Esther Happy/Section 12
As Peyrade grew older, his love for his natural daughter had increased. For her sake he had adopted his citizen guise, for he intended that his Lydie should marry respectably. So for the last three years he had been especially anxious to find a corner, either at the Prefecture of Police, or in the general Police Office—some ostensible and recognized post. He had ended by inventing a place, of which the necessity, as he told Corentin, would sooner or later be felt. He was anxious to create an inquiry office at the Prefecture of Police, to be intermediate between the Paris police in the strictest sense, the criminal police, and the superior general police, so as to enable the supreme board to profit by the various scattered forces. No one but Peyrade, at his age, and after fifty-five years of confidential work, could be the connecting link between the three branches of the police, or the keeper of the records to whom political and judicial authority alike could apply for the elucidation of certain cases. By this means Peyrade hoped, with Corentin's assistance, to find a husband and scrape together a portion for his little Lydie. Corentin had already mentioned the matter to the Director-General of the police forces of the realm, without naming Peyrade; and the Director-General, a man from the south, thought it necessary that the suggestion should come from the chief of the city police.
At the moment when Contenson struck three raps on the table with the gold piece, a signal conveying, "I want to speak to you," the senior was reflecting on this problem: "By whom, and under what pressure can the Prefet of Police be made to move?"—And he looked like a noodle studying his Courrier Francais.
"Poor Fouche!" thought he to himself, as he made his way along the Rue Saint-Honore, "that great man is dead! our go-betweens with Louis XVIII. are out of favor. And besides, as Corentin said only yesterday, nobody believes in the activity or the intelligence of a man of seventy. Oh, why did I get into a habit of dining at Very's, of drinking choice wines, of singing La Mere Godichon, of gambling when I am in funds? To get a place and keep it, as Corentin says, it is not enough to be clever, you must have the gift of management. Poor dear M. Lenoir was right when he wrote to me in the matter of the Queen's necklace, 'You will never do any good,' when he heard that I did not stay under that slut Oliva's bed."
If the venerable Pere Canquoelle—he was called so in the house—lived on in the Rue des Moineaux, on a fourth floor, you may depend on it he had found some peculiarity in the arrangement of the premises which favored the practice of his terrible profession.
The house, standing at the corner of the Rue Saint-Roch, had no neighbors on one side; and as the staircase up the middle divided it into two, there were on each floor two perfectly isolated rooms. Those two rooms looked out on the Rue Saint-Roch. There were garret rooms above the fourth floor, one of them a kitchen, and the other a bedroom for Pere Canquoelle's only servant, a Fleming named Katt, formerly Lydie's wet-nurse. Old Canquoelle had taken one of the outside rooms for his bedroom, and the other for his study. The study ended at the party-wall, a very thick one. The window opening on the Rue des Moineaux looked on a blank wall at the opposite corner. As this study was divided from the stairs by the whole width of Peyrade's bedroom, the friends feared no eye, no ear, as they talked business in this study made on purpose for his detestable trade.
Peyrade, as a further precaution, had furnished Katt's room with a thick straw bed, a felt carpet, and a very heavy rug, under the pretext of making his child's nurse comfortable. He had also stopped up the chimney, warming his room by a stove, with a pipe through the wall to the Rue Saint-Roch. Finally, he laid several rugs on his floor to prevent the slightest sound being heard by the neighbors beneath. An expert himself in the tricks of spies, he sounded the outer wall, the ceiling, and the floor once a week, examining them as if he were in search of noxious insects. It was the security of this room from all witnesses or listeners that had made Corentin select it as his council-chamber when he did not hold a meeting in his own room.
