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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lesser Bourgeoisie - Part 2. The Parvenus - Chapter 12. A Star
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The Lesser Bourgeoisie - Part 2. The Parvenus - Chapter 12. A Star Post by :Larry Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :2419

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The Lesser Bourgeoisie - Part 2. The Parvenus - Chapter 12. A Star

PART II. THE PARVENUS
CHAPTER XII. A STAR

The dinner on the great occasion was ordered from Chabot and Potel, and not from Chevet, by which act Brigitte intended to prove her initiative and her emancipation from the late Madame de Godollo. The invited guests were as follows: three Collevilles, including the bride, la Peyrade the groom, Dutocq and Fleury, whom he had asked to be his witnesses, the extremely limited number of his relatives leaving him no choice, Minard and Rabourdin, chosen as witnesses for Celeste, Madame and Mademoiselle Minard and Minard junior, two of Thuillier's colleagues in the Council-general; the notary Dupuis, charged with the duty of drawing up the contract, and lastly, the Abbe Gondrin, director of the consciences of Madame Thuillier and Celeste, who was to give the nuptial blessing.

The latter was the former vicar of Saint-Jacques du Haut-Pas, whose great refinement of manner and gift of preaching had induced the archbishop to remove him from the humble parish where his career had begun to the aristocratic church of the Madeleine. Since Madame Thuillier and Celeste had again become his parishioners, the young abbe visited them occasionally, and Thuillier, who had gone to him to explain, after his own fashion, the suitableness of the choice made for Celeste in the person of la Peyrade (taking pains as he did so to cast reflections on the religious opinions of Felix Phellion), had easily led him to contribute by his persuasive words to the resignation of the victim.

When the time came to sit down to table three guests were missing, --two Minards, father and son, and the notary Dupuis. The latter had written a note to Thuillier in the morning, excusing himself from the dinner, but saying that at nine o'clock precisely he would bring the contract and place himself at the orders of Mademoiselle Thuillier. As for Julien Minard, his mother excused him as being confined to his room with a sore-throat. The absence of Minard senior remained unexplained, but Madame Minard insisted that they should sit down to table without him; which was done, Brigitte ordering that the soup be kept hot for him, because in the bourgeois code of manners and customs a dinner without soup is no dinner at all.

The repast was far from gay, and though the fare was better, the vivacity and the warmth of the conversation was far, indeed, from that of the famous improvised banquet at the time of the election to the Council-general. The gaps occasioned by the absence of three guests may have been one reason; then Flavie was glum; she had had an interview with la Peyrade in the afternoon which ended in tears; Celeste, even if she had been content with the choice imposed on her, would scarcely, as a matter of propriety, have seemed joyful; in fact, she made no effort to brighten a sad face, and dared not look at her godmother, whose own countenance gave the impression, if we may so express it, of the long bleating of a sheep. The poor girl seeing this feared to exchange a look with her lest she might drive her to tears. Thuillier now felt himself, on all sides, of such importance that he was pompous and consequential; while Brigitte, uneasy out of her own world, where she could lord it over every one without competition, seemed constrained and embarrassed.

Colleville tried by a few jovialities to raise the temperature of the assemblage; but the coarse salt of his witticisms had an effect, in the atmosphere in which he produced them, of a loud laugh in a sick-chamber; and a mute intimation from his wife, Thuillier, and la Peyrade to _behave himself put a stopper on his liveliness and turbulent expansion. It was somewhat remarkable that the gravest member of the party, aided by Rabourdin, was the person who finally warmed up the atmosphere. The Abbe Gondrin, a man of a most refined and cultivated mind, had, like every pure and well-ordered soul, a fund of gentle gaiety which he was well able to communicate, and liveliness was beginning to dawn upon the party when Minard entered the room.

After making his excuses on the ground of important duties, the mayor of the eleventh arrondissement, who was in the habit of taking the lead in the conversation wherever he went, said, having swallowed a few hasty mouthfuls:--

"Messieurs and mesdames, have you heard the great news?"

