Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 16
years, keeps him well hidden.--Now, just let me alone. You see, I have
neither cat nor canary, neither dog nor a parrot, and the old Nanny
Goat wanted something to pet and tease--so I treated myself to a
"Has he a moustache?"
"As long as that," said Lisbeth, holding up her shuttle filled with
gold thread. She always took her lace-work with her, and worked till
dinner was served.
"If you ask too many questions, you will be told nothing," she went
on. "You are but two-and-twenty, and you chatter more than I do though
I am forty-two--not to say forty-three."
"I am listening; I am a wooden image," said Hortense.
"My lover has finished a bronze group ten inches high," Lisbeth went
on. "It represents Samson slaying a lion, and he has kept it buried
till it is so rusty that you might believe it to be as old as Samson
himself. This fine piece is shown at the shop of one of the old
curiosity sellers on the Place du Carrousel, near my lodgings. Now,
your father knows Monsieur Popinot, the Minister of Commerce and
Agriculture, and the Comte de Rastignac, and if he would mention the
group to them as a fine antique he had seen by chance! It seems that
such things take the fancy of your grand folks, who don't care so much
about gold lace, and that my man's fortune would be made if one of
them would buy or even look at the wretched piece of metal. The poor
fellow is sure that it might be mistaken for old work, and that the
rubbish is worth a great deal of money. And then, if one of the
ministers should purchase the group, he would go to pay his respects,
and prove that he was the maker, and be almost carried in triumph! Oh!
he believes he has reached the pinnacle; poor young man, and he is as
proud as two newly-made Counts."
"Michael Angelo over again; but, for a lover, he has kept his head on
his shoulders!" said Hortense. "And how much does he want for it?"
"Fifteen hundred francs. The dealer will not let it go for less, since
he must take his commission."
"Papa is in the King's household just now," said Hortense. "He sees
those two ministers every day at the Chamber, and he will do the thing
--I undertake that. You will be a rich woman, Madame la Comtesse de
"No, the boy is too lazy; for whole weeks he sits twiddling with bits
of red wax, and nothing comes of it. Why, he spends all his days at
the Louvre and the Library, looking at prints and sketching things. He
is an idler!"
The cousins chatted and giggled; Hortense laughing a forced laugh, for
she was invaded by a kind of love which every girl has gone through
--the love of the unknown, love in its vaguest form, when every thought
is accreted round some form which is suggested by a chance word, as
the efflorescence of hoar-frost gathers about a straw that the wind
has blown against the window-sill.
For the past ten months she had made a reality of her cousin's
imaginary romance, believing, like her mother, that Lisbeth would
never marry; and now, within a week, this visionary being had become
Comte Wenceslas Steinbock, the dream had a certificate of birth, the
wraith had solidified into a young man of thirty. The seal she held in
her hand--a sort of Annunciation in which genius shone like an
immanent light--had the powers of a talisman. Hortense felt such a
surge of happiness, that she almost doubted whether the tale were
true; there was a ferment in her blood, and she laughed wildly to
deceive her cousin.
"But I think the drawing-room door is open," said Lisbeth; "let us go
and see if Monsieur Crevel is gone."
"Mamma has been very much out of spirits these two days. I suppose the
marriage under discussion has come to nothing!"
"Oh, it may come on again. He is--I may tell you so much--a Councillor
of the Supreme Court. How would you like to be Madame la Presidente?
If Monsieur Crevel has a finger in it, he will tell me about it if I
ask him. I shall know by to-morrow if there is any hope."
"Leave the seal with me," said Hortense; "I will not show it--mamma's
birthday is not for a month yet; I will give it to you that morning."
"No, no. Give it back to me; it must have a case."
"But I will let papa see it, that he may know what he is talking about
to the ministers, for men in authority must be careful what they say,"
urged the girl.
"Well, do not show it to your mother--that is all I ask; for if she
believed I had a lover, she would make game of me."
The cousins reached the drawing-room just as the Baroness turned
faint. Her daughter's cry of alarm recalled her to herself. Lisbeth
went off to fetch some salts. When she came back, she found the mother
and daughter in each other's arms, the Baroness soothing her
daughter's fears, and saying:
"It was nothing; a little nervous attack.--There is your father," she
added, recognizing the Baron's way of ringing the bell. "Say not a
word to him."
Adeline rose and went to meet her husband, intending to take him into
the garden and talk to him till dinner should be served of the
difficulties about the proposed match, getting him to come to some
decision as to the future, and trying to hint at some warning advice.
Baron Hector Hulot came in, in a dress at once lawyer-like and
Napoleonic, for Imperial men--men who had been attached to the Emperor
--were easily distinguishable by their military deportment, their blue
coats with gilt buttons, buttoned to the chin, their black silk stock,
and an authoritative demeanor acquired from a habit of command in
circumstances requiring despotic rapidity. There was nothing of the
old man in the Baron, it must be admitted; his sight was still so
good, that he could read without spectacles; his handsome oval face,
framed in whiskers that were indeed too black, showed a brilliant
complexion, ruddy with the veins that characterize a sanguine
temperament; and his stomach, kept in order by a belt, had not
exceeded the limits of "the majestic," as Brillat-Savarin says. A fine
aristocratic air and great affability served to conceal the libertine
with whom Crevel had had such high times. He was one of those men
whose eyes always light up at the sight of a pretty woman, even of
such as merely pass by, never to be seen again.
"Have you been speaking, my dear?" asked Adeline, seeing him with an
"No," replied Hector, "but I am worn out with hearing others speak for
two hours without coming to a vote. They carry on a war of words, in
which their speeches are like a cavalry charge which has no effect on
the enemy. Talk has taken the place of action, which goes very much
against the grain with men who are accustomed to marching orders, as I
said to the Marshal when I left him. However, I have enough of being
bored on the ministers' bench; here I may play.--How do, la Chevre!
--Good morning, little kid," and he took his daughter round the neck,
kissed her, and made her sit on his knee, resting her head on his
shoulder, that he might feel her soft golden hair against his cheek.
"He is tired and worried," said his wife to herself. "I shall only
worry him more.--I will wait.--Are you going to be at home this
evening?" she asked him.
"No, children. After dinner I must go out. If it had not been the day
when Lisbeth and the children and my brother come to dinner, you would
not have seen me at all."
The Baroness took up the newspaper, looked down the list of theatres,
and laid it down again when she had seen that Robert /le Diable/ was
to be given at the Opera. Josepha, who had left the Italian Opera six
months since for the French Opera, was to take the part of Alice.
This little pantomime did not escape the Baron, who looked hard at his
wife. Adeline cast down her eyes and went out into the garden; her
husband followed her.
"Come, what is it, Adeline?" said he, putting his arm round her waist
and pressing her to his side. "Do not you know that I love you more
"More than Jenny Cadine or Josepha!" said she, boldly interrupting
"Who put that into your head?" exclaimed the Baron, releasing his
wife, and starting back a step or two.
"I got an anonymous letter, which I burnt at once, in which I was
told, my dear, that the reason Hortense's marriage was broken off was
the poverty of our circumstances. Your wife, my dear Hector, would
never have said a word; she knew of your connection with Jenny Cadine,
and did she ever complain?--But as the mother of Hortense, I am bound
to speak the truth."
Hulot, after a short silence, which was terrible to his wife, whose
heart beat loud enough to be heard, opened his arms, clasped her to
his heart, kissed her forehead, and said with the vehemence of
"Adeline, you are an angel, and I am a wretch----"
"No, no," cried the Baroness, hastily laying her hand upon his lips to
hinder him from speaking evil of himself.
"Yes, for I have not at this moment a sou to give to Hortense, and I
am most unhappy. But since you open your heart to me, I may pour into
it the trouble that is crushing me.--Your Uncle Fischer is in
difficulties, and it is I who dragged him there, for he has accepted
bills for me to the amount of twenty-five thousand francs! And all for
a woman who deceives me, who laughs at me behind my back, and calls me
an old dyed Tom. It is frightful! A vice which costs me more than it
would to maintain a family!--And I cannot resist!--I would promise you
here and now never to see that abominable Jewess again; but if she
wrote me two lines, I should go to her, as we marched into fire under
"Do not be so distressed," cried the poor woman in despair, but
forgetting her daughter as she saw the tears in her husband's eyes.
"There are my diamonds; whatever happens, save my uncle."
"Your diamonds are worth scarcely twenty thousand francs nowadays.
That would not be enough for old Fischer, so keep them for Hortense; I
will see the Marshal to-morrow."
"My poor dear!" said the Baroness, taking her Hector's hands and
This was all the scolding he got. Adeline sacrificed her jewels, the
father made them a present to Hortense, she regarded this as a sublime
action, and she was helpless.
"He is the master; he could take everything, and he leaves me my
diamonds; he is divine!"
This was the current of her thoughts; and indeed the wife had gained
more by her sweetness than another perhaps could have achieved by a
fit of angry jealousy.
The moralist cannot deny that, as a rule, well-bred though very wicked
men are far more attractive and lovable than virtuous men; having
crimes to atone for, they crave indulgence by anticipation, by being
lenient to the shortcomings of those who judge them, and they are
thought most kind. Though there are no doubt some charming people
among the virtuous, Virtue considers itself fair enough, unadorned, to
be at no pains to please; and then all really virtuous persons, for
the hypocrites do not count, have some slight doubts as to their
position; they believe that they are cheated in the bargain of life on
the whole, and they indulge in acid comments after the fashion of
those who think themselves unappreciated.
Hence the Baron, who accused himself of ruining his family, displayed
all his charm of wit and his most seductive graces for the benefit of
his wife, for his children, and his Cousin Lisbeth.
Then, when his son arrived with Celestine, Crevel's daughter, who was
nursing the infant Hulot, he was delightful to his daughter-in-law,
loading her with compliments--a treat to which Celestine's vanity was
little accustomed for no moneyed bride more commonplace or more
utterly insignificant was ever seen. The grandfather took the baby
from her, kissed it, declared it was a beauty and a darling; he spoke
to it in baby language, prophesied that it would grow to be taller
than himself, insinuated compliments for his son's benefit, and
restored the child to the Normandy nurse who had charge of it.
