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Des Lupeaulx seemed satisfied that Rabourdin, to whom in his own mind he had granted remarkable talents, was really a man of mediocrity.

“Are you quite sure of the appointment? You don’t want a bit of feminine advice?” she said.

“You women are greater adepts than we in refined treachery,” he said, nodding.

“Well, then, say /Baudoyer/ to the court and clergy, to divert suspicion and put them to sleep, and then, at the last moment, write /Rabourdin/.”

“There are some women who say /yes/ as long as they need a man, and /no/ when he has played his part,” returned des Lupeaulx, significantly.

“I know they do,” she answered, laughing; “but they are very foolish, for in politics everything recommences. Such proceedings may do with fools, but you are a man of sense. In my opinion the greatest folly any one can commit is to quarrel with a clever man.”

“You are mistaken,” said des Lupeaulx, “for such a man pardons. The real danger is with the petty spiteful natures who have nothing to do but study revenge,–I spend my life among them.”

When all the guests were gone, Rabourdin came into his wife’s room, and after asking for her strict attention, he explained his plan and made her see that it did not cut down the revenue but on the contrary increased it; he showed her in what ways the public funds were employed, and how the State could increase tenfold the circulation of money by putting its own, in the proportion of a third, or a quarter, into the expenditures which would be sustained by private or local interests. He finally proved to her plainly that his plan was not mere theory, but a system teeming with methods of execution. Celestine, brightly enthusiastic, sprang into her husband’s arms and sat upon his knee in the chimney-corner.

“At last I find the husband of my dreams!” she cried. “My ignorance of your real merit has saved you from des Lupeaulx’s claws. I calumniated you to him gloriously and in good faith.”

The man wept with joy. His day of triumph had come at last. Having labored for many years to satisfy his wife, he found himself a great man in the eyes of his sole public.

“To one who knows how good you are, how tender, how equable in anger, how loving, you are tenfold greater still. But,” she added, “a man of genius is always more or less a child; and you are a child, a dearly beloved child,” she said, caressing him. Then she drew that invitation from that particular spot where women put what they sacredly hide, and showed it to him.

“Here is what I wanted,” she said; “Des Lupeaulx has put me face to face with the minister, and were he a man of iron, his Excellency shall be made for a time to bend the knee to me.”

The next day Celestine began her preparations for entrance into the inner circle of the ministry. It was her day of triumph, her own! Never courtesan took such pains with herself as this honest woman bestowed upon her person. No dressmaker was ever so tormented as hers. Madame Rabourdin forgot nothing. She went herself to the stable where she hired carriages, and chose a coupe that was neither old, nor bourgeois, nor showy. Her footman, like the footmen of great houses, had the dress and appearance of a master. About ten on the evening of the eventful Tuesday, she left home in a charming full mourning attire. Her hair was dressed with jet grapes of exquisite workmanship, –an ornament costing three thousand francs, made by Fossin for an Englishwoman who had left Paris before it was finished. The leaves were of stamped iron-work, as light as the vine-leaves themselves, and the artist had not forgotten the graceful tendrils, which twined in the wearer’s curls just as, in nature, they catch upon the branches. The bracelets, necklace, and earrings were all what is called Berlin iron-work; but these delicate arabesques were made in Vienna, and seemed to have been fashioned by the fairies who, the stories tell us, are condemned by a jealous Carabosse to collect the eyes of ants, or weave a fabric so diaphanous that a nutshell can contain it. Madame Rabourdin’s graceful figure, made more slender still by the black draperies, was shown to advantage by a carefully cut dress, the two sides of which met at the shoulders in a single strap without sleeves. At every motion she seemed, like a butterfly, to be about to leave her covering; but the gown held firmly on by some contrivance of the wonderful dressmaker. The robe was of mousseline de laine–a material which the manufacturers had not yet sent to the Paris markets; a delightful stuff which some months later was to have a wild success, a success which went further and lasted longer than most French fashions. The actual economy of mousseline de laine, which needs no washing, has since injured the sale of cotton fabrics enough to revolutionize the Rouen manufactories. Celestine’s little feet, covered with fine silk stockings and turk-satin shoes (for silk-satin is inadmissible in deep mourning) were of elegant proportions. Thus dressed, she was very handsome. Her complexion, beautified by a bran-bath, was softly radiant. Her eyes, suffused with the light of hope, and sparkling with intelligence, justified her claims to the superiority which des Lupeaulx, proud and happy on this occasion, asserted for her.

She entered the room well (women will understand the meaning of that expression), bowed gracefully to the minister’s wife, with a happy mixture of deference and of self-respect, and gave no offence by a certain reliance on her own dignity; for every beautiful woman has the right to seem a queen. With the minister himself she took the pretty air of sauciness which women may properly allow themselves with men, even when they are grand dukes. She reconnoitred the field, as it were, while taking her seat, and saw that she was in the midst of one of those select parties of few persons, where the women eye and appraise each other, and every word said echoes in all ears; where every glance is a stab, and conversation a duel with witnesses; where all that is commonplace seems commoner still, and where every form of merit or distinction is silently accepted as though it were the natural level of all present. Rabourdin betook himself to the adjoining salon in which a few persons were playing cards; and there he planted himself on exhibition, as it were, which proved that he was not without social intelligence.

“My dear,” said the Marquise d’Espard to the Comtesse Feraud, Louis XVIII.’s last mistress, “Paris is certainly unique. It produces–whence and how, who knows?–women like this person, who seems ready to will and to do anything.”

“She really does will, and does do everything,” put in des Lupeaulx, puffed up with satisfaction.

At this moment the wily Madame Rabourdin was courting the minister’s wife. Carefully coached the evening before by des Lupeaulx, who knew all the countess’s weak spots, she was flattering her without seeming to do so. Every now and then she kept silence; for des Lupeaulx, in love as he was, knew her defects, and said to her the night before, “Be careful not to talk too much,”–words which were really an immense proof of attachment. Bertrand Barrere left behind him this sublime axiom: “Never interrupt a woman when dancing to give her advice,” to which we may add (to make this chapter of the female code complete), “Never blame a woman for scattering her pearls.”

The conversation became general. From time to time Madame Rabourdin joined in, just as a well-trained cat puts a velvet paw on her mistress’s laces with the claws carefully drawn in. The minister, in matters of the heart, had few emotions. There was not another statesman under the Restoration who had so completely done with gallantry as he; even the opposition papers, the “Miroir,” “Pandora,” and “Figaro,” could not find a single throbbing artery with which to reproach him. Madame Rabourdin knew this, but she knew also that ghosts return to old castles, and she had taken it into her head to make the minister jealous of the happiness which des Lupeaulx was appearing to enjoy. The latter’s throat literally gurgled with the name of his divinity. To launch his supposed mistress successfully, he was endeavoring to persuade the Marquise d’Espard, Madame de Nucingen, and the countess, in an eight-ear conversation, that they had better admit Madame Rabourdin to their coalition; and Madame de Camps was supporting him. At the end of the hour the minister’s vanity was greatly tickled; Madame Rabourdin’s cleverness pleased him, and she had won his wife, who, delighted with the siren, invited her to come to all her receptions whenever she pleased.

“For your husband, my dear,” she said, “will soon be director; the minister intends to unite the two divisions and place them under one director; you will then be one of us, you know.”

His Excellency carried off Madame Rabourdin on his arm to show her a certain room, which was then quite celebrated because the opposition journals blamed him for decorating it extravagantly; and together they laughed over the absurdities of journalism.

“Madame, you really must give the countess and myself the pleasure of seeing you here often.”

And he went on with a round of ministerial compliments.

“But, Monseigneur,” she replied, with one of those glances which women hold in reserve, “it seems to me that that depends on you.”

“How so?”

“You alone can give me the right to come here.”

“Pray explain.”

“No; I said to myself before I came that I would certainly not have the bad taste to seem a petitioner.”

“No, no, speak freely. Places asked in this way are never out of place,” said the minister, laughing; for there is no jest too silly to amuse a solemn man.

“Well, then, I must tell you plainly that the wife of the head of a bureau is out of place here; a director’s wife is not.”

“That point need not be considered,” said the minister, “your husband is indispensable to the administration; he is already appointed.”

“Is that a veritable fact?”

“Would you like to see the papers in my study? They are already drawn up.”

“Then,” she said, pausing in a corner where she was alone with the minister, whose eager attentions were now very marked, “let me tell you that I can make you a return.”

She was on the point of revealing her husband’s plan, when des Lupeaulx, who had glided noiselessly up to them, uttered an angry sound, which meant that he did not wish to appear to have overheard what, in fact, he had been listening to. The minister gave an ill-tempered look at the old beau, who, impatient to win his reward, had hurried, beyond all precedent, the preliminary work of the appointment. He had carried the papers to his Excellency that evening, and desired to take himself, on the morrow, the news of the appointment to her whom he was now endeavoring to exhibit as his mistress. Just then the minister’s valet approached des Lupeaulx in a mysterious manner, and told him that his own servant wished him to deliver to him at once a letter of the utmost importance.

The general-secretary went up to a lamp and read a note thus worded:–

Contrary to my custom, I am waiting in your ante-chamber to see you; you have not a moment to lose if you wish to come to terms with

Your obedient servant,
Gobseck.

