The Deputy of Arcis
Honore de Balzac
Part 6 out of 8
The latter, when he took leave of Madame de Rastignac, asked on what
day he might have the honor of presenting his wife.
"Why, any day," replied the countess, "but particularly on Fridays."
Rastignac called on Madame de l'Estorade the next day at the hour
named to him by his wife. Like all those present at the scene produced
by Monsieur de Ronquerolles, the minister had been struck by the
emotion shown by the countess, and, without stopping to analyze the
nature of the sentiment she might feel for the man who had saved her
child, he was convinced of her serious interest in him.
By the suddenness and the masterly stroke of his election, Sallenauve
had become an object of strong interest to the minister,--all the more
because up to the last moment his candidacy was not seriously
considered. It was now known that in the preparatory meeting he had
given proofs of talent. To his active and dangerous party, which had
but few representatives in the Chamber, he might become an organ that
would echo far. By his peculiar position of birth and fortune,
whatever might be the truth of it, he was one who could do without the
favors of government; and all information obtained about him went to
show that he was a man of grave character and opinions, who could not
be turned from his chosen way.
On the other hand, the cloud upon his life might at a given moment
serve to neutralize his honor; and Rastignac, while rejecting the
proposal of de Trailles and Franchessini to put the mystery into the
hands of the police, did not himself renounce a means which, dangerous
as it seemed to him, he might use if occasion warranted.
In this situation Madame de l'Estorade could be useful to him in two
ways. Through her he could meet the new deputy accidentally, without
appearing to seek him, and thus study him at his ease, in order to
know if he had a vulnerable point accessible to persuasion. And,
secondly, if he found him unpersuadable, he could let Madame de
l'Estorade know in confidence of the secret inquiry about to be
carried on into Sallenauve's antecedents, which, conveyed by her to
the deputy, would have the effect of making him cautious and,
consequently, less aggressive.
However, his immediate plan suffered some modification; for Madame de
l'Estorade was not at home, and he was just leaving the house when
Monsieur de l'Estorade returned on foot.
"My wife will be here soon," he said; "she has gone to Ville d'Avray
with her daughter, and Monsieur and Madame Octave de Camps. Monsieur
Marie-Gaston, one of our good friends,--you know, the charming poet
who married Louise de Chaulieu,--has a country-house in that
neighborhood, where his wife died. He returned there to-day for the
first time since his misfortune; and these ladies have had the charity
to meet him there, and so lessen the first shock of his
"I can therefore hardly hope to see her to-day; and it was to her, and
not to you, my dear count, that I came to offer my excuses for the
scene of last night which seemed to annoy her much. Say to her, if you
please, that I will take another opportunity of doing so,--By the
bye," he added, "the election of your friend Sallenauve is making a
devilish talk; the king spoke to me about it this morning, and I did
not please him by repeating the favorable opinion you expressed of the
new deputy last night."
"Well, but you know the tribune is a reef on which reputations are
often wrecked. I am sorry you represented Sallenauve to the king as
being on intimate terms with us. I have nothing to do with elections;
but I may say that I did all I could to dissuade this objectionable
candidate from presenting himself."
"Of course the king cannot blame you for merely knowing an Opposition
"No; but last night, in your salon, you seemed to imply that my wife
was much interested in him. I did not wish to contradict you before
witnesses; besides, really, one can't repudiate a man to whom we are
under a great obligation. But my wife, ever since the day he was
nominated, feels that our gratitude has become a burden. She was
saying to me the other day that we had better let the acquaintance die
"Not, I hope, until you have done me a service by means of it," said
"At your orders, my dear minister, in all things."
"I want to meet this man and judge him for myself. To send him an
invitation to dinner would be useless; under the eye of his party, he
would not dare accept it, or if he did, he would be on his guard, and
I should not see him as he is. But if I met him accidentally, I should
find him without armor, and I could feel for his vulnerable spots."
"To invite you both to dine with me might be open to the same
objection; but I could, one of these evenings, make sure of a visit
from him, and let you know--Stop!" cried Monsieur de l'Estorade; "a
bright idea has come to me."
"If it is really bright," thought Rastignac, "it is fortunate I did
not meet the wife."
"We are just about to give a children's ball,--a fancy of my little
girl, to which Madame de l'Estorade, weary of refusing, has at last
consented; the child wishes it to be given in celebration of her
rescue. Of course, therefore, the rescuer is a necessary and integral
part of the affair. Come to the ball, and I promise you noise enough
to cover all investigations of your man; and certainly premeditation
will never be suspected at such a meeting."
"You are too good," replied Rastignac, pressing the peer's hand
affectionately. "Perhaps we had better say nothing about it to Madame
de l'Estorade; a mere hint given to our man would put him on his
guard, and I want to spring upon him suddenly, like a tiger on his
"That's understood--complete surprise to everybody."
"Adieu, then," said Rastignac; "I shall make the king laugh to-morrow
at the notion of children plotting politics."
"Ah!" replied Monsieur de l'Estorade, philosophically, "but isn't that
how life itself is carried on?--great effects from little causes."
Rastignac had scarcely departed before Madame de l'Estorade returned
with Nais and Monsieur and Madame de Camps.
"My dear," said her husband, "you have just missed a charming
"Who was it?" asked the countess, indifferently.
"The minister of Public Works, who came to make you his excuses. He
noticed with regret the disagreeable impression made upon you by the
theories of that scamp de Ronquerolles."
"He has taken a good deal of trouble for a very small matter," said
Madame de l'Estorade, not sharing her husband's enthusiasm.
"But all the same," he replied, "it was very gracious of him to think
of your feelings." Then, in order to change the conversation, he asked
Madame de Camps about their visit.
"Oh!" she replied, "the place is enchanting; you have no idea of its
elegance and _comfort_."
"How about Gaston?" asked Monsieur de l'Estorade.
"He was, I won't say very calm," replied Madame de l'Estorade, "but at
any rate master of himself. His condition satisfied me all the more
because the day had begun by a serious annoyance to him."
"What was it?"
"Monsieur de Sallenauve could not come with him," replied Nais, taking
upon herself to reply.
She was one of those children brought up in a hot-house, who put
themselves forward much oftener than they ought to do.
"Nais," said Madame de l'Estorade, "go to Mary and tell her to do up
The child understood perfectly well that she was sent away for
speaking improperly, and she made a face as she left the room.
"This morning," said Madame de l'Estorade as soon as Nais had shut the
door, "Monsieur Gaston and Monsieur de Sallenauve were to start
together for Ville d'Avray, and meet us there, as agreed upon. But
last night they had a visit from that organist who took such an active
part in the election. He came to hear the Italian housekeeper sing and
judge if she were ready to go upon the stage."
"Yes, yes," said Monsieur de l'Estorade; "of course Sallenauve wants
to get rid of her now that he has ceased to make statues."
"Just so," replied Madame de l'Estorade, with a slight tone of
asperity. "In order to put a stop to all calumny Monsieur de
Sallenauve wishes her to carry out her idea of going on the stage; but
he wanted, in the first place, an opinion he could trust. Monsieur
Gaston and Monsieur de Sallenauve accompanied the organist to
Saint-Sulpice, where, during the services of the Month of Mary, the
Italian woman sings every evening. After hearing her, the organist said
she had a fine contralto that was worth, at the lowest, sixty thousand
francs a year."
"Just the revenue of my iron-works," remarked Monsieur de Camps.
"That evening," continued Madame de l'Estorade, "Monsieur de
Sallenauve told his housekeeper the opinion given of her talent, and
with great kindness and delicacy let her know that she must now carry
out her intention of supporting herself in that way. 'Yes,' she
replied, 'I think the time has come. We will talk of it later'; and
she stopped the conversation. This morning when the breakfast hour
came, there was no sign of her. Thinking she must be ill, Monsieur de
Sallenauve sent an old charwoman who does the rough work of the house
to her room. No answer. Much disturbed, Monsieur Gaston and Monsieur
de Sallenauve went themselves to see what it meant. After knocking and
calling in vain, they determined to open the door, the key of which
was outside. In the room no housekeeper! but in place of her a letter
addressed to Monsieur de Sallenauve, in which she said that finding
herself an embarrassment to him, she had retired to the house of one
of her friends, thanking him for all his goodness to her."
"The bird has found its wings," said Monsieur de l'Estorade, "and
"That is not Monsieur de Sallenauve's idea," replied the countess; "he
does not believe in such ingratitude. He is confident that, feeling
herself a burden to him and yielding to the desperation which is
natural to her, she felt obliged to leave his house without giving him
a chance in any manner to provide for her future."
"A good riddance!" remarked Monsieur de l'Estorade.
"Neither Monsieur de Sallenauve nor Monsieur Gaston takes that stoical
view of it. In view of the headstrong nature of the woman, they fear
some violence to herself, which, as we know, she once attempted. Or
else they dread some evil adviser. The charwoman states that two or
three visits have been lately made at the house by a lady of middle
age, richly dressed, in a carriage, whose manner was singular, and who
seemed to desire secrecy in speaking with Luigia."
"Some charitable woman, of course," said Monsieur de l'Estorade; "the
runaway is given to piety."
"At any rate the truth must be discovered, and it was that which kept
Monsieur de Sallenauve from accompanying Monsieur Gaston to Ville
"Well," remarked Monsieur de l'Estorade, "in spite of their respective
virtue, it is my opinion he holds by her."
"In any case," returned Madame de l'Estorade, emphasizing the word,
"she does not _hold_ by him."
"I don't agree with you," said Madame de Camps; "to avoid a man is
often the greatest proof of love."
Madame de l'Estorade looked at her friend with a vexed air, and a
slight tinge of color came into her cheeks. But no one took notice of
it, for at this moment the servant threw open the door and announced
After dinner, the theatre was proposed; that is one of the amusements
that Parisians miss the most in the provinces. Monsieur Octave de
Camps, coming from his "villanous iron-works," as Madame de l'Estorade
called them, had arrived in Paris eager for this pleasure, which his
wife, more serious and sober, did not enjoy to the same extent.
