Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 3
"It was Monsieur Girardet, no doubt, who ought to have delivered it;
but Jerome says that poor Monsieur Girardet, who was much attached to
lawyer Savaron, was as much upset as he was. So he who came so
mysteriously, as Mademoiselle Galard says, is gone away just as
After hearing this narrative, Mademoiselle de Watteville fell into a
brooding and absent mood, which everybody could see. It is useless to
say anything of the commotion that arose in Besancon on the
disappearance of Monsieur Savaron. It was understood that the Prefect
had obliged him with the greatest readiness by giving him at once a
passport across the frontier, for he was thus quit of his only
opponent. Next day Monsieur de Chavoncourt was carried to the top by a
majority of a hundred and forty votes.
"Jack is gone by the way he came," said an elector on hearing of
Albert Savaron's flight.
This event lent weight to the prevailing prejudice at Besancon against
strangers; indeed, two years previously they had received confirmation
from the affair of the Republican newspaper. Ten days later Albert de
Savarus was never spoken of again. Only three persons--Girardet the
attorney, the Vicar-General, and Rosalie--were seriously affected by
his disappearance. Girardet knew that the white-haired stranger was
Prince Soderini, for he had seen his card, and he told the Vicar-
General; but Rosalie, better informed than either of them, had known
for three months past that the Duc d'Argaiolo was dead.
In the month of April 1836 no one had had any news from or of Albert
de Savarus. Jerome and Mariette were to be married, but the Baroness
confidentially desired her maid to wait till her daughter was married,
saying that the two weddings might take place at the same time.
"It is time that Rosalie should be married," said the Baroness one day
to Monsieur de Watteville. "She is nineteen, and she is fearfully
altered in these last months."
"I do not know what ails her," said the Baron.
"When fathers do not know what ails their daughters, mothers can
guess," said the Baroness; "we must get her married."
"I am quite willing," said the Baron. "I shall give her les Rouxey now
that the Court has settled our quarrel with the authorities of Riceys
by fixing the boundary line at three hundred feet up the side of the
Dent de Vilard. I am having a trench made to collect all the water and
carry it into the lake. The village did not appeal, so the decision is
"It has never occurred to you," said Madame de Watteville, "that this
decision cost me thirty thousand francs handed over to Chantonnit.
That peasant would take nothing else; he sold us peace.--If you give
away les Rouxey, you will have nothing left," said the Baroness.
"I do not need much," said the Baron; "I am breaking up."
"You eat like an ogre!"
"Just so. But however much I may eat, I feel my legs get weaker and
"It is from working the lathe," said his wife.
"I do not know," said he.
"We will marry Rosalie to Monsieur de Soulas; if you give her les
Rouxey, keep the life interest. I will give them fifteen thousand
francs a year in the funds. Our children can live here; I do not see
that they are much to be pitied."
"No. I shall give them les Rouxey out and out. Rosalie is fond of les
"You are a queer man with your daughter! It does not occur to you to
ask me if I am fond of les Rouxey."
Rosalie, at once sent for, was informed that she was to marry Monsieur
de Soulas one day early in the month of May.
"I am very much obliged to you, mother, and to you too, father, for
having thought of settling me; but I do not mean to marry; I am very
happy with you."
"Mere speeches!" said the Baroness. "You are not in love with Monsieur
de Soulas, that is all."
"If you insist on the plain truth, I will never marry Monsieur de
"Oh! the /never/ of a girl of nineteen!" retorted her mother, with a
"The /never/ of Mademoiselle de Watteville," said Rosalie with firm
decision. "My father, I imagine, has no intention of making me marry
against my wishes?"
"No, indeed no!" said the poor Baron, looking affectionately at his
"Very well!" said the Baroness, sternly controlling the rage of a
bigot startled at finding herself unexpectedly defied, "you yourself,
Monsieur de Watteville, may take the responsibility of settling your
daughter. Consider well, mademoiselle, for if you do not marry to my
mind you will get nothing out of me!"
