The Deputy of Arcis
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 8
Mulet and by the sub-prefect Antonin Goulard, Monsieur de Trailles had
soon arranged his plan of electoral operations, and this plan evinces
itself so readily that the reader must already have perceived it.
To the candidacy of Simon Giguet, the wily agent of the government
policy suddenly and abruptly opposed that of Phileas Beauvisage; and
in spite of the nullity and unfitness of that individual this new
combination, we must admit, had several incontestable chances of
success. In the light of his municipal halo Beauvisage had one
enormous advantage with the mass of indifferent voters; as mayor of
the town his name was known to them. Logic has much more to do with
the conducting of matters and things here below than it seems to have;
it is like a woman to whom, after many infidelities, we still return.
What common-sense prescribes is that voters called upon to choose
their representative in public matters should be thoroughly informed
as to his capacity, his honesty, and his general character. Too often,
in practice, unfortunate twists are given to this principle; but
whenever the electoral sheep, left to their own instincts, can
persuade themselves that they are voting from their own intelligence
and their own lights, we may be certain to see them following that
line eagerly and with a sentiment of self-love. Now to know a man's
name, electorally speaking, is a good beginning toward a knowledge of
the man himself.
Passing from indifferent to interested electors, we may be sure that
Phileas was certain of rallying to himself the Gondreville party, now
deprived by death of their own candidate. The question for them was to
punish the presumption of Simon Giguet, and any candidate would be
acceptable to the viceroy of Arcis. The mere nomination of a man
against his grandson was a flagrant act of hostility and ingratitude,
and a check to the count's provincial importance which must be removed
and punished at any cost.
Still, when the first news of his electoral ambition reached his
father-in-law, Beauvisage was met by an astonishment little flattering
to his feelings and not encouraging. The old notary had gauged his
son-in-law once for all, and to his just and upright mind the idea of
Phileas as a public man produced in its way the disagreeable effect
that discordant instruments produce upon the ear. If it be true that
no man is a prophet in his own country, he is often even less so in
his own family. Still, the first impression once passed, Grevin would
doubtless acclimatize himself to the idea of an expedient which would
chime in with the plans he had already made for Severine's future.
Besides, for the safety of Gondreville's interests, so seriously
threatened, what sacrifice of his own opinion would the old notary not
With the legitimist and the republican parties who could have no
weight in the election, except that of increasing a majority, the
candidacy of Beauvisage had a singular recommendation,--namely, his
utter incapacity. Conscious of not possessing sufficient strength to
elect a deputy of their own, the two extremes of the antidynastic
opposition seized, almost with ardor, the opportunity to stick a thorn
in the side in what they called "the present order of things," and it
might confidently be expected that in this frame of mind they would
joyfully and with all their hearts support a candidate so supremely
ridiculous that a large slice of the ridicule must fall upon the
government which supported him.
Moreover, in the opinions of the Left-Centre which had provisionally
adopted Simon Giguet as its candidate, this move of Beauvisage was
likely to produce a serious split; for he too had declared himself a
man of the dynastic opposition, and, until further orders, Monsieur de
Trailles (though all the while assuring him of the support of the
ministry) encouraged his retaining that political tint, which was
clearly the most popular in that region. But whatever baggage of
political convictions the incorruptible deputy of Arcis might bring
with him to Paris, his horoscope was drawn: it was very certain that
after his first appearance in the salons of the Tuileries an august
seduction would make a henchman of him, if ministerial blandishments
had not already produced that result.
The public side of this matter being thus well-planned and provided
for, the ministerial agent could turn his attention to the personal
aspect of the question, namely, that of turning the stuff he was
making into a deputy to the still further use of being made into a
First point, the _dot_; second point, the daughter; and both appeared
to suit him. The first did not dazzle him; but as to the second, he
did not conceal from himself the imperfections of a provincial
education which he should have to unmake, but this was no serious
objection to his sapient conjugal pedagogy.
Madame Beauvisage, when the matter was laid before her, swept her
husband into it at a single bound. Maxime recognized her for an
ambitious woman who, in spite of her forty-four years, still had the
air of being conscious of a heart. Hence he saw that the game had
better begin with a false attack on her to fall back later on the
daughter. How far these advanced works could be pushed, circumstances
would show. In either case, Maxime was well aware that his title, his
reputation as a man of the world, and his masterly power of initiating
them into the difficult and elegant mysteries of Parisian society were
powerful reasons to bind the two women to him, not to speak of their
gratitude for the political success of Monsieur Beauvisage of which he
was the author.
But however all this might be, his matrimonial campaign offered one
very serious difficulty. The consent of old Grevin would have to be
obtained, and he was not a man to allow Cecile to be married without
investigating to its depths the whole past of a suitor. This inquiry
made, was it not to be feared that the thirty years' stormy biography
of a roue would seem to the cautious old man a poor security for the
However, the species of governmental mission with which Monsieur de
Trailles appeared in Arcis might seem to be an offset and even a
condonation that would neutralize the effect of such disclosures. By
getting the Comte de Gondreville to confide the news of that mission
to old Grevin before it was publicly made known, he had flattered the
old man's vanity and obtained a certain foothold in his mind.
Moreover, he determined, when the time came, to forestall the old
notary's distrust by seeming to distrust himself, and to propose, as a
precaution against his old habits of extravagance, to introduce a
clause into the marriage-contract providing for the separation of
property and settling the wife's fortune upon herself. In this way he
gave security against any return to his old habits of prodigality. As
for himself, it was his affair to obtain such empire over his wife by
the power of sentiment that he could recover practically the marital
power of which the contract dispossessed him.
At first nothing occurred to contradict the wisdom and
clearsightedness of all these intentions. The Beauvisage candidacy
being made public took fire like a train of gunpowder, and Monsieur de
Trailles was able to feel such assurance of the success of his efforts
that he wrote to Rastignac informing him of the fortunate and highly
successful progress of his mission.
But, all of a sudden, in face of the triumphant Beauvisage rose
another candidate; and, be it said in passing for the sake of our
history, this rivalry presented itself under such exceptional and
unforeseen circumstances that it changed what might have been a
trivial electoral struggle into a drama possessing wider and more
The man who now appears in this narrative will play so considerable a
part in it that it seems necessary to install him, as it were, by
means of retrospective and somewhat lengthy explanations. But to
suspend the course of the narrative for this purpose would be to fly
in the face of every rule of art and expose the present pious guardian
of literary orthodoxy to the wrath of critics. In presence of this
difficulty, the author would find himself greatly embarrassed, if his
lucky star had not placed in his hands a correspondence in which, with
a vim and animation that he himself could never have imparted to them,
all the details that are essential to a full explanation will be found
These letters must be read with attention. They bring upon the scene
many persons already well-known in the Comedy of Human Life, and they
reveal a vast number of facts necessary to the understanding and
development of the present drama. Their statements made, and brought
to the point where we now seem to abandon our narrative, the course of
that narrative will, without concussion and quite naturally, resume
its course; and we like to persuade ourselves that, by thus
introducing this series of letters, the unity of our tale, which
seemed for a moment in danger, will be maintained.
THE COMTE DE L'ESTORADE TO MONSIEUR MARIE-GASTON
[See "The Memoirs of Two Young Married Women."]
Dear Monsieur,--In accordance with your desire I have seen the prefect
of police, in order to ascertain if the pious intention of which you
wrote me in your letter, dated from Carrara, would meet with
opposition from the authorities.
The prefect informed me that the imperial decree of the 23rd Prairial,
year XII., by which the whole system of burials is still regulated,
establishes, in the most unequivocal manner, the right of all persons
to be interred on their own property. You have only to obtain a permit
from the prefecture of the Seine-et-Oise, and then, without further
formality, you can remove the remains of Madame Marie-Gaston to the
mausoleum you propose to erect in your park at Ville d'Avray.
But I shall venture myself to offer an objection. Are you quite sure
that you will not expose yourself to certain difficulties made by the
Chaulieus, with whom you are not on the best of terms?
Will they not, to a certain extent, be justified in complaining that
the removal from a public cemetery to private grounds of the body of
one who is dear to them as well as to you, would make their visits to
her grave entirely dependent on your good will and pleasure? For of
course, and this is evident, you will always have the right to forbid
their entrance to your property.
I know that, legally, the body of the wife, living or dead, belongs to
the husband, to the exclusion of her relations, even the nearest; but,
under the influence of the ill-will of which they have already given
you proof, the relations of Madame Marie-Gaston might have the
distressing idea of carrying the matter into court, and if so, how
painful to you! You would gain the suit, no doubt, for the Duc de
Chaulieu's influence is not what it was under the Restoration; but
have you reflected on the venom which the speech of a lawyer might
shed upon such a question? and remember that he will speak as the echo
of honorable affections--those of a father, mother, and two brothers
asking not to be deprived of the sad happiness of praying at the grave
of their lost one.
If you will let me express my thought, it is not without keen regret
that I see you engaged in creating fresh nourishment for your grief,
already so long inconsolable. We had hoped that, after passing two
years in Italy, you would return to us more resigned, and able to take
up an active life which might distract your mind. Evidently, this
species of temple which you propose, in the fervor of your
recollections, to erect in a spot where they are, alas! already too
numerous, can only serve to perpetuate their bitterness; and I cannot
approve the revival you are proposing to make of them.
Nevertheless, as we should always serve a friend according to his
wishes, not our own, I have done your commission relating to Monsieur
Dorlange, the sculptor, but I must tell you frankly that he showed no
eagerness to enter into your wishes. His first remark, when I
announced myself as coming from you, was that he did not know you; and
this reply, singular as it may seem to you, was made so naturally that
at first I thought there must be some mistake, the result, possibly,
of confusion of name. However, before long your oblivious friend was
willing to agree that he studied with you at the college of Tours and
also that hew as the same Monsieur Dorlange who, in 1831 and under
quite exceptional circumstances, carried off the grand prize for
sculpture. No doubt remained in my mind as to his identity. I
attributed his want of memory to the long interruption (of which you
yourself told me) in your intercourse. I think that that interruption
wounded him more than you are aware, and when he seemed to have
forgotten your very name, it was simply a revenge he could not help
taking when the occasion offered.
