Part 1 out of 7
Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny
HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
It is somewhat remarkable that Balzac, dealing as he did with
traits of character and the minute and daily circumstances of
life, has never been accused of representing actual persons in the
two or three thousand portraits which he painted of human nature.
In "The Great Man of the Provinces in Paris" some likenesses were
imagined: Jules Janin in Etienne Lousteau, Armand Carrel in Michel
Chrestien, and, possibly, Berryer in Daniel d'Arthez. But in the
present volume, "Beatrix," he used the characteristics of certain
persons, which were recognized and admitted at the time of
publication. Mademoiselle des Touches (Camille Maupin) is George
Sand in character, and the personal description of her, though
applied by some to the famous Mademoiselle Georges, is easily
recognized from Couture's drawing. Beatrix, Conti, and Claude
Vignon are sketches of the Comtesse d'Agoult, Liszt, and the
well-known critic Gustave Planche.
The opening scene of this volume, representing the manners and
customs of the old Breton family, a social state existing no
longer except in history, and the transition period of the
/vieille roche/ as it passed into the customs and ideas of the
present century, is one of Balzac's remarkable and most famous
pictures in the "Comedy of Human Life."
A BRETON TOWN AND MANSION
France, especially in Brittany, still possesses certain towns
completely outside of the movement which gives to the nineteenth
century its peculiar characteristics. For lack of quick and regular
communication with Paris, scarcely connected by wretched roads with
the sub-prefecture, or the chief city of their own province, these
towns regard the new civilization as a spectacle to be gazed at; it
amazes them, but they never applaud it; and, whether they fear or
scoff at it, they continue faithful to the old manners and customs
which have come down to them. Whoso would travel as a moral
archaeologist, observing men instead of stones, would find images of
the time of Louis XV. in many a village of Provence, of the time of
Louis XIV. in the depths of Pitou, and of still more ancient times in
the towns of Brittany. Most of these towns have fallen from states of
splendor never mentioned by historians, who are always more concerned
with facts and dates than with the truer history of manners and
customs. The tradition of this splendor still lives in the memory of
the people,--as in Brittany, where the native character allows no
forgetfulness of things which concern its own land. Many of these
towns were once the capitals of a little feudal State,--a county or
duchy conquered by the crown or divided among many heirs, if the male
line failed. Disinherited from active life, these heads became arms;
and arms deprived of nourishment, wither and barely vegetate.
For the last thirty years, however, these pictures of ancient times
are beginning to fade and disappear. Modern industry, working for the
masses, goes on destroying the creations of ancient art, the works of
which were once as personal to the consumer as to the artisan.
Nowadays we have /products/, we no longer have /works/. Public
buildings, monuments of the past, count for much in the phenomena of
retrospection; but the monuments of modern industry are freestone
quarries, saltpetre mines, cotton factories. A few more years and even
these old cities will be transformed and seen no more except in the
pages of this iconography.
One of the towns in which may be found the most correct likeness of
the feudal ages is Guerande. The name alone awakens a thousand
memories in the minds of painters, artists, thinkers who have visited
the slopes on which this splendid jewel of feudality lies proudly
posed to command the flux and reflux of the tides and the dunes,--the
summit, as it were, of a triangle, at the corners of which are two
other jewels not less curious: Croisic, and the village of Batz. There
are no towns after Guerande except Vitre in the centre of Brittany,
and Avignon in the south of France, which preserve so intact, to the
very middle of our epoch, the type and form of the middle ages.
Guerande is still encircled with its doughty walls, its moats are full
of water, its battlements entire, its loopholes unencumbered with
vegetation; even ivy has never cast its mantle over the towers, square
or round. The town has three gates, where may be seen the rings of the
portcullises; it is entered by a drawbridge of iron-clamped wood, no
longer raised but which could be raised at will. The mayoralty was
blamed for having, in 1820, planted poplars along the banks of the
moat to shade the promenade. It excused itself on the ground that the
long and beautiful esplanade of the fortifications facing the dunes
had been converted one hundred years earlier into a mall where the
inhabitants took their pleasure beneath the elms.
The houses of the old town have suffered no change; and they have
neither increased nor diminished. None have suffered upon their
frontage from the hammer of the architect, the brush of the plasterer,
nor have they staggered under the weight of added stories. All retain
their primitive characteristics. Some rest on wooden columns which
form arcades under which foot-passengers circulate, the floor planks
bending beneath them, but never breaking. The houses of the merchants
are small and low; their fronts are veneered with slate. Wood, now
decaying, counts for much in the carved material of the window-casings
and the pillars, above which grotesque faces look down, while shapes
of fantastic beasts climb up the angles, animated by that great
thought of Art, which in those old days gave life to inanimate nature.
These relics, resisting change, present to the eye of painters those
dusky tones and half-blurred features in which the artistic brush
The streets are what they were four hundred years ago,--with one
exception; population no longer swarms there; the social movement is
now so dead that a traveller wishing to examine the town (as beautiful
as a suit of antique armor) may walk alone, not without sadness,
through a deserted street, where the mullioned windows are plastered
up to avoid the window-tax. This street ends at a postern, flanked
with a wall of masonry, beyond which rises a bouquet of trees planted
by the hands of Breton nature, one of the most luxuriant and fertile
vegetations in France. A painter, a poet would sit there silently, to
taste the quietude which reigns beneath the well-preserved arch of the
postern, where no voice comes from the life of the peaceful city, and
where the landscape is seen in its rich magnificence through the
loop-holes of the casemates once occupied by halberdiers and archers,
which are not unlike the sashes of some belvedere arranged for a point
It is impossible to walk about the place without thinking at every
step of the habits and usages of long-past times; the very stones tell
of them; the ideas of the middle ages are still there with all their
ancient superstitions. If, by chance, a gendarme passes you, with his
silver-laced hat, his presence is an anachronism against which your
sense of fitness protests; but nothing is so rare as to meet a being
or an object of the present time. There is even very little of the
clothing of the day; and that little the inhabitants adapt in a way to
their immutable customs, their unchangeable physiognomies. The public
square is filled with Breton costumes, which artists flock to draw;
these stand out in wonderful relief upon the scene around them. The
whiteness of the linen worn by the /paludiers/ (the name given to men
who gather salt in the salt-marshes) contrasts vigorously with the
blues and browns of the peasantry and the original and sacredly
preserved jewelry of the women. These two classes, and that of the
sailors in their jerkins and varnished leather caps are as distinct
from one another as the castes of India, and still recognize the
distance that parts them from the bourgeoisie, the nobility, and the
clergy. All lines are clearly marked; there the revolutionary level
found the masses too rugged and too hard to plane; its instrument
would have been notched, if not broken. The character of immutability
which science gives to zoological species is found in Breton human
nature. Even now, after the Revolution of 1830, Guerande is still a
town apart, essentially Breton, fervently Catholic, silent,
self-contained,--a place where modern ideas have little access.
Its geographical position explains this phenomenon. The pretty town
overlooks a salt-marsh, the product of which is called throughout
Brittany the Guerande salt, to which many Bretons attribute the
excellence of their butter and their sardines. It is connected with
the rest of France by two roads only: that coming from Savenay, the
arrondissement to which it belongs, which stops at Saint-Nazaire; and
a second road, leading from Vannes, which connects it with the
Morbihan. The arrondissement road establishes communication by land,
and from Saint-Nazaire by water, with Nantes. The land road is used
only by government; the more rapid and more frequented way being by
water from Saint-Nazaire. Now, between this village and Guerande is a
distance of eighteen miles, which the mail-coach does not serve, and
for good reason; not three coach passengers a year would pass over it.
These, and other obstacles, little fitted to encourage travellers,
still exist. In the first place, government is slow in its
proceedings; and next, the inhabitants of the region put up readily
enough with difficulties which separate them from the rest of France.
Guerande, therefore, being at the extreme end of the continent, leads
nowhere, and no one comes there. Glad to be ignored, she thinks and
cares about herself only. The immense product of her salt-marshes,
which pays a tax of not less than a million to the Treasury, is
chiefly managed at Croisic, a peninsular village which communicates
with Guerande over quicksands, which efface during the night the
tracks made by day, and also by boats which cross the arm of the sea
that makes the port of Croisic.
This fascinating little town is therefore the Herculaneum of
feudality, less its winding sheet of lava. It is afoot, but not
living; it has no other ground of existence except that it has not
been demolished. If you reach Guerande from Croisic, after crossing a
dreary landscape of salt-marshes, you will experience a strong
sensation at sight of that vast fortification, which is still as good
as ever. If you come to it by Saint-Nazaire, the picturesqueness of
its position and the naive grace of its environs will please you no
less. The country immediately surrounding it is ravishing; the hedges
are full of flowers, honeysuckles, roses, box, and many enchanting
plants. It is like an English garden, designed by some great
architect. This rich, coy nature, so untrodden, with all the grace of
a bunch of violets or a lily of the valley in the glade of a forest,
is framed by an African desert banked by the ocean,--a desert without
a tree, an herb, a bird; where, on sunny days, the laboring
/paludiers/, clothed in white and scattered among those melancholy
swamps where the salt is made, remind us of Arabs in their burrows.
Thus Guerande bears no resemblance to any other place in France.
The town produces somewhat the same effect upon the mind as a
sleeping-draught upon the body. It is silent as Venice. There is no
other public conveyance than the springless wagon of a carrier who
carries travellers, merchandise, and occasionally letters from
Saint-Nazaire to Guerande and /vice versa/. Bernus, the carrier, was,
in 1829, the factotum of this large community. He went and came when
he pleased; all the country knew him; and he did the errands of all.
The arrival of a carriage in Guerande, that of a lady or some invalid
going to Croisic for sea-bathing (thought to have greater virtue among
those rocks than at Boulogne or Dieppe) is still an immense event.
The peasants come in on horseback, most of them with commodities
for barter in sacks. They are induced to do so (and so are the
/paludiers/) by the necessity of purchasing the jewels distinctive of
their caste which are given to all Breton brides, and the white linen,
or cloth for their clothing.
For a circuit ten miles round, Guerande is always GUERANDE,--the
illustrious town where the famous treaty was signed in 1365, the key
of the coast, which may boast, not less than the village of Batz, of a
splendor now lost in the night of time. The jewels, linen, cloth,
ribbon, and hats are made elsewhere, but to those who buy them they
are from Guerande and nowhere else. All artists, and even certain
bourgeois, who come to Guerande feel, as they do at Venice, a desire
(soon forgotten) to end their days amid its peace and silence, walking
in fine weather along the beautiful mall which surrounds the town from
gate to gate on the side toward the sea. Sometimes the image of this
town arises in the temple of memory; she enters, crowned with her
towers, clasped with her girdle; her flower-strewn robe floats onward,
the golden mantle of her dunes enfolds her, the fragrant breath of her
briony paths, filled with the flowers of each passing season, exhales
at every step; she fills your mind, she calls to you like some
enchanting woman whom you have met in other climes and whose presence
still lingers in a fold of your heart.
Near the church of Guerande stands a mansion which is to the town what
the town is to the region, an exact image of the past, the symbol of a
grand thing destroyed,--a poem, in short. This mansion belongs to the
noblest family of the province; to the du Guaisnics, who, in the times
of the du Guesclins, were as superior to the latter in antiquity and
fortune as the Trojans were to the Romans. The Guaisqlains (the name
is also spelled in the olden time du Glaicquin), from which comes du
Guesclin, issued from the du Guaisnics.
