Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Daughter of Eve by Honore de Balzac

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by John Bickers; and Dagny

A DAUGHTER OF EVE

BY

HONORE DE BALZAC

Translated By

Katharine Prescott Wormeley

DEDICATION

To Madame la Comtesse Bolognini, nee Vimercati.

If you remember, madame, the pleasure your conversation gave to a
traveller by recalling Paris to his memory in Milan, you will not
be surprised to find him testifying his gratitude for many
pleasant evenings passed beside you by laying one of his works at
your feet, and begging you to protect it with your name, as in
former days that name protected the tales of an ancient writer
dear to the Milanese.

You have an Eugenie, already beautiful, whose intelligent smile
gives promise that she has inherited from you the most precious
gifts of womanhood, and who will certainly enjoy during her
childhood and youth all those happinesses which a rigid mother
denied to the Eugenie of these pages. Though Frenchmen are taxed
with inconstancy, you will find me Italian in faithfulness and
memory. While writing the name of "Eugenie," my thoughts have
often led me back to that cool stuccoed salon and little garden in
the Vicolo dei Cappucini, which echoed to the laughter of that
dear child, to our sportive quarrels and our chatter. But you have
left the Corso for the Tre Monasteri, and I know not how you are
placed there; consequently, I am forced to think of you, not among
the charming things with which no doubt you have surrounded
yourself, but like one of those fine figures due to Raffaelle,
Titian, Correggio, Allori, which seem abstractions, so distant are
they from our daily lives.

If this book should wing its way across the Alps, it will prove to
you the lively gratitude and respectful friendship of

Your devoted servant,
De Balzac.

A DAUGHTER OF EVE

CHAPTER I

THE TWO MARIES

In one of the finest houses of the rue Neuve-des-Mathurins, at
half-past eleven at night, two young women were sitting before the
fireplace of a boudoir hung with blue velvet of that tender shade,
with shimmering reflections, which French industry has lately learned
to fabricate. Over the doors and windows were draped soft folds of
blue cashmere, the tint of the hangings, the work of one of those
upholsterers who have just missed being artists. A silver lamp studded
with turquoise, and suspended by chains of beautiful workmanship, hung
from the centre of the ceiling. The same system of decoration was
followed in the smallest details, and even to the ceiling of fluted
blue silk, with long bands of white cashmere falling at equal
distances on the hangings, where they were caught back by ropes of
pearl. A warm Belgian carpet, thick as turf, of a gray ground with
blue posies, covered the floor. The furniture, of carved ebony, after
a fine model of the old school, gave substance and richness to the
rather too decorative quality, as a painter might call it, of the rest
of the room. On either side of a large window, two etageres displayed
a hundred precious trifles, flowers of mechanical art brought into
bloom by the fire of thought. On a chimney-piece of slate-blue marble
were figures in old Dresden, shepherds in bridal garb, with delicate
bouquets in their hands, German fantasticalities surrounding a
platinum clock, inlaid with arabesques. Above it sparkled the
brilliant facets of a Venice mirror framed in ebony, with figures
carved in relief, evidently obtained from some former royal residence.
Two jardinieres were filled with the exotic product of a hot-house,
pale, but divine flowers, the treasures of botany.

In this cold, orderly boudoir, where all things were in place as if
for sale, no sign existed of the gay and capricious disorder of a
happy home. At the present moment, the two young women were weeping.
Pain seemed to predominate. The name of the owner, Ferdinand du
Tillet, one of the richest bankers in Paris, is enough to explain the
luxury of the whole house, of which this boudoir is but a sample.

Though without either rank or station, having pushed himself forward,
heaven knows how, du Tillet had married, in 1831, the daughter of the
Comte de Granville, one of the greatest names in the French
magistracy,--a man who became peer of France after the revolution of
July. This marriage of ambition on du Tillet's part was brought about
by his agreeing to sign an acknowledgment in the marriage contract of
a dowry not received, equal to that of her elder sister, who was
married to Comte Felix de Vandenesse. On the other hand, the
Granvilles obtained the alliance with de Vandenesse by the largeness
of the "dot." Thus the bank repaired the breach made in the pocket of
the magistracy by rank. Could the Comte de Vandenesse have seen
himself, three years later, the brother-in-law of a Sieur Ferdinand DU
Tillet, so-called, he might not have married his wife; but what man of
rank in 1828 foresaw the strange upheavals which the year 1830 was
destined to produce in the political condition, the fortunes, and the
customs of France? Had any one predicted to Comte Felix de Vandenesse
that his head would lose the coronet of a peer, and that of his
father-in-law acquire one, he would have thought his informant a
lunatic.

Bending forward on one of those low chairs then called "chaffeuses,"
in the attitude of a listener, Madame du Tillet was pressing to her
bosom with maternal tenderness, and occasionally kissing, the hand of
her sister, Madame Felix de Vandenesse. Society added the baptismal
name to the surname, in order to distinguish the countess from her
sister-in-law, the Marquise Charles de Vandenesse, wife of the former
ambassador, who had married the widow of the Comte de Kergarouet,
Mademoiselle Emilie de Fontaine.

Half lying on a sofa, her handkerchief in the other hand, her
breathing choked by repressed sobs, and with tearful eyes, the
countess had been making confidences such as are made only from sister
to sister when two sisters love each other; and these two sisters did
love each other tenderly. We live in days when sisters married into
such antagonist spheres can very well not love each other, and
therefore the historian is bound to relate the reasons of this tender
affection, preserved without spot or jar in spite of their husbands'
contempt for each other and their own social disunion. A rapid glance
at their childhood will explain the situation.

Brought up in a gloomy house in the Marais, by a woman of narrow mind,
a "devote" who, being sustained by a sense of duty (sacred phrase!),
had fulfilled her tasks as a mother religiously, Marie-Angelique and
Marie Eugenie de Granville reached the period of their marriage--the
first at eighteen, the second at twenty years of age--without ever
leaving the domestic zone where the rigid maternal eye controlled
them. Up to that time they had never been to a play; the churches of
Paris were their theatre. Their education in their mother's house had
been as rigorous as it would have been in a convent. From infancy they
had slept in a room adjoining that of the Comtesse de Granville, the
door of which stood always open. The time not occupied by the care of
their persons, their religious duties and the studies considered
necessary for well-bred young ladies, was spent in needlework done for
the poor, or in walks like those an Englishwoman allows herself on
Sunday, saying, apparently, "Not so fast, or we shall seem to be
amusing ourselves."

Their education did not go beyond the limits imposed by confessors,
who were chosen by their mother from the strictest and least tolerant
of the Jansenist priests. Never were girls delivered over to their
husbands more absolutely pure and virgin than they; their mother
seemed to consider that point, essential as indeed it is, the
accomplishment of all her duties toward earth and heaven. These two
poor creatures had never, before their marriage, read a tale, or heard
of a romance; their very drawings were of figures whose anatomy would
have been masterpieces of the impossible to Cuvier, designed to
feminize the Farnese Hercules himself. An old maid taught them
drawing. A worthy priest instructed them in grammar, the French
language, history, geography, and the very little arithmetic it was
thought necessary in their rank for women to know. Their reading,
selected from authorized books, such as the "Lettres Edifiantes," and
Noel's "Lecons de Litterature," was done aloud in the evening; but
always in presence of their mother's confessor, for even in those
books there did sometimes occur passages which, without wise comments,
might have roused their imagination. Fenelon's "Telemaque" was thought
dangerous.

The Comtesse de Granville loved her daughters sufficiently to wish to
make them angels after the pattern of Marie Alacoque, but the poor
girls themselves would have preferred a less virtuous and more amiable
mother. This education bore its natural fruits. Religion, imposed as a
yoke and presented under its sternest aspect, wearied with formal
practice these innocent young hearts, treated as sinful. It repressed
their feelings, and was never precious to them, although it struck its
roots deep down into their natures. Under such training the two Maries
would either have become mere imbeciles, or they must necessarily have
longed for independence. Thus it came to pass that they looked to
marriage as soon as they saw anything of life and were able to compare
a few ideas. Of their own tender graces and their personal value they
were absolutely ignorant. They were ignorant, too, of their own
innocence; how, then, could they know life? Without weapons to meet
misfortune, without experience to appreciate happiness, they found no
comfort in the maternal jail, all their joys were in each other. Their
tender confidences at night in whispers, or a few short sentences
exchanged if their mother left them for a moment, contained more ideas
than the words themselves expressed. Often a glance, concealed from
other eyes, by which they conveyed to each other their emotions, was
like a poem of bitter melancholy. The sight of a cloudless sky, the
fragrance of flowers, a turn in the garden, arm in arm,--these were
their joys. The finishing of a piece of embroidery was to them a
source of enjoyment.

Their mother's social circle, far from opening resources to their
hearts or stimulating their minds, only darkened their ideas and
depressed them; it was made up of rigid old women, withered and
graceless, whose conversation turned on the differences which
distinguished various preachers and confessors, on their own petty
indispositions, on religious events insignificant even to the
"Quotidienne" or "l'Ami de la Religion." As for the men who appeared
in the Comtesse de Granville's salon, they extinguished any possible
torch of love, so cold and sadly resigned were their faces. They were
all of an age when mankind is sulky and fretful, and natural
sensibilities are chiefly exercised at table and on the things
relating to personal comfort. Religious egotism had long dried up
those hearts devoted to narrow duties and entrenched behind pious
practices. Silent games of cards occupied the whole evening, and the
two young girls under the ban of that Sanhedrim enforced by maternal
severity, came to hate the dispiriting personages about them with
their hollow eyes and scowling faces.

On the gloom of this life one sole figure of a man, that of a
music-master, stood vigorously forth. The confessors had decided that
music was a Christian art, born of the Catholic Church and developed
within her. The two Maries were therefore permitted to study music. A
spinster in spectacles, who taught singing and the piano in a
neighboring convent, wearied them with exercises; but when the eldest
girl was ten years old, the Comte de Granville insisted on the
importance of giving her a master. Madame de Granville gave all the
value of conjugal obedience to this needed concession,--it is part of
a devote's character to make a merit of doing her duty.

The master was a Catholic German; one of those men born old, who seem
all their lives fifty years of age, even at eighty. And yet, his
brown, sunken, wrinkled face still kept something infantile and
artless in its dark creases. The blue of innocence was in his eyes,
and a gay smile of springtide abode upon his lips. His iron-gray hair,
falling naturally like that of the Christ in art, added to his
ecstatic air a certain solemnity which was absolutely deceptive as to
his real nature; for he was capable of committing any silliness with
the most exemplary gravity. His clothes were a necessary envelope, to
which he paid not the slightest attention, for his eyes looked too
high among the clouds to concern themselves with such materialities.
This great unknown artist belonged to the kindly class of the
self-forgetting, who give their time and their soul to others, just as
they leave their gloves on every table and their umbrella at all doors.
His hands were of the kind that are dirty as soon as washed. In short,
his old body, badly poised on its knotted old legs, proving to what
degree a man can make it the mere accessory of his soul, belonged to
those strange creations which have been properly depicted only by a
German,--by Hoffman, the poet of that which seems not to exist but yet
has life.

Such was Schmucke, formerly chapel-master to the Margrave of Anspach;
a musical genius, who was now examined by a council of devotes, and
asked if he kept the fasts. The master was much inclined to answer,
"Look at me!" but how could he venture to joke with pious dowagers and
Jansenist confessors? This apocryphal old fellow held such a place in
the lives of the two Maries, they felt such friendship for the grand
and simple-minded artist, who was happy and contented in the mere
comprehension of his art, that after their marriage, they each gave
him an annuity of three hundred francs a year,--a sum which sufficed
to pay for his lodging, beer, pipes, and clothes. Six hundred francs a
year and his lessons put him in Eden. Schmucke had never found courage
to confide his poverty and his aspirations to any but these two
adorable young girls, whose hearts were blooming beneath the snow of
maternal rigor and the ice of devotion. This fact explains Schmucke
and the girlhood of the two Maries.

