Copyright
Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

. (page 26 of 29)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 26 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


he is enchantingly handsome besides; his old friends cannot forgive him
for his success - they call it luck."

"Luck of that sort never comes to fools or incapables," said des
Lupeaulx. "Can you call Bonaparte's fortune luck, eh? There were a score
of applicants for the command of the army in Italy, just as there are a
hundred young men at this moment who would like to have an entrance
to Mlle. des Touches' house; people are coupling her name with yours
already in society, my dear boy," said des Lupeaulx, clapping Lucien
on the shoulder. "Ah! you are in high favor. Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de
Bargeton, and Mme. de Montcornet are wild about you. You are going to
Mme. Firmiani's party to-night, are you not, and to the Duchesse de
Grandlieu's rout to-morrow?"

"Yes," said Lucien.

"Allow me to introduce a young banker to you, a M. du Tillet; you ought
to be acquainted, he has contrived to make a great fortune in a short
time."

Lucien and du Tillet bowed, and entered into conversation, and the
banker asked Lucien to dinner. Finot and des Lupeaulx, a well-matched
pair, knew each other well enough to keep upon good terms; they turned
away to continue their chat on one of the sofas in the greenroom, and
left Lucien with du Tillet, Merlin, and Nathan.

"By the way, my friend," said Finot, "tell me how things stand. Is there
really somebody behind Lucien? For he is the _bete noire_ of my staff;
and before allowing them to plot against him, I thought I should like
to know whether, in your opinion, it would be better to baffle them and
keep well with him."

The Master of Requests and Finot looked at each other very closely for a
moment or two.

"My dear fellow," said des Lupeaulx, "how can you imagine that the
Marquise d'Espard, or Chatelet, or Mme. de Bargeton - who has procured
the Baron's nomination to the prefecture and the title of Count, so as
to return in triumph to Angouleme - how can you suppose that any of them
will forgive Lucien for his attacks on them? They dropped him down in
the Royalist ranks to crush him out of existence. At this moment they
are looking round for any excuse for not fulfilling the promises they
made to that boy. Help them to some; you will do the greatest possible
service to the two women, and some day or other they will remember it.
I am in their secrets; I was surprised to find how much they hated the
little fellow. This Lucien might have rid himself of his bitterest enemy
(Mme. de Bargeton) by desisting from his attacks on terms which a woman
loves to grant - do you take me? He is young and handsome, he should have
drowned her hate in torrents of love, he would be Comte de Rubempre by
this time; the Cuttlefish-bone would have obtained some sinecure for
him, some post in the Royal Household. Lucien would have made a very
pretty reader to Louis XVIII.; he might have been librarian somewhere or
other, Master of Requests for a joke, Master of Revels, what you please.
The young fool has missed his chance. Perhaps that is his unpardonable
sin. Instead of imposing his conditions, he has accepted them. When
Lucien was caught with the bait of the patent of nobility, the Baron
Chatelet made a great step. Coralie has been the ruin of that boy. If he
had not had the actress for his mistress, he would have turned again to
the Cuttlefish-bone; and he would have had her too."

"Then we can knock him over?"

"How?" des Lupeaulx asked carelessly. He saw a way of gaining credit
with the Marquise d'Espard for this service.

"He is under contract to write for Lousteau's paper, and we can the
better hold him to his agreement because he has not a sou. If we tickle
up the Keeper of the Seals with a facetious article, and prove that
Lucien wrote it, he will consider that Lucien is unworthy of the King's
favor. We have a plot on hand besides. Coralie will be ruined, and our
distinguished provincial will lose his head when his mistress is hissed
off the stage and left without an engagement. When once the patent is
suspended, we will laugh at the victim's aristocratic pretensions, and
allude to his mother the nurse and his father the apothecary. Lucien's
courage is only skindeep, he will collapse; we will send him back to
his provinces. Nathan made Florine sell me Matifat's sixth share of the
review, I was able to buy; Dauriat and I are the only proprietors now;
we might come to an understanding, you and I, and the review might
be taken over for the benefit of the Court. I stipulated for the
restitution of my sixth before I undertook to protect Nathan and
Florine; they let me have it, and I must help them; but I wished to know
first how Lucien stood - - "

"You deserve your name," said des Lupeaulx. "I like a man of your
sort - - "

"Very well. Then can you arrange a definite engagement for Florine?"
asked Finot.

