An Old Maid
Honore de Balzac

Part 1 out of 3

Produced by John Bickers and Dagny




Translated By
Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To Monsieur Eugene-Auguste-Georges-Louis Midy de la Greneraye
Surville, Royal Engineer of the Ponts at Chausses.

As a testimony to the affection of his brother-in-law,

De Balzac




Most persons have encountered, in certain provinces in France, a
number of Chevaliers de Valois. One lived in Normandy, another at
Bourges, a third (with whom we have here to do) flourished in Alencon,
and doubtless the South possesses others. The number of the Valesian
tribe is, however, of no consequence to the present tale. All these
chevaliers, among whom were doubtless some who were Valois as Louis
XIV. was Bourbon, knew so little of one another that it was not
advisable to speak to one about the others. They were all willing to
leave the Bourbons in tranquil possession of the throne of France; for
it was too plainly established that Henri IV. became king for want of
a male heir in the first Orleans branch called the Valois. If there
are any Valois, they descend from Charles de Valois, Duc d'Angouleme,
son of Charles IX. and Marie Touchet, the male line from whom ended,
until proof to the contrary be produced, in the person of the Abbe de
Rothelin. The Valois-Saint-Remy, who descended from Henri II., also
came to an end in the famous Lamothe-Valois implicated in the affair
of the Diamond Necklace.

Each of these many chevaliers, if we may believe reports, was, like
the Chevalier of Alencon, an old gentleman, tall, thin, withered, and
moneyless. He of Bourges had emigrated; he of Touraine hid himself; he
of Alencon fought in La Vendee and "chouanized" somewhat. The youth of
the latter was spend in Paris, where the Revolution overtook him when
thirty years of age in the midst of his conquests and gallantries.

The Chevalier de Valois of Alencon was accepted by the highest
aristocracy of the province as a genuine Valois; and he distinguished
himself, like the rest of his homonyms, by excellent manners, which
proved him a man of society. He dined out every day, and played cards
every evening. He was thought witty, thanks to his foible for relating
a quantity of anecdotes on the reign of Louis XV. and the beginnings
of the Revolution. When these tales were heard for the first time,
they were held to be well narrated. He had, moreover, the great merit
of not repeating his personal bons mots and of never speaking of his
love-affairs, though his smiles and his airs and graces were
delightfully indiscreet. The worthy gentleman used his privilege as a
Voltairean noble to stay away from mass; and great indulgence was
shown to his irreligion because of his devotion to the royal cause.
One of his particular graces was the air and manner (imitated, no
doubt, from Mole) with which he took snuff from a gold box adorned
with the portrait of the Princess Goritza,--a charming Hungarian,
celebrated for her beauty in the last years of the reign of Louis XV.
Having been attached during his youth to that illustrious stranger, he
still mentioned her with emotion. For her sake he had fought a duel
with Monsieur de Lauzun.

The chevalier, now fifty-eight years of age, owned to only fifty; and
he might well allow himself that innocent deception, for, among the
other advantages granted to fair thin persons, he managed to preserve
the still youthful figure which saves men as well as women from an
appearance of old age. Yes, remember this: all of life, or rather all
the elegance that expresses life, is in the figure. Among the
chevalier's other possessions must be counted an enormous nose with
which nature had endowed him. This nose vigorously divided a pale face
into two sections which seemed to have no knowledge of each other, for
one side would redden under the process of digestion, while the other
continued white. This fact is worthy of remark at a period when
physiology is so busy with the human heart. The incandescence, so to
call it, was on the left side. Though his long slim legs, supporting a
lank body, and his pallid skin, were not indicative of health,
Monsieur de Valois ate like an ogre and declared he had a malady
called in the provinces "hot liver," perhaps to excuse his monstrous
appetite. The circumstance of his singular flush confirmed this
declaration; but in a region where repasts are developed on the line
of thirty or forty dishes and last four hours, the chevalier's stomach
would seem to have been a blessing bestowed by Providence on the good
town of Alencon. According to certain doctors, heat on the left side
denotes a prodigal heart. The chevalier's gallantries confirmed this
scientific assertion, the responsibility for which does not rest,
fortunately, on the historian.

In spite of these symptoms, Monsieur de Valois' constitution was
vigorous, consequently long-lived. If his liver "heated," to use an
old-fashioned word, his heart was not less inflammable. His face was
wrinkled and his hair silvered; but an intelligent observer would have
recognized at once the stigmata of passion and the furrows of pleasure
which appeared in the crow's-feet and the marches-du-palais, so prized
at the court of Cythera. Everything about this dainty chevalier
bespoke the "ladies' man." He was so minute in his ablutions that his
cheeks were a pleasure to look upon; they seemed to have been laved in
some miraculous water. The part of his skull which his hair refused to
cover shone like ivory. His eyebrows, like his hair, affected youth by
the care and regularity with which they were combed. His skin, already
white, seemed to have been extra-whitened by some secret compound.
Without using perfumes, the chevalier exhaled a certain fragrance of
youth, that refreshed the atmosphere. His hands, which were those of a
gentleman, and were cared for like the hands of a pretty woman,
attracted the eye to their rosy, well-shaped nails. In short, had it
not been for his magisterial and stupendous nose, the chevalier might
have been thought a trifle too dainty.

We must here compel ourselves to spoil this portrait by the avowal of
a littleness. The chevalier put cotton in his ears, and wore, appended
to them, two little ear-rings representing negroes' heads in diamonds,
of admirable workmanship. He clung to these singular appendages,
explaining that since his ears had been bored he had ceased to have
headaches (he had had headaches). We do not present the chevalier as
an accomplished man; but surely we can pardon, in an old celibate
whose heart sends so much blood to his left cheek, these adorable
qualities, founded, perhaps, on some sublime secret history.

Besides, the Chevalier de Valois redeemed those negroes' heads by so
many other graces that society felt itself sufficiently compensated.
He really took such immense trouble to conceal his age and give
pleasure to his friends. In the first place, we must call attention to
the extreme care he gave to his linen, the only distinction that
well-bred men can nowadays exhibit in their clothes. The linen of the
chevalier was invariably of a fineness and whiteness that were truly
aristocratic. As for his coat, though remarkable for its cleanliness,
it was always half worn-out, but without spots or creases. The
preservation of that garment was something marvellous to those who
noticed the chevalier's high-bred indifference to its shabbiness. He
did not go so far as to scrape the seams with glass,--a refinement
invented by the Prince of Wales; but he did practice the rudiments of
English elegance with a personal satisfaction little understood by the
people of Alencon. The world owes a great deal to persons who take
such pains to please it. In this there is certainly some
accomplishment of that most difficult precept of the Gospel about
rendering good for evil. This freshness of ablution and all the other
little cares harmonized charmingly with the blue eyes, the ivory
teeth, and the blond person of the old chevalier.

The only blemish was that this retired Adonis had nothing manly about
him; he seemed to be employing this toilet varnish to hide the ruins
occasioned by the military service of gallantry only. But we must
hasten to add that his voice produced what might be called an
antithesis to his blond delicacy. Unless you adopted the opinion of
certain observers of the human heart, and thought that the chevalier
had the voice of his nose, his organ of speech would have amazed you
by its full and redundant sound. Without possessing the volume of
classical bass voices, the tone of it was pleasing from a slightly
muffled quality like that of an English bugle, which is firm and
sweet, strong but velvety.

The chevalier had repudiated the ridiculous costume still preserved by
certain monarchical old men; he had frankly modernized himself. He was
always seen in a maroon-colored coat with gilt buttons, half-tight
breeches of poult-de-soie with gold buckles, a white waistcoat without
embroidery, and a tight cravat showing no shirt-collar,--a last
vestige of the old French costume which he did not renounce, perhaps,
because it enabled him to show a neck like that of the sleekest abbe.
His shoes were noticeable for their square buckles, a style of which
the present generation has no knowledge; these buckles were fastened
to a square of polished black leather. The chevalier allowed two
watch-chains to hang parallel to each other from each of his waistcoat
pockets,--another vestige of the eighteenth century, which the
Incroyables had not disdained to use under the Directory. This
transition costume, uniting as it did two centuries, was worn by the
chevalier with the high-bred grace of an old French marquis, the
secret of which is lost to France since the day when Fleury, Mole's
last pupil, vanished.

The private life of this old bachelor was apparently open to all eyes,
though in fact it was quite mysterious. He lived in a lodging that was
modest, to say the best of it, in the rue du Cours, on the second
floor of a house belonging to Madame Lardot, the best and busiest
washerwoman in the town. This circumstance will explain the excessive
nicety of his linen. Ill-luck would have it that the day came when
Alencon was guilty of believing that the chevalier had not always
comported himself as a gentleman should, and that in fact he was
secretly married in his old age to a certain Cesarine,--the mother of
a child which had had the impertinence to come into the world without
being called for.

"He had given his hand," as a certain Monsieur du Bousquier remarked,
"to the person who had long had him under irons."

This horrible calumny embittered the last days of the dainty chevalier
all the more because, as the present Scene will show, he had lost a
hope long cherished to which he had made many sacrifices.

Madame Lardot leased to the chevalier two rooms on the second floor of
her house, for the modest sum of one hundred francs a year. The worthy
gentleman dined out every day, returning only in time to go to bed.
His sole expense therefore was for breakfast, invariably composed of a
cup of chocolate, with bread and butter and fruits in their season. He
made no fire except in the coldest winter, and then only enough to get
up by. Between eleven and four o'clock he walked about, went to read
the papers, and paid visits. From the time of his settling in Alencon
he had nobly admitted his poverty, saying that his whole fortune
consisted in an annuity of six hundred francs a year, the sole remains
of his former opulence,--a property which obliged him to see his man
of business (who held the annuity papers) quarterly. In truth, one of
the Alencon bankers paid him every three months one hundred and fifty
francs, sent down by Monsieur Bordin of Paris, the last of the
/procureurs du Chatelet/. Every one knew these details because the
chevalier exacted the utmost secrecy from the persons to whom he first
confided them.

Monsieur de Valois gathered the fruit of his misfortunes. His place at
table was laid in all the most distinguished houses in Alencon, and he
was bidden to all soirees. His talents as a card-player, a narrator,
an amiable man of the highest breeding, were so well known and
appreciated that parties would have seemed a failure if the dainty
connoisseur was absent. Masters of houses and their wives felt the
need of his approving grimace. When a young woman heard the chevalier
say at a ball, "You are delightfully well-dressed!" she was more
pleased at such praise than she would have been at mortifying a rival.
Monsieur de Valois was the only man who could perfectly pronounce
certain phrases of the olden time. The words, "my heart," "my jewel,"
"my little pet," "my queen," and the amorous diminutives of 1770, had
a grace that was quite irresistible when they came from his lips. In
short, the chevalier had the privilege of superlatives. His
compliments, of which he was stingy, won the good graces of all the
old women; he made himself agreeable to every one, even to the
officials of the government, from whom he wanted nothing. His behavior
at cards had a lofty distinction which everybody noticed: he never
complained; he praised his adversaries when they lost; he did not
rebuke or teach his partners by showing them how they ought to have
played. When, in the course of a deal, those sickening dissertations
on the game would take place, the chevalier invariably drew out his
snuff-box with a gesture that was worthy of Mole, looked at the
Princess Goritza, raised the cover with dignity, shook, sifted, massed
the snuff, and gathered his pinch, so that by the time the cards were
dealt he had decorated both nostrils and replaced the princess in his
waistcoat pocket,--always on his left side. A gentleman of the "good"
century (in distinction from the "grand" century) could alone have
invented that compromise between contemptuous silence and a sarcasm
which might not have been understood. He accepted poor players and
knew how to make the best of them. His delightful equability of temper
made many persons say,--

"I do admire the Chevalier de Valois!"