The secretary shuddered when he saw the signature, which we regret we cannot give in fac-simile, for it would be valuable to those who like to guess character from what may be called the physiognomy of signature. If ever a hieroglyphic sign expressed an animal, it was assuredly this written name, in which the first and the final letter approached each other like the voracious jaws of a shark,–insatiable, always open, seeking whom to devour, both strong and weak. As for the wording of the note, the spirit of usury alone could have inspired a sentence so imperative, so insolently curt and cruel, which said all and revealed nothing. Those who had never heard of Gobseck would have felt, on reading words which compelled him to whom they were addressed to obey, yet gave no order, the presence of the implacable money-lender of the rue des Gres. Like a dog called to heel by the huntsman, des Lupeaulx left his present quest and went immediately to his own rooms, thinking of his hazardous position. Imagine a general to whom an aide-de-camp rides up and says: “The enemy with thirty thousand fresh troops is attacking on our right flank.”

A very few words will serve to explain this sudden arrival of Gigonnet and Gobseck on the field of battle,–for des Lupeaulx found them both waiting. At eight o’clock that evening, Martin Falleix, returning on the wings of the wind,–thanks to three francs to the postboys and a courier in advance,–had brought back with him the deeds of the property signed the night before. Taken at once to the Cafe Themis by Mitral, these securities passed into the hands of the two usurers, who hastened (though on foot) to the ministry. It was past eleven o’clock. Des Lupeaulx trembled when he saw those sinister faces, emitting a simultaneous look as direct as a pistol shot and as brilliant as the flash itself.

“What is it, my masters?” he said.

The two extortioners continued cold and motionless. Gigonnet silently pointed to the documents in his hand, and then at the servant.

“Come into my study,” said des Lupeaulx, dismissing his valet by a sign.

“You understand French very well,” remarked Gigonnet, approvingly.

“Have you come here to torment a man who enabled each of you to make a couple of hundred thousand francs?”

“And who will help us to make more, I hope,” said Gigonnet.

“Some new affair?” asked des Lupeaulx. “If you want me to help you, consider that I recollect the past.”

“So do we,” answered Gigonnet.

“My debts must be paid,” said des Lupeaulx, disdainfully, so as not to seem worsted at the outset.

“True,” said Gobseck.

“Let us come to the point, my son,” said Gigonnet. “Don’t stiffen your chin in your cravat; with us all that is useless. Take these deeds and read them.”

The two usurers took a mental inventory of des Lupeaulx’s study while he read with amazement and stupefaction a deed of purchase which seemed wafted to him from the clouds by angels.

“Don’t you think you have a pair of intelligent business agents in Gobseck and me?” asked Gigonnet.

“But tell me, to what do I owe such able co-operation?” said des Lupeaulx, suspicious and uneasy.

“We knew eight days ago a fact that without us you would not have known till to-morrow morning. The president of the chamber of commerce, a deputy, as you know, feels himself obliged to resign.”

Des Lupeaulx’s eyes dilated, and were as big as daisies.

“Your minister has been tricking you about this event,” said the concise Gobseck.

“You master me,” said the general-secretary, bowing with an air of profound respect, bordering however, on sarcasm.

“True,” said Gobseck.

“Can you mean to strangle me?”

“Possibly.”

“Well, then, begin your work, executioners,” said the secretary, smiling.

“You will see,” resumed Gigonnet, “that the sum total of your debts is added to the sum loaned by us for the purchase of the property; we have bought them up.”

“Here are the deeds,” said Gobseck, taking from the pocket of his greenish overcoat a number of legal papers.

“You have three years in which to pay off the whole sum,” said Gigonnet.

“But,” said des Lupeaulx, frightened at such kindness, and also by so apparently fantastic an arrangement. “What do you want of me?”

“La Billardiere’s place for Baudoyer,” said Gigonnet, quickly.

“That’s a small matter, though it will be next to impossible for me to do it,” said des Lupeaulx. “I have just tied my hands.”

“Bite the cords with your teeth,” said Gigonnet.

“They are sharp,” added Gobseck.

“Is that all?” asked des Lupeaulx.

“We keep the title-deeds of the property till the debts are paid,” said Gigonnet, putting one of the papers before des Lupeaulx; “and if the matter of the appointment is not satisfactorily arranged within six days our names will be substituted in place of yours.”

“You are deep,” cried the secretary.

“Exactly,” said Gobseck.

“And this is all?” exclaimed des Lupeaulx.

“All,” said Gobseck.

“You agree?” asked Gigonnet.

Des Lupeaulx nodded his head.

“Well, then, sign this power of attorney. Within two days Baudoyer is to be nominated; within six your debts will be cleared off, and–“

“And what?” asked des Lupeaulx.

“We guarantee–“

“Guarantee!–what?” said the secretary, more and more astonished.

“Your election to the Chamber,” said Gigonnet, rising on his heels. “We have secured a majority of fifty-two farmers’ and mechanics’ votes, which will be thrown precisely as those who lend you this money dictate.”

Des Lupeaulx wrung Gigonnet’s hand.

“It is only such as we who never misunderstand each other,” he said; “this is what I call doing business. I’ll make you a return gift.”

“Right,” said Gobseck.

“What is it?” asked Gigonnet.

“The cross of the Legion of honor for your imbecile of a nephew.”

“Good,” said Gigonnet, “I see you know him well.”

The pair took leave of des Lupeaulx, who conducted them to the staircase.

“They must be secret envoys from foreign powers,” whispered the footmen to each other.

Once in the street, the two usurers looked at each other under a street lamp and laughed.

“He will owe us nine thousand francs interest a year,” said Gigonnet; “that property doesn’t bring him in five.”

“He is under our thumb for a long time,” said Gobseck.

“He’ll build; he’ll commit extravagancies,” continued Gigonnet; “Falleix will get his land.”

“His interest is only to be made deputy; the old fox laughs at the rest,” said Gobseck.

“Hey! hey!”

“Hi! hi!”

These dry little exclamations served as a laugh to the two old men, who took their way back (always on foot) to the Cafe Themis.

Des Lupeaulx returned to the salon and found Madame Rabourdin sailing with the wind of success, and very charming; while his Excellency, usually so gloomy, showed a smooth and gracious countenance.

“She performs miracles,” thought des Lupeaulx. “What a wonderfully clever woman! I must get to the bottom of her heart.”

“Your little lady is decidedly handsome,” said the Marquise to the secretary; “now if she only had your name.”

“Yes, her defect is that she is the daughter of an auctioneer. She will fail for want of birth,” replied des Lupeaulx, with a cold manner that contrasted strangely with the ardor of his remarks about Madame Rabourdin not half an hour earlier.

The marquise looked at him fixedly.

“The glance you gave them did not escape me,” she said, motioning towards the minister and Madame Rabourdin; “it pierced the mask of your spectacles. How amusing you both are, to quarrel over that bone!”

As the marquise turned to leave the room the minister joined her and escorted her to the door.

“Well,” said des Lupeaulx to Madame Rabourdin, “what do you think of his Excellency?”

“He is charming. We must know these poor ministers to appreciate them,” she added, slightly raising her voice so as to be heard by his Excellency’s wife. “The newspapers and the opposition calumnies are so misleading about men in politics that we are all more or less influenced by them; but such prejudices turn to the advantage of statesmen when we come to know them personally.”

“He is very good-looking,” said des Lupeaulx.

“Yes, and I assure you he is quite lovable,” she said, heartily.

“Dear child,” said des Lupeaulx, with a genial, caressing manner; “you have actually done the impossible.”

“What is that?”

“Resuscitated the dead. I did not think that man had a heart; ask his wife. But he may have just enough for a passing fancy. Therefore profit by it. Come this way, and don’t be surprised.” He led Madame Rabourdin into the boudoir, placed her on a sofa, and sat down beside her. “You are very sly,” he said, “and I like you the better for it. Between ourselves, you are a clever woman. Des Lupeaulx served to bring you into this house, and that is all you wanted of him, isn’t it? Now when a woman decides to love a man for what she can get out of him it is better to take a sexagenarian Excellency than a quadragenarian secretary; there’s more profit and less annoyance. I’m a man with spectacles, grizzled hair, worn out with dissipation,–a fine lover, truly! I tell myself all this again and again. It must be admitted, of course, that I can sometimes be useful, but never agreeable. Isn’t that so? A man must be a fool if he cannot reason about himself. You can safely admit the truth and let me see to the depths of your heart; we are partners, not lovers. If I show some tenderness at times, you are too superior a woman to pay any attention to such follies; you will forgive me,–you are not a school-girl, or a bourgeoise of the rue Saint-Denis. Bah! you and I are too well brought up for that. There’s the Marquise d’Espard who has just left the room; this is precisely what she thinks and does. She and I came to an understanding two years ago [the coxcomb!], and now she has only to write me a line and say, ‘My dear des Lupeaulx, you will oblige me by doing such and such a thing,’ and it is done at once. We are engaged at this very moment in getting a commission of lunacy on her husband. Ah! you women, you can get what you want by the bestowal of a few favors. Well, then, my dear child, bewitch the minister. I’ll help you; it is my interest to do so. Yes, I wish he had a woman who could influence him; he wouldn’t escape me,–for he does escape me quite often, and the reason is that I hold him only through his intellect. Now if I were one with a pretty woman who was also intimate with him, I should hold him by his weaknesses, and that is much the firmest grip. Therefore, let us be friends, you and I, and share the advantages of the conquest you are making.”

Madame Rabourdin listened in amazement to this singular profession of rascality. The apparent artlessness of this political swindler prevented her from suspecting a trick.

“Do you believe he really thinks of me?” she asked, falling into the trap.

“I know it; I am certain of it.”

“Is it true that Rabourdin’s appointment is signed?”

“I gave him the papers this morning. But it is not enough that your husband should be made director; he must be Master of petitions.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Well, then, go back to the salon and coquette a little more with his Excellency.”

“It is true,” she said, “that I never fully understood you till to-night. There is nothing commonplace about /you/.”

“We will be two old friends,” said des Lupeaulx, “and suppress all tender nonsense and tormenting love; we will take things as they did under the Regency. Ah! they had plenty of wit and wisdom in those days!”

