Eve and David by Honoré de Balzac.. - HTML preview
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Exchange at the rate of one and a quarter
per cent on 1024 fr. 20 c.. . . . . . . . 13 25
Total. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1037 45
One thousand and thirty-seven francs forty-five centimes, for which we repay ourselves by our draft at sight upon M. Metivier, Rue Serpente, Paris, payable to order of M. Gannerac of L'Houmeau.
ANGOULEME, May 2, 1822 COINTET BROTHERS.
At the foot of this little memorandum, drafted with the ease that comes of long practice (for the writer chatted with Doublon as he wrote), there appeared the subjoined form of declaration:--
"We, the undersigned, Postel of L'Houmeau, pharmaceutical chemist, and Gannerac, forwarding agent, merchant of this town, hereby certify that the present rate of exchange on Paris is one and a quarter per cent.
"ANGOULEME, May 2, 1822."
"Here, Doublon, be so good as to step round and ask Postel and Gannerac to put their names to this declaration, and bring it back with you to-morrow morning."
And Doublon, quite accustomed as he was to these instruments of torture, forthwith went, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. Evidently the protest might have been sent in an envelope, as in Paris, and even so all Angouleme was sure to hear of the poor Sechards' unlucky predicament. How they all blamed his want of business energy! His excessive fondness for his wife had been the ruin of him, according to some; others maintained that it was his affection for his brother-in-law; and what shocking conclusions did they not draw from these premises! A man ought never to embrace the interests of his kith and kin. Old Sechard's hard-hearted conduct met with approval, and people admired him for his treatment of his son!
And now, all you who for any reason whatsoever should forget to "honor your engagements," look well into the methods of the banking business, by which one thousand francs may be made to pay interest at the rate of twenty-eight francs in ten minutes, without breaking the law of the land.
The thousand francs, the one incontestable item in the account, comes first.
The second item is shared between the bailiff and the Inland Revenue Department. The six francs due to the State for providing a piece of stamped paper, and putting the debtor's mortification on record, will probably ensure a long life to this abuse; and as you already know, one franc fifty centimes from this item found its way into the banker's pockets in the shape of Doublon's rebate.
"Bank charges one-half per cent," runs the third item, which appears upon the ingenious plea that if a banker has not received payment, he has for all practical purposes discounted a bill. And although the contrary may be the case, if you fail to receive a thousand francs, it seems to be very much the same thing as if you had paid them away.
Everybody who has discounted a bill knows that he has to pay more than the six per cent fixed by law; for a small percentage appears under the humble title of "charges," representing a premium on the financial genius and skill with which the capitalist puts his money out to interest. The more money he makes out of you, the more he asks.
Wherefore it would be undoubtedly cheaper to discount a bill with a fool, if fools there be in the profession of bill-discounting.
The law requires the banker to obtain a stock-broker's certificate for the rate of exchange. When a place is so unlucky as to boast no stock exchange, two merchants act instead. This is the significance of the item "brokerage"; it is a fixed charge of a quarter per cent on the amount of the protested bill. The custom is to consider the amount as paid to the merchants who act for the stock-broker, and the banker quietly puts the money into his cash-box. So much for the third item in this delightful account.
The fourth includes the cost of the piece of stamped paper on which the account itself appears, as well as the cost of the stamp for re-draft, as it is ingeniously named, viz., the banker's draft upon his colleague in Paris.
The fifth is a charge for postage and the legal interest due upon the amount for the time that it may happen to be absent from the banker's strong box.
The final item, the exchange, is the object for which the bank exists, which is to say, for the transmission of sums of money from one place to another.
Now, sift this account thoroughly, and what do you find? The method of calculation closely resembles Polichinelle's arithmetic in Lablache's Neapolitan song, "fifteen and five make twenty-two." The signatures of Messieurs Postel and Gannerac were obviously given to oblige in the way of business; the Cointets would act at need for Gannerac as Gannerac acted for the Cointets. It was a practical application of the well-known proverb, "Reach me the rhubarb and I will pass you the senna." Cointet Brothers, moreover, kept a standing account with Metivier; there was no need of a re-draft, and no re-draft was made. A returned bill between the two firms simply meant a debit or credit entry and another line in a ledger.
This highly-colored account, therefore, is reduced to the one thousand francs, with an additional thirteen francs for expenses of protest, and half per cent for a month's delay, one thousand and eighteen francs it may be in all.
Suppose that in a large banking-house a bill for a thousand francs is daily protested on an average, then the banker receives twenty-eight francs a day by the grace of God and the constitution of the banking system, that all powerful invention due to the Jewish intellect of the Middle Ages, which after six centuries still controls monarchs and peoples. In other words, a thousand francs would bring such a house twenty-eight francs per day, or ten thousand two hundred and twenty francs per annum. Triple the average of protests, and consequently of expenses, and you shall derive an income of thirty thousand francs per annum, interest upon purely fictitious capital. For which reason, nothing is more lovingly cultivated than these little "accounts of expenses."
