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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesScenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 5
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Scenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 5 Post by :narnia Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :2632

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Scenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 5

Lucien paced the waiting-room at the opera-house like a man who was drunk. He fancied himself the talk of all Paris. He had in the Duc de Rhetore one of those unrelenting enemies on whom a man must smile, as he can never be revenged, since their attacks are in conformity with the rules of society. The Duc de Rhetore knew the scene that had just taken place on the outside steps of the Grandlieus' house. Lucien, feeling the necessity of at once reporting the catastrophe to his high privy councillor, nevertheless was afraid of compromising himself by going to Esther's house, where he might find company. He actually forgot that Esther was here, so confused were his thoughts, and in the midst of so much perplexity he was obliged to make small talk with Rastignac, who, knowing nothing of the news, congratulated him on his approaching marriage.

At this moment Nucingen appeared smiling, and said to Lucien:

"Vill you do me de pleasure to come to see Montame de Champy, vat vill infite you herself to von house-varming party----"

"With pleasure, Baron," replied Lucien, to whom the Baron appeared as a rescuing angel.

"Leave us," said Esther to Monsieur de Nucingen, when she saw him come in with Lucien. "Go and see Madame du Val-Noble, whom I discover in a box on the third tier with her nabob.--A great many nabobs grow in the Indies," she added, with a knowing glance at Lucien.

"And that one," said Lucien, smiling, "is uncommonly like yours."

"And them," said Esther, answering Lucien with another look of intelligence, while still speaking to the Baron, "bring her here with her nabob; he is very anxious to make your acquaintance. They say he is very rich. The poor woman has already poured out I know not how many elegies; she complains that her nabob is no good; and if you relieve him of his ballast, perhaps he will sail closer to the wind."

"You tink ve are all tieves!" said the Baron as he went away.

"What ails you, my Lucien?" asked Esther in her friend's ear, just touching it with her lips as soon as the box door was shut.

"I am lost! I have just been turned from the door of the Hotel de Grandlieu under pretence that no one was admitted. The Duke and Duchess were at home, and five pairs of horses were champing in the courtyard."

"What! will the marriage not take place?" exclaimed Esther, much agitated, for she saw a glimpse of Paradise.

"I do not yet know what is being plotted against me----"

"My Lucien," said she in a deliciously coaxing voice, "why be worried about it? You can make a better match by and by--I will get you the price of two estates----"

"Give us supper to-night that I may be able to speak in secret to Carlos, and, above all, invite the sham Englishman and Val-Noble. That nabob is my ruin; he is our enemy; we will get hold of him, and we----"

But Lucien broke off with a gesture of despair.

"Well, what is it?" asked the poor girl.

"Oh! Madame de Serizy sees me!" cried Lucien, "and to crown our woes, the Duc de Rhetore, who witnessed my dismissal, is with her."

In fact, at that very minute, the Duc de Rhetore was amusing himself with Madame de Serizy's discomfiture.

"Do you allow Lucien to be seen in Mademoiselle Esther's box?" said the young Duke, pointing to the box and to Lucien; "you, who take an interest in him, should really tell him such things are not allowed. He may sup at her house, he may even--But, in fact, I am no longer surprised at the Grandlieus' coolness towards the young man. I have just seen their door shut in his face--on the front steps----"

"Women of that sort are very dangerous," said Madame de Serizy, turning her opera-glass on Esther's box.

"Yes," said the Duke, "as much by what they can do as by what they wish----"

"They will ruin him!" cried Madame de Serizy, "for I am told they cost as much whether they are paid or no."

"Not to him!" said the young Duke, affecting surprise. "They are far from costing him anything; they give him money at need, and all run after him."

The Countess' lips showed a little nervous twitching which could not be included in any category of smiles.

"Well, then," said Esther, "come to supper at midnight. Bring Blondet and Rastignac; let us have two amusing persons at any rate; and we won't be more than nine."

"You must find some excuse for sending the Baron to fetch Eugenie under pretence of warning Asie, and tell her what has befallen me, so that Carlos may know before he has the nabob under his claws."

"That shall be done," said Esther.

And thus Peyrade was probably about to find himself unwittingly under the same roof with his adversary. The tiger was coming into the lion's den, and a lion surrounded by his guards.

When Lucien went back to Madame de Serizy's box, instead of turning to him, smiling and arranging her skirts for him to sit by her, she affected to pay him not the slightest attention, but looked about the house through her glass. Lucien could see, however, by the shaking of her hand that the Countess was suffering from one of those terrible emotions by which illicit joys are paid for. He went to the front of the box all the same, and sat down by her at the opposite corner, leaving a little vacant space between himself and the Countess. He leaned on the ledge of the box with his elbow, resting his chin on his gloved hand; then he half turned away, waiting for a word. By the middle of the act the Countess had still neither spoken to him nor looked at him.

"I do not know," said she at last, "why you are here; your place is in Mademoiselle Esther's box----"

"I will go there," said Lucien, leaving the box without looking at the Countess.

"My dear," said Madame du Val-Noble, going into Esther's box with Peyrade, whom the Baron de Nucingen did not recognize, "I am delighted to introduce Mr. Samuel Johnson. He is a great admirer of M. de Nucingen's talents."

"Indeed, monsieur," said Esther, smiling at Peyrade.

"Oh yes, bocou," said Peyrade.

