Eve and David/Section 9
When the Abbe Marron debouched upon the Place du Murier he found three men, each one remarkable in his own way, and all of them bearing with their whole weight upon the present and future of the hapless voluntary prisoner. There stood old Sechard, the tall Cointet, and his confederate, the puny limb of the law, three men representing three phases of greed as widely different as the outward forms of the speakers. The first had it in his mind to sell his own son; the second, to betray his client; and the third, while bargaining for both iniquities, was inwardly resolved to pay for neither. It was nearly five o'clock. Passers-by on their way home to dinner stopped a moment to look at the group.
"What the devil can old Sechard and the tall Cointet have to say to each other?" asked the more curious.
"There was something on foot concerning that miserable wretch that leaves his wife and child and mother-in-law to starve," suggested some.
"Talk of sending a boy to Paris to learn his trade!" said a provincial oracle.
"M. le Cure, what brings you here, eh?" exclaimed old Sechard, catching sight of the Abbe as soon as he appeared.
"I have come on account of your family," answered the old man.
"Here is another of my son's notions!" exclaimed old Sechard.
"It would not cost you much to make everybody happy all round," said the priest, looking at the windows of the printing-house. Mme. Sechard's beautiful face appeared at that moment between the curtains; she was hushing her child's cries by tossing him in her arms and singing to him.
"Are you bringing news of my son?" asked old Sechard, "or what is more to the purpose—money?"
"No," answered M. Marron, "I am bringing the sister news of her brother."
"Of Lucien?" cried Petit-Claud.
"Yes. He walked all the way from Paris, poor young man. I found him at the Courtois' house; he was worn out with misery and fatigue. Oh! he is very much to be pitied."
Petit-Claud took the tall Cointet by the arm, saying aloud, "If we are going to dine with Mme. de Senonches, it is time to dress." When they had come away a few paces, he added, for his companion's benefit, "Catch the cub, and you will soon have the dam; we have David now——"
"I have found you a wife, find me a partner," said the tall Cointet with a treacherous smile.
"Lucien is an old school-fellow of mine; we used to be chums. I shall be sure to hear something from him in a week's time. Have the banns put up, and I will engage to put David in prison. When he is on the jailer's register I shall have done my part."
"Ah!" exclaimed the tall Cointet under his breath, "we might have the patent taken out in our name; that would be the thing!"
A shiver ran through the meagre little attorney when he heard those words.
Meanwhile Eve beheld her father-in-law enter with the Abbe Marron, who had let fall a word which unfolded the whole tragedy.
"Here is our cure, Mme. Sechard," the old man said, addressing his daughter-in-law, "and pretty tales about your brother he has to tell us, no doubt!"
"Oh!" cried poor Eve, cut to the heart; "what can have happened now?"
The cry told so unmistakably of many sorrows, of great dread on so many grounds, that the Abbe Marron made haste to say, "Reassure yourself, madame; he is living."
Eve turned to the vinegrower.
"Father," she said, "perhaps you will be good enough to go to my mother; she must hear all that this gentleman has to tell us of Lucien."
The old man went in search of Mme. Chardon, and addressed her in this wise:
"Go and have it out with the Abbe Marron; he is a good sort, priest though he is. Dinner will be late, no doubt. I shall come back again in an hour," and the old man went out. Insensible as he was to everything but the clink of money and the glitter of gold, he left Mme. Chardon without caring to notice the effect of the shock that he had given her.
Mme. Chardon had changed so greatly during the last eighteen months, that in that short time she no longer looked like the same woman. The troubles hanging over both of her children, her abortive hopes for Lucien, the unexpected deterioration in one in whose powers and honesty she had for so long believed,—all these things had told heavily upon her. Mme. Chardon was not only noble by birth, she was noble by nature; she idolized her children; consequently, during the last six months she had suffered as never before since her widowhood. Lucien might have borne the name of Lucien de Rubempre by royal letters patent; he might have founded the family anew, revived the title, and borne the arms; he might have made a great name—he had thrown the chance away; nay, he had fallen into the mire!
For Mme. Chardon the mother was a harder judge than Eve the sister. When she heard of the bills, she looked upon Lucien as lost. A mother is often fain to shut her eyes, but she always knows the child that she held at her breast, the child that has been always with her in the house; and so when Eve and David discussed Lucien's chances of success in Paris, and Lucien's mother to all appearance shared Eve's illusions, in her inmost heart there was a tremor of fear lest David should be right, for a mother's consciousness bore a witness to the truth of his words. So well did she know Eve's sensitive nature, that she could not bring herself to speak of her fears; she was obliged to choke them down and keep such silence as mothers alone can keep when they know how to love their children.