"No, what is it?" cried several voices at once.

"The Academy of Sciences received, to-day, at its afternoon session, the announcement of a vast discovery: the heavens possess a new star!"

"Tiens!" said Colleville; "that will help to replace the one that Beranger thought was lost when he grieved (to that air of 'Octavie') over Chateaubriand's departure: 'Chateaubriand, why fly thy land?'"

This quotation, which he sang, exasperated Flavie, and if the custom had been for wives to sit next to their husbands, the former clarionet of the Opera-Comique would not have escaped with a mere "Colleville!" imperiously calling him to order.

"The point which gives this great astronomical event a special interest on this occasion," continued Minard, "is that the author of the discovery is a denizen of the twelfth arrondissement, which many of you still inhabit, or have inhabited. But other points are striking in this great scientific fact. The Academy, on the reading of the communication which announced it, was so convinced of the existence of this star that a deputation was appointed to visit the domicile of the modern Galileo and compliment him in the name of the whole body. And yet this star is not visible to either the eye or the telescope! It is only by the power of calculation and induction that its existence and the place it occupies in the heavens have been proved in the most irrefutable manner: 'There _must be _there a hitherto unknown star; I cannot see it, but I am sure of it,'--that is what this man of science said to the Academy, whom he instantly convinced by his deductions. And do you know, messieurs, who is this Christopher Columbus of a new celestial world? An old man, two-thirds blind, who has scarcely eyes enough to walk in the street."

"Wonderful! Marvellous! Admirable!" came from all sides.

"What is the name of this learned man?" asked several voices.

"Monsieur Picot, or, if you prefer it, pere Picot, for that is how they call him in the rue du Val-de-Grace, where he lives. He is simply an old professor of mathematics, who has turned out several very fine pupils,--by the bye, Felix Phellion, whom we all know, studied under him, and it was he who read, on behalf of his blind old master, the communication to the Academy this afternoon."

Hearing that name, and remembering the promise Felix had made her to lift her to the skies, which, as he said it, she had fancied a sign of madness, Celeste looked at Madame Thuillier, whose face had taken a sudden glow of animation, and seemed to say to her, "Courage, my child! all is not lost."

"My dear Theodose," said Thuillier, "Felix is coming here to-night; you must take him aside and get him to give you a copy of that communication; it would be a fine stroke of fortune for the 'Echo' to be the first to publish it."

"Yes," said Minard, assuming the answer, "that would do good service to the public, for the affair is going to make a great noise. The committee, not finding Monsieur Picot at home, went straight to the Minister of Public Instruction; and the minister flew to the Tuileries and saw the King; and the 'Messager' came out this evening--strange to say, so early that I could read it in my carriage as I drove along --with an announcement that Monsieur Picot is named Chevalier of the Legion of honor, with a pension of eighteen hundred francs from the fund devoted to the encouragement of science and letters."

"Well," said Thuillier, "there's one cross at least well bestowed."

"But eighteen hundred francs for the pension seems to me rather paltry," said Dutocq.

"So it does," said Thuillier, "and all the more because that money comes from the tax-payers; and, when one sees the taxes, as we do, frittered away on court favorites--"

"Eighteen hundred francs a year," interrupted Minard, "is certainly something, especially for savants, a class of people who are accustomed to live on very little."

"I think I have heard," said la Peyrade, "that this very Monsieur Picot leads a strange life, and that his family, who at first wanted to shut him up as a lunatic, are now trying to have guardians appointed over him. They say he allows a servant-woman who keeps his house to rob him of all he has. Parbleu! Thuillier, you know her; it is that woman who came to the office the other day about some money in Dupuis's hands."

"Yes, yes, true," said Thuillier, significantly; "you are right, I do know her."

"It is queer," said Brigitte, seeing a chance to enforce the argument she had used to Celeste, "that all these learned men are good for nothing outside of their science; in their homes they have to be treated like children."

"That proves," said the Abbe Gondrin, "the great absorption which their studies give to their minds, and, at the same time, a simplicity of nature which is very touching."

