Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 3
string, though I would like to kiss your dear hands and lay the
money in them. Ah, dear Pierrette, it is a long time now that the
blue sky has been overcast for me. I have not had two hours'
happiness since I put you into that diligence of evil. And when I
saw you the other morning, looking like a shadow, I could not
reach you; that hag of a cousin came between us. But at least we
can have the consolation of praying to God together every Sunday
in church; perhaps he will hear us all the more when we pray
Not good-by, my dear, Pierrette, but /to-night/.
This letter so affected Pierrette that she sat for more than an hour
reading and re-reading and gazing at it. Then she remembered with
anguish that she had nothing to write with. She summoned courage to
make the difficult journey from her garret to the dining-room, where
she obtained pen, paper, and ink, and returned safely without waking
her terrible cousin. A few minutes before midnight she had finished
the following letter:--
My Friend,--Oh! yes, my friend; for there is no one but you,
Jacques, and my grandmother to love me. God forgive me, but you
are the only two persons whom I love, both alike, neither more nor
less. I was too little to know my dear mamma; but you, Jacques,
and my grandmother, and my grandfather,--God grant him heaven, for
he suffered much from his ruin, which was mine,--but you two who
are left, I love you both, unhappy as I am. Indeed, to know how
much I love you, you will have to know how much I suffer; but I
don't wish that, it would grieve you too much. /They/ speak to me
as we would not speak to a dog; /they/ treat me like the worst of
girls; and yet I do examine myself before God, and I cannot find
that I do wrong by them. Before you sang to me the marriage song I
saw the mercy of God in my sufferings; for I had prayed to him to
take me from the world, and I felt so ill I said to myself, "God
hears me!" But, Jacques, now you are here, I want to live and go
back to Brittany, to my grandmamma who loves me, though /they/ say
she stole eight thousand francs of mine. Jacques, is that so? If
they are mine could you get them! But it is not true, for if my
grandmother had eight thousand francs she would not live at Saint-
I don't want to trouble her last days, my kind, good grandmamma,
with the knowledge of my troubles; she might die of it. Ah! if she
knew they made her grandchild scrub the pots and pans,--she who
used to say to me, when I wanted to help her after her troubles,
"Don't touch that, my darling; leave it--leave it--you will spoil
your pretty fingers." Ah! my hands are never clean now. Sometimes
I can hardly carry the basket home from market, it cuts my arm.
Still I don't think my cousins mean to be cruel; but it is their
way always to scold, and it seems that I have no right to leave
them. My cousin Rogron is my guardian. One day when I wanted to
run away because I could not bear it, and told them so, my cousin
Sylvie said the gendarmes would go after me, for the law was my
master. Oh! I know now that cousins cannot take the place of
father or mother, any more than the saints can take the place of
My poor Jacques, what do you suppose I could do with your money?
Keep it for our journey. Oh! how I think of you and Pen-Hoel, and
the big pong,--that's where we had our only happy days. I shall
have no more, for I feel I am going from bad to worse. I am very
ill, Jacques. I have dreadful pains in my head, and in my bones,
and back, which kill me, and I have no appetite except for horrid
things,--roots and leaves and such things. Sometimes I cry, when I
am all alone, for they won't let me do anything I like if they
know it, not even cry. I have to hide to offer my tears to Him to
whom we owe the mercies which we call afflictions. It must have
been He who gave you the blessed thought to come and sing the
marriage song beneath my window. Ah! Jacques, my cousin heard you,
and she said I had a lover. If you wish to be my lover, love me
well. I promise to love you always, as I did in the past, and to
Your faithful servant,
You will love me always, won't you?
She had brought a crust of bread from the kitchen, in which she now
made a hole for the letter, and fastened it like a weight to her
string. At midnight, having opened her window with extreme caution,
she lowered the letter with the crust, which made no noise against
either the wall of the house or the blinds. Presently she felt the
string pulled by Brigaut, who broke it and then crept softly away.
When he reached the middle of the square she could see him
indistinctly by the starlight; but he saw her quite clearly in the
zone of light thrown by the candle. The two children stood thus for
over an hour, Pierrette making him signs to go, he starting, she
remaining, he coming back to his post, and Pierrette again signing
that he must leave her. This was repeated till the child closed her
window, went to bed, and blew out the candle. Once in bed she fell
asleep, happy in heart though suffering in body,--she had Brigaut's
letter under her pillow. She slept as the persecuted sleep,--a slumber
bright with angels; that slumber full of heavenly arabesques, in
atmospheres of gold and lapis-lazuli, perceived and given to us by
The moral nature had such empire over that frail physical nature that
on the morrow Pierrette rose light and joyous as a lark, as radiant
and as gay. Such a change could not escape the vigilant eye of her
cousin Sylvie, who, this time, instead of scolding her, set about
watching her with the scrutiny of a magpie. "What reason is there for
such happiness?" was a thought of jealousy, not of tyranny. If the
colonel had not been in Sylvie's mind she would have said to Pierrette
as formerly, "Pierrette, you are very noise, and very regardless of
what you have often been told." But now the old maid resolved to spy
upon her as only old maids can spy. The day was still and gloomy, like
the weather that precedes a storm.
"You don't appear to be ill now, mademoiselle," said Sylvie at dinner.
"Didn't I tell you she put it all on to annoy us?" she cried,
addressing her brother, and not waiting for Pierrette's answer.
"On the contrary, cousin, I have a sort of fever--"
"Fever! what fever? You are as gay as a lark. Perhaps you have seen
some one again?"
Pierrette trembled and dropped her eyes on her plate.
"Tartufe!" cried Sylvie; "and only fourteen years old! what a nature!
Do you mean to come to a bad end?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Pierrette, raising her sweet and
luminous brown eyes to her cousin.
"This evening," said Sylvie, "you are to stay in the dining-room with
a candle, and do your sewing. You are not wanted in the salon; I
sha'n't have you looking into my hand to help your favorites."
Pierrette made no sign.
"Artful creature!" cried Sylvie, leaving the room.
Rogron, who did not understand his sister's anger, said to Pierrette:
"What is all this about? Try to please your cousin, Pierrette; she is
very indulgent to you, very gentle, and if you put her out of temper
the fault is certainly yours. Why do you squabble so? For my part I
like to live in peace. Look at Mademoiselle Bathilde and take pattern
Pierrette felt able to bear everything. Brigaut would come at midnight
and bring her an answer, and that hope was the viaticum of her day.
But she was using up her last strength. She did not go to bed, and
stood waiting for the hour to strike. At last midnight sounded; softly
she opened the window; this time she used a string made by tying bits
of twine together. She heard Brigaut's step, and on drawing up the
cord she found the following letter, which filled her with joy:--
My dear Pierrette,--As you are so ill you must not tire yourself
by waiting for me. You will hear me if I cry like an owl. Happily
my father taught me to imitate their note. So when you hear the
cry three times you will know I am there, and then you must let
down the cord. But I shall not come again for some days. I hope
then to bring you good news.
Oh! Pierrette, don't talk of dying! Pierrette, don't think such
things! All my heart shook, I felt as though I were dead myself at
the mere idea. No, my Pierrette, you must not die; you will live
happy, and soon you shall be delivered from your persecutors. If I
do not succeed in what I am undertaking for your rescue, I shall
appeal to the law, and I shall speak out before heaven and earth
and tell how your wicked relations are treating you. I am certain
that you have not many more days to suffer; have patience, my
Pierrette! Jacques is watching over you as in the old days when we
slid on the pond and I pulled you out of the hole in which we were
nearly drowned together.
Adieu, my dear Pierrette; in a few days, if God wills, we shall be
happy. Alas, I dare not tell you the only thing that may hinder
our meeting. But God loves us! In a few days I shall see my dear
Pierrette at liberty, without troubles, without any one to hinder
my looking at you--for, ah! Pierrette, I hunger to see you--
Pierrette, Pierrette, who deigns to love me and to tell me so.
Yes, Pierrette, I will be your lover when I have earned the
fortune you deserve; till then I will be to you only a devoted
servant whose life is yours to do what you please with it. Adieu.
Here is a letter of which the major's son said nothing to Pierrette.
He wrote it to Madame Lorrain at Nantes:--
Madame Lorrain,--Your granddaughter will die, worn-out with ill-
treatment, if you do not come to fetch her. I could scarcely
recognize her; and to show you the state of things I enclose a
letter I have received from Pierrette. You are thought here to
have taken the money of your granddaughter, and you ought to
justify yourself. If you can, come at once. We may still be happy;
but if delay Pierrette will be dead.
