Isidore once more interrupted. He was ordered definitively not to go back without Frédéric. Madame was worried by his absence.
“Well, well, he will go back,” said Deslauriers. “He’s not going to stay out all night.”
And, as soon as the man-servant had disappeared:
“You ought to ask that old chap to introduce you to the Dambreuses. There’s nothing so useful as to be a frequent visitor at a rich man’s house. Since you have a black coat and white gloves, make use of them. You must get yourself into that world. You can introduce me into it later. Just think!—a man worth millions! Do all you can to make him like you, and his wife, too. Become her lover!”
Frédéric exclaimed in protest.
“All I’m saying to you is in the best tradition! Remember Rastignac in theComédie humaine.
You will succeed, I have no doubt.”
Frédéric had so much confidence in Deslauriers that he felt shaken, and forgetting Madame Arnoux, or including her in the prediction made with regard to the other woman, he could not keep from smiling.
The clerk added:
“A last piece of advice: pass your examinations. It is always a good thing to have a title added to your name: and, give up your Catholic and Satanic poets, whose philosophy is as old as the twelfth century! Your despair is silly. The very greatest men have had more difficult beginnings, as in the case of Mirabeau.d
Besides, our separation will not be so long. I will make that pickpocket of a father of mine pay up. It is time for me to be going back. Farewell! Have you got a hundred sous to pay for my dinner?”
Frédéric gave him ten francs, what was left of those he had gotten that morning from Isidore.
Meanwhile, some forty yards away from the bridges, a light shone from the garret-window of a low-built house.
Deslauriers noticed it. Then he said emphatically, as he took off his hat:
“Your pardon, Venus, Queen of Heaven, but Poverty is the mother of Wisdom. We have been slandered enough for that—so have mercy.”
This allusion to an adventure in which they had both taken part, put them into a jovial mood. They laughed loudly as they passed through the streets.
Then, having settled his bill at the inn, Deslauriers walked back with Frédéric as far as the crossroads near the Hôtel-Dieu, and after a long embrace, the two friends parted.
wo months later, Frédéric, having gotten off a coach one morning on the Rue Coq-Heron, immediately thought of paying his important visit.
Luck was on his side. Père Roque had brought him a roll of papers and requested him to deliver them himself to M. Dambreuse; and the good gentleman included with the package an open letter of introduction on behalf of his young fellow-countryman.
Madame Moreau appeared surprised at this proceeding. Frederic concealed the delight that it gave him.
M. Dambreuse’s real name was the Count d‘Ambreuse; but since 1825, gradually abandoning his title of nobility and his party, he had turned his attention to business; and with his ears open in every office, his hand in every enterprise, on the lookout for every opportunity, as subtle as a Greek and as laborious as a native of Auvergne, he had amassed a fortune which might be called considerable. Furthermore, he was an officer of the Legion d’honneur, a member of the General Council of the Aube,e
a representative, and one of these days would be a peer of France. However, affable as he was in other respects, he wearied the Minister with his continual applications for subsidies, for decorations, and licences for tobacconists’ shops; and in his complaints against the establishment he was inclined to join the Left Centre. His wife, the pretty Madame Dambreuse, of whom mention was made in the fashion journals, presided at charitable functions. By flattering the duchesses, she appeased the rancour of the aristocratic faubourg,f
and led the residents to believe that M. Dambreuse might yet repent and render them some services.
The young man was nervous when he called on them.
“I should have taken my dress-coat with me. No doubt they will give me an invitation to next week’s ball. What will they say to me?”
His self-confidence returned when he reflected that M. Dambreuse was only a person of the middle class, and he sprang out of the cab briskly on the pavement of the Rue d
When he had pushed open one of the two gates, he crossed the courtyard, mounted the steps in front of the house, and entered a vestibule paved with coloured marble.
A straight double staircase, with red carpet, fastened with brass rods, rested against the high walls of shining stucco. At the end of the stairs there was a banana-tree, whose wide leaves fell down over the velvet banister. Two bronze candelabra, with porcelain globes, hung from little chains; the large radiator vents exhaled warm, heavy air; and all that could be heard was the ticking of a big clock standing at the other end of the vestibule, under a suit of armour.
A bell rang; a valet made his appearance, and led Frédéric into a small room, where one could observe two safes, as well as cabinets filled with folders. In the centre of it, M. Dambreuse was writing at a roll-top desk.
He ran his eye over Père Roque’s letter, tore open the canvas in which the papers had been wrapped, and examined them.
From a distance, he had an appearance of youth, because of his slim build. But his thin white hair, his feeble limbs, and, above all, the extraordinary pallor of his face, betrayed a decrepit constitution. There was a merciless expression in his sea-green eyes, colder than eyes of glass. His cheek-bones were prominent, and his knuckles were knotted.
