The Middle Classes/Part II/Chapter XI
On his return to the office after his conference with Brigitte, Thuillier found la Peyrade at his post as editor-in-chief, and in a position of much embarrassment, caused by the high hand he had reserved for himself as the sole selector of articles and contributors. At this moment, Phellion, instigated by his family, and deeply conscious of his position on the reading-committee of the Odeon, had come to offer his services as dramatic critic.
"My dear monsieur," he said, continuing his remarks to la Peyrade, after inquiring of Thuillier about his health, "I was a great student of the theatre in my youth; the stage and its scenic effects continue to have for me peculiar attractions; and the white hairs which crown my brow to-day seem to me no obstacle to my allowing your interesting publication to profit by the fruit of my studies and my experience. As member of the reading-committee of the Odeon theatre, I am conversant with the modern drama, and—if I may be quite sure of your discretion—I will even confide to you that among my papers it would not be impossible for me to find a certain tragedy entitled 'Sapor,' which in my young days won me some fame when read in salons."
"Ah!" said la Peyrade, endeavoring to gild the refusal he should be forced to give, "why not try to have it put upon the stage? We might be able to help you in that direction."
"Certainly," said Thuillier, "the director of any theatre to whom we should recommend—"
"No," replied Phellion. "In the first place, as member of the reading-committee of the Odeon, having to sit in judgment upon others, it would not become me to descend into the arena myself. I am an old athlete, whose business it is to judge of blows he can no longer give. In this sense, criticism is altogether within my sphere, and all the more because I have certain views on the proper method of composing dramatic feuilletons which I think novel. The 'castigat ridendo mores' ought to be, according to my humble lights, the great law, I may say the only law of the stage. I should therefore show myself pitiless for those works, bred of imagination, in which morality has no part, and to which mothers of families—"
"Excuse me," said la Peyrade, "for interrupting you; but before allowing you to take the trouble to develop your poetical ideas, I ought to tell you that we have already made arrangements for our dramatic criticism."
"Ah! that's another thing," said Phellion; "an honest man must keep his word."
"Yes," said Thuillier, "we have our dramatic critic, little thinking that you would offer us your valuable assistance."
"Well," said Phellion, suddenly becoming crafty,—for there is something in the newspaper atmosphere, impossible to say what, which flies to the head, the bourgeois head especially,—"since you are good enough to consider my pen capable of doing you some service, perhaps a series of detached thoughts on different subjects, to which I should venture to give the name of 'Diversities,' might be of a nature to interest your readers."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, with a maliciousness that was quite lost upon Phellion, "thoughts, especially in the style of la Rochefoucauld or la Bruyere, might do. What do you think yourself, Thuillier?"
He reserved to himself the right to leave the responsibility of refusals, as far as he could, to the proprietor of the paper.
"But I imagine that thoughts, especially if detached, cannot be very consecutive," said Thuillier.
"Evidently not," replied Phellion; "detached thoughts imply the idea of a very great number of subjects on which the author lets his pen stray without the pretension of presenting a whole."
"You will of course sign them?" said la Peyrade.
"Oh, no!" replied Phellion, alarmed. "I could not put myself on exhibition in that way."
"Your modesty, which by the bye I understand and approve, settles the matter," said la Peyrade. "Thoughts are a subject altogether individual, which imperatively require to be personified by a name. You must be conscious of this yourself. 'Divers Thoughts by Monsieur Three-Stars' says nothing to the public."
Seeing that Phellion was about to make objections, Thuillier, who was in a hurry to begin his fight with la Peyrade, cut the matter short rather sharply.
"My dear Phellion," he said, "I beg your pardon for not being able to enjoy the pleasure of your conversation any longer, but we have to talk, la Peyrade and I, over a matter of much importance, and in newspaper offices this devilish time runs away so fast. If you are willing, we will postpone the question to another day. Madame Phellion is well, I trust?"
"Perfectly well," said the great citizen, rising, and not appearing to resent his dismissal. "When does your first number appear?" he added; "it is eagerly awaited in the arrondissement."
"To-morrow I think our confession of faith will make its appearance," replied Thuillier, accompanying him to the door. "You will receive a copy, my dear friend. We shall meet again soon, I hope. Come and see us, and bring that manuscript; la Peyrade's point of view may be a little arbitrary."
With this balm shed upon his wound, Phellion departed, and Thuillier rang the bell for the porter.
"Could you recognize the gentlemen who has just gone out the next time you see him?" asked Thuillier.
"Oh, yes, m'sieu, his round ball of a head is too funny to forget; besides, it is Monsieur Phellion; haven't I opened the door to him hundreds of times?"