I am, with respect, your devoted servant,
At Monsieur Frappier's, Cabinet-maker, Grand'Rue, Provins.
Brigaut's fear was that the grandmother was dead.
Though this letter of the youth whom in her innocence she called her
lover was almost enigmatical to Pierrette, she believed in it with all
her virgin faith. Her heart was filled with that sensation which
travellers in the desert feel when they see from afar the palm-trees
round a well. In a few days her misery would end--Jacques said so. She
relied on this promise of her childhood's friend; and yet, as she laid
the letter beside the other, a dreadful thought came to her in
"Poor Jacques," she said to herself, "he does not know the hole into
which I have now fallen!"
Sylvie had heard Pierrette, and she had also heard Brigaut under her
window. She jumped out of bed and rushed to the window to look through
the blinds into the square and there she saw, in the moonlight, a man
hurrying in the direction of the colonel's house, in front of which
Brigaut happened to stop. The old maid gently opened her door, went
upstairs, was amazed to find a light in Pierrette's room, looked
through the keyhole, and could see nothing.
"Pierrette," she said, "are you ill?"
"No, cousin," said Pierrette, surprised.
"Why is your candle burning at this time of night? Open the door; I
must know what this means."
Pierrette went to the door bare-footed, and as soon as Sylvie entered
the room she saw the cord, which Pierrette had forgotten to put away,
not dreaming of a surprise. Sylvie jumped upon it.
"What is that for?" she asked.
"Nothing!" she cried. "Always lying; you'll never get to heaven that
way. Go to bed; you'll take cold."
She asked no more questions and went away, leaving Pierrette terrified
by her unusual clemency. Instead of exploding with rage, Sylvie had
suddenly determined to surprise Pierrette and the colonel together, to
seize their letters and confound the two lovers who were deceiving
her. Pierrette, inspired by a sense of danger, sewed the letters into
her corset and covered them with calico.
Here end the loves of Pierrette and Brigaut.
Pierrette rejoiced in the thought that Jacques had determined to hold
no communication with her for some days, because her cousin's
suspicions would be quieted by finding nothing to feed them. Sylvie
did in fact spend the next three nights on her legs, and each evening
in watching the innocent colonel, without discovering either in him or
in Pierrette, or in the house or out of it, anything that betrayed
their understanding. She sent Pierrette to confession, and seized that
moment to search the child's room, with the method and penetration of
a spy or a custom-house officer. She found nothing. Her fury reached
the apogee of human sentiments. If Pierrette had been there she would
certainly have struck her remorselessly. To a woman of her temper,
jealousy was less a sentiment than an occupation; she existed in it,
it made her heart beat, she felt emotions hitherto completely unknown
to her; the slightest sound or movement kept her on the qui vive; she
watched Pierrette with gloomy intentness.
"That miserable little wretch will kill me," she said.
Sylvie's severity to her cousin reached the point of refined cruelty,
and made the deplorable condition of the poor girl worse daily. She
had fever regularly, and the pains in her head became intolerable. By
the end of the week even the visitors at the house noticed her
suffering face, which would have touched to pity all selfishness less
cruel than theirs. It happened that Doctor Neraud, possibly by Vinet's
advice, did not come to the house during that week. The colonel,
knowing himself suspected by Sylvie, was afraid to risk his marriage
by showing any solicitude for Pierrette. Bathilde explained the
visible change in the girl by her natural growth. But at last, one
Sunday evening, when Pierrette was in the salon, her sufferings
overcame her and she fainted away. The colonel, who first saw her
going, caught her in his arms and carried her to a sofa.
"She did it on purpose," said Sylvie, looking at Mademoiselle Habert
and the rest who were playing boston with her.
"I assure you that your cousin is very ill," said the colonel.
"She seemed well enough in your arms," Sylvie said to him in a low
voice, with a savage smile.
"The colonel is right," said Madame de Chargeboeuf. "You ought to send
for a doctor. This morning at church every one was speaking, as they
came out, of Mademoiselle Lorrain's appearance."
"I am dying," said Pierrette.
Desfondrilles called to Sylvie and told her to unfasten her cousin's
gown. Sylvie went up to the girl, saying, "It is only a tantrum."
She unfastened the gown and was about to touch the corset, when
Pierrette, roused by the danger, sat up with superhuman strength,
exclaiming, "No, no, I will go to bed."
Sylvie had, however, touched the corset and felt the papers. She let
Pierrette go, saying to the company:
"What do you think now of her illness? I tell you it is all a
pretence. You have no idea of the perversity of that child."
After the card-playing was over she kept Vinet from following the
other guests; she was furious and wanted vengeance, and was grossly
rude to the colonel when he bade her good-night. Gouraud threw a look
at the lawyer which threatened him to the depths of his being and
seemed to put a ball in his entrails. Sylvie told Vinet to remain.
When they were alone, she said,--
"Never in my life, never in my born days, will I marry the colonel."
"Now that you have come to that decision I may speak," said the
lawyer. "The colonel is my friend, but I am more yours than his.
Rogron has done me services which I can never forget. I am as strong a
friend as I am an enemy. Once in the Chamber I shall rise to power,
and I will make your brother a receiver-general. Now swear to me,
before I say more, that you will never repeat what I tell you."
(Sylvie made an affirmative sign.) "In the first place, the brave
colonel is a gambler--"
"Ah!" exclaimed Sylvie.
"If it had not been for the embarrassments this vice has brought upon
him, he might have been a marshal of France," continued Vinet. "He is
capable of running through your property; but he is very astute; you
cannot be sure of not having children, and you told me yourself the
risks you feared. No, if you want to marry, wait till I am in the
Chamber and then take that old Desfondrilles, who shall be made chief
justice. If you want revenge on the colonel make your brother marry
Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf,--I can get her consent; she has two
thousand francs a year, and you will be connected with the de
Chargeboeufs as I am. Recollect what I tell you, the Chargeboeufs will
be glad to claim us for cousins some day."
"Gouraud loves Pierrette," was Sylvie's only answer.
"He is quite capable of it," said Vinet, "and capable of marrying her
after your death."
"A fine calculation!" she said.
"I tell you that man has the shrewdness of the devil. Marry your
brother and announce that you mean to remain unmarried and will leave
your property to your nephews and nieces. That will strike a blow at
Gouraud and Pierrette both! and you'll see the faces they'll make."
"Ah! that's true," cried the old maid, "I can serve them both right.
She shall go to a shop, and get nothing from me. She hasn't a sou; let
her do as we did,--work."
Vinet departed, having put his plan into Sylvie's head, her dogged
obstinacy being well-known to him. The old maid, he was certain, would
think the scheme her own, and carry it out.
The lawyer found the colonel in the square, smoking a cigar while he
waited for him.
"Halt!" said Gouraud; "you have pulled me down, but stones enough came
with me to bury you--"
"Colonel or not, I shall give you your deserts. In the first place,
you shall not be deputy--"
"I control ten votes and the election depends on--"
"Colonel, listen to me. Is there no one to marry but that old Sylvie?
I have just been defending you to her; you are accused and convicted
of writing to Pierrette; she saw you leave your house at midnight and
come to the girl's window--"
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"She means to marry her brother to Bathilde and leave her fortune to
"Rogron won't have any."
"Yes he will," replied Vinet. "But I promise to find you some young
and agreeable woman with a hundred and fifty thousand francs? Don't be
a fool; how can you and I afford to quarrel? Things have gone against
you in spite of all my care; but you don't understand me."
"Then we must understand each other," said the colonel. "Get me a wife
with a hundred and fifty thousand francs before the elections; if not
--look out for yourself! I don't like unpleasant bed-fellows, and
you've pulled the blankets all over to your side. Good-evening."
"You shall see," said Vinet, grasping the colonel's hand
About one o'clock that night three clear, sharp cries of an owl,
wonderfully well imitated, echoed through the square. Pierrette heard
them in her feverish sleep; she jumped up, moist with perspiration,
opened her window, saw Brigaut, and flung down a ball of silk, to
which he fastened a letter. Sylvie, agitated by the events of the day
and her own indecision of mind, was not asleep; she heard the owl.
