Honore de Balzac (trans. Clara Bell)
Typed and first proof by Dagny.
HONORE DE BALZAC
"Have you observed, mademoiselle, that the painters and
sculptors of the Middle Ages, when they placed two figures in
adoration, one on each side of a fair Saint, never failed to
give them a family likeness? When you here see your name among
those that are dear to me, and under whose auspices I place my
works, remember that touching harmony, and you will see in
this not so much an act of homage as an expression of the
brotherly affection of your devoted servant,
For souls to whom effusiveness is easy there is a delicious hour
that falls when it is not yet night, but is no longer day; the
twilight gleam throws softened lights or tricksy reflections on
every object, and favors a dreamy mood which vaguely weds itself
to the play of light and shade. The silence which generally
prevails at that time makes it particularly dear to artists, who
grow contemplative, stand a few paces back from the pictures on
which they can no longer work, and pass judgement on them, rapt
by the subject whose most recondite meaning then flashes on the
inner eye of genius. He who has never stood pensive by a friend's
side in such an hour of poetic dreaming can hardly understand its
inexpressible soothingness. Favored by the clear-obscure, the
material skill employed by art to produce illusion entirely
disappears. If the work is a picture, the figures represented
seem to speak and walk; the shade is shadow, the light is day;
the flesh lives, eyes move, blood flows in their veins, and
stuffs have a changing sheen. Imagination helps the realism of
every detail, and only sees the beauties of the work. At that
hour illusion reigns despotically; perhaps it wakes at nightfall!
Is not illusion a sort of night to the mind, which we people with
dreams? Illusion then unfolds its wings, it bears the soul aloft
to the world of fancies, a world full of voluptuous imaginings,
where the artist forgets the real world, yesterday and the
morrow, the future--everything down to its miseries, the good and
the evil alike.
At this magic hour a young painter, a man of talent, who saw in
art nothing but Art itself, was perched on a step-ladder which
helped him to work at a large high painting, now nearly finished.
Criticising himself, honestly admiring himself, floating on the
current of his thoughts, he then lost himself in one of those
meditative moods which ravish and elevate the soul, soothe it,
and comfort it. His reverie had no doubt lasted a long time.
Night fell. Whether he meant to come down from his perch, or
whether he made some ill-judged movement, believing himself to be
on the floor--the event did not allow of his remembering exactly
the cause of his accident--he fell, his head struck a footstool,
he lost consciousness and lay motionless during a space of time
of which he knew not the length.
A sweet voice roused him from the stunned condition into which he
had sunk. When he opened his eyes the flash of a bright light
made him close them again immediately; but through the mist that
veiled his senses he heard the whispering of two women, and felt
two young, two timid hands on which his head was resting. He soon
recovered consciousness, and by the light of an old-fashioned
Argand lamp he could make out the most charming girl's face he
had ever seen, one of those heads which are often supposed to be
a freak of the brush, but which to him suddenly realized the
theories of the ideal beauty which every artist creates for
himself and whence his art proceeds. The features of the unknown
belonged, so to say, to the refined and delicate type of
Prudhon's school, but had also the poetic sentiment which Girodet
gave to the inventions of his phantasy. The freshness of the
temples, the regular arch of the eyebrows, the purity of outline,
the virginal innocence so plainly stamped on every feature of her
countenance, made the girl a perfect creature. Her figure was
slight and graceful, and frail in form. Her dress, though simple
and neat, revealed neither wealth nor penury.
As he recovered his senses, the painter gave expression to his
admiration by a look of surprise, and stammered some confused
thanks. He found a handkerchief pressed to his forehead, and
above the smell peculiar to a studio, he recognized the strong
odor of ether, applied no doubt to revive him from his fainting
fit. Finally he saw an old woman, looking like a marquise of the
old school, who held the lamp and was advising the young girl.
"Monsieur," said the younger woman in reply to one of the
questions put by the painter during the few minutes when he was
still under the influence of the vagueness that the shock had
produced in his ideas, "my mother and I heard the noise of your
fall on the floor, and we fancied we heard a groan. The silence
following on the crash alarmed us, and we hurried up. Finding the
key in the latch, we happily took the liberty of entering, and we
found you lying motionless on the ground. My mother went to fetch
what was needed to bathe your head and revive you. You have cut
your forehead--there. Do you feel it?"
"Yes, I do now," he replied.
"Oh, it will be nothing," said the old mother. "Happily your head
rested against this lay-figure."
"I feel infinitely better," replied the painter. "I need nothing
further but a hackney cab to take me home. The porter's wife will
go for one."
He tried to repeat his thanks to the two strangers; but at each
sentence the elder lady interrupted him, saying, "Tomorrow,
monsieur, pray be careful to put on leeches, or to be bled, and
drink a few cups of something healing. A fall may be dangerous."
The young girl stole a look at the painter and at the pictures in
the studio. Her expression and her glances revealed perfect
propriety; her curiosity seemed rather absence of mind, and her
eyes seemed to speak the interest which women feel, with the most
engaging spontaneity, in everything which causes us suffering.
The two strangers seemed to forget the painter's works in the
painter's mishap. When he had reassured them as to his condition
they left, looking at him with an anxiety that was equally free
from insistence and from familiarity, without asking any
indiscreet questions, or trying to incite him to any wish to
visit them. Their proceedings all bore the hall-mark of natural
refinement and good taste. Their noble and simple manners at
first made no great impression on the painter, but subsequently,
as he recalled all the details of the incident, he was greatly
struck by them.
When they reached the floor beneath that occupied by the
painter's studio, the old lady gently observed, "Adelaide, you
left the door open."
"That was to come to my assistance," said the painter, with a
"You came down just now, mother," replied the young girl, with a
"Would you like us to accompany you all the way downstairs?"
asked the mother. "The stairs are dark."
"No, thank you, indeed, madame; I am much better."
"Hold tightly by the rail."
The two women remained on the landing to light the young man,
listening to the sound of his steps.
In order to set forth clearly all the exciting and unexpected
interest this scene might have for the young painter, it must be
told that he had only a few days since established his studio in
the attics of this house, situated in the darkest and, therefore,
the most muddy part of the Rue de Suresnes, almost opposite the
Church of the Madeleine, and quite close to his rooms in the Rue
des Champs-Elysees. The fame his talent had won him having made
him one of the artists most dear to his country, he was beginning
to feel free from want, and to use his own expression, was
enjoying his last privations. Instead of going to his work in one
of the studios near the city gates, where the moderate rents had
hitherto been in proportion to his humble earnings, he had
gratified a wish that was new every morning, by sparing himself a
long walk, and the loss of much time, now more valuable than
No man in the world would have inspired feelings of greater
interest than Hippolyte Schinner if he would ever have consented
to make acquaintance; but he did not lightly entrust to others
the secrets of his life. He was the idol of a necessitous mother,
who had brought him up at the cost of the severest privations.
