The Deputy of Arcis

Contents:
Author: Honore de Balzac

III Opposition Defines Itself

The mayor, Monsieur Phileas Beauvisage, was the first to present himself, accompanied by the successor of his father-in-law, the busiest notary in town, Achille Pigoult, grandson of an old man who had continued justice of the peace in Arcis during the Revolution, the Empire, and the Restoration. Achille Pigoult, thirty-two years of age, had been eighteen years a clerk in Grevin’s office with no means of becoming himself a notary. His father, son of the justice of peace, had died of a so-called apoplexy, having gone wrong in business.

The Comte de Gondreville, however, with whom old Pigoult had relations dating back to 1793, lent money for the necessary security, and thus enabled the grandson of the judge who made the first examination in the Simeuse case to buy the practice of his master, Grevin. Achille had set up his office in the Place de l’Eglise, in a house belonging to the Comte de Gondreville, which the latter had leased to him at so low a price that any one could see how desirous that crafty politician was to hold the leading notary of Arcis in the hollow of his hand.

Young Pigoult, a short, skinny man, whose eyes seemed to pierce the green spectacles which could not modify the spitefulness of his glance, well-informed as to all the interests of the neighborhood, owing his aptitude in managing affairs to a certain facility of speech, passed for what is called a /quizzer/, saying things plainly and with more cleverness than the aborigines could put into their conversations. Still a bachelor, he was awaiting a rich marriage through the offices of his two protectors, Grevin and the Comte de Gondreville. Consequently, barrister Giguet was not a little surprised on seeing Achille appear at the meeting in company with Monsieur Phileas Beauvisage.

The notary, whose face was so seamed by the smallpox that it seemed to be covered with a white net, formed a perfect contrast to the rotund person of the mayor, whose face resembled a full moon, but a warm and lively moon; its tones of lily and of rose being still further brightened by a gracious smile, the result not so much of a disposition of the soul as of that formation of the lips for which the word "simpering" seems to have been created. Phileas Beauvisage was endowed with so great a contentment with himself that he smiled on all the world and under all circumstances. Those simpering lips smiled at a funeral. The liveliness that abounded in his infantine blue eyes did not contradict that perpetual and well-nigh intolerable smile.

This internal satisfaction passed all the more readily for benevolence and affability, because Phileas had made himself a language of his own, remarkable for its immoderate use of the formulas of politeness. He always "had the honor"; to all his inquiries as to the health of absent persons he added the adjectives "dear," "good," "excellent." He lavished condoling or congratulatory phrases apropos of all the petty miseries and all the little felicities of life. He concealed under a deluge of commonplaces his native incapacity, his total want of education, and a weakness of character which can only be expressed by the old word "weathercock." Be not uneasy: the weathercock had for its axis the beautiful Madame Beauvisage, Severine Grevin, the most remarkable woman in the arrondissement.

When Severine heard of what she called her husband’s "freak" as to the election, she said to him on the morning of the meeting at Madame Marion’s:—

"It was well enough to give yourself an air of independence; but you mustn’t go to that Giguet meeting unless Achille Pigoult accompanies you; I’ve told him to come and take you."

Giving Achille Pigoult as mentor to Beauvisage meant sending a spy from the Gondreville party to the Giguet assemblage. We may therefore imagine the grimace which contracted the puritan visage of Simon, who was forced to welcome graciously an /habitue/ of his aunt’s salon and an influential elector, in whom, nevertheless, he saw an enemy.

"Ah!" he thought to himself, "what a mistake I made in refusing him that security when he asked for it! Old Gondreville had more sense than I—Good-day to you, Achille," he said, assuming a jaunty manner; "I suppose you mean to trip me up."

"Your meeting isn’t a conspiracy against the independence of our votes," replied the notary, smiling. "We are all playing above-board, I take it."

"Above-board," echoed Beauvisage.

And the mayor began to laugh with that expressionless laugh by which some persons end all their sentences; which may, perhaps, be called the /ritornello/ of their conversation. After which he placed himself in what we must describe as his third position, standing full-front, his chest expanded, and his hands behind his back. He was dressed in black coat and trousers, with an effulgent white waistcoat, opened in such a way as to show two diamond shirt-buttons worth several thousand francs.

"We shall fight, but we shall not be the less good friends," he said. "That is the essence of constitutional morals; he! he! he! That is how /I/ understand the alliance of monarchy with liberty; ha! ha! ha!"

Whereupon the mayor took Simon’s hand, saying:

"How are you, my good friend? Your dear aunt and our worthy colonel are no doubt as well to-day as they were yesterday,—that is, I presume so,—he! he! he!" adding, with an air of perfect beatitude, "perhaps a little agitated by the ceremony now about to take place. Ha! ha! young man; so we intend to enter a political career? Ha! ha! ha! This is our first step—mustn’t step back—it is a great career. I’d rather it were you than I to rush into the storms and tempests of the legislative body, hi! hi!—however agreeable it may be to see that body in our own person, hi! hi! hi!—the sovereign power of France in one four hundred and fifty-third! Hi! hi! hi!"

