and signed under ten days. It will certainly not be known before New-Year’s day. There he goes now across the courtyard; look at him, and say if the virtuous Rabourdin looks like a man in the sunshine of favor. I should say he knows he’s dismissed.” [Fleury rushes to the window.] “Gentlemen, adieu; I’ll go and tell Monsieur Baudoyer that I hear from you that Rabourdin is appointed; it will make him furious, the pious creature! Then I’ll tell him of our wager, to cool him down,–a process we call at the theatre turning the Wheel of Fortune, don’t we, du Bruel? Why do I care who gets the place? simply because if Baudoyer does he will make me under-head-clerk” [goes out].

Poiret. “Everybody says that man is clever, but as for me, I can never understand a word he says” [goes on copying]. “I listen and listen; I hear words, but I never get at any meaning; he talks about the environs of Paris when he discusses the human heart and” [lays down his pen and goes to the stove] “declares he backs the devil’s game when it is a question of Russia and Boulogne; now what is there so clever in that, I’d like to know? We must first admit that the devil plays any game at all, and then find out what game; possibly dominoes” [blows his nose].

Fleury [interrupting]. “Pere Poiret is blowing his nose; it must be eleven o’clock.”

Du Bruel. “So it is! Goodness! I’m off to the secretary; he wants to read the obituary.”

Poiret. “What was I saying?”

Thuillier. “Dominoes,–perhaps the devil plays dominoes.” [Sebastien enters to gather up the different papers and circulars for signature.]

Vimeux. “Ah! there you are, my fine young man. Your days of hardship are nearly over; you’ll get a post. Monsieur Rabourdin will be appointed. Weren’t you at Madame Rabourdin’s last night? Lucky fellow! they say that really superb women go there.”

Sebastien. “Do they? I didn’t know.”

Fleury. “Are you blind?”

Sebastien. “I don’t like to look at what I ought not to see.”

Phellion [delighted]. “Well said, young man!”

Vimeux. “The devil! well, you looked at Madame Rabourdin enough, any how; a charming woman.”

Fleury. “Pooh! thin as a rail. I saw her in the Tuileries, and I much prefer Percilliee, the ballet-mistress, Castaing’s victim.”

Phellion. “What has an actress to do with the wife of a government official?”

Dutocq. “They both play comedy.”

Fleury [looking askance at Dutocq]. “The physical has nothing to do with the moral, and if you mean–“

Dutocq. “I mean nothing.”

Fleury. “Do you all want to know which of us will really be made head of this bureau?”

All. “Yes, tell us.”

Fleury. “Colleville.”

Thuillier. “Why?”

Fleury. “Because Madame Colleville has taken the shortest way to it –through the sacristy.”

Thuillier. “I am too much Colleville’s friend not to beg you, Monsieur Fleury, to speak respectfully of his wife.”

Phellion. “A defenceless woman should never be made the subject of conversation here–“

Vimeux. “All the more because the charming Madame Colleville won’t invite Fleury to her house. He backbites her in revenge.”

Fleury. “She may not receive me on the same footing that she does Thuillier, but I go there–“

Thuillier. “When? how?–under her windows?”

Though Fleury was dreaded as a bully in all the offices, he received Thuillier’s speech in silence. This meekness, which surprised the other clerks, was owing to a certain note for two hundred francs, of doubtful value, which Thuillier agreed to pass over to his sister. After this skirmish dead silence prevailed. They all wrote steadily from one to three o’clock. Du Bruel did not return.

About half-past three the usual preparations for departure, the brushing of hats, the changing of coats, went on in all the ministerial offices. That precious thirty minutes thus employed served to shorten by just so much the day’s labor. At this hour the over-heated rooms cool off; the peculiar odor that hangs about the bureaus evaporates; silence is restored. By four o’clock none but a few clerks who do their duty conscientiously remain. A minister may know who are the real workers under him if he will take the trouble to walk through the divisions after four o’clock,–a species of prying, however, that no one of his dignity would condescend to.

The various heads of divisions and bureaus usually encountered each other in the courtyards at this hour and exchanged opinions on the events of the day. On this occasion they departed by twos and threes, most of them agreeing in favor of Rabourdin; while the old stagers, like Monsieur Clergeot, shook their heads and said, “Habent sua sidera lites.” Saillard and Baudoyer were politely avoided, for nobody knew what to say to them about La Billardiere’s death, it being fully understood that Baudoyer wanted the place, though it was certainly not due to him.

When Saillard and his son-in-law had gone a certain distance from the ministry the former broke silence and said: “Things look badly for you, my poor Baudoyer.”

“I can’t understand,” replied the other, “what Elisabeth was dreaming of when she sent Godard in such a hurry to get a passport for Falleix; Godard tells me she hired a post-chaise by the advice of my uncle Mitral, and that Falleix has already started for his own part of the country.”

“Some matter connected with our business,” suggested Saillard.

“Our most pressing business just now is to look after Monsieur La Billardiere’s place,” returned Baudoyer, crossly.

They were just then near the entrance of the Palais-Royal on the rue Saint-Honore. Dutocq came up, bowing, and joined them.

“Monsieur,” he said to Baudoyer, “if I can be useful to you in any way under the circumstances in which you find yourself, pray command me, for I am not less devoted to your interests than Monsieur Godard.”

“Such an assurance is at least consoling,” replied Baudoyer; “it makes me aware that I have the confidence of honest men.”

“If you would kindly employ your influence to get me placed in your division, taking Bixiou as head of the bureau and me as under-head-clerk, you will secure the future of two men who are ready to do anything for your advancement.”

“Are you making fun of us, monsieur?” asked Saillard, staring at him stupidly.

“Far be it from me to do that,” said Dutocq. “I have just come from the printing-office of the ministerial journal (where I carried from the general-secretary an obituary notice of Monsieur de la Billardiere), and I there read an article which will appear to-night about you, which has given me the highest opinion of your character and talents. If it is necessary to crush Rabourdin, I’m in a position to give him the final blow; please to remember that.”

Dutocq disappeared.

“May I be shot if I understand a single word of it,” said Saillard, looking at Baudoyer, whose little eyes were expressive of stupid bewilderment. “I must buy the newspaper to-night.”

When the two reached home and entered the salon on the ground-floor, they found a large fire lighted, and Madame Saillard, Elisabeth, Monsieur Gaudron and the curate of Saint-Paul’s sitting by it. The curate turned at once to Monsieur Baudoyer, to whom Elisabeth made a sign which he failed to understand.

“Monsieur,” said the curate, “I have lost no time in coming in person to thank you for the magnificent gift with which you have adorned my poor church. I dared not run in debt to buy that beautiful monstrance, worthy of a cathedral. You, who are one of our most pious and faithful parishioners, must have keenly felt the bareness of the high altar. I am on my way to see Monseigneur the coadjutor, and he will, I am sure, send you his own thanks later.”

“I have done nothing as yet–” began Baudoyer.

“Monsieur le cure,” interposed his wife, cutting him short. “I see I am forced to betray the whole secret. Monsieur Baudoyer hopes to complete the gift by sending you a dais for the coming Fete-Dieu. But the purchase must depend on the state of our finances, and our finances depend on my husband’s promotion.”

“God will reward those who honor him,” said Monsieur Gaudron, preparing, with the curate, to take leave.

“But will you not,” said Saillard to the two ecclesiastics, “do us the honor to take pot luck with us?”

