The Middle Classes/Part I/Chapter VIII
At half-past four o'clock Theodose was at his post. He had put on his vacant, half-servile manner and soft voice, and he drew Thuillier at once into the garden.
"My friend," he said, "I don't doubt your triumph, but I feel the necessity of again warning you to be absolutely silent. If you are questioned about anything, especially about Celeste, make evasive answers which will keep your questioners in suspense. You must have learned how to do that in a government office."
"I understand!" said Thuillier. "But what certainty have you?"
"You'll see what a fine dessert I have prepared for you. But please be modest. There come the Minards; let me pipe to them. Bring them out here, and then disappear yourself."
After the first salutations, la Peyrade was careful to keep close to the mayor, and presently at an opportune moment he drew him aside to say:—
"Monsieur le maire, a man of your political importance doesn't come to bore himself in a house of this kind without an object. I don't want to fathom your motives—which, indeed, I have no right to do—and my part in this world is certainly not to mingle with earthly powers; but please pardon my apparent presumption, and deign to listen to a piece of advice which I shall venture to give you. If I do you a service to-day you are in a position to return it to me to-morrow; therefore, in case I should be so fortunate as to do you a good turn, I am really only obeying the law of self-interest. Our friend Thuillier is in despair at being a nobody; he has taken it into his head that he wants to become a personage in this arrondissement—"
"Ah! ah!" exclaimed Minard.
"Oh! nothing very exalted; he wants to be elected to the municipal council. Now, I know that Phellion, seeing the influence such a service would have on his family interests, intends to propose your poor friend as candidate. Well, perhaps you might think it wise, in your own interests, to be beforehand with him. Thuillier's nomination could only be favorable for you—I mean agreeable; and he'll fill his place in the council very well; there are some there who are not as strong as he. Besides, owing to his place to your support, he will see with your eyes; he already looks to you as one of the lights of the town."
"My dear fellow, I thank you very much," replied Minard. "You are doing me a service I cannot sufficiently acknowledge, and which proves to me—"
"That I don't like those Phellions," said la Peyrade, taking advantage of a slight hesitation on the part of the mayor, who feared to express an idea in which the lawyer might see contempt. "I hate people who make capital out of their honesty and coin money from fine sentiments."
"You know them well," said Minard; "they are sycophants. That man's whole life for the last ten years is explained by this bit of red ribbon," added the mayor, pointing to his own buttonhole.
"Take care!" said the lawyer, "his son is in love with Celeste, and he's fairly in the heart of the family."
"Yes, but my son has twelve thousand a year in his own right."
"Oh!" said Theodose, with a start, "Mademoiselle Brigitte was saying the other day that she wanted at least as much as that in Celeste's suitor. Moreover, six months hence you'll probably hear that Thuillier has a property worth forty thousand francs a year."
"The devil! well, I thought as much. Yes, certainly, he shall be made a member of the municipal council."
"In any case, don't say anything about me to him," said the advocate of the poor, who now hastened away to speak to Madame Phellion. "Well, my fair lady," he said, when he reached her, "have you succeeded?"
"I waited till four o'clock, and then that worthy and excellent man would not let me finish what I had to say. He is much to busy to accept such an office, and he sent a letter which Monsieur Phellion has read, saying that he, Doctor Bianchon, thanked him for his good intentions, and assured him that his own candidate was Monsieur Thuillier. He said that he should use all his influence in his favor, and begged my husband to do the same."
"And what did your excellent husband say?"
"'I have done my duty,' he said. 'I have not been false to my conscience, and now I am all for Thuillier.'"
"Well, then, the thing is settled," said la Peyrade. "Ignore my visit, and take all the credit of the idea to yourselves."
Then he went to Madame Colleville, composing himself in the attitude and manner of the deepest respect.
"Madame," he said, "have the goodness to send out to me here that kindly papa Colleville. A surprise is to be given to Monsieur Thuillier, and I want Monsieur Colleville to be in the secret."
While la Peyrade played the part of man of the world with Colleville, and allowed himself various witty sarcasms when explaining to him Thuillier's candidacy, telling him he ought to support it, if only to exhibit his incapacity, Flavie was listening in the salon to the following conversation, which bewildered her for the moment and made her ears ring.
"I should like to know what Monsieur Colleville and Monsieur de la Peyrade can be saying to each other to make them laugh like that," said Madame Thuillier, foolishly, looking out of the window.
"A lot of improper things, as men always do when they talk together," replied Mademoiselle Thuillier, who often attacked men with the sort of instinct natural to old maids.
