Eve and David/Section 11

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Eve and David by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Ellen Marriage
Section 11

The whole machinery of modern society is so infinitely more complex than in ancient times, that the subdivision of human faculty is the result. The great men of the days of old were perforce universal geniuses, appearing at rare intervals like lighted torches in an antique world. In the course of ages the intellect began to work on special lines, but the great man still could "take all knowledge for his province." A man "full cautelous," as was said of Louis XI., for instance, could apply that special faculty in every direction, but to-day the single quality is subdivided, and every profession has its special craft. A peasant or a pettifogging solicitor might very easily overreach an astute diplomate over a bargain in some remote country village; and the wiliest journalist may prove the veriest simpleton in a piece of business. Lucien could but be a puppet in the hands of Petit-Claud.

That guileful practitioner, as might have been expected, had written the article himself; Angouleme and L'Houmeau, thus put on their mettle, thought it incumbent upon them to pay honor to Lucien. His fellow-citizens, assembled in the Place du Murier, were Cointets' workpeople from the papermills and printing-house, with a sprinkling of Lucien's old schoolfellows and the clerks in the employ of Messieurs Petit-Claud and Cachan. As for the attorney himself, he was once more Lucien's chum of old days; and he thought, not without reason, that before very long he should learn David's whereabouts in some unguarded moment. And if David came to grief through Lucien's fault, the poet would find Angouleme too hot to hold him. Petit-Claud meant to secure his hold; he posed, therefore, as Lucien's inferior.

"What better could I have done?" he said accordingly. "My old chum's sister was involved, it is true, but there are some positions that simply cannot be maintained in a court of law. David asked me on the first of June to ensure him a quiet life for three months; he had a quiet life until September, and even so I have kept his property out of his creditors' power, for I shall gain my case in the Court-Royal; I contend that the wife is a privileged creditor, and her claim is absolute, unless there is evidence of intent to defraud. As for you, you have come back in misfortune, but you are a genius."—(Lucien turned about as if the incense were burned too close to his face.)—"Yes, my dear fellow, a genius. I have read your Archer of Charles IX.; it is more than a romance, it is literature. Only two living men could have written the preface—Chateaubriand and Lucien."

Lucien accepted that d'Arthez had written the preface. Ninety-nine writers out of a hundred would have done the same.

"Well, nobody here seemed to have heard of you!" Petit-Claud continued, with apparent indignation. "When I saw the general indifference, I made up my mind to change all that. I wrote that article in the paper——"

"What? did you write it?" exclaimed Lucien.

"I myself. Angouleme and L'Houmeau were stirred to rivalry; I arranged for a meeting of your old schoolfellows, and got up yesterday's serenade; and when once the enthusiasm began to grow, we started a committee for the dinner. 'If David is in hiding,' said I to myself, 'Lucien shall be crowned at any rate.' And I have done even better than that," continued Petit-Claud; "I have seen the Comtesse du Chatelet and made her understand that she owes it to herself to extricate David from his position; she can do it, and she ought to do it. If David had really discovered the secret of which he spoke to me, the Government ought to lend him a hand, it would not ruin the Government; and think what a fine thing for a prefect to have half the credit of the great invention for the well-timed help. It would set people talking about him as an enlightened administrator.—Your sister has taken fright at our musketry practice; she was scared of the smoke. A battle in the law-courts costs quite as much as a battle on the field; but David has held his ground, he has his secret. They cannot stop him, and they will not pull him up now."

"Thanks, my dear fellow; I see that I can take you into my confidence; you shall help me to carry out my plan."

Petit-Claud looked at Lucien, and his gimlet face was a point of interrogation.

"I intend to rescue Sechard," Lucien said, with a certain importance. "I brought his misfortunes upon him; I mean to make full reparation. . . . I have more influence over Louise——"

"Who is Louise?"

"The Comtesse du Chatelet!"

Petit-Claud started.

