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A Daughter of Eve by Honore de Balzac

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"What do you want of me?" she asked.

"Very little," he replied. "All that you know about Nathan's affairs."

The baroness repeated to him her conversation with Rastignac, and
said, as she gave him the four notes, which the cashier had meantime
brought to her:

"Don't forget your promise."

So little did Vandenesse forget this illusive promise that he used it
again on Baron Eugene de Rastignac to obtain from him certain other
information. Leaving Rastignac's apartments, he dictated to a street
amanuensis the following note to Florine.

"If Mademoiselle Florine wishes to know of a part she may play she
is requested to come to the masked opera at the Opera next Sunday
night, accompanied by Monsieur Nathan."

To this ball he determined to take his wife and let her own eyes
enlighten her as to the relations between Nathan and Florine. He knew
the jealous pride of the countess; he wanted to make her renounce her
love of her own will, without causing her to blush before him, and
then to return to her her own letters, sold by Florine, from whom he
expected to be able to buy them. This judicious plan, rapidly
conceived and partly executed, might fail through some trick of chance
which meddles with all things here below.

After dinner that evening, Felix brought the conversation round to the
masked balls of the Opera, remarking that Marie had never been to one,
and proposing that she should accompany him the following evening.

"I'll find you some one to 'intriguer,'" he said.

"Ah! I wish you would," she replied.

"To do the thing well, a woman ought to fasten upon some good prey, a
celebrity, a man of enough wit to give and take. There's Nathan; will
you have him? I know, through a friend of Florine, certain secrets of
his which would drive him crazy."

"Florine?" said the countess. "Do you mean the actress?"

Marie had already heard that name from the lips of the watchman
Quillet; it now shot like a flash of lightning through her soul.

"Yes, his mistress," replied the count. "What is there so surprising
in that?"

"I thought Monsieur Nathan too busy to have a mistress. Do authors
have time to make love?"

"I don't say they love, my dear, but they are forced to _lodge_
somewhere, like other men, and when they haven't a home of their own
they _lodge_ with their mistresses; which may seem to you rather
loose, but it is far more agreeable than lodging in a prison."

Fire was less red than Marie's cheeks.

"Will you have him for a victim? I can help you to terrify him,"
continued the count, not looking at his wife's face. "I'll put you in
the way of proving to him that he is being tricked like a child by
your brother-in-law du Tillet. That wretch is trying to put Nathan in
prison so as to make him ineligible to stand against him in the
electoral college. I know, through a friend of Florine, the exact sum
derived from the sale of her furniture, which she gave to Nathan to
found his newspaper; I know, too, what she sent him out of her
summer's harvest in the departments and in Belgium,--money which has
really gone to the profit of du Tillet, Nucingen, and Massol. All
three of them, unknown to Nathan, have privately sold the paper to the
new ministry, so sure are they of ejecting him."

"Monsieur Nathan is incapable of accepting money from an actress."

"You don't know that class of people, my dear," said the count. "He
would not deny the fact if you asked him."

"I will certainly go to the ball," said the countess.

"You will be very much amused," replied Vandenesse. "With such weapons
in hand you can cut Nathan's complacency to the quick, and you will
also do him a great service. You will put him in a fury; he'll try to
be calm, though inwardly fuming; but, all the same, you will enlighten
a man of talent as to the peril in which he really stands; and you
will also have the satisfaction of laming the horses of the
'juste-milieu' in their stalls-- But you are not listening to me, my
dear."

"On the contrary, I am listening intently," she said. "I will tell you
later why I feel desirous to know the truth of all this."

