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   Chapter 17 IN THE EXERCISE OF HIS FUNCTIONS

The Lesser Bourgeoisie By Honore de Balzac Characters: 24577

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


About two months after the scene in which la Peyrade had been convinced that through a crime of his past life his future was irrevocably settled, he (being now married to his victim, who was beginning to have lucid intervals, though the full return of her reason would not take place until the occasion indicated by the doctors) was sitting one morning with the head of the police in the latter's office. Taking part in the work of the department, the young man was serving an apprenticeship under that great master in the difficult and delicate functions to which he was henceforth riveted. But Corentin found that his pupil did not bring to this initiation all the ardor and amiability that he desired. It was plain that in la Peyrade's soul there was a sense of forfeiture and degradation; time would get the better of that impression, but the callus was not yet formed.

Opening a number of sealed envelopes enclosing the reports of his various agents, Corentin glanced over these documents, seldom as useful as the public suppose, casting them one after another contemptuously into a basket, whence they issued in a mass for a burning. But to one of them the great man evidently gave some particular attention; as he read it a smile flickered on his lips, and when he had finished, instead of adding it to the pile in the basket, he gave it to la Peyrade.

"Here," he said, "here's something that concerns you; it shows that in our profession, which just now seems to you unpleasantly serious, we do occasionally meet with comedies. Read it aloud; it will cheer me up."

Before la Peyrade began to read, Corentin added:-

"I ought to tell you that the report is from a man called Henri, whom Madame Komorn introduced as man-servant at the Thuilliers'; you probably remember him."

"So!" said la Peyrade, "servants placed in families! is that one of your methods?"

"Sometimes," replied Corentin; "in order to know all, we must use all means. But a great many lies are told about us on that subject. It is not true that the police, making a system of it, has, at certain periods, by a general enrolment of lacqueys and lady's-maids, established a vast network in private families. Nothing is fixed and absolute in our manner of proceeding; we act in accordance with the time and circumstances. I wanted an ear and an influence in the Thuillier household; accordingly, I let loose the Godollo upon it, and she, in turn, partly to assist herself, installed there one of our men, an intelligent fellow, as you will see for yourself. But for all that, if, at another time, a servant came and offered to sell me the secrets of his master, I should have him arrested, and let a warning reach the ears of the family to distrust the other servants. Now go on, and read that report."

Monsieur the Director of the Secret Police,

read la Peyrade aloud,-

I did not stay long with the little baron; he is a man wholly

occupied in frivolous pleasures; and there was nothing to be

gathered there that was worthy of a report to you. I have found

another place, where I have already witnessed several thing which

fit into the mission that Madame de Godollo gave me, and

therefore, thinking them likely to interest you, I hasten to bring

them to your knowledge. The household in which I am now employed

is that of an old savant, named Monsieur Picot, who lives on a

first floor, Place de la Madeleine, in the house and apartment

formerly occupied by my late masters, the Thuilliers-

"What!" cried la Peyrade, interrupting his reading, "Pere Picot, that ruined old lunatic, occupying such an apartment as that?"

"Go on, go on!" said Corentin; "life is full of many strange things. You'll find the explanation farther along; for our correspondent-it is the defect of those fellows to waste themselves on details-is only too fond of dotting his i's."

La Peyrade read on:-

The Thuilliers left this apartment some weeks ago to return to

their Latin quarter. Mademoiselle Brigitte never really liked our

sphere; her total want of education made her ill at ease. Just

because I speak correctly, she was always calling me 'the orator,'

and she could not endure Monsieur Pascal, her porter, because,

being beadle in the church of the Madeleine, he had manners; she

even found something to say against the dealers in the great

market behind the church, where, of course, she bought her

provisions; she complained that they gave themselves capable airs, merely because they are not so coarse-tongued as those of

the Halle, and only laughed at her when she tried to beat them

down. She has leased the whole house to a certain Monsieur Cerizet

(a very ugly man, with a nose all eaten away) for an annual rent of

fifty-five thousand francs. This tenant seems to know what he is

about. He has lately married an actress at one of the minor

theatres, Mademoiselle Olympe Cardinal, and he was just about to

occupy himself the first-floor apartment, where he proposed to

establish his present business, namely, insurance for the "dots"

of children, when Monsieur Picot, arriving from England with his

wife, a very rich Englishwoman, saw the apartment and offered such

a good price that Monsieur Cerizet felt constrained to take it.

