Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 16
Genuine passions have an unerring instinct. Set a greedy man before a
dish of fruit and he will make no mistake, but take the choicest even
without seeing it. In the same way, if you allow a girl who is well
brought up to choose a husband for herself, if she is in a position to
meet the man of her heart, rarely will she blunder. The act of nature
in such cases is known as love at first sight; and in love, first
sight is practically second sight.
The Baroness' satisfaction, though disguised under maternal dignity,
was as great as her daughter's; for, of the three ways of marrying
Hortense of which Crevel had spoken, the best, as she opined, was
about to be realized. And she regarded this little drama as an answer
by Providence to her fervent prayers.
Mademoiselle Fischer's galley slave, obliged at last to go home,
thought he might hide his joy as a lover under his glee as an artist
rejoicing over his first success.
"Victory! my group is sold to the Duc d'Herouville, who is going to
give me some commissions," cried he, throwing the twelve hundred
francs in gold on the table before the old maid.
He had, as may be supposed concealed Hortense's purse; it lay next to
"And a very good thing too," said Lisbeth. "I was working myself to
death. You see, child, money comes in slowly in the business you have
taken up, for this is the first you have earned, and you have been
grinding at it for near on five years now. That money barely repays me
for what you have cost me since I took your promissory note; that is
all I have got by my savings. But be sure of one thing," she said,
after counting the gold, "this money will all be spent on you. There
is enough there to keep us going for a year. In a year you may now be
able to pay your debt and have a snug little sum of your own, if you
go on in the same way."
Wenceslas, finding his trick successful, expatiated on the Duc
"I will fit you out in a black suit, and get you some new linen," said
Lisbeth, "for you must appear presentably before your patrons; and
then you must have a larger and better apartment than your horrible
garret, and furnish it property.--You look so bright, you are not like
the same creature," she added, gazing at Wenceslas.
"But my work is pronounced a masterpiece."
"Well, so much the better! Do some more," said the arid creature, who
was nothing but practical, and incapable of understanding the joy of
triumph or of beauty in Art. "Trouble your head no further about what
you have sold; make something else to sell. You have spent two hundred
francs in money, to say nothing of your time and your labor, on that
devil of a /Samson/. Your clock will cost you more than two thousand
francs to execute. I tell you what, if you will listen to me, you will
finish the two little boys crowning the little girl with cornflowers;
that would just suit the Parisians.--I will go round to Monsieur Graff
the tailor before going to Monsieur Crevel.--Go up now and leave me to
Next day the Baron, perfectly crazy about Madame Marneffe, went to see
Cousin Betty, who was considerably amazed on opening the door to see
who her visitor was, for he had never called on her before. She at
once said to herself, "Can it be that Hortense wants my lover?"--for
she had heard the evening before, at Monsieur Crevel's, that the
marriage with the Councillor of the Supreme Court was broken off.
"What, Cousin! you here? This is the first time you have ever been to
see me, and it is certainly not for love of my fine eyes that you have
"Fine eyes is the truth," said the Baron; "you have as fine eyes as I
have ever seen----"
"Come, what are you here for? I really am ashamed to receive you in
such a kennel."
The outer room of the two inhabited by Lisbeth served her as
sitting-room, dining-room, kitchen, and workroom. The furniture was such
as beseemed a well-to-do artisan--walnut-wood chairs with straw seats, a
small walnut-wood dining table, a work table, some colored prints in
black wooden frames, short muslin curtains to the windows, the floor
well polished and shining with cleanliness, not a speck of dust
anywhere, but all cold and dingy, like a picture by Terburg in every
particular, even to the gray tone given by a wall paper once blue and
now faded to gray. As to the bedroom, no human being had ever
penetrated its secrets.
The Baron took it all in at a glance, saw the sign-manual of
commonness on every detail, from the cast-iron stove to the household
utensils, and his gorge rose as he said to himself, "And /this/ is
virtue!--What am I here for?" said he aloud. "You are far too cunning
not to guess, and I had better tell you plainly," cried he, sitting
down and looking out across the courtyard through an opening he made
in the puckered curtain. "There is a very pretty woman in the
"Madame Marneffe! Now I understand!" she exclaimed, seeing it all.
"Alas, Cousin, Josepha is no more. I was turned out of doors like a
"And you would like . . .?" said Lisbeth, looking at the Baron with
the dignity of a prude on her guard a quarter of an hour too soon.
"As Madame Marneffe is very much the lady, and the wife of an employe,
you can meet her without compromising yourself," the Baron went on,
"and I should like to see you neighborly. Oh! you need not be alarmed;
she will have the greatest consideration for the cousin of her
At this moment the rustle of a gown was heard on the stairs and the
footstep of a woman wearing the thinnest boots. The sound ceased on
the landing. There was a tap at the door, and Madame Marneffe came in.
"Pray excuse me, mademoiselle, for thus intruding upon you, but I
failed to find you yesterday when I came to call; we are near
neighbors; and if I had known that you were related to Monsieur le
Baron, I should long since have craved your kind interest with him. I
saw him come in, so I took the liberty of coming across; for my
husband, Monsieur le Baron, spoke to me of a report on the office
clerks which is to be laid before the minister to-morrow."
She seemed quite agitated and nervous--but she had only run upstairs.
"You have no need to play the petitioner, fair lady," replied the
Baron. "It is I who should ask the favor of seeing you."
"Very well, if mademoiselle allows it, pray come!" said Madame
"Yes--go, Cousin, I will join you," said Lisbeth judiciously.
The Parisienne had so confidently counted on the chief's visit and
intelligence, that not only had she dressed herself for so important
an interview--she had dressed her room. Early in the day it had been
furnished with flowers purchased on credit. Marneffe had helped his
wife to polish the furniture, down to the smallest objects, washing,
brushing, and dusting everything. Valerie wished to be found in an
atmosphere of sweetness, to attract the chief and to please him enough
to have a right to be cruel; to tantalize him as a child would, with
all the tricks of fashionable tactics. She had gauged Hulot. Give a
Paris woman at bay four-and-twenty hours, and she will overthrow a
The man of the Empire, accustomed to the ways to the Empire, was no
doubt quite ignorant of the ways of modern love-making, of the
scruples in vogue and the various styles of conversation invented
since 1830, which led to the poor weak woman being regarded as the
victim of her lover's desires--a Sister of Charity salving a wound, an
angel sacrificing herself.
This modern art of love uses a vast amount of evangelical phrases in
the service of the Devil. Passion is martyrdom. Both parties aspire to
the Ideal, to the Infinite; love is to make them so much better. All
these fine words are but a pretext for putting increased ardor into
the practical side of it, more frenzy into a fall than of old. This
hypocrisy, a characteristic of the times, is a gangrene in gallantry.
The lovers are both angels, and they behave, if they can, like two
Love had no time for such subtle analysis between two campaigns, and
in 1809 its successes were as rapid as those of the Empire. So, under
the Restoration, the handsome Baron, a lady's man once more, had begun
by consoling some old friends now fallen from the political firmament,
like extinguished stars, and then, as he grew old, was captured by
Jenny Cadine and Josepha.
Madame Marneffe had placed her batteries after due study of the
Baron's past life, which her husband had narrated in much detail,
after picking up some information in the offices. The comedy of modern
sentiment might have the charm of novelty to the Baron; Valerie had
made up her mind as to her scheme; and we may say the trial of her
power that she made this morning answered her highest expectations.
Thanks to her manoeuvres, sentimental, high-flown, and romantic,
Valerie, without committing herself to any promises, obtained for her
husband the appointment as deputy head of the office and the Cross of
the Legion of Honor.
The campaign was not carried out without little dinners at the /Rocher
de Cancale/, parties to the play, and gifts in the form of lace,
scarves, gowns, and jewelry. The apartment in the Rue du Doyenne was
not satisfactory; the Baron proposed to furnish another magnificently
in a charming new house in the Rue Vanneau.
Monsieur Marneffe got a fortnight's leave, to be taken a month hence
for urgent private affairs in the country, and a present in money; he
promised himself that he would spend both in a little town in
Switzerland, studying the fair sex.
While Monsieur Hulot thus devoted himself to the lady he was
"protecting," he did not forget the young artist. Comte Popinot,
Minister of Commerce, was a patron of Art; he paid two thousand francs
for a copy of the /Samson/ on condition that the mould should be
broken, and that there should be no /Samson/ but his and Mademoiselle
Hulot's. The group was admired by a Prince, to whom the model sketch
for the clock was also shown, and who ordered it; but that again was
to be unique, and he offered thirty thousand francs for it.
Artists who were consulted, and among them Stidmann, were of opinion
that the man who had sketched those two models was capable of
achieving a statue. The Marshal Prince de Wissembourg, Minister of
War, and President of the Committee for the subscriptions to the
monument of Marshal Montcornet, called a meeting, at which it was
decided that the execution of the work should be placed in Steinbock's
hands. The Comte de Rastignac, at that time Under-secretary of State,
wished to possess a work by the artist, whose glory was waxing amid
the acclamations of his rivals. Steinbock sold to him the charming
group of two little boys crowning a little girl, and he promised to
secure for the sculptor a studio attached to the Government
marble-quarries, situated, as all the world knows, at Le Gros-Caillou.
This was a success, such success as is won in Paris, that is to say,
stupendous success, that crushes those whose shoulders and loins are
not strong enough to bear it--as, be it said, not unfrequently is the
case. Count Wenceslas Steinbock was written about in all the
newspapers and reviews without his having the least suspicion of it,
any more than had Mademoiselle Fischer. Every day, as soon as Lisbeth
had gone out to dinner, Wenceslas went to the Baroness' and spent an
hour or two there, excepting on the evenings when Lisbeth dined with
This state of things lasted for several days.
The Baron, assured of Count Steinbock's titles and position; the
Baroness, pleased with his character and habits; Hortense, proud of
her permitted love and of her suitor's fame, none of them hesitated to
speak of the marriage; in short, the artist was in the seventh heaven,
when an indiscretion on Madame Marneffe's part spoilt all.
And this was how.
