The Two Brothers by Honore de Balzac
In 1816, Joseph obtained his mother's permission to convert the garret which adjoined his attic room into an atelier, and Madame Descoings gave him a little money for the indispensable requirements of the painter's trade;--in the minds of the two widows, the art of painting was nothing but a trade. With the feeling and ardor of his vocation, the lad himself arranged his humble atelier. Madame Descoings persuaded the owner of the house to put a skylight in the roof. The garret was turned into a vast hall painted in chocolate-color by Joseph himself. On the walls he hung a few sketches. Agathe contributed, not without reluctance, an iron stove; so that her son might be able to work at home, without, however, abandoning the studio of Gros, nor that of Schinner.
The constitutional party, supported chiefly by officers on half-pay and the Bonapartists, were at this time inciting "emeutes" around the Chamber of Deputies, on behalf of the Charter, though no one actually wanted it. Several conspiracies were brewing. Philippe, who dabbled in them, was arrested, and then released for want of proof; but the minister of war cut short his half-pay by putting him on the active list,--a step which might be called a form of discipline. France was no longer safe; Philippe was liable to fall into some trap laid for him by spies,--provocative agents, as they were called, being much talked of in those days.
While Philippe played billiards in disaffected cafes, losing his time and acquiring the habit of wetting his whistle with "little glasses" of all sorts of liquors. Agathe lived in mortal terror for the safety of the great man of the family. The Grecian sages were too much accustomed to wend their nightly way up Madame Bridau's staircase, finding the two widows ready and waiting, and hearing from them all the news of their day, ever to break up the habit of coming to the green salon for their game of cards. The ministry of the interior, though purged of its former employes in 1816, had retained Claparon, one of those cautious men, who whisper the news of the "Moniteur," adding invariably, "Don't quote me." Desroches, who had retired from active service some time after old Du Bruel, was still battling for his pension. The three friends, who were witnesses of Agathe's distress, advised her to send the colonel to travel in foreign countries.
"They talk about conspiracies, and your son, with his disposition, will be certain to fall a victim in some of them; there is plenty of treachery in these days."
"Philippe is cut from the wood the Emperor made into marshals," said Du Bruel, in a low voice, looking cautiously about him; "and he mustn't give up his profession. Let him serve in the East, in India--"
"Think of his health," said Agathe.
"Why doesn't he get some place, or business?" said old Desroches; "there are plenty of private offices to be had. I am going as head of a bureau in an insurance company, as soon as I have got my pension."
"Philippe is a soldier; he would not like to be any thing else," said the warlike Agathe.
"Then he ought to have the sense to ask for employment--"
"And serve these others!" cried the widow. "Oh! I will never give him that advice."
"You are wrong," said Du Bruel. "My son has just got an appointment through the Duc de Navarreins. The Bourbons are very good to those who are sincere in rallying to them. Your son could be appointed lieutenant-colonel to a regiment."
"They only appoint nobles in the cavalry. Philippe would never rise to be a colonel," said Madame Descoings.
Agathe, much alarmed, entreated Philippe to travel abroad, and put himself at the service of some foreign power who, she thought, would gladly welcome a staff officer of the Emperor.
"Serve a foreign nation!" cried Philippe, with horror.
Agathe kissed her son with enthusiasm.
"His father all over!" she exclaimed.
"He is right," said Joseph. "France is too proud of her heroes to let them be heroic elsewhere. Napoleon may return once more."
However, to satisfy his mother, Philippe took up the dazzling idea of joining General Lallemand in the United States, and helping him to found what was called the Champ d'Asile, one of the most disastrous swindles that ever appeared under the name of national subscription. Agathe gave ten thousand francs to start her son, and she went to Havre to see him off. By the end of 1817, she had accustomed herself to live on the six hundred francs a year which remained to her from her property in the Funds; then, by a lucky chance, she made a good investment of the ten thousand francs she still kept of her savings, from which she obtained an interest of seven per cent. Joseph wished to emulate his mother's devotion. He dressed like a bailiff; wore the commonest shoes and blue stockings; denied himself gloves, and burned charcoal; he lived on bread and milk and Brie cheese. The poor lad got no sympathy, except from Madame Descoings, and from Bixiou, his student-friend and comrade, who was then making those admirable caricatures of his, and filling a small office in the ministry.
"With what joy I welcomed the summer of 1818!" said Joseph Bridau in after-years, relating his troubles; "the sun saved me the cost of charcoal."