“You can stay, my dear vicar,” said the curate to Gaudron; “you know I am engaged to dine with the curate of Saint-Roch, who, by the bye, is to bury Monsieur de la Billardiere to-morrow.”

“Monsieur le cure de Saint-Roch might say a word for us,” began Baudoyer. His wife pulled the skirt of his coat violently.

“Do hold your tongue, Baudoyer,” she said, leading him aside and whispering in his ear. “You have given a monstrance to the church, that cost five thousand francs. I’ll explain it all later.”

The miserly Baudoyer make a sulky grimace, and continued gloomy and cross for the rest of the day.

“What did you busy yourself about Falleix’s passport for? Why do you meddle in other people’s affairs?” he presently asked her.

“I must say, I think Falleix’s affairs are as much ours as his,” returned Elisabeth, dryly, glancing at her husband to make him notice Monsieur Gaudron, before whom he ought to be silent.

“Certainly, certainly,” said old Saillard, thinking of his co-partnership.

“I hope you reached the newspaper office in time?” remarked Elisabeth to Monsieur Gaudron, as she helped him to soup.

“Yes, my dear lady,” answered the vicar; “when the editor read the little article I gave him, written by the secretary of the Grand Almoner, he made no difficulty. He took pains to insert it in a conspicuous place. I should never have thought of that; but this young journalist has a wide-awake mind. The defenders of religion can enter the lists against impiety without disadvantage at the present moment, for there is a great deal of talent in the royalist press. I have every reason to believe that success will crown your hopes. But you must remember, my dear Baudoyer, to promote Monsieur Colleville; he is an object of great interest to his Eminence; in fact, I am desired to mention him to you.”

“If I am head of the division, I will make him head of one of my bureaus, if you want me to,” said Baudoyer.

The matter thus referred to was explained after dinner, when the ministerial organ (bought and sent up by the porter) proved to contain among its Paris news the following articles, called items:–

“Monsieur le Baron de la Billardiere died this morning, after a long and painful illness. The king loses a devoted servant, the Church a most pious son. Monsieur de la Billardiere’s end has fitly crowned a noble life, consecrated in dark and troublesome times to perilous missions, and of late years to arduous civic duties. Monsieur de la Billardiere was provost of a department, where his force of character triumphed over all the obstacles that rebellion arrayed against him. He subsequently accepted the difficult post of director of a division (in which his great acquirements were not less useful than the truly French affability of his manners) for the express purpose of conciliating the serious interests that arise under its administration. No rewards have ever been more truly deserved than those by which the King, Louis XVIII., and his present Majesty took pleasure in crowning a loyalty which never faltered under the usurper. This old family still survives in the person of a single heir to the excellent man whose death now afflicts so many warm friends. His Majesty has already graciously made known that Monsieur Benjamin de la Billardiere will be included among the gentlemen-in-ordinary of the Bedchamber.

“The numerous friends who have not already received their notification of this sad event are hereby informed that the funeral will take place to-morrow at four o’clock, in the church of Saint-Roch. The memorial address will be delivered by Monsieur l’Abbe Fontanon.”

—-

“Monsieur Isidore-Charles-Thomas Baudoyer, representing one of the oldest bourgeois families of Paris, and head of a bureau in the late Monsieur de la Billardiere’s division, has lately recalled the old traditions of piety and devotion which formerly distinguished these great families, so jealous for the honor and glory of religion, and so faithful in preserving its monuments. The church of Saint-Paul has long needed a monstrance in keeping with the magnificence of that basilica, itself due to the Company of Jesus. Neither the vestry nor the curate were rich enough to decorate the altar. Monsieur Baudoyer has bestowed upon the parish a monstrance that many persons have seen and admired at Monsieur Gohier’s, the king’s jeweller. Thanks to the piety of this gentleman, who did not shrink from the immensity of the price, the church of Saint-Paul possesses to-day a masterpiece of the jeweller’s art designed by Monsieur de Sommervieux. It gives us pleasure to make known this fact, which proves how powerless the declamations of liberals have been on the mind of the Parisian bourgeoisie. The upper ranks of that body have at all times been royalist and they prove it when occasion offers.”

“The price was five thousand francs,” said the Abbe Gaudron; “but as the payment was in cash, the court jeweller reduced the amount.”

“Representing one of the oldest bourgeois families in Paris!” Saillard was saying to himself; “there it is printed,–in the official paper, too!”

“Dear Monsieur Gaudron,” said Madame Baudoyer, “please help my father to compose a little speech that he could slip into the countess’s ear when he takes her the monthly stipend,–a single sentence that would cover all! I must leave you. I am obliged to go out with my uncle Mitral. Would you believe it? I was unable to find my uncle Bidault at home this afternoon. Oh, what a dog-kennel he lives in! But Monsieur Mitral, who knows his ways, says he does all his business between eight o’clock in the morning and midday, and that after that hour he can be found only at a certain cafe called the Cafe Themis,–a singular name.”

“Is justice done there?” said the abbe, laughing.

“Do you ask why he goes to a cafe at the corner of the rue Dauphine and the quai des Augustins? They say he plays dominoes there every night with his friend Monsieur Gobseck. I don’t wish to go to such a place alone; my uncle Mitral will take me there and bring me back.”

At this instant Mitral showed his yellow face, surmounted by a wig which looked as though it might be made of hay, and made a sign to his niece to come at once, and not keep a carriage waiting at two francs an hour. Madame Baudoyer rose and went away without giving any explanation to her husband or father.

“Heaven has given you in that woman,” said Monsieur Gaudron to Baudoyer when Elisabeth had disappeared, “a perfect treasure of prudence and virtue, a model of wisdom, a Christian who gives sure signs of possessing the Divine spirit. Religion alone is able to form such perfect characters. To-morrow I shall say a mass for the success of your good cause. It is all-important, for the sake of the monarchy and of religion itself that you should receive this appointment. Monsieur Rabourdin is a liberal; he subscribes to the ‘Journal des Debats,’ a dangerous newspaper, which made war on Monsieur le Comte de Villele to please the wounded vanity of Monsieur de Chateaubriand. His Eminence will read the newspaper to-night, if only to see what is said of his poor friend Monsieur de la Billardiere; and Monseigneur the coadjutor will speak of you to the King. When I think of what you have now done for his dear church, I feel sure he will not forget you in his prayers; more than that, he is dining at this moment with the coadjutor at the house of the curate of Saint-Roch.”

These words made Saillard and Baudoyer begin to perceive that Elisabeth had not been idle ever since Godard had informed her of Monsieur de la Billardiere’s decease.

“Isn’t she clever, that Elisabeth of mine?” cried Saillard, comprehending more clearly than Monsieur l’abbe the rapid undermining, like the path of a mole, which his daughter had undertaken.

“She sent Godard to Rabourdin’s door to find out what newspaper he takes,” said Gaudron; “and I mentioned the name to the secretary of his Eminence,–for we live at a crisis when the Church and Throne must keep themselves informed as to who are their friends and who their enemies.”

“For the last five days I have been trying to find the right thing to say to his Excellency’s wife,” said Saillard.

“All Paris will read that,” cried Baudoyer, whose eyes were still riveted on the paper.

“Your eulogy costs us four thousand eight hundred francs, son-in-law!” exclaimed Madame Saillard.

“You have adorned the house of God,” said the Abbe Gaudron.

