Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 16
Produced by Dagny, and John Bickers,
HONORE DE BALZAC
/La Cousine Bette/ was perhaps the last really great thing that Balzac
did--for /Le Cousin Pons/, which now follows it, was actually written
before--and it is beyond all question one of the very greatest of his
works. It was written at the highest possible pressure, and (contrary
to the author's more usual system) in parts, without even seeing a
proof, for the /Constitutionnel/ in the autumn, winter, and early
spring of 1846-47, before his departure from Vierzschovnia, the object
being to secure a certain sum of ready money to clear off
indebtedness. And it has been sometimes asserted that this labor,
coming on the top of many years of scarcely less hard works, was
almost the last straw which broke down Balzac's gigantic strength. Of
these things it is never possible to be certain; as to the greatness
of /La Cousine Bette/, there is no uncertainty.
In the first place, it is a very long book for Balzac; it is, I think,
putting aside books like /Les Illusions Perdues/, and /Les
Celibataires/, and /Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes/, which are
really groups of work written at different times, the longest of all
his novels, if we except the still later and rather doubtful /Petits
Bourgeois/. In the second place, this length is not obtained--as
length with him is too often obtained--by digressions, by long
retrospective narrations, or even by the insertion of such "padding"
as the collection business in /Le Cousin Pons/. The whole stuff and
substance of /La Cousine Bette/ is honestly woven novel-stuff, of one
piece and one tenor and texture, with for constant subject the
subterranean malignity of the heroine, the erotomania of Hulot and
Crevel, the sufferings of Adeline, and the /pieuvre/ operations of
Marneffe and his wife,--all of which fit in and work together with
each other as exactly as the cogs and gear of a harmonious piece of
machinery do. Even such much simpler and shorter books as /Le Pere
Goriot/ by no means possess this seamless unity of construction, this
even march, shoulder to shoulder, of all the personages of the story.
In the second place, this story itself strikes hold on the reader with
a force not less irresistible than that of the older and simpler
stories just referred to. As compared even with its companion, this
force of grasp is remarkable. It is not absolutely criminal or
contemptible to feel that /Le Cousin Pons/ sometimes languishes and
loses itself; this can never be said of the history of the evil
destiny partly personified in Elizabeth Fischer, which hovers over the
house of Hulot.
Some, I believe, have felt inclined to question the propriety of the
title of the book, and to assign the true heroineship to Valerie
Marneffe, whom also the same and other persons are fond of comparing
with her contemporary Becky Sharp, not to the advantage of the latter.
This is no place for a detailed examination of the comparison, as to
which I shall only say that I do not think Thackeray has anything to
fear from it. Valerie herself is, beyond all doubt, a powerful study
of the "strange woman," enforcing the Biblical view of that personage
with singular force and effectiveness. But her methods are coarser and
more commonplace than Becky's; she never could have long sustained
such an ordeal as the tenure of the house in Curzon Street without
losing even an equivocal position in decent English society; and it
must always be remembered that she was under the orders, so to speak,
of Lisbeth, and inspired by her.
Lisbeth herself, on the other hand, is not one of a class; she stands
alone as much as Becky herself does. It is, no doubt, an arduous and,
some milky-veined critics would say, a doubtfully healthy or
praiseworthy task to depict almost pure wickedness; it is excessively
hard to render it human; and if the difficulty is not increased, it is
certainly not much lessened by the artist's determination to represent
the malefactress as undiscovered and even unsuspected throughout.
Balzac, however, has surmounted these difficulties with almost
complete success. The only advantage--it is no doubt a considerable
one--which he has taken over Shakespeare, when Shakespeare devised
Iago, is that of making Mademoiselle Fischer a person of low birth,
narrow education, and intellectual faculties narrower still, for all
their keenness and intensity. The largeness of brain with which
Shakespeare endows his human devil, and the largeness of heart of
which he does not seem to wish us to imagine him as in certain
circumstances incapable, contrast sharply enough with the peasant
meanness of Lisbeth. Indeed, Balzac, whose seldom erring instinct in
fixing on the viler parts of human nature may have been somewhat too
much dwelt on, but is undeniable, has here and elsewhere hit the fault
of the lower class generally very well. It does not appear that the
Hulots, though they treated her without much ceremony, gave Bette any
real cause of complaint, or that there was anything in their conduct
corresponding to that of the Camusots to the luckless Pons. That her
cousin Adeline had been prettier than herself in childhood, and was
richer and more highly placed in middle life, was enough for Lisbeth
--the incarnation of the Radical hatred of superiority in any kind.
And so she set to work to ruin and degrade the unhappy family, to set
it at variance, and make it miserable, as best she could.
The way of her doing this is wonderfully told, and the various
characters, minor as well as major, muster in wonderful strength. I do
not know that Balzac has made quite the most of Hector Hulot's vice
--in fact, here, as elsewhere, I think the novelist is not happy in
treating this particular deadly sin. The man is a rather disgusting
and wholly idiotic old fribble rather than a tragic victim of
Libitina. So also his wife is too angelic. But Crevel, the very
pattern and model of the vicious bourgeois who had made his fortune;
and Wenceslas Steinbock, pattern again and model of the foibles of
/Polen aus der Polackei/; and Hortense, with the better energy of the
Hulots in her; and the loathsome reptile Marneffe, and Victoria, and
Celestine, and the Brazilian (though he, to be sure, is rather a
transpontine /rastaqouere/), and all the rest are capital, and do their
work capitally. But they would not be half so fine as they are if,
behind them, there were not the savage Pagan naturalism of Lisbeth
Fischer, the "angel of the family"--and a black angel indeed.
One of the last and largest of Balzac's great works--the very last of
them, if we accept /La Cousine Bette/, to which is pendant and
contrast--/Le Cousin Pons/ has always united suffrages from very
different classes of admirers. In the first place, it is not
"disagreeable," as the common euphemism has it, and as /La Cousine
Bette/ certainly is. In the second, it cannot be accused of being a
/berquinade/, as those who like Balzac best when he is doing moral
rag-picking are apt to describe books like /Le Medecin de Campagne/
and /Le Lys dans la Vallee/, if not even like /Eugenie Grandet/. It
has a considerable variety of interest; its central figure is
curiously pathetic and attractive, even though the curse of something
like folly, which so often attends Balzac's good characters, may a
little weigh on him. It would be a book of exceptional charm even if
it were anonymous, or if we knew no more about the author than we know
As it happens, however, /Le Cousin Pons/ has other attractions than
this. In the first place, Balzac is always great--perhaps he is at his
greatest--in depicting a mania, a passion, whether the subject be
pleasure or gold-hunger or parental affection. Pons has two manias,
and the one does not interfere with, but rather helps, the other. But
this would be nothing if it were not that his chief mania, his ruling
passion, is one of Balzac's own. For, as we have often had occasion to
notice, Balzac is not by any means one of the great impersonal
artists. He can do many things; but he is never at his best in doing
any unless his own personal interests, his likings and hatreds, his
sufferings and enjoyments, are concerned. He was a kind of
actor-manager in his /Comedie Humaine/; and perhaps, like other
actor-managers, he took rather disproportionate care of the parts
which he played himself.
Now, he was even more desperate as a collector and fancier of bibelots
than he was as a speculator; and while the one mania was nearly as
responsible for his pecuniary troubles and his need to overwork
himself as the other, it certainly gave him more constant and more
comparatively harmless satisfactions. His connoisseurship would be
nothing if he did not question the competence of another, if not of
all others. It seems certain that Balzac frequently bought things for
what they were not; and probable that his own acquisitions went, in
his own eyes, through that succession of stages which Charles Lamb (a
sort of Cousin Pons in his way too) described inimitably. His
pictures, like John Lamb's, were apt to begin as Raphaels, and end as
Carlo Marattis. Balzac, too, like Pons, was even more addicted to
bric-a-brac than to art proper; and after many vicissitudes, he and
Madame Hanska seem to have succeeded in getting together a very
considerable, if also a very miscellaneous and unequal collection in
the house in the Rue du Paradis, the contents of which were dispersed
in part (though, I believe, the Rochschild who bought it, bought most
of them too) not many years ago. Pons, indeed, was too poor, and
probably too queer, to indulge in one fancy which Balzac had, and
which, I think, all collectors of the nobler and more poetic class
have, though this number may not be large. Balzac liked to have new
beautiful things as well as old--to have beautiful things made for
him. He was an unwearied customer, though not an uncomplaining one, of
the great jeweler Froment Meurice, whose tardiness in carrying out his
behests he pathetically upbraids in more than one extant letter.
Therefore, Balzac "did more than sympathize, he felt"--and it has been
well put--with Pons in the bric-a-brac matter; and would appear that
he did so likewise in that of music, though we have rather less direct
evidence. This other sympathy has resulted in the addition to Pons
himself of the figure of Schmucke, a minor and more parochial figure,
but good in itself, and very much appreciated, I believe, by fellow
It is with even more than his usual art that Balzac has surrounded
these two originals--these "humorists," as our own ancestors would
have called them--with figures much, very much, more of the ordinary
world than themselves. The grasping worldliness of the /parvenue/
family of Camusot in one degree and the greed of the portress, Madame
Cibot, in the other, are admirably represented; the latter, in
particular, must always hold a very high place among Balzac's greatest
successes. She is, indeed a sort of companion sketch to Cousine Bette
herself in a still lower rank of life representing the diabolical in
woman; and perhaps we should not wrong the author's intentions if we
suspected that Diane de Maufrigneuse has some claims to make up the
trio in a sphere even more above Lisbeth's than Lisbeth's is above
Madame Cibot's own.
Different opinions have been held of the actual "bric-a-bracery" of
this piece--that is to say, not of Balzac's competence in the matter
but of the artistic value of his introduction of it. Perhaps his
enthusiasm does a little run away with him; perhaps he gives us a
little too much of it, and avails himself too freely of the license,
at least of the temptation, to digress which the introduction of such
persons as Elie Magus affords. And it is also open to any one to say
that the climax, or what is in effect the climax, is introduced
somewhat too soon; that the struggle, first over the body and then
over the property of Patroclus-Pons, is inordinately spun out, and
that, even granting the author's mania, he might have utilized it
better by giving us more of the harmless and ill-treated cousin's
happy hunts, and less of the disputes over his accumulated quarry.
This, however, means simply the old, and generally rather impertinent,
suggestion to the artist that he shall do with his art something
different from that which he has himself chosen to do. It is, or
should be, sufficient that /Le Cousin Pons/ is a very agreeable book,
more pathetic if less "grimy," than its companion, full of its
author's idiosyncracy, and characteristic of his genius. It may not be
uninteresting to add that /Le Cousin Pons/ was originally called /Le
Deux Musiciens/, or /Le Parasite/, and that the change, which is a
great improvement, was due to the instances of Madame Hanska.