As good a colorist by this time as Gros himself, Joseph now went to his master for consultation only. He was already meditating a tilt against classical traditions, and Grecian conventionalities, in short, against the leading-strings which held down an art to which Nature as she is belongs, in the omnipotence of her creations and her imagery. Joseph made ready for a struggle which, from the day when he first exhibited in the Salon, has never ceased. It was a terrible year. Roguin, the notary of Madame Descoings and Madame Bridau, absconded with the moneys held back for seven years from Madame Descoings's annuity, which by that time were producing two thousand francs a year. Three days after this disaster, a bill of exchange for a thousand francs, drawn by Philippe upon his mother, arrived from New York. The poor fellow, misled like so many others, had lost his all in the Champ d'Asile. A letter, which accompanied the bill, drove Agathe, Joseph, and the Descoings to tears, and told of debts contracted in New York, where his comrades in misfortunes had indorsed for him.
"It was I who made him go!" cried the poor mother, eager to divert the blame from Philippe.
"I advise you not to send him on many such journeys," said the old Descoings to her niece.
Madame Descoings was heroic. She continued to give the three thousand francs a year to Madame Bridau, but she still paid the dues on her trey which had never turned up since the year 1799. About this time, she began to doubt the honesty of the government, and declared it was capable of keeping the three numbers in the urn, so as to excite the shareholders to put in enormous stakes. After a rapid survey of all their resources, it seemed to the two women impossible to raise the thousand francs without selling out the little that remained in the Funds. They talked of pawning their silver and part of the linen, and even the needless pieces of furniture. Joseph, alarmed at these suggestions, went to see Gerard and told him their circumstances. The great painter obtained an order from the household of the king for two copies of a portrait of Louis XVIII., at five hundred francs each. Though not naturally generous, Gros took his pupil to an artist- furnishing house and fitted him out with the necessary materials. But the thousand francs could not be had till the copies were delivered, so Joseph painted four panels in ten days, sold them to the dealers and brought his mother the thousand francs with which to meet the bill of exchange when it fell due. Eight days later, came a letter from the colonel, informing his mother that he was about to return to France on board a packet from New York, whose captain had trusted him for the passage-money. Philippe announced that he should need at least a thousand francs on his arrival at Havre.
"Good," said Joseph to his mother, "I shall have finished my copies by that time, and you can carry him the money."
"Dear Joseph!" cried Agathe in tears, kissing her son, "God will bless you. You do love him, then, poor persecuted fellow? He is indeed our glory and our hope for the future. So young, so brave, so unfortunate! everything is against him; we three must always stand by him."
"You see now that painting is good for something," cried Joseph, overjoyed to have won his mother's permission to be a great artist.
Madame Bridau rushed to meet her beloved son, Colonel Philippe, at Havre. Once there, she walked every day beyond the round tower built by Francois I., to look out for the American packet, enduring the keenest anxieties. Mothers alone know how such sufferings quicken maternal love. The vessel arrived on a fine morning in October, 1819, without delay, and having met with no mishap. The sight of a mother and the air of one's native land produces a certain affect on the coarsest nature, especially after the miseries of a sea-voyage. Philippe gave way to a rush of feeling, which made Agathe think to herself, "Ah! how he loves me!" Alas, the hero loved but one person in the world, and that person was Colonel Philippe. His misfortunes in Texas, his stay in New York,--a place where speculation and individualism are carried to the highest pitch, where the brutality of self-interest attains to cynicism, where man, essentially isolated, is compelled to push his way for himself and by himself, where politeness does not exist,--in fact, even the minor events of Philippe's journey had developed in him the worst traits of an old campaigner: he had grown brutal, selfish, rude; he drank and smoked to excess; physical hardships and poverty had depraved him. Moreover, he considered himself persecuted; and the effect of that idea is to make persons who are unintelligent persecutors and bigots themselves. To Philippe's conception of life, the universe began at his head and ended at his feet, and the sun shone for him alone. The things he had seen in New York, interpreted by his practical nature, carried away his last scruples on the score of morality. For such beings, there are but two ways of existence. Either they believe, or they do not believe; they have the virtues of honest men, or they give themselves up to the demands of necessity; in which case they proceed to turn their slightest interests and each passing impulse of their passions into necessities.
