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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEve And David - Part 5
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Eve And David - Part 5 Post by :DavidS Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :1201

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Eve And David - Part 5

When Kolb, honest fellow, had explained the whole history of Cerizet's treachery, of the circle traced about the house, and of the fat Cointet's interest in the affair, and given the family some inkling of the schemes set on foot by the Cointets against the master,--then David's real position gradually became fatally clear.

"It is the Cointet's doing!" cried poor Eve, aghast at the news; "_they are proceeding against you! that accounts for Metivier's hardness. . . . They are paper-makers--David! they want your secret!"

"But what can we do to escape them?" exclaimed Mme. Chardon.

"If de misdress had some liddle blace vere the master could pe hidden," said Kolb; "I bromise to take him dere so dot nopody shall know."

"Wait till nightfall, and go to Basine Clerget," said Eve. "I will go now and arrange it all with her. In this case, Basine will be like another self to me."

"Spies will follow you," David said at last, recovering some presence of mind. "How can we find a way of communicating with Basine if none of us can go to her?"

"Montame kan go," said Kolb. "Here ees my scheme--I go out mit der master, ve draws der vischtlers on our drack. Montame kan go to Montemoiselle Clerchet; nopody vill vollow her. I haf a horse; I take de master oop behint; und der teufel is in it if they katches us."

"Very well; good-bye, dear," said poor Eve, springing to her husband's arms; "none of us can go to see you, the risk is too great. We must say good-bye for the whole time that your imprisonment lasts. We will write to each other; Basine will post your letters, and I will write under cover to her."

No sooner did David and Kolb come out of the house than they heard a sharp whistle, and were followed to the livery stable. Once there, Kolb took his master up behind him, with a caution to keep tight hold.

"Veestle avay, mind goot vriends! I care not von rap," cried Kolb. "You vill not datch an old trooper," and the old cavalry man clapped both spurs to his horse, and was out into the country and the darkness not merely before the spies could follow, but before they had time to discover the direction that he took.

Eve meanwhile went out on the tolerably ingenious pretext of asking advise of Postel, sat awhile enduring the insulting pity that spends itself in words, left the Postel family, and stole away unseen to Basine Clerget, told her troubles, and asked for help and shelter. Basine, for greater safety, had brought Eve into her bedroom, and now she opened the door of a little closet, lighted only by a skylight in such a way that prying eyes could not see into it. The two friends unstopped the flue which opened into the chimney of the stove in the workroom, where the girls heated their irons. Eve and Basine spread ragged coverlets over the brick floor to deaden any sound that David might make, put in a truckle bed, a stove for his experiments, and a table and a chair. Basine promised to bring food in the night; and as no one had occasion to enter her room, David might defy his enemies one and all, or even detectives.

"At last!" Eve said, with her arms about her friend, "at last he is in safety."

Eve went back to Postel to submit a fresh doubt that had occurred to her, she said. She would like the opinion of such an experienced member of the Chamber of Commerce; she so managed that he escorted her home, and listened patiently to his commiseration.

"Would this have happened if you had married me?"--all the little druggist's remarks were pitched in this key.

Then he went home again to find Mme. Postel jealous of Mme. Sechard, and furious with her spouse for his polite attention to that beautiful woman. The apothecary advanced the opinion that little red-haired women were preferable to tall, dark women, who, like fine horses, were always in the stable, he said. He gave proofs of his sincerity, no doubt, for Mme. Postel was very sweet to him next day.

"We may be easy," Eve said to her mother and Marion, whom she found still "in a taking," in the latter's phrase.

"Oh! they are gone," said Marion, when Eve looked unthinkingly round the room.

One league out of Angouleme on the main road to Paris, Kolb stopped.

"Vere shall we go?"

"To Marsac," said David; "since we are on the way already, I will try once more to soften my father's heart."

"I would rader mount to der assault of a pattery," said Kolb, "your resbected fader haf no heart whatefer."

The ex-pressman had no belief in his son; he judged him from the outside point of view, and waited for results. He had no idea, to begin with, that he had plundered David, nor did he make allowance for the very different circumstances under which they had begun life; he said to himself, "I set him up with a printing-house, just as I found it myself; and he, knowing a thousand times more than I did, cannot keep it going." He was mentally incapable of understanding his son; he laid the blame of failure upon him, and even prided himself, as it were on his superiority to a far greater intellect than his own, with the thought, "I am securing his bread for him."

Moralists will never succeed in making us comprehend the full extent of the influence of sentiment upon self-interest, an influence every whit as strong as the action of interest upon our sentiments; for every law of our nature works in two ways, and acts and reacts upon us.

David, on his side, understood his father, and in his sublime charity forgave him. Kolb and David reached Marsac at eight o'clock, and suddenly came in upon the old man as he was finishing his dinner, which, by force of circumstances, came very near bedtime.

"I see you because there is no help for it," said old Sechard with a sour smile.

"Und how should you and mein master meet? He soars in der shkies, and you are always mit your vines! You bay for him, that's vot you are a fader for----"

"Come, Kolb, off with you. Put up the horse at Mme. Courtois' so as to save inconvenience here; fathers are always in the right, remember that."