"I have more influence over her than she herself suspects," said Lucien; "only, my dear fellow, if I can do something with your authorities here, I have no decent clothes."—Petit-Claud made as though he would offer his purse.

"Thank you," said Lucien, grasping Petit-Claud's hand. "In ten days' time I will pay a visit to the Countess and return your call."

The shook hands like old comrades, and separated.

"He ought to be a poet" said Petit-Claud to himself; "he is quite mad."

"There are no friends like one's school friends; it is a true saying," Lucien thought at he went to find his sister.

"What can Petit-Claud have promised to do that you should be so friendly with him, my Lucien?" asked Eve. "Be on your guard with him."

"With him?" cried Lucien. "Listen, Eve," he continued, seeming to bethink himself; "you have no faith in me now; you do not trust me, so it is not likely you will trust Petit-Claud; but in ten or twelve days you will change your mind," he added, with a touch of fatuity. And he went to his room, and indited the following epistle to Lousteau:—

               Lucien to Lousteau.

  "MY FRIEND,—Of the pair of us, I alone can remember that bill for
  a thousand francs that I once lent you; and I know how things will
  be with you when you open this letter too well, alas! not to add
  immediately that I do not expect to be repaid in current coin of
  the realm; no, I will take it in credit from you, just as one
  would ask Florine for pleasure. We have the same tailor;
  therefore, you can order a complete outfit for me on the shortest
  possible notice. I am not precisely wearing Adam's costume, but I
  cannot show myself here. To my astonishment, the honors paid by
  the departments to a Parisian celebrity awaited me. I am the hero
  of a banquet, for all the world as if I were a Deputy of the Left.
  Now, after that, do you understand that I must have a black coat?
  Promise to pay; have it put down to your account, try the
  advertisement dodge, rehearse an unpublished scene between Don
  Juan and M. Dimanche, for I must have a gala suit at all costs. I
  have nothing, nothing but rags: start with that; it is August, the
  weather is magnificent, ergo see that I receive by the end of the
  week a charming morning suit, dark bronze-green jacket, and three
  waistcoats, one a brimstone yellow, one a plaid, and the third
  must be white; furthermore, let there be three pairs of trousers
  of the most fetching kind—one pair of white English stuff, one
  pair of nankeen, and a third of thin black kerseymere; lastly,
  send a black dress-coat and a black satin waistcoat. If you have
  picked up another Florine somewhere, I beg her good offices for
  two cravats. So far this is nothing; I count upon you and your
  skill in these matters; I am not much afraid of the tailor. But
  the ingenuity of poverty, assuredly the most active of all poisons
  at work in the system of man (id est the Parisian), an ingenuity
  that would catch Satan himself napping, has failed so far to
  discover a way to obtain a hat on credit!—How many a time, my
  dear friend, have we deplored this! When one of us shall bring a
  hat that costs one thousand francs into fashion, then, and not
  till then, can we afford to wear them; until that day comes we are
  bound to have cash enough in our pockets to pay for a hat. Ah!
  what an ill turn the Comedie-Francaise did us with, 'Lafleur, you
  will put gold in my pockets!'

  "I write with a profound sense of all the difficulties involved by
  the demand. Enclose with the above a pair of boots, a pair of
  pumps, a hat, half a dozen pairs of gloves. 'Tis asking the
  impossible; I know it. But what is a literary life but a
  periodical recurrence of the impossible? Work the miracle, write a
  long article, or play some small scurvy trick, and I will hold
  your debt as fully discharged—this is all I say to you. It is a
  debt of honor after all, my dear fellow, and due these twelve
  months; you ought to blush for yourself if you have any blushes
  left.

