The Middle Classes/Part II/Chapter V
On leaving Madame de Godollo, la Peyrade felt the necessity of gathering himself together. Beneath the conversation he had just maintained with this strange woman, what could he see,—a trap, or a rich and distinguished marriage offered to him. Under such a doubt as this, to press Celeste for an immediate answer was neither clever nor prudent; it was simply to bind himself, and close the door to the changes, still very ill-defined, which seemed offered to him. The result of the consultation which Theodose held with himself as he walked along the boulevard was that he ought, for the moment, to think only of gaining time. Consequently, instead of going to the Thuilliers' to learn Celeste's decision, he went home, and wrote the following little note to Thuillier:—
My dear Thuillier,—You will certainly not think it extraordinary
that I should not present myself at your house to-day,—partly
because I fear the sentence which will be pronounced upon me, and
partly because I do not wish to seem an impatient and unmannerly
creditor. A few days, more or less, will matter little under such
circumstances, and yet Mademoiselle Colleville may find them
desirable for the absolute freedom of her choice. I shall,
therefore, not go to see you until you write for me.
I am now more calm, and I have added a few more pages to our
manuscript; it will take but little time to hand in the whole to
Theodose de la Peyrade.
Two hours later a servant, dressed in what was evidently the first step towards a livery, which the Thuilliers did not as yet venture to risk, the "male domestic," whom Minard had mentioned to the Phellions, arrived at la Peyrade's lodgings with the following note:—
Come to-night, without fail. We will talk over the whole affair
Your most affectionately devoted
"Good!" said la Peyrade; "evidently there is some hindrance on the other side; I shall have time to turn myself round."
That evening, when the servant announced him in the Thuillier salon, the Comtesse de Godollo, who was sitting with Brigitte, hastened to rise and leave the room. As she passed la Peyrade she made him a very ceremonious bow. There was nothing conclusive to be deduced from this abrupt departure, which might signify anything, either much or nothing.
After talking of the weather and so forth for a time, as persons do who have met to discuss a delicate subject about which they are not sure of coming to an understanding, the matter was opened by Brigitte, who had sent her brother to take a walk on the boulevard, telling him to leave her to manage the affair.
"My dear boy," she said to Theodose, "it was very nice of you not to come here to-day like a grasp-all, to put your pistol at our throats, for we were not, as it happened, quite ready to answer you. I think," she added, "that our little Celeste needs a trifle more time."
"Then," said la Peyrade, quickly, "she has not decided in favor of Monsieur Felix Phellion?"
"Joker!" replied the old maid, "you know very well you settled that business last night; but you also know, of course, that her own inclinations incline her that way."
"Short of being blind, I must have seen that," replied la Peyrade.
"It is not an obstacle to my projects," continued Mademoiselle Thuillier; "but it serves to explain why I ask for Celeste a little more time; and also why I have wished all along to postpone the marriage to a later date. I wanted to give you time to insinuate yourself into the heart of my dear little girl—but you and Thuillier upset my plans."
"Nothing, I think, has been done without your sanction," said la Peyrade, "and if, during these fifteen days, I have not talked with you on the subject, it was out of pure delicacy. Thuillier told me that everything was agreed upon with you."
"On the contrary, Thuillier knows very well that I refused to mix myself up on your new arrangements. If you had not made yourself so scarce lately, I might have been the first to tell you that I did not approve of them. However, I can truly say I did nothing to hinder their success."
"But that was too little," said la Peyrade; "your active help was absolutely necessary."
"Possibly; but I, who know women better than you, being one of them,—I felt very sure that if Celeste was told to choose between two suitors she would consider that a permission to think at her ease of the one she liked best. I myself had always left her in the vague as to Felix, knowing as I did the proper moment to settle her mind about him."
"So," said la Peyrade, "you mean that she refuses me."
"It is much worse than that," returned Brigitte; "she accepts you, and is willing to pledge her word; but it is so easy to see she regards herself as a victim, that if I were in your place I should feel neither flattered nor secure in such a position."