Such a system of life carries a man a long way. It was only in appearance that Colonel Philippe retained the frankness, plain- dealing, and easy-going freedom of a soldier. This made him, in reality, very dangerous; he seemed as guileless as a child, but, thinking only of himself, he never did anything without reflecting what he had better do,--like a wily lawyer planning some trick "a la Maitre Gonin"; words cost him nothing, and he said as many as he could to get people to believe. If, unfortunately, some one refused to accept the explanations with which he justified the contradictions between his conduct and his professions, the colonel, who was a good shot and could defy the most adroit fencing-master, and possessed the coolness of one to whom life is indifferent, was quite ready to demand satisfaction for the first sharp word; and when a man shows himself prepared for violence there is little more to be said. His imposing stature had taken on a certain rotundity, his face was bronzed from exposure in Texas, he was still succinct in speech, and had acquired the decisive tone of a man obliged to make himself feared among the populations of a new world. Thus developed, plainly dressed, his body trained to endurance by his recent hardships, Philippe in the eyes of his mother was a hero; in point of fact, he had simply become what people (not to mince matters) call a blackguard.
Shocked at the destitution of her cherished son, Madame Bridau bought him a complete outfit of clothes at Havre. After listening to the tale of his woes, she had not the heart to stop his drinking and eating and amusing himself as a man just returned from the Champ d'Asile was likely to eat and drink and divert himself. It was certainly a fine conception,--that of conquering Texas with the remains of the imperial army. The failure was less in the idea than in the men who conceived it; for Texas is to-day a republic, with a future full of promise. This scheme of Liberalism under the Restoration distinctly proves that the interests of the party were purely selfish and not national, seeking power and nothing else. Neither men, nor occasion, nor cause, nor devotion were lacking; only the money and the support of the hypocritical party at home who dispensed enormous sums, but gave nothing when it came to recovering empire. Household managers like Agathe have a plain common-sense which enables them to perceive such political chicane: the poor woman saw the truth through the lines of her son's tale; for she had read, in the exile's interests, all the pompous editorials of the constitutional journals, and watched the management of the famous subscription, which produced barely one hundred and fifty thousand francs when it ought to have yielded five or six millions. The Liberal leaders soon found out that they were playing into the hands of Louis XVIII. by exporting the glorious remnants of our grand army, and they promptly abandoned to their fate the most devoted, the most ardent, the most enthusiastic of its heroes,--those, in short, who had gone in the advance. Agathe was never able, however, to make her son see that he was more duped than persecuted. With blind belief in her idol, she supposed herself ignorant, and deplored, as Philippe did, the evil times which had done him such wrong. Up to this time he was, to her mind, throughout his misfortunes, less faulty than victimized by his noble nature, his energy, the fall of the Emperor, the duplicity of the Liberals, and the rancor of the Bourbons against the Bonapartists. During the week at Havre, a week which was horribly costly, she dared not ask him to make terms with the royal government and apply to the minister of war. She had hard work to get him away from Havre, where living is very expensive, and to bring him back to Paris before her money gave out. Madame Descoings and Joseph, who were awaiting their arrival in the courtyard of the coach-office of the Messageries Royales, were struck with the change in Agathe's face.
"Your mother has aged ten years in two months," whispered the Descoings to Joseph, as they all embraced, and the two trunks were being handed down.
"How do you do, mere Descoings?" was the cool greeting the colonel bestowed on the old woman whom Joseph was in the habit of calling "maman Descoings."
"I have no money to pay for a hackney-coach," said Agathe, in a sad voice.
"I have," replied the young painter. "What a splendid color Philippe has turned!" he cried, looking at his brother.
"Yes, I've browned like a pipe," said Philippe. "But as for you, you're not a bit changed, little man."
Joseph, who was now twenty-one, and much thought of by the friends who had stood by him in his days of trial, felt his own strength and was aware of his talent; he represented the art of painting in a circle of young men whose lives were devoted to science, letters, politics, and philosophy. Consequently, he was wounded by his brother's contempt, which Philippe still further emphasized with a gesture, pulling his ears as if he were still a child. Agathe noticed the coolness which succeeded the first glow of tenderness on the part of Joseph and Madame Descoings; but she hastened to tell them of Philippe's sufferings in exile, and so lessened it. Madame Descoings, wishing to make a festival of the return of the prodigal, as she called him under her breath, had prepared one of her good dinners, to which old Claparon and the elder Desroches were invited. All the family friends were to come, and did come, in the evening. Joseph had invited Leon Giraud, d'Arthez, Michel Chrestien, Fulgence Ridal, and Horace Bianchon, his friends of the fraternity. Madame Descoings had promised Bixiou, her so-called step-son, that the young people should play at ecarte. Desroches the younger, who had now taken, under his father's stern rule, his degree at law, was also of the party. Du Bruel, Claparon, Desroches, and the Abbe Loraux carefully observed the returned exile, whose manners and coarse features, and voice roughened by the abuse of liquors, together with his vulgar glance and phraseology, alarmed them not a little. While Joseph was placing the card-tables, the more intimate of the family friends surrounded Agathe and asked,--
"What do you intend to make of Philippe?"
