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Honoré de Balzac.

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in either case, there is a tidbit of tattle for the inquirer, as, for
instance, that tale of Fouche's police surrounding the spies of the
Prefect of Police, who, not being in the secret of the fabrication of
forged English banknotes, were just about to pounce on the clandestine
printers employed by the Minister, or there is the story of Prince
Galathionne's diamonds, the Maubreuile affair, or the Pombreton will
case. The 'chanteur' gets possession of some compromising letter,
asks for an interview; and if the man that made the money does not buy
silence, the 'chanteur' draws a picture of the press ready to take the
matter up and unravel his private affairs. The rich man is frightened,
he comes down with the money, and the trick succeeds.

"You are committed to some risky venture, which might easily be written
down in a series of articles; a 'chanteur' waits upon you, and offers to
withdraw the articles - for a consideration. 'Chanteurs' are sent to
men in office, who will bargain that their acts and not their private
characters are to be attacked, or they are heedless of their
characters, and anxious only to shield the woman they love. One of your
acquaintance, that charming Master of Requests des Lupeaulx, is a kind
of agent for affairs of this sort. The rascal has made a position for
himself in the most marvelous way in the very centre of power; he is the
middle-man of the press and the ambassador of the Ministers; he works
upon a man's self-love; he bribes newspapers to pass over a loan in
silence, or to make no comment on a contract which was never put up for
public tender, and the jackals of Liberal bankers get a share out of it.
That was a bit of 'chantage' that you did with Dauriat; he gave you a
thousand crowns to let Nathan alone. In the eighteenth century, when
journalism was still in its infancy, this kind of blackmail was levied
by pamphleteers in the pay of favorites and great lords. The original
inventor was Pietro Aretino, a great Italian. Kings went in fear of him,
as stage-players go in fear of a newspaper to-day."

"What did you do to the Matifat to make the thousand crowns?"

"I attacked Florine in half a dozen papers. Florine complained to
Matifat. Matifat went to Braulard to find out what the attacks meant.
I did my 'chantage' for Finot's benefit, and Finot put Braulard on the
wrong scent; Braulard told the man of drugs that _you_ were demolishing
Florine in Coralie's interest. Then Giroudeau went round to Matifat and
told him (in confidence) that the whole business could be accommodated
if he (Matifat) would consent to sell his sixth share in Finot's review
for ten thousand francs. Finot was to give me a thousand crowns if
the dodge succeeded. Well, Matifat was only too glad to get back
ten thousand francs out of the thirty thousand invested in a risky
speculation, as he thought, for Florine had been telling him for several
days past that Finot's review was doing badly; and, instead of paying a
dividend, something was said of calling up more capital. So Matifat
was just about to close with the offer, when the manager of the
Panorama-Dramatique comes to him with some accommodation bills that he
wanted to negotiate before filing his schedule. To induce Matifat to
take them of him, he let out a word of Finot's trick. Matifat, being a
shrewd man of business, took the hint, held tight to his sixth, and is
laughing in his sleeve at us. Finot and I are howling with despair. We
have been so misguided as to attack a man who has no affection for
his mistress, a heartless, soulless wretch. Unluckily, too, for us,
Matifat's business is not amenable to the jurisdiction of the press, and
he cannot be made to smart for it through his interests. A druggist is
not like a hatter or a milliner, or a theatre or a work of art; he is
above criticism; you can't run down his opium and dyewoods, nor cocoa
beans, paint, and pepper. Florine is at her wits' end; the Panorama
closes to-morrow, and what will become of her she does not know."

"Coralie's engagement at the Gymnase begins in a few days," said Lucien;
"she might do something for Florine."

"Not she!" said Lousteau. "Coralie is not clever, but she is not quite
simple enough to help herself to a rival. We are in a mess with a
vengeance. And Finot is in such a hurry to buy back his sixth - - "

"Why?"

"It is a capital bit of business, my dear fellow. There is a chance of
selling the paper for three hundred thousand francs; Finot would have
one-third, and his partners besides are going to pay him a commission,
which he will share with des Lupeaulx. So I propose to do another turn
of 'chantage.'"

"'Chantage' seems to mean your money or your life?"

