The Middle Classes/Part II/Chapter VIII
At the moment when la Peyrade was preparing to lay at the feet of the countess the liberty he had recovered in so brutal a manner, he received a perfumed note, which made his heart beat, for on the seal was that momentous "All or Nothing" which she had given him as the rule of the relation now to be inaugurated between them. The contents of the note were as follows:—
Dear Monsieur,—I have heard of the step you have taken; thank
you! But I must now prepare to take my own. I cannot, as you may
well think, continue to live in this house, and among these people
who are so little of our own class and with whom we have nothing
in common. To arrange this transaction, and to avoid explanations
of the fact that the entresol welcomes the voluntary exile from
the first-floor, I need to-day and to-morrow to myself. Do not
therefore come to see me until the day after. By that time I shall
have executed Brigitte, as they say at the Bourse, and have much
to tell you.
Torna de Godollo.
That "Wholly thine" in Latin seemed charming to la Peyrade, who was not, however, astonished, for Latin is a second national language to the Hungarians. The two days' waiting to which he was thus condemned only fanned the flame of the ardent passion which possessed him, and on the third day when reached the house by the Madeleine his love had risen to a degree of incandescence of which only a few days earlier he would scarcely have supposed himself capable.
This time the porter's wife perceived him; but he was now quite indifferent as to whether or not the object of his visit should be known. The ice was broken, his happiness was soon to be official, and he was more disposed to cry it aloud in the streets than to make a mystery of it.
Running lightly up the stairs, he prepared to ring the bell, when, on putting out his hand to reach the silken bell-cord he perceived that the bell-cord had disappeared. La Peyrade's first thought was that one of those serious illnesses which make all noises intolerable to a patient would explain its absence; but with the thought came other observations that weakened it, and which, moreover, were not in themselves comforting.
From the vestibule to the countess's door a stair carpet, held at each step by a brass rod, made a soft ascent to the feet of visitors; this, too, had been removed. A screen-door covered with green velvet and studded with brass nails had hitherto protected the entrance to the apartment; of that no sign, except the injury to the wall done by the workmen in taking it away. For a moment the barrister thought, in his agitation, that he must have mistaken the floor, but, casting his eye over the baluster he saw that he had not passed the entresol. Madame de Godollo must, therefore, be in the act of moving away.
He then resigned himself to make known his presence at the great lady's door as he would have done at that of a grisette. He rapped with his knuckles, but a hollow sonority revealing the void, "intonuere cavernae," echoed beyond the door which he vainly appealed to with his fist. He also perceived from beneath that door a ray of vivid light, the sure sign of an uninhabited apartment where curtains and carpets and furniture no longer dim the light or deaden sound. Compelled to believe in a total removal, la Peyrade now supposed that in the rupture with Brigitte, mentioned as probable by Madame de Godollo, some brutal insolence of the old maid had necessitated this abrupt departure. But why had he not been told of it? And what an idea, to expose him to this ridiculous meeting with what the common people call, in their picturesque language, "the wooden face"!
Before leaving the door finally, and as if some doubt still remained in his mind, la Peyrade made a last and most thundering assault upon it.
"Who's knocking like that, as if they'd bring the house down?" said the porter, attracted by the noise to the foot of the staircase.
"Doesn't Madame de Godollo still live here?" asked la Peyrade.
"Of course she doesn't live here now; she has moved away. If monsieur had told me he was going to her apartment I would have spared him the trouble of battering down the door."
"I knew that she was going to leave the apartment," said la Peyrade, not wishing to seem ignorant of the project of departure, "but I had no idea she was going so soon."
"I suppose it was something sudden," said the porter, "for she went off early this morning with post-horses."
"Post-horses!" echoed la Peyrade, stupefied. "Then she has left Paris?"
"That's to be supposed," said the porter; "people don't usually take post-horses and a postilion to change from one quarter of Paris to another."
"And she did not tell you where she was going?"
"Ah! monsieur, what an idea! Do people account to us porters for what they do?"
"No, but her letters—those that come after her departure?"
"Her letters? I am ordered to deliver them to Monsieur le commandeur, the little old gentlemen who came to see her so often; monsieur must have met him."
"Yes, yes, certainly," said la Peyrade, keeping his presence of mind in the midst of the successive shocks which came upon him,—"the powered little man who was here every day."
"I couldn't say every day; but he came often. Well, I am told to give the countess's letters to him."
"And for other persons of her acquaintance," said la Peyrade, carelessly, "did she leave no message?"
"Very well," said la Peyrade, "good-morning." And he turned to go out.
"But I think," said the porter, "that Mademoiselle Thuillier knows more about it than I do. Won't monsieur go up? She is at home; and so is Monsieur Thuillier."
"No, never mind," said la Peyrade, "I only came to tell Madame de Godollo about a commission she asked me to execute; I haven't time to stop now."
"Well, as I told you, she left with post-horses this morning. Two hours earlier monsieur might still have found her; but now, with post-horses, she must by this time have gone a good distance."
La Peyrade departed, with a sense of despair in his heart. Added to the anxiety caused by this hasty departure, jealousy entered his soul, and in this agonizing moment of disappointment the most distressing explanations crowded on his mind.
Then, after further reflection, he said to himself:—
"These clever diplomatic women are often sent on secret missions which require the most absolute silence, and extreme rapidity of movement."
