Eve and David/Section 10

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Eve and David by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Ellen Marriage
Section 10

Dinner was scarcely over when a messenger came from the prefecture with a note addressed to M. Chardon. That note appeared to decide the day for the poet's vanity; the world contending against the family for him had won.

"M. le Comte Sixte du Chatelet and Mme. la Comtesse du Chatelet request the honor of M. Lucien Chardon's company at dinner on the fifteenth of September. R. S. V. P."

Enclosed with the invitation there was a card—

                     LE COMTE SIXTE DU CHATELET,
        Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Prefect of the Charente,
                         Councillor of State.

"You are in favor," said old Sechard; "they are talking about you in the town as if you were somebody! Angouleme and L'Houmeau are disputing as to which shall twist wreaths for you."

"Eve, dear," Lucien whispered to his sister, "I am exactly in the same condition as I was before in L'Houmeau when Mme. de Bargeton sent me the first invitation—I have not a dress suit for the prefect's dinner-party."

"Do you really mean to accept the invitation?" Eve asked in alarm, and a dispute sprang up between the brother and sister. Eve's provincial good sense told her that if you appear in society, it must be with a smiling face and faultless costume. "What will come of the prefect's dinner?" she wondered. "What has Lucien to do with the great people of Angouleme? Are they plotting something against him?" but she kept these thoughts to herself.

Lucien spoke the last word at bedtime: "You do not know my influence. The prefect's wife stands in fear of a journalist; and besides, Louise de Negrepelisse lives on in the Comtesse du Chatelet, and a woman with her influence can rescue David. I am going to tell her about my brother's invention, and it would be a mere nothing to her to obtain a subsidy of ten thousand francs from the Government for him."

At eleven o'clock that night the whole household was awakened by the town band, reinforced by the military band from the barracks. The Place du Murier was full of people. The young men of Angouleme were giving Lucien Chardon de Rubempre a serenade. Lucien went to his sister's window and made a speech after the last performance.

"I thank my fellow-townsmen for the honor that they do me," he said in the midst of a great silence; "I will strive to be worthy of it; they will pardon me if I say no more; I am so much moved by this incident that I cannot speak."

"Hurrah for the writer of The Archer of Charles IX.! . . . Hurrah for the poet of the Marguerites! . . . Long live Lucien de Rubempre!"

After these three salvos, taken up by some few voices, three crowns and a quantity of bouquets were adroitly flung into the room through the open window. Ten minutes later the Place du Murier was empty, and silence prevailed in the streets.

"I would rather have ten thousand francs," said old Sechard, fingering the bouquets and garlands with a satirical expression. "You gave them daisies, and they give you posies in return; you deal in flowers."

"So that is your opinion of the honors shown me by my fellow-townsmen, is it?" asked Lucien. All his melancholy had left him, his face was radiant with good humor. "If you knew mankind, Papa Sechard, you would see that no moment in one's life comes twice. Such a triumph as this can only be due to genuine enthusiasm! . . . My dear mother, my good sister, this wipes out many mortifications."

Lucien kissed them; for when joy overflows like a torrent flood, we are fain to pour it out into a friend's heart. "When an author is intoxicated with success, he will hug his porter if there is nobody else on hand," according to Bixiou.

"Why, darling, why are you crying?" he said, looking into Eve's face. "Ah! I know, you are crying for joy!"

"Oh me!" said her mother, shaking her head as she spoke. "Lucien has forgotten everything already; not merely his own troubles, but ours as well."

Mother and daughter separated, and neither dared to utter all her thoughts.

In a country eaten up with the kind of social insubordination disguised by the word Equality, a triumph of any kind whatsoever is a sort of miracle which requires, like some other miracles for that matter, the co-operation of skilled labor. Out of ten ovations offered to ten living men, selected for this distinction by a grateful country, you may be quite sure that nine are given from considerations connected as remotely as possible with the conspicuous merits of the renowned recipient. What was Voltaire's apotheosis at the Theatre-Francais but the triumph of eighteenth century philosophy? A triumph in France means that everybody else feels that he is adorning his own temples with the crown that he sets on the idol's head.

