Honoré de Balzac.

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Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny


(Lost Illusions, Part II)

By Honore De Balzac

Translated By Ellen Marriage


A Distinguished Provincial at Paris is part two of a trilogy. Part one,
Two Poets, begins the story of Lucien, his sister Eve, and his friend
David in the provincial town of Angouleme. Part two is centered on
Lucien's Parisian life. Part three, Eve and David, reverts to the
setting of Angouleme. In many references parts one and three are
combined under the title Lost Illusions and A Distinguished Provincial
at Paris is given its individual title. Following this trilogy Lucien's
story is continued in another book, Scenes from a Courtesan's Life.



Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien de Rubempre had left Angouleme behind, and
were traveling together upon the road to Paris. Not one of the party who
made that journey alluded to it afterwards; but it may be believed
that an infatuated youth who had looked forward to the delights of
an elopement, must have found the continual presence of Gentil, the
man-servant, and Albertine, the maid, not a little irksome on the way.
Lucien, traveling post for the first time in his life, was horrified to
see pretty nearly the whole sum on which he meant to live in Paris for
a twelvemonth dropped along the road. Like other men who combine great
intellectual powers with the charming simplicity of childhood, he openly
expressed his surprise at the new and wonderful things which he saw, and
thereby made a mistake. A man should study a woman very carefully before
he allows her to see his thoughts and emotions as they arise in him.
A woman, whose nature is large as her heart is tender, can smile upon
childishness, and make allowances; but let her have ever so small
a spice of vanity herself, and she cannot forgive childishness, or
littleness, or vanity in her lover. Many a woman is so extravagant a
worshiper that she must always see the god in her idol; but there are
yet others who love a man for his sake and not for their own, and adore
his failings with his greater qualities.

Lucien had not guessed as yet that Mme. de Bargeton's love was grafted
on pride. He made another mistake when he failed to discern the meaning
of certain smiles which flitted over Louise's lips from time to
time; and instead of keeping himself to himself, he indulged in the
playfulness of the young rat emerging from his hole for the first time.

The travelers were set down before daybreak at the sign of the
Gaillard-Bois in the Rue de l'Echelle, both so tired out with the
journey that Louise went straight to bed and slept, first bidding Lucien
to engage the room immediately overhead. Lucien slept on till four
o'clock in the afternoon, when he was awakened by Mme. de Bargeton's
servant, and learning the hour, made a hasty toilet and hurried

Louise was sitting in the shabby inn sitting-room. Hotel accommodation
is a blot on the civilization of Paris; for with all its pretensions to
elegance, the city as yet does not boast a single inn where a well-to-do
traveler can find the surroundings to which he is accustomed at home.
To Lucien's just-awakened, sleep-dimmed eyes, Louise was hardly
recognizable in this cheerless, sunless room, with the shabby
window-curtains, the comfortless polished floor, the hideous furniture
bought second-hand, or much the worse for wear.

Some people no longer look the same when detached from the background
of faces, objects, and surroundings which serve as a setting, without
which, indeed, they seem to lose something of their intrinsic worth.
Personality demands its appropriate atmosphere to bring out its values,
just as the figures in Flemish interiors need the arrangement of light
and shade in which they are placed by the painter's genius if they
are to live for us. This is especially true of provincials. Mme. de
Bargeton, moreover, looked more thoughtful and dignified than was
necessary now, when no barriers stood between her and happiness.

Gentil and Albertine waited upon them, and while they were present
Lucien could not complain. The dinner, sent in from a neighboring
restaurant, fell far below the provincial average, both in quantity
and quality; the essential goodness of country fare was wanting, and
in point of quantity the portions were cut with so strict an eye to
business that they savored of short commons. In such small matters Paris
does not show its best side to travelers of moderate fortune. Lucien
waited till the meal was over. Some change had come over Louise, he
thought, but he could not explain it.

And a change had, in fact, taken place. Events had occurred while he
slept; for reflection is an event in our inner history, and Mme. de
Bargeton had been reflecting.