But that was not the real obstacle. Remembering the fraternal intimacy
that once existed between Monsieur Dorlange and yourself, I could not
suppose his wounded feelings inexorable. So, after explaining to him
the nature of the work you wanted him to do, I was about to say a few
words as to the grievance he might have against you, when I suddenly
found myself face to face with an obstacle of a most unexpected
"Monsieur," he said to me, "the importance of the order you wish to
give me, the assurance that no expense should be spared for the
grandeur and perfection of the work, the invitation you convey to me
to go to Carrara and choose the marble and see it excavated, all that
is truly a great piece of good fortune for an artist, and at any other
time I should gladly have accepted it. But at the present moment,
without having actually decided to abandon the career of Art, I am on
the point of entering that of politics. My friends urge me to present
myself at the coming elections, and you will easily see that, if
elected, my parliamentary duties and my initiation into an absolutely
new life would, for a long time at least, preclude my entering with
sufficient absorption of mind into the work you propose to me." And
then, after a pause, he added; "I should have to satisfy a great grief
which seeks consolation from this projected mausoleum. Such grief
would, naturally, be impatient; whereas I should be slow, preoccupied
in mind, and probably hindered. It is therefore better that the
proposal should be made elsewhere; but this will not prevent me from
feeling, as I ought, both gratified and honored by the confidence
shown in me."
I thought for a moment of asking him whether, in case his election
failed, I could then renew the proposal, but on the whole I contented
myself with expressing regret and saying that I would inform you of
the result of my mission. It is useless to add that I shall know in a
few days the upshot of this sudden parliamentary ambition which has,
so inopportunely, started up in your way.
I think myself that this candidacy may be only a blind. Had you not
better write yourself to Monsieur Dorlange? for his whole manner,
though perfectly polite and proper, seemed to show a keen remembrance
of the wrong you did him in renouncing his friendship, with that of
your other friends, at the time of your marriage. I know it may cost
you some pain to explain the really exceptional circumstances of your
marriage; but after what I have seen in the mind of your old friend, I
think, if you really wish for the assistance of his great talent, you
should personally take some steps to obtain it.
But if you feel that any such action is more than you have strength
for, I suggest another means. In all matters in which my wife has
taken part I have found her a most able negotiator; and in this
particular case I should feel the utmost confidence in her
intervention. She herself suffered from the exclusiveness of Madame
Marie-Gaston's love for you. No one can explain to him better than she
the absorbing conjugal life which drew its folds so closely around
you. And it seems to me that the magnanimity and comprehension which
she always showed to her "dear lost treasure," as she calls her, might
be conveyed by her to your friend.
You have plenty of time to think over this suggestion, for Madame de
l'Estorade is, just now, still suffering from a serious illness,
brought on by maternal terror. A week ago our little Nais came near
being crushed to death before her eyes; and without the courageous
assistance of a stranger who sprang to the horses' heads and stopped
them short, God knows what dreadful misfortune would have overtaken
us. This cruel emotion produced in Madame de l'Estorade a nervous
condition which seriously alarmed us for a time. Though she is now
much better, it will be several days before she could see Monsieur
Dorlange in case her feminine mediation may seem to you desirable.
But once more, in closing, my dear Monsieur Gaston, would it not be
better to abandon your idea? A vast expense, a painful quarrel with
the Chaulieus, and, for you, a renewal of your bitter sorrow--this is
what I fear. Nevertheless, I am, at all times and for all things,
entirely at your orders, as indeed my sentiments of esteem and
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO MADAME OCTAVE DE CAMPS
Paris, February, 1839.
Dear Madame de Camps,--Of all the proofs of sympathy which the
accident to my dear child has brought me, not one has touched me so
much as your excellent letter.
In reply to your affectionate solicitude I must tell you that in that
terrible moment Nais was marvellously calm and self-possessed. It
could not, I think, be possible to see death nearer; yet neither
before nor after the accident did my valiant little daughter even
blench; her whole behavior showed the utmost resolution, and, thank
God! her health has not suffered for a moment.
As for me, in consequence of such terror, I was seized with convulsive
spasms, and for several days, as I now hear, the doctors were very
uneasy, and even feared for my reason. But thanks to the strength of
my constitution, I am now almost myself again, and nothing would
remain of this cruel agitation if, by a singular fatality, it were not
connected with another unpleasant circumstance which has lately seen
fit to fasten upon my life.
Before receiving from your letter these fresh assurances of your
regard, I had thought of invoking the help of your friendship and
advice; and to-day, when you tell me that it would make you happy and
proud to take the place of my poor Louise de Chaulieu, the precious
friend of whom death has deprived me, can I hesitate for a moment?
I take you at your word, and that delightful cleverness with which you
foiled the fools who commented on your marriage to Monsieur de Camps
[see "Madame Firmiani"], that singular tact with which we saw you
steer your way through circumstances that were full of embarrassment
and danger, in short the wonderful art which enabled you to keep both
your secret and your dignity, I now ask you to put to the service of
assisting me in the dilemma I mentioned just now.
Unfortunately in consulting a physician we naturally want to see him
and tell him our symptoms _viva voce_, and it is here that Monsieur de
Camps with his industrial genius seems to me most aggravating. Thanks
to those villanous iron-works which he has taken it into his head to
purchase, you are almost lost to Paris and to society! Formerly when
we had you here, at hand, in ten minutes talk, without embarrassment,
without preparation, I could have told you everything; but now I am
obliged to think over what I have to say, to gather myself together,
and pass into the solemnity of a written statement.
But after all, perhaps it is better to plunge boldly in, and since, in
spite of circumlocutions and preambles, I shall have sooner or later
to come to the point, why not say at once that my trouble concerns the
stranger who saved my daughter's life.
Stranger! yes, a stranger to Monsieur de l'Estorade and to all who
have told you about the accident, but not a stranger to me, whom, for
the last three months, this man has condescended to honor with the
most obstinate attention. That the mother of three children, one of
them a big boy of fifteen, should at thirty-three years of age become
the object of an ardent passion will seem to you, as it does to me, an
impossible fact; and that is the ridiculous misfortune about which I
want to consult you.
When I say that this stranger is known to me, I must correct myself;
for I know neither his name, nor his abode, nor anything about him. I
have never met him in society, and I may add that, although he wears
the ribbon of the Legion of honor, there is nothing in his air and
manner--which are totally devoid of elegance--to make me suppose I
ever shall meet him in our world.
It was at Saint-Thomas d'Aquin, where, as you know, I go to hear mass,
that this annoying obsession began. I used almost daily to take my
children to walk in the Tuileries, as the house we have hired here has
no garden. This habit being noticed by my persecutor, I found him
repeatedly there and wherever else I might be met outside of my own
home. Perfectly discreet, although so audacious, this singular
follower never accompanied me to my own door; he kept at a sufficient
distance to give me the comfort of feeling that his foolish assiduity
would not be observed by others.
Heaven only knows the sacrifices and annoyances I have borne to be rid
of him. I never go to church now except on Sundays; I often keep my
dear children at home to the injury of their health; or else I make
excuses not to accompany them, and against all the principles of my
education and prudence, I leave them to the care of the servants.
Visits, shopping I do only in a carriage, which did not prevent my
_shadow_ from being at hand when the accident happened to Nais, and
saving her life, an act that was brave and providential.
But it is precisely this great obligation I am now under which makes
--does it not, I appeal to you?--a most deplorable complication.
In the first place, about thanking him. If I do that, I encourage him,
and he would certainly take advantage of it to change the character of
our present intercourse. But if I pass him without notice--think of
it! a mother--a mother who owes him the life of her daughter, to
pretend not to see him! to pass him without a single word of
That, however, is the intolerable alternative in which I find myself
placed, and you can now see how much I need the counsels of your
experience. What can I do to break the unpleasant habit this man has
taken of being my shadow? How shall I thank him without encouraging
him? or not thank him without incurring self-reproach?
Those are the problems submitted to your wisdom. If you will do me the
kindness to solve them--and I know no one so capable--I shall add
gratitude to all the other affectionate sentiments which, as you know,
I have so long felt for you.
THE COMTE DE L'ESTORADE TO MONSIEUR MARIE-GASTON
Paris, February, 1839.
Perhaps, my dear Monsieur Gaston, the public journals will have told
you before this letter can arrive of the duel fought yesterday between
your friend Monsieur Dorlange and the Duc de Rhetore. But the papers,
while announcing the fact as a piece of news, are debarred by custom
and propriety from inferring the motives of a quarrel, and therefore
they will only excite your curiosity without satisfying it.
I have, fortunately, heard from a very good source, all the details of
the affair, and I hasten to transmit them to you; they are, I think,
of a nature to interest you to the highest degree.
Three days ago, that is to say on the very evening of the day when I
paid my visit to Monsieur Dorlange, the Duc de Rhetore occupied a
stall at the Opera-house. Next to him sat Monsieur de Ronquerolles,
who has recently returned from a diplomatic mission which kept him out
of France for several years. During the entr'acte these gentlemen did
not leave their seats to walk about the foyer; but, as is often done,
they stood up, with their backs to the stage, facing the audience and
consequently Monsieur Dorlange, who was seated directly behind them,
seeming to be absorbed in an evening newspaper. There had been that
day a very scandalous, or what is called a very interesting, session
of the Chamber of deputies.
The conversation between the duke and the marquis having naturally
turned on the events of Parisian society which had taken place during
Monsieur de Ronquerolles' absence, the latter made the following
remark which was of a nature to rouse the attention of Monsieur
"Your poor sister Madame de Macumer! what a sad end, after her
"Ah! you know," replied Monsieur de Rhetore, in that high-pitched tone
of his, "my sister had too much imagination not to be romantic and
visionary. She loved her first husband, Monsieur de Macumer,
passionately, but after a time one gets tired of everything, even
widowhood. This Marie-Gaston crossed her path. He is agreeable in
person; my sister was rich; he was deeply in debt and behaved with
corresponding eagerness and devotion. The result was that the
scoundrel not only succeeded Monsieur de Macumer and killed his wife
with jealousy, but he got out of her every penny the law allowed the
poor foolish woman to dispose of. My sister's property amounted to at
least twelve hundred thousand francs, not counting a delightful villa
splendidly furnished which she built at Ville d'Avray. Half of this
that man obtained, the other half went to the Duc and Duchesse de
Chaulieu, my father and mother, who were entitled to it by law as
heirs ascendant. As for my brother Lenoncourt and myself, we were
As soon as your name, my dear Monsieur Gaston, was uttered, Monsieur
Dorlange laid aside his newspaper, and then, as Monsieur de Rhetore
ended his remarks, he rose and said:--
"Pardon me, Monsieur le duc, if I venture to correct your statement;
but, as a matter of conscience, I ought to inform you that you are
"What is that you say?" returned the duke, blinking his eyes and
speaking in that contemptuous tone we can all imagine.