Therefore, when Monsieur de Camps proposed going to the
Porte-Saint-Martin to see a fairy piece then much in vogue, Madame
"Neither Madame de l'Estorade nor I have the least desire to go out
this evening; we are very tired with our expedition. Take Rene and
Nais; they will enjoy the fairies far more than we."
The two children awaited in deep anxiety the permission which Madame
de l'Estorade finally granted; and a few moments later the two
friends, left to themselves, prepared for an evening of comfortable
"I am not at home to any one," said Madame de l'Estorade to Lucas, as
soon as her family had departed.
"Now that we are alone," said Madame de Camps, "I shall proceed to
blows; I have not travelled two hundred miles to wrap up in
cotton-wool the truth I have come to tell you."
"Ready to hear it," said Madame de l'Estorade, laughing.
"Your last letter, my dear, simply frightened me."
"Why? Because I told you I was trying to keep a man at a distance?"
"Yes. Why keep him at a distance? If Monsieur de Camps or Monsieur
Gaston or Monsieur de Rastignac were to make a practice of coming here
habitually, would you trouble yourself about them?"
"No; but they have not the same claim upon me: it is that I fear."
"Tell me, do you think Monsieur de Sallenauve loves you?"
"No; I am now quite sure to the contrary; and I also think that on my
"We'll talk about that presently; now I want to ask if you desire
Monsieur de Sallenauve to love you?"
"Well, then, the best possible way to make him do so is to wound his
self-love, and show yourself unjust and ungrateful to him; you will
only force him to think the more of you."
"But, my dear friend, isn't that a very far-fetched observation?"
"Did you never observe that men are more taken by our snubs than by
our caresses? Severity fixes their attention upon us."
"If that were so, all the men we disdain and never think of would sigh
"Oh! my dear, don't make me talk such nonsense. To take fire, a man
must have some degree of combustibility; and if that _other_ person is
lost to him forever, why shouldn't he, as you said yourself, ricochet
"That other person is not lost to him; he expects, more than ever, to
find her by the help of a very clever seeker, the mother-superior of a
convent at Arcis."
"Very good; then why employ the delay in holding him at
arm's-length,--a proceeding which will only draw him towards you?"
"My dear moralist, I don't admit your theory in the least. As for
Monsieur de Sallenauve, he will be much too busy with his duties in
the Chamber to think of me. Besides, he is a man who is full of
self-respect; he will be mortified by my manner, which will seem to
him both ungrateful and unjust. If I try to put two feet of distance
between us, he will put four; you may rely on that."
"And _you_, my dear?" asked Madame de Camps.
"How do you mean?--I?"
"You who are not busy, who have no Chamber to occupy your mind; you
who have, I will agree, a great deal of self-respect, but who know as
little about the things of the heart as the veriest school-girl,--what
will become of you under the dangerous system you are imposing upon
"If I don't love him when near, I shall certainly love him still less
at a distance."
"So that when you see him take his ostracism coolly, your self-love as
a woman will not be piqued."
"Certainly not; that is precisely the result I desire."
"And if you find, on the contrary, that he complains of you, or if he
does not complain, that he suffers from your treatment, will your
conscience tell you absolutely nothing?"
"It will tell me that I am doing right, and that I could not do
"And if success attends him and fame with its hundred voices talks of
him, how will you think of him?"
"As I think of Monsieur Thiers and Monsieur Berryer."
"And Nais, who adores him and will probably say, the first time he
dines with you, 'Ah! mamma, how well he talks!'--"
"If you are going to argue on the chatter of a child--"
"And Monsieur de l'Estorade, who already irritates you? He is
beginning to-day to sacrifice him to the spirit of party; shall you
silence him every time he makes some malevolent insinuation about
Monsieur de Sallenauve, and denies his honor and his talent?--you know
the judgment people make on those who do not think as we do."
"In short," said Madame de l'Estorade, "you are trying to make me
admit that the surest way to think of a person is to put him out of
"Listen to me, my dear," said Madame de Camps, with a slight touch of
gravity. "I have read and re-read your letters. You were there your
own self, more natural and less quibbling than you are now, and an
impression has remained upon my mind: it is that Monsieur de
Sallenauve has touched your heart, though he may not have entered it."
Madame de l'Estorade made a gesture of denial, but the confessor went
"I know that idea provokes you; you can't very well admit to me what
you have studiously denied to yourself. But what is, is. We don't say
of a man, 'A sort of magnetism issues from him, one feels his eye
without meeting it'; we don't cry out, 'I am invulnerable on the side
of love,' without having had some prickings of it."
"But so many things have happened since I wrote that nonsense."
"True, he was only a sculptor then, and before long he may be a
minister,--not like Monsieur de Rastignac, but like our great poet,
"I like sermons with definite deductions," said Madame de l'Estorade,
with a touch of impatience.
"That is what Vergniaud said to Robespierre on the 31st of May, and I
reply, with Robespierre, Yes, I'll draw my conclusion; and it is
against your self-confidence as a woman, who, having reached the age
of thirty-two without a suspicion of what love is, cannot admit that
at this late date she may be subjected to the common law."
"But what I want is a practical conclusion," said Madame de
l'Estorade, tapping her foot.
"My practical conclusion,--here it is," replied Madame Octave. "If you
will not persist in the folly of swimming against the current, I see
no danger whatever in your being submerged. You are strong; you have
principles and religion; you adore your children; you love Monsieur de
l'Estorade, their father, in them. With all that ballast you cannot
"Well?" said Madame de l'Estorade, interrogatively.
"Well, there is no need to have recourse to violent measures, the
success of which is very problematical. Remain as you are; build no
barricades when no one attacks you. Don't excite tempests of heart and
conscience merely to pacify your conscience and quiet your heart, now
ruffled only by a tiny breeze. No doubt between a man and a woman the
sentiment of friendship does take something of the character
ordinarily given to love; but such friendship is neither an impossible
illusion nor is it a yawning gulf."
"Then," said Madame de l'Estorade, with a thoughtful air, "do you wish
me to make a friend of Monsieur de Sallenauve?"
"Yes, dear, in order not to make him a fixed idea, a regret, a
struggle,--three things which poison life."
"But my husband, who has already had a touch of jealousy?"
"As for your husband, I find him somewhat changed, and not for the
better. I miss that deference he always showed to you personally, to
your ideas and impressions,--a deference which honored him more than
he thought, because there is true greatness in the power to admire. I
may be mistaken, but it seems to me that public life is spoiling him a
little. As you cannot be with him in the Chamber of peers, he is
beginning to suspect that he can have a life without you. If I were
you, I should watch these symptoms of independence, and not let the
work of your lifetime come to nought."
"Do you know, my dear," said Madame de l'Estorade, laughing, "that you
are giving me advice that may end in fire and slaughter?"
"Not at all. I am a woman forty-five years of age, who has always seen
things on their practical side. I did not marry my husband, whom I
loved, until I had convinced myself, by putting him to the test, that
he was worthy of my esteem. I don't make life; I take it as it comes,
--trying to put order and _possibility_ into all the occurrences it
brings to me. I an neither the frenzied passion of Louise de Chaulieu,
nor the insensible reason of Renee de Maucombe. I am a Jesuit in
petticoats, persuaded that rather wide sleeves are better than sleeves
that are tight to the wrist; and I have never gone in search of the
At this instant Lucas opened the door of the salon and announced,--
"Monsieur le Comte de Sallenauve."
His mistress gave him a look inquiring why he had disobeyed her
orders, to which Lucas replied by a sign implying that he did not
suppose the prohibition applied in this instance.
Madame de Camps, who had never yet seen the new deputy, now gave her
closest attention to a study of him.
Sallenauve explained his visit by his great desire to know how matters
had gone at Ville d'Avray, and whether Marie-Gaston had been deeply
affected by his return there. As for the business which detained him
in Paris, he said he had so far met with no success. He had seen the
prefect of police, who had given him a letter to Monsieur de
Saint-Esteve, the chief of the detective police. Aware of the
antecedents of that man, Monsieur de Sallenauve expressed himself as
much surprised to find a functionary with extremely good manners and
bearing; but he held out faint hope of success. "A woman hiding in
Paris," he said, "is an eel in its safest hole." He (Sallenauve) should
continue the search the next day with the help of Jacques Bricheteau;
but if nothing came of it, he should go in the evening to Ville d'Avray,
for he did not, he said, share Madame de l'Estorade's security as to
Gaston's state of mind.
As he was taking leave, Madame de l'Estorade said to him,--
"Do not forget Nais' ball which takes place the day after to-morrow.
You will affront her mortally if you fail to be present. Try to bring
Monsieur Gaston with you. It might divert his mind a little."
On his return from the theatre Monsieur Octave de Camps declared that
it would be long before they caught him at a _fairy_ piece again. But
Nais, on the contrary, still under the spell of its marvels gave a
lively recital of the scene, which showed how much her imagination was
capable of being stirred.
As Madame de Camps and her husband walked away together, the former
"That child is really very disquieting. Madame de l'Estorade develops
her too much; I should not be surprised if she gave her a great deal
of trouble in future years."
It would be difficult to mark the precise moment in our contemporary
habits and customs when a new species of religion, which might be
called child-idolatry, appeared. Nor shall we find it easier to
discover by what species of influence this worship has reached its
present enormous development among us. But, although unexplained, the
fact exists and ought to be recorded by every faithful historian of
the great and the little movements of society. In the family of to-day
children have taken the place of the household gods of the ancients,
and whoever does not share this worship is not a morose and sour
spirit, nor a captious and annoying reasoner,--he is simply an
Try to amuse one of these beloved adored ones, all puffed up, as they
naturally are, by a sense of their importance, with dolls and toys and
Punch-and-Judys, as in the days of our unsophisticated innocence!