"Ah, bird of ill-omen!" she thought. "Why, Pierrette is getting up!
What is she after?"
Hearing the attic window open softly, Sylvie rushed to her own window
and heard the rustle of paper against her blinds. She fastened the
strings of her bed-gown and went quickly upstairs to Pierrette's room,
where she found the poor girl unwinding the silk and freeing the
"Ha! I've caught you!" cried the old woman, rushing to the window,
from which she saw Jacques running at full speed. "Give me that
"No, cousin," said Pierrette, who, by one of those strong inspirations
of youth sustained by her own soul, rose to a grandeur of resistance
such as we admire in the history of certain peoples reduced to
"Ha! you will not?" cried Sylvie, advancing upon the girl with a face
full of hatred and fury.
Pierrette fell back to get time to put her letter in her hand, which
she clenched with unnatural force. Seeing this manoeuvre Sylvie
grasped the delicate white hand of the girl in her lobster claws and
tried to open it. It was a frightful struggle, an infamous struggle;
it was more than a physical struggle; it assailed the mind, the sole
treasure of the human being, the thought, which God has placed beyond
all earthly power and guards as the secret way between the sufferer
and Himself. The two women, one dying, the other in the vigor of
health, looked at each other fixedly. Pierrette's eyes darted on her
executioner the look the famous Templar on the rack cast upon Philippe
le Bel, who could not bear it and fled thunderstricken. Sylvie, a
woman and a jealous woman, answered that magnetic look with malignant
flashes. A dreadful silence reigned. The clenched hand of the Breton
girl resisted her cousin's efforts like a block of steel. Sylvie
twisted Pierrette's arm, she tried to force the fingers open; unable
to do so she stuck her nails into the flesh. At last, in her madness,
she set her teeth into the wrist, trying to conquer the girl by pain.
Pierrette defied her still, with that same terrible glance of
innocence. The anger of the old maid grew to such a pitch that it
became blind fury. She seized Pierrette's arm and struck the closed
fist upon the window-sill, and then upon the marble of the
mantelpiece, as we crack a nut to get the kernel.
"Help! help!" cried Pierrette, "they are murdering me!"
"Ha! you may well scream, when I catch you with a lover in the dead of
And she beat the hand pitilessly.
"Help! help!" cried Pierrette, the blood flowing.
At that instant, loud knocks were heard at the front door. Exhausted,
the two women paused a moment.
Rogron, awakened and uneasy, not knowing what was happening, had got
up, gone to his sister's room, and not finding her was frightened.
Hearing the knocks he went down, unfastened the front door, and was
nearly knocked over by Brigaut, followed by a sort of phantom.
At this moment Sylvie's eyes chanced to fall on Pierrette's corset,
and she remembered the papers. Releasing the girl's wrist she sprang
upon the corset like a tiger on its prey, and showed it to Pierrette
with a smile,--the smile of an Iroquois over his victim before he
"I am dying," said Pierrette, falling on her knees, "oh, who will save
"I!" said a woman with white hair and an aged parchment face, in which
two gray eyes glittered.
"Ah! grandmother, you have come too late," cried the poor child,
bursting into tears.
Pierrette fell upon her bed, her strength all gone, half-dead with the
exhaustion which, in her feeble state, followed so violent a struggle.
The tall gray woman took her in her arms, as a nurse lifts a child,
and went out, followed by Brigaut, without a word to Sylvie, on whom
she cast one glance of majestic accusation.
The apparition of that august old woman, in her Breton costume,
shrouded in her coif (a sort of hooded mantle of black cloth),
accompanied by Brigaut, appalled Sylvie; she fancied she saw death.
She slowly went down the stairs, listened to the front door closing
behind them, and came face to face with her brother, who exclaimed:
"Then they haven't killed you?"
"Go to bed," said Sylvie. "To-morrow we will see what we must do."
She went back to her own bed, ripped open the corset, and read
Brigaut's two letters, which confounded her. She went to sleep in the
greatest perplexity,--not imagining the terrible results to which her
conduct was to lead.
The letters sent by Brigaut to old Madame Lorrain reached her in a
moment of ineffable joy, which the perusal of them troubled. The poor
old woman had grieved deeply in living without her Pierrette beside
her, but she had consoled her loneliness with the thought that the
sacrifice of herself was in the interests of her grandchild. She was
blessed with one of those ever-young hearts which are upheld and
invigorated by the idea of sacrifice. Her old husband, whose only joy
was his little granddaughter, had grieved for Pierrette; every day he
had seemed to look for her. It was an old man's grief,--on which such
old men live, of which they die.
Every one can now imagine the happiness which this poor old woman,
living in a sort of almshouse, felt when she learned of a generous
action, rare indeed but not impossible in France. The head of the
house of Collinet, whose failure in 1814 had caused the Lorrains a
loss of twenty-four thousand francs, had gone to America with his
children after his disasters. He had too high a courage to remain a
ruined man. After eleven years of untold effort crowned by success he
returned to Nantes to recover his position, leaving his eldest son in
charge of his transatlantic house. He found Madame Lorrain of Pen-Hoel
in the institution of Saint-Jacques, and was witness of the
resignation with which this most unfortunate of his creditors bore her
"God forgive you!" said the old woman, "since you give me on the
borders of my grave the means of securing the happiness of my dear
granddaughter; but alas! it will not clear the debts of my poor
Monsieur Collinet made over to the widow both the capital and the
accrued interest, amounting to about forty-two thousand francs. His
other creditors, prosperous, rich, and intelligent merchants, had
easily born their losses, whereas the misfortunes of the Lorrains
seemed so irremediable to old Monsieur Collinet that he promised the
widow to pay off her husband's debts, to the amount of forty thousand
francs more. When the Bourse of Nantes heard of this generous
reparation they wished to receive Collinet to their board before his
certificates were granted by the Royal court at Rennes; but the
merchant refused the honor, preferring to submit to the ordinary
Madame Lorrain had received the money only the day before the post
brought her Brigaut's letter, enclosing that of Pierrette. Her first
thought had been, as she signed the receipt: "Now I can live with my
Pierrette and marry her to that good Brigaut, who will make a fortune
with my money."
Therefore the moment she had read the fatal letters she made instant
preparations to start for Provins. She left Nantes that night by the
mail; for some one had explained to her its celerity. In Paris she
took the diligence for Troyes, which passes through Provins, and by
half-past eleven at night she reached Frappier's, where Brigaut,
shocked at her despairing looks, told her of Pierrette's state and
promised to bring the poor girl to her instantly. His words so
terrified the grandmother that she could not control her impatience
and followed him to the square. When Pierrette screamed, the horror of
that cry went to her heart as sharply as it did to Brigaut's. Together
they would have roused the neighborhood if Rogron, in his terror, had
not opened the door. The scream of the young girl at bay gave her
grandmother the sudden strength of anger with which she carried her
dear Pierrette in her arms to Frappier's house, where Madame Frappier
hastily arranged Brigaut's own room for the old woman and her
treasure. In that poor room, on a bed half-made, the sufferer was
deposited; and there she fainted away, holding her hand still
clenched, wounded, bleeding, with the nails deep bedded in the flesh.
Brigaut, Frappier, his wife, and the old woman stood looking at
Pierrette in silence, all four of them in a state of indescribable
"Why is her hand bloody?" said the grandmother at last.
Pierrette, overcome by the sleep which follows all abnormal displays
of strength, and dimly conscious that she was safe from violence,
gradually unbent her fingers. Brigaut's letter fell from them like an
"They tried to take my letter from her," said Brigaut, falling on his
knees and picking up the lines in which he had told his little friend
to come instantly and softly away from the house. He kissed with pious
love the martyr's hand.
It was a sight that made those present tremble when they saw the old
gray woman, a sublime spectre, standing beside her grandchild's
pillow. Terror and vengeance wrote their fierce expressions in the
wrinkles that lined her skin of yellow ivory; her forehead, half
hidden by the straggling meshes of her gray hair, expressed a solemn
anger. She read, with a power of intuition given to the aged when near
their grave, Pierrette's whole life, on which her mind had dwelt
throughout her journey. She divined the illness of her darling, and
knew that she was threatened with death. Two big tears painfully rose
in her wan gray eyes, from which her troubles had worn both lashes and
eyebrows, two pearls of anguish, forming within them and giving them a
dreadful brightness; then each tear swelled and rolled down the
withered cheek, but did not wet it.