The quarrel thus begun between Madame de Watteville and her husband,
who took his daughter's part, went so far that Rosalie and her father
were obliged to spend the summer at les Rouxey; life at the Hotel de
Rupt was unendurable. It thus became known in Besancon that
Mademoiselle de Watteville had positively refused the Comte de Soulas.
After their marriage Mariette and Jerome came to les Rouxey to succeed
to Modinier in due time. The Baron restored and repaired the house to
suit his daughter's taste. When she heard that these improvements had
cost about sixty thousand francs, and that Rosalie and her father were
building a conservatory, the Baroness understood that there was a
leaven of spite in her daughter. The Baron purchased various outlying
plots, and a little estate worth thirty thousand francs. Madame de
Watteville was told that, away from her, Rosalie showed masterly
qualities, that she was taking steps to improve the value of les
Rouxey, that she had treated herself to a riding habit and rode about;
her father, whom she made very happy, who no longer complained of his
health, and who was growing fat, accompanied her in her expeditions.
As the Baroness' name-day grew near--her name was Louise--the Vicar-
General came one day to les Rouxey, deputed, no doubt, by Madame de
Watteville and Monsieur de Soulas, to negotiate a peace between mother
"That little Rosalie has a head on her shoulders," said the folk of
After handsomely paying up the ninety thousand francs spent on les
Rouxey, the Baroness allowed her husband a thousand francs a month to
live on; she would not put herself in the wrong. The father and
daughter were perfectly willing to return to Besancon for the 15th of
August, and to remain there till the end of the month.
When, after dinner, the Vicar-General took Mademoiselle de Watteville
apart, to open the question of the marriage, by explaining to her that
it was vain to think any more of Albert, of whom they had had no news
for a year past, he was stopped at once by a sign from Rosalie. The
strange girl took Monsieur de Grancey by the arm, and led him to a
seat under a clump of rhododendrons, whence there was a view of the
"Listen, dear Abbe," said she. "You whom I love as much as my father,
for you had an affection for my Albert, I must at last confess that I
committed crimes to become his wife, and he must be my husband.--Here;
She held out to him a number of the /Gazette/ which she had in her
apron pocket, pointing out the following paragraph under the date of
Florence, May 25th:--
"The wedding of Monsieur le Duc de Rhetore, eldest son of the Duc
de Chaulieu, the former Ambassador, to Madame la Duchesse
d'Argaiolo, /nee/ Princess Soderini, was solemnized with great
splendor. Numerous entertainments given in honor of the marriage
are making Florence gay. The Duchess' fortune is one of the finest
in Italy, for the late Duke left her everything.
"The woman he loved is married," said she. "I divided them."
"You? How?" asked the Abbe.
Rosalie was about to reply, when she was interrupted by a loud cry
from two of the gardeners, following on the sound of a body falling
into the water; she started, and ran off screaming, "Oh! father!"--The
Baron had disappeared.
In trying to reach a piece of granite on which he fancied he saw the
impression of a shell, a circumstance which would have contradicted
some system of geology, Monsieur de Watteville had gone down the
slope, lost his balance, and slipped into the lake, which, of course,
was deepest close under the roadway. The men had the greatest
difficulty in enabling the Baron to catch hold of a pole pushed down
at the place where the water was bubbling, but at last they pulled him
out, covered with mud, in which he had sunk; he was getting deeper and
deeper in, by dint of struggling. Monsieur de Watteville had dined
heavily, digestion was in progress, and was thus checked.
When he had been undressed, washed, and put to bed, he was in such
evident danger that two servants at once set out on horseback: one to
ride to Besancon, and the other to fetch the nearest doctor and
surgeon. When Madame de Watteville arrived, eight hours later, with
the first medical aid from Besancon, they found Monsieur de Watteville
past all hope, in spite of the intelligent treatment of the Rouxey
doctor. The fright had produced serious effusion on the brain, and the
shock to the digestion was helping to kill the poor man.
This death, which would never have happened, said Madame de
Watteville, if her husband had stayed at Besancon, was ascribed by her
to her daughter's obstinacy. She took an aversion for Rosalie,
abandoning herself to grief and regrets that were evidently
exaggerated. She spoke of the Baron as "her dear lamb!"