That was the time when, by the help of M. Pascal, the porter, with

whom I have been careful to maintain good relations, I entered the

household of Monsieur Picot.

"Monsieur Picot married to a rich Englishwoman!" exclaimed la Peyrade, interrupting himself again; "but it is incomprehensible."

"Go on, I tell you," said Corentin; "you'll comprehend it presently."

The fortune of my new master,

continued la Peyrade,

is quite a history; and I speak of it to Monsieur le directeur

because another person in whom Madame de Godollo was interested

has his marriage closely mixed up in it. That other person is

Monsieur Felix Phellion, the inventor of a star, who, in despair

at not being able to marry that demoiselle whom they wanted to

give to the Sieur la Peyrade whom Madame de Godollo made such a

fool of-

"Scoundrel!" said the Provencal, in a parenthesis. "Is that how he speaks of me? He doesn't know who I am."

Corentin laughed heartily and exhorted his pupil to read on.

-who, in despair at not being able to marry that demoiselle . . .

went to England in order to embark for a journey round the world

-a lover's notion! Learning of this departure, Monsieur Picot,

his former professor, who took great interest in his pupil, went

after him to prevent that nonsense, which turned out not to be

difficult. The English are naturally very jealous of discoveries,

and when they saw Monsieur Phellion coming to embark at the heels

of their own savants they asked him for his permit from the

Admiralty; which, not having been provided, he could not produce;

so then they laughed in his face and would not let him embark at

all, fearing that he should prove more learned than they.

"He is a fine hand at the 'entente cordiale,' your Monsieur Henri," said la Peyrade, gaily.

"Yes," replied Corentin; "you will be struck, in the reports of nearly all our agents, with this general and perpetual inclination to calumniate. But what's to be done? For the trade of spies we can't have angels."

Left upon the shore, Telemachus and his mentor-

"You see our men are lettered," commented Corentin.

-Telemachus and his mentor thought best to return to France, and

were about to do so when Monsieur Picot received a letter such as

none but an Englishwoman could write. It told him that the writer

had read his "Theory of Perpetual Motion," and had also heard of

his magnificent discovery of a star; that she regarded him as a

genius only second to Newton, and that if the hand of her who

addressed him, joined to eighty thousand pounds sterling-that is,

two millions-of "dot," was agreeable to him it was at his

disposal. The first thought of the good man was to make his pupil

marry her, but finding that impossible, he told her, before

accepting on his own account, that he was old and three-quarters

blind, and had never discovered a star, and did not own a penny.

The Englishwoman replied that Milton was not young either, and was

altogether blind; that Monsieur Picot seemed to her to have

nothing worse than a cataract, for she knew all about it, being

the daughter of a great oculist, and she would have him operated

upon; that as for the star, she did not care so very much about

that; it was the author of the "Theory of Perpetual Motion" who

was the man of her dreams, and to whom she again offered her hand

with eighty thousand pounds sterling (two millions) of "dot."

Monsieur Picot replied that if his sight were restored and she

would consent to live in Paris, for he hated England, he would let

himself be married. The operation was performed and was

successful, and, at the end of three weeks the newly married pair

arrived in the capital. These details I obtained from the lady's

maid, with whom I am on the warmest terms.

"Oh! the puppy!" said Corentin, laughing.

The above is therefore hearsay, but what remains to be told to

Monsieur le directeur are facts of which I can speak "de visu,"

and to which I am, consequently, in a position to certify. As

soon as Monsieur and Madame Picot had installed themselves, which

was done in the most sumptuous and comfortable manner, my master

gave me a number of invitations to dinner to carry to the

Thuillier family, the Colleville family, the Minard family, the

Abbe Gondrin, vicar of the Madeleine, and nearly all the guests

who were present at another dinner a few months earlier, when he

had an encounter with Mademoiselle Thuillier, and behaved, I must

say, in a rather singular manner. All the persons who received

these invitations were so astonished to learn that the old man

Picot had married a rich wife and was living in the Thuilliers'

old apartment that most of them came to inquire of Monsieur

Pascal, the porter, to see if they were hoaxed. The information

they obtained being honest and honorable, the whole society

arrived punctually on time; but Monsieur Picot did not appear.

