The Government Clerks/Chapter VIII
|←Chapter VII||The Government Clerks by , translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
Chapter VIII: FORWARD, MOLLUSKS!
The next day, Wednesday, Monsieur Rabourdin was to transact business with the minister, for he had filled the late La Billardiere's place since the beginning of the latter's illness. On such days the clerks came punctually, the servants were specially attentive, there was always a certain excitement in the offices on these signing-days,—and why, nobody ever knew. On this occasion the three servants were at their post, flattering themselves they should get a few fees; for a rumor of Rabourdin's nomination had spread through the ministry the night before, thanks to Dutocq. Uncle Antoine and Laurent had donned their full uniform, when, at a quarter to eight, des Lupeaulx's servant came in with a letter, which he begged Antoine to give secretly to Dutocq, saying that the general-secretary had ordered him to deliver it without fail at Monsieur Dutocq's house by seven o'clock.
"I'm sure I don't know how it happened," he said, "but I overslept myself. I've only just waked up, and he'd play the devil's tattoo on me if he knew the letter hadn't gone. I know a famous secret, Antoine; but don't say anything about it to the clerks if I tell you; promise? He would send me off if he knew I had said a single word; he told me so."
"What's inside the letter?" asked Antoine, eying it.
"Nothing; I looked this way—see."
He made the letter gape open, and showed Antoine that there was nothing but blank paper to be seen.
"This is going to be a great day for you, Laurent," went on the secretary's man. "You are to have a new director. Economy must be the order of the day, for they are going to unite the two divisions under one director—you fellows will have to look out!"
"Yes, nine clerks are put on the retired list," said Dutocq, who came in at the moment; "how did you hear that?"
Antoine gave him the letter, and he had no sooner opened it than he rushed headlong downstairs in the direction of the secretary's office.
The bureaus Rabourdin and Baudoyer, after idling and gossiping since the death of Monsieur de la Billardiere, were now recovering their usual official look and the dolce far niente habits of a government office. Nevertheless, the approaching end of the year did cause rather more application among the clerks, just as porters and servants become at that season more unctuously civil. They all came punctually, for one thing; more remained after four o'clock than was usual at other times. It was not forgotten that fees and gratuities depend on the last impressions made upon the minds of masters. The news of the union of the two divisions, that of La Billardiere and that of Clergeot, under one director, had spread through the various offices. The number of the clerks to be retired was known, but all were in ignorance of the names. It was taken for granted that Poiret would not be replaced, and that would be a retrenchment. Little La Billardiere had already departed. Two new supernumeraries had made their appearance, and, alarming circumstance! they were both sons of deputies. The news told about in the offices the night before, just as the clerks were dispersing, agitated all minds, and for the first half-hour after arrival in the morning they stood around the stoves and talked it over. But earlier than that, Dutocq, as we have seen, had rushed to des Lupeaulx on receiving his note, and found him dressing. Without laying down his razor, the general-secretary cast upon his subordinate the glance of a general issuing an order.
"Are we alone?" he asked.
"Very good. March on Rabourdin; forward! steady! Of course you kept a copy of that paper?"
"You understand me? Inde iroe! There must be a general hue and cry raised against him. Find some way to start a clamor—"
"I could get a man to make a caricature, but I haven't five hundred francs to pay for it."
"Who would make it?"
"He shall have a thousand and be under-head-clerk to Colleville, who will arrange with them; tell him so."
"But he wouldn't believe it on nothing more than my word."
"Are you trying to make me compromise myself? Either do the thing or let it alone; do you hear me?"
"If Monsieur Baudoyer were director—"
"Well, he will be. Go now, and make haste; you have no time to lose. Go down the back-stairs; I don't want people to know you have just seen me."
While Dutocq was returning to the clerks' office and asking himself how he could best incite a clamor against his chief without compromising himself, Bixiou rushed to the Rabourdin office for a word of greeting. Believing that he had lost his bet the incorrigible joker thought it amusing to pretend that he had won it.
Bixiou [mimicking Phellion's voice]. "Gentlemen, I salute you with a collective how d'ye do, and I appoint Sunday next for the dinner at the Rocher de Cancale. But a serious question presents itself. Is that dinner to include the clerks who are dismissed?"
Poiret. "And those who retire?"
Bixiou. "Not that I care, for it isn't I who pay." [General stupefaction.] "Baudoyer is appointed. I think I already hear him calling Laurent" [mimicking Baudoyer], "Laurent! lock up my hair-shirt, and my scourge." [They all roar with laughter.] "Yes, yes, he laughs well who laughs last. Gentlemen, there's a great deal in that anagram of Colleville's. 'Xavier Rabourdin, chef de bureau—D'abord reva bureaux, e-u fin riche.' If I were named 'Charles X., par la grace de Dieu roi de France et de Navarre,' I should tremble in my shoes at the fate those letters anagrammatize."