“We might have got salvation without doing that,” she returned. “But if Baudoyer gets the place, which is worth eight thousand more, the sacrifice is not so great. If he doesn’t get it! hey, papa,” she added, looking at her husband, “how we shall have bled!–“

“Well, never mind,” said Saillard, enthusiastically, “we can always make it up through Falleix, who is going to extend his business and use his brother, whom he has made a stockbroker on purpose. Elisabeth might have told us, I think, why Falleix went off in such a hurry. But let’s invent my little speech. This is what I thought of: ‘Madame, if you would say a word to his Excellency–‘”

“‘If you would deign,'” said Gaudron; “add the word ‘deign,’ it is more respectful. But you ought to know, first of all, whether Madame la Dauphine will grant you her protection, and then you could suggest to Madame la comtesse the idea of co-operating with the wishes of her Royal Highness.”

“You ought to designate the vacant post,” said Baudoyer.

“‘Madame la comtesse,'” began Saillard, rising, and bowing to his wife, with an agreeable smile.

“Goodness! Saillard; how ridiculous you look. Take care, my man, you’ll make the woman laugh.”

“‘Madame la comtesse,'” resumed Saillard. “Is that better, wife?”

“Yes, my duck.”

“‘The place of the worthy Monsieur de la Billardiere is vacant; my son-in-law, Monsieur Baudoyer–‘”

“‘Man of talent and extreme piety,'” prompted Gaudron.

“Write it down, Baudoyer,” cried old Saillard, “write that sentence down.”

Baudoyer proceeded to take a pen and wrote, without a blush, his own praises, precisely as Nathan or Canalis might have reviewed one of their own books.

“‘Madame la comtesse’– Don’t you see, mother?” said Saillard to his wife; “I am supposing you to be the minister’s wife.”

“Do you take me for a fool?” she answered sharply. “I know that.”

“‘The place of the late worthy de la Billardiere is vacant; my son-in-law, Monsieur Baudoyer, a man of consummate talent and extreme piety–‘” After looking at Monsieur Gaudron, who was reflecting, he added, “‘will be very glad if he gets it.’ That’s not bad; it’s brief and it says the whole thing.”

“But do wait, Saillard; don’t you see that Monsieur l’abbe is turning it over in his mind?” said Madame Saillard; “don’t disturb him.”

“‘Will be very thankful if you would deign to interest yourself in his behalf,'” resumed Gaudron. “‘And in saying a word to his Excellency you will particularly please Madame la Dauphine, by whom he has the honor and the happiness to be protected.'”

“Ah! Monsieur Gaudron, that sentence is worth more than the monstrance; I don’t regret the four thousand eight hundred– Besides, Baudoyer, my lad, you’ll pay them, won’t you? Have you written it all down?”

“I shall make you repeat it, father, morning and evening,” said Madame Saillard. “Yes, that’s a good speech. How lucky you are, Monsieur Gaudron, to know so much. That’s what it is to be brought up in a seminary; they learn there how to speak to God and his saints.”

“He is as good as he is learned,” said Baudoyer, pressing the priest’s hand. “Did you write that article?” he added, pointing to the newspaper.

“No, it was written by the secretary of his Eminence, a young abbe who is under obligations to me, and who takes an interest in Monsieur Colleville; he was educated at my expense.”

“A good deed is always rewarded,” said Baudoyer.

While these four personages were sitting down to their game of boston, Elisabeth and her uncle Mitral reached the cafe Themis, with much discourse as they drove along about a matter which Elisabeth’s keen perceptions told her was the most powerful lever that could be used to force the minister’s hand in the affair of her husband’s appointment. Uncle Mitral, a former sheriff’s officer, crafty, clever at sharp practice, and full of expedients and judicial precautions, believed the honor of his family to be involved in the appointment of his nephew. His avarice had long led him to estimate the contents of old Gigonnet’s strong-box, for he knew very well they would go in the end to benefit his nephew Baudoyer; and it was therefore important that the latter should obtain a position which would be in keeping with the combined fortunes of the Saillards and the old Gigonnet, which would finally devolve on the Baudoyer’s little daughter; and what an heiress she would be with an income of a hundred thousand francs! to what social position might she not aspire with that fortune? He adopted all the ideas of his niece Elisabeth and thoroughly understood them. He had helped in sending off Falleix expeditiously, explaining to him the advantage of taking post horses. After which, while eating his dinner, he reflected that it be as well to give a twist of his own to the clever plan invented by Elisabeth.

When they reached the Cafe Themis he told his niece that he alone could manage Gigonnet in the matter they both had in view, and he made her wait in the hackney-coach and bide her time to come forward at the right moment. Elisabeth saw through the window-panes the two faces of Gobseck and Gigonnet (her uncle Bidault), which stood out in relief against the yellow wood-work of the old cafe, like two cameo heads, cold and impassible, in the rigid attitude that their gravity gave them. The two Parisian misers were surrounded by a number of other old faces, on which “thirty per cent discount” was written in circular wrinkles that started from the nose and turned round the glacial cheek-bones. These remarkable physiognomies brightened up on seeing Mitral, and their eyes gleamed with tigerish curiosity.

“Hey, hey! it is papa Mitral!” cried one of them, named Chaboisseau, a little old man who discounted for a publisher.

“Bless me, so it is!” said another, a broker named Metivier, “ha, that’s an old monkey well up in his tricks.”

“And you,” retorted Mitral, “you are an old crow who knows all about carcasses.”

“True,” said the stern Gobseck.

“What are you here for? Have you come to seize friend Metivier?” asked Gigonnet, pointing to the broker, who had the bluff face of a porter.

“Your great-niece Elisabeth is out there, papa Gigonnet,” whispered Mitral.

“What! some misfortune?” said Bidault. The old man drew his eyebrows together and assumed a tender look like that of an executioner when about to go to work officially. In spite of his Roman virtue he must have been touched, for his red nose lost somewhat of its color.

“Well, suppose it is misfortune, won’t you help Saillard’s daughter? –a girl who has knitted your stockings for the last thirty years!” cried Mitral.

“If there’s good security I don’t say I won’t,” replied Gigonnet. “Falleix is in with them. Falleix has just set up his brother as a broker, and he is doing as much business as the Brezacs; and what with? his mind, perhaps! Saillard is no simpleton.”

“He knows the value of money,” put in Chaboisseau.

That remark, uttered among those old men, would have made an artist and thinker shudder as they all nodded their heads.

“But it is none of my business,” resumed Bidault-Gigonnet. “I’m not bound to care for my neighbors’ misfortunes. My principle is never to be off my guard with friends or relatives; you can’t perish except through weakness. Apply to Gobseck; he is softer.”

The usurers all applauded these doctrines with a shake of their metallic heads. An onlooker would have fancied he heard the creaking of ill-oiled machinery.

“Come, Gigonnet, show a little feeling,” said Chaboisseau, “they’ve knit your stockings for thirty years.”

“That counts for something,” remarked Gobseck.

“Are you all alone? Is it safe to speak?” said Mitral, looking carefully about him. “I come about a good piece of business.”

“If it is good, why do you come to us?” said Gigonnet, sharply, interrupting Mitral.

“A fellow who was a gentleman of the Bedchamber,” went on Mitral, “a former ‘chouan,’–what’s his name?–La Billardiere is dead.”

“True,” said Gobseck.

“And our nephew is giving monstrances to the church,” snarled Gigonnet.

“He is not such a fool as to give them, he sells them, old man,” said Mitral, proudly. “He wants La Billardiere’s place, and in order to get it, we must seize–“

“Seize! You’ll never be anything but a sheriff’s officer,” put in Metivier, striking Mitral amicably on the shoulder; “I like that, I do!”

