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Honore De Balzac - The Member For Arcis (1854)

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Le Depute d'Arcis is classed under the Scenes de la Vie Politique in the Comedie Humaine. It is divided into three sections: I: L'Election; II: Lettres Edifaantes; III: Le Comte de Sallenauve. The only part that appeared in Balzac's life was The Election, which was published in L'Union Monarchique in 1847. The work was completed by Charles Rabou, who was chosen by Balzac to finish it and the second and third chapters first appeared in the Constitutionnel in 1853. Rastignac and Jacques. Collins, who were introduced in Pere Goriot, appear in The Member for Arcis. The latter, who had assumed the names of Vautrin, Trompe-la-Mort (in Pere Goriot), and Herrera (in Lost Illusions), now appears in three characters here: Monsieur de Saint-Esteve, the Marquis de Sallenauve, and Monsieur le Comte Halphertius. Dorlange is a grandson of Danton, which explains the likeness that everyone noticed.

IN April, 1839, about ten in the morning, the drawing-room of Madame Marion, widow of a revenue collector in the Department of the Aube, presented a strange appearance. The carpet and all the furniture had been removed, an old man-servant attached to Colonel Giguet, Madame Marion's brother, had just finished sweeping, and the housemaid and cook were bringing in chairs and arranging them according to Madame Marion's directions. The latter placed three arm-chairs behind the tea-table, which she covered with a green cloth, on which she placed a bell.

"We can seat seventy persons," she said to Colonel Giguet, who now entered.

"God send us seventy friends," exclaimed the Colonel. He then inquired for his son, Simon.

"He is dressing," she replied; "he is very nervous."

"My word! Yes! I have often stood the fire of a battery and my soul never quaked—my body I say nothing about; but if I had to stand up here," said the old soldier, placing himself behind the table, "opposite the forty good people who will sit there open-mouthed, their eyes fixed on mine, expecting a set speech in sounding periods—my shirt would be soaking before I could find a word."

"And yet, my dear father, you must make that effort in my behalf," said Simon Giguet, entering, "for if there is a man in the department whose word is powerful, it is certainly you. My whole life is at stake, my prospects, my happiness."

Colonel Giguet was one of the most respected officers in the Grande Armee, and fanatically devoted to Napoleon. The Comte de Gondreville prevented his banishment in 1815 and got for him a pension and the rank of colonel. He lived with Madame Marion, who, in 1814, settled in Arcis, her native town, and bought a handsome residence in the Grande Place. Her drawing-room for the last four-and-twenty years had been open to the prominent members of the Liberal circle at Arcis. Colonel Giguet, a Liberal, after being a Bonapartist, became, under the Restoration, president of the town council of Arcis, which included Grevin the notary, Grevin's brother-in-law, Varlet fils, the chief physician in the town, and Grevin's son-in-law, Beauvisage. For the past nine years, since his political party had come to the top, the Colonel had lived almost out of the world, devoting himself to the culture of roses, and he had the stained hands of a true gardener.

"If our dear boy is not elected," said Madame Marion, "he will not win Mademoiselle Beauvisage; for what he looks for in the event of his success is marrying Cecile."

Cecile Beauvisage was the richest heiress in the Department of the Aube and had already refused many suitors.

The district of Arcis-sur-Aube believed itself free to elect a deputy. From 1816 till 1836 it had always returned one of the most ponderous orators of the Left, one of those seventeen whom the Liberal party loved to designate as great citizens—no less a man, in short, than Francois Keller, of the firm of Keller Brothers, son-in-law to the Comte de Gondreville.

Gondreville, one of the finest estates in France, was not far from Arcis. The banker, lately created count and peer of France, hoped that his son would succeed him as deputy. Charles Keller, already a major with a staff appointment, and now a viscount, as one of the Prince Royal's favorites, was attached to the party of the Citizen King. A splendid future seemed to lie before this young man, possessed of immense wealth, courage, and devotion to the new dynasty, who was, moreover, grandson of the Comte de Gondreville and nephew of the Marechale de Carigliano.

