The Collection of Antiquities
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 3
As the First Consul, beaten on the field of Marengo till five o'clock
in the evening, by six o'clock saw the tide of battle turned by
Desaix's desperate attack and Kellermann's terrific charge, so Chesnel
in the midst of defeat saw the beginnings of victory. No one but a
Chesnel, an old notary, an ex-steward of the manor, old Maitre
Sorbier's junior clerk, in the sudden flash of lucidity which comes
with despair, could rise thus, high as a Napoleon, nay, higher. This
was not Marengo, it was Waterloo, and the Prussians had come up;
Chesnel saw this, and was determined to beat them off the field.
"Madame," he said, "remember that I have been your man of business for
twenty years; remember that if the d'Esgrignons mean the honor of the
province, you represent the honor of the bourgeoisie; it rests with
you, and you alone, to save the ancient house. Now, answer me; are you
going to allow dishonor to fall on the shade of your dead uncle, on
the d'Esgrignons, on poor Chesnel? Do you want to kill Mlle. Armande
weeping yonder? Or do you wish to expiate wrongs done to others by a
deed which will rejoice your ancestors, the intendants of the dukes of
Alencon, and bring comfort to the soul of our dear Abbe? If he could
rise from his grave, he would command you to do this thing that I beg
of you upon my knees."
"What is it?" asked Mme. du Croisier.
"Well. Here are the hundred thousand crowns," said Chesnel, drawing
the bundles of notes from his pocket. "Take them, and there will be an
end of it."
"If that is all," she began, "and if no harm can come of it to my
"Nothing but good," Chesnel replied. "You are saving him from eternal
punishment in hell, at the cost of a slight disappointment here
"He will not be compromised, will he?" she asked, looking into
Then Chesnel read the depths of the poor wife's mind. Mme. du Croisier
was hesitating between her two creeds; between wifely obedience to her
husband as laid down by the Church, and obedience to the altar and the
throne. Her husband, in her eyes, was acting wrongly, but she dared
not blame him; she would fain save the d'Esgrignons, but she was loyal
to her husband's interests.
"Not in the least," Chesnel answered; "your old notary swears it by
the Holy Gospels----"
He had nothing left to lose for the d'Esgrignons but his soul; he
risked it now by this horrible perjury, but Mme. du Croisier must be
deceived, there was no other choice but death. Without losing a
moment, he dictated a form of receipt by which Mme. du Croisier
acknowledged payment of a hundred thousand crowns five days before the
fatal letter of exchange appeared; for he recollected that du Croisier
was away from home, superintending improvements on his wife's property
at the time.
"Now swear to me that you will declare before the examining magistrate
that you received the money on that date," he said, when Mme. du
Croisier had taken the notes and he held the receipt in his hand.
"It will be a lie, will it not?"
"Venial sin," said Chesnel.
"I could not do it without consulting my director, M. l'Abbe
"Very well," said Chesnel, "will you be guided entirely by his advice
in this affair?"
"I promise that."
"And you must not give the money to M. du Croisier until you have been
before the magistrate."
"No. Ah! God give me strength to appear in a Court of Justice and
maintain a lie before men!"
Chesnel kissed Mme. du Croisier's hand, then stood upright, and
majestic as one of the prophets that Raphael painted in the Vatican.
"You uncle's soul is thrilled with joy," he said; "you have wiped out
for ever the wrong that you did by marrying an enemy of altar and
throne"--words that made a lively impression on Mme. du Croisier's
Then Chesnel all at once bethought himself that he must make sure of
the lady's director, the Abbe Couturier. He knew how obstinately
devout souls can work for the triumph of their views when once they
come forward for their side, and wished to secure the concurrence of
the Church as early as possible. So he went to the Hotel d'Esgrignon,
roused up Mlle. Armande, gave her an account of that night's work, and
sped her to fetch the Bishop himself into the forefront of the battle.
"Ah, God in heaven! Thou must save the house of d'Esgrignon!" he
exclaimed, as he went slowly home again. "The affair is developing now
into a fight in a Court of Law. We are face to face with men that have
passions and interests of their own; we can get anything out of them.
This du Croisier has taken advantage of the public prosecutor's
absence; the public prosecutor is devoted to us, but since the opening
of the Chambers he has gone to Paris. Now, what can they have done to
get round his deputy? They have induced him to take up the charge
without consulting his chief. This mystery must be looked into, and
the ground surveyed to-morrow; and then, perhaps, when I have
unraveled this web of theirs, I will go back to Paris to set great
powers at work through Mme. de Maufrigneuse."
So he reasoned, poor, aged, clear-sighted wrestler, before he lay down
half dead with bearing the weight of so much emotion and fatigue. And
yet, before he fell asleep he ran a searching eye over the list of
magistrates, taking all their secret ambitions into account, casting
about for ways of influencing them, calculating his chances in the
coming struggle. Chesnel's prolonged scrutiny of consciences, given in
a condensed form, will perhaps serve as a picture of the judicial
world in a country town.
Magistrates and officials generally are obliged to begin their career
in the provinces; judicial ambition there ferments. At the outset
every man looks towards Paris; they all aspire to shine in the vast
theatre where great political causes come before the courts, and the
higher branches of the legal profession are closely connected with the
palpitating interests of society. But few are called to that paradise
of the man of law, and nine-tenths of the profession are bound sooner
or later to regard themselves as shelved for good in the provinces.
Wherefore, every Tribunal of First Instance and every Court-Royal is
sharply divided in two. The first section has given up hope, and is
either torpid or content; content with the excessive respect paid to
office in a country town, or torpid with tranquillity. The second
section is made up of the younger sort, in whom the desire of success
is untempered as yet by disappointment, and of the really clever men
urged on continually by ambition as with a goad; and these two are
possessed with a sort of fanatical belief in their order.
At this time the younger men were full of Royalist zeal against the
enemies of the Bourbons. The most insignificant deputy official was
dreaming of conducting a prosecution, and praying with all his might
for one of those political cases which bring a man's zeal into
prominence, draw the attention of the higher powers, and mean
advancement for King's men. Was there a member of an official staff of
prosecuting counsel who could hear of a Bonapartist conspiracy
breaking out somewhere else without a feeling of envy? Where was the
man that did not burn to discover a Caron, or a Berton, or a revolt of
some sort? With reasons of State, and the necessity of diffusing the
monarchical spirit throughout France as their basis, and a fierce
ambition stirred up whenever party spirit ran high, these ardent
politicians on their promotion were lucid, clear-sighted, and
perspicacious. They kept up a vigorous detective system throughout the
kingdom; they did the work of spies, and urged the nation along a path
of obedience, from which it had no business to swerve.
Justice, thus informed with monarchical enthusiasm, atoned for the
errors of the ancient parliaments, and walked, perhaps, too
ostentatiously hand in hand with religion. There was more zeal than
discretion shown; but justice sinned not so much in the direction of
machiavelism as by giving the candid expression to its views, when
those views appeared to be opposed to the general interests of a
country which must be put safely out of reach of revolutions. But
taken as a whole, there was still too much of the bourgeois element in
the administration; it was too readily moved by petty liberal
agitation; and as a result, it was inevitable that it should incline
sooner or later to the Constitutional party, and join ranks with the
bourgeoisie in the day of battle. In the great body of legal
functionaries, as in other departments of the administration, there
was not wanting a certain hypocrisy, or rather that spirit of
imitation which always leads France to model herself on the Court,
and, quite unintentionally, to deceive the powers that be.
Officials of both complexions were to be found in the court in which
young d'Esgrignon's fate depended. M. le President du Ronceret and an
elderly judge, Blondet by name, represented the section of
functionaries shelved for good, and resigned to stay where they were;
while the young and ambitious party comprised the examining magistrate
M. Camusot, and his deputy M. Michu, appointed through the interests
of the Cinq-Cygnes, and certain of promotion to the Court of Appeal of
Paris at the first opportunity.
President du Ronceret held a permanent post; it was impossible to turn
him out. The aristocratic party declined to give him what he
considered to be his due, socially speaking; so he declared for the
bourgeoisie, glossed over his disappointment with the name of
independence, and failed to realize that his opinions condemned him to
remain a president of a court of the first instance for the rest of
his life. Once started in this track the sequence of events led du
Ronceret to place his hopes of advancement on the triumph of du
Croisier and the Left. He was in no better odor at the Prefecture than
at the Court-Royal. He was compelled to keep on good terms with the
authorities; the Liberals distrusted him, consequently he belonged to
neither party. He was obliged to resign his chances of election to du
Croisier, he exercised no influence, and played a secondary part. The
false position reacted on his character; he was soured and
discontented; he was tired of political ambiguity, and privately had
made up his mind to come forward openly as leader of the Liberal
party, and so to strike ahead of du Croisier. His behavior in the
d'Esgrignon affair was the first step in this direction. To begin
with, he was an admirable representative of that section of the middle
classes which allows its petty passions to obscure the wider interests
of the country; a class of crotchety politicians, upholding the
government one day and opposing it the next, compromising every cause
and helping none; helpless after they have done the mischief till they
set about brewing more; unwilling to face their own incompetence,
thwarting authority while professing to serve it. With a compound of
arrogance and humility they demand of the people more submission than
kings expect, and fret their souls because those above them are not
brought down to their level, as if greatness could be little, as if
power existed without force.
President du Ronceret was a tall, spare man with a receding forehead
and scanty, auburn hair. He was wall-eyed, his complexion was
blotched, his lips thin and hard, his scarcely audible voice came out
like the husky wheezings of asthma. He had for a wife a great, solemn,
clumsy creature, tricked out in the most ridiculous fashion, and
outrageously overdressed. Mme. la Presidente gave herself the airs of
a queen; she wore vivid colors, and always appeared at balls adorned
with the turban, dear to the British female, and lovingly cultivated
in out-of-the-way districts in France. Each of the pair had an income
of four or five thousand francs, which with the President's salary,
reached a total of some twelve thousand. In spite of a decided
tendency to parsimony, vanity required that they should receive one
evening in the week. Du Croisier might import modern luxury into the
town, M. and Mme. de Ronceret were faithful to the old traditions.