His conversation, his manners, seemed bland, like his person. He
endeavored to shock neither man nor woman. Indulgent to defects both
physical and mental, he listened patiently (by the help of the
Princess Goritza) to the many dull people who related to him the petty
miseries of provincial life,--an egg ill-boiled for breakfast, coffee
with feathered cream, burlesque details about health, disturbed sleep,
dreams, visits. The chevalier could call up a languishing look, he
could take on a classic attitude to feign compassion, which made him a
most valuable listener; he could put in an "Ah!" and a "Bah!" and a
"What DID you do?" with charming appropriateness. He died without any
one suspecting him of even an allusion to the tender passages of his
romance with the Princess Goritza. Has any one ever reflected on the
service a dead sentiment can do to society; how love may become both
social and useful? This will serve to explain why, in spite of his
constant winning at play (he never left a salon without carrying off
with him about six francs), the old chevalier remained the spoilt
darling of the town. His losses--which, by the bye, he always
proclaimed, were very rare.

All who know him declare that they have never met, not even in the
Egyptian museum at Turin, so agreeable a mummy. In no country in the
world did parasitism ever take on so pleasant a form. Never did
selfishness of a most concentrated kind appear less forth-putting,
less offensive, than in this old gentleman; it stood him in place of
devoted friendship. If some one asked Monsieur de Valois to do him a
little service which might have discommoded him, that some one did not
part from the worthy chevalier without being truly enchanted with him,
and quite convinced that he either could not do the service demanded,
or that he should injure the affair if he meddled in it.

To explain the problematic existence of the chevalier, the historian,
whom Truth, that cruel wanton, grasps by the throat, is compelled to
say that after the "glorious" sad days of July, Alencon discovered
that the chevalier's nightly winnings amounted to about one hundred
and fifty francs every three months; and that the clever old nobleman
had had the pluck to send to himself his annuity in order not to
appear in the eyes of a community, which loves the main chance, to be
entirely without resources. Many of his friends (he was by that time
dead, you will please remark) have contested mordicus this curious
fact, declaring it to be a fable, and upholding the Chevalier de
Valois as a respectable and worthy gentleman whom the liberals
calumniated. Luckily for shrewd players, there are people to be found
among the spectators who will always sustain them. Ashamed of having
to defend a piece of wrong-doing, they stoutly deny it. Do not accuse
them of wilful infatuation; such men have a sense of their dignity;
governments set them the example of a virtue which consists in burying
their dead without chanting the Misere of their defeats. If the
chevalier did allow himself this bit of shrewd practice,--which, by
the bye, would have won him the regard of the Chevalier de Gramont, a
smile from the Baron de Foeneste, a shake of the hand from the Marquis
de Moncade,--was he any the less that amiable guest, that witty
talker, that imperturbable card-player, that famous teller of
anecdotes, in whom all Alencon took delight? Besides, in what way was
this action, which is certainly within the rights of a man's own will,
--in what way was it contrary to the ethics of a gentleman? When so
many persons are forced to pay annuities to others, what more natural
than to pay one to his own best friend? But Laius is dead--

To return to the period of which we are writing: after about fifteen
years of this way of life the chevalier had amassed ten thousand and
some odd hundred francs. On the return of the Bourbons, one of his old
friends, the Marquis de Pombreton, formerly lieutenant in the Black
mousquetaires, returned to him--so he said--twelve hundred pistoles
which he had lent to the marquis for the purpose of emigrating. This
event made a sensation; it was used later to refute the sarcasms of
the "Constitutionnel," on the method employed by some emigres in
paying their debts. When this noble act of the Marquis de Pombreton
was lauded before the chevalier, the good man reddened even to his
right cheek. Every one rejoiced frankly at this windfall for Monsieur
de Valois, who went about consulting moneyed people as to the safest
manner of investing this fragment of his past opulence. Confiding in
the future of the Restoration, he finally placed his money on the
Grand-Livre at the moment when the funds were at fifty-six francs and
twenty-five centimes. Messieurs de Lenoncourt, de Navarreins, de
Verneuil, de Fontaine, and La Billardiere, to whom he was known, he
said, obtained for him, from the king's privy purse, a pension of
three hundred francs, and sent him, moreover, the cross of
Saint-Louis. Never was it known positively by what means the old
chevalier obtained these two solemn consecrations of his title and
merits. But one thing is certain; the cross of Saint-Louis authorized
him to take the rank of retired colonel in view of his service in the
Catholic armies of the West.

Besides his fiction of an annuity, about which no one at the present
time knew anything, the chevalier really had, therefore, a bona fide
income of a thousand francs. But in spite of this bettering of his
circumstances, he made no change in his life, manners, or appearance,
except that the red ribbon made a fine effect on his maroon-colored
coat, and completed, so to speak, the physiognomy of a gentleman.
After 1802, the chevalier sealed his letters with a very old seal,
ill-engraved to be sure, by which the Casterans, the d'Esgrignons, the
Troisvilles were enabled to see that he bore: /Party of France, two
cottises gemelled gules, and gules, five mascles or, placed end to
end; on a chief sable, a cross argent/. For crest, a knight's helmet.
For motto: "Valeo." Bearing such noble arms, the so-called bastard of
the Valois had the right to get into all the royal carriages of the

Many persons envied the quiet existence of this old bachelor, spent on
whist, boston, backgammon, reversi, and piquet, all well played, on
dinners well digested, snuff gracefully inhaled, and tranquil walks
about the town. Nearly all Alencon believed this life to be exempt
from ambitions and serious interests; but no man has a life as simple
as envious neighbors attribute to him. You will find in the most
out-of-the way villages human mollusks, creatures apparently dead, who
have passions for lepidoptera or for conchology, let us say,--beings
who will give themselves infinite pains about moths, butterflies, or
the concha Veneris. Not only did the chevalier have his own particular
shells, but he cherished an ambitious desire which he pursued with a
craft so profound as to be worthy of Sixtus the Fifth: he wanted to
marry a certain rich old maid, with the intention, no doubt, of making
her a stepping-stone by which to reach the more elevated regions of
the court. There, then, lay the secret of his royal bearing and of his
residence in Alencon.



On a Wednesday morning, early, toward the middle of spring, in the
year 16,--such was his mode of reckoning,--at the moment when the
chevalier was putting on his old green-flowered damask dressing-gown,
he heard, despite the cotton in his ears, the light step of a young
girl who was running up the stairway. Presently three taps were
discreetly struck upon the door; then, without waiting for any
response, a handsome girl slipped like an eel into the room occupied
by the old bachelor.

"Ah! is it you, Suzanne?" said the Chevalier de Valois, without
discontinuing his occupation, which was that of stropping his razor.
"What have you come for, my dear little jewel of mischief?"

"I have come to tell you something which may perhaps give you as much
pleasure as pain?"

"Is it anything about Cesarine?"

"Cesarine! much I care about your Cesarine!" she said with a saucy
air, half serious, half indifferent.

This charming Suzanne, whose present comical performance was to
exercise a great influence in the principal personages of our history,
was a work-girl at Madame Lardot's. One word here on the topography of
the house. The wash-rooms occupied the whole of the ground floor. The
little courtyard was used to hang out on wire cords embroidered
handkerchiefs, collarets, capes, cuffs, frilled shirts, cravats,
laces, embroidered dresses,--in short, all the fine linen of the best
families of the town. The chevalier assumed to know from the number of
her capes in the wash how the love-affairs of the wife of the prefect
were going on. Though he guessed much from observations of this kind,
the chevalier was discretion itself; he was never betrayed into an
epigram (he had plenty of wit) which might have closed to him an
agreeable salon. You are therefore to consider Monsieur de Valois as a
man of superior manners, whose talents, like those of many others,
were lost in a narrow sphere. Only--for, after all, he was a man--he
permitted himself certain penetrating glances which could make some
women tremble; although they all loved him heartily as soon as they
discovered the depth of his discretion and the sympathy that he felt
for their little weaknesses.

The head woman, Madame Lardot's factotum, an old maid of forty-six,
hideous to behold, lived on the opposite side of the passage to the
chevalier. Above them were the attics where the linen was dried in
winter. Each apartment had two rooms,--one lighted from the street,
the other from the courtyard. Beneath the chevalier's room there lived
a paralytic, Madame Lardot's grandfather, an old buccaneer named
Grevin, who had served under Admiral Simeuse in India, and was now
stone-deaf. As for Madame Lardot, who occupied the other lodging on
the first floor, she had so great a weakness for persons of condition
that she may well have been thought blind to the ways of the
chevalier. To her, Monsieur de Valois was a despotic monarch who did
right in all things. Had any of her workwomen been guilty of a
happiness attributed to the chevalier she would have said, "He is so
lovable!" Thus, though the house was of glass, like all provincial
houses, it was discreet as a robber's cave.

A born confidant to all the little intrigues of the work-rooms, the
chevalier never passed the door, which usually stood open, without
giving something to his little ducks,--chocolate, bonbons, ribbons,
laces, gilt crosses, and such like trifles adored by grisettes;
consequently, the kind old gentleman was adored in return. Women have
an instinct which enables them to divine the men who love them, who
like to be near them, and exact no payment for gallantries. In this
respect women have the instinct of dogs, who in a mixed company will
go straight to the man to whom animals are sacred.

The poor Chevalier de Valois retained from his former life the need of
bestowing gallant protection, a quality of the seigneurs of other
days. Faithful to the system of the "petite maison," he liked to
enrich women,--the only beings who know how to receive, because they
can always return. But the poor chevalier could no longer ruin himself
for a mistress. Instead of the choicest bonbons wrapped in bank-bills,
he gallantly presented paper-bags full of toffee. Let us say to the
glory of Alencon that the toffee was accepted with more joy than la
Duthe ever showed at a gilt service or a fine equipage offered by the
Comte d'Artois. All these grisettes fully understood the fallen
majesty of the Chevalier de Valois, and they kept their private
familiarities with him a profound secret for his sake. If they were
questioned about him in certain houses when they carried home the
linen, they always spoke respectfully of the chevalier, and made him
out older than he really was; they talked of him as a most respectable
monsieur, whose life was a flower of sanctity; but once in their own
regions they perched on his shoulders like so many parrots. He liked
to be told the secrets which washerwomen discover in the bosom of
households, and day after day these girls would tell him the cancans
which were going the round of Alencon. He called them his "petticoat
gazettes," his "talking feuilletons." Never did Monsieur de Sartines
have spies more intelligent and less expensive, or minions who showed
more honor while displaying their rascality of mind. So it may be said
that in the mornings, while breakfasting, the chevalier usually amused
himself as much as the saints in heaven.

Suzanne was one of his favorites, a clever, ambitious girl, made of
the stuff of a Sophie Arnold, and handsome withal, as the handsomest
courtesan invited by Titian to pose on black velvet for a model of
Venus; although her face, fine about the eyes and forehead,
degenerated, lower down, into commonness of outline. Hers was a Norman
beauty, fresh, high-colored, redundant, the flesh of Rubens covering
the muscles of the Farnese Hercules, and not the slender articulations
of the Venus de' Medici, Apollo's graceful consort.

"Well, my child, tell me your great or your little adventure, whatever
it is."

The particular point about the chevalier which would have made him
noticeable from Paris to Pekin, was the gentle paternity of his manner
to grisettes. They reminded him of the illustrious operatic queens of
his early days, whose celebrity was European during a good third of
the eighteenth century. It is certain that the old gentleman, who had
lived in days gone by with that feminine nation now as much forgotten
as many other great things,--like the Jesuits, the Buccaneers, the
Abbes, and the Farmers-General,--had acquired an irresistible
good-humor, a kindly ease, a laisser-aller devoid of egotism, the
self-effacement of Jupiter with Alcmene, of the king intending to be
duped, who casts his thunderbolts to the devil, wants his Olympus full
of follies, little suppers, feminine profusions--but with Juno out of
the way, be it understood.

In spite of his old green damask dressing-gown and the bareness of the
room in which he sat, where the floor was covered with a shabby
tapestry in place of carpet, and the walls were hung with tavern-paper
presenting the profiles of Louis XVI. and members of his family,
traced among the branches of a weeping willow with other
sentimentalities invented by royalism during the Terror,--in spite of
his ruins, the chevalier, trimming his beard before a shabby old
toilet-table, draped with trumpery lace, exhaled an essence of the
eighteenth century. All the libertine graces of his youth reappeared;
he seemed to have the wealth of three hundred thousand francs of debt,
while his vis-a-vis waited before the door. He was grand,--like
Berthier on the retreat from Moscow, issuing orders to an army that
existed no longer.