"It is better than that," said Lousteau; "it is your money or your
character. A short time ago the proprietor of a minor newspaper was
refused credit. The day before yesterday it was announced in his columns
that a gold repeater set with diamonds belonging to a certain notability
had found its way in a curious fashion into the hands of a private
soldier in the Guards; the story promised to the readers might have come
from the _Arabian Nights_. The notability lost no time in asking that
editor to dine with him; the editor was distinctly a gainer by the
transaction, and contemporary history has lost an anecdote. Whenever the
press makes vehement onslaughts upon some one in power, you may be sure
that there is some refusal to do a service behind it. Blackmailing with
regard to private life is the terror of the richest Englishman, and a
great source of wealth to the press in England, which is infinitely more
corrupt than ours. We are children in comparison! In England they
will pay five or six thousand francs for a compromising letter to sell
again."

"Then how can you lay hold of Matifat?" asked Lucien.

"My dear boy, that low tradesman wrote the queerest letters to Florine;
the spelling, style, and matter of them is ludicrous to the last degree.
We can strike him in the very midst of his Lares and Penates, where he
feels himself safest, without so much as mentioning his name; and he
cannot complain, for he lives in fear and terror of his wife. Imagine
his wrath when he sees the first number of a little serial entitled the
_Amours of a Druggist_, and is given fair warning that his love-letters
have fallen into the hands of certain journalists. He talks about the
'little god Cupid,' he tells Florine that she enables him to cross the
desert of life (which looks as if he took her for a camel), and
spells 'never' with two v's. There is enough in that immensely funny
correspondence to bring an influx of subscribers for a fortnight. He
will shake in his shoes lest an anonymous letter should supply his wife
with the key to the riddle. The question is whether Florine will consent
to appear to persecute Matifat. She has some principles, which is to
say, some hopes, still left. Perhaps she means to keep the letters and
make something for herself out of them. She is cunning, as befits
my pupil. But as soon as she finds out that a bailiff is no laughing
matter, or Finot gives her a suitable present or hopes of an engagement,
she will give me the letters, and I will sell them to Finot. Finot will
put the correspondence in his uncle's hands, and Giroudeau will bring
Matifat to terms."

These confidences sobered Lucien. His first thought was that he had some
extremely dangerous friends; his second, that it would be impolitic to
break with them; for if Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton, and Chatelet
should fail to keep their word with him, he might need their terrible
power yet. By this time Etienne and Lucien had reached Barbet's
miserable bookshop on the Quai. Etienne addressed Barbet:

"We have five thousand francs' worth of bills at six, nine, and twelve
months, given by Fendant and Cavalier. Are you willing to discount them
for us?"

"I will give you three thousand francs for them," said Barbet with
imperturbable coolness.

"Three thousand francs!" echoed Lucien.

"Nobody else will give you as much," rejoined the bookseller. "The firm
will go bankrupt before three months are out; but I happen to know that
they have some good books that are hanging on hand; they cannot afford
to wait, so I shall buy their stock for cash and pay them with their own
bills, and get the books at a reduction of two thousand francs. That's
how it is."

"Do you mind losing a couple of thousand francs, Lucien?" asked
Lousteau.

"Yes!" Lucien answered vehemently. He was dismayed by this first rebuff.

"You are making a mistake," said Etienne.

"You won't find any one that will take their paper," said Barbet. "Your
book is their last stake, sir. The printer will not trust them; they are
obliged to leave the copies in pawn with him. If they make a hit now, it
will only stave off bankruptcy for another six months, sooner or later
they will have to go. They are cleverer at tippling than at bookselling.
In my own case, their bills mean business; and that being so, I can
afford to give more than a professional discounter who simply looks at
the signatures. It is a bill-discounter's business to know whether
the three names on a bill are each good for thirty per cent in case of
bankruptcy. And here at the outset you only offer two signatures, and
neither of them worth ten per cent."

The two journalists exchanged glances in surprise. Here was a little
scrub of a bookseller putting the essence of the art and mystery of
bill-discounting in these few words.

"That will do, Barbet," said Lousteau. "Can you tell us of a bill-broker
that will look at us?"

"There is Daddy Chaboisseau, on the Quai Saint-Michel, you know. He
tided Fendant over his last monthly settlement. If you won't listen to
my offer, you might go and see what he says to you; but you would only
come back to me, and then I shall offer you two thousand francs instead
of three."