“Seize Monsieur Clement des Lupeaulx in our clutches,” continued Mitral; “Elisabeth has discovered how to do it, and he is–“

“Elisabeth”; cried Gigonnet, interrupting again; “dear little creature! she takes after her grandfather, my poor brother! he never had his equal! Ah, you should have seen him buying up old furniture; what tact! what shrewdness! What does Elisabeth want?”

“Hey! hey!” cried Mitral, “you’ve got back your bowels of compassion, papa Gigonnet! That phenomenon has a cause.”

“Always a child,” said Gobseck to Gigonnet, “you are too quick on the trigger.”

“Come, Gobseck and Gigonnet, listen to me; you want to keep well with des Lupeaulx, don’t you? You’ve not forgotten how you plucked him in that affair about the king’s debts, and you are afraid he’ll ask you to return some of his feathers,” said Mitral.

“Shall we tell him the whole thing?” asked Gobseck, whispering to Gigonnet.

“Mitral is one of us; he wouldn’t play a shabby trick on his former customers,” replied Gigonnet. “You see, Mitral,” he went on, speaking to the ex-sheriff in a low voice, “we three have just bought up all those debts, the payment of which depends on the decision of the liquidation committee.”

“How much will you lose?” asked Mitral.

“Nothing,” said Gobseck.

“Nobody knows we are in it,” added Gigonnet; “Samanon screens us.”

“Come, listen to me, Gigonnet; it is cold, and your niece is waiting outside. You’ll understand what I want in two words. You must at once, between you, send two hundred and fifty thousand francs (without interest) into the country after Falleix, who has gone post-haste, with a courier in advance of him.”

“Is it possible!” said Gobseck.

“What for?” cried Gigonnet, “and where to?”

“To des Lupeaulx’s magnificent country-seat,” replied Mitral. “Falleix knows the country, for he was born there; and he is going to buy up land all round the secretary’s miserable hovel, with the two hundred and fifty thousand francs I speak of,–good land, well worth the price. There are only nine days before us for drawing up and recording the notarial deeds (bear that in mind). With the addition of this land, des Lupeaulx’s present miserable property would pay taxes to the amount of one thousand francs, the sum necessary to make a man eligible to the Chamber. Ergo, with it des Lupeaulx goes into the electoral college, becomes eligible, count, and whatever he pleases. You know the deputy who has slipped out and left a vacancy, don’t you?”

The two misers nodded.

“Des Lupeaulx would cut off a leg to get elected in his place,” continued Mitral; “but he must have the title-deeds of the property in his own name, and then mortgage them back to us for the amount of the purchase-money. Ah! now you begin to see what I am after! First of all, we must make sure of Baudoyer’s appointment, and des Lupeaulx will get it for us on these terms; after that is settled we will hand him back to you. Falleix is now canvassing the electoral vote. Don’t you perceive that you have Lupeaulx completely in your power until after the election?–for Falleix’s friends are a large majority. Now do you see what I mean, papa Gigonnet?”

“It’s a clever game,” said Metivier.

“We’ll do it,” said Gigonnet; “you agree, don’t you, Gobseck? Falleix can give us security and put mortgages on the property in my name; we’ll go and see des Lupeaulx when all is ready.”

“We’re robbed,” said Gobseck.

“Ha, ha!” laughed Mitral, “I’d like to know the robber!”

“Nobody can rob us but ourselves,” answered Gigonnet. “I told you we were doing a good thing in buying up all des Lupeaulx’s paper from his creditors at sixty per cent discount.”

“Take this mortgage on his estate and you’ll hold him tighter still through the interest,” answered Mitral.

“Possibly,” said Gobseck.

After exchanging a shrewd look with Gobseck, Gigonnet went to the door of the cafe.

“Elisabeth! follow it up, my dear,” he said to his niece. “We hold your man securely; but don’t neglect accessories. You have begun well, clever woman! go on as you began and you’ll have your uncle’s esteem,” and he grasped her hand, gayly.

“But,” said Mitral, “Metivier and Chaboisseau heard it all, and they may play us a trick and tell the matter to some opposition journal which would catch the ball on its way and counteract the effect of the ministerial article. You must go alone, my dear; I dare not let those two cormorants out of my sight.” So saying he re-entered the cafe.

The next day the numerous subscribers to a certain liberal journal read, among the Paris items, the following article, inserted authoritatively by Chaboisseau and Metivier, share-holders in the said journal, brokers for publishers, printers, and paper-makers, whose behests no editor dared refuse:–

“Yesterday a ministerial journal plainly indicated as the probable successor of Monsieur le Baron de la Billardiere, Monsieur Baudoyer, one of the worthiest citizens of a populous quarter, where his benevolence is scarcely less known than the piety on which the ministerial organ laid so much stress. Why was that sheet silent as to his talents? Did it reflect that in boasting of the bourgeoise nobility of Monsieur Baudoyer–which, certainly, is a nobility as good as any other–it was pointing out a reason for the exclusion of the candidate? A gratuitous piece of perfidy! an attempt to kill with a caress! To appoint Monsieur Baudoyer is to do honor to the virtues, the talents of the middle classes, of whom we shall ever be the supporters, though their cause seems at times a lost one. This appointment, we repeat, will be an act of justice and good policy; consequently we may be sure it will not be made.”

On the morrow, Friday, the usual day for the dinner given by Madame Rabourdin, whom des Lupeaulx had left at midnight, radiant in beauty, on the staircase of the Bouffons, arm in arm with Madame de Camps (Madame Firmiani had lately married), the old roue awoke with his thoughts of vengeance calmed, or rather refreshed, and his mind full of a last glance exchanged with Celestine.

“I’ll make sure of Rabourdin’s support by forgiving him now,–I’ll get even with him later. If he hasn’t this place for the time being I should have to give up a woman who is capable of becoming a most precious instrument in the pursuit of high political fortune. She understands everything; shrinks from nothing, from no idea whatever! –and besides, I can’t know before his Excellency what new scheme of administration Rabourdin has invented. No, my dear des Lupeaulx, the thing in hand is to win all now for your Celestine. You may make as many faces as you please, Madame la comtesse, but you will invite Madame Rabourdin to your next select party.”

Des Lupeaulx was one of those men who to satisfy a passion are quite able to put away revenge in some dark corner of their minds. His course was taken; he was resolved to get Rabourdin appointed.

“I will prove to you, my dear fellow, that I deserve a good place in your galley,” thought he as he seated himself in his study and began to unfold a newspaper.

He knew so well what the ministerial organ would contain that he rarely took the trouble to read it, but on this occasion he did open it to look at the article on La Billardiere, recollecting with amusement the dilemma in which du Bruel had put him by bringing him the night before Bixiou’s amendments to the obituary. He was laughing to himself as he reread the biography of the late Comte da Fontaine, dead a few months earlier, which he had hastily substituted for that of La Billardiere, when his eyes were dazzled by the name of Baudoyer. He read with fury the article which pledged the minister, and then he rang violently for Dutocq, to send him at once to the editor. But what was his astonishment on reading the reply of the opposition paper! The situation was evidently serious. He knew the game, and he saw that the man who was shuffling his cards for him was a Greek of the first order. To dictate in this way through two opposing newspapers in one evening, and to begin the fight by forestalling the intentions of the minister was a daring game! He recognized the pen of a liberal editor, and resolved to question him that night at the opera. Dutocq appeared.