And Eve, on her side, had watched her mother, and saw the ravages of hidden grief with a feeling of dread; her mother was not growing old, she was failing from day to day. Mother and daughter lived a live of generous deception, and neither was deceived. The brutal old vinegrower's speech was the last drop that filled the cup of affliction to overflowing. The words struck a chill to Mme. Chardon's heart.
"Here is my mother, monsieur," said Eve, and the Abbe, looking up, saw a white-haired woman with a face as thin and worn as the features of some aged nun, and yet grown beautiful with the calm and sweet expression that devout submission gives to the faces of women who walk by the will of God, as the saying is. Then the Abbe understood the lives of the mother and daughter, and had no more sympathy left for Lucien; he shuddered to think of all that the victims had endured.
"Mother," said Eve, drying her eyes as she spoke, "poor Lucien is not very far away, he is at Marsac."
"And why is he not here?" asked Mme. Chardon.
Then the Abbe told the whole story as Lucien had told it to him—the misery of the journey, the troubles of the last days in Paris. He described the poet's agony of mind when he heard of the havoc wrought at home by his imprudence, and his apprehension as to the reception awaiting him at Angouleme.
"He has doubts of us; has it come to this?" said Mme. Chardon.
"The unhappy young man has come back to you on foot, enduring the most terrible hardships by the way; he is prepared to enter the humblest walks in life—if so he may make reparation."
"Monsieur," Lucien's sister said, "in spite of the wrong he has done us, I love my brother still, as we love the dead body when the soul has left it; and even so, I love him more than many sisters love their brothers. He has made us poor indeed; but let him come to us, he shall share the last crust of bread, anything indeed that he has left us. Oh, if he had never left us, monsieur, we should not have lost our heart's treasure."
"And the woman who took him from us brought him back on her carriage!" exclaimed Mme. Chardon. "He went away sitting by Mme. de Bargeton's side in her caleche, and he came back behind it."
"Can I do anything for you?" asked the good cure, seeking an opportunity to take leave.
"A wound in the purse is not fatal, they say, monsieur," said Mme. Chardon, "but the patient must be his own doctor."
"If you have sufficient influence with my father-in-law to induce him to help his son, you would save a whole family," said Eve.
"He has no belief in you, and he seemed to me to be very much exasperated against your husband," answered the old cure. He retained an impression, from the ex-pressman's rambling talk, that the Sechards' affairs were a kind of wasps' nest with which it was imprudent to meddle, and his mission being fulfilled, he went to dine with his nephew Postel. That worthy, like the rest of Angouleme, maintained that the father was in the right, and soon dissipated any little benevolence that the old gentleman was disposed to feel towards the son and his family.
"With those that squander money something may be done," concluded little Postel, "but those that make experiments are the ruin of you."
The cure went home; his curiosity was thoroughly satisfied, and this is the end and object of the exceeding interest taken in other people's business in the provinces. In the course of the evening the poet was duly informed of all that had passed in the Sechard family, and the journey was represented as a pilgrimage undertaken from motives of the purest charity.
"You have run your brother-in-law and sister into debt to the amount of ten or twelve thousand francs," said the Abbe as he drew to an end, "and nobody hereabouts has that trifling amount to lend a neighbor, my dear sir. We are not rich in Angoumois. When you spoke to me of your bills, I thought that a much smaller amount was involved."
Lucien thanked the old man for his good offices. "The promise of forgiveness which you have brought is for me a priceless gift."
Very early the next morning Lucien set out from Marsac, and reached Angouleme towards nine o'clock. He carried nothing but his walking-stick; the short jacket that he wore was considerably the worst for his journey, his black trousers were whitened with dust, and a pair of worn boots told sufficiently plainly that their owner belonged to the hapless tribe of tramps. He knew well enough that the contrast between his departure and return was bound to strike his fellow-townsmen; he did not try to hide the fact from himself. But just then, with his heart swelling beneath the oppression of remorse awakened in him by the old cure's story, he accepted his punishment for the moment, and made up his mind to brave the eyes of his acquaintances. Within himself he said, "I am behaving heroically."
