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Honoré de Balzac.

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a complexion over which hard living had passed like rain over a roof,
grizzled hair, and a somewhat husky voice.

"You have come from Mlle. Florine, no doubt, sir, and this gentleman
for Mlle. Coralie," said Braulard; "I know you very well by sight. Don't
trouble yourself, sir," he continued, addressing Lucien; "I am buying
the Gymnase connection, I will look after your lady, and I will give her
notice of any tricks they may try to play on her."

"That is not an offer to be refused, my dear Braulard, but we have come
about the press orders for the Boulevard theatres - I as editor, and this
gentleman as dramatic critic."

"Oh! - ah, yes! Finot has sold his paper. I heard about it. He is getting
on, is Finot. I have asked him to dine with me at the end of the week;
if you will do me the honor and pleasure of coming, you may bring your
ladies, and there will be a grand jollification. Adele Dupuis is coming,
and Ducange, and Frederic du Petit-Mere, and Mlle. Millot, my mistress.
We shall have good fun and better liquor."

"Ducange must be in difficulties. He has lost his lawsuit."

"I have lent him ten thousand francs; if _Calas_ succeeds, it will repay
the loan, so I have been organizing a success. Ducange is a clever man;
he has brains - - "

Lucien fancied that he must be dreaming when he heard a _claqueur_
appraising a writer's value.

"Coralie has improved," continued Braulard, with the air of a competent
critic. "If she is a good girl, I will take her part, for they have got
up a cabal against her at the Gymnase. This is how I mean to do it. I
will have a few well-dressed men in the balconies to smile and make a
little murmur, and the applause will follow. That is a dodge which makes
a position for an actress. I have a liking for Coralie, and you ought to
be satisfied, for she has feeling. Aha! I can hiss any one on the stage
if I like."

"But let us settle this business about the tickets," put in Lousteau.

"Very well, I will come to this gentleman's lodging for them at the
beginning of the month. He is a friend of yours, and I will treat him as
I do you. You have five theatres; you will get thirty tickets - that
will be something like seventy-five francs a month. Perhaps you will be
wanting an advance?" added Braulard, lifting a cash-box full of coin out
of his desk.

"No, no," said Lousteau; "we will keep that shift against a rainy day."

"I will work with Coralie, sir, and we will come to an understanding,"
said Braulard, addressing Lucien, who was looking about him, not without
profound astonishment. There was a bookcase in Braulard's study, there
were framed engravings and good furniture; and as they passed through
the drawing room, he noticed that the fittings were neither too
luxurious nor yet mean. The dining-room seemed to be the best ordered
room, he remarked on this jokingly.

"But Braulard is an epicure," said Lousteau; "his dinners are famous
in dramatic literature, and they are what you might expect from his
cash-box."

"I have good wine," Braulard replied modestly. - "Ah! here are my
lamplighters," he added, as a sound of hoarse voices and strange
footsteps came up from the staircase.

Lucien on his way down saw a march past of _claqueurs_ and retailers of
tickets. It was an ill smelling squad, attired in caps, seedy trousers,
and threadbare overcoats; a flock of gallows-birds with bluish and
greenish tints in their faces, neglected beards, and a strange mixture
of savagery and subservience in their eyes. A horrible population lives
and swarms upon the Paris boulevards; selling watch guards and brass
jewelry in the streets by day, applauding under the chandeliers of the
theatre at night, and ready to lend themselves to any dirty business in
the great city.

"Behold the Romans!" laughed Lousteau; "behold fame incarnate for
actresses and dramatic authors. It is no prettier than our own when you
come to look at it close."

"It is difficult to keep illusions on any subject in Paris,"
answered Lucien as they turned in at his door. "There is a tax upon
everything - everything has its price, and anything can be made to
order - even success."

Thirty guests were assembled that evening in Coralie's rooms, her dining
room would not hold more. Lucien had asked Dauriat and the manager of
the Panorama-Dramatique, Matifat and Florine, Camusot, Lousteau, Finot,
Nathan, Hector Merlin and Mme. du Val-Noble, Felicien Vernou, Blondet,
Vignon, Philippe Bridau, Mariette, Giroudeau, Cardot and Florentine, and
Bixiou. He had also asked all his friends of the Rue des Quatre-Vents.
Tullia the dancer, who was not unkind, said gossip, to du Bruel, had
come without her duke. The proprietors of the newspapers, for whom most
of the journalists wrote, were also of the party.

