The Government Clerks/Chapter II
At the ministry to which Rabourdin belonged there flourished, as general-secretary, a certain Monsieur Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx, one of those men whom the tide of political events sends to the surface for a few years, then engulfs on a stormy night, but whom we find again on a distant shore, tossed up like the carcass of a wrecked ship which still seems to have life in her. We ask ourselves if that derelict could ever have held goodly merchandise or served a high emprize, co-operated in some defence, held up the trappings of a throne, or borne away the corpse of a monarchy. At this particular time Clement des Lupeaulx (the "Lupeaulx" absorbed the "Chardin") had reached his culminating period. In the most illustrious lives as in the most obscure, in animals as in secretary-generals, there is a zenith and there is a nadir, a period when the fur is magnificent, the fortune dazzling. In the nomenclature which we derive from fabulists, des Lupeaulx belonged to the species Bertrand, and was always in search of Ratons. As he is one of the principal actors in this drama he deserves a description, all the more precise because the revolution of July has suppressed his office, eminently useful as it was, to a constitutional ministry.
Moralists usually employ their weapons against obstructive administrations. In their eyes, crime belongs to the assizes or the police-courts; but the socially refined evils escape their ken; the adroitness that triumphs under shield of the Code is above them or beneath them; they have neither eye-glass nor telescope; they want good stout horrors easily visible. With their eyes fixed on the carnivora, they pay no attention to the reptiles; happily, they abandon to the writers of comedy the shading and colorings of a Chardin des Lupeaulx. Vain and egotistical, supple and proud, libertine and gourmand, grasping from the pressure of debt, discreet as a tomb out of which nought issues to contradict the epitaph intended for the passer's eye, bold and fearless when soliciting, good-natured and witty in all acceptations of the word, a timely jester, full of tact, knowing how to compromise others by a glance or a nudge, shrinking from no mudhole, but gracefully leaping it, intrepid Voltairean, yet punctual at mass if a fashionable company could be met in Saint Thomas Aquinas,—such a man as this secretary-general resembled, in one way or another, all the mediocrities who form the kernel of the political world. Knowing in the science of human nature, he assumed the character of a listener, and none was ever more attentive. Not to awaken suspicion he was flattering ad nauseum, insinuating as a perfume, and cajoling as a woman.
Des Lupeaulx was just forty years old. His youth had long been a vexation to him, for he felt that the making of his career depended on his becoming a deputy. How had he reached his present position? may be asked. By very simple means. He began by taking charge of certain delicate missions which can be given neither to a man who respects himself nor to a man who does not respect himself, but are confided to grave and enigmatic individuals who can be acknowledged or disavowed at will. His business was that of being always compromised; but his fortunes were pushed as much by defeat as by success. He well understood that under the Restoration, a period of continual compromises between men, between things, between accomplished facts and other facts looking on the horizon, it was all-important for the ruling powers to have a household drudge. Observe in a family some old charwoman who can make beds, sweep the floors, carry away the dirty linen, who knows where the silver is kept, how the creditors should be pacified, what persons should be let in and who must be kept out of the house, and such a creature, even if she has all the vices, and is dirty, decrepit, and toothless, or puts into the lottery and steals thirty sous a day for her stake, and you will find the masters like her from habit, talk and consult in her hearing upon even critical matters; she comes and goes, suggests resources, gets on the scent of secrets, brings the rouge or the shawl at the right moment, lets herself be scolded and pushed downstairs, and the next morning reappears smiling with an excellent bouillon. No matter how high a statesman may stand, he is certain to have some household drudge, before whom he is weak, undecided, disputations with fate, self-questioning, self-answering, and buckling for the fight. Such a familiar is like the soft wood of savages, which, when rubbed against the hard wood, strikes fire. Sometimes great geniuses illumine themselves in this way. Napoleon lived with Berthier, Richelieu with Pere Joseph; des Lupeaulx was the familiar of everybody. He continued friends with fallen ministers and made himself their intermediary with their successors, diffusing thus the perfume of the last flattery and the first compliment. He well understood how to arrange all the little matters which a statesman has no leisure to attend to. He saw necessities as they arose; he obeyed well; he could gloss a base act with a jest and get the whole value of it; and he chose for the services he thus rendered those that the recipients were not likely to forget.
