The Middle Classes/Part I/Chapter XII
During the extreme poverty of la Peyrade's first years in Paris, none but Cerizet had ever gone to see him in the wretched garret where, in severely cold weather, he stayed in bed for want of clothes. Only one shirt remained to him. For three days he lived on one loaf of bread, cutting it into measured morsels, and asking himself, "What am I to do?" At this moment it was that his former partner came to him, having just left prison, pardoned. The projects which the two men then formed before a fire of laths, one wrapped in his landlady's counterpane, the other in his infamy, it is useless to relate. The next day Cerizet, who had talked with Dutocq in the course of the morning, returned, bringing trousers, waistcoat, coat, hat, and boots, bought in the Temple, and he carried off Theodose to dine with himself and Dutocq. The hungry Provencal ate at Pinson's, rue de l'Ancienne Comedie, half of a dinner costing forty-seven francs. At dessert, after Theodose had drunk freely, Cerizet said to him:—
"Will you sign me bills of exchange for fifty thousand francs in your capacity as a barrister?"
"You couldn't get five thousand on them."
"That's not your affair, but ours; I mean monsieur's here, who is giving us this dinner, and mine, in a matter where you risk nothing, but in which you'll get your title as barrister, a fine practice, and the hand in marriage of a girl about the age of an old dog, and rich by twenty or thirty thousand francs a year. Neither Dutocq nor I can marry her; but we'll equip you, give you the look of a decent man, feed and lodge you, and set you up generally. Consequently, we want security. I don't say that on my own account, for I know you, but for monsieur here, whose proxy I am. We'll equip you as a pirate, hey! to do the white-slave trade! If we can't capture that 'dot,' we'll try other plans. Between ourselves, none of us need be particular what we touch—that's plain enough. We'll give you careful instructions; for the matter is certain to take time, and there'll probably be some bother about it. Here, see, I have brought stamped paper."
"Waiter, pens and ink!" cried Theodose.
"Ha! I like fellows of that kind!" exclaimed Dutocq.
"Sign: 'Theodose de la Peyrade,' and after your name put 'Barrister, rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer,' under the words 'Accepted for ten thousand.' We'll date the notes and sue you,—all secretly, of course, but in order to have a hold upon you; the owners of a privateer ought to have security when the brig and the captain are at sea."
The day after this interview the bailiff of the justice-of-peace did Cerizet the service of suing la Peyrade secretly. He went to see the barrister that evening, and the whole affair was done without any publicity. The Court of commerce has a hundred such cases in the course of one term. The strict regulations of the council of barristers of the bar of Paris are well known. This body, and also the council of attorneys, exercise severe discipline over their members. A barrister liable to go to Clichy would be disbarred. Consequently, Cerizet, under Dutocq's advice, had taken against their puppet measures which were certain to secure to each of them twenty-five thousand francs out of Celeste's "dot." In signing the notes, Theodose saw but one thing,—his means of living secured; but as time had gone on, and the horizon grew clearer, and he mounted, step by step, to a better position on the social ladder, he began to dream of getting rid of his associates. And now, on obtaining twenty-five thousand francs from Thuillier, he hoped to treat on the basis of fifty per cent for the return of his fatal notes by Cerizet.
Unfortunately, this sort of infamous speculation is not an exceptional fact; it takes place in Paris under various forms too little disguised for the historian of manners and morals to pass them over unnoticed in a complete and accurate picture of society in the nineteenth century. Dutocq, an arrant scoundrel, still owed fifteen thousand francs on his practice, and lived in hopes of something turning up to keep his head, as the saying is, above water until the close of 1840. Up to the present time none of the three confederates had flinched or groaned. Each felt his strength and knew his danger. Equals they were in distrust, in watchfulness; equals, too, in apparent confidence; and equally stolid in silence and look when mutual suspicions rose to the surface of face or speech. For the last two months the position of Theodose was acquiring the strength of a detached fort. But Cerizet and Dutocq held it undermined by a mass of powder, with the match ever lighted; but the wind might extinguish the match or the devil might flood the mine.
