Eve and David/Section 2

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Eve and David by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Ellen Marriage
Section 2

Eve saw how little she could depend upon Cerizet, and to find another Kolb was simply impossible; she made up her mind to dismiss her one compositor, for the insight of a woman who loves told her that Cerizet was a traitor; but as this meant a deathblow to the business, she took a man's resolution. She wrote to M. Metivier, with whom David and the Cointets and almost every papermaker in the department had business relations, and asked him to put the following advertisement into a trade paper:

"FOR SALE, as a going concern, a Printing Office, with License and Plant; situated at Angouleme. Apply for particulars to M. Metivier, Rue Serpente."

The Cointets saw the advertisement. "That little woman has a head on her shoulders," they said. "It is time that we took her business under our own control, by giving her enough work to live upon; we might find a real competitor in David's successor; it is in our interest to keep an eye upon that workshop."

The Cointets went to speak to David Sechard, moved thereto by this thought. Eve saw them, knew that her stratagem had succeeded at once, and felt a thrill of the keenest joy. They stated their proposal. They had more work than they could undertake, their presses could not keep pace with the work, would M. Sechard print for them? They had sent to Bordeaux for workmen, and could find enough to give full employment to David's three presses.

"Gentlemen," said Eve, while Cerizet went across to David's workshop to announce the two printers, "while my husband was with the MM. Didot he came to know of excellent workers, honest and industrious men; he will choose his successor, no doubt, from among the best of them. If he sold his business outright for some twenty thousand francs, it might bring us in a thousand francs per annum; that would be better than losing a thousand yearly over such trade as you leave us. Why did you envy us the poor little almanac speculation, especially as we have always brought it out?"

"Oh, why did you not give us notice, madame? We would not have interfered with you," one of the brothers answered blandly (he was known as the "tall Cointet").

"Oh, come gentlemen! you only began your almanac after Cerizet told you that I was bringing out mine."

She spoke briskly, looking full at "the tall Cointet" as she spoke. He lowered his eyes; Cerizet's treachery was proven to her.

This brother managed the business and the paper-mill; he was by far the cleverer man of business of the two. Jean showed no small ability in the conduct of the printing establishment, but in intellectual capacity he might be said to take colonel's rank, while Boniface was a general. Jean left the command to Boniface. This latter was thin and spare in person; his face, sallow as an altar candle, was mottled with reddish patches; his lips were pinched; there was something in his eyes that reminded you of a cat's eyes. Boniface Cointet never excited himself; he would listen to the grossest insults with the serenity of a bigot, and reply in a smooth voice. He went to mass, he went to confession, he took the sacrament. Beneath his caressing manners, beneath an almost spiritless look, lurked the tenacity and ambition of the priest, and the greed of the man of business consumed with a thirst for riches and honors. In the year 1820 "tall Cointet" wanted all that the bourgeoisie finally obtained by the Revolution of 1830. In his heart he hated the aristocrats, and in religion he was indifferent; he was as much or as little of a bigot as Bonaparte was a member of the Mountain; yet his vertebral column bent with a flexibility wonderful to behold before the noblesse and the official hierarchy; for the powers that be, he humbled himself, he was meek and obsequious. One final characteristic will describe him for those who are accustomed to dealings with all kinds of men, and can appreciate its value—Cointet concealed the expression of his eyes by wearing colored glasses, ostensibly to preserve his sight from the reflection of the sunlight on the white buildings in the streets; for Angouleme, being set upon a hill, is exposed to the full glare of the sun. Tall Cointet was really scarcely above middle height; he looked much taller than he actually was by reason of the thinness, which told of overwork and a brain in continual ferment. His lank, sleek gray hair, cut in somewhat ecclesiastical fashion; the black trousers, black stockings, black waistcoat, and long puce-colored greatcoat (styled a levite in the south), all completed his resemblance to a Jesuit.

