Honore de Balzac
Part 8 out of 16
to come to him for a moment.
"Josepha!--it is I----"
The singer recognized her Hulot only by his voice.
"What? you, poor old man?--On my honor, you look like a twenty-franc
piece that the Jews have sweated and the money-changers refuse."
"Alas, yes," replied Hulot; "I am snatched from the jaws of death! But
you are as lovely as ever. Will you be kind?"
"That depends," said she; "everything is relative."
"Listen," said Hulot; "can you put me up for a few days in a servant's
room under the roof? I have nothing--not a farthing, not a hope; no
food, no pension, no wife, no children, no roof over my head; without
honor, without courage, without a friend; and worse than all that,
liable to imprisonment for not meeting a bill."
"Poor old fellow! you are without most things.--Are you also /sans
"You laugh at me! I am done for," cried the Baron. "And I counted on
you as Gourville did on Ninon."
"And it was a 'real lady,' I am told who brought you to this," said
Josepha. "Those precious sluts know how to pluck a goose even better
than we do!--Why, you are like a corpse that the crows have done with
--I can see daylight through!"
"Time is short, Josepha!"
"Come in, old boy, I am alone, as it happens, and my people don't know
you. Send away your trap. Is it paid for?"
"Yes," said the Baron, getting out with the help of Josepha's arm.
"You may call yourself my father if you like," said the singer, moved
She made Hulot sit down in the splendid drawing-room where he had last
"And is it the fact, old man," she went on, "that you have killed your
brother and your uncle, ruined your family, mortgaged your children's
house over and over again, and robbed the Government till in Africa,
all for your princess?"
Hulot sadly bent his head.
"Well, I admire that!" cried Josepha, starting up in her enthusiasm.
"It is a general flare-up! It is Sardanapalus! Splendid, thoroughly
complete! I may be a hussy, but I have a soul! I tell you, I like a
spendthrift, like you, crazy over a woman, a thousand times better
than those torpid, heartless bankers, who are supposed to be so good,
and who ruin no end of families with their rails--gold for them, and
iron for their gulls! You have only ruined those who belong to you,
you have sold no one but yourself; and then you have excuses, physical
She struck a tragic attitude, and spouted:
"'Tis Venus whose grasp never parts from her prey.
And there you are!" and she pirouetted on her toe.
Vice, Hulot found, could forgive him; vice smiled on him from the
midst of unbridled luxury. Here, as before a jury, the magnitude of a
crime was an extenuating circumstance. "And is your lady pretty at any
rate?" asked Josepha, trying as a preliminary act of charity, to
divert Hulot's thoughts, for his depression grieved her.
"On my word, almost as pretty as you are," said the Baron artfully.
"And monstrously droll? So I have been told. What does she do, I say?
Is she better fun than I am?"
"I don't want to talk about her," said Hulot.
"And I hear she has come round my Crevel, and little Steinbock, and a
"And that she has got a house as good as this, that Crevel has given
her. The baggage! She is my provost-marshal, and finishes off those I
have spoiled. I tell you why I am so curious to know what she is like,
old boy; I just caught sight of her in the Bois, in an open carriage
--but a long way off. She is a most accomplished harpy, Carabine says.
She is trying to eat up Crevel, but he only lets her nibble. Crevel is
a knowing hand, good-natured but hard-headed, who will always say Yes,
and then go his own way. He is vain and passionate; but his cash is
cold. You can never get anything out of such fellows beyond a thousand
to three thousand francs a month; they jib at any serious outlay, as a
donkey does at a running stream.
"Not like you, old boy. You are a man of passions; you would sell your
country for a woman. And, look here, I am ready to do anything for
you! You are my father; you started me in life; it is a sacred duty.
What do you want? Do you want a hundred thousand francs? I will wear
myself to a rag to gain them. As to giving you bed and board--that is
nothing. A place will be laid for you here every day; you can have a
good room on the second floor, and a hundred crowns a month for
The Baron, deeply touched by such a welcome, had a last qualm of
"No, my dear child, no; I did not come here for you to keep me," said
"At your age it is something to be proud of," said she.
"This is what I wish, my child. Your Duc d'Herouville has immense
estates in Normandy, and I want to be his steward, under the name of
Thoul. I have the capacity, and I am honest. A man may borrow of the
Government, and yet not steal from a cash-box----"
"H'm, h'm," said Josepha. "Once drunk, drinks again."
"In short, I only want to live out of sight for three years--"
"Well, it is soon done," said Josepha. "This evening, after dinner, I
have only to speak. The Duke would marry me if I wished it, but I have
his fortune, and I want something better--his esteem. He is a Duke of
the first water. He is high-minded, as noble and great as Louis XIV.
and Napoleon rolled into one, though he is a dwarf. Besides, I have
done for him what la Schontz did for Rochefide; by taking my advice he
has made two millions.
"Now, listen to me, old popgun. I know you; you are always after the
women, and you would be dancing attendance on the Normandy girls, who
are splendid creatures, and getting your ribs cracked by their lovers
and fathers, and the Duke would have to get you out of the scrape.
Why, can't I see by the way you look at me that the /young/ man is not
dead in you--as Fenelon put it.--No, this stewardship is not the thing
for you. A man cannot be off with his Paris and with us, old boy, for
the saying! You would die of weariness at Herouville."
"What is to become of me?" said the Baron, "for I will only stay here
till I see my way."
"Well, shall I find a pigeon-hole for you? Listen, you old pirate.
Women are what you want. They are consolation in all circumstances.
Attend now.--At the end of the Alley, Rue Saint-Maur-du-Temple, there
is a poor family I know of where there is a jewel of a little girl,
prettier than I was at sixteen.--Ah! there is a twinkle in your eye
already!--The child works sixteen hours a day at embroidering costly
pieces for the silk merchants, and earns sixteen sous a day--one sou
an hour!--and feeds like the Irish, on potatoes fried in rats'
dripping, with bread five times a week--and drinks canal water out of
the town pipes, because the Seine water costs too much; and she cannot
set up on her own account for lack of six or seven thousand francs.
Your wife and children bore you to death, don't they?--Besides, one
cannot submit to be nobody where one has been a little Almighty. A
father who has neither money nor honor can only be stuffed and kept in
a glass case."
The Baron could not help smiling at these abominable jests.
"Well, now, Bijou is to come to-morrow morning to bring me an
embroidered wrapper, a gem! It has taken six months to make; no one
else will have any stuff like it! Bijou is very fond of me; I give her
tidbits and my old gowns. And I send orders for bread and meat and
wood to the family, who would break the shin-bones of the first comer
if I bid them.--I try to do a little good. Ah! I know what I endured
from hunger myself!--Bijou has confided to me all her little sorrows.
There is the making of a super at the Ambigu-Comique in that child.
Her dream is to wear fine dresses like mine; above all, to ride in a
carriage. I shall say to her, 'Look here, little one, would you like
to have a friend of--' How old are you?" she asked, interrupting
"I have given up counting."
"'Would you like an old gentleman of seventy-two?' I shall say. 'Very
clean and neat, and who does not take snuff, who is as sound as a
bell, and as good as a young man? He will marry you (in the Thirteenth
Arrondissement) and be very kind to you; he will place seven thousand
francs in your account, and furnish you a room all in mahogany, and if
you are good, he will sometimes take you to the play. He will give you
a hundred francs a month for pocket-money, and fifty francs for
housekeeping.'--I know Bijou; she is myself at fourteen. I jumped for
joy when that horrible Crevel made me his atrocious offers. Well, and
you, old man, will be disposed of for three years. She is a good
child, well behaved; for three or four years she will have her
illusions--not for longer."
Hulot did not hesitate; he had made up his mind to refuse; but to seem
grateful to the kind-hearted singer, who was benevolent after her
lights, he affected to hesitate between vice and virtue.
"Why, you are as cold as a paving-stone in winter!" she exclaimed in
amazement. "Come, now. You will make a whole family happy--a
grandfather who runs all the errands, a mother who is being worn out
with work, and two sisters--one of them very plain--who make
thirty-two sous a day while putting their eyes out. It will make up for
the misery you have caused at home, and you will expiate your sin while
you are having as much fun as a minx at Mabille."
Hulot, to put an end to this temptation, moved his fingers as if he
were counting out money.
"Oh! be quite easy as to ways and means," replied Josepha. "My Duke
will lend you ten thousand francs; seven thousand to start an
embroidery shop in Bijou's name, and three thousand for furnishing;
and every three months you will find a cheque here for six hundred and
fifty francs. When you get your pension paid you, you can repay the
seventeen thousand francs. Meanwhile you will be as happy as a cow in
clover, and hidden in a hole where the police will never find you. You
must wear a loose serge coat, and you will look like a comfortable
householder. Call yourself Thoul, if that is your fancy. I will tell
Bijou that you are an uncle of mine come from Germany, having failed
in business, and you will be cosseted like a divinity.--There now,
Daddy!--And who knows! you may have no regrets. In case you should be
bored, keep one Sunday rig-out, and you can come and ask me for a
dinner and spend the evening here."
"I!--and I meant to settle down and behave myself!--Look here, borrow
twenty thousand francs for me, and I will set out to make my fortune
in America, like my friend d'Aiglemont when Nucingen cleaned him out."
"You!" cried Josepha. "Nay, leave morals to work-a-day folks, to raw
recruits, to the /worrrthy/ citizens who have nothing to boast of but
their virtue. You! You were born to be something better than a
nincompoop; you are as a man what I am as a woman--a spendthrift of
"We will sleep on it and discuss it all to-morrow morning."
"You will dine with the Duke. My d'Herouville will receive you as
civilly as if you were the saviour of the State; and to-morrow you can
decide. Come, be jolly, old boy! Life is a garment; when it is dirty,
we must brush it; when it is ragged, it must be patched; but we keep
it on as long as we can."
This philosophy of life, and her high spirits, postponed Hulot's
At noon next day, after a capital breakfast, Hulot saw the arrival of
one of those living masterpieces which Paris alone of all the cities
in the world can produce, by means of the constant concubinage of
luxury and poverty, of vice and decent honesty, of suppressed desire
and renewed temptation, which makes the French capital the daughter of
Ninevah, of Babylon, and of Imperial Rome.