They had always lived in the old-fashioned house belonging to Mme. du
Ronceret, and had made no changes in it since their marriage. The
house stood between a garden and a courtyard. The gray old gable end,
with one window in each story, gave upon the road. High walls enclosed
the garden and the yard, but the space taken up beneath them in the
garden by a walk shaded with chestnut trees was filled in the yard by
a row of outbuildings. An old rust-devoured iron gate in the garden
wall balanced the yard gateway, a huge, double-leaved carriage
entrance with a buttress on either side, and a mighty shell on the
top. The same shell was repeated over the house-door.
The whole place was gloomy, close, and airless. The row of iron-gated
openings in the opposite wall, as you entered, reminded you of prison
windows. Every passer-by could look in through the railings to see how
the garden grew; the flowers in the little square borders never seemed
to thrive there.
The drawing-room on the ground floor was lighted by a single window on
the side of the street, and a French window above a flight of steps,
which gave upon the garden. The dining-room on the other side of the
great ante-chamber, with its windows also looking out into the garden,
was exactly the same size as the drawing-room, and all three
apartments were in harmony with the general air of gloom. It wearied
your eyes to look at the ceilings all divided up by huge painted
crossbeams and adorned with a feeble lozenge pattern or a rosette in
the middle. The paint was old, startling in tint, and begrimed with
smoke. The sun had faded the heavy silk curtains in the drawing-room;
the old-fashioned Beauvais tapestry which covered the white-painted
furniture had lost all its color with wear. A Louis Quinze clock on
the chimney-piece stood between two extravagant, branched sconces
filled with yellow wax candles, which the Presidente only lighted on
occasions when the old-fashioned rock-crystal chandelier emerged from
its green wrapper. Three card-tables, covered with threadbare baize,
and a backgammon box, sufficed for the recreations of the company; and
Mme. du Ronceret treated them to such refreshments as cider,
chestnuts, pastry puffs, glasses of eau sucree, and home-made orgeat.
For some time past she had made a practice of giving a party once a
fortnight, when tea and some pitiable attempts at pastry appeared to
grace the occasion.
Once a quarter the du Roncerets gave a grand three-course dinner,
which made a great sensation in the town, a dinner served up in
execrable ware, but prepared with the science for which the provincial
cook is remarkable. It was a Gargantuan repast, which lasted for six
whole hours, and by abundance the President tried to vie with du
And so du Ronceret's life and its accessories were just what might
have been expected from his character and his false position. He felt
dissatisfied at home without precisely knowing what was the matter;
but he dared not go to any expense to change existing conditions, and
was only too glad to put by seven or eight thousand francs every year,
so as to leave his son Fabien a handsome private fortune. Fabien du
Ronceret had no mind for the magistracy, the bar, or the civil
service, and his pronounced turn for doing nothing drove his parent to
On this head there was rivalry between the President and the
Vice-President, old M. Blondet. M. Blondet, for a long time past, had
been sedulously cultivating an acquaintance between his son and the
Blandureau family. The Blandureaus were well-to-do linen
manufacturers, with an only daughter, and it was on this daughter that
the President had fixed his choice of a wife for Fabien. Now, Joseph
Blondet's marriage with Mlle. Blandureau depended on his nomination to
the post which his father, old Blondet, hoped to obtain for him when
he himself should retire. But President du Ronceret, in underhand
ways, was thwarting the old man's plans, and working indirectly upon
the Blandureaus. Indeed, if it had not been for this affair of young
d'Esgrignon's, the astute President might have cut them out, father
and son, for their rivals were very much richer.
M. Blondet, the victim of the machiavelian President's intrigues, was
one of the curious figures which lie buried away in the provinces like
old coins in a crypt. He was at that time a man of sixty-seven or
thereabouts, but he carried his years well; he was very tall, and in
build reminded you of the canons of the good old times. The smallpox
had riddled his face with numberless dints, and spoilt the shape of
his nose by imparting to it a gimlet-like twist; it was a countenance
by no means lacking in character, very evenly tinted with a diffused
red, lighted up by a pair of bright little eyes, with a sardonic look
in them, while a certain sarcastic twitch of the purpled lips gave
expression to that feature.
Before the Revolution broke out, Blondet senior had been a barrister;
afterwards he became the public accuser, and one of the mildest of
those formidable functionaries. Goodman Blondet, as they used to call
him, deadened the force of the new doctrines by acquiescing in them
all, and putting none of them in practice. He had been obliged to send
one or two nobles to prison; but his further proceedings were marked
with such deliberation, that he brought them through to the 9th
Thermidor with a dexterity which won respect for him on all sides. As
a matter of fact, Goodman Blondet ought to have been President of the
Tribunal, but when the courts of law were reorganized he had been set
aside; Napoleon's aversion for Republicans was apt to reappear in the
smallest appointments under his government. The qualification of
ex-public accuser, written in the margin of the list against Blondet's
name, set the Emperor inquiring of Cambaceres whether there might not
be some scion of an ancient parliamentary stock to appoint instead.
The consequence was that du Ronceret, whose father had been a
councillor of parliament, was nominated to the presidency; but, the
Emperor's repugnance notwithstanding, Cambaceres allowed Blondet to
remain on the bench, saying that the old barrister was one of the best
jurisconsults in France.
Blondet's talents, his knowledge of the old law of the land and
subsequent legislation, should by rights have brought him far in his
profession; but he had this much in common with some few great
spirits: he entertained a prodigious contempt for his own special
knowledge, and reserved all his pretentions, leisure, and capacity for
a second pursuit unconnected with the law. To this pursuit he gave his
almost exclusive attention. The good man was passionately fond of
gardening. He was in correspondence with some of the most celebrated
amateurs; it was his ambition to create new species; he took an
interest in botanical discoveries, and lived, in short, in the world
of flowers. Like all florists, he had a predilection for one
particular plant; the pelargonium was his especial favorite. The
court, the cases that came before it, and his outward life were as
nothing to him compared with the inward life of fancies and abundant
emotions which the old man led. He fell more and more in love with his
flower-seraglio; and the pains which he bestowed on his garden, the
sweet round of the labors of the months, held Goodman Blondet fast in
his greenhouse. But for that hobby he would have been a deputy under
the Empire, and shone conspicuous beyond a doubt in the Corps
His marriage was the second cause of his obscurity. As a man of forty,
he was rash enough to marry a girl of eighteen, by whom he had a son
named Joseph in the first year of their marriage. Three years
afterwards Mme. Blondet, then the prettiest woman in the town,
inspired in the prefect of the department a passion which ended only
with her death. The prefect was the father of her second son Emile;
the whole town knew this, old Blondet himself knew it. The wife who
might have roused her husband's ambition, who might have won him away
from his flowers, positively encouraged the judge in his botanical
tastes. She no more cared to leave the place than the prefect cared to
leave his prefecture so long as his mistress lived.
Blondet felt himself unequal at his age to a contest with a young
wife. He sought consolation in his greenhouse, and engaged a very
pretty servant-maid to assist him to tend his ever-changing bevy of
beauties. So while the judge potted, pricked out, watered, layered,
slipped, blended, and induced his flowers to break, Mme. Blondet spent
his substance on the dress and finery in which she shone at the
prefecture. One interest alone had power to draw her away from the
tender care of a romantic affection which the town came to admire in
the end; and this interest was Emile's education. The child of love
was a bright and pretty boy, while Joseph was no less heavy and
plain-featured. The old judge, blinded by paternal affection loved
Joseph as his wife loved Emile.
For a dozen years M. Blondet bore his lot with perfect resignation. He
shut his eyes to his wife's intrigue with a dignified, well-bred
composure, quite in the style of an eighteenth century grand seigneur;
but, like all men with a taste for a quiet life, he could cherish a
profound dislike, and he hated his younger son. When his wife died,
therefore, in 1818, he turned the intruder out of the house, and
packed him off to Paris to study law on an allowance of twelve hundred
francs for all resource, nor could any cry of distress extract another
penny from his purse. Emile Blondet would have gone under if it had
not been for his real father.
M. Blondet's house was one of the prettiest in the town. It stood
almost opposite the prefecture, with a neat little court in front. A
row of old-fashioned iron railings between two brick-work piers
enclosed it from the street; and a low wall, also of brick, with a
second row of railings along the top, connected the piers with the
neighboring house. The little court, a space about ten fathoms in
width by twenty in length, was cut in two by a brick pathway which ran
from the gate to the house door between a border on either side. Those
borders were always renewed; at every season of the year they
exhibited a successful show of blossom, to the admiration of the
public. All along the back of the gardenbeds a quantity of climbing
plants grew up and covered the walls of the neighboring houses with a
magnificent mantle; the brick-work piers were hidden in clusters of
honeysuckle; and, to crown all, in a couple of terra-cotta vases at
the summit, a pair of acclimatized cactuses displayed to the
astonished eyes of the ignorant those thick leaves bristling with
spiny defences which seem to be due to some plant disease.
It was a plain-looking house, built of brick, with brick-work arches
above the windows, and bright green Venetian shutters to make it gay.
Through the glass door you could look straight across the house to the
opposite glass door, at the end of a long passage, and down the
central alley in the garden beyond; while through the windows of the
dining-room and drawing-room, which extended, like the passage from
back to front of the house, you could often catch further glimpses of
the flower-beds in a garden of about two acres in extent. Seen from
the road, the brick-work harmonized with the fresh flowers and shrubs,
for two centuries had overlaid it with mosses and green and russet
tints. No one could pass through the town without falling in love with
a house with such charming surroundings, so covered with flowers and
mosses to the roof-ridge, where two pigeons of glazed crockery ware
were perched by way of ornament.
M. Blondet possessed an income of about four thousand livres derived
from land, besides the old house in the town. He meant to avenge his
wrongs legitimately enough. He would leave his house, his lands, his
seat on the bench to his son Joseph, and the whole town knew what he
meant to do. He had made a will in that son's favor; he had gone as
far as the Code will permit a man to go in the way of disinheriting
one child to benefit another; and what was more, he had been putting
by money for the past fifteen years to enable his lout of a son to buy
back from Emile that portion of his father's estate which could not
legally be taken away from him.
Emile Blondet thus turned adrift had contrived to gain distinction in
Paris, but so far it was rather a name than a practical result.