At eight o'clock, when the lights of the candles in the chandeliers
shone over the furniture, the hangings, and the flowers, the rooms wore
the festal air that gives to Parisian luxury the appearance of a dream;
and Lucien felt indefinable stirrings of hope and gratified vanity and
pleasure at the thought that he was the master of the house. But how and
by whom the magic wand had been waved he no longer sought to remember.
Florine and Coralie, dressed with the fanciful extravagance and
magnificent artistic effect of the stage, smiled on the poet like two
fairies at the gates of the Palace of Dreams. And Lucien was almost in a
dream.

His life had been changed so suddenly during the last few months; he had
gone so swiftly from the depths of penury to the last extreme of luxury,
that at moments he felt as uncomfortable as a dreaming man who knows
that he is asleep. And yet, he looked round at the fair reality about
him with a confidence to which envious minds might have given the name
of fatuity.

Lucien himself had changed. He had grown paler during these days of
continual enjoyment; languor had lent a humid look to his eyes; in
short, to use Mme. d'Espard's expression, he looked like a man who is
loved. He was the handsomer for it. Consciousness of his powers and
his strength was visible in his face, enlightened as it was by love and
experience. Looking out over the world of letters and of men, it seemed
to him that he might go to and fro as lord of it all. Sober reflection
never entered his romantic head unless it was driven in by the pressure
of adversity, and just now the present held not a care for him. The
breath of praise swelled the sails of his skiff; all the instruments of
success lay there to his hand; he had an establishment, a mistress whom
all Paris envied him, a carriage, and untold wealth in his inkstand.
Heart and soul and brain were alike transformed within him; why should
he care to be over nice about the means, when the great results were
visibly there before his eyes.

As such a style of living will seem, and with good reason, to be
anything but secure to economists who have any experience of Paris, it
will not be superfluous to give a glance to the foundation, uncertain as
it was, upon which the prosperity of the pair was based.

Camusot had given Coralie's tradesmen instructions to grant her credit
for three months at least, and this had been done without her knowledge.
During those three months, therefore, horses and servants, like
everything else, waited as if by enchantment at the bidding of two
children, eager for enjoyment, and enjoying to their hearts' content.

Coralie had taken Lucien's hand and given him a glimpse of the
transformation scene in the dining-room, of the splendidly appointed
table, of chandeliers, each fitted with forty wax-lights, of the royally
luxurious dessert, and a menu of Chevet's. Lucien kissed her on the
forehead and held her closely to his heart.

"I shall succeed, child," he said, "and then I will repay you for such
love and devotion."

"Pshaw!" said Coralie. "Are you satisfied?"

"I should be very hard to please if I were not."

"Very well, then, that smile of yours pays for everything," she said,
and with a serpentine movement she raised her head and laid her lips
against his.

When they went back to the others, Florine, Lousteau, Matifat, and
Camusot were setting out the card-tables. Lucien's friends began to
arrive, for already these folk began to call themselves "Lucien's
friends"; and they sat over the cards from nine o'clock till midnight.
Lucien was unacquainted with a single game, but Lousteau lost a thousand
francs, and Lucien could not refuse to lend him the money when he asked
for it.

Michel, Fulgence, and Joseph appeared about ten o'clock; and Lucien,
chatting with them in a corner, saw that they looked sober and serious
enough, not to say ill at ease. D'Arthez could not come, he was
finishing his book; Leon Giraud was busy with the first number of his
review; so the brotherhood had sent three artists among their number,
thinking that they would feel less out of their element in an uproarious
supper party than the rest.

"Well, my dear fellows," said Lucien, assuming a slightly patronizing
tone, "the 'comical fellow' may become a great public character yet, you
see."

"I wish I may be mistaken; I don't ask better," said Michel.

"Are you living with Coralie until you can do better?" asked Fulgence.

"Yes," said Lucien, trying to look unconscious. "Coralie had an elderly
adorer, a merchant, and she showed him the door, poor fellow. I am
better off than your brother Philippe," he added, addressing Joseph
Bridau; "he does not know how to manage Mariette."

"You are a man like another now; in short, you will make your way," said
Fulgence.

"A man that will always be the same for you, under all circumstances,"
returned Lucien.

Michel and Fulgence exchanged incredulous scornful smiles at this.
Lucien saw the absurdity of his remark.

"Coralie is wonderfully beautiful," exclaimed Joseph Bridau. "What a
magnificent portrait she would make!"

