HONORE DE BALZAC
Translated By Ellen Marriage
To Monsieur Victor Hugo,
It was your birthright to be, like a Rafael or a Pitt, a great
poet at an age when other men are children; it was your fate, the
fate of Chateaubriand and of every man of genius, to struggle
against jealousy skulking behind the columns of a newspaper, or
crouching in the subterranean places of journalism. For this
reason I desired that your victorious name should help to win a
victory for this work that I inscribe to you, a work which, if
some persons are to be believed, is an act of courage as well as a
veracious history. If there had been journalists in the time of
Moliere, who can doubt but that they, like marquises, financiers,
doctors, and lawyers, would have been within the province of the
writer of plays? And why should Comedy, qui castigat ridendo
mores, make an exception in favor of one power, when the Parisian
press spares none? I am happy, monsieur, in this opportunity of
subscribing myself your sincere admirer and friend,
At the time when this story opens, the Stanhope press and the
ink-distributing roller were not as yet in general use in small
provincial printing establishments. Even at Angouleme, so closely
connected through its paper-mills with the art of typography in Paris,
the only machinery in use was the primitive wooden invention to which
the language owes a figure of speech—"the press groans" was no mere
rhetorical expression in those days. Leather ink-balls were still used
in old-fashioned printing houses; the pressman dabbed the ink by hand
on the characters, and the movable table on which the form of type was
placed in readiness for the sheet of paper, being made of marble,
literally deserved its name of "impression-stone." Modern machinery
has swept all this old-world mechanism into oblivion; the wooden press
which, with all its imperfections, turned out such beautiful work for
the Elzevirs, Plantin, Aldus, and Didot is so completely forgotten,
that something must be said as to the obsolete gear on which
Jerome-Nicolas Sechard set an almost superstitious affection, for it
plays a part in this chronicle of great small things.
Sechard had been in his time a journeyman pressman, a "bear" in
compositors' slang. The continued pacing to and fro of the pressman
from ink-table to press, from press to ink-table, no doubt suggested
the nickname. The "bears," however, make matters even by calling the
compositors monkeys, on account of the nimble industry displayed by
those gentlemen in picking out the type from the hundred and fifty-two
compartments of the cases.
In the disastrous year 1793, Sechard, being fifty years old and a
married man, escaped the great Requisition which swept the bulk of
French workmen into the army. The old pressman was the only hand left
in the printing-house; and when the master (otherwise the "gaffer")
died, leaving a widow, but no children, the business seemed to be on
the verge of extinction; for the solitary "bear" was quite incapable
of the feat of transformation into a "monkey," and in his quality of
pressman had never learned to read or write. Just then, however, a
Representative of the People being in a mighty hurry to publish the
Decrees of the Convention, bestowed a master printer's license on
Sechard, and requisitioned the establishment. Citizen Sechard accepted
the dangerous patent, bought the business of his master's widow with
his wife's savings, and took over the plant at half its value. But he
was not even at the beginning. He was bound to print the Decrees of
the Republic without mistakes and without delay.
In this strait Jerome-Nicolas Sechard had the luck to discover a noble
Marseillais who had no mind to emigrate and lose his lands, nor yet to
show himself openly and lose his head, and consequently was fain to
earn a living by some lawful industry. A bargain was struck. M. le
Comte de Maucombe, disguised in a provincial printer's jacket, set up,
read, and corrected the decrees which forbade citizens to harbor
aristocrats under pain of death; while the "bear," now a "gaffer,"
printed the copies and duly posted them, and the pair remained safe
In 1795, when the squall of the Terror had passed over, Nicolas
Sechard was obliged to look out for another jack-of-all-trades to be
compositor, reader, and foreman in one; and an Abbe who declined the
oath succeeded the Comte de Maucombe as soon as the First Consul
restored public worship. The Abbe became a Bishop at the Restoration,
and in after days the Count and the Abbe met and sat together on the
same bench of the House of Peers.
In 1795 Jerome-Nicolas had not known how to read or write; in 1802 he
had made no progress in either art; but by allowing a handsome margin
for "wear and tear" in his estimates, he managed to pay a foreman's
wages. The once easy-going journeyman was a terror to his "bears" and
"monkeys." Where poverty ceases, avarice begins. From the day when
Sechard first caught a glimpse of the possibility of making a fortune,
a growing covetousness developed and sharpened in him a certain
practical faculty for business—greedy, suspicious, and keen-eyed. He
carried on his craft in disdain of theory. In course of time he had
learned to estimate at a glance the cost of printing per page or per
sheet in every kind of type. He proved to unlettered customers that
large type costs more to move; or, if small type was under discussion,
that it was more difficult to handle. The setting-up of the type was
the one part of his craft of which he knew nothing; and so great was
his terror lest he should not charge enough, that he always made a
heavy profit. He never took his eyes off his compositors while they
were paid by the hour. If he knew that a paper manufacturer was in
difficulties, he would buy up his stock at a cheap rate and warehouse
the paper. So from this time forward he was his own landlord, and
owned the old house which had been a printing office from time
He had every sort of luck. He was left a widower with but one son. The
boy he sent to the grammar school; he must be educated, not so much
for his own sake as to train a successor to the business; and Sechard
treated the lad harshly so as to prolong the time of parental rule,
making him work at case on holidays, telling him that he must learn to
earn his own living, so as to recompense his poor old father, who was
slaving his life out to give him an education.
Then the Abbe went, and Sechard promoted one of his four compositors
to be foreman, making his choice on the future bishop's recommendation
of the man as an honest and intelligent workman. In these ways the
worthy printer thought to tide over the time until his son could take
a business which was sure to extend in young and clever hands.
David Sechard's school career was a brilliant one. Old Sechard, as a
"bear" who had succeeded in life without any education, entertained a
very considerable contempt for attainments in book learning; and when
he sent his son to Paris to study the higher branches of typography,
he recommended the lad so earnestly to save a good round sum in the
"working man's paradise" (as he was pleased to call the city), and so
distinctly gave the boy to understand that he was not to draw upon the
paternal purse, that it seemed as if old Sechard saw some way of
gaining private ends of his own by that sojourn in the Land of
Sapience. So David learned his trade, and completed his education at
the same time, and Didot's foreman became a scholar; and yet when he
left Paris at the end of 1819, summoned home by his father to take the
helm of business, he had not cost his parent a farthing.
Now Nicolas Sechard's establishment hitherto had enjoyed a monopoly of
all the official printing in the department, besides the work of the
prefecture and the diocese—three connections which should prove
mighty profitable to an active young printer; but precisely at this
juncture the firm of Cointet Brothers, paper manufacturers, applied to
the authorities for the second printer's license in Angouleme.
Hitherto old Sechard had contrived to reduce this license to a dead
letter, thanks to the war crisis of the Empire, and consequent atrophy
of commercial enterprise; but he had neglected to buy up the right
himself, and this piece of parsimony was the ruin of the old business.
Sechard thought joyfully when he heard the news that the coming
struggle with the Cointets would be fought out by his son and not by
"I should have gone to the wall," he thought, "but a young fellow from
the Didots will pull through."
The septuagenarian sighed for the time when he could live at ease in
his own fashion. If his knowledge of the higher branches of the craft
of printing was scanty, on the other hand, he was supposed to be past
master of an art which workmen pleasantly call "tipple-ography," an
art held in high esteem by the divine author of Pantagruel; though of
late, by reason of the persecution of societies yclept of Temperance,
the cult has fallen, day by day, into disuse.
Jerome-Nicolas Sechard, bound by the laws of etymology to be a dry
subject, suffered from an inextinguishable thirst. His wife, during
her lifetime, managed to control within reasonable bounds the passion
for the juice of the grape, a taste so natural to the bear that M. de
Chateaubriand remarked it among the ursine tribes of the New World.
But philosophers inform us that old age is apt to revert to the habits
of youth, and Sechard senior is a case in point—the older he grew,
the better he loved to drink. The master-passion had given a stamp of
originality to an ursine physiognomy; his nose had developed till it
reached the proportions of a double great-canon A; his veined cheeks
looked like vine-leaves, covered, as they were, with bloated patches
of purple, madder red, and often mottled hues; till altogether, the
countenance suggested a huge truffle clasped about by autumn vine
tendrils. The little gray eyes, peering out from beneath thick
eyebrows like bushes covered with snow, were agleam with the cunning
of avarice that had extinguished everything else in the man, down to
the very instinct of fatherhood. Those eyes never lost their cunning
even when disguised in drink. Sechard put you in mind of one of La
Fontaine's Franciscan friars, with the fringe of grizzled hair still
curling about his bald pate. He was short and corpulent, like one of
the old-fashioned lamps for illumination, that burn a vast deal of oil
to a very small piece of wick; for excess of any sort confirms the
habit of body, and drunkenness, like much study, makes the fat man
stouter, and the lean man leaner still.
For thirty years Jerome-Nicolas-Sechard had worn the famous municipal
three-cornered hat, which you may still see here and there on the head
of the towncrier in out-of-the-way places. His breeches and waistcoat
were of greenish velveteen, and he wore an old-fashioned brown
greatcoat, gray cotton stockings, and shoes with silver buckles to
them. This costume, in which the workman shone through the burgess,
was so thoroughly in keeping with the man's character, defects, and
way of life, that he might have come ready dressed into the world. You
could no more imagine him apart from his clothes than you could think
of a bulb without its husk. If the old printer had not long since
given the measure of his blind greed, the very nature of the man came
out in the manner of his abdication.
Knowing, as he did, that his son must have learned his business pretty
thoroughly in the great school of the Didots, he had yet been
ruminating for a long while over the bargain that he meant to drive
with David. All that the father made, the son, of course, was bound to
lose, but in business this worthy knew nothing of father or son. If,
in the first instance, he had looked on David as his only child, later
he came to regard him as the natural purchaser of the business, whose
interests were therefore his own. Sechard meant to sell dear; David,
of course, to buy cheap; his son, therefore, was an antagonist, and it
was his duty to get the better of him. The transformation of sentiment
into self-seeking, ordinarily slow, tortuous, and veiled by hypocrisy
in better educated people, was swift and direct in the old "bear," who
demonstrated the superiority of shrewd tipple-ography over
David came home, and the old man received him with all the cordiality
which cunning folk can assume with an eye to business. He was as full
of thought for him as any lover for his mistress; giving him his arm,
telling him where to put his foot down so as to avoid the mud, warming
the bed for him, lighting a fire in his room, making his supper ready.
The next day, after he had done his best to fluster his son's wits
over a sumptuous dinner, Jerome-Nicolas Sechard, after copious
potations, began with a "Now for business," a remark so singularly
misplaced between two hiccoughs, that David begged his parent to
postpone serious matters until the morrow. But the old "bear" was by
no means inclined to put off the long-expected battle; he was too well
prepared to turn his tipsiness to good account. He had dragged the
chain these fifty years, he would not wear it another hour; to-morrow
his son should be the "gaffer."
Perhaps a word or two about the business premises may be said here.
The printing-house had been established since the reign of Louis XIV.
in the angle made by the Rue de Beaulieu and the Place du Murier; it
had been devoted to its present purposes for a long time past. The
ground floor consisted of a single huge room lighted on the side next
the street by an old-fashioned casement, and by a large sash window
that gave upon the yard at the back. A passage at the side led to the
private office; but in the provinces the processes of typography
excite such a lively interest, that customers usually preferred to
enter by way of the glass door in the street front, though they at
once descended three steps, for the floor of the workshop lay below
the level of the street. The gaping newcomer always failed to note the
perils of the passage through the shop; and while staring at the
sheets of paper strung in groves across the ceiling, ran against the
rows of cases, or knocked his hat against the tie-bars that secured
the presses in position. Or the customer's eyes would follow the agile
movements of a compositor, picking out type from the hundred and
fifty-two compartments of his case, reading his copy, verifying the
words in the composing-stick, and leading the lines, till a ream of
damp paper weighted with heavy slabs, and set down in the middle of
the gangway, tripped up the bemused spectator, or he caught his hip
against the angle of a bench, to the huge delight of boys, "bears,"
and "monkeys." No wight had ever been known to reach the further end
without accident. A couple of glass-windowed cages had been built out
into the yard at the back; the foreman sat in state in the one, the
master printer in the other. Out in the yard the walls were agreeably
decorated by trellised vines, a tempting bit of color, considering the
owner's reputation. On the one side of the space stood the kitchen, on
the other the woodshed, and in a ramshackle penthouse against the hall
at the back, the paper was trimmed and damped down. Here, too, the
forms, or, in ordinary language, the masses of set-up type, were
washed. Inky streams issuing thence blended with the ooze from the
kitchen sink, and found their way into the kennel in the street
outside; till peasants coming into the town of a market day believed
that the Devil was taking a wash inside the establishment.
As to the house above the printing office, it consisted of three rooms
on the first floor and a couple of attics in the roof. The first room
did duty as dining-room and lobby; it was exactly the same length as
the passage below, less the space taken up by the old-fashioned wooden
staircase; and was lighted by a narrow casement on the street and a
bull's-eye window looking into the yard. The chief characteristic of
the apartment was a cynic simplicity, due to money-making greed. The
bare walls were covered with plain whitewash, the dirty brick floor
had never been scoured, the furniture consisted of three rickety
chairs, a round table, and a sideboard stationed between the two doors
of a bedroom and a sitting-room. Windows and doors alike were dingy
with accumulated grime. Reams of blank paper or printed matter usually
encumbered the floor, and more frequently than not the remains of
Sechard's dinner, empty bottles and plates, were lying about on the
The bedroom was lighted on the side of the yard by a window with
leaded panes, and hung with the old-world tapestry that decorated
house fronts in provincial towns on Corpus Christi Day. For furniture
it boasted a vast four-post bedstead with canopy, valances and quilt
of crimson serge, a couple of worm-eaten armchairs, two
tapestry-covered chairs in walnut wood, an aged bureau, and a timepiece
on the mantel-shelf. The Seigneur Rouzeau, Jerome-Nicolas' master and
predecessor, had furnished the homely old-world room; it was just as
he had left it.
The sitting-room had been partly modernized by the late Mme. Sechard;
the walls were adorned with a wainscot, fearful to behold, painted
the color of powder blue. The panels were decorated with wall-paper
—Oriental scenes in sepia tint—and for all furniture, half-a-dozen
chairs with lyre-shaped backs and blue leather cushions were ranged
round the room. The two clumsy arched windows that gave upon the Place
du Murier were curtainless; there was neither clock nor candle sconce
nor mirror above the mantel-shelf, for Mme. Sechard had died before
she carried out her scheme of decoration; and the "bear," unable to
conceive the use of improvements that brought in no return in money,
had left it at this point.
Hither, pede titubante, Jerome-Nicolas Sechard brought his son, and
pointed to a sheet of paper lying on the table—a valuation of plant
drawn up by the foreman under his direction.
"Read that, my boy," said Jerome-Nicolas, rolling a drunken eye from
the paper to his son, and back to the paper. "You will see what a
jewel of a printing-house I am giving you."
"'Three wooden presses, held in position by iron tie-bars, cast-iron
"An improvement of my own," put in Sechard senior.
"'——Together with all the implements, ink-tables, balls, benches,
et cetera, sixteen hundred francs!' Why, father," cried David, letting
the sheet fall, "these presses of yours are old sabots not worth a
hundred crowns; they are only fit for firewood."
"Sabots?" cried old Sechard, "Sabots? There, take the inventory and
let us go downstairs. You will soon see whether your paltry iron-work
contrivances will work like these solid old tools, tried and trusty.
You will not have the heart after that to slander honest old presses
that go like mail coaches, and are good to last you your lifetime
without needing repairs of any sort. Sabots! Yes, sabots that are like
to hold salt enough to cook your eggs with—sabots that your father
has plodded on with these twenty years; they have helped him to make
you what you are."
The father, without coming to grief on the way, lurched down the worn,
knotty staircase that shook under his tread. In the passage he opened
the door of the workshop, flew to the nearest press (artfully oiled
and cleaned for the occasion) and pointed out the strong oaken cheeks,
polished up by the apprentice.
"Isn't it a love of a press?"
A wedding announcement lay in the press. The old "bear" folded down
the frisket upon the tympan, and the tympan upon the form, ran in the
carriage, worked the lever, drew out the carriage, and lifted the
frisket and tympan, all with as much agility as the youngest of the
tribe. The press, handled in this sort, creaked aloud in such fine
style that you might have thought some bird had dashed itself against
the window pane and flown away again.
"Where is the English press that could go at that pace?" the parent
asked of his astonished son.
Old Sechard hurried to the second, and then to the third in order,
repeating the manoeuvre with equal dexterity. The third presenting to
his wine-troubled eye a patch overlooked by the apprentice, with a
notable oath he rubbed it with the skirt of his overcoat, much as a
horse-dealer polishes the coat of an animal that he is trying to sell.
"With those three presses, David, you can make your nine thousand
francs a year without a foreman. As your future partner, I am opposed
to your replacing these presses by your cursed cast-iron machinery,
that wears out the type. You in Paris have been making such a to-do
over that damned Englishman's invention—a foreigner, an enemy of
France who wants to help the ironfounders to a fortune. Oh! you wanted
Stanhopes, did you? Thanks for your Stanhopes, that cost two thousand
five hundred francs apiece, about twice as much as my three jewels put
together, and maul your type to pieces, because there is no give in
them. I haven't book-learning like you, but you keep this well in
mind, the life of the Stanhope is the death of the type. Those three
presses will serve your turn well enough, the printing will be
properly done, and folk here in Angouleme won't ask any more of you.
You may print with presses made of wood or iron or gold or silver,
they will never pay you a farthing more."
"'Item,'" pursued David, "'five thousand pounds weight of type from
M. Vaflard's foundry——'" Didot's apprentice could not help smiling
at the name.
"Laugh away! After twelve years of wear, that type is as good as new.
That is what I call a typefounder! M. Vaflard is an honest man, who
uses hard metal; and, to my way of thinking, the best typefounder is
the one you go to most seldom."
"'——Taken at ten thousand francs,'" continued David. "Ten thousand
francs, father! Why, that is two francs a pound, and the Messrs. Didot
only ask thirty-six sous for their Cicero! These nail-heads of yours
will only fetch the price of old metal—fivepence a pound."
"You call M. Gille's italics, running-hand and round-hand,
'nail-heads,' do you? M. Gille, that used to be printer to the Emperor!
And type that costs six francs a pound! masterpieces of engraving,
bought only five years ago. Some of them are as bright yet as when they
came from the foundry. Look here!"
Old Sechard pounced upon some packets of unused sorts, and held them
out for David to see.
"I am not book-learned; I don't know how to read or write; but, all
the same, I know enough to see that M. Gille's sloping letters are the
fathers of your Messrs. Didot's English running-hand. Here is the
round-hand," he went on, taking up an unused pica type.
David saw that there was no way of coming to terms with his father. It
was a case of Yes or No—of taking or leaving it. The very ropes
across the ceiling had gone down into the old "bear's" inventory, and
not the smallest item was omitted; jobbing chases, wetting-boards,
paste-pots, rinsing-trough, and lye-brushes had all been put down and
valued separately with miserly exactitude. The total amounted to
thirty thousand francs, including the license and the goodwill. David
asked himself whether or not this thing was feasible.
Old Sechard grew uneasy over his son's silence; he would rather have
had stormy argument than a wordless acceptance of the situation.
Chaffering in these sorts of bargains means that a man can look after
his interests. "A man who is ready to pay you anything you ask will
pay nothing," old Sechard was saying to himself. While he tried to
follow his son's train of thought, he went through the list of odds
and ends of plant needed by a country business, drawing David now to a
hot-press, now to a cutting-press, bragging of its usefulness and
"Old tools are always the best tools," said he. "In our line of
business they ought to fetch more than the new, like goldbeaters'
Hideous vignettes, representing Hymen and Cupids, skeletons raising
the lids of their tombs to describe a V or an M, and huge borders of
masks for theatrical posters became in turn objects of tremendous
value through old Jerome-Nicolas' vinous eloquence. Old custom, he
told his son, was so deeply rooted in the district that he (David)
would only waste his pains if he gave them the finest things in life.
He himself had tried to sell them a better class of almanac than the
Double Liegeois on grocers' paper; and what came of it?—the original
Double Liegeois sold better than the most sumptuous calendars. David
would soon see the importance of these old-fashioned things when he
found he could get more for them than for the most costly new-fangled
"Aha! my boy, Paris is Paris, and the provinces are the provinces. If
a man came in from L'Houmeau with an order for wedding cards, and you
were to print them without a Cupid and garlands, he would not believe
that he was properly married; you would have them all back again if
you sent them out with a plain M on them after the style of your
Messrs. Didot. They may be fine printers, but their inventions won't
take in the provinces for another hundred years. So there you are."
A generous man is a bad bargain-driver. David's nature was of the
sensitive and affectionate type that shrinks from a dispute, and gives
way at once if an opponent touches his feelings. His loftiness of
feeling, and the fact that the old toper had himself well in hand, put
him still further at a disadvantage in a dispute about money matters
with his own father, especially as he credited that father with the
best intentions, and took his covetous greed for a printer's
attachment to his old familiar tools. Still, as Jerome-Nicolas Sechard
had taken the whole place over from Rouzeau's widow for ten thousand
francs, paid in assignats, it stood to reason that thirty thousand
francs in coin at the present day was an exorbitant demand.
"Father, you are cutting my throat!" exclaimed David.
"I," cried the old toper, raising his hand to the lines of cord
across the ceiling, "I who gave you life? Why, David, what do you
suppose the license is worth? Do you know that the sheet of
advertisements alone, at fivepence a line, brought in five hundred
francs last month? You turn up the books, lad, and see what we make by
placards and the registers at the Prefecture, and the work for the
mayor's office, and the bishop too. You are a do-nothing that has no
mind to get on. You are haggling over the horse that will carry you to
some pretty bit of property like Marsac."
Attached to the valuation of plant there was a deed of partnership
between Sechard senior and his son. The good father was to let his
house and premises to the new firm for twelve hundred francs per
annum, reserving one of the two rooms in the roof for himself. So long
as David's purchase-money was not paid in full, the profits were to be
divided equally; as soon as he paid off his father, he was to be made
sole proprietor of the business.
David made a mental calculation of the value of the license, the
goodwill, and the stock of paper, leaving the plant out of account. It
was just possible, he thought, to clear off the debt. He accepted the
conditions. Old Sechard, accustomed to peasants' haggling, knowing
nothing of the wider business views of Paris, was amazed at such a
"Can he have been putting money by?" he asked himself. "Or is he
scheming out, at this moment, some way of not paying me?"
With this notion in his head, he tried to find out whether David had
any money with him; he wanted to be paid something on account. The old
man's inquisitiveness roused his son's distrust; David remained close
buttoned up to the chin.
Next day, old Sechard made the apprentice move all his own household
stuff up into the attic until such time as an empty market cart could
take it out on the return journey into the country; and David entered
into possession of three bare, unfurnished rooms on the day that saw
him installed in the printing-house, without one sou wherewith to pay
his men's wages. When he asked his father, as a partner, to contribute
his share towards the working expenses, the old man pretended not to
understand. He had found the printing-house, he said, and he was not
bound to find the money too. He had paid his share. Pressed close by
his son's reasoning, he answered that when he himself had paid
Rouzeau's widow he had not had a penny left. If he, a poor, ignorant
working man, had made his way, Didot's apprentice should do still
better. Besides, had not David been earning money, thanks to an
education paid for by the sweat of his old father's brow? Now surely
was the time when the education would come in useful.
"What have you done with your 'polls?'" he asked, returning to the
charge. He meant to have light on a problem which his son left
unresolved the day before.
"Why, had I not to live?" David asked indignantly, "and books to buy
"Oh! you bought books, did you? You will make a poor man of business.
A man that buys books is hardly fit to print them," retorted the
Then David endured the most painful of humiliations—the sense of
shame for a parent; there was nothing for it but to be passive while
his father poured out a flood of reasons—sordid, whining,
contemptible, money-getting reasons—in which the niggardly old man
wrapped his refusal. David crushed down his pain into the depths of
his soul; he saw that he was alone; saw that he had no one to look to
but himself; saw, too, that his father was trying to make money out of
him; and in a spirit of philosophical curiosity, he tried to find out
how far the old man would go. He called old Sechard's attention to the
fact that he had never as yet made any inquiry as to his mother's
fortune; if that fortune would not buy the printing-house, it might go
some ways towards paying the working expenses.
"Your mother's fortune?" echoed old Sechard; "why, it was her beauty
David understood his father thoroughly after that answer; he
understood that only after an interminable, expensive, and disgraceful
lawsuit could he obtain any account of the money which by rights was
his. The noble heart accepted the heavy burden laid upon it, seeing
clearly beforehand how difficult it would be to free himself from the
engagements into which he had entered with his father.
"I will work," he said to himself. "After all, if I have a rough time
of it, so had the old man; besides, I shall be working for myself,
shall I not?"
"I am leaving you a treasure," said Sechard, uneasy at his son's
David asked what the treasure might be.
"Marion!" said his father.
Marion, a big country girl, was an indispensable part of the
establishment. It was Marion who damped the paper and cut it to size;
Marion did the cooking, washing, and marketing; Marion unloaded the
paper carts, collected accounts, and cleaned the ink-balls; and if
Marion had but known how to read, old Sechard would have put her to
set up type into the bargain.
Old Sechard set out on foot for the country. Delighted as he was with
his sale of the business, he was not quite easy in his mind as to the
payment. To the throes of the vendor, the agony of uncertainty as to
the completion of the purchase inevitably succeeds. Passion of every
sort is essentially Jesuitical. Here was a man who thought that
education was useless, forcing himself to believe in the influence of
education. He was mortgaging thirty thousand francs upon the ideas of
honor and conduct which education should have developed in his son;
David had received a good training, so David would sweat blood and
water to fulfil his engagements; David's knowledge would discover new
resources; and David seemed to be full of fine feelings, so—David
would pay! Many a parent does in this way, and thinks that he has
acted a father's part; old Sechard was quite of that opinion by the
time that he had reached his vineyard at Marsac, a hamlet some four
leagues out of Angouleme. The previous owner had built a nice little
house on the bit of property, and from year to year had added other
bits of land to it, until in 1809 the old "bear" bought the whole, and
went thither, exchanging the toil of the printing press for the labor
of the winepress. As he put it himself, "he had been in that line so
long that he ought to know something about it."
During the first twelvemonth of rural retirement, Sechard senior
showed a careful countenance among his vine props; for he was always
in his vineyard now, just as, in the old days, he had lived in his
shop, day in, day out. The prospect of thirty thousand francs was even
more intoxicating than sweet wine; already in imagination he fingered
the coin. The less the claim to the money, the more eager he grew to
pouch it. Not seldom his anxieties sent him hurrying from Marsac to
Angouleme; he would climb up the rocky staircases into the old city
and walk into his son's workshop to see how business went. There stood
the presses in their places; the one apprentice, in a paper cap, was
cleaning the ink-balls; there was a creaking of a press over the
printing of some trade circular, the old type was still unchanged, and
in the dens at the end of the room he saw his son and the foreman
reading books, which the "bear" took for proof-sheets. Then he would
join David at dinner and go back to Marsac, chewing the cud of uneasy
Avarice, like love, has the gift of second sight, instinctively
guessing at future contingencies, and hugging its presentiments.
Sechard senior living at a distance, far from the workshop and the
machinery which possessed such a fascination for him, reminding him,
as it did, of days when he was making his way, could feel that there
were disquieting symptoms of inactivity in his son. The name of
Cointet Brothers haunted him like a dread; he saw Sechard & Son
dropping into the second place. In short, the old man scented
misfortune in the wind.
His presentiments were too well founded; disaster was hovering over
the house of Sechard. But there is a tutelary deity for misers, and by
a chain of unforeseen circumstances that tutelary deity was so
ordering matters that the purchase-money of his extortionate bargain
was to be tumbled after all into the old toper's pouch.
Indifferent to the religious reaction brought about by the
Restoration, indifferent no less to the Liberal movement, David
preserved a most unlucky neutrality on the burning questions of the
day. In those times provincial men of business were bound to profess
political opinions of some sort if they meant to secure custom; they
were forced to choose for themselves between the patronage of the
Liberals on the one hand or the Royalists on the other. And Love,
moreover, had come to David's heart, and with his scientific
preoccupation and finer nature he had not room for the dogged greed of
which our successful man of business is made; it choked the keen
money-getting instinct which would have led him to study the
differences between the Paris trade and the business of a provincial
printing-house. The shades of opinion so sharply defined in the
country are blurred and lost in the great currents of Parisian
business life. Cointet Brothers set themselves deliberately to
assimilate all shades of monarchical opinion. They let every one know
that they fasted of a Friday and kept Lent; they haunted the
cathedral; they cultivated the society of the clergy; and in
consequence, when books of devotion were once more in demand, Cointet
Brothers were the first in this lucrative field. They slandered David,
accusing him of Liberalism, Atheism, and what not. How, asked they,
could any one employ a man whose father had been a Septembrist, a
Bonapartist, and a drunkard to boot? The old man was sure to leave
plenty of gold pieces behind him. They themselves were poor men with
families to support, while David was a bachelor and could do as he
pleased; he would have plenty one of these days; he could afford to
take things easily; whereas . . . and so forth and so forth.
Such tales against David, once put into circulation, produced their
effect. The monopoly of the prefectorial and diocesan work passed
gradually into the hands of Cointet Brothers; and before long David's
keen competitors, emboldened by his inaction, started a second local
sheet of advertisements and announcements. The older establishment was
left at length with the job-printing orders from the town, and the
circulation of the Charente Chronicle fell off by one-half. Meanwhile
the Cointets grew richer; they had made handsome profits on their
devotional books; and now they offered to buy Sechard's paper, to have
all the trade and judicial announcements of the department in their
The news of this proposal sent by David to his father brought the old
vinegrower from Marsac into the Place du Murier with the swiftness of
the raven that scents the corpses on a battlefield.
"Leave me to manage the Cointets," said he to his son; "don't you
meddle in this business."
The old man saw what the Cointets meant; and they took alarm at his
clearsighted sagacity. His son was making a blunder, he said, and he,
Sechard, had come to put a stop to it.
"What was to become of the connection if David gave up the paper? It
all depended upon the paper. All the attorneys and solicitors and men
of business in L'Houmeau were Liberals to a man. The Cointets had
tried to ruin the Sechards by accusing them of Liberalism, and by so
doing gave them a plank to cling to—the Sechards should keep the
Liberal business. Sell the paper indeed! Why, you might as well sell
the stock-in-trade and the license!"
Old Sechard asked the Cointets sixty thousand francs for the printing
business, so as not to ruin his son; he was fond of his son; he was
taking his son's part. The vinegrower brought his son to the front to
gain his point, as a peasant brings in his wife.
His son was unwilling to do this, that, or the other; it varied
according to the offers which he wrung one after another from the
Cointets, until, not without an effort, he drew them on to give
twenty-two thousand francs for the Charente Chronicle. But, at the
same time, David must pledge himself thenceforward to print no
newspaper whatsoever, under a penalty of thirty thousand francs for
That transaction dealt the deathblow to the Sechard establishment; but
the old vinegrower did not trouble himself much on that head. Murder
usually follows robbery. Our worthy friend intended to pay himself
with the ready money. To have the cash in his own hands he would have
given in David himself over and above the bargain, and so much the
more willingly since that this nuisance of a son could claim one-half
of the unexpected windfall. Taking this fact into consideration,
therefore, the generous parent consented to abandon his share of the
business but not the business premises; and the rental was still
maintained at the famous sum of twelve hundred francs per annum.
The old man came into town very seldom after the paper was sold to the
Cointets. He pleaded his advanced age, but the truth was that he took
little interest in the establishment now that it was his no longer.