Where Corentin lived was known to no one but the Chief of the Superior Police and to Peyrade; he received there such personages as the Ministry or the King selected to conduct very serious cases; but no agent or subordinate ever went there, and he plotted everything connected with their business at Peyrade's. In this unpretentious room schemes were matured, and resolutions passed, which would have furnished strange records and curious dramas if only walls could talk. Between 1816 and 1826 the highest interests were discussed there. There first germinated the events which grew to weigh on France. There Peyrade and Corentin, with all the foresight, and more than all the information of Bellart, the Attorney-General, had said even in 1819: "If Louis XVIII. does not consent to strike such or such a blow, to make away with such or such a prince, is it because he hates his brother? He must wish to leave him heir to a revolution."
Peyrade's door was graced with a slate, on which very strange marks might sometimes be seen, figures scrawled in chalk. This sort of devil's algebra bore the clearest meaning to the initiated.
Lydie's rooms, opposite to Peyrade's shabby lodging, consisted of an ante-room, a little drawing-room, a bedroom, and a small dressing-room. The door, like that of Peyrade's room, was constructed of a plate of sheet-iron three lines thick, sandwiched between two strong oak planks, fitted with locks and elaborate hinges, making it as impossible to force it as if it were a prison door. Thus, though the house had a public passage through it, with a shop below and no doorkeeper, Lydie lived there without a fear. The dining-room, the little drawing-room, and her bedroom—every window-balcony a hanging garden—were luxurious in their Dutch cleanliness.
The Flemish nurse had never left Lydie, whom she called her daughter. The two went to church with a regularity that gave the royalist grocer, who lived below, in the corner shop, an excellent opinion of the worthy Canquoelle. The grocer's family, kitchen, and counter-jumpers occupied the first floor and the entresol; the landlord inhabited the second floor; and the third had been let for twenty years past to a lapidary. Each resident had a key of the street door. The grocer's wife was all the more willing to receive letters and parcels addressed to these three quiet households, because the grocer's shop had a letter-box.
Without these details, strangers, or even those who know Paris well, could not have understood the privacy and quietude, the isolation and safety which made this house exceptional in Paris. After midnight, Pere Canquoelle could hatch plots, receive spies or ministers, wives or hussies, without any one on earth knowing anything about it.
Peyrade, of whom the Flemish woman would say to the grocer's cook, "He would not hurt a fly!" was regarded as the best of men. He grudged his daughter nothing. Lydie, who had been taught music by Schmucke, was herself a musician capable of composing; she could wash in a sepia drawing, and paint in gouache and water-color. Every Sunday Peyrade dined at home with her. On that day this worthy was wholly paternal.
Lydie, religious but not a bigot, took the Sacrament at Easter, and confessed every month. Still, she allowed herself from time to time to be treated to the play. She walked in the Tuileries when it was fine. These were all her pleasures, for she led a sedentary life. Lydie, who worshiped her father, knew absolutely nothing of his sinister gifts and dark employments. Not a wish had ever disturbed this pure child's pure life. Slight and handsome like her mother, gifted with an exquisite voice, and a delicate face framed in fine fair hair, she looked like one of those angels, mystical rather than real, which some of the early painters grouped in the background of the Holy Family. The glance of her blue eyes seemed to bring a beam from the sky on those she favored with a look. Her dress, quite simple, with no exaggeration of fashion, had a delightful middle-class modesty. Picture to yourself an old Satan as the father of an angel, and purified in her divine presence, and you will have an idea of Peyrade and his daughter. If anybody had soiled this jewel, her father would have invented, to swallow him alive, one of those dreadful plots in which, under the Restoration, the unhappy wretches were trapped who were designate to die on the scaffold. A thousand crowns were ample maintenance for Lydie and Katt, whom she called nurse.
As Peyrade turned into the Rue des Moineaux, he saw Contenson; he outstripped him, went upstairs before him, heard the man's steps on the stairs, and admitted him before the woman had put her nose out of the kitchen door. A bell rung by the opening of a glass door, on the third story where the lapidary lived warned the residents on that and the fourth floors when a visitor was coming to them. It need hardly be said that, after midnight, Peyrade muffled this bell.
