By Charles Matthews

Friday, June 18, 2010

21. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 507-522

Part Three: An Inventor's Tribulations, The History of a Lawsuit, 7. The first thunderbolt; 8. A glance at paper-making; 9. Provincial solicitors
Eve has her baby, but David receives a letter from Lucien informing him about the forged bills and urging him, "Burn this letter and say nothing about it to my sister and mother." Given his wife's delicate condition, David thinks it best to follow Lucien's advice. He tells Eve that Lucien is in "frightful difficulties" and that he has sent "drafts for a thousand francs each, to be redeemed in one, two and three months."

Then Rastignac comes to stay for a few days with his family and spreads gossip about Lucien which, when Eve hears it, causes her to go speak with him. Rastignac tells her about Lucien's "liaison with Coralie, the duel with Michel Chrestien resulting from his treachery towards d'Arthez, in short all the details of Lucien's career." She is shocked, but she doesn't fully trust Rastignac's version of things, so she writes to d'Arthez. In his reply, he confirms the general outline of what Rastignac has told her, but also tells her about Lucien's visit to him with the first draft of the scathing review of his book, and that Lucien "was ashamed of what he was doing." He also tells her:
Your Lucien has poetry in him but is no real poet. He's a dreamer, not a thinker; he makes a great to-do but is not creative. Forgive me for saying so, but he's an effeminate little person who loves to show off -- and that is what is wrong with most Frenchmen. And so Lucien will always sacrifice his best friend in order to make a parade of wit.... If the vicissitudes of life -- his life is at present very wretched and at the mercy of chance -- should bring this dreamer back to you, use all your influence to keep him in the bosom of his family, for until he has acquired some stability of character Paris will always be a danger to him.
The news is so stunning that it causes Eve's breast milk to stop flowing and forces her to hire a wet nurse. David tries to reassure her that things will work out all right, but even in the midst of doing so he almost reveals the latest of Lucien's misdeeds: the forgery. And when Eve continues to worry about how they are going to meet the obligations forced on them by the attempt to help Lucien, David tries to console her by showing her the paper he has made in his experiments, saying that he plans "to be in paper-manufacture what Jacquard was in the weaving industry." 

But Cérizet and Boniface Cointet are spying on David -- Cérizet has even made a hole in the roof of the shed where David works in order to peek in on him. Cointet has a better plan -- when the renewal of the lease comes due, Cérizet will propose to become a master-printer and offer her half the value of the license and stock in the print-shop. The Cointet firm also dabbles in banking, and has just received Lucien's forged notes. Cointet then meets with a young solicitor named Pierre Petit-Claud, a tailor's son who is ambitious to rise in status and hopes to do so by marrying rich. Cointet knows just the mate for him: the illegitimate daughter of François du Hautoy and Madame de Sénonches. The latter now poses as her godmother. Cointet tells Petit-Claud, "I can get the girl for you. If you marry Françoise de La Haye, you'll add a large part of the aristocracy of Angoulême to your clientele" She's also worth thirty thousand francs.

Petit-Claud is interested, and all he has to do, Cointet tells him, is become David Séchard's solicitor, representing him in the legal proceedings to come when he's asked to pay up on the forged bills: "The poor devil has three thousand francs to pay us in bills: he won't be able to pay them, and you'll defend him against legal proceedings in such a way as to load him with enormous costs." Of course, Petit-Claud is to say that he has never met Cointet. The object, Cointet tells him, is not to ruin David "entirely. But we've got to hold him in prison for a time."

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