If David Sechard had come to pay his bill on the 3rd of May, that is, the day after it was protested, MM. Cointet Brothers would have met him at once with, "We have returned your bill to M. Metivier,"
although, as a matter of fact, the document would have been lying upon the desk. A banker has a right to make out the account of expenses on the evening of the day when the bill is protested, and he uses the right to "sweat the silver crowns," in the country banker's phrase.
The Kellers, with correspondents all over the world, make twenty thousand francs per annum by charges for postage alone; accounts of expenses of protest pay for Mme. la Baronne de Nucingen's dresses, opera box, and carriage. The charge for postage is a more shocking swindle, because a house will settle ten matters of business in as many lines of a single letter. And of the tithe wrung from misfortune, the Government, strange to say! takes its share, and the national revenue is swelled by a tax on commercial failure. And the Bank? from the august height of a counting-house she flings an observation, full of commonsense, at the debtor, "How is it?" asks she, "that you cannot meet your bill?" and, unluckily, there is no reply to the question.
Wherefore, the "account of expenses" is an account bristling with dreadful fictions, fit to cause any debtor, who henceforth shall reflect upon this instructive page, a salutary shudder.
On the 4th of May, Metivier received the account from Cointet Brothers, with instructions to proceed against M. Lucien Chardon, otherwise de Rubempre, with the utmost rigor of the law.
Eve also wrote to M. Metivier, and a few days later received an answer which reassured her completely:--
To M. Sechard, Junior, Printer, Angouleme.
"I have duly received your esteemed favor of the 5th instant. From your explanation of the bill due on April 30th, I understand that you have obliged your brother-in-law, M. de Rubempre, who is spending so much that it will be doing you a service to summons him. His present position is such that he is likely to delay payment for long. If your brother-in-law should refuse payment, I shall rely upon the credit of your old-established house.--I sign myself now, as ever, your obedient servant,
"Well," said Eve, commenting upon the letter to David, "Lucien will know when they summons him that we could not pay."
What a change wrought in Eve those few words meant! The love that grew deeper as she came to know her husband's character better and better, was taking the place of love for her brother in her heart. But to how many illusions had she not bade farewell?
And now let us trace out the whole history of the bill and the account of expenses in the business world of Paris. The law enacts that the third holder, the technical expression for the third party into whose hands the bill passes, is at liberty to proceed for the whole amount against any one of the various endorsers who appears to him to be most likely to make prompt payment. M. Metivier, using this discretion, served a summons upon Lucien. Behold the successive stages of the proceedings, all of them perfectly futile. Metivier, with the Cointets behind him, knew that Lucien was not in a position to pay, but insolvency in fact is not insolvency in law until it has been formally proved.
Formal proof of Lucien's inability to pay was obtained in the following manner:
On the 5th of May, Metivier's process-server gave Lucien notice of the protest and an account of the expense thereof, and summoned him to appear before the Tribunal of Commerce, or County Court, of Paris, to hear a vast number of things: this, among others, that he was liable to imprisonment as a merchant. By the time that Lucien, hard pressed and hunted down on all sides, read this jargon, he received notice of judgment against him by default. Coralie, his mistress, ignorant of the whole matter, imagined that Lucien had obliged his brother-in-law, and handed him all the documents together--too late. An actress sees so much of bailiffs, duns, and writs, upon the stage, that she looks on all stamped paper as a farce.
Tears filled Lucien's eyes; he was unhappy on Sechard's account, he was ashamed of the forgery, he wished to pay, he desired to gain time.
Naturally he took counsel of his friends. But by the time Lousteau, Blondet, Bixiou, and Nathan had told the poet to snap his fingers at a court only established for tradesmen, Lucien was already in the clutches of the law. He beheld upon his door the little yellow placard which leaves its reflection on the porter's countenance, and exercises a most astringent influence upon credit; striking terror into the heart of the smallest tradesman, and freezing the blood in the veins of a poet susceptible enough to care about the bits of wood, silken rags, dyed woolen stuffs, and multifarious gimcracks entitled furniture.
When the broker's men came for Coralie's furniture, the author of the Marguerites fled to a friend of Bixiou's, one Desroches, a barrister, who burst out laughing at the sight of Lucien in such a state about nothing at all.
"That is nothing, my dear fellow. Do you want to gain time?"
"Yes, as much possible."