Emile's indolence, recklessness, and happy-go-lucky ways drove his
real father to despair; and when that father died, a half-ruined man,
turned out of office by one of the political reactions so frequent
under the Restoration, it was with a mind uneasy as to the future of a
man endowed with the most brilliant qualities.
Emile Blondet found support in a friendship with a Mlle. de
Troisville, whom he had known before her marriage with the Comte de
Montcornet. His mother was living when the Troisvilles came back after
the emigration; she was related to the family, distantly it is true,
but the connection was close enough to allow her to introduce Emile to
the house. She, poor woman, foresaw the future. She knew that when she
died her son would lose both mother and father, a thought which made
death doubly bitter, so she tried to interest others in him. She
encouraged the liking that sprang up between Emile and the eldest
daughter of the house of Troisville; but while the liking was
exceedingly strong on the young lady's part, a marriage was out of the
question. It was a romance on the pattern of Paul et Virginie. Mme.
Blondet did what she could to teach her son to look to the
Troisvilles, to found a lasting attachment on a children's game of
"make-believe" love, which was bound to end as boy-and-girl romances
usually do. When Mlle. de Troisville's marriage with General
Montcornet was announced, Mme. Blondet, a dying woman, went to the
bride and solemnly implored her never to abandon Emile, and to use her
influence for him in society in Paris, whither the General's fortune
summoned her to shine.
Luckily for Emile, he was able to make his own way. He made his
appearance, at the age of twenty, as one of the masters of modern
literature; and met with no less success in the society into which he
was launched by the father who at first could afford to bear the
expense of the young man's extravagance. Perhaps Emile's precocious
celebrity and the good figure that he made strengthened the bonds of
his friendship with the Countess. Perhaps Mme. de Montcornet, with the
Russian blood in her veins (her mother was the daughter of the
Princess Scherbelloff), might have cast off the friend of her
childhood if he had been a poor man struggling with all his might
among the difficulties which beset a man of letters in Paris; but by
the time that the real strain of Emile's adventurous life began, their
attachment was unalterable on either side. He was looked upon as one
of the leading lights of journalism when young d'Esgrignon met him at
his first supper party in Paris; his acknowledged position in the
world of letters was very high, and he towered above his reputation.
Goodman Blondet had not the faintest conception of the power which the
Constitutional Government had given to the press; nobody ventured to
talk in his presence of the son of whom he refused to hear. And so it
came to pass that he knew nothing of Emile whom he had cursed and
Old Blondet's integrity was as deeply rooted in him as his passion for
flowers; he knew nothing but law and botany. He would have interviews
with litigants, listen to them, chat with them, and show them his
flowers; he would accept rare seeds from them; but once on the bench,
no judge on earth was more impartial. Indeed, his manner of proceeding
was so well known, that litigants never went near him except to hand
over some document which might enlighten him in the performance of his
duty, and nobody tried to throw dust in his eyes. With his learning,
his lights, and his way of holding his real talents cheap, he was so
indispensable to President du Ronceret, that, matrimonial schemes
apart, that functionary would have done all that he could, in an
underhand way, to prevent the vice-president from retiring in favor of
his son. If the learned old man left the bench, the President would be
utterly unable to do without him.
Goodman Blondet did not know that it was in Emile's power to fulfil
all his wishes in a few hours. The simplicity of his life was worthy
of one of Plutarch's men. In the evening he looked over his cases;
next morning he worked among his flowers; and all day long he gave
decisions on the bench. The pretty maid-servant, now of ripe age, and
wrinkled like an Easter pippin, looked after the house, and they lived
according to the established customs of the strictest parsimony. Mlle.
Cadot always carried the keys of her cupboards and fruit-loft about
with her. She was indefatigable. She went to market herself, she
cooked and dusted and swept, and never missed mass of a morning. To
give some idea of the domestic life of the household, it will be
enough to remark that the father and son never ate fruit till it was
beginning to spoil, because Mlle. Cadot always brought out anything
that would not keep. No one in the house ever tasted the luxury of new
bread, and all the fast days in the calendar were punctually observed.
The gardener was put on rations like a soldier; the elderly Valideh
always kept an eye upon him. And she, for her part, was so
deferentially treated, that she took her meals with the family, and in
consequence was continually trotting to and fro between the kitchen
and the parlor at breakfast and dinner time.
Mlle. Blandureau's parents had consented to her marriage with Joseph
Blondet upon one condition--the penniless and briefless barrister must
be an assistant judge. So, with the desire of fitting his son to fill
the position, old M. Blondet racked his brains to hammer the law into
his son's head by dint of lessons, so as to make a cut-and-dried
lawyer of him. As for Blondet junior, he spent almost every evening at
the Blandureaus' house, to which also young Fabien du Ronceret had
been admitted since his return, without raising the slightest
suspicion in the minds of father or son.
Everything in this life of theirs was measured with an accuracy worthy
of Gerard Dow's Money Changer; not a grain of salt too much, not a
single profit foregone; but the economical principles by which it was
regulated were relaxed in favor of the greenhouse and garden. "The
garden was the master's craze," Mlle. Cadot used to say. The master's
blind fondness for Joseph was not a craze in her eyes; she shared the
father's predilection; she pampered Joseph; she darned his stockings;
and would have been better pleased if the money spent on the garden
had been put by for Joseph's benefit.
That garden was kept in marvelous order by a single man; the paths,
covered with river-sand, continually turned over with the rake,
meandered among the borders full of the rarest flowers. Here were all
kinds of color and scent, here were lizards on the walls, legions of
little flower-pots standing out in the sun, regiments of forks and
hoes, and a host of innocent things, a combination of pleasant results
to justify the gardener's charming hobby.
At the end of the greenhouse the judge had set up a grandstand, an
amphitheatre of benches to hold some five or six thousand pelargoniums
in pots--a splendid and famous show. People came to see his geraniums
in flower, not only from the neighborhood, but even from the
departments round about. The Empress Marie Louise, passing through the
town, had honored the curiously kept greenhouse with a visit; so much
was she impressed with the sight, that she spoke of it to Napoleon,
and the old judge received the Cross of the Legion of Honor. But as
the learned gardener never mingled in society at all, and went nowhere
except to the Blandureaus, he had no suspicion of the President's
underhand manoeuvres; and others who could see the President's
intentions were far too much afraid of him to interfere or to warn the
As for Michu, that young man with his powerful connections gave much
more thought to making himself agreeable to the women in the upper
social circles to which he was introduced by the Cinq-Cygnes, than to
the extremely simple business of a provincial Tribunal. With his
independent means (he had an income of twelve thousand livres), he was
courted by mothers of daughters, and led a frivolous life. He did just
enough at the Tribunal to satisfy his conscience, much as a schoolboy
does his exercises, saying ditto on all occasions, with a "Yes, dear
President." But underneath the appearance of indifference lurked the
unusual powers of the Paris law student who had distinguished himself
as one of the staff of prosecuting counsel before he came to the
provinces. He was accustomed to taking broad views of things; he could
do rapidly what the President and Blondet could only do after much
thinking, and very often solved knotty points for them. In delicate
conjunctures the President and Vice-President took counsel with their
junior, confided thorny questions to him, and never failed to wonder
at the readiness with which he brought back a task in which old
Blondet found nothing to criticise. Michu was sure of the influence of
the most crabbed aristocrats, and he was young and rich; he lived,
therefore, above the level of departmental intrigues and pettinesses.
He was an indispensable man at picnics, he frisked with young ladies
and paid court to their mothers, he danced at balls, he gambled like a
capitalist. In short, he played his part of young lawyer of fashion to
admiration; without, at the same time, compromising his dignity, which
he knew how to assert at the right moment like a man of spirit. He won
golden opinions by the manner in which he threw himself into
provincial ways, without criticising them; and for these reasons,
every one endeavored to make his time of exile endurable.
The public prosecutor was a lawyer of the highest ability; he had
taken the plunge into political life, and was one of the most
distinguished speakers on the ministerialist benches. The President
stood in awe of him; if he had not been away in Paris at the time, no
steps would have been taken against Victurnien; his dexterity, his
experience of business, would have prevented the whole affair. At that
moment, however, he was in the Chamber of Deputies, and the President
and du Croisier had taken advantage of his absence to weave their
plot, calculating, with a certain ingenuity, that if once the law
stepped in, and the matter was noised abroad, things would have gone
too far to be remedied.
As a matter of fact, no staff of prosecuting counsel in any Tribunal,
at that particular time, would have taken up a charge of forgery
against the eldest son of one of the noblest houses in France without
going into the case at great length, and a special reference, in all
probability, to the Attorney-General. In such a case as this, the
authorities and the Government would have tried endless ways of
compromising and hushing up an affair which might send an imprudent
young man to the hulks. They would very likely have done the same for
a Liberal family in a prominent position, so long as the Liberals were
not too openly hostile to the throne and the altar. So du Croisier's
charge and the young Count's arrest had not been very easy to manage.
The President and du Croisier had compassed their ends in the
M. Sauvager, a young Royalist barrister, had reached the position of
deputy public prosecutor by dint of subservience to the Ministry. In
the absence of his chief he was head of the staff of counsel for
prosecution, and, consequently, it fell to him to take up the charge
made by du Croisier. Sauvager was a self-made man; he had nothing but
his stipend; and for that reason the authorities reckoned upon some
one who had everything to gain by devotion. The President now
exploited the position. No sooner was the document with the alleged
forgery in du Croisier's hands, than Mme. la Presidente du Ronceret,
prompted by her spouse, had a long conversation with M. Sauvager. In
the course of it she pointed out the uncertainties of a career in the
magistrature debout compared with the magistrature assise, and the
advantages of the bench over the bar; she showed how a freak on the
part of some official, or a single false step, might ruin a man's
"If you are conscientious and give your conclusions against the powers
that be, you are lost," continued she. "Now, at this moment, you might
turn your position to account to make a fine match that would put you
above unlucky chances for the rest of your life; you may marry a wife
with fortune sufficient to land you on the bench, in the magistrature
assise. There is a fine chance for you. M. du Croisier will never have
any children; everybody knows why. His money, and his wife's as well,
will go to his niece, Mlle. Duval. M. Duval is an ironmaster, his
purse is tolerably filled, to begin with, and his father is still
alive, and has a little property besides. The father and son have a
million of francs between them; they will double it with du Croisier's
help, for du Croisier has business connections among great capitalists
and manufacturers in Paris. M. and Mme. Duval the younger would be
certain to give their daughter to a suitor brought forward by du
Croisier, for he is sure to leave two fortunes to his niece; and, in
all probability, he will settle the reversion of his wife's property
upon Mlle. Duval in the marriage contract, for Mme. du Croisier has no
kin. You know how du Croisier hates the d'Esgrignons. Do him a
service, be his man, take up this charge of forgery which he is going
to make against young d'Esgrignon, and follow up the proceedings at
once without consulting the public prosecutor at Paris. And, then,
pray Heaven that the Ministry dismisses you for doing your office
impartially, in spite of the powers that be; for if they do, your
fortune is made! You will have a charming wife and thirty thousand
francs a year with her, to say nothing of four millions expectations
in ten years' time."