Thuillier. "Look here! are you making fun?"
Bixiou. "No, I am not. Rabourdin resigns in a rage at finding Baudoyer appointed director."
Vimeux [entering.] "Nonsense, no such thing! Antoine (to whom I have just been paying forty francs that I owed him) tells me that Monsieur and Madame Rabourdin were at the minister's private party last night and stayed till midnight. His Excellency escorted Madame Rabourdin to the staircase. It seems she was divinely dressed. In short, it is quite certain that Rabourdin is to be director. Riffe, the secretary's copying clerk, told me he sat up all the night before to draw the papers; it is no longer a secret. Monsieur Clergeot is retired. After thirty years' service that's no misfortune. Monsieur Cochlin, who is rich—"
Bixiou. "By cochineal."
Vimeux. "Yes, cochineal; he's a partner in the house of Matifat, rue des Lombards. Well, he is retired; so is Poiret. Neither is to be replaced. So much is certain; the rest is all conjecture. The appointment of Monsieur Rabourdin is to be announced this morning; they are afraid of intrigues."
Bixiou. "What intrigues?"
Fleury. "Baudoyer's, confound him! The priests uphold him; here's another article in the liberal journal,—only half a dozen lines, but they are queer" [reads]:
"Certain persons spoke last night in the lobby of the Opera-house
of the return of Monsieur de Chateaubriand to the ministry, basing
their opinion on the choice made of Monsieur Rabourdin (the
protege of friends of the noble viscount) to fill the office for
which Monsieur Baudoyer was first selected. The clerical party is
not likely to withdraw unless in deference to the great writer.
Dutocq [entering, having heard the whole discussion]. "Blackguards! Who? Rabourdin? Then you know the news?"
Fleury [rolling his eyes savagely]. "Rabourdin a blackguard! Are you mad, Dutocq? do you want a ball in your brains to give them weight?"
Dutocq. "I said nothing against Monsieur Rabourdin; only it has just been told to me in confidence that he has written a paper denouncing all the clerks and officials, and full of facts about their lives; in short, the reason why his friends support him is because he has written this paper against the administration, in which we are all exposed—"
Phellion [in a loud voice]. "Monsieur Rabourdin is incapable of—"
Bixiou. "Very proper in you to say so. Tell me, Dutocq" [they whisper together and then go into the corridor].
Bixiou. "What has happened?"
Dutocq. "Do you remember what I said to you about that caricature?"
Bixiou. "Yes, what then?"
Dutocq. "Make it, and you shall be under-head-clerk with a famous fee. The fact is, my dear fellow, there's dissension among the powers that be. The minister is pledged to Rabourdin, but if he doesn't appoint Baudoyer he offends the priests and their party. You see, the King, the Dauphin and the Dauphine, the clergy, and lastly the court, all want Baudoyer; the minister wants Rabourdin."
Dutocq. "To ease the matter off, the minister, who sees he must give way, wants to strangle the difficulty. We must find some good reason for getting rid of Rabourdin. Now somebody has lately unearthed a paper of his, exposing the present system of administration and wanting to reform it; and that paper is going the rounds,—at least, this is how I understand the matter. Make the drawing we talked of; in so doing you'll play the game of all the big people, and help the minister, the court, the clergy,—in short, everybody; and you'll get your appointment. Now do you understand me?"
Bixiou. "I don't understand how you came to know all that; perhaps you are inventing it."
Dutocq. "Do you want me to let you see what Rabourdin wrote about you?"
Dutocq. "Then come home with me; for I must put the document into safe keeping."
Bixiou. "You go first alone." [Re-enters the bureau Rabourdin.] "What Dutocq told you is really all true, word of honor! It seems that Monsieur Rabourdin has written and sent in very unflattering descriptions of the clerks whom he wants to 'reform.' That's the real reason why his secret friends wish him appointed. Well, well; we live in days when nothing astonishes me" [flings his cloak about him like Talma, and declaims]:—
"Thou who has seen the fall of grand, illustrious heads,
Why thus amazed, insensate that thou art,
"to find a man like Rabourdin employing such means? Baudoyer is too much of a fool to know how to use them. Accept my congratulations, gentlemen; either way you are under a most illustrious chief" [goes off].
Poiret. "I shall leave this ministry without ever comprehending a single word that gentleman utters. What does he mean with his 'heads that fall'?"