Celestine, on her part, gave the Baroness a look, as much as to say,
"What a delightful man!" and she naturally took her father-in-law's
part against her father.
After thus playing the charming father-in-law and the indulgent
grandpapa, the Baron took his son into the garden, and laid before him
a variety of observations full of good sense as to the attitude to be
taken up by the Chamber on a certain ticklish question which had that
morning come under discussion. The young lawyer was struck with
admiration for the depth of his father's insight, touched by his
cordiality, and especially by the deferential tone which seemed to
place the two men on a footing of equality.
Monsieur Hulot /junior/ was in every respect the young Frenchman, as
he has been moulded by the Revolution of 1830; his mind infatuated
with politics, respectful of his own hopes, and concealing them under
an affectation of gravity, very envious of successful men, making
sententiousness do the duty of witty rejoinders--the gems of the
French language--with a high sense of importance, and mistaking
arrogance for dignity.
Such men are walking coffins, each containing a Frenchman of the past;
now and again the Frenchman wakes up and kicks against his
English-made casing; but ambition stifles him, and he submits to be
smothered. The coffin is always covered with black cloth.
"Ah, here is my brother!" said Baron Hulot, going to meet the Count at
the drawing-room door.
Having greeted the probable successor of the late Marshal Montcornet,
he led him forward by the arm with every show of affection and
The older man, a member of the Chamber of Peers, but excused from
attendance on account of his deafness, had a handsome head, chilled by
age, but with enough gray hair still to be marked in a circle by the
pressure of his hat. He was short, square, and shrunken, but carried
his hale old age with a free-and-easy air; and as he was full of
excessive activity, which had now no purpose, he divided his time
between reading and taking exercise. In a drawing-room he devoted his
attention to waiting on the wishes of the ladies.
"You are very merry here," said he, seeing that the Baron shed a
spirit of animation on the little family gathering. "And yet Hortense
is not married," he added, noticing a trace of melancholy on his
"That will come all in good time," Lisbeth shouted in his ear in a
"So there you are, you wretched seedling that could never blossom,"
said he, laughing.
The hero of Forzheim rather liked Cousin Betty, for there were certain
points of resemblance between them. A man of the ranks, without any
education, his courage had been the sole mainspring of his military
promotion, and sound sense had taken the place of brilliancy. Of the
highest honor and clean-handed, he was ending a noble life in full
contentment in the centre of his family, which claimed all his
affections, and without a suspicion of his brother's still
undiscovered misconduct. No one enjoyed more than he the pleasing
sight of this family party, where there never was the smallest
disagreement, for the brothers and sisters were all equally attached,
Celestine having been at once accepted as one of the family. But the
worthy little Count wondered now and then why Monsieur Crevel never
joined the party. "Papa is in the country," Celestine shouted, and it
was explained to him that the ex-perfumer was away from home.
This perfect union of all her family made Madame Hulot say to herself,
"This, after all, is the best kind of happiness, and who can deprive
us of it?"
The General, on seeing his favorite Adeline the object of her
husband's attentions, laughed so much about it that the Baron, fearing
to seem ridiculous, transferred his gallantries to his
daughter-in-law, who at these family dinners was always the object of
his flattery and kind care, for he hoped to win Crevel back through
her, and make him forego his resentment.
Any one seeing this domestic scene would have found it hard to believe
that the father was at his wits' end, the mother in despair, the son
anxious beyond words as to his father's future fate, and the daughter
on the point of robbing her cousin of her lover.
At seven o'clock the Baron, seeing his brother, his son, the Baroness,
and Hortense all engaged at whist, went off to applaud his mistress at
the Opera, taking with him Lisbeth Fischer, who lived in the Rue du
Doyenne, and who always made an excuse of the solitude of that
deserted quarter to take herself off as soon as dinner was over.
Parisians will all admit that the old maid's prudence was but
The existence of the maze of houses under the wing of the old Louvre
is one of those protests against obvious good sense which Frenchmen
love, that Europe may reassure itself as to the quantum of brains they
are known to have, and not be too much alarmed. Perhaps without
knowing it, this reveals some profound political idea.
It will surely not be a work of supererogation to describe this part
of Paris as it is even now, when we could hardly expect its survival;
and our grandsons, who will no doubt see the Louvre finished, may
refuse to believe that such a relic of barbarism should have survived
for six-and-thirty years in the heart of Paris and in the face of the
palace where three dynasties of kings have received, during those
thirty-six years, the elite of France and of Europe.
Between the little gate leading to the Bridge of the Carrousel and the
Rue du Musee, every one having come to Paris, were it but for a few
days, must have seen a dozen of houses with a decayed frontage where
the dejected owners have attempted no repairs, the remains of an old
block of buildings of which the destruction was begun at the time when
Napoleon determined to complete the Louvre. This street, and the blind
alley known as the Impasse du Doyenne, are the only passages into this
gloomy and forsaken block, inhabited perhaps by ghosts, for there
never is anybody to be seen. The pavement is much below the footway of
the Rue du Musee, on a level with that of the Rue Froidmanteau. Thus,
half sunken by the raising of the soil, these houses are also wrapped
in the perpetual shadow cast by the lofty buildings of the Louvre,
darkened on that side by the northern blast. Darkness, silence, an icy
chill, and the cavernous depth of the soil combine to make these
houses a kind of crypt, tombs of the living. As we drive in a hackney
cab past this dead-alive spot, and chance to look down the little Rue
du Doyenne, a shudder freezes the soul, and we wonder who can lie
there, and what things may be done there at night, at an hour when the
alley is a cut-throat pit, and the vices of Paris run riot there under
the cloak of night. This question, frightful in itself, becomes
appalling when we note that these dwelling-houses are shut in on the
side towards the Rue de Richelieu by marshy ground, by a sea of
tumbled paving-stones between them and the Tuileries, by little
garden-plots and suspicious-looking hovels on the side of the great
galleries, and by a desert of building-stone and old rubbish on the
side towards the old Louvre. Henri III. and his favorites in search of
their trunk-hose, and Marguerite's lovers in search of their heads,
must dance sarabands by moonlight in this wilderness overlooked by the
roof of a chapel still standing there as if to prove that the Catholic
religion--so deeply rooted in France--survives all else.
For forty years now has the Louvre been crying out by every gap in
these damaged walls, by every yawning window, "Rid me of these warts
upon my face!" This cutthroat lane has no doubt been regarded as
useful, and has been thought necessary as symbolizing in the heart of
Paris the intimate connection between poverty and the splendor that is
characteristic of the queen of cities. And indeed these chill ruins,
among which the Legitimist newspaper contracted the disease it is
dying of--the abominable hovels of the Rue du Musee, and the hoarding
appropriated by the shop stalls that flourish there--will perhaps live
longer and more prosperously than three successive dynasties.
In 1823 the low rents in these already condemned houses had tempted
Lisbeth Fischer to settle there, notwithstanding the necessity imposed
upon her by the state of the neighborhood to get home before
nightfall. This necessity, however, was in accordance with the country
habits she retained, of rising and going to bed with the sun, an
arrangement which saves country folk considerable sums in lights and
fuel. She lived in one of the houses which, since the demolition of
the famous Hotel Cambaceres, command a view of the square.
Just as Baron Hulot set his wife's cousin down at the door of this
house, saying, "Good-night, Cousin," an elegant-looking woman, young,
small, slender, pretty, beautifully dressed, and redolent of some
delicate perfume, passed between the wall and the carriage to go in.
This lady, without any premeditation, glanced up at the Baron merely
to see the lodger's cousin, and the libertine at once felt the swift
impression which all Parisians know on meeting a pretty woman,
realizing, as entomologists have it, their /desiderata/; so he waited
to put on one of his gloves with judicious deliberation before getting
into the carriage again, to give himself an excuse for allowing his
eye to follow the young woman, whose skirts were pleasingly set out by
something else than these odious and delusive crinoline bustles.
"That," said he to himself, "is a nice little person whose happiness I
should like to provide for, as she would certainly secure mine."
When the unknown fair had gone into the hall at the foot of the stairs
going up to the front rooms, she glanced at the gate out of the corner
of her eye without precisely looking round, and she could see the
Baron riveted to the spot in admiration, consumed by curiosity and
desire. This is to every Parisian woman a sort of flower which she
smells at with delight, if she meets it on her way. Nay, certain
women, though faithful to their duties, pretty, and virtuous, come
home much put out if they have failed to cull such a posy in the
course of their walk.
The lady ran upstairs, and in a moment a window on the second floor
was thrown open, and she appeared at it, but accompanied by a man
whose baldhead and somewhat scowling looks announced him as her
"If they aren't sharp and ingenious, the cunning jades!" thought the
Baron. "She does that to show me where she lives. But this is getting
rather warm, especially for this part of Paris. We must mind what we
As he got into the /milord/, he looked up, and the lady and the
husband hastily vanished, as though the Baron's face had affected them
like the mythological head of Medusa.
"It would seem that they know me," thought the Baron. "That would
account for everything."
As the carriage went up the Rue du Musee, he leaned forward to see the
lady again, and in fact she was again at the window. Ashamed of being
caught gazing at the hood under which her admirer was sitting, the
unknown started back at once.
"Nanny shall tell me who it is," said the Baron to himself.
The sight of the Government official had, as will be seen, made a deep
impression on this couple.
"Why, it is Baron Hulot, the chief of the department to which my
office belongs!" exclaimed the husband as he left the window.
"Well, Marneffe, the old maid on the third floor at the back of the
courtyard, who lives with that young man, is his cousin. Is it not odd
that we should never have known that till to-day, and now find it out
"Mademoiselle Fischer living with a young man?" repeated the husband.
