The Marriage Contract
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 3
"Sac a papier!" cried the old notary, an innocent oath which was a
sign with him of the despair on a man of business before
insurmountable difficulties. "At any rate," he thought, "I have saved
the title to the Lanstrac estate for him, and that of Ausac, Saint-
Froult, and his house, though the usufruct has gone." Mathias counted
his fingers. "Five years! Just five years this month, since his old
aunt, now dead, that excellent Madame de Maulincour, asked for the
hand of that little crocodile of a woman, who has finally ruined him--
as I expected."
And the gouty old gentleman, leaning on his cane, went to walk in the
little garden till his guest should awake. At nine o'clock supper was
served, for Mathias took supper. The old man was not a little
astonished, when Paul joined him, to see that his old client's brow
was calm and his face serene, though noticeably changed. If at the age
of thirty-three the Comte de Manerville seemed to be a man of forty,
that change in his appearance was due solely to mental shocks;
physically, he was well. He clasped the old man's hand affectionately,
and forced him not to rise, saying:--
"Dear, kind Maitre Mathias, you, too, have had your troubles."
"Mine were natural troubles, Monsieur le comte; but yours--"
"We will talk of that presently, while we sup."
"If I had not a son in the magistracy, and a daughter married," said
the good old man, "you would have found in old Mathias, believe me,
Monsieur le comte, something better than mere hospitality. Why have
you come to Bordeaux at the very moment when posters are on all the
walls of the seizure of your farms at Grassol and Guadet, the vineyard
of Belle-Rose and the family mansion? I cannot tell you the grief I
feel at the sight of those placards,--I, who for forty years nursed
that property as if it belonged to me; I, who bought it for your
mother when I was only third clerk to Monsieur Chesnau, my
predecessor, and wrote the deeds myself in my best round hand; I, who
have those titles now in my successor's office; I, who have known you
since you were so high"; and the old man stopped to put his hand near
the ground. "Ah! a man must have been a notary for forty-one years and
a half to know the sort of grief I feel to see my name exposed before
the face of Israel in those announcements of the seizure and sale of
the property. When I pass through the streets and see men reading
these horrible yellow posters, I am ashamed, as if my own honor and
ruin were concerned. Some fools will stand there and read them aloud
expressly to draw other fools about them--and what imbecile remarks
they make! As if a man were not master of his own property! Your
father ran through two fortunes before he made the one he left you;
and you wouldn't be a Manerville if you didn't do likewise. Besides,
seizures of real estate have a whole section of the Code to
themselves; they are expected and provided for; you are in a position
recognized by the law.--If I were not an old man with white hair, I
would thrash those fools I hear reading aloud in the streets such an
abomination as this," added the worthy notary, taking up a paper; "'At
the request of Dame Natalie Evangelista, wife of Paul-Francois-Joseph,
Comte de Manerville, separated from him as to worldly goods and
chattels by the Lower court of the department of the Seine--'"
"Yes, and now separated in body," said Paul.
"Ah!" exclaimed the old man.
"Oh! against my wife's will," added the count, hastily. "I was forced
to deceive her; she did not know that I was leaving her."
"You have left her?"
"My passage is taken; I sail for Calcutta on the 'Belle-Amelie.'"
"Two day's hence!" cried the notary. "Then, Monsieur le comte, we
shall never meet again."
"You are only seventy-three, my dear Mathias, and you have the gout,
the brevet of old age. When I return I shall find you still afoot.
Your good head and heart will be as sound as ever, and you will help
me to reconstruct what is now a shaken edifice. I intend to make a
noble fortune in seven years. I shall be only forty on my return. All
is still possible at that age."
"You?" said Mathias, with a gesture of amazement,--you, Monsieur le
comte, to undertake commerce! How can you even think of it?"
"I am no longer Monsieur le comte, dear Mathias. My passage is taken
under the name of Camille, one of my mother's baptismal names. I have
acquirements which will enable me to make my fortune otherwise than in
business. Commerce, at any rate, will be only my final chance. I start
with a sum in hand sufficient for the redemption of my future on a
"Where is that money?"
"A friend is to send it to me."
The old man dropped his fork as he heard the word "friend," not in
surprise, not scoffingly, but in grief; his look and manner expressed
the pain he felt in finding Paul under the influence of a deceitful
illusion; his practised eye fathomed a gulf where the count saw
nothing but solid ground.
"I have been fifty years in the notariat," he said, "and I never yet
knew a ruined man whose friend would lend him money."
"You don't know de Marsay. I am certain that he has sold out some of
his investments already, and to-morrow you will receive from him a
bill of exchange for one hundred and fifty thousand francs."
"I hope I may. If that be so, cannot your friend settle your
difficulties here? You could live quietly at Lanstrac for five or six
years on your wife's income, and so recover yourself."
"No assignment or economy on my part could pay off fifteen hundred
thousand francs of debt, in which my wife is involved to the amount of
five hundred and fifty thousand."
"You cannot mean to say that in four years you have incurred a million
and a half of debt?"
"Nothing is more certain, Mathias. Did I not give those diamonds to my
wife? Did I not spend the hundred and fifty thousand I received from
the sale of Madame Evangelista's house, in the arrangement of my house
in Paris? Was I not forced to use other money for the first payments
on that property demanded by the marriage contract? I was even forced
to sell out Natalie's forty thousand a year in the Funds to complete
the purchase of Auzac and Saint-Froult. We sold at eighty-seven,
therefore I became in debt for over two hundred thousand francs within
a month after my marriage. That left us only sixty-seven thousand
francs a year; but we spent fully three times as much every year. Add
all that up, together with rates of interest to usurers, and you will
soon find a million."
"Br-r-r!" exclaimed the old notary. "Go on. What next?"
"Well, I wanted, in the first place, to complete for my wife that set
of jewels of which she had the pearl necklace clasped by the family
diamond, the 'Discreto,' and her mother's ear-rings. I paid a hundred
thousand francs for a coronet of diamond wheat-ears. There's eleven
hundred thousand. And now I find I owe the fortune of my wife, which
amounts to three hundred and sixty-six thousand francs of her 'dot.'"
"But," said Mathias, "if Madame la comtesse had given up her diamonds
and you had pledged your income you could have pacified your creditors
and have paid them off in time."
"When a man is down, Mathias, when his property is covered with
mortgages, when his wife's claims take precedence of his creditors',
and when that man has notes out for a hundred thousand francs which he
must pay (and I hope I can do so out of the increased value of my
property here), what you propose is not possible."
"This is dreadful!" cried Mathias; "would you sell Belle-Rose with the
vintage of 1825 still in the cellars?"
"I cannot help myself."
"Belle-Rose is worth six hundred thousand francs."
"Natalie will buy it in; I have advised her to do so."
"I might push the price to seven hundred thousand, and the farms are
worth a hundred thousand each."
"Then if the house in Bordeaux can be sold for two hundred thousand--"
"Solonet will give more than that; he wants it. He is retiring with a
handsome property made by gambling on the Funds. He has sold his
practice for three hundred thousand francs, and marries a mulatto
woman. God knows how she got her money, but they say it amounts to
millions. A notary gambling in stocks! a notary marrying a black
woman! What an age! It is said that he speculates for your mother-in-
law with her funds."
"She has greatly improved Lanstrac and taken great pains with its
cultivation. She has amply repaid me for the use of it."
"I shouldn't have thought her capable of that."
"She is so kind and so devoted; she has always paid Natalie's debts
during the three months she spent with us every year in Paris."
