The Marriage Contract
Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com
and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
by HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT
PRO AND CON
Monsieur de Manerville, the father, was a worthy Norman gentleman,
well known to the Marechael de Richelieu, who married him to one of
the richest heiresses of Bordeaux in the days when the old duke
reigned in Guienne as governor. The Norman then sold the estate he
owned in Bessin, and became a Gascon, allured by the beauty of the
chateau de Lanstrac, a delightful residence owned by his wife. During
the last days of the reign of Louis XV., he bought the post of major
of the Gate Guards, and lived till 1813, having by great good luck
escaped the dangers of the Revolution in the following manner.
Toward the close of the year, 1790, he went to Martinque, where his
wife had interests, leaving the management of his property in Gascogne
to an honest man, a notary's clerk, named Mathias, who was inclined to
--or at any rate did--give into the new ideas. On his return the Comte
de Manerville found his possessions intact and well-managed. This
sound result was the fruit produced by grafting the Gascon on the
Madame de Manerville died in 1810. Having learned the importance of
worldly goods through the dissipations of his youth, and, giving them,
like many another old man, a higher place than they really hold in
life, Monsieur de Manerville became increasingly economical, miserly,
and sordid. Without reflecting that the avarice of parents prepares
the way for the prodigalities of children, he allowed almost nothing
to his son, although that son was an only child.
Paul de Manerville, coming home from the college of Vendome in 1810,
lived under close paternal discipline for three years. The tyranny by
which the old man of seventy oppressed his heir influenced,
necessarily, a heart and a character which were not yet formed. Paul,
the son, without lacking the physical courage which is vital in the
air of Gascony, dared not struggle against his father, and
consequently lost that faculty of resistance which begets moral
courage. His thwarted feelings were driven to the depths of his heart,
where they remained without expression; later, when he felt them to be
out of harmony with the maxims of the world, he could only think
rightly and act mistakenly. He was capable of fighting for a mere word
or look, yet he trembled at the thought of dismissing a servant,--his
timidity showing itself in those contests only which required a
persistent will. Capable of doing great things to fly from
persecution, he would never have prevented it by systematic
opposition, nor have faced it with the steady employment of force of
will. Timid in thought, bold in actions, he long preserved that inward
simplicity which makes a man the dupe and the voluntary victim of
things against which certain souls hesitate to revolt, preferring to
endure them rather than complain. He was, in point of fact, imprisoned
by his father's old mansion, for he had not enough money to consort
with young men; he envied their pleasures while unable to share them.
The old gentleman took him every evening, in an old carriage drawn by
ill-harnessed old horses, attended by ill-dressed old servants, to
royalist houses, where he met a society composed of the relics of the
parliamentary nobility and the martial nobility. These two nobilities
coalescing after the Revolution, had now transformed themselves into a
landed aristocracy. Crushed by the vast and swelling fortunes of the
maritime cities, this Faubourg Saint-Germain of Bordeaux responded by
lofty disdain to the sumptuous displays of commerce, government
administrations, and the military. Too young to understand social
distinctions and the necessities underlying the apparent assumption
which they create, Paul was bored to death among these ancients,
unaware that the connections of his youth would eventually secure to
him that aristocratic pre-eminence which Frenchmen will forever
He found some slight compensations for the dulness of these evenings
in certain manual exercises which always delight young men, and which
his father enjoined upon him. The old gentleman considered that to
know the art of fencing and the use of arms, to ride well on
horseback, to play tennis, to acquire good manners,--in short, to
possess all the frivolous accomplishments of the old nobility,--made a
young man of the present day a finished gentleman. Accordingly, Paul
took a fencing-lesson every morning, went to the riding-school, and
practised in a pistol-gallery. The rest of his time was spent in
reading novels, for his father would never have allowed the more
abstruse studies now considered necessary to finish an education.
So monotonous a life would soon have killed the poor youth if the
death of the old man had not delivered him from this tyranny at the
moment when it was becoming intolerable. Paul found himself in
possession of considerable capital, accumulated by his father's
avarice, together with landed estates in the best possible condition.
But he now held Bordeaux in horror; neither did he like Lanstrac,
where his father had taken him to spend the summers, employing his
whole time from morning till night in hunting.
As soon as the estate was fairly settled, the young heir, eager for
enjoyment, bought consols with his capital, left the management of the
landed property to old Mathias, his father's notary, and spent the
next six years away from Bordeaux. At first he was attached to the
French embassy at Naples; after that he was secretary of legation at
Madrid, and then in London,--making in this way the tour of Europe.
After seeing the world and life, after losing several illusions, after
dissipating all the loose capital which his father had amassed, there
came a time when, in order to continue his way of life, Paul was
forced to draw upon the territorial revenues which his notary was
laying by. At this critical moment, seized by one of the so-called
virtuous impulses, he determined to leave Paris, return to Bordeaux,
regulate his affairs, lead the life of a country gentleman at
Lanstrac, improve his property, marry, and become, in the end, a
Paul was a count; nobility was once more of matrimonial value; he
could, and he ought to make a good marriage. While many women desire a
title, many others like to marry a man to whom a knowledge of life is
familiar. Now Paul had acquired, in exchange for the sum of seven
hundred thousand francs squandered in six years, that possession,
which cannot be bought and is practically of more value than gold and
silver; a knowledge which exacts long study, probation, examinations,
friends, enemies, acquaintances, certain manners, elegance of form and
demeanor, a graceful and euphonious name,--a knowledge, moreover,
which means many love-affairs, duels, bets lost on a race-course,
disillusions, deceptions, annoyances, toils, and a vast variety of
undigested pleasures. In short, he had become what is called elegant.
But in spite of his mad extravagance he had never made himself a mere
fashionable man. In the burlesque army of men of the world, the man of
fashion holds the place of a marshal of France, the man of elegance is
the equivalent of a lieutenant-general. Paul enjoyed his lesser
reputation, of elegance, and knew well how to sustain it. His servants
were well-dressed, his equipages were cited, his suppers had a certain
vogue; in short, his bachelor establishment was counted among the
seven or eight whose splendor equalled that of the finest houses in
But--he had not caused the wretchedness of any woman; he gambled
without losing; his luck was not notorious; he was far too upright to
deceive or mislead any one, no matter who, even a wanton; never did he
leave his billets-doux lying about, and he possessed no coffer or desk
for love-letters which his friends were at liberty to read while he
tied his cravat or trimmed his beard. Moreover, not willing to dip
into his Guienne property, he had not that bold extravagance which
leads to great strokes and calls attention at any cost to the
proceedings of a young man. Neither did he borrow money, but he had
the folly to lend to friends, who then deserted him and spoke of him
no more either for good or evil. He seemed to have regulated his
dissipations methodically. The secret of his character lay in his
father's tyranny, which had made him, as it were, a social mongrel.
So, one morning, he said to a friend named de Marsay, who afterwards
"My dear fellow, life has a meaning."
"You must be twenty-seven years of age before you can find it out,"
replied de Marsay, laughing.
"Well, I am twenty-seven; and precisely because I am twenty-seven I
mean to live the life of a country gentleman at Lanstrac. I'll
transport my belongings to Bordeaux into my father's old mansion, and
I'll spend three months of the year in Paris in this house, which I
"Will you marry?"
"I will marry."
"I'm your friend, as you know, my old Paul," said de Marsay, after a
moment's silence, "and I say to you: settle down into a worthy father
and husband and you'll be ridiculous for the rest of your days. If you
could be happy and ridiculous, the thing might be thought of; but you
will not be happy. You haven't a strong enough wrist to drive a
household. I'll do you justice and say you are a perfect horseman; no
one knows as well as you how to pick up or thrown down the reins, and
make a horse prance, and sit firm to the saddle. But, my dear fellow,
marriage is another thing. I see you now, led along at a slapping pace
by Madame la Comtesse de Manerville, going whither you would not,
oftener at a gallop than a trot, and presently unhorsed!--yes,
unhorsed into a ditch and your legs broken. Listen to me. You still
have some forty-odd thousand francs a year from your property in the
Gironde. Good. Take your horses and servants and furnish your house in
Bordeaux; you can be king of Bordeaux, you can promulgate there the
edicts that we put forth in Paris; you can be the correspondent of our
stupidities. Very good. Play the rake in the provinces; better still,
commit follies; follies may win you celebrity. But--don't marry. Who
marries now-a-days? Only merchants, for the sake of their capital, or
to be two to drag the cart; only peasants who want to produce children
to work for them; only brokers and notaries who want a wife's 'dot' to
pay for their practice; only miserable kings who are forced to
continue their miserable dynasties. But we are exempt from the pack,
and you want to shoulder it! And why DO you want to marry? You ought
to give your best friend your reasons. In the first place, if you
marry an heiress as rich as yourself, eighty thousand francs a year
for two is not the same thing as forty thousand francs a year for one,
because the two are soon three or four when the children come. You
haven't surely any love for that silly race of Manerville which would
only hamper you? Are you ignorant of what a father and mother have to
be? Marriage, my old Paul, is the silliest of all the social
immolations; our children alone profit by it, and don't know its price
until their horses are nibbling the flowers on our grave. Do you
regret your father, that old tyrant who made your first years
wretched? How can you be sure that your children will love you? The
very care you take of their education, your precautions for their
happiness, your necessary sternness will lessen their affection.
Children love a weak or a prodigal father, whom they will despise in
after years. You'll live betwixt fear and contempt. No man is a good
head of a family merely because he wants to be. Look round on all our
friends and name to me one whom you would like to have for a son. We
have known a good many who dishonor their names. Children, my dear
Paul, are the most difficult kind of merchandise to take care of.
Yours, you think, will be angels; well, so be it! Have you ever
sounded the gulf which lies between the lives of a bachelor and a
married man? Listen. As a bachelor you can say to yourself: 'I shall
never exhibit more than a certain amount of the ridiculous; the public
will think of me what I choose it to think.' Married, you'll drop into
the infinitude of the ridiculous! Bachelor, you can make your own
happiness; you enjoy some to-day, you do without it to-morrow;
married, you must take it as it comes; and the day you want it you
will have to go without it. Marry, and you'll grow a blockhead; you'll
calculate dowries; you'll talk morality, public and religious; you'll
think young men immoral and dangerous; in short, you'll become a
social academician. It's pitiable! The old bachelor whose property the
heirs are waiting for, who fights to his last breath with his nurse
for a spoonful of drink, is blest in comparison with a married man.
I'm not speaking of all that will happen to annoy, bore, irritate,
coerce, oppose, tyrannize, narcotize, paralyze, and idiotize a man in
marriage, in that struggle of two beings always in one another's
presence, bound forever, who have coupled each other under the strange
impression that they were suited. No, to tell you those things would
be merely a repetition of Boileau, and we know him by heart. Still,
I'll forgive your absurd idea if you will promise me to marry "en
grand seigneur"; to entail your property; to have two legitimate
children, to give your wife a house and household absolutely distinct
from yours; to meet her only in society, and never to return from a
journey without sending her a courier to announce it. Two hundred
thousand francs a year will suffice for such a life and your
antecedents will enable you to marry some rich English woman hungry
for a title. That's an aristocratic life which seems to me thoroughly
French; the only life in which we can retain the respect and
friendship of a woman; the only life which distinguishes a man from
the present crowd,--in short, the only life for which a young man
should even think of resigning his bachelor blessings. Thus
established, the Comte de Manerville may advise his epoch, place
himself above the world, and be nothing less than a minister or an
ambassador. Ridicule can never touch him; he has gained the social
advantages of marriage while keeping all the privileges of a
"But, my good friend, I am not de Marsay; I am plainly, as you
yourself do me the honor to say, Paul de Manerville, worthy father and
husband, deputy of the Centre, possibly peer of France,--a destiny
extremely commonplace; but I am modest and I resign myself."
