The Lesser Bourgeoisie


He had assured Thuillier that, after a short delay and the payment of ten thousand francs, to which his dear, good friend submitted with tolerable grace, the cross of the Legion of honor would arrive to realize the secret desire of all his life. Two months had now passed without a sign of that glorious rattle; and the former sub-director, who would have felt such joy in parading his red ribbon on the boulevard of the Madeleine, of which he was now one of the most assiduous promenaders, had nothing to adorn his buttonhole but the flowers of the earth, the privilege of everybody,--of which he was far less proud than Beranger.

La Peyrade had, to be sure, mentioned an unforeseen and inexplicable difficulty by which all the efforts of the Comtesse du Bruel had been paralyzed; but Thuillier did not take comfort in the explanation; and on certain days, when the disappointment became acute, he was very near saying with Chicaneau in Les Plaideurs, "Return my money."However, no outbreak happened, for la Peyrade held him in leash by the famous pamphlet on "Taxation and the Sliding-Scale"; the conclusion of which had been suspended during the excitement of the moving; for during that agitating period Thuillier had been unable to give proper care to the correction of proofs, about which, we may remember, he had reserved the right of punctilious examination. La Peyrade had now reached a point when he was forced to see that, in order to restore his influence, which was daily evaporating, he must strike some grand blow; and it was precisely this nagging and vexatious fancy about the proofs that the barrister decided to take as the starting-point of a scheme, both deep and adventurous, which came into his mind.

One day, when the pair were engaged on the sheets of the pamphlet, a discussion arose upon the word "nepotism," which Thuillier wished to eliminate from one of la Peyrade's sentences, declaring that never had he met with it anywhere; it was pure neologism--which, to the literary notions of the bourgeoisie, is equivalent to the idea of 1793 and the Terror.

Generally la Peyrade took the ridiculous remarks of his dear, good friend pretty patiently; but on this occasion he made himself exceedingly excited, and signified to Thuillier that he might terminate himself a work to which he applied such luminous and intelligent criticism; after which remark he departed and was not seen again for several days.

At first Thuillier supposed this outbreak to be a mere passing effect of ill-humor; but when la Peyrade's absence grew prolonged he felt the necessity of taking some conciliatory step, and accordingly he went to see the barrister, intending to make honorable amends and so put an end to his sulkiness. Wishing, however, to give this advance an air which allowed an honest issue to his own self-love, he entered la Peyrade's room with an easy manner, and said, cheerfully:--"Well, my dear fellow, it turns out that we were both right:

'nepotism' means the authority that the nephews of popes take in public affairs. I have searched the dictionary and it gives no other explanation; but, from what Phellion tells me, I find that in the political vocabulary the meaning of the word has been extended to cover the influence which corrupt ministers permit certain persons to exercise illegally. I think, therefore, that we may retain the expression, though it is certainly not taken in that sense by Napoleon Landais."La Peyrade, who, in receiving his visitor, had affected to be extremely busy in sorting his papers, contented himself by shrugging his shoulders and saying nothing.

Honore de Balzac