Thus, when it was necessary to cross the ditch between the Empire and the Restoration, at a time when every one was looking about for planks, and the curs of the Empire were howling their devotion right and left, des Lupeaulx borrowed large sums from the usurers and crossed the frontier. Risking all to win all, he bought up Louis XVIII.'s most pressing debts, and was the first to settle nearly three million of them at twenty per cent—for he was lucky enough to be backed by Gobseck in 1814 and 1815. It is true that Messrs. Gobseck, Werdet, and Gigonnet swallowed the profits, but des Lupeaulx had agreed that they should have them; he was not playing for a stake; he challenged the bank, as it were, knowing very well that the king was not a man to forget this debt of honor. Des Lupeaulx was not mistaken; he was appointed Master of petitions, Knight of the order of Saint Louis, and officer of the Legion of honor. Once on the ladder of political success, his clever mind looked about for the means to maintain his foothold; for in the fortified city into which he had wormed himself, generals do not long keep useless mouths. So to his general trade of household drudge and go-between he added that of gratuitous consultation on the secret maladies of power.
After discovering in the so-called superior men of the Restoration their utter inferiority in comparison with the events which had brought them to the front, he overcame their political mediocrity by putting into their mouths, at a crisis, the word of command for which men of real talent were listening. It must not be thought that this word was the outcome of his own mind. Were it so, des Lupeaulx would have been a man of genius, whereas he was only a man of talent. He went everywhere, collected opinions, sounded consciences, and caught all the tones they gave out. He gathered knowledge like a true and indefatigable political bee. This walking Bayle dictionary did not act, however, like that famous lexicon; he did not report all opinions without drawing his own conclusions; he had the talent of a fly which drops plumb upon the best bit of meat in the middle of a kitchen. In this way he came to be regarded as an indispensable helper to statesmen. A belief in his capacity had taken such deep root in all minds that the more ambitious public men felt it was necessary to compromise des Lupeaulx in some way to prevent his rising higher; they made up to him for his subordinate public position by their secret confidence.
Nevertheless, feeling that such men were dependent on him, this gleaner of ideas exacted certain dues. He received a salary on the staff of the National Guard, where he held a sinecure which was paid for by the city of Paris; he was government commissioner to a secret society; and filled a position of superintendence in the royal household. His two official posts which appeared on the budget were those of secretary-general to his ministry and Master of petitions. What he now wanted was to be made commander of the Legion of honor, gentleman of the bed-chamber, count, and deputy. To be elected deputy it was necessary to pay taxes to the amount of a thousand francs; and the miserable homestead of the des Lupeaulx was rated at only five hundred. Where could he get money to build a mansion and surround it with sufficient domain to throw dust in the eyes of a constituency? Though he dined out every day, and was lodged for the last nine years at the cost of the State, and driven about in the minister's equipage, des Lupeaulx possessed absolutely nothing, at the time when our tale opens, but thirty thousand francs of debt—undisputed property. A marriage might float him and pump the waters of debt out of his bark; but a good marriage depended on his advancement, and his advancement required that he should be a deputy. Searching about him for the means of breaking through this vicious circle, he could think of nothing better than some immense service to render or some delicate intrigue to carry through for persons in power. Alas! conspiracies were out of date; the Bourbons were apparently on good terms with all parties; and, unfortunately, for the last few years the government had been so thoroughly held up to the light of day by the silly discussions of the Left, whose aim seemed to be to make government of any kind impossible in France, that no good strokes of business could be made. The last were tried in Spain, and what an outcry that excited!