The last of the Wattevilles was buried on an island in the lake at les
Rouxey, where the Baroness had a little Gothic monument erected of
white marble, like that called the tomb of Heloise at Pere-Lachaise.
A month after this catastrophe the mother and daughter had settled in
the Hotel de Rupt, where they lived in savage silence. Rosalie was
suffering from real sorrow, which had no visible outlet; she accused
herself of her father's death, and she feared another disaster, much
greater in her eyes, and very certainly her own work; neither Girardet
the attorney nor the Abbe de Grancey could obtain any information
concerning Albert. This silence was appalling. In a paroxysm of
repentance she felt that she must confess to the Vicar-General the
horrible machinations by which she had separated Francesca and Albert.
They had been simple, but formidable. Mademoiselle de Watteville had
intercepted Albert's letters to the Duchess as well as that in which
Francesca announced her husband's illness, warning her lover that she
could write to him no more during the time while she was devoted, as
was her duty, to the care of the dying man. Thus, while Albert was
wholly occupied with election matters, the Duchess had written him
only two letters; one in which she told him that the Duc d'Argaiolo
was in danger, and one announcing her widowhood--two noble and
beautiful letters which Rosalie kept back.
After several nights' labor she succeeded in imitating Albert's
writing very perfectly. She had substituted three letters of her own
writing for three of Albert's, and the rough copies which she showed
to the old priest made him shudder--the genius of evil was revealed in
them to such perfection. Rosalie, writing in Albert's name, had
prepared the Duchess for a change in the Frenchman's feelings, falsely
representing him as faithless, and she had answered the news of the
Duc d'Argaiolo's death by announcing the marriage ere long of Albert
and Mademoiselle de Watteville. The two letters, intended to cross on
the road, had, in fact, done so. The infernal cleverness with which
the letters were written so much astonished the Vicar-General that he
read them a second time. Francesca, stabbed to the heart by a girl who
wanted to kill love in her rival, had answered the last in these four
words: "You are free. Farewell."
"Purely moral crimes, which give no hold to human justice, are the
most atrocious and detestable," said the Abbe severely. "God often
punishes them on earth; herein lies the reason of the terrible
catastrophes which to us seem inexplicable. Of all secret crimes
buried in the mystery of private life, the most disgraceful is that of
breaking the seal of a letter, or of reading it surreptitiously. Every
one, whoever it may be, and urged by whatever reason, who is guilty of
such an act has stained his honor beyond retrieving.
"Do you not feel all that is touching, that is heavenly in the story
of the youthful page, falsely accused, and carrying the letter
containing the order for his execution, who sets out without a thought
of ill, and whom Providence protects and saves--miraculously, we say!
But do you know wherein the miracle lies? Virtue has a glory as potent
as that of innocent childhood.
"I say these things not meaning to admonish you," said the old priest,
with deep grief. "I, alas! am not your spiritual director; you are not
kneeling at the feet of God; I am your friend, appalled by dread of
what your punishment may be. What has become of that unhappy Albert?
Has he, perhaps, killed himself? There was tremendous passion under
his assumption of calm. I understand now that old Prince Soderini, the
father of the Duchess d'Argaiolo, came here to take back his
daughter's letters and portraits. This was the thunderbolt that fell
on Albert's head, and he went off, no doubt, to try to justify
himself. But how is it that in fourteen months he has given us no news
"Oh! if I marry him, he will be so happy!"
"Happy?--He does not love you. Besides, you have no great fortune to
give him. Your mother detests you; you made her a fierce reply which
rankles, and which will be your ruin. When she told you yesterday that
obedience was the only way to repair your errors, and reminded you of
the need for marrying, mentioning Amedee--'If you are so fond of him,
marry him yourself, mother!'--Did you, or did you not, fling these
words in her teeth?"
"Yes," said Rosalie.