“Read that,” said des Lupeaulx, handing him over the two journals, and continuing to run his eye over others to see if Baudoyer had pulled any further wires. “Go to the office and ask who has dared to thus compromise the minister.”

“It was not Monsieur Baudoyer himself,” answered Dutocq, “for he never left the ministry yesterday. I need not go and inquire; for when I took your article to the newspaper office I met a young abbe who brought in a letter from the Grand Almoner, before which you yourself would have had to bow.”

“Dutocq, you have a grudge against Monsieur Rabourdin, and it isn’t right; for he has twice saved you from being turned out. However, we are not masters of our own feelings; we sometimes hate our benefactors. Only, remember this; if you show the slightest treachery to Rabourdin, without my permission, it will be your ruin. As to that newspaper, let the Grand Almoner subscribe as largely as we do, if he wants its services. Here we are at the end of the year; the matter of subscriptions will come up for discussion, and I shall have something to say on that head. As to La Billardiere’s place, there is only one way to settle the matter; and that is to appoint Rabourdin this very day.”

“Gentlemen,” said Dutocq, returning to the clerks’ office and addressing his colleagues. “I don’t know if Bixiou has the art of looking into futurity, but if you have not read the ministerial journal I advise you to study the article about Baudoyer; then, as Monsieur Fleury takes the opposition sheet, you can see the reply. Monsieur Rabourdin certainly has talent, but a man who in these days gives a six-thousand-franc monstrance to the Church has a devilish deal more talent than he.”

Bixiou [entering]. “What say you, gentlemen, to the First Epistle to the Corinthians in our pious ministerial journal, and the reply Epistle to the Ministers in the opposition sheet? How does Monsieur Rabourdin feel now, du Bruel?”

Du Bruel [rushing in]. “I don’t know.” [He drags Bixiou back into his cabinet, and says in a low voice] “My good fellow, your way of helping people is like that of the hangman who jumps upon a victim’s shoulders to break his neck. You got me into a scrape with des Lupeaulx, which my folly in ever trusting you richly deserved. A fine thing indeed, that article on La Billardiere. I sha’n’t forget the trick! Why, the very first sentence was as good as telling the King he was superannuated and it was time for him to die. And as to that Quiberon bit, it said plainly that the King was a– What a fool I was!”

Bixiou [laughing]. “Bless my heart! are you getting angry? Can’t a fellow joke any more?”

Du Bruel. “Joke! joke indeed. When you want to be made head-clerk somebody shall joke with you, my dear fellow.”

Bixiou [in a bullying tone]. “Angry, are we?”

Du Bruel. “Yes!”

Bixiou [dryly]. “So much the worse for you.”

Du Bruel [uneasy]. “You wouldn’t pardon such a thing yourself, I know.”

Bixiou [in a wheedling tone]. “To a friend? indeed I would.” [They hear Fleury’s voice.] “There’s Fleury cursing Baudoyer. Hey, how well the thing has been managed! Baudoyer will get the appointment.” [Confidentially] “After all, so much the better. Du Bruel, just keep your eye on the consequences. Rabourdin would be a mean-spirited creature to stay under Baudoyer; he will send in his registration, and that will give us two places. You can be head of the bureau and take me for under-head-clerk. We will make vaudevilles together, and I’ll fag at your work in the office.”

Du Bruel [smiling]. “Dear me, I never thought of that. Poor Rabourdin! I shall be sorry for him, though.”

Bixiou. “That shows how much you love him!” [Changing his tone] “Ah, well, I don’t pity him any longer. He’s rich; his wife gives parties and doesn’t ask me,–me, who go everywhere! Well, good-bye, my dear fellow, good-bye, and don’t owe me a grudge!” [He goes out through the clerks’ office.] “Adieu, gentlemen; didn’t I tell you yesterday that a man who has nothing but virtues and talents will always be poor, even though he has a pretty wife?”

Henry. “You are so rich, you!”

Bixiou. “Not bad, my Cincinnatus! But you’ll give me that dinner at the Rocher de Cancale.”

Poiret. “It is absolutely impossible for me to understand Monsieur Bixiou.”

Phellion [with an elegaic air]. “Monsieur Rabourdin so seldom reads the newspapers that it might perhaps be serviceable to deprive ourselves momentarily by taking them in to him.” [Fleury hands over his paper, Vimeux the office sheet, and Phellion departs with them.]

At that moment des Lupeaulx, coming leisurely downstairs to breakfast with the minister, was asking himself whether, before playing a trump card for the husband, it might not be prudent to probe the wife’s heart and make sure of a reward for his devotion. He was feeling about for the small amount of heart that he possessed, when, at a turn of the staircase, he encountered his lawyer, who said to him, smiling, “Just a word, Monseigneur,” in the tone of familiarity assumed by men who know they are indispensable.

“What is it, my dear Desroches?” exclaimed the politician. “Has anything happened?”

“I have come to tell you that all your notes and debts have been brought up by Gobseck and Gigonnet, under the name of a certain Samanon.”

“Men whom I helped to make their millions!”

“Listen,” whispered the lawyer. “Gigonnet (really named Bidault) is the uncle of Saillard, your cashier; and Saillard is father-in-law to a certain Baudoyer, who thinks he has a right to the vacant place in your ministry. Don’t you think I have done right to come and tell you?”

“Thank you,” said des Lupeaulx, nodding to the lawyer with a shrewd look.

“One stroke of your pen will buy them off,” said Desroches, leaving him.

“What an immense sacrifice!” muttered des Lupeaulx. “It would be impossible to explain it to a woman,” thought he. “Is Celestine worth more than the clearing off of my debts?–that is the question. I’ll go and see her this morning.”

So the beautiful Madame Rabourdin was to be, within an hour, the arbiter of her husband’s fate, and no power on earth could warn her of the importance of her replies, or give her the least hint to guard her conduct and compose her voice. Moreover, in addition to her mischances, she believed herself certain of success, never dreaming that Rabourdin was undermined in all directions by the secret sapping of the mollusks.

“Well, Monseigneur,” said des Lupeaulx, entering the little salon where they breakfasted, “have you seen the articles on Baudoyer?”

“For God’s sake, my dear friend,” replied the minister, “don’t talk of those appointments just now; let me have an hour’s peace! They cracked my ears last night with that monstrance. The only way to save Rabourdin is to bring his appointment before the Council, unless I submit to having my hand forced. It is enough to disgust a man with the public service. I must purchase the right to keep that excellent Rabourdin by promoting a certain Colleville!”

“Why not make over the management of this pretty little comedy to me, and rid yourself of the worry of it? I’ll amuse you every morning with an account of the game of chess I should play with the Grand Almoner,” said des Lupeaulx.

“Very good,” said the minister, “settle it with the head examiner. But you know perfectly well that nothing is more likely to strike the king’s mind than just those reasons the opposition journal has chosen to put forth. Good heavens! fancy managing a ministry with such men as Baudoyer under me!”

“An imbecile bigot,” said des Lupeaulx, “and as utterly incapable as–“

“–as La Billardiere,” added the minister.

“But La Billardiere had the manners of a gentleman-in-ordinary,” replied des Lupeaulx. “Madame,” he continued, addressing the countess, “it is now an absolute necessity to invite Madame Rabourdin to your next private party. I must assure you she is the intimate friend of Madame de Camps; they were at the Opera together last night. I first met her at the hotel Firmiani. Besides, you will see that she is not of a kind to compromise a salon.”

“Invite Madame Rabourdin, my dear,” said the minister, “and pray let us talk of something else.”

