As soon as I finished my term of service I came here--to make a fortune, or rather for the sake of living in Paris; and for six months I have been a clerk in the offices of the Northern Railway at fifteen hundred francs a year, nothing more."
Forestier murmured: "Hang it, that's not much!"
"I should think not.
But how can I get out of it?
I am alone; I don't know anyone; I can get no one to recommend me.
It is not goodwill that is lacking, but means."
His comrade scanned him from head to foot, like a practical man examining a subject, and then said, in a tone of conviction:
"You see, my boy, everything depends upon assurance here.
A clever fellow can more easily become a minister than an under-secretary.
One must obtrude one's self on people; not ask things of them.
But how the deuce is it that you could not get hold of anything better than a clerk's berth on the Northern Railway?"
Duroy replied: "I looked about everywhere, but could not find anything.
But I have something in view just now; I have been offered a riding-master's place at Pellerin's.
There I shall get three thousand francs at the lowest."
Forestier stopped short. "Don't do that; it is stupid, when you ought to be earning ten thousand francs.
You would nip your future in the bud.
In your office, at any rate, you are hidden; no one knows you; you can emerge from it if you are strong enough to make your way.
But once a riding-master, and it is all over.
It is as if you were head-waiter at a place where all Paris goes to dine.
When once you have given riding lessons to people in society or to their children, they will never be able to look upon you as an equal."
He remained silent for a few moments, evidently reflecting, and then asked:
"Have you a bachelor's degree?"
"No; I failed to pass twice."
"That is no matter, as long as you studied for it.
If anyone mentions Cicero or Tiberius, you know pretty well what they are talking about?"
"Yes; pretty well."
"Good; no one knows any more, with the exception of a score of idiots who have taken the trouble.
It is not difficult to pass for being well informed; the great thing is not to be caught in some blunder.
You can maneuver, avoid the difficulty, turn the obstacle, and floor others by means of a dictionary.
Men are all as stupid as geese and ignorant as donkeys."
He spoke like a self-possessed blade who knows what life is, and smiled as he watched the crowd go by.
But all at once he began to cough, and stopped again until the fit was over, adding, in a tone of discouragement:
"Isn't it aggravating not to be able to get rid of this cough?
And we are in the middle of summer.
Oh! this winter I shall go and get cured at Mentone.
Health before everything."
They halted on the Boulevard Poissoniere before a large glass door, on the inner side of which an open newspaper was pasted.
Three passers-by had stopped and were reading it.
Above the door, stretched in large letters of flame, outlined by gas jets, the inscription _La Vie Francaise_.
The pedestrians passing into the light shed by these three dazzling words suddenly appeared as visible as in broad daylight, then disappeared again into darkness.
Forestier pushed the door open, saying,
Duroy entered, ascended an ornate yet dirty staircase, visible from the street, passed through an ante-room where two messengers bowed to his companion, and reached a kind of waiting-room, shabby and dusty, upholstered in dirty green Utrecht velvet, covered with spots and stains, and worn in places as if mice had been gnawing it.
"Sit down," said Forestier. "I will be back in five minutes."
And he disappeared through one of the three doors opening into the room.
A strange, special, indescribable odor, the odor of a newspaper office, floated in the air of the room.
Duroy remained motionless, slightly intimidated, above all surprised.
From time to time folk passed hurriedly before him, coming in at one door and going out at another before he had time to look at them.
They were now young lads, with an appearance of haste, holding in their hand a sheet of paper which fluttered from the hurry of their progress; now compositors, whose white blouses, spotted with ink, revealed a clean shirt collar and cloth trousers like those of men of fashion, and who carefully carried strips of printed paper, fresh proofs damp from the press.
Sometimes a gentleman entered rather too elegantly attired, his waist too tightly pinched by his frock-coat, his leg too well set off by the cut of his trousers, his foot squeezed into a shoe too pointed at the toe, some fashionable reporter bringing in the echoes of the evening.