“You are really strong; you deserve my admiration,” she said, smiling, and holding out her hand to him, “one does more for one’s friend, you know, than for one’s–“

She left him without finishing her sentence.

“Dear creature!” thought des Lupeaulx, as he saw her approach the minister, “des Lupeaulx has no longer the slightest remorse in turning against you. To-morrow evening when you offer me a cup of tea, you will be offering me a thing I no longer care for. All is over. Ah! when a man is forty years of age women may take pains to catch him, but they won’t love him.”

He looked himself over in a mirror, admitting honestly that though he did very well as a politician he was a wreck on the shores of Cythera. At the same moment Madame Rabourdin was gathering herself together for a becoming exit. She wished to make a last graceful impression on the minds of all, and she succeeded. Contrary to the usual custom in society, every one cried out as soon as she was gone, “What a charming woman!” and the minister himself took her to the outer door.

“I am quite sure you will think of me to-morrow,” he said, alluding to the appointment.

“There are so few high functionaries who have agreeable wives,” remarked his Excellency on re-entering the room, “that I am very well satisfied with our new acquisition.”

“Don’t you think her a little overpowering?” said des Lupeaulx with a piqued air.

The women present all exchanged expressive glances; the rivalry between the minister and his secretary amused them and instigated one of those pretty little comedies which Parisian women play so well. They excited and led on his Excellency and des Lupeaulx by a series of comments on Madame Rabourdin: one thought her too studied in manner, too eager to appear clever; another compared the graces of the middle classes with the manners of high life, while des Lupeaulx defended his pretended mistress as we all defend an enemy in society.

“Do her justice, ladies,” he said; “is it not extraordinary that the daughter of an auctioneer should appear as well as she does? See where she came from, and what she is. She will end in the Tuileries; that is what she intends,–she told me so.”

“Suppose she is the daughter of an auctioneer,” said the Comtesse Feraud, smiling, “that will not hinder her husband’s rise to power.”

“Not in these days, you mean,” said the minister’s wife, tightening her lips.

“Madame,” said his Excellency to the countess, sternly, “such sentiments and such speeches lead to revolutions; unhappily, the court and the great world do not restrain them. You would hardly believe, however, how the injudicious conduct of the aristocracy in this respect displeases certain clear-sighted personages at the palace. If I were a great lord, instead of being, as I am, a mere country gentleman who seems to be placed where he is to transact your business for you, the monarchy would not be as insecure as I now think it is. What becomes of a throne which does not bestow dignity on those who administer its government? We are far indeed from the days when a king could make men great at will,–such men as Louvois, Colbert, Richelieu, Jeannin, Villeroy, Sully,–Sully, in his origin, was no greater than I. I speak to you thus because we are here in private among ourselves. I should be very paltry indeed if I were personally offended by such speeches. After all, it is for us and not for others to make us great.”

“You are appointed, dear,” cried Celestine, pressing her husband’s hand as they drove away. “If it had not been for des Lupeaulx I should have explained your scheme to his Excellency. But I will do it next Tuesday, and it will help the further matter of making you Master of petitions.”

In the life of every woman there comes a day when she shines in all her glory; a day which gives her an unfading recollection to which she recurs with happiness all her life. As Madame Rabourdin took off one by one the ornaments of her apparel, she thought over the events of this evening, and marked the day among the triumphs and glories of her life,–all her beauties had been seen and envied, she had been praised and flattered by the minister’s wife, delighted thus to make the other women jealous of her; but, above all, her grace and vanities had shone to the profit of conjugal love. Her husband was appointed.

“Did you think I looked well to-night?” she said to him, joyously.

At the same instant Mitral, waiting at the Cafe Themis, saw the two usurers returning, but was unable to perceive the slightest indications of the result on their impassible faces.

“What of it?” he said, when they were all seated at table.

“Same as ever,” replied Gigonnet, rubbing his hands, “victory with gold.”

“True,” said Gobseck.

Mitral took a cabriolet and went straight to the Saillards and Baudoyers, who were still playing boston at a late hour. No one was present but the Abbe Gaudron. Falleix, half-dead with the fatigue of his journey, had gone to bed.

“You will be appointed, nephew,” said Mitral; “and there’s a surprise in store for you.”

“What is it?” asked Saillard.

“The cross of the Legion of honor?” cried Mitral.

“God protects those who guard his altars,” said Gaudron.

Thus the Te Deum was sung with equal joy and confidence in both camps.

CHAPTER VIII

FORWARD, MOLLUSKS!

The next day, Wednesday, Monsieur Rabourdin was to transact business with the minister, for he had filled the late La Billardiere’s place since the beginning of the latter’s illness. On such days the clerks came punctually, the servants were specially attentive, there was always a certain excitement in the offices on these signing-days,–and why, nobody ever knew. On this occasion the three servants were at their post, flattering themselves they should get a few fees; for a rumor of Rabourdin’s nomination had spread through the ministry the night before, thanks to Dutocq. Uncle Antoine and Laurent had donned their full uniform, when, at a quarter to eight, des Lupeaulx’s servant came in with a letter, which he begged Antoine to give secretly to Dutocq, saying that the general-secretary had ordered him to deliver it without fail at Monsieur Dutocq’s house by seven o’clock.

“I’m sure I don’t know how it happened,” he said, “but I overslept myself. I’ve only just waked up, and he’d play the devil’s tattoo on me if he knew the letter hadn’t gone. I know a famous secret, Antoine; but don’t say anything about it to the clerks if I tell you; promise? He would send me off if he knew I had said a single word; he told me so.”

“What’s inside the letter?” asked Antoine, eying it.

“Nothing; I looked this way–see.”

He made the letter gape open, and showed Antoine that there was nothing but blank paper to be seen.

“This is going to be a great day for you, Laurent,” went on the secretary’s man. “You are to have a new director. Economy must be the order of the day, for they are going to unite the two divisions under one director–you fellows will have to look out!”

“Yes, nine clerks are put on the retired list,” said Dutocq, who came in at the moment; “how did you hear that?”

Antoine gave him the letter, and he had no sooner opened it than he rushed headlong downstairs in the direction of the secretary’s office.

The bureaus Rabourdin and Baudoyer, after idling and gossiping since the death of Monsieur de la Billardiere, were now recovering their usual official look and the dolce far niente habits of a government office. Nevertheless, the approaching end of the year did cause rather more application among the clerks, just as porters and servants become at that season more unctuously civil. They all came punctually, for one thing; more remained after four o’clock than was usual at other times. It was not forgotten that fees and gratuities depend on the last impressions made upon the minds of masters. The news of the union of the two divisions, that of La Billardiere and that of Clergeot, under one director, had spread through the various offices. The number of the clerks to be retired was known, but all were in ignorance of the names. It was taken for granted that Poiret would not be replaced, and that would be a retrenchment. Little La Billardiere had already departed. Two new supernumeraries had made their appearance, and, alarming circumstance! they were both sons of deputies. The news told about in the offices the night before, just as the clerks were dispersing, agitated all minds, and for the first half-hour after arrival in the morning they stood around the stoves and talked it over. But earlier than that, Dutocq, as we have seen, had rushed to des Lupeaulx on receiving his note, and found him dressing. Without laying down his razor, the general-secretary cast upon his subordinate the glance of a general issuing an order.

“Are we alone?” he asked.

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Very good. March on Rabourdin; forward! steady! Of course you kept a copy of that paper?”

“Yes.”

“You understand me? Inde iroe! There must be a general hue and cry raised against him. Find some way to start a clamor–“

“I could get a man to make a caricature, but I haven’t five hundred francs to pay for it.”

“Who would make it?”

“Bixou.”

“He shall have a thousand and be under-head-clerk to Colleville, who will arrange with them; tell him so.”

“But he wouldn’t believe it on nothing more than my word.”

“Are you trying to make me compromise myself? Either do the thing or let it alone; do you hear me?”

“If Monsieur Baudoyer were director–“

“Well, he will be. Go now, and make haste; you have no time to lose. Go down the back-stairs; I don’t want people to know you have just seen me.”

While Dutocq was returning to the clerks’ office and asking himself how he could best incite a clamor against his chief without compromising himself, Bixiou rushed to the Rabourdin office for a word of greeting. Believing that he had lost his bet the incorrigible joker thought it amusing to pretend that he had won it.

Bixiou [mimicking Phellion’s voice]. “Gentlemen, I salute you with a collective how d’ye do, and I appoint Sunday next for the dinner at the Rocher de Cancale. But a serious question presents itself. Is that dinner to include the clerks who are dismissed?”

Poiret. “And those who retire?”

Bixiou. “Not that I care, for it isn’t I who pay.” [General stupefaction.] “Baudoyer is appointed. I think I already hear him calling Laurent” [mimicking Baudoyer], “Laurent! lock up my hair-shirt, and my scourge.” [They all roar with laughter.] “Yes, yes, he laughs well who laughs last. Gentlemen, there’s a great deal in that anagram of Colleville’s. ‘Xavier Rabourdin, chef de bureau–D’abord reva bureaux, e-u fin riche.’ If I were named ‘Charles X., par la grace de Dieu roi de France et de Navarre,’ I should tremble in my shoes at the fate those letters anagrammatize.”

Thuillier. “Look here! are you making fun?”

Bixiou. “No, I am not. Rabourdin resigns in a rage at finding Baudoyer appointed director.”