But here a sudden revulsion of thought overcame him:—
"Suppose she were one of those intriguing adventurers whom foreign governments employ as agents? Suppose the tale, more or less probable, of that Russian princess forced to sell her furniture to Brigitte were also that of this Hungarian countess? And yet," he continued, as his brain made a third evolution in this frightful anarchy of ideas and feelings, "her education, her manners, her language, all bespoke a woman of the best position. Besides, if she were only a bird of passage, why have given herself so much trouble to win me over?"
La Peyrade might have continued to plead thus for and against for a long time had he not been suddenly grasped round the shoulders by a strong arm and addressed in a well-known voice.
"Take care! my dear barrister; a frightful danger threatens you; you are running right into it."
La Peyrade, thus arrested, looked round and found himself in the arms of Phellion.
The scene took place in front of a house which was being pulled down at the corner of the rues Duphot and Saint-Honore. Posted on the pavement of the other side of the street, Phellion, whose taste for watching the process of building our readers may remember, had been witnessing for the last fifteen minutes the drama of a wall about to fall beneath the united efforts of a squadron of workmen. Watch in hand, the great citizen was estimating the length of the resistance which that mass of freestone would present to the destructive labor of which it was the object. Precisely at the crucial moment of the impending catastrophe la Peyrade, lost in the tumult of his thoughts, was entering, heedless of the shouts addressed to him on all sides, the radius within which the stones would fall. Seen by Phellion (who, it must be said, would have done the same for a total stranger) la Peyrade undoubtedly owed his life to him; for, at the moment when he was violently flung back by the vigorous grasp of the worthy citizen, the wall fell with the noise of a cannon-shot, and the stones rolled in clouds of dust almost to his very feet.
"Are you blind and deaf?" said the workman whose business it was to warn the passers, in a tone of amenity it is easy to imagine.
"Thank you, my dear friend," said la Peyrade, recalled to earth. "I should certainly have been crushed like an idiot if it hadn't been for you."
And he pressed Phellion's hand.
"My reward," replied the latter, "lies in the satisfaction of knowing that you are saved from an imminent peril. And I may say that that satisfaction is mingled, for me, with a certain pride; for I was not mistaken by a single second in the calculation which enabled me to foresee the exact moment when that formidable mass would be displaced from its centre of gravity. But what were you thinking of, my dear monsieur? Probably of the plea you are about to make in the Thuillier affair. The public prints have informed me of the danger of prosecution by the authorities which hangs above the head of our estimable friend. You have a noble cause to defend, monsieur. Habituated as I am, through my labors as a member of the reading committee of the Odeon, to judge of works of intellect, and with my hand upon my conscience, I declare that after reading the incriminated passages, I can find nothing in the tone of that pamphlet which justifies the severe measures of which it is the object. Between ourselves," added the great citizen, lowering his voice, "I think the government has shown itself petty."
"So I think," said la Peyrade, "but I am not employed for the defence. I have advised Thuillier to engage some noted lawyer."
"It may be good advice," said Phellion; "at any rate, it speaks well for your modesty. Poor man! I went to him at once when the blow fell, but I did not see him; I saw only Brigitte, who was having a discussion with Madame de Godollo. There is a woman with strong political views; it seems she predicted that the seizure would be made."
"Did you know that the countess had left Paris?" said la Peyrade, rushing at the chance of speaking on the subject of his present monomania.
"Ah! left Paris, has she?" said Phellion. "Well, monsieur, I must tell you that, although there was not much sympathy between us, I regard her departure as a misfortune. She will leave a serious void in the salon of our friends. I say this, because it is my belief, and I am not in the habit of disguising my convictions."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "she is certainly a very distinguished woman, with whom in spite of her prejudice against me, I think I should have come to an understanding. But this morning, without leaving any word as to where she was going, she started suddenly with post-horses."
"Post-horses!" said Phellion. "I don't know whether you will agree with me, monsieur, but I think that travelling by post is a most agreeable method of conveyance. Certainly Louis XI., to whom we owe the institution, had a fortunate inspiration in the matter; although, on the other hand, his sanguinary and despotic government was not, to my humble thinking, entirely devoid of reproach. Once only in my life have I used that method of locomotion, and I can truly say I found it far superior, in spite of its inferior relative rapidity, to the headlong course of what in England are called railways; where speed is attained only at the price of safety."
La Peyrade paid but little attention to Phellion's phraseology. "Where can she have gone?"—round that idea he dug and delved in every direction, an occupation that would have made him indifferent to a far more interesting topic. However, once started, like the locomotive he objected to, the great citizen went on:—
"I made that journey at the period of Madame Phellion's last confinement. She was in Perche, with her mother, when I learned that serious complications were feared from the milk-fever. Overcome with terror at the danger which threatened my wife, I went instantly to the post-office to obtain a seat in the mail-coach, but all were taken; I found they had been engaged for more than a week. Upon that, I came to a decision; I went to the rue Pigalle, and, for a very large sum in gold a post-chaise and three horses were placed at my disposal, when unfortunately the formality of a passport, with which I had neglected to supply myself, and without which, in virtue of the decrees of the consulate of 17 Nivose, year VII., the post agents were not permitted to deliver horses to travellers—"
The last few words were like a flash of light to la Peyrade, and without waiting for the end of the postal odyssey of the great citizen, he darted away in the direction of the rue Pigalle, before Phellion, in the middle of his sentence, perceived his departure.
Reaching the Royal postal establishment, la Peyrade was puzzled as to whom to address himself in order to obtain the information he wanted. He began by explaining to the porter that he had a letter to send to a lady of his acquaintance that morning by post, neglecting, very thoughtlessly, to send him her address, and that he thought he might discover it by means of the passport which she must have presented in order to obtain horses.