"When they are not as obstinate as mules," said Brigitte, hastily. "For myself, monsieur l'abbe, I must say that if I had had any idea of marriage, a savant wouldn't have suited me at all. What do they do, these savants, anyhow? Useless things most of the time. You are all admiring one who has discovered a star; but as long as we are in this world what good is that to us? For all the use we make of stars it seems to me we have got enough of them as it is."

"Bravo, Brigitte!" said Colleville, getting loose again; "you are right, my girl, and I think, as you do, that the man who discovers a new dish deserves better of humanity."

"Colleville," said Flavie, "I must say that your style of behavior is in the worst taste."

"My dear lady," said the Abbe Gondrin, addressing Brigitte, "you might be right if we were formed of matter only; and if, bound to our body, there were not a soul with instincts and appetites that must be satisfied. Well, I think that this sense of the infinite which is within us, and which we all try to satisfy each in our own way, is marvellously well helped by the labors of astronomy, that reveal to us from time to time new worlds which the hand of the Creator has put into space. The infinite in you has taken another course; this passion for the comfort of those about you, this warm, devoted, ardent affection which you feel for your brother, are equally the manifestation of aspirations which have nothing material about them, and which, in seeking their end and object, never think of asking, 'What good does that do? what is the use of this?' Besides, I must assure you that the stars are not as useless as you seem to think. Without them how would navigators cross the sea? They would be puzzled to get you the vanilla with which you have flavored the delicious cream I am now eating. So, as Monsieur Colleville has perceived, there is more affinity than you think between a dish and a star; no one should be despised,--neither an astronomer nor a good housekeeper--"

The abbe was here interrupted by the noise of a lively altercation in the antechamber.

"I tell you that I will go in," said a loud voice.

"No, monsieur, you shall not go in," said another voice, that of the man-servant. "The company are at table, I tell you, and nobody has the right to force himself in."

Thuillier turned pale; ever since the seizure of his pamphlet, he fancied all sudden arrivals meant the coming of the police.

Among the various social rules imparted to Brigitte by Madame de Godollo, the one that most needed repeating was the injunction never, as mistress of the house, to rise from the table until she gave the signal for retiring. But present circumstances appeared to warrant the infraction of the rule.

"I'll go and see what it is," she said to Thuillier, whose anxiety she noticed at once. "What _is the matter?" she said to the servant as soon as she reached the scene of action.

"Here's a gentleman who wants to come in, and says that no one is ever dining at eight o'clock at night."

"But who are you, monsieur?" said Brigitte, addressing an old man very oddly dressed, whose eyes were protected by a green shade.

"Madame, I am neither a beggar nor a vagabond," replied the old man, in stentorian tones; "my name is Picot, professor of mathematics."

"Rue du Val-de-Grace?" asked Brigitte.

"Yes, madame,--No. 9, next to the print-shop."

"Come in, monsieur, come in; we shall be only too happy to receive you," cried Thuillier, who, on hearing the name, had hurried out to meet the savant.

"Hein! you scamp," said the learned man, turning upon the man-servant, who had retired, seeing that the matter was being settled amicably, "I told you I should get in."

Pere Picot was a tall old man, with an angular, stern face, who, despite the corrective of a blond wig with heavy curls, and that of the pacific green shade we have already mentioned, expressed on his large features, upon which the fury of study had produced a surface of leaden pallor, a snappish and quarrelsome disposition. Of this he had already given proof before entering the dining-room, where every one now rose to receive him.

His costume consisted of a huge frock-coat, something between a paletot and a dressing-gown, between which an immense waistcoat of iron-gray cloth, fastened from the throat to the pit of the stomach with two rows of buttons, hussar fashion, formed a sort of buckler. The trousers, though October was nearing its close, were made of black lasting, and gave testimony to long service by the projection of a darn on the otherwise polished surface covering the knees, the polish being produced by the rubbing of the hands upon those parts. But, in broad daylight, the feature of the old savant's appearance which struck the eye most vividly was a pair of Patagonian feet, imprisoned in slippers of beaver cloth, the which, moulded upon the mountainous elevations of gigantic bunions, made the spectator think, involuntarily, of the back of a dromedary or an advanced case of elephantiasis.

