Eve and David/Section 4

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Eve and David by Honoré de Balzac, translated by Ellen Marriage
Section 4

On the 4th of May, Metivier received the account from Cointet Brothers, with instructions to proceed against M. Lucien Chardon, otherwise de Rubempre, with the utmost rigor of the law.

Eve also wrote to M. Metivier, and a few days later received an answer which reassured her completely:—

               To M. Sechard, Junior, Printer, Angouleme.

  "I have duly received your esteemed favor of the 5th instant. From
  your explanation of the bill due on April 30th, I understand that
  you have obliged your brother-in-law, M. de Rubempre, who is
  spending so much that it will be doing you a service to summons
  him. His present position is such that he is likely to delay
  payment for long. If your brother-in-law should refuse payment, I
  shall rely upon the credit of your old-established house.—I sign
  myself now, as ever, your obedient servant,
                                                         "Metivier."

"Well," said Eve, commenting upon the letter to David, "Lucien will know when they summons him that we could not pay."

What a change wrought in Eve those few words meant! The love that grew deeper as she came to know her husband's character better and better, was taking the place of love for her brother in her heart. But to how many illusions had she not bade farewell?

And now let us trace out the whole history of the bill and the account of expenses in the business world of Paris. The law enacts that the third holder, the technical expression for the third party into whose hands the bill passes, is at liberty to proceed for the whole amount against any one of the various endorsers who appears to him to be most likely to make prompt payment. M. Metivier, using this discretion, served a summons upon Lucien. Behold the successive stages of the proceedings, all of them perfectly futile. Metivier, with the Cointets behind him, knew that Lucien was not in a position to pay, but insolvency in fact is not insolvency in law until it has been formally proved.

Formal proof of Lucien's inability to pay was obtained in the following manner:

On the 5th of May, Metivier's process-server gave Lucien notice of the protest and an account of the expense thereof, and summoned him to appear before the Tribunal of Commerce, or County Court, of Paris, to hear a vast number of things: this, among others, that he was liable to imprisonment as a merchant. By the time that Lucien, hard pressed and hunted down on all sides, read this jargon, he received notice of judgment against him by default. Coralie, his mistress, ignorant of the whole matter, imagined that Lucien had obliged his brother-in-law, and handed him all the documents together—too late. An actress sees so much of bailiffs, duns, and writs, upon the stage, that she looks on all stamped paper as a farce.

Tears filled Lucien's eyes; he was unhappy on Sechard's account, he was ashamed of the forgery, he wished to pay, he desired to gain time. Naturally he took counsel of his friends. But by the time Lousteau, Blondet, Bixiou, and Nathan had told the poet to snap his fingers at a court only established for tradesmen, Lucien was already in the clutches of the law. He beheld upon his door the little yellow placard which leaves its reflection on the porter's countenance, and exercises a most astringent influence upon credit; striking terror into the heart of the smallest tradesman, and freezing the blood in the veins of a poet susceptible enough to care about the bits of wood, silken rags, dyed woolen stuffs, and multifarious gimcracks entitled furniture.

When the broker's men came for Coralie's furniture, the author of the Marguerites fled to a friend of Bixiou's, one Desroches, a barrister, who burst out laughing at the sight of Lucien in such a state about nothing at all.

"That is nothing, my dear fellow. Do you want to gain time?"

"Yes, as much possible."

"Very well, apply for stay of execution. Go and look up Masson, he is a solicitor in the Commercial Court, and a friend of mine. Take your documents to him. He will make a second application for you, and give notice of objection to the jurisdiction of the court. There is not the least difficulty; you are a journalist, your name is well known enough. If they summons you before a civil court, come to me about it, that will be my affair; I engage to send anybody who offers to annoy the fair Coralie about his business."

On the 28th of May, Lucien's case came on in the civil court, and judgment was given before Desroches expected it. Lucien's creditor was pushing on the proceedings against him. A second execution was put in, and again Coralie's pilasters were gilded with placards. Desroches felt rather foolish; a colleague had "caught him napping," to use his own expression. He demurred, not without reason, that the furniture belonged to Mlle. Coralie, with whom Lucien was living, and demanded an order for inquiry. Thereupon the judge referred the matter to the registrar for inquiry, the furniture was proved to belong to the actress, and judgment was entered accordingly. Metivier appealed, and judgment was confirmed on appeal on the 30th of June.

