Honore de Balzac
Part 5 out of 6
a ruby of exorbitant value; all his savings went into the purchase,
the cost of which was seven thousand francs. Ernest gave a drawing of
the arms of La Bastie, and allowed the shop-people twenty hours to
engrave them. The handle, a masterpiece of delicate workmanship, was
fitted to an india-rubber whip and put into a morocco case lined with
velvet, on which two M.'s interlaced were stamped in gold.
La Briere got back to Havre by the mail-coach Wednesday morning in
time to breakfast with Canalis. The poet had concealed his secretary's
absence by declaring that he was busy with some work sent from Paris.
Butscha, who met La Briere at the coach-door, took the box containing
the precious work of art to Francoise Cochet, with instructions to
place it on Modeste's dressing-table.
"Of course you will accompany Mademoiselle Modeste on her ride
to-day?" said Butscha, who went to Canalis's house to let La Briere
know by a wink that the whip had gone to its destination.
"I?" answered Ernest; "no, I am going to bed."
"Bah!" exclaimed Canalis, looking at him. "I don't know what to make
Breakfast was then served, and the poet naturally invited their
visitor to stay and take it. Butscha complied, having seen in the
expression of the valet's face the success of a trick in which we
shall see the first fruits of his promise to Modeste.
"Monsieur is very right to detain the clerk of Monsieur Latournelle,"
whispered Germain in his master's ear.
Canalis and Germain went into the salon on a sign that passed between
"I went out this morning to see the men fish, monsieur," said the
valet,--"an excursion proposed to me by the captain of a smack, whose
acquaintance I have made."
Germain did not acknowledge that he had the bad taste to play
billiards in a cafe,--a fact of which Butscha had taken advantage to
surround him with friends of his own and manage him as he pleased.
"Well?" said Canalis, "to the point,--quick!"
"Monsieur le baron, I heard a conversation about Monsieur Mignon,
which I encouraged as far as I could; for no one, of course, knew that
I belong to you. Ah! monsieur, judging by the talk of the quays, you
are running your head into a noose. The fortune of Mademoiselle de La
Bastie is, like her name, modest. The vessel on which the father
returned does not belong to him, but to rich China merchants to whom
he renders an account. They even say things that are not at all
flattering to Monsieur Mignon's honor. Having heard that you and
Monsieur le duc were rivals for Mademoiselle de La Bastie's hand, I
have taken the liberty to warn you; of the two, wouldn't it be better
that his lordship should gobble her? As I came home I walked round the
quays, and into that theatre-hall where the merchants meet; I slipped
boldly in and out among them. Seeing a well-dressed stranger, those
worthy fellows began to talk to me of Havre, and I got them, little by
little, to speak of Colonel Mignon. What they said only confirms the
stories the fishermen told me; and I feel that I should fail in my
duty if I keep silence. That is why I did not get home in time to
dress monsieur this morning."
"What am I to do?" cried Canalis, who remembered his proposals to
Modeste the night before, and did not see how he could get out of
"Monsieur knows my attachment to him," said Germain, perceiving that
the poet was quite thrown off his balance; "he will not be surprised
if I give him a word of advice. There is that clerk; try to get the
truth out of him. Perhaps he'll unbutton after a bottle or two of
champagne, or at any rate a third. It would be strange indeed if
monsieur, who will one day be ambassador, as Philoxene has heard
Madame la duchesse say time and time again, couldn't turn a little
notary's clerk inside out."
BUTSCHA DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF
At this instant Butscha, the hidden prompter of the fishing part, was
requesting the secretary to say nothing about his trip to Paris, and
not to interfere in any way with what he, Butscha, might do. The dwarf
had already made use of an unfavorable feeling lately roused against
Monsieur Mignon in Havre in consequence of his reserve and his
determination to keep silence as to the amount of his fortune. The
persons who were most bitter against him even declared calumniously
that he had made over a large amount of property to Dumay to save it
from the just demands of his associates in China. Butscha took
advantage of this state of feeling. He asked the fishermen, who owed
him many a good turn, to keep the secret and lend him their tongues.
They served him well. The captain of the fishing-smack told Germain
that one of his cousins, a sailor, had just returned from Marseilles,
where he had been paid off from the brig in which Monsieur Mignon
returned to France. The brig had been sold to the account of some
other person than Monsieur Mignon, and the cargo was only worth three
or four hundred thousand francs at the utmost.
"Germain," said Canalis, as the valet was leaving the room, "serve
champagne and claret. A member of the legal fraternity of Havre must
carry away with him proper ideas of a poet's hospitality. Besides, he
has got a wit that is equal to Figaro's," added Canalis, laying his
hand on the dwarf's shoulder, "and we must make it foam and sparkle
with champagne; you and I, Ernest, will not spare the bottle either.
Faith, it is over two years since I've been drunk," he added, looking
at La Briere.
"Not drunk with wine, you mean," said Butscha, looking keenly at him,
"yes, I can believe that. You get drunk every day on yourself, you
drink in so much praise. Ha, you are handsome, you are a poet, you are
famous in your lifetime, you have the gift of an eloquence that is
equal to your genius, and you please all women,--even my master's
wife. Admired by the finest sultana-valide that I ever saw in my life
(and I never saw but her) you can, if you choose, marry Mademoiselle
de La Bastie. Goodness! the mere inventory of your present advantages,
not to speak of the future (a noble title, peerage, embassy!), is
enough to make me drunk already,--like the men who bottle other men's
"All such social distinctions," said Canalis, "are of little use
without the one thing that gives them value,--wealth. Here we can talk
as men with men; fine sentiments only do in verse."
"That depends on circumstances," said the dwarf, with a knowing
"Ah! you writer of conveyances," said the poet, smiling at the
interruption, "you know as well as I do that 'cottage' rhymes with
'pottage,'--and who would like to live on that for the rest of his
At table Butscha played the part of Trigaudin, in the "Maison en
loterie," in a way that alarmed Ernest, who did not know the waggery
of a lawyer's office, which is quite equal to that of an atelier.
Butscha poured forth the scandalous gossip of Havre, the private
history of fortune and boudoirs, and the crimes committed code in
hand, which are called in Normandy, "getting out of a thing as best
you can." He spared no one; and his liveliness increased with the
torrents of wine which poured down his throat like rain through a
"Do you know, La Briere," said Canalis, filling Butscha's glass, "that
this fellow would make a capital secretary to the embassy?"
"And oust his chief!" cried the dwarf flinging a look at Canalis whose
insolence was lost in the gurgling of carbonic acid gas. "I've little
enough gratitude and quite enough scheming to get astride of your
shoulders. Ha, ha, a poet carrying a hunchback! that's been seen,
often seen--on book-shelves. Come, don't look at me as if I were
swallowing swords. My dear great genius, you're a superior man; you
know that gratitude is the word of fools; they stick it in the
dictionary, but it isn't in the human heart; pledges are worth
nothing, except on a certain mount that is neither Pindus nor
Parnassus. You think I owe a great deal to my master's wife, who
brought me up. Bless you, the whole town has paid her for that in
praises, respect, and admiration,--the very best of coin. I don't
recognize any service that is only the capital of self-love. Men make
a commerce of their services, and gratitude goes down on the debit
side,--that's all. As to schemes, they are my divinity. What?" he
exclaimed, at a gesture of Canalis, "don't you admire the faculty
which enables a wily man to get the better of a man of genius? it
takes the closest observation of his vices, and his weaknesses, and
the wit to seize the happy moment. Ask diplomacy if its greatest
triumphs are not those of craft over force? If I were your secretary,
Monsieur le baron, you'd soon be prime-minister, because it would be
my interest to have you so. Do you want a specimen of my talents in
that line? Well then, listen; you love Mademoiselle Modeste
distractedly, and you've good reason to do so. The girl has my fullest
esteem; she is a true Parisian. Sometimes we get a few real Parisians
born down here in the provinces. Well, Modeste is just the woman to
help a man's career. She's got THAT in her," he cried, with a turn of
his wrist in the air. "But you've a dangerous competitor in the duke;
what will you give me to get him out of Havre within three days?"
"Finish this bottle," said the poet, refilling Butscha's glass.
"You'll make me drunk," said the dwarf, tossing off his ninth glass of
champagne. "Have you a bed where I could sleep it off? My master is as
sober as the camel that he is, and Madame Latournelle too. They are
brutal enough, both of them, to scold me; and they'd have the rights
of it too--there are those deeds I ought to be drawing!--" Then,
suddenly returning to his previous ideas, after the fashion of a
drunken man, he exclaimed, "and I've such a memory; it is on a par
with my gratitude."
"Butscha!" cried the poet, "you said just now you had no gratitude;
you contradict yourself."
"Not at all," he replied. "To forget a thing means almost always
recollecting it. Come, come, do you want me to get rid of the duke?
I'm cut out for a secretary."
"How could you manage it?" said Canalis, delighted to find the
conversation taking this turn of its own accord.
"That's none of your business," said the dwarf, with a portentous
Butscha's head rolled between his shoulders, and his eyes turned from
Germain to La Briere, and from La Briere to Canalis, after the manner
of men who, knowing they are tipsy, wish to see what other men are
thinking of them; for in the shipwreck of drunkenness it is noticeable
that self-love is the last thing that goes to the bottom.
"Ha! my great poet, you're a pretty good trickster yourself; but you
are not deep enough. What do you mean by taking me for one of your own
readers,--you who sent your friend to Paris, full gallop, to inquire
into the property of the Mignon family? Ha, ha! I hoax, thou hoaxest,
we hoax--Good! But do me the honor to believe that I'm deep enough to
keep the secrets of my own business. As the head-clerk of a notary, my
heart is a locked box, padlocked! My mouth never opens to let out
anything about a client. I know all, and I know nothing. Besides, my
passion is well known. I love Modeste; she is my pupil, and she must
make a good marriage. I'll fool the duke, if need be; and you shall
"Germain, coffee and liqueurs," said Canalis.
"Liqueurs!" repeated Butscha with a wave of his hand, and the air of a
sham virgin repelling seduction; "Ah, those poor deeds! one of 'em was
a marriage contract; and that second clerk of mine is as stupid as--as
--an epithalamium, and he's capable of digging his penknife right
through the bride's paraphernalia; he thinks he's a handsome man
because he's five feet six,--idiot!"
"Here is some creme de the, a liqueur of the West Indies," said
Canalis. "You, whom Mademoiselle Modeste consults--"
"Yes, she consults me."
"Well, do you think she loves me?" asked the poet.
"Loves you? yes, more than she loves the duke, answered the dwarf,
rousing himself from a stupor which was admirably played. "She loves
you for your disinterestedness. She told me she was ready to make the
greatest sacrifices for your sake; to give up dress and spend as
little as possible on herself, and devote her life to showing you that
in marrying her you hadn't done so" (hiccough) "bad a thing for
yourself. She's as right as a trivet,--yes, and well informed. She
knows everything, that girl."
