The Middle Classes/Part II/Chapter XVI

The Middle Classes by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
Part II/Chapter XVI: CHECKMATE TO THUILLIER

The day after that evening, when Corentin, la Peyrade, and Cerizet were to have had their consultation in reference to the attack on Thuillier's candidacy, the latter was discussing with his sister Brigitte the letter in which Theodose declined the hand of Celeste, and his mind seemed particularly to dwell on the postscript where it was intimated that la Peyrade might not continue the editor of the "Echo de la Bievre." At this moment Henri, the "male domestic," entered the room to ask if his master would receive Monsieur Cerizet.

Thuillier's first impulse was to deny himself to that unwelcome visitor. Then, thinking better of it, he reflected that if la Peyrade suddenly left him in the lurch, Cerizet might possibly prove a precious resource. Consequently, he ordered Henri to show him in. His manner, however, was extremely cold, and in some sort expectant. As for Cerizet, he presented himself without the slightest embarrassment and with the air of a man who had calculated all the consequences of the step he was taking.

"Well, my dear monsieur," he began, "I suppose by this time you have been posted as to the Sieur la Peyrade."

"What may you mean by that?" said Thuillier, stiffly.

"Well, the man," replied Cerizet, "who, after intriguing to marry your goddaughter, breaks off the marriage abruptly—as he will, before long, break that lion's-share contract he made you sign about his editorship—can't be, I should suppose, the object of the same blind confidence you formerly reposed in him."

"Ah!" said Thuillier, hastily, "then do you know anything about la Peyrade's intention of leaving the newspaper?"

"No," said the other; "on the terms I now am with him, you can readily believe we don't see each other; still less should I receive his confidences. But I draw the induction from the well-known character of the person, and you may be sure that when he finds it for his interest to leave you, he'll throw you away like an old coat—I've passed that way, and I speak from experience."

"Then you must have had some difficulties with him before you joined my paper?" said Thuillier, interrogatively.

"Parbleu!" replied Cerizet; "the affair of this house which he helped you to buy was mine; I started that hare. He was to put me in relation with you, and make me the principal tenant of the house. But the unfortunate affair of that bidding-in gave him a chance to knock me out of everything and get all the profits for himself."

"Profits!" exclaimed Thuillier. "I don't see that he got anything out of that transaction, except the marriage which he now refuses—"

"But," interrupted Cerizet, "there's the ten thousand francs he got out of you on pretence of the cross which you never received, and the twenty-five thousand he owes to Madame Lambert, for which you went security, and which you will soon have to pay like a good fellow."

"What's this I hear?" cried Brigitte, up in arms; "twenty-five thousand francs for which you have given security?"

"Yes, mademoiselle," interposed Cerizet; "behind that sum which this woman had lent him there was a mystery, and if I had not laid my hand on the true explanation, there would certainly have been a very dirty ending to it. La Peyrade was clever enough not only to whitewash himself in Monsieur Thuillier's eyes, but to get him to secure the debt."

"But," said Thuillier, "how do you know that I did give security for that debt, if you have not seen him since then?"

"I know it from the woman herself, who tells the whole story now she is certain of being paid."

"Well," said Brigitte to her brother, "a pretty business you are engaged in!"

"Mademoiselle," said Cerizet, "I only meant to warn Monsieur Thuillier a little. I think myself that you are sure to be paid. Without knowing the exact particulars of this new marriage, I am certain the family would never allow him to owe you to such mortifying debts; if necessary, I should be very glad to intervene."

"Monsieur," said Thuillier, stiffly, "thanking you for your officious intervention, permit me to say that it surprises me a little, for the manner in which we parted would not have allowed me to hope it."

"Ah ca!" said Cerizet; "you don't think I was angry with you for that, do you? I pitied you, that was all. I saw you under the spell, and I said to myself: 'Leave him to learn la Peyrade by experience.' I knew very well that the day of justice would dawn for me, and before long, too. La Peyrade is a man who doesn't make you wait for his questionable proceedings."