Mademoiselle Olympe Bijou, a child of sixteen, had the exquisite face
which Raphael drew for his Virgins; eyes of pathetic innocence, weary
with overwork--black eyes, with long lashes, their moisture parched
with the heat of laborious nights, and darkened with fatigue; a
complexion like porcelain, almost too delicate; a mouth like a partly
opened pomegranate; a heaving bosom, a full figure, pretty hands, the
whitest teeth, and a mass of black hair; and the whole meagrely set
off by a cotton frock at seventy-five centimes the metre, leather
shoes without heels, and the cheapest gloves. The girl, all
unconscious of her charms, had put on her best frock to wait on the
The Baron, gripped again by the clutch of profligacy, felt all his
life concentrated in his eyes. He forgot everything on beholding this
delightful creature. He was like a sportsman in sight of the game; if
an emperor were present, he must take aim!
"And warranted sound," said Josepha in his ear. "An honest child, and
wanting bread. This is Paris--I have been there!"
"It is a bargain," replied the old man, getting up and rubbing his
When Olympe Bijou was gone, Josepha looked mischievously at the Baron.
"If you want things to keep straight, Daddy," said she, "be as firm as
the Public Prosecutor on the bench. Keep a tight hand on her, be a
Bartholo! Ware Auguste, Hippolyte, Nestor, Victor--/or/, that is gold,
in every form. When once the child is fed and dressed, if she gets the
upper hand, she will drive you like a serf.--I will see to settling
you comfortably. The Duke does the handsome; he will lend--that is,
give--you ten thousand francs; and he deposits eight thousand with his
notary, who will pay you six hundred francs every quarter, for I
cannot trust you.--Now, am I nice?"
Ten days after deserting his family, when they were gathered round
Adeline, who seemed to be dying, as she said again and again, in a
weak voice, "Where is he?" Hector, under the name of Thoul, was
established in the Rue Saint-Maur, at the head of a business as
embroiderer, under the name of Thoul and Bijou.
Victorin Hulot, under the overwhelming disasters of his family, had
received the finishing touch which makes or mars the man. He was
perfection. In the great storms of life we act like the captain of a
ship who, under the stress of a hurricane, lightens the ship of its
heaviest cargo. The young lawyer lost his self-conscious pride, his
too evident assertiveness, his arrogance as an orator and his
political pretensions. He was as a man what his wife was as a woman.
He made up his mind to make the best of his Celestine--who certainly
did not realize his dreams--and was wise enough to estimate life at
its true value by contenting himself in all things with the second
best. He vowed to fulfil his duties, so much had he been shocked by
his father's example.
These feelings were confirmed as he stood by his mother's bed on the
day when she was out of danger. Nor did this happiness come single.
Claude Vignon, who called every day from the Prince de Wissembourg to
inquire as to Madame Hulot's progress, desired the re-elected deputy
to go with him to see the Minister.
"His Excellency," said he, "wants to talk over your family affairs
The Prince had long known Victorin Hulot, and received him with a
friendliness that promised well.
"My dear fellow," said the old soldier, "I promised your uncle, in
this room, that I would take care of your mother. That saintly woman,
I am told, is getting well again; now is the time to pour oil into
your wounds. I have for you here two hundred thousand francs; I will
give them to you----"
The lawyer's gesture was worthy of his uncle the Marshal.
"Be quite easy," said the Prince, smiling; "it is money in trust. My
days are numbered; I shall not always be here; so take this sum, and
fill my place towards your family. You may use this money to pay off
the mortgage on your house. These two hundred thousand francs are the
property of your mother and your sister. If I gave the money to Madame
Hulot, I fear that, in her devotion to her husband, she would be
tempted to waste it. And the intention of those who restore it to you
is, that it should produce bread for Madame Hulot and her daughter,
the Countess Steinbock. You are a steady man, the worthy son of your
noble mother, the true nephew of my friend the Marshal; you are
appreciated here, you see--and elsewhere. So be the guardian angel of
your family, and take this as a legacy from your uncle and me."
"Monseigneur," said Hulot, taking the Minister's hand and pressing it,
"such men as you know that thanks in words mean nothing; gratitude
must be proven."
"Prove yours--" said the old man.
"In what way?"
"By accepting what I have to offer you," said the Minister. "We
propose to appoint you to be attorney to the War Office, which just
now is involved in litigations in consequence of the plan for
fortifying Paris; consulting clerk also to the Prefecture of Police;
and a member of the Board of the Civil List. These three appointments
will secure you salaries amounting to eighteen thousand francs, and
will leave you politically free. You can vote in the Chamber in
obedience to your opinions and your conscience. Act in perfect freedom
on that score. It would be a bad thing for us if there were no
"Also, a few lines from your uncle, written a day or two before he
breathed his last, suggested what I could do for your mother, whom he
loved very truly.--Mesdames Popinot, de Rastignac, de Navarreins,
d'Espard, de Grandlieu, de Carigliano, de Lenoncourt, and de la Batie
have made a place for your mother as a Lady Superintendent of their
charities. These ladies, presidents of various branches of benevolent
work, cannot do everything themselves; they need a lady of character
who can act for them by going to see the objects of their beneficence,
ascertaining that charity is not imposed upon, and whether the help
given really reaches those who applied for it, finding out that the
poor who are ashamed to beg, and so forth. Your mother will fulfil an
angelic function; she will be thrown in with none but priests and
these charitable ladies; she will be paid six thousand francs and the
cost of her hackney coaches.
"You see, young man, that a pure and nobly virtuous man can still
assist his family, even from the grave. Such a name as your uncle's
is, and ought to be, a buckler against misfortune in a well-organized
scheme of society. Follow in his path; you have started in it, I know;
continue in it."
"Such delicate kindness cannot surprise me in my mother's friend,"
said Victorin. "I will try to come up to all your hopes."
"Go at once, and take comfort to your family.--By the way," added the
Prince, as he shook hands with Victorin, "your father has
"So much the better. That unhappy man has shown his wit, in which,
indeed, he is not lacking."
"There are bills of his to be met."
"Well, you shall have six months' pay of your three appointments in
advance. This pre-payment will help you, perhaps, to get the notes out
of the hands of the money-lender. And I will see Nucingen, and perhaps
may succeed in releasing your father's pension, pledged to him,
without its costing you or our office a sou. The peer has not killed
the banker in Nucingen; he is insatiable; he wants some concession.--I
know not what----"
So on his return to the Rue Plumet, Victorin could carry out his plan
of lodging his mother and sister under his roof.
The young lawyer, already famous, had, for his sole fortune, one of
the handsomest houses in Paris, purchased in 1834 in preparation for
his marriage, situated on the boulevard between the Rue de la Paix and
the Rue Louis-le-Grand. A speculator had built two houses between the
boulevard and the street; and between these, with the gardens and
courtyards to the front and back, there remained still standing a
splendid wing, the remains of the magnificent mansion of the
Verneuils. The younger Hulot had purchased this fine property, on the
strength of Mademoiselle Crevel's marriage-portion, for one million
francs, when it was put up to auction, paying five hundred thousand
down. He lived on the ground floor, expecting to pay the remainder out
of letting the rest; but though it is safe to speculate in
house-property in Paris, such investments are capricious or hang fire,
depending on unforeseen circumstances.
As the Parisian lounger may have observed, the boulevard between the
Rue de la Paix and the Rue Louis-le-Grand prospered but slowly; it
took so long to furbish and beautify itself, that trade did not set up
its display there till 1840--the gold of the money-changers, the
fairy-work of fashion, and the luxurious splendor of shop-fronts.
In spite of two hundred thousand francs given by Crevel to his
daughter at the time when his vanity was flattered by this marriage,
before the Baron had robbed him of Josepha; in spite of the two
hundred thousand francs paid off by Victorin in the course of seven
years, the property was still burdened with a debt of five hundred
thousand francs, in consequence of Victorin's devotion to his father.
Happily, a rise in rents and the advantages of the situation had at
this time improved the value of the houses. The speculation was
justifying itself after eight years' patience, during which the lawyer
had strained every nerve to pay the interest and some trifling amounts
of the capital borrowed.
The tradespeople were ready to offer good rents for the shops, on
condition of being granted leases for eighteen years. The dwelling
apartments rose in value by the shifting of the centre in Paris life
--henceforth transferred to the region between the Bourse and the
Madeleine, now the seat of the political power and financial authority
in Paris. The money paid to him by the Minister, added to a year's
rent in advance and the premiums paid by his tenants, would finally
reduce the outstanding debt to two hundred thousand francs. The two
houses, if entirely let, would bring in a hundred thousand francs a
year. Within two years more, during which the Hulots could live on his
salaries, added to by the Marshal's investments, Victorin would be in
a splendid position.
This was manna from heaven. Victorin could give up the first floor of
his own house to his mother, and the second to Hortense, excepting two
rooms reserved for Lisbeth. With Cousin Betty as the housekeeper, this
compound household could bear all these charges, and yet keep up a
good appearance, as beseemed a pleader of note. The great stars of the
law-courts were rapidly disappearing; and Victorin Hulot, gifted with
a shrewd tongue and strict honesty, was listened to by the Bench and
Councillors; he studied his cases thoroughly, and advanced nothing
that he could not prove. He would not hold every brief that offered;
in fact, he was a credit to the bar.
The Baroness' home in the Rue Plumet had become so odious to her, that
she allowed herself to be taken to the Rue Louis-le-Grand. Thus, by
her son's care, Adeline occupied a fine apartment; she was spared all
the daily worries of life; for Lisbeth consented to begin again,
working wonders of domestic economy, such as she had achieved for
Madame Marneffe, seeing here a way of exerting her silent vengeance on
those three noble lives, the object, each, of her hatred, which was
kept growing by the overthrow of all her hopes.
Once a month she went to see Valerie, sent, indeed, by Hortense, who
wanted news of Wenceslas, and by Celestine, who was seriously uneasy
at the acknowledged and well-known connection between her father and a
woman to whom her mother-in-law and sister-in-law owed their ruin and
their sorrows. As may be supposed, Lisbeth took advantage of this to
see Valerie as often as possible.
Thus, about twenty months passed by, during which the Baroness
recovered her health, though her palsied trembling never left her. She
made herself familiar with her duties, which afforded her a noble
distraction from her sorrow and constant food for the divine goodness
of her heart. She also regarded it as an opportunity for finding her
husband in the course of one of those expeditions which took her into
every part of Paris.