About two o'clock that afternoon, Sixte du Chatelet made his appearance
in the Rue de l'Echelle and asked for Albertine. The sleeping damsel
was roused, and to her he expressed his wish to speak with her mistress.
Mme. de Bargeton had scarcely time to dress before he came back again.
The unaccountable apparition of M. du Chatelet roused the lady's
curiosity, for she had kept her journey a profound secret, as she
thought. At three o'clock the visitor was admitted.

"I have risked a reprimand from headquarters to follow you," he said, as
he greeted her; "I foresaw coming events. But if I lose my post for it,
YOU, at any rate, shall not be lost."

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Mme. de Bargeton.

"I can see plainly that you love Lucien," he continued, with an air
of tender resignation. "You must love indeed if _you_ can act thus
recklessly, and disregard the conventions which you know so well. Dear
adored Nais, can you really imagine that Mme. d'Espard's salon, or any
other salon in Paris, will not be closed to you as soon as it is
known that you have fled from Angouleme, as it were, with a young man,
especially after the duel between M. de Bargeton and M. de Chandour? The
fact that your husband has gone to the Escarbas looks like a separation.
Under such circumstances a gentleman fights first and afterwards leaves
his wife at liberty. By all means, give M. de Rubempre your love and
your countenance; do just as you please; but you must not live in
the same house. If anybody here in Paris knew that you had traveled
together, the whole world that you have a mind to see would point the
finger at you.

"And, Nais, do not make these sacrifices for a young man whom you have
as yet compared with no one else; he, on his side, has been put to no
proof; he may forsake you for some Parisienne, better able, as he may
fancy, to further his ambitions. I mean no harm to the man you love, but
you will permit me to put your own interests before his, and to beg you
to study him, to be fully aware of the serious nature of this step that
you are taking. And, then, if you find all doors closed against you, and
that none of the women call upon you, make sure at least that you will
feel no regret for all that you have renounced for him. Be very certain
first that he for whom you will have given up so much will always be
worthy of your sacrifices and appreciate them.

"Just now," continued Chatelet, "Mme. d'Espard is the more prudish and
particular because she herself is separated from her husband, nobody
knows why. The Navarreins, the Lenoncourts, the Blamont-Chauvrys,
and the rest of the relations have all rallied round her; the most
strait-laced women are seen at her house, and receive her with respect,
and the Marquis d'Espard has been put in the wrong. The first call that
you pay will make it clear to you that I am right; indeed, knowing Paris
as I do, I can tell you beforehand that you will no sooner enter the
Marquise's salon than you will be in despair lest she should find out
that you are staying at the Gaillard-Bois with an apothecary's son,
though he may wish to be called M. de Rubempre.

"You will have rivals here, women far more astute and shrewd than
Amelie; they will not fail to discover who you are, where you are, where
you come from, and all that you are doing. You have counted upon your
incognito, I see, but you are one of those women for whom an incognito
is out of the question. You will meet Angouleme at every turn. There are
the deputies from the Charente coming up for the opening of the session;
there is the Commandant in Paris on leave. Why, the first man or woman
from Angouleme who happens to see you would cut your career short in a
strange fashion. You would simply be Lucien's mistress.

"If you need me at any time, I am staying with the Receiver-General in
the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, two steps away from Mme. d'Espard's.
I am sufficiently acquainted with the Marechale de Carigliano, Mme.
de Serizy, and the President of the Council to introduce you to those
houses; but you will meet so many people at Mme. d'Espard's, that you
are not likely to require me. So far from wishing to gain admittance to
this set or that, every one will be longing to make your acquaintance."

Chatelet talked on; Mme. de Bargeton made no interruption. She was
struck with his perspicacity. The queen of Angouleme had, in fact,
counted upon preserving her incognito.

"You are right, my dear friend," she said at length; "but what am I to

"Allow me to find suitable furnished lodgings for you," suggested
Chatelet; "that way of living is less expensive than an inn. You will
have a home of your own; and, if you will take my advice, you will sleep
in your new rooms this very night."

"But how did you know my address?" queried she.

"Your traveling carriage is easily recognized; and, besides, I was
following you. At Sevres your postilion told mine that he had brought
you here. Will you permit me to act as your harbinger? I will write as
soon as I have found lodgings."

