Part 6 out of 7
insolent, Beatrix wrote to Calyste at his own home; Madame du Guenic
received the letter, and gave it to her husband without opening it,
but she said to him, in a changed voice and with death in her soul:
"My friend, that letter is from the Jockey Club; I recognize both the
paper and the perfume."
Calyste colored, and put the letter into his pocket.
"Why don't you read it?"
"I know what it is about."
The young wife sat down. No longer did fever burn her, she wept no
more; but madness such as, in feeble beings, gives birth to miracles
of crime, madness which lays hands on arsenic for themselves or for
their rivals, possessed her. At this moment little Calyste was brought
in, and she took him in her arms to dance him. The child, just
awakened, sought the breast beneath the gown.
"He remembers,--he, at any rate," she said in a low voice.
Calyste went to his own room to read his letter. When he was no longer
present the poor young woman burst into tears, and wept as women weep
when they are all alone.
Pain, as well as pleasure, has its initiation. The first crisis, like
that in which poor Sabine nearly succumbed, returns no more than the
first fruits of other things return. It is the first wedge struck in
the torture of the heart; all others are expected, the shock to the
nerves is known, the capital of our forces has been already drawn upon
for vigorous resistance. So Sabine, sure of her betrayal, spent three
hours with her son in her arms beside the fire in a way that surprised
herself, when Gasselin, turned into a footman, came to say:--
"Madame is served."
"Let monsieur know."
"Monsieur does not dine at home, Madame la baronne."
Who knows what torture there is for a young woman of twenty-three in
finding herself alone in the great dining-room of an old mansion,
served by silent servants, under circumstances like these?
"Order the carriage," she said suddenly; "I shall go to the Opera."
She dressed superbly; she wanted to exhibit herself alone and smiling
like a happy woman. In the midst of her remorse for the addition she
had made to Madame de Rochefide's letter she had resolved to conquer,
to win back Calyste by loving kindness, by the virtues of a wife, by
the gentleness of the paschal lamb. She wished, also, to deceive all
Paris. She loved,--loved as courtesans and as angels love, with pride,
with humility. But the opera chanced to be "Otello." When Rubini sang
/Il mio cor si divide/, she rushed away. Music is sometimes mightier
than actor or poet, the two most powerful of all natures, combined.
Savinien de Portenduere accompanied Sabine to the peristyle and put
her in the carriage without being able to understand this sudden
Madame du Guenic now entered a phase of suffering which is peculiar to
the aristocracy. Envious, poor, and miserable beings,--when you see on
the arms of such women golden serpents with diamond heads, necklaces
clasped around their necks, say to yourselves that those vipers sting,
those slender bonds burn to the quick through the delicate flesh. All
such luxury is dearly bought. In situations like that of Sabine, women
curse the pleasures of wealth; they look no longer at the gilding of
their salons; the silk of the divans is jute in their eyes, exotic
flowers are nettles, perfumes poison, the choicest cookery scrapes
their throat like barley-bread, and life becomes as bitter as the Dead
Two or three examples may serve to show this reaction of luxury upon
happiness; so that all those women who have endured it may behold
their own experience.
Fully aware now of this terrible rivalry, Sabine studied her husband
when he left the house, that she might divine, if possible, the future
of his day. With what restrained fury does a woman fling herself upon
the red-hot spikes of that savage martyrdom! What delirious joy if she
could think he did not go to the rue de Chartres! Calyste returned,
and then the study of his forehead, his hair, his eyes, his
countenance, his demeanor, gave a horrible interest to mere nothings,
to observations pursued even to matters of toilet, in which a woman
loses her self-respect and dignity. These fatal investigations,
concealed in the depths of her heart, turn sour and rot the delicate
roots from which should spring to bloom the azure flowers of sacred
confidence, the golden petals of the One only love, with all the
perfumes of memory.
One day Calyste looked about him discontentedly; he had stayed at
home! Sabine made herself caressing and humble, gay and sparkling.
"You are vexed with me, Calyste; am I not a good wife? What is there
here that displeases you?" she asked.
"These rooms are so cold and bare," he replied; "you don't understand
"Tell me what is wanting."
"Ah!" she thought to herself, "Madame de Rochefide likes flowers."
Two days later, the rooms of the hotel du Guenic had assumed another
aspect. No one in Paris could flatter himself to have more exquisite
flowers than those that now adorned them.
Some time later Calyste, one evening after dinner, complained of the
cold. He twisted about in his chair, declaring there was a draught,
and seemed to be looking for something. Sabine could not at first
imagine what this new fancy signified, she, whose house possessed a
calorifere which heated the staircases, antechambers, and passages. At
last, after three days' meditation, she came to the conclusion that
her rival probably sat surrounded by a screen to obtain the
half-lights favorable to faded faces; so Sabine had a screen, but hers
was of glass and of Israelitish splendor.
"From what quarter will the next storm come?" she said to herself.
These indirect comparisons with his mistress were not yet at an end.
When Calyste dined at home he ate his dinner in a way to drive Sabine
frantic; he would motion to the servants to take away his plates after
pecking at two or three mouthfuls.
"Wasn't it good?" Sabine would ask, in despair at seeing all the pains
she had taken in conference with her cook thrown away.
"I don't say that, my angel," replied Calyste, without anger; "I am
not hungry, that is all."
A woman consumed by a legitimate passion, who struggles thus, falls at
last into a fury of desire to get the better of her rival, and often
goes too far, even in the most secret regions of married life. So
cruel, burning, and incessant a combat in the obvious and, as we may
call them, exterior matters of a household must needs become more
intense and desperate in the things of the heart. Sabine studied her
attitudes, her toilets; she took heed about herself in all the
infinitely little trifles of love.
The cooking trouble lasted nearly a month. Sabine, assisted by
Mariotte and Gasselin, invented various little vaudeville schemes to
ascertain the dishes which Madame de Rochefide served to Calyste.
Gasselin was substituted for Calyste's groom, who had fallen
conveniently ill. This enabled Gasselin to consort with Madame de
Rochefide's cook, and before long, Sabine gave Calyste the same fare,
only better; but still he made difficulties.
"What is wanting now?" she said.
"Oh, nothing," he answered, looking round the table for something he
did not find.
"Ah!" exclaimed Sabine, as she woke the next morning, "Calyste wanted
some of those Indian sauces they serve in England in cruets. Madame de
Rochefide accustoms him to all sorts of condiments."
She bought the English cruets and the spiced sauces; but it soon
became impossible for her to make such discoveries in all the
preparations invented by her rival.
This period lasted some months; which is not surprising when we
remember the sort of attraction presented by such a struggle. It is
life. And that is preferable, with its wounds and its anguish, to the
gloomy darkness of disgust, to the poison of contempt, to the void of
abdication, to that death of the heart which is called indifference.
But all Sabine's courage abandoned her one evening when she appeared
in a toilet such as women are inspired to wear in the hope of
eclipsing a rival, and about which Calyste said, laughing:--
"In spite of all you can do, Sabine, you'll never be anything but a
"Alas!" she said, dropping on a sofa, "I may never make myself a
blonde, but I know if this continues I shall soon be thirty-five years
She refused to go to the Opera as she intended, and chose to stay at
home the whole evening. But once alone she pulled the flowers from her
hair and stamped upon them; she tore off the gown and scarf and
trampled them underfoot, like a goat caught in the tangle of its
tether, which struggles till death comes. Then she went to bed.
THE WICKEDNESS OF A GOOD WOMAN
Playing for these terrible stakes Sabine grew thin; grief consumed
her; but she never for a moment forsook the role she had imposed upon
herself. Sustained by a sort of fever, her lips drove back into her
throat the bitter words that pain suggested; she repressed the
flashing of her glorious dark eyes, and made them soft even to
humility. But her failing health soon became noticeable. The duchess,
an excellent mother, though her piety was becoming more and more
Portuguese, recognized a moral cause in the physically weak condition
in which Sabine now took satisfaction. She knew the exact state of the
relation between Beatrix and Calyste; and she took great pains to draw
her daughter to her own house, partly to soothe the wounds of her
heart, but more especially to drag her away from the scene of her
martyrdom. Sabine, however, maintained the deepest silence for a long
time about her sorrows, fearing lest some one might meddle between
herself and Calyste. She declared herself happy! At the height of her
misery she recovered her pride, and all her virtues.
But at last, after some months during which her sister Clotilde and
her mother had caressed and petted her, she acknowledged her grief,
confided her sorrows, cursed life, and declared that she saw death
coming with delirious joy. She begged Clotilde, who was resolved to
remain unmarried, to be a mother to her little Calyste, the finest
child that any royal race could desire for heir presumptive.
One evening, as she sat with her young sister Athenais (whose marriage
to the Vicomte de Grandlieu was to take place at the end of Lent), and
with Clotilde and the duchess, Sabine gave utterance to the supreme
cries of her heart's anguish, excited by the pangs of a last
"Athenais," she said, when the Vicomte Juste de Grandlieu departed at
eleven o'clock, "you are going to marry; let my example be a warning
to you. Consider it a crime to display your best qualities; resist the
pleasure of adorning yourself to please Juste. Be calm, dignified,
cold; measure the happiness you give by that which you receive. This
is shameful, but it is necessary. Look at me. I perish through my best
qualities. All that I /know/ was fine and sacred and grand within me,
all my virtues, were rocks on which my happiness is wrecked. I have
ceased to please because I am not thirty-six years old. In the eyes of
some men youth is thought an inferiority. There is nothing to imagine
on an innocent face. I laugh frankly, and that is wrong; to captivate
I ought to play off the melancholy half-smile of the fallen angel, who
wants to hide her yellowing teeth. A fresh complexion is monotonous;
some men prefer their doll's wax made of rouge and spermaceti and cold
cream. I am straightforward; but duplicity is more pleasing. I am
loyally passionate, as an honest woman may be, but I ought to be
manoeuvring, tricky, hypocritical, and simulate a coldness I have not,
--like any provincial actress. I am intoxicated with the happiness of
having married one of the most charming men in France; I tell him,
naively, how distinguished he is, how graceful his movements are, how
handsome I think him; but to please him I ought to turn away my head
with pretended horror, to love nothing with real love, and tell him
his distinction is mere sickliness. I have the misfortune to admire
all beautiful things without setting myself up for a wit by caustic
and envious criticism of whatever shines from poesy and beauty. I
don't seek to make Canalis and Nathan say of /me/ in verse and prose
that my intellect is superior. I'm only a poor little artless child; I
care only for Calyste. Ah! if I had scoured the world like /her/, if I
had said as /she/ has said, 'I love,' in every language of Europe, I
should be consoled, I should be pitied, I should be adored for serving
the regal Macedonian with cosmopolitan love! We are thanked for our
tenderness if we set it in relief against our vice. And I, a noble
woman, must teach myself impurity and all the tricks of prostitutes!