"Why, Baron, here is a way of speaking French which is as much like yours as the low Breton dialect is like that of Burgundy. It will be most amusing to hear you discuss money matters.--Do you know, Monsieur Nabob, what I shall require of you if you are to make acquaintance with my Baron?" said Esther with a smile.

"Oh!--Thank you so much, you will introduce me to Sir Baronet?" said Peyrade with an extravagant English accent.

"Yes," said she, "you must give me the pleasure of your company at supper. There is no pitch stronger than champagne for sticking men together. It seals every kind of business, above all such as you put your foot in.--Come this evening; you will find some jolly fellows. --As for you, my little Frederic," she added in the Baron's ear, "you have your carriage here--just drive to the Rue Saint-Georges and bring Europe to me here; I have a few words to say to her about the supper. I have caught Lucien; he will bring two men who will be fun.--We will draw the Englishman," she whispered to Madame du Val-Noble.

Peyrade and the Baron left the women together.

"Oh, my dear, if you ever succeed in drawing that great brute, you will be clever indeed," said Suzanne.

"If it proves impossible, you must lend him to me for a week," replied Esther, laughing.

"You would but keep him half a day," replied Madame du Val-Noble. "The bread I eat is too hard; it breaks my teeth. Never again, to my dying day, will I try to make an Englishman happy. They are all cold and selfish--pigs on their hind legs."

"What, no consideration?" said Esther with a smile.

"On the contrary, my dear, the monster has never shown the least familiarity."

"Under no circumstances whatever?" asked Esther.

"The wretch always addresses me as Madame, and preserves the most perfect coolness imaginable at moments when every man is more or less amenable. To him love-making!--on my word, it is nothing more nor less than shaving himself. He wipes the razor, puts it back in its case, and looks in the glass as if he were saying, 'I have not cut myself!'

"Then he treats me with such respect as is enough to send a woman mad. That odious Milord Potboiler amuses himself by making poor Theodore hide in my dressing-room and stand there half the day. In short, he tries to annoy me in every way. And as stingy!--As miserly as Gobseck and Gigonnet rolled into one. He takes me out to dinner, but he does not pay the cab that brings me home if I happen not to have ordered my carriage to fetch me."

"Well," said Esther, "but what does he pay you for your services?"

"Oh, my dear, positively nothing. Five hundred francs a month and not a penny more, and the hire of a carriage. But what is it? A machine such as they hire out for a third-rate wedding to carry an epicier to the Mairie, to Church, and to the Cadran bleu.--Oh, he nettles me with his respect.

"If I try hysterics and feel ill, he is never vexed; he only says: 'I wish my lady to have her own way, for there is nothing more detestable --no gentleman--than to say to a nice woman, "You are a cotton bale, a bundle of merchandise."--Ha, hah! Are you a member of the Temperance Society and anti-slavery?' And my horror sits pale, and cold, and hard while he gives me to understand that he has as much respect for me as he might have for a Negro, and that it has nothing to do with his feelings, but with his opinions as an abolitionist."

"A man cannot be a worse wretch," said Esther. "But I will smash up that outlandish Chinee."

"Smash him up?" replied Madame du Val-Noble. "Not if he does not love me. You, yourself, would you like to ask him for two sous? He would listen to you solemnly, and tell you, with British precision that would make a slap in the face seem genial, that he pays dear enough for the trifle that love can be to his poor life;" and, as before, Madame du Val-Noble mimicked Peyrade's bad French.

"To think that in our line of life we are thrown in the way of such men!" exclaimed Esther.

"Oh, my dear, you have been uncommonly lucky. Take good care of your Nucingen."

"But your nabob must have got some idea in his head."

"That is what Adele says."

"Look here, my dear; that man, you may depend, has laid a bet that he will make a woman hate him and pack him off in a certain time."

"Or else he wants to do business with Nucingen, and took me up knowing that you and I were friends; that is what Adele thinks," answered Madame du Val-Noble. "That is why I introduced him to you this evening. Oh, if only I could be sure what he is at, what tricks I could play with you and Nucingen!"

"And you don't get angry?" asked Esther; "you don't speak your mind now and then?"

"Try it--you are sharp and smooth.--Well, in spite of your sweetness, he would kill you with his icy smiles. 'I am anti-slavery,' he would say, 'and you are free.'--If you said the funniest things, he would only look at you and say, 'Very good!' and you would see that he regards you merely as a part of the show."

"And if you turned furious?"

"The same thing; it would still be a show. You might cut him open under the left breast without hurting him in the least; his internals are of tinned-iron, I am sure. I told him so. He replied, 'I am quite satisfied with that physical constitution.'

"And always polite. My dear, he wears gloves on his soul . . .

"I shall endure this martyrdom for a few days longer to satisfy my curiosity. But for that, I should have made Philippe slap my lord's cheek--and he has not his match as a swordsman. There is nothing else left for it----"

"I was just going to say so," cried Esther. "But you must ascertain first that Philippe is a boxer; for these old English fellows, my dear, have a depth of malignity----"

"This one has no match on earth. No. if you could but see him asking my commands, to know at what hour he may come--to take me by surprise, of course--and pouring out respectful speeches like a so-called gentleman, you would say, 'Why, he adores her!' and there is not a woman in the world who would not say the same."

"And they envy us, my dear!" exclaimed Esther.