"Very well, do so," said she. And in those seemingly insignificant
words, all was said. The Baron du Chatelet had spoken the language
of worldly wisdom to a woman of the world. He had made his appearance
before her in faultless dress, a neat cab was waiting for him at the
door; and Mme. de Bargeton, standing by the window thinking over the
position, chanced to see the elderly dandy drive away.

A few moments later Lucien appeared, half awake and hastily dressed.
He was handsome, it is true; but his clothes, his last year's nankeen
trousers, and his shabby tight jacket were ridiculous. Put Antinous
or the Apollo Belvedere himself into a water-carrier's blouse, and how
shall you recognize the godlike creature of the Greek or Roman chisel?
The eyes note and compare before the heart has time to revise the swift
involuntary judgment; and the contrast between Lucien and Chatelet was
so abrupt that it could not fail to strike Louise.

Towards six o'clock that evening, when dinner was over, Mme. de Bargeton
beckoned Lucien to sit beside her on the shabby sofa, covered with a
flowered chintz - a yellow pattern on a red ground.

"Lucien mine," she said, "don't you think that if we have both of us
done a foolish thing, suicidal for both our interests, it would only
be common sense to set matters right? We ought not to live together
in Paris, dear boy, and we must not allow anyone to suspect that we
traveled together. Your career depends so much upon my position that I
ought to do nothing to spoil it. So, to-night, I am going to remove into
lodgings near by. But you will stay on here, we can see each other every
day, and nobody can say a word against us."

And Louise explained conventions to Lucien, who opened wide eyes. He had
still to learn that when a woman thinks better of her folly, she thinks
better of her love; but one thing he understood - he saw that he was
no longer the Lucien of Angouleme. Louise talked of herself, of _her_
interests, _her_ reputation, and of the world; and, to veil her egoism,
she tried to make him believe that this was all on his account. He had
no claim upon Louise thus suddenly transformed into Mme. de Bargeton,
and, more serious still, he had no power over her. He could not keep
back the tears that filled his eyes.

"If I am your glory," cried the poet, "you are yet more to me - you are
my one hope, my whole future rests with you. I thought that if you meant
to make my successes yours, you would surely make my adversity yours
also, and here we are going to part already."

"You are judging my conduct," said she; "you do not love me."

Lucien looked at her with such a dolorous expression, that in spite of
herself, she said:

"Darling, I will stay if you like. We shall both be ruined, we shall
have no one to come to our aid. But when we are both equally wretched,
and every one shuts their door upon us both, when failure (for we must
look all possibilities in the face), when failure drives us back to the
Escarbas, then remember, love, that I foresaw the end, and that at
the first I proposed that we should make your way by conforming to
established rules."

"Louise," he cried, with his arms around her, "you are wise; you
frighten me! Remember that I am a child, that I have given myself up
entirely to your dear will. I myself should have preferred to overcome
obstacles and win my way among men by the power that is in me; but if I
can reach the goal sooner through your aid, I shall be very glad to owe
all my success to you. Forgive me! You mean so much to me that I cannot
help fearing all kinds of things; and, for me, parting means that
desertion is at hand, and desertion is death."

"But, my dear boy, the world's demands are soon satisfied," returned
she. "You must sleep here; that is all. All day long you will be with
me, and no one can say a word."

A few kisses set Lucien's mind completely at rest. An hour later Gentil
brought in a note from Chatelet. He told Mme. de Bargeton that he had
found lodgings for her in the Rue Nueve-de-Luxembourg. Mme. de Bargeton
informed herself of the exact place, and found that it was not very far
from the Rue de l'Echelle. "We shall be neighbors," she told Lucien.

Two hours afterwards Louise stepped into the hired carriage sent by
Chatelet for the removal to the new rooms. The apartments were of the
class that upholsterers furnish and let to wealthy deputies and persons
of consideration on a short visit to Paris - showy and uncomfortable. It
was eleven o'clock when Lucien returned to his inn, having seen nothing
as yet of Paris except the part of the Rue Saint-Honore which lies
between the Rue Neuve-de-Luxembourg and the Rue de l'Echelle. He lay
down in his miserable little room, and could not help comparing it in
his own mind with Louise's sumptuous apartments.

