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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Parisians - Book 7 - Chapter 5
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The Parisians - Book 7 - Chapter 5 Post by :edwinc Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2878

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The Parisians - Book 7 - Chapter 5

BOOK VII CHAPTER V

It was late in the evening that day when a man who had the appearance of a decent bourgeois, in the lower grades of that comprehensive class, entered one of the streets in the Faubourg Montmartre, tenanted chiefly by artisans. He paused at the open doorway of a tall narrow house, and drew back as he heard footsteps descending a very gloomy staircase.

The light from a gas lamp on the street fell full on the face of the person thus quitting the house--the face of a young and handsome man, dressed with the quiet elegance which betokened one of higher rank or fashion than that neighbourhood was habituated to find among its visitors. The first comer retreated promptly into the shade, and, as by sudden impulse, drew his hat low down over his eyes.

The other man did not, however, observe him, went his way with a quick step along the street, and entered another house some yards distant.

"What can that pious Bourbonite do here?" muttered the first comer. "Can he be a conspirator? Diable! 'tis as dark as Erebus on that staircase."

Taking cautious hold of the banister, the man now ascended the stairs. On the landing of the first floor there was a gas lamp which threw upward a faint ray that finally died at the third story. But at that third story the man's journey ended; he pulled a bell at the door to the right, and in another moment or so the door was opened by a young woman of twenty-eight or thirty, dressed very simply, but with a certain neatness not often seen in the wives of artisans in the Faubourg Montmartre. Her face, which, though pale and delicate, retained much of the beauty of youth, became clouded as she recognised the visitor; evidently the visit was not welcome to her.

"Monsieur Lebeau again!" she exclaimed, shrinking back.

"At your service, chere dame. The goodman is of course at home? Ah, I catch sight of him," and sliding by the woman, M. Lebeau passed the narrow lobby in which she stood, through the open door conducting into the room in which Armand Monnier was seated, his chin propped on his hand, his elbow resting on a table, looking abstractedly into space. In a corner of the room two small children were playing languidly with a set of bone tablets, inscribed with the letters of the alphabet. But whatever the children were doing with the alphabet, they were certainly not learning to read from it.

The room was of fair size and height, and by no means barely or shabbily furnished. There was a pretty clock on the mantelpiece. On the wall were hung designs for the decoration of apartments, and shelves on which were ranged a few books.

The window was open, and on the sill were placed flowerpots; you could scent the odour they wafted into the room. Altogether it was an apartment suited to a skilled artisan earning high wages. From the room we are now in, branched on one side a small but commodious kitchen; on the other side, on which the door was screened by a portiere, with a border prettily worked by female hands--some years ago, for it was faded now--was a bedroom, communicating with one of less size in which the children slept. We do not enter those additional rooms, but it may be well here to mention them as indications of the comfortable state of an intelligent skilled artisan of Paris, who thinks he can better that state by some revolution which may ruin his employer.

Monnier started up at the entrance of Lebeau, and his face showed that he did not share the dislike to the visit which that of the female partner of his life had evinced. On the contrary, his smile was cordial, and there was a hearty ring in the voice which cried out--

"I am glad to see you--something to do? Eh!"

"Always ready to work for liberty, mon brave."

"I hope so: what's in the wind now?"

"O Armand, be prudent--be prudent!" cried the woman, piteously. "Do not lead him into further mischief, Monsieur Lebeau;" as she faltered forth the last words, she bowed her head over the two little ones, and her voice died in sobs.

"Monnier," said Lebeau, gravely, "Madame is right. I ought not to lead you into further mischief; there are three in the room who have better claims on you than--"

"The cause of millions," interrupted Monnier.

"No."

He approached the woman and took up one of the children very tenderly, stroking back its curls and kissing the face, which, if before surprised and saddened by the mother's sob, now smiled gaily under the father's kiss.

"Canst thou doubt, my Heloise," said the artisan, mildly, "that whatever I do thou and these are not uppermost in my thoughts? I act for thine interest and theirs--the world as it exists is the foe of you three. The world I would replace it by will be more friendly."

The poor woman made no reply, but as he drew her towards him, she leant her head upon his breast and wept quietly. Monnier led her thus from the room, whispering words of soothing. The children followed the parents into the adjoining chamber. In a few minutes Monnier returned, shutting the door behind him, and drawing the portiere close.

"You will excuse me, Citizen, and my poor wife--wife she is to me and to all who visit here, though the law says she is not."

"I respect Madame the more for her dislike to myself," said Lebeau, with a somewhat melancholy smile.

"Not dislike to you personally, Citizen, but dislike to the business which she connects with your visits, and she is more than usually agitated on that subject this evening, because, just before you came, another visitor had produced a great effect on her feelings--poor dear Heloise!"

