The Deputy of Arcis
Honore de Balzac
Part 4 out of 8
patroness of the order of the Ursulines, to which she gave its
name, and she was also patroness of the famous house of Sorbonne.
An able artist like yourself could, it seems to me, make much of
Without knowing the locality of which you will be made the
representative, it is expedient that you should from the present
moment, make known your political opinions and your intention of
becoming a candidate for election. But I cannot too strongly
insist on your keeping secret the communication now made to you;
at any rate as much as your patience will allow. Leave my agent in
peace, and await the slow and quiet development of the brilliant
future to which you are destined, without yielding to a curiosity
which might, I warn you, lead to great disasters.
If you refuse to enter my plans, you will take from yourself all
chance of ever penetrating a mystery which you have shown yourself
so eager to understand. But I do not admit even the supposition of
your resistance, and I prefer to believe in your deference to the
wishes of a father who will regard it as the finest day of his
life when at last it be granted to him to reveal himself to his
P.S. Your statue, which is intended for a convent of Ursuline
nuns, must be in white marble. Height: one metre seven hundred and
six millimetres; in other words, five feet three inches. As it
will not be placed in a niche, you must carefully finish all sides
of it. The costs of the work are to be taken out of the two
hundred and fifty thousand francs mentioned above.
This letter chilled and pained me. In the first place, it took from me
a hope long cherished,--that of recovering a mother as loving as
yours, of whose adorable tenderness, dear friend, you have so often
told me. After all, it was a half-light thrown upon the fogs of my
life without even allowing me to know whether I was or was not the
child of a legitimate marriage. It also seemed to me that such
paternal intimations addressed to a man of my age were much too
despotic and imperious. Was it not a strange proceeding to change my
whole life as if I were a boy just leaving school! At first I employed
to myself all the arguments against this political vocation which you
and my other friends have since addressed to me. Nevertheless
curiosity impelled me to go the Mongenods'; and finding there, sure
enough, in actual, living money, the two hundred and fifty thousand
francs announced to me, I was led to reason in another way.
I reflected that a will which began by making such an outlay must have
something serious in it. And inasmuch as this mysterious father knew
all and I nothing, it seemed to me that to enter on a struggle with
him was neither reasonable nor opportune. In fact, had I any real
repugnance to the career suggested to me? No. Political interests have
always roused me to a certain degree; and if my electoral attempt
should come to nothing, I could always return to my art without being
more ridiculous than the other still-born ambitions which each new
Accordingly, I have bought the necessary piece of property, and made
myself a shareholder in the "National." I have also made the
Saint-Ursula, and am now awaiting instructions, which seem to me rather
long in coming, as to her actual destination. Moreover, I have made
known my parliamentary ambition, and the fact that I intend to stand in
the coming elections.
I need not ask you to preserve the utmost secrecy about my present
confidence. Discretion is a virtue which you practise, to my
knowledge, in too signal a manner to need any exhorting thereto from
me. But I am wrong, dear friend, in making these unkind allusions to
the past, for at this moment I am, more perhaps than you know, the
obliged party. Partly out of interest in me, but more because of the
general aversion your brother-in-law's extreme haughtiness inspires,
the democratic party has flocked to my door to make inquiries about my
wound, and the talk and excitement about this duel have served me
well; there is no doubt that my candidacy has gained much ground.
Therefore, I say, a truce to your gratitude; do you not see how much I
owe to you?
DORLANGE TO MARIE-GASTON
Paris, April, 1839.
Dear Friend,--For better or for worse, I continue my candidacy without
a constituency to elect me. This surprises my friends and worries me,
for it is only a few weeks now to the general election; and if it
happens that all this mysterious "preparation" comes to nought, a
pretty figure I shall cut in the caricatures of Monsieur Bixiou, of
whose malicious remarks on the subject you lately wrote me.
One thing reassures me: it does not seem likely that any one would
have sown two hundred and fifty thousand francs in my electoral furrow
without feeling pretty sure of gathering a harvest. Perhaps, to take a
cheerful view of the matter, this very slowness may be considered as
showing great confidence of success.
However that may be, I am kept by this long delay in a state of
inaction which weighs upon me. Astride as it were of two existences,
--one in which I have not set foot, the other in which my foot still
lingers,--I have no heart to undertake real work; I am like a
traveller who, having arrived before the hour when the diligence
starts, does not know what to do with his person nor how to spend his
time. You will not complain, I think, that I turn this enforced _far
niente_ to the profit of our correspondence; and now that I am thus at
leisure, I shall take up two points in your last letter which did not
seem to me of sufficient importance to pay much attention to at the
time: I refer to your warning that my parliamentary pretensions did
not meet the approval of Monsieur Bixiou; and to your suggestion that
I might expose myself to falling in love with Madame de l'Estorade--if
I were not in love with her already. Let us discuss, in the first
instance, Monsieur Bixiou's grand disapprobation--just as we used to
talk in the olden time of the grand treachery of Monsieur de Mirabeau.
I'll describe that man to you in a single word. Envy. In Monsieur
Bixiou there is, unquestionably, the makings of a great artist; but in
the economy of his existence the belly has annihilated the heart and
the head, and he is now and forever under the dominion of sensual
appetites; he is riveted to the condition of a _caricaturist_,--that
is to say, to the condition of a man who from day to day discounts
himself in petty products, regular galley-slave pot-boilers, which, to
be sure, give him a lively living, but in themselves are worthless and
have no future. With talents misused and now impotent, he has in his
mind, as he has on his face, that everlasting and despairing _grin_
which human thought instinctively attributes to fallen angels. Just as
the Spirit of darkness attacks, in preference, great saints because
they recall to him most bitterly the angelic nature from which he has
fallen, so Monsieur Bixiou delights to slaver the talents and
characters of those who he sees have courageously refused to squander
their strength, sap, and aims as he has done.
But the thing which ought to reassure you somewhat as to the danger of
his calumny and his slander (for he employs both forms of backbiting)
is that at the very time when he believes he is making a burlesque
autopsy of me he is actually an obedient puppet whose wire I hold in
my hands, and whom I am making talk as I please. Being convinced that
a certain amount of noisy discussion would advance my political
career, I looked about me for what I may call a public crier. Among
these circus trumpets, if I could have found one with a sharper tone,
a more deafening blare than Bixiou's, I would have chosen it. As it
was, I have profited by the malevolent curiosity which induces that
amiable lepidopter to insinuate himself into all studios. I confided
the whole affair to him; even to the two hundred and fifty thousand
francs (which I attributed to a lucky stroke at the Bourse), I told
him all my plans of parliamentary conduct, down to the number of the
house I have bought to conform to the requirements of the electoral
law. It is all jotted down in his notebook.
That statement, I think, would somewhat reduce the admiration of his
hearers in the salon Montcornet did they know of it. As for the
political horoscope which he has been so kind as to draw for me, I
cannot honestly say that his astrology is at fault. It is very certain
that with my intention of following no set of fixed opinions, I must
reach the situation so admirably summed up by the lawyer of Monsieur
de la Palisse, when he exclaimed with burlesque emphasis: "What do you
do, gentlemen, when you place a man in solitude? You isolate him."
Isolation will certainly be my lot, and the artist-life, in which a
man lives alone and draws from himself like the Great Creator whose
work he toils to imitate, has predisposed me to welcome the situation.
But although, in the beginning especially, it will deprive me of all
influence in the lobbies, it may serve me well in the tribune, where I
shall be able to speak with strength and _freedom_. Being bound by no
promises and by no party trammels, nothing will prevent me from being
the man I am, and expressing, in all their sacred crudity, the ideas
which I think sound and just. I know very well that before an audience
plain, honest truth may fail to be contagious or even welcome. But
have you never remarked that, by using our opportunities wisely, we
finally meet with days which may be called the festivals of morality
and intelligence, days on which, naturally and almost without effort,
the thought of good triumphs?
I do not, however, conceal from myself that, although I may reach to
some reputation as an orator, such a course will never lead to a
ministry, and that it does not bestow that reputation of being a
practical man to which it is now the fashion to sacrifice so much. But
if at arm's length in the tribune I have but little influence, I shall
make my mark at a greater distance. I shall speak as it were from a
window, beyond the close and narrow sphere of parliamentary
discussion, and above the level of its petty passions and its petty
interests. This species of success appears to meet the views of the
mysterious paternal intentions toward me. What they seem to require is
that I shall sound and resound. From that point of view, i' faith,
politics have a poetic side which is not out of keeping with my past
Now, to take up your other warning: that of my passion born or to be
born for Madame de l'Estorade. I quote your most judicious deductions
for the purpose of answering them fully.
In 1837, when you left for Italy, Madame de l'Estorade was, you say,
in the flower of her beauty; and the queer, audacious persistence
which I have shown in deriving inspiration from her shows that it has
not faded. Hence, if the evil be not already done, you warn me to be
on my guard; from the admiration of an artist to the adoration of the
man there is but a step, and the history of the late Pygmalion is
commended to my study.
In the first place, learned doctor and mythologian, allow me this
remark. Being on the spot and therefore much better placed than you to
judge of the dangers of the situation, I can assure you that the
principal person concerned does not appear to feel the least anxiety.
Monsieur de l'Estorade quarrels with me for one thing only: he thinks
my visits too few, and my reserve misanthropy.
_Parbleu_! I hear you say, a husband is always the last to know that
his wife is being courted. So be it. But the high renown of Madame de
l'Estorade's virtue, her cold and rather calculating good sense, which
often served to balance the ardent and passionate impetuosity of one
you knew well,--what of that? And will you not grant that motherhood
as it appears in that lady--pushed to a degree of fervor which I might
almost call fanaticism--would be to her an infallible preservative?
So much for her. But it is not, I see, for her tranquillity, it is
mine for which your friendship is concerned; if Pygmalion had not
succeeded in giving life to his statue, a pretty life his love would
have made him!
To your charitable solicitude I must answer, (1) by asserting my
principles (though the word and the thing are utterly out of date);
(2) by a certain stupid respect that I feel for conjugal loyalty; (3)
by the natural preoccupation which the serious public enterprise I am
about to undertake must necessarily give to my mind and imagination. I
must also tell you that I belong, if not by spiritual height, at least
by all the tendencies of my mind and character, to that strong and
serious school of artists of another age who, finding that art is long
and life is short--_ars longa et vita brevis_--did not commit the
mistake of wasting their time and lessening their powers of creation
by silly and insipid intrigues.
But I have a better reason still to offer you. As Monsieur de
l'Estorade has told you of the really romantic incidents of my first
meeting with his wife, you know already that a _memory_ was the cause
of my studying her as a model. Well, that memory, while it attracted
me to the beautiful countess, is the strongest of all reasons to keep
me from her. This appears to you, I am sure, sufficiently enigmatical
and far-fetched; but wait till I explain it.
