A Start in Life, by Honoré de Balzac

CHAPTER VII

A MOTHER’S TRIALS

While the horses were being harnessed, Moreau wrote the following letter to Madame Clapart:—

My dear — Oscar has ruined me. During his journey in Pierrotin’s coach, he spoke of Madame de Serizy’s behavior to his Excellency, who was travelling incognito, and actually told, to himself, the secret of his terrible malady. After dismissing me from my stewardship, the count told me not to let Oscar sleep at Presles, but to send him away immediately. Therefore, to obey his orders, the horses are being harnessed at this moment to my wife’s carriage, and Brochon, my stable-man, will take the miserable child to you to-night.

We are, my wife and I, in a distress of mind which you may perhaps imagine, though I cannot describe it to you. I will see you in a few days, for I must take another course. I have three children, and I ought to consider their future. At present I do not know what to do; but I shall certainly endeavor to make the count aware of what seventeen years of the life of a man like myself is worth. Owning at the present moment about two hundred and fifty thousand francs, I want to raise myself to a fortune which may some day make me the equal of his Excellency. At this moment I feel within me the power to move mountains and vanquish insurmountable difficulties. What a lever is such a scene of bitter humiliation as I have just passed through! Whose blood has Oscar in his veins? His conduct has been that of a blockhead; up to this moment when I write to you, he has not said a word nor answered, even by a sign, the questions my wife and I have put to him. Will he become an idiot? or is he one already? Dear friend, why did you not instruct him as to his behavior before you sent him to me? How many misfortunes you would have spared me, had you brought him here yourself as I begged you to do. If Estelle alarmed you, you might have stayed at Moisselles. However, the thing is done, and there is no use talking about it.

Adieu; I shall see you soon.

Your devoted servant and friend,

Moreau

At eight o’clock that evening, Madame Clapart, just returned from a walk she had taken with her husband, was knitting winter socks for Oscar, by the light of a single candle. Monsieur Clapart was expecting a friend named Poiret, who often came in to play dominoes, for never did he allow himself to spend an evening at a cafe. In spite of the prudent economy to which his small means forced him, Clapart would not have answered for his temperance amid a luxury of food and in presence of the usual guests of a cafe whose inquisitive observation would have piqued him.

“I’m afraid Poiret came while we were out,” said Clapart to his wife.

“Why, no, my friend; the portress would have told us so when we came in,” replied Madame Clapart.

“She may have forgotten it.”

“What makes you think so?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time she has forgotten things for us — for God knows how people without means are treated.”

“Well,” said the poor woman, to change the conversation and escape Clapart’s cavilling, “Oscar must be at Presles by this time. How he will enjoy that fine house and the beautiful park.”

“Oh! yes,” snarled Clapart, “you expect fine things of him; but, mark my words, there’ll be squabbles wherever he goes.”

“Will you never cease to find fault with that poor child?” said the mother. “What has he done to you? If some day we should live at our ease, we may owe it all to him; he has such a good heart —”

“Our bones will be jelly long before that fellow makes his way in the world,” cried Clapart. “You don’t know your own child; he is conceited, boastful, deceitful, lazy, incapable of —”

“Why don’t you go to meet Poiret?” said the poor mother, struck to the heart by the diatribe she had brought upon herself.

“A boy who has never won a prize at school!” continued Clapart.

To bourgeois eyes, the obtaining of school prizes means the certainty of a fine future for the fortunate child.

“Did you win any?” asked his wife. “Oscar stood second in philosophy.”

This remark imposed silence for a moment on Clapart; but presently he began again.

“Besides, Madame Moreau hates him like poison, you know why. She’ll try to set her husband against him. Oscar to step into his shoes as steward of Presles! Why he’d have to learn agriculture, and know how to survey.”

“He can learn.”

“He — that pussy cat! I’ll bet that if he does get a place down there, it won’t be a week before he does some doltish thing which will make the count dismiss him.”