As soon as Grevin, the notary, declared that he would support Charles Keller, Arcis conceived a strong feeling against him and supported Simon Giguet. Phileas Beauvisage, the Mayor, on bad terms with his father-in-law, was naturally of this party. Madame Marion, queen of Arcis society, had, with her friends, organized a meeting of "Independent Electors" in favor of her nephew, Simon Giguet; and she had turned the whole house topsy-turvy for the reception of the friends on whose independence she relied.

Simon Giguet, the home-made candidate of a little town that was jealously eager to return one of its sons, had, as has been seen, at once taken advantage of this stir to represent the wants and interests of Southwestern Champagne. At the same time, the position and fortune of the Giguet family were due to the Comte de Gondreville. Simon, although a lawyer, was the butt of many pleasantries. He was so ready to talk that he had laid himself open to ridicule. Now, when the door-bell announced the advent of the electors, he began to feel nervous.

The first to come were Phileas Beauvisage and the notary, Achille Pigoult, who was sent by Madame Beauvisage to keep an eye on Beauvisage. He was really a spy from the Gondreville faction; and Simon immediately scented an enemy when he saw him. By twelve o'clock fifty men were seated in the chairs that had been arranged by Madame Marion, who took a seat in the garden where she could overhear everything.

At three o'clock, Simon Giguet was still explaining the meaning of progress. Achille Pigoult had persuaded the electors to listen and many of them were asleep. Meanwhile the other party was informed of the sudden death of Charles Keller. An opposition candidate to Simon Giguet had now to be found.

Old Grevin had great ambitions for the third generation. He hoped by means of his gold to start Cecile on the high road to greatness. He told Madame Beauvisage one day when she called and found him taking his coffee under the blossoming lilacs that he had bought the Hotel Beauseant in Paris for a wedding-gift for Cecile and he had planned a brilliant future for his daughter and granddaughter. Madame Beauvisage must, however, refuse Simon Giguet's attentions. Ile also said: "You and Cecile would be miserable with an old family of the Faubourg Saint-Germain; they would make you feel your humble birth in a thousand little ways. What we must look out for is one of Napoleon's dukes who is in want of Money; then we can get a fine title for Cecile, and we will tie up her fortune."

Madame Marion held her usual salon that evening; and Madame Beauvisage told her daughter that, as she was des-tined to shine in Paris, she must be very reserved with the young men of Arcis, especially Simon Giguet.

"Be quite easy," was her reply; "I will begin at once to adore the Unknown."

The Unknown was the subject of conversation in every family of Arcis. Three days before Simon's meeting, a Stranger in a neat tilbury, drawn by a fine horse and followed by a small lackey, arrived in Arcis and took rooms at the Mulet. The coach brought three unlabeled trunks from Paris. He gave no name and his mysterious behavior set all the tongues of Arcis wagging. The Stranger was the chief subject of conversation at Madame Marion's. Madame Mollot, wife of the clerk of assize, had even peered from her house through her opera-glasses, and was certain that he wore a wig ! Antonin Goulard left Madame Marion's to make inquiries, and, re-turning, informed the gossips that the Stranger was a count who had just returned from Gondreville. Cecile's interest in the Stranger aroused Simon's jealousy. During the evening Madame Beauvisage informed Madame Marlon of Cecile's prospects and said: "If you have any proposals to make, go and see my father."

The next day, Simon, certain of his election, remarked to the sous-prefet : "But I have no opponent." "So you think," said Antonin Goulard. "But one will turn up; there is no doubt of that."

Goulard made use of his official position to intrude upon the Stranger, who received him with sangfroid and handed him the following letter from the prefet of the department:

" MONSIEUR LE SOUS-PREFET:—Be good enough to take steps with the bearer as to the election in Arcis, and conform to his requirements in every particular. I request you to be absolutely secret, and to treat him with the respect due to his rank."

The Stranger asked himself to dine with Goulard and re-quested that Goulard should invite the Beauvisages. He also handed Goulard two other letters, saying: "Make out a list of all the votes at the disposal of the Government. Above all, we must not appear to have any understanding. I am merely a speculator, and do not care a fig about the election."

Comte Maxime de Trailles, prince of rakes and dandies, having run through his fortune at the age of forty-eight, determined to marry; and, as he could not find a wife in the highest Parisian circles, nor, indeed, in the middle class, asked his friend, Rastignac, a peer of France and possessed of great political influence, to help him conclude a rich marriage and launch him into a diplomatic career.