Fleury. "'Heads that fell?' why, think of the four sergeants of Rochelle, Ney, Berton, Caron, the brothers Faucher, and the massacres."
Phellion. "He asserts very flippantly things that he only guesses at."
Fleury. "Say at once that he lies; in his mouth truth itself turns to corrosion."
Phellion. "Your language is unparliamentary and lacks the courtesy and consideration which are due to a colleague."
Vimeux. "It seems to me that if what he says is false, the proper name for it is calumny, defamation of character; and such a slanderer deserves the thrashing."
Fleury [getting hot]. "If the government offices are public places, the matter ought to be taken into the police-courts."
Phellion [wishing to avert a quarrel, tries to turn the conversation]. "Gentleman, might I ask you to keep quiet? I am writing a little treatise on moral philosophy, and I am just at the heart of it."
Fleury [interrupting]. "What are you saying about it, Monsieur Phellion?"
Phellion [reading]. "Question.—What is the soul of man?
"Answer.—A spiritual substance which thinks and reasons."
Thuillier. "Spiritual substance! you might as well talk about immaterial stone."
Poiret. "Don't interrupt; let him go on."
Phellion [continuing]. "Quest.—Whence comes the soul?
"Ans.—From God, who created it of a nature one and indivisible; the destructibility thereof is, consequently, not conceivable, and he hath said—"
Poiret [amazed]. "God said?"
Phellion. "Yes, monsieur; tradition authorizes the statement."
Fleury [to Poiret]. "Come, don't interrupt, yourself."
Phellion [resuming]. "—and he hath said that he created it immortal; in other words, the soul can never die.
"Quest.—What are the uses of the soul?
"Ans.—To comprehend, to will, to remember; these constitute understanding, volition, memory.
"Quest.—What are the uses of the understanding?
"Ans.—To know. It is the eye of the soul."
Fleury. "And the soul is the eye of what?"
Phellion [continuing]. "Quest.—What ought the understanding to know?
"Quest.—Why does man possess volition?
"Ans.—To love good and hate evil.
"Quest.—What is good?
"Ans.—That which makes us happy."
Vimeux. "Heavens! do you teach that to young ladies?"
Phellion. "Yes" [continuing]. "Quest.—How many kinds of good are there?"
Fleury. "Amazingly indecorous, to say the least."
Phellion [aggrieved]. "Oh, monsieur!" [Controlling himself.] "But here's the answer,—that's as far as I have got" [reads]:—
"Ans.—There are two kinds of good,—eternal good and temporal good."
Poiret [with a look of contempt]. "And does that sell for anything?"
Phellion. "I hope it will. It requires great application of mind to carry on a system of questions and answers; that is why I ask you to be quiet and let me think, for the answers—"
Thuillier [interrupting]. "The answers might be sold separately."
Poiret. "Is that a pun?"
Thuillier. "No; a riddle."
Phellion. "I am sorry I interrupted you" [he dives into his office desk]. "But" [to himself] "at any rate, I have stopped their talking about Monsieur Rabourdin."
At this moment a scene was taking place between the minister and des Lupeaulx which decided Rabourdin's fate. The general-secretary had gone to see the minister in his private study before the breakfast-hour, to make sure that La Briere was not within hearing.
"Your Excellency is not treating me frankly—"
"He means a quarrel," thought the minister; "and all because his mistress coquetted with me last night. I did not think you so juvenile, my dear friend," he said aloud.
"Friend?" said the general-secretary, "that is what I want to find out."
The minister looked haughtily at des Lupeaulx.
"We are alone," continued the secretary, "and we can come to an understanding. The deputy of the arrondissement in which my estate is situated—"
"So it is really an estate!" said the minister, laughing, to hide his surprise.
"Increased by a recent purchase of two hundred thousand francs' worth of adjacent property," replied des Lupeaulx, carelessly. "You knew of the deputy's approaching resignation at least ten days ago, and you did not tell me of it. You were perhaps not bound to do so, but you knew very well that I am most anxious to take my seat in the centre. Has it occurred to you that I might fling myself back on the 'Doctrine'?—which, let me tell you, will destroy the administration and the monarchy both if you continue to allow the party of representative government to be recruited from men of talent whom you ignore. Don't you know that in every nation there are fifty to sixty, not more, dangerous heads, whose schemes are in proportion to their ambition? The secret of knowing how to govern is to know those heads well, and either to chop them off or buy them. I don't know how much talent I have, but I know that I have ambition; and you are committing a serious blunder when you set aside a man who wishes you well. The anointed head dazzles for the time being, but what next?—Why, a war of words; discussions will spring up once more and grow embittered, envenomed. Then, for your own sake, I advise you not to find me at the Left Centre. In spite of your prefect's manoeuvres (instructions for which no doubt went from here confidentially) I am secure of a majority. The time has come for you and me to understand each other. After a breeze like this people sometimes become closer friends than ever. I must be made count and receive the grand cordon of the Legion of honor as a reward for my public services. However, I care less for those things just now than I do for something else in which you are more personally concerned. You have not yet appointed Rabourdin, and I have news this morning which tends to show that most persons will be better satisfied if you appoint Baudoyer."