Mademoiselle Schinner, the daughter of an Alsatian farmer, had
never been married. Her tender soul had been cruelly crushed,
long ago, by a rich man, who did not pride himself on any great
delicacy in his love affairs. The day when, as a young girl, in
all the radiance of her beauty and all the triumph of her life,
she suffered, at the cost of her heart and her sweet illusions,
the disenchantment which falls on us so slowly and yet so
quickly--for we try to postpone as long as possible our belief in
evil, and it seems to come too soon--that day was a whole age of
reflection, and it was also a day of religious thought and
resignation. She refused the alms of the man who had betrayed
her, renounced the world, and made a glory of her shame. She gave
herself up entirely to her motherly love, seeking in it all her
joys in exchange for the social pleasures to which she bid
farewell. She lived by work, saving up a treasure for her son.
And, in after years, a day, an hour repaid her amply for the long
and weary sacrifices of her indigence.
At the last exhibition her son had received the Cross of the
Legion of Honor. The newspapers, unanimous in hailing an unknown
genius, still rang with sincere praises. Artists themselves
acknowledged Schinner as a master, and dealers covered his
canvases with gold pieces. At five-and-twenty Hippolyte Schinner,
to whom his mother had transmitted her woman's soul, understood
more clearly than ever his position in the world. Anxious to
restore to his mother the pleasures of which society had so long
robbed her, he lived for her, hoping by the aid of fame and
fortune to see her one day happy, rich, respected, and surrounded
by men of mark. Schinner had therefore chosen his friends among
the most honorable and distinguished men. Fastidious in the
selection of his intimates, he desired to raise still further a
position which his talent had placed high. The work to which he
had devoted himself from boyhood, by compelling him to dwell in
solitude--the mother of great thoughts--had left him the
beautiful beliefs which grace the early days of life. His
adolescent soul was not closed to any of the thousand bashful
emotions by which a young man is a being apart, whose heart
abounds in joys, in poetry, in virginal hopes, puerile in the
eyes of men of the world, but deep because they are single-
He was endowed with the gentle and polite manners which speak to
the soul, and fascinate even those who do not understand them. He
was well made. His voice, coming from his heart, stirred that of
others to noble sentiments, and bore witness to his true modesty
by a certain ingenuousness of tone. Those who saw him felt drawn
to him by that attraction of the moral nature which men of
science are happily unable to analyze; they would detect in it
some phenomenon of galvanism, or the current of I know not what
fluid, and express our sentiments in a formula of ratios of
oxygen and electricity.
These details will perhaps explain to strong-minded persons and
to men of fashion why, in the absence of the porter whom he had
sent to the end of the Rue de la Madeleine to call him a coach,
Hippolyte Schinner did not ask the man's wife any questions
concerning the two women whose kindness of heart had shown itself
in his behalf. But though he replied Yes or No to the inquiries,
natural under the circumstances, which the good woman made as to
his accident, and the friendly intervention of the tenants
occupying the fourth floor, he could not hinder her from
following the instinct of her kind; she mentioned the two
strangers, speaking of them as prompted by the interests of her
policy and the subterranean opinions of the porter's lodge.
"Ah," said she, "they were, no doubt, Mademoiselle Leseigneur and
her mother, who have lived here these four years. We do not know
exactly what these ladies do; in the morning, only till the hour
of noon, an old woman who is half deaf, and who never speaks any
more than a wall, comes in to help them; in the evening, two or
three old gentlemen, with loops of ribbon, like you, monsieur,
come to see them, and often stay very late. One of them comes in
a carriage with servants, and is said to have sixty thousand
francs a year. However, they are very quiet tenants, as you are,
monsieur; and economical! they live on nothing, and as soon as a
letter is brought they pay for it. It is a queer thing, monsieur,
the mother's name is not the same as the daughter's. Ah, but when
they go for a walk in the Tuileries, mademoiselle is very smart,
and she never goes out but she is followed by a lot of young men;
but she shuts the door in their face, and she is quite right. The
proprietor would never allow----"
The coach having come, Hippolyte heard no more, and went home.
His mother, to whom he related his adventure, dressed his wound
afresh, and would not allow him to go to the studio next day.
After taking advice, various treatments were prescribed, and
Hippolyte remained at home three days. During this retirement his
idle fancy recalled vividly, bit by bit, the details of the scene
that had ensued on his fainting fit. The young girl's profile was
clearly projected against the darkness of his inward vision; he
saw once more the mother's faded features, or he felt the touch
of Adelaide's hands. He remembered some gesture which at first
had not greatly struck him, but whose exquisite grace was thrown
into relief by memory; then an attitude, or the tones of a
melodious voice, enhanced by the distance of remembrance,
suddenly rose before him, as objects plunging to the bottom of
deep waters come back to the surface.
So, on the day when he could resume work, he went early to his
studio; but the visit he undoubtedly had a right to pay to his
neighbors was the true cause of his haste; he had already
forgotten the pictures he had begun. At the moment when a passion
throws off its swaddling clothes, inexplicable pleasures are
felt, known to those who have loved. So some readers will
understand why the painter mounted the stairs to the fourth floor
but slowly, and will be in the secret of the throbs that followed
each other so rapidly in his heart at the moment when he saw the
humble brown door of the rooms inhabited by Mademoiselle
Leseigneur. This girl, whose name was not the same as her
mother's, had aroused the young painter's deepest sympathies; he
chose to fancy some similarity between himself and her as to
their position, and attributed to her misfortunes of birth akin
to his own. All the time he worked Hippolyte gave himself very
willingly to thoughts of love, and made a great deal of noise to
compel the two ladies to think of him, as he was thinking of
them. He stayed late at the studio and dined there; then, at
about seven o'clock, he went down to call on his neighbors.
No painter of manners has ventured to initiate us--perhaps out of
modesty--into the really curious privacy of certain Parisian
existences, into the secret of the dwellings whence emerge such
fresh and elegant toilets, such brilliant women, who rich on the
surface, allow the signs of very doubtful comfort to peep out in
every part of their home. If, here, the picture is too boldly
drawn, if you find it tedious in places, do not blame the
description, which is, indeed, part and parcel of my story; for
the appearance of the rooms inhabited by his two neighbors had a
great influence on the feelings and hopes of Hippolyte Schinner.
The house belonged to one of those proprietors in whom there is a
foregone and profound horror of repairs and decoration, one of
the men who regard their position as Paris house-owners as a
business. In the vast chain of moral species, these people hold a
middle place between the miser and the usurer. Optimists in their
own interests, they are all faithful to the Austrian status quo.
If you speak of moving a cupboard or a door, of opening the most
indispensable air-hole, their eyes flash, their bile rises, they
rear like a frightened horse. When the wind blows down a few
chimney-pots they are quite ill, and deprive themselves of an
evening at the Gymnase or the Porte-Saint-Martin Theatre, "on
account of repairs." Hippolyte, who had seen the performance
gratis of a comical scene with Monsieur Molineux as concerning
certain decorative repairs in his studio, was not surprised to
see the dark greasy paint, the oily stains, spots, and other
disagreeable accessories that varied the woodwork. And these
stigmata of poverty are not altogether devoid of poetry in an
Mademoiselle Leseigneur herself opened the door. On recognizing
the young artist she bowed, and at the same time, with Parisian
adroitness, and with the presence of mind that pride can lend,
she turned round to shut the door in a glass partition through
which Hippolyte might have caught sight of some linen hung by
lines over patent ironing stoves, an old camp-bed, some wood-
embers, charcoal, irons, a filter, the household crockery, and
all the utensils familiar to a small household. Muslin curtains,
fairly white, carefully screened this lumber-room--a capharnaum,
as the French call such a domestic laboratory,--which was lighted
by windows looking out on a neighboring yard.