"Well, whenever he comes again neither I nor Monsieur de la Peyrade will be here. Remember that's a positive rule. Now leave us."
"The devil!" cried la Peyrade, when the two partners were alone, "how you manage bores. But take care; among the number there may be electors. You did right to tell Phellion you would send him a copy of the paper; he has a certain importance in the quarter."
"Well," said Thuillier, "we can't allow our time to be taken up by all the dull-heads who come and offer their services. But now you and I have to talk, and talk very seriously. Be seated and listen."
"Do you know, my dear fellow," said la Peyrade, laughing, "that journalism is making you into something very solemn? 'Be seated, Cinna,'—Caesar Augustus couldn't have said it otherwise."
"Cinnas, unfortunately, are more plentiful than people think," replied Thuillier.
He was still under the goad of the promise he had made to Brigitte, and he meant to fulfil it with cutting sarcasm. The top continued the whirling motion imparted to it by the old maid's lash.
La Peyrade took a seat at the round table. As he was puzzled to know what was coming, he endeavored to seem unconcerned, and picking up the large scissors used for the loans which all papers make from the columns of their brethren of the press, he began to snip up a sheet of paper, on which, in Thuillier's handwriting, was an attempt at a leading article, never completed.
Though la Peyrade was seated and expectant, Thuillier did not begin immediately; he rose and went toward the door which stood ajar, with the intention of closing it. But suddenly it was flung wide open, and Coffinet appeared.
"Will monsieur," said Coffinet to la Peyrade, "receive two ladies? They are very well-dressed, and the young one ain't to be despised."
"Shall I let them in?" said la Peyrade to Thuillier.
"Yes, since they are here," growled Thuillier; "but get rid of them as soon as possible."
Coffinet's judgment on the toilet of the two visitors needs revision. A woman is well-dressed, not when she wears rich clothes, but when her clothes present a certain harmony of shapes and colors which form an appropriate and graceful envelope to her person. Now a bonnet with a flaring brim, surmounted by nodding plumes, an immense French cashmere shawl, worn with the awkward inexperience of a young bride, a plaid silk gown with enormous checks and a triple tier of flounces with far too many chains and trinkets (though to be just, the boots and gloves were irreproachable), constituted the apparel of the younger of these ladies. As for the other, who seemed to be in the tow of her dressy companion, she was short, squat, and high-colored, and wore a bonnet, shawl, and gown which a practised eye would at once have recognized as second hand. Mothers of actresses are always clothed by this very economical process. Their garments, condemned to the service of two generations, reverse the order of things, and go from descendants to ancestors.
Advancing two chairs, la Peyrade inquired, "To whom have I the honor of speaking?"
"Monsieur," said the younger visitor, "I am a dramatic artist, and as I am about to make my first appearance in this quarter, I allow myself to hope that a journal of this locality will favor me."
"At what theatre?" asked la Peyrade.
"The Folies, where I am engaged for the Dejazets."
"The Folies?" echoed la Peyrade, in a tone that demanded an explanation.
"Folies-Dramatiques," interposed the agreeable Madame Cardinal, whom the reader has doubtless recognized.
"When do you appear?" asked la Peyrade.
"Next week, monsieur,—a fairy piece in which I play five parts."
"You'll encourage her, monsieur, won't you?" said Madame Cardinal, in a coaxing voice; "she's so young, and I can certify she works day and night."
"Mother!" said Olympe, with authority, "the public will judge me; all I want is that monsieur will kindly promise to notice my debut."
"Very good, mademoiselle," said la Peyrade in a tone of dismissal, beginning to edge the pair to the door.
Olympe Cardinal went first, leaving her mother to hurry after her as best she could.
"At home to no one!" cried Thuillier to the office-boy as he closed the door and slipped the bolt. "Now," he said, addressing la Peyrade, "we will talk. My dear fellow," he went on, starting with irony, for he remembered to have heard that nothing was more confusing to an adversary, "I have heard something that will give you pleasure. I know now why MY pamphlet was seized."
So saying, he looked fixedly at la Peyrade.
"Parbleu!" said the latter in a natural tone of voice, "it was seized because they chose to seize it. They wanted to find, and they found, because they always find the things they want, what the king's adherents call 'subversive doctrine.'"
"No, you are wrong," said Thuillier; "the seizure was planned, concocted, and agreed upon before publication."
"Between whom?" asked la Peyrade.
"Between those who wanted to kill the pamphlet, and the wretches who were paid to betray it."
