Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

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"You are clever," the Marquise d'Espard continued; "but we women, when
we love, are cleverer than the cleverest man. My cousin tried to make
that absurd Chatelet useful - Oh!" she broke off, "I owe not a little
amusement to you; your articles on Chatelet made me laugh heartily."

Lucien knew not what to think of all this. Of the treachery and bad
faith of journalism he had had some experience; but in spite of his
perspicacity, he scarcely expected to find bad faith or treachery in
society. There were some sharp lessons in store for him.

"But, madame," he objected, for her words aroused a lively curiosity,
"is not the Heron under your protection?"

"One is obliged to be civil to one's worst enemies in society,"
protested she; "one may be bored, but one must look as if the talk was
amusing, and not seldom one seems to sacrifice friends the better to
serve them. Are you still a novice? You mean to write, and yet you know
nothing of current deceit? My cousin apparently sacrificed you to the
Heron, but how could she dispense with his influence for you? Our friend
stands well with the present ministry; and we have made him see that
your attacks will do him service - up to a certain point, for we want
you to make it up again some of these days. Chatelet has received
compensations for his troubles; for, as des Lupeaulx said, 'While the
newspapers are making Chatelet ridiculous, they will leave the Ministry
in peace.'"

There was a pause; the Marquise left Lucien to his own reflections.

"M. Blondet led me to hope that I should have the pleasure of seeing
you in my house," said the Comtesse de Montcornet. "You will meet a few
artists and men of letters, and some one else who has the keenest desire
to become acquainted with you - Mlle. des Touches, the owner of talents
rare among our sex. You will go to her house, no doubt. Mlle. de Touches
(or Camille Maupin, if you prefer it) is prodigiously rich, and presides
over one of the most remarkable salons in Paris. She has heard that you
are as handsome as you are clever, and is dying to meet you."

Lucien could only pour out incoherent thanks and glance enviously at
Emile Blondet. There was as great a difference between a great lady like
Mme. de Montcornet and Coralie as between Coralie and a girl out of the
streets. The Countess was young and witty and beautiful, with the
very white fairness of women of the north. Her mother was the Princess
Scherbellof, and the Minister before dinner had paid her the most
respectful attention.

By this time the Marquise had made an end of trifling disdainfully with
the wing of a chicken.

"My poor Louise felt so much affection for you," she said. "She took me
into her confidence; I knew her dreams of a great career for you. She
would have borne a great deal, but what scorn you showed her when you
sent back her letters! Cruelty we can forgive; those who hurt us must
have still some faith in us; but indifference! Indifference is like
polar snows, it extinguishes all life. So, you must see that you have
lost a precious affection through your own fault. Why break with
her? Even if she had scorned you, you had your way to make, had you
not? - your name to win back? Louise thought of all that."

"Then why was she silent?"

"_Eh! mon Dieu!_" cried the Marquise, "it was I myself who advised her
not to take you into her confidence. Between ourselves, you know, you
seemed so little used to the ways of the world, that I took alarm. I
was afraid that your inexperience and rash ardor might wreck our
carefully-made schemes. Can you recollect yourself as you were then? You
must admit that if you could see your double to-day, you would say the
same yourself. You are not like the same man. That was our mistake. But
would one man in a thousand combine such intellectual gifts with such
wonderful aptitude for taking the tone of society? I did not think that
you would be such an astonishing exception. You were transformed so
quickly, you acquired the manner of Paris so easily, that I did not
recognize you in the Bois de Boulogne a month ago."

Lucien heard the great lady with inexpressible pleasure; the flatteries
were spoken with such a petulant, childlike, confiding air, and she
seemed to take such a deep interest in him, that he thought of his first
evening at the Panorama-Dramatique, and began to fancy that some such
miracle was about to take place a second time. Everything had smiled
upon him since that happy evening; his youth, he thought, was the
talisman that worked this change. He would prove this great lady; she
should not take him unawares.

"Then, what were these schemes which have turned to chimeras, madame?"
asked he.

"Louise meant to obtain a royal patent permitting you to bear the name
and title of Rubempre. She wished to put Chardon out of sight. Your
opinions have put that out of the question now, but _then_ it would not
have been so hard to manage, and a title would mean a fortune for you.