  "Joking apart, my dear Lousteau, I am in serious difficulties, as
  you may judge for yourself when I tell you that Mme. de Bargeton
  has married Chatelet, and Chatelet is prefect of Angouleme. The
  precious pair can do a good deal for my brother-in-law; he is in
  hiding at this moment on account of that letter of exchange, and
  the horrid business is all my doing. So it is a question of
  appearing before Mme. la Prefete and regaining my influence at all
  costs. It is shocking, is it not, that David Sechard's fate should
  hang upon a neat pair of shoes, a pair of open-worked gray silk
  stockings (mind you, remember them), and a new hat? I shall give
  out that I am sick and ill, and take to my bed, like Duvicquet, to
  save the trouble of replying to the pressing invitations of my
  fellow-townsmen. My fellow-townsmen, dear boy, have treated me to
  a fine serenade. My fellow-townsmen, forsooth! I begin to wonder
  how many fools go to make up that word, since I learned that two
  or three of my old schoolfellows worked up the capital of the
  Angoumois to this pitch of enthusiasm.

  "If you could contrive to slip a few lines as to my reception in
  among the news items, I should be several inches taller for it
  here; and besides, I should make Mme. la Prefete feel that, if I
  have not friends, I have some credit, at any rate, with the
  Parisian press. I give up none of my hopes, and I will return the
  compliment. If you want a good, solid, substantial article for
  some magazine or other, I have time enough now to think something
  out. I only say the word, my dear friend; I count upon you as you
  may count upon me, and I am yours sincerely.

                                                      "LUCIEN DE R.

  "P. S.—Send the things to the coach office to wait until called
  for."

Lucien held up his head again. In this mood he wrote the letter, and as he wrote his thoughts went back to Paris. He had spent six days in the provinces, and the uneventful quietness of provincial life had already entered into his soul; his mind returned to those dear old miserable days with a vague sense of regret. The Comtesse du Chatelet filled his thoughts for a whole week; and at last he came to attach so much importance to his reappearance, that he hurried down to the coach office in L'Houmeau after nightfall in a perfect agony of suspense, like a woman who has set her last hopes upon a new dress, and waits in despair until it arrives.

"Ah! Lousteau, all your treasons are forgiven," he said to himself, as he eyed the packages, and knew from the shape of them that everything had been sent. Inside the hatbox he found a note from Lousteau:—

                                             FLORINE'S DRAWING-ROOM.

  "MY DEAR BOY,—The tailor behaved very well; but as thy profound
  retrospective glance led thee to forbode, the cravats, the hats,
  and the silk hosen perplexed our souls, for there was nothing in
  our purse to be perplexed thereby. As said Blondet, so say we;
  there is a fortune awaiting the establishment which will supply
  young men with inexpensive articles on credit; for when we do not
  pay in the beginning, we pay dear in the end. And by the by, did
  not the great Napoleon, who missed a voyage to the Indies for want
  of boots, say that, 'If a thing is easy, it is never done?' So
  everything went well—except the boots. I beheld a vision of thee,
  fully dressed, but without a hat! appareled in waistcoats, yet
  shoeless! and bethought me of sending a pair of moccasins given to
  Florine as a curiosity by an American. Florine offered the huge
  sum of forty francs, that we might try our luck at play for you.
  Nathan, Blondet, and I had such luck (as we were not playing for
  ourselves) that we were rich enough to ask La Torpille, des
  Lupeaulx's sometime 'rat,' to supper. Frascati certainly owed us
  that much. Florine undertook the shopping, and added three fine
  shirts to the purchases. Nathan sends you a cane. Blondet, who won
  three hundred francs, is sending you a gold chain; and the gold
  watch, the size of a forty-franc piece, is from La Torpille; some
  idiot gave the thing to her, and it will not go. 'Trumpery
  rubbish,' she says, 'like the man that owned it.' Bixiou, who came
  to find us up at the Rocher de Cancale, wished to enclose a bottle
  of Portugal water in the package. Said our first comic man, 'If
  this can make him happy, let him have it!' growling it out in a
  deep bass voice with the bourgeois pomposity that he can act to
  the life. Which things, my dear boy, ought to prove to you how
  much we care for our friends in adversity. Florine, whom I have
  had the weakness to forgive, begs you to send us an article on
  Nathan's hat. Fare thee well, my son. I can only commiserate you
  on finding yourself back in the same box from which you emerged
  when you discovered your old comrade.