The women's presentiments proved correct. The distinguished provincial's reception was antipathetic to Angoumoisin immobility; it was too evidently got up by some interested persons or by enthusiastic stage mechanics, a suspicious combination. Eve, moreover, like most of her sex, was distrustful by instinct, even when reason failed to justify her suspicions to herself. "Who can be so fond of Lucien that he could rouse the town for him?" she wondered as she fell asleep. "The Marguerites are not published yet; how can they compliment him on a future success?"

The ovation was, in fact, the work of Petit-Claud.

Petit-Claud had dined with Mme. de Senonches, for the first time, on the evening of the day that brought the cure of Marsac to Angouleme with the news of Lucien's return. That same evening he made formal application for the hand of Mlle. de la Haye. It was a family dinner, one of the solemn occasions marked not so much by the number of the guests as by the splendor of their toilettes. Consciousness of the performance weighs upon the family party, and every countenance looks significant. Francoise was on exhibition. Mme. de Senonches had sported her most elaborate costume for the occasion; M. du Hautoy wore a black coat; M. de Senonches had returned from his visit to the Pimentels on the receipt of a note from his wife, informing him that Mme. du Chatelet was to appear at their house for the first time since her arrival, and that a suitor in form for Francoise would appear on the scenes. Boniface Cointet also was there, in his best maroon coat of clerical cut, with a diamond pin worth six thousand francs displayed in his shirt frill—the revenge of the rich merchant upon a poverty-stricken aristocracy.

Petit-Claud himself, scoured and combed, had carefully removed his gray hairs, but he could not rid himself of his wizened air. The puny little man of law, tightly buttoned into his clothes, reminded you of a torpid viper; for if hope had brought a spark of life into his magpie eyes, his face was icily rigid, and so well did he assume an air of gravity, that an ambitious public prosecutor could not have been more dignified.

Mme. de Senonches had told her intimate friends that her ward would meet her betrothed that evening, and that Mme. du Chatelet would appear at the Hotel de Senonches for the first time; and having particularly requested them to keep these matters secret, she expected to find her rooms crowded. The Comte and Comtesse du Chatelet had left cards everywhere officially, but they meant the honor of a personal visit to play a part in their policy. So aristocratic Angouleme was in such a prodigious ferment of curiosity, that certain of the Chandour camp proposed to go to the Hotel de Bargeton that evening. (They persistently declined to call the house by its new name.)

Proofs of the Countess' influence had stirred up ambition in many quarters; and not only so, it was said that the lady had changed so much for the better that everybody wished to see and judge for himself. Petit-Claud learned great news on the way to the house; Cointet told him that Zephirine had asked leave to present her dear Francoise's betrothed to the Countess, and that the Countess had granted the favor. Petit-Claud had seen at once that Lucien's return put Louise de Negrepelisse in a false position; and now, in a moment, he flattered himself that he saw a way to take advantage of it.

M. and Mme. de Senonches had undertaken such heavy engagements when they bought the house, that, in provincial fashion, they thought it imprudent to make any changes in it. So when Madame du Chatelet was announced, Zephirine went up to her with—"Look, dear Louise, you are still in your old home!" indicating, as she spoke, the little chandelier, the paneled wainscot, and the furniture, which once had dazzled Lucien.

"I wish least of all to remember it, dear," Madame la Prefete answered graciously, looking round on the assemblage.

Every one admitted that Louise de Negrepelisse was not like the same woman. If the provincial had undergone a change, the woman herself had been transformed by those eighteen months in Paris, by the first happiness of a still recent second marriage, and the kind of dignity that power confers. The Comtesse du Chatelet bore the same resemblance to Mme. de Bargeton that a girl of twenty bears to her mother.

She wore a charming cap of lace and flowers, fastened by a diamond-headed pin; the ringlets that half hid the contours of her face added to her look of youth, and suited her style of beauty. Her foulard gown, designed by the celebrated Victorine, with a pointed bodice, exquisitely fringed, set off her figure to advantage; and a silken lace scarf, adroitly thrown about a too long neck, partly concealed her shoulders. She played with the dainty scent-bottle, hung by a chain from her bracelet; she carried her fan and her handkerchief with ease—pretty trifles, as dangerous as a sunken reef for the provincial dame. The refined taste shown in the least details, the carriage and manner modeled upon Mme. d'Espard, revealed a profound study of the Faubourg Saint-Germain.