The guests were received by Madame Picot, who does not speak

French and could only say, "My husband is coming soon"; after

which, not being able to make further conversation, the company

were dull and ill at ease. At last Monsieur Picot arrived, and all

present were stupefied on seeing, instead of an old blind man,

shabbily dressed, a handsome young elderly man, bearing his years

jauntily, like Monsieur Ferville of the Gymnase, who said with a

lively air:

"I beg your pardon, mesdames, for not being here at the moment of

your arrival; but I was at the Academy of Sciences, awaiting the

result of an election,-that of Monsieur Felix Phellion, who has

been elected unanimously less three votes."

This news seemed to have a great effect upon the company. So then

Monsieur Picot resumed:-

"I must also, mesdames, ask your pardon for the rather improper

manner in which I behaved a short time ago in the house where we

are now assembled. My excuse must be my late infirmity, the

annoyances of a family lawsuit, and of an old housekeeper who

robbed me and tormented me in a thousand ways, from whom I am

happily delivered. To-day you see me another man, rejuvenated and

rich with the blessings bestowed upon me by the amiable woman who

has given me her hand; and I should be in the happiest frame of

mind to receive you if the recollection of my young friend, whose

eminence as a man of science has just been consecrated by the

Academy, did not cast upon my mind a veil of sadness. All here

present," continued Monsieur Picot, raising his voice, which is

rather loud, "are guilty towards him: I, for ingratitude when he

gave me the glory of his discovery and the reward of his immortal

labors; that young lady, whom I see over there with tears in her

eyes, for having foolishly accused him of atheism; that other

lad

y, with the stern face, for having harshly replied to the

proposals of his noble father, whose white hairs she ought rather

to have honored; Monsieur Thuillier, for having sacrificed him to

ambition; Monsieur Colleville, for not performing his part of

father and choosing for his daughter the worthiest and most

honorable man; Monsieur Minard, for having tried to foist his son

into his place. There are but two persons in the room at this

moment who have done him full justice,-Madame Thuillier and

Monsieur l'Abbe Gondrin. Well, I shall now ask that man of God

whether we can help doubting the divine justice when this generous

young man, the victim of all of us, is, at the present hour, at

the mercy of waves and tempests, to which for three long years he

is consigned."

"Providence is very powerful, monsieur," replied the Abbe Gondrin.

"God will protect Monsieur Felix Phellion wherever he may be, and

I have the firmest hope that three years hence he will be among

his friends once more."

"But three years!" said Monsieur Picot. "Will it still be time?

Will Mademoiselle Colleville have waited for him?"

"Yes, I swear it!" cried the young girl, carried away by an

impulse she could not control.

Then she sat down again, quite ashamed, and burst into tears.

"And you, Mademoiselle Thuillier, and you, Madame Colleville, will

you permit this young lady to reserve herself for one who is

worthy of her?"

"Yes! Yes!" cried everybody; for Monsieur Picot's voice, which is

very full and sonorous, seemed to have tears in it and affected

everybody.

"Then it is time," he said, "to forgive Providence."

And rushing suddenly to the door, where my ear was glued to the

keyhole, he very nearly caught me.

"Announce," he said to me, in a very loud tone of voice, "Monsieur

Felix Phellion and his family."

And thereupon the door of a side room opened, and five or six

persons came out, who were led by Monsieur Picot into the salon.

At the sight of her lover, Mademoiselle Colleville was taken ill,

but the faint lasted only a minute; seeing Monsieur Felix at her

feet she threw herself into Madame Thuillier's arms, crying out:-

"Godmother! you always told me to hope."

Mademoiselle Thuillier, who, in spite of her harsh nature and want

of education, I have always myself thought a remarkable woman, now

had a fine impulse. As the company were about to go into the

dining-room,-

"One moment!" she said.