During this time, Vauvinet had been paid, and the pension of six
thousand francs was almost redeemed. Victorin could maintain his
mother as well as Hortense out of the ten thousand francs interest on
the money left by Marshal Hulot in trust for them. Adeline's salary
amounted to six thousand francs a year; and this, added to the Baron's
pension when it was freed, would presently secure an income of twelve
thousand francs a year to the mother and daughter.
Thus, the poor woman would have been almost happy but for her
perpetual anxieties as to the Baron's fate; for she longed to have him
with her to share the improved fortunes that smiled on the family; and
but for the constant sight of her forsaken daughter; and but for the
terrible thrusts constantly and /unconsciously/ dealt her by Lisbeth,
whose diabolical character had free course.
A scene which took place at the beginning of the month of March 1843
will show the results of Lisbeth's latent and persistent hatred, still
seconded, as she always was, by Madame Marneffe.
Two great events had occurred in the Marneffe household. In the first
place, Valerie had given birth to a still-born child, whose little
coffin had cost her two thousand francs a year. And then, as to
Marneffe himself, eleven months since, this is the report given by
Lisbeth to the Hulot family one day on her return from a visit of
discovery at the hotel Marneffe.
"This morning," said she, "that dreadful Valerie sent for Doctor
Bianchon to ask whether the medical men who had condemned her husband
yesterday had made no mistake. Bianchon pronounced that to-night at
the latest that horrible creature will depart to the torments that
await him. Old Crevel and Madame Marneffe saw the doctor out; and your
father, my dear Celestine, gave him five gold pieces for his good
"When he came back into the drawing-room, Crevel cut capers like a
dancer; he embraced that woman, exclaiming, 'Then, at last, you will
be Madame Crevel!'--And to me, when she had gone back to her husband's
bedside, for he was at his last gasp, your noble father said to me,
'With Valerie as my wife, I can become a peer of France! I shall buy
an estate I have my eye on--Presles, which Madame de Serizy wants to
sell. I shall be Crevel de Presles, member of the Common Council of
Seine-et-Oise, and Deputy. I shall have a son! I shall be everything I
have ever wished to be.'--'Heh!' said I, 'and what about your
daughter?'--'Bah!' says he, 'she is only a woman! And she is quite too
much of a Hulot. Valerie has a horror of them all.--My son-in-law has
never chosen to come to this house; why has he given himself such airs
as a Mentor, a Spartan, a Puritan, a philanthropist? Besides, I have
squared accounts with my daughter; she has had all her mother's
fortune, and two hundred thousand francs to that. So I am free to act
as I please.--I shall judge of my son-in-law and Celestine by their
conduct on my marriage; as they behave, so shall I. If they are nice
to their stepmother, I will receive them. I am a man, after all!'--In
short, all this rhodomontade! And an attitude like Napoleon on the
The ten months' widowhood insisted on by the law had now elapsed some
few days since. The estate of Presles was purchased. Victorin and
Celestine had that very morning sent Lisbeth to make inquiries as to
the marriage of the fascinating widow to the Mayor of Paris, now a
member of the Common Council of the Department of Seine-et-Oise.
Celestine and Hortense, in whom the ties of affection had been drawn
closer since they had lived under the same roof, were almost
inseparable. The Baroness, carried away by a sense of honesty which
led her to exaggerate the duties of her place, devoted herself to the
work of charity of which she was the agent; she was out almost every
day from eleven till five. The sisters-in-law, united in their cares
for the children whom they kept together, sat at home and worked. They
had arrived at the intimacy which thinks aloud, and were a touching
picture of two sisters, one cheerful and the other sad. The less happy
of the two, handsome, lively, high-spirited, and clever, seemed by her
manner to defy her painful situation; while the melancholy Celestine,
sweet and calm, and as equable as reason itself, might have been
supposed to have some secret grief. It was this contradiction,
perhaps, that added to their warm friendship. Each supplied the other
with what she lacked.
Seated in a little summer-house in the garden, which the speculator's
trowel had spared by some fancy of the builder's, who believed that he
was preserving these hundred feet square of earth for his own
pleasure, they were admiring the first green shoots of the
lilac-trees, a spring festival which can only be fully appreciated in
Paris when the inhabitants have lived for six months oblivious of what
vegetation means, among the cliffs of stone where the ocean of
humanity tosses to and fro.
"Celestine," said Hortense to her sister-in-law, who had complained
that in such fine weather her husband should be kept at the Chamber,
"I think you do not fully appreciate your happiness. Victorin is a
perfect angel, and you sometimes torment him."
"My dear, men like to be tormented! Certain ways of teasing are a
proof of affection. If your poor mother had only been--I will not say
exacting, but always prepared to be exacting, you would not have had
so much to grieve over."
"Lisbeth is not come back. I shall have to sing the song of
/Malbrouck/," said Hortense. "I do long for some news of Wenceslas!
--What does he live on? He has not done a thing these two years."
"Victorin saw him, he told me, with that horrible woman not long ago;
and he fancied that she maintains him in idleness.--If you only would,
dear soul, you might bring your husband back to you yet."
Hortense shook her head.
"Believe me," Celestine went on, "the position will ere long be
intolerable. In the first instance, rage, despair, indignation, gave
you strength. The awful disasters that have come upon us since--two
deaths, ruin, and the disappearance of Baron Hulot--have occupied your
mind and heart; but now you live in peace and silence, you will find
it hard to bear the void in your life; and as you cannot, and will
never leave the path of virtue, you will have to be reconciled to
Wenceslas. Victorin, who loves you so much, is of that opinion. There
is something stronger than one's feelings even, and that is Nature!"
"But such a mean creature!" cried the proud Hortense. "He cares for
that woman because she feeds him.--And has she paid his debts, do you
suppose?--Good Heaven! I think of that man's position day and night!
He is the father of my child, and he is degrading himself."
"But look at your mother, my dear," said Celestine.
Celestine was one of those women who, when you have given them reasons
enough to convince a Breton peasant, still go back for the hundredth
time to their original argument. The character of her face, somewhat
flat, dull, and common, her light-brown hair in stiff, neat bands, her
very complexion spoke of a sensible woman, devoid of charm, but also
devoid of weakness.
"The Baroness would willingly go to join her husband in his disgrace,
to comfort him and hide him in her heart from every eye," Celestine
went on. "Why, she has a room made ready upstairs for Monsieur Hulot,
as if she expected to find him and bring him home from one day to the
"Oh yes, my mother is sublime!" replied Hortense. "She has been so
every minute of every day for six-and-twenty years; but I am not like
her, it is not my nature.--How can I help it? I am angry with myself
sometimes; but you do not know, Celestine, what it would be to make
terms with infamy."
"There is my father!" said Celestine placidly. "He has certainly
started on the road that ruined yours. He is ten years younger than
the Baron, to be sure, and was only a tradesman; but how can it end?
This Madame Marneffe has made a slave of my father; he is her dog; she
is mistress of his fortune and his opinions, and nothing can open his
eyes. I tremble when I remember that their banns of marriage are
already published!--My husband means to make a last attempt; he thinks
it a duty to try to avenge society and the family, and bring that
woman to account for all her crimes. Alas! my dear Hortense, such
lofty souls as Victorin and hearts like ours come too late to a
comprehension of the world and its ways!--This is a secret, dear, and
I have told you because you are interested in it, but never by a word
or a look betray it to Lisbeth, or your mother, or anybody, for--"
"Here is Lisbeth!" said Hortense. "Well, cousin, and how is the
Inferno of the Rue Barbet going on?"
"Badly for you, my children.--Your husband, my dear Hortense, is more
crazy about that woman than ever, and she, I must own, is madly in
love with him.--Your father, dear Celestine, is gloriously blind.
That, to be sure, is nothing; I have had occasion to see it once a
fortnight; really, I am lucky never to have had anything to do with
men, they are besotted creatures.--Five days hence you, dear child,
and Victorin will have lost your father's fortune."
"Then the banns are cried?" said Celestine.
"Yes," said Lisbeth, "and I have just been arguing your case. I
pointed out to that monster, who is going the way of the other, that
if he would only get you out of the difficulties you are in by paying
off the mortgage on the house, you would show your gratitude and
receive your stepmother--"
Hortense started in horror.
"Victorin will see about that," said Celestine coldly.
"But do you know what Monsieur le Maire's answer was?" said Lisbeth.
"'I mean to leave them where they are. Horses can only be broken in
by lack of food, sleep, and sugar.'--Why, Baron Hulot was not so bad
as Monsieur Crevel.
"So, my poor dears, you may say good-bye to the money. And such a fine
fortune! Your father paid three million francs for the Presles estate,
and he has thirty thousand francs a year in stocks! Oh!--he has no
secrets from me. He talks of buying the Hotel de Navarreins, in the
Rue du Bac. Madame Marneffe herself has forty thousand francs a year.
--Ah!--here is our guardian angel, here comes your mother!" she
exclaimed, hearing the rumble of wheels.
And presently the Baroness came down the garden steps and joined the
party. At fifty-five, though crushed by so many troubles, and
constantly trembling as if shivering with ague, Adeline, whose face
was indeed pale and wrinkled, still had a fine figure, a noble
outline, and natural dignity. Those who saw her said, "She must have
been beautiful!" Worn with the grief of not knowing her husband's
fate, of being unable to share with him this oasis in the heart of
Paris, this peace and seclusion and the better fortune that was
dawning on the family, her beauty was the beauty of a ruin. As each
gleam of hope died out, each day of search proved vain, Adeline sank
into fits of deep melancholy that drove her children to despair.
The Baroness had gone out that morning with fresh hopes, and was
anxiously expected. An official, who was under obligations to Hulot,
to whom he owed his position and advancement, declared that he had
seen the Baron in a box at the Ambigu-Comique theatre with a woman of
extraordinary beauty. So Adeline had gone to call on the Baron
Verneuil. This important personage, while asserting that he had
positively seen his old patron, and that his behaviour to the woman
indicated an illicit establishment, told Madame Hulot that to avoid
meeting him the Baron had left long before the end of the play.
"He looked like a man at home with the damsel, but his dress betrayed
some lack of means," said he in conclusion.
"Well?" said the three women as the Baroness came towards them.
"Well, Monsieur Hulot is in Paris; and to me," said Adeline, "it is a
gleam of happiness only to know that he is within reach of us."