"Indeed! how?"

"Well, I was employed in the winter in redecorating the salon, and boudoir, of Madame de Vandemar; her son, M. Raoul, took great interest in superintending the details. He would sometimes talk to me very civilly, not only on my work, but on other matters. It seems that Madame now wants something done to the salle-a-manger, and asked old Gerard--my late master, you know--to send me. Of course he said that was impossible--for, though I was satisfied with my own wages, I had induced his other men to strike, and was one of the ringleaders in the recent strike of artisans in general--a dangerous man, and he would have nothing more to do with me. So M. Raoul came to see and talk to me--scarce gone before you rang at the bell--you might have almost met him on the stairs."

"I saw a beau monsieur come out of the house. And so his talk has affected Madame."

"Very much; it was quite brother-like. He is one of the religious set, and they always get at the weak side of the soft sex."

"Ay," said Lebeau, thoughtfully; "if religion were banished from the laws of men, it would still find a refuge in the hearts of women. But Raoul de Vandemar did not presume to preach to Madame upon the sin of loving you and your children?"

"I should like to have heard him preach to her," cried Monnier, fiercely. "No, he only tried to reason with me about matters he could not understand."

"Strikes?"

"Well, not exactly strikes--he did not contend that we workmen had not full right to combine and to strike for obtaining fairer money's worth for our work; but he tried to persuade me that where, as in my case, it was not a matter of wages, but of political principle--of war against capitalists--I could but injure myself and mislead others. He wanted to reconcile me to old Gerard, or to let him find me employment elsewhere; and when I told him that my honour forbade me to make terms for myself till those with whom I was joined were satisfied, he said, 'But if this lasts much longer, your children will not look so rosy;' then poor Heloise began to wring her hands and cry, and he took me aside and wanted to press money on me--as a loan. He spoke so kindly that I could not be angry; but when he found I would take nothing, he asked me about some families in the street of whom he had a list, and who, he was informed, were in great distress. That is true; I am feeding some of them myself out of my savings. You see, this young Monsieur belongs to a society of men, many as young as he is, which visits the poor and dispenses charity. I did not feel I had a right to refuse aid for others, and I told him where his money would be best spent. I suppose he went there when he left me."

"I know the society you mean, that of St. Francois de Sales. It comprises some of the most ancient of that old noblesse to which the ouvriers in the great Revolution were so remorseless."

"We ouvriers are wiser now; we see that in assailing them, we gave ourselves worse tyrants in the new aristocracy of the capitalists. Our quarrel now is that of artisans against employers."

"Of course, I am aware of that; but to leave general politics, tell me frankly, How has the strike affected you as yet? I mean in purse? Can you stand its pressure? If not, you are above the false pride of not taking help from me, a fellow-conspirator, though you were justified in refusing it when offered by Raoul de Vandemar, the servant of the Church."

"Pardon, I refuse aid from any one, except for the common cause. But do not fear for me, I am not pinched as yet. I have had high wages for some years, and since I and Heloise came together, I have not wasted a sous out of doors, except in the way of public duty, such as making converts at the Jean Jacques and elsewhere; a glass of beer and a pipe don't cost much. And Heloise is such a house-wife, so thrifty, scolds me if I buy her a ribbon, poor love! No wonder that I would pull down a society that dares to scoff at her--dares to say she is not my wife, and her children are base born. No, I have some savings left yet. War to society, war to the knife!"

"Monnier," said Lebeau, in a voice that evinced emotion, "listen to me: I have received injuries from society which, when they were fresh, half-maddened me--that is twenty years ago. I would then have thrown myself into any plot against society that proffered revenge; but society, my friend, is a wall of very strong masonry, as it now stands; it may be sapped in the course of a thousand years, but stormed in a day--no. You dash your head against it--you scatter your brains, and you dislodge a stone. Society smiles in scorn, effaces the stain, and replaces the stone. I no longer war against society. I do war against a system in that society which is hostile to me--systems in France are easily overthrown. I say this because I want to use you, and I do not want to deceive."

"Deceive me, bah! You are an honest man," cried Monnier; and he seized Lebeau's hand, and shook it with warmth and vigour.

"But for you I should have been a mere grumbler. No doubt I should have cried out where the shoe pinched, and railed against laws that vex me; but from the moment you first talked to me I became a new man. You taught me to act, as Rousseau and Madame de Grantmesnil had taught me to think and to feel. There is my brother, a grumbler too, but professes to have a wiser head than mine. He is always warning me against you--against joining a strike--against doing any thing to endanger my skin. I always went by his advice till you taught me that it was well enough for women to talk and complain; men should dare and do."