"Allow me to say," remarked Thuillier, "that I do not consider the rupture of the marriage we had proposed a questionable proceeding. The matter was arranged, I may say, by mutual consent."

"And the trick he is going to play you by leaving the paper in the lurch, and the debt he has saddled you with, what are they?"

"Monsieur Cerizet," continued Thuillier, still holding himself on the reserve, "as I have said more than once to la Peyrade, no man is indispensable; and if the editorship of my paper becomes vacant, I feel confident that I shall at once meet with persons very eager to offer me their services."

"Is it for me you say that?" asked Cerizet. "Well, you haven't hit the nail; if you did me the honor to want my services it would be impossible for me to grant them. I have long been disgusted with journalism. I let la Peyrade, I hardly know why, persuade me to make this campaign with you; it didn't turn out happily, and I have vowed to myself to have no more to do with newspapers. It was about another matter altogether than I came to speak to you."

"Ah!" said Thuillier.

"Yes," continued Cerizet, "remembering the business-like manner in which you managed the affair of this house in which you do me the honor to receive me, I thought I could not do better than to call your attention to a matter of the same kind which I have just now in hand. But I shall not do as la Peyrade did,—make a bargain for the hand of your goddaughter, and profess great friendship and devotion to you personally. This is purely business, and I expect to make my profit out of it. Now, as I still desire to become the principal tenant of this house,—the letting of which must be a care and a disappointment to mademoiselle, for I saw as I came along that the shops were still unrented,—I think that this lease to me, if you will make it, might be reckoned in to my share of the profits. You see, monsieur, that the object of my visit has nothing to do with the newspaper."

"What is this new affair?" said Brigitte; "that's the first thing to know."

"It relates to a farm in Beauce, which has just been sold for a song, and it is placed in my hands to resell, at an advance, but a small one; you could really buy it, as the saying is, for a bit of bread."

And Cerizet went on to explain the whole mechanism of the affair, which we need not relate here, as no one but Brigitte would take any interest in it. The statement was clear and precise, and it took close hold on the old maid's mind. Even Thuillier himself, in spite of his inward distrust, was obliged to own that the affair had all the appearance of a good speculation.

"Only," said Brigitte, "we must first see the farm ourselves."

This, the reader will remember, was her answer to la Peyrade when he first proposed the purchase of the house at the Madeleine.

"Nothing is easier than that," said Cerizet. "I myself want to see it, and I have been intending to make a little excursion there. If you like, I'll be at your door this afternoon with a post-chaise, and to-morrow morning, very early, we can examine the farm, breakfast at some inn near by, and be back in time for dinner."

"A post-chaise!" said Brigitte, "that's very lordly; why not take the diligence?"

"Diligences are so uncertain," replied Cerizet; "you never know at what time they will get to a place. But you need not think about the expense, for I should otherwise go alone, and I am only too happy to offer you two seats in my carriage."

To misers, small gains are often determining causes in great matters; after a little resistance "pro forma," Brigitte ended by accepting the proposal, and three hours later the trio were on the road to Chartres, Cerizet having advised Thuillier not to let la Peyrade know of his absence, lest he might take some unfair advantage of it.

The next day, by five o'clock, the party had returned, and the brother and sister, who kept their opinions to themselves in presence of Cerizet, were both agreed that the purchase was a good one. They had found the soil of the best quality, the buildings in perfect repair, the cattle looked sound and healthy; in short, this idea of becoming the mistress of rural property seemed to Brigitte the final consecration of opulence.

"Minard," she remarked, "has only a town-house and invested capital, whereas we shall have all that and a country-place besides; one can't be really rich without it."

Thuillier was not sufficiently under the charm of that dream—the realization of which was, in any case, quite distant—to forget, even for a moment, the "Echo de la Bievre" and his candidacy. No sooner had he reached home than he asked for the morning's paper.

"It has not come," said the "male domestic."