Kolb went off, growling like a chidden dog, obedient but protesting; and David proposed to give his father indisputable proof of his discovery, while reserving his secret. He offered to give him an interest in the affair in return for money paid down; a sufficient sum to release him from his present difficulties, with or without a further amount of capital to be employed in developing the invention.

"And how are you going to prove to me that you can make good paper that costs nothing out of nothing, eh?" asked the ex-printer, giving his son a glance, vinous, it may be, but keen, inquisitive, and covetous; a look like a flash of lightning from a sodden cloud; for the old "bear," faithful to his traditions, never went to bed without a nightcap, consisting of a couple of bottles of excellent old wine, which he "tippled down" of an evening, to use his own expression.

"Nothing simpler," said David; "I have none of the paper about me, for I came here to be out of Doublon's way; and having come so far, I thought I might as well come to you at Marsac as borrow of a money-lender. I have nothing on me but my clothes. Shut me up somewhere on the premises, so that nobody can come in and see me at work, and----"

"What? you will not let me see you at your work then?" asked the old man, with an ugly look at his son.

"You have given me to understand plainly, father, that in matters of business there is no question of father and son----"

"Ah! you distrust the father that gave you life!"

"No; the other father who took away the means of earning a livelihood."

"Each for himself, you are right!" said the old man. "Very good, I will put you in the cellar."

"I will go down there with Kolb. You must let me have a large pot for my pulp," said David; then he continued, without noticing the quick look his father gave him,--"and you must find artichoke and asparagus stalks for me, and nettles, and the reeds that you cut by the stream side, and to-morrow morning I will come out of your cellar with some splendid paper."

"If you can do that," hiccoughed the "bear," "I will let you have, perhaps--I will see, that is, if I can let you have--pshaw! twenty-five thousand francs. On condition, mind, that you make as much for me every year."

"Put me to the proof, I am quite willing," cried David. "Kolb! take the horse and go to Mansle, quick, buy a large hair sieve for me of a cooper, and some glue of the grocer, and come back again as soon as you can."

"There! drink," said old Sechard, putting down a bottle of wine, a loaf, and the cold remains of the dinner. "You will need your strength. I will go and look for your bits of green stuff; green rags you use for your pulp, and a trifle too green, I am afraid."

Two hours later, towards eleven o'clock that night, David and Kolb took up their quarters in a little out-house against the cellar wall; they found the floor paved with runnel tiles, and all the apparatus used in Angoumois for the manufacture of Cognac brandy.

"Pans and firewood! Why, it is as good as a factory made on purpose!" cried David.

"Very well, good-night," said old Sechard; "I shall lock you in, and let both the dogs loose; nobody will bring you any paper, I am sure. You show me those sheets to-morrow, and I give you my word I will be your partner and the business will be straightforward and properly managed."

David and Kolb, locked into the distillery, spent nearly two hours in macerating the stems, using a couple of logs for mallets. The fire blazed up, the water boiled. About two o'clock in the morning, Kolb heard a sound which David was too busy to notice, a kind of deep breath like a suppressed hiccough. Snatching up one of the two lighted dips, he looked round the walls, and beheld old Sechard's empurpled countenance filling up a square opening above a door hitherto hidden by a pile of empty casks in the cellar itself. The cunning old man had brought David and Kolb into his underground distillery by the outer door, through which the casks were rolled when full. The inner door had been made so that he could roll his puncheons straight from the cellar into the distillery, instead of taking them round through the yard.

"Aha! thees eies not fair blay, you vant to shvindle your son!" cried the Alsacien. "Do you kow vot you do ven you trink ein pottle of vine? You gif goot trink to ein bad scountrel."

"Oh, father!" cried David.

"I came to see if you wanted anything," said old Sechard, half sobered by this time.

"Und it was for de inderest vot you take in us dot you brought der liddle ladder!" commented Kolb, as he pushed the casks aside and flung open the door; and there, in fact, on a short step-ladder, the old man stood in his shirt.

"Risking your health!" said David.

"I think I must be walking in my sleep," said old Sechard, coming down in confusion. "Your want of confidence in your father set me dreaming; I dreamed you were making a pact with the Devil to do impossible things."

"Der teufel," said Kolb; "dot is your own bassion for de liddle goldfinches."

"Go back to bed again, father," said David; "lock us in if you will, but you may save yourself the trouble of coming down again. Kolb will mount guard."

At four o'clock in the morning David came out of the distillery; he had been careful to leave no sign of his occupation behind him; but he brought out some thirty sheets of paper that left nothing to be desired in fineness, whiteness, toughness, and strength, all of them bearing by way of water-mark the impress of the uneven hairs of the sieve. The old man took up the samples and put his tongue to them, the lifelong habit of the pressman, who tests papers in this way. He felt it between his thumb and finger, crumpled and creased it, put it through all the trials by which a printer assays the quality of a sample submitted to him, and when it was found wanting in no respect, he still would not allow that he was beaten.

"We have yet to know how it takes an impression," he said, to avoid praising his son.

"Funny man!" exclaimed Kolb.

The old man was cool enough now. He cloaked his feigned hesitation with paternal dignity.