Hippolyte, with the quick eye of an artist, saw the uses, the
furniture, the general effect and condition of this first room,
thus cut in half. The more honorable half, which served both as
ante-room and dining-room, was hung with an old salmon-rose-
colored paper, with a flock border, the manufacture of Reveillon,
no doubt; the holes and spots had been carefully touched over
with wafers. Prints representing the battles of Alexander, by
Lebrun, in frames with the gilding rubbed off were symmetrically
arranged on the walls. In the middle stood a massive mahogany
table, old-fashioned in shape, and worn at the edges. A small
stove, whose thin straight pipe was scarcely visible, stood in
front of the chimney-place, but the hearth was occupied by a
cupboard. By a strange contrast the chairs showed some remains of
former splendor; they were of carved mahogany, but the red
morocco seats, the gilt nails and reeded backs, showed as many
scars as an old sergeant of the Imperial Guard.
This room did duty as a museum of certain objects, such as are
never seen but in this kind of amphibious household; nameless
objects with the stamp at once of luxury and penury. Among other
curiosities Hippolyte noticed a splendidly finished telescope,
hanging over the small discolored glass that decorated the
chimney. To harmonize with this strange collection of furniture,
there was, between the chimney and the partition, a wretched
sideboard of painted wood, pretending to be mahogany, of all
woods the most impossible to imitate. But the slippery red
quarries, the shabby little rugs in front of the chairs, and all
the furniture, shone with the hard rubbing cleanliness which
lends a treacherous lustre to old things by making their defects,
their age, and their long service still more conspicuous. An
indescribable odor pervaded the room, a mingled smell of the
exhalations from the lumber room, and the vapors of the dining-
room, with those from the stairs, though the window was partly
open. The air from the street fluttered the dusty curtains, which
were carefully drawn so as to hide the window bay, where former
tenants had testified to their presence by various ornamental
additions--a sort of domestic fresco.
Adelaide hastened to open the door of the inner room, where she
announced the painter with evident pleasure. Hippolyte, who, of
yore, had seen the same signs of poverty in his mother's home,
noted them with the singular vividness of impression which
characterizes the earliest acquisitions of memory, and entered
into the details of this existence better than any one else would
have done. As he recognized the facts of his life as a child, the
kind young fellow felt neither scorn for disguised misfortune nor
pride in the luxury he had lately conquered for his mother.
"Well, monsieur, I hope you no longer feel the effects of your
fall," said the old lady, rising from an antique armchair that
stood by the chimney, and offering him a seat.
"No, madame. I have come to thank you for the kind care you gave
me, and above all mademoiselle, who heard me fall."
As he uttered this speech, stamped with the exquisite stupidity
given to the mind by the first disturbing symptoms of true love,
Hippolyte looked at the young girl. Adelaide was lighting the
Argand lamp, no doubt that she might get rid of a tallow candle
fixed in a large copper flat candlestick, and graced with a heavy
fluting of grease from its guttering. She answered with a slight
bow, carried the flat candlestick into the ante-room, came back,
and after placing the lamp on the chimney shelf, seated herself
by her mother, a little behind the painter, so as to be able to
look at him at her ease, while apparently much interested in the
burning of the lamp; the flame, checked by the damp in a dingy
chimney, sputtered as it struggled with a charred and badly-
trimmed wick. Hippolyte, seeing the large mirror that decorated
the chimney-piece, immediately fixed his eyes on it to admire
Adelaide. Thus the girl's little stratagem only served to
embarrass them both.
While talking with Madame Leseigneur, for Hippolyte called her
so, on the chance of being right, he examined the room, but
unobtrusively and by stealth.
The Egyptian figures on the iron fire-dogs were scarcely visible,
the hearth was so heaped with cinders; two brands tried to meet
in front of a sham log of fire-brick, as carefully buried as a
miser's treasure could ever be. An old Aubusson carpet, very much
faded, very much mended, and as worn as a pensioner's coat, did
not cover the whole of the tiled floor, and the cold struck to
his feet. The walls were hung with a reddish paper, imitating
figured silk with a yellow pattern. In the middle of the wall
opposite the windows the painter saw a crack, and the outline
marked on the paper of double-doors, shutting off a recess where
Madame Leseigneur slept no doubt, a fact ill disguised by a sofa
in front of the door. Facing the chimney, above a mahogany chest
of drawers of handsome and tasteful design, was the portrait of
an officer of rank, which the dim light did not allow him to see
well; but from what he could make out he thought that the fearful
daub must have been painted in China. The window-curtains of red
silk were as much faded as the furniture, in red and yellow
worsted work, [as] if this room "contrived a double debt to pay."
On the marble top of the chest of drawers was a costly malachite
tray, with a dozen coffee cups magnificently painted and made, no
doubt, at Sevres. On the chimney shelf stood the omnipresent
Empire clock: a warrior driving the four horses of a chariot,
whose wheel bore the numbers of the hours on its spokes. The
tapers in the tall candlesticks were yellow with smoke, and at
each corner of the shelf stood a porcelain vase crowned with
artificial flowers full of dust and stuck into moss.
In the middle of the room Hippolyte remarked a card-table ready
for play, with new packs of cards. For an observer there was
something heartrending in the sight of this misery painted up
like an old woman who wants to falsify her face. At such a sight
every man of sense must at once have stated to himself this
obvious dilemma--either these two women are honesty itself, or
they live by intrigue and gambling. But on looking at Adelaide, a
man so pure-minded as Schinner could not but believe in her
perfect innocence, and ascribe the incoherence of the furniture
to honorable causes.
"My dear," said the old lady to the young one, "I am cold; make a
little fire, and give me my shawl."
Adelaide went into a room next the drawing-room, where she no
doubt slept, and returned bringing her mother a cashmere shawl,
which when new must have been very costly; the pattern was
Indian; but it was old, faded and full of darns, and matched the
furniture. Madame Leseigneur wrapped herself in it very
artistically, and with the readiness of an old woman who wishes
to make her words seem truth. The young girl ran lightly off to
the lumber-room and reappeared with a bundle of small wood, which
she gallantly threw on the fire to revive it.
It would be rather difficult to reproduce the conversation which
followed among these three persons. Hippolyte, guided by the tact
which is almost always the outcome of misfortune suffered in
early youth, dared not allow himself to make the least remark as
to his neighbors' situation, as he saw all about him the signs of
ill-disguised poverty. The simplest question would have been an
indiscretion, and could only be ventured on by old friendship.