"That's a fine distribution, when even the owner of the paper is not served!" cried Thuillier, discontentedly.

Although it was nearly dinner-time, and after his journey he would much rather have taken a bath than rush to the rue Saint-Dominique, Thuillier ordered a cab and drove at once to the office of the "Echo."

There a fresh disappointment met him. The paper "was made," as they say, and all the employees had departed, even la Peyrade. As for Coffinet, who was not to be found at his post of office-boy, nor yet at his other post of porter, he had gone "of an errand," his wife said, taking the key of the closet in which the remaining copies of the paper were locked up. Impossible, therefore, to procure the number which the unfortunate proprietor had come so far to fetch.

To describe Thuillier's indignation would be impossible. He marched up and down the room, talking aloud to himself, as people do in moments of excitement.

"I'll turn them all out!" he cried. And we are forced to omit the rest of the furious objurgation.

As he ended his anathema a rap was heard on the door.

"Come in!" said Thuillier, in a tone that depicted his wrath and his frantic impatience.

The door opened, and Minard rushed precipitately into his arms.

"My good, my excellent friend!" cried the mayor of the eleventh arrondissement, concluding his embrace with a hearty shake of the hand.

"Why! what is it?" said Thuillier, unable to comprehend the warmth of this demonstration.

"Ah! my dear friend," continued Minard, "such an admirable proceeding! really chivalrous! most disinterested! The effect, I assure you, is quite stupendous in the arrondissement."

"But what, I say?" cried Thuillier, impatiently.

"The article, the whole action," continued Minard, "so noble, so elevated!"

"But what article? what action?" said the proprietor of the "Echo," getting quite beside himself.

"The article of this morning," said Minard.

"The article of this morning?"

"Ah ca! did you write it when you were asleep; or, like Monsieur Jourdain doing prose, do you do heroism without knowing it?"

"I! I haven't written any article!" cried Thuillier. "I have been away from Paris for a day, and I don't even know what is in this morning's paper; and the office-boy is not here to give me a copy."

"I have one," said Minard, pulling the much desired paper from his pocket. "If the article is not years you have certainly inspired it; in any case, the deed is done."

Thuillier hurriedly unfolded the sheet Minard had given him, and devoured rather than read the following article:—

  Long enough has the proprietor of this regenerated journal
  submitted without complaint and without reply to the cowardly
  insinuations with which a venal press insults all citizens who,
  strong in their convictions, refuse to pass beneath the Caudine
  Forks of power. Long enough has a man, who has already given
  proofs of devotion and abnegation in the important functions of
  the aedility of Paris, allowed these sheets to call him ambitious
  and self-seeking. Monsieur Jerome Thuillier, strong in his
  dignity, has suffered such coarse attacks to pass him with
  contempt. Encouraged by this disdainful silence, the stipendiaries
  of the press have dared to write that this journal, a work of
  conviction and of the most disinterested patriotism, was but the
  stepping-stone of a man, the speculation of a seeker for election.
  Monsieur Jerome Thuillier has held himself impassible before these
  shameful imputations because justice and truth are patient, and he
  bided his time to scotch the reptile. That time has come.

"That deuce of a Peyrade!" said Thuillier, stopping short; "how he does touch it off!"

"It is magnificent!" cried Minard.

Reading aloud, Thuillier continued:—

  Every one, friends and enemies alike, can bear witness that
  Monsieur Jerome Thuillier has done nothing to seek a candidacy
  which was offered to him spontaneously.

"That's evident," said Thuillier, interrupting himself. Then he resumed:—

  But, since his sentiments are so odiously misrepresented, and his
  intentions so falsely travestied, Monsieur Jerome Thuillier owes
  it to himself, and above all to the great national party of which
  he is the humblest soldier, to give an example which shall
  confound the vile sycophants of power.

"It is fine, the way la Peyrade poses me!" said Thuillier, pausing once more in his reading. "I see now why he didn't send me the paper; he wanted to enjoy my surprise—'confound the vile sycophants of power!' how fine that is!"