"They have killed her!" she said at last, clasping her hands.
She fell on her knees which struck sharp blows on the brick-laid
floor, making a vow no doubt to Saint Anne d'Auray, the most powerful
of the madonnas of Brittany.
"A doctor from Paris," she said to Brigaut. "Go and fetch one,
She took him by the shoulder and gave him a despotic push to send him
from the room.
"I was coming, my lad, when you wrote me; I am rich,--here, take
this," she cried, recalling him, and unfastening as she spoke the
strings that tied her short-gown. Then she drew a paper from her bosom
in which were forty-two bank-bills, saying, "Take what is necessary,
and bring back the greatest doctor in Paris."
"Keep those," said Frappier; "he can't change thousand franc notes
now. I have money, and the diligence will be passing presently; he can
certainly find a place on it. But before he goes we had better consult
Doctor Martener; he will tell us the best physician in Paris. The
diligence won't pass for over an hour,--we have time enough."
Brigaut woke up Monsieur Martener, and brought him at once. The doctor
was not a little surprised to find Mademoiselle Lorrain at Frappier's.
Brigaut told him of the scene that had just taken place at the
Rogrons'; but even so the doctor did not at first suspect the horror
of it, nor the extent of the injury done. Martener gave the address of
the celebrated Horace Bianchon, and Brigaut started for Paris by the
diligence. Monsieur Martener then sat down and examined first the
bruised and bloody hand which lay outside the bed.
"She could not have given these wounds herself," he said.
"No; the horrible woman to whom I had the misfortune to trust her was
murdering her," said the grandmother. "My poor Pierrette was screaming
'Help! help! I'm dying,'--enough to touch the heart of an
"But why was it?" said the doctor, feeling Pierrette's pulse. "She is
very ill," he added, examining her with a light. "She must have
suffered terribly; I don't understand why she has not been properly
"I shall complain to the authorities," said the grandmother. "Those
Rogrons asked me for my child in a letter, saying they had twelve
thousand francs a year and would take care of her; had they the right
to make her their servant and force her to do work for which she had
not the strength?"
"They did not choose to see the most visible of all maladies to which
young girls are liable. She needed the utmost care," cried Monsieur
Pierrette was awakened by the light which Madame Frappier was holding
near her face, and by the horrible sufferings in her head caused by
the reaction of her struggle.
"Ah! Monsieur Martener, I am very ill," she said in her pretty voice.
"Where is the pain, my little friend?" asked the doctor.
"Here," she said, touching her head above the left ear.
"There's an abscess," said the doctor, after feeling the head for a
long time and questioning Pierrette on her sufferings. "You must tell
us all, my child, so that we may know how to cure you. Why is your
hand like this? You could not have given yourself that wound."
Pierrette related the struggle between herself and her cousin Sylvie.
"Make her talk," said the doctor to the grandmother, "and find out the
whole truth. I will await the arrival of the doctor from Paris; and we
will send for the surgeon in charge of the hospital here, and have a
consultation. The case seems to me a very serious one. Meantime I will
send you a quieting draught so that mademoiselle may sleep; she needs
Left alone with her granddaughter the old Breton woman exerted her
influence over the child and made her tell all; she let her know that
she had money enough now for all three, and promised that Brigaut
should live with them. The poor girl admitted her martyrdom, not
imagining the events to which her admissions would give rise. The
monstrosity of two beings without affection and without conception of
family life opened to the old woman a world of woe as far from her
knowledge as the morals of savages may have seemed to the first
discoverers who set foot in America.
The arrival of her grandmother, the certainty of living with her in
comfort soothed Pierrette's mind as the sleeping draught soothed her
body. The old woman watched her darling, kissing her forehead, hair,
and hands, as the holy women of old kissed the hands of Jesus when
they laid him in the tomb.
THE FAMILY COUNCIL
At nine o'clock that morning Monsieur Martener went to see Monsieur
Tiphaine, and related to him the scene between Pierrette and Sylvie,
and the tortures of all kinds, moral and physical, to which the
Rogrons had subjected their cousin, and the two alarming forms of
illness which their cruelty had developed. Monsieur Tiphaine sent for
Auffray the notary, one of Pierrette's own relations on the maternal
At this particular time the war between the Vinet party and the
Tiphaine party was at its height. The scandals which the Rogrons and
their adherents were disseminating through the town about the liaison
of Madame Tiphaine's mother with the banker du Tillet, and the
bankruptcy of her father (a forger, they said), were all the more
exasperating to the Tiphaines because these things were malicious
truths, not libels. Such wounds cut deep; they go to the quick of
feelings and of interests. These speeches, repeated to the partisans
of the Tiphaines by the same mouths which told the Rogrons of the
sneers of "those women" of the Tiphaine clique, fed the hatreds of
both sides, now increased by the political element. The animosities
caused at this time in France by the spirit of party, the violences of
which were excessive, were everywhere mixed up, as in Provins, with
selfish schemes and wounded or vindictive individual interests. Each
party eagerly seized on whatever might injure the rival party.
Personal hatreds and self-love mingled as much as political animosity
in even the smallest matters, and were carried to hitherto unheard-of
lengths. A whole town would be roused to excitement over some private
struggle, until it took the character of a political debate.
Monsieur Tiphaine at once perceived in the case of Pierrette against
the Rogrons a means of humbling, mortifying, and dishonoring the
masters of that salon where plans against the monarchy were made and
an opposition journal born. The public prosecutor was called in; and
together with Monsieur Auffray the notary, Pierrette's relation, and
Monsieur Martener, a cautious consultation was held in the utmost
secrecy as to the proper course to follow. Monsieur Martener agreed to
advise Pierrette's grandmother to apply to the courts to have Auffray
appointed guardian to his young relation. The guardian could then
convene a "Family Council," and, backed by the testimony of three
doctors, demand the girl's release from the authority of the Rogrons.
The affair thus managed would have to go before the courts, and the
public prosecutor, Monsieur Lesourd, would see that it was taken to a
criminal court by demanding an inquiry.
Towards midday all Provins was roused by the strange news of what had
happened during the night at the Rogrons'. Pierrette's cries had been
faintly heard, though they were soon over. No one had risen to inquire
what they meant, but every one said the next day, "Did you hear those
screams about one in the morning?" Gossip and comments soon magnified
the horrible drama, and a crowd collected in front of Frappier's shop,
asking the worthy cabinet-maker for information, and hearing from him
how Pierrette was brought to his house with her fingers broken and the
Towards one in the afternoon the post-chaise of Doctor Bianchon, who
was accompanied by Brigaut, stopped before the house, and Madame
Frappier went at once to summon Monsieur Martener and the surgeon in
charge of the hospital. Thus the gossip of the town received
confirmation. The Rogrons were declared to have ill-used their cousin
deliberately, and to have come near killing her. Vinet heard the news
while attending to his business in the law courts; he left everything
and hurried to the Rogrons. Rogron and his sister had just finished
breakfast. Sylvie was reluctant to tell her brother of her
discomfiture of the night before; but he pressed her with questions,
to which she would make no answer than, "That's not your business."
She went and came from the kitchen to the dining-room on pretence of
preparing the breakfast, but chiefly to avoid discussion. She was
alone when Vinet entered.
"You know what's happened?" said the lawyer.
"No," said Sylvie.
"You will be arrested on a criminal charge," replied Vinet, "from the
way things are now going about Pierrette."
"A criminal charge!" cried Rogron, who had come into the room. "Why?
"First of all," said the lawyer, looking at Sylvie, "explain to me
without concealment and as if you stood before God, what happened in
this house last night--they talk of amputating Pierrette's hand."
Sylvie turned livid and shuddered.
"Then there is some truth in it?" said Vinet.
Mademoiselle Rogron related the scene, trying to excuse herself; but,
prodded with questions, she acknowledged the facts of the horrible
"If you have only injured her fingers you will be taken before the
police court for a misdemeanor; but if they cut off her hand you may
be tried at the Assizes for a worse offence. The Tiphaines will do
their best to get you there."
Sylvie, more dead than alive, confessed her jealousy, and, what was
harder to do, confessed also that her suspicions were unfounded.
"Heavens, what a case this will make!" cried the lawyer. "You and your
brother may be ruined by it; you will be abandoned by most people
whether you win or lose. If you lose, you will have to leave Provins."