"Yes, but your wife," said the pitiless de Marsay, "will she resign
"My wife, my dear fellow, will do as I wish."
"Ah! my poor friend, is that where you are? Adieu, Paul. Henceforth, I
refuse to respect you. One word more, however, for I cannot agree
coldly to your abdication. Look and see in what the strength of our
position lies. A bachelor with only six thousand francs a year
remaining to him has at least his reputation for elegance and the
memory of success. Well, even that fantastic shadow has enormous value
in it. Life still offers many chances to the unmarried man. Yes, he
can aim at anything. But marriage, Paul, is the social 'Thus far shalt
thou go and no farther.' Once married you can never be anything but
what you then are--unless your wife should deign to care for you."
"But," said Paul, "you are crushing me down with exceptional theories.
I am tired of living for others; of having horses merely to exhibit
them; of doing all things for the sake of what may be said of them; of
wasting my substance to keep fools from crying out: 'Dear, dear! Paul
is still driving the same carriage. What has he done with his fortune?
Does he squander it? Does he gamble at the Bourse? No, he's a
millionaire. Madame such a one is mad about him. He sent to England
for a harness which is certainly the handsomest in all Paris. The
four-horse equipages of Messieurs de Marsay and de Manerville were
much noticed at Longchamps; the harness was perfect'--in short, the
thousand silly things with which a crowd of idiots lead us by the
nose. Believe me, my dear Henri, I admire your power, but I don't envy
it. You know how to judge of life; you think and act as a statesman;
you are able to place yourself above all ordinary laws, received
ideas, adopted conventions, and acknowledged prejudices; in short, you
can grasp the profits of a situation in which I should find nothing
but ill-luck. Your cool, systematic, possibly true deductions are, to
the eyes of the masses, shockingly immoral. I belong to the masses. I
must play my game of life according to the rules of the society in
which I am forced to live. While putting yourself above all human
things on peaks of ice, you still have feelings; but as for me, I
should freeze to death. The life of that great majority, to which I
belong in my commonplace way, is made up of emotions of which I now
have need. Often a man coquets with a dozen women and obtains none.
Then, whatever be his strength, his cleverness, his knowledge of the
world, he undergoes convulsions, in which he is crushed as between two
gates. For my part, I like the peaceful chances and changes of life; I
want that wholesome existence in which we find a woman always at our
"A trifle indecorous, your marriage!" exclaimed de Marsay.
Paul was not to be put out of countenance, and continued: "Laugh if
you like; I shall feel myself a happy man when my valet enters my room
in the morning and says: 'Madame is awaiting monsieur for breakfast';
happier still at night, when I return to find a heart--"
"Altogether indecorous, my dear Paul. You are not yet moral enough to
"--a heart in which to confide my interests and my secrets. I wish to
live in such close union with a woman that our affection shall not
depend upon a yes or a no, or be open to the disillusions of love. In
short, I have the necessary courage to become, as you say, a worthy
husband and father. I feel myself fitted for family joys; I wish to
put myself under the conditions prescribed by society; I desire to
have a wife and children."
"You remind me of a hive of honey-bees! But go your way, you'll be a
dupe all your life. Ha, ha! you wish to marry to have a wife! In other
words, you wish to solve satisfactorily to your own profit the most
difficult problem invented by those bourgeois morals which were
created by the French Revolution; and, what is more, you mean to begin
your attempt by a life of retirement. Do you think your wife won't
crave the life you say you despise? Will SHE be disgusted with it, as
you are? If you won't accept the noble conjugality just formulated for
your benefit by your friend de Marsay, listen, at any rate, to his
final advice. Remain a bachelor for the next thirteen years; amuse
yourself like a lost soul; then, at forty, on your first attack of
gout, marry a widow of thirty-six. Then you may possibly be happy. If
you now take a young girl to wife, you'll die a madman."
"Ah ca! tell me why!" cried Paul, somewhat piqued.
"My dear fellow," replied de Marsay, "Boileau's satire against women
is a tissue of poetical commonplaces. Why shouldn't women have
defects? Why condemn them for having the most obvious thing in human
nature? To my mind, the problem of marriage is not at all at the point
where Boileau puts it. Do you suppose that marriage is the same thing
as love, and that being a man suffices to make a wife love you? Have
you gathered nothing in your boudoir experience but pleasant memories?
I tell you that everything in our bachelor life leads to fatal errors
in the married man unless he is a profound observer of the human
heart. In the happy days of his youth a man, by the caprice of our
customs, is always lucky; he triumphs over women who are all ready to
be triumphed over and who obey their own desires. One thing after
another--the obstacles created by the laws, the sentiments and natural
defences of women--all engender a mutuality of sensations which
deceives superficial persons as to their future relations in marriage,
where obstacles no longer exist, where the wife submits to love
instead of permitting it, and frequently repulses pleasure instead of
desiring it. Then, the whole aspect of a man's life changes. The
bachelor, who is free and without a care, need never fear repulsion;
in marriage, repulsion is almost certain and irreparable. It may be
possible for a lover to make a woman reverse an unfavorable decision,
but such a change, my dear Paul, is the Waterloo of husbands. Like
Napoleon, the husband is thenceforth condemned to victories which, in
spite of their number, do not prevent the first defeat from crushing
him. The woman, so flattered by the perseverance, so delighted with
the ardor of a lover, calls the same things brutality in a husband.
You, who talk of marrying, and who will marry, have you ever meditated
on the Civil Code? I myself have never muddied my feet in that hovel
of commentators, that garret of gossip, called the Law-school. I have
never so much as opened the Code; but I see its application on the
vitals of society. The Code, my dear Paul, makes woman a ward; it
considers her a child, a minor. Now how must we govern children? By
fear. In that one word, Paul, is the curb of the beast. Now, feel your
own pulse! Have you the strength to play the tyrant,--you, so gentle,
so kind a friend, so confiding; you, at whom I have laughed, but whom
I love, and love enough to reveal to you my science? For this is
science. Yes, it proceeds from a science which the Germans are already
calling Anthropology. Ah! if I had not already solved the mystery of
life by pleasure, if I had not a profound antipathy for those who
think instead of act, if I did not despise the ninnies who are silly
enough to believe in the truth of a book, when the sands of the
African deserts are made of the ashes of I know not how many unknown
and pulverized Londons, Romes, Venices, and Parises, I would write a
book on modern marriages made under the influence of the Christian
system, and I'd stick a lantern on that heap of sharp stones among
which lie the votaries of the social 'multiplicamini.' But the
question is, Does humanity require even an hour of my time? And
besides, isn't the more reasonable use of ink that of snaring hearts
by writing love-letters?--Well, shall you bring the Comtesse de
Manerville here, and let us see her?"
"Perhaps," said Paul.
"We shall still be friends," said de Marsay.
"If--" replied Paul.
"Don't be uneasy; we will treat you politely, as Maison-Rouge treated
the English at Fontenoy."
THE PINK OF FASHION
Though the foregoing conversation affected the Comte de Manerville
somewhat, he made it a point of duty to carry out his intentions, and
he returned to Bordeaux during the winter of the year 1821.
The expenses he incurred in restoring and furnishing his family
mansion sustained the reputation for elegance which had preceded him.
Introduced through his former connections to the royalist society of
Bordeaux, to which he belonged as much by his personal opinions as by
his name and fortune, he soon obtained a fashionable pre-eminence. His
knowledge of life, his manners, his Parisian acquirements enchanted
the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Bordeaux. An old marquise made use of a
term formerly in vogue at court to express the flowery beauty of the
fops and beaux of the olden time, whose language and demeanor were
social laws: she called him "the pink of fashion." The liberal clique
caught up the word and used it satirically as a nickname, while the
royalist party continued to employ it in good faith.
Paul de Manerville acquitted himself gloriously of the obligations
imposed by his flowery title. It happened to him, as to many a
mediocre actor, that the day when the public granted him their full
attention he became, one may almost say, superior. Feeling at his
ease, he displayed the fine qualities which accompanied his defects.
His wit had nothing sharp or bitter in it; his manners were not
supercilious; his intercourse with women expressed the respect they
like,--it was neither too deferential, nor too familiar; his foppery
went no farther than a care for his personal appearance which made him
agreeable; he showed consideration for rank; he allowed young men a
certain freedom, to which his Parisian experience assigned due limits;
though skilful with sword and pistol, he was noted for a feminine
gentleness for which others were grateful. His medium height and
plumpness (which had not yet increased into obesity, an obstacle to
personal elegance) did not prevent his outer man from playing the part
of a Bordelais Brummell. A white skin tinged with the hues of health,
handsome hands and feet, blue eyes with long lashes, black hair,
graceful motions, a chest voice which kept to its middle tones and
vibrated in the listener's heart, harmonized well with his sobriquet.
Paul was indeed that delicate flower which needs such careful culture,
the qualities of which display themselves only in a moist and suitable
soil,--a flower which rough treatment dwarfs, which the hot sun burns,
and a frost lays low. He was one of those men made to receive
happiness, rather than to give it; who have something of the woman in
their nature, wishing to be divined, understood, encouraged; in short,
a man to whom conjugal love ought to come as a providence.
If such a character creates difficulties in private life, it is
gracious and full of attraction for the world. Consequently, Paul had
great success in the narrow social circle of the provinces, where his
mind, always, so to speak, in half-tints, was better appreciated than
The arrangement of his house and the restoration of the chateau de
Lanstrac, where he introduced the comfort and luxury of an English
country-house, absorbed the capital saved by the notary during the
preceding six years. Reduced now to his strict income of forty-odd
thousand a year, he thought himself wise and prudent in so regulating
his household as not to exceed it.
After publicly exhibiting his equipages, entertaining the most
distinguished young men of the place, and giving various hunting
parties on the estate at Lanstrac, Paul saw very plainly that
provincial life would never do without marriage. Too young to employ
his time in miserly occupations, or in trying to interest himself in
the speculative improvements in which provincials sooner or later
engage (compelled thereto by the necessity of establishing their
children), he soon felt the need of that variety of distractions a
habit of which becomes at last the very life of a Parisian. A name to
preserve, property to transmit to heirs, social relations to be
created by a household where the principal families of the
neighborhood could assemble, and a weariness of all irregular
connections, were not, however, the determining reasons of his
matrimonial desires. From the time he first returned to the provinces
he had been secretly in love with the queen of Bordeaux, the great
beauty, Mademoiselle Evangelista.