In two evenings Sauvager was talked over. Both he and the President
kept the affair a secret from old Blondet, from Michu, and from the
second member of the staff of prosecuting counsel. Feeling sure of
Blondet's impartiality on a question of fact, the President made
certain of a majority without counting Camusot. And now Camusot's
unexpected defection had thrown everything out. What the President
wanted was a committal for trial before the public prosecutor got
warning. How if Camusot or the second counsel for the prosecution
should send word to Paris?
And here some portion of Camusot's private history may perhaps explain
how it came to pass that Chesnel took it for granted that the
examining magistrate would be on the d'Esgrignons' side, and how he
had the boldness to tamper in the open street with that representative
Camusot's father, a well-known silk mercer in the Rue des Bourdonnais,
was ambitious for the only son of his first marriage, and brought him
up to the law. When Camusot junior took a wife, he gained with her the
influence of an usher of the Royal cabinet, backstairs influence, it
is true, but still sufficient, since it had brought him his first
appointment as justice of the peace, and the second as examining
magistrate. At the time of his marriage, his father only settled an
income of six thousand francs upon him (the amount of his mother's
fortune, which he could legally claim), and as Mlle. Thirion brought
him no more than twenty thousand francs as her portion, the young
couple knew the hardships of hidden poverty. The salary of a
provincial justice of the peace does not exceed fifteen hundred
francs, while an examining magistrate's stipend is augmented by
something like a thousand francs, because his position entails
expenses and extra work. The post, therefore, is much coveted, though
it is not permanent, and the work is heavy, and that was why Mme.
Camusot had just scolded her husband for allowing the President to
read his thoughts.
Marie Cecile Amelie Thirion, after three years of marriage, perceived
the blessing of Heaven upon it in the regularity of two auspicious
events--the births of a girl and a boy; but she prayed to be less
blessed in the future. A few more of such blessings would turn
straitened means into distress. M. Camusot's father's money was not
likely to come to them for a long time; and, rich as he was, he would
scarcely leave more than eight or ten thousand francs a year to each
of his children, four in number, for he had been married twice. And
besides, by the time that all "expectations," as matchmakers call
them, were realized, would not the magistrate have children of his own
to settle in life? Any one can imagine the situation for a little
woman with plenty of sense and determination, and Mme. Camusot was
such a woman. She did not refrain from meddling in matters judicial.
She had far too strong a sense of the gravity of a false step in her
She was the only child of an old servant of Louis XVIII., a valet who
had followed his master in his wanderings in Italy, Courland, and
England, till after the Restoration the King awarded him with the one
place that he could fill at Court, and made him usher by rotation to
the royal cabinet. So in Amelie's home there had been, as it were, a
sort of reflection of the Court. Thirion used to tell her about the
lords, and ministers, and great men whom he announced and introduced
and saw passing to and fro. The girl, brought up at the gates of the
Tuileries, had caught some tincture of the maxims practised there, and
adopted the dogma of passive obedience to authority. She had sagely
judged that her husband, by ranging himself on the side of the
d'Esgrignons, would find favor with Mme. la Duchesse de Maufrigneuse,
and with two powerful families on whose influence with the King the
Sieur Thirion could depend at an opportune moment. Camusot might get
an appointment at the first opportunity within the jurisdiction of
Paris, and afterwards at Paris itself. That promotion, dreamed of and
longed for at every moment, was certain to have a salary of six
thousand francs attached to it, as well as the alleviation of living
in her own father's house, or under the Camusots' roof, and all the
advantages of a father's fortune on either side. If the adage, "Out of
sight is out of mind," holds good of most women, it is particularly
true where family feeling or royal or ministerial patronage is
concerned. The personal attendants of kings prosper at all times; you
take an interest in a man, be it only a man in livery, if you see him
Mme. Camusot, regarding herself as a bird of passage, had taken a
little house in the Rue du Cygne. Furnished lodgings there were none;
the town was not enough of a thoroughfare, and the Camusots could not
afford to live at an inn like M. Michu. So the fair Parisian had no
choice for it but to take such furniture as she could find; and as she
paid a very moderate rent, the house was remarkably ugly, albeit a
certain quaintness of detail was not wanting. It was built against a
neighboring house in such a fashion that the side with only one window
in each story, gave upon the street, and the front looked out upon a
yard where rose-bushes and buckhorn were growing along the wall on
either side. On the farther side, opposite the house, stood a shed, a
roof over two brick arches. A little wicket-gate gave entrance into
the gloomy place (made gloomier still by the great walnut-tree
which grew in the yard), but a double flight of steps, with an
elaborately-wrought but rust-eaten handrail, led to the house door.
Inside the house there were two rooms on each floor. The dining-room
occupied that part of the ground floor nearest the street, and the
kitchen lay on the other side of a narrow passage almost wholly taken
up by the wooden staircase. Of the two first-floor rooms, one did duty
as the magistrate's study, the other as a bedroom, while the nursery
and the servants' bedroom stood above in the attics. There were no
ceilings in the house; the cross-beams were simply white-washed and the
spaces plastered over. Both rooms on the first floor and the dining-room
below were wainscoted and adorned with the labyrinthine designs which
taxed the patience of the eighteenth century joiner; but the carving
had been painted a dingy gray most depressing to behold.
The magistrate's study looked as though it belonged to a provincial
lawyer; it contained a big bureau, a mahogany armchair, a law
student's books, and shabby belongings transported from Paris.
Mme. Camusot's room was more of a native product; it boasted a
blue-and-white scheme of decoration, a carpet, and that anomalous kind
of furniture which appears to be in the fashion, while it is simply some
style that has failed in Paris. As to the dining-room, it was nothing
but an ordinary provincial dining-room, bare and chilly, with a damp,
faded paper on the walls.
In this shabby room, with nothing to see but the walnut-tree, the dark
leaves growing against the walls, and the almost deserted road beyond
them, a somewhat lively and frivolous woman, accustomed to the
amusements and stir of Paris, used to sit all day long, day after day,
and for the most part of the time alone, though she received tiresome
and inane visits which led her to think her loneliness preferable to
empty tittle-tattle. If she permitted herself the slightest gleam of
intelligence, it gave rise to interminable comment and embittered her
condition. She occupied herself a great deal with her children, not so
much from taste as for the sake of an interest in her almost solitary
life, and exercised her mind on the only subjects which she could find
--to wit, the intrigues which went on around her, the ways of
provincials, and the ambitions shut in by their narrow horizons. So
she very soon fathomed mysteries of which her husband had no idea. As
she sat at her window with a piece of intermittent embroidery work in
her fingers, she did not see her woodshed full of faggots nor the
servant busy at the wash tub; she was looking out upon Paris, Paris
where everything is pleasure, everything is full of life. She dreamed
of Paris gaieties, and shed tears because she must abide in this dull
prison of a country town. She was disconsolate because she lived in a
peaceful district, where no conspiracy, no great affair would ever
occur. She saw herself doomed to sit under the shadow of the
walnut-tree for some time to come.
Mme. Camusot was a little, plump, fresh, fair-haired woman, with a
very prominent forehead, a mouth which receded, and a turned-up chin,
a type of countenance which is passable in youth, but looks old before
the time. Her bright, quick eyes expressed her innocent desire to get
on in the world, and the envy born of her present inferior position,
with rather too much candor; but still they lighted up her commonplace
face and set it off with a certain energy of feeling, which success
was certain to extinguish in later life. At that time she used to give
a good deal of time and thought to her dresses, inventing trimmings
and embroidering them; she planned out her costumes with the maid whom
she had brought with her from Paris, and so maintained the reputation
of Parisiennes in the provinces. Her caustic tongue was dreaded; she
was not loved. In that keen, investigating spirit peculiar to
unoccupied women who are driven to find some occupation for empty
days, she had pondered the President's private opinions, until at
length she discovered what he meant to do, and for some time past she
had advised Camusot to declare war. The young Count's affair was an
excellent opportunity. Was it not obviously Camusot's part to make a
stepping-stone of this criminal case by favoring the d'Esgrignons, a
family with power of a very different kind from the power of the du
"Sauvager will never marry Mlle. Duval. They are dangling her before
him, but he will be the dupe of those Machiavels in the Val-Noble to
whom he is going to sacrifice his position. Camusot, this affair, so
unfortunate as it is for the d'Esgrignons, so insidiously brought on
by the President for du Croisier's benefit, will turn out well for
nobody but /you/," she had said, as they went in.
The shrewd Parisienne had likewise guessed the President's underhand
manoeuvres with the Blandureaus, and his object in baffling old
Blondet's efforts, but she saw nothing to be gained by opening the
eyes of father or son to the perils of the situation; she was enjoying
the beginning of the comedy; she knew about the proposals made by
Chesnel's successor on behalf of Fabien du Ronceret, but she did not
suspect how important that secret might be to her. If she or her
husband were threatened by the President, Mme. Camusot could threaten
too, in her turn, to call the amateur gardener's attention to a scheme
for carrying off the flower which he meant to transplant into his
Chesnel had not penetrated, like Mme. Camusot, into the means by which
Sauvager had been won over; but by dint of looking into the various
lives and interests of the men grouped about the Lilies of the
Tribunal, he knew that he could count upon the public prosecutor, upon
Camusot, and M. Michu. Two judges for the d'Esgrignons would paralyze
the rest. And, finally, Chesnel knew old Blondet well enough to feel
sure that if he ever swerved from impartiality, it would be for the
sake of the work of his whole lifetime,--to secure his son's
appointment. So Chesnel slept, full of confidence, on the resolve to
go to M. Blondet and offer to realize his so long cherished hopes,
while he opened his eyes to President du Ronceret's treachery. Blondet
won over, he would take a peremptory tone with the examining
magistrate, to whom he hoped to prove that if Victurnien was not
blameless, he had been merely imprudent; the whole thing should be
shown in the light of a boy's thoughtless escapade.