"But he does not seem to have mended his ways," Lisbeth remarked when
Adeline had finished her report of her visit to Baron Verneuil. "He
has taken up some little work-girl. But where can he get the money
from? I could bet that he begs of his former mistresses--Mademoiselle
Jenny Cadine or Josepha."
The Baroness trembled more severely than ever; every nerve quivered;
she wiped away the tears that rose to her eyes and looked mournfully
up to heaven.
"I cannot think that a Grand Commander of the Legion of Honor will
have fallen so low," said she.
"For his pleasure what would he not do?" said Lisbeth. "He robbed the
State, he will rob private persons, commit murder--who knows?"
"Oh, Lisbeth!" cried the Baroness, "keep such thoughts to yourself."
At this moment Louise came up to the family group, now increased by
the arrival of the two Hulot children and little Wenceslas to see if
their grandmother's pockets did not contain some sweetmeats.
"What is it, Louise?" asked one and another.
"A man who wants to see Mademoiselle Fischer."
"Who is the man?" asked Lisbeth.
"He is in rags, mademoiselle, and covered with flue like a
mattress-picker; his nose is red, and he smells of brandy.--He is
one of those men who work half of the week at most."
This uninviting picture had the effect of making Lisbeth hurry into
the courtyard of the house in the Rue Louis-le-Grand, where she found
a man smoking a pipe colored in a style that showed him an artist in
"Why have you come here, Pere Chardin?" she asked. "It is understood
that you go, on the first Saturday in every month, to the gate of the
Hotel Marneffe, Rue Barbet-de-Jouy. I have just come back after
waiting there for five hours, and you did not come."
"I did go there, good and charitable lady!" replied the
mattress-picker. "But there was a game at pool going on at the Cafe
des Savants, Rue du Cerf-Volant, and every man has his fancy. Now, mine
is billiards. If it wasn't for billiards, I might be eating off silver
plate. For, I tell you this," and he fumbled for a scrap of paper in
his ragged trousers pocket, "it is billiards that leads on to a dram
and plum-brandy.--It is ruinous, like all fine things, in the things
it leads to. I know your orders, but the old 'un is in such a quandary
that I came on to forbidden grounds.--If the hair was all hair, we
might sleep sound on it; but it is mixed. God is not for all, as the
saying goes. He has His favorites--well, He has the right. Now, here
is the writing of your estimable relative and my very good friend--his
Chardin attempted to trace some zigzag lines in the air with the
forefinger of his right hand.
Lisbeth, not listening to him, read these few words:
"DEAR COUSIN,--Be my Providence; give me three hundred francs this
"What does he want so much money for?"
"The lan'lord!" said Chardin, still trying to sketch arabesques. "And
then my son, you see, has come back from Algiers through Spain and
Bayonee, and, and--he has /found/ nothing--against his rule, for a
sharp cove is my son, saving your presence. How can he help it, he is
in want of food; but he will repay all we lend him, for he is going to
get up a company. He has ideas, he has, that will carry him--"
"To the police court," Lisbeth put in. "He murdered my uncle; I shall
not forget that."
"He--why, he could not bleed a chicken, honorable lady."
"Here are the three hundred francs," said Lisbeth, taking fifteen gold
pieces out of her purse. "Now, go, and never come here again."
She saw the father of the Oran storekeeper off the premises, and
pointed out the drunken old creature to the porter.
"At any time when that man comes here, if by chance he should come
again, do not let him in. If he should ask whether Monsieur Hulot
junior or Madame la Baronne Hulot lives here, tell him you know of no
"Very good, mademoiselle."
"Your place depends on it if you make any mistake, even without
intending it," said Lisbeth, in the woman's ear.--"Cousin," she went
on to Victorin, who just now came in, "a great misfortune is hanging
over your head."
"What is that?" said Victorin.
"Within a few days Madame Marneffe will be your wife's stepmother."
"That remains to be seen," replied Victorin.
For six months past Lisbeth had very regularly paid a little allowance
to Baron Hulot, her former protector, whom she now protected; she knew
the secret of his dwelling-place, and relished Adeline's tears, saying
to her, as we have seen, when she saw her cheerful and hopeful, "You
may expect to find my poor cousin's name in the papers some day under
the heading 'Police Report.'"
But in this, as on a former occasion, she let her vengeance carry her
too far. She had aroused the prudent suspicions of Victorin. He had
resolved to be rid of this Damocles' sword so constantly flourished
over them by Lisbeth, and of the female demon to whom his mother and
the family owed so many woes. The Prince de Wissembourg, knowing all
about Madame Marneffe's conduct, approved of the young lawyer's secret
project; he had promised him, as a President of the Council can
promise, the secret assistance of the police, to enlighten Crevel and
rescue a fine fortune from the clutches of the diabolical courtesan,
whom he could not forgive either for causing the death of Marshal
Hulot or for the Baron's utter ruin.
The words spoken by Lisbeth, "He begs of his former mistresses,"
haunted the Baroness all night. Like sick men given over by the
physicians, who have recourse to quacks, like men who have fallen into
the lowest Dantesque circle of despair, or drowning creatures who
mistake a floating stick for a hawser, she ended by believing in the
baseness of which the mere idea had horrified her; and it occurred to
her that she might apply for help to one of those terrible women.
Next morning, without consulting her children or saying a word to
anybody, she went to see Mademoiselle Josepha Mirah, prima donna of
the Royal Academy of Music, to find or to lose the hope that had
gleamed before her like a will-o'-the-wisp. At midday, the great
singer's waiting-maid brought her in the card of the Baronne Hulot,
saying that this person was waiting at the door, having asked whether
Mademoiselle could receive her.
"Are the rooms done?"
"And the flowers fresh?"
"Just tell Jean to look round and see that everything is as it should
be before showing the lady in, and treat her with the greatest
respect. Go, and come back to dress me--I must look my very best."
She went to study herself in the long glass.
"Now, to put our best foot foremost!" said she to herself. "Vice under
arms to meet virtue!--Poor woman, what can she want of me? I cannot
bear to see.
"The noble victim of outrageous fortune!"
And she sang through the famous aria as the maid came in again.
"Madame," said the girl, "the lady has a nervous trembling--"
"Offer her some orange-water, some rum, some broth--"
"I did, mademoiselle; but she declines everything, and says it is an
infirmity, a nervous complaint--"
"Where is she?"
"In the big drawing-room."
"Well, make haste, child. Give me my smartest slippers, the
dressing-gown embroidered by Bijou, and no end of lace frills. Do my
hair in a way to astonish a woman.--This woman plays a part against
mine; and tell the lady--for she is a real, great lady, my girl, nay,
more, she is what you will never be, a woman whose prayers can rescue
souls from your purgatory--tell her I was in bed, as I was playing
last night, and that I am just getting up."
The Baroness, shown into Josepha's handsome drawing-room, did not note
how long she was kept waiting there, though it was a long half hour.
This room, entirely redecorated even since Josepha had had the house,
was hung with silk in purple and gold color. The luxury which fine
gentlemen were wont to lavish on their /petites maisons/, the scenes
of their profligacy, of which the remains still bear witness to the
follies from which they were so aptly named, was displayed to
perfection, thanks to modern inventiveness, in the four rooms opening
into each other, where the warm temperature was maintained by a system
of hot-air pipes with invisible openings.
The Baroness, quite bewildered, examined each work of art with the
greatest amazement. Here she found fortunes accounted for that melt in
the crucible under which pleasure and vanity feed the devouring
flames. This woman, who for twenty-six years had lived among the dead
relics of imperial magnificence, whose eyes were accustomed to carpets
patterned with faded flowers, rubbed gilding, silks as forlorn as her
heart, half understood the powerful fascinations of vice as she
studied its results. It was impossible not to wish to possess these
beautiful things, these admirable works of art, the creation of the
unknown talent which abounds in Paris in our day and produces
treasures for all Europe. Each thing had the novel charm of unique
perfection. The models being destroyed, every vase, every figure,
every piece of sculpture was the original. This is the crowning grace
of modern luxury. To own the thing which is not vulgarized by the two
thousand wealthy citizens whose notion of luxury is the lavish display
of the splendors that shops can supply, is the stamp of true luxury
--the luxury of the fine gentlemen of the day, the shooting stars of
the Paris firmament.
As she examined the flower-stands, filled with the choicest exotic
plants, mounted in chased brass and inlaid in the style of Boulle, the
Baroness was scared by the idea of the wealth in this apartment. And
this impression naturally shed a glamour over the person round whom
all this profusion was heaped. Adeline imagined that Josepha Mirah
--whose portrait by Joseph Bridau was the glory of the adjoining
boudoir--must be a singer of genius, a Malibran, and she expected to
see a real star. She was sorry she had come. But she had been prompted
by a strong and so natural a feeling, by such purely disinterested
devotion, that she collected all her courage for the interview.
Besides, she was about to satisfy her urgent curiosity, to see for
herself what was the charm of this kind of women, that they could
extract so much gold from the miserly ore of Paris mud.
The Baroness looked at herself to see if she were not a blot on all
this splendor; but she was well dressed in her velvet gown, with a
little cape trimmed with beautiful lace, and her velvet bonnet of the
same shade was becoming. Seeing herself still as imposing as any
queen, always a queen even in her fall, she reflected that the dignity
of sorrow was a match for the dignity of talent.
At last, after much opening and shutting of doors, she saw Josepha.
The singer bore a strong resemblance to Allori's /Judith/, which
dwells in the memory of all who have ever seen it in the Pitti palace,
near the door of one of the great rooms. She had the same haughty
mien, the same fine features, black hair simply knotted, and a yellow
wrapper with little embroidered flowers, exactly like the brocade worn
by the immortal homicide conceived of by Bronzino's nephew.
"Madame la Baronne, I am quite overwhelmed by the honor you do me in
coming here," said the singer, resolved to play her part as a great
lady with a grace.
She pushed forward an easy-chair for the Baroness and seated herself
on a stool. She discerned the faded beauty of the woman before her,
and was filled with pity as she saw her shaken by the nervous palsy
that, on the least excitement, became convulsive. She could read at a
glance the saintly life described to her of old by Hulot and Crevel;
and she not only ceased to think of a contest with her, she humiliated
herself before a superiority she appreciated. The great artist could
admire what the courtesan laughed to scorn.
"Mademoiselle, despair brought me here. It reduces us to any means--"
A look in Josepha's face made the Baroness feel that she had wounded
the woman from whom she hoped for so much, and she looked at her. Her
beseeching eyes extinguished the flash in Josepha's; the singer
smiled. It was a wordless dialogue of pathetic eloquence.