About the beginning of the century, a rich Spaniard, named
Evangelista, established himself in Bordeaux, where his letters of
recommendation, as well as his large fortune, gave him an entrance to
the salons of the nobility. His wife contributed greatly to maintain
him in the good graces of an aristocracy which may perhaps have
adopted him in the first instance merely to pique the society of the
class below them. Madame Evangelista, who belonged to the Casa-Reale,
an illustrious family of Spain, was a Creole, and, like all women
served by slaves, she lived as a great lady, knew nothing of the value
of money, repressed no whims, even the most expensive, finding them
ever satisfied by an adoring husband who generously concealed from her
knowledge the running-gear of the financial machine. Happy in finding
her pleased with Bordeaux, where his interests obliged him to live,
the Spaniard bought a house, set up a household, received in much
style, and gave many proofs of possessing a fine taste in all things.
Thus, from 1800 to 1812, Monsieur and Madame Evangelista were objects
of great interest to the community of Bordeaux.
The Spaniard died in 1813, leaving his wife a widow at thirty-two
years of age, with an immense fortune and the prettiest little girl in
the world, a child of eleven, who promised to be, and did actually
become, a most accomplished young woman. Clever as Madame Evangelista
was, the Restoration altered her position; the royalist party cleared
its ranks and several of the old families left Bordeaux. Though the
head and hand of her husband were lacking in the direction of her
affairs, for which she had hitherto shown the indifference of a Creole
and the inaptitude of a lackadaisical woman, she was determined to
make no change in her manner of living. At the period when Paul
resolved to return to his native town, Mademoiselle Natalie
Evangelista was a remarkably beautiful young girl, and, apparently,
the richest match in Bordeaux, where the steady diminution of her
mother's capital was unknown. In order to prolong her reign, Madame
Evangelista had squandered enormous sums. Brilliant fetes and the
continuation of an almost regal style of living kept the public in its
past belief as to the wealth of the Spanish family.
Natalie was now in her nineteenth year, but no proposal of marriage
had as yet reached her mother's ear. Accustomed to gratify her
fancies, Mademoiselle Evangelista wore cashmeres and jewels, and lived
in a style of luxury which alarmed all speculative suitors in a region
and at a period when sons were as calculating as their parents. The
fatal remark, "None but a prince can afford to marry Mademoiselle
Evangelista," circulated among the salons and the cliques. Mothers of
families, dowagers who had granddaughters to establish, young girls
jealous of Natalie, whose elegance and tyrannical beauty annoyed them,
took pains to envenom this opinion with treacherous remarks. When they
heard a possible suitor say with ecstatic admiration, as Natalie
entered a ball-room, "Heavens, how beautiful she is!" "Yes," the
mammas would answer, "but expensive." If some new-comer thought
Mademoiselle Evangelista bewitching and said to a marriageable man
that he couldn't do it better, "Who would be bold enough," some woman
would reply, "to marry a girl whose mother gives her a thousand francs
a month for her toilet,--a girl who has horses and a maid of her own,
and wears laces? Yes, her 'peignoirs' are trimmed with mechlin. The
price of her washing would support the household of a clerk. She wears
pelerines in the morning which actually cost six francs to get up."
These, and other speeches said occasionally in the form of praise
extinguished the desires that some men might have had to marry the
beautiful Spanish girl. Queen of every ball, accustomed to flattery,
"blasee" with the smiles and the admiration which followed her every
step, Natalie, nevertheless, knew nothing of life. She lived as the
bird which flies, as the flower that blooms, finding every one about
her eager to do her will. She was ignorant of the price of things; she
knew neither the value of money, nor whence it came, how it should be
managed, and how spent. Possibly she thought that every household had
cooks and coachmen, lady's-maids and footmen, as the fields have hay
and the trees their fruits. To her, beggars and paupers, fallen trees
and waste lands seemed in the same category. Pampered and petted as
her mother's hope, no fatigue was allowed to spoil her pleasure. Thus
she bounded through life as a courser on his steppe, unbridled and
Six month's after Paul's arrival the Pink of Fashion and the Queen of
Balls met in presence of the highest society of the town of Bordeaux.
The two flowers looked at each other with apparent coldness, and
mutually thought each other charming. Interested in watching the
effects of the meeting, Madame Evangelista divined in the expression
of Paul's eyes the feelings within him, and she muttered to herself,
"He will be my son-in-law." Paul, on the other hand, said to himself,
as he looked at Natalie, "She will be my wife."
The wealth of the Evangelistas, proverbial in Bordeaux, had remained
in Paul's mind as a memory of his childhood. Thus the pecuniary
conditions were known to him from the start, without necessitating
those discussions and inquiries which are as repugnant to a timid mind
as to a proud one. When some persons attempting to say to Paul a few
flattering phrases as to Natalie's manner, language, and beauty,
ending by remarks, cruelly calculated to deter him, on the lavish
extravagance of the Evangelistas, the Pink of Fashion replied with a
disdain that was well-deserved by such provincial pettiness. This
method of receiving such speeches soon silenced them; for he now set
the tone to the ideas and language as well as to the manners of those
about him. He had imported from his travels a certain development of
the Britannic personality with its icy barriers, also a tone of
Byronic pessimism as to life, together with English plate, boot-
polish, ponies, yellow gloves, cigars, and the habit of galloping.
It thus happened that Paul escaped the discouragements hitherto
presented to marriageable men by dowagers and young girls. Madame
Evangelista began by asking him to formal dinners on various
occasions. The Pink of Fashion would not, of course, miss festivities
to which none but the most distinguished young men of the town were
bidden. In spite of the coldness that Paul assumed, which deceived
neither mother nor daughter, he was drawn, step by step, into the path
of marriage. Sometimes as he passed in his tilbury, or rode by on his
fine English horse, he heard the young men of his acquaintance say to
"There's a lucky man. He is rich and handsome, and is to marry, so
they say, Mademoiselle Evangelista. There are some men for whom the
world seems made."
When he met the Evangelistas he felt proud of the particular
distinction which mother and daughter imparted to their bows. If Paul
had not secretly, within his heart, fallen in love with Mademoiselle
Natalie, society would certainly have married him to her in spite of
himself. Society, which never causes good, is the accomplice of much
evil; then when it beholds the evil it has hatched maternally, it
rejects and revenges it. Society in Bordeaux, attributing a "dot" of a
million to Mademoiselle Evangelista, bestowed it upon Paul without
awaiting the consent of either party. Their fortunes, so it was said,
agreed as well as their persons. Paul had the same habits of luxury
and elegance in the midst of which Natalie had been brought up. He had
just arranged for himself a house such as no other man in Bordeaux
could have offered her. Accustomed to Parisian expenses and the
caprices of Parisian women, he alone was fitted to meet the pecuniary
difficulties which were likely to follow this marriage with a girl who
was as much of a Creole and a great lady as her mother. Where they
themselves, remarked the marriageable men, would have been ruined, the
Comte de Manerville, rich as he was, could evade disaster. In short,
the marriage was made. Persons in the highest royalist circles said a
few engaging words to Paul which flattered his vanity:--
"Every one gives you Mademoiselle Evangelista. If you marry her you
will do well. You could not find, even in Paris, a more delightful
girl. She is beautiful, graceful, elegant, and takes after the Casa-
Reales through her mother. You will make a charming couple; you have
the same tastes, the same desires in life, and you will certainly have
the most agreeable house in Bordeaux. Your wife need only bring her
night-cap; all is ready for her. You are fortunate indeed in such a
mother-in-law. A woman of intelligence, and very adroit, she will be a
great help to you in public life, to which you ought to aspire.
Besides, she has sacrificed everything to her daughter, whom she
adores, and Natalie will, no doubt, prove a good wife, for she loves
her mother. You must soon bring the matter to a conclusion."
"That is all very well," replied Paul, who, in spite of his love, was
desirous of keeping his freedom of action, "but I must be sure that
the conclusion shall be a happy one."
He now went frequently to Madame Evangelista's, partly to occupy his
vacant hours, which were harder for him to employ than for most men.
There alone he breathed the atmosphere of grandeur and luxury to which
he was accustomed.
At forty years of age, Madame Evangelista was beautiful, with the
beauty of those glorious summer sunsets which crown a cloudless day.
Her spotless reputation had given an endless topic of conversation to
the Bordeaux cliques; the curiosity of the women was all the more
lively because the widow gave signs of the temperament which makes a
Spanish woman and a Creole particularly noted. She had black eyes and
hair, the feet and form of a Spanish woman,--that swaying form the
movements of which have a name in Spain. Her face, still beautiful,
was particularly seductive for its Creole complexion, the vividness of
which can be described only by comparing it to muslin overlying
crimson, so equally is the whiteness suffused with color. Her figure,
which was full and rounded, attracted the eye by a grace which united
nonchalance with vivacity, strength with ease. She attracted and she
imposed, she seduced, but promised nothing. She was tall, which gave
her at times the air and carriage of a queen. Men were taken by her
conversation like birds in a snare; for she had by nature that genius
which necessity bestows on schemes; she advanced from concession to
concession, strengthening herself with what she gained to ask for
more, knowing well how to retreat with rapid steps when concessions
were demanded in return. Though ignorant of facts, she had known the
courts of Spain and Naples, the celebrated men of the two Americas,
many illustrious families of England and the continent, all of which
gave her so extensive an education superficially that it seemed
immense. She received her society with the grace and dignity which are
never learned, but which come to certain naturally fine spirits like a
second nature; assimilating choice things wherever they are met. If
her reputation for virtue was unexplained, it gave at any rate much
authority to her actions, her conversation, and her character.
Mother and daughter had a true friendship for each other, beyond the
filial and maternal sentiment. They suited one another, and their
perpetual contact had never produced the slightest jar. Consequently
many persons explained Madame Evangelista's actions by maternal love.
But although Natalie consoled her mother's persistent widowhood, she
may not have been the only motive for it. Madame Evangelista had been,
it was said, in love with a man who recovered his titles and property
under the Restoration. This man, desirous of marrying her in 1814 had
discreetly severed the connection in 1816. Madame Evangelista, to all
appearance the best-hearted woman in the world, had, in the depths of
her nature, a fearful quality, explainable only by Catherine de
Medici's device: "Odiate e aspettate"--"Hate and wait." Accustomed to
rule, having always been obeyed, she was like other royalties,
amiable, gentle, easy and pleasant in ordinary life, but terrible,
implacable, if the pride of the woman, the Spaniard, and the Casa-
Reale was touched. She never forgave. This woman believed in the power
of her hatred; she made an evil fate of it and bade it hover above her
enemy. This fatal power she employed against the man who had jilted
her. Events which seemed to prove the influence of her "jettatura"--
the casting of an evil eye--confirmed her superstitious faith in
herself. Though a minister and peer of France, this man began to ruin
himself, and soon came to total ruin. His property, his personal and
public honor were doomed to perish. At this crisis Madame Evangelista
in her brilliant equipage passed her faithless lover walking on foot
in the Champes Elysees, and crushed him with a look which flamed with
triumph. This misadventure, which occupied her mind for two years, was
the original cause of her not remarrying. Later, her pride had drawn
comparisons between the suitors who presented themselves and the
husband who had loved her so sincerely and so well.