As for the elderly beau of the Empire, he seemed since his marriage to have followed the example of the species of melon that turns from green to yellow in a night. All the youth that Sixte had lost seemed to appear in his wife's radiant countenance; provincial pleasantries passed from ear to ear, circulating the more readily because the women were furious at the new superiority of the sometime queen of Angouleme; and the persistent intruder paid the penalty of his wife's offence.

The rooms were almost as full as on that memorable evening of Lucien's readings from Chenier. Some faces were missing: M. de Chandour and Amelie, M. de Pimental and the Rastignacs—and M. de Bargeton was no longer there; but the Bishop came, as before, with his vicars-general in his train. Petit-Claud was much impressed by the sight of the great world of Angouleme. Four months ago he had no hope of entering the circle, to-day he felt his detestation of "the classes" sensibly diminished. He thought the Comtesse du Chatelet a most fascinating woman. "It is she who can procure me the appointment of deputy public prosecutor," he said to himself.

Louise chatted for an equal length of time with each of the women; her tone varied with the importance of the person addressed and the position taken up by the latter with regard to her journey to Paris with Lucien. The evening was half over when she withdrew to the boudoir with the Bishop. Zephirine came over to Petit-Claud, and laid her hand on his arm. His heart beat fast as his hostess brought him to the room where Lucien's troubles first began, and were now about to come to a crisis.

"This is M. Petit-Claud, dear; I recommend him to you the more warmly because anything that you may do for him will doubtless benefit my ward."

"You are an attorney, are you not, monsieur?" said the august Negrepelisse, scanning Petit-Claud.

"Alas! yes, Madame la Comtesse." (The son of the tailor in L'Houmeau had never once had occasion to use those three words in his life before, and his mouth was full of them.) "But it rests with you, Madame la Comtesse, whether or no I shall act for the Crown. M. Milaud is going to Nevers, it is said——"

"But a man is usually second deputy and then first deputy, is he not?" broke in the Countess. "I should like to see you in the first deputy's place at once. But I should like first to have some assurance of your devotion to the cause of our legitimate sovereigns, to religion, and more especially to M. de Villele, if I am to interest myself on your behalf to obtain the favor."

Petit-Claud came nearer. "Madame," he said in her ear, "I am the man to yield the King absolute obedience."

"That is just what we want to-day," said the Countess, drawing back a little to make him understand that she had no wish for promises given under his breath. "So long as you satisfy Mme. de Senonches, you can count upon me," she added, with a royal movement of her fan.

Petit-Claud looked toward the door of the boudoir, and saw Cointet standing there. "Madame," he said, "Lucien is here, in Angouleme."

"Well, sir?" asked the Countess, in tones that would have put an end to all power of speech in an ordinary man.

"Mme. la Comtesse does not understand," returned Petit-Claud, bringing out that most respectful formula again. "How does Mme. la Comtesse wish that the great man of her making should be received in Angouleme? There is no middle course; he must be received or despised here."

This was a dilemma to which Louise de Negrepelisse had never given a thought; it touched her closely, yet rather for the sake of the past than of the future. And as for Petit-Claud, his plan for arresting David Sechard depended upon the lady's actual feelings towards Lucien. He waited.

"M. Petit-Claud," said the Countess, with haughty dignity, "you mean to be on the side of the Government. Learn that the first principle of government is this—never to have been in the wrong, and that the instinct of power and the sense of dignity is even stronger in women than in governments."

"That is just what I thought, madame," he answered quickly, observing the Countess meanwhile with attention the more profound because it was scarcely visible. "Lucien came here in the depths of misery. But if he must receive an ovation, I can compel him to leave Angouleme by the means of the ovation itself. His sister and brother-in-law, David Sechard, are hard pressed for debts."

In the Countess' haughty face there was a swift, barely perceptible change; it was not satisfaction, but the repression of satisfaction. Surprised that Petit-Claud should have guessed her wishes, she gave him a glance as she opened her fan, and Francoise de la Haye's entrance at that moment gave her time to find an answer.

"It will not be long before you are public prosecutor, monsieur," she said, with a significant smile. That speech did not commit her in any way, but it was explicit enough. Francoise had come in to thank the Countess.