"Was it a lady accompanied by a maid whom I took up on the boulevard de la Madeleine?" asked a postilion sitting in the corner of the room where la Peyrade was making his preliminary inquiry.
"Exactly," said la Peyrade, going eagerly up to the providential being, and slipping a five-franc piece into his hand.
"Ah! well, she's a queer traveller!" said the man, "she told me to take her to the Bois de Boulogne, and there she made me drive round and round for an hour. After that, we came back to the Barriere de l'Etoile, where she gave me a good 'pourboire' and got into a hackney coach, telling me to take the travelling carriage back to the man who lets such carriages in the Cour des Coches, Faubourg Saint-Honore."
"Give me the name of that man?" said la Peyrade, eagerly.
"Simonin," replied the postilion.
Furnished with that information la Peyrade resumed his course, and fifteen minutes later he was questioning the livery-stable keeper; but that individual knew only that a lady residing on the Boulevard de la Madeleine had hired, without horses, a travelling-carriage for half a day; that he had sent out the said carriage at nine that morning, and it was brought back at twelve by a postilion of the Royal Post house.
"Never mind," thought la Peyrade, "I am certain now she has not left Paris, and is not avoiding me. Most probably, she wants to break utterly with the Thuilliers, and so has invented this journey. Fool that I am! no doubt there's a letter waiting for me at home, explaining the whole thing."
Worn out with emotion and fatigue, and in order to verify as quickly as possible this new supposition, la Peyrade flung himself into a street cab, and in less than a quarter of an hour, having promised the driver a good pourboire, he was deposited at the house in the rue Saint-Dominique d'Enfer. There he was compelled to endure still longer the tortures of waiting. Since Brigitte's departure, the duty of the porter, Coffinet, had been very negligently performed, and when la Peyrade rushed to the lodge to inquire for his letter, which he thought he saw in the case that belonged to him, the porter and his wife were both absent and their door was locked. The wife was doing some household work in the building, and Coffinet himself, taking advantage of that circumstance, had allowed a friend to entice him into a neighboring wine-shop, where, between two glasses, he was supporting, against a republican who was talking disrespectfully against it, the cause of the owners of property.
It was twenty minutes before the worthy porter, remembering the "property" entrusted to his charge, decided to return to his post. It is easy to imagine the reproaches with which la Peyrade overwhelmed him. He excused himself by saying that he had gone to do a commission for Mademoiselle, and that he couldn't be at the door and where his masters chose to send him at the same time. At last, however, he gave the lawyer a letter bearing the Paris postmark.
With his heart rather than his eyes la Peyrade recognized the handwriting, and, turning over the missive, the arms and motto confirmed the hope that he had reached the end of the cruellest emotion he had ever in his life experienced. To read that letter before that odious porter seemed to him a profanation. With a refinement of feeling which all lovers will understand, he gave himself the pleasure of pausing before his happiness; he would not even unseal that blissful note until the moment when, with closed doors and no interruptions to distract him, he could enjoy at his ease the delicious sensation of which his heart had a foretaste.
Rushing up the staircase two steps at a time, the now joyous lover committed the childish absurdity of locking himself in; then, having settled himself at his ease before his desk, and having broken the seal with religious care, he was forced to press his hand on his heart, which seemed to burst from his bosom, before he could summon calmness to read the following letter:—
Dear Monsieur,—I disappear forever, because my play is played
out. I thank you for having made it both attractive and easy. By
setting against you the Thuilliers and Collevilles (who are fully
informed of your sentiments towards them), and by relating in a
manner most mortifying to their bourgeois self-love the true
reason of your sudden and pitiless rupture with them, I am proud
and happy to believe that I have done you a signal service. The
girl does not love you, and you love nothing but the eyes of her
"dot"; I have therefore saved you both from a species of hell.
But, in exchange for the bride you have so curtly rejected,
another charming girl is proposed to you; she is richer and more
beautiful than Mademoiselle Colleville, and—to speak of myself
—more at liberty than
Your unworthy servant,
Torna "Comtesse de Godollo."
P.S. For further information apply, without delay, to Monsieur du
Portail, householder, rue Honore-Chevalier, near the rue de la
Cassette, quartier Saint-Sulpice, by whom you are expected.
When he had read this letter the advocate of the poor took his head in his hands; he saw nothing, heard nothing, thought nothing; he was annihilated.
Several days were necessary to la Peyrade before he could even begin to recover from the crushing blow which had struck him down. The shock was terrible. Coming out of that golden dream which had shown him a perspective of the future in so smiling an aspect, he found himself fooled under conditions most cruel to his self-love, and to his pretensions to depth and cleverness; irrevocably parted from the Thuilliers; saddled with a hopeless debt of twenty-five thousand francs to Madame Lambert, together with another of ten thousand to Brigitte, which his dignity required him to pay with the least delay possible; and, worst of all,—to complete his humiliation and his sense of failure,—he felt that he was not cured of the passionate emotion he had felt for this woman, the author of his great disaster, and the instrument of his ruin.