Etienne and Lucien betook themselves to the Quai Saint-Michel, and
found Chaboisseau in a little house with a passage entry. Chaboisseau,
a bill-discounter, whose dealings were principally with the book trade,
lived in a second-floor lodging furnished in the most eccentric manner.
A brevet-rank banker and millionaire to boot, he had a taste for the
classical style. The cornice was in the classical style; the bedstead,
in the purest classical taste, dated from the time of the Empire, when
such things were in fashion; the purple hangings fell over the wall
like the classic draperies in the background of one of David's pictures.
Chairs and tables, lamps and sconces, and every least detail had
evidently been sought with patient care in furniture warehouses. There
was the elegance of antiquity about the classic revival as well as its
fragile and somewhat arid grace. The man himself, like his manner of
life, was in grotesque contrast with the airy mythological look of his
rooms; and it may be remarked that the most eccentric characters are
found among men who give their whole energies to money-making.

Men of this stamp are, in a certain sense, intellectual libertines.
Everything is within their reach, consequently their fancy is jaded,
and they will make immense efforts to shake off their indifference. The
student of human nature can always discover some hobby, some accessible
weakness and sensitive spot in their heart. Chaboisseau might have
entrenched himself in antiquity as in an impregnable camp.

"The man will be an antique to match, no doubt," said Etienne, smiling.

Chaboisseau, a little old person with powdered hair, wore a greenish
coat and snuff-brown waistcoat; he was tricked out besides in black
small-clothes, ribbed stockings, and shoes that creaked as he came
forward to take the bills. After a short scrutiny, he returned them to
Lucien with a serious countenance.

"MM Fendant and Cavalier are delightful young fellows; they have plenty
of intelligence; but, I have no money," he said blandly.

"My friend here would be willing to meet you in the matter of
discount - - " Etienne began.

"I would not take the bills on any consideration," returned the little
broker. The words slid down upon Lousteau's suggestion like the blade of
the guillotine on a man's neck.

The two friends withdrew; but as Chaboisseau went prudently out with
them across the ante-chamber, Lucien noticed a pile of second-hand
books. Chaboisseau had been in the trade, and this was a recent
purchase. Shining conspicuous among them, he noticed a copy of a work
by the architect Ducereau, which gives exceedingly accurate plans of
various royal palaces and chateaux in France.

"Could you let me have that book?" he asked.

"Yes," said Chaboisseau, transformed into a bookseller.

"How much?"

"Fifty francs."

"It is dear, but I want it. And I can only pay you with one of the bills
which you refuse to take."

"You have a bill there for five hundred francs at six months; I will
take that one of you," said Chaboisseau.

Apparently at the last statement of accounts, there had been a balance
of five hundred francs in favor of Fendant and Cavalier.

They went back to the classical department. Chaboisseau made out a
little memorandum, interest so much and commission so much, total
deduction thirty francs, then he subtracted fifty francs for Ducerceau's
book; finally, from a cash-box full of coin, he took four hundred and
twenty francs.

"Look here, though, M. Chaboisseau, the bills are either all of them
good, or all bad alike; why don't you take the rest?"

"This is not discounting; I am paying myself for a sale," said the old
man.

Etienne and Lucien were still laughing at Chaboisseau, without
understanding him, when they reached Dauriat's shop, and Etienne asked
Gabusson to give them the name of a bill-broker. Gabusson thus appealed
to gave them a letter of introduction to a broker in the Boulevard
Poissonniere, telling them at the same time that this was the "oddest
and queerest party" (to use his own expression) that he, Gabusson,
had come across. The friends took a cab by the hour, and went to the
address.

"If Samanon won't take your bills," Gabusson had said, "nobody else will
look at them."

A second-hand bookseller on the ground floor, a second-hand
clothes-dealer on the first story, and a seller of indecent prints on
the second, Samanon carried on a fourth business - he was a
money-lender into the bargain. No character in Hoffmann's romances, no
sinister-brooding miser of Scott's, can compare with this freak of human
and Parisian nature (always admitting that Samanon was human). In spite
of himself, Lucien shuddered at the sight of the dried-up little old
creature, whose bones seemed to be cutting a leather skin, spotted with
all sorts of little green and yellow patches, like a portrait by Titian
or Veronese when you look at it closely. One of Samanon's eyes was fixed
and glassy, the other lively and bright; he seemed to keep that dead eye
for the bill-discounting part of his profession, and the other for the
trade in the pornographic curiosities upstairs. A few stray white hairs
escaping from under a small, sleek, rusty black wig, stood erect above a
sallow forehead with a suggestion of menace about it; a hollow trench in
either cheek defined the outline of the jaws; while a set of projecting
teeth, still white, seemed to stretch the skin of the lips with the
effect of an equine yawn. The contrast between the ill-assorted eyes
and grinning mouth gave Samanon a passably ferocious air; and the very
bristles on the man's chin looked stiff and sharp as pins.