The bibliography of the two divisions of /Les Parents Pauvres/ is so
closely connected, that it is difficult to extricate the separate
histories. Originally the author had intended to begin with /Le Cousin
Pons/ (which then bore the title of /Les Deux Musiciens/), and to make
it the more important of the two; but /La Cousine Bette/ grew under
his hands, and became, in more than one sense, the leader. Both
appeared in the /Constitutionnel/; the first between October 8th and
December 3rd, 1846, the second between March 18th and May of the next
year. In the winter of 1847-48 the two were published as a book in
twelve volumes by Chlendowski and Petion. In the newspaper (where
Balzac received--a rarely exact detail--12,836 francs for the
/Cousine/, and 9,238 for the /Cousin/) the first-named had
thirty-eight headed chapter-divisions, which in book form became a
hundred and thirty-two. /Le Cousin Pons/ had two parts in /feuilleton/,
and thirty-one chapters, which in book form became no parts and
seventy-eight chapters. All divisions were swept away when, at the end
of 1848, the books were added together to the /Comedie/.
HONORE DE BALZAC
To Don Michele Angelo Cajetani, Prince of Teano.
It is neither to the Roman Prince, nor to the representative of
the illustrious house of Cajetani, which has given more than one
Pope to the Christian Church, that I dedicate this short portion
of a long history; it is to the learned commentator of Dante.
It was you who led me to understand the marvelous framework of
ideas on which the great Italian poet built his poem, the only
work which the moderns can place by that of Homer. Till I heard
you, the Divine Comedy was to me a vast enigma to which none had
found the clue--the commentators least of all. Thus, to understand
Dante is to be as great as he; but every form of greatness is
familiar to you.
A French savant could make a reputation, earn a professor's chair,
and a dozen decorations, by publishing in a dogmatic volume the
improvised lecture by which you lent enchantment to one of those
evenings which are rest after seeing Rome. You do not know,
perhaps, that most of our professors live on Germany, on England,
on the East, or on the North, as an insect lives on a tree; and,
like the insect, become an integral part of it, borrowing their
merit from that of what they feed on. Now, Italy hitherto has not
yet been worked out in public lectures. No one will ever give me
credit for my literary honesty. Merely by plundering you I might
have been as learned as three Schlegels in one, whereas I mean to
remain a humble Doctor of the Faculty of Social Medicine, a
veterinary surgeon for incurable maladies. Were it only to lay a
token of gratitude at the feet of my cicerone, I would fain add
your illustrious name to those of Porcia, of San-Severino, of
Pareto, of di Negro, and of Belgiojoso, who will represent in this
"Human Comedy" the close and constant alliance between Italy and
France, to which Bandello did honor in the same way in the
sixteenth century--Bandello, the bishop and author of some strange
tales indeed, who left us the splendid collection of romances
whence Shakespeare derived many of his plots and even complete
characters, word for word.
The two sketches I dedicate to you are the two eternal aspects of
one and the same fact. Homo duplex, said the great Buffon: why not
add Res duplex? Everything has two sides, even virtue. Hence
Moliere always shows us both sides of every human problem; and
Diderot, imitating him, once wrote, "This is not a mere tale"--in
what is perhaps Diderot's masterpiece, where he shows us the
beautiful picture of Mademoiselle de Lachaux sacrificed by
Gardanne, side by side with that of a perfect lover dying for his
In the same way, these two romances form a pair, like twins of
opposite sexes. This is a literary vagary to which a writer may
for once give way, especially as part of a work in which I am
endeavoring to depict every form that can serve as a garb to mind.
Most human quarrels arise from the fact that both wise men and
dunces exist who are so constituted as to be incapable of seeing
more than one side of any fact or idea, while each asserts that
the side he sees is the only true and right one. Thus it is
written in the Holy Book, "God will deliver the world over to
divisions." I must confess that this passage of Scripture alone
should persuade the Papal See to give you the control of the two
Chambers to carry out the text which found its commentary in 1814,
in the decree of Louis XVIII.
May your wit and the poetry that is in you extend a protecting
hand over these two histories of "The Poor Relations"
Of your affectionate humble servant,
PARIS, August-September, 1846.
One day, about the middle of July 1838, one of the carriages, then
lately introduced to Paris cabstands, and known as /Milords/, was
driving down the Rue de l'Universite, conveying a stout man of middle
height in the uniform of a captain of the National Guard.
Among the Paris crowd, who are supposed to be so clever, there are
some men who fancy themselves infinitely more attractive in uniform
than in their ordinary clothes, and who attribute to women so depraved
a taste that they believe they will be favorably impressed by the
aspect of a busby and of military accoutrements.
The countenance of this Captain of the Second Company beamed with a
self-satisfaction that added splendor to his ruddy and somewhat chubby
face. The halo of glory that a fortune made in business gives to a
retired tradesman sat on his brow, and stamped him as one of the elect
of Paris--at least a retired deputy-mayor of his quarter of the town.
And you may be sure that the ribbon of the Legion of Honor was not
missing from his breast, gallantly padded /a la Prussienne/. Proudly
seated in one corner of the /milord/, this splendid person let his
gaze wander over the passers-by, who, in Paris, often thus meet an
ingratiating smile meant for sweet eyes that are absent.
The vehicle stopped in the part of the street between the Rue de
Bellechasse and the Rue de Bourgogne, at the door of a large,
newly-build house, standing on part of the court-yard of an ancient
mansion that had a garden. The old house remained in its original
state, beyond the courtyard curtailed by half its extent.
Only from the way in which the officer accepted the assistance of the
coachman to help him out, it was plain that he was past fifty. There
are certain movements so undisguisedly heavy that they are as
tell-tale as a register of birth. The captain put on his lemon-colored
right-hand glove, and, without any question to the gatekeeper, went up
the outer steps to the ground of the new house with a look that
proclaimed, "She is mine!"
The /concierges/ of Paris have sharp eyes; they do not stop visitors
who wear an order, have a blue uniform, and walk ponderously; in
short, they know a rich man when they see him.
This ground floor was entirely occupied by Monsieur le Baron Hulot
d'Ervy, Commissary General under the Republic, retired army
contractor, and at the present time at the head of one of the most
important departments of the War Office, Councillor of State, officer
of the Legion of Honor, and so forth.
This Baron Hulot had taken the name of d'Ervy--the place of his birth
--to distinguish him from his brother, the famous General Hulot,
Colonel of the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, created by the
Emperor Comte de Forzheim after the campaign of 1809. The Count, the
elder brother, being responsible for his junior, had, with paternal
care, placed him in the commissariat, where, thanks to the services of
the two brothers, the Baron deserved and won Napoleon's good graces.
After 1807, Baron Hulot was Commissary General for the army in Spain.
Having rung the bell, the citizen-captain made strenuous efforts to
pull his coat into place, for it had rucked up as much at the back as
in front, pushed out of shape by the working of a piriform stomach.
Being admitted as soon as the servant in livery saw him, the important
and imposing personage followed the man, who opened the door of the
On hearing the name, singularly appropriate to the figure of the man
who bore it, a tall, fair woman, evidently young-looking for her age,
rose as if she had received an electric shock.
"Hortense, my darling, go into the garden with your Cousin Betty," she
said hastily to her daughter, who was working at some embroidery at
her mother's side.
After curtseying prettily to the captain, Mademoiselle Hortense went
out by a glass door, taking with her a withered-looking spinster, who
looked older than the Baroness, though she was five years younger.
"They are settling your marriage," said Cousin Betty in the girl's
ear, without seeming at all offended at the way in which the Baroness
had dismissed them, counting her almost as zero.
The cousin's dress might, at need, have explained this free-and-easy
demeanor. The old maid wore a merino gown of a dark plum color, of
which the cut and trimming dated from the year of the Restoration; a
little worked collar, worth perhaps three francs; and a common straw
hat with blue satin ribbons edged with straw plait, such as the
old-clothes buyers wear at market. On looking down at her kid shoes,
made, it was evident, by the veriest cobbler, a stranger would have
hesitated to recognize Cousin Betty as a member of the family, for she
looked exactly like a journeywoman sempstress. But she did not leave
the room without bestowing a little friendly nod on Monsieur Crevel,
to which that gentleman responded by a look of mutual understanding.
"You are coming to us to-morrow, I hope, Mademoiselle Fischer?" said
"You have no company?" asked Cousin Betty.
"My children and yourself, no one else," replied the visitor.
"Very well," replied she; "depend on me."
"And here am I, madame, at your orders," said the citizen-captain,
bowing again to Madame Hulot.
He gave such a look at Madame Hulot as Tartuffe casts at Elmire--when
a provincial actor plays the part and thinks it necessary to emphasize
its meaning--at Poitiers, or at Coutances.
"If you will come into this room with me, we shall be more
conveniently placed for talking business than we are in this room,"
said Madame Hulot, going to an adjoining room, which, as the apartment
was arranged, served as a cardroom.
It was divided by a slight partition from a boudoir looking out on the
garden, and Madame Hulot left her visitor to himself for a minute, for
she thought it wise to shut the window and the door of the boudoir, so
that no one should get in and listen. She even took the precaution of
shutting the glass door of the drawing-room, smiling on her daughter
and her cousin, whom she saw seated in an old summer-house at the end
of the garden. As she came back she left the cardroom door open, so as
to hear if any one should open that of the drawing-room to come in.
As she came and went, the Baroness, seen by nobody, allowed her face
to betray all her thoughts, and any one who could have seen her would
have been shocked to see her agitation. But when she finally came back
from the glass door of the drawing-room, as she entered the cardroom,
her face was hidden behind the impenetrable reserve which every woman,
even the most candid, seems to have at her command.
During all these preparations--odd, to say the least--the National
Guardsman studied the furniture of the room in which he found himself.
As he noted the silk curtains, once red, now faded to dull purple by
the sunshine, and frayed in the pleats by long wear; the carpet, from
which the hues had faded; the discolored gilding of the furniture; and
the silk seats, discolored in patches, and wearing into strips
--expressions of scorn, satisfaction, and hope dawned in succession
without disguise on his stupid tradesman's face. He looked at himself
in the glass over an old clock of the Empire, and was contemplating
the general effect, when the rustle of her silk skirt announced the
Baroness. He at once struck at attitude.
After dropping on to a sofa, which had been a very handsome one in the
year 1809, the Baroness, pointing to an armchair with the arms ending
in bronze sphinxes' heads, while the paint was peeling from the wood,
which showed through in many places, signed to Crevel to be seated.