"Very well, apply for stay of execution. Go and look up Masson, he is a solicitor in the Commercial Court, and a friend of mine. Take your documents to him. He will make a second application for you, and give notice of objection to the jurisdiction of the court. There is not the least difficulty; you are a journalist, your name is well known enough. If they summons you before a civil court, come to me about it, that will be my affair; I engage to send anybody who offers to annoy the fair Coralie about his business."
On the 28th of May, Lucien's case came on in the civil court, and judgment was given before Desroches expected it. Lucien's creditor was pushing on the proceedings against him. A second execution was put in, and again Coralie's pilasters were gilded with placards. Desroches felt rather foolish; a colleague had "caught him napping," to use his own expression. He demurred, not without reason, that the furniture belonged to Mlle. Coralie, with whom Lucien was living, and demanded an order for inquiry. Thereupon the judge referred the matter to the registrar for inquiry, the furniture was proved to belong to the actress, and judgment was entered accordingly. Metivier appealed, and judgment was confirmed on appeal on the 30th of June.
On the 7th of August, Maitre Cachan received by the coach a bulky package endorsed, "Metivier versus Sechard and Lucien Chardon."
The first document was a neat little bill, of which a copy (accuracy guaranteed) is here given for the reader's benefit:--
To Bill due the last day of April, drawn by
SECHARD, JUNIOR, to order of LUCIEN DE
RUBEMPRE, together with expenses of fr. c.
protest and return. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1037 45
May 5th--Serving notice of protest and
summons to appear before the
Tribunal of Commerce in
Paris, May 7th . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 75
" 7th--Judgment by default and
warrant of arrest. . . . . . . . . . . . . 35 --
" 10th--Notification of judgment . . . . . . . . . 8 50
" 12th--Warrant of execution . . . . . . . . . . . 5 50
" 14th--Inventory and appraisement
previous to execution. . . . . . . . . . . 16 --
" 18th--Expenses of affixing placards. . . . . . . 15 25
" 19th--Registration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 --
" 24th--Verification of inventory, and
application for stay of execution
on the part of the said
Lucien de Rubempre, objecting
to the jurisdiction of the Court. . . . . . 12 --
" 27th--Order of the Court upon application duly repeated, and transfer of
of case to the Civil Court. . . . . . . . . 35 --
Carried forward. . . . . . . . . . . . 1177 45
Brought forward 1177 45
May 28th--Notice of summary proceedings in
the Civil Court at the instance
of Metivier, represented by
counsel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 50
June 2nd--Judgment, after hearing both
parties, condemning Lucien for
expenses of protest and return;
the plaintiff to bear costs
of proceedings in the
Commercial Court. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150 --
" 6th--Notification of judgment. . . . . . . . . . 10 --
" 15th--Warrant of execution. . . . . . . . . . . . 5 50
" 19th--Inventory and appraisement preparatory to execution; interpleader summons by
the Demoiselle Coralie, claiming goods
and chattels taken in execution; demand
for immediate special inquiry before
further proceedings be taken . . . . . . . 20 --
" " --Judge's order referring matter to registrar for immediate special inquiry. . 40 --
" " --Judgment in favor of the said Mademoiselle Coralie . . . . . . . . . . . 250 --
" 20th--Appeal by Metivier . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 --
" 30th--Confirmation of judgment . . . . . . . . . 250 --
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1926 45
Bill matured May 31st, with expenses of fr. c.
protest and return. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1037 45
Serving notice of protest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 75
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1046 20
Bill matured June 30th, with expenses of
protest and return. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1037 45
Serving notice of protest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 75
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1046 20
This document was accompanied by a letter from Metivier, instructing Maitre Cachan, notary of Angouleme, to prosecute David Sechard with the utmost rigor of the law. Wherefore Maitre Victor-Ange-Hermenegilde Doublon summoned David Sechard before the Tribunal of Commerce in Angouleme for the sum-total of four thousand and eighteen francs eighty-five centimes, the amount of the three bills and expenses already incurred. On the morning of the very day when Doublon served the writ upon Eve, requiring her to pay a sum so enormous in her eyes, there came a letter like a thunderbolt from Metivier:--
To Monsieur Sechard, Junior, Printer, Angouleme.
"SIR,--Your brother-in-law, M. Chardon, is so shamelessly dishonest, that he declares his furniture to be the property of an actress with whom he is living. You ought to have informed me candidly of these circumstances, and not have allowed me to go to useless expense over law proceedings. I have received no answer to my letter of the 10th of May last. You must not, therefore, take it amiss if I ask for immediate repayment of the three bills and the expenses to which I have been put.--Yours, etc.,
Eve had heard nothing during these months, and supposed, in her ignorance of commercial law, that her brother had made reparation for his sins by meeting the forged bills.