"I wish to tell you in fairness, father, that even now it seems to me that paper costs more than it ought to do; I want to solve the problem of sizing it in the pulping-trough. I have just that one improvement to make."

"Oho! so you are trying to trick me!"

"Well, shall I tell you? I can size the pulp as it is, but so far I cannot do it evenly, and the surface is as rough as a burr!"

"Very good, size your pulp in the trough, and you shall have my money."

"Mein master will nefer see de golor of your money," declared Kolb.

"Father," he began, "I have never borne you any grudge for making over the business to me at such an exorbitant valuation; I have seen the father through it all. I have said to myself--'The old man has worked very hard, and he certainly gave me a better bringing up than I had a right to expect; let him enjoy the fruits of his toil in peace, and in his own way.--I even gave up my mother's money to you. I began encumbered with debt, and bore all the burdens that you put upon me without a murmur. Well, harassed for debts that were not of my making, with no bread in the house, and my feet held to the flames, I have found out the secret. I have struggled on patiently till my strength is exhausted. It is perhaps your duty to help me, but do not give _me a thought; think of a woman and a little one" (David could not keep back the tears at this); "think of them, and give them help and protection.--Kolb and Marion have given me their savings; will you do less?" he cried at last, seeing that his father was as cold as the impression-stone.

"And that was not enough for you," said the old man, without the slightest sense of shame; "why, you would waste the wealth of the Indies! Good-night! I am too ignorant to lend a hand in schemes got up on purpose to exploit me. A monkey will never gobble down a bear" (alluding to the workshop nicknames); "I am a vinegrower, I am not a banker. And what is more, look you, business between father and son never turns out well. Stay and eat your dinner here; you shan't say that you came for nothing."

There are some deep-hearted natures that can force their own pain down into inner depths unsuspected by those dearest to them; and with them, when anguish forces its way to the surface and is visible, it is only after a mighty upheaval. David's nature was one of these. Eve had thoroughly understood the noble character of the man. But now that the depths had been stirred, David's father took the wave of anguish that passed over his son's features for a child's trick, an attempt to "get round" his father, and his bitter grief for mortification over the failure of the attempt. Father and son parted in anger.

David and Kolb reached Angouleme on the stroke of midnight. They came back on foot, and steathily, like burglars. Before one o'clock in the morning David was installed in the impenetrable hiding-place prepared by his wife in Basine Clerget's house. No one saw him enter it, and the pity that henceforth should shelter David was the most resourceful pity of all--the pity of a work-girl.

Kolb bragged that day that he had saved his master on horseback, and only left him in a carrier's van well on the way to Limoges. A sufficient provision of raw material had been laid up in Basine's cellar, and Kolb, Marion, Mme. Sechard, and her mother had no communication with the house.

Two days after the scene at Marsac, old Sechard came hurrying to Angouleme and his daughter-in-law. Covetousness had brought him. There were three clear weeks ahead before the vintage began, and he thought he would be on the look-out for squalls, to use his own expression. To this end he took up his quarters in one of the attics which he had reserved by the terms of the lease, wilfully shutting his eyes to the bareness and want that made his son's home desolate. If they owed him rent, they could well afford to keep him. He ate his food from a tinned iron plate, and made no marvel at it. "I began in the same way," he told his daughter-in-law, when she apologized for the absence of silver spoons.

Marion was obliged to run into debt for necessaries for them all. Kolb was earning a franc for daily wage as a brick-layer's laborer; and at last poor Eve, who, for the sake of her husband and child, had sacrificed her last resources to entertain David's father, saw that she had only ten francs left. She had hoped to the last to soften the old miser's heart by her affectionate respect, and patience, and pretty attentions; but old Sechard was obdurate as ever. When she saw him turn the same cold eyes on her, the same look that the Cointets had given her, and Petit-Claud and Cerizet, she tried to watch and guess old Sechard's intentions. Trouble thrown away! Old Sechard, never sober, never drunk, was inscrutable; intoxication is a double veil. If the old man's tipsiness was sometimes real, it was quite often feigned for the purpose of extracting David's secret from his wife. Sometimes he coaxed, sometimes he frightened his daughter-in-law.

"I will drink up my property; _I will buy an annuity_," he would threaten when Eve told him that she knew nothing.

The humiliating struggle was wearing her out; she kept silence at last, lest she should show disrespect to her husband's father.

"But, father," she said one day when driven to extremity, "there is a very simple way of finding out everything. Pay David's debts; he will come home, and you can settle it between you."

"Ha! that is what you want to get out of me, is it?" he cried. "It is as well to know!"

But if Sechard had no belief in his son, he had plenty of faith in the Cointets. He went to consult them, and the Cointets dazzled him of set purpose, telling him that his son's experiments might mean millions of francs.

"If David can prove that he has succeeded, I shall not hesitate to go into partnership with him, and reckon his discovery as half the capital," the tall Cointet told him.