"She could well afford to do so, for she gets her living out of
Lanstrac," said Mathias. "She! grown economical! what a miracle! I am
told she has just bought the domain of Grainrouge between Lanstrac and
Grassol; so that if the Lanstrac avenue were extended to the high-
road, you would drive four and a half miles through your own property
to reach the house. She paid one hundred thousand francs down for
"She is as handsome as ever," said Paul; "country life preserves her
freshness; I don't mean to go to Lanstrac and bid her good-bye; her
heart would bleed for me too much."
"You would go in vain; she is now in Paris. She probably arrived there
as you left."
"No doubt she had heard of the sale of my property and came to help
me. I have no complaint to make of life, Mathias. I am truly loved,--
as much as any man ever could be here below; beloved by two women who
outdo each other in devotion; they are even jealous of each other; the
daughter blames the mother for loving me too much, and the mother
reproaches the daughter for what she calls her dissipations. I may say
that this great affection has been my ruin. How could I fail to
satisfy even the slightest caprice of a loving wife? Impossible to
restrain myself! Neither could I accept any sacrifice on her part. We
might certainly, as you say, live at Lanstrac, save my income, and
part with her diamonds, but I would rather go to India and work for a
fortune than tear my Natalie from the life she enjoys. So it was I who
proposed the separation as to property. Women are angels who ought not
to be mixed up in the sordid interests of life."
Old Mathias listened in doubt and amazement.
"You have no children, I think," he said.
"Fortunately, none," replied Paul.
"That is not my idea of marriage," remarked the old notary, naively.
"A wife ought, in my opinion, to share the good and evil fortunes of
her husband. I have heard that young married people who love like
lovers, do not want children? Is pleasure the only object of marriage?
I say that object should be the joys of family. Moreover, in this case
--I am afraid you will think me too much of notary--your marriage
contract made it incumbent upon you to have a son. Yes, monsieur le
comte, you ought to have had at once a male heir to consolidate that
entail. Why not? Madame Evangelista was strong and healthy; she had
nothing to fear in maternity. You will tell me, perhaps, that these
are the old-fashioned notions of our ancestors. But in those noble
families, Monsieur le comte, the legitimate wife thought it her duty
to bear children and bring them up nobly; as the Duchesse de Sully,
the wife of the great Sully, said, a wife is not an instrument of
pleasure, but the honor and virtue of her household."
"You don't know women, my good Mathias," said Paul. "In order to be
happy we must love them as they want to be loved. Isn't there
something brutal in at once depriving a wife of her charms, and
spoiling her beauty before she has begun to enjoy it?"
"If you had had children your wife would not have dissipated your
fortune; she would have stayed at home and looked after them."
"If you were right, dear friend," said Paul, frowning, "I should be
still more unhappy than I am. Do not aggravate my sufferings by
preaching to me after my fall. Let me go, without the pang of looking
backward to my mistakes."
The next day Mathias received a bill of exchange for one hundred and
fifty thousand francs from de Marsay.
"You see," said Paul, "he does not write a word to me. He begins by
obliging me. Henri's nature is the most imperfectly perfect, the most
illegally beautiful that I know. If you knew with what superiority
that man, still young, can rise above sentiments, above self-
interests, and judge them, you would be astonished, as I am, to find
how much heart he has."
Mathias tried to battle with Paul's determination, but he found it
irrevocable, and it was justified by so many cogent reasons that the
old man finally ceased his endeavors to retain his client.
It is seldom that vessels sail promptly at the time appointed, but on
this occasion, by a fateful circumstance for Paul, the wind was fair
and the "Belle-Amelie" sailed on the morrow, as expected. The quay was
lined with relations, and friends, and idle persons. Among them were
several who had formerly known Manerville. His disaster, posted on the
walls of the town, made him as celebrated as he was in the days of his
wealth and fashion. Curiosity was aroused; every one had their word to
say about him. Old Mathias accompanied his client to the quay, and his
sufferings were sore as he caught a few words of those remarks:--
"Who could recognize in that man you see over there, near old Mathias,
the dandy who was called the Pink of Fashion five years ago, and made,
as they say, 'fair weather and foul' in Bordeaux."
"What! that stout, short man in the alpaca overcoat, who looks like a
groom,--is that Comte Paul de Manerville?"
"Yes, my dear, the same who married Mademoiselle Evangelista. Here he
is, ruined, without a penny to his name, going out to India to look
"But how did he ruin himself? he was very rich."
"Oh! Paris, women, play, luxury, gambling at the Bourse--"
"Besides," said another, "Manerville always was a poor creature; no
mind, soft as papier-mache, he'd let anybody shear the wool from his
back; incapable of anything, no matter what. He was born to be
Paul wrung the hand of the old man and went on board. Mathias stood
upon the pier, looking at his client, who leaned against the shrouds,
defying the crowed before him with a glance of contempt. At the moment
when the sailors began to weigh anchor, Paul noticed that Mathias was
making signals to him with his handkerchief. The old housekeeper had
hurried to her master, who seemed to be excited by some sudden event.
Paul asked the captain to wait a moment, and send a boat to the pier,
which was done. Too feeble himself to go aboard, Mathias gave two
letters to a sailor in the boat.
"My friend," he said, "this packet" (showing one of the two letters)
"is important; it has just arrived by a courier from Paris in thirty-
five hours. State this to Monsieur le comte; don't neglect to do so;
it may change his plans."
"Would he come ashore?"
"Possibly, my friend," said the notary, imprudently.
The sailor is, in all lands, a being of a race apart, holding all
land-folk in contempt. This one happened to be a bas-Breton, who saw
but one thing in Maitre Mathias's request.
"Come ashore, indeed!" he thought, as he rowed. "Make the captain lose
a passenger! If one listened to those walruses we'd have nothing to do
but embark and disembark 'em. He's afraid that son of his will catch
The sailor gave Paul the letter and said not a word of the message.
Recognizing the handwriting of his wife and de Marsay, Paul supposed
that he knew what they both would urge upon him. Anxious not to be
influenced by offers which he believed their devotion to his welfare
would inspire, he put the letters in his pocket unread, with apparent
Absorbed in the sad thoughts which assail the strongest man under such
circumstances, Paul gave way to his grief as he waved his hand to his
old friend, and bade farewell to France, watching the steeples of
Bordeaux as they fled out of sight. He seated himself on a coil of
rope. Night overtook him still lost in thought. With the semi-darkness
of the dying day came doubts; he cast an anxious eye into the future.
Sounding it, and finding there uncertainty and danger, he asked his
soul if courage would fail him. A vague dread seized his mind as he
thought of Natalie left wholly to herself; he repented the step he had
taken; he regretted Paris and his life there. Suddenly sea-sickness
overcame him. Every one knows the effect of that disorder. The most
horrible of its sufferings devoid of danger is a complete dissolution
of the will. An inexplicable distress relaxes to their very centre the
cords of vitality; the soul no longer performs its functions; the
sufferer becomes indifferent to everything; the mother forgets her
child, the lover his mistress, the strongest man lies prone, like an
inert mass. Paul was carried to his cabin, where he stayed three days,
lying on his back, gorged with grog by the sailors, or vomiting;
thinking of nothing, and sleeping much. Then he revived into a species
of convalescence, and returned by degrees to his ordinary condition.
The first morning after he felt better he went on deck and passed the
poop, breathing in the salt breezes of another atmosphere. Putting his
hands into his pockets he felt the letters. At once he opened them,
beginning with that of his wife.
In order that the letter of the Comtesse de Manerville be fully
understood, it is necessary to give the one which Paul had written to
her on the day that he left Paris.
From Paul de Manerville to his wife:
My beloved,--When you read this letter I shall be far away from
you; perhaps already on the vessel which is to take me to India,
where I am going to repair my shattered fortune.