Still, he could not quite shake off his old kindness for his
stock-in-trade; and when business brought him into Angouleme, it would
have been hard to say which was the stronger attraction to the old house
—his wooden presses or the son whom (as a matter of form) he asked for
rent. The old foreman, who had gone over to the rival establishment,
knew exactly how much this fatherly generosity was worth; the old fox
meant to reserve a right to interfere in his son's affairs, and had
taken care to appear in the bankruptcy as a privileged creditor for
arrears of rent.
The causes of David's heedlessness throw a light on the character of
that young man. Only a few days after his establishment in the
paternal printing office, he came across an old school friend in the
direst poverty. Lucien Chardon, a young fellow of one-and-twenty or
thereabouts, was the son of a surgeon-major who had retired with a
wound from the republican army. Nature had meant M. Chardon senior for
a chemist; chance opened the way for a retail druggist's business in
Angouleme. After many years of scientific research, death cut him off
in the midst of his incompleted experiments, and the great discovery
that should have brought wealth to the family was never made. Chardon
had tried to find a specific for the gout. Gout is a rich man's
malady; the rich will pay large sums to recover health when they have
lost it, and for this reason the druggist deliberately selected gout
as his problem. Halfway between the man of science on the one side and
the charlatan on the other, he saw that the scientific method was the
one road to assured success, and had studied the causes of the
complaint, and based his remedy on a certain general theory of
treatment, with modifications in practice for varying temperaments.
Then, on a visit to Paris undertaken to solicit the approval of the
Academie des Sciences, he died, and lost all the fruits of his labors.
It may have been that some presentiment of the end had led the country
druggist to do all that in him lay to give his boy and girl a good
education; the family had been living up to the income brought in by
the business; and now when they were left almost destitute, it was an
aggravation of their misfortune that they had been brought up in the
expectations of a brilliant future; for these hopes were extinguished
by their father's death. The great Desplein, who attended Chardon in
his last illness, saw him die in convulsions of rage.
The secret of the army surgeon's ambition lay in his passionate love
for his wife, the last survivor of the family of Rubempre, saved as by
a miracle from the guillotine in 1793. He had gained time by declaring
that she was pregnant, a lie told without the girl's knowledge or
consent. Then, when in a manner he had created a claim to call her his
wife, he had married her in spite of their common poverty. The
children of this marriage, like all children of love, inherited the
mother's wonderful beauty, that gift so often fatal when accompanied
by poverty. The life of hope and hard work and despair, in all of
which Mme. Chardon had shared with such keen sympathy, had left deep
traces in her beautiful face, just as the slow decline of a scanty
income had changed her ways and habits; but both she and her children
confronted evil days bravely enough. She sold the druggist's shop in
the Grand' Rue de L'Houmeau, the principal suburb of Angouleme; but it
was impossible for even one woman to exist on the three hundred francs
of income brought in by the investment of the purchase-money, so the
mother and daughter accepted the position, and worked to earn a
living. The mother went out as a monthly nurse, and for her gentle
manners was preferred to any other among the wealthy houses, where she
lived without expense to her children, and earned some seven francs a
week. To save her son the embarrassment of seeing his mother reduced
to this humble position, she assumed the name of Madame Charlotte; and
persons requiring her services were requested to apply to M. Postel,
M. Chardon's successor in the business. Lucien's sister worked for a
laundress, a decent woman much respected in L'Houmeau, and earned
fifteen daily sous. As Mme. Prieur's forewoman she had a certain
position in the workroom, which raised her slightly above the class of
The two women's slender earnings, together with Mme. Chardon's three
hundred francs of rentes, amounted to about eight hundred francs a
year, and on this sum three persons must be fed, clothed, and lodged.
Yet, with all their frugal thrift, the pittance was scarcely
sufficient; nearly the whole of it was needed for Lucien. Mme. Chardon
and her daughter Eve believed in Lucien as Mahomet's wife believed in
her husband; their devotion for his future knew no bounds. Their
present landlord was the successor to the business, for M. Postel let
them have rooms at the further end of a yard at the back of the
laboratory for a very low rent, and Lucien slept in the poor garret
above. A father's passion for natural science had stimulated the boy,
and at first induced him to follow in the same path. Lucien was one of
the most brilliant pupils at the grammar school of Angouleme, and when
David Sechard left, his future friend was in the third form.
When chance brought the school-fellows together again, Lucien was
weary of drinking from the rude cup of penury, and ready for any of
the rash, decisive steps that youth takes at the age of twenty.
David's generous offer of forty francs a month if Lucien would come to
him and learn the work of a printer's reader came in time; David had
no need whatever of a printer's reader, but he saved Lucien from
despair. The ties of a school friendship thus renewed were soon drawn
closer than ever by the similarity of their lot in life and the
dissimilarity of their characters. Both felt high swelling hopes of
manifold success; both consciously possessed the high order of
intelligence which sets a man on a level with lofty heights, consigned
though they were socially to the lowest level. Fate's injustice was a
strong bond between them. And then, by different ways, following each
his own bent of mind, they had attained to poesy. Lucien, destined for
the highest speculative fields of natural science, was aiming with hot
enthusiasm at fame through literature; while David, with that
meditative temperament which inclines to poetry, was drawn by his
tastes towards natural science.
The exchange of roles was the beginning of an intellectual
comradeship. Before long, Lucien told David of his own father's
farsighted views of the application of science to manufacture, while
David pointed out the new ways in literature that Lucien must follow
if he meant to succeed. Not many days had passed before the young
men's friendship became a passion such as is only known in early
manhood. Then it was that David caught a glimpse of Eve's fair face,
and loved, as grave and meditative natures can love. The et nunc et
semper et in secula seculorum of the Liturgy is the device taken by
many a sublime unknown poet, whose works consist in magnificent epics
conceived and lost between heart and heart. With a lover's insight,
David read the secret hopes set by the mother and sister on Lucien's
poet's brow; and knowing their blind devotion, it was very sweet to
him to draw nearer to his love by sharing her hopes and her
self-sacrifice. And in this way Lucien came to be David's chosen
brother. As there are ultras who would fain be more Royalist than the
King, so David outdid the mother and sister in his belief in Lucien's
genius; he spoiled Lucien as a mother spoils her child.
Once, under pressure of the lack of money which tied their hands, the
two were ruminating after the manner of young men over ways of
promptly realizing a large fortune; and, after fruitless shakings of
all the trees already stripped by previous comers, Lucien bethought
himself of two of his father's ideas. M. Chardon had talked of a
method of refining sugar by a chemical process, which would reduce the
cost of production by one-half; and he had another plan for employing
an American vegetable fibre for making paper, something after the
Chinese fashion, and effecting an enormous saving in the cost of raw
material. David, knowing the importance of a question raised already
by the Didots, caught at this latter notion, saw a fortune in it, and
looked upon Lucien as the benefactor whom he could never repay.
Any one may guess how the ruling thoughts and inner life of this pair
of friends unfitted them for carrying on the business of a printing
house. So far from making fifteen to twenty thousand francs, like
Cointet Brothers, printers and publishers to the diocese, and
proprietors of the Charente Chronicle (now the only newspaper in the
department)—Sechard & Son made a bare three hundred francs per month,
out of which the foreman's salary must be paid, as well as Marion's
wages and the rent and taxes; so that David himself was scarcely
making twelve hundred francs per annum. Active and industrious men of
business would have bought new type and new machinery, and made an
effort to secure orders for cheap printing from the Paris book trade;
but master and foreman, deep in absorbing intellectual interests, were
quite content with such orders as came to them from their remaining
In the long length the Cointets had come to understand David's
character and habits. They did not slander him now; on the contrary,
wise policy required that they should allow the business to flicker
on; it was to their interest indeed to maintain it in a small way,
lest it should fall into the hands of some more formidable
competitor; they made a practice of sending prospectuses and circulars
—job-printing, as it is called—to the Sechard's establishment. So it
came about that, all unwittingly, David owed his existence,
commercially speaking, to the cunning schemes of his competitors. The
Cointets, well pleased with his "craze," as they called it, behaved to
all appearance both fairly and handsomely; but, as a matter of fact,
they were adopting the tactics of the mail-coach owners who set up a
sham opposition coach to keep bona fide rivals out of the field.
Inside and outside, the condition of the Sechard printing
establishment bore testimony to the sordid avarice of the old "bear,"
who never spent a penny on repairs. The old house had stood in sun and
rain, and borne the brunt of the weather, till it looked like some
venerable tree trunk set down at the entrance of the alley, so riven
it was with seams and cracks of all sorts and sizes. The house front,
built of brick and stone, with no pretensions to symmetry, seemed to
be bending beneath the weight of a worm-eaten roof covered with the
curved pantiles in common use in the South of France. The decrepit
casements were fitted with the heavy, unwieldy shutters necessary in
that climate, and held in place by massive iron cross bars. It would
have puzzled you to find a more dilapidated house in Angouleme;
nothing but sheer tenacity of mortar kept it together. Try to picture
the workshop, lighted at either end, and dark in the middle; the walls
covered with handbills and begrimed by friction of all the workmen who
had rubbed past them for thirty years; the cobweb of cordage across
the ceiling, the stacks of paper, the old-fashioned presses, the pile
of slabs for weighting the damp sheets, the rows of cases, and the two
dens in the far corners where the master printer and foreman sat—and
you will have some idea of the life led by the two friends.
One day early in May, 1821, David and Lucien were standing together by
the window that looked into the yard. It was nearly two o'clock, and
the four or five men were going out to dinner. David waited until the
apprentice had shut the street door with the bell fastened to it; then
he drew Lucien out into the yard as if the smell of paper, ink, and
presses and old woodwork had grown intolerable to him, and together
they sat down under the vines, keeping the office and the door in
view. The sunbeams, playing among the trellised vine-shoots, hovered
over the two poets, making, as it were, an aureole about their heads,
bringing the contrast between their faces and their characters into a
vigorous relief that would have tempted the brush of some great
David's physique was of the kind that Nature gives to the fighter, the
man born to struggle in obscurity, or with the eyes of all men turned
upon him. The strong shoulders, rising above the broad chest, were in
keeping with the full development of his whole frame. With his thick
crop of black hair, his fleshy, high-colored, swarthy face, supported
by a thick neck, he looked at first sight like one of Boileau's
canons: but on a second glance there was that in the lines about the
thick lips, in the dimple of the chin, in the turn of the square
nostrils, with the broad irregular line of central cleavage, and,
above all, in the eyes, with the steady light of an all-absorbing love
that burned in them, which revealed the real character of the man—the
wisdom of the thinker, the strenuous melancholy of a spirit that
discerns the horizon on either side, and sees clearly to the end of
winding ways, turning the clear light of analysis upon the joys of
fruition, known as yet in idea alone, and quick to turn from them in
disgust. You might look for the flash of genius from such a face; you
could not miss the ashes of the volcano; hopes extinguished beneath a
profound sense of the social annihilation to which lowly birth and
lack of fortune condemns so many a loftier mind. And by the side of
the poor printer, who loathed a handicraft so closely allied to
intellectual work, close to this Silenus, joyless, self-sustained,
drinking deep draughts from the cup of knowledge and of poetry that he
might forget the cares of his narrow lot in the intoxication of soul
and brain, stood Lucien, graceful as some sculptured Indian Bacchus.
For in Lucien's face there was the distinction of line which stamps
the beauty of the antique; the Greek profile, with the velvet
whiteness of women's faces, and eyes full of love, eyes so blue that
they looked dark against a pearly setting, and dewy and fresh as those
of a child. Those beautiful eyes looked out from under their long
chestnut lashes, beneath eyebrows that might have been traced by a
Chinese pencil. The silken down on his cheeks, like his bright curling
hair, shone golden in the sunlight. A divine graciousness transfused
the white temples that caught that golden gleam; a matchless nobleness
had set its seal in the short chin raised, but not abruptly. The smile
that hovered about the coral lips, yet redder as they seemed by force
of contrast with the even teeth, was the smile of some sorrowing
angel. Lucien's hands denoted race; they were shapely hands; hands
that men obey at a sign, and women love to kiss. Lucien was slender
and of middle height. From a glance at his feet, he might have been
taken for a girl in disguise, and this so much the more easily from
the feminine contour of the hips, a characteristic of keen-witted, not
to say, astute, men. This is a trait which seldom misleads, and in
Lucien it was a true indication of character; for when he analyzed the
society of to-day, his restless mind was apt to take its stand on the
lower ground of those diplomatists who hold that success justifies the
use of any means however base. It is one of the misfortunes attendant
upon great intellects that perforce they comprehend all things, both
good and evil.
The two young men judged society by the more lofty standard because
their social position was at the lowest end of the scale, for
unrecognized power is apt to avenge itself for lowly station by
viewing the world from a lofty standpoint. Yet it is, nevertheless,
true that they grew but the more bitter and hopeless after these swift
soaring flights to the upper regions of thought, their world by right.
Lucien had read much and compared; David had thought much and deeply.
In spite of the young printer's look of robust, country-bred health,
his turn of mind was melancholy and somewhat morbid—he lacked
confidence in himself; but Lucien, on the other hand, with a boldness
little to be expected from his feminine, almost effeminate, figure,
graceful though it was, Lucien possessed the Gascon temperament to the
highest degree—rash, brave, and adventurous, prone to make the most
of the bright side, and as little as possible of the dark; his was the
nature that sticks at no crime if there is anything to be gained by
it, and laughs at the vice which serves as a stepping-stone. Just now
these tendencies of ambition were held in check, partly by the fair
illusions of youth, partly by the enthusiasm which led him to prefer
the nobler methods, which every man in love with glory tries first of
all. Lucien was struggling as yet with himself and his own desires,
and not with the difficulties of life; at strife with his own power,
and not with the baseness of other men, that fatal exemplar for
impressionable minds. The brilliancy of his intellect had a keen
attraction for David. David admired his friend, while he kept him out
of the scrapes into which he was led by the furie francaise.
David, with his well-balanced mind and timid nature at variance with a
strong constitution, was by no means wanting in the persistence of the
Northern temper; and if he saw all the difficulties before him, none
the less he vowed to himself to conquer, never to give way. In him the
unswerving virtue of an apostle was softened by pity that sprang from
inexhaustible indulgence. In the friendship grown old already, one was
the worshiper, and that one was David; Lucien ruled him like a woman
sure of love, and David loved to give way. He felt that his friend's
physical beauty implied a real superiority, which he accepted, looking
upon himself as one made of coarser and commoner human clay.
"The ox for patient labor in the fields, the free life for the bird,"
he thought to himself. "I will be the ox, and Lucien shall be the
So for three years these friends had mingled the destinies bright with
such glorious promise. Together they read the great works that
appeared above the horizon of literature and science since the Peace
—the poems of Schiller, Goethe, and Byron, the prose writings of
Scott, Jean-Paul, Berzelius, Davy, Cuvier, Lamartine, and many more.
They warmed themselves beside these great hearthfires; they tried
their powers in abortive creations, in work laid aside and taken up
again with new glow of enthusiasm. Incessantly they worked with the
unwearied vitality of youth; comrades in poverty, comrades in the
consuming love of art and science, till they forgot the hard life of
the present, for their minds were wholly bent on laying the
foundations of future fame.
"Lucien," said David, "do you know what I have just received from
Paris?" He drew a tiny volume from his pocket. "Listen!"
And David read, as a poet can read, first Andre de Chenier's Idyll
Neere, then Le Malade, following on with the Elegy on a Suicide,
another elegy in the classic taste, and the last two Iambes.
"So that is Andre de Chenier!" Lucien exclaimed again and again. "It
fills one with despair!" he cried for the third time, when David
surrendered the book to him, unable to read further for emotion.—"A
poet rediscovered by a poet!" said Lucien, reading the signature of
"After Chenier had written those poems, he thought that he had written
nothing worth publishing," added David.
Then Lucien in his turn read aloud the fragment of an epic called
L'Aveugle and two or three of the Elegies, till, when he came upon the
If they know not bliss, is there happiness on earth?
He pressed the book to his lips, and tears came to the eyes of either,
for the two friends were lovers and fellow-worshipers.
The vine-stems were changing color with the spring; covering the
rifted, battered walls of the old house where squalid cracks were
spreading in every direction, with fluted columns and knots and
bas-reliefs and uncounted masterpieces of I know not what order of
architecture, erected by fairy hands. Fancy had scattered flowers and
crimson gems over the gloomy little yard, and Chenier's Camille became
for David the Eve whom he worshiped, for Lucien a great lady to whom
he paid his homage. Poetry had shaken out her starry robe above the
workshop where the "monkeys" and "bears" were grotesquely busy among
types and presses. Five o'clock struck, but the friends felt neither
hunger nor thirst; life had turned to a golden dream, and all the
treasures of the world lay at their feet. Far away on the horizon lay
the blue streak to which Hope points a finger in storm and stress; and
a siren voice sounded in their ears, calling, "Come, spread your
wings; through that streak of gold or silver or azure lies the sure
way of escape from evil fortune!"
Just at that moment the low glass door of the workshop was opened, and
out came Cerizet, an apprentice (David had brought the urchin from
Paris). This youth introduced a stranger, who saluted the friends
politely, and spoke to David.
"This, sir, is a monograph which I am desirous of printing," said he,
drawing a huge package of manuscript from his pocket. "Will you oblige
me with an estimate?"
"We do not undertake work on such a scale, sir," David answered,
without looking at the manuscript. "You had better see the Messieurs
Cointet about it."
"Still we have a very pretty type which might suit it," put in Lucien,
taking up the roll. "We must ask you to be kind enough, sir, to leave
your commission with us and call again to-morrow, and we will give you
"Have I the pleasure of addressing M. Lucien Chardon?"
"Yes, sir," said the foreman.
"I am fortunate in this opportunity of meeting with a young poet
destined to such greatness," returned the author. "Mme. de Bargeton
sent me here."
Lucien flushed red at the name, and stammered out something about
gratitude for the interest which Mme. de Bargeton took in him. David
noticed his friend's embarrassed flush, and left him in conversation
with the country gentleman, the author of a monograph on silkwork
cultivation, prompted by vanity to print the effort for the benefit of
fellow-members of the local agricultural society.
When the author had gone, David spoke.
"Lucien, are you in love with Mme. de Bargeton?"
"But social prejudices set you as far apart as if she were living at
Pekin and you in Greenland."
"The will of two lovers can rise victorious over all things," said
Lucien, lowering his eyes.
"You will forget us," returned the alarmed lover, as Eve's fair face
rose before his mind.
"On the contrary, I have perhaps sacrificed my love to you," cried
"What do you mean?"
"In spite of my love, in spite of the different motives which bid me
obtain a secure footing in her house, I have told her that I will
never go thither again unless another is made welcome too, a man whose
gifts are greater than mine, a man destined for a brilliant future
—David Sechard, my brother, my friend. I shall find an answer waiting
when I go home. All the aristocrats may have been asked to hear me
read my verses this evening, but I shall not go if the answer is
negative, and I will never set foot in Mme. de Bargeton's house
David brushed the tears from his eyes, and wrung Lucien's hand. The
clock struck six.
"Eve must be anxious; good-bye," Lucien added abruptly.
He hurried away. David stood overcome by the emotion that is only felt
to the full at his age, and more especially in such a position as his
—the friends were like two young swans with wings unclipped as yet by
the experiences of provincial life.
"Heart of gold!" David exclaimed to himself, as his eyes followed
Lucien across the workshop.
Lucien went down to L'Houmeau along the broad Promenade de Beaulieu,
the Rue du Minage, and Saint-Peter's Gate. It was the longest way
round, so you may be sure that Mme. de Bargeton's house lay on the
way. So delicious it was to pass under her windows, though she knew
nothing of his presence, that for the past two months he had gone
round daily by the Palet Gate into L'Houmeau.
Under the trees of Beaulieu he saw how far the suburb lay from the
city. The custom of the country, moreover, had raised other barriers
harder to surmount than the mere physical difficulty of the steep
flights of steps which Lucien was descending. Youth and ambition had
thrown the flying-bridge of glory across the gulf between the city and
the suburb, yet Lucien was as uneasy in his mind over his lady's
answer as any king's favorite who has tried to climb yet higher, and
fears that being over-bold he is like to fall. This must seem a dark
saying to those who have never studied the manners and customs of
cities divided into the upper and lower town; wherefore it is
necessary to enter here upon some topographical details, and this so
much the more if the reader is to comprehend the position of one of
the principal characters in the story—Mme. de Bargeton.
The old city of Angouleme is perched aloft on a crag like a
sugar-loaf, overlooking the plain where the Charente winds away through
the meadows. The crag is an outlying spur on the Perigord side of a
long, low ridge of hill, which terminates abruptly just above the road
from Paris to Bordeaux, so that the Rock of Angouleme is a sort of
promontory marking out the line of three picturesque valleys. The
ramparts and great gateways and ruined fortress on the summit of the
crag still remain to bear witness to the importance of this stronghold
during the Religious Wars, when Angouleme was a military position
coveted alike of Catholics and Calvinists, but its old-world strength
is a source of weakness in modern days; Angouleme could not spread
down to the Charente, and shut in between its ramparts and the steep
sides of the crag, the old town is condemned to stagnation of the most
The Government made an attempt about this very time to extend the town
towards Perigord, building a Prefecture, a Naval School, and barracks
along the hillside, and opening up roads. But private enterprise had
been beforehand elsewhere. For some time past the suburb of L'Houmeau
had sprung up, a mushroom growth at the foot of the crag and along the
river-side, where the direct road runs from Paris to Bordeaux.
Everybody has heard of the great paper-mills of Angouleme, established
perforce three hundred years ago on the Charente and its branch
streams, where there was a sufficient fall of water. The largest State
factory of marine ordnance in France was established at Ruelle, some
six miles away. Carriers, wheelwrights, posthouses, and inns, every
agency for public conveyance, every industry that lives by road or
river, was crowded together in Lower Angouleme, to avoid the
difficulty of the ascent of the hill. Naturally, too, tanneries,
laundries, and all such waterside trades stood within reach of the
Charente; and along the banks of the river lay the stores of brandy
and great warehouses full of the water-borne raw material; all the
carrying trade of the Charente, in short, had lined the quays with
So the Faubourg of L'Houmeau grew into a busy and prosperous city, a
second Angouleme rivaling the upper town, the residence of the powers
that be, the lords spiritual and temporal of Angouleme; though
L'Houmeau, with all its business and increasing greatness, was still a
mere appendage of the city above. The noblesse and officialdom dwelt
on the crag, trade and wealth remained below. No love was lost between
these two sections of the community all the world over, and in
Angouleme it would have been hard to say which of the two camps
detested the other the more cordially. Under the Empire the machinery
worked fairly smoothly, but the Restoration wrought both sides to the
highest pitch of exasperation.
Nearly every house in the upper town of Angouleme is inhabited by
noble, or at any rate by old burgher, families, who live independently
on their incomes—a sort of autochthonous nation who suffer no aliens
to come among them. Possibly, after two hundred years of unbroken
residence, and it may be an intermarriage or two with one of the
primordial houses, a family from some neighboring district may be
adopted, but in the eyes of the aboriginal race they are still
newcomers of yesterday.
Prefects, receivers-general, and various administrations that have
come and gone during the last forty years, have tried to tame the
ancient families perched aloft like wary ravens on their crag; the
said families were always willing to accept invitations to dinners and
dances; but as to admitting the strangers to their own houses, they
were inexorable. Ready to scoff and disparage, jealous and niggardly,
marrying only among themselves, the families formed a serried phalanx
to keep out intruders. Of modern luxury they had no notion; and as for
sending a boy to Paris, it was sending him, they thought to certain
ruin. Such sagacity will give a sufficient idea of the old-world
manners and customs of this society, suffering from thick-headed
Royalism, infected with bigotry rather than zeal, all stagnating
together, motionless as their town founded upon a rock. Yet Angouleme
enjoyed a great reputation in the provinces round about for its
educational advantages, and neighboring towns sent their daughters to
its boarding schools and convents.
It is easy to imagine the influence of the class sentiment which held
Angouleme aloof from L'Houmeau. The merchant classes are rich, the
noblesse are usually poor. Each side takes its revenge in scorn of the
other. The tradespeople in Angouleme espouse the quarrel. "He is a man
of L'Houmeau!" a shopkeeper of the upper town will tell you, speaking
of a merchant in the lower suburb, throwing an accent into the speech
which no words can describe. When the Restoration defined the position
of the French noblesse, holding out hopes to them which could only be
realized by a complete and general topsy-turvydom, the distance
between Angouleme and L'Houmeau, already more strongly marked than the
distance between the hill and plain, was widened yet further. The
better families, all devoted as one man to the Government, grew more
exclusive here than in any other part of France. "The man of
L'Houmeau" became little better than a pariah. Hence the deep,
smothered hatred which broke out everywhere with such ugly unanimity
in the insurrection of 1830 and destroyed the elements of a durable
social system in France. As the overweening haughtiness of the Court
nobles detached the provincial noblesse from the throne, so did these
last alienate the bourgeoisie from the royal cause by behavior that
galled their vanity in every possible way.
So "a man of L'Houmeau," a druggist's son, in Mme. de Bargeton's house
was nothing less than a little revolution. Who was responsible for it?
Lamartine and Victor Hugo, Casimir Delavigne and Canalis, Beranger and
Chateaubriand. Davrigny, Benjamin Constant and Lamennais, Cousin and
Michaud,—all the old and young illustrious names in literature in
short, Liberals and Royalists, alike must divide the blame among them.
Mme. de Bargeton loved art and letters, eccentric taste on her part, a
craze deeply deplored in Angouleme. In justice to the lady, it is
necessary to give a sketch of the previous history of a woman born to
shine, and left by unlucky circumstances in the shade, a woman whose
influence decided Lucien's career.
M. de Bargeton was the great-grandson of an alderman of Bordeaux named
Mirault, ennobled under Louis XIII. for long tenure of office. His
son, bearing the name of Mirault de Bargeton, became an officer in the
household troops of Louis XIV., and married so great a fortune that in
the reign of Louis XV. his son dropped the Mirault and was called
simply M. de Bargeton. This M. de Bargeton, the alderman's grandson,
lived up to his quality so strenuously that he ran through the family
property and checked the course of its fortunes. Two of his brothers
indeed, great-uncles of the present Bargeton, went into business
again, for which reason you will find the name of Mirault among
Bordeaux merchants at this day. The lands of Bargeton, in Angoumois in
the barony of Rochefoucauld, being entailed, and the house in
Angouleme, called the Hotel Bargeton, likewise, the grandson of M. de
Bargeton the Waster came in for these hereditaments; though the year
1789 deprived him of all seignorial rights save to the rents paid by
his tenants, which amounted to some ten thousand francs per annum. If
his grandsire had but walked in the ways of his illustrious
progenitors, Bargeton I. and Bargeton II., Bargeton V. (who may be
dubbed Bargeton the Mute by way of distinction) should by rights have
been born to the title of Marquis of Bargeton; he would have been
connected with some great family or other, and in due time he would
have been a duke and a peer of France, like many another; whereas, in
1805, he thought himself uncommonly lucky when he married Mlle.
Marie-Louise-Anais de Negrepelisse, the daughter of a noble long
relegated to the obscurity of his manor-house, scion though he was of
the younger branch of one of the oldest families in the south of
France. There had been a Negrepelisse among the hostages of St. Louis.
The head of the elder branch, however, had borne the illustrious name
of d'Espard since the reign of Henri Quatre, when the Negrepelisse of
that day married an heiress of the d'Espard family. As for M. de
Negrepelisse, the younger son of a younger son, he lived upon his
wife's property, a small estate in the neighborhood of Barbezieux,
farming the land to admiration, selling his corn in the market
himself, and distilling his own brandy, laughing at those who
ridiculed him, so long as he could pile up silver crowns, and now and
again round out his estate with another bit of land.
Circumstances unusual enough in out-of-the-way places in the country
had inspired Mme. de Bargeton with a taste for music and reading.
During the Revolution one Abbe Niollant, the Abbe Roze's best pupil,
found a hiding-place in the old manor-house of Escarbas, and brought
with him his baggage of musical compositions. The old country
gentleman's hospitality was handsomely repaid, for the Abbe undertook
his daughter's education. Anais, or Nais, as she was called must
otherwise have been left to herself, or, worse still, to some
coarse-minded servant-maid. The Abbe was not only a musician, he was
well and widely read, and knew both Italian and German; so Mlle. de
Negrepelise received instruction in those tongues, as well as in
counterpoint. He explained the great masterpieces of the French,
German, and Italian literatures, and deciphered with her the music of
the great composers. Finally, as time hung heavy on his hands in the
seclusion enforced by political storms, he taught his pupil Latin and
Greek and some smatterings of natural science. A mother might have
modified the effects of a man's education upon a young girl, whose
independent spirit had been fostered in the first place by a country
life. The Abbe Niollant, an enthusiast and a poet, possessed the
artistic temperament in a peculiarly high degree, a temperament
compatible with many estimable qualities, but prone to raise itself
above bourgeois prejudices by the liberty of its judgments and
breadth of view. In society an intellect of this order wins pardon for
its boldness by its depth and originality; but in private life it
would seem to do positive mischief, by suggesting wanderings from the
beaten track. The Abbe was by no means wanting in goodness of heart,
and his ideas were therefore the more contagious for this high-spirited
girl, in whom they were confirmed by a lonely life. The Abbe Niollant's
pupil learned to be fearless in criticism and ready in judgement; it
never occurred to her tutor that qualities so necessary in a man are
disadvantages in a woman destined for the homely life of a
house-mother. And though the Abbe constantly impressed it upon his
pupil that it behoved her to be the more modest and gracious with the
extent of her attainments, Mlle. de Negrepelisse conceived an excellent
opinion of herself and a robust contempt for ordinary humanity. All
those about her were her inferiors, or persons who hastened to do her
bidding, till she grew to be as haughty as a great lady, with none of
the charming blandness and urbanity of a great lady. The instincts of
vanity were flattered by the pride that the poor Abbe took in his
pupil, the pride of an author who sees himself in his work, and for
her misfortune she met no one with whom she could measure herself.
Isolation is one of the greatest drawbacks of a country life. We lose
the habit of putting ourselves to any inconvenience for the sake of
others when there is no one for whom to make the trifling sacrifices
of personal effort required by dress and manner. And everything in us
shares in the change for the worse; the form and the spirit
With no social intercourse to compel self-repression, Mlle. de
Negrepelisse's bold ideas passed into her manner and the expression of
her face. There was a cavalier air about her, a something that seems
at first original, but only suited to women of adventurous life. So
this education, and the consequent asperities of character, which
would have been softened down in a higher social sphere, could only
serve to make her ridiculous at Angouleme so soon as her adorers
should cease to worship eccentricities that charm only in youth.
As for M. de Negrepelisse, he would have given all his daughter's
books to save the life of a sick bullock; and so miserly was he, that
he would not have given her two farthings over and above the allowance
to which she had a right, even if it had been a question of some
indispensable trifle for her education.
In 1802 the Abbe died, before the marriage of his dear child, a
marriage which he, doubtless, would never have advised. The old father
found his daughter a great care now that the Abbe was gone. The
high-spirited girl, with nothing else to do, was sure to break into
rebellion against his niggardliness, and he felt quite unequal to the
struggle. Like all young women who leave the appointed track of
woman's life, Nais had her own opinions about marriage, and had no
great inclination thereto. She shrank from submitting herself, body
and soul, to the feeble, undignified specimens of mankind whom she had
chanced to meet. She wished to rule, marriage meant obedience; and
between obedience to coarse caprices and a mind without indulgence for
her tastes, and flight with a lover who should please her, she would
not have hesitated for a moment.
M. de Negrepelisse maintained sufficient of the tradition of birth to
dread a mesalliance. Like many another parent, he resolved to marry
his daughter, not so much on her account as for his own peace of mind.
A noble or a country gentleman was the man for him, somebody not too
clever, incapable of haggling over the account of the trust; stupid
enough and easy enough to allow Nais to have her own way, and
disinterested enough to take her without a dowry. But where to look
for a son-in-law to suit father and daughter equally well, was the
problem. Such a man would be the phoenix of sons-in-law.