Vimeux [entering.] “Nonsense, no such thing! Antoine (to whom I have just been paying forty francs that I owed him) tells me that Monsieur and Madame Rabourdin were at the minister’s private party last night and stayed till midnight. His Excellency escorted Madame Rabourdin to the staircase. It seems she was divinely dressed. In short, it is quite certain that Rabourdin is to be director. Riffe, the secretary’s copying clerk, told me he sat up all the night before to draw the papers; it is no longer a secret. Monsieur Clergeot is retired. After thirty years’ service that’s no misfortune. Monsieur Cochlin, who is rich–“

Bixiou. “By cochineal.”

Vimeux. “Yes, cochineal; he’s a partner in the house of Matifat, rue des Lombards. Well, he is retired; so is Poiret. Neither is to be replaced. So much is certain; the rest is all conjecture. The appointment of Monsieur Rabourdin is to be announced this morning; they are afraid of intrigues.”

Bixiou. “What intrigues?”

Fleury. “Baudoyer’s, confound him! The priests uphold him; here’s another article in the liberal journal,–only half a dozen lines, but they are queer” [reads]:

“Certain persons spoke last night in the lobby of the Opera-house of the return of Monsieur de Chateaubriand to the ministry, basing their opinion on the choice made of Monsieur Rabourdin (the protege of friends of the noble viscount) to fill the office for which Monsieur Baudoyer was first selected. The clerical party is not likely to withdraw unless in deference to the great writer.

“Blackguards!”

Dutocq [entering, having heard the whole discussion]. “Blackguards! Who? Rabourdin? Then you know the news?”

Fleury [rolling his eyes savagely]. “Rabourdin a blackguard! Are you mad, Dutocq? do you want a ball in your brains to give them weight?”

Dutocq. “I said nothing against Monsieur Rabourdin; only it has just been told to me in confidence that he has written a paper denouncing all the clerks and officials, and full of facts about their lives; in short, the reason why his friends support him is because he has written this paper against the administration, in which we are all exposed–“

Phellion [in a loud voice]. “Monsieur Rabourdin is incapable of–“

Bixiou. “Very proper in you to say so. Tell me, Dutocq” [they whisper together and then go into the corridor].

Bixiou. “What has happened?”

Dutocq. “Do you remember what I said to you about that caricature?”

Bixiou. “Yes, what then?”

Dutocq. “Make it, and you shall be under-head-clerk with a famous fee. The fact is, my dear fellow, there’s dissension among the powers that be. The minister is pledged to Rabourdin, but if he doesn’t appoint Baudoyer he offends the priests and their party. You see, the King, the Dauphin and the Dauphine, the clergy, and lastly the court, all want Baudoyer; the minister wants Rabourdin.”

Bixiou. “Good!”

Dutocq. “To ease the matter off, the minister, who sees he must give way, wants to strangle the difficulty. We must find some good reason for getting rid of Rabourdin. Now somebody has lately unearthed a paper of his, exposing the present system of administration and wanting to reform it; and that paper is going the rounds,–at least, this is how I understand the matter. Make the drawing we talked of; in so doing you’ll play the game of all the big people, and help the minister, the court, the clergy,–in short, everybody; and you’ll get your appointment. Now do you understand me?”

Bixiou. “I don’t understand how you came to know all that; perhaps you are inventing it.”

Dutocq. “Do you want me to let you see what Rabourdin wrote about you?”

Bixiou. “Yes.”

Dutocq. “Then come home with me; for I must put the document into safe keeping.”

Bixiou. “You go first alone.” [Re-enters the bureau Rabourdin.] “What Dutocq told you is really all true, word of honor! It seems that Monsieur Rabourdin has written and sent in very unflattering descriptions of the clerks whom he wants to ‘reform.’ That’s the real reason why his secret friends wish him appointed. Well, well; we live in days when nothing astonishes me” [flings his cloak about him like Talma, and declaims]:–

“Thou who has seen the fall of grand, illustrious heads, Why thus amazed, insensate that thou art,

“to find a man like Rabourdin employing such means? Baudoyer is too much of a fool to know how to use them. Accept my congratulations, gentlemen; either way you are under a most illustrious chief” [goes off].

Poiret. “I shall leave this ministry without ever comprehending a single word that gentleman utters. What does he mean with his ‘heads that fall’?”

Fleury. “‘Heads that fell?’ why, think of the four sergeants of Rochelle, Ney, Berton, Caron, the brothers Faucher, and the massacres.”

Phellion. “He asserts very flippantly things that he only guesses at.”

Fleury. “Say at once that he lies; in his mouth truth itself turns to corrosion.”

Phellion. “Your language is unparliamentary and lacks the courtesy and consideration which are due to a colleague.”

Vimeux. “It seems to me that if what he says is false, the proper name for it is calumny, defamation of character; and such a slanderer deserves the thrashing.”

Fleury [getting hot]. “If the government offices are public places, the matter ought to be taken into the police-courts.”

Phellion [wishing to avert a quarrel, tries to turn the conversation]. “Gentleman, might I ask you to keep quiet? I am writing a little treatise on moral philosophy, and I am just at the heart of it.”

Fleury [interrupting]. “What are you saying about it, Monsieur Phellion?”

Phellion [reading]. “Question.–What is the soul of man?

“Answer.–A spiritual substance which thinks and reasons.”

Thuillier. “Spiritual substance! you might as well talk about immaterial stone.”

Poiret. “Don’t interrupt; let him go on.”

Phellion [continuing]. “Quest.–Whence comes the soul?

“Ans.–From God, who created it of a nature one and indivisible; the destructibility thereof is, consequently, not conceivable, and he hath said–“

Poiret [amazed]. “God said?”

Phellion. “Yes, monsieur; tradition authorizes the statement.”

Fleury [to Poiret]. “Come, don’t interrupt, yourself.”

Phellion [resuming]. “–and he hath said that he created it immortal; in other words, the soul can never die.

“Quest.–What are the uses of the soul?

“Ans.–To comprehend, to will, to remember; these constitute understanding, volition, memory.

“Quest.–What are the uses of the understanding?

“Ans.–To know. It is the eye of the soul.”

Fleury. “And the soul is the eye of what?”

Phellion [continuing]. “Quest.–What ought the understanding to know?

“Ans.–Truth.

“Quest.–Why does man possess volition?

“Ans.–To love good and hate evil.

“Quest.–What is good?

“Ans.–That which makes us happy.”

Vimeux. “Heavens! do you teach that to young ladies?”

Phellion. “Yes” [continuing]. “Quest.–How many kinds of good are there?”

Fleury. “Amazingly indecorous, to say the least.”

Phellion [aggrieved]. “Oh, monsieur!” [Controlling himself.] “But here’s the answer,–that’s as far as I have got” [reads]:–

“Ans.–There are two kinds of good,–eternal good and temporal good.”

Poiret [with a look of contempt]. “And does that sell for anything?”

Phellion. “I hope it will. It requires great application of mind to carry on a system of questions and answers; that is why I ask you to be quiet and let me think, for the answers–“

Thuillier [interrupting]. “The answers might be sold separately.”

Poiret. “Is that a pun?”

Thuillier. “No; a riddle.”

Phellion. “I am sorry I interrupted you” [he dives into his office desk]. “But” [to himself] “at any rate, I have stopped their talking about Monsieur Rabourdin.”

At this moment a scene was taking place between the minister and des Lupeaulx which decided Rabourdin’s fate. The general-secretary had gone to see the minister in his private study before the breakfast-hour, to make sure that La Briere was not within hearing.

“Your Excellency is not treating me frankly–“

“He means a quarrel,” thought the minister; “and all because his mistress coquetted with me last night. I did not think you so juvenile, my dear friend,” he said aloud.

“Friend?” said the general-secretary, “that is what I want to find out.”

The minister looked haughtily at des Lupeaulx.

“We are alone,” continued the secretary, “and we can come to an understanding. The deputy of the arrondissement in which my estate is situated–“

“So it is really an estate!” said the minister, laughing, to hide his surprise.

“Increased by a recent purchase of two hundred thousand francs’ worth of adjacent property,” replied des Lupeaulx, carelessly. “You knew of the deputy’s approaching resignation at least ten days ago, and you did not tell me of it. You were perhaps not bound to do so, but you knew very well that I am most anxious to take my seat in the centre. Has it occurred to you that I might fling myself back on the ‘Doctrine’?–which, let me tell you, will destroy the administration and the monarchy both if you continue to allow the party of representative government to be recruited from men of talent whom you ignore. Don’t you know that in every nation there are fifty to sixty, not more, dangerous heads, whose schemes are in proportion to their ambition? The secret of knowing how to govern is to know those heads well, and either to chop them off or buy them. I don’t know how much talent I have, but I know that I have ambition; and you are committing a serious blunder when you set aside a man who wishes you well. The anointed head dazzles for the time being, but what next?–Why, a war of words; discussions will spring up once more and grow embittered, envenomed. Then, for your own sake, I advise you not to find me at the Left Centre. In spite of your prefect’s manoeuvres (instructions for which no doubt went from here confidentially) I am secure of a majority. The time has come for you and me to understand each other. After a breeze like this people sometimes become closer friends than ever. I must be made count and receive the grand cordon of the Legion of honor as a reward for my public services. However, I care less for those things just now than I do for something else in which you are more personally concerned. You have not yet appointed Rabourdin, and I have news this morning which tends to show that most persons will be better satisfied if you appoint Baudoyer.”

“Appoint Baudoyer!” echoed the minister. “Do you know him?”

“Yes,” said des Lupeaulx; “but suppose he proves incapable, as he will, you can then get rid of him by asking those who protect him to employ him elsewhere. You will thus get back an important office to give to friends; it may come in at the right moment to facilitate some compromise.”

“But I have pledged it to Rabourdin.”

