Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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what to think. In three days' time, if all goes well, you can, if you
choose, make a man's life a curse to him by putting thirty jokes at his
expense in print at the rate of three a day; you can, if you choose,
draw a revenue of pleasure from the actresses at your theatres; you can
wreck a good play and send all Paris running after a bad one. If Dauriat
declines to pay you for your _Marguerites_, you can make him come to
you, and meekly and humbly implore you to take two thousand francs for
them. If you have the ability, and knock off two or three articles that
threaten to spoil some of Dauriat's speculations, or to ruin a book on
which he counts, you will see him come climbing up your stairs like a
clematis, and always at the door of your dwelling. As for your novel,
the booksellers who would show you more or less politely to the door
at this moment will be standing outside your attic in a string, and
the value of the manuscript, which old Doguereau valued at four hundred
francs will rise to four thousand. These are the advantages of the
journalist's profession. So let us do our best to keep all newcomers
out of it. It needs an immense amount of brains to make your way, and a
still greater amount of luck. And here are you quibbling over your good
fortune! If we had not met to-day, you see, at Flicoteaux's, you might
have danced attendance on the booksellers for another three years,
or starved like d'Arthez in a garret. By the time that d'Arthez is as
learned as Bayle and as great a writer of prose as Rousseau, we
shall have made our fortunes, you and I, and we shall hold his in our
hands - wealth and fame to give or to hold. Finot will be a deputy and
proprietor of a great newspaper, and we shall be whatever we meant to
be - peers of France, or prisoner for debt in Sainte-Pelagie."

"So Finot will sell his paper to the highest bidder among the Ministers,
just as he sells favorable notices to Mme. Bastienne and runs down
Mlle. Virginie, saying that Mme. Bastienne's bonnets are superior to the
millinery which they praised at first!" said Lucien, recollecting that
scene in the office.

"My dear fellow, you are a simpleton," Lousteau remarked drily. "Three
years ago Finot was walking on the uppers of his boots, dining for
eighteen sous at Tabar's, and knocking off a tradesman's prospectus
(when he could get it) for ten francs. His clothes hung together by some
miracle as mysterious as the Immaculate Conception. _Now_, Finot has
a paper of his own, worth about a hundred thousand francs. What with
subscribers who pay and take no copies, genuine subscriptions, and
indirect taxes levied by his uncle, he is making twenty thousand francs
a year. He dines most sumptuously every day; he has set up a cabriolet
within the last month; and now, at last, behold him the editor of a
weekly review with a sixth share, for which he will not pay a penny, a
salary of five hundred francs per month, and another thousand francs for
supplying matter which costs him nothing, and for which the firm pays.
You yourself, to begin with, if Finot consents to pay you fifty francs
per sheet, will be only too glad to let him have two or three articles
for nothing. When you are in his position, you can judge Finot; a man
can only be tried by his peers. And for you, is there not an immense
future opening out before you, if you will blindly minister to his
enmity, attack at Finot's bidding, and praise when he gives the word?
Suppose that you yourself wish to be revenged upon somebody, you
can break a foe or friend on the wheel. You have only to say to me,
'Lousteau, let us put an end to So-and-so,' and we will kill him by a
phrase put in the paper morning by morning; and afterwards you can slay
the slain with a solemn article in Finot's weekly. Indeed, if it is a
matter of capital importance to you, Finot would allow you to bludgeon
your man in a big paper with ten or twelve thousand subscribers, _if_
you make yourself indispensable to Finot."

"Then are you sure that Florine can bring her druggist to make the
bargain?" asked Lucien, dazzled by these prospects.

"Quite sure. Now comes the interval, I will go and tell her everything
at once in a word or two; it will be settled to-night. If Florine once
has her lesson by heart, she will have all my wit and her own besides."

"And there sits that honest tradesman, gaping with open-mouthed
admiration at Florine, little suspecting that you are about to get
thirty thousand francs out of him! - - "

"More twaddle! Anybody might think that the man was going to be robbed!"
cried Lousteau. "Why, my dear boy, if the minister buys the newspaper,
the druggist may make twenty thousand francs in six months on an
investment of thirty thousand. Matifat is not looking at the newspaper,
but at Florine's prospects. As soon as it is known that Matifat and
Camusot - (for they will go shares) - that Matifat and Camusot are
proprietors of a review, the newspapers will be full of friendly notices
of Florine and Coralie. Florine's name will be made; she will perhaps
obtain an engagement in another theatre with a salary of twelve thousand
francs. In fact, Matifat will save a thousand francs every month in
dinners and presents to journalists. You know nothing of men, nor of the
way things are managed."