"No, they are incapable of that," said Phellion, gravely. "Monsieur de la Peyrade is one of the most virtuous young men I have ever met. People know what I think of Felix; well, I put the two on the same line; indeed, I wish my son had a little more of Monsieur de la Peyrade's beautiful piety."
"You are right; he is a man of great merit, who is sure to succeed," said Minard. "As for me, my suffrages—for I really ought not to say protection—are his."
"He pays more for oil than for bread," said Dutocq. "I know that."
"His mother, if he has the happiness to still possess her, must be proud of him," remarked Madame Thuillier, sententiously.
"He is a real treasure for us," said Thuillier. "If you only knew how modest he is! He doesn't do himself justice."
"I can answer for one thing," added Dutocq; "no young man ever maintained a nobler attitude in poverty; he triumphed over it; but he suffered—it is easy to see that."
"Poor young man!" cried Zelie. "Such things make my heart ache!"
"Any one could safely trust both secrets and fortune to him," said Thuillier; "and in these days that is the finest thing that can be said of a man."
"It is Colleville who is making him laugh," cried Dutocq.
Just then Colleville and la Peyrade returned from the garden the very best friends in the world.
"Messieurs," said Brigitte, "the soup and the King must never be kept waiting; give your hand to the ladies."
Five minutes after this little pleasantry (issuing from the lodge of her father the porter) Brigitte had the satisfaction of seeing her table surrounded by the principal personages of this drama; the rest, with the one exception of the odious Cerizet, arrived later.
The portrait of the former maker of canvas money-bags would be incomplete if we omitted to give a description of one of her best dinners. The physiognomy of the bourgeois cook of 1840 is, moreover, one of those details essentially necessary to a history of manners and customs, and clever housewives may find some lessons in it. A woman doesn't make empty bags for twenty years without looking out for the means to fill a few of them. Now Brigitte had one peculiar characteristic. She united the economy to which she owed her fortune with a full understanding of necessary expenses. Her relative prodigality, when it concerned her brother or Celeste, was the antipodes of avarice. In fact, she often bemoaned herself that she couldn't be miserly. At her last dinner she had related how, after struggling ten minute and enduring martyrdom, she had ended by giving ten francs to a poor workwoman whom she knew, positively, had been without food for two days.
"Nature," she said naively, "is stronger than reason."
The soup was a rather pale bouillon; for, even on an occasion like this, the cook had been enjoined to make a great deal of bouillon out of the beef supplied. Then, as the said beef was to feed the family on the next day and the day after that, the less juice it expended in the bouillon, the more substantial were the subsequent dinners. The beef, little cooked, was always taken away at the following speech from Brigitte, uttered as soon as Thuillier put his knife into it:—
"I think it is rather tough; send it away, Thuillier, nobody will eat it; we have other things."
The soup was, in fact, flanked by four viands mounted on old hot-water chafing-dishes, with the plating worn off. At this particular dinner (afterwards called that of the candidacy) the first course consisted of a pair of ducks with olives, opposite to which was a large pie with forcemeat balls, while a dish of eels "a la tartare" corresponded in like manner with a fricandeau on chicory. The second course had for its central dish a most dignified goose stuffed with chestnuts, a salad of vegetables garnished with rounds of beetroot opposite to custards in cups, while lower down a dish of turnips "au sucre" faced a timbale of macaroni. This gala dinner of the concierge type cost, at the utmost, twenty francs, and the remains of the feast provided the household for a couple of days; nevertheless, Brigitte would say:—
"Pest! when one has to have company how the money goes! It is fearful!"
The table was lighted by two hideous candlesticks of plated silver with four branches each, in which shone eight of those thrifty wax-candles that go by the name of Aurora. The linen was dazzling in whiteness, and the silver, with beaded edges, was the fruit, evidently, of some purchase made during the Revolution by Thuillier's father. Thus the fare and the service were in keeping with the house, the dining-room, and the Thuilliers themselves, who could never, under any circumstances, get themselves above this style of living. The Minards, Collevilles, and la Peyrade exchanged now and then a smile which betrayed their mutually satirical but repressed thoughts. La Peyrade, seated beside Flavie, whispered in her ear:—
"You must admit that they ought to be taught how to live. But those Minards are no better in their way. What cupidity! they've come here solely after Celeste. Your daughter will be lost to you if you let them have her. These parvenus have all the vices of the great lords of other days without their elegance. Minard's son, who has twelve thousand francs a year of his own, could very well find a wife elsewhere, instead of pushing his speculating rake in here. What fun it would be to play upon those people as one would on a bass-viol or a clarionet!"