"Be quick, and go at once to Petit-Claud, dear," she said; "tell him about it, and ask his advice."
David hurried to his schoolfellow's office.
"When you came to tell me of your appointment and offered me your services, I did not think that I should need them so soon," he said.
Petit-Claud studied the fine face of this man who sat opposite him in the office chair, and scarcely listened to the details of the case, for he knew more of them already than the speaker. As soon as he saw Sechard's anxiety, he said to himself, "The trick has succeeded."
This kind of comedy is often played in an attorney's office. "Why are the Cointets persecuting him?" Petit-Claud wondered within himself, for the attorney can use his wit to read his clients' thoughts as clearly as the ideas of their opponents, and it is his business to see both sides of the judicial web.
"You want to gain time," he said at last, when Sechard had come to an end. "How long do you want? Something like three or four months?"
"Oh! four months! that would be my salvation," exclaimed David. Petit-Claud appeared to him as an angel.
"Very well. No one shall lay hands on any of your furniture, and no one shall arrest you for four months----But it will cost you a great deal," said Petit-Claud.
"Eh! what does that matter to me?" cried Sechard.
"You are expecting some money to come in; but are you sure of it?"
asked Petit-Claud, astonished at the way in which his client walked into the toils.
"In three months' time I shall have plenty of money," said the inventor, with an inventor's hopeful confidence.
"Your father is still above ground," suggested Petit-Claud; "he is in no hurry to leave his vines."
"Do you think that I am counting on my father's death?" returned David. "I am on the track of a trade secret, the secret of making a sheet of paper as strong as Dutch paper, without a thread of cotton in it, and at a cost of fifty per cent less than cotton pulp."
"There is a fortune in that!" exclaimed Petit-Claud. He knew now what the tall Cointet meant.
"A large fortune, my friend, for in ten years' time the demand for paper will be ten times larger than it is to-day. Journalism will be the craze of our day."
"Nobody knows your secret?"
"Nobody except my wife."
"You have not told any one what you mean to do--the Cointets, for example?"
"I did say something about it, but in general terms, I think."
A sudden spark of generosity flashed through Petit-Claud's rancorous soul; he tried to reconcile Sechard's interests with the Cointet's projects and his own.
"Listen, David, we are old schoolfellows, you and I; I will fight your case; but understand this clearly--the defence, in the teeth of the law, will cost you five or six thousand francs! Do not compromise your prospects. I think you will be compelled to share the profits of your invention with some one of our paper manufacturers. Let us see now.
You will think twice before you buy or build a paper mill; and there is the cost of the patent besides. All this means time, and money too.
The servers of writs will be down upon you too soon, perhaps, although we are going to give them the slip----"
"I have my secret," said David, with the simplicity of the man of books.
"Well and good, your secret will be your plank of safety," said Petit-Claud; his first loyal intention of avoiding a lawsuit by a compromise was frustrated. "I do not wish to know it; but mind this that I tell you. Work in the bowels of the earth if you can, so that no one may watch you and gain a hint from your ways of working, or your plank will be stolen from under your feet. An inventor and a simpleton often live in the same skin. Your mind runs so much on your secrets that you cannot think of everything. People will begin to have their suspicions at last, and the place is full of paper manufacturers. So many manufacturers, so many enemies for you! You are like a beaver with the hunters about you; do not give them your skin----"
"Thank you, dear fellow, I have told myself all this," exclaimed Sechard, "but I am obliged to you for showing so much concern for me and for your forethought. It does not really matter to me myself. An income of twelve hundred francs would be enough for me, and my father ought by rights to leave me three times as much some day. Love and thought make up my life--a divine life. I am working for Lucien's sake and for my wife's."
"Come, give me this power of attorney, and think of nothing but your discovery. If there should be any danger of arrest, I will let you know in time, for we must think of all possibilities. And let me tell you again to allow no one of whom you are not so sure as you are of yourself to come into your place."
"Cerizet did not care to continue the lease of the plant and premises, hence our little money difficulties. We have no one at home now but Marion and Kolb, an Alsacien as trusty as a dog, and my wife and her mother----"
"One word," said Petit-Claud, "don't trust that dog----"
"You do not know him," exclaimed David; "he is like a second self."
"May I try him?"
"Yes," said Sechard.
"There, good-bye, but send Mme. Sechard to me; I must have a power of attorney from your wife. And bear in mind, my friend, that there is a fire burning in your affairs," said Petit-Claud, by way of warning of all the troubles gathering in the law courts to burst upon David's head.
"Here am I with one foot in Burgundy and the other in Champagne," he added to himself as he closed the office door on David.