"Poor man!" said Lucien, "he is looking forward to an evening's

"And he will be sawn in two with arguments until Florine sees Finot's
receipt for a sixth share of the paper. And to-morrow I shall be editor
of Finot's paper, and making a thousand francs a month. The end of my
troubles is in sight!" cried Florine's lover.

Lousteau went out, and Lucien sat like one bewildered, lost in the
infinite of thought, soaring above this everyday world. In the Wooden
Galleries he had seen the wires by which the trade in books is moved; he
has seen something of the kitchen where great reputations are made;
he had been behind the scenes; he had seen the seamy side of life, the
consciences of men involved in the machinery of Paris, the mechanism of
it all. As he watched Florine on the stage he almost envied Lousteau his
good fortune; already, for a few moments he had forgotten Matifat in the
background. He was not left alone for long, perhaps for not more than
five minutes, but those minutes seemed an eternity.

Thoughts rose within him that set his soul on fire, as the spectacle
on the stage had heated his senses. He looked at the women with their
wanton eyes, all the brighter for the red paint on their cheeks, at
the gleaming bare necks, the luxuriant forms outlined by the lascivious
folds of the basquina, the very short skirts, that displayed as much
as possible of limbs encased in scarlet stockings with green clocks to
them - a disquieting vision for the pit.

A double process of corruption was working within him in parallel lines,
like two channels that will spread sooner or later in flood time and
make one. That corruption was eating into Lucien's soul, as he leaned
back in his corner, staring vacantly at the curtain, one arm resting on
the crimson velvet cushion, and his hand drooping over the edge. He felt
the fascination of the life that was offered to him, of the gleams of
light among its clouds; and this so much the more keenly because it
shone out like a blaze of fireworks against the blank darkness of his
own obscure, monotonous days of toil.

Suddenly his listless eyes became aware of a burning glance that reached
him through a rent in the curtain, and roused him from his lethargy.
Those were Coralie's eyes that glowed upon him. He lowered his head and
looked across at Camusot, who just then entered the opposite box.

That amateur was a worthy silk-mercer of the Rue des Bourdonnais, stout
and substantial, a judge in the commercial court, a father of four
children, and the husband of a second wife. At the age of fifty-six,
with a cap of gray hair on his head, he had the smug appearance of a man
who has his eighty thousand francs of income; and having been forced to
put up with a good deal that he did not like in the way of business, has
fully made up his mind to enjoy the rest of his life, and not to quit
this earth until he has had his share of cakes and ale. A brow the color
of fresh butter and florid cheeks like a monk's jowl seemed scarcely big
enough to contain his exuberant jubilation. Camusot had left his wife at
home, and they were applauding Coralie to the skies. All the rich man's
citizen vanity was summed up and gratified in Coralie; in Coralie's
lodging he gave himself the airs of a great lord of a bygone day; now,
at this moment, he felt that half of her success was his; the knowledge
that he had paid for it confirmed him in this idea. Camusot's conduct
was sanctioned by the presence of his father-in-law, a little old fogy
with powdered hair and leering eyes, highly respected nevertheless.

Again Lucien felt disgust rising within him. He thought of the year when
he loved Mme. de Bargeton with an exalted and disinterested love; and
at that thought love, as a poet understands it, spread its white wings
about him; countless memories drew a circle of distant blue horizon
about the great man of Angouleme, and again he fell to dreaming.

Up went the curtain, and there stood Coralie and Florine upon the stage.

"He is thinking about as much of you as of the Grand Turk, my dear
girl," Florine said in an aside while Coralie was finishing her speech.

