Copyright
Honoré de Balzac.

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris online

. (page 3 of 29)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 3 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"He cannot be so handsome as I thought him," she said to herself; and
between "not so handsome" and "not so clever as I thought him" there was
but one step.

The curtain fell. Chatelet was now paying a visit to the Duchesse de
Carigliano in an adjourning box; Mme. de Bargeton acknowledged his bow
by a slight inclination of the head. Nothing escapes a woman of the
world; Chatelet's air of distinction was not lost upon Mme. d'Espard.
Just at that moment four personages, four Parisian celebrities, came
into the box, one after another.

The most striking feature of the first comer, M. de Marsay, famous for
the passions which he had inspired, was his girlish beauty; but its
softness and effeminacy were counteracted by the expression of his eyes,
unflinching, steady, untamed, and hard as a tiger's. He was loved and he
was feared. Lucien was no less handsome; but Lucien's expression was so
gentle, his blue eyes so limpid, that he scarcely seemed to possess
the strength and the power which attract women so strongly. Nothing,
moreover, so far had brought out the poet's merits; while de Marsay,
with his flow of spirits, his confidence in his power to please, and
appropriate style of dress, eclipsed every rival by his presence. Judge,
therefore, the kind of figure that Lucien, stiff, starched, unbending in
clothes as new and unfamiliar as his surroundings, was likely to cut
in de Marsay's vicinity. De Marsay with his wit and charm of manner
was privileged to be insolent. From Mme. d'Espard's reception of this
personage his importance was at once evident to Mme. de Bargeton.

The second comer was a Vandenesse, the cause of the scandal in which
Lady Dudley was concerned. Felix de Vandenesse, amiable, intellectual,
and modest, had none of the characteristics on which de Marsay prided
himself, and owed his success to diametrically opposed qualities. He had
been warmly recommended to Mme. d'Espard by her cousin Mme. de Mortsauf.

The third was General de Montriveau, the author of the Duchesse de
Langeais' ruin.

The fourth, M. de Canalis, one of the most famous poets of the day, and
as yet a newly risen celebrity, was prouder of his birth than of his
genius, and dangled in Mme. d'Espard's train by way of concealing
his love for the Duchesse de Chaulieu. In spite of his graces and the
affectation that spoiled them, it was easy to discern the vast, lurking
ambitions that plunged him at a later day into the storms of political
life. A face that might be called insignificantly pretty and caressing
manners thinly disguised the man's deeply-rooted egoism and habit of
continually calculating the chances of a career which at that time
looked problematical enough; though his choice of Mme. de Chaulieu (a
woman past forty) made interest for him at Court, and brought him the
applause of the Faubourg Saint-Germain and the gibes of the Liberal
party, who dubbed him "the poet of the sacristy."

Mme. de Bargeton, with these remarkable figures before her, no longer
wondered at the slight esteem in which the Marquise held Lucien's good
looks. And when conversation began, when intellects so keen, so subtle,
were revealed in two-edged words with more meaning and depth in them
than Anais de Bargeton heard in a month of talk at Angouleme; and,
most of all, when Canalis uttered a sonorous phrase, summing up a
materialistic epoch, and gilding it with poetry - then Anais felt all the
truth of Chatelet's dictum of the previous evening. Lucien was nothing
to her now. Every one cruelly ignored the unlucky stranger; he was
so much like a foreigner listening to an unknown language, that the
Marquise d'Espard took pity upon him. She turned to Canalis.

"Permit me to introduce M. de Rubempre," she said. "You rank too high in
the world of letters not to welcome a _debutant_. M. de Rubempre is from
Angouleme, and will need your influence, no doubt, with the powers that
bring genius to light. So far, he has no enemies to help him to success
by their attacks upon him. Is there enough originality in the idea of
obtaining for him by friendship all that hatred has done for you to
tempt you to make the experiment?"

The four newcomers all looked at Lucien while the Marquise was speaking.
De Marsay, only a couple of paces away, put up an eyeglass and looked
from Lucien to Mme. de Bargeton, and then again at Lucien, coupling them
with some mocking thought, cruelly mortifying to both. He scrutinized
them as if they had been a pair of strange animals, and then he smiled.
The smile was like a stab to the distinguished provincial. Felix de
Vandenesse assumed a charitable air. Montriveau looked Lucien through
and through.

"Madame," M. de Canalis answered with a bow, "I will obey you, in spite
of the selfish instinct which prompts us to show a rival no favor; but
you have accustomed us to miracles."