"And she has three hundred thousand francs?"
"There may be quite as much as that," cried the dwarf,
enthusiastically. "Papa Mignon,--mignon by name, mignon by nature, and
that's why I respect him,--well, he would rob himself of everything to
marry his daughter. Your Restoration" (hiccough) "has taught him how
to live on half-pay; he'd be quite content to live with Dumay on next
to nothing, if he could rake and scrape enough together to give the
little one three hundred thousand francs. But don't let's forget that
Dumay is going to leave all his money to Modeste. Dumay, you know, is
a Breton, and that fact clinches the matter; he won't go back from his
word, and his fortune is equal to the colonel's. But I don't approve
of Monsieur Mignon's taking back that villa, and, as they often ask my
advice, I told them so. 'You sink too much in it,' I said; 'if Vilquin
does not buy it back there's two hundred thousand francs which won't
bring you a penny; it only leaves you a hundred thousand to get along
with, and it isn't enough.' The colonel and Dumay are consulting about
it now. But nevertheless, between you and me, Modeste is sure to be
rich. I hear talk on the quays against it; but that's all nonsense;
people are jealous. Why, there's no such 'dot' in Havre," cried
Butscha, beginning to count on his fingers. "Two to three hundred
thousand in ready money," bending back the thumb of his left hand with
the forefinger of his right, "that's one item; the reversion of the
villa Mignon, that's another; 'tertio,' Dumay's property!" doubling
down his middle finger. "Ha! little Modeste may count upon her six
hundred thousand francs as soon as the two old soldiers have got their
marching orders for eternity."
This coarse and candid statement, intermingled with a variety of
liqueurs, sobered Canalis as much as it appeared to befuddle Butscha.
To the latter, a young provincial, such a fortune must of course seem
colossal. He let his head fall into the palm of his right hand, and
putting his elbows majestically on the table, blinked his eyes and
continued talking to himself:--
"In twenty years, thanks to that Code, which pillages fortunes under
what they call 'Successions,' an heiress worth a million will be as
rare as generosity in a money-lender. Suppose Modeste does want to
spend all the interest of her own money,--well, she is so pretty, so
sweet and pretty; why she's--you poets are always after metaphors--
she's a weasel as tricky as a monkey."
"How came you to tell me she had six millions?" said Canalis to La
Briere, in a low voice.
"My friend," said Ernest, "I do assure you that I was bound to silence
by an oath; perhaps, even now, I ought not to say as much as that."
"Bound! to whom?"
"To Monsieur Mignon."
"Ernest! you who know how essential fortune is to me--"
"--who know my situation, and all that I shall lose in the Duchesse de
Chaulieu, by this attempt at marrying, YOU could coldly let me plunge
into such a thing as this?" exclaimed Canalis, turning pale. "It was a
question of friendship; and ours was a compact entered into long
before you ever saw that crafty Mignon."
"My dear fellow," said Ernest, "I love Modeste too well to--"
"Fool! then take her," cried the poet, "and break your oath."
"Will you promise me on your word of honor to forget what I now tell
you, and to behave to me as though this confidence had never been
made, whatever happens?"
"I'll swear that, by my mother's memory."
"Well then," said La Briere, "Monsieur Mignon told me in Paris that he
was very far from having the colossal fortune which the Mongenods told
me about and which I mentioned to you. The colonel intends to give two
hundred thousand francs to his daughter. And now, Melchior, I ask you,
was the father really distrustful of us, as you thought; or was he
sincere? It is not for me to answer those questions. If Modeste
without a fortune deigns to choose me, she will be my wife."
"A blue-stocking! educated till she is a terror! a girl who has read
everything, who knows everything,--in theory," cried Canalis, hastily,
noticing La Briere's gesture, "a spoiled child, brought up in luxury
in her childhood, and weaned of it for five years. Ah! my poor friend,
take care what you are about."
"Ode and Code," said Butscha, waking up, "you do the ode and I the
code; there's only a C's difference between us. Well, now, code comes
from 'coda,' a tail,--mark that word! See here! a bit of good advice
is worth your wine and your cream of tea. Father Mignon--he's cream,
too; the cream of honest men--he is going with his daughter on this
riding party; do you go up frankly and talk 'dot' to him. He'll answer
plainly, and you'll get at the truth, just as surely as I'm drunk, and
you're a great poet,--but no matter for that; we are to leave Havre
together, that's settled, isn't it? I'm to be your secretary in place
of that little fellow who sits there grinning at me and thinking I'm
drunk. Come, let's go, and leave him to marry the girl."
Canalis rose to leave the room to dress for the excursion.
"Hush, not a word,--he is going to commit suicide," whispered Butscha,
sober as a judge, to La Briere as he made the gesture of a street boy
at Canalis's back. "Adieu, my chief!" he shouted, in stentorian tones,
"will you allow me to take a snooze in that kiosk down in the garden?"
"Make yourself at home," answered the poet.
Butscha, pursued by the laughter of the three servants of the
establishment, gained the kiosk by walking over the flower-beds and
round the vases with the perverse grace of an insect describing its
interminable zig-zags as it tries to get out of a closed window. When
he had clambered into the kiosk, and the servants had retired, he sat
down on a wooden bench and wallowed in the delights of his triumph. He
had completely fooled a great man; he had not only torn off his mask,
but he had made him untie the strings himself; and he laughed like an
author over his own play,--that is to say, with a true sense of the
immense value of his "vis comica."
"Men are tops!" he cried, "you've only to find the twine to wind 'em
up with. But I'm like my fellows," he added, presently. "I should
faint away if any one came and said to me 'Mademoiselle Modeste has
been thrown from her horse, and has broken her leg.'"
THE POET FEELS THAT HE IS LOVED TOO WELL
An hour later, Modeste, charmingly equipped in a bottle-green
cassimere habit, a small hat with a green veil, buckskin gloves, and
velvet boots which met the lace frills of her drawers, and mounted on
an elegantly caparisoned little horse, was exhibiting to her father
and the Duc d'Herouville the beautiful present she had just received;
she was evidently delighted with an attention of a kind that
particularly flatters women.
"Did it come from you, Monsieur le duc?" she said, holding the
sparkling handle toward him. "There was a card with it, saying, 'Guess
if you can,' and some asterisks. Francoise and Dumay credit Butscha
with this charming surprise; but my dear Butscha is not rich enough to
buy such rubies. And as for papa (to whom I said, as I remember, on
Sunday evening, that I had no whip), he sent to Rouen for this one,"--
pointing to a whip in her father's hand, with a top like a cone of
turquoise, a fashion then in vogue which has since become vulgar.
"I would give ten years of my old age, mademoiselle, to have the right
to offer you that beautiful jewel," said the duke, courteously.
"Ah, here comes the audacious giver!" cried Modeste, as Canalis rode
up. "It is only a poet who knows where to find such choice things.
Monsieur," she said to Melchior, "my father will scold you, and say
that you justify those who accuse you of extravagance."
"Oh!" exclaimed Canalis, with apparent simplicity, "so that is why La
Briere rode at full gallop from Havre to Paris?"
"Does your secretary take such liberties?" said Modeste, turning pale,
and throwing the whip to Francoise with an impetuosity that expressed
scorn. "Give me your whip, papa."
"Poor Ernest, who lies there on his bed half-dead with fatigue!" said
Canalis, overtaking the girl, who had already started at a gallop.
"You are pitiless, mademoiselle. 'I have' (the poor fellow said to me)
'only this one chance to remain in her memory.'"
"And should you think well of a woman who could take presents from
half the parish?" said Modeste.
She was surprised to receive no answer to this inquiry, and attributed
the poet's inattention to the noise of the horse's feet.
"How you delight in tormenting those who love you," said the duke.
"Your nobility of soul and your pride are so inconsistent with your
faults that I begin to suspect you calumniate yourself, and do those
naughty things on purpose."
"Ah! have you only just found that out, Monsieur le duc?" she
exclaimed, laughing. "You have the sagacity of a husband."
They rode half a mile in silence. Modeste was a good deal astonished
not to receive the fire of the poet's eyes. The evening before, as she
was pointing out to him an admirable effect of setting sunlight across
the water, she had said, remarking his inattention, "Well, don't you
see it?"--to which he replied, "I can see only your hand"; but now his
admiration for the beauties of nature seemed a little too intense to
"Does Monsieur de La Briere know how to ride?" she asked, for the
purpose of teasing him.
"Not very well, but he gets along," answered the poet, cold as
Gobenheim before the colonel's return.
At a cross-road, which Monsieur Mignon made them take through a lovely
valley to reach a height overlooking the Seine, Canalis let Modeste
and the duke pass him, and then reined up to join the colonel.
"Monsieur le comte," he said, "you are an open-hearted soldier, and I
know you will regard my frankness as a title to your esteem. When
proposals of marriage, with all their brutal,--or, if you please, too
civilized--discussions, are carried on by third parties, it is an
injury to all. We are both gentlemen, and both discreet; and you, like
myself, have passed beyond the age of surprises. Let us therefore
speak as intimates. I will set you the example. I am twenty-nine years
old, without landed estates, and full of ambition. Mademoiselle
Modeste, as you must have perceived, pleases me extremely. Now, in
spite of the little defects which your dear girl likes to assume--"
"--not counting those she really possesses," said the colonel,
"--I should gladly make her my wife, and I believe I could render her
happy. The question of money is of the utmost importance to my future,
which hangs to-day in the balance. All young girls expect to be loved
WHETHER OR NO--fortune or no fortune. But you are not the man to marry
your dear Modeste without a 'dot,' and my situation does not allow me
to make a marriage of what is called love unless with a woman who has
a fortune at least equal to mine. I have, from my emoluments and
sinecures, from the Academy and from my works, about thirty thousand
francs a year, a large income for a bachelor. If my wife brought me as
much more, I should still be in about the same condition that I am
now. Shall you give Mademoiselle a million?"
"Ah, monsieur, we have not reached that point as yet," said the
"Then suppose," said Canalis, quickly, "that we go no further; we will
let the matter drop. You shall have no cause to complain of me,
Monsieur le comte; the world shall consider me among the unfortunate
suitors of your charming daughter. Give me your word of honor to say
nothing on the subject to any one, not even to Mademoiselle Modeste,
because," he added, throwing a word of promise to the ear, "my
circumstances may so change that I can ask you for her without 'dot.'"
"I promise you that," said the colonel. "You know, monsieur, with what
assurance the public, both in Paris and the provinces, talk of
fortunes that they make and unmake. People exaggerate both happiness
and unhappiness; we are never so fortunate nor so unfortunate as
people say we are. There is nothing sure and certain in business
except investments in land. I am awaiting the accounts of my agents
with very great impatience. The sale of my merchandise and my ship,
and the settlement of my affairs in China, are not yet concluded; and
I cannot know the full amount of my fortune for at least six months. I
did, however, say to Monsieur de La Briere in Paris that I would
guarantee a 'dot' of two hundred thousand francs in ready money. I
wish to entail my estates, and enable my grandchildren to inherit my
arms and title."