If you had not thought proper to break the thread of our intercourse,
I should not to-day be obliged to take up the arrears of our
confidence; as it is, my dear boy, you must now take your part in my
past history and listen to me bravely.
In 1835, the last year of my stay in Rome, I became quite intimate
with a comrade in the Academy named Desroziers. He was a musician and
a man of distinguished and very observing mind, who would probably
have gone far in his art if malarial fever had not put an end to him
the following year. Suddenly the idea took possession of us to go to
Sicily, one of the excursions permitted by the rules of the school;
but as we were radically "dry," as they say, we walked about Rome for
some time endeavoring to find some means of recruiting our finances.
On one of these occasions we happened to pass before the Palazzo
Braschi. Its wide-open doors gave access to the passing and repassing
of a crowd of persons of all sorts.
"_Parbleu_!" exclaimed Desroziers, "here's the very thing for us."
And without explaining his words or where he was taking me, he made me
follow the crowd and enter the palace.
After mounting a magnificent marble staircase and crossing a very long
suite of apartments rather poorly furnished,--which is customary in
Italian palaces, all their luxury being put into ceilings, statues,
paintings, and other objects of art,--we reached a room that was
wholly hung with black and lighted by quantities of tapers. It was, of
course, a _chambre-ardente_. In the middle of it on a raised platform
surmounted by a baldaquin, lay a _thing_, the most hideous and
grotesque thing you can possibly conceive. Imagine a little old man
whose hands and face had reached such a stage of emaciation that a
mummy would have seemed to you in comparison plump and comely.
Clothed in black satin breeches, a violet velvet coat cut _a la
Francaise_, a white waistcoat embroidered in gold, from which issued
an enormous shirt-frill of point d'Angleterre, this skeleton had
cheeks covered with a thick layer of rouge which heightened still
further the parchment tones of the rest of his skin. Upon his head was
a blond wig frizzed into innumerable little curls, surmounted by an
immense plumed hat jauntily perched to one side in a manner which
irresistibly provoked the laughter of even the most respectful
After one glance given to this ridiculous and lamentable exhibition,
--an obligatory part of all funerals, according to the etiquette of
the Roman aristocracy,--Desroziers exclaimed: "There's the end; now
come and see the beginning."
Not replying to any of my questions, because he was arranging a
dramatic effect, he took me to the Albani gallery and placed me before
a statue representing Adonis stretched on a lion's skin.
"What do you think of that?" he said.
"What?" I replied at a first glance; "why, it is as fine as an
"Antique as much as I am!" replied Desroziers. "It is a portrait in
youth of that wizened old being we have just seen dead."
"Antique or not, it is a masterpiece," I said. "But how is all this
beauty, or its hideous caricature, to get us to Sicily? That is the
"I'll tell you," replied Desroziers. "I know the family of that old
scarecrow. His niece married the Comte de Lanty, and they have long
wanted to buy this statue which the Albani museum won't give up at any
price. They have tried to have it copied, but they never got anything
satisfactory. Now, you know the director of the museum well. Get him
to let you make a copy of it. I give music-lessons to the Comte de
Lanty's daughter, Mademoiselle Marianina, and I'll talk of your copy.
If you succeed, as of course you will, the count will buy it and pay
you forty times the cost of a trip to Sicily."
Two days later I began the work, and, as it suited my taste, I worked
so hotly at it that by the end of three weeks the Lanty family,
escorted by Desroziers, came to see my copy. The count, who seemed to
me a good connoisseur, declared himself satisfied with the work and
bought it. Mademoiselle Marianina, who was the heiress and favorite of
her grand-uncle, was particularly delighted with it. Marianina was
then about twenty-one years old, and I shall not make you her portrait
because you know Madame de l'Estorade, to whom her likeness is
extraordinary. Already an accomplished musician, this charming girl
had a remarkable inclination for all the arts. Coming from time to
time to my studio to watch the completion of the statue, a taste for
sculpture seized her, as it did the Princesse Marie d'Orleans, and
until the departure of the family, which took place a few months
before I myself left Rome, Mademoiselle de Lanty took lessons from me
I never dreamed of being another Saint-Preux or Abelard, but I must
own that I found rare happiness in imparting my knowledge. Marianina
was so gay and happy, her judgment of art so sound, her voice, when
she sang, so stirred my heart, that had it not been for her vast
fortune, which kept me at a distance, I should have run great danger
to my peace of mind. Admitted into the household on the footing of a
certain familiarity, I could see that my beautiful pupil took pleasure
in our intercourse, and when the family returned to Paris she
expressed the utmost regret at leaving Rome; I even fancied, God
forgive me, that I saw something like a tear in her eye when we
On my return to Paris, some months later, my first visit was to the
hotel de Lanty. Marianina was too well bred and too kind at heart to
be discourteous to any one, but I felt at once that a cold restrained
manner was substituted for the gracious friendliness of the past. It
seemed to me probable that her evident liking, I will not say for me
personally, but for my conversation and acquirements, had been noticed
by her parents, who had doubtless taught her a lesson; in fact, the
stiff and forbidding manner of Monsieur and Madame de Lanty left me no
Naturally, I did not call again; but a few months later, when I
exhibited my Pandora in the salon of 1837, I one day saw the whole
Lanty family approach it. The mother was on the arm of Comte Maxime de
Trailles, a well-known lion. _Nil admirari_ is the natural instinct of
all men of the world; so, after a very cursory glance at my work,
Monsieur de Trailles began to find shocking faults in it, and in so
high and clear a voice that not a word was lost within a certain
range. Marianina shrugged her shoulders as she listened to this
profound discourse, and when it was ended she said,--
"How fortunate you came with us! Without your enlightened knowledge I
might, with the rest of the good public, have thought this statue
admirable. It is a pity the sculptor is not here to learn his business
"He _is_ here, behind you," said a stout woman, who had once been my
landlady, and was standing near, laughing heartily. Involuntarily
Marianina turned; when she saw me a vivid color came into her cheeks,
and I slipped away into the crowd. A girl who took my part so warmly,
and then showed such emotion on being detected in doing so, could not
be absolutely indifferent to me; and as on my first visit I had only,
after all, been coldly received, I decided, after my great success at
the Exhibition, in consequence of which I was made a chevalier of the
Legion of honor, to call again upon the Lantys; perhaps my new
distinctions would procure me a better reception.
Monsieur de Lanty received me without rising, and with the following
"I think you very courageous, monsieur, to venture to present yourself
"I have never been received in a manner that seemed to require courage
on my part."
"You have come, no doubt," continued Monsieur de Lanty, "in search of
your property which you were careless enough to leave in our hands. I
shall return you that article of gallantry."
So saying, he rose and took from a drawer in his secretary an elegant
little portfolio, which he gave to me.
As I looked at it in a sort of stupefaction, he added:
"Yes; I know the letters are not there; I presume you will allow me to
"This portfolio, the letters you mention--all this is an enigma to me,
At this moment Madame de Lanty entered the room.
"What do you want?" said her husband, roughly.
"I knew monsieur was here, and as I feared some painful explanation, I
came to do my duty as a woman, and interpose."
"You need fear nothing, madame," I said; "evidently what is taking
place is the result of some misunderstanding."
"Ah! this is too much!" cried Monsieur de Lanty, reopening the drawer
from which he had taken the portfolio, and taking out a packet of
letters tied with a rose-colored ribbon. "I think these will put an
end to your _misunderstanding_."
I looked at the letters; they were not postmarked, and simply bore my
name, Monsieur Dorlange, in a woman's handwriting, which was unknown
"Monsieur," I said, "you know more than I do; you have in your
possession letters that seem to belong to me, but which I have never
"Upon my word," cried Monsieur de Lanty, "you are an admirable
comedian; I never saw innocence better played."
"But, monsieur," I said, "who wrote those letters, and why are they
addressed to me?"
"It is useless to deny them, monsieur," said Madame de Lanty;
"Marianina has confessed all."
"Mademoiselle Marianina!" I exclaimed. "Then the matter is very
simple; have the goodness to bring us together; let me hear from her
lips the explanation of this singular affair."
"The evasion is clever," replied Monsieur de Lanty; "but my daughter
is no longer here: she is in a convent, forever sheltered from your
intrigues and the dangers of her own ridiculous passion. If that is
what you came to know, all is said. Let us part, for my patience and
moderation have a limit, if your insolence has none."
"Monsieur!" I began, angrily; but Madame de Lanty, who was standing
behind her husband, made me a gesture as if she would fall upon her
knees; and reflecting that perhaps Marianina's future depended on the
attitude I now took, I controlled myself and left the room without
The next morning, before I was out of bed, the Abbe Fontanon was
announced to me. When he entered he proved to be a tall old man with a
bilious skin and a sombre, stern expression, which he tried to soften
by a specious manner and a show of gentle but icy obsequiousness.
"Monsieur," he said, "Madame la Comtesse de Lanty, whose confessor I
have the honor to be, requests me to give you a few explanations, to
which you have an incontestable right, as to the scene that took place
last evening between her husband and yourself."
"I am ready to listen to you, monsieur," I replied.
"Monsieur de Lanty," continued the abbe, "is a bad sleeper; and one
night last summer he was awakened by the sound of cautious steps. He
opened his door, and called out to know who was there. He was not
mistaken; some one was there, but did not answer, and disappeared
before Monsieur de Lanty could obtain a light. At first it was thought
to be an attempt at robbery; but on further inquiry it appeared that a
_gentleman_ had taken a room in the neighborhood, and had frequently
been seen in company with Mademoiselle Marianina,--in short, the
matter concerned a love affair and not a robbery. Monsieur de Lanty
has long watched his daughter, whose ardent inclinations have given
him much anxiety; you yourself, monsieur, caused him some uneasiness
"Very needless, Monsieur l'abbe," I said, interrupting him.
"Yes. I know that your relations to Mademoiselle de Lanty have always
been perfectly proper and becoming. But since their return to Paris
another individual has occupied her mind,--a bold and enterprising
man, capable of risking everything to compromise and thus win an
heiress. Being taxed with having encouraged this man and allowed these
nocturnal interviews, Mademoiselle de Lanty at first denied
everything. Then, evidently fearing that her father, a violent man,
would take some steps against her lover, she threw herself at his feet
and admitted the visits, but denied that the visitor was the man her
father named to her. At first she refused obstinately to substitute
another name for the one she disavowed. After some days passed in this
struggle, she finally confessed to her mother, under a pledge of
secrecy, that her father was right in his suspicions, but she dreaded
the results to the family if she acknowledged the truth to him. The
man in question was a noted duellist, and her father and brother would
surely bring him to account for his conduct. It was then, monsieur,
that the idea occurred to this imprudent girl to substitute another
name for that of her real lover."