Old as the granite of Brittany, the Guaisnics are neither Frenchmen
nor Gauls,--they are Bretons; or, to be more exact, they are Celts.
Formerly, they must have been Druids, gathering mistletoe in the
sacred forests and sacrificing men upon their dolmens. Useless to say
what they were! To-day this race, equal to the Rohans without having
deigned to make themselves princes, a race which was powerful before
the ancestors of Hugues Capet were ever heard of, this family, pure of
all alloy, possesses two thousand francs a year, its mansion in
Guerande, and the little castle of Guaisnic. All the lands belonging
to the barony of Guaisnic, the first in Brittany, are pledged to
farmers, and bring in sixty thousand francs a year, in spite of
ignorant culture. The du Gaisnics remain the owners of these lands
although they receive none of the revenues, for the reason that for
the last two hundred years they have been unable to pay off the money
advanced upon them. They are in the position of the crown of France
towards its /engagistes/ (tenants of crown-lands) before the year
1789. Where and when could the barons obtain the million their farmers
have advanced to them? Before 1789 the tenure of the fiefs subject to
the castle of Guaisnic was still worth fifty thousand francs a year;
but a vote of the National Assembly suppressed the seigneurs' dues
levied on inheritance.
In such a situation this family--of absolutely no account in France,
and which would be a subject of laughter in Paris, were it known there
--is to Guerande the whole of Brittany. In Guerande the Baron du
Guaisnic is one of the great barons of France, a man above whom there
is but one man,--the King of France, once elected ruler. To-day the
name of du Guaisnic, full of Breton significances (the roots of which
will be found explained in "The Chouans") has been subjected to
the same alteration which disfigures that of du Guaisqlain. The
tax-gatherer now writes the name, as do the rest of the world, du
At the end of a silent, damp, and gloomy lane may be seen the arch of
a door, or rather gate, high enough and wide enough to admit a man on
horseback,--a circumstance which proves of itself that when this
building was erected carriages did not exist. The arch, supported by
two jambs, is of granite. The gate, of oak, rugged as the bark of the
tree itself, is studded with enormous nails placed in geometric
figures. The arch is semicircular. On it are carved the arms of the
Guaisnics as clean-cut and clear as though the sculptor had just laid
down his chisel. This escutcheon would delight a lover of the heraldic
art by a simplicity which proves the pride and the antiquity of the
family. It is as it was in the days when the crusaders of the
Christian world invented these symbols by which to recognize each
other; the Guaisnics have never had it quartered; it is always itself,
like that of the house of France, which connoisseurs find
inescutcheoned in the shields of many of the old families. Here it is,
such as you may see it still at Guerande: Gules, a hand proper
gonfaloned ermine, with a sword argent in pale, and the terrible
motto, FAC. Is not that a grand and noble thing? The circlet of a
baronial coronet surmounts this simple escutcheon, the vertical lines
of which, used in carving to represent gules, are clear as ever. The
artist has given I know not what proud, chivalrous turn to the hand.
With what vigor it holds the sword which served but recently the
If you go to Guerande after reading this history you cannot fail to
quiver when you see that blazon. Yes, the most confirmed republican
would be moved by the fidelity, the nobleness, the grandeur hidden in
the depths of that dark lane. The du Guaisnics did well yesterday, and
they are ready to do well to-morrow. To DO is the motto of chivalry.
"You did well in the battle" was the praise of the Connetable /par
excellence/, the great du Guesclin who drove the English for a time
from France. The depth of this carving, which has been protected from
the weather by the projecting edges of the arch, is in keeping with
the moral depth of the motto in the soul of this family. To those who
know the Guaisnics this fact is touching.
The gate when open gives a vista into a somewhat vast court-yard, on
the right of which are the stables, on the left the kitchen and
offices. The house is build of freestone from cellar to garret. The
facade on the court-yard has a portico with a double range of steps,
the wall of which is covered with vestiges of carvings now effaced by
time, but in which the eye of an antiquary can still make out in the
centre of the principal mass the Hand bearing the sword. The granite
steps are now disjointed, grasses have forced their way with little
flowers and mosses through the fissures between the stones which
centuries have displaced without however lessening their solidity. The
door of the house must have had a charming character. As far as the
relics of the old designs allow us to judge, it was done by an artist
of the great Venetian school of the thirteenth century. Here is a
mixture, still visible, of the Byzantine and the Saracenic. It is
crowned with a circular pediment, now wreathed with vegetation,--a
bouquet, rose, brown, yellow, or blue, according to the season. The
door, of oak, nail-studded, gives entrance to a noble hall, at the end
of which is another door, opening upon another portico which leads to
This hall is marvellously well preserved. The panelled wainscot, about
three feet high, is of chestnut. A magnificent Spanish leather with
figures in relief, the gilding now peeled off or reddened, covers the
walls. The ceiling is of wooden boards artistically joined and painted
and gilded. The gold is scarcely noticeable; it is in the same
condition as that of the Cordova leather, but a few red flowers and
the green foliage can be distinguished. Perhaps a thorough cleaning
might bring out paintings like those discovered on the plank ceilings
of Tristan's house at Tours. If so, it would prove that those planks
were placed or restored in the reign of Louis XI. The chimney-piece is
enormous, of carved stone, and within it are gigantic andirons in
wrought-iron of precious workmanship. It could hold a cart-load of
wood. The furniture of this hall is wholly of oak, each article
bearing upon it the arms of the family. Three English guns equally
suitable for chase or war, three sabres, two game-bags, the utensils
of a huntsman and a fisherman hang from nails upon the wall.
On one side is a dining-room, which connects with the kitchen by a
door cut through a corner tower. This tower corresponds in the design
of the facade toward the court-yard with another tower at the opposite
corner, in which is a spiral staircase leading to the two upper
The dining-room is hung with tapestries of the fourteenth century; the
style and the orthography of the inscription on the banderols beneath
each figure prove their age, but being, as they are, in the naive
language of the /fabliaux/, it is impossible to transcribe them here.
These tapestries, well preserved in those parts where light has
scarcely penetrated, are framed in bands of oak now black as ebony.
The ceiling has projecting rafters enriched with foliage which is
varied for each rafter; the space between them is filled with planks
painted blue, on which twine garlands of golden flowers. Two old
buffers face each other; on their shelves, rubbed with Breton
persistency by Mariotte the cook, can be seen, as in the days when
kings were as poor in 1200 as the du Guaisnics are in 1830, four old
goblets, an ancient embossed soup-tureen, and two salt-cellars, all of
silver; also many pewter plates and many pitchers of gray and blue
pottery, bearing arabesque designs and the arms of the du Guaisnics,
covered by hinged pewter lids. The chimney-piece is modernized. Its
condition proves that the family has lived in this room for the last
century. It is of carved stone in the style of the Louis XV. period,
and is ornamented with a mirror, let in to the back with gilt beaded
moulding. This anachronism, to which the family is indifferent, would
grieve a poet. On the mantel-shelf, covered with red velvet, is a tall
clock of tortoise-shell inlaid with brass, flanked on each side with a
silver candelabrum of singular design. A large square table, with
solid legs, fills the centre of this room; the chairs are of turned
wood covered with tapestry. On a round table supported by a single leg
made in the shape of a vine-shoot, which stands before a window
looking into the garden, is a lamp of an odd kind. This lamp has a
common glass globe, about the size of an ostrich egg, which is
fastened into a candle-stick by a glass tube. Through a hole at the
top of the globe issues a wick which passes through a sort of reed of
brass, drawing the nut-oil held in the globe through its own length
coiled like a tape-worm in a surgeon's phial. The windows which look
into the garden, like those that look upon the court-yard, are
mullioned in stone with hexagonal leaded panes, and are draped by
curtains, with heavy valances and stout cords, of an ancient stuff of
crimson silk with gold reflections, called in former days either
brocatelle or small brocade.
On each of the two upper stories of the house there are but two rooms.
The first is the bedroom of the head of the family, the second is that
of the children. Guests were lodged in chambers beneath the roof. The
servants slept above the kitchens and stables. The pointed roof,
protected with lead at its angles and edges, has a noble pointed
window on each side, one looking down upon the court-yard, the other
on the garden. These windows, rising almost to the level of the roof,
have slender, delicate casings, the carvings of which have crumbled
under the salty vapors of the atmosphere. Above the arch of each
window with its crossbars of stone, still grinds, as it turns, the
vane of a noble.
Let us not forget a precious detail, full of naivete, which will be of
value in the eyes of an archaeologist. The tower in which the spiral
staircase goes up is placed at the corner of a great gable wall in
which there is no window. The staircase comes down to a little arched
door, opening upon a gravelled yard which separates the house from the
stables. This tower is repeated on the garden side by another of five
sides, ending in a cupola in which is a bell-turret, instead of being
roofed, like the sister-tower, with a pepper-pot. This is how those
charming architects varied the symmetry of their sky-lines. These
towers are connected on the level of the first floor by a stone
gallery, supported by what we must call brackets, each ending in a
grotesque human head. This gallery has a balustrade of exquisite
workmanship. From the gable above depends a stone dais like those that
crown the statues of saints at the portal of churches. Can you not see
a woman walking in the morning along this balcony and gazing over
Guerande at the sunshine, where it gilds the sands and shimmers on the
breast of Ocean? Do you not admire that gable wall flanked at its
angles with those varied towers? The opposite gable of the Guaisnic
mansion adjoins the next house. The harmony so carefully sought by the
architects of those days is maintained in the facade looking on the
court-yard by the tower which communicates between the dining-room and
the kitchen, and is the same as the staircase tower, except that it
stops at the first upper story and its summit is a small open dome,
beneath which stands a now blackened statue of Saint Calyste.
The garden is magnificent for so old a place. It covers half an acre
of ground, its walls are all espaliered, and the space within is
divided into squares for vegetables, bordered with cordons of
fruit-trees, which the man-of-all-work, named Gasselin, takes care of
in the intervals of grooming the horses. At the farther end of the garden
is a grotto with a seat in it; in the middle, a sun-dial; the paths are
gravelled. The facade on the garden side has no towers corresponding
to those on the court-yard; but a slender spiral column rises from the
ground to the roof, which must in former days have borne the banner of
the family, for at its summit may still be seen an iron socket, from
which a few weak plants are straggling. This detail, in harmony with
the vestiges of sculpture, proves to a practised eye that the mansion
was built by a Venetian architect. The graceful staff is like a
signature revealing Venice, chivalry, and the exquisite delicacy of
the thirteenth century. If any doubts remained on this point, a
feature of the ornamentation would dissipate them. The trefoils of the
hotel du Guaisnic have four leaves instead of three. This difference
plainly indicates the Venetian school depraved by its commerce with
the East, where the semi-Saracenic architects, careless of the great
Catholic thought, give four leaves to clover, while Christian art is
faithful to the Trinity. In this respect Venetian art becomes
If this ancient dwelling attracts your imagination, you may perhaps
ask yourself why such miracles of art are not renewed in the present
day. Because to-day mansions are sold, pulled down, and the ground
they stood on turned into streets. No one can be sure that the next
generation will possess the paternal dwelling; homes are no more than
inns; whereas in former times when a dwelling was built men worked, or
thought they worked, for a family in perpetuity. Hence the grandeur of
these houses. Faith in self, as well as faith in God, did prodigies.
