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Montgolfier announced himself to the servant and offered his card. The servant led the two men to an anteroom obviously intended for the Bishop's less important callers, then took Montgolfier's card deep into the interior of the house. Pierce had no difficulty standing at ease in such situations, but Montgolfier was plainly disappointed they were not accommodated in a grander room and paced about, studying the few rather shabby oils in their unornamented frames and tipping chairs to look for maker's marks.
"I rather doubt he will receive me," said Montgolfier to the underside of a chair. "He has never in the past, but I continue to hope I will arrive at a time when he needs to order paper."
Pierce was struck by the randomness of the process.
Etienne Montgolfier righted the chair, then looked up at Pierce. "Nearly everyone in Paris saw our balloon fly over the Champ de Mars," he said.
Pierce knew the remark was simply candid rather than immodest. He had come to appreciate Etienne Montgolfier as a man of rare honesty and directness.
"I wonder if we might not put the word about that Montgolfier paper is used in the construction of our balloons," continued the mill master.
"Does ballooning prove the quality of paper as a writing medium?" Pierce was somewhat incredulous.
"No," said Etienne. "I suppose not."
Their conversation was interrupted by the click of the door latch. The servant stepped into the room as quietly as a deer.
"His Grace will see you now, Monsieur."
They followed the servant down the corridor, Montgolfier's body animated with the enjoyment of an unexpected pleasure.
In a room with a marvelous view of the manicured grounds and garden, they found the Bishop seated at a desk large enough to house one of the poorer families of Paris. He was dressed in a white blouse and cravat and a silk coat the color of spiced wine. Pierce thought his attire very much in fashion but decidedly unclerical.
The Bishop stood and walked from behind the desk toward them. He was wearing silk knee breeches, and he had a club foot, which he managed so deftly that one less observant than Pierce might never have known. He came to them and shook Montgolfier's hand like one bourgeois merchant to another. Montgolfier was obviously surprised and gratified.
Then the Bishop did the unthinkable. He turned to Pierce and extended his hand as well.
Pierce felt he had no choice but to grasp the Bishop's hand. Pierce rarely touched people, as he knew they felt uncomfortable with the temperature and texture of his skin, but the Bishop's smile betrayed no hint of discomfort.
"I am Pierce," he said. "Secretary to Monsieur Montgolfier."
"A pleasure to meet you, Monsieur," said the Bishop.
Pierce made it a point to be retiring in these meetings, and he was not accustomed to being regarded as something more than furniture. The Bishop radiated grace and civility, and Pierce was as charmed as he could be by a human being. He remembered it was said of the Bishop that he could be receiving a kick in the pants and one would never know it from the expression on his face. What an extraordinary man.
The Bishop ushered the two men to a sitting area on the other side of the room, and begged them to sit in the large, padded chairs next to the fire. He waited until they were seated before he lowered himself into a third chair.
"When I was a young man growing up," said the Bishop, "I never dreamed I might live to one day meet an aviator."
Montgolfier was obviously disarmed by the remark and actually blushed. "It's nothing," he managed.
"Oh, but you are so modest," said the Bishop. "To slip the bonds of gravity; to extend man's exploration to the sky... Monsieur, you are the agent of a new era."
It seemed to Pierce a strange reversal when the urbane, fashionable Bishop fawned over the plain, unassuming citizen-scientist.
Montgolfier colored again, and was speechless, but the Bishop continued just as if the paper merchant had been responding with the wittiest of remarks.
"You are also a manufacturer of paper, are you not, Monsieur?"
"Well, yes, as a matter of fact."
"As you can imagine, a see runs on paper. Might I dare to dream of using Montgolfier paper to meet its needs? I know this is a great deal to ask. Your mill must be barely able to keep pace with the demand for its products. The public, after all, have the example of your balloons to prove their quality."
Pierce realized that he and Montgolfier had just dismissed this idea a moment ago, but the Bishop doubtless understood the public better than either of them ever would.
"Of course, it would give my family the greatest pleasure to supply your Grace with paper," said Montgolfier. "The demand for it is not so brisk as one might suppose."
The Bishop smiled grandly. "Oh, my, how delightful!" Then he seemed to catch himself. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to imply I take delight in anything that might appear to you as misfortune. But if your mill can accommodate a greater business, I would count it as a favor if you were to take the custom of some of my associates and acquaintances. To act as the instrument of your introduction would considerably enhance my standing in the city."
"But your Grace is too kind," stammered Montgolfier. "It would be a boon to our business to gain entree to your acquaintances."
"Please, Monsieur," said the Bishop. "I would consider it the greatest kindness to me."
"I don't know how I could repay you," said Montgolfier.
"Live a Christian life and be charitable to all," said the Bishop airily. "The unfortunate are always in need of our assistance. In my own see of Autun, for example, we have families living with great misfortunes."
There was silence for a moment, and Pierce could see Montgolfier forming an idea.
"But your Grace," he said finally, "may I help some of those families?"
"I would not want to inconvenience you with a journey to Autun," said the Bishop.
"May I then offer help through your Grace?" said the mill master.
The Bishop looked surprised by the idea. "I suppose so." He thought for a moment. "Yes, I would be glad to accept your help on behalf of the unfortunate families of Autun." He lapsed into thought again as Montgolfier waited. Finally he spoke. "I shall prepare for you a list of my Paris associates and acquaintances who would be interested in purchasing paper. My secretary will bring it to you tomorrow. If you would make a gift to the unfortunate, give my servant thirty livres for each name on the list."
When they left the Bishop's house, Pierce saw that Montgolfier was filled with excitement at the prospect of selling paper to the Bishop's associates and acquaintances. Pierce forbore to tell him that he had just agreed to an arrangement that looked very much like a bribe.
The idea that ballooning could influence the sale of paper seemed both strange and complex to Pierce, but he had no doubt the Bishop understood such relationships clearly. Pierce decided to call on the Bishop on his own---after dark.
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