"It is now two years and a half since Monsieur Hulot left his family,
and I do not know where to find him, though I know that he lives in
Paris," said the Baroness with emotion. "A dream suggested to me the
idea--an absurd one perhaps--that you may have interested yourself in
Monsieur Hulot. If you could enable me to see him--oh! mademoiselle, I
would pray Heaven for you every day as long as I live in this world--"
Two large tears in the singer's eyes told what her reply would be.
"Madame," said she, "I have done you an injury without knowing you;
but, now that I have the happiness of seeing in you the most perfect
virtue on earth, believe me I am sensible of the extent of my fault; I
repent sincerely, and believe me, I will do all in my power to remedy
She took Madame Hulot's hand and before the lady could do anything to
hinder her, she kissed it respectfully, even humbling herself to bend
one knee. Then she rose, as proud as when she stood on the stage in
the part of /Mathilde/, and rang the bell.
"Go on horseback," said she to the man-servant, "and kill the horse if
you must, to find little Bijou, Rue Saint-Maur-du-Temple, and bring
her here. Put her into a coach and pay the coachman to come at a
gallop. Do not lose a moment--or you lose your place.
"Madame," she went on, coming back to the Baroness, and speaking to
her in respectful tones, "you must forgive me. As soon as the Duc
d'Herouville became my protector, I dismissed the Baron, having heard
that he was ruining his family for me. What more could I do? In an
actress' career a protector is indispensable from the first day of her
appearance on the boards. Our salaries do not pay half our expenses;
we must have a temporary husband. I did not value Monsieur Hulot, who
took me away from a rich man, a conceited idiot. Old Crevel would
undoubtedly have married me--"
"So he told me," said the Baroness, interrupting her.
"Well, then, you see, madame, I might at this day have been an honest
woman, with only one legitimate husband!"
"You have many excuses, mademoiselle," said Adeline, "and God will
take them into account. But, for my part, far from reproaching you, I
came, on the contrary, to make myself your debtor in gratitude--"
"Madame, for nearly three years I have provided for Monsieur le
"You?" interrupted the Baroness, with tears in her eyes. "Oh, what can
I do for you? I can only pray--"
"I and Monsieur le Duc d'Herouville," the singer said, "a noble soul,
a true gentleman--" and Josepha related the settling and /marriage/ of
"And so, thanks to you, mademoiselle, the Baron has wanted nothing?"
"We have done our best to that end, madame."
"And where is he now?"
"About six months ago, Monsieur le Duc told me that the Baron, known
to the notary by the name of Thoul, had drawn all the eight thousand
francs that were to have been paid to him in fixed sums once a
quarter," replied Josepha. "We have heard no more of the Baron,
neither I nor Monsieur d'Herouville. Our lives are so full, we artists
are so busy, that I really have not time to run after old Thoul. As it
happens, for the last six months, Bijou, who works for me--his--what
shall I say--?"
"His mistress," said Madame Hulot.
"His mistress," repeated Josepha, "has not been here. Mademoiselle
Olympe Bijou is perhaps divorced. Divorce is common in the thirteenth
Josepha rose, and foraging among the rare plants in her stands, made a
charming bouquet for Madame Hulot, whose expectations, it may be said,
were by no means fulfilled. Like those worthy fold, who take men of
genius to be a sort of monsters, eating, drinking, walking, and
speaking unlike other people, the Baroness had hoped to see Josepha
the opera singer, the witch, the amorous and amusing courtesan; she
saw a calm and well-mannered woman, with the dignity of talent, the
simplicity of an actress who knows herself to be at night a queen, and
also, better than all, a woman of the town whose eyes, attitude, and
demeanor paid full and ungrudging homage to the virtuous wife, the
/Mater dolorosa/ of the sacred hymn, and who was crowning her sorrows
with flowers, as the Madonna is crowned in Italy.
"Madame," said the man-servant, reappearing at the end of half an
hour, "Madame Bijou is on her way, but you are not to expect little
Olympe. Your needle-woman, madame, is settled in life; she is
"More or less?" said Josepha.
"No, madame, really married. She is at the head of a very fine
business; she has married the owner of a large and fashionable shop,
on which they have spent millions of francs, on the Boulevard des
Italiens; and she has left the embroidery business to her sister and
mother. She is Madame Grenouville. The fat tradesman--"
"Yes, madame," said the man. "Well, he has settled thirty thousand
francs a year on Mademoiselle Bijou by the marriage articles. And her
elder sister, they say, is going to be married to a rich butcher."
"Your business looks rather hopeless, I am afraid," said Josepha to
the Baroness. "Monsieur le Baron is no longer where I lodged him."
Ten minutes later Madame Bijou was announced. Josepha very prudently
placed the Baroness in the boudoir, and drew the curtain over the
"You would scare her," said she to Madame Hulot. "She would let
nothing out if she suspected that you were interested in the
information. Leave me to catechise her. Hide there, and you will hear
everything. It is a scene that is played quite as often in real life
as on the stage--"
"Well, Mother Bijou," she said to an old woman dressed in tartan
stuff, and who looked like a porter's wife in her Sunday best, "so you
are all very happy? Your daughter is in luck."
"Oh, happy? As for that!--My daughter gives us a hundred francs a
month, while she rides in a carriage and eats off silver plate--she is
a millionary, is my daughter! Olympe might have lifted me above labor.
To have to work at my age? Is that being good to me?"
"She ought not to be ungrateful, for she owes her beauty to you,"
replied Josepha; "but why did she not come to see me? It was I who
placed her in ease by settling her with my uncle."
"Yes, madame, with old Monsieur Thoul, but he is very old and
"But what have you done with him? Is he with you? She was very foolish
to leave him; he is worth millions now."
"Heaven above us!" cried the mother. "What did I tell her when she
behaved so badly to him, and he as mild as milk, poor old fellow? Oh!
didn't she just give it him hot?--Olympe was perverted, madame?"
"She got to know a /claqueur/, madame, saving your presence, a man
paid to clap, you know, the grand nephew of an old mattress-picker of
the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. This good-for-naught, as all your
good-looking fellows are, paid to make a piece go, is the cock of the
walk out on the Boulevard du Temple, where he works up the new plays,
and takes care that the actresses get a reception, as he calls it.
First, he has a good breakfast in the morning; then, before the play,
he dines, to be 'up to the mark,' as he says; in short, he is a born
lover of billiards and drams. 'But that is not following a trade,' as
I said to Olympe."
"It is a trade men follow, unfortunately," said Josepha.
"Well, the rascal turned Olympe's head, and he, madame, did not keep
good company--when I tell you he was very near being nabbed by the
police in a tavern where thieves meet. 'Wever, Monsieur Braulard, the
leader of the claque, got him out of that. He wears gold earrings, and
he lives by doing nothing, hanging on to women, who are fools about
these good-looking scamps. He spent all the money Monsieur Thoul used
to give the child.
"Then the business was going to grief; what embroidery brought in went
out across the billiard table. 'Wever, the young fellow had a pretty
sister, madame, who, like her brother, lived by hook and by crook, and
no better than she should be neither, over in the students' quarter."
"One of the sluts at the Chaumiere," said Josepha.
"So, madame," said the old woman. "So Idamore, his name is Idamore,
leastways that is what he calls himself, for his real name is Chardin
--Idamore fancied that your uncle had a deal more money than he owned
to, and he managed to send his sister Elodie--and that was a stage
name he gave her--to send her to be a workwoman at our place, without
my daughter's knowing who she was; and, gracious goodness! but that
girl turned the whole place topsy-turvy; she got all those poor girls
into mischief--impossible to whitewash them, saving your presence----
"And she was so sharp, she won over poor old Thoul, and took him away,
and we don't know where, and left us in a pretty fix, with a lot of
bills coming in. To this day as ever is we have not been able to
settle up; but my daughter, who knows all about such things, keeps an
eye on them as they fall due.--Then, when Idamore saw he had got hold
of the old man, through his sister, you understand, he threw over my
daughter, and now he has got hold of a little actress at the
/Funambules/.--And that was how my daughter came to get married, as
you will see--"
"But you must know where the mattress-picker lives?" said Josepha.
"What! old Chardin? As if he lived anywhere at all!--He is drunk by
six in the morning; he makes a mattress once a month; he hangs about
the wineshops all day; he plays at pools--"
"He plays at pools?" said Josepha.
"You do not understand, madame, pools of billiards, I mean, and he
wins three or four a day, and then he drinks."
"Water out of the pools, I suppose?" said Josepha. "But if Idamore
haunts the Boulevard, by inquiring through my friend Vraulard, we
could find him."
"I don't know, madame; all this was six months ago. Idamore was one of
the sort who are bound to find their way into the police courts, and
from that to Melun--and the--who knows--?"
"To the prison yard!" said Josepha.
"Well, madame, you know everything," said the old woman, smiling.
"Well, if my girl had never known that scamp, she would now be--Still,
she was in luck, all the same, you will say, for Monsieur Grenouville
fell so much in love with her that he married her--"
"And what brought that about?"
"Olympe was desperate, madame. When she found herself left in the
lurch for that little actress--and she took a rod out of pickle for
her, I can tell you; my word, but she gave her a dressing!--and when
she had lost poor old Thoul, who worshiped her, she would have nothing
more to say to the men. 'Wever, Monsieur Grenouville, who had been
dealing largely with us--to the tune of two hundred embroidered
China-crape shawls every quarter--he wanted to console her; but whether
or no, she would not listen to anything without the mayor and the
priest. 'I mean to be respectable,' said she, 'or perish!' and she
stuck to it. Monsieur Grenouville consented to marry her, on condition
of her giving us all up, and we agreed--"
"For a handsome consideration?" said Josepha, with her usual
"Yes, madame, ten thousand francs, and an allowance to my father, who
is past work."
"I begged your daughter to make old Thoul happy, and she has thrown me
over. That is not fair. I will take no interest in any one for the
future! That is what comes of trying to do good! Benevolence certainly
does not answer as a speculation!--Olympe ought, at least, to have
given me notice of this jobbing. Now, if you find the old man Thoul
within a fortnight, I will give you a thousand francs."
"It will be a hard task, my good lady; still, there are a good many
five-franc pieces in a thousand francs, and I will try to earn your
"Good-morning, then, Madame Bijou."