The suspicious old man learned a good deal over nips of brandy with the work-people, and something more by questioning Petit-Claud and feigning stupidity; and at length he felt convinced that the Cointets were the real movers behind Metivier; they were plotting to ruin Sechard's printing establishment, and to lure him (Sechard) on to pay his son's debts by holding out the discovery as a bait. The old man of the people did not suspect that Petit-Claud was in the plot, nor had he any idea of the toils woven to ensnare the great secret. A day came at last when he grew angry and out of patience with the daughter-in-law who would not so much as tell him where David was hiding; he determined to force the laboratory door, for he had discovered that David was wont to make his experiments in the workshop where the rollers were melted down.

He came downstairs very early one morning and set to work upon the lock.

"Hey! Papa Sechard, what are you doing there?" Marion called out. (She had risen at daybreak to go to her papermill, and now she sprang across to the workshop.)

"I am in my own house, am I not?" said the old man, in some confusion.

"Oh, indeed, are you turning thief in your old age? You are not drunk this time either----I shall go straight to the mistress and tell her."

"Hold your tongue, Marion," said Sechard, drawing two crowns of six francs each from his pocket. "There----"

"I will hold my tongue, but don't you do it again," said Marion, shaking her finger at him, "or all Angouleme shall hear of it."

The old man had scarcely gone out, however, when Marion went up to her mistress.

"Look, madame," she said, "I have had twelve francs out of your father-in-law, and here they are----"

"How did you do it?"

"What was he wanting to do but to take a look at the master's pots and pans and stuff, to find out the secret, forsooth. I knew quite well that there was nothing in the little place, but I frightened him and talked as if he were setting about robbing his son, and he gave me twelve francs to say nothing about it."

Just at that moment Basine came in radiant, and with a letter for her friend, a letter from David written on magnificent paper, which she handed over when they were alone.


"MY ADORED EVE,--I am writing to you the first letter on my first sheet of paper made by the new process. I have solved the problem of sizing the pulp in the trough at last. A pound of pulp costs five sous, even supposing that the raw material is grown on good soil with special culture; three francs' worth of sized pulp will make a ream of paper, at twelve pounds to the ream. I am quite sure that I can lessen the weight of books by one-half. The envelope, the letter, and samples enclosed are all manufactured in different ways. I kiss you; you shall have wealth now to add to our happiness, everything else we had before."


"There!" said Eve, handing the samples to her father-in-law, "when the vintage is over let your son have the money, give him a chance to make his fortune, and you shall be repaid ten times over; he has succeeded at last!"

Old Sechard hurried at once to the Cointets. Every sample was tested and minutely examined; the prices, from three to ten francs per ream, were noted on each separate slip; some were sized, others unsized; some were of almost metallic purity, others soft as Japanese paper; in color there was every possible shade of white. If old Sechard and the two Cointets had been Jews examining diamonds, their eyes could not have glistened more eagerly.

"Your son is on the right track," the fat Cointet said at length.

"Very well, pay his debts," returned old Sechard.

"By all means, if he will take us into partnership," said the tall Cointet.

"You are extortioners!" cried old Sechard. "You have been suing him under Metivier's name, and you mean me to buy you off; that is the long and the short of it. Not such a fool, gentlemen----"

The brothers looked at one another, but they contrived to hide their surprise at the old miser's shrewdness.

"We are not millionaires," said fat Cointet; "we do not discount bills for amusement. We should think ourselves well off if we could pay ready money for our bits of accounts for rags, and we still give bills to our dealer."

"The experiment ought to be tried first on a much larger scale," the tall Cointet said coldly; "sometimes you try a thing with a saucepan and succeed, and fail utterly when you experiment with bulk. You should help your son out of difficulties."

"Yes; but when my son is at liberty, would he take me as his partner?"

"That is no business of ours," said the fat Cointet. "My good man, do you suppose that when you have paid some ten thousand francs for your son, that there is an end of it? It will cost two thousand francs to take out a patent; there will be journeys to Paris; and before going to any expense, it would be prudent to do as my brother suggests, and make a thousand reams or so; to try several whole batches to make sure. You see, there is nothing you must be so much on your guard against as an inventor."

"I have a liking for bread ready buttered myself," added the tall Cointet.

All through that night the old man ruminated over this dilemma--"If I pay David's debts, he will be set at liberty, and once set at liberty, he need not share his fortune with me unless he chooses. He knows very well that I cheated him over the first partnership, and he will not care to try a second; so it is to my interest to keep him shut up, the wretched boy."

The Cointets knew enough of Sechard senior to see that they should hunt in couples. All three said to themselves--"Experiments must be tried before the discovery can take any practical shape. David Sechard must be set at liberty before those experiments can be made; and David Sechard, set at liberty, will slip through our fingers."

Everybody involved, moreover, had his own little afterthought.

Petit-Claud, for instance, said, "As soon as I am married, I will slip my neck out of the Cointets' yoke; but till then I shall hold on."

The tall Cointet thought, "I would rather have David under lock and key, and then I should be master of the situation."

Old Sechard, too, thought, "If I pay my son's debts, he will repay me with a 'Thank you!'"

Eve, hard pressed (for the old man threatened now to turn her out of the house), would neither reveal her husband's hiding-place, nor even send proposals of a safe-conduct. She could not feel sure of finding so safe a refuge a second time.