Just as he came away the Baron du Chatelet came in, gorgeously arrayed
in evening dress, fresh from the Minister for Foreign Affairs, to
inquire whether Mme. de Bargeton was satisfied with all that he had done
on her behalf. Nais was uneasy. The splendor was alarming to her mind.
Provincial life had reacted upon her; she was painfully conscientious
over her accounts, and economical to a degree that is looked upon as
miserly in Paris. She had brought with her twenty thousand francs in the
shape of a draft on the Receiver-General, considering that the sum would
more than cover the expenses of four years in Paris; she was afraid
already lest she should not have enough, and should run into debt; and
now Chatelet told her that her rooms would only cost six hundred francs
per month.

"A mere trifle," added he, seeing that Nais was startled. "For five
hundred francs a month you can have a carriage from a livery stable;
fifty louis in all. You need only think of your dress. A woman moving
in good society could not well do less; and if you mean to obtain a
Receiver-General's appointment for M. de Bargeton, or a post in the
Household, you ought not to look poverty-stricken. Here, in Paris, they
only give to the rich. It is most fortunate that you brought Gentil
to go out with you, and Albertine for your own woman, for servants are
enough to ruin you here. But with your introductions you will seldom be
home to a meal."

Mme. de Bargeton and the Baron de Chatelet chatted about Paris. Chatelet
gave her all the news of the day, the myriad nothings that you are bound
to know, under penalty of being a nobody. Before very long the Baron
also gave advice as to shopping, recommending Herbault for toques and
Juliette for hats and bonnets; he added the address of a fashionable
dressmaker to supersede Victorine. In short, he made the lady see the
necessity of rubbing off Angouleme. Then he took his leave after a final
flash of happy inspiration.

"I expect I shall have a box at one of the theatres to-morrow," he
remarked carelessly; "I will call for you and M. de Rubempre, for you
must allow me to do the honors of Paris."

"There is more generosity in his character than I thought," said Mme. de
Bargeton to herself when Lucien was included in the invitation.

In the month of June ministers are often puzzled to know what to do with
boxes at the theatre; ministerialist deputies and their constituents
are busy in their vineyards or harvest fields, and their more exacting
acquaintances are in the country or traveling about; so it comes to
pass that the best seats are filled at this season with heterogeneous
theatre-goers, never seen at any other time of year, and the house is
apt to look as if it were tapestried with very shabby material. Chatelet
had thought already that this was his opportunity of giving Nais the
amusements which provincials crave most eagerly, and that with very
little expense.

The next morning, the very first morning in Paris, Lucien went to the
Rue Nueve-de-Luxembourg and found that Louise had gone out. She had gone
to make some indispensable purchases, to take counsel of the mighty and
illustrious authorities in the matter of the feminine toilette, pointed
out to her by Chatelet, for she had written to tell the Marquise
d'Espard of her arrival. Mme. de Bargeton possessed the self-confidence
born of a long habit of rule, but she was exceedingly afraid of
appearing to be provincial. She had tact enough to know how greatly the
relations of women among themselves depend upon first impressions; and
though she felt that she was equal to taking her place at once in such a
distinguished set as Mme. de d'Espard's, she felt also that she stood in
need of goodwill at her first entrance into society, and was resolved,
in the first place, that she would leave nothing undone to secure
success. So she felt boundlessly thankful to Chatelet for pointing out
these ways of putting herself in harmony with the fashionable world.

A singular chance so ordered it that the Marquise was delighted to find
an opportunity of being useful to a connection of her husband's family.
The Marquis d'Espard had withdrawn himself without apparent reason from
society, and ceased to take any active interest in affairs, political or
domestic. His wife, thus left mistress of her actions, felt the need of
the support of public opinion, and was glad to take the Marquis' place
and give her countenance to one of her husband's relations. She meant to
be ostentatiously gracious, so as to put her husband more evidently
in the wrong; and that very day she wrote, "Mme. de Bargeton _nee_
Negrepelisse" a charming billet, one of the prettily worded compositions
of which time alone can discover the emptiness.

"She was delighted that circumstances had brought a relative, of whom
she had heard, whose acquaintance she had desired to make, into closer
connection with her family. Friendships in Paris were not so solid but
that she longed to find one more to love on earth; and if this might not
be, there would only be one more illusion to bury with the rest. She put
herself entirely at her cousin's disposal. She would have called upon
her if indisposition had not kept her to the house, and she felt that
she lay already under obligations to the cousin who had thought of her."