On the 7th of August, Maitre Cachan received by the coach a bulky package endorsed, "Metivier versus Sechard and Lucien Chardon."

The first document was a neat little bill, of which a copy (accuracy guaranteed) is here given for the reader's benefit:—

  _To Bill due the last day of April, drawn by_
       Sechard, junior, _to order of_ Lucien de
       Rubempre, _together with expenses of             fr.    c.
       protest and return_ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1037    45
  May  5th--Serving notice of protest and
            summons to appear before the
            Tribunal of Commerce in
            Paris, May 7th . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    8    75
   "   7th--Judgment by default and
            warrant of arrest. . . . . . . . . . . . .   35    --
   "  10th--Notification of judgment . . . . . . . . .    8    50
   "  12th--Warrant of execution . . . . . . . . . . .    5    50
   "  14th--Inventory and appraisement
            previous to execution. . . . . . . . . . .    16   --
   "  18th--Expenses of affixing placards. . . . . . .    15   25
   "  19th--Registration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .     4   --
   "  24th--Verification of inventory, and
            application for stay of execution
            on the part of the said
            Lucien de Rubempre, objecting
            to the jurisdiction of the Court. . . . . .   12   --
   "  27th--Order of the Court upon application
            duly repeated, and transfer of
            of case to the Civil Court. . . . . . . . .   35   --
                                                        ____ ____
                Carried forward. . . . . . . . . . . .  1177   45

                                                         fr.   c.
                  Brought forward                       1177   45
  May 28th--Notice of summary proceedings in
            the Civil Court at the instance
            of Metivier, represented by
            counsel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    6   50
  June 2nd--Judgment, after hearing both
            parties, condemning Lucien for
            expenses of protest and return;
            the plaintiff to bear costs
            of proceedings in the
            Commercial Court. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  150   --
   "   6th--Notification of judgment. . . . . . . . . .   10   --

   "  15th--Warrant of execution. . . . . . . . . . . .    5   50
   "  19th--Inventory and appraisement preparatory
            to execution; interpleader summons by
            the Demoiselle Coralie, claiming goods
            and chattels taken in execution; demand
            for immediate special inquiry before
            further proceedings be taken . . . . . . .    20   --
   "   "  --Judge's order referring matter to
            registrar for immediate special inquiry. .    40   --
   "   "  --Judgment in favor of the said
            Mademoiselle Coralie . . . . . . . . . . .   250   --
   "  20th--Appeal by Metivier . . . . . . . . . . . .    17   --
   "  30th--Confirmation of judgment . . . . . . . . .   250   --
                                                        ____ ____
                 Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1926   45
                                                       __________

  Bill matured May 31st, with expenses of                fr.   c.
     protest and return. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1037   45
  Serving notice of protest. . . . . . . . . . . . . .     8   75
                                                        ____ ____
                 Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1046   20

  Bill matured June 30th, with expenses of
       protest and return. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1037   45
  Serving notice of protest. . . . . . . . . . . . . .     8   75
                                                        ____ ____
                 Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  1046   20
                                                       __________

This document was accompanied by a letter from Metivier, instructing Maitre Cachan, notary of Angouleme, to prosecute David Sechard with the utmost rigor of the law. Wherefore Maitre Victor-Ange-Hermenegilde Doublon summoned David Sechard before the Tribunal of Commerce in Angouleme for the sum-total of four thousand and eighteen francs eighty-five centimes, the amount of the three bills and expenses already incurred. On the morning of the very day when Doublon served the writ upon Eve, requiring her to pay a sum so enormous in her eyes, there came a letter like a thunderbolt from Metivier:—

          To Monsieur Sechard, Junior, Printer, Angouleme.