"Appoint Baudoyer!" echoed the minister. "Do you know him?"
"Yes," said des Lupeaulx; "but suppose he proves incapable, as he will, you can then get rid of him by asking those who protect him to employ him elsewhere. You will thus get back an important office to give to friends; it may come in at the right moment to facilitate some compromise."
"But I have pledged it to Rabourdin."
"That may be; and I don't ask you to make the change this very day. I know the danger of saying yes and no within twenty-four hours. But postpone the appointment, and don't sign the papers till the day after to-morrow; by that time you may find it impossible to retain Rabourdin,—in fact, in all probability, he will send you his resignation—"
"He is the tool of a secret power in whose interests he has carried on a system of espionage in all the ministries, and the thing has been discovered by mere accident. He has written a paper of some kind, giving short histories of all the officials. Everybody is talking of it; the clerks are furious. For heaven's sake, don't transact business with him to-day; let me find some means for you to avoid it. Ask an audience of the King; I am sure you will find great satisfaction there if you concede the point about Baudoyer; and you can obtain something as an equivalent. Your position will be better than ever if you are forced later to dismiss a fool whom the court party impose upon you."
"What has made you turn against Rabourdin?"
"Would you forgive Monsieur de Chateaubriand for writing an article against the ministry? Well, read that, and see how Rabourdin has treated me in his secret document," said des Lupeaulx, giving the paper to the minister. "He pretends to reorganize the government from beginning to end,—no doubt in the interests of some secret society of which, as yet, we know nothing. I shall continue to be his friend for the sake of watching him; by that means I may render the government such signal service that they will have to make me count; for the peerage is the only thing I really care for. I want you fully to understand that I am not seeking office or anything else that would cause me to stand in your way; I am simply aiming for the peerage, which will enable me to marry a banker's daughter with an income of a couple of hundred thousand francs. And so, allow me to render you a few signal services which will make the King feel that I have saved the throne. I have long said that Liberalism would never offer us a pitched battle. It has given up conspiracies, Carbonaroism, and revolts with weapons; it is now sapping and mining, and the day is coming when it will be able to say, 'Out of that and let me in!' Do you think I have been courting Rabourdin's wife for my own pleasure? No, but I got much information from her. So now, let us agree on two things; first, the postponement of the appointment; second, your sincere support of my election. You shall find at the end of the session that I have amply repaid you."
For all answer, the minister took the appointment papers and placed them in des Lupeaulx's hand.
"I will go and tell Rabourdin," added des Lupeaulx, "that you cannot transact business with him till Saturday."
The minister replied with an assenting gesture. The secretary despatched his man with a message to Rabourdin that the minister could not work with him until Saturday, on which day the Chamber was occupied with private bills, and his Excellency had more time at his disposal.
Just at this moment Saillard, having brought the monthly stipend, was slipping his little speech into the ear of the minister's wife, who drew herself up and answered with dignity that she did not meddle in political matters, and besides, she had heard that Monsieur Rabourdin was already appointed. Saillard, terrified, rushed up to Baudoyer's office, where he found Dutocq, Godard, and Bixiou in a state of exasperation difficult to describe; for they were reading the terrible paper on the administration in which they were all discussed.
Bixiou [with his finger on a paragraph]. "Here you are, pere Saillard. Listen" [reads]:—
"Saillard.—The office of cashier to be suppressed in all the ministries; their accounts to be kept in future at the Treasury. Saillard is rich and does not need a pension.
"Do you want to hear about your son-in-law?" [Turns over the leaves.] "Here he is" [reads]:—
"Baudoyer.—Utterly incapable. To be thanked and dismissed. Rich; does not need a pension.
"And here's for Godard" [reads]:—
"Godard.—Should be dismissed; pension one-third of his present salary.
"In short, here we all are. Listen to what I am" [reads]: "An artist who might be employed by the civil list, at the Opera, or the Menus-Plaisirs, or the Museum. Great deal of capacity, little self-respect, no application,—a restless spirit. Ha! I'll give you a touch of the artist, Monsieur Rabourdin!"
Saillard. "Suppress cashiers! Why, the man's a monster?"