“Good God! how can you be so bitter against a poor child who is full of good qualities, sweet-tempered as an angel, incapable of doing harm to any one, no matter who.”

Just then the cracking of a postilion’s whip and the noise of a carriage stopping before the house was heard, this arrival having apparently put the whole street into a commotion. Clapart, who heard the opening of many windows, looked out himself to see what was happening.

“They have sent Oscar back to you in a post-chaise,” he cried, in a tone of satisfaction, though in truth he felt inwardly uneasy.

“Good heavens! what can have happened to him?” cried the poor mother, trembling like a leaf shaken by the autumn wind.

Brochon here came up, followed by Oscar and Poiret.

“What has happened?” repeated the mother, addressing the stable-man.

“I don’t know, but Monsieur Moreau is no longer steward of Presles, and they say your son has caused it. His Excellency ordered that he should be sent home to you. Here’s a letter from poor Monsieur Moreau, madame, which will tell you all. You never saw a man so changed in a single day.”

“Clapart, two glasses of wine for the postilion and for monsieur!” cried the mother, flinging herself into a chair that she might read the fatal letter. “Oscar,” she said, staggering towards her bed, “do you want to kill your mother? After all the cautions I gave you this morning —”

She did not end her sentence, for she fainted from distress of mind. When she came to herself she heard her husband saying to Oscar, as he shook him by the arm:—

“Will you answer me?”

“Go to bed, monsieur,” she said to her son. “Let him alone, Monsieur Clapart. Don’t drive him out of his senses; he is frightfully changed.”

Oscar did not hear his mother’s last words; he had slipped away to bed the instant that he got the order.

Those who remember their youth will not be surprised to learn that after a day so filled with events and emotions, Oscar, in spite of the enormity of his offences, slept the sleep of the just. The next day he did not find the world so changed as he thought it; he was surprised to be very hungry — he who the night before had regarded himself as unworthy to live. He had only suffered mentally. At his age mental impressions succeed each other so rapidly that the last weakens its predecessor, however deeply the first may have been cut in. For this reason corporal punishment, though philanthropists are deeply opposed to it in these days, becomes necessary in certain cases for certain children. It is, moreover, the most natural form of retribution, for Nature herself employs it; she uses pain to impress a lasting memory of her precepts. If to the shame of the preceding evening, unhappily too transient, the steward had joined some personal chastisement, perhaps the lesson might have been complete. The discernment with which such punishment needs to be administered is the greatest argument against it. Nature is never mistaken; but the teacher is, and frequently.

Madame Clapart took pains to send her husband out, so that she might be alone with her son the next morning. She was in a state to excite pity. Her eyes, worn with tears; her face, weary with the fatigue of a sleepless night; her feeble voice — in short, everything about her proved an excess of suffering she could not have borne a second time, and appealed to sympathy.

When Oscar entered the room she signed to him to sit down beside her, and reminded him in a gentle but grieved voice of the benefits they had so constantly received from the steward of Presles. She told him that they had lived, especially for the last six years, on the delicate charity of Monsieur Moreau; and that Monsieur Clapart’s salary, also the “demi-bourse,” or scholarship, by which he (Oscar) had obtained an education, was due to the Comte de Serizy. Most of this would now cease. Monsieur Clapart, she said, had no claim to a pension — his period of service not being long enough to obtain one. On the day when he was no longer able to keep his place, what would become of them?

“For myself,” she said, “by nursing the sick, or living as a housekeeper in some great family, I could support myself and Monsieur Clapart; but you, Oscar, what could you do? You have no means, and you must earn some, for you must live. There are but four careers for a young man like you — commerce, government employment, the licensed professions, or military service. All forms of commerce need capital, and we have none to give you. In place of capital, a young man can only give devotion and his capacity. But commerce also demands the utmost discretion, and your conduct yesterday proves that you lack it. To enter a government office, you must go through a long probation by the help of influence, and you have just alienated the only protector that we had — a most powerful one. Besides, suppose you were to meet with some extraordinary help, by which a young man makes his way promptly either in business or in the public employ, where could you find the money to live and clothe yourself during the time that you are learning your employment?”