                                                        "ETIENNE L."

"Poor fellows! They have been gambling for me," said Lucien; he was quite touched by the letter. A waft of the breeze from an unhealthy country, from the land where one has suffered most, may seem to bring the odors of Paradise; and in a dull life there is an indefinable sweetness in memories of past pain.

Eve was struck dumb with amazement when her brother came down in his new clothes. She did not recognize him.

"Now I can walk out in Beaulieu," he cried; "they shall not say it of me that I came back in rags. Look, here is a watch which I shall return to you, for it is mine; and, like its owner, it is erratic in its ways."

"What a child he is!" exclaimed Eve. "It is impossible to bear you any grudge."

"Then do you imagine, my dear girl, that I sent for all this with the silly idea of shining in Angouleme? I don't care that for Angouleme" (twirling his cane with the engraved gold knob). "I intend to repair the wrong I have done, and this is my battle array."

Lucien's success in this kind was his one real triumph; but the triumph, be it said, was immense. If admiration freezes some people's tongues, envy loosens at least as many more, and if women lost their heads over Lucien, men slandered him. He might have cried, in the words of the songwriter, "I thank thee, my coat!" He left two cards at the prefecture, and another upon Petit-Claud. The next day, the day of the banquet, the following paragraph appeared under the heading "Angouleme" in the Paris newspapers:—

                             "ANGOULEME.

  "The return of the author of The Archer of Charles IX. has been
  the signal for an ovation which does equal honor to the town and
  to M. Lucien de Rubempre, the young poet who has made so brilliant
  a beginning; the writer of the one French historical novel not
  written in the style of Scott, and of a preface which may be
  called a literary event. The town hastened to offer him a
  patriotic banquet on his return. The name of the
  recently-appointed prefect is associated with the public
  demonstration in honor of the author of the Marguerites, whose
  talent received such warm encouragement from Mme. du Chatelet at
  the outset of his career."

In France, when once the impulse is given, nobody can stop. The colonel of the regiment offered to put his band at the disposal of the committee. The landlord of the Bell (renowned for truffled turkeys, despatched in the most wonderful porcelain jars to the uttermost parts of the earth), the famous innkeeper of L'Houmeau, would supply the repast. At five o'clock some forty persons, all in state and festival array, were assembled in his largest ball, decorated with hangings, crowns of laurel, and bouquets. The effect was superb. A crowd of onlookers, some hundred persons, attracted for the most part by the military band in the yard, represented the citizens of Angouleme.

Petit-Claud went to the window. "All Angouleme is here," he said, looking out.

"I can make nothing of this," remarked little Postel to his wife (they had come out to hear the band play). "Why, the prefect and the receiver-general, and the colonel and the superintendent of the powder factory, and our mayor and deputy, and the headmaster of the school, and the manager of the foundry at Ruelle, and the public prosecutor, M. Milaud, and all the authorities, have just gone in!"

The bank struck up as they sat down to table with variations on the air Vive le roy, vive la France, a melody which has never found popular favor. It was then five o'clock in the evening; it was eight o'clock before dessert was served. Conspicuous among the sixty-five dishes appeared an Olympus in confectionery, surmounted by a figure of France modeled in chocolate, to give the signal for toasts and speeches.

"Gentlemen," called the prefect, rising to his feet, "the King! the rightful ruler of France! To what do we owe the generation of poets and thinkers who maintain the sceptre of letters in the hands of France, if not to the peace which the Bourbons have restored——"

"Long live the King!" cried the assembled guests (ministerialists predominated).

The venerable headmaster rose.

"To the hero of the day," he said, "to the young poet who combines the gift of the prosateur with the charm and poetic faculty of Petrarch in that sonnet-form which Boileau declares to be so difficult."

