Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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thus Lucien passed under the Caudine Forks.

"Poor pet," said Coralie, holding him tightly to her, "do you love me
so much? - I persuaded this gentleman to call on me this morning,"
she continued, indicating Lucien to Camusot, who entered the room. "I
thought that we might take a drive in the Champs Elysees to try the

"Go without me," said Camusot in a melancholy voice; "I shall not dine
with you. It is my wife's birthday, I had forgotten that."

"Poor Musot, how badly bored you will be!" she said, putting her arms
about his neck.

She was wild with joy at the thought that she and Lucien would handsel
this gift together; she would drive with him in the new carriage; and
in her happiness, she seemed to love Camusot, she lavished caresses upon

"If only I could give you a carriage every day!" said the poor fellow.

"Now, sir, it is two o'clock," she said, turning to Lucien, who stood in
distress and confusion, but she comforted him with an adorable gesture.

Down the stairs she went, several steps at a time, drawing Lucien after
her; the elderly merchant following in their wake like a seal on land,
and quite unable to catch them up.

Lucien enjoyed the most intoxicating of pleasures; happiness had
increased Coralie's loveliness to the highest possible degree; she
appeared before all eyes an exquisite vision in her dainty toilette. All
Paris in the Champs Elysees beheld the lovers.

In an avenue of the Bois de Boulogne they met a caleche; Mme. d'Espard
and Mme. de Bargeton looked in surprise at Lucien, and met a scornful
glance from the poet. He saw glimpses of a great future before him, and
was about to make his power felt. He could fling them back in a glance
some of the revengeful thoughts which had gnawed his heart ever since
they planted them there. That moment was one of the sweetest in his
life, and perhaps decided his fate. Once again the Furies seized on
Lucien at the bidding of Pride. He would reappear in the world of
Paris; he would take a signal revenge; all the social pettiness hitherto
trodden under foot by the worker, the member of the brotherhood, sprang
up again afresh in his soul.

Now he understood all that Lousteau's attack had meant. Lousteau had
served his passions; while the brotherhood, that collective mentor, had
seemed to mortify them in the interests of tiresome virtues and work
which began to look useless and hopeless in Lucien's eyes. Work! What is
it but death to an eager pleasure-loving nature? And how easy it is
for the man of letters to slide into a _far niente_ existence of
self-indulgence, into the luxurious ways of actresses and women of easy
virtues! Lucien felt an overmastering desire to continue the reckless
life of the last two days.

The dinner at the _Rocher de Cancale_ was exquisite. All Florine's
supper guests were there except the Minister, the Duke, and the dancer;
Camusot, too, was absent; but these gaps were filled by two famous
actors and Hector Merlin and his mistress. This charming woman, who
chose to be known as Mme. du Val-Noble, was the handsomest and most
fashionable of the class of women now euphemistically styled _lorettes_.

Lucien had spent the forty-eight hours since the success of his article
in paradise. He was feted and envied; he gained self-possession; his
talk sparkled; he was the brilliant Lucien de Rubempre who shone for a
few months in the world of letters and art. Finot, with his infallible
instinct for discovering ability, scenting it afar as an ogre might
scent human flesh, cajoled Lucien, and did his best to secure a recruit
for the squadron under his command. And Coralie watched the manoeuvres
of this purveyor of brains, saw that Lucien was nibbling at the bait,
and tried to put him on his guard.

"Don't make any engagement, dear boy; wait. They want to exploit you; we
will talk of it to-night."

"Pshaw!" said Lucien. "I am sure I am quite as sharp and shrewd as they
can be."

Finot and Hector Merlin evidently had not fallen out over that affair
of the white lines and spaces in the columns, for it was Finot who
introduced Lucien to the journalist. Coralie and Mme. du Val-Noble were
overwhelmingly amiable and polite to each other, and Mme. du Val-Noble
asked Lucien and Coralie to dine with her.

Hector Merlin, short and thin, with lips always tightly compressed, was
the most dangerous journalist present. Unbounded ambition and jealousy
smouldered within him; he took pleasure in the pain of others, and
fomented strife to turn it to his own account. His abilities were but
slender, and he had little force of character, but the natural instinct
which draws the upstart towards money and power served him as well
as fixity of purpose. Lucien and Merlin at once took a dislike to one
another, for reasons not far to seek. Merlin, unfortunately, proclaimed
aloud the thoughts that Lucien kept to himself. By the time the dessert
was put on the table, the most touching friendship appeared to prevail
among the men, each one of whom in his heart thought himself a cleverer
fellow than the rest; and Lucien as the newcomer was made much of by
them all. They chatted frankly and unrestrainedly. Hector Merlin, alone,
did not join in the laughter. Lucien asked the reason of his reserve.

