Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 6
The color which suffused the young girl's face told the cripple nearly
all he sought to know.
"Well, if that be so," he went on, "if we enrich the one we love, if
we please the spirit and withdraw the body, is not that the way to
make one's self beloved? At any rate it is the dream of your poor
dwarf,--a dream of yesterday; for to-day your mother gives me the key
to future wealth by promising me the means of buying a practice. But
before I become another Gobenheim, I seek to know whether this dream
could be really carried out. What do you say, mademoiselle, YOU?"
Modeste was so astonished that she did not notice the question. The
trap of the lover was much better baited than that of the soldier, for
the poor girl was rendered speechless.
"Poor Butscha!" whispered Madame Latournelle to her husband. "Do you
think he is going mad?"
"You want to realize the story of Beauty and the Beast," said Modeste
at length; "but you forget that the Beast turned into Prince
"Do you think so?" said the dwarf. "Now I have always thought that
that transformation meant the phenomenon of the soul made visible,
obliterating the form under the light of the spirit. If I were not
loved I should stay hidden, that is all. You and yours, madame," he
continued, addressing his mistress, "instead of having a dwarf at your
service, will now have a life and a fortune."
So saying, Butscha resumed his seat, remarking to the three whist-
players with an assumption of calmness, "Whose deal is it?" but within
his soul he whispered sadly to himself: "She wants to be loved for
herself; she corresponds with some pretended great man; how far has it
"Dear mamma, it is nearly ten o'clock," said Modeste.
Madame Mignon said good-night to her friends, and went to bed.
They who wish to love in secret may have Pyrenean hounds, mothers,
Dumays, and Latournelles to spy upon them, and yet not be in any
danger; but when it comes to a lover!--ah! that is diamond cut
diamond, flame against flame, mind to mind, an equation whose terms
On Sunday morning Butscha arrived at the Chalet before Madame
Latournelle, who always came to take Modeste to church, and he
proceeded to blockade the house in expectation of the postman.
"Have you a letter for Mademoiselle Mignon?" he said to that humble
functionary when he appeared.
"No, monsieur, none."
"This house has been a good customer to the post of late," remarked
"You may well say that," replied the man.
Modeste both heard and saw the little colloquy from her chamber
window, where she always posted herself behind the blinds at this
particular hour to watch for the postman. She ran downstairs, went
into the little garden, and called in an imperative voice:--
"Here am I, mademoiselle," said the cripple, reaching the gate as
Modeste herself opened it.
"Will you be good enough to tell me whether among your various titles
to a woman's affection you count that of the shameless spying in which
you are now engaged?" demanded the girl, endeavoring to crush her
slave with the glance and gesture of a queen.
"Yes, mademoiselle," he answered proudly. "Ah! I never expected," he
continued in a low tone, "that the grub could be of service to a star,
--but so it is. Would you rather that your mother and Monsieur Dumay
and Madame Latournelle had guessed your secret than one, excluded as
it were from life, who seeks to be to you one of those flowers that
you cut and wear for a moment? They all know you love; but I, I alone,
KNOW HOW. Use me as you would a vigilant watch-dog; I will obey you,
protect you, and never bark; neither will I condemn you. I ask only to
be of service to you. Your father has made Dumay keeper of the hen-
roost, take Butscha to watch outside,--poor Butscha, who doesn't ask
for anything, not so much as a bone."
"Well, I've give you a trial," said Modeste, whose strongest desire
was to get rid of so clever a watcher. "Please go at once to all the
hotels in Graville and in Havre, and ask if a gentleman has arrived
from England named Monsieur Arthur--"
"Listen to me, mademoiselle," said Butscha, interrupting Modeste
respectfully. "I will go and take a walk on the seashore, for you
don't want me to go to church to-day; that's what it is."
Modeste looked at her dwarf with a perfectly stupid astonishment.
"Mademoiselle, you have wrapped your face in cotton-wool and a silk
handkerchief, but there's nothing the matter with you; and you have
put that thick veil on your bonnet to see some one yourself without
"Where did you acquire all that perspicacity?" cried Modeste,
"Moreover, mademoiselle, you have not put on your corset; a cold in
the head wouldn't oblige you to disfigure your waist and wear half a
dozen petticoats, nor hide your hands in these old gloves, and your
pretty feet in those hideous shoes, nor dress yourself like a beggar-
"That's enough," she said. "How am I to be certain that you will obey
"My master is obliged to go to Sainte-Adresse. He does not like it,
but he is so truly good he won't deprive me of my Sunday; I will offer
to go for him."
"Go, and I will trust you."
"You are sure I can do nothing for you in Havre?"
"Nothing. Hear me, mysterious dwarf,--look," she continued, pointing
to the cloudless sky; "can you see a single trace of that bird that
flew by just now? No; well then, my actions are pure as the air is
pure, and leave no stain behind them. You may reassure Dumay and the
Latournelles, and my mother. That hand," she said, holding up a pretty
delicate hand, with the points of the rosy fingers, through which the
light shone, slightly turning back, "will never be given, it will
never even be kissed by what people call a lover until my father has
"Why don't you want me in the church to-day?"
"Do you venture to question me after all I have done you the honor to
say, and to ask of you?"
Butscha bowed without another word, and departed to find his master,
in all the rapture of being taken into the service of his goddess.
Half an hour later, Monsieur and Madame Latournelle came to fetch
Modeste, who complained of a horrible toothache.
"I really have not had the courage to dress myself," she said.
"Well then," replied the worthy chaperone, "stay at home."
"Oh, no!" said Modeste. "I would rather not. I have bundled myself up,
and I don't think it will do me any harm to go out."
And Mademoiselle Mignon marched off beside Latournelle, refusing to
take his arm lest she should be questioned about the outward trembling
which betrayed her inward agitation at the thought of at last seeing
her great poet. One look, the first,--was it not about to decide her
A FULL-LENGTH PORTRAIT OF MONSIEUR DE LA BRIERE
Is there in the life of man a more delightful moment than that of a
first rendezvous? Are the sensations then hidden at the bottom of our
hearts and finding their first expression ever renewed? Can we feel
again the nameless pleasures that we felt when, like Ernest de La
Briere, we looked up our sharpest razors, our finest shirt, an
irreproachable collar, and our best clothes? We deify the garments
associated with that all-supreme moment. We weave within us poetic
fancies quite equal to those of the woman; and the day when either
party guesses them they take wings to themselves and fly away. Are not
such things like the flower of wild fruits, bitter-sweet, grown in the
heart of a forest, the joy of the scant sun-rays, the joy, as Canalis
says in the "Maiden's Song," of the plant itself whose eyes unclosing
see its own image within its breast?
Such emotions, now taking place in La Briere, tend to show that, like
other poor fellows for whom life begins in toil and care, he had never
yet been loved. Arriving at Havre overnight, he had gone to bed at
once, like a true coquette, to obliterate all traces of fatigue; and
now, after taking his bath, he had put himself into a costume
carefully adapted to show him off to the best advantage. This is,
perhaps, the right moment to exhibit a full-length portrait of him, if
only to justify the last letter that Modeste was still to write to
Born of a good family in Toulouse, and allied by marriage to the
minister who first took him under his protection, Ernest had that air
of good-breeding which comes of an education begun in the cradle; and
the habit of managing business affairs gave him a certain sedateness
which was not pedantic,--though pedantry is the natural outgrowth of
premature gravity. He was of ordinary height; his face, which won upon
all who saw him by its delicacy and sweetness, was warm in the flesh-
tints, though without color, and relieved by a small moustache and
imperial a la Mazarin. Without this evidence of virility he might have
resembled a young woman in disguise, so refined was the shape of his
face and the cut of his lips, so feminine the transparent ivory of a
set of teeth, regular enough to have seemed artificial. Add to these
womanly points a habit of speech as gentle as the expression of the
face; as gentle, too, as the blue eyes with their Turkish eyelids, and
you will readily understand how it was that the minister occasionally
called his young secretary Mademoiselle de La Briere. The full, clear
forehead, well framed by abundant black hair, was dreamy, and did not
contradict the character of the face, which was altogether melancholy.
The prominent arch of the upper eyelid, though very beautifully cut,
overshadowed the glance of the eye, and added a physical sadness,--if
we may so call it,--produced by the droop of the lid over the eyeball.
This inward doubt or eclipse--which is put into language by the word
modesty--was expressed in his whole person. Perhaps we shall be able
to make his appearance better understood if we say that the logic of
design required greater length in the oval of his head, more space
between the chin, which ended abruptly, and the forehead, which was
reduced in height by the way in which the hair grew. The face had, in
short, a rather compressed appearance. Hard work had already drawn
furrows between the eyebrows, which were somewhat too thick and too
near together, like those of a jealous nature. Though La Briere was
then slight, he belonged to the class of temperaments which begin,
after they are thirty, to take on an unexpected amount of flesh.
The young man would have seemed to a student of French history a very
fair representative of the royal and almost inconceivable figure of
Louis XIII.,--that historical figure of melancholy modesty without
known cause; pallid beneath the crown; loving the dangers of war and
the fatigues of hunting, but hating work; timid with his mistress to
the extent of keeping away from her; so indifferent as to allow the
head of his friend to be cut off,--a figure that nothing can explain
but his remorse for having avenged his father on his mother. Was he a
Catholic Hamlet, or merely the victim of incurable disease? But the
undying worm which gnawed at the king's vitals was in Ernest's case
simply distrust of himself,--the timidity of a man to whom no woman
had ever said, "Ah, how I love thee!" and, above all, the spirit of
self-devotion without an object. After hearing the knell of the
monarchy in the fall of his patron's ministry, the poor fellow had
next fallen upon a rock covered with exquisite mosses, named Canalis;
he was, therefore, still seeking a power to love, and this spaniel-
like search for a master gave him outwardly the air of a king who has
met with his. This play of feeling, and a general tone of suffering in
the young man's face made it more really beautiful than he was himself
aware of; for he had always been annoyed to find himself classed by
women among the "handsome disconsolate,"--a class which has passed out
of fashion in these days, when every man seeks to blow his own trumpet
and put himself in the advance.
The self-distrustful Ernest now rested his immediate hopes on the
fashionable clothes he intended to wear. He put on, for this sacred
interview, where everything depended on a first impression, a pair of
black trousers and carefully polished boots, a sulphur-colored
waistcoat, which left to sight an exquisitely fine shirt with opal
buttons, a black cravat, and a small blue surtout coat which seemed
glued to his back and shoulders by some newly-invented process. The
ribbon of the Legion of honor was in his buttonhole. He wore a well-
fitting pair of kid gloves of the Florentine bronze color, and carried
his cane and hat in the left hand with a gesture and air that was
worthy of the Grand Monarch, and enabled him to show, as the sacred
precincts required, his bare head with the light falling on his
carefully arranged hair. He stationed himself before the service began
in the church porch, from whence he could examine the church, and the
Christians--more particularly the female Christians--who dipped their
fingers in the holy water.
