The Middle Classes/Part II/Chapter IX
Once more afoot, and reckoning with his future, on which he had lost so much ground, la Peyrade asked himself if he had not better try to renew his relations with the Thuilliers, or whether he should be compelled to fall back on the rich crazy woman who had bullion where others have brains. But everything that reminded him of his disastrous campaign was repulsive to him; besides, what safety was there in dealing with this du Portail, a man who could use such instruments for his means of action?
Great commotions of the soul are like those storms which purify the atmosphere; they induce reflection, they counsel good and strong resolutions. La Peyrade, as the result of the cruel disappointment he had just endured, examined his own soul. He asked himself what sort of existence was this, of base and ignoble intrigue, which he had led for the past year? Was there for him no better, no nobler use to make of the faculties he felt within him? The bar was open to him as to others; that was a broad, straight path which could lead him to all the satisfaction of legitimate ambition. Like Figaro, who displayed more science and calculation in merely getting a living than statesmen had shown in governing Spain for a hundred years, he, la Peyrade, in order to install and maintain himself in the Thuillier household and marry the daughter of a clarionet and a smirched coquette, had spent more mind, more art, and—it should also be said, because in a corrupt society it is an element that must be reckoned—more dishonesty than was needed to advance him in some fine career.
"Enough of such connections as Dutocq and Cerizet," he said to himself; "enough of the nauseating atmosphere of the Minards and Phellions and Collevilles and Barniols and all the rest of them. I'll shake off this province 'intra muros,' a thousand times more absurd and petty than the true provinces; they at least, side by side with their pettiness, have habits and customs that are characteristic, a 'sui generis' dignity; they are frankly what they are, the antipodes of Parisian life; this other is but a parody of it. I will fling myself upon Paris."
In consequence of these reflections, la Peyrade went to see two or three barristers who had offered to introduce him at the Palais in secondary cases. He accepted those that presented themselves at once, and three weeks after his rupture with the Thuilliers he was no longer the "advocate of the poor," but a barrister pleading before the Royal court.
He had already pleaded several cases successfully when he received, one morning, a letter which greatly disturbed him. The president of the order of barristers requested him to come to his office at the Palais in the course of the day, as he had something of importance to say to him. La Peyrade instantly thought of the transaction relating to the purchase of the house on the boulevard de la Madeleine; it must have come, he thought, to the ears of the Council of Discipline; if so he was accountable to that tribunal and he knew its severity.
Now this du Portail, whom he had never yet been to see, in spite of his conditional promise to Cerizet, was likely to have heard the whole story of that transaction from Cerizet himself. Evidently all means were thought good by that man, judging by the use he had made of the Hungarian woman. In his savage determination to bring about the marriage with the crazy girl, had this virulent old man denounced him? On seeing him courageously and with some appearance of success entering a career in which he might find fame and independence, had his persecutor taken a step to make that career impossible? Certainly there was enough likelihood in this suggestion to make the barrister wait in cruel anxiety for the hour when he might learn the true nature of the alarming summons.
While breakfasting rather meagrely, his mind full of these painful conjectures, Madame Coffinet, who had the honor to take charge of his housekeeping, came up to ask if he would see Monsieur Etienne Lousteau. [See "The Great Man of the Provinces in Paris."]
Etienne Lousteau! la Peyrade had an idea that he had heard the name before.
"Show him into my office," he said to the portress.
A moment later he met his visitor, whose face did not seem utterly unknown to him.
"Monsieur," said this new-comer, "I had the honor of breakfasting with you not long ago at Vefour's; I was invited to that meeting, afterwards rather disturbed, by Monsieur Thuillier."
"Ah, very good!" said the barrister, offering a chair; "you are attached to the staff of a newspaper?"
"Editor-in-chief of the 'Echo de la Bievre,' and it is on the subject of that paper that I have now called to see you. You know what has happened?"
"No," said la Peyrade.
"Is it possible you are not aware that the ministry met with terrible defeat last night? But instead of resigning, as every one expected, they have dissolved the Chamber and appeal to the people."
"I knew nothing of all that," said la Peyrade. "I have not read the morning papers."
"So," continued Lousteau, "all parliamentary ambitions will take the field, and, if I am well informed, Monsieur Thuillier, already member of the Council-general, intends to present himself as candidate for election in the 12th arrondissement."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "that is likely to be his intention."
"Well, monsieur, I desire to place at his disposition an instrument the value of which I am confident you will not underestimate. The 'Echo de la Bievre,' a specialist paper, can have a decisive influence on the election in that quarter."