Harassed by money difficulties, beset with fears for his wife's health, stung to the quick by Lucien's disgrace, David had worked on at his problem. He had been trying to find a single process to replace the various operations of pounding and maceration to which all flax or cotton or rags, any vegetable fibre, in fact, must be subjected; and as he went to Petit-Claud's office, he abstractedly chewed a bit of nettle stalk that had been steeping in water. On his way home, tolerably satisfied with his interview, he felt a little pellet sticking between his teeth. He laid it on his hand, flattened it out, and saw that the pulp was far superior to any previous result. The want of cohesion is the great drawback of all vegetable fibre; straw, for instance, yields a very brittle paper, which may almost be called metallic and resonant. These chances only befall bold inquirers into Nature's methods!
"Now," said he to himself, "I must contrive to do by machinery and some chemical agency the thing that I myself have done unconsciously."
When his wife saw him, his face was radiant with belief in victory.
There were traces of tears in Eve's face.
"Oh! my darling, do not trouble yourself; Petit-Claud will guarantee that we shall not be molested for several months to come. There will be a good deal of expense over it; but, as Petit-Claud said when he came to the door with me, 'A Frenchman has a right to keep his creditors waiting, provided he repays them capital, interest, and costs.'--Very well, then, we shall do that----"
"And live meanwhile?" asked poor Eve, who thought of everything.
"Ah! that is true," said David, carrying his hand to his ear after the unaccountable fashion of most perplexed mortals.
"Mother will look after little Lucien, and I can go back to work again," said she.
"Eve! oh, my Eve!" cried David, holding his wife closely to him.--"At Saintes, not very far from here, in the sixteenth century, there lived one of the very greatest of Frenchmen, for he was not merely the inventor of glaze, he was the glorious precursor of Buffon and Cuvier besides; he was the first geologist, good, simple soul that he was.
Bernard Palissy endured the martyrdom appointed for all seekers into secrets but his wife and children and all his neighbors were against him. His wife used to sell his tools; nobody understood him, he wandered about the countryside, he was hunted down, they jeered at him. But I--am loved----"
"Dearly loved!" said Eve, with the quiet serenity of the love that is sure of itself.
"And so may well endure all that poor Bernard Palissy suffered--
Bernard Palissy, the discoverer of Ecouen ware, the Huguenot excepted by Charles IX. on the day of Saint-Bartholomew. He lived to be rich and honored in his old age, and lectured on the 'Science of Earths,'
as he called it, in the face of Europe."
"So long as my fingers can hold an iron, you shall want for nothing,"
cried the poor wife, in tones that told of the deepest devotion. "When I was Mme. Prieur's forewoman I had a friend among the girls, Basine Clerget, a cousin of Postel's, a very good child; well, Basine told me the other day when she brought back the linen, that she was taking Mme. Prieur's business; I will work for her."
"Ah! you shall not work there for long," said David; "I have found out----"
Eve, watching his face, saw the sublime belief in success which sustains the inventor, the belief that gives him courage to go forth into the virgin forests of the country of Discovery; and, for the first time in her life, she answered that confident look with a half-sad smile. David bent his head mournfully.
"Oh! my dear! I am not laughing! I did not doubt! It was not a sneer!"
cried Eve, on her knees before her husband. "But I see plainly now that you were right to tell me nothing about your experiments and your hopes. Ah! yes, dear, an inventor should endure the long painful travail of a great idea alone, he should not utter a word of it even to his wife. . . . A woman is a woman still. This Eve of yours could not help smiling when she heard you say, 'I have found out,' for the seventeenth time this month."
David burst out laughing so heartily at his own expense that Eve caught his hand in hers and kissed it reverently. It was a delicious moment for them both, one of those roses of love and tenderness that grow beside the desert paths of the bitterest poverty, nay, at times in yet darker depths.
As the storm of misfortune grew, Eve's courage redoubled; the greatness of her husband's nature, his inventor's simplicity, the tears that now and again she saw in the eyes of this dreamer of dreams with the tender heart,--all these things aroused in her an unsuspected energy of resistance. Once again she tried the plan that had succeeded so well already. She wrote to M. Metivier, reminding him that the printing office was for sale, offered to pay him out of the proceeds, and begged him not to ruin David with needless costs. Metivier received the heroic letter, and shammed dead. His head-clerk replied that in the absence of M. Metivier he could not take it upon himself to stay proceedings, for his employer had made it a rule to let the law take its course. Eve wrote again, offering this time to renew the bills and pay all the costs hitherto incurred. To this the clerk consented, provided that Sechard senior guaranteed payment. So Eve walked over to Marsac, taking Kolb and her mother with her. She braved the old vinedresser, and so charming was she, that the old man's face relaxed, and the puckers smoothed out at the sight of her; but when, with inward quakings, she came to speak of a guarantee, she beheld a sudden and complete change of the tippleographic countenance.