She had thus reached, through mistaken calculations and disappointed
hopes, that period of life when women have no other part to take in
life than that of mother; a part which involves the sacrifice of
themselves to their children, the placing of their interests outside
of self upon another household,--the last refuge of human affections.
Madame Evangelista divined Paul's nature intuitively, and hid her own
from his perception. Paul was the very man she desired for a son-in-
law, for the responsible editor of her future power. He belonged,
through his mother, to the family of Maulincour, and the old Baronne
de Maulincour, the friend of the Vidame de Pamiers, was then living in
the centre of the faubourg Saint-Germain. The grandson of the
baroness, Auguste de Maulincour, held a fine position in the army.
Paul would therefore be an excellent introducer for the Evangelistas
into Parisian society. The widow had known something of the Paris of
the Empire, she now desired to shine in the Paris of the Restoration.
There alone were the elements of political fortune, the only business
in which women of the world could decently co-operate. Madame
Evangelista, compelled by her husband's affairs to reside in Bordeaux,
disliked the place. She desired a wider field, as gamblers rush to
higher stakes. For her own personal ends, therefore, she looked to
Paul as a means of destiny, she proposed to employ the resources of
her own talent and knowledge of life to advance her son-in-law, in
order to enjoy through him the delights of power. Many men are thus
made the screens of secret feminine ambitions. Madame Evangelista had,
however, more than one interest, as we shall see, in laying hold of
her daughter's husband.
Paul was naturally captivated by this woman, who charmed him all the
more because she seemed to seek no influence over him. In reality she
was using her ascendancy to magnify herself, her daughter, and all her
surroundings in his eyes, for the purpose of ruling from the start the
man in whom she saw a means of gratifying her social longings. Paul,
on the other hand, began to value himself more highly when he felt
himself appreciated by the mother and daughter. He thought himself
much cleverer than he really was when he found his reflections and
sayings accepted and understood by Mademoiselle Natalie--who raised
her head and smiled in response to them--and by the mother, whose
flattery always seemed involuntary. The two women were so kind and
friendly to him, he was so sure of pleasing them, they ruled him so
delightfully by holding the thread of his self-love, that he soon
passed all his time at the hotel Evangelista.
A year after his return to Bordeaux, Comte Paul, without having
declared himself, was so attentive to Natalie that the world
considered him as courting her. Neither mother nor daughter appeared
to be thinking of marriage. Mademoiselle Evangelista preserved towards
Paul the reserve of a great lady who can make herself charming and
converse agreeably without permitting a single step into intimacy.
This reserve, so little customary among provincials, pleased Paul
immensely. Timid men are shy; sudden proposals alarm them. They
retreat from happiness when it comes with a rush, and accept
misfortune if it presents itself mildly with gentle shadows. Paul
therefore committed himself in his own mind all the more because he
saw no effort on Madame Evangelista's part to bind him. She fairly
seduced him one evening by remarking that to superior women as well as
men there came a period of life when ambition superseded all the
earlier emotions of life.
"That woman is fitted," thought Paul, as he left her, "to advance me
in diplomacy before I am even made a deputy."
If, in all the circumstances of life a man does not turn over and over
both things and ideas in order to examine them thoroughly under their
different aspects before taking action, that man is weak and
incomplete and in danger of fatal failure. At this moment Paul was an
optimist; he saw everything to advantage, and did not tell himself
than an ambitious mother-in-law might prove a tyrant. So, every
evening as he left the house, he fancied himself a married man,
allured his mind with its own thought, and slipped on the slippers of
wedlock cheerfully. In the first place, he had enjoyed his freedom too
long to regret the loss of it; he was tired of a bachelor's life,
which offered him nothing new; he now saw only its annoyances; whereas
if he thought at times of the difficulties of marriage, its pleasures,
in which lay novelty, came far more prominently before his mind.
"Marriage," he said to himself, "is disagreeable for people without
means, but half its troubles disappear before wealth."
Every day some favorable consideration swelled the advantages which he
now saw in this particular alliance.
"No matter to what position I attain, Natalie will always be on the
level of her part," thought he, "and that is no small merit in a
woman. How many of the Empire men I've seen who suffered horribly
through their wives! It is a great condition of happiness not to feel
one's pride or one's vanity wounded by the companion we have chosen. A
man can never be really unhappy with a well-bred wife; she will never
make him ridiculous; such a woman is certain to be useful to him.
Natalie will receive in her own house admirably."
So thinking, he taxed his memory as to the most distinguished women of
the faubourg Saint-Germain, in order to convince himself that Natalie
could, if not eclipse them, at any rate stand among them on a footing
of perfect equality. All comparisons were to her advantage, for they
rested on his own imagination, which followed his desires. Paris would
have shown him daily other natures, young girls of other styles of
beauty and charm, and the multiplicity of impressions would have
balanced his mind; whereas in Bordeaux Natalie had no rivals, she was
the solitary flower; moreover, she appeared to him at a moment when
Paul was under the tyranny of an idea to which most men succumb at his
Thus these reasons of propinquity, joined to reasons of self-love and
a real passion which had no means of satisfaction except by marriage,
led Paul on to an irrational love, which he had, however, the good
sense to keep to himself. He even endeavored to study Mademoiselle
Evangelista as a man should who desires not to compromise his future
life; for the words of his friend de Marsay did sometimes rumble in
his ears like a warning. But, in the first place, persons accustomed
to luxury have a certain indifference to it which misleads them. They
despise it, they use it; it is an instrument, and not the object of
their existence. Paul never imagined, as he observed the habits of
life of the two ladies, that they covered a gulf of ruin. Then, though
there may exist some general rules to soften the asperities of
marriage, there are none by which they can be accurately foreseen and
evaded. When trouble arises between two persons who have undertaken to
render life agreeable and easy to each other, it comes from the
contact of continual intimacy, which, of course, does not exist
between young people before they marry, and will never exist so long
as our present social laws and customs prevail in France. All is more
or less deception between the two young persons about to take each
other for life,--an innocent and involuntary deception, it is true.
Each endeavors to appear in a favorable light; both take a tone and
attitude conveying a more favorable idea of their nature than they are
able to maintain in after years. Real life, like the weather, is made
up of gray and cloudy days alternating with those when the sun shines
and the fields are gay. Young people, however, exhibit fine weather
and no clouds. Later they attribute to marriage the evils inherent in
life itself; for there is in man a disposition to lay the blame of his
own misery on the persons and things that surround him.
To discover in the demeanor, or the countenance, or the words, or the
gestures of Mademoiselle Evangelista any indication that revealed the
imperfections of her character, Paul must have possessed not only the
knowledge of Lavater and Gall, but also a science in which there
exists no formula of doctrine,--the individual and personal science of
an observer, which, for its perfection, requires an almost universal
knowledge. Natalie's face, like that of most young girls, was
impenetrable. The deep, serene peace given by sculptors to the virgin
faces of Justice and Innocence, divinities aloof from all earthly
agitations, is the greatest charm of a young girl, the sign of her
purity. Nothing, as yet, has stirred her; no shattered passion, no
hope betrayed has clouded the placid expression of that pure face. Is
that expression assumed? If so, there is no young girl behind it.
Natalie, closely held to the heart of her mother, had received, like
other Spanish women, an education that was solely religious, together
with a few instructions from her mother as to the part in life she was
called upon to play. Consequently, the calm, untroubled expression of
her face was natural. And yet it formed a casing in which the woman
was wrapped as the moth in its cocoon. Nevertheless, any man clever at
handling the scalpel of analysis might have detected in Natalie
certain indications of the difficulties her character would present
when brought into contact with conjugal or social life. Her beauty,
which was really marvellous, came from extreme regularity of feature
harmonizing with the proportions of the head and the body. This
species of perfection augurs ill for the mind; and there are few
exceptions to the rule. All superior nature is found to have certain
slight imperfections of form which become irresistible attractions,
luminous points from which shine vivid sentiments, and on which the
eye rests gladly. Perfect harmony expresses usually the coldness of a
Natalie's waist was round,--a sign of strength, but also the
infallible indication of a will which becomes obstinacy in persons
whose mind is neither keen nor broad. Her hands, like those of a Greek
statue, confirmed the predictions of face and figure by revealing an
inclination for illogical domination, of willing for will's sake only.
Her eyebrows met,--a sign, according to some observers, which
indicates jealousy. The jealousy of superior minds becomes emulation
and leads to great things; that of small minds turns to hatred. The
"hate and wait" of her mother was in her nature, without disguise. Her
eyes were black apparently, though really brown with orange streaks,
contrasting with her hair, of the ruddy tint so prized by the Romans,
called auburn in England, a color which often appears in the offspring
of persons of jet black hair, like that of Monsieur and Madame
Evangelista. The whiteness and delicacy of Natalie's complexion gave
to the contrast of color in her eyes and hair an inexpressible charm;
and yet it was a charm that was purely external; for whenever the
lines of a face are lacking in a certain soft roundness, whatever may
be the finish and grace of the details, the beauty therein expressed
is not of the soul. These roses of deceptive youth will drop their
leaves, and you will be surprised in a few years to see hardness and
dryness where you once admired what seemed to be the beauty of noble
Though the outlines of Natalie's face had something august about them,
her chin was slightly "empate,"--a painter's expression which will
serve to show the existence of sentiments the violence of which would
only become manifest in after life. Her mouth, a trifle drawn in,
expressed a haughty pride in keeping with her hand, her chin, her
brows, and her beautiful figure. And--as a last diagnostic to guide
the judgment of a connoisseur--Natalie's pure voice, a most seductive
voice, had certain metallic tones. Softly as that brassy ring was
managed, and in spite of the grace with which its sounds ran through
the compass of the voice, that organ revealed the character of the
Duke of Alba, from whom the Casa-Reales were collaterally descended.
These indications were those of violent passions without tenderness,
sudden devotions, irreconcilable dislikes, a mind without
intelligence, and the desire to rule natural to persons who feel
themselves inferior to their pretensions.
These defects, born of temperament and constitution, were buried in
Natalie like ore in a mine, and would only appear under the shocks and
harsh treatment to which all characters are subjected in this world.
Meantime the grace and freshness of her youth, the distinction of her
manners, her sacred ignorance, and the sweetness of a young girl, gave
a delicate glamour to her features which could not fail to mislead an
unthinking or superficial mind. Her mother had early taught her the
trick of agreeable talk which appears to imply superiority, replying
to arguments by clever jests, and attracting by the graceful
volubility beneath which a woman hides the subsoil of her mind, as
Nature disguises her barren strata beneath a wealth of ephemeral
vegetation. Natalie had the charm of children who have never known
what it is to suffer. She charmed by her frankness, and had none of
that solemn air which mothers impose on their daughters by laying down
a programme of behavior and language until the time comes when they
marry and are emancipated. She was gay and natural, like any young
girl who knows nothing of marriage, expects only pleasure from it,
replies to all objections with a jest, foresees no troubles, and
thinks she is acquiring the right to have her own way.