No one knew then, or later, what abbe or pious spinster had discovered
the old German then vaguely wandering about Paris, but as soon as
mothers of families learned that the Comtesse de Granville had found a
music-master for her daughters, they all inquired for his name and
address. Before long, Schmucke had thirty pupils in the Marais. This
tardy success was manifested by steel buckles to his shoes, which were
lined with horse-hair soles, and by a more frequent change of linen.
His artless gaiety, long suppressed by noble and decent poverty,
reappeared. He gave vent to witty little remarks and flowery speeches
in his German-Gallic patois, very observing and very quaint and said
with an air which disarmed ridicule. But he was so pleased to bring a
laugh to the lips of his two pupils, whose dismal life his sympathy
had penetrated, that he would gladly have made himself wilfully
ridiculous had he failed in being so by nature.

According to one of the nobler ideas of religious education, the young
girls always accompanied their master respectfully to the door. There
they would make him a few kind speeches, glad to do anything to give
him pleasure. Poor things! all they could do was to show him their
womanhood. Until their marriage, music was to them another life within
their lives, just as, they say, a Russian peasant takes his dreams for
reality and his actual life for a troubled sleep. With the instinct of
protecting their souls against the pettiness that threatened to
overwhelm them, against the all-pervading asceticism of their home,
they flung themselves into the difficulties of the musical art, and
spent themselves upon it. Melody, harmony, and composition, three
daughters of heaven, whose choir was led by an old Catholic faun drunk
with music, were to these poor girls the compensation of their trials;
they made them, as it were, a rampart against their daily lives.
Mozart, Beethoven, Gluck, Paesiello, Cimarosa, Haydn, and certain
secondary geniuses, developed in their souls a passionate emotion
which never passed beyond the chaste enclosure of their breasts,
though it permeated that other creation through which, in spirit, they
winged their flight. When they had executed some great work in a
manner that their master declared was almost faultless, they embraced
each other in ecstasy and the old man called them his Saint Cecilias.

The two Maries were not taken to a ball until they were sixteen years
of age, and then only four times a year in special houses. They were
not allowed to leave their mother's side without instructions as to
their behavior with their partners; and so severe were those
instructions that they dared say only yes or no during a dance. The
eye of the countess never left them, and she seemed to know from the
mere movement of their lips the words they uttered. Even the
ball-dresses of these poor little things were piously irreproachable;
their muslin gowns came up to their chins with an endless number of
thick ruches, and the sleeves came down to their wrists. Swathing in
this way their natural charms, this costume gave them a vague
resemblance to Egyptian hermae; though from these blocks of muslin
rose enchanting little heads of tender melancholy. They felt
themselves the objects of pity, and inwardly resented it. What woman,
however innocent, does not desire to excite envy?

No dangerous idea, unhealthy or even equivocal, soiled the pure pulp
of their brain; their hearts were innocent, their hands were horribly
red, and they glowed with health. Eve did not issue more innocent from
the hands of God than these two girls from their mother's home when
they went to the mayor's office and the church to be married, after
receiving the simple but terrible injunction to obey in all things two
men with whom they were henceforth to live and sleep by day and by
night. To their minds, nothing could be worse in the strange houses
where they were to go than the maternal convent.

Why did the father of these poor girls, the Comte de Granville, a wise
and upright magistrate (though sometimes led away by politics),
refrain from protecting the helpless little creatures from such
crushing despotism? Alas! by mutual understanding, about ten years
after marriage, he and his wife were separated while living under one
roof. The father had taken upon himself the education of his sons,
leaving that of the daughters to his wife. He saw less danger for
women than for men in the application of his wife's oppressive system.
The two Maries, destined as women to endure tyranny, either of love or
marriage, would be, he thought, less injured than boys, whose minds
ought to have freer play, and whose manly qualities would deteriorate
under the powerful compression of religious ideas pushed to their
utmost consequences. Of four victims the count saved two.

The countess regarded her sons as too ill-trained to admit of the
slightest intimacy with their sisters. All communication between the
poor children was therefore strictly watched. When the boys came home
from school, the count was careful not to keep them in the house. The
boys always breakfasted with their mother and sisters, but after that
the count took them off to museums, theatres, restaurants, or, during
the summer season, into the country. Except on the solemn days of some
family festival, such as the countess's birthday or New Year's day, or
the day of the distribution of prizes, when the boys remained in their
father's house and slept there, the sisters saw so little of their
brothers that there was absolutely no tie between them. On those days
the countess never left them for an instant alone together. Calls of
"Where is Angelique?"--"What is Eugenie about?"--"Where are my
daughters?" resounded all day. As for the mother's sentiments towards
her sons, the countess raised to heaven her cold and macerated eyes,
as if to ask pardon of God for not having snatched them from iniquity.

Her exclamations, and also her reticences on the subject of her sons,
were equal to the most lamenting verses in Jeremiah, and completely
deceived the sisters, who supposed their sinful brothers to be doomed
to perdition.

When the boys were eighteen years of age, the count gave them rooms in
his own part of the house, and sent them to study law under the
supervision of a solicitor, his former secretary. The two Maries knew
nothing therefore of fraternity, except by theory. At the time of the
marriage of the sisters, both brothers were practising in provincial
courts, and both were detained by important cases. Domestic life in
many families which might be expected to be intimate, united, and
homogeneous, is really spent in this way. Brothers are sent to a
distance, busy with their own careers, their own advancement,
occupied, perhaps, about the good of the country; the sisters are
engrossed in a round of other interests. All the members of such a
family live disunited, forgetting one another, bound together only by
some feeble tie of memory, until, perhaps, a sentiment of pride or
self-interest either joins them or separates them in heart as they
already are in fact. Modern laws, by multiplying the family by the
family, has created a great evil,--namely, individualism.

In the depths of this solitude where their girlhood was spent,
Angelique and Eugenie seldom saw their father, and when he did enter
the grand apartment of his wife on the first floor, he brought with
him a saddened face. In his own home he always wore the grave and
solemn look of a magistrate on the bench. When the little girls had
passed the age of dolls and toys, when they began, about twelve, to
use their minds (an epoch at which they ceased to laugh at Schmucke)
they divined the secret of the cares that lined their father's
forehead, and they recognized beneath that mask of sternness the
relics of a kind heart and a fine character. They vaguely perceived
how he had yielded to the forces of religion in his household,
disappointed as he was in his hopes of a husband, and wounded in the
tenderest fibres of paternity,--the love of a father for his
daughters. Such griefs were singularly moving to the hearts of the two
young girls, who were themselves deprived of all tenderness.
Sometimes, when pacing the garden between his daughters, with an arm
round each little waist, and stepping with their own short steps, the
father would stop short behind a clump of trees, out of sight of the
house, and kiss them on their foreheads; his eyes, his lips, his whole
countenance expressing the deepest commiseration.

"You are not very happy, my dear little girls," he said one day; "but
I shall marry you early. It will comfort me to have you leave home."

"Papa," said Eugenie, "we have decided to take the first man who
offers."

"Ah!" he cried, "that is the bitter fruit of such a system. They want
to make saints, and they make--" he stopped without ending his
sentence.

Often the two girls felt an infinite tenderness in their father's
"Adieu," or in his eyes, when, by chance, he dined at home. They
pitied that father so seldom seen, and love follows often upon pity.

This stern and rigid education was the cause of the marriages of the
two sisters welded together by misfortune, as Rita-Christina by the
hand of Nature. Many men, driven to marriage, prefer a girl taken from
a convent, and saturated with piety, to a girl brought up to worldly
ideas. There seems to be no middle course. A man must marry either an
educated girl, who reads the newspapers and comments upon them, who
waltzes with a dozen young men, goes to the theatre, devours novels,
cares nothing for religion, and makes her own ethics, or an ignorant
and innocent young girl, like either of the two Maries. Perhaps there
may be as much danger with the one kind as with the other. Yet the
vast majority of men who are not so old as Arnolphe, prefer a
religious Agnes to a budding Celimene.

The two Maries, who were small and slender, had the same figure, the
same foot, the same hand. Eugenie, the younger, was fair-haired, like
her mother, Angelique was dark-haired, like the father. But they both
had the same complexion,--a skin of the pearly whiteness which shows
the richness and purity of the blood, where the color rises through a
tissue like that of the jasmine, soft, smooth, and tender to the
touch. Eugenie's blue eyes and the brown eyes of Angelique had an
expression of artless indifference, of ingenuous surprise, which was
rendered by the vague manner with which the pupils floated on the
fluid whiteness of the eyeball. They were both well-made; the rather
thin shoulders would develop later. Their throats, long veiled,
delighted the eye when their husbands requested them to wear low
dresses to a ball, on which occasion they both felt a pleasing shame,
which made them first blush behind closed doors, and afterwards,
through a whole evening in company.

On the occasion when this scene opens, and the eldest, Angelique, was
weeping, while the younger, Eugenie, was consoling her, their hands
and arms were white as milk. Each had nursed a child,--one a boy, the
other a daughter. Eugenie, as a girl, was thought very giddy by her
mother, who had therefore treated her with especial watchfulness and
severity. In the eyes of that much-feared mother, Angelique, noble and
proud, appeared to have a soul so lofty that it would guard itself,
whereas, the more lively Eugenie needed restraint. There are many
charming beings misused by fate,--beings who ought by rights to
prosper in this life, but who live and die unhappy, tortured by some
evil genius, the victims of unfortunate circumstances. The innocent
and naturally light-hearted Eugenie had fallen into the hands and
beneath the malicious despotism of a self-made man on leaving the
maternal prison. Angelique, whose nature inclined her to deeper
sentiments, was thrown into the upper spheres of Parisian social life,
with the bridle lying loose upon her neck.

CHAPTER II

A CONFIDENCE BETWEEN SISTERS

Madame de Vandenesse, Marie-Angelique, who seemed to have broken down
under a weight of troubles too heavy for her soul to bear, was lying
back on the sofa with bent limbs, and her head tossing restlessly. She
had rushed to her sister's house after a brief appearance at the
Opera. Flowers were still in her hair, but others were scattered upon
the carpet, together with her gloves, her silk pelisse, and muff and
hood. Tears were mingling with the pearls on her bosom; her swollen
eyes appeared to make strange confidences. In the midst of so much
luxury her distress was horrible, and she seemed unable to summon
courage to speak.

"Poor darling!" said Madame du Tillet; "what a mistaken idea you have
of my marriage if you think that I can help you!"

Hearing this revelation, dragged from her sister's heart by the
violence of the storm she herself had raised there, the countess
looked with stupefied eyes at the banker's wife; her tears stopped,
and her eyes grew fixed.

"Are you in misery as well, my dearest?" she said, in a low voice.

"My griefs will not ease yours."

"But tell them to me, darling; I am not yet too selfish to listen. Are
we to suffer together once more, as we did in girlhood?"

"But alas! we suffer apart," said the banker's wife. "You and I live
in two worlds at enmity with each other. I go to the Tuileries when
you are not there. Our husbands belong to opposite parties. I am the
wife of an ambitious banker,--a bad man, my darling; while you have a
noble, kind, and generous husband."

"Oh! don't reproach me!" cried the countess. "To understand my
position, a woman must have borne the weariness of a vapid and barren
life, and have entered suddenly into a paradise of light and love; she
must know the happiness of feeling her whole life in that of another;
of espousing, as it were, the infinite emotions of a poet's soul; of
living a double existence,--going, coming with him in his courses
through space, through the world of ambition; suffering with his
griefs, rising on the wings of his high pleasures, developing her
faculties on some vast stage; and all this while living calm, serene,
and cold before an observing world. Ah! dearest, what happiness in
having at all hours an enormous interest, which multiplies the fibres
of the heart and varies them indefinitely! to feel no longer cold
indifference! to find one's very life depending on a thousand trifles!
--on a walk where an eye will beam to us from a crowd, on a glance
which pales the sun! Ah! what intoxication, dear, to live! to _live_
when other women are praying on their knees for emotions that never
come to them! Remember, darling, that for this poem of delight there
is but a single moment,--youth! In a few years winter comes, and cold.
Ah! if you possessed these living riches of the heart, and were
threatened with the loss of them--"

Madame du Tillet, terrified, had covered her face with her hands
during the passionate utterance of this anthem.