"Ah! I understand," I said; "the name of a nobody, an artist, a
sculptor, or some insignificant individual of that kind."
"You do Mademoiselle de Lanty injustice by that remark," replied the
abbe. "What decided her to make your name a refuge against the dangers
she foresaw was the fact that Monsieur de Lanty had formerly had
suspicions about you, and she thought that circumstance gave color to
"But, Monsieur l'abbe," I said, "how do you explain those letters,
that portfolio, which her father produced yesterday?"
"That again was an invention of Marianina; and I may add that this
duplicity assures me that had she remained in the world her future
might have been terrible."
"Am I to suppose that this tale has been told you by Madame de Lanty?"
"Confided to me, monsieur, yes. You yourself saw Madame de Lanty's
desire to stop your explanations yesterday, lest the truth might
appear to her husband. I am requested by her to thank you for your
connivance--passive, of course--in this pious falsehood. She felt that
she could only show her profound gratitude by telling you the whole
truth and relying upon your discretion."
"Where is Mademoiselle Marianina?"
"As Monsieur de Lanty told you, in a convent in Italy. To avoid
scandal, it was thought best to send her to some safe retreat. Her own
conduct will decide her future."
Now what do you think of that history? Does it not seem to you very
improbable? Here are two explanations which have each come into my
mind with the force of a conviction. First, Marianina's brother has
just married into a grand-ducal family of Germany. Immense sacrifices
must have been required of the de Lanty family to make such an
alliance. Was Marianina's _dot_, and the fortune she inherited from
that old grand-uncle, required to pay the costs of that princely
union? Secondly, did Marianina really feel an attachment for me? And
did she, in a girlish way, express it on those letters which she never
sent? To punish her, had her parents sent her to a convent? And to
disgust me, and throw me off the track, had the mother invented this
history of another love in which she seemed to make me play so
mortifying a part?
I may add that the intervention of the Abbe Fontanon authorizes such
an interpretation. I have made inquiries about him, and I find he is
one of those mischievous priests who worm themselves into the
confidence of families for their own ends; he has already destroyed
the harmony of one home,--that of Monsieur de Granville,
attorney-general of the royal court of Paris under the Restoration.
As to the truth or falsehood of these suppositions I know nothing,
and, in all probability, shall continue to know nothing. But, as you
can easily understand, the thought of Marianina is a luminous point to
which my eye is forever attached. Shall I love her? Shall I hate her
and despise her? That is the question perpetually in my mind.
Uncertainty of that kind is far more certain to fix a woman in a man's
soul than to dislodge her.
Well, to sum up in two brief sentences my reply to your warnings: As
for the opinion of Monsieur Bixiou, I care as little for it as for
last year's roses; and as for that other danger which you fear, I
cannot tell you whether I love Marianina or not, but this I know, I do
_not_ love Madame de l'Estorade. That, I think, is giving you a plain
and honest answer. And now, let us leave our master the Future to do
what he likes.
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO MADAME OCTAVE DE CAMPS
Paris, May, 1839.
Monsieur Dorlange came last evening to take leave of us. He starts
to-day for Arcis-sur-Aube, where the ceremony of inaugurating _his_
statue takes place. That is also the place selected by the Opposition
journals for his candidacy. Monsieur de l'Estorade declares that the
locality could not have been worse chosen, and that it leaves his
election without a chance.
Monsieur Dorlange paid his visit early. I was alone. Monsieur de
l'Estorade was dining with the Minister of the Interior, and the
children were in bed. The conversation interrupted by Madame de la
Bastie could now be renewed, as I was about to ask him to continue the
history, of which he had only told me the last words, when our old
Lucas brought me a letter. It was from my Armand, to let me know that
he had been ill since morning, and was then in the infirmary.
"Order the carriage," I said to Lucas, in a state of agitation you can
"But, madame," replied Lucas, "monsieur has ordered the carriage to
fetch him at half-past nine o'clock, and Tony has already started."
"Then send for a cab."
"I don't know that I can find one," said our old servant, who is a man
of difficulties; "it is beginning to rain."
Without noticing that remark and without thinking of Monsieur
Dorlange, I went hastily to my room to put on my bonnet and shawl.
That done, I returned to the salon, where my visitor still remained.
"You must excuse me, monsieur," I said to him, "for leaving you so
abruptly. I must hasten to the Henri IV. College. I could not possibly
pass a night in the dreadful anxiety my son's letter has caused me; he
tells me he has been ill since morning in the infirmary."
"But," replied Monsieur Dorlange, "surely you are not going alone in a
hired carriage to that lonely quarter?"
"Lucas will go with me."
At that moment Lucas returned; his prediction was realized; there was
not a coach on the stand; it was raining in torrents. Time was
passing; already it was almost too late to enter the school, where
masters and pupils go to bed at nine o'clock.
"Put on thick shoes," I said to Lucas, "and come with me on foot."
Instantly I saw his face lengthen. He is no longer young and loves his
ease; moreover, he complains every winter of rheumatism. He made
various objections,--that it was very late; that we should
"revolutionize" the school; I should take cold; Monsieur Armand could
not be very ill if he wrote himself; in short, it was clear that my
plan of campaign did not suit my old retainer.
Monsieur Dorlange very obligingly offered to go himself in my place
and bring me word about Armand; but that did not suit me at all; I
felt that I _must_ see for myself. Having thanked him, I said to Lucas
in a tone of authority:--
"Get ready at once, for one thing is true in your remarks: it is
Seeing himself driven into a corner, Lucas raised the standard of
"It is not possible that madame should go out in such weather; and I
don't want monsieur to scold me for giving in to such a singular
"Then you do not intend to obey me?"
"Madame knows very well that for anything reasonable I would do what
she told me if I had to go through fire to obey her."
"Heat is good for rheumatism, but rain is not," I said; then, turning
to Monsieur Dorlange, I added: "As you were so kind as to offer to do
this errand alone, may I ask you to give me your arm and come with
"I am like Lucas," he said, "I do not think this excursion absolutely
necessary; but as I am not afraid of being scolded by Monsieur de
l'Estorade, I shall have the honor to accompany you."
We started. The weather was frightful; we had hardly gone fifty steps
before we were soaked in spite of Lucas's huge umbrella, with which
Monsieur Dorlange sheltered me at his own expense. Luckily a coach
happened to pass; Monsieur Dorlange hailed the driver; it was empty.
Of course I could not tell my companion that he was not to get in;
such distrust was extremely unbecoming and not for me to show. But you
know, my dear friend, that showers of rain have helped lovers from the
days of Dido down. However, Monsieur Dorlange said nothing: he saw my
anxiety and he had the good taste not to attempt conversation,
breaking the silence only from time to time with casual remarks. When
we reached the school, after getting out of the carriage to give me
his hand he saw for himself that he must not enter the house and he
therefore got back into the carriage to await my return.
Well, I found Monsieur Armand had hoaxed me. His illness reduced
itself to a headache, which departed soon after he had written me. The
doctor, for the sake of ordering something, had told him to take an
infusion of linden-leaves, telling him that the next day he could go
back to his studies. I had taken a club to kill a flea, and committed
all sorts of enormities to get there at an hour when the entire
establishment were going to bed, only to find my young gentleman
perfectly well and playing chess with one of the nurses.
On leaving the school I found the rain had ceased and the moon was
shining brightly. My heart was full; the reaction from my great
anxiety had set in and I felt a need of breathing the fresh air. I
therefore proposed to Monsieur Dorlange to dismiss the coach and
return on foot.
Here was an opportunity for him to make me that long-delayed
explanation; but Monsieur Dorlange seemed so little inclined to take
advantage of it that, using Monsieur Armand's freak as a text, he read
me a lecture on the danger of spoiling children: a subject which was
not at all agreeable to me, as he must have perceived from the rather
stiff manner with which I listened to him. Come, thought I, I must and
will get to the bottom of this history; it is like the tale of
Sancho's herdsman, which had the faculty of never getting told. So,
cutting short my companion's theories of education, I said
"This is a very good time, I think, to continue the confidence you
were about to make to me. Here we are sure of no interruption."
"I am afraid I shall prove a poor story-teller," replied Monsieur
Dorlange. "I have spent all my fire this very day in telling that tale
"That," I answered laughing, "is against your own theory of secrecy,
in which a third party is one too many."
"Oh, Marie-Gaston and I count for one only. Besides, I had to reply to
his odd ideas about you and me."
"What about me?"
"Well, he imagined that in looking at the sun I should be dazzled by
"Which means, speaking less metaphorically--?"
"That, in view of the singularities which accompanied my first
knowledge of you and led me to the honor of your acquaintance, I might
expose myself to the danger, madame, of not retaining my reason and
"And your history refutes this fear in the mind of Monsieur
"You shall judge."
And then, without further preamble, he told me a long tale which I
need not repeat here; the gist of it is, however, that Monsieur
Dorlange is in love with a woman who posed in his imagination for
Saint-Ursula; but as this woman appears to be forever lost to him it
did not seem to me impossible that in the long run he might transfer
his sentiments for her memory to me. When he had finished his tale he
asked if I did not think it a victorious answer to the ridiculous
fears of our friend.
"Modesty," I replied, "obliges me to share your security; but they say
that in the army shots frequently ricochet and kill their victims."
"Then you think me capable of the impertinence Marie-Gaston is good
enough to suspect in me?"
"I don't know about its being an impertinence," I said stiffly, "but
if such a fancy came into your mind, I should think you very much to
His answer was vehement.
"Madame," he said, "you will not have to pity me. In my opinion, first
love is a vaccination which protects us from a second."
The conversation stopped there. We had now reached my own door, and I
invited Monsieur Dorlange to come in. He accepted my politeness,
remarking that Monsieur de l'Estorade had probably returned and he
could thus take leave of him.
My husband was at home. I don't know whether Lucas, forestalling the
rebuke I intended to give him, had made out a story to excuse himself,
or whether Monsieur de l'Estorade for the first time in his life,
felt, in view of my maternal escapade, a movement of jealousy. It is
certain, however, that his manner of receiving me was curt; he called
it an unheard-of thing to go out at such an hour, in such weather, to
see a boy who proved, by announcing his own illness, that it was
nothing serious. After letting him talk in this discourteous way for
some little time, I thought it was time to put an end to the scene, so
I said in a rather peremptory tone:--
"As I wanted to sleep at night, I went to the school in a pelting
rain; I came back by moonlight; and I beg you to remark that monsieur,
who was so good as to escort me, has come upstairs to bid you
good-bye, because he leaves Paris to-morrow morning."