"Set your son at liberty," she told her father-in-law, "and then you shall know everything."

The four interested persons sat, as it were, with a banquet spread before them, none of them daring to begin, each one suspicious and watchful of his neighbor. A few days after David went into hiding, Petit-Claud went to the mill to see the tall Cointet.

"I have done my best," he said; "David has gone into prison of his own accord somewhere or other; he is working out some improvement there in peace. It is no fault of mine if you have not gained your end; are you going to keep your promise?"

"Yes, if we succeed," said the tall Cointet. "Old Sechard was here only a day or two ago; he came to ask us some questions as to paper-making. The old miser has got wind of his son's invention; he wants to turn it to his own account, so there is some hope of a partnership. You are with the father and the son----"

"Be the third person in the trinity and give them up," smiled Petit-Claud.

"Yes," said Cointet. "When you have David in prison, or bound to us by a deed of partnership, you shall marry Mlle. de la Haye."

"Is that your _ultimatum_?"

"My _sine qua non_," said Cointet, "since we are speaking in foreign languages."

"Then here is mine in plain language," Petit-Claud said drily.

"Ah! let us have it," answered Cointet, with some curiosity.

"You will present me to-morrow to Mme. de Sononches, and do something definite for me; you will keep your word, in short; or I will clear off Sechard's debts myself, sell my practice, and go into partnership with him. I will not be duped. You have spoken out, and I am doing the same. I have given proof, give me proof of your sincerity. You have all, and I have nothing. If you won't do fairly by me, I know your cards, and I shall play for my own hand."

The tall Cointet took his hat and umbrella, his face at the same time taking its Jesuitical expression, and out he went, bidding Petit-Claud come with him.

"You shall see, my friend, whether I have prepared your way for you," said he.

The shrewd paper-manufacturer saw his danger at a glance; and saw, too, that with a man like Petit-Claud it was better to play above board. Partly to be prepared for contingencies, partly to satisfy his conscience, he had dropped a word or two to the point in the ear of the ex-consul-general, under the pretext of putting Mlle. de la Haye's financial position before that gentleman.

"I have the man for Francoise," he had said; "for with thirty thousand francs of _dot_, a girl must not expect too much nowadays."

"We will talk it over later on," answered Francis du Hautoy, ex-consul-general. "Mme. de Senonches' positon has altered very much since Mme. de Bargeton went away; we very likely might marry Francoise to some elderly country gentleman."

"She would disgrace herself if you did," Cointet returned in his dry way. "Better marry her to some capable, ambitious young man; you could help him with your influence, and he would make a good position for his wife."

"We shall see," said Francis du Hautoy; "her godmother ought to be consulted first, in any case."

When M. de Bargeton died, his wife sold the great house in the Rue du Minage. Mme. de Senonches, finding her own house scarcely large enough, persuaded M. de Senonches to buy the Hotel de Bargeton, the cradle of Lucien Chardon's ambitions, the scene of the earliest events in his career. Zephirine de Senonches had it in mind to succeed to Mme. de Bargeton; she, too, would be a kind of queen in Angouleme; she would have "a salon," and be a great lady, in short. There was a schism in Angouleme, a strife dating from the late M. de Bargeton's duel with M. de Chandour. Some maintained that Louise de Negrepelisse was blameless, others believed in Stanislas de Chandour's scandals. Mme. de Senonches declared for the Bargetons, and began by winning over that faction. Many frequenters of the Hotel de Bargeton had been so accustomed for years to their nightly game of cards in the house that they could not leave it, and Mme. de Senonches turned this fact to account. She received every evening, and certainly gained all the ground lost by Amelie de Chandour, who set up for a rival.

Francis du Hautoy, living in the inmost circle of nobility in Angouleme, went so far as to think of marrying Francoise to old M. de Severac, Mme. du Brossard having totally failed to capture that gentleman for her daughter; and when Mme. de Bargeton reappeared as the prefect's wife, Zephirine's hopes for her dear goddaughter waxed high, indeed. The Comtesse du Chatelet, so she argued, would be sure to use her influence for her champion.

Boniface Cointet had Angouleme at his fingers' ends; he saw all the difficulties at a glance, and resolved to sweep them out of the way by a bold stroke that only a Tartuffe's brain could invent. The puny lawyer was not a little amused to find his fellow-conspirator keeping his word with him; not a word did Petit-Claud utter; he respected the musings of his companion, and they walked the whole way from the paper-mill to the Rue du Minage in silence.

"Monsieur and madame are at breakfast"--this announcement met the ill-timed visitors on the steps.

"Take in our names, all the same," said the tall Cointet; and feeling sure of his position, he followed immediately behind the servant and introduced his companion to the elaborately-affected Zephirine, who was breakfasting in company with M. Francis du Hautoy and Mlle. de la Haye. M. de Senonches had gone, as usual, for a day's shooting over M. de Pimentel's land.

"M. Petit-Claud is the young lawyer of whom I spoke to you, madame; he will go through the trust accounts when your fair ward comes of age."

The ex-diplomatist made a quick scrutiny of Petit-Claud, who, for his part, was looking furtively at the "fair ward." As for Zephirine, who heard of the matter for the first time, her surprise was so great that she dropped her fork.