"Yes, but rid us of Lucien, for Rastignac and de Marsay never wish to
hear of him again."

"Sleep in peace," returned Finot. "Nathan and Merlin will always have
articles ready for Gaillard, who will promise to take them; Lucien will
never get a line into the paper. We will cut off his supplies. There
is only Martainville's paper left him in which to defend himself and
Coralie; what can a single paper do against so many?"

"I will let you know the weak points of the Ministry; but get Lucien to
write that article and hand over the manuscript," said des Lupeaulx, who
refrained carefully from informing Finot that Lucien's promised patent
was nothing but a joke.

When des Lupeaulx had gone, Finot went to Lucien, and taking the
good-natured tone which deceives so many victims, he explained that he
could not possibly afford to lose his contributor, and at the same time
he shrank from taking proceedings which might ruin him with his friends
of the other side. Finot himself liked a man who was strong enough to
change his opinions. They were pretty sure to come across one another,
he and Lucien, and might be mutually helpful in a thousand little ways.
Lucien, besides, needed a sure man in the Liberal party to attack the
Ultras and men in office who might refuse to help him.

"Suppose that they play you false, what will you do?" Finot ended.
"Suppose that some Minister fancies that he has you fast by the halter
of your apostasy, and turns the cold shoulder on you? You will be glad
to set on a few dogs to snap at his legs, will you not? Very well.
But you have made a deadly enemy of Lousteau; he is thirsting for your
blood. You and Felicien are not on speaking terms. I only remain to you.
It is a rule of the craft to keep a good understanding with every man
of real ability. In the world which you are about to enter you can do me
services in return for mine with the press. But business first. Let
me have purely literary articles; they will not compromise you, and we
shall have executed our agreement."

Lucien saw nothing but good-fellowship and a shrewd eye to business in
Finot's offer; Finot and des Lupeaulx had flattered him, and he was in a
good humor. He actually thanked Finot!

Ambitious men, like all those who can only make their way by the help of
others and of circumstances, are bound to lay their plans very carefully
and to adhere very closely to the course of conduct on which they
determine; it is a cruel moment in the lives of such aspirants when some
unknown power brings the fabric of their fortunes to some severe test
and everything gives way at once; threads are snapped or entangled,
and misfortune appears on every side. Let a man lose his head in the
confusion, it is all over with him; but if he can resist this first
revolt of circumstances, if he can stand erect until the tempest passes
over, or make a supreme effort and reach the serene sphere about the
storm - then he is really strong. To every man, unless he is born rich,
there comes sooner or later "his fatal week," as it must be called. For
Napoleon, for instance, that week was the Retreat from Moscow. It had
begun now for Lucien.

Social and literary success had come to him too easily; he had had such
luck that he was bound to know reverses and to see men and circumstances
turn against him.

The first blow was the heaviest and the most keenly felt, for it touched
Lucien where he thought himself invulnerable - in his heart and his
love. Coralie might not be clever, but hers was a noble nature, and she
possessed the great actress' faculty of suddenly standing aloof from
self. This strange phenomenon is subject, until it degenerates into a
habit with long practice, to the caprices of character, and not seldom
to an admirable delicacy of feeling in actresses who are still young.
Coralie, to all appearance bold and wanton, as the part required, was
in reality girlish and timid, and love had wrought in her a revulsion of
her woman's heart against the comedian's mask. Art, the supreme art of
feigning passion and feeling, had not yet triumphed over nature in her;
she shrank before a great audience from the utterance that belongs
to Love alone; and Coralie suffered besides from another true woman's
weakness - she needed success, born stage queen though she was. She could
not confront an audience with which she was out of sympathy; she was
nervous when she appeared on the stage, a cold reception paralyzed her.
Each new part gave her the terrible sensations of a first appearance.
Applause produced a sort of intoxication which gave her encouragement
without flattering her vanity; at a murmur of dissatisfaction or before
a silent house, she flagged; but a great audience following attentively,
admiringly, willing to be pleased, electrified Coralie. She felt at once
in communication with the nobler qualities of all those listeners; she
felt that she possessed the power of stirring their souls and carrying
them with her. But if this action and reaction of the audience upon the
actress reveals the nervous organization of genius, it shows no
less clearly the poor child's sensitiveness and delicacy. Lucien had
discovered the treasures of her nature; had learned in the past months
that this woman who loved him was still so much of a girl. And Coralie
was unskilled in the wiles of an actress - she could not fight her own
battles nor protect herself against the machinations of jealousy behind
the scenes. Florine was jealous of her, and Florine was as dangerous
and depraved as Coralie was simple and generous. Roles must come to
find Coralie; she was too proud to implore authors or to submit
to dishonoring conditions; she would not give herself to the first
journalist who persecuted her with his advances and threatened her with
his pen. Genius is rare enough in the extraordinary art of the
stage; but genius is only one condition of success among many, and is
positively hurtful unless it is accompanied by a genius for intrigue in
which Coralie was utterly lacking.