While the dishes of the second course were being removed, Minard, afraid that Phellion would precede him, said to Thuillier with a grave air:—
"My dear Thuillier, in accepting your dinner, I did so for the purpose of making an important communication, which does you so much honor that all here present ought to be made participants in it."
Thuillier turned pale.
"Have you obtained the cross for me?" he cried, on receiving a glance from Theodose, and wishing to prove that he was not without craft.
"You will doubtless receive it ere long," replied the mayor. "But the matter now relates to something better than that. The cross is a favor due to the good opinion of a minister, whereas the present question concerns an election due to the consent of your fellow citizens. In a word, a sufficiently large number of electors in your arrondissement have cast their eyes upon you, and wish to honor you with their confidence by making you the representative of this arrondissement in the municipal council of Paris; which, as everybody knows, is the Council-general of the Seine."
"Bravo!" cried Dutocq.
"Monsieur le maire has forestalled me," he said in an agitated voice, "but it is so flattering for our friend to be the object of eagerness on the part of all good citizens, and to obtain the public vote of high and low, that I cannot complain of being obliged to come second only; therefore, all honor to the initiatory authority!" (Here he bowed respectfully to Minard.) "Yes, Monsieur Thuillier, many electors think of giving you their votes in that portion of the arrondissement where I keep my humble penates; and you have the special advantage of being suggested to their minds by a distinguished man." (Sensation.) "By a man in whose person we desired to honor one of the most virtuous inhabitants of the arrondissement, who for twenty years, I may say, was the father of it. I allude to the late Monsieur Popinot, counsellor, during his lifetime, to the Royal court, and our delegate in the municipal council of Paris. But his nephew, of whom I speak, Doctor Bianchon, one of our glories, has, in view of his absorbing duties, declined the responsibility with which we sought to invest him. While thanking us for our compliment he has—take note of this—indicated for our suffrages the candidate of Monsieur le maire as being, in his opinion, capable, owing to the position he formerly occupied, of exercising the magisterial functions of the aedileship."
And Phellion sat down amid approving murmurs.
"Thuillier, you can count on me, your old friend," said Colleville.
At this moment the guests were sincerely touched by the sight presented of old Mademoiselle Brigitte and Madame Thuillier. Brigitte, pale as though she were fainting, was letting the slow tears run, unheeded, down her cheeks, tears of deepest joy; while Madame Thuillier sat, as if struck by lightning, with her eyes fixed. Suddenly the old maid darted into the kitchen, crying out to Josephine the cook:—
"Come into the cellar my girl, we must get out the wine behind the wood!"
"My friends," said Thuillier, in a shaking voice, "this is the finest moment of my life, finer than even the day of my election, should I consent to allow myself to be presented to the suffrages of my fellow-citizens" ("You must! you must!"); "for I feel myself much worn down by thirty years of public service, and, as you may well believe, a man of honor has need to consult his strength and his capacities before he takes upon himself the functions of the aedileship."
"I expected nothing less of you, Monsieur Thuillier," cried Phellion. "Pardon me; this is the first time in my life that I have ever interrupted a superior; but there are circumstances—"
"Accept! accept!" cried Zelie. "Bless my soul! what we want are men like you to govern us."
"Resign yourself, my chief!" cried Dutocq, and, "Long live the future municipal councillor! but we haven't anything to drink—"
"Well, the thing is settled," said Minard; "you are to be our candidate."
"You think too much of me," replied Thuillier.
"Come, come!" cried Colleville. "A man who has done thirty years in the galleys of the ministry of finance is a treasure to the town."
"You are much too modest," said the younger Minard; "your capacity is well known to us; it remains a tradition at the ministry of finance."
"As you all insist—" began Thuillier.
"The King will be pleased with our choice; I can assure you of that," said Minard, pompously.
"Gentlemen," said la Peyrade, "will you permit a recent dweller in the faubourg Saint-Jacques to make one little remark, which is not without importance?"
The consciousness that everybody had of the sterling merits of the advocate of the poor produced the deepest silence.