"Very well, do me the pleasure of dining with me on Monday with M. de
Rubempre, and you can talk of matters literary at your ease. I will
try to enlist some of the tyrants of the world of letters and the great
people who protect them, the author of _Ourika_, and one or two young
poets with sound views."

"Mme. la Marquise," said de Marsay, "if you give your support to this
gentleman for his intellect, I will support him for his good looks. I
will give him advice which will put him in a fair way to be the luckiest
dandy in Paris. After that, he may be a poet - if he has a mind."

Mme. de Bargeton thanked her cousin by a grateful glance.

"I did not know that you were jealous of intellect," Montriveau said,
turning to de Marsay; "good fortune is the death of a poet."

"Is that why your lordship is thinking of marriage?" inquired the dandy,
addressing Canalis, and watching Mme. d'Espard to see if the words went
home.

Canalis shrugged his shoulders, and Mme. d'Espard, Mme. de Chaulieu's
niece, began to laugh. Lucien in his new clothes felt as if he were an
Egyptian statue in its narrow sheath; he was ashamed that he had nothing
to say for himself all this while. At length he turned to the Marquise.

"After all your kindness, madame, I am pledged to make no failures," he
said in those soft tones of his.

Chatelet came in as he spoke; he had seen Montriveau, and by hook or
crook snatched at the chance of a good introduction to the Marquise
d'Espard through one of the kings of Paris. He bowed to Mme. de
Bargeton, and begged Mme. d'Espard to pardon him for the liberty he took
in invading her box; he had been separated so long from his traveling
companion! Montriveau and Chatelet met for the first time since they
parted in the desert.

"To part in the desert, and meet again in the opera-house!" said Lucien.

"Quite a theatrical meeting!" said Canalis.

Montriveau introduced the Baron du Chatelet to the Marquise, and the
Marquise received Her Royal Highness' ex-secretary the more graciously
because she had seen that he had been very well received in three
boxes already. Mme. de Serizy knew none but unexceptionable people, and
moreover he was Montriveau's traveling companion. So potent was this
last credential, that Mme. de Bargeton saw from the manner of the
group that they accepted Chatelet as one of themselves without demur.
Chatelet's sultan's airs in Angouleme were suddenly explained.

At length the Baron saw Lucien, and favored him with a cool, disparaging
little nod, indicative to men of the world of the recipient's inferior
station. A sardonic expression accompanied the greeting, "How does _he_
come here?" he seemed to say. This was not lost on those who saw it;
for de Marsay leaned towards Montriveau, and said in tones audible to
Chatelet:

"Do ask him who the queer-looking young fellow is that looks like a
dummy at a tailor's shop-door."

Chatelet spoke a few words in his traveling companion's ear, and while
apparently renewing his acquaintance, no doubt cut his rival to pieces.

If Lucien was surprised at the apt wit and the subtlety with which these
gentlemen formulated their replies, he felt bewildered with epigram and
repartee, and, most of all, by their offhand way of talking and their
ease of manner. The material luxury of Paris had alarmed him that
morning; at night he saw the same lavish expenditure of intellect. By
what mysterious means, he asked himself, did these people make such
piquant reflections on the spur of the moment, those repartees which
he could only have made after much pondering? And not only were they at
ease in their speech, they were at ease in their dress, nothing looked
new, nothing looked old, nothing about them was conspicuous, everything
attracted the eyes. The fine gentleman of to-day was the same yesterday,
and would be the same to-morrow. Lucien guessed that he himself looked
as if he were dressed for the first time in his life.

"My dear fellow," said de Marsay, addressing Felix de Vandenesse, "that
young Rastignac is soaring away like a paper-kite. Look at him in the
Marquise de Listomere's box; he is making progress, he is putting up
his eyeglass at us! He knows this gentleman, no doubt," added the dandy,
speaking to Lucien, and looking elsewhere.

"He can scarcely fail to have heard the name of a great man of whom we
are proud," said Mme. de Bargeton. "Quite lately his sister was present
when M. de Rubempre read us some very fine poetry."

Felix de Vandenesse and de Marsay took leave of the Marquise d'Espard,
and went off to Mme. de Listomere, Vandenesse's sister. The second act
began, and the three were left to themselves again. The curious women
learned how Mme. de Bargeton came to be there from some of the party,
while the others announced the arrival of a poet, and made fun of his
costume. Canalis went back to the Duchesse de Chaulieu, and no more was
seen of him.