"Oh, my dear Monsieur Vinet, you who are such a great lawyer," said
Rogron, terrified, "advise us! save us!"
The crafty Vinet worked the terror of the two imbeciles to its utmost,
declaring that Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf might be
unwilling to enter their house again. To be abandoned by women of
their rank would be a terrible condemnation. At length, after an hour
of adroit manoeuvring, it was agreed that Vinet must have some
powerful motive in taking the case, that would impress the minds of
all Provins and explain his efforts on behalf of the Rogrons. This
motive they determined should be Rogron's marriage to Mademoiselle de
Chargeboeuf; it should be announced that very day and the banns
published on Sunday. The contract could be drawn immediately.
Mademoiselle Rogron agreed, in consideration of the marriage, to
appear in the contract as settling her capital on her brother,
retaining only the income of it. Vinet made Rogron and his sister
comprehend the necessity of antedating the document by two or three
days, so as to commit the mother and daughter in the eyes of the
public and give them a reason for continuing their visits.
"Sign that contract and I'll take upon myself to get you safely out of
this affair," said the lawyer. "There will be a terrible fight; but I
will put my whole soul into it--you'll have to make me a votive
"Oh, yes, yes," said Rogron.
By half-past eleven the lawyer had plenary powers to draw the contract
and conduct the defence of the Rogrons. At twelve o'clock application
was made to Monsieur Tiphaine, as a judge sitting in chambers, against
Brigaut and the widow Lorrain for having abducted Pierrette Lorrain, a
minor, from the house of her legal guardian. In this way the bold
lawyer became the aggressor and made Rogron the injured party. He
spoke of the matter from this point of view in the court-house.
The judge postponed the hearing till four o'clock. Needless to
describe the excitement in the town. Monsieur Tiphaine knew that by
three o'clock the consultation of doctors would be over and their
report drawn up; he wished Auffray, as surrogate-guardian, to be at
the hearing armed with that report.
The announcement of Rogron's marriage and the sacrifices made to it by
Sylvie in the contract alienated two important supporters from the
brother and sister, namely,--Mademoiselle Habert and the colonel,
whose hopes were thus annihilated. They remained, however, ostensibly
on the Rogron side for the purpose of injuring it. Consequently, as
soon as Monsieur Martener mentioned the alarming condition of
Pierrette's head, Celeste and the colonel told of the blow she had
given herself during the evening when Sylvie had forced her to leave
the salon; and they related the old maid's barbarous and unfeeling
comments, with other statements proving her cruelty to her suffering
cousin. Vinet had foreseen this storm; but he had secured the entire
fortune of the Rogrons for Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf, and he
promised himself that in a few weeks she should be mistress of the
Rogron house, and reign with him over Provins, and even bring about a
fusion with the Breauteys and the aristocrats in the interests of his
From midday to four o'clock all the ladies of the Tiphaine clique sent
to inquire after Mademoiselle Lorrain. She, poor girl, was wholly
ignorant of the commotion she was causing in the little town. In the
midst of her sufferings she was ineffably happy in recovering her
grandmother and Brigaut, the two objects of her affection. Brigaut's
eyes were constantly full of tears. The old grandmother sat by the bed
and caressed her darling. To the three doctors she told every detail
she had obtained from Pierrette as to her life in the Rogron house.
Horace Bianchon expressed his indignation in vehement language.
Shocked at such barbarity he insisted on all the physicians in the
town being called in to see the case; the consequence was that Dr.
Neraud, the friend of the Rogrons, was present. The report was
unanimously signed. It is useless to give a text of it here. If
Moliere's medical terms were barbarous, those of modern science have
the advantage of being so clear that the explanation of Pierrette's
malady, though natural and unfortunately common, horrified all ears.
At four o'clock, after the usual rising of the court, president
Tiphaine again took his seat, when Madame Lorrain, accompanied by
Monsieur Auffray and Brigaut and a crowd of interested persons,
entered the court-room. Vinet was alone. This contrast struck the
minds of those present. The lawyer, who still wore his robe, turned
his cold face to the judge, settled his spectacles on his pallid green
eyes, and then in a shrill, persistent voice he stated that two
strangers had forced themselves at night into the Rogron domicile and
had abducted therefrom the minor Lorrain. The legal rights were with
the guardian, who now demanded the restoration of his ward.
Monsieur Auffray rose, as surrogate-guardian, and requested to be
"If the judge," he said, "will admit the report, which I hold in my
hand, signed by one of the most famous physicians in Paris, and by all
the physicians in Provins, he will understand not only that the demand
of the Sieur Rogron is senseless, but also that the grandmother of the
minor had grave cause to instantly remove her from her persecutors.
Here are the facts. The report of these physicians attribute the
almost dying condition of the said minor to the ill-treatment she has
received from the Sieur Rogron and his sister. We shall, as the law
directs, convoke a Family Council with the least possible delay, and
discuss the question as to whether or not the guardian should be
deposed. And we now ask that the minor be not returned to the domicile
of the said guardian but that she be confided to some member of her
family who shall be designated by the judge."
Vinet replied, declaring that the physicians' report ought to have
been submitted to him in order that he might have disproved it.
"Not submitted to your side," said the judge, severely, "but possibly
to the /procureur du roi/. The case is heard."
The judge then wrote at the bottom of the petition the following
"Whereas it appears, from a deliberate and unanimous report of all
the physicians of this town, together with Doctor Bianchon of the
medical faculty of Paris, that the minor Lorrain, claimed by
Jerome-Denis Rogron, her guardian, is extremely ill in consequence
of ill-treatment and personal assault in the house of the said
guardian and his sister:
"We, president of the court of Provins, passing upon the said
petition, order that until the Family Council is held the minor
Lorrain is not to be returned to the household of her said
guardian, but shall be kept in that of her surrogate-guardian.
"And further, considering the state in which the said minor now
is, and the traces of violence which, according to the report of
the physicians, are now upon her person, we commission the
attending physician and the surgeon in charge of the hospital of
Provins to visit her, and in case the injuries from the said
assault become alarming, the matter will be held to await the
action of the criminal courts; and this without prejudice to the
civil suit undertaken by Auffray the surrogate-guardian."
This severe judgment was read out by President Tiphaine in a loud and
"Why not send them to the galleys at once?" said Vinet. "And all this
fuss about a girl who was carrying on an intrigue with an apprentice
to a cabinet-maker! If the case goes on in this way," he cried,
insolently, "we shall demand other judges on the ground of legitimate
Vinet left the court-room, and went among the chief men of his party
to explain Rogron's position, declaring that he had never so much as
given a flip to his cousin, and that the judge had viewed him much
less as Pierrette's guardian than as a leading elector in Provins.
To hear Vinet, people might have supposed that the Tiphaines were
making a great fuss about nothing; the mounting was bringing forth a
mouse. Sylvie, an eminently virtuous and pious woman, had discovered
an intrigue between her brother's ward and a workman, a Breton named
Brigaut. The scoundrel knew very well that the girl would have her
grandmother's money, and he wished to seduce her (Vinet to talk of
that!). Mademoiselle Rogron, who had discovered letters proving the
depravity of the girl, was not as much to blame as the Tiphaines were
trying to make out. If she did use some violence to get possession of
those letters (which was no wonder, when we consider what Breton
obstinacy is), how could Rogron be considered responsible for all
The lawyer went on to make the matter a partisan affair, and to give
it a political color.
"They who listen to only one bell hear only one sound," said the wise
men. "Have you heard what Vinet says? Vinet explains things clearly."
Frappier's house being thought injurious to Pierrette, owing to the
noise in the street which increased the sufferings in her head, she
was taken to that of her surrogate guardian, the change being as
necessary medically as it was judicially. The removal was made with
the utmost caution, and was calculated to produce a great public
effect. Pierrette was laid on a mattress and carried on a stretcher by
two men; a Gray Sister walked beside her with a bottle of sal volatile
in her hand, while the grandmother, Brigaut, Madame Auffray, and her
maid followed. People were at their windows and doors to see the
procession pass. Certainly the state in which they saw Pierrette, pale
as death, gave immense advantage to the party against the Rogrons. The
Auffrays were determined to prove to the whole town that the judge was
right in the decision he had given. Pierrette and her grandmother were
installed on the second floor of Monsieur Auffray's house. The notary
and his wife gave her every care with the greatest hospitality, which
was not without a little ostentation in it. Pierrette had her
grandmother to nurse her; and Monsieur Martener and the head-surgeon
of the hospital attended her.