"And you would be disposed," asked la Peyrade, "to make that paper support Monsieur Thuillier's candidacy?"
"Better than that," replied Lousteau. "I have come to propose to Monsieur Thuillier that he purchase the paper itself. Once the proprietor of it he can use it as he pleases."
"But in the first place," said la Peyrade, "what is the present condition of the enterprise? In its character as a specialist journal—as you called it just now—it is a sheet I have seldom met with; in fact, it would be entirely unknown to me were it not for the remarkable article you were so good as to devote to Thuillier's defence at the time his pamphlet was seized."
Etienne Lousteau bowed his thanks, and then said:
"The position of the paper is excellent; we can give it to you on easy terms, for we were intending shortly to stop the publication."
"That is strange for a prosperous journal."
"On the contrary, it happens to be quite natural. The founders, who were all representatives of the great leather interest, started this paper for a special object. That object has been attained. The 'Echo de la Bievre' has therefore become an effect without a cause. In such a case, stockholders who don't like the tail end of matters, and are not eager after small profits, very naturally prefer to sell out."
"But," asked la Peyrade, "does the paper pay its costs?"
"That," replied Lousteau, "is a point we did not consider; we were not very anxious to have subscribers; the mainspring of the whole affair was direct and immediate action on the ministry of commerce to obtain a higher duty on the introduction of foreign leathers. You understand that outside of the tannery circle, this interest was not very exciting to the general reader."
"I should have thought, however," persisted la Peyrade, "that a newspaper, however circumscribed its action, would be a lever which depended for its force on the number of its subscribers."
"Not for journals which aim for a single definite thing," replied Lousteau, dogmatically. "In that case, subscribers are, on the contrary, an embarrassment, for you have to please and amuse them, and in so doing, the real object has to be neglected. A newspaper which has a definite and circumscribed object ought to be like the stroke of that pendulum which, striking steadily on one spot, fires at a given hour the cannon of the Palais-Royal."
"At any rate," said la Peyrade, "what price do you put upon a publication which has no subscribers, does not pay its expenses, and has until now been devoted to a purpose totally different from that you propose for it?"
"Before answering," returned Lousteau, "I shall ask you another question. Have you any intention of buying it?"
"That's according to circumstances," replied la Peyrade. "Of course I must see Thuillier; but I may here remark to you that he knows absolutely nothing about newspaper business. With his rather bourgeois ideas, the ownership of a newspaper will seem to him a ruinous speculation. Therefore, if, in addition to an idea that will scare him, you suggest an alarming price, it is useless for me to speak to him. I am certain he would never go into the affair."
"No," replied Lousteau. "I have told you we should be reasonable; these gentlemen have left the whole matter in my hands. Only, I beg to remark that we have had propositions from other parties, and in giving Monsieur Thuillier this option, we intended to pay him a particular courtesy. When can I have your answer?"
"To-morrow, I think; shall I have the honor of seeing you at your own house, or at the office of the journal?"
"No," said Lousteau, "to-morrow I will come here, at the same hour, if that is convenient to you."
"Perfectly," replied la Peyrade, bowing out his visitor, whom he was inclined to think more consequential than able.
By the manner in which the barrister had received the proposition to become an intermediary to Thuillier, the reader must have seen that a rapid revolution had taken place in his ideas. Even if he had not received that extremely disquieting letter from the president of the order of barristers, the new situation in which Thuillier would be placed if elected to the Chamber gave him enough to think about. Evidently his dear good friend would have to come back to him, and Thuillier's eagerness for election would deliver him over, bound hand and foot. Was it not the right moment to attempt to renew his marriage with Celeste? Far from being an obstacle to the good resolutions inspired by his amorous disappointment and his incipient brain fever, such a finale would ensure their continuance and success. Moreover, if he received, as he feared, one of those censures which would ruin his dawning prospects at the bar, it was with the Thuilliers, the accomplices and beneficiaries of the cause of his fall, that his instinct led him to claim an asylum.
With these thoughts stirring in his mind la Peyrade obeyed the summons and went to see the president of the order of barristers.