The painter was nevertheless absorbed in the thought of this
concealed penury, it pained his generous soul; but knowing how
offensive every kind of pity may be, even the friendliest, the
disparity between his thoughts and his words made him feel
The two ladies at first talked of painting, for women easily
guess the secret embarrassment of a first call; they themselves
feel it perhaps, and the nature of their mind supplies them with
a thousand devices to put an end to it. By questioning the young
man as to the material exercise of his art, and as to his
studies, Adelaide and her mother emboldened him to talk. The
indefinable nothings of their chat, animated by kind feeling,
naturally led Hippolyte to flash forth remarks or reflections
which showed the character of his habits and of his mind. Trouble
had prematurely faded the old lady's face, formerly handsome, no
doubt; nothing was left but the more prominent features, the
outline, in a word, the skeleton of a countenance of which the
whole effect indicated great shrewdness with much grace in the
play of the eyes, in which could be discerned the expression
peculiar to women of the old Court; an expression that cannot be
defined in words. Those fine and mobile features might quite as
well indicate bad feelings, and suggest astuteness and womanly
artifice carried to a high pitch of wickedness, as reveal the
refined delicacy of a beautiful soul.
Indeed, the face of a woman has this element of mystery to puzzle
the ordinary observer, that the difference between frankness and
duplicity, the genius for intrigue and the genius of the heart,
is there inscrutable. A man gifted with the penetrating eye can
read the intangible shade of difference produced by a more or
less curved line, a more or less deep dimple, a more or less
prominent feature. The appreciation of these indications lies
entirely in the domain of intuition; this alone can lead to the
discovery of what everyone is interested in concealing. The old
lady's face was like the room she inhabited; it seemed as
difficult to detect whether this squalor covered vice or the
highest virtue, as to decide whether Adelaide's mother was an old
coquette accustomed to weigh, to calculate, to sell everything,
or a loving woman, full of noble feeling and amiable qualities.
But at Schinner's age the first impulse of the heart is to
believe in goodness. And indeed, as he studied Adelaide's noble
and almost haughty brow, as he looked into her eyes full of soul
and thought, he breathed, so to speak, the sweet and modest
fragrance of virtue. In the course of the conversation he seized
an opportunity of discussing portraits in general, to give
himself a pretext for examining the frightful pastel, of which
the color had flown, and the chalk in many places fallen away.
"You are attached to that picture for the sake of the likeness,
no doubt, mesdames, for the drawing is dreadful?" he said,
looking at Adelaide.
"It was done at Calcutta, in great haste," replied the mother in
an agitated voice.
She gazed at the formless sketch with the deep absorption which
memories of happiness produce when they are roused and fall on
the heart like a beneficent dew to whose refreshing touch we love
to yield ourselves up; but in the expression of the old lady's
face there were traces too of perennial regret. At least, it was
thus that the painter chose to interpret her attitude and
countenance, and he presently sat down again by her side.
"Madame," he said, "in a very short time the colors of that
pastel will have disappeared. The portrait will only survive in
your memory. Where you will still see the face that is dear to
you, others will see nothing at all. Will you allow me to
reproduce the likeness on canvas? It will be more permanently
recorded then than on that sheet of paper. Grant me, I beg, as a
neighborly favor, the pleasure of doing you this service. There
are times when an artist is glad of a respite from his greater
undertakings by doing work of less lofty pretensions, so it will
be a recreation for me to paint that head."
The old lady flushed as she heard the painter's words, and
Adelaide shot one of those glances of deep feeling which seem to
flash from the soul. Hippolyte wanted to feel some tie linking
him with his two neighbors, to conquer a right to mingle in their
life. His offer, appealing as it did to the liveliest affections
of the heart, was the only one he could possibly make; it
gratified his pride as an artist, and could not hurt the feelings
of the ladies. Madame Leseigneur accepted, without eagerness or
reluctance, but with the self-possession of a noble soul, fully
aware of the character of bonds formed by such an obligation,
while, at the same time, they are its highest glory as a proof of
"I fancy," said the painter, "that the uniform is that of a naval
Yes," she said, "that of a captain in command of a vessel.
Monsieur de Rouville--my husband--died at Batavia in consequence
of a wound received in a fight with an English ship they fell in
with off the Asiatic coast. He commanded a frigate of fifty-six
guns and the Revenge carried ninety-six. The struggle was very
unequal, but he defended his ship so bravely that he held out
till nightfall and got away. When I came back to France Bonaparte
was not yet in power, and I was refused a pension. When I applied
again for it, quite lately, I was sternly informed that if the
Baron de Rouville had emigrated I should not have lost him; that
by this time he would have been a rear-admiral; finally, his
Excellency quoted I know not what degree of forfeiture. I took
this step, to which I was urged by my friends, only for the sake
of my poor Adelaide. I have always hated the idea of holding out
my hand as a beggar in the name of a grief which deprives a woman
of voice and strength. I do not like this money valuation for
blood irreparably spilt----"
"Dear mother, this subject always does you harm."
In response to this remark from Adelaide, the Baronne Leseigneur
bowed, and was silent.
"Monsieur," said the young girl to Hippolyte, "I had supposed
that a painter's work was generally fairly quiet?"
At this question Schinner colored, remembering the noise he had
made. Adelaide said no more, and spared him a falsehood by rising
at the sound of a carriage stopping at the door. She went into
her own room, and returned carrying a pair of tall gilt
candlesticks with partly burnt wax candles, which she quickly
lighted, and without waiting for the bell to ring, she opened the
door of the outer room, where she set the lamp down. The sound of
a kiss given and received found an echo in Hippolyte's heart. The
young man's impatience to see the man who treated Adelaide with
so much familiarity was not immediately gratified; the newcomers
had a conversation, which he thought very long, in an undertone,
with the young girl.
At last Mademoiselle de Rouville returned, followed by two men,
whose costume, countenance, and appearance are a long story.
The first, a man of about sixty, wore one of the coats invented,
I believe, for Louis XVIII., then on the throne, in which the
most difficult problem of the sartorial art had been solved by a
tailor who ought to be immortal. That artist certainly understood
the art of compromise, which was the moving genius of that period
of shifting politics. Is it not a rare merit to be able to take
the measure of the time? This coat, which the young men of the
present day may conceive to be fabulous, was neither civil nor
military, and might pass for civil or military by turns. Fleurs-
de-lis were embroidered on the lapels of the back skirts. The
gilt buttons also bore fleurs-de-lis; on the shoulders a pair of
straps cried out for useless epaulettes; these military
appendages were there like a petition without a recommendation.
This old gentleman's coat was of dark blue cloth, and the
buttonhole had blossomed into many colored ribbons. He, no doubt,
always carried his hat in his hand--a three cornered cocked hat,
with a gold cord--for the snowy wings of his powdered hair showed
not a trace of its pressure. He might have been taken for not
more than fifty years of age, and seemed to enjoy robust health.
While wearing the frank and loyal expression of the old emigres,
his countenance also hinted at the easy habits of a libertine, at
the light and reckless passions of the Musketeers formerly so
famous in the annals of gallantry. His gestures, his attitude,
and his manner proclaimed that he had no intention of correcting
himself of his royalism, of his religion, or of his love affairs.