"If I allowed my son to put his hand to the lips of my cash box whenever he had a mind, he would plunge it deep into the vitals, he would take all I have!" cried old Sechard. "That is the way with children; they eat up their parents' purse. What did I do myself, eh?
_I_ never cost my parents a farthing. Your printing office is standing idle. The rats and the mice do all the printing that is done in it. . . . You have a pretty face; I am very fond of you; you are a careful, hard-working woman; but that son of mine!--Do you know what David is? I'll tell you--he is a scholar that will never do a stroke of work! If I had reared him, as I was reared myself, without knowing his letters, and if I had made a 'bear' of him, like his father before him, he would have money saved and put out to interest by now. . . .
Oh! he is my cross, that fellow is, look you! And, unluckily, he is all the family I have, for there is never like to be a later edition.
And when he makes you unhappy----"
Eve protested with a vehement gesture of denial.
"Yes, he does," affirmed old Sechard; "you had to find a wet-nurse for the child. Come, come, I know all about it, you are in the county court, and the whole town is talking about you. I was only a 'bear,'
_I_ have no book learning, _I_ was not foreman at the Didots', the first printers in the world; but yet I never set eyes on a bit of stamped paper. Do you know what I say to myself as I go to and fro among my vines, looking after them and getting in my vintage, and doing my bits of business?--I say to myself, 'You are taking a lot of trouble, poor old chap; working to pile one silver crown on another, you will leave a fine property behind you, and the bailiffs and the lawyers will get it all; . . . or else it will go in nonsensical notions and crotchets.'--Look you here, child; you are the mother of yonder little lad; it seemed to me as I held him at the font with Mme.
Chardon that I could see his old grandfather's copper nose on his face; very well, think less of Sechard and more of that little rascal.
I can trust no one but you; you will prevent him from squandering my property--my poor property."
"But, dear papa Sechard, your son will be a credit to you, you will see; he will make money and be a rich man one of these days, and wear the Cross of the Legion of Honor at his buttonhole."
"What is he going to do to get it?"
"You will see. But, meanwhile, would a thousand crowns ruin you? A thousand crowns would put an end to the proceedings. Well, if you cannot trust him, lend the money to me; I will pay it back; you could make it a charge on my portion, on my earnings----"
"Then has some one brought David into a court of law?" cried the vinedresser, amazed to find that the gossip was really true. "See what comes of knowing how to write your name! And how about my rent! Oh!
little girl, I must go to Angouleme at once and ask Cachan's advice, and see that I am straight. You did right well to come over.
Forewarned is forearmed."
After two hours of argument Eve was fain to go, defeated by the unanswerable dictum, "Women never understand business." She had come with a faint hope, she went back again almost heartbroken, and reached home just in time to receive notice of judgment; Sechard must pay Metivier in full. The appearance of a bailiff at a house door is an event in a country town, and Doublon had come far too often of late.
The whole neighborhood was talking about the Sechards. Eve dared not leave her house; she dreaded to hear the whispers as she passed.
"Oh! my brother, my brother!" cried poor Eve, as she hurried into the passage and up the stairs, "I can never forgive you, unless it was----"
"Alas! it was that, or suicide," said David, who had followed her.
"Let us say no more about it," she said quietly. "The woman who dragged him down into the depths of Paris has much to answer for; and your father, my David, is quite inexorable! Let us bear it in silence."
A discreet rapping at the door cut short some word of love on David's lips. Marion appeared, towing the big, burly Kolb after her across the outer room.
"Madame," said Marion, "we have known, Kolb and I, that you and the master were very much put about; and as we have eleven hundred francs of savings between us, we thought we could not do better than put them in the mistress' hands----"
"Die misdress," echoed Kolb fervently.
"Kolb," cried David, "you and I will never part. Pay a thousand francs on account to Maitre Cachan, and take a receipt for it; we will keep the rest. And, Kolb, no power on earth must extract a word from you as to my work, or my absences from home, or the things you may see me bring back; and if I send you to look for plants for me, you know, no human being must set eyes on you. They will try to corrupt you, my good Kolb; they will offer you thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of francs, to tell----"
"Dey may offer me millions," cried Kolb, "but not ein vort from me shall dey traw. Haf I not peen in der army, and know my orders?"
"Well, you are warned. March, and ask M. Petit-Claud to go with you as witness."
"Yes," said the Alsacien. "Some tay I hope to be rich enough to dust der chacket of dat man of law. I don't like his gountenance."
"Kolb is a good man, madame," said Big Marion; "he is as strong as a Turk, and as meek as a lamb. Just the one that would make a woman happy. It was his notion, too, to invest our savings this way--
'safings,' as he calls them. Poor man, if he doesn't speak right, he thinks right, and I understand him all the same. He has a notion of working for somebody else, so as to save us his keep----"
"Surely we shall be rich, if it is only to repay these good folk,"
said David, looking at his wife.