"The influence of Monsieur le maire of an adjoining arrondissement, which is immense in ours where he has left such excellent memories; that of Monsieur Phellion, the oracle—yes, let the truth be spoken," he exclaimed, noticing a gesture made by Phellion—"the oracle of his battalion; the influence, no less powerful, which Monsieur Colleville owes to the frank heartiness of his manner, and to his urbanity; that of Monsieur Dutocq, the clerk of the justice court, which will not be less efficacious, I am sure; and the poor efforts which I can offer in my humble sphere of activity,—are pledges of success, but they are not success itself. To obtain a rapid triumph we should pledge ourselves, now and here, to keep the deepest secrecy on the manifestation of sentiments which has just taken place. Otherwise, we should excite, without knowing or willing it, envy and all the other secondary passions, which would create for us later various obstacles to overcome. The political meaning of the new social organization, its very basis, its token, and the guarantee for its continuance, are in a certain sharing of the governing power with the middle classes, classes who are the true strength of modern societies, the centre of morality, of all good sentiments and intelligent work. But we cannot conceal from ourselves that the principle of election, extended now to almost every function, has brought the interests of ambition, and the passion for being something, excuse the word, into social depths where they ought never to have penetrated. Some see good in this; others see evil; it is not my place to judge between them in presence of minds before whose eminence I bow. I content myself by simply suggesting this question in order to show the dangers which the banner of our friend must meet. See for yourselves! the decease of our late honorable representative in the municipal council dates back scarcely one week, and already the arrondissement is being canvassed by inferior ambitions. Such men put themselves forward to be seen at any price. The writ of convocation will, probably, not take effect for a month to come. Between now and then, imagine the intrigues! I entreat you not to expose our friend Thuillier to the blows of his competitors; let us not deliver him over to public discussion, that modern harpy which is but the trumpet of envy and calumny, the pretext seized by malevolence to belittle all that is great, soil all that is immaculate and dishonor whatever is sacred. Let us, rather, do as the Third Party is now doing in the Chamber,—keep silence and vote!"
"He speaks well," said Phellion to his neighbor Dutocq.
"And how strong the statement is!"
Envy had turned Minard and his son green and yellow.
"That is well said and very true," remarked Minard.
"Unanimously adopted!" cried Colleville. "Messieurs, we are men of honor; it suffices to understand each other on this point."
"Whoso desires the end accepts the means," said Phellion, emphatically.
At this moment, Mademoiselle Thuillier reappeared, followed by her two servants; the key of the cellar was hanging from her belt, and three bottles of champagne, three of hermitage, and one bottle of malaga were placed upon the table. She herself was carrying, with almost respectful care, a smaller bottle, like a fairy Carabosse, which she placed before her. In the midst of the hilarity caused by this abundance of excellent things—a fruit of gratitude, which the poor spinster in the delirium of her joy poured out with a profusion which put to shame the sparing hospitality of her usual fortnightly dinners—numerous dessert dishes made their appearance: mounds of almonds, raisins, figs, and nuts (popularly known as the "four beggars"), pyramids of oranges, confections, crystallized fruits, brought from the hidden depths of her cupboards, which would never have figured on the table-cloth had it not been for the "candidacy."
"Celeste, they will bring you a bottle of brandy which my father obtained in 1802; make an orange-salad!" cried Brigitte to her sister-in-law. "Monsieur Phellion, open the champagne; that bottle is for you three. Monsieur Dutocq, take this one. Monsieur Colleville, you know how to pop corks!"
The two maids distributed champagne glasses, also claret glasses, and wine glasses. Josephine also brought three more bottles of Bordeaux.
"The year of the comet!" cried Thuillier, laughing, "Messieurs, you have turned my sister's head."
"And this evening you shall have punch and cakes," she said. "I have sent to the chemists for some tea. Heavens! if I had only known the affair concerned an election," she cried, looking at her sister-in-law, "I'd have served the turkey."
A general laugh welcomed this speech.
"We have a goose!" said Minard junior.
"The carts are unloading!" cried Madame Thuillier, as "marrons glaces" and "meringues" were placed upon the table.
Mademoiselle Thuillier's face was blazing. She was really superb to behold. Never did sisterly love assume such a frenzied expression.
"To those who know her, it is really touching," remarked Madame Colleville.
The glasses were filled. The guests all looked at one another, evidently expecting a toast, whereupon la Peyrade said:—
"Messieurs, let us drink to something sublime."
Everybody looked curious.
"To Mademoiselle Brigitte!"
They all rose, clinked glasses, and cried with one voice, "Mademoiselle Brigitte!" so much enthusiasm did the exhibition of a true feeling excite.
"Messieurs," said Phellion, reading from a paper written in pencil, "To work and its splendors, in the person of our former comrade, now become one of the mayors of Paris,—to Monsieur Minard and his wife!"
After five minutes' general conversation Thuillier rose and said:—
"Messieurs, To the King and the royal family! I add nothing; the toast says all."