"I don't know," she answered, "but he is determined not to serve the Bourbons."
"Then it will be very difficult for you to find him a place in France. If he won't re-enter the army, he can't be readily got into government employ," said old Du Bruel. "And you have only to listen to him to see he could never, like my son, make his fortune by writing plays."
The motion of Agathe's eyes, with which alone she replied to this speech, showed how anxious Philippe's future made her; they all kept silence. The exile himself, Bixiou, and the younger Desroches were playing at ecarte, a game which was then the rage.
"Maman Descoings, my brother has no money to play with," whispered Joseph in the good woman's ear.
The devotee of the Royal Lottery fetched twenty francs and gave them to the artist, who slipped them secretly into his brother's hand. All the company were now assembled. There were two tables of boston; and the party grew lively. Philippe proved a bad player: after winning for awhile, he began to lose; and by eleven o'clock he owed fifty francs to young Desroches and to Bixiou. The racket and the disputes at the ecarte table resounded more than once in the ears of the more peaceful boston players, who were watching Philippe surreptitiously. The exile showed such signs of bad temper that in his final dispute with the younger Desroches, who was none too amiable himself, the elder Desroches joined in, and though his son was decidedly in the right, he declared he was in the wrong, and forbade him to play any more. Madame Descoings did the same with her grandson, who was beginning to let fly certain witticisms; and although Philippe, so far, had not understood him, there was always a chance that one of the barbed arrows might piece the colonel's thick skull and put the sharp jester in peril.
"You must be tired," whispered Agathe in Philippe's ear; "come to bed."
"Travel educates youth," said Bixiou, grinning, when Madame Bridau and the colonel had disappeared.
Joseph, who got up at dawn and went to bed early, did not see the end of the party. The next morning Agathe and Madame Descoings, while preparing breakfast, could not help remarking that soires would be terribly expensive if Philippe were to go on playing that sort of game, as the Descoings phrased it. The worthy old woman, then seventy- six years of age, proposed to sell her furniture, give up her appartement on the second floor (which the owner was only too glad to occupy), and take Agathe's parlor for her chamber, making the other room a sitting-room and dining-room for the family. In this way they could save seven hundred francs a year; which would enable them to give Philippe fifty francs a month until he could find something to do. Agathe accepted the sacrifice. When the colonel came down and his mother had asked how he liked his little bedroom, the two widows explained to him the situation of the family. Madame Descoings and Agathe possessed, by putting all their resources together, an income of five thousand three hundred francs, four thousand of which belonged to Madame Descoings and were merely a life annuity. The Descoings made an allowance of six hundred a year to Bixiou, whom she had acknowledged as her grandson during the last few months, also six hundred to Joseph; the rest of her income, together with that of Agathe, was spent for the household wants. All their savings were by this time eaten up.
"Make yourselves easy," said the lieutenant-colonel. "I'll find a situation and put you to no expense; all I need for the present is board and lodging."
Agathe kissed her son, and Madame Descoings slipped a hundred francs into his hand to pay for his losses of the night before. In ten days the furniture was sold, the appartement given up, and the change in Agathe's domestic arrangements accomplished with a celerity seldom seen outside of Paris. During those ten days, Philippe regularly decamped after breakfast, came back for dinner, was off again for the evening, and only got home about midnight to go to bed. He contracted certain habits half mechanically, and they soon became rooted in him; he got his boots blacked on the Pont Neuf for the two sous it would have cost him to go by the Pont des Arts to the Palais-Royal, where he consumed regularly two glasses of brandy while reading the newspapers, --an occupation which employed him till midday; after that he sauntered along the rue Vivienne to the cafe Minerve, where the Liberals congregated, and where he played at billiards with a number of old comrades. While winning and losing, Philippe swallowed four or five more glasses of divers liquors, and smoked ten or a dozen cigars in going and coming, and idling along the streets. In the evening, after consuming a few pipes at the Hollandais smoking-rooms, he would go to some gambling-place towards ten o'clock at night. The waiter handed him a card and a pin; he always inquired of certain well- seasoned players about the chances of the red or the black, and staked ten francs when the lucky moment seemed to come; never playing more than three times, win or lose. If he won, which usually happened, he drank a tumbler of punch and went home to his garret; but by that time he talked of smashing the ultras and the Bourbon body-guard, and trolled out, as he mounted the staircase, "We watch to save the Empire!" His poor mother, hearing him, used to think "How gay Philippe is to-night!" and then she would creep up and kiss him, without complaining of the fetid odors of the punch, and the brandy, and the pipes.