"You are just entering the world of letters, I can see," he said.
"You are a journalist with all your illusions left. You believe in
friendship. Here we are friends or foes, as it happens; we strike down a
friend with the weapon which by rights should only be turned against an
enemy. You will find out, before very long, that fine sentiments will do
nothing for you. If you are naturally kindly, learn to be ill-natured,
to be consistently spiteful. If you have never heard this golden rule
before, I give it you now in confidence, and it is no small secret. If
you have a mind to be loved, never leave your mistress until you
have made her shed a tear or two; and if you mean to make your way
in literature, let other people continually feel your teeth; make
no exception even of your friends; wound their susceptibilities, and
everybody will fawn upon you."

Hector Merlin watched Lucien as he spoke, saw that his words went to the
neophyte's heart like a stab, and Hector Merlin was glad. Play followed,
Lucien lost all his money, and Coralie brought him away; and he forgot
for a while, in the delights of love, the fierce excitement of the
gambler, which was to gain so strong a hold upon him.

When he left Coralie in the morning and returned to the Latin Quarter,
he took out his purse and found the money he had lost. At first he
felt miserable over the discovery, and thought of going back at once to
return a gift which humiliated him; but - he had already come as far as
the Rue de la Harpe; he would not return now that he had almost reached
the Hotel de Cluny. He pondered over Coralie's forethought as he went,
till he saw in it a proof of the maternal love which is blended with
passion in women of her stamp. For Coralie and her like, passion
includes every human affection. Lucien went from thought to thought, and
argued himself into accepting the gift. "I love her," he said; "we shall
live together as husband and wife; I will never forsake her!"

What mortal, short of a Diogenes, could fail to understand Lucien's
feelings as he climbed the dirty, fetid staircase to his lodging, turned
the key that grated in the lock, and entered and looked round at the
unswept brick floor, at the cheerless grate, at the ugly poverty and
bareness of the room.

A package of manuscript was lying on the table. It was his novel; a note
from Daniel d'Arthez lay beside it: -

"Our friends are almost satisfied with your work, dear poet,"
d'Arthez wrote. "You will be able to present it with more
confidence now, they say, to friends and enemies. We saw your
charming article on the Panorama-Dramatique; you are sure to
excite as much jealousy in the profession as regret among your
friends here. DANIEL."

"Regrets! What does he mean?" exclaimed Lucien. The polite tone of
the note astonished him. Was he to be henceforth a stranger to the
brotherhood? He had learned to set a higher value on the good opinion
and the friendship of the circle in the Rue des Quatre-Vents since he
had tasted of the delicious fruits offered to him by the Eve of the
theatrical underworld. For some moments he stood in deep thought; he saw
his present in the garret, and foresaw his future in Coralie's rooms.
Honorable resolution struggled with temptation and swayed him now this
way, now that. He sat down and began to look through his manuscript, to
see in what condition his friends had returned it to him. What was
his amazement, as he read chapter after chapter, to find his poverty
transmuted into riches by the cunning of the pen, and the devotion of
the unknown great men, his friends of the brotherhood. Dialogue, closely
packed, nervous, pregnant, terse, and full of the spirit of the age,
replaced his conversations, which seemed poor and pointless prattle in
comparison. His characters, a little uncertain in the drawing, now
stood out in vigorous contrast of color and relief; physiological
observations, due no doubt to Horace Bianchon, supplied links of
interpretations between human character and the curious phenomena of
human life - subtle touches which made his men and women live. His
wordy passages of description were condensed and vivid. The misshapen,
ill-clad child of his brain had returned to him as a lovely maiden,
with white robes and rosy-hued girdle and scarf - an entrancing creation.
Night fell and took him by surprise, reading through rising tears,
stricken to earth by such greatness of soul, feeling the worth of such
a lesson, admiring the alterations, which taught him more of literature
and art than all his four years' apprenticeship of study and reading and
comparison. A master's correction of a line made upon the study always
teaches more than all the theories and criticisms in the world.