After which reflection, he continued:—

  Monsieur Thuillier was so far from founding this journal of
  dynastic opposition to support and promote his election that, at
  the very moment when the prospects of that election seem most
  favorable to himself and most disastrous to his rivals, he here
  declares publicly, and in the most formal, absolute, and
  irrevocable manner that he renounces his candidacy.

"What?" cried Thuillier, thinking he had read wrong, or had misunderstood what he read.

"Go on! go on!" said the mayor of the eleventh.

Then, as Thuillier, with a bewildered air, seemed not disposed to continue his reading, Minard took the paper from his hands and read the rest of the article himself, beginning where the other had left off:—

  Renounces his candidacy; and he strongly urges the electors to
  transfer to Monsieur Minard, mayor of the eleventh arrondissement
  and his friend and colleague in his municipal functions, all the
  votes with which they seemed about to honor him.

"But this is infamous!" cried Thuillier, recovering his speech; "you have bought that Jesuit la Peyrade."

"So," said Minard, stupefied by Thuillier's attitude, "the article was not agreed upon between you?"

"The wretch has profited by my absence to slip it into the paper; I understand now why he prevented a copy from reaching me to-day."

"My dear friend," said Minard, "what you tell me will seem incredible to the public."

"I tell you it is treachery; it is an abominable trap. Renounce my candidacy!—why should I?"

"You understand, my dear friend," said Minard, "that I am truly sorry if your confidence has been abused, but I have just issued my circular manifesto; the die is cast, and luck to the lucky now."

"Leave me," said Thuillier; "it is a comedy for which you have paid."

"Monsieur Thuillier," said Minard, in a threatening voice, "I advise you not to repeat those words, unless you are ready to give me satisfaction for them."

Happily for Thuillier, who, we may remember, had made his profession of faith as to civic courage some time before, he was relieved from answering by Coffinet, who now opened the door of the editorial sanctum, and announced:—

"Messieurs the electors of the twelfth arrondissement."

The arrondissement was represented on this occasion by five persons. An apothecary, chairman of the deputation, proceeded to address Thuillier in the following terms:—

"We have come, monsieur, after taking cognizance of an article inserted this morning in the 'Echo de la Bievre,' to inquire of you what may be precisely the origin and bearing of that article; thinking it incredible that, having solicited our suffrages, you should, on the eve of this election, and from a most mistaken puritanism, have cast disorder and disunion into our ranks, and probably have caused the triumph of the ministerial candidate. A candidate does not belong to himself; he belongs to the electors who have promised to honor him with their votes. But," continued the orator, casting his eye at Minard, "the presence in these precincts of the candidate whom you have gone out of your way to recommend to us, indicates that between you and him there is connivance; and I have no need to ask who is being here deceived."

"No, messieurs, no," said Thuillier; "I have not renounced my candidacy. That article was written and printed without my knowledge or consent. To-morrow you will see the denial of it in the same paper, and you will also learn that the infamous person who has betrayed my confidence is no longer the editor of this journal."

"Then," said the orator of the deputation, "in spite of your declaration to the contrary, you do continue to be the candidate of the Opposition?"

"Yes, messieurs, until death; and I beg you to use your utmost influence in the quarter to neutralize the effect of this deliberate falsehood until I am able to officially present the most formal disavowal."

"Hear! hear!" said the electors.

"And, as for the presence of Monsieur Minard, my competitor, in these precincts, I have not invited it; and at the moment when you entered this room, I was engaged in a very sharp and decided explanation with him."

"Hear! hear!" said the electors again.

Then, after cordially shaking the hand of the apothecary, Thuillier conducted the deputation to the outer door of the apartment; after which, returning to the editorial sanctum, he said:—

"My dear Minard, I withdraw the words which wounded you; but you can see now what justification I had for my indignation."

Here Coffinet again opened the door and announced:—

"Messieurs the electors of the eleventh arrondissement."