"Ah, well!" sighed Madame du Val-Noble; "in the course of our lives we learn more or less how little men value us. But, my dear, I have never been so cruelly, so deeply, so utterly scorned by brutality as I am by this great skinful of port wine.

"When he is tipsy he goes away--'not to be unpleasant,' as he tells Adele, and not to be 'under two powers at once,' wine and woman. He takes advantage of my carriage; he uses it more than I do.--Oh! if only we could see him under the table to-night! But he can drink ten bottles and only be fuddled; when his eyes are full, he still sees clearly."

"Like people whose windows are dirty outside," said Esther, "but who can see from inside what is going on in the street.--I know that property in man. Du Tillet has it in the highest degree."

"Try to get du Tillet, and if he and Nucingen between them could only catch him in some of their plots, I should at least be revenged. They would bring him to beggary!

"Oh! my dear, to have fallen into the hands of a hypocritical Protestant after that poor Falleix, who was so amusing, so good-natured, so full of chaff! How we used to laugh! They say all stockbrokers are stupid. Well, he, for one, never lacked wit but once----"

"When he left you without a sou? That is what made you acquainted with the unpleasant side of pleasure."

Europe, brought in by Monsieur de Nucingen, put her viperine head in at the door, and after listening to a few words whispered in her ear by her mistress, she vanished.

At half-past eleven that evening, five carriages were stationed in the Rue Saint-Georges before the famous courtesan's door. There was Lucien's, who had brought Rastignac, Bixiou, and Blondet; du Tillet's, the Baron de Nucingen's, the Nabob's, and Florine's--she was invited by du Tillet. The closed and doubly-shuttered windows were screened by the splendid Chinese silk curtains. Supper was to be served at one; wax-lights were blazing, the dining-room and little drawing-room displayed all their magnificence. The party looked forward to such an orgy as only three such women and such men as these could survive. They began by playing cards, as they had to wait about two hours.

"Do you play, milord?" asked du Tillet to Peyrade.

"I have played with O'Connell, Pitt, Fox, Canning, Lord Brougham, Lord----"

"Say at once no end of lords," said Bixiou.

"Lord Fitzwilliam, Lord Ellenborough, Lord Hertford, Lord----"

Bixiou was looking at Peyrade's shoes, and stooped down.

"What are you looking for?" asked Blondet.

"For the spring one must touch to stop this machine," said Florine.

"Do you play for twenty francs a point?"

"I will play for as much as you like to lose."

"He does it well!" said Esther to Lucien. "They all take him for an Englishman."

Du Tillet, Nucingen, Peyrade, and Rastignac sat down to a whist-table; Florine, Madame du Val-Noble, Esther, Blondet, and Bixiou sat round the fire chatting. Lucien spent the time in looking through a book of fine engravings.

"Supper is ready," Paccard presently announced, in magnificent livery.

Peyrade was placed at Florine's left hand, and on the other side of him Bixiou, whom Esther had enjoined to make the Englishman drink freely, and challenge him to beat him. Bixiou had the power of drinking an indefinite quantity.

Never in his life had Peyrade seen such splendor, or tasted of such cookery, or seen such fine women.

"I am getting my money's worth this evening for the thousand crowns la Val-Noble has cost me till now," thought he; "and besides, I have just won a thousand francs."

"This is an example for men to follow!" said Suzanne, who was sitting by Lucien, with a wave of her hand at the splendors of the dining-room.

Esther had placed Lucien next herself, and was holding his foot between her own under the table.

"Do you hear?" said Madame du Val-Noble, addressing Peyrade, who affected blindness. "This is how you ought to furnish a house! When a man brings millions home from India, and wants to do business with the Nucingens, he should place himself on the same level."

"I belong to a Temperance Society!"

"Then you will drink like a fish!" said Bixiou, "for the Indies are uncommon hot, uncle!"

It was Bixiou's jest during supper to treat Peyrade as an uncle of his, returned from India.

"Montame du Fal-Noble tolt me you shall have some iteas," said Nucingen, scrutinizing Peyrade.

"Ah, this is what I wanted to hear," said du Tillet to Rastignac; "the two talking gibberish together."

"You will see, they will understand each other at last," said Bixiou, guessing what du Tillet had said to Rastignac.

"Sir Baronet, I have imagined a speculation--oh! a very comfortable job--bocou profitable and rich in profits----"

"Now you will see," said Blondet to du Tillet, "he will not talk one minute without dragging in the Parliament and the English Government."

"It is in China, in the opium trade----"

"Ja, I know," said Nucingen at once, as a man who is well acquainted with commercial geography. "But de English Gover'ment hafe taken up de opium trate as a means dat shall open up China, and she shall not allow dat ve----"

"Nucingen has cut him out with the Government," remarked du Tillet to Blondet.

"Ah! you have been in the opium trade!" cried Madame du Val-Noble. "Now I understand why you are so narcotic; some has stuck in your soul."

"Dere! you see!" cried the Baron to the self-styled opium merchant, and pointing to Madame du Val-Noble. "You are like me. Never shall a millionaire be able to make a voman lofe him."

"I have loved much and often, milady," replied Peyrade.

"As a result of temperance," said Bixiou, who had just seen Peyrade finish his third bottle of claret, and now had a bottle of port wine uncorked.

"Oh!" cried Peyrade, "it is very fine, the Portugal of England."