"All the precautions you are taking, madame, would seem full of
promise to a----"
"To a lover," said she, interrupting him.
"The word is too feeble," said he, placing his right hand on his
heart, and rolling his eyes in a way which almost always makes a woman
laugh when she, in cold blood, sees such a look. "A lover! A lover?
Say a man bewitched----"
"Listen, Monsieur Crevel," said the Baroness, too anxious to be able
to laugh, "you are fifty--ten years younger than Monsieur Hulot, I
know; but at my age a woman's follies ought to be justified by beauty,
youth, fame, superior merit--some one of the splendid qualities which
can dazzle us to the point of making us forget all else--even at our
age. Though you may have fifty thousand francs a year, your age
counterbalances your fortune; thus you have nothing whatever of what a
woman looks for----"
"But love!" said the officer, rising and coming forward. "Such love
"No, monsieur, such obstinacy!" said the Baroness, interrupting him to
put an end to his absurdity.
"Yes, obstinacy," said he, "and love; but something stronger still--a
"A claim!" cried Madame Hulot, rising sublime with scorn, defiance,
and indignation. "But," she went on, "this will bring us to no issues;
I did not ask you to come here to discuss the matter which led to your
banishment in spite of the connection between our families----"
"I had fancied so."
"What! still?" cried she. "Do you not see, monsieur, by the entire
ease and freedom with which I can speak of lovers and love, of
everything least creditable to a woman, that I am perfectly secure in
my own virtue? I fear nothing--not even to shut myself in alone with
you. Is that the conduct of a weak woman? You know full well why I
begged you to come."
"No, madame," replied Crevel, with an assumption of great coldness. He
pursed up his lips, and again struck an attitude.
"Well, I will be brief, to shorten our common discomfort," said the
Baroness, looking at Crevel.
Crevel made an ironical bow, in which a man who knew the race would
have recognized the graces of a bagman.
"Our son married your daughter----"
"And if it were to do again----" said Crevel.
"It would not be done at all, I suspect," said the baroness hastily.
"However, you have nothing to complain of. My son is not only one of
the leading pleaders of Paris, but for the last year he has sat as
Deputy, and his maiden speech was brilliant enough to lead us to
suppose that ere long he will be in office. Victorin has twice been
called upon to report on important measures; and he might even now, if
he chose, be made Attorney-General in the Court of Appeal. So, if you
mean to say that your son-in-law has no fortune----"
"Worse than that, madame, a son-in-law whom I am obliged to maintain,"
replied Crevel. "Of the five hundred thousand francs that formed my
daughter's marriage portion, two hundred thousand have vanished--God
knows how!--in paying the young gentleman's debts, in furnishing his
house splendaciously--a house costing five hundred thousand francs,
and bringing in scarcely fifteen thousand, since he occupies the
larger part of it, while he owes two hundred and sixty thousand francs
of the purchase-money. The rent he gets barely pays the interest on
the debt. I have had to give my daughter twenty thousand francs this
year to help her to make both ends meet. And then my son-in-law, who
was making thirty thousand francs a year at the Assizes, I am told, is
going to throw that up for the Chamber----"
"This, again, Monsieur Crevel, is beside the mark; we are wandering
from the point. Still, to dispose of it finally, it may be said that
if my son gets into office, if he has you made an officer of the
Legion of Honor and councillor of the municipality of Paris, you, as a
retired perfumer, will not have much to complain of----"
"Ah! there we are again, madame! Yes, I am a tradesman, a shopkeeper,
a retail dealer in almond-paste, eau-de-Portugal, and hair-oil, and
was only too much honored when my only daughter was married to the son
of Monsieur le Baron Hulot d'Ervy--my daughter will be a Baroness!
This is Regency, Louis XV., (Eil-de-boeuf--quite tip-top!--very good.)
I love Celestine as a man loves his only child--so well indeed, that,
to preserve her from having either brother or sister, I resigned
myself to all the privations of a widower--in Paris, and in the prime
of life, madame. But you must understand that, in spite of this
extravagant affection for my daughter, I do not intend to reduce my
fortune for the sake of your son, whose expenses are not wholly
accounted for--in my eyes, as an old man of business."
"Monsieur, you may at this day see in the Ministry of Commerce
Monsieur Popinot, formerly a druggist in the Rue des Lombards----"
"And a friend of mine, madame," said the ex-perfumer. "For I, Celestin
Crevel, foreman once to old Cesar Birotteau, brought up the said Cesar
Birotteau's stock; and he was Popinot's father-in-law. Why, that very
Popinot was no more than a shopman in the establishment, and he is the
first to remind me of it; for he is not proud, to do him justice, to
men in a good position with an income of sixty thousand francs in the
"Well then, monsieur, the notions you term 'Regency' are quite out of
date at a time when a man is taken at his personal worth; and that is
what you did when you married your daughter to my son."
"But you do not know how the marriage was brought about!" cried
Crevel. "Oh, that cursed bachelor life! But for my misconduct, my
Celestine might at this day be Vicomtesse Popinot!"
"Once more have done with recriminations over accomplished facts,"
said the Baroness anxiously. "Let us rather discuss the complaints I
have found on your strange behavior. My daughter Hortense had a chance
of marrying; the match depended entirely on you; I believed you felt
some sentiments of generosity; I thought you would do justice to a
woman who has never had a thought in her heart for any man but her
husband, that you would have understood how necessary it is for her
not to receive a man who may compromise her, and that for the honor of
the family with which you are allied you would have been eager to
promote Hortense's settlement with Monsieur le Conseiller Lebas.--And
it is you, monsieur, you have hindered the marriage."
"Madame," said the ex-perfumer, "I acted the part of an honest man. I
was asked whether the two hundred thousand francs to be settled on
Mademoiselle Hortense would be forthcoming. I replied exactly in these
words: 'I would not answer for it. My son-in-law, to whom the Hulots
had promised the same sum, was in debt; and I believe that if Monsieur
Hulot d'Ervy were to die to-morrow, his widow would have nothing to
live on.'--There, fair lady."
"And would you have said as much, monsieur," asked Madame Hulot,
looking Crevel steadily in the face, "if I had been false to my duty?"
"I should not be in a position to say it, dearest Adeline," cried this
singular adorer, interrupting the Baroness, "for you would have found
the amount in my pocket-book."
And adding action to word, the fat guardsman knelt down on one knee
and kissed Madame Hulot's hand, seeing that his speech had filled her
with speechless horror, which he took for hesitancy.
"What, buy my daughter's fortune at the cost of----? Rise, monsieur
--or I ring the bell."
Crevel rose with great difficulty. This fact made him so furious that
he again struck his favorite attitude. Most men have some habitual
position by which they fancy that they show to the best advantage the
good points bestowed on them by nature. This attitude in Crevel
consisted in crossing his arms like Napoleon, his head showing
three-quarters face, and his eyes fixed on the horizon, as the painter
has shown the Emperor in his portrait.
"To be faithful," he began, with well-acted indignation, "so faithful
to a liber----"
"To a husband who is worthy of such fidelity," Madame Hulot put in, to
hinder Crevel from saying a word she did not choose to hear.
"Come, madame; you wrote to bid me here, you ask the reasons for my
conduct, you drive me to extremities with your imperial airs, your
scorn, and your contempt! Any one might think I was a Negro. But I
repeat it, and you may believe me, I have a right to--to make love to
you, for---- But no; I love you well enough to hold my tongue."
"You may speak, monsieur. In a few days I shall be eight-and-forty; I
am no prude; I can hear whatever you can say."
"Then will you give me your word of honor as an honest woman--for you
are, alas for me! an honest woman--never to mention my name or to say
that it was I who betrayed the secret?"
"If that is the condition on which you speak, I will swear never to
tell any one from whom I heard the horrors you propose to tell me, not
even my husband."
"I should think not indeed, for only you and he are concerned."
Madame Hulot turned pale.
"Oh, if you still really love Hulot, it will distress you. Shall I say
"Speak, monsieur; for by your account you wish to justify in my eyes
the extraordinary declarations you have chosen to make me, and your
persistency in tormenting a woman of my age, whose only wish is to see
her daughter married, and then--to die in peace----"
"You see; you are unhappy."
"Yes, beautiful, noble creature!" cried Crevel. "You have indeed been
"Monsieur, be silent and go--or speak to me as you ought."
"Do you know, madame, how Master Hulot and I first made acquaintance?
--At our mistresses', madame."
"Yes, madame, at our mistresses'," Crevel repeated in a melodramatic
tone, and leaving his position to wave his right hand.
"Well, and what then?" said the Baroness coolly, to Crevel's great
Such mean seducers cannot understand a great soul.
"I, a widower five years since," Crevel began, in the tone of a man
who has a story to tell, "and not wishing to marry again for the sake
of the daughter I adore, not choosing either to cultivate any such
connection in my own establishment, though I had at the time a very
pretty lady-accountant. I set up, 'on her own account,' as they say, a
little sempstress of fifteen--really a miracle of beauty, with whom I
fell desperately in love. And in fact, madame, I asked an aunt of my
own, my mother's sister, whom I sent for from the country, to live
with the sweet creature and keep an eye on her, that she might behave
as well as might be in this rather--what shall I say--shady?--no,
"The child, whose talent for music was striking, had masters, she was
educated--I had to give her something to do. Besides, I wished to be
at once her father, her benefactor, and--well, out with it--her lover;
to kill two birds with one stone, a good action and a sweetheart. For
five years I was very happy. The girl had one of those voices that
make the fortune of a theatre; I can only describe her by saying that
she is a Duprez in petticoats. It cost me two thousand francs a year
only to cultivate her talent as a singer. She made me music-mad; I
took a box at the opera for her and for my daughter, and went there
alternate evenings with Celestine or Josepha."
"What, the famous singer?"
"Yes, madame," said Crevel with pride, "the famous Josepha owes
everything to me.--At last, in 1834, when the child was twenty,
believing that I had attached her to me for ever, and being very weak
where she was concerned, I thought I would give her a little
amusement, and I introduced her to a pretty little actress, Jenny
Cadine, whose life had been somewhat like her own. This actress also
owed everything to a protector who had brought her up in
leading-strings. That protector was Baron Hulot."
"I know that," said the Baroness, in a calm voice without the least
"Bless me!" cried Crevel, more and more astounded. "Well! But do you
know that your monster of a husband took Jenny Cadine in hand at the
age of thirteen?"
"What then?" said the Baroness.
"As Jenny Cadine and Josepha were both aged twenty when they first
met," the ex-tradesman went on, "the Baron had been playing the part
of Louis XV. to Mademoiselle de Romans ever since 1826, and you were
twelve years younger then----"
"I had my reasons, monsieur, for leaving Monsieur Hulot his liberty."