The moment when wild beasts seize their food is always the most critical, and that moment had now arrived for these three hungry tigers. Cerizet would sometimes say to Theodose, with that revolutionary glance which twice in this century sovereigns have had to meet:—
"I have made you king, and here am I still nothing! for it is nothing not to be all."
A reaction of envy was rushing its avalanche through Cerizet. Dutocq was at the mercy of his copying clerk. Theodose would gladly have burned his copartners could he have burned their papers in the same conflagration. All three studied each other too carefully, in order to conceal their own thoughts, not to be in turn divined. Theodose lived a life of three hells as he thought of what lay below the cards, then of his own game, and then of his future. His speech to Thuillier was a cry of despair; he threw his lead into the waters of the old bourgeois and found there nothing more than twenty-five thousand francs.
"And," he said to himself as he went to his own room, "possibly nothing at all a month hence."
He new felt the deepest hatred to the Thuilliers. But Thuillier himself he held by a harpoon stuck into the depths of the man's vanity; namely, by the projected work, entitled "Taxation and the Sinking Fund," for which he intended to rearrange the ideas of the Saint-Simonian "Globe," giving them a systematic form, and coloring them with his fervid Southern diction. Thuillier's bureaucratic knowledge of the subject would be of use to him here. Theodose therefore clung to this rope, resolving to do battle, on so poor a base of operations, with the vanity of a fool, which, according to individual character, is either granite or sand. On reflection, Theodose was inclined to be content with the prospect.
On the evening before the right of redemption expired, Claparon and Cerizet proceeded to manipulate the notary in the following manner. Cerizet, to whom Claparon had revealed the password and the notary's retreat, went out to this hiding-place to say to the latter:—
"One of my friends, Claparon, whom you know, has asked me to come and see you; he will expect you to-morrow, in the evening, you know where. He has the paper you expect from him, which he will exchange with you for the ten thousand agreed upon; but I must be present, for five thousand of that sum belong to me; and I warn you, my dear monsieur, that the name in the counter-deed is in blank."
"I shall be there," replied the ex-notary.
The poor devil waited the whole night in agonies of mind that can well be imagined, for safety or inevitable ruin were in the balance. At sunrise he saw approaching him, instead of Claparon, a bailiff of the Court of commerce, who produced a judgment against him in regular form, and informed him that he must go with him to Clichy.
Cerizet had made an arrangement with one of the creditors of the luckless notary, pledging himself to deliver up the debtor on payment to himself of half the debt. Out of the ten thousand francs promised to Claparon, the victim of this trap was obliged, in order to obtain his liberty, to pay six thousand down, the amount of his debt.
On receiving his share of this extortion Cerizet said to himself: "There's three thousand to make Cerizet clear out."
Cerizet then returned to the notary and said: "Claparon is a scoundrel, monsieur; he has received fifteen thousand francs from the proposed purchaser of your house, who will now, of course, become the owner. Threaten to reveal his hiding-place to his creditors, and to have him sued for fraudulent bankruptcy, and he'll give you half."
In his wrath the notary wrote a fulminating letter to Claparon. Claparon, alarmed, feared an arrest, and Cerizet offered to get him a passport.
"You have played me many a trick, Claparon," he said, "but listen to me now, and you can judge of my kindness. I possess, as my whole means, three thousand francs; I'll give them to you; start for America, and make your fortune there, as I'm trying to make mine here."
That evening Claparon, carefully disguised by Cerizet, left for Havre by the diligence. Cerizet remained master of the fifteen thousand francs to be paid to Claparon, and he awaited Theodose with the payment thereof tranquilly.
"The limit for bidding-in is passed," thought Theodose, as he went to find Dutocq and ask him to bring Cerizet to his office. "Suppose I were now to make an effort to get rid of my leech?"