Either this Delilah was a very great lady, sufficiently high in station to allow herself such compromising caprices,—but even so, she would scarcely have cared to play the role of a coquette in a vaudeville where he himself played the part of ninny,—or she was some noted adventuress who was in the pay of this du Portail and the agent of his singular matrimonial designs. Evil life or evil heart, these were the only two verdicts to be pronounced on this dangerous siren, and in either case, it would seem, she was not very deserving of the regrets of her victim; nevertheless, he was conscious of feeling them. We must put ourselves in the place of this son of Provence, this region of hot blood and ardent heads, who, for the first time in his life finding himself face to face with jewelled love in laces, believed he was to drink that passion from a wrought-gold cup. Just as our minds on waking keep the impression of a vivid dream and continue in love with what we know was but a shadow, la Peyrade had need of all his mental energy to drive away the memory of that treacherous countess. We might go further and say that he never ceased to long for her, though he was careful to drape with an honest pretext the intense desire that he had to find her. That desire he called curiosity, ardor for revenge; and here follow the ingenious deductions which he drew for himself:—
"Cerizet talked to me about a rich heiress; the countess, in her letter, intimates that the whole intrigue she wound about me was to lead to a rich marriage; rich marriages flung at a man's head are not so plentiful that two such chances should come to me within a few weeks; therefore the match offered by Cerizet and that proposed by the countess must be the crazy girl they are so frantic to make me marry; therefore Cerizet, being in the plot, must know the countess; therefore, through him I shall get upon her traces. In any case, I am sure of information about this extraordinary choice that has fallen upon me; evidently, these people, whoever they are, who can pull the wires of such puppets to reach their ends must be persons of considerable position; therefore, I'll go and see Cerizet."
And he went to see Cerizet.
Since the dinner at the Rocher de Cancale, the pair had not met. Once or twice la Peyrade had asked Dutocq at the Thuilliers' (where the latter seldom went now, on account of the distance to their new abode) what had become of his copying clerk.
"He never speaks of you," Dutocq had answered.
Hence it might be inferred that resentment, the "manet alta mente repostum" was still living in the breast of the vindictive usurer. La Peyrade, however, was not stopped by that consideration. After all, he was not going to ask for anything; he went under the pretext of renewing an affair in which Cerizet had taken part, and Cerizet never took part in anything unless he had a personal interest in it. The chances were, therefore, that he would be received with affectionate eagerness rather than unpleasant acerbity. Moreover, he decided to go and see the copying clerk at Dutocq's office; it would look, he thought, less like a visit than if he went to his den in the rue des Poules. It was nearly two o'clock when la Peyrade made his entrance into the precincts of the justice-of-peace of the 12th arrondissement. He crossed the first room, in which were a crowd of persons whom civil suits of one kind or another summoned before the magistrate. Without pausing in that waiting-room, la Peyrade pushed on to the office adjoining that of Dutocq. There he found Cerizet at a shabby desk of blackened wood, at which another clerk, then absent, occupied the opposite seat.
Seeing his visitor, Cerizet cast a savage look at him and said, without rising, or suspending the copy of the judgment he was then engrossing:—
"You here, Sieur la Peyrade? You have been doing fine things for your friend Thuillier!"
"How are you?" asked la Peyrade, in a tone both resolute and friendly.
"I?" replied Cerizet. "As you see, still rowing my galley; and, to follow out the nautical metaphor, allow me to ask what wind has blown you hither; is it, perchance, the wind of adversity?"
La Peyrade, without replying, took a chair beside his questioner, after which he said in a grave tone:—
"My dear fellow, we have something to say to each other."
"I suppose," said Cerizet, spitefully, "the Thuilliers have grown cold since the seizure of the pamphlet."
"The Thuilliers are ungrateful people; I have broken with them," replied la Peyrade.
"Rupture or dismissal," said Cerizet, "their door is shut against you; and from what Dutocq tells me, I judge that Brigitte is handling you without gloves. You see, my friend, what it is to try and manage affairs alone; complications come, and there's no one to smooth the angles. If you had got me that lease, I should have had a footing at the Thuilliers', Dutocq would not have abandoned you, and together we could have brought you gently into port."
"But suppose I don't want to re-enter that port?" said la Peyrade, with some sharpness. "I tell you I've had enough of those Thuilliers, and I broke with them myself; I warned them to get out of my sun; and if Dutocq told you anything else you may tell him from me that he lies. Is that clear enough? It seems to me I've made it plain."
"Well, exactly, my good fellow, if you are so savage against your Thuilliers you ought to have put me among them, and then you'd have seen me avenge you."
"There you are right," said la Peyrade; "I wish I could have set you at their legs—but as for that matter of the lease I tell you again, I was not master of it."
"Of course," said Cerizet, "it was your conscience which obliged you to tell Brigitte that the twelve thousand francs a year I expected to make out of it were better in her pocket than in mine."
"It seems that Dutocq continues the honorable profession of spy which he formerly practised at the ministry of finance," said la Peyrade, "and, like others who do that dirty business, he makes his reports more witty than truthful—"
"Take care!" said Cerizet; "you are talking of my patron in his own lair."
"Look here!" said la Peyrade. "I have come to talk to you on serious matters. Will you do me the favor to drop the Thuilliers and all their belongings, and give me your attention?"
"Say on, my friend," said Cerizet, laying down his pen, which had never ceased to run, up to this moment, "I am listening."
"You talked to me some time ago," said la Peyrade, "about marrying a girl who was rich, fully of age, and slightly hysterical, as you were pleased to put it euphemistically."
"Well done!" cried Cerizet. "I expected this; but you've been some time coming to it."
"In offering me this heiress, what did you have in your mind?" asked la Peyrade.
"Parbleu! to help you to a splendid stroke of business. You had only to stoop and take it. I was formally charged to propose it to you; and, as there wasn't any brokerage, I should have relied wholly on your generosity."