"What friends are these! What hearts! How fortunate I am!" he cried,
grasping his manuscript tightly.

With the quick impulsiveness of a poetic and mobile temperament, he
rushed off to Daniel's lodging. As he climbed the stairs, and thought of
these friends, who refused to leave the path of honor, he felt conscious
that he was less worthy of them than before. A voice spoke within him,
telling him that if d'Arthez had loved Coralie, he would have had her
break with Camusot. And, besides this, he knew that the brotherhood held
journalism in utter abhorrence, and that he himself was already, to some
small extent, a journalist. All of them, except Meyraux, who had just
gone out, were in d'Arthez's room when he entered it, and saw that all
their faces were full of sorrow and despair.

"What is it?" he cried.

"We have just heard news of a dreadful catastrophe; the greatest thinker
of the age, our most loved friend, who was like a light among us for two
years - - "

"Louis Lambert!"

"Has fallen a victim to catalepsy. There is no hope for him," said

"He will die, his soul wandering in the skies, his body unconscious on
earth," said Michel Chrestien solemnly.

"He will die as he lived," said d'Arthez.

"Love fell like a firebrand in the vast empire of his brain and burned
him away," said Leon Giraud.

"Yes," said Joseph Bridau, "he has reached a height that we cannot so
much as see."

"_We_ are to be pitied, not Louis," said Fulgence Ridal.

"Perhaps he will recover," exclaimed Lucien.

"From what Meyraux has been telling us, recovery seems impossible,"
answered Bianchon. "Medicine has no power over the change that is
working in his brain."

"Yet there are physical means," said d'Arthez.

"Yes," said Bianchon; "we might produce imbecility instead of

"Is there no way of offering another head to the spirit of evil? I would
give mine to save him!" cried Michel Chrestien.

"And what would become of European federation?" asked d'Arthez.

"Ah! true," replied Michel Chrestien. "Our duty to Humanity comes first;
to one man afterwards."

"I came here with a heart full of gratitude to you all," said Lucien.
"You have changed my alloy into golden coin."

"Gratitude! For what do you take us?" asked Bianchon.

"We had the pleasure," added Fulgence.

"Well, so you are a journalist, are you?" asked Leon Giraud. "The fame
of your first appearance has reached even the Latin Quarter."

"I am not a journalist yet," returned Lucien.

"Aha! So much the better," said Michel Chrestien.

"I told you so!" said d'Arthez. "Lucien knows the value of a clean
conscience. When you can say to yourself as you lay your head on the
pillow at night, 'I have not sat in judgment on another man's work; I
have given pain to no one; I have not used the edge of my wit to deal
a stab to some harmless soul; I have sacrificed no one's success to a
jest; I have not even troubled the happiness of imbecility; I have not
added to the burdens of genius; I have scorned the easy triumphs of
epigram; in short, I have not acted against my convictions,' is not this
a viaticum that gives one daily strength?"

"But one can say all this, surely, and yet work on a newspaper," said
Lucien. "If I had absolutely no other way of earning a living, I should
certainly come to this."

"Oh! oh! oh!" cried Fulgence, his voice rising a note each time; "we are
capitulating, are we?"

"He will turn journalist," Leon Giraud said gravely. "Oh, Lucien, if you
would only stay and work with us! We are about to bring out a periodical
in which justice and truth shall never be violated; we will spread
doctrines that, perhaps, will be of real service to mankind - - "

"You will not have a single subscriber," Lucien broke in with
Machiavellian wisdom.

"There will be five hundred of them," asserted Michel Chrestien, "but
they will be worth five hundred thousand."

"You will need a lot of capital," continued Lucien.

"No, only devotion," said d'Arthez.

"Anybody might take him for a perfumer's assistant," burst out Michel
Chrestien, looking at Lucien's head, and sniffing comically. "You were
seen driving about in a very smart turnout with a pair of thoroughbreds,
and a mistress for a prince, Coralie herself."

"Well, and is there any harm in it?"

"You would not say that if you thought that there was no harm in it,"
said Bianchon.

"I could have wished Lucien a Beatrice," said d'Arthez, "a noble woman,
who would have been a help to him in life - - "

"But, Daniel," asked Lucien, "love is love wherever you find it, is it

"Ah!" said the republican member, "on that one point I am an aristocrat.
I could not bring myself to love a woman who must rub shoulders with all
sorts of people in the green-room; whom an actor kisses on stage; she
must lower herself before the public, smile on every one, lift her
skirts as she dances, and dress like a man, that all the world may
see what none should see save I alone. Or if I loved such a woman, she
should leave the stage, and my love should cleanse her from the stain of

"And if she would not leave the stage?"