"You shall know it," said Vandenesse. "If you stay masked I will take
you to supper with Nathan and Florine; it would be rather amusing for
a woman of your rank to fool an actress after bewildering the wits of
a clever man about these important facts; you can harness them both to
the same hoax. I'll make some inquiries about Nathan's infidelities,
and if I discover any of his recent adventures you shall enjoy the
sight of a courtesan's fury; it is magnificent. Florine will boil and
foam like an Alpine torrent; she adores Nathan; he is everything to
her; she clings to him like flesh to the bones or a lioness to her
cubs. I remember seeing, in my youth, a celebrated actress (who wrote
like a scullion) when she came to a friend of mine to demand her
letters. I have never seen such a sight again, such calm fury, such
insolent majesty, such savage self-control-- Are you ill, Marie?"

"No; they have made too much fire." The countess turned away and threw
herself on a sofa. Suddenly, with an unforeseen movement, impelled by
the horrible anguish of her jealousy, she rose on her trembling legs,
crossed her arms, and came slowly to her husband.

"What do you know?" she asked. "You are not a man to torture me; you
would crush me without making me suffer if I were guilty."

"What do you expect me to know, Marie?"

"Well! about Nathan."

"You think you love him," he replied; "but you love a phantom made of
words."

"Then you know--"

"All," he said.

The word fell on Marie's head like the blow of a club.

"If you wish it, I will know nothing," he continued. "You are standing
on the brink of a precipice, my child, and I must draw you from it. I
have already done something. See!"

He drew from his pocket her letter of guarantee and the four notes
endorsed by Schmucke, and let the countess recognize them; then he
threw them into the fire.

"What would have happened to you, my poor Marie, three months hence?"
he said. "The sheriffs would have taken you to a public court-room.
Don't bow your head, don't feel humiliated; you have been the dupe of
noble feelings; you have coquetted with poesy, not with a man. All
women--all, do you hear me, Marie?--would have been seduced in your
position. How absurd we should be, we men, we who have committed a
thousand follies through a score of years, if we were not willing to
grant you one imprudence in a lifetime! God keep me from triumphing
over you or from offering you a pity you repelled so vehemently the
other day. Perhaps that unfortunate man was sincere when he wrote to
you, sincere in attempting to kill himself, sincere in returning that
same night to Florine. Men are worth less than women. It is not for my
own sake that I speak at this moment, but for yours. I am indulgent,
but the world is not; it shuns a woman who makes a scandal. Is that
just? I know not; but this I know, the world is cruel. Society refuses
to calm the woes itself has caused; it gives its honors to those who
best deceive it; it has no recompense for rash devotion. I see and
know all that. I can't reform society, but this I can do, I can
protect you, Marie, against yourself. This matter concerns a man who
has brought you trouble only, and not one of those high and sacred
loves which do, at times, command our abnegation, and even bear their
own excuse. Perhaps I have been wrong in not varying your happiness,
in not providing you with gayer pleasures, travel, amusements,
distractions for the mind. Besides, I can explain to myself the
impulse that has driven you to a celebrated man, by the jealous envy
you have roused in certain women. Lady Dudley, Madame d'Espard, and my
sister-in-law Emilie count for something in all this. Those women,
against whom I ought to have put you more thoroughly on your guard,
have cultivated your curiosity more to trouble me and cause me
unhappiness, than to fling you into a whirlpool which, as I believe,
you would never have entered."

As she listened to these words, so full of kindness, the countess was
torn by many conflicting feelings; but the storm within her breast was
ruled by one of them,--a keen admiration for her husband. Proud and
noble souls are prompt to recognize the delicacy with which they are
treated. Tact is to sentiments what grace is to the body. Marie
appreciated the grandeur of the man who bowed before a woman in fault,
that he might not see her blush. She ran from the room like one beside
herself, but instantly returned, fearing lest her hasty action might
cause him uneasiness.

"Wait," she said, and disappeared again.

Felix had ably prepared her excuse, and he was instantly rewarded for
his generosity. His wife returned with Nathan's letters in her hand,
and gave them to him.

"Judge me," she said, kneeling down beside him.

"Are we able to judge where we love?" he answered, throwing the
letters into the fire; for he felt that later his wife might not
forgive him for having read them. Marie, with her head upon his knee,
burst into tears.

