The Marriage Contract
Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 3
"But," exclaimed Madame Evangelista, in tones of joy that did not seem
to be feigned, "I can give Natalie my diamonds; they are worth, at
least, a hundred thousand francs."
"We can have them appraised," said the notary. "This will change the
whole face of things. Madame can then keep the proceeds of her house,
all but fifty thousand francs. Nothing will prevent Monsieur le comte
from giving us a receipt in due form, as having received, in full,
Mademoiselle Natalie's inheritance from her father; this will close,
of course, the guardianship account. If madame, with Spanish
generosity, robs herself in this way to fulfil her obligations, the
least that her children can do is to give her a full receipt."
"Nothing could be more just than that," said Paul. "I am simply
overwhelmed by these generous proposals."
"My daughter is another myself," said Madame Evangelista, softly.
Maitre Mathias detected a look of joy on her face when she saw that
the difficulties were being removed: that joy, and the previous
forgetfulness of the diamonds, which were now brought forward like
fresh troops, confirmed his suspicions.
"The scene has been prepared between them as gamblers prepare the
cards to ruin a pigeon," thought the old notary. "Is this poor boy,
whom I saw born, doomed to be plucked alive by that woman, roasted by
his very love, and devoured by his wife? I, who have nursed these fine
estates for years with such care, am I to see them ruined in a single
night? Three million and a half to be hypothecated for eleven hundred
thousand francs these women will force him to squander!"
Discovering thus in the soul of the elder woman intentions which,
without involving crime, theft, swindling, or any actually evil or
blameworthy action, nevertheless belonged to all those criminalities
in embryo, Maitre Mathias felt neither sorrow nor generous
indignation. He was not the Misanthrope; he was an old notary,
accustomed in his business to the shrewd calculations of worldly
people, to those clever bits of treachery which do more fatal injury
than open murder on the high-road committed by some poor devil, who is
guillotined in consequence. To the upper classes of society these
passages in life, these diplomatic meetings and discussions are like
the necessary cesspools where the filth of life is thrown. Full of
pity for his client, Mathias cast a foreseeing eye into the future and
saw nothing good.
"We'll take the field with the same weapons," thought he, "and beat
At this moment, Paul, Solonet and Madame Evangelista, becoming
embarrassed by the old man's silence, felt that the approval of that
censor was necessary to carry out the transaction, and all three
turned to him simultaneously.
"Well, my dear Monsieur Mathias, what do you think of it?" said Paul.
"This is what I think," said the conscientious and uncompromising
notary. "You are not rich enough to commit such regal folly. The
estate of Lanstrac, if estimated at three per cent on its rentals,
represents, with its furniture, one million.; the farms of Grassol and
Guadet and your vineyard of Belle-Rose are worth another million; your
two houses in Bordeaux and Paris, with their furniture, a third
million. Against those three millions, yielding forty-seven thousand
francs a year, Mademoiselle Natalie brings eight hundred thousand
francs in the Five-per-cents, the diamonds (supposing them to be worth
a hundred thousand francs, which is still problematical) and fifty
thousand francs in money; in all, one million and fifty thousand
francs. In presence of such facts my brother notary tells you
boastfully that we are marrying equal fortunes! He expects us to
encumber ourselves with a debt of eleven hundred and fifty-six
thousand francs to our children by acknowledging the receipt of our
wife's patrimony, when we have actually received but little more than
a doubtful million. You are listening to such stuff with the rapture
of a lover, and you think that old Mathias, who is not in love, can
forget arithmetic, and will not point out the difference between
landed estate, the actual value of which is enormous and constantly
increasing, and the revenues of personal property, the capital of
which is subject to fluctuations and diminishment of income. I am old
enough to have learned that money dwindles and land augments. You have
called me in, Monsieur le comte, to stipulate for your interests;
either let me defend those interests, or dismiss me."
"If monsieur is seeking a fortune equal in capital to his own," said
Solonet, "we certainly cannot give it to him. We do not possess three
millions and a half; nothing can be more evident. While you can boast
of your three overwhelming millions, we can only produce our poor one
million,--a mere nothing in your eyes, though three times the dowry of
an archduchess of Austria. Bonaparte received only two hundred and
fifty thousand francs with Maria-Louisa."
"Maria-Louisa was the ruin of Bonaparte," muttered Mathias.
Natalie's mother caught the words.
"If my sacrifices are worth nothing," she cried, "I do not choose to
continue such a discussion; I trust to the discretion of Monsieur le
comte, and I renounce the honor of his hand for my daughter."
According to the strategy marked out by the younger notary, this
battle of contending interests had now reached the point where victory
was certain for Madame Evangelista. The mother-in-law had opened her
heart, delivered up her property, and was therefore practically
released as her daughter's guardian. The future husband, under pain of
ignoring the laws of generous propriety and being false to love, ought
now to accept these conditions previously planned, and cleverly led up
to by Solonet and Madame Evangelista. Like the hands of a clock turned
by mechanism, Paul came faithfully up to time.
"Madame!" he exclaimed, "is it possible you can think of breaking off
"Monsieur," she replied, "to whom am I accountable? To my daughter.
When she is twenty-one years of age she will receive my guardianship
account and release me. She will then possess a million, and can, if
she likes, choose her husband among the sons of the peers of France.
She is a daughter of the Casa-Reale."
"Madame is right," remarked Solonet. "Why should she be more hardly
pushed to-day than she will be fourteen months hence? You ought not to
deprive her of the benefits of her maternity."
"Mathias," cried Paul, in deep distress, "there are two sorts of ruin,
and you are bringing one upon me at this moment."
He made a step towards the old notary, no doubt intending to tell him
that the contract must be drawn at once. But Mathias stopped that
disaster with a glance which said, distinctly, "Wait!" He saw the
tears in Paul's eyes,--tears drawn from an honorable man by the shame
of this discussion as much as by the peremptory speech of Madame
Evangelista, threatening rupture,--and the old man stanched them with
a gesture like that of Archimedes when he cried, "Eureka!" The words
"peer of France" had been to him like a torch in a dark crypt.
Natalie appeared at this moment, dazzling as the dawn, saying, with
infantine look and manner, "Am I in the way?"
"Singularly so, my child," answered her mother, in a bitter tone.
"Come in, dear Natalie," said Paul, taking her hand and leading her to
a chair near the fireplace. "All is settled."
He felt it impossible to endure the overthrow of their mutual hopes.
"Yes, all can be settled," said Mathias, hastily interposing.
Like a general who, in a moment, upsets the plans skilfully laid and
prepared by the enemy, the old notary, enlightened by that genius
which presides over notaries, saw an idea, capable of saving the
future of Paul and his children, unfolding itself in legal form before
Maitre Solonet, who perceived no other way out of these irreconcilable
difficulties than the resolution with which Paul's love inspired him,
and to which this conflict of feelings and thwarted interests had
brought him, was extremely surprised at the sudden exclamation of his
brother notary. Curious to know the remedy that Mathias had found in a
state of things which had seemed to him beyond all other relief, he
said, addressing the old man:--
"What is it you propose?"
"Natalie, my dear child, leave us," said Madame Evangelista.
"Mademoiselle is not in the way," replied Mathias, smiling. "I am
going to speak in her interests as well as in those of Monsieur le
Silence reigned for a moment, during which time everybody present,
oppressed with anxiety, awaited the allocution of the venerable notary
with unspeakable curiosity.
"In these days," continued Maitre Mathias, after a pause, "the
profession of notary has changed from what it was. Political
revolutions now exert an influence over the prospects of families,
which never happened in former times. In those days existences were
clearly defined; so were rank and position--"
"We are not here for a lecture on political ceremony, but to draw up a
marriage contract," said Solonet, interrupting the old man,
"I beg you to allow me to speak in my turn as I see fit," replied the
Solonet turned away and sat down on the ottoman, saying, in a low
voice, to Madame Evangelista:--
"You will now hear what we call in the profession 'balderdash.'"
"Notaries are therefore compelled to follow the course of political
events, which are now intimately connected with private interests.
Here is an example: formerly noble families owned fortunes that were
never shaken, but which the laws, promulgated by the Revolution,
destroyed, and the present system tends to reconstruct," resumed the
old notary, yielding to the loquacity of the "tabellionaris boa-
constrictor" (boa-notary). "Monsieur le comte by his name, his
talents, and his fortune is called upon to sit some day in the
elective Chamber. Perhaps his destiny will take him to the hereditary
Chamber, for we know that he has talent and means enough to fulfil
that expectation. Do you not agree with me, madame?" he added, turning
to the widow.
"You anticipate my dearest hope," she replied. "Monsieur de Manerville
must be a peer of France, or I shall die of mortification."
"Therefore all that leads to that end--" continued Mathias with a
cordial gesture to the astute mother-in-law.
"--will promote my eager desire," she replied.
"Well, then," said Mathias, "is not this marriage the proper occasion
on which to entail the estate and create the family? Such a course
would, undoubtedly, militate in the mind of the present government in
favor of the nomination of my client whenever a batch of appointments
is sent in. Monsieur le comte can very well afford to devote the
estate of Lanstrac (which is worth a million) to this purpose. I do
not ask that mademoiselle should contribute an equal sum; that would
not be just. But we can surely apply eight hundred thousand of her
patrimony to this object. There are two domains adjoining Lanstrac now
to be sold, which can be purchased for that sum, which will return in
rentals four and a half per cent. The house in Paris should be
included in the entail. The surplus of the two fortunes, if
judiciously managed, will amply suffice for the fortunes of the
younger children. If the contracting parties will agree to this
arrangement, Monsieur ought certainly to accept your guardianship
account with its deficiency. I consent to that."
"Questa coda non e di questo gatto (That tail doesn't belong to that
cat)," murmured Madame Evangelista, appealing to Solonet.
"There's a snake in the grass somewhere," answered Solonet, in a low
voice, replying to the Italian proverb with a French one.
"Why do you make this fuss?" asked Paul, leading Mathias into the
"To save you from being ruined," replied the old notary, in a whisper.
"You are determined to marry a girl and her mother who have already
squandered two millions in seven years; you are pledging yourself to a
debt of eleven hundred thousand francs to your children, to whom you
will have to account for the fortune you are acknowledging to have
received with their mother. You risk having your own fortune
squandered in five years, and to be left as naked as Saint-John
himself, besides being a debtor to your wife and children for enormous
sums. If you are determined to put your life in that boat, Monsieur le
comte, of course you can do as you choose; but at least let me, your
old friend, try to save the house of Manerville."