And Calyste is the dupe of such grimaces! Oh, mother! oh, my dear
Clotilde! I feel that I have got my death-blow. My pride is only a
sham buckler; I am without defence against my misery; I love my
husband madly, and yet to bring him back to me I must borrow the
wisdom of indifference."
"Silly girl," whispered Clotilde, "let him think you will avenge
"I wish to die irreproachable and without the mere semblance of doing
wrong," replied Sabine. "A woman's vengeance should be worthy of her
"My child," said the duchess to her daughter, "a mother must of course
see life more coolly than you can see it. Love is not the end, but the
means, of the Family. Do not imitate that poor Baronne de Macumer.
Excessive passion is unfruitful and deadly. And remember, God sends us
afflictions with knowledge of our needs. Now that Athenais' marriage
is arranged, I can give all my thoughts to you. In fact, I have
already talked of this delicate crisis in your life with your father
and the Duc de Chaulieu, and also with d'Ajuda; we shall certainly
find means to bring Calyste back to you."
"There is always one resource with the Marquise de Rochefide,"
remarked Clotilde, smiling, to her sister; "she never keeps her
"D'Ajuda, my darling," continued the duchess, "was Monsieur de
Rochefide's brother-in-law. If our dear confessor approves of certain
little manoeuvres to which we must have recourse to carry out a plan
which I have proposed to your father, I can guarantee to you the
recovery of Calyste. My conscience is repugnant to the use of such
means, and I must first submit them to the judgment of the Abbe
Brossette. We shall not wait, my child, till you are /in extremis/
before coming to your relief. Keep a good heart! Your grief to-night
is so bitter that my secret escapes me; but it is impossible for me
not to give you a little hope."
"Will it make Calyste unhappy?" asked Sabine, looking anxiously at the
"Oh, heavens! shall I ever be as silly as that!" cried Athenais,
"Ah, little girl, you know nothing of the precipices down which our
virtue flings us when led by love," replied Sabine, making a sort of
moral revelation, so distraught was she by her woe.
The speech was uttered with such incisive bitterness that the duchess,
enlightened by the tone and accent and look of her daughter, felt
certain there was some hidden trouble.
"My dears, it is midnight; come, go to bed," she said to Clotilde and
Athenais, whose eyes were shining.
"In spite of my thirty-five years I appear to be /de trop/," said
Clotilde, laughing. While Athenais kissed her mother, Clotilde leaned
over Sabine and said in her ear: "You will tell what it is? I'll dine
with you to-morrow. If my mother's conscience won't let her act, I--I
myself will get Calyste out of the hands of the infidels."
"Well, Sabine," said the duchess, taking her daughter into her
bedroom, "tell me, what new trouble is there, my child?"
"Mamma, I am lost!"
"I wanted to get the better of that horrible woman--I conquered for a
time--I am pregnant again--and Calyste loves her so that I foresee a
total abandonment. When she hears of it she will be furious. Ah! I
suffer such tortures that I cannot endure them long. I know when he is
going to her, I know it by his joy; and his peevishness tells me as
plainly when he leaves her. He no longer troubles himself to conceal
his feelings; I have become intolerable to him. She has an influence
over him as unhealthy as she is herself in soul and body. You'll see!
she will exact from him, as the price of forgiveness, my public
desertion, a rupture like her own; she will take him away from me to
Switzerland or Italy. He is beginning now to say it is ridiculous that
he knows nothing of Europe. I can guess what those words mean, flung
out in advance. If Calyste is not cured of her in three months I don't
know what he may become; but as for me, I will kill myself."
"But your soul, my unhappy child? Suicide is a mortal sin."
"Don't you understand? She may give him a child. And if Calyste loved
the child of that woman more than mine--Oh! that's the end of my
patience and all my resignation."
She fell into a chair. She had given vent to the deepest thought in
her heart; she had no longer a hidden grief; and secret sorrow is like
that iron rod that sculptors put within the structure of their clay,
--it supports, it is a force.
"Come, go home, dear sufferer. In view of such misery the abbe will
surely give me absolution for the venial sins which the deceits of the
world compel us to commit. Leave me now, my daughter," she said, going
to her /prie-Dieu/. "I must pray to our Lord and the Blessed Virgin
for you, with special supplication. Good-bye, my dear Sabine; above
all things, do not neglect your religious duties if you wish us to
"And if we do triumph, mother, we shall only save the family. Calyste
has killed within me the holy fervor of love,--killed it by sickening
me with all things. What a honey-moon was mine, in which I was made to
feel on that first day the bitterness of a retrospective adultery!"
The next day, about two in the afternoon, one of the vicars of the
faubourg Saint-Germain appointed to a vacant bishopric in 1840 (an
office refused by him for the third time), the Abbe Brossette, one of
the most distinguished priests in Paris, crossed the court-yard of the
hotel de Grandlieu, with a step which we must needs call the
ecclesiastical step, so significant is it of caution, mystery,
calmness, gravity, and dignity. He was a thin little man about fifty
years of age, with a face as white as that of an old woman, chilled by
priestly austerities, and hollowed by all the sufferings which he
espoused. Two black eyes, ardent with faith yet softened by an
expression more mysterious than mystical, animated that truly
apostolical face. He was smiling as he mounted the steps of the
portico, so little did he believe in the enormity of the cases about
which his penitent sent for him; but as the hand of the duchess was an
open palm for charity, she was worth the time which her innocent
confessions stole from the more serious miseries of the parish.
When the vicar was announced the duchess rose, and made a few steps
toward him in the salon,--a distinction she granted only to cardinals,
bishops, simple priests, duchesses older then herself, and persons of
"My dear abbe," she said, pointing to a chair and speaking in a low
voice, "I need the authority of your experience before I throw myself
into a rather wicked intrigue, although it is one which must result in
great good; and I desire to know from you whether I shall make
hindrances to my own salvation in the course I propose to follow."
"Madame la duchesse," replied the abbe, "do not mix up spiritual
things with worldly things; they are usually irreconcilable. In the
first place, what is this matter?"
"You know that my daughter Sabine is dying of grief; Monsieur du
Guenic has left her for Madame de Rochefide."
"It is very dreadful, very serious; but you know what our dear Saint
Francois de Sales says on that subject. Remember too how Madame Guyon
complained of the lack of mysticism in the proofs of conjugal love;
she would have been very willing to see her husband with a Madame de
"Sabine is only too gentle; she is almost too completely a Christian
wife; but she has not the slightest taste for mysticism."
"Poor young woman!" said the abbe, maliciously. "What method will you
take to remedy the evil?"
"I have committed the sin, my dear director, of thinking how to launch
upon Madame de Rochefide a little man, very self-willed and full of
the worst qualities, who will certainly induce her to dismiss my
"My daughter," replied the abbe, stroking his chin, "we are not now in
the confessional; I am not obliged to make myself your judge. From the
world's point of view, I admit that the result would be decisive--"
"The means seem to me odious," she said.
"Why? No doubt the duty of a Christian woman is to withdraw a sinning
woman from an evil path, rather than push her along it; but when a
woman has advanced upon that path as far as Madame de Rochefide, it is
not the hand of man, but that of God, which recalls such a sinner; she
needs a thunderbolt."
"Father," replied the duchess, "I thank you for your indulgence; but
the thought has occurred to me that my son-in-law is brave and a
Breton. He was heroic at the time of the rash affair of that poor
MADAME. Now, if the young fellow who undertook to make Madame de
Rochefide love him were to quarrel with Calyste, and a duel should
"You have thought wisely, Madame la duchesse; and it only proves that
in crooked paths you will always find rocks of stumbling."
"I have discovered a means, my dear abbe, to do a great good; to
withdraw Madame de Rochefide from the fatal path in which she now is;
to restore Calyste to his wife, and possibly to save from hell a poor
"In that case, why consult me?" asked the vicar, smiling.
"Ah!" replied the duchess, "Because I must permit myself some rather
"You don't mean to rob anybody?"
"On the contrary, I shall apparently have to spend a great deal of
"You will not calumniate, or--"
"--injure your neighbor?"
"I don't know about that."
"Come, tell me your plan," said the abbe, now becoming curious.
"Suppose, instead of driving out one nail by another,--this is what I
thought at my /prie-Dieu/ after imploring the Blessed Virgin to
enlighten me,--I were to free Calyste by persuading Monsieur de
Rochefide to take back his wife? Instead of lending a hand to evil for
the sake of doing good to my daughter, I should do one great good by
another almost as great--"
The vicar looked at the Portuguese lady, and was pensive.
"That is evidently an idea that came to you from afar," he said, "so
"I have thanked the Virgin for it," replied the good and humble
duchess; "and I have made a vow--not counting a novena--to give twelve
hundred francs to some poor family if I succeed. But when I
communicated my plan to Monsieur de Grandlieu he began to laugh, and
said: 'Upon my honor, at your time of life I think you women have a
devil of your own.'"
"Monsieur le duc made as a husband the same reply I was about to make
when you interrupted me," said the abbe, who could not restrain a
"Ah! Father, if you approve of the idea, will you also approve of the
means of execution? It is necessary to do to a certain Madame Schontz
(a Beatrix of the quartier Saint-Georges) what I proposed to do to
Madame de Rochefide."
"I am certain that you will not do any real wrong," said the vicar,
cleverly, not wishing to hear any more, having found the result so
desirable. "You can consult me later if you find your conscience
muttering," he added. "But why, instead of giving that person in the
rue Saint-Georges a fresh occasion for scandal, don't you give her a
"Ah! my dear director, now you have rectified the only bad thing I had
in my plan. You are worthy of being an archbishop, and I hope I shall
not die till I have had the opportunity of calling you Your Eminence."
"I see only one difficulty in all this," said the abbe.
"What is that?"
"Suppose Madame de Rochefide chooses to keep your son-in-law after she
goes back to her husband?"
"That's my affair," replied the duchess; "when one doesn't often
intrigue, one does so--"
"Badly, very badly," said the abbe. "Habit is necessary for
everything. Try to employ some of those scamps who live by intrigue,
and don't show your own hand."
"Ah! monsieur l'abbe, if I make use of the means of hell, will Heaven
"You are not at confession," repeated the abbe. "Save your child."
The worthy duchess, delighted with her vicar, accompanied him to the
door of the salon.