"Monsieur le chevalier," replied Suzanne, drolly, "seems to me I
needn't tell you anything; you've only to look."

And Suzanne presented a side view of herself which gave a sort of
lawyer's comment to her words. The chevalier, who, you must know, was
a sly old bird, lowered his right eye on the grisette, still holding
the razor at his throat, and pretended to understand.

"Well, well, my little duck, we'll talk about that presently. But you
are rather previous, it seems to me."

"Why, Monsieur le chevalier, ought I to wait until my mother beats me
and Madame Lardot turns me off? If I don't get away soon to Paris, I
shall never be able to marry here, where men are so ridiculous."

"It can't be helped, my dear; society is changing; women are just as
much victims to the present state of things as the nobility
themselves. After political overturn comes the overturn of morals.
Alas! before long woman won't exist" (he took out the cotton-wool to
arrange his ears): "she'll lose everything by rushing into sentiment;
she'll wring her nerves; good-bye to all the good little pleasures of
our time, desired without shame, accepted without nonsense." (He
polished up the little negroes' heads.) "Women had hysterics in those
days to get their ends, but now" (he began to laugh) "their vapors end
in charcoal. In short, marriage" (here he picked up his pincers to
remove a hair) "will become a thing intolerable; whereas it used to be
so gay in my day! The reigns of Louis XIV. and Louis XV.--remember
this, my child--said farewell to the finest manners and morals ever
known to the world."

"But, Monsieur le chevalier," said the grisette, "the matter now
concerns the morals and honor of your poor little Suzanne, and I hope
you won't abandon her."

"Abandon her!" cried the chevalier, finishing his hair; "I'd sooner
abandon my own name."

"Ah!" exclaimed Suzanne.

"Now, listen to me, you little mischief," said the chevalier, sitting
down on a huge sofa, formerly called a duchesse, which Madame Lardot
had been at some pains to find for him.

He drew the magnificent Suzanne before him, holding her legs between
his knees. She let him do as he liked, although in the street she was
offish enough to other men, refusing their familiarities partly from
decorum and partly for contempt for their commonness. She now stood
audaciously in front of the chevalier, who, having fathomed in his day
many other mysteries in minds that were far more wily, took in the
situation at a single glance. He knew very well that no young girl
would joke about a real dishonor; but he took good care not to knock
over the pretty scaffolding of her lie as he touched it.

"We slander ourselves," he said with inimitable craft; "we are as
virtuous as that beautiful biblical girl whose name we bear; we can
always marry as we please, but we are thirsty for Paris, where
charming creatures--and we are no fool--get rich without trouble. We
want to go and see if the great capital of pleasures hasn't some young
Chevalier de Valois in store for us, with a carriage, diamonds, an
opera-box, and so forth. Russians, Austrians, Britons, have millions
on which we have an eye. Besides, we are patriotic; we want to help
France in getting back her money from the pockets of those gentry.
Hey! hey! my dear little devil's duck! it isn't a bad plan. The world
you live in may cry out a bit, but success justifies all things. The
worst thing in this world, my dear, is to be without money; that's our
disease, yours and mine. Now inasmuch as we have plenty of wit, we
thought it would be a good thing to parade our dear little honor, or
dishonor, to catch an old boy; but that old boy, my dear heart, knows
the Alpha and Omega of female tricks,--which means that you could
easier put salt on a sparrow's tail than to make me believe I have
anything to do with your little affair. Go to Paris, my dear; go at
the cost of an old celibate, I won't prevent it; in fact, I'll help
you, for an old bachelor, Suzanne, is the natural money-box of a young
girl. But don't drag me into the matter. Listen, my queen, you who
know life pretty well; you would me great harm and give me much pain,
--harm, because you would prevent my marriage in a town where people
cling to morality; pain, because if you are in trouble (which I deny,
you sly puss!) I haven't a penny to get you out of it. I'm as poor as
a church mouse; you know that, my dear. Ah! if I marry Mademoiselle
Cormon, if I am once more rich, of course I would prefer you to
Cesarine. You've always seemed to me as fine as the gold they gild on
lead; you were made to be the love of a great seigneur. I think you so
clever that the trick you are trying to play off on me doesn't
surprise me one bit; I expected it. You are flinging the scabbard
after the sword, and that's daring for a girl. It takes nerve and
superior ideas to do it, my angel, and therefore you have won my
respectful esteem."

"Monsieur le chevalier, I assure you, you are mistaken, and--"

She colored, and did not dare to say more. The chevalier, with a
single glance, had guessed and fathomed her whole plan.

"Yes, yes! I understand: you want me to believe it," he said. "Well! I
do believe it. But take my advice: go to Monsieur du Bousquier.
Haven't you taken linen there for the last six or eight months? I'm
not asking what went on between you; but I know the man: he has
immense conceit; he is an old bachelor, and very rich; and he only
spends a quarter of a comfortable income. If you are as clever as I
suppose, you can go to Paris at his expense. There, run along, my
little doe; go and twist him round your finger. Only, mind this: be as
supple as silk; at every word take a double turn round him and make a
knot. He is a man to fear scandal, and if he has given you a chance to
put him in the pillory--in short, understand; threaten him with the
ladies of the Maternity Hospital. Besides, he's ambitious. A man
succeeds through his wife, and you are handsome and clever enough to
make the fortune of a husband. Hey! the mischief! you could hold your
own against all the court ladies."

Suzanne, whose mind took in at a flash the chevalier's last words, was
eager to run off to du Bousquier, but, not wishing to depart too
abruptly, she questioned the chevalier about Paris, all the while
helping him to dress. The chevalier, however, divined her desire to be
off, and favored it by asking her to tell Cesarine to bring up his
chocolate, which Madame Lardot made for him every morning. Suzanne
then slipped away to her new victim, whose biography must here be

Born of an old Alencon family, du Bousquier was a cross between the
bourgeois and the country squire. Finding himself without means on the
death of his father, he went, like other ruined provincials, to Paris.
On the breaking out of the Revolution he took part in public affairs.
In spite of revolutionary principles, which made a hobby of republican
honesty, the management of public business in those days was by no
means clean. A political spy, a stock-jobber, a contractor, a man who
confiscated in collusion with the syndic of a commune the property of
emigres in order to sell them and buy them in, a minister, and a
general were all equally engaged in public business. From 1793 to 1799
du Bousquier was commissary of provisions to the French armies. He
lived in a magnificent hotel and was one of the matadors of finance,
did business with Ouvrard, kept open house, and led the scandalous
life of the period,--the life of a Cincinnatus, on sacks of corn
harvested without trouble, stolen rations, "little houses" full of
mistresses, in which were given splendid fetes to the Directors of the

The citizen du Bousquier was one of Barras' familiars; he was on the
best of terms with Fouche, stood very well with Bernadotte, and fully
expected to become a minister by throwing himself into the party which
secretly caballed against Bonaparte until Marengo. If it had not been
for Kellermann's charge and Desaix's death, du Bousquier would
probably have become a minister. He was one of the chief assistances
of that secret government whom Napoleon's luck send behind the scenes
in 1793. (See "An Historical Mystery.") The unexpected victory of
Marengo was the defeat of that party who actually had their
proclamations printed to return to the principles of the Montagne in
case the First Consul succumbed.

Convinced of the impossibility of Bonaparte's triumph, du Bousquier
staked the greater part of his property on a fall in the Funds, and
kept two couriers on the field of battle. The first started for Paris
when Melas' victory was certain; the second, starting four hours
later, brought the news of the defeat of the Austrians. Du Bousquier
cursed Kellermann and Desaix; he dared not curse Bonaparte, who might
owe him millions. This alternative of millions to be earned and
present ruin staring him in the face, deprived the purveyor of most of
his faculties: he became nearly imbecile for several days; the man had
so abused his health by excesses that when the thunderbolt fell upon
him he had no strength to resist. The payment of his bills against the
Exchequer gave him some hopes for the future, but, in spite of all
efforts to ingratiate himself, Napoleon's hatred to the contractors
who had speculated on his defeat made itself felt; du Bousquier was
left without a sou. The immorality of his private life, his intimacy
with Barras and Bernadotte, displeased the First Consul even more than
his manoeuvres at the Bourse, and he struck du Bousquier's name from
the list of the government contractors.

Out of all his past opulence du Bousquier saved only twelve hundred
francs a year from an investment in the Grand Livre, which he had
happened to place there by pure caprice, and which saved him from
penury. A man ruined by the First Consul interested the town of
Alencon, to which he now returned, where royalism was secretly
dominant. Du Bousquier, furious against Bonaparte, relating stories
against him of his meanness, of Josephine's improprieties, and all the
other scandalous anecdotes of the last ten years, was well received.

About this time, when he was somewhere between forty and fifty, du
Bousquier's appearance was that of a bachelor of thirty-six, of medium
height, plump as a purveyor, proud of his vigorous calves, with a
strongly marked countenance, a flattened nose, the nostrils garnished
with hair, black eyes with thick lashes, from which darted shrewd
glances like those of Monsieur de Talleyrand, though somewhat dulled.
He still wore republican whiskers and his hair very long; his hands,
adorned with bunches of hair on each knuckle, showed the power of his
muscular system in their prominent blue veins. He had the chest of the
Farnese Hercules, and shoulders fit to carry the stocks. Such
shoulders are seen nowadays only at Tortoni's. This wealth of
masculine vigor counted for much in du Bousquier's relations with
others. And yet in him, as in the chevalier, symptoms appeared which
contrasted oddly with the general aspect of their persons. The late
purveyor had not the voice of his muscles. We do not mean that his
voice was a mere thread, such as we sometimes hear issuing from the
mouth of these walruses; on the contrary, it was a strong voice, but
stifled, an idea of which can be given only by comparing it with the
noise of a saw cutting into soft and moistened wood,--the voice of a
worn-out speculator.

In spite of the claims which the enmity of the First Consul gave
Monsieur du Bousquier to enter the royalist society of the province,
he was not received in the seven or eight families who composed the
faubourg Saint-Germain of Alencon, among whom the Chevalier de Valois
was welcome. He had offered himself in marriage, through her notary,
to Mademoiselle Armande, sister of the most distinguished noble in the
town; to which offer he received a refusal. He consoled himself as
best he could in the society of a dozen rich families, former
manufacturers of the old point d'Alencon, owners of pastures and
cattle, or merchants doing a wholesale business in linen, among whom,
as he hoped, he might find a wealthy wife. In fact, all his hopes now
converged to the perspective of a fortunate marriage. He was not
without a certain financial ability, which many persons used to their
profit. Like a ruined gambler who advises neophytes, he pointed out
enterprises and speculations, together with the means and chances of
conducting them. He was thought a good administrator, and it was often
a question of making him mayor of Alencon; but the memory of his
underhand jobbery still clung to him, and he was never received at the
prefecture. All the succeeding governments, even that of the Hundred
Days, refused to appoint him mayor of Alencon,--a place he coveted,
which, could he have had it, would, he thought, have won him the hand
of a certain old maid on whom his matrimonial views now turned.

Du Bousquier's aversion to the Imperial government had thrown him at
first into the royalist circles of Alencon, where he remained in spite
of the rebuffs he received there; but when, after the first return of
the Bourbons, he was still excluded from the prefecture, that
mortification inspired him with a hatred as deep as it was secret
against the royalists. He now returned to his old opinions, and became
the leader of the liberal party in Alencon, the invisible manipulator
of elections, and did immense harm to the Restoration by the
cleverness of his underhand proceedings and the perfidy of his outward
behavior. Du Bousquier, like all those who live by their heads only,
carried on his hatreds with the quiet tranquillity of a rivulet,
feeble apparently, but inexhaustible. His hatred was that of a negro,
so peaceful that it deceived the enemy. His vengeance, brooded over
for fifteen years, was as yet satisfied by no victory, not even that
of July, 1830.