"How is this scheme going to save it?" asked Paul.
"Monsieur le comte, you are in love--"
"A lover is about as discreet as a cannon-ball; therefore, I shall not
explain. If you repeated what I should say, your marriage would
probably be broken off. I protect your love by my silence. Have you
confidence in my devotion?"
"A fine question!"
"Well, then, believe me when I tell you that Madame Evangelista, her
notary, and her daughter, are tricking us through thick and thin; they
are more than clever. Tudieu! what a sly game!"
"Not Natalie," cried Paul.
"I sha'n't put my fingers between the bark and the tree," said the old
man. "You want her, take her! But I wish you were well out of this
marriage, if it could be done without the least wrong-doing on your
"Why do you wish it?"
"Because that girl will spend the mines of Peru. Besides, see how she
rides a horse,--like the groom of a circus; she is half emancipated
already. Such girls make bad wives."
Paul pressed the old man's hand, saying, with a confident air of self-
"Don't be uneasy as to that! But now, at this moment, what am I to
"Hold firm to my conditions. They will consent, for no one's apparent
interest is injured. Madame Evangelista is very anxious to marry her
daughter; I see that in her little game--Beware of her!"
Paul returned to the salon, where he found his future mother-in-law
conversing in a low tone with Solonet. Natalie, kept outside of these
mysterious conferences, was playing with a screen. Embarrassed by her
position, she was thinking to herself: "How odd it is that they tell
me nothing of my own affairs."
The younger notary had seized, in the main, the future effect of the
new proposal, based, as it was, on the self-love of both parties, into
which his client had fallen headlong. Now, while Mathias was more than
a mere notary, Solonet was still a young man, and brought into his
business the vanity of youth. It often happens that personal conceit
makes a man forgetful of the interests of his client. In this case,
Maitre Solonet, who would not suffer the widow to think that Nestor
had vanquished Achilles, advised her to conclude the marriage on the
terms proposed. Little he cared for the future working of the marriage
contract; to him, the conditions of victory were: Madame Evangelista
released from her obligations as guardian, her future secured, and
"Bordeaux shall know that you have ceded eleven hundred thousand
francs to your daughter, and that you still have twenty-five thousand
francs a year left," whispered Solonet to his client. "For my part, I
did not expect to obtain such a fine result."
"But," she said, "explain to me why the creation of this entail should
have calmed the storm at once."
"It relieves their distrust of you and your daughter. An entail is
unchangeable; neither husband nor wife can touch that capital."
"Then this arrangement is positively insulting!"
"No; we call it simply precaution. The old fellow has caught you in a
net. If you refuse to consent to the entail, he can reply: 'Then your
object is to squander the fortune of my client, who, by the creation
of this entail, is protected from all such injury as securely as if
the marriage took place under the "regime dotal."'"
Solonet quieted his own scruples by reflecting: "After all, these
stipulations will take effect only in the future, by which time Madame
Evangelista will be dead and buried."
Madame Evangelista contented herself, for the present, with these
explanations, having full confidence in Solonet. She was wholly
ignorant of law; considering her daughter as good as married, she
thought she had gained her end, and was filled with the joy of
success. Thus, as Mathias had shrewdly calculated, neither Solonet nor
Madame Evangelista understood as yet, to its full extent, this scheme
which he had based on reasons that were undeniable.
"Well, Monsieur Mathias," said the widow, "all is for the best, is it
"Madame, if you and Monsieur le comte consent to this arrangement you
ought to exchange pledges. It is fully understood, I suppose," he
continued, looking from one to the other, "that the marriage will only
take place on condition of creating an entail upon the estate of
Lanstrac and the house in the rue de la Pepiniere, together with eight
hundred thousand francs in money brought by the future wife, the said
sum to be invested in landed property? Pardon me the repetition,
madame; but a positive and solemn engagement becomes absolutely
necessary. The creation of an entail requires formalities, application
to the chancellor, a royal ordinance, and we ought at once to conclude
the purchase of the new estate in order that the property be included
in the royal ordinance by virtue of which it becomes inalienable. In
many families this would be reduced to writing, but on this occasion I
think a simple consent would suffice. Do you consent?"
"Yes," replied Madame Evangelista.
"Yes," said Paul.
"And I?" asked Natalie, laughing.
"You are a minor, mademoiselle," replied Solonet; "don't complain of
It was then agreed that Maitre Mathias should draw up the contract,
Maitre Solonet the guardianship account and release, and that both
documents should be signed, as the law requires some days before the
celebration of the marriage. After a few polite salutations the
"It rains, Mathias; shall I take you home?" said Solonet. "My
cabriolet is here."
"My carriage is here too," said Paul, manifesting an intention to
accompany the old man.
"I won't rob you of a moment's pleasure," said Mathias. "I accept my
friend Solonet's offer."
"Well," said Achilles to Nestor, as the cabriolet rolled away, "you
have been truly patriarchal to-night. The fact is, those young people
would certainly have ruined themselves."
"I felt anxious about their future," replied Mathias, keeping silent
as to the real motives of his proposition.
At this moment the two notaries were like a pair of actors arm in arm
behind the stage on which they have played a scene of hatred and
"But," said Solonet, thinking of his rights as notary, "isn't it my
place to buy that land you mentioned? The money is part of our dowry."
"How can you put property bought in the name of Mademoiselle
Evangelista into the creation of an entail by the Comte de
Manerville?" replied Mathias.
"We shall have to ask the chancellor about that," said Solonet.
"But I am the notary of the seller as well as of the buyer of that
land," said Mathias. "Besides, Monsieur de Manerville can buy in his
own name. At the time of payment we can make mention of the fact that
the dowry funds are put into it."
"You've an answer for everything, old man," said Solonet, laughing.
"You were really surpassing to-night; you beat us squarely."
"For an old fellow who didn't expect your batteries of grape-shot, I
did pretty well, didn't I?"
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Solonet.
The odious struggle in which the material welfare of a family had been
so perilously near destruction was to the two notaries nothing more
than a matter of professional polemics.
"I haven't been forty years in harness for nothing," remarked Mathias.
"Look here, Solonet," he added, "I'm a good fellow; you shall help in
drawing the deeds for the sale of those lands."
"Thanks, my dear Mathias. I'll serve you in return on the very first
While the two notaries were peacefully returning homeward, with no
other sensations than a little throaty warmth, Paul and Madame
Evangelista were left a prey to the nervous trepidation, the quivering
of the flesh and brain which excitable natures pass through after a
scene in which their interests and their feelings have been violently
shaken. In Madame Evangelista these last mutterings of the storm were
overshadowed by a terrible reflection, a lurid gleam which she wanted,
at any cost, to dispel.
"Has Maitre Mathias destroyed in a few minutes the work I have been
doing for six months?" she asked herself. "Was he withdrawing Paul
from my influence by filling his mind with suspicion during their
secret conference in the next room?"
She was standing absorbed in these thoughts before the fireplace, her
elbow resting on the marble mantel-shelf. When the porte-cochere
closed behind the carriage of the two notaries, she turned to her
future son-in-law, impatient to solve her doubts.
"This has been the most terrible day of my life," cried Paul,
overjoyed to see all difficulties vanish. "I know no one so downright
in speech as that old Mathias. May God hear him, and make me peer of
France! Dear Natalie, I desire this for your sake more than for my
own. You are my ambition; I live only in you."
Hearing this speech uttered in the accents of the heart, and noting,
more especially, the limpid azure of Paul's eyes, whose glance
betrayed no thought of double meaning, Madame Evangelista's
satisfaction was complete. She regretted the sharp language with which
she had spurred him, and in the joy of success she resolved to
reassure him as to the future. Calming her countenance, and giving to
her eyes that expression of tender friendship which made her so
attractive, she smiled and answered:--
"I can say as much to you. Perhaps, dear Paul, my Spanish nature has
led me farther than my heart desired. Be what you are,--kind as God
himself,--and do not be angry with me for a few hasty words. Shake
Paul was abashed; he fancied himself to blame, and he kissed Madame
"Dear Paul," she said with much emotion, "why could not those two
sharks have settled this matter without dragging us into it, since it
was so easy to settle?"
"In that case I should not have known how grand and generous you can
be," replied Paul.
"Indeed she is, Paul," cried Natalie, pressing his hand.
"We have still a few little matters to settle, my dear son," said
Madame Evangelista. "My daughter and I are above the foolish vanities
to which so many persons cling. Natalie does not need my diamonds, but
I am glad to give them to her."
"Ah! my dear mother, do you suppose that I will accept them?"
"Yes, my child; they are one of the conditions of the contract."
"I will not allow it; I will not marry at all," cried Natalie,
vehemently. "Keep those jewels which my father took such pride in
collecting for you. How could Monsieur Paul exact--"
"Hush, my dear," said her mother, whose eyes now filled with tears.
"My ignorance of business compels me to a greater sacrifice than
"I must sell my house in order to pay the money that I owe to you."
"What money can you possibly owe to me?" she said; "to me, who owe you
life! If my marriage costs you the slightest sacrifice, I will not
"Dear Natalie, try to understand that neither I, nor your mother, nor
you yourself, require these sacrifices, but our children."
"Suppose I do not marry at all?"
"Do you not love me?" said Paul, tenderly.
"Come, come, my silly child; do you imagine that a contract is like a
house of cards which you can blow down at will? Dear little ignoramus,
you don't know what trouble we have had to found an entail for the
benefit of your eldest son. Don't cast us back into the discussions
from which we have just escaped."
"Why do you wish to ruin my mother?" said Natalie, looking at Paul.
"Why are you so rich?" he replied, smiling.
"Don't quarrel, my children, you are not yet married," said Madame
Evangelista. "Paul," she continued, "you are not to give either
corbeille, or jewels, or trousseau. Natalie has everything in
profusion. Lay by the money you would otherwise put into wedding
presents. I know nothing more stupidly bourgeois and commonplace than
to spend a hundred thousand francs on a corbeille, when five thousand
a year given to a young woman saves her much anxiety and lasts her
lifetime. Besides, the money for a corbeille is needed to decorate
your house in Paris. We will return to Lanstrac in the spring; for
Solonet is to settle my debts during the winter."