Here the mother wandered, like other women, into wordy lamentation: What should she do now to feed the family, deprived of the benefits Moreau’s stewardship had enabled him to send her from Presles? Oscar had overthrown his benefactor’s prosperity! As commerce and a government clerkship were now impossible, there remained only the professions of notary and lawyer, either barristers or solicitors, and sheriffs. But for those he must study at least three years, and pay considerable sums for entrance fees, examinations, certificates, and diplomas; and here again the question of maintenance presented itself.

“Oscar,” she said, in conclusion, “in you I had put all my pride, all my life. In accepting for myself an unhappy old age, I fastened my eyes on you; I saw you with the prospect of a fine career, and I imagined you succeeding in it. That thought, that hope, gave me courage to face the privations I have endured for six years in order to carry you through school, where you have cost me, in spite of the scholarship, between seven and eight hundred francs a year. Now that my hope is vanishing, your future terrifies me. I cannot take one penny from Monsieur Clapart’s salary for my son. What can you do? You are not strong enough to mathematics to enter any of the technical schools; and, besides, where could I get the three thousand francs board-money which they extract? This is life as it is, my child. You are eighteen, you are strong. Enlist in the army; it is your only means, that I can see, to earn your bread.”

Oscar knew as yet nothing whatever of life. Like all children who have been kept from a knowledge of the trials and poverty of the home, he was ignorant of the necessity of earning his living. The word “commerce” presented no idea whatever to his mind; “public employment” said almost as little, for he saw no results of it. He listened, therefore, with a submissive air, which he tried to make humble, to his mother’s exhortations, but they were lost in the void, and did not reach his mind. Nevertheless, the word “army,” the thought of being a soldier, and the sight of his mother’s tears did at last make him cry. No sooner did Madame Clapart see the drops coursing down his cheeks than she felt herself helpless, and, like most mothers in such cases, she began the peroration which terminates these scenes — scenes in which they suffer their own anguish and that of their children also.

“Well, Oscar, promise me that you will be more discreet in future, — that you will not talk heedlessly any more, but will strive to repress your silly vanity,” et cetera, et cetera.

Oscar of course promised all his mother asked him to promise, and then, after gently drawing him to her, Madame Clapart ended by kissing him to console him for being scolded.

“In future,” she said, “you will listen to your mother, and will follow her advice; for a mother can give nothing but good counsel to her child. We will go and see your uncle Cardot; that is our last hope. Cardot owed a great deal to your father, who gave him his sister, Mademoiselle Husson, with an enormous dowry for those days, which enabled him to make a large fortune in the silk trade. I think he might, perhaps, place you with Monsieur Camusot, his successor and son-inlaw, in the rue des Bourdonnais. But, you see, your uncle Cardot has four children. He gave his establishment, the Cocon d’Or, to his eldest daughter, Madame Camusot; and though Camusot has millions, he has also four children by two wives; and, besides, he scarcely knows of our existence. Cardot has married his second daughter, Mariane, to Monsieur Protez, of the firm of Protez and Chiffreville. The practice of his eldest son, the notary, cost him four hundred thousand francs; and he has just put his second son, Joseph, into the drug business of Matifat. So you see, your uncle Cardot has many reasons not to take an interest in you, whom he sees only four times a year. He has never come to call upon me here, though he was ready enough to visit me at Madame Mere’s when he wanted to sell his silks to the Emperor, the imperial highnesses, and all the great people at court. But now the Camusots have turned ultras. The eldest son of Camusot’s first wife married a daughter of one of the king’s ushers. The world is mighty hump-backed when it stoops! However, it was a clever thing to do, for the Cocon d’Or has the custom of the present court as it had that of the Emperor. But tomorrow we will go and see your uncle Cardot, and I hope that you will endeavor to behave properly; for, as I said before, and I repeat it, that is our last hope.”