An inward voice cried to Modeste as she entered, "It is he!" That
surtout, and indeed the whole bearing of the young man were
essentially Parisian; the ribbon, the gloves, the cane, the very
perfume of his hair were not of Havre. So when La Briere turned about
to examine the tall and imposing Madame Latournelle, the notary, and
the bundled-up (expression sacred to women) figure of Modeste, the
poor child, though she had carefully tutored herself for the event,
received a violent blow on her heart when her eyes rested on this
poetic figure, illuminated by the full light of day as it streamed
through the open door. She could not be mistaken; a small white rose
nearly hid the ribbon of the Legion. Would he recognize his unknown
mistress muffled in an old bonnet with a double veil? Modeste was so
in fear of love's clairvoyance that she began to stoop in her walk
like an old woman.
"Wife," said little Latournelle as they took their seats, "that
gentleman does not belong to Havre."
"So many strangers come here," answered his wife.
"But," said the notary, "strangers never come to look at a church like
ours, which is less than two centuries old."
Ernest remained in the porch throughout the service without seeing any
woman who realized his hopes. Modeste, on her part, could not control
the trembling of her limbs until Mass was nearly over. She was in the
grasp of a joy that none but she herself could depict. At last she
heard the foot-fall of a gentleman on the pavement of the aisle. The
service over, La Briere was making a circuit of the church, where no
one now remained but the punctiliously pious, whom he proceeded to
subject to a shrewd and keen analysis. Ernest noticed that a prayer-
book shook violently in the hands of a veiled woman as he passed her;
as she alone kept her face hidden his suspicions were aroused, and
then confirmed by Modeste's dress, which the lover's eye now scanned
and noted. He left the church with the Latournelles and followed them
at a distance to the rue Royale, where he saw them enter a house
accompanied by Modeste, whose custom it was to stay with her friends
till the hour of vespers. After examining the little house, which was
ornamented with scutcheons, he asked the name of the owner, and was
told that he was Monsieur Latournelle, the chief notary in Havre. As
Ernest lounged along the rue Royale hoping for a glimpse into the
house, Modeste caught sight of him, and thereupon declared herself too
ill to go to vespers. Poor Ernest thus had his trouble for his pains.
He dared not wander about Ingouville; moreover, he made it a point of
honor to obey orders, and he therefore went back to Paris, previously
writing a letter which Francoise Cochet duly delivered on the morrow
with the Havre postmark.
It was the custom of Monsieur and Madame Latournelle to dine at the
Chalet every Sunday when they brought back Modeste after vespers. So,
as soon as the invalid felt a little better, they started for
Ingouville, accompanied by Butscha. Once at home, the happy Modeste
forgot her pretended illness and her disguise, and dressed herself
charmingly, humming as she came down to dinner,--
"Nought is sleeping--Heart! awaking,
Lift thine incense to the skies."
Butscha shuddered slightly when he caught sight of her, so changed did
she seem to him. The wings of love were fastened to her shoulders; she
had the air of a nymph, a Psyche; her cheeks glowed with the divine
color of happiness.
"Who wrote the words to which you have put that pretty music?" asked
"Canalis, mamma," she answered, flushing rosy red from her throat to
"Canalis!" cried the dwarf, to whom the inflections of the girl's
voice and her blush told the only thing of which he was still
ignorant. "He, that great poet, does he write songs?"
"They are only simple verses," she said, "which I have ventured to set
to German airs."
"No, no," interrupted Madame Mignon, "the music is your own, my
Modeste, feeling that she grew more and more crimson, went off into
the garden, calling Butscha after her.
"You can do me a great service," she said. "Dumay is keeping a secret
from my mother and me as to the fortune which my father is bringing
back with him; and I want to know what it is. Did not Dumay send papa
when he first went away over five hundred thousand francs? Yes. Well,
papa is not the kind of man to stay away four years and only double
his capital. It seems he is coming back on a ship of his own, and
Dumay's share amounts to almost six hundred thousand francs."
"There is no need to question Dumay," said Butscha. "Your father lost,
as you know, about four millions when he went away, and he has
doubtless recovered them. He would of course give Dumay ten per cent
of his profits; the worthy man admitted the other day how much it was,
and my master and I think that in that case the colonel's fortune must
amount to six or seven millions--"
"Oh, papa!" cried Modeste, crossing her hands on her breast and
looking up to heaven, "twice you have given me life!"
"Ah, mademoiselle!" said Butscha, "you love a poet. That kind of man
is more or less of a Narcissus. Will he know how to love you? A
phrase-maker, always busy in fitting words together, must be a bore.
Mademoiselle, a poet is no more poetry than a seed is a flower."
"Butscha, I never saw so handsome a man."
"Beauty is a veil which often serves to hide imperfections."
"He has the most angelic heart of heaven--"
"I pray God you may be right," said the dwarf, clasping his hands,
"--and happy! That man shall have, as you have, a servant in Jean
Butscha. I will not be notary; I shall give that up; I shall study the
"Ah, mademoiselle, to train up your children, if you will deign to
make me their tutor. But, oh! if you would only listen to some advice.
Let me take up this matter; let me look into the life and habits of
this man,--find out if he is kind, or bad-tempered, or gentle, if he
commands the respect which you merit in a husband, if he is able to
love utterly, preferring you to everything, even his own talent--"
"What does that signify if I love him?"
"Ah, true!" cried the dwarf.
At that instant Madame Mignon was saying to her friends,--
"My daughter saw the man she loves this morning."
"Then it must have been that sulphur waistcoat which puzzled you so,
Latournelle," said his wife. "The young man had a pretty white rose in
"Ah!" sighed the mother, "the sign of recognition."
"And he also wore the ribbon of an officer of the Legion of honor. He
is a charming young man. But we are all deceiving ourselves; Modeste
never raised her veil, and her clothes were huddled on like a beggar-
"And she said she was ill," cried the notary; "but she has taken off
her mufflings and is just as well as she ever was."
"It is incomprehensible!" said Dumay.
"Not at all," said the notary; "it is now as clear as day."
"My child," said Madame Mignon to Modeste, as she came into the room,
followed by Butscha, "did you see a well-dressed young man at church
this morning, with a white rose in his button-hole?"
"I saw him," said Butscha quickly, perceiving by everybody's strained
attention that Modeste was likely to fall into a trap. "It was
Grindot, the famous architect, with whom the town is in treaty for the
restoration of the church. He has just come from Paris, and I met him
this morning examining the exterior as I was on my way to Sainte-
"Oh, an architect, was he? he puzzled me," said Modeste, for whom
Butscha had thus gained time to recover herself.
Dumay looked askance at Butscha. Modeste, fully warned, recovered her
impenetrable composure. Dumay's distrust was now thoroughly aroused,
and he resolved to go the mayor's office early in the morning and
ascertain if the architect had really been in Havre the previous day.
Butscha, on the other hand, was equally determined to go to Paris and
find out something about Canalis.
Gobenheim came to play whist, and by his presence subdued and
compressed all this fermentation of feelings. Modeste awaited her
mother's bedtime with impatience. She intended to write, but never did
so except at night. Here is the letter which love dictated to her
while all the world was sleeping:--
To Monsieur de Canalis,--Ah! my friend, my well-beloved! What
atrocious falsehoods those portraits in the shop-windows are! And
I, who made that horrible lithograph my joy!--I am humbled at the
thought of loving one so handsome. No; it is impossible that those
Parisian women are so stupid as not to have seen their dreams
fulfilled in you. You neglected! you unloved! I do not believe a
word of all that you have written me about your lonely and obscure
life, your hunger for an idol,--sought in vain until now. You have
been too well loved, monsieur; your brow, white and smooth as a
magnolia leaf, reveals it; and it is I who must be neglected,--for
who am I? Ah! why have you called me to life? I felt for a moment
as though the heavy burden of the flesh was leaving me; my soul
had broken the crystal which held it captive; it pervaded my whole
being; the cold silence of material things had ceased; all things
in nature had a voice and spoke to me. The old church was
luminous. It's arched roof, brilliant with gold and azure like
those of an Italian cathedral, sparkled above my head. Melodies
such as the angels sang to martyrs, quieting their pains, sounded
from the organ. The rough pavements of Havre seemed to my feet a
flowery mead; the sea spoke to me with a voice of sympathy, like
an old friend whom I had never truly understood. I saw clearly how
the roses in my garden had long adored me and bidden me love; they
lifted their heads and smiled as I came back from church. I heard
your name, "Melchior," chiming in the flower-bells; I saw it
written on the clouds. Yes, yes, I live, I am living, thanks to
thee,--my poet, more beautiful than that cold, conventional Lord
Byron, with a face as dull as the English climate. One glance of
thine, thine Orient glance, pierced through my double veil and
sent thy blood to my heart, and from thence to my head and feet.
Ah! that is not the life our mother gave us. A hurt to thee would
hurt me too at the very instant it was given,--my life exists by
thy thought only. I know now the purpose of the divine faculty of
music; the angels invented it to utter love. Ah, my Melchior, to
have genius and to have beauty is too much; a man should be made
to choose between them at his birth.
When I think of the treasures of tenderness and affection which
you have given me, and more especially for the last month, I ask
myself if I dream. No, but you hide some mystery; what woman can
yield you up to me and not die? Ah! jealousy has entered my heart
with love,--love in which I could not have believed. How could I
have imagined so mighty a conflagration? And now--strange and
inconceivable revulsion!--I would rather you were ugly.
What follies I committed after I came home! The yellow dahlias
reminded me of your waistcoat, the white roses were my loving
friends; I bowed to them with a look that belonged to you, like
all that is of me. The very color of the gloves, moulded to hands
of a gentleman, your step along the nave,--all, all, is so printed
on my memory that sixty years hence I shall see the veriest
trifles of this day of days,--the color of the atmosphere, the ray
of sunshine that flickered on a certain pillar; I shall hear the
prayer your step interrupted; I shall inhale the incense of the
altar; forever I shall feel above our heads the priestly hands
that blessed us both as you passed by me at the closing
benediction. The good Abbe Marcelin married us then! The
happiness, above that of earth, which I feel in this new world of
unexpected emotions can only be equalled by the joy of telling it
to you, of sending it back to him who poured it into my heart with
the lavishness of the sun itself. No more veils, no more
disguises, my beloved. Come back to me, oh, come back soon. With
joy I now unmask.