Once installed in a chair which was hastily brought for him, and the company having returned to their places at table, the old man suddenly burst out in thundering tones, amid the silence created by curiosity:--

"Where is he,--that rogue, that scamp? Let him show himself; let him dare to speak to me!"

"Who is it that offends you, my dear monsieur?" said Thuillier, in conciliating accents, in which there was a slight tone of patronage.

"A scamp whom I couldn't find in his own home, and they told me he was here, in this house. I'm in the apartment, I think, of Monsieur Thuillier of the Council-general, place de la Madeleine, first story above the entresol?"

"Precisely," said Thuillier; "and allow me to add, monsieur, that you are surrounded with the respect and sympathy of all."

"And you will doubtless permit me to add," said Minard, "that the mayor of the arrondissement adjoining that which you inhabit congratulates himself on being here in presence of Monsieur Picot, --_the Monsieur Picot, no doubt, who has just immortalized his name by the discovery of a star!"

"Yes, monsieur," replied the professor, elevating to a still higher pitch the stentorian diapason of his voice, "I am Picot (Nepomucene), but I have not discovered a star; I don't concern myself with any such fiddle-faddle; besides, my eyes are very weak; and that insolent young fellow I have come here to find is making me ridiculous with such talk. I don't see him here; he is hiding himself, I know; he dares not look me in the face."

"Who is this person who annoys you?" asked several voices at once.

"An unnatural pupil of mine," replied the old mathematician; "a scamp, but full of ideas; his name is Felix Phellion."

The name was received, as may well be imagined, with amazement. Finding the situation amusing, Colleville and la Peyrade went off into fits of laughter.

"You laugh, fools!" cried the irate old man, rising. "Yes, come and laugh within reach of my arm."

So saying, he brandished a thick stick with a white china handle, which he used to guide himself, thereby nearly knocking over a candelabrum on the dinner-table upon Madame Minard's head.

"You are mistaken, monsieur," cried Brigitte, springing forward and seizing his arm. "Monsieur Felix is not here. He will probably come later to a reception we are about to give; but at present he has not arrived."

"They don't begin early, your receptions," said the old man; "it is past eight o'clock. Well, as Monsieur Felix is coming later, you must allow me to wait for him. I believe you were eating your dinners; don't let me disturb you."

And he went back peaceably to his chair.

"As you permit it, monsieur," said Brigitte, "we will continue, or, I should say, finish dinner, for we are now at the dessert. May I offer you anything,--a glass of champagne and a biscuit?"

"I am very willing, madame," replied the intruder. "No one ever refuses champagne, and I am always ready to eat between my meals; but you dine very late."

A place was made for him at table between Colleville and Mademoiselle Minard, and the former made it his business to fill the glass of his new neighbor, before whom was placed a dish of small cakes.

"Monsieur," said la Peyrade in a cajoling tone, "you saw how surprised we were to hear you complain of Monsieur Felix Phellion,--so amiable, so inoffensive a young man. What has he done to you, that you should feel so angry with him?"

With his mouth full of cakes, which he was engulfing in quantities that made Brigitte uneasy, the professor made a sign that he would soon answer; then, having mistaken his glass and swallowed the contents of Colleville's, he replied:--