“That may be; and I don’t ask you to make the change this very day. I know the danger of saying yes and no within twenty-four hours. But postpone the appointment, and don’t sign the papers till the day after to-morrow; by that time you may find it impossible to retain Rabourdin,–in fact, in all probability, he will send you his resignation–“

“His resignation?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“He is the tool of a secret power in whose interests he has carried on a system of espionage in all the ministries, and the thing has been discovered by mere accident. He has written a paper of some kind, giving short histories of all the officials. Everybody is talking of it; the clerks are furious. For heaven’s sake, don’t transact business with him to-day; let me find some means for you to avoid it. Ask an audience of the King; I am sure you will find great satisfaction there if you concede the point about Baudoyer; and you can obtain something as an equivalent. Your position will be better than ever if you are forced later to dismiss a fool whom the court party impose upon you.”

“What has made you turn against Rabourdin?”

“Would you forgive Monsieur de Chateaubriand for writing an article against the ministry? Well, read that, and see how Rabourdin has treated me in his secret document,” said des Lupeaulx, giving the paper to the minister. “He pretends to reorganize the government from beginning to end,–no doubt in the interests of some secret society of which, as yet, we know nothing. I shall continue to be his friend for the sake of watching him; by that means I may render the government such signal service that they will have to make me count; for the peerage is the only thing I really care for. I want you fully to understand that I am not seeking office or anything else that would cause me to stand in your way; I am simply aiming for the peerage, which will enable me to marry a banker’s daughter with an income of a couple of hundred thousand francs. And so, allow me to render you a few signal services which will make the King feel that I have saved the throne. I have long said that Liberalism would never offer us a pitched battle. It has given up conspiracies, Carbonaroism, and revolts with weapons; it is now sapping and mining, and the day is coming when it will be able to say, ‘Out of that and let me in!’ Do you think I have been courting Rabourdin’s wife for my own pleasure? No, but I got much information from her. So now, let us agree on two things; first, the postponement of the appointment; second, your /sincere/ support of my election. You shall find at the end of the session that I have amply repaid you.”

For all answer, the minister took the appointment papers and placed them in des Lupeaulx’s hand.

“I will go and tell Rabourdin,” added des Lupeaulx, “that you cannot transact business with him till Saturday.”

The minister replied with an assenting gesture. The secretary despatched his man with a message to Rabourdin that the minister could not work with him until Saturday, on which day the Chamber was occupied with private bills, and his Excellency had more time at his disposal.

Just at this moment Saillard, having brought the monthly stipend, was slipping his little speech into the ear of the minister’s wife, who drew herself up and answered with dignity that she did not meddle in political matters, and besides, she had heard that Monsieur Rabourdin was already appointed. Saillard, terrified, rushed up to Baudoyer’s office, where he found Dutocq, Godard, and Bixiou in a state of exasperation difficult to describe; for they were reading the terrible paper on the administration in which they were all discussed.

Bixiou [with his finger on a paragraph]. “Here /you/ are, pere Saillard. Listen” [reads]:–

“Saillard.–The office of cashier to be suppressed in all the ministries; their accounts to be kept in future at the Treasury. Saillard is rich and does not need a pension.

“Do you want to hear about your son-in-law?” [Turns over the leaves.] “Here he is” [reads]:–

“Baudoyer.–Utterly incapable. To be thanked and dismissed. Rich; does not need a pension.

“And here’s for Godard” [reads]:–

“Godard.–Should be dismissed; pension one-third of his present salary.

“In short, here we all are. Listen to what I am” [reads]: “An artist who might be employed by the civil list, at the Opera, or the Menus-Plaisirs, or the Museum. Great deal of capacity, little self-respect, no application,–a restless spirit. Ha! I’ll give you a touch of the artist, Monsieur Rabourdin!”

Saillard. “Suppress cashiers! Why, the man’s a monster?”

Bixiou. “Let us see what he says of our mysterious Desroys.” [Turns over the pages; reads.]

“Desroys.–Dangerous; because he cannot be shaken in principles that are subversive of monarchial power. He is the son of the Conventionel, and he admires the Convention. He may become a very mischievous journalist.”

Baudoyer. “The police are not worse spies!”

Godard. “I shall go the general-secretary and lay a complaint in form; we must all resign in a body if such a man as that is put over us.”

Dutocq. “Gentlemen, listen to me; let us be prudent. If you rise at once in a body, we may all be accused of rancor and revenge. No, let the thing work, let the rumor spread quietly. When the whole ministry is aroused your remonstrances will meet with general approval.”

Bixiou. “Dutocq believes in the principles of the grand air composed by the sublime Rossini for Basilio,–which goes to show, by the bye, that the great composer was also a great politician. I shall leave my card on Monsieur Rabourdin to-morrow morning, inscribed thus: ‘Bixiou; no self-respect, no application, restless mind.'”

Godard. “A good idea, gentlemen. Let us all leave our cards to-morrow on Rabourdin inscribed in the same way.”

Dutocq [leading Bixiou apart]. “Come, you’ll agree to make that caricature now, won’t you?”

Bixiou. “I see plainly, my dear fellow, that you knew all about this affair ten days ago” [looks him in the eye]. “Am I to be under-head-clerk?”

Dutocq. “On my word of honor, yes, and a thousand-franc fee beside, just as I told you. You don’t know what a service you’ll be rendering to powerful personages.”

Bixiou. “You know them?”

Dutocq. “Yes.”

Bixiou. “Well, then I want to speak with them.”

Dutocq [dryly]. “You can make the caricature or not, and you can be under-head-clerk or not,–as you please.”

Bixiou. “At any rate, let me see that thousand francs.”

Dutocq. “You shall have them when you bring the drawing.”

Bixiou. “Forward, march! that lampoon shall go from end to end of the bureaus to-morrow morning. Let us go and torment the Rabourdins.” [Then speaking to Saillard, Godard, and Baudoyer, who were talking together in a low voice.] “We are going to stir up the neighbors.” [Goes with Dutocq into the Rabourdin bureau. Fleury, Thuillier, and Vimeux are there, talking excitedly.] “What’s the matter, gentlemen? All that I told you turns out to be true; you can go and see for yourselves the work of this infamous informer; for it is in the hands of the virtuous, honest, estimable, upright, and pious Baudoyer, who is indeed utterly incapable of doing any such thing. Your chief has got every one of you under the guillotine. Go and see; follow the crowd; money returned if you are not satisfied; execution /gratis/! The appointments are postponed. All the bureaus are in arms; Rabourdin has been informed that the minister will not work with him. Come, be off; go and see for yourselves.”

They all depart except Phellion and Poiret, who are left alone. The former loved Rabourdin too well to look for proof that might injure a man he was determined not to judge; the other had only five days more to remain in the office, and cared nothing either way. Just then Sebastien came down to collect the papers for signature. He was a good deal surprised, though he did not show it, to find the office deserted.

Phellion. “My young friend” [he rose, a rare thing], “do you know what is going on? what scandals are rife about Monsieur Rabourdin whom you love, and” [bending to whisper in Sebastien’s ear] “whom I love as much as I respect him. They say he has committed the imprudence to leave a paper containing comments on the officials lying about in the office–” [Phellion stopped short, caught the young man in his strong arms, seeing that he turned pale and was near fainting, and placed him on a chair.] “A key, Monsieur Poiret, to put down his back; have you a key?”

Poiret. “I have the key of my domicile.”

[Old Poiret junior promptly inserted the said key between Sebastien’s shoulders, while Phellion gave him some water to drink. The poor lad no sooner opened his eyes than he began to weep. He laid his head on Phellion’s desk, and all his limbs were limp as if struck by lightning; while his sobs were so heartrending, so genuine, that for the first time in his life Poiret’s feelings were stirred by the sufferings of another.]

Phellion [speaking firmly]. “Come, come, my young friend; courage! In times of trial we must show courage. You are a man. What is the matter? What has happened to distress you so terribly?”

Sebastien [sobbing]. “It is I who have ruined Monsieur Rabourdin. I left that paper lying about when I copied it. I have killed my benefactor; I shall die myself. Such a noble man!–a man who ought to be minister!”

Poiret [blowing his nose]. “Then it is true he wrote the report.”

Sebastien [still sobbing]. “But it was to–there, I was going to tell his secrets! Ah! that wretch of a Dutocq; it was he who stole the paper.”

His tears and sobs recommenced and made so much noise that Rabourdin came up to see what was the matter. He found the young fellow almost fainting in the arms of Poiret and Phellion.

Rabourdin. “What is the matter, gentlemen?”

Sebastien [struggling to his feet, and then falling on his knees before Rabourdin]. “I have ruined you, monsieur. That memorandum, –Dutocq, the monster, he must have taken it.”

Rabourdin [calmly]. “I knew that already” [he lifts Sebastien]. “You are a child, my young friend.” [Speaks to Phellion.] “Where are the other gentlemen?”

Phellion. “They have gone into Monsieur Baudoyer’s office to see a paper which it is said–“

Rabourdin [interrupting him]. “Enough.” [Goes out, taking Sebastien with him. Poiret and Phellion look at each other in amazement, and do not know what to say.]

Poiret [to Phellion]. “Monsieur Rabourdin–“

Phellion [to Poiret]. “Monsieur Rabourdin–“

Poiret. “Well, I never! Monsieur Rabourdin!”

Phellion. “But did you notice how calm and dignified he was?”

Poiret [with a sly look that was more like a grimace]. “I shouldn’t be surprised if there were something under it all.”

Phellion. “A man of honor; pure and spotless.”

Poiret. “Who is?”

Phellion. “Monsieur Poiret, you think as I think about Dutocq; surely you understand me?”

Poiret [nodding his head three times and answering with a shrewd look]. “Yes.” [The other clerks return.]