Blondet, du Tillet, and Bixiou smiled at each other. Peyrade had the power of travestying everything, even his wit. There are very few Englishmen who will not maintain that gold and silver are better in England than elsewhere. The fowls and eggs exported from Normandy to the London market enable the English to maintain that the poultry and eggs in London are superior (very fine) to those of Paris, which come from the same district.

Esther and Lucien were dumfounded by this perfection of costume, language, and audacity.

They all ate and drank so well and so heartily, while talking and laughing, that it went on till four in the morning. Bixiou flattered himself that he had achieved one of the victories so pleasantly related by Brillat-Savarin. But at the moment when he was saying to himself, as he offered his "uncle" some more wine, "I have vanquished England!" Peyrade replied in good French to this malicious scoffer, "Toujours, mon garcon" (Go it, my boy), which no one heard but Bixiou.

"Hallo, good men all, he is as English as I am!--My uncle is a Gascon! I could have no other!"

Bixiou and Peyrade were alone, so no one heard this announcement. Peyrade rolled off his chair on to the floor. Paccard forthwith picked him up and carried him to an attic, where he fell sound asleep.

At six o'clock next evening, the Nabob was roused by the application of a wet cloth, with which his face was being washed, and awoke to find himself on a camp-bed, face to face with Asie, wearing a mask and a black domino.

"Well, Papa Peyrade, you and I have to settle accounts," said she.

"Where am I?" asked he, looking about him.

"Listen to me," said Asie, "and that will sober you.--Though you do not love Madame du Val-Noble, you love your daughter, I suppose?"

"My daughter?" Peyrade echoed with a roar.

"Yes, Mademoiselle Lydie."

"What then?"

"What then? She is no longer in the Rue des Moineaux; she has been carried off."

Peyrade breathed a sigh like that of a soldier dying of a mortal wound on the battlefield.

"While you were pretending to be an Englishman, some one else was pretending to be Peyrade. Your little Lydie thought she was with her father, and she is now in a safe place.--Oh! you will never find her! unless you undo the mischief you have done."

"What mischief?"

"Yesterday Monsieur Lucien de Rubempre had the door shut in his face at the Duc de Grandlieu's. This is due to your intrigues, and to the man you let loose on us. Do not speak, listen!" Asie went on, seeing Peyrade open his mouth. "You will have your daughter again, pure and spotless," she added, emphasizing her statement by the accent on every word, "only on the day after that on which Monsieur Lucien de Rubempre walks out of Saint-Thomas d'Aquin as the husband of Mademoiselle Clotilde. If, within ten days Lucien de Rubempre is not admitted, as he has been, to the Grandlieus' house, you, to begin with, will die a violent death, and nothing can save you from the fate that threatens you.--Then, when you feel yourself dying, you will have time before breathing your last to reflect, 'My daughter is a prostitute for the rest of her life!'

"Though you have been such a fool as give us this hold for our clutches, you still have sense enough to meditate on this ultimatum from our government. Do not bark, say nothing to any one; go to Contenson's, and change your dress, and then go home. Katt will tell you that at a word from you your little Lydie went downstairs, and has not been seen since. If you make any fuss, if you take any steps, your daughter will begin where I tell you she will end--she is promised to de Marsay.

"With old Canquoelle I need not mince matters, I should think, or wear gloves, heh?----Go on downstairs, and take care not to meddle in our concerns any more."

Asie left Peyrade in a pitiable state; every word had been a blow with a club. The spy had tears in his eyes, and tears hanging from his cheeks at the end of a wet furrow.

"They are waiting dinner for Mr. Johnson," said Europe, putting her head in a moment after.

Peyrade made no reply; he went down, walked till he reached a cab-stand, and hurried off to undress at Contenson's, not saying a word to him; he resumed the costume of Pere Canquoelle, and got home by eight o'clock. He mounted the stairs with a beating heart. When the Flemish woman heard her master, she asked him:

"Well, and where is mademoiselle?" with such simplicity, that the old spy was obliged to lean against the wall. The blow was more than he could bear. He went into his daughter's rooms, and ended by fainting with grief when he found them empty, and heard Katt's story, which was that of an abduction as skilfully planned as if he had arranged it himself.

"Well, well," thought he, "I must knock under. I will be revenged later; now I must go to Corentin.--This is the first time we have met our foes. Corentin will leave that handsome boy free to marry an Empress if he wishes!--Yes, I understand that my little girl should have fallen in love with him at first sight.--Oh! that Spanish priest is a knowing one. Courage, friend Peyrade! disgorge your prey!"

The poor father never dreamed of the fearful blow that awaited him.

On reaching Corentin's house, Bruno, the confidential servant, who knew Peyrade, said:

"Monsieur is gone away."

"For a long time?"

"For ten days."


"I don't know.

"Good God, I am losing my wits! I ask him where--as if we ever told them----" thought he.

A few hours before the moment when Peyrade was to be roused in his garret in the Rue Saint-Georges, Corentin, coming in from his country place at Passy, had made his way to the Duc de Grandlieu's, in the costume of a retainer of a superior class. He wore the ribbon of the Legion of Honor at his button-hole. He had made up a withered old face with powdered hair, deep wrinkles, and a colorless skin. His eyes were hidden by tortoise-shell spectacles. He looked like a retired office-clerk. On giving his name as Monsieur de Saint-Denis, he was led to the Duke's private room, where he found Derville reading a letter, which he himself had dictated to one of his agents, the "number" whose business it was to write documents. The Duke took Corentin aside to tell him all he already knew. Monsieur de Saint-Denis listened coldly and respectfully, amusing himself by studying this grand gentleman, by penetrating the tufa beneath the velvet cover, by scrutinizing this being, now and always absorbed in whist and in regard for the House of Grandlieu.