"I should die of mortification, jealousy, and all sorts of pain. You
cannot pluck love out of your heart as you draw a tooth."

Lucien's face grew dark and thoughtful.

"When they find out that I am tolerating Camusot, how they will despise
me," he thought.

"Look here," said the fierce republican, with humorous fierceness, "you
can be a great writer, but a little play-actor you shall never be," and
he took up his hat and went out.

"He is hard, is Michel Chrestien," commented Lucien.

"Hard and salutary, like the dentist's pincers," said Bianchon. "Michel
foresees your future; perhaps in the street, at this moment, he is
thinking of you with tears in his eyes."

D'Arthez was kind, and talked comfortingly, and tried to cheer
Lucien. The poet spent an hour with his friends, then he went, but
his conscience treated him hardly, crying to him, "You will be a
journalist - a journalist!" as the witch cried to Macbeth that he should
be king hereafter!

Out in the street, he looked up at d'Arthez's windows, and saw a faint
light shining in them, and his heart sank. A dim foreboding told him
that he had bidden his friends good-bye for the last time.

As he turned out of the Place de la Sorbonne into the Rue de Cluny, he
saw a carriage at the door of his lodging. Coralie had driven all the
way from the Boulevard du Temple for the sake of a moment with her lover
and a "good-night." Lucien found her sobbing in his garret. She would be
as wretchedly poor as her poet, she wept, as she arranged his shirts and
gloves and handkerchiefs in the crazy chest of drawers. Her distress
was so real and so great, that Lucien, but even now chidden for his
connection with an actress, saw Coralie as a saint ready to assume the
hair-shirt of poverty. The adorable girl's excuse for her visit was
an announcement that the firm of Camusot, Coralie, and Lucien meant to
invite Matifat, Florine, and Lousteau (the second trio) to supper; had
Lucien any invitations to issue to people who might be useful to him?
Lucien said that he would take counsel of Lousteau.

A few moments were spent together, and Coralie hurried away. She spared
Lucien the knowledge that Camusot was waiting for her below.

Next morning, at eight o'clock, Lucien went to Etienne Lousteau's room,
found it empty, and hurried away to Florine. Lousteau and Florine,
settled into possession of their new quarters like a married couple,
received their friend in the pretty bedroom, and all three breakfasted
sumptuously together.

"Why, I should advise you, my boy, to come with me to see Felicien
Vernou," said Lousteau, when they sat at table, and Lucien had mentioned
Coralie's projected supper; "ask him to be of the party, and keep well
with him, if you can keep well with such a rascal. Felicien Vernou does
a _feuilleton_ for a political paper; he might perhaps introduce you,
and you could blossom out into leaders in it at your ease. It is a
Liberal paper, like ours; you will be a Liberal, that is the popular
party; and besides, if you mean to go over to the Ministerialists, you
would do better for yourself if they had reason to be afraid of you.
Then there is Hector Merlin and his Mme. du Val-Noble; you meet great
people at their house - dukes and dandies and millionaires; didn't they
ask you and Coralie to dine with them?"

"Yes," replied Lucien; "you are going too, and so is Florine." Lucien
and Etienne were now on familiar terms after Friday's debauch and the
dinner at the _Rocher de Cancale_.

"Very well, Merlin is on the paper; we shall come across him pretty
often; he is the chap to follow close on Finot's heels. You would do
well to pay him attention; ask him and Mme. du Val-Noble to supper. He
may be useful to you before long; for rancorous people are always in
need of others, and he may do you a good turn if he can reckon on your

"Your beginning has made enough sensation to smooth your way," said
Florine; "take advantage of it at once, or you will soon be forgotten."

"The bargain, the great business, is concluded," Lousteau continued.
"That Finot, without a spark of talent in him, is to be editor of
Dauriat's weekly paper, with a salary of six hundred francs per month,
and owner of a sixth share, for which he has not paid one penny. And I,
my dear fellow, am now editor of our little paper. Everything went
off as I expected; Florine managed superbly, she could give points to
Tallyrand himself."