To M. de Negrepelisse pondering over the eligible bachelors of the
province with these double requirements in his mind. M. de Bargeton
seemed to be the only one who answered to this description. M. de
Bargeton, aged forty, considerably shattered by the amorous
dissipations of his youth, was generally held to be a man of
remarkably feeble intellect; but he had just the exact amount of
commonsense required for the management of his fortune, and breeding
sufficient to enable him to avoid blunders or blatant follies in
society in Angouleme. In the bluntest manner M. de Negrepelisse
pointed out the negative virtues of the model husband designed for his
daughter, and made her see the way to manage him so as to secure her
own happiness. So Nais married the bearer of arms, two hundred years
old already, for the Bargeton arms are blazoned thus: the first or,
three attires gules; the second, three ox's heads cabossed, two and
one, sable; the third, barry of six, azure and argent, in the first,
six shells or, three, two, and one. Provided with a chaperon, Nais
could steer her fortunes as she chose under the style of the firm, and
with the help of such connections as her wit and beauty would obtain
for her in Paris. Nais was enchanted by the prospect of such liberty.
M. de Bargeton was of the opinion that he was making a brilliant
marriage, for he expected that in no long while M. de Negrepelisse
would leave him the estates which he was rounding out so lovingly; but
to an unprejudiced spectator it certainly seemed as though the duty of
writing the bridegroom's epitaph might devolve upon his father-in-law.
By this time Mme. de Bargeton was thirty-six years old and her husband
fifty-eight. The disparity in age was the more startling since M. de
Bargeton looked like a man of seventy, whereas his wife looked
scarcely half her age. She could still wear rose-color, and her hair
hanging loose upon her shoulders. Although their income did not exceed
twelve thousand francs, they ranked among the half-dozen largest
fortunes in the old city, merchants and officials excepted; for M. and
Mme. de Bargeton were obliged to live in Angouleme until such time as
Mme. de Bargeton's inheritance should fall in and they could go to
Paris. Meanwhile they were bound to be attentive to old M. de
Negrepelisse (who kept them waiting so long that his son-in-law in
fact predeceased him), and Nais' brilliant intellectual gifts, and the
wealth that lay like undiscovered ore in her nature, profited her
nothing, underwent the transforming operation of Time and changed to
absurdities. For our absurdities spring, in fact, for the most part,
from the good in us, from some faculty or quality abnormally
developed. Pride, untempered by intercourse with the great world
becomes stiff and starched by contact with petty things; in a loftier
moral atmosphere it would have grown to noble magnanimity. Enthusiasm,
that virtue within a virtue, forming the saint, inspiring the devotion
hidden from all eyes and glowing out upon the world in verse, turns to
exaggeration, with the trifles of a narrow existence for its object.
Far away from the centres of light shed by great minds, where the air
is quick with thought, knowledge stands still, taste is corrupted like
stagnant water, and passion dwindles, frittered away upon the
infinitely small objects which it strives to exalt. Herein lies the
secret of the avarice and tittle-tattle that poison provincial life.
The contagion of narrow-mindedness and meanness affects the noblest
natures; and in such ways as these, men born to be great, and women
who would have been charming if they had fallen under the forming
influence of greater minds, are balked of their lives.
Here was Mme. de Bargeton, for instance, smiting the lyre for every
trifle, and publishing her emotions indiscriminately to her circle. As
a matter of fact, when sensations appeal to an audience of one, it is
better to keep them to ourselves. A sunset certainly is a glorious
poem; but if a woman describes it, in high-sounding words, for the
benefit of matter-of-fact people, is she not ridiculous? There are
pleasures which can only be felt to the full when two souls meet, poet
and poet, heart and heart. She had a trick of using high-sounding
phrases, interlarded with exaggerated expressions, the kind of stuff
ingeniously nicknamed tartines by the French journalist, who furnishes
a daily supply of the commodity for a public that daily performs the
difficult feat of swallowing it. She squandered superlatives
recklessly in her talk, and the smallest things took giant
proportions. It was at this period of her career that she began to
type-ize, individualize, synthesize, dramatize, superiorize, analyze,
poetize, angelize, neologize, tragedify, prosify, and colossify—you
must violate the laws of language to find words to express the
new-fangled whimsies in which even women here and there indulge. The
heat of her language communicated itself to the brain, and the
dithyrambs on her lips were spoken out of the abundance of her heart.
She palpitated, swooned, and went into ecstasies over anything and
everything, over the devotion of a sister of Charity, and the
execution of the brothers Fauchet, over M. d'Arlincourt's Ipsiboe,
Lewis' Anaconda, or the escape of La Valette, or the presence of mind
of a lady friend who put burglars to flight by imitating a man's
voice. Everything was heroic, extraordinary, strange, wonderful, and
divine. She would work herself into a state of excitement,
indignation, or depression; she soared to heaven, and sank again,
gazed at the sky, or looked to earth; her eyes were always filled with
tears. She wore herself out with chronic admiration, and wasted her
strength on curious dislikes. Her mind ran on the Pasha of Janina; she
would have liked to try conclusions with him in his seraglio, and had
a great notion of being sewn in a sack and thrown into the water. She
envied that blue-stocking of the desert, Lady Hester Stanhope; she
longed to be a sister of Saint Camilla and tend the sick and die of
yellow fever in a hospital at Barcelona; 'twas a high, a noble
destiny! In short, she thirsted for any draught but the clear spring
water of her own life, flowing hidden among green pastures. She adored
Byron and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, or anybody else with a picturesque or
dramatic career. Her tears were ready to flow for every misfortune;
she sang paeans for every victory. She sympathized with the fallen
Napoleon, and with Mehemet Ali, massacring the foreign usurpers of
Egypt. In short, any kind of genius was accommodated with an aureole,
and she was fully persuaded that gifted immortals lived on incense and
A good many people looked upon her as a harmless lunatic, but in these
extravagances of hers a keener observer surely would have seen the
broken fragments of a magnificent edifice that had crumbled into ruin
before it was completed, the stones of a heavenly Jerusalem—love, in
short, without a lover. And this was indeed the fact.
The story of the first eighteen years of Mme. de Bargeton's married
life can be summed up in a few words. For a long while she lived upon
herself and distant hopes. Then, when she began to see that their
narrow income put the longed-for life in Paris quite out of the
question, she looked about her at the people with whom her life must
be spent, and shuddered at her loneliness. There was not a single man
who could inspire the madness to which women are prone when they
despair of a life become stale and unprofitable in the present, and
with no outlook for the future. She had nothing to look for, nothing
to expect from chance, for there are lives in which chance plays no
part. But when the Empire was in the full noonday of glory, and
Napoleon was sending the flower of his troops to the Peninsula, her
disappointed hopes revived. Natural curiosity prompted her to make an
effort to see the heroes who were conquering Europe in obedience to a
word from the Emperor in the order of the day; the heroes of a modern
time who outdid the mythical feats of paladins of old. The cities of
France, however avaricious or refractory, must perforce do honor to
the Imperial Guard, and mayors and prefects went out to meet them with
set speeches as if the conquerors had been crowned kings. Mme. de
Bargeton went to a ridotto given to the town by a regiment, and fell
in love with an officer of a good family, a sub-lieutenant, to whom
the crafty Napoleon had given a glimpse of the baton of a Marshal of
France. Love, restrained, greater and nobler than the ties that were
made and unmade so easily in those days, was consecrated coldly by the
hands of death. On the battlefield of Wagram a shell shattered the
only record of Mme. de Bargeton's young beauty, a portrait worn on the
heart of the Marquis of Cante-Croix. For long afterwards she wept for
the young soldier, the colonel in his second campaign, for the heart
hot with love and glory that set a letter from Nais above Imperial
favor. The pain of those days cast a veil of sadness over her face, a
shadow that only vanished at the terrible age when a woman first
discovers with dismay that the best years of her life are over, and
she has had no joy of them; when she sees her roses wither, and the
longing for love is revived again with the desire to linger yet for a
little on the last smiles of youth. Her nobler qualities dealt so many
wounds to her soul at the moment when the cold of the provinces seized
upon her. She would have died of grief like the ermine if by chance
she had been sullied by contact with those men whose thoughts are bent
on winning a few sous nightly at cards after a good dinner; pride
saved her from the shabby love intrigues of the provinces. A woman so
much above the level of those about her, forced to decide between the
emptiness of the men whom she meets and the emptiness of her own life,
can make but one choice; marriage and society became a cloister for
Anais. She lived by poetry as the Carmelite lives by religion. All the
famous foreign books published in France for the first time between
1815 and 1821, the great essayists, M. de Bonald and M. de Maistre
(those two eagles of thought)—all the lighter French literature, in
short, that appeared during that sudden outburst of first vigorous
growth might bring delight into her solitary life, but not flexibility
of mind or body. She stood strong and straight like some forest tree,
lightning-blasted but still erect. Her dignity became a stilted
manner, her social supremacy led her into affectation and sentimental
over-refinements; she queened it with her foibles, after the usual
fashion of those who allow their courtiers to adore them.
This was Mme. de Bargeton's past life, a dreary chronicle which must
be given if Lucien's position with regard to the lady is to be
comprehensible. Lucien's introduction came about oddly enough. In the
previous winter a newcomer had brought some interest into Mme. de
Bargeton's monotonous life. The place of controller of excise fell
vacant, and M. de Barante appointed a man whose adventurous life was a
sufficient passport to the house of the sovereign lady who had her
share of feminine curiosity.
M. de Chatelet—he began life as plain Sixte Chatelet, but since 1806
had the wit to adopt the particle—M. du Chatelet was one of the
agreeable young men who escaped conscription after conscription by
keeping very close to the Imperial sun. He had begun his career as
private secretary to an Imperial Highness, a post for which he
possessed every qualification. Personable and of a good figure, a
clever billiard-player, a passable amateur actor, he danced well, and
excelled in most physical exercises; he could, moreover, sing a ballad
and applaud a witticism. Supple, envious, never at a loss, there was
nothing that he did not know—nothing that he really knew. He knew
nothing, for instance, of music, but he could sit down to the piano
and accompany, after a fashion, a woman who consented after much
pressing to sing a ballad learned by heart in a month of hard
practice. Incapable though he was of any feeling for poetry, he would
boldly ask permission to retire for ten minutes to compose an
impromptu, and return with a quatrain, flat as a pancake, wherein
rhyme did duty for reason. M. du Chatelet had besides a very pretty
talent for filling in the ground of the Princess' worsted work after
the flowers had been begun; he held her skeins of silk with infinite
grace, entertained her with dubious nothings more or less
transparently veiled. He was ignorant of painting, but he could copy a
landscape, sketch a head in profile, or design a costume and color it.
He had, in short, all the little talents that a man could turn to such
useful account in times when women exercised more influence in public
life than most people imagine. Diplomacy he claimed to be his strong
point; it usually is with those who have no knowledge, and are
profound by reason of their emptiness; and, indeed, this kind of skill
possesses one signal advantage, for it can only be displayed in the
conduct of the affairs of the great, and when discretion is the
quality required, a man who knows nothing can safely say nothing, and
take refuge in a mysterious shake of the head; in fact; the cleverest
practitioner is he who can swim with the current and keep his head
well above the stream of events which he appears to control, a man's
fitness for this business varying inversely as his specific gravity.
But in this particular art or craft, as in all others, you shall find
a thousand mediocrities for one man of genius; and in spite of
Chatelet's services, ordinary and extraordinary, Her Imperial Highness
could not procure a seat in the Privy Council for her private
secretary; not that he would not have made a delightful Master of
Requests, like many another, but the Princess was of the opinion that
her secretary was better placed with her than anywhere else in the
world. He was made a Baron, however, and went to Cassel as
envoy-extraordinary, no empty form of words, for he cut a very
extraordinary figure there—Napoleon used him as a diplomatic courier
in the thick of a European crisis. Just as he had been promised the
post of minister to Jerome in Westphalia, the Empire fell to pieces;
and balked of his ambassade de famille as he called it, he went off
in despair to Egypt with General de Montriveau. A strange chapter of
accidents separated him from his traveling companion, and for two long
years Sixte du Chatelet led a wandering life among the Arab tribes of
the desert, who sold and resold their captive—his talents being not
of the slightest use to the nomad tribes. At length, about the time
that Montriveau reached Tangier, Chatelet found himself in the
territory of the Imam of Muscat, had the luck to find an English
vessel just about to set sail, and so came back to Paris a year sooner
than his sometime companion. Once in Paris, his recent misfortunes,
and certain connections of long standing, together with services
rendered to great persons now in power, recommended him to the
President of the Council, who put him in M. de Barante's department
until such time as a controllership should fall vacant. So the part
that M. du Chatelet once had played in the history of the Imperial
Princess, his reputation for success with women, the strange story of
his travels and sufferings, all awakened the interest of the ladies of
M. le Baron Sixte du Chatelet informed himself as to the manners and
customs of the upper town, and took his cue accordingly. He appeared
on the scene as a jaded man of the world, broken in health, and weary
in spirit. He would raise his hand to his forehead at all seasons, as
if pain never gave him a moment's respite, a habit that recalled his
travels and made him interesting. He was on visiting terms with the
authorities—the general in command, the prefect, the
receiver-general, and the bishop but in every house he was frigid,
polite, and slightly supercilious, like a man out of his proper place
awaiting the favors of power. His social talents he left to conjecture,
nor did they lose anything in reputation on that account; then when
people began to talk about him and wish to know him, and curiosity was
still lively; when he had reconnoitred the men and found them nought,
and studied the women with the eyes of experience in the cathedral for
several Sundays, he saw that Mme. de. Bargeton was the person with
whom it would be best to be on intimate terms. Music, he thought,
should open the doors of a house where strangers were never received.
Surreptitiously he procured one of Miroir's Masses, learned it upon
the piano; and one fine Sunday when all Angouleme went to the
cathedral, he played the organ, sent those who knew no better into
ecstasies over the performance, and stimulated the interest felt in
him by allowing his name to slip out through the attendants. As he
came out after mass, Mme. de Bargeton complimented him, regretting
that she had no opportunity of playing duets with such a musician; and
naturally, during an interview of her own seeking, he received the
passport, which he could not have obtained if he had asked for it.
So the adroit Baron was admitted to the circle of the queen of
Angouleme, and paid her marked attention. The elderly beau—he was
forty-five years old—saw that all her youth lay dormant and ready to
revive, saw treasures to be turned to account, and possibly a rich
widow to wed, to say nothing of expectations; it would be a marriage
into the family of Negrepelisse, and for him this meant a family
connection with the Marquise d'Espard, and a political career in
Paris. Here was a fair tree to cultivate in spite of the ill-omened,
unsightly mistletoe that grew thick upon it; he would hang his
fortunes upon it, and prune it, and wait till he could gather its
High-born Angouleme shrieked against the introduction of a Giaour into
the sanctuary, for Mme. de Bargeton's salon was a kind of holy of
holies in a society that kept itself unspotted from the world. The
only outsider intimate there was the bishop; the prefect was admitted
twice or thrice in a year, the receiver-general was never received at
all; Mme. de Bargeton would go to concerts and "at homes" at his
house, but she never accepted invitations to dinner. And now, she who
had declined to open her doors to the receiver-general, welcomed a
mere controller of excise! Here was a novel order of precedence for
snubbed authority; such a thing it had never entered their minds to
Those who by dint of mental effort can understand a kind of pettiness
which, for that matter, can be found on any and every social level,
will realize the awe with which the bourgeoisie of Angouleme regarded
the Hotel de Bargeton. The inhabitant of L'Houmeau beheld the grandeur
of that miniature Louvre, the glory of the Angoumoisin Hotel de
Rambouillet, shining at a solar distance; and yet, within it there was
gathered together all the direst intellectual poverty, all the decayed
gentility from twenty leagues round about.
Political opinion expanded itself in wordy commonplaces vociferated
with emphasis; the Quotidienne was comparatively Laodicean in its
loyalty, and Louis XVIII. a Jacobin. The women, for the most part,
were awkward, silly, insipid, and ill dressed; there was always
something amiss that spoiled the whole; nothing in them was complete,
toilette or talk, flesh or spirit. But for his designs on Mme. de
Bargeton, Chatelet could not have endured the society. And yet the
manners and spirit of the noble in his ruined manor-house, the
knowledge of the traditions of good breeding,—these things covered a
multitude of deficiencies. Nobility of feeling was far more real here
than in the lofty world of Paris. You might compare these country
Royalists, if the metaphor may be allowed, to old-fashioned silver
plate, antiquated and tarnished, but weighty; their attachment to the
House of Bourbon as the House of Bourbon did them honor. The very
fixity of their political opinions was a sort of faithfulness. The
distance that they set between themselves and the bourgeoisie, their
very exclusiveness, gave them a certain elevation, and enhanced their
value. Each noble represented a certain price for the townsmen, as
Bambara Negroes, we are told, attach a money value to cowrie shells.
Some of the women, flattered by M. du Chatelet, discerned in him the
superior qualities lacking in the men of their own sect, and the
insurrection of self-love was pacified. These ladies all hoped to
succeed to the Imperial Highness. Purists were of the opinion that you
might see the intruder in Mme. de Bargeton's house, but not elsewhere.
Du Chatelet was fain to put up with a good deal of insolence, but he
held his ground by cultivating the clergy. He encouraged the queen of
Angouleme in foibles bred of the soil; he brought her all the newest
books; he read aloud the poetry that appeared. Together they went into
ecstasies over these poets; she in all sincerity, he with suppressed
yawns; but he bore with the Romantics with a patience hardly to be
expected of a man of the Imperial school, who scarcely could make out
what the young writers meant. Not so Mme. de Bargeton; she waxed
enthusiastic over the renaissance, due to the return of the Bourbon
Lilies; she loved M. de Chateaubriand for calling Victor Hugo "a
sublime child." It depressed her that she could only know genius from
afar, she sighed for Paris, where great men live. For these reasons M.
du Chatelet thought he had done a wonderfully clever thing when he
told the lady that at that moment in Angouleme there was "another
sublime child," a young poet, a rising star whose glory surpassed the
whole Parisian galaxy, though he knew it not. A great man of the
future had been born in L'Houmeau! The headmaster of the school had
shown the Baron some admirable verses. The poor and humble lad was a
second Chatterton, with none of the political baseness and ferocious
hatred of the great ones of earth that led his English prototype to
turn pamphleteer and revile his benefactors. Mme. de Bargeton in her
little circle of five or six persons, who were supposed to share her
tastes for art and letters, because this one scraped a fiddle, and
that splashed sheets of white paper, more or less, with sepia, and the
other was president of a local agricultural society, or was gifted
with a bass voice that rendered Se fiato in corpo like a war whoop
—Mme. de Bargeton amid these grotesque figures was like a famished
actor set down to a stage dinner of pasteboard. No words, therefore,
can describe her joy at these tidings. She must see this poet, this
angel! She raved about him, went into raptures, talked of him for
whole hours together. Before two days were out the sometime diplomatic
courier had negotiated (through the headmaster) for Lucien's
appearance in the Hotel de Bargeton.
Poor helots of the provinces, for whom the distances between class and
class are so far greater than for the Parisian (for whom, indeed,
these distances visibly lessen day by day); souls so grievously
oppressed by the social barriers behind which all sorts and conditions
of men sit crying Raca! with mutual anathemas—you, and you alone,
will fully comprehend the ferment in Lucien's heart and brain, when
his awe-inspiring headmaster told him that the great gates of the
Hotel de Bargeton would shortly open and turn upon their hinges at his
fame! Lucien and David, walking together of an evening in the
Promenade de Beaulieu, had looked up at the house with the
old-fashioned gables, and wondered whether their names would ever so
much as reach ears inexorably deaf to knowledge that came from a lowly
origin; and now he (Lucien) was to be made welcome there!
No one except his sister was in the secret. Eve, like the thrifty
housekeeper and divine magician that she was, conjured up a few louis
d'or from her savings to buy thin shoes for Lucien of the best
shoemaker in Angouleme, and an entirely new suit of clothes from the
most renowned tailor. She made a frill for his best shirt, and washed
and pleated it with her own hands. And how pleased she was to see him
so dressed! How proud she felt of her brother, and what quantities of
advice she gave him! Her intuition foresaw countless foolish fears.
Lucien had a habit of resting his elbows on the table when he was in
deep thought; he would even go so far as to draw a table nearer to
lean upon it; Eve told him that he must not forget himself in those
She went with him as far as St. Peter's Gate, and when they were
almost opposite the cathedral she stopped, and watched him pass down
the Rue de Beaulieu to the Promenade, where M. du Chatelet was waiting
for him. And after he was out of sight, she still stood there, poor
girl! in a great tremor of emotion, as though some great thing had
happened to them. Lucien in Mme. de Bargeton's house!—for Eve it
meant the dawn of success. The innocent creature did not suspect that
where ambition begins, ingenuous feeling ends.
Externals in the Rue du Minage gave Lucien no sense of surprise. This
palace, that loomed so large in his imagination, was a house built of
the soft stone of the country, mellowed by time. It looked dismal
enough from the street, and inside it was extremely plain; there was
the usual provincial courtyard—chilly, prim, and neat; and the house
itself was sober, almost convent-like, but in good repair.
Lucien went up the old staircase with the balustrade of chestnut wood
(the stone steps ceased after the second floor), crossed a shabby
antechamber, and came into the presence in a little wainscoted
drawing-room, beyond a dimly-lit salon. The carved woodwork, in the
taste of the eighteenth century, had been painted gray. There were
monochrome paintings on the frieze panels, and the walls were adorned
with crimson damask with a meagre border. The old-fashioned furniture
shrank piteously from sight under covers of a red-and-white check
pattern. On the sofa, covered with thin mattressed cushions, sat Mme.
de Bargeton; the poet beheld her by the light of two wax candles on a
sconce with a screen fitted to it, that stood before her on a round
table with a green cloth.
The queen did not attempt to rise, but she twisted very gracefully on
her seat, smiling on the poet, who was not a little fluttered by the
serpentine quiverings; her manner was distinguished, he thought. For
Mme. de Bargeton, she was impressed with Lucien's extreme beauty, with
his diffidence, with everything about him; for her the poet already
was poetry incarnate. Lucien scrutinized his hostess with discreet
side glances; she disappointed none of his expectations of a great
Mme. de Bargeton, following a new fashion, wore a coif of slashed
black velvet, a head-dress that recalls memories of mediaeval legend
to a young imagination, to amplify, as it were, the dignity of
womanhood. Her red-gold hair, escaping from under her cap, hung loose;
bright golden color in the light, red in the rounded shadow of the
curls that only partially hid her neck. Beneath a massive white brow,
clean cut and strongly outlined, shone a pair of bright gray eyes
encircled by a margin of mother-of-pearl, two blue veins on each side
of the nose bringing out the whiteness of that delicate setting. The
Bourbon curve of the nose added to the ardent expression of an oval
face; it was as if the royal temper of the House of Conde shone
conspicuous in this feature. The careless cross-folds of the bodice
left a white throat bare, and half revealed the outlines of a still
youthful figure and shapely, well placed contours beneath.
With fingers tapering and well-kept, though somewhat too thin, Mme. de
Bargeton amiably pointed to a seat by her side, M. du Chatelet
ensconced himself in an easy-chair, and Lucien then became aware that
there was no one else in the room.
Mme. de Bargeton's words intoxicated the young poet from L'Houmeau.
For Lucien those three hours spent in her presence went by like a
dream that we would fain have last forever. She was not thin, he
thought; she was slender; in love with love, and loverless; and
delicate in spite of her strength. Her foibles, exaggerated by her
manner, took his fancy; for youth sets out with a love of hyperbole,
that infirmity of noble souls. He did not so much as see that her
cheeks were faded, that the patches of color on the cheek-bone were
faded and hardened to a brick-red by listless days and a certain
amount of ailing health. His imagination fastened at once on the
glowing eyes, on the dainty curls rippling with light, on the dazzling
fairness of her skin, and hovered about those bright points as the
moth hovers about the candle flame. For her spirit made such appeal to
his that he could no longer see the woman as she was. Her feminine
exaltation had carried him away, the energy of her expressions, a
little staled in truth by pretty hard and constant wear, but new to
Lucien, fascinated him so much the more easily because he was
determined to be pleased. He had brought none of his own verses to
read, but nothing was said of them; he had purposely left them behind
because he meant to return; and Mme. de Bargeton did not ask for them,
because she meant that he should come back some future day to read
them to her. Was not this a beginning of an understanding?
As for M. Sixte du Chatelet, he was not over well pleased with all
this. He perceived rather too late in the day that he had a rival in
this handsome young fellow. He went with him as far as the first
flight of steps below Beaulieu to try the effect of a little
diplomacy; and Lucien was not a little astonished when he heard the
controller of excise pluming himself on having effected the
introduction, and proceeding in this character to give him (Lucien)
the benefit of his advice.
"Heaven send that Lucien might meet with better treatment than he had
done," such was the matter of M. du Chatelet's discourse. "The Court
was less insolent that this pack of dolts in Angouleme. You were
expected to endure deadly insults; the superciliousness you had to put
up with was something abominable. If this kind of folk did not alter
their behavior, there would be another Revolution of '89. As for
himself, if he continued to go to the house, it was because he had
found Mme. de Bargeton to his taste; she was the only woman worth
troubling about in Angouleme; he had been paying court to her for want
of anything better to do, and now he was desperately in love with her.
She would be his before very long, she loved him, everything pointed
that way. The conquest of this haughty queen of the society would be
his one revenge on the whole houseful of booby clodpates."
Chatelet talked of his passion in the tone of a man who would have a
rival's life if he crossed his path. The elderly butterfly of the
Empire came down with his whole weight on the poor poet, and tried to
frighten and crush him by his self-importance. He grew taller as he
gave an embellished account of his perilous wanderings; but while he
impressed the poet's imagination, the lover was by no means afraid of
In spite of the elderly coxcomb, and regardless of his threats and
airs of a bourgeois bravo, Lucien went back again and again to the
house—not too often at first, as became a man of L'Houmeau; but
before very long he grew accustomed to the vast condescension, as it
had seemed to him at the outset, and came more and more frequently.
The druggist's son was a completely insignificant being. If any of the
noblesse, men or women, calling upon Nais, found Lucien in the room,
they met him with the overwhelming graciousness that well-bred people
use towards their inferiors. Lucien thought them very kind for a time,
and later found out the real reason for their specious amiability. It
was not long before he detected a patronizing tone that stirred his
gall and confirmed him in his bitter Republicanism, a phase of opinion
through which many a would-be patrician passes by way of prelude to
his introduction to polite society.
But was there anything that he would not have endured for Nais?—for
so he heard her named by the clan. Like Spanish grandees and the old
Austrian nobility at Vienna, these folk, men and women alike, called
each other by their Christian names, a final shade of distinction in
the inmost ring of Angoumoisin aristocracy.
Lucien loved Nais as a young man loves the first woman who flatters
him, for Nais prophesied great things and boundless fame for Lucien.
She used all her skill to secure her hold upon her poet; not merely
did she exalt him beyond measure, but she represented him to himself
as a child without fortune whom she meant to start in life; she
treated him like a child, to keep him near her; she made him her
reader, her secretary, and cared more for him than she would have
thought possible after the dreadful calamity that had befallen her.
She was very cruel to herself in those days, telling herself that it
would be folly to love a young man of twenty, so far apart from her
socially in the first place; and her behavior to him was a bewildering
mixture of familiarity and capricious fits of pride arising from her
fears and scruples. She was sometimes a lofty patroness, sometimes she
was tender and flattered him. At first, while he was overawed by her
rank, Lucien experienced the extremes of dread, hope, and despair, the
torture of a first love, that is beaten deep into the heart with the
hammer strokes of alternate bliss and anguish. For two months Mme. de
Bargeton was for him a benefactress who would take a mother's interest
in him; but confidences came next. Mme. de Bargeton began to address
her poet as "dear Lucien," and then as "dear," without more ado. The
poet grew bolder, and addressed the great lady as Nais, and there
followed a flash of anger that captivates a boy; she reproached him
for calling her by a name in everybody's mouth. The haughty and
high-born Negrepelisse offered the fair angel youth that one of her
appellations which was unsoiled by use; for him she would be "Louise."
Lucien was in the third heaven.
One evening when Lucien came in, he found Mme. de Bargeton looking at
a portrait, which she promptly put away. He wished to see it, and to
quiet the despair of a first fit of jealousy Louise showed him
Cante-Croix's picture, and told with tears the piteous story of a love
so stainless, so cruelly cut short. Was she experimenting with herself?
Was she trying a first unfaithfulness to the memory of the dead? Or
had she taken it into her head to raise up a rival to Lucien in the
portrait? Lucien was too much of a boy to analyze his lady-love; he
gave way to unfeigned despair when she opened the campaign by
entrenching herself behind the more or less skilfully devised scruples
which women raise to have them battered down. When a woman begins to
talk about her duty, regard for appearances or religion, the
objections she raises are so many redoubts which she loves to have
carried by storm. But on the guileless Lucien these coquetries were
thrown away; he would have advanced of his own accord.
"I shall not die for you, I will live for you," he cried audaciously
one evening; he meant to have no more of M. de Cante-Croix, and gave
Louise a glance which told plainly that a crisis was at hand.
Startled at the progress of this new love in herself and her poet,
Louise demanded some verses promised for the first page of her album,
looking for a pretext for a quarrel in his tardiness. But what became
of her when she read the following stanzas, which, naturally, she
considered finer than the finest work of Canalis, the poet of the
The magic brush, light flying flights of song—
To these, but not to these alone, belong
My pages fair;
Often to me, my mistress' pencil steals
To tell the secret gladness that she feels,
The hidden care.
And when her fingers, slowlier at the last,
Of a rich Future, now become the Past,
Seek count of me,
Oh Love, when swift, thick-coming memories rise,
I pray of Thee.
May they bring visions fair as cloudless skies
Of happy voyage o'er a summer sea!
"Was it really I who inspired those lines?" she asked.
The doubt suggested by coquetry to a woman who amused herself by
playing with fire brought tears to Lucien's eyes; but her first kiss
upon his forehead calmed the storm. Decidedly Lucien was a great man,
and she meant to form him; she thought of teaching him Italian and
German and perfecting his manners. That would be pretext sufficient
for having him constantly with her under the very eyes of her tiresome
courtiers. What an interest in her life! She took up music again for
her poet's sake, and revealed the world of sound to him, playing grand
fragments of Beethoven till she sent him into ecstasy; and, happy in
his delight, turned to the half-swooning poet.
"Is not such happiness as this enough?" she asked hypocritically; and
poor Lucien was stupid enough to answer, "Yes."
In the previous week things had reached such a point, that Louise had
judged it expedient to ask Lucien to dine with M. de Bargeton as a
third. But in spite of this precaution, the whole town knew the state
of affairs; and so extraordinary did it appear, that no one would
believe the truth. The outcry was terrific. Some were of the opinion
that society was on the eve of cataclysm. "See what comes of Liberal
doctrines!" cried others.
Then it was that the jealous du Chatelet discovered that Madame
Charlotte, the monthly nurse, was no other than Mme. Chardon, "the
mother of the Chateaubriand of L'Houmeau," as he put it. The remark
passed muster as a joke. Mme. de Chandour was the first to hurry to
Mme. de Bargeton.
"Nais, dear," she said, "do you know what everybody is talking about
in Angouleme? This little rhymster's mother is the Madame Charlotte
who nursed my sister-in-law through her confinement two months ago."
"What is there extraordinary in that, my dear?" asked Mme. de Bargeton
with her most regal air. "She is a druggist's widow, is she not? A
poor fate for a Rubempre. Suppose that you and I had not a penny in
the world, what should either of us do for a living? How would you
support your children?"