Canalis did not listen to this statement after the opening sentence.
The four riders, having now reached a wider road, went abreast and
soon reached a stretch of table-land, from which the eye took in on
one side the rich valley of the Seine toward Rouen, and on the other
an horizon bounded only by the sea.
"Butscha was right, God is the greatest of all landscape painters,"
said Canalis, contemplating the view, which is unique among the many
fine scenes that have made the shores of the Seine so justly
"Above all do we feel that, my dear baron," said the duke, "on
hunting-days, when nature has a voice, and a lively tumult breaks the
silence; at such times the landscape, changing rapidly as we ride
through it, seems really sublime."
"The sun is the inexhaustible palette," said Modeste, looking at the
poet in a species of bewilderment.
A remark that she presently made on his absence of mind gave him an
opportunity of saying that he was just then absorbed in his own
thoughts,--an excuse that authors have more reason for giving than
"Are we really made happy by carrying our lives into the midst of the
world, and swelling them with all sorts of fictitious wants and over-
excited vanities?" said Modeste, moved by the aspect of the fertile
and billowy country to long for a philosophically tranquil life.
"That is a bucolic, mademoiselle, which is only written on tablets of
gold," said the poet.
"And sometimes under garret-roofs," remarked the colonel.
Modeste threw a piercing glance at Canalis, which he was unable to
sustain; she was conscious of a ringing in her ears, darkness seemed
to spread before her, and then she suddenly exclaimed in icy tones:--
"Ah! it is Wednesday!"
"I do not say this to flatter your passing caprice, mademoiselle,"
said the duke, to whom the little scene, so tragical for Modeste, had
left time for thought; "but I declare I am so profoundly disgusted
with the world and the Court and Paris that had I a Duchesse
d'Herouville, gifted with the wit and graces of mademoiselle, I would
gladly bind myself to live like a philosopher at my chateau, doing
good around me, draining my marshes, educating my children--"
"That, Monsieur le duc, will be set to the account of your great
goodness," said Modeste, letting her eyes rest steadily on the noble
gentleman. "You flatter me in not thinking me frivolous, and in
believing that I have enough resources within myself to be able to
live in solitude. It is perhaps my lot," she added, glancing at
Canalis, with an expression of pity.
"It is the lot of all insignificant fortunes," said the poet. "Paris
demands Babylonian splendor. Sometimes I ask myself how I have ever
managed to keep it up."
"The king does that for both of us," said the duke, candidly; "we live
on his Majesty's bounty. If my family had not been allowed, after the
death of Monsieur le Grand, as they call Cinq-Mars, to keep his office
among us, we should have been obliged to sell Herouville to the Black
Brethren. Ah, believe me, mademoiselle, it is a bitter humiliation to
me to have to think of money in marrying."
The simple honesty of this confession came from his heart, and the
regret was so sincere that it touched Modeste.
"In these days," said the poet, "no man in France, Monsieur le duc, is
rich enough to marry a woman for herself, her personal worth, her
grace, or her beauty--"
The colonel looked at Canalis with a curious eye, after first watching
Modeste, whose face no longer expressed the slightest astonishment.
"For persons of high honor," he said slowly, "it is a noble employment
of wealth to repair the ravages of time and destiny, and restore the
old historic families."
"Yes, papa," said Modeste, gravely.
The colonel invited the duke and Canalis to dine with him sociably in
their riding-dress, promising them to make no change himself. When
Modeste went to her room to make her toilette, she looked at the
jewelled whip she had disdained in the morning.
"What workmanship they put into such things nowadays!" she said to
Francoise Cochet, who had become her waiting-maid.
"That poor young man, mademoiselle, who has got a fever--"
"Who told you that?"
"Monsieur Butscha. He came here this afternoon and asked me to say to
you that he hoped you would notice he had kept his word on the
Modeste came down into the salon dressed with royal simplicity.
"My dear father," she said aloud, taking the colonel by the arm,
"please go and ask after Monsieur de La Briere's health, and take him
back his present. You can say that my small means, as well as my
natural tastes, forbid my wearing ornaments which are only fit for
queens or courtesans. Besides, I can only accept gifts from a
bridegroom. Beg him to keep the whip until you know whether you are
rich enough to buy it back."
"My little girl has plenty of good sense," said the colonel, kissing
his daughter on the forehead.
Canalis took advantage of a conversation which began between the duke
and Madame Mignon to escape to the terrace, where Modeste joined him,
influenced by curiosity, though the poet believed her desire to become
Madame de Canalis had brought her there. Rather alarmed at the
indecency with which he had just executed what soldiers call a "volte-
face," and which, according to the laws of ambition, every man in his
position would have executed quite as brutally, he now endeavored, as
the unfortunate Modeste approached him, to find plausible excuses for
"Dear Modeste," he began, in a coaxing tone, "considering the terms on
which we stand to each other, shall I displease you if I say that your
replies to the Duc d'Herouville were very painful to a man in love,--
above all, to a poet whose soul is feminine, nervous, full of the
jealousies of true passion. I should make a poor diplomatist indeed if
I had not perceived that your first coquetries, your little
premeditated inconsistencies, were only assumed for the purpose of
studying our characters--"
Modeste raised her head with the rapid, intelligent, half-coquettish
motion of a wild animal, in whom instinct produces such miracles of
"--and therefore when I returned home and thought them over, they
never misled me. I only marvelled at a cleverness so in harmony with
your character and your countenance. Do not be uneasy, I never doubted
that your assumed duplicity covered an angelic candor. No, your mind,
your education, have in no way lessened the precious innocence which
we demand in a wife. You are indeed a wife for a poet, a diplomatist,
a thinker, a man destined to endure the chances and changes of life;
and my admiration is equalled only by the attachment I feel to you. I
now entreat you--if yesterday you were not playing a little comedy
when you accepted the love of a man whose vanity will change to pride
if you accept him, one whose defects will become virtues under your
divine influence--I entreat you do not excite a passion which, in him,
amounts to vice. Jealousy is a noxious element in my soul, and you
have revealed to me its strength; it is awful, it destroys everything
--Oh! I do not mean the jealousy of an Othello," he continued,
noticing Modeste's gesture. "No, no; my thoughts were of myself: I
have been so indulged on that point. You know the affection to which I
owe all the happiness I have ever enjoyed,--very little at the best"
(he sadly shook his head). "Love is symbolized among all nations as a
child, because it fancies the world belongs to it, and it cannot
conceive otherwise. Well, Nature herself set the limit to that
sentiment. It was still-born. A tender, maternal soul guessed and
calmed the painful constriction of my heart,--for a woman who feels,
who knows, that she is past the joys of love becomes angelic in her
treatment of others. The duchess has never made me suffer in my
sensibilities. For ten years not a word, not a look, that could wound
me! I attach more value to words, to thoughts, to looks, than ordinary
men. If a look is to me a treasure beyond all price, the slightest
doubt is deadly poison; it acts instantaneously, my love dies. I
believe--contrary to the mass of men, who delight in trembling,
hoping, expecting--that love can only exist in perfect, infantile, and
infinite security. The exquisite purgatory, where women delight to
send us by their coquetry, is a base happiness to which I will not
submit: to me, love is either heaven or hell. If it is hell, I will
have none of it. I feel an affinity with the azure skies of Paradise
within my soul. I can give myself without reserve, without secrets,
doubts or deceptions, in the life to come; and I demand reciprocity.
Perhaps I offend you by these doubts. Remember, however, that I am
only talking of myself--"
"--a good deal, but never too much," said Modeste, offended in every
hole and corner of her pride by this discourse, in which the Duchesse
de Chaulieu served as a dagger. "I am so accustomed to admire you, my
"Well, then, can you promise me the same canine fidelity which I offer
to you? Is it not beautiful? Is it not just what you have longed for?"
"But why, dear poet, do you not marry a deaf-mute, and one who is also
something of an idiot? I ask nothing better than to please my husband.
But you threaten to take away from a girl the very happiness you so
kindly arrange for her; you are tearing away every gesture, every
word, every look; you cut the wings of your bird, and then expect it
to hover about you. I know poets are accused of inconsistency--oh!
very unjustly," she added, as Canalis made a gesture of denial; "that
alleged defect which comes from the brilliant activity of their minds
which commonplace people cannot take into account. I do not believe,
however, that a man of genius can invent such irreconcilable
conditions and call his invention life. You are requiring the
impossible solely for the pleasure of putting me in the wrong,--like
the enchanters in fairy-tales, who set tasks to persecuted young girls
whom the good fairies come and deliver."
"In this case the good fairy would be true love," said Canalis in a
curt tone, aware that his elaborate excuse for a rupture was seen
through by the keen and delicate mind which Butscha had piloted so
"My dear poet, you remind me of those fathers who inquire into a
girl's 'dot' before they are willing to name that of their son. You
are quarrelling with me without knowing whether you have the slightest
right to do so. Love is not gained by such dry arguments as yours. The
poor duke on the contrary abandons himself to it like my Uncle Toby;
with this difference, that I am not the Widow Wadman,--though widow
indeed of many illusions as to poetry at the present moment. Ah, yes,
we young girls will not believe in anything that disturbs our world of
fancy! I was warned of all this beforehand. My dear poet, you are
attempting to get up a quarrel which is unworthy of you. I no longer
recognize the Melchior of yesterday."
"Because Melchior has discovered a spirit of ambition in you which--"
Modeste looked at him from head to foot with an imperial eye.
"But I shall be peer of France and ambassador as well as he," added
"Do you take me for a bourgeois," she said, beginning to mount the
steps of the portico; but she instantly turned back and added, "That
is less impertinent than to take me for a fool. The change in your
conduct comes from certain silly rumors which you have heard in Havre,
and which my maid Francoise has repeated to me."
"Ah, Modeste, how can you think it?" said Canalis, striking a dramatic
attitude. "Do you think me capable of marrying you only for your
"If I do you that wrong after your edifying remarks on the banks of
the Seine can you easily undeceive me," she said, annihilating him
with her scorn.
"Ah!" thought the poet, as he followed her into the house, "if you
think, my little girl, that I'm to be caught in that net, you take me
to be younger than I am. Dear, dear, what a fuss about an artful
little thing whose esteem I value about as much as that of the king of
Borneo. But she has given me a good reason for the rupture by accusing
me of such unworthy sentiments. Isn't she sly? La Briere will get a
burden on his back--idiot that he is! And five years hence it will be
a good joke to see them together."
The coldness which this altercation produced between Modeste and
Canalis was visible to all eyes that evening. The poet went off early,
on the ground of La Briere's illness, leaving the field to the grand
equerry. About eleven o'clock Butscha, who had come to walk home with
Madame Latournelle, whispered in Modeste's ear, "Was I right?"
"Alas, yes," she said.