"We have a hold on men through their pleasures," said Florine, "while a
diplomatist only works on their self-love. A diplomatist sees a man made
up for the occasion; we know him in his moments of folly, so our power
is greater."

"And when the thing was settled, Matifat made the first and last joke of
his whole druggist's career," put in Lousteau. "He said, 'This affair is
quite in my line; I am supplying drugs to the public.'"

"I suspect that Florine put him up to it," cried Lucien.

"And by these means, my little dear, your foot is in the stirrup,"
continued Lousteau.

"You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth," remarked Florine.
"What lots of young fellows wait for years, wait till they are sick of
waiting, for a chance to get an article into a paper! You will do like
Emile Blondet. In six months' time you will be giving yourself high and
mighty airs," she added, with a mocking smile, in the language of her

"Haven't I been in Paris for three years?" said Lousteau, "and only
yesterday Finot began to pay me a fixed monthly salary of three hundred
francs, and a hundred francs per sheet for his paper."

"Well; you are saying nothing!" exclaimed Florine, with her eyes turned
on Lucien.

"We shall see," said Lucien.

"My dear boy, if you had been my brother, I could not have done more
for you," retorted Lousteau, somewhat nettled, "but I won't answer for
Finot. Scores of sharp fellows will besiege Finot for the next two days
with offers to work for low pay. I have promised for you, but you can
draw back if you like. - You little know how lucky you are," he added
after a pause. "All those in our set combine to attack an enemy in
various papers, and lend each other a helping hand all round."

"Let us go in the first place to Felicien Vernou," said Lucien. He was
eager to conclude an alliance with such formidable birds of prey.

Lousteau sent for a cab, and the pair of friends drove to Vernou's house
on the second floor up an alley in the Rue Mandar. To Lucien's great
astonishment, the harsh, fastidious, and severe critic's surroundings
were vulgar to the last degree. A marbled paper, cheap and shabby, with
a meaningless pattern repeated at regular intervals, covered the walls,
and a series of aqua tints in gilt frames decorated the apartment, where
Vernou sat at table with a woman so plain that she could only be the
legitimate mistress of the house, and two very small children perched
on high chairs with a bar in front to prevent the infants from tumbling
out. Felicien Vernou, in a cotton dressing-gown contrived out of the
remains of one of his wife's dresses, was not over well pleased by this

"Have you breakfasted, Lousteau?" he asked, placing a chair for Lucien.

"We have just left Florine; we have been breakfasting with her."

Lucien could not take his eyes off Mme. Vernou. She looked like a stout,
homely cook, with a tolerably fair complexion, but commonplace to
the last degree. The lady wore a bandana tied over her night-cap, the
strings of the latter article of dress being tied so tightly under
the chin that her puffy cheeks stood out on either side. A shapeless,
beltless garment, fastened by a single button at the throat, enveloped
her from head to foot in such a fashion that a comparison to a milestone
at once suggested itself. Her health left no room for hope; her cheeks
were almost purple; her fingers looked like sausages. In a moment it
dawned upon Lucien how it was that Vernou was always so ill at ease in
society; here was the living explanation of his misanthropy. Sick of his
marriage, unable to bring himself to abandon his wife and family, he had
yet sufficient of the artistic temper to suffer continually from their
presence; Vernou was an actor by nature bound never to pardon the
success of another, condemned to chronic discontent because he was never
content with himself. Lucien began to understand the sour look which
seemed to add to the bleak expression of envy on Vernou's face; the
acerbity of the epigrams with which his conversation was sown, the
journalist's pungent phrases, keen and elaborately wrought as a
stiletto, were at once explained.

"Let us go into my study," Vernou said, rising from the table; "you have
come on business, no doubt."

"Yes and no," replied Etienne Lousteau. "It is a supper, old chap."

"I have brought a message from Coralie," said Lucien (Mme. Vernou looked
up at once at the name), "to ask you to supper to-night at her house
to meet the same company as before at Florine's, and a few more
besides - Hector Merlin and Mme. du Val-Noble and some others. There will
be play afterwards."

"But we are engaged to Mme. Mahoudeau this evening, dear," put in the

"What does that matter?" returned Vernou.

"She will take offence if we don't go; and you are very glad of her when
you have a bill to discount."

"This wife of mine, my dear boy, can never be made to understand that a
supper engagement for twelve o'clock does not prevent you from going to

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 16 of 29)