In addition to all this, des Lupeaulx complicated matters by believing in the friendship of his minister, to whom he had the imprudence to express the wish to sit on the ministerial benches. The minister guessed at the real meaning of the desire, which simply was that des Lupeaulx wanted to strengthen a precarious position, so that he might throw off all dependence on his chief. The harrier turned against the huntsman; the minister gave him cuts with the whip and caresses, alternately, and set up rivals to him. But des Lupeaulx behaved like an adroit courtier with all competitors; he laid traps into which they fell, and then he did prompt justice upon them. The more he felt himself in danger the more anxious he became for an irremovable position; yet he was compelled to play low; one moment's indiscretion, and he might lose everything. A pen-stroke might demolish his civilian epaulets, his place at court, his sinecure, his two offices and their advantages; in all, six salaries retained under fire of the law against pluralists. Sometimes he threatened his minister as a mistress threatens her lover; telling him he was about to marry a rich widow. At such times the minister petted and cajoled des Lupeaulx. After one of these reconciliations he received the formal promise of a place in the Academy of Belles-lettres on the first vacancy. "It would pay," he said, "the keep of a horse." His position, so far as it went, was a good one, and Clement Chardin des Lupeaulx flourished in it like a tree planted in good soil. He could satisfy his vices, his caprices, his virtues and his defects.
The following were the toils of his life. He was obliged to choose, among five or six daily invitations, the house where he could be sure of the best dinner. Every morning he went to his minister's morning reception to amuse that official and his wife, and to pet their children. Then he worked an hour or two; that is to say, he lay back in a comfortable chair and read the newspapers, dictated the meaning of a letter, received visitors when the minister was not present, explained the work in a general way, caught or shed a few drops of the holy-water of the court, looked over the petitions with an eyeglass, or wrote his name on the margin,—a signature which meant "I think it absurd; do what you like about it." Every body knew that when des Lupeaulx was interested in any person or in any thing he attended to the matter personally. He allowed the head-clerks to converse privately about affairs of delicacy, but he listened to their gossip. From time to time he went to the Tuileries to get his cue. And he always waited for the minister's return from the Chamber, if in session, to hear from him what intrigue or manoeuvre he was to set about. This official sybarite dressed, dined, and visited a dozen or fifteen salons between eight at night and three in the morning. At the opera he talked with journalists, for he stood high in their favor; a perpetual exchange of little services went on between them; he poured into their ears his misleading news and swallowed theirs; he prevented them from attacking this or that minister on such or such a matter, on the plea that it would cause real pain to their wives or their mistresses.
"Say that his bill is worth nothing, and prove it if you can, but do not say that Mariette danced badly. The devil! haven't we all played our little plays; and which of us knows what will become of him in times like these? You may be minister yourself to-morrow, you who are spicing the cakes of the 'Constitutionel' to-day."
Sometimes, in return, he helped editors, or got rid of obstacles to the performances of some play; gave gratuities and good dinners at the right moment, or promised his services to bring some affair to a happy conclusion. Moreover, he really liked literature and the arts; he collected autographs, obtained splendid albums gratis, and possessed sketches, engravings, and pictures. He did a great deal of good to artists by simply not injuring them and by furthering their wishes on certain occasions when their self-love wanted some rather costly gratification. Consequently, he was much liked in the world of actors and actresses, journalists and artists. For one thing, they had the same vices and the same indolence as himself. Men who could all say such witty things in their cups or in company with a danseuse, how could they help being friends? If des Lupeaulx had not been a general-secretary he would certainly have been a journalist. Thus, in that fifteen years' struggle in which the harlequin sabre of epigram opened a breach by which insurrection entered the citadel, des Lupeaulx never received so much as a scratch.