"But I hope you have left the door half open, so that he can come
back; we agreed upon that, you know."
"Anger got the better of me," said Modeste. "Such meanness sent the
blood to my head and I told him what I thought of him."
"Well, so much the better. When you are both so angry that you can't
speak civilly to each other I engage to make him desperately in love
and so pressing that you will be deceived yourself."
"Come, come, Butscha; he is a great poet; he is a gentleman; he is a
man of intellect."
"Your father's eight millions are more to him than all that."
"Eight millions!" exclaimed Modeste.
"My master, who has sold his practice, is going to Provence to attend
to the purchase of lands which your father's agent has suggested to
him. The sum that is to be paid for the estate of La Bastie is four
millions; your father has agreed to it. You are to have a 'dot' of two
millions and another million for an establishment in Paris, a hotel
and furniture. Now, count up."
"Ah! then I can be Duchesse d'Herouville!" cried Modeste, glancing at
"If it hadn't been for that comedian of a Canalis you would have kept
HIS whip, thinking it came from me," said the dwarf, indirectly
pleading La Briere's cause.
"Monsieur Butscha, may I ask if I am to marry to please you?" said
"That fine fellow loves you as well as I do,--and you loved him for
eight days," retorted Butscha; "and HE has got a heart."
"Can he compete, pray, with an office under the Crown? There are but
six, grand almoner, chancellor, grand chamberlain, grand master, high
constable, grand admiral,--but they don't appoint high constables any
"In six months, mademoiselle, the masses--who are made up of wicked
Butschas--could send all those grand dignities to the winds. Besides,
what signifies nobility in these days? There are not a thousand real
noblemen in France. The d'Herouvilles are descended from a tipstaff in
the time of Robert of Normandy. You will have to put up with many a
vexation from the old aunt with the furrowed face. Look here,--as you
are so anxious for the title of duchess,--you belong to the Comtat,
and the Pope will certainly think as much of you as he does of all
those merchants down there; he'll sell you a duchy with some name
ending in 'ia' or 'agno.' Don't play away your happiness for an office
under the Crown."
A DIPLOMATIC LETTER
The poet's reflections during the night were thoroughly matter-of
fact. He sincerely saw nothing worse in life than the situation of a
married man without money. Still trembling at the danger he had been
led into by his vanity, his desire to get the better of the duke, and
his belief in the Mignon millions, he began to ask himself what the
duchess must be thinking of his stay in Havre, aggravated by the fact
that he had not written to her for fourteen days, whereas in Paris
they exchanged four or five letters a week.
"And that poor woman is working hard to get me appointed commander of
the Legion and ambassador to the Court of Baden!" he cried.
Thereupon, with that promptitude of decision which results--in poets
as well as in speculators--from a lively intuition of the future, he
sat down and composed the following letter:--
To Madame la Duchesse de Chaulieu:
My dear Eleonore,--You have doubtless been surprised at not
hearing from me; but the stay I am making in this place is not
altogether on account of my health. I have been trying to do a
good turn to our little friend La Briere. The poor fellow has
fallen in love with a certain Mademoiselle Modeste de La Bastie, a
rather pale, insignificant, and thread-papery little thing, who,
by the way, has the vice of liking literature, and calls herself a
poet to excuse the caprices and humors of a rather sullen nature.
You know Ernest,--he is so easy to catch that I have been afraid
to leave him to himself. Mademoiselle de La Bastie was inclined to
coquet with your Melchior, and was only too ready to become your
rival, though her arms are thin, and she has no more bust than
most girls; moreover, her hair is as dead and colorless as that of
Madame de Rochefide, and her eyes small, gray, and very
suspicious. I put a stop--perhaps rather brutally--to the
attentions of Mademoiselle Immodeste; but love, such as mine for
you, demanded it. What care I for all the women on earth,--
compared to you, what are they?
The people with whom I pass my time, and who form the circle round
the heiress, are so thoroughly bourgeois that they almost turn my
stomach. Pity me; imagine! I pass my evenings with notaries,
notaresses, cashiers, provincial money-lenders--ah! what a change
from my evenings in the rue de Grenelle. The alleged fortune of
the father, lately returned from China, has brought to Havre that
indefatigable suitor, the grand equerry, hungry after the
millions, which he wants, they say, to drain his marshes. The king
does not know what a fatal present he made the duke in those waste
lands. His Grace, who has not yet found out that the lady had only
a small fortune, is jealous of ME; for La Briere is quietly making
progress with his idol under cover of his friend, who serves as a
Notwithstanding Ernest's romantic ecstasies, I myself, a poet,
think chiefly of the essential thing, and I have been making some
inquiries which darken the prospects of our friend. If my angel
would like absolution for some of our little sins, she will try to
find out the facts of the case by sending for Mongenod, the
banker, and questioning him, with the dexterity that characterizes
her, as to the father's fortune? Monsieur Mignon, formerly colonel
of cavalry in the Imperial guard, has been for the last seven
years a correspondent of the Mongenods. It is said that he gives
his daughter a "dot" of two hundred thousand francs, and before I
make the offer on Ernest's behalf I am anxious to get the rights
of the story. As soon as the affair is arranged I shall return to
Paris. I know a way to settle everything to the advantage of our
young lover,--simply by the transmission of the father-in-law's
title, and no one, I think, can more readily obtain that favor
than Ernest, both on account of his own services and the influence
which you and I and the duke can exert for him. With his tastes,
Ernest, who of course will step into my office when I go to Baden,
will be perfectly happy in Paris with twenty-five thousand francs
a year, a permanent place, and a wife--luckless fellow!
Ah, dearest, how I long for the rue de Grenelle! Fifteen days of
absence! when they do not kill love, they revive all the ardor of
its earlier days, and you know, better than I, perhaps, the
reasons that make my love eternal,--my bones will love thee in the
grave! Ah! I cannot bear this separation. If I am forced to stay
here another ten days, I shall make a flying visit of a few hours
Has the duke obtained for me the thing we wanted; and shall you,
my dearest life, be ordered to drink the Baden waters next year?
The billing and cooing of the "handsome disconsolate," compared
with the accents of our happy love--so true and changeless for now
ten years!--have given me a great contempt for marriage. I had
never seen the thing so near. Ah, dearest! what the world calls a
"false step" brings two beings nearer together than the law--does
The concluding idea served as a text for two pages of reminiscences
and aspirations a little too confidential for publication.
The evening before the day on which Canalis put the above epistle into
the post, Butscha, under the name of Jean Jacmin, had received a
letter from his fictitious cousin, Philoxene, and had mailed his
answer, which thus preceded the letter of the poet by about twelve
hours. Terribly anxious for the last two weeks, and wounded by
Melchior's silence, the duchess herself dictated Philoxene's letter to
her cousin, and the moment she had read the answer, rather too
explicit for her quinquagenary vanity, she sent for the banker and
made close inquiries as to the exact fortune of Monsieur Mignon.
Finding herself betrayed and abandoned for the millions, Eleonore gave
way to a paroxysm of anger, hatred, and cold vindictiveness. Philoxene
knocked at the door of the sumptuous room, and entering found her
mistress with her eyes full of tears,--so unprecedented a phenomenon
in the fifteen years she had waited upon her that the woman stopped
"We expiate the happiness of ten years in ten minutes," she heard the
"A letter from Havre, madame."
Eleonore read the poet's prose without noticing the presence of
Philoxene, whose amazement became still greater when she saw the dawn
of fresh serenity on the duchess's face as she read further and
further into the letter. Hold out a pole no thicker than a walking-
stick to a drowning man, and he will think it a high-road of safety.
The happy Eleonore believed in Canalis's good faith when she had read
through the four pages in which love and business, falsehood and
truth, jostled each other. She who, a few moments earlier, had sent
for her husband to prevent Melchior's appointment while there was
still time, was now seized with a spirit of generosity that amounted
almost to the sublime.
"Poor fellow!" she thought; "he has not had one faithless thought; he
loves me as he did on the first day; he tells me all--Philoxene!" she
cried, noticing her maid, who was standing near and pretending to
arrange the toilet-table.
"Madame la duchesse?"
"A mirror, child!"
Eleonore looked at herself, saw the fine razor-like lines traced on
her brow, which disappeared at a little distance; she sighed, and in
that sigh she felt she bade adieu to love. A brave thought came into
her mind, a manly thought, outside of all the pettiness of women,--a
thought which intoxicates for a moment, and which explains, perhaps,
the clemency of the Semiramis of Russia when she married her young and
beautiful rival to Momonoff.
"Since he has not been faithless, he shall have the girl and her
millions," she thought,--"provided Mademoiselle Mignon is as ugly as
he says she is."
Three raps, circumspectly given, announced the duke, and his wife went
herself to the door to let him in.
"Ah! I see you are better, my dear," he cried, with the counterfeit
joy that courtiers assume so readily, and by which fools are so
readily taken in.
"My dear Henri," she answered, "why is it you have not yet obtained
that appointment for Melchior,--you who sacrificed so much to the king
in taking a ministry which you knew could only last one year."
The duke glanced at Philoxene, who showed him by an almost
imperceptible sign the letter from Havre on the dressing-table.
"You would be terribly bored at Baden and come back at daggers drawn
with Melchior," said the duke.
"Why, you would always be together," said the former diplomat, with
"Oh, no," she said; "I am going to marry him."
"If we can believe d'Herouville, our dear Canalis stands in no need of
your help in that direction," said the duke, smiling. "Yesterday
Grandlieu read me some passages from a letter the grand equerry had
written him. No doubt they were dictated by the aunt for the express
purpose of their reaching you, for Mademoiselle d'Herouville, always
on the scent of a 'dot,' knows that Grandlieu and I play whist nearly
every evening. That good little d'Herouville wants the Prince de
Cadignan to go down and give a royal hunt in Normandy, and endeavor to
persuade the king to be present, so as to turn the head of the damozel
when she sees herself the object of such a grand affair. In short, two
words from Charles X. would settle the matter. D'Herouville says the
girl has incomparable beauty--"
"Henri, let us go to Havre!" cried the duchess, interrupting him.
"Under what pretext?" said her husband, gravely; he was one of the
confidants of Louis XVIII.
"I never saw a hunt."
"It would be all very well if the king went; but it is a terrible bore
to go so far, and he will not do it; I have just been speaking with
him about it."
"Perhaps MADAME would go?"
"That would be better," returned the duke, "I dare say the Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse would help you to persuade her from Rosny. If she goes
the king will not be displeased at the use of his hunting equipage.
Don't go to Havre, my dear," added the duke, paternally, "that would
be giving yourself away. Come, here's a better plan, I think.
Gaspard's chateau of Rosembray is on the other side of the forest of
Brotonne; why not give him a hint to invite the whole party?"
"He invite them?" said Eleonore.
"I mean, of course, the duchess; she is always engaged in pious works
with Mademoiselle d'Herouville; give that old maid a hint, and get her
to speak to Gaspard."