Monsieur Jean–Jerome-Severin Cardot had been a widower six years. As head-clerk of the Cocon d’Or, one of the oldest firms in Paris, he had bought the establishment in 1793, at a time when the heads of the house were ruined by the maximum; and the money of Mademoiselle Husson’s dowry had enabled him to do this, and so make a fortune that was almost colossal in ten years. To establish his children richly during his lifetime, he had conceived the idea of buying an annuity for himself and his wife with three hundred thousand francs, which gave him an income of thirty thousand francs a year. He then divided his capital into three shares of four hundred thousand francs each, which he gave to three of his children — the Cocon d’Or, given to his eldest daughter on her marriage, being the equivalent of a fourth share. Thus the worthy man, who was now nearly seventy years old, could spend his thirty thousand a year as he pleased, without feeling that he injured the prospects of his children, all finely provided for, whose attentions and proofs of affection were, moreover, not prompted by self-interest.

Uncle Cardot lived at Belleville, in one of the first houses above the Courtille. He there occupied, on the first floor, an apartment overlooking the valley of the Seine, with a southern exposure, and the exclusive enjoyment of a large garden, for the sum of a thousand francs a year. He troubled himself not at all about the three or four other tenants of the same vast country-house. Certain, through a long lease, of ending his days there, he lived rather plainly, served by an old cook and the former maid of the late Madame Cardot — both of whom expected to reap an annuity of some six hundred francs apiece on the old man’s death. These two women took the utmost care of him, and were all the more interested in doing so because no one was ever less fussy or less fault-finding than he. The apartment, furnished by the late Madame Cardot, had remained in the same condition for the last six years — the old man being perfectly contented with it. He spent in all not more than three thousand francs a year there; for he dined in Paris five days in the week, and returned home at midnight in a hackney-coach, which belonged to an establishment at Courtille. The cook had only her master’s breakfast to provide on those days. This was served at eleven o’clock; after that he dressed and perfumed himself, and departed for Paris. Usually, a bourgeois gives notice in the household if he dines out; old Cardot, on the contrary, gave notice when he dined at home.

This little old man — fat, rosy, squat, and strong — always looked, in popular speech, as if he had stepped from a bandbox. He appeared in black silk stockings, breeches of “pou-desoie” (paduasoy), a white pique waistcoat, dazzling shirt-front, a blue-bottle coat, violet silk gloves, gold buckles to his shoes and his breeches, and, lastly, a touch of powder and a little queue tied with black ribbon. His face was remarkable for a pair of eyebrows as thick as bushes, beneath which sparkled his gray eyes; and for a square nose, thick and long, which gave him somewhat the air of the abbes of former times. His countenance did not belie him. Pere Cardot belonged to that race of lively Gerontes which is now disappearing rapidly, though it once served as Turcarets to the comedies and tales of the eighteenth century. Uncle Cardot always said “Fair lady,” and he placed in their carriages, and otherwise paid attention to those women whom he saw without protectors; he “placed himself at their disposition,” as he said, in his chivalrous way.

But beneath his calm air and his snowy poll he concealed an old age almost wholly given up to mere pleasure. Among men he openly professed epicureanism, and gave himself the license of free talk. He had seen no harm in the devotion of his son-inlaw, Camusot, to Mademoiselle Coralie, for he himself was secretly the Mecaenas of Mademoiselle Florentine, the first danseuse at the Gaiete. But this life and these opinions never appeared in his own home, nor in his external conduct before the world. Uncle Cardot, grave and polite, was thought to be somewhat cold, so much did he affect decorum; a “devote” would have called him a hypocrite.

The worthy old gentleman hated priests; he belonged to that great flock of ninnies who subscribed to the “Constitutionnel,” and was much concerned about “refusals to bury.” He adored Voltaire, though his preferences were really for Piron, Vade, and Colle. Naturally, he admired Beranger, whom he wittily called the “grandfather of the religion of Lisette.” His daughters, Madame Camusot and Madame Protez, and his two sons would, to use a popular expression, have been flabbergasted if any one had explained to them what their father meant by “singing la Mere Godichon.”