But Chesnel slept neither soundly nor for long. Before dawn he was
awakened by his housekeeper. The most bewitching person in this
history, the most adorable youth on the face of the globe, Mme. la
Duchesse de Maufrigneuse herself, in man's attire, had driven alone
from Paris in a caleche, and was waiting to see him.
"I have come to save him or to die with him," said she, addressing the
notary, who thought that he was dreaming. "I have brought a hundred
thousand francs, given me by His Majesty out of his private purse, to
buy Victurnien's innocence, if his adversary can be bribed. If we fail
utterly, I have brought poison to snatch him away before anything
takes place, before even the indictment is drawn up. But we shall not
fail. I have sent word to the public prosecutor; he is on the road
behind me; he could not travel in my caleche, because he wished to
take the instructions of the Keeper of the Seals."
Chesnel rose to the occasion and played up to the Duchess; he wrapped
himself in his dressing-gown, fell at her feet, and kissed them, not
without asking her pardon for forgetting himself in his joy.
"We are saved!" cried he; and gave orders to Brigitte to see that Mme.
la Duchesse had all that she needed after traveling post all night. He
appealed to the fair Diane's spirit, by making her see that it was
absolutely necessary that she should visit the examining magistrate
before daylight, lest any one should discover the secret, or so much
as imagine that the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse had come.
"And have I not a passport in due form?" quoth she, displaying a sheet
of paper, wherein she was described as M. le Vicomte Felix de
Vandeness, Master of Requests, and His Majesty's private secretary.
"And do I not play my man's part well?" she added, running her fingers
through her wig a la Titus, and twirling her riding switch.
"O! Mme. la Duchesse, you are an angel!" cried Chesnel, with tears in
his eyes. (She was destined always to be an angel, even in man's
attire.) "Button up your greatcoat, muffle yourself up to the eyes in
your traveling cloak, take my arm, and let us go as quickly as
possible to Camusot's house before anybody can meet us."
"Then am I going to see a man called Camusot?" she asked.
"With a nose to match his name,"[*] assented Chesnel.
[*] Camus, flat-nosed
The old notary felt his heart dead within him, but he thought it none
the less necessary to humor the Duchess, to laugh when she laughed,
and shed tears when she wept; groaning in spirit, all the same, over
the feminine frivolity which could find matter for a jest while
setting about a matter so serious. What would he not have done to save
the Count? While Chesnel dressed; Mme. de Maufrigneuse sipped the cup
of coffee and cream which Brigitte brought her, and agreed with
herself that provincial women cooks are superior to Parisian chefs,
who despise the little details which make all the difference to an
epicure. Thanks to Chesnel's taste for delicate fare, Brigitte was
found prepared to set an excellent meal before the Duchess.
Chesnel and his charming companion set out for M. and Mme. Camusot's
"Ah! so there is a Mme. Camusot?" said the Duchess. "Then the affair
may be managed."
"And so much the more readily, because the lady is visibly tired
enough of living among us provincials; she comes from Paris," said
"Then we must have no secrets from her?"
"You will judge how much to tell or to conceal," Chesnel replied
humbly. "I am sure that she will be greatly flattered to be the
Duchesse de Maufrigneuse's hostess; you will be obliged to stay in her
house until nightfall, I expect, unless you find it inconvenient to
"Is this Mme. Camusot a good-looking woman?" asked the Duchess, with a
"She is a bit of a queen in her own house."
"Then she is sure to meddle in court-house affairs," returned the
Duchess. "Nowhere but in France, my dear M. Chesnel, do you see women
so much wedded to their husbands that they are wedded to their
husband's professions, work, or business as well. In Italy, England,
and Germany, women make it a point of honor to leave men to fight
their own battles; they shut their eyes to their husbands' work as
perseveringly as our French citizens' wives do all that in them lies
to understand the position of their joint-stock partnership; is not
that what you call it in your legal language? Frenchwomen are so
incredibly jealous in the conduct of their married life, that they
insist on knowing everything; and that is how, in the least
difficulty, you feel the wife's hand in the business; the Frenchwoman
advises, guides, and warns her husband. And, truth to tell, the man is
none the worse off. In England, if a married man is put in prison for
debt for twenty-four hours, his wife will be jealous and make a scene
when he comes back."
"Here we are, without meeting a soul on the way," said Chesnel. "You
are the more sure of complete ascendency here, Mme. la Duchesse, since
Mme. Camusot's father is one Thirion, usher of the royal cabinet."
"And the King never thought of that!" exclaimed the Duchess. "He
thinks of nothing! Thirion introduced us, the Prince de Cadignan, M.
de Vandeness, and me! We shall have it all our own way in this house.
Settle everything with M. Camusot while I talk to his wife."
The maid, who was washing and dressing the children, showed the
visitors into the little fireless dining-room.
"Take that card to your mistress," said the Duchess, lowering her
voice for the woman's ear; "nobody else is to see it. If you are
discreet, child, you shall not lose by it."
At the sound of a woman's voice, and the sight of the handsome young
man's face, the maid looked thunderstruck.
"Wake M. Camusot," said Chesnel, "and tell him, that I am waiting to
see him on important business," and she departed upstairs forthwith.
A few minutes later Mme. Camusot, in her dressing-gown, sprang
downstairs and brought the handsome stranger into her room. She had
pushed Camusot out of bed and into his study with all his clothes,
bidding him dress himself at once and wait there. The transformation
scene had been brought about by a bit of pasteboard with the words
MADAME LA DUCHESSE DE MAUFRIGNEUSE engraved upon it. A daughter of the
usher of the royal cabinet took in the whole situation at once.
"Well!" exclaimed the maid-servant, left with Chesnel in the
dining-room, "Would not any one think that a thunderbolt had dropped
in among us? The master is dressing in his study; you can go upstairs."
"Not a word of all this, mind," said Chesnel.
Now that he was conscious of the support of a great lady who had the
King's consent (by word of mouth) to the measures about to be taken
for rescuing the Comte d'Esgrignon, he spoke with an air of authority,
which served his cause much better with Camusot than the humility with
which he would otherwise have approached him.
"Sir," said he, "the words let fall last evening may have surprised
you, but they are serious. The house of d'Esgrignon counts upon you
for the proper conduct of investigations from which it must issue
without a spot."
"I shall pass over anything in your remarks, sir, which must be
offensive to me personally, and obnoxious to justice; for your
position with regard to the d'Esgrignons excuses you up to a certain
"Pardon me, sir, if I interrupt you," said Chesnel. "I have just
spoken aloud the things which your superiors are thinking and dare not
avow; though what those things are any intelligent man can guess, and
you are an intelligent man.--Grant that the young man had acted
imprudently, can you suppose that the sight of a d'Esgrignon dragged
into an Assize Court can be gratifying to the King, the Court, or the
Ministry? Is it to the interest of the kingdom, or of the country,
that historic houses should fall? Is not the existence of a great
aristocracy, consecrated by time, a guarantee of that Equality which
is the catchword of the Opposition at this moment? Well and good; now
not only has there not been the slightest imprudence, but we are
innocent victims caught in a trap."
"I am curious to know how," said the examining magistrate.
"For the last two years, the Sieur du Croisier has regularly allowed
M. le Comte d'Esgrignon to draw upon him for very large sums," said
Chesnel. "We are going to produce drafts for more than a hundred
thousand crowns, which he continually met; the amounts being remitted
by me--bear that well in mind--either before or after the bills fell
due. M. le Comte d'Esgrignon is in a position to produce a receipt for
the sum paid by him, before this bill, this alleged forgery was drawn.
Can you fail to see in that case that this charge is a piece of spite
and party feeling? And a charge brought against the heir of a great
house by one of the most dangerous enemies of the Throne and Altar,
what is it but an odious slander? There has been no more forgery in
this affair than there has been in my office. Summon Mme. du Croisier,
who knows nothing as yet of the charge of forgery; she will declare to
you that I brought the money and paid it over to her, so that in her
husband's absence she might remit the amount for which he has not
asked her. Examine du Croisier on the point; he will tell you that he
knows nothing of my payment to Mme. du Croisier.
"You may make such assertions as these, sir, in M. d'Esgrignon's
salon, or in any other house where people know nothing of business,
and they may be believed; but no examining magistrate, unless he is a
driveling idiot, can imagine that a woman like Mme. du Croisier, so
submissive as she is to her husband, has a hundred thousand crowns
lying in her desk at this moment, without saying a word to him; nor
yet that an old notary would not have advised M. du Croisier of the
deposit on his return to town."
"The old notary, sir, had gone to Paris to put a stop to the young
"I have not yet examined the Comte d'Esgrignon," Camusot began; "his
answers will point out my duty."
"Is he in close custody?"
"Sir," said Chesnel, seeing danger ahead, "the examination can be made
in our interests or against them. But there are two courses open to
you: you can establish the fact on Mme. du Croisier's deposition that
the amount was deposited with her before the bill was drawn; or you
can examine the unfortunate young man implicated in this affair, and
he in his confusion may remember nothing and commit himself. You will
decide which is the more credible--a slip of memory on the part of a
woman in her ignorance of business, or a forgery committed by a
"All this is beside the point," began Camusot; "the question is,
whether M. le Comte d'Esgrignon has or has not used the lower half of
a letter addressed to him by du Croisier as a bill of exchange."
"Eh! and so he might," a voice cried suddenly, as Mme. Camusot broke
in, followed by the handsome stranger, "so he might when M. Chesnel
had advanced the money to meet the bill----"
She leant over her husband.