Eve thought it quite simple; it was no surprise to her to find other natures on a level with her own. The dullest--nay, the most indifferent--observer could have seen all the beauty of her nature in her way of receiving this service.
"You will be rich some day, dear master," said Marion; "your bread is ready baked. Your father has just bought another farm, he is putting by money for you; that he is."
And under the circumstances, did not Marion show an exquisite delicacy of feeling by belittling, as it were, her kindness in this way?
French procedure, like all things human, has its defects; nevertheless, the sword of justice, being a two-edged weapon, is excellently adapted alike for attack or defence. Procedure, moreover, has its amusing side; for when opposed, lawyers arrive at an understanding, as they well may do, without exchanging a word; through their manner of conducting their case, a suit becomes a kind of war waged on the lines laid down by the first Marshal Biron, who, at the siege of Rouen, it may be remembered, received his son's project for taking the city in two days with the remark, "You must be in a great hurry to go and plant cabbages!" Let two commanders-in-chief spare their troops as much as possible, let them imitate the Austrian generals who give the men time to eat their soup though they fail to effect a juncture, and escape reprimand from the Aulic Council; let them avoid all decisive measures, and they shall carry on a war for ever. Maitre Cachan, Petit-Claud, and Doublon, did better than the Austrian generals; they took for their example Quintus Fabius Cunctator--the Austrian of antiquity.
Petit-Claud, malignant as a mule, was not long in finding out all the advantages of his position. No sooner had Boniface Cointet guaranteed his costs than he vowed to lead Cachan a dance, and to dazzle the paper manufacturer with a brilliant display of genius in the creation of items to be charged to Metivier. Unluckily for the fame of the young forensic Figaro, the writer of this history is obliged to pass over the scene of his exploits in as great a hurry as if he trod on burning coals; but a single bill of costs, in the shape of the specimen sent from Paris, will no doubt suffice for the student of contemporary manners. Let us follow the example set us by the Bulletins of the Grande Armee, and give a summary of Petit-Claud's valiant feats and exploits in the province of pure law; they will be the better appreciated for concise treatment.
David Sechard was summoned before the Tribunal of Commerce at Angouleme for the 3rd of July, made default, and notice of judgment was served on the 8th. On the 10th, Doublon obtained an execution warrant, and attempted to put in an execution on the 12th. On this Petit-Claud applied for an interpleader summons, and served notice on Metivier for that day fortnight. Metivier made application for a hearing without delay, and on the 19th, Sechard's application was dismissed. Hard upon this followed notice of judgment, authorizing the issue of an execution warrant on the 22nd, a warrant of arrest on the 23rd, and bailiff's inventory previous to the execution on the 24th.
Metivier, Doublon, Cachan & Company were proceeding at this furious pace, when Petit-Claud suddenly pulled them up, and stayed execution by lodging notice of appeal on the Court-Royal. Notice of appeal, duly reiterated on the 25th of July, drew Metivier off to Poitiers.
"Come!" said Petit-Claud to himself, "there we are likely to stop for some time to come."
No sooner was the storm passed over to Poitiers, and an attorney practising in the Court-Royal instructed to defend the case, than Petit-Claud, a champion facing both ways, made application in Mme.
Sechard's name for the immediate separation of her estate from her husband's; using "all diligence" (in legal language) to such purpose, that he obtained an order from the court on the 28th, and inserted notice at once in the Charente Courier. Now David the lover had settled ten thousand francs upon his wife in the marriage contract, making over to her as security the fixtures of the printing office and the household furniture; and Petit-Claud therefore constituted Mme.
Sechard her husband's creditor for that small amount, drawing up a statement of her claims on the estate in the presence of a notary on the 1st of August.
While Petit-Claud was busy securing the household property of his clients, he gained the day at Poitiers on the point of law on which the demurrer and appeals were based. He held that, as the court of the Seine had ordered the plaintiff to pay costs of proceedings in the Paris commercial court, David was so much the less liable for expenses of litigation incurred upon Lucien's account. The Court-Royal took this view of the case, and judgment was entered accordingly. David Sechard was ordered to pay the amount in dispute in the Angouleme Court, less the law expenses incurred in Paris; these Metivier must pay, and each side must bear its own costs in the appeal to the Court-Royal.
David Sechard was duly notified of the result on the 17th of August.
