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Honoré de Balzac.

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for himself, by way of consolation for the losses that he must expect;
and in any case, a prudent politician will see his friends first, and
give them his reasons for going over, and take their opinions. You can
still act together; they sympathize with you, and you agree to give
mutual help. Nathan and Merlin did that before they went over. Hawks
don't pike out hawks' eyes. You were as innocent as a lamb; you will
be forced to show your teeth to your new party to make anything out of
them. You have been necessarily sacrificed to Nathan. I cannot conceal
from you that your article on d'Arthez has roused a terrific hubbub.
Marat is a saint compared with you. You will be attacked, and your book
will be a failure. How far have things gone with your romance?"

"These are the last proof sheets."

"All the anonymous articles against that young d'Arthez in the
Ministerialist and Ultra papers are set down to you. The _Reveil_ is
poking fun at the set in the Rue des Quatre-Vents, and the hits are the
more telling because they are funny. There is a whole serious political
coterie at the back of Leon Giraud's paper; they will come into power
too, sooner or later."

"I have not written a line in the _Reveil_ this week past."

"Very well. Keep my short articles in mind. Write fifty of them straight
off, and I will pay you for them in a lump; but they must be of the same
color as the paper." And Finot, with seeming carelessness, gave Lucien
an edifying anecdote of the Keeper of the Seals, a piece of current
gossip, he said, for the subject of one of the papers.

Eager to retrieve his losses at play, Lucien shook off his dejection,
summoned up his energy and youthful force, and wrote thirty articles of
two columns each. These finished, he went to Dauriat's, partly because
he felt sure of meeting Finot there, and he wished to give the articles
to Finot in person; partly because he wished for an explanation of the
non-appearance of the _Marguerites_. He found the bookseller's shop full
of his enemies. All the talk immediately ceased as he entered. Put
under the ban of journalism, his courage rose, and once more he said
to himself, as he had said in the alley at the Luxembourg, "I will
triumph."

Dauriat was neither amiable or inclined to patronize; he was sarcastic
in tone, and determined not to bate an inch of his rights. The
_Marguerites_ should appear when it suited his purpose; he should wait
until Lucien was in a position to secure the success of the book; it was
his, he had bought it outright. When Lucien asserted that Dauriat was
bound to publish the _Marguerites_ by the very nature of the contract,
and the relative positions of the parties to the agreement, Dauriat
flatly contradicted him, said that no publisher could be compelled by
law to publish at a loss, and that he himself was the best judge of the
expediency of producing the book. There was, besides, a remedy open to
Lucien, as any court of law would admit - the poet was quite welcome
to take his verses to a Royalist publisher upon the repayment of the
thousand crowns.

Lucien went away. Dauriat's moderate tone had exasperated him even
more than his previous arrogance at their first interview. So the
_Marguerites_ would not appear until Lucien had found a host of
formidable supporters, or grown formidable himself! He walked home
slowly, so oppressed and out of heart that he felt ready for suicide.
Coralie lay in bed, looking white and ill.

"She must have a part, or she will die," said Berenice, as Lucien
dressed for a great evening party at Mlle. des Touches' house in the Rue
du Mont Blanc. Des Lupeaulx and Vignon and Blondet were to be there, as
well as Mme. d'Espard and Mme. de Bargeton.

The party was given in honor of Conti, the great composer, owner
likewise of one of the most famous voices off the stage, Cinti, Pasta,
Garcia, Levasseur, and two or three celebrated amateurs in society not
excepted. Lucien saw the Marquise, her cousin, and Mme. de Montcornet
sitting together, and made one of the party. The unhappy young fellow to
all appearances was light-hearted, happy, and content; he jested, he
was the Lucien de Rubempre of his days of splendor, he would not seem to
need help from any one. He dwelt on his services to the Royalist party,
and cited the hue and cry raised after him by the Liberal press as a
proof of his zeal.

"And you will be well rewarded, my friend," said Mme. de Bargeton, with
a gracious smile. "Go to the _Chancellerie_ the day after to-morrow with
'the Heron' and des Lupeaulx, and you will find your patent signed
by His Majesty. The Keeper of the Seals will take it to-morrow to the
Tuileries, but there is to be a meeting of the Council, and he will not
come back till late. Still, if I hear the result to-morrow evening, I
will let you know. Where are you living?"

"I will come to you," said Lucien, ashamed to confess that he was living
in the Rue de la Lune.