I have habitually enough power over Monsieur de l'Estorade to make
this call to order effective; but I saw that my husband was
displeased, and that instead of having made Monsieur Dorlange an easy
diversion, I had called down upon his head the ill-humor of my ogre,
who instantly turned upon him.
After telling him that much had been said about his candidacy during
dinner at the ministry, Monsieur de l'Estorade began to show him all
the reasons why he might expect an overwhelming defeat; namely, that
Arcis-sur-Aube was one of the boroughs where the administration felt
itself most secure; that a man of extraordinary political ability had
already been sent there to manipulate the election, and had made a
first report giving triumphant news of his success. These were only
generalities, to which Monsieur Dorlange replied with modesty, but
also with the air of a man who had resolved who take his chances
against all risks to which his election might be exposed. Monsieur de
l'Estorade then produced a final shaft which, under the circumstances,
was calculated to have a marvellous effect, because it attacked both
the candidate and his private life.
"Listen to me, my dear monsieur," said my husband, "when a man starts
on an electoral career he must remember that he stakes everything; his
public life and also his private life. Your adversaries will ransack
your present and your past with a pitiless hand, and sorrow to him who
has any dark spots to hide. Now I ought not to conceal from you that
to-night, at the ministers', much was said about a little scandal
which, while it may be venial in the life of an artist, takes
proportions altogether more serious in that of the people's
representative. You understand me, of course. I refer to that handsome
Italian woman whom you have in your house. Take care; some puritanical
elector whose own morality may be more or less problematical, is
likely to call you to account for her presence."
The reply made by Monsieur Dorlange was very dignified.
"To those," he said, "who may arraign me on that detail of my private
life I wish but one thing--that they may have nothing worse upon their
consciences. If I had not already wearied madame on our way from the
school with an interminable story, I would tell you the facts relating
to my handsome Italian, and you would see, Monsieur le comte, that her
presence in my house reflects in no way upon me.
"But," returned Monsieur de l'Estorade, softening his tone, "you take
my observation rather too seriously. As I said just now, an artist may
have a handsome model in his house--that may be natural enough--but
she is not a usual piece of furniture in that of a legislator."
"No, what seems more to their liking," replied Monsieur Dorlange, with
some heat, "is the good they can get for themselves out of a calumny
accepted eagerly and without examination. However, far from dreading
inquiry on the subject you mention, I desire it, and the ministry will
do me a great service if it will employ the extremely able political
personage you say they have put upon my path to bring that delicate
question before the electors."
"Do you really start to-morrow?" asked Monsieur de l'Estorade, finding
that he had started a subject which not only did not confound Monsieur
Dorlange, but, on the contrary, gave him the opportunity to reply with
a certain hauteur of tone and speech.
"Yes, and very early too; so that I must now take leave of you, having
certain preparations still to make."
So saying, Monsieur Dorlange rose, and after making me a rather
ceremonious bow and not bestowing his hand on Monsieur de l'Estorade,
who, in turn, did not hold out his own, he left the room.
"What was the matter with Armand?" asked my husband, as if to avoid
any other explanation.
"Never mind Armand," I said, "it is far more interesting to know what
is the matter with you; for never did I see you so out of tune, so
sharp and uncivil."
"What! because I told a ridiculous candidate that he would have to go
into mourning for his reputation?"
"In the first place, that was not complimentary; and in any case the
moment was ill-chosen with a man on whom my maternal anxiety had just
imposed a disagreeable service."
"I don't like meddlers," retorted Monsieur de l'Estorade, raising his
voice more than I had ever known him do to me. "And after all, if he
had not been here to give you his arm you would not have gone."
"You are mistaken; I should have gone alone; for your servant, being
master here, refused to accompany me."
"But you must certainly admit that if any acquaintance had met you at
half-past nine o'clock walking arm-in-arm with Monsieur Dorlange the
thing would have seemed to them, to say the least, singular."
Pretending to discover what I had known for the last hour, I
"Is it possible that after sixteen years of married life you do me the
honor to be jealous. Now I see why, in spite of your respect for
proprieties, you spoke to Monsieur Dorlange in my presence of that
Italian woman whom people think his mistress; that was a nice little
perfidy by which you meant to ruin him in my estimation."
Thus exposed to the light, my poor husband talked at random for a
time, and finally had no resource but to ring for Lucas and lecture
him severely. That ended the explanation.
What do you think of this conjugal proceeding, by which my husband,
wishing to do a man some harm in my estimation, gave him the
opportunity to appear to the utmost advantage? For--there was no
mistaking it--the sort of emotion with which Monsieur Dorlange
repelled the charge was the cry of a conscience at peace with itself,
and which knows itself able to confound a calumny.
DORLANGE TO MARIE-GASTON
Paris, May, 1839.
On my return this evening from the Estorades, on whom I had paid my
parting call, I found your letter, my dear friend, in which you
announce your coming arrival. I shall await you to-morrow during the
day, but in the evening I must, without further delay, start for
Arcis-sur-Aube, where, in the course of the next week my political
matters will come to a head. What particular hold I may have on that
town, which, as it appears, I have the ambition to represent, and on
what co-operation and assistance I may rely,--in a word, _who_ is
making my electoral bed,--all that I know as little about as I did
last year when I was told for the first time that I must enter
A few days ago I received a second letter from my father, postmarked
Paris this time, and not Stockholm. Judging by the style of the
document, it would not surprise me if the "eminent services" rendered
in a Northern court by the mysterious author of my days turned out to
be those of a Prussian corporal. It would be impossible to issue
orders in a more imperative tone, or to dwell more minutely on
The note or memorandum was headed thus: _What my son is to do_.
On receipt of these instructions I am to send to its destination the
Saint-Ursula; to superintend the packing and boxing of it myself, and
to despatch it by the fastest carrier, to Mother Marie-des-Anges,
superior of the convent of the Ursulines at Arcis-sur-Aube.
The order went on to say that I was to follow the statue in a few
days, so as to arrive at the said Arcis-sur-Aube not later than the
3rd of May. Even the inn at which I was to put up was dictated. I
would find myself expected at the Hotel de la Poste; so that if I
happen to prefer any of the others I must resign that fancy. I am also
enjoined to publish in the newspapers on the day of my departure the
fact that I present myself as candidate in the electoral
arrondissement of Arcis-sur-Aube; avoiding, however, to make any
profession of political faith, which would be both useless and
premature. The document ended with an injunction which, while it
humiliated me somewhat, gave me a certain faith in what was happening.
The Mongenod Brothers, and draw for another sum of two hundred and
fifty thousand francs, which _is to be_ deposited in my name, "taking
the utmost care," continued my instructions, "when transporting this
money from Paris to Arcis-sur-Aube that it be not lost or stolen."
What do you think of that last clause, dear friend? That sum _is to
be_ deposited; then it is not already there; and suppose it is not
there?--Besides, what am I to do with it in Arcis? Am I to stand my
election on English principles? if so, a profession of political faith
would certainly be useless and premature. As to the advice not to lose
or allow to be stolen the money in my possession, do you not think
that that is making me rather juvenile? I feel an inclination to suck
my thumb and cry for a rattle. However, I shall let myself go with the
current that is bearing me along, and, notwithstanding the news of
your coming arrival, after paying a visit to the Brothers Mongenod, I
shall valiantly start, imagining the stupefaction of the good people
of Arcis on seeing another candidate pop up in their midst like a
In Paris I have already fired my gun. The "National" has announced my
candidacy in the warmest terms; and it seems that this evening, in the
house of the Minister of the Interior, where Monsieur de l'Estorade
was dining, I was discussed at some length. I ought to add that,
according to Monsieur de l'Estorade, the general impression is that I
shall certainly fail of election. The ministry might possibly fear a
candidate from the Left centre; but as for the democratic party to
which I am supposed to belong, they do not even allow that it exists.
The Left centre candidate has, however, been disposed of by a
ministerial envoy of the ablest and most active description, and at
this moment, when I set off my small balloon, the election of the
Conservative candidate is pretty well assured.
Among the elements of my inevitable defeat, Monsieur de l'Estorade
condescended to mention a matter about which, dear friend, I am rather
surprised that you have not already lectured me. It is one of those
agreeable calumnies put in circulation in the salon Montcornet by the
honored and honorable Monsieur Bixiou. The scandal concerns a handsome
Italian woman whom I brought back from Italy and with whom I am said
to be living in a manner not canonical. Come, tell me, what hindered
you from asking me to explain this important matter? Did you think the
charge so shameful that you feared to offend me by alluding to it? Or
have you such confidence in my morality that you felt no need of being
strengthened therein? I did not have time to enter upon the necessary
explanations to Monsieur de l'Estorade, neither have I the leisure to
write them to you now. If I speak of the incident it is for the
purpose of telling you of an observation I think I have made, into the
truth of which I want you to examine after you get here. It is this:--
I have an idea that it would not be agreeable to Monsieur de
l'Estorade to see me successful in my electoral campaign. He never
gave much approbation to the plan; in fact he tried to dissuade me,
but always from the point of view of my own interests. But to-day,
when he finds that the plan has taken shape, and is actually discussed
in the ministerial salon, my gentleman turns bitter, and he seems to
feel a malignant pleasure in prophesying my defeat and in producing
this charming little infamy under which he expects to bury our
Why so! I will tell you: while feeling some gratitude for the service
I did him, the worthy man also felt from the height of his social
position a superiority over me of which my entrance to the Chamber
will now dispossess him; and it is not agreeable to him to renounce
that sense of superiority. After all, what is an artist, even though
he may be a man of genius, compared to a peer of France, a personage
who puts his hand to the tiller and steers the great political and
social system; a man who has access to kings and ministers, and who
would have the right if, by impossibility, such audacity should seize
upon his mind, of depositing a black ball against the budget. Well,
this privileged being does not like that I, and others like me, should
assume the importance and authority of that insolent elective Chamber.
But that is not all. Hereditary statesmen have a foolish pretension:
that of being initiated by long study into a certain science
represented as arduous, which they call the science of public affairs
and which they (like physicians with medical science) alone have the
right to practise. They are not willing that an underling, a
journalist for instance, or lower than that, an artist, a cutter of
images, should presume to slip into their domain and speak out beside
them. A poet, an artist, a writer may be endowed with eminent
faculties, they will agree to that; the profession of such men
presupposes it; but statesmen they cannot be. Chateaubriand himself,
though better placed than the rest of us to make himself a niche in
the Governmental Olympus, was turned out of doors one morning by a
concise little note, signed Joseph de Villele, dismissing him, as was
proper, to Rene, Atala, and other futilities.