You have no doubt heard of the house of Mignon in Havre? Well, I
am, through an irreparable misfortune, its sole heiress. But you
are not to look down upon us, descendant of an Auvergne knight;
the arms of the Mignon de La Bastie will do no dishonor to those
of Canalis. We bear gules, on a bend sable four bezants or;
quarterly four crosses patriarchal or; a cardinal's hat as crest,
and the fiocchi for supports. Dear, I will be faithful to our
motto: "Una fides, unus Dominus!"--the true faith, and one only
Perhaps, my friend, you will find some irony in my name, after all
that I have done, and all that I herein avow. I am named Modeste.
Therefore I have not deceived you by signing "O. d'Este M."
Neither have I misled you about our fortune; it will amount, I
believe, to the sum which rendered you so virtuous. I know that to
you money is a consideration of small importance; therefore I
speak of it without reserve. Let me tell you how happy it makes me
to give freedom of action to our happiness,--to be able to say,
when the fancy for travel takes us, "Come, let us go in a
comfortable carriage, sitting side by side, without a thought of
money"--happy, in short, to tell the king, "I have the fortune
which you require in your peers." Thus Modeste Mignon can be of
service to you, and her gold will have the noblest of uses.
As to your servant herself,--you did see her once, at her window.
Yes, "the fairest daughter of Eve the fair" was indeed your
unknown damozel; but how little the Modeste of to-day resembles
her of that long past era! That one was in her shroud, this one--
have I made you know it?--has received from you the life of life.
Love, pure, and sanctioned, the love my father, now returning
rich and prosperous, will authorize, has raised me with its
powerful yet childlike hand from the grave in which I slept. You
have wakened me as the sun wakens the flowers. The eyes of your
beloved are no longer those of the little Modeste so daring in her
ignorance,--no, they are dimmed with the sight of happiness, and
the lids close over them. To-day I tremble lest I can never
deserve my fate. The king has come in his glory; my lord has now a
subject who asks pardon for the liberties she has taken, like the
gambler with loaded dice after cheating Monsieur de Grammont.
My cherished poet! I will be thy Mignon--happier far than the
Mignon of Goethe, for thou wilt leave me in mine own land,--in thy
heart. Just as I write this pledge of our betrothal a nightingale
in the Vilquin park answers for thee. Ah, tell me quick that his
note, so pure, so clear, so full, which fills my heart with joy
and love like an Annunciation, does not lie to me.
My father will pass through Paris on his way from Marseilles; the
house of Mongenod, with whom he corresponds, will know his
address. Go to him, my Melchior, tell him that you love me; but do
not try to tell him how I love you,--let that be forever between
ourselves and God. I, my dear one, am about to tell everything to
my mother. Her heart will justify my conduct; she will rejoice in
our secret poem, so romantic, human and divine in one.
You have the confession of the daughter; you must now obtain the
consent of the Comte de La Bastie, father of your
P.S.--Above all, do not come to Havre without having first
obtained my father's consent. If you love me you will not fail to
find him on his way through Paris.
"What are you doing, up at this hour, Mademoiselle Modeste?" said the
voice of Dumay at her door.
"Writing to my father," she answered; "did you not tell me you should
start in the morning?"
Dumay had nothing to say to that, and he went to bed, while Modeste
wrote another long letter, this time to her father.
On the morrow, Francois Cochet, terrified at seeing the Havre postmark
on the envelope which Ernest had mailed the night before, brought her
young mistress the following letter and took away the one which
Modeste had written:--
To Mademoiselle O. d'Este M.,--My heart tells me that you were the
woman so carefully veiled and disguised, and seated between
Monsieur and Madame Latournelle, who have but one child, a son.
Ah, my love, if you have only a modest station, without
distinction, without importance, without money even, you do not
know how happy that would make me. You ought to understand me by
this time; why will you not tell me the truth? I am no poet,--
except in heart, through love, through you. Oh! what power of
affection there is in me to keep me here in this hotel, instead of
mounting to Ingouville which I can see from my windows. Will you
ever love me as I love you? To leave Havre in such uncertainty! Am
I not punished for loving you as if I had committed a crime? But I
obey you blindly. Let me have a letter quickly, for if you have
been mysterious, I have returned you mystery for mystery, and I
must at last throw off my disguise, show you the poet that I am,
and abdicate my borrowed glory.
This letter made Modeste terribly uneasy. She could not get back the
one which Francoise had carried away before she came to the last
words, whose meaning she now sought by reading them again and again;
but she went to her own room and wrote an answer in which she demanded
an immediate explanation.
MATTERS GROWN COMPLICATED
During these little events other little events were going on in Havre,
which caused Modeste to forget her present uneasiness. Dumay went down
to Havre early in the morning, and soon discovered that no architect
had been in town the day before. Furious at Butscha's lie, which
revealed a conspiracy of which he was resolved to know the meaning, he
rushed from the mayor's office to his friend Latournelle.
"Where's your Master Butscha?" he demanded of the notary, when he saw
that the clerk was not in his place.
"Butscha, my dear fellow, has gone to Paris. He heard some news of his
father this morning on the quays, from a Swedish sailor. It seems the
father went to the Indies and served a prince, or something, and he is
now in Paris."
"Lies! it's all a trick! infamous! I'll find that damned cripple if
I've got to go express to Paris for him," cried Dumay. "Butscha is
deceiving us; he knows something about Modeste, and hasn't told us. If
he meddles in this thing he shall never be a notary. I'll roll him in
the mud from which he came, I'll--"
"Come, come, my friend; never hang a man before you try him," said
Latournelle, frightened at Dumay's rage.
After stating the facts on which his suspicions were founded, Dumay
begged Madame Latournelle to go and stay at the Chalet during his
"You will find the colonel in Paris," said the notary. "In the
shipping news quoted this morning in the Journal of Commerce, I found
under the head of Marseilles--here, see for yourself," he said,
offering the paper. "'The Bettina Mignon, Captain Mignon, arrived
October 6'; it is now the 17th, and the colonel is sure to be in
Dumay requested Gobenheim to do without him in future, and then went
back to the Chalet, which he reached just as Modeste was sealing her
two letters, to her father and Canalis. Except for the address the
letters were precisely alike both in weight and appearance. Modeste
thought she had laid that to her father over that to her Melchior, but
had, in fact, done exactly the reverse. This mistake, so often made in
the little things of life, occasioned the discovery of her secret by
Dumay and her mother. The former was talking vehemently to Madame
Mignon in the salon, and revealing to her his fresh fears caused by
Modeste's duplicity and Butscha's connivance.
"Madame," he cried, "he is a serpent whom we have warmed in our
bosoms; there's no place in his contorted little body for a soul!"
Modeste put the letter for her father into the pocket of her apron,
supposing it to be that for Canalis, and came downstairs with the
letter for her lover in her hand, to see Dumay before he started for
"What has happened to my Black Dwarf? why are you talking so loud!"
she said, appearing at the door.
"Mademoiselle, Butscha has gone to Paris, and you, no doubt, know why,
--to carry on that affair of the little architect with the sulphur
waistcoat, who, unluckily for the hunchback's lies, has never been
Modeste was struck dumb; feeling sure that the dwarf had departed on a
mission of inquiry as to her poet's morals, she turned pale, and sat
"I'm going after him; I shall find him," continued Dumay. "Is that the
letter for your father, mademoiselle?" he added, holding out his hand.
"I will take it to the Mongenods. God grant the colonel and I may not
pass each other on the road."
Modeste gave him the letter. Dumay looked mechanically at the address.
"'Monsieur le Baron de Canalis, rue de Paradis-Poissoniere, No. 29'!"
he cried out; "what does that mean?"
"Ah, my daughter! that is the man you love," exclaimed Madame Mignon;
"the stanzas you set to music were his--"
"And that's his portrait that you have in a frame upstairs," added
"Give me back that letter, Monsieur Dumay," said Modeste, erecting
herself like a lioness defending her cubs.
"There it is, mademoiselle," he replied.
Modeste put it into the bosom of her dress, and gave Dumay the one
intended for her father.
"I know what you are capable of, Dumay," she said; "and if you take
one step against Monsieur de Canalis, I shall take another out of this
house, to which I will never return."
"You will kill your mother, mademoiselle," replied Dumay, who left the
room and called his wife.
The poor mother was indeed half-fainting,--struck to the heart by
"Good-bye, wife," said the Breton, kissing the American. "Take care of
the mother; I go to save the daughter."
He made his preparations for the journey in a few minutes, and started
for Havre. An hour later he was travelling post to Paris, with the
haste that nothing but passion or speculation can get out of wheels.
Recovering herself under Modeste's tender care, Madame Mignon went up
to her bedroom leaning on the arm of her daughter, to whom she said,
as her sole reproach, when they were alone:--
"My unfortunate child, see what you have done! Why did you conceal
anything from me? Am I so harsh?"
"Oh! I was just going to tell it to you comfortably," sobbed Modeste.
She thereupon related everything to her mother, read her the letters
and their answers, and shed the rose of her poem petal by petal into
the heart of the kind German woman. When this confidence, which took
half the day, was over, when she saw something that was almost a smile
on the lips of the too indulgent mother, Modeste fell upon her breast
"Oh, mother!" she said amid her sobs, "you, whose heart, all gold and
poetry, is a chosen vessel, chosen of God to hold a sacred love, a
single and celestial love that endures for life; you, whom I wish to
imitate by loving no one but my husband,--you will surely understand
what bitter tears I am now shedding. This butterfly, this Psyche of my
thoughts, this dual soul which I have nurtured with maternal care, my
love, my sacred love, this living mystery of mysteries--it is about to
fall into vulgar hands, and they will tear its diaphanous wings and
rend its veil under the miserable pretext of enlightening me, of
discovering whether genius is as prudent as a banker, whether my
Melchior has saved his money, or whether he has some entanglement to
shake off; they want to find out if he is guilty to bourgeois eyes of
youthful indiscretions,--which to the sun of our love are like the
clouds of the dawn. Oh! what will come of it? what will they do? See!
feel my hand, it burns with fever. Ah! I shall never survive it."
And Modeste, really taken with a chill, was forced to go to bed,
causing serious uneasiness to her mother, Madame Latournelle, and
Madame Dumay, who took good care of her during the journey of the
lieutenant to Paris,--to which city the logic of events compels us to
transport our drama for a moment.