"That falsehood, madame, will surely be enough to wipe out every sin
you have ever committed, and to open to you the gates of Paradise,"
replied Crevel, with a knowing air that brought the color to the
Baroness' cheeks. "Sublime and adored woman, tell that to those who
will believe it, but not to old Crevel, who has, I may tell you,
feasted too often as one of four with your rascally husband not to
know what your high merits are! Many a time has he blamed himself when
half tipsy as he has expatiated on your perfections. Oh, I know you
well!--A libertine might hesitate between you and a girl of twenty. I
do not hesitate----"
"Well, I say no more. But you must know, saintly and noble woman, that
a husband under certain circumstances will tell things about his wife
to his mistress that will mightily amuse her."
Tears of shame hanging to Madame Hulot's long lashes checked the
National Guardsman. He stopped short, and forgot his attitude.
"To proceed," said he. "We became intimate, the Baron and I, through
the two hussies. The Baron, like all bad lots, is very pleasant, a
thoroughly jolly good fellow. Yes, he took my fancy, the old rascal.
He could be so funny!--Well, enough of those reminiscences. We got to
be like brothers. The scoundrel--quite Regency in his notions--tried
indeed to deprave me altogether, preached Saint-Simonism as to women,
and all sorts of lordly ideas; but, you see, I was fond enough of my
girl to have married her, only I was afraid of having children.
"Then between two old daddies, such friends as--as we were, what more
natural than that we should think of our children marrying each other?
--Three months after his son had married my Celestine, Hulot--I don't
know how I can utter the wretch's name! he has cheated us both, madame
--well, the villain did me out of my little Josepha. The scoundrel
knew that he was supplanted in the heart of Jenny Cadine by a young
lawyer and by an artist--only two of them!--for the girl had more and
more of a howling success, and he stole my sweet little girl, a
perfect darling--but you must have seen her at the opera; he got her
an engagement there. Your husband is not so well behaved as I am. I am
ruled as straight as a sheet of music-paper. He had dropped a good
deal of money on Jenny Cadine, who must have cost him near on thirty
thousand francs a year. Well, I can only tell you that he is ruining
himself outright for Josepha.
"Josepha, madame, is a Jewess. Her name is Mirah, the anagram of
Hiram, an Israelite mark that stamps her, for she was a foundling
picked up in Germany, and the inquiries I have made prove that she is
the illegitimate child of a rich Jew banker. The life of the theatre,
and, above all, the teaching of Jenny Cadine, Madame Schontz, Malaga,
and Carabine, as to the way to treat an old man, have developed, in
the child whom I had kept in a respectable and not too expensive way
of life, all the native Hebrew instinct for gold and jewels--for the
"So this famous singer, hungering for plunder, now wants to be rich,
very rich. She tried her 'prentice hand on Baron Hulot, and soon
plucked him bare--plucked him, ay, and singed him to the skin. The
miserable man, after trying to vie with one of the Kellers and with
the Marquis d'Esgrignon, both perfectly mad about Josepha, to say
nothing of unknown worshipers, is about to see her carried off by that
very rich Duke, who is such a patron of the arts. Oh, what is his
name?--a dwarf.--Ah, the Duc d'Herouville. This fine gentleman insists
on having Josepha for his very own, and all that set are talking about
it; the Baron knows nothing of it as yet; for it is the same in the
Thirteenth Arrondissement as in every other: the lover, like the
husband, is last to get the news.
"Now, do you understand my claim? Your husband, dear lady, has robbed
me of my joy in life, the only happiness I have known since I became a
widower. Yes, if I had not been so unlucky as to come across that old
rip, Josepha would still be mine; for I, you know, should never have
placed her on the stage. She would have lived obscure, well conducted,
and mine. Oh! if you could but have seen her eight years ago, slight
and wiry, with the golden skin of an Andalusian, as they say, black
hair as shiny as satin, an eye that flashed lightning under long brown
lashes, the style of a duchess in every movement, the modesty of a
dependent, decent grace, and the pretty ways of a wild fawn. And by
that Hulot's doing all this charm and purity has been degraded to a
man-trap, a money-box for five-franc pieces! The girl is the Queen of
Trollops; and nowadays she humbugs every one--she who knew nothing,
not even that word."
At this stage the retired perfumer wiped his eyes, which were full of
tears. The sincerity of his grief touched Madame Hulot, and roused her
from the meditation into which she had sunk.
"Tell me, madame, is a man of fifty-two likely to find such another
jewel? At my age love costs thirty thousand francs a year. It is
through your husband's experience that I know the price, and I love
Celestine too truly to be her ruin. When I saw you, at the first
evening party you gave in our honor, I wondered how that scoundrel
Hulot could keep a Jenny Cadine--you had the manner of an Empress. You
do not look thirty," he went on. "To me, madame, you look young, and
you are beautiful. On my word of honor, that evening I was struck to
the heart. I said to myself, 'If I had not Josepha, since old Hulot
neglects his wife, she would fit me like a glove.' Forgive me--it is a
reminiscence of my old business. The perfumer will crop up now and
then, and that is what keeps me from standing to be elected deputy.
"And then, when I was so abominably deceived by the Baron, for really
between old rips like us our friend's mistress should be sacred, I
swore I would have his wife. It is but justice. The Baron could say
nothing; we are certain of impunity. You showed me the door like a
mangy dog at the first words I uttered as to the state of my feelings;
you only made my passion--my obstinacy, if you will--twice as strong,
and you shall be mine."
"I do not know; but it will come to pass. You see, madame, an idiot of
a perfumer--retired from business--who has but one idea in his head,
is stronger than a clever fellow who has a thousand. I am smitten with
you, and you are the means of my revenge; it is like being in love
twice over. I am speaking to you quite frankly, as a man who knows
what he means. I speak coldly to you, just as you do to me, when you
say, 'I never will be yours,' In fact, as they say, I play the game
with the cards on the table. Yes, you shall be mine, sooner or later;
if you were fifty, you should still be my mistress. And it will be;
for I expect anything from your husband!"
Madame Hulot looked at this vulgar intriguer with such a fixed stare
of terror, that he thought she had gone mad, and he stopped.
"You insisted on it, you heaped me with scorn, you defied me--and I
have spoken," said he, feeling that he must justify the ferocity of
his last words.
"Oh, my daughter, my daughter," moaned the Baroness in a voice like a
"Oh! I have forgotten all else," Crevel went on. "The day when I was
robbed of Josepha I was like a tigress robbed of her cubs; in short,
as you see me now.--Your daughter? Yes, I regard her as the means of
winning you. Yes, I put a spoke in her marriage--and you will not get
her married without my help! Handsome as Mademoiselle Hortense is, she
needs a fortune----"
"Alas! yes," said the Baroness, wiping her eyes.
"Well, just ask your husband for ten thousand francs," said Crevel,
striking his attitude once more. He waited a minute, like an actor who
has made a point.
"If he had the money, he would give it to the woman who will take
Josepha's place," he went on, emphasizing his tones. "Does a man ever
pull up on the road he has taken? In the first place, he is too sweet
on women. There is a happy medium in all things, as our King has told
us. And then his vanity is implicated! He is a handsome man!--He would
bring you all to ruin for his pleasure; in fact, you are already on
the highroad to the workhouse. Why, look, never since I set foot in
your house have you been able to do up your drawing-room furniture.
'Hard up' is the word shouted by every slit in the stuff. Where will
you find a son-in-law who would not turn his back in horror of the
ill-concealed evidence of the most cruel misery there is--that of
people in decent society? I have kept shop, and I know. There is no
eye so quick as that of the Paris tradesman to detect real wealth from
its sham.--You have no money," he said, in a lower voice. "It is
written everywhere, even on your man-servant's coat.
"Would you like me to disclose any more hideous mysteries that are
kept from you?"
"Monsieur," cried Madame Hulot, whose handkerchief was wet through
with her tears, "enough, enough!"
"My son-in-law, I tell you, gives his father money, and this is what I
particularly wanted to come to when I began by speaking of your son's
expenses. But I keep an eye on my daughter's interests, be easy."
"Oh, if I could but see my daughter married, and die!" cried the poor
woman, quite losing her head.
"Well, then, this is the way," said the ex-perfumer.
Madame Hulot looked at Crevel with a hopeful expression, which so
completely changed her countenance, that this alone ought to have
touched the man's feelings and have led him to abandon his monstrous
"You will still be handsome ten years hence," Crevel went on, with his
arms folded; "be kind to me, and Mademoiselle Hulot will marry. Hulot
has given me the right, as I have explained to you, to put the matter
crudely, and he will not be angry. In three years I have saved the
interest on my capital, for my dissipations have been restricted. I
have three hundred thousand francs in the bank over and above my
invested fortune--they are yours----"
"Go," said Madame Hulot. "Go, monsieur, and never let me see you
again. But for the necessity in which you placed me to learn the
secret of your cowardly conduct with regard to the match I had planned
for Hortense--yes, cowardly!" she repeated, in answer to a gesture
from Crevel. "How can you load a poor girl, a pretty, innocent
creature, with such a weight of enmity? But for the necessity that
goaded me as a mother, you would never have spoken to me again, never
again have come within my doors. Thirty-two years of an honorable and
loyal life shall not be swept away by a blow from Monsieur Crevel----"
"The retired perfumer, successor to Cesar Birotteau at the /Queen of
the Roses/, Rue Saint-Honore," added Crevel, in mocking tones.
"Deputy-mayor, captain in the National Guard, Chevalier of the Legion
of Honor--exactly what my predecessor was!"
"Monsieur," said the Baroness, "if, after twenty years of constancy,
Monsieur Hulot is tired of his wife, that is nobody's concern but
mine. As you see, he has kept his infidelity a mystery, for I did not
know that he had succeeded you in the affections of Mademoiselle
"Oh, it has cost him a pretty penny, madame. His singing-bird has cost
him more than a hundred thousand francs in these two years. Ah, ha!
you have not seen the end of it!"
"Have done with all this, Monsieur Crevel. I will not, for your sake,
forego the happiness a mother knows who can embrace her children
without a single pang of remorse in her heart, who sees herself
respected and loved by her family; and I will give up my soul to God
"Amen!" exclaimed Crevel, with the diabolical rage that embitters the
face of these pretenders when they fail for the second time in such an
attempt. "You do not yet know the latter end of poverty--shame,
disgrace.--I have tried to warn you; I would have saved you, you and
your daughter. Well, you must study the modern parable of the
/Prodigal Father/ from A to Z. Your tears and your pride move me
deeply," said Crevel, seating himself, "for it is frightful to see the
woman one loves weeping. All I can promise you, dear Adeline, is to do
nothing against your interests or your husband's. Only never send to
me for information. That is all."