He was not mistaken; a very circumstantial statement of his whole proceeding in the matter of the house had been laid before his brethren of the bar; and the highest dignitary of the order, after stating that an anonymous denunciation ought always to be received with great distrust, told him that he was ready to receive and welcome an explanation. La Peyrade dared not entrench himself in absolute denial; the hand from which he believed the blow had come seemed to him too resolute and too able not to hold the proofs as well. But, while admitting the facts in general, he endeavored to give them an acceptable coloring. In this, he saw that he had failed, when the president said to him:—
"After the vacation which is now beginning I shall report to the Council of the order the charges made against you, and the statements by which you have defended yourself. The Council alone has the right to decide on a matter of such importance."
Thus dismissed, la Peyrade felt that his whole future at the bar was imperilled; but at least he had a respite, and in case of condemnation a new project on which to rest his head. Accordingly, he put on his gown, which he had never worn till now, and went to the fifth court-room, where he was employed upon a case.
As he left the court-room, carrying one of those bundles of legal papers held together by a strip of cotton which, being too voluminous to hold under the arm, are carried by the hand and the forearm pressed against the chest, la Peyrade began to pace about the Salle des Pas perdus with that harassed look of business which denotes a lawyer overwhelmed with work. Whether he had really excited himself in pleading, or whether he was pretending to be exhausted to prove that his gown was not a dignity for show, as it was with many of his legal brethren, but an armor buckled on for the fight, it is certain that, handkerchief in hand, he was mopping his forehead as he walked, when, in the distance, he spied Thuillier, who had evidently just caught sight of him, and was beginning on his side to manoeuvre.
La Peyrade was not surprised by the encounter. On leaving home he had told Madame Coffinet he was going to the Palais, and should be there till three o'clock, and she might send to him any persons who called on business. Not wishing to let Thuillier accost him too easily, he turned abruptly, as if some thought had changed his purpose, and went and seated himself on one of the benches which surround the walls of that great antechamber of Justice. There he undid his bundle, took out a paper, and buried himself in it with the air of a man who had not had time to examine in his study a case he was about to plead. It is not necessary to say that while doing this the Provencal was watching the manoeuvres of Thuillier out of the corner of his eye. Thuillier, believing that la Peyrade was really occupied in some serious business, hesitated to approach him.
However, after sundry backings and fillings the municipal councillor made up his mind, and sailing straight before the wind he headed for the spot he had been reconnoitring for the last ten minutes.
"Bless me, Theodose!" he cried as soon as he had got within hailing distance. "Do you come to the Palais now?"
"It seems to me," replied Theodose, "that barristers at the Palais are like Turks at Constantinople, where a friend of mine affirmed you could see a good many. It is YOU whom it is rather surprising to see here."
"Not at all," said Thuillier, carelessly. "I've come about that cursed pamphlet. Is there ever any end to your legal bothers? I was summoned here this morning, but I don't regret it, as it gives me the happy chance of meeting you."
"I, too," said la Peyrade, tying up his bundle. "I am very glad to see you, but I must leave you now; I have an appointment, and I suppose you want to do your business at once."
"I have done it," said Thuillier.
"Did you speak to Olivier Vinet, that mortal enemy of yours? he sits in that court," asked la Peyrade.
"No," said Thuillier, naming another official.
"Well, that's queer!" said the barrister; "that fellow must have the gift of ubiquity; he has been all the morning in the fifth court-room, and has just this minute given a judgment on a case I pleaded."
Thuillier colored, and got out of his hobble as best he could. "Oh, hang it!" he said; "those men in gowns are all alike, I don't know one from another."
La Peyrade shrugged his shoulders and said aloud, but as if to himself: "Always the same; crafty, crooked, never straightforward."
"Whom are you talking about?" asked Thuillier, rather nonplussed.
"Why, of you, my dear fellow, who take me for an imbecile, as if I and the whole world didn't know that your pamphlet business came to an end two weeks ago. Why, then, summon you to court?"
"Well, I was sent for," said Thuillier, with embarrassment; "something about registry fees,—it is all Greek to me, I can't comprehend their scrawls."
"And they chose," said la Peyrade, "precisely the very day when the Moniteur, announcing the dissolution of the Chamber, made you think about being a candidate for the 12th arrondissement."
"Why not?" asked Thuillier, "what has my candidacy to do with the fees I owe to the court?"
"I'll tell you," said la Peyrade, dryly. "The court is a thing essentially amiable and complaisant. 'Tiens!' it said to itself, 'here's this good Monsieur Thuillier going to be a candidate for the Chamber; how hampered he'll be by his attitude to his ex-friend Monsieur de la Peyrade, with whom he wishes now he hadn't quarrelled. I'll summon him for fees he doesn't owe; that will bring him to the Palais where la Peyrade comes daily; and in that way he can meet him by chance, and so avoid taking a step which would hurt his self-love."