Poetic temperaments of this stamp begin as their own dupes. He walked up through L'Houmeau, shame at the manner of his return struggling with the charm of old associations as he went. His heart beat quickly as he passed Postel's shop; but, very luckily for him, the only persons inside it were Leonie and her child. And yet, vanity was still so strong in him, that he could feel glad that his father's name had been painted out on the shop-front; for Postel, since his marriage, had redecorated his abode, and the word "Pharmacy" now alone appeared there, in the Paris fashion, in big letters.
When Lucien reached the steps by the Palet Gate, he felt the influence of his native air, his misfortunes no longer weighed upon him. "I shall see them again!" he said to himself, with a thrill of delight.
He reached the Place du Murier, and had not met a soul, a piece of luck that he scarcely hoped for, he who once had gone about his native place with a conqueror's air. Marion and Kolb, on guard at the door, flew out upon the steps, crying out, "Here he is!"
Lucien saw the familiar workshop and courtyard, and on the staircase met his mother and sister, and for a moment, while their arms were about him, all three almost forgot their troubles. In family life we almost always compound with our misfortunes; we make a sort of bed to rest upon; and, if it is hard, hope to make it tolerable. If Lucien looked the picture of despair, poetic charm was not wanting to the picture. His face had been tanned by the sunlight of the open road, and the deep sadness visible in his features overshadowed his poet's brow. The change in him told so plainly of sufferings endured, his face was so worn by sharp misery, that no one could help pitying him. Imagination had fared forth into the world and found sad reality at the home-coming. Eve was smiling in the midst of her joy, as the saints smile upon martyrdom. The face of a young and very fair woman grows sublimely beautiful at the touch of grief; Lucien remembered the innocent girlish face that he saw last before he went to Paris, and the look of gravity that had come over it spoke so eloquently that he could not but feel a painful impression. The first quick, natural outpouring of affection was followed at once by a reaction on either side; they were afraid to speak; and when Lucien almost involuntarily looked round for another who should have been there, Eve burst into tears, and Lucien did the same, but Mme. Chardon's haggard face showed no sign of emotion. Eve rose to her feet and went downstairs, partly to spare her brother a word of reproach, partly to speak to Marion.
"Lucien is so fond of strawberries, child, we must find some strawberries for him."
"Oh, I was sure that you would want to welcome M. Lucien; you shall have a nice little breakfast and a good dinner, too."
"Lucien," said Mme. Chardon when the mother and son were left alone, "you have a great deal to repair here. You went away that we all might be proud of you; you have plunged us into want. You have all but destroyed your brother's opportunity of making a fortune that he only cared to win for the sake of his new family. Nor is this all that you have destroyed——" said the mother.
There was a dreadful pause; Lucien took his mother's reproaches in silence.
"Now begin to work," Mme. Chardon went on more gently. "You tried to revive the noble family of whom I come; I do not blame you for it. But the man who undertakes such a task needs money above all things, and must bear a high heart in him; both were wanting in your case. We believed in you once, our belief has been shaken. This was a hard-working, contented household, making its way with difficulty; you have troubled their peace. The first offence may be forgiven, but it must be the last. We are in a very difficult position here; you must be careful, and take your sister's advice, Lucien. The school of trouble is a very hard one, but Eve has learned much by her lessons; she has grown grave and thoughtful, she is a mother. In her devotion to our dear David she has taken all the family burdens upon herself; indeed, through your wrongdoing she has come to be my only comfort."
"You might be still more severe, my mother," Lucien said, as he kissed her. "I accept your forgiveness, for I will not need it a second time."
Eve came into the room, saw her brother's humble attitude, and knew that he had been forgiven. Her kindness brought a smile for him to her lips, and Lucien answered with tear-filled eyes. A living presence acts like a charm, changing the most hostile positions of lovers or of families, no matter how just the resentment. Is it that affection finds out the ways of the heart, and we love to fall into them again? Does the phenomenon come within the province of the science of magnetism? Or is it reason that tells us that we must either forgive or never see each other again? Whether the cause be referred to mental, physical, or spiritual conditions, everyone knows the effect; every one has felt that the looks, the actions or gestures of the beloved awaken some vestige of tenderness in those most deeply sinned against and grievously wronged. Though it is hard for the mind to forget, though we still smart under the injury, the heart returns to its allegiance in spite of all. Poor Eve listened to her brother's confidences until breakfast-time; and whenever she looked at him she was no longer mistress of her eyes; in that intimate talk she could not control her voice. And with the comprehension of the conditions of literary life in Paris, she understood that the struggle had been too much for Lucien's strength. The poet's delight as he caressed his sister's child, his deep grief over David's absence, mingled with joy at seeing his country and his own folk again, the melancholy words that he let fall,—all these things combined to make that day a festival. When Marion brought in the strawberries, he was touched to see that Eve had remembered his taste in spite of her distress, and she, his sister, must make ready a room for the prodigal brother and busy herself for Lucien. It was a truce, as it were, to misery. Old Sechard himself assisted to bring about this revulsion of feeling in the two women—"You are making as much of him as if he were bringing you any amount of money!"