"If you will take my advice, monsieur," said Corentin to Derville, after being duly introduced to the lawyer, "we shall set out this very afternoon for Angouleme by the Bordeaux coach, which goes quite as fast as the mail; and we shall not need to stay there six hours to obtain the information Monsieur le Duc requires. It will be enough--if I have understood your Grace--to ascertain whether Monsieur de Rubempre's sister and brother-in-law are in a position to give him twelve hundred thousand francs?" and he turned to the Duke.

"You have understood me perfectly," said the Duke.

"We can be back again in four days," Corentin went on, addressing Derville, "and neither of us will have neglected his business long enough for it to suffer."

"That was the only difficulty I was about to mention to his Grace," said Derville. "It is now four o'clock. I am going home to say a word to my head-clerk, and pack my traveling-bag, and after dinner, at eight o'clock, I will be----But shall we get places?" he said to Monsieur de Saint-Denis, interrupting himself.

"I will answer for that," said Corentin. "Be in the yard of the Chief Office of the Messageries at eight o'clock. If there are no places, they shall make some, for that is the way to serve Monseigneur le Duc de Grandlieu."

"Gentlemen," said the Duke most graciously, "I postpone my thanks----"

Corentin and the lawyer, taking this as a dismissal, bowed, and withdrew.

At the hour when Peyrade was questioning Corentin's servant, Monsieur de Saint-Denis and Derville, seated in the Bordeaux coach, were studying each other in silence as they drove out of Paris.

Next morning, between Orleans and Tours, Derville, being bored, began to converse, and Corentin condescended to amuse him, but keeping his distance; he left him to believe that he was in the diplomatic service, and was hoping to become Consul-General by the good offices of the Duc de Grandlieu. Two days after leaving Paris, Corentin and Derville got out at Mansle, to the great surprise of the lawyer, who thought he was going to Angouleme.

"In this little town," said Corentin, "we can get the most positive information as regards Madame Sechard."

"Do you know her then?" asked Derville, astonished to find Corentin so well informed.

"I made the conductor talk, finding he was a native of Angouleme. He tells me that Madame Sechard lives at Marsac, and Marsac is but a league away from Mansle. I thought we should be at greater advantage here than at Angouleme for verifying the facts."

"And besides," thought Derville, "as Monsieur le Duc said, I act merely as the witness to the inquiries made by this confidential agent----"

The inn at Mansle, _la Belle Etoile_, had for its landlord one of those fat and burly men whom we fear we may find no more on our return; but who still, ten years after, are seen standing at their door with as much superfluous flesh as ever, in the same linen cap, the same apron, with the same knife, the same oiled hair, the same triple chin,--all stereotyped by novel-writers from the immortal Cervantes to the immortal Walter Scott. Are they not all boastful of their cookery? have they not all "whatever you please to order"? and do not all end by giving you the same hectic chicken, and vegetables cooked with rank butter? They all boast of their fine wines, and all make you drink the wine of the country.

But Corentin, from his earliest youth, had known the art of getting out of an innkeeper things more essential to himself than doubtful dishes and apocryphal wines. So he gave himself out as a man easy to please, and willing to leave himself in the hands of the best cook in Mansle, as he told the fat man.

"There is no difficulty about being the best--I am the only one," said the host.

"Serve us in the side room," said Corentin, winking at Derville. "And do not be afraid of setting the chimney on fire; we want to thaw out the frost in our fingers."

"It was not warm in the coach," said Derville.

"Is it far to Marsac?" asked Corentin of the innkeeper's wife, who came down from the upper regions on hearing that the diligence had dropped two travelers to sleep there.

"Are you going to Marsac, monsieur?" replied the woman.

"I don't know," he said sharply. "Is it far from hence to Marsac?" he repeated, after giving the woman time to notice his red ribbon.

"In a chaise, a matter of half an hour," said the innkeeper's wife.

"Do you think that Monsieur and Madame Sechard are likely to be there in winter?"

"To be sure; they live there all the year round."

"It is now five o'clock. We shall still find them up at nine."

"Oh yes, till ten. They have company every evening--the cure, Monsieur Marron the doctor----"

"Good folks then?" said Derville.

"Oh, the best of good souls," replied the woman, "straight-forward, honest--and not ambitious neither. Monsieur Sechard, though he is very well off--they say he might have made millions if he had not allowed himself to be robbed of an invention in the paper-making of which the brothers Cointet are getting the benefit----"

"Ah, to be sure, the Brothers Cointet!" said Corentin.

"Hold your tongue," said the innkeeper. "What can it matter to these gentlemen whether Monsieur Sechard has a right or no to a patent for his inventions in paper-making?--If you mean to spend the night here --at the _Belle Etoile_----" he went on, addressing the travelers, "here is the book, and please to put your names down. We have an officer in this town who has nothing to do, and spends all his time in nagging at us----"

"The devil!" said Corentin, while Derville entered their names and his profession as attorney to the lower Court in the department of the Seine, "I fancied the Sechards were very rich."