CHAPTER VII

SCENES FROM DOMESTIC LIFE

Parisian households are literally eaten up with the desire to be in keeping with the luxury that surrounds them on all sides, and few there are who have the wisdom to let their external situation conform to their internal revenue. But this vice may perhaps denote a truly French patriotism, which seeks to maintain the supremacy of the nation in the matter of dress. France reigns through clothes over the whole of Europe; and every one must feel the importance of retaining a commercial sceptre that makes fashion in France what the navy is to England. This patriotic ardor which leads a nation to sacrifice everything to appearances–to the “paroistre,” as d’Aubigne said in the days of Henri IV.–is the cause of those vast secret labors which employ the whole of a Parisian woman’s morning, when she wishes, as Madame Rabourdin wished, to keep up on twelve thousand francs a year the style that many a family with thirty thousand does not indulge in. Consequently, every Friday,–the day of her dinner parties,–Madame Rabourdin helped the chambermaid to do the rooms; for the cook went early to market, and the man-servant was cleaning the silver, folding the napkins, and polishing the glasses. The ill-advised individual who might happen, through an oversight of the porter, to enter Madame Rabourdin’s establishment about eleven o’clock in the morning would have found her in the midst of a disorder the reverse of picturesque, wrapped in a dressing-gown, her hair ill-dressed, and her feet in old slippers, attending to the lamps, arranging the flowers, or cooking in haste an extremely unpoetic breakfast. The visitor to whom the mysteries of Parisian life were unknown would certainly have learned for the rest of his life not to set foot in these greenrooms at the wrong moment; a woman caught in her matin mysteries would ever after point him out as a man capable of the blackest crimes; or she would talk of his stupidity and indiscretion in a manner to ruin him. The true Parisian woman, indulgent to all curiosity that she can put to profit, is implacable to that which makes her lose her prestige. Such a domiciliary invasion may be called, not only (as they say in police reports) an attack on privacy, but a burglary, a robbery of all that is most precious, namely, CREDIT. A woman is quite willing to let herself be surprised half-dressed, with her hair about her shoulders. If her hair is all her own she scores one; but she will never allow herself to be seen “doing” her own rooms, or she loses her pariostre, –that precious /seeming-to-be/!

Madame Rabourdin was in full tide of preparation for her Friday dinner, standing in the midst of provisions the cook had just fished from the vast ocean of the markets, when Monsieur des Lupeaulx made his way stealthily in. The general-secretary was certainly the last man Madame Rabourdin expected to see, and so, when she heard his boots creaking in the ante-chamber, she exclaimed, impatiently, “The hair-dresser already!”–an exclamation as little agreeable to des Lupeaulx as the sight of des Lupeaulx was agreeable to her. She immediately escaped into her bedroom, where chaos reigned; a jumble of furniture to be put out of sight, with other heterogeneous articles of more or rather less elegance,–a domestic carnival, in short. The bold des Lupeaulx followed the handsome figure, so piquant did she seem to him in her dishabille. There is something indescribably alluring to the eye in a portion of flesh seen through an hiatus in the undergarment, more attractive far than when it rises gracefully above the circular curve of the velvet bodice, to the vanishing line of the prettiest swan’s-neck that ever lover kissed before a ball. When the eye dwells on a woman in full dress making exhibition of her magnificent white shoulders, do we not fancy that we see the elegant dessert of a grand dinner? But the glance that glides through the disarray of muslins rumpled in sleep enjoys, as it were, a feast of stolen fruit glowing between the leaves on a garden wall.

“Stop! wait!” cried the pretty Parisian, bolting the door of the disordered room.

She rang for Therese, called for her daughter, the cook, and the man-servant, wishing she possessed the whistle of the machinist at the Opera. Her call, however, answered the same purpose. In a moment, another phenomenon! the salon assumed a piquant morning look, quite in keeping with the becoming toilet hastily got together by the fugitive; we say it to her glory, for she was evidently a clever woman, in this at least.

“You!” she said, coming forward, “at this hour? What has happened?”

“Very serious things,” answered des Lupeaulx. “You and I must understand each other now.”

Celestine looked at the man behind his glasses, and understood the matter.

“My principle vice,” she said, “is oddity. For instance, I do not mix up affections with politics; let us talk politics,–business, if you will,–the rest can come later. However, it is not really oddity nor a whim that forbids me to mingle ill-assorted colors and put together things that have no affinity, and compels me to avoid discords; it is my natural instinct as an artist. We women have politics of our own.”

Already the tones of her voice and the charm of her manners were producing their effect on the secretary and metamorphosing his roughness into sentimental courtesy; she had recalled him to his obligations as a lover. A clever pretty woman makes an atmosphere about her in which the nerves relax and the feelings soften.

“You are ignorant of what is happening,” said des Lupeaulx, harshly, for he still thought it best to make a show of harshness. “Read that.”

He gave the two newspapers to the graceful woman, having drawn a line in red ink round each of the famous articles.

“Good heavens!” she exclaimed, “but this is dreadful! Who is this Baudoyer?”

“A donkey,” answered des Lupeaulx; “but, as you see, he uses means, –he gives monstrances; he succeeds, thanks to some clever hand that pulls the wires.”

The thought of her debts crossed Madame Rabourdin’s mind and blurred her sight, as if two lightning flashes had blinded her eyes at the same moment; her ears hummed under the pressure of the blood that began to beat in her arteries; she remained for a moment quite bewildered, gazing at a window which she did not see.

“But are you faithful to us?” she said at last, with a winning glance at des Lupeaulx, as if to attach him to her.

“That is as it may be,” he replied, answering her glance with an interrogative look which made the poor woman blush.

“If you demand caution-money you may lose all,” she said, laughing; “I thought you more magnanimous than you are. And you, you thought me less a person than I am,–a sort of school-girl.”

“You have misunderstood me,” he said, with a covert smile; “I meant that I could not assist a man who plays against me just as l’Etourdi played against Mascarille.”

“What can you mean?”

“This will prove to you whether I am magnanimous or not.”

He gave Madame Rabourdin the memorandum stolen by Dutocq, pointing out to her the passage in which her husband had so ably analyzed him.

“Read that.”

Celestine recognized the handwriting, read the paper, and turned pale under the blow.

“All the ministries, the whole service is treated in the same way,” said des Lupeaulx.

“Happily,” she said, “you alone possess this document. I cannot explain it, even to myself.”

“The man who stole it is not such a fool as to let me have it without keeping a copy for himself; he is too great a liar to admit it, and too clever in his business to give it up. I did not even ask him for it.”

“Who is he?”

“Your chief clerk.”

“Dutocq! People are always punished through their kindnesses! But,” she added, “he is only a dog who wants a bone.”

“Do you know what the other side offer me, poor devil of a general-secretary?”

“What?”

“I owe thirty-thousand and odd miserable francs,–you will despise me because it isn’t more, but here, I grant you, I am significant. Well, Baudoyer’s uncle has bought up my debts, and is, doubtless, ready to give me a receipt for them if Baudoyer is appointed.”

“But all that is monstrous.”

“Not at all; it is monarchical and religious, for the Grand Almoner is concerned in it. Baudoyer himself must appoint Colleville in return for ecclesiastical assistance.”

“What shall you do?”

“What will you bid me do?” he said, with charming grace, holding out his hand.

Celestine no longer thought him ugly, nor old, nor white and chilling as a hoar-frost, nor indeed anything that was odious and offensive, but she did not give him her hand. At night, in her salon, she would have let him take it a hundred times, but here, alone and in the morning, the action seemed too like a promise that might lead her far.