"Well, there you are mistaken!" cried Thuillier, breaking the ice. "I used so little craft, as you call it, that I've just come from your house, there! and your portress told me where to find you."
"Well done!" said la Peyrade, "I like this frankness; I can get on with men who play above-board. Well, what do you want of me? Have you come to talk about your election? I have already begun to work for it."
"No, really?" said Thuillier, "how?"
"Here," replied la Peyrade, feeling under his gown for his pocket and bringing out a paper, "here's what I scribbled just now in the court-room while the lawyer on the other side rambled on like an expert."
"What is it about?" asked Thuillier.
"Read and you'll see."
The paper read as follows:—
Estimate for a newspaper, small size, at thirty francs a year. Calculating the editions at 5,000 the costs are:— Paper, 5 reams at 12 francs . . . . . . . . . . 1,860 francs. Composition . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2,400 " Printing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 450 " One administrator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 250 " One clerk . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 " One editor (also cashier) . . . . . . . . . . . 200 " One despatcher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 " Folders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 " One office boy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80 " Office expenses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 " Rent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 " License and postage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7,500 " Reporting and stenographic news . . . . . . . . 1,800 " --------- Total monthly, 15,110 " " yearly, 181,320 "
"Do you want to set up a paper?" asked Thuillier, in dread.
"I?" asked la Peyrade, "I want nothing at all; you are the one to be asked if you want to be a deputy."
"Undoubtedly I do; because, when you urged me to become a municipal councillor, you put the idea into my head. But reflect, my dear Theodose, one hundred and eighty one thousand three hundred and twenty francs to put out! Have I a fortune large enough to meet such a demand?"
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "you could very well support that expense, for considering the end you want to obtain there is nothing exorbitant in it. In England they make much greater sacrifices to get a seat in Parliament; but in any case, I beg you to observe that the costs are very high on that estimate, and some could be cut off altogether. For instance, you would not want an administrator. You, yourself, an old accountant, and I, an old journalist, can very well manage the affair between us. Also rent, we needn't count that; you have your old apartment in the rue Saint-Dominique which is not yet leased; that will make a fine newspaper office."
"All that costs off two thousand four hundred francs a year," said Thuillier.
"Well, that's something; but your error consists in calculating on the yearly cost. When do the elections take place?"
"In two months," said Thuillier.
"Very good; two months will cost you thirty thousand francs, even supposing the paper had no subscribers."
"True," said Thuillier, "the expense is certainly less than I thought at first. But does a newspaper really seem to you essential?"
"So essential that without that power in our hands, I won't have anything to do with the election. You don't seem to see, my poor fellow, that in going to live in the other quarter you have lost, electorally speaking, an immense amount of ground. You are no longer the man of the place, and your election could be balked by the cry of what the English call 'absenteeism.' This makes your game very hard to play."
"I admit that," said Thuillier; "but there are so many things wanted besides money,—a name for one thing, a manager, editorial staff, and so forth."
"A name, we have one made to hand; editors, they are you and I and a few young fellows who grow on every bush in Paris. As for the manager, I have a man in view."
"What name is it?" asked Thuillier.
"L'Echo de la Bievre."
"But there is already a paper of that name."
"Precisely, and that's why I give my approval to the affair. Do you think I should be fool enough to advise you to start an entirely new paper? 'Echo de la Bievre!' that title is a treasure to a man who wants support for his candidacy in the 12th arrondissement. Say the word only, and I put that treasure into your hands."
"How?" asked Thuillier, with curiosity.
"Parbleu! by buying it; it can be had for a song."
"There now, you see," said Thuillier in a discouraged tone; "you never counted in the cost of purchase."
"How you dwell on nothings!" said la Peyrade, hunching his shoulders; "we have other and more important difficulties to solve."
"Other difficulties?" echoed Thuillier.
"Parbleu!" exclaimed la Peyrade; "do you suppose that after all that has taken place between us I should boldly harness myself to your election without knowing exactly what benefit I am to get for it?"
"But," said Thuillier, rather astonished, "I thought that friendship was a good exchange for such services."
"Yes; but when the exchange consists in one side giving all and the other side nothing, friendship gets tired of that sort of sharing, and asks for something a little better balanced."
"But, my dear Theodose, what have I to offer you that you have not already rejected?"
"I rejected it, because it was offered without heartiness, and seasoned with Mademoiselle Brigitte's vinegar; every self-respecting man would have acted as I did. Give and keep don't pass, as the old legal saying is; but that is precisely what you persist in doing."