I know that time and that tall posthumous daughter of ours whom we
call Posterity will some day do good justice and plead the right thing
in the right place. Towards the end of 2039, the world, if it deigns
to last till then, will know what Canalis, Joseph Bridau, Daniel
d'Arthez, Stidmann, and Leon de Lora were in 1839; whereas an
infinitely small number of persons will know that during the same
period Monsieur le Comte de l'Estorade was peer of France, and
president of the Cour des comptes; Monsieur le Comte de Rastignac
minister of Public Works; and his brother-in-law, Monsieur le Baron
Martial de la Roche-Hugon was a diplomat and Councillor of State
employed on more or less extraordinary services.
But while awaiting this tardy classification and distant reform, I
think it well to let our great governing class know from time to time
that unless their names are Richelieu or Colbert they are liable to
competition and are forced to accept it. So, with this aggravating
intention I begin to take pleasure in my enterprise; and if I am
elected, I shall, unless you assure me that I have mistaken de
l'Estorade's meaning, find occasion to let him and others of his kind
know that one can, if so disposed, climb over the walls of their
little parks and strut as their equals.
But how is it, my dear friend, that I rattle on about myself and say
no word about the sad emotions which must attend your return to
France? How can you bear them? And instead of endeavoring to lay them
aside, I fear you are willingly nursing them and taking a melancholy
pleasure in their revival. Dear friend, I say to you of these great
sorrows what I said just now of our governing class--we should
consider them from the point of view of time and space, by the action
of which they become after a while imperceptible.
Do me a favor! On arriving in Paris without having a house prepared to
receive you, it would be very friendly--you would seem like the man of
old times--if you would take up your quarters with me, instead of
going to Ville d'Avray, which, indeed, I think dangerous and even bad
for you. Stay with me, and you can thus judge of my handsome
housekeeper, and you will see how much she has been calumniated and
misunderstood. You will also be near to the l'Estorades in whom I
expect you to find consolations; and besides, this act would be a
charming expiation for all the involuntary wrongs you have done me. At
any rate, I have given my orders, and your room is ready for you.
P.S. You have not yet arrived, dear friend, and I must close this
letter, which will be given to you by my housekeeper when you come by
my house, for I am certain that your first visit will be to me.
I went this morning to the Mongenods'; the two hundred and fifty
thousand francs were there, but with the accompaniment of a most
extraordinary circumstance; the money was in the name of the Comte de
Sallenauve, otherwise Dorlange, sculptor, 42 rue de l'Ouest. In spite
of an appellation which has never been mine, the money was mine, and
was paid to me without the slightest hesitation. I had enough presence
of mind not to seem stupefied by my new name and title before the
cashier; but I saw Monsieur Mongenod the elder in private, a man who
enjoys the highest reputation at the Bank, and to him I expressed my
astonishment, asking for whatever explanations he was able to give me.
He could give none; the money came to him through a Dutch banker, his
correspondent at Rotterdam, and he knew nothing beyond that. _Ah ca_!
what does it all mean? Am I to be a noble? Has the moment come for my
father to acknowledge me? I start in a state of agitation and of
anxiety which you can well understand. Until I hear from you, I shall
address my letters to you here. If you decide not to stay in my house,
let me know your address at once. Say nothing of what I have now told
you to the l'Estorades; let it remain secret between us.
DORLANGE TO MARIE-GASTON
Arcis-sur-Aube, May 3, 1839.
Dear friend,--Last evening, before Maitre Achille Pigoult, notary of
this place, the burial of Charles Dorlange took place,--that
individual issuing to the world, like a butterfly from a grub, under
the name and estate of Charles de Sallenauve, son of
Francois-Henri-Pantaleon Dumirail, Marquis de Sallenauve. Here follows
the tale of certain facts which preceded this brilliant transformation.
Leaving Paris on the evening of May 1st, I arrived at Arcis, according
to my father's directions, on the following day. You can believe my
surprise when I saw in the street where the diligence stopped the
elusive Jacques Bricheteau, whom I had not seen since our singular
meeting on the Ile Saint-Louis. This time I beheld him, instead of
behaving like the dog of Jean de Nivelle, come towards me with a smile
upon his lips, holding out his hand and saying:--
"At last, my dear monsieur, we are almost at the end of all our
mysteries, and soon, I hope, you will see that you have no cause to
complain of me. Have you brought the money?"
"Yes," I replied, "neither lost nor stolen." And I drew from my pocket
a wallet containing the two hundred and fifty thousand francs in bank
"Very good!" said Jacques Bricheteau. "Now let us go to the Hotel de
la Poste; no doubt you know who awaits you there."
"No, indeed I do not," I replied.
"You must have remarked the name and title under which that money was
paid to you?"
"Certainly; that strange circumstance struck me forcibly, and has, I
must own, stirred my imagination."
"Well, we shall now completely lift the veil, one corner of which we
were careful to raise at first, so that you might not come too
abruptly to the great and fortunate event that is now before you."
"Am I to see my father?"
"Yes," replied Jacques Bricheteau; "your father is awaiting you; but I
must warn you against a probable cloud on his manner of receiving you.
The marquis has suffered much; the court life which he has always led
has trained him to show no outward emotions; besides, he has a horror
of everything bourgeois. You must not be surprised, therefore, at the
cold and dignified reception he will probably give you; at heart, he
is good and kind, and you will appreciate him better when you know
"Here," thought I, "are very comforting assurances, and as I myself am
not very ardently disposed, I foresee that this interview will be at
some degrees below zero."
On going into the room where the Marquis awaited me, I saw a very
tall, very thin, very bald man, seated at a table on which he was
arranging papers. On hearing the door open, he pushed his spectacles
up on his forehead, rested his hands on the arms of his chair, and
looking round at us he waited.
"Monsieur le Comte de Sallenauve," said Jacques Bricheteau, announcing
me with the solemnity of an usher of ambassadors or a groom of the
But in the presence of the man to whom I owed my life the ice in me
was instantly melted; I stepped forward with an eager impulse, feeling
the tears rise to my eyes. He did not move. There was not the faintest
trace of agitation in his face, which had that peculiar look of high
dignity that used to be called "the grand air"; he merely held out his
hand, limply grasped mine, and then said:
"Be seated, monsieur--for I have not yet the right to call you my
When Jacques Bricheteau and I had taken chairs--
"Then you have no objection," said this strange kind of father, "to
assuming the political position we are trying to secure for you?"
"None at all," said I. "The notion startled me at first, but I soon
grew accustomed to it; and to ensure success, I have punctually
carried out all the instructions that were conveyed to me."
"Excellent," said the Marquis, taking up from the table a gold
snuff-box which he twirled in his fingers.
Then, after a short silence, he added:
"Now I owe you certain explanations. Our good friend Jacques
Bricheteau, if he will have the kindness, will lay them before you."
This was equivalent to the royal formula of the old regime: "My
chamberlain will tell you the rest."
"To go back to the origin of everything," said Jacques Bricheteau,
accepting the duty thus put upon him, "I must first tell you that you
are not a legitimate Sallenauve. When Monsieur le marquis, here
present, returned after the emigration, in the year 1808, he made the
acquaintance of your mother, and in 1809 you were born as the fruit of
their intercourse. Your birth, as you already know, cost your mother
her life, and as misfortunes never come singly, Monsieur de Sallenauve
was compromised in a conspiracy against the imperial power and
compelled to fly the country. Brought up in Arcis with me, the
marquis, wishing to give me a proof of his friendship, confided to me,
on his departure to this new expatriation, the care of your childhood.
I accepted that charge, I will not say with alacrity, but certainly
At these words the marquis held out his hand to Jacques Bricheteau,
who was seated near him, and after a silent pressure, which did not
seem to me remarkably warm, Jacques Bricheteau continued:--
"The mysterious precautions I was forced to take in carrying out my
trust are explained by Monsieur le marquis's position towards the
various governments which have succeeded each other in France since
the period of your birth. Under the Empire, I feared that a government
little indulgent to attacks upon itself might send you to share your
father's exile; it was then that the idea of giving you a sort of
anonymous existence first occurred to me. Under the Restoration I
feared for you another class of enemies; the Sallenauve family, which
has no other representatives at the present day than Monsieur le
marquis, was then powerful. In some way it got wind of your existence,
and also of the fact that the marquis had taken the precaution not to
recognize you, in order to retain the right to leave you his whole
fortune, which, as a natural child, the law would in part have
deprived you. The obscurity in which I kept you seemed to me the best
security, against the schemes of greedy relations, and certain
mysterious steps taken by them from time to time proved the wisdom of
these precautions. Under the government of July, on the other hand, it
was I myself who I feared might endanger you. I had seen the
establishment of the new order of things with the deepest regret, and
not believing in its duration, I took part in certain active
hostilities against it, which brought me under the ban of the police."
Here the recollection that Jacques Bricheteau had been pointed out by
the waiter of the Cafe des Arts as a member of the police made me
smile, whereupon the speaker stopped and said with a very serious
"Do these explanations which I have the honor to give you seem
I explained the meaning of my smile.
"That waiter," said Jacques Bricheteau, "was not altogether mistaken;
for I have long been employed at the prefecture of police in the
health department; but I have nothing to do with police espial; on the
contrary, I have more than once come near being the victim of it."
Here a rather ridiculous noise struck our ears, nothing less than a
loud snore from my father, who thus gave us to know that he did not
take a very keen interest in the explanations furnished in his name
with a certain prolixity. I don't know whether Jacques Bricheteau's
vanity being touched put him slightly out of temper, but he rose
impatiently and shook the arm of the sleeper, crying out:--
"Hey! marquis, if you sleep like this at the Council of state, upon my
soul, your country must be well governed!"
Monsieur de Sallenauve opened his eyes, shook himself, and then said,
turning to me:--
"Pardon me, Monsieur le comte, but for the last ten nights I have
travelled, without stopping, to meet you here; and though I spent the
last night in a bed, I am still much fatigued."
So saying he rose, took a large pinch of snuff, and began to walk up
and down the room, while Jacques Bricheteau continued:--
"It is a little more than a year since I received a letter from your
father explaining his long silence, the plans he had made for you, and
the necessity he was under of keeping his incognito for a few years
longer. It was at that very time that you made your attempt to
penetrate a secret the existence of which had become apparent to you."
"You made haste to escape me," I said laughing. "It was then you went
"No, I went to your father's residence; I put the letter that he gave
me for you into the post at Stockholm."
"I do not seize your--"
"Nothing is easier to understand," interrupted the marquis. "I do not
reside in Sweden, and we wished to throw you off the track."
"Will you continue the explanation yourself?" asked Jacques
Bricheteau, who spoke, as you may have observed, my dear friend, with
elegance and fluency.
"No, no, go on," said the marquis; "you are giving it admirably."