"You will look on these things as trifles and visionary ideas," she
continued; "but we know something of life, and we know, too, all the
solid advantages of a Count's title when it is borne by a fashionable
and extremely charming young man. Announce 'M. Chardon' and 'M. le Comte
de Rubempre' before heiresses or English girls with a million to their
fortune, and note the difference of the effect. The Count might be in
debt, but he would find open hearts; his good looks, brought into relief
by his title, would be like a diamond in a rich setting; M. Chardon
would not be so much as noticed. WE have not invented these notions;
they are everywhere in the world, even among the burgeois. You
are turning your back on fortune at this minute. Do you see that
good-looking young man? He is the Vicomte Felix de Vandenesse, one of
the King's private secretaries. The King is fond enough of young men of
talent, and Vandenesse came from the provinces with baggage nearly as
light as yours. You are a thousand times cleverer than he; but do you
belong to a great family, have you a name? You know des Lupeaulx; his
name is very much like yours, for he was born a Chardin; well, he would
not sell his little farm of Lupeaulx for a million, he will be Comte
des Lupeaulx some day, and perhaps his grandson may be a duke. - You have
made a false start; and if you continue in that way, it will be all over
with you. See how much wiser M. Emile Blondet has been! He is engaged on
a Government newspaper; he is well looked on by those in authority; he
can afford to mix with Liberals, for he holds sound opinions; and soon
or later he will succeed. But then he understood how to choose his
opinions and his protectors.

"Your charming neighbor" (Mme. d'Espard glanced at Mme. de Montcornet)
"was a Troisville; there are two peers of France in the family and two
deputies. She made a wealthy marriage with her name; she sees a great
deal of society at her house; she has influence, she will move the
political world for young M. Blondet. Where will a Coralie take you? In
a few years' time you will be hopelessly in debt and weary of pleasure.
You have chosen badly in love, and you are arranging your life ill. The
woman whom you delight to wound was at the Opera the other night, and
this was how she spoke of you. She deplored the way in which you were
throwing away your talent and the prime of youth; she was thinking of
you, and not of herself, all the while."

"Ah! if you were only telling me the truth, madame!" cried Lucien.

"What object should I have in telling lies?" returned the Marquise, with
a glance of cold disdain which annihilated him. He was so dashed by it,
that the conversation dropped, for the Marquise was offended, and said
no more.

Lucien was nettled by her silence, but he felt that it was due to his
own clumsiness, and promised himself that he would repair his error.
He turned to Mme. de Montcornet and talked to her of Blondet, extolling
that young writer for her benefit. The Countess was gracious to him,
and asked him (at a sign from Mme. d'Espard) to spend an evening at her
house. It was to be a small and quiet gathering to which only friends
were invited - Mme. de Bargeton would be there in spite of her mourning;
Lucien would be pleased, she was sure, to meet Mme. de Bargeton.

"Mme. la Marquise says that all the wrong is on my side," said Lucien;
"so surely it rests with her cousin, does it not, to decide whether she
will meet me?"

"Put an end to those ridiculous attacks, which only couple her name with
the name of a man for whom she does not care at all, and you will soon
sign a treaty of peace. You thought that she had used you ill, I am
told, but I myself have seen her in sadness because you had forsaken
her. Is it true that she left the provinces on your account?"

Lucien smiled; he did not venture to make any other reply.

"Oh! how could you doubt the woman who made such sacrifices for you?
Beautiful and intellectual as she is, she deserves besides to be loved
for her own sake; and Mme. de Bargeton cared less for you than for your
talents. Believe me, women value intellect more than good looks," added
the Countess, stealing a glance at Emile Blondet.

In the Minister's hotel Lucien could see the differences between the
great world and that other world beyond the pale in which he had lately
been living. There was no sort of resemblance between the two kinds of
splendor, no single point in common. The loftiness and disposition of
the rooms in one of the handsomest houses in the Faubourg Saint-Germain,
the ancient gilding, the breadth of decorative style, the subdued
richness of the accessories, all this was strange and new to him; but
Lucien had learned very quickly to take luxury for granted, and he
showed no surprise. His behavior was as far removed from assurance
or fatuity on the one hand as from complacency and servility upon the
other. His manner was good; he found favor in the eyes of all who were
not prepared to be hostile, like the younger men, who resented his
sudden intrusion into the great world, and felt jealous of his good
looks and his success.