Nonsense! Boys must have ponies and cigarettes, and the reading of
novelettes; and girls, the delight of playing hostess, giving
afternoon dances, and evening parties at which the real Guignol of the
Champs Elysees and Robert Houdin appear,--the entertainment being
announced on the invitation cards. Sometimes, as now in the case of
Nais de l'Estorade, these little sovereigns obtain permission to give
a ball in _grown-up_ style,--so much so, that policemen are stationed
about the doors, and Delisle, Nattier, and Prevost provide the toilets
and the decorations.
With the character we have already seen in Nais, it may be said that
no one was better fitted than she for the duties that devolved upon
her by the abdication of her mother. This abdication took place before
the evening of the ball itself, for it was Mademoiselle Nais de
l'Estorade who, in her own name, invited her guests to do her the
honor to pass the evening _chez elle_; and as Madame de l'Estorade
would not allow the parody to go as far as printed cards, Nais spent
several days writing her notes of invitation, taking care to put in
the corner, in conspicuous letters, the sacramental word, "Dancing."
Nothing could be more curious, or, as Madame de Camps might have said,
more alarming, than the self-possession of this little girl of
fourteen, behaving precisely as she had seen her mother do on like
occasions; stationed, to receive her company, at the door of the
salon, and marking by her manner the proper grades of welcome, from
eager cordiality to a coldness that verged on disdain. To her best
friends she gave her hand in truly English style; for the rest she had
smiles, apportioned to the degrees of intimacy,--simple inclination of
the head for unknown guests or those of less account; with little
speeches now and then, and delicious mamma-like airs for the tiny
children whom it is necessary to ask to these juvenile routs, however
dangerous and difficult to manage that element may be.
With the fathers and mothers of her guests, as the ball was not given
for them, Nais as a general thing reversed the nature of the Gospel
invocation, _Sinite parvulos venire ad me_, and was careful not to
pass the limit of cold though respectful politeness. But when Lucas,
following the instructions he had received, reversed the natural order
of things and announced, "Mesdemoiselles de la Roche-Hugon, Madame la
Baronne de la Roche-Hugon, and Madame la Comtesse de Rastignac," the
little strategist laid aside her reserve, and, running up to the wife
of the minister, she took her hand and pressed it to her lips with
After the dancing began, Nais was unable to accept all the invitations
which the elegant young lions vied with one another in pressing upon
her; in fact, she grew sadly confused as to the number and order of
her engagements,--a circumstance which very nearly led, in spite of
the _entente cordiale_, to an open rupture between France and
perfidious Albion. A quadrille doubly promised, to a young English
peer aged ten and a pupil in the Naval School of about the same years,
came very near producing unpleasant complications, inasmuch as the
young British scion of nobility had assumed a boxing attitude. That
fray pacified, another annoying episode occurred. A small boy, seeing
a servant with a tray of refreshments and being unable to reach up to
the objects of his greed, had the deplorable idea of putting his hand
on the edge of the tray and bending it down to him. Result: a cascade
of mingled orgeat, negus, and syrups; and happy would it have been had
the young author of this mischief been the only sufferer from the
sugary torrent; but, alas! nearly a dozen innocent victims were
splashed and spattered by the disastrous accident,--among them four or
five bacchantes, who were furious at seeing their toilets injured, and
would fain have made an Orpheus of the clumsy infant. While he was
being rescued with great difficulty from their clutches by the German
governess, a voice was heard amid the hubbub,--that of a pretty little
blonde, saying to a small Scottish youth with whom she had danced the
"How odd of Nais to invite little boys of that age!"
"That's easily explained," said the Scottish youth; "he's a boy of the
Treasury department. Nais had to ask him on account of her parents,--a
matter of policy, you know."
Then, taking the arm of one of his friends, the same youth
"Hey, Ernest," he said, "I'd like a cigar; suppose we find a quiet
corner, out of the way of all this racket?"
"I can't, my dear fellow," replied Ernest, in a whisper; "you know
Leontine always makes me a scene when she smells I've been smoking,
and she is charming to me to-night. See, look at what she has given
"A horse-hair ring!" exclaimed the Scot, disdainfully, "with two
locked hearts; all the boys at school have them."
"What have you to show that's better?" replied Ernest, in a piqued
"Oh!" said the Scot, with a superior air, "something much better."
And drawing from the pouch which formed an integral part of his
costume a note on violet paper highly perfumed,--
"There," he said, putting it under Ernest's nose, "smell that!"
Indelicate friend that he was, Ernest pounced upon the note and took
possession of it. The Scottish youth, furious, flung himself upon the
treacherous French boy; on which Monsieur de l'Estorade, a thousand
leagues from imagining the subject of the quarrel, intervened and
parted the combatants, which enabled the ravisher to escape into a
corner of the salon to enjoy his booty. The note contained no writing.
The young scamp had probably taken the paper out of his mother's
blotting-book. A moment after, returning to his adversary and giving
him the note, he said in a jeering tone,--
"There's your note; it is awfully compromising."
"Keep it, monsieur," replied the Scot. "I shall ask for it to-morrow
in the Tuileries, under the horse-chestnuts; meantime, you will please
understand that all intercourse is at an end between us."
Ernest was less knightly; he contented himself with putting the thumb
of his right hand to his nose and spreading the fingers,--an ironical
gesture he had acquired from his mother's coachman; after which he ran
to find his partner for the next quadrille.
But what details are these on which we are wasting time, when we know
that interests of the highest order are moving, subterraneously,
beneath the surface of the children's ball.
Arriving from Ville d'Avray late in the afternoon, Sallenauve had
brought Madame de l'Estorade ill news of Marie-Gaston. Under an
appearance of resignation, he was gloomy, and, singular to say, he had
not visited the grave of his wife,--as if he feared an emotion he
might not have the power to master. It seemed to Sallenauve that his
friend had come to the end of his strength, and that a mental
prostration of the worst character was succeeding the over-excitement
he had shown at his election. One thing reassured the new deputy, and
enabled him to come to Paris for, at any rate, a few hours. A friend
of Marie-Gaston, an English nobleman with whom he had been intimate in
Florence, came out to see him, and the sad man greeted the new-comer
with apparent joy.
In order to distract Sallenauve's thoughts from this anxiety, Madame
de l'Estorade introduced him to Monsieur Octave de Camps, the latter
having expressed a great desire to know him. The deputy had not talked
ten minutes with the iron-master before he reached his heart by the
magnitude of the metallurgical knowledge his conversation indicated.
During the year in which he had been preparing for a parliamentary
life, Sallenauve had busied himself by acquiring the practical
knowledge which enables an orator of the Chamber to take part in all
discussions and have reasons to give for his general views. He had
turned his attention more especially to matters connected with the
great question of the revenue and taxation; such, for instance, as the
custom-house, laws of exchange, stamp duties, and taxation, direct and
indirect. Approaching in this manner that problematical science--which
is, nevertheless, so sure of itself!--called political economy,
Sallenauve had also studied the sources which contribute to form the
great current of national prosperity; and in this connection the
subject of mines, the topic at this moment most interesting to
Monsieur de Camps, had not been neglected by him. We can imagine the
admiration of the iron-master, who had studied too exclusively the
subject of iron ore to know much about the other branches of
metallurgy, when the young deputy told him, apropos of the wealth of
our soil, a sort of Arabian Nights tale, which, if science would only
take hold of it, might become a reality.
"But, monsieur, do you really believe," cried Monsieur de Camps,
"that, besides our coal and iron mines, we possess mines of copper,
lead, and, possibly, silver?"
"If you will take the trouble to consult certain specialists," replied
Sallenauve, "you will find that neither the boasted strata of Bohemia
and Saxony nor even those of Russia and Hungary can be compared to
those hidden in the Pyrenees, in the Alps from Briancon to the Isere,
in the Cevennes on the Lozere side, in the Puy-de-Dome, Bretagne, and
the Vosges. In the Vosges, more especially about the town of
Saint-Die, I can point out to you a single vein of the mineral of
silver which lies to the depth of fifty to eighty metres with a length
of thirteen kilometres."
"But, monsieur, why has such untold metallurgical wealth never been
"It has been, in former days," replied Sallenauve, "especially during
the Roman occupation of Gaul. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the
work was abandoned; but the lords of the soil and the clergy renewed
it in the middle ages; after that, during the struggle of feudality
against the royal power and the long civil wars which devastated
France, the work was again suspended, and has never since been taken
"Are you sure of what you say?"
"Ancient authors, Strabo and others, all mention these mines, and the
tradition of their existence still lingers in the regions where they
are situated; decrees of emperors and the ordinances of certain of our
kings bear testimony to the value of their products; in certain places
more material proof may be found in excavations of considerable depth
and length, in galleries and halls cut in the solid rock,--in short,
in the many traces still existing of those vast works which have
immortalized Roman industry. To this must be added that the modern
study of geological science has confirmed and developed these
The imagination of Monsieur Octave de Camps, hitherto limited to the
development of a single iron-mine, took fire, and he was about to ask
his instructor to give him his ideas on the manner of awakening a
practical interest in the matter, when Lucas, throwing wide open the
double doors of the salon, announced in his loudest and most pompous
"Monsieur the minister of Public Works."
The effect produced on the elders of the assembly was electric.
"I want to see what sort of figure that little Rastignac cuts as a
statesman," said Monsieur de Camps, rising from his seat; but in his
heart he was thinking of the government subsidy he wanted for his
iron-mine. The new deputy, on his side, foresaw an inevitable meeting
with the minister, and wondered what his friends in the Opposition
would say when they read in the "National" that a representative of
the Left was seen to have an interview with a minister celebrated for
his art in converting political opponents. Anxious also to return to
Marie-Gaston, he resolved to profit by the general stir created by the
minister's arrival to slip away; and by a masterly manoeuvre he made
his way slyly to the door of the salon, expecting to escape without
being seen. But he reckoned without Nais, to whom he was engaged for a
quadrille. That small girl sounded the alarm at the moment when he
laid his hand on the handle of the door; and Monsieur de l'Estorade,
mindful of his promise to Rastignac, hastened to put a stop to the
desertion. Finding his quiet retreat impossible, Sallenauve was afraid
that an open departure after the arrival of the minister might be
construed as an act of puritanical opposition in the worst taste; he
therefore accepted the situation promptly, and decided to remain.