"Well, in any case, those who paid," said la Peyrade, "got mighty little for their money; for, persecuted though it was, I don't see that your pamphlet made much of a stir."
"Those who sold may have done better?" said Thuillier with redoubled irony.
"Those who sold," returned la Peyrade, "were the cleverer of the two."
"Ah, I know," said Thuillier, "that you think a great deal of cleverness; but allow me to tell you that the police, whose hand I see in all this, doesn't usually throw its money away."
And again he looked fixedly at la Peyrade.
"So," said the barrister, without winking, "you have discovered that the police had plotted in advance the smothering of your pamphlet?"
"Yes, my dear fellow; and what is more, I know the actual sum paid to the person who agreed to carry out this honorable plot."
"The person," said la Peyrade, thinking a moment,—"perhaps I know the person; but as for the money, I don't know a word about that."
"Well, I can tell you the amount. It was twenty-five—thousand—francs," said Thuillier, dwelling on each word; "that was the sum paid to Judas."
"Oh! excuse me, my dear fellow, but twenty-five thousand francs is a good deal of money. I don't deny that you have become an important man; but you are not such a bugbear to the government as to lead it to make such sacrifices. Twenty-five thousand francs is as much as would ever be given for the suppression of one of those annoying pamphlets about the Civil list. But our financial lucubrations didn't annoy in that way; and such a sum borrowed from the secret-service money for the mere pleasure of plaguing you, seems to me rather fabulous."
"Apparently," said Thuillier, acrimoniously, "this honest go-between had some interest in exaggerating my value. One thing is very sure; this monsieur had a debt of twenty-five thousand francs which harassed him much; and a short time before the seizure this same monsieur, who had no means of his own, paid off that debt; and unless you can tell me where else he got the money, the inference I think is not difficult to draw."
It was la Peyrade's turn to look fixedly at Thuillier.
"Monsieur Thuillier," he said, raising his voice, "let us get out of enigmas and generalities; will you do me the favor to name that person?"
"Well, no," replied Thuillier, striking his hand upon the table, "I shall not name him, because of the sentiments of esteem and affection which formerly united us; but you have understood me, Monsieur la Peyrade."
"I ought to have known," said the Provencal, in a voice changed by emotion, "that in bringing a serpent to this place I should soon be soiled by his venom. Poor fool! do you not see that you have made yourself the echo of Cerizet's calumny?"
"Cerizet has nothing to do with it; on the contrary, he has told me the highest good of you. How was it, not having a penny the night before,—and I had reason to know it,—that you were able to pay Dutocq the round sum of twenty-five thousand francs the next day?"
La Peyrade reflected for a moment.
"No," he said, "it was not Dutocq who told you that. He is not a man to wrestle with an enemy of my strength without a strong interest in it. It was Cerizet; he's the infamous calumniator, from whose hands I wrenched the lease of your house near the Madeleine,—Cerizet, whom in kindness, I went to seek on his dunghill that I might give him the chance of honorable employment; that is the wretch, to whom a benefit is only an encouragement to treachery. Tiens! if I were to tell you what that man is I should turn you sick with disgust; in the sphere of infamy he has discovered worlds."
This time Thuillier made an able reply.
"I don't know anything about Cerizet except through you," he said; "you introduced him to me as a manager, offering every guarantee; but, allowing him to be blacker than the devil, and supposing that this communication comes from him, I don't see, my friend, that all that makes YOU any the whiter."
"No doubt I was to blame," said la Peyrade, "for putting such a man into relations with you; but we wanted some one who understood journalism, and that value he really had for us. But who can ever sound the depths of souls like his? I thought him reformed. A manager, I said to myself, is only a machine; he can do no harm. I expected to find him a man of straw; well, I was mistaken, he will never be anything but a man of mud."
"All that is very fine," said Thuillier, "but those twenty-five thousand francs found so conveniently in your possession, where did you get them? That is the point you are forgetting to explain."
"But to reason about it," said la Peyrade; "a man of my character in the pay of the police and yet so poor that I could not pay the ten thousand francs your harpy of a sister demanded with an insolence which you yourself witnessed—"
"But," said Thuillier, "if the origin of this money is honest, as I sincerely desire it may be, what hinders you from telling me how you got it?"
"I cannot," said la Peyrade; "the history of that money is a secret entrusted to me professionally."
"Come, come, you told me yourself that the statutes of your order forbid all barristers from doing business of any kind."
"Let us suppose," said la Peyrade, "that I have done something not absolutely regular; it would be strange indeed after what I risked, as you know, for you, if you should have the face to reproach me with it."