Lisbeth, whom the Baron wished to see intimate with Madame Marneffe,
that she might keep an eye on the couple, had already dined with
Valerie; and she, on her part, anxious to have an ear in the Hulot
house, made much of the old maid. It occurred to Valerie to invite
Mademoiselle Fischer to a house-warming in the new apartments she was
about to move into. Lisbeth, glad to have found another house to dine
in, and bewitched by Madame Marneffe, had taken a great fancy to
Valerie. Of all the persons she had made acquaintance with, no one had
taken so much pains to please her. In fact, Madame Marneffe, full of
attentions for Mademoiselle Fischer, found herself in the position
towards Lisbeth that Lisbeth held towards the Baroness, Monsieur
Rivet, Crevel, and the others who invited her to dinner.
The Marneffes had excited Lisbeth's compassion by allowing her to see
the extreme poverty of the house, while varnishing it as usual with
the fairest colors; their friends were under obligations to them and
ungrateful; they had had much illness; Madame Fortin, her mother, had
never known of their distress, and had died believing herself wealthy
to the end, thanks to their superhuman efforts--and so forth.
"Poor people!" said she to her Cousin Hulot, "you are right to do what
you can for them; they are so brave and so kind! They can hardly live
on the thousand crowns he gets as deputy-head of the office, for they
have got into debt since Marshal Montcornet's death. It is barbarity
on the part of the Government to suppose that a clerk with a wife and
family can live in Paris on two thousand four hundred francs a year."
And so, within a very short time, a young woman who affected regard
for her, who told her everything, and consulted her, who flattered
her, and seemed ready to yield to her guidance, had become dearer to
the eccentric Cousin Lisbeth than all her relations.
The Baron, on his part, admiring in Madame Marneffe such propriety,
education, and breeding as neither Jenny Cadine nor Josepha, nor any
friend of theirs had to show, had fallen in love with her in a month,
developing a senile passion, a senseless passion, which had an
appearance of reason. In fact, he found here neither the banter, nor
the orgies, nor the reckless expenditure, nor the depravity, nor the
scorn of social decencies, nor the insolent independence which had
brought him to grief alike with the actress and the singer. He was
spared, too, the rapacity of the courtesan, like unto the thirst of
Madame Marneffe, of whom he had made a friend and confidante, made the
greatest difficulties over accepting any gift from him.
"Appointments, official presents, anything you can extract from the
Government; but do not begin by insulting a woman whom you profess to
love," said Valerie. "If you do, I shall cease to believe you--and I
like to believe you," she added, with a glance like Saint Theresa
leering at heaven.
Every time he made her a present there was a fortress to be stormed, a
conscience to be over-persuaded. The hapless Baron laid deep
stratagems to offer her some trifle--costly, nevertheless--proud of
having at last met with virtue and the realization of his dreams. In
this primitive household, as he assured himself, he was the god as
much as in his own. And Monsieur Marneffe seemed at a thousand leagues
from suspecting that the Jupiter of his office intended to descend on
his wife in a shower of gold; he was his august chief's humblest
Madame Marneffe, twenty-three years of age, a pure and bashful
middle-class wife, a blossom hidden in the Rue du Doyenne, could know
nothing of the depravity and demoralizing harlotry which the Baron
could no longer think of without disgust, for he had never known the
charm of recalcitrant virtue, and the coy Valerie made him enjoy it to
the utmost--all along the line, as the saying goes.
The question having come to this point between Hector and Valerie, it
is not astonishing that Valerie should have heard from Hector the
secret of the intended marriage between the great sculptor Steinbock
and Hortense Hulot. Between a lover on his promotion and a lady who
hesitates long before becoming his mistress, there are contests,
uttered or unexpressed, in which a word often betrays a thought; as,
in fencing, the foils fly as briskly as the swords in duel. Then a
prudent man follows the example of Monsieur de Turenne. Thus the Baron
had hinted at the greater freedom his daughter's marriage would allow
him, in reply to the tender Valerie, who more than once had exclaimed:
"I cannot imagine how a woman can go wrong for a man who is not wholly
And a thousand times already the Baron had declared that for
five-and-twenty years all had been at an end between Madame Hulot and
"And they say she is so handsome!" replied Madame Marneffe. "I want
"You shall have it," said the Baron, made happy by this demand, by
which his Valerie committed herself.
Hector had then been compelled to reveal his plans, already being
carried into effect in the Rue Vanneau, to prove to Valerie that he
intended to devote to her that half of his life which belonged to his
lawful wife, supposing that day and night equally divide the existence
of civilized humanity. He spoke of decently deserting his wife,
leaving her to herself as soon as Hortense should be married. The
Baroness would then spend all her time with Hortense or the young
Hulot couple; he was sure of her submission.
"And then, my angel, my true life, my real home will be in the Rue
"Bless me, how you dispose of me!" said Madame Marneffe. "And my
"To be sure, as compared with you so he is!" said she with a laugh.
Madame Marneffe, having heard Steinbock's history, was frantically
eager to see the young Count; perhaps she wished to have some trifle
of his work while they still lived under the same roof. This curiosity
so seriously annoyed the Baron that Valerie swore to him that she
would never even look at Wenceslas. But though she obtained, as the
reward of her surrender of this wish, a little tea-service of old
Sevres /pate tendre/, she kept her wish at the bottom of her heart, as
if written on tablets.
So one day when she had begged "/my/ Cousin Betty" to come to take
coffee with her in her room, she opened on the subject of her lover,
to know how she might see him without risk.
"My dear child," said she, for they called each my dear, "why have you
never introduced your lover to me? Do you know that within a short
time he has become famous?"
"He is the one subject of conversation."
"Pooh!" cried Lisbeth.
"He is going to execute the statue of my father, and I could be of
great use to him and help him to succeed in the work; for Madame
Montcornet cannot lend him, as I can, a miniature by Sain, a beautiful
thing done in 1809, before the Wagram Campaign, and given to my poor
mother--Montcornet when he was young and handsome."
Sain and Augustin between them held the sceptre of miniature painting
under the Empire.
"He is going to make a statue, my dear, did you say?"
"Nine feet high--by the orders of the Minister of War. Why, where have
you dropped from that I should tell you the news? Why, the Government
is going to give Count Steinbock rooms and a studio at Le
Gros-Caillou, the depot for marble; your Pole will be made the Director,
I should not wonder, with two thousand francs a year and a ring on his
"How do you know all this when I have heard nothing about it?" said
Lisbeth at last, shaking off her amazement.
"Now, my dear little Cousin Betty," said Madame Marneffe, in an
insinuating voice, "are you capable of devoted friendship, put to any
test? Shall we henceforth be sisters? Will you swear to me never to
have a secret from me any more than I from you--to act as my spy, as I
will be yours?--Above all, will you pledge yourself never to betray me
either to my husband or to Monsieur Hulot, and never reveal that it
was I who told you----?"
Madame Marneffe broke off in this spurring harangue; Lisbeth
frightened her. The peasant-woman's face was terrible; her piercing
black eyes had the glare of the tiger's; her face was like that we
ascribe to a pythoness; she set her teeth to keep them from
chattering, and her whole frame quivered convulsively. She had pushed
her clenched fingers under her cap to clutch her hair and support her
head, which felt too heavy; she was on fire. The smoke of the flame
that scorched her seemed to emanate from her wrinkles as from the
crevasses rent by a volcanic eruption. It was a startling spectacle.
"Well, why do you stop?" she asked in a hollow voice. "I will be all
to you that I have been to him.--Oh, I would have given him my
"You loved him then?"
"Like a child of my own!"
"Well, then," said Madame Marneffe, with a breath of relief, "if you
only love him in that way, you will be very happy--for you wish him to
Lisbeth replied by a nod as hasty as a madwoman's.
"He is to marry your Cousin Hortense in a month's time."
"Hortense!" shrieked the old maid, striking her forehead, and starting
to her feet.
"Well, but then you were really in love with this young man?" asked
"My dear, we are bound for life and death, you and I," said
Mademoiselle Fischer. "Yes, if you have any love affairs, to me they
are sacred. Your vices will be virtues in my eyes.--For I shall need
"Then did you live with him?" asked Valerie.
"No; I meant to be a mother to him."
"I give it up. I cannot understand," said Valerie. "In that case you
are neither betrayed nor cheated, and you ought to be very happy to
see him so well married; he is now fairly afloat. And, at any rate,
your day is over. Our artist goes to Madame Hulot's every evening as
soon as you go out to dinner."
"Adeline!" muttered Lisbeth. "Oh, Adeline, you shall pay for this! I
will make you uglier than I am."
"You are as pale as death!" exclaimed Valerie. "There is something
wrong?--Oh, what a fool I am! The mother and daughter must have
suspected that you would raise some obstacles in the way of this
affair since they have kept it from you," said Madame Marneffe. "But
if you did not live with the young man, my dear, all this is a greater
puzzle to me than my husband's feelings----"
"Ah, you don't know," said Lisbeth; "you have no idea of all their
tricks. It is the last blow that kills. And how many such blows have I
had to bruise my soul! You don't know that from the time when I could
first feel, I have been victimized for Adeline. I was beaten, and she
was petted; I was dressed like a scullion, and she had clothes like a
lady's; I dug in the garden and cleaned the vegetables, and she--she
never lifted a finger for anything but to make up some finery!--She
married the Baron, she came to shine at the Emperor's Court, while I
stayed in our village till 1809, waiting for four years for a suitable
match; they brought me away, to be sure, but only to make me a
work-woman, and to offer me clerks or captains like coalheavers for a
husband! I have had their leavings for twenty-six years!--And now like
the story in the Old Testament, the poor relation has one ewe-lamb
which is all her joy, and the rich man who has flocks covets the
ewe-lamb and steals it--without warning, without asking. Adeline has
meanly robbed me of my happiness!--Adeline! Adeline! I will see you in
the mire, and sunk lower than myself!--And Hortense--I loved her, and
she has cheated me. The Baron.--No, it is impossible. Tell me again
what is really true of all this."
"Be calm, my dear child."
"Valerie, my darling, I will be calm," said the strange creature,
sitting down again. "One thing only can restore me to reason; give me
"Your Cousin Hortense has the /Samson/ group--here is a lithograph
from it published in a review. She paid for it out of her
pocket-money, and it is the Baron who, to benefit his future
son-in-law, is pushing him, getting everything for him."
"Water!--water!" said Lisbeth, after glancing at the print, below
which she read, "A group belonging to Mademoiselle Hulot d'Ervy."
"Water! my head is burning, I am going mad!"