"Beautiful and good," said Lucien; "she is an angel, upon my word. And
you shall paint her portrait; she shall sit to you if you like for your
Venetian lady brought by the old woman to the senator."

"All women who love are angelic," said Michel Chrestien.

Just at that moment Raoul Nathan flew upon Lucien, and grasped both his
hands and shook them in a sudden access of violent friendship.

"Oh, my good friend, you are something more than a great man, you have a
heart," cried he, "a much rarer thing than genius in these days. You are
a devoted friend. I am yours, in short, through thick and thin; I shall
never forget all that you have done for me this week."

Lucien's joy had reached the highest point; to be thus caressed by a
man of whom everyone was talking! He looked at his three friends of the
brotherhood with something like a superior air. Nathan's appearance
upon the scene was the result of an overture from Merlin, who sent him a
proof of the favorable review to appear in to-morrow's issue.

"I only consented to write the attack on condition that I should be
allowed to reply to it myself," Lucien said in Nathan's ear. "I am one
of you." This incident was opportune; it justified the remark which
amused Fulgence. Lucien was radiant.

"When d'Arthez's book comes out," he said, turning to the three, "I am
in a position to be useful to him. That thought in itself would induce
me to remain a journalist."

"Can you do as you like?" Michel asked quickly.

"So far as one can when one is indispensable," said Lucien modestly.

It was almost midnight when they sat down to supper, and the fun grew
fast and furious. Talk was less restrained in Lucien's house than
at Matifat's, for no one suspected that the representatives of the
brotherhood and the newspaper writers held divergent opinions. Young
intellects, depraved by arguing for either side, now came into conflict
with each other, and fearful axioms of the journalistic jurisprudence,
then in its infancy, hurtled to and fro. Claude Vignon, upholding the
dignity of criticism, inveighed against the tendency of the smaller
newspapers, saying that the writers of personalities lowered themselves
in the end. Lousteau, Merlin, and Finot took up the cudgels for the
system known by the name of _blague_; puffery, gossip, and humbug, said
they, was the test of talent, and set the hall-mark, as it were, upon
it. "Any man who can stand that test has real power," said Lousteau.

"Besides," cried Merlin, "when a great man receives ovations, there
ought to be a chorus in insults to balance, as in a Roman triumph."

"Oho!" put in Lucien; "then every one held up to ridicule in print will
fancy that he has made a success."

"Any one would think that the question interested you," exclaimed Finot.

"And how about our sonnets," said Michel Chrestien; "is that the way
they will win us the fame of a second Petrarch?"

"Laura already counts for something in his fame," said Dauriat, a pun
[Laure (l'or)] received with acclamations.

"_Faciamus experimentum in anima vili_," retorted Lucien with a smile.

"And woe unto him whom reviewers shall spare, flinging him crowns at
his first appearance, for he shall be shelved like the saints in their
shrines, and no man shall pay him the slightest attention," said Vernou.

"People will say, 'Look elsewhere, simpleton; you have had your due
already,' as Champcenetz said to the Marquis de Genlis, who was looking
too fondly at his wife," added Blondet.

"Success is the ruin of a man in France," said Finot. "We are so jealous
of one another that we try to forget, and to make others forget, the
triumphs of yesterday."

"Contradiction is the life of literature, in fact," said Claude Vignon.

"In art as in nature, there are two principles everywhere at strife,"
exclaimed Fulgence; "and victory for either means death."

"So it is with politics," added Michel Chrestien.

"We have a case in point," said Lousteau. "Dauriat will sell a couple
of thousand copies of Nathan's book in the coming week. And why? Because
the book that was cleverly attacked will be ably defended."

Merlin took up the proof of to-morrow's paper. "How can such an article
fail to sell an edition?" he asked.

"Read the article," said Dauriat. "I am a publisher wherever I am, even
at supper."

Merlin read Lucien's triumphant refutation aloud, and the whole party
applauded.

"How could that article have been written unless the attack had preceded
it?" asked Lousteau.

Dauriat drew the proof of the third article from his pocket and read it
over, Finot listening closely; for it was to appear in the second number
of his own review, and as editor he exaggerated his enthusiasm.

"Gentlemen," said he, "so and not otherwise would Bossuet have written
if he had lived in our day."

"I am sure of it," said Merlin. "Bossuet would have been a journalist
to-day."

"To Bossuet the Second!" cried Claude Vignon, raising his glass with an
ironical bow.