"You can't settle this affair anywhere but at Cerizet's, because Claparon must be present, and he is hiding there," said Dutocq.
Accordingly, Theodose went, between seven and eight o'clock, to the den of the "banker of the poor," whom Dutocq had notified of his coming. Cerizet received him in the horrible kitchen where miseries and sorrows were chopped and cooked, as we have seen already. The pair then walked up and down, precisely like two animals in a cage, while mutually playing the following scene:—
"Have you brought the fifteen thousand francs?"
"No, but I have them at home."
"Why not have them in your pocket?" asked Cerizet, sharply.
"I'll tell you," replied Theodose, who, as he walked from the rue Saint-Dominique to the Estrapade, had decided on his course of action.
The Provencal, writhing upon the gridiron on which his partners held him, became suddenly possessed with a good idea, which flashed from the body of the live coal under him. Peril has gleams of light. He resolved to rely on the power of frankness, which affects all men, even swindlers. Every one is grateful to an adversary who bares himself to the waist in a duel.
"Well!" said Cerizet, "now the humbug begins."
The words seemed to come wholly through the hole in his nose with horrible intonations.
"You have put me in a magnificent position, and I shall never forget the service you have done me, my friend," began Theodose, with emotion.
"Oh, that's how you take it, is it?" said Cerizet.
"Listen to me; you don't understand my intentions."
"Yes, I do!" replied the lender by "the little week."
"No, you don't."
"You intend not to give up those fifteen thousand francs."
Theodose shrugged his shoulders and looked fixedly at Cerizet, who, struck by the two motions, kept silence.
"Would you live in my position, knowing yourself within range of a cannon loaded with grape-shot, without feeling a strong desire to get out of it? Now listen to me carefully. You are doing a dangerous business, and you would be glad enough to have some solid protection in the very heart of the magistracy of Paris. If I can continue my present course, I shall be substitute attorney-general, possibly attorney-general, in three years. I offer you to-day the offices of a devoted friendship, which will serve you hereafter most assuredly, if only to replace you in a honorable position. Here are my conditions—"
"Conditions!" exclaimed Cerizet.
"In ten minutes I will bring you twenty-five thousand francs if you return to me all the notes which you have against me."
"But Dutocq? and Claparon?" said Cerizet.
"Leave them in the lurch!" replied Theodose, with his lips at Cerizet's ear.
"That's a pretty thing to say!" cried Cerizet. "And so you have invented this little game of hocus-pocus because you hold in your fingers fifteen thousand francs that don't belong to you!"
"But I've added ten thousand francs to them. Besides, you and I know each other."
"If you are able to get ten thousand francs out of your bourgeois you can surely get fifteen," said Cerizet. "For thirty thousand I'm your man. Frankness for frankness, you know."
"You ask the impossible," replied Theodose. "At this very moment, if you had to do with Claparon instead of with me, your fifteen thousand would be lost, for Thuillier is to-day the owner of that house."
"I'll speak to Claparon," said Cerizet, pretending to go and consult him, and mounting the stairs to the bedroom, from which Claparon had only just departed on his road to Havre.
The two adversaries had been speaking, we should here remark, in a manner not to be overheard; and every time that Theodose raised his voice Cerizet would make a gesture, intimating that Claparon, from above, might be listening. The five minutes during which Theodose heard what seemed to be the murmuring of two voices were torture to him, for he had staked his very life upon the issue. Cerizet at last came down, with a smile upon his lips, his eyes sparkling with infernal mischief, his whole frame quivering in his joy, a Lucifer of gaiety!
"I know nothing, so it seems!" he cried, shaking his shoulders, "but Claparon knows a great deal; he has worked with the big-wig bankers, and when I told what you wanted he began to laugh, and said, 'I thought as much!' You will have to bring me the twenty-five thousand you offer me to-morrow morning, my lad; and as much more before you can recover your notes."
"Why?" asked Theodose, feeling his spinal column liquidizing as if the discharge of some inward electric fluid had melted it.