"I did not even think of reproaching you, my beloved," she said at
last, seeing her sister's face bathed in hot tears. "You have cast
into my soul, in one moment, more brands than I have tears to quench.
Yes, the life I live would justify to my heart a love like that you
picture. Let me believe that if we could have seen each other oftener,
we should not now be where we are. If you had seen my sufferings, you
must have valued your own happiness the more, and you might have
strengthened me to resist my tyrant, and so have won a sort of peace.
Your misery is an incident which chance may change, but mine is daily
and perpetual. To my husband I am a peg on which to hang his luxury,
the sign-post of his ambition, a satisfaction to his vanity. He has no
real affection for me, and no confidence. Ferdinand is hard and
polished as that piece of marble," she continued, striking the
chimney-piece. "He distrusts me. Whatever I may want for myself is
refused before I ask it; but as for what flatters his vanity and
proclaims his wealth, I have no occasion to express a wish. He
decorates my apartments; he spends enormous sums upon my
entertainments; my servants, my opera-box, all external matters are
maintained with the utmost splendor. His vanity spares no expense; he
would trim his children's swaddling-clothes with lace if he could, but
he would never hear their cries, or guess their needs. Do you
understand me? I am covered with diamonds when I go to court; I wear
the richest jewels in society, but I have not one farthing I can use.
Madame du Tillet, who, they say, is envied, who appears to float in
gold, has not a hundred francs she can call her own. If the father
cares little for his child, he cares less for its mother. Ah! he has
cruelly made me feel that he bought me, and that in marrying me
without a 'dot' he was wronged. I might perhaps have won him to love
me, but there's an outside influence against it,--that of a woman, who
is over fifty years of age, the widow of a notary, who rules him. I
shall never be free, I know that, so long as he lives. My life is
regulated like that of a queen; my meals are served with the utmost
formality; at a given hour I must drive to the Bois; I am always
accompanied by two footmen in full dress; I am obliged to return at a
certain hour. Instead of giving orders, I receive them. At a ball, at
the theatre, a servant comes to me and says: 'Madame's carriage is
ready,' and I am obliged to go, in the midst, perhaps, of something I
enjoy. Ferdinand would be furious if I did not obey the etiquette he
prescribes for his wife; he frightens me. In the midst of this hateful
opulence, I find myself regretting the past, and thinking that our
mother was kind; she left us the nights when we could talk together;
at any rate, I was living with a dear being who loved me and suffered
with me; whereas here, in this sumptuous house, I live in a desert."

At this terrible confession the countess caught her sister's hand and
kissed it, weeping.

"How, then, can I help you," said Eugenie, in a low voice. "He would
be suspicious at once if he surprised us here, and would insist on
knowing all that you have been saying to me. I should be forced to
tell a lie, which is difficult indeed with so sly and treacherous a
man; he would lay traps for me. But enough of my own miseries; let us
think of yours. The forty thousand francs you want would be, of
course, a mere nothing to Ferdinand, who handles millions with that
fat banker, Baron de Nucingen. Sometimes, at dinner, in my presence,
they say things to each other which make me shudder. Du Tillet knows
my discretion, and they often talk freely before me, being sure of my
silence. Well, robbery and murder on the high-road seem to me merciful
compared to some of their financial schemes. Nucingen and he no more
mind destroying a man than if he were an animal. Often I am told to
receive poor dupes whose fate I have heard them talk of the night
before,--men who rush into some business where they are certain to
lose their all. I am tempted, like Leonardo in the brigand's cave, to
cry out, 'Beware!' But if I did, what would become of me? So I keep
silence. This splendid house is a cut-throat's den! But Ferdinand and
Nucingen will lavish millions for their own caprices. Ferdinand is now
buying from the other du Tillet family the site of their old castle;
he intends to rebuild it and add a forest with large domains to the
estate, and make his son a count; he declares that by the third
generation the family will be noble. Nucingen, who is tired of his
house in the rue Saint-Lazare, is building a palace. His wife is a
friend of mine--Ah!" she cried, interrupting herself, "she might help
us; she is very bold with her husband; her fortune is in her own
right. Yes, she could save you."

"Dear heart, I have but a few hours left; let us go to her this
evening, now, instantly," said Madame de Vandenesse, throwing herself
into Madame du Tillet's arms with a burst of tears.

"I can't go out at eleven o'clock at night," replied her sister.

"My carriage is here."

"What are you two plotting together?" said du Tillet, pushing open the
door of the boudoir.

He came in showing a torpid face lighted now by a speciously amiable
expression. The carpets had dulled his steps and the preoccupation of
the two sisters had kept them from noticing the noise of his
carriage-wheels on entering the court-yard. The countess, in whom the
habits of social life and the freedom in which her husband had left
her had developed both wit and shrewdness,--qualities repressed in her
sister by marital despotism, which simply continued that of their
mother,--saw that Eugenie's terror was on the point of betraying them,
and she evaded that danger by a frank answer.

"I thought my sister richer than she is," she replied, looking
straight at her brother-in-law. "Women are sometimes embarrassed for
money, and do not wish to tell their husbands, like Josephine with
Napoleon. I came here to ask Eugenie to do me a service."

"She can easily do that, madame. Eugenie is very rich," replied du
Tillet, with concealed sarcasm.

"Is she?" replied the countess, smiling bitterly.

"How much do you want?" asked du Tillet, who was not sorry to get his
sister-in-law into his meshes.

"Ah, monsieur! but I have told you already we do not wish to let our
husbands into this affair," said Madame de Vandenesse, cautiously,
--aware that if she took his money, she would put herself at the
mercy of the man whose portrait Eugenie had fortunately drawn for her
not ten minutes earlier. "I will come to-morrow and talk with Eugenie."

"To-morrow?" said the banker. "No; Madame du Tillet dines to-morrow
with a future peer of France, the Baron de Nucingen, who is to leave
me his place in the Chamber of Deputies."

"Then permit her to join me in my box at the Opera," said the
countess, without even glancing at her sister, so much did she fear
that Eugenie's candor would betray them.

"She has her own box, madame," said du Tillet, nettled.

"Very good; then I will go to hers," replied the countess.

"It will be the first time you have done us that honor," said du
Tillet.

The countess felt the sting of that reproach, and began to laugh.

"Well, never mind; you shall not be made to pay anything this time.
Adieu, my darling."

"She is an insolent woman," said du Tillet, picking up the flowers
that had fallen on the carpet. "You ought," he said to his wife, "to
study Madame de Vandenesse. I'd like to see you before the world as
insolent and overbearing as your sister has just been here. You have a
silly, bourgeois air which I detest."

Eugenie raised her eyes to heaven as her only answer.

"Ah ca, madame! what have you both been talking of?" said the banker,
after a pause, pointing to the flowers. "What has happened to make
your sister so anxious all of a sudden to go to your opera-box?"

The poor helot endeavored to escape questioning on the score of
sleepiness, and turned to go into her dressing-room to prepare for the
night; but du Tillet took her by the arm and brought her back under
the full light of the wax-candles which were burning in two
silver-gilt sconces between fragrant nosegays. He plunged his light eyes
into hers and said, coldly:--

"Your sister came here to borrow forty thousand francs for a man in
whom she takes an interest, who'll be locked up within three days in a
debtor's prison."

The poor woman was seized with a nervous trembling, which she
endeavored to repress.

"You alarm me," she said. "But my sister is far too well brought up,
and she loves her husband too much to be interested in any man to that
extent."

"Quite the contrary," he said, dryly. "Girls brought up as you two
were, in the constraints and practice of piety, have a thirst for
liberty; they desire happiness, and the happiness they get in marriage
is never as fine as that they dreamt of. Such girls make bad wives."

"Speak for me," said poor Eugenie, in a tone of bitter feeling, "but
respect my sister. The Comtesse de Vandenesse is happy; her husband
gives her too much freedom not to make her truly attached to him.
Besides, if your supposition were true, she would never have told me
of such a matter."

"It is true," he said, "and I forbid you to have anything to do with
the affair. My interests demand that the man shall go to prison.
Remember my orders."

Madame du Tillet left the room.

"She will disobey me, of course, and I shall find out all the facts by
watching her," thought du Tillet, when alone in the boudoir. "These
poor fools always think they can do battle against us."

He shrugged his shoulders and rejoined his wife, or to speak the
truth, his slave.

The confidence made to Madame du Tillet by Madame Felix de Vandenesse
is connected with so many points of the latter's history for the last
six years, that it would be unintelligible without a succinct account
of the principal events of her life.

CHAPTER III

THE HISTORY OF A FORTUNATE WOMAN

Among the remarkable men who owed their destiny to the Restoration,
but whom, unfortunately, the restored monarchy kept, with Martignac,
aloof from the concerns of government, was Felix de Vandenesse,
removed, with several others, to the Chamber of peers during the last
days of Charles X. This misfortune, though, as he supposed, temporary,
made him think of marriage, towards which he was also led, as so many
men are, by a sort of disgust for the emotions of gallantry, those
fairy flowers of the soul. There comes a vital moment to most of us
when social life appears in all its soberness.

Felix de Vandenesse had been in turn happy and unhappy, oftener
unhappy than happy, like men who, at their start in life, have met
with Love in its most perfect form. Such privileged beings can never
subsequently be satisfied; but, after fully experiencing life, and
comparing characters, they attain to a certain contentment, taking
refuge in a spirit of general indulgence. No one deceives them, for
they delude themselves no longer; but their resignation, their
disillusionment is always graceful; they expect what comes, and
therefor they suffer less. Felix might still rank among the handsomest
and most agreeable men in Paris. He was originally commended to many
women by one of the noblest creatures of our epoch, Madame de
Mortsauf, who had died, it was said, out of love and grief for him;
but he was specially trained for social life by the handsome and
well-known Lady Dudley.

In the eyes of many Parisian women, Felix, a sort of hero of romance,
owed much of his success to the evil that was said of him. Madame de
Manerville had closed the list of his amorous adventures; and perhaps
her dismissal had something to do with his frame of mind. At any rate,
without being in any way a Don Juan, he had gathered in the world of
love as many disenchantments as he had met with in the world of
politics. That ideal of womanhood and of passion, the type of which
--perhaps to his sorrow--had lighted and governed his dawn of life, he
despaired of ever finding again.

At thirty years of age, Comte Felix determined to put an end to the
burden of his various felicities by marriage. On that point his ideas
were extremely fixed; he wanted a young girl brought up in the
strictest tenets of Catholicism. It was enough for him to know how the
Comtesse de Granville had trained her daughters to make him, after he
had once resolved on marriage, request the hand of the eldest. He
himself had suffered under the despotism of a mother; he still
remembered his unhappy childhood too well not to recognize, beneath
the reserves of feminine shyness, the state to which such a yoke must
have brought the heart of a young girl, whether that heart was soured,
embittered, or rebellious, or whether it was still peaceful, lovable,
and ready to unclose to noble sentiments. Tyranny produces two
opposite effects, the symbols of which exist in two grand figures of
ancient slavery, Epictetus and Spartacus,--hatred and evil feelings on
the one hand, resignation and tenderness, on the other.