How could Paul, who loved as men love when desire increases love,
perceive in a girl of this nature whose beauty dazzled him, the woman,
such as she would probably be at thirty, when observers themselves
have been misled by these appearances? Besides, if happiness might
prove difficult to find in a marriage with such a girl, it was not
impossible. Through these embryo defects shone several fine qualities.
There is no good quality which, if properly developed by the hand of
an able master, will not stifle defects, especially in a young girl
who loves him. But to render ductile so intractable a woman, the iron
wrist, about which de Marsay had preached to Paul, was needful. The
Parisian dandy was right. Fear, inspired by love is an infallible
instrument by which to manage the minds of women. Whoso loves, fears;
whoso fears is nearer to affection than to hatred.
Had Paul the coolness, firmness, and judgment required for this
struggle, which an able husband ought not to let the wife suspect? Did
Natalie love Paul? Like most young girls, Natalie mistook for love the
first emotions of instinct and the pleasure she felt in Paul's
external appearance; but she knew nothing of the things of marriage
nor the demands of a home. To her, the Comte de Manerville, a rising
diplomatist, to whom the courts of Europe were known, and one of the
most elegant young men in Paris, could not seem, what perhaps he was,
an ordinary man, without moral force, timid, though brave in some
ways, energetic perhaps in adversity, but helpless against the
vexations and annoyances that hinder happiness. Would she, in after
years, have sufficient tact and insight to distinguish Paul's noble
qualities in the midst of his minor defects? Would she not magnify the
latter and forget the former, after the manner of young wives who know
nothing of life? There comes a time when wives will pardon defects in
the husband who spares her annoyances, considering annoyances in the
same category as misfortunes. What conciliating power, what wise
experience would uphold and enlighten the home of this young pair?
Paul and his wife would doubtless think they loved when they had
really not advanced beyond the endearments and compliments of the
honeymoon. Would Paul in that early period yield to the tyranny of his
wife, instead of establishing his empire? Could Paul say, "No?" All
was peril to a man so weak where even a strong man ran some risks.
The subject of this Study is not the transition of a bachelor into a
married man,--a picture which, if broadly composed, would not lack the
attraction which the inner struggles of our nature and feelings give
to the commonest situations in life. The events and the ideas which
led to the marriage of Paul with Natalie Evangelista are an
introduction to our real subject, which is to sketch the great comedy
that precedes, in France, all conjugal pairing. This Scene, until now
singularly neglected by our dramatic authors, although it offers novel
resources to their wit, controlled Paul's future life and was now
awaited by Madame Evangelista with feelings of terror. We mean the
discussion which takes place on the subject of the marriage contract
in all families, whether noble or bourgeois, for human passions are as
keenly excited by small interests as by large ones. These comedies,
played before a notary, all resemble, more or less, the one we shall
now relate, the interest of which will be far less in the pages of
this book than in the memories of married persons.
THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT--FIRST DAY
At the beginning of the winter of 1822, Paul de Manerville made a
formal request, through his great-aunt, the Baronne de Maulincour, for
the hand of Mademoiselle Natalie Evangelista. Though the baroness
never stayed more than two months in Medoc, she remained on this
occasion till the last of October, in order to assist her nephew
through the affair and play the part of a mother to him. After
conveying the first suggestions to Madame Evangelista the experienced
old woman returned to inform Paul of the results of the overture.
"My child," she said, "the affair is won. In talking of property, I
found that Madame Evangelista gives nothing of her own to her
daughter. Mademoiselle Natalie's dowry is her patrimony. Marry her, my
dear boy. Men who have a name and an estate to transmit, a family to
continue, must, sooner or later, end in marriage. I wish I could see
my dear Auguste taking that course. You can now carry on the marriage
without me; I have nothing to give you but my blessing, and women as
old as I are out of place at a wedding. I leave for Paris to-morrow.
When you present your wife in society I shall be able to see her and
assist her far more to the purpose than now. If you had had no house
in Paris I would gladly have arranged the second floor of mine for
"Dear aunt," said Paul, "I thank you heartily. But what do you mean
when you say that the mother gives nothing of her own, and that the
daughter's dowry is her patrimony?"
"The mother, my dear boy, is a sly cat, who takes advantage of her
daughter's beauty to impose conditions and allow you only that which
she cannot prevent you from having; namely, the daughter's fortune
from her father. We old people know the importance of inquiring
closely, What has he? What has she? I advise you therefore to give
particular instructions to your notary. The marriage contract, my dear
child, is the most sacred of all duties. If your father and your
mother had not made their bed properly you might now be sleeping
without sheets. You will have children, they are the commonest result
of marriage, and you must think of them. Consult Maitre Mathias our
Madame de Maulincour departed, having plunged Paul into a state of
extreme perplexity. His mother-in-law a sly cat! Must he struggle for
his interests in the marriage contract? Was it necessary to defend
them? Who was likely to attack them?
He followed the advice of his aunt and confided the drawing-up of the
marriage contract to Maitre Mathias. But these threatened discussions
oppressed him, and he went to see Madame Evangelista and announce his
intentions in a state of rather lively agitation. Like all timid men,
he shrank from allowing the distrust his aunt had put into his mind to
be seen; in fact, he considered it insulting. To avoid even a slight
jar with a person so imposing to his mind as his future mother-in-law,
he proceeded to state his intentions with the circumlocution natural
to persons who dare not face a difficulty.
"Madame," he said, choosing a moment when Natalie was absent from the
room, "you know, of course, what a family notary is. Mine is a worthy
old man, to whom it would be a sincere grief if he were not entrusted
with the drawing of my marriage contract."
"Why, of course!" said Madame Evangelista, interrupting him, "but are
not marriage contracts always made by agreement of the notaries of
The time that Paul took to reply to this question was occupied by
Madame Evangelista in asking herself, "What is he thinking of?" for
women possess in an eminent degree the art of reading thoughts from
the play of countenance. She divined the instigations of the great-
aunt in the embarrassed glance and the agitated tone of voice which
betrayed an inward struggle in Paul's mind.
"At last," she thought to herself, "the fatal day has come; the crisis
begins--how will it end? My notary is Monsieur Solonet," she said,
after a pause. "Yours, I think you said, is Monsieur Mathias; I will
invite them to dinner to-morrow, and they can come to an understanding
then. It is their business to conciliate our interests without our
interference; just as good cooks are expected to furnish good food
"Yes, you are right," said Paul, letting a faint sigh of relief escape
By a singular transposition of parts, Paul, innocent of all wrong-
doing, trembled, while Madame Evangelista, though a prey to the utmost
anxiety, was outwardly calm.
The widow owed her daughter one-third of the fortune left by Monsieur
Evangelista,--namely, nearly twelve hundred thousand francs,--and she
knew herself unable to pay it, even by taking the whole of her
property to do so. She would therefore be placed at the mercy of a
son-in-law. Though she might be able to control Paul if left to
himself, would he, when enlightened by his notary, agree to release
her from rendering her account as guardian of her daughter's
patrimony? If Paul withdrew his proposals all Bordeaux would know the
reason and Natalie's future marriage would be made impossible. This
mother, who desired the happiness of her daughter, this woman, who
from infancy had lived honorably, was aware that on the morrow she
must become dishonest. Like those great warriors who fain would blot
from their lives the moment when they had felt a secret cowardice, she
ardently desired to cut this inevitable day from the record of hers.
Most assuredly some hairs on her head must have whitened during the
night, when, face to face with facts, she bitterly regretted her
extravagance as she felt the hard necessities of the situation.
Among these necessities was that of confiding the truth to her notary,
for whom she sent in the morning as soon as she rose. She was forced
to reveal to him a secret defaulting she had never been willing to
admit to herself, for she had steadily advanced to the abyss, relying
on some chance accident, which never happened, to relieve her. There
rose in her soul a feeling against Paul, that was neither dislike, nor
aversion, nor anything, as yet, unkind; but HE was the cause of this
crisis; the opposing party in this secret suit; he became, without
knowing it, an innocent enemy she was forced to conquer. What human
being did ever yet love his or her dupe? Compelled to deceive and
trick him if she could, the Spanish woman resolved, like other women,
to put her whole force of character into the struggle, the dishonor of
which could be absolved by victory only.
In the stillness of the night she excused her conduct to her own mind
by a tissue of arguments in which her pride predominated. Natalie had
shared the benefit of her extravagance. There was not a single base or
ignoble motive in what she had done. She was no accountant, but was
that a crime, a delinquency? A man was only too lucky to obtain a wife
like Natalie without a penny. Such a treasure bestowed upon him might
surely release her from a guardianship account. How many men had
bought the women they loved by greater sacrifices? Why should a man do
less for a wife than for a mistress? Besides, Paul was a nullity, a
man of no force, incapable; she would spend the best resources of her
mind upon him and open to him a fine career; he should owe his future
power and position to her influence; in that way she could pay her
debt. He would indeed be a fool to refuse such a future; and for what?
a few paltry thousands, more or less. He would be infamous if he
withdrew for such a reason.
"But," she added, to herself, "if the negotiation does not succeed at
once, I shall leave Bordeaux. I can still find a good marriage for
Natalie by investing the proceeds of what is left, house and diamonds
and furniture,--keeping only a small income for myself."
When a strong soul constructs a way of ultimate escape,--as Richelieu
did at Brouage,--and holds in reserve a vigorous end, the resolution
becomes a lever which strengthens its immediate way. The thought of
this finale in case of failure comforted Madame Evangelista, who fell
asleep with all the more confidence as she remembered her assistance
in the coming duel.
This was a young man named Solonet, considered the ablest notary in
Bordeaux; now twenty-seven years of age and decorated with the Legion
of honor for having actively contributed to the second return of the
Bourbons. Proud and happy to be received in the home of Madame
Evangelista, less as a notary than as belonging to the royalist
society of Bordeaux, Solonet had conceived for that fine setting sun
one of those passions which women like Madame Evangelista repulse,
although flattered and graciously allowing them to exist upon the
surface. Solonet remained therefore in a self-satisfied condition of
hope and becoming respect. Being sent for, he arrived the next morning
with the promptitude of a slave and was received by the coquettish
widow in her bedroom, where she allowed him to find her in a very
"Can I," she said, "count upon your discretion and your entire
devotion in a discussion which will take place in my house this
evening? You will readily understand that it relates to the marriage
of my daughter."
The young man expended himself in gallant protestations.
"Now to the point," she said.
"I am listening," he replied, checking his ardor.
Madame Evangelista then stated her position baldly.
"My dear lady, that is nothing to be troubled about," said Maitre
Solonet, assuming a confident air as soon as his client had given him
the exact figures. "The question is how have you conducted yourself
toward Monsieur de Manerville? In this matter questions of manner and
deportment are of greater importance than those of law and finance."
Madame Evangelista wrapped herself in dignity. The notary learned to
his satisfaction that until the present moment his client's relations
to Paul had been distant and reserved, and that partly from native
pride and partly from involuntary shrewdness she had treated the Comte
de Manerville as in some sense her inferior and as though it were an
honor for him to be allowed to marry Mademoiselle Evangelista. She
assured Solonet that neither she nor her daughter could be suspected
of any mercenary interests in the marriage; that they had the right,
should Paul make any financial difficulties, to retreat from the
affair to an illimitable distance; and finally, that she had already
acquired over her future son-in-law a very remarkable ascendancy.