In any other condition of mind la Peyrade would probably have answered that he accepted the sacrifice, and would make it his business to win the heart which at first was reluctantly given; but delay now suited him, and he replied to Brigitte with a question:—
"Then what do you advise? What course had I better take?"
"Finish Thuillier's pamphlet, in the first place, or he'll go crazy; and leave me to work the other affair in your interests," replied Brigitte.
"But am I in friendly hands? For, to tell you the truth, little aunt, I have not been able to conceal from myself that you have, for some time past, changed very much to me."
"Changed to you! What change do you see in me, addled-pate that you are?"
"Oh! nothing very tangible," said la Peyrade; "but ever since that Countess Torna has had a footing in your house—"
"My poor boy, the countess has done me many services, and I am very grateful to her; but is that any reason why I should be false to you, who have done us still greater services?"
"But you must admit," said la Peyrade, craftily, "that she has told you a great deal of harm of me."
"Naturally she has; these fine ladies are all that way; they expect the whole world to adore them, and she sees that you are thinking only of Celeste; but all she has said to me against you runs off my mind like water from varnished cloth."
"So, then, little aunt, I may continue to count on you?" persisted la Peyrade.
"Yes; provided you are not tormenting, and will let me manage this affair."
"Tell me how you are going to do it?" asked la Peyrade, with an air of great good-humor.
"In the first place, I shall signify to Felix that he is not to set foot in this house again."
"Is that possible?" said the barrister; "I mean can it be done civilly?"
"Very possible; I shall make Phellion himself tell him. He's a man who is always astride of principles, and he'll be the first to see that if his son will not do what is necessary to obtain Celeste's hand he ought to deprive us of his presence."
"What next?" asked la Peyrade.
"Next, I shall signify to Celeste that she was left at liberty to choose one husband or the other, and as she did not choose Felix she must make up her mind to take you, a pious fellow, such as she wants. You needn't be uneasy; I'll sing your praises, especially your generosity in not profiting by the arrangement she agreed to make to-day. But all that will take a week at least, and if Thuillier's pamphlet isn't out before then, I don't know but what we shall have to put him in a lunatic asylum."
"The pamphlet can be out in two days. But is it very certain, little aunt, that we are playing above-board? Mountains, as they say, never meet, but men do; and certainly, when the time comes to promote the election, I can do Thuillier either good or bad service. Do you know, the other day I was terribly frightened. I had a letter from him in my pocket, in which he spoke of the pamphlet as being written by me. I fancied for a moment that I had dropped it in the Luxembourg. If I had, what a scandal it would have caused in the quarter."
"Who would dare to play tricks with such a wily one as you?" said Brigitte, fully comprehending the comminatory nature of la Peyrade's last words, interpolated into the conversation without rhyme or reason. "But really," she added, "why should you complain of us? It is you who are behindhand in your promises. That cross which was to have been granted within a week, and that pamphlet, which ought to have appeared a long time ago—"
"The pamphlet and the cross will both appear in good time; the one will bring the other," said la Peyrade, rising. "Tell Thuillier to come and see me to-morrow evening, and I think we can then correct the last sheet. But, above all, don't listen to the spitefulness of Madame de Godollo; I have an idea that in order to make herself completely mistress of this house she wants to alienate all your old friends, and also that she is casting her net for Thuillier."
"Well, in point of fact," said the old maid, whom the parting shot of the infernal barrister had touched on the ever-sensitive point of her authority, "I must look into that matter you speak of there; she is rather coquettish, that little woman."
La Peyrade gained a second benefit out of that speech so adroitly flung out; he saw by Brigitte's answer to it that the countess had not mentioned to her the visit he had paid her during the day. This reticence might have a serious meaning.