The Comte de Vandenesse recognized himself in Marie-Angelique de
Granville. In choosing for his wife an artless, innocent, and pure
young girl, this young old man determined to mingle a paternal feeling
with the conjugal feeling. He knew his own heart was withered by the
world and by politics, and he felt that he was giving in exchange for
a dawning life the remains of a worn-out existence. Beside those
springtide flowers he was putting the ice of winter; hoary experience
with young and innocent ignorance. After soberly judging the position,
he took up his conjugal career with ample precaution; indulgence and
perfect confidence were the two anchors to which he moored it. Mothers
of families ought to seek such men for their daughters. A good mind
protects like a divinity; disenchantment is as keen-sighted as a
surgeon; experience as foreseeing as a mother. Those three qualities
are the cardinal virtues of a safe marriage. All that his past career
had taught to Felix de Vandenesse, the observations of a life that was
busy, literary, and thoughtful by turns, all his forces, in fact, were
now employed in making his wife happy; to that end he applied his
mind.

When Marie-Angelique left the maternal purgatory, she rose at once
into the conjugal paradise prepared for her by Felix, rue du Rocher,
in a house where all things were redolent of aristocracy, but where
the varnish of society did not impede the ease and "laisser-aller"
which young and loving hearts desire so much. From the start,
Marie-Angelique tasted all the sweets of material life to the very
utmost. For two years her husband made himself, as it were, her
purveyor. He explained to her, by degrees, and with great art, the
things of life; he initiated her slowly into the mysteries of the
highest society; he taught her the genealogies of noble families; he
showed her the world; he guided her taste in dress; he trained her to
converse; he took her from theatre to theatre, and made her study
literature and current history. This education he accomplished with
all the care of a lover, father, master, and husband; but he did it
soberly and discreetly; he managed both enjoyments and instructions
in such a manner as not to destroy the value of her religious ideas.
In short, he carried out his enterprise with the wisdom of a great
master. At the end of four years, he had the happiness of having
formed in the Comtesse de Vandenesse one of the most lovable and
remarkable young women of our day.

Marie-Angelique felt for Felix precisely the feelings with which Felix
desired to inspire her,--true friendship, sincere gratitude, and a
fraternal love, in which was mingled, at certain times, a noble and
dignified tenderness, such as tenderness between husband and wife
ought to be. She was a mother, and a good mother. Felix had therefore
attached himself to his young wife by every bond without any
appearance of garroting her,--relying for his happiness on the charms
of habit.

None but men trained in the school of life--men who have gone round
the circle of disillusionment, political and amorous--are capable of
following out a course like this. Felix, however, found in his work
the same pleasure that painters, writers, architects take in their
creations. He doubly enjoyed both the work and its fruition as he
admired his wife, so artless, yet so well-informed, witty, but
natural, lovable and chaste, a girl, and yet a mother, perfectly free,
though bound by the chains of righteousness. The history of all good
homes is that of prosperous peoples; it can be written in two lines,
and has in it nothing for literature. So, as happiness is only
explicable to and by itself, these four years furnish nothing to
relate which was not as tender as the soft outlines of eternal
cherubs, as insipid, alas! as manna, and about as amusing as the tale
of "Astrea."

In 1833, this edifice of happiness, so carefully erected by Felix de
Vandenesse, began to crumble, weakened at its base without his
knowledge. The heart of a woman of twenty-five is no longer that of a
girl of eighteen, any more than the heart of a woman of forty is that
of a woman of thirty. There are four ages in the life of woman; each
age creates a new woman. Vandenesse knew, no doubt, the law of these
transformations (created by our modern manners and morals), but he
forgot them in his own case,--just as the best grammarian will forget
a rule of grammar in writing a book, or the greatest general in the
field under fire, surprised by some unlooked-for change of base,
forgets his military tactics. The man who can perpetually bring his
thought to bear upon his facts is a man of genius; but the man of the
highest genius does not display genius at all times; if he did, he
would be like to God.

After four years of this life, with never a shock to the soul, nor a
word that produced the slightest discord in this sweet concert of
sentiment, the countess, feeling herself developed like a beautiful
plant in a fertile soil, caressed by the sun of a cloudless sky, awoke
to a sense of a new self. This crisis of her life, the subject of this
Scene, would be incomprehensible without certain explanations, which
may extenuate in the eyes of women the wrong-doing of this young
countess, a happy wife, a happy mother, who seems, at first sight,
inexcusable.

Life results from the action of two opposing principles; when one of
them is lacking the being suffers. Vandenesse, by satisfying every
need, had suppressed desire, that king of creation, which fills an
enormous place in the moral forces. Extreme heat, extreme sorrow,
complete happiness, are all despotic principles that reign over spaces
devoid of production; they insist on being solitary; they stifle all
that is not themselves. Vandenesse was not a woman, and none but women
know the art of varying happiness; hence their coquetry, refusals,
fears, quarrels, and the all-wise clever foolery with which they put
in doubt the things that seemed to be without a cloud the night
before. Men may weary by their constancy, but women never. Vandenesse
was too thoroughly kind by nature to worry deliberately the woman he
loved; on the contrary, he kept her in the bluest and least cloudy
heaven of love. The problem of eternal beatitude is one of those whose
solution is known only to God. Here, below, the sublimest poets have
simply harassed their readers when attempting to picture paradise.
Dante's reef was that of Vandenesse; all honor to such courage!

Felix's wife began to find monotony in an Eden so well arranged; the
perfect happiness which the first woman found in her terrestrial
paradise gave her at length a sort of nausea of sweet things, and made
the countess wish, like Rivarol reading Florian, for a wolf in the
fold. Such, judging by the history of ages, appears to be the meaning
of that emblematic serpent to which Eve listened, in all probability,
out of ennui. This deduction may seem a little venturesome to
Protestants, who take the book of Genesis more seriously than the Jews
themselves.

The situation of Madame de Vandenesse can, however, be explained
without recourse to Biblical images. She felt in her soul an enormous
power that was unemployed. Her happiness gave her no suffering; it
rolled along without care or uneasiness; she was not afraid of losing
it; each morning it shone upon her, with the same blue sky, the same
smile, the same sweet words. That clear, still lake was unruffled by
any breeze, even a zephyr; she would fain have seen a ripple on its
glassy surface. Her desire had something so infantine about it that it
ought to be excused; but society is not more indulgent than the God of
Genesis. Madame de Vandenesse, having now become intelligently clever,
was aware that such sentiments were not permissible, and she refrained
from confiding them to her "dear little husband." Her genuine
simplicity had not invented any other name for him; for one can't call
up in cold blood that delightfully exaggerated language which love
imparts to its victims in the midst of flames.

Vandenesse, glad of this adorable reserve, kept his wife, by
deliberate calculations, in the temperate regions of conjugal
affection. He never condescended to seek a reward or even an
acknowledgment of the infinite pains which he gave himself; his wife
thought his luxury and good taste her natural right, and she felt no
gratitude for the fact that her pride and self-love had never
suffered. It was thus in everything. Kindness has its mishaps; often
it is attributed to temperament; people are seldom willing to
recognize it as the secret effort of a noble soul.

About this period of her life, Madame Felix de Vandenesse had attained
to a degree of worldly knowledge which enabled her to quit the
insignificant role of a timid, listening, and observing supernumerary,
--a part played, they say, for some time, by Giulia Grisi in the
chorus at La Scala. The young countess now felt herself capable of
attempting the part of prima-donna, and she did so on several
occasions. To the great satisfaction of her husband, she began to
mingle in conversations. Intelligent ideas and delicate observations
put into her mind by her intercourse with her husband, made her
remarked upon, and success emboldened her. Vandenesse, to whom the
world admitted that his wife was beautiful, was delighted when the
same assurance was given that she was clever and witty. On their
return from a ball, concert, or rout where Marie had shone
brilliantly, she would turn to her husband, as she took off her
ornaments, and say, with a joyous, self-assured air,--

"Were you pleased with me this evening?"

The countess excited jealousies; among others that of her husband's
sister, Madame de Listomere, who until now had patronized her,
thinking that she protected a foil to her own merits. A countess,
beautiful, witty and virtuous!--what a prey for the tongues of the
world! Felix had broken with too many women, and too many women had
broken with him, to leave them indifferent to his marriage. When these
women beheld in Madame de Vandenesse a small woman with red hands, and
rather awkward manner, saying little, and apparently not thinking
much, they thought themselves sufficiently avenged. The disasters of
July, 1830, supervened; society was dissolved for two years; the rich
evaded the turmoil and left Paris either for foreign travel or for
their estates in the country, and none of the salons reopened until
1833. When that time came, the faubourg Saint-Germain still sulked,
but it held intercourse with a few houses, regarding them as neutral
ground,--among others that of the Austrian ambassador, where the
legitimist society and the new social world met together in the
persons of their best representatives.

Attached by many ties of the heart and by gratitude to the exiled
family, and strong in his personal convictions, Vandenesse did not
consider himself obliged to imitate the silly behavior of his party.
In times of danger, he had done his duty at the risk of his life; his
fidelity had never been compromised, and he determined to take his
wife into general society without fear of its becoming so. His former
mistresses could scarcely recognize the bride they had thought so
childish in the elegant, witty, and gentle countess, who now appeared
in society with the exquisite manners of the highest female
aristocracy. Mesdames d'Espard, de Manerville, and Lady Dudley, with
others less known, felt the serpent waking up in the depths of their
hearts; they heard the low hissings of angry pride; they were jealous
of Felix's happiness, and would gladly have given their prettiest
jewel to do him some harm; but instead of being hostile to the
countess, these kind, ill-natured women surrounded her, showed her the
utmost friendship, and praised her to me. Sufficiently aware of their
intentions, Felix watched their relations with Marie, and warned her
to distrust them. They all suspected the uneasiness of the count at
their intimacy with his wife, and they redoubled their attentions and
flatteries, so that they gave her an enormous vogue in society, to the
great displeasure of her sister-in-law, the Marquise de Listomere, who
could not understand it. The Comtesse Felix de Vandenesse was cited as
the most charming and the cleverest woman in Paris. Marie's other
sister-in-law, the Marquise Charles de Vandenesse, was consumed with
vexation at the confusion of names and the comparisons it sometimes
brought about. Though the marquise was a handsome and clever woman,
her rivals took delight in comparing her with her sister-in-law, with
all the more point because the countess was a dozen years younger.
These women knew very well what bitterness Marie's social vogue would
bring into her intercourse with both of her sisters-in-law, who, in
fact, became cold and disobliging in proportion to her triumph in
society. She was thus surrounded by dangerous relations and intimate
enemies.

Every one knows that French literature at that particular period was
endeavoring to defend itself against an apathetic indifference (the
result of the political drama) by producing works more or less
Byronian, in which the only topics really discussed were conjugal
delinquencies. Infringements of the marriage tie formed the staple of
reviews, books, and dramas. This eternal subject grew more and more
the fashion. The lover, that nightmare of husbands, was everywhere,
except perhaps in homes, where, in point of fact, under the bourgeois
regime, he was less seen than formerly. It is not when every one
rushes to their window and cries "Thief!" and lights the streets, that
robbers abound. It is true that during those years so fruitful of
turmoil--urban, political, and moral--a few matrimonial catastrophes
took place; but these were exceptional, and less observed than they
would have been under the Restoration. Nevertheless, women talked a
great deal together about books and the stage, then the two chief
forms of poesy. The lover thus became one of their leading topics,--a
being rare in point of act and much desired. The few affairs which
were known gave rise to discussions, and these discussions were, as
usually happens, carried on by immaculate women.

A fact worthy of remark is the aversion shown to such conversations by
women who are enjoying some illicit happiness; they maintain before
the eyes of the world a reserved, prudish, and even timid countenance;
they seem to ask silence on the subject, or some condonation of their
pleasure from society. When, on the contrary, a woman talks freely of
such catastrophes, and seems to take pleasure in doing so, allowing
herself to explain the emotions that justify the guilty parties, we
may be sure that she herself is at the crossways of indecision, and
does not know what road she might take.