On the evening of this day exaggerations began on both sides. The
Rogron salon was crowded. Vinet had stirred up the whole Liberal party
on the subject. The Chargeboeuf ladies dined with the Rogrons, for the
contract was to be signed that evening. Vinet had had the banns posted
at the mayor's office in the afternoon. He made light of the Pierrette
affair. If the Provins court was prejudiced, the Royal courts would
appreciate the facts, he said, and the Auffrays would think twice
before they flung themselves into such a suit. The alliance of the
Rogrons with the Chargeboeufs was an immense consideration in the
minds of a certain class of people. To them it made the Rogrons as
white as snow and Pierrette an evilly disposed little girl, a serpent
warmed in their bosom.
In Madame Tiphaine's salon vengeance was had for all the mischievous
scandals that the Vinet party had disseminated for the past two years.
The Rogrons were monsters, and the guardian should undergo a criminal
trial. In the Lower town, Pierrette was quite well; in the Upper town
she was dying; at the Rogrons' she scratched her wrist; at Madame
Tiphaine's her fingers were fractured and one was to be cut off. The
next day the "Courrier de Provins," had a plausible article, extremely
well-written, a masterpiece of insinuations mixed with legal points,
which showed that there was no case whatever against Rogron. The "Bee-
hive," which did not appear till two days later, could not answer
without becoming defamatory; it replied, however, that in an affair
like this it was best to wait until the law took its course.
The Family Council was selected by the /juge de paix/ of the canton of
Provins, and consisted of Rogron and the two Messieurs Auffray, the
nearest relatives, and Monsieur Ciprey, nephew of Pierrette's maternal
grandmother. To these were joined Monsieur Habert, Pierrette's
confessor, and Colonel Gouraud, who had always professed himself a
comrade and friend of her father, Colonel Lorrain. The impartiality of
the judge in these selections was much applauded,--Monsieur Habert and
Colonel Gouraud being considered the firm friends of the Rogrons.
The serious situation in which Rogron found himself made him ask for
the assistance of a lawyer (and he named Vinet) at the Family Council.
By this manoeuvre, evidently advised by Vinet himself, Rogron
succeeded in postponing the meeting of the council till the end of
December. At that time Monsieur Tiphaine and his wife would be settled
in Paris for the opening of the Chambers; and the ministerial party
would be left without its head. Vinet had already worked upon
Desfondrilles, the deputy-judge, in case the matter should go, after
the hearing before the council, to the criminal courts.
Vinet spoke for three hours before the Family Council; he proved the
existence of an intrigue between Pierrette and Brigaut, which
justified all Mademoiselle Rogron's severity. He showed how natural it
was that the guardian should have left the management of his ward to a
woman; he dwelt on the fact that Rogron had not interfered with
Pierrette's education as planned by his sister Sylvie. But in spite of
Vinet's efforts the Council were unanimous in removing Rogron from the
guardianship. Monsieur Auffray was appointed in his place, and
Monsieur Ciprey was made surrogate. The Council summoned before it and
examined Adele, the servant-woman, who testified against her late
masters; also Mademoiselle Habert, who related the cruel remarks made
by Mademoiselle Rogron on the evening when Pierrette had given herself
a frightful blow, heard by all the company, and the speech of Madame
de Chargeboeuf about the girl's health. Brigaut produced the letter he
had received from Pierrette, which proved their innocence and stated
her ill-treatment. Proof was given that the condition of the minor was
the result of neglect on the part of the guardian, who was responsible
for all that concerned his ward. Pierrette's illness had been apparent
to every one, even to persons in the town who were strangers to the
family, yet the guardian had done nothing for her. The charge of ill-
treatment was therefore sustained against Rogron; and the case would
now go before the public.
Rogron, advised by Vinet, opposed the acceptance of the report of the
Council by the court. The authorities then intervened in consequence
of Pierrette's state, which was daily growing worse. The trial of the
case, though placed at once upon the docket, was postponed until the
month of March, 1828, to wait events.
VERDICTS--LEGAL AND OTHER
Meantime Rogron's marriage with Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf took
place. Sylvie moved to the second floor of the house, which she shared
with Madame de Chargeboeuf, for the first floor was entirely taken up
by the new wife. The beautiful Madame Rogron succeeded to the social
place of the beautiful Madame Tiphaine. The influence of the marriage
was immense. No one now came to visit Sylvie, but Madame Rogron's
salon was always full.
Sustained by the influence of his mother-in-law and the bankers du
Tillet and Nucingen, Monsieur Tiphaine was fortunate enough to do some
service to the administration; he became one of its chief orators, was
made judge in the civil courts, and obtained the appointment of his
nephew Lesourd to his own vacant place as president of the court of
Provins. This appointment greatly annoyed Desfondrilles. The Keeper of
the Seals sent down one of his own proteges to fill Lesourd's place.
The promotion of Monsieur Tiphaine and his translation to Paris were
therefore of no benefit at all to the Vinet party; but Vinet
nevertheless made a clever use of the result. He had always told the
Provins people that they were being used as a stepping-stone to raise
the crafty Madame Tiphaine into grandeur; Tiphaine himself had tricked
them; Madame Tiphaine despised both Provins and its people in her
heart, and would never return there again. Just at this crisis
Monsieur Tiphaine's father died; his son inherited a fine estate and
sold his house in Provins to Monsieur Julliard. The sale proved to the
minds of all how little the Tiphaines thought of Provins. Vinet was
right; Vinet had been a true prophet. These things had great influence
on the question of Pierrette's guardianship.
Thus the dreadful martyrdom brutally inflicted on the poor child by
two imbecile tyrants (which led, through its consequences, to the
terrible operation of trepanning, performed by Monsieur Martener under
the advice of Doctor Bianchon),--all this horrible drama reduced to
judicial form was left to float in the vile mess called in legal
parlance the calendar. The case was made to drag through the delays
and the interminable labyrinths of the law, by the shufflings of an
unprincipled lawyer; and during all this time the calumniated girl
languished in the agony of the worst pain known to science.
Monsieur Martener, together with the Auffray family, were soon charmed
by the beauty of Pierrette's nature and the character of her old
grandmother, whose feelings, ideas, and ways bore the stamp of Roman
antiquity,--this matron of the Marais was like a woman in Plutarch.
Doctor Martener struggled bravely with death, which already grasped
its prey. From the first, Bianchon and the hospital surgeon had
considered Pierrette doomed; and there now took place between the
doctor and the disease, the former relying on Pierrette's youth, one
of those struggles which physicians alone comprehend,--the reward of
which, in case of success, is never found in the venal pay nor in the
patients themselves, but in the gentle satisfaction of conscience, in
the invisible ideal palm gathered by true artists from the contentment
which fills their soul after accomplishing a noble work. The physician
strains towards good as an artist towards beauty, each impelled by
that grand sentiment which we call virtue. This daily contest wiped
out of Doctor Martener's mind the petty irritations of that other
contest of the Tiphaines and the Vinets,--as always happens to men
when they find themselves face to face with a great and real misery to
Monsieur Martener had begun his career in Paris; but the cruel
activity of the city and its insensibility to its masses of suffering
had shocked his gentle soul, fitted only for the quiet life of the
provinces. Moreover, he was under the yoke of his beautiful native
land. He returned to Provins, where he married and settled, and cared
almost lovingly for the people, who were to him like a large family.
During the whole of Pierrette's illness he was careful not to speak of
her. His reluctance to answer the questions of those who asked about
her was so evident that persons soon ceased to put them. Pierrette was
to him, what indeed she truly was, a poem, mysterious, profound, vast
in suffering, such as doctors find at times in their terrible
experience. He felt an admiration for this delicate young creature
which he would not share with any one.