A really fantastic figure came in behind this specimen of "Louis
XIV.'s light infantry"--a nickname given by the Bonapartists to
these venerable survivors of the Monarchy. To do it justice it
ought to be made the principal object in the picture, and it is
but an accessory. Imagine a lean, dry man, dressed like the
former, but seeming to be only his reflection, or his shadow, if
you will. The coat, new on the first, on the second was old; the
powder in his hair looked less white, the gold of the fleurs-de-
lis less bright, the shoulder straps more hopeless and dog's
eared; his intellect seemed more feeble, his life nearer the
fatal term than in the former. In short, he realized Rivarol's
witticism on Champcenetz, "He is the moonlight of me." He was
simply his double, a paler and poorer double, for there was
between them all the difference that lies between the first and
last impressions of a lithograph.
This speechless old man was a mystery to the painter, and always
remained a mystery. The Chevalier, for he was a Chevalier, did
not speak, nobody spoke to him. Was he a friend, a poor relation,
a man who followed at the old gallant's heels as a lady companion
does at an old lady's? Did he fill a place midway between a dog,
a parrot, and a friend? Had he saved his patron's fortune, or
only his life? Was he the Trim to another Captain Toby?
Elsewhere, as at the Baronne de Rouville's, he always piqued
curiosity without satisfying it. Who, after the Restoration,
could remember the attachment which, before the Revolution, had
bound this man to his friend's wife, dead now these twenty year?
The leader, who appeared the least dilapidated of these wrecks,
came gallantly up to Madame de Rouville, kissed her hand, and sat
down by her. The other bowed and placed himself not far from his
model, at a distance represented by two chairs. Adelaide came
behind the old gentleman's armchair and leaned her elbows on the
back, unconsciously imitating the attitude given to Dido's sister
by Guerin in his famous picture.
Though the gentleman's familiarity was that of a father, his
freedom seemed at the moment to annoy the young girl.
"What, are you sulky with me?" he said.
Then he shot at Schinner one of those side-looks full of
shrewdness and cunning, diplomatic looks, whose expression
betrays the discreet uneasiness, the polite curiosity of well-
bred people, and seems to ask, when they see a stranger, "Is he
one of us?"
"This is our neighbor," said the old lady, pointing to Hippolyte.
"Monsieur is a celebrated painter, whose name must be known to you
in spite of your indifference to the arts."
The old man saw his friend's mischievous intent in suppressing
the name, and bowed to the young man.
"Certainly," said he. "I heard a great deal about his pictures at
the last Salon. Talent has immense privileges." he added,
observing the artist's red ribbon. "That distinction, which we
must earn at the cost of our blood and long service, you win in
your youth; but all glory is of the same kindred," he said,
laying his hand on his Cross of Saint-Louis.
Hippolyte murmured a few words of acknowledgment, and was silent
again, satisfied to admire with growing enthusiasm the beautiful
girl's head that charmed him so much. He was soon lost in
contemplation, completely forgetting the extreme misery of the
dwelling. To him Adelaide's face stood out against a luminous
atmosphere. He replied briefly to the questions addressed to him,
which, by good luck, he heard, thanks to a singular faculty of
the soul which sometimes seems to have a double consciousness.
Who has not known what it is to sit lost in sad or delicious
meditation, listening to its voice within, while attending to a
conversation or to reading? An admirable duality which often
helps us to tolerate a bore! Hope, prolific and smiling, poured
out before him a thousand visions of happiness; and he refused to
consider what was going on around him. As confiding as a child,
it seemed to him base to analyze a pleasure.
After a short lapse of time he perceived that the old lady and
her daughter were playing cards with the old gentleman. As to the
satellite, faithful to his function as a shadow, he stood behind
his friend's chair watching his game, and answering the player's
mute inquiries by little approving nods, repeating the
questioning gestures of the other countenance.
"Du Halga, I always lose," said the gentleman.
"You discard badly," replied the Baronne de Rouville.
"For three months now I have never won a single game," said he.
"Have you the aces?" asked the old lady.
"Yes, one more to mark," said he.
"Shall I come and advise you?" said Adelaide.
"No, no. Stay where I can see you. By Gad, it would be losing too
much not to have you to look at!"
At last the game was over. The gentleman pulled out his purse,
and, throwing two louis d'or on the table, not without temper--
"Forty francs," he exclaimed, "the exact sum.--Deuce take it! It
is eleven o'clock."
"It is eleven o'clock," repeated the silent figure, looking at
The young man, hearing these words rather more distinctly than
all the others, thought it time to retire. Coming back to the
world of ordinary ideas, he found a few commonplace remarks to
make, took leave of the Baroness, her daughter, and the two
strangers, and went away, wholly possessed by the first raptures
of true love, without attempting to analyze the little incidents
of the evening.
On the morrow the young painter felt the most ardent desire to
see Adelaide once more. If he had followed the call of his
passion, he would have gone to his neighbor's door at six in the
morning, when he went to his studio. However, he still was
reasonable enough to wait till the afternoon. But as soon as he
thought he could present himself to Madame de Rouville, he went
downstairs, rang, blushing like a girl, shyly asked Mademoiselle
Leseigneur, who came to let him in, to let him have the portrait
of the Baron.
"But come in," said Adelaide, who had no doubt heard him come
down from the studio.
The painter followed, bashful and out of countenance, not knowing
what to say, happiness had so dulled his wit. To see Adelaide, to
hear the rustle of her skirt, after longing for a whole morning
to be near her, after starting up a hundred time--"I will go down
now"--and not to have gone; this was to him life so rich that
such sensations, too greatly prolonged, would have worn out his
spirit. The heart has the singular power of giving extraordinary
value to mere nothings. What joy it is to a traveler to treasure
a blade of grass, an unfamiliar leaf, if he has risked his life
to pluck it! It is the same with the trifles of love.
The old lady was not in the drawing-room. When the young girl
found herself there, alone with the painter, she brought a chair
to stand on, to take down the picture; but perceiving that she
could not unhook it without setting her foot on the chest of
drawers, she turned to Hippolyte, and said with a blush:
"I am not tall enough. Will you get it down?"
A feeling of modesty, betrayed in the expression of her face and
the tones of her voice, was the real motive of her request; and
the young man, understanding this, gave her one of those glances
of intelligence which are the sweetest language of love. Seeing
that the painter had read her soul, Adelaide cast down her eyes
with the instinct of reserve which is the secret of a maiden's
heart. Hippolyte, finding nothing to say, and feeling almost
timid, took down the picture, examined it gravely, carrying it to
the light of the window, and then went away, without saying a
word to Mademoiselle Leseigneur but, "I will return it soon."
During this brief moment they both went through one of those
storms of agitation of which the effects in the soul may be
compared to those of a stone flung into a deep lake. The most
delightful waves of thought rise and follow each other,
indescribable, repeated, and aimless, tossing the heart like the
circular ripples, which for a long time fret the waters, starting
from the point where the stone fell.