Madame Marneffe fetched some water. Lisbeth took off her cap,
unfastened her black hair, and plunged her head into the basin her new
friend held for her. She dipped her forehead into it several times,
and checked the incipient inflammation. After this douche she
completely recovered her self-command.
"Not a word," said she to Madame Marneffe as she wiped her face--"not
a word of all this.--You see, I am quite calm; everything is
forgotten. I am thinking of something very different."
"She will be in Charenton to-morrow, that is very certain," thought
Madame Marneffe, looking at the old maid.
"What is to be done?" Lisbeth went on. "You see, my angel, there is
nothing for it but to hold my tongue, bow my head, and drift to the
grave, as all water runs to the river. What could I try to do? I
should like to grind them all--Adeline, her daughter, and the Baron
--all to dust! But what can a poor relation do against a rich family?
It would be the story of the earthen pot and the iron pot."
"Yes; you are right," said Valerie. "You can only pull as much hay as
you can to your side of the manger. That is all the upshot of life in
"Besides," said Lisbeth, "I shall soon die, I can tell you, if I lose
that boy to whom I fancied I could always be a mother, and with whom I
counted on living all my days----"
There were tears in her eyes, and she paused. Such emotion in this
woman made of sulphur and flame, made Valerie shudder.
"Well, at any rate, I have found you," said Lisbeth, taking Valerie's
hand, "that is some consolation in this dreadful trouble.--We shall be
true friends; and why should we ever part? I shall never cross your
track. No one will ever be in love with me!--Those who would have
married me, would only have done it to secure my Cousin Hulot's
interest. With energy enough to scale Paradise, to have to devote it
to procuring bread and water, a few rags, and a garret!--That is
martyrdom, my dear, and I have withered under it."
She broke off suddenly, and shot a black flash into Madame Marneffe's
blue eyes, a glance that pierced the pretty woman's soul, as the point
of a dagger might have pierced her heart.
"And what is the use of talking?" she exclaimed in reproof to herself.
"I never said so much before, believe me! The tables will be turned
yet!" she added after a pause. "As you so wisely say, let us sharpen
our teeth, and pull down all the hay we can get."
"You are very wise," said Madame Marneffe, who had been frightened by
this scene, and had no remembrance of having uttered this maxim. "I am
sure you are right, my dear child. Life is not so long after all, and
we must make the best of it, and make use of others to contribute to
our enjoyment. Even I have learned that, young as I am. I was brought
up a spoilt child, my father married ambitiously, and almost forgot
me, after making me his idol and bringing me up like a queen's
daughter! My poor mother, who filled my head with splendid visions,
died of grief at seeing me married to an office clerk with twelve
hundred francs a year, at nine-and-thirty an aged and hardened
libertine, as corrupt as the hulks, looking on me, as others looked on
you, as a means of fortune!--Well, in that wretched man, I have found
the best of husbands. He prefers the squalid sluts he picks up at the
street corners, and leaves me free. Though he keeps all his salary to
himself, he never asks me where I get money to live on----"
And she in her turn stopped short, as a woman does who feels herself
carried away by the torrent of her confessions; struck, too, by
Lisbeth's eager attention, she thought well to make sure of Lisbeth
before revealing her last secrets.
"You see, dear child, how entire is my confidence in you!" she
presently added, to which Lisbeth replied by a most comforting nod.
An oath may be taken by a look and a nod more solemnly than in a court
"I keep up every appearance of respectability," Valerie went on,
laying her hand on Lisbeth's as if to accept her pledge. "I am a
married woman, and my own mistress, to such a degree, that in the
morning, when Marneffe sets out for the office, if he takes it into
his head to say good-bye and finds my door locked, he goes off without
a word. He cares less for his boy than I care for one of the marble
children that play at the feet of one of the river-gods in the
Tuileries. If I do not come home to dinner, he dines quite contentedly
with the maid, for the maid is devoted to monsieur; and he goes out
every evening after dinner, and does not come in till twelve or one
o'clock. Unfortunately, for a year past, I have had no ladies' maid,
which is as much as to say that I am a widow!
"I have had one passion, once have been happy--a rich Brazilian--who
went away a year ago--my only lapse!--He went away to sell his
estates, to realize his land, and come back to live in France. What
will he find left of his Valerie? A dunghill. Well! it is his fault
and not mine; why does he delay coming so long? Perhaps he has been
wrecked--like my virtue."
"Good-bye, my dear," said Lisbeth abruptly; "we are friends for ever.
I love you, I esteem you, I am wholly yours! My cousin is tormenting
me to go and live in the house you are moving to, in the Rue Vanneau;
but I would not go, for I saw at once the reasons for this fresh piece
"Yes; you would have kept an eye on me, I know!" said Madame Marneffe.
"That was, no doubt, the motive of his generosity," replied Lisbeth.
"In Paris, most beneficence is a speculation, as most acts of
ingratitude are revenge! To a poor relation you behave as you do to
rats to whom you offer a bit of bacon. Now, I will accept the Baron's
offer, for this house has grown intolerable to me. You and I have wit
enough to hold our tongues about everything that would damage us, and
tell all that needs telling. So, no blabbing--and we are friends."
"Through thick and thin!" cried Madame Marneffe, delighted to have a
sheep-dog, a confidante, a sort of respectable aunt. "Listen to me;
the Baron is doing a great deal in the Rue Vanneau----"
"I believe you!" interrupted Lisbeth. "He has spent thirty thousand
francs! Where he got the money, I am sure I don't know, for Josepha
the singer bled him dry.--Oh! you are in luck," she went on. "The
Baron would steal for a woman who held his heart in two little white
satin hands like yours!"
"Well, then," said Madame Marneffe, with the liberality of such
creatures, which is mere recklessness, "look here, my dear child; take
away from here everything that may serve your turn in your new
quarters--that chest of drawers, that wardrobe and mirror, the carpet,
Lisbeth's eyes dilated with excessive joy; she was incredulous of such
"You are doing more for me in a breath than my rich relations have
done in thirty years!" she exclaimed. "They have never even asked
themselves whether I had any furniture at all. On his first visit, a
few weeks ago, the Baron made a rich man's face on seeing how poor I
was.--Thank you, my dear; and I will give you your money's worth, you
will see how by and by."
Valerie went out on the landing with /her/ Cousin Betty, and the two
"Pouh! How she stinks of hard work!" said the pretty little woman to
herself when she was alone. "I shall not embrace you often, my dear
cousin! At the same time, I must look sharp. She must be skilfully
managed, for she can be of use, and help me to make my fortune."
Like the true Creole of Paris, Madame Marneffe abhorred trouble; she
had the calm indifference of a cat, which never jumps or runs but when
urged by necessity. To her, life must be all pleasure; and the
pleasure without difficulties. She loved flowers, provided they were
brought to her. She could not imagine going to the play but to a good
box, at her own command, and in a carriage to take her there. Valerie
inherited these courtesan tastes from her mother, on whom General
Montcornet had lavished luxury when he was in Paris, and who for
twenty years had seen all the world at her feet; who had been wasteful
and prodigal, squandering her all in the luxurious living of which the
programme has been lost since the fall of Napoleon.
The grandees of the Empire were a match in their follies for the great
nobles of the last century. Under the Restoration the nobility cannot
forget that it has been beaten and robbed, and so, with two or three
exceptions, it has become thrifty, prudent, and stay-at-home, in
short, bourgeois and penurious. Since then, 1830 has crowned the work
of 1793. In France, henceforth, there will be great names, but no
great houses, unless there should be political changes which we can
hardly foresee. Everything takes the stamp of individuality. The
wisest invest in annuities. Family pride is destroyed.
The bitter pressure of poverty which had stung Valerie to the quick on
the day when, to use Marneffe's expression, she had "caught on" with
Hulot, had brought the young woman to the conclusion that she would
make a fortune by means of her good looks. So, for some days, she had
been feeling the need of having a friend about her to take the place
of a mother--a devoted friend, to whom such things may be told as must
be hidden from a waiting-maid, and who could act, come and go, and
think for her, a beast of burden resigned to an unequal share of life.
Now, she, quite as keenly as Lisbeth, had understood the Baron's
motives for fostering the intimacy between his cousin and herself.
Prompted by the formidable perspicacity of the Parisian half-breed,
who spends her days stretched on a sofa, turning the lantern of her
detective spirit on the obscurest depths of souls, sentiments, and
intrigues, she had decided on making an ally of the spy. This
supremely rash step was, perhaps premeditated; she had discerned the
true nature of this ardent creature, burning with wasted passion, and
meant to attach her to herself. Thus, their conversation was like the
stone a traveler casts into an abyss to demonstrate its depth. And
Madame Marneffe had been terrified to find this old maid a combination
of Iago and Richard III., so feeble as she seemed, so humble, and so
little to be feared.
For that instant, Lisbeth Fischer had been her real self; that
Corsican and savage temperament, bursting the slender bonds that held
it under, had sprung up to its terrible height, as the branch of a
tree flies up from the hand of a child that has bent it down to gather
the green fruit.
To those who study the social world, it must always be a matter of
astonishment to see the fulness, the perfection, and the rapidity with
which an idea develops in a virgin nature.
Virginity, like every other monstrosity, has its special richness, its
absorbing greatness. Life, whose forces are always economized, assumes
in the virgin creature an incalculable power of resistance and
endurance. The brain is reinforced in the sum-total of its reserved
energy. When really chaste natures need to call on the resources of
body or soul, and are required to act or to think, they have muscles
of steel, or intuitive knowledge in their intelligence--diabolical
strength, or the black magic of the Will.
From this point of view the Virgin Mary, even if we regard her only as
a symbol, is supremely great above every other type, whether Hindoo,
Egyptian, or Greek. Virginity, the mother of great things, /magna
parens rerum/, holds in her fair white hands the keys of the upper
worlds. In short, that grand and terrible exception deserves all the
honors decreed to her by the Catholic Church.
Thus, in one moment, Lisbeth Fischer had become the Mohican whose
snares none can escape, whose dissimulation is inscrutable, whose
swift decisiveness is the outcome of the incredible perfection of
every organ of sense. She was Hatred and Revenge, as implacable as
they are in Italy, Spain, and the East. These two feelings, the
obverse of friendship and love carried to the utmost, are known only
in lands scorched by the sun. But Lisbeth was also a daughter of
Lorraine, bent on deceit.