Four days later, the printer, the stitcher, the paper glazier having fulfilled their offices, Thuillier had the inexpressible happiness of beginning on the boulevards a promenade, which he continued through the Passages, and even to the Palais-Royal, pausing before all the book-shops where he saw, shining in black letters on a yellow poster, the famous title:—
TAXATION AND THE SLIDING-SCALE
by J. Thuillier,
Member of the Council-General of the Seine.
Having reached the point of persuading himself that the care he had bestowed upon the correction of proofs made the merit of the work his own, his paternal heart, like that of Maitre Corbeau, could not contain itself for joy. We ought to add that he held in very low esteem those booksellers who did not announce the sale of the new work, destined to become, as he believed, a European event. Without actually deciding the manner in which he would punish their indifference, he nevertheless made a list of these rebellious persons, and wished them as much evil as if they had offered him a personal affront.
The next day he spent a delightful morning in writing a certain number of letters, sending the publication to friends, and putting into paper covers some fifty copies, to which the sacramental phrase, "From the author," imparted to his eyes an inestimable value.
But the third day of the sale brought a slight diminution of his happiness. He had chosen for his editor a young man, doing business at a breakneck pace, who had lately established himself in the Passage des Panoramas, where he was paying a ruinous rent. He was the nephew of Barbet the publisher, whom Brigitte had had as a tenant in the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. This Barbet junior was a youth who flinched at nothing; and when he was presented to Thuillier by his uncle, he pledged himself, provided he was not shackled in his advertising, to sell off the first edition and print a second within a week.
Now, Thuillier had spent about fifteen hundred francs himself on costs of publication, such, for instance, as copies sent in great profusion to the newspapers; but at the close of the third day seven copies only had been sold, and three of those on credit. It might be believed that in revealing to the horror-stricken Thuillier this paltry result the young publisher would have lost at least something of his assurance. On the contrary, this Guzman of the book-trade hastened to say:—
"I am delighted at what has happened. If we had sold a hundred copies it would trouble me far more than the fifteen hundred now on our hands; that's what I call hanging fire; whereas this insignificant sale only proves that the edition will go off like a rocket."
"But when?" asked Thuillier, who thought this view paradoxical.
"Parbleu!" said Barbet, "when we get notices in the newspapers. Newspaper notices are only useful to arouse attention. 'Dear me!' says the public, 'there's a publication that must be interesting.' The title is good,—'Taxation and the Sliding-Scale,'—but I find that the more piquant a title is, the more buyers distrust it, they have been taken in so often; they wait for the notices. On the other hand, for books that are destined to have only a limited sale, a hundred ready-made purchasers will come in at once, but after that, good-bye to them; we don't place another copy."
"Then you don't think," said Thuillier, "that the sale is hopeless?"
"On the contrary, I think it is on the best track. When the 'Debats,' the 'Constitutionnel,' the 'Siecle,' and the 'Presse' have reviewed it, especially if the 'Debats' mauls it (they are ministerial, you know), it won't be a week before the whole edition is snapped up."
"You say that easily enough," replied Thuillier; "but how are we to get hold of those gentlemen of the press?"
"Ah! I'll take care of that," said Barbet. "I am on the best of terms with the managing editors; they say the devil is in me, and that I remind them of Ladvocat in his best days."
"But then, my dear fellow, you ought to have seen to this earlier."
"Ah! excuse me, papa Thuillier; there's only one way of seeing to the journalists; but as you grumbled about the fifteen hundred francs for the advertisements, I did not venture to propose to you another extra expense."
"What expense?" asked Thuillier, anxiously.
"When you were nominated to the municipal council, where was the plan mooted?" asked the publisher.
"Parbleu! in my own house," replied Thuillier.
"Yes, of course, in your own house, but at a dinner, followed by a ball, and the ball itself crowned by a supper. Well, my dear master, there are no two ways to do this business; Boileau says:—
"'All is done through the palate, and not through the mind;
And it is by our dinners we govern mankind.'"
"Then you think I ought to give a dinner to those journalists?"