As for the arrangement of the upper rooms they may be imagined after
this description of the ground-floor, and after reading an account of
the manners, customs, and physiognomy of the family. For the last
fifty years the du Guaisnics have received their friends in the two
rooms just described, in which, as in the court-yard and the external
accessories of the building, the spirit, grace, and candor of the old
and noble Brittany still survives. Without the topography and
description of the town, and without this minute depicting of the
house, the surprising figures of the family might be less understood.
Therefore the frames have preceded the portraits. Every one is aware
that things influence beings. There are public buildings whose effect
is visible upon the persons living in their neighborhood. It would be
difficult indeed to be irreligious in the shadow of a cathedral like
that of Bourges. When the soul is everywhere reminded of its destiny
by surrounding images, it is less easy to fail of it. Such was the
thought of our immediate grandfathers, abandoned by a generation which
was soon to have no signs and no distinctions, and whose manners and
morals were to change every decade. If you do not now expect to find
the Baron du Guaisnic sword in hand, all here written would be
THE BARON, HIS WIFE, AND SISTER
Early in the month of May, in the year 1836, the period when this
scene opens, the family of Guenic (we follow henceforth the modern
spelling) consisted of Monsieur and Madame du Guenic, Mademoiselle du
Guenic the baron's elder sister, and an only son, aged twenty-one,
named, after an ancient family usage, Gaudebert-Calyste-Louis. The
father's name was Gaudebert-Calyste-Charles. Only the last name was
ever varied. Saint Gaudebert and Saint Calyste were forever bound to
protect the Guenics.
The Baron du Guenic had started from Guerande the moment that La
Vendee and Brittany took arms; he fought through the war with
Charette, with Cathelineau, La Rochejaquelein, d'Elbee, Bonchamps, and
the Prince de Loudon. Before starting he had, with a prudence unique
in revolutionary annals, sold his whole property of every kind to his
elder and only sister, Mademoiselle Zephirine du Guenic. After the
death of all those heroes of the West, the baron, preserved by a
miracle from ending as they did, refused to submit to Napoleon. He
fought on till 1802, when being at last defeated and almost captured,
he returned to Guerande, and from Guerande went to Croisic, whence he
crossed to Ireland, faithful to the ancient Breton hatred for England.
The people of Guerande feigned utter ignorance of the baron's
existence. In the whole course of twenty years not a single indiscreet
word was ever uttered. Mademoiselle du Guenic received the rents and
sent them to her brother by fishermen. Monsieur du Guenic returned to
Guerande in 1813, as quietly and simply as if he had merely passed a
season at Nantes. During his stay in Dublin the old Breton, despite
his fifty years, had fallen in love with a charming Irish woman,
daughter of one of the noblest and poorest families of that unhappy
kingdom. Fanny O'Brien was then twenty-one years old. The Baron du
Guenic came over to France to obtain the documents necessary for his
marriage, returned to Ireland, and, after about ten months (at the
beginning of 1814), brought his wife to Guerande, where she gave him
Calyste on the very day that Louis XVIII. landed at Calais,--a
circumstance which explains the young man's final name of Louis.
The old and loyal Breton was now a man of seventy-three; but his
long-continued guerilla warfare with the Republic, his exile, the perils
of his five crossings through a turbulent sea in open boats, had weighed
upon his head, and he looked a hundred; therefore, at no period had
the chief of the house of Guenic been more in keeping with the
worn-out grandeur of their dwelling, built in the days when a court
reigned at Guerande.
Monsieur du Guenic was a tall, straight, wiry, lean old man. His oval
face was lined with innumerable wrinkles, which formed a net-work over
his cheek-bones and above his eyebrows, giving to his face a
resemblance to those choice old men whom Van Ostade, Rembrandt,
Mieris, and Gerard Dow so loved to paint, in pictures which need a
microscope to be fully appreciated. His countenance might be said to
be sunken out of sight beneath those innumerable wrinkles, produced by
a life in the open air and by the habit of watching his country in the
full light of the sun from the rising of that luminary to the sinking
of it. Nevertheless, to an observer enough remained of the
imperishable forms of the human face which appealed to the soul, even
though the eye could see no more than a lifeless head. The firm
outline of the face, the shape of the brow, the solemnity of the
lines, the rigidity of the nose, the form of the bony structure which
wounds alone had slightly altered,--all were signs of intrepidity
without calculation, faith without reserve, obedience without
discussion, fidelity without compromise, love without inconstancy. In
him, the Breton granite was made man.
The baron had no longer any teeth. His lips, once red, now violet, and
backed by hard gums only (with which he ate the bread his wife took
care to soften by folding it daily in a damp napkin), drew inward to
the mouth with a sort of grin, which gave him an expression both
threatening and proud. His chin seemed to seek his nose; but in that
nose, humped in the middle, lay the signs of his energy and his Breton
resistance. His skin, marbled with red blotches appearing through his
wrinkles, showed a powerfully sanguine temperament, fitted to resist
fatigue and to preserve him, as no doubt it did, from apoplexy. The
head was crowned with abundant hair, as white as silver, which fell in
curls upon his shoulders. The face, extinguished, as we have said, in
part, lived through the glitter of the black eyes in their brown
orbits, casting thence the last flames of a generous and loyal soul.
The eyebrows and lashes had disappeared; the skin, grown hard, could
not unwrinkle. The difficulty of shaving had obliged the old man to
let his beard grow, and the cut of it was fan-shaped. An artist would
have admired beyond all else in this old lion of Brittany with his
powerful shoulders and vigorous chest, the splendid hands of the
soldier,--hands like those du Guesclin must have had, large, broad,
hairy; hands that once had clasped the sword never, like Joan of Arc,
to relinquish it until the royal standard floated in the cathedral of
Rheims; hands that were often bloody from the thorns and furze of the
Bocage; hands which had pulled an oar in the Marais to surprise the
Blues, or in the offing to signal Georges; the hands of a guerilla, a
cannoneer, a common solder, a leader; hands still white though the
Bourbons of the Elder branch were again in exile. Looking at those
hands attentively, one might have seen some recent marks attesting the
fact that the Baron had recently joined MADAME in La Vendee. To-day
that fact may be admitted. These hands were a living commentary on the
noble motto to which no Guenic had proved recreant: /Fac!/
His forehead attracted attention by the golden tones of the temples,
contrasting with the brown tints of the hard and narrow brow, which
the falling off of the hair had somewhat broadened, giving still more
majesty to that noble ruin. The countenance--a little material,
perhaps, but how could it be otherwise?--presented, like all the
Breton faces grouped about the baron, a certain savagery, a stolid
calm which resembled the impassibility of the Huguenots; something,
one might say, stupid, due perhaps to the utter repose which follows
extreme fatigue, in which the animal nature alone is visible. Thought
was rare. It seemed to be an effort; its seat was in the heart more
than in the head; it led to acts rather than ideas. But, examining
that grand old man with sustained observation, one could penetrate the
mystery of this strange contradiction to the spirit of the century. He
had faiths, sentiments, inborn so to speak, which allowed him to
dispense with thought. His duty, life had taught him. Institutions and
religion thought for him. He reserved his mind, he and his kind, for
action, not dissipating it on useless things which occupied the minds
of other persons. He drew his thought from his heart like his sword
from its scabbard, holding it aloft in his ermined hand, as on his
scutcheon, shining with sincerity. That secret once penetrated, all is
clear. We can comprehend the depth of convictions that are not
thoughts, but living principles,--clear, distinct, downright, and as
immaculate as the ermine itself. We understand that sale made to his
sister before the war; which provided for all, and faced all, death,
confiscation, exile. The beauty of the character of these two old
people (for the sister lived only for and by the brother) cannot be
understood to its full extent by the right of the selfish morals, the
uncertain aims, and the inconstancy of this our epoch. An archangel,
charged with the duty of penetrating to the inmost recesses of their
hearts could not have found one thought of personal interest. In 1814,
when the rector of Guerande suggested to the baron that he should go
to Paris and claim his recompense from the triumphant Bourbons, the
old sister, so saving and miserly for the household, cried out:--
"Oh, fy! does my brother need to hold out his hand like a beggar?"
"It would be thought I served a king from interest," said the old man.
"Besides, it is for him to remember. Poor king! he must be weary
indeed of those who harass him. If he gave them all France in bits,
they still would ask."
This loyal servant, who had spent his life and means on Louis XVIII.,
received the rank of colonel, the cross of Saint-Louis, and a stipend
of two thousand francs a year.
"The king did remember!" he said when the news reached him.
No one undeceived him. The gift was really made by the Duc de Feltre.
But, as an act of gratitude to the king, the baron sustained a siege
at Guerande against the forces of General Travot. He refused to
surrender the fortress, and when it was absolutely necessary to
evacuate it he escaped into the woods with a band of Chouans, who
continued armed until the second restoration of the Bourbons. Guerande
still treasures the memory of that siege.
We must admit that the Baron du Guenic was illiterate as a peasant. He
could read, write, and do some little ciphering; he knew the military
art and heraldry, but, excepting always his prayer-book, he had not
read three volumes in the course of his life. His clothing, which is
not an insignificant point, was invariably the same; it consisted of
stout shoes, ribbed stockings, breeches of greenish velveteen, a cloth
waistcoat, and a loose coat with a collar, from which hung the cross
of Saint-Louis. A noble serenity now reigned upon that face where, for
the last year or so, sleep, the forerunner of death, seemed to be
preparing him for rest eternal. This constant somnolence, becoming
daily more and more frequent, did not alarm either his wife, his blind
sister, or his friends, whose medical knowledge was of the slightest.
To them these solemn pauses of a life without reproach, but very
weary, were naturally explained: the baron had done his duty, that was
In this ancient mansion the absorbing interests were the fortunes of
the dispossessed Elder branch. The future of the exiled Bourbons, that
of the Catholic religion, the influence of political innovations on
Brittany were the exclusive topics of conversation in the baron's
family. There was but one personal interest mingled with these most
absorbing ones: the attachment of all for the only son, for Calyste,
the heir, the sole hope of the great name of the du Guenics.
The old Vendean, the old Chouan, had, some years previously, a return
of his own youth in order to train his son to those manly exercises
which were proper for a gentleman liable to be summoned at any moment
to take arms. No sooner was Calyste sixteen years of age than his
father accompanied him to the marshes and the forest, teaching him
through the pleasures of the chase the rudiments of war, preaching by
example, indifferent to fatigue, firm in his saddle, sure of his shot
whatever the game might be,--deer, hare, or a bird on the wing,
--intrepid in face of obstacles, bidding his son follow him into
danger as though he had ten other sons to take Calyste's place.
So, when the Duchesse de Berry landed in France to conquer back the
kingdom for her son, the father judged it right to take his boy to
join her, and put in practice the motto of their ancestors. The baron
started in the dead of night, saying no word to his wife, who might
perhaps have weakened him; taking his son under fire as if to a fete,
and Gasselin, his only vassal, who followed him joyfully. The three
men of the family were absent for three months without sending news of
their whereabouts to the baroness, who never read the "Quotidienne"
without trembling from line to line, nor to his old blind sister,
heroically erect, whose nerve never faltered for an instance as she
heard that paper read. The three guns hanging to the walls had
therefore seen service recently. The baron, who considered the
enterprise useless, left the region before the affair of La
Penissiere, or the house of Guenic would probably have ended in that
When, on a stormy night after parting from MADAME, the father, son,
and servant returned to the house in Guerande, they took their friends
and the baroness and old Mademoiselle du Guenic by surprise, although
the latter, by the exercise of senses with which the blind are gifted,
recognized the steps of the three men in the little lane leading to
the house. The baron looked round upon the circle of his anxious
friends, who were seated beside the little table lighted by the
antique lamp, and said in a tremulous voice, while Gasselin replaced
the three guns and the sabres in their places, these words of feudal
"The barons did not all do their duty."