Truly modest minds, like that of Ernest de La Briere, but especially
those who, knowing their own value, also know that they are neither
loved nor appreciated, can understand the infinite joy to which the
young secretary abandoned himself on reading Modeste's letter. Could
it be that after thinking him lofty and witty in soul, his young, his
artless, his tricksome mistress now thought him handsome? This
flattery is the flattery supreme. And why? Beauty is, undoubtedly, the
signature of the master to the work into which he has put his soul; it
is the divine spirit manifested. And to see it where it is not, to
create it by the power of an inward look,--is not that the highest
reach of love? And so the poor youth cried aloud with all the rapture
of an applauded author, "At last I am beloved!" When a woman, be she
maid, wife, or widow, lets the charming words escape her, "Thou art
handsome," the words may be false, but the man opens his thick skull
to their subtle poison, and thenceforth he is attached by an
everlasting tie to the pretty flatterer, the true or the deceived
judge; she becomes his particular world, he thirsts for her continual
testimony, and he never wearies of it, even if he is a crowned prince.
Ernest walked proudly up and down his room; he struck a three-quarter,
full-face, and profile attitude before the glass; he tried to
criticise himself; but a voice, diabolically persuasive, whispered to
him, "Modeste is right." He took up her letter and re-read it; he saw
his fairest of the fair; he talked with her; then, in the midst of his
ecstacy, a dreadful thought came to him:--
"She thinks me Canalis, and she has a million of money!"
Down went his happiness, just as a somnambulist, having attained the
peak of a roof, hears a voice, awakes, and falls crushed upon the
"Without the halo of fame I shall be hideous in her eyes," he cried;
"what a maddening situation I have put myself in!"
La Briere was too much the man of his letters which we have read, his
heart was too noble and pure to allow him to hesitate at the call of
honor. He at once resolved to find Modeste's father, if he were in
Paris, and confess all to him, and to let Canalis know the serious
results of their Parisian jest. To a sensitive nature like his,
Modeste's large fortune was in itself a determining reason. He could
not allow it to be even suspected that the ardor of the
correspondence, so sincere on his part, had in view the capture of a
"dot." Tears were in his eyes as he made his way to the rue
Chantereine to find the banker Mongenod, whose fortune and business
connections were partly the work of the minister to whom Ernest owed
his start in life.
At the hour when La Briere was inquiring about the father of his
beloved from the head of the house of Mongenod, and getting
information that might be useful to him in his strange position, a
scene was taking place in Canalis's study which the ex-lieutenant's
hasty departure from Havre may have led the reader to foresee.
Like a true soldier of the imperial school, Dumay, whose Breton blood
had boiled all the way to Paris, considered a poet to be a poor stick
of a fellow, of no consequence whatever,--a buffoon addicted to
choruses, living in a garret, dressed in black clothes that were white
at every seam, wearing boots that were occasionally without soles, and
linen that was unmentionable, and whose fingers knew more about ink
than soap; in short, one who looked always as if he had tumbled from
the moon, except when scribbling at a desk, like Butscha. But the
seething of the Breton's heart and brain received a violent
application of cold water when he entered the courtyard of the pretty
house occupied by the poet and saw a groom washing a carriage, and
also, through the windows of a handsome dining-room, a valet dressed
like a banker, to whom the groom referred him, and who answered,
looking the stranger over from head to foot, that Monsieur le baron
was not visible. "There is," added the man, "a meeting of the council
of state to-day, at which Monsieur le baron is obliged to be present."
"Is this really the house of Monsieur Canalis," said Dumay, "a writer
"Monsieur le baron de Canalis," replied the valet, "is the great poet
of whom you speak; but he is also the president of the court of Claims
attached to the ministry of foreign affairs."
Dumay, who had come to box the ears of a scribbling nobody, found
himself confronted by a high functionary of the state. The salon where
he was told to wait offered, as a topic for his meditations, the
insignia of the Legion of honor glittering on a black coat which the
valet had left upon a chair. Presently his eyes were attracted by the
beauty and brilliancy of a silver-gilt cup bearing the words "Given by
MADAME." Then he beheld before him, on a pedestal, a Sevres vase on
which was engraved, "The gift of Madame la DAUPHINE."
These mute admonitions brought Dumay to his senses while the valet
went to ask his master if he would receive a person who had come from
Havre expressly to see him,--a stranger named Dumay.
"What sort of a man?" asked Canalis.
"He is well-dressed, and wears the ribbon of the Legion of honor."
Canalis made a sign of assent, and the valet retreated, and then
returned and announced, "Monsieur Dumay."
When he heard himself announced, when he was actually in presence of
Canalis, in a study as gorgeous as it was elegant, with his feet on a
carpet far handsomer than any in the house of Mignon, and when he met
the studied glance of the poet who was playing with the tassels of a
sumptuous dressing-gown, Dumay was so completely taken aback that he
allowed the great poet to have the first word.
"To what do I owe the honor of your visit, monsieur?"
"Monsieur," began Dumay, who remained standing.
"If you have a good deal to say," interrupted Canalis, "I must ask you
to be seated."
And Canalis himself plunged into an armchair a la Voltaire, crossed
his legs, raised the upper one to the level of his eye and looked
fixedly at Dumay, who became, to use his own martial slang,
"I am listening, monsieur," said the poet; "my time is precious,--the
ministers are expecting me."
"Monsieur," said Dumay, "I shall be brief. You have seduced--how, I do
not know--a young lady in Havre, young, beautiful, and rich; the last
and only hope of two noble families; and I have come to ask your
Canalis, who had been busy during the last three months with serious
matters of his own, and was trying to get himself made commander of
the Legion of honor and minister to a German court, had completely
forgotten Modeste's letter."
"I!" he exclaimed.
"You!" repeated Dumay.
"Monsieur," answered Canalis, smiling; "I know no more of what you are
talking about than if you had said it in Hebrew. I seduce a young
girl! I, who--" and a superb smile crossed his features. "Come, come,
monsieur, I'm not such a child as to steal fruit over the hedges when
I have orchards and gardens of my own where the finest peaches ripen.
All Paris knows where my affections are set. Very likely there may be
some young girl in Havre full of enthusiasm for my verses,--of which
they are not worthy; that would not surprise me at all; nothing is
more common. See! look at that lovely coffer of ebony inlaid with
mother-of-pearl, and edged with that iron-work as fine as lace. That
coffer belonged to Pope Leo X., and was given to me by the Duchesse de
Chaulieu, who received it from the king of Spain. I use it to hold the
letters I receive from ladies and young girls living in every quarter
of Europe. Oh! I assure you I feel the utmost respect for these
flowers of the soul, cut and sent in moments of enthusiasm that are
worthy of all reverence. Yes, to me the impulse of a heart is a noble
and sublime thing! Others--scoffers--light their cigars with such
letters, or give them to their wives for curl-papers; but I, who am a
bachelor, monsieur, I have too much delicacy not to preserve these
artless offerings--so fresh, so disinterested--in a tabernacle of
their own. In fact, I guard them with a species of veneration, and at
my death they will be burned before my eyes. People may call that
ridiculous, but I do not care. I am grateful; these proofs of devotion
enable me to bear the criticisms and annoyances of a literary life.
When I receive a shot in the back from some enemy lurking under cover
of a daily paper, I look at that casket and think,--here and there in
this wide world there are hearts whose wounds have been healed, or
soothed, or dressed by me!"
This bit of poetry, declaimed with all the talent of a great actor,
petrified the lieutenant, whose eyes opened to their utmost extent,
and whose astonishment delighted the poet.
"I will permit you," continued the peacock, spreading his tail, "out
of respect for your position, which I fully appreciate, to open that
coffer and look for the letter of your young lady. Though I know I am
right, I remember names, and I assure you you are mistaken in
"And this is what a poor child comes to in this gulf of Paris!" cried
Dumay,--"the darling of her parents, the joy of her friends, the hope
of all, petted by all, the pride of a family, who has six persons so
devoted to her that they would willingly make a rampart of their lives
and fortunes between her and sorrow. Monsieur," Dumay remarked after a
pause, "you are a great poet, and I am only a poor soldier. For
fifteen years I served my country in the ranks; I have had the wind of
many a bullet in my face; I have crossed Siberia and been a prisoner
there; the Russians flung me on a kibitka, and God knows what I
suffered. I have seen thousands of my comrades die,--but you, you have
given me a chill to the marrow of my bones, such as I never felt
Dumay fancied that his words moved the poet, but in fact they only
flattered him,--a thing which at this period of his life had become
almost an impossibility; for his ambitious mind had long forgotten the
first perfumed phial that praise had broken over his head.
"Ah, my soldier!" he said solemnly, laying his hand on Dumay's
shoulder, and thinking to himself how droll it was to make a soldier
of the empire tremble, "this young girl may be all in all to you, but
to society at large what is she? nothing. At this moment the greatest
mandarin in China may be yielding up the ghost and putting half the
universe in mourning, and what is that to you? The English are killing
thousands of people in India more worthy than we are; why, at this
very moment while I am speaking to you some ravishing woman is being
burned alive,--did that make you care less for your cup of coffee this
morning at breakfast? Not a day passes in Paris that some mother in
rags does not cast her infant on the world to be picked up by whoever
finds it; and yet see! here is this delicious tea in a cup that cost
five louis, and I write verses which Parisian women rush to buy,
exclaiming, 'Divine! delicious! charming! food for the soul!' Social
nature, like Nature herself, is a great forgetter. You will be quite
surprised ten years hence at what you have done to-day. You are here
in a city where people die, where they marry, where they adore each
other at an assignation, where young girls suffocate themselves, where
the man of genius with his cargo of thoughts teeming with humane
beneficence goes to the bottom,--all side by side, sometimes under the
same roof, and yet ignorant of each other, ignorant and indifferent.
And here you come among us and ask us to expire with grief at this
"You call yourself a poet!" cried Dumay, "but don't you feel what you
"Good heavens! if we endured the joys or the woes we sing we should be
as worn out in three months as a pair of old boots," said the poet,
smiling. "But stay, you shall not come from Havre to Paris to see
Canalis without carrying something back with you. Warrior!" (Canalis
had the form and action of an Homeric hero) "learn this from the poet:
Every noble sentiment in man is a poem so exclusively individual that
his nearest friend, his other self, cares nothing for it. It is a
treasure which is his alone, it is--"
"Forgive me for interrupting you," said Dumay, who was gazing at the
poet with horror, "but did you ever come to Havre?"
"I was there for a day and a night in the spring of 1824 on my way to
"You are a man of honor," continued Dumay; "will you give me your word
that you do not know Mademoiselle Modeste Mignon?"
"This is the first time that name ever struck my ear," replied
"Ah, monsieur!" said Dumay, "into what dark intrigue am I about to
plunge? Can I count upon you to help me in my inquiries?--for I am
certain that some one has been using your name. You ought to have had
a letter yesterday from Havre."
"I received none. Be sure, monsieur, that I will help you," said
Canalis, "so far as I have the opportunity of doing so."
Dumay withdrew, his heart torn with anxiety, believing that the
wretched Butscha had worn the skin of the poet to deceive Modeste;
whereas Butscha himself, keen-witted as a prince seeking revenge, and
far cleverer than any paid spy, was ferretting out the life and
actions of Canalis, escaping notice by his insignificance, like an
insect that bores its way into the sap of a tree.