"My child," he said, raising her head, "where are your letters?"

At this question the poor woman no longer felt the intolerable burning
of her cheeks; she turned cold.

"That you may not suspect me of calumniating a man whom you think
worthy of you, I will make Florine herself return you those letters."

"Oh! Surely he would give them back to me himself."

"Suppose that he refused to do so?"

The countess dropped her head.

"The world disgusts me," she said. "I don't want to enter it again. I
want to live alone with you, if you forgive me."

"But you might get bored again. Besides, what would the world say if
you left it so abruptly? In the spring we will travel; we will go to
Italy, and all over Europe; you shall see life. But to-morrow night we
must go to the Opera-ball; there is no other way to get those letters
without compromising you; besides, by giving them up, Florine will
prove to you her power."

"And must I see that?" said the countess, frightened.

"To-morrow night."

The next evening, about midnight, Nathan was walking about the foyer
of the Opera with a mask on his arm, to whom he was attending in a
sufficiently conjugal manner. Presently two masked women came up to
him.

"You poor fool! Marie is here and is watching you," said one of them,
who was Vandenesse, disguised as a woman.

"If you choose to listen to me I will tell you secrets that Nathan is
hiding from you," said the other woman, who was the countess, to
Florine.

Nathan had abruptly dropped Florine's arm to follow the count, who
adroitly slipped into the crowd and was out of sight in a moment.
Florine followed the countess, who sat down on a seat close at hand,
to which the count, doubling on Nathan, returned almost immediately to
guard his wife.

"Explain yourself, my dear," said Florine, "and don't think I shall
stand this long. No one can tear Raoul from me, I'll tell you that; I
hold him by habit, and that's even stronger than love."

"In the first place, are you Florine?" said the count, speaking in his
natural voice.

"A pretty question! if you don't know that, my joking friend, why
should I believe you?"

"Go and ask Nathan, who has left you to look for his other mistress,
where he passed the night, three days ago. He tried to kill himself
without a word to you, my dear,--and all for want of money. That shows
how much you know about the affairs of a man whom you say you love,
and who leaves you without a penny, and kills himself,--or, rather,
doesn't kill himself, for his misses it. Suicides that don't kill are
about as absurd as a duel without a scratch."

"That's a lie," said Florine. "He dined with me that very day. The
poor fellow had the sheriff after him; he was hiding, as well he
might."

"Go and ask at the hotel du Mail, rue du Mail, if he was not taken
there that morning, half dead of the fumes of charcoal, by a handsome
young woman with whom he has been in love over a year. Her letters are
at this moment under your very nose in your own house. If you want to
teach Nathan a good lesson, let us all three go there; and I'll show
you, papers in hand, how you can save him from the sheriff and Clichy
if you choose to be the good girl that you are."

"Try that on others than Florine, my little man. I am certain that
Nathan has never been in love with any one but me."

"On the contrary, he has been in love with a woman in society for over
a year--"

"A woman in society, he!" cried Florine. "I don't trouble myself about
such nonsense as that."

"Well, do you want me to make him come and tell you that he will not
take you home from here to-night."

"If you can make him tell me that," said Florine, "I'll take _you_
home, and we'll look for those letters, which I shall believe in when I
see them, and not till then. He must have written them while I slept."

"Stay here," said Felix, "and watch."

So saying, he took the arm of his wife and moved to a little distance.
Presently, Nathan, who had been hunting up and down the foyer like a
dog looking for its master, returned to the spot where the mask had
addressed him. Seeing on his face an expression he could not conceal,
Florine placed herself like a post in front of him, and said,
imperiously:--

"I don't wish you to leave me again; I have my reasons for this."

The countess then, at the instigation of her husband, went up to Raoul
and said in his ear,--

"Marie. Who is this woman? Leave her at once, and meet me at the foot
of the grand staircase."