"To the election of my brother!" said Mademoiselle Thuillier a moment later.
"Now I'll make you laugh," whispered la Peyrade in Flavie's ear.
And he rose.
"To Woman!" he said; "that enchanting sex to whom we owe our happiness,—not to speak of our mothers, our sisters, and our wives!"
This toast excited general hilarity, and Colleville, already somewhat gay, exclaimed:—
"Rascal! you have stolen my speech!"
The mayor then rose; profound silence reigned.
"Messieurs, our institutions! from which come the strength and grandeur of dynastic France!"
The bottles disappeared amid a chorus of admiration as to the marvellous goodness and delicacy of their contents.
Celeste Colleville here said timidly:—
"Mamma, will you permit me to give a toast?"
The good girl had noticed the dull, bewildered look of her godmother, neglected and forgotten,—she, the mistress of that house, wearing almost the expression of a dog that is doubtful which master to obey, looking from the face of her terrible sister-in-law to that of Thuillier, consulting each countenance, and oblivious of herself; but joy on the face of that poor helot, accustomed to be nothing, to repress her ideas, her feelings, had the effect of a pale wintry sun behind a mist; it barely lighted her faded, flabby flesh. The gauze cap trimmed with dingy flowers, the hair ill-dressed, the gloomy brown gown, with no ornament but a thick gold chain—all, combined with the expression of her countenance, stimulated the affection of the young Celeste, who—alone in the world—knew the value of that woman condemned to silence but aware of all about her, suffering from all yet consoling herself in God and in the girl who now was watching her.
"Yes, let the dear child give us her little toast," said la Peyrade to Madame Colleville.
"Go on, my daughter," cried Colleville; "here's the hermitage still to be drunk—and it's hoary with age," he added.
"To my kind godmother!" said the girl, lowering her glass respectfully before Madame Thuillier, and holding it towards her.
The poor woman, startled, looked through a veil of tears first at her husband, and then at Brigitte; but her position in the family was so well known, and the homage paid by innocence to weakness had something so beautiful about it, that the emotion was general; the men all rose and bowed to Madame Thuillier.
"Ah! Celeste, I would I had a kingdom to lay at your feet," murmured Felix Phellion.
The worthy Phellion wiped away a tear. Dutocq himself was moved.
"Oh! the charming child!" cried Mademoiselle Thuillier, rising, and going round to kiss her sister-in-law.
"My turn now!" said Colleville, posing like an athlete. "Now listen: To friendship! Empty your glasses; refill your glasses. Good! To the fine arts,—the flower of social life! Empty your glasses; refill your glasses. To another such festival on the day after election!"
"What is that little bottle you have there?" said Dutocq to Mademoiselle Thuillier.
"That," she said, "is one of my three bottles of Madame Amphoux' liqueur; the second is for the day of Celeste's marriage; the third for the day on which her first child is baptized."
"My sister is losing her head," remarked Thuillier to Colleville.
The dinner ended with a toast, offered by Thuillier, but suggested to him by Theodose at the moment when the malaga sparkled in the little glasses like so many rubies.
"Colleville, messieurs, has drunk to friendship. I now drink, in this most generous wine, To my friends!"
An hurrah, full of heartiness, greeted that fine sentiment, but Dutocq remarked aside to Theodose:—
"It is a shame to pour such wine down the throats of such people."
"Ah! if we could only make such wine as that!" cried Zelie, making her glass ring by the way in which she sucked down the Spanish liquid. "What fortunes we could get!"
Zelie had now reached her highest point of incandescence, and was really alarming.
"Yes," replied Minard, "but ours is made."
"Don't you think, sister," said Brigitte to Madame Thuillier, "that we had better take coffee in the salon?"
Madame Thuillier obediently assumed the air of mistress of the house, and rose.
"Ah! you are a great wizard," said Flavie Colleville, accepting la Peyrade's arm to return to the salon.
"And yet I care only to bewitch you," he answered. "I think you more enchanting than ever this evening."
"Thuillier," she said, to evade the subject, "Thuillier made to think himself a political character! oh! oh!"