Mme. de Bargeton's presence of mind put an end to the jeremiads of the
noblesse. Great natures are prone to make a virtue of misfortune; and
there is something irresistibly attractive about well-doing when
persisted in through evil report; innocence has the piquancy of the
Mme. de Bargeton's rooms were crowded that evening with friends who
came to remonstrate with her. She brought her most caustic wit into
play. She said that as noble families could not produce a Moliere, a
Racine, a Rousseau, a Voltaire, a Massillon, a Beaumarchais, or a
Diderot, people must make up their minds to it, and accept the fact
that great men had upholsterers and clockmakers and cutlers for their
fathers. She said that genius was always noble. She railed at boorish
squires for understanding their real interests so imperfectly. In
short, she talked a good deal of nonsense, which would have let the
light into heads less dense, but left her audience agape at her
eccentricity. And in these ways she conjured away the storm with her
When Lucien, obedient to her request, appeared for the first time in
the faded great drawing-room, where the whist-tables were set out, she
welcomed him graciously, and brought him forward, like a queen who
means to be obeyed. She addressed the controller of excise as "M.
Chatelet," and left that gentleman thunderstruck by the discovery that
she knew about the illegal superfetation of the particle. Lucien was
forced upon her circle, and was received as a poisonous element, which
every person in it vowed to expel with the antidote of insolence.
Nais had won a victory, but she had lost her supremacy of empire.
There was a rumor of insurrection. Amelie, otherwise Mme. de Chandour,
harkening to "M. Chatelet's" counsels, determined to erect a rival
altar by receiving on Wednesdays. Now Mme. de Bargeton's salon was
open every evening; and those who frequented it were so wedded to
their ways, so accustomed to meet about the same tables, to play the
familiar game of backgammon, to see the same faces and the same candle
sconces night after night; and afterwards to cloak and shawl, and put
on overshoes and hats in the old corridor, that they were quite as
much attached to the steps of the staircase as to the mistress of the
"All resigned themselves to endure the songster" (chardonneret) "of
the sacred grove," said Alexandre de Brebian, which was witticism
number two. Finally, the president of the agricultural society put an
end to the sedition by remarking judicially that "before the
Revolution the greatest nobles admitted men like Dulcos and Grimm and
Crebillon to their society—men who were nobodies, like this little
poet of L'Houmeau; but one thing they never did, they never received
tax-collectors, and, after all, Chatelet is only a tax-collector."
Du Chatelet suffered for Chardon. Every one turned the cold shoulder
upon him; and Chatelet was conscious that he was attacked. When Mme.
de Bargeton called him "M. Chatelet," he swore to himself that he
would possess her; and now he entered into the views of the mistress
of the house, came to the support of the young poet, and declared
himself Lucien's friend. The great diplomatist, overlooked by the
shortsighted Emperor, made much of Lucien, and declared himself his
friend! To launch the poet into society, he gave a dinner, and asked
all the authorities to meet him—the prefect, the receiver-general,
the colonel in command of the garrison, the head of the Naval School,
the president of the Court, and so forth. The poet, poor fellow, was
feted so magnificently, and so belauded, that anybody but a young man
of two-and-twenty would have shrewdly suspected a hoax. After dinner,
Chatelet drew his rival on to recite The Dying Sardanapalus, the
masterpiece of the hour; and the headmaster of the school, a man of a
phlegmatic temperament, applauded with both hands, and vowed that
Jean-Baptiste Rousseau had done nothing finer. Sixte, Baron du
Chatelet, thought in his heart that this slip of a rhymster would
wither incontinently in a hothouse of adulation; perhaps he hoped that
when the poet's head was turned with brilliant dreams, he would
indulge in some impertinence that would promptly consign him to the
obscurity from which he had emerged. Pending the decease of genius,
Chatelet appeared to offer up his hopes as a sacrifice at Mme. de
Bargeton's feet; but with the ingenuity of a rake, he kept his own
plan in abeyance, watching the lovers' movements with keenly critical
eyes, and waiting for the opportunity of ruining Lucien.
From this time forward, vague rumors reported the existence of a great
man in Angoumois. Mme. de Bargeton was praised on all sides for the
interest which she took in this young eagle. No sooner was her conduct
approved than she tried to win a general sanction. She announced a
soiree, with ices, tea, and cakes, a great innovation in a city where
tea, as yet, was sold only by druggists as a remedy for indigestion.
The flower of Angoumoisin aristocracy was summoned to hear Lucien read
his great work. Louise had hidden all the difficulties from her
friend, but she let fall a few words touching the social cabal formed
against him; she would not have him ignorant of the perils besetting
his career as a man of genius, nor of the obstacles insurmountable to
weaklings. She drew a lesson from the recent victory. Her white hands
pointed him to glory that lay beyond a prolonged martyrdom; she spoke
of stakes and flaming pyres; she spread the adjectives thickly on her
finest tartines, and decorated them with a variety of her most pompous
epithets. It was an infringement of the copyright of the passages of
declamation that disfigure Corinne; but Louise grew so much the
greater in her own eyes as she talked, that she loved the Benjamin who
inspired her eloquence the more for it. She counseled him to take a
bold step and renounce his patronymic for the noble name of Rubempre;
he need not mind the little tittle-tattle over a change which the
King, for that matter, would authorize. Mme. de Bargeton undertook to
procure this favor; she was related to the Marquise d'Espard, who was
a Blamont-Chauvry before her marriage, and a persona grata at Court.
The words "King," "Marquise d'Espard," and "the Court" dazzled Lucien
like a blaze of fireworks, and the necessity of the baptism was plain
"Dear child," said Louise, with tender mockery in her tones, "the
sooner it is done, the sooner it will be sanctioned."
She went through social strata and showed the poet that this step
would raise him many rungs higher in the ladder. Seizing the moment,
she persuaded Lucien to forswear the chimerical notions of '89 as to
equality; she roused a thirst for social distinction allayed by
David's cool commonsense; she pointed out fashionable society as the
goal and the only stage for such a talent as his. The rabid Liberal
became a Monarchist in petto; Lucien set his teeth in the apple of
desire of rank, luxury, and fame. He swore to win a crown to lay at
his lady's feet, even if there should be blood-stains on the bays. He
would conquer at any cost, quibuscumque viis. To prove his courage, he
told her of his present way of life; Louise had known nothing of its
hardships, for there is an indefinable pudency inseparable from strong
feeling in youth, a delicacy which shrinks from a display of great
qualities; and a young man loves to have the real quality of his
nature discerned through the incognito. He described that life, the
shackles of poverty borne with pride, his days of work for David, his
nights of study. His young ardor recalled memories of the colonel of
six-and-twenty; Mme. de Bargeton's eyes grew soft; and Lucien, seeing
this weakness in his awe-inspiring mistress, seized a hand that she
had abandoned to him, and kissed it with the frenzy of a lover and a
poet in his youth. Louise even allowed him to set his eager, quivering
lips upon her forehead.
"Oh, child! child! if any one should see us, I should look very
ridiculous," she said, shaking off the ecstatic torpor.
In the course of that evening, Mme. de Bargeton's wit made havoc of
Lucien's prejudices, as she styled them. Men of genius, according to
her doctrine, had neither brothers nor sisters nor father nor mother;
the great tasks laid upon them required that they should sacrifice
everything that they might grow to their full stature. Perhaps their
families might suffer at first from the all-absorbing exactions of a
giant brain, but at a later day they were repaid a hundredfold for
self-denial of every kind during the early struggles of the kingly
intellect with adverse fate; they shared the spoils of victory. Genius
was answerable to no man. Genius alone could judge of the means used
to an end which no one else could know. It was the duty of a man of
genius, therefore, to set himself above law; it was his mission to
reconstruct law; the man who is master of his age may take all that he
needs, run any risks, for all is his. She quoted instances. Bernard
Palissy, Louis XI., Fox, Napoleon, Christopher Columbus, and Julius
Caesar,—all these world-famous gamblers had begun life hampered with
debt, or as poor men; all of them had been misunderstood, taken for
madmen, reviled for bad sons, bad brothers, bad fathers; and yet in
after life each one had come to be the pride of his family, of his
country, of the civilized world.
Her arguments fell upon fertile soil in the worst of Lucien's nature,
and spread corruption in his heart; for him, when his desires were
hot, all means were admissible. But—failure is high treason against
society; and when the fallen conqueror has run amuck through bourgeois
virtues, and pulled down the pillars of society, small wonder that
society, finding Marius seated among the ruins, should drive him forth
in abhorrence. All unconsciously Lucien stood with the palm of genius
on the one hand and a shameful ending in the hulks upon the other;
and, on high upon the Sinai of the prophets, beheld no Dead Sea
covering the cities of the plain—the hideous winding-sheet of
So well did Louise loosen the swaddling-bands of provincial life that
confined the heart and brain of her poet that the said poet determined
to try an experiment upon her. He wished to feel certain that this
proud conquest was his without laying himself open to the
mortification of a rebuff. The forthcoming soiree gave him his
opportunity. Ambition blended with his love. He loved, and he meant to
rise, a double desire not unnatural in young men with a heart to
satisfy and the battle of life to fight. Society, summoning all her
children to one banquet, arouses ambition in the very morning of life.
Youth is robbed of its charm, and generous thoughts are corrupted by
mercenary scheming. The idealist would fain have it otherwise, but
intrusive fact too often gives the lie to the fiction which we should
like to believe, making it impossible to paint the young man of the
nineteenth century other than he is. Lucien imagined that his scheming
was entirely prompted by good feeling, and persuaded himself that it
was done solely for his friend David's sake.
He wrote a long letter to his Louise; he felt bolder, pen in hand,
than face to face. In a dozen sheets, copied out three several times,
he told her of his father's genius and blighted hopes and of his
grinding poverty. He described his beloved sister as an angel, and
David as another Cuvier, a great man of the future, and a father,
friend, and brother to him in the present. He should feel himself
unworthy of his Louise's love (his proudest distinction) if he did not
ask her to do for David all that she had done for him. He would give
up everything rather than desert David Sechard; David must witness his
success. It was one of those wild letters in which a young man points
a pistol at a refusal, letters full of boyish casuistry and the
incoherent reasoning of an idealist; a delicious tissue of words
embroidered here and there by the naive utterances that women love so
well—unconscious revelations of the writer's heart.
Lucien left the letter with the housemaid, went to the office, and
spent the day in reading proofs, superintending the execution of
orders, and looking after the affairs of the printing-house. He said
not a word to David. While youth bears a child's heart, it is capable
of sublime reticence. Perhaps, too, Lucien began to dread the
Phocion's axe which David could wield when he chose, perhaps he was
afraid to meet those clear-sighted eyes that read the depths of his
soul. But when he read Chenier's poems with David, his secret rose
from his heart to his lips at the sting of a reproach that he felt as
the patient feels the probing of a wound.
And now try to understand the thoughts that troubled Lucien's mind as
he went down from Angouleme. Was the great lady angry with him? Would
she receive David? Had he, Lucien, in his ambition, flung himself
headlong back into the depths of L'Houmeau? Before he set that kiss on
Louise's forehead, he had had time to measure the distance between a
queen and her favorite, so far had he come in five months, and he did
not tell himself that David could cross over the same ground in a
moment. Yet he did not know how completely the lower orders were
excluded from this upper world; he did not so much as suspect that a
second experiment of this kind meant ruin for Mme. de Bargeton. Once
accused and fairly convicted of a liking for canaille, Louise would be
driven from the place, her caste would shun her as men shunned a leper
in the Middle Ages. Nais might have broken the moral law, and her
whole circle, the clergy and the flower of the aristocracy, would have
defended her against the world through thick and then; but a breach of
another law, the offence of admitting all sorts of people to her house
—this was sin without remission. The sins of those in power are
always overlooked—once let them abdicate, and they shall pay the
penalty. And what was it but abdication to receive David?
But if Lucien did not see these aspects of the question, his
aristocratic instinct discerned plenty of difficulties of another
kind, and he took alarm. A fine manner is not the invariable outcome
of noble feeling; and while no man at court had a nobler air than
Racine, Corneille looked very much like a cattle-dealer, and Descartes
might have been taken for an honest Dutch merchant; and visitors to La
Brede, meeting Montesquieu in a cotton nightcap, carrying a rake over
his shoulder, mistook him for a gardener. A knowledge of the world,
when it is not sucked in with mother's milk and part of the
inheritance of descent, is only acquired by education, supplemented by
certain gifts of chance—a graceful figure, distinction of feature, a
certain ring in the voice. All these, so important trifles, David
lacked, while Nature had bestowed them upon his friend. Of gentle
blood on the mother's side, Lucien was a Frank, even down to the
high-arched instep. David had inherited the physique of his father the
pressman and the flat foot of the Gael. Lucien could hear the shower
of jokes at David's expense; he could see Mme. de Bargeton's repressed
smile; and at length, without being exactly ashamed of his brother, he
made up his mind to disregard his first impulse and to think twice
before yielding to it in future.
So, after the hour of poetry and self-sacrifice, after the reading of
verse that opened out before the friends the fields of literature in
the light of a newly-risen sun, the hour of worldly wisdom and of
scheming struck for Lucien.
Down once more in L'Houmeau he wished that he had not written that
letter; he wished he could have it back again; for down the vista of
the future he caught a glimpse of the inexorable laws of the world. He
guessed that nothing succeeds like success, and it cost him something
to step down from the first rung of the scaling ladder by which he
meant to reach and storm the heights above. Pictures of his quiet and
simple life rose before him, pictures fair with the brightest colors
of blossoming love. There was David; what a genius David had—David
who had helped him so generously, and would die for him at need; he
thought of his mother, of how great a lady she was in her lowly lot,
and how she thought that he was as good as he was clever; then of his
sister so gracious in submission to her fate, of his own innocent
childhood and conscience as yet unstained, of budding hopes
undespoiled by rough winds, and at these thoughts the past broke into
flowers once more for his memory.
Then he told himself that it was a far finer thing to hew his own way
through serried hostile mobs of aristocrats or philistines by repeated
successful strokes, than to reach the goal through a woman's favor.
Sooner or later his genius should shine out; it had been so with the
others, his predecessors; they had tamed society. Women would love him
when that day came! The example of Napoleon, which, unluckily for this
nineteenth century of ours, has filled a great many ordinary persons
with aspirations after extraordinary destinies,—the example of
Napoleon occurred to Lucien's mind. He flung his schemes to the winds
and blamed himself for thinking of them. For Lucien was so made that
he went from evil to good, or from good to evil, with the same
Lucien had none of the scholar's love for his retreat; for the past
month indeed he had felt something like shame at the sight of the shop
front, where you could read—
POSTEL (LATE CHARDON), PHARMACEUTICAL CHEMIST,
in yellow letters on a green ground. It was an offence to him that his
father's name should be thus posted up in a place where every carriage
Every evening, when he closed the ugly iron gate and went up to
Beaulieu to give his arm to Mme. de Bargeton among the dandies of the
upper town, he chafed beyond all reason at the disparity between his
lodging and his fortune.
"I love Mme. de Bargeton; perhaps in a few days she will be mine, yet
here I live in this rat-hole!" he said to himself this evening, as he
went down the narrow passage into the little yard behind the shop.
This evening bundles of boiled herbs were spread out along the wall,
the apprentice was scouring a caldron, and M. Postel himself, girded
about with his laboratory apron, was standing with a retort in his
hand, inspecting some chemical product while keeping an eye upon the
shop door, or if the eye happened to be engaged, he had at any rate an
ear for the bell.
A strong scent of camomile and peppermint pervaded the yard and the
poor little dwelling at the side, which you reached by a short ladder,
with a rope on either side by way of hand-rail. Lucien's room was an
attic just under the roof.
"Good-day, sonny," said M. Postel, that typical, provincial tradesman.
"Are you pretty middling? I have just been experimenting on treacle,
but it would take a man like your father to find what I am looking
for. Ah! he was a famous chemist, he was! If I had only known his gout
specific, you and I should be rolling along in our carriage this day."
The little druggist, whose head was as thick as his heart was kind,
never let a week pass without some allusion to Chardon senior's
unlucky secretiveness as to that discovery, words that Lucien felt
like a stab.
"It is a great pity," Lucien answered curtly. He was beginning to
think his father's apprentice prodigiously vulgar, though he had
blessed the man for his kindness, for honest Postel had helped his
master's widow and children more than once.
"Why, what is the matter with you?" M. Postel inquired, putting down
his test tube on the laboratory table.
"Is there a letter for me?"
"Yes, a letter that smells like balm! it is lying on the corner near
Mme. de Bargeton's letter lying among the physic bottles in a
druggist's shop! Lucien sprang in to rescue it.
"Be quick, Lucien! your dinner has been waiting an hour for you, it
will be cold!" a sweet voice called gently through a half-opened
window; but Lucien did not hear.
"That brother of yours has gone crazy, mademoiselle," said Postel,
lifting his face.
The old bachelor looked rather like a miniature brandy cask,
embellished by a painter's fancy, with a fat, ruddy countenance much
pitted with the smallpox; at the sight of Eve his face took a
ceremonious and amiable expression, which said plainly that he had
thoughts of espousing the daughter of his predecessor, but could not
put an end to the strife between love and interest in his heart. He
often said to Lucien, with a smile, "Your sister is uncommonly pretty,
and you are not so bad looking neither! Your father did everything
Eve was tall, dark-haired, dark of complexion, and blue-eyed; but
notwithstanding these signs of virile character, she was gentle,
tender-hearted, and devoted to those she loved. Her frank innocence,
her simplicity, her quiet acceptance of a hard-working life, her
character—for her life was above reproach—could not fail to win
David Sechard's heart. So, since the first time that these two had
met, a repressed and single-hearted love had grown up between them in
the German fashion, quietly, with no fervid protestations. In their
secret souls they thought of each other as if there were a bar between
that kept them apart; as if the thought were an offence against some
jealous husband; and hid their feelings from Lucien as though their
love in some way did him a wrong. David, moreover, had no confidence
in himself, and could not believe that Eve could care for him; Eve was
a penniless girl, and therefore shy. A real work-girl would have been
bolder; but Eve, gently bred, and fallen into poverty, resigned
herself to her dreary lot. Diffident as she seemed, she was in reality
proud, and would not make a single advance towards the son of a father
said to be rich. People who knew the value of a growing property, said
that the vineyard at Marsac was worth more than eighty thousand
francs, to say nothing of the traditional bits of land which old
Sechard used to buy as they came into the market, for old Sechard had
savings—he was lucky with his vintages, and a clever salesman.
Perhaps David was the only man in Angouleme who knew nothing of his
father's wealth. In David's eyes Marsac was a hovel bought in 1810 for
fifteen or sixteen thousand francs, a place that he saw once a year at
vintage time when his father walked him up and down among the vines
and boasted of an output of wine which the young printer never saw,
and he cared nothing about it.
David was a student leading a solitary life; and the love that gained
even greater force in solitude, as he dwelt upon the difficulties in
the way, was timid, and looked for encouragement; for David stood more
in awe of Eve than a simple clerk of some high-born lady. He was
awkward and ill at ease in the presence of his idol, and as eager to
hurry away as he had been to come. He repressed his passion, and was
silent. Often of an evening, on some pretext of consulting Lucien, he
would leave the Place du Murier and go down through the Palet Gate as
far as L'Houmeau, but at the sight of the green iron railings his
heart failed. Perhaps he had come too late, Eve might think him a
nuisance; she would be in bed by this time no doubt; and so he turned
back. But though his great love had only appeared in trifles, Eve read
it clearly; she was proud, without a touch of vanity in her pride, of
the deep reverence in David's looks and words and manner towards her,
but it was the young printer's enthusiastic belief in Lucien that drew
her to him most of all. He had divined the way to win Eve. The mute
delights of this love of theirs differed from the transports of stormy
passion, as wildflowers in the fields from the brilliant flowers in
garden beds. Interchange of glances, delicate and sweet as blue
water-flowers on the surface of the stream; a look in either face,
vanishing as swiftly as the scent of briar-rose; melancholy, tender as
the velvet of moss—these were the blossoms of two rare natures,
springing up out of a rich and fruitful soil on foundations of rock.
Many a time Eve had seen revelations of the strength that lay below
the appearance of weakness, and made such full allowance for all that
David left undone, that the slightest word now might bring about a
closer union of soul and soul.
Eve opened the door, and Lucien sat down without a word at the little
table on an X-shaped trestle. There was no tablecloth; the poor little
household boasted but three silver spoons and forks, and Eve had laid
them all for the dearly loved brother.
"What have you there?" she asked, when she had set a dish on the
table, and put the extinguisher on the portable stove, where it had
been kept hot for him.
Lucien did not answer. Eve took up a little plate, daintily garnished
with vine-leaves, and set it on the table with a jug full of cream.
"There, Lucien, I have had strawberries for you."
But Lucien was so absorbed in his letter that he did not hear a word.
Eve came to sit beside him without a murmur; for in a sister's love
for a brother it is an element of great pleasure to be treated without
"Oh! what is it?" she cried as she saw tears shining in her brother's
"Nothing, nothing, Eve," he said, and putting his arm about her waist,
he drew her towards him and kissed her forehead, her hair, her throat,
with warmth that surprised her.
"You are keeping something from me."
"Well, then—she loves me."
"I knew very well that you kissed me for somebody else," the poor
sister pouted, flushing red.
"We shall all be happy," cried Lucien, swallowing great spoonfuls of
"We?" echoed Eve. The same presentiment that had crossed David's mind
prompted her to add, "You will not care so much about us now."
"How can you think that, if you know me?"
Eve put out her hand and grasped his tightly; then she carried off the
empty plate and the brown earthen soup-tureen, and brought the dish
that she had made for him. But instead of eating his dinner, Lucien
read his letter over again; and Eve, discreet maiden, did not ask
another question, respecting her brother's silence. If he wished to
tell her about it, she could wait; if he did not, how could she ask
him to tell her? She waited. Here is the letter:—
"MY FRIEND,—Why should I refuse to your brother in science the
help that I have lent you? All merits have equal rights in my
eyes; but you do not know the prejudices of those among whom I
live. We shall never make an aristocracy of ignorance understand
that intellect ennobles. If I have not sufficient influence to
compel them to accept M. David Sechard, I am quite willing to
sacrifice the worthless creatures to you. It would be a perfect
hecatomb in the antique manner. But, dear friend, you would not,
of course, ask me to leave them all in exchange for the society of
a person whose character and manner might not please me. I know
from your flatteries how easily friendship can be blinded. Will
you think the worse of me if I attach a condition to my consent?
In the interests of your future I should like to see your friend,
and know and decide for myself whether you are not mistaken. What
is this but the mother's anxious care of my dear poet, which I am
in duty bound to take?
"LOUISE DE NEGREPELISSE."
Lucien had no suspicion of the art with which polite society puts
forward a "Yes" on the way to a "No," and a "No" that leads to a
"Yes." He took this note for a victory. David should go to Mme. de
Bargeton's house! David would shine there in all the majesty of his
genius! He raised his head so proudly in the intoxication of a victory
which increased his belief in himself and his ascendency over others,
his face was so radiant with the brightness of many hopes, that his
sister could not help telling him that he looked handsome.
"If that woman has any sense, she must love you! And if so, to-night
she will be vexed, for all the ladies will try all sorts of coquetries
on you. How handsome you will look when you read your Saint John in
Patmos! If only I were a mouse, and could just slip in and see it!
Come, I have put your clothes out in mother's room."
The mother's room bore witness to self-respecting poverty. There were
white curtains to the walnut wood bedstead, and a strip of cheap green
carpet at the foot. A chest of drawers with a wooden top, a
looking-glass, and a few walnut wood chairs completed the furniture.
The clock on the chimney-piece told of the old vanished days of
prosperity. White curtains hung in the windows, a gray flowered paper
covered the walls, and the tiled floor, colored and waxed by Eve
herself, shone with cleanliness. On the little round table in the
middle of the room stood a red tray with a pattern of gilt roses, and
three cups and a sugar-basin of Limoges porcelain. Eve slept in the
little adjoining closet, where there was just room for a narrow bed,
an old-fashioned low chair, and a work-table by the window; there was
about as much space as there is in a ship's cabin, and the door always
stood open for the sake of air. But if all these things spoke of great
poverty, the atmosphere was sedate and studious; and for those who knew
the mother and children, there was something touchingly appropriate in
Lucien was tying his cravat when David's step sounded outside in the
little yard, and in another moment the young printer appeared. From
his manner and looks he seemed to have come down in a hurry.
"Well, David!" cried the ambitious poet, "we have gained the day! She
loves me! You shall come too."
"No," David said with some confusion, "I came down to thank you for
this proof of friendship, but I have been thinking things over
seriously. My own life is cut out for me, Lucien. I am David Sechard,
printer to His Majesty in Angouleme, with my name at the bottom of the
bills posted on every wall. For people of that class, I am an artisan,
or I am in business, if you like it better, but I am a craftsman who
lives over a shop in the Rue de Beaulieu at the corner of the Place du
Murier. I have not the wealth of a Keller just yet, nor the name of a
Desplein, two sorts of power that the nobles still try to ignore, and
—I am so far agreed with them—this power is nothing without a
knowledge of the world and the manners of a gentleman. How am I to
prove my claim to this sudden elevation? I should only make myself a
laughing-stock for nobles and bourgeoisie to boot. As for you, your
position is different. A foreman is not committed to anything. You are
busy gaining knowledge that will be indispensable by and by; you can
explain your present work by your future. And, in any case, you can
leave your place to-morrow and begin something else; you might study
law or diplomacy, or go into civil service. Nobody had docketed and
pigeon-holed you, in fact. Take advantage of your social maiden fame
to walk alone and grasp honors. Enjoy all pleasures gladly, even
frivolous pleasures. I wish you luck, Lucien; I shall enjoy your
success; you will be like a second self for me. Yes, in my own
thoughts I shall live your life. You shall have the holiday life, in
the glare of the world and among the swift working springs of
intrigue. I will lead the work-a-day life, the tradesman's life of
sober toil, and the patient labor of scientific research.
"You shall be our aristocracy," he went on, looking at Eve as he
spoke. "If you totter, you shall have my arm to steady you. If you
have reason to complain of the treachery of others, you will find a
refuge in our hearts, the love there will never change. And influence
and favor and the goodwill of others might fail us if we were two; we
should stand in each other's way; go forward, you can tow me after you
if it comes to that. So far from envying you, I will dedicate my life
to yours. The thing that you have just done for me, when you risked
the loss of your benefactress, your love it may be, rather than
forsake or disown me, that little thing, so great as it was—ah, well,
Lucien, that in itself would bind me to you forever if we were not
brothers already. Have no remorse, no concern over seeming to take the
larger share. This one-sided bargain is exactly to my taste. And,
after all, suppose that you should give me a pang now and again, who
knows that I shall not still be your debtor all my life long?"
He looked timidly towards Eve as he spoke; her eyes were full of
tears, she saw all that lay below the surface.
"In fact," he went on, turning to Lucien, who stood amazed at this,
"you are well made, you have a graceful figure, you wear your clothes
with an air, you look like a gentleman in that blue coat of yours with
the yellow buttons and the plain nankeen trousers; now I should look
like a workingman among those people, I should be awkward and out of
my element, I should say foolish things, or say nothing at all; but as
for you, you can overcome any prejudice as to names by taking your
mother's; you can call yourself Lucien de Rubempre; I am and always
shall be David Sechard. In this society that you frequent, everything
tells for you, everything would tell against me. You were born to
shine in it. Women will worship that angel face of yours; won't they,
Lucien sprang up and flung his arms about David. David's humility had
made short work of many doubts and plenty of difficulties. Was it
possible not to feel twice tenderly towards this friend, who by the
way of friendship had come to think the very thoughts that he, Lucien,
had reached through ambition? The aspirant for love and honors felt
that the way had been made smooth for him; the young man and the
comrade felt all his heart go out towards his friend.
It was one of those moments that come very seldom in our lives, when
all the forces in us are sweetly strung, and every chord vibrating
gives out full resonance.
And yet, this goodness of a noble nature increased Lucien's human
tendency to take himself as the centre of things. Do not all of us say
more or less, "L'Etat, c'est moi!" with Louis Quatorze? Lucien's
mother and sister had concentrated all their tenderness on him, David
was his devoted friend; he was accustomed to see the three making
every effort for him in secret, and consequently he had all the faults
of a spoiled eldest son. The noble is eaten up with the egoism which
their unselfishness was fostering in Lucien; and Mme. de Bargeton was
doing her best to develop the same fault by inciting him to forget all
that he owed to his sister, and mother, and David. He was far from
doing so as yet; but was there not ground for the fear that as his
sphere of ambition widened, his whole thought perforce would be how he
might maintain himself in it?
When emotion had subsided, David had a suggestion to make. He thought
that Lucien's poem, Saint John in Patmos, was possibly too biblical to
be read before an audience but little familiar with apocalyptic
poetry. Lucien, making his first appearance before the most exacting
public in the Charente, seemed to be nervous. David advised him to
take Andre de Chenier and substitute certain pleasure for a dubious
delight. Lucien was a perfect reader, the listeners would enjoy
listening to him, and his modesty would doubtless serve him well. Like
most young people, the pair were endowing the rest of the world with
their own intelligence and virtues; for if youth that has not yet gone
astray is pitiless for the sins of others, it is ready, on the other
hand, to put a magnificent faith in them. It is only, in fact, after a
good deal of experience of life that we recognize the truth of
Raphael's great saying—"To comprehend is to equal."
The power of appreciating poetry is rare, generally speaking, in
France; esprit soon dries up the source of the sacred tears of
ecstasy; nobody cares to be at the trouble of deciphering the sublime,
of plumbing the depths to discover the infinite. Lucien was about to
have his first experience of the ignorance and indifference of
worldlings. He went round by way of the printing office for David's
volume of poetry.
The two lovers were left alone, and David had never felt more
embarrassed in his life. Countless terrors seized upon him; he half
wished, half feared that Eve would praise him; he longed to run away,
for even modesty is not exempt from coquetry. David was afraid to
utter a word that might seem to beg for thanks; everything that he
could think of put him in some false position, so he held his tongue
and looked guilty. Eve, guessing the agony of modesty, was enjoying
the pause; but when David twisted his hat as if he meant to go, she
looked at him and smiled.
"Monsieur David," she said, "if you are not going to pass the evening
at Mme. de Bargeton's, we can spend the time together. It is fine;
shall we take a walk along the Charente? We will have a talk about
David longed to fling himself at the feet of this delicious girl. Eve
had rewarded him beyond his hopes by that tone in her voice; the
kindness of her accent had solved the difficulties of the position,
her suggestion was something better than praise; it was the first
grace given by love.
"But give me time to dress!" she said, as David made as if to go at
David went out; he who all his life long had not known one tune from
another, was humming to himself; honest Postel hearing him with
surprise, conceived a vehement suspicion of Eve's feelings towards the
The most trifling things that happened that evening made a great
impression on Lucien, and his character was peculiarly susceptible to
first impressions. Like all inexperienced lovers he arrived so early
that Louise was not in the drawing-room; but M. de Bargeton was there,
alone. Lucien had already begun to serve his apprenticeship in the
practice of the small deceits with which the lover of a married woman
pays for his happiness—deceits through which, moreover, she learns
the extent of her power; but so far Lucien had not met the lady's
husband face to face.
M. de Bargeton's intellect was of the limited kind, exactly poised on
the border line between harmless vacancy, with some glimmerings of
sense, and the excessive stupidity that can neither take in nor give
out any idea. He was thoroughly impressed with the idea of doing his
duty in society; and, doing his utmost to be agreeable, had adopted
the smile of an opera dancer as his sole method of expression.
Satisfied, he smiled; dissatisfied, he smiled again. He smiled at good
news and evil tidings; with slight modifications the smile did duty on
all occasions. If he was positively obliged to express his personal
approval, a complacent laugh reinforced the smile; but he never
vouchsafed a word until driven to the last extremity. A tete-a-tete
put him in the one embarrassment of his vegetative existence, for then
he was obliged to look for something to say in the vast blank of his
vacant interior. He usually got out of the difficulty by a return to
the artless ways of childhood; he thought aloud, took you into his
confidence concerning the smallest details of his existence, his
physical wants, the small sensations which did duty for ideas with
him. He never talked about the weather, nor did he indulge in the
ordinary commonplaces of conversation—the way of escape provided for
weak intellects; he plunged you into the most intimate and personal
"I took veal this morning to please Mme. de Bargeton, who is very fond
of veal, and my stomach has been very uneasy since," he would tell
you. "I knew how it would be; it never suits me. How do you explain
it?" Or, very likely—
"I am just about to ring for a glass of eau sucree; will you have some
at the same time?"