THE NORMAL HISTORY OF AN UPPER-CLASS GRISETTE
A storm was gathering, as we see, over Monsieur de Rochefide, who
enjoyed at that moment the greatest amount of happiness that a
Parisian can desire in being to Madame Schontz as much a husband as he
had been to Beatrix. It seemed therefore, as the duke had very
sensibly said to his wife, almost an impossibility to upset so
agreeable and satisfactory an existence. This opinion will oblige us
to give certain details on the life led by Monsieur de Rochefide after
his wife had placed him in the position of a /deserted husband/. The
reader will then be enabled to understand the enormous difference
which our laws and our morals put between the two sexes in the same
situation. That which turns to misery for the woman turns to happiness
for the man. This contrast may inspire more than one young woman with
the determination to remain in her own home, and to struggle there,
like Sabine du Guenic, by practising (as she may select) the most
aggressive or the most inoffensive virtues.
Some days after Beatrix had abandoned him, Arthur de Rochefide, now an
only child in consequence of the death of his sister, the first wife
of the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto, who left no children, found himself sole
master of the hotel de Rochefide, rue d'Anjou Saint-Honore, and of two
hundred thousand francs a year left to him by his father. This rich
inheritance, added to the fortune which Arthur possessed when he
married, brought his income, including that from the fortune of his
wife, to a thousand francs a day. To a gentleman endowed with a nature
such as Mademoiselle des Touches had described it in a few words to
Calyste, such wealth was happiness enough. While his wife continued in
her home and fulfilled the duties of maternity, Rochefide enjoyed this
immense fortune; but he did not spend it any more than he expended the
faculties of his mind. His good, stout vanity, gratified by the figure
he presented as a handsome man (to which he owed a few successes that
authorized him to despise women), allowed itself free scope in the
matter of brains. Gifted with the sort of mind which we must call a
reflector, he appropriated the sallies of others, the wit of the stage
and the /petits journaux/, by his method of repeating them, and
applied them as formulas of criticism. His military joviality (he had
served in the Royal Guard) seasoned conversation with so much point
that women without any intellects proclaimed him witty, and the rest
did not dare to contradict them.
This system Arthur pursued in all things; he owed to nature the
convenient genius of imitation without mimicry; he imitated seriously.
Thus without any taste of his own, he knew how to be the first to
adopt and the first to abandon a new fashion. Accused of nothing worse
than spending too much time at his toilet and wearing a corset, he
presented the type of those persons who displease no one by adopting
incessantly the ideas and the follies of everbody, and who, astride of
circumstance, never grow old.
As a husband, he was pitied; people thought Beatrix inexcusable for
deserting the best fellow on earth, and social jeers only touched the
woman. A member of all clubs, subscriber to all the absurdities
generated by patriotism or party spirit ill-understood (a compliance
which put him in the front rank /a propos/ of all such matters), this
loyal, brave, and very silly nobleman, whom unfortunately so many rich
men resemble, would naturally desire to distinguish himself by
adopting some fashionable mania. Consequently, he glorified his name
principally in being the sultan of a four-footed harem, governed by an
old English groom, which cost him monthly from four to five thousand
francs. His specialty was /running horses;/ he protected the equine
race and supported a magazine devoted to hippic questions; but, for
all that, he knew very little of the animals, and from shoes to
bridles he depended wholly on his groom,--all of which will
sufficiently explain to you that this semi-bachelor had nothing
actually of his own, neither mind, taste, position, or absurdity; even
his fortune came from his fathers. After having tasted the
displeasures of marriage he was so content to find himself once more a
bachelor that he said among his friends, "I was born with a caul"
(that is, to good luck).
Pleased above all things to be able to live without the costs of
making an appearance, to which husbands are constrained, his house, in
which since the death of his father nothing had been changed,
resembled those of masters who are travelling; he lived there little,
never dined, and seldom slept there. Here follows the reason for such
After various amorous adventures, bored by women of fashion of the
kind who are truly bores, and who plant too many thorny hedges around
happiness, he had married after a fashion, as we shall see, a certain
Madame Schontz, celebrated in the world of Fanny Beaupre, Susanne du
Val-Noble, Florine, Mariette, Jenny Cadine, etc. This world,--of which
one of our artists wittily remarked at the frantic moment of an opera
/galop/, "When one thinks that all /that/ is lodged and clothed and
lives well, what a fine idea it gives us of mankind!"--this world has
already irrupted elsewhere into this history of French manners and
customs of the nineteenth century; but to paint it with fidelity, the
historian should proportion the number of such personages to the
diverse endings of their strange careers, which terminate either in
poverty under its most hideous aspect, or by premature death often
self-inflicted, or by lucky marriages, occasionally by opulence.
Madame Schontz, known at first under the name of La Petite-Aurelie, to
distinguish her from one of her rivals far less clever than herself,
belongs to the highest class of those women whose social utility
cannot be questioned by the prefect of the Seine, nor by those who are
interested in the welfare of the city of Paris. Certainly the Rat,
accused of demolishing fortunes which frequently never existed, might
better be compared to a beaver. Without the Aspasias of the Notre-Dame
de Lorette quarter, far fewer houses would be built in Paris. Pioneers
in fresh stucco, they have gone, towed by speculation, along the
heights of Montmartre, pitching their tents in those solitudes of
carved free-stone, the like of which adorns the European streets of
Amsterdam, Milan, Stockholm, London, and Moscow, architectural steppes
where the wind rustles innumerable papers on which a void is divulged
by the words, /Apartments to let/.
The situation of these dames is determined by that which they take in
the apocryphal regions. If the house is near the line traced by the
rue de Provence, the woman has an income, her budget prospers; but if
she approaches the farther line of the Boulevard Exterieur or rises
towards the horrid town of Batignolles, she is without resources. When
Monsieur de Rochefide first encountered Madame Schontz, she lived on
the third floor of the only house that remained in the rue de Berlin;
thus she was camping on the border-land between misery and its
reverse. This person was not really named, as you may suppose, either
Schontz or Aurelie. She concealed the name of her father, an old
soldier of the Empire, that perennial colonel who always appears at
the dawn of all these feminine existences either as father or seducer.
Madame Schontz had received the gratuitous education of Saint-Denis,
where young girls are admirably brought up, but where, unfortunately,
neither husbands nor openings in life are offered to them when they
leave the school,--an admirable creation of the Emperor, which now
lacks but one thing, the Emperor himself!
"I shall be there, to provide for the daughters of my faithful
legions," he replied to a remark of one of his ministers, who foresaw
Napoleon had also said, "I shall be there!" for the members of the
Institute; to whom they had better give no salary than send them
eighty francs each month, a wage that is less than that of certain
Aurelie was really the daughter of the intrepid Colonel Schiltz, a
leader of those bold Alsacian guerillas who came near saving the
Emperor in the campaign of France. He died at Metz,--robbed, pillaged,
ruined. In 1814 Napoleon put the little Josephine Schiltz, then about
nine years old, at Saint-Denis. Having lost both father and mother and
being without a home and without resources, the poor child was not
dismissed from the institution on the second return of the Bourbons.
She was under-mistress of the school till 1827, but then her patience
gave way; her beauty seduced her. When she reached her majority
Josephine Schiltz, the Empress's goddaughter, was on the verge of the
adventurous life of a courtesan, persuaded to that doubtful future by
the fatal example of some of her comrades like herself without
resources, who congratulated themselves on their decision. She
substituted /on/ for /il/ in her father's name and placed herself
under the patronage of Saint-Aurelie.
Lively, witty, and well-educated, she committed more faults than her
duller companions, whose misdemeanors had invariably self-interest for
their base. After knowing various writers, poor but dishonest, clever
but deeply in debt; after trying certain rich men as calculating as
they were foolish; and after sacrificing solid interests to one true
love,--thus going through all the schools in which experience is
taught,--on a certain day of extreme misery, when, at Valentino's (the
first stage to Musard) she danced in a gown, hat, and mantle that were
all borrowed, she attracted the attention of Arthur de Rochefide, who
had come there to see the famous /galop/. Her cleverness instantly
captivated the man who at that time knew not what passion to devote
himself to. So that two years after his desertion by Beatrix, the
memory of whom often humiliated him, the marquis was not blamed by any
one for marrying, so to speak, in the thirteenth arrondissement, a
substitute for his wife.
Let us sketch the four periods of this happiness. It is necessary to
show that the theory of marriage in the thirteenth arrondissement
affects in like manner all who come within its rule.[*] Marquis in the
forties, sexagenary retired shopkeeper, quadruple millionnaire or
moderate-income man, great seigneur or bourgeois, the strategy of
passion (except for the differences inherent in social zones) never
varies. The heart and the money-box are always in the same exact and
clearly defined relation. Thus informed, you will be able to estimate
the difficulties the duchess was certain to encounter in her
[*] Before 1859 there was no 13th arrondissement in Paris, hence the
Who knows the power in France of witty sayings upon ordinary minds, or
what harm the clever men who invent them have done? For instance, no
book-keeper could add up the figures of the sums remaining
unproductive and lost in the depths of generous hearts and
strong-boxes by that ignoble phrase, "/tirer une carotte!/"
The saying has become so popular that it must be allowed to soil this
page. Besides, if we penetrate within the 13th arrondissement, we are
forced to accept its picturesque patois. /Tirer une carotte/ has a
dozen allied meanings, but it suffices to give it here as: /To dupe/.
Monsieur de Rochefide, like all little minds, was terribly afraid of
being /carotte/. The noun has become a verb. From the very start of
his passion for Madame Schontz, Arthur was on his guard, and he was,
therefore, very /rat/, to use another word of the same vocabulary. The
word /rat/, when applied to a young girl, means the guest or the one
entertained, but applied to a man it signifies the giver of the feast
who is niggardly.
Madame Schontz had too much sense and she knew men too well not to
conceive great hopes from such a beginning. Monsieur de Rochefide
allowed her five hundred francs a month, furnished for her, rather
shabbily, an apartment costing twelve hundred francs a year on a
second floor in the rue Coquenard, and set himself to study Aurelie's
character, while she, perceiving his object, gave him a character to
study. Consequently, Rochefide became happy in meeting with a woman of
noble nature. But he saw nothing surprising in that; her mother was a
Barnheim of Baden, a well-bred woman. Besides, Aurelie was so well
brought up herself! Speaking English, German, and Italian, she
possessed a thorough knowledge of foreign literatures. She could hold
her own against all second-class pianists. And, remark this! she
behaved about her talents like a well-bred woman; she never mentioned
them. She picked up a brush in a painter's studio, used it half
jestingly, and produced a head which caused general astonishment. For
mere amusement during the time she pined as under-mistress at
Saint-Denis, she had made some advance in the domain of the sciences,
but her subsequent life had covered these good seeds with a coating of
salt, and she now gave Arthur the credit of the sprouting of the
precious germs, re-cultivated for him.