"But, my dear Flavie, half the absurdities of life are the result of such conspiracies; and men are not alone in these deceptions. In how many families one sees the husband, children, and friends persuading a silly mother that she is a woman of sense, or an old woman of fifty that she is young and beautiful. Hence, inconceivable contrarieties for those who go about the world with their eyes shut. One man owes his ill-savored conceit to the flattery of a mistress; another owes his versifying vanity to those who are paid to call him a great poet. Every family has its great man; and the result is, as we see it in the Chamber, general obscurity of the lights of France. Well, men of real mind are laughing to themselves about it, that's all. You are the mind and the beauty of this little circle of the petty bourgeoisie; it is this superiority which led me in the first instance to worship you. I have since longed to drag you out of it; for I love you sincerely—more in friendship than in love; though a great deal of love is gliding into it," he added, pressing her to his heart under cover of the recess of a window to which he had taken her.
"Madame Phellion will play the piano," cried Colleville. "We must all dance to-night—bottles and Brigitte's francs and all the little girls! I'll go and fetch my clarionet."
He gave his empty coffee-cup to his wife, smiling to see her so friendly with la Peyrade.
"What have you said and done to my husband?" asked Flavie, when Colleville had left them.
"Must I tell you all our secrets?"
"Ah! you don't love me," she replied, looking at him with the coquettish slyness of a woman who is not quite decided in her mind.
"Well, since you tell me yours," he said, letting himself go to the lively impulse of Provencal gaiety, always so charming and apparently so natural, "I will not conceal from you an anxiety in my heart."
He took her back to the same window and said, smiling:—
"Colleville, poor man, has seen in me the artist repressed by all these bourgeois; silent before them because I feel misjudged, misunderstood, and repelled by them. He has felt the heat of the sacred fire that consumes me. Yes I am," he continued, in a tone of conviction, "an artist in words after the manner of Berryer; I could make juries weep, by weeping myself, for I'm as nervous as a woman. Your husband, who detests the bourgeoisie, began to tease me about them. At first we laughed; then, in becoming serious, he found out that I was as strong as he. I told him of the plan concocted to make something of Thuillier, and I showed him all the good he could get himself out of a political puppet. 'If it were only,' I said to him, 'to make yourself Monsieur de Colleville, and to put your charming wife where I should like to see her, as the wife of a receiver-general, or deputy. To make yourself all that you and she ought to be, you have only to go and live a few years in the Upper or Lower Alps, in some hole of a town where everybody will like you, and your wife will seduce everybody; and this,' I added, 'you cannot fail to obtain, especially if you give your dear Celeste to some man who can influence the Chamber.' Good reasons, stated in jest, have the merit of penetrating deeper into some minds than if they were given soberly. So Colleville and I became the best friends in the world. Didn't you hear him say to me at table, 'Rascal! you have stolen my speech'? To-night we shall be theeing and thouing each other. I intend to have a choice little supper-party soon, where artists, tied to the proprieties at home, always compromise themselves. I'll invite him, and that will make us as solidly good friends as he is with Thuillier. There, my dear adorned one, is what a profound sentiment gives a man the courage to produce. Colleville must adopt me; so that I may visit your house by his invitation. But what couldn't you make me do? lick lepers, swallow live toads, seduce Brigitte—yes, if you say so, I'll impale my own heart on that great picket-rail to please you."
"You frightened me this morning," she said.
"But this evening you are reassured. Yes," he added, "no harm will ever happen to you through me."
"You are, I must acknowledge, a most extraordinary man."
"Why, no! the smallest as well as the greatest of my efforts are merely the reflections of the flame which you have kindled. I intend to be your son-in-law that we may never part. My wife, heavens! what could she be to me but a machine for child-bearing? whereas the divinity, the sublime being will be—you," he whispered in her ear.
"You are Satan!" she said, in a sort of terror.
"No, I am something of a poet, like all the men of my region. Come, be my Josephine! I'll go and see you to-morrow. I have the most ardent desire to see where you live and how you live, the furniture you use, the color of your stuffs, the arrangement of all things about you. I long to see the pearl in its shell."
He slipped away cleverly after these words, without waiting for an answer.
Flavie, to whom in all her life love had never taken the language of romance, sat still, but happy, her heart palpitating, and saying to herself that it was very difficult to escape such influence. For the first time Theodose had appeared in a pair of new trousers, with gray silk stockings and pumps, a waistcoat of black silk, and a cravat of black satin on the knot of which shone a plain gold pin selected with taste. He wore also a new coat in the last fashion, and yellow gloves, relieved by white shirt-cuffs; he was the only man who had manners, or deportment in that salon, which was now filling up for the evening.