It was not without some private intention that the Chevalier de Valois
had turned Suzanne's designs upon Monsieur du Bousquier. The liberal
and the royalist had mutually divined each other in spite of the wide
dissimulation with which they hid their common hope from the rest of
the town. The two old bachelors were secretly rivals. Each had formed
a plan to marry the Demoiselle Cormon, whom Monsieur de Valois had
mentioned to Suzanne. Both, ensconced in their idea and wearing the
armor of apparent indifference, awaited the moment when some lucky
chance might deliver the old maid over to them. Thus, if the two old
bachelors had not been kept asunder by the two political systems of
which they each offered a living expression, their private rivalry
would still have made them enemies. Epochs put their mark on men.
These two individuals proved the truth of that axiom by the opposing
historic tints that were visible in their faces, in their
conversation, in their ideas, and in their clothes. One, abrupt,
energetic, with loud, brusque manners, curt, rude speech, dark in
tone, in hair, in look, terrible apparently, in reality as impotent as
an insurrection, represented the republic admirably. The other, gentle
and polished, elegant and nice, attaining his ends by the slow and
infallible means of diplomacy, faithful to good taste, was the express
image of the old courtier regime.

The two enemies met nearly every evening on the same ground. The war
was courteous and benign on the side of the chevalier; but du
Bousquier showed less ceremony on his, though still preserving the
outward appearances demanded by society, for he did not wish to be
driven from the place. They themselves fully understood each other;
but in spite of the shrewd observation which provincials bestow on the
petty interests of their own little centre, no one in the town
suspected the rivalry of these two men. Monsieur le Chevalier de
Valois occupied a vantage-ground: he had never asked for the hand of
Mademoiselle Cormon; whereas du Bousquier, who entered the lists soon
after his rejection by the most distinguished family in the place, had
been refused. But the chevalier believed that his rival had still such
strong chances of success that he dealt him this coup de Jarnac with a
blade (namely, Suzanne) that was finely tempered for the purpose. The
chevalier had cast his plummet-line into the waters of du Bousquier;
and, as we shall see by the sequel, he was not mistaken in any of his

Suzanne tripped with a light foot from the rue du Cours, by the rue de
la Porte de Seez and the rue du Bercail, to the rue du Cygne, where,
about five years earlier, du Bousquier had bought a little house built
of gray Jura stone, which is something between Breton slate and Norman
granite. There he established himself more comfortably than any
householder in town; for he had managed to preserve certain furniture
and decorations from the days of his splendor. But provincial manners
and morals obscured, little by little, the rays of this fallen
Sardanapalus; these vestiges of his former luxury now produced the
effect of a glass chandelier in a barn. Harmony, that bond of all
work, human or divine, was lacking in great things as well as in
little ones. The stairs, up which everybody mounted without wiping
their feet, were never polished; the walls, painted by some wretched
artisan of the neighborhood, were a terror to the eye; the stone
mantel-piece, ill-carved, "swore" with the handsome clock, which was
further degraded by the company of contemptible candlesticks. Like the
period which du Bousquier himself represented, the house was a jumble
of dirt and magnificence. Being considered a man of leisure, du
Bousquier led the same parasite life as the chevalier; and he who does
not spend his income is always rich. His only servant was a sort of
Jocrisse, a lad of the neighborhood, rather a ninny, trained slowly
and with difficulty to du Bousquier's requirements. His master had
taught him, as he might an orang-outang, to rub the floors, dust the
furniture, black his boots, brush his coats, and bring a lantern to
guide him home at night if the weather were cloudy, and clogs if it
rained. Like many other human beings, this lad hadn't stuff enough in
him for more than one vice; he was a glutton. Often, when du Bousquier
went to a grand dinner, he would take Rene to wait at table; on such
occasions he made him take off his blue cotton jacket, with its big
pockets hanging round his hips, and always bulging with handkerchiefs,
clasp-knives, fruits, or a handful of nuts, and forced him to put on a
regulation coat. Rene would then stuff his fill with the other
servants. This duty, which du Bousquier had turned into a reward, won
him the most absolute discretion from the Breton servant.

"You here, mademoiselle!" said Rene to Suzanne when she entered;
"'t'isn't your day. We haven't any linen for the wash, tell Madame

"Old stupid!" said Suzanne, laughing.

The pretty girl went upstairs, leaving Rene to finish his porringer of
buckwheat in boiled milk. Du Bousquier, still in bed, was revolving in
his mind his plans of fortune; for ambition was all that was left to
him, as to other men who have sucked dry the orange of pleasure.
Ambition and play are inexhaustible; in a well-organized man the
passions which proceed from the brain will always survive the passions
of the heart.

"Here am I," said Suzanne, sitting down on the bed and jangling the
curtain-rings back along the rod with despotic vehemence.

"Quesaco, my charmer?" said the old bachelor, sitting up in bed.

"Monsieur," said Suzanne, gravely, "you must be astonished to see me
here at this hour; but I find myself in a condition which obliges me
not to care for what people may say about it."

"What does all that mean?" said du Bousquier, crossing his arms.

"Don't you understand me?" said Suzanne. "I know," she continued,
making a pretty little face, "how ridiculous it is in a poor girl to
come and nag at a man for what he thinks a mere nothing. But if you
really knew me, monsieur, if you knew all that I am capable of for a
man who would attach himself to me as much as I'm attached to you, you
would never repent having married me. Of course it isn't here, in
Alencon, that I should be of service to you; but if we went to Paris,
you would see where I could lead a man with your mind and your
capacities; and just at this time too, when they are remaking the
government from top to toe. So--between ourselves, be it said--/is/
what has happened a misfortune? Isn't it rather a piece of luck, which
will pay you well? Who and what are you working for now?"

"For myself, of course!" cried du Bousquier, brutally.

"Monster! you'll never be a father!" said Suzanne, giving a tone of
prophetic malediction to the words.

"Come, don't talk nonsense, Suzanne," replied du Bousquier; "I really
think I am still dreaming."

"How much more reality do you want?" cried Suzanne, standing up.

Du Bousquier rubbed his cotton night-cap to the top of his head with a
rotatory motion, which plainly indicated the tremendous fermentation
of his ideas.

"He actually believes it!" thought Suzanne, "and he's flattered.
Heaven! how easy it is to gull men!"

"Suzanne, what the devil must I do? It is so extraordinary--I, who
thought-- The fact is that-- No, no, it can't be--"

"What? you can't marry me?"

"Oh! as for that, no; I have engagements."

"With Mademoiselle Armande or Mademoiselle Cormon, who have both
refused you? Listen to me, Monsieur du Bousquier, my honor doesn't
need gendarmes to drag you to the mayor's office. I sha'n't lack for
husbands, thank goodness! and I don't want a man who can't appreciate
what I'm worth. But some day you'll repent of the way you are
behaving; for I tell you now that nothing on earth, neither gold nor
silver, will induce me to return the good thing that belongs to you,
if you refuse to accept it to-day."

"But, Suzanne, are you sure?"

"Oh, monsieur!" cried the grisette, wrapping her virtue round her,
"what do you take me for? I don't remind you of the promises you made
me, which have ruined a poor young girl whose only blame was to have
as much ambition as love."

Du Bousquier was torn with conflicting sentiments, joy, distrust,
calculation. He had long determined to marry Mademoiselle Cormon; for
the Charter, on which he had just been ruminating, offered to his
ambition, through the half of her property, the political career of a
deputy. Besides, his marriage with the old maid would put him socially
so high in the town that he would have great influence. Consequently,
the storm upraised by that malicious Suzanne drove him into the
wildest embarrassment. Without this secret scheme, he would have
married Suzanne without hesitation. In which case, he could openly
assume the leadership of the liberal party in Alencon. After such a
marriage he would, of course, renounce the best society and take up
with the bourgeois class of tradesmen, rich manufacturers and
graziers, who would certainly carry him in triumph as their candidate.
Du Bousquier already foresaw the Left side.

This solemn deliberation he did not conceal; he rubbed his hands over
his head, displacing the cap which covered its disastrous baldness.
Suzanne, meantime, like all those persons who succeed beyond their
hopes, was silent and amazed. To hide her astonishment, she assumed
the melancholy pose of an injured girl at the mercy of her seducer;
inwardly she was laughing like a grisette at her clever trick.

"My dear child," said du Bousquier at length, "I'm not to be taken in
with such /bosh/, not I!"

Such was the curt remark which ended du Bousquier's meditation. He
plumed himself on belonging to the class of cynical philosophers who
could never be "taken in" by women,--putting them, one and all, unto
the same category, as /suspicious/. These strong-minded persons are
usually weak men who have a special catechism in the matter of
womenkind. To them the whole sex, from queens of France to milliners,
are essentially depraved, licentious, intriguing, not a little
rascally, fundamentally deceitful, and incapable of thought about
anything but trifles. To them, women are evil-doing queens, who must
be allowed to dance and sing and laugh as they please; they see
nothing sacred or saintly in them, nor anything grand; to them there
is no poetry in the senses, only gross sensuality. Where such
jurisprudence prevails, if a woman is not perpetually tyrannized over,
she reduces the man to the condition of a slave. Under this aspect du
Bousquier was again the antithesis of the chevalier. When he made his
final remark, he flung his night-cap to the foot of the bed, as Pope
Gregory did the taper when he fulminated an excommunication; Suzanne
then learned for the first time that du Bousquier wore a toupet
covering his bald spot.

"Please to remember, Monsieur du Bousquier," she replied majestically,
"that in coming here to tell you of this matter I have done my duty;
remember that I have offered you my hand, and asked for yours; but
remember also that I behaved with the dignity of a woman who respects
herself. I have not abased myself to weep like a silly fool; I have
not insisted; I have not tormented you. You now know my situation. You
must see that I cannot stay in Alencon: my mother would beat me, and
Madame Lardot rides a hobby of principles; she'll turn me off. Poor
work-girl that I am, must I go to the hospital? must I beg my bread?
No! I'd rather throw myself into the Brillante or the Sarthe. But
isn't it better that I should go to Paris? My mother could find an
excuse to send me there,--an uncle who wants me, or a dying aunt, or a
lady who sends for me. But I must have some money for the journey and
for--you know what."

This extraordinary piece of news was far more startling to du
Bousquier than to the Chevalier de Valois. Suzanne's fiction
introduced such confusion into the ideas of the old bachelor that he
was literally incapable of sober reflection. Without this agitation
and without his inward delight (for vanity is a swindler which never
fails of its dupe), he would certainly have reflected that, supposing
it were true, a girl like Suzanne, whose heart was not yet spoiled,
would have died a thousand deaths before beginning a discussion of
this kind and asking for money.

"Will you really go to Paris, then?" he said.

A flash of gayety lighted Suzanne's gray eyes as she heard these
words; but the self-satisfied du Bousquier saw nothing.

"Yes, monsieur," she said.

Du Bousquier then began bitter lamentations: he had the last payments
to make on his house; the painter, the mason, the upholsterers must be
paid. Suzanne let him run on; she was listening for the figures. Du
Bousquier offered her three hundred francs. Suzanne made what is
called on the stage a false exit; that is, she marched toward the

"Stop, stop! where are you going?" said du Bousquier, uneasily. "This
is what comes of a bachelor's life!" thought he. "The devil take me if
I ever did anything more than rumple her collar, and, lo and behold!
she makes THAT a ground to put her hand in one's pocket!"

"I'm going, monsieur," replied Suzanne, "to Madame Granson, the
treasurer of the Maternity Society, who, to my knowledge, has saved
many a poor girl in my condition from suicide."

"Madame Granson!"

"Yes," said Suzanne, "a relation of Mademoiselle Cormon, the president
of the Maternity Society. Saving your presence, the ladies of the town
have created an institution to protect poor creatures from destroying
their infants, like that handsome Faustine of Argentan who was
executed for it three years ago."

"Here, Suzanne," said du Bousquier, giving her a key, "open that
secretary, and take out the bag you'll find there: there's about six
hundred francs in it; it is all I possess."

"Old cheat!" thought Suzanne, doing as he told her, "I'll tell about
your false toupet."

She compared du Bousquier with that charming chevalier, who had given
her nothing, it is true, but who had comprehended her, advised her,
and carried all grisettes in his heart.