“And they say that statesmen have no hearts!” she cried enthusiastically, trying to hide the harshness of her refusal under the grace of her words. “The thought used to terrify me,” she added, assuming an innocent, ingenuous air.

“What a calumny!” cried des Lupeaulx. “Only this week one of the stiffest of diplomatists, a man who has been in the service ever since he came to manhood, has married the daughter of an actress, and has introduced her at the most iron-bound court in Europe as to quarterings of nobility.”

“You will continue to support us?”

“I am to draw up your husband’s appointment– But no cheating, remember.”

She gave him her hand to kiss, and tapped him on the cheek as she did so. “You are mine!” she said.

Des Lupeaulx admired the expression.

[That night, at the Opera, the old coxcomb related the incident as follows: “A woman who did not want to tell a man she would be his, –an acknowledgment a well-bred woman never allows herself to make, –changed the words into ‘You are mine.’ Don’t you think the evasion charming?”]

“But you must be my ally,” he answered. “Now listen, your husband has spoken to the minister of a plan for the reform of the administration; the paper I have shown you is a part of that plan. I want to know what it is. Find out, and tell me to-night.”

“I will,” she answered, wholly unaware of the important nature of the errand which brought des Lupeaulx to the house that morning.

“Madame, the hair-dresser.”

“At last!” thought Celestine. “I don’t see how I should have got out of it if he had delayed much longer.”

“You do not know to what lengths my devotion can go,” said des Lupeaulx, rising. “You shall be invited to the first select party given by his Excellency’s wife.”

“Ah, you are an angel!” she cried. “And I see now how much you love me; you love me intelligently.”

“To-night, dear child,” he said, “I shall find out at the Opera what journalists are conspiring for Baudoyer, and we will measure swords together.”

“Yes, but you must dine with us, will you not? I have taken pains to get the things you like best–“

“All that is so like love,” said des Lupeaulx to himself as he went downstairs, “that I am willing to be deceived in that way for a long time. Well, if she IS tricking me I shall know it. I’ll set the cleverest of all traps before the appointment is fairly signed, and I’ll read her heart. Ah! my little cats, I know you! for, after all, women are just what we men are. Twenty-eight years old, virtuous, and living here in the rue Duphot!–a rare piece of luck and worth cultivating,” thought the elderly butterfly as he fluttered down the staircase.

“Good heavens! that man, without his glasses, must look funny enough in a dressing-gown!” thought Celestine, “but the harpoon is in his back and he’ll tow me where I want to go; I am sure now of that invitation. He has played his part in my comedy.”

When, at five o’clock in the afternoon, Rabourdin came home to dress for dinner, his wife presided at his toilet and presently laid before him the fatal memorandum which, like the slipper in the Arabian Nights, the luckless man was fated to meet at every turn.

“Who gave you that?” he asked, thunderstruck.

“Monsieur des Lupeaulx.”

“So he has been here!” cried Rabourdin, with a look which would certainly have made a guilty woman turn pale, but which Celestine received with unruffled brow and a laughing eye.

“And he is coming back to dinner,” she said. “Why that startled air?”

“My dear,” replied Rabourdin, “I have mortally offended des Lupeaulx; such men never forgive, and yet he fawns upon me! Do you think I don’t see why?”

“The man seems to me,” she said, “to have good taste; you can’t expect me to blame him. I really don’t know anything more flattering to a woman than to please a worn-out palate. After–“

“A truce to nonsense, Celestine. Spare a much-tried man. I cannot get an audience of the minister, and my honor is at stake.”

“Good heavens, no! Dutocq can have the promise of a good place as soon as you are named head of the division.”

“Ah! I see what you are about, dear child,” said Rabourdin; “but the game you are playing is just as dishonorable as the real thing that is going on around us. A lie is a lie, and an honest woman–“

“Let me use the weapons employed against us.”

“Celestine, the more that man des Lupeaulx feels he is foolishly caught in a trap, the more bitter he will be against me.”

“What if I get him dismissed altogether?”

Rabourdin looked at his wife in amazement.

“I am thinking only of your advancement; it was high time, my poor husband,” continued Celestine. “But you are mistaking the dog for the game,” she added, after a pause. “In a few days des Lupeaulx will have accomplished all that I want of him. While you are trying to speak to the minister, and before you can even see him on business, I shall have seen him and spoken with him. You are worn out in trying to bring that plan of your brain to birth,–a plan which you have been hiding from me; but you will find that in three months your wife has accomplished more than you have done in six years. Come, tell me this fine scheme of yours.”

Rabourdin, continuing to shave, cautioned his wife not to say a word about his work, and after assuring her that to confide a single idea to des Lupeaulx would be to put the cat near the milk-jug, he began an explanation of his labors.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before, Rabourdin?” said Celestine, cutting her husband short at his fifth sentence. “You might have saved yourself a world of trouble. I can understand that a man should be blinded by an idea for a moment, but to nurse it up for six or seven years, that’s a thing I cannot comprehend! You want to reduce the budget,–a vulgar and commonplace idea! The budget ought, on the contrary, to reach two hundred millions. Then, indeed, France would be great. If you want a new system let it be one of loans, as Monsieur de Nucingen keeps saying. The poorest of all treasuries is the one with a surplus that it never uses; the mission of a minister of finance is to fling gold out of the windows. It will come back to him through the cellars; and you, you want to hoard it! The thing to do is to increase the offices and all government employments, instead of reducing them! So far from lessening the public debt, you ought to increase the creditors. If the Bourbons want to reign in peace, let them seek creditors in the towns and villages, and place their loans there; above all, they ought not to let foreigners draw interest away from France; some day an alien nation might ask us for the capital. Whereas if capital and interest are held only in France, neither France nor credit can perish. That’s what saved England. Your plan is the tradesman’s plan. An ambitious public man should produce some bold scheme,–he should make himself another Law, without Law’s fatal ill-luck; he ought to exhibit the power of credit, and show that we should reduce, not principal, but interest, as they do in England.”

“Come, come, Celestine,” said Rabourdin; “mix up ideas as much as you please, and make fun of them,–I’m accustomed to that; but don’t criticise a work of which you know nothing as yet.”

“Do I need,” she asked, “to know a scheme the essence of which is to govern France with a civil service of six thousand men instead of twenty thousand? My dear friend, even allowing it were the plan of a man of genius, a king of France who attempted to carry it out would get himself dethroned. You can keep down a feudal aristocracy by levelling a few heads, but you can’t subdue a hydra with thousands. And is it with the present ministers–between ourselves, a wretched crew–that you expect to carry out your reform? No, no; change the monetary system if you will, but do not meddle with men, with little men; they cry out too much, whereas gold is dumb.”

“But, Celestine, if you will talk, and put wit before argument, we shall never understand each other.”

“Understand! I understand what that paper, in which you have analyzed the capacities of the men in office, will lead to,” she replied, paying no attention to what her husband said. “Good heavens! you have sharpened the axe to cut off your own head. Holy Virgin! why didn’t you consult me? I could have at least prevented you from committing anything to writing, or, at any rate, if you insisted on putting it to paper, I would have written it down myself, and it should never have left this house. Good God! to think that he never told me! That’s what men are! capable of sleeping with the wife of their bosom for seven years, and keeping a secret from her! Hiding their thoughts from a poor woman for seven years!–doubting her devotion!”