"What is to be done?" cried Madame Hulot.
Up to now the Baroness had bravely faced the threefold torment which
this explanation inflicted on her; for she was wounded as a woman, as
a mother, and as a wife. In fact, so long as her son's father-in-law
was insolent and offensive, she had found the strength in her
resistance to the aggressive tradesman; but the sort of good-nature he
showed, in spite of his exasperation as a mortified adorer and as a
humiliated National Guardsman, broke down her nerve, strung to the
point of snapping. She wrung her hands, melted into tears, and was in
a state of such helpless dejection, that she allowed Crevel to kneel
at her feet, kissing her hands.
"Good God! what will become of us!" she went on, wiping away her
tears. "Can a mother sit still and see her child pine away before her
eyes? What is to be the fate of that splendid creature, as strong in
her pure life under her mother's care as she is by every gift of
nature? There are days when she wanders round the garden, out of
spirits without knowing why; I find her with tears in her eyes----"
"She is one-and-twenty," said Crevel.
"Must I place her in a convent?" asked the Baroness. "But in such
cases religion is impotent to subdue nature, and the most piously
trained girls lose their head!--Get up, pray, monsieur; do you not
understand that everything is final between us? that I look upon you
with horror? that you have crushed a mother's last hopes----"
"But if I were to restore them," asked he.
Madame Hulot looked at Crevel with a frenzied expression that really
touched him. But he drove pity back to the depths of his heart; she
had said, "I look upon you with horror."
Virtue is always a little too rigid; it overlooks the shades and
instincts by help of which we are able to tack when in a false
"So handsome a girl as Mademoiselle Hortense does not find a husband
nowadays if she is penniless," Crevel remarked, resuming his
starchiest manner. "Your daughter is one of those beauties who rather
alarm intending husbands; like a thoroughbred horse, which is too
expensive to keep up to find a ready purchaser. If you go out walking
with such a woman on your arm, every one will turn to look at you, and
follow and covet his neighbor's wife. Such success is a source of much
uneasiness to men who do not want to be killing lovers; for, after
all, no man kills more than one. In the position in which you find
yourself there are just three ways of getting your daughter married:
Either by my help--and you will have none of it! That is one.--Or by
finding some old man of sixty, very rich, childless, and anxious to
have children; that is difficult, still such men are to be met with.
Many old men take up with a Josepha, a Jenny Cadine, why should not
one be found who is ready to make a fool of himself under legal
formalities? If it were not for Celestine and our two grandchildren, I
would marry Hortense myself. That is two.--The last way is the
Madame Hulot raised her head, and looked uneasily at the ex-perfumer.
"Paris is a town whither every man of energy--and they sprout like
saplings on French soil--comes to meet his kind; talent swarms here
without hearth or home, and energy equal to anything, even to making a
fortune. Well, these youngsters--your humble servant was such a one in
his time, and how many he has known! What had du Tillet or Popinot
twenty years since? They were both pottering round in Daddy
Birotteau's shop, with not a penny of capital but their determination
to get on, which, in my opinion, is the best capital a man can have.
Money may be eaten through, but you don't eat through your
determination. Why, what had I? The will to get on, and plenty of
pluck. At this day du Tillet is a match for the greatest folks; little
Popinot, the richest druggist of the Rue des Lombards, became a
deputy, now he is in office.--Well, one of these free lances, as we
say on the stock market, of the pen, or of the brush, is the only man
in Paris who would marry a penniless beauty, for they have courage
enough for anything. Monsieur Popinot married Mademoiselle Birotteau
without asking for a farthing. Those men are madmen, to be sure! They
trust in love as they trust in good luck and brains!--Find a man of
energy who will fall in love with your daughter, and he will marry
without a thought of money. You must confess that by way of an enemy I
am not ungenerous, for this advice is against my own interests."
"Oh, Monsieur Crevel, if you would indeed be my friend and give up
your ridiculous notions----"
"Ridiculous? Madame, do not run yourself down. Look at yourself--I
love you, and you will come to be mine. The day will come when I shall
say to Hulot, 'You took Josepha, I have taken your wife!'
"It is the old law of tit-for-tat! And I will persevere till I have
attained my end, unless you should become extremely ugly.--I shall
succeed; and I will tell you why," he went on, resuming his attitude,
and looking at Madame Hulot. "You will not meet with such an old man,
or such a young lover," he said after a pause, "because you love your
daughter too well to hand her over to the manoeuvres of an old
libertine, and because you--the Baronne Hulot, sister of the old
Lieutenant-General who commanded the veteran Grenadiers of the Old
Guard--will not condescend to take a man of spirit wherever you may
find him; for he might be a mere craftsman, as many a millionaire of
to-day was ten years ago, a working artisan, or the foreman of a
"And then, when you see the girl, urged by her twenty years, capable
of dishonoring you all, you will say to yourself, 'It will be better
that I should fall! If Monsieur Crevel will but keep my secret, I will
earn my daughter's portion--two hundred thousand francs for ten years'
attachment to that old gloveseller--old Crevel!'--I disgust you no
doubt, and what I am saying is horribly immoral, you think? But if you
happened to have been bitten by an overwhelming passion, you would
find a thousand arguments in favor of yielding--as women do when they
are in love.--Yes, and Hortense's interests will suggest to your
feelings such terms of surrendering your conscience----"
"Hortense has still an uncle."
"What! Old Fischer? He is winding up his concerns, and that again is
the Baron's fault; his rake is dragged over every till within his
"Oh, madame, your husband has already made thin air of the old
General's savings. He spent them in furnishing his singer's rooms.
--Now, come; am I to go without a hope?"
"Good-bye, monsieur. A man easily gets over a passion for a woman of
my age, and you will fall back on Christian principles. God takes care
of the wretched----"
The Baroness rose to oblige the captain to retreat, and drove him back
into the drawing-room.
"Ought the beautiful Madame Hulot to be living amid such squalor?"
said he, and he pointed to an old lamp, a chandelier bereft of its
gilding, the threadbare carpet, the very rags of wealth which made the
large room, with its red, white, and gold, look like a corpse of
"Monsieur, virtue shines on it all. I have no wish to owe a handsome
abode to having made of the beauty you are pleased to ascribe to me a
/man-trap/ and /a money-box for five-franc pieces/!"
The captain bit his lips as he recognized the words he had used to
vilify Josepha's avarice.
"And for whom are you so magnanimous?" said he. By this time the
baroness had got her rejected admirer as far as the door.--"For a
libertine!" said he, with a lofty grimace of virtue and superior
"If you are right, my constancy has some merit, monsieur. That is
After bowing to the officer as a woman bows to dismiss an importune
visitor, she turned away too quickly to see him once more fold his
arms. She unlocked the doors she had closed, and did not see the
threatening gesture which was Crevel's parting greeting. She walked
with a proud, defiant step, like a martyr to the Coliseum, but her
strength was exhausted; she sank on the sofa in her blue room, as if
she were ready to faint, and sat there with her eyes fixed on the
tumble-down summer-house, where her daughter was gossiping with Cousin
From the first days of her married life to the present time the
Baroness had loved her husband, as Josephine in the end had loved
Napoleon, with an admiring, maternal, and cowardly devotion. Though
ignorant of the details given her by Crevel, she knew that for twenty
years past Baron Hulot been anything rather than a faithful husband;
but she had sealed her eyes with lead, she had wept in silence, and no
word of reproach had ever escaped her. In return for this angelic
sweetness, she had won her husband's veneration and something
approaching to worship from all who were about her.
A wife's affection for her husband and the respect she pays him are
infectious in a family. Hortense believed her father to be a perfect
model of conjugal affection; as to their son, brought up to admire the
Baron, whom everybody regarded as one of the giants who so effectually
backed Napoleon, he knew that he owed his advancement to his father's
name, position, and credit; and besides, the impressions of childhood
exert an enduring influence. He still was afraid of his father; and if
he had suspected the misdeeds revealed by Crevel, as he was too much
overawed by him to find fault, he would have found excuses in the view
every man takes of such matters.
It now will be necessary to give the reasons for the extraordinary
self-devotion of a good and beautiful woman; and this, in a few words,
is her past history.
Three brothers, simple laboring men, named Fischer, and living in a
village situated on the furthest frontier of Lorraine, were compelled
by the Republican conscription to set out with the so-called army of
In 1799 the second brother, Andre, a widower, and Madame Hulot's
father, left his daughter to the care of his elder brother, Pierre
Fischer, disabled from service by a wound received in 1797, and made a
small private venture in the military transport service, an opening he
owed to the favor of Hulot d'Ervy, who was high in the commissariat.
By a very obvious chance Hulot, coming to Strasbourg, saw the Fischer
family. Adeline's father and his younger brother were at that time
contractors for forage in the province of Alsace.
Adeline, then sixteen years of age, might be compared with the famous
Madame du Barry, like her, a daughter of Lorraine. She was one of
those perfect and striking beauties--a woman like Madame Tallien,
finished with peculiar care by Nature, who bestows on them all her
choicest gifts--distinction, dignity, grace, refinement, elegance,
flesh of a superior texture, and a complexion mingled in the unknown
laboratory where good luck presides. These beautiful creatures all
have something in common: Bianca Capella, whose portrait is one of
Bronzino's masterpieces; Jean Goujon's Venus, painted from the famous
Diane de Poitiers; Signora Olympia, whose picture adorns the Doria
gallery; Ninon, Madame du Barry, Madame Tallien, Mademoiselle Georges,
Madame Recamier.--all these women who preserved their beauty in spite
of years, of passion, and of their life of excess and pleasure, have
in figure, frame, and in the character of their beauty certain
striking resemblances, enough to make one believe that there is in the
ocean of generations an Aphrodisian current whence every such Venus is
born, all daughters of the same salt wave.
Adeline Fischer, one of the loveliest of this race of goddesses, had
the splendid type, the flowing lines, the exquisite texture of a woman
born a queen. The fair hair that our mother Eve received from the hand
of God, the form of an Empress, an air of grandeur, and an august line
of profile, with her rural modesty, made every man pause in delight as
she passed, like amateurs in front of a Raphael; in short, having once
seen her, the Commissariat officer made Mademoiselle Adeline Fischer
his wife as quickly as the law would permit, to the great astonishment
of the Fischers, who had all been brought up in the fear of their
The eldest, a soldier of 1792, severely wounded in the attack on the
lines at Wissembourg, adored the Emperor Napoleon and everything that
had to do with the /Grande Armee/. Andre and Johann spoke with respect
of Commissary Hulot, the Emperor's protege, to whom indeed they owed
their prosperity; for Hulot d'Ervy, finding them intelligent and
honest, had taken them from the army provision wagons to place them in
charge of a government contract needing despatch. The brothers Fischer
had done further service during the campaign of 1804. At the peace
Hulot had secured for them the contract for forage from Alsace, not
knowing that he would presently be sent to Strasbourg to prepare for
the campaign of 1806.