"The Duc de Lenoncourt and the Duc de Navarreins have made mention of
you to the King," added the Marquise; "they praised your absolute and
entire devotion, and said that some distinction ought to avenge your
treatment in the Liberal press. The name and title of Rubempre, to which
you have a claim through your mother, would become illustrious through
you, they said. The King gave his lordship instructions that evening to
prepare a patent authorizing the Sieur Lucien Chardon to bear the arms
and title of the Comtes de Rubempre, as grandson of the last Count by
the mother's side. 'Let us favor the songsters' (_chardonnerets_) 'of
Pindus,' said his Majesty, after reading your sonnet on the Lily, which
my cousin luckily remembered to give the Duke. - 'Especially when the
King can work miracles, and change the song-bird into an eagle,' M. de
Navarreins replied."

Lucien's expansion of feeling would have softened the heart of any woman
less deeply wounded than Louise d'Espard de Negrepelisse; but her thirst
for vengeance was only increased by Lucien's graciousness. Des Lupeaulx
was right; Lucien was wanting in tact. It never crossed his mind that
this history of the patent was one of the mystifications at which
Mme. d'Espard was an adept. Emboldened with success and the flattering
distinction shown to him by Mlle. des Touches, he stayed till two
o'clock in the morning for a word in private with his hostess. Lucien
had learned in Royalist newspaper offices that Mlle. des Touches was the
author of a play in which _La petite Fay_, the marvel of the moment was
about to appear. As the rooms emptied, he drew Mlle. des Touches to a
sofa in the boudoir, and told the story of Coralie's misfortune and his
own so touchingly, that Mlle. des Touches promised to give the heroine's
part to his friend.

That promise put new life into Coralie. But the next day, as they
breakfasted together, Lucien opened Lousteau's newspaper, and found that
unlucky anecdote of the Keeper of the Seals and his wife. The story
was full of the blackest malice lurking in the most caustic wit. Louis
XVIII. was brought into the story in a masterly fashion, and held up
to ridicule in such a way that prosecution was impossible. Here is the
substance of a fiction for which the Liberal party attempted to win
credence, though they only succeeded in adding one more to the tale of
their ingenious calumnies.

The King's passion for pink-scented notes and a correspondence full of
madrigals and sparkling wit was declared to be the last phase of the
tender passion; love had reached the Doctrinaire stage; or had passed,
in other words, from the concrete to the abstract. The illustrious
lady, so cruelly ridiculed under the name of Octavie by Beranger, had
conceived (so it was said) the gravest fears. The correspondence was
languishing. The more Octavie displayed her wit, the cooler grew the
royal lover. At last Octavie discovered the cause of her decline; her
power was threatened by the novelty and piquancy of a correspondence
between the august scribe and the wife of his Keeper of the Seals. That
excellent woman was believed to be incapable of writing a note; she was
simply and solely godmother to the efforts of audacious ambition. Who
could be hidden behind her petticoats? Octavie decided, after making
observations of her own, that the King was corresponding with his
Minister.

She laid her plans. With the help of a faithful friend, she arranged
that a stormy debate should detain the Minister at the Chamber; then she
contrived to secure a _tete-a-tete_, and to convince outraged Majesty of
the fraud. Louis XVIII. flew into a royal and truly Bourbon passion, but
the tempest broke on Octavie's head. He would not believe her. Octavie
offered immediate proof, begging the King to write a note which must be
answered at once. The unlucky wife of the Keeper of the Seals sent to
the Chamber for her husband; but precautions had been taken, and at that
moment the Minister was on his legs addressing the Chamber. The lady
racked her brains and replied to the note with such intellect as she
could improvise.

"Your Chancellor will supply the rest," cried Octavie, laughing at the
King's chagrin.

There was not a word of truth in the story; but it struck home to three
persons - the Keeper of the Seals, his wife, and the King. It was said
that des Lupeaulx had invented the tale, but Finot always kept his
counsel. The article was caustic and clever, the Liberal papers and
the Orleanists were delighted with it, and Lucien himself laughed, and
thought of it merely as a very amusing _canard_.