On going into the boudoir, the singer found that Madame Hulot had
fainted; but in spite of having lost consciousness, her nervous
trembling kept her still perpetually shaking, as the pieces of a snake
that has been cut up still wriggle and move. Strong salts, cold water,
and all the ordinary remedies were applied to recall the Baroness to
her senses, or rather, to the apprehension of her sorrows.
"Ah! mademoiselle, how far has he fallen!" cried she, recognizing
Josepha, and finding that she was alone with her.
"Take heart, madame," replied the actress, who had seated herself on a
cushion at Adeline's feet, and was kissing her hands. "We shall find
him; and if he is in the mire, well, he must wash himself. Believe me,
with people of good breeding it is a matter of clothes.--Allow me to
make up for you the harm I have done you, for I see how much you are
attached to your husband, in spite of his misconduct--or you should
not have come here.--Well, you see, the poor man is so fond of women.
If you had had a little of our dash, you would have kept him from
running about the world; for you would have been what we can never be
--all the women man wants.
"The State ought to subsidize a school of manners for honest women!
But governments are so prudish! Still, they are guided by men, whom we
privately guide. My word, I pity nations!
"But the matter in question is how you can be helped, and not to laugh
at the world.--Well, madame, be easy, go home again, and do not worry.
I will bring your Hector back to you as he was as a man of thirty."
"Ah, mademoiselle, let us go to see that Madame Grenouville," said the
Baroness. "She surely knows something! Perhaps I may see the Baron
this very day, and be able to snatch him at once from poverty and
"Madame, I will show you the deep gratitude I feel towards you by not
displaying the stage-singer Josepha, the Duc d'Herouville's mistress,
in the company of the noblest, saintliest image of virtue. I respect
you too much to be seen by your side. This is not acted humility; it
is sincere homage. You make me sorry, madame, that I cannot tread in
your footsteps, in spite of the thorns that tear your feet and hands.
--But it cannot be helped! I am one with art, as you are one with
"Poor child!" said the Baroness, moved amid her own sorrows by a
strange sense of compassionate sympathy; "I will pray to God for you;
for you are the victim of society, which must have theatres. When you
are old, repent--you will be heard if God vouchsafes to hear the
prayers of a--"
"Of a martyr, madame," Josepha put in, and she respectfully kissed the
But Adeline took the actress' hand, and drawing her towards her,
kissed her on the forehead. Coloring with pleasure Josepha saw the
Baroness into the hackney coach with the humblest politeness.
"It must be some visiting Lady of Charity," said the man-servant to
the maid, "for she does not do so much for any one, not even for her
dear friend Madame Jenny Cadine."
"Wait a few days," said she, "and you will see him, madame, or I
renounce the God of my fathers--and that from a Jewess, you know, is a
promise of success."
At the very time when Madame Hulot was calling on Josepha, Victorin,
in his study, was receiving an old woman of about seventy-five, who,
to gain admission to the lawyer, had used the terrible name of the
head of the detective force. The man in waiting announced:
"Madame de Saint-Esteve."
"I have assumed one of my business names," said she, taking a seat.
Victorin felt a sort of internal chill at the sight of this dreadful
old woman. Though handsomely dressed, she was terrible to look upon,
for her flat, colorless, strongly-marked face, furrowed with wrinkles,
expressed a sort of cold malignity. Marat, as a woman of that age,
might have been like this creature, a living embodiment of the Reign
This sinister old woman's small, pale eyes twinkled with a tiger's
bloodthirsty greed. Her broad, flat nose, with nostrils expanded into
oval cavities, breathed the fires of hell, and resembled the beak of
some evil bird of prey. The spirit of intrigue lurked behind her low,
cruel brow. Long hairs had grown from her wrinkled chin, betraying the
masculine character of her schemes. Any one seeing that woman's face
would have said that artists had failed in their conceptions of
"My dear sir," she began, with a patronizing air, "I have long since
given up active business of any kind. What I have come to you to do, I
have undertaken, for the sake of my dear nephew, whom I love more than
I could love a son of my own.--Now, the Head of the Police--to whom
the President of the Council said a few words in his ear as regards
yourself, in talking to Monsieur Chapuzot--thinks as the police ought
not to appear in a matter of this description, you understand. They
gave my nephew a free hand, but my nephew will have nothing to say to
it, except as before the Council; he will not be seen in it."
"Then your nephew is--"
"You have hit it, and I am rather proud of him," said she,
interrupting the lawyer, "for he is my pupil, and he soon could teach
his teacher.--We have considered this case, and have come to our own
conclusions. Will you hand over thirty thousand francs to have the
whole thing taken off your hands? I will make a clean sweep of all,
and you need not pay till the job is done."
"Do you know the persons concerned?"
"No, my dear sir; I look for information from you. What we are told
is, that a certain old idiot has fallen into the clutches of a widow.
This widow, of nine-and-twenty, has played her cards so well, that she
has forty thousand francs a year, of which she has robbed two fathers
of families. She is now about to swallow down eighty thousand francs a
year by marrying an old boy of sixty-one. She will thus ruin a
respectable family, and hand over this vast fortune to the child of
some lover by getting rid at once of the old husband.--That is the
case as stated."
"Quite correct," said Victorin. "My father-in-law, Monsieur Crevel--"
"Formerly a perfumer, a mayor--yes, I live in his district under the
name of Ma'ame Nourrisson," said the woman.
"The other person is Madame Marneffe."
"I do not know," said Madame de Saint-Esteve. "But within three days I
will be in a position to count her shifts."
"Can you hinder the marriage?" asked Victorin.
"How far have they got?"
"To the second time of asking."
"We must carry off the woman.--To-day is Sunday--there are but three
days, for they will be married on Wednesday, no doubt; it is
impossible.--But she may be killed--"
Victorin Hulot started with an honest man's horror at hearing these
five words uttered in cold blood.
"Murder?" said he. "And how could you do it?"
"For forty years, now, monsieur, we have played the part of fate,"
replied she, with terrible pride, "and do just what we will in Paris.
More than one family--even in the Faubourg Saint-Germain--has told me
all its secrets, I can tell you. I have made and spoiled many a match,
I have destroyed many a will and saved many a man's honor. I have in
there," and she tapped her forehead, "a store of secrets which are
worth thirty-six thousand francs a year to me; and you--you will be
one of my lambs, hoh! Could such a woman as I am be what I am if she
revealed her ways and means? I act.
"Whatever I may do, sir, will be the result of an accident; you need
feel no remorse. You will be like a man cured by a clairvoyant; by the
end of a month, it seems all the work of Nature."
Victorin broke out in a cold sweat. The sight of an executioner would
have shocked him less than this prolix and pretentious Sister of the
Hulks. As he looked at her purple-red gown, she seemed to him dyed in
"Madame, I do not accept the help of your experience and skill if
success is to cost anybody's life, or the least criminal act is to
come of it."
"You are a great baby, monsieur," replied the woman; "you wish to
remain blameless in your own eyes, while you want your enemy to be
Victorin shook his head in denial.
"Yes," she went on, "you want this Madame Marneffe to drop the prey
she has between her teeth. But how do you expect to make a tiger drop
his piece of beef? Can you do it by patting his back and saying, 'Poor
Puss'? You are illogical. You want a battle fought, but you object to
blows.--Well, I grant you the innocence you are so careful over. I
have always found that there was material for hypocrisy in honesty!
One day, three months hence, a poor priest will come to beg of you
forty thousand francs for a pious work--a convent to be rebuilt in the
Levant--in the desert.--If you are satisfied with your lot, give the
good man the money. You will pay more than that into the treasury. It
will be a mere trifle in comparison with what you will get, I can tell
She rose, standing on the broad feet that seemed to overflow her satin
shoes; she smiled, bowed, and vanished.
"The Devil has a sister," said Victorin, rising.
He saw the hideous stranger to the door, a creature called up from the
dens of the police, as on the stage a monster comes up from the third
cellar at the touch of a fairy's wand in a ballet-extravaganza.
After finishing what he had to do at the Courts, Victorin went to call
on Monsieur Chapuzot, the head of one of the most important branches
of the Central Police, to make some inquiries about the stranger.
Finding Monsieur Chapuzot alone in his office, Victorin thanked him
for his help.
"You sent me an old woman who might stand for the incarnation of the
criminal side of Paris."
Monsieur Chapuzot laid his spectacles on his papers and looked at the
lawyer with astonishment.
"I should not have taken the liberty of sending anybody to see you
without giving you notice beforehand, or a line of introduction," said
"Then it was Monsieur le Prefet--?"
"I think not," said Chapuzot. "The last time that the Prince de
Wissembourg dined with the Minister of the Interior, he spoke to the
Prefet of the position in which you find yourself--a deplorable
position--and asked him if you could be helped in any friendly way.
The Prefet, who was interested by the regrets his Excellency expressed
as to this family affair, did me the honor to consult me about it.
"Ever since the present Prefet has held the reins of this department
--so useful and so vilified--he has made it a rule that family matters
are never to be interfered in. He is right in principle and in
morality; but in practice he is wrong. In the forty-five years that I
have served in the police, it did, from 1799 till 1815, great services
in family concerns. Since 1820 a constitutional government and the
press have completely altered the conditions of existence. So my
advice, indeed, was not to intervene in such a case, and the Prefet
did me the honor to agree with my remarks. The Head of the detective
branch has orders, in my presence, to take no steps; so if you have
had any one sent to you by him, he will be reprimanded. It might cost
him his place. 'The Police will do this or that,' is easily said; the
Police, the Police! But, my dear sir, the Marshal and the Ministerial
Council do not know what the Police is. The Police alone knows the
Police; but as for ours, only Fouche, Monsieur Lenoir, and Monsieur de
Sartines have had any notion of it.--Everything is changed now; we are
reduced and disarmed! I have seen many private disasters develop,
which I could have checked with five grains of despotic power.--We
shall be regretted by the very men who have crippled us when they,
like you, stand face to face with some moral monstrosities, which
ought to be swept away as we sweep away mud! In public affairs the
Police is expected to foresee everything, or when the safety of the
public is involved--but the family?--It is sacred! I would do my
utmost to discover and hinder a plot against the King's life, I would
see through the walls of a house; but as to laying a finger on a
household, or peeping into private interests--never, so long as I sit
in this office. I should be afraid."