The Breton had scarcely left the poet's house when La Briere entered
his friend's study. Naturally, Canalis told him of the visit of the
man from Havre.
"Ha!" said Ernest, "Modeste Mignon; that is just what I have come to
"Ah, bah!" cried Canalis; "have I had a triumph by proxy?"
"Yes; and here is the key to it. My friend, I am loved by the sweetest
girl in all the world,--beautiful enough to shine beside the greatest
beauties in Paris, with a heart and mind worthy of Clarissa. She has
seen me; I have pleased her, and she thinks me the great Canalis. But
that is not all. Modeste Mignon is of high birth, and Mongenod has
just told me that her father, the Comte de La Bastie, has something
like six millions. The father is here now, and I have asked him
through Mongenod for an interview at two o'clock. Mongenod is to give
him a hint, just a word, that it concerns the happiness of his
daughter. But you will readily understand that before seeing the
father I feel I ought to make a clean breast of it to you."
"Among the plants whose flowers bloom in the sunshine of fame," said
Canalis, impressively, "there is one, and the most magnificent, which
bears like the orange-tree a golden fruit amid the mingled perfumes of
beauty and of mind; a lovely plant, a true tenderness, a perfect
bliss, and--it eludes me." Canalis looked at the carpet that Ernest
might not read his eyes. "Could I," he continued after a pause to
regain his self-possession, "how could I have divined that flower from
a pretty sheet of perfumed paper, that true heart, that young girl,
that woman in whom love wears the livery of flattery, who loves us for
ourselves, who offers us felicity? It needed but an angel or a demon
to perceive her; and what am I but the ambitious head of a Court of
Claims! Ah, my friend, fame makes us the target of a thousand arrows.
One of us owes his rich marriage to an hydraulic piece of poetry,
while I, more seductive, more a woman's man than he, have missed mine,
--for, do you love her, poor girl?" he said, looking up at La Briere.
"Oh!" ejaculated the young man.
"Well then," said the poet, taking his secretary's arm and leaning
heavily upon it, "be happy, Ernest. By a mere accident I have been not
ungrateful to you. You are richly rewarded for your devotion, and I
will generously further your happiness."
Canalis was furious; but he could not behave otherwise than with
propriety, and he made the best of his disappointment by mounting it
as a pedestal.
"Ah, Canalis, I have never really known you till this moment."
"Did you expect to? It takes some time to go round the world," replied
the poet with his pompous irony.
"But think," said La Briere, "of this enormous fortune."
"Ah, my friend, is it not well invested in you?" cried Canalis,
accompanying the words with a charming gesture.
"Melchior," said La Briere, "I am yours for life and death."
He wrung the poet's hand and left him abruptly, for he was in haste to
meet Monsieur Mignon.
A FATHER STEPS IN
The Comte de La Bastie was at this moment overwhelmed with the sorrows
which lay in wait for him as their prey. He had learned from his
daughter's letter of Bettina's death and of his wife's infirmity, and
Dumay related to him, when they met, his terrible perplexity as to
Modeste's love affairs.
"Leave me to myself," he said to his faithful friend.
As the lieutenant closed the door, the unhappy father threw himself on
a sofa, with his head in his hands, weeping those slow, scanty tears
which suffuse the eyes of a man of sixty, but do not fall,--tears soon
dried, yet quick to start again,--the last dews of the human autumn.
"To have children, to have a wife, to adore them--what is it but to
have many hearts and bare them to a dagger?" he cried, springing up
with the bound of a tiger and walking up and down the room. "To be a
father is to give one's self over, bound hand and foot to sorrow. If I
meet that D'Estourny I will kill him. To have daughters!--one gives
her life to a scoundrel, the other, my Modeste, falls a victim to
whom? a coward, who deceives her with the gilded paper of a poet. If
it were Canalis himself it might not be so bad; but that Scapin of a
lover!--I will strangle him with my two hands," he cried, making an
involuntary gesture of furious determination. "And what then? suppose
my Modeste were to die of grief?"
He gazed mechanically out of the windows of the hotel des Princes, and
then returned to the sofa, where he sat motionless. The fatigues of
six voyages to India, the anxieties of speculation, the dangers he had
encountered and evaded, and his many griefs, had silvered Charles
Mignon's head. His handsome soldierly face, so pure in outline and now
bronzed by the suns of China and the southern seas, had acquired an
air of dignity which his present grief rendered almost sublime.
"Mongenod told me he felt confidence in the young man who is coming to
ask me for my daughter," he thought at last; and at this moment Ernest
de La Briere was announced by one of the servants whom Monsieur de La
Bastie had attached to himself during the last four years.
"You have come, monsieur, from my friend Mongenod?" he said.
"Yes," replied Ernest, growing timid when he saw before him a face as
sombre as Othello's. "My name is Ernest de La Briere, related to the
family of the late cabinet minister, and his private secretary during
his term of office. On his dismissal, his Excellency put me in the
Court of Claims, to which I am legal counsel, and where I may possibly
succeed as chief--"
"And how does all this concern Mademoiselle de La Bastie?" asked the
"Monsieur, I love her; and I have the unhoped-for happiness of being
loved by her. Hear me, monsieur," cried Ernest, checking a violent
movement on the part of the angry father. "I have the strangest
confession to make to you, a shameful one for a man of honor; but the
worst punishment of my conduct, natural enough in itself, is not the
telling of it to you; no, I fear the daughter even more than the
Ernest then related simply, and with the nobleness that comes of
sincerity, all the facts of his little drama, not omitting the twenty
or more letters, which he had brought with him, nor the interview
which he had just had with Canalis. When Monsieur Mignon had finished
reading the letters, the unfortunate lover, pale and suppliant,
actually trembled under the fiery glance of the Provencal.
"Monsieur," said the latter, "in this whole matter there is but one
error, but that is cardinal. My daughter will not have six millions;
at the utmost, she will have a marriage portion of two hundred
thousand francs, and very doubtful expectations."
"Ah, monsieur!" cried Ernest, rising and grasping Monsieur Mignon's
hand; "you take a load from my breast. Nothing can now hinder my
happiness. I have friends, influence; I shall certainly be chief of
the Court of Claims. Had Mademoiselle Mignon no more than ten thousand
francs, if I had even to make a settlement on her, she should still be
my wife; and to make her happy as you, monsieur, have made your wife
happy, to be to you a real son (for I have no father), are the deepest
desires of my heart."
Charles Mignon stepped back three paces and fixed upon La Briere a
look which entered the eyes of the young man as a dagger enters its
sheath; he stood silent a moment, recognizing the absolute candor, the
pure truthfulness of that open nature in the light of the young man's
inspired eyes. "Is fate at last weary of pursuing me?" he asked
himself. "Am I to find in this young man the pearl of sons-in-law?" He
walked up and down the room in strong agitation.
"Monsieur," he said at last, "you are bound to submit wholly to the
judgment which you have come here to seek, otherwise you are now
playing a farce."
"Listen to me," said the father, nailing La Briere where he stood with
a glance. "I shall be neither harsh, nor hard, nor unjust. You shall
have the advantages and the disadvantages of the false position in
which you have placed yourself. My daughter believes that she loves
one of the great poets of the day, whose fame is really that which has
attracted her. Well, I, her father, intend to give her the opportunity
to choose between the celebrity which has been a beacon to her, and
the poor reality which the irony of fate has flung at her feet. Ought
she not to choose between Canalis and yourself? I rely upon your honor
not to repeat what I have told you as to the state of my affairs. You
may each come, I mean you and your friend the Baron de Canalis, to
Havre for the last two weeks of October. My house will be open to both
of you, and my daughter must have an opportunity to study you. You
must yourself bring your rival, and not disabuse him as to the foolish
tales he will hear about the wealth of the Comte de La Bastie. I go to
Havre to-morrow, and I shall expect you three days later. Adieu,
Poor La Briere went back to Canalis with a dragging step. The poet,
meantime, left to himself, had given way to a current of thought out
of which had come that secondary impulse which Monsieur de Talleyrand
valued so much. The first impulse is the voice of nature, the second
that of society.
"A girl worth six millions," he thought to himself, "and my eyes were
not able to see that gold shining in the darkness! With such a fortune
I could be peer of France, count, marquis, ambassador. I've replied to
middle-class women and silly women, and crafty creatures who wanted
autographs; I've tired myself to death with masked-ball intrigues,--at
the very moment when God was sending me a soul of price, an angel with
golden wings! Bah! I'll make a poem on it, and perhaps the chance will
come again. Heavens! the luck of that little La Briere,--strutting
about in my lustre--plagiarism! I'm the cast and he's to be the
statue, is he? It is the old fable of Bertrand and Raton. Six
millions, a beauty, a Mignon de La Bastie, an aristocratic divinity
loving poetry and the poet! And I, who showed my muscle as man of the
world, who did those Alcide exercises to silence by moral force the
champion of physical force, that old soldier with a heart, that friend
of this very young girl, whom he'll now go and tell that I have a
heart of iron!--I, to play Napoleon when I ought to have been
seraphic! Good heavens! True, I shall have my friend. Friendship is a
beautiful thing. I have kept him, but at what a price! Six millions,
that's the cost of it; we can't have many friends if we pay all that
La Briere entered the room as Canalis reached this point in his
meditations. He was gloom personified.
"Well, what's the matter?" said Canalis.
"The father exacts that his daughter shall choose between the two
"Poor boy!" cried the poet, laughing, "he's a clever fellow, that
"I have pledged my honor that I will take you to Havre," said La
"My dear fellow," said Canalis, "if it is a question of your honor you
may count on me. I'll ask for leave of absence for a month."
"Modeste is so beautiful!" exclaimed La Briere, in a despairing tone.
"You will crush me out of sight. I wondered all along that fate should
be so kind to me; I knew it was all a mistake."
"Bah! we will see about that," said Canalis with inhuman gaiety.
That evening, after dinner, Charles Mignon and Dumay, were flying, by
virtue of three francs to each postilion, from Paris to Havre. The
father had eased the watch-dog's mind as to Modeste and her love
affairs; the guard was relieved, and Butscha's innocence established.
"It is all for the best, my old Dumay," said the count, who had been
making certain inquiries of Mongenod respecting Canalis and La Briere.
"We are going to have two actors for one part!" he cried gaily.
Nevertheless, he requested his old comrade to be absolutely silent
about the comedy which was now to be played at the Chalet,--a comedy
it might be, but also a gentle punishment, or, if you prefer it, a
lesson given by the father to the daughter.