Boniface was called "tall Cointet" to distinguish him from his brother, "fat Cointet," and the nicknames expressed a difference in character as well as a physical difference between a pair of equally redoubtable personages. As for Jean Cointet, a jolly, stout fellow, with a face from a Flemish interior, colored by the southern sun of Angouleme, thick-set, short and paunchy as Sancho Panza; with a smile on his lips and a pair of sturdy shoulders, he was a striking contrast to his older brother. Nor was the difference only physical and intellectual. Jean might almost be called Liberal in politics; he belonged to the Left Centre, only went to mass on Sundays, and lived on a remarkably good understanding with the Liberal men of business. There were those in L'Houmeau who said that this divergence between the brothers was more apparent than real. Tall Cointet turned his brother's seeming good nature to advantage very skilfully. Jean was his bludgeon. It was Jean who gave all the hard words; it was Jean who conducted the executions which little beseemed the elder brother's benevolence. Jean took the storms department; he would fly into a rage, and propose terms that nobody would think of accepting, to pave the way for his brother's less unreasonable propositions. And by such policy the pair attained their ends, sooner or later.

Eve, with a woman's tact, had soon divined the characters of the two brothers; she was on her guard with foes so formidable. David, informed beforehand of everything by his wife, lent a profoundly inattentive mind to his enemies' proposals.

"Come to an understanding with my wife," he said, as he left the Cointets in the office and went back to his laboratory. "Mme. Sechard knows more about the business than I do myself. I am interested in something that will pay better than this poor place; I hope to find a way to retrieve the losses that I have made through you——"

"And how?" asked the fat Cointet, chuckling.

Eve gave her husband a look that meant, "Be careful!"

"You will be my tributaries," said David, "and all other consumers of papers besides."

"Then what are you investigating?" asked the hypocritical Boniface Cointet.

Boniface's question slipped out smoothly and insinuatingly, and again Eve's eyes implored her husband to give an answer that was no answer, or to say nothing at all.

"I am trying to produce paper at fifty per cent less than the present cost price," and he went. He did not see the glances exchanged between the brothers. "That is an inventor, a man of his build cannot sit with his hands before him.—Let us exploit him," said Boniface's eyes. "How can we do it?" said Jean's.

Mme. Sechard spoke. "David treats me just in the same way," she said. "If I show any curiosity, he feels suspicious of my name, no doubt, and out comes that remark of his; it is only a formula, after all."

"If your husband can work out the formula, he will certainly make a fortune more quickly than by printing; I am not surprised that he leaves the business to itself," said Boniface, looking across the empty workshop, where Kolb, seated upon a wetting-board, was rubbing his bread with a clove of garlic; "but it would not suit our views to see this place in the hands of an energetic, pushing, ambitious competitor," he continued, "and perhaps it might be possible to arrive at an understanding. Suppose, for instance, that you consented for a consideration to allow us to put in one of our own men to work your presses for our benefit, but nominally for you; the thing is sometimes done in Paris. We would find the fellow work enough to enable him to rent your place and pay you well, and yet make a profit for himself."

"It depends on the amount," said Eve Sechard. "What is your offer?" she added, looking at Boniface to let him see that she understood his scheme perfectly well.

"What is your own idea?" Jean Cointet put in briskly.

"Three thousand francs for six months," said she.

"Why, my dear young lady, you were proposing to sell the place outright for twenty thousand francs," said Boniface with much suavity. "The interest on twenty thousand francs is only twelve hundred francs per annum at six per cent."

For a moment Eve was thrown into confusion; she saw the need for discretion in matters of business.

"You wish to use our presses and our name as well," she said; "and, as I have already shown you, I can still do a little business. And then we pay rent to M. Sechard senior, who does not load us with presents."

After two hours of debate, Eve obtained two thousand francs for six months, one thousand to be paid in advance. When everything was concluded, the brothers informed her that they meant to put in Cerizet as lessee of the premises. In spite of herself, Eve started with surprise.

"Isn't it better to have somebody who knows the workshop?" asked the fat Cointet.

Eve made no reply; she took leave of the brothers, vowing inwardly to look after Cerizet.