Lucien was glad when the rising of the curtain produced a diversion. All
Mme. de Bargeton's misgivings with regard to Lucien were increased by
the marked attention which the Marquise d'Espard had shown to Chatelet;
her manner towards the Baron was very different from the patronizing
affability with which she treated Lucien. Mme. de Listomere's box was
full during the second act, and, to all appearance, the talk turned upon
Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien. Young Rastignac evidently was entertaining
the party; he had raised the laughter that needs fresh fuel every day in
Paris, the laughter that seizes upon a topic and exhausts it, and leaves
it stale and threadbare in a moment. Mme. d'Espard grew uneasy. She knew
that an ill-natured speech is not long in coming to the ears of those
whom it will wound, and waited till the end of the act.

After a revulsion of feeling such as had taken place in Mme. de Bargeton
and Lucien, strange things come to pass in a brief space of time, and
any revolution within us is controlled by laws that work with great
swiftness. Chatelet's sage and politic words as to Lucien, spoken on
the way home from the Vaudeville, were fresh in Louise's memory. Every
phrase was a prophecy, it seemed as if Lucien had set himself to fulfil
the predictions one by one. When Lucien and Mme. de Bargeton had parted
with their illusions concerning each other, the luckless youth, with
a destiny not unlike Rousseau's, went so far in his predecessor's
footsteps that he was captivated by the great lady and smitten with
Mme. d'Espard at first sight. Young men and men who remember their young
emotions can see that this was only what might have been looked for.
Mme. d'Espard with her dainty ways, her delicate enunciation, and the
refined tones of her voice; the fragile woman so envied, of such high
place and high degree, appeared before the poet as Mme. de Bargeton had
appeared to him in Angouleme. His fickle nature prompted him to desire
influence in that lofty sphere at once, and the surest way to secure
such influence was to possess the woman who exerted it, and then
everything would be his. He had succeeded at Angouleme, why should he
not succeed in Paris?

Involuntarily, and despite the novel counter fascination of the stage,
his eyes turned to the Celimene in her splendor; he glanced furtively at
her every moment; the longer he looked, the more he desired to look at
her. Mme. de Bargeton caught the gleam in Lucien's eyes, and saw that
he found the Marquise more interesting than the opera. If Lucien had
forsaken her for the fifty daughters of Danaus, she could have borne his
desertion with equanimity; but another glance - bolder, more ardent and
unmistakable than any before - revealed the state of Lucien's feelings.
She grew jealous, but not so much for the future as for the past.

"He never gave me such a look," she thought. "Dear me! Chatelet was
right!"

Then she saw that she had made a mistake; and when a woman once begins
to repent of her weaknesses, she sponges out the whole past. Every
one of Lucien's glances roused her indignation, but to all outward
appearance she was calm. De Marsay came back in the interval, bringing
M. de Listomere with him; and that serious person and the young coxcomb
soon informed the Marquise that the wedding guest in his holiday suit,
whom she had the bad luck to have in her box, had as much right to the
appellation of Rubempre as a Jew to a baptismal name. Lucien's father
was an apothecary named Chardon. M. de Rastignac, who knew all about
Angouleme, had set several boxes laughing already at the mummy whom the
Marquise styled her cousin, and at the Marquise's forethought in having
an apothecary at hand to sustain an artificial life with drugs. In
short, de Marsay brought a selection from the thousand-and-one jokes
made by Parisians on the spur of the moment, and no sooner uttered than
forgotten. Chatelet was at the back of it all, and the real author of
this Punic faith.

Mme. d'Espard turned to Mme. de Bargeton, put up her fan, and said, "My
dear, tell me if your protege's name is really M. de Rubempre?"

"He has assumed his mother's name," said Anais, uneasily.

"But who was his father?"

"His father's name was Chardon."

"And what was this Chardon?"

"A druggist."

"My dear friend, I felt quite sure that all Paris could not be laughing
at any one whom I took up. I do not care to stay here when wags come in
in high glee because there is an apothecary's son in my box. If you will
follow my advice, we will leave it, and at once."

Mme. d'Espard's expression was insolent enough; Lucien was at a loss to
account for her change of countenance. He thought that his waistcoat was
in bad taste, which was true; and that his coat looked like a caricature
of the fashion, which was likewise true. He discerned, in bitterness
of soul, that he must put himself in the hands of an expert tailor,
and vowed that he would go the very next morning to the most celebrated
artist in Paris. On Monday he would hold his own with the men in the
Marquise's house.