"I say, Monsieur le duc, that Marie-Gaston is my friend from
childhood; he has never been thought a _scoundrel_; on the contrary,
the world knows him as a man of honor and talent. So far from killing
his wife with jealousy, he made her perfectly happy during the three
years their marriage lasted. As for the property--"
"Have you considered, monsieur," said the Duc de Rhetore, interrupting
him, "the result of such language?"
"Thoroughly, monsieur; and I repeat that the property left to
Marie-Gaston by the will of his wife is so little desired by him that,
to my knowledge, he is about to spend a sum of two or three hundred
thousand francs in building a mausoleum for a wife whom he has never
ceased to mourn."
"After all, monsieur, who are you?" said the Duc de Rhetore, again
interrupting him with ill-restrained impatience.
"Presently," replied Monsieur Dorlange, "I shall have the honor to
tell you; you must now permit me to add that the property of which you
say you have been disinherited Madame Marie-Gaston had the right to
dispose of without any remorse of conscience. It came from her first
husband, the Baron de Macumer; and she had, previously to that
marriage, given up her own property in order to constitute a fortune
for your brother, the Duc de Lenoncourt-Givry, who, as younger son,
had not, like you, Monsieur le Duc, the advantages of an entail."
So saying, Monsieur Dorlange felt in his pocket for his card-case.
"I have no cards with me," he said at last, "but my name is Dorlange,
a theatrical name, easy to remember, and I live at No. 42 rue de
"Not a very central quarter," remarked Monsieur de Rhetore,
ironically. Then turning to Monsieur de Ronquerolles, whom he thus
constituted one of his seconds, "I beg your pardon, my dear fellow,"
he said, "for the voyage of discovery you will have to undertake for
me to-morrow morning." And then almost immediately he added: "Come to
the foyer; we can talk there with greater _safety_."
By his manner of accenting the last word it was impossible to mistake
the insulting meaning he intended to attach to it.
The two gentlemen having left their seats, without this scene
attracting any notice, in consequence of the stalls being empty for
the most part during the entr'acte, Monsieur Dorlange saw at some
distance the celebrated sculptor Stidmann, and went up to him.
"Have you a note-book of any kind in your pocket?" he said.
"Yes, I always carry one."
"Will you lend it to me and let me tear out a page? I have an idea in
my mind which I don't want to lose. If I do not see you again after
the play to make restitution, I will send it to you to-morrow morning
Returning to his place, Monsieur Dorlange sketched something rapidly,
and when the curtain rose and the two gentlemen returned to their
seats, he touched the Duc de Rhetore lightly on the shoulder and said,
giving him the drawing:--
"My card, which I have the honor to present to you."
This "card" was a charming sketch of an architectural design placed in
a landscape. Beneath it was written "Plan for a mausoleum to be
erected to the memory of Madame Marie-Gaston, _nee_ Chaulieu, by her
husband; from the designs of Charles Dorlange, sculptor, 42 rue de
It was impossible to let Monsieur de Rhetore know more delicately that
he had to do with a suitable adversary; and you will remark, my dear
Monsieur Gaston, that Monsieur Dorlange made this drawing the means of
enforcing his denial and giving proof of your disinterestedness and
the sincerity of your grief.
After the play was over, Monsieur de Rhetore parted from Monsieur de
Ronquerolles, and the latter went up to Monsieur Dorlange and
endeavored, very courteously, to bring about a reconciliation,
remarking to him that, while he was right in the subject-matter, his
method of proceeding was unusual and offensive; Monsieur de Rhetore,
on the other hand, had shown great moderation, and would now be
satisfied with a mere expression of regret; in short, Monsieur de
Ronquerolles said all that can be said on such an occasion.
Monsieur Dorlange would not listen to anything which seemed a
submission on his part, and the next day he received a visit from
Monsieur de Ronquerolles and General Montriveau on behalf of the Duc
de Rhetore. Again an effort was made to induce Monsieur Dorlange to
give another turn to his words. But your friend would not depart from
"Will Monsieur de Rhetore withdraw the words I felt bound to notice;
if so, I will withdraw mine."
"But that is impossible," they said to him. "Monsieur de Rhetore has
been personally insulted; you, on the contrary, have not been. Right
or wrong, he has the conviction that Monsieur Marie-Gaston has done
him an injury. We must always make certain allowances for wounded
self-interests; you can never get absolute justice from them."
"It comes to this, then," replied Monsieur Dorlange, "that Monsieur de
Rhetore may continue to calumniate my friend at his ease; in the first
place, because he is in Italy; and secondly, because Marie-Gaston
would always feel extreme repugnance to come to certain extremities
with the brother of his wife. It is precisely that powerlessness,
relatively speaking, to defend himself, which constitutes my right--I
will say more--my duty to interfere. It was not without a special
permission of Providence that I was enabled to catch a few of the
malicious words that were said of him, and, as Monsieur de Rhetore
declines to modify any of them, we must, if it please you, continue
this matter to the end."
The duel then became inevitable; the terms were arranged in the course
of the day, and the meeting, with pistols, was appointed for the day
after. On the ground Monsieur Dorlange was perfectly cool. When the
first fire was exchanged without result, the seconds proposed to put
an end to the affair.
"No, one more shot!" he said gaily, as if he were shooting in a
This time he was shot in the fleshy part of the thigh, not a dangerous
wound, but one which caused him to lose a great deal of blood. As they
carried him to the carriage which brought him, Monsieur de Rhetore,
who hastened to assist them, being close beside him, he said, aloud:--
"This does not prevent Marie-Gaston from being a man of honor and a
heart of gold."
Then he fainted.
This duel, as you can well believe, has made a great commotion;
Monsieur Dorlange has been the hero of the hour for the last two days;
it is impossible to enter a single salon without finding him the one
topic of conversation. I heard more, perhaps, in the salon of Madame
de Montcornet than elsewhere. She receives, as you know, many artists
and men of letters, and to give you an idea of the manner in which
your friend is considered, I need only stenograph a conversation at
which I was present in the countess's salon last evening.
The chief talkers were Emile Blondet of the "Debats," and Monsieur
Bixiou, the caricaturist, one of the best-informed _ferrets_ of Paris.
They are both, I think, acquaintances of yours, but, at any rate, I am
certain of your intimacy with Joseph Bridau, our great painter, who
shared in the talk, for I well remember that he and Daniel d'Arthez
were the witnesses of your marriage.
"The first appearance of Dorlange in art," Joseph Bridau was saying,
when I joined them, "was fine; the makings of a master were already so
apparent in the work he did for his examinations that the Academy,
under pressure of opinion, decided to crown him--though he laughed a
good deal at its programme."
"True," said Bixiou, "and that 'Pandora' he exhibited in 1837, after
his return from Rome, is also a very remarkable figure. But as she won
him, at once, the cross and any number of commissions from the
government and the municipality, together with scores of flourishing
articles in the newspapers, I don't see how he can rise any higher
after all that success."
"That," said Blondet, "is a regular Bixiou opinion."
"No doubt; and well-founded it is. Do you know the man?"
"No; he is never seen anywhere."
"Exactly; he is a bear, but a premeditated bear; a reflecting and
"I don't see," said Joseph Bridau, "why this savage inclination for
solitude should be so bad for an artist. What does a sculptor gain by
frequenting salons where gentlemen and ladies have taken to a habit of
"Well, in the first place, a sculptor can amuse himself in a salon;
and that will keep him from taking up a mania, or becoming a
visionary; besides, he sees the world as it is, and learns that 1839
is not the fifteenth nor the sixteenth century."
"Has Dorlange any such delusions?" asked Emile Blondet.
"He? he will talk to you by the hour of returning to the life of the
great artists of the middle ages with the universality of their
studies and their knowledge, and that frightfully laborious life of
theirs; which may help us to understand the habits and ways of a
semi-barbarous society, but can never exist in ours. He does not see,
the innocent dreamer, that civilization, by strangely complicating all
social conditions, absorbs for business, for interests, for pleasures,
thrice as much time as a less advanced society required for the same
purposes. Look at the savage in his hut; he hasn't anything to do.
Whereas we, with the Bourse, the opera, the newspapers, parliamentary
discussions, salons, elections, railways, the Cafe de Paris and the
National Guard--what time have we, if you please, to go to work?"
"Beautiful theory of a do-nothing!" cried Emile Blondet, laughing.
"No, my dear fellow, I am talking truth. The curfew no longer rings at
nine o'clock. Only last night my concierge Ravenouillet gave a party;
and I think I made a great mistake in not accepting the indirect
invitation he gave me to be present."
"Nevertheless," said Joseph Bridau, "it is certain that if a man
doesn't mingle in the business, the interests, and the pleasures of
our epoch, he can make out of the time he thus saves a pretty capital.
Independently of his orders, Dorlange has, I think, a little
competence; so that nothing hinders him from arranging his life to
"But you see he goes to the opera; for it was there he found his duel.
Besides, you are all wrong in representing him as isolated from this
contemporaneous life, for I happen to know that he is just about to
harness himself to it by the most rattling and compelling chains of
the social system--I mean political interests."
"Does he want to be a statesman?" asked Emile Blondet, sarcastically.
"Yes, no doubt that's in his famous programme of universality; and you
ought to see the consistency and perseverance he puts into that idea!
Only last year two hundred and fifty thousand francs dropped into his
mouth as if from the skies, and he instantly bought a hovel in the rue
Saint-Martin to make himself eligible for the Chamber. Then--another
pretty speculation--with the rest of the money he bought stock in the
'National,' where I meet him every time I want to have a laugh over
the republican Utopia. He has his flatterers on the staff of that
estimable newspaper; they have persuaded him that he's a born orator
and can cut the finest figure in the Chamber. They even talk of
getting up a candidacy for him; and on some of their enthusiastic days
they go so far as to assert that he bears a distant likeness to
"But this is getting burlesque," said Emile Blondet.
I don't know if you have ever remarked, my dear Monsieur Gaston, that
in men of real talent there is always great leniency of judgment. In
this, Joseph Bridau is pre-eminent.
"I think with you," he said, "that if Dorlange takes this step, and
enters politics, he will be lost to art. But, after all, why should he
not succeed in the Chamber? He expresses himself with great facility,
and seems to me to have ideas at his command. Look at Canalis when he
was made deputy! 'What! a poet!' everybody cried out,--which didn't
prevent him from making himself a fine reputation as orator, and
becoming a minister."
"But the first question is how to get into the Chamber," said Emile
Blondet. "Where does Dorlange propose to stand?"
"Why, naturally, for one of the rotten boroughs of the 'National.' I
don't know if it has yet been chosen."
"General rule," said the writer for the "Debats." "To obtain your
election, even though you may have the support of an active and ardent
party, you must also have a somewhat extended political notoriety, or,
at any rate, some provincial backing of family or fortune. Has
Dorlange any of those elements of success?"