Lucien could not help laughing. He looked at Coralie. She was one of the
most charming and captivating actresses in Paris, rivaling Mme. Perrin
and Mlle. Fleuriet, and destined likewise to share their fate. Coralie
was a woman of a type that exerts at will a power of fascination over
men. With an oval face of deep ivory tint, a mouth red as a pomegranate,
and a chin subtly delicate in its contour as the edge of a porcelain
cup, Coralie was a Jewess of the sublime type. The jet black eyes behind
their curving lashes seemed to scorch her eyelids; you could guess how
soft they might grow, or how sparks of the heat of the desert might
flash from them in response to a summons from within. The circles of
olive shadow about them were bounded by thick arching lines of eyebrow.
Magnificent mental power, well-nigh amounting to genius, seemed to dwell
in the swarthy forehead beneath the double curve of ebony hair that lay
upon it like a crown, and gleamed in the light like a varnished surface;
but like many another actress, Coralie had little wit in spite of her
aptness at greenroom repartee, and scarcely any education in spite
of her boudoir experience. Her brain was prompted by her senses, her
kindness was the impulsive warm-heartedness of girls of her class. But
who could trouble over Coralie's psychology when his eyes were dazzled
by those smooth, round arms of hers, the spindle-shaped fingers, the
fair white shoulders, and breast celebrated in the Song of Songs,
the flexible curving lines of throat, the graciously moulded outlines
beneath the scarlet silk stockings? And this beauty, worthy of an
Eastern poet, was brought into relief by the conventional Spanish
costume of the stage. Coralie was the delight of the pit; all eyes
dwelt on the outlines moulded by the clinging folds of her bodice, and
lingered over the Andalusian contour of the hips from which her skirt
hung, fluttering wantonly with every movement. To Lucien, watching this
creature, who played for him alone, caring no more for Camusot than a
street-boy in the gallery cares for an apple-paring, there came a moment
when he set desire above love, and enjoyment above desire, and the demon
of Lust stirred strange thoughts in him.

"I know nothing of the love that wallows in luxury and wine and sensual
pleasure," he said within himself. "I have lived more with ideas than
with realities. You must pass through all experience if you mean to
render all experience. This will be my first great supper, my first
orgy in a new and strange world; why should I not know, for once, the
delights which the great lords of the eighteenth century sought so
eagerly of wantons of the Opera? Must one not first learn of courtesans
and actresses the delights, the perfections, the transports, the
resources, the subtleties of love, if only to translate them afterwards
into the regions of a higher love than this? And what is all this, after
all, but the poetry of the senses? Two months ago these women seemed to
me to be goddesses guarded by dragons that no one dared approach; I was
envying Lousteau just now, but here is another handsomer than Florine;
why should I not profit by her fancy, when the greatest nobles buy a
night with such women with their richest treasures? When ambassadors
set foot in these depths, they fling aside all thought of yesterday
or to-morrow. I should be a fool to be more squeamish than princes,
especially as I love no one as yet."

Lucien had quite forgotten Camusot. To Lousteau he had expressed the
utmost disgust for this most hateful of all partitions, and now he
himself had sunk to the same level, and, carried away by the casuistry
of his vehement desire, had given the reins to his fancy.

"Coralie is raving about you," said Lousteau as he came in. "Your
countenance, worthy of the greatest Greek sculptors, has worked
unutterable havoc behind the scenes. You are in luck my dear boy.
Coralie is eighteen years old, and in a few days' time she may be making
sixty thousand francs a year by her beauty. She is an honest girl still.
Since her mother sold her three years ago for sixty thousand francs, she
has tried to find happiness, and found nothing but annoyance. She
took to the stage in a desperate mood; she has a horror of her first
purchaser, de Marsay; and when she came out of the galleys, for the king
of dandies soon dropped her, she picked up old Camusot. She does not
care much about him, but he is like a father to her, and she endures
him and his love. Several times already she has refused the handsomest
proposals; she is faithful to Camusot, who lets her live in peace. So
you are her first love. The first sight of you went to her heart like a
pistol-shot, Florine has gone to her dressing-room to bring the girl to
reason. She is crying over your cruelty; she has forgotten her part, the
play will go to pieces, and good-day to the engagement at the Gymnase
which Camusot had planned for her."

"Pooh!... Poor thing!" said Lucien. Every instinct of vanity was tickled
by the words; he felt his heart swell high with self-conceit. "More
adventures have befallen me in this one evening, my dear fellow, than in
all the first eighteen years of my life." And Lucien related the history
of his love affairs with Mme. de Bargeton, and of the cordial hatred he
bore the Baron du Chatelet.