Or, "I am going to take a ride to-morrow; I am going over to see my
These short observations did not permit of discussion; a "Yes" or
"No," extracted from his interlocutor, the conversation dropped dead.
Then M. de Bargeton mutely implored his visitor to come to his
assistance. Turning westward his old asthmatic pug-dog countenance, he
gazed at you with big, lustreless eyes, in a way that said, "You were
The people whom he loved best were bores anxious to talk about
themselves; he listened to them with an unfeigned and delicate
interest which so endeared him to the species that all the twaddlers
of Angouleme credited M. de Bargeton with more understanding than he
chose to show, and were of the opinion that he was underrated. So it
happened that when these persons could find nobody else to listen to
them, they went off to give M. de Bargeton the benefit of the rest of
the story, argument, or what not, sure beforehand of his eulogistic
smile. Madame de Bargeton's rooms were always crowded, and generally
her husband felt quite at ease. He interested himself in the smallest
details; he watched those who came in and bowed and smiled, and
brought the new arrivals to his wife; he lay in wait for departing
visitors, and went with them to the door, taking leave of them with
that eternal smile. When conversation grew lively, and he saw that
every one was interested in one thing or another, he stood, happy and
mute, planted like a swan on both feet, listening, to all appearance,
to a political discussion; or he looked over the card-players' hands
without a notion of what it was all about, for he could not play at
any game; or he walked about and took snuff to promote digestion.
Anais was the bright side of his life; she made it unspeakably
pleasant for him. Stretched out at full length in his armchair, he
watched admiringly while she did her part as hostess, for she talked
for him. It was a pleasure, too, to him to try to see the point in her
remarks; and as it was often a good while before he succeeded, his
smiles appeared after a delay, like the explosion of a shell which has
entered the earth and worked up again. His respect for his wife,
moreover, almost amounted to adoration. And so long as we can adore,
is there not happiness enough in life? Anais' husband was as docile as
a child who asks nothing better than to be told what to do; and,
generous and clever woman as she was, she had taken no undue advantage
of his weaknesses. She had taken care of him as you take care of a
cloak; she kept him brushed, neat, and tidy, looked closely after him,
and humored him; and humored, looked after, brushed, kept tidy, and
cared for, M. de Bargeton had come to feel an almost dog-like
affection for his wife. It is so easy to give happiness that costs
nothing! Mme. de Bargeton, knowing that her husband had no pleasure
but in good cheer, saw that he had good dinners; she had pity upon
him, she had never uttered a word of complaint; indeed, there were
people who could not understand that a woman might keep silence
through pride, and argued that M. de Bargeton must possess good
qualities hidden from public view. Mme. de Bargeton had drilled him
into military subordination; he yielded a passive obedience to his
wife. "Go and call on Monsieur So-and-So or Madame Such-an-One," she
would say, and he went forthwith, like a soldier at the word of
command. He stood at attention in her presence, and waited motionless
for his orders.
There was some talk about this time of nominating the mute gentleman
for a deputy. Lucien as yet had not lifted the veil which hid such an
unimaginable character; indeed, he had scarcely frequented the house
long enough. M. de Bargeton, spread at full length in his great chair,
appeared to see and understand all that was going on; his silence
added to his dignity, and his figure inspired Lucien with a prodigious
awe. It is the wont of imaginative natures to magnify everything, or
to find a soul to inhabit every shape; and Lucien took this gentleman,
not for a granite guard-post, but for a formidable sphinx, and thought
it necessary to conciliate him.
"I am the first comer," he said, bowing with more respect than people
usually showed the worthy man.
"That is natural enough," said M. de Bargeton.
Lucien took the remark for an epigram; the lady's husband was jealous,
he thought; he reddened under it, looked in the glass and tried to
give himself a countenance.
"You live in L'Houmeau," said M. de Bargeton, "and people who live a
long way off always come earlier than those who live near by."
"What is the reason of that?" asked Lucien politely.
"I don't know," answered M. de Bargeton, relapsing into immobility.
"You have not cared to find out," Lucien began again; "any one who
could make an observation could discover the cause."
"Ah!" said M. de Bargeton, "final causes! Eh! eh! . . ."
The conversation came to a dead stop; Lucien racked his brains to
"Mme. de Bargeton is dressing, no doubt," he began, shuddering at the
silliness of the question.
"Yes, she is dressing," her husband naturally answered.
Lucien looked up at the ceiling and vainly tried to think of something
else to say. As his eyes wandered over the gray painted joists and the
spaces of plaster between, he saw, not without qualms, that the little
chandelier with the old-fashioned cut-glass pendants had been stripped
of its gauze covering and filled with wax candles. All the covers had
been removed from the furniture, and the faded flowered silk damask
had come to light. These preparations meant something extraordinary.
The poet looked at his boots, and misgivings about his costume arose
in his mind. Grown stupid with dismay, he turned and fixed his eyes on
a Japanese jar standing on a begarlanded console table of the time of
Louis Quinze; then, recollecting that he must conciliate Mme. de
Bargeton's husband, he tried to find out if the good gentleman had a
hobby of any sort in which he might be humored.
"You seldom leave the city, monsieur?" he began, returning to M. de
Silence again. M. de Bargeton watched Lucien's slightest movements
like a suspicious cat; the young man's presence disturbed him. Each
was afraid of the other.
"Can he feel suspicious of my attentions?" thought Lucien; "he seems
to be anything but friendly."
Lucien was not a little embarrassed by the uneasy glances that the
other gave him as he went to and fro, when luckily for him, the old
man-servant (who wore livery for the occasion) announced "M. du
Chatelet." The Baron came in, very much at ease, greeted his friend
Bargeton, and favored Lucien with the little nod then in vogue, which
the poet in his mind called purse-proud impertinence.
Sixte du Chatelet appeared in a pair of dazzling white trousers with
invisible straps that kept them in shape. He wore pumps and thread
stockings; the black ribbon of his eyeglass meandered over a white
waistcoat, and the fashion and elegance of Paris was strikingly
apparent in his black coat. He was indeed just the faded beau who
might be expected from his antecedents, though advancing years had
already endowed him with a certain waist-girth which somewhat exceeded
the limits of elegance. He had dyed the hair and whiskers grizzled by
his sufferings during his travels, and this gave a hard look to his
face. The skin which had once been so delicate had been tanned to the
copper-red color of Europeans from India; but in spite of his absurd
pretensions to youth, you could still discern traces of the Imperial
Highness' charming private secretary in du Chatelet's general
appearance. He put up his eyeglass and stared at his rival's nankeen
trousers, at his boots, at his waistcoat, at the blue coat made by the
Angouleme tailor, he looked him over from head to foot, in short, then
he coolly returned his eyeglass to his waistcoat pocket with a gesture
that said, "I am satisfied." And Lucien, eclipsed at this moment by
the elegance of the inland revenue department, thought that it would
be his turn by and by, when he should turn a face lighted up with
poetry upon the assembly; but this prospect did not prevent him from
feeling the sharp pang that succeeded to the uncomfortable sense of M.
de Bargeton's imagined hostility. The Baron seemed to bring all the
weight of his fortune to bear upon him, the better to humiliate him in
his poverty. M. de Bargeton had counted on having no more to say, and
his soul was dismayed by the pause spent by the rivals in mutual
survey; he had a question which he kept for desperate emergencies,
laid up in his mind, as it were, against a rainy day. Now was the
proper time to bring it out.
"Well, monsieur," he said, looking at Chatelet with an important air,
"is there anything fresh? anything that people are talking about?"
"Why, the latest thing is M. Chardon," Chatelet said maliciously. "Ask
him. Have you brought some charming poet for us?" inquired the
vivacious Baron, adjusting the side curl that had gone astray on his
"I should have asked you whether I had succeeded," Lucien answered;
"you have been before me in the field of verse."
"Pshaw!" said the other, "a few vaudevilles, well enough in their way,
written to oblige, a song now and again to suit some occasion, lines
for music, no good without the music, and my long Epistle to a Sister
of Bonaparte (ungrateful that he was), will not hand down my name to
At this moment Mme. de Bargeton appeared in all the glory of an
elaborate toilette. She wore a Jewess' turban, enriched with an
Eastern clasp. The cameos on her neck gleamed through the gauze scarf
gracefully wound about her shoulders; the sleeves of her printed
muslin dress were short so as to display a series of bracelets on her
shapely white arms. Lucien was charmed with this theatrical style of
dress. M. du Chatelet gallantly plied the queen with fulsome
compliments, that made her smile with pleasure; she was so glad to be
praised in Lucien's hearing. But she scarcely gave her dear poet a
glance, and met Chatelet with a mortifying civility that kept him at a
By this time the guests began to arrive. First and foremost appeared
the Bishop and his Vicar-General, dignified and reverend figures both,
though no two men could well be more unlike, his lordship being tall
and attenuated, and his acolyte short and fat. Both churchmen's eyes
were bright; but while the Bishop was pallid, his Vicar-General's
countenance glowed with high health. Both were impassive, and
gesticulated but little; both appeared to be prudent men, and their
silence and reserve were supposed to hide great intellectual powers.
Close upon the two ecclesiastics followed Mme. de Chandour and her
husband, a couple so extraordinary that those who are unfamiliar with
provincial life might be tempted to think that such persons are purely
imaginary. Amelie de Chandour posed as the rival queen of Angouleme;
her husband, M. de Chandour, known in the circle as Stanislas, was a
ci-devant young man, slim still at five-and-forty, with a countenance
like a sieve. His cravat was always tied so as to present two menacing
points—one spike reached the height of his right ear, the other
pointed downwards to the red ribbon of his cross. His coat-tails were
violently at strife. A cut-away waistcoat displayed the ample,
swelling curves of a stiffly-starched shirt fastened by massive gold
studs. His dress, in fact, was exaggerated, till he looked almost like
a living caricature, which no one could behold for the first time with
Stanislas looked himself over from top to toe with a kind of
satisfaction; he verified the number of his waistcoat buttons, and
followed the curving outlines of his tight-fitting trousers with fond
glances that came to a standstill at last on the pointed tips of his
shoes. When he ceased to contemplate himself in this way, he looked
towards the nearest mirror to see if his hair still kept in curl;
then, sticking a finger in his waistcoat pocket, he looked about him
at the women with happy eyes, flinging his head back in three-quarters
profile with all the airs of a king of the poultry-yard, airs which
were prodigiously admired by the aristocratic circle of which he was
the beau. There was a strain of eighteenth century grossness, as a
rule, in his talk; a detestable kind of conversation which procured
him some success with women—he made them laugh. M. du Chatelet was
beginning to give this gentleman some uneasiness; and, as a matter of
fact, since Mme. de Bargeton had taken him up, the lively interest
taken by the women in the Byron of Angouleme was distinctly on the
increase. His coxcomb superciliousness tickled their curiosity; he
posed as the man whom nothing can arouse from his apathy, and his
jaded Sultan airs were like a challenge.
Amelie de Chandour, short, plump, fair-complexioned, and dark-haired,
was a poor actress; her voice was loud, like everything else about
her; her head, with its load of feathers in winter and flowers in
summer, was never still for a moment. She had a fine flow of
conversation, though she could never bring a sentence to an end
without a wheezing accompaniment from an asthma, to which she would
M. de Saintot, otherwise Astolphe, President of the Agricultural
Society, a tall, stout, high-colored personage, usually appeared in
the wake of his wife, Elisa, a lady with a countenance like a withered
fern, called Lili by her friends—a baby name singularly at variance
with its owner's character and demeanor. Mme. de Saintot was a solemn
and extremely pious woman, and a very trying partner at a game of
cards. Astolphe was supposed to be a scientific man of the first rank.
He was as ignorant as a carp, but he had compiled the articles on
Sugar and Brandy for a Dictionary of Agriculture by wholesale plunder
of newspaper articles and pillage of previous writers. It was believed
all over the department that M. Saintot was engaged upon a treatise on
modern husbandry; but though he locked himself into his study every
morning, he had not written a couple of pages in a dozen years. If
anybody called to see him, he always contrived to be discovered
rummaging among his papers, hunting for a stray note or mending a pen;
but he spent the whole time in his study on puerilities, reading the
newspaper through from end to end, cutting figures out of corks with
his penknife, and drawing patterns on his blotting-paper. He would
turn over the leaves of his Cicero to see if anything applicable to
the events of the day might catch his eye, and drag his quotation by
the heels into the conversation that evening saying, "There is a
passage in Cicero which might have been written to suit modern times,"
and out came his phrase, to the astonishment of his audience.
"Really," they said among themselves, "Astolphe is a well of
learning." The interesting fact circulated all over the town, and
sustained the general belief in M. de Saintot's abilities.
After this pair came M. de Bartas, known as Adrien among the circle.
It was M. de Bartas who boomed out his song in a bass voice, and made
prodigious claims to musical knowledge. His self-conceit had taken a
stand upon solfeggi; he began by admiring his appearance while he
sang, passed thence to talking about music, and finally to talking of
nothing else. His musical tastes had become a monomania; he grew
animated only on the one subject of music; he was miserable all
evening until somebody begged him to sing. When he had bellowed one of
his airs, he revived again; strutted about, raised himself on his
heels, and received compliments with a deprecating air; but modesty
did not prevent him from going from group to group for his meed of
praise; and when there was no more to be said about the singer, he
returned to the subject of the song, discussing its difficulties or
extolling the composer.
M. Alexandre de Brebian performed heroic exploits in sepia; he
disfigured the walls of his friends' rooms with a swarm of crude
productions, and spoiled all the albums in the department. M.
Alexandre de Brebian and M. de Bartas came together, each with his
friend's wife on his arm, a cross-cornered arrangement which gossip
declared to be carried out to the fullest extent. As for the two
women, Mesdames Charlotte de Brebian and Josephine de Bartas, or
Lolotte and Fifine, as they were called, both took an equal interest
in a scarf, or the trimming of a dress, or the reconciliation of
several irreconcilable colors; both were eaten up with a desire to
look like Parisiennes, and neglected their homes, where everything
went wrong. But if they dressed like dolls in tightly-fitting gowns of
home manufacture, and exhibited outrageous combinations of crude
colors upon their persons, their husbands availed themselves of the
artist's privilege and dressed as they pleased, and curious it was to
see the provincial dowdiness of the pair. In their threadbare clothes
they looked like the supernumeraries that represent rank and fashion
at stage weddings in third-rate theatres.
One of the queerest figures in the rooms was M. le Comte de Senonches,
known by the aristocratic name of Jacques, a mighty hunter, lean and
sunburned, a haughty gentleman, about as amiable as a wild boar, as
suspicious as a Venetian, and jealous as a Moor, who lived on terms of
the friendliest and most perfect intimacy with M. du Hautoy, otherwise
Francis, the friend of the house.
Madame de Senonches (Zephirine) was a tall, fine-looking woman, though
her complexion was spoiled already by pimples due to liver complaint,
on which grounds she was said to be exacting. With a slender figure
and delicate proportions, she could afford to indulge in languid
manners, savoring somewhat of affectation, but revealing passion and
the consciousness that every least caprice will be gratified by love.
Francis, the house friend, was rather distinguished-looking. He had
given up his consulship in Valence, and sacrificed his diplomatic
prospects to live near Zephirine (also known as Zizine) in Angouleme.
He had taken the household in charge, he superintended the children's
education, taught them foreign languages, and looked after the
fortunes of M. and Mme. de Senonches with the most complete devotion.
Noble Angouleme, administrative Angouleme, and bourgeois Angouleme
alike had looked askance for a long while at this phenomenon of the
perfect union of three persons; but finally the mysterious conjugal
trinity appeared to them so rare and pleasing a spectacle, that if M.
du Hautoy had shown any intention of marrying, he would have been
thought monstrously immoral. Mme. de Senonches, however, had a lady
companion, a goddaughter, and her excessive attachment to this Mlle.
de la Haye was beginning to raise surmises of disquieting mysteries;
it was thought, in spite of some impossible discrepancies in dates,
that Francoise de la Haye bore a striking likeness to Francis du
When "Jacques" was shooting in the neighborhood, people used to
inquire after Francis, and Jacques would discourse on his steward's
little ailments, and talk of his wife in the second place. So curious
did this blindness seem in a man of jealous temper, that his greatest
friends used to draw him out on the topic for the amusement of others
who did not know of the mystery. M. du Hautoy was a finical dandy
whose minute care of himself had degenerated into mincing affectation
and childishness. He took an interest in his cough, his appetite, his
digestion, his night's rest. Zephirine had succeeded in making a
valetudinarian of her factotum; she coddled him and doctored him; she
crammed him with delicate fare, as if he had been a fine lady's
lap-dog; she embroidered waistcoats for him, and pocket-handkerchiefs
and cravats until he became so used to wearing finery that she
transformed him into a kind of Japanese idol. Their understanding was
perfect. In season and out of season Zizine consulted Francis with a
look, and Francis seemed to take his ideas from Zizine's eyes. They
frowned and smiled together, and seemingly took counsel of each other
before making the simplest commonplace remark.
The largest landowner in the neighborhood, a man whom every one
envied, was the Marquis de Pimentel; he and his wife, between them,
had an income of forty thousand livres, and spent their winters in
Paris. This evening they had driven into Angouleme in their caleche,
and had brought their neighbors, the Baron and Baroness de Rastignac
and their party, the Baroness' aunt and daughters, two charming young
ladies, penniless girls who had been carefully brought up, and were
dressed in the simple way that sets off natural loveliness.
These personages, beyond question the first in the company, met with a
reception of chilling silence; the respect paid to them was full of
jealousy, especially as everybody saw that Mme. de Bargeton paid
marked attention to the guests. The two families belonged to the very
small minority who hold themselves aloof from provincial gossip,
belong to no clique, live quietly in retirement, and maintain a
dignified reserve. M. de Pimentel and M. de Rastignac, for instance,
were addressed by their names in full, and no length of acquaintance
had brought their wives and daughters into the select coterie of
Angouleme; both families were too nearly connected with the Court to
compromise themselves through provincial follies.
The Prefect and the General in command of the garrison were the last
comers, and with them came the country gentleman who had brought the
treatise on silkworms to David that very morning. Evidently he was the
mayor of some canton or other, and a fine estate was his sufficient
title to gentility; but from his appearance, it was plain that he was
quite unused to polite society. He looked uneasy in his clothes, he
was at a loss to know what to do with his hands, he shifted about from
one foot to another as he spoke, and half rose and sat down again when
anybody spoke to him. He seemed ready to do some menial service; he
was obsequious, nervous, and grave by turns, laughing eagerly at every
joke, listening with servility; and occasionally, imagining that
people were laughing at him, he assumed a knowing air. His treatise
weighed upon his mind; again and again he tried to talk about
silkworms; but the luckless wight happened first upon M. de Bartas,
who talked music in reply, and next on M. de Saintot, who quoted
Cicero to him; and not until the evening was half over did the mayor
meet with sympathetic listeners in Mme. and Mlle. du Brossard, a
widowed gentlewoman and her daughter.
Mme. and Mlle. du Brossard were not the least interesting persons in
the clique, but their story may be told in a single phrase—they were
as poor as they were noble. In their dress there was just that tinge
of pretension which betrayed carefully hidden penury. The daughter, a
big, heavy young woman of seven-and-twenty, was supposed to be a good
performer on the piano, and her mother praised her in season and out
of season in the clumsiest way. No eligible man had any taste which
Camille did not share on her mother's authoritative statement. Mme. du
Brossard, in her anxiety to establish her child, was capable of saying
that her dear Camille liked nothing so much as a roving life from one
garrison to another; and before the evening was out, that she was sure
her dear Camille liked a quiet country farmhouse existence of all
things. Mother and daughter had the pinched sub-acid dignity
characteristic of those who have learned by experience the exact value
of expressions of sympathy; they belonged to a class which the world
delights to pity; they had been the objects of the benevolent interest
of egoism; they had sounded the empty void beneath the consoling
formulas with which the world ministers to the necessities of the
M. de Severac was fifty-nine years old, and a childless widower.
Mother and daughter listened, therefore, with devout admiration to all
that he told them about his silkworm nurseries.
"My daughter has always been fond of animals," said the mother. "And
as women are especially interested in the silk which the little
creatures produce, I shall ask permission to go over to Severac, so
that my Camille may see how the silk is spun. My Camille is so
intelligent, she will grasp anything that you tell her in a moment.
Did she not understand one day the inverse ratio of the squares of
This was the remark that brought the conversation between Mme. du
Brossard and M. de Severac to a glorious close after Lucien's reading
A few habitues slipped in familiarly among the rest, so did one or two
eldest sons; shy, mute young men tricked out in gorgeous jewelry, and
highly honored by an invitation to this literary solemnity, the
boldest men among them so far shook off the weight of awe as to
chatter a good deal with Mlle. de la Haye. The women solemnly arranged
themselves in a circle, and the men stood behind them. It was a quaint
assemblage of wrinkled countenances and heterogeneous costumes, but
none the less it seemed very alarming to Lucien, and his heart beat
fast when he felt that every one was looking at him. His assurance
bore the ordeal with some difficulty in spite of the encouraging
example of Mme. de Bargeton, who welcomed the most illustrious
personages of Angouleme with ostentatious courtesy and elaborate
graciousness; and the uncomfortable feeling that oppressed him was
aggravated by a trifling matter which any one might have foreseen,
though it was bound to come as an unpleasant shock to a young man with
so little experience of the world. Lucien, all eyes and ears, noticed
that no one except Louise, M. de Bargeton, the Bishop, and some few
who wished to please the mistress of the house, spoke of him as M. de
Rubempre; for his formidable audience he was M. Chardon. Lucien's
courage sank under their inquisitive eyes. He could read his plebeian
name in the mere movements of their lips, and hear the anticipatory
criticisms made in the blunt, provincial fashion that too often
borders on rudeness. He had not expected this prolonged ordeal of
pin-pricks; it put him still more out of humor with himself. He grew
impatient to begin the reading, for then he could assume an attitude
which should put an end to his mental torments; but Jacques was giving
Mme. de Pimentel the history of his last day's sport; Adrien was
holding forth to Mlle. Laure de Rastignac on Rossini, the newly-risen
music star, and Astolphe, who had got by heart a newspaper paragraph
on a patent plow, was giving the Baron the benefit of the description.
Lucien, luckless poet that he was, did not know that there was scarce
a soul in the room besides Mme. de Bargeton who could understand
poetry. The whole matter-of-fact assembly was there by a
misapprehension, nor did they, for the most part, know what they had
come out for to see. There are some words that draw a public as
unfailingly as the clash of cymbals, the trumpet, or the mountebank's
big drum; "beauty," "glory," "poetry," are words that bewitch the
When every one had arrived; when the buzz of talk ceased after
repeated efforts on the part of M. de Bargeton, who, obedient to his
wife, went round the room much as the beadle makes the circle of the
church, tapping the pavement with his wand; when silence, in fact, was
at last secured, Lucien went to the round table near Mme. de Bargeton.
A fierce thrill of excitement ran through him as he did so. He
announced in an uncertain voice that, to prevent disappointment, he
was about to read the masterpieces of a great poet, discovered only
recently (for although Andre de Chenier's poems appeared in 1819, no
one in Angouleme had so much as heard of him). Everybody interpreted
this announcement in one way—it was a shift of Mme. de Bargeton's,
meant to save the poet's self-love and to put the audience at ease.
Lucien began with Le Malade, and the poem was received with a murmur
of applause; but he followed it with L'Aveugle, which proved too great
a strain upon the average intellect. None but artists or those endowed
with the artistic temperament can understand and sympathize with him
in the diabolical torture of that reading. If poetry is to be rendered
by the voice, and if the listener is to grasp all that it means, the
most devout attention is essential; there should be an intimate
alliance between the reader and his audience, or swift and subtle
communication of the poet's thought and feeling becomes impossible.
Here this close sympathy was lacking, and Lucien in consequence was in
the position of an angel who should endeavor to sing of heaven amid
the chucklings of hell. An intelligent man in the sphere most
stimulating to his faculties can see in every direction, like a snail;
he has the keen scent of a dog, the ears of a mole; he can hear, and
feel, and see all that is going on around him. A musician or a poet
knows at once whether his audience is listening in admiration or fails
to follow him, and feels it as the plant that revives or droops under
favorable or unfavorable conditions. The men who had come with their
wives had fallen to discussing their own affairs; by the acoustic law
before mentioned, every murmur rang in Lucien's ear; he saw all the
gaps caused by the spasmodic workings of jaws sympathetically
affected, the teeth that seemed to grin defiance at him.
When, like the dove in the deluge, he looked round for any spot on
which his eyes might rest, he saw nothing but rows of impatient faces.
Their owners clearly were waiting for him to make an end; they had
come together to discuss questions of practical interest. With the
exceptions of Laure de Rastignac, the Bishop, and two or three of the
young men, they one and all looked bored. As a matter of fact, those
who understand poetry strive to develop the germs of another poetry,
quickened within them by the poet's poetry; but this glacial audience,
so far from attaining to the spirit of the poet, did not even listen
to the letter.
Lucien felt profoundly discouraged; he was damp with chilly
perspiration; a glowing glance from Louise, to whom he turned, gave
him courage to persevere to the end, but this poet's heart was
bleeding from countless wounds.
"Do you find this very amusing, Fifine?" inquired the wizened Lili,
who perhaps had expected some kind of gymnastics.
"Don't ask me what I think, dear; I cannot keep my eyes open when any
one begins to read aloud."
"I hope that Nais will not give us poetry often in the evenings," said
Francis. "If I am obliged to attend while somebody reads aloud after
dinner, it upsets my digestion."
"Poor dearie," whispered Zephirine, "take a glass of eau sucree."
"It was very well declaimed," said Alexandre, "but I like whist better
After this dictum, which passed muster as a joke from the play on the
word "whist," several card-players were of the opinion that the
reader's voice needed a rest, and on this pretext one or two couples
slipped away into the card-room. But Louise, and the Bishop, and
pretty Laure de Rastignac besought Lucien to continue, and this time
he caught the attention of his audience with Chenier's spirited
reactionary Iambes. Several persons, carried away by his impassioned
delivery, applauded the reading without understanding the sense.
People of this sort are impressed by vociferation, as a coarse palate
is ticked by strong spirits.
During the interval, as they partook of ices, Zephirine despatched
Francis to examine the volume, and informed her neighbor Amelie that
the poetry was in print.
Amelie brightened visibly.
"Why, that is easily explained," said she. "M. de Rubempre works for a
printer. It is as if a pretty woman should make her own dresses," she
added, looking at Lolotte.
"He printed his poetry himself!" said the women among themselves.
"Then, why does he call himself M. de Rubempre?" inquired Jacques. "If
a noble takes a handicraft, he ought to lay his name aside."
"So he did as a matter of fact," said Zizine, "but his name was
plebeian, and he took his mother's name, which is noble."
"Well, if his verses are printed, we can read them for ourselves,"
This piece of stupidity complicated the question, until Sixte du
Chatelet condescended to inform these unlettered folk that the
prefatory announcement was no oratorical flourish, but a statement of
fact, and added that the poems had been written by a Royalist brother
of Marie-Joseph Chenier, the Revolutionary leader. All Angouleme,
except Mme. de Rastignac and her two daughters and the Bishop, who had
really felt the grandeur of the poetry, were mystified, and took
offence at the hoax. There was a smothered murmur, but Lucien did not
heed it. The intoxication of the poetry was upon him; he was far away
from the hateful world, striving to render in speech the music that
filled his soul, seeing the faces about him through a cloudy haze. He
read the sombre Elegy on the Suicide, lines in the taste of a by-gone
day, pervaded by sublime melancholy; then he turned to the page where
the line occurs, "Thy songs are sweet, I love to say them over," and
ended with the delicate idyll Neere.
Mme. de Bargeton sat with one hand buried in her curls, heedless of
the havoc she wrought among them, gazing before her with unseeing
eyes, alone in her drawing-room, lost in delicious dreaming; for the
first time in her life she had been transported to the sphere which
was hers by right of nature. Judge, therefore, how unpleasantly she
was disturbed by Amelie, who took it upon herself to express the
"Nais," this voice broke in, "we came to hear M. Chardon's poetry, and
you are giving us poetry out of a book. The extracts are very nice,
but the ladies feel a patriotic preference for the wine of the
country; they would rather have it."
"The French language does not lend itself very readily to poetry, does
it?" Astolphe remarked to Chatelet. "Cicero's prose is a thousand
times more poetical to my way of thinking."
"The true poetry of France is song, lyric verse," Chatelet answered.
"Which proves that our language is eminently adapted for music," said
"I should like very much to hear the poetry that has cost Nais her
reputation," said Zephirine; "but after receiving Amelie's request in
such a way, it is not very likely that she will give us a specimen."
"She ought to have them recited in justice to herself," said Francis.
"The little fellow's genius is his sole justification."
"You have been in the diplomatic service," said Amelie to M. du
Chatelet, "go and manage it somehow."
"Nothing easier," said the Baron.
The Princess' private secretary, being accustomed to petty manoeuvres
of this kind, went to the Bishop and contrived to bring him to the
fore. At the Bishop's entreaty, Nais had no choice but to ask Lucien
to recite his own verses for them, and the Baron received a
languishing smile from Amelie as the reward of his prompt success.
"Decidedly, the Baron is a very clever man," she observed to Lolotte.
But Amelie's previous acidulous remark about women who made their own
dresses rankled in Lolotte's mind.
"Since when have you begun to recognize the Emperor's barons?" she
Lucien had essayed to deify his beloved in an ode, dedicated to her
under a title in favor with all lads who write verse after leaving
school. This ode, so fondly cherished, so beautiful—since it was the
outpouring of all the love in his heart, seemed to him to be the one
piece of his own work that could hold its own with Chenier's verse;
and with a tolerably fatuous glance at Mme. de Bargeton, he announced
"TO HER!" He struck an attitude proudly for the delivery of the
ambitious piece, for his author's self-love felt safe and at ease
behind Mme. de Bargeton's petticoat. And at the selfsame moment Mme.
de Bargeton betrayed her own secret to the women's curious eyes.
Although she had always looked down upon this audience from her own
loftier intellectual heights, she could not help trembling for Lucien.
Her face was troubled, there was a sort of mute appeal for indulgence
in her glances, and while the verses were recited she was obliged to
lower her eyes and dissemble her pleasure as stanza followed stanza.
Out of the glowing heart of the torrent of glory and light,
At the foot of Jehovah's throne where the angels stand afar,
Each on a seistron of gold repeating the prayers of the night,
Put up for each by his star.
Out from the cherubim choir a bright-haired Angel springs,
Veiling the glory of God that dwells on a dazzling brow,
Leaving the courts of heaven to sink upon silver wings
Down to our world below.
God looked in pity on earth, and the Angel, reading His thought,
Came down to lull the pain of the mighty spirit at strife,
Reverent bent o'er the maid, and for age left desolate brought
Flowers of the springtime of life.
Bringing a dream of hope to solace the mother's fears,
Hearkening unto the voice of the tardy repentant cry,
Glad as angels are glad, to reckon Earth's pitying tears,
Given with alms of a sigh.
One there is, and but one, bright messenger sent from the skies
Whom earth like a lover fain would hold from the hea'nward flight;
But the angel, weeping, turns and gazes with sad, sweet eyes
Up to the heaven of light.
Not by the radiant eyes, not by the kindling glow
Of virtue sent from God, did I know the secret sign,
Nor read the token sent on a white and dazzling brow
Of an origin divine.