"As for the backing of a family, that element is particularly
lacking," replied Bixiou; "in fact, in his case, it is conspicuously
"Really?" said Emile Blondet. "Is he a natural child?"
"Nothing could be more natural,--father and mother unknown. But I
believe, myself, that he can be elected. It is the ins and outs of his
political ideas that will be the wonder."
"He is a republican, I suppose, if he is a friend of those 'National'
gentlemen, and resembles Danton?"
"Yes, of course; but he despises his co-religionists, declaring they
are only good for carrying a point, and for violence and bullying.
Provisionally, he is satisfied with a monarchy hedged in by republican
institutions; but he insists that our civic royalty will infallibly be
lost through the abuse of influence, which he roughly calls
corruption. This will lead him towards the little Church of the
Left-centre; but there again--for there's always a but--he finds only
a collection of ambitious minds and eunuchs unconsciously smoothing
the way to a revolution, which he, for his part, sees looming on the
horizon with great regret, because, he says, the masses are too little
prepared, and too little intelligent, not to let it slip through their
fingers. Legitimacy he simply laughs at; he doesn't admit it to be a
principle in any way. To him it is simply the most fixed and
consistent form of monarchical heredity; he sees no other superiority
in it than that of old wine over new. But while he is neither
legitimist, nor conservative, nor Left-centre, and is republican
without wanting a republic, he proclaims himself a Catholic, and sits
astride the hobby of that party, namely,--liberty of education. But
this man, who wants free education for every one, is afraid of the
Jesuits; and he is still, as in 1829, uneasy about the encroachments
of the clergy and the Congregation. Can any of you guess the great
party which he proposes to create in the Chamber, and of which he
intends to be the leader? That of the righteous man, the impartial
man, the honest man! as if any such thing could live and breathe in
the parliamentary cook-shops; and as if, moreover, all opinions, to
hide their ugly nothingness, had not, from time immemorial, wrapped
themselves in that banner."
"Does he mean to renounce sculpture absolutely?" asked Joseph Bridau.
"Not yet; he is just finishing the statue of some saint, I don't know
which; but he lets no one see it, and says he does not intend to send
it to the Exhibition this year--he has ideas about it."
"What ideas?" asked Emile Blondet.
"Oh! that religious works ought not to be delivered over to the
judgment of critics, or to the gaze of a public rotten with
scepticism; they ought, he thinks, to go, without passing through the
uproar of the world, piously and modestly to the niches for which they
"_Ah ca_!" exclaimed Emile Blondet, "and it is this fervent Catholic
who fights a duel!"
"Better or worse than that. This Catholic lives with a woman whom he
brought back from Italy,--a species of Goddess of Liberty, who serves
him as model and housekeeper."
"What a tongue that Bixiou has; he keeps a regular intelligence
office," said some of the little group as it broke up at the offer of
tea from Madame de Montcornet.
You see from this, my dear Monsieur Gaston, that the political
aspirations of Monsieur Dorlange are not regarded seriously by his
friends. I do not doubt that you will write to him soon to thank him
for the warmth with which he defended you from calumny. That
courageous devotion has given me a true sympathy for him, and I shall
hope that you will use the influence of early friendship to turn his
mind from the deplorable path he seems about to enter. I make no
judgment on the other peculiarities attributed to him by Monsieur
Bixiou, who has a cutting and a flippant tongue; I am more inclined to
think, with Joseph Bridau, that such mistakes are venial. But a fault
to be forever regretted, according to my ideas, will be that of
abandoning his present career to fling himself into the maelstrom of
politics. You are yourself interested in turning him from this idea,
if you strongly desire to entrust that work to his hands. Preach to
him as strongly as you can the wisdom of abiding by his art.
On the subject of the explanation I advised you to have with him, I
must tell you that your task is greatly simplified. You need not enter
into any of the details which would be to you so painful. Madame de
l'Estorade, to whom I spoke of the role of mediator which I wanted her
to play, accepted the part very willingly. She feels confident of
being able, after half an hour's conversation, to remove the painful
feeling from your friend's mind, and drive away the clouds between
While writing this long letter, I have sent for news of his condition.
He is going on favorably, and the physicians say that, barring all
unforeseen accidents, his friends need have no anxiety as to his
state. It seems he is an object of general interest, for, to use the
expression of my valet, people are "making cue" to leave their names
at his door. It must be added that the Duke de Rhetore is not liked,
which may partly account for this sympathy. The duke is stiff and
haughty, but there is little in him. What a contrast the brother is to
her who lives in our tenderest memory. She was simple and kind, yet
she never derogated from her dignity; nothing equalled the lovable
qualities of her heart but the charms of her mind.
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORAADE TO MADAME OCTAVE DE CAMPS
Paris, February, 1839.
Nothing could be more judicious than what you have written me, my dear
friend. It was certainly to have been expected that my "bore" would
have approached me on the occasion of our next meeting. His heroism
gave him the right to do so, and politeness made it a duty. Under pain
of being thought unmannerly he was bound to make inquiries as to the
results of the accident on my health and that of Nais. But if,
contrary to all these expectations, he did not descend from his cloud,
my resolution, under your judicious advice, was taken. If the mountain
did not come to me, I should go to the mountain; like Hippolyte in the
tale of Theramene, I would rush upon the monster and discharge my
gratitude upon him at short range. I have come to think with you that
the really dangerous side of this foolish obsession on his part is its
duration and the inevitable gossip in which, sooner or later, it would
Therefore, I not only accepted the necessity of speaking to my shadow
first, but under pretence that my husband wished to call upon him and
thank him in person, I determined to ask him his name and address, and
if I found him a suitable person I intended to ask him to dinner on
the following day; believing that if he had but a shadow of
common-sense, he would, when he saw the manner in which I live with
my husband, my frantic passion, as you call it, for my children, in
short, the whole atmosphere of my well-ordered home, he would, as I
say, certainly see the folly of persisting in his present course. At
any rate half the danger of his pursuit was over if it were carried on
openly. If I was still to be persecuted, it would be in my own home,
where we are all, more or less, exposed to such annoyances, which an
honest woman possessing some resources of mind can always escape with
Well, all these fine schemes and all your excellent advice have come
to nothing. Since the accident, or rather since the day when my
physician first allowed me to go out, nothing, absolutely nothing have
I seen of my unknown lover. But, strange to say, although his presence
was intolerably annoying, I am conscious that he still exercises a
sort of magnetism over me. Without seeing him, I feel him near me; his
eyes weigh upon me, though I do not meet them. He is ugly, but his
ugliness has something energetic and powerfully marked, which makes
one remember him as a man of strong and energetic faculties. In fact,
it is impossible not to think about him; and now that he appears to
have relieved me of his presence, I an conscious of a void--that sort
of void the ear feels when a sharp and piercing noise which has long
annoyed it ceases. What I am going to add may seem to you great
foolishness; but are we always mistress of such mirages of the
I have often told you of my arguments with Louise de Chaulieu in
relation to the manner in which women ought to look at life. I used to
tell her that the passion with which she never ceased to pursue the
ideal was ill-regulated and fatal to happiness. To this she answered:
"You have never loved, my dearest; love has this rare phenomenon about
it: we may live all our lives without ever meeting the being to whom
nature has assigned the power of making us happy. But if the day of
splendor comes when that being unexpectedly awakes your heart from
sleep, what will you do then?" [See "Memoirs of Two Young Married
The words of those about to die are often prophetic. What if this man
were to be the tardy serpent with whom Louise threatened me? That he
could ever be really dangerous to me; that he could make me fail in my
duty, that is certainly not what I fear; I am strong against all such
extremes. But I did not, like you, my dear Madame de Camps, marry a
man whom my heart had chosen. It was only by dint of patience,
determination, and reason that I was able to build up the solid and
serious attachment which binds me to Monsieur de l'Estorade. Ought I
not, therefore, to be doubly cautious lest anything distract me from
that sentiment, be it only the diversion of my thoughts in this
annoying manner, to another man?
I shall say to you, as, MONSIEUR, Louis XIV.'s brother, said to his
wife, to whom he was in the habit of showing what he had written and
asking her to decipher it: See into my heart and mind, dear friend,
disperse the mists, quiet the worries, and the flux and reflux of will
which this affair stirs up in me. My poor Louise was mistaken, was she
not? I am not a woman, am I, on whom the passion of love could gain a
foothold? The man who, on some glorious day, will render me happy is
my Armand, my Rene, my Nais, three angels for whom I have hitherto
lived--there can never be for me, I feel it deeply, another passion!
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO MADAME OCTAVE DE CAMPS
Paris, March, 1839.
About the year 1820 in the course of the same week two _news_ (to use
the schoolboy phrase of my son Armand) entered the college of Tours.
One had a charming face, the other would have been thought ugly if
health, frankness, and intelligence beaming on his features had not
compensated for their irregularity and inelegance.
Here you will stop me, and ask whether I have come to the end of my
own adventure, that I should now be writing this feuilleton-story. No,
this tale is really a continuation of that adventure, though it seems
little like it; so, give it your best attention and do not interrupt
One of these lads, the handsome one, was dreamy, contemplative, and a
trifle _elegaic_; the other, ardent, impetuous, and always in action.
They were two natures which completed each other; a priceless blessing
to every friendship that is destined to last. Both had the same
bar-sinister on them at their birth. The dreamer was the natural son
of the unfortunate Lady Brandon. His name was Marie-Gaston; which,
indeed, seems hardly an actual name. The other, born of wholly unknown
parents, was named Dorlange, which is certainly no name at all.
Dorlange, Valmon, Volmar, Melcourt, are heard upon the stage and
nowhere else; already they belong to a past style, and will soon
rejoin Alceste, Arnolphe, Clitandre, Damis, Eraste, Philinte, and
Another reason why the poor ill-born lads should cling together was
the cruel abandonment to which they were consigned. For the seven
years their studies lasted there was not a day, even during the
holidays, when the door of their prison opened. Now and then
Marie-Gaston received a visit from an old woman who had served his
mother; through her the quarterly payment for his schooling was
regularly made. That of Dorlange was also made with great punctuality
through a banker in Tours. A point to be remarked is that the price
paid for the schooling of the latter was the highest which the rules
of the establishment allowed; hence the conclusion that his unknown
parents were persons in easy circumstances. Among his comrades,
Dorlange attained to a certain respect which, had it been withheld,
he would very well have known how to enforce with his fists. But under
their breaths, his comrades remarked that he was never sent for to see
friends in the parlor, and that outside the college walls no one
appeared to take an interest in him.