"Nevertheless," said Lebeau, "your brother is a safer counsellor to a pere de famille than I. I repeat what I have so often said before: I desire, and I resolve, that the Empire of M. Bonaparte shall be overthrown. I see many concurrent circumstances to render that desire and resolve of practicable fulfilment. You desire and resolve the same thing. Up to that point we can work together. I have encouraged your action only so far as it served my design; but I separate from you the moment you would ask me to aid your design in the hazard of experiments which the world has never yet favoured, and trust me, Monnier, the world never will favour."

"That remains to be seen," said Monnier, with compressed, obstinate lips. "Forgive me, but you are not young; you belong to an old school."

"Poor young man!" said Lebeau, readjusting his spectacles, "I recognise in you the genius of Paris, be the genius good or evil. Paris is never warned by experience. Be it so. I want you so much, your enthusiasm is so fiery, that I can concede no more to the mere sentiment which makes me say to myself, 'It is a shame to use this great-hearted, wrong-headed creature for my personal ends.' I come at once to the point--that is, the matter on which I seek you this evening. At my suggestion, you have been a ringleader in strikes which have terribly shaken the Imperial system, more than its Ministers deem; now I want a man like you to assist in a bold demonstration against the Imperial resort to a rural priest-ridden suffrage, on the part of the enlightened working class of Paris."

"Good!" said Monnier.

"In a day or two the result of the plebiscite will be known. The result of universal suffrage will be enormously in favour of the desire expressed by one man."

"I don't believe it," said Monnier, stoutly. "France cannot be so hoodwinked by the priests."

"Take what I say for granted," resumed Lebeau, calmly. "On the 8th of this month we shall know the amount of the majority--some millions of French votes. I want Paris to separate itself from France, and declare against those blundering millions. I want an emeute, or rather a menacing demonstration--not a premature revolution, mind. You must avoid bloodshed."

"It is easy to say that beforehand; but when a crowd of men once meets in the streets of Paris--"

"It can do much by meeting, and cherishing resentment if the meeting be dispersed by an armed force, which it would be waste of life to resist."

"We shall see when the time comes," said Monnier, with a fierce gleam in his bold eyes.

"I tell you, all that is required at this moment is an evident protest of the artisans of Paris against the votes of the 'rurals' of France. Do you comprehend me?"

"I think so; if not, I obey. What we ouvriers want is what we have not got--a head to dictate action to us."

"See to this, then. Rouse the men you can command. I will take care that you have plentiful aid from foreigners. We may trust to the confreres of our council to enlist Poles and Italians; Gaspard le Noy will turn out the volunteer rioters at his command. Let the emeute be within, say a week, after the vote of the plebiscite is taken. You will need that time to prepare."

"Be contented--it shall be done."

"Good night, then." Lebeau leisurely took up his hat and drew on his gloves--then, as if struck by a sudden thought, he turned briskly on the artisan and said in quick blunt tones:

"Armand Monnier, explain to me why it is that you--a Parisian artisan, the type of a class the most insubordinate, the most self-conceited that exists on the face of earth--take without question, with so docile a submission, the orders of a man who plainly tells you he does not sympathise in your ultimate objects, of whom you really know very little, and whose views you candidly own you think are those of an old and obsolete school of political reasoners."

"You puzzle me to explain," said Monnier, with an ingenuous laugh, that brightened up features stern and hard, though comely when in repose. "Partly, because you are so straightforward, and do not talk blague; partly, because I don't think the class I belong to would stir an inch unless we had a leader of another class--and you give me at least that leader. Again, you go to that first stage which we all agree to take, and--well, do you want me to explain more?"

"Yes."

"Et bien! you have warned me, like an honest man; like an honest man I warn you. That first step we take together; I want to go a step further; you retreat, you say, 'No:' I reply you are committed; that further step you must take, or I cry 'Traitre!--au la lanterne!' You talk of 'superior experience:' bah! what does experience really tell you? Do you suppose that Philippe Egalite, when he began to plot against Louis XVI., meant to vote for his kinsman's execution by the guillotine? Do you suppose that Robespierre, when he commenced his career as the foe of capital punishment, foresaw that he should be the Minister of the Reign of Terror? Not a bit of it. Each was committed by his use of those he designed for his tools: so must you be--or you perish."

Lebeau, leaning against the door, heard the frank avowal he had courted without betraying a change of countenance. But when Armand Monnier had done, a slight movement of his lips showed emotion; was it of fear or disdain?

"Monnier," he said, gently; "I am so much obliged to you for the manly speech you have made. The scruples which my conscience had before entertained are dispelled. I dreaded lest I, a declared wolf, might seduce into peril an innocent sheep. I see I have to deal with a wolf of younger vigour and sharper fangs than myself, so much the better: obey my orders now; leave it to time to say whether I obey yours later. Au revoir."

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