"Feeling certain that your equivocal position as to family would
injure the political career your father desired you to enter, I made
that remark to him in one of my letters. He agreed with me, and
resolved to hasten the period of your legal recognition, which,
indeed, the extinction of the family in its other branch rendered
desirable. But the recognition of a natural son is a serious act which
the law surrounds with many precautions. Deeds must be signed before a
notary, and to do this by power of attorney would involve both in a
publicity which he is anxious for the present to avoid, he being
married, and, as it were, naturalized in the country of his adoption.
Hence, he decided to come here himself, obtaining leave of absence for
a few weeks, in order to sign in person all papers necessary to secure
to you his name and property in this country. Now let me put to you a
final question. Do you consent to take the name of de Sallenauve and
be recognized as his son?"
"I am not a lawyer," I answered; "but it seems to me that, supposing I
do not feel honored by this recognition, it does not wholly depend on
me to decline it."
"Pardon me," replied Jacques Bricheteau; "under the circumstances you
could, if you chose, legally contest the paternity. I will also add,
--and in doing so I am sure that I express the intentions of your
father,--if you think that a man who has already spent half a million
on furthering your career is not a desirable father, we leave you free
to follow your own course, and shall not insist in any way."
"Precisely, precisely," said Monsieur de Sallenauve, uttering that
affirmation with the curt intonation and shrill voice peculiar to the
relics of the old aristocracy.
Politeness, to say the least, forced me to accept the paternity thus
offered to me. To the few words I uttered to that effect, Jacques
Bricheteau replied gaily:--
"We certainly do not intend to make you buy a father in a poke.
Monsieur le marquis is desirous of laying before you all title-deeds
and documents of every kind of which he is the present holder.
Moreover, as he has been so long absent from this country, he intends
to prove his identity by several of his contemporaries who are still
living. For instance, among the honorable personages who have already
recognized him I may mention the worthy superior of the Ursuline
convent, Mother Marie-des-Anges, for whom, by the bye, you have done a
"Faith, yes," said the marquis, "a pretty thing, and if you turn out
as well in politics--"
"Well, marquis," interrupted Jacques Bricheteau, who seemed to me
inclined to manage the affair, "are you ready to proceed with our
young friend to the verification of the documents?"
"That is unnecessary," I remarked, and did not think that by this
refusal I pledged my faith too much; for, after all, what signify
papers in the hands of a man who might have forged them or stolen
them? But my father would not consent; and for more than two hours
they spread before me parchments, genealogical trees, contracts,
patents, documents of all kinds, from which it appeared that the
family of Sallenauve is, after that of Cinq-Cygne, the most ancient
family in the department of the Aube. I ought to add that the
exhibition of these archives was accompanied by an infinite number of
spoken details which seemed to make the identity of the Marquis de
Sallenauve indisputable. On all other subjects my father is laconic;
his mental capacity does not seem to me remarkable, and he willingly
allowed his _mouthpiece_ to talk for him. But here, in the matter of
his parchments, he was loquaciously full of anecdotes, recollections,
heraldic knowledge; in short, he was exactly the old noble, ignorant
and superficial in all things, but possessed of Benedictine erudition
where the genealogy of his family was concerned.
The _session_ would, I believe, be still going on, if Jacques
Bricheteau had not intervened. As the marquis was preparing to read a
voluminous memorandum refuting a chapter in Tallemant des Reaux'
"Historiettes" which did not redound to the credit of the great house
of Sallenauve, the wise organist remarked that it was time we dined,
if we intended to keep an appointment already made for seven o'clock
at the office of Maitre Achille Pigoult the notary.
We dined, not at the table-d'hote, but in private, and the dinner
seemed very long on account of the silent preoccupation of the
marquis, and the slowness with which, owing to his loss of teeth, he
swallowed his food.
At seven o'clock we went to the notary's office; but as it is now two
o'clock in the morning, and I am heavy with sleep, I shall put off
till to-morrow an account of what happened there.
May 4, 5 A.M.
I reckoned on peaceful slumbers, embellished by dreams. On the
contrary, I did not sleep an hour, and I have waked up stung to the
heart by an odious thought. But before I transmit that thought to you,
I must tell you what happened at the notary's.
Maitre Achille Pigoult, a puny little man, horribly pitted with the
small-pox, and afflicted with green spectacles, above which he darts
glances of vivacious intelligence, asked us if we felt warm enough,
the room having no fire. Politeness required us to say yes, although
he had already given signs of incendiarism by striking a match, when,
from a distant and dark corner of the room, a broken, feeble voice,
the owner of which we had not as yet perceived, interposed to prevent
"No, Achille, no, don't make a fire," said an old man. "There are five
in the room, and the lamp gives out a good heat; before long the room
would be too hot to bear."
Hearing these words, the marquis exclaimed:--
"Ah! this is the good Monsieur Pigoult, formerly justice of the
Thus recognized, the old man rose and went up to my father, into whose
face he peered.
"_Parbleu_!" he cried, "I recognize you for a Champagnard of the
_vieille roche_. Achille did not deceive me in declaring that I should
see two of my former acquaintances. You," he said, addressing the
organist, "you are little Bricheteau, the nephew of our good abbess,
Mother Marie-des-Anges; but as for that tall skeleton, looking like a
duke and peer, I can't recall his name. However, I don't blame my
memory; after eighty-six years' service it may well be rusty."
"Come, grandfather," said Achille Pigoult, "brush up your memory; and
you, gentlemen, not a word, not a gesture. I want to be clear in my
own mind. I have not the honor to know the client for whom I am asked
to draw certain deeds, and I must, as a matter of legal regularity,
have him identified."
While his son spoke, the old man was evidently straining his memory.
My father, fortunately, has a nervous twitching of the face, which
increased under the fixed gaze his _certifier_ fastened upon him.
"Hey! _parbleu_! I have it!" he cried. "Monsieur is the Marquise de
Sallenauve, whom we used to call the 'Grimacer,' and who would now be
the owner of the Chateau d'Arcis if, instead of wandering off, like
the other fools, into emigration, he had stayed at home and married
his pretty cousin."
"You are still _sans-culotte_, it seems," said the marquis, laughing.
"Messieurs," said the notary, gravely, "the proof I had arranged for
myself is conclusive. This proof, together with the title-deeds and
documents Monsieur le marquis has shown to me, and which he deposits
in my hands, together with the certificate of identity sent to me by
Mother Marie-des-Anges, who cannot, under the rules of her Order, come
to my office, are sufficient for the execution of the deeds which I
have here--already prepared. The presence of two witnesses is required
for one of them. Monsieur Bricheteau will, of course, be the witness
on your side and on the other my father, if agreeable to you; it is an
honor that, as I think, belongs to him of right, for, as one may say,
this matter has revived his memory."
"Very good, messieurs, let us proceed," said Jacques Bricheteau,
The notary sat down at his desk; the rest of us sat in a circle around
him, and the reading of the first document began. Its purport was to
establish, authentically, the recognition made by
Francois-Henri-Pantaleon Dumirail, Marquis de Sallenauve, of me, his
son. But in the course of the reading a difficulty came up. Notarial
deeds must, under pain of being null and void, state the domicile of
all contracting parties. Now, where was my father's domicile? This part
had been left in blank by the notary, who now insisted on filling it
before proceeding farther.
"As for this domicile," said Achille Pigoult, "Monsieur le marquis
appears to have none in France, as he does not reside in this country,
and has owned no property here for a long time."
"It is true," said the marquis, seeming to put more meaning into his
words than they naturally carried, "I am a mere vagabond in France."
"Ah!" said Jacques Bricheteau, "vagabonds like you, who can present
their sons with the necessary sums to buy estates, are not to be
pitied. Still, the remark is a just one, not only as to France, but as
to your residence in foreign countries. With your eternal mania for
roving, it is really very difficult to assign you a domicile."
"Well," said Achille Pigoult, "it does not seem worth while to let so
small a matter stop us. Monsieur," he continued, motioning to me, "is
now the owner of the Chateau d'Arcis, for an engagement to sell is as
good as the sale itself. What more natural, therefore, than that the
father's domicile should be stated as being on his son's estate,
especially as this is really the family property now returned into the
hands of the family, being purchased by the father for the son,
particularly as that father is known and recognized by some of the
oldest and most important inhabitants of the place?"
"Yes, that is true," said old Pigoult, adopting his son's opinion
"In short," said Jacques Bricheteau, "you think the matter can go on."
"You see that my father, a man of great experience, did not hesitate
to agree with me. We say, therefore," continued the notary, taking up
his pen, "Francois-Henri-Pantaleon Dumirail, Marquis de Sallenauve,
domiciled with Monsieur Charles de Sallenauve, his natural son, by him
legally recognized, in the house known as the Chateau d'Arcis,
arrondissement of Arcis-sur-Aube, department of the Aube."
The rest of the deed was read and executed without comment.
Then followed a rather ridiculous scene.
"Now, Monsieur le comte," said Jacques Bricheteau, "embrace your
The marquis opened his arms rather indifferently, and I coldly fell
into them, vexed with myself for not being deeply moved and for not
hearing in my heart the voice of kindred. Was this barrenness of
emotion the result of my sudden accession to wealth? A moment later a
second deed made me possessor, on payment of one hundred and eighty
thousand francs in ready money, of the Chateau d'Arcis,--a grand
edifice which had caught my eye, on my first arrival in the town, by
its lordly and feudal air.
"You may congratulate yourselves," said Achille Pigoult, "that you
have got that estate for a song."
"Come, come!" said Jacques Bricheteau, "how long have you had it on
your hands to sell? Your client would have let it go for one hundred
and fifty thousand to others, but, as family property, you thought you
could get more from us. We shall have to spend twenty thousand to make
the house habitable; the land doesn't return a rental of more than
four thousand; so that our money, all expenses deducted, won't return
us more than two and a half per cent."
"What are you complaining about?" returned Achille Pigoult. "You have
employment to give and money to pay in the neighborhood, and what can
be better for a candidate?"
"Ah! that electoral business," said Jacques Bricheteau; "we will talk
about that to-morrow when we bring you the purchase-money and your
Thereupon we took leave, and returned to the Hotel de la Poste, where
I bade good-night to my father and came to my room to write to you.
Now I must tell you the terrible idea that drove sleep from my brain
and put the pen once more in my hand,--although I am somewhat
distracted from it by writing the foregoing two pages, and I do not
see quite as much evidence for my notion as I did before I renewed
One thing is certain: during the last year many romantic incidents
have happened to me. You may say that adventure seems to be the
logical way of life for one in my position; that my birth, the chances
that brought you (whose fate is so like mine) and me together, my
relations with Marianina and my handsome housekeeper, and perhaps I
might say with Madame de l'Estorade, all point to the possession of a
fickle star, and that my present affair is only one of its caprices.