The vocal organ of Phileas Beauvisage had an agreeable sonority altogether in harmony with the leguminous curves of his face (of the color of a light yellow pumpkin), his solid back, and his broadly expanded chest. That voice, bass in volume, could soften to a baritone and utter, in the giggle with which Phileas ended his phrases, a silvery note. When God desired, in order to place all species of mankind in this his terrestrial paradise, to create within it a provincial bourgeois, his hands never made a more perfect and complete type than Phileas Beauvisage.

"I admire," said that great work, "the devotion of those who fling themselves into the tumult of political life; he! he! he! It takes more nerve than I possess. Who could have told us in 1812 or 1813 that we should come to this? As for me, nothing can surprise me in these days, when asphalt, India-rubber, railroads, and steam have changed the ground we tread on, and overcoats, and distances, he, he!"

These last words were seasoned with a prolonged laugh, and accompanied by a gesture which he had made more especially his own: he closed his right fist, struck it into the rounded palm of his left hand, and rubbed it there with joyous satisfaction. This performance coincided with his laughs on the frequent occasions when he thought he had said a witty thing. Perhaps it is superfluous to add that Phileas Beauvisage was regarded in Arcis as an amiable and charming man.

"I shall endeavor," replied Simon Giguet, "to worthily represent—"

"The sheep of Champagne," interpolated Achille Pigoult, interrupting him.

The candidate swallowed that shaft without reply, for he was forced at that moment to go forward and receive two more influential electors.

One was the landlord of the Mulet, the best inn in Arcis, standing on the Grande-Place at the corner of the rue de Brienne. This worthy landlord, named Poupart, had married the sister of a man-servant attached to the Comtesse de Cinq-Cygne, the well-known Gothard, one of the actors and witnesses in the Simeuse affair.

Poupart, though a most devoted adherent of the Cinq-Cygne family, had been sounded during the last day or two, by Colonel Giguet’s valet, with so much cleverness and perseverance that he thought he was doing an ill-turn to the Comte de Gondreville, the enemy of the Cinq-Cygnes, by giving his influence to the election of Simon Giguet; and he was now conversing on that point with the man who accompanied him, an apothecary named Fromaget, who, as he did not furnish his wares to the chateau de Gondreville, desired nothing better than to cabal against the Kellers.

These two individuals of the lesser bourgeoisie could, in consequence of their connections, determine a certain number of floating votes, for they influenced and advised a number of persons to whom the political opinions of the candidate were a matter of indifference. Consequently, Simon took possession of Poupart, and delivered the apothecary Fromaget to his father, who had just come in to make his bow to the electors.

The sub-engineer of the arrondissement, the secretary of the mayor’s office, four sheriffs, three solicitors, the clerk of the court, and the clerk of the justice of the peace, the registry-clerk, and the tax-collector, all officials under government, two doctors, rivals of Varlet, Grevin’s brother-in-law, a miller named Laurent Goussard, the head of the republicans of Arcis, the two assistant mayors, the printer and publisher of Arcis, and about a dozen other bourgeois arrived in succession, and walked about the garden until the gathering seemed numerous enough to admit of opening the session.

At length, about mid-day, fifty men, all in their best clothes,—most of them having come out of curiosity to see the handsome salons which were much talked of throughout the arrondissement,—were seated on the chairs Madame Marion had provided for them. The windows were left open, and presently so deep a silence reigned that the rustle of Madame Marion’s gown was heard,—that good woman not being able to resist the pleasure of descending to the garden and placing herself in a corner whence she could listen to what went on in the salon. The cook, the chamber-maid, and the man-servant stood in the dining-room and shared the emotions of their masters.

"Messieurs," said Simon Giguet, "some among you desire to honor my father by asking him to preside at this meeting; but Colonel Giguet requests me to present his thanks, and express due gratitude for a desire in which he sees a reward for his services to the country. We are in his house; he thinks he ought, therefore, to decline those functions, and he desires to propose in his stead an honorable merchant on whom your suffrages have already bestowed the chief magistracy of this town, Monsieur Phileas Beauvisage."

"Bravo! bravo!"

"We are, I think, all of one mind in adopting for this meeting— essentially friendly, but entirely free, which will prejudice in no way whatever the great preparatory and primary meeting in which you will produce your candidates and weigh their merits—in adopting, as I said, the parliamentary and constitutional—forms—of the—electoral Chamber."

"Yes, yes!" cried the assembly with one voice.

"Consequently," continued Simon, "I have the honor to request, according to the wish of all present, that his honor the mayor will now take the chair."

Phileas rose and crossed the salon, conscious that he was becoming as red as a cherry. Then, when he stood behind the table, he saw, not a hundred eyes, but a hundred thousand candles. The sun seemed to him to be setting fire to the salon, and he had, to use his own expression, a lump of salt in his throat.

"Return thanks," said Simon, in a low voice.

"Messieurs—"

Such total silence ensued that Phileas had a spasm of colic.

"What must I say, Simon?" he whispered.

"Well, well!" exclaimed Achille Pigoult.