"That is porter's gossip; do not speak so lightly of the cousin of a
Councillor of State who can blow hot and cold in the office as he
pleases. Now, come to dinner; I have been waiting for you since four
Pretty--very pretty--Madame Marneffe, the natural daughter of Comte
Montcornet, one of Napoleon's most famous officers, had, on the
strength of a marriage portion of twenty thousand francs, found a
husband in an inferior official at the War Office. Through the
interest of the famous lieutenant-general--made marshal of France six
months before his death--this quill-driver had risen to unhoped-for
dignity as head-clerk of his office; but just as he was to be promoted
to be deputy-chief, the marshal's death had cut off Marneffe's
ambitions and his wife's at the root. The very small salary enjoyed by
Sieur Marneffe had compelled the couple to economize in the matter of
rent; for in his hands Mademoiselle Valerie Fortin's fortune had
already melted away--partly in paying his debts, and partly in the
purchase of necessaries for furnishing a house, but chiefly in
gratifying the requirements of a pretty young wife, accustomed in her
mother's house to luxuries she did not choose to dispense with. The
situation of the Rue du Doyenne, within easy distance of the War
Office, and the gay part of Paris, smiled on Monsieur and Madame
Marneffe, and for the last four years they had dwelt under the same
roof as Lisbeth Fischer.
Monsieur Jean-Paul-Stanislas Marneffe was one of the class of employes
who escape sheer brutishness by the kind of power that comes of
depravity. The small, lean creature, with thin hair and a starved
beard, an unwholesome pasty face, worn rather than wrinkled, with
red-lidded eyes harnessed with spectacles, shuffling in his gait, and
yet meaner in his appearance, realized the type of man that any one
would conceive of as likely to be placed in the dock for an offence
The rooms inhabited by this couple had the illusory appearance of sham
luxury seen in many Paris homes, and typical of a certain class of
household. In the drawing-room, the furniture covered with shabby
cotton velvet, the plaster statuettes pretending to be Florentine
bronze, the clumsy cast chandelier merely lacquered, with cheap glass
saucers, the carpet, whose small cost was accounted for in advancing
life by the quality of cotton used in the manufacture, now visible to
the naked eye,--everything, down to the curtains, which plainly showed
that worsted damask has not three years of prime, proclaimed poverty
as loudly as a beggar in rags at a church door.
The dining-room, badly kept by a single servant, had the sickening
aspect of a country inn; everything looked greasy and unclean.
Monsieur's room, very like a schoolboy's, furnished with the bed and
fittings remaining from his bachelor days, as shabby and worn as he
was, dusted perhaps once a week--that horrible room where everything
was in a litter, with old socks hanging over the horsehair-seated
chairs, the pattern outlined in dust, was that of a man to whom home
is a matter of indifference, who lives out of doors, gambling in cafes
Madame's room was an exception to the squalid slovenliness that
disgraced the living rooms, where the curtains were yellow with smoke
and dust, and where the child, evidently left to himself, littered
every spot with his toys. Valerie's room and dressing-room were
situated in the part of the house which, on one side of the courtyard,
joined the front half, looking out on the street, to the wing forming
the inner side of the court backing against the adjoining property.
Handsomely hung with chintz, furnished with rosewood, and thickly
carpeted, they proclaimed themselves as belonging to a pretty woman
--and indeed suggested the kept mistress. A clock in the fashionable
style stood on the velvet-covered mantelpiece. There was a nicely
fitted cabinet, and the Chinese flower-stands were handsomely filled.
The bed, the toilet-table, the wardrobe with its mirror, the little
sofa, and all the lady's frippery bore the stamp of fashion or
caprice. Though everything was quite third-rate as to elegance or
quality, and nothing was absolutely newer than three years old, a
dandy would have had no fault to find but that the taste of all this
luxury was commonplace. Art, and the distinction that comes of the
choice of things that taste assimilates, was entirely wanting. A
doctor of social science would have detected a lover in two or three
specimens of costly trumpery, which could only have come there through
that demi-god--always absent, but always present if the lady is
The dinner, four hours behind time, to which the husband, wife, and
child sat down, betrayed the financial straits in which the household
found itself, for the table is the surest thermometer for gauging the
income of a Parisian family. Vegetable soup made with the water
haricot beans had been boiled in, a piece of stewed veal and potatoes
sodden with water by way of gravy, a dish of haricot beans, and cheap
cherries, served and eaten in cracked plates and dishes, with the
dull-looking and dull-sounding forks of German silver--was this a
banquet worthy of this pretty young woman? The Baron would have wept
could he have seen it. The dingy decanters could not disguise the vile
hue of wine bought by the pint at the nearest wineshop. The
table-napkins had seen a week's use. In short, everything betrayed
undignified penury, and the equal indifference of the husband and wife
to the decencies of home. The most superficial observer on seeing them
would have said that these two beings had come to the stage when the
necessity of living had prepared them for any kind of dishonor that
might bring luck to them. Valerie's first words to her husband will
explain the delay that had postponed the dinner by the not
disinterested devotion of the cook.
"Samanon will only take your bills at fifty per cent, and insists on a
lien on your salary as security."
So poverty, still unconfessed in the house of the superior official,
and hidden under a stipend of twenty-four thousand francs,
irrespective of presents, had reached its lowest stage in that of the
"You have caught on with the chief," said the man, looking at his
"I rather think so," replied she, understanding the full meaning of
his slang expression.
"What is to become of us?" Marneffe went on. "The landlord will be
down on us to-morrow. And to think of your father dying without making
a will! On my honor, those men of the Empire all think themselves as
immortal as their Emperor."
"Poor father!" said she. "I was his only child, and he was very fond
of me. The Countess probably burned the will. How could he forget me
when he used to give us as much as three or four thousand-franc notes
at once, from time to time?"
"We owe four quarters' rent, fifteen hundred francs. Is the furniture
worth so much? /That is the question/, as Shakespeare says."
"Now, good-bye, ducky!" said Valerie, who had only eaten a few
mouthfuls of the veal, from which the maid had extracted all the gravy
for a brave soldier just home from Algiers. "Great evils demand heroic
"Valerie, where are you off to?" cried Marneffe, standing between his
wife and the door.
"I am going to see the landlord," she replied, arranging her ringlets
under her smart bonnet. "You had better try to make friends with that
old maid, if she really is your chief's cousin."
The ignorance in which the dwellers under one roof can exist as to the
social position of their fellow-lodgers is a permanent fact which, as
much as any other, shows what the rush of Paris life is. Still, it is
easily conceivable that a clerk who goes early every morning to his
office, comes home only to dinner, and spends every evening out, and a
woman swallowed up in a round of pleasures, should know nothing of an
old maid living on the third floor beyond the courtyard of the house
they dwell in, especially when she lives as Mademoiselle Fischer did.
Up in the morning before any one else, Lisbeth went out to buy her
bread, milk, and live charcoal, never speaking to any one, and she
went to bed with the sun; she never had a letter or a visitor, nor
chatted with her neighbors. Here was one of those anonymous,
entomological existences such as are to be met with in many large
tenements where, at the end of four years, you unexpectedly learn that
up on the fourth floor there is an old man lodging who knew Voltaire,
Pilatre de Rozier, Beaujon, Marcel, Mole, Sophie Arnould, Franklin,
and Robespierre. What Monsieur and Madame Marneffe had just said
concerning Lisbeth Fischer they had come to know, in consequence,
partly, of the loneliness of the neighborhood, and of the alliance, to
which their necessities had led, between them and the doorkeepers,
whose goodwill was too important to them not to have been carefully
Now, the old maid's pride, silence, and reserve had engendered in the
porter and his wife the exaggerated respect and cold civility which
betray the unconfessed annoyance of an inferior. Also, the porter
thought himself in all essentials the equal of any lodger whose rent
was no more than two hundred and fifty francs. Cousin Betty's
confidences to Hortense were true; and it is evident that the porter's
wife might be very likely to slander Mademoiselle Fischer in her
intimate gossip with the Marneffes, while only intending to tell
When Lisbeth had taken her candle from the hands of worthy Madame
Olivier the portress, she looked up to see whether the windows of the
garret over her own rooms were lighted up. At that hour, even in July,
it was so dark within the courtyard that the old maid could not get to
bed without a light.
"Oh, you may be quite easy, Monsieur Steinbock is in his room. He has
not been out even," said Madame Olivier, with meaning.
Lisbeth made no reply. She was still a peasant, in so far that she was
indifferent to the gossip of persons unconnected with her. Just as a
peasant sees nothing beyond his village, she cared for nobody's
opinion outside the little circle in which she lived. So she boldly
went up, not to her own room, but to the garret; and this is why. At
dessert she had filled her bag with fruit and sweets for her lover,
and she went to give them to him, exactly as an old lady brings home a
biscuit for her dog.
She found the hero of Hortense's dreams working by the light of a
small lamp, of which the light was intensified by the use of a bottle
of water as a lens--a pale young man, seated at a workman's bench
covered with a modeler's tools, wax, chisels, rough-hewn stone, and
bronze castings; he wore a blouse, and had in his hand a little group
in red wax, which he gazed at like a poet absorbed in his labors.
"Here, Wenceslas, see what I have brought you," said she, laying her
handkerchief on a corner of the table; then she carefully took the
sweetmeats and fruit out of her bag.
"You are very kind, mademoiselle," replied the exile in melancholy
"It will do you good, poor boy. You get feverish by working so hard;
you were not born to such a rough life."
Wenceslas Steinbock looked at her with a bewildered air.
"Eat--come, eat," said she sharply, "instead of looking at me as you
do at one of your images when you are satisfied with it."
On being thus smacked with words, the young man seemed less puzzled,
for this, indeed, was the female Mentor whose tender moods were always
a surprise to him, so much more accustomed was he to be scolded.
Though Steinbock was nine-and-twenty, like many fair men, he looked
five or six years younger; and seeing his youth, though its freshness
had faded under the fatigue and stress of life in exile, by the side
of that dry, hard face, it seemed as though Nature had blundered in
the distribution of sex. He rose and threw himself into a deep chair
of Louis XV. pattern, covered with yellow Utrecht velvet, as if to
rest himself. The old maid took a greengage and offered it to him.
"Thank you," said he, taking the plum.
"Are you tired?" said she, giving him another.
"I am not tired with work, but tired of life," said he.
"What absurd notions you have!" she exclaimed with some annoyance.
"Have you not had a good genius to keep an eye on you?" she said,
offering him the sweetmeats, and watching him with pleasure as he ate
them all. "You see, I thought of you when dining with my cousin."