Nay, it was Love grown blind and dazed with excess of light,
Striving and striving in vain to mingle Earth and Heaven,
Helpless and powerless against the invincible armor bright
By the dread archangel given.
Ah! be wary, take heed, lest aught should be seen or heard
Of the shining seraph band, as they take the heavenward way;
Too soon the Angel on Earth will learn the magical word
Sung at the close of the day.
Then you shall see afar, rifting the darkness of night,
A gleam as of dawn that spread across the starry floor,
And the seaman that watch for a sign shall mark the track of their flight,
A luminous pathway in Heaven and a beacon for evermore.
"Do you read the riddle?" said Amelie, giving M. du Chatelet a
"It is the sort of stuff that we all of us wrote more or less after we
left school," said the Baron with a bored expression—he was acting
his part of arbiter of taste who has seen everything. "We used to deal
in Ossianic mists, Malvinas and Fingals and cloudy shapes, and
warriors who got out of their tombs with stars above their heads.
Nowadays this poetical frippery has been replaced by Jehovah, angels,
seistrons, the plumes of seraphim, and all the paraphernalia of
paradise freshened up with a few new words such as 'immense, infinite,
solitude, intelligence'; you have lakes, and the words of the
Almighty, a kind of Christianized Pantheism, enriched with the most
extraordinary and unheard-of rhymes. We are in quite another latitude,
in fact; we have left the North for the East, but the darkness is just
as thick as before."
"If the ode is obscure, the declaration is very clear, it seems to
me," said Zephirine.
"And the archangel's armor is a tolerably thin gauze robe," said
Politeness demanded that the audience should profess to be enchanted
with the poem; and the women, furious because they had no poets in
their train to extol them as angels, rose, looked bored by the
reading, murmuring, "Very nice!" "Charming!" "Perfect!" with frigid
"If you love me, do not congratulate the poet or his angel," Lolotte
laid her commands on her dear Adrien in imperious tones, and Adrien
was fain to obey.
"Empty words, after all," Zephirine remarked to Francis, "and love is
a poem that we live."
"You have just expressed the very thing that I was thinking, Zizine,
but I should not have put it so neatly," said Stanislas, scanning
himself from top to toe with loving attention.
"I would give, I don't know how much, to see Nais' pride brought down
a bit," said Amelie, addressing Chatelet. "Nais sets up to be an
archangel, as if she were better than the rest of us, and mixes us up
with low people; his father was an apothecary, and his mother is a
nurse; his sister works in a laundry, and he himself is a printer's
"If his father sold biscuits for worms" (vers), said Jacques, "he
ought to have made his son take them."
"He is continuing in his father's line of business, for the stuff that
he has just been reading to us is a drug in the market, it seems,"
said Stanislas, striking one of his most killing attitudes. "Drug for
drug, I would rather have something else."
Every one apparently combined to humiliate Lucien by various
aristocrats' sarcasms. Lili the religious thought it a charitable deed
to use any means of enlightening Nais, and Nais was on the brink of a
piece of folly. Francis the diplomatist undertook the direction of the
silly conspiracy; every one was interested in the progress of the
drama; it would be something to talk about to-morrow. The ex-consul,
being far from anxious to engage in a duel with a young poet who would
fly into a rage at the first hint of insult under his lady's eyes, was
wise enough to see that the only way of dealing Lucien his deathblow
was by the spiritual arm which was safe from vengeance. He therefore
followed the example set by Chatelet the astute, and went to the
Bishop. Him he proceeded to mystify.
He told the Bishop that Lucien's mother was a woman of uncommon powers
and great modesty, and that it was she who found the subjects for her
son's verses. Nothing pleased Lucien so much, according to the
guileful Francis, as any recognition of her talents—he worshiped his
mother. Then, having inculcated these notions, he left the rest to
time. His lordship was sure to bring out the insulting allusion, for
which he had been so carefully prepared, in the course of
When Francis and the Bishop joined the little group where Lucien
stood, the circle who gave him the cup of hemlock to drain by little
sips watched him with redoubled interest. The poet, luckless young
man, being a total stranger, and unaware of the manners and customs of
the house, could only look at Mme. de Bargeton and give embarrassed
answers to embarrassing questions. He knew neither the names nor
condition of the people about him; the women's silly speeches made him
blush for them, and he was at his wits' end for a reply. He felt,
moreover, how very far removed he was from these divinities of
Angouleme when he heard himself addressed sometimes as M. Chardon,
sometimes as M. de Rubempre, while they addressed each other as
Lolotte, Adrien, Astolphe, Lili and Fifine. His confusion rose to a
height when, taking Lili for a man's surname, he addressed the coarse
M. de Senonches as M. Lili; that Nimrod broke in upon him with a
"MONSIEUR LULU?" and Mme. de Bargeton flushed red to the eyes.
"A woman must be blind indeed to bring this little fellow among us!"
Zephirine turned to speak to the Marquise de Pimentel—"Do you not see
a strong likeness between M. Chardon and M. de Cante-Croix, madame?"
she asked in a low but quite audible voice.
"The likeness is ideal," smiled Mme. de Pimentel.
"Glory has a power of attraction to which we can confess," said Mme.
de Bargeton, addressing the Marquise. "Some women are as much
attracted by greatness as others by littleness," she added, looking at
The was beyond Zephirine's comprehension; she thought her consul a
very great man; but the Marquise laughed, and her laughter ranged her
on Nais' side.
"You are very fortunate, monsieur," said the Marquis de Pimentel,
addressing Lucien for the purpose of calling him M. de Rubempre, and
not M. Chardon, as before; "you should never find time heavy on your
"Do you work quickly?" asked Lolotte, much in the way that she would
have asked a joiner "if it took long to make a box."
The bludgeon stroke stunned Lucien, but he raised his head at Mme. de
"My dear, poetry does not grow in M. de Rubempre's head like grass in
"Madame, we cannot feel too reverently towards the noble spirits in
whom God has set some ray of this light," said the Bishop, addressing
Lolotte. "Yes, poetry is something holy. Poetry implies suffering. How
many silent nights those verses that you admire have cost! We should
bow in love and reverence before the poet; his life here is almost
always a life of sorrow; but God doubtless reserves a place in heaven
for him among His prophets. This young man is a poet," he added laying
a hand on Lucien's head; "do you not see the sign of Fate set on that
high forehead of his?"
Glad to be so generously championed, Lucien made his acknowledgments
in a grateful look, not knowing that the worthy prelate was to deal
Mme. de Bargeton's eyes traveled round the hostile circle. Her glances
went like arrows to the depths of her rivals' hearts, and left them
twice as furious as before.
"Ah, monseigneur," cried Lucien, hoping to break thick heads with his
golden sceptre, "but ordinary people have neither your intellect nor
your charity. No one heeds our sorrows, our toil is unrecognized. The
gold-digger working in the mine does not labor as we to wrest
metaphors from the heart of the most ungrateful of all languages. If
this is poetry—to give ideas such definite and clear expressions that
all the world can see and understand—the poet must continually range
through the entire scale of human intellects, so that he can satisfy
the demands of all; he must conceal hard thinking and emotion, two
antagonistic powers, beneath the most vivid color; he must know how to
make one word cover a whole world of thought; he must give the results
of whole systems of philosophy in a few picturesque lines; indeed, his
songs are like seeds that must break into blossom in other hearts
wherever they find the soil prepared by personal experience. How can
you express unless you first have felt? And is not passion suffering.
Poetry is only brought forth after painful wanderings in the vast
regions of thought and life. There are men and women in books, who
seem more really alive to us than men and women who have lived and
died—Richardson's Clarissa, Chenier's Camille, the Delia of Tibullus,
Ariosto's Angelica, Dante's Francesca, Moliere's Alceste,
Beaumarchais' Figaro, Scott's Rebecca the Jewess, the Don Quixote of
Cervantes,—do we not owe these deathless creations to immortal
"And what are you going to create for us?" asked Chatelet.
"If I were to announce such conceptions, I should give myself out for
a man of genius, should I not?" answered Lucien. "And besides, such
sublime creations demand a long experience of the world and a study of
human passion and interests which I could not possibly have made; but
I have made a beginning," he added, with bitterness in his tone, as he
took a vengeful glance round the circle; "the time of gestation is
"Then it will be a case of difficult labor," interrupted M. du Hautoy.
"Your excellent mother might assist you," suggested the Bishop.
The epigram, innocently made by the good prelate, the long-looked-for
revenge, kindled a gleam of delight in all eyes. The smile of
satisfied caste that traveled from mouth to mouth was aggravated by M.
de Bargeton's imbecility; he burst into a laugh, as usual, some
"Monseigneur, you are talking a little above our heads; these ladies
do not understand your meaning," said Mme. de Bargeton, and the words
paralyzed the laughter, and drew astonished eyes upon her. "A poet who
looks to the Bible for his inspiration has a mother indeed in the
Church.—M. de Rubempre, will you recite Saint John in Patmos for us,
or Belshazzar's Feast, so that his lordship may see that Rome is still
the Magna Parens of Virgil?"
The women exchanged smiles at the Latin words.
The bravest and highest spirits know times of prostration at the
outset of life. Lucien had sunk to the depths at the blow, but he
struck the bottom with his feet, and rose to the surface again, vowing
to subjugate this little world. He rose like a bull, stung to fury by
a shower of darts, and prepared to obey Louise by declaiming Saint
John in Patmos; but by this time the card-tables had claimed their
complement of players, who returned to the accustomed groove to find
amusement there which poetry had not afforded them. They felt besides
that the revenge of so many outraged vanities would be incomplete
unless it were followed up by contemptuous indifference; so they
showed their tacit disdain for the native product by leaving Lucien
and Mme. de Bargeton to themselves. Every one appeared to be absorbed
in his own affairs; one chattered with the prefect about a new
crossroad, another proposed to vary the pleasures of the evening with
a little music. The great world of Angouleme, feeling that it was no
judge of poetry, was very anxious, in the first place, to hear the
verdict of the Pimentels and the Rastignacs, and formed a little group
about them. The great influence wielded in the department by these two
families was always felt on every important occasion; every one was
jealous of them, every one paid court to them, foreseeing that they
might some day need that influence.
"What do you think of our poet and his poetry?" Jacques asked of the
Marquise. Jacques used to shoot over the lands belonging to the
"Why, it is not bad for provincial poetry," she said, smiling; "and
besides, such a beautiful poet cannot do anything amiss."
Every one thought the decision admirable; it traveled from lip to lip,
gaining malignance by the way. Then Chatelet was called upon to
accompany M. du Bartas on the piano while he mangled the great solo
from Figaro; and the way being opened to music, the audience, as in
duty bound listened while Chatelet in turn sang one of Chateaubriand's
ballads, a chivalrous ditty made in the time of the Empire. Duets
followed, of the kind usually left to boarding-school misses, and
rescued from the schoolroom by Mme. du Brossard, who meant to make a
brilliant display of her dear Camille's talents for M. de Severac's
Mme. du Bargeton, hurt by the contempt which every one showed her
poet, paid back scorn for scorn by going to her boudoir during these
performances. She was followed by the prelate. His Vicar-General had
just been explaining the profound irony of the epigram into which he
had been entrapped, and the Bishop wished to make amends. Mlle. de
Rastignac, fascinated by the poetry, also slipped into the boudoir
without her mother's knowledge.
Louise drew Lucien to her mattress-cushioned sofa; and with no one to
see or hear, she murmured in his ear, "Dear angel, they did not
understand you; but, 'Thy songs are sweet, I love to say them over.'"
And Lucien took comfort from the pretty speech, and forgot his woes
for a little.
"Glory is not to be had cheaply," Mme. de Bargeton continued, taking
his hand and holding it tightly in her own. "Endure your woes, my
friend, you will be great one day; your pain is the price of your
immortality. If only I had a hard struggle before me! God preserve you
from the enervating life without battles, in which the eagle's wings
have no room to spread themselves. I envy you; for if you suffer, at
least you live. You will put out your strength, you will feel the hope
of victory; your strife will be glorious. And when you shall come to
your kingdom, and reach the imperial sphere where great minds are
enthroned, then remember the poor creatures disinherited by fate,
whose intellects pine in an oppressive moral atmosphere, who die and
have never lived, knowing all the while what life might be; think of
the piercing eyes that have seen nothing, the delicate senses that
have only known the scent of poison flowers. Then tell in your song of
plants that wither in the depths of the forest, choked by twining
growths and rank, greedy vegetation, plants that have never been
kissed by the sunlight, and die, never having put forth a blossom. It
would be a terribly gloomy poem, would it not, a fanciful subject?
What a sublime poem might be made of the story of some daughter of the
desert transported to some cold, western clime, calling for her
beloved sun, dying of a grief that none can understand, overcome with
cold and longing. It would be an allegory; many lives are like that."
"You would picture the spirit which remembers Heaven," said the
Bishop; "some one surely must have written such a poem in the days of
old; I like to think that I see a fragment of it in the Song of
"Take that as your subject," said Laure de Rastignac, expressing her
artless belief in Lucien's powers.
"The great sacred poem of France is still unwritten," remarked the
Bishop. "Believe me, glory and success await the man of talent who
shall work for religion."
"That task will be his," said Mme. de Bargeton rhetorically. "Do you
not see the first beginnings of the vision of the poem, like the flame
of dawn, in his eyes?"
"Nais is treating us very badly," said Fifine; "what can she be
"Don't you hear?" said Stanislas. "She is flourishing away, using big
words that you cannot make head or tail of."
Amelie, Fifine, Adrien, and Francis appeared in the doorway with Mme.
de Rastignac, who came to look for her daughter.
"Nais," cried the two ladies, both delighted to break in upon the
quiet chat in the boudoir, "it would be very nice of you to come and
play something for us."
"My dear child, M. de Rubempre is just about to recite his Saint John
in Patmos, a magnificent biblical poem."
"Biblical!" echoed Fifine in amazement.
Amelie and Fifine went back to the drawing-room, taking the word back
with them as food for laughter. Lucien pleaded a defective memory and
excused himself. When he reappeared, nobody took the slightest notice
of him; every one was chatting or busy at the card-tables; the poet's
aureole had been plucked away, the landowners had no use for him, the
more pretentious sort looked upon him as an enemy to their ignorance,
while the women were jealous of Mme. de Bargeton, the Beatrice of this
modern Dante, to use the Vicar-General's phrase, and looked at him
with cold, scornful eyes.
"So this is society!" Lucien said to himself as he went down to
L'Houmeau by the steps of Beaulieu; for there are times when we choose
to take the longest way, that the physical exercise of walking may
promote the flow of ideas.
So far from being disheartened, the fury of repulsed ambition gave
Lucien new strength. Like all those whose instincts bring them to a
higher social sphere which they reach before they can hold their own
in it, Lucien vowed to make any sacrifice to the end that he might
remain on that higher social level. One by one he drew out the
poisoned shafts on his way home, talking aloud to himself, scoffing at
the fools with whom he had to do, inventing neat answers to their
idiotic questions, desperately vexed that the witty responses occurred
to him so late in the day. By the time that he reached the Bordeaux
road, between the river and the foot of the hill, he thought that he
could see Eve and David sitting on a baulk of timber by the river in
the moonlight, and went down the footpath towards them.
While Lucien was hastening to the torture in Mme. de Bargeton's rooms,
his sister had changed her dress for a gown of pink cambric covered
with narrow stripes, a straw hat, and a little silk shawl. The simple
costume seemed like a rich toilette on Eve, for she was one of those
women whose great nature lends stateliness to the least personal
detail; and David felt prodigiously shy of her now that she had
changed her working dress. He had made up his mind that he would speak
of himself; but now as he gave his arm to this beautiful girl, and
they walked through L'Houmeau together, he could find nothing to say
to her. Love delights in such reverent awe as redeemed souls know on
beholding the glory of God. So, in silence, the two lovers went across
the Bridge of Saint Anne, and followed the left bank of the Charente.
Eve felt embarrassed by the pause, and stopped to look along the
river; a joyous shaft of sunset had turned the water between the
bridge and the new powder mills into a sheet of gold.
"What a beautiful evening it is!" she said, for the sake of saying
something; "the air is warm and fresh, and full of the scent of
flowers, and there is a wonderful sky."
"Everything speaks to our heart," said David, trying to proceed to
love by way of analogy. "Those who love find infinite delight in
discovering the poetry of their own inmost souls in every chance
effect of the landscape, in the thin, clear air, in the scent of the
earth. Nature speaks for them."
"And loosens their tongues, too," Eve said merrily. "You were very
silent as we came through L'Houmeau. Do you know, I felt quite
"You looked so beautiful, that I could not say anything," David
"Then, just now I am not so beautiful?" inquired she.
"It is not that," he said; "but I was so happy to have this walk alone
with you, that——" he stopped short in confusion, and looked at the
hillside and the road to Saintes.
"If the walk is any pleasure to you, I am delighted; for I owe you an
evening, I think, when you have given up yours for me. When you
refused to go to Mme. de Bargeton's, you were quite as generous as
Lucien when he made the demand at the risk of vexing her."
"No, not generous, only wise," said David. "And now that we are quite
alone under the sky, with no listeners except the bushes and the reeds
by the edge of the Charente, let me tell you about my anxiety as to
Lucien's present step, dear Eve. After all that I have just said, I
hope that you will look on my fears as a refinement of friendship. You
and your mother have done all that you could to put him above his
social position; but when you stimulated his ambition, did you not
unthinkingly condemn him to a hard struggle? How can he maintain
himself in the society to which his tastes incline him? I know Lucien;
he likes to reap, he does not like toil; it is his nature. Social
claims will take up the whole of his time, and for a man who has
nothing but his brains, time is capital. He likes to shine; society
will stimulate his desires until no money will satisfy them; instead
of earning money, he will spend it. You have accustomed him to believe
in his great powers, in fact, but the world at large declines to
believe in any man's superior intellect until he has achieved some
signal success. Now success in literature is only won in solitude and
by dogged work. What will Mme. de Bargeton give your brother in return
for so many days spent at her feet? Lucien has too much spirit to
accept help from her; and he cannot afford, as we know, to cultivate
her society, twice ruinous as it is for him. Sooner or later that
woman will throw over this dear brother of ours, but not before she
has spoiled him for hard work, and given him a taste for luxury and a
contempt for our humdrum life. She will develop his love of enjoyment,
his inclination for idleness, that debauches a poetic soul. Yes, it
makes me tremble to think that this great lady may make a plaything of
Lucien. If she cares for him sincerely, he will forget everything else
for her; or if she does not love him, she will make him unhappy, for
he is wild about her."
"You have sent a chill of dread through my heart," said Eve, stopping
as they reached the weir. "But so long as mother is strong enough for
her tiring life, so long as I live, we shall earn enough, perhaps,
between us to keep Lucien until success comes. My courage will never
fail," said Eve, brightening. "There is no hardship in work when we
work for one we love; it is not drudgery. It makes me happy to think
that I toil so much, if indeed it is toil, for him. Oh, do not be in
the least afraid, we will earn money enough to send Lucien into the
great world. There lies his road to success."
"And there lies his road to ruin," returned David. "Dear Eve, listen
to me. A man needs an independent fortune, or the sublime cynicism of
poverty, for the slow execution of great work. Believe me, Lucien's
horror of privation is so great, the savor of banquets, the incense of
success is so sweet in his nostrils, his self-love has grown so much
in Mme. de Bargeton's boudoir, that he will do anything desperate
sooner than fall back, and you will never earn enough for his
"Then you are only a false friend to him!" Eve cried in despair, "or
you would not discourage us in this way."
"Eve! Eve!" cried David, "if only I could be a brother to Lucien! You
alone can give me that title; he could accept anything from me then; I
should claim the right of devoting my life to him with the love that
hallows your self-sacrifice, but with some worldly wisdom too. Eve, my
darling, give Lucien a store from which he need not blush to draw! His
brother's purse will be like his own, will it not? If you only knew
all my thoughts about Lucien's position! If he means to go to Mme. de
Bargeton's, he must not be my foreman any longer, poor fellow! He
ought not to live in L'Houmeau; you ought not to be a working girl;
and your mother must give up her employment as well. If you would
consent to be my wife, the difficulties will all be smoothed away.
Lucien might live on the second floor in the Place du Murier until I
can build rooms for him over the shed at the back of the yard (if my
father will allow it, that is.). And in that way we would arrange a
free and independent life for him. The wish to support Lucien will
give me a better will to work than I ever should have had for myself
alone; but it rests with you to give me the right to devote myself to
him. Some day, perhaps, he will go to Paris, the only place that can
bring out all that is in him, and where his talents will be
appreciated and rewarded. Living in Paris is expensive, and the
earnings of all three of us will be needed for his support. And
besides, will not you and your mother need some one to lean upon then?
Dear Eve, marry me for love of Lucien; perhaps afterwards you will
love me when you see how I shall strive to help him and to make you
happy. We are, both of us, equally simple in our tastes; we have few
wants; Lucien's welfare shall be the great object of our lives. His
heart shall be our treasure-house, we will lay up all our fortune, and
think and feel and hope in him."
"Worldly considerations keep us apart," said Eve, moved by this love
that tried to explain away its greatness. "You are rich and I am poor.
One must love indeed to overcome such a difficulty."
"Then you do not care enough for me?" cried the stricken David.
"But perhaps your father would object——"
"Never mind," said David; "if asking my father is all that is
necessary, you will be my wife. Eve, my dear Eve, how you have
lightened life for me in a moment; and my heart has been very heavy
with thoughts that I could not utter, I did not know how to speak of
them. Only tell me that you care for me a little, and I will take
courage to tell you the rest."
"Indeed," she said, "you make me quite ashamed; but confidence for
confidence, I will tell you this, that I have never thought of any one
but you in my life. I looked upon you as one of those men to whom a
woman might be proud to belong, and I did not dare to hope so great a
thing for myself, a penniless working girl with no prospects."
"That is enough, that is enough," he answered, sitting down on the bar
by the weir, for they had gone to and fro like mad creatures over the
same length of pathway.
"What is the matter?" she asked, her voice expressing for the first
time a woman's sweet anxiety for one who belongs to her.
"Nothing but good," he answered. "It is the sight of a whole lifetime
of happiness that dazzles me, as it were; it is overwhelming. Why am I
happier than you?" he asked, with a touch of sadness. "For I know that
I am happier."
Eve looked at David with mischievous, doubtful eyes that asked an
"Dear Eve, I am taking more than I give. So I shall always love you
more than you love me, because I have more reason to love. You are an
angel; I am a man."
"I am not so learned," Eve said, smiling. "I love you——"
"As much as you love Lucien?" he broke in.
"Enough to be your wife, enough to devote myself to you, to try not to
add anything to your burdens, for we shall have some struggles; it
will not be quite easy at first."
"Dear Eve, have you known that I loved you since the first day I saw
"Where is the woman who does not feel that she is loved?"
"Now let me get rid of your scruples as to my imaginary riches. I am a
poor man, dear. Yes, it pleased my father to ruin me; he made a
speculation of me, as a good many so-called benefactors do. If I make
a fortune, it will be entirely through you. That is not a lover's
speech, but sober, serious earnest. I ought to tell you about my
faults, for they are exceedingly bad ones in a man who has his way to
make. My character and habits and favorite occupations all unfit me
for business and money-getting, and yet we can only make money by some
kind of industry; if I have some faculty for the discovery of
gold-mines, I am singularly ill-adapted for getting the gold out of
them. But you who, for your brother's sake, went into the smallest
details, with a talent for thrift, and the patient watchfulness of the
born man of business, you will reap the harvest that I shall sow. The
present state of things, for I have been like one of the family for a
long time, weighs so heavily upon me, that I have spent days and nights
in search of some way of making a fortune. I know something of chemistry,
and a knowledge of commercial requirements has put me on the scent of
a discovery that is likely to pay. I can say nothing as yet about it;
there will be a long while to wait; perhaps for some years we may have
a hard time of it; but I shall find out how to make a commercial
article at last. Others are busy making the same researches, and if I
am first in the field, we shall have a large fortune. I have said
nothing to Lucien, his enthusiastic nature would spoil everything; he
would convert my hopes into realities, and begin to live like a lord,
and perhaps get into debt. So keep my secret for me. Your sweet and
dear companionship will be consolation in itself during the long time
of experiment, and the desire to gain wealth for you and Lucien will
give me persistence and tenacity——"
"I had guessed this too," Eve said, interrupting him; "I knew that you
were one of those inventors, like my poor father, who must have a
woman to take care of them."
"Then you love me! Ah! say so without fear to me, who saw a symbol of
my love for you in your name. Eve was the one woman in the world; if
it was true in the outward world for Adam, it is true again in the
inner world of my heart for me. My God! do you love me?"
"Yes," said she, lengthening out the word as if to make it cover the
extent of feeling expressed by a single syllable.
"Well, let us sit here," he said, and taking Eve's hand, he went to a
great baulk of timber lying below the wheels of a paper-mill. "Let me
breathe the evening air, and hear the frogs croak, and watch the
moonlight quivering upon the river; let me take all this world about
us into my soul, for it seems to me that my happiness is written large
over it all; I am seeing it for the first time in all its splendor,
lighted up by love, grown fair through you. Eve, dearest, this is the
first moment of pure and unmixed joy that fate has given to me! I do
not think that Lucien can be as happy as I am."
David felt Eve's hand, damp and quivering in his own, and a tear fell
"May I not know the secret?" she pleaded coaxingly.
"You have a right to know it, for your father was interested in the
matter, and to-day it is a pressing question, and for this reason.
Since the downfall of the Empire, calico has come more and more into
use, because it is so much cheaper than linen. At the present moment,
paper is made of a mixture of hemp and linen rags, but the raw
material is dear, and the expense naturally retards the great advance
which the French press is bound to make. Now you cannot increase the
output of linen rags, a given population gives a pretty constant
result, and it only increases with the birth-rate. To make any
perceptible difference in the population for this purpose, it would
take a quarter of a century and a great revolution in habits of life,
trade, and agriculture. And if the supply of linen rags is not enough
to meet one-half nor one-third of the demand, some cheaper material
than linen rags must be found for cheap paper. This deduction is based
on facts that came under my knowledge here. The Angouleme
paper-makers, the last to use pure linen rags, say that the proportion
of cotton in the pulp has increased to a frightful extent of late
In answer to a question from Eve, who did not know what "pulp" meant,
David gave an account of paper-making, which will not be out of place
in a volume which owes its existence in book form to the paper
industry no less than to the printing-press; but the long digression,
doubtless, had best be condensed at first.
Paper, an invention not less marvelous than the other dependent
invention of printing, was known in ancient times in China. Thence by
the unrecognized channels of commerce the art reached Asia Minor,
where paper was made of cotton reduced to pulp and boiled. Parchment
had become so extremely dear that a cheap substitute was discovered in
an imitation of the cotton paper known in the East as charta
bombycina. The imitation, made from rags, was first made at Basel, in
1170, by a colony of Greek refugees, according to some authorities; or
at Padua, in 1301, by an Italian named Pax, according to others. In
these ways the manufacture of paper was perfected slowly and in
obscurity; but this much is certain, that so early as the reign of
Charles VI., paper pulp for playing-cards was made in Paris.
When those immortals, Faust, Coster, and Gutenberg, invented the Book,
craftsmen as obscure as many a great artist of those times
appropriated paper to the uses of typography. In the fifteenth
century, that naive and vigorous age, names were given to the various
formats as well as to the different sizes of type, names that bear the
impress of the naivete of the times; and the various sheets came to be
known by the different watermarks on their centres; the grapes, the
figure of our Saviour, the crown, the shield, or the flower-pot, just
as at a later day, the eagle of Napoleon's time gave the name to the
"double-eagle" size. And in the same way the types were called Cicero,
Saint-Augustine, and Canon type, because they were first used to print
the treatises of Cicero and theological and liturgical works. Italics
are so called because they were invented in Italy by Aldus of Venice.
Before the invention of machine-made paper, which can be woven in any
length, the largest sized sheets were the grand jesus and the double
columbier (this last being scarcely used now except for atlases or
engravings), and the size of paper for printers' use was determined by
the dimensions of the impression-stone. When David explained these
things to Eve, web-paper was almost undreamed of in France, although,
about 1799, Denis Robert d'Essonne had invented a machine for turning
out a ribbon of paper, and Didot-Saint-Leger had since tried to
perfect it. The vellum paper invented by Ambroise Didot only dates
back as far as 1780.
This bird's eye view of the history of the invention shows
incontestably that great industrial and intellectual advances are made
exceedingly slowly, and little by little, even as Nature herself
proceeds. Perhaps articulate speech and the art of writing were
gradually developed in the same groping way as typography and
"Rag-pickers collect all the rags and old linen of Europe," the
printer concluded, "and buy any kind of tissue. The rags are sorted
and warehoused by the wholesale rag merchants, who supply the
paper-mills. To give you some idea of the extent of the trade, you
must know, mademoiselle, that in 1814 Cardon the banker, owner of the
pulping troughs of Bruges and Langlee (where Leorier de l'Isle
endeavored in 1776 to solve the very problem that occupied your
father), Cardon brought an action against one Proust for an error in
weights of two millions in a total of ten million pounds' weight of
rags, worth about four million francs! The manufacturer washes the
rags and reduces them to a thin pulp, which is strained, exactly as a
cook strains sauce through a tamis, through an iron frame with a fine
wire bottom where the mark which give its name to the size of the
paper is woven. The size of this mould, as it is called, regulates the
size of the sheet.
"When I was with the Messieurs Didot," David continued, "they were
very much interested in this question, and they are still interested;
for the improvement which your father endeavored to make is a great
commercial requirement, and one of the crying needs of the time. And
for this reason: although linen lasts so much longer than cotton, that
it is in reality cheaper in the end, the poor would rather make the
smaller outlay in the first instance, and, by virtue of the law of Vae
victis! pay enormously more before they have done. The middle classes
do the same. So there is a scarcity of linen. In England, where
four-fifths of the population use cotton to the exclusion of linen,
they make nothing but cotton paper. The cotton paper is very soft and
easily creased to begin with, and it has a further defect: it is so
soluble that if you seep a book made of cotton paper in water for
fifteen minutes, it turns to a pulp, while an old book left in water
for a couple of hours is not spoilt. You could dry the old book, and
the pages, though yellow and faded, would still be legible, the work
would not be destroyed.
"There is a time coming when legislation will equalize our fortunes,
and we shall all be poor together; we shall want our linen and our
books to be cheap, just as people are beginning to prefer small
pictures because they have not wall space enough for large ones. Well,
the shirts and the books will not last, that is all; it is the same on
all sides, solidity is drying out. So this problem is one of the first
importance for literature, science, and politics.
"One day, in my office, there was a hot discussion going on about the
material that the Chinese use for making paper. Their paper is far
better than ours, because the raw material is better; and a good deal
was said about this thin, light Chinese paper, for if it is light and
thin, the texture is close, there are no transparent spots in it. In
Paris there are learned men among the printers' readers; Fourier and
Pierre Leroux are Lachevardiere's readers at this moment; and the
Comte de Saint-Simon, who happened to be correcting proofs for us,
came in in the middle of the discussion. He told us at once that,
according to Kempfer and du Halde, the Broussonetia furnishes the
substance of the Chinese paper; it is a vegetable substance (like
linen or cotton for that matter). Another reader maintained that
Chinese paper was principally made of an animal substance, to wit, the
silk that is abundant there. They made a bet about it in my presence.
The Messieurs Didot are printers to the Institute, so naturally they
referred the question to that learned body. M. Marcel, who used to be
superintendent of the Royal Printing Establishment, was umpire, and he
sent the two readers to M. l'Abbe Grozier, Librarian at the Arsenal.