"Messieurs," said Simon, goaded by the sarcastic interjection of the little notary, "the honor which you have done to Monsieur le Maire may take him unawares, but it cannot surprise him."

"That’s it," said Beauvisage; "I am too sensible of this attention on the part of my fellow-citizens not to be excessively flattered by it."

"Bravo!" cried the notary alone.

"The devil take me!" thought Beauvisage, "if I am ever caught haranguing again."

"Will Messieurs Fromaget and Marcelin accept the functions of inspectors of the ballot?"

"It would be more regular," said Achille Pigoult, rising, "if the meeting itself nominated those officers,—following, of course, the parliamentary forms of the Chamber."

"That is best," said the huge Monsieur Mollot, clerk of the court; "otherwise what is here taking place would be a mere farce; we should not be free in our action, in which case we might as well continue to do the will of Monsieur Simon Giguet."

Simon said a few words to Beauvisage, who rose and delivered himself of a "Messieurs!" in palpitating tones.

"Pardon me, Monsieur le president," said Achille Pigoult, "the chairman presides, he does not speak."

"Messieurs," continued Beauvisage, prompted by Simon, "if we are—to conform—to parliamentary usage—I shall beg—the honorable gentleman —Monsieur Pigoult—to address the meeting—from this table—here present—"

Pigoult sprang to the table, stood beside it with his fingers resting lightly on its edge, and gave proof of his boldness by delivering the following speech without the slightest embarrassment, and somewhat after the manner of the illustrious Monsieur Thiers.

"Messieurs, it was not I who made that proposal for parliamentary usage; nevertheless I can conceive that an assemblage of some sixty notabilities of Champagne needs a chairman to guide it; for no flock can get on without a shepherd. If we had voted for secret balloting, I am certain that the name of our excellent mayor would have been returned unanimously. His opposition to the candidate put forward by his relations proves to us that he possesses civic courage in the highest degree, inasmuch as he has dared to free himself from the closest ties—those of family. Patriotism before family! that is indeed so great an effort that, to make it, we are forced to believe that Brutus from his realm of justice still contemplates us after the lapse of two thousand, five hundred and some years. It seemed natural to Maitre Giguet, who had the merit of divining our wishes in the choice of a chairman, to guide us still further in electing inspectors; but, if I am not mistaken, you think with me that once is enough—and you are right. Our mutual friend, Simon Giguet, who intends to offer himself as candidate, would have the air of assuming mastery, and he might, consequently, lose in our minds the good-will we should otherwise bestow upon a modest attitude like that of his venerable father. Now what is our worthy chairman doing at this moment by accepting the method of presiding suggested to him by the candidate? He is depriving us of our liberty! I ask you: is it proper that the chairman of our choice should tell us to nominate, by rising or sitting, inspectors of the ballot thus forced upon us? Have we any liberty of choice? If I were proposed, I believe all present would rise out of politeness; indeed, we should all feel bound to rise for one another, and I say there can be no choice where there is no freedom of action."

"He is right," said the sixty auditors.

"Therefore, let us each write two names on a ballot, and the two gentlemen who are elected will then feel themselves the real choice of this assembly; they will have the right, conjointly with our honorable chairman, to pronounce upon the majority when we come to a vote on the resolutions to be offered. We are here, I think, to promise to a candidate the fullest support that each can give at the coming primary meeting of all the electors of the arrondissement. This act is therefore, and I so declare it, a grave one. Does it not concern one four-hundredth part of the governing power,—as our excellent mayor has lately said with the ready wit that characterizes him and for which we have so high an appreciation?"

During these remarks Colonel Giguet was cutting a sheet of paper into strips, and Simon had sent for pens and ink.

This preliminary discussion on forms had already made Simon extremely uneasy, and had also aroused the attention of the sixty assembled bourgeois. Presently they began to write their ballots, and the wily Pigoult contrived to obtain a majority for Monsieur Mollot, the clerk of the court, and Monsieur Godivet, the registrar. These nominations were naturally very displeasing to Fromaget, the apothecary, and Marcelin the solicitor.

"You enable us," said Achille Pigoult, "to manifest our independence. Therefore you may feel more pride in being rejected than you could have felt in being chosen."

Everybody laughed.

Simon Giguet then produced silence by demanding speech of the chairman, whose shirt was already wet and became still wetter as he mustered all his courage to say:—

"Monsieur Simon Giguet has the floor."

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Chicago: Honore de Balzac, "III Opposition Defines Itself," The Deputy of Arcis, trans. Marriage, Ellen in The Deputy of Arcis Original Sources, accessed April 16, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CQ33UX3CP2AWC56.

MLA: de Balzac, Honore. "III Opposition Defines Itself." The Deputy of Arcis, translted by Marriage, Ellen, in The Deputy of Arcis, Original Sources. 16 Apr. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CQ33UX3CP2AWC56.

Harvard: de Balzac, H, 'III Opposition Defines Itself' in The Deputy of Arcis, trans. . cited in , The Deputy of Arcis. Original Sources, retrieved 16 April 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CQ33UX3CP2AWC56.