"My poor friend, you are trying to shake off the hounds; but you can't make me lose the scent. You wish to keep your secret; then keep it. I am master of my own confidence and my own esteem; by paying you the forfeit stipulated in our deed I take the newspaper into my own hands."
"Do you mean that you dismiss me?" cried la Peyrade. "The money that you have put into the affair, all your chances of election, sacrificed to the calumnies of such a being as Cerizet!"
"In the first place," said Thuillier, "another editor-in-chief can be found; it is a true saying that no man is indispensable. As for election to the Chamber I would rather never receive it than owe it to the help of one who—"
"Go on," said la Peyrade, seeing that Thuillier hesitated, "or rather, no, be silent, for you will presently blush for your suspicions and ask my pardon humbly."
By this time la Peyrade saw that without a confession to which he must compel himself, the influence and the future he had just recovered would be cut from under his feet. Resuming his speech he said, solemnly:—
"You will remember, my friend, that you were pitiless, and, by subjecting me to a species of moral torture, you have forced me to reveal to you a secret that is not mine."
"Go on," said Thuillier, "I take the whole responsibility upon myself. Make me see the truth clearly in this darkness, and if I have done wrong I will be the first to say so."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "those twenty-five thousand francs are the savings of a servant-woman who came to me and asked me to take them and to pay her interest."
"A servant with twenty-five thousand francs of savings! Nonsense; she must serve in monstrously rich households."
"On the contrary, she is the one servant of an infirm old savant; and it was on account of the discrepancy which strikes your mind that she wanted to put her money in my hands as a sort of trustee."
"Bless me! my friend," said Thuillier, flippantly, "you said we were in want of a romance-feuilletonist; but really, after this, I sha'n't be uneasy. Here's imagination for you!"
"What?" said la Peyrade, angrily, "you don't believe me?"
"No, I do not believe you. Twenty-five thousand francs savings in the service of an old savant! that is about as believable as the officer of La Dame Blanche buying a chateau with his pay."
"But if I prove to you the truth of my words; if I let you put your finger upon it?"
"In that case, like Saint Thomas, I shall lower my flag before the evidence. Meanwhile you must permit me, my noble friend, to wait until you offer me that proof."
Thuillier felt really superb.
"I'd give a hundred francs," he said to himself, "if Brigitte could have been here and heard me impeach him."
"Well," said la Peyrade, "suppose that without leaving this office, and by means of a note which you shall read, I bring into your presence the person from whom I received the money; if she confirms what I say will you believe me?"
This proposal and the assurance with which it was made rather staggered Thuillier.
"I shall know what to do when the time comes," he replied, changing his tone. "But this must be done at once, now, here."
"I said, without leaving this office. I should think that was clear enough."
"And who will carry the note you write?" asked Thuillier, believing that by thus examining every detail he was giving proofs of amazing perspicacity.
"Carry the note! why, your own porter of course," replied la Peyrade; "you can send him yourself."
"Then write it," said Thuillier, determined to push him to the wall.
La Peyrade took a sheet of paper with the new heading and wrote as follows, reading the note aloud:—
Madame Lambert is requested to call at once, on urgent business,
at the office of the "Echo de la Bievre," rue Saint-Dominique
d'Enfer. The bearer of this note will conduct her. She is awaited
impatiently by her devoted servant,
Theodose de la Peyrade.
"There, will that suit you?" said the barrister, passing the paper to Thuillier.
"Perfectly," replied Thuillier, taking the precaution to fold the letter himself and seal it. "Put the address," he added.
Then he rang the bell for the porter.
"You will carry this letter to its address," he said to the man, "and bring back with you the person named. But will she be there?" he asked, on reflection.
"It is more than probable," replied la Peyrade; "in any case, neither you nor I will leave this room until she comes. This matter must be cleared up."
"Then go!" said Thuillier to the porter, in a theatrical tone.
When they were alone, la Peyrade took up a newspaper and appeared to be absorbed in its perusal.
Thuillier, beginning to get uneasy as to the upshot of the affair, regretted that he had not done something the idea of which had come to him just too late.
"Yes, I ought," he said to himself, "to have torn up that letter, and not driven him to prove his words."
Wishing to do something that might look like retaining la Peyrade in the position of which he had threatened to deprive him, he remarked presently:—
"By the bye, I have just come from the printing-office; the new type has arrived, and I think we might make our first appearance to-morrow."
La Peyrade did not answer; but he got up and took his paper nearer to the window.
"He is sulky," thought Thuillier, "and if he is innocent, he may well be. But, after all, why did he ever bring a man like that Cerizet here?"