"If that is so," said Solonet, "tell me what are the utmost
concessions you are willing to make."
"I wish to make as few as possible," she answered, laughing.
"A woman's answer," cried Solonet. "Madame, are you anxious to marry
"And you want a receipt for the eleven hundred and fifty-six thousand
francs, for which you are responsible on the guardianship account
which the law obliges you to render to your son-in-law?"
"How much do you want to keep back?"
"Thirty thousand a year, at least."
"It is a question of conquer or die, is it?"
"Well, then, I must reflect on the necessary means to that end; it
will need all our cleverness to manage our forces. I will give you
some instructions on my arrival this evening; follow them carefully,
and I think I may promise you a successful issue. Is the Comte de
Manerville in love with Mademoiselle Natalie?" he asked as he rose to
"He adores her."
"That is not enough. Does he desire her to the point of disregarding
all pecuniary difficulties?"
"That's what I call having a lien upon a daughter's property," cried
the notary. "Make her look her best to-night," he added with a sly
"She has a most charming dress for the occasion."
"The marriage-contract dress is, in my opinion, half the battle," said
This last argument seemed so cogent to Madame Evangelista that she
superintended Natalie's toilet herself, as much perhaps to watch her
daughter as to make her the innocent accomplice of her financial
With her hair dressed a la Sevigne and wearing a gown of white tulle
adorned with pink ribbons, Natalie seemed to her mother so beautiful
as to guarantee victory. When the lady's-maid left the room and Madame
Evangelista was certain that no one could overhear her, she arranged a
few curls on her daughter's head by way of exordium.
"Dear child," she said, in a voice that was firm apparently, "do you
sincerely love the Comte de Manerville?"
Mother and daughter cast strange looks at each other.
"Why do you ask that question, little mother? and to-day more than
yesterday> Why have you thrown me with him?"
"If you and I had to part forever would you still persist in the
"I should give it up--and I should not die of grief."
"You do not love him, my dear," said the mother, kissing her
"But why, my dear mother, are you playing the Grand Inquisitor?"
"I wished to know if you desired the marriage without being madly in
love with the husband."
"I love him."
"And you are right. He is a count; we will make him a peer of France
between us; nevertheless, there are certain difficulties."
"Difficulties between persons who love each other? Oh, no. The heart
of the Pink of Fashion is too firmly planted here," she said, with a
pretty gesture, "to make the very slightest objection. I am sure of
"But suppose it were otherwise?" persisted Madame Evangelista.
"He would be profoundly and forever forgotten," replied Natalie.
"Good! You are a Casa-Reale. But suppose, though he madly loves you,
suppose certain discussions and difficulties should arise, not of his
own making, but which he must decide in your interests as well as in
mine--hey, Natalie, what then? Without lowering your dignity, perhaps
a little softness in your manner might decide him--a word, a tone, a
mere nothing. Men are so made; they resist a serious argument, but
they yield to a tender look."
"I understand! a little touch to make my Favori leap the barrier,"
said Natalie, making the gesture of striking a horse with her whip.
"My darling! I ask nothing that resembles seduction. You and I have
sentiments of the old Castilian honor which will never permit us to
pass certain limits. Count Paul shall know our situation."
"You would not understand it. But I tell you now that if after seeing
you in all your glory his look betrays the slightest hesitation,--and
I shall watch him,--on that instant I shall break off the marriage; I
will liquidate my property, leave Bordeaux, and go to Douai, to be
near the Claes. Madame Claes is our relation through the Temnincks.
Then I'll marry you to a peer of France, and take refuge in a convent
myself, that I may give up to you my whole fortune."
"Mother, what am I to do to prevent such misfortunes?" cried Natalie.
"I have never seen you so beautiful as you are now," replied her
mother. "Be a little coquettish, and all is well."
Madame Evangelista left Natalie to her thoughts, and went to arrange
her own toilet in such a way that would bear comparison with that of
her daughter. If Natalie ought to make herself attractive to Paul she
ought, none the less, to inflame the ardor of her champion Solonet.
The mother and daughter were therefore under arms when Paul arrived,
bearing the bouquet which for the last few months he had daily offered
to his love. All three conversed pleasantly while awaiting the arrival
of the notaries.
This day brought to Paul the first skirmish of that long and wearisome
warfare called marriage. It is therefore necessary to state the forces
on both sides, the position of the belligerent bodies, and the ground
on which they are about to manoeuvre.
To maintain a struggle, the importance of which had wholly escaped
him, Paul's only auxiliary was the old notary, Mathias. Both were
about to be confronted, unaware and defenceless, by a most unexpected
circumstance; to be pressed by an enemy whose strategy was planned,
and driven to decide on a course without having time to reflect upon
it. Where is the man who would not have succumbed, even though
assisted by Cujas and Barthole? How should he look for deceit and
treachery where all seemed compliant and natural? What could old
Mathias do alone against Madame Evangelista, against Solonet, against
Natalie, especially when a client in love goes over to the enemy as
soon as the rising conflict threatens his happiness? Already Paul was
damaging his cause by making the customary lover's speeches, to which
his passion gave excessive value in the ears of Madame Evangelista,
whose object it was to drive him to commit himself.
The matrimonial condottieri now about to fight for their clients,
whose personal powers were to be so vitally important in this solemn
encounter, the two notaries, on short, represent individually the old
and the new systems,--old fashioned notarial usage, and the new-
fangled modern procedure.
Maitre Mathias was a worthy old gentleman sixty-nine years of age, who
took great pride in his forty years' exercise of the profession. His
huge gouty feet were encased in shoes with silver buckles, making a
ridiculous termination to legs so spindling, with knees so bony, that
when he crossed them they made you think of the emblems on a
tombstone. His puny little thighs, lost in a pair of wide black
breeches fastened with buckles, seemed to bend beneath the weight of a
round stomach and a torso developed, like that of most sedentary
persons, into a stout barrel, always buttoned into a green coat with
square tails, which no man could remember to have ever seen new. His
hair, well brushed and powdered, was tied in a rat's tail that lay
between the collar of his coat and that of his waistcoat, which was
white, with a pattern of flowers. With his round head, his face the
color of a vine-leaf, his blue eyes, a trumpet nose, a thick-lipped
mouth, and a double-chin, the dear old fellow excited, whenever he
appeared among strangers who did not know him, that satirical laugh
which Frenchmen so generously bestow on the ludicrous creations Dame
Nature occasionally allows herself, which Art delights in exaggerating
under the name of caricatures.
But in Maitre Mathias, mind had triumphed over form; the qualities of
his soul had vanquished the oddities of his body. The inhabitants of
Bordeaux, as a rule, testified a friendly respect and a deference that
was full of esteem for him. The old man's voice went to their hearts
and sounded there with the eloquence of uprightness. His craft
consisted in going straight to the fact, overturning all subterfuge
and evil devices by plain questionings. His quick perception, his long
training in his profession gave him that divining sense which goes to
the depths of conscience and reads its secret thoughts. Though grave
and deliberate in business, the patriarch could be gay with the gaiety
of our ancestors. He could risk a song after dinner, enjoy all family
festivities, celebrate the birthdays of grandmothers and children, and
bury with due solemnity the Christmas log. He loved to send presents
at New Year, and eggs at Easter; he believed in the duties of a
godfather, and never deserted the customs which colored the life of
the olden time. Maitre Mathias was a noble and venerable relic of the
notaries, obscure great men, who gave no receipt for the millions
entrusted to them, but returned those millions in the sacks they were
delivered in, tied with the same twine; men who fulfilled their trusts
to the letter, drew honest inventories, took fatherly interest in
their clients, often barring the way to extravagance and dissipation,
--men to whom families confided their secrets, and who felt so
responsible for any error in their deeds that they meditated long and
carefully over them. Never during his whole notarial life, had any
client found reason to complain of a bad investment or an ill-placed
mortgage. His own fortune, slowly but honorably acquired, had come to
him as the result of a thirty years' practice and careful economy. He
had established in life fourteen of his clerks. Religious, and
generous in secret, Mathias was found whenever good was to be done
without remuneration. An active member on hospital and other
benevolent committees, he subscribed the largest sums to relieve all
sudden misfortunes and emergencies, as well as to create certain
useful permanent institutions; consequently, neither he nor his wife
kept a carriage. Also his word was felt to be sacred, and his coffers
held as much of the money of others as a bank; and also, we may add,
he went by the name of "Our good Monsieur Mathias," and when he died,
three thousand persons followed him to his grave.
Solonet was the style of young notary who comes in humming a tune,
affects light-heartedness, declares that business is better done with
a laugh than seriously. He is the notary captain of the national
guard, who dislikes to be taken for a notary, solicits the cross of
the Legion of honor, keeps his cabriolet, and leaves the verification
of his deeds to his clerks; he is the notary who goes to balls and
theatres, buys pictures and plays at ecarte; he has coffers in which
gold is received on deposit and is later returned in bank-bills,--a
notary who follows his epoch, risks capital in doubtful investments,
speculates with all he can lay his hands on, and expects to retire
with an income of thirty thousand francs after ten years' practice; in
short, the notary whose cleverness comes of his duplicity, whom many
men fear as an accomplice possessing their secrets, and who sees in
his practice a means of ultimately marrying some blue-stockinged
When the slender, fair-haired Solonet, curled, perfumed, and booted
like the leading gentleman at the Vaudeville, and dressed like a dandy
whose most important business is a duel, entered Madame Evangelista's
salon, preceding his brother notary, whose advance was delayed by a
twinge of the gout, the two men presented to the life one of those
famous caricatures entitled "Former Times and the Present Day," which
had such eminent success under the Empire. If Madame and Mademoiselle
Evangelista to whom the "good Monsieur Mathias," was personally
unknown, felt, on first seeing him, a slight inclination to laugh,
they were soon touched by the old-fashioned grace with which he
greeted them. The words he used were full of that amenity which
amiable old men convey as much by the ideas they suggest as by the
manner in which they express them. The younger notary, with his
flippant tone, seemed on a lower plane. Mathias showed his superior
knowledge of life by the reserved manner with which he accosted Paul.
Without compromising his white hairs, he showed that he respected the
young man's nobility, while at the same time he claimed the honor due
to old age, and made it felt that social rights are natural. Solonet's
bow and greeting, on the contrary, expressed a sense of perfect
equality, which would naturally affront the pretensions of a man of
society and make the notary ridiculous in the eyes of a real noble.
Solonet made a motion, somewhat too familiar, to Madame Evangelista,
inviting her to a private conference in the recess of a window. For
some minutes they talked to each other in a low voice, giving way now
and then to laughter,--no doubt to lessen in the minds of others the
importance of the conversation, in which Solonet was really
communicating to his sovereign lady the plan of battle.
"But," he said, as he ended, "will you have the courage to sell your
"Undoubtedly," she replied.