Thus Aurelie began by showing a disinterestedness equal to her other
charms, which allowed this weak corvette to attach its grapnels
securely to the larger vessel. Nevertheless, about the end of the
first year, she made ignoble noises in the antechamber with her clogs,
coming in about the time when the marquis was awaiting her, and
hiding, as best she could, the draggled tail of an outrageously muddy
gown. In short, she had by this time so perfectly persuaded her /gros
papa/ that all her ambition, after so many ups and downs, was to
obtain honorably a comfortable little bourgeois existence, that, about
ten months after their first meeting, the second phase of happiness
Madame Schontz then obtained a fine apartment in the rue
Neuve-Saint-Georges. Arthur, who could no longer conceal the amount of
his fortune, gave her splendid furniture, a complete service of plate,
twelve hundred francs a month, a low carriage with one horse,--this,
however, was hired; but he granted a tiger very graciously. Madame
Schontz was not the least grateful for this munificence; she knew the
motive of her Arthur's conduct, and recognized the calculations of the
male /rat/. Sick of living at a restaurant, where the fare is usually
execrable, and where the least little /gourmet/ dinner costs sixty
francs for one, and two hundred francs if you invite three friends,
Rochefide offered Madame Schontz forty francs a day for his dinner and
that of a friend, everything included. Aurelie accepted.
Thus having made him take up all her moral letters of credit, drawn
one by one on Monsieur de Rochefide's comfort, she was listened to
with favor when she asked for five hundred francs more a month for her
dress, in order not to shame her /gros papa/, whose friends all
belonged to the Jockey Club.
"It would be a pretty thing," she said, "if Rastignac, Maxime de
Trailles, d'Esgrignon, La Roche-Hugon, Ronqueroles, Laginski,
Lenoncourt, found you with a sort of Madame Everard. Besides, have
confidence in me, papa, and you'll be the gainer."
In fact, Aurelie contrived to display new virtues in this second
phase. She laid out for herself a house-keeping role for which she
claimed much credit. She made, so she said, both ends meet at the
close of the month on two thousand five hundred francs without a debt,
--a thing unheard of in the faubourg Saint-Germain of the 13th
arrondissement,--and she served dinners infinitely superior to those
of Nucingen, at which exquisite wines were drunk at twelve francs a
bottle. Rochefide, amazed, and delighted to be able to invite his
friends to the house with economy, declared, as he caught her round
"She's a treasure!"
Soon after he hired one-third of a box at the Opera for her; next he
took her to first representations. Then he began to consult his
Aurelie, and recognized the excellence of her advice. She let him take
the clever sayings she said about most things for his own, and, these
being unknown to others, raised his reputation as an amusing man. He
now acquired the certainty of being loved truly, and for himself
alone. Aurelie refused to make the happiness of a Russian prince who
offered her five thousand francs a month.
"You are a lucky man, my dear marquis," cried old Prince Galathionne
as he finished his game of whist at the club. "Yesterday, after you
left us alone, I tried to get Madame Schontz away from you, but she
said: 'Prince, you are not handsomer, but you are a great deal older
than Rochefide; you would beat me, but he is like a father to me; can
you give me one-tenth of a reason why I should change? I've never had
the grand passion for Arthur that I once had for little fools in
varnished boots and whose debts I paid; but I love him as a wife loves
her husband when she is an honest woman.' And thereupon she showed me
This speech, which did not seem exaggerated, had the effect of greatly
increasing the state of neglect and degradation which reigned in the
hotel de Rochefide. Arthur now transported his whole existence and his
pleasures to Madame Schontz, and found himself well off; for at the
end of three years he had four hundred thousand francs to invest.
The third phase now began. Madame Schontz became the tenderest of
mothers to Arthur's son; she fetched him from school and took him back
herself; she overwhelmed with presents and dainties and pocket-money
the child who called her his "little mamma," and who adored her. She
took part in the management of Arthur's property; she made him buy
into the Funds when low, just before the famous treaty of London which
overturned the ministry of March 1st. Arthur gained two hundred
thousand francs by that transaction and Aurelie did not ask for a
penny of it. Like the gentleman that he was, Rochefide invested his
six hundred thousand francs in stock of the Bank of France and put
half of that sum in the name of Josephine Schiltz. A little house was
now hired in the rue de La Bruyere and given to Grindot, that great
decorative architect, with orders to make it a perfect bonbon-box.
Henceforth, Rochefide no longer managed his affairs. Madame Schontz
received the revenues and paid the bills. Become, as it were,
practically his wife, his woman of business, she justified the
position by making her /gros papa/ more comfortable than ever; she had
learned all his fancies, and gratified them as Madame de Pompadour
gratified those of Louis XV. In short, Madame Schontz reigned an
absolute mistress. She then began to patronize a few young men,
artists, men of letters, new-fledged to fame, who rejected both
ancients and moderns, and strove to make themselves a great reputation
by accomplishing little or nothing.
The conduct of Madame Schontz, a triumph of tactics, ought to reveal
to you her superiority. In the first place, these ten or a dozen young
fellows amused Arthur; they supplied him with witty sayings and clever
opinions on all sorts of topics, and did not put in doubt the fidelity
of the mistress; moreover, they proclaimed her a woman who was
eminently intelligent. These living advertisements, these
perambulating articles, soon set up Madame Schontz as the most
agreeable woman to be found in the borderland which separates the
thirteenth arrondissement from the twelve others. Her rivals--Suzanne
Gaillard, who, in 1838, had won the advantage over her of becoming a
wife married in legitimate marriage, Fanny Beaupre, Mariette, Antonia
--spread calumnies that were more than droll about the beauty of those
young men and the complacent good-nature with which Monsieur de
Rochefide welcomed them. Madame Schontz, who could distance, as she
said, by three /blagues/ the wit of those ladies, said to them one
night at a supper given by Nathan to Florine, after recounting her
fortune and her success, "Do as much yourselves!"--a speech which
remained in their memory.
It was during this period that Madame Schontz made Arthur sell his
race-horses, through a series of considerations which she no doubt
derived from the critical mind of Claude Vignon, one of her
"I can conceive," she said one night, after lashing the horses for
some time with her lively wit, "that princes and rich men should set
their hearts on horse-flesh, but only for the good of the country, not
for the paltry satisfactions of a betting man. If you had a stud farm
on your property and could raise a thousand or twelve hundred horses,
and if all the horses of France and of Navarre could enter into one
great solemn competition, it would be fine; but you buy animals as the
managers of theatres trade in artists; you degrade an institution to a
gambling game; you make a Bourse of legs, as you make a Bourse of
stocks. It is unworthy. Don't you spend sixty thousand francs
sometimes merely to read in the newspapers: 'Lelia, belonging to
Monsieur de Rochefide beat by a length Fleur-de-Genet the property of
Monsieur le Duc de Rhetore'? You had much better give that money to
poets, who would carry you in prose and verse to immortality, like the
By dint of being prodded, the marquis was brought to see the
hollowness of the turf; he realized that economy of sixty thousand
francs; and the next year Madame Schontz remarked to him,--
"I don't cost you anything now, Arthur."
Many rich men envied the marquis and endeavored to entice Madame
Schontz away from him, but like the Russian prince they wasted their
"Listen to me," she said to Finot, now become immensely rich. "I am
certain that Rochefide would forgive me a little passion if I fell in
love with any one, but one doesn't leave a marquis with a kind heart
like that for a /parvenu/ like you. You couldn't keep me in the
position in which Arthur has placed me; he has made me half a wife and
a lady, and that's more than you could do even if you married me."
This was the last nail which clinched the fetters of that happy
galley-slave, for the speech of course reached the ears for which it
The fourth phase had begun, that of /habit/, the final victory in
these plans of campaign, which make the women of this class say of a
man, "I hold him!" Rochefide, who had just bought the little hotel in
the name of Mademoiselle Josephine Schiltz (a trifle of eighty
thousand francs), had reached, at the moment the Duchesse de Grandlieu
was forming plans about him, the stage of deriving vanity from his
mistress (whom he now called Ninon II.), by vaunting her scrupulous
honesty, her excellent manners, her education, and her wit. He had
merged his own defects, merits, tastes, and pleasures in Madame
Schontz, and he found himself at this period of his life, either from
lassitude, indifference, or philosophy, a man unable to change, who
clings to wife or mistress.
We may understand the position won in five years by Madame Schontz
from the fact that presentation at her house had to be proposed some
time before it was granted. She refused to receive dull rich people
and smirched people; and only departed from this rule in favor of
certain great names of the aristocracy.
"They," she said, "have a right to be stupid because they are
She possessed ostensibly the three hundred thousand francs which
Rochefide had given her, and which a certain good fellow, a broker
named Gobenheim (the only man of that class admitted to her house)
invested and reinvested for her. But she manipulated for herself
secretly a little fortune of two hundred thousand francs, the result
of her savings for the last three years and of the constant movement
of the three hundred thousand francs,--for she never admitted the
possession of more than that known sum.
"The more you make, the less you get rich," said Gobenheim to her one
"Water is so dear," she answered.
This secret hoard was increased by jewels and diamonds, which Aurelie
wore a month and then sold. When any one called her rich, Madame
Schontz replied that at the rate of interest in the Funds three
hundred thousand francs produced only twelve thousand, and she had
spent as much as that in the hardest days of her life.
ONE OF THE DISEASES OF THE AGE
Such conduct implied a plan, and Madame Schontz had, as you may well
believe, a plan. Jealous for the last two years of Madame du Bruel,
she was consumed with the ambition to be married by church and mayor.
All social positions have their forbidden fruit, some little thing
magnified by desire until it has become the weightiest thing in life.
This ambition of course involved a second Arthur; but no espial on the
part of those about her had as yet discovered Rochefide's secret
rival. Bixiou fancied he saw the favored one in Leon de Lora; the
painter saw him in Bixiou, who had passed his fortieth year and ought
to be making himself a fate of some kind. Suspicions were also turned
on Victor de Vernisset, a poet of the school of Canalis, whose passion
for Madame Schontz was desperate; but the poet accused Stidmann, a
young sculptor, of being his fortune rival. This artist, a charming
lad, worked for jewellers, for manufacturers in bronze and
silver-smiths; he longed to be another Benvenuto Cellini. Claude Vignon,
the young Comte de la Palferine, Gobenheim, Vermanton a cynical
philosopher, all frequenters of this amusing salon, were severally
suspected, and proved innocent. No one had fathomed Madame Schontz,
certainly not Rochefide, who thought she had a penchant for the young
and witty La Palferine; she was virtuous from self-interest and was
wholly bent on making a good marriage.