Bixiou. "Let us see what he says of our mysterious Desroys." [Turns over the pages; reads.]
"Desroys.—Dangerous; because he cannot be shaken in principles that are subversive of monarchial power. He is the son of the Conventionel, and he admires the Convention. He may become a very mischievous journalist."
Baudoyer. "The police are not worse spies!"
Godard. "I shall go the general-secretary and lay a complaint in form; we must all resign in a body if such a man as that is put over us."
Dutocq. "Gentlemen, listen to me; let us be prudent. If you rise at once in a body, we may all be accused of rancor and revenge. No, let the thing work, let the rumor spread quietly. When the whole ministry is aroused your remonstrances will meet with general approval."
Bixiou. "Dutocq believes in the principles of the grand air composed by the sublime Rossini for Basilio,—which goes to show, by the bye, that the great composer was also a great politician. I shall leave my card on Monsieur Rabourdin to-morrow morning, inscribed thus: 'Bixiou; no self-respect, no application, restless mind.'"
Godard. "A good idea, gentlemen. Let us all leave our cards to-morrow on Rabourdin inscribed in the same way."
Dutocq [leading Bixiou apart]. "Come, you'll agree to make that caricature now, won't you?"
Bixiou. "I see plainly, my dear fellow, that you knew all about this affair ten days ago" [looks him in the eye]. "Am I to be under-head-clerk?"
Dutocq. "On my word of honor, yes, and a thousand-franc fee beside, just as I told you. You don't know what a service you'll be rendering to powerful personages."
Bixiou. "You know them?"
Bixiou. "Well, then I want to speak with them."
Dutocq [dryly]. "You can make the caricature or not, and you can be under-head-clerk or not,—as you please."
Bixiou. "At any rate, let me see that thousand francs."
Dutocq. "You shall have them when you bring the drawing."
Bixiou. "Forward, march! that lampoon shall go from end to end of the bureaus to-morrow morning. Let us go and torment the Rabourdins." [Then speaking to Saillard, Godard, and Baudoyer, who were talking together in a low voice.] "We are going to stir up the neighbors." [Goes with Dutocq into the Rabourdin bureau. Fleury, Thuillier, and Vimeux are there, talking excitedly.] "What's the matter, gentlemen? All that I told you turns out to be true; you can go and see for yourselves the work of this infamous informer; for it is in the hands of the virtuous, honest, estimable, upright, and pious Baudoyer, who is indeed utterly incapable of doing any such thing. Your chief has got every one of you under the guillotine. Go and see; follow the crowd; money returned if you are not satisfied; execution gratis! The appointments are postponed. All the bureaus are in arms; Rabourdin has been informed that the minister will not work with him. Come, be off; go and see for yourselves."
They all depart except Phellion and Poiret, who are left alone. The former loved Rabourdin too well to look for proof that might injure a man he was determined not to judge; the other had only five days more to remain in the office, and cared nothing either way. Just then Sebastien came down to collect the papers for signature. He was a good deal surprised, though he did not show it, to find the office deserted.
Phellion. "My young friend" [he rose, a rare thing], "do you know what is going on? what scandals are rife about Monsieur Rabourdin whom you love, and" [bending to whisper in Sebastien's ear] "whom I love as much as I respect him. They say he has committed the imprudence to leave a paper containing comments on the officials lying about in the office—" [Phellion stopped short, caught the young man in his strong arms, seeing that he turned pale and was near fainting, and placed him on a chair.] "A key, Monsieur Poiret, to put down his back; have you a key?"
Poiret. "I have the key of my domicile."
[Old Poiret junior promptly inserted the said key between Sebastien's shoulders, while Phellion gave him some water to drink. The poor lad no sooner opened his eyes than he began to weep. He laid his head on Phellion's desk, and all his limbs were limp as if struck by lightning; while his sobs were so heartrending, so genuine, that for the first time in his life Poiret's feelings were stirred by the sufferings of another.]
Phellion [speaking firmly]. "Come, come, my young friend; courage! In times of trial we must show courage. You are a man. What is the matter? What has happened to distress you so terribly?"
Sebastien [sobbing]. "It is I who have ruined Monsieur Rabourdin. I left that paper lying about when I copied it. I have killed my benefactor; I shall die myself. Such a noble man!—a man who ought to be minister!"
Poiret [blowing his nose]. "Then it is true he wrote the report."
Sebastien [still sobbing]. "But it was to—there, I was going to tell his secrets! Ah! that wretch of a Dutocq; it was he who stole the paper."