Hippolyte returned to the studio bearing the portrait. His easel
was ready with a fresh canvas, and his palette set, his brushes
cleaned, the spot and the light carefully chosen. And till the
dinner hour he worked at the painting with the ardor artists
throw into their whims. He went again that evening to the Baronne
de Rouville's, and remained from nine till eleven. Excepting the
different topics of conversation, this evening was exactly like
the last. The two old men arrived at the same hour, the same game
of piquet was played, the same speeches made by the players, the
sum lost by Adelaide's friend was not less considerable than on
the previous evening; only Hippolyte, a little bolder, ventured
to chat with the young girl.
A week passed thus, and in the course of it the painter's
feelings and Adelaide's underwent the slow and delightful
transformations which bring two souls to a perfect understanding.
Every day the look with which the girl welcomed her friend grew
more intimate, more confiding, gayer, and more open; her voice
and manner became more eager and more familiar. They laughed and
talked together, telling each other their thoughts, speaking of
themselves with the simplicity of two children who have made
friends in a day, as much as if they had met constantly for three
years. Schinner wished to be taught piquet. Being ignorant and a
novice, he, of course, made blunder after blunder, and like the
old man, he lost almost every game. Without having spoken a word
of love the lovers knew that they were all in all to one another.
Hippolyte enjoyed exerting his power over his gentle little
friend, and many concessions were made to him by Adelaide, who,
timid and devoted to him, was quite deceived by the assumed fits
of temper, such as the least skilled lover and the most guileless
girl can affect; and which they constantly play off, as spoilt
children abuse the power they owe to their mother's affection.
Thus all familiarity between the girl and the old Count was soon
put a stop to. She understood the painter's melancholy, and the
thoughts hidden in the furrows on his brow, from the abrupt tone
of the few words he spoke when the old man unceremoniously kissed
Adelaide's hands or throat.
Mademoiselle Leseigneur, on her part, soon expected her lover to
give a short account of all his actions; she was so unhappy, so
restless when Hippolyte did not come, she scolded him so
effectually for his absence, that the painter had to give up
seeing his other friends, and now went nowhere. Adelaide allowed
the natural jealousy of women to be perceived when she heard that
sometimes at eleven o'clock, on quitting the house, the painter
still had visits to pay, and was to be seen in the most brilliant
drawing-rooms of Paris. This mode of life, she assured him, was
bad for his health; then, with the intense conviction to which
the accent, the emphasis and the look of one we love lend so much
weight, she asserted that a man who was obliged to expend his
time and the charms of his wit on several women at once could not
be the object of any very warm affection. Thus the painter was
led, as much by the tyranny of his passion as by the exactions of
a girl in love, to live exclusively in the little apartment where
everything attracted him.
And never was there a purer or more ardent love. On both sides
the same trustfulness, the same delicacy, gave their passion
increase without the aid of those sacrifices by which many
persons try to prove their affection. Between these two there was
such a constant interchange of sweet emotion that they knew not
which gave or received the most.
A spontaneous affinity made the union of their souls a close one.
The progress of this true feeling was so rapid that two months
after the accident to which the painter owed the happiness of
knowing Adelaide, their lives were one life. From early morning
the young girl, hearing footsteps overhead, could say to herself,
"He is there." When Hippolyte went home to his mother at the
dinner hour he never failed to look in on his neighbors, and in
the evening he flew there at the accustomed hour with a lover's
punctuality. Thus the most tyrannical woman or the most ambitious
in the matter of love could not have found the smallest fault
with the young painter. And Adelaide tasted of unmixed and
unbounded happiness as she saw the fullest realization of the
ideal of which, at her age, it is so natural to dream.
The old gentleman now came more rarely; Hippolyte, who had been
jealous, had taken his place at the green table, and shared his
constant ill-luck at cards. And sometimes, in the midst of his
happiness, as he considered Madame de Rouville's disastrous
position--for he had had more than one proof of her extreme
poverty--an importunate thought would haunt him. Several times he
had said to himself as he went home, "Strange! twenty francs
every evening?" and he dared not confess to himself his odious
He spent two months over the portrait, and when it was finished,
varnished, and framed, he looked upon it as one of his best
works. Madame la Baronne de Rouville had never spoken of it
again. Was this from indifference or pride? The painter would not
allow himself to account for this silence. He joyfully plotted
with Adelaide to hang the picture in its place when Madame de
Rouville should be out. So one day, during the walk her mother
usually took in the Tuileries, Adelaide for the first time went
up to Hippolyte's studio, on the pretext of seeing the portrait
in the good light in which it had been painted. She stood
speechless and motionless, but in ecstatic contemplation, in
which all a woman's feelings were merged. For are they not all
comprehended in boundless admiration for the man she loves? When
the painter, uneasy at her silence, leaned forward to look at
her, she held out her hand, unable to speak a word, but two tears
fell from her eyes. Hippolyte took her hand and covered it with
kisses; for a minute they looked at each other in silence, both
longing to confess their love, and not daring. The painter kept
her hand in his, and the same glow, the same throb, told them
that their hearts were both beating wildly. The young girl, too
greatly agitated, gently drew away from Hippolyte, and said, with
a look of the utmost simplicity:
"You will make my mother very happy."
"What, only your mother?" he asked.
"Oh, I am too happy."
The painter bent his head and remained silent, frightened at the
vehemence of the feelings which her tones stirred in his heart.
Then, both understanding the perils of the situation, they went
downstairs and hung up the picture in its place. Hippolyte dined
for the first time with the Baroness, who, greatly overcome, and
drowned in tears, must needs embrace him.
In the evening the old emigre, the Baron de Rouville's old
comrade, paid the ladies a visit to announce that he had just
been promoted to the rank of vice-admiral. His voyages by land
over Germany and Russia had been counted as naval campaigns. On
seeing the portrait he cordially shook the painter's hand, and
exclaimed, "By Gad! though my old hulk does not deserve to be
perpetuated, I would gladly give five hundred pistoles to see
myself as like as that is to my dear old Rouville."
At this hint the Baroness looked at her young friend and smiled,
while her face lighted up with an expression of sudden gratitude.
Hippolyte suspected that the old admiral wished to offer him the
price of both portraits while paying for his own. His pride as an
artist, no less than his jealousy perhaps, took offence at the
thought, and he replied:
"Monsieur, if I were a portrait-painter I should not have done
The admiral bit his lip, and sat down to cards.
The painter remained near Adelaide, who proposed a dozen hands of
piquet, to which he agreed. As he played he observed in Madame de
Rouville an excitement over her game which surprised him. Never
before had the old Baroness manifested so ardent a desire to win,
or so keen a joy in fingering the old gentleman's gold pieces.
During the evening evil suspicions troubled Hippolyte's
happiness, and filled him with distrust. Could it be that Madame
de Rouville lived by gambling? Was she playing at this moment to
pay off some debt, or under the pressure of necessity? Perhaps
she had not paid her rent. The old man seemed shrewd enough not
to allow his money to be taken with impunity. What interest
attracted him to this poverty-stricken house, he who was rich?