"To my Christopher Columbus!" returned Lucien, drinking a health to
Dauriat.

"Bravo!" cried Nathan.

"Is it a nickname?" Merlin inquired, looking maliciously from Finot to
Lucien.

"If you go on at this pace, you will be quite beyond us," said Dauriat;
"these gentlemen" (indicating Camusot and Matifat) "cannot follow you
as it is. A joke is like a bit of thread; if it is spun too fine, it
breaks, as Bonaparte said."

"Gentlemen," said Lousteau, "we have been eye-witnesses of a strange,
portentous, unheard-of, and truly surprising phenomenon. Admire
the rapidity with which our friend here has been transformed from a
provincial into a journalist!"

"He is a born journalist," said Dauriat.

"Children!" called Finot, rising to his feet, "all of us here present
have encouraged and protected our amphitryon in his entrance upon a
career in which he has already surpassed our hopes. In two months he has
shown us what he can do in a series of excellent articles known to us
all. I propose to baptize him in form as a journalist."

"A crown of roses! to signalize a double conquest," cried Bixiou,
glancing at Coralie.

Coralie made a sign to Berenice. That portly handmaid went to Coralie's
dressing-room and brought back a box of tumbled artificial flowers.
The more incapable members of the party were grotesquely tricked out
in these blossoms, and a crown of roses was soon woven. Finot, as high
priest, sprinkled a few drops of champagne on Lucien's golden curls,
pronouncing with delicious gravity the words - "In the name of the
Government Stamp, the Caution-money, and the Fine, I baptize thee,
Journalist. May thy articles sit lightly on thee!"

"And may they be paid for, including white lines!" cried Merlin.

Just at that moment Lucien caught sight of three melancholy faces.
Michel Chrestien, Joseph Bridau, and Fulgence Ridal took up their hats
and went out amid a storm of invective.

"Queer customers!" said Merlin.

"Fulgence used to be a good fellow," added Lousteau, "before they
perverted his morals."

"Who are 'they'?" asked Claude Vignon.

"Some very serious young men," said Blondet, "who meet at a
philosophico-religious symposium in the Rue des Quatre-Vents, and worry
themselves about the meaning of human life - - "

"Oh! oh!"

"They are trying to find out whether it goes round in a circle, or
makes some progress," continued Blondet. "They were very hard put to
it between the straight line and the curve; the triangle, warranted by
Scripture, seemed to them to be nonsense, when, lo! there arose among
them some prophet or other who declared for the spiral."

"Men might meet to invent more dangerous nonsense than that!" exclaimed
Lucien, making a faint attempt to champion the brotherhood.

"You take theories of that sort for idle words," said Felicien Vernou;
"but a time comes when the arguments take the form of gunshot and the
guillotine."

"They have not come to that yet," said Bixiou; "they have only come
as far as the designs of Providence in the invention of champagne, the
humanitarian significance of breeches, and the blind deity who keeps the
world going. They pick up fallen great men like Vico, Saint-Simon, and
Fourier. I am much afraid that they will turn poor Joseph Bridau's head
among them."

"Bianchon, my old schoolfellow, gives me the cold shoulder now," said
Lousteau; "it is all their doing - - "

"Do they give lectures on orthopedy and intellectual gymnastics?" asked
Merlin.

"Very likely," answered Finot, "if Bianchon has any hand in their
theories."

"Pshaw!" said Lousteau; "he will be a great physician anyhow."

"Isn't d'Arthez their visible head?" asked Nathan, "a little youngster
that is going to swallow all of us up."

"He is a genius!" cried Lucien.

"Genius, is he! Well, give me a glass of sherry!" said Claude Vignon,
smiling.

Every one, thereupon, began to explain his character for the benefit of
his neighbor; and when a clever man feels a pressing need of explaining
himself, and of unlocking his heart, it is pretty clear that wine has
got the upper hand. An hour later, all the men in the company were the
best friends in the world, addressing each other as great men and bold
spirits, who held the future in their hands. Lucien, in his quality
of host, was sufficiently clearheaded to apprehend the meaning of the
sophistries which impressed him and completed his demoralization.

"The Liberal party," announced Finot, "is compelled to stir up
discussion somehow. There is no fault to find with the action of the
Government, and you may imagine what a fix the Opposition is in.
Which of you now cares to write a pamphlet in favor of the system of
primogeniture, and raise a cry against the secret designs of the Court?
The pamphlet will be paid for handsomely."

"I will write it," said Hector Merlin. "It is my own point of view."