By the Abbe's decision they both lost their wages. The paper was not
made of silk nor yet from the Broussonetia; the pulp proved to be the
triturated fibre of some kind of bamboo. The Abbe Grozier had a
Chinese book, an iconographical and technological work, with a great
many pictures in it, illustrating all the different processes of
paper-making, and he showed us a picture of the workshop with the
bamboo stalks lying in a heap in the corner; it was extremely well
"Lucien told me that your father, with the intuition of a man of
talent, had a glimmering of a notion of some way of replacing linen
rags with an exceedingly common vegetable product, not previously
manufactured, but taken direct from the soil, as the Chinese use
vegetable fibre at first hand. I have classified the guesses made by
those who came before me, and have begun to study the question. The
bamboo is a kind of reed; naturally I began to think of the reeds that
grow here in France.
"Labor is very cheap in China, where a workman earns three halfpence a
day, and this cheapness of labor enables the Chinese to manipulate
each sheet of paper separately. They take it out of the mould, and
press it between heated tablets of white porcelain, that is the secret
of the surface and consistence, the lightness and satin smoothness of
the best paper in the world. Well, here in Europe the work must be
done by machinery; machinery must take the place of cheap Chinese
labor. If we could but succeed in making a cheap paper of as good a
quality, the weight and thickness of printed books would be reduced by
more than one-half. A set of Voltaire, printed on our woven paper and
bound, weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds; it would only weigh
fifty if we used Chinese paper. That surely would be a triumph, for
the housing of many books has come to be a difficulty; everything has
grown smaller of late; this is not an age of giants; men have shrunk,
everything about them shrinks, and house-room into the bargain. Great
mansions and great suites of rooms will be abolished sooner or later
in Paris, for no one will afford to live in the great houses built by
our forefathers. What a disgrace for our age if none of its books
should last! Dutch paper—that is, paper made from flax—will be quite
unobtainable in ten years' time. Well, your brother told me of this
idea of your father's, this plan for using vegetable fibre in
paper-making, so you see that if I succeed, you have a right to——"
Lucien came up at that moment and interrupted David's generous
"I do not know whether you have found the evening pleasant," said he;
"it has been a cruel time for me."
"Poor Lucien! what can have happened?" cried Eve, as she saw her
brother's excited face.
The poet told the history of his agony, pouring out a flood of
clamorous thoughts into those friendly hearts, Eve and David listening
in pained silence to a torrent of woes that exhibited such greatness
and such pettiness.
"M. de Bargeton is an old dotard. The indigestion will carry him off
before long, no doubt," Lucien said, as he made an end, "and then I
will look down on these proud people; I will marry Mme. de Bargeton. I
read to-night in her eyes a love as great as mine for her. Yes, she
felt all that I felt; she comforted me; she is as great and noble as
she is gracious and beautiful. She will never give me up."
"It is time that life was made smooth for him, is it not?" murmured
David, and for answer Eve pressed his arm without speaking. David
guessed her thoughts, and began at once to tell Lucien about his own
If Lucien was full of his troubles, the lovers were quite as full of
themselves. So absorbed were they, so eager that Lucien should approve
their happiness, that neither Eve nor David so much as noticed his
start of surprise at the news. Mme. de Bargeton's lover had been
dreaming of a great match for his sister; he would reach a high
position first, and then secure himself by an alliance with some
family of influence, and here was one more obstacle in his way to
success! His hopes were dashed to the ground. "If Mme. de Bargeton
consents to be Mme. de Rubempre, she would never care to have David
Sechard for a brother-in-law!"
This stated clearly and precisely was the thought that tortured
Lucien's inmost mind. "Louise is right!" he thought bitterly. "A man
with a career before him is never understood by his family."
If the marriage had not been announced immediately after Lucien's
fancy had put M. de Bargeton to death, he would have been radiant with
heartfelt delight at the news. If he had thought soberly over the
probable future of a beautiful and penniless girl like Eve Chardon, he
would have seen that this marriage was a piece of unhoped-for good
fortune. But he was living just now in a golden dream; he had soared
above all barriers on the wings of an if; he had seen a vision of
himself, rising above society; and it was painful to drop so suddenly
down to hard fact.
Eve and David both thought that their brother was overcome with the
sense of such generosity; to them, with their noble natures, the
silent consent was a sign of true friendship. David began to describe
with kindly and cordial eloquence the happy fortunes in store for them
all. Unchecked by protests put in by Eve, he furnished his first floor
with a lover's lavishness, built a second floor with boyish good faith
for Lucien, and rooms above the shed for Mme. Chardon—he meant to be
a son to her. In short, he made the whole family so happy and his
brother-in-law so independent, that Lucien fell under the spell of
David's voice and Eve's caresses; and as they went through the shadows
beside the still Charente, a gleam in the warm, star-lit night, he
forgot the sharp crown of thorns that had been pressed upon his head.
"M. de Rubempre" discovered David's real nature, in fact. His facile
character returned almost at once to the innocent, hard-working
burgher life that he knew; he saw it transfigured and free from care.
The buzz of the aristocratic world grew more and more remote; and when
at length they came upon the paved road of L'Houmeau, the ambitious
poet grasped his brother's hand, and made a third in the joy of the
"If only your father makes no objection to the marriage," he said.
"You know how much he troubles himself about me; the old man lives for
himself," said David. "But I will go over to Marsac to-morrow and see
him, if it is only to ask leave to build."
David went back to the house with the brother and sister, and asked
Mme. Chardon's consent to his marriage with the eagerness of a man who
would fain have no delay. Eve's mother took her daughter's hand, and
gladly laid it in David's; and the lover, grown bolder on this, kissed
his fair betrothed on the forehead, and she flushed red, and smiled at
"The betrothal of the poor," the mother said, raising her eyes as if
to pray for heaven's blessing upon them.—"You are brave, my boy," she
added, looking at David, "but we have fallen on evil fortune, and I am
afraid lest our bad luck should be infectious."
"We shall be rich and happy," David said earnestly. "To begin with,
you must not go out nursing any more, and you must come and live with
your daughter and Lucien in Angouleme."
The three began at once to tell the astonished mother all their
charming plans, and the family party gave themselves up to the
pleasure of chatting and weaving a romance, in which it is so pleasant
to enjoy future happiness, and to store the unsown harvest. They had
to put David out at the door; he could have wished the evening to last
for ever, and it was one o'clock in the morning when Lucien and his
future brother-in-law reached the Palet Gate. The unwonted movement
made honest Postel uneasy; he opened the window, and looking through
the Venetian shutters, he saw a light in Eve's room.
"What can be happening at the Chardons'?" thought he, and seeing
Lucien come in, he called out to him—
"What is the matter, sonny? Do you want me to do anything?"
"No, sir," returned the poet; "but as you are our friend, I can tell
you about it; my mother has just given her consent to my sister's
engagement to David Sechard."
For all answer, Postel shut the window with a bang, in despair that he
had not asked for Mlle. Chardon earlier.
David, however, did not go back into Angouleme; he took the road to
Marsac instead, and walked through the night the whole way to his
father's house. He went along by the side of the croft just as the sun
rose, and caught sight of the old "bear's" face under an almond-tree
that grew out of the hedge.
"Good day, father," called David.
"Why, is it you, my boy? How come you to be out on the road at this
time of day? There is your way in," he added, pointing to a little
wicket gate. "My vines have flowered and not a shoot has been frosted.
There will be twenty puncheons or more to the acre this year; but then
look at all the dung that has been put on the land!"
"Father, I have come on important business."
"Very well; how are your presses doing? You must be making heaps of
money as big as yourself."
"I shall some day, father, but I am not very well off just now."
"They all tell me that I ought not to put on so much manure," replied
his father. "The gentry, that is M. le Marquis, M. le Comte, and
Monsieur What-do-you-call-'em, say that I am letting down the quality
of the wine. What is the good of book-learning except to muddle your
wits? Just you listen: these gentlemen get seven, or sometimes eight
puncheons of wine to the acre, and they sell them for sixty francs
apiece, that means four hundred francs per acre at most in a good
year. Now, I make twenty puncheons, and get thirty francs apiece for
them—that is six hundred francs! And where are they, the fools?
Quality, quality, what is quality to me? They can keep their quality
for themselves, these Lord Marquises. Quality means hard cash for me,
that is what it means, You were saying?——"
"I am going to be married, father, and I have come to ask for——"
"Ask me for what? Nothing of the sort, my boy. Marry; I give you my
consent, but as for giving you anything else, I haven't a penny to
bless myself with. Dressing the soil is the ruin of me. These two
years I have been paying money out of pocket for top-dressing, and
taxes, and expenses of all kinds; Government eats up everything,
nearly all the profit goes to the Government. The poor growers have
made nothing these last two seasons. This year things don't look so
bad; and, of course, the beggarly puncheons have gone up to eleven
francs already. We work to put money into the coopers' pockets. Why,
are you going to marry before the vintage?——"
"I only came to ask for your consent, father."
"Oh! that is another thing. And who is the victim, if one may ask?"
"I am going to marry Mlle. Eve Chardon."
"Who may she be? What kind of victual does she eat?"
"She is the daughter of the late M. Chardon, the druggist in
"You are going to marry a girl out of L'Houmeau! you! a burgess of
Angouleme, and printer to His Majesty! This is what comes of
book-learning! Send a boy to school, forsooth! Oh! well, then she is
very rich, is she, my boy?" and the old vinegrower came up closer with
a cajoling manner; "if you are marrying a girl out of L'Houmeau, it
must be because she has lots of cash, eh? Good! you will pay me my rent
now. There are two years and one-quarter owing, you know, my boy; that
is two thousand seven hundred francs altogether; the money will come
just in the nick of time to pay the cooper. If it was anybody else, I
should have a right to ask for interest; for, after all, business is
business, but I will let you off the interest. Well, how much has
"Just as much as my mother had."
The old vinegrower very nearly said, "Then she has only ten thousand
francs!" but he recollected just in time that he had declined to give
an account of her fortune to her son, and exclaimed, "She has
"My mother's fortune was her beauty and intelligence," said David.
"You just go into the market and see what you can get for it! Bless my
buttons! what bad luck parents have with their children. David, when I
married, I had a paper cap on my head for my whole fortune, and a pair
of arms; I was a poor pressman; but with the fine printing-house that
I gave you, with your industry, and your education, you might marry a
burgess' daughter, a woman with thirty or forty thousand francs. Give
up your fancy, and I will find you a wife myself. There is some one
about three miles away, a miller's widow, thirty-two years old, with a
hundred thousand francs in land. There is your chance! You can add her
property to Marsac, for they touch. Ah! what a fine property we should
have, and how I would look after it! They say she is going to marry
her foreman Courtois, but you are the better man of the two. I would
look after the mill, and she should live like a lady up in Angouleme."
"I am engaged, father."
"David, you know nothing of business; you will ruin yourself, I see.
Yes, if you marry this girl out of L'Houmeau, I shall square accounts
and summons you for the rent, for I see that no good will come of
this. Oh! my presses, my poor presses! it took some money to grease
you and keep you going. Nothing but a good year can comfort me after
"It seems to me, father, that until now I have given you very little
"And paid mighty little rent," put in his parent.
"I came to ask you something else besides. Will you build a second
floor to your house, and some rooms above the shed?"
"Deuce a bit of it; I have not the cash, and that you know right well.
Besides, it would be money thrown clean away, for what would it bring
in? Oh! you get up early of a morning to come and ask me to build you
a place that would ruin a king, do you? Your name may be David, but I
have not got Solomon's treasury. Why, you are mad! or they changed my
child at nurse. There is one for you that will have grapes on it," he
said, interrupting himself to point out a shoot. "Offspring of this
sort don't disappoint their parents; you dung the vines, and they
repay you for it. I sent you to school; I spent any amount of money to
make a scholar of you; I sent you to the Didots to learn your
business; and all this fancy education ends in a daughter-in-law out
of L'Houmeau without a penny to her name. If you had not studied
books, if I had kept you under my eye, you would have done as I
pleased, and you would be marrying a miller's widow this day with a
hundred thousand francs in hand, to say nothing of the mill. Oh! your
cleverness leads you to imagine that I am going to reward this fine
sentiment by building palaces for you, does it? . . . Really, anybody
might think that the house that has been a house these two hundred
years was nothing but a pigsty, not fit for the girl out of L'Houmeau
to sleep in! What next! She is the Queen of France, I suppose."
"Very well, father, I will build the second floor myself; the son will
improve his father's property. It is not the usual way, but it happens
"What, my lad! you can find money for building, can you, though you
can't find money to pay the rent, eh! You sly dog, to come round your
The question thus raised was hard to lay, for the old man was only too
delighted to seize an opportunity of posing as a good father without
disbursing a penny; and all that David could obtain was his bare
consent to the marriage and free leave to do what he liked in the
house—at his own expense; the old "bear," that pattern of a thrifty
parent, kindly consenting not to demand the rent and drain the savings
to which David imprudently owned. David went back again in low
spirits. He saw that he could not reckon on his father's help in
In Angouleme that day people talked of nothing but the Bishop's
epigram and Mme. de Bargeton's reply. Every least thing that happened
that evening was so much exaggerated and embellished and twisted out
of all knowledge, that the poet became the hero of the hour. While
this storm in a teacup raged on high, a few drops fell among the
bourgeoisie; young men looked enviously after Lucien as he passed on
his way through Beaulieu, and he overheard chance phrases that filled
him with conceit.
"There is a lucky young fellow!" said an attorney's clerk, named
Petit-Claud, a plain-featured youth who had been at school with
Lucien, and treated him with small, patronizing airs.
"Yes, he certainly is," answered one of the young men who had been
present on the occasion of the reading; "he is a good-looking fellow,
he has some brains, and Mme. de Bargeton is quite wild about him."
Lucien had waited impatiently until he could be sure of finding Louise
alone. He had to break the tidings of his sister's marriage to the
arbitress of his destinies. Perhaps after yesterday's soiree, Louise
would be kinder than usual, and her kindness might lead to a moment of
happiness. So he thought, and he was not mistaken; Mme. de Bargeton
met him with a vehemence of sentiment that seemed like a touching
progress of passion to the novice in love. She abandoned her hands,
her beautiful golden hair, to the burning kisses of the poet who had
passed through such an ordeal.
"If only you could have seen your face whilst you were reading," cried
Louise, using the familiar tu, the caress of speech, since yesterday,
while her white hands wiped the pearls of sweat from the brows on
which she set a poet's crown. "There were sparks of fire in those
beautiful eyes! From your lips, as I watched them, there fell the
golden chains that suspend the hearts of men upon the poet's mouth.
You shall read Chenier through to me from beginning to end; he is the
lover's poet. You shall not be unhappy any longer; I will not have it.
Yes, dear angel, I will make an oasis for you, there you shall live
your poet's life, sometimes busy, sometimes languid; indolent, full of
work, and musing by turns; but never forget that you owe your laurels
to me, let that thought be my noble guerdon for the sufferings which I
must endure. Poor love! the world will not spare me any more than it
has spared you; the world is avenged on all happiness in which it has
no share. Yes, I shall always be a mark for envy—did you not see that
last night? The bloodthirsty insects are quick enough to drain every
wound that they pierce. But I was happy; I lived. It is so long since
all my heartstrings vibrated."
The tears flowed fast, and for all answer Lucien took Louise's hand
and gave it a lingering kiss. Every one about him soothed and caressed
the poet's vanity; his mother and his sister and David and Louise now
did the same. Every one helped to raise the imaginary pedestal on
which he had set himself. His friends's kindness and the fury of his
enemies combined to establish him more firmly in an ureal world. A
young imagination readily falls in with the flattering estimates of
others, a handsome young fellow so full of promise finds others eager
to help him on every side, and only after one or two sharp and bitter
lessons does he begin to see himself as an ordinary mortal.
"My beautiful Louise, do you mean in very truth to be my Beatrice, a
Beatrice who condescends to be loved?"
Louise raised the fine eyes, hitherto down-dropped.
"If you show yourself worthy—some day!" she said, with an angelic
smile which belied her words. "Are you not happy? To be the sole
possessor of a heart, to speak freely at all times, with the certainty
of being understood, is not this happiness?"
"Yes," he answered, with a lover's pout of vexation.
"Child!" she exclaimed, laughing at him. "Come, you have something to
tell me, have you not? You came in absorbed in thought, my Lucien."
Lucien, in fear and trembling, confided to his beloved that David was
in love with his sister Eve, and that his sister Eve was in love with
David, and that the two were to be married shortly.
"Poor Lucien!" said Louise, "he was afraid he should be beaten and
scolded, as if it was he himself that was going to be married! Why,
where is the harm?" she continued, her fingers toying with Lucien's
hair. "What is your family to me when you are an exception? Suppose
that my father were to marry his cook, would that trouble you much?
Dear boy, lovers are for each other their whole family. Have I a
greater interest than my Lucien in the world? Be great, find the way
to win fame, that is our affair!"
This selfish answer made Lucien the happiest of mortals. But in the
middle of the fantastic reasonings, with which Louise convinced him
that they two were alone in the world, in came M. de Bargeton. Lucien
frowned and seemed to be taken aback, but Louise made him a sign, and
asked him to stay to dinner and to read Andre de Chenier aloud to them
until people arrived for their evening game at cards.
"You will give her pleasure," said M. de Bargeton, "and me also.
Nothing suits me better than listening to reading aloud after dinner."
Cajoled by M. de Bargeton, cajoled by Louise, waited upon with the
respect which servants show to a favored guest of the house, Lucien
remained in the Hotel de Bargeton, and began to think of the luxuries
which he enjoyed for the time being as the rightful accessories of
Lucien de Rubempre. He felt his position so strong through Louise's
love and M. de Bargeton's weakness, that as the rooms filled, he
assumed a lordly air, which that fair lady encouraged. He tasted the
delights of despotic sway which Nais had acquired by right of
conquest, and liked to share with him; and, in short, that evening he
tried to act up to the part of the lion of the little town. A few of
those who marked these airs drew their own conclusions from them, and
thought that, according to the old expression, he had come to the last
term with the lady. Amelie, who had come with M. du Chatelet, was sure
of the deplorable fact, in a corner of the drawing-room, where the
jealous and envious gathered together.
"Do not think of calling Nais to account for the vanity of a
youngster, who is as proud as he can be because he has got into
society, where he never expected to set foot," said Chatelet. "Don't
you see that this Chardon takes the civility of a woman of the world
for an advance? He does not know the difference between the silence of
real passion and the patronizing graciousness due to his good looks
and youth and talent. It would be too bad if women were blamed for all
the desires which they inspire. He certainly is in love with her, but
as for Nais——"
"Oh! Nais," echoed the perfidious Amelie, "Nais is well enough
pleased. A young man's love has so many attractions—at her age. A
woman grows young again in his company; she is a girl, and acts a
girl's hesitation and manners, and does not dream that she is
ridiculous. Just look! Think of a druggist's son giving himself a
conqueror's airs with Mme. de Bargeton."
"Love knows nought of high or low degree," hummed Adrien.
There was not a single house in Angouleme next day where the degree of
intimacy between M. Chardon (alias de Rubempre) and Mme. de Bargeton
was not discussed; and though the utmost extent of their guilt
amounted to two or three kisses, the world already chose to believe
the worst of both. Mme. de Bargeton paid the penalty of her
sovereignty. Among the various eccentricities of society, have you
never noticed its erratic judgments and the unaccountable differences
in the standard it requires of this or that man or woman? There are
some persons who may do anything; they may behave totally
irrationally, anything becomes them, and it is who shall be first to
justify their conduct; then, on the other hand, there are those on
whom the world is unaccountably severe, they must do everything well,
they are not allowed to fail nor to make mistakes, at their peril they
do anything foolish; you might compare these last to the much-admired
statues which must come down at once from their pedestal if the frost
chips off a nose or a finger. They are not permitted to be human; they
are required to be for ever divine and for ever impeccable. So one
glance exchanged between Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien outweighed twelve
years of Zizine's connection with Francis in the social balance; and a
squeeze of the hand drew down all the thunders of the Charente upon
David had brought a little secret hoard back with him from Paris, and
it was this sum that he set aside for the expenses of his marriage and
for the building of the second floor in his father's house. His
father's house it was; but, after all, was he not working for himself?
It would all be his again some day, and his father was sixty-eight
years old. So David build a timbered second story for Lucien, so as
not to put too great a strain on the old rifted house-walls. He took
pleasure in making the rooms where the fair Eve was to spend her life
as brave as might be.
It was a time of blithe and unmixed happiness for the friends. Lucien
was tired of the shabbiness of provincial life, and weary of the
sordid frugality that looked on a five-franc piece as a fortune, but
he bore the hardships and the pinching thrift without grumbling. His
moody looks had been succeeded by an expression of radiant hope. He
saw the star shining above his head, he had dreams of a great time to
come, and built the fabric of his good fortune on M. de Bargeton's
tomb. M. de Bargeton, troubled with indigestion from time to time,
cherished the happy delusion that indigestion after dinner was a
complaint to be cured by a hearty supper.
By the beginning of September, Lucien had ceased to be a printer's
foreman; he was M. de Rubempre, housed sumptuously in comparison with
his late quarters in the tumbledown attic with the dormer-window,
where "young Chardon" had lived in L'Houmeau; he was not even a "man
of L'Houmeau"; he lived in the heights of Angouleme, and dined four
times a week with Mme. de Bargeton. A friendship had grown up between
M. de Rubempre and the Bishop, and he went to the palace. His
occupations put him upon a level with the highest rank; his name would
be one day among the great names of France; and, in truth, as he went
to and fro in his apartments, the pretty sitting-room, the charming
bedroom, and the tastefully furnished study, he might console himself
for the thought that he drew thirty francs every month out of his
mother's and sister's hard earnings; for he saw the day approaching
when An Archer of Charles IX., the historical romance on which he had
been at work for two years, and a volume of verse entitled
Marguerites, should spread his fame through the world of literature,
and bring in money enough to repay them all, his mother and sister and
David. So, grown great in his own eyes, and giving ear to the echoes
of his name in the future, he could accept present sacrifices with
noble assurance; he smiled at his poverty, he relished the sense of
these last days of penury.
Eve and David had set Lucien's happiness before their own. They had
put off their wedding, for it took some time to paper and paint their
rooms, and to buy the furniture, and Lucien's affairs had been settled
first. No one who knew Lucien could wonder at their devotion. Lucien
was so engaging, he had such winning ways, his impatience and his
desires were so graciously expressed, that his cause was always won
before he opened his mouth to speak. This unlucky gift of fortune, if
it is the salvation of some, is the ruin of many more. Lucien and his
like find a world predisposed in favor of youth and good looks, and
ready to protect those who give it pleasure with the selfish
good-nature that flings alms to a beggar, if he appeals to the feelings
and awakens emotion; and in this favor many a grown child is content to
bask instead of putting it to a profitable use. With mistaken notions
as to the significance and the motive of social relations they imagine
that they shall always meet with deceptive smiles; and so at last the
moment comes for them when the world leaves them bald, stripped bare,
without fortune or worth, like an elderly coquette by the door of a
salon, or a stray rag in the gutter.
Eve herself had wished for the delay. She meant to establish the
little household on the most economical footing, and to buy only
strict necessaries; but what could two lovers refuse to a brother who
watched his sister at her work, and said in tones that came from the
heart, "How I wish I could sew!" The sober, observant David had shared
in the devotion; and yet, since Lucien's triumph, David had watched
him with misgivings; he was afraid that Lucien would change towards
them, afraid that he would look down upon their homely ways. Once or
twice, to try his brother, David had made him choose between home
pleasures and the great world, and saw that Lucien gave up the
delights of vanity for them, and exclaimed to himself, "They will not
spoil him for us!" Now and again the three friends and Mme. Chardon
arranged picnic parties in provincial fashion—a walk in the woods
along the Charente, not far from Angouleme, and dinner out on the
grass, David's apprentice bringing the basket of provisions to some
place appointed before-hand; and at night they would come back, tired
somewhat, but the whole excursion had not cost three francs. On great
occasion, when they dined at a restaurat, as it is called, a sort of a
country inn, a compromise between a provincial wineshop and a Parisian
guinguette, they would spend as much as five francs, divided between
David and the Chardons. David gave his brother infinite credit for
forsaking Mme. de Bargeton and grand dinners for these days in the
country, and the whole party made much of the great man of Angouleme.
Matters had gone so far, that the new home was very nearly ready, and
David had gone over to Marsac to persuade his father to come to the
wedding, not without a hope that the old man might relent at the sight
of his daughter-in-law, and give something towards the heavy expenses
of the alterations, when there befell one of those events which
entirely change the face of things in a small town.
Lucien and Louise had a spy in Chatelet, a spy who watched, with the
persistence of a hate in which avarice and passion are blended, for an
opportunity of making a scandal. Sixte meant that Mme. de Bargeton
should compromise herself with Lucien in such a way that she should be
"lost," as the saying goes; so he posed as Mme. de Bargeton's humble
confidant, admired Lucien in the Rue du Minage, and pulled him to
pieces everywhere else. Nais had gradually given him les petites
entrees, in the language of the court, for the lady no longer
mistrusted her elderly admirer; but Chatelet had taken too much for
granted—love was still in the Platonic stage, to the great despair of
Louise and Lucien.
There are, for that matter, love affairs which start with a good or a
bad beginning, as you prefer to take it. Two creatures launch into the
tactics of sentiment; they talk when they should be acting, and
skirmish in the open instead of settling down to a siege. And so they
grow tired of one another, expend their longings in empty space; and,
having time for reflection, come to their own conclusions about each
other. Many a passion that has taken the field in gorgeous array, with
colors flying and an ardor fit to turn the world upside down, has
turned home again without a victory, inglorious and crestfallen,
cutting but a foolish figure after these vain alarums and excursions.
Such mishaps are sometimes due to the diffidence of youth, sometimes
to the demurs of an inexperienced woman, for old players at this game
seldom end in a fiasco of this kind.
Provincial life, moreover, is singularly well calculated to keep
desire unsatisfied and maintain a lover's arguments on the
intellectual plane, while, at the same time, the very obstacles placed
in the way of the sweet intercourse which binds lovers so closely each
to each, hurry ardent souls on towards extreme measures. A system of
espionage of the most minute and intricate kind underlies provincial
life; every house is transparent, the solace of close friendships
which break no moral law is scarcely allowed; and such outrageously
scandalous constructions are put upon the most innocent human
intercourse, that many a woman's character is taken away without
cause. One here and there, weighed down by her unmerited punishment,
will regret that she has never known to the full the forbidden
felicity for which she is suffering. The world, which blames and
criticises with a superficial knowledge of the patent facts in which a
long inward struggle ends, is in reality a prime agent in bringing
such scandals about; and those whose voices are loudest in
condemnation of the alleged misconduct of some slandered woman never
give a thought to the immediate provocation of the overt step. That
step many a woman only takes after she has been unjustly accused and
condemned, and Mme. de Bargeton was now on the verge of this anomalous
The obstacles at the outset of a passion of this kind are alarming to
inexperience, and those in the way of the two lovers were very like
the bonds by which the population of Lilliput throttled Gulliver, a
multiplicity of nothings, which made all movement impossible, and
baffle the most vehement desires. Mme. de Bargeton, for instance, must
always be visible. If she had denied herself to visitors when Lucien
was with her, it would have been all over with her; she might as well
have run away with him at once. It is true that they sat in the
boudoir, now grown so familiar to Lucien that he felt as if he had a
right to be there; but the doors stood scrupulously open, and
everything was arranged with the utmost propriety. M. de Bargeton
pervaded the house like a cockchafer; it never entered his head that
his wife could wish to be alone with Lucien. If he had been the only
person in the way, Nais could have got rid of him, sent him out of the
house, or given him something to do; but he was not the only one;
visitors flocked in upon her, and so much the more as curiosity
increased, for your provincial has a natural bent for teasing, and
delights to thwart a growing passion. The servants came and went about
the house promiscuously and without a summons; they had formed the
habits with a mistress who had nothing to conceal; any change now made
in her household ways was tantamount to a confession, and Angouleme
still hung in doubt.
Mme. de Bargeton could not set foot outside her house but the whole
town knew whither she was going. To take a walk alone with Lucien out
of Angouleme would have been a decided measure, indeed; it would have
been less dangerous to shut herself up with him in the house. There
would have been comments the next day if Lucien had stayed on till
midnight after the rooms were emptied. Within as without her house,
Mme. de Bargeton lived in public.
These details describe life in the provinces; an intrigue is either
openly avoided or impossible anywhere.
Like all women carried away for the first time by passion, Louise
discovered the difficulties of her position one by one. They
frightened her, and her terror reacted upon the fond talk that fills
the fairest hours which lovers spend alone together. Mme. de Bargeton
had no country house whither she could take her beloved poet, after
the manner of some women who will forge ingenious pretexts for burying
themselves in the wilderness; but, weary of living in public, and
pushed to extremities by a tyranny which afforded no pleasures sweet
enough to compensate for the heaviness of the yoke, she even thought
of Escarbas, and of going to see her aged father—so much irritated
was she by these paltry obstacles.
Chatelet did not believe in such innocence. He lay in wait, and
watched Lucien into the house, and followed a few minutes later,
always taking M. de Chandour, the most indiscreet person in the
clique, along with him; and, putting that gentleman first, hoped to
find a surprise by such perseverance in pursuit of the chance. His own
part was a very difficult one to play, and its success was the more
doubtful because he was bound to appear neutral if he was to prompt
the other actors who were to play in his drama. So, to give himself a
countenance, he had attached himself to the jealous Amelie, the better
to lull suspicion in Lucien and in Mme. de Bargeton, who was not
without perspicacity. In order to spy upon the pair, he had contrived
of late to open up a stock controversy on the point with M. de
Chandour. Chatelet said that Mme. de Bargeton was simply amusing
herself with Lucien; she was too proud, too high-born, to stoop to the
apothecary's son. The role of incredulity was in accordance with the
plan which he had laid down, for he wished to appear as Mme. de
Bargeton's champion. Stanislas de Chandour held that Mme. de Bargeton
had not been cruel to her lover, and Amelie goaded them to argument,
for she longed to know the truth. Each stated his case, and (as not
unfrequently happens in small country towns) some intimate friends of
the house dropped in in the middle of the argument. Stanislas and
Chatelet vied with each other in backing up their opinions by
observations extremely pertinent. It was hardly to be expected that
the champions should not seek to enlist partisans. "What do you
yourself think?" they asked, each of his neighbor. These polemics kept
Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien well in sight.
At length one day Chatelet called attention to the fact that whenever
he went with M. de Chandour to Mme. de Bargeton's and found Lucien
there, there was not a sign nor a trace of anything suspicious; the
boudoir door stood open, the servants came and went, there was nothing
mysterious to betray the sweet crime of love, and so forth and so
forth. Stanislas, who did not lack a certain spice of stupidity in his
composition, vowed that he would cross the room on tiptoe the next
day, and the perfidious Amelie held him to his bargain.
For Lucien that morrow was the day on which a young man tugs out some
of the hairs of his head, and inwardly vows that he will give up the
foolish business of sighing. He was accustomed to his situation. The
poet, who had seated himself so bashfully in the boudoir-sanctuary of
the queen of Angouleme, had been transformed into an urgent lover. Six
months had been enough to bring him on a level with Louise, and now he
would fain be her lord and master. He left home with a settled
determination to be extravagant in his behavior; he would say that it
was a matter of life or death to him; he would bring all the resources
of torrid eloquence into play; he would cry that he had lost his head,
that he could not think, could not write a line. The horror that some
women feel for premeditation does honor to their delicacy; they would
rather surrender upon the impulse of passion, than in fulfilment of a
contract. In general, prescribed happiness is not the kind that any of
Mme. de Bargeton read fixed purpose in Lucien's eyes and forehead, and
in the agitation in his face and manner, and proposed to herself to
baffle him, urged thereto partly by a spirit of contradiction, partly
also by an exalted conception of love. Being given to exaggeration,
she set an exaggerated value upon her person. She looked upon herself
as a sovereign lady, a Beatrice, a Laura. She enthroned herself, like
some dame of the Middle Ages, upon a dais, looking down upon the
tourney of literature, and meant that Lucien, as in duty bound, should
win her by his prowess in the field; he must eclipse "the sublime
child," and Lamartine, and Sir Walter Scott, and Byron. The noble
creature regarded her love as a stimulating power; the desire which
she had kindled in Lucien should give him the energy to win glory for
himself. This feminine Quixotry is a sentiment which hallows love and
turns it to worthy uses; it exalts and reverences love. Mme. de
Bargeton having made up her mind to play the part of Dulcinea in
Lucien's life for seven or eight years to come, desired, like many
other provincials, to give herself as the reward of prolonged service,
a trial of constancy which should give her time to judge her lover.