In this difficult extremity Raoul dropped Florine's arm, and though
she caught his own and held it forcibly, she was obliged, after a
moment, to let him go. Nathan disappeared into the crowd.

"What did I tell you?" said Felix in Florine's astonished ears,
offering her his arm.

"Come," she said; "whoever you are, come. Have you a carriage here?"

For all answer, Vandenesse hurried Florine away, followed by his wife.
A few moments later the three masks, driven rapidly by the Vandenesse
coachman, reached Florine's house. As soon as she had entered her own
apartments the actress unmasked. Madame de Vandenesse could not
restrain a quiver of surprise at Florine's beauty as she stood there
choking with anger, and superb in her wrath and jealousy.

"There is, somewhere in these rooms," said Vandenesse, "a portfolio,
the key of which you have never had; the letters are probably in it."

"Well, well, for once in my life I am bewildered; you know something
that I have been uneasy about for some days," cried Florine, rushing
into the study in search of the portfolio.

Vandenesse saw that his wife was turning pale beneath her mask.
Florine's apartment revealed more about the intimacy of the actress
and Nathan than any ideal mistress would wish to know. The eye of a
woman can take in the truth of such things in a second, and the
countess saw vestiges of Nathan which proved to her the certainty of
what Vandenesse had said. Florine returned with the portfolio.

"How am I to open it?" she said.

The actress rang the bell and sent into the kitchen for the cook's
knife. When it came she brandished it in the air, crying out in
ironical tones:--

"With this they cut the necks of 'poulets.'"

The words, which made the countess shiver, explained to her, even
better than her husband had done the night before, the depths of the
abyss into which she had so nearly fallen.

"What a fool I am!" said Florine; "his razor will do better."

She fetched one of Nathan's razors from his dressing-table, and slit
the leather cover of the portfolio, through which Marie's letters
dropped. Florine snatched one up hap-hazard, and looked it over.

"Yes, she must be a well-bred woman. It looks to me as if there were
no mistakes in spelling here."

The count gathered up the letters hastily and gave them to his wife,
who took them to a table as if to see that they were all there.

"Now," said Vandenesse to Florine, "will you let me have those letters
for these?" showing her five bank-bills of ten thousand francs each.
"They'll replace the sums you have paid for him."

"Ah!" cried Florine, "didn't I kill myself body and soul in the
provinces to get him money,--I, who'd have cut my hand off to serve
him? But that's men! damn your soul for them and they'll march over
you rough-shod! He shall pay me for this!"

Madame de Vandenesse was disappearing with the letters.

"Hi! stop, stop, my fine mask!" cried Florine; "leave me one to
confound him with."

"Not possible," said Vandenesse.

"Why not?"

"That mask is your ex-rival; but you needn't fear her now."

"Well, she might have had the grace to say thank you," cried Florine.

"But you have the fifty thousand francs instead," said Vandenesse,
bowing to her.

It is extremely rare for young men, when driven to suicide, to attempt
it a second time if the first fails. When it doesn't cure life, it
cures all desire for voluntary death. Raoul felt no disposition to try
it again when he found himself in a more painful position than that
from which he had just been rescued. He tried to see the countess and
explain to her the nature of his love, which now shone more vividly in
his soul than ever. But the first time they met in society, Madame de
Vandenesse gave him that fixed and contemptuous look which at once and
forever puts an impassable gulf between a man and a woman. In spite of
his natural assurance, Nathan never dared, during the rest of the
winter, either to speak to the countess or even approach her.

But he opened his heart to Blondet; to him he talked of his Laura and
his Beatrice, apropos of Madame de Vandenesse. He even made a
paraphrase of the following beautiful passage from the pen of
Theophile Gautier, one of the most remarkable poets of our day:--

"'Ideala, flower of heaven's own blue, with heart of gold, whose
fibrous roots, softer, a thousandfold, than fairy tresses, strike to
our souls and drink their purest essence; flower most sweet and
bitter! thou canst not be torn away without the heart's blood flowing,
without thy bruised stems sweating with scarlet tears. Ah! cursed
flower, why didst thou grow within my soul?'"