On the 18th the judgment took the practical shape of an order to pay capital, interest, and costs, followed up by notice of an execution for the morrow. Upon this Petit-Claud intervened and put in a claim for the furniture as the wife's property duly separated from her husband's; and what was more, Petit-Claud produced Sechard senior upon the scene of action. The old vinegrower had become his client on this wise. He came to Angouleme on the day after Eve's visit, and went to Maitre Cachan for advice. His son owed him arrears of rent; how could he come by this rent in the scrimmage in which his son was engaged?
"I am engaged by the other side," pronounced Cachan, "and I cannot appear for the father when I am suing the son; but go to Petit-Claud, he is very clever, he may perhaps do even better for you than I should do."
Cachan and Petit-Claud met at the Court.
"I have sent you Sechard senior," said Cachan; "take the case for me in exchange." Lawyers do each other services of this kind in country towns as well as in Paris.
The day after Sechard senior gave Petit-Claud his confidence, the tall Cointet paid a visit to his confederate.
"Try to give old Sechard a lesson," he said. "He is the kind of man that will never forgive his son for costing him a thousand francs or so; the outlay will dry up any generous thoughts in his mind, if he ever has any."
"Go back to your vines," said Petit-Claud to his new client. "Your son is not very well off; do not eat him out of house and home. I will send for you when the time comes."
On behalf of Sechard senior, therefore, Petit-Claud claimed that the presses, being fixtures, were so much the more to be regarded as tools and implements of trade, and the less liable to seizure, in that the house had been a printing office since the reign of Louis XIV. Cachan, on Metivier's account, waxed indignant at this. In Paris Lucien's furniture had belonged to Coralie, and here again in Angouleme David's goods and chattels all belonged to his wife or his father; pretty things were said in court. Father and son were summoned; such claims could not be allowed to stand.
"We mean to unmask the frauds intrenched behind bad faith of the most formidable kind; here is the defence of dishonesty bristling with the plainest and most innocent articles of the Code, and why?--to avoid repayment of three thousand francs; obtained how?--from poor Metivier's cash box! And yet there are those who dare to say a word against bill-discounters! What times we live in! . . . Now, I put it to you--what is this but taking your neighbor's money? . . . You will surely not sanction a claim which would bring immorality to the very core of justice!"
Cachan's eloquence produced an effect on the court. A divided judgment was given in favor of Mme. Sechard, the house furniture being held to be her property; and against Sechard senior, who was ordered to pay costs--four hundred and thirty-four francs, sixty-five centimes.
"It is kind of old Sechard," laughed the lawyers; "he would have a finger in the pie, so let him pay!"
Notice of judgment was given on the 26th of August; the presses and plant could be seized on the 28th. Placards were posted. Application was made for an order empowering them to sell on the spot.
Announcements of the sale appeared in the papers, and Doublon flattered himself that the inventory should be verified and the auction take place on the 2nd of September.
By this time David Sechard owed Metivier five thousand two hundred and seventy-five francs, twenty-five centimes (to say nothing of interest), by formal judgment confirmed by appeal, the bill of costs having been duly taxed. Likewise to Petit-Claud he owed twelve hundred francs, exclusive of the fees, which were left to David's generosity with the generous confidence displayed by the hackney coachman who has driven you so quickly over the road on which you desire to go.
Mme. Sechard owed Petit-Claud something like three hundred and fifty francs and fees besides; and of old Sechard, besides four hundred and thirty-four francs, sixty-five centimes, the little attorney demanded a hundred crowns by way of fee. Altogether, the Sechard family owed about ten thousand francs. This is what is called "putting fire into the bed straw."
Apart from the utility of these documents to other nations who thus may behold the battery of French law in action, the French legislator ought to know the lengths to which the abuse of procedure may be carried, always supposing that the said legislator can find time for reading. Surely some sort of regulation might be devised, some way of forbidding lawyers to carry on a case until the sum in dispute is more than eaten up in costs? Is there not something ludicrous in the idea of submitting a square yard of soil and an estate of thousands of acres to the same legal formalities? These bare outlines of the history of the various stages of procedure should open the eyes of Frenchmen to the meaning of the words "legal formalities, justice, and costs," little as the immense majority of the nations know about them.
Five thousand pounds' weight of type in the printing office were worth two thousand francs as old metal; the three presses were valued at six hundred francs; the rest of the plant would fetch the price of old iron and firewood. The household furniture would have brought in a thousand francs at most. The whole personal property of Sechard junior therefore represented the sum of four thousand francs; and Cachan and Petit-Claud made claims for seven thousand francs in costs already incurred, to say nothing of expenses to come, for the blossom gave promise of fine fruits enough, as the reader will shortly see. Surely the lawyers of France and Navarre, nay, even of Normandy herself, will not refuse Petit-Claud his meed of admiration and respect? Surely, too, kind hearts will give Marion and Kolb a tear of sympathy?