Then, having kissed his wife and sister, he sat down in his old
arm-chair and ordered supper to be brought for his son, for Gasselin,
and for himself. Gasselin had thrown himself before Calyste on one
occasion, to protect him, and received the cut of a sabre on his
shoulder; but so simple a matter did it seem that even the women
scarcely thanked him. The baron and his guests uttered neither curses
nor complaints of their conquerors. Such silence is a trait of Breton
character. In forty years no one ever heard a word of contumely from
the baron's lips about his adversaries. It was for them to do their
duty as he did his. This utter silence is the surest indication of an
This last effort, the flash of an energy now waning, had caused the
present weakness and somnolence of the old man. The fresh defeat and
exile of the Bourbons, as miraculously driven out as miraculously
re-established, were to him a source of bitter sadness.
About six o'clock on the evening of the day on which this history
begins, the baron, who, according to ancient custom, had finished
dining by four o'clock, fell asleep as usual while his wife was
reading to him the "Quotidienne." His head rested against the back of
the arm-chair which stood beside the fireplace on the garden side.
Near this gnarled trunk of an ancient tree, and in front of the
fireplace, the baroness, seated on one of the antique chairs,
presented the type of those adorable women who exist in England,
Scotland, or Ireland only. There alone are born those milk-white
creatures with golden hair the curls of which are wound by the hands
of angels, for the light of heaven seems to ripple in their silken
spirals swaying to the breeze. Fanny O'Brien was one of those sylphs,
--strong in tenderness, invincible under misfortune, soft as the music
of her voice, pure as the azure of her eyes, of a delicate, refined
beauty, blessed with a skin that was silken to the touch and caressing
to the eye, which neither painter's brush nor written word can
picture. Beautiful still at forty-two years of age, many a man would
have thought it happiness to marry her as she looked at the splendors
of that autumn coloring, redundant in flowers and fruit, refreshed and
refreshing with the dews of heaven.
The baroness held the paper in the dimpled hand, the fingers of which
curved slightly backward, their nails cut square like those of an
antique statue. Half lying, without ill-grace or affectation, in her
chair, her feet stretched out to warm them, she was dressed in a gown
of black velvet, for the weather was now becoming chilly. The corsage,
rising to the throat, moulded the splendid contour of the shoulders
and the rich bosom which the suckling of her son had not deformed. Her
hair was worn in /ringlets/, after the English fashion, down her
cheeks; the rest was simply twisted to the crown of her head and held
there with a tortoise-shell comb. The color, not undecided in tone as
other blond hair, sparkled to the light like a filagree of burnished
gold. The baroness always braided the short locks curling on the nape
of her neck--which are a sign of race. This tiny braid, concealed in
the mass of hair always carefully put up, allowed the eye to follow
with delight the undulating line by which her neck was set upon her
shoulders. This little detail will show the care which she gave to her
person; it was her pride to rejoice the eyes of the old baron. What a
charming, delicate attention! When you see a woman displaying in her
own home the coquetry which most women spend on a single sentiment,
believe me, that woman is as noble a mother as she is a wife; she is
the joy and the flower of the home; she knows her obligations as a
woman; in her soul, in her tenderness, you will find her outward
graces; she is doing good in secret; she worships, she adores without
a calculation of return; she loves her fellows, as she loves God,--for
their own sakes. And so one might fancy that the Virgin of paradise,
under whose care she lived, had rewarded the chaste girlhood and the
sacred life of the old man's wife by surrounding her with a sort of
halo which preserved her beauty from the wrongs of time. The
alterations of that beauty Plato would have glorified as the coming of
new graces. Her skin, so milk-white once, had taken the warm and
pearly tones which painters adore. Her broad and finely modelled brow
caught lovingly the light which played on its polished surface. Her
eyes, of a turquoise blue, shone with unequalled sweetness; the soft
lashes, and the slightly sunken temples inspired the spectator with I
know now what mute melancholy. The nose, which was aquiline and thin,
recalled the royal origin of the high-born woman. The pure lips,
finely cut, wore happy smiles, brought there by loving-kindness
inexhaustible. Her teeth were small and white; she had gained of late
a slight embonpoint, but her delicate hips and slender waist were none
the worse for it. The autumn of her beauty presented a few perennial
flowers of her springtide among the richer blooms of summer. Her arms
became more nobly rounded, her lustrous skin took a finer grain; the
outlines of her form gained plenitude. Lastly and best of all, her
open countenance, serene and slightly rosy, the purity of her blue
eyes, that a look too eager might have wounded, expressed illimitable
sympathy, the tenderness of angels.
At the other chimney-corner, in an arm-chair, the octogenarian sister,
like in all points save clothes to her brother, sat listening to the
reading of the newspaper and knitting stockings, a work for which
sight is needless. Both eyes had cataracts; but she obstinately
refused to submit to an operation, in spite of the entreaties of her
sister-in-law. The secret reason of that obstinacy was known to
herself only; she declared it was want of courage; but the truth was
that she would not let her brother spend twenty-five louis for her
benefit. That sum would have been so much the less for the good of the
These two old persons brought out in fine relief the beauty of the
baroness. Mademoiselle Zephirine, being deprived of sight, was not
aware of the changes which eighty years had wrought in her features.
Her pale, hollow face, to which the fixedness of the white and
sightless eyes gave almost the appearance of death, and three or four
solitary and projecting teeth made menacing, was framed by a little
hood of brown printed cotton, quilted like a petticoat, trimmed with a
cotton ruche, and tied beneath the chin by strings which were always a
little rusty. She wore a /cotillon/, or short skirt of coarse cloth,
over a quilted petticoat (a positive mattress, in which were secreted
double louis-d'ors), and pockets sewn to a belt which she unfastened
every night and put on every morning like a garment. Her body was
encased in the /casaquin/ of Brittany, a species of spencer made of
the same cloth as the /cotillon/, adorned with a collarette of many
pleats, the washing of which caused the only dispute she ever had with
her sister-in-law,--her habit being to change it only once a week.
From the large wadded sleeves of the /casaquin/ issued two withered
but still vigorous arms, at the ends of which flourished her hands,
their brownish-red color making the white arms look like poplar-wood.
These hands, hooked or contracted from the habit of knitting, might be
called a stocking-machine incessantly at work; the phenomenon would
have been had they stopped. From time to time Mademoiselle du Guenic
took a long knitting needle which she kept in the bosom of her gown,
and passed it between her hood and her hair to poke or scratch her
white locks. A stranger would have laughed to see the careless manner
in which she thrust back the needle without the slightest fear of
wounding herself. She was straight as a steeple. Her erect and
imposing carriage might pass for one of those coquetries of old age
which prove that pride is a necessary passion of life. Her smile was
gay. She, too, had done her duty.
As soon as the baroness saw that her husband was asleep she stopped
reading. A ray of sunshine, stretching from one window to the other,
divided by a golden band the atmosphere of that old room and burnished
the now black furniture. The light touched the carvings of the
ceiling, danced on the time-worn chests, spread its shining cloth on
the old oak table, enlivening the still, brown room, as Fanny's voice
cast into the heart of her octogenarian blind sister a music as
luminous and as cheerful as that ray of sunlight. Soon the ray took on
the ruddy colors which, by insensible gradations, sank into the
melancholy tones of twilight. The baroness also sank into a deep
meditation, one of those total silences which her sister-in-law had
noticed for the last two weeks, trying to explain them to herself, but
making no inquiry. The old woman studied the causes of this unusual
pre-occupation, as blind persons, on whose soul sound lingers like a
divining echo, read books in which the pages are black and the letters
white. Mademoiselle Zephirine, to whom the dark hour now meant
nothing, continued to knit, and the silence at last became so deep
that the clicking of her knitting-needles was plainly heard.
"You have dropped the paper, sister, but you are not asleep," said the
old woman, slyly.
At this moment Mariotte came in to light the lamp, which she placed on
a square table in front of the fire; then she fetched her distaff, her
ball of thread, and a small stool, on which she seated herself in the
recess of a window and began as usual to spin. Gasselin was still busy
about the offices; he looked to the horses of the baron and Calyste,
saw that the stable was in order for the night, and gave the two fine
hunting-dogs their daily meal. The joyful barking of the animals was
the last noise that awakened the echoes slumbering among the darksome
walls of the ancient house. The two dogs and the two horses were the
only remaining vestiges of the splendors of its chivalry. An
imaginative man seated on the steps of the portico and letting himself
fall into the poesy of the still living images of that dwelling, might
have quivered as he heard the baying of the hounds and the trampling
of the neighing horses.
Gasselin was one of those short, thick, squat little Bretons, with
black hair and sun-browned faces, silent, slow, and obstinate as
mules, but always following steadily the path marked out for them. He
was forty-two years old, and had been twenty-five years in the
household. Mademoiselle had hired him when he was fifteen, on hearing
of the marriage and probable return of the baron. This retainer
considered himself as part of the family; he had played with Calyste,
he loved the horses and dogs of the house, and talked to them and
petted them as though they were his own. He wore a blue linen jacket
with little pockets flapping about his hips, waistcoat and trousers of
the same material at all seasons, blue stockings, and stout hob-nailed
shoes. When it was cold or rainy he put on a goat's-skin, after the
fashion of his country.
Mariotte, who was also over forty, was as a woman what Gasselin was as
a man. No team could be better matched,--same complexion, same figure,
same little eyes that were lively and black. It is difficult to
understand why Gasselin and Mariotte had never married; possibly it
might have seemed immoral, they were so like brother and sister.
Mariotte's wages were ninety francs a year; Gasselin's, three hundred.
But thousands of francs offered to them elsewhere would not have
induced either to leave the Guenic household. Both were under the
orders of Mademoiselle, who, from the time of the war in La Vendee to
the period of her brother's return, had ruled the house. When she
learned that the baron was about to bring home a mistress, she had
been moved to great emotion, believing that she must yield the sceptre
of the household and abdicate in favor of the Baronne du Guenic, whose
subject she was now compelled to be.
Mademoiselle Zephirine was therefore agreeably surprised to find in
Fanny O'Brien a young woman born to the highest rank, to whom the
petty cares of a poor household were extremely distasteful,--one who,
like other fine souls, would far have preferred to eat plain bread
rather than the choicest food if she had to prepare it for herself; a
woman capable of accomplishing all the duties, even the most painful,
of humanity, strong under necessary privations, but without courage
for commonplace avocations. When the baron begged his sister in his
wife's name to continue in charge of the household, the old maid
kissed the baroness like a sister; she made a daughter of her, she
adored her, overjoyed to be left in control of the household, which
she managed rigorously on a system of almost inconceivable economy,
which was never relaxed except for some great occasion, such as the
lying-in of her sister, and her nourishment, and all that concerned
Calyste, the worshipped son of the whole household.
Though the two servants were accustomed to this stern regime, and no
orders need ever have been given to them, for the interests of their
masters were greater in their minds than their own,--/were/ their own
in fact,--Mademoiselle Zephirine insisted on looking after everything.
