A Start in Life

A Start in Life

A START IN LIFE HONORE DE BALZAC CHAPTER I THAT WHICH WAS LACKING TO PIERROTIN'S HAPPINESS Railroads in a future not far distant must force certain industries to disappear forever and modify several others more especially those relating to the different modes of transportation in use around Paris. Therefore the persons and things which are the elements of this Scene will soon give to it the character of an archaeological work. Our nephews ought to be enchanted to learn the social material of an epoch which they will call the "olden time." The picturesque "coucous" which stood on the Place de la Concorde encumbering the Cours-la-Reine-- coucous which had flourished for a century and were still numerous in 1830 scarcely exist in 1842 unless on the occasion of some attractive suburban solemnity like that of the Grandes Eaux of Versailles. In 1820 the various celebrated places called the "Environs of Paris" did not all possess a regular stage-coach service. Nevertheless the Touchards father and son had acquired a monopoly of travel and transportation to all the populous towns within a radius of forty-five miles; and their enterprise constituted a fine establishment in the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis. In spite of their long-standing rights in spite too of their efforts their capital and all the advantages of a powerful centralization the Touchard coaches ("messageries") found terrible competition in the coucous for all points with a circumference of fifteen or twenty miles. The passion of the Parisian for the country is such that local enterprise could successfully compete with the Lesser Stage company--Petites Messageries the name given to the Touchard enterprise to distinguish it from that of the Grandes Messageries of the rue Montmartre. At the time of which we write the Touchard success was stimulating speculators. For every small locality in the neighborhood of Paris there sprang up schemes of beautiful rapid and commodious vehicles departing and arriving in Paris at fixed hours which produced naturally a fierce competition. Beaten on the long distances of twelve to eighteen miles the coucou came down to shorter trips and so lived on for several years. At last however it succumbed to omnibuses which demonstrated the possibility of carrying eighteen persons in a vehicle drawn by two horses. To-day the coucous--if by chance any of those birds of ponderous flight still linger in the second-hand carriage-shops--might be made as to its structure and arrangement the subject of learned researches comparable to those of Cuvier on the animals discovered in the chalk pits of Montmartre. These petty enterprises which had struggled since 1822 against the Touchards usually found a strong foothold in the good-will and sympathy of the inhabitants of the districts which they served. The person undertaking the business as proprietor and conductor was nearly always an inn-keeper along the route to whom the beings things and interests with which he had to do were all familiar. He could execute commissions intelligently; he never asked as much for his little stages and therefore obtained more custom than the Touchard coaches. He managed to elude the necessity of a custom-house permit. If need were he was willing to infringe the law as to the number of passengers he might carry. In short he possessed the affection of the masses; and thus it happened that whenever a rival came upon the same route if his days for running were not the same as those of the coucou travellers would put off their journey to make it with their long-tried coachman although his vehicle and his horses might be in a far from reassuring condition. One of the lines which the Touchards father and son endeavored to monopolize and the one most stoutly disputed (as indeed it still is) is that of Paris to Beaumont-sur-Oise--a line extremely profitable for three rival enterprises worked it in 1822. In vain the Touchards lowered their price; in vain they constructed better coaches and started oftener. Competition still continued so productive is a line on which are little towns like Saint-Denis and Saint-Brice and villages like Pierrefitte Groslay Ecouen Poncelles Moisselles Monsoult Maffliers Franconville Presles Nointel Nerville etc. The Touchard coaches finally extended their route to Chambly; but competition followed. To-day the Toulouse a rival enterprise goes as far as Beauvais. Along this route which is that toward England there lies a road which turns off at a place well-named in view of its topography The Cave and leads through a most delightful valley in the basin of the Oise to the little town of Isle-Adam doubly celebrated as the cradle of the family now extinct of Isle-Adam and also as the former residence of the Bourbon-Contis. Isle-Adam is a little town flanked by two large villages Nogent and Parmain both remarkable for splendid quarries which have furnished material for many of the finest buildings in modern Paris and in foreign lands--for the base and capital of the columns of the Brussels theatre are of Nogent stone. Though remarkable for its beautiful sites for the famous chateaux which princes monks and designers have built such as Cassan Stors Le Val Nointel Persan etc. this region had escaped competition in 1822 and was reached by two coaches only working more or less in harmony. This exception to the rule of rivalry was founded on reasons that are easy to understand. From the Cave the point on the route to England where a paved road (due to the luxury of the Princes of Conti) turned off to Isle-Adam the distance is six miles. No speculating enterprise would make such a detour for Isle-Adam was the terminus of the road which did not go beyond it. Of late years another road has been made between the valley of Montmorency and the valley of the Oise; but in 1822 the only road which led to Isle-Adam was the paved highway of the Princes of Conti. Pierrotin and his colleague reigned therefore from Paris to Isle-Adam beloved by every one along the way. Pierrotin's vehicle together with that of his comrade and Pierrotin