"I!—I think you took offence very unreasonably; but the engagement might be renewed."
"So be it," replied la Peyrade; "but I will not put myself at the mercy of either the success of the election or Mademoiselle Celeste's caprices. I claim the right to something positive and certain. Give and take; short accounts make good friends."
"I perfectly agree with you," said Thuillier, "and I have always treated you with too much good faith to fear any of these precautions you now want to take. But what guarantees do you want?"
"I want that the husband of Celeste should manage your election, and not Theodose de la Peyrade."
"By hurrying things as much as possible, so Brigitte said, it would still take fifteen days; and just think, with the elections only eight weeks off, to lose two of them doing nothing!"
"Day after to-morrow," replied la Peyrade, "the banns can be published for the first time at the mayor's office, in the intervals of publication some things could be done, for though the publishing of the banns is not a step from which there is no retreat, it is at least a public pledge and a long step taken; after that we can get your notary to draw the contract at once. Moreover, if you decide on buying this newspaper, I shouldn't be afraid that you would go back on me, for you don't want a useless horse in your stable, and without me I am certain you can't manage him."
"But, my dear fellow," said Thuillier, going back to his objections, "suppose that affair proves too onerous?"
"There's no need to say that you are the sole judge of the conditions of the purchase. I don't wish any more than you do to buy a pig in a poke. If to-morrow you authorize me, I won't say to buy, but to let these people know that you may possibly make the purchase, I'll confer with one of them on your behalf, and you may be certain that I'll stand up for your interests as if they were my own."
"Very good, my dear fellow," said Thuillier, "go ahead!"
"And as soon as the paper is purchased we are to fix the day for signing the contract?"
"Yes," replied Thuillier; "but will you bind yourself to use your utmost influence on the election?"
"As if it were my own," replied la Peyrade, "which, by the bye, is not altogether an hypothesis. I have already received suggestions about my own candidacy, and if I were vindictive—"
"Certainly," said Thuillier, with humility, "you would make a better deputy than I; but you are not of the required age, I think."
"There's a better reason than that," said la Peyrade; "you are my friend; I find you again what you once were, and I shall keep the pledges I have given you. As for the election, I prefer that people say of me, 'He makes deputies, but will be none himself.' Now I must leave you and keep my appointment. To-morrow in my own rooms, come and see me; I shall have something to announce."
Whoso has ever been a newspaper man will ever be one; that horoscope is as sure and certain as that of drunkards. Whoever has tasted that feverishly busy and relatively lazy and independent life; whoever has exercised that sovereignty which criticises intellect, art, talent, fame, virtue, absurdity, and even truth; whoever has occupied that tribune erected by his own hands, fulfilled the functions of that magistracy to which he is self-appointed,—in short, whosoever has been, for however brief a span, that proxy of public opinion, looks upon himself when remanded to private life as an exile, and the moment a chance is offered to him puts out an eager hand to snatch back his crown.
For this reason when Etienne Lousteau went to la Peyrade, a former journalist, with an offer of the weapon entitled the "Echo de la Bievre," all the latter's instincts as a newspaper man were aroused, in spite of the very inferior quality of the blade. The paper had failed; la Peyrade believed he could revive it. The subscribers, on the vendor's own showing, were few and far between, but he would exercise upon them a "compelle intrare" both powerful and irresistible. In the circumstances under which the affair was presented to him it might surely be considered provincial. Threatened with the loss of his position at the bar, he was thus acquiring, as we said before, a new position and that of a "detached fort"; compelled, as he might be, to defend himself, he could from that vantage-ground take the offensive and oblige his enemies to reckon with him.
On the Thuillier side, the newspaper would undoubtedly make him a personage of considerable importance; he would have more power on the election; and by involving their capital in an enterprise which, without him, they would feel a gulf and a snare, he bound them to him by self-interests so firmly that there was nothing to fear from their caprice or ingratitude.
This horizon, rapidly taken in during Etienne Lousteau's visit, had fairly dazzled the Provencal, and we have seen the peremptory manner in which Thuillier was forced into accepting with some enthusiasm the discovery of this philosopher's-stone.
The cost of the purchase was ridiculously insignificant. A bank-note for five hundred francs, for which Etienne Lousteau never clearly accounted to the share-holders, put Thuillier in possession of the name, property, furniture, and good-will of the newspaper, which he and la Peyrade at once busied themselves in reorganizing.