As the young fry of clerks looked at this man playing bowls in the gardens of the ministry with the minister's children, they cracked their brains to guess the secret of his influence and the nature of his services; while, on the other hand, the aristocrats in all the various ministries looked upon him as a dangerous Mephistopheles, courted him, and gave him back with usury the flatteries he bestowed in the higher sphere. As difficult to decipher as a hieroglyphic inscription to the clerks, the vocation of the secretary and his usefulness were as plain as the rule of three to the self-interested. This lesser Prince de Wagram of the administration, to whom the duty of gathering opinions and ideas and making verbal reports thereon was entrusted, knew all the secrets of parliamentary politics; dragged in the lukewarm, fetched, carried, and buried propositions, said the Yes and the No that the ministers dared not say for themselves. Compelled to receive the first fire and the first blows of despair and wrath, he laughed or bemoaned himself with the minister, as the case might be. Mysterious link by which many interests were in some way connected with the Tuileries, and safe as a confessor, he sometimes knew everything and sometimes nothing; and, in addition to all these functions came that of saying for the minister those things that a minister cannot say for himself. In short, with his political Hephaestion the minister might dare to be himself; to take off his wig and his false teeth, lay aside his scruples, put on his slippers, unbutton his conscience, and give way to his trickery. However, it was not all a bed of roses for des Lupeaulx; he flattered and advised his master, forced to flatter in order to advise, to advise while flattering, and disguise the advice under the flattery. All politicians who follow this trade have bilious faces; and their constant habit of giving affirmative nods acquiescing in what is said to them, or seeming to do so, gives a certain peculiar turn to their heads. They agree indifferently with whatever is said before them. Their talk is full of "buts," "notwithstandings," "for myself I should," "were I in your place" (they often say "in your place"),—phrases, however, which pave the way to opposition.
In person, Clement des Lupeaulx had the remains of a handsome man; five feet six inches tall, tolerably stout, complexion flushed with good living, powdered head, delicate spectacles, and a worn-out air; the natural skin blond, as shown by the hand, puffy like that of an old woman, rather too square, and with short nails—the hand of a satrap. His foot was elegant. After five o'clock in the afternoon des Lupeaulx was always to be seen in open-worked silk stockings, low shoes, black trousers, cashmere waistcoat, cambric handkerchief (without perfume), gold chain, blue coat of the shade called "king's blue," with brass buttons and a string of orders. In the morning he wore creaking boots and gray trousers, and the short close surtout coat of the politician. His general appearance early in the day was that of a sharp lawyer rather than that of a ministerial officer. Eyes glazed by the constant use of spectacles made him plainer than he really was, if by chance he took those appendages off. To real judges of character, as well as to upright men who are at ease only with honest natures, des Lupeaulx was intolerable. To them, his gracious manners only draped his lies; his amiable protestations and hackneyed courtesies, new to the foolish and ignorant, too plainly showed their texture to an observing mind. Such minds considered him a rotten plank, on which no foot should trust itself.
No sooner had the beautiful Madame Rabourdin decided to interfere in her husband's administrative advancement than she fathomed Clement des Lupeaulx's true character, and studied him thoughtfully to discover whether in this thin strip of deal there were ligneous fibres strong enough to let her lightly trip across it from the bureau to the department, from a salary of eight thousand a year to twelve thousand. The clever woman believed she could play her own game with this political roue; and Monsieur des Lupeaulx was partly the cause of the unusual expenditures which now began and were continued in the Rabourdin household.
