Honoré de Balzac
fancies in Paris just as he had gratified them in his native town; he had therefore spent a yearly sum of not less than twelve thousand francs during the time of his legal studies. But for that money he had certainly acquired ideas that would never had come to him in Nemours; he had stripped off the provincial skin, learned the power of money and seen in the magistracy a means of advancement which he fancied. During the last year he had spent an extra sum of ten thousand francs in the company of artists, journalists, and their mistresses. A confidential and rather disquieting letter from his son, asking for his consent to a marriage, explains the watch which the post master was now keeping on the bridge; for Madame Minoret-Levrault, busy in preparing a sumptuous breakfast to celebrate the triumphal return of the licentiate, had sent her husband to the mail road, advising him to take a horse and ride out if he saw nothing of the diligence. The coach which was conveying the precious son usually arrived at five in the morning and it was now nine! What could be the meaning of such delay? Was the coach overturned? Could Desire be dead? Or was it nothing worse than a broken leg?
Three distinct volleys of cracking whips rent the air like a discharge of musketry; the red waistcoats of the postilions dawned in sight, ten horses neighed. The master pulled off his cap and waved it; he was seen. The best mounted postilion, who was returning with two gray carriage-horses, set spurs to his beast and came on in advance of the five diligence horses and the three other carriage-horses, and soon reached his master.
"Have you seen the 'Ducler'?"
On the great mail routes names, often fantastic, are given to the different coaches; such, for instance, as the "Caillard," the "Ducler" (the coach between Nemours and Paris), the "Grand Bureau." Every new enterprise is called the "Competition." In the days of the Lecompte company their coaches were called the "Countess."—"'Caillard' could not overtake the 'Countess'; but 'Grand Bureau' caught up with her finely," you will hear the men say. If you see a postilion pressing his horses and refusing a glass of wine, question the conductor and he will tell you, snuffing the air while his eye gazes far into space, "The 'Competition' is ahead."—"We can't get in sight of her," cries the postilion; "the vixen! she wouldn't stop to let her passengers dine."—"The question is, has she got any?" responds the conductor. "Give it to Polignac!" All lazy and bad horses are called Polignac. Such are the jokes and the basis of conversation between postilions and conductors on the roofs of the coaches. Each profession, each calling in France has its slang.
"Have you seen the 'Ducler'?" asked Minoret.
"Monsieur Desire?" said the postilion, interrupting his master. "Hey! you must have heard us, didn't our whips tell you? we felt you were somewhere along the road."
Just then a woman dressed in her Sunday clothes,—for the bells were pealing from the clock tower and calling the inhabitants to mass,—a woman about thirty-six years of age came up to the post master.
"Well, cousin," she said, "you wouldn't believe me—Uncle is with Ursula in the Grand'Rue, and they are going to mass."
In spite of the modern poetic canons as to local color, it is quite impossible to push realism so far as to repeat the horrible blasphemy mingled with oaths which this news, apparently so unexciting, brought from the huge mouth of Minoret-Levrault; his shrill voice grew sibilant, and his face took on the appearance of what people oddly enough call a sunstroke.
"Is that true?" he asked, after the first explosion of his wrath was over.
The postilions bowed to their master as they and their horses passed him, but he seemed to neither see nor hear them. Instead of waiting for his son, Minoret-Levrault hurried up to the Grand'Rue with his cousin.
"Didn't I always tell you so?" she resumed. "When Doctor Minoret goes out of his head that demure little hypocrite will drag him into religion; whoever lays hold of the mind gets hold of the purse, and she'll have our inheritance."
"But, Madame Massin—" said the post master, dumbfounded.
"There now!" exclaimed Madame Massin, interrupting her cousin. "You are going to say, just as Massin does, that a little girl of fifteen can't invent such plans and carry them out, or make an old man of eighty-three, who has never set foot in a church except to be married, change his
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