Her attention being never distracted, she knew, without going up to
verify her knowledge, how large was the heap of nuts in the barn; and
how many oats remained in the bin without plunging her sinewy arm into
the depths of it. She carried at the end of a string fastened to the
belt of her /casaquin/, a boatswain's whistle, with which she was wont
to summon Mariotte by one, and Gasselin by two notes.
Gasselin's greatest happiness was to cultivate the garden and produce
fine fruits and vegetables. He had so little work to do that without
this occupation he would certainly have felt lost. After he had
groomed his horses in the morning, he polished the floors and cleaned
the rooms on the ground-floor, then he went to his garden, where weed
or damaging insect was never seen. Sometimes Gasselin was observed
motionless, bare-headed, under a burning sun, watching for a
field-mouse or the terrible grub of the cockchafer; then, as soon as it
was caught, he would rush with the joy of a child to show his masters
the noxious beast that had occupied his mind for a week. He took
pleasure in going to Croisic on fast-days, to purchase a fish to be had
for less money there than at Guerande.
Thus no household was ever more truly one, more united in interests,
more bound together than this noble family sacredly devoted to its
duty. Masters and servants seemed made for one another. For
twenty-five years there had been neither trouble nor discord. The only
griefs were the petty ailments of the little boy, the only terrors were
caused by the events of 1814 and those of 1830. If the same things
were invariably done at the same hours, if the food was subjected to
the regularity of times and seasons, this monotony, like that of
Nature varied only by alterations of cloud and rain and sunshine, was
sustained by the affection existing in the hearts of all,--the more
fruitful, the more beneficent because it emanated from natural causes.
THREE BRETON SILHOUETTES
When night had fairly fallen, Gasselin came into the hall and asked
his master respectfully if he had further need of him.
"You can go out, or go to bed, after prayers," replied the baron,
waking up, "unless Madame or my sister--"
The two ladies here made a sign of consent. Gasselin then knelt down,
seeing that his masters rose to kneel upon their chairs; Mariotte also
knelt before her stool. Mademoiselle du Guenic then said the prayer
aloud. After it was over, some one rapped at the door on the lane.
Gasselin went to open it.
"I dare say it is Monsieur le cure; he usually comes first," said
Every one now recognized the rector's foot on the resounding steps of
the portico. He bowed respectfully to the three occupants of the room,
and addressed them in phrases of that unctuous civility which priests
are accustomed to use. To the rather absent-minded greeting of the
mistress of the house, he replied by an ecclesiastically inquisitive
"Are you anxious or ill, Madame la baronne?" he asked.
"Thank you, no," she replied.
Monsieur Grimont, a man of fifty, of middle height, lost in his
cassock, from which issued two stout shoes with silver buckles,
exhibited above his hands a plump visage, and a generally white skin
though yellow in spots. His hands were dimpled. His abbatial face had
something of the Dutch burgomaster in the placidity of its complexion
and its flesh tones, and of the Breton peasant in the straight black
hair and the vivacity of the brown eyes, which preserved,
nevertheless, a priestly decorum. His gaiety, that of a man whose
conscience was calm and pure, admitted a joke. His manner had nothing
uneasy or dogged about it, like that of many poor rectors whose
existence or whose power is contested by their parishioners, and who
instead of being, as Napoleon sublimely said, the moral leaders of the
population and the natural justices of peace, are treated as enemies.
Observing Monsieur Grimont as he marched through Guerande, the most
irreligious of travellers would have recognized the sovereign of that
Catholic town; but this same sovereign lowered his spiritual
superiority before the feudal supremacy of the du Guenics. In their
salon he was as a chaplain in his seigneur's house. In church, when he
gave the benediction, his hand was always first stretched out toward
the chapel belonging to the Guenics, where their mailed hand and their
device were carved upon the key-stone of the arch.
"I thought that Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had already arrived," said
the rector, sitting down, and taking the hand of the baroness to kiss
it. "She is getting unpunctual. Can it be that the fashion of
dissipation is contagious? I see that Monsieur le chevalier is again
at Les Touches this evening."
"Don't say anything about those visits before Mademoiselle de
Pen-Hoel," cried the old maid, eagerly.
"Ah! mademoiselle," remarked Mariotte, "you can't prevent the town
"What do they say?" asked the baroness.
"The young girls and the old women all say that he is in love with
Mademoiselle des Touches."
"A lad of Calyste's make is playing his proper part in making the
women love him," said the baron.
"Here comes Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel," said Mariotte.
The gravel in the court-yard crackled under the discreet footsteps of
the coming lady, who was accompanied by a page supplied with a
lantern. Seeing this lad, Mariotte removed her stool to the great hall
for the purpose of talking with him by the gleam of his rush-light,
which was burned at the cost of his rich and miserly mistress, thus
economizing those of her own masters.
This elderly demoiselle was a thin, dried-up old maid, yellow as the
parchment of a Parliament record, wrinkled as a lake ruffled by the
wind, with gray eyes, large prominent teeth, and the hands of a man.
She was rather short, a little crooked, possibly hump-backed; but no
one had ever been inquisitive enough to ascertain the nature of her
perfections or her imperfections. Dressed in the same style as
Mademoiselle du Guenic, she stirred an enormous quantity of petticoats
and linen whenever she wanted to find one or other of the two
apertures of her gown through which she reached her pockets. The
strangest jingling of keys and money then echoed among her garments.
She always wore, dangling from one side, the bunch of keys of a good
housekeeper, and from the other her silver snuff-box, thimble,
knitting-needles, and other implements that were also resonant.
Instead of Mademoiselle Zephirine's wadded hood, she wore a green
bonnet, in which she may have visited her melons, for it had passed,
like them, from green to yellowish; as for its shape, our present
fashions are just now bringing it back to Paris, after twenty years
absence, under the name of Bibi. This bonnet was constructed under her
own eye and by the hands of her nieces, out of green Florence silk
bought at Guerande, and an old bonnet-shape, renewed every five years
at Nantes,--for Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel allowed her bonnets the
longevity of a legislature. Her nieces also made her gowns, cut by an
immutable pattern. The old lady still used the cane with the short
hook that all women carried in the early days of Marie-Antoinette. She
belonged to the very highest nobility of Brittany. Her arms bore the
ermine of its ancient dukes. In her and in her sister the illustrious
Breton house of the Pen-Hoels ended. Her younger sister had married a
Kergarouet, who, in spite of the deep disapproval of the whole region,
added the name of Pen-Hoel to his own and called himself the Vicomte
"Heaven has punished him," said the old lady; "he has nothing but
daughters, and the Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel name will be wiped out."
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel possessed about seven thousand francs a year
from the rental of lands. She had come into her property at thirty-six
years of age, and managed it herself, inspecting it on horseback, and
displaying on all points the firmness of character which is noticeable
in most deformed persons. Her avarice was admired by the whole country
round, never meeting with the slightest disapproval. She kept one
woman-servant and the page. Her yearly expenses, not including taxes,
did not amount to over a thousand francs. Consequently, she was the
object of the cajoleries of the Kergarouet-Pen-Hoels, who passed the
winters at Nantes, and the summers at their estate on the banks of the
Loire below l'Indret. She was supposed to be ready to leave her
fortune and her savings to whichever of her nieces pleased her best.
Every three months one or other of the four demoiselles de
Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel, (the youngest of whom was twelve, and the eldest
twenty years of age) came to spend a few days with her.
A friend of Zephirine du Guenic, Jacqueline de Pen-Hoel, brought up to
adore the Breton grandeur of the du Guenics, had formed, ever since
the birth of Calyste, the plan of transmitting her property to the
chevalier by marrying him to whichever of her nieces the Vicomtesse de
Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel, their mother, would bestow upon him. She dreamed
of buying back some of the best of the Guenic property from the farmer
/engagistes/. When avarice has an object it ceases to be a vice; it
becomes a means of virtue; its privations are a perpetual offering; it
has the grandeur of an intention beneath its meannesses. Perhaps
Zephirine was in the secret of Jacqueline's intention. Perhaps even
the baroness, whose whole soul was occupied by love for her son and
tenderness for his father, may have guessed it as she saw with what
wily perseverance Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel brought with her her
favorite niece, Charlotte de Kergarouet, now sixteen years of age. The
rector, Monsieur Grimont, was certainly in her confidence; it was he
who helped the old maid to invest her savings.
But Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel might have had three hundred thousand
francs in gold, she might have had ten times the landed property she
actually possessed, and the du Guenics would never have allowed
themselves to pay her the slightest attention that the old woman could
construe as looking to her fortune. From a feeling of truly Breton
pride, Jacqueline de Pen-Hoel, glad of the supremacy accorded to her
old friend Zephirine and the du Guenics, always showed herself honored
by her relations with Madame du Guenic and her sister-in-law. She even
went so far as to conceal the sort of sacrifice to which she consented
every evening in allowing her page to burn in the Guenic hall that
singular gingerbread-colored candle called an /oribus/ which is still
used in certain parts of western France.
Thus this rich old maid was nobility, pride, and grandeur personified.
At the moment when you are reading this portrait of her, the Abbe
Grimont has just indiscreetly revealed that on the evening when the
old baron, the young chevalier, and Gasselin secretly departed to join
MADAME (to the terror of the baroness and the great joy of all
Bretons) Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had given the baron ten thousand
francs in gold,--an immense sacrifice, to which the abbe added another
ten thousand, a tithe collected by him,--charging the old hero to
offer the whole, in the name of the Pen-Hoels and of the parish of
Guerande, to the mother of Henri V.
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel treated Calyste as if she felt that her
intentions gave her certain rights over him; her plans seemed to
authorize a supervision. Not that her ideas were strict in the matter
of gallantry, for she had, in fact, the usual indulgence of the old
women of the old school, but she held in horror the modern ways of
revolutionary morals. Calyste, who might have gained in her estimation
by a few adventures with Breton girls, would have lost it considerably
had she seen him entangled in what she called innovations. She might
have disinterred a little gold to pay for the results of a
love-affair, but if Calyste had driven a tilbury or talked of a visit
to Paris she would have thought him dissipated, and declared him a
spendthrift. Impossible to say what she might not have done had she
found him reading novels or an impious newspaper. To her, novel ideas
meant the overthrow of succession of crops, ruin under the name of
improvements and methods; in short, mortgaged lands as the inevitable
result of experiments. To her, prudence was the true method of making
your fortune; good management consisted in filling your granaries with
wheat, rye, and flax, and waiting for a rise at the risk of being
called a monopolist, and clinging to those grain-sacks obstinately. By
singular chance she had often made lucky sales which confirmed her
principles. She was thought to be maliciously clever, but in fact she
was not quick-witted; on the other hand, being as methodical as a
Dutchman, prudent as a cat, and persistent as a priest, those
qualities in a region of routine like Brittany were, practically, the
equivalent of intellect.
"Will Monsieur du Halga join us this evening?" asked Mademoiselle de
Pen-Hoel, taking off her knitted mittens after the usual exchange of
"Yes, mademoiselle; I met him taking his dog to walk on the mall,"
replied the rector.
"Ha! then our /mouche/ will be lively to-night. Last evening we were
At the word /mouche/ the rector rose and took from a drawer in one of
the tall chests a small round basket made of fine osier, a pile of
ivory counters yellow as a Turkish pipe after twenty years' usage, and
a pack of cards as greasy as those of the custom-house officers at
Saint-Nazaire, who change them only once in two weeks. These the abbe
brought to the table, arranging the proper number of counters before
each player, and putting the basket in the centre of the table beside
the lamp, with infantine eagerness, and the manner of a man accustomed
to perform this little service.