"You ought to be satisfied with me, my dear mother," he said, towards the end of January; "I lead the most regular of lives."
The colonel had dined five times at a restaurant with some of his army comrades. These old soldiers were quite frank with each other on the state of their own affairs, all the while talking of certain hopes which they based on the building of a submarine vessel, expected to bring about the deliverance of the Emperor. Among these former comrades, Philippe particularly liked an old captain of the dragoons of the Guard, named Giroudeau, in whose company he had seen his first service. This friendship with the late dragoon led Philippe into completing what Rabelais called "the devil's equipage"; and he added to his drams, and his tobacco, and his play, a "fourth wheel."
One evening at the beginning of February, Giroudeau took Philippe after dinner to the Gaite, occupying a free box sent to a theatrical journal belonging to his nephew Finot, in whose office Giroudeau was cashier and secretary. Both were dressed after the fashion of the Bonapartist officers who now belonged to the Constitutional Opposition; they wore ample overcoats with square collars, buttoned to the chin and coming down to their heels, and decorated with the rosette of the Legion of honor; and they carried malacca canes with loaded knobs, which they held by strings of braided leather. The late troopers had just (to use one of their own expressions) "made a bout of it," and were mutually unbosoming their hearts as they entered the box. Through the fumes of a certain number of bottles and various glasses of various liquors, Giroudeau pointed out to Philippe a plump and agile little ballet-girl whom he called Florentine, whose good graces and affection, together with the box, belonged to him as the representative of an all-powerful journal.
"But," said Philippe, "I should like to know how far her good graces go for such an iron-gray old trooper as you."
"Thank God," replied Giroudeau, "I've stuck to the traditions of our glorious uniform. I have never wasted a farthing upon a woman in my life."
"What's that?" said Philippe, putting a finger on his left eye.
"That is so," answered Giroudeau. "But, between ourselves, the newspaper counts for a good deal. To-morrow, in a couple of lines, we shall advise the managers to let Mademoiselle Florentine dance a particular step, and so forth. Faith, my dear boy, I'm uncommonly lucky!"
"Well!" thought Philippe; "if this worthy Giroudeau, with a skull as polished as my knee, forty-eight years, a big stomach, a face like a ploughman, and a nose like a potato, can get a ballet-girl, I ought to be the lover of the first actress in Paris. Where does one find such luck?" he said aloud.
"I'll show you Florentine's place to-night. My Dulcinea only earns fifty francs a month at the theatre," added Giroudeau, "but she is very prettily set up, thanks to an old silk dealer named Cardot, who gives her five hundred francs a month."
"Well, but--?" exclaimed the jealous Philippe.
"Bah!" said Giroudeau; "true love is blind."
When the play was over Giroudeau took Philippe to Mademoiselle Florentine's appartement, which was close to the theatre, in the rue de Crussol.
"We must behave ourselves," said Giroudeau. "Florentine's mother is here. You see, I haven't the means to pay for one, so the worthy woman is really her own mother. She used to be a concierge, but she's not without intelligence. Call her Madame; she makes a point of it."
Florentine happened that night to have a friend with her,--a certain Marie Godeschal, beautiful as an angel, cold as a danseuse, and a pupil of Vestris, who foretold for her a great choregraphic destiny. Mademoiselle Godeschal, anxious to make her first appearance at the Panorama-Dramatique under the name of Mariette, based her hopes on the protection and influence of a first gentleman of the bedchamber, to whom Vestris had promised to introduce her. Vestris, still green himself at this period, did not think his pupil sufficiently trained to risk the introduction. The ambitious girl did, in the end, make her pseudonym of Mariette famous; and the motive of her ambition, it must be said, was praiseworthy. She had a brother, a clerk in Derville's law office. Left orphans and very poor, and devoted to each other, the brother and sister had seen life such as it is in Paris. The one wished to be a lawyer that he might support his sister, and he lived on ten sous a day; the other had coldly resolved to be a dancer, and to profit by her beauty as much as by her legs that she might buy a practice for her brother. Outside of their feeling for each other, and of their mutual life and interests, everything was to them, as it once was to the Romans and the Hebrews, barbaric, outlandish, and hostile. This generous affection, which nothing ever lessened, explained Mariette to those who knew her intimately.