"You are a love of a man," cried Eleonore; "I'll write to the old maid
and to Diane at once, for we must get hunting things made,--a riding
hat is so becoming. Did you win last night at the English embassy?"
"Yes," said the duke; "I cleared myself."
"Henri, above all things, stop proceedings about Melchior's two
After writing half a dozen lines to the beautiful Diane de
Maufrigneuse, and a short hint to Mademoiselle d'Herouville, Eleonore
sent the following answer like the lash of a whip through the poet's
To Monsieur le Baron de Canalis:--
My dear poet,--Mademoiselle de La Bastie is very beautiful;
Mongenod has proved to me that her father has millions. I did
think of marrying you to her; I am therefore much displeased at
your want of confidence. If you had any intention of marrying La
Briere when you went to Havre it is surprising that you said
nothing to me about it before you started. And why have you
omitted writing to a friend who is so easily made anxious as I?
Your letter arrived a trifle late; I had already seen the banker.
You are a child, Melchior, and you are playing tricks with us. It
is not right. The duke himself is quite indignant at your
proceedings; he thinks you less than a gentleman, which casts some
reflections on your mother's honor.
Now, I intend to see things for myself. I shall, I believe, have
the honor of accompanying MADAME to the hunt which the Duc
d'Herouville proposes to give for Mademoiselle de La Bastie. I
will manage to have you invited to Rosembray, for the meet will
probably take place in Duc de Verneuil's park.
Pray believe, my dear poet, that I am none the less, for life,
Your friend, Eleonore de M.
"There, Ernest, just look at that!" cried Canalis, tossing the letter
at Ernest's nose across the breakfast-table; "that's the two
thousandth love-letter I have had from that woman, and there isn't
even a 'thou' in it. The illustrious Eleonore has never compromised
herself more than she does there. Marry, and try your luck! The worst
marriage in the world is better than this sort of halter. Ah, I am the
greatest Nicodemus that ever tumbled out of the moon! Modeste has
millions, and I've lost her; for we can't get back from the poles,
where we are to-day, to the tropics, where we were three days ago!
Well, I am all the more anxious for your triumph over the grand
equerry, because I told the duchess I came here only for your sake;
and so I shall do my best for you."
"Alas, Melchior, Modeste must needs have so noble, so grand, so well-
balanced a nature to resist the glories of the Court, and all these
splendors cleverly displayed for her honor and glory by the duke, that
I cannot believe in the existence of such perfection,--and yet, if she
is still the Modeste of her letters, there might be hope!"
"Well, well, you are a happy fellow, you young Boniface, to see the
world and your mistress through green spectacles!" cried Canalis,
marching off to pace up and down the garden.
Caught between two lies, the poet was at a loss what to do.
"Play by rule, and you lose!" he cried presently, sitting down in the
kiosk. "Every man of sense would have acted as I did four days ago,
and got himself out of the net in which I saw myself. At such times
people don't disentangle nets, they break through them! Come, let us
be calm, cold, dignified, affronted. Honor requires it; English
stiffness is the only way to win her back. After all, if I have to
retire finally, I can always fall back on my old happiness; a fidelity
of ten years can't go unrewarded. Eleonore will arrange me some good
The hunt was destined to be not only a meet of the hounds, but a
meeting of all the passions excited by the colonel's millions and
Modeste's beauty; and while it was in prospect there was truce between
the adversaries. During the days required for the arrangement of this
forestrial solemnity, the salon of the villa Mignon presented the
tranquil picture of a united family. Canalis, cut short in his role of
injured love by Modeste's quick perceptions, wished to appear
courteous; he laid aside his pretensions, gave no further specimens of
his oratory, and became, what all men of intellect can be when they
renounce affectation, perfectly charming. He talked finances with
Gobenheim, and war with the colonel, Germany with Madame Mignon, and
housekeeping with Madame Latournelle,--endeavoring to bias them all in
favor of La Briere. The Duc d'Herouville left the field to his rivals,
for he was obliged to go to Rosembray to consult with the Duc de
Verneuil, and see that the orders of the Royal Huntsman, the Prince de
Cadignan, were carried out. And yet the comic element was not
altogether wanting. Modeste found herself between the depreciatory
hints of Canalis as to the gallantry of the grand equerry, and the
exaggerations of the two Mesdemoiselles d'Herouville, who passed every
evening at the villa. Canalis made Modeste take notice that, instead
of being the heroine of the hunt, she would be scarcely noticed.
MADAME would be attended by the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, daughter-in-
law of the Prince de Cadignan, by the Duchesse de Chaulieu, and other
great ladies of the Court, among whom she could produce no sensation;
no doubt the officers in garrison at Rouen would be invited, etc.
Helene, on the other hand, was incessantly telling her new friend,
whom she already looked upon as a sister-in-law, that she was to be
presented to MADAME; undoubtedly the Duc de Verneuil would invite her
father and herself to stay at Rosembray; if the colonel wished to
obtain a favor of the king,--a peerage, for instance,--the opportunity
was unique, for there was hope of the king himself being present on
the third day; she would be delighted with the charming welcome with
which the beauties of the Court, the Duchesses de Chaulieu, de
Maufrigneuse, de Lenoncourt-Chaulieu, and other ladies, were prepared
to meet her. It was in fact an excessively amusing little warfare,
with its marches and countermarches and stratagems,--all of which were
keenly enjoyed by the Dumays, the Latournelles, Gobenheim, and
Butscha, who, in conclave assembled, said horrible things of these
noble personages, cruelly noting and intelligently studying all their
The promises on the d'Herouville side were, however, confirmed by the
arrival of an invitation, couched in flattering terms, from the Duc de
Verneuil and the Master of the Hunt to Monsieur le Comte de La Bastie
and his daughter, to stay at Rosembray and be present at a grand hunt
on the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth, of November following.
La Briere, full of dark presentiments, craved the presence of Modeste
with an eagerness whose bitter joys are known only to lovers who feel
that they are parted, and parted fatally from those they love. Flashes
of joy came to him intermingled with melancholy meditations on the one
theme, "I have lost her," and made him all the more interesting to
those who watched him, because his face and his whole person were in
keeping with his profound feeling. There is nothing more poetic than a
living elegy, animated by a pair of eyes, walking about, and sighing
The Duc d'Herouville arrived at last to arrange for Modeste's
departure; after crossing the Seine she was to be conveyed in the
duke's caleche, accompanied by the Demoiselles d'Herouville. The duke
was charmingly courteous, he begged Canalis and La Briere to be of the
party, assuring them, as he did the colonel, that he had taken
particular care that hunters should be provided for them. The colonel
invited the three lovers to breakfast on the morning of the start.
Canalis then began to put into execution a plan that he had been
maturing in his own mind for the last few days; namely, to quietly
reconquer Modeste, and throw over the duchess, La Briere, and the
duke. A graduate of diplomacy could hardly remain stuck in the
position in which he found himself. On the other hand La Briere had
come to the resolution of bidding Modeste an eternal farewell. Each
suitor was therefore on the watch to slip in a last word, like the
defendant's counsel to the court before judgment is pronounced; for
all felt that the three weeks' struggle was approaching its
conclusion. After dinner on the evening before the start was to be
made, the colonel had taken his daughter by the arm and made her feel
the necessity of deciding.
"Our position with the d'Herouville family will be quite intolerable
at Rosembray," he said to her. "Do you mean to be a duchess?"
"No, father," she answered.
"Then do you love Canalis?"
"No, papa, a thousand times no!" she exclaimed with the impatience of
The colonel looked at her with a sort of joy.
"Ah, I have not influenced you," cried the true father, "and I will
now confess that I chose my son-in-law in Paris when, having made him
believe that I had but little fortune, he grasped my hand and told me
I took a weight from his mind--"
"Who is it you mean?" asked Modeste, coloring.
"THE MAN OF FIXED PRINCIPLES AND SOUND MORALITIES," said her father,
slyly, repeating the words which had dissolved poor Modeste's dream on
the day after his return.
"I was not even thinking of him, papa. Please leave me at liberty to
refuse the duke myself; I understand him, and I know how to soothe
"Then your choice is not made?"
"Not yet; there is another syllable or two in the charade of my
destiny still to be guessed; but after I have had a glimpse of court
life at Rosembray I will tell you my secret."
"Ah! Monsieur de La Briere," cried the colonel, as the young man
approached them along the garden path in which they were walking, "I
hope you are going to this hunt?"
"No, colonel," answered Ernest. "I have come to take leave of you and
of mademoiselle; I return to Paris--"
"You have no curiosity," said Modeste, interrupting, and looking at
"A wish--that I cannot expect--would suffice to keep me," he replied.
"If that is all, you must stay to please me; I wish it," said the
colonel, going forward to meet Canalis, and leaving his daughter and
La Briere together for a moment.
"Mademoiselle," said the young man, raising his eyes to hers with the
boldness of a man without hope, "I have an entreaty to make to you."
"Let me carry away with me your forgiveness. My life can never be
happy; it must be full of remorse for having lost my happiness--no
doubt by my own fault; but, at least,--"
"Before we part forever," said Modeste, interrupting a la Canalis, and
speaking in a voice of some emotion, "I wish to ask you one thing; and
though you once disguised yourself, I think you cannot be so base as
to deceive me now."
The taunt made him turn pale, and he cried out, "Oh, you are
"Will you be frank?"
"You have the right to ask me that degrading question," he said, in a
voice weakened by the violent palpitation of his heart.
"Well, then, did you read my letters to Monsieur de Canalis?"
"No, mademoiselle; and I allowed your father to read them it was to
justify my love by showing him how it was born, and how sincere my
efforts were to cure you of your fancy."
"But how came the idea of that unworthy masquerade ever to arise?" she
said, with a sort of impatience.
La Briere related truthfully the scene in the poet's study which
Modeste's first letter had occasioned, and the sort of challenge that
resulted from his expressing a favorable opinion of a young girl thus
led toward a poet's fame, as a plant seeks its share of the sun.
"You have said enough," said Modeste, restraining some emotion. "If
you have not my heart, monsieur, you have at least my esteem."
These simple words gave the young man a violent shock; feeling himself
stagger, he leaned against a tree, like a man deprived for a moment of
reason. Modest, who had left him, turned her head and came hastily
"What is the matter?" she asked, taking his hand to prevent him from
"Forgive me--I thought you despised me."
"But," she answered, with a distant and disdainful manner, "I did not
say that I loved you."
And she left him again. But this time, in spite of her harshness, La
Briere thought he walked on air; the earth softened under his feet,
the trees bore flowers; the skies were rosy, the air cerulean, as they
are in the temples of Hymen in those fairy pantomimes which finish
happily. In such situations every woman is a Janus, and sees behind
her without turning round; and thus Modeste perceived on the face of
her lover the indubitable symptoms of a love like Butscha's,--surely
the "ne plus ultra" of a woman's hope. Moreover, the great value which
La Briere attached to her opinion filled Modeste with an emotion that
was inestimably sweet.