This long-headed parent had never mentioned his income to his children, who, seeing that he lived in a cheap way, reflected that he had deprived himself of his property for their sakes, and, therefore, redoubled their attentions and tenderness. In fact, he would sometimes say to his sons:—

“Don’t lose your property; remember, I have none to leave you.”

Camusot, in whom he recognized a certain likeness to his own nature, and whom he liked enough to make a sharer in his secret pleasures, alone knew of the thirty thousand a year annuity. But Camusot approved of the old man’s ethics, and thought that, having made the happiness of his children and nobly fulfilled his duty by them, he now had a right to end his life jovially.

“Don’t you see, my friend,” said the former master of the Cocon d’Or, “I might re-marry. A young woman would give me more children. Well, Florentine doesn’t cost me what a wife would; neither does she bore me; and she won’t give me children to lessen your property.”

Camusot considered that Pere Cardot gave expression to a high sense of family duty in these words; he regarded him as an admirable father-inlaw.

“He knows,” thought he, “how to unite the interests of his children with the pleasures which old age naturally desires after the worries of business life.”

Neither the Cardots, nor the Camusots, nor the Protez knew anything of the ways of life of their aunt Clapart. The family intercourse was restricted to the sending of notes of “faire part” on the occasion of deaths and marriages, and cards at the New Year. The proud Madame Clapart would never have brought herself to seek them were it not for Oscar’s interests, and because of her friendship for Moreau, the only person who had been faithful to her in misfortune. She had never annoyed old Cardot by her visits, or her importunities, but she held to him as to a hope, and always went to see him once every three months and talked to him of Oscar, the nephew of the late respectable Madame Cardot; and she took the boy to call upon him three times during each vacation. At each of these visits the old gentleman had given Oscar a dinner at the Cadran–Bleu, taking him, afterwards, to the Gaiete, and returning him safely to the rue de la Cerisaie. On one occasion, having given the boy an entirely new suit of clothes, he added the silver cup and fork and spoon required for his school outfit.

Oscar’s mother endeavored to impress the old gentleman with the idea that his nephew cherished him, and she constantly referred to the cup and the fork and spoon and to the beautiful suit of clothes, though nothing was then left of the latter but the waistcoat. But such little arts did Oscar more harm than good when practised on so sly an old fox as uncle Cardot. The latter had never much liked his departed wife, a tall, spare, red-haired woman; he was also aware of the circumstances of the late Husson’s marriage with Oscar’s mother, and without in the least condemning her, he knew very well that Oscar was a posthumous child. His nephew, therefore, seemed to him to have no claims on the Cardot family. But Madame Clapart, like all women who concentrate their whole being into the sentiment of motherhood, did not put herself in Cardot’s place and see the matter from his point of view; she thought he must certainly be interested in so sweet a child, who bore the maiden name of his late wife.

“Monsieur,” said old Cardot’s maid-servant, coming out to him as he walked about the garden while awaiting his breakfast, after his hairdresser had duly shaved him and powdered his queue, “the mother of your nephew, Oscar, is here.”

“Good-day, fair lady,” said the old man, bowing to Madame Clapart, and wrapping his white pique dressing-gown about him. “Hey, hey! how this little fellow grows,” he added, taking Oscar by the ear.

“He has finished school, and he regretted so much that his dear uncle was not present at the distribution of the Henri IV. prizes, at which he was named. The name of Husson, which, let us hope, he will bear worthily, was proclaimed —”

“The deuce it was!” exclaimed the little old man, stopping short. Madame Clapart, Oscar, and he were walking along a terrace flanked by oranges, myrtles, and pomegranates. “And what did he get?”

“The fourth rank in philosophy,” replied the mother proudly.