During this winter, the Comtesse de Vandenesse heard the great voice
of the social world roaring in her ears, and the wind of its stormy
gusts blew round her. Her pretended friends, who maintained their
reputations at the height of their rank and their positions, often
produced in her presence the seductive idea of the lover; they cast
into her soul certain ardent talk of love, the "mot d'enigme" which
life propounds to woman, the grand passion, as Madame de Stael called
it,--preaching by example. When the countess asked naively, in a small
and select circle of these friends, what difference there was between
a lover and a husband, all those who wished evil to Felix took care to
reply in a way to pique her curiosity, or fire her imagination, or
touch her heart, or interest her mind.

"Oh! my dear, we vegetate with a husband, but we live with a lover,"
said her sister-in-law, the marquise.

"Marriage, my dear, is our purgatory; love is paradise," said Lady
Dudley.

"Don't believe her," cried Mademoiselle des Touches; "it is hell."

"But a hell we like," remarked Madame de Rochefide. "There is often
more pleasure in suffering than in happiness; look at the martyrs!"

"With a husband, my dear innocent, we live, as it were, in our own
life; but to love, is to live in the life of another," said the
Marquise d'Espard.

"A lover is forbidden fruit, and that to me, says all!" cried the
pretty Moina de Saint-Heren, laughing.

When she was not at some diplomatic rout, or at a ball given by rich
foreigners, like Lady Dudley or the Princesse Galathionne, the
Comtesse de Vandenesse might be seen, after the Opera, at the houses
of Madame d'Espard, the Marquise de Listomere, Mademoiselle des
Touches, the Comtesse de Montcornet, or the Vicomtesse de Grandlieu,
the only aristocratic houses then open; and never did she leave any
one of them without some evil seed of the world being sown in her
heart. She heard talk of completing her life,--a saying much in
fashion in those days; of being comprehended,--another word to which
women gave strange meanings. She often returned home uneasy, excited,
curious, and thoughtful. She began to find something less, she hardly
knew what, in her life; but she did not yet go so far as to think it
lonely.

CHAPTER IV

A CELEBRATED MAN

The most amusing society, but also the most mixed, which Madame Felix
de Vandenesse frequented, was that of the Comtesse de Montcornet, a
charming little woman, who received illustrious artists, leading
financial personages, distinguished writers; but only after subjecting
them to so rigid an examination that the most exclusive aristocrat had
nothing to fear in coming in contact with this second-class society.
The loftiest pretensions were there respected.

During the winter of 1833, when society rallied after the revolution
of July, some salons, notably those of Mesdames d'Espard and de
Listomere, Mademoiselle des Touches, and the Duchesse de Grandlieu,
had selected certain of the celebrities in art, science, literature,
and politics, and received them. Society can lose nothing of its
rights, and it must be amused. At a concert given by Madame de
Montcornet toward the close of the winter of 1833, a man of rising
fame in literature and politics appeared in her salon, brought there
by one of the wittiest, but also one of the laziest writers of that
epoch, Emile Blondet, celebrated behind closed doors, highly praised
by journalists, but unknown beyond the barriers. Blondet himself was
well aware of this; he indulged in no illusions, and, among his other
witty and contemptuous sayings, he was wont to remark that fame is a
poison good to take in little doses.

From the moment when the man we speak of, Raoul Nathan, after a long
struggle, forced his way to the public gaze, he had put to profit the
sudden infatuation for form manifested by those elegant descendants of
the middle ages, jestingly called Young France. He assumed the
singularities of a man of genius and enrolled himself among those
adorers of art, whose intentions, let us say, were excellent; for
surely nothing could be more ridiculous than the costume of Frenchmen
in the nineteenth century, and nothing more courageous than an attempt
to reform it. Raoul, let us do him this justice, presents in his
person something fine, fantastic, and extraordinary, which needs a
frame. His enemies, or his friends, they are about the same thing,
agree that nothing could harmonize better with his mind than his
outward form.

Raoul Nathan would, perhaps, be more singular if left to his natural
self than he is with his various accompaniments. His worn and haggard
face gives him an appearance of having fought with angels or devils;
it bears some resemblance to that the German painters give to the dead
Christ; countless signs of a constant struggle between failing human
nature and the powers on high appear in it. But the lines in his
hollow cheeks, the projections of his crooked, furrowed skull, the
caverns around his eyes and behind his temples, show nothing weakly in
his constitution. His hard membranes, his visible bones are the signs
of remarkable solidity; and though his skin, discolored by excesses,
clings to those bones as if dried there by inward fires, it
nevertheless covers a most powerful structure. He is thin and tall.
His long hair, always in disorder, is worn so for effect. This
ill-combed, ill-made Byron has heron legs and stiffened knee-joints,
an exaggerated stoop, hands with knotty muscles, firm as a crab's
claws, and long, thin, wiry fingers. Raoul's eyes are Napoleonic, blue
eyes, which pierce to the soul; his nose is crooked and very shrewd;
his mouth charming, embellished with the whitest teeth that any woman
could desire. There is fire and movement in the head, and genius on
that brow. Raoul belongs to the small number of men who strike your
mind as you pass them, and who, in a salon, make a luminous spot to
which all eyes are attracted.

He makes himself remarked also by his "neglige," if we may borrow from
Moliere the word which Eliante uses to express the want of personal
neatness. His clothes always seem to have been twisted, frayed, and
crumpled intentionally, in order to harmonize with his physiognomy. He
keeps one of his hands habitually in the bosom of his waistcoat in the
pose which Girodet's portrait of Monsieur de Chateaubriand has
rendered famous; but less to imitate that great man (for he does not
wish to resemble any one) than to rumple the over-smooth front of his
shirt. His cravat is no sooner put on than it is twisted by the
convulsive motions of his head, which are quick and abrupt, like those
of a thoroughbred horse impatient of harness, and constantly tossing
up its head to rid itself of bit and bridle. His long and pointed
beard is neither combed, nor perfumed, nor brushed, nor trimmed, like
those of the elegant young men of society; he lets it alone, to grow
as it will. His hair, getting between the collar of his coat and his
cravat, lies luxuriantly on his shoulders, and greases whatever spot
it touches. His wiry, bony hands ignore a nailbrush and the luxury of
lemon. Some of his cofeuilletonists declare that purifying waters
seldom touch their calcined skin.

In short, the terrible Raoul is grotesque. His movements are jerky, as
if produced by imperfect machinery; his gait rejects all idea of
order, and proceeds by spasmodic zig-zags and sudden stoppages, which
knock him violently against peaceable citizens on the streets and
boulevards of Paris. His conversation, full of caustic humor, of
bitter satire, follows the gait of his body; suddenly it abandons its
tone of vengeance and turns sweet, poetic, consoling, gentle, without
apparent reason; he falls into inexplicable silences, or turns
somersets of wit, which at times are somewhat wearying. In society, he
is boldly awkward, and exhibits a contempt for conventions and a
critical air about things respected which makes him unpleasant to
narrow minds, and also to those who strive to preserve the doctrines
of old-fashioned, gentlemanly politeness; but for all that there is a
sort of lawless originality about him which women do not dislike.
Besides, to them, he is often most amiably courteous; he seems to take
pleasure in making them forget his personal singularities, and thus
obtains a victory over antipathies which flatters either his vanity,
his self-love, or his pride.

"Why do you present yourself like that?" said the Marquise de
Vandenesse one day.

"Pearls live in oyster-shells," he answered, conceitedly.

To another who asked him somewhat the same question, he replied,--

"If I were charming to all the world, how could I seem better still to
the one woman I wish to please?"

Raoul Nathan imports this same natural disorder (which he uses as a
banner) into his intellectual life; and the attribute is not
misleading. His talent is very much that of the poor girls who go
about in bourgeois families to work by the day. He was first a critic,
and a great critic; but he felt himself cheated in that vocation. His
articles were equal to books, he said. The profits of theatrical work
then allured him; but, incapable of the slow and steady application
required for stage arrangement, he was forced to associate with
himself a vaudevillist, du Bruel, who took his ideas, worked them
over, and reduced them into those productive little pieces, full of
wit, which are written expressly for actors and actresses. Between
them, they had invented Florine, an actress now in vogue.

Humiliated by this association, which was that of the Siamese twins,
Nathan had produced alone, at the Theatre-Francais, a serious drama,
which fell with all the honors of war amid salvos of thundering
articles. In his youth he had once before appeared at the great and
noble Theatre-Francais in a splendid romantic play of the style of
"Pinto,"--a period when the classic reigned supreme. The Odeon was so
violently agitated for three nights that the play was forbidden by the
censor. This second piece was considered by many a masterpiece, and
won him more real reputation than all his productive little pieces
done with collaborators,--but only among a class to whom little
attention is paid, that of connoisseurs and persons of true taste.

"Make another failure like that," said Emile Blondet, "and you'll be
immortal."

But instead of continuing in that difficult path, Nathan had fallen,
out of sheer necessity, into the powder and patches of
eighteenth-century vaudeville, costume plays, and the reproduction,
scenically, of successful novels.

Nevertheless, he passed for a great mind which had not said its last
word. He had, moreover, attempted permanent literature, having
published three novels, not to speak of several others which he kept
in press like fish in a tank. One of these three books, the first
(like that of many writers who can only make one real trip into
literature), had obtained a very brilliant success. This work,
imprudently placed in the front rank, this really artistic work he was
never weary of calling the finest book of the period, the novel of the
century.

Raoul complained bitterly of the exigencies of art. He was one of
those who contributed most to bring all created work, pictures,
statues, books, building under the single standard of Art. He had
begun his career by committing a volume of verse, which won him a
place in the pleiades of living poets; among these verses was a
nebulous poem that was greatly admired. Forced by want of means to
keep on producing, he went from the theatre to the press, and from the
press to the theatre, dissipating and scattering his talent, but
believing always in his vein. His fame was therefore not unpublished
like that of so many great minds in extremity, who sustain themselves
only by the thought of work to be done.

Nathan resembled a man of genius; and had he marched to the scaffold,
as he sometimes wished he could have done, he might have struck his
brow with the famous action of Andre Chenier. Seized with political
ambition on seeing the rise to power of a dozen authors, professors,
metaphysicians, and historians, who encrusted themselves, so to speak,
upon the machine during the turmoils of 1830 and 1833, he regretted
that he had not spent his time on political instead of literary
articles. He thought himself superior to all those parvenus, whose
success inspired him with consuming jealousy. He belonged to the class
of minds ambitious of everything, capable of all things, from whom
success is, as it were, stolen; who go their way dashing at a hundred
luminous points, and settling upon none, exhausting at last the
good-will of others.

At this particular time he was going from Saint-Simonism into
republicanism, to return, very likely, to ministerialism. He looked
for a bone to gnaw in all corners, searching for a safe place where he
could bark secure from kicks and make himself feared. But he had the
mortification of finding he was held to be of no account by de Marsay,
then at the head of the government, who had no consideration whatever
for authors, among whom he did not find what Richelieu called a
consecutive mind, or more correctly, continuity of ideas; he counted
as any minister would have done on the constant embarrassment of
Raoul's business affairs. Sooner or later, necessity would bring him
to accept conditions instead of imposing them.

The real, but carefully concealed character of Raoul Nathan is of a
piece with his public career. He is a comedian in good faith, selfish
as if the State were himself, and a very clever orator. No one knows
better how to play off sentiments, glory in false grandeurs, deck
himself with moral beauty, do honor to his nature in language, and
pose like Alceste while behaving like Philinte. His egotism trots
along protected by this cardboard armor, and often almost reaches the
end he seeks. Lazy to a superlative degree, he does nothing, however,
until he is prodded by the bayonets of need. He is incapable of
continued labor applied to the creation of a work; but, in a paroxysm
of rage caused by wounded vanity, or in a crisis brought on by
creditors, he leaps the Eurotas and attains to some great triumph of
his intellect. After which, weary, and surprised at having created
anything, he drops back into the marasmus of Parisian dissipation;
wants become formidable; he has no strength to face them; and then he
comes down from his pedestal and compromises.