"I know," said he, with a look at Lisbeth that was at once
affectionate and plaintive, "but for you I should long since have
ceased to live. But, my dear lady, artists require relaxation----"
"Ah! there we come to the point!" cried she, interrupting him, her
hands on her hips, and her flashing eyes fixed on him. "You want to go
wasting your health in the vile resorts of Paris, like so many
artisans, who end by dying in the workhouse. No, no, make a fortune,
and then, when you have money in the funds, you may amuse yourself,
child; then you will have enough to pay for the doctor and for your
pleasure, libertine that you are."
Wenceslas Steinbock, on receiving this broadside, with an
accompaniment of looks that pierced him like a magnetic flame, bent
his head. The most malignant slanderer on seeing this scene would at
once have understood that the hints thrown out by the Oliviers were
false. Everything in this couple, their tone, manner, and way of
looking at each other, proved the purity of their private live. The
old maid showed the affection of rough but very genuine maternal
feeling; the young man submitted, as a respectful son yields to the
tyranny of a mother. The strange alliance seemed to be the outcome of
a strong will acting constantly on a weak character, on the fluid
nature peculiar to the Slavs, which, while it does not hinder them
from showing heroic courage in battle, gives them an amazing
incoherency of conduct, a moral softness of which physiologists ought
to try to detect the causes, since physiologists are to political life
what entomologists are to agriculture.
"But if I die before I am rich?" said Wenceslas dolefully.
"Die!" cried she. "Oh, I will not let you die. I have life enough for
both, and I would have my blood injected into your veins if
Tears rose to Steinbock's eyes as he heard her vehement and artless
"Do not be unhappy, my little Wenceslas," said Lisbeth with feeling.
"My cousin Hortense thought your seal quite pretty, I am sure; and I
will manage to sell your bronze group, you will see; you will have
paid me off, you will be able to do as you please, you will soon be
free. Come, smile a little!"
"I can never repay you, mademoiselle," said the exile.
"And why not?" asked the peasant woman, taking the Livonian's part
"Because you not only fed me, lodged me, cared for me in my poverty,
but you also gave me strength. You have made me what I am; you have
often been stern, you have made me very unhappy----"
"I?" said the old maid. "Are you going to pour out all your nonsense
once more about poetry and the arts, and to crack your fingers and
stretch your arms while you spout about the ideal, and beauty, and all
your northern madness?--Beauty is not to compare with solid pudding
--and what am I!--You have ideas in your brain? What is the use of
them? I too have ideas. What is the good of all the fine things you may
have in your soul if you can make no use of them? Those who have ideas
do not get so far as those who have none, if they don't know which way
"Instead of thinking over your ideas you must work.--Now, what have
you done while I was out?"
"What did your pretty cousin say?"
"Who told you she was pretty?" asked Lisbeth sharply, in a tone hollow
with tiger-like jealousy.
"Why, you did."
"That was only to see your face. Do you want to go trotting after
petticoats? You who are so fond of women, well, make them in bronze.
Let us see a cast of your desires, for you will have to do without the
ladies for some little time yet, and certainly without my cousin, my
good fellow. She is not game for your bag; that young lady wants a man
with sixty thousand francs a year--and has found him!
"Why, your bed is not made!" she exclaimed, looking into the adjoining
room. "Poor dear boy, I quite forgot you!"
The sturdy woman pulled off her gloves, her cape and bonnet, and
remade the artist's little camp bed as briskly as any housemaid. This
mixture of abruptness, of roughness even, with real kindness, perhaps
accounts for the ascendency Lisbeth had acquired over the man whom she
regarded as her personal property. Is not our attachment to life based
on its alternations of good and evil?
If the Livonian had happened to meet Madame Marneffe instead of
Lisbeth Fischer, he would have found a protectress whose complaisance
must have led him into some boggy or discreditable path, where he
would have been lost. He would certainly never have worked, nor the
artist have been hatched out. Thus, while he deplored the old maid's
grasping avarice, his reason bid him prefer her iron hand to the life
of idleness and peril led by many of his fellow-countrymen.
This was the incident that had given rise to the coalition of female
energy and masculine feebleness--a contrast in union said not to be
uncommon in Poland.
In 1833 Mademoiselle Fischer, who sometimes worked into the night when
business was good, at about one o'clock one morning perceived a strong
smell of carbonic acid gas, and heard the groans of a dying man. The
fumes and the gasping came from a garret over the two rooms forming
her dwelling, and she supposed that a young man who had but lately
come to lodge in this attic--which had been vacant for three years
--was committing suicide. She ran upstairs, broke in the door by a
push with her peasant strength, and found the lodger writhing on a
camp-bed in the convulsions of death. She extinguished the brazier;
the door was open, the air rushed in, and the exile was saved. Then,
when Lisbeth had put him to bed like a patient, and he was asleep,
she could detect the motives of his suicide in the destitution of the
rooms, where there was nothing whatever but a wretched table, the
camp-bed, and two chairs.
On the table lay a document, which she read:
"I am Count Wenceslas Steinbock, born at Prelia, in Livonia.
"No one is to be accused of my death; my reasons for killing
myself are, in the words of Kosciusko, /Finis Polonioe/!
"The grand-nephew of a valiant General under Charles XII. could
not beg. My weakly constitution forbids my taking military
service, and I yesterday saw the last of the hundred thalers which
I had brought with me from Dresden to Paris. I have left
twenty-five francs in the drawer of this table to pay the rent I owe
to the landlord.
"My parents being dead, my death will affect nobody. I desire that
my countrymen will not blame the French Government. I have never
registered myself as a refugee, and I have asked for nothing; I
have met none of my fellow-exiles; no one in Paris knows of my
"I am dying in Christian beliefs. May God forgive the last of the
Mademoiselle Fischer, deeply touched by the dying man's honesty,
opened the drawer and found the five five-franc pieces to pay his
"Poor young man!" cried she. "And with no one in the world to care
She went downstairs to fetch her work, and sat stitching in the
garret, watching over the Livonian gentleman.
When he awoke his astonishment may be imagined on finding a woman
sitting by his bed; it was like the prolongation of a dream. As she
sat there, covering aiguillettes with gold thread, the old maid had
resolved to take charge of the poor youth whom she admired as he lay
As soon as the young Count was fully awake, Lisbeth talked to give him
courage, and questioned him to find out how he might make a living.
Wenceslas, after telling his story, added that he owed his position to
his acknowledged talent for the fine arts. He had always had a
preference for sculpture; the necessary time for study had, however,
seemed to him too long for a man without money; and at this moment he
was far too weak to do any hard manual labor or undertake an important
work in sculpture. All this was Greek to Lisbeth Fischer. She replied
to the unhappy man that Paris offered so many openings that any man
with will and courage might find a living there. A man of spirit need
never perish if he had a certain stock of endurance.
"I am but a poor girl myself, a peasant, and I have managed to make
myself independent," said she in conclusion. "If you will work in
earnest, I have saved a little money, and I will lend you, month by
month, enough to live upon; but to live frugally, and not to play
ducks and drakes with or squander in the streets. You can dine in
Paris for twenty-five sous a day, and I will get you your breakfast
with mine every day. I will furnish your rooms and pay for such
teaching as you may think necessary. You shall give me formal
acknowledgment for the money I may lay out for you, and when you are
rich you shall repay me all. But if you do not work, I shall not
regard myself as in any way pledged to you, and I shall leave you to
"Ah!" cried the poor fellow, still smarting from the bitterness of his
first struggle with death, "exiles from every land may well stretch
out their hands to France, as the souls in Purgatory do to Paradise.
In what other country is such help to be found, and generous hearts
even in such a garret as this? You will be everything to me, my
beloved benefactress; I am your slave! Be my sweetheart," he added,
with one of the caressing gestures familiar to the Poles, for which
they are unjustly accused of servility.
"Oh, no; I am too jealous, I should make you unhappy; but I will
gladly be a sort of comrade," replied Lisbeth.
"Ah, if only you knew how I longed for some fellow-creature, even a
tyrant, who would have something to say to me when I was struggling in
the vast solitude of Paris!" exclaimed Wenceslas. "I regretted
Siberia, whither I should be sent by the Emperor if I went home.--Be
my Providence!--I will work; I will be a better man than I am, though
I am not such a bad fellow!"
"Will you do whatever I bid you?" she asked.
"Well, then, I will adopt you as my child," said she lightly. "Here I
am with a son risen from the grave. Come! we will begin at once. I
will go out and get what I want; you can dress, and come down to
breakfast with me when I knock on the ceiling with the broomstick."
That day, Mademoiselle Fischer made some inquiries, at the houses to
which she carried her work home, as to the business of a sculptor. By
dint of many questions she ended by hearing of the studio kept by
Florent and Chanor, a house that made a special business of casting
and finishing decorative bronzes and handsome silver plate. Thither
she went with Steinbock, recommending him as an apprentice in
sculpture, an idea that was regarded as too eccentric. Their business
was to copy the works of the greatest artists, but they did not teach
the craft. The old maid's persistent obstinacy so far succeeded that
Steinbock was taken on to design ornament. He very soon learned to
model ornament, and invented novelties; he had a gift for it.
Five months after he was out of his apprenticeship as a finisher, he
made acquaintance with Stidmann, the famous head of Florent's studios.
Within twenty months Wenceslas was ahead of his master; but in thirty
months the old maid's savings of sixteen years had melted entirely.
Two thousand five hundred francs in gold!--a sum with which she had
intended to purchase an annuity; and what was there to show for it? A
Pole's receipt! And at this moment Lisbeth was working as hard as in
her young days to supply the needs of her Livonian.
When she found herself the possessor of a piece of paper instead of
her gold louis, she lost her head, and went to consult Monsieur Rivet,
who for fifteen years had been his clever head-worker's friend and
counselor. On hearing her story, Monsieur and Madame Rivet scolded
Lisbeth, told her she was crazy, abused all refugees whose plots for
reconstructing their nation compromised the prosperity of the country
and the maintenance of peace; and they urged Lisbeth to find what in
trade is called security.
"The only hold you have over this fellow is on his liberty," observed
Monsieur Achille Rivet was assessor at the Tribunal of Commerce.