Fleury. “A great shock; I still don’t believe the thing. Monsieur Rabourdin, a king among men! If such men are spies, it is enough to disgust one with virtue. I have always put Rabourdin among Plutarch’s heroes.”

Vimeux. “It is all true.”

Poiret [reflecting that he had only five days more to stay in the office]. “But, gentlemen, what do you say about the man who stole that paper, who spied upon Rabourdin?” [Dutocq left the room.]

Fleury. “I say he is a Judas Iscariot. Who is he?”

Phellion [significantly]. “He is not here at /this moment/.”

Vimeux [enlightened]. “It is Dutocq!”

Phellion. “I have no proof of it, gentlemen. While you were gone, that young man, Monsieur de la Roche, nearly fainted here. See his tears on my desk!”

Poiret. “We held him fainting in our arms.–My key, the key of my domicile!–dear, dear! it is down his back.” [Poiret goes hastily out.]

Vimeux. “The minister refused to transact business with Rabourdin to-day; and Monsieur Saillard, to whom the secretary said a few words, came to tell Monsieur Baudoyer to apply for the cross of the Legion of honor,–there is one to be granted, you know, on New-Year’s day, to all the heads of divisions. It is quite clear what it all means. Monsieur Rabourdin is sacrificed by the very persons who employed him. Bixiou says so. We were all to be turned out, except Sebastien and Phellion.”

Du Bruel [entering]. “Well, gentlemen, is it true?”

Thuillier. “To the last word.”

Du Bruel [putting his hat on again]. “Good-bye.” [Hurries out.]

Thuillier. “He may rush as much as he pleases to his Duc de Rhetore and Duc de Maufrigneuse, but Colleville is to be our under-head-clerk, that’s certain.”

Phellion. “Du Bruel always seemed to be attached to Monsieur Rabourdin.”

Poiret [returning]. “I have had a world of trouble to get back my key. That boy is crying still, and Monsieur Rabourdin has disappeared.” [Dutocq and Bixiou enter.]

Bixiou. “Ha, gentlemen! strange things are going on in your bureau. Du Bruel! I want you.” [Looks into the adjoining room.] “Gone?”

Thuillier. “Full speed.”

Bixiou. “What about Rabourdin?”

Fleury. “Distilled, evaporated, melted! Such a man, the king of men, that he–“

Poiret [to Dutocq]. “That little Sebastien, in his trouble, said that you, Monsieur Dutocq, had taken the paper from him ten days ago.”

Bixiou [looking at Dutocq]. “You must clear yourself of /that/, my good friend.” [All the clerks look fixedly at Dutocq.]

Dutocq. “Where’s the little viper who copied it?”

Bixiou. “Copied it? How did you know he copied it? Ha! ha! it is only the diamond that cuts the diamond.” [Dutocq leaves the room.]

Poiret. “Would you listen to me, Monsieur Bixiou? I have only five days and a half to stay in this office, and I do wish that once, only once, I might have the pleasure of understanding what you mean. Do me the honor to explain what diamonds have to do with these present circumstances.”

Bixiou. “I meant papa,–for I’m willing for once to bring my intellect down to the level of yours,–that just as the diamond alone can cut the diamond, so it is only one inquisitive man who can defeat another inquisitive man.”

Fleury. “‘Inquisitive man’ stands for ‘spy.'”

Poiret. “I don’t understand.”

Bixiou. “Very well; try again some other time.”

Monsieur Rabourdin, after taking Sebastien to his room, had gone straight to the minister; but the minister was at the Chamber of Deputies. Rabourdin went at once to the Chamber, where he wrote a note to his Excellency, who was at that moment in the tribune engaged in a hot discussion. Rabourdin waited, not in the conference hall, but in the courtyard, where, in spite of the cold, he resolved to remain and intercept his Excellency as he got into his carriage. The usher of the Chamber had told him that the minister was in the thick of a controversy raised by the nineteen members of the extreme Left, and that the session was likely to be stormy. Rabourdin walked to and for in the courtyard of the palace for five mortal hours, a prey to feverish agitation. At half-past six o’clock the session broke up, and the members filed out. The minister’s chasseur came up to find the coachman.

“Hi, Jean!” he called out to him; “Monseigneur has gone with the minister of war; they are going to see the King, and after that they dine together, and we are to fetch him at ten o’clock. There’s a Council this evening.”

Rabourdin walked slowly home, in a state of despondency not difficult to imagine. It was seven o’clock, and he had barely time to dress.

“Well, you are appointed?” cried his wife, joyously, as he entered the salon.

Rabourdin raised his head with a grievous motion of distress and answered, “I fear I shall never again set foot in the ministry.”

“What?” said his wife, quivering with sudden anxiety.

“My memorandum on the officials is known in all the offices; and I have not been able to see the minister.”

Celestine’s eyes were opened to a sudden vision in which the devil, in one of his infernal flashes, showed her the meaning of her last conversation with des Lupeaulx.

“If I had behaved like a low woman,” she thought, “we should have had the place.”

She looked at Rabourdin with grief in her heart. A sad silence fell between them, and dinner was eaten in the midst of gloomy meditations.

“And it is my Wednesday,” she said at last.

“All is not lost, dear Celestine,” said Rabourdin, laying a kiss on his wife’s forehead; “perhaps to-morrow I shall be able to see the minister and explain everything. Sebastien sat up all last night to finish the writing; the papers are copied and collated; I shall place them on the minister’s desk and beg him to read them through. La Briere will help me. A man is never condemned without a hearing.”

“I am curious to see if Monsieur des Lupeaulx will come here to-night.”

“He? Of course he will come,” said Rabourdin; “there’s something of the tiger in him; he likes to lick the blood of the wounds he has given.”

“My poor husband,” said his wife, taking his hand, “I don’t see how it is that a man who could conceive so noble a reform did not also see that it ought not to be communicated to a single person. It is one of those ideas that a man should keep in his own mind, for he alone can apply them. A statesman must do in our political sphere as Napoleon did in his; he stooped, twisted, crawled. Yes, Bonaparte crawled! To be made commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy he married Barrere’s mistress. You should have waited, got yourself elected deputy, followed the politics of a party, sometimes down in the depths, at other times on the crest of the wave, and you should have taken, like Monsieur de Villele, the Italian motto ‘Col tempo,’ in other words, ‘All things are given to him who knows how to wait.’ That great orator worked for seven years to get into power; he began in 1814 by protesting against the Charter when he was the same age that you are now. Here’s your fault; you have allowed yourself to be kept subordinate, when you were born to rule.”

The entrance of the painter Schinner imposed silence on the wife and husband, but these words made the latter thoughtful.

“Dear friend,” said the painter, grasping Rabourdin’s hand, “the support of artists is a useless thing enough, but let me say under these circumstances that we are all faithful to you. I have just read the evening papers. Baudoyer is appointed director and receives the cross of the Legion of honor–“

“I have been longer in the department, I have served twenty-four hours,” said Rabourdin with a smile.

“I know Monsieur le Comte de Serizy, the minister of State, pretty well, and if he can help you, I will go and see him,” said Schinner.

The salon soon filled with persons who knew nothing of the government proceedings. Du Bruel did not appear. Madame Rabourdin was gayer and more graceful than ever, like the charger wounded in battle, that still finds strength to carry his master from the field.

“She is very courageous,” said a few women who knew the truth, and who were charmingly attentive to her, understanding her misfortunes.

“But she certainly did a great deal to attract des Lupeaulx,” said the Baronne du Chatelet to the Vicomtesse de Fontaine.

“Do you think–” began the vicomtesse.

“If so,” interrupted Madame de Camps, in defence of her friend, “Monsieur Rabourdin would at least have had the cross.”

About eleven o’clock des Lupeaulx appeared; and we can only describe him by saying that his spectacles were sad and his eyes joyous; the glasses, however, obscured the glances so successfully that only a physiognomist would have seen the diabolical expression which they wore. He went up to Rabourdin and pressed the hand which the latter could not avoid giving him.

Then he approached Madame Rabourdin.

“We have much to say to each other,” he remarked as he seated himself beside the beautiful woman, who received him admirably.

“Ah!” he continued, giving her a side glance, “you are grand indeed; I find you just what I expected, glorious under defeat. Do you know that it is a very rare thing to find a superior woman who answers to the expectations formed of her. So defeat doesn’t dishearten you? You are right; we shall triumph in the end,” he whispered in her ear. “Your fate is always in your own hands,–so long, I mean, as your ally is a man who adores you. We will hold counsel together.”

“But is Baudoyer appointed?” she asked.

“Yes,” said the secretary.

“Does he get the cross?”

“Not yet; but he will have it later.”

“Amazing!”

“Ah! you don’t understand political exigencies.”

During this evening, which seemed interminable to Madame Rabourdin, another scene was occurring in the place Royale,–one of those comedies which are played in seven Parisian salons whenever there is a change of ministry. The Saillards’ salon was crowded. Monsieur and Madame Transon arrived at eight o’clock; Madame Transon kissed Madame Baudoyer, nee Saillard. Monsieur Bataille, captain of the National Guard, came with his wife and the curate of Saint Paul’s.

“Monsieur Baudoyer,” said Madame Transon. “I wish to be the first to congratulate you; they have done justice to your talents. You have indeed earned your promotion.”

“Here you are, director,” said Monsieur Transon, rubbing his hands, “and the appointment is very flattering to this neighborhood.”

“And we can truly say it came to pass without any intriguing,” said the worthy Saillard. “We are none of us political intriguers; /we/ don’t go to select parties at the ministry.”