A knock at the outer gate given firmly in military fashion echoed
through the stillness of the ancient mansion. Mademoiselle de
Pen-Hoel's page went gravely to open the door, and presently the long,
lean, methodically-clothed person of the Chevalier du Halga, former
flag-captain to Admiral de Kergarouet, defined itself in black on the
penumbra of the portico.
"Welcome, chevalier!" cried Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel.
"The altar is raised," said the abbe.
The chevalier was a man in poor health, who wore flannel for his
rheumatism, a black-silk skull-cap to protect his head from fog, and a
spencer to guard his precious chest from the sudden gusts which
freshen the atmosphere of Guerande. He always went armed with a
gold-headed cane to drive away the dogs who paid untimely court to a
favorite little bitch who usually accompanied him. This man, fussy as
a fine lady, worried by the slightest /contretemps/, speaking low to
spare his voice, had been in his early days one of the most intrepid
and most competent officers of the old navy. He had won the confidence
of de Suffren in the Indian Ocean, and the friendship of the Comte de
Portenduere. His splendid conduct while flag-captain to Admiral
Kergarouet was written in visible letters on his scarred face. To see
him now no one would have imagined the voice that ruled the storm, the
eye that compassed the sea, the courage, indomitable, of the Breton
The chevalier never smoked, never swore; he was gentle and tranquil as
a girl, as much concerned about his little dog Thisbe and her caprices
as though he were an elderly dowager. In this way he gave a high idea
of his departed gallantry, but he never so much as alluded to the
deeds of surpassing bravery which had astonished the doughty old
admiral, Comte d'Estaing. Though his manner was that of an invalid,
and he walked as if stepping on eggs and complained about the
sharpness of the wind or the heat of the sun, or the dampness of the
misty atmosphere, he exhibited a set of the whitest teeth in the
reddest of gums,--a fact reassuring as to his maladies, which were,
however, rather expensive, consisting as they did of four daily meals
of monastic amplitude. His bodily frame, like that of the baron, was
bony, and indestructibly strong, and covered with a parchment glued to
his bones as the skin of an Arab horse on the muscles which shine in
the sun. His skin retained the tawny color it received in India,
whence, however, he did not bring back either facts or ideas. He had
emigrated with the rest of his friends, lost his property, and was now
ending his days with the cross of Saint-Louis and a pension of two
thousand francs, as the legal reward of his services, paid from the
fund of the Invalides de la Marine. The slight hypochondria which made
him invent his imaginary ills is easily explained by his actual
suffering during the emigration. He served in the Russian navy until
the day when the Emperor Alexander ordered him to be employed against
France; he then resigned and went to live at Odessa, near the Duc de
Richelieu, with whom he returned to France. It was the duke who
obtained for this glorious relic of the old Breton navy the pension
which enabled him to live. On the death of Louis XVIII. he returned to
Guerande, and became, after a while, mayor of the city.
The rector, the chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had regularly
passed their evenings for the last fifteen years at the hotel de
Guenic, where the other noble personages of the neighborhood also
came. It will be readily understood that the du Guenics were at the
head of the faubourg Saint-Germain of the old Breton province, where
no member of the new administration sent down by the government was
ever allowed to penetrate. For the last six years the rector coughed
when he came to the crucial words, /Domine, salvum fac regem/.
Politics were still at that point in Guerande.
A NORMAL EVENING
/Mouche/ is a game played with five cards dealt to each player, and
one turned over. The turned-over card is trumps. At each round the
player is at liberty to run his chances or to abstain from playing his
card. If he abstains he loses nothing but his own stake, for as long
as there are no forfeits in the basket each player puts in a trifling
sum. If he plays and wins a trick he is paid /pro rata/ to the stake;
that is, if there are five sous in the basket, he wins one sou. The
player who fails to win a trick is made /mouche/; he has to pay the
whole stake, which swells the basket for the next game. Those who
decline to play throw down their cards during the game; but their play
is held to be null. The players can exchange their cards with the
remainder of the pack, as in ecarte, but only by order of sequence, so
that the first and second players may, and sometimes do, absorb the
remainder of the pack between them. The turned-over trump card belongs
to the dealer, who is always the last; he has the right to exchange it
for any card in his own hand. One powerful card is of more importance
than all the rest; it is called Mistigris. Mistigris is the knave of
This game, simple as it is, is not lacking in interest. The cupidity
natural to mankind develops in it; so does diplomatic wiliness; also
play of countenance. At the hotel du Guenic, each of the players took
twenty counters, representing five sous; which made the sum total of
the stake for each game five farthings, a large amount in the eyes of
this company. Supposing some extraordinary luck, fifty sous might be
won,--more capital than any person in Guerande spent in the course of
any one day. Consequently Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel put into this game
(the innocence of which is only surpassed in the nomenclature of the
Academy by that of La Bataille) a passion corresponding to that of the
hunters after big game. Mademoiselle Zephirine, who went shares in the
game with the baroness, attached no less importance to it. To put up
one farthing for the chance of winning five, game after game, was to
this confirmed hoarder a mighty financial operation, into which she
put as much mental action as the most eager speculator at the Bourse
expends during the rise and fall of consols.
By a certain diplomatic convention, dating from September, 1825, when
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel lost thirty-five sous, the game was to cease
as soon as a person losing ten sous should express the wish to retire.
Politeness did not allow the rest to give the retiring player the pain
of seeing the game go on without him. But, as all passions have their
Jesuitism, the chevalier and the baron, those wily politicians, had
found a means of eluding this charter. When all the players but one
were anxious to continue an exciting game, the daring sailor, du
Halga, one of those rich fellows prodigal of costs they do not pay,
would offer ten counters to Mademoiselle Zephirine or Mademoiselle
Jacqueline, when either of them, or both of them, had lost their five
sous, on condition of reimbursement in case they won. An old bachelor
could allow himself such gallantries to the sex. The baron also
offered ten counters to the old maids, but under the honest pretext of
continuing the game. The miserly maidens accepted, not, however,
without some pressing, as is the use and wont of maidens. But, before
giving way to this vast prodigality the baron and the chevalier were
required to have won; otherwise the offer would have been taken as an
/Mouche/ became a brilliant affair when a Demoiselle de Kergarouet
was in transit with her aunt. We use the single name, for the
Kergarouets had never been able to induce any one to call them
Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel,--not even their servants, although the latter
had strict orders so to do. At these times the aunt held out to the
niece as a signal treat the /mouche/ at the du Guenics. The girl was
ordered to look amiable, an easy thing to do in the presence of the
beautiful Calyste, whom the four Kergarouet young ladies all adored.
Brought up in the midst of modern civilization, these young persons
cared little for five sous a game, and on such occasions the stakes
went higher. Those were evenings of great emotion to the old blind
sister. The baroness would give her sundry hints by pressing her foot
a certain number of times, according to the size of the stake it was
safe to play. To play or not to play, if the basket were full, involved
an inward struggle, where cupidity fought with fear. If Charlotte de
Kergarouet, who was usually called giddy, was lucky in her bold throws,
her aunt on their return home (if she had not won herself), would be cold
and disapproving, and lecture the girl: she had too much decision in her
character; a young person should never assert herself in presence of
her betters; her manner of taking the basket and beginning to play was
really insolent; the proper behavior of a young girl demanded much
more reserve and greater modesty; etc.
It can easily be imagined that these games, carried on nightly for
twenty years, were interrupted now and then by narratives of events in
the town, or by discussions on public events. Sometimes the players
would sit for half an hour, their cards held fan-shape on their
stomachs, engaged in talking. If, as a result of these inattentions, a
counter was missing from the basket, every one eagerly declared that
he or she had put in their proper number. Usually the chevalier made
up the deficiency, being accused by the rest of thinking so much of
his buzzing ears, his chilly chest, and other symptoms of invalidism
that he must have forgotten his stake. But no sooner did he supply the
missing counter than Zephirine and Jacqueline were seized with
remorse; they imagined that, possibly, they themselves had forgotten
their stake; they believed--they doubted--but, after all, the
chevalier was rich enough to bear such a trifling misfortune. These
dignified and noble personages had the delightful pettiness of
suspecting each other. Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel would almost
invariably accuse the rector of cheating when he won the basket.
"It is singular," he would reply, "that I never cheat except when I
win the trick."
Often the baron would forget where he was when the talk fell on the
misfortunes of the royal house. Sometimes the evening ended in a
manner that was quite unexpected to the players, who all counted on a
certain gain. After a certain number of games and when the hour grew
late, these excellent people would be forced to separate without
either loss or gain, but not without emotion. On these sad evenings
complaints were made of /mouche/ itself; it was dull, it was long; the
players accused their /mouche/ as Negroes stone the moon in the water
when the weather is bad. On one occasion, after an arrival of the
Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, there was talk of whist and
boston being games of more interest than /mouche/. The baroness, who
was bored by /mouche/, encouraged the innovation, and all the company
--but not without reluctance--adopted it. But it proved impossible to
make them really understand the new games, which, on the departure of
the Kergarouets, were voted head-splitters, algebraic problems, and
intolerably difficult to play. All preferred their /mouche/, their
dear, agreeable /mouche/. /Mouche/ accordingly triumphed over modern
games, as all ancient things have ever triumphed in Brittany over
While the rector was dealing the cards the baroness was asking the
Chevalier du Halga the same questions which she had asked him the
evening before about his health. The chevalier made it a point of
honor to have new ailments. Inquiries might be alike, but the nautical
hero had singular advantages in the way of replies. To-day it chanced
that his ribs troubled him. But here's a remarkable thing! never did
the worthy chevalier complain of his wounds. The ills that were really
the matter with him he expected, he knew them and he bore them; but
his fancied ailments, his headaches, the gnawings in his stomach, the
buzzing in his ears, and a thousand other fads and symptoms made him
horribly uneasy; he posed as incurable,--and not without reason, for
doctors up to the present time have found no remedy for diseases that
"Yesterday the trouble was, I believe, in your legs," said the rector.
"It moves about," replied the chevalier.
"Legs to ribs?" asked Mademoiselle Zephirine.
"Without stopping on the way?" said Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, smiling.
The chevalier bowed gravely, making a negative gesture which was not a
little droll, and proved to an observer that in his youth the sailor
had been witty and loving and beloved. Perhaps his fossil life at
Guerande hid many memories. When he stood, solemnly planted on his two
heron-legs in the sunshine on the mall, gazing at the sea or watching
the gambols of his little dog, perhaps he was living again in some
terrestrial paradise of a past that was rich in recollections.
"So the old Duc de Lenoncourt is dead," said the baron, remembering
the paragraph of the "Quotidienne," where his wife had stopped
reading. "Well, the first gentleman of the Bedchamber followed his
master soon. I shall go next."
"My dear, my dear!" said his wife, gently tapping the bony calloused
hand of her husband.
"Let him say what he likes, sister," said Zephirine; "as long as I am
above ground he can't be under it; I am the elder."
A gay smile played on the old woman's lips. Whenever the baron made
reflections of that kind, the players and the visitors present looked
at each other with emotion, distressed by the sadness of the king of
Guerande; and after they had left the house they would say, as they
walked home: "Monsieur du Guenic was sad to-night. Did you notice how
he slept?" And the next day the whole town would talk of the matter.
"The Baron du Guenic fails," was a phrase that opened the conversation
in many houses.
"How is Thisbe?" asked Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel of the chevalier, as
soon as the cards were dealt.