"Yes; but not at your own house; for these journalists, you see, if women are present, get stupid; they have to behave themselves. And, besides, it isn't dinner they want, but a breakfast—that suits them best. In the evening these gentlemen have to go to first representations, and make up their papers, not to speak of their own little private doings; whereas in the mornings they have nothing to think about. As for me, it is always breakfasts that I give."
"But that costs money, breakfasts like that," said Thuillier; "journalists are gourmands."
"Bah! twenty francs a head, without wine. Say you have ten of them; three hundred francs will see you handsomely through the whole thing. In fact, as a matter of economy, breakfasts are preferable; for a dinner you wouldn't get off under five hundred francs."
"How you talk, young man!" said Thuillier.
"Oh, hang it! everybody knows it costs dear to get elected to the Chamber; and all this favors your nomination."
"But how can I invite those gentlemen? Must I go and see them myself?"
"Certainly not; send them your pamphlet and appoint them to meet you at Philippe's or Vefour's—they'll understand perfectly."
"Ten guests," said Thuillier, beginning to enter into the idea. "I did not know there were so many leading journals."
"There are not," said the publisher; "but we must have the little dogs as well, for they bark loudest. This breakfast is certain to make a noise, and if you don't ask them they'll think you pick and choose, and everyone excluded will be your enemy."
"Then you think it is enough merely to send the invitations?"
"Yes; I'll make the list, and you can write the notes and send them to me. I'll see that they are delivered; some of them I shall take in person."
"If I were sure," said Thuillier, undecidedly, "that this expense would have the desired effect—"
"If I were sure,—that's a queer thing to say," said Barbet. "My dear master, this is money placed on mortgage; for it, I will guarantee the sale of fifteen hundred copies,—say at forty sous apiece; allowing the discounts, that makes three thousand francs. You see that your costs and extra costs are covered, and more than covered."
"Well," said Thuillier, turning to go, "I'll talk to la Peyrade about it."
"As you please, my dear master; but decide soon, for nothing gets mouldy so fast as a book; write hot, serve hot, and buy hot,—that's the rule for authors, publishers, and public; all is bosh outside of it, and no good to touch."
When la Peyrade was consulted, he did not think in his heart that the remedy was heroic, but he had now come to feel the bitterest animosity against Thuillier, so that he was well pleased to see this new tax levied on his self-important inexperience and pompous silliness.
As for Thuillier, the mania for posing as a publicist and getting himself talked about so possessed him that although he moaned over this fresh bleeding of his purse, he had decided on the sacrifice before he even spoke to la Peyrade. The reserved and conditional approval of the latter was, therefore, more than enough to settle his determination, and the same evening he returned to Barbet junior and asked for the list of guests whom he ought to invite.
Barbet gaily produced his little catalogue. Instead of the ten guests originally mentioned, there proved to be fifteen, not counting himself or la Peyrade, whom Thuillier wanted to second him in this encounter with a set of men among whom he himself felt he should be a little out of place. Casting his eyes over the list, he exclaimed, vehemently:—
"Heavens! my dear fellow, here are names of papers nobody ever heard of. Where's the 'Moralisateur,' the 'Lanterne de Diogene,' the 'Pelican,' the 'Echo de la Bievre'?"
"You'd better be careful how you scorn the 'Echo de la Bievre,'" said Barbet; "why, that's the paper of the 12th arrondissement, from which you expect to be elected; its patrons are those big tanners of the Mouffetard quarter!"
"Well, let that go—but the 'Pelican'?"
"The 'Pelican'? that's a paper you'll find in every dentist's waiting-room; dentists are the first puffists in the world! How many teeth do you suppose are daily pulled in Paris?"
"Come, come, nonsense," said Thuillier, who proceeded to mark out certain names, reducing the whole number present to fourteen.
"If one falls off we shall be thirteen," remarked Barbet.
"Pooh!" said Thuillier, the free-thinker, "do you suppose I give in to that superstition?"