Mlle. de la Haye, a shrewish young woman with an ill-tempered face, a waist that could scarcely be called slender, a thin figure, and colorless, fair hair, in spite of a certain little air that she had, was by no means easy to marry. The "parentage unknown" on her birth certificate was the real bar to her entrance into the sphere where her godmother's affection stove to establish her. Mlle. de la Haye, ignorant of her real position, was very hard to please; the richest merchant in L'Houmeau had found no favor in her sight. Cointet saw the sufficiently significant expression of the young lady's face at the sight of the little lawyer, and turning, beheld a precisely similar grimace on Petit-Claud's countenance. Mme. de Senonches and Francis looked at each other, as if in search of an excuse for getting rid of the visitors. All this Cointet saw. He asked M. du Hautoy for the favor of a few minutes' speech with him, and the pair went together into the drawing-room.

"Fatherly affection is blinding you, sir," he said bluntly. "You will not find it an easy thing to marry your daughter; and, acting in your interest throughout, I have put you in a position from which you cannot draw back; for I am fond of Francoise, she is my ward. Now --Petit-Claud knows _everything_! His overweening ambition is a guarantee for our dear child's happiness; for, in the first place, Francoise will do as she likes with her husband; and, in the second, he wants your influence. You can ask the new prefect for the post of crown attorney for him in the court here. M. Milaud is definitely appointed to Nevers, Petit-Claud will sell his practice, you will have no difficulty in obtaining a deputy public prosecutor's place for him; and it will not be long before he becomes attorney for the crown, president of the court, deputy, what you will."

Francis went back to the dining-room and behaved charmingly to his daughter's suitor. He gave Mme. de Senonches a look, and brought the scene to a close with an invitation to dine with them on the morrow; Petit-Claud must come and discuss the business in hand. He even went downstairs and as far as the corner with the visitors, telling Petit-Claud that after Cointet's recommendation, both he and Mme. de Senonches were disposed to approve all that Mlle. de la Haye's trustee had arranged for the welfare of that little angel.

"Oh!" cried Petit-Claud, as they came away, "what a plain girl! I have been taken in----"

"She looks a lady-like girl," returned Cointet, "and besides, if she were a beauty, would they give her to you? Eh! my dear fellow, thirty thousand francs and the influence of Mme. de Senonches and the Comtesse du Chatelet! Many a small landowner would be wonderfully glad of the chance, and all the more so since M. Francis du Hautoy is never likely to marry, and all that he has will go to the girl. Your marriage is as good as settled."

"How?"

"That is what I am just going to tell you," returned Cointet, and he gave his companion an account of his recent bold stroke. "M. Milaud is just about to be appointed attorney for the crown at Nevers, my dear fellow," he continued; "sell your practice, and in ten years' time you will be Keeper of the Seals. You are not the kind of a man to draw back from any service required of you by the Court."

"Very well," said Petit-Claud, his zeal stirred by the prospect of such a career, "very well, be in the Place du Murier to-morrow at half-past four; I will see old Sechard in the meantime; we will have a deed of partnership drawn up, and the father and the son shall be bound thereby, and delivered to the third person of the trinity --Cointet, to wit."

To return to Lucien in Paris. On the morrow of the loss announced in his letter, he obtained a _visa for his passport, bought a stout holly stick, and went to the Rue d'Enfer to take a place in the little market van, which took him as far as Longjumeau for half a franc. He was going home to Angouleme. At the end of the first day's tramp he slept in a cowshed, two leagues from Arpajon. He had come no farther than Orleans before he was very weary, and almost ready to break down, but there he found a boatman willing to bring him as far as Tours for three francs, and food during the journey cost him but forty sous. Five days of walking brought him from Tours to Poitiers, and left him with but five francs in his pockets, but he summoned up all his remaining strength for the journey before him.

He was overtaken by night in the open country, and had made up his mind to sleep out of doors, when a traveling carriage passed by, slowly climbing the hillside, and, all unknown to the postilion, the occupants, and the servant, he managed to slip in among the luggage, crouching in between two trunks lest he should be shaken off by the jolting of the carriage--and so he slept.

He awoke with the sun shining into his eyes, and the sound of voices in his ears. The carriage had come to a standstill. Looking about him, he knew that he was at Mansle, the little town where he had waited for Mme. de Bargeton eighteen months before, when his heart was full of hope and love and joy. A group of post-boys eyed him curiously and suspiciously, covered with dust as he was, wedged in among the luggage. Lucien jumped down, but before he could speak two travelers stepped out of the caleche, and the words died away on his lips; for there stood the new Prefect of the Charente, Sixte du Chatelet, and his wife, Louise de Negrepelisse.

"Chance gave us a traveling-companion, if we had but known!" said the Countess. "Come in with us, monsieur."

Lucien gave the couple a distant bow and a half-humbled half-defiant glance; then he turned away into a cross-country road in search of some farmhouse, where he might make a breakfast on milk and bread, and rest awhile, and think quietly over the future. He still had three francs left. On and on he walked with the hurrying pace of fever, noticing as he went, down by the riverside, that the country grew more and more picturesque. It was near mid-day when he came upon a sheet of water with willows growing about the margin, and stopped for awhile to rest his eyes on the cool, thick-growing leaves; and something of the grace of the fields entered into his soul.