"The poor little thing is like her master," replied the chevalier;
"she has some nervous trouble, she goes on three legs constantly. See,
In raising and crooking his arm to imitate the dog, the chevalier
exposed his hand to his cunning neighbor, who wanted to see if he had
Mistigris or the trump,--a first wile to which he succumbed.
"Oh!" said the baroness, "the end of Monsieur le cure's nose is
turning white; he has Mistigris."
The pleasure of having Mistigris was so great to the rector--as it was
to the other players--that the poor priest could not conceal it. In
all human faces there is a spot where the secret emotions of the heart
betray themselves; and these companions, accustomed for years to
observe each other, had ended by finding out that spot on the rector's
face: when he had Mistigris the tip of his nose grew pale.
"You had company to-day," said the chevalier to Mademoiselle de
"Yes, a cousin of my brother-in-law. He surprised me by announcing the
marriage of the Comtesse de Kergarouet, a Demoiselle de Fontaine."
"The daughter of 'Grand-Jacques,'" cried the chevalier, who had lived
with the admiral during his stay in Paris.
"The countess is his heir; she has married an old ambassador. My
visitor told me the strangest things about our neighbor, Mademoiselle
des Touches,--so strange that I can't believe them. If they were true,
Calyste would never be so constantly with her; he has too much good
sense not to perceive such monstrosities--"
"Monstrosities?" said the baron, waked up by the word.
The baroness and the rector exchanged looks. The cards were dealt;
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had Mistigris! Impossible to continue the
conversation! But she was glad to hide her joy under the excitement
caused by her last word.
"Your play, monsieur le baron," she said, with an air of importance.
"My nephew is not one of those youths who like monstrosities,"
remarked Zephirine, taking out her knitting-needle and scratching her
"Mistigris!" cried Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, making no reply to her
The rector, who appeared to be well-informed in the matter of Calyste
and Mademoiselle des Touches, did not enter the lists.
"What does she do that is so extraordinary, Mademoiselle des Touches?"
asked the baron.
"She smokes," replied Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel.
"That's very wholesome," said the chevalier.
"About her property?" asked the baron.
"Her property?" continued the old maid. "Oh, she is running through
"The game is mine!" said the baroness. "See, I have king, queen, knave
of trumps, Mistigris, and a king. We win the basket, sister."
This victory, gained at one stroke, without playing a card, horrified
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, who ceased to concern herself about Calyste
and Mademoiselle des Touches. By nine o'clock no one remained in the
salon but the baroness and the rector. The four old people had gone to
their beds. The chevalier, according to his usual custom, accompanied
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel to her house in the Place de Guerande, making
remarks as they went along on the cleverness of the last play, on the
joy with which Mademoiselle Zephirine engulfed her gains in those
capacious pockets of hers,--for the old blind woman no longer
repressed upon her face the visible signs of her feelings. Madame du
Guenic's evident preoccupation was the chief topic of conversation,
however. The chevalier had remarked the abstraction of the beautiful
Irish woman. When they reached Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's door-step,
and her page had gone in, the old lady answered, confidentially, the
remarks of the chevalier on the strangely abstracted air of the
"I know the cause. Calyste is lost unless we marry him promptly. He
loves Mademoiselle des Touches, an actress!"
"In that case, send for Charlotte."
"I have sent; my sister will receive my letter to-morrow," replied
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, bowing to the chevalier.
Imagine from this sketch of a normal evening the hubbub excited in
Guerande homes by the arrival, the stay, the departure, or even the
mere passage through the town, of a stranger.
When no sounds echoed from the baron's chamber nor from that of his
sister, the baroness looked at the rector, who was playing pensively
with the counters.
"I see that you begin to share my anxiety about Calyste," she said to
"Did you notice Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's displeased looks to-night?"
asked the rector.
"Yes," replied the baroness.
"She has, as I know, the best intentions about our dear Calyste; she
loves him as though he were her son, his conduct in Vendee beside his
father, the praises that MADAME bestowed upon his devotion, have only
increased her affection for him. She intends to execute a deed of gift
by which she gives her whole property at her death to whichever of her
nieces Calyste marries. I know that you have another and much richer
marriage in Ireland for your dear Calyste, but it is well to have two
strings to your bow. In case your family will not take charge of
Calyste's establishment, Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's fortune is not to
be despised. You can always find a match of seven thousand francs a
year for the dear boy, but it is not often that you could come across
the savings of forty years and landed property as well managed, built
up, and kept in repair as that of Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel. That
ungodly woman, Mademoiselle des Touches, has come here to ruin many
excellent things. Her life is now known."
"And what is it?" asked the mother.
"Oh! that of a trollop," replied the rector,--"a woman of questionable
morals, a writer for the stage; frequenting theatres and actors;
squandering her fortune among pamphleteers, painters, musicians, a
devilish society, in short. She writes books herself, and has taken a
false name by which she is better known, they tell me, than by her
own. She seems to be a sort of circus woman who never enters a church
except to look at the pictures. She has spent quite a fortune in
decorating Les Touches in a most improper fashion, making it a
Mohammedan paradise where the houris are not women. There is more wine
drunk there, they say, during the few weeks of her stay than the whole
year round in Guerande. The Demoiselles Bougniol let their lodgings
last year to men with beards, who were suspected of being Blues; they
sang wicked songs which made those virtuous women blush and weep, and
spent their time mostly at Les Touches. And this is the woman our dear
Calyste adores! If that creature wanted to-night one of the infamous
books in which the atheists of the present day scoff at holy things,
Calyste would saddle his horse himself and gallop to Nantes for it. I
am not sure that he would do as much for the Church. Moreover, this
Breton woman is not a royalist! If Calyste were again called upon to
strike a blow for the cause, and Mademoiselle des Touches--the Sieur
Camille Maupin, that is her other name, as I have just remembered--if
she wanted to keep him with her the chevalier would let his old father
go to the field without him."
"Oh, no!" said the baroness.
"I should not like to put him to the proof; you would suffer too
much," replied the rector. "All Guerande is turned upside down about
Calyste's passion for this amphibious creature, who is neither man nor
woman, who smokes like an hussar, writes like a journalist, and has at
this very moment in her house the most venomous of all writers,--so
the postmaster says, and he's a /juste-milieu/ man who reads the
papers. They are even talking about her at Nantes. This morning the
Kergarouet cousin who wants to marry Charlotte to a man with sixty
thousand francs a year, went to see Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, and
filled her mind with tales about Mademoiselle des Touches which lasted
seven hours. It is now striking a quarter to ten, and Calyste is not
home; he is at Les Touches,--perhaps he won't come in all night."
The baroness listened to the rector, who was substituting monologue
for dialogue unconsciously as he looked at this lamb of his fold, on
whose face could be read her anxiety. She colored and trembled. When
the worthy man saw the tears in the beautiful eyes of the mother, he
was moved to compassion.
"I will see Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel to-morrow," he said. "Don't be
too uneasy. The harm may not be as great as they say it is. I will
find out the truth. Mademoiselle Jacqueline has confidence in me.
Besides, Calyste is our child, our pupil,--he will never let the devil
inveigle him; neither will he trouble the peace of his family or
destroy the plans we have made for his future. Therefore, don't weep;
all is not lost, madame; one fault is not vice."
"You are only informing me of details," said the baroness. "Was not I
the first to notice the change in my Calyste? A mother keenly feels
the shock of finding herself second in the heart of her son. She
cannot be deceived. This crisis in a man's life is one of the trials
of motherhood. I have prepared myself for it, but I did not think it
would come so soon. I hoped, at least, that Calyste would take into
his heart some noble and beautiful being,--not a stage-player, a
masquerader, a theatre woman, an author whose business it is to feign
sentiments, a creature who will deceive him and make him unhappy! She
has had adventures--"
"With several men," said the rector. "And yet this impious creature
was born in Brittany! She dishonors her land. I shall preach a sermon
upon her next Sunday."
"Don't do that!" cried the baroness. "The peasants and the /paludiers/
would be capable of rushing to Les Touches. Calyste is worthy of his
name; he is Breton; some dreadful thing might happen to him, for he
would surely defend her as he would the Blessed Virgin."
"It is now ten o'clock; I must bid you good-night," said the abbe,
lighting the wick of his lantern, the glass of which was clear and the
metal shining, which testified to the care his housekeeper bestowed on
the household property. "Who could ever have told me, madame," he
added, "that a young man brought up by you, trained by me to Christian
ideas, a fervent Catholic, a child who has lived as a lamb without
spot, would plunge into such mire?"
"But is it certain?" said the mother. "How could any woman help loving
"What other proof is needed than her staying on at Les Touches. In all
the twenty-four years since she came of age she has never stayed there
so long as now; her visits to these parts, happily for us, were few
"A woman over forty years old!" exclaimed the baroness. "I have heard
say in Ireland that a woman of this description is the most dangerous
mistress a young man can have."
"As to that, I have no knowledge," replied the rector, "and I shall
die in my ignorance."
"And I, too, alas!" said the baroness, naively. "I wish now that I had
loved with love, so as to understand and counsel and comfort Calyste."
The rector did not cross the clean little court-yard alone; the
baroness accompanied him to the gate, hoping to hear Calyste's step
coming through the town. But she heard nothing except the heavy tread
of the rector's cautious feet, which grew fainter in the distance, and
finally ceased when the closing of the door of the parsonage echoed
The poor mother returned to the salon deeply distressed at finding
that the whole town was aware of what she had thought was known to her
alone. She sat down, trimmed the wick of the lamp by cutting it with a
pair of old scissors, took up once more the worsted-work she was
doing, and awaited Calyste. The baroness fondly hoped to induce her
son by this means to come home earlier and spend less time with
Mademoiselle des Touches. Such calculations of maternal jealousy were
wasted. Day after day, Calyste's visits to Les Touches became more
frequent, and every night he came in later. The night before the day
of which we speak it was midnight when he returned.
The baroness, lost in maternal meditation, was setting her stitches
with the rapidity of one absorbed in thought while engaged in manual
labor. Whoever had seen her bending to the light of the lamp beneath
the quadruply centennial hangings of that ancient room would have
admired the sublimity of the picture. Fanny's skin was so transparent
that it was possible to read the thoughts that crossed her brow
beneath it. Piqued with a curiosity that often comes to a pure woman,
she asked herself what devilish secrets these daughters of Baal
possessed to so charm men as to make them forgetful of mother, family,
country, and self-interests. Sometimes she longed to meet this woman
and judge her soberly for herself. Her mind measured to its full
extent the evils which the innovative spirit of the age--described to
her as so dangerous for young souls by the rector--would have upon her
only child, until then so guileless; as pure as an innocent girl, and
beautiful with the same fresh beauty.
Calyste, that splendid offspring of the oldest Breton race and the
noblest Irish blood, had been nurtured by his mother with the utmost
care. Until the moment when the baroness made over the training of him
to the rector of Guerande, she was certain that no impure word, no
evil thought had sullied the ears or entered the mind of her precious
son. After nursing him at her bosom, giving him her own life twice, as
it were, after guiding his footsteps as a little child, the mother had
put him with all his virgin innocence into the hands of the pastor,
who, out of true reverence for the family, had promised to give him a
thorough and Christian education. Calyste thenceforth received the
instruction which the abbe himself had received at the Seminary. The
baroness taught him English, and a teacher of mathematics was found,
not without difficulty, among the employes at Saint-Nazaire. Calyste
was therefore necessarily ignorant of modern literature, and the
advance and present progress of the sciences. His education had been
limited to geography and the circumspect history of a young ladies'
boarding-school, the Latin and Greek of seminaries, the literature of
the dead languages, and to a very restricted choice of French writers.