The arrondissement was represented this time by seven persons. A linen-draper, chairman of the delegation, addressed Thuillier in the following speech:—

"Monsieur, it is with sincere admiration that we have learned this morning from the columns of your paper, the great civic act by which you have touched all hearts. You have shown, in thus retiring, a most unusual disinterestedness, and the esteem of your fellow-citizens—"

"Excuse me," said Thuillier, interrupting him, "I cannot allow you to continue; the article about which you are so good as to congratulate me, was inserted by mistake."

"What!" said the linen-draper; "then do you not retire? Can you suppose that in opposition to the candidacy of Monsieur Minard (whose presence in these precincts seems to me rather singular) you have the slightest chance of success?"

"Monsieur," said Thuillier, "have the goodness to request the electors of your arrondissement to await the issue of to-morrow's paper, in which I shall furnish categorical explanations of the most distinct character. The article to-day is the result of a misunderstanding."

"It will be a sad pity, monsieur," said the linen-draper, "if you lose this occasion to place yourself in the eyes of your fellow-citizens beside the Washingtons and other great men of antiquity."

"I say again, to-morrow, messieurs," said Thuillier. "I am none the less sensible to the honor you do me, and I trust that when you know the whole truth, I shall not suffer in your esteem."

"A pretty queer mess this seems to be," said the voice of an elector.

"Yes," said another; "it looks as if they meant to bamboozle us."

"Messieurs, messieurs!" cried the chairman, putting a stop to the outbreak; "to-morrow—we will wait until to-morrow for the promised explanations."

Whereupon, the deputation retired.

It is not likely that Thuillier would have accompanied them beyond the door of the sanctum, but in any case he was prevented by the sudden entrance of la Peyrade.

"I have just come from your house, my dear fellow," said the Provencal; "they told me I should find you here."

"You have come, doubtless, for the purpose of explaining to me the strange article you allowed yourself to insert in my name."

"Precisely," said la Peyrade. "The remarkable man whom you know, and whose powerful influence you have already felt, confided to me yesterday, in your interests, the plans of the government, and I saw at once that your defeat was inevitable. I wished therefore to secure to you an honorable and dignified retreat. There was no time to lose; you were absent from Paris, and therefore—"

"Very good, monsieur," said Thuillier; "but you will take notice that from the present moment you are no longer the editor of this paper."

"That is what I came to tell you."

"Perhaps you also came to settle the little account we have together."

"Messieurs," said Minard, "I see that this is a business interview; I shall therefore take leave of you."

As soon as Minard had left the room, la Peyrade pulled out his pocket-book.

"Here are ten thousand francs," he said, "which I will beg you to remit to Mademoiselle Brigitte; and here, also, is the bond by which you secured the payment of twenty-five thousand francs to Madame Lambert; that sum I have now paid in full, and here is the receipt."

"Very good, monsieur," said Thuillier.

La Peyrade bowed and went away.

"Serpent!" said Thuillier as he watched him go.

"Cerizet said the right thing," thought la Peyrade,—"a pompous imbecile!"

The blow struck at Thuillier's candidacy was mortal, but Minard did not profit by it. While the pair were contending for votes, a government man, an aide-de-camp to the king, arrived with his hands full of tobacco licenses and other electoral small change, and, like the third thief, he slipped between the two who were thumping each other, and carried off the booty.

It is needless to say that Brigitte did not get her farm in Beauce. That was only a mirage, by help of which Thuillier was enticed out of Paris long enough for la Peyrade to deal his blow,—a service rendered to the government on the one hand, but also a precious vengeance for the many humiliations he had undergone.

Thuillier had certainly some suspicions as to the complicity of Cerizet, but that worthy managed to justify himself; and by manoeuvring the sale of the "Echo de la Bievre," now become a nightmare to the luckless owner, he ended by appearing as white as snow.

The paper was secretly bought up by Corentin, and the late opposition sheet became a "canard" sold on Sundays in the wine-shops and concocted in the dens of the police.