Nor was there the slightest sign about him of any desire to redeem a
sinister appearance by attention to the toilet; his threadbare jacket
was all but dropping to pieces; a cravat, which had once been black, was
frayed by contact with a stubble chin, and left on exhibition a throat
as wrinkled as a turkey-gobbler's.

This was the individual whom Etienne and Lucien discovered in his filthy
counting-house, busily affixing tickets to the backs of a parcel
of books from a recent sale. In a glance, the friends exchanged the
innumerable questions raised by the existence of such a creature; then
they presented Gabusson's introduction and Fendant and Cavalier's bills.
Samanon was still reading the note when a third comer entered, the
wearer of a short jacket, which seemed in the dimly-lighted shop to be
cut out of a piece of zinc roofing, so solid was it by reason of alloy
with all kinds of foreign matter. Oddly attired as he was, the man was
an artist of no small intellectual power, and ten years later he was
destined to assist in the inauguration of the great but ill-founded
Saint-Simonian system.

"I want my coat, my black trousers, and satin waistcoat," said this
person, pressing a numbered ticket on Samanon's attention. Samanon
touched the brass button of a bell-pull, and a woman came down from
some upper region, a Normande apparently, to judge by her rich, fresh
complexion.

"Let the gentleman have his clothes," said Samanon, holding out a hand
to the newcomer. "It's a pleasure to do business with you, sir; but
that youngster whom one of your friends introduced to me took me in most
abominably."

"Took _him_ in!" chuckled the newcomer, pointing out Samanon to the two
journalists with an extremely comical gesture. The great man dropped
thirty sous into the money-lender's yellow, wrinkled hand; like the
Neapolitan _lazzaroni_, he was taking his best clothes out of pawn for a
state occasion. The coins dropped jingling into the till.

"What queer business are you up to?" asked Lousteau of the artist, an
opium-eater who dwelt among visions of enchanted palaces till he either
could not or would not create.

"_He_ lends you a good deal more than an ordinary pawnbroker on anything
you pledge; and, besides, he is so awfully charitable, he allows you to
take your clothes out when you must have something to wear. I am going
to dine with the Kellers and my mistress to-night," he continued; "and
to me it is easier to find thirty sous than two hundred francs, so I
keep my wardrobe here. It has brought the charitable usurer a hundred
francs in the last six months. Samanon has devoured my library already,
volume by volume" (_livre a livre_).

"And sou by sou," Lousteau said with a laugh.

"I will let you have fifteen hundred francs," said Samanon, looking up.

Lucien started, as if the bill-broker had thrust a red-hot skewer
through his heart. Samanon was subjecting the bills and their dates to a
close scrutiny.

"And even then," he added, "I must see Fendant first. He ought to
deposit some books with me. You aren't worth much" (turning to Lucien);
"you are living with Coralie, and your furniture has been attached."

Lousteau, watching Lucien, saw him take up his bills, and dash out into
the street. "He is the devil himself!" exclaimed the poet. For several
seconds he stood outside gazing at the shop front. The whole place was
so pitiful, that a passer-by could not see it without smiling at the
sight, and wondering what kind of business a man could do among those
mean, dirty shelves of ticketed books.

A very few moments later, the great man, in incognito, came out, very
well dressed, smiled at his friends, and turned to go with them in the
direction of the Passage des Panoramas, where he meant to complete his
toilet by the polishing of his boots.

"If you see Samanon in a bookseller's shop, or calling on a
paper-merchant or a printer, you may know that it is all over with
that man," said the artist. "Samanon is the undertaker come to take the
measurements for a coffin."

"You won't discount your bills now, Lucien," said Etienne.