"Some people say they are millionaires," replied the innkeeper. "But as to hindering tongues from wagging, you might as well try to stop the river from flowing. Old Sechard left two hundred thousand francs' worth of landed property, it is said; and that is not amiss for a man who began as a workman. Well, and he may have had as much again in savings, for he made ten or twelve thousand francs out of his land at last. So, supposing he were fool enough not to invest his money for ten years, that would be all told. But even if he lent it at high interest, as he is suspected of doing there would be three hundred thousand francs perhaps, and that is all. Five hundred thousand francs is a long way short of a million. I should be quite content with the difference, and no more of the _Belle Etoile for me!"

"Really!" said Corentin. "Then Monsieur David Sechard and his wife have not a fortune of two or three millions?"

"Why," exclaimed the innkeeper's wife, "that is what the Cointets are supposed to have, who robbed him of his invention, and he does not get more than twenty thousand francs out of them. Where do you suppose such honest folks would find millions? They were very much pinched while the father was alive. But for Kolb, their manager, and Madame Kolb, who is as much attached to them as her husband, they could scarcely have lived. Why, how much had they with La Verberie!--A thousand francs a year perhaps."

Corentin drew Derville aside and said:

"In vino veritas! Truth lives under a cork. For my part, I regard an inn as the real registry office of the countryside; the notary is not better informed than the innkeeper as to all that goes on in a small neighborhood.--You see! we are supposed to know all about the Cointets and Kolb and the rest.

"Your innkeeper is the living record of every incident; he does the work of the police without suspecting it. A government should maintain two hundred spies at most, for in a country like France there are ten millions of simple-minded informers.--However, we need not trust to this report; though even in this little town something would be known about the twelve hundred thousand francs sunk in paying for the Rubempre estate. We will not stop here long----"

"I hope not!" Derville put in.

"And this is why," added Corentin; "I have hit on the most natural way of extracting the truth from the mouth of the Sechard couple. I rely upon you to support, by your authority as a lawyer, the little trick I shall employ to enable you to hear a clear and complete account of their affairs.--After dinner we shall set out to call on Monsieur Sechard," said Corentin to the innkeeper's wife. "Have beds ready for us, we want separate rooms. There can be no difficulty 'under the stars.'"

"Oh, monsieur," said the woman, "we invented the sign."

"The pun is to be found in every department," said Corentin; "it is no monopoly of yours."

"Dinner is served, gentlemen," said the innkeeper.

"But where the devil can that young fellow have found the money? Is the anonymous writer accurate? Can it be the earnings of some handsome baggage?" said Derville, as they sat down to dinner.

"Ah, that will be the subject of another inquiry," said Corentin. "Lucien de Rubempre, as the Duc de Chaulieu tells me, lives with a converted Jewess, who passes for a Dutch woman, and is called Esther van Bogseck."

"What a strange coincidence!" said the lawyer. "I am hunting for the heiress of a Dutchman named Gobseck--it is the same name with a transposition of consonants."

"Well," said Corentin, "you shall have information as to her parentage on my return to Paris."

An hour later, the two agents for the Grandlieu family set out for La Verberie, where Monsieur and Madame Sechard were living.

Never had Lucien felt any emotion so deep as that which overcame him at La Verberie when comparing his own fate with that of his brother-in-law. The two Parisians were about to witness the same scene that had so much struck Lucien a few days since. Everything spoke of peace and abundance.

At the hour when the two strangers were arriving, a party of four persons were being entertained in the drawing-room of La Verberie: the cure of Marsac, a young priest of five-and-twenty, who, at Madame Sechard's request, had become tutor to her little boy Lucien; the country doctor, Monsieur Marron; the Maire of the commune; and an old colonel, who grew roses on a plot of land opposite to La Verberie on the other side of the road. Every evening during the winter these persons came to play an artless game of boston for centime points, to borrow the papers, or return those they had finished.

When Monsieur and Madame Sechard had bought La Verberie, a fine house built of stone, and roofed with slate, the pleasure-grounds consisted of a garden of two acres. In the course of time, by devoting her savings to the purpose, handsome Madame Sechard had extended her garden as far as a brook, by cutting down the vines on some ground she purchased, and replacing them with grass plots and clumps of shrubbery. At the present time the house, surrounded by a park of about twenty acres, and enclosed by walls, was considered the most imposing place in the neighborhood.

Old Sechard's former residence, with the outhouses attached, was now used as the dwelling-house for the manager of about twenty acres of vineyard left by him, of five farmsteads, bringing in about six thousand francs a year, and ten acres of meadow land lying on the further side of the stream, exactly opposite the little park; indeed, Madame Sechard hoped to include them in it the next year. La Verberie was already spoken of in the neighborhood as a chateau, and Eve Sechard was known as the Lady of Marsac. Lucien, while flattering her vanity, had only followed the example of the peasants and vine-dressers. Courtois, the owner of the mill, very picturesquely situated a few hundred yards from the meadows of La Verberie, was in treaty, it was said, with Madame Sechard for the sale of his property; and this acquisition would give the finishing touch to the estate and the rank of a "place" in the department.

Madame Sechard, who did a great deal of good, with as much judgment as generosity, was equally esteemed and loved. Her beauty, now really splendid, was at the height of its bloom. She was about six-and-twenty, but had preserved all the freshness of youth from living in the tranquillity and abundance of a country life. Still much in love with her husband, she respected him as a clever man, who was modest enough to renounce the display of fame; in short, to complete her portrait, it is enough to say that in her whole existence she had never felt a throb of her heart that was not inspired by her husband or her children.