"My dear fellow," said Blondet, "you are raving. I'll grant it was a
pretty flower, but it wasn't a bit ideal, and instead of singing like
a blind man before an empty niche, you had much better wash your hands
and make submission to the powers. You are too much of an artist ever
to be a good politician; you have been fooled by men of not one-half
your value. Think about being fooled again--but elsewhere."

"Marie cannot prevent my loving her," said Nathan; "she shall be my
Beatrice."

"Beatrice, my good Raoul, was a little girl twelve years of age when
Dante last saw her; otherwise, she would not have been Beatrice. To
make a divinity, it won't do to see her one day wrapped in a mantle,
and the next with a low dress, and the third on the boulevard,
cheapening toys for her last baby. When a man has Florine, who is in
turn duchess, bourgeoise, Negress, marquise, colonel, Swiss peasant,
virgin of the sun in Peru (only way she can play the part), I don't
see why he should go rambling after fashionable women."

Du Tillet, to use a Bourse term, _executed_ Nathan, who, for lack of
money, gave up his place on the newspaper; and the celebrated man
received but five votes in the electoral college where the banker was
elected.

When, after a long and happy journey in Italy, the Comtesse de
Vandenesse returned to Paris late in the following winter, all her
husband's predictions about Nathan were justified. He had taken
Blondet's advice and negotiated with the government, which employed
his pen. His personal affairs were in such disorder that one day, on
the Champs-Elysees, Marie saw her former adorer on foot, in shabby
clothes, giving his arm to Florine. When a man becomes indifferent to
the heart of a woman who has once loved him, he often seems to her
very ugly, even horrible, especially when he resembles Nathan. Madame
de Vandenesse had a sense of personal humiliation in the thought that
she had once cared for him. If she had not already been cured of all
extra-conjugal passion, the contrast then presented by the count to
this man, grown less and less worthy of public favor, would have
sufficed her.

To-day the ambitious Nathan, rich in ink and poor in will, has ended
by capitulating entirely, and has settled down into a sinecure, like
any other commonplace man. After lending his pen to all disorganizing
efforts, he now lives in peace under the protecting shade of a
ministerial organ. The cross of the Legion of honor, formerly the
fruitful text of his satire, adorns his button-hole. "Peace at any
price," ridicule of which was the stock-in-trade of his revolutionary
editorship, is now the topic of his laudatory articles. Heredity,
attacked by him in Saint-Simonian phrases, he now defends with solid
arguments. This illogical conduct has its origin and its explanation
in the change of front performed by many men besides Raoul during our
recent political evolutions.

ADDENDUM

The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Bidault (known as Gigonnet)
The Government Clerks
Gobseck
The Vendetta
Cesar Birotteau
The Firm of Nucingen

Blondet, Emile
Jealousies of a Country Town
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Modeste Mignon
Another Study of Woman
The Secrets of a Princess
The Firm of Nucingen
The Peasantry

Blondet, Virginie
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Secrets of a Princess
The Peasantry
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis

Bruel, Jean Francois du
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Government Clerks
A Start in Life
A Prince of Bohemia
The Middle Classes
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

Camps, Madame Octave de
Madame Firmiani
The Government Clerks
A Woman of Thirty
The Member for Arcis

Dudley, Lord
The Lily of the Valley
The Thirteen
A Man of Business
Another Study of Woman

Dudley, Lady Arabella
The Lily of the Valley
The Ball at Sceaux
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
Letters of Two Brides

Espard, Jeanne-Clementine-Athenais de Blamont-Chauvry, Marquise d'
The Commission in Lunacy
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
Another Study of Woman
The Gondreville Mystery
The Secrets of a Princess
Beatrix

Galathionne, Prince and Princess (both not in each story)
The Secrets of a Princess
The Middle Classes
Father Goriot
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Beatrix