Monsieur de l'Estorade knew that Sallenauve was far too wise to be the
dupe of any artifices he might have used to bring about his
introduction to the minister. He therefore went straight to the point,
and soon after Rastignac's arrival he slipped his arm through that of
the statesman, and, approaching the deputy, said to him,--
"Monsieur the minister of Public Works, who, on the eve of the battle,
wishes me to introduce him to a general of the enemy's army."
"Monsieur le ministre does me too much honor," replied Sallenauve,
ceremoniously. "Far from being a general, I am a private soldier, and
a very unknown one."
"Hum!" said the minister; "it seems to me that the battle at
Arcis-sur-Aube was not an insignificant victory; you routed our ranks,
monsieur, in a singular manner."
"There was nothing wonderful in that; you must have heard that a saint
fought for us."
"Well, at any rate," said Rastignac, "I prefer this result to the one
arranged for us by a man I thought cleverer than he proved to be, whom
I sent down there. It seems that Beauvisage is a perfect nonentity;
he'd have rubbed off upon us; and after all, he was really as much
Left centre as the other man, Giguet. Now the Left centre is our real
enemy, because it is aiming to get our portfolios."
"Oh!" said Monsieur de l'Estorade, "after what we heard of the man, I
think he would have done exactly what was wanted of him."
"My dear friend, don't believe that," said the minister. "Fools are
often more tenacious of the flag under which they enlisted than we
think for. Besides, to go over to the enemy is to make a choice, and
that supposes an operation of the mind; it is much easier to be
"I agree with the minister," said Sallenauve; "extreme innocence and
extreme rascality are equally able to defend themselves against
Here Monsieur de l'Estorade, seeing, or pretending to see, a signal
made to him, looked over his shoulder and said,--
And the two adversaries being thus buckled together, he hastened away
as if summoned to some duty as master of the house.
Sallenauve was anxious not to seem disturbed at finding himself alone
with the minister. The meeting having come about, he decided to endure
it with a good grace, and, taking the first word, he asked if the
ministry had prepared, in view of the coming sessions, a large number
"No, very few," replied Rastignac. "To tell the truth, we do not
expect to be in power very long; we brought about an election because
in the general confusion into which the press has thrown public
opinion, our constitutional duty was to force that opinion to
reconstitute itself; but the fact is, we did not expect the result to
be favorable to us, and we are therefore taken somewhat unawares."
"You are like the peasant," said Sallenauve, laughing, "who, expecting
the end of the world, did not sow his wheat."
"Well, we don't look upon our retirement as the end of the world,"
said Rastignac, modestly; "there are men to come after us, and many of
them well able to govern; only, as we expected to give but few more
representations in that transitory abode called 'power,' we have not
unpacked either our costumes or our scenery. Besides, the coming
session, in any case, can only be a business session. The question now
is, of course, between the palace, that is, personal influence, and
the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. This question will naturally
come up when the vote is taken on the secret-service fund. Whenever,
in one way or the other, that is settled, and the budget is voted,
together with a few bills of secondary interest, Parliament has really
completed its task; it will have put an end to a distressing struggle,
and the country will know to which of the two parties it can look for
the development of its prosperity."
"And you think," said Sallenauve, "that in a well-balanced system of
government that question is a useful one to raise?"
"Well," replied Rastignac, "we have not raised it. It is born perhaps
of circumstances; a great deal, as I think, from the restlessness of
certain ambitions, and also from the tactics of parties."
"So that, in your opinion, one of the combatants is not guilty and has
absolutely nothing to reproach himself with?"
"You are a republican," said Rastignac, "and therefore, _a priori_, an
enemy to the dynasty. I think I should lose my time in trying to
change your ideas on the policy you complain of."
"You are mistaken," said the theoretical republican deputy; "I have no
preconceived hatred to the reigning dynasty. I even think that in its
past, _striped_, if I may say so, with royal affinities and
revolutionary memories, it has all that is needed to respond to the
liberal and monarchical instincts of the nation. But you will find it
difficult to persuade me that in the present head of the dynasty we
shall not find extreme ideas of personal influence, which in the long
run will undermine and subvert the finest as well as the strongest
"Yes," said Rastignac, ironically, "and they are saved by the famous
axiom of the deputy of Sancerre: 'The king reigns, but does not
Whether he was tired of standing to converse, or whether he wished to
prove his ease in releasing himself from the trap which had evidently
been laid for him, Sallenauve, before replying, drew up a chair for
his interlocutor, and, taking one himself, said,--
"Will you permit me to cite the example of another royal behavior?
--that of a prince who was not considered indifferent to his royal
prerogative, and who was not ignorant of constitutional mechanism--"
"Louis XVIII.," said Rastignac, "or, as the newspapers used to call
him, 'the illustrious author of the Charter'?"
"Precisely; and will you kindly tell me where he died?"
"_Parbleu_! at the Tuileries."
"And his successor?"
"In exile--Oh! I see what you are coming to."
"My conclusion is certainly not difficult to guess. But have you fully
remarked the deduction to be drawn from that royal career?--for which
I myself feel the greatest respect. Louis XVIII. was not a citizen
king. He granted this Charter, but he never consented to it. Born
nearer to the throne than the prince whose regrettable tendencies I
mentioned just now, he might naturally share more deeply still the
ideas, the prejudices, and the infatuations of the court; in person he
was ridiculous (a serious princely defect in France); he bore the
brunt of a new and untried regime; he succeeded a government which had
intoxicated the people with that splendid gilded smoke called glory;
and if he was not actually brought back to France by foreigners, at
any rate he came as the result of the armed invasion of Europe. Now,
shall I tell you why, in spite of all these defects and disadvantages,
in spite, too, of the ceaseless conspiracy kept up against his
government, it was given to him to die tranquilly in his bed at the
"Because he had made himself a constitutional king," said Rastignac,
with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "But do you mean to say that we
are not that?"
"In the letter, yes; in the spirit, no. When Louis XVIII. gave his
confidence to a minister, he gave it sincerely and wholly. He did not
cheat him; he played honestly into his hand,--witness the famous
ordinance of September 5, and the dissolution of the Chamber, which
was more Royalist than himself,--a thing he had the wisdom not to
desire. Later, a movement of public opinion shook the minister who had
led him along that path; that minister was his favorite, his son, as
he called him. No matter; yielding to the constitutional necessity, he
bravely sent him to foreign parts, after loading him with crosses and
titles,--in short, with everything that could soften the pain of his
fall; and he did not watch and manoeuvre surreptitiously to bring him
back to power, which that minister never regained."
"For a man who declares he does not hate us," said Rastignac, "you
treat us rather roughly. According to you we are almost faithless to
the constitutional compact, and our policy, to your thinking ambiguous
and tortuous, gives us a certain distant likeness to Monsieur
Doublemain in the 'Mariage de Figaro.'"
"I do not say that the evil is as deep as that," replied Sallenauve;
"perhaps, after all, _we_ are simply a _faiseur_,--using the word, be
it understood, in the sense of a meddler, one who wants to have his
finger in everything."
"Ah! monsieur, but suppose we are the ablest politician in the
"If we are, it does not follow that our kingdom ought not to have the
chance of becoming as able as ourselves."
"_Parbleu_!" cried Rastignac, in the tone of a man who comes to the
climax of a conversation, "I wish I had power to realize a wish--"
"And that is?"
"To see you grappling with that ability which you call meddlesome."
"Well, you know, Monsieur le ministre, that we all spend three fourths
of life in wishing for the impossible."
"Why impossible? Would you be the first man of the Opposition to be
seen at the Tuileries? An invitation to dinner given publicly, openly,
which would, by bringing you into contact with one whom you misjudge
at a distance--"
"I should have the honor to refuse."
And he emphasized the words _have the honor_ in a way to show the
meaning he attached to them.
"You are all alike, you men of the Opposition!" cried the minister;
"you won't let yourselves be enlightened when the opportunity presents
itself; or, to put it better, you--"
"Do you call the rays of those gigantic red bottles in a chemist's
shop _light_, when they flash into your eyes as you pass them after
dark? Don't they, on the contrary, seem to blind you?"
"It is not our rays that frighten you," said Rastignac; "it is the
dark lantern of your party watchmen on their rounds."
"There may be some truth in what you say; a party and the man who
undertakes to represent it are in some degree a married couple, who in
order to live peaceably together must be mutually courteous, frank,
and faithful in heart as well as in principle."
"Well, try to be moderate. Your dream is far more impossible to
realize than mine; the day will come when you will have more to say
about the courtesy of your chaste better half."
"If there is an evil for which I ought to be prepared, it is that."
"Do you think so? With the lofty and generous sentiments so apparent
in your nature, shall you remain impassive under political attack,
--under calumny, for instance?"
"You yourself, Monsieur le ministre, have not escaped its venom; but
it did not, I think, deter you from your course."
"But," said Rastignac, lowering his voice, "suppose I were to tell you
that I have already sternly refused to listen to a proposal to search
into your private life on a certain side which, being more in the
shade than the rest, seems to offer your enemies a chance to entrap
"I do not thank you for the honor you have done yourself in rejecting
with contempt the proposals of men who can be neither of my party nor
of yours; they belong to the party of base appetites and selfish
passions. But, supposing the impossible, had they found some
acceptance from you, pray believe that my course, which follows the
dictates of my conscience, could not be affected thereby."