Influenced by a false idea of his grandeur and of his future,--the
measure of which he reckons on the noble success of one of his former
comrades, one of the few great talents brought to light by the
revolution of July,--he allows himself, in order to get out of his
embarrassments, certain laxities of principle with persons who are
friendly to him,--laxities which never come to the surface, but are
buried in private life, where no one ever mentions or complains of
them. The shallowness of his heart, the impurity of his hand, which
clasps that of all vices, all evils, all treacheries, all opinions,
have made him as inviolable as a constitutional king. Venial sins,
which excite a hue and cry against a man of high character, are
thought nothing of in him; the world hastens to excuse them. Men who
might otherwise be inclined to despise him shake hands with him,
fearing that the day may come when they will need him. He has, in
fact, so many friends that he wishes for enemies.

Judged from a literary point of view, Nathan lacks style and
cultivation. Like most young men, ambitious of literary fame, he
disgorges to-day what he acquired yesterday. He has neither the time
nor the patience to write carefully; he does not observe, but he
listens. Incapable of constructing a vigorously framed plot, he
sometimes makes up for it by the impetuous ardor of his drawing. He
"does passion," to use a term of the literary argot; but instead of
awaking ideas, his heroes are simply enlarged individualities, who
excite only fugitive sympathies; they are not connected with any of
the great interests of life, and consequently they represent nothing.
Nevertheless, Nathan maintains his ground by the quickness of his
mind, by those lucky hits which billiard-players call a "good stroke."
He is the cleverest shot at ideas on the fly in all Paris. His
fecundity is not his own, but that of his epoch; he lives on chance
events, and to control them he distorts their meaning. In short, he is
not _true_; his presentation is false; in him, as Comte Felix said, is
the born juggler. Moreover, his pen gets its ink in the boudoir of an
actress.

Raoul Nathan is a fair type of the Parisian literary youth of the day,
with its false grandeurs and its real misery. He represents that youth
by his incomplete beauties and his headlong falls, by the turbulent
torrent of his existence, with its sudden reverses and its unhoped-for
triumphs. He is truly the child of a century consumed with envy,--a
century with a thousand rivalries lurking under many a system, which
nourish to their own profit that hydra of anarchy which wants wealth
without toil, fame without talent, success without effort, but whose
vices force it, after much rebellion and many skirmishes, to accept
the budget under the powers that be. When so many young ambitions,
starting on foot, give one another rendezvous at the same point, there
is always contention of wills, extreme wretchedness, bitter struggles.
In this dreadful battle, selfishness, the most overbearing or the most
adroit selfishness, gains the victory; and it is envied and applauded
in spite, as Moliere said, of outcries, and we all know it.

When, in his capacity as enemy to the new dynasty, Raoul was
introduced in the salon of Madame de Montcornet, his apparent
grandeurs were flourishing. He was accepted as the political critic of
the de Marsays, the Rastignacs, and the Roche-Hugons, who had stepped
into power. Emile Blondet, the victim of incurable hesitation and of
his innate repugnance to any action that concerned only himself,
continued his trade of scoffer, took sides with no one, and kept well
with all. He was friendly with Raoul, friendly with Rastignac,
friendly with Montcornet.

"You are a political triangle," said de Marsay, laughing, when they
met at the Opera. "That geometric form, my dear fellow, belongs only
to the Deity, who has nothing to do; ambitious men ought to follow
curved lines, the shortest road in politics."

Seen from a distance, Raoul Nathan was a very fine meteor. Fashion
accepted his ways and his appearance. His borrowed republicanism gave
him, for the time being, that Jansenist harshness assumed by the
defenders of the popular cause, while they inwardly scoff at it,--a
quality not without charm in the eyes of women. Women like to perform
prodigies, break rocks, and soften natures which seem of iron.

Raoul's moral costume was therefore in keeping with his clothes. He
was fitted to be what he became to the Eve who was bored in her
paradise in the rue du Rocher,--the fascinating serpent, the fine
talker with magnetic eyes and harmonious motions who tempted the first
woman. No sooner had the Comtesse Marie laid eyes on Raoul than she
felt an inward emotion, the violence of which caused her a species of
terror. The glance of that fraudulent great man exercised a physical
influence upon her, which quivered in her very heart, and troubled it.
But the trouble was pleasure. The purple mantle which celebrity had
draped for a moment round Nathan's shoulders dazzled the ingenuous
young woman. When tea was served, she rose from her seat among a knot
of talking women, where she had been striving to see and hear that
extraordinary being. Her silence and absorption were noticed by her
false friends.

The countess approached the divan in the centre of the room, where
Raoul was perorating. She stood there with her arm in that of Madame
Octave de Camp, an excellent woman, who kept the secret of the
involuntary trembling by which these violent emotions betrayed
themselves. Though the eyes of a captivated woman are apt to shed
wonderful sweetness, Raoul was too occupied at that moment in letting
off fireworks, too absorbed in his epigrams going up like rockets (in
the midst of which were flaming portraits drawn in lines of fire) to
notice the naive admiration of one little Eve concealed in a group of
women. Marie's curiosity--like that which would undoubtedly
precipitate all Paris into the Jardin des Plantes to see a unicorn, if
such an animal could be found in those mountains of the moon, still
virgin of the tread of Europeans--intoxicates a secondary mind as much
as it saddens great ones; but Raoul was enchanted by it; although he
was then too anxious to secure all women to care very much for one
alone.

"Take care, my dear," said Marie's kind and gracious companion in her
ear, "and go home."

The countess looked at her husband to ask for his arm with one of
those glances which husbands do not always understand. Felix did so,
and took her home.

"My dear friend," said Madame d'Espard in Raoul's ear, "you are a
lucky fellow. You have made more than one conquest to-night, and among
them that of the charming woman who has just left us so abruptly."

"Do you know what the Marquise d'Espard meant by that?" said Raoul to
Rastignac, when they happened to be comparatively alone between one
and two o'clock in the morning.

"I am told that the Comtesse de Vandenesse has taken a violent fancy
to you. You are not to be pitied!" said Rastignac.

"I did not see her," said Raoul.

"Oh! but you will see her, you scamp!" cried Emile Blondet, who was
standing by. "Lady Dudley is going to ask you to her grand ball, that
you may meet the pretty countess."

Raoul and Blondet went off with Rastignac, who offered them his
carriage. All three laughed at the combination of an eclectic
under-secretary of State, a ferocious republican, and a political
atheist.

"Suppose we sup at the expense of the present order of things?" said
Blondet, who would fain recall suppers to fashion.

Rastignac took them to Very's, sent away his carriage, and all three
sat down to table to analyze society with Rabelaisian laughs. During
the supper, Rastignac and Blondet advised their provisional enemy not
to neglect such a capital chance of advancement as the one now offered
to him. The two "roues" gave him, in fine satirical style, the history
of Madame Felix de Vandenesse; they drove the scalpel of epigram and
the sharp points of much good wit into that innocent girlhood and
happy marriage. Blondet congratulated Raoul on encountering a woman
guilty of nothing worse so far than horrible drawings in red chalk,
attenuated water-colors, slippers embroidered for a husband, sonatas
executed with the best intentions,--a girl tied to her mother's
apron-strings till she was eighteen, trussed for religious practices,
seasoned by Vandenesse, and cooked to a point by marriage. At the
third bottle of champagne, Raoul unbosomed himself as he had never
done before in his life.

"My friends," he said, "you know my relations with Florine; you also
know my life, and you will not be surprised to hear me say that I am
absolutely ignorant of what a countess's love may be like. I have
often felt mortified that I, a poet, could not give myself a Beatrice,
a Laura, except in poetry. A pure and noble woman is like an unstained
conscience,--she represents us to ourselves under a noble form.
Elsewhere we may soil ourselves, but with her we are always proud,
lofty, and immaculate. Elsewhere we lead ill-regulated lives; with her
we breathe the calm, the freshness, the verdure of an oasis--"

"Go on, go on, my dear fellow!" cried Rastignac; "twang that fourth
string with the prayer in 'Moses' like Paganini."

Raoul remained silent, with fixed eyes, apparently musing.

"This wretched ministerial apprentice does not understand me," he
said, after a moment's silence.

So, while the poor Eve in the rue du Rocher went to bed in the sheets
of shame, frightened at the pleasure with which she had listened to
that sham great poet, these three bold minds were trampling with jests
over the tender flowers of her dawning love. Ah! if women only knew
the cynical tone that such men, so humble, so fawning in their
presence, take behind their backs! how they sneer at what they say
they adore! Fresh, pure, gracious being, how the scoffing jester
disrobes and analyzes her! but, even so, the more she loses veils, the
more her beauty shines.

Marie was at this moment comparing Raoul and Felix, without imagining
the danger there might be for her in such comparisons. Nothing could
present a greater contrast than the disorderly, vigorous Raoul to
Felix de Vandenesse, who cared for his person like a dainty woman,
wore well-fitting clothes, had a charming "desinvoltura," and was a
votary of English nicety, to which, in earlier days, Lady Dudley had
trained him. Marie, as a good and pious woman, soon forbade herself
even to think of Raoul, and considered that she was a monster of
ingratitude for making the comparison.

"What do you think of Raoul Nathan?" she asked her husband the next
day at breakfast.

"He is something of a charlatan," replied Felix; "one of those
volcanoes who are easily calmed down with a little gold-dust. Madame
de Montcornet makes a mistake in admitting him."

This answer annoyed Marie, all the more because Felix supported his
opinion with certain facts, relating what he knew of Raoul Nathan's
life,--a precarious existence mixed up with a popular actress.

"If the man has genius," he said in conclusion, "he certainly has
neither the constancy nor the patience which sanctifies it, and makes
it a thing divine. He endeavors to impose on the world by placing
himself on a level which he does nothing to maintain. True talent,
pains-taking and honorable talent does not act thus. Men who possess
such talent follow their path courageously; they accept its pains and
penalties, and don't cover them with tinsel."

A woman's thought is endowed with incredible elasticity. When she
receives a knockdown blow, she bends, seems crushed, and then renews
her natural shape in a given time.

"Felix is no doubt right," thought she.

But three days later she was once more thinking of the serpent,
recalled to him by that singular emotion, painful and yet sweet, which
the first sight of Raoul had given her. The count and countess went to
Lady Dudley's grand ball, where, by the bye, de Marsay appeared in
society for the last time. He died about two months later, leaving the
reputation of a great statesman, because, as Blondet remarked, he was
incomprehensible.

Vandenesse and his wife again met Raoul Nathan at this ball, which was
remarkable for the meeting of several personages of the political
drama, who were not a little astonished to find themselves together.
It was one of the first solemnities of the great world. The salons
presented a magnificent spectacle to the eye,--flowers, diamonds, and
brilliant head-dresses; all jewel-boxes emptied; all resources of the
toilet put under contribution. The ball-room might be compared to one
of those choice conservatories where rich horticulturists collect the
most superb rarities,--same brilliancy, same delicacy of texture. On
all sides white or tinted gauzes like the wings of the airiest
dragon-fly, crepes, laces, blondes, and tulles, varied as the fantasies
of entomological nature; dentelled, waved, and scalloped; spider's webs
of gold and silver; mists of silk embroidered by fairy fingers; plumes
colored by the fire of the tropics drooping from haughty heads; pearls
twined in braided hair; shot or ribbed or brocaded silks, as though
the genius of arabesque had presided over French manufactures,--all
this luxury was in harmony with the beauties collected there as if to
realize a "Keepsake." The eye received there an impression of the
whitest shoulders, some amber-tinted, others so polished as to seem
colandered, some dewy, some plump and satiny, as though Rubens had
prepared their flesh; in short, all shades known to man in white. Here
were eyes sparkling like onyx or turquoise fringed with dark lashes;
faces of varied outline presenting the most graceful types of many
lands; foreheads noble and majestic, or softly rounded, as if thought
ruled, or flat, as if resistant will reigned there unconquered;
beautiful bosoms swelling, as George IV. admired them, or widely
parted after the fashion of the eighteenth century, or pressed
together, as Louis XV. required; some shown boldly, without veils,
others covered by those charming pleated chemisettes which Raffaelle
painted. The prettiest feet pointed for the dance, the slimmest waists
encircled in the waltz, stimulated the gaze of the most indifferent
person present. The murmur of sweet voices, the rustle of gowns, the
cadence of the dance, the whir of the waltz harmoniously accompanied
the music. A fairy's wand seemed to have commanded this dazzling
revelry, this melody of perfumes, these iridescent lights glittering
from crystal chandeliers or sparkling in candelabra. This assemblage
of the prettiest women in their prettiest dresses stood out upon a
gloomy background of men in black coats, among whom the eye remarked
the elegant, delicate, and correctly drawn profile of nobles, the
ruddy beards and grave faces of Englishmen, and the more gracious
faces of the French aristocracy. All the orders of Europe glittered on
the breasts or hung from the necks of these men.