Lucien began the strife by a piece of vehement petulence, at which a
woman laughs so long as she is heart-free, and saddens only when she
loves; whereupon Louise took a lofty tone, and began one of her long
orations, interlarded with high-sounding words.
"Was that your promise to me, Lucien?" she said, as she made an end.
"Do not sow regrets in the present time, so sweet as it is, to poison
my after life. Do not spoil the future, and, I say it with pride, do
not spoil the present! Is not my whole heart yours? What more must you
have? Can it be that your love is influenced by the clamor of the
senses, when it is the noblest privilege of the beloved to silence
them? For whom do you take me? Am I not your Beatrice? If I am not
something more than a woman for you, I am less than a woman."
"That is just what you might say to a man if you cared nothing at all
for him," cried Lucien, frantic with passion.
"If you cannot feel all the sincere love underlying my ideas, you will
never be worthy of me."
"You are throwing doubts on my love to dispense yourself from
responding to it," cried Lucien, and he flung himself weeping at her
The poor boy cried in earnest at the prospect of remaining so long at
the gate of paradise. The tears of the poet, who feels that he is
humbled through his strength, were mingled with childish crying for a
"You have never loved me!" he cried.
"You do not believe what you say," she answered, flattered by his
"Then give me proof that you are mine," said the disheveled poet.
Just at that moment Stanislas came up unheard by either of the pair.
He beheld Lucien in tears, half reclining on the floor, with his head
on Louise's knee. The attitude was suspicious enough to satisfy
Stanislas; he turned sharply round upon Chatelet, who stood at the
door of the salon. Mme. de Bargeton sprang up in a moment, but the
spies beat a precipate retreat like intruders, and she was not quick
enough for them.
"Who came just now?" she asked the servants.
"M. de Chandour and M. du Chatelet," said Gentil, her old footman.
Mme. de Bargeton went back, pale and trembling, to her boudoir.
"If they saw you just now, I am lost," she told Lucien.
"So much the better!" exclaimed the poet, and she smiled to hear the
cry, so full of selfish love.
A story of this kind is aggravated in the provinces by the way in
which it is told. Everybody knew in a moment that Lucien had been
detected at Nais feet. M. de Chandour, elated by the important part he
played in the affair, went first to tell the great news at the club,
and thence from house to house, Chatelet hastening to say that he had
seen nothing; but by putting himself out of court, he egged Stanislas
on to talk, he drew him on to add fresh details; and Stanislas,
thinking himself very witty, added a little to the tale every time
that he told it. Every one flocked to Amelie's house that evening, for
by that time the most exaggerated versions of the story were in
circulation among the Angouleme nobility, every narrator having
followed Stanislas' example. Women and men were alike impatient to
know the truth; and the women who put their hands before their faces
and shrieked the loudest were none other than Mesdames Amelie,
Zephirine, Fifine, and Lolotte, all with more or less heavy
indictments of illicit love laid to their charge. There were
variations in every key upon the painful theme.
"Well, well," said one of the ladies, "poor Nais! have you heard about
it? I do not believe it myself; she has a whole blameless record
behind her; she is far too proud to be anything but a patroness to M.
Chardon. Still, if it is true, I pity her with all my heart."
"She is all the more to be pitied because she is making herself
frightfully ridiculous; she is old enough to be M. Lulu's mother, as
Jacques called him. The little poet it twenty-two at most; and Nais,
between ourselves, is quite forty."
"For my own part," said M. du Chatelet, "I think that M. de Rubempre's
position in itself proves Nais' innocence. A man does not go down on
his knees to ask for what he has had already."
"That is as may be!" said Francis, with levity that brought
Zephirine's disapproving glance down on him.
"Do just tell us how it really was," they besought Stanislas, and
formed a small, secret committee in a corner of the salon.
Stanislas, in the long length, had put together a little story full of
facetious suggestions, and accompanied it with pantomime, which made
the thing prodigiously worse.
"It is incredible!"
"Nais was the last person whom I should have suspected!"
"What will she do now?"
Then followed more comments, and suppositions without end. Chatelet
took Mme. de Bargeton's part; but he defended her so ill, that he
stirred the fire of gossip instead of putting it out.
Lili, disconsolate over the fall of the fairest angel in the
Angoumoisin hierarchy, went, dissolved in tears, to carry the news to
the palace. When the delighted Chatelet was convinced that the whole
town was agog, he went off to Mme. de Bargeton's, where, alas! there
was but one game of whist that night, and diplomatically asked Nais
for a little talk in the boudoir. They sat down on the sofa, and
Chatelet began in an undertone—
"You know what Angouleme is talking about, of course?"
"Very well, I am too much your friend to leave you in ignorance. I am
bound to put you in a position to silence slanders, invented, no
doubt, by Amelie, who has the overweening audacity to regard herself
as your rival. I came to call on you this morning with that monkey of
a Stanislas; he was a few paces ahead of me, and he came so far"
(pointing to the door of the boudoir); "he says that he saw you and
M. de Rubempre in such a position that he could not enter; he turned
round upon me, quite bewildered as I was, and hurried me away before I
had time to think; we were out in Beaulieu before he told me why he
had beaten a retreat. If I had known, I would not have stirred out of
the house till I had cleared up the matter and exonerated you, but it
would have proved nothing to go back again then.
"Now, whether Stanislas' eyes deceived him, or whether he is right, he
must have made a mistake. Dear Nais, do not let that dolt trifle with
your life, your honor, your future; stop his mouth at once. You know
my position here. I have need of all these people, but still I am
entirely yours. Dispose of a life that belongs to you. You have
rejected my prayers, but my heart is always yours; I am ready to prove
my love for you at any time and in any way. Yes, I will watch over you
like a faithful servant, for no reward, but simply for the sake of the
pleasure that it is to me to do anything for you, even if you do not
know of it. This morning I have said everywhere that I was at the door
of the salon, and had seen nothing. If you are asked to give the name
of the person who told you about this gossip, pray make use of me. I
should be very proud to be your acknowledged champion; but, between
ourselves, M. de Bargeton is the proper person to ask Stanislas for an
explanation. . . . Suppose that young Rubempre had behaved foolishly,
a woman's character ought not to be at the mercy of the first
hare-brained boy who flings himself at her feet. That is what I have
Nais bowed in acknowledgment, and looked thoughtful. She was weary to
disgust of provincial life. Chatelet had scarcely begun before her
mind turned to Paris. Meanwhile Mme. de Bargeton's adorer found the
silence somewhat awkward.
"Dispose of me, I repeat," he added.
"Thank you," answered the lady.
"What do you think of doing?"
"I shall see."
A prolonged pause.
"Are you so fond of that young Rubempre?"
A proud smile stole over her lips, she folded her arms, and fixed her
gaze on the curtains. Chatelet went out; he could not read that high
Later in the evening, when Lucien had taken his leave, and likewise
the four old gentlemen who came for their whist, without troubling
themselves about ill-founded tittle-tattle, M. de Bargeton was
preparing to go to bed, and had opened his mouth to bid his wife
good-night, when she stopped him.
"Come here, dear, I have something to say to you," she said, with a
M. de Bargeton followed her into the boudoir.
"Perhaps I have done wrongly," she said, "to show a warm interest in
M. de Rubempre, which he, as well as the stupid people here in the
town, has misinterpreted. This morning Lucien threw himself here at my
feet with a declaration, and Stanislas happened to come in just as I
told the boy to get up again. A woman, under any circumstances, has
claims which courtesy prescribes to a gentleman; but in contempt of
these, Stanislas has been saying that he came unexpectedly and found
us in an equivocal position. I was treating the boy as he deserved. If
the young scatterbrain knew of the scandal caused by his folly, he
would go, I am convinced, to insult Stanislas, and compel him to
fight. That would simply be a public proclamation of his love. I need
not tell you that your wife is pure; but if you think, you will see
that it is something dishonoring for both you and me if M. de Rubempre
defends her. Go at once to Stanislas and ask him to give you
satisfaction for his insulting language; and mind, you must not accept
any explanation short of a full and public retraction in the presence
of witnesses of credit. In this way you will win back the respect of
all right-minded people; you will behave like a man of spirit and a
gentleman, and you will have a right to my esteem. I shall send Gentil
on horseback to the Escarbas; my father must be your second; old as he
is, I know that he is the man to trample this puppet under foot that
has smirched the reputation of a Negrepelisse. You have the choice of
weapons, choose pistols; you are an admirable shot."
"I am going," said M. de Bargeton, and he took his hat and his walking
"Good, that is how I like a man to behave, dear; you are a gentleman,"
said his wife. She felt touched by his conduct, and made the old man
very happy and proud by putting up her forehead for a kiss. She felt
something like a maternal affection for the great child; and when the
carriage gateway had shut with a clang behind him, the tears came into
her eyes in spite of herself.
"How he loves me!" she thought. "He clings to life, poor, dear man,
and yet he would give his life for me."
It did not trouble M. de Bargeton that he must stand up and face his
man on the morrow, and look coolly into the muzzle of a pistol pointed
straight at him; no, only one thing in the business made him feel
uncomfortable, and on the way to M. de Chandour's house he quaked
"What shall I say?" he thought within himself; "Nais really ought to
have told me what to say," and the good gentleman racked his brains to
compose a speech that should not be ridiculous.
But people of M. de Bargeton's stamp, who live perforce in silence
because their capacity is limited and their outlook circumscribed,
often behave at great crises with a ready-made solemnity. If they say
little, it naturally follows that they say little that is foolish;
their extreme lack of confidence leads them to think a good deal over
the remarks that they are obliged to make; and, like Balaam's ass,
they speak marvelously to the point if a miracle loosens their
tongues. So M. de Bargeton bore himself like a man of uncommon sense
and spirit, and justified the opinion of those who held that he was a
philosopher of the school of Pythagoras.
He reached Stanislas' house at nine o'clock, bowed silently to Amelie
before a whole room full of people, and greeted others in turn with
that simple smile of his, which under the present circumstances seemed
profoundly ironical. There followed a great silence, like the pause
before a storm. Chatelet had made his way back again, and now looked
in a very significant fashion from M. de Bargeton to Stanislas, whom
the injured gentleman accosted politely.
Chatelet knew what a visit meant at this time of night, when old M. de
Bargeton was invariably in his bed. It was evidently Nais who had set
the feeble arm in motion. Chatelet was on such a footing in that house
that he had some right to interfere in family concerns. He rose to his
feet and took M. de Bargeton aside, saying, "Do you wish to speak to
"Yes," said the old gentleman, well pleased to find a go-between who
perhaps might say his say for him.
"Very well; go into Amelie's bedroom," said the controller of excise,
likewise well pleased at the prospect of a duel which possibly might
make Mme. de Bargeton a widow, while it put a bar between her and
Lucien, the cause of the quarrel. Then Chatelet went to M. de
"Stanislas," he said, "here comes Bargeton to call you to account, no
doubt, for the things you have been saying about Nais. Go into your
wife's room, and behave, both of you, like gentlemen. Keep the thing
quiet, and make a great show of politeness, behave with phlegmatic
British dignity, in short."
In another minute Stanislas and Chatelet went to Bargeton.
"Sir," said the injured husband, "do you say that you discovered Mme.
de Bargeton and M. de Rubempre in an equivocal position?"
"M. Chardon," corrected Stanislas, with ironical stress; he did not
take Bargeton seriously.
"So be it," answered the other. "If you do not withdraw your
assertions at once before the company now in your house, I must ask
you to look for a second. My father-in-law, M. de Negrepelisse, will
wait upon you at four o'clock to-morrow morning. Both of us may as
well make our final arrangements, for the only way out of the affair
is the one that I have indicated. I choose pistols, as the insulted
This was the speech that M. de Bargeton had ruminated on the way; it
was the longest that he had ever made in life. He brought it out
without excitement or vehemence, in the simplest way in the world.
Stanislas turned pale. "After all, what did I see?" said he to
Put between the shame of eating his words before the whole town, and
fear, that caught him by the throat with burning fingers; confronted
by this mute personage, who seemed in no humor to stand nonsense,
Stanislas chose the more remote peril.
"All right. To-morrow morning," he said, thinking that the matter
might be arranged somehow or other.
The three went back to the room. Everybody scanned their faces as they
came in; Chatelet was smiling, M. de Bargeton looked exactly as if he
were in his own house, but Stanislas looked ghastly pale. At the sight
of his face, some of the women here and there guessed the nature of
the conference, and the whisper, "They are going to fight!" circulated
from ear to ear. One-half of the room was of the opinion that
Stanislas was in the wrong, his white face and his demeanor convicted
him of a lie; the other half admired M. de Bargeton's attitude.
Chatelet was solemn and mysterious. M. de Bargeton stayed a few
minutes, scrutinized people's faces, and retired.
"Have you pistols?" Chatelet asked in a whisper of Stanislas, who
shook from head to foot.
Amelie knew what it all meant. She felt ill, and the women flocked
about her to take her into her bedroom. There was a terrific
sensation; everybody talked at once. The men stopped in the
drawing-room, and declared, with one voice, that M. de Bargeton was
within his right.
"Would you have thought the old fogy capable of acting like this?"
asked M. de Saintot.
"But he was a crack shot when he was young," said the pitiless
Jacques. "My father often used to tell me of Bargeton's exploits."
"Pooh! Put them at twenty paces, and they will miss each other if you
give them cavalry pistols," said Francis, addressing Chatelet.
Chatelet stayed after the rest had gone to reassure Stanislas and his
wife, and to explain that all would go off well. In a duel between a
man of sixty and a man of thirty-five, all the advantage lay with the
Early next morning, as Lucien sat at breakfast with David, who had
come back alone from Marsac, in came Mme. Chardon with a scared face.
"Well, Lucien," she said, "have you heard the news? Everyone is
talking of it, even the people in the market. M. de Bargeton all but
killed M. de Chandour this morning in M. Tulloy's meadow; people are
making puns on the name. (Tue Poie.) It seems that M. de Chandour said
that he found you with Mme. de Bargeton yesterday."
"It is a lie! Mme. de Bargeton is innocent," cried Lucien.
"I heard about the duel from a countryman, who saw it all from his
cart. M. de Negrepelisse came over at three o'clock in the morning to
be M. de Bargeton's second; he told M. de Chandour that if anything
happened to his son-in-law, he should avenge him. A cavalry officer
lent the pistols. M. de Negrepelisse tried them over and over again.
M. du Chatelet tried to prevent them from practising with the pistols,
but they referred the question to the officer; and he said that,
unless they meant to behave like children, they ought to have pistols
in working order. The seconds put them at twenty-five paces. M. de
Bargeton looked as if he had just come out for a walk. He was the
first to fire; the ball lodged in M. de Chandour's neck, and he
dropped before he could return the shot. The house-surgeon at the
hospital has just said that M. de Chandour will have a wry neck for
the rest of his days. I came to tell you how it ended, lest you should
go to Mme. de Bargeton's or show yourself in Angouleme, for some of M.
de Chandour's friends might call you out."
As she spoke, the apprentice brought in Gentil, M. de Bargeton's
footman. The man had come with a note for Lucien; it was from Louise.
"You have doubtless heard the news," she wrote, "of the duel between
Chandour and my husband. We shall not be at home to any one to-day. Be
careful; do not show yourself. I ask this in the name of the affection
you bear me. Do you not think that it would be best to spend this
melancholy day in listening to your Beatrice, whose whole life has
been changed by this event, who has a thousand things to say to you?"
"Luckily, my marriage is fixed for the day after to-morrow," said
David, "and you will have an excuse for not going to see Mme. de
Bargeton quite so often."
"Dear David," returned Lucien, "she asks me to go to her to-day; and I
ought to do as she wishes, I think; she knows better than we do how I
should act in the present state of things."
"Then is everything ready here?" asked Mme. Chardon.
"Come and see," cried David, delighted to exhibit the transformation
of the first floor. Everything there was new and fresh; everything was
pervaded by the sweet influences of early married days, still crowned
by the wreath of orange blossoms and the bridal veil; days when the
springtide of love finds its reflection in material things, and
everything is white and spotless and has not lost its bloom.
"Eve's home will be fit for a princess," said the mother, "but you
have spent too much, you have been reckless."
David smiled by way of answer. But Mme. Chardon had touched the sore
spot in a hidden wound which caused the poor lover cruel pangs. The
cost of carrying out his ideas had far exceeded his estimates; he
could not afford to build above the shed. His mother-in-law must wait
awhile for the home he had meant to make for her. There is nothing
more keenly painful to a generous nature than a failure to keep such
promises as these; it is like mortification to the little vanities of
affection, as they may be styled. David sedulously hid his
embarrassment to spare Lucien; he was afraid that Lucien might be
overwhelmed by the sacrifices made for his sake.
"Eve and her girl friends have been working very hard, too," said Mme.
Chardon. "The wedding clothes and the house linen are all ready. The
girls are so fond of her, that, without letting her know about it,
they have covered the mattresses with white twill and a rose-colored
piping at the edges. So pretty! It makes one wish one were going to be
Mother and daughter had spent all their little savings to furnish
David's home with the things of which a young bachelor never thinks.
They knew that he was furnishing with great splendor, for something
had been said about ordering a dinner-service from Limoges, and the
two women had striven to make Eve's contributions to the housekeeping
worthy of David's. This little emulation in love and generosity could
but bring the husband and wife into difficulties at the very outset of
their married life, with every sign of homely comfort about them,
comfort that might be regarded as positive luxury in a place so behind
the times as the Angouleme of those days.
As soon as Lucien saw his mother and David enter the bedroom with the
blue-and-white draperies and neat furniture that he knew, he slipped
away to Mme. de Bargeton. He found Nais at table with her husband; M.
de Bargeton's early morning walk had sharpened his appetite, and he
was breakfasting quite unconcernedly after all that had passed. Lucien
saw the dignified face of M. de Negrepelisse, the old provincial
noble, a relic of the old French noblesse, sitting beside Nais.
When Gentil announced M. de Rubempre, the white-headed old man gave
him a keen, curious glance; the father was anxious to form his own
opinions of this man whom his daughter had singled out for notice.
Lucien's extreme beauty made such a vivid impression upon him, that he
could not repress an approving glance; but at the same time he seemed
to regard the affair as a flirtation, a mere passing fancy on his
daughter's part. Breakfast over, Louise could leave her father and M.
de Bargeton together; she beckoned Lucien to follow her as she
"Dear," she said, and the tones of her voice were half glad, half
melancholy, "I am going to Paris, and my father is taking Bargeton
back with him to the Escarbas, where he will stay during my absence.
Mme. d'Espard (she was a Blamont-Chauvry before her marriage) has
great influence herself, and influential relations. The d'Espards are
connections of ours; they are the older branch of the Negrepelisses;
and if she vouchsafes to acknowledge the relationship, I intend to
cultivate her a good deal; she may perhaps procure a place for
Bargeton. At my solicitation, it might be desired at Court that he
should represent the Charente, and that would be a step towards his
election here. If he were a deputy, it would further other steps that
I wish to take in Paris. You, my darling, have brought about this
change in my life. After this morning's duel, I am obliged to shut up
my house for some time; for there will be people who will side with
the Chandours against us. In our position, and in a small town,
absence is the only way of softening down bad feeling. But I shall
either succeed, and never see Angouleme again, or I shall not succeed,
and then I mean to wait in Paris until the time comes when I can spend
my summers at the Escarbas and the winters in Paris. It is the only
life for a woman of quality, and I have waited too long before
entering upon it. The one day will be enough for our preparations;
to-morrow night I shall set out, and you are coming with me, are you
not? You shall start first. I will overtake you between Mansle and
Ruffec, and we shall soon be in Paris. There, beloved, is the life for
a man who has anything in him. We are only at our ease among our
equals; we are uncomfortable in any other society. Paris, besides, is
the capital of the intellectual world, the stage on which you will
succeed; overleap the gulf that separates us quickly. You must not
allow your ideas to grow rancid in the provinces; put yourself into
communication at once with the great men who represent the nineteenth
century. Try to stand well with the Court and with those in power. No
honor, no distinction, comes to seek out the talent that perishes for
lack of light in a little town; tell me, if you can, the name of any
great work of art executed in the provinces! On the contrary, see how
Jean-Jacques, himself sublime in his poverty, felt the irresistible
attraction of that sun of the intellectual world, which produces
ever-new glories and stimulates the intellect—Paris, where men rub
against one another. What is it but your duty to hasten to take your
place in the succession of pleiades that rise from generation to
generation? You have no idea how it contributes to the success of a
clever young man to be brought into a high light, socially speaking.
I will introduce you to Mme. d'Espard; it is not easy to get into her
set; but you meet all the greatest people at her house, Cabinet
ministers and ambassadors, and great orators from the Chamber of
Deputies, and peers and men of influence, and wealthy or famous people.
A young man with good looks and more than sufficient genius could fail
to excite interest only by very bad management.
"There is no pettiness about those who are truly great; they will lend
you their support; and when you yourself have a high position, your
work will rise immensely in public opinion. The great problem for the
artist is the problem of putting himself in evidence. In these ways
there will be hundreds of chances of making your way, of sinecures, of
a pension from the civil list. The Bourbons are so fond of encouraging
letters and the arts, and you therefore must be a religious poet and a
Royalist poet at the same time. Not only is it the right course, but
it is the way to get on in life. Do the Liberals and the Opposition
give places and rewards, and make the fortunes of men of letters? Take
the right road and reach the goal of genius. You have my secret, do
not breathe a syllable of it, and prepare to follow me.—Would you
rather not go?" she added, surprised that her lover made no answer.
To Lucien, listening to the alluring words, and bewildered by the
rapid bird's-eye view of Paris which they brought before him, it
seemed as if hitherto he had been using only half his brain and
suddenly had found the other half, so swiftly his ideas widened. He
saw himself stagnating in Angouleme like a frog under a stone in a
marsh. Paris and her splendors rose before him; Paris, the Eldorado of
provincial imaginings, with golden robes and the royal diadem about
her brows, and arms outstretched to talent of every kind. Great men
would greet him there as one of their order. Everything smiled upon
genius. There, there were no jealous booby-squires to invent stinging
gibes and humiliate a man of letters; there was no stupid indifference
to poetry in Paris. Paris was the fountain-head of poetry; there the
poet was brought into the light and paid for his work. Publishers
should no sooner read the opening pages of An Archer of Charles IX.
than they should open their cash-boxes with "How much do you want?"
And besides all this, he understood that this journey with Mme. de
Bargeton would virtually give her to him; that they should live
So at the words, "Would you rather not go?" tears came into his eyes,
he flung his arms about Louise, held her tightly to his heart, and
marbled her throat with impassioned kisses. Suddenly he checked
himself, as if memory had dealt him a blow.
"Great heavens!" he cried, "my sister is to be married on the day
That exclamation was the last expiring cry of noble and single-hearted
boyhood. The so-powerful ties that bind young hearts to home, and a
first friendship, and all early affections, were to be severed at one
"Well," cried the haughty Negrepelisse, "and what has your sister's
marriage to do with the progress of our love? Have you set your mind
so much on being best man at a wedding party of tradespeople and
workingmen, that you cannot give up these exalted joys for my sake? A
great sacrifice, indeed!" she went on, scornfully. "This morning I
sent my husband out to fight in your quarrel. There, sir, go; I am
mistaken in you."
She sank fainting upon the sofa. Lucien went to her, entreating her
pardon, calling execrations upon his family, his sister, and David.
"I had such faith in you!" she said. "M. de Cante-Croix had an adored
mother; but to win a letter from me, and the words, 'I am satisfied,'
he fell in the thick of the fight. And now, when I ask you to take a
journey with me, you cannot think of giving up a wedding dinner for my
Lucien was ready to kill himself; his desperation was so unfeigned,
that Louise forgave him, though at the same time she made him feel
that he must redeem his mistake.
"Come, come," she said, "be discreet, and to-morrow at midnight be
upon the road, a hundred paces out of Mansle."
Lucien felt the globe shrink under his feet; he went back to David's
house, hopes pursuing him as the Furies followed Orestes, for he had
glimmerings of endless difficulties, all summed up in the appalling
words, "Where is the money to come from?"
He stood in such terror of David's perspicacity, that he locked
himself into his pretty new study until he could recover himself, his
head was swimming in this new position. So he must leave the rooms
just furnished for him at such a cost, and all the sacrifices that had
been made for him had been made in vain. Then it occurred to Lucien
that his mother might take the rooms and save David the heavy expense
of building at the end of the yard, as he had meant to do; his
departure would be, in fact, a convenience to the family. He
discovered any quantity of urgent reasons for his sudden flight; for
there is no such Jesuit as the desire of your heart. He hurried down
at once to tell the news to his sister in L'Houmeau and to take
counsel with her. As he reached Postel's shop, he bethought himself
that if all other means failed, he could borrow enough to live upon
for a year from his father's successor.
"Three francs per day will be abundance for me if I live with Louise,"
he thought; "it is only a thousand francs for a whole year. And in six
months' time I shall have plenty of money."
Then, under seal and promise of secrecy, Eve and her mother heard
Lucien's confidences. Both the women began to cry as they heard of the
ambitious plans; and when he asked the reason of their trouble, they
told him that every penny they possessed had been spent on
table-linen, house-linen, Eve's wedding clothes, and on a host of
things that David had overlooked. They had been so glad to do this, for
David had made a marriage-settlement of ten thousand francs on Eve.
Lucien then spoke of his idea of a loan, and Mme. Chardon undertook to
ask M. Postel to lend them a thousand francs for a twelve-month.
"But, Lucien," said Eve, as a thought clutched at her heart, "you will
not be here at my wedding! Oh! come back, I will put it off for a few
days. Surely she will give you leave to come back in a fortnight, if
only you go with her now? Surely, she would spare you to us for a
week, Lucien, when we brought you up for her? We shall have no luck if
you are not at the wedding. . . . But will a thousand francs be enough
for you?" she asked, suddenly interrupting herself. "Your coat suits
you divinely, but you have only that one! You have only two fine
shirts, the other six are coarse linen; and three of your white ties
are just common muslin, there are only two lawn cravats, and your
pocket-handkerchiefs are not good ones. Where will you find a sister
in Paris who will get up your linen in one day as you want it? You
will want ever so much more. Then you have just the one pair of new
nankeen trousers, last year's trousers are tight for you; you will be
obliged to have clothes made in Paris, and Paris prices are not like
Angouleme prices. You have only two presentable white waistcoats; I
have mended the others already. Come, I advise you to take two
David came in as she spoke, and apparently heard the last two words,
for he looked at the brother and sister and said nothing.
"Do not keep anything from me," he said at last.
"Well," exclaimed Eve, "he is going away with her."
Mme. Chardon came in again, and, not seeing David, began at once:
"Postel is willing to lend you the thousand francs, Lucien," she said,
"but only for six months; and even then he wants you to let him have a
bill endorsed by your brother-in-law, for he says that you are giving
him no security."
She turned and saw David, and there was a deep silence in the room.
The Chardons thought how they had abused David's goodness, and felt
ashamed. Tears stood in the young printer's eyes.
"Then you will not be here at our wedding," he began. "You are not
going to live with us! And here have I been squandering all that I
had! Oh! Lucien, as I came along, bringing Eve her little bits of
wedding jewelry, I did not think that I should be sorry I spent the
money on them." He brushed his hand over his eyes as he drew the
little cases from his pocket.
He set down the tiny morocco-covered boxes on the table in front of
"Oh! why do you think so much for me?" protested Eve, giving him a
divinely sweet smile that belied her words.
"Mamma, dear," said David, "just tell M. Postel that I will put my
name to the bill, for I can tell from your face, Lucien, that you have
quite made up your mind to go."
Lucien's head sank dejectedly; there was a little pause, then he said,
"Do not think hardly of me, my dear, good angels."
He put his arms about Eve and David, and drew them close, and held
them tightly to him as he added, "Wait and see what comes of it, and
you shall know how much I love you. What is the good of our high
thinking, David, if it does not enable us to disregard the petty
ceremonial in which the law entangles our affections? Shall I not be
with you in spirit, in spite of the distance between us? Shall we not
be united in thought? Have I not a destiny to fulfil? Will publishers
come here to seek my Archer of Charles IX. and the Marguerites? A
little sooner or a little later I shall be obliged in any case to do
as I am doing to-day, should I not? And shall I ever find a better
opportunity than this? Does not my success entirely depend upon my
entrance on life in Paris through the Marquise d'Espard's salon?"
"He is right," said Eve; "you yourself were saying, were you not, that
he ought to go to Paris at once?"
David took Eve's hand in his, and drew her into the narrow little room
where she had slept for seven years.
"Love, you were saying just now that he would want two thousand
francs?" he said in her ear. "Postel is only lending one thousand."
Eve gave her betrothed a look, and he read all her anguish in her
"Listen, my adored Eve, we are making a bad start in life. Yes, my
expenses have taken all my capital; I have just two thousand francs
left, and half of it will be wanted to carry on the business. If we
give your brother the thousand francs, it will mean that we are giving
away our bread, that we shall live in anxiety. If I were alone, I know
what I should do; but we are two. Decide for us."
Eve, distracted, sprang to her lover's arms, and kissed him tenderly,
as she answered through her tears:
"Do as you would do if you were alone; I will work to earn the money."
In spite of the most impassioned kiss ever given and taken by
betrothed lovers, David left Eve overcome with trouble, and went out
"Do not worry yourself," he said; "you shall have your two thousand
"Go in to see Postel," said Mme. Chardon, "for you must both give your
signatures to the bill."
When Lucien and David came back again unexpectedly, they found Eve and
her mother on their knees in prayer. The women felt sure that Lucien's
return would bring the realization of many hopes; but at the moment
they could only feel how much they were losing in the parting, and the
happiness to come seemed too dearly bought by an absence that broke up
their life together, and would fill the coming days with innumerable
fears for Lucien.
"If you could ever forget this sight," David said in Lucien's ear,
"you would be the basest of men."
David, no doubt, thought that these brave words were needed; Mme. de
Bargeton's influence seemed to him less to be feared than his friend's
unlucky instability of character, Lucien was so easily led for good or
evil. Eve soon packed Lucien's clothes; the Fernando Cortez of
literature carried but little baggage. He was wearing his best
overcoat, his best waistcoat, and one of the two fine shirts. The
whole of his linen, the celebrated coat, and his manuscript made up so
small a package that to hide it from Mme. de Bargeton, David proposed
to send it by coach to a paper merchant with whom he had dealings, and
wrote and advised him to that effect, and asked him to keep the parcel
until Lucien sent for it.
In spite of Mme. de Bargeton's precautions, Chatelet found out that
she was leaving Angouleme; and with a view to discovering whether she
was traveling alone or with Lucien, he sent his man to Ruffec with
instructions to watch every carriage that changed horses at that
"If she is taking her poet with her," thought he, "I have her now."
Lucien set out before daybreak the next morning. David went with him.
David had hired a cabriolet, pretending that he was going to Marsac on
business, a little piece of deception which seemed probable under the
circumstances. The two friends went to Marsac, and spent part of the
day with the old "bear." As evening came on they set out again, and in
the beginning of the dawn they waited in the road, on the further side
of Mansle, for Mme. de Bargeton. When the seventy-year old traveling
carriage, which he had many a time seen in the coach-house, appeared
in sight, Lucien felt more deeply moved than he had ever been in his
life before; he sprang into David's arms.
"God grant that this may be for your good!" said David, and he climbed
into the shabby cabriolet and drove away with a feeling of dread
clutching at his heart; he had terrible presentiments of the fate
awaiting Lucien in Paris.