"You will have the first vacant appointment as assistant judge at
Paris, you are serving the King himself in this affair; I have proof
of it; you will not be forgotten," she said, lowering her voice in his
ear. "This young man that you see here is the Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse; you must never have seen her, and do all that you can
for the young Count boldly."
"Gentlemen," said Camusot, "even if the preliminary examination is
conducted to prove the young Count's innocence, can I answer for the
view the court may take? M. Chesnel, and you also, my sweet, know what
M. le President wants."
"Tut, tut, tut!" said Mme. Camusot, "go yourself to M. Michu this
morning, and tell him that the Count has been arrested; you will be
two against two in that case, I will be bound. /Michu/ comes from Paris,
and you know he is devoted to the noblesse. Good blood cannot lie."
At that very moment Mlle. Cadot's voice was heard in the doorway. She
had brought a note, and was waiting for an answer. Camusot went out,
and came back again to read the note aloud:
"M. le Vice-President begs M. Camusot to sit in audience to-day and
for the next few days, so that there may be a quorum during M. le
"Then there is an end of the preliminary examination!" cried Mme.
Camusot. "Did I not tell you, dear, that they would play you some ugly
trick? The President has gone off to slander you to the public
prosecutor and the President of the Court-Royal. You will be changed
before you can make the examination. Is that clear?"
"You will stay, monsieur," said the Duchess. "The public prosecutor is
coming, I hope, in time."
"When the public prosecutor arrives," little Mme. Camusot said, with
some heat, "he must find all over.--Yes, my dear, yes," she added,
looking full at her amazed husband.--"Ah! old hypocrite of a
President, you are setting your wits against us; you shall remember
it! You have a mind to help us to a dish of your own making, you shall
have two served up to you by your humble servant Cecile Amelie
Thirion!--Poor old Blondet! It is lucky for him that the President has
taken this journey to turn us out, for now that great oaf of a Joseph
Blondet will marry Mlle. Blandureau. I will let Father Blondet have
some seeds in return.--As for you, Camusot, go to M. Michu's, while
Mme. la Duchesse and I will go to find old Blondet. You must expect to
hear it said all over the town to-morrow that I took a walk with a
lover this morning."
Mme. Camusot took the Duchess' arm, and they went through the town by
deserted streets to avoid any unpleasant adventure on the way to the
old Vice-President's house. Chesnel meanwhile conferred with the young
Count in prison; Camusot had arranged a stolen interview. Cook-maids,
servants, and the other early risers of a country town, seeing Mme.
Camusot and the Duchess taking their way through the back streets,
took the young gentleman for an adorer from Paris. That evening, as
Cecile Amelie had said, the news of her behavior was circulated about
the town, and more than one scandalous rumor was occasioned thereby.
Mme. Camusot and her supposed lover found old Blondet in his
greenhouse. He greeted his colleague's wife and her companion, and
gave the charming young man a keen, uneasy glance.
"I have the honor to introduce one of my husband's cousins," said Mme.
Camusot, bringing forward the Duchess; "he is one of the most
distinguished horticulturists in Paris; and as he cannot spend more
than one day with us, on his way back from Brittany, and has heard of
your flowers and plants, I have taken the liberty of coming early."
"Oh, the gentleman is a horticulturist, is he?" said the old Blondet.
The Duchess bowed.
"This is my coffee-plant," said Blondet, "and here is a tea-plant."
"What can have taken M. le President away from home?" put in Mme.
Camusot. "I will wager that his absence concerns M. Camusot."
"Exactly.--This, monsieur, is the queerest of all cactuses," he
continued, producing a flower-pot which appeared to contain a piece of
mildewed rattan; "it comes from Australia. You are very young, sir, to
be a horticulturist."
"Dear M. Blondet, never mind your flowers," said Mme. Camusot. "/You/
are concerned, you and your hopes, and your son's marriage with Mlle.
Blandureau. You are duped by the President."
"Bah!" said old Blondet, with an incredulous air.
"Yes," retorted she. "If you cultivated people a little more and your
flowers a little less, you would know that the dowry and the hopes you
have sown, and watered, and tilled, and weeded are on the point of
being gathered now by cunning hands."
"Oh, nobody in the town will have the courage to fly in the
President's face and warn you. I, however, do not belong to the town,
and, thanks to this obliging young man, I shall soon be going back to
Paris; so I can inform you that Chesnel's successor has made formal
proposals for Mlle. Claire Blandureau's hand on behalf of young du
Ronceret, who is to have fifty thousand crowns from his parents. As
for Fabien, he has made up his mind to receive a call to the bar, so
as to gain an appointment as judge."
Old Blondet dropped the flower-pot which he had brought out for the
Duchess to see.
"Oh, my cactus! Oh, my son! and Mlle. Blandureau! . . . Look here! the
cactus flower is broken to pieces."
"No," Mme. Camusot answered, laughing; "everything can be put right.
If you have a mind to see your son a judge in another month, we will
tell you how you must set to work----"
"Step this way, sir, and you will see my pelargoniums, an enchanting
sight while they are in flower----" Then he added to Mme. Camusot,
"Why did you speak of these matters while your cousin was present."
"All depends upon him," riposted Mme. Camusot. "Your son's appointment
is lost for ever if you let fall a word about this young man."
"The young man is a flower----"
"He is the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, sent here by His Majesty to save
young d'Esgrignon, whom they arrested yesterday on a charge of forgery
brought against him by du Croisier. Mme. la Duchesse has authority
from the Keeper of the Seals; he will ratify any promises that she
makes to us----"
"My cactus is all right!" exclaimed Blondet, peering at his precious
plant.--"Go on, I am listening."
"Take counsel with Camusot and Michu to hush up the affair as soon as
possible, and your son will get the appointment. It will come in time
enough to baffle du Ronceret's underhand dealings with the
Blandureaus. Your son will be something better than assistant judge;
he will have M. Camusot's post within the year. The public prosecutor
will be here to-day. M. Sauvager will be obliged to resign, I expect,
after his conduct in this affair. At the court my husband will show
you documents which completely exonerate the Count and prove that the
forgery was a trap of du Croisier's own setting."
Old Blondet went into the Olympic circus where his six thousand
pelargoniums stood, and made his bow to the Duchess.
"Monsieur," said he, "if your wishes do not exceed the law, this thing
may be done."
"Monsieur," returned the Duchess, "send in your resignation to M.
Chesnel to-morrow, and I will promise you that your son shall be
appointed within the week; but you must not resign until you have had
confirmation of my promise from the public prosecutor. You men of law
will come to a better understanding among yourselves. Only let him
know that the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse had pledged her word to you.
And not a word as to my journey hither," she added.
The old judge kissed her hand and began recklessly to gather his best
flowers for her.
"Can you think of it? Give them to madame," said the Duchess. "A young
man should not have flowers about him when he has a pretty woman on
"Before you go down to the court," added Mme. Camusot, "ask Chesnel's
successor about those proposals that he made in the name of M. and
Mme. du Ronceret."
Old Blondet, quite overcome by this revelation of the President's
duplicity, stood planted on his feet by the wicket gate, looking after
the two women as they hurried away through by-streets home again. The
edifice raised so painfully during ten years for his beloved son was
crumbling visibly before his eyes. Was it possible? He suspected some
trick, and hurried away to Chesnel's successor.
At half-past nine, before the court was sitting, Vice-President
Blondet, Camusot, and Michu met with remarkable punctuality in the
council chamber. Blondet locked the door with some precautions when
Camusot and Michu came in together.
"Well, Mr. Vice-President," began Michu, "M. Sauvager, without
consulting the public prosecutor, has issued a warrant for the
apprehension of one Comte d'Esgrignon, in order to serve a grudge
borne against him by one du Croisier, an enemy of the King's
government. It is a regular topsy-turvy affair. The President, for his
part, goes away, and thereby puts a stop to the preliminary
examination! And we know nothing of the matter. Do they, by any
chance, mean to force our hand?"
"This is the first word I have heard of it," said the Vice-President.
He was furious with the President for stealing a march on him with the
Blandureaus. Chesnel's successor, the du Roncerets' man, had just
fallen into a snare set by the old judge; the truth was out, he knew
"It is lucky that we spoke to you about the matter, my dear master,"
said Camusot, "or you might have given up all hope of seating your son
on the bench or of marrying him to Mlle. Blandureau."
"But it is no question of my son, nor of his marriage," said the
Vice-President; "we are talking of young Comte d'Esgrignon. Is he or
is he not guilty?"
"It seems that Chesnel deposited the amount to meet the bill with Mme.
du Croisier," said Michu, "and a crime has been made of a mere
irregularity. According to the charge, the Count made use of the lower
half of a letter bearing du Croisier's signature as a draft which he
cashed at the Kellers'."
"An imprudent thing to do," was Camusot's comment.
"But why is du Croisier proceeding against him if the amount was paid
in beforehand?" asked Vice-President Blondet.
"He does not know that the money was deposited with his wife; or he
pretends that he does not know," said Camusot.
"It is a piece of provincial spite," said Michu.
"Still it looks like a forgery to me," said old Blondet. No passion
could obscure judicial clear-sightedness in him.
"Do you think so?" returned Camusot. "But, at the outset, supposing
that the Count had no business to draw upon du Croisier, there would
still be no forgery of the signature; and the Count believed that he
had a right to draw on Croisier when Chesnel advised him that the
money had been placed to his credit."
"Well, then, where is the forgery?" asked Blondet. "It is the intent
to defraud which constitutes forgery in a civil action."
"Oh, it is clear, if you take du Croisier's version for truth, that
the signature was diverted from its purpose to obtain a sum of money
in spite of du Croisier's contrary injunction to his bankers," Camusot
"Gentlemen," said Blondet, "this seems to me to be a mere triffle, a
quibble.--Suppose you had the money, I ought perhaps to have waited
until I had your authorization; but I, Comte d'Esgrignon, was pressed
for money, so I---- Come, come, your prosecution is a piece of
revengeful spite. Forgery is defined by the law as an attempt to
obtain any advantage which rightfully belongs to another. There is no
forgery here, according to the letter of the Roman law, nor according
to the spirit of modern jurisprudence (always from the point of a
civil action, for we are not here concerned with the falsification of
public or authentic documents). Between private individuals the
essence of a forgery is the intent to defraud; where is it in this
case? In what times are we living, gentlemen? Here is the President
going away to balk a preliminary examination which ought to be over by
this time! Until to-day I did not know M. le President, but he shall
have the benefit of arrears; from this time forth he shall draft his
decisions himself. You must set about this affair with all possible
speed, M. Camusot."