I have not found courage to tell you of my departure. I have
deceived you; but it was best to do so. You would only have been
uselessly distressed; you would have wished to sacrifice your
fortune, and that I could not have suffered. Dear Natalie, feel no
remorse; I have no regrets. When I return with millions I shall
imitate your father and lay them at your feet, as he laid his at
the feet of your mother, saying to you: "All I have is yours."
I love you madly, Natalie; I say this without fear that the
avowal will lead you to strain a power which none but weak men
fear; yours has been boundless from the day I knew you first. My
love is the only accomplice in my disaster. I have felt, as my
ruin progressed, the delirious joys of a gambler; as the money
diminished, so my enjoyment grew. Each fragment of my fortune
turned into some little pleasure for you gave me untold happiness.
I could have wished that you had more caprices that I might
gratify them all. I knew I was marching to a precipice, but I went
on crowned with joys of which a common heart knows nothing. I have
acted like those lovers who take refuge in a cottage on the shores
of some lake for a year or two, resolved to kill themselves at
last; dying thus in all the glory of their illusions and their
love. I have always thought such persons infinitely sensible.
You have known nothing of my pleasures or my sacrifices. The
greatest joy of all was to hide from the one beloved the cost of
her desires. I can reveal these secrets to you now, for when you
hold this paper, heavy with love, I shall be far away. Though I
lose the treasures of your gratitude, I do not suffer that
contraction of the heart which would disable me if I spoke to you
of these matters. Besides, my own beloved, is there not a tender
calculation in thus revealing to you the history of the past? Does
it not extend our love into the future?--But we need no such
supports! We love each other with a love to which proof is
needless,--a love which takes no note of time or distance, but
lives of itself alone.
Ah! Natalie, I have just looked at you asleep, trustful, restful
as a little child, your hand stretched toward me. I left a tear
upon the pillow which has known our precious joys. I leave you
without fear, on the faith of that attitude; I go to win the
future of our love by bringing home to you a fortune large enough
to gratify your every taste, and let no shadow of anxiety disturb
our joys. Neither you nor I can do without enjoyments in the life
we live. To me belongs the task of providing the necessary
fortune. I am a man; and I have courage.
Perhaps you might seek to follow me. For that reason I conceal
from you the name of the vessel, the port from which I sail, and
the day of sailing. After I am gone, when too late to follow me, a
friend will tell you all.
Natalie! my affection is boundless. I love you as a mother loves
her child, as a lover loves his mistress, with absolute
unselfishness. To me the toil, to you the pleasures; to me all
sufferings, to you all happiness. Amuse yourself; continue your
habits of luxury; go to theatres and operas, enjoy society and
balls; I leave you free for all things. Dear angel, when you
return to this nest where for five years we have tasted the fruits
which love has ripened think of your friend; think for a moment of
me, and rest upon my heart.
That is all I ask of you. For myself, dear eternal thought of
mine! whether under burning skies, toiling for both of us, I face
obstacles to vanquish, or whether, weary with the struggle, I rest
my mind on hopes of a return, I shall think of you alone; of you
who are my life,--my blessed life! Yes, I shall live in you. I
shall tell myself daily that you have no troubles, no cares; that
you are happy. As in our natural lives of day and night, of
sleeping and waking, I shall have sunny days in Paris, and nights
of toil in India,--a painful dream, a joyful reality; and I shall
live so utterly in that reality that my actual life will pass as a
dream. I shall have memories! I shall recall, line by line,
strophe by strophe, our glorious five years' poem. I shall
remember the days of your pleasure in some new dress or some
adornment which made you to my eyes a fresh delight. Yes, dear
angel, I go like a man vowed to some great emprize, the guerdon of
which, if success attend him, is the recovery of his beautiful
mistress. Oh! my precious love, my Natalie, keep me as a religion
in your heart. Be the child that I have just seen asleep! If you
betray my confidence, my blind confidence, you need not fear my
anger--be sure of that; I should die silently. But a wife does not
deceive the man who leaves her free--for woman is never base. She
tricks a tyrant; but an easy treachery, which would kill its
victim, she will not commit--No, no! I will not think of it.
Forgive this cry, this single cry, so natural to the heart of man!
Dear love, you will see de Marsay; he is now the lessee of our
house, and he will leave you in possession of it. This nominal
lease was necessary to avoid a useless loss. Our creditors,
ignorant that their payment is a question of time only, would
otherwise have seized the furniture and the temporary possession
of the house. Be kind to de Marsay; I have the most entire
confidence in his capacity and his loyalty. Take him as your
defender and adviser, make him your slave. However occupied, he
will always find time to be devoted to you. I have placed the
liquidation of my affairs and the payment of the debts in his
hands. If he should advance some sum of which he should later feel
in need I rely on you to pay it back. Remember, however, that I do
not leave you to de Marsay, but TO YOURSELF; I do not seek to
impose him upon you.
Alas! I have but an hour more to stay beside you; I cannot spend
that hour in writing business--I count your breaths; I try to
guess your thoughts in the slight motions of your sleep. I would I
could infuse my blood into your veins that you might be a part of
me, my thought your thought, and your heart mine--A murmur has
just escaped your lips as though it were a soft reply. Be calm and
beautiful forever as you are now! Ah! would that I possessed that
fabulous fairy power which, with a wand, could make you sleep
while I am absent, until, returning, I should wake you with a
How much I must love you, how much energy of soul I must possess,
to leave you as I see you now! Adieu, my cherished one. Your poor
Pink of Fashion is blown away by stormy winds, but--the wings of
his good luck shall waft him back to you. No, my Ninie, I am not
bidding you farewell, for I shall never leave you. Are you not the
soul of my actions? Is not the hope of returning with happiness
indestructible for YOU the end and aim of my endeavor? Does it not
lead my every step? You will be with me everywhere. Ah! it will
not be the sun of India, but the fire of your eyes that lights my
way. Therefore be happy--as happy as a woman can be without her
lover. I would the last kiss that I take from those dear lips were
not a passive one; but, my Ninie, my adored one, I will not wake
you. When you wake, you will find a tear upon your forehead--make
it a talisman! Think, think of him who may, perhaps, die for you,
far from you; think less of the husband than of the lover who
confides you to God.
From the Comtesse de Manerville to her husband:
Dear, beloved one,--Your letter has plunged me into affliction.
Had you the right to take this course, which must affect us
equally, without consulting me? Are you free? Do you not belong to
me? If you must go, why should I not follow you? You show me,
Paul, that I am not indispensable to you. What have I done, to be
deprived of my rights? Surely I count for something in this ruin.
My luxuries have weighed somewhat in the scale. You make me curse
the happy, careless life we have led for the last five years. To
know that you are banished from France for years is enough to kill
me. How soon can a fortune be made in India? Will you ever return?
I was right when I refused, with instinctive obstinacy, that
separation as to property which my mother and you were so
determined to carry out. What did I tell you then? Did I not warn
you that it was casting a reflection upon you, and would ruin your
credit? It was not until you were really angry that I gave way.
My dear Paul, never have you been so noble in my eyes as you are
at this moment. To despair of nothing, to start courageously to
seek a fortune! Only your character, your strength of mind could
do it. I sit at your feet. A man who avows his weakness with your
good faith, who rebuilds his fortune from the same motive that
made him wreck it, for love's sake, for the sake of an
irresistible passion, oh, Paul, that man is sublime! Therefore,
fear nothing; go on, through all obstacles, not doubting your
Natalie--for that would be doubting yourself. Poor darling, you
mean to live in me? And I shall ever be in you. I shall not be
here; I shall be wherever you are, wherever you go.