"You ask what that insolent young man had done to me? A rascally thing; and not the first, either. He knows that I cannot abide stars, having very good reason to hate them, as you shall hear: In 1807, being attached to the Bureau of Longitudes, I was part of the scientific expedition sent to Spain, under the direction of my friend and colleague, Jean-Baptiste Biot, to determine the arc of the terrestrial meridian from Barcelona to the Balearic isles. I was just in the act of observing a star (perhaps the very one my rascally pupil has discovered), when suddenly, war having broken out between France and Spain, the peasants, seeing me perched with a telescope on Monte Galazzo, took it into their heads that I was making signals to the enemy. A mob of savages broke my instruments, and talked of stringing me up. They were just going to do it, when the captain of a vessel took me prisoner and thrust me into the citadel of Belver, where I spent three years in the harshest captivity. Since them, as you may well believe, I loathe the whole celestial system; though I was, without knowing it, the first to observe the famous comet of 1811; but I should have taken care not to say a word about it if it had not been for Monsieur Flauguergues, who announced it. Like all my pupils, Phellion knows my aversion to stars, and he knew very well the worst trick he could play me would be to saddle one on my back; and that deputation that came to play the farce of congratulating me was mighty lucky not to find me at home, for if they had, I can assure those gentlemen of the Academy, they would have had a hot reception."

Everybody present thought the old mathematician's monomania quite delightful, except la Peyrade, who now, in perceiving Felix Phellion's part in the affair, regretted deeply having caused the explanation.

"And yet, Monsieur Picot," said Minard, "if Felix Phellion is only guilty of attributing his discovery to you, it seems to me that his indiscreet behavior has resulted in a certain compensation to you: the cross of the Legion of honor, a pension, and the glory attached to your name are not to be despised."

"The cross and the pension I take," said the old man, emptying his glass, which, to Brigitte's terror, he set down upon the table with a force that threatened to smash it. "The government has owed them to me these twenty years; not for the discovery of stars,--things that I have always despised,--but for my famous 'Treatise on Differential Logarithms' (Kepler thought proper to call them monologarithms), which is a sequel to the tables of Napier; also for my 'Postulatum' of Euclid, of which I was the first to discover the solution; but above all, for my 'Theory of Perpetual Motion,'--four volumes in quarto with plates; Paris, 1825. You see, therefore, monsieur, that to give me glory is bringing water to the Seine. I had so little need of Monsieur Felix Phellion to make me a position in the scientific world that I turned him out of my house long ago."

"Then it isn't the first star," said Colleville, flippantly, "that he dared to put upon you?"

"He did worse than that," roared the old man; "he ruined my reputation, he tarnished my name. My 'Theory of Perpetual Motion,' the printing of which cost me every penny I owned, though it ought to have been printed gratis at the Royal Printing-office, was calculated to make my fortune and render me immortal. Well, that miserable Felix prevented it. From time to time, pretending to bring messages from my editor, he would say, the young sycophant, 'Papa Picot, your book is selling finely; here's five hundred francs--two hundred francs--and once it was two thousand--which your publisher charged me to give you.' This thing went on for years, and my publisher, who had the baseness to enter into the plot, would say to me, when I went to the shop: 'Yes, yes, it doesn't do badly, it _bubbles_, that book; we shall soon be at the end of this edition.' I, who didn't suggest anything, I pocketed my money, and thought to myself: 'My book is liked, little by little its ideas are making their way; I may now expect, from day to day, that some great capitalist will come to me and propose to apply my system--'"

"--of 'Absorption of Liquids'?" asked Colleville, who had been steadily filling the old fellow's glass.

"No, monsieur, my 'Theory of Perpetual Motion,' 4 vols. in quarto with plates. But no! days, weeks went by and nobody came; so, thinking that my publisher did not put all the energy he should into the matter, I tried to sell the second edition to another man. It was that, monsieur, that enabled me to discover the whole plot, on which, as I said before, I turned that serpent out of my house. In six years only nine copies had been sold! Kept quiet in false security I had done nothing for the propagation of my book, which had been left to take care of itself; and thus it was that I, victim of black and wicked jealousy, was shamefully despoiled of the value of my labors."