The two lads, who were both destined to become distinguished men, were
poor scholars; though each had his own way of studying. By the time he
was fifteen Marie-Gaston had written a volume of verses, satires,
elegies, meditations, not to speak of two tragedies. The favorite
studies of Dorlange led him to steal logs of wood, out of which, with
his knife, he carved madonnas, grotesque figures, fencing-masters,
saints, grenadiers of the Old Guard, and, but this was secretly,
In 1827, their school-days ended, the two friends left college
together and were sent to Paris. A place had been chosen for Dorlange
in the atelier of the sculptor Bosio, and from that moment a rather
fantastic course was pursued by an unseen protection that hovered over
him. When he reached the house in Paris to which the head-master of
the school had sent him, he found a dainty little apartment prepared
for his reception. Under the glass shade of the clock was a large
envelope addressed to him, so placed as to strike his eye the moment
that he entered the room. In that envelope was a note, written in
pencil, containing these words:--
The day after your arrival in Paris go at eight in the morning
punctually to the garden of the Luxembourg, Allee de
l'Observatoire, fourth bench to the right, starting from the gate.
This order is strict. Do not fail to obey it.
Punctual to the minute, Dorlange was not long at the place of
rendezvous before he was met by a very small man, whose enormous head,
bearing an immense shock of hair, together with a pointed nose, chin,
and crooked legs made him seem like a being escaped from one of
Hoffman's tales. Without saying a word, for to his other physical
advantages this weird messenger added that of being deaf and dumb, he
placed in the young man's hand a letter and a purse. The letter said
that the family of Dorlange were glad to see that he wished to devote
himself to art. They urged him to work bravely and to profit by the
instructions of the great master under whose direction he was placed.
They hoped he would live virtuously; and, in any case, an eye would be
kept upon his conduct. There was no desire, the letter went on to say,
that he should be deprived of the respectable amusements of his age.
For his needs and for his pleasures, he might count upon the sum of
six hundred and fifty francs every three months, which would be given
to him in the same place by the same man; but he was expressly
forbidden to follow the messenger after he had fulfilled his
commission; if this injunction were directly or indirectly disobeyed,
the punishment would be severe; it would be nothing less than the
withdrawal of the stipend and, possibly, total abandonment.
Do you remember, my dear Madame de Camps, that in 1831 you and I went
together to the Beaux-Arts to see the exhibition of works which were
competing for the Grand Prix in sculpture? The subject given out for
competition was Niobe weeping for her children. Do you also remember
my indignation at one of the competing works around which the crowd
was so compact that we could scarcely approach it? The insolent youth
had dared to turn that sacred subject into jest! His Niobe was
infinitely touching in her beauty and grief, but to represent her
children, as he did, by monkeys squirming on the ground in the most
varied and grotesque attitudes, what a deplorable abuse of talent!--
You tried in vain to make me see that the monkeys were enchantingly
graceful and clever, and that a mother's blind idolatry could not be
more ingeniously ridiculed; I held to the opinion that the conception
was monstrous, and the indignation of the old academicians who
demanded the expulsion of this intolerable work, seemed to me most
justifiable. But the Academy, instigated by the public and by the
newspapers, which talked of opening a subscription to send the young
sculptor to Rome, were not of my opinion and that of their older
members. The extreme beauty of the Niobe atoned for all the rest and
the defamer of mothers saw his work crowned, in spite of an admonition
given to him by the venerable secretary on the day of the distribution
of the prizes. But, poor fellow! I excuse him, for I now learn that he
never knew his mother. It was Dorlange, the poor abandoned child at
Tours, the friend of Marie-Gaston.
From 1827 to 1831 the two friends were inseparable. Dorlange,
regularly supplied with means, was a sort of Marquis d'Aligre; Gaston,
on the contrary, was reduced to his own resources for a living, and
would have lived a life of extreme poverty had it not been for his
friend. But where friends love each other--and the situation is more
rare than people imagine--all on one side and nothing on the other is
a determining cause for association. So, without any reckoning between
them, our two pigeons held in common their purse, their earnings,
their pains, pleasures, hopes, in fact, they held all things in
common, and lived but one life between the two. This state of things
lasted till Dorlange had won the Grand Prix, and started for Rome.
Henceforth community of interests was no longer possible. But
Dorlange, still receiving an ample income through his mysterious
dwarf, bethought himself of making over to Gaston the fifteen hundred
francs paid to him by the government for the "prix de Rome." But a
good heart in receiving is more rare than the good heart that gives.
His mind being ulcerated by constant misfortune Marie-Gaston refused,
peremptorily, what pride insisted on calling _alms_. Work, he said,
had been provided for him by Daniel d'Arthez, one of our greatest
writers, and the payment for that, added to his own small means,
sufficed him. This proud rejection, not properly understood by
Dorlange, produced a slight coolness between the two friends;
nevertheless, until the year 1833, their intimacy was maintained by a
constant exchange of letters. But here, on Marie-Gaston's side,
perfect confidence ceased, after a time, to exist. He was hiding
something; his proud determination to depend wholly on himself was a
sad mistake. Each day brought him nearer to penury. At last, staking
all upon one throw, he imprudently involved himself in journalism.
Assuming all the risks of an enterprise which amounted to thirty
thousand francs, a stroke of ill-fortune left him nothing to look
forward to but a debtor's prison, which yawned before him.
It was at this moment that his meeting with Louise de Chaulieu took
place. During the nine months that preceded their marriage,
Marie-Gaston's letters to his friend became fewer and far-between.
Dorlange ought surely to have been the first to know of this change
in the life of his friend, but not one word of it was confided to him.
This was exacted by the high and mighty lady of Gaston's love, Louise
de Chaulieu, Baronne de Macumer.
When the time for the marriage came, Madame de Macumer pushed this
mania for secrecy to extremes. I, her nearest and dearest friend, was
scarcely informed of the event, and no one was admitted to the
ceremony except the witnesses required by law. Dorlange was still
absent. The correspondence between them ceased, and if Marie-Gaston
had entered the convent of La Trappe, he could not have been more
completely lost to his friend.
When Dorlange returned from Rome in 1836, the sequestration of
Marie-Gaston's person and affection was more than ever close and
inexorable. Dorlange had too much self-respect to endeavor to pass
the barriers thus opposed to him, and the old friends not only never
saw each other, but no communication passed between them.
But when the news of Madame Marie-Gaston's death reached him Dorlange
forgot all and hastened to Ville d'Avray to comfort his friend.
Useless eagerness! Two hours after that sad funeral was over,
Marie-Gaston, without a thought for his friends or for a sister-in-law
and two nephews who were dependent on him, flung himself into a
post-chaise and started for Italy. Dorlange felt that this egotism of
sorrow filled the measure of the wrong already done to him; and he
endeavored to efface from his heart even the recollection of a
friendship which sympathy under misfortune could not recall.
My husband and I loved Louise de Chaulieu too tenderly not to continue
our affection for the man who had been so much to her. Before leaving
France, Marie-Gaston had requested Monsieur de l'Estorade to take
charge of his affairs, and later he sent him a power-of-attorney to
enable him to do so properly.
Some weeks ago his grief, still living and active, suggested to him a
singular idea. In the midst of the beautiful park at Ville d'Avray is
a little lake, with an island upon it which Louise dearly loved. To
that island, a shady calm retreat, Marie-Gaston wished to remove the
body of his wife, after building a mausoleum of Carrara marble to
receive it. He wrote to us to communicate this idea, and, remembering
Dorlange in this connection, he requested my husband to see him and
ask him to undertake the work. At first Dorlange feigned not to
remember even the name of Marie-Gaston, and he made some civil pretext
to decline the commission. But see and admire the consistency of such
determinations when people love each other! That very evening, being
at the opera, he heard the Duc de Rhetore speak insultingly of his
former friend, and he vehemently resented the duke's words. A duel
followed in which he was wounded; the news of this affair has probably
already reached you. So here is a man facing death at night for a
friend whose very name he pretended not to know in the morning!
You will ask, my dear Madame de Camps, what this long tale has to do
with my own ridiculous adventure. That is what I would tell you now if
my letter were not so immoderately long. I told you my tale would
prove to be a feuilleton-story, and I think the moment has come to
make the customary break in it. I hope I have not sufficiently exalted
your curiosity to have the right not to satisfy it. To be concluded,
therefore, whether you like it or not, in the following number.
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO MADAME OCTAVE DE CAMPS
Paris, March, 1839.
The elements of the long biographical dissertation I lately sent you,
my dear friend, were taken chiefly from a recent letter from Monsieur
Marie-Gaston. On leaning of the brave devotion shown in his defence
his first impulse was to rush to Paris and press the hand of the
friend who avenged himself thus nobly for neglect and forgetfulness.
Unfortunately the evening before his departure he met with a dangerous
fall at Savarezza, one of the outlying quarries of Carrara, and
dislocated his ankle. Being obliged to postpone his journey, he wrote
to Monsieur Dorlange to express his gratitude; and, by the same
courier, he sent me a voluminous letter, relating the whole past of
their lifelong friendship and asking me to see Monsieur Dorlange and
be the mediator between them. He was not satisfied with the expression
of his warm gratitude, he wanted also to show him that in spite of
contrary appearances, he had never ceased to deserve the affection of
his early friend.
On receiving Monsieur Gaston's letter, my first idea was to write to
the sculptor and ask him to come and see me, but finding that he was
not entirely recovered from his wound, I went, accompanied by my
husband and Nais, to the artist's studio, which we found in a pleasant
little house in the rue de l'Ouest, behind the garden of the
Luxembourg, one of the most retired quarters of Paris. We were
received in the vestibule by a woman about whom Monsieur de l'Estorade
had already said a word to me. It appears that the _laureat_ of Rome
did not leave Italy without bringing away with him an agreeable
souvenir in the form of a bourgeoise Galatea, half housekeeper, half
model; about whom certain indiscreet rumors are current. But let me
hasten to say that there was absolutely nothing in her appearance or
manner to lead me to credit them. In fact, there was something cold
and proud and almost savage about her, which is, they tell me, a strong
characteristic of the Transteverine peasant-women. When she announced
our names Monsieur Dorlange was standing in a rather picturesque
working costume with his back to us, and I noticed that he hastily
drew an ample curtain before the statue on which he was engaged.
At the moment when he turned round, and before I had time to look at
him, imagine my astonishment when Nais ran forward and, with the
artlessness of a child, flung her arms about his neck crying out:--
"Are! here is my monsieur who saved me!"