"Well, here are our enemies in the place!" laughed David, when Eve brought out the papers for his signature at dinner-time.

"Pshaw!" said she, "I will answer for Kolb and Marion; they alone would look after things. Besides, we shall be making an income of four thousand francs from the workshop, which only costs us money as it is; and looking forward, I see a year in which you may realize your hopes."

"You were born to be the wife of a scientific worker, as you said by the weir," said David, grasping her hand tenderly.

But though the Sechard household had money sufficient that winter, they were none the less subjected to Cerizet's espionage, and all unconsciously became dependent upon Boniface Cointet.

"We have them now!" the manager of the paper-mill had exclaimed as he left the house with his brother the printer. "They will begin to regard the rent as regular income; they will count upon it and run themselves into debt. In six months' time we will decline to renew the agreement, and then we shall see what this man of genius has at the bottom of his mind; we will offer to help him out of his difficulty by taking him into partnership and exploiting his discovery."

Any shrewd man of business who should have seen tall Cointet's face as he uttered those words, "taking him into partnership," would have known that it behooves a man to be even more careful in the selection of the partner whom he takes before the Tribunal of Commerce than in the choice of the wife whom he weds at the Mayor's office. Was it not enough already, and more than enough, that the ruthless hunters were on the track of the quarry? How should David and his wife, with Kolb and Marion to help them, escape the toils of a Boniface Cointet?

A draft for five hundred francs came from Lucien, and this, with Cerizet's second payment, enabled them to meet all the expenses of Mme. Sechard's confinement. Eve and the mother and David had thought that Lucien had forgotten them, and rejoiced over this token of remembrance as they rejoiced over his success, for his first exploits in journalism made even more noise in Angouleme than in Paris.

But David, thus lulled into a false security, was to receive a staggering blow, a cruel letter from Lucien:—

               Lucien to David.

  "MY DEAR DAVID,—I have drawn three bills on you, and negotiated
  them with Metivier; they fall due in one, two, and three months'
  time. I took this hateful course, which I know will burden you
  heavily, because the one alternative was suicide. I will explain
  my necessity some time, and I will try besides to send the amounts
  as the bills fall due.

  "Burn this letter; say nothing to my mother and sister; for, I
  confess it, I have counted upon you, upon the heroism known so
  well to your despairing brother,

                                               "LUCIEN DE RUBEMPRE."

By this time Eve had recovered from her confinement.

"Your brother, poor fellow, is in desperate straits," David told her. "I have sent him three bills for a thousand francs at one, two, and three months; just make a note of them," and he went out into the fields to escape his wife's questionings.

But Eve had felt very uneasy already. It was six months since Lucien had written to them. She talked over the news with her mother till her forebodings grew so dark that she made up her mind to dissipate them. She would take a bold step in her despair.

Young M. de Rastignac had come to spend a few days with his family. He had spoken of Lucien in terms that set Paris gossip circulating in Angouleme, till at last it reached the journalist's mother and sister. Eve went to Mme. de Rastignac, asked the favor of an interview with her son, spoke of all her fears, and asked him for the truth. In a moment Eve heard of her brother's connection with the actress Coralie, of his duel with Michel Chrestien, arising out of his own treacherous behavior to Daniel d'Arthez; she received, in short, a version of Lucien's history, colored by the personal feeling of a clever and envious dandy. Rastignac expressed sincere admiration for the abilities so terribly compromised, and a patriotic fear for the future of a native genius; spite and jealousy masqueraded as pity and friendliness. He spoke of Lucien's blunders. It seemed that Lucien had forfeited the favor of a very great person, and that a patent conferring the right to bear the name and arms of Rubempre had actually been made out and subsequently torn up.

"If your brother, madame, had been well advised, he would have been on the way to honors, and Mme. de Bargeton's husband by this time; but what can you expect? He deserted her and insulted her. She is now Mme. la Comtesse Sixte du Chatelet, to her own great regret, for she loved Lucien."

"Is it possible!" exclaimed Mme. Sechard.