“Oh! oh!” cried uncle Cardot, “the rascal has a good deal to do to make up for lost time; for the fourth rank in philosophy, well, it isn’t Peru, you know! You will stay and breakfast with me?” he added.

“We are at your orders,” replied Madame Clapart. “Ah! my dear Monsieur Cardot, what happiness it is for fathers and mothers when their children make a good start in life! In this respect — indeed, in all others,” she added, catching herself up, “you are one of the most fortunate fathers I have ever known. Under your virtuous son-inlaw and your amiable daughter, the Cocon d’Or continues to be the greatest establishment of its kind in Paris. And here’s your eldest son, for the last ten years at the head of a fine practice and married to wealth. And you have such charming little granddaughters! You are, as it were, the head of four great families. Leave us, Oscar; go and look at the garden, but don’t touch the flowers.”

“Why, he’s eighteen years old!” said uncle Cardot, smiling at this injunction, which made an infant of Oscar.

“Alas, yes, he is eighteen, my good Monsieur Cardot; and after bringing him so far, sound and healthy in mind and body, neither bow-legged nor crooked, after sacrificing everything to give him an education, it would be hard if I could not see him on the road to fortune.”

“That Monsieur Moreau who got him the scholarship will be sure to look after his career,” said uncle Cardot, concealing his hypocrisy under an air of friendly good-humor.

“Monsieur Moreau may die,” she said. “And besides, he has quarrelled irrevocably with the Comte de Serizy, his patron.”

“The deuce he has! Listen, madame; I see you are about to —”

“No, monsieur,” said Oscar’s mother, interrupting the old man, who, out of courtesy to the “fair lady,” repressed his annoyance at being interrupted. “Alas, you do not know the miseries of a mother who, for seven years past, has been forced to take a sum of six hundred francs a year for her son’s education from the miserable eighteen hundred francs of her husband’s salary. Yes, monsieur, that is all we have had to live upon. Therefore, what more can I do for my poor Oscar? Monsieur Clapart so hates the child that it is impossible for me to keep him in the house. A poor woman, alone in the world, am I not right to come and consult the only relation my Oscar has under heaven?”

“Yes, you are right,” said uncle Cardot. “You never told me of all this before.”

“Ah, monsieur!” replied Madame Clapart, proudly, “you were the last to whom I would have told my wretchedness. It is all my own fault; I married a man whose incapacity is almost beyond belief. Yes, I am, indeed, most unhappy.”

“Listen to me, madame,” said the little old man, “and don’t weep; it is most painful to me to see a fair lady cry. After all, your son bears the name of Husson, and if my dear deceased wife were living she would wish to do something for the name of her father and of her brother —”

“She loved her brother,” said Oscar’s mother.

“But all my fortune is given to my children, who expect nothing from me at my death,” continued the old man. “I have divided among them the millions that I had, because I wanted to see them happy and enjoying their wealth during my lifetime. I have nothing now except an annuity; and at my age one clings to old habits. Do you know the path on which you ought to start this young fellow?” he went on, after calling to Oscar and taking him by the arm. “Let him study law; I’ll pay the costs. Put him in a lawyer’s office and let him learn the business of pettifogging; if he does well, if he distinguishes himself, if he likes his profession and I am still alive, each of my children shall, when the proper time comes, lend him a quarter of the cost of a practice; and I will be security for him. You will only have to feed and clothe him. Of course he’ll sow a few wild oats, but he’ll learn life. Look at me: I left Lyon with two double louis which my grandmother gave me, and walked to Paris; and what am I now? Fasting is good for the health. Discretion, honesty, and work, young man, and you’ll succeed. There’s a great deal of pleasure in earning one’s fortune; and if a man keeps his teeth he eats what he likes in his old age, and sings, as I do, ‘La Mere Godichon.’ Remember my words: Honesty, work, discretion.”

“Do you hear that, Oscar?” said his mother. “Your uncle sums up in three words all that I have been saying to you. You ought to carve the last word in letters of fire on your memory.”