This marriage was like an Assumption to the young peasant girl. The
beautiful Adeline was translated at once from the mire of her village
to the paradise of the Imperial Court; for the contractor, one of the
most conscientious and hard-working of the Commissariat staff, was
made a Baron, obtained a place near the Emperor, and was attached to
the Imperial Guard. The handsome rustic bravely set to work to educate
herself for love of her husband, for she was simply crazy about him;
and, indeed, the Commissariat office was as a man a perfect match for
Adeline as a woman. He was one of the picked corps of fine men. Tall,
well-built, fair, with beautiful blue eyes full of irresistible fire
and life, his elegant appearance made him remarkable by the side of
d'Orsay, Forbin, Ouvrard; in short, in the battalion of fine men that
surrounded the Emperor. A conquering "buck," and holding the ideas of
the Directoire with regard to women, his career of gallantry was
interrupted for some long time by his conjugal affection.
To Adeline the Baron was from the first a sort of god who could do no
wrong. To him she owed everything: fortune--she had a carriage, a fine
house, every luxury of the day; happiness--he was devoted to her in
the face of the world; a title, for she was a Baroness; fame, for she
was spoken of as the beautiful Madame Hulot--and in Paris! Finally,
she had the honor of refusing the Emperor's advances, for Napoleon
made her a present of a diamond necklace, and always remembered her,
asking now and again, "And is the beautiful Madame Hulot still a model
of virtue?" in the tone of a man who might have taken his revenge on
one who should have triumphed where he had failed.
So it needs no great intuition to discern what were the motives in a
simple, guileless, and noble soul for the fanaticism of Madame Hulot's
love. Having fully persuaded herself that her husband could do her no
wrong, she made herself in the depths of her heart the humble, abject,
and blindfold slave of the man who had made her. It must be noted,
too, that she was gifted with great good sense--the good sense of the
people, which made her education sound. In society she spoke little,
and never spoke evil of any one; she did not try to shine; she thought
out many things, listened well, and formed herself on the model of the
best-conducted women of good birth.
In 1815 Hulot followed the lead of the Prince de Wissembourg, his
intimate friend, and became one of the officers who organized the
improvised troops whose rout brought the Napoleonic cycle to a close
at Waterloo. In 1816 the Baron was one of the men best hated by the
Feltre administration, and was not reinstated in the Commissariat till
1823, when he was needed for the Spanish war. In 1830 he took office
as the fourth wheel of the coach, at the time of the levies, a sort of
conscription made by Louis Philippe on the old Napoleonic soldiery.
From the time when the younger branch ascended the throne, having
taken an active part in bringing that about, he was regarded as an
indispensable authority at the War Office. He had already won his
Marshal's baton, and the King could do no more for him unless by
making him minister or a peer of France.
From 1818 till 1823, having no official occupation, Baron Hulot had
gone on active service to womankind. Madame Hulot dated her Hector's
first infidelities from the grand /finale/ of the Empire. Thus, for
twelve years the Baroness had filled the part in her household of
/prima donna assoluta/, without a rival. She still could boast of the
old-fashioned, inveterate affection which husbands feel for wives who
are resigned to be gentle and virtuous helpmates; she knew that if she
had a rival, that rival would not subsist for two hours under a word
of reproof from herself; but she shut her eyes, she stopped her ears,
she would know nothing of her husband's proceedings outside his home.
In short, she treated her Hector as a mother treats a spoilt child.
Three years before the conversation reported above, Hortense, at the
Theatre des Varietes, had recognized her father in a lower tier
stage-box with Jenny Cadine, and had exclaimed:
"There is papa!"
"You are mistaken, my darling; he is at the Marshal's," the Baroness
She too had seen Jenny Cadine; but instead of feeling a pang when she
saw how pretty she was, she said to herself, "That rascal Hector must
think himself very lucky."
She suffered nevertheless; she gave herself up in secret to rages of
torment; but as soon as she saw Hector, she always remembered her
twelve years of perfect happiness, and could not find it in her to
utter a word of complaint. She would have been glad if the Baron would
have taken her into his confidence; but she never dared to let him see
that she knew of his kicking over the traces, out of respect for her
husband. Such an excess of delicacy is never met with but in those
grand creatures, daughters of the soil, whose instinct it is to take
blows without ever returning them; the blood of the early martyrs
still lives in their veins. Well-born women, their husbands' equals,
feel the impulse to annoy them, to mark the points of their tolerance,
like points at billiards, by some stinging word, partly in the spirit
of diabolical malice, and to secure the upper hand or the right of
turning the tables.
The Baroness had an ardent admirer in her brother-in-law,
Lieutenant-General Hulot, the venerable Colonel of the Grenadiers of
the Imperial Infantry Guard, who was to have a Marshal's baton in his
old age. This veteran, after having served from 1830 to 1834 as
Commandant of the military division, including the departments of
Brittany, the scene of his exploits in 1799 and 1800, had come to
settle in Paris near his brother, for whom he had a fatherly affection.
This old soldier's heart was in sympathy with his sister-in-law; he
admired her as the noblest and saintliest of her sex. He had never
married, because he hoped to find a second Adeline, though he had
vainly sought for her through twenty campaigns in as many lands. To
maintain her place in the esteem of this blameless and spotless old
republican--of whom Napoleon had said, "That brave old Hulot is the
most obstinate republican, but he will never be false to me"--Adeline
would have endured griefs even greater than those that had just come
upon her. But the old soldier, seventy-two years of age, battered by
thirty campaigns, and wounded for the twenty-seventh time at Waterloo,
was Adeline's admirer, and not a "protector." The poor old Count,
among other infirmities, could only hear through a speaking trumpet.
So long as Baron Hulot d'Ervy was a fine man, his flirtations did not
damage his fortune; but when a man is fifty, the Graces claim payment.
At that age love becomes vice; insensate vanities come into play.
Thus, at about that time, Adeline saw that her husband was incredibly
particular about his dress; he dyed his hair and whiskers, and wore a
belt and stays. He was determined to remain handsome at any cost. This
care of his person, a weakness he had once mercilessly mocked at, was
carried out in the minutest details.
At last Adeline perceived that the Pactolus poured out before the
Baron's mistresses had its source in her pocket. In eight years he had
dissipated a considerable amount of money; and so effectually, that,
on his son's marriage two years previously, the Baron had been
compelled to explain to his wife that his pay constituted their whole
"What shall we come to?" asked Adeline.
"Be quite easy," said the official, "I will leave the whole of my
salary in your hands, and I will make a fortune for Hortense, and some
savings for the future, in business."
The wife's deep belief in her husband's power and superior talents, in
his capabilities and character, had, in fact, for the moment allayed
What the Baroness' reflections and tears were after Crevel's departure
may now be clearly imagined. The poor woman had for two years past
known that she was at the bottom of a pit, but she had fancied herself
alone in it. How her son's marriage had been finally arranged she had
not known; she had known nothing of Hector's connection with the
grasping Jewess; and, above all, she hoped that no one in the world
knew anything of her troubles. Now, if Crevel went about so ready to
talk of the Baron's excesses, Hector's reputation would suffer. She
could see, under the angry ex-perfumer's coarse harangue, the odious
gossip behind the scenes which led to her son's marriage. Two
reprobate hussies had been the priestesses of this union planned at
some orgy amid the degrading familiarities of two tipsy old sinners.
"And has he forgotten Hortense!" she wondered.
"But he sees her every day; will he try to find her a husband among
his good-for-nothing sluts?"
At this moment it was the mother that spoke rather than the wife, for
she saw Hortense laughing with her Cousin Betty--the reckless laughter
of heedless youth; and she knew that such hysterical laughter was
quite as distressing a symptom as the tearful reverie of solitary
walks in the garden.
Hortense was like her mother, with golden hair that waved naturally,
and was amazingly long and thick. Her skin had the lustre of
mother-of-pearl. She was visibly the offspring of a true marriage, of
a pure and noble love in its prime. There was a passionate vitality in
her countenance, a brilliancy of feature, a full fount of youth, a
fresh vigor and abundance of health, which radiated from her with
electric flashes. Hortense invited the eye.
When her eye, of deep ultramarine blue, liquid with the moisture of
innocent youth, rested on a passer-by, he was involuntarily thrilled.
Nor did a single freckle mar her skin, such as those with which many a
white and golden maid pays toll for her milky whiteness. Tall, round
without being fat, with a slender dignity as noble as her mother's,
she really deserved the name of goddess, of which old authors were so
lavish. In fact, those who saw Hortense in the street could hardly
restrain the exclamation, "What a beautiful girl!"
She was so genuinely innocent, that she could say to her mother:
"What do they mean, mamma, by calling me a beautiful girl when I am
with you? Are not you much handsomer than I am?"
And, in point of fact, at seven-and-forty the Baroness might have been
preferred to her daughter by amateurs of sunset beauty; for she had
not yet lost any of her charms, by one of those phenomena which are
especially rare in Paris, where Ninon was regarded as scandalous,
simply because she thus seemed to enjoy such an unfair advantage over
the plainer women of the seventeenth century.
Thinking of her daughter brought her back to the father; she saw him
sinking by degrees, day after day, down to the social mire, and even
dismissed some day from his appointment. The idea of her idol's fall,
with a vague vision of the disasters prophesied by Crevel, was such a
terror to the poor woman, that she became rapt in the contemplation
like an ecstatic.
Cousin Betty, from time to time, as she chatted with Hortense, looked
round to see when they might return to the drawing-room; but her young
cousin was pelting her with questions, and at the moment when the
Baroness opened the glass door she did not happen to be looking.
Lisbeth Fischer, though the daughter of the eldest of the three
brothers, was five years younger than Madame Hulot; she was far from
being as handsome as her cousin, and had been desperately jealous of
Adeline. Jealousy was the fundamental passion of this character,
marked by eccentricities--a word invented by the English to describe
the craziness not of the asylum, but of respectable households. A
native of the Vosges, a peasant in the fullest sense of the word,
lean, brown, with shining black hair and thick eyebrows joining in a
tuft, with long, strong arms, thick feet, and some moles on her narrow
simian face--such is a brief description of the elderly virgin.