"Imprisonment is no joke for a foreigner," said he. "A Frenchman
remains five years in prison and comes out, free of his debts to be
sure, for he is thenceforth bound only by his conscience, and that
never troubles him; but a foreigner never comes out.--Give me your
promissory note; my bookkeeper will take it up; he will get it
protested; you will both be prosecuted and both be condemned to
imprisonment in default of payment; then, when everything is in due
form, you must sign a declaration. By doing this your interest will be
accumulating, and you will have a pistol always primed to fire at your
The old maid allowed these legal steps to be taken, telling her
protege not to be uneasy, as the proceedings were merely to afford a
guarantee to a money-lender who agreed to advance them certain sums.
This subterfuge was due to the inventive genius of Monsieur Rivet. The
guileless artist, blindly trusting to his benefactress, lighted his
pipe with the stamped paper, for he smoked as all men do who have
sorrows or energies that need soothing.
One fine day Monsieur Rivet showed Mademoiselle Fischer a schedule,
and said to her:
"Here you have Wenceslas Steinbock bound hand and foot, and so
effectually, that within twenty-four hours you can have him snug in
Clichy for the rest of his days."
This worthy and honest judge at the Chamber of Commerce experienced
that day the satisfaction that must come of having done a malignant
good action. Beneficence has so many aspects in Paris that this
contradictory expression really represents one of them. The Livonian
being fairly entangled in the toils of commercial procedure, the point
was to obtain payment; for the illustrious tradesman looked on
Wenceslas as a swindler. Feeling, sincerity, poetry, were in his eyes
mere folly in business matters.
So Rivet went off to see, in behalf of that poor Mademoiselle Fischer,
who, as he said, had been "done" by the Pole, the rich manufacturers
for whom Steinbock had worked. It happened that Stidmann--who, with
the help of these distinguished masters of the goldsmiths' art, was
raising French work to the perfection it has now reached, allowing it
to hold its own against Florence and the Renaissance--Stidmann was in
Chanor's private room when the army lace manufacturer called to make
inquiries as to "One Steinbock, a Polish refugee."
"Whom do you call 'One Steinbock'? Do you mean a young Livonian who
was a pupil of mine?" cried Stidmann ironically. "I may tell you,
monsieur, that he is a very great artist. It is said of me that I
believe myself to be the Devil. Well, that poor fellow does not know
that he is capable of becoming a god."
"Indeed," said Rivet, well pleased. And then he added, "Though you
take a rather cavalier tone with a man who has the honor to be an
Assessor on the Tribunal of Commerce of the Department of the Seine."
"Your pardon, Consul!" said Stidmann, with a military salute.
"I am delighted," the Assessor went on, "to hear what you say. The man
may make money then?"
"Certainly," said Chanor; "but he must work. He would have a tidy sum
by now if he had stayed with us. What is to be done? Artists have a
horror of not being free."
"They have a proper sense of their value and dignity," replied
Stidmann. "I do not blame Wenceslas for walking alone, trying to make
a name, and to become a great man; he had a right to do so! But he was
a great loss to me when he left."
"That, you see," exclaimed Rivet, "is what all young students aim at
as soon as they are hatched out of the school-egg. Begin by saving
money, I say, and seek glory afterwards."
"It spoils your touch to be picking up coin," said Stidmann. "It is
Glory's business to bring us wealth."
"And, after all," said Chanor to Rivet, "you cannot tether them."
"They would eat the halter," replied Stidmann.
"All these gentlemen have as much caprice as talent," said Chanor,
looking at Stidmann. "They spend no end of money; they keep their
girls, they throw coin out of window, and then they have no time to
work. They neglect their orders; we have to employ workmen who are
very inferior, but who grow rich; and then they complain of the hard
times, while, if they were but steady, they might have piles of gold."
"You old Lumignon," said Stidmann, "you remind me of the publisher
before the Revolution who said--'If only I could keep Montesquieu,
Voltaire, and Rousseau very poor in my backshed, and lock up their
breeches in a cupboard, what a lot of nice little books they would
write to make my fortune.'--If works of art could be hammered out like
nails, workmen would make them.--Give me a thousand francs, and don't
Worthy Monsieur Rivet went home, delighted for poor Mademoiselle
Fischer, who dined with him every Monday, and whom he found waiting
"If you can only make him work," said he, "you will have more luck
than wisdom; you will be repaid, interest, capital, and costs. This
Pole has talent, he can make a living; but lock up his trousers and
his shoes, do not let him go to the /Chaumiere/ or the parish of
Notre-Dame de Lorette, keep him in leading-strings. If you do not take
such precautions, your artist will take to loafing, and if you only
knew what these artists mean by loafing! Shocking! Why, I have just
heard that they will spend a thousand-franc note in a day!"
This episode had a fatal influence on the home-life of Wenceslas and
Lisbeth. The benefactress flavored the exile's bread with the wormwood
of reproof, now that she saw her money in danger, and often believed
it to be lost. From a kind mother she became a stepmother; she took
the poor boy to task, she nagged him, scolded him for working too
slowly, and blamed him for having chosen so difficult a profession.
She could not believe that those models in red wax--little figures and
sketches for ornamental work--could be of any value. Before long,
vexed with herself for her severity, she would try to efface the tears
by her care and attention.
Then the poor young man, after groaning to think that he was dependent
on this shrew and under the thumb of a peasant of the Vosges, was
bewitched by her coaxing ways and by a maternal affection that
attached itself solely to the physical and material side of life. He
was like a woman who forgives a week of ill-usage for the sake of a
kiss and a brief reconciliation.
Thus Mademoiselle Fischer obtained complete power over his mind. The
love of dominion that lay as a germ in the old maid's heart developed
rapidly. She could now satisfy her pride and her craving for action;
had she not a creature belonging to her, to be schooled, scolded,
flattered, and made happy, without any fear of a rival? Thus the good
and bad sides of her nature alike found play. If she sometimes
victimized the poor artist, she had, on the other hand, delicate
impulses like the grace of wild flowers; it was a joy to her to
provide for all his wants; she would have given her life for him, and
Wenceslas knew it. Like every noble soul, the poor fellow forgot the
bad points, the defects of the woman who had told him the story of her
life as an excuse for her rough ways, and he remembered only the
benefits she had done him.
One day, exasperated with Wenceslas for having gone out walking
instead of sitting at work, she made a great scene.
"You belong to me," said she. "If you were an honest man, you would
try to repay me the money you owe as soon as possible."
The gentleman, in whose veins the blood of the Steinbocks was fired,
"Bless me," she went on, "we soon shall have nothing to live on but
the thirty sous I earn--a poor work-woman!"
The two penniless creatures, worked up by their own war of words, grew
vehement; and for the first time the unhappy artist reproached his
benefactress for having rescued him from death only to make him lead
the life of a galley slave, worse than the bottomless void, where at
least, said he, he would have found rest. And he talked of flight.
"Flight!" cried Lisbeth. "Ah, Monsieur Rivet was right."
And she clearly explained to the Pole that within twenty-four hours he
might be clapped into prison for the rest of his days. It was a
crushing blow. Steinbock sank into deep melancholy and total silence.
In the course of the following night, Lisbeth hearing overhead some
preparations for suicide, went up to her pensioner's room, and gave
him the schedule and a formal release.
"Here, dear child, forgive me," she said with tears in her eyes. "Be
happy; leave me! I am too cruel to you; only tell me that you will
sometimes remember the poor girl who has enabled you to make a living.
--What can I say? You are the cause of my ill-humor. I might die;
where would you be without me? That is the reason of my being
impatient to see you do some salable work. I do not want my money back
for myself, I assure you! I am only frightened at your idleness, which
you call meditation; at your ideas, which take up so many hours when
you sit gazing at the sky; I want you to get into habits of industry."
All this was said with an emphasis, a look, and tears that moved the
high-minded artist; he clasped his benefactress to his heart and
kissed her forehead.
"Keep these pieces," said he with a sort of cheerfulness. "Why should
you send me to Clichy? Am I not a prisoner here out of gratitude?"
This episode of their secret domestic life had occurred six months
previously, and had led to Steinbock's producing three finished works:
the seal in Hortense's possession, the group he had placed with the
curiosity dealer, and a beautiful clock to which he was putting the
last touches, screwing in the last rivets.
This clock represented the twelve Hours, charmingly personified by
twelve female figures whirling round in so mad and swift a dance that
three little Loves perched on a pile of fruit and flowers could not
stop one of them; only the torn skirts of Midnight remained in the
hand of the most daring cherub. The group stood on an admirably
treated base, ornamented with grotesque beasts. The hours were told by
a monstrous mouth that opened to yawn, and each Hour bore some
ingeniously appropriate symbol characteristic of the various
occupations of the day.
It is now easy to understand the extraordinary attachment of
Mademoiselle Fischer for her Livonian; she wanted him to be happy, and
she saw him pining, fading away in his attic. The causes of this
wretched state of affairs may be easily imagined. The peasant woman
watched this son of the North with the affection of a mother, with the
jealousy of a wife, and the spirit of a dragon; hence she managed to
put every kind of folly or dissipation out of his power by leaving him
destitute of money. She longed to keep her victim and companion for
herself alone, well conducted perforce, and she had no conception of
the cruelty of this senseless wish, since she, for her own part, was
accustomed to every privation. She loved Steinbock well enough not to
marry him, and too much to give him up to any other woman; she could
not resign herself to be no more than a mother to him, though she saw
that she was mad to think of playing the other part.
These contradictions, this ferocious jealousy, and the joy of having a
man to herself, all agitated her old maid's heart beyond measure.
Really in love as she had been for four years, she cherished the
foolish hope of prolonging this impossible and aimless way of life in
which her persistence would only be the ruin of the man she thought of
as her child. This contest between her instincts and her reason made
her unjust and tyrannical. She wreaked on the young man her vengeance
for her own lot in being neither young, rich, nor handsome; then,
after each fit of rage, recognizing herself wrong, she stooped to
unlimited humility, infinite tenderness. She never could sacrifice to
her idol till she had asserted her power by blows of the axe. In fact,
it was the converse of Shakespeare's /Tempest/--Caliban ruling Ariel
As to the poor youth himself, high-minded, meditative, and inclined to
be lazy, the desert that his protectress made in his soul might be
seen in his eyes, as in those of a caged lion. The penal servitude
forced on him by Lisbeth did not fulfil the cravings of his heart. His
weariness became a physical malady, and he was dying without daring to
ask, or knowing where to procure, the price of some little necessary
dissipation. On some days of special energy, when a feeling of utter
ill-luck added to his exasperation, he would look at Lisbeth as a
thirsty traveler on a sandy shore must look at the bitter sea-water.