"The house is ours."
"Claparon has bit it in under the name of one of his creditors, a little toad named Sauvaignou. Desroches, the lawyer, has taken the case, and you'll get a notice to-morrow. This affair will oblige Claparon, Dutocq, and me to raise funds. What would become of me without Claparon! So I forgive him—yes, I forgave him, and though you may not believe it, my dear friend, I actually kissed him! Change your terms."
The last three words were horrible to hear, especially when illustrated by the face of the speaker, who amused himself by playing a scene from the "Legataire," all the while studying attentively the Provencal's character.
"Oh, Cerizet!" cried Theodose; "I, who wished to do you so much good!"
"Don't you see, my dear fellow," returned Cerizet, "that between you and me there ought to be this,—" and he struck his heart,—"of which you have none. As soon as you thought you had a lever on us, you have tried to knock us over. I saved you from the horrors of starvation and vermin! You'll die like the idiot you are. We put you on the high-road to fortune; we gave you a fine social skin and a position in which you could grasp the future—and look what you do! Now I know you! and from this time forth, we shall go armed."
"Then it is war between us!" exclaimed Theodose.
"You fired first," returned Cerizet.
"If you pull me down, farewell to your hopes and plans; if you don't pull me down, you have in me an enemy."
"That's just what I said yesterday to Dutocq; but, how can we help it? We are forced to choose between two alternatives—we must go according to circumstances. I'm a good-natured fellow myself," he added, after a pause; "bring me your twenty-five thousand francs to-morrow morning and Thuillier shall keep the house. We'll continue to help you at both ends, but you'll have to pay up, my boy. After what has just happened that's pretty kind, isn't it?"
And Cerizet patted Theodose on the shoulder, with a cynicism that seemed to brand him more than the iron of the galleys.
"Well, give me till to-morrow at mid-day," replied the Provencal, "for there'll be, as you said, some manipulation to do."
"I'll try to keep Claparon quiet; he's in such a hurry, that man!"
"To-morrow then," said Theodose, in the tone of a man who decides his course.
"Good-night, friend," said Cerizet, in his nasal tone, which degraded the finest word in the language. "There's one who has got a mouthful to suck!" thought Cerizet, as he watched Theodose going down the street with the step of a dazed man.
When la Peyrade reached the rue des Postes he went with rapid strides to Madame Colleville's house, exciting himself as he walked along, and talking aloud. The fire of his roused passions and the sort of inward conflagration of which many Parisians are conscious (for such situations abound in Paris) brought him finally to a pitch of frenzy and eloquence which found expression, as he turned into the rue des Deux-Eglises, in the words:—
"I will kill him!"
"There's a fellow who is not content!" said a passing workman, and the jesting words calmed the incandescent madness to which Theodose was a prey.
As he left Cerizet's the idea came to him to go to Flavie and tell her all. Southern natures are born thus—strong until certain passions arise, and then collapsed. He entered Flavie's room; she was alone, and when she saw Theodose she fancied her last hour had come.
"What is the matter?" she cried.
"I—I—" he said. "Do you love me, Flavie?"
"Oh! how can you doubt it?"
"Do you love me absolutely?—if I were criminal, even?"
"Has he murdered some one?" she thought, replying to his question by a nod.
Theodose, thankful to seize even this branch of willow, drew a chair beside Flavie's sofa, and there gave way to sobs that might have touched the oldest judge, while torrents of tears began to flow from his eyes.
Flavie rose and left the room to say to her maid: "I am not at home to any one." Then she closed all doors and returned to Theodose, moved to the utmost pitch of maternal solicitude. She found him stretched out, his head thrown back, and weeping. He had taken out his handkerchief, and when Flavie tried to move it from his face it was heavy with tears.
"But what is the matter?" she asked; "what ails you?"
Nature, more impressive than art, served Theodose well; no longer was he playing a part; he was himself; this nervous crisis and these tears were the winding up of his preceding scenes of acted comedy.