She accepted this detail of her part against her will; she began by
making a curious attempt, due to her ignorance. She fancied, as
children do, that being imprisoned meant the same thing as solitary
confinement. But this is the superlative degree of imprisonment, and
that superlative is the privilege of the Criminal Bench.
As soon as she left Madame Marneffe, Lisbeth hurried off to Monsieur
Rivet, and found him in his office.
"Well, my dear Monsieur Rivet," she began, when she had bolted the
door of the room. "You were quite right. Those Poles! They are low
villains--all alike, men who know neither law nor fidelity."
"And who want to set Europe on fire," said the peaceable Rivet, "to
ruin every trade and every trader for the sake of a country that is
all bog-land, they say, and full of horrible Jews, to say nothing of
the Cossacks and the peasants--a sort of wild beasts classed by
mistake with human beings. Your Poles do not understand the times we
live in; we are no longer barbarians. War is coming to an end, my dear
mademoiselle; it went out with the Monarchy. This is the age of
triumph for commerce, and industry, and middle-class prudence, such as
were the making of Holland.
"Yes," he went on with animation, "we live in a period when nations
must obtain all they need by the legal extension of their liberties
and by the pacific action of Constitutional Institutions; that is what
the Poles do not see, and I hope----
"You were saying, my dear?--" he added, interrupting himself when he
saw from his work-woman's face that high politics were beyond her
"Here is the schedule," said Lisbeth. "If I don't want to lose my
three thousand two hundred and ten francs, I must clap this rogue into
"Didn't I tell you so?" cried the oracle of the Saint-Denis quarter.
The Rivets, successor to Pons Brothers, had kept their shop still in
the Rue des Mauvaises-Paroles, in the ancient Hotel Langeais, built by
that illustrious family at the time when the nobility still gathered
round the Louvre.
"Yes, and I blessed you on my way here," replied Lisbeth.
"If he suspects nothing, he can be safe in prison by eight o'clock in
the morning," said Rivet, consulting the almanac to ascertain the hour
of sunrise; "but not till the day after to-morrow, for he cannot be
imprisoned till he has had notice that he is to be arrested by writ,
with the option of payment or imprisonment. And so----"
"What an idiotic law!" exclaimed Lisbeth. "Of course the debtor
"He has every right to do so," said the Assessor, smiling. "So this is
"As to that," said Lisbeth, interrupting him, "I will take the paper
and hand it to him, saying that I have been obliged to raise the
money, and that the lender insists on this formality. I know my
gentleman. He will not even look at the paper; he will light his pipe
"Not a bad idea, not bad, Mademoiselle Fischer! Well, make your mind
easy; the job shall be done.--But stop a minute; to put your man in
prison is not the only point to be considered; you only want to
indulge in that legal luxury in order to get your money. Who is to pay
"Those who give him money."
"To be sure; I forgot that the Minister of War had commissioned him to
erect a monument to one of our late customers. Ah! the house has
supplied many an uniform to General Montcornet; he soon blackened them
with the smoke of cannon. A brave man, he was! and he paid on the
A marshal of France may have saved the Emperor or his country; "He
paid on the nail" will always be the highest praise he can have from a
"Very well. And on Saturday, Monsieur Rivet, you shall have the flat
tassels.--By the way, I am moving from the Rue du Doyenne; I am going
to live in the Rue Vanneau."
"You are very right. I could not bear to see you in that hole which,
in spite of my aversion to the Opposition, I must say is a disgrace; I
repeat it, yes! is a disgrace to the Louvre and the Place du
Carrousel. I am devoted to Louis-Philippe, he is my idol; he is the
august and exact representative of the class on whom he founded his
dynasty, and I can never forget what he did for the trimming-makers by
restoring the National Guard----"
"When I hear you speak so, Monsieur Rivet, I cannot help wondering why
you are not made a deputy."
"They are afraid of my attachment to the dynasty," replied Rivet. "My
political enemies are the King's. He has a noble character! They are a
fine family; in short," said he, returning to the charge, "he is our
ideal: morality, economy, everything. But the completion of the Louvre
is one of the conditions on which we gave him the crown, and the civil
list, which, I admit, had no limits set to it, leaves the heart of
Paris in a most melancholy state.--It is because I am so strongly in
favor of the middle course that I should like to see the middle of
Paris in a better condition. Your part of the town is positively
terrifying. You would have been murdered there one fine day.--And so
your Monsieur Crevel has been made Major of his division! He will come
to us, I hope, for his big epaulette."
"I am dining with him to-night, and will send him to you."
Lisbeth believed that she had secured her Livonian to herself by
cutting him off from all communication with the outer world. If he
could no longer work, the artist would be forgotten as completely as a
man buried in a cellar, where she alone would go to see him. Thus she
had two happy days, for she hoped to deal a mortal blow at the
Baroness and her daughter.
To go to Crevel's house, in the Rue des Saussayes, she crossed the
Pont du Carrousel, went along the Quai Voltaire, the Quai d'Orsay, the
Rue Bellechasse, Rue de l'Universite, the Pont de la Concorde, and the
Avenue de Marigny. This illogical route was traced by the logic of
passion, always the foe of the legs.
Cousin Betty, as long as she followed the line of the quays, kept
watch on the opposite shore of the Seine, walking very slowly. She had
guessed rightly. She had left Wenceslas dressing; she at once
understood that, as soon as he should be rid of her, the lover would
go off to the Baroness' by the shortest road. And, in fact, as she
wandered along by the parapet of the Quai Voltaire, in fancy
suppressing the river and walking along the opposite bank, she
recognized the artist as he came out of the Tuileries to cross the
Pont Royal. She there came up with the faithless one, and could follow
him unseen, for lovers rarely look behind them. She escorted him as
far as Madame Hulot's house, where he went in like an accustomed
This crowning proof, confirming Madame Marneffe's revelations, put
Lisbeth quite beside herself.
She arrived at the newly promoted Major's door in the state of mental
irritation which prompts men to commit murder, and found Monsieur
Crevel /senior/ in his drawing-room awaiting his children, Monsieur
and Madame Hulot /junior/.
But Celestin Crevel was so unconscious and so perfect a type of the
Parisian parvenu, that we can scarcely venture so unceremoniously into
the presence of Cesar Birotteau's successor. Celestin Crevel was a
world in himself; and he, even more than Rivet, deserves the honors of
the palette by reason of his importance in this domestic drama.
Have you ever observed how in childhood, or at the early stages of
social life, we create a model for our own imitation, with our own
hands as it were, and often without knowing it? The banker's clerk,
for instance, as he enters his master's drawing-room, dreams of
possessing such another. If he makes a fortune, it will not be the
luxury of the day, twenty years later, that you will find in his
house, but the old-fashioned splendor that fascinated him of yore. It
is impossible to tell how many absurdities are due to this
retrospective jealousy; and in the same way we know nothing of the
follies due to the covert rivalry that urges men to copy the type they
have set themselves, and exhaust their powers in shining with a
reflected light, like the moon.
Crevel was deputy mayor because his predecessor had been; he was Major
because he coveted Cesar Birotteau's epaulettes. In the same way,
struck by the marvels wrought by Grindot the architect, at the time
when Fortune had carried his master to the top of the wheel, Crevel
had "never looked at both sides of a crown-piece," to use his own
language, when he wanted to "do up" his rooms; he had gone with his
purse open and his eyes shut to Grindot, who by this time was quite
forgotten. It is impossible to guess how long an extinct reputation
may survive, supported by such stale admiration.
So Grindot, for the thousandth time had displayed his white-and-gold
drawing-room paneled with crimson damask. The furniture, of rosewood,
clumsily carved, as such work is done for the trade, had in the
country been the source of just pride in Paris workmanship on the
occasion of an industrial exhibition. The candelabra, the fire-dogs,
the fender, the chandelier, the clock, were all in the most unmeaning
style of scroll-work; the round table, a fixture in the middle of the
room, was a mosaic of fragments of Italian and antique marbles,
brought from Rome, where these dissected maps are made of
mineralogical specimens--for all the world like tailors' patterns--an
object of perennial admiration to Crevel's citizen friends. The
portraits of the late lamented Madame Crevel, of Crevel himself, of
his daughter and his son-in-law, hung on the walls, two and two; they
were the work of Pierre Grassou, the favored painter of the
bourgeoisie, to whom Crevel owed his ridiculous Byronic attitude. The
frames, costing a thousand francs each, were quite in harmony with
this coffee-house magnificence, which would have made any true artist
shrug his shoulders.
Money never yet missed the smallest opportunity of being stupid. We
should have in Paris ten Venices if our retired merchants had had the
instinct for fine things characteristic of the Italians. Even in our
own day a Milanese merchant could leave five hundred thousand francs
to the Duomo, to regild the colossal statue of the Virgin that crowns
the edifice. Canova, in his will, desired his brother to build a
church costing four million francs, and that brother adds something on
his own account. Would a citizen of Paris--and they all, like Rivet,
love their Paris in their heart--ever dream of building the spires
that are lacking to the towers of Notre-Dame? And only think of the
sums that revert to the State in property for which no heirs are
All the improvements of Paris might have been completed with the money
spent on stucco castings, gilt mouldings, and sham sculpture during
the last fifteen years by individuals of the Crevel stamp.
Beyond this drawing-room was a splendid boudoir furnished with tables
and cabinets in imitation of Boulle.
The bedroom, smart with chintz, also opened out of the drawing-room.
Mahogany in all its glory infested the dining-room, and Swiss views,
gorgeously framed, graced the panels. Crevel, who hoped to travel in
Switzerland, had set his heart on possessing the scenery in painting
till the time should come when he might see it in reality.
So, as will have been seen, Crevel, the Mayor's deputy, of the Legion
of Honor and of the National Guard, had faithfully reproduced all the
magnificence, even as to furniture, of his luckless predecessor. Under
the Restoration, where one had sunk, this other, quite overlooked, had
come to the top--not by any strange stroke of fortune, but by the
force of circumstance. In revolutions, as in storms at sea, solid
treasure goes to the bottom, and light trifles are floated to the
surface. Cesar Birotteau, a Royalist, in favor and envied, had been
made the mark of bourgeois hostility, while bourgeoisie triumphant
found its incarnation in Crevel.
This apartment, at a rent of a thousand crowns, crammed with all the
vulgar magnificence that money can buy, occupied the first floor of a
fine old house between a courtyard and a garden. Everything was as
spick-and-span as the beetles in an entomological case, for Crevel
lived very little at home.