Why, when he had formerly been so familiar with Adelaide, had he
given up the rights he had acquired, and which were perhaps his
These involuntary reflections prompted him to watch the old man
and the Baroness, whose meaning looks and certain sidelong
glances cast at Adelaide displeased him. "Am I being duped?" was
Hippolyte's last idea--horrible, scathing, for he believed it
just enough to be tortured by it. He determined to stay after the
departure of the two old men, to confirm or dissipate his
suspicions. He drew out his purse to pay Adelaide; but carried
away by his poignant thoughts, he laid it on the table, falling
into a reverie of brief duration; then, ashamed of his silence,
he rose, answered some commonplace question from Madame de
Rouville, and went close up to her to examine the withered
features while he was talking to her.
He went away, racked by a thousand doubts. He had gone down but a
few steps when he turned back to fetch the forgotten purse.
"I left my purse here!" he said to the young girl.
"No," she said, reddening.
"I thought it was there," and he pointed to the card-table. Not
finding it, in his shame for Adelaide and the Baroness, he looked
at them with a blank amazement that made them laugh, turned pale,
felt his waistcoat, and said, "I must have made a mistake. I have
it somewhere no doubt."
In one end of the purse there were fifteen louis d'or, and in the
other some small change. The theft was so flagrant, and denied
with such effrontery, that Hippolyte no longer felt a doubt as to
his neighbors' morals. He stood still on the stairs, and got down
with some difficulty; his knees shook, he felt dizzy, he was in a
cold sweat, he shivered, and found himself unable to walk,
struggling, as he was, with the agonizing shock caused by the
destruction of all his hopes. And at this moment he found lurking
in his memory a number of observations, trifling in themselves,
but which corroborated his frightful suspicions, and which, by
proving the certainty of this last incident, opened his eyes as
to the character and life of these two women.
Had they really waited till the portrait was given them before
robbing him of his purse? In such a combination the theft was
even more odious. The painter recollected that for the last two
or three evenings Adelaide, while seeming to examine with a
girl's curiosity the particular stitch of the worn silk netting,
was probably counting the coins in the purse, while making some
light jests, quite innocent in appearance, but no doubt with the
object of watching for a moment when the sum was worth stealing.
"The old admiral has perhaps good reasons for not marrying
Adelaide, and so the Baroness has tried----"
But at this hypothesis he checked himself, not finishing his
thought, which was contradicted by a very just reflection, "If
the Baroness hopes to get me to marry her daughter," thought he,
"they would not have robbed me."
Then, clinging to his illusions, to the love that already had
taken such deep root, he tried to find a justification in some
accident. "The purse must have fallen on the floor," said he to
himself, "or I left it lying on my chair. Or perhaps I have it
about me--I am so absent-minded!" He searched himself with
hurried movements, but did not find the ill-starred purse. His
memory cruelly retraced the fatal truth, minute by minute. He
distinctly saw the purse lying on the green cloth; but then,
doubtful no longer, he excused Adelaide, telling himself that
persons in misfortune should not be so hastily condemned. There
was, of course, some secret behind this apparently degrading
action. He would not admit that that proud and noble face was a
At the same time the wretched rooms rose before him, denuded of
the poetry of love which beautifies everything; he saw them dirty
and faded, regarding them as emblematic of an inner life devoid
of honor, idle and vicious. Are not our feelings written, as it
were, on the things about us?
Next morning he rose, not having slept. The heartache, that
terrible malady of the soul, had made rapid inroads. To lose the
bliss we dreamed of, to renounce our whole future, is a keener
pang than that caused by the loss of known happiness, however
complete it may have been; for is not Hope better than Memory?
The thoughts into which our spirit is suddenly plunged are like a
shoreless sea, in which we may swim for a moment, but where our
love is doomed to drown and die. And it is a frightful death. Are
not our feelings the most glorious part of our life? It is this
partial death which, in certain delicate or powerful natures,
leads to the terrible ruin produced by disenchantment, by hopes
and passions betrayed. Thus it was with the young painter. He
went out at a very early hour to walk under the fresh shade of
the Tuileries, absorbed in his thoughts, forgetting everything in
There by chance he met one of his most intimate friends, a
school-fellow and studio-mate, with whom he had lived on better
terms than with a brother.
"Why, Hippolyte, what ails you?" asked Francois Souchet, the
young sculptor who had just won the first prize, and was soon to
set out for Italy.
"I am most unhappy," replied Hippolyte gravely.
"Nothing but a love affair can cause you grief. Money, glory,
respect--you lack nothing."
Insensibly the painter was led into confidences, and confessed
his love. The moment he mentioned the Rue de Suresnes, and a
young girl living on the fourth floor, "Stop, stop," cried
Souchet lightly. "A little girl I see every morning at the Church
of the Assumption, and with whom I have a flirtation. But, my
dear fellow, we all know her. The mother is a Baroness. Do you
really believe in a Baroness living up four flights of stairs?
Brrr! Why, you are a relic of the golden age! We see the old
mother here, in this avenue, every day; why, her face, her
appearance, tell everything. What, have you not known her for
what she is by the way she holds her bag?"
The two friends walked up and down for some time, and several
young men who knew Souchet or Schinner joined them. The painter's
adventure, which the sculptor regarded as unimportant, was
repeated by him.
"So he, too, has seen that young lady!" said Souchet.
And then there were comments, laughter, innocent mockery, full of
the liveliness familiar to artists, but which pained Hippolyte
frightfully. A certain native reticence made him uncomfortable as
he saw his heart's secret so carelessly handled, his passion
rent, torn to tatters, a young and unknown girl, whose life
seemed to be so modest, the victim of condemnation, right or
wrong, but pronounced with such reckless indifference. He
pretended to be moved by a spirit of contradiction, asking each
for proofs of his assertions, and their jests began again.
"But, my dear boy, have you seen the Baroness' shawl?" asked
"Have you ever followed the girl when she patters off to church
in the morning?" said Joseph Bridau, a young dauber in Gros'
"Oh, the mother has among other virtues a certain gray gown,
which I regard as typical," said Bixiou, the caricaturist.
"Listen, Hippolyte," the sculptor went on. "Come here at about
four o'clock, and just study the walk of both mother and
daughter. If after that you still have doubts! well, no one can
ever make anything of you; you would be capable of marrying your
Torn by the most conflicting feelings, the painter parted from
his friends. It seemed to him that Adelaide and her mother must
be superior to these accusations, and at the bottom of his heart
he was filled with remorse for having suspected the purity of
this beautiful and simple girl. He went to his studio, passing
the door of the rooms where Adelaide was, and conscious of a pain
at his heart which no man can misapprehend. He loved Mademoiselle
de Rouville so passionately that, in spite of the theft of the
purse, he still worshiped her. His love was that of the Chevalier
des Grieux admiring his mistress, and holding her as pure, even
on the cart which carries such lost creatures to prison. "Why
should not my love keep her the purest of women? Why abandon her
to evil and to vice without holding out a rescuing hand to her?"