These harsh fruits of indigence, and this isolation in the midst of
Paris, Lisbeth relished with delight. And besides, she foresaw that
the first passion would rob her of her slave. Sometimes she even
blamed herself because her own tyranny and reproaches had compelled
the poetic youth to become so great an artist of delicate work, and
she had thus given him the means of casting her off.
On the day after, these three lives, so differently but so utterly
wretched--that of a mother in despair, that of the Marneffe household,
and that of the unhappy exile--were all to be influenced by Hortense's
guileless passion, and by the strange outcome of the Baron's luckless
passion for Josepha.
Just as Hulot was going into the opera-house, he was stopped by the
darkened appearance of the building and of the Rue le Peletier, where
there were no gendarmes, no lights, no theatre-servants, no barrier to
regulate the crowd. He looked up at the announcement-board, and beheld
a strip of white paper, on which was printed the solemn notice:
"CLOSED ON ACCOUNT OF ILLNESS."
He rushed off to Josepha's lodgings in the Rue Chauchat; for, like all
the singers, she lived close at hand.
"Whom do you want, sir?" asked the porter, to the Baron's great
"Have you forgotten me?" said Hulot, much puzzled.
"On the contrary, sir, it is because I have the honor to remember you
that I ask you, Where are you going?"
A mortal chill fell upon the Baron.
"What has happened?" he asked.
"If you go up to Mademoiselle Mirah's rooms, Monsieur le Baron, you
will find Mademoiselle Heloise Brisetout there--and Monsieur Bixiou,
Monsieur Leon de Lora, Monsieur Lousteau, Monsieur de Vernisset,
Monsieur Stidmann; and ladies smelling of patchouli--holding a
"Then, where--where is----?"
"Mademoiselle Mirah?--I don't know that I ought to tell you."
The Baron slipped two five-franc pieces into the porter's hand.
"Well, she is now in the Rue de la Ville l'Eveque, in a fine house,
given to her, they say, by the Duc d'Herouville," replied the man in a
Having ascertained the number of the house, Monsieur Hulot called a
/milord/ and drove to one of those pretty modern houses with double
doors, where everything, from the gaslight at the entrance, proclaims
The Baron, in his blue cloth coat, white neckcloth, nankeen trousers,
patent leather boots, and stiffly starched shirt-frill, was supposed
to be a guest, though a late arrival, by the janitor of this new Eden.
His alacrity of manner and quick step justified this opinion.
The porter rang a bell, and a footman appeared in the hall. This man,
as new as the house, admitted the visitor, who said to him in an
imperious tone, and with a lordly gesture:
"Take in this card to Mademoiselle Josepha."
The victim mechanically looked round the room in which he found
himself--an anteroom full of choice flowers and of furniture that must
have cost twenty thousand francs. The servant, on his return, begged
monsieur to wait in the drawing-room till the company came to their
Though the Baron had been familiar with Imperial luxury, which was
undoubtedly prodigious, while its productions, though not durable in
kind, had nevertheless cost enormous sums, he stood dazzled,
dumfounded, in this drawing-room with three windows looking out on a
garden like fairyland, one of those gardens that are created in a
month with a made soil and transplanted shrubs, while the grass seems
as if it must be made to grow by some chemical process. He admired not
only the decoration, the gilding, the carving, in the most expensive
Pompadour style, as it is called, and the magnificent brocades, all of
which any enriched tradesman could have procured for money; but he
also noted such treasures as only princes can select and find, can pay
for and give away; two pictures by Greuze, two by Watteau, two heads
by Vandyck, two landscapes by Ruysdael, and two by le Guaspre, a
Rembrandt, a Holbein, a Murillo, and a Titian, two paintings, by
Teniers, and a pair by Metzu, a Van Huysum, and an Abraham Mignon--in
short, two hundred thousand francs' worth of pictures superbly framed.
The gilding was worth almost as much as the paintings.
"Ah, ha! Now you understand, my good man?" said Josepha.
She had stolen in on tiptoe through a noiseless door, over Persian
carpets, and came upon her adorer, standing lost in amazement--in the
stupid amazement when a man's ears tingle so loudly that he hears
nothing but that fatal knell.
The words "my good man," spoken to an official of such high
importance, so perfectly exemplified the audacity with which these
creatures pour contempt on the loftiest, that the Baron was nailed to
the spot. Josepha, in white and yellow, was so beautifully dressed for
the banquet, that amid all this lavish magnificence she still shone
like a rare jewel.
"Isn't this really fine?" said she. "The Duke has spent all the money
on it that he got out of floating a company, of which the shares all
sold at a premium. He is no fool, is my little Duke. There is nothing
like a man who has been a grandee in his time for turning coals into
gold. Just before dinner the notary brought me the title-deeds to sign
and the bills receipted!--They are all a first-class set in there
--d'Esgrignon, Rastignac, Maxime, Lenoncourt, Verneuil, Laginski,
Rochefide, la Palferine, and from among the bankers Nucingen and du
Tillet, with Antonia, Malaga, Carabine, and la Schontz; and they all
feel for you deeply.--Yes, old boy, and they hope you will join them,
but on condition that you forthwith drink up to two bottles full of
Hungarian wine, Champagne, or Cape, just to bring you up to their
mark.--My dear fellow, we are all so much /on/ here, that it was
necessary to close the Opera. The manager is as drunk as a
cornet-a-piston; he is hiccuping already."
"Oh, Josepha!----" cried the Baron.
"Now, can anything be more absurd than explanations?" she broke in
with a smile. "Look here; can you stand six hundred thousand francs
which this house and furniture cost? Can you give me a bond to the
tune of thirty thousand francs a year, which is what the Duke has just
given me in a packet of common sugared almonds from the grocer's?--a
pretty notion that----"
"What an atrocity!" cried Hulot, who in his fury would have given his
wife's diamonds to stand in the Duc d'Herouville's shoes for
"Atrocity is my trade," said she. "So that is how you take it? Well,
why don't you float a company? Goodness me! my poor dyed Tom, you
ought to be grateful to me; I have thrown you over just when you would
have spent on me your widow's fortune, your daughter's portion.--What,
tears! The Empire is a thing of the past--I hail the coming Empire!"
She struck a tragic attitude, and exclaimed:
"They call you Hulot! Nay, I know you not--"
And she went into the other room.
Through the door, left ajar, there came, like a lightning-flash, a
streak of light with an accompaniment of the crescendo of the orgy and
the fragrance of a banquet of the choicest description.
The singer peeped through the partly open door, and seeing Hulot
transfixed as if he had been a bronze image, she came one step forward
into the room.
"Monsieur," said she, "I have handed over the rubbish in the Rue
Chauchat to Bixiou's little Heloise Brisetout. If you wish to claim
your cotton nightcap, your bootjack, your belt, and your wax dye, I
have stipulated for their return."
This insolent banter made the Baron leave the room as precipitately as
Lot departed from Gomorrah, but he did not look back like Mrs. Lot.
Hulot went home, striding along in a fury, and talking to himself; he
found his family still playing the game of whist at two sous a point,
at which he left them. On seeing her husband return, poor Adeline
imagined something dreadful, some dishonor; she gave her cards to
Hortense, and led Hector away into the very room where, only five
hours since, Crevel had foretold her the utmost disgrace of poverty.
"What is the matter?" she said, terrified.
"Oh, forgive me--but let me tell you all these horrors." And for ten
minutes he poured out his wrath.
"But, my dear," said the unhappy woman, with heroic courage, "these
creatures do not know what love means--such pure and devoted love as
you deserve. How could you, so clear-sighted as you are, dream of
competing with millions?"
"Dearest Adeline!" cried the Baron, clasping her to his heart.
The Baroness' words had shed balm on the bleeding wounds to his
"To be sure, take away the Duc d'Herouville's fortune, and she could
not hesitate between us!" said the Baron.
"My dear," said Adeline with a final effort, "if you positively must
have mistresses, why do you not seek them, like Crevel, among women
who are less extravagant, and of a class that can for a time be
content with little? We should all gain by that arrangement.--I
understand your need--but I do not understand that vanity----"
"Oh, what a kind and perfect wife you are!" cried he. "I am an old
lunatic, I do not deserve to have such a wife!"
"I am simply the Josephine of my Napoleon," she replied, with a touch
"Josephine was not to compare with you!" said he. "Come; I will play a
game of whist with my brother and the children. I must try my hand at
the business of a family man; I must get Hortense a husband, and bury
His frankness so greatly touched poor Adeline, that she said:
"The creature has no taste to prefer any man in the world to my
Hector. Oh, I would not give you up for all the gold on earth. How can
any woman throw you over who is so happy as to be loved by you?"
The look with which the Baron rewarded his wife's fanaticism confirmed
her in her opinion that gentleness and docility were a woman's
But in this she was mistaken. The noblest sentiments, carried to an
excess, can produce mischief as great as do the worst vices. Bonaparte
was made Emperor for having fired on the people, at a stone's throw
from the spot where Louis XVI. lost his throne and his head because he
would not allow a certain Monsieur Sauce to be hurt.
On the following morning, Hortense, who had slept with the seal under
her pillow, so as to have it close to her all night, dressed very
early, and sent to beg her father to join her in the garden as soon as
he should be down.
By about half-past nine, the father, acceding to his daughter's
petition, gave her his arm for a walk, and they went along the quays
by the Pont Royal to the Place du Carrousel.
"Let us look into the shop windows, papa," said Hortense, as they went
through the little gate to cross the wide square.
"What--here?" said her father, laughing at her.
"We are supposed to have come to see the pictures, and over there"
--and she pointed to the stalls in front of the houses at a right
angle to the Rue du Doyenne--"look! there are dealers in curiosities
"Your cousin lives there."
"I know it, but she must not see us."