"Your brother is like a young eagle, blinded by the first rays of glory and luxury. When an eagle falls, who can tell how far he may sink before he drops to the bottom of some precipice? The fall of a great man is always proportionately great."

Eve came away with a great dread in her heart; those last words pierced her like an arrow. She had been wounded to the quick. She said not a word to anybody, but again and again a tear rolled down her cheeks, and fell upon the child at her breast. So hard is it to give up illusions sanctioned by family feeling, illusions that have grown with our growth, that Eve had doubted Eugene de Rastignac. She would rather hear a true friend's account of her brother. Lucien had given them d'Arthez's address in the days when he was full of enthusiasm for the brotherhood; she wrote a pathetic letter to d'Arthez, and received the following reply:—

               D'Arthez to Mme. Sechard.

  "MADAME,—You ask me to tell you the truth about the life that
  your brother is leading in Paris; you are anxious for
  enlightenment as to his prospects; and to encourage a frank answer
  on my part, you repeat certain things that M. de Rastignac has
  told you, asking me if they are true. With regard to the purely
  personal matter, madame, M. de Rastignac's confidences must be
  corrected in Lucien's favor. Your brother wrote a criticism of my
  book, and brought it to me in remorse, telling me that he could
  not bring himself to publish it, although obedience to the orders
  of his party might endanger one who was very dear to him. Alas!
  madame, a man of letters must needs comprehend all passions, since
  it is his pride to express them; I understood that where a
  mistress and a friend are involved, the friend is inevitably
  sacrificed. I smoothed your brother's way; I corrected his
  murderous article myself, and gave it my full approval.

  "You ask whether Lucien has kept my friendship and esteem; to this
  it is difficult to make an answer. Your brother is on a road that
  leads him to ruin. At this moment I still feel sorry for him;
  before long I shall have forgotten him, of set purpose, not so
  much on account of what he has done already as for that which he
  inevitably will do. Your Lucien is not a poet, he has the poetic
  temper; he dreams, he does not think; he spends himself in
  emotion, he does not create. He is, in fact—permit me to say it
  —a womanish creature that loves to shine, the Frenchman's great
  failing. Lucien will always sacrifice his best friend for the
  pleasure of displaying his own wit. He would not hesitate to sign
  a pact with the Devil to-morrow if so he might secure a few years
  of luxurious and glorious life. Nay, has he not done worse
  already? He has bartered his future for the short-lived delights
  of living openly with an actress. So far, he has not seen the
  dangers of his position; the girl's youth and beauty and devotion
  (for she worships him) have closed his eyes to the truth; he
  cannot see that no glory or success or fortune can induce the
  world to accept the position. Very well, as it is now, so it will
  be with each new temptation—your brother will not look beyond the
  enjoyment of the moment. Do not be alarmed: Lucien will never go
  so far as a crime, he has not the strength of character; but he
  would take the fruits of a crime, he would share the benefit but
  not the risk—a thing that seems abhorrent to the whole world,
  even to scoundrels. Oh, he would despise himself, he would repent;
  but bring him once more to the test, and he would fail again; for
  he is weak of will, he cannot resist the allurements of pleasure,
  nor forego the least of his ambitions. He is indolent, like all
  who would fain be poets; he thinks it clever to juggle with the
  difficulties of life instead of facing and overcoming them. He
  will be brave at one time, cowardly at another, and deserves
  neither credit for his courage, nor blame for his cowardice.
  Lucien is like a harp with strings that are slackened or tightened
  by the atmosphere. He might write a great book in a glad or angry
  mood, and care nothing for the success that he had desired for so
  long.

  "When he first came to Paris he fell under the influence of an
  unprincipled young fellow, and was dazzled by his companion's
  adroitness and experience in the difficulties of a literary life.
  This juggler completely bewitched Lucien; he dragged him into a
  life which a man cannot lead and respect himself, and, unluckily
  for Lucien, love shed its magic over the path. The admiration that
  is given too readily is a sign of want of judgment; a poet ought
  not to be paid in the same coin as a dancer on the tight-rope. We
  all felt hurt when intrigue and literary rascality were preferred
  to the courage and honor of those who counseled Lucien rather to
  face the battle than to filch success, to spring down into the
  arena rather than become a trumpet in the orchestra.