"Well, I know her," Monsieur de Grancey went on. "In a few months she
will be Comtesse de Soulas! She will be sure to have children; she
will give Monsieur de Soulas forty thousand francs a year; she will
benefit him in other ways, and reduce your share of her fortune as
much as possible. You will be poor as long as she lives, and she is
but eight-and-thirty! Your whole estate will be the land of les
Rouxey, and the small share left to you after your father's legal
debts are settled, if, indeed, your mother should consent to forego
her claims on les Rouxey. From the point of view of material
advantages, you have done badly for yourself; from the point of view
of feeling, I imagine you have wrecked your life. Instead of going to
your mother--" Rosalie shook her head fiercely.
"To your mother," the priest went on, "and to religion, where you
would, at the first impulse of your heart, have found enlightenment,
counsel, and guidance, you chose to act in your own way, knowing
nothing of life, and listening only to passion!"
These words of wisdom terrified Mademoiselle de Watteville.
"And what ought I to do now?" she asked after a pause.
"To repair your wrong-doing, you must ascertain its extent," said the
"Well, I will write to the only man who can know anything of Albert's
fate, Monsieur Leopold Hannequin, a notary in Paris, his friend since
"Write no more, unless to do honor to truth," said the Vicar-General.
"Place the real and the false letters in my hands, confess everything
in detail as though I were the keeper of your conscience, asking me
how you may expiate your sins, and doing as I bid you. I shall see--
for, above all things, restore this unfortunate man to his innocence
in the eyes of the woman he had made his divinity on earth. Though he
has lost his happiness, Albert must still hope for justification."
Rosalie promised to obey the Abbe, hoping that the steps he might take
would perhaps end in bringing Albert back to her.
Not long after Mademoiselle de Watteville's confession a clerk came to
Besancon from Monsieur Leopold Hannequin, armed with a power of
attorney from Albert; he called first on Monsieur Girardet, begging
his assistance in selling the house belonging to Monsieur Savaron. The
attorney undertook to do this out of friendship for Albert. The clerk
from Paris sold the furniture, and with the proceeds could repay some
money owed by Savaron to Girardet, who on the occasion of his
inexplicable departure had lent him five thousand francs while
undertaking to collect his assets. When Girardet asked what had become
of the handsome and noble pleader, to whom he had been so much
attached, the clerk replied that no one knew but his master, and that
the notary had seemed greatly distressed by the contents of the last
letter he had received from Monsieur Albert de Savarus.
On hearing this, the Vicar-General wrote to Leopold. This was the
worthy notary's reply:--
"To Monsieur l'Abbe de Grancey,
Vicar-General of the Diocese of Besancon.
"Alas, monsieur, it is in nobody's power to restore Albert to the
life of the world; he has renounced it. He is a novice in the
monastery of the Grand Chartreuse near Grenoble. You know, better
than I who have but just learned it, that on the threshold of that
cloister everything dies. Albert, foreseeing that I should go to
him, placed the General of the Order between my utmost efforts and
himself. I know his noble soul well enough to be sure that he is
the victim of some odious plot unknown to us; but everything is at
an end. The Duchesse d'Argaiolo, now Duchesse de Rhetore, seems to
me to have carried severity to an extreme. At Belgirate, which she
had left when Albert flew thither, she had left instructions
leading him to believe that she was living in London. From London
Albert went in search of her to Naples, and from Naples to Rome,
where she was now engaged to the Duc de Rhetore. When Albert
succeeded in seeing Madame d'Argaiolo, at Florence, it was at the
ceremony of her marriage.
"Our poor friend swooned in the church, and even when he was in
danger of death he could never obtain any explanation from this
woman, who must have had I know not what in her heart. For seven
months Albert had traveled in pursuit of a cruel creature who
thought it sport to escape him; he knew not where or how to catch
"I saw him on his way through Paris; and if you had seen him, as I
did, you would have felt that not a word might be spoken about the
Duchess, at the risk of bringing on an attack which might have
wrecked his reason. If he had known what his crime was, he might
have found means to justify himself; but being falsely accused of
being married!--what could he do? Albert is dead, quite dead to
the world. He longed for rest; let us hope that the deep silence
and prayer into which he has thrown himself may give him happiness
in another guise. You, monsieur, who have known him, must greatly
pity him; and pity his friends also.