This gorgeous residence was the ambitious citizen's legal domicile.
His establishment consisted of a woman-cook and a valet; he hired two
extra men, and had a dinner sent in by Chevet, whenever he gave a
banquet to his political friends, to men he wanted to dazzle or to a
The seat of Crevel's real domesticity, formerly in the Rue Notre-Dame
de Lorette, with Mademoiselle Heloise Brisetout, had lately been
transferred, as we have seen, to the Rue Chauchat. Every morning the
retired merchant--every ex-tradesman is a retired merchant--spent two
hours in the Rue des Saussayes to attend to business, and gave the
rest of his time to Mademoiselle Zaire, which annoyed Zaire very much.
Orosmanes-Crevel had a fixed bargain with Mademoiselle Heloise; she
owed him five hundred francs worth of enjoyment every month, and no
"bills delivered." He paid separately for his dinner and all extras.
This agreement, with certain bonuses, for he made her a good many
presents, seemed cheap to the ex-attache of the great singer; and he
would say to widowers who were fond of their daughters, that it paid
better to job your horses than to have a stable of your own. At the
same time, if the reader remembers the speech made to the Baron by the
porter at the Rue Chauchat, Crevel did not escape the coachman and the
Crevel, as may be seen, had turned his passionate affection for his
daughter to the advantage of his self-indulgence. The immoral aspect
of the situation was justified by the highest morality. And then the
ex-perfumer derived from this style of living--it was the inevitable,
a free-and-easy life, /Regence, Pompadour, Marechal de Richelieu/,
what not--a certain veneer of superiority. Crevel set up for being a
man of broad views, a fine gentleman with an air and grace, a liberal
man with nothing narrow in his ideas--and all for the small sum of
about twelve to fifteen hundred francs a month. This was the result
not of hypocritical policy, but of middle-class vanity, though it came
to the same in the end.
On the Bourse Crevel was regarded as a man superior to his time, and
especially as a man of pleasure, a /bon vivant/. In this particular
Crevel flattered himself that he had overtopped his worthy friend
Birotteau by a hundred cubits.
"And is it you?" cried Crevel, flying into a rage as he saw Lisbeth
enter the room, "who have plotted this marriage between Mademoiselle
Hulot and your young Count, whom you have been bringing up by hand for
"You don't seem best pleased at it?" said Lisbeth, fixing a piercing
eye on Crevel. "What interest can you have in hindering my cousin's
marriage? For it was you, I am told, who hindered her marrying
Monsieur Lebas' son."
"You are a good soul and to be trusted," said Crevel. "Well, then, do
you suppose that I will ever forgive Monsieur Hulot for the crime of
having robbed me of Josepha--especially when he turned a decent girl,
whom I should have married in my old age, into a good-for-nothing
slut, a mountebank, an opera singer!--No, no. Never!"
"He is a very good fellow, too, is Monsieur Hulot," said Cousin Betty.
"Amiable, very amiable--too amiable," replied Crevel. "I wish him no
harm; but I do wish to have my revenge, and I will have it. It is my
"And is that desire the reason why you no longer visit Madame Hulot?"
"Ah, ha! then you were courting my fair cousin?" said Lisbeth, with a
smile. "I thought as much."
"And she treated me like a dog!--worse, like a footman; nay, I might
say like a political prisoner.--But I will succeed yet," said he,
striking his brow with his clenched fist.
"Poor man! It would be dreadful to catch his wife deceiving him after
being packed off by his mistress."
"Josepha?" cried Crevel. "Has Josepha thrown him over, packed him off,
turned him out neck and crop? Bravo, Josepha, you have avenged me! I
will send you a pair of pearls to hang in your ears, my ex-sweetheart!
--I knew nothing of it; for after I had seen you, on the day after
that when the fair Adeline had shown me the door, I went back to visit
the Lebas, at Corbeil, and have but just come back. Heloise played the
very devil to get me into the country, and I have found out the
purpose of her game; she wanted me out of the way while she gave a
house-warming in the Rue Chauchat, with some artists, and players, and
writers.--She took me in! But I can forgive her, for Heloise amuses
me. She is a Dejazet under a bushel. What a character the hussy is!
There is the note I found last evening:
"'DEAR OLD CHAP,--I have pitched my tent in the Rue Chauchat. I
have taken the precaution of getting a few friends to clean up the
paint. All is well. Come when you please, monsieur; Hagar awaits
"Heloise will have some news for me, for she has her bohemia at her
"But Monsieur Hulot took the disaster very calmly," said Lisbeth.
"Impossible!" cried Crevel, stopping in a parade as regular as the
swing of a pendulum.
"Monsieur Hulot is not as young as he was," Lisbeth remarked
"I know that," said Crevel, "but in one point we are alike: Hulot
cannot do without an attachment. He is capable of going back to his
wife. It would be a novelty for him, but an end to my vengeance. You
smile, Mademoiselle Fischer--ah! perhaps you know something?"
"I am smiling at your notions," replied Lisbeth. "Yes, my cousin is
still handsome enough to inspire a passion. I should certainly fall in
love with her if I were a man."
"Cut and come again!" exclaimed Crevel. "You are laughing at me.--The
Baron has already found consolation?"
Lisbeth bowed affirmatively.
"He is a lucky man if he can find a second Josepha within twenty-four
hours!" said Crevel. "But I am not altogether surprised, for he told
me one evening at supper that when he was a young man he always had
three mistresses on hand that he might not be left high and dry--the
one he was giving over, the one in possession, and the one he was
courting for a future emergency. He had some smart little work-woman
in reserve, no doubt--in his fish-pond--his /Parc-aux-cerfs/! He is
very Louis XV., is my gentleman. He is in luck to be so handsome!
--However, he is ageing; his face shows it.--He has taken up with
some little milliner?"
"Dear me, no," replied Lisbeth.
"Oh!" cried Crevel, "what would I not do to hinder him from hanging up
his hat! I could not win back Josepha; women of that kind never come
back to their first love.--Besides, it is truly said, such a return is
not love.--But, Cousin Betty, I would pay down fifty thousand francs
--that is to say, I would spend it--to rob that great good-looking
fellow of his mistress, and to show him that a Major with a portly
stomach and a brain made to become Mayor of Paris, though he is a
grandfather, is not to have his mistress tickled away by a poacher
without turning the tables."
"My position," said Lisbeth, "compels me to hear everything and know
nothing. You may talk to me without fear; I never repeat a word of
what any one may choose to tell me. How can you suppose I should ever
break that rule of conduct? No one would ever trust me again."
"I know," said Crevel; "you are the very jewel of old maids. Still,
come, there are exceptions. Look here, the family have never settled
an allowance on you?"
"But I have my pride," said Lisbeth. "I do not choose to be an expense
"If you will but help me to my revenge," the tradesman went on, "I
will sink ten thousand francs in an annuity for you. Tell me, my fair
cousin, tell me who has stepped into Josepha's shoes, and you will
have money to pay your rent, your little breakfast in the morning, the
good coffee you love so well--you might allow yourself pure Mocha,
heh! And a very good thing is pure Mocha!"
"I do not care so much for the ten thousand francs in an annuity,
which would bring me nearly five hundred francs a year, as for
absolute secrecy," said Lisbeth. "For, you see, my dear Monsieur
Crevel, the Baron is very good to me; he is to pay my rent----"
"Oh yes, long may that last! I advise you to trust him," cried Crevel.
"Where will he find the money?"
"Ah, that I don't know. At the same time, he is spending more than
thirty thousand francs on the rooms he is furnishing for this little
"A lady! What, a woman in society; the rascal, what luck he has! He is
the only favorite!"
"A married woman, and quite the lady," Lisbeth affirmed.
"Really and truly?" cried Crevel, opening wide eyes flashing with
envy, quite as much as at the magic words /quite the lady/.
"Yes, really," said Lisbeth. "Clever, a musician, three-and-twenty, a
pretty, innocent face, a dazzling white skin, teeth like a puppy's,
eyes like stars, a beautiful forehead--and tiny feet, I never saw the
like, they are not wider than her stay-busk."
"And ears?" asked Crevel, keenly alive to this catalogue of charms.
"Ears for a model," she replied.
"And small hands?"
"I tell you, in few words, a gem of a woman--and high-minded, and
modest, and refined! A beautiful soul, an angel--and with every
distinction, for her father was a Marshal of France----"
"A Marshal of France!" shrieked Crevel, positively bounding with
excitement. "Good Heavens! by the Holy Piper! By all the joys in
Paradise!--The rascal!--I beg your pardon, Cousin, I am going crazy!
--I think I would give a hundred thousand francs----"
"I dare say you would, and, I tell you, she is a respectable woman--a
woman of virtue. The Baron has forked out handsomely."
"He has not a sou, I tell you."
"There is a husband he has pushed----"
"Where did he push him?" asked Crevel, with a bitter laugh.
"He is promoted to be second in his office--this husband who will
oblige, no doubt;--and his name is down for the Cross of the Legion of
"The Government ought to be judicious and respect those who have the
Cross by not flinging it broadcast," said Crevel, with the look of an
aggrieved politician. "But what is there about the man--that old
bulldog of a Baron?" he went on. "It seems to me that I am quite a
match for him," and he struck an attitude as he looked at himself in
the glass. "Heloise has told me many a time, at moments when a woman
speaks the truth, that I was wonderful."
"Oh," said Lisbeth, "women like big men; they are almost always
good-natured; and if I had to decide between you and the Baron, I
should choose you. Monsieur Hulot is amusing, handsome, and has a
figure; but you, you are substantial, and then--you see--you look an
even greater scamp than he does."
"It is incredible how all women, even pious women, take to men who
have that about them!" exclaimed Crevel, putting his arm round
Lisbeth's waist, he was so jubilant.
"The difficulty does not lie there," said Betty. "You must see that a
woman who is getting so many advantages will not be unfaithful to her
patron for nothing; and it would cost you more than a hundred odd
thousand francs, for our little friend can look forward to seeing her
husband at the head of his office within two years' time.--It is
poverty that is dragging the poor little angel into that pit."
Crevel was striding up and down the drawing-room in a state of frenzy.
"He must be uncommonly fond of the woman?" he inquired after a pause,
while his desires, thus goaded by Lisbeth, rose to a sort of madness.