"All is for the best," cried Paul, at the summit of happiness.
"So I shall see Paris!" cried Natalie, in a tone that would justly
have alarmed de Marsay.
"If we decide upon this plan," said Paul, "I'll write to de Marsay and
get him to take a box for me at the Bouffons and also at the Italian
"You are very kind; I should never have dared to ask for it," said
Natalie. "Marriage is a very agreeable institution if it gives
husbands a talent for divining the wishes of their wives."
"It is nothing else," replied Paul. "But see how late it is; I ought
"Why leave so soon to-night?" said Madame Evangelista, employing those
coaxing ways to which men are so sensitive.
Though all this passed on the best of terms, and according to the laws
of the most exquisite politeness, the effect of the discussion of
these contending interests had, nevertheless, cast between son and
mother-in-law a seed of distrust and enmity which was liable to sprout
under the first heat of anger, or the warmth of a feeling too harshly
bruised. In most families the settlement of "dots" and the deeds of
gift required by a marriage contract give rise to primitive emotions
of hostility, caused by self-love, by the lesion of certain
sentiments, by regret for the sacrifices made, and by the desire to
diminish them. When difficulties arise there is always a victorious
side and a vanquished one. The parents of the future pair try to
conclude the matter, which is purely commercial in their eyes, to
their own advantage; and this leads to the trickery, shrewdness, and
deception of such negotiations. Generally the husband alone is
initiated into the secret of these discussions, and the wife is kept,
like Natalie, in ignorance of the stipulations which make her rich or
As he left the house, Paul reflected that, thanks to the cleverness of
his notary, his fortune was almost entirely secured from injury. If
Madame Evangelista did not live apart from her daughter their united
household would have an income of more than a hundred thousand francs
to spend. All his expectations of a happy and comfortable life would
"My mother-in-law seems to me an excellent woman," he thought, still
under the influence of the cajoling manner by which she had endeavored
to disperse the clouds raised by the discussion. "Mathias is mistaken.
These notaries are strange fellows; they envenom everything. The harm
started from that little cock-sparrow Solonet, who wanted to play a
While Paul went to bed recapitulating the advantages he had won during
the evening, Madame Evangelista was congratulating herself equally on
"Well, darling mother, are you satisfied?" said Natalie, following
Madame Evangelista into her bedroom.
"Yes, love," replied the mother, "everything went well, according to
my wishes; I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders which was crushing
me. Paul is a most easy-going man. Dear fellow! yes, certainly, we
must make his life prosperous. You will make him happy, and I will be
responsible for his political success. The Spanish ambassador used to
be a friend of mine, and I'll renew the relation--as I will with the
rest of my old acquaintance. Oh! you'll see! we shall soon be in the
very heart of Parisian life; all will be enjoyment for us. You shall
have the pleasures, my dearest, and I the last occupation of
existence,--the game of ambition! Don't be alarmed when you see me
selling this house. Do you suppose we shall ever come back to live in
Bordeaux? no. Lanstrac? yes. But we shall spend all our winters in
Paris, where our real interests lie. Well, Natalie, tell me, was it
very difficult to do what I asked of you?"
"My little mamma! every now and then I felt ashamed."
"Solonet advises me to put the proceeds of this house into an
annuity," said Madame Evangelista, "but I shall do otherwise; I won't
take a penny of my fortune from you."
"I saw you were all very angry," said Natalie. "How did the tempest
"By an offer of my diamonds," replied Madame Evangelista. "Solonet was
right. How ably he conducted the whole affair. Get out my jewel-case,
Natalie. I have never seriously considered what my diamonds are worth.
When I said a hundred thousand francs I talked nonsense. Madame de
Gyas always declared that the necklace and ear-rings your father gave
me on our marriage day were worth at least that sum. My poor husband
was so lavish! Then my family diamond, the one Philip the Second gave
to the Duke of Alba, and which my aunt bequeathed to me, the
'Discreto,' was, I think, appraised in former times at four thousand
quadruples,--one of our Spanish gold coins."
Natalie laid out upon her mother's toilet-table the pearl necklace,
the sets of jewels, the gold bracelets and precious stones of all
description, with that inexpressible sensation enjoyed by certain
women at the sight of such treasures, by which--so commentators on the
Talmud say--the fallen angels seduce the daughters of men, having
sought these flowers of celestial fire in the bowels of the earth.
"Certainly," said Madame Evangelista, "though I know nothing about
jewels except how to accept and wear them, I think there must be a
great deal of money in these. Then, if we make but one household, I
can sell my plate, the weight of which, as mere silver, would bring
thirty thousand francs. I remember when we brought it from Lima, the
custom-house officers weighed and appraised it. Solonet is right, I'll
send to-morrow to Elie Magus. The Jew shall estimate the value of
these things. Perhaps I can avoid sinking any of my fortune in an
"What a beautiful pearl necklace!" said Natalie.
"He ought to give it to you, if he loves you," replied her mother;
"and I think he might have all my other jewels reset and let you keep
them. The diamonds are a part of your property in the contract. And
now, good-night, my darling. After the fatigues of this day we both
The woman of luxury, the Creole, the great lady, incapable of
analyzing the results of a contract which was not yet in force, went
to sleep in the joy of seeing her daughter married to a man who was
easy to manage, who would let them both be mistresses of his home, and
whose fortune, united to theirs, would require no change in their way
of living. Thus having settled her account with her daughter, whose
patrimony was acknowledged in the contract, Madame Evangelista could
feel at her ease.
"How foolish of me to worry as I did," she thought. "But I wish the
marriage were well over."
So Madame Evangelista, Paul, Natalie, and the two notaries were
equally satisfied with the first day's result. The Te Deum was sung in
both camps,--a dangerous situation; for there comes a moment when the
vanquished side is aware of its mistake. To Madame Evangelista's mind,
her son-in-law was the vanquished side.
THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT--SECOND DAY
The next day Elie Magus (who happened at that time to be in Bordeaux)
obeyed Madame Evangelista's summons, believing, from general rumor as
to the marriage of Comte Paul with Mademoiselle Natalie, that it
concerned a purchase of jewels for the bride. The Jew was, therefore,
astonished when he learned that, on the contrary, he was sent for to
estimate the value of the mother-in-law's property. The instinct of
his race, as well as certain insidious questions, made him aware that
the value of the diamonds was included in the marriage-contract. The
stones were not to be sold, and yet he was to estimate them as if some
private person were buying them from a dealer. Jewellers alone know
how to distinguish between the diamonds of Asia and those of Brazil.
The stones of Golconda and Visapur are known by a whiteness and
glittering brilliancy which others have not,--the water of the
Brazilian diamonds having a yellow tinge which reduces their selling
value. Madame Evangelista's necklace and ear-rings, being composed
entirely of Asiatic diamonds, were valued by Elie Magus at two hundred
and fifty thousand francs. As for the "Discreto," he pronounced it one
of the finest diamonds in the possession of private persons; it was
known to the trade and valued at one hundred thousand francs. On
hearing this estimate, which proved to her the lavishness of her
husband, Madame Evangelista asked the old Jew whether she should be
able to obtain that money immediately.
"Madame," replied the Jew, "if you wish to sell I can give you only
seventy-five thousand for the brilliant, and one hundred and sixty
thousand for the necklace and earrings."
"Why such reduction?"
"Madame," replied Magus, "the finer the diamond, the longer we keep it
unsold. The rarity of such investments is one reason for the high
value set upon precious stones. As the merchant cannot lose the
interest of his money, this additional sum, joined to the rise and
fall to which such merchandise is subject, explains the difference
between the price of purchase and the price of sale. By owning these
diamonds you have lost the interest on three hundred thousand francs
for twenty years. If you wear your jewels ten times a year, it costs
you three thousand francs each evening to put them on. How many
beautiful gowns you could buy with that sum. Those who own diamonds
are, therefore, very foolish; but, luckily for us, women are never
willing to understand the calculation."
"I thank you for explaining it to me, and I shall profit by it."
"Do you wish to sell?" asked Magus, eagerly.
"What are the other jewels worth?"
The Jew examined the gold of the settings, held the pearls to the
light, scrutinized the rubies, the diadems, clasps, bracelets, and
chains, and said, in a mumbling tone:--
"A good many Portuguese diamonds from Brazil are among them. They are
not worth more than a hundred thousand to me. But," he added, "a
dealer would sell them to a customer for one hundred and fifty
thousand, at least."
"I shall keep them," said Madame Evangelista.
"You are wrong," replied Elie Magus. "With the income from the sum
they represent you could buy just as fine diamonds in five years, and
have the capital to boot."
This singular conference became known, and corroborated certain rumors
excited by the discussion of the contract. The servants of the house,
overhearing high voices, supposed the difficulties greater than they
really were. Their gossip with other valets spread the information,
which from the lower regions rose to the ears of the masters. The
attention of society, and of the town in general, became so fixed on
the marriage of two persons equally rich and well-born, that every
one, great and small, busied themselves about the matter, and in less
than a week the strangest rumors were bruited about.
"Madame Evangelista sells her house; she must be ruined. She offered
her diamonds to Elie Magus. Nothing is really settled between herself
and the Comte de Manerville. Is it probable that the marriage will
ever take place?"
To this question some answered yes, and others said no. The two
notaries, when questioned, denied these calumnies, and declared that
the difficulties arose only from the official delay in constituting
the entail. But when public opinion has taken a trend in one direction
it is very difficult to turn it back. Though Paul went every day to
Madame Evangelista's house, and though the notaries denied these
assertions continually, the whispered calumny went on. Young girls,
and their mothers and aunts, vexed at a marriage they had dreamed of
for themselves or for their families, could not forgive the Spanish
ladies for their happiness, as authors cannot forgive each other for
their success. A few persons revenged themselves for the twenty-years
luxury and grandeur of the family of Evangelista, which had lain
heavily on their self-love. A leading personage at the prefecture
declared that the notaries could have chosen no other language and
followed no other conduct in the case of a rupture. The time actually
required for the establishment of the entail confirmed the suspicions
of the Bordeaux provincials.