"You are a child," she said, in a gentle voice, stroking his hair softly.
"I have but you, you only, in all the world!" he replied, kissing her hands with a sort of passion; "and if you are true to me, if you are mine, as the body belongs to the soul and the soul to the body, then—" he added, recovering himself with infinite grace, "Then I can have courage."
He rose, and walked about the room.
"Yes, I will struggle; I will recover my strength, like Antaeus, from a fall; I will strangle with my own hands the serpents that entwine me, that kiss with serpent kisses, that slaver my cheeks, that suck my blood, my honor! Oh, misery! oh, poverty! Oh, how great are they who can stand erect and carry high their heads! I had better have let myself die of hunger, there, on my wretched pallet, three and a half years ago! A coffin is a softer bed to lie in than the life I lead! It is eighteen months that I have fed on bourgeois! and now, at the moment of attaining an honest, fortunate life, a magnificent future, at the moment when I was about to sit down to the social banquet, the executioner strikes me on the shoulder! Yes, the monster! he struck me there, on my shoulder, and said to me: 'Pay thy dues to the devil, or die!' And shall I not crush them? Shall I not force my arm down their throats to their very entrails? Yes, yes, I will, I will! See, Flavie, my eyes are dry now. Ha, ha! now I laugh; I feel my strength come back to me; power is mine! Oh! say that you love me; say it again! At this moment it sounds like the word 'Pardon' to the man condemned to death!"
"You are terrible, my friend!" cried Flavie. "Oh! you are killing me."
She understood nothing of all this, but she fell upon the sofa, exhausted by the spectacle. Theodose flung himself at her feet.
"Forgive me! forgive me!" he said.
"But what is the matter? what is it?" she asked again.
"They are trying to destroy me. Oh! promise to give me Celeste, and you shall see what a glorious life I will make you share. If you hesitate—very good; that is saying you will be wholly mine, and I will have you!"
He made so rapid a movement that Flavie, terrified, rose and moved away.
"Oh! my saint!" he cried, "at thy feet I fall—a miracle! God is for me, surely! A flash of light has come to me—an idea—suddenly! Oh, thanks, my good angel, my grand Saint-Theodose! thou hast saved me!"
Flavie could not help admiring that chameleon being; one knee on the floor, his hands crossed on his breast, and his eyes raised to heaven in religious ecstasy, he recited a prayer; he was a fervent Catholic; he reverently crossed himself. It was fine; like the vision of Saint-Jerome.
"Adieu!" he said, with a melancholy look and a moving tone of voice.
"Oh!" cried Flavie, "leave me this handkerchief."
Theodose rushed away like one possessed, sprang into the street, and darted towards the Thuilliers', but turned, saw Flavie at her window, and made her a little sign of triumph.
"What a man!" she thought to herself.
"Dear, good friend," he said to Thuillier, in a calm and gentle, almost caressing voice, "we have fallen into the hands of atrocious scoundrels. But I mean to read them a lesson."
"What has happened?" asked Brigitte.
"They want twenty-five thousand francs, and, in order to get the better of us, the notary, or his accomplices, have determined to bid in the property. Thuillier, put five thousand francs in your pocket and come with me; I will secure that house to you. I am making myself implacable enemies!" he cried; "they are seeking to destroy me morally. But all I ask is that you will disregard their infamous calumnies and feel no change of heart to me. After all, what is it? If I succeed, you will only have paid one hundred and twenty-five thousand francs for the house instead of one hundred and twenty."
"Provided the same thing doesn't happen again," said Brigitte, uneasily, her eyes dilating under the effect of a violent suspicion.
"Preferred creditors have alone the right to bid in property, and as, in this case, there is but one, and he has used that right, we are safe. The amount of his claim is really only two thousand francs, but there are lawyers, attorneys, and so forth, to pay in such matters, and we shall have to drop a note of a thousand francs to make the creditor happy."