True; but what if, at the present moment under the influence of that
star, I were implicated without my knowledge in some infernal plot of
which I was made the passive instrument?
To put some order into my ideas, I begin by this half-million spent
for an interest which you must agree is very nebulous,--that of
fitting me to succeed my father in the ministry of some imaginary
country, the name of which is carefully concealed from me.
Next: who is spending these fabulous sums on me? Is it a father
tenderly attached to a child of love? No, it is a father who shows me
the utmost coldness, who goes to sleep when deeds which concern our
mutual existence are being drawn, and for whom I, on my side, am
conscious of no feeling; in fact, not to mince my words, I should
think him a great booby of an _emigre_ if it were not for the filial
respect and duty I force myself to feel for him.
_But_--suppose this man were not my father, not even the Marquis de
Sallenauve, as he asserts himself to be; suppose, like that
unfortunate Lucien de Rubempre, whose history has made so much noise,
I were caught in the toils of a serpent like that false abbe Don
Carlos Herrera, and had made myself liable to the same awful
awakening. You may say to me that you see no such likelihood; that
Carlos Herrera had an object in fascinating Lucien and making him his
double; but that I, an older man with solid principles and no love of
luxury, who have lived a life of thought and toil, should fear such
influence, is nonsense.
So be it. But why should the man who recognizes me as his son conceal
the very country in which he lives, and the name by which he is known
in that equally nameless Northern land which it is intimated that he
governs? Why make such sacrifices for my benefit and show so little
confidence? And see the mystery with which Jacques Bricheteau has
surrounded my life! Do you think that that long-winded explanation of
his explained it?
All this, my dear friend, rolling in my head and clashing with that
half-million already paid to me, has given substance to a strange
idea, at which you may perhaps laugh, but which, nevertheless, is not
without precedent in criminal annals.
I told you just now that this thought invaded me as it were suddenly;
it came like an instinct upon me. Assuredly, if I had had the faintest
inkling of it last evening, I would have cut off my right hand sooner
than sign that deed by which I have henceforth bound my fate to that
of an unknown man whose past and future may be as gloomy as a canto of
Dante's Hell, and who may drag me down with him into utter darkness.
In short, this idea--round which I am making you circle because I
cannot bring myself to let you enter it--here it is, in all its
crudity; I am afraid of being, without my knowledge, the agent, the
tool of those associations of false coiners who are known in criminal
records to concoct schemes as complicated and mysterious as the one I
am now involved in, in order to put into circulation the money they
coin. In all such cases you will find great coming and going of
accomplices; cheques drawn from a distance on the bankers in great
commercial centres like Paris, Stockholm, Rotterdam. Often one hears
of poor dupes compromised. In short, do you not see in the mysterious
ways of this Bricheteau something like an imitation, a reflection of
the manoeuvres to which these criminal workers are forced to have
recourse, arranging them with a talent and a richness of imagination
to which a novelist can scarcely attain?
One thing is certain: there is about me a thick unwholesome
atmosphere, in which I feel that air is lacking and I cannot breathe.
However, assure me, if you can, persuade me, I ask no better, that
this is all an empty dream. But in any case I am determined to have a
full explanation with these two men to-morrow, and to obtain, although
so late, more light than they have yet doled out to me. . . .
Another and yet stranger fact! As I wrote those last words, a noise of
horses' hoofs came from the street. Distrustful now of everything, I
opened my window, and in the dawning light I saw a travelling carriage
before the door of the inn, the postilion in the saddle, and Jacques
Bricheteau talking to some one who was seated in the vehicle. Deciding
quickly on my action, I ran rapidly downstairs; but before I reached
the bottom I heard the roll of wheels and the cracking of the
postilion's whip. At the foot of the staircase I came face to face
with Jacques Bricheteau. Without seeming embarrassed, in fact with the
most natural air in the world, he said to me,--
"What! my dear ward already up?"
"Of course; the least I could do was to say farewell to my excellent
"He did not wish it," replied that damned musician, with an
imperturbability and phlegm that deserved a thrashing; "he feared the
emotions of parting."
"Is he so dreadfully hurried that he could not even give a day to his
new and ardent paternity?"
"The truth is, he is an original; what he came to do, he has done;
after that, to his mind, there is nothing to stay for."
"Ah! I understand; he hastens to those high functions he performs at
that Northern court!"
Jacques Bricheteau could no longer mistake the ironical tone in which
these words were said.
"Until now," he said, "you have shown more faith."
"Yes; but I confess that faith begins to stagger under the weight of
the mysteries with which it is loaded down without relief."
"Seeing you at this decisive moment in your career giving way to
doubts which our whole conduct pursued to you through many years ought
to refute, I should be almost in despair," replied Jacques Bricheteau,
"if I had none but personal denials and asseverations to offer you.
But, as you will remember, old Pigoult spoke of an aunt of mine,
living in this neighborhood, where you will soon, I hope, find her
position a most honorable one. I had arranged that you should see her
in the course of the day; but now, if you will grant me the time to
shave, I will take you at once, early as it is, to the convent of the
Ursulines. There you shall question Mother Marie-des-Anges, who has
the reputation of a saint throughout this whole department, and I
think that at the close of your interview with her no doubt can remain
upon your mind."
While that devil of a man was speaking, his countenance had so perfect
a look of integrity and benevolence, his speech, always calm, elegant,
and self-possessed, so impressed the mind of his hearer, that I felt
the tide of my anger going down and my sense of security rising.
In fact, his answer _is_ irresistible. The convent of the Ursuline
sisters--heavens and earth! that can't be the rendezvous of makers of
false coin; and if the Mother Marie-des-Anges guarantees my father to
me, as it appears she has already done to the notary, I should be
foolish indeed to persist in my doubts.
"Very good," I said to Jacques Bricheteau, "I will go up and get my
hat and walk up and down the bank of the river until you are ready."
"That's right; and be sure you watch the door of the hotel to see that
I do not give you the slip as I did once upon a time on the Quai de
Impossible to be more intelligent than that man; he seems to divine
one's thoughts. I was ashamed of this last doubt of mine, and told him
that, on the whole, I would go and finish a letter while awaiting him.
It was this letter, dear friend, which I must now close if I wish it
to go by to-day's post. I will write you soon of my visit to the
MARIE-GASTON TO MADAME LA COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Arcis-sur-Aube, May 6, 1839.
Madame,--In any case I should gladly have profited by the request you
were so good as to make that I should write to you during my stay in
this town; but in granting me this favor you could not really know the
full extent of your charity. Without you, madame, and the consolation
of writing to you sometimes, what would become of me under the
habitual weight of my sad thoughts in a town which has neither
society, nor commerce, nor curiosities, nor environs; and where all
intellectual activity spends itself on the making of pickled pork,
soap-grease, stockings, and cotton night-caps. Dorlange, whom I shall
not long call by that name (you shall presently know why) is so
absorbed in steering his electoral frigate that I scarcely see him.
I told you, madame, that I resolved to come down here and join our
mutual friend in consequence of a certain trouble of mind apparent in
one of his letters, which informed me of a great revolution taking
place in his life. I am able to-day to be more explicit. Dorlange at
last knows his father. He is the natural son of the Marquis de
Sallenauve, the last living scion of one of the best families in
Champagne. Without explaining the reasons which have hitherto induced
him to keep his son's birth secret, the marquis has now recognized him
legally. He has also bought and presented to him an estate formerly
belonging to the Sallenauve family. This estate is situated in Arcis
itself, and its possession will assist the project of our friend's
election. That project dates much farther back than we thought; and it
did not take its rise in the fancy of Dorlange.
A year ago, the marquis began to prepare for it by sending his son a
sum of money for the purchase of real estate in conformity with
electoral laws; and it is also for the furtherance of this purpose
that he has now made him doubly a landowner. The real object of all
these sacrifices not seeming plain to Charles de Sallenauve, doubts
have arisen in his mind, and it was to assist in dispelling them that
my friendship for the poor fellow brought me here.
The marquis appears to be as odd and whimsical as he is opulent; for,
instead of remaining in Arcis, where his presence and his name would
contribute to the success of the election he desires, the very day
after legal formalities attending the recognition of his son had been
complied with, he departed furtively for foreign countries, where he
says he has important interests, without so much as taking leave of
his son. This coldness has poisoned the happiness Charles would
otherwise feel in these events; but one must take fathers as they are,
for Dorlange and I are living proofs that all cannot have them as they
Another eccentricity of the marquis is the choice he has made, as
chief assistant in his son's election, of an old Ursuline nun, with
whom he seems to have made a bargain, in which, strange to say, you
have unconsciously played a part. Yes, madame, the Saint-Ursula for
which, unknown to yourself, you were posing, will have, to all
appearances, a considerable influence on the election of our friend.
The case is this:
For many years Mother Marie-des-Anges, superior of the Ursuline
convent at Arcis-sur-Aube, has desired to install in the chapel of her
convent an image of its patron saint. But this abbess, who is a woman
of taste and intelligence, would not listen to the idea of one of
those stock figures which can be bought ready-made from the venders of
church decorations. On the other hand, she thought it was robbing her
poor to spend on this purpose the large sum necessary to procure a
work of art. The nephew of this excellent woman is an organist in
Paris to whom the Marquis de Sallenauve, then in emigration, had
confided the care of his son. When it became a question of making
Charles a deputy, the marquis naturally thought of Arcis, a place
where his family had left so many memories. The organist also
recollected his aunt's desire; he knew how influential she was in that
region because of her saintliness, and having in his nature a touch of
that intrigue which likes to undertake things difficult and arduous,
he went to see her, with the approval of the Marquis de Sallenauve,
and let her know that one of the most skilful sculptors in Paris was
ready to make her the statue of Saint-Ursula if she, on her side,
would promise to secure the artist's election as deputy from the
arrondissement of Arcis.
The old nun did not think the undertaking beyond her powers. She now
possesses the object of her pious longings; the statue arrived some
days ago, and is already in the chapel of the convent, where she
proposes to give it, before long, a solemn inauguration. It now
remains to be seen whether the good nun will perform her part of the
Well, madame, strange to say, after hearing and inquiring into the
whole matter I shall not be surprised if this remarkable woman should
carry the day. From the description our friend gives of her, Mother
Marie-des-Anges is a small woman, short and thick-set, whose face is
prepossessing and agreeable beneath its wrinkles and the mask of
saffron-tinted pallor which time and the austerities of a cloister
have placed upon it. Carrying very lightly the weight of her
corpulence and also that of her seventy-six years, she is lively,
alert, and frisky to a degree that shames the youngest of us. For
fifty years she has governed in a masterly manner her community, which
has always been the most regular, the best organized, and also the
richest society in the diocese of Troyes. Admirably fitted for the
training of youth, she has long conducted a school for girls, which is
famous throughout the department of the Aube and adjacent regions.