The list being finally closed and settled at fourteen, Thuillier seated himself at the publisher's desk and wrote the invitations, naming, in view of the urgency of the purpose, the next day but one for the meeting, Barbet having assured him that no journalist would object to the shortness of the invitation. The meeting was appointed at Vefour's, the restaurant par excellence of the bourgeoisie and all provincials.
Barbet arrived on the day named before Thuillier, who appeared in a cravat which alone was enough to create a stir in the satirical circle in which he was about to produce himself. The publisher, on his own authority, had changed various articles on the bill of fare as selected by his patron, more especially directing that the champagne, ordered in true bourgeois fashion to be served with the dessert, should be placed on the table at the beginning of breakfast, with several dishes of shrimps, a necessity which had not occurred to the amphitryon.
Thuillier, who gave a lip-approval to these amendments, was followed by la Peyrade; and then came a long delay in the arrival of the guests. Breakfast was ordered at eleven o'clock; at a quarter to twelve not a journalist had appeared. Barbet, who was never at a loss, made the consoling remark that breakfasts at restaurants were like funerals, where, as every one knew, eleven o'clock meant mid-day.
Sure enough, shortly before that hour, two gentlemen, with pointed beards, exhaling a strong odor of tobacco, made their appearance. Thuillier thanked them effusively for the "honor" they had done him; after which came another long period of waiting, of which we shall not relate the tortures. At one o'clock the assembled contingent comprised five of the invited guests, Barbet and la Peyrade not included. It is scarcely necessary to say that none of the self-respecting journalists of the better papers had taken any notice of the absurd invitation.
Breakfast now had to be served to this reduced number. A few polite phrases that reached Thuillier's ears about the "immense" interest of his publication, failed to blind him to the bitterness of his discomfiture; and without the gaiety of the publisher, who had taken in hand the reins his patron, gloomy as Hippolytus on the road to Mycenae, let fall, nothing could have surpassed the glum and glacial coldness of the meeting.
After the oysters were removed, the champagne and chablis which had washed them down had begun, nevertheless, to raise the thermometer, when, rushing into the room where the banquet was taking place, a young man in a cap conveyed to Thuillier a most unexpected and crushing blow.
"Master," said the new-comer to Barbet (he was a clerk in the bookseller's shop), "we are done for! The police have made a raid upon us; a commissary and two men have come to seize monsieur's pamphlet. Here's a paper they have given me for you."
"Look at that," said Barbet, handing the document to la Peyrade, his customary assurance beginning to forsake him.
"A summons to appear at once before the court of assizes," said la Peyrade, after reading a few lines of the sheriff's scrawl.
Thuillier had turned as pale as death.
"Didn't you fulfil all the necessary formalities?" he said to Barbet, in a choking voice.
"This is not a matter of formalities," said la Peyrade, "it is a seizure for what is called press misdemeanor, exciting contempt and hatred of the government; you probably have the same sort of compliment awaiting you at home, my poor Thuillier."
"Then it is treachery!" cried Thuillier, losing his head completely.
"Hang it, my dear fellow! you know very well what you put in your pamphlet; for my part, I don't see anything worth whipping a cat for."
"There's some misunderstanding," said Barbet, recovering courage; "it will all be explained, and the result will be a fine cause of complaint—won't it, messieurs?"
"Waiter, pens and ink!" cried one of the journalists thus appealed to.
"Nonsense! you'll have time to write your article later," said another of the brotherhood; "what has a bombshell to do with this 'filet saute'?"
That, of course, was a parody on the famous speech of Charles XII., King of Sweden, when a shot interrupted him while dictating to a secretary.
"Messieurs," said Thuillier, rising, "I am sure you will excuse me for leaving you. If, as Monsieur Barbet thinks, there is some misunderstanding, it ought to be explained at once; I must therefore, with your permission, go to the police court. La Peyrade," he added in a significant tone, "you will not refuse, I presume, to accompany me. And you, my dear publisher, you would do well to come too."