His tears and sobs recommenced and made so much noise that Rabourdin came up to see what was the matter. He found the young fellow almost fainting in the arms of Poiret and Phellion.
Rabourdin. "What is the matter, gentlemen?"
Sebastien [struggling to his feet, and then falling on his knees before Rabourdin]. "I have ruined you, monsieur. That memorandum,—Dutocq, the monster, he must have taken it."
Rabourdin [calmly]. "I knew that already" [he lifts Sebastien]. "You are a child, my young friend." [Speaks to Phellion.] "Where are the other gentlemen?"
Phellion. "They have gone into Monsieur Baudoyer's office to see a paper which it is said—"
Rabourdin [interrupting him]. "Enough." [Goes out, taking Sebastien with him. Poiret and Phellion look at each other in amazement, and do not know what to say.]
Poiret [to Phellion]. "Monsieur Rabourdin—"
Phellion [to Poiret]. "Monsieur Rabourdin—"
Poiret. "Well, I never! Monsieur Rabourdin!"
Phellion. "But did you notice how calm and dignified he was?"
Poiret [with a sly look that was more like a grimace]. "I shouldn't be surprised if there were something under it all."
Phellion. "A man of honor; pure and spotless."
Poiret. "Who is?"
Phellion. "Monsieur Poiret, you think as I think about Dutocq; surely you understand me?"
Poiret [nodding his head three times and answering with a shrewd look]. "Yes." [The other clerks return.]
Fleury. "A great shock; I still don't believe the thing. Monsieur Rabourdin, a king among men! If such men are spies, it is enough to disgust one with virtue. I have always put Rabourdin among Plutarch's heroes."
Vimeux. "It is all true."
Poiret [reflecting that he had only five days more to stay in the office]. "But, gentlemen, what do you say about the man who stole that paper, who spied upon Rabourdin?" [Dutocq left the room.]
Fleury. "I say he is a Judas Iscariot. Who is he?"
Phellion [significantly]. "He is not here at this moment."
Vimeux [enlightened]. "It is Dutocq!"
Phellion. "I have no proof of it, gentlemen. While you were gone, that young man, Monsieur de la Roche, nearly fainted here. See his tears on my desk!"
Poiret. "We held him fainting in our arms.—My key, the key of my domicile!—dear, dear! it is down his back." [Poiret goes hastily out.]
Vimeux. "The minister refused to transact business with Rabourdin to-day; and Monsieur Saillard, to whom the secretary said a few words, came to tell Monsieur Baudoyer to apply for the cross of the Legion of honor,—there is one to be granted, you know, on New-Year's day, to all the heads of divisions. It is quite clear what it all means. Monsieur Rabourdin is sacrificed by the very persons who employed him. Bixiou says so. We were all to be turned out, except Sebastien and Phellion."
Du Bruel [entering]. "Well, gentlemen, is it true?"
Thuillier. "To the last word."
Du Bruel [putting his hat on again]. "Good-bye." [Hurries out.]
Thuillier. "He may rush as much as he pleases to his Duc de Rhetore and Duc de Maufrigneuse, but Colleville is to be our under-head-clerk, that's certain."
Phellion. "Du Bruel always seemed to be attached to Monsieur Rabourdin."
Poiret [returning]. "I have had a world of trouble to get back my key. That boy is crying still, and Monsieur Rabourdin has disappeared." [Dutocq and Bixiou enter.]
Bixiou. "Ha, gentlemen! strange things are going on in your bureau. Du Bruel! I want you." [Looks into the adjoining room.] "Gone?"
Thuillier. "Full speed."
Bixiou. "What about Rabourdin?"
Fleury. "Distilled, evaporated, melted! Such a man, the king of men, that he—"
Poiret [to Dutocq]. "That little Sebastien, in his trouble, said that you, Monsieur Dutocq, had taken the paper from him ten days ago."
Bixiou [looking at Dutocq]. "You must clear yourself of that, my good friend." [All the clerks look fixedly at Dutocq.]
Dutocq. "Where's the little viper who copied it?"
Bixiou. "Copied it? How did you know he copied it? Ha! ha! it is only the diamond that cuts the diamond." [Dutocq leaves the room.]
Poiret. "Would you listen to me, Monsieur Bixiou? I have only five days and a half to stay in this office, and I do wish that once, only once, I might have the pleasure of understanding what you mean. Do me the honor to explain what diamonds have to do with these present circumstances."
Bixiou. "I meant papa,—for I'm willing for once to bring my intellect down to the level of yours,—that just as the diamond alone can cut the diamond, so it is only one inquisitive man who can defeat another inquisitive man."
Fleury. "'Inquisitive man' stands for 'spy.'"