  "SIR,—Your brother-in-law, M. Chardon, is so shamelessly
  dishonest, that he declares his furniture to be the property of an
  actress with whom he is living. You ought to have informed me
  candidly of these circumstances, and not have allowed me to go to
  useless expense over law proceedings. I have received no answer
  to my letter of the 10th of May last. You must not, therefore,
  take it amiss if I ask for immediate repayment of the three bills
  and the expenses to which I have been put.—Yours, etc.,
                                                         "METIVIER."

Eve had heard nothing during these months, and supposed, in her ignorance of commercial law, that her brother had made reparation for his sins by meeting the forged bills.

"Be quick, and go at once to Petit-Claud, dear," she said; "tell him about it, and ask his advice."

David hurried to his schoolfellow's office.

"When you came to tell me of your appointment and offered me your services, I did not think that I should need them so soon," he said.

Petit-Claud studied the fine face of this man who sat opposite him in the office chair, and scarcely listened to the details of the case, for he knew more of them already than the speaker. As soon as he saw Sechard's anxiety, he said to himself, "The trick has succeeded."

This kind of comedy is often played in an attorney's office. "Why are the Cointets persecuting him?" Petit-Claud wondered within himself, for the attorney can use his wit to read his clients' thoughts as clearly as the ideas of their opponents, and it is his business to see both sides of the judicial web.

"You want to gain time," he said at last, when Sechard had come to an end. "How long do you want? Something like three or four months?"

"Oh! four months! that would be my salvation," exclaimed David. Petit-Claud appeared to him as an angel.

"Very well. No one shall lay hands on any of your furniture, and no one shall arrest you for four months——But it will cost you a great deal," said Petit-Claud.

"Eh! what does that matter to me?" cried Sechard.

"You are expecting some money to come in; but are you sure of it?" asked Petit-Claud, astonished at the way in which his client walked into the toils.

"In three months' time I shall have plenty of money," said the inventor, with an inventor's hopeful confidence.

"Your father is still above ground," suggested Petit-Claud; "he is in no hurry to leave his vines."

"Do you think that I am counting on my father's death?" returned David. "I am on the track of a trade secret, the secret of making a sheet of paper as strong as Dutch paper, without a thread of cotton in it, and at a cost of fifty per cent less than cotton pulp."

"There is a fortune in that!" exclaimed Petit-Claud. He knew now what the tall Cointet meant.

"A large fortune, my friend, for in ten years' time the demand for paper will be ten times larger than it is to-day. Journalism will be the craze of our day."

"Nobody knows your secret?"

"Nobody except my wife."

"You have not told any one what you mean to do—the Cointets, for example?"

"I did say something about it, but in general terms, I think."

A sudden spark of generosity flashed through Petit-Claud's rancorous soul; he tried to reconcile Sechard's interests with the Cointet's projects and his own.

"Listen, David, we are old schoolfellows, you and I; I will fight your case; but understand this clearly—the defence, in the teeth of the law, will cost you five or six thousand francs! Do not compromise your prospects. I think you will be compelled to share the profits of your invention with some one of our paper manufacturers. Let us see now. You will think twice before you buy or build a paper mill; and there is the cost of the patent besides. All this means time, and money too. The servers of writs will be down upon you too soon, perhaps, although we are going to give them the slip——"

"I have my secret," said David, with the simplicity of the man of books.

"Well and good, your secret will be your plank of safety," said Petit-Claud; his first loyal intention of avoiding a lawsuit by a compromise was frustrated. "I do not wish to know it; but mind this that I tell you. Work in the bowels of the earth if you can, so that no one may watch you and gain a hint from your ways of working, or your plank will be stolen from under your feet. An inventor and a simpleton often live in the same skin. Your mind runs so much on your secrets that you cannot think of everything. People will begin to have their suspicions at last, and the place is full of paper manufacturers. So many manufacturers, so many enemies for you! You are like a beaver with the hunters about you; do not give them your skin——"

"Thank you, dear fellow, I have told myself all this," exclaimed Sechard, "but I am obliged to you for showing so much concern for me and for your forethought. It does not really matter to me myself. An income of twelve hundred francs would be enough for me, and my father ought by rights to leave me three times as much some day. Love and thought make up my life—a divine life. I am working for Lucien's sake and for my wife's."