What! the monsieur who saved her? Then Monsieur Dorlange must be the
famous Unknown?--Yes, my dear friend, I now recognized him. Chance,
that cleverest of romance-makers, willed that Monsieur Dorlange and my
bore were one. Happily, my husband had launched into the expression of
his feelings as a grateful father; I thus had time to recover myself,
and before it became my turn to say a word, I had installed upon my
face what you are pleased to call my grand l'Estorade air; under
which, as you know, I mark twenty-five degrees below zero, and can
freeze the words on the lips of any presuming person.
As for Monsieur Dorlange, he seemed to me less troubled than surprised
by the meeting. Then, as if he thought we kept him too long on the
topic of our gratitude, he abruptly changed the subject.
"Madame," he said to me, "since we are, as it seems, more acquainted
than we thought, may I dare to gratify my curiosity?"--
I fancied I saw the claw of a cat preparing to play with its mouse, so
I answered, coldly:--
"Artists, I am told, are often indiscreet in their curiosity."
I put a well-marked stiffness into my manner which completed the
meaning of the words. I could not see that it baffled him.
"I hope," he replied, "that my question is not of that kind. I only
desire to ask if you have a sister."
"No, monsieur," I replied, "I have no sister--none, at least, that I
know of," I added, jestingly.
"I thought it not unlikely, however," continued Monsieur Dorlange, in
the most natural manner possible; "for the family in which I have met
a lady bearing the strongest resemblance to you is surrounded by a
certain mysterious atmosphere which renders all suppositions
"Is there any indiscretion in asking the name of that family?"
"Not the least; they are people whom you must have known in Paris in
1829-1830. They lived in great state and gave fine parties. I myself
met them in Italy."
"But their name?" I said.
"De Lanty," he replied, without embarrassment or hesitation.
And, in fact, my dear Madame de Camps, a family of that name did live
in Paris about that time, and you probably remember, as I do, that
many strange stories were told about them. As Monsieur Dorlange
answered my question he turned back towards his veiled statue.
"The sister whom you have not, madame," he said to me abruptly, "I
shall permit myself to give you, and I venture to hope that you will
see a certain family likeness in her."
So saying, he removed the cloth that concealed his work, and there _I_
stood, under the form of a saint, with a halo round my head. Could I
be angry at the liberty thus taken?
My husband and Nais gave a cry of admiration at the wonderful likeness
they had before their eyes. As for Monsieur Dorlange, he at once
explained the cause of his scenic effect.
"This statue," he said, "is a Saint-Ursula, ordered by a convent in
the provinces. Under circumstances which it would take too long to
relate, the type of this saint, the person whom I mentioned just now,
was firmly fixed in my memory. I should vainly have attempted to
create by my imagination another type for that saint, it could not
have been so completely the expression of my thought. I therefore
began to model this figure which you see from memory, then one day,
madame, at Saint-Thomas d'Aquin, I saw you, and I had the superstition
to believe that you were sent to me by Providence. After that, I
worked from you only, and as I did not feel at liberty to ask you to
come to my studio, the best I could do was to study you when we met,
and I multiplied my chances of doing so. I carefully avoided knowing
your name and social position, for I feared to bring you down from the
ideal and materialize you."
"Oh! I have often seen you following us," said Nais, with her clever
How little we know children, and their turn for observation! As for my
husband, it seemed to me that he ought to have pricked up his ears at
this tale of the daring manner in which his wife had been used as a
model. Monsieur de l'Estorade is certainly no fool; in all social
matters he has the highest sense of conventional propriety, and as for
jealousy, I think if I gave him the slightest occasion he would show
himself ridiculously jealous. But now, the sight of his "beautiful
Renee," as he calls me, done into white marble in the form of a saint,
had evidently cast him into a state of admiring ecstasy. He, with
Nais, were taking an inventory to prove the fidelity of the likeness
--yes, it was really my attitude, really my eyes, really my mouth,
really those two little dimples in my cheeks!
I felt it my duty to take up the role that Monsieur de l'Estorade laid
aside, so I said, very gravely, to the presuming artist:--
"Do you not think, monsieur, that to appropriate without permission,
or--not to mince my words--steal a person's likeness, may seem a very
"For that reason, madame," he replied, in a respectful tone, "I was
fully determined to abide by your wishes in the matter. Although my
statue is fated to be buried in the oratory of a distant convent, I
should not have sent it to its destination without obtaining your
permission to do so. I could have known your name whenever I wished; I
already knew your address; and I intended, when the time came, to
confess the liberty I had taken, and ask you to visit my studio. I
should then have said what I say now: if the likeness displeases you I
can, with a few strokes of my chisel, so change it as to make it
My husband, who apparently thought the likeness not sufficiently
close, turned, at this moment, to Monsieur Dorlange, and said, with a
"Do you not think, monsieur, that Madame de l'Estorade's nose is
rather more delicate than you have made it?"
All this _unexpectedness_ so upset me that I felt unfitted to
intervene on behalf of Monsieur Marie-Gaston, and I should, I believe,
have pleaded his cause very ill if Monsieur Dorlange had not stopped
me at the first words I said about it.
"I know, madame," he said, "all that you can possibly tell me about my
unfaithful friend. I do not forgive, but I forget my wrong. Things
having so come about that I have nearly lost my life for his sake, it
would certainly be very illogical to keep a grudge against him. Still,
as regards that mausoleum at Ville d'Avray, nothing would induce me to
undertake it. I have already mentioned to Monsieur de l'Estorade one
hindrance that is daily growing more imperative; but besides that, I
think it a great pity that Marie-Gaston should thus ruminate on his
grief; and I have written to tell him so. He ought to be more of a
man, and find in study and in work the consolations we can always find
The object of our visit being thus disposed of, I saw no hope of
getting to the bottom of the other mystery it had opened, so I rose to
take leave, and as I did so Monsieur Dorlange said to me:--
"May I hope that you will not exact the injury I spoke of to my
"It is for my husband and not for me to reply to that question," I
said; "however, we can talk of it later, for Monsieur de l'Estorade
hopes that you will give us the honor of a visit."
Monsieur bowed in respectful acquiescence, and we came away,--I, in
great ill-humor; I was angry with Nais, and also with my husband, and
felt much inclined to make him a scene, which he would certainly not
Now what do you think of all this? Is the man a clever swindler, who
invented that fable for some purpose, or is he really an artist, who
took me in all simplicity of soul for the living realization of his
idea? That is what I intend to find out in the course of a few days,
for now I am committed to your programme, and to-morrow Monsieur and
Madame de l'Estorade will have the honor of inviting Monsieur Dorlange
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO MADAME OCTAVE DE CAMPS
Paris, March, 1839.
My dear friend,--Monsieur Dorlange dined with us yesterday. My
intention was to invite him alone to a formal family dinner, so as to
have him more completely under my eye, and put him to the question at
my ease. But Monsieur de l'Estorade, to whom I had not explained my
charitable motives, showed me that such an invitation might wound the
sensibilities of our guest; it might seem to him that the Comte de
l'Estorade thought the sculptor Dorlange unfitted for the society of
"We can't," said my husband gaily, "treat him like the sons of our
farmers who come here with the epaulet of a lieutenant on their
shoulder, and whom we invite with closed doors because we can't send
them to the servants' hall."
We therefore invited to meet him Monsieur Joseph Bridau, the painter,
the Chevalier d'Espard, Monsieur and Madame de la Bastie (formerly,
you remember, Mademoiselle Modeste Mignon) and the Marquis de
Ronquerolles. When my husband invited the latter, he asked him if he
had any objection to meeting the adversary of the Duc de Rhetore.
"So far from objecting," replied Monsieur de Ronquerolles, "I am glad
of the opportunity to meet a man of talent, who in the affair you
speak of behaved admirably." And he added, after my husband had told
him of our great obligation to Monsieur Dorlange, "Then he is a true
hero, your sculptor! if he goes on this way, we can't hold a candle to
In his studio, with a bare throat leaving his head, which is rather
too large for his body, free, and dressed in a sort of Oriental
costume, Monsieur Dorlange looked to me a great deal better than he
does in regular evening dress. Though I must say that when he grows
animated in speaking his face lights up, a sort of a magnetic essence
flows from his eyes which I had already noticed in our preceding
encounters. Madame de la Bastie was as much struck as I was by this
I don't know if I told you that the ambition of Monsieur Dorlange is
to be returned to the Chamber at the coming elections. This was the
reason he gave for declining Monsieur Gaston's commission. What
Monsieur de l'Estorade and I thought, at first, to be a mere excuse
was an actual reason. At table when Monsieur Joseph Bridau asked him
point-blank what belief was to be given to the report of his
parliamentary intentions, Monsieur Dorlange formally announced them;
from that moment, throughout the dinner, the talk was exclusively on
When it comes to topics foreign to his studies, I expected to find our
artist, if not a novice, at least very slightly informed. Not at all.
On men, on things, on the past as on the future of parties, he had
very clear and really novel views, which were evidently not borrowed
from the newspapers; and he put them forth in lively, easy, and
elegant language; so that after his departure Monsieur de Ronquerolles
and Monsieur de l'Estorade declared themselves positively surprised at
the strong and powerful political attitude he had taken. This
admission was all the more remarkable because, as you know, the two
gentlemen are zealous conservatives, whereas Monsieur Dorlange
inclines in a marked degree to democratic principles.
This unexpected superiority in my problematical follower reassured me
not a little; still, I was resolved to get to the bottom of the
situation, and therefore, after dinner I drew him into one of those
tete-a-tetes which the mistress of a house can always bring about.
After talking awhile about Monsieur Marie-Gaston, our mutual friend,
the enthusiasms of my dear Louise and my efforts to moderate them, I
asked him how soon he intended to send his Saint-Ursula to her
"Everything is ready for her departure," he replied, "but I want your
_exeat_, madame; will you kindly tell me if you desire me to change
"One question in the first place," I replied: "Will your work suffer
by such a change, supposing that I desire it?"
"Probably. If you cut the wings of a bird you hinder its flight."
"Another question: Is it I, or the _other person_ whom the statue best
"You, madame; that goes without saying, for you are the present, she
"But, to desert the past for the present is a bad thing and goes by a
bad name, monsieur; and yet you proclaim it with a very easy air."
"True," said Monsieur Dorlange, laughing, "but art is ferocious;
wherever it sees material for its creations, it pounces upon it
"Art," I replied, "is a great word under which a multitude of things
shelter themselves. The other day you told me that circumstances, too
long to relate at that moment, had contributed to fix the image of
which I was the reflection in your mind, where it has left a vivid
memory; was not that enough to excite my curiosity?"
"It was true, madame, that time did not allow of my making an
explanation of those circumstances; but, in any case, having the honor
of speaking to you for the first time, it would have been strange,
would it not, had I ventured to make you any confidences?"
