"Oh, come now, are you turning stupid?" said she, with a wink. "She came this morning for the twenty-seventh time, that is how I came to mention it."
"What did you do?" asked Desroches.
"I took pity upon her, and--ordered a little hat that I have just invented, a quite new shape. If Mlle. Amanda succeeds with it, she will say no more about the money, her fortune is made."
"In my opinion," put in Desroches, "the finest things that I have seen in a duel of this kind give those who know Paris a far better picture of the city than all the fancy portraits that they paint. Some of you think that you know a thing or two," he continued, glancing round at Nathan, Bixiou, La Palferine, and Lousteau, "but the king of the ground is a certain Count, now busy ranging himself. In his time, he was supposed to be the cleverest, adroitest, canniest, boldest, stoutest, most subtle and experienced of all the pirates, who, equipped with fine manners, yellow kid gloves, and cabs, have ever sailed or ever will sail upon the stormy seas of Paris. He fears neither God nor man. He applies in private life the principles that guide the English Cabinet. Up to the time of his marriage, his life was one continual war, like--Lousteau's, for instance. I was, and am still his solicitor."
"And the first letter of his name is Maxime de Trailles," said La Palferine.
"For that matter, he has paid every one, and injured no one," continued Desroches. "But as your friend Bixiou was saying just now, it is a violation of the liberty of the subject to be made to pay in March when you have no mind to pay till October. By virtue of this article of his particular code, Maxime regarded a creditor's scheme for making him pay at once as a swindler's trick. It was a long time since he had grasped the significance of the bill of exchange in all its bearings, direct and remote. A young man once, in my place, called a bill of exchange the 'asses' bridge' in his hearing. 'No,' said he, 'it is the Bridge of Sighs; it is the shortest way to an execution.' Indeed, his knowledge of commercial law was so complete, that a professional could not have taught him anything. At that time he had nothing, as you know. His carriage and horses were jobbed; he lived in his valet's house; and, by the way, he will be a hero to his valet to the end of the chapter, even after the marriage that he proposes to make. He belonged to three clubs, and dined at one of them whenever he did not dine out. As a rule, he was to be found very seldom at his own address--"
"He once said to me," interrupted La Palferine, " 'My one affectation is the pretence that I make of living in the Rue Pigalle.' "
"Well," resumed Desroches, "he was one of the combatants; and now for the other. You have heard more or less talk of one Claparon?"
"Had hair like this!" cried Bixiou, ruffling his locks till they stood on end. Gifted with the same talent for mimicking absurdities which Chopin the pianist possesses to so high a degree, he proceeded forthwith to represent the character with startling truth.
"He rolls his head like this when he speaks; he was once a commercial traveler; he has been all sorts of things--"
"Well, he was born to travel, for at this minute, as I speak, he is on the sea on his way to America," said Desroches. "It is his only chance, for in all probability he will be condemned by default as a fraudulent bankrupt next session."
"Very much at sea!" exclaimed Malaga.
"For six or seven years this Claparon acted as man of straw, cat's paw, and scapegoat to two friends of ours, du Tillet and Nucingen; but in 1829 his part was so well known that--"
"Our friends dropped him," put in Bixiou.
"They left him to his fate at last, and he wallowed in the mire," continued Desroches. "In 1833 he went into partnership with one Cerizet--"
"What! he that promoted a joint-stock company so nicely that the Sixth Chamber cut short his career with a couple of years in jail?" asked the lorette.
"The same. Under the Restoration, between 1823 and 1827, Cerizet's occupation consisted in first putting his name intrepidly to various paragraphs, on which the public prosecutor fastened with avidity, and subsequently marching off to prison. A man could make a name for himself with small expense in those days. The Liberal party called their provincial champion 'the courageous Cerizet,' and towards 1828 so much zeal received its reward in 'general interest.'
" 'General interest' is a kind of civic crown bestowed on the deserving by the daily press. Cerizet tried to discount the 'general interest' taken in him. He came to Paris, and, with some help from capitalists in the Opposition, started as a broker, and conducted financial operations to some extent, the capital being found by a man in hiding, a skilful gambler who overreached himself, and in consequence, in July 1830, his capital foundered in the shipwreck of the Government."
"Oh! it was he whom we used to call the System," cried Bixiou.
"Say no harm of him, poor fellow," protested Malaga.