"But you are not the only person who was commissioned to make me that offer. A woman had the same order."
"A woman!" cried Cerizet in a perfectly natural tone of surprise. "Not that I know of."
"Yes, a foreigner, young and pretty, whom you must have met in the family of the bride, to whom she seems to be ardently devoted."
"Never," said Cerizet, "never has there been the slightest question of a woman in this negotiation. I have every reason to believe that I am exclusively charged with it."
"What!" said la Peyrade, fixing upon Cerizet a scrutinizing eye, "did you never hear of the Comtesse Torna de Godollo?"
"Never, in all my life; this is the first time I ever heard that name."
"Then," said la Peyrade, "it must really have been another match; for that woman, after many singular preliminaries, too long to explain to you, made me a formal offer of the hand of a young woman much richer than Mademoiselle Colleville—"
"And hysterical?" asked Cerizet.
"No, she did not embellish the proposal with that accessory; but there's another detail which may put you on the track of her. Madame de Godollo exhorted me, if I wished to push the matter, to go and see a certain Monsieur du Portail—"
"Rue Honore-Chevalier?" exclaimed Cerizet, quickly.
"Then it is the same marriage which is offered to you through two different mediums. It is strange I was not informed of this collaboration!"
"In short," said la Peyrade, "you not only didn't have wind of the countess's intervention, but you don't know her, and you can't give me any information about her—is that so?"
"At present I can't," replied Cerizet, "but I'll find out about her; for the whole proceeding is rather cavalier towards me; but this employment of two agents only shows you how desirable you are to the family."
At this moment the door of the room was opened cautiously, a woman's head appeared, and a voice, which was instantly recognized by la Peyrade, said, addressing the copying-clerk:—
"Ah! excuse me! I see monsieur is busy. Could I say a word to monsieur when he is alone?"
Cerizet, who had an eye as nimble as a hand, instantly noticed a certain fact. La Peyrade, who was so placed as to be plainly seen by the new-comer, no sooner heard that drawling, honeyed voice, than he turned his head in a manner to conceal his features. Instead therefore of being roughly sent away, as usually happened to petitioners who addressed the most surly of official clerks, the modest visitor heard herself greeted in a very surprising manner.
"Come in, come in, Madame Lambert," said Cerizet; "you won't be kept waiting long; come in."
The visitor advanced, and then came face to face with la Peyrade.
"Ah! monsieur!" cried his creditor, whom the reader has no doubt recognized, "how fortunate I am to meet monsieur! I have been several times to his office to ask if he had had time to attend to my little affair."
"I have had many engagements which have kept me away from my office lately; but I attended to that matter; everything has been done right, and is now in the hands of the secretary."
"Oh! how good monsieur is! I pray God to bless him," said the pious woman, clasping her hands.
"Bless me! do you have business with Madame Lambert?" said Cerizet; "you never told me that. Are you Pere Picot's counsel?"
"No, unfortunately," said Madame Lambert, "my master won't take any counsel; he is so self-willed, so obstinate! But, my good monsieur, what I came to ask is whether the family council is to meet."
"Of course," said Cerizet, "and not later than to-morrow."
"But monsieur, I hear those gentlemen of the Royal court said the family had no rights—"
"Yes, that's so," said the clerk; "the lower court and the Royal court have both, on the petition of the relatives, rejected their demand for a commission."
"I should hope so!" said the woman; "to think of making him out a lunatic! him so full of wisdom and learning!"
"But the relations don't mean to give up; they are going to try the matter again under a new form, and ask for the appointment of a judicial counsel. That's what the family council meets for to-morrow; and I think, this time, my dear Madame Lambert, your old Picot will find himself restrained. There are serious allegations, I can tell you. It was all very well to take the eggs, but to pluck the hen was another thing."
"Is it possible that monsieur can suppose—" began the devote, clasping her hands under her chin.
"I suppose nothing," said Cerizet; "I am not the judge of this affair. But the relations declare that you have pocketed considerable sums, and made investments about which they demand inquiry."
"Oh! heavens!" said the woman, casting up her eyes; "they can inquire; I am poor; I have not a deed, nor a note, nor a share; not the slightest security of any kind in my possession."
"I dare say not," said Cerizet, glancing at la Peyrade out of the corner of his eye; "but there are always friends to take care of such things. However, that is none of my business; every one must settle his own affairs in his own way. Now, then, say what you have to say, distinctly."
"I came, monsieur," she replied, "to implore you, monsieur, to implore Monsieur the judge's clerk, to speak in our favor to Monsieur the justice-of-peace. Monsieur the vicar of Saint-Jacques is also to speak to him. That poor Monsieur Picot!" she went on, weeping, "they'll kill him if they continue to worry him in this way."
"I sha'n't conceal from you," said Cerizet, "that the justice-of-peace is very ill-disposed to your cause. You must have seen that the other day, when he refused to receive you. As for Monsieur Dutocq and myself, our assistance won't help you much; and besides, my good woman, you are too close-mouthed."
"Monsieur asked me if I had laid by a few little savings; and I couldn't tell him that I had, be—because they have gone to keep the h—house of that poor Monsieur Pi—i—cot; and now they accuse me of r—robbing him!"
Madame Lambert sobbed.
"My opinion is," said Cerizet, "that you are making yourself out much poorer than you are; and if friend Peyrade here, who seems to be more in your confidence, hadn't his tongue tied by the rules of his profession—"
"I!" said la Peyrade, hastily, "I don't know anything of madame's affairs. She asked me to draw up a petition on a matter in which there was nothing judicial or financial."