Yet, lost in thought though he was, he saw the third act to an end, and,
with his eyes fixed on the gorgeous scene upon the stage, dreamed out
his dream of Mme. d'Espard. He was in despair over her sudden coldness;
it gave a strange check to the ardent reasoning through which he
advanced upon this new love, undismayed by the immense difficulties in
the way, difficulties which he saw and resolved to conquer. He roused
himself from these deep musings to look once more at his new idol,
turned his head, and saw that he was alone; he had heard a faint
rustling sound, the door closed - Madame d'Espard had taken her cousin
with her. Lucien was surprised to the last degree by the sudden
desertion; he did not think long about it, however, simply because it
was inexplicable.

When the carriage was rolling along the Rue de Richelieu on the way to
the Faubourg Saint-Honore, the Marquise spoke to her cousin in a tone of
suppressed irritation.

"My dear child, what are you thinking about? Pray wait till an
apothecary's son has made a name for himself before you trouble yourself
about him. The Duchesse de Chaulieu does not acknowledge Canalis even
now, and he is famous and a man of good family. This young fellow is
neither your son nor your lover, I suppose?" added the haughty dame,
with a keen, inquisitive glance at her cousin.

"How fortunate for me that I kept the little scapegrace at a distance!"
thought Madame de Bargeton.

"Very well," continued the Marquise, taking the expression in her
cousin's eyes for an answer, "drop him, I beg of you. Taking an
illustrious name in that way! - Why, it is a piece of impudence that will
meet with its desserts in society. It is his mother's name, I dare say;
but just remember, dear, that the King alone can confer, by a special
ordinance, the title of de Rubempre on the son of a daughter of the
house. If she made a _mesalliance_, the favor would be enormous, only
to be granted to vast wealth, or conspicuous services, or very powerful
influence. The young man looks like a shopman in his Sunday suit;
evidently he is neither wealthy nor noble; he has a fine head, but he
seems to me to be very silly; he has no idea what to do, and has nothing
to say for himself; in fact, he has no breeding. How came you to take
him up?"

Mme. de Bargeton renounced Lucien as Lucien himself had renounced her; a
ghastly fear lest her cousin should learn the manner of her journey shot
through her mind.

"Dear cousin, I am in despair that I have compromised you."

"People do not compromise me," Mme. d'Espard said, smiling; "I am only
thinking of you."

"But you have asked him to dine with you on Monday."

"I shall be ill," the Marquise said quickly; "you can tell him so, and I
shall leave orders that he is not to be admitted under either name."

During the interval Lucien noticed that every one was walking up and
down the lobby. He would do the same. In the first place, not one of
Mme. d'Espard's visitors recognized him nor paid any attention to him,
their conduct seemed nothing less than extraordinary to the provincial
poet; and, secondly, Chatelet, on whom he tried to hang, watched him
out of the corner of his eye and fought shy of him. Lucien walked to and
fro, watching the eddying crowd of men, till he felt convinced that his
costume was absurd, and he went back to his box, ensconced himself in
a corner, and stayed there till the end. At times he thought of nothing
but the magnificent spectacle of the ballet in the great Inferno
scene in the fifth act; sometimes the sight of the house absorbed him,
sometimes his own thoughts; he had seen society in Paris, and the sight
had stirred him to the depths.

"So this is my kingdom," he said to himself; "this is the world that I
must conquer."

As he walked home through the streets he thought over all that had
been said by Mme. d'Espard's courtiers; memory reproducing with strange
faithfulness their demeanor, their gestures, their manner of coming and
going.

Next day, towards noon, Lucien betook himself to Staub, the great tailor
of that day. Partly by dint of entreaties, and partly by virtue of cash,
Lucien succeeded in obtaining a promise that his clothes should be ready
in time for the great day. Staub went so far as to give his word that
a perfectly elegant coat, a waistcoat, and a pair of trousers should
be forthcoming. Lucien then ordered linen and pocket-handkerchiefs, a
little outfit, in short, of a linen-draper, and a celebrated bootmaker
measured him for shoes and boots. He bought a neat walking cane at
Verdier's; he went to Mme. Irlande for gloves and shirt studs; in short,
he did his best to reach the climax of dandyism. When he had satisfied
all his fancies, he went to the Rue Neuve-de-Luxembourg, and found that
Louise had gone out.

"She was dining with Mme. la Marquise d'Espard," her maid said, "and
would not be back till late."