Only one man of equivocal reputation was ever seen in Madame Schontz's
salon, namely Couture, who had more than once made his brother
speculators howl; but Couture had been one of Madame Schontz's
earliest friends, and she alone remained faithful to him. The false
alarm of 1840 swept away the last vestige of this stock-gambler's
credit; Aurelie, seeing his run of ill-luck, made Rochefide play, as
we have seen, in the other direction. Thankful to find a place for
himself at Aurelie's table, Couture, to whom Finot, the cleverest or,
if you choose, the luckiest of all parvenus, occasionally gave a note
of a thousand francs, was alone wise and calculating enough to offer
his hand and name to madame Schontz, who studied him to see if the
bold speculator had sufficient power to make his way in politics and
enough gratitude not to desert his wife. Couture, a man about
forty-three years of age, half worn-out, did not redeem the unpleasant
sonority of his name by birth; he said little of the authors of his
Madame Schontz was bemoaning to herself the rarity of eligible men,
when Couture presented to her a provincial, supplied with the two
handles by which women take hold of such pitchers when they wish to
keep them. To sketch this person will be to paint a portion of the
youth of the day. The digression is history.
In 1838, Fabien du Ronceret, son of a chief-justice of the Royal court
at Caen (who had lately died), left his native town of Alencon,
resigning his judgeship (a position in which his father had compelled
him, he said, to waste his time), and came to Paris, with the
intention of making a noise there,--a Norman idea, difficult to
realize, for he could scarcely scrape together eight thousand francs a
year; his mother still being alive and possessing a life-interest in a
valuable estate in Alencon. This young man had already, during
previous visits to Paris, tried his rope, like an acrobat, and had
recognized the great vice of the social replastering of 1830. He meant
to turn it to his own profit, following the example of the longest
heads of the bourgeoisie. This requires a rapid glance on one of the
effects of the new order of things.
Modern equality, unduly developed in our day, has necessarily
developed in private life, on a line parallel with political life, the
three great divisions of the social /I;/ namely, pride, conceit, and
vanity. Fools wish to pass for wits; wits want to be thought men of
talent; men of talent wish to be treated as men of genius; as for men
of genius, they are more reasonable; they consent to be only demigods.
This tendency of the public mind of these days, which, in the Chamber,
makes the manufacturer jealous of the statesman, and the administrator
jealous of the writer, leads fools to disparage wits, wits to
disparage men of talent, men of talent to disparage those who outstrip
them by an inch or two, and the demigods to threaten institutions, the
throne, or whatever does not adore them unconditionally. So soon as a
nation has, in a very unstatesmanlike spirit, pulled down all
recognized social superiorities, she opens the sluice through which
rushes a torrent of secondary ambitions, the meanest of which resolves
to lead. She had, so democrats declare, an evil in her aristocracy;
but a defined and circumscribed evil; she exchanges it for a dozen
armed and contending aristocracies--the worst of all situations. By
proclaiming the equality of all, she has promulgated a declaration of
the rights of Envy. We inherit to-day the saturnalias of the
Revolution transferred to the domain, apparently peaceful, of the
mind, of industry, of politics; it now seems that reputations won by
toil, by services rendered, by talent, are privileges granted at the
expense of the masses. Agrarian law will spread to the field of glory.
Never, in any age, have men demanded the affixing of their names on
the nation's posters for reasons more puerile. Distinction is sought
at any price, by ridicule, by an affectation of interest in the
cause of Poland, in penitentiaries, in the future of liberated
galley-slaves, in all the little scoundrels above and below twelve
years, and in every other social misery. These diverse manias create
fictitious dignities, presidents, vice-presidents, and secretaries of
societies, the number of which is greater than that of the social
questions they seek to solve. Society on its grand scale has been
demolished to make a million of little ones in the image of the
defunct. These parasitic organizations reveal decomposition; are they
not the swarming of maggots in the dead body? All these societies are
the daughters of one mother, Vanity. It is not thus that Catholic
charity or true beneficence proceeds; /they/ study evils in wounds and
cure them; they don't perorate in public meetings upon deadly ills for
the pleasure of perorating.
Fabien du Ronceret, without being a superior man, had divined, by the
exercise of that greedy common-sense peculiar to a Norman, the gain he
could derive from this public vice. Every epoch has its character
which clever men make use of. Fabien's mind, though not clever, was
wholly bent on making himself talked about.
"My dear fellow, a man must make himself talked about, if he wants to
be anything," he said, on parting from the king of Alencon, a certain
du Bousquier, a friend of his father. "In six months I shall be better
known than you are!"
It was thus that Fabien interpreted the spirit of his age; he did not
rule it, he obeyed it. He made his debut in Bohemia, a region in the
moral topography of Paris where he was known as "The Heir" by reason
of certain premeditated prodigalities. Du Ronceret had profited by
Couture's follies for the pretty Madame Cadine, for whom, during his
ephemeral opulence, he had arranged a delightful ground-floor
apartment with a garden in the rue Blanche. The Norman, who wanted his
luxury ready-made, bought Couture's furniture and all the improvements
he was forced to leave behind him,--a kiosk in the garden, where he
smoked, a gallery in rustic wood, with India mattings and adorned with
potteries, through which to reach the kiosk if it rained. When the
Heir was complimented on his apartment, he called it his /den/. The
provincial took care not to say that Grindot, the architect, had
bestowed his best capacity upon it, as did Stidmann on the carvings,
and Leon de Lora on the paintings, for Fabien's crowning defect was
the vanity which condescends to lie for the sake of magnifying the
The Heir complimented these magnificences by a greenhouse which he
built along a wall with a southern exposure,--not that he loved
flowers, but he meant to attack through horticulture the public notice
he wanted to excite. At the present moment he had all but attained his
end. Elected vice-president of some sort of floral society presided
over by the Duc de Vissembourg, brother of the Prince de Chiavari,
youngest son of the late Marechal Vernon, he adorned his coat with the
ribbon of the Legion of honor on the occasion of an exhibition of
products, the opening speech at which, delivered by him, and bought of
Lousteau for five hundred francs, was boldly pronounced to be his own
brew. He also made himself talked about by a flower, given to him by
old Blondet of Alencon, father of Emile Blondet, which he presented to
the horticultural world as the product of his own greenhouse.
But this success was nothing. The Heir, who wished to be accepted as a
wit, had formed a plan of consorting with clever celebrities and so
reflecting their fame,--a plan somewhat hard to execute on a basis of
an exchequer limited to eight thousand francs a year. With this end in
view, Fabien du Ronceret had addressed himself again and again,
without success, to Bixiou, Stidmann, and Leon de Lora, asking them to
present him to Madame Schontz, and allow him to take part in that
menageria of lions of all kinds. Failing in those directions he
applied to Couture, for whose dinners he had so often paid that the
late speculator felt obliged to prove categorically to Madame Schontz
that she ought to acquire such an original, if it was only to make him
one of those elegant footmen without wages whom the mistresses of
households employ to do errands, when servants are lacking.
In the course of three evenings Madame Schontz read Fabien like a book
and said to herself,--
"If Couture does not suit me, I am certain of saddling that one. My
future can go on two legs now."
This queer fellow whom everybody laughed at was really the chosen one,
--chosen, however, with an intention which made such preference
insulting. The choice escaped all public suspicion by its very
improbability. Madame Schontz intoxicated Fabien with smiles given
secretly, with little scenes played on the threshold when she bade him
good-night, if Monsieur de Rochefide stayed behind. She often made
Fabien a third with Arthur in her opera-box and at first
representations; this she excused by saying he had done her such or
such a service and she did not know how else to repay him. Men have a
natural conceit as common to them as to women,--that of being loved
exclusively. Now of all flattering passions there is none more prized
than that of a Madame Schontz, for the man she makes the object of a
love she calls "from the heart," in distinction from another sort of
love. A woman like Madame Schontz, who plays the great lady, and whose
intrinsic value is real, was sure to be an object of pride to Fabien,
who fell in love with her to the point of never presenting himself
before her eyes except in full dress, varnished boots, lemon-kid
gloves, embroidered shirt and frill, waistcoat more or less
variegated,--in short, with all the external symptoms of profound
A month before the conference of the duchess and her confessor, Madame
Schontz had confided the secret of her birth and her real name to
Fabien, who did not in the least understand the motive of the
confidence. A fortnight later, Madame Schontz, surprised at this want
of intelligence, suddenly exclaimed to herself:--
"Heavens! how stupid I am! he expects me to love him for himself."
Accordingly the next day she took the Heir in her /caleche/ to the
Bois, for she now had two little carriages, drawn by two horses. In
the course of this public /tete-a-tete/ she opened the question of her
future, and declared that she wished to marry.
"I have seven hundred thousand francs," she said, "and I admit to you
that if I could find a man full of ambition, who knew how to
understand my character, I would change my position; for do you know
what is the dream of my life? To become a true bourgeoise, enter an
honorable family, and make my husband and children truly happy."
The Norman would fain be "distinguished" by Madame Schontz, but as
for marrying her, that folly seemed debatable to a bachelor of
thirty-eight whom the revolution of July had made a judge. Seeing his
hesitation, Madame Schontz made the Heir the butt of her wit, her
jests, and her disdain, and turned to Couture. Within a week, the
latter, whom she put upon the scent of her fortune, had offered his
hand, and heart, and future,--three things of about the same value.
The manoeuvres of Madame Schontz had reached this stage of proceeding,
when Madame de Grandlieu began her inquiries into the life and habits
of the Beatrix of the Place Saint-Georges.
THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIAL RELATIONS AND POSITION
In accordance with the advice of the Abbe Brossette the Duchesse de
Grandlieu asked the Marquis d'Ajuda to bring her that king of
political cut-throats, the celebrated Comte Maxime de Trailles,
archduke of Bohemia, the youngest of young men, though he was now
fully fifty years of age. Monsieur d'Ajuda arranged to dine with
Maxime at the club in the rue de Beuane, and proposed to him after
dinner to go and play dummy whist with the Duc de Grandlieu, who had
an attack of gout and was all alone.
Though the son-in-law of the duke and the cousin of the duchess had
every right to present him in a salon where he had never yet set foot,
Maxime de Trailles did not deceive himself as to the meaning of an
invitation thus given. He felt certain that the duke or the duchess
had some need of him. Club life where men play cards with other men
whom they do not receive in their own houses is by no means one of the
most trifling signs of the present age.
The Duc de Grandlieu did Maxime the honor of appearing to suffer from
his gout. After several games of whist he went to bed, leaving his
wife /tete-a-tete/ with Maxime and d'Ajuda. The duchess, seconded by
the marquis, communicated her project to Monsieur de Trailles, and
asked his assistance, while ostensibly asking only for his advice.
Maxime listened to the end without committing himself, and waited till
the duchess should ask point-blank for his co-operation before
"Madame, I fully understand you," he then said, casting on her and the
marquis one of those shrewd, penetrating, astute, comprehensive
glances by which such great scamps compromise their interlocutors.
"D'Ajuda will tell you that if any one in Paris can conduct that
difficult negotiation, it is I,--of course without mixing you up in
it; without its being even known that I have come here this evening.
Only, before anything is done, we must settle preliminaries. How much
are you willing to sacrifice?"