Finally, he arose and asked the young man a few questions about common acquaintances in Nogent and also with regard to his studies, and then dismissed him with a bow. Frédéric went out through another lobby, and found himself at the lower end of the courtyard near the coach-house.
A blue brougham, to which a black horse was yoked, stood in front of the steps before the house. The carriage door was opened, a lady stepped in, and the vehicle, with a rumbling noise, went rolling along the gravel.
Frédéric reached the main gate from the other side at the same moment as the brougham. As there was not enough room to allow him to pass, he was forced to wait. The young lady, with her head thrust forward past the carriage blind, talked to the concierge in a very low voice. All he could see was her back, covered with a violet cape. He glanced into the interior of the carriage, lined with blue fabric, with silk lace and fringe. The lady’s ample robes filled up the space within. He pulled away from this little padded box with its perfume of iris, a scent of feminine elegance. The coachman slackened the reins, the horse brushed abruptly past, and they disappeared.
Frédéric returned on foot, along the boulevards.
He regretted not having been able to get a proper view of Madame Dambreuse.
A little higher than the Rue Montmartre, a jumble of carriages made him turn his head, and on the opposite side, facing him, he read on a marble plate:
How was it that he had not thought about her sooner? It was Deslauriers’ fault; and he approached the shop, but did not enter. He was waiting for
The high, transparent plate-glass windows displayed statuettes, drawings, engravings, catalogues and issues of
arranged in a skillful fashion; and subscription fees were listed on the door, which was decorated in the centre with the publisher’s initials. Against the walls could be seen large paintings whose finish had a glossy look, two chests laden with porcelain, bronze, alluring curiosities; a little staircase separated them, closed off at the top by a carpeted landing; and an antique Saxon chandelier, a green carpet on the floor, with an inlaid table, gave to this interior the appearance rather of a drawing-room than of a shop.
Frédéric pretended to be examining the drawings. After hesitating for a long time, he went in.
A clerk opened the door, and in reply to a question, said that Monsieur would not be in the shop before five o
clock. But if a message could be conveyed—
“No I’ll come back,” Frédéric answered casually.
The following days were spent in search of housing; and he settled on an apartment in the second story of a furnished townhouse in the Rue Sainte-Hyacinthe.
With fresh blotting-paper under his arm, he set forth to attend the opening lecture of the course. Three hundred young men, bare-headed, filled an amphitheatre, where an old man in a red gown lectured in a monotone voice. Quill pens went scratching over the paper. In this hall he found once more the dusty odour of the school, a reading-desk of similar shape, the same wearisome monotony! For a fortnight he regularly continued his attendance at law lectures. But he left off studying the Civil Code before getting as far as Article3,
and he gave up the Institutes at theSumma Divisio Personarum.
The pleasures that he had promised himself did not come to him; and when he had exhausted the resources of a circulating library, gone over the collections in the Louvre, and been at the theatre a great many nights in succession, he sank into the lowest depths of idleness. A thousand new things added to his depression. He had to keep track of his linens and put up with the concierge, who reminded him of a male hospital nurse who came in the morning to make up his bed, smelling of alcohol and grunting. He did not like his room, which was decorated with an alabaster clock. The walls were thin; he could hear the students making punch, laughing and singing.
Tired of this solitude, he sought out one of his old schoolfellows named Baptiste Martinon; and he discovered this boyhood friend in a middle-class boarding-house on the Rue Saint-Jacques, cramming legal procedure before a coal fire.
A woman in a print dress sat opposite him darning his socks.
Martinon was what people call a good looking fellow—tall, plump with regular features, and blue eyes. His father, an extensive landowner, had destined him for law; and wishing already to present a serious exterior, he wore his beard trimmed in a fringe.
As there was no rational foundation for Frédéric’s complaints, and as he could not give evidence of any misfortune, Martinon was unable in any way to understand his lamentations about existence. As for him, he went every morning to the school, after that took a walk in the Luxembourg gardens, in the evening swallowed his half-cup of coffee; and with fifteen hundred francs a year, and the love of this working woman, his companion, he felt perfectly happy.
“What happiness!” was Frédéric’s internal comment.
At the school he had formed another acquaintance, a youth from an aristocratic family, who on account of his dainty manners, was like a girl.
M. de Cisy devoted himself to drawing, and loved the Gothic style. They frequently went together to admire the Sainte-Chapelle and Nôtre Dame. But the young patrician’s status and airs covered an intellect of the feeblest order. Everything took him by surprise. He laughed wildly at the most trifling joke, and displayed such utter simplicity that Frédéric at first took him for a jokester, and finally regarded him as an imbecile.
The young man found it impossible, therefore, to be open with anyone; and he was constantly looking for an invitation from the Dambreuses.
On New Year’s Day, he sent them visiting-cards, but received none in return.
He made his way back to the office ofL