"Go, Thuillier," said Brigitte, "get your hat and gloves, and take the money—from you know where."
"As I paid those fifteen thousand francs without success, I don't wish to have any more money pass through my hands. Thuillier must pay it himself," said Theodose, when he found himself alone with Brigitte. "You have, however, gained twenty thousand on the contract I enabled you to make with Grindot, who thought he was serving the notary, and you own a piece of property which in five years will be worth nearly a million. It is what is called a 'boulevard corner.'"
Brigitte listened uneasily, precisely like a cat which hears a mouse within the wall. She looked Theodose straight in the eye, and, in spite of the truth of his remarks, doubts possessed her.
"What troubles you, little aunt?"
"Oh! I shall be in mortal terror until that property is securely ours."
"You would be willing to give twenty thousand francs, wouldn't you," said Theodose, "to make sure that Thuillier was what we call, in law, 'owner not dispossessable' of that property? Well, then, remember that I have saved you twice that amount."
"Where are we going?" asked Thuillier, returning.
"To Maitre Godeschal! We must employ him as our attorney."
"But we refused him for Celeste."
"Well, that's one reason for going to him," replied Theodose. "I have taken his measure; he's a man of honor, and he'll think it a fine thing to do you a service."
Godeschal, now Derville's successor, had formerly been, for more than two years, head-clerk with Desroches. Theodose, to whom that circumstance was known, seemed to hear the name flung into his ear in the midst of his despair by an inward voice, and he foresaw a possibility of wrenching from the hands of Claparon the weapon with which Cerizet had threatened him. He must, however, in the first instance, gain an entrance to Desroches, and get some light on the actual situation of his enemies. Godeschal, by reason of the intimacy still existing between the former clerk and his old master, could be his go-between. When the attorneys of Paris have ties like those which bound Godeschal and Desroches together, they live in true fraternity, and the result is a facility in arranging any matters which are, as one may say, arrangeable. They obtain from one another, on the ground of reciprocity, all possible concessions by the application of the proverb, "Pass me the rhubarb, and I'll pass you the senna," which is put in practice in all professions, between ministers, soldiers, judges, business men; wherever, in short, enmity has not raised barriers too strong and high between the parties.
"I gain a pretty good fee out of this compromise," is a reason that needs no expression in words: it is visible in the gesture, the tone, the glance; and as attorneys and solicitors meet constantly on this ground, the matter, whatever it is, is arranged. The counterpoise of this fraternal system is found in what we may call professional conscience. The public must believe the physician who says, giving medical testimony, "This body contains arsenic"; nothing is supposed to exceed the integrity of the legislator, the independence of the cabinet minister. In like manner, the attorney of Paris says to his brother lawyer, good-humoredly, "You can't obtain that; my client is furious," and the other answers, "Very good; I must do without it."
Now, la Peyrade, a shrewd man, had worn his legal gown about the Palais long enough to know how these judicial morals might be made to serve his purpose.
"Sit in the carriage," he said to Thuillier, when they reached the rue Vivienne, where Godeschal was now master of the practice he had formerly served as clerk. "You needn't show yourself until he undertakes the affair."
It was eleven o'clock at night; la Peyrade was not mistaken in supposing that he should find a newly fledged master of a practice in his office at that hour.
"To what do I owe this visit, monsieur?" said Godeschal, coming forward to meet the barrister.
Foreigners, provincials, and persons in high society may not be aware that barristers are to attorneys what generals are to marshals. There exists a line of demarcation, strictly maintained, between the order of barristers and the guild of attorneys and solicitors in Paris. However venerable an attorney may be, however capable and strong in his profession, he must go to the barrister. The attorney is the administrator, who maps out the plan of the campaign, collects the munitions of war, and puts the force in motion; the barrister gives battle. It is not known why the law gives a man two men to defend him any more than it is known why an author is forced to have both printer and publisher. The rules of the bar forbid its members to do any act belonging to the guild of attorneys. It is very rare that a barrister puts his foot in an attorney's office; the two classes meet in the law-courts. In society, there is no barrier between them, and some barristers, those in la Peyrade's situation particularly, demean themselves by calling occasionally on attorneys, though even these cases are rare, and are usually excused by some special urgency.