"All that is necessary."
"Very well, then, Madame la duchesse. As the price of my efforts you
must do me the honor to receive in your house and seriously protect
Madame la Comtesse de Trailles."
"What! are you married?" cried d'Ajuda.
"I shall be married within a fortnight to the heiress of a rich but
extremely bourgeois family,--a sacrifice to opinion! I imbibe the very
spirit of my government, and start upon a new career. Consequently,
Madame la duchesse will understand how important it is to me to have
my wife adopted by her and by her family. I am certain of being made
deputy by the resignation of my father-in-law, and I am promised a
diplomatic post in keeping with my new fortune. I do not see why my
wife should not be as well received as Madame de Portenduere in that
society of young women which includes Mesdames de la Bastie, Georges
de Maufrigneuse, de L'Estorade, du Guenic, d'Ajuda, de Restaud, de
Rastignac, de Vandenesse. My wife is pretty, and I will undertake to
/un-cotton-night-cap/ her. Will this suit you, Madame la duchesse? You
are religious, and if you say yes, your promise, which I know to be
sacred, will greatly aid in my change of life. It will be one more
good action to your account. Alas! I have long been the king of
/mauvais sujets/, and I want to make an end of it. After all, we bear,
azure, a wivern or, darting fire, ongle gules, and scaled vert, a
chief ermine, from the time of Francois I., who thought proper to
ennoble the valet of Louis XI., and we have been counts since
Catherine de' Medici."
"I will receive and protect your wife," said the duchess, solemnly,
"and my family will not turn its back upon her; I give you my word."
"Ah! Madame la duchesse," cried Maxime, visibly touched, "if Monsieur
le duc would also deign to treat me with some kindness, I promise you
to make your plan succeed without its costing you very much. But," he
continued after a pause, "you must take upon yourself to follow my
instructions. This is the last intrigue of my bachelor life; it must
be all the better managed because it concerns a good action," he
"Follow your instructions!" said the duchess. "Then I must appear in
"Ah! madame, I will not compromise you," cried Maxime. "I esteem you
too much to demand guarantees. I merely mean that you must follow my
advice. For example, it will be necessary that du Guenic be taken away
by his wife for at least two years; she must show him Switzerland,
Italy, Germany,--in short, all possible countries."
"Ah! you confirm a fear of my director," said the duchess, naively,
remembering the judicious objection of the Abbe Brossette.
Maxime and d'Ajuda could not refrain from smiling at the idea of this
agreement between heaven and hell.
"To prevent Madame de Rochefide from ever seeing Calyste again," she
continued, "we will all travel, Juste and his wife, Calyste, Sabine,
and I. I will leave Clotilde with her father--"
"It is too soon to sing victory, madame," said Maxime. "I foresee
enormous difficulties; though I shall no doubt vanquish them. Your
esteem and your protection are rewards which would make me commit the
vilest actions, but these will be--"
"The vilest actions!" cried the duchess, interrupting this modern
condottiere, and showing on her countenance as much disgust as
"And you would share them, madame, inasmuch as I am only your agent.
But are you ignorant of the degree of blindness to which Madame de
Rochefide has brought your son-in-law? I know it from Canalis and
Nathan, between whom she was hesitating when Calyste threw himself
into the lioness's jaws. Beatrix has contrived to persuade that
serious Breton that she has never loved any one but him; that she is
virtuous; that Conti was merely a sentimental head-love in which
neither the heart nor the rest of it had any part,--a musical love, in
short! As for Rochefide, that was duty. So, you understand, she is
virgin!--a fact she proves by forgetting her son, whom for more than a
year she has not made the slightest attempt to see. The truth is, the
little count will soon be twelve years old, and he finds in Madame
Schontz a mother who is all the more a mother because maternity is, as
you know, a passion with women of that sort. Du Guenic would let
himself be cut in pieces, and would chop up his wife for Beatrix; and
you think it is an easy matter to drag a man from the depths of such
credulity! Ah! madame, Shakespeare's Iago would lose all his
handkerchiefs. People think that Othello, or his younger brother,
Orosmanes, or Saint-Preux, Rene, Werther, and other lovers now in
possession of fame, represented love! Never did their frosty-hearted
fathers know what absolute love is; Moliere alone conceived it. Love,
Madame la duchesse, is not loving a noble woman, a Clarissa--a great
effort, faith! Love is to say to one's self: 'She whom I love is
infamous; she deceives me, she will deceive me; she is an abandoned
creature, she smells of the frying of hell-fire;' but we rush to her,
we find there the blue of heaven, the flowers of Paradise. That is how
Moliere loved, and how we, scamps that we are! how we love. As for me,
I weep at the great scene of Arnolphe. Now, that is how your
son-in-law loves Beatrix. I shall have trouble separating Rochefide
from Madame Schontz; but Madame Schontz will no doubt lend herself to
the plot; I shall study her interior. But as for Calyste and Beatrix,
they will need the blows of an axe, far deeper treachery, and so base
an infamy that your virtuous imagination could never descend to it
--unless indeed your director gave you a hand. You have asked the
impossible, you shall be obeyed. But in spite of my settled intention
to war with fire and sword, I cannot absolutely promise you success. I
have known lovers who did not recoil before the most awful
disillusions. You are too virtuous to know the full power of women who
are not virtuous."
"Do not enter upon those infamous actions until I have consulted the
Abbe Brossette to know how far I may be your accomplice," cried the
duchess, with a naivete which disclosed what selfishness there is in
"You shall be ignorant of everything, my dear mother," interposed
On the portico, while the carriage of the marquis was drawing up,
d'Ajuda said to Maxime:--
"You frightened that good duchess."
"But she has no idea of the difficulty of what she asks. Let us go to
the Jockey Club; Rochefide must invite me to dine with Madame Schontz
to-morrow, for to-night my plan will be made, and I shall have chosen
the pawns on my chess-board to carry it out. In the days of her
splendor Beatrix refused to receive me; I intend to pay off that
score, and I will avenge your sister-in-law so cruelly that perhaps
she will find herself too well revenged."
The next day Rochefide told Madame Schontz that Maxime de Trailles was
coming to dinner. That meant notifying her to display all her luxury,
and prepare the choicest food for this connoisseur emeritus, whom all
the women of the Madame Schontz type were in awe of. Madame Schontz
herself thought as much of her toilet as of putting her house in a
state to receive this personage.
In Paris there are as many royalties as there are varieties of art,
mental and moral specialties, sciences, professions; the strongest and
most capable of the men who practise them has a majesty which is all
his own; he is appreciated, respected by his peers, who know the
difficulties of his art or profession, and whose admiration is given
to the man who surmounts them. Maxime was, in the eyes of /rats/ and
courtesans, an extremely powerful and capable man, who had known how
to make himself excessively loved. He was also admired by men who knew
how difficult it is to live in Paris on good terms with creditors; in
short, he had never had any other rival in elegance, deportment, and
wit than the illustrious de Marsay, who frequently employed him on
political missions. All this will suffice to explain his interview
with the duchess, his prestige with Madame Schontz, and the authority
of his words in a conference which he intended to have on the
boulevard des Italiens with a young man already well-known, though
lately arrived, in the Bohemia of Paris.
A PRINCE OF BOHEMIA
The next day, when Maxime de Trailles rose, Finot (whom he had
summoned the night before) was announced. Maxime requested his visitor
to arrange, as if by accident, a breakfast at the cafe Anglais, where
Finot, Couture, and Lousteau should gossip beside him. Finot, whose
position toward the Comte de Trailles was that of a sub-lieutenant
before a marshall of France, could refuse him nothing; it was
altogether too dangerous to annoy that lion. Consequently, when Maxime
came to the breakfast, he found Finot and his two friends at table and
the conversation already started on Madame Schontz, about whom
Couture, well manoeuvred by Finot and Lousteau (Lousteau being, though
not aware of it, Finot's tool), revealed to the Comte de Trailles all
that he wanted to know about her.
About one o'clock, Maxime was chewing a toothpick and talking with du
Tillet on Tortoni's portico, where speculation held a little Bourse, a
sort of prelude to the great one. He seemed to be engaged in business,
but he was really awaiting the Comte de la Palferine, who, within a
given time, was certain to pass that way. The boulevard des Italiens
is to-day what the Pont Neuf was in 1650; all persons known to fame
pass along it once, at least, in the course of the day. Accordingly,
at the end of about ten minutes, Maxime dropped du Tillet's arm, and
nodding to the young Prince of Bohemia said, smiling:--
"One word with you, count."
The two rivals in their own principality, the one orb on its decline,
the other like the rising sun, sat down upon four chairs before the
Cafe de Paris. Maxime took care to place a certain distance between
himself and some old fellows who habitually sunned themselves like
wall-fruit at that hour in the afternoon, to dry out their rheumatic
affections. He had excellent reasons for distrusting old men.
"Have you debts?" said Maxime, to the young count.
"If I had none, should I be worthy of being your successor?" replied
"In putting that question to you I don't place the matter in doubt; I
only want to know if the total is reasonable; if it goes to the five
or the six?"
"Figures; whether you owe fifty or one hundred thousand? I have owed,
myself, as much as six hundred thousand."
La Palferine raised his hat with an air as respectful as it was
"If I had sufficient credit to borrow a hundred thousand francs," he
replied, "I should forget my creditors and go and pass my life in
Venice, amid masterpieces of painting and pretty women and--"
"And at my age what would you be?" asked Maxime.
"I should never reach it," replied the young count.
Maxime returned the civility of his rival, and touched his hat lightly
with an air of laughable gravity.
"That's one way of looking at life," he replied in the tone of one
connoisseur to another. "You owe--?"
"Oh! a mere trifle, unworthy of being confessed to an uncle; he would
disinherit me for such a paltry sum,--six thousand."
"One is often more hampered by six thousand than by a hundred
thousand," said Maxime, sententiously. "La Palferine, you've a bold
spirit, and you have even more spirit than boldness; you can go far,
and make yourself a position. Let me tell you that of all those who
have rushed into the career at the close of which I now am, and who
have tried to oppose me, you are the only one who has ever pleased
La Palferine colored, so flattered was he by this avowal made with
gracious good-humor by the leader of Parisian adventurers. This action
of his own vanity was however a recognition of inferiority which
wounded him; but Maxime divined that unpleasant reaction, easy to
foresee in so clever a mind, and he applied a balm instantly by
putting himself at the discretion of the young man.
"Will you do something for me that will facilitate my retreat from the
Olympic circus by a fine marriage? I will do as much for you."
"You make me very proud; it realizes the fable of the Rat and the
Lion," said La Palferine.