Madame Evangelista did not choose to tell her notary the motive of
this heroism, which struck him greatly. Solonet's zeal might have
cooled had he known that his client was really intending to leave
Bordeaux. She had not as yet said anything about that intention to
Paul, in order not to alarm him with the preliminary steps and
circumlocutions which must be taken before he entered on the political
life she planned for him.
After dinner the two plenipotentiaries left the loving pair with the
mother, and betook themselves to an adjoining salon where their
conference was arranged to take place. A dual scene then followed on
this domestic stage: in the chimney-corner of the great salon a scene
of love, in which to all appearances life was smiles and joy; in the
other room, a scene of gravity and gloom, where selfish interests,
baldly proclaimed, openly took the part they play in life under
"My dear master," said Solonet, "the document can remain under your
lock and key; I know very well what I owe to my old preceptor."
Mathias bowed gravely. "But," continued Solonet, unfolding the rough
copy of a deed he had made his clerk draw up, "as we are the oppressed
party, I mean the daughter, I have written the contract--which will
save you trouble. We marry with our rights under the rule of community
of interests; with general donation of our property to each other in
case of death without heirs; if not, donation of one-fourth as life
interest, and one-fourth in fee; the sum placed in community of
interests to be one-fourth of the respective property of each party;
the survivor to possess the furniture without appraisal. It's all as
simple as how d'ye do."
"Ta, ta, ta, ta," said Mathias, "I don't do business as one sings a
tune. What are your claims?"
"What are yours?" said Solonet.
"Our property," replied Mathias, "is: the estate of Lanstrac, which
brings in a rental of twenty-three thousand francs a year, not
counting the natural products. Item: the farms of Grassol and Guadet,
each worth three thousand six hundred francs a year. Item: the
vineyard of Belle-Rose, yielding in ordinary years sixteen thousand
francs; total, forty-six thousand two hundred francs a year. Item: the
patrimonial mansion at Bordeaux taxed for nine hundred francs. Item: a
handsome house, between court and garden in Paris, rue de la
Pepiniere, taxed for fifteen hundred francs. These pieces of property,
the title-deeds of which I hold, are derived from our father and
mother, except the house in Paris, which we bought ourselves. We must
also reckon in the furniture of the two houses, and that of the
chateau of Lanstrac, estimated at four hundred and fifty thousand
francs. There's the table, the cloth, and the first course. What do
you bring for the second course and the dessert?"
"Our rights," replied Solonet.
"Specify them, my friend," said Mathias. "What do you bring us? Where
is the inventory of the property left by Monsieur Evangelista? Show me
the liquidation, the investment of the amount. Where is your capital?
--if there is any capital. Where is your landed property?--if you have
any. In short, let us see your guardianship account, and tell us what
you bring and what your mother will secure to us."
"Does Monsieur le Comte de Manerville love Mademoiselle Evangelista?"
"He wishes to make her his wife if the marriage can be suitably
arranged," said the old notary. "I am not a child; this matter
concerns our business, and not our feelings."
"The marriage will be off unless you show generous feeling; and for
this reason," continued Solonet. "No inventory was made at the death
of our husband; we are Spaniards, Creoles, and know nothing of French
laws. Besides, we were too deeply grieved at our loss to think at such
a time of the miserable formalities which occupy cold hearts. It is
publicly well known that our late husband adored us, and that we
mourned for him sincerely. If we did have a settlement of accounts
with a short inventory attached, made, as one may say, by common
report, you can thank our surrogate guardian, who obliged us to
establish a status and assign to our daughter a fortune, such as it
is, at a time when we were forced to withdraw from London our English
securities, the capital of which was immense, and re-invest the
proceeds in Paris, where interests were doubled."
"Don't talk nonsense to me. There are various ways of verifying the
property. What was the amount of your legacy tax? Those figures will
enable us to get at the total. Come to the point. Tell us frankly what
you received from the father's estate and how much remains of it. If
we are very much in love we'll see then what we can do."
"If you are marrying us for our money you can go about your business.
We have claims to more than a million; but all that remains to our
mother is this house and furniture and four hundred odd thousand
francs invested about 1817 in the Five-per-cents, which yield about
forty-thousand francs a year."
"Then why do you live in a style that requires one hundred thousand a
year at the least?" cried Mathias, horror-stricken.
"Our daughter has cost us the eyes out of our head," replied Solonet.
"Besides, we like to spend money. Your jeremiads, let me tell you,
won't recover two farthings of the money."
"With the fifty thousand francs a year which belong to Mademoiselle
Natalie you could have brought her up handsomely without coming to
ruin. But if you have squandered everything while you were a girl what
will it be when you are a married woman?"
"Then drop us altogether," said Solonet. "The handsomest girl in
Bordeaux has a right to spend more than she has, if she likes."
"I'll talk to my client about that," said the old notary.
"Very good, old father Cassandra, go and tell your client that we
haven't a penny," thought Solonet, who, in the solitude of his study,
had strategically massed his forces, drawn up his propositions, manned
the drawbridge of discussion, and prepared the point at which the
opposing party, thinking the affair a failure, could suddenly be led
into a compromise which would end in the triumph of his client.
The white dress with its rose-colored ribbons, the Sevigne curls,
Natalie's tiny foot, her winning glance, her pretty fingers constantly
employed in adjusting curls that needed no adjustment, these girlish
manoeuvres like those of a peacock spreading his tail, had brought
Paul to the point at which his future mother-in-law desired to see
him. He was intoxicated with love, and his eyes, the sure thermometer
of the soul, indicated the degree of passion at which a man commits a
"Natalie is so beautiful," he whispered to the mother, "that I can
conceive the frenzy which leads a man to pay for his happiness by
Madame Evangelista replied with a shake of her head:--
"Lover's talk, my dear count. My husband never said such charming
things to me; but he married me without a fortune and for thirteen
years he never caused me one moment's pain."
"Is that a lesson you are giving me?" said Paul, laughing.
"You know how I love you, my dear son," she answered, pressing his
hand. "I must indeed love you well to give you my Natalie."
"Give me, give me?" said the young girl, waving a screen of Indian
feathers, "what are you whispering about me?"
"I was telling her," replied Paul, "how much I love you, since
etiquette forbids me to tell it to you."
"I fear to say too much."
"Ah! you know too well how to offer the jewels of flattery. Shall I
tell you my private opinion about you? Well, I think you have more
mind than a lover ought to have. To be the Pink of Fashion and a wit
as well," she added, dropping her eyes, "is to have too many
advantages: a man should choose between them. I fear too, myself."
"We must not talk in this way. Mamma, do you not think that this
conversation is dangerous inasmuch as the contract is not yet signed?"
"It soon will be," said Paul.
"I should like to know what Achilles and Nestor are saying to each
other in the next room," said Natalie, nodding toward the door of the
little salon with a childlike expression of curiosity.
"They are talking of our children and our death and a lot of other
such trifles; they are counting our gold to see if we can keep five
horses in the stables. They are talking also of deeds of gift; but
there, I have forestalled them."
"Have I not given myself wholly to you?" he said, looking straight at
the girl, whose beauty was enhanced by the blush which the pleasure of
this answer brought to her face.
"Mamma, how can I acknowledge so much generosity."
"My dear child, you have a lifetime before you in which to return it.
To make the daily happiness of a home, is to bring a treasure into it.
I had no other fortune when I married."
"Do you like Lanstrac?" asked Paul, addressing Natalie.
"How could I fail to like the place where you were born?" she
answered. "I wish I could see your house."
"OUR house," said Paul. "Do you not want to know if I shall understand
your tastes and arrange the house to suit you? Your mother had made a
husband's task most difficult; you have always been so happy! But
where love is infinite, nothing is impossible."
"My dear children," said Madame Evangelista, "do you feel willing to
stay in Bordeaux after your marriage? If you have the courage to face
the people here who know you and will watch and hamper you, so be it!
But if you feel that desire for a solitude together which can hardly
be expressed, let us go to Paris were the life of a young couple can
pass unnoticed in the stream. There alone you can behave as lovers
without fearing to seem ridiculous."
"You are quite right," said Paul, "but I shall hardly have time to get
my house ready. However, I will write to-night to de Marsay, the
friend on whom I can always count to get things done for me."
At the moment when Paul, like all young men accustomed to satisfy
their desires without previous calculation, was inconsiderately
binding himself to the expenses of a stay in Paris, Maitre Mathias
entered the salon and made a sign to his client that he wished to
speak to him.
"What is it, my friend?" asked Paul, following the old man to the
recess of a window.
"Monsieur le comte," said the honest lawyer, "there is not a penny of
dowry. My advice is: put off the conference to another day, so that
you may gain time to consider your proper course."
"Monsieur Paul," said Natalie, "I have a word to say in private to
Though Madame Evangelista's face was calm, no Jew of the middle ages
ever suffered greater torture in his caldron of boiling oil than she
was enduring in her violet velvet gown. Solonet had pledged the
marriage to her, but she was ignorant of the means and conditions of
success. The anguish of this uncertainty was intolerable. Possibly she
owed her safety to her daughter's disobedience. Natalie had considered
the advice of her mother and noted her anxiety. When she saw the
success of her own coquetry she was struck to the heart with a variety
of contradictory thoughts. Without blaming her mother, she was half-
ashamed of manoeuvres the object of which was, undoubtedly, some
personal game. She was also seized with a jealous curiosity which is
easily conceived. She wanted to find out if Paul loved her well enough
to rise above the obstacles that her mother foresaw and which she now
saw clouding the face of the old lawyer. These ideas and sentiments
prompted her to an action of loyalty which became her well. But, for
all that, the blackest perfidy could not have been as dangerous as her
"Paul," she said in a low voice, and she so called him for the first
time, "if any difficulties as to property arise to separate us,
remember that I free you from all engagements, and will allow you to
let the blame of such a rupture rest on me."
She put such dignity into this expression of her generosity that Paul
believed in her disinterestedness and in her ignorance of the strange
fact that his notary had just told to him. He pressed the young girl's
hand and kissed it like a man to whom love is more precious than
wealth. Natalie left the room.
"Sac-a-papier! Monsieur le comte, you are committing a great folly,"
said the old notary, rejoining his client.
Paul grew thoughtful. He had expected to unite Natalie's fortune with
his own and thus obtain for his married life an income of one hundred
thousand francs a year; and however much a man may be in love he
cannot pass without emotion and anxiety from the prospect of a hundred
thousand to the certainty of forty-six thousand a year and the duty of
providing for a woman accustomed to every luxury.
"My daughter is no longer here," said Madame Evangelista, advancing
almost regally toward her son-in-law and his notary. "May I be told
what is happening?"
"Madame," replied Mathias, alarmed at Paul's silence, "an obstacle
which I fear will delay us has arisen--"
At these words, Maitre Solonet issued from the little salon and cut
short the old man's speech by a remark which restored Paul's
composure. Overcome by the remembrance of his gallant speeches and his
lover-like behavior, he felt unable to disown them or to change his
course. He longed, for the moment, to fling himself into a gulf;
Solonet's words relieved him.
