By Charles Matthews

Sunday, June 20, 2010

23. Lost Illusions, by Honoré de Balzac, pp. 548-572

Part Three: An Inventor's Tribulations, The History of a Lawsuit, 15. Climax; 16. Imprisonment for debt in the provinces; 17. An obdurate father; 18. The pack pauses before the kill
Lucien writes Eve to tell about Coralie's death and its effect on him: "I have lost many illusions here, and I shall lose many more as I go about begging for the little money I need in order to bury an angel's body in consecrated ground!" And he tells her in a postscript that "a worthy merchant of the name of Camusot" had come to his rescue.

But their reflections on Lucien's plight are interrupted by Marion's announcement that Doublon and his men are there to repossess everything. Petit-Claud arrives to reassure them that this won't happen, but also to inform them that they will owe legal fees even if they succeed in blocking Doublon, which Eve regards as a "remedy worse than the disease."

Old Séchard arrives too, and Petit-Claud informs him that he owes him "seven hundred francs for having intervened in this case," which enrages the old man. But when Petit-Claud asks him, "In an hour or two they'll try to get your son in prison. Will you let him be taken there?" Séchard, who has been playing with his grandson Lucien, "decided that they were staking on his paternal benevolence, and he was afraid of being exploited." He balks at helping his son: "David's such a scholar that he'll surely manage to pay his debts."

Petit-Claud, who is playing all sides for whatever he can get out of them, says,
"Listen to the truth: it's you who got David in his present predicament by selling; him your printing-works for three times its real value and you've ruined him by making him pay this exorbitant price.... You're making a pretence of prodigious love for you grandson in order to disguise the bankruptcy of your feelings for your son and daughter-in-law.... You fondle that little one so that you may appear to love someone in your family and not be taxed with hardheartedness." 
But the truth only gets Séchard's back up, which is in fact what Petit-Claud hopes will happen. Cointet has promised him that when David goes to prison, he'll be introduced to Madame de Sénonches and her ward.

Eve realizes at this point that Petit-Claud can't be trusted, and even the more naive David wonders how Petit-Claud knows so much about his father, not realizing the solicitor is involved with the Cointets and Métivier. When Petit-Claud leaves, he urges David to go see the Cointets and go into partnership with them on his invention. This is the first Séchard has heard of an invention, and Petit-Claud tells him it's a process for making paper more cheaply.
"One more trick for catching me," old Séchard cried. "You're all as thick as thieves. If David has made an invention like that he doesn't need me. He'll be a millionaire! Good-bye, my friends. Nothing doing." And the old man clattered downstairs. 
Balzac explains the obstacles that still remain in David's getting a patent: He needs not only a patent for the invention, but also a "patent of improvement" -- otherwise a competitor can come along and make a slight change in the invention and claim it for his own.

Eve, trying to figure out what Petit-Claud is up to, goes to see Milhaud, the deputy public attorney. (David's mother has just helped to deliver Milhaud's son.) He informs her that the lawyers "are battening on you!" but that there is little they can do other than pay what they owe. The situation, in short, is hopeless. But Kolb manages to overhear what Doublon, the Cointets and Cérizet are up to with regard to sending David to prison: "We'll leave him for a few days until he fells secure," Doublon says, "then we'll pounce on him some day before sunrise or sunset." And he tells them that he has men watching David's house. This is exactly what Kolb needs to know, so he hires a horse and goes back to the house, where he tells them what's afoot.

Eve realizes that the Cointets are behind the lawsuit, because they want to steal David's invention. And when Kolb proposes that they find a place for David to hide, she suggests that he go to Basine Clerget's. Kolb will go out with David, and when the bailiff's men see them he and David will get on the horse and ride away too fast for them to catch up. Meanwhile, Eve goes to see Postel to draw off suspicion and then sneaks over to Basine's to arrange a hiding place for David. When she gets home, Marion tells her, "They've gone."

When Kolb and David get to Marsac on the horse, David decides to go see his father again. Kolb scolds the old man, but David tells him "fathers are always in the right" and sends him off to stable the horse. David proposes to his father that he share in the profits from his invention in return for paying off the debt. Séchard can give him a shed in which to work "in which no one can see me." The old man protests,
"So you don't trust the man who brought you into the world."
"It's not that. I don't trust the man who robbed me of the means of living in it."
"You're right! Everyone for himself!" said the old man. "Very well, I'll put you in my store-room." 
And he agrees that if David can show him the product the next day, he'll give him "twenty-five thousand francs -- on condition that I get the same amount back every year." David says it's a deal.

Séchard gives David a little room in which he distills wine into brandy, which is exactly what David needs. But at two in the morning, Kolb catches Séchard peeking into the room through a hole he has made. He is sent away, and in the morning David brings him thirty sheets of paper he has made. The old man can find no fault with them, but he still wants further tests. And when David admits that there's still a problem with the process that makes the paper too expensive, Séchard withholds the money until that's solved. Unable to come to an agreement with him, David returns with Kolb to Angoulême, where David slips unseen into the room at Basine Clerget's house.

Séchard moves into an attic room at David's house and tries to wheedle Eve into disclosing the secret of David's invention. And he goes to see the Cointets, who tell him that if David's process works, they'll "go in fifty-fifty with him for his invention." Marion catches him trying to break into the shed where David has been conducting his experiments, and he bribes her with twelve francs not to tell Eve. She tells Eve anyway, because there's nothing of significance left in the shed.

David solves the remaining problem with the invention and writes a letter to Eve on the paper he has produced, enclosing some samples. She shows them to Séchard and says, "Give your son the price you get for your vintage and let him make his fortune. He'll repay you ten times over. He has reached success!" Séchard takes the samples to the Cointets, who admit that David has succeeded and say they'll pay off his debts if he'll go into partnership with them. The Cointets know that David will need capital to industrialize the process and to obtain the patents needed. But Séchard doesn't trust either them or his son:
"If I pay David's debts he'll be free, and once he's free he needn't take me on as a partner. He knows very well I swindled him in our first partnership, and won't feel like starting a second one. So it's in my interest to keep him in prison and down on his luck."
Similarly, the Cointets know that once David is out of debt they have no hold over him either. The only solution is to keep him in debt and in hiding. 

No comments:

Post a Comment