Though your letter has caused me the keenest pain, it has also
filled me with joy--you have made me know those two extremes!
Seeing how you love me, I have been proud to learn that my love is
truly felt. Sometimes I have thought that I loved you more than
you loved me. Now, I admit myself vanquished, you have added the
delightful superiority--of loving--to all the others with which
you are blest. That precious letter in which your soul reveals
itself will lie upon my heart during all your absence; for my
soul, too, is in it; that letter is my glory.
I shall go to live at Lanstrac with my mother. I die to the world;
I will economize my income and pay your debts to their last
farthing. From this day forth, Paul, I am another woman. I bid
farewell forever to society; I will have no pleasures that you
cannot share. Besides, Paul, I ought to leave Paris and live in
retirement. Dear friend, you will soon have a noble reason to make
your fortune. If your courage needed a spur you would find it in
this. Cannot you guess? We shall have a child. Your cherished
desires are granted. I feared to give you one of those false hopes
which hurt so much--have we not had grief enough already on that
score? I was determined not to be mistaken in this good news.
To-day I feel certain, and it makes me happy to shed this joy upon
This morning, fearing nothing and thinking you still at home, I
went to the Assumption; all things smiled upon me; how could I
foresee misfortune? As I left the church I met my mother; she had
heard of your distress, and came, by post, with all her savings,
thirty thousand francs, hoping to help you. Ah! what a heart is
hers, Paul! I felt joyful, and hurried home to tell you this good
news, and to breakfast with you in the greenhouse, where I ordered
just the dainties that you like. Well, Augustine brought me your
letter,--a letter from you, when we had slept together! A cold
fear seized me; it was like a dream! I read your letter! I read it
weeping, and my mother shared my tears. I was half-dead. Such
love, such courage, such happiness, such misery! The richest
fortunes of the heart, and the momentary ruin of all interests! To
lose you at a moment when my admiration of your greatness thrilled
me! what woman could have resisted such a tempest of emotion? To
know you far away when your hand upon my heart would have stilled
its throbbings; to feel that YOU were not here to give me that
look so precious to me, to rejoice in our new hopes; that I was
not with you to soften your sorrows by those caresses which made
your Natalie so dear to you! I wished to start, to follow you, to
fly to you. But my mother told me you had taken passage in a ship
which leaves Bordeaux to-morrow, that I could not reach you except
by post, and, moreover, that it was madness in my present state to
risk our future by attempting to follow you. I could not bear such
violent emotions; I was taken ill, and am writing to you now in
My mother is doing all she can to stop certain calumnies which
seem to have got about on your disaster. The Vandenesses, Charles
and Felix, have earnestly defended you; but your friend de Marsay
treats the affair satirically. He laughs at your accusers instead
of replying to them. I do not like his way of lightly brushing
aside such serious attacks. Are you not deceived in him? However,
I will obey you; I will make him my friend. Do not be anxious, my
adored one, on the points that concern your honor; is it not mine
as well? My diamonds shall be pledged; we intend, mamma and I, to
employ our utmost resources in the payment of your debts; and we
shall try to buy back your vineyard at Belle-Rose. My mother, who
understands business like a lawyer, blames you very much for not
having told her of your embarrassments. She would not have bought
--thinking to please you--the Grainrouge domain, and then she
could have lent you that money as well as the thirty thousand
francs she brought with her. She is in despair at your decision;
she fears the climate of India for your health. She entreats you
to be sober, and not to let yourself be trapped by women--That
made me laugh; I am as sure of you as I am of myself. You will
return to me rich and faithful. I alone know your feminine
delicacy, and the secret sentiments which make you a human flower
worthy of the gardens of heaven. The Bordeaux people were right
when they gave you your floral nickname.
But alas! who will take care of my delicate flower? My heart is
rent with dreadful ideas. I, his wife, Natalie, I am here, and
perhaps he suffers far away from me! And not to share your pains,
your vexations, your dangers! In whom will you confide? how will
you live without that ear into which you have hitherto poured all?
Dear, sensitive plant, swept away by this storm, will you be able
to survive in another soil than your native land?
It seems to me that I have been alone for centuries. I have wept
sorely. To be the cause of your ruin! What a text for the thoughts
of a loving woman! You treated me like a child to whom we give all
it asks, or like a courtesan, allowed by some thoughtless youth to
squander his fortune. Ah! such indulgence was, in truth, an
insult. Did you think I could not live without fine dresses, balls
and operas and social triumphs? Am I so frivolous a woman? Do you
think me incapable of serious thought, of ministering to your
fortune as I have to your pleasures? If you were not so far away,
and so unhappy, I would blame you for that impertinence. Why lower
your wife in that way? Good heavens! what induced me to go into
society at all?--to flatter your vanity; I adorned myself for you,
as you well know. If I did wrong, I am punished, cruelly; your
absence is a harsh expiation of our mutual life.
Perhaps my happiness was too complete; it had to be paid by some
great trial--and here it is. There is nothing now for me but
solitude. Yes, I shall live at Lanstrac, the place your father
laid out, the house you yourself refurnished so luxuriously. There
I shall live, with my mother and my child, and await you,--sending
you daily, night and morning, the prayers of all. Remember that
our love is a talisman against all evil. I have no more doubt of
you than you can have of me. What comfort can I put into this
letter,--I so desolate, so broken, with the lonely years before
me, like a desert to cross. But no! I am not utterly unhappy; the
desert will be brightened by our son,--yes, it must be a SON, must
And now, adieu, my own beloved; our love and prayers will follow
you. The tears you see upon this paper will tell you much that I
cannot write. I kiss you on this little square of paper, see!
below. Take those kisses from
This letter threw Paul into a reverie caused as much by memories of
the past as by these fresh assurances of love. The happier a man is,
the more he trembles. In souls which are exclusively tender--and
exclusive tenderness carries with it a certain amount of weakness--
jealousy and uneasiness exist in direct proportion to the amount of
the happiness and its extent. Strong souls are neither jealous nor
fearful; jealousy is doubt, fear is meanness. Unlimited belief is the
principal attribute of a great man. If he is deceived (for strength as
well as weakness may make a man a dupe) his contempt will serve him as
an axe with which to cut through all. This greatness, however, is the
exception. Which of us has not known what it is to be abandoned by the
spirit which sustains our frail machine, and to hearken to that
mysterious Voice denying all? Paul, his mind going over the past, and
caught here and there by irrefutable facts, believed and doubted all.
Lost in thought, a prey to an awful and involuntary incredulity, which
was combated by the instincts of his own pure love and his faith in
Natalie, he read and re-read that wordy letter, unable to decide the
question which it raised either for or against his wife. Love is
sometimes as great and true when smothered in words as it is in brief,
To understand the situation into which Paul de Manerville was about to
enter we must think of him as he was at this moment, floating upon the
ocean as he floated upon his past, looking back upon the years of his
life as he looked at the limitless water and cloudless sky about him,
and ending his reverie by returning, through tumults of doubt, to
faith, the pure, unalloyed and perfect faith of the Christian and the
lover, which enforced the voice of his faithful heart.
It is necessary to give here his own letter to de Marsay written on
leaving Paris, to which his friend replied in the letter he received
through old Mathias from the dock:--
From Comte Paul de Manerville to Monsieur le Marquis Henri de
Henri,--I have to say to you one of the most vital words a man can
say to his friend:--I am ruined. When you read this I shall be on
the point of sailing from Bordeaux to Calcutta on the brig "Belle-
You will find in the hands of your notary a deed which only needs
your signature to be legal. In it, I lease my house to you for six
years at a nominal rent. Send a duplicate of that deed to my wife.