In among the crests of the willows, he caught a glimpse of a mill near-by on a branch stream, and of the thatched roof of the mill-house where the house-leeks were growing. For all ornament, the quaint cottage was covered with jessamine and honeysuckle and climbing hops, and the garden about it was gay with phloxes and tall, juicy-leaved plants. Nets lay drying in the sun along a paved causeway raised above the highest flood level, and secured by massive piles. Ducks were swimming in the clear mill-pond below the currents of water roaring over the wheel. As the poet came nearer he heard the clack of the mill, and saw the good-natured, homely woman of the house knitting on a garden bench, and keeping an eye upon a little one who was chasing the hens about.

Lucien came forward. "My good woman," he said, "I am tired out; I have a fever on me, and I have only three francs; will you undertake to give me brown bread and milk, and let me sleep in the barn for a week? I shall have time to write to my people, and they will either come to fetch me or send me money."

"I am quite willing, always supposing that my husband has no objection.--Hey! little man!"

The miller came up, gave Lucien a look over, and took his pipe out of his mouth to remark, "Three francs for a weeks board? You might as well pay nothing at all."

"Perhaps I shall end as a miller's man," thought the poet, as his eyes wandered over the lovely country. Then the miller's wife made a bed ready for him, and Lucien lay down and slept so long that his hostess was frightened.

"Courtois," she said, next day at noon, "just go in and see whether that young man is dead or alive; he has been lying there these fourteen hours."

The miller was busy spreading out his fishing-nets and lines. "It is my belief," he said, "that the pretty fellow yonder is some starveling play-actor without a brass farthing to bless himself with."

"What makes you think that, little man?" asked the mistress of the mill.

"Lord, he is not a prince, nor a lord, nor a member of parliament, nor a bishop; why are his hands as white as if he did nothing?"

"Then it is very strange that he does not feel hungry and wake up," retorted the miller's wife; she had just prepared breakfast for yesterday's chance guest. "A play-actor, is he?" she continued. "Where will he be going? It is too early yet for the fair at Angouleme."

But neither the miller nor his wife suspected that (actors, princes, and bishops apart) there is a kind of being who is both prince and actor, and invested besides with a magnificent order of priesthood --that the Poet seems to do nothing, yet reigns over all humanity when he can paint humanity.

"What can he be?" Courtois asked of his wife.

"Suppose it should be dangerous to take him in?" queried she.

"Pooh! thieves look more alive than that; we should have been robbed by this time," returned her spouse.

"I am neither a prince nor a thief, nor a bishop nor an actor," Lucien said wearily; he must have overheard the colloquy through the window, and now he suddenly appeared. "I am poor, I am tired out, I have come on foot from Paris. My name is Lucien de Rubempre, and my father was M. Chardon, who used to have Postel's business in L'Houmeau. My sister married David Sechard, the printer in the Place du Murier at Angouleme."

"Stop a bit," said the miller, "that printer is the son of the old skinflint who farms his own land at Marsac, isn't he?"

"The very same," said Lucien.

"He is a queer kind of father, he is!" Courtois continued. "He is worth two hundred thousand francs and more, without counting his money-box, and he has sold his son up, they say."

When body and soul have been broken by a prolonged painful struggle, there comes a crisis when a strong nature braces itself for greater effort; but those who give way under the strain either die or sink into unconsciousness like death. That hour of crisis had struck for Lucien; at the vague rumor of the catastrophe that had befallen David he seemed almost ready to succumb. "Oh! my sister!" he cried. "Oh, God! what have I done? Base wretch that I am!"

He dropped down on the wooden bench, looking white and powerless as a dying man; the miller's wife brought out a bowl of milk and made him drink, but he begged the miller to help him back to his bed, and asked to be forgiven for bringing a dying man into their house. He thought his last hour had come. With the shadow of death, thoughts of religion crossed a brain so quick to conceive picturesque fancies; he would see the cure, he would confess and receive the last sacraments. The moan, uttered in the faint voice by a young man with such a comely face and figure, went to Mme. Courtois' heart.

"I say, little man, just take the horse and go to Marsac and ask Dr. Marron to come and see this young man; he is in a very bad way, it seems to me, and you might bring the cure as well. Perhaps they may know more about that printer in the Place du Murier than you do, for Postel married M. Marron's daughter."

Courtois departed. The miller's wife tried to make Lucien take food; like all country-bred folk, she was full of the idea that sick folk must be made to eat. He took no notice of her, but gave way to a violent storm of remorseful grief, a kind of mental process of counter-irritation, which relieved him.