The family, living all under one roof, had sacrificed the
common-looking girl to the beauty, the bitter fruit to the splendid
flower. Lisbeth worked in the fields, while her cousin was indulged;
and one day, when they were alone together, she had tried to destroy
Adeline's nose, a truly Greek nose, which the old mothers admired.
Though she was beaten for this misdeed, she persisted nevertheless in
tearing the favorite's gowns and crumpling her collars.
At the time of Adeline's wonderful marriage, Lisbeth had bowed to
fate, as Napoleon's brothers and sisters bowed before the splendor of
the throne and the force of authority.
Adeline, who was extremely sweet and kind, remembered Lisbeth when she
found herself in Paris, and invited her there in 1809, intending to
rescue her from poverty by finding her a husband. But seeing that it
was impossible to marry the girl out of hand, with her black eyes and
sooty brows, unable, too, to read or write, the Baron began by
apprenticing her to a business; he placed her as a learner with the
embroiderers to the Imperial Court, the well-known Pons Brothers.
Lisbeth, called Betty for short, having learned to embroider in gold
and silver, and possessing all the energy of a mountain race, had
determination enough to learn to read, write, and keep accounts; for
her cousin the Baron had pointed out the necessity for these
accomplishments if she hoped to set up in business as an embroiderer.
She was bent on making a fortune; in two years she was another
creature. In 1811 the peasant woman had become a very presentable,
skilled, and intelligent forewoman.
Her department, that of gold and silver lace-work, as it is called,
included epaulettes, sword-knots, aiguillettes; in short, the immense
mass of glittering ornaments that sparkled on the rich uniforms of the
French army and civil officials. The Emperor, a true Italian in his
love of dress, had overlaid the coats of all his servants with silver
and gold, and the Empire included a hundred and thirty-three
Departments. These ornaments, usually supplied to tailors who were
solvent and wealthy paymasters, were a very secure branch of trade.
Just when Cousin Betty, the best hand in the house of Pons Brothers,
where she was forewoman of the embroidery department, might have set
up in business on her own account, the Empire collapsed. The
olive-branch of peace held out by the Bourbons did not reassure Lisbeth;
she feared a diminution of this branch of trade, since henceforth there
were to be but eighty-six Departments to plunder, instead of a hundred
and thirty-three, to say nothing of the immense reduction of the army.
Utterly scared by the ups and downs of industry, she refused the
Baron's offers of help, and he thought she must be mad. She confirmed
this opinion by quarreling with Monsieur Rivet, who bought the
business of Pons Brothers, and with whom the Baron wished to place her
in partnership; she would be no more than a workwoman. Thus the
Fischer family had relapsed into the precarious mediocrity from which
Baron Hulot had raised it.
The three brothers Fischer, who had been ruined by the abdication at
Fontainebleau, in despair joined the irregular troops in 1815. The
eldest, Lisbeth's father, was killed. Adeline's father, sentenced to
death by court-martial, fled to Germany, and died at Treves in 1820.
Johann, the youngest, came to Paris, a petitioner to the queen of the
family, who was said to dine off gold and silver plate, and never to
be seen at a party but with diamonds in her hair as big as hazel-nuts,
given to her by the Emperor.
Johann Fischer, then aged forty-three, obtained from Baron Hulot a
capital of ten thousand francs with which to start a small business as
forage-dealer at Versailles, under the patronage of the War Office,
through the influence of the friends still in office, of the late
These family catastrophes, Baron Hulot's dismissal, and the knowledge
that he was a mere cipher in that immense stir of men and interests
and things which makes Paris at once a paradise and a hell, quite
quelled Lisbeth Fischer. She gave up all idea of rivalry and
comparison with her cousin after feeling her great superiority; but
envy still lurked in her heart, like a plague-germ that may hatch and
devastate a city if the fatal bale of wool is opened in which it is
Now and again, indeed, she said to herself:
"Adeline and I are the same flesh and blood, our fathers were brothers
--and she is in a mansion, while I am in a garret."
But every New Year Lisbeth had presents from the Baron and Baroness;
the Baron, who was always good to her, paid for her firewood in the
winter; old General Hulot had her to dinner once a week; and there was
always a cover laid for her at her cousin's table. They laughed at her
no doubt, but they never were ashamed to own her. In short, they had
made her independent in Paris, where she lived as she pleased.
The old maid had, in fact, a terror of any kind of tie. Her cousin had
offered her a room in her own house--Lisbeth suspected the halter of
domestic servitude; several times the Baron had found a solution of
the difficult problem of her marriage; but though tempted in the first
instance, she would presently decline, fearing lest she should be
scorned for her want of education, her general ignorance, and her
poverty; finally, when the Baroness suggested that she should live
with their uncle Johann, and keep house for him, instead of the upper
servant, who must cost him dear, Lisbeth replied that that was the
very last way she should think of marrying.
Lisbeth Fischer had the sort of strangeness in her ideas which is
often noticeable in characters that have developed late, in savages,
who think much and speak little. Her peasant's wit had acquired a good
deal of Parisian asperity from hearing the talk of workshops and
mixing with workmen and workwomen. She, whose character had a marked
resemblance to that of the Corsicans, worked upon without fruition by
the instincts of a strong nature, would have liked to be the
protectress of a weak man; but, as a result of living in the capital,
the capital had altered her superficially. Parisian polish became rust
on this coarsely tempered soul. Gifted with a cunning which had become
unfathomable, as it always does in those whose celibacy is genuine,
with the originality and sharpness with which she clothed her ideas,
in any other position she would have been formidable. Full of spite,
she was capable of bringing discord into the most united family.
In early days, when she indulged in certain secret hopes which she
confided to none, she took to wearing stays, and dressing in the
fashion, and so shone in splendor for a short time, that the Baron
thought her marriageable. Lisbeth at that stage was the piquante
brunette of old-fashioned novels. Her piercing glance, her olive skin,
her reed-like figure, might invite a half-pay major; but she was
satisfied, she would say laughing, with her own admiration.
And, indeed, she found her life pleasant enough when she had freed it
from practical anxieties, for she dined out every evening after
working hard from sunrise. Thus she had only her rent and her midday
meal to provide for; she had most of her clothes given her, and a
variety of very acceptable stores, such as coffee, sugar, wine, and so
In 1837, after living for twenty-seven years, half maintained by the
Hulots and her Uncle Fischer, Cousin Betty, resigned to being nobody,
allowed herself to be treated so. She herself refused to appear at any
grand dinners, preferring the family party, where she held her own and
was spared all slights to her pride.
Wherever she went--at General Hulot's, at Crevel's, at the house of
the young Hulots, or at Rivet's (Pons' successor, with whom she made
up her quarrel, and who made much of her), and at the Baroness' table
--she was treated as one of the family; in fact, she managed to make
friends of the servants by making them an occasional small present,
and always gossiping with them for a few minutes before going into the
drawing-room. This familiarity, by which she uncompromisingly put
herself on their level, conciliated their servile good-nature, which
is indispensable to a parasite. "She is a good, steady woman," was
Her willingness to oblige, which knew no bounds when it was not
demanded of her, was indeed, like her assumed bluntness, a necessity
of her position. She had at length understood what her life must be,
seeing that she was at everybody's mercy; and needing to please
everybody, she would laugh with young people, who liked her for a sort
of wheedling flattery which always wins them; guessing and taking part
with their fancies, she would make herself their spokeswoman, and they
thought her a delightful /confidante/, since she had no right to find
fault with them.
Her absolute secrecy also won her the confidence of their seniors;
for, like Ninon, she had certain manly qualities. As a rule, our
confidence is given to those below rather than above us. We employ our
inferiors rather than our betters in secret transactions, and they
thus become the recipients of our inmost thoughts, and look on at our
meditations; Richelieu thought he had achieved success when he was
admitted to the Council. This penniless woman was supposed to be so
dependent on every one about her, that she seemed doomed to perfect
silence. She herself called herself the Family Confessional.
The Baroness only, remembering her ill-usage in childhood by the
cousin who, though younger, was stronger than herself, never wholly
trusted her. Besides, out of sheer modesty, she would never have told
her domestic sorrows to any one but God.
It may here be well to add that the Baron's house preserved all its
magnificence in the eyes of Lisbeth Fischer, who was not struck, as
the parvenu perfumer had been, with the penury stamped on the shabby
chairs, the dirty hangings, and the ripped silk. The furniture we live
with is in some sort like our own person; seeing ourselves every day,
we end, like the Baron, by thinking ourselves but little altered, and
still youthful, when others see that our head is covered with
chinchilla, our forehead scarred with circumflex accents, our stomach
assuming the rotundity of a pumpkin. So these rooms, always blazing in
Betty's eyes with the Bengal fire of Imperial victory, were to her
As time went on, Lisbeth had contracted some rather strange
old-maidish habits. For instance, instead of following the fashions,
she expected the fashion to accept her ways and yield to her always
out-of-date notions. When the Baroness gave her a pretty new bonnet, or
a gown in the fashion of the day, Betty remade it completely at home,
and spoilt it by producing a dress of the style of the Empire or of
her old Lorraine costume. A thirty-franc bonnet came out a rag, and
the gown a disgrace. On this point, Lisbeth was as obstinate as a
mule; she would please no one but herself and believed herself
charming; whereas this assimilative process--harmonious, no doubt, in
so far as that it stamped her for an old maid from head to foot--made
her so ridiculous, that, with the best will in the world, no one could
admit her on any smart occasion.
This refractory, capricious, and independent spirit, and the
inexplicable wild shyness of the woman for whom the Baron had four
times found a match--an employe in his office, a retired major, an
army contractor, and a half-pay captain--while she had refused an army
lacemaker, who had since made his fortune, had won her the name of the
Nanny Goat, which the Baron gave her in jest. But this nickname only
met the peculiarities that lay on the surface, the eccentricities
which each of us displays to his neighbors in social life. This woman,
who, if closely studied, would have shown the most savage traits of
the peasant class, was still the girl who had clawed her cousin's
nose, and who, if she had not been trained to reason, would perhaps
have killed her in a fit of jealousy.
It was only her knowledge of the laws and of the world that enabled
her to control the swift instinct with which country folk, like wild
men, reduce impulse to action. In this alone, perhaps, lies the
difference between natural and civilized man. The savage has only
impulse; the civilized man has impulses and ideas. And in the savage
the brain retains, as we may say, but few impressions, it is wholly at
the mercy of the feeling that rushes in upon it; while in the
civilized man, ideas sink into the heart and change it; he has a
thousand interests and many feelings, where the savage has but one at
a time. This is the cause of the transient ascendency of a child over
its parents, which ceases as soon as it is satisfied; in the man who
is still one with nature, this contrast is constant. Cousin Betty, a
savage of Lorraine, somewhat treacherous too, was of this class of
natures, which are commoner among the lower orders than is supposed,
accounting for the conduct of the populace during revolutions.