"But," said Minard, making himself the mouthpiece of the thoughts of the company, "may we not see in that act a manner as ingenious as it was delicate to--"

"To give me alms! is that what you mean?" interrupted the old man, with a roar that made Mademoiselle Minard jump in her chair; "to humiliate me, dishonor me--me, his old professor! Am I in need of charity? Has Picot (Nepomucene), to whom his wife brought a dowry of one hundred thousand francs, ever stretched out his palm to any one? But in these days nothing is respected. Old fellows, as they call us, our religion and our good faith is taken advantage of so that these youths may say to the public: 'Old drivellers, don't you see now they are good for nothing? It needs _us_, the young generation, _us_, the moderns, _us_, Young France, to bring them up on a bottle.' Young greenhorn! let me see _you try to feed _me_! Old drivellers know more in their little finger than you in your whole brain, and you'll never be worth us, paltry little intriguer that you are! However, I know my day of vengeance will come; that young Phellion can't help ending badly; what he did to-day, reading a statement to the Academy, under my name, was forgery, forgery! and the law will send him to the galleys for that."

"True," said Colleville, "forgery of a public star."

Brigitte, who quaked for her glasses, and whose nerves were exacerbated by the monstrous consumption of cakes and wine, now gave the signal to return to the salon. Besides, she had heard the door-bell ring several times, announcing the arrival of guests for the evening. The question then was how to transplant the professor, and Colleville politely offered him his arm.

"No, monsieur," he said, "you must allow me to stay where I am. I am not dressed for a party, and besides, a strong light hurts my eyes. Moreover, I don't choose to give myself as a spectacle; it will be best that my interview with Felix Phellion should take place between 'four-eyes,' as they say."

"Well, let him alone, then," said Brigitte to Colleville.

No one insisted,--the old man having, unconsciously, pretty nigh discrowned himself in the opinion of the company. But before leaving, the careful housewife removed everything that was at all fragile from his reach; then, by way of a slight attention, she said:--

"Shall I send you some coffee?"

"I'll take it, madame," responded pere Picot, "and some cognac with it."

"Oh! parbleu! he takes everything," said Brigitte to the male domestic, and she told the latter to keep an eye on the old madman.

When Brigitte returned to the salon she found that the Abbe Gondrin had become the centre of a great circle formed by nearly the whole company, and as she approached, she heard him say:--

"I thank Heaven for bestowing upon me such a pleasure. I have never felt an emotion like that aroused by the scene we have just witnessed; even the rather burlesque form of this confidence, which was certainly very artless, for it was quite involuntary, only adds to the honor of the surprising generosity it revealed. Placed as I am by my ministry in the way of knowing of many charities, and often either the witness or intermediary of good actions, I think I never in my life have met with a more touching or a more ingenious devotion. To keep the left hand ignorant of what the right hand does is a great step in Christianity; but to go so far as to rob one's self of one's own fame to benefit another under such conditions is the gospel applied in its highest precepts; it is being more than a Sister of Charity; it is doing the work of an apostle of beneficence. How I should like to know that noble young man, and shake him by the hand."

With her arm slipped through that of her godmother, Celeste was standing very near the priest, her ears intent upon his words, her arm pressing tighter and tighter that of Madame Thuillier, as the abbe analyzed the generous action of Felix Phellion, until at last she whispered under her breath:--

"You hear, godmother, you hear!"

To destroy the inevitable effect which this hearty praise would surely have on Celeste, Thuillier hastened to say:--

"Unfortunately, Monsieur l'abbe, the young man of whom you speak so warmly is not altogether unknown to you. I have had occasion to tell you about him, and to regret that it was not possible to follow out certain plans which we once entertained for him; I allude to the very compromising independence he affects in his religious opinions."

"Ah! is that the young man?" said the abbe; "you surprise me much; I must say such an idea would never have crossed my mind."

"You will see him presently, Monsieur l'abbe," said la Peyrade, joining in the conversation, "and if you question him on certain grounds you will have no difficulty in discovering the ravages that a love of science can commit in the most gifted souls."

"I am afraid I shall not see him," said the abbe, "as my black gown would be out of place in the midst of the more earthly gaiety that will soon fill this salon. But I know, Monsieur de la Peyrade, that you are a man of sincerely pious convictions, and as, without any doubt, you feel as much interest in the young man's welfare as I do myself, I shall say to you in parting: Do not be uneasy about him; sooner or later, such choice souls come back to us, and if the return of these prodigals should be long delayed I should not fear, on seeing them go to God, that His infinite mercy would fail them."