himself were so well known that even the inhabitants on the main road as far as the Cave were in the habit of using them; for there was always better chance of a seat to be had than in the Beaumont coaches which were almost always full. Pierrotin and his competitor were on the best of terms. When the former started from Isle-Adam the latter was returning from Paris and vice versa. It is unnecessary to speak of the rival. Pierrotin possessed the sympathies of his region; besides he is the only one of the two who appears in this veracious narrative. Let it suffice you to know that the two coach proprietors lived under a good understanding rivalled each other loyally and obtained customers by honorable proceedings. In Paris they used for economy's sake the same yard hotel and stable the same coach-house office and clerk. This detail is alone sufficient to show that Pierrotin and his competitor were as the popular saying is "good dough." The hotel at which they put up in Paris at the corner of the rue d'Enghien is still there and is called the "Lion d'Argent." The proprietor of the establishment which from time immemorial had lodged coachmen and coaches drove himself for the great company of Daumartin which was so firmly established that its neighbors the Touchards whose place of business was directly opposite never dreamed of starting a rival coach on the Daumartin line. Though the departures for Isle-Adam professed to take place at a fixed hour Pierrotin and his co-rival practised an indulgence in that respect which won for them the grateful affection of the country- people and also violent remonstrances on the part of strangers accustomed to the regularity of the great lines of public conveyances. But the two conductors of these vehicles which were half diligence half coucou were invariably defended by their regular customers. The afternoon departure at four o'clock usually lagged on till half-past while that of the morning fixed for eight o'clock was seldom known to take place before nine. In this respect however the system was elastic. In summer that golden period for the coaching business the rule of departure rigorous toward strangers was often relaxed for country customers. This method not infrequently enabled Pierrotin to pocket two fares for one place if a countryman came early and wanted a seat already booked and paid for by some "bird of passage" who was unluckily for himself a little late. Such elasticity will certainly not commend itself to purists in morality; but Pierrotin and his colleague justified it on the varied grounds of "hard times" of their losses during the winter months of the necessity of soon getting better coaches and of the duty of keeping exactly to the rules written on the tariff copies of which were however never shown unless some chance traveller was obstinate enough to demand it. Pierrotin a man about forty years of age was already the father of a family. Released from the cavalry on the great disbandment of 1815 the worthy fellow had succeeded his father who for many years had driven a coucou of capricious flight between Paris and Isle-Adam. Having married the daughter of a small inn-keeper he enlarged his business made it a regular service and became noted for his intelligence and a certain military precision. Active and decided in his ways Pierrotin (the name seems to have been a sobriquet) contrived to give by the vivacity of his countenance an expression of sly shrewdness to his ruddy and weather-stained visage which suggested wit. He was not without that facility of speech which is acquired chiefly through "seeing life" and other countries. His voice by dint of talking to his horses and shouting "Gare!" was rough; but he managed to tone it down with the bourgeois. His clothing like that of all coachmen of the second class consisted of stout boots heavy with nails made at Isle-Adam trousers of bottle-green velveteen waistcoat of the same over which he wore while exercising his functions a blue blouse ornamented on the collar shoulder-straps and cuffs with many-colored embroidery. A cap with a visor covered his head. His military career had left in Pierrotin's manners and customs a great respect for all social superiority and a habit of obedience to persons of the upper classes; and though he never willingly mingled with the lesser bourgeoisie he always respected women in whatever station of life they belonged. Nevertheless by dint of "trundling the world"--one of his own expressions--he had come to look upon those he conveyed as so many walking parcels who required less care than the inanimate ones--the essential object of a coaching business. Warned by the general movement which since the Peace was revolutionizing his calling Pierrotin would not allow himself to be outdone by the progress of new lights. Since the beginning of the summer season he had talked much of a certain large coach ordered from Farry Breilmann and Company the best makers of diligences--a purchase necessitated by an increasing influx of travellers. Pierrotin's present establishment consisted of two vehicles. One which served in winter and the only one he reported to the tax- gatherer was the coucou which he inherited from his father. The rounded flanks of this vehicle allowed him to put six travellers on two seats of metallic hardness in spite of the yellow Utrecht velvet with which they were covered. These seats were separated by a wooden bar inserted in the sides of the carriage at the height of the travellers' shoulders which could be placed or removed at will. This bar specially covered with velvet (Pierrotin called it "a back") was the despair of the passengers from the great difficulty they found in placing and removing it. If the "back" was difficult and even painful to handle that was nothing to the suffering caused to the omoplates when the bar was in place. But when it was left to lie loose across the coach it made both ingress and egress extremely perilous especially to women. Though each seat of this vehicle with rounded sides like those of a pregnant woman could rightfully carry only three passengers it was ...