Lucien dined for two francs at a restaurant in the Palais Royal, and
went to bed early. The next day was Sunday. He went to Louise's lodging
at eleven o'clock. Louise had not yet risen. At two o'clock he returned
once more.

"Madame cannot see anybody yet," reported Albertine, "but she gave me a
line for you."

"Cannot see anybody yet?" repeated Lucien. "But I am not anybody - - "

"I do not know," Albertine answered very impertinently; and Lucien, less
surprised by Albertine's answer than by a note from Mme. de Bargeton,
took the billet, and read the following discouraging lines: -


"Mme. d'Espard is not well; she will not be able to see you on Monday. I
am not feeling very well myself, but I am about to dress and go to keep
her company. I am in despair over this little disappointment; but your
talents reassure me, you will make your way without charlatanism."


"And no signature!" Lucien said to himself. He found himself in the
Tuileries before he knew whither he was walking.

With the gift of second-sight which accompanies genius, he began to
suspect that the chilly note was but a warning of the catastrophe to
come. Lost in thought, he walked on and on, gazing at the monuments in
the Place Louis Quinze.

It was a sunny day; a stream of fine carriages went past him on the
way to the Champs Elysees. Following the direction of the crowd of
strollers, he saw the three or four thousand carriages that turn the
Champs Elysees into an improvised Longchamp on Sunday afternoons in
summer. The splendid horses, the toilettes, and liveries bewildered him;
he went further and further, until he reached the Arc de Triomphe, then
unfinished. What were his feelings when, as he returned, he saw Mme. de
Bargeton and Mme. d'Espard coming towards him in a wonderfully
appointed caleche, with a chasseur behind it in waving plumes and that
gold-embroidered green uniform which he knew only too well. There was
a block somewhere in the row, and the carriages waited. Lucien beheld
Louise transformed beyond recognition. All the colors of her toilette
had been carefully subordinated to her complexion; her dress was
delicious, her hair gracefully and becomingly arranged, her hat, in
exquisite taste, was remarkable even beside Mme. d'Espard, that leader
of fashion.

There is something in the art of wearing a hat that escapes definition.
Tilted too far to the back of the head, it imparts a bold expression to
the face; bring it too far forward, it gives you a sinister look; tipped
to one side, it has a jaunty air; a well-dressed woman wears her hat
exactly as she means to wear it, and exactly at the right angle. Mme.
de Bargeton had solved this curious problem at sight. A dainty girdle
outlined her slender waist. She had adopted her cousin's gestures and
tricks of manner; and now, as she sat by Mme. d'Espard's side, she
played with a tiny scent bottle that dangled by a slender gold chain
from one of her fingers, displayed a little well-gloved hand without
seeming to do so. She had modeled herself on Mme. d'Espard without
mimicking her; the Marquise had found a cousin worthy of her, and seemed
to be proud of her pupil.

The men and women on the footways all gazed at the splendid carriage,
with the bearings of the d'Espards and Blamont-Chauvrys upon the panels.
Lucien was amazed at the number of greetings received by the cousins;
he did not know that the "all Paris," which consists in some score of
salons, was well aware already of the relationship between the ladies.
A little group of young men on horseback accompanied the carriage in
the Bois; Lucien could recognize de Marsay and Rastignac among them,
and could see from their gestures that the pair of coxcombs were
complimenting Mme. de Bargeton upon her transformation. Mme. d'Espard
was radiant with health and grace. So her indisposition was simply a
pretext for ridding herself of him, for there had been no mention of
another day!

The wrathful poet went towards the caleche; he walked slowly, waited
till he came in full sight of the two ladies, and made them a bow. Mme.
de Bargeton would not see him; but the Marquise put up her eyeglass,
and deliberately cut him. He had been disowned by the sovereign lords of
Angouleme, but to be disowned by society in Paris was another thing; the
booby-squires by doing their utmost to mortify Lucien admitted his power
and acknowledged him as a man; for Mme. d'Espard he had positively no
existence. This was a sentence, it was a refusal of justice. Poor poet!
a deadly cold seized on him when he saw de Marsay eying him through his
glass; and when the Parisian lion let that optical instrument fall, it
dropped in so singular a fashion that Lucien thought of the knife-blade
of the guillotine.

The caleche went by. Rage and a craving for vengeance took possession of
his slighted soul. If Mme. de Bargeton had been in his power, he could
have cut her throat at that moment; he was a Fouquier-Tinville gloating



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA Distinguished Provincial at Paris → online text (page 3 of 29)