The two friends kept up a long conversation all the way from Paris to
Havre, which put the colonel in possession of the facts relating to
his family during the past four years, and informing Dumay that
Desplein, the great surgeon, was coming to Havre at the end of the
present month to examine the cataract on Madame Mignon's eyes, and
decide if it were possible to restore her sight.
A few moments before the breakfast-hour at the Chalet, the clacking of
a postilion's whip apprised the family that the two soldiers were
arriving; only a father's joy at returning after long absence could be
heralded with such clatter, and it brought all the women to the garden
gate. There is many a father and many a child--perhaps more fathers
than children--who will understand the delights of such an arrival,
and that happy fact shows that literature has no need to depict it.
Perhaps all gentle and tender emotions are beyond the range of
Not a word that could trouble the peace of the family was uttered on
this joyful day. Truce was tacitly established between father, mother,
and child as to the so-called mysterious love which had paled
Modeste's cheeks,--for this was the first day she had left her bed
since Dumay's departure for Paris. The colonel, with the charming
delicacy of a true soldier, never left his wife's side nor released
her hand; but he watched Modeste with delight, and was never weary of
noting her refined, elegant, and poetic beauty. Is it not by such
seeming trifles that we recognize a man of feeling? Modeste, who
feared to interrupt the subdued joy of the husband and wife kept at a
little distance, coming from time to time to kiss her father's
forehead, and when she kissed it overmuch she seemed to mean that she
was kissing it for two,--for Bettina and herself.
"Oh, my darling, I understand you," said the colonel, pressing her
hand as she assailed him with kisses.
"Hush!" whispered the young girl, glancing at her mother.
Dumay's rather sly and pregnant silence made Modeste somewhat uneasy
as to the upshot of his journey to Paris. She looked at him furtively
every now and then, without being able to get beneath his epidermis.
The colonel, like a prudent father, wanted to study the character of
his only daughter, and above all consult his wife, before entering on
a conference upon which the happiness of the whole family depended.
"To-morrow, my precious child," he said as they parted for the night,
"get up early, and we will go and take a walk on the seashore. We have
to talk about your poems, Mademoiselle de La Bastie."
His last words, accompanied by a smile, which reappeared like an echo
on Dumay's lips, were all that gave Modeste any clew to what was
coming; but it was enough to calm her uneasiness and keep her awake
far into the night with her head full of suppositions; this, however,
did not prevent her from being dressed and ready in the morning long
before the colonel.
"You know all, my kind papa?" she said as soon as they were on the
road to the beach.
"I know all, and a good deal more than you do," he replied.
After that remark father and daughter went some little way in silence.
"Explain to me, my child, how it happens that a girl whom her mother
idolizes could have taken such an important step as to write to a
stranger without consulting her."
"Oh, papa! because mamma would never have allowed it."
"And do you think, my daughter, that that was proper? Though you have
been educating your mind in this fatal way, how is it that your good
sense and your intellect did not, in default of modesty, step in and
show you that by acting as you did you were throwing yourself at a
man's head. To think that my daughter, my only remaining child, should
lack pride and delicacy! Oh, Modeste, you made your father pass two
hours in hell when he heard of it; for, after all, your conduct has
been the same as Bettina's without the excuse of a heart's seduction;
you were a coquette in cold blood, and that sort of coquetry is head-
love, the worst vice of French women."
"I, without pride!" said Modeste, weeping; "but HE has not yet seen
"HE knows your name."
"I did not tell it to him till my eyes had vindicated the
correspondence, lasting three months, during which our souls had
spoken to each other."
"Oh, my dear misguided angel, you have mixed up a species of reason
with a folly that has compromised your own happiness and that of your
"But, after all, papa, happiness is the absolution of my temerity,"
she said, pouting.
"Oh! your conduct is temerity, is it?"
"A temerity that my mother practised before me," she retorted quickly.
"Rebellious child! your mother after seeing me at a ball told her
father, who adored her, that she thought she could be happy with me.
Be honest, Modeste; is there any likeness between a love hastily
conceived, I admit, but under the eyes of a father, and your mad
action of writing to a stranger?"
"A stranger, papa? say rather one of our greatest poets, whose
character and whose life are exposed to the strongest light of day, to
detraction, to calumny,--a man robed in fame, and to whom, my dear
father, I was a mere literary and dramatic personage, one of
Shakespeare's women, until the moment when I wished to know if the man
himself were as beautiful as his soul."
"Good God! my poor child, you are turning marriage into poetry. But
if, from time immemorial, girls have been cloistered in the bosom of
their families, if God, if social laws put them under the stern yoke
of parental sanction, it is, mark my words, to spare them the
misfortunes that this very poetry which charms and dazzles you, and
which you are therefore unable to judge of, would entail upon them.
Poetry is indeed one of the pleasures of life, but it is not life
"Papa, that is a suit still pending before the Court of Facts; the
struggle is forever going on between our hearts and the claims of
"Alas for the child that finds her happiness in resisting them," said
the colonel, gravely. "In 1813 I saw one of my comrades, the Marquis
d'Aiglemont, marry his cousin against the wishes of her father, and
the pair have since paid dear for the obstinacy which the young girl
took for love. The family must be sovereign in marriage."
"My poet has told me all that," she answered. "He played Orgon for
some time; and he was brave enough to disparage the personal lives of
"I have read your letters," said Charles Mignon, with the flicker of a
malicious smile on his lips that made Modeste very uneasy, "and I
ought to remark that your last epistle was scarcely permissible in any
woman, even a Julie d'Etanges. Good God! what harm novels do!"
"We should live them, my dear father, whether people wrote them or
not; I think it is better to read them. There are not so many
adventures in these days as there were under Louis XIV. and Louis XV.,
and so they publish fewer novels. Besides, if you have read those
letters, you must know that I have chosen the most angelic soul, the
most sternly upright man for your son-in-law, and you must have seen
that we love one another at least as much as you and mamma love each
other. Well, I admit that it was not all exactly conventional; I did,
if you WILL have me say so, wrong--"
"I have read your letters," said her father, interrupting her, "and I
know exactly how far your lover justified you in your own eyes for a
proceeding which might be permissible in some woman who understood
life, and who was led away by strong passion, but which in a young
girl of twenty was a monstrous piece of wrong-doing."
"Yes, wrong-doing for commonplace people, for the narrow-minded
Gobenheims, who measure life with a square rule. Please let us keep to
the artistic and poetic life, papa. We young girls have only two ways
to act; we must let a man know we love him by mincing and simpering,
or we must go to him frankly. Isn't the last way grand and noble? We
French girls are delivered over by our families like so much
merchandise, at sixty days' sight, sometimes thirty, like Mademoiselle
Vilquin; but in England, and Switzerland, and Germany, they follow
very much the plan I have adopted. Now what have you got to say to
that? Am I not half German?"
"Child!" cried the colonel, looking at her; "the supremacy of France
comes from her sound common-sense, from the logic to which her noble
language constrains her mind. France is the reason of the whole world.
England and Germany are romantic in their marriage customs,--though
even there noble families follow our customs. You certainly do not
mean to deny that your parents, who know life, who are responsible for
your soul and for your happiness, have no right to guard you from the
stumbling-blocks that are in your way? Good heavens!" he continued,
speaking half to himself, "is it their fault, or is it ours? Ought we
to hold our children under an iron yoke? Must we be punished for the
tenderness that leads us to make them happy, and teaches our hearts
how to do so?"
Modeste watched her father out of the corner of her eye as she
listened to this species of invocation, uttered in a broken voice.
"Was it wrong," she said, "in a girl whose heart was free, to choose
for her husband not only a charming companion, but a man of noble
genius, born to an honorable position, a gentleman; the equal of
myself, a gentlewoman?"
"You love him?" asked her father.
"Father!" she said, laying her head upon his breast, "would you see me
"Enough!" said the old soldier. "I see your love is inextinguishable."
"Can nothing change it?"
"No circumstances, no treachery, no betrayal? You mean that you will
love him in spite of everything, because of his personal attractions?
Even though he proved a D'Estourny, would you love him still?"
"Oh, my father! you do not know your daughter. Could I love a coward,
a man without honor, without faith?"
"But suppose he had deceived you?"
"He? that honest, candid soul, half melancholy? You are joking,
father, or else you have never met him."
"But you see now that your love is not inextinguishable, as you chose
to call it. I have already made you admit that circumstances could
alter your poem; don't you now see that fathers are good for
"You want to give me a lecture, papa; it is positively l'Ami des
Enfants over again."
"Poor deceived girl," said her father, sternly; "it is no lecture of
mine, I count for nothing in it; indeed, I am only trying to soften
"Father, don't play tricks with my life," exclaimed Modeste, turning
"Then, my daughter, summon all your courage. It is you who have been
playing tricks with your life, and life is now tricking you."
Modeste looked at her father in stupid amazement.
"Suppose that young man whom you love, whom you saw four days ago at
church in Havre, was a deceiver?"
"Never!" she cried; "that noble head, that pale face full of poetry--"
"--was a lie," said the colonel interrupting her. "He was no more
Monsieur de Canalis than I am that sailor over there putting out to
"Do you know what you are killing in me?" she said in a low voice.
"Comfort yourself, my child; though accident has put the punishment of
your fault into the fault itself, the harm done is not irreparable.
The young man whom you have seen, and with whom you exchanged hearts
by correspondence, is a loyal and honorable fellow; he came to me and
confided everything. He loves you, and I have no objection to him as a
"If he is not Canalis, who is he then?" said Modeste in a changed
"The secretary; his name is Ernest de La Briere. He is not a nobleman;
but he is one of those plain men with fixed principles and sound
morality who satisfy parents. However, that is not the point; you have
seen him and nothing can change your heart; you have chosen him,
comprehend his soul, it is as beautiful as he himself."
The count was interrupted by a heavy sigh from Modeste. The poor girl
sat with her eyes fixed on the sea, pale and rigid as death, as if a
pistol shot had struck her in those fatal words, A PLAIN MAN, WITH
FIXED PRINCIPLES AND SOUND MORALITY.
"Deceived!" she said at last.
"Like your poor sister, but less fatally."
"Let us go home, father," she said, rising from the hillock on which
they were sitting. "Papa, hear me, I swear before God to obey your
wishes, whatever they may be, in the AFFAIR of my marriage."
"Then you don't love him any longer?" asked her father.
"I loved an honest man, with no falsehood on his face, upright as
yourself, incapable of disguising himself like an actor, with the
paint of another man's glory on his cheeks."
"You said nothing could change you"; remarked the colonel, ironically.
"Ah, do not trifle with me!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands and
looking at her father in distressful anxiety; "don't you see that you
are wringing my heart and destroying my beliefs with your jokes."
"God forbid! I have told you the exact truth."