Then to hide his embarrassment and the preoccupation of his mind, he sat down before the editor's table, took a sheet of the head-lined paper and made himself write a letter.
Presently la Peyrade returned to the table and sitting down, took another sheet and with the feverish rapidity of a man stirred by some emotion he drove his pen over the paper.
From the corner of his eye, Thuillier tried hard to see what la Peyrade was writing, and noticing that his sentences were separated by numbers placed between brackets, he said:—
"Tiens! are you drawing up a parliamentary law?"
"Yes," replied la Peyrade, "the law of the vanquished."
Soon after this, the porter opened the door and introduced Madame Lambert, whom he had found at home, and who arrived looking rather frightened.
"You are Madame Lambert?" asked Thuillier, magisterially.
"Yes, monsieur," said the woman, in an anxious voice.
After requesting her to be seated and noticing that the porter was still there as if awaiting further orders he said to the man:—
"That will do; you may go; and don't let any one disturb us."
The gravity and the lordly tone assumed by Thuillier only increased Madame Lambert's uneasiness. She came expecting to see only la Peyrade, and she found herself received by an unknown man with a haughty manner, while the barrister, who had merely bowed to her, said not a word; moreover, the scene took place in a newspaper office, and it is a well-known fact that to pious persons especially all that relates to the press is infernal and diabolical.
"Well," said Thuillier to the barrister, "it seems to me that nothing hinders you from explaining to madame why you have sent for her."
In order to leave no loophole for suspicion in Thuillier's mind la Peyrade knew that he must put his question bluntly and without the slightest preparation; he therefore said to her "ex abrupto":—
"We wish to ask you, madame, if it is not true that about two and a half months ago you placed in my hands, subject to interest, the sum, in round numbers, of twenty-five thousand francs."
Though she felt the eyes of Thuillier and those of la Peyrade upon her, Madame Lambert, under the shock of this question fired at her point-blank, could not restrain a start.
"Heavens!" she exclaimed, "twenty-five thousand francs! and where should I get such a sum as that?"
La Peyrade gave no sign on his face of the vexation he might be supposed to feel. As for Thuillier, who now looked at him with sorrowful commiseration, he merely said:—
"You see, my friend!"
"So," resumed la Peyrade, "you are very certain that you did not place in my hands the sum of twenty-five thousand francs; you declare this, you affirm it?"
"Why, monsieur! did you ever hear of such a sum as that in the pocket of a poor woman like me? The little that I had, as everybody knows, has gone to eke out the housekeeping of that poor dear gentleman whose servant I have been for more than twenty years."
"This," said Thuillier, pompously, "seems to me categorical."
La Peyrade still did not show the slightest sign of annoyance; on the contrary, he seemed to be playing into Thuillier's hand.
"You hear, my dear Thuillier," he said, "and if necessary I shall call for your testimony, that madame here declares that she did not possess twenty-five thousand francs and could not therefore have placed them in my hands. Now, as the notary Dupuis, in whose hands I fancied I had placed them, left Paris this morning for Brussels carrying with him the money of all his clients, I have no account with madame, by her own showing, and the absconding of the notary—"
"Has the notary Dupuis absconded?" screamed Madame Lambert, driven by this dreadful news entirely out of her usual tones of dulcet sweetness and Christian resignation. "Ah, the villain! it was only this morning that he was taking the sacrament at Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas."
"To pray for a safe journey, probably," said la Peyrade.
"Monsieur talks lightly enough," continued Madame Lambert, "though that brigand has carried off my savings. But I gave them to monsieur, and monsieur is answerable to me for them; he is the only one I know in this transaction."
"Hey?" said la Peyrade to Thuillier, pointing to Madame Lambert, whose whole demeanor had something of the mother-wolf suddenly bereft of her cubs; "is that nature? tell me! Do you think now that madame and I are playing a comedy for your benefit?"
"I am thunderstruck at Cerizet's audacity," said Thuillier. "I am overwhelmed with my own stupidity; there is nothing for me to do but to submit myself entirely to your discretion."
"Madame," said la Peyrade, gaily, "excuse me for thus frightening you; the notary Dupuis is still a very saintly man, and quite incapable of doing an injury to his clients. As for monsieur here, it was necessary that I should prove to him that you had really placed that money in my hands; he is, however, another myself, and your secret, though known to him, is as safe as it is with me."
"Oh, very good, monsieur!" said Madame Lambert. "I suppose these gentlemen have no further need of me?"
"No, my dear madame, and I beg you to pardon me for the little terror I was compelled to occasion you."