"They will keep the ball going through the winter; then, in the
spring, they will go to some watering-place, and we shall learn before
the year is out that the marriage is off."
"And, of course, we shall be given to understand," said others, "for
the sake of the honor of the two families, that the difficulties did
not come from either side, but the chancellor refused to consent; you
may be sure it will be some quibble about that entail which will cause
"Madame Evangelista," some said, "lived in a style that the mines of
Valencia couldn't meet. When the time came to melt the bell, and pay
the daughter's patrimony, nothing would be found to pay it with."
The occasion was excellent to add up the spendings of the handsome
widow and prove, categorically, her ruin. Rumors were so rife that
bets were made for and against the marriage. By the laws of worldly
jurisprudence this gossip was not allowed to reach the ears of the
parties concerned. No one was enemy or friend enough to Paul or to
Madame Evangelista to inform either of what was being said. Paul had
some business at Lanstrac, and used the occasion to make a hunting-
party for several of the young men of Bordeaux,--a sort of farewell,
as it were, to his bachelor life. This hunting party was accepted by
society as a signal confirmation of public suspicion.
When this event occurred, Madame de Gyas, who had a daughter to marry,
thought it high time to sound the matter, and to condole, with joyful
heart, the blow received by the Evangelistas. Natalie and her mother
were somewhat surprised to see the lengthened face of the marquise,
and they asked at once if anything distressing had happened to her.
"Can it be," she replied, "that you are ignorant of the rumors that
are circulating? Though I think them false myself, I have come to
learn the truth in order to stop this gossip, at any rate among the
circle of my own friends. To be the dupes or the accomplices of such
an error is too false a position for true friends to occupy."
"But what is it? what has happened?" asked mother and daughter.
Madame de Gyas thereupon allowed herself the happiness of repeating
all the current gossip, not sparing her two friends a single stab.
Natalie and Madame Evangelista looked at each other and laughed, but
they fully understood the meaning of the tale and the motives of their
friend. The Spanish lady took her revenge very much as Celimene took
hers on Arsinoe.
"My dear, are you ignorant--you who know the provinces so well--can
you be ignorant of what a mother is capable when she has on her hands
a daughter whom she cannot marry for want of 'dot' and lovers, want of
beauty, want of mind, and, sometimes, want of everything? Why, a
mother in that position would rob a diligence or commit a murder, or
wait for a man at the corner of a street--she would sacrifice herself
twenty times over, if she was a mother at all. Now, as you and I both
know, there are many such in that situation in Bordeaux, and no doubt
they attribute to us their own thoughts and actions. Naturalists have
depicted the habits and customs of many ferocious animals, but they
have forgotten the mother and daughter in quest of a husband. Such
women are hyenas, going about, as the Psalmist says, seeking whom they
may devour, and adding to the instinct of the brute the intellect of
man, and the genius of woman. I can understand that those little
spiders, Mademoiselle de Belor, Mademoiselle de Trans, and others,
after working so long at their webs without catching a fly, without so
much as hearing a buzz, should be furious; I can even forgive their
spiteful speeches. But that you, who can marry your daughter when you
please, you, who are rich and titled, you who have nothing of the
provincial about you, whose daughter is clever and possesses fine
qualities, with beauty and the power to choose--that you, so
distinguished from the rest by your Parisian grace, should have paid
the least heed to this talk does really surprise me. Am I bound to
account to the public for the marriage stipulations which our notaries
think necessary under the political circumstances of my son-in-law's
future life? Has the mania for public discussion made its way into
families? Ought I to convoke in writing the fathers and mothers of the
province to come here and give their vote on the clauses of our
A torrent of epigram flowed over Bordeaux. Madame Evangelista was
about to leave the city, and could safely scan her friends and
enemies, caricature them and lash them as she pleased, with nothing to
fear in return. Accordingly, she now gave vent to her secret
observations and her latent dislikes as she sought for the reason why
this or that person denied the shining of the sun at mid-day.
"But, my dear," said the Marquise de Gyas, "this stay of the count at
Lanstrac, these parties given to young men under such circumstances--"
"Ah! my dear," said the great lady, interrupting the marquise, "do you
suppose that we adopt the pettiness of bourgeois customs? Is Count
Paul held in bonds like a man who might seek to get away? Think you we
ought to watch him with a squad of gendarmes lest some provincial
conspiracy should get him away from us?"
"Be assured, my dearest friend, that it gives me the greatest pleasure
Here her words were interrupted by a footman who entered the room to
announce Paul. Like many lovers, Paul thought it charming to ride
twelve miles to spend an hour with Natalie. He had left his friends
while hunting, and came in booted and spurred, and whip in hand.
"Dear Paul," said Natalie, "you don't know what an answer you are
giving to madame."
When Paul heard of the gossip that was current in Bordeaux, he laughed
instead of being angry.
"These worthy people have found out, perhaps, that there will be no
wedding festivities, according to provincial usages, no marriage at
mid-day in the church, and they are furious. Well, my dear mother," he
added, kissing her hand, "let us pacify them with a ball on the day
when we sign the contract, just as the government flings a fete to the
people in the great square of the Champs-Elysees, and we will give our
dear friends the dolorous pleasure of signing a marriage-contract such
as they have seldom heard of in the provinces."
This little incident proved of great importance. Madame Evangelista
invited all Bordeaux to witness the signature of the contract, and
showed her intention of displaying in this last fete a luxury which
should refute the foolish lies of the community.
The preparations for this event required over a month, and it was
called the fete of the camellias. Immense quantities of that beautiful
flower were massed on the staircase, and in the antechamber and
supper-room. During this month the formalities for constituting the
entail were concluded in Paris; the estates adjoining Lanstrac were
purchased, the banns were published, and all doubts finally
dissipated. Friends and enemies thought only of preparing their
toilets for the coming fete.
The time occupied by these events obscured the difficulties raised by
the first discussion, and swept into oblivion the words and arguments
of that stormy conference. Neither Paul nor his mother-in-law
continued to think of them. Were they not, after all, as Madame
Evangelista had said, the affair of the two notaries?
But--to whom has it never happened, when life is in its fullest flow,
to be suddenly changed by the voice of memory, raised, perhaps, too
late, reminding us of some important new fact, some threatened danger?
On the morning of the day when the contract was to be signed and the
fete given, one of these flashes of the soul illuminated the mind of
Madame Evangelista during the semi-somnolence of her waking hour. The
words that she herself had uttered at the moment when Mathias acceded
to Solonet's conditions, "Questa coda non e di questo gatto," were
cried aloud in her mind by that voice of memory. In spite of her
incapacity for business, Madame Evangelista's shrewdness told her:--
"If so clever a notary as Mathias was pacified, it must have been that
he saw compensation at the cost of SOME ONE."
That some one could not be Paul, as she had blindly hoped. Could it be
that her daughter's fortune was to pay the costs of war? She resolved
to demand explanations on the tenor of the contract, not reflecting on
the course she would have to take in case she found her interests
seriously compromised. This day had so powerful an influence on Paul
de Manerville's conjugal life that it is necessary to explain certain
of the external circumstances which accompanied it.
Madame Evangelista had shrunk from no expense for this dazzling fete.
The court-yard was gravelled and converted into a tent, and filled
with shrubs, although it was winter. The camellias, of which so much
had been said from Angouleme to Dax, were banked on the staircase and
in the vestibules. Wall partitions had disappeared to enlarge the
supper-room and the ball-room where the dancing was to be. Bordeaux, a
city famous for the luxury of colonial fortunes, was on a tiptoe of
expectation for this scene of fairyland. About eight o'clock, as the
last discussion of the contract was taking place within the house, the
inquisitive populace, anxious to see the ladies in full dress getting
out of their carriages, formed in two hedges on either side of the
porte-cochere. Thus the sumptuous atmosphere of a fete acted upon all
minds at the moment when the contract was being signed, illuminating
colored lamps lighted up the shrubs, and the wheels of the arriving
guests echoed from the court-yard. The two notaries had dined with the
bridal pair and their mother. Mathias's head-clerk, whose business it
was to receive the signatures of the guests during the evening (taking
due care that the contract was not surreptitiously read by the
signers), was also present at the dinner.
No bridal toilet was ever comparable with that of Natalie, whose
beauty, decked with laces and satin, her hair coquettishly falling in
a myriad of curls about her throat, resembled that of a flower encased
in its foliage. Madame Evangelista, robed in a gown of cherry velvet,
a color judiciously chosen to heighten the brilliancy of her skin and
her black hair and eyes, glowed with the beauty of a woman at forty,
and wore her pearl necklace, clasped with the "Discreto," a visible
contradiction to the late calumnies.
To fully explain this scene, it is necessary to say that Paul and
Natalie sat together on a sofa beside the fireplace and paid no
attention to the reading of the documents. Equally childish and
equally happy, regarding life as a cloudless sky, rich, young, and
loving, they chattered to each other in a low voice, sinking into
whispers. Arming his love with the presence of legality, Paul took
delight in kissing the tips of Natalie's fingers, in lightly touching
her snowy shoulders and the waving curls of her hair, hiding from the
eyes of others these joys of illegal emancipation. Natalie played with
a screen of peacock's feathers given to her by Paul,--a gift which is
to love, according to superstitious belief in certain countries, as
dangerous an omen as the gift of scissors or other cutting
instruments, which recall, no doubt, the Parces of antiquity.
Seated beside the two notaries, Madame Evangelista gave her closest
attention to the reading of the documents. After listening to the
guardianship account, most ably written out by Solonet, in which
Natalie's share of the three million and more francs left by Monsieur
Evangelista was shown to be the much-debated eleven hundred and fifty-
six thousand, Madame Evangelista said to the heedless young couple:--
"Come, listen, listen, my children; this is your marriage contract."
The clerk drank a glass of iced-water, Solonet and Mathias blew their
noses, Paul and Natalie looked at the four personages before them,
listened to the preamble, and returned to their chatter. The statement
of the property brought by each party; the general deed of gift in the
event of death without issue; the deed of gift of one-fourth in life-
interest and one-fourth in capital without interest, allowed by the
Code, whatever be the number of the children; the constitution of a
common fund for husband and wife; the settlement of the diamonds on
the wife, the library and horses on the husband, were duly read and
passed without observations. Then followed the constitution of the
entail. When all was read and nothing remained but to sign the
contract, Madame Evangelista demanded to know what would be the
ultimate effect of the entail.