“Oh, I have,” said Oscar.

“Very good — then thank your uncle; didn’t you hear him say he would take charge of your future? You will be a lawyer in Paris.”

“He doesn’t see the grandeur of his destiny,” said the little old man, observing Oscar’s apathetic air. “Well, he’s just out of school. Listen, I’m no talker,” he continued; “but I have this to say: Remember that at your age honesty and uprightness are maintained only by resisting temptations; of which, in a great city like Paris, there are many at every step. Live in your mother’s home, in the garret; go straight to the law-school; from there to your lawyer’s office; drudge night and day, and study at home. Become, by the time you are twenty-two, a second clerk; by the time you are twenty-four, head-clerk; be steady, and you will win all. If, moreover, you shouldn’t like the profession, you might enter the office of my son the notary, and eventually succeed him. Therefore, work, patience, discretion, honesty — those are your landmarks.”

“God grant that you may live thirty years longer to see your fifth child realizing all we expect from him,” cried Madame Clapart, seizing uncle Cardot’s hand and pressing it with a gesture that recalled her youth.

“Now come to breakfast,” replied the kind old man, leading Oscar by the ear.

During the meal uncle Cardot observed his nephew without appearing to do so, and soon saw that the lad knew nothing of life.

“Send him here to me now and then,” he said to Madame Clapart, as he bade her good-bye, “and I’ll form him for you.”

This visit calmed the anxieties of the poor mother, who had not hoped for such brilliant success. For the next fortnight she took Oscar to walk daily, and watched him tyrannically. This brought matters to the end of October. One morning as the poor household was breakfasting on a salad of herring and lettuce, with milk for a dessert, Oscar beheld with terror the formidable ex-steward, who entered the room and surprised this scene of poverty.

“We are now living in Paris — but not as we lived at Presles,” said Moreau, wishing to make known to Madame Clapart the change in their relations caused by Oscar’s folly. “I shall seldom be here myself; for I have gone into partnership with Pere Leger and Pere Margueron of Beaumont. We are speculating in land, and we have begun by purchasing the estate of Persan. I am the head of the concern, which has a capital of a million; part of which I have borrowed on my own securities. When I find a good thing, Pere Leger and I examine it; my partners have each a quarter and I a half in the profits; but I do nearly all the work, and for that reason I shall be constantly on the road. My wife lives here, in the faubourg du Roule, very plainly. When we see how the business turns out, if we risk only the profits, and if Oscar behaves himself, we may, perhaps, employ him.”

“Ah! my friend, the catastrophe caused by my poor boy’s heedlessness may prove to be the cause of your making a brilliant fortune; for, really and truly, you were burying your energy and your capacity at Presles.”

Madame Clapart then went on to relate her visit to uncle Cardot, in order to show Moreau that neither she nor her son need any longer be a burden on him.

“He is right, that old fellow,” said the ex-steward. “We must hold Oscar in that path with an iron hand, and he will end as a barrister or a notary. But he mustn’t leave the track; he must go straight through with it. Ha! I know how to help you. The legal business of land-agents is quite important, and I have heard of a lawyer who has just bought what is called a “titre nu”; that means a practice without clients. He is a young man, hard as an iron bar, eager for work, ferociously active. His name is Desroches. I’ll offer him our business on condition that he takes Oscar as a pupil; and I’ll ask him to let the boy live with him at nine hundred francs a year, of which I will pay three, so that your son will cost you only six hundred francs, without his living, in future. If the boy ever means to become a man it can only be under a discipline like that. He’ll come out of that office, notary, solicitor, or barrister, as he may elect.”

“Come, Oscar; thank our kind Monsieur Moreau, and don’t stand there like a stone post. All young men who commit follies have not the good fortune to meet with friends who still take an interest in their career, even after they have been injured by them.”

“The best way to make your peace with me,” said Moreau, pressing Oscar’s hand, “is to work now with steady application, and to conduct yourself in future properly.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31