A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

A DISTINGUISHED PROVINCIAL AT PARIS HONORE DE BALZAC PART I Mme. de Bargeton and Lucien de Rubempre had left Angouleme behind and were traveling together upon the road to Paris. Not one of the party who made that journey alluded to it afterwards; but it may be believed that an infatuated youth who had looked forward to the delights of an elopement must have found the continual presence of Gentil the man- servant and Albertine the maid not a little irksome on the way. Lucien traveling post for the first time in his life was horrified to see pretty nearly the whole sum on which he meant to live in Paris for a twelvemonth dropped along the road. Like other men who combine great intellectual powers with the charming simplicity of childhood he openly expressed his surprise at the new and wonderful things which he saw and thereby made a mistake. A man should study a woman very carefully before he allows her to see his thoughts and emotions as they arise in him. A woman whose nature is large as her heart is tender can smile upon childishness and make allowances; but let her have ever so small a spice of vanity herself and she cannot forgive childishness or littleness or vanity in her lover. Many a woman is so extravagant a worshiper that she must always see the god in her idol; but there are yet others who love a man for his sake and not for their own and adore his failings with his greater qualities. Lucien had not guessed as yet that Mme. de Bargeton's love was grafted on pride. He made another mistake when he failed to discern the meaning of certain smiles which flitted over Louise's lips from time to time; and instead of keeping himself to himself he indulged in the playfulness of the young rat emerging from his hole for the first time. The travelers were set down before daybreak at the sign of the Gaillard-Bois in the Rue de l'Echelle both so tired out with the journey that Louise went straight to bed and slept first bidding Lucien to engage the room immediately overhead. Lucien slept on till four o'clock in the afternoon when he was awakened by Mme. de Bargeton's servant and learning the hour made a hasty toilet and hurried downstairs. Louise was sitting in the shabby inn sitting-room. Hotel accommodation is a blot on the civilization of Paris; for with all its pretensions to elegance the city as yet does not boast a single inn where a well- to-do traveler can find the surroundings to which he is accustomed at home. To Lucien's just-awakened sleep-dimmed eyes Louise was hardly recognizable in this cheerless sunless room with the shabby window- curtains the comfortless polished floor the hideous furniture bought second-hand or much the worse for wear. Some people no longer look the same when detached from the background of faces objects and surroundings which serve as a setting without which indeed they seem to lose something of their intrinsic worth. Personality demands its appropriate atmosphere to bring out its values just as the figures in Flemish interiors need the arrangement of light and shade in which they are placed by the painter's genius if they are to live for us. This is especially true of provincials. Mme. de Bargeton moreover looked more thoughtful and dignified than was necessary now when no barriers stood between her and happiness. Gentil and Albertine waited upon them and while they were present Lucien could not complain. The dinner sent in from a neighboring restaurant fell far below the provincial average both in quantity and quality; the essential goodness of country fare was wanting and in point of quantity the portions were cut with so strict an eye to business that they savored of short commons. In such small matters Paris does not show its best side to travelers of moderate fortune. Lucien waited till the meal was over. Some change had come over Louise he thought but he could not explain it. And a change had in fact taken place. Events had occurred while he slept; for reflection is an event in our inner history and Mme. de Bargeton had been reflecting. About two o'clock that afternoon Sixte du Chatelet made his appearance in the Rue de l'Echelle and asked for Albertine. The sleeping damsel was roused and to her he expressed his wish to speak with her mistress. Mme. de Bargeton had scarcely time to dress before he came back again. The unaccountable apparition of M. du Chatelet roused the lady's curiosity for she had kept her journey a profound secret as she thought. At three o'clock the visitor was admitted. "I have risked a reprimand from headquarters to follow you" he said as he greeted her; "I foresaw coming events. But if I lose my post for it YOU at any rate shall not be lost." "What do you mean?" exclaimed Mme. de Bargeton. "I can see plainly that you love Lucien" he continued with an air of tender resignation. "You must love indeed if YOU can act thus recklessly and disregard the conventions which you know so well. Dear adored Nais can you really imagine that Mme. d'Espard's salon or any other salon in Paris will not be closed to you as soon as it is known that you have fled from Angouleme as it were with a young man especially after the duel between M. de Bargeton and M. de Chandour? The fact that your husband has gone to the Escarbas looks like a separation. Under such circumstances a gentleman fights first and afterwards leaves his wife at liberty. By all means give M. de Rubempre your love and your countenance; do just as you please; but you must not live in the same house. If anybody here in Paris knew that you had traveled together the