"If you deceive me, Suzanne," cried du Bousquier, as he saw her with
her hand in the drawer, "you--"

"Monsieur," she said, interrupting him with ineffable impertinence,
"wouldn't you have given me money if I had asked for it?"

Recalled to a sense of gallantry, du Bousquier had a remembrance of
past happiness and grunted his assent. Suzanne took the bag and
departed, after allowing the old bachelor to kiss her, which he did
with an air that seemed to say, "It is a right which costs me dear;
but it is better than being harried by a lawyer in the court of
assizes as the seducer of a girl accused of infanticide."

Suzanne hid the sack in a sort of gamebag made of osier which she had
on her arm, all the while cursing du Bousquier for his stinginess; for
one thousand francs was the sum she wanted. Once tempted of the devil
to desire that sum, a girl will go far when she has set foot on the
path of trickery. As she made her way along the rue du Bercail, it
came into her head that the Maternity Society, presided over by
Mademoiselle Cormon, might be induced to complete the sum at which she
had reckoned her journey to Paris, which to a grisette of Alencon
seemed considerable. Besides, she hated du Bousquier. The latter had
evidently feared a revelation of his supposed misconduct to Madame
Granson; and Suzanne, at the risk of not getting a penny from the
society, was possessed with the desire, on leaving Alencon, of
entangling the old bachelor in the inextricable meshes of a provincial
slander. In all grisettes there is something of the malevolent
mischief of a monkey. Accordingly, Suzanne now went to see Madame
Granson, composing her face to an expression of the deepest dejection.



Madame Granson, widow of a lieutenant-colonel of artillery killed at
Jena, possessed, as her whole means of livelihood, a meagre pension of
nine hundred francs a year, and three hundred francs from property of
her own, plus a son whose support and education had eaten up all her
savings. She occupied, in the rue du Bercail, one of those melancholy
ground-floor apartments which a traveller passing along the principal
street of a little provincial town can look through at a glance. The
street door opened at the top of three steep steps; a passage led to
an interior courtyard, at the end of which was the staircase covered
by a wooden gallery. On one side of the passage was the dining-room
and the kitchen; on the other side, a salon put to many uses, and the
widow's bedchamber.

Athanase Granson, a young man twenty-three years of age, who slept in
an attic room above the second floor of the house, added six hundred
francs to the income of his poor mother, by the salary of a little
place which the influence of his relation, Mademoiselle Cormon, had
obtained for him in the mayor's office, where he was placed in charge
of the archives.

From these indications it is easy to imagine Madame Granson in her
cold salon with its yellow curtains and Utrecht velvet furniture, also
yellow, as she straightened the round straw mats which were placed
before each chair, that visitors might not soil the red-tiled floor
while they sat there; after which she returned to her cushioned
armchair and little work-table placed beneath the portrait of the
lieutenant-colonel of artillery between two windows,--a point from
which her eye could rake the rue du Bercail and see all comers. She
was a good woman, dressed with bourgeois simplicity in keeping with
her wan face furrowed by grief. The rigorous humbleness of poverty
made itself felt in all the accessories of this household, the very
air of which was charged with the stern and upright morals of the
provinces. At this moment the son and mother were together in the
dining-room, where they were breakfasting with a cup of coffee, with
bread and butter and radishes. To make the pleasure which Suzanne's
visit was to give to Madame Granson intelligible, we must explain
certain secret interests of the mother and son.

Athanase Granson was a thin and pale young man, of medium height, with
a hollow face in which his two black eyes, sparkling with thoughts,
gave the effect of bits of coal. The rather irregular lines of his
face, the curve of his lips, a prominent chin, the fine modelling of
his forehead, his melancholy countenance, caused by a sense of his
poverty warring with the powers that he felt within him, were all
indications of repressed and imprisoned talent. In any other place
than the town of Alencon the mere aspect of his person would have won
him the assistance of superior men, or of women who are able to
recognize genius in obscurity. If his was not genius, it was at any
rate the form and aspect of it; if he had not the actual force of a
great heart, the glow of such a heart was in his glance. Although he
was capable of expressing the highest feeling, a casing of timidity
destroyed all the graces of his youth, just as the ice of poverty kept
him from daring to put forth all his powers. Provincial life, without
an opening, without appreciation, without encouragement, described a
circle about him in which languished and died the power of thought,--a
power which as yet had scarcely reached its dawn. Moreover, Athanase
possessed that savage pride which poverty intensifies in noble minds,
exalting them in their struggle with men and things; although at their
start in life it is an obstacle to their advancement. Genius proceeds
in two ways: either it takes its opportunity--like Napoleon, like
Moliere--the moment that it sees it, or it waits to be sought when it
has patiently revealed itself. Young Granson belonged to that class of
men of talent who distrust themselves and are easily discouraged. His
soul was contemplative. He lived more by thought than by action.
Perhaps he might have seemed deficient or incomplete to those who
cannot conceive of genius without the sparkle of French passion; but
he was powerful in the world of mind, and he was liable to reach,
through a series of emotions imperceptible to common souls, those
sudden determinations which make fools say of a man, "He is mad."

The contempt which the world pours out on poverty was death to
Athanase; the enervating heat of solitude, without a breath or current
of air, relaxed the bow which ever strove to tighten itself; his soul
grew weary in this painful effort without results. Athanase was a man
who might have taken his place among the glories of France; but, eagle
as he was, cooped in a cage without his proper nourishment, he was
about to die of hunger after contemplating with an ardent eye the
fields of air and the mountain heights where genius soars. His work in
the city library escaped attention, and he buried in his soul his
thoughts of fame, fearing that they might injure him; but deeper than
all lay buried within him the secret of his heart,--a passion which
hollowed his cheeks and yellowed his brow. He loved his distant
cousin, this very Mademoiselle Cormon whom the Chevalier de Valois and
du Bousquier, his hidden rivals, were stalking. This love had had its
origin in calculation. Mademoiselle Cormon was thought to be one of
the richest persons in the town: the poor lad had therefore been led
to love her by desires for material happiness, by the hope, long
indulged, of gilding with comfort his mother's last years, by eager
longing for the ease of life so needful to men who live by thought;
but this most innocent point of departure degraded his passion in his
own eyes. Moreover, he feared the ridicule the world would cast upon
the love of a young man of twenty-three for an old maid of forty.

And yet his passion was real; whatever may seem false about such a
love elsewhere, it can be realized as a fact in the provinces, where,
manners and morals being without change or chance or movement or
mystery, marriage becomes a necessity of life. No family will accept a
young man of dissolute habits. However natural the liaison of a young
man, like Athanase, with a handsome girl, like Suzanne, for instance,
might seem in a capital, it alarms provincial parents, and destroys
the hopes of marriage of a poor young man when possibly the fortune of
a rich one might cause such an unfortunate antecedent to be
overlooked. Between the depravity of certain liaisons and a sincere
love, a man of honor and no fortune will not hesitate: he prefers the
misfortunes of virtue to the evils of vice. But in the provinces women
with whom a young man call fall in love are rare. A rich young girl he
cannot obtain in a region where all is calculation; a poor young girl
he is prevented from loving; it would be, as provincials say, marrying
hunger and thirst. Such monkish solitude is, however, dangerous to

These reflections explain why provincial life is so firmly based on
marriage. Thus we find that ardent and vigorous genius, forced to rely
on the independence of its own poverty, quits these cold regions where
thought is persecuted by brutal indifference, where no woman is
willing to be a sister of charity to a man of talent, of art, of

Who will really understand Athanase Granson's love for Mademoiselle
Cormon? Certainly neither rich men--those sultans of society who fill
their harems--nor middle-class men, who follow the well-beaten
high-road of prejudices; nor women who, not choosing to understand the
passions of artists, impose the yoke of their virtues upon men of
genius, imagining that the two sexes are governed by the same laws.

Here, perhaps, we should appeal to those young men who suffer from the
repression of their first desires at the moment when all their forces
are developing; to artists sick of their own genius smothering under
the pressure of poverty; to men of talent, persecuted and without
influence, often without friends at the start, who have ended by
triumphing over that double anguish, equally agonizing, of soul and
body. Such men will well understand the lancinating pains of the
cancer which was now consuming Athanase; they have gone through those
long and bitter deliberations made in presence of some grandiose
purpose they had not the means to carry out; they have endured those
secret miscarriages in which the fructifying seed of genius falls on
arid soil. Such men know that the grandeur of desires is in proportion
to the height and breadth of the imagination. The higher they spring,
the lower they fall; and how can it be that ties and bonds should not
be broken by such a fall? Their piercing eye has seen--as did Athanase
--the brilliant future which awaited them, and from which they fancied
that only a thin gauze parted them; but that gauze through which their
eyes could see is changed by Society into a wall of iron. Impelled by
a vocation, by a sentiment of art, they endeavor again and again to
live by sentiments which society as incessantly materializes. Alas!
the provinces calculate and arrange marriage with the one view of
material comfort, and a poor artist or man of science is forbidden to
double its purpose and make it the saviour of his genius by securing
to him the means of subsistence!

Moved by such ideas, Athanase Granson first thought of marriage with
Mademoiselle Cormon as a means of obtaining a livelihood which would
be permanent. Thence he could rise to fame, and make his mother happy,
knowing at the same time that he was capable of faithfully loving his
wife. But soon his own will created, although he did not know it, a
genuine passion. He began to study the old maid, and, by dint of the
charm which habit gives, he ended by seeing only her beauties and
ignoring her defects.

In a young man of twenty-three the senses count for much in love;
their fire produces a sort of prism between his eyes and the woman.
From this point of view the clasp with which Beaumarchis' Cherubin
seizes Marceline is a stroke of genius. But when we reflect that in
the utter isolation to which poverty condemned poor Athanase,
Mademoiselle Cormon was the only figure presented to his gaze, that
she attracted his eye incessantly, that all the light he had was
concentrated on her, surely his love may be considered natural.

This sentiment, so carefully hidden, increased from day to day.
Desires, sufferings, hopes, and meditations swelled in quietness and
silence the lake widening ever in the young man's breast, as hour by
hour added its drop of water to the volume. And the wider this inward
circle, drawn by the imagination, aided by the senses, grew, the more
imposing Mademoiselle Cormon appeared to Athanase, and the more his
own timidity increased.

The mother had divined the truth. Like all provincial mothers, she
calculated candidly in her own mind the advantages of the match. She
told herself that Mademoiselle Cormon would be very lucky to secure a
husband in a young man of twenty-three, full of talent, who would
always be an honor to his family and the neighborhood; at the same
time the obstacles which her son's want of fortune and Mademoiselle
Cormon's age presented to the marriage seemed to her almost
insurmountable; she could think of nothing but patience as being able
to vanquish them. Like du Bousquier, like the Chevalier de Valois, she
had a policy of her own; she was on the watch for circumstances,
awaiting the propitious moment for a move with the shrewdness of
maternal instinct. Madame Granson had no fears at all as to the
chevalier, but she did suppose that du Bousquier, although refused,
retained certain hopes. As an able and underhand enemy to the latter,
she did him much secret harm in the interests of her son; from whom,
by the bye, she carefully concealed all such proceedings.

After this explanation it is easy to understand the importance which
Suzanne's lie, confided to Madame Granson, was about to acquire. What
a weapon put into the hands of this charitable lady, the treasurer of
the Maternity Society! How she would gently and demurely spread the
news while collecting assistance for the chaste Suzanne!

At the present moment Athanase, leaning pensively on his elbow at the
breakfast table, was twirling his spoon in his empty cup and
contemplating with a preoccupied eye the poor room with its red brick
floor, its straw chairs, its painted wooden buffet, its pink and white
curtains chequered like a backgammon board, which communicated with
the kitchen through a glass door. As his back was to the chimney which
his mother faced, and as the chimney was opposite to the door, his
pallid face, strongly lighted from the window, framed in beautiful
black hair, the eyes gleaming with despair and fiery with morning
thoughts, was the first object which met the eyes of the incoming
Suzanne. The grisette, who belonged to a class which certainly has the
instinct of misery and the sufferings of the heart, suddenly felt that
electric spark, darting from Heaven knows where, which can never be
explained, which some strong minds deny, but the sympathetic stroke of
which has been felt by many men and many women. It is at once a light
which lightens the darkness of the future, a presentiment of the
sacred joys of a shared love, the certainty of mutual comprehension.
Above all, it is like the touch of a firm and able hand on the
keyboard of the senses. The eyes are fascinated by an irresistible
attraction; the heart is stirred; the melodies of happiness echo in
the soul and in the ears; a voice cries out, "It is he!" Often
reflection casts a douche of cold water on this boiling emotion, and
all is over.