The brother and sister were living at this time on the eighth floor of a house in the Vieille rue du Temple. Mariette had begun her studies when she was ten years old; she was now just sixteen. Alas! for want of becoming clothes, her beauty, hidden under a coarse shawl, dressed in calico, and ill-kept, could only be guessed by those Parisians who devote themselves to hunting grisettes and the quest of beauty in misfortune, as she trotted past them with mincing step, mounted on iron pattens. Philippe fell in love with Mariette. To Mariette, Philippe was commander of the dragoons of the Guard, a staff-officer of the Emperor, a young man of twenty-seven, and above all, the means of proving herself superior to Florentine by the evident superiority of Philippe over Giroudeau. Florentine and Giroudeau, the one to promote his comrade's happiness, the other to get a protector for her friend, pushed Philippe and Mariette into a "mariage en detrempe,"--a Parisian term which is equivalent to "morganatic marriage," as applied to royal personages. Philippe when they left the house revealed his poverty to Giroudeau, but the old roue reassured him.
"I'll speak to my nephew Finot," he said. "You see, Philippe, the reign of phrases and quill-drivers is upon us; we may as well submit. To-day, scribblers are paramount. Ink has ousted gunpowder, and talk takes the place of shot. After all, these little toads of editors are pretty good fellows, and very clever. Come and see me to-morrow at the newspaper office; by that time I shall have said a word for you to my nephew. Before long you'll have a place on some journal or other. Mariette, who is taking you at this moment (don't deceive yourself) because she literally has nothing, no engagement, no chance of appearing on the stage, and I have told her that you are going on a newspaper like myself,--Mariette will try to make you believe she is loving you for yourself; and you will believe her! Do as I do,--keep her as long as you can. I was so much in love with Florentine that I begged Finot to write her up and help her to a debut; but my nephew replied, 'You say she has talent; well, the day after her first appearance she will turn her back on you.' Oh, that's Finot all over! You'll find him a knowing one."
The next day, about four o'clock, Philippe went to the rue de Sentier, where he found Giroudeau in the entresol,--caged like a wild beast in a sort of hen-coop with a sliding panel; in which was a little stove, a little table, two little chairs, and some little logs of wood. This establishment bore the magic words, subscription office, painted on the door in black letters, and the word "Cashier," written by hand and fastened to the grating of the cage. Along the wall that lay opposite to the cage, was a bench, where, at this moment, a one-armed man was breakfasting, who was called Coloquinte by Giroudeau, doubtless from the Egyptian colors of his skin.
"A pretty hole!" exclaimed Philippe, looking round the room. "In the name of thunder! what are you doing here, you who charged with poor Colonel Chabert at Eylau? You--a gallant officer!"
"Well, yes! broum! broum!--a gallant officer keeping the accounts of a little newspaper," said Giroudeau, settling his black silk skull-cap. "Moreover, I'm the working editor of all that rubbish," he added, pointing to the newspaper itself.
"And I, who went to Egypt, I'm obliged to stamp it," said the one- armed man.
"Hold your tongue, Coloquinte," said Giroudeau. "You are in presence of a hero who carried the Emperor's orders at the battle of Montereau."
Coloquinte saluted. "That's were I lost my missing arm!" he said.
"Coloquinte, look after the den. I'm going up to see my nephew."
The two soldiers mounted to the fourth floor, where, in an attic room at the end of a passage, they found a young man with a cold light eye, lying on a dirty sofa. The representative of the press did not stir, though he offered cigars to his uncle and his uncle's friend.
"My good fellow," said Giroudeau in a soothing and humble tone, "this is the gallant cavalry officer of the Imperial Guard of whom I spoke to you."
"Eh! well?" said Finot, eyeing Philippe, who, like Giroudeau, lost all his assurance before the diplomatist of the press.