Lucien knew how much his friend would suffer on her first appearance at
the Gymnase, and was anxious at all costs to obtain a success for her;
but all the money remaining from the sale of the furniture and all
Lucien's earnings had been sunk in costumes, in the furniture of a
dressing-room, and the expenses of a first appearance.

A few days later, Lucien made up his mind to a humiliating step for
love's sake. He took Fendant and Cavalier's bills, and went to the
_Golden Cocoon_ in the Rue des Bourdonnais. He would ask Camusot to
discount them. The poet had not fallen so low that he could make this
attempt quite coolly. There had been many a sharp struggle first, and
the way to that decision had been paved with many dreadful thoughts.
Nevertheless, he arrived at last in the dark, cheerless little private
office that looked out upon a yard, and found Camusot seated gravely
there; this was not Coralie's infatuated adorer, not the easy-natured,
indolent, incredulous libertine whom he had known hitherto as Camusot,
but a heavy father of a family, a merchant grown old in shrewd
expedients of business and respectable virtues, wearing a magistrate's
mask of judicial prudery; this Camusot was the cool, business-like head
of the firm surrounded by clerks, green cardboard boxes, pigeonholes,
invoices, and samples, and fortified by the presence of a wife and
a plainly-dressed daughter. Lucien trembled from head to foot as he
approached; for the worthy merchant, like the money-lenders, turned
cool, indifferent eyes upon him.

"Here are two or three bills, monsieur," he said, standing beside the
merchant, who did not rise from his desk. "If you will take them of me,
you will oblige me extremely."

"You have taken something of _me_, monsieur," said Camusot; "I do not
forget it."

On this, Lucien explained Coralie's predicament. He spoke in a low
voice, bending to murmur his explanation, so that Camusot could hear
the heavy throbbing of the humiliated poet's heart. It was no part of
Camusot's plans that Coralie should suffer a check. He listened, smiling
to himself over the signatures on the bills (for, as a judge at the
Tribunal of Commerce, he knew how the booksellers stood), but in the end
he gave Lucien four thousand five hundred francs for them, stipulating
that he should add the formula "For value received in silks."

Lucien went straight to Braulard, and made arrangements for a good
reception. Braulard promised to come to the dress-rehearsal, to
determine on the points where his "Romans" should work their fleshy
clappers to bring down the house in applause. Lucien gave the rest of
the money to Coralie (he did not tell her how he had come by it), and
allayed her anxieties and the fears of Berenice, who was sorely troubled
over their daily expenses.

Martainville came several times to hear Coralie rehearse, and he knew
more of the stage than most men of his time; several Royalist writers
had promised favorable articles; Lucien had not a suspicion of the
impending disaster.

A fatal event occurred on the evening before Coralie's _debut_.
D'Arthez's book had appeared; and the editor of Merlin's paper,
considering Lucien to be the best qualified man on the staff, gave him
the book to review. He owed his unlucky reputation to those articles on
Nathan's work. There were several men in the office at the time, for all
the staff had been summoned; Martainville was explaining that the
party warfare with the Liberals must be waged on certain lines. Nathan,
Merlin, all the contributors, in fact, were talking of Leon Giraud's
paper, and remarking that its influence was the more pernicious because
the language was guarded, cool, moderate. People were beginning to speak
of the circle in the Rue des Quatre-Vents as a second Convention. It had
been decided that the Royalist papers were to wage a systematic war of
extermination against these dangerous opponents, who, indeed, at a later
day, were destined to sow the doctrines that drove the Bourbons into
exile; but that was only after the most brilliant of Royalist writers
had joined them for the sake of a mean revenge.