"Of the Press, Monsieur le Depute, of the left centre."
"What, then, can I do?" said Hulot, after a pause.
"Well, you are the Family," said the official. "That settles it; you
can do what you please. But as to helping you, as to using the Police
as an instrument of private feelings, and interests, how is it
possible? There lies, you see, the secret of the persecution,
necessary, but pronounced illegal, by the Bench, which was brought
to bear against the predecessor of our present chief detective.
Bibi-Lupin undertook investigations for the benefit of private persons.
This might have led to great social dangers. With the means at his
command, the man would have been formidable, an underlying fate--"
"But in my place?" said Hulot.
"Why, you ask my advice? You who sell it!" replied Monsieur Chapuzot.
"Come, come, my dear sir, you are making fun of me."
Hulot bowed to the functionary, and went away without seeing that
gentleman's almost imperceptible shrug as he rose to open the door.
"And he wants to be a statesman!" said Chapuzot to himself as he
returned to his reports.
Victorin went home, still full of perplexities which he could confide
to no one.
At dinner the Baroness joyfully announced to her children that within
a month their father might be sharing their comforts, and end his days
in peace among his family.
"Oh, I would gladly give my three thousand six hundred francs a year
to see the Baron here!" cried Lisbeth. "But, my dear Adeline, do not
dream beforehand of such happiness, I entreat you!"
"Lisbeth is right," said Celestine. "My dear mother, wait till the
The Baroness, all feeling and all hope, related her visit to Josepha,
expressed her sense of the misery of such women in the midst of good
fortune, and mentioned Chardin the mattress-picker, the father of the
Oran storekeeper, thus showing that her hopes were not groundless.
By seven next morning Lisbeth had driven in a hackney coach to the
Quai de la Tournelle, and stopped the vehicle at the corner of the Rue
"Go to the Rue des Bernardins," said she to the driver, "No. 7, a
house with an entry and no porter. Go up to the fourth floor, ring at
the door to the left, on which you will see 'Mademoiselle Chardin
--Lace and shawls mended.' She will answer the door. Ask for the
Chevalier. She will say he is out. Say in reply, 'Yes, I know, but
find him, for his /bonne/ is out on the quay in a coach, and wants to
Twenty minutes later, an old man, who looked about eighty, with
perfectly white hair, and a nose reddened by the cold, and a pale,
wrinkled face like an old woman's, came shuffling slowly along in list
slippers, a shiny alpaca overcoat hanging on his stooping shoulders,
no ribbon at his buttonhole, the sleeves of an under-vest showing
below his coat-cuffs, and his shirt-front unpleasantly dingy. He
approached timidly, looked at the coach, recognized Lisbeth, and came
to the window.
"Why, my dear cousin, what a state you are in!"
"Elodie keeps everything for herself," said Baron Hulot. "Those
Chardins are a blackguard crew."
"Will you come home to us?"
"Oh, no, no!" cried the old man. "I would rather go to America."
"Adeline is on the scent."
"Oh, if only some one would pay my debts!" said the Baron, with a
suspicious look, "for Samanon is after me."
"We have not paid up the arrears yet; your son still owes a hundred
"And your pension will not be free before seven or eight months.--If
you will wait a minute, I have two thousand francs here."
The Baron held out his hand with fearful avidity.
"Give it me, Lisbeth, and may God reward you! Give it me; I know where
"But you will tell me, old wretch?"
"Yes, yes. Then I can wait eight months, for I have discovered a
little angel, a good child, an innocent thing not old enough to be
"Do not forget the police-court," said Lisbeth, who flattered herself
that she would some day see Hulot there.
"No.--It is in the Rue de Charonne," said the Baron, "a part of the
town where no fuss is made about anything. No one will ever find me
there. I am called Pere Thorec, Lisbeth, and I shall be taken for a
retired cabinet-maker; the girl is fond of me, and I will not allow my
back to be shorn any more."
"No, that has been done," said Lisbeth, looking at his coat.
"Supposing I take you there."
Baron Hulot got into the coach, deserting Mademoiselle Elodie without
taking leave of her, as he might have tossed aside a novel he had
In half an hour, during which Baron Hulot talked to Lisbeth of nothing
but little Atala Judici--for he had fallen by degrees to those base
passions that ruin old men--she set him down with two thousand francs
in his pocket, in the Rue de Charonne, Faubourg Saint-Antoine, at the
door of a doubtful and sinister-looking house.
"Good-day, cousin; so now you are to be called Thorec, I suppose? Send
none but commissionaires if you need me, and always take them from
"Trust me! Oh, I am really very lucky!" said the Baron, his face
beaming with the prospect of new and future happiness.
"No one can find him there," said Lisbeth; and she paid the coach at
the Boulevard Beaumarchais, and returned to the Rue Louis-le-Grand in
On the following day Crevel was announced at the hour when all the
family were together in the drawing-room, just after breakfast.
Celestine flew to throw her arms round her father's neck, and behaved
as if she had seen him only the day before, though in fact he had not
called there for more than two years.
"Good-morning, father," said Victorin, offering his hand.
"Good-morning, children," said the pompous Crevel. "Madame la Baronne,
I throw myself at your feet! Good Heavens, how the children grow! they
are pushing us off the perch--'Grand-pa,' they say, 'we want our turn
in the sunshine.'--Madame la Comtesse, you are as lovely as ever," he
went on, addressing Hortense.--"Ah, ha! and here is the best of good
money: Cousin Betty, the Wise Virgin."
"Why, you are really very comfortable here," said he, after scattering
these greetings with a cackle of loud laughter that hardly moved the
rubicund muscles of his broad face.
He looked at his daughter with some contempt.
"My dear Celestine, I will make you a present of all my furniture out
of the Rue des Saussayes; it will just do here. Your drawing-room
wants furnishing up.--Ha! there is that little rogue Wenceslas. Well,
and are we very good children, I wonder? You must have pretty manners,
"To make up for those who have none," said Lisbeth.
"That sarcasm, my dear Lisbeth, has lost its sting. I am going, my
dear children, to put an end to the false position in which I have so
long been placed; I have come, like a good father, to announce my
approaching marriage without any circumlocution."
"You have a perfect right to marry," said Victorin. "And for my part,
I give you back the promise you made me when you gave me the hand of
my dear Celestine--"
"What promise?" said Crevel.
"Not to marry," replied the lawyer. "You will do me the justice to
allow that I did not ask you to pledge yourself, that you gave your
word quite voluntarily and in spite of my desire, for I pointed out to
you at the time that you were unwise to bind yourself."
"Yes, I do remember, my dear fellow," said Crevel, ashamed of himself.
"But, on my honor, if you will but live with Madame Crevel, my
children, you will find no reason to repent.--Your good feeling
touches me, Victorin, and you will find that generosity to me is not
unrewarded.--Come, by the Poker! welcome your stepmother and come to
"But you have not told us the lady's name, papa," said Celestine.
"Why, it is an open secret," replied Crevel. "Do not let us play at
guess who can! Lisbeth must have told you."
"My dear Monsieur Crevel," replied Lisbeth, "there are certain names
we never utter here--"
"Well, then, it is Madame Marneffe."
"Monsieur Crevel," said the lawyer very sternly, "neither my wife nor
I can be present at that marriage; not out of interest, for I spoke in
all sincerity just now. Yes, I am most happy to think that you may
find happiness in this union; but I act on considerations of honor and
good feeling which you must understand, and which I cannot speak of
here, as they reopen wounds still ready to bleed----"
The Baroness telegraphed a signal to Hortense, who tucked her little
one under her arm, saying, "Come Wenceslas, and have your bath!
--Good-bye, Monsieur Crevel."
The Baroness also bowed to Crevel without a word; and Crevel could not
help smiling at the child's astonishment when threatened with this
"You, monsieur," said Victorin, when he found himself alone with
Lisbeth, his wife, and his father-in-law, "are about to marry a woman
loaded with the spoils of my father; it was she who, in cold blood,
brought him down to such depths; a woman who is the son-in-law's
mistress after ruining the father-in-law; who is the cause of constant
grief to my sister!--And you fancy that I shall seem to sanction your
madness by my presence? I deeply pity you, dear Monsieur Crevel; you
have no family feeling; you do not understand the unity of the honor
which binds the members of it together. There is no arguing with
passion--as I have too much reason to know. The slaves of their
passions are as deaf as they are blind. Your daughter Celestine has
too strong a sense of her duty to proffer a word of reproach."
"That would, indeed, be a pretty thing!" cried Crevel, trying to cut
short this harangue.
"Celestine would not be my wife if she made the slightest
remonstrance," the lawyer went on. "But I, at least, may try to stop
you before you step over the precipice, especially after giving you
ample proof of my disinterestedness. It is not your fortune, it is you
that I care about. Nay, to make it quite plain to you, I may add, if
it were only to set your mind at ease with regard to your marriage
contract, that I am now in a position which leaves me with nothing to
"Thanks to me!" exclaimed Crevel, whose face was purple.
"Thanks to Celestine's fortune," replied Victorin. "And if you regret
having given to your daughter as a present from yourself, a sum which
is not half what her mother left her, I can only say that we are
prepared to give it back."
"And do you not know, my respected son-in-law," said Crevel, striking
an attitude, "that under the shelter of my name Madame Marneffe is not
called upon to answer for her conduct excepting as my wife--as Madame
"That is, no doubt, quite the correct thing," said the lawyer; "very
generous so far as the affections are concerned and the vagaries of
passion; but I know of no name, nor law, nor title that can shelter
the theft of three hundred thousand francs so meanly wrung from my
father!--I tell you plainly, my dear father-in-law, your future wife
is unworthy of you, she is false to you, and is madly in love with my
brother-in-law, Steinbock, whose debts she had paid."
"It is I who paid them!"
"Very good," said Hulot; "I am glad for Count Steinbock's sake; he may
some day repay the money. But he is loved, much loved, and often--"
"Loved!" cried Crevel, whose face showed his utter bewilderment. "It
is cowardly, and dirty, and mean, and cheap, to calumniate a woman!
--When a man says such things, monsieur, he must bring proof."
"I will bring proof."
"I shall expect it."
"By the day after to-morrow, my dear Monsieur Crevel, I shall be able
to tell you the day, the hour, the very minute when I can expose the
horrible depravity of your future wife."