"What is up in such a hurry, Philosopher?"
Philosopher was the nickname bestowed on Contenson by Peyrade, and well merited by the Epictetus among police agents. The name of Contenson, alas! hid one of the most ancient names of feudal Normandy.
"Well, there is something like ten thousand francs to be netted."
"What is it? Political?"
"No, a piece of idiocy. Baron de Nucingen, you know, the old certified swindler, is neighing after a woman he saw in the Bois de Vincennes, and she has got to be found, or he will die of love.—They had a consultation of doctors yesterday, by what his man tells me.—I have already eased him of a thousand francs under pretence of seeking the fair one."
And Contenson related Nucingen's meeting with Esther, adding that the Baron had now some further information.
"All right," said Peyrade, "we will find his Dulcinea; tell the Baron to come to-night in a carriage to the Champs-Elysees—the corner of the Avenue de Gabriel and the Allee de Marigny."
Peyrade saw Contenson out, and knocked at his daughter's rooms, as he always knocked to be let in. He was full of glee; chance had just offered the means, at last, of getting the place he longed for.
He flung himself into a deep armchair, after kissing Lydie on the forehead, and said:
"Play me something."
Lydie played him a composition for the piano by Beethoven.
"That is very well played, my pet," said he, taking Lydie on his knees. "Do you know that we are one-and-twenty years old? We must get married soon, for our old daddy is more than seventy——"
"I am quite happy here," said she.
"You love no one but your ugly old father?" asked Peyrade.
"Why, whom should I love?"
"I am dining at home, my darling; go and tell Katt. I am thinking of settling, of getting an appointment, and finding a husband worthy of you; some good young man, very clever, whom you may some day be proud of——"
"I have never seen but one yet that I should have liked for a husband——"
"You have seen one then?"
"Yes, in the Tuileries," replied Lydie. "He walked past me; he was giving his arm to the Comtesse de Serizy."
"And his name is?"
"Lucien de Rubempre.—I was sitting with Katt under a lime-tree, thinking of nothing. There were two ladies sitting by me, and one said to the other, 'There are Madame de Serizy and that handsome Lucien de Rubempre.'—I looked at the couple that the two ladies were watching. 'Oh, my dear!' said the other, 'some women are very lucky! That woman is allowed to do everything she pleases just because she was a de Ronquerolles, and her husband is in power.'—'But, my dear,' said the other lady, 'Lucien costs her very dear.'—What did she mean, papa?"
"Just nonsense, such as people of fashion will talk," replied Peyrade, with an air of perfect candor. "Perhaps they were alluding to political matters."
"Well, in short, you asked me a question, so I answer you. If you want me to marry, find me a husband just like that young man."
"Silly child!" replied her father. "The fact that a man is handsome is not always a sign of goodness. Young men gifted with an attractive appearance meet with no obstacles at the beginning of life, so they make no use of any talent; they are corrupted by the advances made to them by society, and they have to pay interest later for their attractiveness!—What I should like for you is what the middle classes, the rich, and the fools leave unholpen and unprotected——"
"An unrecognized man of talent. But, there, child; I have it in my power to hunt through every garret in Paris, and carry out your programme by offering for your affection a man as handsome as the young scamp you speak of; but a man of promise, with a future before him destined to glory and fortune.—By the way, I was forgetting. I must have a whole flock of nephews, and among them there must be one worthy of you!—I will write, or get some one to write to Provence."
A strange coincidence! At this moment a young man, half-dead of hunger and fatigue, who had come on foot from the department of Vaucluse—a nephew of Pere Canquoelle's in search of his uncle, was entering Paris through the Barriere de l'Italie. In the day-dreams of the family, ignorant of this uncle's fate, Peyrade had supplied the text for many hopes; he was supposed to have returned from India with millions! Stimulated by these fireside romances, this grand-nephew, named Theodore, had started on a voyage round the world in quest of this eccentric uncle.