"An entail, madam," replied Solonet, "means an inalienable right to
the inheritance of certain property belonging to both husband and
wife, which is settled from generation to generation on the eldest son
of the house, without, however, depriving him of his right to share in
the division of the rest of the property."
"What will be the effect of this on my daughter's rights?"
Maitre Mathias, incapable of disguising the truth, replied:--
"Madame, an entail being an appanage, or portion of property set aside
for this purpose from the fortunes of husband and wife, it follows
that if the wife dies first, leaving several children, one of them a
son, Monsieur de Manerville will owe those children three hundred and
sixty thousand francs only, from which he will deduct his fourth in
life-interest and his fourth in capital. Thus his debt to those
children will be reduced to one hundred and sixty thousand francs, or
thereabouts, exclusive of his savings and profits from the common fund
constituted for husband and wife. If, on the contrary, he dies first,
leaving a male heir, Madame de Manerville has a right to three hundred
and sixty thousand francs only, and to her deeds of gift of such of
her husband's property as is not included in the entail, to the
diamonds now settled upon her, and to her profits and savings from the
The effect of Maitre Mathias's astute and far-sighted policy were now
"My daughter is ruined," said Madame Evangelista in a low voice.
The old and the young notary both overheard the words.
"Is it ruin," replied Mathias, speaking gently, "to constitute for her
family an indestructible fortune?"
The younger notary, seeing the expression of his client's face,
thought it judicious in him to state the disaster in plain terms.
"We tried to trick them out of three hundred thousand francs," he
whispered to the angry woman. "They have actually laid hold of eight
hundred thousand; it is a loss of four hundred thousand from our
interests for the benefit of the children. You must now either break
the marriage off at once, or carry it through," concluded Solonet.
It is impossible to describe the moment of silence that followed.
Maitre Mathias waited in triumph the signature of the two persons who
had expected to rob his client. Natalie, not competent to understand
that she had lost half her fortune, and Paul, ignorant that the house
of Manerville had gained it, were laughing and chattering still.
Solonet and Madame Evangelista gazed at each other; the one
endeavoring to conceal his indifference, the other repressing the rush
of a crowd of bitter feelings.
After suffering in her own mind the struggles of remorse, after
blaming Paul as the cause of her dishonesty, Madame Evangelista had
decided to employ those shameful manoeuvres to cast on him the burden
of her own unfaithful guardianship, considering him her victim. But
now, in a moment, she perceived that where she thought she triumphed
she was about to perish, and her victim was her own daughter. Guilty
without profit, she saw herself the dupe of an honorable old man,
whose respect she had doubtless lost. Her secret conduct must have
inspired the stipulation of old Mathias; and Mathias must have
enlightened Paul. Horrible reflection! Even if he had not yet done so,
as soon as that contract was signed the old wolf would surely warn his
client of the dangers he had run and had now escaped, were it only to
receive the praise of his sagacity. He would put him on his guard
against the wily woman who had lowered herself to this conspiracy; he
would destroy the empire she had conquered over her son-in-law! Feeble
natures, once warned, turn obstinate, and are never won again. At the
first discussion of the contract she had reckoned on Paul's weakness,
and on the impossibility he would feel of breaking off a marriage so
far advanced. But now, she herself was far more tightly bound. Three
months earlier Paul had no real obstacles to prevent the rupture; now,
all Bordeaux knew that the notaries had smoothed the difficulties; the
banns were published; the wedding was to take place immediately; the
friends of both families were at that moment arriving for the fete,
and to witness the contract. How could she postpone the marriage at
this late hour? The cause of the rupture would surely be made known;
Maitre Mathias's stern honor was too well known in Bordeaux; his word
would be believed in preference to hers. The scoffers would turn
against her and against her daughter. No, she could not break it off;
she must yield!
These reflections, so cruelly sound, fell upon Madame Evangelista's
brain like a water-spout and split it. Though she still maintained the
dignity and reserve of a diplomatist, her chin was shaken by that
apoplectic movement which showed the anger of Catherine the Second on
the famous day when, seated on her throne and in presence of her court
(very much in the present circumstances of Madame Evangelista), she
was braved by the King of Sweden. Solonet observed that play of the
muscles, which revealed the birth of a mortal hatred, a lurid storm to
which there was no lightning. At this moment Madame Evangelista vowed
to her son-in-law one of those unquenchable hatreds the seeds of which
were left by the Moors in the atmosphere of Spain.
"Monsieur," she said, bending to the ear of her notary, "you called
that stipulation balderdash; it seems to me that nothing could have
been more clear."
"Madame, allow me--"
"Monsieur," she continued, paying no heed to his interruption, "if you
did not perceive the effect of that entail at the time of our first
conference, it is very extraordinary that it did not occur to you in
the silence of your study. This can hardly be incapacity."
The young notary drew his client into the next room, saying to
himself, as he did so:--
"I get a three-thousand franc fee for the guardianship account, three
thousand for the contract, six thousand on the sale of the house,
fifteen thousand in all--better not be angry."
He closed the door, cast on Madame Evangelista the cool look of a
business man, and said:--
"Madame, having, for your sake, passed--as I did--the proper limits of
legal craft, do you seriously intend to reward my devotion by such
"Madame, I did not, it is true, calculate the effect of the deeds of
gift. But if you do not wish Comte Paul for your son-in-law you are
not obliged to accept him. The contract is not signed. Give your fete,
and postpone the signing. It is far better to brave Bordeaux than
"How can I justify such a course to society, which is already
prejudiced against us by the slow conclusion of the marriage?"
"By some error committed in Paris; some missing document not sent with
the rest," replied Solonet.
"But those purchases of land near Lanstrac?"
"Monsieur de Manerville will be at no loss to find another bride and
"Yes, he'll lose nothing; but we lose all, all!"
"You?" replied Solonet; "why, you can easily find another count who
will cost you less money, if a title is the chief object of this
"No, no! we can't stake our honor in that way. I am caught in a trap,
monsieur. All Bordeaux will ring with this to-morrow. Our solemn words
"You wish the happiness of Mademoiselle Natalie."
"Above all things."
"To be happy in France," said the notary, "means being mistress of the
home. She can lead that fool of a Manerville by the nose if she
chooses; he is so dull he has actually seen nothing of all this. Even
if he now distrusts you, he will always trust his wife; and his wife
is YOU, is she not? The count's fate is still within your power if you
choose to play the cards in your hand."
"If that were true, monsieur, I know not what I would not do to show
my gratitude," she said, in a transport of feeling that colored her
"Let us now return to the others, madame," said Solonet. "Listen
carefully to what I shall say; and then--you shall think me incapable
if you choose."
"My dear friend," said the young notary to Maitre Mathias, "in spite
of your great ability, you have not foreseen either the case of
Monsieur de Manerville dying without children, nor that in which he
leaves only female issue. In either of those cases the entail would
pass to the Manervilles, or, at any rate, give rise to suits on their
part. I think, therefore, it is necessary to stipulate that in the
first case the entailed property shall pass under the general deed of
gift between husband and wife; and in the second case that the entail
shall be declared void. This agreement concerns the wife's interest."
"Both clauses seem to me perfectly just," said Maitre Mathias. "As to
their ratification, Monsieur le comte can, doubtless, come to an
understanding with the chancellor, if necessary."
Solonet took a pen and added this momentous clause on the margin of
the contract. Paul and Natalie paid no attention to the matter; but
Madame Evangelista dropped her eyes while Maitre Mathias read the
added sentence aloud.
"We will now sign," said the mother.
The volume of voice which Madame Evangelista repressed as she uttered
those words betrayed her violent emotion. She was thinking to herself:
"No, my daughter shall not be ruined--but he! My daughter shall have
the name, the title, and the fortune. If she should some day discover
that she does not love him, that she loves another, irresistibly, Paul
shall be driven out of France! My daughter shall be free, and happy,
If Maitre Mathias understood how to analyze business interests, he
knew little of the analysis of human passions. He accepted Madame
Evangelista's words as an honorable "amende," instead of judging them
for what they were, a declaration of war. While Solonet and his clerk
superintended Natalie as she signed the documents,--an operation which
took time,--Mathias took Paul aside and told him the meaning of the
stipulation by which he had saved him from ultimate pain.
"The whole affair is now 'en regle.' I hold the documents. But the
contract contains a rescript for the diamonds; you must ask for them.
Business is business. Diamonds are going up just now, but may go down.
The purchase of those new domains justifies you in turning everything
into money that you can. Therefore, Monsieur le comte, have no false
modesty in this matter. The first payment is due after the formalities
are over. The sum is two hundred thousand francs; put the diamonds
into that. You have the lien on this house, which will be sold at
once, and will pay the rest. If you have the courage to spend only
fifty thousand francs for the next three years, you can save the two
hundred thousand francs you are now obliged to pay. If you plant
vineyards on your new estates, you can get an income of over twenty-
five thousand francs upon them. You may be said, in short, to have
made a good marriage."
Paul pressed the hand of his old friend very affectionately, a gesture
which did not escape Madame Evangelista, who now came forward to offer
him the pen. Suspicion became certainty to her mind. She was confident
that Paul and Mathias had come to an understanding about her. Rage and
hatred sent the blood surging through her veins to her heart. The
worst had come.
After verifying that all the documents were duly signed and the
initials of the parties affixed to the bottom of the leaves, Maitre
Mathias looked from Paul to his mother-in-law, and seeing that his
client did not intend to speak of the diamonds, he said:--
"I do not suppose there can be any doubt about the transfer of the
diamonds, as you are now one family."
"It would be more regular if Madame Evangelista made them over now, as
Monsieur de Manerville has become responsible for the guardianship
funds, and we never know who may live or die," said Solonet, who
thought he saw in this circumstance fresh cause of anger in the
mother-in-law against the son-in-law.
"Ah! mother," cried Paul, "it would be insulting to us all to do that,
--'Summum jus, summum injuria,' monsieur," he said to Solonet.
"And I," said Madame Evangelista, led by the hatred now surging in her
heart to see a direct insult to her in the indirect appeal of Maitre
Mathias, "I will tear that contract up if you do not take them."
She left the room in one of those furious passions which long for the
power to destroy everything, and which the sense of impotence drives
almost to madness.
"For Heaven's sake, take them, Paul," whispered Natalie in his ear.
"My mother is angry; I shall know why to-night, and I will tell you.
We must pacify her."
Calmed by this first outburst, madame kept the necklace and ear-rings,
which she was wearing, and brought the other jewels, valued at one
hundred and fifty thousand francs by Elie Magus. Accustomed to the
sight of family diamonds in all valuations of inheritance, Maitre
Mathias and Solonet examined these jewels in their cases and exclaimed
upon their duty.
"You will lose nothing, after all, upon the 'dot,' Monsieur le comte,"
said Solonet, bringing the color to Paul's face.
"Yes," said Mathias, "these jewels will meet the first payment on the
purchase of the new estate."
"And the costs of the contract," added Solonet.
Hatred feeds, like love, on little things; the least thing strengthens
it; as one beloved can do no evil, so the person hated can do no good.
Madame Evangelista assigned to hypocrisy the natural embarrassment of
Paul, who was unwilling to take the jewels, and not knowing where to
put the cases, longed to fling them from the window. Madame
Evangelista spurred him with a glance which seemed to say, "Take your
property from here."
"Dear Natalie," said Paul, "put away these jewels; they are yours; I
give them to you."
Natalie locked them into the drawer of a console. At this instant the
noise of the carriages in the court-yard and the murmur of voices in
the receptions-rooms became so loud that Natalie and her mother were
forced to appear. The salons were filled in a few moments, and the
"Profit by the honeymoon to sell those diamonds," said the old notary
to Paul as he went away.
While waiting for the dancing to begin, whispers went round about the
marriage, and doubts were expressed as to the future of the promised
"Is it finally arranged?" said one of the leading personages of the
town to Madame Evangelista.
"We had so many documents to read and sign that I fear we are rather
late," she replied; "but perhaps we are excusable."
"As for me, I heard nothing," said Natalie, giving her hand to her
lover to open the ball.
"Both of those young persons are extravagant, and the mother is not of
a kind to check them," said a dowager.
"But they have founded an entail, I am told, worth fifty thousand
francs a year."
"In that I see the hand of our worthy Monsieur Mathias," said a
magistrate. "If it is really true, he has done it to save the future
of the family."
"Natalie is too handsome not to be horribly coquettish. After a couple
of years of marriage," said one young woman, "I wouldn't answer for
Monsieur de Manerville's happiness in his home."
"The Pink of Fashion will then need staking," said Solonet, laughing.
"Don't you think Madame Evangelista looks annoyed?" asked another.
"But, my dear, I have just been told that all she is able to keep is
twenty-five thousand francs a year, and what is that to her?"
"Yes, she has robbed herself for Natalie. Monsieur de Manerville has
been so exacting--"
"Extremely exacting," put in Maitre Solonet. "But before long he will
be peer of France. The Maulincours and the Vidame de Pamiers will use
their influence. He belongs to the faubourg Saint-Germain."
"Oh! he is received there, and that is all," said a lady, who had
tried to obtain him as a son-in-law. "Mademoiselle Evangelista, as the
daughter of a merchant, will certainly not open the doors of the
chapter-house of Cologne to him!"
"She is grand-niece to the Duke of Casa-Reale."
"Through the female line!"
The topic was presently exhausted. The card-players went to the
tables, the young people danced, the supper was served, and the ball
was not over till morning, when the first gleams of the coming day
whitened the windows.
Having said adieu to Paul, who was the last to go away, Madame
Evangelista went to her daughter's room; for her own had been taken by
the architect to enlarge the scene of the fete. Though Natalie and her
mother were overcome with sleep, they said a few words to each other
as soon as they were alone.
"Tell me, mother dear, what was the matter with you?"
"My darling, I learned this evening to what lengths a mother's
tenderness can go. You know nothing of business, and you are ignorant
of the suspicions to which my integrity has been exposed. I have
trampled my pride under foot, for your happiness and my reputation
were at stake."
"Are you talking of the diamonds? Poor boy, he wept; he did not want
them; I have them."
"Sleep now, my child. We will talk business when we wake--for," she
added, sighing, "you and I have business now; another person has come
"Ah! my dear mother, Paul will never be an obstacle to our happiness,
yours and mine," murmured Natalie, as she went to sleep.
"Poor darling! she little knows that the man has ruined her."
Madame Evangelista's soul was seized at that moment with the first
idea of avarice, a vice to which many become a prey as they grow aged.
It came into her mind to recover in her daughter's interest the whole
of the property left by her husband. She told herself that her honor
demanded it. Her devotion to Natalie made her, in a moment, as shrewd
and calculating as she had hitherto been careless and wasteful. She
resolved to turn her capital to account, after investing a part of it
in the Funds, which were then selling at eighty francs. A passion
often changes the whole character in a moment; an indiscreet person
becomes a diplomatist, a coward is suddenly brave. Hate made this
prodigal woman a miser. Chance and luck might serve the project of
vengeance, still undefined and confused, which she would now mature in
her mind. She fell asleep, muttering to herself, "To-morrow!" By an
unexplained phenomenon, the effects of which are familiar to all
thinkers, her mind, during sleep, marshalled its ideas, enlightened
them, classed them, prepared a means by which she was to rule Paul's
life, and showed her a plan which she began to carry out on that very
THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT--THIRD DAY
Though the excitement of the fete had driven from Paul's mind the
anxious thoughts that now and then assailed it, when he was alone with
himself and in his bed they returned to torment him.
"It seems to me," he said to himself, "that without that good Mathias
my mother-in-law would have tricked me. And yet, is that believable?
What interest could lead her to deceive me? Are we not to join
fortunes and live together? Well, well, why should I worry about it?
In two days Natalie will be my wife, our money relations are plainly
defined, nothing can come between us. Vogue la galere--Nevertheless,
I'll be upon my guard. Suppose Mathias was right? Well, if he was, I'm
not obliged to marry my mother-in-law."
In this second battle of the contract Paul's future had completely
changed in aspect, though he was not aware of it. Of the two persons
whom he was marrying, one, the cleverest, was now his mortal enemy,
and meditated already withdrawing her interests from the common fund.
Incapable of observing the difference that a Creole nature placed
between his mother-in-law and other women, Paul was far from
suspecting her craftiness. The Creole nature is apart from all others;
it derives from Europe by its intellect, from the tropics by the
illogical violence of its passions, from the East by the apathetic
indifference with which it does, or suffers, either good or evil,
equally,--a graceful nature withal, but dangerous, as a child is
dangerous if not watched. Like a child, the Creole woman must have her
way immediately; like a child, she would burn a house to boil an egg.
In her soft and easy life she takes no care upon her mind; but when
impassioned, she thinks of all things. She has something of the
perfidy of the Negroes by whom she has been surrounded from her
cradle, but she is also as naive and even, at times, as artless as
they. Like them and like the children, she wishes doggedly for one
thing with a growing intensity of desire, and will brood upon that
idea until she hatches it. A strange assemblage of virtues and
defects! which her Spanish nature had strengthened in Madame
Evangelista, and over which her French experience had cast the glaze
of its politeness.
This character, slumbering in married happiness for sixteen years,
occupied since then with the trivialities of social life, this nature
to which a first hatred had revealed its strength, awoke now like a
conflagration; at the moment of the woman's life when she was losing
the dearest object of her affections and needed another element for
the energy that possessed her, this flame burst forth. Natalie could
be but three days more beneath her influence! Madame Evangelista,
vanquished at other points, had one clear day before her, the last of
those that a daughter spends beside her mother. A few words, and the
Creole nature could influence the lives of the two beings about to
walk together through the brambled paths and the dusty high-roads of
Parisian society, for Natalie believed in her mother blindly. What
far-reaching power would the counsel of that Creole nature have on a
mind so subservient! The whole future of these lives might be
determined by one single speech. No code, no human institution can
prevent the crime that kills by words. There lies the weakness of
social law; in that is the difference between the morals of the great
world and the morals of the people: one is frank, the other
hypocritical; one employs the knife, the other the venom of ideas and
language; to one death, to the other impunity.
The next morning, about mid-day, Madame Evangelista was half seated,
half lying on the edge of her daughter's bed. During that waking hour
they caressed and played together in happy memory of their loving
life; a life in which no discord had ever troubled either the harmony
of their feelings, the agreement of their ideas, or the mutual choice
and enjoyment of their pleasures.
"Poor little darling!" said the mother, shedding true tears, "how can
I help being sorrowful when I think that after I have fulfilled your
every wish during your whole life you will belong, to-morrow night, to
a man you must obey?"
"Oh, my dear mother, as for obeying!--" and Natalie made a little
motion of her head which expressed a graceful rebellion. "You are
joking," she continued. "My father always gratified your caprices; and
why not? he loved you. And I am loved, too."
"Yes, Paul has a certain love for you. But if a married woman is not
careful nothing more rapidly evaporates than conjugal love. The
influence a wife ought to have over her husband depends entirely on
how she begins with him. You need the best advice."
"But you will be with us."
"Possibly, my child. Last night, while the ball was going on, I
reflected on the dangers of our being together. If my presence were to
do you harm, if the little acts by which you ought slowly, but surely,
to establish your authority as a wife should be attributed to my
influence, your home would become a hell. At the first frown I saw
upon your husband's brow I, proud as I am, should instantly leave his
house. If I were driven to leave it, better, I think, not to enter it.
I should never forgive your husband if he caused trouble between us.
Whereas, when you have once become the mistress, when your husband is
to you what your father was to me, that danger is no longer to be
feared. Though this wise policy will cost your young and tender heart
a pang, your happiness demands that you become the absolute sovereign
of your home."
"Then why, mamma, did you say just now I must obey him?"
"My dear little daughter, in order that a wife may rule, she must
always seem to do what her husband wishes. If you were not told this
you might by some impulsive opposition destroy your future. Paul is a
weak young man; he might allow a friend to rule him; he might even
fall under the dominion of some woman who would make you feel her
influence. Prevent such disasters by making yourself from the very
start his ruler. Is it not better that he be governed by you than by
"Yes, certainly," said Natalie. "I should think only of his
"And it is my privilege, darling, to think only of yours, and to wish
not to leave you at so crucial a moment without a compass in the midst
of the reefs through which you must steer."
"But, dearest mother, are we not strong enough, you and I, to stay
together beside him, without having to fear those frowns you seem to
dread. Paul loves you, mamma."
"Oh! oh! He fears me more than he loves me. Observe him carefully
to-day when I tell him that I shall let you go to Paris without me,
and you will see on his face, no matter what pains he takes to conceal
it, his inward joy."
"Why should he feel so?"
"Why? Dear child! I am like Saint-Jean Bouche-d'Or. I will tell that
to himself, and before you."
"But suppose I marry on condition that you do not leave me?" urged
"Our separation is necessary," replied her mother. "Several
considerations have greatly changed my future. I am now poor. You will
lead a brilliant life in Paris, and I could not live with you suitably
without spending the little that remains to me. Whereas, if I go to
Lanstrac, I can take care of your property there and restore my
fortune by economy."
"You, mamma! YOU practise economy!" cried Natalie, laughing. "Don't
begin to be a grandmother yet. What! do you mean to leave me for such
reasons as those? Dear mother, Paul may seem to you a trifle stupid,
but he is not one atom selfish or grasping."
"Ah!" replied Madame Evangelista, in a tone of voice big with
suggestions which made the girl's heart throb, "those discussions
about the contract have made me distrustful. I have my doubts about
him--But don't be troubled, dear child," she added, taking her
daughter by the neck and kissing her. "I will not leave you long
alone. Whenever my return can take place without making difficulty
between you, whenever Paul can rightly judge me, we will begin once
more our happy little life, our evening confidences--"
"Oh! mother, how can you think of living without your Natalie?"
"Because, dear angel, I shall live for her. My mother's heart will be
satisfied in the thought that I contribute, as I ought, to your future
"But, my dear, adorable mother, must I be alone with Paul, here, now,
all at once? What will become of me? what will happen? what must I do?
what must I not do?"
"Poor child! do you think that I would utterly abandon you to your
first battle? We will write to each other three times a week like
lovers. We shall thus be close to each other's hearts incessantly.
Nothing can happen to you that I shall not know, and I can save you
from all misfortune. Besides, it would be too ridiculous if I never
went to see you; it would seem to show dislike or disrespect to your
husband; I will always spend a month or two every year with you in
"Alone, already alone, and with him!" cried Natalie in terror,
interrupting her mother.
"But you wish to be his wife?"
"Yes, I wish it. But tell me how I should behave,--you, who did what
you pleased with my father. You know the way; I'll obey you blindly."
Madame Evangelista kissed her daughter's forehead. She had willed and
awaited this request.
"Child, my counsels must adept themselves to circumstances. All men
are not alike. The lion and the frog are not more unlike than one man
compared with another,--morally, I mean. Do I know to-day what will
happen to you to-morrow? No; therefore I can only give you general
advice upon the whole tenor of your conduct."
"Dear mother, tell me, quick, all that you know yourself."
"In the first place, my dear child, the cause of the failure of
married women who desire to keep their husbands' hearts--and," she
said, making a parenthesis, "to keep their hearts and rule them is one
and the same thing--Well, the principle cause of conjugal disunion is
to be found in perpetual intercourse, which never existed in the olden
time, but which has been introduced into this country of late years
with the mania for family. Since the Revolution the manners and
customs of the bourgeois have invaded the homes of the aristocracy.
This misfortune is due to one of their writers, Rousseau, an infamous
heretic, whose ideas were all anti-social and who pretended, I don't
know how, to justify the most senseless things. He declared that all
women had the same rights and the same faculties; that living in a
state of society we ought, nevertheless, to obey nature--as if the
wife of a Spanish grandee, as if you or I had anything in common with
the women of the people! Since then, well-bred women have suckled
their children, have educated their daughters, and stayed in their own
homes. Life has become so involved that happiness is almost
impossible,--for a perfect harmony between natures such as that which
has made you and me live as two friends is an exception. Perpetual
contact is as dangerous for parents and children as it is for husband
and wife. There are few souls in which love survives this fatal
omnipresence. Therefore, I say, erect between yourself and Paul the
barriers of society; go to balls and operas; go out in the morning,
dine out in the evenings, pay visits constantly, and grant but little
of your time to your husband. By this means you will always keep your
value to him. When two beings bound together for life have nothing to
live upon but sentiment, its resources are soon exhausted,
indifference, satiety, and disgust succeed. When sentiment has
withered what will become of you? Remember, affection once
extinguished can lead to nothing but indifference or contempt. Be ever
young and ever new to him. He may weary you,--that often happens,--but
you must never weary him. The faculty of being bored without showing
it is a condition of all species of power. You cannot diversify
happiness by the cares of property or the occupations of a family. If
you do not make your husband share your social interests, if you do
not keep him amused you will fall into a dismal apathy. Then begins
the SPLEEN of love. But a man will always love the woman who amuses
him and keeps him happy. To give happiness and to receive it are two
lines of feminine conduct which are separated by a gulf."
"Dear mother, I am listening to you, but I don't understand one word
"If you love Paul to the extent of doing all he asks of you, if you
make your happiness depend on him, all is over with your future life;
you will never be mistress of your home, and the best precepts in the
world will do you no good."
"That is plainer; but I see the rule without knowing how to apply it,"
said Natalie, laughing. "I have the theory; the practice will come."
"My poor Ninie," replied the mother, who dropped an honest tear at the
thought of her daughter's marriage, "things will happen to teach it to
you--And," she continued, after a pause, during which the mother and
daughter held each other closely embraced in the truest sympathy,
"remember this, my Natalie: we all have our destiny as women, just as
men have their vocation as men. A woman is born to be a woman of the
world and a charming hostess, as a man is born to be a general or a
poet. Your vocation is to please. Your education has formed you for
society. In these days women should be educated for the salon as they
once were for the gynoecium. You were not born to be the mother of a
family or the steward of a household. If you have children, I hope
they will not come to spoil your figure on the morrow of your
marriage; nothing is so bourgeois as to have a child at once. If you
have them two or three years after your marriage, well and good;
governesses and tutors will bring them up. YOU are to be the lady, the
great lady, who represents the luxury and the pleasure of the house.
But remember one thing--let your superiority be visible in those
things only which flatter a man's self-love; hide the superiority you
must also acquire over him in great things."
"But you frighten me, mamma," cried Natalie. "How can I remember all
these precepts? How shall I ever manage, I, such a child, and so
heedless, to reflect and calculate before I act?"
"But, my dear little girl, I am telling you to-day that which you must
surely learn later, buying your experience by fatal faults and errors
of conduct which will cause you bitter regrets and embarrass your
"But how must I begin?" asked Natalie, artlessly.
"Instinct will guide you," replied her mother. "At this moment Paul
desires you more than he loves you; for love born of desires is a
hope; the love that succeeds their satisfaction is the reality. There,
my dear, is the question; there lies your power. What woman is not
loved before marriage? Be so on the morrow and you shall remain so
always. Paul is a weak man who is easily trained to habit. If he
yields to you once he will yield always. A woman ardently desired can
ask all things; do not commit the folly of many women who do not see
the importance of the first hours of their sway,--that of wasting your
power on trifles, on silly things with no result. Use the empire your
husband's first emotions give you to accustom him to obedience. And
when you make him yield, choose that it be on some unreasonable point,
so as to test the measure of your power by the measure of his
concession. What victory would there be in making him agree to a
reasonable thing? Would that be obeying you? We must always, as the
Castilian proverb says, take the bull by the horns; when a bull has
once seen the inutility of his defence and of his strength he is
beaten. When your husband does a foolish thing for you, you can govern
"Because, my child, marriage lasts a lifetime, and a husband is not a
man like other men. Therefore, never commit the folly of giving
yourself into his power in everything. Keep up a constant reserve in
your speech and in your actions. You may even be cold to him without
danger, for you can modify coldness at will. Besides, nothing is more
easy to maintain than our dignity. The words, 'It is not becoming in
your wife to do thus and so,' is a great talisman. The life of a woman
lies in the words, 'I will not.' They are the final argument. Feminine
power is in them, and therefore they should only be used on real
occasions. But they constitute a means of governing far beyond that of
argument or discussion. I, my dear child, reigned over your father by
his faith in me. If your husband believes in you, you can do all
things with him. To inspire that belief you must make him think that
you understand him. Do not suppose that that is an easy thing to do. A
woman can always make a man think that he is loved, but to make him
admit that he is understood is far more difficult. I am bound to tell
you all now, my child, for to-morrow life with its complications, life
with two wills which MUST be made one, begins for you. Bear in mind,
at all moments, that difficulty. The only means of harmonizing your
two wills is to arrange from the first that there shall be but one;
and that will must be yours. Many persons declare that a wife creates
her own unhappiness by changing sides in this way; but, my dear, she
can only become the mistress by controlling events instead of bearing
them; and that advantage compensates for any difficulty."
Natalie kissed her mother's hands with tears of gratitude. Like all
women in whom mental emotion is never warmed by physical emotion, she
suddenly comprehended the bearings of this feminine policy; but, like
a spoiled child that never admits the force of reason and returns
obstinately to its one desire, she came back to the charge with one of
those personal arguments which the logic of a child suggests:--
"Dear mamma," she said, "it is only a few days since you were talking
of Paul's advancement, and saying that you alone could promote it;
why, then, do you suddenly turn round and abandon us to ourselves?"
"I did not then know the extent of my obligations nor the amount of my
debts," replied the mother, who would not suffer her real motive to be
seen. "Besides, a year or two hence I can take up that matter again.
Come, let us dress; Paul will be here soon. Be as sweet and caressing
as you were,--you know?--that night when we first discussed this fatal
contract; for to-day we must save the last fragments of our fortune,
and I must win for you a thing to which I am superstitiously attached."
"What is it?"
Paul arrived about four o'clock. Though he endeavored to meet his
mother-in-law with a gracious look upon his face, Madame Evangelista
saw traces of the clouds which the counsels of the night and the
reflections of the morning had brought there.
"Mathias has told him!" she thought, resolving to defeat the old
notary's action. "My dear son," she said, "you left your diamonds in
the drawer of the console, and I frankly confess that I would rather
not see again the things that threatened to bring a cloud between us.
Besides, as Monsieur Mathias said, they ought to be sold at once to
meet the first payment on the estates you have purchased."