D'Arthez's absolutist opinions were not known; it was taken for granted
that he shared the views of his clique, he fell under the same anathema,
and he was to be the first victim. His book was to be honored with "a
slashing article," to use the consecrated formula. Lucien refused to
write the article. Great was the commotion among the leading Royalist
writers thus met in conclave. Lucien was told plainly that a renegade
could not do as he pleased; if it did not suit his views to take the
side of the Monarchy and Religion, he could go back to the other camp.
Merlin and Martainville took him aside and begged him, as his friends,
to remember that he would simply hand Coralie over to the tender mercies
of the Liberal papers, for she would find no champions on the Royalist
and Ministerial side. Her acting was certain to provoke a hot battle,
and the kind of discussion which every actress longs to arouse.

"You don't understand it in the least," said Martainville; "if she plays
for three months amid a cross-fire of criticism, she will make thirty
thousand francs when she goes on tour in the provinces at the end of the
season; and here are you about to sacrifice Coralie and your own future,
and to quarrel with your own bread and butter, all for a scruple that
will always stand in your way, and ought to be got rid of at once."

Lucien was forced to choose between d'Arthez and Coralie. His mistress
would be ruined unless he dealt his friend a death-blow in the _Reveil_
and the great newspaper. Poor poet! He went home with death in his soul;
and by the fireside he sat and read that finest production of modern
literature. Tears fell fast over it as the pages turned. For a long
while he hesitated, but at last he took up the pen and wrote a sarcastic
article of the kind that he understood so well, taking the book as
children might take some bright bird to strip it of its plumage and
torture it. His sardonic jests were sure to tell. Again he turned to the
book, and as he read it over a second time, his better self awoke. In
the dead of night he hurried across Paris, and stood outside d'Arthez's
house. He looked up at the windows and saw the faint pure gleam of light
in the panes, as he had so often seen it, with a feeling of admiration
for the noble steadfastness of that truly great nature. For some moments
he stood irresolute on the curbstone; he had not courage to go further;
but his good angel urged him on. He tapped at the door and opened, and
found d'Arthez sitting reading in a fireless room.

"What has happened?" asked d'Arthez, for news of some dreadful kind was
visible in Lucien's ghastly face.

"Your book is sublime, d'Arthez," said Lucien, with tears in his eyes,
"and they have ordered me to write an attack upon it."

"Poor boy! the bread that they give you is hard indeed!" said d'Arthez

"I only ask for one favor, keep my visit a secret and leave me to my
hell, to the occupations of the damned. Perhaps it is impossible to
attain to success until the heart is seared and callous in every most
sensitive spot."

"The same as ever!" cried d'Arthez.

"Do you think me a base poltroon? No, d'Arthez; no, I am a boy half
crazed with love," and he told his story.

"Let us look at the article," said d'Arthez, touched by all that Lucien
said of Coralie.

Lucien held out the manuscript; d'Arthez read, and could not help
smiling.

"Oh, what a fatal waste of intellect!" he began. But at the sight of
Lucien overcome with grief in the opposite armchair, he checked himself.

"Will you leave it with me to correct? I will let you have it again
to-morrow," he went on. "Flippancy depreciates a work; serious and
conscientious criticism is sometimes praise in itself. I know a way to
make your article more honorable both for yourself and for me. Besides,
I know my faults well enough."

"When you climb a hot, shadowless hillside, you sometimes find fruit to
quench your torturing thirst; and I have found it here and now," said
Lucien, as he sprang sobbing to d'Arthez's arms and kissed his friend
on the forehead. "It seems to me that I am leaving my conscience in your
keeping; some day I will come to you and ask for it again."

"I look upon a periodical repentance as great hypocrisy," d'Arthez
said solemnly; "repentance becomes a sort of indemnity for wrongdoing.
Repentance is virginity of the soul, which we must keep for God; a man
who repents twice is a horrible sycophant. I am afraid that you regard
repentance as absolution."

Lucien went slowly back to the Rue de la Lune, stricken dumb by those
words.