Lucien, meanwhile, taking his first ramble along the Rue de la Paix and
through the Boulevards, like all newcomers, was much more interested in
the things that he saw than in the people he met. The general effect of
Paris is wholly engrossing at first. The wealth in the shop windows, the
high houses, the streams of traffic, the contrast everywhere between the
last extremes of luxury and want struck him more than anything else. In
his astonishment at the crowds of strange faces, the man of imaginative
temper felt as if he himself had shrunk, as it were, immensely. A man of
any consequence in his native place, where he cannot go out but he meets
with some recognition of his importance at every step, does not readily
accustom himself to the sudden and total extinction of his consequence.
You are somebody in your own country, in Paris you are nobody.
The transition between the first state and the last should be made
gradually, for the too abrupt fall is something like annihilation.
Paris could not fail to be an appalling wilderness for a young poet,
who looked for an echo for all his sentiments, a confidant for all his
thoughts, a soul to share his least sensations.

Lucien had not gone in search of his luggage and his best blue coat; and
painfully conscious of the shabbiness, to say no worse, of his clothes,
he went to Mme. de Bargeton, feeling that she must have returned. He
found the Baron du Chatelet, who carried them both off to dinner at the
_Rocher de Cancale_. Lucien's head was dizzy with the whirl of Paris,
the Baron was in the carriage, he could say nothing to Louise, but he
squeezed her hand, and she gave a warm response to the mute confidence.

After dinner Chatelet took his guests to the Vaudeville. Lucien, in his
heart, was not over well pleased to see Chatelet again, and cursed the
chance that had brought the Baron to Paris. The Baron said that
ambition had brought him to town; he had hopes of an appointment as
secretary-general to a government department, and meant to take a seat
in the Council of State as Master of Requests. He had come to Paris to
ask for fulfilment of the promises that had been given him, for a man of
his stamp could not be expected to remain a comptroller all his life;
he would rather be nothing at all, and offer himself for election as
deputy, or re-enter diplomacy. Chatelet grew visibly taller; Lucien
dimly began to recognize in this elderly beau the superiority of the man
of the world who knows Paris; and, most of all, he felt ashamed to owe
his evening's amusement to his rival. And while the poet looked ill
at ease and awkward Her Royal Highness' ex-secretary was quite in his
element. He smiled at his rival's hesitations, at his astonishment, at
the questions he put, at the little mistakes which the latter ignorantly
made, much as an old salt laughs at an apprentice who has not found his
sea legs; but Lucien's pleasure at seeing a play for the first time in
Paris outweighed the annoyance of these small humiliations.

That evening marked an epoch in Lucien's career; he put away a good
many of his ideas as to provincial life in the course of it. His
horizon widened; society assumed different proportions. There were
fair Parisiennes in fresh and elegant toilettes all about him; Mme. de
Bargeton's costume, tolerably ambitious though it was, looked dowdy by
comparison; the material, like the fashion and the color, was out of
date. That way of arranging her hair, so bewitching in Angouleme, looked
frightfully ugly here among the daintily devised coiffures which he saw
in every direction.

"Will she always look like that?" said he to himself, ignorant that the
morning had been spent in preparing a transformation.

In the provinces comparison and choice are out of the question; when
a face has grown familiar it comes to possess a certain beauty that is
taken for granted. But transport the pretty woman of the provinces to
Paris, and no one takes the slightest notice of her; her prettiness is
of the comparative degree illustrated by the saying that among the blind
the one-eyed are kings. Lucien's eyes were now busy comparing Mme. de
Bargeton with other women, just as she herself had contrasted him
with Chatelet on the previous day. And Mme. de Bargeton, on her part,
permitted herself some strange reflections upon her lover. The poet cut
a poor figure notwithstanding his singular beauty. The sleeves of his
jacket were too short; with his ill-cut country gloves and a waistcoat
too scanty for him, he looked prodigiously ridiculous, compared with
the young men in the balcony - "positively pitiable," thought Mme. de

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 1 of 29)