Rastignac told him of the helplessness of the present ministry, and added: "If you could distinguish yourself in the thick of the electoral fray that is beginning; if you become a voter—a member—faithful to the reigning dynasty, your wishes shall be attended to. . . . As to your marriage, my dear fellow, that can only be arranged in the country. In Paris you are too well known. The thing to do is to find a millionaire, a parvenu, with a daughter and the ambition to swagger at the Tuileries."

A few weeks later Rastignac told him that Charles Keller had been killed in Africa and that as he was "our candidate for the borough and district of Arcis," his death had left a gap. Armed with letters to Gondreville and the local officials and with a loan from Rastignac's father-in-law, the Baron de Nucingen, Maxime de Trailles was, within an hour, on the road to Arcis.

Supplied with information by the landlady of the Mulet and Antonin Goulard, Maxime de Trailles lost no time in arranging the plan of his electoral campaign. This shrewd agent for his own private politics at once set up Phileas Beau-visage as the candidate in opposition to Simon Giguet; and, notwithstanding that the man was a cipher, he had strong chances. Maxime, of course, intended to gain old Grevin's consent to his marriage with the handsome Cecile.

Beauvisage's nomination caught fire, and just as Maxime had written to Rastignac regarding the success of his schemes, another candidate appeared on the scene.

A bundle of "edifying letters" threw light on this new candidate and his chances for election. A Monsieur Dorlange, a sculptor, having been asked to make a monument for the wife of an old friend of his, M. Marie-Gaston, refused on the plea that he was being urged to come forward as a candidate at the coming elections; the Comte de l'Estorade proposed that his own wife, a very tactful negotiator, should try her feminine per-suasion with the artist. The Comte also said that Madame de l'Estorade was suffering from a nervous attack brought on by the shock of having had their little daughter, Nais, nearly run over a week earlier. The child was saved at the last minute by a stranger who rushed at the horses' heads. This stranger continually shadowed Madame de l'Estorade.

Dorlange, for a slight cast upon Marie-Gaston by the Duc de Rhetore, had compelled the Duke to fight a duel, in which the latter was wounded.

When the Comte de l'Estorade, his wife, and Nais went to visit the sculptor's studio, Madame de l'Estorade recognized the stranger, as did Nais, who cried : " Oh, you are the gentle-man who saved me!" Dorlange presently showed his guests a statue of St. Ursula, commissioned from a country convent. Unknown to Madame de l'Estorade, Dorlange had used her for a model in making this statue. She reminded him, he said, of a lady he had known in Italy named Lanty. Madame de l'Estorade noticed a handsome Italian woman at the studio who was both housekeeper and model to Dorlange.

The sculptor became a frequent guest at the De l'Estorade home. But the eldest son, Armand, did not like him: he said he looked like the portraits of Danton and considered that a statuette of his mother presented to the Comte looked like a milliner's apprentice. Dorlange, writing to his friend Marie Gaston, told him that he had discovered his hitherto unknown father, A waiter at the Cafe des Arts had warned Dorlange that a little old man, untidy and marked by smallpox, was watching him. This was Jacques Bricheteau, a wonderful organist. He evaded Dorlange. But one day the sculptor received a letter postmarked Sweden. It was from his anonymous father, who told him he must enter politics, his aptitude being vouched for by a friend who had shadowed him. The father gave him an order on his bankers, told him that for a time he must continue to be a sculptor, and that he would soon receive an order for a statue of St. Ursula for the convent.

Dorlange bought a house, took shares in a newspaper, and executed the St. Ursula—all according to his father's instructions; then he awaited further orders. The duel he had fought with Marie-Gaston's brother-in-law helped his chances of election.

According to his father's orders, Dorlange sent his statue to a convent at Arcis-sur-Aube, and himself soon followed it, after receiving a draft on the bankers in the name of "Monsieur le Comte de Sallenauve, known as Dorlange, Rue de l'Ouest, No. 42."