"Your party will complain that you are compromising them," said Finot.
"Felicien, you must undertake it; Dauriat will bring it out, and we will
keep the secret."

"How much shall I get?"

"Six hundred francs. Sign it 'Le Comte C, three stars.'"

"It's a bargain," said Felicien Vernou.

"So you are introducing the _canard_ to the political world," remarked
Lousteau.

"It is simply the Chabot affair carried into the region of abstract
ideas," said Finot. "Fasten intentions on the Government, and then let
loose public opinion."

"How a Government can leave the control of ideas to such a pack of
scamps as we are, is matter for perpetual and profound astonishment to
me," said Claude Vignon.

"If the Ministry blunders so far as to come down into the arena, we can
give them a drubbing. If they are nettled by it, the thing will rankle
in people's minds, and the Government will lose its hold on the masses.
The newspaper risks nothing, and the authorities have everything to
lose."

"France will be a cipher until newspapers are abolished by law," said
Claude Vignon. "You are making progress hourly," he added, addressing
Finot. "You are a modern order of Jesuits, lacking the creed, the fixed
idea, the discipline, and the union."

They went back to the card-tables; and before long the light of the
candles grew feeble in the dawn.

"Lucien, your friends from the Rue des Quatre-Vents looked as dismal as
criminals going to be hanged," said Coralie.

"They were the judges, not the criminals," replied the poet.

"Judges are more amusing than _that_," said Coralie.



For a month Lucien's whole time was taken up with supper parties, dinner
engagements, breakfasts, and evening parties; he was swept away by an
irresistible current into a vortex of dissipation and easy work. He
no longer thought of the future. The power of calculation amid the
complications of life is the sign of a strong will which poets,
weaklings, and men who live a purely intellectual life can never
counterfeit. Lucien was living from hand to mouth, spending his money
as fast as he made it, like many another journalist; nor did he give
so much as a thought to those periodically recurrent days of reckoning
which chequer the life of the bohemian in Paris so sadly.

In dress and figure he was a rival for the great dandies of the day.
Coralie, like all zealots, loved to adorn her idol. She ruined herself
to give her beloved poet the accoutrements which had so stirred his
envy in the Garden of the Tuileries. Lucien had wonderful canes, and
a charming eyeglass; he had diamond studs, and scarf-rings, and
signet-rings, besides an assortment of waistcoats marvelous to behold,
and in sufficient number to match every color in a variety of costumes.
His transition to the estate of dandy swiftly followed. When he went
to the German Minister's dinner, all the young men regarded him with
suppressed envy; yet de Marsay, Vandenesse, Ajuda-Pinto, Maxime de
Trailles, Rastignac, Beaudenord, Manerville, and the Duc de Maufrigneuse
gave place to none in the kingdom of fashion. Men of fashion are as
jealous among themselves as women, and in the same way. Lucien was
placed between Mme. de Montcornet and Mme. d'Espard, in whose honor the
dinner was given; both ladies overwhelmed him with flatteries.

"Why did you turn your back on society when you would have been so well
received?" asked the Marquise. "Every one was prepared to make much of
you. And I have a quarrel with you too. You owed me a call - I am still
waiting to receive it. I saw you at the Opera the other day, and you
would not deign to come to see me nor to take any notice of me."

"Your cousin, madame, so unmistakably dismissed me - "

"Oh! you do not know women," the Marquise d'Espard broke in upon him.
"You have wounded the most angelic heart, the noblest nature that I
know. You do not know all that Louise was trying to do for you, nor
how tactfully she laid her plans for you. - Oh! and she would have
succeeded," the Marquise continued, replying to Lucien's mute
incredulity. "Her husband is dead now; died, as he was bound to die, of
an indigestion; could you doubt that she would be free sooner or later?
And can you suppose that she would like to be Madame Chardon? It was
worth while to take some trouble to gain the title of Comtesse de
Rubempre. Love, you see, is a great vanity, which requires the lesser
vanities to be in harmony with itself - especially in marriage. I might
love you to madness - which is to say, sufficiently to marry you - and yet
I should find it very unpleasant to be called Madame Chardon. You can
see that. And now that you understand the difficulties of Paris life,
you will know how many roundabout ways you must take to reach your end;
very well, then, you must admit that Louise was aspiring to an all but
impossible piece of Court favor; she was quite unknown, she is not rich,
and therefore she could not afford to neglect any means of success.



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 21 of 29)