"Oh! madame, then I shall owe the happiness of my life to you," she exclaimed, bending girlishly to add in the Countess' ear, "To marry a petty provincial attorney would be like being burned by slow fires."

It was Francis, with his knowledge of officialdom, who had prompted Zephirine to make this set upon Louise.

"In the very earliest days after promotion," so the ex-consul-general told his fair friend, "everybody, prefect, or monarch, or man of business, is burning to exert his influence for his friends; but a patron soon finds out the inconveniences of patronage, and then turns from fire to ice. Louise will do more now for Petit-Claud than she would do for her husband in three months' time."

"Madame la Comtesse is thinking of all that our poet's triumph entails?" continued Petit-Claud. "She should receive Lucien before there is an end of the nine-days' wonder."

The Countess terminated the audience with a bow, and rose to speak with Mme. de Pimentel, who came to the boudoir. The news of old Negrepelisse's elevation to a marquisate had greatly impressed the Marquise; she judged it expedient to be amiable to a woman so clever as to rise the higher for an apparent fall.

"Do tell me, dear, why you took the trouble to put your father in the House of Peers?" said the Marquise, in the course of a little confidential conversation, in which she bent the knee before the superiority of "her dear Louise."

"They were all the more ready to grant the favor because my father has no son to succeed him, dear, and his vote will always be at the disposal of the Crown; but if we should have sons, I quite expect that my oldest will succeed to his grandfather's name, title, and peerage."

Mme. de Pimentel saw, to her annoyance, that it was idle to expect a mother ambitious for children not yet in existence to further her own private designs of raising M. de Pimentel to a peerage.

"I have the Countess," Petit-Claud told Cointet when they came away. "I can promise you your partnership. I shall be deputy prosecutor before the month is out, and Sechard will be in your power. Try to find a buyer for my connection; it has come to be the first in Angouleme in my hands during the last five months——"

"Once put you on the horse, and there is no need to do more," said Cointet, half jealous of his own work.

The causes of Lucien's triumphant reception in his native town must now be plain to everybody. Louise du Chatelet followed the example of that King of France who left the Duke of Orleans unavenged; she chose to forget the insults received in Paris by Mme. de Bargeton. She would patronize Lucien, and overwhelming him with her patronage, would completely crush him and get rid of him by fair means. Petit-Claud knew the whole tale of the cabals in Paris through town gossip, and shrewdly guessed how a woman must hate the man who would not love when she was fain of his love.

The ovation justified the past of Louise de Negrepelisse. The next day Petit-Claud appeared at Mme. Sechard's house, heading a deputation of six young men of the town, all of them Lucien's schoolfellows. He meant to finish his work, to intoxicate Lucien completely, and to have him in his power. Lucien's old schoolfellows at the Angouleme grammar-school wished to invite the author of the Marguerites and The Archer of Charles IX. to a banquet given in honor of the great man arisen from their ranks.

"Come, this is your doing, Petit-Claud!" exclaimed Lucien.

"Your return has stirred our conceit," said Petit-Claud; "we made it a point of honor to get up a subscription, and we will have a tremendous affair for you. The masters and the headmaster will be there, and, at the present rate, we shall, no doubt, have the authorities too."

"For what day?" asked Lucien.

"Sunday next."

"That is quite out of the question," said Lucien. "I cannot accept an invitation for the next ten days, but then I will gladly——"

"Very well," said Petit-Claud, "so be it then, in ten days' time."

Lucien behaved charmingly to his old schoolfellows, and they regarded him with almost respectful admiration. He talked away very wittily for half an hour; he had been set upon a pedestal, and wished to justify the opinion of his fellow-townsmen; so he stood with his hands thrust into his pockets, and held forth from the height to which he had been raised. He was modest and good-natured, as befitted genius in dressing-gown and slippers; he was the athlete, wearied by a wrestling bout with Paris, and disenchanted above all things; he congratulated the comrades who had never left the dear old province, and so forth, and so forth. They were delighted with him. He took Petit-Claud aside, and asked him for the real truth about David's affairs, reproaching him for allowing his brother-in-law to go into hiding, and tried to match his wits against the little lawyer. Petit-Claud made an effort over himself, and gave his acquaintance to understand that he (Petit-Claud) was only an insignificant little country attorney, with no sort of craft nor subtlety.