"Come, give me this power of attorney, and think of nothing but your discovery. If there should be any danger of arrest, I will let you know in time, for we must think of all possibilities. And let me tell you again to allow no one of whom you are not so sure as you are of yourself to come into your place."

"Cerizet did not care to continue the lease of the plant and premises, hence our little money difficulties. We have no one at home now but Marion and Kolb, an Alsacien as trusty as a dog, and my wife and her mother——"

"One word," said Petit-Claud, "don't trust that dog——"

"You do not know him," exclaimed David; "he is like a second self."

"May I try him?"

"Yes," said Sechard.

"There, good-bye, but send Mme. Sechard to me; I must have a power of attorney from your wife. And bear in mind, my friend, that there is a fire burning in your affairs," said Petit-Claud, by way of warning of all the troubles gathering in the law courts to burst upon David's head.

"Here am I with one foot in Burgundy and the other in Champagne," he added to himself as he closed the office door on David.

Harassed by money difficulties, beset with fears for his wife's health, stung to the quick by Lucien's disgrace, David had worked on at his problem. He had been trying to find a single process to replace the various operations of pounding and maceration to which all flax or cotton or rags, any vegetable fibre, in fact, must be subjected; and as he went to Petit-Claud's office, he abstractedly chewed a bit of nettle stalk that had been steeping in water. On his way home, tolerably satisfied with his interview, he felt a little pellet sticking between his teeth. He laid it on his hand, flattened it out, and saw that the pulp was far superior to any previous result. The want of cohesion is the great drawback of all vegetable fibre; straw, for instance, yields a very brittle paper, which may almost be called metallic and resonant. These chances only befall bold inquirers into Nature's methods!

"Now," said he to himself, "I must contrive to do by machinery and some chemical agency the thing that I myself have done unconsciously."

When his wife saw him, his face was radiant with belief in victory. There were traces of tears in Eve's face.

"Oh! my darling, do not trouble yourself; Petit-Claud will guarantee that we shall not be molested for several months to come. There will be a good deal of expense over it; but, as Petit-Claud said when he came to the door with me, 'A Frenchman has a right to keep his creditors waiting, provided he repays them capital, interest, and costs.'—Very well, then, we shall do that——"

"And live meanwhile?" asked poor Eve, who thought of everything.

"Ah! that is true," said David, carrying his hand to his ear after the unaccountable fashion of most perplexed mortals.

"Mother will look after little Lucien, and I can go back to work again," said she.

"Eve! oh, my Eve!" cried David, holding his wife closely to him.—"At Saintes, not very far from here, in the sixteenth century, there lived one of the very greatest of Frenchmen, for he was not merely the inventor of glaze, he was the glorious precursor of Buffon and Cuvier besides; he was the first geologist, good, simple soul that he was. Bernard Palissy endured the martyrdom appointed for all seekers into secrets but his wife and children and all his neighbors were against him. His wife used to sell his tools; nobody understood him, he wandered about the countryside, he was hunted down, they jeered at him. But I—am loved——"

"Dearly loved!" said Eve, with the quiet serenity of the love that is sure of itself.

"And so may well endure all that poor Bernard Palissy suffered—Bernard Palissy, the discoverer of Ecouen ware, the Huguenot excepted by Charles IX. on the day of Saint-Bartholomew. He lived to be rich and honored in his old age, and lectured on the 'Science of Earths,' as he called it, in the face of Europe."

"So long as my fingers can hold an iron, you shall want for nothing," cried the poor wife, in tones that told of the deepest devotion. "When I was Mme. Prieur's forewoman I had a friend among the girls, Basine Clerget, a cousin of Postel's, a very good child; well, Basine told me the other day when she brought back the linen, that she was taking Mme. Prieur's business; I will work for her."

"Ah! you shall not work there for long," said David; "I have found out——"

Eve, watching his face, saw the sublime belief in success which sustains the inventor, the belief that gives him courage to go forth into the virgin forests of the country of Discovery; and, for the first time in her life, she answered that confident look with a half-sad smile. David bent his head mournfully.