He called next day for des Lupeaulx and the Baron du Chatelet. The Baron
had just been to thank his lordship. The Sieur Chatelet, newly appointed
Councillor Extraordinary, was now Comte du Chatelet, with a promise of
the prefecture of the Charente so soon as the present prefect should
have completed the term of office necessary to receive the maximum
retiring pension. The Comte _du_ Chatelet (for the _du_ had been
inserted in the patent) drove with Lucien to the _Chancellerie_, and
treated his companion as an equal. But for Lucien's articles, he said,
his patent would not have been granted so soon; Liberal persecution had
been a stepping-stone to advancement. Des Lupeaulx was waiting for
them in the Secretary-General's office. That functionary started with
surprise when Lucien appeared and looked at des Lupeaulx.

"What!" he exclaimed, to Lucien's utter bewilderment. "Do you dare to
come here, sir? Your patent was made out, but his lordship has torn it
up. Here it is!" (the Secretary-General caught up the first torn sheet
that came to hand). "The Minister wished to discover the author of
yesterday's atrocious article, and here is the manuscript," added the
speaker, holding out the sheets of Lucien's article. "You call yourself
a Royalist, sir, and you are on the staff of that detestable paper which
turns the Minister's hair gray, harasses the Centre, and is dragging the
country headlong to ruin? You breakfast on the _Corsair_, the _Miroir_,
the _Constitutionnel_, and the _Courier_; you dine on the _Quotidienne_
and the _Reveil_, and then sup with Martainville, the worst enemy of the
Government! Martainville urges the Government on to Absolutist measures;
he is more likely to bring on another Revolution than if he had gone
over to the extreme Left. You are a very clever journalist, but you will
never make a politician. The Minister denounced you to the King, and
the King was so angry that he scolded M. le Duc de Navarreins, his
First Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Your enemies will be all the more
formidable because they have hitherto been your friends. Conduct that
one expects from an enemy is atrocious in a friend."

"Why, really, my dear fellow, are you a child?" said des Lupeaulx.
"You have compromised me. Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de Bargeton, and Mme. de
Montcornet, who were responsible for you, must be furious. The Duke is
sure to have handed on his annoyance to the Marquise, and the Marquise
will have scolded her cousin. Keep away from them and wait."

"Here comes his lordship - go!" said the Secretary-General.

Lucien went out into the Place Vendome; he was stunned by this bludgeon
blow. He walked home along the Boulevards trying to think over his
position. He saw himself a plaything in the hands of envy, treachery,
and greed. What was he in this world of contending ambitions? A child
sacrificing everything to the pursuit of pleasure and the gratification
of vanity; a poet whose thoughts never went beyond the moment, a moth
flitting from one bright gleaming object to another. He had no definite
aim; he was the slave of circumstance - meaning well, doing ill.
Conscience tortured him remorselessly. And to crown it all, he was
penniless and exhausted with work and emotion. His articles could not
compare with Merlin's or Nathan's work.

He walked at random, absorbed in these thoughts. As he passed some
of the reading-rooms which were already lending books as well as
newspapers, a placard caught his eyes. It was an advertisement of a book
with a grotesque title, but beneath the announcement he saw his name in
brilliant letters - "By Lucien Chardon de Rubempre." So his book had come
out, and he had heard nothing of it! All the newspapers were silent. He
stood motionless before the placard, his arms hanging at his sides. He
did not notice a little knot of acquaintances - Rastignac and de Marsay
and some other fashionable young men; nor did he see that Michel
Chrestien and Leon Giraud were coming towards him.

"Are you M. Chardon?" It was Michel who spoke, and there was that in the
sound of his voice that set Lucien's heartstrings vibrating.

"Do you not know me?" he asked, turning very pale.

Michel spat in his face.

"Take that as your wages for your article against d'Arthez. If everybody
would do as I do on his own or his friend's behalf, the press would be
as it ought to be - a self-respecting and respected priesthood."

Lucien staggered back and caught hold of Rastignac.

"Gentlemen," he said, addressing Rastignac and de Marsay, "you will not
refuse to act as my seconds. But first, I wish to make matters even and
apology impossible."

He struck Michel a sudden, unexpected blow in the face. The rest rushed
in between the Republican and Royalist, to prevent a street brawl.
Rastignac dragged Lucien off to the Rue Taitbout, only a few steps away
from the Boulevard de Gand, where this scene took place. It was the hour
of dinner, or a crowd would have assembled at once. De Marsay came to
find Lucien, and the pair insisted that he should dine with them at the
Cafe Anglais, where they drank and made merry.

"Are you a good swordsman?" inquired de Marsay.

"I have never had a foil in my hands."