Cheers.

The colonel rose next. "Gentlemen, to the Royalist! for the hero of this evening had the courage to fight for sound principles!"

"Bravo!" cried the prefect, leading the applause.

Then Petit-Claud called upon all Lucien's schoolfellows there present. "To the pride of the grammar-school of Angouleme! to the venerable headmaster so dear to us all, to whom the acknowledgment for some part of our triumph is due!"

The old headmaster dried his eyes; he had not expected this toast. Lucien rose to his feet, the whole room was suddenly silent, and the poet's face grew white. In that pause the old headmaster, who sat on his left, crowned him with a laurel wreath. A round of applause followed, and when Lucien spoke it was with tears in his eyes and a sob in his throat.

"He is drunk," remarked the attorney-general-designate to his neighbor, Petit-Claud.

"My dear fellow-countrymen, my dear comrades," Lucien said at last, "I could wish that all France might witness this scene; for thus men rise to their full stature, and in such ways as these our land demands great deeds and noble work of us. And when I think of the little that I have done, and of this great honor shown to me to-day, I can only feel confused and impose upon the future the task of justifying your reception of me. The recollection of this moment will give me renewed strength for efforts to come. Permit me to indicate for your homage my earliest muse and protectress, and to associate her name with that of my birthplace; so—to the Comtesse du Chatelet and the noble town of Angouleme!"

"He came out of that pretty well!" said the public prosecutor, nodding approval; "our speeches were all prepared, and his was improvised."

At ten o'clock the party began to break up, and little knots of guests went home together. David Sechard heard the unwonted music.

"What is going on in L'Houmeau?" he asked of Basine.

"They are giving a dinner to your brother-in-law, Lucien——"

"I know that he would feel sorry to miss me there," he said.

At midnight Petit-Claud walked home with Lucien. As they reached the Place du Murier, Lucien said, "Come life, come death, we are friends, my dear fellow."

"My marriage contract," said the lawyer, "with Mlle. Francoise de la Haye will be signed to-morrow at Mme. de Senonches' house; do me the pleasure of coming. Mme. de Senonches implored me to bring you, and you will meet Mme. du Chatelet; they are sure to tell her of your speech, and she will feel flattered by it."

"I knew what I was about," said Lucien.

"Oh! you will save David."

"I am sure I shall," the poet replied.

Just at that moment David appeared as if by magic in the Place du Murier. This was how it had come about. He felt that he was in a rather difficult position; his wife insisted that Lucien must neither go to David nor know of his hiding-place; and Lucien all the while was writing the most affectionate letters, saying that in a few days' time all should be set right; and even as Basine Clerget explained the reason why the band played, she put two letters into his hands. The first was from Eve.

  "DEAREST," she wrote, "do as if Lucien were not here; do not
  trouble yourself in the least; our whole security depends upon the
  fact that your enemies cannot find you; get that idea firmly into
  your head. I have more confidence in Kolb and Marion and Basine
  than in my own brother; such is my misfortune. Alas! poor Lucien
  is not the ingenuous and tender-hearted poet whom we used to know;
  and it is simply because he is trying to interfere on your behalf,
  and because he imagines that he can discharge our debts (and this
  from pride, my David), that I am afraid of him. Some fine clothes
  have been sent from Paris for him, and five gold pieces in a
  pretty purse. He gave the money to me, and we are living on it.

  "We have one enemy the less. Your father has gone, thanks to
  Petit-Claud. Petit-Claud unraveled his designs, and put an end to
  them at once by telling him that you would do nothing without
  consulting him, and that he (Petit-Claud) would not allow you to
  concede a single point in the matter of the invention until you
  had been promised an indemnity of thirty thousand francs; fifteen
  thousand to free you from embarrassment, and fifteen thousand more
  to be yours in any case, whether your invention succeeds or no. I
  cannot understand Petit-Claud. I embrace you, dear, a wife's kiss
  for her husband in trouble. Our little Lucien is well. How strange
  it is to watch him grow rosy and strong, like a flower, in these
  stormy days! Mother prays God for you now, as always, and sends
  love only less tender than mine.—Your
                                                              "EVE."