"Mademoiselle," said Canalis, leaving the colonel and waylaying
Modeste, "in spite of the little value you attach to my sentiments, my
honor is concerned in effacing a stain under which I have suffered too
long. Here is a letter which I received from the Duchesse de Chaulieu
five days after my arrival in Havre."
He let Modeste read the first lines of the letter we have seen, which
the duchess began by saying that she had seen Mongenod, and now wished
to marry her poet to Modeste; then he tore that passage from the body
of the letter, and placed the fragment in her hand.
"I cannot let you read the rest," he said, putting the paper in his
pocket; "but I confide these few lines to your discretion, so that you
may verify the writing. A young girl who could accuse me of ignoble
sentiments is quite capable of suspecting some collusion, some
trickery. Ah, Modeste," he said, with tears in his voice, "your poet,
the poet of Madame de Chaulieu, has no less poetry in his heart than
in his mind. You are about to see the duchess; suspend your judgment
of me till then."
He left Modeste half bewildered.
"Oh, dear!" she said to herself; "it seems they are all angels--and
not marriageable; the duke is the only one that belongs to humanity."
"Mademoiselle Modeste," said Butscha, appearing with a parcel under
his arm, "this hunt makes me very uneasy. I dreamed your horse ran
away with you, and I have been to Rouen to see if I could get a
Spanish bit which, they tell me, a horse can't take between his teeth.
I entreat you to use it. I have shown it to the colonel, and he has
thanked me more than there is any occasion for."
"Poor, dear Butscha!" cried Modeste, moved to tears by this maternal
Butscha went skipping off like a man who has just heard of the death
of a rich uncle.
"My dear father," said Modeste, returning to the salon; "I should like
to have that beautiful whip,--suppose you were to ask Monsieur de La
Briere to exchange it for your picture by Van Ostade."
Modeste looked furtively at Ernest, while the colonel made him this
proposition, standing before the picture which was the sole thing he
possessed in memory of his campaigns, having bought it of a burgher at
Rabiston; and she said to herself as La Briere left the room
precipitately, "He will be at the hunt."
A curious thing happened. Modeste's three lovers each and all went to
Rosembray with their hearts full of hope, and captivated by her many
Rosembray,--an estate lately purchased by the Duc de Verneuil, with
the money which fell to him as his share of the thousand millions
voted as indemnity for the sale of the lands of the emigres,--is
remarkable for its chateau, whose magnificence compares only with that
of Mesniere or of Balleroy. This imposing and noble edifice is
approached by a wide avenue of four rows of venerable elms, from which
the visitor enters an immense rising court-yard, like that at
Versailles, with magnificent iron railings and two lodges, and adorned
with rows of large orange-trees in their tubs. Facing this court-yard,
the chateau presents, between two fronts of the main building which
retreat on either side of this projection, a double row of nineteen
tall windows, with carved arches and diamond panes, divided from each
other by a series of fluted pilasters surmounted by an entablature
which hides an Italian roof, from which rise several stone chimneys
masked by carved trophies of arms. Rosembray was built, under Louis
XIV., by a "fermier-general" named Cottin. The facade toward the park
differs from that on the court-yard by having a narrower projection in
the centre, with columns between five windows, above which rises a
magnificent pediment. The family of Marigny, to whom the estates of
this Cottin were brought in marriage by Mademoiselle Cottin, her
father's sole heiress, ordered a sunrise to be carved on this pediment
by Coysevox. Beneath it are two angels unwinding a scroll, on which is
cut this motto in honor of the Grand Monarch, "Sol nobis benignus."
From the portico, reached by two grand circular and balustraded
flights of steps, the view extends over an immense fish-pond, as long
and wide as the grand canal at Versailles, beginning at the foot of a
grass-plot which compares well with the finest English lawns, and
bordered with beds and baskets now filled with the brilliant flowers
of autumn. On either side of the piece of water two gardens, laid out
in the French style, display their squares and long straight paths,
like brilliant pages written in the ciphers of Lenotre. These gardens
are backed to their whole length by a border of nearly thirty acres of
woodland. From the terrace the view is bounded by a forest belonging
to Rosembray and contiguous to two other forests, one of which belongs
to the Crown, the other to the State. It would be difficult to find a
A GIRL'S REVENGE
Modeste's arrival at Rosembray made a certain sensation in the avenue
when the carriage with the liveries of France came in sight,
accompanied by the grand equerry, the colonel, Canalis, and La Briere
on horseback, preceded by an outrider in full dress, and followed by
six servants,--among whom were the Negroes and the mulatto,--and the
britzka of the colonel for the two waiting-women and the luggage. The
carriage was drawn by four horses, ridden by postilions dressed with
an elegance specially commanded by the grand equerry, who was often
better served than the king himself. As Modeste, dazzled by the
magnificence of the great lords, entered and beheld this lesser
Versailles, she suddenly remembered her approaching interview with the
celebrated duchesses, and began to fear that she might seem awkward,
or provincial, or parvenue; in fact, she lost her self-possession, and
heartily repented having wished for a hunt.
Fortunately, however, as the carriage drew up, Modeste saw an old man,
in a blond wig frizzed into little curls, whose calm, plump, smooth
face wore a fatherly smile and an expression of monastic cheerfulness
which the half-veiled glance of the eye rendered almost noble. This
was the Duc de Verneuil, master of Rosembray. The duchess, a woman of
extreme piety, the only daughter of a rich and deceased chief-justice,
spare and erect, and the mother of four children, resembled Madame
Latournelle,--if the imagination can go so far as to adorn the
notary's wife with the graces of a bearing that was truly abbatial.
"Ah, good morning, dear Hortense!" said Mademoiselle d'Herouville,
kissing the duchess with the sympathy that united their haughty
natures; "let me present to you and to the dear duke our little angel,
Mademoiselle de La Bastie."
"We have heard so much of you, mademoiselle," said the duchess, "that
we were in haste to receive you."
"And regret the time lost," added the Duc de Verneuil, with courteous
"Monsieur le Comte de La Bastie," said the grand equerry, taking the
colonel by the arm and presenting him to the duke and duchess, with an
air of respect in his tone and gesture.
"I am glad to welcome you, Monsieur le comte!" said Monsieur de
Verneuil. "You possess more than one treasure," he added, looking at
The duchess took Modeste under her arm and led her into an immense
salon, where a dozen or more women were grouped about the fireplace.
The men of the party remained with the duke on the terrace, except
Canalis, who respectfully made his way to the superb Eleonore. The
Duchesse de Chaulieu, seated at an embroidery-frame, was showing
Mademoiselle de Verneuil how to shade a flower.
If Modeste had run a needle through her finger when handling a pin-
cushion she could not have felt a sharper prick than she received from
the cold and haughty and contemptuous stare with which Madame de
Chaulieu favored her. For an instant she saw nothing but that one
woman, and she saw through her. To understand the depths of cruelty to
which these charming creatures, whom our passions deify, can go, we
must see women with each other. Modeste would have disarmed almost any
other than Eleonore by the perfectly stupid and involuntary admiration
which her face betrayed. Had she not known the duchess's age she would
have thought her a woman of thirty-six; but other and greater
astonishments awaited her.
The poet had run plump against a great lady's anger. Such anger is the
worst of sphinxes; the face is radiant, all the rest menacing. Kings
themselves cannot make the exquisite politeness of a mistress's cold
anger capitulate when she guards it with steel armor. Canalis tried to
cling to the steel, but his fingers slipped on the polished surface,
like his words on the heart; and the gracious face, the gracious
words, the gracious bearing of the duchess hid the steel of her wrath,
now fallen to twenty-five below zero, from all observers. The
appearance of Modeste in her sublime beauty, and dressed as well as
Diane de Maufrigneuse herself, had fired the train of gunpowder which
reflection had been laying in Eleonore's mind.
All the women had gone to the windows to see the new wonder get out of
the royal carriage, attended by her three suitors.
"Do not let us seem so curious," Madame de Chaulieu had said, cut to
the heart by Diane's exclamation,--"She is divine! where in the world
does she come from?"--and with that the bevy flew back to their seats,
resuming their composure, though Eleonore's heart was full of hungry
vipers all clamorous for a meal.
Mademoiselle d'Herouville said in a low voice and with much meaning to
the Duchesse de Verneuil, "Eleonore receives her Melchior very
"The Duchesse de Maufrigneuse thinks there is a coolness between
them," said Laure de Verneuil, with simplicity.
Charming phrase! so often used in the world of society,--how the north
wind blows through it.
"Why so?" asked Modeste of the pretty young girl who had lately left
"The great poet," said the pious duchess--making a sign to her
daughter to be silent--"left Madame de Chaulieu without a letter for
more than two weeks after he went to Havre, having told her that he
went there for his health--"
Modeste made a hasty movement, which caught the attention of Laure,
Helene, and Mademoiselle d'Herouville.
"--and during that time," continued the devout duchess, "she was
endeavoring to have him appointed commander of the Legion of honor,
and minister at Baden."
"Oh, that was shameful in Canalis; he owes everything to her,"
exclaimed Mademoiselle d'Herouville.
"Why did not Madame de Chaulieu come to Havre?" asked Modeste of
"My dear," said the Duchesse de Verneuil, "she would let herself be
cut in little pieces without saying a word. Look at her,--she is
regal; her head would smile, like Mary Stuart's, after it was cut off;
in fact, she has some of that blood in her veins."
"Did she not write to him?" asked Modeste.
"Diane tells me," answered the duchess, prompted by a nudge from
Mademoiselle d'Herouville, "that in answer to Canalis's first letter
she made a cutting reply a few days ago."
This explanation made Modeste blush with shame for the man before her;
she longed, not to crush him under her feet, but to revenge herself by
one of those malicious acts that are sharper than a dagger's thrust.
She looked haughtily at the Duchesse de Chaulieu--
"Monsieur Melchior!" she said.
All the women snuffed the air and looked alternately at the duchess,
who was talking in an undertone to Canalis over the embroidery-frame,
and then at the young girl so ill brought up as to disturb a lovers'
meeting,--a think not permissible in any society. Diane de
Maufrigneuse nodded, however, as much as to say, "The child is in the
right of it." All the women ended by smiling at each other; they were
enraged with a woman who was fifty-six years old and still handsome
enough to put her fingers into the treasury and steal the dues of
youth. Melchior looked at Modeste with feverish impatience, and made
the gesture of a master to a valet, while the duchess lowered her head
with the movement of a lioness disturbed at a meal; her eyes, fastened
on the canvas, emitted red flames in the direction of the poet, which
stabbed like epigrams, for each word revealed to her a triple insult.
"Monsieur Melchior!" said Modeste again in a voice that asserted its
right to be heard.
"What, mademoiselle?" demanded the poet.