"But your party,--consider for a moment its elements: a jumble of
foiled ambitions, brutal greed, plagiarists of '93, despots disguising
themselves as lovers of liberty."
"My party has nothing, and seeks to gain something. Yours calls itself
conservative, and it is right; its chief concern is how to preserve
its power, offices, and wealth,--in short, all it now monopolizes."
"But, monsieur, we are not a closed way; we open our way, on the
contrary, to all ambitions. But the higher you are in character and
intellect, the less we can allow you to pass, dragging after you your
train of democrats; for the day when that crew gains the upper hand it
will not be a change of policy, but a revolution."
"But what makes you think I want an opening of any kind?"
"What! follow a course without an aim?--a course that leads nowhere? A
certain development of a man's faculties not only gives him the right
but makes it his duty to seek to govern."
"To watch the governing power is a useful career, and, I may add, a
very busy one."
"You can fancy, monsieur," said Rastignac, good-humoredly, "that if
Beauvisage were in your place I should not have taken the trouble to
argue with him; I may say, however, that he would have made my effort
"This meeting, which _chance_ has brought about between us," said
Sallenauve, "will have one beneficial result; we understand each other
henceforth, and our future meetings will always therefore be courteous
--which will not lessen the strength of our convictions."
"Then I must say to the king--for I had his royal commands to--"
Rastignac did not end the sentence in which he was, so to speak,
firing his last gun, for the orchestra began to play a quadrille, and
Nais, running up, made him a coquettish courtesy, saying,--
"Monsieur le ministre, I am very sorry, but you have taken my partner,
and you must give him up. He is down for my eleventh quadrille, and if
I miss it my list gets into terrible confusion."
"You permit me, monsieur?" said Sallenauve, laughing. "As you see, I
am not a very savage republican." So saying, he followed Nais, who led
him along by the hand.
Madame de l'Estorade, comprehending that this fancy of Nais was rather
compromising to the dignity of the new deputy, had arranged that
several papas and mammas should figure in the same quadrille; and she
herself with the Scottish lad danced _vis-a-vis_ to her daughter, who
beamed with pride and joy. In the evolutions of the last figure, where
Nais had to take her mother's hand, she said, pressing it
"Poor mamma! if it hadn't been for _him_, you wouldn't have me now."
This sudden reminder so agitated Madame de l'Estorade, coming as it
did unexpectedly, that she was seized with a return of the nervous
trembling her daughter's danger had originally caused, and was forced
to sit down. Seeing her change color, Sallenauve, Nais, and Madame
Octave de Camps ran to her to know if she were ill.
"It is nothing," she answered, addressing Sallenauve; "only that my
little girl reminded me suddenly of the utmost obligation we are under
to you, monsieur. 'Without _him_,' she said, 'you would not have me.'
Ah! monsieur, without your generous courage where would my child be
"Come, come, don't excite yourself," interposed Madame Octave de
Camps, observing the convulsive and almost gasping tone of her
friend's voice. "It is not reasonable to put yourself in such a state
for a child's speech."
"She is better than the rest of us," replied Madame de l'Estorade,
taking Nais in her arms.
"Come, mamma, be reasonable," said that young lady.
"She puts nothing in the world," continued Madame de l'Estorade,
"before her gratitude to her preserver, whereas her father and I have
scarcely shown him any."
"But, madame," said Sallenauve, "you have courteously--"
"Courteously!" interrupted Nais, shaking her pretty head with an air
of disapproval; "if any one had saved my daughter, I should be
different to him from that."
"Nais," said Madame de Camps, sternly, "children should be silent when
their opinion is not asked."
"What is the matter," said Monsieur de l'Estorade, joining the group.
"Nothing," said Madame de Camps; "only a giddiness Renee had in
"Is it over?"
"Yes, I am quite well again," said Madame de l'Estorade.
"Then come and say good-night to Madame de Rastignac, who is preparing
to take leave."
In his eagerness to get to the minister's wife, he forgot to give his
own wife his arm. Sallenauve was more thoughtful. As they walked
together in the wake of her husband, Madame de l'Estorade said,--
"I saw you talking for a long time with Monsieur de Rastignac; did he
practise his well-known seductions upon you?"
"Do you think he succeeded?" replied Sallenauve.
"No; but such attempts to capture are always disagreeable, and I beg
you to believe that I was not a party to the plot. I am not so
violently ministerial as my husband."
"Nor I as violently revolutionary as they think."
"I trust that these annoying politics, which have already produced a
jar between you and Monsieur de l'Estorade, may not disgust you with
the idea of being counted among our friends."
"That is an honor, madame, for which I can only be grateful."
"It is not an honor but a pleasure that I hoped you would find in it,"
said Madame de l'Estorade, quickly. "I say, with Nais, if I had saved
the life of a friend's child, I should cease to be ceremonious with
So saying, and without listening to his answer, she disengaged her arm
quickly from that of Sallenauve, and left him rather astonished at the
tone in which she had spoken.
In seeing Madame de l'Estorade so completely docile to the advice,
more clever than prudent, perhaps, of Madame de Camps, the reader, we
think, can scarcely be surprised. A certain attraction has been
evident for some time on the part of the frigid countess not only to
the preserver of her daughter, but to the man who under such romantic
and singular circumstances had come before her mind. Carefully
considered, Madame de l'Estorade is seen to be far from one of those
impassible natures which resist all affectionate emotions except those
of the family. With a beauty that was partly Spanish, she had eyes
which her friend Louise de Chaulieu declared could ripen peaches. Her
coldness was not what physicians call congenital; her temperament was
an acquired one. Marrying from _reason_ a man whose mental
insufficiency is very apparent, she made herself love him out of pity
and a sense of protection. Up to the present time, by means of a
certain atrophy of heart, she had succeeded, without one failure, in
making Monsieur de l'Estorade perfectly happy. With the same instinct,
she had exaggerated the maternal sentiment to an almost inconceivable
degree, until in that way she had fairly stifled all the other
cravings of her nature. It must be said, however, that the success she
had had in accomplishing this hard task was due in a great measure to
_the circumstance_ of Louise de Chaulieu. To her that dear mistaken
one was like the drunken slave whom the Spartans made a living lesson
to their children; and between the two friends a sort of tacit wager
was established. Louise having taken the side of romantic passion,
Renee held firmly to that of superior reason; and in order to win the
game, she had maintained a courage of good sense and wisdom which
might have cost her far more to practise without this incentive. At
the age she had now reached, and with her long habit of self-control,
we can understand how, seeing, as she believed, the approach of a love
against which she had preached so vehemently, she should instantly set
to work to rebuff it; but a man who did not feel that love, while
thinking her ideally beautiful, and who possibly loved elsewhere,--a
man who had saved her child from death and asked no recompense, who
was grave, serious, and preoccupied in an absorbing enterprise,--why
should she still continue to think such a man dangerous? Why not grant
to him, without further hesitation, the lukewarm sentiment of
CURIOSITY THAT CAME WITHIN AN ACE OF BEING FATAL
On returning to Ville d'Avray, Sallenauve was confronted by a singular
event. Who does not know how sudden events upset the whole course of
our lives, and place us, without our will, in compromising positions?
Sallenauve was not mistaken in feeling serious anxiety as to the
mental state of his friend Marie-Gaston.
When that unfortunate man had left the scene of his cruel loss
immediately after the death of his wife, he would have done a wiser
thing had he then resolved never to revisit it. Nature, providentially
ordered, provides that if those whose nearest and dearest are struck
by the hand of death accept the decree with the resignation which
ought to follow the execution of all necessary law, they will not
remain too long under the influence of their grief. Rousseau has said,
in his famous letter against suicide: "Sadness, weariness of spirit,
regret, despair are not lasting sorrows, rooted forever in the soul;
experience will always cast out that feeling of bitterness which makes
us at first believe our grief eternal."
But this truth ceases to be true for imprudent and wilful persons, who
seek to escape the first anguish of sorrow by flight or some violent
distraction. All mental and moral suffering is a species of illness
which, taking time for its specific, will gradually wear out, in the
long run, of itself. If, on the contrary, it is not allowed to consume
itself slowly on the scene of its trouble, if it is fanned into flame
by motion or violent remedies, we hinder the action of nature; we
deprive ourselves of the blessed relief of comparative forgetfulness,
promised to those who will accept their suffering, and so transform it
into a chronic affection, the memories of which, though hidden, are
none the less true and deep.
If we violently oppose this salutary process, we produce an acute
evil, in which the imagination acts upon the heart; and as the latter
from its nature is limited, while the former is infinite, it is
impossible to calculate the violence of the impressions to which a man
may yield himself.
When Marie-Gaston returned to the house at Ville d'Avray, after two
years' absence, he fancied that only a tender if melancholy memory
awaited him; but not a step could he make without recalling his lost
joys and the agony of losing them. The flowers that his wife had
loved, the lawns, the trees just budding into greenness under the warm
breath of May,--they were here before his eyes; but she who had
created this beauteous nature was lying cold in the earth. Amid all
the charms and elegances gathered to adorn this nest of their love,
there was nothing for the man who rashly returned to that dangerous
atmosphere but sounds of lamentation, the moans of a renewed and now
ever-living grief. Alarmed himself at the vertigo of sorrow which
seized him, Marie-Gaston shrank, as Sallenauve had said, from taking
the last step in his ordeal; he had calmly discussed with his friend
the details of the mausoleum he wished to raise above the mortal
remains of his beloved Louise, but he had not yet brought himself to
visit her grave in the village cemetery where he had laid them. There
was everything, therefore, to fear from a grief which time had not
only not assuaged, but, on the contrary, had increased by duration,
until it was sharper and more intolerable than before.
The gates were opened by Philippe, the old servant, who had been
constituted by Madame Gaston majordomo of the establishment.
"How is your master?" asked Sallenauve.
"He has gone away, monsieur," replied Philippe.
"Yes, monsieur; with that English gentleman whom monsieur left here
"But without a word to me! Do you know where they have gone?"
