The Immortal, by Alphonse Daudet

Chapter xiv.

From the Vicomte de Freydet

To Mademoiselle Germaine de Freydet Villa Beauséjour,

Paris-Passy.

Café d’Orsay: 11 A.M. at breakfast. EVERY two hours, and oftener if I can, I shall send you off an interim despatch like this, as much to relieve your anxiety, dearest, as for the pleasure of being with you throughout this great day, which I hope will end with the news of victory, in spite of defections at the last moment. Picheral told me just now of a saying of Laniboire’s, ‘When a man enters the Académie he wears a sword, but he does not draw it.’ an allusion, of course, to the Astier duel. It was not I who fought, but the creature cares more for his jest than for his promise. Cannot count on Danjou, either. After having said so often to me, ‘You must join us,’ this morning in the secretary’s office he came up to me and whispered, ‘You should let us miss you,’ perhaps the best epigram on his list. Never mind, I’m well ahead. My rivals are not formidable Fancy Baron Huchenard, the author of ‘Cave Man,’ in the Académie Française! Why, Paris would rise! As for M. Dalzon, I can’t think how he has the face. I have got a copy of his too notorious book. I do not like to use it, but he had better be careful.

2 P.M.

At the Institute, in my good master’s rooms, where I shall await the result of the voting. Perhaps it is pure imagination, but I fancy that my arrival, though they expected me, has put them out here a little. Our friends were finishing breakfast. There was a bustle and banging of doors, and Corentine, instead of showing me into the drawing-room, hustled me into the library, where my old master joined me with an embarrassed air, and in a low voice advised me to keep extremely quiet. He was quite depressed. I asked if he had any bad news. He said first, ‘No, no, my dear boy,’ and then, grasping my hand, ‘Come, cheer up.’ For some time past the poor man has been much altered. He is evidently ready to overflow with vexation and sorrow that he will not express. Probably some deep private trouble, quite unconnected with my candidature; but I am so nervous.

More than an hour to wait. I am amusing myself by looking across the court through the great bay window of the meeting-room at the long rows of busts. The Academicians! Is it an omen?

2.45 P.M.

I have just seen all my judges go by, thirty-seven of them, if I counted right. The full number of the Académie, since Epinchard is at Nice, Ripault-Babin in bed, and Loisillon in the grave. It was glorious to see all the distinguished men come into the court; the younger walking slowly with serious looks and head bent as if under the weight of a responsibility too heavy for them, the old men carrying themselves well and stepping out briskly. A few gouty and rheumatic, like Courson-Launay, drove up to the foot of the steps and leant on the arm of a colleague. They stood about before going up, talking in little knots, and I watched the movements of their backs and shoulders and the play of their open hands. What would I not give to hear the last discussion of my prospects! I opened the window gently, but just then a carriage covered with luggage came clattering into the court, and out got a traveller wrapped in furs and wearing an otter-skin cap. It was Epinchard; just think, dear, Epinchard arriving from Nice on purpose to vote for me. Good fellow! Then my old master went by, his broad-brimmed hat down over his eyes; he was turning over the copy of ‘Without the Veil,’ which I gave him, to be used if necessary. Well, self-defence is always legitimate.

Now there’s nothing to see but two carriages waiting and the bust of Minerva keeping guard. Goddess, protect me! They must be beginning the calling of names, and the interrogatory. Each Academician has to state to the President that his vote is not promised. It’s a mere formality, as you may suppose, and they all reply by a smile of denial or a little shake of the head like a Chinese mandarin.

A most amazing thing has just happened! I had given my letter to Corentine and was getting a breath of fresh air at the window and trying to read the secret of my fate in the gloomy front of the building opposite, when at the next window to mine I caught sight of Huchenard, airing himself too, quite close to me. Huchenard, my rival — Astier-Réhu’s worst enemy, installed in his study! We were, both equally amazed, bowed, and withdrew at the same moment. But there he is, I can hear him, I feel that he is on the other side of the partition. No doubt, like me, he is waiting to hear the decision of the Académie, only he has all the space of ‘Villemain’s reception-room,’ while I am suffocating in this hole crammed full of papers! Now I understand the confusion caused by my arrival. But what is it all about? What is going on? My dear Germaine, my head is going! Which of us is the fool?

Lost! And by treachery, by some mean Academic intrigue which I do not yet understand!

FIRST COUNTING.
Baron Huchenard. . . . . . . . .. 17 votes.
Dalzon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Vicomte de Freydet. . . . . . . 5
Moser. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. 1 vote.
SECOND COUNTING.
Baron Huchenard. . . . . . . . .. 19 votes.
Dalzon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Vicomte de Freydet. . . . . . . 3
Moser. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 vote.
THIRD COUNTING.
Baron Huchenard. . . . . . . . .. 33 votes.
Dalzon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Vicomte de Freydet. . . . . . . 0 “(!!)
Moser. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 vote.

It is clear that between the second and third taking of votes the copy of ‘Without the Veil’ must have been sent round in the interest of Baron Huchenard. An explanation I must and will have. I won’t leave the place till I get it.

4 P.M.

Dearest sister, you may guess my feelings when, after I had heard in the next room M. and Madame Astier, old Réhu, and a stream of visitors congratulating the author of ‘Cave Man,’ the door of the library opened and my old master came in, reaching out his hands and saying, ‘My dear boy, forgive me’— between heat and emotion he was nearly speechless —‘forgive me, that man had a hold over me. I had to do it, I had to do it. I thought I could avert the disaster which threatens me, but destiny is not to be escaped, no, not even by a base act —’ He held out his arms and I embraced him without the least anger, without indeed quite understanding the mystery of this bitter grief.

After all, my own loss is easily retrieved. I have first-rate news of Ripault-Babin. He can hardly live through the week. One more campaign, dear, one more. Unfortunately the Hôtel Padovani will be closed all the winter, owing to the Duchess’s deep mourning. So for our scene of operations we shall have the ‘at home’ days of Madame Astier, Madame Ancelin, and Madame Eviza, of whose fashion there is no question since the visit of the Grand Duke. But the first thing, dear Germaine, will be to move. Passy is too far off; the Académie will not go there. You will say I am dragging you about again, but it is so important. Just look at Huchenard. He had no claim whatever but his parties. I dine with my dear master; don’t wait for me.

Your affectionate brother,

Abel de Freydet.

Moser’s solitary vote in each counting was given by Laniboire, the man who reports for the good conduct prizes. They tell a queer story about it There are strange things under the dome!

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:53