Madame Pron, nee Barniol, arrived with two school-girls, aged seventeen, confided to her maternal care by families residing in Martinique. Monsieur Pron, professor of rhetoric in a college presided over by priests, belonged to the Phellion class; but, instead of expanding on the surface in phrases and demonstrations, and posing as an example, he was dry and sententious. Monsieur and Madame Pron, the flowers of the Phellion salon, received every Monday. Though a professor, the little man danced. He enjoyed great influence in the quarter enclosed by the boulevard du Mont-Parnasse, the Luxembourg, and the rue de Sevres. Therefore, as soon as Phellion saw his friend, he took him by the arm into a corner to inform him of the Thuillier candidacy. After ten minutes' consultation they both went to find Thuillier, and the recess of a window, opposite to that where Flavie still sat absorbed in her reflections, no doubt, heard a "trio" worthy, in its way, of that of the Swiss in "Guillaume Tell."
"Do you see," said Theodose, returning to Flavie, "the pure and honest Phellion intriguing over there? Give a personal reason to a virtuous man and he'll paddle in the slimiest puddle; he is hooking that little Pron, and Pron is taking it all in, solely to get your little Celeste for Felix Phellion. Separate them, and in ten minutes they'll get together again, and that young Minard will be growling round them like an angry bulldog."
Felix, still under the strong emotion imparted to him by Celeste's generous action and the cry that came from the girl's heart, though no one but Madame Thuillier still thought of it, became inspired by one of those ingenuous artfulnesses which are the honest charlatanism of true love; but he was not to the manner born of it, and mathematics, moreover, made him somewhat absent-minded. He stationed himself near Madame Thuillier, imagining that Madame Thuillier would attract Celeste to her side. This astute calculation succeeded all the better because young Minard, who saw in Celeste nothing more than a "dot," had no such sudden inspiration, and was drinking his coffee and talking politics with Laudigeois, Monsieur Barniol, and Dutocq by order of his father, who was thinking and planning for the general election of the legislature in 1842.
"Who wouldn't love Celeste?" said Felix to Madame Thuillier.
"Little darling, no one in the world loves me as she does," replied the poor slave, with difficulty restraining her tears.
"Ah! madame, we both love you," said the candid professor, sincerely.
"What are you saying to each other?" asked Celeste, coming up.
"My child," said the pious woman, drawing her god-daughter down to her and kissing her on the forehead. "He said that you both loved me."
"Do not be angry with my presumption, mademoiselle. Let me do all I can to prove it," murmured Felix. "Ah! I cannot help it, I was made this way; injustice revolts me to the soul! Yes, the Saviour of men was right to promise the future to the meek heart, to the slain lamb! A man who did not love you, Celeste, must have adored you after that sublime impulse of yours at table. Ah, yes! innocence alone can console the martyr. You are a kind young girl; you will be one of those wives who make the glory and the happiness of a family. Happy be he whom you will choose!"
"Godmamma, with what eyes do you think Monsieur Felix sees me?"
"He appreciates you, my little angel; I shall pray to God for both of you."
"If you knew how happy I am that my father can do a service to Monsieur Thuillier, and how I wish I could be useful to your brother—"
"In short," said Celeste, laughing, "you love us all."
"Well, yes," replied Felix.
True love wraps itself in the mysteries of reserve, even in its expression; it proves itself by itself; it does not feel the necessity, as a false love does, of lighting a conflagration. By an observer (if such a being could have glided into the Thuillier salon) a book might have been made in comparing the two scenes of love-making, and in watching the enormous preparations of Theodose and the simplicity of Felix: one was nature, the other was society,—the true and the false embodied. Noticing her daughter glowing with happiness, exhaling her soul through the pores of her face, and beautiful with the beauty of a young girl gathering the first roses of an indirect declaration, Flavie had an impulse of jealousy in her heart. She came across to Celeste and said in her ear:—
"You are not behaving well, my daughter; everybody is observing you; you are compromising yourself by talking so long to Monsieur Felix without knowing whether we approve of it."
"But, mamma, my godmother is here."
"Ah! pardon me, dear friend," said Madame Colleville; "I did not notice you."
"You do as others do," said the poor nonentity.
That reply stung Madame Colleville, who regarded it as a barbed arrow. She cast a haughty glance at Felix and said to Celeste, "Sit there, my daughter," seating herself at the same time beside Madame Thuillier and pointing to a chair on the other side of her.
"I will work myself to death," said Felix to Madame Thuillier. "I'll be a member of the Academy of Sciences; I'll make some great discovery, and win her hand by force of fame."
"Ah!" thought the poor woman to herself, "I ought to have had a gentle, peaceful, learned man like that. I might have slowly developed in a life of quietness. It was not thy will, O God! but, I pray thee, unite and bless these children; they are made for one another."