"After dinner, which went off very well, monsieur suddenly gave orders
to pack his travelling-trunk; he did part of it himself. During that
time the Englishman, who said he would go into the park and smoke,
asked me privately where he could go to write a letter without
monsieur seeing him. I took him to my room; but I did not dare
question him about this journey, for I never saw any one with such
forbidding and uncommunicative manners. By the time the letter was
written monsieur was ready, and without giving me any explanation they
both got into the Englishman's carriage, and I heard one of them say
to the coachman, 'Paris.'"
"What became of the letter?" asked Sallenauve.
"It is there in my room, where the Englishman gave it me secretly. It
is addressed to monsieur."
"Fetch it at once, my dear man," cried Sallenauve.
After reading the letter, his face seemed to Philippe convulsed.
"Tell them not to unharness," he said; and he read the letter through
a second time.
When the old servant returned after executing the order, Sallenauve
asked him at what hour they had started.
"About nine," answered Philippe.
"Three hours in advance!" muttered the deputy, looking at his watch,
and returning to the carriage which had brought him. As he was getting
into it, the old majordomo forced himself to say,--
"Monsieur found no bad news in that letter, did he?"
"No; but your master may be absent for some time; keep the house in
good order." Then he said to the coachman, "Paris!"
The next day, quite early in the morning, Monsieur de l'Estorade was
in his study, employed in a rather singular manner. It will be
remembered that on the day when Sallenauve, then Dorlange the
sculptor, had sent him the bust of Madame de l'Estorade, he had not
found a place where, as he thought, the little masterpiece had a
proper light. From the moment that Rastignac hinted to him that his
intercourse with the sculptor, now deputy, might injure him at court,
he had agreed with his son Armand that the artist had given to Madame
de l'Estorade the air of a grisette; but now that Sallenauve, by his
resistance to ministerial blandishments, had taken an openly hostile
attitude to the government, that bust seemed to the peer of France no
longer worthy of exhibition, and the worthy man was now engaged in
finding some dark corner where, without recourse to the absurdity of
actually hiding it, it would be out of range to the eyes of visitors,
whose questions as to its maker he should no longer be forced to
answer. He was therefore perched on the highest step of his library
ladder, holding in his hands the gift of the sculptor, and preparing
to relegate it to the top of a bookcase, where it was destined to keep
company with an owl and a cormorant shot by Armand during the recent
holidays and stuffed by paternal pride, when the door of the study
opened and Lucas announced,--
The age of the old majordomo and the confidential post he occupied in
Marie-Gaston's establishment seemed to the factotum of the house of
l'Estorade to authorize the designation of "monsieur,"--a civility
expectant of return, be it understood.
Descending from his eminence, the peer of France asked Philippe what
brought him, and whether anything had happened at Ville d'Avray. The
old servant related the singular departure of his master, and the no
less singular departure of Sallenauve without a word of explanation;
then he added,--
"This morning, while putting monsieur's room in order, a letter
addressed to Madame le comtesse fell out of a book. As the letter was
sealed and all ready to be sent, I supposed that monsieur, in the
hurry of departure, had forgotten to tell me to put it in the post. I
thought therefore I had better bring it here myself. Perhaps Madame la
comtesse will find in it some explanation of this sudden journey,
about which I have dreamed all night."
Monsieur de l'Estorade took the letter.
"Three black seals!" he said.
"The color doesn't surprise me," replied Philippe; "for since Madame's
death monsieur has not laid off his mourning; but I do think three
seals are rather strange."
"Very well," said Monsieur de l'Estorade; "I will give the letter to
"If there should be anything in it to ease my mind about monsieur,
would Monsieur le comte be so kind as to let me know?" said Philippe.
"You can rely on that, my good fellow. _Au revoir_."
"I beg Monsieur le comte's pardon for offering an opinion," said the
majordomo, not accepting the leave just given him to depart; "but in
case the letter contained some bad news, doesn't Monsieur le comte
think that it would be best for him to know of it, in order to prepare
Madame la comtesse for the shock?"
"What! Do you suppose--" said Monsieur de l'Estorade, not finishing
"I don't know; but monsieur has been very gloomy the last few days."
"To break the seal of a letter not addressed to us is always a serious
thing to do," remarked the peer of France. "This bears my wife's
address, but--in point of fact--it was never sent to her; in short, it
is most embarrassing."
"But if by reading it some misfortune might be averted?"
"Yes, yes; that is just what keeps me in doubt."
Here Madame de l'Estorade cut the matter short by entering the room.
Lucas had told her of the unexpected arrival of Philippe.
"Is anything the matter?" she asked with anxious curiosity.
The apprehensions Sallenauve had expressed the night before as to
Marie-Gaston's condition returned to her mind. As soon as Philippe had
repeated the explanations he had already given to her husband, she
broke the seals of the letter.
Whatever may have been the contents of that disquieting epistle,
nothing was reflected on Madame de l'Estorade's face.
"You say that your master left Ville d'Avray in company with an
English gentleman," she said to Philippe. "Did he seem to go
unwillingly, as if yielding to violence?"
"No, far from that, madame; he seemed to be rather cheerful."
"Well, there is nothing that need make us uneasy. This letter was
written some days ago, and, in spite of its three black seals, it has
no reference to anything that has happened since."
Philippe bowed and went away. As soon as husband and wife were alone
together, Monsieur de l'Estorade said, stretching out his hand for the
"What did he write about?"
"No, don't read it," said the countess, not giving him the letter.
"It would pain you. It is enough for me to have had the shock; I could
scarcely control myself before that old servant."
"Does it refer to suicide?"
Madame de l'Estorade nodded her head in affirmation.
"A real, immediate intention?"
"The letter is dated yesterday morning; and apparently, if it had not
been for the providential arrival of that Englishman, the poor fellow
would have taken advantage of Monsieur de Sallenauve's absence last
night to kill himself."
"The Englishman must have suspected his intention, and carried him off
to divert him from it. If that is so, he won't let him out of his
"And we may also count on Monsieur Sallenauve, who has probably joined
them by this time."
"Then I don't see that there is anything so terrible in the letter";
and again he offered to take it.
"No," said Madame de l'Estorade, drawing back, "if I ask you not to
read it. Why give yourself painful emotions? The letter not only
expresses the intention of suicide, but it shows that our poor friend
is completely out of his mind."
At this instant piercing screams from Rene, her youngest child, put
Madame de l'Estorade into one of those material agitations which she
less than any other woman was able to control.
"My God!" she cried, as she rushed from the study, "what has
Less ready to be alarmed, Monsieur de l'Estorade contented himself by
going to the door and asking a servant what was the matter.
"Oh, nothing, Monsieur le comte," replied the man. "Monsieur Rene in
shutting a drawer pinched his finger; that is all."
The peer of France thought it unnecessary to convey himself to the
scene of action; he knew, by experience in like cases, that he must
let his wife's exaggerated maternal solicitude have free course, on
pain of being sharply snubbed himself. As he returned to his desk, he
noticed lying on the ground the famous letter, which Madame de
l'Estorade had evidently dropped in her hasty flight. Opportunity and
a certain fatality which appears to preside over the conduct of all
human affairs, impelled Monsieur de l'Estorade, who thought little of
the shock his wife had dreaded for him, to satisfy his curiosity by
reading the letter.
Marie-Gaston wrote as follows:--
Madame,--This letter will seem to you less amusing than those I
addressed to you from Arcis-sur-Aube. But I trust you will not be
alarmed by the decision which I now announce. I am going to rejoin
my wife, from whom I have been too long separated; and this
evening, shortly after midnight, I shall be with her, never to
You have, no doubt, said to yourselves--you and Sallenauve--that I
was acting strangely in not visiting her grave; that is a remark
that two of my servants made the other day, not being aware that I
overheard them. I should certainly be a great fool to go and look
at a stone in the cemetery which can make me no response, when
every night, at twelve o'clock, I hear a little rap on the door of
my room, and our dear Louise comes in, not changed at all, except,
as I think, more plump and beautiful. She has had great trouble in
obtaining permission from Marie, queen of angels, to withdraw me
from earth. But last night she brought me formal leave, sealed
with green wax; and she also gave me a tiny vial of hydrocyanic
acid. A single drop of that acid puts us to sleep, and on waking
up we find ourselves on the other side.
Louise desired me to give you a message from her. I am to tell you
that Monsieur de l'Estorade has a disease of the liver and will
not live long, and that after his death you are to marry
Sallenauve, because, on the _other side_, husbands and wives who
really love each other are reunited; and she thinks we shall all
four--she and I and you and Sallenauve--be much happier together
than if we had your present husband, who is very dull, and whom
you married reluctantly.
My message given, nothing remains for me, madame, but to wish you
all the patience you need to continue for your allotted time in
this low world, and to subscribe myself
Your very affectionately devoted
If, after reading this letter, it had occurred to Monsieur de
l'Estorade to look at himself in the glass, he would have seen, in the
sudden convulsion and discoloration of his face, the outward and
visible signs of the terrible blow which his unfortunate curiosity had
brought down upon him. His heart, his mind, his self-respect staggered
under one and the same shock; the madness evident in the sort of
prediction made about him only added to his sense of its horror.
Presently convincing himself, like a mussulman, that madmen have the
gift of second sight, he believed he was a lost man, and instantly a
stabbing pain began on his liver side, while in the direction of
Sallenauve, his predicted successor, an awful hatred succeeded to his
mild good-will. But at the same time, conscious of the total want of
reason and even of the absurdity of the impression which had suddenly
surged into his mind, he was afraid lest its existence should be
suspected, and he looked about him to see in what way he could conceal
from his wife his fatal indiscretion, the consequences of which must
forever weigh upon his life. It was certain, he thought, that if she
found the paper in his study she would deduce therefrom the fact that
he had read it. Rising from his desk, he softly opened the door
leading from the study to the salon, crossed the latter room on
tiptoe, and dropped the letter at the farther end of it, as Madame de
l'Estorade might suppose she had herself done in her hasty departure.