"No, faith!" said Barbet, "when I breakfast, I breakfast; if the police have committed a blunder, so much the worse for them."
"But suppose the matter is serious?" cried Thuillier, in great agitation.
"Well, I should say, what is perfectly true, that I had never read a line of your pamphlet. One thing is very annoying; those damned juries hate beards, and I must cut off mine if I'm compelled to appear in court."
"Come, my dear amphitryon, sit down again," said the editor of the "Echo de la Bievre," "we'll stand by you; I've already written an article in my head which will stir up all the tanners in Paris; and, let me tell you, that honorable corporation is a power."
"No, monsieur," replied Thuillier, "no; a man like me cannot rest an hour under such an accusation as this. Continue your breakfast without us; I hope soon to see you again. La Peyrade, are you coming?"
"He's charming, isn't he?" said Barbet, when Thuillier and his counsel had left the room. "To ask me to leave a breakfast after the oysters, and go and talk with the police! Come, messieurs, close up the ranks," he added, gaily.
"Tiens!" said one of the hungry journalists, who had cast his eyes into the garden of the Palais-Royal, on which the dining-room of the restaurant opened, "there's Barbanchu going by; suppose I call him in?"
"Yes, certainly," said Barbet junior, "have him up."
"Barbanchu! Barbanchu!" called out the journalist.
Barbanchu, his hat being over his eyes, was some time in discovering the cloud above him whence the voice proceeded.
"Here, up here!" called the voice, which seemed to Barbanchu celestial when he saw himself hailed by a man with a glass of champagne in his hand. Then, as he seemed to hesitate, the party above called out in chorus:—
"Come up! come up! There's fat to be had!"
When Thuillier left the office of the public prosecutor he could no longer have any illusions. The case against him was serious, and the stern manner in which he had been received made him see that when the trial came up he would be treated without mercy. Then, as always happens among accomplices after the non-success of an affair they have done in common, he turned upon la Peyrade in the sharpest manner: La Peyrade had paid no attention to what he wrote; he had given full swing to his stupid Saint-Simonian ideas; he didn't care for the consequences; it was not he who would have to pay the fine and go to prison! Then, when la Peyrade answered that the matter did not look to him serious, and he expected to get a verdict of acquittal without difficulty, Thuillier burst forth upon him, vehemently:—
"Parbleu! the thing is plain enough; monsieur sees nothing in it? Well, I shall not put my honor and my fortune into the hands of a little upstart like yourself; I shall take some great lawyer if the case comes to trial. I've had enough of your collaboration by this time."
Under the injustice of these remarks la Peyrade felt his anger rising. However, he saw himself disarmed, and not wishing to come to an open rupture, he parted from Thuillier, saying that he forgave a man excited by fear, and would go to see him later in the afternoon, when he would probably be calmer; they could then decide on what steps they had better take.
Accordingly, about four o'clock, the Provencal arrived at the house in the Place de la Madeleine. Thuillier's irritation was quieted, but frightful consternation had taken its place. If the executioner were coming in half an hour to lead him to the scaffold he could not have been more utterly unstrung and woe-begone. When la Peyrade entered Madame Thuillier was trying to make him take an infusion of linden-leaves. The poor woman had come out of her usual apathy, and proved herself, beside the present Sabinus, another Eponina.
As for Brigitte, who presently appeared, bearing a foot-bath, she had no mercy or restraint towards Theodose; her sharp and bitter reproaches, which were out of all proportion to the fault, even supposing him to have committed one would have driven a man of the most placid temperament beside himself. La Peyrade felt that all was lost to him in the Thuillier household, where they now seemed to seize with joy the occasion to break their word to him and to give free rein to revolting ingratitude. On an ironical allusion by Brigitte to the manner in which he decorated his friends, la Peyrade rose and took leave, without any effort being made to retain him.
After walking about the streets for awhile, la Peyrade, in the midst of his indignation, turned to thoughts of Madame de Godollo, whose image, to tell the truth, had been much in his mind since their former interview.