Next morning d'Arthez sent back his article, recast throughout, and
Lucien sent it in to the review; but from that day melancholy preyed
upon him, and he could not always disguise his mood. That evening, when
the theatre was full, he experienced for the first time the paroxysm of
nervous terror caused by a _debut_; terror aggravated in his case by all
the strength of his love. Vanity of every kind was involved. He looked
over the rows of faces as a criminal eyes the judges and the jury on
whom his life depends. A murmur would have set him quivering; any slight
incident upon the stage, Coralie's exits and entrances, the slightest
modulation of the tones of her voice, would perturb him beyond all
reason.

The play in which Coralie made her first appearance at the Gymnase was
a piece of the kind which sometimes falls flat at first, and afterwards
has immense success. It fell flat that night. Coralie was not applauded
when she came on, and the chilly reception reacted upon her. The only
applause came from Camusot's box, and various persons posted in the
balcony and galleries silenced Camusot with repeated cries of "Hush!"
The galleries even silenced the _claqueurs_ when they led off with
exaggerated salvos. Martainville applauded bravely; Nathan, Merlin, and
the treacherous Florine followed his example; but it was clear that the
piece was a failure. A crowd gathered in Coralie's dressing-room and
consoled her, till she had no courage left. She went home in despair,
less for her own sake than for Lucien's.

"Braulard has betrayed us," Lucien said.

Coralie was heartstricken. The next day found her in a high fever,
utterly unfit to play, face to face with the thought that she had been
cut short in her career. Lucien hid the papers from her, and looked
them over in the dining-room. The reviewers one and all attributed the
failure of the piece to Coralie; she had overestimated her strength;
she might be the delight of a boulevard audience, but she was out of her
element at the Gymnase; she had been inspired by a laudable ambition,
but she had not taken her powers into account; she had chosen a part
to which she was quite unequal. Lucien read on through a pile of
penny-a-lining, put together on the same system as his attack upon
Nathan. Milo of Crotona, when he found his hands fast in the oak which
he himself had cleft, was not more furious than Lucien. He grew haggard
with rage. His friends gave Coralie the most treacherous advice, in
the language of kindly counsel and friendly interest. She should
play (according to these authorities) all kind of roles, which the
treacherous writers of these unblushing _feuilletons_ knew to be utterly
unsuited to her genius. And these were the Royalist papers, led off by
Nathan. As for the Liberal press, all the weapons which Lucien had used
were now turned against him.

Coralie heard a sob, followed by another and another. She sprang out of
bed to find Lucien, and saw the papers. Nothing would satisfy her but
she must read them all; and when she had read them, she went back to
bed, and lay there in silence.

Florine was in the plot; she had foreseen the outcome; she had studied
Coralie's part, and was ready to take her place. The management,
unwilling to give up the piece, was ready to take Florine in Coralie's
stead. When the manager came, he found poor Coralie sobbing and
exhausted on her bed; but when he began to say, in Lucien's presence,
that Florine knew the part, and that the play must be given that
evening, Coralie sprang up at once.

"I will play!" she cried, and sank fainting on the floor.

So Florine took the part, and made her reputation in it; for the piece
succeeded, the newspapers all sang her praises, and from that time
forth Florine was the great actress whom we all know. Florine's success
exasperated Lucien to the highest degree.

"A wretched girl, whom you helped to earn her bread! If the Gymnase
prefers to do so, let the management pay you to cancel your engagement.
I shall be the Comte de Rubempre; I will make my fortune, and you shall
be my wife."

"What nonsense!" said Coralie, looking at him with wan eyes.

"Nonsense!" repeated he. "Very well, wait a few days, and you shall live
in a fine house, you shall have a carriage, and I will write a part for
you!"

He took two thousand francs and hurried to Frascati's. For seven hours
the unhappy victim of the Furies watched his varying luck, and outwardly
seemed cool and self-contained. He experienced both extremes of fortune
during that day and part of the night that followed; at one time he
possessed as much as thirty thousand francs, and he came out at last
without a sou. In the Rue de la Lune he found Finot waiting for him with
a request for one of his short articles. Lucien so far forgot himself,
that he complained.

"Oh, it is not all rosy," returned Finot. "You made your
right-about-face in such a way that you were bound to lose the support
of the Liberal press, and the Liberals are far stronger in print than
all the Ministerialist and Royalist papers put together. A man should
never leave one camp for another until he has made a comfortable berth



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 26 of 29)