Uncle Mitral rubbed his nose and grinned as he glanced at his niece Elisabeth, the woman whose hand had pulled the wires, who was talking with Gigonnet. Falleix, honest fellow, did not know what to make of the stupid blindness of Saillard and Baudoyer. Messieurs Dutocq, Bixiou, du Bruel, Godard, and Colleville (the latter appointed head of the bureau) entered.

“What a crew!” whispered Bixiou to du Bruel. “I could make a fine caricature of them in the shapes of fishes,–dorys, flounders, sharks, and snappers, all dancing a saraband!”

“Monsieur,” said Colleville, “I come to offer you my congratulations; or rather we congratulate ourselves in having such a man placed over us; and we desire to assure you of the zeal with which we shall co-operate in your labors. Allow me to say that this event affords a signal proof to the truth of my axiom that a man’s destiny lies in the letters of his name. I may say that I knew of this appointment and of your other honors before I heard of them, for I spend the night in anagrammatizing your name as follows:” [proudly] “Isidore C. T. Baudoyer,–Director, decorated by us (his Majesty the King, of course).”

Baudoyer bowed and remarked piously that names were given in baptism.

Monsieur and Madame Baudoyer, senior, father and mother of the new director, were there to enjoy the glory of their son and daughter-in-law. Uncle Gigonnet-Bidault, who had dined at the house, had a restless, fidgety look in his eye which frightened Bixiou.

“There’s a queer one,” said the latter to du Bruel, calling his attention to Gigonnet, “who would do in a vaudeville. I wonder if he could be bought. Such an old scarecrow is just the thing for a sign over the Two Baboons. And what a coat! I did think there was nobody but Poiret who could show the like after that after ten years’ public exposure to the inclemencies of Parisian weather.”

“Baudoyer is magnificent,” said du Bruel.

“Dazzling,” answered Bixiou.

“Gentlemen,” said Baudoyer, “let me present you to my own uncle, Monsieur Mitral, and to my great-uncle through my wife, Monsieur Bidault.”

Gigonnet and Mitral gave a glance at the three clerks so penetrating, so glittering with gleams of gold, that the two scoffers were sobered at once.

“Hein?” said Bixiou, when they were safely under the arcades in the place Royale; “did you examine those uncles?–two copies of Shylock. I’ll bet their money is lent in the market at a hundred per cent per week. They lend on pawn; and sell most that they lay hold of, coats, gold lace, cheese, men, women, and children; they are a conglomeration of Arabs, Jews, Genoese, Genevese, Greeks, Lombards, and Parisians, suckled by a wolf and born of a Turkish woman.”

“I believe you,” said Godard. “Uncle Mitral used to be a sheriff’s officer.”

“That settles it,” said du Bruel.

“I’m off to see the proof of my caricature,” said Bixiou; “but I should like to study the state of things in Rabourdin’s salon to-night. You are lucky to be able to go there, du Bruel.”

“I!” said the vaudevillist, “what should I do there? My face doesn’t lend itself to condolences. And it is very vulgar in these days to go and see people who are down.”

CHAPTER IX

THE RESIGNATION

By midnight Madame Rabourdin’s salon was deserted; only two or three guests remained with des Lupeaulx and the master and mistress of the house. When Schinner and Monsieur and Madame de Camps had likewise departed, des Lupeaulx rose with a mysterious air, stood with his back to the fireplace and looked alternately at the husband and wife.

“My friends,” he said, “nothing is really lost, for the minister and I are faithful to you. Dutocq simply chose between two powers the one he thought strongest. He has served the court and the Grand Almoner; he has betrayed me. But that is in the order of things; a politician never complains of treachery. Nevertheless, Baudoyer will be dismissed as incapable in a few months; no doubt his protectors will find him a place,–in the prefecture of police, perhaps,–for the clergy will not desert him.”

From this point des Lupeaulx went on with a long tirade about the Grand Almoner and the dangers the government ran in relying upon the church and upon the Jesuits. We need not, we think, point out to the intelligent reader that the court and the Grand Almoner, to whom the liberal journals attributed an enormous influence under the administration, had little really to do with Monsieur Baudoyer’s appointment. Such petty intrigues die in the upper sphere of great self-interests. If a few words in favor of Baudoyer were obtained by the importunity of the curate of Saint-Paul’s and the Abbe Gaudron, they would have been withdrawn immediately at a suggestion from the minister. The occult power of the Congregation of Jesus (admissible certainly as confronting the bold society of the “Doctrine,” entitled “Help yourself and heaven will help you,”) was formidable only through the imaginary force conferred on it by subordinate powers who perpetually threatened each other with its evils. The liberal scandal-mongers delighted in representing the Grand Almoner and the whole Jesuitical Chapter as political, administrative, civil, and military giants. Fear creates bugbears. At this crisis Baudoyer firmly believed in the said Chapter, little aware that the only Jesuits who had put him where he now was sat by his own fireside, and in the Cafe Themis playing dominoes.

At certain epochs in history certain powers appear, to whom all evils are attributed, though at the same time their genius is denied; they form an efficient argument in the mouth of fools. Just as Monsieur de Talleyrand was supposed to hail all events of whatever kind with a bon mot, so in these days of the Restoration the clerical party had the credit of doing and undoing everything. Unfortunately, it did and undid nothing. Its influence was not wielded by a Cardinal Richelieu or a Cardinal Mazarin; it was in the hands of a species of Cardinal de Fleury, who, timid for over five years, turned bold for one day, injudiciously bold. Later on, the “Doctrine” did more, with impunity, at Saint-Merri, than Charles X. pretended to do in July, 1830. If the section on the censorship so foolishly introduced into the new charter had been omitted, journalism also would have had its Saint-Merri. The younger Branch could have legally carried out Charles X.’s plan.

“Remain where you are, head of a bureau under Baudoyer,” went on des Lupeaulx. “Have the nerve to do this; make yourself a true politician; put ideas and generous impulses aside; attend only to your functions; don’t say a word to your new director; don’t help him with a suggestion; and do nothing yourself without his order. In three months Baudoyer will be out of the ministry, either dismissed, or stranded on some other administrative shore. They may attach him to the king’s household. Twice in my life I have been set aside as you are, and overwhelmed by an avalanche of folly; I have quietly waited and let it pass.”

“Yes,” said Rabourdin, “but you were not calumniated; your honor was not assailed, compromised–“

“Ha, ha, ha!” cried des Lupeaulx, interrupting him with a burst of Homeric laughter. “Why, that’s the daily bread of every remarkable man in this glorious kingdom of France! And there are but two ways to meet such calumny,–either yield to it, pack up, and go plant cabbages in the country; or else rise above it, march on, fearless, and don’t turn your head.”

“For me, there is but one way of untying the noose which treachery and the work of spies have fastened round my throat,” replied Rabourdin. “I must explain the matter at once to his Excellency, and if you are as sincerely attached to me as you say you are, you will put me face to face with him to-morrow.”

“You mean that you wish to explain to him your plan for the reform of the service?”

Rabourdin bowed.

“Well, then, trust the papers with me,–your memoranda, all the documents. I promise you that he shall sit up all night and examine them.”

“Let us go to him, then!” cried Rabourdin, eagerly; “six years’ toil certainly deserves two or three hours attention from the king’s minister, who will be forced to recognize, if he does not applaud, such perseverance.”

Compelled by Rabourdin’s tenacity to take a straightforward path, without ambush or angle where his treachery could hide itself, des Lupeaulx hesitated for a single instant, and looked at Madame Rabourdin, while he inwardly asked himself, “Which shall I permit to triumph, my hatred for him, or my fancy for her?”

“You have no confidence in my honor,” he said, after a pause. “I see that you will always be to me the author of your /secret analysis/. Adieu, madame.”

Madame Rabourdin bowed coldly. Celestine and Xavier returned at once to their own rooms without a word; both were overcome by their misfortune. The wife thought of the dreadful situation in which she stood toward her husband. The husband, resolving slowly not to remain at the ministry but to send in his resignation at once, was lost in a sea of reflections; the crisis for him meant a total change of life and the necessity of starting on a new career. All night he sat before his fire, taking no notice of Celestine, who came in several times on tiptoe, in her night-dress.

“I must go once more to the ministry, to bring away my papers, and show Baudoyer the routine of the business,” he said to himself at last. “I had better write my resignation now.”

He turned to his table and began to write, thinking over each clause of the letter, which was as follows:–

Monseigneur,–I have the honor to inclose to your Excellency my resignation. I venture to hope that you still remember hearing me say that I left my honor in your hands, and that everything, for me, depended on my being able to give you an immediate explanation.

This explanation I have vainly sought to give. To-day it would, perhaps, be useless; for a fragment of my work relating to the administration, stolen and misused, has gone the rounds of the offices and is misinterpreted by hatred; in consequence, I find myself compelled to resign, under the tacit condemnation of my superiors.

Your Excellency may have thought, on the morning when I first sought to speak with you, that my purpose was to ask for my promotion, when, in fact, I was thinking only of the glory and usefulness of your ministry and of the public good. It is all-important, I think, to correct that impression.

Then followed the usual epistolary formulas.

It was half-past seven in the morning when the man consummated the sacrifice of his ideas; he burned everything, the toil of years. Fatigued by the pressure of thought, overcome by mental suffering, he fell asleep with his head on the back of his armchair. He was wakened by a curious sensation, and found his hands covered with his wife’s tears and saw her kneeling before him. Celestine had read the resignation. She could measure the depth of his fall. They were now to be reduced to live on four thousand francs a year; and that day she had counted up her debts,–they amounted to something like thirty-two thousand francs! The most ignoble of all wretchedness had come upon them. And that noble man who had trusted her was ignorant that she had abused the fortune he had confided to her care. She was sobbing at his feet, beautiful as the Magdalen.