“But,” cried Rabourdin, provoked, “for eleven years and more I have been unable to discuss anything with you because you insist on cutting me short and substituting your ideas for mine. You know nothing at all about my scheme.”

“Nothing! I know all.”

“Then tell it to me!” cried Rabourdin, angry for the first time since his marriage.

“There! it is half-past six o’clock; finish shaving and dress at once,” she cried hastily, after the fashion of women when pressed on a point they are not ready to talk of. “I must go; we’ll adjourn the discussion, for I don’t want to be nervous on a reception-day. Good heavens! the poor soul!” she thought, as she left the room, “it /is/ hard to be in labor for seven years and bring forth a dead child! And not trust his wife!”

She went back into the room.

“If you had listened to me you would never had interceded to keep your chief clerk; he stole that abominable paper, and has, no doubt, kept a fac-simile of it. Adieu, man of genius!”

Then she noticed the almost tragic expression of her husband’s grief; she felt she had gone too far, and ran to him, seized him just as he was, all lathered with soap-suds, and kissed him tenderly.

“Dear Xavier, don’t be vexed,” she said. “To-night, after the people are gone, we will study your plan; you shall speak at your ease,–I will listen just as long as you wish me to. Isn’t that nice of me? What do I want better than to be the wife of Mohammed?”

She began to laugh; and Rabourdin laughed too, for the soapsuds were clinging to Celestine’s lips, and her voice had the tones of the purest and most steadfast affection.

“Go and dress, dear child; and above all, don’t say a word of this to des Lupeaulx. Swear you will not. That is the only punishment that I impose–“

“/Impose/!” she cried. “Then I won’t swear anything.”

“Come, come, Celestine, I said in jest a really serious thing.”

“To-night,” she said, “I mean your general-secretary to know whom I am really intending to attack; he has given me the means.”

“Attack whom?”

“The minister,” she answered, drawing himself up. “We are to be invited to his wife’s private parties.”

In spite of his Celestine’s loving caresses, Rabourdin, as he finished dressing, could not prevent certain painful thoughts from clouding his brow.

“Will she ever appreciate me?” he said to himself. “She does not even understand that she is the sole incentive of my whole work. How wrong-headed, and yet how excellent a mind!–If I had not married I might now have been high in office and rich. I could have saved half my salary; my savings well-invested would have given me to-day ten thousand francs a year outside of my office, and I might then have become, through a good marriage– Yes, that is all true,” he exclaimed, interrupting himself, “but I have Celestine and my two children.” The man flung himself back on his happiness. To the best of married lives there come moments of regret. He entered the salon and looked around him. “There are not two women in Paris who understand making life pleasant as she does. To keep such a home as this on twelve thousand francs a year!” he thought, looking at the flower-stands bright with bloom, and thinking of the social enjoyments that were about to gratify his vanity. “She was made to be the wife of a minister. When I think of his Excellency’s wife, and how little she helps him! the good woman is a comfortable middle-class dowdy, and when she goes to the palace or into society–” He pinched his lips together. Very busy men are apt to have very ignorant notions about household matters, and you can make them believe that a hundred thousand francs afford little or that twelve thousand afford all.

Though impatiently expected, and in spite of the flattering dishes prepared for the palate of the gourmet-emeritus, des Lupeaulx did not come to dinner; in fact he came in very late, about midnight, an hour when company dwindles and conversations become intimate and confidential. Andoche Finot, the journalist, was one of the few remaining guests.

“I now know all,” said des Lupeaulx, when he was comfortably seated on a sofa at the corner of the fireplace, a cup of tea in his hand and Madame Rabourdin standing before him with a plate of sandwiches and some slices of cake very appropriately called “leaden cake.” “Finot, my dear and witty friend, you can render a great service to our gracious queen by letting loose a few dogs upon the men we were talking of. You have against you,” he said to Rabourdin, lowering his voice so as to be heard only by the three persons whom he addressed, “a set of usurers and priests–money and the church. The article in the liberal journal was instituted by an old money-lender to whom the paper was under obligations; but the young fellow who wrote it cares nothing about it. The paper is about to change hands, and in three days more will be on our side. The royalist opposition,–for we have, thanks to Monsieur de Chateaubriand, a royalist opposition, that is to say, royalists who have gone over to the liberals,–however, there’s no need to discuss political matters now,–these assassins of Charles X. have promised me to support your appointment at the price of our acquiescence in one of their amendments. All my batteries are manned. If they threaten us with Baudoyer we shall say to the clerical phalanx, ‘Such and such a paper and such and such men will attack your measures and the whole press will be against you’ (for even the ministerial journals which I influence will be deaf and dumb, won’t they, Finot?). ‘Appoint Rabourdin, a faithful servant, and public opinion is with you–‘”

“Hi, hi!” laughed Finot.

“So, there’s no need to be uneasy,” said des Lupeaulx. “I have arranged it all to-night; the Grand Almoner must yield.”

“I would rather have had less hope, and you to dinner,” whispered Celestine, looking at him with a vexed air which might very well pass for an expression of wounded love.

“This must win my pardon,” he returned, giving her an invitation to the ministry for the following Tuesday.

Celestine opened the letter, and a flush of pleasure came into her face. No enjoyment can be compared to that of gratified vanity.

“You know what the countess’s Tuesdays are,” said des Lupeaulx, with a confidential air. “To the usual ministerial parties they are what the ‘Petit-Chateau’ is to a court ball. You will be at the heart of power! You will see there the Comtesse Feraud, who is still in favor notwithstanding Louis XVIII.’s death, Delphine de Nucingen, Madame de Listomere, the Marquise d’Espard, and your dear Firmiani; I have had her invited to give you her support in case the other women attempt to black-ball you. I long to see you in the midst of them.”

Celestine threw up her head like a thoroughbred before the race, and re-read the invitation just as Baudoyer and Saillard had re-read the articles about themselves in the newspapers, without being able to quaff enough of it.

“/There/ first, and /next/ at the Tuileries,” she said to des Lupeaulx, who was startled by the words and by the attitude of the speaker, so expressive were they of ambition and security.

“Can it be that I am only a stepping-stone?” he asked himself. He rose, and went into Madame Rabourdin’s bedroom, where she followed him, understanding from a motion of his head that he wished to speak to her privately.

“Well, your husband’s plan,” he said; “what of it?”

“Bah! the useless nonsense of an honest man!” she replied. “He wants to suppress fifteen thousand offices and do the work with five or six thousand. You never heard of such nonsense; I will let you read the whole document when copied; it is written in perfect good faith. His analysis of the officials was prompted only by his honesty and rectitude,–poor dear man!”

Des Lupeaulx was all the more reassured by the genuine laugh which accompanied these jesting and contemptuous words, because he was a judge of lying and knew that Celestine spoke in good faith.

“But still, what is at the bottom of it all?” he asked.

“Well, he wants to do away with the land-tax and substitute taxes on consumption.”

“Why it is over a year since Francois Keller and Nucingen proposed some such plan, and the minister himself is thinking of a reduction of the land-tax.”

“There!” exclaimed Celestine, “I told him there was nothing new in his scheme.”

“No; but he is on the same ground with the best financier of the epoch,–the Napoleon of finance. Something may come of it. Your husband must surely have some special ideas in his method of putting the scheme into practice.”

“No, it is all commonplace,” she said, with a disdainful curl of her lip. “Just think of governing France with five or six thousand offices, when what is really needed is that everybody in France should be personally enlisted in the support of the government.”