The rue Duphot, built up under the Empire, is remarkable for several houses with handsome exteriors, the apartments of which are skilfully laid out. That of the Rabourdins was particularly well arranged,—a domestic advantage which has much to do with the nobleness of private lives. A pretty and rather wide antechamber, lighted from the courtyard, led to the grand salon, the windows of which looked on the street. To the right of the salon were Rabourdin's study and bedroom, and behind them the dining-room, which was entered from the antechamber; to the left was Madame's bedroom and dressing-room, and behind them her daughter's little bedroom. On reception days the door of Rabourdin's study and that of his wife's bedroom were thrown open. The rooms were thus spacious enough to contain a select company, without the absurdity which attends many middle-class entertainments, where unusual preparations are made at the expense of the daily comfort, and consequently give the effect of exceptional effort. The salon had lately been rehung in gold-colored silk with carmelite touches. Madame's bedroom was draped in a fabric of true blue and furnished in a rococo manner. Rabourdin's study had inherited the late hangings of the salon, carefully cleaned, and was adorned by the fine pictures once belonging to Monsieur Leprince. The daughter of the late auctioneer had utilized in her dining-room certain exquisite Turkish rugs which her father had bought at a bargain; panelling them on the walls in ebony, the cost of which has since become exorbitant. Elegant buffets made by Boulle, also purchased by the auctioneer, furnished the sides of the room, at the end of which sparkled the brass arabesques inlaid in tortoise-shell of the first tall clock that reappeared in the nineteenth century to claim honor for the masterpieces of the seventeenth. Flowers perfumed these rooms so full of good taste and of exquisite things, where each detail was a work of art well placed and well surrounded, and where Madame Rabourdin, dressed with that natural simplicity which artists alone attain, gave the impression of a woman accustomed to such elegancies, though she never spoke of them, but allowed the charms of her mind to complete the effect produced upon her guests by these delightful surroundings. Thanks to her father, Celestine was able to make society talk of her as soon as the rococo became fashionable.
Accustomed as des Lupeaulx was to false as well as real magnificence in all their stages, he was, nevertheless, surprised at Madame Rabourdin's home. The charm it exercised over this Parisian Asmodeus can be explained by a comparison. A traveller wearied with the rich aspects of Italy, Brazil, or India, returns to his own land and finds on his way a delightful little lake, like the Lac d'Orta at the foot of Monte Rosa, with an island resting on the calm waters, bewitchingly simple; a scene of nature and yet adorned; solitary, but well surrounded with choice plantations and foliage and statues of fine effect. Beyond lies a vista of shores both wild and cultivated; tumultuous grandeur towers above, but in itself all proportions are human. The world that the traveller has lately viewed is here in miniature, modest and pure; his soul, refreshed, bids him remain where a charm of melody and poesy surrounds him with harmony and awakens ideas within his mind. Such a scene represents both life and a monastery.
A few days earlier the beautiful Madame Firmiani, one of the charming women of the faubourg Saint-Germain who visited and liked Madame Rabourdin, had said to des Lupeaulx (invited expressly to hear this remark), "Why do you not call on Madame ——?" with a motion towards Celestine; "she gives delightful parties, and her dinners, above all, are—better than mine."
Des Lupeaulx allowed himself to be drawn into an engagement by the handsome Madame Rabourdin, who, for the first time, turned her eyes on him as she spoke. He had, accordingly, gone to the rue Duphot, and that tells the tale. Woman has but one trick, cries Figaro, but that's infallible. After dining once at the house of this unimportant official, des Lupeaulx made up his mind to dine there often. Thanks to the perfectly proper and becoming advances of the beautiful woman, whom her rival, Madame Colleville, called the Celimene of the rue Duphot, he had dined there every Friday for the last month, and returned of his own accord for a cup of tea on Wednesdays.
Within a few days Madame Rabourdin, having watched him narrowly and knowingly, believed she had found on the secretarial plank a spot where she might safely set her foot. She was no longer doubtful of success. Her inward joy can be realized only in the families of government officials where for three or four years prosperity has been counted on through some appointment, long expected and long sought. How many troubles are to be allayed! how many entreaties and pledges given to the ministerial divinities! how many visits of self-interest paid! At last, thanks to her boldness, Madame Rabourdin heard the hour strike when she was to have twenty thousand francs a year instead of eight thousand.
"And I shall have managed well," she said to herself. "I have had to make a little outlay; but these are times when hidden merit is overlooked, whereas if a man keeps himself well in sight before the world, cultivates social relations and extends them, he succeeds. After all, ministers and their friends interest themselves only in the people they see; but Rabourdin knows nothing of the world! If I had not cajoled those three deputies they might have wanted La Billardiere's place themselves; whereas, now that I have invited them here, they will be ashamed to do so and will become our supporters instead of rivals. I have rather played the coquette, but—it is delightful that the first nonsense with which one fools a man sufficed."