As a matter of fact, Petit-Claud and the Cointets had taken fright at old Sechard's peasant shrewdness, and got rid of him so much the more easily because it was now vintage time at Marsac. Eve's letter enclosed another from Lucien:—

  "MY DEAR DAVID,—Everything is going well. I am armed cap-a-pie;
  to-day I open the campaign, and in forty-eight hours I shall have
  made great progress. How glad I shall be to embrace you when you
  are free again and my debts are all paid! My mother and sister
  persist in mistrusting me; their suspicion wounds me to the quick.
  As if I did not know already that you are hiding with Basine, for
  every time that Basine comes to the house I hear news of you and
  receive answers to my letters; and besides, it is plain that my
  sister could not find any one else to trust. It hurts me cruelly
  to think that I shall be so near you to-day, and yet that you will
  not be present at this banquet in my honor. I owe my little
  triumph to the vainglory of Angouleme; in a few days it will be
  quite forgotten, and you alone would have taken a real pleasure in
  it. But, after all, in a little while you will pardon everything
  to one who counts it more than all the triumphs in the world to be
  your brother,
                                                           "LUCIEN."

Two forces tugged sharply at David's heart; he adored his wife; and if he held Lucien in somewhat less esteem, his friendship was scarcely diminished. In solitude our feelings have unrestricted play; and a man preoccupied like David, with all-absorbing thoughts, will give way to impulses for which ordinary life would have provided a sufficient counterpoise. As he read Lucien's letter to the sound of military music, and heard of this unlooked-for recognition, he was deeply touched by that expression of regret. He had known how it would be. A very slight expression of feeling appeals irresistibly to a sensitive soul, for they are apt to credit others with like depths. How should the drop fall unless the cup were full to the brim?

So at midnight, in spite of all Basine's entreaties, David must go to see Lucien.

"Nobody will be out in the streets at this time of night," he said; "I shall not be seen, and they cannot arrest me. Even if I should meet people, I can make use of Kolb's way of going into hiding. And besides, it is so intolerably long since I saw my wife and child."

The reasoning was plausible enough; Basine gave way, and David went. Petit-Claud was just taking leave as he came up and at his cry of "Lucien!" the two brothers flung their arms about each other with tears in their eyes.

Life holds not many moments such as these. Lucien's heart went out in response to this friendship for its own sake. There was never question of debtor and creditor between them, and the offender met with no reproaches save his own. David, generous and noble that he was, was longing to bestow pardon; he meant first of all to read Lucien a lecture, and scatter the clouds that overspread the love of the brother and sister; and with these ends in view, the lack of money and its consequent dangers disappeared entirely from his mind.

"Go home," said Petit-Claud, addressing his client; "take advantage of your imprudence to see your wife and child again, at any rate; and you must not be seen, mind you!—How unlucky!" he added, when he was alone in the Place du Murier. "If only Cerizet were here——"

The buildings magniloquently styled the Angouleme Law Courts were then in process of construction. Petit-Claud muttered these words to himself as he passed by the hoardings, and heard a tap upon the boards, and a voice issuing from a crack between two planks.

"Here I am," said Cerizet; "I saw David coming out of L'Houmeau. I was beginning to have my suspicions about his retreat, and now I am sure; and I know where to have him. But I want to know something of Lucien's plans before I set the snare for David; and here are you sending him into the house! Find some excuse for stopping here, at least, and when David and Lucien come out, send them round this way; they will think they are quite alone, and I shall overhear their good-bye."

"You are a very devil," muttered Petit-Claud.

"Well, I'm blessed if a man wouldn't do anything for the thing you promised me."