"Yes," said Michu. "In my opinion, instead of letting the young man
out on bail, we ought to pull him out of this mess at once. Everything
turns on the examination of du Croisier and his wife. You might
summons them to appear while the court is sitting, M. Camusot; take
down their depositions before four o'clock, send in your report
to-night, and we will give our decision in the morning before the court
"We will settle what course to pursue while the barristers are
pleading," said Vice-President Blondet, addressing Camusot.
And with that the three judges put on their robes and went into court.
At noon Mlle. Armande and the Bishop reached the Hotel d'Esgrignon;
Chesnel and M. Couturier were there to meet them. There was a
sufficiently short conference between the prelate and Mme. du
Croisier's director, and the latter set out at once to visit his
At eleven o'clock that morning du Croisier received a summons to
appear in the examining magistrate's office between one and two in the
afternoon. Thither he betook himself, consumed by well-founded
suspicions. It was impossible that the President should have foreseen
the arrival of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse upon the scene, the return
of the public prosecutor, and the hasty confabulation of his learned
brethren; so he had omitted to trace out a plan for du Croisier's
guidance in the event of the preliminary examination taking place.
Neither of the pair imagined that the proceedings would be hurried on
in this way. Du Croisier obeyed the summons at once; he wanted to know
how M. Camusot was disposed to act. So he was compelled to answer the
questions put to him. Camusot addressed him in summary fashion with
the six following inquiries:--
"Was the signature on the bill alleged to be a forgery in your
handwriting?--Had you previously done business with M. le Comte
d'Esgrignon?--Was not M. le Comte d'Esgrignon in the habit of drawing
upon you, with or without advice?--Did you not write a letter
authorizing M. d'Esgrignon to rely upon you at any time?-- Had not
Chesnel squared the account not once, but many times already?-- Were
you not away from home when this took place?"
All these questions the banker answered in the affirmative. In spite
of wordy explanations, the magistrate always brought him back to a
"Yes" or "No." When the questions and answers alike had been resumed
in the proces-verbal, the examining magistrate brought out a final
"Was du Croisier aware that the money destined to meet the bill had
been deposited with him, du Croisier, according to Chesnel's
declaration, and a letter of advice sent by the said Chesnel to the
Comte d'Esgrignon, five days before the date of the bill?"
That last question frightened du Croisier. He asked what was meant by
it, and whether he was supposed to be the defendant and M. le Comte
d'Esgrignon the plaintiff? He called the magistrate's attention to the
fact that if the money had been deposited with him, there was no
ground for the action.
"Justice is seeking information," said the magistrate, as he dismissed
the witness, but not before he had taken down du Croisier's last
"But the money, sir----"
"The money is at your house."
Chesnel, likewise summoned, came forward to explain the matter. The
truth of his assertions was borne out by Mme. du Croisier's
deposition. The Count had already been examined. Prompted by Chesnel,
he produced du Croisier's first letter, in which he begged the Count
to draw upon him without the insulting formality of depositing the
amount beforehand. The Comte d'Esgrignon next brought out a letter in
Chesnel's handwriting, by which the notary advised him of the deposit
of a hundred thousand crowns with M. du Croisier. With such primary
facts as these to bring forward as evidence, the young Count's
innocence was bound to emerge triumphantly from a court of law.
Du Croisier went home from the court, his face white with rage, and
the foam of repressed fury on his lips. His wife was sitting by the
fireside in the drawing-room at work upon a pair of slippers for him.
She trembled when she looked into his face, but her mind was made up.
"Madame," he stammered out, "what deposition is this that you made
before the magistrate? You have dishonored, ruined, and betrayed me!"
"I have saved you, monsieur," answered she. "If some day you will have
the honor of connecting yourself with the d'Esgrignons by marrying
your niece to the Count, it will be entirely owing to my conduct
"A miracle!" cried he. "Balaam's ass has spoken. Nothing will astonish
me after this. And where are the hundred thousand crowns which (so M.
Camusot tells me) are here in my house?"
"Here they are," said she, pulling out a bundle of banknotes from
beneath the cushions of her settee. "I have not committed mortal sin
by declaring that M. Chesnel gave them into my keeping."
"While I was away?"
"You were not here."
"Will you swear that to me on your salvation?"
"I swear it," she said composedly.
"Then why did you say nothing to me about it?" demanded he.
"I was wrong there," said his wife, "but my mistake was all for your
good. Your niece will be Marquise d'Esgrignon some of these days, and
you will perhaps be a deputy, if you behave well in this deplorable
business. You have gone too far; you must find out how to get back
Du Croisier, under stress of painful agitation, strode up and down his
drawing-room; while his wife, in no less agitation, awaited the result
of this exercise. Du Croisier at length rang the bell.
"I am not at home to any one to-night," he said, when the man
appeared; "shut the gates; and if any one calls, tell them that your
mistress and I have gone into the country. We shall start directly
after dinner, and dinner must be half an hour earlier than usual."
The great news was discussed that evening in every drawing-room;
little shopkeepers, working folk, beggars, the noblesse, the merchant
class--the whole town, in short, was talking of the Comte
d'Esgrignon's arrest on a charge of forgery. The Comte d'Esgrignon
would be tried in the Assize Court; he would be condemned and branded.
Most of those who cared for the honor of the family denied the fact.
At nightfall Chesnel went to Mme. Camusot and escorted the stranger to
the Hotel d'Esgrignon. Poor Mlle. Armande was expecting him; she led
the fair Duchess to her own room, which she had given up to her, for
his lordship the Bishop occupied Victurnien's chamber; and, left alone
with her guest, the noble woman glanced at the Duchess with most
"You owed help, indeed, madame, to the poor boy who ruined himself for
your sake," she said, "the boy to whom we are all of us sacrificing
The Duchess had already made a woman's survey of Mlle. d'Esgrignon's
room; the cold, bare, comfortless chamber, that might have been a
nun's cell, was like a picture of the life of the heroic woman before
her. The Duchess saw it all--past, present, and future--with rising
emotion, felt the incongruity of her presence, and could not keep back
the falling tears that made answer for her.
But in Mlle. Armande the Christian overcame Victurnien's aunt. "Ah, I
was wrong; forgive me, Mme. la Duchesse; you did not know how poor we
were, and my nephew was incapable of the admission. And besides, now
that I see you, I can understand all--even the crime!"
And Mlle. Armande, withered and thin and white, but beautiful as those
tall austere slender figures which German art alone can paint, had
tears too in her eyes.
"Do not fear, dear angel," the Duchess said at last; "he is safe."
"Yes, but honor?--and his career? Chesnel told me; the King knows the
"We will think of a way of repairing the evil," said the Duchess.
Mlle. Armande went downstairs to the salon, and found the Collection
of Antiquities complete to a man. Every one of them had come, partly
to do honor to the Bishop, partly to rally round the Marquis; but
Chesnel, posted in the antechamber, warned each new arrival to say no
word of the affair, that the aged Marquis might never know that such a
thing had been. The loyal Frank was quite capable of killing his son
or du Croisier; for either the one or the other must have been guilty
of death in his eyes. It chanced, strangely enough, that he talked
more of Victurnien than usual; he was glad that his son had gone back
to Paris. The King would give Victurnien a place before very long; the
King was interesting himself at last in the d'Esgrignons. And his
friends, their hearts dead within them, praised Victurnien's conduct
to the skies. Mlle. Armande prepared the way for her nephew's sudden
appearance among them by remarking to her brother that Victurnien
would be sure to come to see them, and that he must be even then on
"Bah!" said the Marquis, standing with his back to the hearth, "if he
is doing well where he is, he ought to stay there, and not be thinking
of the joy it would give his old father to see him again. The King's
service has the first claim."
Scarcely one of those present heard the words without a shudder.
Justice might give over a d'Esgrignon to the executioner's branding
iron. There was a dreadful pause. The old Marquise de Casteran could
not keep back a tear that stole down over her rouge, and turned her
head away to hide it.
Next day at noon, in the sunny weather, a whole excited population was
dispersed in groups along the high street, which ran through the heart
of the town, and nothing was talked of but the great affair. Was the
Count in prison or was he not?--All at once the Comte d'Esgrignon's
well-known tilbury was seen driving down the Rue Saint-Blaise; it had
evidently come from the Prefecture, the Count himself was on the box
seat, and by his side sat a charming young man, whom nobody
recognized. The pair were laughing and talking and in great spirits.
They wore Bengal roses in their button-holes. Altogether, it was a
theatrical surprise which words fail to describe.
At ten o'clock the court had decided to dismiss the charge, stating
their very sufficient reasons for setting the Count at liberty, in a
document which contained a thunderbolt for du Croisier, in the shape
of an /inasmuch/ that gave the Count the right to institute
proceedings for libel. Old Chesnel was walking up the Grand Rue, as if
by accident, telling all who cared to hear him that du Croisier had set
the most shameful of snares for the d'Esgrignons' honor, and that it
was entirely owing to the forbearance and magnanimity of the family
that he was not prosecuted for slander.
On the evening of that famous day, after the Marquis d'Esgrignon had
gone to bed, the Count, Mlle. Armande, and the Chevalier were left
with the handsome young page, now about to return to Paris. The
charming cavalier's sex could not be hidden from the Chevalier, and he
alone, besides the three officials and Mme. Camusot, knew that the
Duchess had been among them.
"The house is saved," began Chesnel, "but after this shock it will
take a hundred years to rise again. The debts must be paid now; you
must marry an heiress, M. le Comte, there is nothing left for you to
"And take her where you may find her," said the Duchess.
"A second mesalliance!" exclaimed Mlle. Armande.
The Duchess began to laugh.
"It is better to marry than to die," she said. As she spoke she drew
from her waistcoat pocket a tiny crystal phial that came from the
Mlle. Armande shrank away in horror. Old Chesnel took the fair
Maufrigneuse's hand, and kissed it without permission.