At Arcis Dorlange, to his surprise, was met by Jacques Bricheteau, who had previously avoided him. This man conducted Dorlange to the Hotel de la Poste, where he was introduced to his father, the Marquis de Sallenauve, a very tall, very thin, and very bald man. He was calm in receiving his son and also while Bricheteau gave a rhetorical account of his life before asking Dorlange if he would consent to take M. de Sallenauve's name and be acknowledged as his son. On Dorlange's consent, the father produced deeds, pedigrees, letters-patent, and many documents to prove the antiquity of the Sallenauve family. After dinner, the three repaired to the notary's office, where deeds were drawn, and Dorlange emerged as the Comte de Sallenauve and possessor of the Chateau d'Arcis, which his father purchased for a hundred and eighty thousand francs. In describing all this to Marie-Gaston, Dorlange confessed his lack of filial respect and affection. He continued: "Supposing this man were not my father, were not even the Marquis de Sallenauve, as he assumes to be; supposing that, like that luckless Lucien de Rubempre—whose story made such a noise at the time—I were wrapped in the coils of some serpent of the type of the sham priest Carlos Herrera, and were to wake presently to the frightful truth!"

Strange to say, the new-found father left Arcis at daybreak. Through the influence of Mother Marie des Anges, of the Ursuline convent, who was Bricheteau's aunt, after much intricate wire-pulling, the newly created Count of Sallenauve was put up as a third candidate for Arcis.

Marie-Gaston joined his friend at Arcis and wrote a long account of Sallenauve's success. He described how Beau-visage had crushed and beaten Simon Giguet, "who wanted to take his seat with the Left Center," how Maxime de Trailles was trying to win Cecile Beauvisage, and how, by his splendid entertainments at the chateau, his fine equipage, and open-handed generosity, the new candidate was fast snuffing out Maxime de Trailles's elegance and Beauvisage's chances. Everybody noticed his likeness to Danton, who was quite a hero in his native province.

At the preliminary meeting, Sallenauve carried the day by, his gifts of public speaking; but Maxime de Trailles dragged up the story of the handsome Italian he kept hidden in his house in Paris. Sallenauve now thought it best to relate this woman's history in a letter to Madame de l'Estorade. This is the story. One day, in Italy, a musician and spy named Benedetto brought his wife to Dorlange's studio to pose. She refused, and that night suffocated her husband and went to Dorlange, begging him to take her to Paris. She became his housekeeper and model, and he had had her voice trained. She was now ready to appear in public. How to launch her was a puzzle. Would Madame de l'Estorade lend her aid? Sallenauve also wrote that grief for his dead wife seemed to be unsettling Marie-Gaston's mind.

The election took place. The number of votes was 201. Beauvisage received 2; Giguet, 29; and Sallenauve, 170. Consequently, Charles de Sallenauve was elected.

The day after the election, Maxime de Trailles returned to Paris and called on Colonel Franchessini, on the staff of the Citizen-Militia. He described the election, ending with:

"How can you account for the fact that an old tricoteuse, formerly a friend of Danton's, and now the Mother Superior of an Ursuline convent, with the help of a nephew, an obscure Parisian organist whom she brought out as the masculine figurehead of her scheme, could have hoodwinked a whole constituency to such a point that this stranger actually polled an imposing majority?"

"Well, but someone knew him, I suppose."

"Not a soul, unless it were this old hypocrite. Till the moment of his arrival he had no fortune, no connections—not even a father! While he was taking his boots off he was made —Heaven knows how !—the proprietor of a fine estate. Then, in quite the same vein, a gentleman supposed to be a native of the place, from which he had absented himself for many years, presented himself with this ingenious schemer in a notary's office, acknowledged him post-haste as his son, and vanished again in the course of the night, no one knowing by which road he went. This trick having come off successfully, the Ursuline and her ally launched their nominee; Republicans, Legitimists, and Conservatives, the clergy, the nobility, the middle classes—one and all, as if bound by a spell cast over the whole land, came around to this favorite of the old nun-witch."