The idea of this mission pleased him. Love makes a gain of
everything. Nothing tempts a young man more than to play the part
of a good genius to a woman. There is something inexplicably
romantic in such an enterprise which appeals to a highly-strung
soul. Is it not the utmost stretch of devotion under the loftiest
and most engaging aspect? Is there not something grand in the
thought that we love enough still to love on when the love of
others dwindles and dies?
Hippolyte sat down in his studio, gazed at his picture without
doing anything to it, seeing the figures through tears that
swelled in his eyes, holding his brush in his hand, going up to
the canvas as if to soften down an effect, but not touching it.
Night fell, and he was still in this attitude. Roused from his
moodiness by the darkness, he went downstairs, met the old
admiral on the way, looked darkly at him as he bowed, and fled.
He had intended going in to see the ladies, but the sight of
Adelaide's protector froze his heart and dispelled his purpose.
For the hundredth time he wondered what interest could bring this
old prodigal, with his eighty thousand francs a year, to this
fourth story, where he lost about forty francs every evening; and
he thought he could guess what it was.
The next and following days Hippolyte threw himself into his
work, and to try to conquer his passion by the swift rush of
ideas and the ardor of composition. He half succeeded. Study
consoled him, though it could not smother the memories of so many
tender hours spent with Adelaide.
One evening, as he left his studio, he saw the door of the
ladies' rooms half open. Somebody was standing in the recess of
the window, and the position of the door and the staircase made
it impossible that the painter should pass without seeing
Adelaide. He bowed coldly, with a glance of supreme indifference;
but judging of the girl's suffering by his own, he felt an inward
shudder as he reflected on the bitterness which that look and
that coldness must produce in a loving heart. To crown the most
delightful feast which ever brought joy to two pure souls, by
eight days of disdain, of the deepest and most utter contempt!--A
frightful conclusion. And perhaps the purse had been found,
perhaps Adelaide had looked for her friend every evening.
This simple and natural idea filled the lover with fresh remorse;
he asked himself whether the proofs of attachment given him by
the young girl, the delightful talks, full of the love that had
so charmed him, did not deserve at least an inquiry; were not
worthy of some justification. Ashamed of having resisted the
promptings of his heart for a whole week, and feeling himself
almost a criminal in this mental struggle, he called the same
evening on Madame de Rouville.
All his suspicions, all his evil thoughts vanished at the sight
of the young girl, who had grown pale and thin.
"Good heavens! what is the matter?" he asked her, after greeting
Adelaide made no reply, but she gave him a look of deep
melancholy, a sad, dejected look, which pained him.
"You have, no doubt, been working hard," said the old lady. "You
are altered. We are the cause of your seclusion. That portrait
had delayed some pictures essential to your reputation."
Hippolyte was glad to find so good an excuse for his rudeness.
"Yes," he said, "I have been very busy, but I have been
At these words Adelaide raised her head, looked at her lover, and
her anxious eyes had now no hint of reproach.
"You must have thought us quite indifferent to any good or ill
that may befall you?" said the old lady.
"I was wrong," he replied. "Still, there are forms of pain which
we know not how to confide to any one, even to a friendship of
older date than that with which you honor me."
"The sincerity and strength of friendship are not to be measured
by time. I have seen old friends who had not a tear to bestow on
misfortune," said the Baroness, nodding sadly.
"But you--what ails you?" the young man asked Adelaide.
"Oh, nothing," replied the Baroness. "Adelaide has sat up late
for some nights to finish some little piece of woman's work, and
would not listen to me when I told her that a day more or less
did not matter----"
Hippolyte was not listening. As he looked at these two noble,
calm faces, he blushed for his suspicions, and ascribed the loss
of his purse to some unknown accident.
This was a delicious evening to him, and perhaps to her too.
There are some secrets which young souls understand so well.
Adelaide could read Hippolyte's thoughts. Though he could not
confess his misdeeds, the painter knew them, and he had come back
to his mistress more in love, and more affectionate, trying thus
to purchase her tacit forgiveness. Adelaide was enjoying such
perfect, such sweet happiness, that she did not think she had
paid too dear for it with all the grief that had so cruelly
crushed her soul. And yet, this true concord of hearts, this
understanding so full of magic charm, was disturbed by a little
speech of Madame de Rouville's.
"Let us have our little game," she said, "for my old friend
Kergarouet will not let me off."
These words revived all the young painter's fears; he colored as
he looked at Adelaide's mother, but he saw nothing in her
countenance but the expression of the frankest good-nature; no
double meaning marred its charm; its keenness was not
perifidious, its humor seemed kindly, and no trace of remorse
disturbed its equanimity.
He sat down to the card-table. Adelaide took side with the
painter, saying that he did not know piquet, and needed a
All through the game Madame de Rouville and her daughter
exchanged looks of intelligence, which alarmed Hippolyte all the
more because he was winning; but at last a final hand left the
lovers in the old lady's debt.
To feel for some money in his pocket the painter took his hands
off the table, and he then saw before him a purse which Adelaide
had slipped in front of him without his noticing it; the poor
child had the old one in her hand, and, to keep her countenance,
was looking into it for the money to pay her mother. The blood
rushed to Hippolyte's heart with such force that he was near
The new purse, substituted for his own, and which contained his
fifteen gold louis, was worked with gilt beads. The rings and
tassels bore witness to Adelaide's good taste, and she had no
doubt spent all her little hoard in ornamenting this pretty piece
of work. It was impossible to say with greater delicacy that the
painter's gift could only be repaid by some proof of affection.
Hippolyte, overcome with happiness, turned to look at Adelaide
and her mother, and saw that they were tremulous with pleasure
and delight at their little trick. He felt himself mean, sordid,
a fool; he longed to punish himself, to rend his heart. A few
tears rose to his eyes; by an irresistible impulse he sprang up,
clasped Adelaide in his arms, pressed her to his heart, and stole
a kiss; then with the simple heartiness of an artist, "I ask for
her for my wife!" he exclaimed, looking at the Baroness.
Adelaide looked at him with half-wrathful eyes, and Madame de
Rouville, somewhat astonished, was considering her reply, when
the scene was interrupted by a ring at the bell. The old vice-
admiral came in, followed by his shadow, and Madame Schinner.
Having guessed the cause of the grief her son vainly endeavored
to conceal, Hippolyte's mother had made inquiries among her
friends concerning Adelaide. Very justly alarmed by the calumnies
which weighed on the young girl, unknown to the Comte de
Kergarouet, whose name she learned from the porter's wife, she
went to report them to the vice-admiral; and he, in his rage,
declared "he would crop all the scoundrels' ears for them."
Then, prompted by his wrath, he went on to explain to Madame
Schinner the secret of his losing intentionally at cards, because
the Baronne's pride left him none but these ingenious means of
When Madame Schinner had paid her respects to Madame de Rouville,
the Baroness looked at the Comte de Kergarouet, at the Chevalier
du Halga--the friend of the departed Comtesse de Kergarouet--at
Hippolyte, and Adelaide, and said, with the grace that comes from
the heart, "So we are a family party this evening."
PARIS, May 1832
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