Examining this society carefully, it was seen to present not only the
brilliant tones and colors and outward adornment, but to have a soul,
--it lived, it felt, it thought. Hidden passions gave it a
physiognomy; mischievous or malignant looks were exchanged; fair and
giddy girls betrayed desires; jealous women told each other scandals
behind their fans, or paid exaggerated compliments. Society, anointed,
curled, and perfumed, gave itself up to social gaiety which went to
the brain like a heady liquor. It seemed as if from all foreheads, as
well as from all hearts, ideas and sentiments were exhaling, which
presently condensed and reacted in a volume on the coldest persons
present, and excited them. At the most animated moment of this
intoxicating party, in a corner of a gilded salon where certain
bankers, ambassadors, and the immoral old English earl, Lord Dudley,
were playing cards, Madame Felix de Vandenesse was irresistibly drawn
to converse with Raoul Nathan. Possibly she yielded to that
ball-intoxication which sometimes wrings avowals from the most
discreet.

At sight of such a fete, and the splendors of a world in which he had
never before appeared, Nathan was stirred to the soul by fresh
ambition. Seeing Rastignac, whose younger brother had just been made
bishop at twenty-seven years of age, and whose brother-in-law, Martial
de la Roche-Hugon, was a minister, and who himself was under-secretary
of State, and about to marry, rumor said, the only daughter of the
Baron de Nucingen,--a girl with an illimitable "dot"; seeing,
moreover, in the diplomatic body an obscure writer whom he had
formerly known translating articles in foreign journals for a
newspaper turned dynastic since 1830, also professors now made peers
of France,--he felt with anguish that he was left behind on a bad road
by advocating the overthrow of this new aristocracy of lucky talent,
of cleverness crowned by success, and of real merit. Even Blondet, so
unfortunate, so used by others in journalism, but so welcomed here,
who could, if he liked, enter a career of public service through the
influence of Madame de Montcornet, seemed to Nathan's eyes a striking
example of the power of social relations. Secretly, in his heart, he
resolved to play the game of political opinions, like de Marsay,
Rastignac, Blondet, Talleyrand, the leader of this set of men; to rely
on facts only, turn them to his own profit, regard his system as a
weapon, and not interfere with a society so well constituted, so
shrewd, so natural.

"My influence," he thought, "will depend on the influence of some
woman belonging to this class of society."

With this thought in his mind, conceived by the flame of this frenzied
desire, he fell upon the Comtesse de Vandenesse like a hawk on its
prey. That charming young woman in her head-dress of marabouts, which
produced the delightful "flou" of the paintings of Lawrence and
harmonized well with her gentle nature, was penetrated through and
through by the foaming vigor of this poet wild with ambition. Lady
Dudley, whom nothing escaped, aided this tete-a-tete by throwing the
Comte de Vandenesse with Madame de Manerville. Strong in her former
ascendancy over him, Natalie de Manerville amused herself by leading
Felix into the mazes of a quarrel of witty teasing, blushing
half-confidences, regrets coyly flung like flowers at his feet,
recriminations in which she excused herself for the sole purpose of
being put in the wrong.

These former lovers were speaking to each other for the first time
since their rupture; and while her husband's former love was stirring
the embers to see if a spark were yet alive, Madame Felix de
Vandenesse was undergoing those violent palpitations which a woman
feels at the certainty of doing wrong, and stepping on forbidden
ground,--emotions that are not without charm, and which awaken various
dormant faculties. Women are fond of using Bluebeard's bloody key,
that fine mythological idea for which we are indebted to Perrault.

The dramatist--who knew his Shakespeare--displayed his wretchedness,
related his struggle with men and things, made his hearer aware of his
baseless grandeur, his unrecognized political genius, his life without
noble affections. Without saying a single definite word, he contrived
to suggest to this charming woman that she should play the noble part
of Rebecca in Ivanhoe, and love and protect him. It was all, of
course, in the ethereal regions of sentiment. Forget-me-nots are not
more blue, lilies not more white than the images, thoughts, and
radiantly illumined brow of this accomplished artist, who was likely
to send his conversation to a publisher. He played his part of reptile
to this poor Eve so cleverly, he made the fatal bloom of the apple so
dazzling to her eyes, that Marie left the ball-room filled with that
species of remorse which resembles hope, flattered in all her
vanities, stirred to every corner of her heart, caught by her own
virtues, allured by her native pity for misfortune.

Perhaps Madame de Manerville had taken Vandenesse into the salon where
his wife was talking with Nathan; perhaps he had come there himself to
fetch Marie, and take her home; perhaps his conversation with his
former flame had awakened slumbering griefs; certain it is that when
his wife took his arm to leave the ball-room, she saw that his face
was sad and his look serious. The countess wondered if he was
displeased with her. No sooner were they seated in the carriage than
she turned to Felix and said, with a mischievous smile,--

"Did not I see you talking half the evening with Madame de
Manerville?"

Felix was not out of the tangled paths into which his wife had led him
by this charming little quarrel, when the carriage turned into their
court-yard. This was Marie's first artifice dictated by her new
emotion; and she even took pleasure in triumphing over a man who,
until then, had seemed to her so superior.

CHAPTER V

FLORINE

Between the rue Basse-du-Rempart and the rue Neuve-des-Mathurins,
Raoul had, on the third floor of an ugly and narrow house, in the
Passage Sandrie, a poor enough lodging, cold and bare, where he lived
ostensibly for the general public, for literary neophytes, and for his
creditors, duns, and other annoying persons whom he kept on the
threshold of private life. His real home, his fine existence, his
presentation of himself before his friends, was in the house of
Mademoiselle Florine, a second-class comedy actress, where, for ten
years, the said friends, journalists, certain authors, and writers in
general disported themselves in the society of equally illustrious
actresses. For ten years Raoul had attached himself so closely to this
woman that he passed more than half his life with her; he took all his
meals at her house unless he had some friend to invite, or an
invitation to dinner elsewhere.

To consummate corruption, Florine added a lively wit, which
intercourse with artists had developed and practice sharpened day by
day. Wit is thought to be a quality rare in comedians. It is so
natural to suppose that persons who spend their lives in showing
things on the outside have nothing within. But if we reflect on the
small number of actors and actresses who live in each century, and
also on how many dramatic authors and fascinating women this
population has supplied relatively to its numbers, it is allowable to
refute that opinion, which rests, and apparently will rest forever, on
a criticism made against dramatic artists,--namely, that their
personal sentiments are destroyed by the plastic presentation of
passions; whereas, in fact, they put into their art only their gifts
of mind, memory, and imagination. Great artists are beings who, to
quote Napoleon, can cut off at will the connection which Nature has
put between the senses and thought. Moliere and Talma, in their old
age, were more in love than ordinary men in all their lives.

Accustomed to listen to journalists, who guess at most things, putting
two and two together, to writers, who foresee and tell all that they
see; accustomed also to the ways of certain political personages, who
watched one another in her house, and profited by all admissions,
Florine presented in her own person a mixture of devil and angel,
which made her peculiarly fitted to receive these roues. They
delighted in her cool self-possession; her anomalies of mind and heart
entertained them prodigiously. Her house, enriched by gallant
tributes, displayed the exaggerated magnificence of women who, caring
little about the cost of things, care only for the things themselves,
and give them the value of their own caprices,--women who will break a
fan or a smelling-bottle fit for queens in a moment of passion, and
scream with rage if a servant breaks a ten-franc saucer from which
their poodle drinks.

Florine's dining-room, filled with her most distinguished offerings,
will give a fair idea of this pell-mell of regal and fantastic luxury.
Throughout, even on the ceilings, it was panelled in oak, picked out,
here and there, by dead-gold lines. These panels were framed in relief
with figures of children playing with fantastic animals, among which
the light danced and floated, touching here a sketch by Bixiou, that
maker of caricatures, there the cast of an angel holding a vessel of
holy water (presented by Francois Souchet), farther on a coquettish
painting of Joseph Bridau, a gloomy picture of a Spanish alchemist by
Hippolyte Schinner, an autograph of Lord Byron to Lady Caroline Lamb,
framed in carved ebony, while, hanging opposite as a species of
pendant, was a letter from Napoleon to Josephine. All these things
were placed about without the slightest symmetry, but with almost
imperceptible art. On the chimney-piece, of exquisitely carved oak,
there was nothing except a strange, evidently Florentine, ivory
statuette attributed to Michael Angelo, representing Pan discovering a
woman under the skin of a young shepherd, the original of which is in
the royal palace of Vienna. On either side were candelabra of
Renaissance design. A clock, by Boule, on a tortoise-shell stand,
inlaid with brass, sparkled in the centre of one panel between two
statuettes, undoubtedly obtained from the demolition of some abbey. In
the corners of the room, on pedestals, were lamps of royal
magnificence, as to which a manufacturer had made strong remonstrance
against adapting his lamps to Japanese vases. On a marvellous
sideboard was displayed a service of silver plate, the gift of an
English lord, also porcelains in high relief; in short, the luxury of
an actress who has no other property than her furniture.

The bedroom, all in violet, was a dream that Florine had indulged from
her debut, the chief features of which were curtains of violet velvet
lined with white silk, and looped over tulle; a ceiling of white
cashmere with violet satin rays, an ermine carpet beside the bed; in
the bed, the curtains of which resembled a lily turned upside down was
a lantern by which to read the newspaper plaudits or criticisms before
they appeared in the morning. A yellow salon, its effect heightened by
trimmings of the color of Florentine bronze, was in harmony with the
rest of these magnificences, a further description of which would make
our pages resemble the posters of an auction sale. To find comparisons
for all these fine things, it would be necessary to go to a certain
house that was almost next door, belonging to a Rothschild.

Sophie Grignault, surnamed Florine by a form of baptism common in
theatres, had made her first appearances, in spite of her beauty, on
very inferior boards. Her success and her money she owed to Raoul
Nathan. This association of their two fates, usual enough in the
dramatic and literary world, did no harm to Raoul, who kept up the
outward conventions of a man of the world. Moreover, Florine's actual
means were precarious; her revenues came from her salary and her
leaves of absence, and barely sufficed for her dress and her household
expenses. Nathan gave her certain perquisites which he managed to levy
as critic on several of the new enterprises of industrial art. But
although he was always gallant and protecting towards her, that
protection had nothing regular or solid about it.

This uncertainty, and this life on a bough, as it were, did not alarm
Florine; she believed in her talent, and she believed in her beauty.
Her robust faith was somewhat comical to those who heard her staking
her future upon it, when remonstrances were made to her.

"I can have income enough when I please," she was wont to say; "I have
invested fifty francs on the Grand-livre."

No one could ever understand how it happened that Florine, handsome as
she was, had remained in obscurity for seven years; but the fact is,
Florine was enrolled as a supernumerary at thirteen years of age, and
made her debut two years later at an obscure boulevard theatre. At
fifteen, neither beauty nor talent exist; a woman is simply all
promise.