"You are very kind, father," she said after a pause, and with a sort
"He has kept your letters," resumed the colonel; "now suppose the rash
caresses of your soul had fallen into the hands of one of those poets
who, as Dumay says, light their cigars with them?"
"Oh!--you are going too far."
"Canalis told him so."
"Has Dumay seen Canalis?"
"Yes," answered her father.
The two walked along in silence.
"So that is why that GENTLEMAN," resumed Modeste, "told me so much
harm of poets and poetry; no wonder the little secretary said-- Why,"
she added, interrupting herself, "his virtues, his noble qualities,
his fine sentiments are nothing but an epistolary theft! The man who
steals glory and a name may very likely--"
"--break locks, steal purses, and cut people's throats on the
highway," cried the colonel. "Ah, you young girls, that's just like
you,--with your peremptory opinions and your ignorance of life. A man
who once deceives a woman was born under the scaffold on which he
ought to die."
This ridicule stopped Modeste's effervescence for a moment and least,
and again there was silence.
"My child," said the colonel, presently, "men in society, as in nature
everywhere, are made to win the hearts of women, and women must defend
themselves. You have chosen to invert the parts. Was that wise?
Everything is false in a false position. The first wrong-doing was
yours. No, a man is not a monster because he seeks to please a woman;
it is our right to win her by aggression with all its consequences,
short of crime and cowardice. A man may have many virtues even if he
does deceive a woman; if he deceives her, it is because he finds her
wanting in some of the treasures that he sought in her. None but a
queen, an actress, or a woman placed so far above a man that she seems
to him a queen, can go to him of herself without incurring blame--and
for a young girl to do it! Why, she is false to all that God has given
her that is sacred and lovely and noble,--no matter with what grace or
what poetry or what precautions she surrounds her fault."
"To seek the master and find the servant!" she said bitterly, "oh! I
can never recover from it!"
"Nonsense! Monsieur Ernest de La Briere is, to my thinking, fully the
equal of the Baron de Canalis. He was private secretary of a cabinet
minister, and he is now counsel for the Court of Claims; he has a
heart, and he adores you, but--he DOES NOT WRITE VERSES. No, I admit,
he is not a poet; but for all that he may have a heart full of poetry.
At any rate, my dear girl," added her father, as Modeste made a
gesture of disgust, "you are to see both of them, the sham and the
"Did you not swear just now to obey me in everything, even in the
AFFAIR of your marriage? Well, I allow you to choose which of the two
you like best for a husband. You have begun by a poem, you shall
finish with a bucolic, and try if you can discover the real character
of these gentlemen here, in the country, on a few hunting or fishing
Modeste bowed her head and walked home with her father, listening to
what he said but replying only in monosyllables.
The poor girl had fallen humiliated from the alp she had scaled in
search of her eagle's nest, into the mud of the swamp below, where (to
use the poetic language of an author of our day) "after feeling the
soles of her feet too tender to tread the broken glass of reality,
Imagination--which in that delicate bosom united the whole of
womanhood, from the violet-hidden reveries of a chaste young girl to
the passionate desires of the sex--had led her into enchanted gardens
where, oh, bitter sight! she now saw, springing from the ground, not
the sublime flower of her fancy, but the hairy, twisted limbs of the
black mandragora." Modeste suddenly found herself brought down from
the mystic heights of her love to a straight, flat road bordered with
ditches,--in short the work-day path of common life. What ardent,
aspiring soul would not have been bruised and broken by such a fall?
Whose feet were these at which she had shed her thoughts? The Modeste
who re-entered the Chalet was no more the Modeste who had left it two
hours earlier than an actress in the street is like an actress on the
boards. She fell into a state of numb depression that was pitiful to
see. The sun was darkened, nature veiled itself, even the flowers no
longer spoke to her. Like all young girls with a tendency to extremes,
she drank too deeply of the cup of disillusion. She fought against
reality, and would not bend her neck to the yoke of family and
conventions; it was, she felt, too heavy, too hard, too crushing. She
would not listen to the consolations of her father and mother, and
tasted a sort of savage pleasure in letting her soul suffer to the
"Poor Butscha was right," she said one evening.
The words indicate the distance she travelled in a short space of time
and in gloomy sadness across the barren plain of reality. Sadness,
when caused by the overgrowth of hope, is a disease,--sometimes a
fatal one. It would be no mean object for physiology to search out in
what ways and by what means Thought produces the same internal
disorganization as poison; and how it is that despair affects the
appetite, destroys the pylorus, and changes all the physical
conditions of the strongest life. Such was the case with Modeste. In
three short days she became the image of morbid melancholy; she did
not sing, she could not be made to smile. Charles Mignon, becoming
uneasy at the non-arrival of the two friends, thought of going to
fetch them, when, on the evening of the fifth day, he received news of
their movements through Latournelle.
Canalis, excessively delighted at the idea of a rich marriage, was
determined to neglect nothing that might help him to cut out La
Briere, without, however, giving La Briere a chance to reproach him
for having violated the laws of friendship. The poet felt that nothing
would lower a lover so much in the eyes of a young girl as to exhibit
him in a subordinate position; and he therefore proposed to La Briere,
in the most natural manner, to take a little country-house at
Ingouville for a month, and live there together on pretence of
requiring sea-air. As soon as La Briere, who at first saw nothing
amiss in the proposal, had consented, Canalis declared that he should
pay all expenses, and he sent his valet to Havre, telling him to see
Monsieur Latournelle and get his assistance in choosing the house,--
well aware that the notary would repeat all particulars to the
Mignons. Ernest and Canalis had, as may well be supposed, talked over
all the aspects of the affair, and the rather prolix Ernest had given
a good many useful hints to his rival. The valet, understanding his
master's wishes, fulfilled them to the letter; he trumpeted the
arrival of the great poet, for whom the doctors advised sea-air to
restore his health, injured as it was by the double toils of
literature and politics. This important personage wanted a house,
which must have at least such and such a number of rooms, as he would
bring with him a secretary, cook, two servants, and a coachman, not
counting himself, Germain Bonnet, the valet. The carriage, selected
and hired for a month by Canalis, was a pretty one; and Germain set
about finding a pair of fine horses which would also answer as saddle-
horses,--for, as he said, monsieur le baron and his secretary took
horseback exercise. Under the eyes of little Latournelle, who went
with him to various houses, Germain made a good deal of talk about the
secretary, rejecting two or three because there was no suitable room
for Monsieur de La Briere.
"Monsieur le baron," he said to the notary, "makes his secretary quite
his best friend. Ah! I should be well scolded if Monsieur de La Briere
was not as well treated as monsieur le baron himself; and after all,
you know, Monsieur de La Briere is a lawyer in my master's court."
Germain never appeared in public unless punctiliously dressed in
black, with spotless gloves, well-polished boots, and otherwise as
well apparelled as a lawyer. Imagine the effect he produced in Havre,
and the idea people took of the great poet from this sample of him!
The valet of a man of wit and intellect ends by getting a little wit
and intellect himself which has rubbed off from his master. Germain
did not overplay his part; he was simple and good-humored, as Canalis
had instructed him to be. Poor La Briere was in blissful ignorance of
the harm Germain was doing to his prospects, and the depreciation his
consent to the arrangement had brought upon him; it is, however, true
that some inkling of the state of things rose to Modeste's ears from
these lower regions.
Canalis had arranged to bring his secretary in his own carriage, and
Ernest's unsuspicious nature did not perceive that he was putting
himself in a false position until too late to remedy it. The delay in
the arrival of the pair which had troubled Charles Mignon was caused
by the painting of the Canalis arms on the panels of the carriage, and
by certain orders given to a tailor; for the poet neglected none of
the innumerable details which might, even the smallest of them,
influence a young girl.
"It is all right," said Latournelle to Mignon on the sixth day. "The
baron's valet has hired Madame Amaury's villa at Sanvic, all
furnished, for seven hundred francs; he has written to his master that
he may start, and that all will be ready on his arrival. So the two
gentlemen will be here Sunday. I have also had a letter from Butscha;
here it is; it's not long: 'My dear master,--I cannot get back till
Sunday. Between now and then I have some very important inquiries to
make which concern the happiness of a person in whom you take an
The announcement of this arrival did not rouse Modeste from her gloom;
the sense of her fall and the bewilderment of her mind were still too
great, and she was not nearly as much of a coquette as her father
thought her to be. There is, in truth, a charming and permissible
coquetry, that of the soul, which may claim to be love's politeness.
Charles Mignon, when scolding his daughter, failed to distinguish
between the mere desire of pleasing and the love of the mind,--the
thirst for love, and the thirst for admiration. Like every true
colonel of the Empire he saw in this correspondence, rapidly read,
only the young girl who had thrown herself at the head of a poet; but
in the letters which we were forced to lack of space to suppress, a
better judge would have admired the dignified and gracious reserve
which Modeste had substituted for the rather aggressive and light-
minded tone of her first letters. The father, however, was only too
cruelly right on one point. Modeste's last letter, which we have read,
had indeed spoken as though the marriage were a settled fact, and the
remembrance of that letter filled her with shame; she thought her
father very harsh and cruel to force her to receive a man unworthy of
her, yet to whom her soul had flown, as it were, bare. She questioned
Dumay about his interview with the poet, she inveigled him into
relating its every detail, and she did not think Canalis as barbarous
as the lieutenant had declared him. The thought of the beautiful
casket which held the letters of the thousand and one women of this
literary Don Juan made her smile, and she was strongly tempted to say
to her father: "I am not the only one to write to him; the elite of my
sex send their leaves for the laurel wreath of the poet."
During this week Modeste's character underwent a transformation. The
catastrophe--and it was a great one to her poetic nature--roused a
faculty of discernment and also the malice latent in her girlish
heart, in which her suitors were about to encounter a formidable
adversary. It is a fact that when a young woman's heart is chilled her
head becomes clear; she observes with great rapidity of judgment, and
with a tinge of pleasantry which Shakespeare's Beatrice so admirably
represents in "Much Ado about Nothing." Modeste was seized with a deep
disgust for men, now that the most distinguished among them had
betrayed her hopes. When a woman loves, what she takes for disgust is
simply the ability to see clearly; but in matters of sentiment she is
never, especially if she is a young girl, in a condition to see
clearly. If she cannot admire, she despises. And so, after passing
through terrible struggles of the soul, Modeste necessarily put on the
armor on which, as she had once declared, the word "Disdain" was
engraved. After reaching that point she was able, in the character of
uninterested spectator, to take part in what she was pleased to call
the "farce of the suitors," a performance in which she herself was
about to play the role of heroine. She particularly set before her
mind the satisfaction of humiliating Monsieur de La Briere.