"I shall begin by lending you twenty thousand francs," continued
"Twenty thousand francs! I knew very well that by dint of walking up
and down this boulevard--" said La Palferine, in the style of a
"My dear fellow, you must put yourself on a certain footing," said
Maxime, laughing. "Don't go on your own two feet, have six; do as I
do, I never get out of my tilbury."
"But you must be going to ask me for something beyond my powers."
"No, it is only to make a woman love you within a fortnight."
"Is it a lorette?"
"Because that's impossible; but if it concerns a woman, and a
well-bred one who is also clever--"
"She is a very illustrious marquise."
"You want her letters?" said the young count.
"Ah! you are after my own heart!" cried Maxime. "No, that's not it."
"Then you want me to love her?"
"Yes, in the real sense--"
"If I am to abandon the aesthetic, it is utterly impossible," said La
Palferine. "I have, don't you see, as to women a certain honor; we may
play the fool with them, but not--"
"Ah! I was not mistaken!" cried Maxime. "Do you think I'm a man to
propose mere twopenny infamies to you? No, you must go, and dazzle,
and conquer. My good mate, I give you twenty thousand francs, and ten
days in which to triumph. Meet me to-night at Madame Schontz'."
"I dine there."
"Very good," returned Maxime. "Later, when you have need of me,
Monsieur le comte, you will find me," he added in the tone of a king
who binds himself, but promises nothing.
"This poor woman must have done you some deadly harm," said La
"Don't try to throw a plummet-line into my waters, my boy; and let me
tell you that in case of success you will obtain such powerful
influence that you will be able, like me, to retire upon a fine
marriage when you are bored with your bohemian life."
"Comes there a time when it is a bore to amuse one's self," said La
Palferine, "to be nothing, to live like the birds, to hunt the fields
of Paris like a savage, and laugh at everything?"
"All things weary, even hell," said de Trailles, laughing. "Well, this
The two /roues/, the old and the young, rose. As Maxime got into his
one-horse equipage, he thought to himself: "Madame d'Espard can't
endure Beatrix; she will help me. Hotel de Grandlieu," he called out
to the coachman, observing that Rastignac was just passing him.
Find a great man without some weakness!
The duchess, Madame du Guenic, and Clotilde were evidently weeping.
"What is the matter?" he asked the duchess.
"Calyste did not come home; this is the first time; my poor daughter
is in despair."
"Madame la duchesse," said Maxime, drawing the pious lady into the
embrasure of a window, "for Heaven's sake keep the utmost secrecy as
to my efforts, and ask d'Ajuda to do the same; for if Calyste ever
hears of our plot there will be a duel between him and me to the
death. When I told you that the affair would not cost much, I meant
that you would not be obliged to spend enormous sums; but I do want
twenty thousand francs; the rest is my affair; there may be important
places to be given, a receiver-generalship possibly."
The duchess and Maxime left the room. When Madame de Grandlieu
returned to her daughter, she again listened to Sabine's dithyrambics
inlaid with family facts even more cruel than those which had already
crushed the young wife's happiness.
"Don't be so troubled, my darling," said the duchess. "Beatrix will
pay dear for your tears and sufferings; the hand of Satan is upon her;
she will meet with ten humiliations for every one she has inflicted
Madame Schontz had invited Claude Vignon, who, on several occasions,
had expressed a wish to know Maxime de Trailles personally. She also
invited Couture, Fabien, Bixiou, Leon de Lora, La Palferine, and
Nathan. The latter was asked by Rochefide on account of Maxime.
Aurelie thus expected nine guests, all men of the first ability, with
the exception of du Ronceret; but the Norman vanity and the brutal
ambition of the Heir were fully on a par with Claude Vignon's literary
power, Nathan's poetic gift, La Palferine's /finesse/, Couture's
financial eye, Bixiou's wit, Finot's shrewdness, Maxime's profound
diplomacy, and Leon de Lora's genius.
Madame Schontz, anxious to appear both young and beautiful, armed
herself with a toilet which that sort of woman has the art of making.
She wore a guipure pelerine of spidery texture, a gown of blue velvet,
the graceful corsage of which was buttoned with opals, and her hair in
bands as smooth and shining as ebony. Madame Schontz owed her
celebrity as a pretty woman to the brilliancy and freshness of a
complexion as white and warm as that of Creoles, to a face full of
spirited details, the features of which were clearly and firmly drawn,
--a type long presented in perennial youth by the Comtesse Merlin, and
which is perhaps peculiar to Southern races. Unhappily, little Madame
Schontz had tended towards ebonpoint ever since her life had become so
happy and calm. Her neck, of exquisite roundness, was beginning to
take on flesh about the shoulders; but in France the heads of women
are principally treasured; so that fine heads will often keep an
ill-formed body unobserved.
"My dear child," said Maxime, coming in and kissing Madame Schontz on
the forehead, "Rochefide wanted me to see your establishment; why, it
is almost in keeping with his four hundred thousand francs a year.
Well, well, he would never have had them if he hadn't known you. In
less than five years you have made him save what others--Antonia,
Malaga, Cadine, or Florentine--would have made him lose."
"I am not a lorette, I am an artist," said Madame Schontz, with a sort
of dignity, "I hope to end, as they say on the stage, as the
progenitrix of honest men."
"It is dreadful, but we are all marrying," returned Maxime, throwing
himself into an arm-chair beside the fire. "Here am I, on the point of
making a Comtesse Maxime."
"Oh, how I should like to see her!" exclaimed Madame Schontz. "But
permit me to present to you Monsieur Claude Vignon--Monsieur Claude
Vignon, Monsieur de Trailles."
"Ah, so you are the man who allowed Camille Maupin, the innkeeper of
literature, to go into a convent?" cried Maxime. "After you, God. I
never received such an honor. Mademoiselle des Touches treated you,
monsieur, as though you were Louis XIV."
"That is how history is written!" replied Claude Vignon. "Don't you
know that her fortune was used to free the Baron du Guenic's estates?
Ah! if she only knew that Calyste now belongs to her ex-friend,"
(Maxime pushed the critic's foot, motioning to Rochefide), "she would
issue from her convent, I do believe, to tear him from her."
"Upon my word, Rochefide, if I were you," said Maxime, finding that
his warning did not stop Vignon, "I should give back my wife's
fortune, so that the world couldn't say she attached herself to
Calyste from necessity."
"Maxime is right," remarked Madame Schontz, looking at Arthur, who
colored high. "If I have helped you to gain several thousand francs a
year, you couldn't better employ them. I shall have made the happiness
of husband /and/ wife; what a feather in my cap!"
"I never thought of it," replied the marquis; "but a man should be a
gentleman before he's a husband."
"Let me tell you when is the time to be generous," said Maxime.
"Arthur," said Aurelie, "Maxime is right. Don't you see, old fellow,
that generous actions are like Couture's investments?--you should make
them in the nick of time."
At that moment Couture, followed by Finot, came in; and, soon after,
all the guests were assembled in the beautiful blue and gold salon of
the hotel Schontz, a title which the various artists had given to
their inn after Rochefide purchased it for his Ninon II. When Maxime
saw La Palferine, the last to arrive, enter, he walked up to his
lieutenant, and taking him aside into the recess of a window, gave him
notes for twenty thousand francs.
"Remember, my boy, you needn't economize them," he said, with the
particular grace of a true scamp.
"There's none but you who can double the value of what you seem to
give," replied La Palferine.
"Have you decided?"
"Surely, inasmuch as I take the money," said the count, with a mixture
of haughtiness and jest.
"Well, then, Nathan, who is here to-night, will present you two days
hence at the house of Madame la Marquise de Rochefide."
La Palferine started when he heard the name.
"You are to be madly in love with her, and, not to rouse suspicion,
drink heavily, wines, liqueurs! I'll tell Aurelie to place you beside
Nathan at dinner. One thing more, my boy: you and I must meet every
night, on the boulevard de la Madeleine at one in the morning,--you to
give me an account of progress, I to give you instructions."
"I shall be there, my master," said the young count, bowing.
"Why do you make us dine with that queer fellow dressed like the
head-waiter of a restaurant?" whispered Maxime to Madame Schontz, with
a sign toward Fabien du Ronceret.
"Have you never met the Heir? Du Ronceret of Alencon."
"Monsieur," said Maxime to Fabien, "I think you must know my friend
"Victurnien has ceased to know me for some time," replied Fabien, "but
we used to be very intimate in our youth."
The dinner was one of those which are given nowhere but in Paris by
these great female spendthrifts, for the choiceness of their
preparations often surprise the most fastidious of guests. It was at
just such a supper, at the house of a courtesan as handsome and rich
as Madame Schontz, that Paganini declared he had never eaten such fare
at the table of any sovereign, nor drunk such wines with any prince,
nor heard such witty conversation, nor seen the glitter of such
Maxime and Madame Schontz were the first to re-enter the salon, about
ten o'clock, leaving the other guests, who had ceased to tell
anecdotes and were now boasting of their various good qualities, with
their viscous lips glued to the glasses which they could not drain.
"Well, my dear," said Maxime, "you are not mistaken; yes, I have come
for your /beaux yeux/ and for help in a great affair. You must leave
Arthur; but I pledge myself to make him give you two hundred thousand
"Why should I leave the poor fellow?"
"To marry that idiot, who seems to have been sent from Alencon
expressly for the purpose. He has been a judge, and I'll have him made
chief-justice in place of Emile Blondet's father, who is getting to be
eighty years old. Now, if you know how to sail your boat, your husband
can be elected deputy. You will both be personages, and you can then
look down on Madame la Comtesse du Bruel."
"Never!" said Madame Schontz; "she's a countess."
"Hasn't he condition enough to be made a count?"
"By the bye, he bears arms," cried Aurelie, hunting for a letter in an
elegant bag hanging at the corner of the fireplace, and giving it to
Maxime. "What do they mean? Here are combs."
"He bears: per fesse argent and azure; on the first, three combs
gules, two and one, crossed by three bunches grapes purpure, leaved
vert, one and two; on the second, four feathers or, placed fretwise,
with /Servir/ for motto, and a squire's helmet. It is not much; it
seems they were ennobled under Louis XIV.; some mercer was doubtless
their grandfather, and the maternal line must have made its money in
wines; the du Ronceret whom the king ennobled was probably an usher.
But if you get rid of Arthur and marry du Ronceret, I promise you he
shall be a baron at the very least. But you see, my dear, you'll have
to soak yourself for five or six years in the provinces if you want to
bury La Schontz in a baroness. That queer creature has been casting
looks at you, the meaning of which is perfectly clear. You've got
"No," replied Aurelie, "when my hand was offered to him he remained,
like the brandies I read of to-day in the market reports, /dull/."
"I will undertake to decide him--if he is drunk. Go and see where they
"It is not worth while to go; I hear no one but Bixiou, who is making
jokes to which nobody listens. But I know my Arthur; he feels bound to
be polite, and he is probably looking at Bixiou with his eyes shut."