I am forced to take this precaution that Natalie may continue to
live in her own home without fear of being driven out by
I also convey to you by deed the income of my share of the
entailed property for four years; the whole amounting to one
hundred and fifty thousand francs, which sum I beg you to lend me
and to send in a bill of exchange on some house in Bordeaux to my
notary, Maitre Mathias. My wife will give you her signature to
this paper as an endorsement of your claim to my income. If the
revenues of the entail do not pay this loan as quickly as I now
expect, you and I will settle on my return. The sum I ask for is
absolutely necessary to enable me to seek my fortune in India; and
if I know you, I shall receive it in Bordeaux the night before I
I have acted as you would have acted in my place. I held firm to
the last moment, letting no one suspect my ruin. Before the news
of the seizure of my property at Bordeaux reached Paris, I had
attempted, with one hundred thousand francs which I obtained on
notes, to recover myself by play. Some lucky stroke might still
have saved me. I lost.
How have I ruined myself? By my own will, Henri. From the first
month of my married life I saw that I could not keep up the style
in which I started. I knew the result; but I chose to shut my
eyes; I could not say to my wife, "We must leave Paris and live at
Lanstrac." I have ruined myself for her as men ruin themselves for
a mistress, but I knew it all along. Between ourselves, I am
neither a fool nor a weak man. A fool does not let himself be
ruled with his eyes open by a passion; and a man who starts for
India to reconstruct his fortune, instead of blowing out his
brains, is not weak.
I shall return rich, or I shall never return at all. Only, my dear
friend, as I want wealth solely for HER, as I must be absent six
years at least, and as I will not risk being duped in any way, I
confide to you my wife. I know no better guardian. Being
childless, a lover might be dangerous to her. Henri! I love her
madly, basely, without proper pride. I would forgive her, I think,
an infidelity, not because I am certain of avenging it, but
because I would kill myself to leave her free and happy--since I
could not make her happiness myself. But what have I to fear?
Natalie feels for me that friendship which is independent of love,
but which preserves love. I have treated her like a petted child.
I took such delight in my sacrifices, one led so naturally to
another, that she can never be false; she would be a monster if
she were. Love begets love.
Alas! shall I tell you all, my dear Henri? I have just written her
a letter in which I let her think that I go with heart of hope and
brow serene; that neither jealousy, nor doubt, nor fear is in my
soul,--a letter, in short, such as a son might write to his
mother, aware that he is going to his death. Good God! de Marsay,
as I wrote it hell was in my soul! I am the most wretched man on
earth. Yes, yes, to you the cries, to you the grinding of my
teeth! I avow myself to you a despairing lover; I would rather
live these six years sweeping the streets beneath her windows than
return a millionaire at the end of them--if I could choose. I
suffer agony; I shall pass from pain to pain until I hear from you
that you will take the trust which you alone can fulfil or
Oh! my dear de Marsay, this woman is indispensable to my life; she
is my sun, my atmosphere. Take her under your shield and buckler,
keep her faithful to me, even if she wills it not. Yes, I could be
satisfied with a half-happiness. Be her guardian, her chaperon,
for I could have no distrust of you. Prove to her that in
betraying me she would do a low and vulgar thing, and be no better
than the common run of women; tell her that faithfulness will
prove her lofty spirit.
She probably has fortune enough to continue her life of luxury and
ease. But if she lacks a pleasure, if she has caprices which she
cannot satisfy, be her banker, and do not fear, I WILL return with
But, after all, these fears are in vain! Natalie is an angel of
purity and virtue. When Felix de Vandenesse fell deeply in love
with her and began to show her certain attentions, I had only to
let her see the danger, and she instantly thanked me so
affectionately that I was moved to tears. She said that her
dignity and reputation demanded that she should not close her
doors abruptly to any man, but that she knew well how to dismiss
him. She did, in fact, receive him so coldly that the affair all
ended for the best. We have never had any other subject of dispute
--if, indeed, a friendly talk could be called a dispute--in all
our married life.
And now, my dear Henri, I bid you farewell in the spirit of a man.
Misfortune has come. No matter what the cause, it is here. I strip
to meet it. Poverty and Natalie are two irreconcilable terms. The
balance may be close between my assets and my liabilities, but no
one shall have cause to complain of me. But, should any unforeseen
event occur to imperil my honor, I count on you.
Send letters under cover to the Governor of India at Calcutta. I
have friendly relations with his family, and some one there will
care for all letters that come to me from Europe. Dear friend, I
hope to find you the same de Marsay on my return,--the man who
scoffs at everything and yet is receptive of the feelings of
others when they accord with the grandeur he is conscious of in
himself. You stay in Paris, friend; but when you read these words,
I shall be crying out, "To Carthage!"
The Marquis Henri de Marsay to Comte Paul de Manerville:
So, so, Monsieur le comte, you have made a wreck of it! Monsieur
l'ambassadeur has gone to the bottom! Are these the fine things
that you were doing?
Why, Paul, why have you kept away from me? If you had said a
single word, my poor old fellow, I would have made your position
plain to you. Your wife has refused me her endorsement. May that
one word unseal your eyes! But, if that does not suffice, learn
that your notes have been protested at the instigation of a Sieur
Lecuyer, formerly head-clerk to Maitre Solonet, a notary in
Bordeaux. That usurer in embryo (who came from Gascony for
jobbery) is the proxy of your very honorable mother-in-law, who is
the actual holder of your notes for one hundred thousand francs,
on which I am told that worthy woman doled out to you only seventy
thousand. Compared with Madame Evangelista, papa Gobseck is
flannel, velvet, vanilla cream, a sleeping draught. Your vineyard
of Belle-Rose is to fall into the clutches of your wife, to whom
her mother pays the difference between the price it goes for at
the auction sale and the amount of her dower claim upon it. Madame
Evangelista will also have the farms at Guadet and Grassol, and
the mortgages on your house in Bordeaux already belong to her, in
the names of straw men provided by Solonet.
Thus these two excellent women will make for themselves a united
income of one hundred and twenty thousand francs a year out of
your misfortunes and forced sale of property, added to the revenue
of some thirty-odd thousand on the Grand-livre which these cats
The endorsement of your wife was not needed; for this morning the
said Sieur Lecuyer came to offer me a return of the sum I had lent
you in exchange for a legal transfer of my rights. The vintage of
1825 which your mother-in-law keeps in the cellars at Lanstrac
will suffice to pay me.
These two women have calculated, evidently, that you are now upon
the ocean; but I send this letter by courier, so that you may have
time to follow the advice I now give you.
I made Lecuyer talk. I disentangled from his lies, his language,
and his reticence, the threads I lacked to bring to light the
whole plot of the domestic conspiracy hatched against you. This
evening, at the Spanish embassy, I shall offer my admiring
compliments to your mother-in-law and your wife. I shall pay
court to Madame Evangelista; I intend to desert you basely, and
say sly things to your discredit,--nothing openly, or that
Mascarille in petticoats would detect my purpose. How did you make
her such an enemy? That is what I want to know. If you had had the
wit to be in love with that woman before you married her daughter,
you would to-day be peer of France, Duc de Manerville, and,
possibly, ambassador to Madrid.
If you had come to me at the time of your marriage, I would have
helped you to analyze and know the women to whom you were binding
yourself; out of our mutual observations safety might have been
yours. But, instead of that, these women judged me, became afraid
of me, and separated us. If you had not stupidly given in to them
and turned me the cold shoulder, they would never have been able
to ruin you. Your wife brought on the coldness between us,
instigated by her mother, to whom she wrote two letters a week,--a
fact to which you paid no attention. I recognized my Paul when I
heard that detail.