"Ah! that's it, is it?" said Cerizet. "Madame had doubtless gone to see you about this petition the day Dutocq met her at your office, the morning after our dinner at the Rocher de Cancale—when you were such a Roman, you know."
Then, without seeming to attach any importance to the reminiscence, he added:—
"Well, my good Madame Lambert, I'll ask my patron to speak to the justice-of-peace, and, if I get a chance, I'll speak to him myself; but, I repeat it, he is very much prejudiced against you."
Madame Lambert retired with many curtseys and protestations of gratitude. When she was fairly gone la Peyrade remarked:—
"You don't seem to believe that that woman came to me about a petition; and yet nothing was ever truer. She is thought a saint in the street she lives in, and that old man they accuse her of robbing is actually kept alive by her devotion, so I'm told. Consequently, the neighbors have put it into the good woman's head to apply for the Montyon prize; and it was for the purpose of putting her claims in legal shape that she applied to me."
"Dear! dear! the Montyon prize!" cried Cerizet; "well, that's an idea! My good fellow, we ought to have cultivated it before,—I, especially, as banker of the poor, and you, their advocate. As for this client of yours, it is lucky for her Monsieur Picot's relatives are not members of the French academy; it is in the correctional police-court, sixth chamber, where they mean to give her the reward of virtue. However, to come back to what we were talking about. I tell you that after all your tergiversations you had better settle down peaceably; and I advise you, as your countess did, to go and see du Portail."
"Who and what is he?" asked la Peyrade.
"He is a little old man," replied Cerizet, "as shrewd as a weasel. He gives me the idea of having dealings with the devil. Go and see him! Sight, as they say, costs nothing."
"Yes," said la Peyrade, "perhaps I will; but, first of all, I want you to find out for me about this Comtesse de Godollo."
"What do you care about her? She is nothing but a supernumerary, that countess."
"I have my reasons," said la Peyrade; "you can certainly get some information about her in three days; I'll come and see you then."
"My good fellow," said Cerizet, "you seem to me to be amusing yourself with things that don't pay; you haven't fallen in love with that go-between, have you?"
"Plague take him!" thought la Peyrade; "he spies everything; there's no hiding anything from him! No," he said, aloud, "I am not in love; on the contrary, I am very cautious. I must admit that this marriage with a crazy girl doesn't attract me, and before I go a step into it I want to know where I put my feet. These crooked proceedings are not reassuring, and as so many influences are being brought to bear, I choose to control one by another. Therefore don't play sly, but give me all the information you get into your pouch about Madame la Comtesse Torna de Godollo. I warn you I know enough to test the veracity of your report; and if I see you are trying to overreach me I'll break off short with your du Portail."
"Trying to overreach you, monseigneur!" replied Cerizet, in the tone and manner of Frederic Lemaitre. "Who would dare attempt it?"
As he pronounced those words in a slightly mocking tone, Dutocq appeared, accompanied by his little clerk.
"Bless me!" he exclaimed, seeing la Peyrade and Cerizet together; "here's the trinity reconstituted! but the object of the alliance, the 'casus foederis,' has floated off. What have you done to that good Brigitte, la Peyrade? She is after your blood."
"What about Thuillier?" asked la Peyrade.
Moliere was reversed; here was Tartuffe inquiring for Orgon.
"Thuillier began by not being very hostile to you; but it now seems that the seizure business has taken a good turn, and having less need of you he is getting drawn into his sister's waters; and if the tendency continues, I haven't a doubt that he'll soon come to think you deserving of hanging."
"Well, I'm out of it all," said la Peyrade, "and if anybody ever catches me in such a mess again!—Well, adieu, my friends," he added. "And you, Cerizet, as to what we were speaking about, activity, safety, and discretion!"
When la Peyrade reached the courtyard of the municipal building, he was accosted by Madame Lambert, who was lying in wait for him.
"Monsieur wouldn't believe, I am sure," she said, in a deprecating tone, "the villainous things that Monsieur Cerizet said about me; monsieur knows it was the little property I received from my uncle in England that I placed in his hands."
"Yes, yes," said la Peyrade, "but you must understand that with all these rumors set about by your master's relatives the prize of virtue is desperately endangered."
"If it is God's will that I am not to have it—"
"You ought also to understand how important it is for your interests to keep secret the other service which I did for you. At the first appearance of any indiscretion on your part that money, as I told you, will be peremptorily returned to you."
"Oh! monsieur may be easy about that."
"Very well; then good-bye to you, my dear," said la Peyrade, in a friendly tone.
As he turned to leave her, a nasal voice was heard from a window on the staircase.
"Madame Lambert!" cried Cerizet, who, suspecting the colloquy, had gone to the staircase window to make sure of it. "Madame Lambert! Monsieur Dutocq has returned; you may come up and see him, if you like."
Impossible for la Peyrade to prevent the conference, although he knew the secret of that twenty-five thousand francs ran the greatest danger.
"Certainly," he said to himself as he walked away, "I'm in a run of ill-luck; and I don't know where it will end."
In Brigitte's nature there was such an all-devouring instinct of domination, that it was without regret, and, we may even say, with a sort of secret joy that she saw the disappearance of Madame de Godollo. That woman, she felt, had a crushing superiority over her; and this, while it had given a higher order to the Thuillier establishment, made her ill at ease. When therefore the separation took place, which was done, let us here say, on good terms, and under fair and honorable pretexts, Mademoiselle Thuillier breathed more freely. She felt like those kings long swayed by imperious and necessary ministers, who celebrate within their hearts the day when death delivers them from a master whose services and rival influence they impatiently endured.