The Courtois' mill lies a league away from Marsac, the town of the district, and the half-way between Mansle and Angouleme; so it was not long before the good miller came back with the doctor and the cure. Both functionaries had heard rumors coupling Lucien's name with the name of Mme. de Bargeton; and now when the whole department was talking of the lady's marriage to the new Prefect and her return to Angouleme as the Comtesse du Chatelet, both cure and doctor were consumed with a violent curiosity to know why M. de Bargeton's widow had not married the young poet with whom she had left Angouleme. And when they heard, furthermore, that Lucien was at the mill, they were eager to know whether the poet had come to the rescue of his brother-in-law. Curiosity and humanity alike prompted them to go at once to the dying man. Two hours after Courtois set out, Lucien heard the rattle of old iron over the stony causeway, the country doctor's ramshackle chaise came up to the door, and out stepped MM. Marron, for the cure was the doctor's uncle. Lucien's bedside visitors were as intimate with David's father as country neighbors usually are in a small vine-growing township. The doctor looked at the dying man, felt his pulse, and examined his tongue; then he looked at the miller's wife, and smiled reassuringly.

"Mme. Courtois," said he, "if, as I do not doubt, you have a bottle of good wine somewhere in the cellar, and a fat eel in your fish-pond, put them before your patient, it is only exhaustion; there is nothing the matter with him. Our great man will be on his feet again directly."

"Ah! monsieur," said Lucien, "it is not the body, it is the mind that ails. These good people have told me tidings that nearly killed me; I have just heard the bad news of my sister, Mme. Sechard. Mme. Courtois says that your daughter is married to Postel, monsieur, so you must know something of David Sechard's affairs; oh, for heaven's sake, monsieur, tell me what you know!"

"Why, he must be in prison," began the doctor; "his father would not help him----"

"_In prison_!" repeated Lucien, "and why?"

"Because some bills came from Paris; he had overlooked them, no doubt, for he does not pay much attention to his business, they say," said Dr. Marron.

"Pray leave me with M. le Cure," said the poet, with a visible change of countenance. The doctor and the miller and his wife went out of the room, and Lucien was left alone with the old priest.

"Sir," he said, "I feel that death is near, and I deserve to die. I am a very miserable wretch; I can only cast myself into the arms of religion. I, sir, _I have brought all these troubles on my sister and brother, for David Sechard has been a brother to me. I drew those bills that David could not meet! . . . I have ruined him. In my terrible misery, I forgot the crime. A millionaire put an end to the proceedings, and I quite believed that he had met the bills; but nothing of the kind has been done, it seems." And Lucien told the tale of his sorrows. The story, as he told it in his feverish excitement, was worthy of the poet. He besought the cure to go to Angouleme and to ask for news of Eve and his mother, Mme. Chardon, and to let him know the truth, and whether it was still possible to repair the evil.

"I shall live till you come back, sir," he added, as the hot tears fell. "If my mother, and sister, and David do not cast me off, I shall not die."

Lucien's remorse was terrible to see, the tears, the eloquence, the young white face with the heartbroken, despairing look, the tales of sorrow upon sorrow till human strength could no more endure, all these things aroused the cure's pity and interest.

"In the provinces, as in Paris," he said, "you must believe only half of all that you hear. Do not alarm yourself; a piece of hearsay, three leagues away from Angouleme, is sure to be far from the truth. Old Sechard, our neighbor, left Marsac some days ago; very likely he is busy settling his son's difficulties. I am going to Angouleme; I will come back and tell you whether you can return home; your confessions and repentance will help to plead your cause."

The cure did not know that Lucien had repented so many times during the last eighteen months, that penitence, however impassioned, had come to be a kind of drama with him, played to perfection, played so far in all good faith, but none the less a drama. To the cure succeeded the doctor. He saw that the patient was passing through a nervous crisis, and the danger was beginning to subside. The doctor-nephew spoke as comfortably as the cure-uncle, and at length the patient was persuaded to take nourishment.

Meanwhile the cure, knowing the manners and customs of the countryside, had gone to Mansle; the coach from Ruffec to Angouleme was due to pass about that time, and he found a vacant place in it. He would go to his grand-nephew Postel in L'Houmeau (David's former rival) and make inquiries of him. From the assiduity with which the little druggist assisted his venerable relative to alight from the abominable cage which did duty as a coach between Ruffec and Angouleme, it was apparent to the meanest understanding that M. and Mme. Postel founded their hopes of future ease upon the old cure's will.

"Have you breakfasted? Will you take something? We did not in the least expect you! This is a pleasant surprise!" Out came questions innumerable in a breath.

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Mme. Postel might have been born to be the wife of an apothecary in L'Houmeau. She was a common-looking woman, about the same height as little Postel himself, such good looks as she possessed being entirely due to youth and health. Her florid auburn hair grew very low upon her forehead. Her demeanor and language were in keeping with homely features, a round countenance, the red cheeks of a country damsel, and eyes that might almost be described as yellow. Everything about her said plainly enough that she had been married for expectations of money. After a year of married life,
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After two hours of argument Eve was fain to go, defeated by the unanswerable _dictum_, "Women never understand business." She had come with a faint hope, she went back again almost heartbroken, and reached home just in time to receive notice of judgment; Sechard must pay Metivier in full. The appearance of a bailiff at a house door is an event in a country town, and Doublon had come far too often of late. The whole neighborhood was talking about the Sechards. Eve dared not leave her house; she dreaded to hear the whispers as she passed. "Oh! my brother, my
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