"Stay though! the newspaper wants a _bete noire_; we will take him up.
The Baron is a buck of the Empire and a Ministerialist; he is the man
for us; I have seen him many a time at the Opera. I can see your great
lady as I sit here; she is often in the Marquise d'Espard's box. The
Baron is paying court to your lady love, a cuttlefish bone that she is.
Wait! Finot has just sent a special messenger round to say that they are
short of copy at the office. Young Hector Merlin has left them in the
lurch because they did not pay for white lines. Finot, in despair, is
knocking off an article against the Opera. Well now, my dear fellow, you
can do this play; listen to it and think it over, and I will go to the
manager's office and think out three columns about your man and your
disdainful fair one. They will be in no pleasant predicament to-morrow."

"So this is how a newspaper is written?" said Lucien.

"It is always like this," answered Lousteau. "These ten months that
I have been a journalist, they have always run short of copy at eight
o'clock in the evening."

Manuscript sent to the printer is spoken of as "copy," doubtless because
the writers are supposed to send in a fair copy of their work; or
possibly the word is ironically derived from the Latin word _copia_, for
copy is invariably scarce.

"We always mean to have a few numbers ready in advance, a grand idea
that will never be realized," continued Lousteau. "It is ten o'clock,
you see, and not a line has been written. I shall ask Vernou and Nathan
for a score of epigrams on deputies, or on 'Chancellor Cruzoe,' or on
the Ministry, or on friends of ours if it needs must be. A man in this
pass would slaughter his parent, just as a privateer will load his guns
with silver pieces taken out of the booty sooner than perish. Write
a brilliant article, and you will make brilliant progress in Finot's
estimation; for Finot has a lively sense of benefits to come, and that
sort of gratitude is better than any kind of pledge, pawntickets always
excepted, for they invariably represent something solid."

"What kind of men can journalists be? Are you to sit down at a table and
be witty to order?"

"Just exactly as a lamp begins to burn when you apply a match - so long
as there is any oil in it."

Lousteau's hand was on the lock when du Bruel came in with the manager.

"Permit me, monsieur, to take a message to Coralie; allow me to tell her
that you will go home with her after supper, or my play will be ruined.
The wretched girl does not know what she is doing or saying; she will
cry when she ought to laugh and laugh when she ought to cry. She has
been hissed once already. You can still save the piece, and, after all,
pleasure is not a misfortune."

"I am not accustomed to rivals, sir," Lucien answered.

"Pray don't tell her that!" cried the manager. "Coralie is just the
girl to fling Camusot overboard and ruin herself in good earnest. The
proprietor of the _Golden Cocoon_, worthy man, allows her two thousand
francs a month, and pays for all her dresses and _claqueurs_."

"As your promise pledges me to nothing, save your play," said Lucien,
with a sultan's airs.

"But don't look as if you meant to snub that charming creature," pleaded
du Bruel.

"Dear me! am I to write the notice of your play and smile on your
heroine as well?" exclaimed the poet.

The author vanished with a signal to Coralie, who began to act forthwith
in a marvelous way. Vignol, who played the part of the alcalde, and
revealed for the first time his genius as an actor of old men, came
forward amid a storm of applause to make an announcement to the house.

"The piece which we have the honor of playing for you this evening,
gentlemen, is the work of MM. Raoul and de Cursy."

"Why, Nathan is partly responsible," said Lousteau. "I don't wonder that
he looked in."

"Coralie_! Coralie_!" shouted the enraptured house. "Florine, too!"
roared a voice of thunder from the opposite box, and other voices took
up the cry, "Florine and Coralie!"

The curtain rose, Vignol reappeared between the two actresses; Matifat
and Camusot flung wreaths on the stage, and Coralie stooped for her
flowers and held them out to Lucien.

For him those two hours spent in the theatre seemed to be a dream. The
spell that held him had begun to work when he went behind the scenes;
and, in spite of its horrors, the atmosphere of the place, its
sensuality and dissolute morals had affected the poet's still untainted
nature. A sort of malaria that infects the soul seems to lurk among
those dark, filthy passages filled with machinery, and lit with smoky,
greasy lamps. The solemnity and reality of life disappear, the most
sacred things are matter for a jest, the most impossible things seem to
be true. Lucien felt as if he had taken some narcotic, and Coralie had
completed the work. He plunged into this joyous intoxication.