Then going up to Monsieur Phellion, senior, she said to him:

"Monsieur and old friend! I ask you for the hand of Monsieur Felix

Phellion for our adopted daughter, Mademoiselle Colleville."

"Bravo! bravo!" they call cried in chorus.

"My God!" said Monsieur Phellion, with tears in his eyes; "what

have I done to deserve such happiness?"

"You have been an honest man and a Christian without knowing it,"

replied the Abbe Gondrin.

Here la Peyrade flung down the manuscript.

"You did not finish it," said Corentin, taking back the paper. "However, there's not much more. Monsieur Henri confesses to me that the scene had moved him; he also says that, knowing the interest I had formerly taken in the marriage, he thought he ought to inform me of its conclusion; ending with a slightly veiled suggestion of a fee. No, stay," resumed Corentin, "here is a detail of some importance:-"

The English woman seems to have made it known during dinner that,

having no heirs, her fortune, after the lives of herself and her

husband, will go to Felix. That will make him powerfully rich one

of these days.

La Peyrade had risen and was striding about the room with rapid steps.

"Well," said Corentin, "what is the matter with you?"

"Nothing."

"That is not true," said the great detective. "I think you envy the happiness of that young man. My dear fellow, permit me to tell you that if such a conclusion were to your taste, you should have acted as he has done. When I sent you two thousand francs on which to study law, I did not intend you to succeed me; I expected you to row your galley laboriously, to have the needful courage for obscure and painful toil; your day would infallibly have come. But you chose to violate fortune-"

"Monsieur!"

"I mean hasten it, reap it before it ripened. You flung yourself into journalism; then into business, questionable business; you made acquaintance with Messieurs Dutocq and Cerizet. Frankly, I think you fortunate to have entered the port which harbors you to-day. In any case, you are not sufficiently simple of heart to have really valued the joys reserved for Felix Phellion. These bourgeois-"

"These bourgeois," said la Peyrade, quickly,-"I know them now. They have great absurdities, great vices even, but they have virtues, or, at the least, estimable qualities; in them lies the vital force of our corrupt society."

"Your society!" said Corentin, smiling; "you speak as if you were still in the ranks. You have another sphere, my dear fellow; and you must learn to be more content with your lot. Governments pass, societies perish or dwindle; but we-we dominate all things; the police is eternal."

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

Note.-This volume ("Les Petits Bourgeois") was not published

until 1854, more than three years after Balzac's death; although

he says of it in March, 1844: "I must tell you that my work

entitled 'Les Petits Bourgeois,' owing to difficulties of

execution, requires still a month's labor, although the book is

entirely written." And again, in October, 1846, he says: "It is to

such scruples" (care in perfecting his work) "that delays which

have injured several of my works are due; for instance, 'Les

Paysans,' which has long been nearly finished, and 'Les Petits

Bourgeois,' which has been in type at the printing office for the

last eighteen months."

* * *

ADDENDUM

The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Barbet

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A Man of Business

The Seamy Side of History

The Middle Classes

Baudoyer, Isidore

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Cousin Pons

Beaumesnil, Mademoiselle

The Middle Classes

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

A Second Home

Bianchon, Horace

Father Goriot

The Atheist's Mass

Cesar Birotteau

The Commission in Lunacy

Lost Illusions

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A Bachelor's Establishment

The Secrets of a Princess

The Government Clerks

Pierrette

A Study of Woman

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Honorine

The Seamy Side of History

The Magic Skin

A Second Home

A Prince of Bohemia

Letters of Two Brides

The Muse of the Department

The Imaginary Mistress

The Middle Classes

Cousin Betty

The Country Parson

In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following:

Another Study of Woman

La Grande Breteche

Bousquier, Du (or Du Croisier or Du Bourguier)

Jealousies of a Country Town

The Middle Classes

Brisetout, Heloise

Cousin Betty

Cousin Pons

The Middle Classes

Bruel, Jean Francois du

A Bachelor's Establishment

The Government Clerks

A Start in Life

A Prince of Bohemia

The Middle Classes

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A Daughter of Eve

Bruel, Claudine Chaffaroux, Madame du

A Bachelor's Establishment

A Prince of Bohemia

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

Letters of Two Brides

The Middle Classes

Bruno

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

Cardot (Parisian notary)