The day on which a serious and unlooked-for struggle about this appointment began, after a ministerial dinner which preceded one of those receptions which ministers regard as public, des Lupeaulx was standing beside the fireplace near the minister's wife. While taking his coffee he once more included Madame Rabourdin among the seven or eight really superior women in Paris. Several times already he had staked Madame Rabourdin very much as Corporal Trim staked his cap.
"Don't say that too often, my dear friend, or you will injure her," said the minister's wife, half-laughing.
Women never like to hear the praise of other women; they keep silence themselves to lessen its effect.
"Poor La Billardiere is dying," remarked his Excellency the minister; "that place falls to Rabourdin, one of our most able men, and to whom our predecessors did not behave well, though one of them actually owed his position in the prefecture of police under the Empire to a certain great personage who was interested in Rabourdin. But, my dear friend, you are still young enough to be loved by a pretty woman for yourself—"
"If La Billardiere's place is given to Rabourdin I may be believed when I praise the superiority of his wife," replied des Lupeaulx, piqued by the minister's sarcasm; "but if Madame la Comtesse would be willing to judge for herself—"
"You want me to invite her to my next ball, don't you? Your clever woman will meet a knot of other women who only come here to laugh at us, and when they hear 'Madame Rabourdin' announced—"
"But Madame Firmiani is announced at the Foreign Office parties?"
"Ah, but she was born a Cadignan!" said the newly created count, with a savage look at his general-secretary, for neither he nor his wife were noble.
The persons present thought important matters were being talked over, and the solicitors for favors and appointments kept at a little distance. When des Lupeaulx left the room the countess said to her husband, "I think des Lupeaulx is in love."
"For the first time in his life, then," he replied, shrugging his shoulders, as much as to inform his wife that des Lupeaulx did not concern himself with such nonsense.
Just then the minister saw a deputy of the Right Centre enter the room, and he left his wife abruptly to cajole an undecided vote. But the deputy, under the blow of a sudden and unexpected disaster, wanted to make sure of a protector and he had come to announce privately that in a few days he should be compelled to resign. Thus forewarned, the minister would be able to open his batteries for the new election before those of the opposition.
The minister, or to speak correctly, des Lupeaulx had invited to dinner on this occasion one of those irremovable officials who, as we have said, are to be found in every ministry; an individual much embarrassed by his own person, who, in his desire to maintain a dignified appearance, was standing erect and rigid on his two legs, held well together like the Greek hermae. This functionary waited near the fireplace to thank the secretary, whose abrupt and unexpected departure from the room disconcerted him at the moment when he was about to turn a compliment. This official was the cashier of the ministry, the only clerk who did not tremble when the government changed hands.
At the time of which we write, the Chamber did not meddle shabbily with the budget, as it does in the deplorable days in which we now live; it did not contemptibly reduce ministerial emoluments, nor save, as they say in the kitchen, the candle-ends; on the contrary, it granted to each minister taking charge of a public department an indemnity, called an "outfit." It costs, alas, as much to enter on the duties of a minister as to retire from them; indeed, the entrance involves expenses of all kinds which it is quite impossible to inventory. This indemnity amounted to the pretty little sum of twenty-five thousand francs. When the appointment of a new minister was gazetted in the "Moniteur," and the greater or lesser officials, clustering round the stoves or before the fireplaces and shaking in their shoes, asked themselves: "What will he do? will he increase the number of clerks? will he dismiss two to make room for three?" the cashier tranquilly took out twenty-five clean bank-bills and pinned them together with a satisfied expression on his beadle face. The next day he mounted the private staircase and had himself ushered into the minister's presence by the lackeys, who considered the money and the keeper of money, the contents and the container, the idea and the form, as one and the same power. The cashier caught the ministerial pair at the dawn of official delight, when the newly appointed statesman is benign and affable. To the minister's inquiry as to what brings him there, he replies with the bank-notes,—informing his Excellency that he hastens to pay him the customary indemnity. Moreover, he explains the matter to the minister's wife, who never fails to draw freely upon the fund, and sometimes takes all, for the "outfit" is looked upon as a household affair. The cashier then proceeds to turn a compliment, and to slip in a few politic phrases: "If his Excellency would deign to retain him; if, satisfied with his purely mechanical services, he would," etc. As a man who brings twenty-five thousand francs is always a worthy official, the cashier is sure not to leave without his confirmation to the post from which he has seen a succession of ministers come and go during a period of, perhaps, twenty-five years. His next step is to place himself at the orders of Madame; he brings the monthly thirteen thousand francs whenever wanted; he advances or delays the payment as requested, and thus manages to obtain, as they said in the monasteries, a voice in the chapter.