The tax paid to grief by this happy household was, as may be supposed, the deep anxiety caused by Lucien's career, in which Eve Sechard suspected mysteries, which she dreaded all the more because, during his last visit, Lucien roughly cut short all his sister's questions by saying that an ambitious man owed no account of his proceedings to any one but himself.

In six years Lucien had seen his sister but three times, and had not written her more than six letters. His first visit to La Verberie had been on the occasion of his mother's death; and his last had been paid with a view to asking the favor of the lie which was so necessary to his advancement. This gave rise to a very serious scene between Monsieur and Madame Sechard and their brother, and left their happy and respected life troubled by the most terrible suspicions.

The interior of the house, as much altered as the surroundings, was comfortable without luxury, as will be understood by a glance round the room where the little party were now assembled. A pretty Aubusson carpet, hangings of gray cotton twill bound with green silk brocade, the woodwork painted to imitate Spa wood, carved mahogany furniture covered with gray woolen stuff and green gimp, with flower-stands, gay with flowers in spite of the time of year, presented a very pleasing and homelike aspect. The window curtains, of green brocade, the chimney ornaments, and the mirror frames were untainted by the bad taste that spoils everything in the provinces; and the smallest details, all elegant and appropriate, gave the mind and eye a sense of repose and of poetry which a clever and loving woman can and ought to infuse into her home.

Madame Sechard, still in mourning for her father, sat by the fire working at some large piece of tapestry with the help of Madame Kolb, the housekeeper, to whom she intrusted all the minor cares of the household.

"A chaise has stopped at the door!" said Courtois, hearing the sound of wheels outside; "and to judge by the clatter of metal, it belongs to these parts----"

"Postel and his wife have come to see us, no doubt," said the doctor.

"No," said Courtois, "the chaise has come from Mansle."

"Montame," said Kolb, the burly Alsatian we have made acquaintance with in a former volume (_Illusions perdues_), "here is a lawyer from Paris who wants to speak with monsieur."

"A lawyer!" cried Sechard; "the very word gives me the colic!"

"Thank you!" said the Maire of Marsac, named Cachan, who for twenty years had been an attorney at Angouleme, and who had once been required to prosecute Sechard.

"My poor David will never improve; he will always be absent-minded!" said Eve, smiling.

"A lawyer from Paris," said Courtois. "Have you any business in Paris?"

"No," said Eve.

"But you have a brother there," observed Courtois.

"Take care lest he should have anything to say about old Sechard's estate," said Cachan. "_He had his finger in some very queer concerns, worthy man!"

Corentin and Derville, on entering the room, after bowing to the company, and giving their names, begged to have a private interview with Monsieur and Madame Sechard.

"By all means," said Sechard. "But is it a matter of business?"

"Solely a matter regarding your father's property," said Corentin.

"Then I beg you will allow monsieur--the Maire, a lawyer formerly at Angouleme--to be present also."

"Are you Monsieur Derville?" said Cachan, addressing Corentin.

"No, monsieur, this is Monsieur Derville," replied Corentin, introducing the lawyer, who bowed.

"But," said Sechard, "we are, so to speak, a family party; we have no secrets from our neighbors; there is no need to retire to my study, where there is no fire--our life is in the sight of all men----"

"But your father's," said Corentin, "was involved in certain mysteries which perhaps you would rather not make public."

"Is it anything we need blush for?" said Eve, in alarm.

"Oh, no! a sin of his youth," said Corentin, coldly setting one of his mouse-traps. "Monsieur, your father left an elder son----"

"Oh, the old rascal!" cried Courtois. "He was never very fond of you, Monsieur Sechard, and he kept that secret from you, the deep old dog! --Now I understand what he meant when he used to say to me, 'You shall see what you shall see when I am under the turf.'"

"Do not be dismayed, monsieur," said Corentin to Sechard, while he watched Eve out of the corner of his eye.

"A brother!" exclaimed the doctor. "Then your inheritance is divided into two!"

Derville was affecting to examine the fine engravings, proofs before letters, which hung on the drawing-room walls.

"Do not be dismayed, madame," Corentin went on, seeing amazement written on Madame Sechard's handsome features, "it is only a natural son. The rights of a natural son are not the same as those of a legitimate child. This man is in the depths of poverty, and he has a right to a certain sum calculated on the amount of the estate. The millions left by your father----"

At the word millions there was a perfectly unanimous cry from all the persons present. And now Derville ceased to study the prints.

"Old Sechard?--Millions?" said Courtois. "Who on earth told you that? Some peasant----"

"Monsieur," said Cachan, "you are not attached to the Treasury? You may be told all the facts----"

"Be quite easy," said Corentin, "I give you my word of honor I am not employed by the Treasury."

Cachan, who had just signed to everybody to say nothing, gave expression to his satisfaction.

"Monsieur," Corentin went on, "if the whole estate were but a million, a natural child's share would still be something considerable. But we have not come to threaten a lawsuit; on the contrary, our purpose is to propose that you should hand over one hundred thousand francs, and we will depart----"

"One hundred thousand francs!" cried Cachan, interrupting him. "But, monsieur, old Sechard left twenty acres of vineyard, five small farms, ten acres of meadowland here, and not a sou besides----"

"Nothing on earth," cried David Sechard, "would induce me to tell a lie, and less to a question of money than on any other.--Monsieur," he said, turning to Corentin and Derville, "my father left us, besides the land----"

Courtois and Cachan signaled in vain to Sechard; he went on:

"Three hundred thousand francs, which raises the whole estate to about five hundred thousand francs."