In a moment, as rapid as the flash of the lightning, Suzanne received
the broadside of this emotion in her heart. The flame of a real love
burned up the evil weeds fostered by a libertine and dissipated life.
She saw how much she was losing of decency and value by accusing
herself falsely. What had seemed to her a joke the night before became
to her eyes a serious charge against herself. She recoiled at her own
success. But the impossibility of any result; the poverty of the young
man; a vague hope of enriching herself, of going to Paris, and
returning with full hands to say, "I love you! here are the means of
happiness!" or mere fate, if you will have it so, dried up the next
moment this beneficent dew.

The ambitious grisette asked with a timid air for a moment's interview
with Madame Granson, who took her at once into her bedchamber. When
Suzanne came out she looked again at Athanase; he was still in the
same position, and the tears came into her eyes. As for Madame
Granson, she was radiant with joy. At last she had a weapon, and a
terrible one, against du Bousquier; she could now deal him a mortal
blow. She had of course promised the poor seduced girl the support of
all charitable ladies and that of the members of the Maternity Society
in particular; she foresaw a dozen visits which would occupy her whole
day, and brew up a frightful storm on the head of the guilty du
Bousquier. The Chevalier de Valois, while foreseeing the turn the
affair would take, had really no idea of the scandal which would
result from his own action.

"My dear child," said Madame Granson to her son, "we are to dine, you
know, with Mademoiselle Cormon; do take a little pains with your
appearance. You are wrong to neglect your dress as you do. Put on that
handsome frilled shirt and your green coat of Elbeuf cloth. I have my
reasons," she added slyly. "Besides, Mademoiselle Cormon is going to
Prebaudet, and many persons will doubtless call to bid her good-bye.
When a young man is marriageable he ought to take every means to make
himself agreeable. If girls would only tell the truth, heavens! my
dear boy, you'd be astonished at what makes them fall in love. Often
it suffices for a man to ride past them at the head of a company of
artillery, or show himself at a ball in tight clothes. Sometimes a
mere turn of the head, a melancholy attitude, makes them suppose a
man's whole life; they'll invent a romance to match the hero--who is
often a mere brute, but the marriage is made. Watch the Chevalier de
Valois: study him; copy his manners; see with what ease he presents
himself; he never puts on a stiff air, as you do. Talk a little more;
one would really think you didn't know anything,--you, who know Hebrew
by heart."

Athanase listened to his mother with a surprised but submissive air;
then he rose, took his cap, and went off to the mayor's office, saying
to himself, "Can my mother suspect my secret?"

He passed through the rue du Val-Noble, where Mademoiselle Cormon
lived,--a little pleasure which he gave himself every morning,
thinking, as usual, a variety of fanciful things:--

"How little she knows that a young man is passing before her house who
loves her well, who would be faithful to her, who would never cause
her any grief; who would leave her the entire management of her
fortune without interference. Good God! what fatality! here, side by
side, in the same town, are two persons in our mutual condition, and
yet nothing can bring them together. Suppose I were to speak to her
this evening?"

During this time Suzanne had returned to her mother's house thinking
of Athanase; and, like many other women who have longed to help an
adored man beyond the limit of human powers, she felt herself capable
of making her body a stepping-stone on which he could rise to attain
his throne.

It is now necessary to enter the house of this old maid toward whom so
many interests are converging, where the actors in this scene, with
the exception of Suzanne, were all to meet this very evening. As for
Suzanne, that handsome individual bold enough to burn her ships like
Alexander at her start in life, and to begin the battle by a
falsehood, she disappears from the stage, having introduced upon it a
violent element of interest. Her utmost wishes were gratified. She
quitted her native town a few days later, well supplied with money and
good clothes, among which was a fine dress of green reps and a
charming green bonnet lined with pink, the gift of Monsieur de Valois,
--a present which she preferred to all the rest, even the money. If
the chevalier had gone to Paris in the days of her future brilliancy,
she would certainly have left every one for him. Like the chaste
Susannah of the Bible, whom the Elders hardly saw, she established
herself joyously and full of hope in Paris, while all Alencon was
deploring her misfortunes, for which the ladies of two Societies
(Charity and Maternity) manifested the liveliest sympathy. Though
Suzanne is a fair specimen of those handsome Norman women whom a
learned physician reckons as comprising one third of her fallen class
whom our monstrous Paris absorbs, it must be stated that she remained
in the upper and more decent regions of gallantry. At an epoch when,
as Monsieur de Valois said, Woman no longer existed, she was simply
"Madame du Val-Noble"; in other days she would have rivalled the
Rhodopes, the Imperias, the Ninons of the past. One of the most
distinguished writers of the Restoration has taken her under his
protection; perhaps he may marry her. He is a journalist, and
consequently above public opinion, inasmuch as he manufactures it
afresh every year or two.



In nearly all the second-class prefectures of France there exists one
salon which is the meeting-ground of those considerable and
well-considered persons of the community who are, nevertheless, /not/
the cream of the best society. The master and mistress of such an
establishment are counted among the leading persons of the town; they
are received wherever it may please them to visit; no fete is given,
no formal or diplomatic dinner takes place, to which they are not
invited. But the chateau people, heads of families possessing great
estates, in short, the highest personages in the department, do not go
to their houses; social intercourse between them is carried on by
cards from one to the other, and a dinner or soiree accepted and

This salon, in which the lesser nobility, the clergy, and the
magistracy meet together, exerts a great influence. The judgment and
mind of the region reside in that solid, unostentatious society, where
each man knows the resources of his neighbor, where complete
indifference is shown to luxury and dress,--pleasures which are
thought childish in comparison to that of obtaining ten or twelve
acres of pasture land,--a purchase coveted for years, which has
probably given rise to endless diplomatic combinations. Immovable in
its prejudices, good or evil, this social circle follows a beaten
track, looking neither before it nor behind it. It accepts nothing
from Paris without long examination and trial; it rejects cashmeres as
it does investments on the Grand-Livre; it scoffs at fashions and
novelties; reads nothing, prefers ignorance, whether of science,
literature, or industrial inventions. It insists on the removal of a
prefect when that official does not suit it; and if the administration
resists, it isolates him, after the manner of bees who wall up a snail
in wax when it gets into their hive.

In this society gossip is often turned into solemn verdicts. Young
women are seldom seen there; when they come it is to seek approbation
of their conduct,--a consecration of their self-importance. This
supremacy granted to one house is apt to wound the sensibilities of
other natives of the region, who console themselves by adding up the
cost it involves, and by which they profit. If it so happens that
there is no fortune large enough to keep open house in this way, the
big-wigs of the place choose a place of meeting, as they did at
Alencon, in the house of some inoffensive person, whose settled life
and character and position offers no umbrage to the vanities or the
interests of any one.

For some years the upper classes of Alencon had met in this way at the
house of an old maid, whose fortune was, unknown to herself, the aim
and object of Madame Granson, her second cousin, and of the two old
bachelors whose secret hopes in that direction we have just unveiled.
This lady lived with her maternal uncle, a former grand-vicar of the
bishopric of Seez, once her guardian, and whose heir she was. The
family of which Rose-Marie-Victoire Cormon was the present
representative had been in earlier days among the most considerable in
the province. Though belonging to the middle classes, she consorted
with the nobility, among whom she was more or less allied, her family
having furnished, in past years, stewards to the Duc d'Alencon, many
magistrates to the long robe, and various bishops to the clergy.
Monsieur de Sponde, the maternal grandfather of Mademoiselle Cormon,
was elected by the Nobility to the States-General, and Monsieur
Cormon, her father, by the Tiers-Etat, though neither accepted the
mission. For the last hundred years the daughters of the family had
married nobles belonging to the provinces; consequently, this family
had thrown out so many suckers throughout the duchy as to appear on
nearly all the genealogical trees. No bourgeois family had ever seemed
so like nobility.

The house in which Mademoiselle Cormon lived, build in Henri IV.'s
time, by Pierre Cormon, the steward of the last Duc d'Alencon, had
always belonged to the family; and among the old maid's visible
possessions this one was particularly stimulating to the covetous
desires of the two old lovers. Yet, far from producing revenue, the
house was a cause of expense. But it is so rare to find in the very
centre of a provincial town a private dwelling without unpleasant
surroundings, handsome in outward structure and convenient within,
that Alencon shared the envy of the lovers.

This old mansion stands exactly in the middle of the rue du Val-Noble.
It is remarkable for the strength of its construction,--a style of
building introduced by Marie de' Medici. Though built of granite,--a
stone which is hard to work,--its angles, and the casings of the doors
and windows, are decorated with corner blocks cut into diamond facets.
It has only one clear story above the ground-floor; but the roof,
rising steeply, has several projecting windows, with carved spandrels
rather elegantly enclosed in oaken frames, and externally adorned with
balustrades. Between each of these windows is a gargoyle presenting
the fantastic jaws of an animal without a body, vomiting the
rain-water upon large stones pierced with five holes. The two gables
are surmounted by leaden bouquets,--a symbol of the bourgeoisie; for
nobles alone had the privilege in former days of having weather-vanes.
To right of the courtyard are the stables and coach-house; to left,
the kitchen, wood-house, and laundry.

One side of the porte-cochere, being left open, allowed the passers in
the street to see in the midst of the vast courtyard a flower-bed, the
raised earth of which was held in place by a low privet hedge. A few
monthly roses, pinkes, lilies, and Spanish broom filled this bed,
around which in the summer season boxes of paurestinus, pomegranates,
and myrtle were placed. Struck by the scrupulous cleanliness of the
courtyard and its dependencies, a stranger would at once have divined
that the place belonged to an old maid. The eye which presided there
must have been an unoccupied, ferreting eye; minutely careful, less
from nature than for want of something to do. An old maid, forced to
employ her vacant days, could alone see to the grass being hoed from
between the paving stones, the tops of the walls kept clean, the broom
continually going, and the leather curtains of the coach-house always
closed. She alone would have introduced, out of busy idleness, a sort
of Dutch cleanliness into a house on the confines of Bretagne and
Normandie,--a region where they take pride in professing an utter
indifference to comfort.

Never did the Chevalier de Valois, or du Bousquier, mount the steps of
the double stairway leading to the portico of this house without
saying to himself, one, that it was fit for a peer of France, the
other, that the mayor of the town ought to live there.

A glass door gave entrance from this portico into an antechamber, a
species of gallery paved in red tiles and wainscoted, which served as
a hospital for the family portraits,--some having an eye put out,
others suffering from a dislocated shoulder; this one held his hat in
a hand that no longer existed; that one was a case of amputation at
the knee. Here were deposited the cloaks, clogs, overshoes, umbrellas,
hoods, and pelisses of the guests. It was an arsenal where each
arrival left his baggage on arriving, and took it up when departing.
Along each wall was a bench for the servants who arrived with
lanterns, and a large stove, to counteract the north wind, which blew
through this hall from the garden to the courtyard.