"Oh! my dear! I am not laughing! I did not doubt! It was not a sneer!" cried Eve, on her knees before her husband. "But I see plainly now that you were right to tell me nothing about your experiments and your hopes. Ah! yes, dear, an inventor should endure the long painful travail of a great idea alone, he should not utter a word of it even to his wife. . . . A woman is a woman still. This Eve of yours could not help smiling when she heard you say, 'I have found out,' for the seventeenth time this month."

David burst out laughing so heartily at his own expense that Eve caught his hand in hers and kissed it reverently. It was a delicious moment for them both, one of those roses of love and tenderness that grow beside the desert paths of the bitterest poverty, nay, at times in yet darker depths.

As the storm of misfortune grew, Eve's courage redoubled; the greatness of her husband's nature, his inventor's simplicity, the tears that now and again she saw in the eyes of this dreamer of dreams with the tender heart,—all these things aroused in her an unsuspected energy of resistance. Once again she tried the plan that had succeeded so well already. She wrote to M. Metivier, reminding him that the printing office was for sale, offered to pay him out of the proceeds, and begged him not to ruin David with needless costs. Metivier received the heroic letter, and shammed dead. His head-clerk replied that in the absence of M. Metivier he could not take it upon himself to stay proceedings, for his employer had made it a rule to let the law take its course. Eve wrote again, offering this time to renew the bills and pay all the costs hitherto incurred. To this the clerk consented, provided that Sechard senior guaranteed payment. So Eve walked over to Marsac, taking Kolb and her mother with her. She braved the old vinedresser, and so charming was she, that the old man's face relaxed, and the puckers smoothed out at the sight of her; but when, with inward quakings, she came to speak of a guarantee, she beheld a sudden and complete change of the tippleographic countenance.

"If I allowed my son to put his hand to the lips of my cash box whenever he had a mind, he would plunge it deep into the vitals, he would take all I have!" cried old Sechard. "That is the way with children; they eat up their parents' purse. What did I do myself, eh? I never cost my parents a farthing. Your printing office is standing idle. The rats and the mice do all the printing that is done in it. . . . You have a pretty face; I am very fond of you; you are a careful, hard-working woman; but that son of mine!—Do you know what David is? I'll tell you—he is a scholar that will never do a stroke of work! If I had reared him, as I was reared myself, without knowing his letters, and if I had made a 'bear' of him, like his father before him, he would have money saved and put out to interest by now. . . . Oh! he is my cross, that fellow is, look you! And, unluckily, he is all the family I have, for there is never like to be a later edition. And when he makes you unhappy——"

Eve protested with a vehement gesture of denial.

"Yes, he does," affirmed old Sechard; "you had to find a wet-nurse for the child. Come, come, I know all about it, you are in the county court, and the whole town is talking about you. I was only a 'bear,' I have no book learning, I was not foreman at the Didots', the first printers in the world; but yet I never set eyes on a bit of stamped paper. Do you know what I say to myself as I go to and fro among my vines, looking after them and getting in my vintage, and doing my bits of business?—I say to myself, 'You are taking a lot of trouble, poor old chap; working to pile one silver crown on another, you will leave a fine property behind you, and the bailiffs and the lawyers will get it all; . . . or else it will go in nonsensical notions and crotchets.'—Look you here, child; you are the mother of yonder little lad; it seemed to me as I held him at the font with Mme. Chardon that I could see his old grandfather's copper nose on his face; very well, think less of Sechard and more of that little rascal. I can trust no one but you; you will prevent him from squandering my property—my poor property."

"But, dear papa Sechard, your son will be a credit to you, you will see; he will make money and be a rich man one of these days, and wear the Cross of the Legion of Honor at his buttonhole."

"What is he going to do to get it?"

"You will see. But, meanwhile, would a thousand crowns ruin you? A thousand crowns would put an end to the proceedings. Well, if you cannot trust him, lend the money to me; I will pay it back; you could make it a charge on my portion, on my earnings——"

"Then has some one brought David into a court of law?" cried the vinedresser, amazed to find that the gossip was really true. "See what comes of knowing how to write your name! And how about my rent! Oh! little girl, I must go to Angouleme at once and ask Cachan's advice, and see that I am straight. You did right well to come over. Forewarned is forearmed."