"And what has my brother done that we should not make much of him?" cried Eve, jealously screening Lucien.
Nevertheless, when the first expansion was over, shades of truth came out. It was not long before Lucien felt the difference between the old affection and the new. Eve respected David from the depths of her heart; Lucien was beloved for his own sake, as we love a mistress still in spite of the disasters she causes. Esteem, the very foundation on which affection is based, is the solid stuff to which affection owes I know not what of certainty and security by which we live; and this was lacking between Mme. Chardon and her son, between the sister and the brother. Mother and daughter did not put entire confidence in him, as they would have done if he had not lost his honor; and he felt this. The opinion expressed in d'Arthez's letter was Eve's own estimate of her brother; unconsciously she revealed it by her manner, tones, and gestures. Oh! Lucien was pitied, that was true; but as for all that he had been, the pride of the household, the great man of the family, the hero of the fireside,—all this, like their fair hopes of him, was gone, never to return. They were so afraid of his heedlessness that he was not told where David was hidden. Lucien wanted to see his brother; but this Eve, insensible to the caresses which accompanied his curious questionings, was not the Eve of L'Houmeau, for whom a glance from him had been an order that must be obeyed. When Lucien spoke of making reparation, and talked as though he could rescue David, Eve only answered:
"Do not interfere; we have enemies of the most treacherous and dangerous kind."
Lucien tossed his head, as one who should say, "I have measured myself against Parisians," and the look in his sister's eyes said unmistakably, "Yes, but you were defeated."
"Nobody cares for me now," Lucien thought. "In the home circle, as in the world without, success is a necessity."
The poet tried to explain their lack of confidence in him; he had not been at home two days before a feeling of vexation rather than of angry bitterness gained hold on him. He applied Parisian standards to the quiet, temperate existence of the provinces, quite forgetting that the narrow, patient life of the household was the result of his own misdoings.
"They are bourgeoises, they cannot understand me," he said, setting himself apart from his sister and mother and David, now that they could no longer be deceived as to his real character and his future.
Many troubles and shocks of fortune had quickened the intuitive sense in both the women. Eve and Mme. Chardon guessed the thoughts in Lucien's inmost soul; they felt that he misjudged them; they saw him mentally isolating himself.
"Paris has changed him very much," they said between themselves. They were indeed reaping the harvest of egoism which they themselves had fostered.
It was inevitable but that the leaven should work in all three; and this most of all in Lucien, because he felt that he was so heavily to blame. As for Eve, she was just the kind of sister to beg an erring brother to "Forgive me for your trespasses;" but when the union of two souls had been as perfect since life's very beginnings, as it had been with Eve and Lucien, any blow dealt to that fair ideal is fatal. Scoundrels can draw knives on each other and make it up again afterwards, while a look or a word is enough to sunder two lovers for ever. In the recollection of an almost perfect life of heart and heart lies the secret of many an estrangement that none can explain. Two may live together without full trust in their hearts if only their past holds no memories of complete and unclouded love; but for those who once have known that intimate life, it becomes intolerable to keep perpetual watch over looks and words. Great poets know this; Paul and Virginie die before youth is over; can we think of Paul and Virginie estranged? Let us know that, to the honor of Lucien and Eve, the grave injury done was not the source of the pain; it was entirely a matter of feeling upon either side, for the poet in fault, as for the sister who was in no way to blame. Things had reached the point when the slightest misunderstanding, or little quarrel, or a fresh disappointment in Lucien would end in final estrangement. Money difficulties may be arranged, but feelings are inexorable.
Next day Lucien received a copy of the local paper. He turned pale with pleasure when he saw his name at the head of one of the first "leaders" in that highly respectable sheet, which like the provincial academies that Voltaire compared to a well-bred miss, was never talked about.