"And what do you want to do?" said the Baron, who, finding himself
within thirty yards of Madame Marneffe's windows, suddenly remembered
Hortense had dragged her father in front of one of the shops forming
the angle of a block of houses built along the front of the Old
Louvre, and facing the Hotel de Nantes. She went into this shop; her
father stood outside, absorbed in gazing at the windows of the pretty
little lady, who, the evening before, had left her image stamped on
the old beau's heart, as if to alleviate the wound he was so soon to
receive; and he could not help putting his wife's sage advice into
"I will fall back on a simple little citizen's wife," said he to
himself, recalling Madame Marneffe's adorable graces. "Such a woman as
that will soon make me forget that grasping Josepha."
Now, this was what was happening at the same moment outside and inside
the curiosity shop.
As he fixed his eyes on the windows of his new /belle/, the Baron saw
the husband, who, while brushing his coat with his own hands, was
apparently on the lookout, expecting to see some one on the square.
Fearing lest he should be seen, and subsequently recognized, the
amorous Baron turned his back on the Rue du Doyenne, or rather stood
at three-quarters' face, as it were, so as to be able to glance round
from time to time. This manoeuvre brought him face to face with Madame
Marneffe, who, coming up from the quay, was doubling the promontory of
houses to go home.
Valerie was evidently startled as she met the Baron's astonished eye,
and she responded with a prudish dropping of her eyelids.
"A pretty woman," exclaimed he, "for whom a man would do many foolish
"Indeed, monsieur?" said she, turning suddenly, like a woman who has
just come to some vehement decision, "you are Monsieur le Baron Hulot,
The Baron, more and more bewildered, bowed assent.
"Then, as chance has twice made our eyes meet, and I am so fortunate
as to have interested or puzzled you, I may tell you that, instead of
doing anything foolish, you ought to do justice.--My husband's fate
rests with you."
"And how may that be?" asked the gallant Baron.
"He is employed in your department in the War Office, under Monsieur
Lebrun, in Monsieur Coquet's room," said she with a smile.
"I am quite disposed, Madame--Madame----?"
"Dear little Madame Marneffe, to do injustice for your sake.--I have a
cousin living in your house; I will go to see her one day soon--as
soon as possible; bring your petition to me in her rooms."
"Pardon my boldness, Monsieur le Baron; you must understand that if I
dare to address you thus, it is because I have no friend to protect
"Monsieur, you misunderstand me," said she, lowering her eyelids.
Hulot felt as if the sun had disappeared.
"I am at my wits' end, but I am an honest woman!" she went on. "About
six months ago my only protector died, Marshal Montcornet--"
"Ah! You are his daughter?"
"Yes, monsieur; but he never acknowledged me."
"That was that he might leave you part of his fortune."
"He left me nothing; he made no will."
"Indeed! Poor little woman! The Marshal died suddenly of apoplexy.
But, come, madame, hope for the best. The State must do something for
the daughter of one of the Chevalier Bayards of the Empire."
Madame Marneffe bowed gracefully and went off, as proud of her success
as the Baron was of his.
"Where the devil has she been so early?" thought he watching the flow
of her skirts, to which she contrived to impart a somewhat exaggerated
grace. "She looks too tired to have just come from a bath, and her
husband is waiting for her. It is strange, and puzzles me altogether."
Madame Marneffe having vanished within, the Baron wondered what his
daughter was doing in the shop. As he went in, still staring at Madame
Marneffe's windows, he ran against a young man with a pale brow and
sparkling gray eyes, wearing a summer coat of black merino, coarse
drill trousers, and tan shoes, with gaiters, rushing away headlong; he
saw him run to the house in the Rue du Doyenne, into which he went.
Hortense, on going into the shop, had at once recognized the famous
group, conspicuously placed on a table in the middle and in front of
the door. Even without the circumstances to which she owed her
knowledge of this masterpiece, it would probably have struck her by
the peculiar power which we must call the /brio/--the /go/--of great
works; and the girl herself might in Italy have been taken as a model
for the personification of /Brio/.
Not every work by a man of genius has in the same degree that
brilliancy, that glory which is at once patent even to the most
ignoble beholder. Thus, certain pictures by Raphael, such as the
famous /Transfiguration/, the /Madonna di Foligno/, and the frescoes
of the /Stanze/ in the Vatican, do not at first captivate our
admiration, as do the /Violin-player/ in the Sciarra Palace, the
portraits of the Doria family, and the /Vision of Ezekiel/ in the
Pitti Gallery, the /Christ bearing His Cross/ in the Borghese
collection, and the /Marriage of the Virgin/ in the Brera at Milan.
The /Saint John the Baptist/ of the Tribuna, and /Saint Luke painting
the Virgin's portrait/ in the Accademia at Rome, have not the charm of
the /Portrait of Leo X./, and of the /Virgin/ at Dresden.
And yet they are all of equal merit. Nay, more. The /Stanze/, the
/Transfiguration/, the panels, and the three easel pictures in the
Vatican are in the highest degree perfect and sublime. But they demand
a stress of attention, even from the most accomplished beholder, and
serious study, to be fully understood; while the /Violin-player/, the
/Marriage of the Virgin/, and the /Vision of Ezekiel/ go straight to
the heart through the portal of sight, and make their home there. It
is a pleasure to receive them thus without an effort; if it is not the
highest phase of art, it is the happiest. This fact proves that, in
the begetting of works of art, there is as much chance in the
character of the offspring as there is in a family of children; that
some will be happily graced, born beautiful, and costing their mothers
little suffering, creatures on whom everything smiles, and with whom
everything succeeds; in short, genius, like love, has its fairer
This /brio/, an Italian word which the French have begun to use, is
characteristic of youthful work. It is the fruit of an impetus and
fire of early talent--an impetus which is met with again later in some
happy hours; but this particular /brio/ no longer comes from the
artist's heart; instead of his flinging it into his work as a volcano
flings up its fires, it comes to him from outside, inspired by
circumstances, by love, or rivalry, often by hatred, and more often
still by the imperious need of glory to be lived up to.
This group by Wenceslas was to his later works what the /Marriage of
the Virgin/ is to the great mass of Raphael's, the first step of a
gifted artist taken with the inimitable grace, the eagerness, and
delightful overflowingness of a child, whose strength is concealed
under the pink-and-white flesh full of dimples which seem to echo to a
mother's laughter. Prince Eugene is said to have paid four hundred
thousand francs for this picture, which would be worth a million to
any nation that owned no picture by Raphael, but no one would give
that sum for the finest of the frescoes, though their value is far
greater as works of art.
Hortense restrained her admiration, for she reflected on the amount of
her girlish savings; she assumed an air of indifference, and said to
"What is the price of that?"
"Fifteen hundred francs," replied the man, sending a glance of
intelligence to a young man seated on a stool in the corner.
The young man himself gazed in a stupefaction at Monsieur Hulot's
living masterpiece. Hortense, forewarned, at once identified him as
the artist, from the color that flushed a face pale with endurance;
she saw the spark lighted up in his gray eyes by her question; she
looked on the thin, drawn features, like those of a monk consumed by
asceticism; she loved the red, well-formed mouth, the delicate chin,
and the Pole's silky chestnut hair.
"If it were twelve hundred," said she, "I would beg you to send it to
"It is antique, mademoiselle," the dealer remarked, thinking, like all
his fraternity, that, having uttered this /ne plus ultra/ of
bric-a-brac, there was no more to be said.
"Excuse me, monsieur," she replied very quietly, "it was made this
year; I came expressly to beg you, if my price is accepted, to send
the artist to see us, as it might be possible to procure him some
"And if he is to have the twelve hundred francs, what am I to
get? I am the dealer," said the man, with candid good-humor.
"To be sure!" replied the girl, with a slight curl of disdain.
"Oh! mademoiselle, take it; I will make terms with the dealer,"
cried the Livonian, beside himself.
Fascinated by Hortense's wonderful beauty and the love of art she
displayed, he added:
"I am the sculptor of the group, and for ten days I have come here
three times a day to see if anybody would recognize its merit and
bargain for it. You are my first admirer--take it!"
"Come, then, monsieur, with the dealer, an hour hence.--Here is my
father's card," replied Hortense.
Then, seeing the shopkeeper go into a back room to wrap the group in a
piece of linen rag, she added in a low voice, to the great
astonishment of the artist, who thought he must be dreaming:
"For the benefit of your future prospects, Monsieur Wenceslas, do not
mention the name of the purchaser to Mademoiselle Fischer, for she is
The word cousin dazzled the artist's mind; he had a glimpse of
Paradise whence this daughter of Eve had come to him. He had dreamed
of the beautiful girl of whom Lisbeth had told him, as Hortense had
dreamed of her cousin's lover; and, as she had entered the shop--
"Ah!" thought he, "if she could but be like this!"
The look that passed between the lovers may be imagined; it was a
flame, for virtuous lovers have no hypocrisies.
"Well, what the deuce are you doing here?" her father asked her.
"I have been spending twelve hundred francs that I had saved. Come."
And she took her father's arm.
"Twelve hundred francs?" he repeated.
"To be exact, thirteen hundred; you will lend me the odd hundred?"
"And on what, in such a place, could you spend so much?"
"Ah! that is the question!" replied the happy girl. "If I have got a
husband, he is not dear at the money."
"A husband! In that shop, my child?"
"Listen, dear little father; would you forbid my marrying a great
"No, my dear. A great artist in these days is a prince without a title
--he has glory and fortune, the two chief social advantages--next to
virtue," he added, in a smug tone.
"Oh, of course!" said Hortense. "And what do you think of sculpture?"
"It is very poor business," replied Hulot, shaking his head. "It needs
high patronage as well as great talent, for Government is the only
purchaser. It is an art with no demand nowadays, where there are no
princely houses, no great fortunes, no entailed mansions, no
hereditary estates. Only small pictures and small figures can find a
place; the arts are endangered by this need of small things."
"But if a great artist could find a demand?" said Hortense.
"That indeed would solve the problem."
"Or had some one to back him?"
"That would be even better."
"If he were of noble birth?"
"And a sculptor?"
"He has no money."
"And so he counts on that of Mademoiselle Hortense Hulot?" said the
Baron ironically, with an inquisitorial look into his daughter's eyes.