"Monsieur Cachan," asked Eve Sechard, "what proportion does the law allot to a natural child?"

"Madame," said Corentin, "we are not Turks; we only require you to swear before these gentlemen that you did not inherit more than five hundred thousand francs from your father-in-law, and we can come to an understanding."

"First give me your word of honor that you really are a lawyer," said Cachan to Derville.

"Here is my passport," replied Derville, handing him a paper folded in four; "and monsieur is not, as you might suppose, an inspector from the Treasury, so be easy," he added. "We had an important reason for wanting to know the truth as to the Sechard estate, and we now know it."

Derville took Madame Sechard's hand and led her very courteously to the further end of the room.

"Madame," said he, in a low voice, "if it were not that the honor and future prospects of the house of Grandlieu are implicated in this affair, I would never have lent myself to the stratagem devised by this gentleman of the red ribbon. But you must forgive him; it was necessary to detect the falsehood by means of which your brother has stolen a march on the beliefs of that ancient family. Beware now of allowing it to be supposed that you have given your brother twelve hundred thousand francs to repurchase the Rubempre estates----"

"Twelve hundred thousand francs!" cried Madame Sechard, turning pale. "Where did he get them, wretched boy?"

"Ah! that is the question," replied Derville. "I fear that the source of his wealth is far from pure."

The tears rose to Eve's eyes, as her neighbors could see.

"We have, perhaps, done you a great service by saving you from abetting a falsehood of which the results may be positively dangerous," the lawyer went on.

Derville left Madame Sechard sitting pale and dejected with tears on her cheeks, and bowed to the company.

"To Mansle!" said Corentin to the little boy who drove the chaise.

There was but one vacant place in the diligence from Bordeaux to Paris; Derville begged Corentin to allow him to take it, urging a press of business; but in his soul he was distrustful of his traveling companion, whose diplomatic dexterity and coolness struck him as being the result of practice. Corentin remained three days longer at Mansle, unable to get away; he was obliged to secure a place in the Paris coach by writing to Bordeaux, and did not get back till nine days after leaving home.

Peyrade, meanwhile, had called every morning, either at Passy or in Paris, to inquire whether Corentin had returned. On the eighth day he left at each house a note, written in their peculiar cipher, to explain to his friend what death hung over him, and to tell him of Lydie's abduction and the horrible end to which his enemies had devoted them. Peyrade, bereft of Corentin, but seconded by Contenson, still kept up his disguise as a nabob. Even though his invisible foes had discovered him, he very wisely reflected that he might glean some light on the matter by remaining on the field of the contest.

Contenson had brought all his experience into play in his search for Lydie, and hoped to discover in what house she was hidden; but as the days went by, the impossibility, absolutely demonstrated, of tracing the slightest clue, added, hour by hour, to Peyrade's despair. The old spy had a sort of guard about him of twelve or fifteen of the most experienced detectives. They watched the neighborhood of the Rue des Moineaux and the Rue Taitbout--where he lived, as a nabob, with Madame du Val-Noble. During the last three days of the term granted by Asie to reinstate Lucien on his old footing in the Hotel de Grandlieu, Contenson never left the veteran of the old general police office. And the poetic terror shed throughout the forests of America by the arts of inimical and warring tribes, of which Cooper made such good use in his novels, was here associated with the petty details of Paris life. The foot-passengers, the shops, the hackney cabs, a figure standing at a window,--everything had to the human ciphers to whom old Peyrade had intrusted his safety the thrilling interest which attaches in Cooper's romances to a beaver-village, a rock, a bison-robe, a floating canoe, a weed straggling over the water.

"If the Spaniard has gone away, you have nothing to fear," said Contenson to Peyrade, remarking on the perfect peace they lived in.

"But if he is not gone?" observed Peyrade.

"He took one of my men at the back of the chaise; but at Blois, my man having to get down, could not catch the chaise up again."

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Scenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 6 Scenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 6

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Five days after Derville's return, Lucien one morning had a call from Rastignac. "I am in despair, my dear boy," said his visitor, "at finding myself compelled to deliver a message which is intrusted to me because we are known to be intimate. Your marriage is broken off beyond all hope of reconciliation. Never set foot again in the Hotel de Grandlieu. To marry Clotilde you must wait till her father dies, and he is too selfish to die yet awhile. Old whist-players sit at table--the card-table--very late. "Clotilde is setting out for Italy with Madeleine de Lenoncourt-Chaulieu. The poor girl

Scenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 4 Scenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 4

Scenes From A Courtesan's Life - What Love Costs an Old Man - Part 4
In almost every class of society the good fellow is an open-handed man, who will lend a few crowns now and again without expecting them back, who always behaves in accordance with a certain code of delicate feeling above mere vulgar, obligatory, and commonplace morality. Certain men, regarded as virtuous and honest, have, like Nucingen, ruined their benefactors; and certain others, who have been through a criminal court, have an ingenious kind of honesty towards women. Perfect virtue, the dream of Moliere, an Alceste, is exceedingly rare; still, it is to be found everywhere, even in Paris. The "good fellow" is