At the time when this /Drama/ opens, if Cousin Betty would have
allowed herself to be dressed like other people; if, like the women of
Paris, she had been accustomed to wear each fashion in its turn, she
would have been presentable and acceptable, but she preserved the
stiffness of a stick. Now a woman devoid of all the graces, in Paris
simply does not exist. The fine but hard eyes, the severe features,
the Calabrian fixity of complexion which made Lisbeth like a figure by
Giotto, and of which a true Parisian would have taken advantage, above
all, her strange way of dressing, gave her such an extraordinary
appearance that she sometimes looked like one of those monkeys in
petticoats taken about by little Savoyards. As she was well known in
the houses connected by family which she frequented, and restricted
her social efforts to that little circle, as she liked her own home,
her singularities no longer astonished anybody; and out of doors they
were lost in the immense stir of Paris street-life, where only pretty
women are ever looked at.
Hortense's laughter was at this moment caused by a victory won over
her Cousin Lisbeth's perversity; she had just wrung from her an avowal
she had been hoping for these three years past. However secretive an
old maid may be, there is one sentiment which will always avail to
make her break her fast from words, and that is her vanity. For the
last three years, Hortense, having become very inquisitive on such
matters, had pestered her cousin with questions, which, however, bore
the stamp of perfect innocence. She wanted to know why her cousin had
never married. Hortense, who knew of the five offers that she had
refused, had constructed her little romance; she supposed that Lisbeth
had had a passionate attachment, and a war of banter was the result.
Hortense would talk of "We young girls!" when speaking of herself and
Cousin Betty had on several occasions answered in the same tone--"And
who says I have not a lover?" So Cousin Betty's lover, real or
fictitious, became a subject of mild jesting. At last, after two years
of this petty warfare, the last time Lisbeth had come to the house
Hortense's first question had been:
"And how is your lover?"
"Pretty well, thank you," was the answer. "He is rather ailing, poor
"He has delicate health?" asked the Baroness, laughing.
"I should think so! He is fair. A sooty thing like me can love none
but a fair man with a color like the moon."
"But who is he? What does he do?" asked Hortense. "Is he a prince?"
"A prince of artisans, as I am queen of the bobbin. Is a poor woman
like me likely to find a lover in a man with a fine house and money in
the funds, or in a duke of the realm, or some Prince Charming out of a
"Oh, I should so much like to see him!" cried Hortense, smiling.
"To see what a man can be like who can love the Nanny Goat?" retorted
"He must be some monster of an old clerk, with a goat's beard!"
Hortense said to her mother.
"Well, then, you are quite mistaken, mademoiselle."
"Then you mean that you really have a lover?" Hortense exclaimed in
"As sure as you have not!" retorted Lisbeth, nettled.
"But if you have a lover, why don't you marry him, Lisbeth?" said the
Baroness, shaking her head at her daughter. "We have been hearing
rumors about him these three years. You have had time to study him;
and if he has been faithful so long, you should not persist in a delay
which must be hard upon him. After all, it is a matter of conscience;
and if he is young, it is time to take a brevet of dignity."
Cousin Betty had fixed her gaze on Adeline, and seeing that she was
jesting, she replied:
"It would be marrying hunger and thirst; he is a workman, I am a
workwoman. If we had children, they would be workmen.--No, no; we love
each other spiritually; it is less expensive."
"Why do you keep him in hiding?" Hortense asked.
"He wears a round jacket," replied the old maid, laughing.
"You truly love him?" the Baroness inquired.
"I believe you! I love him for his own sake, the dear cherub. For four
years his home has been in my heart."
"Well, then, if you love him for himself," said the Baroness gravely,
"and if he really exists, you are treating him criminally. You do not
know how to love truly."
"We all know that from our birth," said Lisbeth.
"No, there are women who love and yet are selfish, and that is your
Cousin Betty's head fell, and her glance would have made any one
shiver who had seen it; but her eyes were on her reel of thread.
"If you would introduce your so-called lover to us, Hector might find
him employment, or put him in a position to make money."
"That is out of the question," said Cousin Betty.
"He is a sort of Pole--a refugee----"
"A conspirator?" cried Hortense. "What luck for you!--Has he had any
"He has fought for Poland. He was a professor in the school where the
students began the rebellion; and as he had been placed there by the
Grand Duke Constantine, he has no hope of mercy----"
"A professor of what?"
"Of fine arts."
"And he came to Paris when the rebellion was quelled?"
"In 1833. He came through Germany on foot."
"Poor young man! And how old is he?"
"He was just four-and-twenty when the insurrection broke out--he is
"Fifteen years your junior," said the Baroness.
"And what does he live on?" asked Hortense.
"Oh, he gives lessons?"
"No," said Cousin Betty; "he gets them, and hard ones too!"
"And his Christian name--is it a pretty name?"
"What a wonderful imagination you old maids have!" exclaimed the
Baroness. "To hear you talk, Lisbeth, one might really believe you."
"You see, mamma, he is a Pole, and so accustomed to the knout that
Lisbeth reminds him of the joys of his native land."
They all three laughed, and Hortense sang /Wenceslas! idole de mon
ame!/ instead of /O Mathilde/.
Then for a few minutes there was a truce.
"These children," said Cousin Betty, looking at Hortense as she went
up to her, "fancy that no one but themselves can have lovers."
"Listen," Hortense replied, finding herself alone with her cousin, "if
you prove to me that Wenceslas is not a pure invention, I will give
you my yellow cashmere shawl."
"He is a Count."
"Every Pole is a Count!"
"But he is not a Pole; he comes from Liva--Litha----"
"Yes, that's it!"
"But what is his name?"
"I wonder if you are capable of keeping a secret."
"Cousin Betty, I will be as mute!----"
"As a fish?"
"As a fish."
"By your life eternal?"
"By my life eternal!"
"No, by your happiness in this world?"
"Well, then, his name is Wenceslas Steinbock."
"One of Charles XII.'s Generals was named Steinbock."
"He was his grand-uncle. His own father settled in Livonia after the
death of the King of Sweden; but he lost all his fortune during the
campaign of 1812, and died, leaving the poor boy at the age of eight
without a penny. The Grand Duke Constantine, for the honor of the name
of Steinbock, took him under his protection and sent him to school."
"I will not break my word," Hortense replied; "prove his existence,
and you shall have the yellow shawl. The color is most becoming to
"And you will keep my secret?"
"And tell you mine."
"Well, then, the next time I come you shall have the proof."
"But the proof will be the lover," said Hortense.
Cousin Betty, who, since her first arrival in Paris, had been bitten
by a mania for shawls, was bewitched by the idea of owning the yellow
cashmere given to his wife by the Baron in 1808, and handed down from
mother to daughter after the manner of some families in 1830. The
shawl had been a good deal worn ten years ago; but the costly object,
now always kept in its sandal-wood box, seemed to the old maid ever
new, like the drawing-room furniture. So she brought in her handbag a
present for the Baroness' birthday, by which she proposed to prove the
existence of her romantic lover.
This present was a silver seal formed of three little figures back to
back, wreathed with foliage, and supporting the Globe. They
represented Faith, Hope, and Charity; their feet rested on monsters
rending each other, among them the symbolical serpent. In 1846, now
that such immense strides have been made in the art of which Benvenuto
Cellini was the master, by Mademoiselle de Fauveau, Wagner, Jeanest,
Froment-Meurice, and wood-carvers like Lienard, this little
masterpiece would amaze nobody; but at that time a girl who understood
the silversmith's art stood astonished as she held the seal which
Lisbeth put into her hands, saying:
"There! what do you think of that?"
In design, attitude, and drapery the figures were of the school of
Raphael; but the execution was in the style of the Florentine metal
workers--the school created by Donatello, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti,
Benvenuto Cellini, John of Bologna, and others. The French masters of
the Renaissance had never invented more strangely twining monsters
than these that symbolized the evil passions. The palms, ferns, reeds,
and foliage that wreathed the Virtues showed a style, a taste, a
handling that might have driven a practised craftsman to despair; a
scroll floated above the three figures; and on its surface, between
the heads, were a W, a chamois, and the word /fecit/.
"Who carved this?" asked Hortense.
"Well, just my lover," replied Lisbeth. "There are ten months' work in
it; I could earn more at making sword-knots.--He told me that
Steinbock means a rock goat, a chamois, in German. And he intends to
mark all his work in that way.--Ah, ha! I shall have the shawl."
"Do you suppose I could buy such a thing, or order it? Impossible!
Well, then, it must have been given to me. And who would make me such
a present? A lover!"
Hortense, with an artfulness that would have frightened Lisbeth
Fischer if she had detected it, took care not to express all her
admiration, though she was full of the delight which every soul that
is open to a sense of beauty must feel on seeing a faultless piece of
work--perfect and unexpected.
"On my word," said she, "it is very pretty."
"Yes, it is pretty," said her cousin; "but I like an orange-colored
shawl better.--Well, child, my lover spends his time in doing such
work as that. Since he came to Paris he has turned out three or four
little trifles in that style, and that is the fruit of four years'
study and toil. He has served as apprentice to founders,
metal-casters, and goldsmiths.--There he has paid away thousands and
hundreds of francs. And my gentleman tells me that in a few months now
he will be famous and rich----"
"Then you often see him?"
"Bless me, do you think it is all a fable? I told you truth in jest."
"And he is in love with you?" asked Hortense eagerly.
"He adores me," replied Lisbeth very seriously. "You see, child, he
had never seen any women but the washed out, pale things they all are
in the north, and a slender, brown, youthful thing like me warmed his
heart.--But, mum; you promised, you know!"
"And he will fare like the five others," said the girl ironically, as
she looked at the seal.
"Six others, miss. I left one in Lorraine, who, to this day, would
fetch the moon down for me."
"This one does better than that," said Hortense; "he has brought down
"Where can that be turned into money?" asked her cousin. "It takes
wide lands to benefit by the sunshine."
These witticisms, fired in quick retort, and leading to the sort of
giddy play that may be imagined, had given cause for the laughter
which had added to the Baroness' troubles by making her compare her
daughter's future lot with the present, when she was free to indulge
the light-heartedness of youth.
"But to give you a gem which cost him six months of work, he must be
under some great obligations to you?" said Hortense, in whom the
silver seal had suggested very serious reflections.
"Oh, you want to know too much at once!" said her cousin. "But,
listen, I will let you into a little plot."
"Is your lover in it too?"
"Oh, ho! you want so much to see him! But, as you may suppose, an old
maid like Cousin Betty, who had managed to keep a lover for five
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