The house was divided in two equal parts. On one side, toward the
courtyard, was the well of the staircase, a large dining-room looking
to the garden, and an office or pantry which communicated with the
kitchen. On the other side was the salon, with four windows, beyond
which were two smaller rooms,--one looking on the garden, and used as
a boudoir, the other lighted from the courtyard, and used as a sort of

The upper floor contained a complete apartment for a family household,
and a suite of rooms where the venerable Abbe de Sponde had his abode.
The garrets offered fine quarters to the rats and mice, whose
nocturnal performances were related by Mademoiselle Cormon to the
Chevalier de Valois, with many expressions of surprise at the
inutility of her efforts to get rid of them. The garden, about half an
acre in size, is margined by the Brillante, so named from the
particles of mica which sparkle in its bed elsewhere than in the
Val-Noble, where its shallow waters are stained by the dyehouses, and
loaded with refuse from the other industries of the town. The shore
opposite to Mademoiselle Cormon's garden is crowded with houses where
a variety of trades are carried on; happily for her, the occupants are
quiet people,--a baker, a cleaner, an upholsterer, and several
bourgeois. The garden, full of common flowers, ends in a natural
terrace, forming a quay, down which are several steps leading to the
river. Imagine on the balustrade of this terrace a number of tall
vases of blue and white pottery, in which are gilliflowers; and to
right and left, along the neighboring walls, hedges of linden closely
trimmed in, and you will gain an idea of the landscape, full of
tranquil chastity, modest cheerfulness, but commonplace withal, which
surrounded the venerable edifice of the Cormon family. What peace!
what tranquillity! nothing pretentious, but nothing transitory; all
seems eternal there!

The ground-floor is devoted wholly to the reception-rooms. The old,
unchangeable provincial spirit pervades them. The great square salon
has four windows, modestly cased in woodwork painted gray. A single
oblong mirror is placed above the fireplace; the top of its frame
represented the Dawn led by the Hours, and painted in camaieu (two
shades of one color). This style of painting infested the decorative
art of the day, especially above door-frames, where the artist
displayed his eternal Seasons, and made you, in most houses in the
centre of France, abhor the odious Cupids, endlessly employed in
skating, gleaning, twirling, or garlanding one another with flowers.
Each window was draped in green damask curtains, looped up by heavy
cords, which made them resemble a vast dais. The furniture, covered
with tapestry, the woodwork, painted and varnished, and remarkable for
the twisted forms so much the fashion in the last century, bore scenes
from the fables of La Fontaine on the chair-backs; some of this
tapestry had been mended. The ceiling was divided at the centre of the
room by a huge beam, from which depended an old chandelier of
rock-crystal swathed in green gauze. On the fireplace were two vases
in Sevres blue, and two old girandoles attached to the frame of the
mirror, and a clock, the subject of which, taken from the last scene
of the "Deserteur," proved the enormous popularity of Sedaine's work.
This clock, of bronze-gilt, bore eleven personages upon it, each about
four inches tall. At the back the Deserter was seen issuing from
prison between the soldiers; in the foreground the young woman lay
fainting, and pointing to his pardon. On the walls of this salon were
several of the more recent portraits of the family,--one or two by
Rigaud, and three pastels by Latour. Four card tables, a backgammon
board, and a piquet table occupied the vast room, the only one in the
house, by the bye, which was ceiled.

The dining-room, paved in black and white stone, not ceiled, and its
beams painted, was furnished with one of those enormous sideboards
with marble tops, required by the war waged in the provinces against
the human stomach. The walls, painted in fresco, represented a flowery
trellis. The seats were of varnished cane, and the doors of natural
wood. All things about the place carried out the patriarchal air which
emanated from the inside as well as the outside of the house. The
genius of the provinces preserved everything; nothing was new or old,
neither young nor decrepit. A cold precision made itself felt

Tourists in Normandy, Brittany, Maine, and Anjou must all have seen in
the capitals of those provinces many houses which resemble more or
less that of the Cormons; for it is, in its way, an archetype of the
burgher houses in that region of France, and it deserves a place in
this history because it serves to explain manners and customs, and
represents ideas. Who does not already feel that life must have been
calm and monotonously regular in this old edifice? It contained a
library; but that was placed below the level of the river. The books
were well bound and shelved, and the dust, far from injuring them,
only made them valuable. They were preserved with the care given in
these provinces deprived of vineyards to other native products,
desirable for their antique perfume, and issued by the presses of
Bourgogne, Touraine, Gascogne, and the South. The cost of
transportation was too great to allow any but the best products to be

The basis of Mademoiselle Cormon's society consisted of about one
hundred and fifty persons; some went at times to the country; others
were occasionally ill; a few travelled about the department on
business; but certain of the faithful came every night (unless invited
elsewhere), and so did certain others compelled by duties or by habit
to live permanently in the town. All the personages were of ripe age;
few among them had ever travelled; nearly all had spent their lives in
the provinces, and some had taken part in the chouannerie. The latter
were beginning to speak fearlessly of that war, now that rewards were
being showered on the defenders of the good cause. Monsieur de Valois,
one of the movers in the last uprising (during which the Marquis de
Montauran, betrayed by his mistress, perished in spite of the devotion
of Marche-a-Terre, now tranquilly raising cattle for the market near
Mayenne),--Monsieur de Valois had, during the last six months, given
the key to several choice stratagems practised upon an old republican
named Hulot, the commander of a demi-brigade stationed at Alencon from
1798 to 1800, who had left many memories in the place. [See "The

The women of this society took little pains with their dress, except
on Wednesdays, when Mademoiselle Cormon gave a dinner, on which
occasion the guests invited on the previous Wednesday paid their
"visit of digestion." Wednesdays were gala days: the assembly was
numerous; guests and visitors appeared in fiocchi; some women brought
their sewing, knitting, or worsted work; the young girls were not
ashamed to make patterns for the Alencon point lace, with the proceeds
of which they paid for their personal expenses. Certain husbands
brought their wives out of policy, for young men were few in that
house; not a word could be whispered in any ear without attracting the
attention of all; there was therefore no danger, either for young
girls or wives, of love-making.

Every evening, at six o'clock, the long antechamber received its
furniture. Each habitue brought his cane, his cloak, his lantern. All
these persons knew each other so well, and their habits and ways were
so familiarly patriarchal, that if by chance the old Abbe de Sponde
was lying down, or Mademoiselle Cormon was in her chamber, neither
Josette, the maid, nor Jacquelin, the man-servant, nor Mariette, the
cook, informed them. The first comer received the second; then, when
the company were sufficiently numerous for whist, piquet, or boston,
they began the game without awaiting either the Abbe de Sponde or
mademoiselle. If it was dark, Josette or Jacquelin would hasten to
light the candles as soon as the first bell rang. Seeing the salon
lighted up, the abbe would slowly hurry to come down. Every evening
the backgammon and the piquet tables, the three boston tables, and the
whist table were filled,--which gave occupation to twenty-five or
thirty persons; but as many as forty were usually present. Jacquelin
would then light the candles in the other rooms.

Between eight and nine o'clock the servants began to arrive in the
antechamber to accompany their masters home; and, short of a
revolution, no one remained in the salon at ten o'clock. At that hour
the guests were departing in groups along the street, discoursing on
the game, or continuing conversations on the land they were covetous
of buying, on the terms of some one's will, on quarrels among heirs,
on the haughty assumption of the aristocratic portion of the
community. It was like Paris when the audience of a theatre disperses.

Certain persons who talk much of poesy and know nothing about it,
declaim against the habits of life in the provinces. But put your
forehead in your left hand, rest one foot on the fender, and your
elbow on your knee; then, if you compass the idea of this quiet and
uniform scene, this house and its interior, this company and its
interests, heightened by the pettiness of its intellect like goldleaf
beaten between sheets of parchment, ask yourself, What is human life?
Try to decide between him who scribbles jokes on Egyptian obelisks,
and him who has "bostoned" for twenty years with Du Bousquier,
Monsieur de Valois, Mademoiselle Cormon, the judge of the court, the
king's attorney, the Abbe de Sponde, Madame Granson, and tutti quanti.
If the daily and punctual return of the same steps to the same path is
not happiness, it imitates happiness so well that men driven by the
storms of an agitated life to reflect upon the blessings of
tranquillity would say that here was happiness /enough/.

To reckon the importance of Mademoiselle Cormon's salon at its true
value, it will suffice to say that the born statistician of the
society, du Bousquier, had estimated that the persons who frequented
it controlled one hundred and thirty-one votes in the electoral
college, and mustered among themselves eighteen hundred thousand
francs a year from landed estate in the neighborhood.

The town of Alencon, however, was not entirely represented by this
salon. The higher aristocracy had a salon of their own; moreover, that
of the receiver-general was like an administration inn kept by the
government, where society danced, plotted, fluttered, loved, and
supped. These two salons communicated by means of certain mixed
individuals with the house of Cormon, and vice-versa; but the Cormon
establishment sat severely in judgment on the two other camps. The
luxury of their dinners was criticised; the ices at their balls were
pondered; the behavior of the women, the dresses, and "novelties"
there produced were discussed and disapproved.

Mademoiselle Cormon, a species of firm, as one might say, under whose
name was comprised an imposing coterie, was naturally the aim and
object of two ambitious men as deep and wily as the Chevalier de
Valois and du Bousquier. To the one as well as to the other, she meant
election as deputy, resulting, for the noble, in the peerage, for the
purveyor, in a receiver-generalship. A leading salon is a difficult
thing to create, whether in Paris or the provinces, and here was one
already created. To marry Mademoiselle Cormon was to reign in Alencon.
Athanase Granson, the only one of the three suitors for the hand of
the old maid who no longer calculated profits, now loved her person as
well as her fortune.

To employ the jargon of the day, is there not a singular drama in the
situation of these four personages? Surely there is something odd and
fantastic in three rivalries silently encompassing a woman who never
guessed their existence, in spite of an eager and legitimate desire to
be married. And yet, though all these circumstances make the
spinsterhood of this old maid an extraordinary thing, it is not
difficult to explain how and why, in spite of her fortune and her
three lovers, she was still unmarried. In the first place,
Mademoiselle Cormon, following the custom and rule of her house, had
always desired to marry a nobleman; but from 1788 to 1798 public
circumstances were very unfavorable to such pretensions. Though she
wanted to be a woman of condition, as the saying is, she was horribly
afraid of the Revolutionary tribunal. The two sentiments, equal in
force, kept her stationary by a law as true in ethics as it is in
statics. This state of uncertain expectation is pleasing to unmarried
women as long as they feel themselves young, and in a position to
choose a husband. France knows that the political system of Napoleon
resulted in making many widows. Under that regime heiresses were
entirely out of proportion in numbers to the bachelors who wanted to
marry. When the Consulate restored internal order, external
difficulties made the marriage of Mademoiselle Cormon as difficult to
arrange as it had been in the past. If, on the one hand,
Rose-Marie-Victoire refused to marry an old man, on the other, the
fear of ridicule forbade her to marry a very young one.

In the provinces, families marry their sons early to escape the
conscription. In addition to all this, she was obstinately determined
not to marry a soldier: she did not intend to take a man and then give
him up to the Emperor; she wanted him for herself alone. With these
views, she found it therefore impossible, from 1804 to 1815, to enter
the lists with young girls who were rivalling each other for suitable

Besides her predilection for the nobility, Mademoiselle Cormon had
another and very excusable mania: that of being loved for herself. You
could hardly believe the lengths to which this desire led her. She
employed her mind on setting traps for her possible lovers, in order
to test their real sentiments. Her nets were so well laid that the
luckless suitors were all caught, and succumbed to the test she
applied to them without their knowledge. Mademoiselle Cormon did not
study them; she watched them. A single word said heedlessly, a joke
(that she often was unable to understand), sufficed to make her reject
an aspirant as unworthy: this one had neither heart nor delicacy; that
one told lies, and was not religious; a third only wanted to coin
money under the cloak of marriage; another was not of a nature to make
a woman happy; here she suspected hereditary gout; there certain
immoral antecedents alarmed her. Like the Church, she required a noble
priest at her altar; she even wanted to be married for imaginary
ugliness and pretended defects, just as other women wish to be loved
for the good qualities they have not, and for imaginary beauties.
Mademoiselle Cormon's ambition took its rise in the most delicate and
sensitive feminine feeling; she longed to reward a lover by revealing
to him a thousand virtues after marriage, as other women then betray
the imperfections they have hitherto concealed. But she was ill
understood. The noble woman met with none but common souls in whom the
reckoning of actual interests was paramount, and who knew nothing of
the nobler calculations of sentiment.