Formerly book-keeper at the Treasury, when that establishment kept its books by double entry, the Sieur Saillard was compensated for the loss of that position by his appointment as cashier of a ministry. He was a bulky, fat man, very strong in the matter of book-keeping, and very weak in everything else; round as a round O, simple as how-do-you-do,—a man who came to his office with measured steps, like those of an elephant, and returned with the same measured tread to the place Royale, where he lived on the ground-floor of an old mansion belonging to him. He usually had a companion on the way in the person of Monsieur Isidore Baudoyer, head of a bureau in Monsieur de la Billardiere's division, consequently one of Rabourdin's colleagues. Baudoyer was married to Elisabeth Saillard, the cashier's only daughter, and had hired, very naturally, the apartments above those of his father-in-law. No one at the ministry had the slightest doubt that Saillard was a blockhead, but neither had any one ever found out how far his stupidity could go; it was too compact to be examined; it did not ring hollow; it absorbed everything and gave nothing out. Bixiou (a clerk of whom more anon) caricatured the cashier by drawing a head in a wig at the top of an egg, and two little legs at the other end, with this inscription: "Born to pay out and take in without blundering. A little less luck, and he might have been lackey to the bank of France; a little more ambition, and he could have been honorably discharged."
At the moment of which we are now writing, the minister was looking at his cashier very much as we gaze at a window or a cornice, without supposing that either can hear us, or fathom our secret thoughts.
"I am all the more anxious that we should settle everything with the prefect in the quietest way, because des Lupeaulx has designs upon the place for himself," said the minister, continuing his talk with the deputy; "his paltry little estate is in your arrondissement; we won't want him as deputy."
"He has neither years nor rentals enough to be eligible," said the deputy.
"That may be; but you know how it was decided for Casimir Perier as to age; and as to worldly possessions, des Lupeaulx does possess something,—not much, it is true, but the law does not take into account increase, which he may very well obtain; commissions have wide margins for the deputies of the Centre, you know, and we cannot openly oppose the good-will that is shown to this dear friend."
"But where would he get the money?"
"How did Manuel manage to become the owner of a house in Paris?" cried the minister.
The cashier listened and heard, but reluctantly and against his will. These rapid remarks, murmured as they were, struck his ear by one of those acoustic rebounds which are very little studied. As he heard these political confidences, however, a keen alarm took possession of his soul. He was one of those simple-minded beings, who are shocked at listening to anything they are not intended to hear, or entering where they are not invited, and seeming bold when they are really timid, inquisitive where they are truly discreet. The cashier accordingly began to glide along the carpet and edge himself away, so that the minister saw him at a distance when he first took notice of him. Saillard was a ministerial henchman absolutely incapable of indiscretion; even if the minister had known that he had overheard a secret he had only to whisper "motus" in his ear to be sure it was perfectly safe. The cashier, however, took advantage of an influx of office-seekers, to slip out and get into his hackney-coach (hired by the hour for these costly entertainments), and to return to his home in the place Royale.