"There is a way," said the younger notary, with an easy air, "by which
madame can meet the payment which is due to her daughter. Madame
Evangelista possesses forty thousand francs a year from an investment
in the Five-per-cents, the capital of which will soon be at par, if
not above it. We may therefore reckon it at eight hundred thousand
francs. This house and garden are fully worth two hundred thousand. On
that estimate, Madame can convey by the marriage contract the titles
of that property to her daughter, reserving only a life interest in it
--for I conclude that Monsieur le comte could hardly wish to leave his
mother-in-law without means? Though Madame has certainly run through
her fortune, she is still able to make good that of her daughter, or
very nearly so."
"Women are most unfortunate in having no knowledge of business," said
Madame Evangelista. "Have I titles to property? and what are life-
Paul was in a sort of ecstasy as he listened to this proposed
arrangement. The old notary, seeing the trap, and his client with one
foot caught in it, was petrified for a moment, as he said to
"I am certain they are tricking us."
"If madame will follow my advice," said Solonet, "she will secure her
own tranquillity. By sacrificing herself in this way she may be sure
that no minors will ultimately harass her--for we never know who may
live and who may die! Monsieur le comte will then give due
acknowledgment in the marriage contract of having received the sum
total of Mademoiselle Evangelista's patrimonial inheritance."
Mathias could not restrain the indignation which shone in his eyes and
flushed his face.
"And that sum," he said, shaking, "is--"
"One million, one hundred and fifty-six thousand francs according to
"Why don't you ask Monsieur le comte to make over 'hic et nunc' his
whole fortune to his future wife?" said Mathias. "It would be more
honest than what you now propose. I will not allow the ruin of the
Comte de Manerville to take place under my very eyes--"
He made a step as if to address his client, who was silent throughout
this scene as if dazed by it; but he turned and said, addressing
"Do not suppose, madame, that I think you a party to these ideas of my
brother notary. I consider you an honest woman and a lady who knows
nothing of business."
"Thank you, brother notary," said Solonet.
"You know that there can be no offence between you and me," replied
Mathias. "Madame," he added, "you ought to know the result of this
proposed arrangement. You are still young and beautiful enough to
marry again--Ah! madame," said the old man, noting her gesture, "who
can answer for themselves on that point?"
"I did not suppose, monsieur," said Madame Evangelista, "that, after
remaining a widow for the seven best years of my life, and refusing
the most brilliant offers for my daughter's sake, I should be
suspected of such a piece of folly as marrying again at thirty-nine
years of age. If we were not talking business I should regard your
suggestion as an impertinence."
"Would it not be more impertinent if I suggested that you could not
"Can and will are separate terms," remarked Solonet, gallantly.
"Well," resumed Maitre Mathias, "we will say nothing of your marriage.
You may, and we all desire it, live for forty-five years to come. Now,
if you keep for yourself the life-interest in your daughter's
patrimony, your children are laid on the shelf for the best years of
"What does that mean?" said the widow. "I don't understand being laid
on a shelf."
Solonet, the man of elegance and good taste, began to laugh.
"I'll translate it for you," said Mathias. "If your children are wise
they will think of the future. To think of the future means laying by
half our income, provided we have only two children, to whom we are
bound to give a fine education and a handsome dowry. Your daughter and
son-in-law will, therefore, be reduced to live on twenty thousand
francs a year, though each has spent fifty thousand while still
unmarried. But that is nothing. The law obliges my client to account,
hereafter, to his children for the eleven hundred and fifty-six
thousand francs of their mother's patrimony; yet he may not have
received them if his wife should die and madame should survive her,
which may very well happen. To sign such a contract is to fling one's
self into the river, bound hand and foot. You wish to make your
daughter happy, do you not? If she loves her husband, a fact which
notaries never doubt, she will share his troubles. Madame, I see
enough in this scheme to make her die of grief and anxiety; you are
consigning her to poverty. Yes, madame, poverty; to persons accustomed
to the use of one hundred thousand francs a year, twenty thousand is
poverty. Moreover, if Monsieur le comte, out of love for his wife,
were guilty of extravagance, she could ruin him by exercising her
rights when misfortunes overtook him. I plead now for you, for them,
for their children, for every one."
"The old fellow makes a lot of smoke with his cannon," thought Maitre
Solonet, giving his client a look, which meant, "Keep on!"
"There is one way of combining all interests," replied Madame
Evangelista, calmly. "I can reserve to myself only the necessary cost
of living in a convent, and my children can have my property at once.
I can renounce the world, if such anticipated death conduces to the
welfare of my daughter."
"Madame," said the old notary, "let us take time to consider and
weigh, deliberately, the course we had best pursue to conciliate all
"Good heavens! monsieur," cried Madame Evangelista, who saw defeat in
delay, "everything has already been considered and weighed. I was
ignorant of what the process of marriage is in France; I am a Spaniard
and a Creole. I did not know that in order to marry my daughter it was
necessary to reckon up the days which God may still grant me; that my
child would suffer because I live; that I do harm by living, and by
having lived! When my husband married me I had nothing but my name and
my person. My name alone was a fortune to him, which dwarfed his own.
What wealth can equal that of a great name? My dowry was beauty,
virtue, happiness, birth, education. Can money give those treasures?
If Natalie's father could overhear this conversation, his generous
soul would be wounded forever, and his happiness in paradise
destroyed. I dissipated, foolishly, perhaps, a few of his millions
without a quiver ever coming to his eyelids. Since his death, I have
grown economical and orderly in comparison with the life he encouraged
me to lead--Come, let us break this thing off! Monsieur de Manerville
is so disappointed that I--"
No descriptive language can express the confusion and shock which the
words, "break off," introduced into the conversation. It is enough to
say that these four apparently well-bred persons all talked at once.
"In Spain people marry in the Spanish fashion, or as they please; but
in France they marry according to French law, sensibly, and as best
they can," said Mathias.
"Ah, madame," cried Paul, coming out of his stupefaction, "you mistake
"This is not a matter of feeling," said the old notary, trying to stop
his client from concessions. "We are concerned now with the interests
and welfare of three generations. Have WE wasted the missing millions?
We are simply endeavoring to solve difficulties of which we are wholly
"Marry us, and don't haggle," said Solonet.
"Haggle! do you call it haggling to defend the interests of father and
mother and children?" said Mathias.
"Yes," said Paul, continuing his remarks to Madame Evangelista, "I
deplore the extravagance of my youth, which does not permit me to stop
this discussion, as you deplore your ignorance of business and your
involuntary wastefulness. God is my witness that I am not thinking, at
this moment, of myself. A simple life at Lanstrac does not alarm me;
but how can I ask Mademoiselle Natalie to renounce her tastes, her
habits? Her very existence would be changed."
"Where did Evangelista get his millions?" said the widow.
"Monsieur Evangelista was in business," replied the old notary; "he
played in the great game of commerce; he despatched ships and made
enormous sums; we are simply a landowner, whose capital is invested,
whose income is fixed."
"There is still a way to harmonize all interests," said Solonet,
uttering this sentence in a high falsetto tone, which silenced the
other three and drew their eyes and their attention upon himself.
This young man was not unlike a skilful coachman who holds the reins
of four horses, and amuses himself by first exciting his animals and
then subduing them. He had let loose these passions, and then, in
turn, he calmed them, making Paul, whose life and happiness were in
the balance, sweat in his harness, as well as his own client, who
could not clearly see her way through this involved discussion.
"Madame Evangelista," he continued, after a slight pause, "can resign
her investment in the Five-per-cents at once, and she can sell this
house. I can get three hundred thousand francs for it by cutting the
land into small lots. Out of that sum she can give you one hundred and
fifty thousand francs. In this way she pays down nine hundred thousand
of her daughter's patrimony, immediately. That, to be sure, is not all
that she owes her daughter, but where will you find, in France, a
"Very good," said Maitre Mathias; "but what, then, becomes of madame?"
At this question, which appeared to imply consent, Solonet said,
softly, to himself, "Well done, old fox! I've caught you!"
"Madame," he replied, aloud, "will keep the hundred and fifty thousand
francs remaining from the sale of the house. This sum, added to the
value of her furniture, can be invested in an annuity which will give
her twenty thousand francs a year. Monsieur le comte can arrange to
provide a residence for her under his roof. Lanstrac is a large house.
You have also a house in Paris," he went on, addressing himself to
Paul. "Madame can, therefore, live with you wherever you are. A widow
with twenty thousand francs a year, and no household to maintain, is
richer than madame was when she possessed her whole fortune. Madame
Evangelista has only this one daughter; Monsieur le comte is without
relations; it will be many years before your heirs attain their
majority; no conflict of interests is, therefore, to be feared. A
mother-in-law and a son-in-law placed in such relations will form a
household of united interests. Madame Evangelista can make up for the
remaining deficit by paying a certain sum for her support from her
annuity, which will ease your way. We know that madame is too generous
and too large-minded to be willing to be a burden on her children. In
this way you can make one household, united and happy, and be able to
spend, in your own right, one hundred thousand francs a year. Is not
that sum sufficient, Monsieur le comte, to enjoy, in all countries,
the luxuries of life, and to satisfy all your wants and caprices?
Believe me, a young couple often feel the need of a third member of
the household; and, I ask you, what third member could be so desirable
as a good mother?"
"A little paradise!" exclaimed the old notary.
Shocked to see his client's joy at this proposal, Mathias sat down on
an ottoman, his head in his hands, plunged in reflections that were
evidently painful. He knew well the involved phraseology in which
notaries and lawyers wrap up, intentionally, malicious schemes, and he
was not the man to be taken in by it. He now began, furtively, to
watch his brother notary and Madame Evangelista as they conversed with
Paul, endeavoring to detect some clew to the deep-laid plot which was
beginning to appear upon the surface.
"Monsieur," said Paul to Solonet, "I thank you for the pains you take
to conciliate our interests. This arrangement will solve all
difficulties far more happily than I expected--if," he added, turning
to Madame Evangelista, "it is agreeable to you, madame; for I could
not desire anything that did not equally please you."
"I?" she said; "all that makes the happiness of my children is joy to
me. Do not consider me in any way."
"That would not be right," said Paul, eagerly. "If your future is not
honorably provided for, Natalie and I would suffer more than you would
suffer for yourself."
"Don't be uneasy, Monsieur le comte," interposed Solonet.
"Ah!" thought old Mathias, "they'll make him kiss the rod before they
"You may feel quite satisfied," continued Solonet. "There are so many
enterprises going on in Bordeaux at this moment that investments for
annuities can be negotiated on very advantageous terms. After
deducting from the proceeds of the house and furniture the hundred and
fifty thousand francs we owe you, I think I can guarantee to madame
that two hundred and fifty thousand will remain to her. I take upon
myself to invest that sum in a first mortgage on property worth a
million, and to obtain ten per cent for it,--twenty-five thousand
francs a year. Consequently, we are marrying on nearly equal fortunes.
In fact, against your forty-six thousand francs a year, Mademoiselle
Natalie brings you forty thousand a year in the Five-per-cents, and
one hundred and fifty thousand in a round sum, which gives, in all,
forty-seven thousand francs a year."
"That is evident," said Paul.
As he ended his speech, Solonet had cast a sidelong glance at his
client, intercepted by Mathias, which meant: "Bring up your reserves."
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