"If Samanon will not take them, nobody else will; he is the _ultima
ratio_," said the stranger. "He is one of Gigonnet's lambs, a spy for
Palma, Werbrust, Gobseck, and the rest of those crocodiles who swim in
the Paris money-market. Every man with a fortune to make, or unmake, is
sure to come across one of them sooner or later."

"If you cannot discount your bills at fifty per cent," remarked
Lousteau, "you must exchange them for hard cash."

"How?"

"Give them to Coralie; Camusot will cash them for her. - You are
disgusted," added Lousteau, as Lucien cut him short with a start. "What
nonsense! How can you allow such a silly scruple to turn the scale, when
your future is in the balance?"

"I shall take this money to Coralie in any case," began Lucien.

"Here is more folly!" cried Lousteau. "You will not keep your creditors
quiet with four hundred francs when you must have four thousand. Let
us keep a little and get drunk on it, if we lose the rest at _rouge et
noir_."

"That is sound advice," said the great man.

Those words, spoken not four paces from Frascati's, were magnetic
in their effect. The friends dismissed their cab and went up to the
gaming-table.

At the outset they won three thousand francs, then they lost and fell
to five hundred; again they won three thousand seven hundred francs, and
again they lost all but a five-franc piece. After another turn of luck
they staked two thousand francs on an even number to double the stake at
a stroke; an even number had not turned up for five times in succession,
and this was the sixth time. They punted the whole sum, and an odd
number turned up once more.

After two hours of all-absorbing, frenzied excitement, the two dashed
down the staircase with the hundred francs kept back for the dinner.
Upon the steps, between two pillars which support the little sheet-iron
veranda to which so many eyes have been upturned in longing or despair,
Lousteau stopped and looked into Lucien's flushed, excited face.

"Let us just try fifty francs," he said.

And up the stairs again they went. An hour later they owned a thousand
crowns. Black had turned up for the fifth consecutive time; they trusted
that their previous luck would not repeat itself, and put the whole sum
on the red - black turned up for the sixth time. They had lost. It was
now six o'clock.

"Let us just try twenty-five francs," said Lucien.

The new venture was soon made - and lost. The twenty-five francs went in
five stakes. Then Lucien, in a frenzy, flung down his last twenty-five
francs on the number of his age, and won. No words can describe how his
hands trembled as he raked in the coins which the bank paid him one by
one. He handed ten louis to Lousteau.

"Fly!" he cried; "take it to Very's."

Lousteau took the hint and went to order dinner. Lucien, left alone,
laid his thirty louis on the red and won. Emboldened by the inner voice
which a gambler always hears, he staked the whole again on the red, and
again he won. He felt as if there were a furnace within him. Without
heeding the voice, he laid a hundred and twenty louis on the black
and lost. Then to the torturing excitement of suspense succeeded the
delicious feeling of relief known to the gambler who has nothing left
to lose, and must perforce leave the palace of fire in which his dreams
melt and vanish.

He found Lousteau at Very's, and flung himself upon the cookery (to make
use of Lafontaine's expression), and drowned his cares in wine. By nine
o'clock his ideas were so confused that he could not imagine why the
portress in the Rue de Vendome persisted in sending him to the Rue de la
Lune.

"Mlle. Coralie has gone," said the woman. "She has taken lodgings
elsewhere. She left her address with me on this scrap of paper."

Lucien was too far gone to be surprised at anything. He went back to the
cab which had brought him, and was driven to the Rue de la Lune, making
puns to himself on the name of the street as he went.

The news of the failure of the Panorama-Dramatique had come like a
thunder-clap. Coralie, taking alarm, made haste to sell her furniture
(with the consent of her creditors) to little old Cardot, who installed
Florentine in the rooms at once. The tradition of the house remained
unbroken. Coralie paid her creditors and satisfied the landlord,
proceeding with her "washing-day," as she called it, while Berenice
bought the absolutely indispensable necessaries to furnish a
fourth-floor lodging in the Rue de la Lune, a few doors from the
Gymnase. Here Coralie was waiting for Lucien's return. She had brought
her love unsullied out of the shipwreck and twelve hundred francs.

Lucien, more than half intoxicated, poured out his woes to Coralie and
Berenice.

"You did quite right, my angel," said Coralie, with her arms about his
neck. "Berenice can easily negotiate your bills with Braulard."

The next morning Lucien awoke to an enchanted world of happiness made
about him by Coralie. She was more loving and tender in those days than



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 24 of 29)