"I have come on important business," replied la Peyrade; "it concerns, especially, a question of delicacy which you and I ought to solve together. Thuillier is below, in a carriage, and I have come up to see you, not as a barrister, but as his friend. You are in a position to do him an immense service; and I have told him that you have too noble a soul (as a worthy successor of our great Derville must have) not to put your utmost capacity at his orders. Here's the affair."
After explaining, wholly to his own advantage, the swindling trick which must, he said, be met with caution and ability, the barrister developed his plan of campaign.
"You ought, my dear maitre, to go this very evening to Desroches, explain the whole plot and persuade him to send to-morrow for his client, this Sauvaignou. We'll confess the fellow between us, and if he wants a note for a thousand francs over and above the amount of his claim, we'll let him have it; not counting the five hundred for you and as much more for Desroches, provided Thuillier receives the relinquishment of his claim by ten o'clock to-morrow morning. What does this Sauvaignou want? Nothing but money. Well, a haggler like that won't resist the attraction of an extra thousand francs, especially if he is only the instrument of a cupidity behind him. It is no matter to us how he fights it out with those who prompt him. Now, then, do you think you can get the Thuillier family out of this?"
"I'll go and see Desroches at once," said Godeschal.
"Not before Thuillier gives you a power of attorney and five hundred francs. The money should be on the table in a case like this."
After the interview with Thuillier was over, la Peyrade took Godeschal in the carriage to the rue du Bethizy, where Desroches lived, explaining that it was on their way back to the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. When they stopped at Desroches's door la Peyrade made an appointment with Godeschal to meet him there the next morning at seven o'clock.
La Peyrade's whole future and fortune lay in the outcome of this conference. It is therefore not astonishing that he disregarded the customs of the bar and went to Desroches's office, to study Sauvaignou and take part in the struggle, in spite of the danger he ran in thus placing himself visibly before the eyes of one of the most dreaded attorneys in Paris.
As he entered the office and made his salutations, he took note of Sauvaignou. The man was, as the name had already told him, from Marseilles,—the foreman of a master-carpenter, entrusted with the giving out of sub-contracts. The profits of this work consisted of what he could make between the price he paid for the work and that paid to him by the master-carpenter; this agreement being exclusive of material, his contract being only for labor. The master-carpenter had failed. Sauvaignou had thereupon appealed to the court of commerce for recognition as creditor with a lien on the property. He was a stocky little man, dressed in a gray linen blouse, with a cap on his head, and was seated in an armchair. Three banknotes, of a thousand francs each, lying visibly before him on Desroches's desk, informed la Peyrade that the negotiation had already taken place, and that the lawyers were worsted. Godeschal's eyes told the rest, and the glance which Desroches cast at the "poor man's advocate" was like the blow of a pick-axe into the earth of a grave. Stimulated by his danger, the Provencal became magnificent. He coolly took up the bank-notes and folded them, as if to put them in his pocket, saying to Desroches:—
"Thuillier has changed his mind."
"Very good; then we are all agreed," said the terrible attorney.
"Yes; your client must now hand over to us the fifty thousand francs we have spent on finishing the house, according to the contract between Thuillier and Grindot. I did not tell you that yesterday," he added, turning to Godeschal.
"Do you hear that?" said Desroches to Sauvaignou. "That's a case I shall not touch without proper guarantees."
"But, messieurs," said Sauvaignou, "I can't negotiate this matter until I have seen the worthy man who paid me five hundred francs on account for having signed him that bit of a proxy."
"Are you from Marseilles?" said la Peyrade, in patois.