  "Society, madame, oddly enough, shows plentiful indulgence to
  young men of Lucien's stamp; they are popular, the world is
  fascinated by their external gifts and good looks. Nothing is
  asked of them, all their sins are forgiven; they are treated like
  perfect natures, others are blind to their defects, they are the
  world's spoiled children. And, on the other hand, the world is
  stern beyond measure to strong and complete natures. Perhaps in
  this apparently flagrant injustice society acts sublimely, taking
  a harlequin at his just worth, asking nothing of him but
  amusement, promptly forgetting him; and asking divine great deeds
  of those before whom she bends the knee. Everything is judged by
  laws of its being; the diamond must be flawless; the ephemeral
  creation of fashion may be flimsy, bizarre, inconsequent. So
  Lucien may perhaps succeed to admiration in spite of his mistakes;
  he has only to profit by some happy vein or to be among good
  companions; but if an evil angel crosses his path, he will go to
  the very depths of hell. 'Tis a brilliant assemblage of good
  qualities embroidered upon too slight a tissue; time wears the
  flowers away till nothing but the web is left; and if that is poor
  stuff, you behold a rag at the last. So long as Lucien is young,
  people will like him; but where will he be as a man of thirty?
  That is the question which those who love him sincerely are bound
  to ask themselves. If I alone had come to think in this way of
  Lucien, I might perhaps have spared you the pain which my plain
  speaking will give you; but to evade the questions put by your
  anxiety, and to answer a cry of anguish like your letter with
  commonplaces, seemed to me alike unworthy of you and of me, whom
  you esteem too highly; and besides, those of my friends who knew
  Lucien are unanimous in their judgment. So it appeared to me to be
  a duty to put the truth before you, terrible though it may be.
  Anything may be expected of Lucien, anything good or evil. That is
  our opinion, and this letter is summed up in that sentence. If the
  vicissitudes of his present way of life (a very wretched and
  slippery one) should bring the poet back to you, use all your
  influence to keep him among you; for until his character has
  acquired stability, Paris will not be safe for him. He used to
  speak of you, you and your husband, as his guardian angels; he has
  forgotten you, no doubt; but he will remember you again when
  tossed by tempest, with no refuge left to him but his home. Keep
  your heart for him, madame; he will need it.

  "Permit me, madame, to convey to you the expression of the sincere
  respect of a man to whom your rare qualities are known, a man who
  honors your mother's fears so much, that he desires to style
  himself your devoted servant,

                                                         "D'ARTHEZ."

Two days after the letter came, Eve was obliged to find a wet-nurse; her milk had dried up. She had made a god of her brother; now, in her eyes, he was depraved through the exercise of his noblest faculties; he was wallowing in the mire. She, noble creature that she was, was incapable of swerving from honesty and scrupulous delicacy, from all the pious traditions of the hearth, which still burns so clearly and sheds its light abroad in quiet country homes. Then David had been right in his forecasts! The leaden hues of grief overspread Eve's white brow. She told her husband her secret in one of the pellucid talks in which married lovers tell everything to each other. The tones of David's voice brought comfort. Though the tears stood in his eyes when he knew that grief had dried his wife's fair breast, and knew Eve's despair that she could not fulfil a mother's duties, he held out reassuring hopes.

"Your brother's imagination has let him astray, you see, child. It is so natural that a poet should wish for blue and purple robes, and hurry as eagerly after festivals as he does. It is a bird that loves glitter and luxury with such simple sincerity, that God forgives him if man condemns him for it."

"But he is draining our lives!" exclaimed poor Eve.