"Let Franche-Comte boast of giving the light to Victor Hugo, to
Charles Nodier, and Cuvier," ran the article, "Brittany of
producing a Chateaubriand and a Lammenais, Normandy of Casimir
Delavigne, and Touraine of the author of Eloa; Angoumois that
gave birth, in the days of Louis XIII., to our illustrious
fellow-countryman Guez, better known under the name of Balzac,
our Angoumois need no longer envy Limousin her Dupuytren, nor
Auvergne, the country of Montlosier, nor Bordeaux, birthplace of
so many great men; for we too have our poet!—The writer of the
beautiful sonnets entitled the Marguerites unites his poet's fame
to the distinction of a prose writer, for to him we also owe the
magnificent romance of The Archer of Charles IX. Some day our
nephews will be proud to be the fellow-townsmen of Lucien Chardon,
a rival of Petrarch!!!"
(The country newspapers of those days were sown with notes of admiration, as reports of English election speeches are studded with "cheers" in brackets.)
"In spite of his brilliant success in Paris, our young poet has
not forgotten the Hotel de Bargeton, the cradle of his triumphs;
nor the fact that the wife of M. le Comte du Chatelet, our
Prefect, encouraged his early footsteps in the pathway of the
Muses. He has come back among us once more! All L'Houmeau was
thrown into excitement yesterday by the appearance of our Lucien
de Rubempre. The news of his return produced a profound sensation
throughout the town. Angouleme certainly will not allow L'Houmeau
to be beforehand in doing honor to the poet who in journalism and
literature has so gloriously represented our town in Paris. Lucien
de Rubempre, a religious and Royalist poet, has braved the fury of
parties; he has come home, it is said, for repose after the
fatigue of a struggle which would try the strength of an even
greater intellectual athlete than a poet and a dreamer.
"There is some talk of restoring our great poet to the title of
the illustrious house of de Rubempre, of which his mother, Madame
Chardon, is the last survivor, and it is added that Mme. la
Comtesse du Chatelet was the first to think of this eminently
politic idea. The revival of an ancient and almost extinct family
by young talent and newly won fame is another proof that the
immortal author of the Charter still cherishes the desire
expressed by the words 'Union and oblivion.'
"Our poet is staying with his sister, Mme. Sechard."
Under the heading "Angouleme" followed some items of news:—
"Our Prefect, M. le Comte du Chatelet, Gentleman in Ordinary to
His Majesty, has just been appointed Extraordinary Councillor of
"All the authorities called yesterday on M. le Prefet.
"Mme. la Comtesse du Chatelet will receive on Thursdays.
"The Mayor of Escarbas, M. de Negrepelisse, the representative of
the younger branch of the d'Espard family, and father of Mme. du
Chatelet, recently raised to the rank of a Count and Peer of
France and a Commander of the Royal Order of St. Louis, has been
nominated for the presidency of the electoral college of Angouleme
at the forthcoming elections."
"There!" said Lucien, taking the paper to his sister. Eve read the article with attention, and returned with the sheet with a thoughtful air.
"What do you say to that?" asked he, surprised at a reserve that seemed so like indifference.
"The Cointets are proprietors of that paper, dear," she said; "they put in exactly what they please, and it is not at all likely that the prefecture or the palace have forced their hands. Can you imagine that your old rival the prefect would be generous enough to sing your praises? Have you forgotten that the Cointets are suing us under Metivier's name? and that they are trying to turn David's discovery to their own advantage? I do not know the source of this paragraph, but it makes me uneasy. You used to rouse nothing but envious feeling and hatred here; a prophet has no honor in his own country, and they slandered you, and now in a moment it is all changed——"
"You do not know the vanity of country towns," said Lucien. "A whole little town in the south turned out not so long ago to welcome a young man that had won the first prize in some competition; they looked on him as a budding great man."
"Listen, dear Lucien; I do not want to preach to you, I will say everything in a very few words—you must suspect every little thing here."
"You are right," said Lucien, but he was surprised at his sister's lack of enthusiasm. He himself was full of delight to find his humiliating and shame-stricken return to Angouleme changed into a triumph in this way.
"You have no belief in the little fame that has cost so dear!" he said again after a long silence. Something like a storm had been gathering in his heart during the past hour. For all answer Eve gave him a look, and Lucien felt ashamed of his accusation.