Within a month I shall be so intimate with your mother-in-law that
I shall hear from her the reasons of the hispano-italiano hatred
which she feels for you,--for you, one of the best and kindest men
on earth! Did she hate you before her daughter fell in love with
Felix de Vandenesse; that's a question in my mind. If I had not
taken a fancy to go to the East with Montriveau, Ronquerolles, and
a few other good fellows of your acquaintance, I should have been
in a position to tell you something about that affair, which was
beginning just as I left Paris. I saw the first gleams even then
of your misfortune. But what gentleman is base enough to open such
a subject unless appealed to? Who shall dare to injure a woman, or
break that illusive mirror in which his friend delights in gazing
at the fairy scenes of a happy marriage? Illusions are the riches
of the heart.
Your wife, dear friend, is, I believe I may say, in the fullest
application of the word, a fashionable woman. She thinks of
nothing but her social success, her dress, her pleasures; she goes
to opera and theatre and balls; she rises late and drives to the
Bois, dines out, or gives a dinner-party. Such a life seems to me
for women very much what war is for men; the public sees only the
victors; it forgets the dead. Many delicate women perish in this
conflict; those who come out of it have iron constitutions,
consequently no heart, but good stomachs. There lies the reason of
the cold insensibility of social life. Fine souls keep themselves
reserved, weak and tender natures succumb; the rest are
cobblestones which hold the social organ in its place, water-worn
and rounded by the tide, but never worn-out. Your wife has
maintained that life with ease; she looks made for it; she is
always fresh and beautiful. To my mind the deduction is plain,--
she has never loved you; and you have loved her like a madman.
To strike out love from that siliceous nature a man of iron was
needed. After standing, but without enduring, the shock of Lady
Dudley, Felix was the fitting mate to Natalie. There is no great
merit in divining that to you she was indifferent. In love with
her yourself, you have been incapable of perceiving the cold
nature of a young woman whom you have fashioned and trained for a
man like Vandenesse. The coldness of your wife, if you perceived
it, you set down, with the stupid jurisprudence of married people,
to the honor of her reserve and her innocence. Like all husbands,
you thought you could keep her virtuous in a society where women
whisper from ear to ear that which men are afraid to say.
No, your wife has liked the social benefits she derived from
marriage, but the private burdens of it she found rather heavy.
Those burdens, that tax was--you! Seeing nothing of all this, you
have gone on digging your abysses (to use the hackneyed words of
rhetoric) and covering them with flowers. You have mildly obeyed
the law which rules the ruck of men; from which I desired to
protect you. Dear fellow! only one thing was wanting to make you
as dull as the bourgeois deceived by his wife, who is all
astonishment or wrath, and that is that you should talk to me of
your sacrifices, your love for Natalie, and chant that psalm:
"Ungrateful would she be if she betrayed me; I have done this, I
have done that, and more will I do; I will go to the ends of the
earth, to the Indies for her sake. I--I--" etc. My dear Paul, have
you never lived in Paris, have you never had the honor of
belonging by ties of friendship to Henri de Marsay, that you
should be so ignorant of the commonest things, the primitive
principles that move the feminine mechanism, the a-b-c of their
hearts? Then hear me:--
Suppose you exterminate yourself, suppose you go to Saint-Pelagie
for a woman's debts, suppose you kill a score of men, desert a
dozen women, serve like Laban, cross the deserts, skirt the
galleys, cover yourself with glory, cover yourself with shame,
refuse, like Nelson, to fight a battle until you have kissed the
shoulder of Lady Hamilton, dash yourself, like Bonaparte, upon the
bridge at Arcola, go mad like Roland, risk your life to dance five
minutes with a woman--my dear fellow, what have all those things
to do with LOVE? If love were won by samples such as those mankind
would be too happy. A spurt of prowess at the moment of desire
would give a man the woman that he wanted. But love, LOVE, my good
Paul, is a faith like that in the Immaculate conception of the
Holy Virgin; it comes, or it does not come. Will the mines of
Potosi, or the shedding of our blood, or the making of our fame
serve to waken an involuntary, an inexplicable sentiment? Young
men like you, who expect to be loved as the balance of your
account, are nothing else than usurers. Our legitimate wives owe
us virtue and children, but they don't owe us love.
Love, my dear Paul, is the sense of pleasure given and received,
and the certainty of giving and receiving it; love is a desire
incessantly moving and growing, incessantly satisfied and
insatiable. The day when Vandenesse stirred the cord of a desire
in your wife's heart which you had left untouched, all your self-
satisfied affection, your gifts, your deeds, your money, ceased to
be even memories; one emotion of love in your wife's heart has
cast out the treasures of your own passion, which are now nothing
better than old iron. Felix has the virtues and the beauties in
her eyes, and the simple moral is that blinded by your own love
you never made her love you.
Your mother-in-law is on the side of the lover against the
husband,--secretly or not; she may have closed her eyes, or she
may have opened them; I know not what she has done--but one thing
is certain, she is for her daughter, and against you. During the
fifteen years that I have observed society, I have never yet seen
a mother who, under such circumstances, abandons her daughter.
This indulgence seems to be an inheritance transmitted in the
female line. What man can blame it? Some copyist of the Civil
code, perhaps, who sees formulas only in the place of feelings.
As for your present position, the dissipation into which the life
of a fashionable woman cast you, and your own easy nature,
possibly your vanity, have opened the way for your wife and her
mother to get rid of you by this ruin so skilfully contrived. From
all of which you will conclude, my good friend, that the mission
you entrusted to me, and which I would all the more faithfully
fulfil because it amused me, is, necessarily, null and void. The
evil you wish me to prevent is accomplished,--"consummatum est."
Forgive me, dear friend, if I write to you, as you say, a la de
Marsay on subjects which must seem to you very serious. Far be it
from me to dance upon the grave of a friend, like heirs upon that
of a progenitor. But you have written to me that you mean to act
the part of a man, and I believe you; I therefore treat you as a
man of the world, and not as a lover. For you, this blow ought to
be like the brand on the shoulder of a galley-slave, which flings
him forever into a life of systematic opposition to society. You
are now freed of one evil; marriage possessed you; it now behooves
you to turn round and possess marriage.
Paul, I am your friend in the fullest acceptation of the word. If
you had a brain in an iron skull, if you had the energy which has
come to you too late, I would have proved my friendship by telling
you things that would have made you walk upon humanity as upon a
carpet. But when I did talk to you guardedly of Parisian
civilization, when I told you in the disguise of fiction some of
the actual adventures of my youth, you regarded them as mere
romance and would not see their bearing. When I told you that
history of a lawyer at the galleys branded for forgery, who
committed the crime to give his wife, adored like yours, an income
of thirty thousand francs, and whom his wife denounced that she
might be rid of him and free to love another man, you exclaimed,
and other fools who were supping with us exclaimed against me.
Well, my dear Paul, you were that lawyer, less the galleys.