The Muse of the Department

A Man of Business

Jealousies of a Country Town

Pierre Grassou

The Middle Classes

Cousin Pons

Cerizet

Lost Illusions

A Man of Business

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

Chaffaroux

Cesar Birotteau

A Prince of Bohemia

The Middle Classes

Claparon, Charles

A Bachelor's Establishment

Cesar Birotteau

Melmoth Reconciled

The Firm of Nucingen

A Man of Business

The Middle Classes

Cochin, Emile-Louis-Lucien-Emmanuel

Cesar Birotteau

The Government Clerks

The Firm of Nucingen

The Middle Classes

Colleville

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Colleville, Flavie Minoret, Madame

The Government Clerks

Cousin Betty

The Middle Classes

Corentin

The Chouans

The Gondreville Mystery

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

Couture

Beatrix

The Firm of Nucingen

The Middle Classes

Crochard, Charles

A Second Home

The Middle Classes

Desroches (son)

A Bachelor's Establishment

Colonel Chabert

A Start in Life

A Woman of Thirty

The Commission in Lunacy

The Government Clerks

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Firm of Nucingen

A Man of Business

The Middle Classes

Dutocq

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Fleury

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Galathionne, Prince and Princess (both not in each story)

The Secrets of a Princess

The Middle Classes

Father Goriot

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A Daughter of Eve

Beatrix

Godard, Joseph

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Godeschal, Francois-Claude-Marie

Colonel Chabert

A Bachelor's Establishment

A Start in Life

The Commission in Lunacy

The Middle Classes

Cousin Pons

Grassou, Pierre

Pierre Grassou

A Bachelor's Establishment

Cousin Betty

The Middle Classes

Cousin Pons

Grindot

Cesar Birotteau

Lost Illusions

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A Start in Life

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Beatrix

The Middle Classes

Cousin Betty

Katt

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

Keller, Adolphe

The Middle Classes

Pierrette

Cesar Birotteau

La Peyrade, Charles-Marie-Theodose de

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

La Peyrade, Madame de

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

La Roche-Hugon, Martial de

Domestic Peace

The Peasantry

A Daughter of Eve

The Member for Arcis

The Middle Classes

Cousin Betty

Laudigeois

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Lousteau, Etienne

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A Bachelor's Establishment

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

A Daughter of Eve

Beatrix

The Muse of the Department

Cousin Betty

A Prince of Bohemia

A Man of Business

The Middle Classes

The Unconscious Humorists

Metivier

Lost Illusions

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Metivier (nephew)

The Seamy Side of History

The Middle Classes

Minard, Auguste-Jean-Francois

The Government Clerks

The Firm of Nucingen

The Middle Classes

Minard, Madame

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Phellion

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Poiret, the elder

The Government Clerks

Father Goriot

A Start in Life

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

Poiret, Madame (nee Christine-Michelle Michonneau)

Father Goriot

Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

The Middle Classes

Popinot, Jean-Jules

Cesar Birotteau

Honorine

The Commission in Lunacy

The Seamy Side of History

The Middle Classes

Rabourdin, Xavier

The Government Clerks

At the Sign of the Cat and Racket

Cesar Birotteau

The Middle Classes

Saillard

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Thuillier

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Thuillier, Marie-Jeanne-Brigitte

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Thuillier, Louis-Jerome

The Government Clerks

The Middle Classes

Tillet, Ferdinand du

Cesar Birotteau

The Firm of Nucingen

The Middle Classes

A Bachelor's Establishment

Pierrette

Melmoth Reconciled

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

The Secrets of a Princess

A Daughter of Eve

The Member for Arcis

Cousin Betty

The Unconscious Humorists

Vinet

Pierrette

The Member for Arcis

The Middle Classes

Cousin Pons

Vinet, Olivier

The Member for Arcis

Cousin Pons

The Middle Classes

* * *

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