“My cup is full,” cried Xavier, in terror. “I am dishonored at the ministry, and dishonored–“

The light of her pure honor flashed from Celestine’s eyes; she sprang up like a startled horse and cast a fulminating glance at Rabourdin.

“I! I!” she said, on two sublime tones. “Am I a base wife? If I were, you would have been appointed. But,” she added mournfully, “it is easier to believe that than to believe what is the truth.”

“Then what is it?” said Rabourdin.

“All in three words,” she said; “I owe thirty thousand francs.”

Rabourdin caught his wife to his heart with a gesture of almost frantic joy, and seated her on his knee.

“Take comfort, dear,” he said, in a tone of voice so adorably kind that the bitterness of her grief was changed to something inexpressibly tender. “I too have made mistakes; I have worked uselessly for my country when I thought I was being useful to her. But now I mean to take another path. If I had sold groceries we should now be millionaires. Well, let us be grocers. You are only twenty-eight, dear angel; in ten years you shall recover the luxury that you love, which we must needs renounce for a short time. I, too, dear heart, am not a base or common husband. We will sell our farm; its value has increased of late. That and the sale of our furniture will pay my debts.”

/My/ debts! Celestine embraced her husband a thousand times in the single kiss with which she thanked him for that generous word.

“We shall still have a hundred thousand francs to put into business. Before the month is out I shall find some favorable opening. If luck gave a Martin Falleix to a Saillard, why should we despair? Wait breakfast for me. I am going now to the ministry, but I shall come back with my neck free of the yoke.”

Celestine clasped her husband in her arms with a force men do not possess, even in their passionate moments; for women are stronger through emotion than men through power. She wept and laughed and sobbed in turns.

When Rabourdin left the house at eight o’clock, the porter gave him the satirical cards suggested by Bixiou. Nevertheless, he went to the ministry, where he found Sebastien waiting near the door to entreat him not to enter any of the bureaus, because an infamous caricature of him was making the round of the offices.

“If you wish to soften the pain of my downfall,” he said to the lad, “bring me that drawing; I am now taking my resignation to Ernest de la Briere myself, that it may not be altered or distorted while passing through the routine channels. I have my own reasons for wishing to see that caricature.”

When Rabourdin came back to the courtyard, after making sure that his letter would go straight into the minister’s hands, he found Sebastien in tears, with a copy of the lithograph, which the lad reluctantly handed over to him.

“It is very clever,” said Rabourdin, showing a serene brow to his companion, though the crown of thorns was on it all the same.

He entered the bureaus with a calm air, and went at once into Baudoyer’s section to ask him to come to the office of the head of the division and receive instructions as to the business which that incapable being was henceforth to direct.

“Tell Monsieur Baudoyer that there must be no delay,” he added, in the hearing of all the clerks; “my resignation is already in the minister’s hands, and I do not wish to stay here longer than is necessary.”

Seeing Bixiou, Rabourdin went straight up to him, showed him the lithograph, and said, to the great astonishment of all present,–

“Was I not right in saying you were an artist? Still, it is a pity you directed the point of your pencil against a man who cannot be judged in this way, nor indeed by the bureaus at all;–but everything is laughed at in France, even God.”

Then he took Baudoyer into the office of the late La Billardiere. At the door he found Phellion and Sebastien, the only two who, under his great disaster, dared to remain openly faithful to the fallen man. Rabourdin noticed that Phellion’s eyes were moist, and he could not refrain from wringing his hand.

“Monsieur,” said the good man, “if we can serve you in any way, make use of us.”

Monsieur Rabourdin shut himself up in the late chief’s office with Monsieur Baudoyer, and Phellion helped him to show the new incumbent all the administrative difficulties of his new position. At each separate affair which Rabourdin carefully explained, Baudoyer’s little eyes grew big as saucers.

“Farewell, monsieur,” said Rabourdin at last, with a manner that was half-solemn, half-satirical.

Sebastien meanwhile had made up a package of papers and letters belonging to his chief and had carried them away in a hackney coach. Rabourdin passed through the grand courtyard, while all the clerks were watching from the windows, and waited there a moment to see if the minister would send him any message. His Excellency was dumb. Phellion courageously escorted the fallen man to his home, expressing his feelings of respectful admiration; then he returned to the office, and took up his work, satisfied with his own conduct in rendering these funeral honors to the neglected and misjudged administrative talent.

Bixiou [seeing Phellion re-enter]. “Victrix cause diis placuit, sed victa Catoni.”

Phellion. “Yes, monsieur.”

Poiret. “What does that mean?”

Fleury. “That priests rejoice, and Monsieur Rabourdin has the respect of men of honor.”

Dutocq [annoyed]. “You didn’t say that yesterday.”

Fleury. “If you address me you’ll have my hand in your face. It is known for certain that you filched those papers from Monsieur Rabourdin.” [Dutocq leaves the office.] “Oh, yes, go and complain to your Monsieur des Lupeaulx, spy!”

Bixiou [laughing and grimacing like a monkey]. “I am curious to know how the division will get along. Monsieur Rabourdin is so remarkable a man that he must have had some special views in that work of his. Well, the minister loses a fine mind.” [Rubs his hands.]

Laurent [entering]. “Monsieur Fleury is requested to go to the secretary’s office.”

All the clerks. “Done for!”

Fleury [leaving the room]. “I don’t care; I am offered a place as responsible editor. I shall have all my time to myself to lounge the streets or do amusing work in a newspaper office.”

Bixiou. “Dutocq has already made them cut off the head of that poor Desroys.”

Colleville [entering joyously]. “Gentlemen, I am appointed head of this bureau.”

Thuillier. “Ah, my friend, if it were I myself, I couldn’t be better pleased.”

Bixiou. “His wife has managed it.” [Laughter.]

Poiret. “Will any one tell me the meaning of all that is happening here to-day?”

Bixiou. “Do you really want to know? Then listen. The antechamber of the administration is henceforth a chamber, the court is a boudoir, the best way to get in is through the cellar, and the bed is more than ever a cross-cut.”

Poiret. “Monsieur Bixiou, may I entreat you, explain?”

Bixiou. “I’ll paraphrase my opinion. To be anything at all you must begin by being everything. It is quite certain that a reform of this service is needed; for on my word of honor, the State robs the poor officials as much as the officials rob the State in the matter of hours. But why is it that we idle as we do? because they pay us too little; and the reason of that is we are too many for the work, and your late chief, the virtuous Rabourdin, saw all this plainly. That great administrator,–for he was that, gentlemen,–saw what the thing is coming to, the thing that these idiots call the ‘working of our admirable institutions.’ The chamber will want before long to administrate, and the administrators will want to legislate. The government will try to administrate and the administrators will want to govern, and so it will go on. Laws will come to be mere regulations, and ordinances will be thought laws. God made this epoch of the world for those who like to laugh. I live in a state of jovial admiration of the spectacle which the greatest joker of modern times, Louis XVIII., bequeathed to us” [general stupefaction]. “Gentlemen, if France, the country with the best civil service in Europe, is managed thus, what do you suppose the other nations are like? Poor unhappy nations! I ask myself how they can possibly get along without two Chambers, without the liberty of the press, without reports, without circulars even, without an army of clerks? Dear, dear, how do you suppose they have armies and navies? how can they exist at all without political discussions? Can they even be called nations, or governments? It is said (mere traveller’s tales) that these strange peoples claim to have a policy, to wield a certain influence; but that’s absurd! how can they when they haven’t ‘progress’ or ‘new lights’? They can’t stir up ideas, they haven’t an independent forum; they are still in the twilight of barbarism. There are no people in the world but the French people who have ideas. Can you understand, Monsieur Poiret,” [Poiret jumped as if he had been shot] “how a nation can do without heads of divisions, general-secretaries and directors, and all this splendid array of officials, the glory of France and of the Emperor Napoleon,–who had his own good reasons for creating a myriad of offices? I don’t see how those nations have the audacity to live at all. There’s Austria, which has less than a hundred clerks in her war ministry, while the salaries and pensions of ours amount to a third of our whole budget, a thing that was unheard of before the Revolution. I sum up all I’ve been saying in one single remark, namely, that the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-lettres, which seems to have very little to do, had better offer a prize for the ablest answer to the following question: Which is the best organized State; the one that does many things with few officials, or the one that does next to nothing with an army of them?”

Poiret. “Is that your last word?”

Bixiou. “Yes, sir! whether English, French, German or Italian,–I let you off the other languages.”

Poiret [lifting his hands to heaven]. “Gracious goodness! and they call you a witty man!”

Bixiou. “Haven’t you understood me yet?”

Phellion. “Your last observation was full of excellent sense.”

Bixiou. “Just as full as the budget itself, and like the budget again, as complicated as it looks simple; and I set it as a warning, a beacon, at the edge of this hole, this gulf, this volcano, called, in the language of the ‘Constitutionel,’ ‘the political horizon.'”

Poiret. “I should much prefer a comprehensible explanation.”

Bixiou. “Hurrah for Rabourdin! there’s my explanation; that’s my opinion. Are you satisfied?”

Colleville [gravely]. “Monsieur Rabourdin had but one defect.”

Poiret. “What was it?”

Colleville. “That of being a statesman instead of a subordinate official.”

Phellion [standing before Bixiou]. “Monsieur! why did you, who understand Monsieur Rabourdin so well, why did you make that inf–that odi–that hideous caricature?”

Bixiou. “Do you forget our bet? don’t you know I was backing the devil’s game, and that your bureau owes me a dinner at the Rocher de Cancale?”

Poiret [much put-out]. “Then it is a settled thing that I am to leave this government office without ever understanding a sentence, or a single word uttered by Monsieur Bixiou.”