"Very well; I shall be delighted," said Crevel, who had recovered
"Good-bye, my children, for the present; good-bye, Lisbeth."
"See him out, Lisbeth," said Celestine in an undertone.
"And is this the way you take yourself off?" cried Lisbeth to Crevel.
"Ah, ha!" said Crevel, "my son-in-law is too clever by half; he is
getting on. The Courts and the Chamber, judicial trickery and
political dodges, are making a man of him with a vengeance!--So he
knows I am to be married on Wednesday, and on a Sunday my gentleman
proposes to fix the hour, within three days, when he can prove that my
wife is unworthy of me. That is a good story!--Well, I am going back
to sign the contract. Come with me, Lisbeth--yes, come. They will
never know. I meant to have left Celestine forty thousand francs a
year; but Hulot has just behaved in a way to alienate my affection for
"Give me ten minutes, Pere Crevel; wait for me in your carriage at the
gate. I will make some excuse for going out."
"Very well--all right."
"My dears," said Lisbeth, who found all the family reassembled in the
drawing-room, "I am going with Crevel: the marriage contract is to be
signed this afternoon, and I shall hear what he has settled. It will
probably be my last visit to that woman. Your father is furious; he
will disinherit you--"
"His vanity will prevent that," said the son-in-law. "He was bent on
owning the estate of Presles, and he will keep it; I know him. Even if
he were to have children, Celestine would still have half of what he
might leave; the law forbids his giving away all his fortune.--Still,
these questions are nothing to me; I am only thinking of our honor.
--Go then, cousin," and he pressed Lisbeth's hand, "and listen
carefully to the contract."
Twenty minutes after, Lisbeth and Crevel reached the house in the Rue
Barbet, where Madame Marneffe was awaiting, in mild impatience, the
result of a step taken by her commands. Valerie had in the end fallen
a prey to the absorbing love which, once in her life, masters a
woman's heart. Wenceslas was its object, and, a failure as an artist,
he became in Madame Marneffe's hands a lover so perfect that he was to
her what she had been to Baron Hulot.
Valerie was holding a slipper in one hand, and Steinbock clasped the
other, while her head rested on his shoulder. The rambling
conversation in which they had been engaged ever since Crevel went out
may be ticketed, like certain lengthy literary efforts of our day,
"/All rights reserved/," for it cannot be reproduced. This masterpiece
of personal poetry naturally brought a regret to the artist's lips,
and he said, not without some bitterness:
"What a pity it is that I married; for if I had but waited, as Lisbeth
told me, I might now have married you."
"Who but a Pole would wish to make a wife of a devoted mistress?"
cried Valerie. "To change love into duty, and pleasure into a bore."
"I know you to be so fickle," replied Steinbock. "Did I not hear you
talking to Lisbeth of that Brazilian, Baron Montes?"
"Do you want to rid me of him?"
"It would be the only way to hinder his seeing you," said the
"Let me tell you, my darling--for I tell you everything," said Valerie
--"I was saving him up for a husband.--The promises I have made to
that man!--Oh, long before I knew you," said she, in reply to a
movement from Wenceslas. "And those promises, of which he avails
himself to plague me, oblige me to get married almost secretly; for if
he should hear that I am marrying Crevel, he is the sort of man that
--that would kill me."
"Oh, as to that!" said Steinbock, with a scornful expression, which
conveyed that such a danger was small indeed for a woman beloved by a
And in the matter of valor there is no brag or bravado in a Pole, so
thoroughly and seriously brave are they all.
"And that idiot Crevel," she went on, "who wants to make a great
display and indulge his taste for inexpensive magnificence in honor of
the wedding, places me in difficulties from which I see no escape."
Could Valerie confess to this man, whom she adored, that since the
discomfiture of Baron Hulot, this Baron Henri Montes had inherited the
privilege of calling on her at all hours of the day or night; and
that, notwithstanding her cleverness, she was still puzzled to find a
cause of quarrel in which the Brazilian might seem to be solely in the
wrong? She knew the Baron's almost savage temper--not unlike Lisbeth's
--too well not to quake as she thought of this Othello of Rio de
As the carriage drove up, Steinbock released Valerie, for his arm was
round her waist, and took up a newspaper, in which he was found
absorbed. Valerie was stitching with elaborate care at the slippers
she was working for Crevel.
"How they slander her!" whispered Lisbeth to Crevel, pointing to this
picture as they opened the door. "Look at her hair--not in the least
tumbled. To hear Victorin, you might have expected to find two
turtle-doves in a nest."
"My dear Lisbeth," cried Crevel, in his favorite position, "you see
that to turn Lucretia into Aspasia, you have only to inspire a
"And have I not always told you," said Lisbeth, "that women like a
burly profligate like you?"
"And she would be most ungrateful, too," said Crevel; "for as to the
money I have spent here, Grindot and I alone can tell!"
And he waved a hand at the staircase.
In decorating this house, which Crevel regarded as his own, Grindot
had tried to compete with Cleretti, in whose hands the Duc
d'Herouville had placed Josepha's villa. But Crevel, incapable of
understanding art, had, like all sordid souls, wanted to spend a
certain sum fixed beforehand. Grindot, fettered by a contract, had
found it impossible to embody his architectural dream.
The difference between Josepha's house and that in the Rue Barbet was
just that between the individual stamp on things and commonness. The
objects you admired at Crevel's were to be bought in any shop. These
two types of luxury are divided by the river Million. A mirror, if
unique, is worth six thousand francs; a mirror designed by a
manufacturer who turns them out by the dozen costs five hundred. A
genuine lustre by Boulle will sell at a public auction for three
thousand francs; the same thing reproduced by casting may be made for
a thousand or twelve hundred; one is archaeologically what a picture
by Raphael is in painting, the other is a copy. At what would you
value a copy of a Raphael? Thus Crevel's mansion was a splendid
example of the luxury of idiots, while Josepha's was a perfect model
of an artist's home.
"War is declared," said Crevel, going up to Madame Marneffe.
She rang the bell.
"Go and find Monsieur Berthier," said she to the man-servant, "and do
not return without him. If you had succeeded," said she, embracing
Crevel, "we would have postponed our happiness, my dear Daddy, and
have given a really splendid entertainment; but when a whole family is
set against a match, my dear, decency requires that the wedding shall
be a quiet one, especially when the lady is a widow."
"On the contrary, I intend to make a display of magnificence /a la/
Louis XIV.," said Crevel, who of late had held the eighteenth century
rather cheap. "I have ordered new carriages; there is one for monsieur
and one for madame, two neat coupes; and a chaise, a handsome
traveling carriage with a splendid hammercloth, on springs that
tremble like Madame Hulot."
"Oh, ho! /You intend?/--Then you have ceased to be my lamb?--No, no,
my friend, you will do what /I/ intend. We will sign the contract
quietly--just ourselves--this afternoon. Then, on Wednesday, we will
be regularly married, really married, in mufti, as my poor mother
would have said. We will walk to church, plainly dressed, and have
only a low mass. Our witnesses are Stidmann, Steinbock, Vignon, and
Massol, all wide-awake men, who will be at the mairie by chance, and
who will so far sacrifice themselves as to attend mass.
"Your colleague will perform the civil marriage, for once in a way, as
early as half-past nine. Mass is at ten; we shall be at home to
breakfast by half-past eleven.
"I have promised our guests that we will sit at table till the
evening. There will be Bixiou, your old official chum du Tillet,
Lousteau, Vernisset, Leon de Lora, Vernou, all the wittiest men in
Paris, who will not know that we are married. We will play them a
little trick, we will get just a little tipsy, and Lisbeth must join
us. I want her to study matrimony; Bixiou shall make love to her, and
--and enlighten her darkness."
For two hours Madame Marneffe went on talking nonsense, and Crevel
made this judicious reflection:
"How can so light-hearted a creature be utterly depraved?
Feather-brained, yes! but wicked? Nonsense!"
"Well, and what did the young people say about me?" said Valerie to
Crevel at a moment when he sat down by her on the sofa. "All sorts of
"They will have it that you have a criminal passion for Wenceslas
--you, who are virtue itself."
"I love him!--I should think so, my little Wenceslas!" cried Valerie,
calling the artist to her, taking his face in her hands, and kissing
his forehead. "A poor boy with no fortune, and no one to depend on!
Cast off by a carrotty giraffe! What do you expect, Crevel? Wenceslas
is my poet, and I love him as if he were my own child, and make no
secret of it. Bah! your virtuous women see evil everywhere and in
everything. Bless me, could they not sit by a man without doing wrong?
I am a spoilt child who has had all it ever wanted, and bonbons no
longer excite me.--Poor things! I am sorry for them!
"And who slandered me so?"
"Victorin," said Crevel.
"Then why did you not stop his mouth, the odious legal macaw! with the
story of the two hundred thousand francs and his mamma?"
"Oh, the Baroness had fled," said Lisbeth.
"They had better take care, Lisbeth," said Madame Marneffe, with a
frown. "Either they will receive me and do it handsomely, and come to
their stepmother's house--all the party!--or I will see them in lower
depths than the Baron has reached, and you may tell them I said so!
--At last I shall turn nasty. On my honor, I believe that evil is the
scythe with which to cut down the good."
At three o'clock Monsieur Berthier, Cardot's successor, read the
marriage-contract, after a short conference with Crevel, for some of
the articles were made conditional on the action taken by Monsieur and
Madame Victorin Hulot.
Crevel settled on his wife a fortune consisting, in the first place,
of forty thousand francs in dividends on specified securities;
secondly, of the house and all its contents; and thirdly, of three
million francs not invested. He also assigned to his wife every
benefit allowed by law; he left all the property free of duty; and in
the event of their dying without issue, each devised to the survivor
the whole of their property and real estate.
By this arrangement the fortune left to Celestine and her husband was
reduced to two millions of francs in capital. If Crevel and his second
wife should have children, Celestine's share was limited to five
hundred thousand francs, as the life-interest in the rest was to
accrue to Valerie. This would be about the ninth part of his whole
real and personal estate.
Lisbeth returned to dine in the Rue Louis-le-Grand, despair written
on her face. She explained and bewailed the terms of the
marriage-contract, but found Celestine and her husband insensible to
the disastrous news.
"You have provoked your father, my children. Madame Marneffe swears
that you shall receive Monsieur Crevel's wife and go to her house,"
"Never!" said Victorin.
"Never!" said Celestine.
Back to Full Books