Then returning to his study, he scattered his papers over his desk,
like a school-boy up to mischief, who wants to mislead his master by a
show of application, intending to appear absorbed in his accounts when
his wife returned. Useless to add that he listened with keen anxiety
lest some other person than she should come into the salon; in which
case he determined to rush out and prevent other eyes from reading the
dreadful secrets contained in that paper.
Presently, however, the voice of Madame de l'Estorade, speaking to
some one at the door of the salon, reassured him as to the success of
his trick, and a moment later she entered the study accompanied by
Monsieur Octave de Camps. Going forward to receive his visitor, he was
able to see through the half-opened door the place where he had thrown
the letter. Not only had it disappeared, but he detected a movement
which assured him that Madame de l'Estorade had tucked it away in that
part of her gown where Louis XIV. did not dare to search for the
secrets of Mademoiselle d'Hautefort.
"I have come, my dear friend," said Monsieur de Camps, "to get you to
go with me to Rastignac's, as agreed on last night."
"Very good," said the peer, putting away his papers with a feverish
haste that plainly indicated he was not in his usual state of mind.
"Don't you feel well?" asked Madame de l'Estorade, who knew her
husband by heart too well not to be struck by the singular
stupefaction of his manner, while at the same time, looking in his
face, she saw the signs of internal convulsion.
"True," said Monsieur de Camps, "you certainly do not look so well as
usual. If you prefer it, we will put off this visit."
"No, not at all," replied Monsieur de l'Estorade. "I have tired myself
with this work, and I need the air. But what was the matter with
Rene?" he inquired of his wife, whose attention he felt was
unpleasantly fixed upon him. "What made him cry like that?"
"Oh, a mere nothing!" she replied, not relaxing her attention.
"Well, my dear fellow," said the peer, trying to take an easy tone,
"just let me change my coat and I'll be with you."
When the countess was alone with Monsieur de Camps, she said, rather
"Don't you think Monsieur de l'Estorade seems very much upset?"
"Yes; as I said just now, he does not look like himself. But the
explanation he gave seems sufficient. This office life is bad for the
health. I have never been as well as since I am actively engaged about
"Yes, certainly," said Madame de l'Estorade, with a heavy sigh; "he
ought to have a more active life. It seems plain that there is
something amiss with his liver."
"What! because he is so yellow? He has been so ever since I have known
"Oh, monsieur, I can't be mistaken! There is something seriously the
matter with him; and if you would kindly do me a service--"
"Madame, I am always at your orders."
"When Monsieur de l'Estorade returns, speak of the injury to Rene's
finger, and tell me that little wounds like that sometimes have
serious consequences if not attended to at once, and that will give me
an excuse to send for Doctor Bianchon."
"Certainly," replied Monsieur de Camps; "but I really don't think a
physician is necessary. Still, if it reassures you--"
At this moment Monsieur de l'Estorade reappeared. He had almost
recovered his usual expression of face, but he exhaled a strong odor
of _melisse des Carmes_, which indicated that he had felt the need of
that tonic. Monsieur de Camps played his part admirably, and as for
Madame de l'Estorade it did not cost her much trouble to simulate
"My dear," she said to her husband, when Monsieur de Camps had
delivered himself of his medical opinion, "as you return from Monsieur
de Rastignac's, please call on Doctor Bianchon and ask him to come
"Pooh!" said Monsieur de l'Estorade, shrugging his shoulders, "the
idea of disturbing a busy man like him for what you yourself said was
a mere nothing!"
"If you won't go, I shall send Lucas; Monsieur de Camps' opinion has
completely upset me."
"If it pleases you to be ridiculous," said the peer of France,
crossly, "I have no means of preventing it; but I beg you to remark
one thing: if people disturb physicians for mere nonsense, they often
can't get them when they are really wanted."
"Then you won't go for the doctor?"
"Not I," replied Monsieur de l'Estorade; "and if I had the honor of
being anything in my own house, I should forbid you to send anybody in
"My dear, you are the master here, and since you put so much feeling
into your refusal, let us say no more; I will bear my anxiety as best
"Come, de Camps," said Monsieur de l'Estorade; "for if this goes on, I
shall be sent to order that child's funeral."
"But, my dear husband," said the countess, taking his hand, "you must
be ill, to say such dreadful things in that cool way. Where is your
usual patience with my little maternal worries, or your exquisite
politeness for every one, your wife included?"
"But," said Monsieur de l'Estorade, getting more excited instead of
calmer, under this form of studied though friendly reproach, "your
maternal feelings are turning into monomania, and you make life
intolerable to every one but your children. The devil! suppose they
are your children; I am their father, and, though I am not adored as
they are, I have the right to request that my house be not made
While Monsieur de l'Estorade, striding about the room, delivered
himself of this philippic, the countess made a despairing sign to
Monsieur de Camps, as if to ask him whether he did not see most
alarming symptoms in such a scene. In order to cut short the quarrel
of which he had been the involuntary cause, the latter said, as if
"Come, let us go!"
"Yes," replied Monsieur de l'Estorade, passing out first and
neglecting to say good-bye to his wife.
"Ah! stay; I have forgotten a message my wife gave me," said Monsieur
de Camps, turning back to Madame de l'Estorade. "She told me to say
she would come for you at two o'clock to go and see the spring things
at the 'Jean de Paris,' and she has arranged that after that we shall
all four go to the flower-show. When we leave Rastignac, l'Estorade
and I will come back here, and wait for you if you have not returned
Madame de l'Estorade paid little attention to this programme, for a
flash of light had illumined her mind. As soon as she was alone, she
took Marie-Gaston's letter from her gown, and, finding it folded in
the proper manner, she exclaimed,--
"Not a doubt of it! I remember perfectly that I folded it with the
writing outside, as I put it back into the envelope; he must have read
An hour later, Madame de l'Estorade and Madame de Camps met in the
same salon where they had talked of Sallenauve a few days earlier.
"Good heavens! what is the matter with you?" cried Madame de Camps,
seeing tears on the face of her friend, who was finishing a letter she
Madame de l'Estorade told her all that had happened, and showed her
"Are you very sure," asked Madame de Camps, "that your husband has
read the luckless scrawl?"
"How can I doubt it?" returned Madame de l'Estorade. "The paper can't
have turned of itself; besides, in recalling the circumstances, I have
a dim recollection that at the moment when I started to run to Rene I
felt something drop,--fate willed that I should not stop to pick it
"Often, when people strain their memories in that way they fasten on
some false indication."
"But, my dear friend, the extraordinary change in the face and
behavior of Monsieur de l'Estorade, coming so suddenly as it did, must
have been the result of some sudden shock. He looked like a man struck
"But if you account for the change in his appearance in that way, why
look for symptoms of something wrong with his liver?"
"Ah! this is not the first time I have seen symptoms of that," replied
Madame de l'Estorade. "But you know when sick people don't complain,
we forget about their illness. See," and she pointed to a volume lying
open beside her; "just before you came in, I found in this medical
dictionary that persons who suffer from diseases of the liver are apt
to be morose, irritable, impatient. Well, for some time past, I have
noticed a great change in my husband's disposition. You yourself
mentioned it to me the other day. Besides, the scene Monsieur de Camps
has just witnessed--which is, I may truly say, unprecedented in our
household--is enough to prove it."
"My dear love, you are like those unpleasant persons who are resolved
to torture themselves. In the first place, you have looked into
medical books, which is the very height of imprudence. I defy you to
read a description of any sort of disease without fancying that either
you or some friends of yours have the symptoms of it. In the next
place, you are mixing up things; the effects of fear and of a chronic
malady are totally different."
"No, I am not mixing them up; I know what I am talking about. You
don't need to be told that if in our poor human machine some one part
gets out of order, it is on _that_ that any strong emotion will
"Well," said Madame de Camps, not pursuing the medical discussion, "if
the letter of that unhappy madman has really fallen into the hands of
your husband, the peace of your home is seriously endangered; that is
the point to be discussed."
"There are not two ways to be followed as to that," said Madame de
l'Estorade. "Monsieur de Sallenauve must never set foot in this house
"That is precisely what I came to speak about to-day. Do you know that
last night I did not think you showed the composure which is so marked
a trait in your character?"
"When?" asked Madame de l'Estorade.
"Why, when you expressed so effusively your gratitude to Monsieur de
Sallenauve. When I advised you not to avoid him, for fear it would
induce him to keep at your heels, I never intended that you should
shower your regard upon his head in a way to turn it. The wife of so
zealous a dynastic partisan as Monsieur de l'Estorade ought to know
what the _juste milieu_ is by this time."
"Ah! my dear, I entreat you, don't make fun of my poor husband."
"I am not talking of your husband, I am talking of you. Last night you
so surprised me that I have come here to take back my words. I like
people to follow my advice, but I don't like them to go beyond it."
"At any other time I should make you explain what horrible impropriety
I have committed under your counsel; but fate has interposed and
settled everything. Monsieur de Sallenauve will, at any cost,
disappear from our path, and therefore why discuss the degree of
kindness one might have shown him?"
"But," said Madame de Camps, "since I must tell you all, I have come
to think him a dangerous acquaintance,--less for you than for some one
"Who?" asked Madame de l'Estorade.
"Nais. That child, with her passion for her 'preserver,' makes me
"Oh!" said the countess, smiling rather sadly, "are you not giving too
much importance to childish nonsense?"
"Nais is, of course, a child, but a child who will ripen quickly into
a woman. Did you not tell me yourself that you were sometimes
frightened at the intuition she showed in matters beyond her years?"
"That is true. But what you call her passion for Monsieur de
Sallenauve, besides being perfectly natural, is expressed by the dear
little thing with such freedom and publicity that the sentiment is, it
seems to me, obviously childlike."