Thuillier was not far from having the same sentiment about la Peyrade. But Madame de Godollo was only the elegance, whereas la Peyrade was the utility of the house they had now simultaneously abandoned; and after the lapse of a few days, a terrible need of Theodose made itself felt in the literary and political existence of his dear, good friend. The municipal councillor found himself suddenly appointed to draft an important report. He was unable to decline the task, saddled as he was with the reputation, derived from his pamphlet, of being a man of letters and an able writer; therefore, in presence of the perilous honor conferred upon him by his colleagues of the general Council, he sat down terrified by his solitude and his insufficiency.
In vain did he lock himself into his study, gorge himself with black coffee, mend innumerable pens, and write a score of times at the head of his paper (which he was careful to cut of the exact dimensions as that used by la Peyrade) the solemn words: "Report to the Members of the Municipal Council of the City of Paris," followed, on a line by itself, by a magnificent Messieurs—nothing came of it! He was fain to issue furious from his study, complaining of the horrible household racket which "cut the thread of his ideas"; though really no greater noise than the closing of a door or the opening of a closet or the moving of a chair had made itself heard. All this, however, did not help the advancement of the work, which remained, as before—simply begun.
Most fortunately, it happened that Rabourdin, wanting to make some change in his apartment, came, as was proper, to submit his plan to the owner of the house. Thuillier granted cordially the request that was made to him, and then discoursed to his tenant about the report with which he was charged,—being desirous, he said, to obtain his ideas on the subject.
Rabourdin, to whom no administrative question was foreign, very readily threw upon the subject a number of very clear and lucid ideas. He was one of those men to whom the quality of the intellect to which they address themselves is more or less indifferent; a fool, or a man of talent who will listen to them, serves equally well to think aloud to, and they are, as a stimulant, about the same thing. After Rabourdin had said his say, he observed that Thuillier had not understood him; but he had listened to himself with pleasure, and he was, moreover, grateful for the attention, obtuse as it was, of his hearer, and also for the kindliness of the landlord in receiving his request.
"I must have among my papers," he said as he went away, "something on this subject; I will look it up and send it to you."
Accordingly, that same evening Thuillier received a voluminous manuscript; and he spent the entire night in delving into that precious repository of ideas, from which he extracted enough to make a really remarkable report, clumsily as the pillage was managed. When read before the council it obtained a very great success, and Thuillier returned home radiant and much elated by the congratulations he had received. From that moment—a moment that was marked in his life, for even to advanced old age he still talked of the "report he had had the honor of making to the Council-general of the Seine"—la Peyrade went down considerably in his estimation; he felt then that he could do very well without the barrister, and this thought of emancipation was strengthened by another happiness which came to him at almost the same time.
A parliamentary crisis was imminent,—a fact that caused the ministry to think about depriving its adversaries of a theme of opposition which always has great influence on public opinion. It resolved therefore to relax its rigor, which of late had been much increased against the press. Being included in this species of hypocritical amnesty, Thuillier received one morning a letter from the barrister whom he had chosen in place of la Peyrade. This letter announced that the Council of State had dismissed the complaint, and ordered the release of the pamphlet.
Then Dutocq's prediction was realized. That weight the less within his bosom, Thuillier took a swing toward insolence; he chorused Brigitte, and came at last to speak of la Peyrade as a sort of adventurer whom he had fed and clothed, a tricky fellow who had extracted much money from him, and had finally behaved with such ingratitude that he was thankful not to count him any longer among his friends. Orgon, in short, was in full revolt, and like Dorine, he was ready to cry out: "A beggar! who, when he came, had neither shoes nor coat worth a brass farthing."
Cerizet, to whom these indignities were reported by Dutocq, would gladly have served them up hot to la Peyrade; but the interview in which the copying clerk was to furnish information about Madame de Godollo did not take place at the time fixed. La Peyrade made his own discoveries in this wise:
Pursued by the thought of the beautiful Hungarian, and awaiting, or rather not awaiting the result of Cerizet's inquiry, he scoured Paris in every direction, and might have been seen, like the idlest of loungers, in the most frequented places, his heart telling him that sooner or later he must meet the object of his ardent search.
One evening—it was towards the middle of October—the autumn, as frequently happens in Paris, was magnificent, and along the boulevards, where the Provencal was airing his love and his melancholy, the out-door life and gaiety were as animated as in summer. On the boulevard des Italiens, formerly known as the boulevard de Gand, as he lounged past the long line of chairs before the Cafe de Paris, where, mingled with a few women of the Chaussee d'Antin accompanied by their husbands and children, may be seen toward evening a cordon of nocturnal beauties waiting only a gloved hand to gather them, la Peyrade's heart received a cruel shock. From afar, he thought he saw his adored countess.
She was alone, in a dazzling toilet scarcely authorized by the place and her isolation; before her, mounted on a chair, trembled a tiny lap-dog, which she stroked from time to time with her beautiful hands. After convincing himself that he was not mistaken, la Peyrade was about to dart upon that celestial vision, when he was forestalled by a dandy of the most triumphant type. Without throwing aside his cigar, without even touching his hat, this handsome young man began to converse with the barrister's ideal; but when she saw la Peyrade making towards her the siren must have felt afraid, for she rose quickly, and taking the arm of the man who was talking to her, she said aloud:—
"Is your carriage here, Emile? Mabille closes to-night, and I should like to go there."