Forced to rise, he remained standing half-way between the embroidery
frame, which was near a window, and the fireplace where Modeste was
seated with the Duchesse de Verneuil on a sofa. What bitter
reflections came into his ambitious mind, as he caught a glance from
Eleonore. If he obeyed Modeste all was over, and forever, between
himself and his protectress. Not to obey her was to avow his slavery,
to lose the chances of his twenty-five days of base manoeuvring, and
to disregard the plainest laws of decency and civility. The greater
the folly, the more imperatively the duchess exacted it. Modeste's
beauty and money thus pitted against Eleonore's rights and influence
made this hesitation between the man and his honor as terrible to
witness as the peril of a matador in the arena. A man seldom feels
such palpitations as those which now came near causing Canalis an
aneurism, except, perhaps, before the green table, where his fortune
or his ruin is about to be decided.
"Mademoiselle d'Herouville hurried me from the carriage, and I left
behind me," said Modeste to Canalis, "my handkerchief--"
Canalis shrugged his shoulders significantly.
"And," continued Modeste, taking no notice of his gesture, "I had tied
into one corner of it the key of a desk which contains the fragment of
an important letter; have the kindness, Monsieur Melchior, to get it
Between an angel and a tiger equally enraged Canalis, who had turned
livid, no longer hesitated,--the tiger seemed to him the least
dangerous of the two; and he was about to do as he was told, and
commit himself irretrievably, when La Briere appeared at the door of
the salon, seeming to his anguished mind like the archangel Gabriel
tumbling from heaven.
"Ernest, here, Mademoiselle de La Bastie wants you," said the poet,
hastily returning to his chair by the embroidery frame.
Ernest rushed to Modeste without bowing to any one; he saw only her,
took his commission with undisguised joy, and darted from the room,
with the secret approbation of every woman present.
"What an occupation for a poet!" said Modeste to Helene d'Herouville,
glancing toward the embroidery at which the duchess was now working
"If you speak to her, if you ever look at her, all is over between
us," said the duchess to the poet in a low voice, not at all satisfied
with the very doubtful termination which Ernest's arrival had put to
the scene; "and remember, if I am not present, I leave behind me eyes
that will watch you."
So saying, the duchess, a woman of medium height, but a little too
stout, like all women over fifty who retain their beauty, rose and
walked toward the group which surrounded Diane de Maufrigneuse,
stepping daintily on little feet that were as slender and nervous as a
deer's. Beneath her plumpness could be seen the exquisite delicacy of
such women, which comes from the vigor of their nervous systems
controlling and vitalizing the development of flesh. There is no other
way to explain the lightness of her step, and the incomparable
nobility of her bearing. None but the women whose quarterings begin
with Noah know, as Eleonore did, how to be majestic in spite of a
buxom tendency. A philosopher might have pitied Philoxene, while
admiring the graceful lines of the bust and the minute care bestowed
upon a morning dress, which was worn with the elegance of a queen and
the easy grace of a young girl. Her abundant hair, still undyed, was
simply wound about her head in plaits; she bared her snowy throat and
shoulders, exquisitely modelled, and her celebrated hand and arm, with
pardonable pride. Modeste, together with all other antagonists of the
duchess, recognized in her a woman of whom they were forced to say,
"She eclipses us." In fact, Eleonore was one of the "grandes dames"
now so rare. To endeavor to explain what august quality there was in
the carriage of the head, what refinement and delicacy in the curve of
the throat, what harmony in her movements, and nobility in her
bearing, what grandeur in the perfect accord of details with the whole
being, and in the arts, now a second nature, which render a woman
grand and even sacred,--to explain all these things would simply be to
attempt to analyze the sublime. People enjoy such poetry as they enjoy
that of Paganini; they do not explain to themselves the medium, they
know the cause is in the spirit that remains invisible.
Madame de Chaulieu bowed her head in salutation of Helene and her
aunt; then, saying to Diane, in a pure and equable tone of voice,
without a trace of emotion, "Is it not time to dress, duchess?" she
made her exit, accompanied by her daughter-in-law and Mademoiselle
d'Herouville. As she left the room she spoke in an undertone to the
old maid, who pressed her arm, saying, "You are charming,"--which
meant, "I am all gratitude for the service you have just done us."
After that, Mademoiselle d'Herouville returned to the salon to play
her part of spy, and her first glance apprised Canalis that the
duchess had made him no empty threat. That apprentice in diplomacy
became aware that his science was not sufficient for a struggle of
this kind, and his wit served him to take a more honest position, if
not a worthier one. When Ernest returned, bringing Modeste's
handkerchief, the poet seized his arm and took him out on the terrace.
"My dear friend," he said, "I am not only the most unfortunate man in
the world, but I am also the most ridiculous; and I come to you to get
me out of the hornet's nest into which I have run myself. Modeste is a
demon; she sees my difficulty and she laughs at it; she has just
spoken to me of a fragment of a letter of Madame de Chaulieu, which I
had the folly to give her; if she shows it I can never make my peace
with Eleonore. Therefore, will you at once ask Modeste to send me back
that paper, and tell her, from me, that I make no pretensions to her
hand. Say I count upon her delicacy, upon her propriety as a young
girl, to behave to me as if we had never known each other. I beg her
not to speak to me; I implore her to treat me harshly,--though I
hardly dare ask her to feign a jealous anger, which would help my
interests amazingly. Go, I will wait here for an answer."
MODESTE BEHAVES WITH DIGNITY
On re-entering the salon Ernest de La Briere found a young officer of
the company of the guard d'Havre, the Vicomte de Serizy, who had just
arrived from Rosny to announce that MADAME was obliged to be present
at the opening of the Chambers. We know the importance then attached
to this constitutional solemnity, at which Charles X. delivered his
speech, surrounded by the royal family,--Madame la Dauphine and MADAME
being present in their gallery. The choice of the emissary charged
with the duty of expressing the princess's regrets was an attention to
Diane, who was then an object of adoration to this charming young man,
son of a minister of state, gentleman in ordinary of the chamber, only
son and heir to an immense fortune. The Duchesse de Maufrigneuse
permitted his attentions solely for the purpose of attracting notice
to the age of his mother, Madame de Serizy, who was said, in those
chronicles that are whispered behind the fans, to have deprived her of
the heart of the handsome Lucien de Rubempre.
"You will do us the pleasure, I hope, to remain at Rosembray," said
the severe duchess to the young officer.
While giving ear to every scandal, the devout lady shut her eyes to
the derelictions of her guests who had been carefully selected by the
duke; indeed, it is surprising how much these excellent women will
tolerate under pretence of bringing the lost sheep back to the fold by
"We reckoned without our constitutional government," said the grand
equerry; "and Rosembray, Madame la duchesse, will lose a great honor."
"We shall be more at our ease," said a tall thin old man, about
seventy-five years of age, dressed in blue cloth, and wearing his
hunting-cap by permission of the ladies. This personage, who closely
resembled the Duc de Bourbon, was no less than the Prince de Cadignan,
Master of the Hunt, and one of the last of the great French lords.
Just as La Briere was endeavoring to slip behind the sofa and obtain a
moment's intercourse with Modeste, a man of thirty-eight, short, fat,
and very common in appearance, entered the room.
"My son, the Prince de Loudon," said the Duchesse de Verneuil to
Modeste, who could not restrain the expression of amazement that
overspread her young face on seeing the man who bore the historical
name that the hero of La Vendee had rendered famous by his bravery and
the martyrdom of his death.
"Gaspard," said the duchess, calling her son to her. The young prince
came at once, and his mother continued, motioning to Modeste,
"Mademoiselle de La Bastie, my friend."
The heir presumptive, whose marriage with Desplein's only daughter had
lately been arranged, bowed to the young girl without seeming struck,
as his father had been, with her beauty. Modeste was thus enabled to
compare the youth of to-day with the old age of a past epoch; for the
old Prince de Cadignan had already said a few words which made her
feel that he rendered as true a homage to womanhood as to royalty. The
Duc de Rhetore, the eldest son of the Duchesse de Chaulieu, chiefly
remarkable for manners that were equally impertinent and free and
easy, bowed to Modeste rather cavalierly. The reason of this contrast
between the fathers and the sons is to be found, probably, in the fact
that young men no longer feel themselves great beings, as their
forefathers did, and they dispense with the duties of greatness,
knowing well that they are now but the shadow of it. The fathers
retain the inherent politeness of their vanished grandeur, like the
mountain-tops still gilded by the sun when all is twilight in the
Ernest was at last able to slip a word into Modeste's ear, and she
"My dear," said the duchesse, thinking she was going to dress, and
pulling a bell-rope, "they shall show you your apartment."
Ernest accompanied Modeste to the foot of the grand staircase,
presenting the request of the luckless poet, and endeavoring to touch
her feelings by describing Melchior's agony.
"You see, he loves--he is a captive who thought he could break his
"Love in such a rapid seeker after fortune!" retorted Modeste.
"Mademoiselle, you are at the entrance of life; you do not know its
defiles. The inconsistencies of a man who falls under the dominion of
a woman much older than himself should be forgiven, for he is really
not accountable. Think how many sacrifices Canalis has made to her. He
has sown too much seed of that kind to resign the harvest; the duchess
represents to him ten years of devotion and happiness. You made him
forget all that, and unfortunately, he has more vanity than pride; he
did not reflect on what he was losing until he met Madame Chaulieu
here to-day. If you really understood him, you would help him. He is a
child, always mismanaging his life. You call him a seeker after
fortune, but he seeks very badly; like all poets, he is a victim of
sensations; he is childish, easily dazzled like a child by anything
that shines, and pursuing its glitter. He used to love horses and
pictures, and he craved fame,--well, he sold his pictures to buy armor
and old furniture of the Renaissance and Louis XV.; just now he is
seeking political power. Admit that his hobbies are noble things."
"You have said enough," replied Modeste; "come," she added, seeing her
father, whom she called with a motion of her head to give her his arm;
"come with me, and I will give you that scrap of paper; you shall
carry it to the great man and assure him of my condescension to his
wishes, but on one condition,--you must thank him in my name for the
pleasure I have taken in seeing one of the finest of the German plays
performed in my honor. I have learned that Goethe's masterpiece is
neither Faust nor Egmont--" and then, as Ernest looked at the
malicious girl with a puzzled air, she added: "It is Torquato Tasso!
Tell Monsieur de Canalis to re-read it," she added smiling; "I
particularly desire that you will repeat to your friend word for word
what I say; for it is not an epigram, it is the justification of his
conduct,--with this trifling difference, that he will, I trust, become
more and more reasonable, thanks to the folly of his Eleonore."
The duchess's head-woman conducted Modeste and her father to their
apartment, where Francoise Cochet had already put everything in order,
and the choice elegance of which astounded the colonel, more
especially after he heard from Francoise that there were thirty other
apartments in the chateau decorated with the same taste.
"This is what I call a proper country-house," said Modeste.
"The Comte de La Bastie must build you one like it," replied her
"Here, monsieur," said Modeste, giving the bit of paper to Ernest;
"carry it to our friend and put him out of his misery."