Poiret. "I don't understand."
Bixiou. "Very well; try again some other time."
Monsieur Rabourdin, after taking Sebastien to his room, had gone straight to the minister; but the minister was at the Chamber of Deputies. Rabourdin went at once to the Chamber, where he wrote a note to his Excellency, who was at that moment in the tribune engaged in a hot discussion. Rabourdin waited, not in the conference hall, but in the courtyard, where, in spite of the cold, he resolved to remain and intercept his Excellency as he got into his carriage. The usher of the Chamber had told him that the minister was in the thick of a controversy raised by the nineteen members of the extreme Left, and that the session was likely to be stormy. Rabourdin walked to and for in the courtyard of the palace for five mortal hours, a prey to feverish agitation. At half-past six o'clock the session broke up, and the members filed out. The minister's chasseur came up to find the coachman.
"Hi, Jean!" he called out to him; "Monseigneur has gone with the minister of war; they are going to see the King, and after that they dine together, and we are to fetch him at ten o'clock. There's a Council this evening."
Rabourdin walked slowly home, in a state of despondency not difficult to imagine. It was seven o'clock, and he had barely time to dress.
"Well, you are appointed?" cried his wife, joyously, as he entered the salon.
Rabourdin raised his head with a grievous motion of distress and answered, "I fear I shall never again set foot in the ministry."
"What?" said his wife, quivering with sudden anxiety.
"My memorandum on the officials is known in all the offices; and I have not been able to see the minister."
Celestine's eyes were opened to a sudden vision in which the devil, in one of his infernal flashes, showed her the meaning of her last conversation with des Lupeaulx.
"If I had behaved like a low woman," she thought, "we should have had the place."
She looked at Rabourdin with grief in her heart. A sad silence fell between them, and dinner was eaten in the midst of gloomy meditations.
"And it is my Wednesday," she said at last.
"All is not lost, dear Celestine," said Rabourdin, laying a kiss on his wife's forehead; "perhaps to-morrow I shall be able to see the minister and explain everything. Sebastien sat up all last night to finish the writing; the papers are copied and collated; I shall place them on the minister's desk and beg him to read them through. La Briere will help me. A man is never condemned without a hearing."
"I am curious to see if Monsieur des Lupeaulx will come here to-night."
"He? Of course he will come," said Rabourdin; "there's something of the tiger in him; he likes to lick the blood of the wounds he has given."
"My poor husband," said his wife, taking his hand, "I don't see how it is that a man who could conceive so noble a reform did not also see that it ought not to be communicated to a single person. It is one of those ideas that a man should keep in his own mind, for he alone can apply them. A statesman must do in our political sphere as Napoleon did in his; he stooped, twisted, crawled. Yes, Bonaparte crawled! To be made commander-in-chief of the Army of Italy he married Barrere's mistress. You should have waited, got yourself elected deputy, followed the politics of a party, sometimes down in the depths, at other times on the crest of the wave, and you should have taken, like Monsieur de Villele, the Italian motto 'Col tempo,' in other words, 'All things are given to him who knows how to wait.' That great orator worked for seven years to get into power; he began in 1814 by protesting against the Charter when he was the same age that you are now. Here's your fault; you have allowed yourself to be kept subordinate, when you were born to rule."
The entrance of the painter Schinner imposed silence on the wife and husband, but these words made the latter thoughtful.
"Dear friend," said the painter, grasping Rabourdin's hand, "the support of artists is a useless thing enough, but let me say under these circumstances that we are all faithful to you. I have just read the evening papers. Baudoyer is appointed director and receives the cross of the Legion of honor—"
"I have been longer in the department, I have served twenty-four hours," said Rabourdin with a smile.
"I know Monsieur le Comte de Serizy, the minister of State, pretty well, and if he can help you, I will go and see him," said Schinner.
The salon soon filled with persons who knew nothing of the government proceedings. Du Bruel did not appear. Madame Rabourdin was gayer and more graceful than ever, like the charger wounded in battle, that still finds strength to carry his master from the field.
"She is very courageous," said a few women who knew the truth, and who were charmingly attentive to her, understanding her misfortunes.
"But she certainly did a great deal to attract des Lupeaulx," said the Baronne du Chatelet to the Vicomtesse de Fontaine.
"Do you think—" began the vicomtesse.
"If so," interrupted Madame de Camps, in defence of her friend, "Monsieur Rabourdin would at least have had the cross."
About eleven o'clock des Lupeaulx appeared; and we can only describe him by saying that his spectacles were sad and his eyes joyous; the glasses, however, obscured the glances so successfully that only a physiognomist would have seen the diabolical expression which they wore. He went up to Rabourdin and pressed the hand which the latter could not avoid giving him.