Having thus superintended the education of nearly all the daughters of
the best houses in the province, it is easy to imagine the influence
she has acquired among the aristocracy,--an influence she probably
intends to use in the electoral struggle she has promised to take part
On the other hand, it appears that this really extraordinary woman is
the sovereign disposer of the votes of the democratic party in the
arrondissement of Arcis. Until now, the existence of that party in
Arcis has been considered problematical; but it is actually, by its
nature, active and stirring, and our candidate proposes to present
himself under its banner. Evidently, therefore, the support the good
mother has promised will be useful and important.
I am sure you will admire with me the--as one might say--bicephalous
ability of this old nun, who has managed to keep well with the
nobility and the secular clergy on the one hand, and on the other to
lead with her wand the radical party, their sworn enemy. Admirable for
her charity and her lucid intellect, respected throughout the region
as a saint, exposed during the Revolution to a dreadful persecution,
which she bore with rare courage, one can easily understand her close
relations with the upper and conservative classes; but why she should
be equally welcome to democrats and to the subverters of order would
seem, at first, to pass all belief.
The power which she undoubtedly wields over the revolutionary party
took its rise, madame, in a struggle which they formerly had together.
In 1793 that amiable party were bent on cutting her throat. Driven
from her convent, and convicted of harboring a "refractory" priest,
she was incarcerated, arraigned before the Revolutionary tribunal, and
condemned to death. The matter was reported to Danton, a native of
Arcis, and then a member of the National Convention. Danton had known
Mother Marie-des-Anges; he thought her the most virtuous and
enlightened woman he had ever met. Hearing of her condemnation, he was
furiously angry, and wrote, as they said in those days, a high-horse
letter to the Revolutionary tribunal, and, with an authority no human
being in Arcis would have dared to contest, he ordered a reprieve.
The same day he mounted the tribune, and after speaking in general
terms of the "bloody boobies" who by their foolish fury compromised
the future of the Revolution, he told who and what Mother
Marie-des-Anges really was; he dwelt on her marvellous aptitude for the
training of youth, and he presented a scheme in which she was placed at
the head of a "grand national gynaecium," the organization of which was
to be made the subject of another decree. Robespierre, who would have
thought the intellect of an Ursuline nun only a more imperative reason
for bringing her under the revolutionary axe, was absent that day from
the session, and the motion was voted with enthusiasm. The head of
Mother Marie-des-Anges being indispensably necessary to the carrying
out of this decree of the sovereign people, she kept it on her
shoulders, and the headsman put aside his machine.
Though the other decree, organising the Grand National Gynaecium, was
lost sight of in the many other duties that devolved upon the
Convention, the excellent nun carried it out after her fashion.
Instead of something grand and Greek and national, she started in
Arcis a secular girl's-school, and as soon as a little quiet was
restored to the minds of the community, pupils flocked in from all
quarters. Under the Empire Mother Marie-des-Anges was able to
reconstitute her Ursuline sisterhood, and the first act of her
restored authority was a recognition of gratitude. She decreed that on
every year on the 5th of April, the anniversary of Danton's death, a
service should be held in the chapel of the convent for the repose of
his soul. To those who objected to this edict she answered: "Do you
know many for whom it is more necessary to implore God's mercy?"
Under the Restoration, the celebration of this service became a sort
of scandal; but Mother Marie-des-Anges would never hear of suppressing
it, and the great veneration which has always surrounded her obliged
these cavillers to hold their tongues. This courageous obstinacy had
its reward, under the government of July. To-day Mother
Marie-des-Anges is high in court favor, and there is nothing she cannot
obtain in the most august regions of power; but it is only just to add
that she asks nothing,--not even for her charities, for she provides
the means to do them nobly by the wise manner in which she administers
the property of her convent.
Her gratitude, thus openly shown to the memory of the great
revolutionist, has been of course to the revolutionary party a potent
recommendation, but not the only one.
In Arcis the leader of the advanced Left is a rich miller named
Laurent Goussard, who possesses two or three mills on the river Aube.
This man, formerly a member of the revolutionary municipality of Arcis
and the intimate friend of Danton, was the one who wrote to the latter
telling him that the axe was suspended over the throat of the
ex-superior of the Ursulines. This, however, did not prevent the
worthy _sans-culotte_ from buying up the greater part of the convent
property when it was sold under the name of national domain.
At the period when Mother Marie-des-Anges was authorized to
reconstitute her community, Laurent Goussard, who had not made much by
his purchase, went to see the good abbess, and proposed to her to buy
back the former property of her convent. Very shrewd in business,
Laurent Goussard, whose niece Mother Marie-des-Anges had educated
gratuitously, seemed to pique himself on the great liberality of his
offer, the terms of which were that the sisterhood should reimburse
him the amount of his purchase-money. The dear man was not however
making a bad bargain, for the difference in the value of assignats
with which he had paid and the good sound money he would receive made
a pretty profit. But Mother Marie-des-Anges, remembering that without
his warning Danton could not have saved her, did better still for her
first helper. At the time when Laurent Goussard made his offer the
community of the Ursulines was, financially speaking, in an excellent
position. Having since its restoration received many liberal gifts, it
was also enriched by the savings of its superior, made from the
proceeds of her secular school, which she generously made over to the
common fund. Laurent Goussard must therefore have been thunderstruck
when he read the following letter:--
Your proposal does not suit me. My conscience will not allow me to
buy property below its proper value. Before the Revolution the
property of our abbey was estimated at--[so much]. That is the
price I choose to give, and not that to which it has fallen since
the great depreciation of all property called national. In a word,
my friend, I wish to pay you more than you ask; let me know if
that suits you.
Laurent Goussard thought at first that either she had misunderstood
him or he her. But when it became clear to him that owing to these
pretended scruples of Mother Marie-des-Anges, he was the gainer of
fifty thousand francs, he would not do violence to so tender a
conscience, and he pocketed this profit (which came to him literally
from heaven), but he went about relating everywhere the marvellous
proceeding, which, as you can well imagine, put Mother Marie-des-Anges
on a pinnacle of respect (especially from the holders of other
national property) which leaves her nothing to fear from any future
revolution. Personally Laurent Goussard has become her slave, her
henchman. He does no business, he takes no step, he never moves a sack
of flour without going to her for advice; and, as she said in joke the
other day, if she took a fancy to make a John the Baptist of the
sub-prefect, Laurent Goussard would bring her his head on a charger.
That is proof enough that he will also bring his vote and that of his
friends to any candidate she may favor.
Among the clergy Mother Marie-des-Anges has, naturally, many
affiliations,--as much on account of her high reputation for goodness
as for the habit of her order, but she particularly counts among the
number of her most zealous servitors Monseigneur Troubert, bishop of
the diocese, who, though formerly a familiar of the Congregation [see
"The Vicar of Tours"], has nevertheless managed to secure from the
dynasty of July an archbishopric which will lead to a cardinalship.
When you have the clergy you have, or you are very near having, the
legitimist party with you,--a party which, while passionately desirous
of free education and filled with hatred for the July throne, is not
averse, when occasion offers, to yielding to a monstrous union with
the radical party. Now the head of the legitimists in Arcis and its
neighborhood is, of course, the family of Cinq-Cygne. Never does the
old marquise, whose haughty nature and powerful will you, madame, know
well [see "An Historical Mystery"],--never does she drive into Arcis
from her chateau of Cinq-Cygne, without paying a visit to Mother
Marie-des-Anges, who in former days educated her daughter Berthe, now
the Duchesse Georges de Maufrigneuse.
But now we come to the most opposing and resisting side,--that of the
conservatives, which must not be confounded with the party of the
administration. Here we find as its leader the Comte de Gondreville,
your husband's colleague in the Chamber of peers. Closely allied to
the count is a very influential man, his old friend Grevin, formerly
mayor and notary of Arcis, who, in turn, draws after him another
elector of considerable influence, Maitre Achille Pigoult, to whom, on
retiring from active life, he sold his practice as notary.
But Mother Marie-des-Anges has a powerful means of access to the Comte
de Gondreville through his daughter, the Marechale de Carigliano. That
great lady, who, as you know, has taken to devotion, goes into retreat
every year at the Ursuline convent. More than that, the good Mother,
without giving any explanation, intimates that she has a lever of some
kind on the Comte de Gondreville known to herself only; in fact, the
life of that old regicide--turned senator, then count of the Empire,
then peer of France under two dynasties--has wormed itself through too
many tortuous underground ways not to allow us to suppose the
existence of secrets he might not care to have unmasked.
Now Gondreville is Grevin,--his confidant, and, as they say, his tool,
his catspaw for the last fifty years. But even supposing that by an
utter impossibility their close union should, under present
circumstances, be sundered, we are certainly sure of Achille Pigoult,
Grevin's successor, on whom, when the purchase of the chateau d'Arcis
was made in his office by the Marquis de Sallenauve, a fee was
bestowed of such an unusual amount that to accept it was virtually to
As for the ruck of the electors, our friend cannot fail to make
recruits there, by the work he is about to give in repairing the
chateau, which, fortunately for him, is falling into ruin in several
places. We must also count on the manifesto which Charles de
Sallenauve has just issued, in which he openly declares that he will
accept neither favors nor employment from the government. So that,
really, taking into consideration his own oratorical talent, the
support of the Opposition journals both here and in Paris, the insults
and calumnies which the ministerial journals are already beginning to
fire upon him, I feel great hopes of his success.
Forgive me for presenting to you in glowing colors the parliamentary
future of a man of whom, you said to me the other day, you felt you
could not safely make a friend, because of the lofty and rather
impertinent assumption of his personality. To tell the truth, madame,
whatever political success may be in store for Charles de Sallenauve,
I fear he may one day regret the calmer fame of which he was already
assured in the world of art. But neither he nor I was born under an
easy and accommodating star. Birth has been a costly thing to us; it
is therefore doubly cruel not to like us. You have been kind to me
because you fancy that a lingering fragrance of our dear Louise still
clings to me; give something, I beseech you, of the same kindness to
him whom I have not hesitated in this letter to call our friend.
MARIE-GASTON TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Arcis-sur-Aube, May 13, 1839.
Madame,--I see that the electoral fever is upon you, as you are good
enough to send me from Monsieur de l'Estorade so many _discouragements_
which certainly deserve consideration.
We knew already of the mission given to Comte Maxime de Trailles,--a
mission he endeavored at first to conceal under some irrigating
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