whole world that you have a mind to see would point the finger at you. "And Nais do not make these sacrifices for a young man whom you have as yet compared with no one else; he on his side has been put to no proof; he may forsake you for some Parisienne better able as he may fancy to further his ambitions. I mean no harm to the man you love but you will permit me to put your own interests before his and to beg you to study him to be fully aware of the serious nature of this step that you are taking. And then if you find all doors closed against you and that none of the women call upon you make sure at least that you will feel no regret for all that you have renounced for him. Be very certain first that he for whom you will have given up so much will always be worthy of your sacrifices and appreciate them. "Just now" continued Chatelet "Mme. d'Espard is the more prudish and particular because she herself is separated from her husband nobody knows why. The Navarreins the Lenoncourts the Blamont-Chauvrys and the rest of the relations have all rallied round her; the most strait- laced women are seen at her house and receive her with respect and the Marquis d'Espard has been put in the wrong. The first call that you pay will make it clear to you that I am right; indeed knowing Paris as I do I can tell you beforehand that you will no sooner enter the Marquise's salon than you will be in despair lest she should find out that you are staying at the Gaillard-Bois with an apothecary's son though he may wish to be called M. de Rubempre. "You will have rivals here women far more astute and shrewd than Amelie; they will not fail to discover who you are where you are where you come from and all that you are doing. You have counted upon your incognito I see but you are one of those women for whom an incognito is out of the question. You will meet Angouleme at every turn. There are the deputies from the Charente coming up for the opening of the session; there is the Commandant in Paris on leave. Why the first man or woman from Angouleme who happens to see you would cut your career short in a strange fashion. You would simply be Lucien's mistress. "If you need me at any time I am staying with the Receiver-General in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore two steps away from Mme. d'Espard's. I am sufficiently acquainted with the Marechale de Carigliano Mme. de Serizy and the President of the Council to introduce you to those houses; but you will meet so many people at Mme. d'Espard's that you are not likely to require me. So far from wishing to gain admittance to this set or that every one will be longing to make your acquaintance." Chatelet talked on; Mme. de Bargeton made no interruption. She was struck with his perspicacity. The queen of Angouleme had in fact counted upon preserving her incognito. "You are right my dear friend" she said at length; "but what am I to do?" "Allow me to find suitable furnished lodgings for you" suggested Chatelet; "that way of living is less expensive than an inn. You will have a home of your own; and if you will take my advice you will sleep in your new rooms this very night." "But how did you know my address?" queried she. "Your traveling carriage is easily recognized; and besides I was following you. At Sevres your postilion told mine that he had brought you here. Will you permit me to act as your harbinger? I will write as soon as I have found lodgings." "Very well do so" said she. And in those seemingly insignificant words all was said. The Baron du Chatelet had spoken the language of worldly wisdom to a woman of the world. He had made his appearance before her in faultless dress a neat cab was waiting for him at the door; and Mme. de Bargeton standing by the window thinking over the position chanced to see the elderly dandy drive away. A few moments later Lucien appeared half awake and hastily dressed. He was handsome it is true; but his clothes his last year's nankeen trousers and his shabby tight jacket were ridiculous. Put Antinous or the Apollo Belvedere himself into a water-carrier's blouse and how shall you recognize the godlike creature of the Greek or Roman chisel? The eyes note and compare before the heart has time to revise the swift involuntary judgment; and the contrast between Lucien and Chatelet was so abrupt that it could not fail to strike Louise. Towards six o'clock that evening when dinner was over Mme. de Bargeton beckoned Lucien to sit beside her on the shabby sofa covered with a flowered chintz--a yellow pattern on a red ground. "Lucien mine" she said "don't you think that if we have both of us done a foolish thing suicidal for both our interests it would only be common sense to set matters right? We ought not to live together in Paris dear boy and we must not allow anyone to suspect that we traveled together. Your career depends so much upon my position that I ought to do nothing to spoil it. So to-night I am going to remove into lodgings near by. But you will stay on here we can see each other every day and nobody can say a word against us." And Louise explained conventions to Lucien who opened wide eyes. He had still to learn that when a woman thinks better of her folly she thinks better of her love; but one thing he understood--he saw that he was no longer the Lucien of Angouleme. Louise talked of herself of HER interests HER reputation and of the world; and to veil her egoism she tried to make him believe that this was all on his account. He had no claim upon Louise thus suddenly transformed into Mme. de Bargeton and more serious still he had no power over her. ...