The farther she advanced towards that fatal epoch so adroitly called
the "second youth," the more her distrust increased. She affected to
present herself in the most unfavorable light, and played her part so
well that the last wooers hesitated to link their fate to that of a
person whose virtuous blind-man's-buff required an amount of
penetration that men who want the virtuous ready-made would not bestow
upon it. The constant fear of being married for her money rendered her
suspicious and uneasy beyond all reason. She turned to the rich men;
but the rich are in search of great marriages; she feared the poor
men, in whom she denied the disinterestedness she sought so eagerly.
After each disappointment in marriage, the poor lady, led to despise
mankind, began to see them all in a false light. Her character
acquired, necessarily, a secret misanthropy, which threw a tinge of
bitterness into her conversation, and some severity into her eyes.
Celibacy gave to her manners and habits a certain increasing rigidity;
for she endeavored to sanctify herself in despair of fate. Noble
vengeance! she was cutting for God the rough diamond rejected by man.
Before long public opinion was against her; for society accepts the
verdict an independent woman renders on herself by not marrying,
either through losing suitors or rejecting them. Everybody supposed
that these rejections were founded on secret reasons, always ill
interpreted. One said she was deformed; another suggested some hidden
fault; but the poor girl was really as pure as a saint, as healthy as
an infant, and full of loving kindness; Nature had intended her for
all the pleasures, all the joys, and all the fatigues of motherhood.

Mademoiselle Cormon did not possess in her person an obliging
auxiliary to her desires. She had no other beauty than that very
improperly called la beaute du diable, which consists of a buxom
freshness of youth that the devil, theologically speaking, could never
have,--though perhaps the expression may be explained by the constant
desire that must surely possess him to cool and refresh himself. The
feet of the heiress were broad and flat. Her leg, which she often
exposed to sight by her manner (be it said without malice) of lifting
her gown when it rained, could never have been taken for the leg of a
woman. It was sinewy, with a thick projecting calf like a sailor's. A
stout waist, the plumpness of a wet-nurse, strong dimpled arms, red
hands, were all in keeping with the swelling outlines and the fat
whiteness of Norman beauty. Projecting eyes, undecided in color, gave
to her face, the rounded outline of which had no dignity, an air of
surprise and sheepish simplicity, which was suitable perhaps for an
old maid. If Rose had not been, as she was, really innocent, she would
have seemed so. An aquiline nose contrasted curiously with the
narrowness of her forehead; for it is rare that that form of nose does
not carry with it a fine brow. In spite of her thick red lips, a sign
of great kindliness, the forehead revealed too great a lack of ideas
to allow of the heart being guided by intellect; she was evidently
benevolent without grace. How severely we reproach Virtue for its
defects, and how full of indulgence we all are for the pleasanter
qualities of Vice!

Chestnut hair of extraordinary length gave to Rose Cormon's face a
beauty which results from vigor and abundance,--the physical qualities
most apparent in her person. In the days of her chief pretensions,
Rose affected to hold her head at the three-quarter angle, in order to
exhibit a very pretty ear, which detached itself from the blue-veined
whiteness of her throat and temples, set off, as it was, by her wealth
of hair. Seen thus in a ball-dress, she might have seemed handsome.
Her protuberant outlines and her vigorous health did, in fact, draw
from the officers of the Empire the approving exclamation,--

"What a fine slip of a girl!"

But, as years rolled on, this plumpness, encouraged by a tranquil,
wholesome life, had insensibly so ill spread itself over the whole of
Mademoiselle Cormon's body that her primitive proportions were
destroyed. At the present moment, no corset could restore a pair of
hips to the poor lady, who seemed to have been cast in a single mould.
The youthful harmony of her bosom existed no longer; and its excessive
amplitude made the spectator fear that if she stooped its heavy masses
might topple her over. But nature had provided against this by giving
her a natural counterpoise, which rendered needless the deceitful
adjunct of a bustle; in Rose Cormon everything was genuine. Her chin,
as it doubled, reduced the length of her neck, and hindered the easy
carriage of her head. Rose had no wrinkles, but she had folds of
flesh; and jesters declared that to save chafing she powdered her skin
as they do an infant's.

This ample person offered to a young man full of ardent desires like
Athanase an attraction to which he had succumbed. Young imaginations,
essentially eager and courageous, like to rove upon these fine living
sheets of flesh. Rose was like a plump partridge attracting the knife
of a gourmet. Many an elegant deep in debt would very willingly have
resigned himself to make the happiness of Mademoiselle Cormon. But,
alas! the poor girl was now forty years old. At this period, after
vainly seeking to put into her life those interests which make the
Woman, and finding herself forced to be still unmarried, she fortified
her virtue by stern religious practices. She had recourse to religion,
the great consoler of oppressed virginity. A confessor had, for the
last three years, directed Mademoiselle Cormon rather stupidly in the
path of maceration; he advised the use of scourging, which, if modern
medical science is to be believed, produces an effect quite the
contrary to that expected by the worthy priest, whose hygienic
knowledge was not extensive.

These absurd practices were beginning to shed a monastic tint over the
face of Rose Cormon, who now saw with something like despair her white
skin assuming the yellow tones which proclaim maturity. A slight down
on her upper lip, about the corners, began to spread and darken like a
trail of smoke; her temples grew shiny; decadence was beginning! It
was authentic in Alencon that Mademoiselle Cormon suffered from rush
of blood to the head. She confided her ills to the Chevalier de
Valois, enumerating her foot-baths, and consulting him as to
refrigerants. On such occasions the shrewd old gentleman would pull
out his snuff-box, gaze at the Princess Goritza, and say, by way of

"The right composing draught, my dear lady, is a good and kind

"But whom can one trust?" she replied.

The chevalier would then brush away the snuff which had settled in the
folds of his waistcoat or his paduasoy breeches. To the world at large
this gesture would have seemed very natural; but it always gave
extreme uneasiness to the poor woman.

The violence of this hope without an object was so great that Rose was
afraid to look a man in the face lest he should perceive in her eyes
the feelings that filled her soul. By a wilfulness, which was perhaps
only the continuation of her earlier methods, though she felt herself
attracted toward the men who might still suit her, she was so afraid
of being accused of folly that she treated them ungraciously. Most
persons in her society, being incapable of appreciating her motives,
which were always noble, explained her manner towards her co-celibates
as the revenge of a refusal received or expected. When the year 1815
began, Rose had reached that fatal age which she dared not avow. She
was forty-two years old. Her desire for marriage then acquired an
intensity which bordered on monomania, for she saw plainly that all
chance of progeny was about to escape her; and the thing which in her
celestial ignorance she desired above all things was the possession of
children. Not a person in all Alencon ever attributed to this virtuous
woman a single desire for amorous license. She loved, as it were, in
bulk without the slightest imagination of love. Rose was a Catholic
Agnes, incapable of inventing even one of the wiles of Moliere's

For some months past she had counted on chance. The disbandment of the
Imperial troops and the reorganization of the Royal army caused a
change in the destination of many officers, who returned, some on
half-pay, others with or without a pension, to their native towns,
--all having a desire to counteract their luckless fate, and to end
their life in a way which might to Rose Cormon be a happy beginning of
hers. It would surely be strange if, among those who returned to
Alencon or its neighborhood, no brave, honorable, and, above all,
sound and healthy officer of suitable age could be found, whose
character would be a passport among Bonaparte opinions; or some
ci-devant noble who, to regain his lost position, would join the ranks
of the royalists. This hope kept Mademoiselle Cormon in heart during
the early months of that year. But, alas! all the soldiers who thus
returned were either too old or too young; too aggressively
Bonapartist, or too dissipated; in short, their several situations
were out of keeping with the rank, fortune, and morals of Mademoiselle
Cormon, who now grew daily more and more desperate. The poor woman in
vain prayed to God to send her a husband with whom she could be
piously happy: it was doubtless written above that she should die both
virgin and martyr; no man suitable for a husband presented himself.
The conversations in her salon every evening kept her informed of the
arrival of all strangers in Alencon, and of the facts of their
fortunes, rank, and habits. But Alencon is not a town which attracts
visitors; it is not on the road to any capital; even sailors,
travelling from Brest to Paris, never stop there. The poor woman ended
by admitting to herself that she was reduced to the aborigines. Her
eye now began to assume a certain savage expression, to which the
malicious chevalier responded by a shrewd look as he drew out his
snuff-box and gazed at the Princess Goritza. Monsieur de Valois was
well aware that in the feminine ethics of love fidelity to a first
attachment is considered a pledge for the future.

But Mademoiselle Cormon--we must admit it--was wanting in intellect,
and did not understand the snuff-box performance. She redoubled her
vigilance against "the evil spirit"; her rigid devotion and fixed
principles kept her cruel sufferings hidden among the mysteries of
private life. Every evening, after the company had left her, she
thought of her lost youth, her faded bloom, the hopes of thwarted
nature; and, all the while immolating her passions at the feet of the
Cross (like poems condemned to stay in a desk), she resolved firmly
that if, by chance, any suitor presented himself, to subject him to no
tests, but to accept him at once for whatever he might be. She even
went so far as to think of marrying a sub-lieutenant, a man who smoked
tobacco, whom she proposed to render, by dint of care and kindness,
one of the best men in the world, although he was hampered with debts.

But it was only in the silence of night watches that these fantastic
marriages, in which she played the sublime role of guardian angel,
took place. The next day, though Josette found her mistress' bed in a
tossed and tumbled condition, Mademoiselle Cormon had recovered her
dignity, and could only think of a man of forty, a land-owner, well
preserved, and a quasi-young man.

The Abbe de Sponde was incapable of giving his niece the slightest aid
in her matrimonial manoeuvres. The worthy soul, now seventy years of
age, attributed the disasters of the French Revolution to the design
of Providence, eager to punish a dissolute Church. He had therefore
flung himself into the path, long since abandoned, which anchorites
once followed in order to reach heaven: he led an ascetic life without
proclaiming it, and without external credit. He hid from the world his
works of charity, his continual prayers, his penances; he thought that
all priests should have acted thus during the days of wrath and
terror, and he preached by example. While presenting to the world a
calm and smiling face, he had ended by detaching himself utterly from
earthly interests; his mind turned exclusively to sufferers, to the
needs of the Church, and to his own salvation. He left the management
of his property to his niece, who gave him the income of it, and to
whom he paid a slender board in order to spend the surplus in secret
alms and gifts to the Church.

All the abbe's affections were concentrated on his niece, who regarded
him as a father, but an abstracted father, unable to conceive the
agitations of the flesh, and thanking God for maintaining his dear
daughter in a state of celibacy; for he had, from his youth up,
adopted the principles of Saint John Chrysostom, who wrote that "the
virgin state is as far above the marriage state as the angel is above
humanity." Accustomed to reverence her uncle, Mademoiselle Cormon
dared not initiate him into the desires which filled her soul for a
change of state. The worthy man, accustomed, on his side, to the ways
of the house, would scarcely have liked the introduction of a husband.
Preoccupied by the sufferings he soothed, lost in the depths of
prayer, the Abbe de Sponde had periods of abstraction which the
habitues of the house regarded as absent-mindedness. In any case, he
talked little; but his silence was affable and benevolent. He was a
man of great height and spare, with grave and solemn manners, though
his face expressed all gentle sentiments and an inward calm; while his
mere presence carried with it a sacred authority. He was very fond of
the Voltairean chevalier. Those two majestic relics of the nobility
and clergy, though of very different habits and morals, recognized
each other by their generous traits. Besides, the chevalier was as
unctuous with the abbe as he was paternal with the grisettes.

Some persons may fancy that Mademoiselle Cormon used every means to
attain her end; and that among the legitimate lures of womanhood she
devoted herself to dress, wore low-necked gowns, and employed the
negative coquetries of a magnificent display of arms. Not at all! She
was as heroic and immovable in her high-necked chemisette as a sentry
in his box. Her gowns, bonnets, and chiffons were all cut and made by
the dressmaker and the milliner of Alencon, two hump-backed sisters,
who were not without some taste. In spite of the entreaties of these
artists, Mademoiselle Cormon refused to employ the airy deceits of
elegance; she chose to be substantial in all things, flesh and
feathers. But perhaps the heavy fashion of her gowns was best suited
to her cast of countenance. Let those laugh who will at this poor
girl; you would have thought her sublime, O generous souls! who care


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