The name of that disreputable place thus thrown in the face of the unhappy barrister, was a charity, for it saved him from a foolish action, that of addressing, on the arm of the man who had suddenly made himself her cavalier, the unworthy creature of whom he was thinking a few seconds earlier with so much tenderness.
"She is not worth insulting," he said to himself.
But, as lovers are beings who will not allow their foothold to be taken from them easily, the Provencal was neither convinced nor resigned as yet. Not far from the place which his countess had left, sat another woman, also alone; but this one was ripe with years, with feathers on her head, and beneath the folds of a cashmere shawl she concealed the plaintive remains of tarnished elegance and long past luxury. There was nothing imposing about this sight, nor did it command respect, but the contrary. La Peyrade went up to the woman without ceremony and addressed her.
"Madame," he said, "do you know that woman who has just gone away on the arm of a gentleman?"
"Certainly, monsieur; I know nearly all the women who come here."
"And her name is?—"
"Is she as impregnable as the fortress of that name?"
Our readers will doubtless remember that at the time of the insurrection in Hungary our ears were battered by the press and by novelists about the famous citadel of Komorn; and la Peyrade knew that by assuming a tone of indifference or flippancy he was more likely to succeed with his inquiries.
"Has monsieur any idea of making her acquaintance?"
"I don't know," replied la Peyrade, "but she is a woman who makes people think of her."
"And a very dangerous woman, monsieur," added his companion; "a fearful spendthrift, but with no inclination to return generously what is done for her. I can speak knowingly of that; when she first arrived here from Berlin, six months ago, she was very warmly recommended to me."
"Ah!" exclaimed la Peyrade.
"Yes, at that time I had in the environs of Ville d'Avray a very beautiful place, with park and coverts and a stream for fishing; but as I was alone I found it dull, and several of these ladies and gentlemen said to me, 'Madame Louchard, why don't you organize parties in the style of picnics?'"
"Madame Louchard!" repeated la Peyrade, "are you any relation to Monsieur Louchard of the commercial police?"
"His wife, monsieur, but legally separated from him. A horrid man who wants me to go back to him; but I, though I'm ready to forgive most things, I can't forgive a want of respect; just imagine that he dared to raise his hand against me!"
"Well," said la Peyrade, trying to bring her back to the matter in hand; "you organized those picnics, and Madame de Godo—I mean Madame Komorn—"
"Was one of my first lodgers. It was there she made acquaintance with an Italian, a handsome man, and rich, a political refugee, but one of the lofty kind. You understand it didn't suit my purposes to have intrigues going on in my house; still the man was so lovable, and so unhappy because he couldn't make Madame Komorn like him, that at last I took an interest in this particular love affair; which produced a pot of money for madame, for she managed to get immense sums out of that Italian. Well, would you believe that when—being just then in great need—I asked her to assist me with a trifling little sum, she refused me point-blank, and left my house, taking her lover with her, who, poor man, can't be thankful for the acquaintance now."
"Why not? What happened to him?" asked la Peyrade.
"It happened to him that this serpent knows every language in Europe; she is witty and clever to the tips of her fingers, but more manoeuvring than either; so, being, as it appears, in close relations to the police, she gave the government a lot of papers the Italian left about carelessly, on which they expelled him from France."
"Well, after his departure, Madame Komorn—"
"Since then, she has had a good many adventures and upset several fortunes, and I thought she had left Paris. For the last two months she was nowhere to be seen, but three days ago she reappeared, more brilliant than ever. My advice to monsieur is not to trust himself in that direction; and yet, monsieur looks to me a Southerner, and Southerners have passions; perhaps what I have told him will only serve to spur them up. However, being warned, there's not so much danger, and she is a most fascinating creature—oh! very fascinating. She used to love me very much, though we parted such ill-friends; and just now, seeing me here, she came over and asked my address, and said she should come and see me."
"Well, madame, I'll think about it," said la Peyrade, rising and bowing to her.
The bow was returned with extreme coldness; his abrupt departure did not show him to be a man of serious intentions.
It might be supposed from the lively manner in which la Peyrade made these inquiries that his cure though sudden was complete; but this surface of indifference and cool self-possession was only the stillness of the atmosphere that precedes a storm. On leaving Madame Louchard, la Peyrade flung himself into a street-cab and there gave way to a passion of tears like that Madame Colleville had witnessed on the day he believed that Cerizet had got the better of him in the sale of the house.
What was his position now? The investment of the Thuilliers, prepared with so much care, all useless; Flavie well avenged for the odious comedy he had played with her; his affairs in a worse state than they were when Cerizet and Dutocq had sent him, like a devouring wolf, into the sheepfold from which he had allowed the stupid sheep to drive him; his heart full of revengeful projects against the woman who had so easily got the better of what he thought his cleverness; and the memory, still vivid, of the seductions to which he had succumbed,—such were the thoughts and emotions of his sleepless night, sleepless except for moments shaken by agitated dreams.
The next day la Peyrade could think no more; he was a prey to fever, the violence of which became sufficiently alarming for the physician who attended him to take all precautions against the symptoms now appearing of brain fever: bleeding, cupping, leeches, and ice to his head; these were the agreeable finale to his dream of love. We must hasten to add, however, that this violent crisis in the physical led to a perfect cure of the mental being. The barrister came out of his illness with no other sentiment than cold contempt for the treacherous Hungarian, a sentiment which did not even rise to a desire for vengeance.