"You may judge for yourself," replied Lisbeth. "I don't believe he has
had /that/ of her," said she, snapping her thumbnail against one of
her enormous white teeth, "and he has given her ten thousand francs'
worth of presents already."
"What a good joke it would be!" cried Crevel, "if I got to the winning
"Good heavens! It is too bad of me to be telling you all this
tittle-tattle," said Lisbeth, with an air of compunction.
"No.--I mean to put your relations to the blush. To-morrow I shall
invest in your name such a sum in five-per-cents as will give you six
hundred francs a year; but then you must tell me everything--his
Dulcinea's name and residence. To you I will make a clean breast of
it.--I never have had a real lady for a mistress, and it is the height
of my ambition. Mahomet's houris are nothing in comparison with what I
fancy a woman of fashion must be. In short, it is my dream, my mania,
and to such a point, that I declare to you the Baroness Hulot to me
will never be fifty," said he, unconsciously plagiarizing one of the
greatest wits of the last century. "I assure you, my good Lisbeth, I
am prepared to sacrifice a hundred, two hundred--Hush! Here are the
young people, I see them crossing the courtyard. I shall never have
learned anything through you, I give you my word of honor; for I do
not want you to lose the Baron's confidence, quite the contrary. He
must be amazingly fond of this woman--that old boy."
"He is crazy about her," said Lisbeth. "He could not find forty
thousand francs to marry his daughter off, but he has got them somehow
for his new passion."
"And do you think that she loves him?"
"At his age!" said the old maid.
"Oh, what an owl I am!" cried Crevel, "when I myself allowed Heloise
to keep her artist exactly as Henri IX. allowed Gabrielle her
Bellegrade. Alas! old age, old age!--Good-morning, Celestine. How do,
my jewel!--And the brat? Ah! here he comes; on my honor, he is
beginning to be like me!--Good-day, Hulot--quite well? We shall soon
be having another wedding in the family."
Celestine and her husband, as a hint to their father, glanced at the
old maid, who audaciously asked, in reply to Crevel:
Crevel put on an air of reserve which was meant to convey that he
would make up for her indiscretions.
"That of Hortense," he replied; "but it is not yet quite settled. I
have just come from the Lebas', and they were talking of Mademoiselle
Popinot as a suitable match for their son, the young councillor, for
he would like to get the presidency of a provincial court.--Now, come
By seven o'clock Lisbeth had returned home in an omnibus, for she was
eager to see Wenceslas, whose dupe she had been for three weeks, and
to whom she was carrying a basket filled with fruit by the hands of
Crevel himself, whose attentions were doubled towards /his/ Cousin
She flew up to the attic at a pace that took her breath away, and
found the artist finishing the ornamentation of a box to be presented
to the adored Hortense. The framework of the lid represented
hydrangeas--in French called /Hortensias/--among which little Loves
were playing. The poor lover, to enable him to pay for the materials
of the box, of which the panels were of malachite, had designed two
candlesticks for Florent and Chanor, and sold them the copyright--two
admirable pieces of work.
"You have been working too hard these last few days, my dear fellow,"
said Lisbeth, wiping the perspiration from his brow, and giving him a
kiss. "Such laborious diligence is really dangerous in the month of
August. Seriously, you may injure your health. Look, here are some
peaches and plums from Monsieur Crevel.--Now, do not worry yourself so
much; I have borrowed two thousand francs, and, short of some
disaster, we can repay them when you sell your clock. At the same
time, the lender seems to me suspicious, for he has just sent in this
She laid the writ under the model sketch of the statue of General
"For whom are you making this pretty thing?" said she, taking up the
model sprays of hydrangea in red wax which Wenceslas had laid down
while eating the fruit.
"For a jeweler."
"For what jeweler?"
"I do not know. Stidmann asked me to make something out of them, as he
is very busy."
"But these," she said in a deep voice, "are /Hortensias/. How is it
that you have never made anything in wax for me? Is it so difficult to
design a pin, a little box--what not, as a keepsake?" and she shot a
fearful glance at the artist, whose eyes were happily lowered. "And
yet you say you love me?"
"Can you doubt it, mademoiselle?"
"That is indeed an ardent /mademoiselle/!--Why, you have been my only
thought since I found you dying--just there. When I saved you, you
vowed you were mine, I mean to hold you to that pledge; but I made a
vow to myself! I said to myself, 'Since the boy says he is mine, I
mean to make him rich and happy!' Well, and I can make your fortune."
"How?" said the hapless artist, at the height of joy, and too artless
to dream of a snare.
"Why, thus," said she.
Lisbeth could not deprive herself of the savage pleasure of gazing at
Wenceslas, who looked up at her with filial affection, the expression
really of his love for Hortense, which deluded the old maid. Seeing in
a man's eyes, for the first time in her life, the blazing torch of
passion, she fancied it was for her that it was lighted.
"Monsieur Crevel will back us to the extent of a hundred thousand
francs to start in business, if, as he says, you will marry me. He has
queer ideas, has the worthy man.--Well, what do you say to it?" she
The artist, as pale as the dead, looked at his benefactress with a
lustreless eye, which plainly spoke his thoughts. He stood stupefied
"I never before was so distinctly told that I am hideous," said she,
with a bitter laugh.
"Mademoiselle," said Steinbock, "my benefactress can never be ugly in
my eyes; I have the greatest affection for you. But I am not yet
"I am forty-three," said Lisbeth. "My cousin Adeline is forty-eight,
and men are still madly in love with her; but then she is handsome
"Fifteen years between us, mademoiselle! How could we get on together!
For both our sakes I think we should be wise to think it over. My
gratitude shall be fully equal to your great kindness.--And your money
shall be repaid in a few days."
"My money!" cried she. "You treat me as if I were nothing but an
"Forgive me," said Wenceslas, "but you remind me of it so often.
--Well, it is you who have made me; do not crush me."
"You mean to be rid of me, I can see," said she, shaking her head.
"Who has endowed you with this strength of ingratitude--you who are a
man of papier-mache? Have you ceased to trust me--your good genius?
--me, when I have spent so many nights working for you--when I have
given you every franc I have saved in my lifetime--when for four years
I have shared my bread with you, the bread of a hard-worked woman, and
given you all I had, to my very courage."
"Mademoiselle--no more, no more!" he cried, kneeling before her with
uplifted hands. "Say not another word! In three days I will tell you,
you shall know all.--Let me, let me be happy," and he kissed her
hands. "I love--and I am loved."
"Well, well, my child, be happy," she said, lifting him up. And she
kissed his forehead and hair with the eagerness that a man condemned
to death must feel as he lives through the last morning.
"Ah! you are of all creatures the noblest and best! You are a match
for the woman I love," said the poor artist.
"I love you well enough to tremble for your future fate," said she
gloomily. "Judas hanged himself--the ungrateful always come to a bad
end! You are deserting me, and you will never again do any good work.
Consider whether, without being married--for I know I am an old maid,
and I do not want to smother the blossom of your youth, your poetry,
as you call it, in my arms, that are like vine-stocks--but whether,
without being married, we could not get on together? Listen; I have
the commercial spirit; I could save you a fortune in the course of ten
years' work, for Economy is my name!--while, with a young wife, who
would be sheer Expenditure, you would squander everything; you would
work only to indulge her. But happiness creates nothing but memories.
Even I, when I am thinking of you, sit for hours with my hands in my
"Come, Wenceslas, stay with me.--Look here, I understand all about it;
you shall have your mistresses; pretty ones too, like that little
Marneffe woman who wants to see you, and who will give you happiness
you could never find with me. Then, when I have saved you thirty
thousand francs a year in the funds----"
"Mademoiselle, you are an angel, and I shall never forget this hour,"
said Wenceslas, wiping away his tears.
"That is how I like to see you, my child," said she, gazing at him
Vanity is so strong a power in us all that Lisbeth believed in her
triumph. She had conceded so much when offering him Madame Marneffe.
It was the crowning emotion of her life; for the first time she felt
the full tide of joy rising in her heart. To go through such an
experience again she would have sold her soul to the Devil.
"I am engaged to be married," Steinbock replied, "and I love a woman
with whom no other can compete or compare.--But you are, and always
will be, to me the mother I have lost."
The words fell like an avalanche of snow on a burning crater. Lisbeth
sat down. She gazed with despondent eyes on the youth before her, on
his aristocratic beauty--the artist's brow, the splendid hair,
everything that appealed to her suppressed feminine instincts, and
tiny tears moistened her eyes for an instant and immediately dried up.
She looked like one of those meagre statues which the sculptors of the
Middle Ages carved on monuments.
"I cannot curse you," said she, suddenly rising. "You--you are but a
boy. God preserve you!"
She went downstairs and shut herself into her own room.
"She is in love with me, poor creature!" said Wenceslas to himself.
"And how fervently eloquent! She is crazy."
This last effort on the part of an arid and narrow nature to keep hold
on an embodiment of beauty and poetry was, in truth, so violent that
it can only be compared to the frenzied vehemence of a shipwrecked
creature making the last struggle to reach shore.
On the next day but one, at half-past four in the morning, when Count
Steinbock was sunk in the deepest sleep, he heard a knock at the door
of his attic; he rose to open it, and saw two men in shabby clothing,
and a third, whose dress proclaimed him a bailiff down on his luck.
"You are Monsieur Wenceslas, Count Steinbock?" said this man.
"My name is Grasset, sir, successor to Louchard, sheriff's
"You are under arrest, sir. You must come with us to prison--to
Clichy.--Please to get dressed.--We have done the civil, as you see; I
have brought no police, and there is a hackney cab below."
"You are safely nabbed, you see," said one of the bailiffs; "and we
look to you to be liberal."
Steinbock dressed and went downstairs, a man holding each arm; when he
was in the cab, the driver started without orders, as knowing where he
was to go, and within half an hour the unhappy foreigner found himself
safely under bolt and bar without even a remonstrance, so utterly
amazed was he.
At ten o'clock he was sent for to the prison-office, where he found
Lisbeth, who, in tears, gave him some money to feed himself adequately
and to pay for a room large enough to work in.
"My dear boy," said she, "never say a word of your arrest to anybody,
do not write to a living soul; it would ruin you for life; we must
hide this blot on your character. I will soon have you out. I will
collect the money--be quite easy. Write down what you want for your
work. You shall soon be free, or I will die for it."