Madame Lambert turned to leave the room with all the appearance of respectful humility, but when she reached the door, she retraced her steps, and coming close to la Peyrade said, in her smoothest tones:—
"When does monsieur expect to be able to refund me that money?"
"But I told you," said la Peyrade, stiffly, "that notaries never return on demand the money placed in their hands."
"Does monsieur think that if I went to see Monsieur Dupuis himself and asked him—"
"I think," said la Peyrade, interrupting her, "that you would do a most ridiculous thing. He received the money from me in my own name, as you requested, and he knows only me in the matter."
"Then monsieur will be so kind, will he not, as to get back that money for me as soon as possible? I am sure I would not wish to press monsieur, but in two or three months from now I may want it; I have heard of a little property it would suit me to buy."
"Very good, Madame Lambert," said la Peyrade, with well-concealed irritation, "it shall be done as you wish; and in less time, perhaps, than you have stated I shall hope to return your money to you."
"That won't inconvenience monsieur, I trust," said the woman; "he told me that at the first indiscretion I committed—"
"Yes, yes, that is all understood," said la Peyrade, interrupting her.
"Then I have the honor to be the very humble servant of these gentlemen," said Madame Lambert, now departing definitively.
"You see, my friend, the trouble you have got me into," said la Peyrade to Thuillier as soon as they were alone, "and to what I am exposed by my kindness in satisfying your diseased mind. That debt was dormant; it was in a chronic state; and you have waked it up and made it acute. The woman brought me the money and insisted on my keeping it, at a good rate of interest. I refused at first; then I agreed to place it in Dupuis's hands, explaining to her that it couldn't be withdrawn at once; but subsequently, when Dutocq pressed me, I decided, after all, to keep it myself."
"I am dreadfully sorry, dear friend, for my silly credulity. But don't be uneasy about the exactions of that woman; we will manage to arrange all that, even if I have to make you an advance upon Celeste's 'dot.'"
"My excellent friend," said la Peyrade, "it is absolutely necessary that we should talk over our private arrangements; to tell you the truth, I have no fancy for being hauled up every morning and questioned as to my conduct. Just now, while waiting for that woman, I drew up a little agreement, which you and I will discuss and sign, if you please, before the first number of the paper is issued."
"But," said Thuillier, "our deed of partnership seems to me to settle—"
"—that by a paltry forfeit of five thousand francs, as stated in Article 14," interrupted Theodose, "you can put me, when you choose, out of doors. No, I thank you! After my experience to-day, I want some better security than that."
At this moment Cerizet with a lively and all-conquering air, entered the room.
"My masters!" he exclaimed, "I've brought the money; and we can now sign the bond."
Then, remarking that his news was received with extreme coldness, he added:—
"Well? what is it?"
"It is this," replied Thuillier: "I refuse to be associated with double-face men and calumniators. We have no need of you or your money; and I request you not to honor these precincts any longer with your presence."
"Dear! dear! dear!" said Cerizet; "so papa Thuillier has let the wool be pulled over his eyes again!"
"Leave the room!" said Thuillier; "you have nothing more to do here."
"Hey, my boy!" said Cerizet, turning to la Peyrade, "so you've twisted the old bourgeois round your finger again? Well, well, no matter! I think you are making a mistake not to go and see du Portail, and I shall tell him—"
"Leave this house!" cried Thuillier, in a threatening tone.
"Please remember, my dear monsieur, that I never asked you to employ me; I was well enough off before you sent for me, and I shall be after. But I'll give you a piece of advice: don't pay the twenty-five thousand francs out of your own pocket, for that's hanging to your nose."
So saying, Cerizet put his thirty-three thousand francs in banknotes back into his wallet, took his hat from the table, carefully smoothed the nap with his forearm and departed.
Thuillier had been led by Cerizet into what proved to be a most disastrous campaign. Now become the humble servant of la Peyrade, he was forced to accept his conditions, which were as follows: five hundred francs a month for la Peyrade's services in general; his editorship of the paper to be paid at the rate of fifty francs a column,—which was simply enormous, considering the small size of the sheet; a binding pledge to continue the publication of the paper for six months, under pain of the forfeiture of fifteen thousand francs; an absolute omnipotence in the duties of editor-in-chief,—that is to say, the sovereign right of inserting, controlling, and rejecting all articles without being called to explain the reasons of his actions,—such were the stipulations of a treaty in duplicate made openly, "in good faith," between the contracting parties. But, in virtue of another and secret agreement, Thuillier gave security for the payment of the twenty-five thousand francs for which la Peyrade was accountable to Madame Lambert, binding the said Sieur de la Peyrade, in case the payment were required before his marriage with Celeste Colleville could take place, to acknowledge the receipt of said sum advanced upon the dowry.