"Modeste is saved," said Madame Mignon to her husband; "she wants to
revenge herself on the false Canalis by trying to love the real one."
Such in truth was Modeste's plan. It was so utterly commonplace that
her mother, to whom she confided her griefs, advised her on the
contrary to treat Monsieur de La Briere with extreme politeness.
A THIRD SUITOR
"Those two young men," said Madame Latournelle, on the Saturday
evening, "have no idea how many spies they have on their tracks. We
are eight in all, on the watch."
"Don't say two young men, wife; say three!" cried little Latournelle,
looking round him. "Gobenheim is not here, so I can speak out."
Modeste raised her head, and everybody, imitating Modeste, raised
theirs and looked at the notary.
"Yes, a third lover--and he is something like a lover--offers himself
as a candidate."
"Bah!" exclaimed the colonel.
"I speak of no less a person," said Latournelle, pompously, "than
Monsieur le Duc d'Herouville, Marquis de Saint-Sever, Duc de Nivron,
Comte de Bayeux, Vicomte d'Essigny, grand equerry and peer of France,
knight of the Spur and the Golden Fleece, grandee of Spain, and son of
the last governor of Normandy. He saw Mademoiselle Modeste at the time
when he was staying with the Vilquins, and he regretted then--as his
notary, who came from Bayeux yesterday, tells me--that she was not
rich enough for him; for his father recovered nothing but the estate
of Herouville on his return to France, and that is saddled with a
sister. The young duke is thirty-three years old. I am definitively
charged to lay these proposals before you, Monsieur le comte," added
the notary, turning respectfully to the colonel.
"Ask Modeste if she wants another bird in her cage," replied the
count; "as far as I am concerned, I am willing that my lord the grand
equerry shall pay her attention."
Notwithstanding the care with which Charles Mignon avoided seeing
people, and though he stayed in the Chalet and never went out without
Modeste, Gobenheim had reported Dumay's wealth; for Dumay had said to
him when giving up his position as cashier: "I am to be bailiff for my
colonel, and all my fortune, except what my wife needs, is to go to
the children of our little Modeste." Every one in Havre had therefore
propounded the same question that the notary had already put to
himself: "If Dumay's share in the profits is six hundred thousand
francs, and he is going to be Monsieur Mignon's bailiff, then Monsieur
Mignon must certainly have a colossal fortune. He arrived at
Marseilles on a ship of his own, loaded with indigo; and they say at
the Bourse that the cargo, not counting the ship, is worth more than
he gives out as his whole fortune."
The colonel was unwilling to dismiss the servants he had brought back
with him, whom he had chosen with care during his travels; and he
therefore hired a house for them in the lower part of Ingouville,
where he installed his valet, cook, and coachman, all Negroes, and
three mulattos on whose fidelity he could rely. The coachman was told
to search for saddle-horses for Mademoiselle and for his master, and
for carriage-horses for the caleche in which the colonel and the
lieutenant had returned to Havre. That carriage, bought in Paris, was
of the latest fashion, and bore the arms of La Bastie, surmounted by a
count's coronet. These things, insignificant in the eyes of a man who
for four years had been accustomed to the unbridled luxury of the
Indies and of the English merchants at Canton, were the subject of
much comment among the business men of Havre and the inhabitants of
Ingouville and Graville. Before five days had elapsed the rumor of
them ran from one end of Normandy to the other like a train of
gunpowder touched by fire.
"Monsieur Mignon has come back from China with millions," some one
said in Rouen; "and it seems he was made a count in mid-ocean."
"But he was the Comte de La Bastie before the Revolution," answered
"So they call him a liberal just because he was plain Charles Mignon
for twenty-five years! What are we coming to?" said a third.
Modeste was considered, therefore, notwithstanding the silence of her
parents and friends, as the richest heiress in Normandy, and all eyes
began once more to see her merits. The aunt and sister of the Duc
d'Herouville confirmed in the aristocratic salons of Bayeux Monsieur
Charles Mignon's right to the title and arms of count, derived from
Cardinal Mignon, for whom the Cardinal's hat and tassels were added as
a crest. They had seen Mademoiselle de La Bastie when they were
staying at the Vilquins, and their solicitude for the impoverished
head of their house now became active.
"If Mademoiselle de La Bastie is really as rich as she is beautiful,"
said the aunt of the young duke, "she is the best match in the
province. SHE at least is noble."
The last words were aimed at the Vilquins, with whom they had not been
able to come to terms, after incurring the humiliation of staying in
that bourgeois household.
Such were the little events which, contrary to the rules of Aristotle
and of Horace, precede the introduction of another person into our
story; but the portrait and the biography of this personage, this late
arrival, shall not be long, taking into consideration his own
diminutiveness. The grand equerry shall not take more space here than
he will take in history. Monsieur le Duc d'Herouville, offspring of
the matrimonial autumn of the last governor of Normandy, was born
during the emigration in 1799, at Vienna. The old marechal, father of
the present duke, returned with the king in 1814, and died in 1819,
before he was able to marry his son. He could only leave him the vast
chateau of Herouville, the park, a few dependencies, and a farm which
he had bought back with some difficulty; all of which returned a
rental of about fifteen thousand francs a year. Louis XVIII. gave the
post of grand equerry to the son, who, under Charles X., received the
usual pension of twelve thousand francs which was granted to the
pauper peers of France. But what were these twenty-seven thousand
francs a year and the salary of grand equerry to such a family? In
Paris, of course, the young duke used the king's coaches, and had a
mansion provided for him in the rue Saint-Thomas-du-Louvre, near the
royal stables; his salary paid for his winters in the city, and his
twenty-seven thousand francs for the summers in Normandy. If this
noble personage was still a bachelor he was less to blame than his
aunt, who was not versed in La Fontaine's fables. Mademoiselle
d'Herouville made enormous pretensions wholly out of keeping with the
spirit of the times; for great names, without the money to keep them
up, can seldom win rich heiresses among the higher French nobility,
who are themselves embarrassed to provide for their sons under the new
law of the equal division of property. To marry the young Duc
d'Herouville, it was necessary to conciliate the great banking-houses;
but the haughty pride of the daughter of the house alienated these
people by cutting speeches. During the first years of the Restoration,
from 1817 to 1825, Mademoiselle d'Herouville, though in quest of
millions, refused, among others, the daughter of Mongenod the banker,
with whom Monsieur de Fontaine afterwards contented himself.
At last, having lost several good opportunities to establish her
nephew, entirely through her own fault, she was just considering
whether the property of the Nucingens was not too basely acquired, or
whether she should lend herself to the ambition of Madame de Nucingen,
who wished to make her daughter a duchess. The king, anxious to
restore the d'Herouvilles to their former splendor, had almost brought
about this marriage, and when it failed he openly accused Mademoiselle
d'Herouville of folly. In this way the aunt made the nephew
ridiculous, and the nephew, in his own way, was not less absurd. When
great things disappear they leave crumbs, "frusteaux," Rabelais would
say, behind them; and the French nobility of this century has left us
too many such fragments. Neither the clergy nor the nobility have
anything to complain of in this long history of manners and customs.
Those great and magnificent social necessities have been well
represented; but we ought surely to renounce the noble title of
historian if we are not impartial, if we do not here depict the
present degeneracy of the race of nobles, although we have already
done so elsewhere,--in the character of the Comte de Mortsauf (in "The
Lily of the Valley"), in the "Duchesse de Langeais," and the very
nobleness of the nobility in the "Marquis d'Espard." How then could it
be that the race of heroes and valiant men belonging to the proud
house of Herouville, who gave the famous marshal to the nation,
cardinals to the church, great leaders to the Valois, knights to Louis
XIV., was reduced to a little fragile being smaller than Butscha? That
is a question which we ask ourselves in more than one salon in Paris
when we hear the greatest names of France announced, and see the
entrance of a thin, pinched, undersized young man, scarcely possessing
the breath of life, or a premature old one, or some whimsical creature
in whom an observer can with great difficulty trace the signs of a
past grandeur. The dissipations of the reign of Louis XV., the orgies
of that fatal and egotistic period, have produced an effete
generation, in which manners alone survive the nobler vanished
qualities,--forms, which are the sole heritage our nobles have
preserved. The abandonment in which Louis XVI. was allowed to perish
may thus be explained, with some slight reservations, as a wretched
result of the reign of Madame de Pompadour.
The grand equerry, a fair young man with blue eyes and a pallid face,
was not without a certain dignity of thought; but his thin, undersized
figure, and the follies of his aunt who had taken him to the Vilquins
and elsewhere to pay his court, rendered him extremely diffident. The
house of Herouville had already been threatened with extinction by the
deed of a deformed being (see the "Enfant Maudit" in "Philosophical
Studies"). The grand marshal, that being the family term for the
member who was made duke by Louis XIII., married at the age of eighty.
The young duke admired women, but he placed them too high and
respected them too much; in fact, he adored them, and was only at his
ease with those whom he could not respect. This characteristic caused
him to lead a double life. He found compensation with women of easy
virtue for the worship to which he surrendered himself in the salons,
or, if you like, the boudoirs, of the faubourg Saint-Germain. Such
habits and his puny figure, his suffering face with its blue eyes
turning upward in ecstasy, increased the ridicule already bestowed
upon him,--very unjustly bestowed, as it happened, for he was full of
wit and delicacy; but his wit, which never sparkled, only showed
itself when he felt at ease. Fanny Beaupre, an actress who was
supposed to be his nearest friend (at a price), called him "a sound
wine so carefully corked that you break all your corkscrews." The
beautiful Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, whom the grand equerry could only
worship, annihilated him with a speech which, unfortunately, was
repeated from mouth to mouth, like all such pretty and malicious
"He always seems to me," she said, "like one of those jewels of fine
workmanship which we exhibit but never wear, and keep in cotton-wool."
Everything about him, even to his absurdly contrasting title of grand
equerry, amused the good-natured king, Charles X., and made him laugh,
--although the Duc d'Herouville justified his appointment in the
matter of being a fine horseman. Men are like books, often understood
and appreciated too late. Modeste had seen the duke during his
fruitless visit to the Vilquins, and many of these reflections passed
through her mind as she watched him come and go. But under the
circumstances in which she now found herself, she saw plainly that the
courtship of the Duc d'Herouville would save her from being at the
mercy of either Canalis.
"I see no reason," she said to Latournelle, "why the Duc d'Herouville
should not be received. I have passed, in spite of our indigence," she
continued, with a mischievous look at her father, "to the condition of
heiress. Haven't you observed Gobenheim's glances? They have quite
changed their character within a week. He is in despair at not being
able to make his games of whist count for mute adoration of my
"Hush, my darling!" cried Madame Latournelle, "here he comes."
"Old Althor is in despair," said Gobenheim to Monsieur Mignon as he
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