When they rose from table, he offered his arm to Mme. d'Espard, and was
not refused. Rastignac, watching him, saw that the Marquise was gracious
to Lucien, and came in the character of a fellow-countryman to remind
the poet that they had met once before at Mme. du Val-Noble's. The young
patrician seemed anxious to find an ally in the great man from his own
province, asked Lucien to breakfast with him some morning, and offered
to introduce him to some young men of fashion. Lucien was nothing loath.

"The dear Blondet is coming," said Rastignac.

The two were standing near the Marquis de Ronquerolles, the Duc de
Rhetore, de Marsay, and General Montriveau. The Minister came across to
join the group.

"Well," said he, addressing Lucien with a bluff German heartiness that
concealed his dangerous subtlety; "well, so you have made your peace
with Mme. d'Espard; she is delighted with you, and we all know," he
added, looking round the group, "how difficult it is to please her."

"Yes, but she adores intellect," said Rastignac, "and my illustrious
fellow-countryman has wit enough to sell."

"He will soon find out that he is not doing well for himself," Blondet
put in briskly. "He will come over; he will soon be one of us."

Those who stood about Lucien rang the changes on this theme; the older
and responsible men laid down the law with one or two profound remarks;
the younger ones made merry at the expense of the Liberals.

"He simply tossed up head or tails for Right or Left, I am sure,"
remarked Blondet, "but now he will choose for himself."

Lucien burst out laughing; he thought of his talk with Lousteau that
evening in the Luxembourg Gardens.

"He has taken on a bear-leader," continued Blondet, "one Etienne
Lousteau, a newspaper hack who sees a five-franc piece in a column.
Lousteau's politics consist in a belief that Napoleon will return, and
(and this seems to me to be still more simple) in a confidence in the
gratitude and patriotism of their worships the gentlemen of the Left. As
a Rubempre, Lucien's sympathies should lean towards the aristocracy; as
a journalist, he ought to be for authority, or he will never be either
Rubempre or a secretary-general."

The Minister now asked Lucien to take a hand at whist; but, to the great
astonishment of those present, he declared that he did not know the

"Come early to me on the day of that breakfast affair," Rastignac
whispered, "and I will teach you to play. You are a discredit to the
royal city of Angouleme; and, to repeat M. de Talleyrand's saying, you
are laying up an unhappy old age for yourself."

Des Lupeaulx was announced. He remembered Lucien, whom he had met at
Mme. du Val-Noble's, and bowed with a semblance of friendliness which
the poet could not doubt. Des Lupeaulx was in favor, he was a Master
of Requests, and did the Ministry secret services; he was, moreover,
cunning and ambitious, slipping himself in everywhere; he was
everybody's friend, for he never knew whom he might need. He saw plainly
that this was a young journalist whose social success would probably
equal his success in literature; saw, too, that the poet was ambitious,
and overwhelmed him with protestations and expressions of friendship and
interest, till Lucien felt as if they were old friends already, and took
his promises and speeches for more than their worth. Des Lupeaulx made a
point of knowing a man thoroughly well if he wanted to get rid of him or
feared him as a rival. So, to all appearance, Lucien was well received.
He knew that much of his success was owing to the Duc de Rhetore, the
Minister, Mme. d'Espard, and Mme. de Montcornet, and went to spend a
few moments with the two ladies before taking leave, and talked his very
best for them.

"What a coxcomb!" said des Lupeaulx, turning to the Marquise when he had

"He will be rotten before he is ripe," de Marsay added, smiling. "You
must have private reasons of your own, madame, for turning his head in
this way."

When Lucien stepped into the carriage in the courtyard, he found Coralie
waiting for him. She had come to fetch him. The little attention touched
him; he told her the history of his evening; and, to his no small
astonishment, the new notions which even now were running in his head
met with Coralie's approval. She strongly advised him to enlist under
the ministerial banner.