Matters being thus arranged and accepted by the candidate, who saw no chance of election if he lost la Peyrade, Thuillier was seized with a happy thought. He went to the Cirque-Olympique, where he remembered to have seen in the ticket-office a former employee in his office at the ministry of Finance,—a man named Fleury; to whom he proposed the post of manager. Fleury, being an old soldier, a good shot, and a skilful fencer, would certainly make himself an object of respect in a newspaper office. The working-staff of the paper being thus reconstituted, with the exception of a few co-editors or reporters to be added later, but whom la Peyrade, thanks to the facility of his pen, was able for the present to do without, the first number of the new paper was launched upon the world.
Thuillier now recommenced the explorations about Paris which we saw him make on the publication of his pamphlet. Entering all reading-rooms and cafes, he asked for the "Echo de la Bievre," and when informed, alas, very frequently, that the paper was unknown in this or that establishment, "It is incredible!" he would exclaim, "that a house which respects itself does not take such a widely known paper."
On that, he departed disdainfully, not observing that in many places, where this ancient trick of commercial travellers was well understood, they were laughing behind his back.
The evening of the day when the inauguration number containing the "profession of faith" appeared, Brigitte's salon, although the day was not Sunday, was filled with visitors. Reconciled to la Peyrade, whom her brother had brought home to dinner, the old maid went so far as to tell him that, without flattery, she thought his leading article was a famous HIT. For that matter, all the guests as they arrived, reported that the public seemed enchanted with the first number of the new journal.
The public! everybody knows what that is. To every man who launches a bit of writing into the world, the public consists of five or six intimates who cannot, without offending the author, avoid knowing something more or less of his lucubrations.
"As for me!" cried Colleville, "I can truthfully declare that it is the first political article I ever read that didn't send me to sleep."
"It is certain," said Phellion, "that the leading article seems to me to be stamped with vigor joined to an atticism which we may seek in vain in the columns of the other public prints."
"Yes," said Dutocq, "the matter is very well presented; and besides, there's a turn of phrase, a clever diction, that doesn't belong to everybody. However, we must wait and see how it keeps on. I fancy that to-morrow the 'Echo de la Bievre' will be strongly attacked by the other papers."
"Parbleu!" cried Thuillier, "that's what we are hoping for; and if the government would only do us the favor to seize us—"
"No, thank you," said Fleury, whom Thuillier had also brought home to dinner, "I don't want to enter upon those functions at first."
"Seized!" said Dutocq, "oh, you won't be seized; but I think the ministerial journals will fire a broadside at you."
The next day Thuillier was at the office as early as eight o'clock, in order to be the first to receive that formidable salvo. After looking through every morning paper he was forced to admit that there was no more mention of the "Echo de la Bievre" than if it didn't exist. When la Peyrade arrived he found his unhappy friend in a state of consternation.
"Does that surprise you?" said the Provencal, tranquilly. "I let you enjoy yesterday your hopes of a hot engagement with the press; but I knew myself that in all probability there wouldn't be the slightest mention of us in to-day's papers. Against every paper which makes its debut with some distinction, there's always a two weeks', sometimes a two months' conspiracy of silence."
"Conspiracy of silence!" echoed Thuillier, with admiration.
He did not know what it meant, but the words had a grandeur and a something that appealed to his imagination. After la Peyrade had explained to him that by "conspiracy of silence" was meant the agreement of existing journals to make no mention of new-comers lest such notice should serve to advertise them, Thuillier's mind was hardly better satisfied than it had been by the pompous flow of the words. The bourgeois is born so; words are coins which he takes and passes without question. For a word, he will excite himself or calm down, insult or applaud. With a word, he can be brought to make a revolution and overturn a government of his own choice.
The paper, however, was only a means; the object was Thuillier's election. This was insinuated rather than stated in the first numbers. But one morning, in the columns of the "Echo," appeared a letter from several electors thanking their delegate to the municipal council for the firm and frankly liberal attitude in which he had taken on all questions of local interests. "This firmness," said the letter, "had brought down upon him the persecution of the government, which, towed at the heels of foreigners, had sacrificed Poland and sold itself to England. The arrondissement needed a man of such tried convictions to represent it in the Chamber,—a man holding high and firm the banner of dynastic opposition, a man who would be, by the mere signification of his name, a stern lesson given to the authorities."
Enforced by an able commentary from la Peyrade, this letter was signed by Barbet and Metivier and all Brigitte's tradesmen (whom, in view of the election she had continued to employ since her emigration); also by the family doctor and apothecary, and by Thuillier's builder, and Barniol, Phellion's son-in-law, who professed to hold rather "advanced" political opinions. As for Phellion himself, he thought the wording of the letter not altogether circumspect, and—always without fear as without reproach—however much he might expect that this refusal would injure his son in his dearest interests, he bravely refrained from signing it.
This trial kite had the happiest effect. The ten or a dozen names thus put forward were considered to express the will of the electors and were called "the voice of the quarter." Thus Thuillier's candidacy made from the start such rapid progress that Minard hesitated to put his own claims in opposition.
Delighted now with the course of events, Brigitte was the first to say that the time had come to attend to the marriage, and Thuillier was all the more ready to agree because, from day to day, he feared he might be called upon to pay the twenty-five thousand francs to Madame Lambert for which he had pledged himself. A thorough explanation now took place between la Peyrade and the old maid. She told him honestly of the fear she felt as to the maintenance of her sovereign authority when a son-in-law of his mind and character was established in the household.
"If we," she ended by saying, "are to oppose each other for the rest of our days, it would be much better, from the beginning, to make two households; we shouldn't be the less friends for that."
La Peyrade replied that nothing under the sun would induce him to consent to such a plan; on the contrary, he regarded as amongst his happiest prospects for the future the security he should feel about the wise management of the material affairs of the home in such hands as hers. He should have enough to do in the management of outside interests, and he could not comprehend, for his part, how she could suppose he had ever had the thought of interfering in matters that were absolutely out of his province. In short, he reassured her so completely that she urged him to take immediate steps for the publication of the banns and the signature of the marriage contract,—declaring that she reserved to herself all the preparations relating to Celeste, whose acceptance of this sudden conclusion she pledged herself to secure.
"My dear child," she said to Celeste the next morning, "I think you have given up all idea of being Felix Phellion's wife. In the first place, he is more of an atheist than ever, and, besides, you must have noticed yourself that his mind is quite shaky. You have seen at Madame Minard's that Madame Marmus, who married a savant, officer of the Legion of honor, and member of the Institute. There's not a more unhappy woman; her husband has taken her to live behind the Luxembourg, in the rue Duguay-Trouin, a street that is neither paved nor lighted. When he goes out, he doesn't know where he is going; he gets to the Champ de Mars when he wants to go to the Faubourg Poissoniere; he isn't even capable of giving his address to the driver of a street cab; and he is so absent-minded he couldn't tell if it were before dinner or after. You can imagine what sort of time a woman must have with a man whose nose is always at a telescope snuffing stars."
"But Felix," said Celeste, "is not as absent-minded as that."
"Of course not, because he is younger; but with years his absent-mindedness and his atheism will both increase. We have therefore decided that he is not the husband you want, and we all, your mother, father, Thuillier and myself, have determined that you shall take la Peyrade, a man of the world, who will make his way, and one who has done us great services in the past, and who will, moreover, make your godfather deputy. We are disposed to give you, in consideration of him, a much larger 'dot' than we should give to any other husband. So, my dear, it is settled; the banns are to be published immediately, and this day week we sign the contract. There's to be a great dinner for the family and intimates, and after that a reception, at which the contract will be signed and your trousseau and corbeille exhibited. As I take all that into my own hands I'll answer for it that everything shall be of the best kind; especially if you are not babyish, and give in pleasantly to our ideas."
"But, aunt Brigitte," began Celeste, timidly.
"There's no 'but,' in the matter," said the old maid, imperiously; "it is all arranged, and will be carried out, unless, mademoiselle, you pretend to have more wisdom than your elders."
"I will do as you choose, aunt," replied Celeste, feeling as if a thunder-cloud had burst upon her head, and knowing but too well that she had no power to struggle against the iron will which had just pronounced her doom.
She went at once to pour her sorrows into Madame Thuillier's soul; but when she heard her godmother advising patience and resignation the poor child felt that from that feeble quarter she could get no help for even the slightest effort of resistance, and that her sacrifice was virtually accomplished.
Precipitating herself with a sort of frenzy into the new element of activity thus introduced into her life, Brigitte took the field in the making of the trousseau and the purchase of the corbeille. Like many misers, who on great occasions come out of their habits and their nature, the old maid now thought nothing too good for her purpose; and she flung her money about so lavishly that until the day appointed for the signing of the contract, the jeweller, dressmaker, milliner, lingere, etc. (all chosen from the best establishments in Paris), seemed to occupy the house.
"It is like a procession," said Josephine, the cook, admiringly, to Francoise, the Minards' maid; "the bell never stops ringing from morning till night."