Grandlieu, Duchesse Ferdinand de
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Beatrix

Grandlieu, Vicomtesse Juste de
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Gobseck

Granville, Vicomte de
The Gondreville Mystery
A Second Home
Farewell (Adieu)
Cesar Birotteau
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Cousin Pons

Granville, Comtesse Angelique de
A Second Home
The Thirteen

Granville, Vicomte de
A Second Home
The Country Parson

La Roche-Hugon, Martial de
Domestic Peace
The Peasantry
The Member for Arcis
The Middle Classes
Cousin Betty

Listomere, Marquise de
The Lily of the Valley
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Daughter of Eve

Lousteau, Etienne
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Beatrix
The Muse of the Department
Cousin Betty
A Prince of Bohemia
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes
The Unconscious Humorists

Manerville, Comtesse Paul de
A Marriage Settlement
The Lily of the Valley

Marsay, Henri de
The Thirteen
The Unconscious Humorists
Another Study of Woman
The Lily of the Valley
Father Goriot
Jealousies of a Country Town
Ursule Mirouet
A Marriage Settlement
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
The Ball at Sceaux
Modeste Mignon
The Secrets of a Princess
The Gondreville Mystery

Massol
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Magic Skin
Cousin Betty
The Unconscious Humorists

Nathan, Raoul
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Secrets of a Princess
Letters of Two Brides
The Seamy Side of History
The Muse of the Department
A Prince of Bohemia
A Man of Business
The Unconscious Humorists

Nathan, Madame Raoul (Florine)
The Muse of the Department
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor's Establishment
Ursule Mirouet
Eugenie Grandet
The Imaginary Mistress
A Prince of Bohemia
The Unconscious Humorists

Nucingen, Baronne Delphine de
Father Goriot
The Thirteen
Eugenie Grandet
Cesar Birotteau
Melmoth Reconciled
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Commission in Lunacy
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Modeste Mignon
The Firm of Nucingen
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis

Rastignac, Eugene de
Father Goriot
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Commission in Lunacy
A Study of Woman
Another Study of Woman
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
The Gondreville Mystery
The Firm of Nucingen
Cousin Betty
The Member for Arcis
The Unconscious Humorists

Rastignac, Monseigneur Gabriel de
Father Goriot
The Country Parson

Rochefide, Marquise de
Beatrix
The Secrets of a Princess
Sarrasine
A Prince of Bohemia

Roguin, Madame
Cesar Birotteau
At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
Pierrette
A Second Home

Saint-Hereen, Comtesse Moina de
A Woman of Thirty
The Member for Arcis

Schmucke, Wilhelm
Ursule Mirouet
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Cousin Pons

Souchet, Francois
The Purse
The Imaginary Mistress

Therese
Father Goriot

Tillet, Ferdinand du
Cesar Birotteau
The Firm of Nucingen
The Middle Classes
A Bachelor's Establishment
Pierrette
Melmoth Reconciled
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Secrets of a Princess
The Member for Arcis
Cousin Betty
The Unconscious Humorists

Touches, Mademoiselle Felicite des
Beatrix
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
Another Study of Woman
Honorine
Beatrix
The Muse of the Department

Vandenesse, Marquis Charles de
A Woman of Thirty
A Start in Life

Vandenesse, Marquise Charles de
Cesar Birotteau
The Ball at Sceaux
Ursule Mirouet
A Daughter of Eve

Vandenesse, Comte Felix de
The Lily of the Valley
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Cesar Birotteau
Letters of Two Brides
A Start in Life
The Marriage Settlement
The Secrets of a Princess
Another Study of Woman
The Gondreville Mystery

Vandenesse, Comtesse Felix de
A Second Home
The Muse of the Department

Vernou, Felicien
A Bachelor's Establishment
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Cousin Betty

Vignon, Claude
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Honorine
Beatrix
Cousin Betty
The Unconscious Humorists

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