"You have nothing to expect from the Liberals but hard knocks," she
said. "They plot and conspire; they murdered the Duc de Berri. Will they
upset the Government? Never! You will never come to anything through
them, while you will be Comte de Rubempre if you throw in your lot with
the other side. You might render services to the State, and be a peer
of France, and marry an heiress. Be an Ultra. It is the proper thing
besides," she added, this being the last word with her on all subjects.
"I dined with the Val-Noble; she told me that Theodore Gaillard is
really going to start his little Royalist _Revue_, so as to reply to
your witticisms and the jokes in the _Miroir_. To hear them talk, M.
Villele's party will be in office before the year is out. Try to turn
the change to account before they come to power; and say nothing to
Etienne and your friends, for they are quite equal to playing you some
ill turn."

A week later, Lucien went to Mme. de Montcornet's house, and saw the
woman whom he had so loved, whom later he had stabbed to the heart with
a jest. He felt the most violent agitation at the sight of her, for
Louise also had undergone a transformation. She was the Louise that she
would always have been but for her detention in the provinces - she was a
great lady. There was a grace and refinement in her mourning dress which
told that she was a happy widow; Lucien fancied that this coquetry was
aimed in some degree at him, and he was right; but, like an ogre, he had
tasted flesh, and all that evening he vacillated between Coralie's warm,
voluptuous beauty and the dried-up, haughty, cruel Louise. He could not
make up his mind to sacrifice the actress to the great lady; and Mme.
de Bargeton - all the old feeling reviving in her at the sight of Lucien,
Lucien's beauty, Lucien's cleverness - was waiting and expecting that
sacrifice all evening; and after all her insinuating speeches and her
fascinations, she had her trouble for her pains. She left the room with
a fixed determination to be revenged.

"Well, dear Lucien," she had said, and in her kindness there was both
generosity and Parisian grace; "well, dear Lucien, so you, that were to
have been my pride, took me for your first victim; and I forgave you, my
dear, for I felt that in such a revenge there was a trace of love still

With that speech, and the queenly way in which it was uttered, Mme.
de Bargeton recovered her position. Lucien, convinced that he was a
thousand times in the right, felt that he had been put in the wrong. Not
one word of the causes of the rupture! not one syllable of the terrible
farewell letter! A woman of the world has a wonderful genius for
diminishing her faults by laughing at them; she can obliterate them all
with a smile or a question of feigned surprise, and she knows this.
She remembers nothing, she can explain everything; she is amazed, asks
questions, comments, amplifies, and quarrels with you, till in the end
her sins disappear like stains on the application of a little soap and
water; black as ink you knew them to be; and lo! in a moment, you behold
immaculate white innocence, and lucky are you if you do not find that
you yourself have sinned in some way beyond redemption.

In a moment old illusions regained their power over Lucien and
Louise; they talked like friends, as before; but when the lady, with a
hesitating sigh, put the question, "Are you happy?" Lucien was not ready
with a prompt, decided answer; he was intoxicated with gratified vanity;
Coralie, who (let us admit it) had made life easy for him, had turned
his head. A melancholy "No" would have made his fortune, but he must
needs begin to explain his position with regard to Coralie. He said that
he was loved for his own sake; he said a good many foolish things that
a man will say when he is smitten with a tender passion, and thought the
while that he was doing a clever thing.

Mme. de Bargeton bit her lips. There was no more to be said. Mme.
d'Espard brought Mme. de Montcornet to her cousin, and Lucien became
the hero of the evening, so to speak. He was flattered, petted, and made
much of by the three women; he was entangled with art which no words can
describe. His social success in this fine and brilliant circle was
at least as great as his triumphs in journalism. Beautiful Mlle. des
Touches, so well known as "Camille Maupin," asked him to one of her
Wednesday dinners; his beauty, now so justly famous, seemed to have
made an impression upon her. Lucien exerted himself to show that his wit
equaled his good looks, and Mlle. des Touches expressed her admiration
with a playful outspokenness and a pretty fervor of friendship which
deceives those who do not know life in Paris to its depths, nor suspect
how continual enjoyment whets the appetite for novelty.

"If she should like me as much as I like her, we might abridge the
romance," said Lucien, addressing de Marsay and Rastignac.