"Well, but now?" I said, boldly.
"Now, unless I receive more express encouragement, I am still unable
to suppose that anything in my past can interest you."
"Why not? Some acquaintances ripen fast. Your devotion to my Nais has
advanced our friendship rapidly. Besides," I added, with affected
levity, "I am passionately fond of stories."
"But mine has no conclusion to it; it is an enigma even to myself."
"All the better; perhaps between us we might find the key to it."
Monsieur Dorlange appeared to take counsel with himself; then, after a
short pause he said:--
"It is true that women are admirably fitted to seize the lighter
shades of meaning in acts and sentiments which we men are unable to
decipher. But this confidence does not concern myself alone; I should
have to request that it remain absolutely between ourselves, not even
excepting Monsieur de l'Estorade from this restriction. A secret is
never safe beyond the person who confides it, and the person who hears
I was much puzzled, as you can well suppose, about what might follow;
still, continuing my explorations, I replied:--
"Monsieur de l'Estorade is so little in the habit of hearing
everything from me, that he never even read a line of my
correspondence with Madame Marie-Gaston."
Until then, Monsieur Dorlange had stood before the fireplace, at one
corner of which I was seated; but he now took a chair beside me and
said, by way of preamble:--
"I mentioned to you, madame, the family of Lanty--"
At that instant--provoking as rain in the midst of a picnic--Madame de
la Bastie came up to ask me if I had been to see Nathan's last drama.
Monsieur Dorlange was forced to give up his seat beside me, and no
further opportunity for renewing the conversation occurred during the
I have really, as you see now, no light upon the matter, and yet when
I recall the whole manner and behavior of Monsieur Dorlange, whom I
studied carefully, my opinion inclines to his perfect innocence.
Nothing proves that the love I suspected plays any part in this
curious affair; and I will allow you to think that I and my terrors,
with which I tormented you, were terribly absurd,--in short, that I
have played the part of Belise in the _Femmes Savantes_, who fancies
that every man she sees is fatally in love with her.
I therefore cheerfully abandon that stupid conclusion. Lover or not,
Monsieur Dorlange is a man of high character, with rare distinction of
mind; and if, as I believe now, he has no misplaced pretensions, it is
an honor and pleasure to count him among our friends. Nais is
enchanted with her preserver. After he left us that evening, she said
to me, with an amusing little air of approbation,--
"Mamma, how well Monsieur Dorlange talks."
Apropos of Nais, here is one of her remarks:--
"When he stopped the horses, mamma, and you did not seem to notice
him, I thought he was only a man."
"How do you mean,--only a man?"
"Well, yes! one of those persons to whom one pays no attention. But,
oh! I was so glad when I found out he was a monsieur. Didn't you hear
me cry out, 'Ah! you are the monsieur who saved me'?"
Though her innocence is perfect, there was such pride and vanity in
this little speech that I gave her, as you may well suppose, a lecture
upon it. This distinction of man and monsieur is dreadful; but, after
all, the child told the truth. She only said, with her blunt
simplicity, what our democratic customs still allow us to put in
practice, though they forbid us to put it into words. The Revolution
of '89 has at least introduced that virtuous hypocrisy into our social
But I refrain from politics.
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO MADAME OCTAVE DE CAMPS
For the last two weeks we have heard nothing more of Monsieur
Dorlange. Not only has he not seen fit to renew the conversation so
provokingly interrupted by Madame de la Bastie, but he has not even
remembered that it was proper to leave his card at the house after a
While we were breakfasting yesterday morning, I happened to make this
remark (though without any sharpness), and just then our Lucas, who,
as an old servant, sometimes allows himself a little familiarity, had
the door swung triumphantly open to admit him, bearing _something_, I
knew not what, wrapped in tissue paper, which he deposited with great
care on the table, giving a note to Monsieur de l'Estorade at the same
"What is that?" I said to Lucas, on whose face I detected the signs of
a "surprise," at the same time putting out my hand to uncover the
"Oh! madame must be careful!" cried Lucas; "it is fragile."
During this time my husband had read the note, which he now passed to
"Read it. Monsieur Dorlange sends us an excuse."
The note said:--
Monsieur le Comte,--I think I observed that Madame la comtesse
granted me rather reluctantly her permission to profit by the
audacious larceny I committed at her expense. I have, therefore,
taken upon myself to change the character of my statue, and, at
the present moment, the _two sisters_ no longer resemble each
other. Nevertheless, as I did not wish that _all_ should be lost
to the world, I modelled the head of Saint-Ursula before
retouching it. From that model I have now made a reduction, which
I place upon the charming shoulders of a countess not yet
canonized, thank God! The mould was broken as soon as the one
cast, which I have now the honor of sending you, was made. This
fact may, perhaps, give some little additional value to the bust
in your eyes.
Accept, Monsieur le comte, etc., etc.
While I was reading the note, my husband, Lucas, Rene, and Nais had
eagerly extracted me from my swathings, and then, in truth, I appeared
no longer a saint, but a woman of the world. I really thought my
husband and children would go out of their minds with admiration and
pleasure. The news of this masterpiece spread about the house, and all
our servants, whom we rather spoil, came flocking, one after another,
as if sent for, crying out, "Oh, it is madame's own self!" I alone did
not share in the general enthusiasm. As for Monsieur de l'Estorade,
after working for an hour to find a place in his study where the bust
could be seen in its best light, he came in to say to me:--
"On my way to the Treasury to-day I shall go and see Monsieur
Dorlange, and if he is at liberty this evening I shall ask him to dine
with us. To-day is Armand's half-holiday, and I would like him to see
the boy. The assembled family can then thank him for his gift."
Monsieur Dorlange accepted the invitation. At dinner Monsieur de
l'Estorade inquired further about his candidacy, giving it however, no
approval. This led straight to politics. Armand, whose mind is
naturally grave and reflective and who reads the newspapers, mingled
in the conversation. Against the practice of youths of the present
day, he thinks like his father; that is, he is very conservative;
though perhaps less just and wise, as might well be expected in a lad
of fifteen. He was consequently led to contradict Monsieur Dorlange,
whose inclination as I told you, is somewhat jacobin. And I must say I
thought the arguments of my little man neither bad nor ill-expressed.
Without ceasing to be polite, Monsieur Dorlange had an air of
disdaining a discussion with the poor boy, so much so that I saw
Armand on the point of losing patience and replying sharply. However,
as he has been well brought up, I had only to make him a sign and he
controlled himself; but seeing him turn scarlet and shut himself up in
gloomy silence, I felt that his pride had received a blow, and I
thought it little generous in Monsieur Dorlange to crush a young lad
in that way.
I know very well that children in these days make the mistake of
wishing to be personages before their time, and that it often does
them good to suppress such conceit. But really, Armand has an
intellectual development and a power of reasoning beyond his age. Do
you want a proof of it? Until last year, I had never consented to part
with him, and it was only as a day scholar that he followed his course
of study at the College Henri IV. Well, he himself, for the sake of
his studies, which were hindered by going and coming to and fro, asked
to be placed in the regular manner in the school; and he employed more
entreaties and arguments with me to put him under that discipline than
an ordinary boy would have used to escape it. Therefore this manly air
and manner, which in most schoolboys would, of course, be intolerably
ridiculous, seems in him the result of his natural precocity; and this
precocity ought to be forgiven him, inasmuch as it comes to him from
In consequence of his unfortunate birth Monsieur Dorlange is less
fitted than most men to judge of children in their homes, and he
therefore, necessarily, shows a want of indulgence. But he had better
take care; if he wishes to pay court to me merely as a friend he has
chosen a very bad method of doing so.
Of course an evening in the midst of the family did not allow of his
returning to the subject of his private history; but I thought he did
not show any particular desire to do so. In fact, he occupied himself
much more with Nais than with me, cutting out silhouettes in black
paper for her during nearly the whole evening. I must also mention
that Madame de Rastignac came in and I, on my side, was obliged to
give my company to her. While we were conversing near the fire,
Monsieur Dorlange at the other end of the room was posing the two
children Nais and Rene, who presently brought me their likenesses
snipped out with scissors, Nais whispering triumphantly in my ear:--
"You don't know; but Monsieur Dorlange is going to make my bust in
Since this family dinner, civil war has been declared among my
children. Nais extols to the skies her "dear preserver," as she calls
him, and is supported in her opinion by Rene, who is delivered over to
the sculptor body and soul in return for a superb lancer on horseback
which Monsieur Dorlange cut out for him. Armand, on the contrary,
thinks him ugly, which is undeniable; he says he resembles the
portraits of Danton which he has seen in the illustrated histories of
the Revolution, in which remark there is some truth. He says also that
Monsieur Dorlange has given me in my bust the air of a grisette, which
is not true at all. Hence, disputes among my darlings which are
DORLANGE TO MARIE-GASTON
Paris, April, 1839.
Why do I desert my art, and what do I intend to do in this cursed
galley of politics? This shows what it is, my dear romantic friend, to
shut one's self up for years in a conjugal convent. During that time
the world has progressed. To friends forgotten at the gate life brings
new combinations; and the more they are ignored, the more disposed the
forgetter is to cast the blame upon those forgotten; it is so easy to
preach to others!
Learn, then, my dear inquisitor, that I do not enter politics of my
own volition. In pushing myself in this unexpected manner into the
electoral breach, I merely follow an inspiration that has been made to
me. A ray of light has come into my darkness; a father has partly
revealed himself, and, if I may believe appearances, he holds a place
in the world which ought to satisfy the most exacting ambition. This
revelation, considering the very ordinary course of my life, has come
to me surrounded by fantastic and romantic circumstances which served
to be related to you in some detail.
As you have lived in Italy, I think it useless to explain to you the
Cafe Greco, the usual rendezvous of the pupils of the Academy and the
artists of all countries who flock to Rome. In Paris, rue de
Coq-Saint-Honore, we have a distant counterpart of that institution in
a cafe long known as that of the Cafe des Arts. Two or three times a
week I spend an evening there, where I meet several of my
contemporaries in the French Academy in Rome. They have introduced me
to a number of journalists and men of letters, all of them amiable and
distinguished men, with whom there is both profit and pleasure in
In a certain corner, where we gather, many questions of a nature to
interest serious minds are debated; but the most eager interest,
namely politics, takes the lead in our discussions. In this little
club the prevailing opinion is democratic; it is represented under all
its aspects, the phalansterian Utopia not excepted. That's enough to
tell you that before this tribunal the ways of the government are
often judged with severity, and that the utmost liberty of language
reigns in our discussions. The consequence is that about a year ago
the waiter who serves us habitually took me aside one day to give me,
as he said, a timely warning.