"Well, don't trust to that; especially not after this troublesome
being ceases to come to your house. Suppose that when the time comes
to marry your daughter, this fancy should have smouldered in her heart
and increased; imagine your difficulty!"
"Oh! between now and then, thank Heaven! there's time enough," replied
Madame de l'Estorade, in a tone of incredulity.
"Between now and then," said Madame de Camps, "Monsieur de Sallenauve
may have reached a distinction which will put his name on every lip;
and Nais, with her lively imagination, is more likely than other girls
to be dazzled by it."
"But, my dear love, look at the disproportion in their ages."
"Monsieur de Sallenauve is thirty, and Nais will soon be fourteen;
that is precisely the difference between you and Monsieur de
"Well, you may be right," said Madame de l'Estorade, "and the sort of
marriage I made from reason Nais may want to make from folly. But you
needn't be afraid; I will ruin that idol in her estimation."
"But there again, as in the comedy of hatred you mean to play for
Monsieur de l'Estorade's benefit, you need moderation. If you do not
manage it by careful transitions, you may miss your end. Never allow
the influence of circumstances to appear when it is desirable than an
impulse or an action should seem spontaneous."
"But," said Madame de l'Estorade, excitedly, "do you think that my
hatred, as you call it, will be acted? I do hate him, that man; he is
our evil genius!"
"Come, come, my dear, be calm! I don't know you--you, you have always
been Reason incarnate."
At this moment Lucas entered the room and asked his mistress if she
would receive _a_ Monsieur Jacques Bricheteau. Madame de l'Estorade
looked at her friend, as if to consult her.
"He is that organist who was so useful to Monsieur de Sallenauve
during the election. I don't know what he can want of me."
"Never mind," said Madame de Camps, "receive him. Before beginning
hostilities it is always well to know what is going on in the enemy's
"Show him in," said the countess.
Jacques Bricheteau entered. Expecting to be received in a friendly
country, he had not taken any particular pains with his dress. An old
maroon frock-coat to the cut of which it would have been difficult to
assign a date, a plaid waistcoat buttoned to the throat, surmounted by
a black cravat worn without a collar and twisted round the neck,
yellowish trousers, gray stockings, and laced shoes,--such was the
more than negligent costume in which the organist allowed himself to
appear in a countess's salon.
Requested briefly to sit down, he said,--
"Madame, I hope I am not indiscreet in thus presenting myself without
having the honor of being known to you, but Monsieur Marie-Gaston told
me of your desire that I should give music-lessons to your daughter.
At first I replied that it was impossible, for all my time was
occupied; but the prefect of police has just afforded me some leisure
by dismissing me from a place I filled in his department; therefore I
am now happy to place myself at your disposal."
"Your dismissal, monsieur, was caused by your activity in Monsieur de
Sallenauve's election, was it not?" asked Madame de Camps.
"As no reason was assigned for it, I think your conjecture is probably
correct; especially as in twenty years I have had no trouble whatever
with my chiefs."
"It can't be denied," said Madame de l'Estorade, sharply, "that you
have opposed the views of the government by this proceeding."
"Consequently, madame, I have accepted this dismissal as an expected
evil. What interest, after all, had I in retaining my paltry post,
compared to that of Monsieur de Sallenauve's election?"
"I am very sorry," resumed Madame de l'Estorade, "to be unable to
accept the offer you are good enough to make me. But I have not yet
considered the question of a music-master for my daughter; and, in any
case, I fear that, in view of your great and recognized talent, your
instruction would be too advanced for a little girl of fourteen."
"Well," said Jacques Bricheteau, smiling, "no one has recognized my
talent, madame. Monsieur de Sallenauve and Monsieur Marie-Gaston have
only heard me once or twice. Apart from that I am the most obscure of
professors, and perhaps the dullest. But setting aside the question of
your daughter's master, I wish to speak of a far more important
interest, which has, in fact, brought me here. I mean Monsieur de
"Has Monsieur de Sallenauve," said Madame de l'Estorade, with marked
coldness of manner, "sent you here with a message to my husband?"
"No, madame," replied Jacques Bricheteau, "he has unfortunately given
me no message. I cannot find him. I went to Ville d'Avray this
morning, and was told that he had started on a journey with Monsieur
Marie-Gaston. The servant having told me that the object and direction
of this journey were probably known to you--"
"Not in any way," interrupted Madame de l'Estorade.
Not as yet perceiving that his visit was unacceptable and that no
explanation was desired, Jacques Bricheteau persisted in his
"This morning, I received a letter from the notary at Arcis-sur-Aube,
who informs me that my aunt, Mother Marie-des-Anges, desires me to be
told of a scandalous intrigue now being organized for the purpose of
ousting Monsieur de Sallenauve from his post as deputy. The absence of
our friend will seriously complicate the matter. We can take no steps
without him; and I cannot understand why he should disappear without
informing those who take the deepest interest in him."
"That he has not informed you is certainly singular," replied Madame
de l'Estorade, in the same freezing tone; "but as for my husband or
me, there is nothing to be surprised about."
The meaning of this discourteous answer was too plain for Jacques
Bricheteau not to perceive it. He looked straight at the countess, who
lowered her eyes; but the whole expression of her countenance, due
north, confirmed the meaning he could no longer mistake in her words.
"Pardon me, madame," he said, rising. "I was not aware that the future
and the reputation of Monsieur de Sallenauve had become indifferent to
you. Only a moment ago, in your antechamber, when your servant
hesitated to take in my name, Mademoiselle, your daughter, as soon as
she heard I was the friend of Monsieur de Sallenauve, took my part
warmly; and I had the stupidity to suppose that such friendliness was
the tone of the family."
After this remark, which gave Madame de l'Estorade the full change for
her coin, Jacques Bricheteau bowed ceremoniously and was about to
leave the room, when a sudden contradiction of the countess's comedy
of indifference appeared in the person of Nais, who rushed in
"Mamma, a letter from Monsieur de Sallenauve!"
The countess turned crimson.
"What do you mean by running in here like a crazy girl?" she said
sternly; "and how do you know that this letter is from the person you
"Oh!" replied Nais, twisting the knife in the wound, "when he wrote
you those letters from Arcis-sur-Aube, I saw his handwriting."
"You are a silly, inquisitive little girl," said her mother, driven by
these aggravating circumstances quite outside of her usual habits of
indulgence. "Go to your room." Then she added to Jacques Bricheteau,
who lingered after the arrival of the letter,--
"Permit me, monsieur."
"It is for me, madame, to ask permission to remain until you have read
that letter. If _by chance_ Monsieur de Sallenauve gives you any
particulars about his journey, you will, perhaps, allow me to profit
"Monsieur de Sallenauve," said the countess, after reading the letter,
"requests me to inform my husband that he has gone to Hanwell, county
of Middlesex, England. You can address him there, monsieur, to the
care of Doctor Ellis."
Jacques Bricheteau made a second ceremonious bow and left the room.
"Nais has just given you a taste of her quality," said Madame de
Camps; "but you deserved it,--you really treated that poor man too
"I could not help it," replied Madame de l'Estorade; "the day began
wrong, and all the rest follows suit."
"Well, about the letter?"
"It is dreadful; read it yourself."
Madame,--I was able to overtake Lord Lewin, the Englishman of whom
I spoke to you, a few miles out of Paris. Providence sent him to
Ville d'Avray to save us from an awful misfortune. Possessing an
immense fortune, he is, like so many of his countrymen, a victim
to _spleen_, and it is only his natural force of character which
has saved him from the worst results of that malady. His
indifference to life and the perfect coolness with which he spoke
of suicide won him Marie-Gaston's friendship in Florence. Lord
Lewin, having studied the subject of violent emotions, is very
intimate with Doctor Ellis, a noted alienist, and it not
infrequently happens that he spends two or three weeks with him at
Hanwell, Middlesex Co., one of the best-managed lunatic asylums in
England,--Doctor Ellis being in charge of it.
When he arrived at Ville d'Avray, Lord Lewin saw at once that
Marie-Gaston had all the symptoms of incipient mania. Invisible to
other eyes, they were apparent to those of Lord Lewin. In speaking
to me of our poor friend, he used the word _chiffonait_,--meaning
that he picked up rubbish as he walked, bits of straw, scraps of
paper, rusty nails, and put them carefully into his pocket. That,
he informed me, is a marked symptom well known to those who study
the first stages of insanity. Enticing him to the subject of their
conversations in Florence, he obtained the fact that the poor
fellow meditated suicide, and the reason for it. Every night,
Gaston told him, his wife appeared to him, and he had now resolved
to _rejoin_ her, to use his own expression. Instead of opposing
this idea, Lord Lewin took a tone of approval. "But," he said,
"men such as we ought not to die in a common way. I myself have
always had the idea of going to South America, where, not far from
Paraguay, there is one of the greatest cataracts in the world,
--the Saut de Gayra. The mists rising from it can be seen at a
distance of many miles. An enormous volume of water is suddenly
forced through a narrow channel, and rushes with terrific force
and the noise of a hundred thunder-claps into the gulf below.
There, indeed, one could find a noble death."
"Let us go there," said Gaston.
"Yes," said Lord Lewin, "I am ready to go at once; we must sail
from England; it will take a few weeks to get there."
In this way, madame, he enticed our poor friend to England, where,
as you will already have supposed, he has placed him in charge of
Doctor Ellis, who, they say, has not his equal in Europe for the
treatment of this particular form of mental aberration.
I joined them at Beauvais, and have followed them to Hanwell,
taking care not to be seen by Marie-Gaston. Here I shall be
detained until the doctor is able to give a decided opinion as to
the probable results of our friend's condition. I greatly fear,
however, that I cannot possibly return to Paris in time for the
opening of the session. But I shall write to the president of the
Chamber, and in case any questions regarding my absence should
arise, may I ask Monsieur de l'Estorade to do me the favor of
stating that, to his knowledge, I have been absolutely forced by
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