"They are not mine," he said. "I have given them to Natalie, and when
you see them upon her you will forget the pain they caused you."
Madame Evangelista took his hand and pressed it cordially, with a tear
"Listen to me, my dear children," she said, looking from Paul to
Natalie; "since you really feel thus, I have a proposition to make to
both of you. I find myself obliged to sell my pearl necklace and my
earrings. Yes, Paul, it is necessary; I do not choose to put a penny
of my fortune into an annuity; I know what I owe to you. Well, I admit
a weakness; to sell the 'Discreto' seems to me a disaster. To sell a
diamond which bears the name of Philip the Second and once adorned his
royal hand, an historic stone which the Duke of Alba touched for ten
years in the hilt of his sword--no, no, I cannot! Elie Magus estimates
my necklace and ear-rings at a hundred and some odd thousand francs
without the clasps. Will you exchange the other jewels I made over to
you for these? you will gain by the transaction, but what of that? I
am not selfish. Instead of those mere fancy jewels, Paul, your wife
will have fine diamonds which she can really enjoy. Isn't it better
that I should sell those ornaments which will surely go out of
fashion, and that you should keep in the family these priceless
"But, my dear mother, consider yourself," said Paul.
"I," replied Madame Evangelista, "I want such things no longer. Yes,
Paul, I am going to be your bailiff at Lanstrac. It would be folly in
me to go to Paris at the moment when I ought to be here to liquidate
my property and settle my affairs. I shall grow miserly for my
"Dear mother," said Paul, much moved, "ought I to accept this exchange
without paying you the difference?"
"Good heavens! are you not, both of you, my dearest interests? Do you
suppose I shall not find happiness in thinking, as I sit in my
chimney-corner, 'Natalie is dazzling to-night at the Duchesse de
Berry's ball'? When she sees my diamond at her throat and my ear-rings
in her ears she will have one of those little enjoyments of vanity
which contribute so much to a woman's happiness and make her so gay
and fascinating. Nothing saddens a woman more than to have her vanity
repressed; I have never seen an ill-dressed woman who was amiable or
"Heavens! what was Mathias thinking about?" thought Paul. "Well, then,
mamma," he said, in a low voice, "I accept."
"But I am confounded!" said Natalie.
At this moment Solonet arrived to announce the good news that he had
found among the speculators of Bordeaux two contractors who were much
attracted by the house, the gardens of which could be covered with
"They offer two hundred and fifty thousand francs," he said; "but if
you consent to the sale, I can make them give you three hundred
thousand. There are three acres of land in the garden."
"My husband paid two hundred thousand for the place, therefore I
consent," she replied. "But you must reserve the furniture and the
"Ah!" said Solonet, "you are beginning to understand business."
"Alas! I must," she said, sighing.
"I am told that a great many persons are coming to your midnight
service," said Solonet, perceiving that his presence was inopportune,
and preparing to go.
Madame Evangelista accompanied him to the door of the last salon, and
there she said, in a low voice:--
"I now have personal property to the amount of two hundred and fifty
thousand francs; if I can get two hundred thousand for my share of the
house it will make a handsome capital, which I shall want to invest to
the very best advantage. I count on you for that. I shall probably
live at Lanstrac."
The young notary kissed his client's hand with a gesture of gratitude;
for the widow's tone of voice made Solonet fancy that this alliance,
really made from self-interest only, might extend a little farther.
"You can count on me," he replied. "I can find you investments in
merchandise on which you will risk nothing and make very considerable
"Adieu until to-morrow," she said; "you are to be our witness, you
know, with Monsieur le Marquis de Gyas."
"My dear mother," said Paul, when she returned to them, "why do you
refuse to come to Paris? Natalie is provoked with me, as if I were the
cause of your decision."
"I have thought it all over, my children, and I am sure that I should
hamper you. You would feel obliged to make me a third in all you did,
and young people have ideas of their own which I might,
unintentionally, thwart. Go to Paris. I do not wish to exercise over
the Comtesse de Manerville the gentle authority I have held over
Natalie. I desire to leave her wholly to you. Don't you see, Paul,
that there are habits and ways between us which must be broken up? My
influence ought to yield to yours. I want you to love me, and to
believe that I have your interests more at heart than you think for.
Young husbands are, sooner or later, jealous for the love of a wife
for her mother. Perhaps they are right. When you are thoroughly
united, when love has blended your two souls into one, then, my dear
son, you will not fear an opposing influence if I live in your house.
I know the world, and men, and things; I have seen the peace of many a
home destroyed by the blind love of mothers who made themselves in the
end as intolerable to their daughters as to their sons-in-law. The
affection of old people is often exacting and querulous. Perhaps I
could not efface myself as I should. I have the weakness to think
myself still handsome; I have flatterers who declare that I am still
agreeable; I should have, I fear, certain pretensions which might
interfere with your lives. Let me, therefore, make one more sacrifice
for your happiness. I have given you my fortune, and now I desire to
resign to you my last vanities as a woman. Your notary Mathias is
getting old. He cannot look after your estates as I will. I will be
your bailiff; I will create for myself those natural occupations which
are the pleasures of old age. Later, if necessary, I will come to you
in Paris, and second you in your projects of ambition. Come, Paul, be
frank; my proposal suits you, does it not?"
Paul would not admit it, but he was at heart delighted to get his
liberty. The suspicions which Mathias had put into his mind respecting
his mother-in-law were, however, dissipated by this conversation,
which Madame Evangelista carried on still longer in the same tone.
"My mother was right," thought Natalie, who had watched Paul's
countenance. "He IS glad to know that I am separated from her--why?"
That "why" was the first note of a rising distrust; did it prove the
power of those maternal instructions?
There are certain characters which on the faith of a single proof
believe in friendship. To persons thus constituted the north wind
drives away the clouds as rapidly as the south wind brings them; they
stop at effects and never hark back to causes. Paul had one of those
essentially confiding natures, without ill-feelings, but also without
foresight. His weakness proceeded far more from his kindness, his
belief in goodness, than from actual debility of soul.
Natalie was sad and thoughtful, for she knew not what to do without
her mother. Paul, with that self-confident conceit which comes of
love, smiled to himself at her sadness, thinking how soon the
pleasures of marriage and the excitements of Paris would drive it
away. Madame Evangelista saw this confidence with much satisfaction.
She had already taken two great steps. Her daughter possessed the
diamonds which had cost Paul two hundred thousand francs; and she had
gained her point of leaving these two children to themselves with no
other guide than their illogical love. Her revenge was thus preparing,
unknown to her daughter, who would, sooner or later, become its
accomplice. Did Natalie love Paul? That was a question still
undecided, the answer to which might modify her projects, for she
loved her daughter too sincerely not to respect her happiness. Paul's
future, therefore, still depended on himself. If he could make his
wife love him, he was saved.
The next day, at midnight, after an evening spent together, with the
addition of the four witnesses, to whom Madame Evangelista gave the
formal dinner which follows the legal marriage, the bridal pair,
accompanied by their friends, heard mass by torchlight, in presence of
a crowd of inquisitive persons. A marriage celebrated at night always
suggests to the mind an unpleasant omen. Light is the symbol of life
and pleasure, the forecasts of which are lacking to a midnight
wedding. Ask the intrepid soul why it shivers; why the chill of those
black arches enervates it; why the sound of steps startles it; why it
notices the cry of bats and the hoot of owls. Though there is
absolutely no reason to tremble, all present do tremble, and the
darkness, emblem of death, saddens them. Natalie, parted from her
mother, wept. The girl was now a prey to those doubts which grasp the
heart as it enters a new career in which, despite all assurances of
happiness, a thousand pitfalls await the steps of a young wife. She
was cold and wanted a mantle. The air and manner of Madame Evangelista
and that of the bridal pair excited some comment among the elegant
crowd which surrounded the altar.
"Solonet tells me that the bride and bridegroom leave for Paris
to-morrow morning, all alone."
"Madame Evangelista was to live with them, I thought."
"Count Paul has got rid of her already."
"What a mistake!" said the Marquise de Gyas. "To shut the door on the
mother of his wife is to open it to a lover. Doesn't he know what a
"He has been very hard on Madame Evangelista; the poor woman has had
to sell her house and her diamonds, and is going to live at Lanstrac."
"Natalie looks very sad."
"Would you like to be made to take a journey the day after your
"It is very awkward."
"I am glad I came here to-night," said a lady. "I am now convinced of
the necessity of the pomps of marriage and of wedding fetes; a scene
like this is very bare and sad. If I may say what I think," she added,
in a whisper to her neighbor, "this marriage seems to me indecent."
Madame Evangelista took Natalie in her carriage and accompanied her,
alone, to Paul's house.
"Well, mother, it is done!"
"Remember, my dear child, my last advice, and you will be a happy
woman. Be his wife, and not his mistress."
When Natalie had retired, the mother played the little comedy of
flinging herself with tears into the arms of her son-in-law. It was
the only provincial thing that Madame Evangelista allowed herself, but
she had her reasons for it. Amid tears and speeches, apparently half
wild and despairing, she obtained of Paul those concessions which all
The next day she put the married pair into their carriage, and
accompanied them to the ferry, by which the road to Paris crosses the
Gironde. With a look and a word Natalie enabled her mother to see that
if Paul had won the trick in the game of the contract, her revenge was
beginning. Natalie was already reducing her husband to perfect
Five years later, on an afternoon in the month of November, Comte Paul
de Manerville, wrapped in a cloak, was entering, with a bowed head and
a mysterious manner, the house of his old friend Monsieur Mathias at
Too old to continue in business, the worthy notary had sold his
practice and was ending his days peacefully in a quiet house to which
he had retired. An urgent affair had obliged him to be absent at the
moment of his guest's arrival, but his housekeeper, warned of Paul's
coming, took him to the room of the late Madame Mathias, who had been
dead a year. Fatigued by a rapid journey, Paul slept till evening.
When the old man reached home he went up to his client's room, and
watched him sleeping, as a mother watches her child. Josette, the old
housekeeper, followed her master and stood before the bed, her hands
on her hips.
"It is a year to-day, Josette, since I received my dear wife's last
sigh; I little knew then that I should stand here again to see the
count half dead."
"Poor man! he moans in his sleep," said Josette.
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