"A good shot?"

"Never fired a pistol in my life."

"Then you have luck on your side. You are a formidable antagonist to
stand up to; you may kill your man," said de Marsay.

Fortunately, Lucien found Coralie in bed and asleep.

She had played without rehearsal in a one-act play, and taken her
revenge. She had met with genuine applause. Her enemies had not been
prepared for this step on her part, and her success had determined the
manager to give her the heroine's part in Camille Maupin's play. He had
discovered the cause of her apparent failure, and was indignant
with Florine and Nathan. Coralie should have the protection of the
management.

At five o'clock that morning, Rastignac came for Lucien.

"The name of your street my dear fellow, is particularly appropriate for
your lodgings; you are up in the sky," he said, by way of greeting.
"Let us be first upon the ground on the road to Clignancourt; it is good
form, and we ought to set them an example."

"Here is the programme," said de Marsay, as the cab rattled through the
Faubourg Saint-Denis: "You stand up at twenty-five paces, coming nearer,
till you are only fifteen apart. You have, each of you, five paces to
take and three shots to fire - no more. Whatever happens, that must be
the end of it. We load for your antagonist, and his seconds load for
you. The weapons were chosen by the four seconds at a gunmaker's. We
helped you to a chance, I will promise you; horse pistols are to be the
weapons."

For Lucien, life had become a bad dream. He did not care whether he
lived or died. The courage of suicide helped him in some sort to carry
things off with a dash of bravado before the spectators. He stood in
his place; he would not take a step, a piece of recklessness which
the others took for deliberate calculation. They thought the poet an
uncommonly cool hand. Michel Chrestien came as far as his limit; both
fired twice and at the same time, for either party was considered to be
equally insulted. Michel's first bullet grazed Lucien's chin; Lucien's
passed ten feet above Chrestien's head. The second shot hit Lucien's
coat collar, but the buckram lining fortunately saved its wearer. The
third bullet struck him in the chest, and he dropped.

"Is he dead?" asked Michel Chrestien.

"No," said the surgeon, "he will pull through."

"So much the worse," answered Michel.

"Yes; so much the worse," said Lucien, as his tears fell fast.

By noon the unhappy boy lay in bed in his own room. With untold pains
they had managed to remove him, but it had taken five hours to bring him
to the Rue de la Lune. His condition was not dangerous, but precautions
were necessary lest fever should set in and bring about troublesome
complications. Coralie choked down her grief and anguish. She sat up
with him at night through the anxious weeks of his illness, studying
her parts by his bedside. Lucien was in danger for two long months; and
often at the theatre Coralie acted her frivolous role with one thought
in her heart, "Perhaps he is dying at this moment."

Lucien owed his life to the skill and devotion of a friend whom he had
grievously hurt. Bianchon had come to tend him after hearing the story
of the attack from d'Arthez, who told it in confidence, and excused the
unhappy poet. Bianchon suspected that d'Arthez was generously trying to
screen the renegade; but on questioning Lucien during a lucid interval
in the dangerous nervous fever, he learned that his patient was only
responsible for the one serious article in Hector Merlin's paper.

Before the first month was out, the firm of Fendant and Cavalier filed
their schedule. Bianchon told Coralie that Lucien must on no account
hear the news. The famous _Archer of Charles IX._, brought out with an
absurd title, had been a complete failure. Fendant, being anxious to
realize a little ready money before going into bankruptcy, had sold
the whole edition (without Cavalier's knowledge) to dealers in printed
paper. These, in their turn, had disposed of it at a cheap rate to
hawkers, and Lucien's book at that moment was adorning the bookstalls
along the Quays. The booksellers on the Quai des Augustins, who had
previously taken a quantity of copies, now discovered that after this
sudden reduction of the price they were like to lose heavily on their
purchases; the four duodecimo volumes, for which they had paid four
francs fifty centimes, were being given away for fifty sous. Great
was the outcry in the trade; but the newspapers preserved a profound
silence. Barbet had not foreseen this "clearance;" he had a belief
in Lucien's abilities; for once he had broken his rule and taken two
hundred copies. The prospect of a loss drove him frantic; the things
he said of Lucien were fearful to hear. Then Barbet took a heroic
resolution. He stocked his copies in a corner of his shop, with the
obstinacy of greed, and left his competitors to sell their wares at a
loss. Two years afterwards, when d'Arthez's fine preface, the merits of
the book, and one or two articles by Leon Giraud had raised the value of
the book, Barbet sold his copies, one by one, at ten francs each.