This feeling of the physician for his patient was, however,
unconsciously communicated (like all true feelings) to Monsieur and
Madame Auffray, whose house became, so long as Pierrette was in it,
quiet and silent. The children, who had formerly played so joyously
with her, agreed among themselves with the loving grace of childhood
to be neither noisy nor troublesome. They made it a point of honor to
be good because Pierrette was ill. Monsieur Auffray's house was in the
Upper town, beneath the ruins of the Chateau, and it was built upon a
sort of terrace formed by the overthrow of the old ramparts. The
occupants could have a view of the valley from the little fruit-garden
enclosed by walls which overlooked the town. The roofs of the other
houses came to about the level of the lower wall of this garden. Along
the terrace ran a path, by which Monsieur Auffray's study could be
entered through a glass door; at the other end of the path was an
arbor of grape vines and a fig-tree, beneath which stood a round
table, a bench and some chairs, painted green. Pierrette's bedroom was
above the study of her new guardian. Madame Lorrain slept in a cot
beside her grandchild. From her window Pierrette could see the whole
of the glorious valley of Provins, which she hardly knew, so seldom
had she left that dreadful house of the Rogrons. When the weather was
fine she loved to drag herself, resting on her grandmother's arm, to
the vine-clad arbor. Brigaut, unable to work, came three times a day
to see his little friend; he was gnawed by a grief which made him
indifferent to life. He lay in wait like a dog for Monsieur Martener,
and followed him when he left the house. The old grandmother, drunk
with grief, had the courage to conceal her despair; she showed her
darling the smiling face she formerly wore at Pen-Hoel. In her desire
to produce that illusion in the girl's mind, she made her a little
Breton cap like the one Pierrette had worn on her first arrival in
Provins; it made the darling seem more like her childlike self; in it
she was delightful to look upon, her sweet face circled with a halo of
cambric and fluted lace. Her skin, white with the whiteness of
unglazed porcelain, her forehead, where suffering had printed the
semblance of deep thought, the purity of the lines refined by illness,
the slowness of the glances, and the occasional fixity of the eyes,
made Pierrette an almost perfect embodiment of melancholy. She was
served by all with a sort of fanaticism; she was felt to be so gentle,
so tender, so loving. Madame Martener sent her piano to her sister
Madame Auffray, thinking to amuse Pierrette who was passionately fond
of music. It was a poem to watch her listening to a theme of Weber, or
Beethoven, or Herold,--her eyes raised, her lips silent, regretting no
doubt the life escaping her. The cure Peroux and Monsieur Habert, her
two religious comforters, admired her saintly resignation. Surely the
seraphic perfection of young girls and young men marked with the
hectic of death, is a wonderful fact worthy of the attention alike of
philosophers and of heedless minds. He who has ever seen one of these
sublime departures from this life can never remain, or become, an
unbeliever. Such beings exhale, as it were, a celestial fragrance;
their glances speak of God; the voices are eloquent in the simplest
words; often they ring like some seraphic instrument revealing the
secrets of the future. When Monsieur Martener praised her for having
faithfully followed a harsh prescription the little angel replied, and
with what a glance!--
"I want to live, dear Monsieur Martener; but less for myself than for
my grandmother, for my Brigaut, for all of you who will grieve at my
The first time she went into the garden on a beautiful sunny day in
November attended by all the household, Madame Auffray asked her if
she was tired.
"No, now that I have no sufferings but those God sends I can bear
all," she said. "The joy of being loved gives me strength to suffer."
That was the only time (and then vaguely) that she ever alluded to her
horrible martyrdom at the Rogrons, whom she never mentioned, and of
whom no one reminded her, knowing well how painful the memory must be.
"Dear Madame Auffray," she said one day at noon on the terrace, as she
gazed at the valley, warmed by a glorious sun and colored with the
glowing tints of autumn, "my death in your house gives me more
happiness than I have had since I left Brittany."
Madame Auffray whispered in her sister Martener's ear:--
"How she would have loved!"
In truth, her tones, her looks gave to her words a priceless value.
Monsieur Martener corresponded with Doctor Bianchon, and did nothing
of importance without his advice. He hoped in the first place to
regular the functions of nature and to draw away the abscess in the
head through the ear. The more Pierrette suffered, the more he hoped.
He gained some slight success at times, and that was a great triumph.
For several days Pierrette's appetite returned and enabled her to take
nourishing food for which her illness had given her a repugnance; the
color of her skin changed; but the condition of her head was terrible.
Monsieur Martener entreated the great physician his adviser to come
down. Bianchon came, stayed two days, and resolved to undertake an
operation. To spare the feelings of poor Martener he went to Paris and
brought back with him the celebrated Desplein. Thus the operation was
performed by the greatest surgeon of ancient or modern times; but that
terrible diviner said to Martener as he departed with Bianchon, his
"Nothing but a miracle can save her. As Horace told you, caries of the
bone has begun. At her age the bones are so tender."
The operation was performed at the beginning of March, 1828. During
all that month, distressed by Pierrette's horrible sufferings,
Monsieur Martener made several journeys to Paris; there he consulted
Desplein and Bianchon, and even went so far as to propose to them an
operation of the nature of lithotrity, which consists in passing into
the head a hollow instrument by the help of which an heroic remedy can
be applied to the diseased bone, to arrest the progress of the caries.
Even the bold Desplein dared not attempt that high-handed surgical
measure, which despair alone had suggested to Martener. When he
returned home from Paris he seemed to his friends morose and gloomy.
He was forced to announce on that fatal evening to the Auffrays and
Madame Lorrain and to the two priests and Brigaut that science could
do no more for Pierrette, whose recovery was now in God's hands only.
The consternation among them was terrible. The grandmother made a vow,
and requested the priests to say a mass every morning at daybreak
before Pierrette rose,--a mass at which she and Brigaut might be
The trial came on. While the victim lay dying, Vinet was calumniating
her in court. The judge approved and accepted the report of the Family
Council, and Vinet instantly appealed. The newly appointed /procureur
du roi/ made a requisition which necessitated fresh evidence. Rogron
and his sister were forced to give bail to avoid going to prison. The
order for fresh evidence included that of Pierrette herself. When
Monsieur Desfondrilles came to the Auffrays' to receive it, Pierrette
was dying, her confessor was at her bedside about to administer
extreme unction. At that moment she entreated all present to forgive
her cousins as she herself forgave them, saying with her simple good
sense that the judgment of these things belonged to God alone.
"Grandmother," she said, "leave all you have to Brigaut" (Brigaut
burst into tears); "and," continued Pierrette, "give a thousand francs
to that kind Adele who warmed my bed. If Adele had remained with my
cousins I should not now be dying."
It was at three o'clock on the Tuesday of Easter week, on a beautiful,
bright day, that the angel ceased to suffer. Her heroic grandmother
wished to watch all that night with the priests, and to sew with her
stiff old fingers her darling's shroud. Towards evening Brigaut left
the Auffray's house and went to Frappier's.
"I need not ask you, my poor boy, for news," said the cabinet-maker.
"Pere Frappier, yes, it is ended for her--but not for me."
He cast a look upon the different woods piled up around the shop,--a
look of painful meaning.
"I understand you, Brigaut," said his worthy master. "Take all you
want." And he showed him the oaken planks of two-inch thickness.
"Don't help me, Monsieur Frappier," said the Breton, "I wish to do it
He passed the night in planing and fitting Pierrette's coffin, and
more than once his plane took off at a single pass a ribbon of wood
which was wet with tears. The good man Frappier smoked his pipe and
watched him silently, saying only, when the four pieces were joined
"Make the cover to slide; her poor grandmother will not hear the
At daybreak Brigaut went out to fetch the lead to line the coffin. By
a strange chance, the sheets of lead cost just the sum he had given
Pierrette for her journey from Nantes to Provins. The brave Breton,
who was able to resist the awful pain of himself making the coffin of
his dear one and lining with his memories those burial planks, could
not bear up against this strange reminder. His strength gave way; he
was not able to lift the lead, and the plumber, seeing this, came with
him, and offered to accompany him to the house and solder the last
sheet when the body had been laid in the coffin.
The Breton burned the plane and all the tools he had used. Then he
settled his accounts with Frappier and bade him farewell. The heroism
with which the poor lad personally performed, like the grandmother,
the last offices for Pierrette made him a sharer in the awful scene
which crowned the tyranny of the Rogrons.
Brigaut and the plumber reached the house of Monsieur Auffray just in
time to decide by their own main force an infamous and shocking
judicial question. The room where the dead girl lay was full of
people, and presented to the eyes of the two men a singular sight. The
Rogron emissaries were standing beside the body of their victim, to
torture her even after death. The corpse of the child, solemn in its
beauty, lay on the cot-bed of her grandmother. Pierrette's eyes were
closed, the brown hair smoothed upon her brow, the body swathed in a
coarse cotton sheet.