"Are you all out of your minds here?" continued the Duchess. "Do you
really expect to live in the fifteenth century when the rest of the
world has reached the nineteenth? My dear children, there is no
noblesse nowadays; there is no aristocracy left! Napoleon's Code Civil
made an end of the parchments, exactly as cannon made an end of feudal
castles. When you have some money, you will be very much more of
nobles than you are now. Marry anybody you please, Victurnien, you
will raise your wife to your rank; that is the most substantial
privilege left to the French noblesse. Did not M. de Talleyrand marry
Mme. Grandt without compromising his position? Remember that Louis
XIV. took the Widow Scarron for his wife."
"He did not marry her for her money," interposed Mlle. Armande.
"If the Comtesse d'Esgrignon were one du Croisier's niece, for
instance, would you receive her?" asked Chesnel.
"Perhaps," replied the Duchess; "but the King, beyond all doubt, would
be very glad to see her.--So you do not know what is going on in the
world?" continued she, seeing the amazement in their faces.
"Victurnien has been in Paris; he knows how things go there. We had
more influence under Napoleon. Marry Mlle. Duval, Victurnien; she will
be just as much Marquise d'Esgrignon as I am Duchesse de
"All is lost--even honor!" said the Chevalier, with a wave of the
"Good-bye, Victurnien," said the Duchess, kissing her lover on the
forehead; "we shall not see each other again. Live on your lands; that
is the best thing for you to do; the air of Paris is not at all good
"Diane!" the young Count cried despairingly.
"Monsieur, you forget yourself strangely," the Duchess retorted
coolly, as she laid aside her role of man and mistress, and became not
merely an angel again, but a duchess, and not only a duchess, but
The Duchesse de Maufrigneuse made a stately bow to these four
personages, and drew from the Chevalier his last tear of admiration at
the service of le beau sexe.
"How like she is to the Princess Goritza!" he exclaimed in a low
Diane had disappeared. The crack of the postilion's whip told
Victurnien that the fair romance of his first love was over. While
peril lasted, Diane could still see her lover in the young Count; but
out of danger, she despised him for the weakling that he was.
Six months afterwards, Camusot received the appointment of assistant
judge at Paris, and later he became an examining magistrate. Goodman
Blondet was made a councillor to the Royal-Court; he held the post
just long enough to secure a retiring pension, and then went back to
live in his pretty little house. Joseph Blondet sat in his father's
seat at the court till the end of his days; there was not the faintest
chance of promotion for him, but he became Mlle. Blandereau's husband;
and she, no doubt, is leading to-day, in the little flower-covered
brick house, as dull a life as any carp in a marble basin. Michu and
Camusot also received the Cross of the Legion of Honor, while Blondet
became an Officer. As for M. Sauvager, deputy public prosecutor, he
was sent to Corsica, to du Croisier's great relief; he had decidedly
no mind to bestow his niece upon that functionary.
Du Croisier himself, urged by President du Ronceret, appealed from the
finding of the Tribunal to the Court-Royal, and lost his cause. The
Liberals throughout the department held that little d'Esgrignon was
guilty; while the Royalists, on the other hand, told frightful stories
of plots woven by "that abominable du Croisier" to compass his
revenge. A duel was fought indeed; the hazard of arms favored du
Croisier, the young Count was dangerously wounded, and his antagonist
maintained his words. This affair embittered the strife between the
two parties; the Liberals brought it forward on all occasions.
Meanwhile du Croisier never could carry his election, and saw no hope
of marrying his niece to the Count, especially after the duel.
A month after the decision of the Tribunal was confirmed in the
Court-Royal, Chesnel died, exhausted by the dreadful strain, which had
weakened and shaken him mentally and physically. He died in the hour
of victory, like some old faithful hound that has brought the boar to
bay, and gets his death on the tusks. He died as happily as might be,
seeing that he left the great House all but ruined, and the heir in
penury, bored to death by an idle life, and without a hope of
establishing himself. That bitter thought and his own exhaustion, no
doubt, hastened the old man's end. One great comfort came to him as he
lay amid the wreck of so many hopes, sinking under the burden of so
many cares--the old Marquis, at his sister's entreaty, gave him back
all the old friendship. The great lord came to the little house in the
Rue du Bercail, and sat by his old servant's bedside, all unaware how
much that servant had done and sacrificed for him. Chesnel sat
upright, and repeated Simeon's cry.--The Marquis allowed them to bury
Chesnel in the castle chapel; they laid him crosswise at the foot of
the tomb which was waiting for the Marquis himself, the last, in a
sense, of the d'Esgrignons.
And so died one of the last representatives of that great and
beautiful thing, Service; giving to that often discredited word its
original meaning, the relation between feudal lord and servitor. That
relation, only to be found in some out-of-the-way province, or among a
few old servants of the King, did honor alike to a noblesse that could
call forth such affection, and to a bourgeoisie that could conceive
it. Such noble and magnificent devotion is no longer possible among
us. Noble houses have no servitors left; even as France has no longer
a King, nor an hereditary peerage, nor lands that are bound
irrevocably to an historic house, that the glorious names of the
nation may be perpetuated. Chesnel was not merely one of the obscure
great men of private life; he was something more--he was a great fact.
In his sustained self-devotion is there not something indefinably
solemn and sublime, something that rises above the one beneficent
deed, or the heroic height which is reached by a moment's supreme
effort? Chesnel's virtues belong essentially to the classes which
stand between the poverty of the people on the one hand, and the
greatness of the aristocracy on the other; for these can combine
homely burgher virtues with the heroic ideals of the noble,
enlightening both by a solid education.
Victurnien was not well looked upon at Court; there was no more chance
of a great match for him, nor a place. His Majesty steadily refused to
raise the d'Esgrignons to the peerage, the one royal favor which could
rescue Victurnien from his wretched position. It was impossible that
he should marry a bourgeoise heiress in his father's lifetime, so he
was bound to live on shabbily under the paternal roof with memories of
his two years of splendor in Paris, and the lost love of a great lady
to bear him company. He grew moody and depressed, vegetating at home
with a careworn aunt and a half heart-broken father, who attributed
his son's condition to a wasting malady. Chesnel was no longer there.
The Marquis died in 1830. The great d'Esgrignon, with a following of
all the less infirm noblesse from the Collection of Antiquities, went
to wait upon Charles X. at Nonancourt; he paid his respects to his
sovereign, and swelled the meagre train of the fallen king. It was an
act of courage which seems simple enough to-day, but, in that time of
enthusiastic revolt, it was heroism.
"The Gaul has conquered!" These were the Marquis' last words.
By that time du Croisier's victory was complete. The new Marquis
d'Esgrignon accepted Mlle. Duval as his wife a week after his old
father's death. His bride brought him three millions of francs for du
Croisier and his wife settled the reversion of their fortunes upon her
in the marriage-contract. Du Croisier took occasion to say during the
ceremony that the d'Esgrignon family was the most honorable of all the
ancient houses in France.
Some day the present Marquis d'Esgrignon will have an income of more
than a hundred thousand crowns. You may see him in Paris, for he comes
to town every winter and leads a jolly bachelor life, while he treats
his wife with something more than the indifference of the grand
seigneur of olden times; he takes no thought whatever for her.
"As for Mlle. d'Esgrignon," said Emile Blondet, to whom all the detail
of the story is due, "if she is no longer like the divinely fair woman
whom I saw by glimpses in my childhood, she is decidedly, at the age
of sixty-seven, the most pathetic and interesting figure in the
Collection of Antiquities. She queens it among them still. I saw her
when I made my last journey to my native place in search of the
necessary papers for my marriage. When my father knew who it was that
I had married, he was struck dumb with amazement; he had not a word to
say until I told him that I was a prefect.
"'You were born to it,' he said, with a smile.
"As I took a walk around the town, I met Mlle. Armande. She looked
taller than ever. I looked at her, and thought of Marius among the
ruins of Carthage. Had she not outlived her creed, and the beliefs
that had been destroyed? She is a sad and silent woman, with nothing
of her old beauty left except the eyes, that shine with an unearthly
light. I watched her on her way to mass, with her book in her hand,
and could not help thinking that she prayed to God to take her out of
LES JARDIES, July 1837.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Note: The Old Maid is a companion piece to The Collection of
Antiquities. In other Addendum appearances they are combined under the
title of The Jealousies of a Country Town.
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
The Firm of Nucingen
The Secrets of a Princess
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis
A Daughter of Eve
Bousquier, Du (or Du Croisier or Du Bourguier)
The Old Maid
The Middle Classes
Bousquier, Madame du (or du Croisier)
The Old Maid
Camusot de Marville
The Commission in Lunacy
Scenes from a Cuortesan's Life
Camusot de Marville, Madame
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Cardot (Parisian notary)
The Muse of the Department
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes
The Seamy Side of History
The Old Maid
Chesnel (or Choisnel)
The Seamy Side of History
The Old Maid
The Old Maid
Esgrignon, Charles-Marie-Victor-Ange-Carol, Marquis d' (or Des Grignons)
The Old Maid
Esgrignon, Victurnien, Comte (then Marquis d')
Letters of Two Brides
A Man of Business
The Secrets of a Princess
Esgrignon, Marie-Armande-Claire d'
The Old Maid
Herouville, Duc d'
The Hated Son
Lenoncourt, Duc de
The Lily of the Valley
The Old Maid
The Gondreville Mystery
The Seamy Side of History
Marsay, Henri de
The Unconscious Humorists
Another Study of Woman
The Lily of the Valley
A Marriage Settlement
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
The Ball at Sceaux
The Secrets of a Princess
The Gondreville Mystery
A Daughter of Eve
Maufrigneuse, Duchesse de
The Secrets of a Princess
The Muse of the Department
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
Another Study of Woman
The Gondreville Mystery
The Member for Arcis
The Gondreville Mystery
The Member for Arcis
Pamiers, Vidame de
The Old Maid
Ronceret, Madame du
The Old Maid
Ronceret, Fabien-Felicien du (or Duronceret)
Scherbelloff, Princesse (or Scherbellof or Sherbelloff)
Troisville, Guibelin, Vicomte de
The Seamy Side of History
The Old Maid
Valois, Chevalier de
The Old Maid
Verneuil, Duc de
The Old Maid
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