When, at sixteen, he began what the Abbe Grimont called his
philosophy, he was neither more nor less than what he was when Fanny
placed him in the abbe's hands. The Church had proved as maternal as
the mother. Without being over-pious or ridiculous, the idolized young
lad was a fervent Catholic.
For this son, so noble, so innocent, the baroness desired to provide a
happy life in obscurity. She expected to inherit some property, two or
three thousand pounds sterling, from an aunt. This sum, joined to the
small present fortune of the Guenics, might enable her to find a wife
for Calyste, who would bring him twelve or even fifteen thousand
francs a year. Charlotte de Kergarouet, with her aunt's fortune, a
rich Irish girl, or any other good heiress would have suited the
baroness, who seemed indifferent as to choice. She was ignorant of
love, having never known it, and, like all the other persons grouped
about her, she saw nothing in marriage but a means of fortune. Passion
was an unknown thing to these Catholic souls, these old people
exclusively concerned about salvation, God, the king, and their
property. No one should be surprised, therefore, at the foreboding
thoughts which accompanied the wounded feelings of the mother, who
lived as much for the future interests of her son as by her love for
him. If the young household would only listen to wisdom, she thought,
the coming generation of the du Guenics, by enduring privations, and
saving, as people do save in the provinces, would be able to buy back
their estates and recover, in the end, the lustre of wealth. The
baroness prayed for a long age that she might see the dawn of this
prosperous era. Mademoiselle du Guenic had understood and fully
adopted this hope which Mademoiselle des Touches now threatened to
The baroness heard midnight strike, with tears; her mind conceived of
many horrors during the next hour, for the clock struck one, and
Calyste was still not at home.
"Will he stay there?" she thought. "It would be the first time. Poor
At that moment Calyste's step resounded in the lane. The poor mother,
in whose heart rejoicing drove out anxiety, flew from the house to the
gate and opened it for her boy.
"Oh!" cried Calyste, in a grieved voice, "my darling mother, why did
you sit up for me? I have a pass-key and the tinder-box."
"You know very well, my child, that I cannot sleep when you are out,"
she said, kissing him.
When the baroness reached the salon, she looked at her son to
discover, if possible, from the expression of his face the events of
the evening. But he caused her, as usual, an emotion that frequency
never weakened,--an emotion which all loving mothers feel at sight of
a human masterpiece made by them; this sentiment blues their sight and
supersedes all others for the moment.
Except for the black eyes, full of energy and the heat of the sun,
which he derived from his father, Calyste in other respects resembled
his mother; he had her beautiful golden hair, her lovable mouth, the
same curving fingers, the same soft, delicate, and purely white skin.
Though slightly resembling a girl disguised as a man, his physical
strength was Herculean. His muscles had the suppleness and vigor of
steel springs, and the singularity of his black eyes and fair
complexion was by no means without charm. His beard had not yet
sprouted; this delay, it is said, is a promise of longevity. The
chevalier was dressed in a short coat of black velvet like that of his
mother's gown, trimmed with silver buttons, a blue foulard necktie,
trousers of gray jean, and a becoming pair of gaiters. His white brow
bore the signs of great fatigue, caused, to an observer's eye, by the
weight of painful thoughts; but his mother, incapable of supposing
that troubles could wring his heart, attributed his evident weariness
to passing excitement. Calyste was as handsome as a Greek god, and
handsome without conceit; in the first place, he had his mother's
beauty constantly before him, and next, he cared very little for
personal advantages which he found useless.
"Those beautiful pure cheeks," thought his mother, "where the rich
young blood is flowing, belong to another woman! she is the mistress
of that innocent brow! Ah! passion will lead to many evils; it will
tarnish the look of those eyes, moist as the eyes of an infant!"
This bitter thought wrung Fanny's heart and destroyed her pleasure.
It may seem strange to those who calculate expenses that in a family
of six persons compelled to live on three thousand francs a year the
son should have a coat and the mother a gown of velvet; but Fanny
O'Brien had aunts and rich relations in London who recalled themselves
to her remembrance by many presents. Several of her sisters, married
to great wealth, took enough interest in Calyste to wish to find him
an heiress, knowing that he, like Fanny their exiled favorite, was
noble and handsome.
"You stayed at Les Touches longer than you did last night, my dear
one," said the mother at last, in an agitated tone.
"Yes, dear mother," he answered, offering no explanation.
The curtness of this answer brought clouds to his mother's brow, and
she resolved to postpone the explanation till the morrow. When mothers
admit the anxieties which were now torturing the baroness, they
tremble before their sons; they feel instinctively the effect of the
great emancipation that comes with love; they perceive what that
sentiment is about to take from them; but they have, at the same time,
a sense of joy in knowing that their sons are happy; conflicting
feelings battle in their hearts. Though the result may be the
development of their sons into superior men, true mothers do not like
this forced abdication; they would rather keep their children small
and still requiring protection. Perhaps that is the secret of their
predilection for feeble, deformed, or weak-minded offspring.
"You are tired, dear child; go to bed," she said, repressing her
A mother who does not know all that her son is doing thinks the worst;
that is, if a mother loves as much and is as much beloved as Fanny.
But perhaps all other mothers would have trembled now as she did. The
patient care of twenty years might be rendered worthless. This human
masterpiece of virtuous and noble and religious education, Calyste,
might be destroyed; the happiness of his life, so long and carefully
prepared for, might be forever ruined by this woman.
The next day Calyste slept till mid-day, for his mother would not have
him wakened. Mariotte served the spoiled child's breakfast in his bed.
The inflexible and semi-conventual rules which regulated the hours for
meals yielded to the caprices of the chevalier. If it became desirable
to extract from Mademoiselle du Guenic her array of keys in order to
obtain some necessary article of food outside of the meal hours, there
was no other means of doing it than to make the pretext of its serving
some fancy of Calyste.
About one o'clock the baron, his wife, and Mademoiselle were seated in
the salon, for they dined at three o'clock. The baroness was again
reading the "Quotidienne" to her husband, who was always more awake
before the dinner hour. As she finished a paragraph she heard the
steps of her son on the upper floor, and she dropped the paper,
"Calyste must be going to dine again at Les Touches; he has dressed
"He amuses himself, the dear boy," said the old sister, taking a
silver whistle from her pocket and whistling once.
Mariotte came through the tower and appeared at the door of
communication which was hidden by a silken curtain like the other
doors of the room.
"What is it?" she said; "anything wanted?"
"The chevalier dines at Les Touches; don't cook the fish."
"But we are not sure as yet," said the baroness.
"You seem annoyed, sister; I know it by the tone of your voice."
"Monsieur Grimont has heard some very grave charges against
Mademoiselle des Touches, who for the last year has so changed our
"Changed him, how?" asked the baron.
"He reads all sorts of books."
"Ah! ah!" exclaimed the baron, "so that's why he has given up hunting
"Her morals are very reprehensible, and she has taken a man's name,"
added Madame du Guenic.
"A war name, I suppose," said the old man. "I was called 'l'Intime,'
the Comte de Fontaine 'Grand-Jacques,' the Marquis de Montauran the
'Gars.' I was the friend of Ferdinand, who never submitted, any more
than I did. Ah! those were the good times; people shot each other, but
what of that? we amused ourselves all the same, here and there."
This war memory, pushing aside paternal anxiety, saddened Fanny for a
moment. The rector's revelations, the want of confidence shown to her
by Calyste, had kept her from sleeping.
"Suppose Monsieur le chevalier does love Mademoiselle des Touches,
where's the harm?" said Mariotte. "She has thirty thousand francs a
year and she is very handsome."
"What is that you say, Mariotte?" exclaimed the old baron. "A Guenic
marry a des Touches! The des Touches were not even grooms in the days
when du Guesclin considered our alliance a signal honor."
"A woman who takes a man's name,--Camille Maupin!" said the baroness.
"The Maupins are an old family," said the baron; "they bear: gules,
three--" He stopped. "But she cannot be a Maupin and a des Touches
both," he added.
"She is called Maupin on the stage."
"A des Touches could hardly be an actress," said the old man. "Really,
Fanny, if I did not know you, I should think you were out of your
"She writes plays, and books," continued the baroness.
"Books?" said the baron, looking at his wife with an air of as much
surprise as though she were telling of a miracle. "I have heard that
Mademoiselle Scudery and Madame de Sevigne wrote books, but it was not
the best thing they did."
"Are you going to dine at Les Touches, monsieur?" said Mariotte, when
"Probably," replied the young man.
Mariotte was not inquisitive; she was part of the family; and she left
the room without waiting to hear what the baroness would say to her
"Are you going again to Les Touches, my Calyste?" The baroness
emphasized the /my/. "Les Touches is not a respectable or decent
house. Its mistress leads an irregular life; she will corrupt our
Calyste. Already Camille Maupin has made him read many books; he has
had adventures--You knew all that, my naughty child, and you never
said one word to your best friends!"
"The chevalier is discreet," said his father,--"a virtue of the olden
"Too discreet," said the jealous mother, observing the red flush on
her son's forehead.
"My dear mother," said Calyste, kneeling down beside the baroness, "I
didn't think it necessary to publish my defeat. Mademoiselle des
Touches, or, if you choose to call her so, Camille Maupin, rejected my
love more than eighteen months ago, during her last stay at Les
Touches. She laughed at me, gently; saying she might very well be my
mother; that a woman of forty committed a sort of crime against nature
in loving a minor, and that she herself was incapable of such
depravity. She made a thousand little jokes, which hurt me--for she is
witty as an angel; but when she saw me weep hot tears she tried to
comfort me, and offered me her friendship in the noblest manner. She
has more heart than even talent; she is as generous as you are
yourself. I am now her child. On her return here lately, hearing from
her that she loves another, I have resigned myself. Do not repeat the
calumnies that have been said of her. Camille is an artist, she has
genius, she leads one of those exceptional existences which cannot be
judged like ordinary lives."
"My child," said the religious Fanny, "nothing can excuse a woman for
not conducting herself as the Church requires. She fails in her duty
to God and to society by abjuring the gentle tenets of her sex. A
woman commits a sin in even going to a theatre; but to write the
impieties that actors repeat, to roam about the world, first with an
enemy to the Pope, and then with a musician, ah! Calyste, you can
never persuade me that such acts are deeds of faith, hope, or charity.
Her fortune was given her by God to do good, and what good does she do
Calyste sprang up suddenly, and looked at his mother.
"Mother," he said, "Camille is my friend; I cannot hear her spoken of
in this way; I would give my very life for her."
"Your life!" said the baroness, looking at her son, with startled
eyes. "Your life is our life, the life of all of us."
"My nephew has just said many things I do not understand," said the
old woman, turning toward him.
"Where did he learn them?" said the mother; "at Les Touches."
"Yes, my darling mother; she found me ignorant as a carp, and she has
"You knew the essential things when you learned the duties taught us
by religion," replied the baroness. "Ah! this woman is fated to
destroy your noble and sacred beliefs."
The old maid rose, and solemnly stretched forth her hands toward her
brother, who was dozing in his chair.
"Calyste," she said, in a voice that came from her heart, "your father
has never opened books, he speaks Breton, he fought for God and for
the king. Educated people did the evil, educated noblemen deserted