Your friends here are not sparing you. The sister of the two
Vandenesses, the Marquise de Listomere and all her set, in which,
by the bye, that little Rastignac has enrolled himself,--the scamp
will make his way!--Madame d'Aiglemont and her salon, the
Lenoncourts, the Comtesse Ferraud, Madame d'Espard, the Nucingens,
the Spanish ambassador, in short, all the cliques in society are
flinging mud upon you. You are a bad man, a gambler, a dissipated
fellow who has squandered his property. After paying your debts a
great many times, your wife, an angel of virtue, has just redeemed
your notes for one hundred thousand francs, although her property
was separate from yours. Luckily, you had done the best you could
do by disappearing. If you had stayed here you would have made her
bed in the straw; the poor woman would have been the victim of her
When a man attains to power, my dear Paul, he has all the virtues
of an epitaph; let him fall into poverty, and he has more sins
than the Prodigal Son; society at the present moment gives you the
vices of a Don Juan. You gambled at the Bourse, you had licentious
tastes which cost you fabulous sums of money to gratify; you paid
enormous interests to money-lenders. The two Vandenesses have told
everywhere how Gigonnet gave you for six thousand francs an ivory
frigate, and made your valet buy it back for three hundred in
order to sell it to you again. The incident did really happen to
Maxime de Trailles about nine years ago; but it fits your present
circumstances so well that Maxime has forever lost the command of
In short, I can't tell you one-half that is said; you have
supplied a whole encyclopaedia of gossip which the women have an
interest in swelling. Your wife is having an immense success. Last
evening at the opera Madame Firmiani began to repeat to me some of
the things that are being said. "Don't talk of that," I replied.
"You know nothing of the real truth, you people. Paul has robbed
the Bank, cheated the Treasury, murdered Ezzelin and three Medoras
in the rue Saint-Denis, and I think, between ourselves, that he is
a member of the Dix-Mille. His associate is the famous Jacques
Collin, on whom the police have been unable to lay a hand since he
escaped from the galleys. Paul gave him a room in his house; you
see he is capable of anything; in fact, the two have gone off to
India together to rob the Great Mogul." Madame Firmiani, like the
distinguished woman that she is, saw that she ought not to convert
her beautiful lips into a mouthpiece for false denunciation.
Many persons, when they hear of these tragi-comedies of life,
refuse to believe them. They take the side of human nature and
fine sentiments; they declare that these things do not exist. But
Talleyrand said a fine thing, my dear fellow: "All things happen."
Truly, things happen under our very noses which are more amazing
than this domestic plot of yours; but society has an interest in
denying them, and in declaring itself calumniated. Often these
dramas are played so naturally and with such a varnish of good
taste that even I have to rub the lens of my opera-glass to see to
the bottom of them. But, I repeat to you, when a man is a friend
of mine, when we have received together the baptism of champagne
and have knelt together before the altar of the Venus Commodus,
when the crooked fingers of play have given us their benediction,
if that man finds himself in a false position I'd ruin a score of
families to do him justice.
You must be aware from all this that I love you. Have I ever in my
life written a letter as long as this? No. Therefore, read with
attention what I still have to say.
Alas! Paul, I shall be forced to take to writing, for I am taking
to politics. I am going into public life. I intend to have, within
five years, the portfolio of a ministry or some embassy. There
comes an age when the only mistress a man can serve is his
country. I enter the ranks of those who intend to upset not only
the ministry, but the whole present system of government. In
short, I swim in the waters of a certain prince who is lame of the
foot only,--a man whom I regard as a statesman of genius whose
name will go down to posterity; a prince as complete in his way as
a great artist may be in his.
Several of us, Ronquerolles, Montriveau, the Grandlieus, La Roche-
Hugon, Serisy, Feraud, and Granville, have allied ourselves
against the "parti-pretre," as the party-ninny represented by the
"Constitutionnel" has ingeniously said. We intend to overturn the
Navarreins, Lenoncourts, Vandenesses, and the Grand Almonry. In
order to succeed we shall even ally ourselves with Lafayette, the
Orleanists, and the Left,--people whom we can throttle on the
morrow of victory, for no government in the world is possible with
their principles. We are capable of anything for the good of the
country--and our own.
Personal questions as to the King's person are mere sentimental
folly in these days; they must be cleared away. From that point of
view, the English with their sort of Doge, are more advanced than
we are. Politics have nothing to do with that, my dear fellow.
Politics consist in giving the nation an impetus by creating an
oligarchy embodying a fixed theory of government, and able to
direct public affairs along a straight path, instead of allowing
the country to be pulled in a thousand different directions, which
is what has been happening for the last forty years in our
beautiful France--at once so intelligent and so sottish, so wise
and so foolish; it needs a system, indeed, much more than men.
What are individuals in this great question? If the end is a great
one, if the country may live happy and free from trouble, what do
the masses care for the profits of our stewardship, our fortune,
privileges, and pleasures?
I am now standing firm on my feet. I have at the present moment a
hundred and fifty thousand francs a year in the Three per Cents,
and a reserve of two hundred thousand francs to repair damages.
Even this does not seem to me very much ballast in the pocket of a
man starting left foot foremost to scale the heights of power.
A fortunate accident settled the question of my setting out on
this career, which did not particularly smile on me, for you know
my predilection for the life of the East. After thirty-five years
of slumber, my highly-respected mother woke up to the recollection
that she had a son who might do her honor. Often when a vine-stock
is eradicated, some years after shoots come up to the surface of
the ground; well, my dear boy, my mother had almost torn me up by
the roots from her heart, and I sprouted again in her head. At the
age of fifty-eight, she thinks herself old enough to think no more
of any men but her son. At this juncture she has met in some hot-
water cauldron, at I know not what baths, a delightful old maid--
English, with two hundred and forty thousand francs a year; and,
like a good mother, she has inspired her with an audacious
ambition to become my wife. A maid of six-and-thirty, my word!
Brought up in the strictest puritanical principles, a steady
sitting hen, who maintains that unfaithful wives should be
publicly burnt. 'Where will you find wood enough?' I asked her. I
could have sent her to the devil, for two hundred and forty
thousand francs a year are no equivalent for liberty, nor a fair
price for my physical and moral worth and my prospects. But she is
the sole heiress of a gouty old fellow, some London brewer, who
within a calculable time will leave her a fortune equal at least
to what the sweet creature has already. Added to these advantages,
she has a red nose, the eyes of a dead goat, a waist that makes
one fear lest she should break into three pieces if she falls
down, and the coloring of a badly painted doll. But--she is
delightfully economical; but--she will adore her husband, do what
he will; but--she has the English gift; she will manage my house,
my stables, my servants, my estates better than any steward. She
has all the dignity of virtue; she holds herself as erect as a
confidante on the stage of the Francais; nothing will persuade me
that she has not been impaled and the shaft broken off in her
body. Miss Stevens is, however, fair enough to be not too
unpleasing if I must positively marry her. But--and this to me is
truly pathetic--she has the hands of a woman as immaculate as the
sacred ark; they are so red that I have not yet hit on any way to
whiten them that will not be too costly, and I have no idea how to
fine down her fingers, which are like sausages. Yes; she evidently
belongs to the brew-house by her hands, and to the aristocracy by
her money; but she is apt to affect the great lady a little too
much, as rich English women do who want to be mistaken for them,
and she displays her lobster's claws too freely.
She has, however, as little intelligence as I could wish in a
woman. If there were a stupider one to be found, I would set out
to seek her. This girl, whose name is Dinah, will never criticise
me; she will never contradict me; I shall be her Upper Chamber,
her Lords and Commons. In short, Paul, she is indefeasible
evidence of the English genius; she is a product of English
mechanics brought to their highest pitch of perfection; she was
undoubtedly made at Manchester, between the manufactory of Perry's
pens and the workshops for steam-engines. It eats, it drinks, it
walks, it may have children, take good care of them, and bring
them up admirably, and it apes a woman so well that you would
believe it real.