"Oh, I shall owe you my life a second time!" cried he, "for I should
lose more than my life if I were thought a bad fellow."
Lisbeth went off in great glee; she hoped, by keeping her artist under
lock and key, to put a stop to his marriage by announcing that he was
a married man, pardoned by the efforts of his wife, and gone off to
To carry out this plan, at about three o'clock she went to the
Baroness, though it was not the day when she was due to dine with her;
but she wished to enjoy the anguish which Hortense must endure at the
hour when Wenceslas was in the habit of making his appearance.
"Have you come to dinner?" asked the Baroness, concealing her
"That's well," replied Hortense. "I will go and tell them to be
punctual, for you do not like to be kept waiting."
Hortense nodded reassuringly to her mother, for she intended to tell
the man-servant to send away Monsieur Steinbock if he should call; the
man, however, happened to be out, so Hortense was obliged to give her
orders to the maid, and the girl went upstairs to fetch her needlework
and sit in the ante-room.
"And about my lover?" said Cousin Betty to Hortense, when the girl
came back. "You never ask about him now?"
"To be sure, what is he doing?" said Hortense. "He has become famous.
You ought to be very happy," she added in an undertone to Lisbeth.
"Everybody is talking of Monsieur Wenceslas Steinbock."
"A great deal too much," replied she in her clear tones. "Monsieur is
departing.--If it were only a matter of charming him so far as to defy
the attractions of Paris, I know my power; but they say that in order
to secure the services of such an artist, the Emperor Nichols has
"Nonsense!" said the Baroness.
"When did you hear that?" asked Hortense, who felt as if her heart had
"Well," said the villainous Lisbeth, "a person to whom he is bound by
the most sacred ties--his wife--wrote yesterday to tell him so. He
wants to be off. Oh, he will be a great fool to give up France to go
Hortense looked at her mother, but her head sank on one side; the
Baroness was only just in time to support her daughter, who dropped
fainting, and as white as her lace kerchief.
"Lisbeth! you have killed my child!" cried the Baroness. "You were
born to be our curse!"
"Bless me! what fault of mine is this, Adeline?" replied Lisbeth, as
she rose with a menacing aspect, of which the Baroness, in her alarm,
took no notice.
"I was wrong," said Adeline, supporting the girl. "Ring."
At this instant the door opened, the women both looked round, and saw
Wenceslas Steinbock, who had been admitted by the cook in the maid's
"Hortense!" cried the artist, with one spring to the group of women.
And he kissed his betrothed before her mother's eyes, on the forehead,
and so reverently, that the Baroness could not be angry. It was a
better restorative than any smelling salts. Hortense opened her eyes,
saw Wenceslas, and her color came back. In a few minutes she had quite
"So this was your secret?" said Lisbeth, smiling at Wenceslas, and
affecting to guess the facts from her two cousins' confusion.
"But how did you steal away my lover?" said she, leading Hortense into
Hortense artlessly told the romance of her love. Her father and
mother, she said, being convinced that Lisbeth would never marry, had
authorized the Count's visits. Only Hortense, like a full-blown Agnes,
attributed to chance her purchase of the group and the introduction of
the artist, who, by her account, had insisted on knowing the name of
his first purchaser.
Presently Steinbock came out to join the cousins, and thanked the old
maid effusively for his prompt release. Lisbeth replied Jesuitically
that the creditor having given very vague promises, she had not hoped
to be able to get him out before the morrow, and that the person who
had lent her the money, ashamed, perhaps, of such mean conduct, had
been beforehand with her. The old maid appeared to be perfectly
content, and congratulated Wenceslas on his happiness.
"You bad boy!" said she, before Hortense and her mother, "if you had
only told me the evening before last that you loved my cousin
Hortense, and that she loved you, you would have spared me many tears.
I thought that you were deserting your old friend, your governess;
while, on the contrary, you are to become my cousin; henceforth, you
will be connected with me, remotely, it is true, but by ties that
amply justify the feelings I have for you." And she kissed Wenceslas
on the forehead.
Hortense threw herself into Lisbeth's arms and melted into tears.
"I owe my happiness to you," said she, "and I will never forget it."
"Cousin Betty," said the Baroness, embracing Lisbeth in her excitement
at seeing matters so happily settled, "the Baron and I owe you a debt
of gratitude, and we will pay it. Come and talk things over with me,"
she added, leading her away.
So Lisbeth, to all appearances, was playing the part of a good angel
to the whole family; she was adored by Crevel and Hulot, by Adeline
"We wish you to give up working," said the Baroness. "If you earn
forty sous a day, Sundays excepted, that makes six hundred francs a
year. Well, then, how much have you saved?"
"Four thousand five hundred francs."
"Poor Betty!" said her cousin.
She raised her eyes to heaven, so deeply was she moved at the thought
of all the labor and privation such a sum must represent accumulated
during thirty years.
Lisbeth, misunderstanding the meaning of the exclamation, took it as
the ironical pity of the successful woman, and her hatred was
strengthened by a large infusion of venom at the very moment when her
cousin had cast off her last shred of distrust of the tyrant of her
"We will add ten thousand five hundred francs to that sum," said
Adeline, "and put it in trust so that you shall draw the interest for
life with reversion to Hortense. Thus, you will have six hundred
francs a year."
Lisbeth feigned the utmost satisfaction. When she went in, her
handkerchief to her eyes, wiping away tears of joy, Hortense told her
of all the favors being showered on Wenceslas, beloved of the family.
So when the Baron came home, he found his family all present; for the
Baroness had formally accepted Wenceslas by the title of Son, and the
wedding was fixed, if her husband should approve, for a day a
fortnight hence. The moment he came into the drawing-room, Hulot was
rushed at by his wife and daughter, who ran to meet him, Adeline to
speak to him privately, and Hortense to kiss him.
"You have gone too far in pledging me to this, madame," said the Baron
sternly. "You are not married yet," he added with a look at Steinbock,
who turned pale.
"He has heard of my imprisonment," said the luckless artist to
"Come, children," said he, leading his daughter and the young man into
the garden; they all sat down on the moss-eaten seat in the
"Monsieur le Comte, do you love my daughter as well as I loved her
mother?" he asked.
"More, monsieur," said the sculptor.
"Her mother was a peasant's daughter, and had not a farthing of her
"Only give me Mademoiselle Hortense just as she is, without a
"So I should think!" said the Baron, smiling. "Hortense is the
daughter of the Baron Hulot d'Ervy, Councillor of State, high up in
the War Office, Grand Commander of the Legion of Honor, and the
brother to Count Hulot, whose glory is immortal, and who will ere long
be Marshal of France! And--she has a marriage portion.
"It is true," said the impassioned artist. "I must seem very
ambitious. But if my dear Hortense were a laborer's daughter, I would
"That is just what I wanted to know," replied the Baron. "Run away,
Hortense, and leave me to talk business with Monsieur le Comte.--He
really loves you, you see!"
"Oh, papa, I was sure you were only in jest," said the happy girl.
"My dear Steinbock," said the Baron, with elaborate grace of diction
and the most perfect manners, as soon as he and the artist were alone,
"I promised my son a fortune of two hundred thousand francs, of which
the poor boy has never had a sou; and he never will get any of it. My
daughter's fortune will also be two hundred thousand francs, for which
you will give a receipt----"
"Yes, Monsieur le Baron."
"You go too fast," said Hulot. "Have the goodness to hear me out. I
cannot expect from a son-in-law such devotion as I look for from my
son. My son knew exactly all I could and would do for his future
promotion: he will be a Minister, and will easily make good his two
hundred thousand francs. But with you, young man, matters are
different. I shall give you a bond for sixty thousand francs in State
funds at five per cent, in your wife's name. This income will be
diminished by a small charge in the form of an annuity to Lisbeth; but
she will not live long; she is consumptive, I know. Tell no one; it is
a secret; let the poor soul die in peace.--My daughter will have a
trousseau worth twenty thousand francs; her mother will give her six
thousand francs worth of diamonds.
"Monsieur, you overpower me!" said Steinbock, quite bewildered.
"As to the remaining hundred and twenty thousand francs----"
"Say no more, monsieur," said Wenceslas. "I ask only for my beloved
"Will you listen to me, effervescent youth!--As to the remaining
hundred and twenty thousand francs, I have not got them; but you will
"You will get them from the Government, in payment for commissions
which I will secure for you, I pledge you my word of honor. You are to
have a studio, you see, at the Government depot. Exhibit a few fine
statues, and I will get you received at the Institute. The highest
personages have a regard for my brother and for me, and I hope to
succeed in securing for you a commission for sculpture at Versailles
up to a quarter of the whole sum. You will have orders from the City
of Paris and from the Chamber of Peers; in short, my dear fellow, you
will have so many that you will be obliged to get assistants. In that
way I shall pay off my debt to you. You must say whether this way of
giving a portion will suit you; whether you are equal to it."
"I am equal to making a fortune for my wife single-handed if all else
failed!" cried the artist-nobleman.
"That is what I admire!" cried the Baron. "High-minded youth that
fears nothing. Come," he added, clasping hands with the young sculptor
to conclude the bargain, "you have my consent. We will sign the
contract on Sunday next, and the wedding shall be on the following
Saturday, my wife's fete-day."
"It is alright," said the Baroness to her daughter, who stood glued to
the window. "Your suitor and your father are embracing each other."
On going home in the evening, Wenceslas found the solution of the
mystery of his release. The porter handed him a thick sealed packet,
containing the schedule of his debts, with a signed receipt affixed at
the bottom of the writ, and accompanied by this letter:--
"MY DEAR WENCESLAS,--I went to fetch you at ten o'clock this
morning to introduce you to a Royal Highness who wishes to see
you. There I learned that the duns had had you conveyed to a
certain little domain--chief town, /Clichy Castle/.
"So off I went to Leon de Lora, and told him, for a joke, that you
could not leave your country quarters for lack of four thousand
francs, and that you would spoil your future prospects if you did
not make your bow to your royal patron. Happily, Bridau was there
--a man of genius, who has known what it is to be poor, and has
heard your story. My boy, between them they have found the money,
and I went off to pay the Turk who committed treason against
genius by putting you in quod. As I had to be at the Tuileries at
noon, I could not wait to see you sniffing the outer air. I know
you to be a gentleman, and I answered for you to my two friends
--but look them up to-morrow.