"My dear boy," said Giroudeau, trying to pose as an uncle, "the colonel has just returned from Texas."
"Ah! you were taken in by that affair of the Champ d'Asile, were you? Seems to me you were rather young to turn into a Soldier-laborer."
The bitterness of this jest will only be understood by those who remember the deluge of engravings, screens, clocks, bronzes, and plaster-casts produced by the idea of the Soldier-laborer, a splendid image of Napoleon and his heroes, which afterwards made its appearance on the stage in vaudevilles. That idea, however, obtained a national subscription; and we still find, in the depths of the provinces, old wall-papers which bear the effigy of the Soldier-laborer. If this young man had not been Giroudeau's nephew, Philippe would have boxed his ears.
"Yes, I was taken in by it; I lost my time, and twelve thousand francs to boot," answered Philippe, trying to force a grin.
"You are still fond of the Emperor?" asked Finot.
"He is my god," answered Philippe Bridau.
"You are a Liberal?"
"I shall always belong to the Constitutional Opposition. Oh Foy! oh Manuel! oh Laffitte! what men they are! They'll rid us of these others,--these wretches, who came back to France at the heels of the enemy."
"Well," said Finot coldly, "you ought to make something out of your misfortunes; for you are the victim of the Liberals, my good fellow. Stay a Liberal, if you really value your opinions, but threaten the party with the follies in Texas which you are ready to show up. You never got a farthing of the national subscription, did you? Well, then you hold a fine position: demand an account of that subscription. I'll tell you how you can do it. A new Opposition journal is just starting, under the auspices of the deputies of the Left; you shall be the cashier, with a salary of three thousand francs. A permanent place. All you want is some one to go security for you in twenty thousand francs; find that, and you shall be installed within a week. I'll advise the Liberals to silence you by giving you the place. Meantime, talk, threaten,--threaten loudly."
Giroudeau let Philippe, who was profuse in his thanks, go down a few steps before him, and then he turned back to say to his nephew, "Well, you are a queer fellow! you keep me here on twelve hundred francs--"
"That journal won't live a year," said Finot. "I've got something better for you."
"Thunder!" cried Philippe to Giroudeau. "He's no fool, that nephew of yours. I never once thought of making something, as he calls it, out of my position."
That night at the cafe Lemblin and the cafe Minerve Colonel Philippe fulminated against the Liberal party, which had raised subscriptions, sent heroes to Texas, talked hypocritically of Soldier-laborers, and left them to starve, after taking the money they had put into it, and keeping them in exile for two years.
"I am going to demand an account of the moneys collected by the subscription for the Champ d'Asile," he said to one of the frequenters of the cafe, who repeated it to the journalists of the Left.
Philippe did not go back to the rue Mazarin; he went to Mariette and told her of his forthcoming appointment on a newspaper with ten thousand subscribers, in which her choregraphic claims should be warmly advanced.
Agathe and Madame Descoings waited up for Philippe in fear and trembling, for the Duc de Berry had just been assassinated. The colonel came home a few minutes after breakfast; and when his mother showed her uneasiness at his absence, he grew angry and asked if he were not of age.
"In the name of thunder, what's all this! here have I brought you some good news, and you both look like tombstones. The Duc de Berry is dead, is he?--well, so much the better! that's one the less, at any rate. As for me, I am to be cashier of a newspaper, with a salary of three thousand francs, and there you are, out of all your anxieties on my account."
"Is it possible?" cried Agathe.
"Yes; provided you can go security for me in twenty thousand francs; you need only deposit your shares in the Funds, you will draw the interest all the same."
The two widows, who for nearly two months had been desperately anxious to find out what Philippe was about, and how he could be provided for, were so overjoyed at this prospect that they gave no thought to their other catastrophes. That evening, the Grecian sages, old Du Bruel, Claparon, whose health was failing, and the inflexible Desroches were unanimous; they all advised Madame Bridau to go security for her son. The new journal, which fortunately was started before the assassination of the Duc de Berry, just escaped the blow which Monsieur Decazes then launched at the press. Madame Bridau's shares in the Funds, representing thirteen hundred francs' interest, were transferred as security for Philippe, who was then appointed cashier. That good son at once promised to pay one hundred francs every month to the two widows, for his board and lodging, and was declared by both to be the best of sons. Those who had thought ill of him now congratulated Agathe.
"We were unjust to him," they said.
Poor Joseph, not to be behind his brother in generosity, resolved to pay for his own support, and succeeded.