Before the bed, on her knees, her hair in disorder, her hands
stretched out, her face on fire, the old Lorrain was crying out, "No,
no, it shall not be done!"
At the foot of the bed stood Monsieur Auffray and the two priests. The
tapers were still burning.
Opposite to the grandmother was the surgeon of the hospital, with an
assistant, and near him stood Doctor Neraud and Vinet. The surgeon
wore his dissecting apron; the assistant had opened a case of
instruments and was handing him a knife.
This scene was interrupted by the noise of the coffin which Brigaut
and the plumber set down upon the floor. Then Brigaut, advancing, was
horrified at the sight of Madame Lorrain, who was now weeping.
"What is the matter?" he asked, standing beside her and grasping the
chisel convulsively in his hand.
"This," said the old woman, "/this/, Brigaut: they want to open the
body of my child and cut into her head, and stab her heart after her
death as they did when she was living."
"Who?" said Brigaut, in a voice that might have deafened the men of
"In the sacred name of God!--"
"Stop, Brigaut," said Monsieur Auffray, seeing the lad brandish his
"Monsieur Auffray," said Brigaut, as white as his dead companion, "I
hear you because you are Monsieur Auffray, but at this moment I will
not listen to--"
"The law!" said Auffray.
"Is there law? is there justice?" cried the Breton. "Justice, this is
it!" and he advanced to the lawyer and the doctors, threatening them
with his chisel.
"My friend," said the curate, "the law has been invoked by the lawyer
of Monsieur Rogron, who is under the weight of a serious accusation;
and it is impossible for us to refuse him the means of justification.
The lawyer of Monsieur Rogron claims that if the poor child died of an
abscess in her head her former guardian cannot be blamed, for it is
proved that Pierrette concealed the effects of the blow which she gave
"Enough!" said Brigaut.
"My client--" began Vinet.
"Your client," cried the Breton, "shall go to hell and I to the
scaffold; for if one of you dares to touch her whom your client has
killed, I will kill him if my weapon does its duty."
"This is interference with the law," said Vinet. "I shall instantly
inform the court."
The five men left the room.
"Oh, my son!" cried the old woman, rising from her knees and falling
on Brigaut's neck, "let us bury her quick,--they will come back."
"If we solder the lead," said the plumber, "they may not dare to open
Monsieur Auffray hastened to his brother-in-law, Monsieur Lesourd, to
try and settle the matter. Vinet was not unwilling. Pierrette being
dead the suit about the guardianship fell, of course, to the ground.
All the astute lawyer wanted was the effect produced by his request.
At midday Monsieur Desfondrilles made his report on the case, and the
court rendered a decision that there was no ground for further action.
Rogron dared not go to Pierrette's funeral, at which the whole town
was present. Vinet wished to force him there, but the miserable man
was afraid of exciting universal horror.
Brigaut left Provins after watching the filling up of the grave where
Pierrette lay, and went on foot to Paris. He wrote a petition to the
Dauphiness asking, in the name of his father, that he might enter the
Royal guard, to which he was at once admitted. When the expedition to
Algiers was undertaken he wrote to her again, to obtain employment in
it. He was then a sergeant; Marshal Bourmont gave him an appointment
as sub-lieutenant in a line regiment. The major's son behaved like a
man who wished to die. Death has, however, respected Jacques Brigaut
up to the present time; although he has distinguished himself in all
the recent expeditions he has never yet been wounded. He is now major
in a regiment of infantry. No officer is more taciturn or more
trustworthy. Outside of his duty he is almost mute; he walks alone and
lives mechanically. Every one divines and respects a hidden sorrow. He
possesses forty-six thousand francs, which old Madame Lorrain, who
died in Paris in 1829, bequeathed to him.
At the elections of 1830 Vinet was made a deputy. The services he
rendered the new government have now earned him the position of
/procureur-general/. His influence is such that he will always remain
a deputy. Rogron is receiver-general in the same town where Vinet
fulfils his legal functions; and by one of those curious tricks of
chance which do so often occur, Monsieur Tiphaine is president of the
Royal court in the same town,--for the worthy man gave in his adhesion
to the dynasty of July without the slightest hesitation. The
ex-beautiful Madame Tiphaine lives on excellent terms with the
beautiful Madame Rogron. Vinet is hand in glove with Madame Tiphaine.
As to the imbecile Rogron, he makes such remarks as, "Louis-Philippe
will never be really king till he is able to make nobles."
The speech is evidently not his own. His health is failing, which
allows Madame Rogron to hope she may soon marry the General Marquis de
Montriveau, peer of France, who commands the department, and is paying
her attentions. Vinet is in his element, seeking victims; he never
believes in the innocence of an accused person. This thoroughbred
prosecutor is held to be one of the most amiable men on the circuit;
and he is no less liked in Paris and in the Chamber; at court he is a
According to a certain promise made by Vinet, General Baron Gouraud,
that noble relic of our glorious armies, married a Mademoiselle
Matifat, twenty-five years old, daughter of a druggist in the rue des
Lombards, whose dowry was a hundred thousand francs. He commands (as
Vinet prophesied) a department in the neighborhood of Paris. He was
named peer of France for his conduct in the riots which occurred
during the ministry of Casimir Perier. Baron Gouraud was one of the
generals who took the church of Saint-Merry, delighted to rap those
rascally civilians who had vexed him for years over the knuckles; for
which service he was rewarded with the grand cordon of the Legion of
None of the personages connected with Pierrette's death ever felt the
slightest remorse about it. Monsieur Desfondrilles is still
archaeological, but, in order to compass his own election, the
/procureur general/ Vinet took pains to have him appointed president
of the Provins court. Sylvie has a little circle, and manages her
brother's property; she lends her own money at high interest, and does
not spend more than twelve hundred francs a year.
From time to time, when some former son or daughter of Provins returns
from Paris to settle down, you may hear them ask, as they leave
Mademoiselle Rogron's house, "Wasn't there a painful story against the
Rogrons,--something about a ward?"
"Mere prejudice," replies Monsieur Desfondrilles. "Certain persons
tried to make us believe falsehoods. Out of kindness of heart the
Rogrons took in a girl named Pierrette, quite pretty but with no
money. Just as she was growing up she had an intrigue with a young
man, and stood at her window barefooted talking to him. The lovers
passed notes to each other by a string. She took cold in this way and
died, having no constitution. The Rogrons behaved admirably. They made
no claim on certain property which was to come to her,--they gave it
all up to the grandmother. The moral of it was, my good friend, that
the devil punishes those who try to benefit others."
"Ah! that is quite another story from the one old Frappier told me."
"Frappier consults his wine-cellar more than he does his memory,"
remarked another of Mademoiselle Rogron's visitors.
"But that old priest, Monsieur Habert says--"
"Oh, he! don't you know why?"
"He wanted to marry his sister to Monsieur Rogron, the receiver-
Two men think of Pierrette daily: Doctor Martener and Major Brigaut;
they alone know the hideous truth.
To give that truth its true proportions we must transport the scene to
the Rome of the middle ages, where a sublime young girl, Beatrice
Cenci, was brought to the scaffold by motives and intrigues that were
almost identical with those which laid our Pierrette in her grave.
Beatrice Cenci had but one defender,--an artist, a painter. In our day
history, and living men, on the faith of Guido Reni's portrait,
condemn the Pope, and know that Beatrice was a most tender victim of
infamous passions and base feuds.
We must all agree that legality would be a fine thing for social
scoundrelism IF THERE WERE NO GOD.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
The Atheist's Mass
The Commission in Lunacy
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Secrets of a Princess
The Government Clerks
A Study of Woman
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Seamy Side of History
The Magic Skin
A Second Home
A Prince of Bohemia
Letters of Two Brides
The Muse of the Department
The Imaginary Mistress
The Middle Classes
The Country Parson
In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following:
Another Study of Woman
La Grande Breteche
The Atheist's Mass
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Seamy Side of History
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Gouraud, General, Baron
The Middle Classes
The Firm of Nucingen
Montriveau, General Marquis Armand de
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis
Nucingen, Baron Frederic de
The Firm of Nucingen
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Man of Business
The Muse of the Department
The Unconscious Humorists
A Bachelor's Establishment
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
A Second Home
A Daughter of Eve
Tillet, Ferdinand du
The Firm of Nucingen
The Middle Classes
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Member for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists
The Member for Arcis
The Middle Classes
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