As soon as he received this letter the good Vicar-General wrote to the
General of the Carthusian order, and this was the letter he received
from Albert Savarus:--
"Brother Albert to Monsieur l'Abbe de Grancey,
Vicar-General of the Diocese of Besancon.
"LA GRANDE CHARTREUSE.
"I recognized your tender soul, dear and well-beloved Vicar-
General, and your still youthful heart, in all that the reverend
Father General of our Order has just told me. You have understood
the only wish that lurks in the depths of my heart so far as the
things of the world are concerned--to get justice done to my
feelings by her who has treated me so badly! But before leaving me
at liberty to avail myself of your offer, the General wanted to
know that my vocation was sincere; he was so kind as to tell me
his idea, on finding that I was determined to preserve absolute
silence on this point. If I had yielded to the temptation to
rehabilitate the man of the world, the friar would have been
rejected by this monastery. Grace has certainly done her work,
but, though short, the struggle was not the less keen or the less
painful. Is not this enough to show you that I could never return
to the world?
"Hence my forgiveness, which you ask for the author of so much
woe, is entire and without a thought of vindictiveness. I will
pray to God to forgive that young lady as I forgive her, and as I
shall beseech Him to give Madame de Rhetore a life of happiness.
Ah! whether it be death, or the obstinate hand of a young girl
madly bent on being loved, or one of the blows ascribed to chance,
must we not all obey God? Sorrow in some souls makes a vast void
through which the Divine Voice rings. I learned too late the
bearings of this life on that which awaits us; all in me is worn
out; I could not serve in the ranks of the Church Militant, and I
lay the remains of an almost extinct life at the foot of the
"This is the last time I shall ever write. You alone, who loved
me, and whom I loved so well, could make me break the law of
oblivion I imposed on myself when I entered these headquarters of
Saint Bruno, but you are always especially named in the prayers of
"Everything is for the best perhaps," thought the Abbe de Grancey.
When he showed this letter to Rosalie, who, with a pious impulse,
kissed the lines which contained her forgiveness, he said to her:
"Well, now that he is lost to you, will you not be reconciled to your
mother and marry the Comte de Soulas?"
"Only if Albert should order it," said she.
"But you see it is impossible to consult him. The General of the Order
would not allow it."
"If I were to go to see him?"
"No Carthusian sees any visitor. Besides, no woman but the Queen of
France may enter a Carthusian monastery," said the Abbe. "So you have
no longer any excuse for not marrying young Monsieur de Soulas."
"I do not wish to destroy my mother's happiness," retorted Rosalie.
"Satan!" exclaimed the Vicar-General.
Towards the end of that winter the worthy Abbe de Grancey died. This
good friend no longer stood between Madame de Watteville and her
daughter, to soften the impact of those two iron wills.
The event he had foretold took place. In the month of August 1837
Madame de Watteville was married to Monsieur de Soulas in Paris,
whither she went by Rosalie's advice, the girl making a show of
kindness and sweetness to her mother. Madame de Watteville believed in
this affection on the part of her daughter, who simply desired to go
to Paris to give herself the luxury of a bitter revenge; she thought
of nothing but avenging Savarus by torturing her rival.
Mademoiselle de Watteville had been declared legally of age; she was,
in fact, not far from one-and-twenty. Her mother, to settle with her
finally, had resigned her claims on les Rouxey, and the daughter had
signed a release for all the inheritance of the Baron de Watteville.
Rosalie encouraged her mother to marry the Comte de Soulas and settle
all her own fortune on him.
"Let us each be perfectly free," she said.
Madame de Soulas, who had been uneasy as to her daughter's intentions,
was touched by this liberality, and made her a present of six thousand
francs a year in the funds as conscience money. As the Comtesse de
Soulas had an income of forty-eight thousand francs from her own
lands, and was quite incapable of alienating them in order to diminish
Rosalie's share, Mademoiselle de Watteville was still a fortune to
marry, of eighteen hundred thousand francs; les Rouxey, with the
Baron's additions, and certain improvements, might yield twenty
thousand francs a year, besides the value of the house, rents, and
preserves. So Rosalie and her mother, who soon adopted the Paris style
and fashions, easily obtained introductions to the best society. The
golden key--eighteen hundred thousand francs-- embroidered on
Mademoiselle de Watteville's stomacher, did more for the Comtesse de
Soulas than her pretensions /a la/ de Rupt, her inappropriate pride,
or even her rather distant great connections.