"Leon and Bridau do not want your cash; they will ask you to do
them each a group--and they are right. At least, so thinks the man
who wishes he could sign himself your rival, but is only your
"P. S.--I told the Prince you were away, and would not return till
to-morrow, so he said, 'Very good--to-morrow.'"
Count Wenceslas went to bed in sheets of purple, without a rose-leaf
to wrinkle them, that Favor can make for us--Favor, the halting
divinity who moves more slowly for men of genius than either Justice
or Fortune, because Jove has not chosen to bandage her eyes. Hence,
lightly deceived by the display of impostors, and attracted by their
frippery and trumpets, she spends the time in seeing them and the
money in paying them which she ought to devote to seeking out men of
merit in the nooks where they hide.
It will now be necessary to explain how Monsieur le Baron Hulot had
contrived to count up his expenditure on Hortense's wedding portion,
and at the same time to defray the frightful cost of the charming
rooms where Madame Marneffe was to make her home. His financial scheme
bore that stamp of talent which leads prodigals and men in love into
the quagmires where so many disasters await them. Nothing can
demonstrate more completely the strange capacity communicated by vice,
to which we owe the strokes of skill which ambitious or voluptuous men
can occasionally achieve--or, in short, any of the Devil's pupils.
On the day before, old Johann Fischer, unable to pay thirty thousand
francs drawn for on him by his nephew, had found himself under the
necessity of stopping payment unless the Baron could remit the sum.
This ancient worthy, with the white hairs of seventy years, had such
blind confidence in Hulot--who, to the old Bonapartist, was an
emanation from the Napoleonic sun--that he was calmly pacing his
anteroom with the bank clerk, in the little ground-floor apartment
that he rented for eight hundred francs a year as the headquarters of
his extensive dealings in corn and forage.
"Marguerite is gone to fetch the money from close by," said he.
The official, in his gray uniform braided with silver, was so
convinced of the old Alsatian's honesty, that he was prepared to leave
the thirty thousand francs' worth of bills in his hands; but the old
man would not let him go, observing that the clock had not yet struck
eight. A cab drew up, the old man rushed into the street, and held out
his hand to the Baron with sublime confidence--Hulot handed him out
thirty thousand-franc notes.
"Go on three doors further, and I will tell you why," said Fischer.
"Here, young man," he said, returning to count out the money to the
bank emissary, whom he then saw to the door.
When the clerk was out of sight, Fischer called back the cab
containing his august nephew, Napoleon's right hand, and said, as he
led him into the house:
"You do not want them to know at the Bank of France that you paid me
the thirty thousand francs, after endorsing the bills?--It was bad
enough to see them signed by such a man as you!--"
"Come to the bottom of your little garden, Father Fischer," said the
important man. "You are hearty?" he went on, sitting down under a vine
arbor and scanning the old man from head to foot, as a dealer in human
flesh scans a substitute for the conscription.
"Ay, hearty enough for a tontine," said the lean little old man; his
sinews were wiry, and his eye bright.
"Does heat disagree with you?"
"Quite the contrary."
"What do you say to Africa?"
"A very nice country!--The French went there with the little Corporal"
"To get us all out of the present scrape, you must go to Algiers,"
said the Baron.
"And how about my business?"
"An official in the War Office, who has to retire, and has not enough
to live on with his pension, will buy your business."
"And what am I to do in Algiers?"
"Supply the Commissariat with victuals, corn, and forage; I have your
commission ready filled in and signed. You can collect supplies in the
country at seventy per cent below the prices at which you can credit
"How shall we get them?"
"Oh, by raids, by taxes in kind, and the Khaliphat.--The country is
little known, though we settled there eight years ago; Algeria
produces vast quantities of corn and forage. When this produce belongs
to Arabs, we take it from them under various pretences; when it
belongs to us, the Arabs try to get it back again. There is a great
deal of fighting over the corn, and no one ever knows exactly how much
each party has stolen from the other. There is not time in the open
field to measure the corn as we do in the Paris market, or the hay as
it is sold in the Rue d'Enfer. The Arab chiefs, like our Spahis,
prefer hard cash, and sell the plunder at a very low price. The
Commissariat needs a fixed quantity and must have it. It winks at
exorbitant prices calculated on the difficulty of procuring food, and
the dangers to which every form of transport is exposed. That is
Algiers from the army contractor's point of view.
"It is a muddle tempered by the ink-bottle, like every incipient
government. We shall not see our way through it for another ten years
--we who have to do the governing; but private enterprise has sharp
eyes.--So I am sending you there to make a fortune; I give you the
job, as Napoleon put an impoverished Marshal at the head of a kingdom
where smuggling might be secretly encouraged.
"I am ruined, my dear Fischer; I must have a hundred thousand francs
within a year."
"I see no harm in getting it out of the Bedouins," said the Alsatian
calmly. "It was always done under the Empire----"
"The man who wants to buy your business will be here this morning, and
pay you ten thousand francs down," the Baron went on. "That will be
enough, I suppose, to take you to Africa?"
The old man nodded assent.
"As to capital out there, be quite easy. I will draw the remainder of
the money due if I find it necessary."
"All I have is yours--my very blood," said old Fischer.
"Oh, do not be uneasy," said Hulot, fancying that his uncle saw more
clearly than was the fact. "As to our excise dealings, your character
will not be impugned. Everything depends on the authority at your
back; now I myself appointed the authorities out there; I am sure of
them. This, Uncle Fischer, is a dead secret between us. I know you
well, and I have spoken out without concealment or circumlocution."
"It shall be done," said the old man. "And it will go on----?"
"For two years, You will have made a hundred thousand francs of your
own to live happy on in the Vosges."
"I will do as you wish; my honor is yours," said the little old man
"That is the sort of man I like.--However, you must not go till you
have seen your grand-niece happily married. She is to be a Countess."
But even taxes and raids and the money paid by the War Office clerk
for Fischer's business could not forthwith provide sixty thousand
francs to give Hortense, to say nothing of her trousseau, which was to
cost about five thousand, and the forty thousand spent--or to be spent
--on Madame Marneffe.
Where, then had the Baron found the thirty thousand francs he had just
produced? This was the history.
A few days previously Hulot had insured his life for the sum of a
hundred and fifty thousand francs, for three years, in two separate
companies. Armed with the policies, of which he paid the premium, he
had spoken as follows to the Baron de Nucingen, a peer of the Chamber,
in whose carriage he found himself after a sitting, driving home, in
fact, to dine with him:--
"Baron, I want seventy thousand francs, and I apply to you. You must
find some one to lend his name, to whom I will make over the right to
draw my pay for three years; it amounts to twenty-five thousand francs
a year--that is, seventy-five thousand francs.--You will say, 'But you
may die'"--the banker signified his assent--"Here, then, is a policy
of insurance for a hundred and fifty thousand francs, which I will
deposit with you till you have drawn up the eighty thousand francs,"
said Hulot, producing the document form his pocket.
"But if you should lose your place?" said the millionaire Baron,
The other Baron--not a millionaire--looked grave.
"Be quite easy; I only raised the question to show you that I was not
devoid of merit in handing you the sum. Are you so short of cash? for
the Bank will take your signature."
"My daughter is to be married," said Baron Hulot, "and I have no
fortune--like every one else who remains in office in these thankless
times, when five hundred ordinary men seated on benches will never
reward the men who devote themselves to the service as handsomely as
the Emperor did."
"Well, well; but you had Josepha on your hands!" replied Nucingen,
"and that accounts for everything. Between ourselves, the Duc
d'Herouville has done you a very good turn by removing that leech from
sucking your purse dry. 'I have known what that is, and can pity your
case,'" he quoted. "Take a friend's advice: Shut up shop, or you will
be done for."
This dirty business was carried out in the name of one Vauvinet, a
small money-lender; one of those jobbers who stand forward to screen
great banking houses, like the little fish that is said to attend the
shark. This stock-jobber's apprentice was so anxious to gain the
patronage of Monsieur le Baron Hulot, that he promised the great man
to negotiate bills of exchange for thirty thousand francs at eighty
days, and pledged himself to renew them four times, and never pass
them out of his hands.
Fischer's successor was to pay forty thousand francs for the house and
the business, with the promise that he should supply forage to a
department close to Paris.
This was the desperate maze of affairs into which a man who had
hitherto been absolutely honest was led by his passions--one of the
best administrative officials under Napoleon--peculation to pay the
money-lenders, and borrowing of the money-lenders to gratify his
passions and provide for his daughter. All the efforts of this
elaborate prodigality were directed at making a display before Madame
Marneffe, and to playing Jupiter to this middle-class Danae. A man
could not expend more activity, intelligence, and presence of mind in
the honest acquisition of a fortune than the Baron displayed in
shoving his head into a wasp's nest: He did all the business of his
department, he hurried on the upholsterers, he talked to the workmen,
he kept a sharp lookout on the smallest details of the house in the
Rue Vanneau. Wholly devoted to Madame Marneffe, he nevertheless
attended the sittings of the Chambers; he was everywhere at once, and
neither his family nor anybody else discovered where his thoughts
Adeline, quite amazed to hear that her uncle was rescued, and to see a
handsome sum figure in the marriage-contract, was not altogether easy,
in spite of her joy at seeing her daughter married under such
creditable circumstances. But, on the day before the wedding, fixed by
the Baron to coincide with Madame Marneffe's removal to her new
apartment, Hector allayed his wife's astonishment by this ministerial
"Now, Adeline, our girl is married; all our anxieties on the subject
are at an end. The time is come for us to retire from the world: I
shall not remain in office more than three years longer--only the time
necessary to secure my pension. Why, henceforth, should we be at any
unnecessary expense? Our apartment costs us six thousand francs a year
in rent, we have four servants, we eat thirty thousand francs' worth
of food in a year. If you want me to pay off my bills--for I have
pledged my salary for the sums I needed to give Hortense her little
money, and pay off your uncle----"
"You did very right!" said she, interrupting her husband, and kissing
This explanation relieved Adeline of all her fears.
"I shall have to ask some little sacrifices of you," he went on,
disengaging his hands and kissing his wife's brow. "I have found in
the Rue Plumet a very good flat on the first floor, handsome,
splendidly paneled, at only fifteen hundred francs a year, where you
would only need one woman to wait on you, and I could be quite content
with a boy."
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