"This great artist, a Count and a sculptor, has just seen your
daughter for the first time in his life, and for the space of five
minutes, Monsieur le Baron," Hortense calmly replied. "Yesterday, you
must know, dear little father, while you were at the Chamber, mamma
had a fainting fit. This, which she ascribed to a nervous attack, was
the result of some worry that had to do with the failure of my
marriage, for she told me that to get rid of me---"
"She is too fond of you to have used an expression----"
"So unparliamentary!" Hortense put in with a laugh. "No, she did not
use those words; but I know that a girl old enough to marry and who
does not find a husband is a heavy cross for respectable parents to
bear.--Well, she thinks that if a man of energy and talent could be
found, who would be satisfied with thirty thousand francs for my
marriage portion, we might all be happy. In fact, she thought it
advisable to prepare me for the modesty of my future lot, and to
hinder me from indulging in too fervid dreams.--Which evidently meant
an end to the intended marriage, and no settlements for me!"
"Your mother is a very good woman, noble, admirable!" replied the
father, deeply humiliated, though not sorry to hear this confession.
"She told me yesterday that she had your permission to sell her
diamonds so as to give me something to marry on; but I should like her
to keep her jewels, and to find a husband myself. I think I have found
the man, the possible husband, answering to mamma's prospectus----"
"There?--in the Place du Carrousel?--and in one morning?"
"Oh, papa, the mischief lies deeper!" said she archly.
"Well, come, my child, tell the whole story to your good old father,"
said he persuasively, and concealing his uneasiness.
Under promise of absolute secrecy, Hortense repeated the upshot of her
various conversations with her Cousin Betty. Then, when they got home,
she showed the much-talked-of-seal to her father in evidence of the
sagacity of her views. The father, in the depth of his heart, wondered
at the skill and acumen of girls who act on instinct, discerning the
simplicity of the scheme which her idealized love had suggested in the
course of a single night to his guileless daughter.
"You will see the masterpiece I have just bought; it is to be brought
home, and that dear Wenceslas is to come with the dealer.--The man who
made that group ought to make a fortune; only use your influence to
get him an order for a statue, and rooms at the Institut----"
"How you run on!" cried her father. "Why, if you had your own way, you
would be man and wife within the legal period--in eleven days----"
"Must we wait so long?" said she, laughing. "But I fell in love with
him in five minutes, as you fell in love with mamma at first sight.
And he loves me as if we had known each other for two years. Yes," she
said in reply to her father's look, "I read ten volumes of love in his
eyes. And will not you and mamma accept him as my husband when you see
that he is a man of genius? Sculpture is the greatest of the Arts,"
she cried, clapping her hands and jumping. "I will tell you
"What, is there more to come?" asked her father, smiling.
The child's complete and effervescent innocence had restored her
father's peace of mind.
"A confession of the first importance," said she. "I loved him without
knowing him; and, for the last hour, since seeing him, I am crazy
"A little too crazy!" said the Baron, who was enjoying the sight of
this guileless passion.
"Do not punish me for confiding in you," replied she. "It is so
delightful to say to my father's heart, 'I love him! I am so happy in
loving him!'--You will see my Wenceslas! His brow is so sad. The sun
of genius shines in his gray eyes--and what an air he has! What do you
think of Livonia? Is it a fine country?--The idea of Cousin Betty's
marrying that young fellow! She might be his mother. It would be
murder! I am quite jealous of all she has ever done for him. But I
don't think my marriage will please her."
"See, my darling, we must hide nothing from your mother."
"I should have to show her the seal, and I promised not to betray
Cousin Lisbeth, who is afraid, she says, of mamma's laughing at her,"
"You have scruples about the seal, and none about robbing your cousin
of her lover."
"I promised about the seal--I made no promise about the sculptor."
This adventure, patriarchal in its simplicity, came admirably /a
propos/ to the unconfessed poverty of the family; the Baron, while
praising his daughter for her candor, explained to her that she must
now leave matters to the discretion of her parents.
"You understand, my child, that it is not your part to ascertain
whether your cousin's lover is a Count, if he has all his papers
properly certified, and if his conduct is a guarantee for his
respectability.--As for your cousin, she refused five offers when she
was twenty years younger; that will prove no obstacle, I undertake to
"Listen to me, papa; if you really wish to see me married, never say a
word to Lisbeth about it till just before the contract is signed. I
have been catechizing her about this business for the last six months!
Well, there is something about her quite inexplicable----"
"What?" said her father, puzzled.
"Well, she looks evil when I say too much, even in joke, about her
lover. Make inquiries, but leave me to row my own boat. My confidence
ought to reassure you."
"The Lord said, 'Suffer little children to come unto Me.' You are one
of those who have come back again," replied the Baron with a touch of
After breakfast the dealer was announced, and the artist with his
group. The sudden flush that reddened her daughter's face at once made
the Baroness suspicious and then watchful, and the girl's confusion
and the light in her eyes soon betrayed the mystery so badly guarded
in her simple heart.
Count Steinbock, dressed in black, struck the Baron as a very
gentlemanly young man.
"Would you undertake a bronze statue?" he asked, as he held up the
After admiring it on trust, he passed it on to his wife, who knew
nothing about sculpture.
"It is beautiful, isn't it, mamma?" said Hortense in her mother' ear.
"A statue! Monsieur, it is less difficult to execute a statue than to
make a clock like this, which my friend here has been kind enough to
bring," said the artist in reply.
The dealer was placing on the dining-room sideboard the wax model of
the twelve Hours that the Loves were trying to delay.
"Leave the clock with me," said the Baron, astounded at the beauty of
the sketch. "I should like to show it to the Ministers of the Interior
and of Commerce."
"Who is the young man in whom you take so much interest?" the Baroness
asked her daughter.
"An artist who could afford to execute this model could get a hundred
thousand francs for it," said the curiosity-dealer, putting on a
knowing and mysterious look as he saw that the artist and the girl
were interchanging glances. "He would only need to sell twenty copies
at eight thousand francs each--for the materials would cost about a
thousand crowns for each example. But if each copy were numbered and
the mould destroyed, it would certainly be possible to meet with
twenty amateurs only too glad to possess a replica of such a work."
"A hundred thousand francs!" cried Steinbock, looking from the dealer
to Hortense, the Baron, and the Baroness.
"Yes, a hundred thousand francs," repeated the dealer. "If I were rich
enough, I would buy it of you myself for twenty thousand francs; for
by destroying the mould it would become a valuable property. But one
of the princes ought to pay thirty or forty thousand francs for such a
work to ornament his drawing-room. No man has ever succeeded in making
a clock satisfactory alike to the vulgar and to the connoisseur, and
this one, sir, solves the difficulty."
"This is for yourself, monsieur," said Hortense, giving six gold
pieces to the dealer.
"Never breath a word of this visit to any one living," said the artist
to his friend, at the door. "If you should be asked where we sold the
group, mention the Duc d'Herouville, the famous collector in the Rue
The dealer nodded assent.
"And your name?" said Hulot to the artist when he came back.
"Have you the papers that prove your identity?"
"Yes, Monsieur le Baron. They are in Russian and in German, but not
"Do you feel equal to undertaking a statue nine feet high?"
"Well, then, if the persons whom I shall consult are satisfied with
your work, I can secure you the commission for the statue of Marshal
Montcornet, which is to be erected on his monument at Pere-Lachaise.
The Minister of War and the old officers of the Imperial Guard have
subscribed a sum large enough to enable us to select our artist."
"Oh, monsieur, it will make my fortune!" exclaimed Steinbock,
overpowered by so much happiness at once.
"Be easy," replied the Baron graciously. "If the two ministers to whom
I propose to show your group and this sketch in wax are delighted with
these two pieces, your prospects of a fortune are good."
Hortense hugged her father's arm so tightly as to hurt him.
"Bring me your papers, and say nothing of your hopes to anybody, not
even to our old Cousin Betty."
"Lisbeth?" said Madame Hulot, at last understanding the end of all
this, though unable to guess the means.
"I could give proof of my skill by making a bust of the Baroness,"
The artist, struck by Madame Hulot's beauty, was comparing the mother
"Indeed, monsieur, life may smile upon you," said the Baron, quite
charmed by Count Steinbock's refined and elegant manner. "You will
find out that in Paris no man is clever for nothing, and that
persevering toil always finds its reward here."
Hortense, with a blush, held out to the young man a pretty Algerine
purse containing sixty gold pieces. The artist, with something still
of a gentleman's pride, responded with a mounting color easy enough to
"This, perhaps, is the first money your works have brought you?" said
"Yes, madame--my works of art. It is not the first-fruits of my labor,
for I have been a workman."
"Well, we must hope my daughter's money will bring you good luck,"
"And take it without scruple," added the Baron, seeing that Wenceslas
held the purse in his hand instead of pocketing it. "The sum will be
repaid by some rich man, a prince perhaps, who will offer it with
interest to possess so fine a work."
"Oh, I want it too much myself, papa, to give it up to anybody in the
world, even a royal prince!"
"I can make a far prettier thing than that for you, mademoiselle."
"But it would not be this one," replied she; and then, as if ashamed
of having said too much, she ran out into the garden.
"Then I shall break the mould and the model as soon as I go home,"
"Fetch me your papers, and you will hear of me before long, if you are
equal to what I expect of you, monsieur."
The artist on this could but take leave. After bowing to Madame Hulot
and Hortense, who came in from the garden on purpose, he went off to
walk in the Tuileries, not bearing--not daring--to return to his
attic, where his tyrant would pelt him with questions and wring his
secret from him.
Hortense's adorer conceived of groups and statues by the hundred; he
felt strong enough to hew the marble himself, like Canova, who was
also a feeble man, and nearly died of it. He was transfigured by
Hortense, who was to him inspiration made visible.
"Now then," said the Baroness to her daughter, "what does all this
"Well, dear mamma, you have just seen Cousin Lisbeth's lover, who now,
I hope, is mine. But shut your eyes, know nothing. Good Heavens! I was
to keep it all from you, and I cannot help telling you everything----"
"Good-bye, children!" said the Baron, kissing his wife and daughter;
"I shall perhaps go to call on the Nanny, and from her I shall hear a
great deal about our young man."
"Papa, be cautious!" said Hortense.
"Oh! little girl!" cried the Baroness when Hortense had poured out her
poem, of which the morning's adventure was the last canto, "dear
little girl, Artlessness will always be the artfulest puss on earth!"
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