When my mother introduced us, she had set up the machine so
cleverly, had so carefully fitted the pegs, and oiled the wheels
so thoroughly, that nothing jarred; then, when she saw I did not
make a very wry face, she set the springs in motion, and the woman
spoke. Finally, my mother uttered the decisive words, "Miss Dinah
Stevens spends no more than thirty thousand francs a year, and has
been traveling for seven years in order to economize."--So there
is another image, and that one is silver.
Matters are so far advanced that the banns are to be published. We
have got as far as "My dear love." Miss makes eyes at me that
might floor a porter. The settlements are prepared. My fortune is
not inquired into; Miss Stevens devotes a portion of hers to
creating an entail in landed estate, bearing an income of two
hundred and forty thousand francs, and to the purchase of a house,
likewise entailed. The settlement credited to me is of a million
francs. She has nothing to complain of. I leave her uncle's money
The worthy brewer, who has helped to found the entail, was near
bursting with joy when he heard that his niece was to be a
marquise. He would be capable of doing something handsome for my
I shall sell out of the funds as soon as they are up to eighty,
and invest in land. Thus, in two years I may look to get six
hundred thousand francs a year out of real estate. So, you see,
Paul, I do not give my friends advice that I am not ready to act
If you had but listened to me, you would have an English wife,
some Nabob's daughter, who would leave you the freedom of a
bachelor and the independence necessary for playing the whist of
ambition. I would concede my future wife to you if you were not
married already. But that cannot be helped, and I am not the man
to bid you chew the cud of the past.
All this preamble was needful to explain to you that for the
future my position in life will be such as a man needs if he wants
to play the great game of pitch-and-toss. I cannot do without you,
my friend. Now, then, my dear Paul, instead of setting sail for
India you would do a much wiser thing to navigate with me the
waters of the Seine. Believe me, Paris is still the place where
fortune, abundant fortune, can be won. Potosi is in the rue
Vivienne, the rue de la Paix, the Place Vendome, the rue de
Rivoli. In all other places and countries material works and
labors, marches and counter-marches, and sweatings of the brow are
necessary to the building up of fortune; but in Paris THOUGHT
suffices. Here, every man even mentally mediocre, can see a mine
of wealth as he puts on his slippers, or picks his teeth after
dinner, in his down-sitting and his up-rising. Find me another
place on the globe where a good round stupid idea brings in more
money, or is sooner understood than it is here.
If I reach the top of the ladder, as I shall, am I the man to
refuse you a helping hand, an influence, a signature? We shall
want, we young roues, a faithful friend on whom to count, if only
to compromise him and make him a scape-goat, or send him to die
like a common soldier to save his general. Government is
impossible without a man of honor at one's side, in whom to
confide and with whom we can do and say everything.
Here is what I propose. Let the "Belle-Amelie" sail without you;
come back here like a thunderbolt; I'll arrange a duel for you
with Vandenesse in which you shall have the first shot, and you
can wing him like a pigeon. In France the husband who shoots his
rival becomes at once respectable and respected. No one ever
cavils at him again. Fear, my dear fellow, is a valuable social
element, a means of success for those who lower their eyes before
the gaze of no man living. I who care as little to live as to
drink a glass of milk, and who have never felt the emotion of
fear, I have remarked the strange effects produced by that
sentiment upon our modern manners. Some men tremble to lose the
enjoyments to which they are attached, others dread to leave a
woman. The old adventurous habits of other days when life was
flung away like a garment exist no longer. The bravery of a great
many men is nothing more than a clever calculation on the fear of
their adversary. The Poles are the only men in Europe who fight
for the pleasure of fighting; they cultivate the art for the art's
sake, and not for speculation.
Now hear me: kill Vandenesse, and your wife trembles, your mother-
in-law trembles, the public trembles, and you recover your
position, you prove your grand passion for your wife, you subdue
society, you subdue your wife, you become a hero. Such is France.
As for your embarrassments, I hold a hundred thousand francs for
you; you can pay your principal debts, and sell what property you
have left with a power of redemption, for you will soon obtain an
office which will enable you by degrees to pay off your creditors.
Then, as for your wife, once enlightened as to her character you
can rule her. When you loved her you had no power to manage her;
not loving her, you will have an unconquerable force. I will
undertake, myself, to make your mother-in-law as supple as a
glove; for you must recover the use of the hundred and fifty
thousand francs a year those two women have squeezed out of you.
Therefore, I say, renounce this expatriation which seems to me no
better than a pan of charcoal or a pistol to your head. To go away
is to justify all calumnies. The gambler who leaves the table to
get his money loses it when he returns; we must have our gold in
our pockets. Let us now, you and I, be two gamblers on the green
baize of politics; between us loans are in order. Therefore take
post-horses, come back instantly, and renew the game. You'll win
it with Henri de Marsay for your partner, for Henri de Marsay
knows how to will, and how to strike.
See how we stand politically. My father is in the British
ministry; we shall have close relations with Spain through the
Evangelistas, for, as soon as your mother-in-law and I have
measured claws she will find there is nothing to gain by fighting
the devil. Montriveau is our lieutenant-general; he will certainly
be minister of war before long, and his eloquence will give him
great ascendancy in the Chamber. Ronquerolles will be minister of
State and privy-councillor; Martial de la Roche-Hugon is minister
to Germany and peer of France; Serisy leads the Council of State,
to which he is indispensable; Granville holds the magistracy, to
which his sons belong; the Grandlieus stand well at court; Ferraud
is the soul of the Gondreville coterie,--low intriguers who are
always on the surface of things, I'm sure I don't know why. Thus
supported, what have we to fear? The money question is a mere
nothing when this great wheel of fortune rolls for us. What is a
woman?--you are not a schoolboy. What is life, my dear fellow, if
you let a woman be the whole of it? A boat you can't command,
without a rudder, but not without a magnet, and tossed by every
wind that blows. Pah!
The great secret of social alchemy, my dear Paul, is to get the
most we can out of each age of life through which we pass; to have
and to hold the buds of our spring, the flowers of our summer, the
fruits of our autumn. We amused ourselves once, a few good fellows
and I, for a dozen or more years, like mousquetaires, black, red,
and gray; we denied ourselves nothing, not even an occasional
filibustering here and there. Now we are going to shake down the
plums which age and experience have ripened. Be one of us; you
shall have your share in the PUDDING we are going to cook.
Come; you will find a friend all yours in the skin of
H. de Marsay.
As Paul de Manerville ended the reading of this letter, which fell
like the blows of a pickaxe on the edifice of his hopes, his
illusions, and his love, the vessel which bore him from France was
beyond the Azores. In the midst of this utter devastation a cold and
impotent anger laid hold of him.
"What had I done to them?" he said to himself.
That is the question of fools, of feeble beings, who, seeing nothing,
can nothing foresee. Then he cried aloud: "Henri! Henri!" to his loyal
friend. Many a man would have gone mad; Paul went to bed and slept
that heavy sleep which follows immense disasters,--the sleep that
seized Napoleon after Waterloo.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Casa-Real, Duc de
The Quest of the Absolute
Claes, Josephine de Temninck, Madame
The Quest of the Absolute
A Bachelor's Establishment
Manerville, Paul Francois-Joseph, Comte de
The Ball at Sceaux
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Manerville, Comtesse Paul de
The Lily of the Valley
A Daughter of Eve
Marsay, Henri de
The Unconscious Humorists
Another Study of Woman
The Lily of the Valley
Jealousies of a Country Town
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
The Ball at Sceaux
The Secrets of a Princess
The Gondreville Mystery
A Daughter of Eve
Maulincour, Baronne de
Vandenesse, Comte Felix de
The Lily of the Valley
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
A Start in Life
The Secrets of a Princess
Another Study of Woman
The Gondreville Mystery
A Daughter of Eve
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