"Let us go back, then."
"/Ah ca!/" said Madame Schontz, suddenly stopping short, "in whose
interest shall I be working?"
"In that of Madame de Rochefide," replied Maxime, promptly. "It is
impossible to reconcile her with Rochefide as long as you hold him.
Her object is to recover her place as head of his household and the
enjoyment of four hundred thousand francs a year."
"And she offers me only two hundred thousand! I want three hundred
thousand, since the affair concerns her. What! haven't I taken care of
her brat and her husband? I have filled her place in every way--and
does she think to bargain with me? With that, my dear Maxime, I shall
have a million; and if you'll promise me the chief-justiceship at
Alencon, I can hold my own as Madame du Ronceret."
"That's settled," said Maxime.
"Oh! won't it be dull to live in that little town!" cried Aurelie,
philosophically. "I have heard so much of that province from
d'Esgrignon and the Val-Noble that I seem to have lived there
"Suppose I promise you the support of the nobility?"
"Ah! Maxime, you don't mean that?--but the pigeon won't fly."
"And he is very ugly with his purple skin and bristles for whiskers;
he looks like a wild boar with the eyes of a bird of prey. But he'll
make the finest chief-justice of a provincial court. Now don't be
uneasy! in ten minutes he shall be singing to you Isabelle's air in
the fourth act of Robert le Diable: 'At thy feet I kneel'--you
promise, don't you? to send Arthur back to Beatrix?"
"It will be difficult; but perseverance wins."
About half-past ten o'clock the guests returned to the salon for
coffee. Under the circumstances in which Madame Schontz, Couture, and
du Ronceret were placed, it is easy to imagine the effect produced
upon the Heir by the following conversation which Maxime held with
Couture in a corner and in a low voice, but so placed that Fabien
could listen to them.
"My dear Couture, if you want to lead a steady life you had better
accept a receiver-generalship which Madame de Rochefide will obtain
for you. Aurelie's million will furnish the security, and you'll share
the property in marrying her. You can be made deputy, if you know how
to trim your sails; and the premium I want for thus saving you is your
vote in the chamber."
"I shall always be proud to be a follower of yours."
"Ah! my dear fellow, you have had quite an escape. Just imagine!
Aurelie took a fancy for that Norman from Alencon; she asked to have
him made a baron, and chief-justice in his native town, and officer of
the Legion of honor! The fool never guessed her value, and you will
owe your fortune to her disappointment. You had better not leave that
clever creature time for reflection. As for me, I am already putting
the irons in the fire."
And Maxime left Couture at the summit of happiness, saying to La
Palferine, "Shall I drive you home, my boy?"
By eleven o'clock Aurelie was alone with Couture, Fabien, and
Rochefide. Arthur was asleep on a sofa. Couture and Fabien each tried
to outstay the other, without success; and Madame Schontz finally
terminated the struggle by saying to Couture,--
"Good-night, I shall see you to-morrow."
A dismissal which he took in good part.
"Mademoiselle," said Fabien, in a low voice, "because you saw me
thoughtful at the offer which you indirectly made to me, do not think
there was the slightest hesitation on my part. But you do not know my
mother; she would never consent to my happiness."
"You have reached an age for respectful summons," retorted Aurelie,
insolently. "But if you are afraid of mamma you won't do for me."
"Josephine!" said the Heir, tenderly, passing his arm audaciously
round Madame Schontz' waist, "I thought you loved me!"
"Perhaps I could appease my mother, and obtain her consent."
"If you would employ your influence--"
"To have you made baron, officer of the Legion of honor, and
chief-justice at Alencon,--is that it, my friend? Listen to me: I have
done so many things in my life that I am capable of virtue. I can be
an honest woman and a loyal wife; and I can push my husband very high.
But I wish to be loved by him without one look or one thought being
turned away from me. Does that suit you? Don't bind yourself
imprudently; it concerns your whole life, my little man."
"With a woman like you I can do it blind," cried Fabien, intoxicated
by the glance she gave him as much as by the liqueurs des Iles.
"You shall never repent that word, my dear; you shall be peer of
France. As for that poor old fellow," she continued, looking at
Rochefide, who was sound asleep, "after to-day I have d-o-n-e with
Fabien caught Madame Schontz around the waist and kissed her with an
impulse of fury and joy, in which the double intoxication of wine and
love was secondary to ambition.
"Remember, my dear child," she said, "the respect you ought to show to
your wife; don't play the lover; leave me free to retire from my
mud-hole in a proper manner. Poor Couture, who thought himself sure of
wealth and a receiver-generalship!"
"I have a horror of that man," said Fabien; "I wish I might never see
"I will not receive him any more," replied Madame Schontz, with a
prudish little air. "Now that we have come to an understanding, my
Fabien, you must go; it is one o'clock."
This little scene gave birth in the household of Arthur and Aurelie
(so completely happy until now) to a phase of domestic warfare
produced in the bosom of all homes by some secret and alien interest
in one of the partners. The next day when Arthur awoke he found Madame
Schontz as frigid as that class of woman knows how to make herself.
"What happened last night?" he said, as he breakfasted, looking at
"What often happens in Paris," she replied, "one goes to bed in damp
weather and the next morning the pavements are dry and frozen so hard
that they are dusty. Do you want a brush?"
"What's the matter with you, dearest?"
"Go and find your great scarecrow of a wife!"
"My wife!" exclaimed the poor marquis.
"Don't I know why you brought Maxime here? You mean to make up with
Madame de Rochefide, who wants you perhaps for some indiscreet brat.
And I, whom you call so clever, I advised you to give back her
fortune! Oh! I see your scheme. At the end of five years Monsieur is
tired of me. I'm getting fat, Beatrix is all bones--it will be a
change for you! You are not the first I've known to like skeletons.
Your Beatrix knows how to dress herself, that's true; and you are man
who likes figure-heads. Besides, you want to send Monsieur du Guenic
to the right-about. It will be a triumph! You'll cut quite an
appearance in the world! How people will talk of it! Why! you'll be a
Madame Schontz did not make an end of her sarcasms for two hours after
mid-day, in spite of Arthur's protestations. She then said she was
invited out to dinner, and advised her "faithless one" to go without
her to the Opera, for she herself was going to the Ambigu-Comique to
meet Madame de la Baudraye, a charming woman, a friend of Lousteau.
Arthur proposed, as proof of his eternal attachment to his little
Aurelie and his detestation of his wife, to start the next day for
Italy, and live as a married couple in Rome, Naples, Florence,--in
short, wherever she liked, offering her a gift of sixty thousand
"All that is nonsense," she said. "It won't prevent you from making up
with your wife, and you'll do a wise thing."
Arthur and Aurelie parted on this formidable dialogue, he to play
cards and dine at the club, she to dress and spend the evening
/tete-a-tete/ with Fabien.
Monsieur de Rochefide found Maxime at the club, and complained to him
like a man who feels that his happiness is being torn from his heart
by the roots, every fibre of which clung to it. Maxime listened to his
moans, as persons of social politeness are accustomed to listen, while
thinking of other things.
"I'm a man of good counsel in such matters, my dear fellow," he
answered. "Well, let me tell you, you are on the wrong road in letting
Aurelie see how dear she is to you. Allow me to present you to Madame
Antonia. There's a heart to let. You'll soon see La Schontz with other
eyes. She is thirty-seven years old, that Schontz of yours, and Madame
Antonia is only twenty-six! And what a woman! I may say she is my
pupil. If Madame Schontz persists in keeping on the hind heels of her
pride, don't you know what that means?"
"That she wants to marry, and if that's the case, nothing can hinder
her from leaving you. After a lease of six years a woman has a right
to do so. Now, if you will only listen to me, you can do a better
thing for yourself. Your wife is to-day worth more than all the
Schontzes and Antonias of the quartier Saint-Georges. I admit the
conquest is difficult, but it is not impossible; and after all that
has happened she will make you as happy as an Orgon. In any case, you
mustn't look like a fool; come and sup to-night with Antonia."
"No, I love Aurelie too well; I won't give her any reason to complain
"Ah! my dear fellow, what a future you are preparing for yourself!"
"It is eleven o'clock; she must have returned from the Ambigu," said
Rochefide, leaving the club.
And he called out his coachman to drive at top speed to the rue de la
Madame Schontz had given precise directions; monsieur could enter as
master with the fullest understanding of madame; but, warned by the
noise of monsieur's arrival, madame had so arranged that the sound of
her dressing-door closing as women's doors do close when they are
surprised, was to reach monsieur's ears. Then, at a corner of the
piano, Fabien's hat, forgotten intentionally, was removed very
awkwardly by a maid the moment after monsieur had entered the room.
"Did you go to the Ambigu, my little girl?"
"No, I changed my mind, and stayed at home to play music."
"Who came to see you?" asked the marquis, good-humoredly, seeing the
hat carried off by the maid.
At that audacious falsehood Arthur bowed his head; he passed beneath
the Caudine forks of submission. A real love descends at times to
these sublime meannesses. Arthur behaved with Madame Schontz as Sabine
with Calyste, and Calyste with Beatrix.
Within a week the transition from larva to butterfly took place in the
young, handsome, and clever Charles-Edouard, Comte Rusticoli de la
Palferine. Until this moment of his life he had lived miserably,
covering his deficits with an audacity equal to that of Danton. But he
now paid his debts; he now, by advice of Maxime, had a little
carriage; he was admitted to the Jockey Club and to the club of the
rue de Gramont; he became supremely elegant, and he published in the
"Journal des Debats" a novelette which won him in a few days a
reputation which authors by profession obtain after years of toil and
successes only; for there is nothing so usurping in Paris as that
which ought to be ephemeral. Nathan, very certain that the count would
never publish anything else, lauded the graceful and presuming young
man so highly to Beatrix that she, spurred by the praise of the poet,
expressed a strong desire to see this king of the vagabonds of good
"He will be all the more delighted to come here," replied Nathan,
"because, as I happen to know, he has fallen in love with you to the
point of committing all sorts of follies."
"But I am told he has already committed them."
"No, not all; he has not yet committed that of falling in love with a
Some ten days after the scheme plotted on the boulevard between Maxime
and his henchman, the seductive Charles-Edouard, the latter, to whom
Nature had given, no doubt sarcastically, a face of charming
melancholy, made his first irruption into the nest of the dove of the
rue de Chartres, who took for his reception an evening when Calyste
was obliged to go to a party with his wife.
If you should ever meet La Palferine you will understand perfectly the
success obtained in a single evening by that sparkling mind, that
animated fancy, especially if you take into consideration the
admirable adroitness of the showman who consented to superintend this
debut. Nathan was a good comrade, and he made the young count shine,
as a jeweller showing off an ornament in hopes to sell it, makes the