The word OUR friend struck the young man's heart. He looked at Modeste
to see if there was anything real in the community of interests which
she seemed to admit, and she, understanding perfectly what his look
meant, added, "Come, go at once, your friend is waiting."
La Briere colored excessively, and left the room in a state of doubt
and anxiety less endurable than despair. The path that approaches
happiness is, to the true lover, like the narrow way which Catholic
poetry has called the entrance to Paradise,--expressing thus a dark
and gloomy passage, echoing with the last cries of earthly anguish.
An hour later this illustrious company were all assembled in the
salon; some were playing whist, others conversing; the women had their
embroideries in hand, and all were waiting the announcement of dinner.
The Prince de Cadignan was drawing Monsieur Mignon out upon China, and
his campaigns under the empire, and making him talk about the
Portendueres, the L'Estorades, and the Maucombes, Provencal families;
he blamed him for not seeking service, and assured him that nothing
would be easier than to restore him to his rank as colonel of the
"A man of your birth and your fortune ought not to belong to the
present Opposition," said the prince, smiling.
This society of distinguished persons not only pleased Modeste, but it
enabled her to acquire, during her stay, a perfection of manners which
without this revelation she would have lacked all her life. Show a
clock to an embryo mechanic, and you reveal to him the whole
mechanism; he thus develops the germs of his faculty which lie dormant
within him. In like manner Modeste had the instinct to appropriate the
distinctive qualities of Madame de Maufrigneuse and Madame de
Chaulieu. For her, the sight of these women was an education; whereas
a bourgeois would merely have ridiculed their ways or made them absurd
by clumsy imitation. A well-born, well-educated, and right-minded
young woman like Modeste fell naturally into connection with these
people, and saw at once the differences that separate the aristocratic
world from the bourgeois world, the provinces from the faubourg Saint-
Germain; she caught the almost imperceptible shadings; in short, she
perceived the grace of the "grande dame" without doubting that she
could herself acquire it. She noticed also that her father and La
Briere appeared infinitely better in this Olympus than Canalis. The
great poet, abdicating his real and incontestable power, that of the
mind, became nothing more than a courtier seeking a ministry,
intriguing for an order, and forced to please the whole galaxy. Ernest
de La Briere, without ambitions, was able to be himself; while
Melchior became, to use a vulgar expression, a mere toady, and courted
the Prince de Loudon, the Duc de Rhetore, the Vicomte de Serizy, or
the Duc de Maufrigneuse, like a man not free to assert himself, as did
Colonel Mignon, who was justly proud of his campaigns, and of the
confidence of the Emperor Napoleon. Modeste took note of the strained
efforts of the man of real talent, seeking some witticism that should
raise a laugh, some clever speech, some compliment with which to
flatter these grand personages, whom it was his interest to please. In
a word, to Modeste's eyes the peacock plucked out his tail-feathers.
Toward the middle of the evening the young girl sat down with the
grand equerry in a corner of the salon. She led him there purposely to
end a suit which she could no longer encourage if she wished to retain
"Monsieur le duc, if you really knew me," she said, "you would
understand how deeply I am touched by your attentions. It is because
of the profound respect I feel for your character, and the friendship
which a soul like yours inspires in mine, that I cannot endure to
wound your self-love. Before your arrival in Havre I loved sincerely,
deeply, and forever, one who is worthy of being loved, and my
affection for whom is still a secret; but I wish you to know--and in
saying this I am more sincere than most young girls--that had I not
already formed this voluntary attachment, you would have been my
choice, for I recognize your noble and beautiful qualities. A few
words which your aunt and sister have said to me as to your intentions
lead me to make this frank avowal. If you think it desirable, a letter
from my mother shall recall me, on pretence of her illness, to-morrow
morning before the hunt begins. Without your consent I do not choose
to be present at a fete which I owe to your kindness, and where, if my
secret should escape me, you might feel hurt and defrauded. You will
ask me why I have come here at all. I could not withstand the
invitation. Be generous enough not to reproach me for what was almost
a necessary curiosity. But this is not the chief, not the most
delicate thing I have to say to you. You have firm friends in my
father and myself,--more so than perhaps you realize; and as my
fortune was the first cause that brought you to me, I wish to say--but
without intending to use it as a sedative to calm the grief which
gallantry requires you to testify--that my father has thought over the
affair of the marshes, his friend Dumay thinks your project feasible,
and they have already taken steps to form a company. Gobenheim, Dumay,
and my father have subscribed fifteen hundred thousand francs, and
undertake to get the rest from capitalists, who will feel it in their
interest to take up the matter. If I have not the honor of becoming
the Duchesse d'Herouville, I have almost the certainty of enabling you
to choose her, free from all trammels in your choice, and in a higher
sphere than mine. Oh! let me finish," she cried, at a gesture from the
"Judging by my nephew's emotion," whispered Mademoiselle d'Herouville
to her niece, "it is easy to see you have a sister."
"Monsieur le duc, all this was settled in my mind the day of our first
ride, when I heard you deplore your situation. This is what I have
wished to say to you. That day determined my future life. Though you
did not make the conquest of a woman, you have at least gained
faithful friends at Ingouville--if you will deign to accord us that
This little discourse, which Modeste had carefully thought over, was
said with so much charm of soul that the tears came to the grand
equerry's eyes; he seized her hand and kissed it.
"Stay during the hunt," he said; "my want of merit has accustomed me
to these refusals; but while accepting your friendship and that of the
colonel, you must let me satisfy myself by the judgment of competent
scientific men, that the draining of those marshes will be no risk to
the company you speak of, before I agree to the generous offer of your
friends. You are a noble girl, and though my heart aches to think I
can only be your friend, I will glory in that title, and prove it to
you at all times and in all seasons."
"In that case, Monsieur le duc, let us keep our secret. My choice will
not be known, at least I think not, until after my mother's complete
recovery. I should like our first blessing to come from her eyes."
"Ladies," said the Prince de Cadignan, as the guests were about to
separate for the night, "I know that several of you propose to follow
the hounds with us to-morrow, and it becomes my duty to tell you that
if you will be Dianas you must rise, like Diana, with the dawn. The
meet is for half-past eight o'clock. I have in the course of my life
seen many women display greater courage than men, but for a few
seconds only; and you will need a strong dose of resolution to keep
you on horseback the whole day, barring a halt for breakfast, which we
shall take, like true hunters and huntresses, on the nail. Are you
still determined to show yourselves trained horse-women?"
"Prince, it is necessary for me to do so," said Modeste, adroitly.
"I answer for myself," said the Duchesse de Chaulieu.
"And I for my daughter Diane; she is worthy of her name," added the
prince. "So, then, you all persist in your intentions? However, I
shall arrange, for the sake of Madame and Mademoiselle de Verneuil and
others of the party who stay at home, to drive the stag to the further
end of the pond."
"Make yourself quite easy, mesdames," said the Prince de Loudon, when
the Royal Huntsman had left the room; "that breakfast 'on the nail'
will take place under a comfortable tent."
The next day, at dawn, all signs gave promise of a glorious day. The
skies, veiled by a slight gray vapor, showed spaces of purest blue,
and would surely be swept clear before mid-day by the northwest wind,
which was already playing with the fleecy cloudlets. As the hunting
party left the chateau, the Master of the Hunt, the Duc de Rhetore,
and the Prince de Loudon, who had no ladies to escort, rode in the
advance, noticing the white masses of the chateau, with its rising
chimneys relieved against the brilliant red-brown foliage which the
trees in Normandy put on at the close of a fine autumn.
"The ladies are fortunate in their weather," remarked the Duc de
"Oh, in spite of all their boasting," replied the Prince de Cadignan,
"I think they will let us hunt without them!"
"So they might, if each had not a squire," said the duke.
At this moment the attention of these determined huntsmen--for the
Prince de Loudon and the Duc de Rhetore are of the race of Nimrod, and
the best shots of the faubourg Saint-Germain--was attracted by a loud
altercation; and they spurred their horses to an open space at the
entrance to the forest of Rosembray, famous for its mossy turf, which
was appointed for the meet. The cause of the quarrel was soon
apparent. The Prince de Loudon, afflicted with anglomania, had brought
out his own hunting establishment, which was exclusively Britannic,
and placed it under orders of the Master of the Hunt. Now, one of his
men, a little Englishman,--fair, pale, insolent, and phlegmatic,
scarcely able to speak a word of French, and dressed with a neatness
which distinguishes all Britons, even those of the lower classes,--had
posted himself on one side of this open space. John Barry wore a short
frock-coat, buttoned tightly at the waist, made of scarlet cloth, with
buttons bearing the De Verneuil arms, white leather breeches, top-
boots, a striped waistcoat, and a collar and cape of black velvet. He
held in his hand a small hunting-whip, and hanging to his wrist by a
silken cord was a brass horn. This man, the first whipper-in, was
accompanied by two thorough-bred dogs,--fox-hounds, white, with liver
spots, long in the leg, fine in the muzzle, with slender heads, and
little ears at their crests. The huntsman--famous in the English
county from which the Prince de Loudon had obtained him at great cost
--was in charge of an establishment of fifteen horses and sixty
English hounds, which cost the Duc de Verneuil, who was nothing of a
huntsman, but chose to indulge his son in this essentially royal
taste, an enormous sum of money to keep up.
Now, when John arrived on the ground, he found himself forestalled by
three other whippers-in, in charge of two of the royal packs of hounds
which had been brought there in carts. They were the three best
huntsmen of the Prince de Cadignan, and presented, both in character
and in their distinctively French costume, a marked contrast to the
representative of insolent Albion. These favorites of the Prince, each
wearing full-brimmed, three-cornered hats, very flat and very wide-
spreading, beneath which grinned their swarthy, tanned, and wrinkled
faces, lighted by three pairs of twinkling eyes, were noticeably lean,
sinewy, and vigorous, like men in whom sport had become a passion. All
three were supplied with immense horns of Dampierre, wound with green
worsted cords, leaving only the brass tubes visible; but they
controlled their dogs by the eye and voice. Those noble animals were
far more faithful and submissive subjects than the human lieges whom
the king was at that moment addressing; all were marked with white,
black, or liver spots, each having as distinctive a countenance as the
soldiers of Napoleon, their eyes flashing like diamonds at the
slightest noise. One of them, brought from Poitou, was short in the
back, deep in the shoulder, low-jointed, and lop-eared; the other,
from England, white, fine as a greyhound with no belly, small ears,
and built for running. Both were young, impatient, and yelping
eagerly, while the old hounds, on the contrary, covered with scars,
lay quietly with their heads on their forepaws, and their ears to the
earth like savages.
As the Englishman came up, the royal dogs and huntsmen looked at each
other as though they said, "If we cannot hunt by ourselves his
Majesty's service is insulted."
Beginning with jests, the quarrel presently grew fiercer between
Monsieur Jacquin La Roulie, the old French whipper-in, and John Barry,
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