In the month of February 1838 Rosalie, who was eagerly courted by many
young men, achieved the purpose which had brought her to Paris. This
was to meet the Duchesse de Rhetore, to see this wonderful woman, and
to overwhelm her with perennial remorse. Rosalie gave herself up to
the most bewildering elegance and vanities in order to face the
Duchess on an equal footing.
They first met at a ball given annually after 1830 for the benefit of
the pensioners on the old Civil List. A young man, prompted by
Rosalie, pointed her out to the Duchess, saying:
"There is a very remarkable young person, a strong-minded young lady
too! She drove a clever man into a monastery--the Grand Chartreuse--a
man of immense capabilities, Albert de Savarus, whose career she
wrecked. She is Mademoiselle de Watteville, the famous Besancon
The Duchess turned pale. Rosalie's eyes met hers with one of those
flashes which, between woman and woman, are more fatal than the pistol
shots of a duel. Francesca Soderini, who had suspected that Albert
might be innocent, hastily quitted the ballroom, leaving the speaker
at his wits' end to guess what terrible blow he had inflicted on the
beautiful Duchesse de Rhetore.
"If you want to hear more about Albert, come to the Opera ball on
Tuesday with a marigold in your hand."
This anonymous note, sent by Rosalie to the Duchess, brought the
unhappy Italian to the ball, where Mademoiselle de Watteville placed
in her hand all Albert's letters, with that written to Leopold
Hannequin by the Vicar-General, and the notary's reply, and even that
in which she had written her confession to the Abbe de Grancey.
"I do not choose to be the only sufferer," she said to her rival, "for
one has been as ruthless as the other."
After enjoying the dismay stamped on the Duchess' beautiful face,
Rosalie went away; she went out no more, and returned to Besancon with
Mademoiselle de Watteville, who lived alone on her estate of les
Rouxey, riding, hunting, refusing two or three offers a year, going to
Besancon four or five times in the course of the winter, and busying
herself with improving her land, was regarded as a very eccentric
personage. She was one of the celebrities of the Eastern provinces.
Madame de Soulas has two children, a boy and a girl, and she has grown
younger; but Monsieur de Soulas has aged a good deal.
"My fortune has cost me dear," said he to young Chavoncourt. "Really
to know a bigot it is unfortunately necessary to marry her!"
Mademoiselle de Watteville behaves in the most extraordinary manner.
"She has vagaries," people say. Every year she goes to gaze at the
walls of the Grande Chartreuse. Perhaps she dreams of imitating her
grand-uncle by forcing the walls of the monastery to find a husband,
as Watteville broke through those of his monastery to recover his
She left Besancon in 1841, intending, it was said, to get married; but
the real reason of this expedition is still unknown, for she returned
home in a state which forbids her ever appearing in society again. By
one of those chances of which the Abbe de Grancey had spoken, she
happened to be on the Loire in a steamboat of which the boiler burst.
Mademoiselle de Watteville was so severely injured that she lost her
right arm and her left leg; her face is marked with fearful scars,
which have bereft her of her beauty; her health, cruelly upset, leaves
her few days free from suffering. In short, she now never leaves the
Chartreuse of les Rouxey, where she leads a life wholly devoted to
PARIS, May 1842.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Beauseant, Vicomtesse de
The Deserted Woman
The Commission in Lunacy
Nueil, Gaston de
The Deserted Woman
Rhetore, Duc Alphonse de
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
The Member for Arcis
Savaron de Savarus
The Quest of the Absolute
Savarus, Albert Savaron de
The Quest of the Absolute
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
The Government Clerks
The Imaginary Mistress
The Unconscious Humorists
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