"He is draining our lives just now, but only a few months ago he saved us by sending us the first fruits of his earnings," said the good David. He had the sense to see that his wife was in despair, was going beyond the limit, and that love for Lucien would very soon come back. "Fifty years ago, or thereabouts, Mercier said in his Tableau de Paris that a man cannot live by literature, poetry, letters, or science, by the creatures of his brain, in short; and Lucien, poet that he is, would not believe the experience of five centuries. The harvests that are watered with ink are only reaped ten or twelve years after the sowing, if indeed there is any harvest after all. Lucien has taken the green wheat for the sheaves. He will have learned something of life, at any rate. He was the dupe of a woman at the outset; he was sure to be duped afterwards by the world and false friends. He has bought his experience dear, that is all. Our ancestors used to say, 'If the son of the house brings back his two ears and his honor safe, all is well——'"

"Honor!" poor Eve broke in. "Oh, but Lucien has fallen in so many ways! Writing against his conscience! Attacking his best friend! Living upon an actress! Showing himself in public with her. Bringing us to lie on straw——"

"Oh, that is nothing——!" cried David, and suddenly stopped short. The secret of Lucien's forgery had nearly escaped him, and, unluckily, his start left a vague, uneasy impression on Eve.

"What do you mean by nothing?" she answered. "And where shall we find the money to meet bills for three thousand francs?"

"We shall be obliged to renew the lease with Cerizet, to begin with," said David. "The Cointets have been allowing him fifteen per cent on the work done for them, and in that way alone he has made six hundred francs, besides contriving to make five hundred francs by job printing."

"If the Cointets know that, perhaps they will not renew the lease. They will be afraid of him, for Cerizet is a dangerous man."

"Eh! what is that to me!" cried David, "we shall be rich in a very little while. When Lucien is rich, dear angel, he will have nothing but good qualities."

"Oh! David, my dear, my dear; what is this that you have said unthinkingly? Then Lucien fallen into the clutches of poverty would not have the force of character to resist evil? And you think just as M. d'Arthez thinks! No one is great unless he has strength of character, and Lucien is weak. An angel must not be tempted—what is that?"

"What but a nature that is noble only in its own region, its own sphere, its heaven? I will spare him the struggle; Lucien is not meant for it. Look here! I am so near the end now that I can talk to you about the means."

He drew several sheets of white paper from his pocket, brandished them in triumph, and laid them on his wife's lap.

"A ream of this paper, royal size, would cost five francs at the most," he added, while Eve handled the specimens with almost childish surprise.

"Why, how did you make these sample bits?" she asked.

"With an old kitchen sieve of Marion's."

"And are you not satisfied yet?" asked Eve.

"The problem does not lie in the manufacturing process; it is a question of the first cost of the pulp. Alas, child, I am only a late comer in a difficult path. As long ago as 1794, Mme. Masson tried to use printed paper a second time; she succeeded, but what a price it cost! The Marquis of Salisbury tried to use straw as a material in 1800, and the same idea occurred to Seguin in France in 1801. Those sheets in your hand are made from the common rush, the arundo phragmites, but I shall try nettles and thistles; for if the material is to continue to be cheap, one must look for something that will grow in marshes and waste lands where nothing else can be grown. The whole secret lies in the preparation of the stems. At present my method is not quite simple enough. Still, in spite of this difficulty, I feel sure that I can give the French paper trade the privilege of our literature; papermaking will be for France what coal and iron and coarse potter's clay are for England—a monopoly. I mean to be the Jacquart of the trade."

Eve rose to her feet. David's simple-mindedness had roused her to enthusiasm, to admiration; she held out her arms to him and held him tightly to her, while she laid her head upon his shoulder.

"You give me my reward as if I had succeeded already," he said.

For all answer, Eve held up her sweet face, wet with tears, to his, and for a moment she could not speak.

"The kiss was not for the man of genius," she said, "but for my comforter. Here is a rising glory for the glory that has set; and, in the midst of my grief for the brother that has fallen so low, my husband's greatness is revealed to me.—Yes, you will be great, great like the Graindorges, the Rouvets, and Van Robais, and the Persian who discovered madder, like all the men you have told me about; great men whom nobody remembers, because their good deeds were obscure industrial triumphs."