The lights in the great chandelier were extinguished; there was no one
left in the house except the boxkeepers, busy taking away footstools and
shutting doors, the noises echoing strangely through the empty theatre.
The footlights, blown out as one candle, sent up a fetid reek of smoke.
The curtain rose again, a lantern was lowered from the ceiling, and
firemen and stage carpenters departed on their rounds. The fairy scenes
of the stage, the rows of fair faces in the boxes, the dazzling lights,
the magical illusion of new scenery and costume had all disappeared,
and dismal darkness, emptiness, and cold reigned in their stead. It was
hideous. Lucien sat on in bewilderment.

"Well! are you coming, my boy?" Lousteau's voice called from the stage.
"Jump down."

Lucien sprang over. He scarcely recognized Florine and Coralie in their
ordinary quilted paletots and cloaks, with their faces hidden by hats
and thick black veils. Two butterflies returned to the chrysalis stage
could not be more completely transformed.

"Will you honor me by giving me your arm?" Coralie asked tremulously.

"With pleasure," said Lucien. He could feel the beating of her heart
throbbing against his like some snared bird as she nestled closely
to his side, with something of the delight of a cat that rubs herself
against her master with eager silken caresses.

"So we are supping together!" she said.

The party of four found two cabs waiting for them at the door in the Rue
des Fosses-du-Temple. Coralie drew Lucien to one of the two, in which
Camusot and his father-in-law old Cardot were seated already. She
offered du Bruel a fifth place, and the manager drove off with Florine,
Matifat, and Lousteau.

"These hackney cabs are abominable things," said Coralie.

"Why don't you have a carriage?" returned du Bruel.

"_Why_?" she asked pettishly. "I do not like to tell you before M.
Cardot's face; for he trained his son-in-law, no doubt. Would you
believe it, little and old as he is, M. Cardot only gives Florine five
hundred francs a month, just about enough to pay for her rent and her
grub and her clothes. The old Marquis de Rochegude offered me a brougham
two months ago, and he has six hundred thousand francs a year, but I am
an artist and not a common hussy."

"You shall have a carriage the day after to-morrow, miss," said Camusot
benignly; "you never asked me for one."

"As if one _asked_ for such a thing as that? What! you love a woman and
let her paddle about in the mud at the risk of breaking her legs? Nobody
but a knight of the yardstick likes to see a draggled skirt hem."

As she uttered the sharp words that cut Camusot to the quick, she groped
for Lucien's knee, and pressed it against her own, and clasped her
fingers upon his hand. She was silent. All her power to feel seemed
to be concentrated upon the ineffable joy of a moment which brings
compensation for the whole wretched past of a life such as these poor
creatures lead, and develops within their souls a poetry of which other
women, happily ignorant of these violent revulsions, know nothing.

"You played like Mlle. Mars herself towards the end," said du Bruel.

"Yes," said Camusot, "something put her out at the beginning; but from
the middle of the second act to the very end, she was enough to drive
you wild with admiration. Half of the success of your play was due to

"And half of her success is due to me," said du Bruel.

"This is all much ado about nothing," said Coralie in an unfamiliar
voice. And, seizing an opportunity in the darkness, she carried Lucien's
hand to her lips and kissed it and drenched it with tears. Lucien felt
thrilled through and through by that touch, for in the humility of the
courtesan's love there is a magnificence which might set an example to

"Are you writing the dramatic criticism, monsieur?" said du Bruel,
addressing Lucien; "you can write a charming paragraph about our dear

"Oh! do us that little service!" pleaded Camusot, down on his knees,
metaphorically speaking, before the critic. "You will always find me
ready to do you a good turn at any time."

"Do leave him his independence," Coralie exclaimed angrily; "he will
write what he pleases. Papa Camusot, buy carriages for me instead of

"You shall have them on very easy terms," Lucien answered politely.
"I have never written for newspapers before, so I am not accustomed to
their ways, my maiden pen is at your disposal - - "

"That is funny," said du Bruel.

"Here we are in the Rue de Bondy," said Cardot. Coralie's sally had
quite crushed the little old man.

"If you are giving me the first fruits of your pen, the first love that
has sprung up in my heart shall be yours," whispered Coralie in the
brief instant that they remained alone together in the cab; then
she went up to Florine's bedroom to change her dress for a toilette
previously sent.

Lucien had no idea how lavishly a prosperous merchant will spend money

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 13 of 29)