"Monsieur," he said, "you are watched by the police; and you would do
well not to talk like Saint Paul, open-mouthed."
"The police! my good friend," I replied, "why the devil should the
police watch me? What I say, and a good deal else, is printed every
morning in the newspapers."
"No matter for that, they _are_ watching you. I have seen it. There is
a little old man, who takes a great deal of snuff, who is always
within hearing distance of you; when you speak he seems to pay more
attention to your words than to those of the others; and once I saw
him write something down in a note-book in marks that were not
"Well, the next time he comes, point him out to me."
The next time proved to be the next day. The person shown to me was a
short man with gray hair, a rather neglected person and a face deeply
pitted with the small-pox, which seemed to make him about fifty years
of age. He frequently dipped in a large snuffbox; and seemed to be
giving to my remarks an attention I might consider either flattering
or inquisitive, as I pleased; but a certain air of gentleness and
integrity in this supposed police-spy inclined me to the kinder
interpretation. I said so to the waiter, who had plumed himself on
discovering a spy.
"_Parbleu_!" he replied, "they always put on that honeyed manner to
hide their game."
Two days later, on a Sunday, at the hour of vespers, in one of my
rambles about old Paris--for which, as you know, I always had a taste
--I happened to enter the church of Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile, the parish
church of the remote quarter of the city which bears that name. This
church is a building of very little interest, no matter what
historians and certain "Guides to Paris" may say. I should therefore
have passed rapidly through it if the remarkable talent of the
organist who was performing part of the service had not induced me to
To say that the playing of that man realized my ideal is giving it
high praise, for I dare say you will remember that I always
distinguished between organ-players and organists, a superior order of
nobility the title of which is not to be given unwittingly.
The service over, I had a curiosity to see the face of so eminent an
artist buried in that out-of-the-way place. Accordingly I posted
myself near the door of the organ loft, to see him as he left the
church--a thing I certainly would not have done for a crowned head;
but great artists, after all, are they not kings by divine right?
Imagine my amazement when, after waiting a few minutes, instead of
seeing a totally unknown face I saw that of a man in whom I recognized
my listener at the Cafe des Arts. But that is not all: behind him came
the semblance of a human being in whose crooked legs and bushy tangled
hair I recognized by old tri-monthly providence, my banker, my
_money-bringer_,--in a word my worthy friend, the mysterious dwarf.
I did not escape, myself, his vigilant eye, and I saw him point me out
to the organist with an eager gesture. The latter turned hastily to
look at me and then, without further demonstration, continued his way.
Meanwhile the bandy-legged creature went up familiarly to the giver of
holy-water and offered him a pinch of snuff; then without paying any
further attention to me, he limped to a low door at the side of the
church and disappeared. The evident pains this deformed being had
taken to fix the organist's attention upon me seemed to me a
revelation. Evidently, the _maestro_ knew of the singular manner by
which my quarterly stipend had reached me; which stipend, I should
tell you, had been regularly continued until my orders for work so
increased as to put me beyond all necessity. It was not improbable
therefore that this man, who listened to me at the Cafe des Arts, was
the repository of other secrets relating to my early life; and I
became most eager to obtain an explanation from him; all the more
because, as I was now living on my own resources, my curiosity could
not be punished, as formerly threatened, by the withdrawal of my
Making my decision quickly, I followed the organist at once; but by
the time I reached the door of the church he was out of sight.
However, my luck prompted me to follow the direction he had taken, and
as I reached the quai de Bethune I saw him to my great joy rapping at
the door of a house. Entering resolutely after him, I asked the porter
for the organist of Saint-Louis-de-l'Ile.
"Monsieur Jacques Bricheteau?"
"Yes; Monsieur Jacques Bricheteau; he lives here I believe."
"Fourth floor above the entresol, door to the left. He has just come
in, and you can overtake him on the stairs."
Rapidly as I ran up, my man had the key of his door already in the
lock when I reached him.
"Have I the honor of speaking to Monsieur Jacques Bricheteau?" I
"Don't know any such person," he replied with effrontery, unlocking
"Perhaps I pronounce the name incorrectly; I mean the organist of
"I have never heard of any organist in this house."
"Pardon me, monsieur, there is one, for the concierge has just told me
so. Besides I saw you leave the organ loft of that church followed by
an individual who--"
Before I could finish my sentence this singular individual cut short
our interview by entering his apartment and locking the door behind
him. For a moment I thought that I must have been mistaken; but on
reflection I saw that a mistake was impossible. I had to do with a man
who, for years, had proved his unremitting discretion. No, he was
obstinately bent on avoiding me; I was not mistaken in recognizing
I then began to pull the bell vigorously, being quite resolved to get
some answer at least to my demand. For some little time the besieged
took the racket I made patiently; then, all of a sudden, I noticed
that the bell had ceased to ring. Evidently, the wire was
disconnected; the besieged was secure, unless I kicked in the door;
but that of course, was not altogether the thing to do.
I returned to the porter and, without giving the reasons for my
discomfiture, I told him about it. In that way I won his confidence
and so obtained some little information about the impenetrable
Monsieur Jacques Bricheteau. Though readily given, this information
did not enlighten me at all as to the actual situation. Bricheteau was
said to be a quiet lodger, civil, but not communicative; though
punctual in paying his rent, his means seemed small; he kept no
servant and took his meals out of the house. Going out every morning
before ten o'clock, he seldom came in before night; the inference was
that he was either a clerk in some office, or that he gave music
lessons in private houses.
One detail alone in the midst of this vague and useless information
was of interest. For the last few months Monsieur Jacques Bricheteau
had received a voluminous number of letters the postage on which
indicated that they came from foreign parts; but, in spite of his
desires, the worthy concierge had never, he said, been able to
decipher the post-mark. Thus this detail, which might have been very
useful to me became for the moment absolutely worthless.
I returned home, persuading myself that a pathetic letter addressed to
the refractory Bricheteau would induce him to receive me. Mingling
with my entreaties the touch of a threat, I let him know that I was
firmly resolved at all costs to get to the bottom of the mystery which
weighed upon my life; the secret of which he evidently knew. The next
morning, before nine o'clock, I went to his house, only to learn that
after paying the rent to the end of his term, he had packed up his
furniture and left the house in the early morning, without the porter
being able to discover from the men who removed his property
(well-paid to keep silence, no doubt) where they were ordered to carry
it. These men being strangers in the quarter, it was quite impossible to
discover them later.
I felt, however, that I still had a clue to him, through the organ at
Saint-Louis, and the following Sunday after high mass I posted myself
as before at the door of the organ loft, determined not to let go of
the sphinx until I had made him speak. But here again, disappointment!
Monsieur Jacques Bricheteau's place was taken by a pupil. The same
thing happened on the three following Sundays. On the fourth, I
accosted the pupil and asked him if the master were ill.
"No, monsieur," he replied. "Monsieur Bricheteau has asked for leave
of absence. He will be absent for some time; I believe on business."
"Where, then, can I write to him?"
"I don't rightly know; but I think you had better address your letter
to his house; not far from here, quai de Bethune."
"But he has moved; didn't you know it?"
"No, indeed; where does he live now?"
This was poor luck; to ask information of a man who asked it of me
when I questioned him. As if to put be quite beside myself while I was
making these inquiries, I saw that damned dwarf in the distance
evidently laughing at me.
Happily for my patience and my curiosity, which, under the pressure of
all this opposition was growing terrible, a certain amount of light
was given me. A few days after my last discomfiture, a letter reached
me bearing the post-mark Stockholm, Sweden; which address did not
surprise me because, while in Rome, I had been honored by the
friendship of Thorwaldsen, the great Swedish sculptor, and I had often
met in his studio many of his compatriots. Probably, therefore, this
letter conveyed an order from one of them, sent through Thorwaldsen.
But, on opening the letter what was my amazement, and my emotion, in
presence of its opening words:--
Monsieur my Son,--
The letter was long. I had no patience to read it until I knew the
name I bore. I turned to the signature; again my disappointment was
complete--there was no name!
Monsieur my Son,
said my anonymous father,--
I do not regret that by your passionate insistence on knowing the
secret of your birth, you have forced the person who has watched
over you from childhood to come here to confer with me as to the
course your vehement and dangerous curiosity requires us to
For some time past, I have entertained a thought which I bring to
maturity to-day; the execution of which could have been more
satisfactorily settled by word of mouth than it can now be by
Immediately after your birth, which cost your mother's life, being
forced to expatriate myself, I made in a foreign country a noble
fortune, and I occupy in the ministry of that country an eminent
position. I foresee the moment when, free to restore to you my
name, I shall also be able to secure to you the inheritance of my
titles and the position to which I have attained.
But, to reach that height, the reputation you have, I am told,
acquired in art is not a sufficient recommendation. It is my wish
that you should enter political life; and in that career, under
the present institutions of France, there are not two ways of
becoming a man of distinction: you must begin by being made a
deputy. I know that you are not yet of the legal age, and also
that you do not possess the property qualification. But, in
another year you will be thirty years old, and that is just the
necessary time required by law to be a land-owner before becoming
a candidate for election.
To-morrow, therefore, you can present yourself to Mongenod Bros.,
bankers, rue de la Victoire. A sum of two hundred and fifty
thousand francs will be paid to you; this you must immediately
employ in the purchase of real estate, applying part of the
surplus to obtain an interest in some newspaper which, when the
right time comes, will support your candidacy, and the rest in
another expense I shall presently explain to you.
Your political aptitude is guaranteed to me by the person who,
with a disinterested zeal for which I shall ever be grateful, has
watched over you since you were abandoned. For some time past he
has secretly followed you and listened to you, and he is certain
that you will make yourself a dignified position in the Chamber.
Your opinions of ardent yet moderate liberalism please me; without
being aware of it, you have very cleverly played into my game. I
cannot as yet tell you the place of your probable election. The
secret power which is preparing for that event is all the more
certain to succeed because its plans are pursued quietly and for
the present in the shade. But success will be greatly assisted by
the execution of a work which I shall now propose to you,
requesting you to accept its apparent strangeness without surprise
For the time being you must continue to be a sculptor, and with
the talents of which you have already given proofs, I wish you to
make a statue of Saint-Ursula. That is a subject which does not
lack either interest or poesy. Saint-Ursula, virgin and martyr,
was, as is generally believed, a daughter of prince of Great
Britain. Becoming the abbess of a convent of unmarried women, who
were called with popular naivete the Eleven Thousand Virgins, she
was martyred by the Huns in the fifth century; later, she was
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