The Lesser Bourgeoisie


"I have had other information about him. He belongs to the Peyrades, an old family of the 'comtat' of Avignon; he came here toward the end of 1829, to inquire about an uncle whose fortune was said to be considerable; he discovered the address of the old man only three days before his death; and the furniture of the deceased merely sufficed to bury him and pay his debts. A friend of this useless uncle gave a couple of hundred louis to the poor fortune-hunter, advising him to finish his legal studies and enter the judiciary career. Those two hundred louis supported him for three years in Paris, where he lived like an anchorite. But being unable to discover his unknown friend and benefactor, the poor student was in abject distress in 1833. He worked then, like so many other licentiates, in politics and literature, by which he kept himself for a time above want--for he had nothing to expect from his family. His father, the youngest brother of the dead uncle, has eleven other children, who live on a small estate called Les Canquoelles. He finally obtained a place on a ministerial newspaper, the manager of which was the famous Cerizet, so celebrated for the persecutions he met with, under the Restoration, on account of his attachment to the liberals,--a man whom the new Left will never forgive for having made his paper ministerial. As the government of these days does very little to protect even its most devoted servants (witness the Gisquet affair), the republicans have ended by ruining Cerizet. I tell you this to explain how it is that Cerizet is now a copying clerk in my office. Well, in the days when he flourished as managing editor of a paper directed by the Perier ministry against the incendiary journals, the 'Tribune' and others, Cerizet, who is a worthy fellow after all, though he is too fond of women, pleasure, and good living, was very useful to Theodose, who edited the political department of the paper; and if it hadn't been for the death of Casimir Perier that young man would certainly have received an appointment as substitute judge in Paris. As it was, he dropped back in 1834-35, in spite of his talent; for his connection with a ministerial journal of course did him harm. 'If it had not been for my religious principles,' he said to me, 'I should have thrown myself into the Seine.' However, it seems that the friend of his uncle must have heard of his distress, for again he sent him a sum of money;enough to complete his terms for the bar; but, strange to say, he has never known the name or the address of this mysterious benefactor.

After all, perhaps, under such circumstances, his economy is excusable, and he must have great strength of mind to refuse what the poor devils whose cases he wins by his devotion offer him. He is indignant at the way other lawyers speculate on the possibility or impossibility of poor creatures, unjustly sued, paying for the costs of their defence. Oh! he'll succeed in the end. I shouldn't be surprised to see that fellow in some very brilliant position; he has tenacity, honesty, and courage. He studies, he delves."Notwithstanding the favor with which he was greeted, la Peyrade went discreetly to the Thuilliers'. When reproached for this reserve he went oftener, and ended by appearing every Sunday; he was invited to all dinner-parties, and became at last so familiar in the house that whenever he came to see Thuillier about four o'clock he was always requested to take "pot-luck" without ceremony. Mademoiselle Thuillier used to say:--"Then we know that he will get a good dinner, poor fellow!"A social phenomenon which has certainly been observed, but never, as yet, formulated, or, if you like it better, published, though it fully deserves to be recorded, is the return of habits, mind, and manners to primitive conditions in certain persons who, between youth and old age, have raised themselves above their first estate. Thus Thuillier had become, once more, morally speaking, the son of a concierge. He now made use of many of his father's jokes, and a little of the slime of early days was beginning to appear on the surface of his declining life. About five or six times a month, when the soup was rich and good he would deposit his spoon in his empty plate and say, as if the proposition were entirely novel:--"That's better than a kick on the shin-bone!"On hearing that witticism for the first time Theodose, to whom it was really new, laughed so heartily that the handsome Thuillier was tickled in his vanity as he had never been before. After that, Theodose greeted the same speech with a knowing little smile. This slight detail will explain how it was that on the morning of the day when Theodose had his passage at arms with Vinet he had said to Thuillier, as they were walking in the garden to see the effect of a frost:--"You have much more wit than you give yourself credit for."To which he received this answer:--"In any other career, my dear Theodose, I should have made my way nobly; but the fall of the Emperor broke my neck.""There is still time," said the young lawyer. "In the first place, what did that mountebank, Colleville, ever do to get the cross?"There la Peyrade laid his finger on a sore wound which Thuillier hid from every eye so carefully that even his sister did not know of it;but the young man, interested in studying these bourgeois, had divined the secret envy that gnawed at the heart of the ex-official.

"If you, experienced as you are, will do the honor to follow my advice," added the philanthropist, "and, above all, not mention our compact to any one, I will undertake to have you decorated with the Legion of honor, to the applause of the whole quarter.""Oh! if we succeed in that," cried Thuillier, "you don't know what Iwould do for you."

This explains why Thuillier carried his head high when Theodose had the audacity that evening to put opinions into his mouth.

Honore de Balzac