So saying, the abbe looked about to find his hat, and proceeded to slip quietly away.

Suddenly a fearful uproar was heard. Rushing into the dining-room, whence came a sound of furniture overturned and glasses breaking, Brigitte found Colleville occupied in adjusting his cravat and looking himself over to be sure that his coat, cruelly pulled awry, bore no signs of being actually torn.

"What is the matter?" cried Brigitte.

"It is that old idiot," replied Colleville, "who is in a fury. I came to take my coffee with him, just to keep him company, and he took a joke amiss, and collared me, and knocked over two chairs and a tray of glasses because Josephine didn't get out of his way in time."

"It is all because you've been teasing him," said Brigitte, crossly; "why couldn't you stay in the salon instead of coming here to play your jokes, as you call them? You think you are still in the orchestra of the Opera-Comique."

This sharp rebuke delivered, Brigitte, like the resolute woman that she was, saw that she absolutely must get rid of the ferocious old man who threatened her household with flames and blood. Accordingly, she approached pere Picot, who was tranquilly engaged in burning brandy in his saucer.

"Monsieur," she said, at the top of her lungs, as if she were speaking to a deaf person (evidently thinking that a blind one ought to be treated in the same manner), "I have come to tell you something that may annoy you. Monsieur and Madame Phellion have just arrived, and they inform me that their son, Monsieur Felix, is not coming. He has a cold and a sore-throat."

"Then he got it this afternoon reading that lecture," cried the professor, joyfully. "That's justice!--Madame, where do you get your brandy?"

"Why, at my grocer's," replied Brigitte, taken aback by the question.

"Well, madame, I ought to tell you that in a house where one can drink such excellent champagne, which reminds me of that we used to quaff at the table of Monsieur de Fontanes, grand-master of the University, it is shameful to keep such brandy. I tell you, with the frankness I put into everything, that it is good only to wash your horses' feet, and if I had not the resource of burning it--"

"He is the devil in person," thought Brigitte; "not a word of excuse about all that glass, but he must needs fall foul of my brandy too! --Monsieur," she resumed, in the same raised diapason, "as Monsieur Felix is not coming, don't you think your family will be uneasy at your absence?"

"Family? I haven't any, madame, owing to the fact that they want to make me out a lunatic. But I have a housekeeper, Madame Lambert, and I dare say she will be surprised not to see me home by this time. I think I had better go now; if I stay later, the scene might be more violent. But I must own that in this strange quarter I am not sure if I can find my way."

"Then take a carriage."

"Carriage here, carriage there, indeed! my spiteful relations wouldn't lose the chance of calling me a spendthrift."

"I have an important message to send into your quarter," said Brigitte, seeing she must resolve to make the sacrifice, "and I have just told my porter to take a cab and attend to it. If you would like to take advantage of that convenience--"

"I accept it, madame," said the old professor, rising; "and, if it comes to the worst, I hope you will testify before the judge that I was niggardly about a cab."

"Henri," said Brigitte to the man-servant, "take monsieur down to the porter and tell him to do the errand I told him about just now, and to take monsieur to his own door, and be very careful of him."

"Careful of him!" echoed the old man. "Do you take me for a trunk, madame, or a bit of cracked china?"

Seeing that she had got her man fairly to the door, Brigitte allowed herself to turn upon him.

"What I say, monsieur, is for your good. You must allow me to observe that you have not an agreeable nature."

"Careful of him! careful of him!" repeated the old man. "Don't you know, madame, that by the use of such words you may get people put into lunatic asylums? However, I will not reply rudely to the polite hospitality I have received,--all the more because, I think, I have put Monsieur Felix, who missed me intentionally, in his right place."

"Go, go, go, you old brute!" cried Brigitte, slamming the door behind him.

Before returning to the salon she was obliged to drink a whole glassful of water, the restraint she had been forced to put upon herself in order to get rid of this troublesome guest having, to use her own expression, "put her all about."

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