"You both of you write romances too well to care to live them," returned
Rastignac. "Can men and women who write ever fall in love with each
other? A time is sure to come when they begin to make little cutting

"It would not be a bad dream for you," laughed de Marsay. "The charming
young lady is thirty years old, it is true, but she has an income of
eighty thousand livres. She is adorably capricious, and her style of
beauty wears well. Coralie is a silly little fool, my dear boy, well
enough for a start, for a young spark must have a mistress; but unless
you make some great conquest in the great world, an actress will do you
harm in the long run. Now, my boy, go and cut out Conti. Here he is,
just about to sing with Camille Maupin. Poetry has taken precedence of
music ever since time began."

But when Lucien heard Mlle. des Touches' voice blending with Conti's,
his hopes fled.

"Conti sings too well," he told des Lupeaulx; and he went back to Mme.
de Bargeton, who carried him off to Mme. d'Espard in another room.

"Well, will you not interest yourself in him?" asked Mme. de Bargeton.

The Marquise spoke with an air half kindly, half insolent. "Let M.
Chardon first put himself in such a position that he will not compromise
those who take an interest in him," she said. "If he wishes to drop his
patronymic and to bear his mother's name, he should at any rate be on
the right side, should he not?"

"In less than two months I will arrange everything," said Lucien.

"Very well," returned Mme. d'Espard. "I will speak to my father and
uncle; they are in waiting, they will speak to the Chancellor for you."

The diplomatist and the two women had very soon discovered Lucien's weak
side. The poet's head was turned by the glory of the aristocracy; every
man who entered the rooms bore a sounding name mounted in a glittering
title, and he himself was plain Chardon. Unspeakable mortification
filled him at the sound of it. Wherever he had been during the last few
days, that pang had been constantly present with him. He felt, moreover,
a sensation quite as unpleasant when he went back to his desk after an
evening spent in the great world, in which he made a tolerable figure,
thanks to Coralie's carriage and Coralie's servants.

He learned to ride, in order to escort Mme. d'Espard, Mlle. des Touches,
and the Comtesse de Montcornet when they drove in the Bois, a privilege
which he had envied other young men so greatly when he first came to
Paris. Finot was delighted to give his right-hand man an order for the
Opera, so Lucien wasted many an evening there, and thenceforward he was
among the exquisites of the day.

The poet asked Rastignac and his new associates to a breakfast, and made
the blunder of giving it in Coralie's rooms in the Rue de Vendome;
he was too young, too much of a poet, too self-confident, to discern
certain shades and distinctions in conduct; and how should an actress,
a good-hearted but uneducated girl, teach him life? His guests were
anything but charitably disposed towards him; it was clearly proven to
their minds that Lucien the critic and the actress were in collusion
for their mutual interests, and all of the young men were jealous of an
arrangement which all of them stigmatized. The most pitiless of those
who laughed that evening at Lucien's expense was Rastignac himself.
Rastignac had made and held his position by very similar means; but
so careful had he been of appearances, that he could afford to treat
scandal as slander.

Lucien proved an apt pupil at whist. Play became a passion with him; and
so far from disapproving, Coralie encouraged his extravagance with the
peculiar short-sightedness of an all-absorbing love, which sees nothing
beyond the moment, and is ready to sacrifice anything, even the future,
to the present enjoyment. Coralie looked on cards as a safe-guard
against rivals. A great love has much in common with childhood - a
child's heedless, careless, spendthrift ways, a child's laughter and

In those days there lived and flourished a set of young men,
some of them rich, some poor, and all of them idle, called
"free-livers" (_viveurs_); and, indeed, they lived with incredible
insolence - unabashed and unproductive consumers, and yet more intrepid
drinkers. These spendthrifts mingled the roughest practical jokes with
a life not so much reckless as suicidal; they drew back from no
impossibility, and gloried in pranks which, nevertheless, were confined
within certain limits; and as they showed the most original wit in their
escapades, it was impossible not to pardon them.

No sign of the times more plainly discovered the helotism to which the
Restoration had condemned the young manhood of the epoch. The younger
men, being at a loss to know what to do with themselves, were compelled
to find other outlets for their superabundant energy besides journalism,
or conspiracy, or art, or letters. They squandered their strength in
the wildest excesses, such sap and luxuriant power was there in young
France. The hard workers among these gilded youths wanted power and
pleasure; the artists wished for money; the idle sought to stimulate
their appetites or wished for excitement; one and all of them wanted

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 22 of 29)