Then he approached Madame Rabourdin.
"We have much to say to each other," he remarked as he seated himself beside the beautiful woman, who received him admirably.
"Ah!" he continued, giving her a side glance, "you are grand indeed; I find you just what I expected, glorious under defeat. Do you know that it is a very rare thing to find a superior woman who answers to the expectations formed of her. So defeat doesn't dishearten you? You are right; we shall triumph in the end," he whispered in her ear. "Your fate is always in your own hands,—so long, I mean, as your ally is a man who adores you. We will hold counsel together."
"But is Baudoyer appointed?" she asked.
"Yes," said the secretary.
"Does he get the cross?"
"Not yet; but he will have it later."
"Ah! you don't understand political exigencies."
During this evening, which seemed interminable to Madame Rabourdin, another scene was occurring in the place Royale,—one of those comedies which are played in seven Parisian salons whenever there is a change of ministry. The Saillards' salon was crowded. Monsieur and Madame Transon arrived at eight o'clock; Madame Transon kissed Madame Baudoyer, nee Saillard. Monsieur Bataille, captain of the National Guard, came with his wife and the curate of Saint Paul's.
"Monsieur Baudoyer," said Madame Transon. "I wish to be the first to congratulate you; they have done justice to your talents. You have indeed earned your promotion."
"Here you are, director," said Monsieur Transon, rubbing his hands, "and the appointment is very flattering to this neighborhood."
"And we can truly say it came to pass without any intriguing," said the worthy Saillard. "We are none of us political intriguers; we don't go to select parties at the ministry."
Uncle Mitral rubbed his nose and grinned as he glanced at his niece Elisabeth, the woman whose hand had pulled the wires, who was talking with Gigonnet. Falleix, honest fellow, did not know what to make of the stupid blindness of Saillard and Baudoyer. Messieurs Dutocq, Bixiou, du Bruel, Godard, and Colleville (the latter appointed head of the bureau) entered.
"What a crew!" whispered Bixiou to du Bruel. "I could make a fine caricature of them in the shapes of fishes,—dorys, flounders, sharks, and snappers, all dancing a saraband!"
"Monsieur," said Colleville, "I come to offer you my congratulations; or rather we congratulate ourselves in having such a man placed over us; and we desire to assure you of the zeal with which we shall co-operate in your labors. Allow me to say that this event affords a signal proof to the truth of my axiom that a man's destiny lies in the letters of his name. I may say that I knew of this appointment and of your other honors before I heard of them, for I spend the night in anagrammatizing your name as follows:" [proudly] "Isidore C. T. Baudoyer,—Director, decorated by us (his Majesty the King, of course)."
Baudoyer bowed and remarked piously that names were given in baptism.
Monsieur and Madame Baudoyer, senior, father and mother of the new director, were there to enjoy the glory of their son and daughter-in-law. Uncle Gigonnet-Bidault, who had dined at the house, had a restless, fidgety look in his eye which frightened Bixiou.
"There's a queer one," said the latter to du Bruel, calling his attention to Gigonnet, "who would do in a vaudeville. I wonder if he could be bought. Such an old scarecrow is just the thing for a sign over the Two Baboons. And what a coat! I did think there was nobody but Poiret who could show the like after that after ten years' public exposure to the inclemencies of Parisian weather."
"Baudoyer is magnificent," said du Bruel.
"Dazzling," answered Bixiou.
"Gentlemen," said Baudoyer, "let me present you to my own uncle, Monsieur Mitral, and to my great-uncle through my wife, Monsieur Bidault."
Gigonnet and Mitral gave a glance at the three clerks so penetrating, so glittering with gleams of gold, that the two scoffers were sobered at once.
"Hein?" said Bixiou, when they were safely under the arcades in the place Royale; "did you examine those uncles?—two copies of Shylock. I'll bet their money is lent in the market at a hundred per cent per week. They lend on pawn; and sell most that they lay hold of, coats, gold lace, cheese, men, women, and children; they are a conglomeration of Arabs, Jews, Genoese, Genevese, Greeks, Lombards, and Parisians, suckled by a wolf and born of a Turkish woman."
"I believe you," said Godard. "Uncle Mitral used to be a sheriff's officer."
"That settles it," said du Bruel.
"I'm off to see the proof of my caricature," said Bixiou; "but I should like to study the state of things in Rabourdin's salon to-night. You are lucky to be able to go there, du Bruel."
"I!" said the vaudevillist, "what should I do there? My face doesn't lend itself to condolences. And it is very vulgar in these days to go and see people who are down."