And she sat there, pensive, listening to the racket made by her sister-in-law—a ten-horse power at work—who now, lending a hand to her two servants, cleared the table, taking everything out of the dining-room to accommodate the dancers, vociferating, like the captain of a frigate on his quarter-deck when taking his ship into action: "Have you plenty of raspberry syrup?" "Run out and buy some more orgeat!" "There's not enough glasses. Where's the 'eau rougie'? Take those six bottles of 'vin ordinaire' and make more. Mind that Coffinet, the porter, doesn't get any." "Caroline, my girl, you are to wait at the sideboard; you'll have tongue and ham to slice in case they dance till morning. But mind, no waste! Keep an eye on everything. Pass me the broom; put more oil in those lamps; don't make blunders. Arrange the remains of the dessert so as to make a show on the sideboard; ask my sister to come and help us. I'm sure I don't know what she's thinking about, that dawdle! Heavens, how slow she is! Here, take away these chairs, they'll want all the room they can get."
The salon was full of Barniols, Collevilles, Phellions, Laudigeois, and many others whom the announcement of a dance at the Thuilliers', spread about in the Luxembourg between two and four in the afternoon, the hour at which the bourgeoisie takes its walk, had drawn thither.
"Are you ready, Brigitte?" said Colleville, bolting into the dining-room; "it is nine o'clock, and they are packed as close as herrings in the salon. Cardot, his wife and son and daughter and future son-in-law have just come, accompanied by that young Vinet; the whole faubourg Saint Antoine is debouching. Can't we move the piano in here?"
Then he gave the signal, by tuning his clarionet, the joyous sounds of which were greeted with huzzas from the salon.
It is useless to describe a ball of this kind. The toilets, faces, and conversations were all in keeping with one fact which will surely suffice even the dullest imagination; they passed round, on tarnished and discolored trays, common tumblers filled with wine, "eau rougie," and "eau sucree." The trays on which were glasses of orgeat and glasses of syrup and water appeared only at long intervals. There were five card-tables and twenty-five players, and eighteen dancers of both sexes. At one o'clock in the morning, all present—Madame Thuillier, Mademoiselle Brigitte, Madame Phellion, even Phellion himself—were dragged into the vivacities of a country-dance, vulgarly called "La Boulangere," in which Dutocq figured with a veil over his head, after the manner of the Kabyl. The servants who were waiting to escort their masters home, and those of the household, were audience to this performance; and after the interminable dance had lasted one whole hour it was proposed to carry Brigitte in triumph when she gave the announcement that supper was served. This circumstance made her see the necessity of hiding a dozen bottles of old burgundy. In short, the company had amused themselves so well, the matrons as well as the young girls, that Thuillier found occasion to say:—
"Well, well, this morning we little thought we should have such a fete to-night."
"There's never more pleasure," said the notary Cardot, "than in just such improvised balls. Don't talk to me of parties where everybody stands on ceremony."
This opinion, we may remark, is a standing axiom among the bourgeoisie.
"Well, for my part," said Madame Minard, "I prefer the dignified old ways."
"We didn't mean that for you, madame; your salon is the chosen haunt of pleasure," said Dutocq.
When "La Boulangere" came to an end, Theodose pulled Dutocq from the sideboard where he was preparing to eat a slice of tongue, and said to him:—
"Let us go; we must be at Cerizet's very early in the morning; we ought both of us to think over that affair; it is not so easy to manage as Cerizet seems to imagine."
"Why not?" asked Dutocq, bringing his slice of tongue to eat in the salon.
"Don't you know the law?"
"I know enough of it to be aware of the dangers of the affair. If that notary wants the house and we filch it from him, there are means by which he can recover it; he can put himself into the skin of a registered creditor. By the present legal system relating to mortgages, when a house is sold at the request of creditors, if the price obtained for it at auction is not enough to pay all debts, the owners have the right to bid it in and hold it for a higher sum; now the notary, seeing himself caught, may back out of the sale in that way."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "it needs attention."
"Very good," replied Dutocq, "we'll go and see Cerizet."
These words, "go and see Cerizet," were overheard by Minard, who was following the two associates; but they offered no meaning to his mind. The two men were so outside of his own course and projects that he heard them without listening to them.
"This has been one of the finest days in our lives," said Brigitte to her brother, when she found herself alone with him in the deserted salon, at half-past two in the morning. "What a distinction! to be thus selected by your fellow-citizens!"
"Don't be mistaken about it, Brigitte; we owe it all, my child, to one man."
"To our friend, la Peyrade."