Lucien knew nothing of all this, but Berenice and Coralie could not
refuse to allow Hector Merlin to see his dying comrade, and Hector
Merlin made him drink, drop by drop, the whole of the bitter draught
brewed by the failure of Fendant and Cavalier, made bankrupts by his
first ill-fated book. Martainville, the one friend who stood by Lucien
through thick and thin, had written a magnificent article on his
work; but so great was the general exasperation against the editor
of _L'Aristarque_, _L'Oriflamme_, and _Le Drapeau Blanc_, that his
championship only injured Lucien. In vain did the athlete return the
Liberal insults tenfold, not a newspaper took up the challenge in spite
of all his attacks.

Coralie, Berenice, and Bianchon might shut the door on Lucien's
so-called friends, who raised a great outcry, but it was impossible to
keep out creditors and writs. After the failure of Fendant and Cavalier,
their bills were taken into bankruptcy according to that provision of
the Code of Commerce most inimical to the claims of third parties, who
in this way lose the benefit of delay.

Lucien discovered that Camusot was proceeding against him with great
energy. When Coralie heard the name, and for the first time learned the
dreadful and humiliating step which her poet had taken for her sake,
the angelic creature loved him ten times more than before, and would not
approach Camusot. The bailiff bringing the warrant of arrest shrank
back from the idea of dragging his prisoner out of bed, and went back to
Camusot before applying to the President of the Tribunal of Commerce for
an order to remove the debtor to a private hospital. Camusot hurried at
once to the Rue de la Lune, and Coralie went down to him.

When she came up again she held the warrants, in which Lucien was
described as a tradesman, in her hand. How had she obtained those papers
from Camusot? What promise had she given? Coralie kept a sad, gloomy
silence, but when she returned she looked as if all the life had gone
out of her. She played in Camille Maupin's play, and contributed not a
little to the success of that illustrious literary hermaphrodite; but
the creation of this character was the last flicker of a bright, dying
lamp. On the twentieth night, when Lucien had so far recovered that he
had regained his appetite and could walk abroad, and talked of getting
to work again, Coralie broke down; a secret trouble was weighing upon
her. Berenice always believed that she had promised to go back to
Camusot to save Lucien.

Another mortification followed. Coralie was obliged to see her part
given to Florine. Nathan had threatened the Gymnase with war if the
management refused to give the vacant place to Coralie's rival. Coralie
had persisted till she could play no longer, knowing that Florine was
waiting to step into her place. She had overtasked her strength. The
Gymnase had advanced sums during Lucien's illness, she had no money to
draw; Lucien, eager to work though he was, was not yet strong enough to
write, and he helped besides to nurse Coralie and to relieve Berenice.
From poverty they had come to utter distress; but in Bianchon they
found a skilful and devoted doctor, who obtained credit for them of the
druggist. The landlord of the house and the tradespeople knew by this
time how matters stood. The furniture was attached. The tailor and
dressmaker no longer stood in awe of the journalist, and proceeded to
extremes; and at last no one, with the exception of the pork-butcher and
the druggist, gave the two unlucky children credit. For a week or more
all three of them - Lucien, Berenice, and the invalid - were obliged to
live on the various ingenious preparations sold by the pork-butcher; the
inflammatory diet was little suited to the sick girl, and Coralie grew
worse. Sheer want compelled Lucien to ask Lousteau for a return of the
loan of a thousand francs lost at play by the friend who had deserted
him in his hour of need. Perhaps, amid all his troubles, this step cost
him most cruel suffering.

Lousteau was not to be found in the Rue de la Harpe. Hunted down like a
hare, he was lodging now with this friend, now with that. Lucien found
him at last at Flicoteaux's; he was sitting at the very table at which
Lucien had found him that evening when, for his misfortune, he forsook
d'Arthez for journalism. Lousteau offered him dinner, and Lucien
accepted the offer.

As they came out of Flicoteaux's with Claude Vignon (who happened to
be dining there that day) and the great man in obscurity, who kept his
wardrobe at Samanon's, the four among them could not produce enough
specie to pay for a cup of coffee at the Cafe Voltaire. They lounged
about the Luxembourg in the hope of meeting with a publisher; and, as
it fell out, they met with one of the most famous printers of the day.



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 27 of 29)