The two concluded it would be worth while to get Monsieur de Saint-Esteve, head of the criminal police, to ferret out the true story of Dorlange and his supposed father. The elections had made Rastignac Minister of Public Works. He was friendly with Monsieur de l'Estorade, a zealous Conservative and influential in the Upper Chamber. Through De l'Estorade's friendship with Dorlange, now Sallenauve, Rastignac was enabled to meet the new member from Arcis and to study him at close range. In the meantime, Franchessini went to Rastignac about Saint-Esteve, who wanted advancement. Under the name of Vautrin the latter had years before compelled Franchessini to fight a duel for Rastignac's advantage, a duel Rastignac had tried to prevent. Rastignac wanted to have no dealings with Vautrin; but, yielding to Franchessini's persuasions, he advised him to get Vautrin to turn over a new leaf, to come out in the world, to take up with some actress, display luxury on this idol's account, and, by degrees, make connections through the people who gather round a famous actress as moths round a candle. This would get him classed among the third or fourth rate notabilities—and make of him a man possible to deal with. "Then," added Rastignac, "if he came to me and I were in power, I might listen to him."

Sallenauve was much discussed at the De l'Estorades', who were entertaining guests—Monsieur and Madame Octave de Camps. They learned that the Italian woman, Luigia, had fled from Dorlange's studio, and no one knew what had become of her. An under-servant said she had had a mysterious visitor, a middle-aged lady, handsomely dressed, who came in a carriage, and who managed their interviews with secrecy.

Madame de Camps had many conversations with Madame de l'Estorade about Sallenauve and her course of action regarding him. About this time, M. de l'Estorade was made very jealous by finding a letter from Marie-Gaston to his wife, in which the half-mad widower wrote that he had had a message from Madame de l'Estorade saying that on the death of her husband she was to marry Sallenauve.

To everyone's surprise, Sallenauve left Paris suddenly. A letter from him to Madame de l'Estorade informed her that he had followed Marie-Gaston to England, as his friend had been taken there to an insane asylum. Not long after this, Monsieur and Madame de l'Estorade thought it best to dismiss Sallenauve politely from their acquaintance.

A peasant woman now came forward to declare that she was a Sallenauve and that there was no Marquis de Sallenauve in existence. This information was furnished by Madame Beauvisage to Maxime de Trailles, who passed it on to Rastignac for the good of the party. Maxime took the papers to a lawyer, Desroches, who, during the interview, mentioned that he was dining out and was afterward to draw up a con-tract between a London impresario and a star, just discovered by Madame de Saint-Esteve, who had a matrimonial agency.

Madame de Saint-Esteve was none other than Vautrin's aunt, Jacqueline Collin. She had found the Italian woman with the beautiful voice. Vautrin called to see his relative and in the course of a long conversation the latter formed a plan:

Vautrin, as Count Halphertius, a Swedish lord, crazy about music and philanthropy, should take great interest in the new singer. He would be her recognized patron, and Jacques and Jacquelin Collin must make her reign brilliant and herself wealthy for the sake of their own advancement.

When Vautrin called to meet the singer, his aunt and accomplice did not know him, so perfect was his disguise. He introduced the diva to Sir Francis Drake, who engaged her for the London opera. Madame de Saint-Esteve gave a dinner to which various journalists and other well-known men were invited. This was the dinner to which Desroches was going.

Luigia was singing in London when Sallenauve, about to leave Marie-Gaston, was joined by Jacques Bricheteau, who had come from Paris to tell him of the plot against him. They decided to return at once to Paris. In London, Sallenauve saw the announcement of Signora Luigia at Her Majesty's Theater. He was struck by the name, and went to the opera, where Luigia was a great success in Paesiello's Nina, o la Pazza per Amore. While Luigia was receiving compliments in the green-room, Sallenauve's card was handed to her. She left her admirers and hastily returned to her apartments, where he was awaiting her. Sallenauve wished to renew thelr relations; but Luigia would not consent, although she told him she loved hlm. There was no common future, she said, for them, for Dorlange had forsaken art for a political career. They patted forever. Sallenauve's regrets for the life of Dorlange, the sculptor, were silenced by Bricheteau, who pictured his brilliant future.

The Chambers were opened; Sallenauve had not been present at the royal sitting, and his absence had caused some sensation in the Democratic party. Maxime was ready with a petition from the peasant woman. The legality of the election was questioned; but Rastignac's damaging speech was interrupted by the culprit's entrance.

" Danton minus the smallpox," a voice crled, as Sallenauve went up to the tribune; and everyone noticed the likeness to that fiery orator.

The member for Ards gave a fine defense. The president then put the question of the validity of Sallenauve's election to vote. He was admitted and took the oaths.



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