"Oh! if he tackles him with patois the fellow is beaten," said Godeschal to Desroches in a low tone.
"Yes, monsieur," replied the Marseillais.
"Well, you poor devil," continued Theodose, "don't you see that they want to ruin you? Shall I tell you what you ought to do? Pocket these three thousand francs, and when your worthy man comes after you, take your rule and hit him a rap over the knuckles; tell him he's a rascal who wants you to do his dirty work, and instead of that you revoke your proxy and will pay him his five hundred francs in the week with three Thursdays. Then be off with you to Marseilles with these three thousand francs and your savings in your pocket. If anything happens to you there, let me know through these gentlemen, and I'll get you out of the scrape; for, don't you see? I'm not only a Provencal, but I'm also one of the leading lawyers in Paris, and the friend of the poor."
When the workman found a compatriot sanctioning in a tone of authority the reasons by which he could betray Cerizet, he capitulated, asking, however, for three thousand five hundred francs. That demand having been granted he remarked:—
"It is none too much for a rap over the knuckles; he might put me in prison for assault."
"Well, you needn't strike unless he insults you," replied la Peyrade, "and that's self-defence."
When Desroches had assured him that la Peyrade was really a barrister in good standing, Sauvaignou signed the relinquishment, which contained a receipt for the amount, principal and interest, of his claim, made in duplicate between himself and Thuillier, and witnessed by the two attorneys; so that the paper was a final settlement of the whole matter.
"We'll leave the remaining fifteen hundred between you," whispered la Peyrade to Desroches and Godeschal, "on condition that you give me the relinquishment, which I will have Thuillier accept and sign before his notary, Cardot. Poor man! he never closed his eyes all night!"
"Very well," replied Desroches. "You may congratulate yourself," he added, making Sauvaignou sign the paper, "that you've earned that money pretty easily."
"It is really mine, isn't it, monsieur?" said the Marseillais, already uneasy.
"Yes, and legally, too," replied Desroches, "only you must let your man know this morning that you have revoked your proxy under date of yesterday. Go out through my clerk's office, here, this way."
Desroches told his head-clerk what the man was to do, and he sent a pupil-clerk with him to see that a sheriff's officer carried the notice to Cerizet before ten o'clock.
"I thank you, Desroches," said la Peyrade, pressing the attorney's hand; "you think of everything; I shall never forget this service."
"Don't deposit the deed with Cardot till after twelve o'clock," returned Desroches.
"Hay! comrade," cried the barrister, in Provencal, following Sauvaignou into the next room, "take your Margot to walk about Belleville, and be sure you don't go home."
"I hear," said Sauvaignou. "I'm off to-morrow; adieu!"
"Adieu," returned la Peyrade, with a Provencal cry.
"There is something behind all this," said Desroches in an undertone to Godeschal, as la Peyrade followed Sauvaignou into the clerk's office.
"The Thuilliers get a splendid piece of property for next to nothing," replied Godeschal; "that's all."
"La Peyrade and Cerizet look to me like two divers who are fighting under water," replied Desroches. "What am I to say to Cerizet, who put the matter into my hands?" he added, as the barrister returned to them.
"Tell him that Sauvaignou forced your hand," replied la Peyrade.
"And you fear nothing?" said Desroches, in a sudden manner.
"I? oh no! I want to give Cerizet a lesson."
"To-morrow, I shall know the truth," said Desroches, in a low tone, to Godeschal; "no one chatters like a beaten man."
La Peyrade departed, carrying with him the deed of relinquishment. At eleven o'clock he was in the courtroom of the justice-of-peace, perfectly calm, and firm. When he saw Cerizet come in, pale with rage, his eyes full of venom, he said in his ear:—
"My dear friend, I'm a pretty good fellow myself, and I hold that twenty-five thousand francs in good bank-bills at your disposal, whenever you will return to me those notes of mine which you hold."
Cerizet looked at the advocate of the poor, without being able to say one word in reply; he was green; the bile had struck in.