She was now twenty-eight,--the age at which the beauties of a French
woman are in their glory. Painters particularly admired the lustre of
her white shoulders, tinted with olive tones about the nape of the
neck, and wonderfully firm and polished, so that the light shimmered
over them as it does on watered silk. When she turned her head, superb
folds formed about her neck, the admiration of sculptors. She carried
on this triumphant neck the small head of a Roman empress, the
delicate, round, and self-willed head of Pompeia, with features of
elegant correctness, and the smooth forehead of a woman who drives all
care away and all reflection, who yields easily, but is capable of
balking like a mule, and incapable at such times of listening to
reason. That forehead, turned, as it were, with one cut of the chisel,
brought out the beauty of the golden hair, which was raised in front,
after the Roman fashion, in two equal masses, and twisted up behind
the head to prolong the line of the neck, and enhance that whiteness
by its beautiful color. Black and delicate eyebrows, drawn by a
Chinese brush, encircled the soft eyelids, which were threaded with
rosy fibres. The pupils of the eyes, extremely bright, though striped
with brown rays, gave to her glance the cruel fixity of a beast of
prey, and betrayed the cold maliciousness of the courtesan. The eyes
were gray, fringed with black lashes,--a charming contrast, which made
their expression of calm and contemplative voluptuousness the more
observable; the circle round the eyes showed marks of fatigue, but the
artistic manner in which she could turn her eyeballs, right and left,
or up and down, to observe, or seem to mediate, the way in which she
could hold them fixed, casting out their vivid fire without moving her
head, without taking from her face its absolute immovability (a
manoeuvre learned upon the stage), and the vivacity of their glance,
as she looked about a theatre in search of a friend, made her eyes the
most terrible, also the softest, in short, the most extraordinary eyes
in the world. Rouge had destroyed by this time the diaphanous tints of
her cheeks, the flesh of which was still delicate; but although she
could no longer blush or turn pale, she had a thin nose with rosy,
passionate nostrils, made to express irony,--the mocking irony of
Moliere's women-servants. Her sensual mouth, expressive of sarcasm and
love of dissipation, was adorned with a deep furrow that united the
upper lip with the nose. Her chin, white and rather fat, betrayed the
violence of passion. Her hands and arms were worthy of a sovereign.

But she had one ineradicable sign of low birth,--her foot was short
and fat. No inherited quality ever caused greater distress. Florine
had tried everything, short of amputation, to get rid of it. The feet
were obstinate, like the Breton race from which she came; they
resisted all treatment. Florine now wore long boots stuffed with
cotton, to give length, and the semblance of an instep. Her figure was
of medium height, threatened with corpulence, but still well-balanced,
and well-made.

Morally, she was an adept in all the attitudinizing, quarrelling,
alluring, and cajoling of her business; and she gave to those actions
a savor of their own by playing childlike innocence, and slipping in
among her artless speeches philosophical malignities. Apparently
ignorant and giddy, she was very strong on money-matters and
commercial law,--for the reason that she had gone through so much
misery before attaining to her present precarious success. She had
come down, story by story, from the garret to the first floor, through
so many vicissitudes! She knew life, from that which begins in Brie
cheese and ends at pineapples; from that which cooks and washes in the
corner of a garret on an earthenware stove, to that which convokes the
tribes of pot-bellied chefs and saucemakers. She had lived on credit
and not killed it; she was ignorant of nothing that honest women
ignore; she spoke all languages: she was one of the populace by
experience; she was noble by beauty and physical distinction.
Suspicious as a spy, or a judge, or an old statesman, she was
difficult to impose upon, and therefore the more able to see clearly
into most matters. She knew the ways of managing tradespeople, and how
to evade their snares, and she was quite as well versed in the prices
of things as a public appraiser. To see her lying on her sofa, like a
young bride, fresh and white, holding her part in her hand and
learning it, you would have thought her a child of sixteen, ingenuous,
ignorant, and weak, with no other artifice about her but her
innocence. Let a creditor contrive to enter, and she was up like a
startled fawn, and swearing a good round oath.

"Hey! my good fellow; your insolence is too dear an interest on the
money I owe you," she would say. "I am sick of seeing you. Send the
sheriff here; I'd prefer him to your silly face."

Florine gave charming dinners, concerts, and well-attended soirees,
where play ran high. Her female friends were all handsome; no old
woman had ever appeared within her precincts. She was not jealous; in
fact, she would have thought jealousy an admission of inferiority. She
had known Coralie and La Torpille in their lifetimes, and now knew
Tullia, Euphrasie, Aquilina, Madame du Val-Noble, Mariette,--those
women who pass through Paris like gossamer through the atmosphere,
without our knowing where they go nor whence they came; to-day queens,
to-morrow slaves. She also knew the actresses, her rivals, and all the
prima-donnas; in short, that whole exceptional feminine society, so
kindly, so graceful in its easy "sans-souci," which absorbs into its
own Bohemian life all who allow themselves to be caught in the frantic
whirl of its gay spirits, its eager abandonment, and its contemptuous
indifference to the future.

Though this Bohemian life displayed itself in her house in tumultuous
disorder, amid the laughter of artists of every description, the queen
of the revels had ten fingers on which she knew better how to count
than any of her guests. In that house secret saturnalias of literature
and art, politics and finance were carried on; there, desire reigned a
sovereign; there, caprice and fancy were as sacred as honor and virtue
to a bourgeoise; thither came Blondet, Finot, Etienne Lousteau, Vernou
the feuilletonist, Couture, Bixiou, Rastignac in his earlier days,
Claude Vignon the critic, Nucingen the banker, du Tillet, Conti the
composer,--in short, that whole devil-may-care legion of selfish
materialists of all kinds; friends of Florine and of the singers,
actresses and "danseuses" collected about her. They all hated or liked
one another according to circumstances.

This Bohemian resort, to which celebrity was the only ticket of
admission, was a Hades of the mind, the galleys of the intellect. No
one could enter there without having legally conquered fortune, done
ten years of misery, strangled two or three passions, acquired some
celebrity, either by books or waistcoats, by dramas or fine equipages;
plots were hatched there, means of making fortune scrutinized, all
things were discussed and weighed. But every man, on leaving it,
resumed the livery of his own opinions; there he could, without
compromising himself, criticise his own party, admit the knowledge and
good play of his adversaries, formulate thoughts that no one admits
thinking,--in short, say all, as if ready to do all. Paris is the only
place in the world where such eclectic houses exist; where all tastes,
all vices, all opinions are received under decent guise. Therefore it
is not yet certain that Florine will remain to the end of her career a
second-class actress.

Florine's life was by no means an idle one, or a life to be envied.
Many persons, misled by the magnificent pedestal that the stage gives
to a woman, suppose her in the midst of a perpetual carnival. In the
dark recesses of a porter's lodge, beneath the tiles of an attic roof,
many a poor girl dreams, on returning from the theatre, of pearls and
diamonds, gold-embroidered gowns and sumptuous girdles; she fancies
herself adored, applauded, courted; but little she knows of that
treadmill life, in which the actress is forced to rehearsals under
pain of fines, to the reading of new pieces, to the constant study of
new roles. At each representation Florine changes her dress at least
two or three times; often she comes home exhausted and half-dead; but
before she can rest, she must wash off with various cosmetics the
white and the red she has applied, and clean all the powder from her
hair, if she has played a part from the eighteenth century. She
scarcely has time for food. When she plays, an actress can live no
life of her own; she can neither dress, nor eat, nor talk. Florine
often has no time to sup. On returning from a play, which lasts, in
these days, till after midnight, she does not get to bed before two in
the morning; but she must rise early to study her part, order her
dresses, try them on, breakfast, read her love-letters, answer them,
discuss with the leader of the "claque" the place for the plaudits,
pay for the triumphs of the last month in solid cash, and bespeak
those of the month ahead. In the days of Saint-Genest, the canonized
comedian who fulfilled his duties in a pious manner and wore a hair
shirt, we must suppose that an actor's life did not demand this
incessant activity. Sometimes Florine, seized with a bourgeois desire
to get out into the country and gather flowers, pretends to the
manager that she is ill.

But even these mechanical operations are nothing in comparison with
the intrigues to be carried on, the pains of wounded vanity to be
endured,--preferences shown by authors, parts taken away or given to
others, exactions of the male actors, spite of rivals, naggings of the
stage manager, struggles with journalists; all of which require
another twelve hours to the day. But even so far, nothing has been
said of the art of acting, the expression of passion, the practice of
positions and gesture, the minute care and watchfulness required on
the stage, where a thousand opera-glasses are ready to detect a flaw,
--labors which consumed the life and thought of Talma, Lekain, Baron,
Contat, Clairon, Champmesle. In these infernal "coulisses" self-love
has no sex; the artist who triumphs, be it man or woman, has all the
other men and women against him or her. Then, as to money, however
many engagements Florine may have, her salary does not cover the costs
of her stage toilet, which, in addition to its costumes, requires an
immense variety of long gloves, shoes, and frippery; and all this
exclusive of her personal clothing. The first third of such a life is
spent in struggling and imploring; the next third, in getting a
foothold; the last third, in defending it. If happiness is frantically
grasped, it is because it is so rare, so long desired, and found at
last only amid the odious fictitious pleasures and smiles of such a
life.

As for Florine, Raoul's power in the press was like a protecting
sceptre; he spared her many cares and anxieties; she clung to him less
as a lover than a prop; she took care of him like a father, she
deceived him like a husband; but she would readily have sacrificed all
she had to him. Raoul could, and did do everything for her vanity as
an actress, for the peace of her self-love, and for her future on the
stage. Without the intervention of a successful author, there is no
successful actress; Champmesle was due to Racine, like Mars to Monvel
and Andrieux. Florine could do nothing in return for Raoul, though she
would gladly have been useful and necessary to him. She reckoned on
the charms of habit to keep him by her; she was always ready to open
her salons and display the luxury of her dinners and suppers for his
friends, and to further his projects. She desired to be for him what
Madame de Pompadour was to Louis XV. All actresses envied Florine's
position, and some journalists envied that of Raoul.

Those to whom the inclination of the human mind towards chance,
opposition, and contrasts is known, will readily understand that after
ten years of this lawless Bohemian life, full of ups and downs, of
fetes and sheriffs, of orgies and forced sobrieties, Raoul was
attracted to the idea of another love,--to the gentle, harmonious
house and presence of a great lady, just as the Comtesse Felix
instinctively desired to introduce the torture of great emotions into
a life made monotonous by happiness. This law of life is the law of
all arts, which exist only by contrasts. A work done without this
incentive is the loftiest expression of genius, just as the cloister
is the highest expression of the Christian life.

On returning to his lodging from Lady Dudley's ball, Raoul found a
note from Florine, brought by her maid, which an invincible sleepiness
prevented him from reading at that moment. He fell asleep, dreaming of
a gentle love that his life had so far lacked. Some hours later he
opened the note, and found in it important news, which neither
Rastignac nor de Marsay had allowed to transpire. The indiscretion of
a member of the government had revealed to the actress the coming
dissolution of the Chamber after the present session. Raoul instantly
went to Florine's house and sent for Blondet. In the actress's
boudoir, with their feet on the fender, Emile and Raoul analyzed the
political situation of France in 1834. On which side lay the best
chance of fortune? They reviewed all parties and all shades of party,
--pure republicans, presiding republicans, republicans without a
republic, constitutionals without a dynasty, ministerial
conservatives, ministerial absolutists; also the Right, the
aristocratic Right, the legitimist, henriquinquist Right, and the
carlest Right. Between the party of resistance and that of action
there was no discussion; they might as well have hesitated between
life and death.

At this period a flock of newspapers, created to represent all shades
of opinion, produced a fearful pell-mell of political principles.
Blondet, the most judicious mind of the day,--judicious for others,
never for himself, like some great lawyers unable to manage their own
affairs,--was magnificent in such a discussion. The upshot was that he

Book of the day: