Part 4 out of 10
and many members of the two Chambers; also the most distinguished
of the Polish exiles living in Paris: Counts Paz, Laginski, and
"Monsieur le Comte Wenceslas Steinbock is grandnephew to the
famous general who served under Charles XII., King of Sweden. The
young Count, having taken part in the Polish rebellion, found a
refuge in France, where his well-earned fame as a sculptor has
procured him a patent of naturalization."
And so, in spite of the Baron's cruel lack of money, nothing was
lacking that public opinion could require, not even the trumpeting of
the newspapers over his daughter's marriage, which was solemnized in
the same way, in every particular, as his son's had been to
Mademoiselle Crevel. This display moderated the reports current as to
the Baron's financial position, while the fortune assigned to his
daughter explained the need for having borrowed money.
Here ends what is, in a way, the introduction to this story. It is to
the drama that follows that the premise is to a syllogism, what the
prologue is to a classical tragedy.
In Paris, when a woman determines to make a business, a trade, of her
beauty, it does not follow that she will make a fortune. Lovely
creatures may be found there, and full of wit, who are in wretched
circumstances, ending in misery a life begun in pleasure. And this is
why. It is not enough merely to accept the shameful life of a
courtesan with a view to earning its profits, and at the same time to
bear the simple garb of a respectable middle-class wife. Vice does not
triumph so easily; it resembles genius in so far that they both need a
concurrence of favorable conditions to develop the coalition of
fortune and gifts. Eliminate the strange prologue of the Revolution,
and the Emperor would never have existed; he would have been no more
than a second edition of Fabert. Venal beauty, if it finds no
amateurs, no celebrity, no cross of dishonor earned by squandering
men's fortunes, is Correggio in a hay-loft, is genius starving in a
garret. Lais, in Paris, must first and foremost find a rich man mad
enough to pay her price. She must keep up a very elegant style, for
this is her shop-sign; she must be sufficiently well bred to flatter
the vanity of her lovers; she must have the brilliant wit of a Sophie
Arnould, which diverts the apathy of rich men; finally, she must
arouse the passions of libertines by appearing to be mistress to one
man only who is envied by the rest.
These conditions, which a woman of that class calls being in luck, are
difficult to combine in Paris, although it is a city of millionaires,
of idlers, of used-up and capricious men.
Providence has, no doubt, vouchsafed protection to clerks and
middle-class citizens, for whom obstacles of this kind are at least
double in the sphere in which they move. At the same time, there are
enough Madame Marneffes in Paris to allow of our taking Valerie to
figure as a type in this picture of manners. Some of these women yield
to the double pressure of a genuine passion and of hard necessity, like
Madame Colleville, who was for long attached to one of the famous
orators of the left, Keller the banker. Others are spurred by vanity,
like Madame de la Baudraye, who remained almost respectable in spite
of her elopement with Lousteau. Some, again, are led astray by the
love of fine clothes, and some by the impossibility of keeping a house
going on obviously too narrow means. The stinginess of the State--or
of Parliament--leads to many disasters and to much corruption.
At the present moment the laboring classes are the fashionable object
of compassion; they are being murdered--it is said--by the
manufacturing capitalist; but the Government is a hundred times harder
than the meanest tradesman, it carries its economy in the article of
salaries to absolute folly. If you work harder, the merchant will pay
you more in proportion; but what does the State do for its crowd of
obscure and devoted toilers?
In a married woman it is an inexcusable crime when she wanders from
the path of honor; still, there are degrees even in such a case. Some
women, far from being depraved, conceal their fall and remain to all
appearances quite respectable, like those two just referred to, while
others add to their fault the disgrace of speculation. Thus Madame
Marneffe is, as it were, the type of those ambitious married
courtesans who from the first accept depravity with all its
consequences, and determine to make a fortune while taking their
pleasure, perfectly unscrupulous as to the means. But almost always a
woman like Madame Marneffe has a husband who is her confederate and
accomplice. These Machiavellis in petticoats are the most dangerous of
the sisterhood; of every evil class of Parisian woman, they are the
A mere courtesan--a Josepha, a Malaga, a Madame Schontz, a Jenny
Cadine--carries in her frank dishonor a warning signal as conspicuous
as the red lamp of a house of ill-fame or the flaring lights of a
gambling hell. A man knows that they light him to his ruin.
But mealy-mouthed propriety, the semblance of virtue, the hypocritical
ways of a married woman who never allows anything to be seen but the
vulgar needs of the household, and affects to refuse every kind of
extravagance, leads to silent ruin, dumb disaster, which is all the
more startling because, though condoned, it remains unaccounted for.
It is the ignoble bill of daily expenses and not gay dissipation that
devours the largest fortune. The father of a family ruins himself
ingloriously, and the great consolation of gratified vanity is wanting
in his misery.
This little sermon will go like a javelin to the heart of many a home.
Madame Marneffes are to be seen in every sphere of social life, even
at Court; for Valerie is a melancholy fact, modeled from the life in
the smallest details. And, alas! the portrait will not cure any man of
the folly of loving these sweetly-smiling angels, with pensive looks
and candid faces, whose heart is a cash-box.
About three years after Hortense's marriage, in 1841, Baron Hulot
d'Ervy was supposed to have sown his wild oats, to have "put up his
horses," to quote the expression used by Louis XV.'s head surgeon, and
yet Madame Marneffe was costing him twice as much as Josepha had ever
cost him. Still, Valerie, though always nicely dressed, affected the
simplicity of a subordinate official's wife; she kept her luxury for
her dressing-gowns, her home wear. She thus sacrificed her Parisian
vanity to her dear Hector. At the theatre, however, she always
appeared in a pretty bonnet and a dress of extreme elegance; and the
Baron took her in a carriage to a private box.
Her rooms, the whole of the second floor of a modern house in the Rue
Vanneau, between a fore-court and a garden, was redolent of
respectability. All its luxury was in good chintz hangings and
handsome convenient furniture.
Her bedroom, indeed, was the exception, and rich with such profusion
as Jenny Cadine or Madame Schontz might have displayed. There were
lace curtains, cashmere hangings, brocade portieres, a set of chimney
ornaments modeled by Stidmann, a glass cabinet filled with dainty
nicknacks. Hulot could not bear to see his Valerie in a bower of
inferior magnificence to the dunghill of gold and pearls owned by a
Josepha. The drawing-room was furnished with red damask, and the
dining-room had carved oak panels. But the Baron, carried away by his
wish to have everything in keeping, had at the end of six months,
added solid luxury to mere fashion, and had given her handsome
portable property, as, for instance, a service of plate that was to
cost more than twenty-four thousand francs.
Madame Marneffe's house had in a couple of years achieved a reputation
for being a very pleasant one. Gambling went on there. Valerie herself
was soon spoken of as an agreeable and witty woman. To account for her
change of style, a rumor was set going of an immense legacy bequeathed
to her by her "natural father," Marshal Montcornet, and left in trust.
With an eye to the future, Valerie had added religious to social
hypocrisy. Punctual at the Sunday services, she enjoyed all the honors
due to the pious. She carried the bag for the offertory, she was a
member of a charitable association, presented bread for the sacrament,
and did some good among the poor, all at Hector's expense. Thus
everything about the house was extremely seemly. And a great many
persons maintained that her friendship with the Baron was entirely
innocent, supporting the view by the gentleman's mature age, and
ascribing to him a Platonic liking for Madame Marneffe's pleasant wit,
charming manners, and conversation--such a liking as that of the late
lamented Louis XVIII. for a well-turned note.
The Baron always withdrew with the other company at about midnight,
and came back a quarter of an hour later.
The secret of this secrecy was as follows. The lodge-keepers of the
house were a Monsieur and Madame Olivier, who, under the Baron's
patronage, had been promoted from their humble and not very lucrative
post in the Rue du Doyenne to the highly-paid and handsome one in the
Rue Vanneau. Now, Madame Olivier, formerly a needlewoman in the
household of Charles X., who had fallen in the world with the
legitimate branch, had three children. The eldest, an under-clerk in a
notary's office, was object of his parents' adoration. This Benjamin,
for six years in danger of being drawn for the army, was on the point
of being interrupted in his legal career, when Madame Marneffe
contrived to have him declared exempt for one of those little
malformations which the Examining Board can always discern when
requested in a whisper by some power in the ministry. So Olivier,
formerly a huntsman to the King, and his wife would have crucified the
Lord again for the Baron or for Madame Marneffe.
What could the world have to say? It knew nothing of the former
episode of the Brazilian, Monsieur Montes de Montejanos--it could say
nothing. Besides, the world is very indulgent to the mistress of a
house where amusement is to be found.
And then to all her charms Valerie added the highly-prized advantage
of being an occult power. Claude Vignon, now secretary to Marshal the
Prince de Wissembourg, and dreaming of promotion to the Council of
State as a Master of Appeals, was constantly seen in her rooms, to
which came also some Deputies--good fellows and gamblers. Madame
Marneffe had got her circle together with prudent deliberation; only
men whose opinions and habits agreed foregathered there, men whose
interest it was to hold together and to proclaim the many merits of
the lady of the house. Scandal is the true Holy Alliance in Paris.
Take that as an axiom. Interests invariably fall asunder in the end;
vicious natures can always agree.
Within three months of settling in the Rue Vanneau, Madame Marneffe
had entertained Monsieur Crevel, who by that time was Mayor of his
/arrondissement/ and Officer of the Legion of Honor. Crevel had
hesitated; he would have to give up the famous uniform of the National
Guard in which he strutted at the Tuileries, believing himself quite
as much a soldier as the Emperor himself; but ambition, urged by
Madame Marneffe, had proved stronger than vanity. Then Monsieur le
Maire had considered his connection with Mademoiselle Heloise
Brisetout as quite incompatible with his political position.
Indeed, long before his accession to the civic chair of the Mayoralty,
his gallant intimacies had been wrapped in the deepest mystery. But,
as the reader may have guessed, Crevel had soon purchased the right of
taking his revenge, as often as circumstances allowed, for having been
bereft of Josepha, at the cost of a bond bearing six thousand francs
of interest in the name of Valerie Fortin, wife of Sieur Marneffe, for
her sole and separate use. Valerie, inheriting perhaps from her mother
the special acumen of the kept woman, read the character of her
grotesque adorer at a glance. The phrase "I never had a lady for a
mistress," spoken by Crevel to Lisbeth, and repeated by Lisbeth to her
dear Valerie, had been handsomely discounted in the bargain by which
she got her six thousand francs a year in five per cents. And since
then she had never allowed her prestige to grow less in the eyes of
Cesar Birotteau's erewhile bagman.
Crevel himself had married for money the daughter of a miller of la
Brie, an only child indeed, whose inheritance constituted
three-quarters of his fortune; for when retail-dealers grow rich, it
is generally not so much by trade as through some alliance between
the shop and rural thrift. A large proportion of the farmers,
corn-factors, dairy-keepers, and market-gardeners in the neighborhood
of Paris, dream of the glories of the desk for their daughters, and
look upon a shopkeeper, a jeweler, or a money-changer as a son-in-law
after their own heart, in preference to a notary or an attorney, whose
superior social position is a ground of suspicion; they are afraid of
being scorned in the future by these citizen bigwigs.
Madame Crevel, ugly, vulgar, and silly, had given her husband no
pleasures but those of paternity; she died young. Her libertine
husband, fettered at the beginning of his commercial career by the
necessity for working, and held in thrall by want of money, had led
the life of Tantalus. Thrown in--as he phrased it--with the most
elegant women in Paris, he let them out of the shop with servile
homage, while admiring their grace, their way of wearing the fashions,
and all the nameless charms of what is called breeding. To rise to the
level of one of these fairies of the drawing-room was a desire formed
in his youth, but buried in the depths of his heart. Thus to win the
favors of Madame Marneffe was to him not merely the realization of his
chimera, but, as has been shown, a point of pride, of vanity, of
self-satisfaction. His ambition grew with success; his brain was
turned with elation; and when the mind is captivated, the heart feels
more keenly, every gratification is doubled.
Also, it must be said that Madame Marneffe offered to Crevel a
refinement of pleasure of which he had no idea; neither Josepha nor
Heloise had loved him; and Madame Marneffe thought it necessary to
deceive him thoroughly, for this man, she saw, would prove an
inexhaustible till. The deceptions of a venal passion are more
delightful than the real thing. True love is mixed up with birdlike
squabbles, in which the disputants wound each other to the quick; but
a quarrel without animus is, on the contrary, a piece of flattery to
the dupe's conceit.
The rare interviews granted to Crevel kept his passion at white heat.
He was constantly blocked by Valerie's virtuous severity; she acted
remorse, and wondered what her father must be thinking of her in the
paradise of the brave. Again and again he had to contend with a sort
of coldness, which the cunning slut made him believe he had overcome
by seeming to surrender to the man's crazy passion; and then, as if
ashamed, she entrenched herself once more in her pride of
respectability and airs of virtue, just like an Englishwoman, neither
more nor less; and she always crushed her Crevel under the weight of
her dignity--for Crevel had, in the first instance, swallowed her
pretensions to virtue.
In short, Valerie had special veins of affections which made her
equally indispensable to Crevel and to the Baron. Before the world she
displayed the attractive combination of modest and pensive innocence,
of irreproachable propriety, with a bright humor enhanced by the
suppleness, the grace and softness of the Creole; but in a
/tete-a-tete/ she would outdo any courtesan; she was audacious, amusing,
and full of original inventiveness. Such a contrast is irresistible to a
man of the Crevel type; he is flattered by believing himself sole
author of the comedy, thinking it is performed for his benefit alone,
and he laughs at the exquisite hypocrisy while admiring the hypocrite.
Valerie had taken entire possession of Baron Hulot; she had persuaded
him to grow old by one of those subtle touches of flattery which
reveal the diabolical wit of women like her. In all evergreen
constitutions a moment arrives when the truth suddenly comes out, as
in a besieged town which puts a good face on affairs as long as
possible. Valerie, foreseeing the approaching collapse of the old beau
of the Empire, determined to forestall it.
"Why give yourself so much bother, my dear old veteran?" said she one
day, six months after their doubly adulterous union. "Do you want to
be flirting? To be unfaithful to me? I assure you, I should like you
better without your make-up. Oblige me by giving up all your
artificial charms. Do you suppose that it is for two sous' worth of
polish on your boots that I love you? For your india-rubber belt, your
strait-waistcoat, and your false hair? And then, the older you look,
the less need I fear seeing my Hulot carried off by a rival."
And Hulot, trusting to Madame Marneffe's heavenly friendship as much
as to her love, intending, too, to end his days with her, had taken
this confidential hint, and ceased to dye his whiskers and hair. After
this touching declaration from his Valerie, handsome Hector made his
appearance one morning perfectly white. Madame Marneffe could assure
him that she had a hundred times detected the white line of the growth
of the hair.
"And white hair suits your face to perfection," said she; "it softens
it. You look a thousand times better, quite charming."
The Baron, once started on this path of reform, gave up his leather
waistcoat and stays; he threw off all his bracing. His stomach fell
and increased in size. The oak became a tower, and the heaviness of
his movements was all the more alarming because the Baron grew
immensely older by playing the part of Louis XII. His eyebrows were
still black, and left a ghostly reminiscence of Handsome Hulot, as
sometimes on the wall of some feudal building a faint trace of
sculpture remains to show what the castle was in the days of its
glory. This discordant detail made his eyes, still bright and
youthful, all the more remarkable in his tanned face, because it had
so long been ruddy with the florid hues of a Rubens; and now a certain
discoloration and the deep tension of the wrinkles betrayed the
efforts of a passion at odds with natural decay. Hulot was now one of
those stalwart ruins in which virile force asserts itself by tufts of
hair in the ears and nostrils and on the fingers, as moss grows on the
almost eternal monuments of the Roman Empire.
How had Valerie contrived to keep Crevel and Hulot side by side, each
tied to an apron-string, when the vindictive Mayor only longed to
triumph openly over Hulot? Without immediately giving an answer to
this question, which the course of the story will supply, it may be
said that Lisbeth and Valerie had contrived a powerful piece of
machinery which tended to this result. Marneffe, as he saw his wife
improved in beauty by the setting in which she was enthroned, like the
sun at the centre of the sidereal system, appeared, in the eyes of the
world, to have fallen in love with her again himself; he was quite
crazy about her. Now, though his jealousy made him somewhat of a
marplot, it gave enhanced value to Valerie's favors. Marneffe
meanwhile showed a blind confidence in his chief, which degenerated
into ridiculous complaisance. The only person whom he really would not
stand was Crevel.
Marneffe, wrecked by the debauchery of great cities, described by
Roman authors, though modern decency has no name for it, was as
hideous as an anatomical figure in wax. But this disease on feet,
clothed in good broadcloth, encased his lathlike legs in elegant
trousers. The hollow chest was scented with fine linen, and musk
disguised the odors of rotten humanity. This hideous specimen of
decaying vice, trotting in red heels--for Valerie dressed the man as
beseemed his income, his cross, and his appointment--horrified Crevel,
who could not meet the colorless eyes of the Government clerk.
Marneffe was an incubus to the Mayor. And the mean rascal, aware of
the strange power conferred on him by Lisbeth and his wife, was amused
by it; he played on it as on an instrument; and cards being the last
resource of a mind as completely played out as the body, he plucked
Crevel again and again, the Mayor thinking himself bound to
subserviency to the worthy official whom /he was cheating/.
Seeing Crevel a mere child in the hands of that hideous and atrocious
mummy, of whose utter vileness the Mayor knew nothing; and seeing him,
yet more, an object of deep contempt to Valerie, who made game of
Crevel as of some mountebank, the Baron apparently thought him so
impossible as a rival that he constantly invited him to dinner.
Valerie, protected by two lovers on guard, and by a jealous husband,
attracted every eye, and excited every desire in the circle she shone
upon. And thus, while keeping up appearances, she had, in the course
of three years, achieved the most difficult conditions of the success
a courtesan most cares for and most rarely attains, even with the help
of audacity and the glitter of an existence in the light of the sun.
Valerie's beauty, formerly buried in the mud of the Rue du Doyenne,
now, like a well-cut diamond exquisitely set by Chanor, was worth more
than its real value--it could break hearts. Claude Vignon adored
Valerie in secret.
This retrospective explanation, quite necessary after the lapse of
three years, shows Valerie's balance-sheet. Now for that of her
Lisbeth Fischer filled the place in the Marneffe household of a
relation who combines the functions of a lady companion and a
housekeeper; but she suffered from none of the humiliations which, for
the most part, weigh upon the women who are so unhappy as to be
obliged to fill these ambiguous situations. Lisbeth and Valerie
offered the touching spectacle of one of those friendships between
women, so cordial and so improbable, that men, always too keen-tongued
in Paris, forthwith slander them. The contrast between Lisbeth's dry
masculine nature and Valerie's creole prettiness encouraged calumny.
And Madame Marneffe had unconsciously given weight to the scandal by
the care she took of her friend, with matrimonial views, which were,
as will be seen, to complete Lisbeth's revenge.
An immense change had taken place in Cousin Betty; and Valerie, who
wanted to smarten her, had turned it to the best account. The strange
woman had submitted to stays, and laced tightly, she used bandoline to
keep her hair smooth, wore her gowns as the dressmaker sent them home,
neat little boots, and gray silk stockings, all of which were included
in Valerie's bills, and paid for by the gentleman in possession. Thus
furbished up, and wearing the yellow cashmere shawl, Lisbeth would
have been unrecognizable by any one who had not seen her for three
This other diamond--a black diamond, the rarest of all--cut by a
skilled hand, and set as best became her, was appreciated at her full
value by certain ambitious clerks. Any one seeing her for the first
time might have shuddered involuntarily at the look of poetic wildness
which the clever Valerie had succeeded in bringing out by the arts of
dress in this Bleeding Nun, framing the ascetic olive face in thick
bands of hair as black as the fiery eyes, and making the most of the
rigid, slim figure. Lisbeth, like a Virgin by Cranach or Van Eyck, or
a Byzantine Madonna stepped out of its frame, had all the stiffness,
the precision of those mysterious figures, the more modern cousins of
Isis and her sister goddesses sheathed in marble folds by Egyptian
sculptors. It was granite, basalt, porphyry, with life and movement.
Saved from want for the rest of her life, Lisbeth was most amiable;
wherever she dined she brought merriment. And the Baron paid the rent
of her little apartment, furnished, as we know, with the leavings of
her friend Valerie's former boudoir and bedroom.
"I began," she would say, "as a hungry nanny goat, and I am ending as
She still worked for Monsieur Rivet at the more elaborate kinds of
gold-trimming, merely, as she said, not to lose her time. At the same
time, she was, as we shall see, very full of business; but it is
inherent in the nature of country-folks never to give up
bread-winning; in this they are like the Jews.
Every morning, very early, Cousin Betty went off to market with the
cook. It was part of Lisbeth's scheme that the house-book, which was
ruining Baron Hulot, was to enrich her dear Valerie--as it did indeed.
Is there a housewife who, since 1838, has not suffered from the evil
effects of Socialist doctrines diffused among the lower classes by
incendiary writers? In every household the plague of servants is
nowadays the worst of financial afflictions. With very few exceptions,
who ought to be rewarded with the Montyon prize, the cook, male or
female, is a domestic robber, a thief taking wages, and perfectly
barefaced, with the Government for a fence, developing the tendency to
dishonesty, which is almost authorized in the cook by the time-honored
jest as to the "handle of the basket." The women who formerly picked
up their forty sous to buy a lottery ticket now take fifty francs to
put into the savings bank. And the smug Puritans who amuse themselves
in France with philanthropic experiments fancy that they are making
the common people moral!
Between the market and the master's table the servants have their
secret toll, and the municipality of Paris is less sharp in collecting
the city-dues than the servants are in taking theirs on every single
thing. To say nothing of fifty per cent charged on every form of food,
they demand large New Year's premiums from the tradesmen. The best
class of dealers tremble before this occult power, and subsidize it
without a word--coachmakers, jewelers, tailors, and all. If any
attempt is made to interfere with them, the servants reply with
impudent retorts, or revenge themselves by the costly blunders of
assumed clumsiness; and in these days they inquire into their master's
character as, formerly, the master inquired into theirs. This mischief
is now really at its height, and the law-courts are beginning to take
cognizance of it; but in vain, for it cannot be remedied but by a law
which shall compel domestic servants, like laborers, to have a
pass-book as a guarantee of conduct. Then the evil will vanish as if
by magic. If every servant were obliged to show his pass-book, and if
masters were required to state in it the cause of his dismissal, this
would certainly prove a powerful check to the evil.
The men who are giving their attentions to the politics of the day
know not to what lengths the depravity of the lower classes has gone.
Statistics are silent as to the startling number of working men of
twenty who marry cooks of between forty and fifty enriched by robbery.
We shudder to think of the result of such unions from the three points
of view of increasing crime, degeneracy of the race, and miserable
As to the mere financial mischief that results from domestic
peculation, that too is immense from a political point of view. Life
being made to cost double, any superfluity becomes impossible in most
households. Now superfluity means half the trade of the world, as it
is half the elegance of life. Books and flowers are to many persons as
necessary as bread.
Lisbeth, well aware of this dreadful scourge of Parisian households,
determined to manage Valerie's, promising her every assistance in the
terrible scene when the two women had sworn to be like sisters. So she
had brought from the depths of the Vosges a humble relation on her
mother's side, a very pious and honest soul, who had been cook to the
Bishop of Nancy. Fearing, however, her inexperience of Paris ways, and
yet more the evil counsel which wrecks such fragile virtue, at first
Lisbeth always went to market with Mathurine, and tried to teach her
what to buy. To know the real prices of things and command the
salesman's respect; to purchase unnecessary delicacies, such as fish,
only when they were cheap; to be well informed as to the price current
of groceries and provisions, so as to buy when prices are low in
anticipation of a rise,--all this housekeeping skill is in Paris
essential to domestic economy. As Mathurine got good wages and many
presents, she liked the house well enough to be glad to drive good
bargains. And by this time Lisbeth had made her quite a match for
herself, sufficiently experienced and trustworthy to be sent to market
alone, unless Valerie was giving a dinner--which, in fact, was not
unfrequently the case. And this was how it came about.
The Baron had at first observed the strictest decorum; but his passion
for Madame Marneffe had ere long become so vehement, so greedy, that
he would never quit her if he could help it. At first he dined there
four times a week; then he thought it delightful to dine with her
every day. Six months after his daughter's marriage he was paying her
two thousand francs a month for his board. Madame Marneffe invited any
one her dear Baron wished to entertain. The dinner was always arranged
for six; he could bring in three unexpected guests. Lisbeth's economy
enabled her to solve the extraordinary problem of keeping up the table
in the best style for a thousand francs a month, giving the other
thousand to Madame Marneffe. Valerie's dress being chiefly paid for by
Crevel and the Baron, the two women saved another thousand francs a
month on this.
And so this pure and innocent being had already accumulated a hundred
and fifty thousand francs in savings. She had capitalized her income
and monthly bonus, and swelled the amount by enormous interest, due to
Crevel's liberality in allowing his "little Duchess" to invest her
money in partnership with him in his financial operations. Crevel had
taught Valerie the slang and the procedure of the money market, and,
like every Parisian woman, she had soon outstripped her master.
Lisbeth, who never spent a sou of her twelve hundred francs, whose
rent and dress were given to her, and who never put her hand in her
pocket, had likewise a small capital of five or six thousand francs,
of which Crevel took fatherly care.
At the same time, two such lovers were a heavy burthen on Valerie. On
the day when this drama reopens, Valerie, spurred by one of those
incidents which have the effect in life that the ringing of a bell has
in inducing a swarm of bees to settle, went up to Lisbeth's rooms to
give vent to one of those comforting lamentations--a sort of cigarette
blown off from the tongue--by which women alleviate the minor miseries
"Oh, Lisbeth, my love, two hours of Crevel this morning! It is
crushing! How I wish I could send you in my place!"
"That, unluckily, is impossible," said Lisbeth, smiling. "I shall die
"Two old men lovers! Really, I am ashamed sometimes! If my poor mother
could see me."
"You are mistaking me for Crevel!" said Lisbeth.
"Tell me, my little Betty, do you not despise me?"
"Oh! if I had but been pretty, what adventures I would have had!"
cried Lisbeth. "That is your justification."
"But you would have acted only at the dictates of your heart," said
Madame Marneffe, with a sigh.
"Pooh! Marneffe is a dead man they have forgotten to bury," replied
Lisbeth. "The Baron is as good as your husband; Crevel is your adorer;
it seems to me that you are quite in order--like every other married
"No, it is not that, dear, adorable thing; that is not where the shoe
pinches; you do not choose to understand."
"Yes, I do," said Lisbeth. "The unexpressed factor is part of my
revenge; what can I do? I am working it out."
"I love Wenceslas so that I am positively growing thin, and I can
never see him," said Valerie, throwing up her arms. "Hulot asks him to
dinner, and my artist declines. He does not know that I idolize him,
the wretch! What is his wife after all? Fine flesh! Yes, she is
handsome, but I--I know myself--I am worse!"
"Be quite easy, my child, he will come," said Lisbeth, in the tone of
a nurse to an impatient child. "He shall."
"This week perhaps."
"Give me a kiss."
As may be seen, these two women were but one. Everything Valerie did,
even her most reckless actions, her pleasures, her little sulks, were
decided on after serious deliberation between them.
Lisbeth, strangely excited by this harlot existence, advised Valerie
on every step, and pursued her course of revenge with pitiless logic.
She really adored Valerie; she had taken her to be her child, her
friend, her love; she found her docile, as Creoles are, yielding from
voluptuous indolence; she chattered with her morning after morning
with more pleasure than with Wenceslas; they could laugh together over
the mischief they plotted, and over the folly of men, and count up the
swelling interest on their respective savings.
Indeed, in this new enterprise and new affection, Lisbeth had found
food for her activity that was far more satisfying than her insane
passion for Wenceslas. The joys of gratified hatred are the fiercest
and strongest the heart can know. Love is the gold, hatred the iron of
the mine of feeling that lies buried in us. And then, Valerie was, to
Lisbeth, Beauty in all its glory--the beauty she worshiped, as we
worship what we have not, beauty far more plastic to her hand than
that of Wenceslas, who had always been cold to her and distant.
At the end of nearly three years, Lisbeth was beginning to perceive
the progress of the underground mine on which she was expending her
life and concentrating her mind. Lisbeth planned, Madame Marneffe
acted. Madame Marneffe was the axe, Lisbeth was the hand the wielded
it, and that hand was rapidly demolishing the family which was every
day more odious to her; for we can hate more and more, just as, when
we love, we love better every day.
Love and hatred are feelings that feed on themselves; but of the two,
hatred has the longer vitality. Love is restricted within limits of
power; it derives its energies from life and from lavishness. Hatred
is like death, like avarice; it is, so to speak, an active
abstraction, above beings and things.
Lisbeth, embarked on the existence that was natural to her, expended
in it all her faculties; governing, like the Jesuits, by occult
influences. The regeneration of her person was equally complete; her
face was radiant. Lisbeth dreamed of becoming Madame la Marechale
This little scene, in which the two friends had bluntly uttered their
ideas without any circumlocution in expressing them, took place
immediately on Lisbeth's return from market, whither she had been to
procure the materials for an elegant dinner. Marneffe, who hoped to
get Coquet's place, was to entertain him and the virtuous Madame
Coquet, and Valerie hoped to persuade Hulot, that very evening, to
consider the head-clerk's resignation.
Lisbeth dressed to go to the Baroness, with whom she was to dine.
"You will come back in time to make tea for us, my Betty?" said
"I hope so."
"You hope so--why? Have you come to sleeping with Adeline to drink her
tears while she is asleep?"
"If only I could!" said Lisbeth, laughing. "I would not refuse. She is
expiating her happiness--and I am glad, for I remember our young days.
It is my turn now. She will be in the mire, and I shall be Comtesse de
Lisbeth set out for the Rue Plumet, where she now went as to the
theatre--to indulge her emotions.
The residence Hulot had found for his wife consisted of a large, bare
entrance-room, a drawing-room, and a bed and dressing-room. The
dining-room was next the drawing-room on one side. Two servants' rooms
and a kitchen on the third floor completed the accommodation, which
was not unworthy of a Councillor of State, high up in the War Office.
The house, the court-yard, and the stairs were extremely handsome.
The Baroness, who had to furnish her drawing-room, bed-room, and
dining-room with the relics of her splendor, had brought away the best
of the remains from the house in the Rue de l'Universite. Indeed, the
poor woman was attached to these mute witnesses of her happier life;
to her they had an almost consoling eloquence. In memory she saw her
flowers, as in the carpets she could trace patterns hardly visible now
to other eyes.
On going into the spacious anteroom, where twelve chairs, a barometer,
a large stove, and long, white cotton curtains, bordered with red,
suggested the dreadful waiting-room of a Government office, the
visitor felt oppressed, conscious at once of the isolation in which
the mistress lived. Grief, like pleasure, infects the atmosphere. A
first glance into any home is enough to tell you whether love or
despair reigns there.
Adeline would be found sitting in an immense bedroom with beautiful
furniture by Jacob Desmalters, of mahogany finished in the Empire
style with ormolu, which looks even less inviting than the brass-work
of Louis XVI.! It gave one a shiver to see this lonely woman sitting
on a Roman chair, a work-table with sphinxes before her, colorless,
affecting false cheerfulness, but preserving her imperial air, as she
had preserved the blue velvet gown she always wore in the house. Her
proud spirit sustained her strength and preserved her beauty.
The Baroness, by the end of her first year of banishment to this
apartment, had gauged every depth of misfortune.
"Still, even here my Hector has made my life much handsomer than it
should be for a mere peasant," said she to herself. "He chooses that
it should be so; his will be done! I am Baroness Hulot, the
sister-in-law of a Marshal of France. I have done nothing wrong; my
two children are settled in life; I can wait for death, wrapped in
the spotless veil of an immaculate wife and the crape of departed
A portrait of Hulot, in the uniform of a Commissary General of the
Imperial Guard, painted in 1810 by Robert Lefebvre, hung above the
work-table, and when visitors were announced, Adeline threw into a
drawer an /Imitation of Jesus Christ/, her habitual study. This
blameless Magdalen thus heard the Voice of the Spirit in her desert.
"Mariette, my child," said Lisbeth to the woman who opened the door,
"how is my dear Adeline to-day?"
"Oh, she looks pretty well, mademoiselle; but between you and me, if
she goes on in this way, she will kill herself," said Mariette in a
whisper. "You really ought to persuade her to live better. Now,
yesterday madame told me to give her two sous' worth of milk and a
roll for one sou; to get her a herring for dinner and a bit of cold
veal; she had a pound cooked to last her the week--of course, for the
days when she dines at home and alone. She will not spend more than
ten sous a day for her food. It is unreasonable. If I were to say
anything about it to Monsieur le Marechal, he might quarrel with
Monsieur le Baron and leave him nothing, whereas you, who are so kind
and clever, can manage things----"
"But why do you not apply to my cousin the Baron?" said Lisbeth.
"Oh, dear mademoiselle, he has not been here for three weeks or more;
in fact, not since we last had the pleasure of seeing you! Besides,
madame has forbidden me, under threat of dismissal, ever to ask the
master for money. But as for grief!--oh, poor lady, she has been very
unhappy. It is the first time that monsieur has neglected her for so
long. Every time the bell rang she rushed to the window--but for the
last five days she has sat still in her chair. She reads. Whenever she
goes out to see Madame la Comtesse, she says, 'Mariette, if monsieur
comes in,' says she, 'tell him I am at home, and send the porter to
fetch me; he shall be well paid for his trouble.'"
"Poor soul!" said Lisbeth; "it goes to my heart. I speak of her to the
Baron every day. What can I do? 'Yes,' says he, 'Betty, you are right;
I am a wretch. My wife is an angel, and I am a monster! I will go
to-morrow----' And he stays with Madame Marneffe. That woman is
ruining him, and he worships her; he lives only in her sight.--I do
what I can; if I were not there, and if I had not Mathurine to depend
upon, he would spend twice as much as he does; and as he has hardly
any money in the world, he would have blown his brains out by this
time. And, I tell you, Mariette, Adeline would die of her husband's
death, I am perfectly certain. At any rate, I pull to make both ends
meet, and prevent my cousin from throwing too much money into the
"Yes, that is what madame says, poor soul! She knows how much she owes
you," replied Mariette. "She said she had judged you unjustly for many
"Indeed!" said Lisbeth. "And did she say anything else?"
"No, mademoiselle. If you wish to please her, talk to her about
Monsieur le Baron; she envies you your happiness in seeing him every
"Is she alone?"
"I beg pardon, no; the Marshal is with her. He comes every day, and
she always tells him she saw monsieur in the morning, but that he
comes in very late at night."
"And is there a good dinner to-day?"
Mariette hesitated; she could not meet Lisbeth's eye. The drawing-room
door opened, and Marshal Hulot rushed out in such haste that he bowed
to Lisbeth without looking at her, and dropped a paper. Lisbeth picked
it up and ran after him downstairs, for it was vain to hail a deaf
man; but she managed not to overtake the Marshal, and as she came up
again she furtively read the following lines written in pencil:--
"MY DEAR BROTHER,--My husband has given me the money for my
quarter's expenses; but my daughter Hortense was in such need of
it, that I lent her the whole sum, which was scarcely enough to
set her straight. Could you lend me a few hundred francs? For I
cannot ask Hector for more; if he were to blame me, I could not
"My word!" thought Lisbeth, "she must be in extremities to bend her
pride to such a degree!"
Lisbeth went in. She saw tears in Adeline's eyes, and threw her arms
round her neck.
"Adeline, my dearest, I know all," cried Cousin Betty. "Here, the
Marshal dropped this paper--he was in such a state of mind, and
running like a greyhound.--Has that dreadful Hector given you no money
"He gives it me quite regularly," replied the Baroness, "but Hortense
needed it, and--"
"And you had not enough to pay for dinner to-night," said Lisbeth,
interrupting her. "Now I understand why Mariette looked so confused
when I said something about the soup. You really are childish,
Adeline; come, take my savings."
"Thank you, my kind cousin," said Adeline, wiping away a tear. "This
little difficulty is only temporary, and I have provided for the
future. My expenses henceforth will be no more than two thousand four
hundred francs a year, rent inclusive, and I shall have the money.
--Above all, Betty, not a word to Hector. Is he well?"
"As strong as the Pont Neuf, and as gay as a lark; he thinks of
nothing but his charmer Valerie."
Madame Hulot looked out at a tall silver-fir in front of the window,
and Lisbeth could not see her cousin's eyes to read their expression.
"Did you mention that it was the day when we all dine together here?"
"Yes. But, dear me! Madame Marneffe is giving a grand dinner; she
hopes to get Monsieur Coquet to resign, and that is of the first
importance.--Now, Adeline, listen to me. You know that I am fiercely
proud as to my independence. Your husband, my dear, will certainly
bring you to ruin. I fancied I could be of use to you all by living
near this woman, but she is a creature of unfathomable depravity, and
she will make your husband promise things which will bring you all to
disgrace." Adeline writhed like a person stabbed to the heart. "My
dear Adeline, I am sure of what I say. I feel it is my duty to
enlighten you.--Well, let us think of the future. The Marshal is an
old man, but he will last a long time yet--he draws good pay; when he
dies his widow would have a pension of six thousand francs. On such an
income I would undertake to maintain you all. Use your influence over
the good man to get him to marry me. It is not for the sake of being
Madame la Marechale; I value such nonsense at no more than I value
Madame Marneffe's conscience; but you will all have bread. I see that
Hortense must be wanting it, since you give her yours."
The Marshal now came in; he had made such haste, that he was mopping
his forehead with his bandana.
"I have given Mariette two thousand francs," he whispered to his
Adeline colored to the roots of her hair. Two tears hung on the
fringes of the still long lashes, and she silently pressed the old
man's hand; his beaming face expressed the glee of a favored lover.
"I intended to spend the money in a present for you, Adeline," said
he. "Instead of repaying me, you must choose for yourself the thing
you would like best."
He took Lisbeth's hand, which she held out to him, and so bewildered
was he by his satisfaction, that he kissed it.
"That looks promising," said Adeline to Lisbeth, smiling so far as she
was able to smile.
The younger Hulot and his wife now came in.
"Is my brother coming to dinner?" asked the Marshal sharply.
Adeline took up a pencil and wrote these words on a scrap of paper:
"I expect him; he promised this morning that he would be here; but if
he should not come, it would be because the Marshal kept him. He is
overwhelmed with business."
And she handed him the paper. She had invented this way of conversing
with Marshal Hulot, and kept a little collection of paper scraps and a
pencil at hand on the work-table.
"I know," said the Marshal, "he is worked very hard over the business
At this moment, Hortense and Wenceslas arrived, and the Baroness, as
she saw all her family about her, gave the Marshal a significant
glance understood by none but Lisbeth.
Happiness had greatly improved the artist, who was adored by his wife
and flattered by the world. His face had become almost round, and his
graceful figure did justice to the advantages which blood gives to men
of birth. His early fame, his important position, the delusive
eulogies that the world sheds on artists as lightly as we say, "How
d'ye do?" or discuss the weather, gave him that high sense of merit
which degenerates into sheer fatuity when talent wanes. The Cross of
the Legion of Honor was the crowning stamp of the great man he
believed himself to be.
After three years of married life, Hortense was to her husband what a
dog is to its master; she watched his every movement with a look that
seemed a constant inquiry, her eyes were always on him, like those of
a miser on his treasure; her admiring abnegation was quite pathetic.
In her might be seen her mother's spirit and teaching. Her beauty, as
great as ever, was poetically touched by the gentle shadow of
On seeing Hortense come in, it struck Lisbeth that some
long-suppressed complaint was about to break through the thin veil of
reticence. Lisbeth, from the first days of the honeymoon, had been
sure that this couple had too small an income for so great a passion.
Hortense, as she embraced her mother, exchanged with her a few
whispered phrases, heart to heart, of which the mystery was betrayed
to Lisbeth by certain shakes of the head.
"Adeline, like me, must work for her living," thought Cousin Betty.
"She shall be made to tell me what she will do! Those pretty fingers
will know at last, like mine, what it is to work because they must."
At six o'clock the family party went in to dinner. A place was laid
"Leave it so," said the Baroness to Mariette, "monsieur sometimes
comes in late."
"Oh, my father will certainly come," said Victorin to his mother. "He
promised me he would when we parted at the Chamber."
Lisbeth, like a spider in the middle of its net, gloated over all
these countenances. Having known Victorin and Hortense from their
birth, their faces were to her like panes of glass, through which she
could read their young souls. Now, from certain stolen looks directed
by Victorin on his mother, she saw that some disaster was hanging over
Adeline which Victorin hesitated to reveal. The famous young lawyer
had some covert anxiety. His deep reverence for his mother was evident
in the regret with which he gazed at her.
Hortense was evidently absorbed in her own woes; for a fortnight past,
as Lisbeth knew, she had been suffering the first uneasiness which
want of money brings to honest souls, and to young wives on whom life
has hitherto smiled, and who conceal their alarms. Also Lisbeth had
immediately guessed that her mother had given her no money. Adeline's
delicacy had brought her so low as to use the fallacious excuses that
necessity suggests to borrowers.
Hortense's absence of mind, with her brother's and the Baroness' deep
dejection, made the dinner a melancholy meal, especially with the
added chill of the Marshal's utter deafness. Three persons gave a
little life to the scene: Lisbeth, Celestine, and Wenceslas.
Hortense's affection had developed the artist's natural liveliness as
a Pole, the somewhat swaggering vivacity and noisy high spirits that
characterize these Frenchmen of the North. His frame of mind and the
expression of his face showed plainly that he believed in himself, and
that poor Hortense, faithful to her mother's training, kept all
domestic difficulties to herself.
"You must be content, at any rate," said Lisbeth to her young cousin,
as they rose from table, "since your mother has helped you with her
"Mamma!" replied Hortense in astonishment. "Oh, poor mamma! It is for
me that she would like to make money. You do not know, Lisbeth, but I
have a horrible suspicion that she works for it in secret."
They were crossing the large, dark drawing-room where there were no
candles, all following Mariette, who was carrying the lamp into
Adeline's bedroom. At this instant Victorin just touched Lisbeth and
Hortense on the arm. The two women, understanding the hint, left
Wenceslas, Celestine, the Marshal, and the Baroness to go on together,
and remained standing in a window-bay.
"What is it, Victorin?" said Lisbeth. "Some disaster caused by your
father, I dare wager."
"Yes, alas!" replied Victorin. "A money-lender named Vauvinet has
bills of my father's to the amount of sixty thousand francs, and wants
to prosecute. I tried to speak of the matter to my father at the
Chamber, but he would not understand me; he almost avoided me. Had we
better tell my mother?"
"No, no," said Lisbeth, "she has too many troubles; it would be a
death-blow; you must spare her. You have no idea how low she has
fallen. But for your uncle, you would have found no dinner here this
"Dear Heaven! Victorin, what wretches we are!" said Hortense to her
brother. "We ought to have guessed what Lisbeth has told us. My dinner
is choking me!"
Hortense could say no more; she covered her mouth with her
handkerchief to smother a sob, and melted into tears.
"I told the fellow Vauvinet to call on me to-morrow," replied
Victorin, "but will he be satisfied by my guarantee on a mortgage? I
doubt it. Those men insist on ready money to sweat others on usurious
"Let us sell out of the funds!" said Lisbeth to Hortense.
"What good would that do?" replied Victorin. "It would bring fifteen
or sixteen thousand francs, and we want sixty thousand."
"Dear cousin!" cried Hortense, embracing Lisbeth with the enthusiasm
"No, Lisbeth, keep your little fortune," said Victorin, pressing the
old maid's hand. "I shall see to-morrow what this man would be up to.
With my wife's consent, I can at least hinder or postpone the
prosecution--for it would really be frightful to see my father's honor
impugned. What would the War Minister say? My father's salary, which
he pledged for three years, will not be released before the month of
December, so we cannot offer that as a guarantee. This Vauvinet has
renewed the bills eleven times; so you may imagine what my father must
pay in interest. We must close this pit."
"If only Madame Marneffe would throw him over!" said Hortense
"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed Victorin. "He would take up some one else;
and with her, at any rate, the worst outlay is over."
What a change in children formerly so respectful, and kept so long by
their mother in blind worship of their father! They knew him now for
what he was.
"But for me," said Lisbeth, "your father's ruin would be more complete
than it is."
"Come in to mamma," said Hortense; "she is very sharp, and will
suspect something; as our kind Lisbeth says, let us keep everything
from her--let us be cheerful."
"Victorin," said Lisbeth, "you have no notion of what your father will
be brought to by his passion for women. Try to secure some future
resource by getting the Marshal to marry me. Say something about it
this evening; I will leave early on purpose."
Victorin went into the bedroom.
"And you, poor little thing!" said Lisbeth in an undertone to
Hortense, "what can you do?"
"Come to dinner with us to-morrow, and we will talk it over," answered
Hortense. "I do not know which way to turn; you know how hard life is,
and you will advise me."
While the whole family with one consent tried to persuade the Marshal
to marry, and while Lisbeth was making her way home to the Rue
Vanneau, one of those incidents occurred which, in such women as
Madame Marneffe, are a stimulus to vice by compelling them to exert
their energy and every resource of depravity. One fact, at any rate,
must however be acknowledged: life in Paris is too full for vicious
persons to do wrong instinctively and unprovoked; vice is only a
weapon of defence against aggressors--that is all.
Madame Marneffe's drawing-room was full of her faithful admirers, and
she had just started the whist-tables, when the footman, a pensioned
soldier recruited by the Baron, announced:
"Monsieur le Baron Montes de Montejanos."
Valerie's heart jumped, but she hurried to the door, exclaiming:
"My cousin!" and as she met the Brazilian, she whispered:
"You are my relation--or all is at an end between us!--And so you were
not wrecked, Henri?" she went on audibly, as she led him to the fire.
"I heard you were lost, and have mourned for you these three years."
"How are you, my good fellow?" said Marneffe, offering his hand to the
stranger, whose get-up was indeed that of a Brazilian and a
Monsieur le Baron Henri Montes de Montejanos, to whom the climate of
the equator had given the color and stature we expect to see in
Othello on the stage, had an alarming look of gloom, but it was a
merely pictorial illusion; for, sweet and affectionate by nature, he
was predestined to be the victim that a strong man often is to a weak
woman. The scorn expressed in his countenance, the muscular strength
of his stalwart frame, all his physical powers were shown only to his
fellow-men; a form of flattery which women appreciate, nay, which so
intoxicates them, that every man with his mistress on his arm assumes
a matador swagger that provokes a smile. Very well set up, in a
closely fitting blue coat with solid gold buttons, in black trousers,
spotless patent evening boots, and gloves of a fashionable hue, the
only Brazilian touch in the Baron's costume was a large diamond, worth
about a hundred thousand francs, which blazed like a star on a
handsome blue silk cravat, tucked into a white waistcoat in such a way
as to show corners of a fabulously fine shirt front.
His brow, bossy like that of a satyr, a sign of tenacity in his
passions, was crowned by thick jet-black hair like a virgin forest,
and under it flashed a pair of hazel eyes, so wild looking as to
suggest that before his birth his mother must have been scared by a
This fine specimen of the Portuguese race in Brazil took his stand
with his back to the fire, in an attitude that showed familiarity with
Paris manners; holding his hat in one hand, his elbow resting on the
velvet-covered shelf, he bent over Madame Marneffe, talking to her in
an undertone, and troubling himself very little about the dreadful
people who, in his opinion, were so very much in the way.
This fashion of taking the stage, with the Brazilian's attitude and
expression, gave, alike to Crevel and to the baron, an identical shock
of curiosity and anxiety. Both were struck by the same impression and
the same surmise. And the manoeuvre suggested in each by their very
genuine passion was so comical in its simultaneous results, that it
made everybody smile who was sharp enough to read its meaning. Crevel,
a tradesman and shopkeeper to the backbone, though a mayor of Paris,
unluckily, was a little slower to move than his rival partner, and
this enabled the Baron to read at a glance Crevel's involuntary
self-betrayal. This was a fresh arrow to rankle in the very amorous
old man's heart, and he resolved to have an explanation from Valerie.
"This evening," said Crevel to himself too, as he sorted his hand, "I
must know where I stand."
"You have a heart!" cried Marneffe. "You have just revoked."
"I beg your pardon," said Crevel, trying to withdraw his card.--"This
Baron seems to me very much in the way," he went on, thinking to
himself. "If Valerie carries on with my Baron, well and good--it is a
means to my revenge, and I can get rid of him if I choose; but as for
this cousin!--He is one Baron too many; I do not mean to be made a
fool of. I will know how they are related."
That evening, by one of those strokes of luck which come to pretty
women, Valerie was charmingly dressed. Her white bosom gleamed under a
lace tucker of rusty white, which showed off the satin texture of her
beautiful shoulders--for Parisian women, Heaven knows how, have some
way of preserving their fine flesh and remaining slender. She wore a
black velvet gown that looked as if it might at any moment slip off
her shoulders, and her hair was dressed with lace and drooping
flowers. Her arms, not fat but dimpled, were graced by deep ruffles to
her sleeves. She was like a luscious fruit coquettishly served in a
handsome dish, and making the knife-blade long to be cutting it.
"Valerie," the Brazilian was saying in her ear, "I have come back
faithful to you. My uncle is dead; I am twice as rich as I was when I
went away. I mean to live and die in Paris, for you and with you."
"Lower, Henri, I implore you----"
"Pooh! I mean to speak to you this evening, even if I should have to
pitch all these creatures out of window, especially as I have lost two
days in looking for you. I shall stay till the last.--I can, I
Valerie smiled at her adopted cousin, and said:
"Remember that you are the son of my mother's sister, who married your
father during Junot's campaign in Portugal."
"What, I, Montes de Montejanos, great grandson of a conquerer of
Brazil! Tell a lie?"
"Hush, lower, or we shall never meet again."
"Marneffe, like all dying wretches, who always take up some last whim,
has a revived passion for me----"
"That cur?" said the Brazilian, who knew his Marneffe; "I will settle
"And where did you get all this splendor?" the Brazilian went on, just
struck by the magnificence of the apartment.
She began to laugh.
"Henri! what bad taste!" said she.
She had felt two burning flashes of jealousy which had moved her so
far as to make her look at the two souls in purgatory. Crevel, playing
against Baron Hulot and Monsieur Coquet, had Marneffe for his partner.
The game was even, because Crevel and the Baron were equally
absent-minded, and made blunder after blunder. Thus, in one instant,
the old men both confessed the passion which Valerie had persuaded them
to keep secret for the past three years; but she too had failed to hide
the joy in her eyes at seeing the man who had first taught her heart
to beat, the object of her first love. The rights of such happy
mortals survive as long as the woman lives over whom they have
With these three passions at her side--one supported by the insolence
of wealth, the second by the claims of possession, and the third by
youth, strength, fortune, and priority--Madame Marneffe preserved her
coolness and presence of mind, like General Bonaparte when, at the
siege of Mantua, he had to fight two armies, and at the same time
maintain the blockade.
Jealousy, distorting Hulot's face, made him look as terrible as the
late Marshal Montcornet leading a cavalry charge against a Russian
square. Being such a handsome man, he had never known any ground for
jealousy, any more than Murat knew what it was to be afraid. He had
always felt sure that he should triumph. His rebuff by Josepha, the
first he had ever met, he ascribed to her love of money; "he was
conquered by millions, and not by a changeling," he would say when
speaking of the Duc d'Herouville. And now, in one instant, the poison
and delirium that the mad passion sheds in a flood had rushed to his
heart. He kept turning from the whist-table towards the fireplace with
an action /a la/ Mirabeau; and as he laid down his cards to cast a
challenging glance at the Brazilian and Valerie, the rest of the
company felt the sort of alarm mingled with curiosity that is caused
by evident violence ready to break out at any moment. The sham cousin
stared at Hulot as he might have looked at some big China mandarin.
This state of things could not last; it was bound to end in some
tremendous outbreak. Marneffe was as much afraid of Hulot as Crevel
was of Marneffe, for he was anxious not to die a mere clerk. Men
marked for death believe in life as galley-slaves believe in liberty;
this man was bent on being a first-class clerk at any cost. Thoroughly
frightened by the pantomime of the Baron and Crevel, he rose, said a
few words in his wife's ear, and then, to the surprise of all, Valerie
went into the adjoining bedroom with the Brazilian and her husband.
"Did Madame Marneffe ever speak to you of this cousin of hers?" said
Crevel to Hulot.
"Never!" replied the Baron, getting up. "That is enough for this
evening," said he. "I have lost two louis--there they are."
He threw the two gold pieces on the table, and seated himself on the
sofa with a look which everybody else took as a hint to go. Monsieur
and Madame Coquet, after exchanging a few words, left the room, and
Claude Vignon, in despair, followed their example. These two
departures were a hint to less intelligent persons, who now found that
they were not wanted. The Baron and Crevel were left together, and
spoke never a word. Hulot, at last, ignoring Crevel, went on tiptoe to
listen at the bedroom door; but he bounded back with a prodigious
jump, for Marneffe opened the door and appeared with a calm face,
astonished to find only the two men.
"And the tea?" said he.
"Where is Valerie?" replied the Baron in a rage.
"My wife," said Marneffe. "She is gone upstairs to speak to
mademoiselle your cousin. She will come down directly."
"And why has she deserted us for that stupid creature?"
"Well," said Marneffe, "Mademoiselle Lisbeth came back from dining
with the Baroness with an attack of indigestion and Mathurine asked
Valerie for some tea for her, so my wife went up to see what was the
"And /her/ cousin?"
"He is gone."
"Do you really believe that?" said the Baron.
"I have seen him to his carriage," replied Marneffe, with a hideous
The wheels of a departing carriage were audible in the street. The
Baron, counting Marneffe for nothing, went upstairs to Lisbeth. An
idea flashed through him such as the heart sends to the brain when it
is on fire with jealousy. Marneffe's baseness was so well known to
him, that he could imagine the most degrading connivance between
husband and wife.
"What has become of all the ladies and gentlemen?" said Marneffe,
finding himself alone with Crevel.
"When the sun goes to bed, the cocks and hens follow suit," said
Crevel. "Madame Marneffe disappeared, and her adorers departed. Will
you play a game of piquet?" added Crevel, who meant to remain.
He too believed that the Brazilian was in the house.
Monsieur Marneffe agreed. The Mayor was a match for the Baron. Simply
by playing cards with the husband he could stay on indefinitely; and
Marneffe, since the suppression of the public tables, was quite
satisfied with the more limited opportunities of private play.
Baron Hulot went quickly up to Lisbeth's apartment, but the door was
locked, and the usual inquiries through the door took up time enough
to enable the two light-handed and cunning women to arrange the scene
of an attack of indigestion with the accessories of tea. Lisbeth was
in such pain that Valerie was very much alarmed, and consequently
hardly paid any heed to the Baron's furious entrance. Indisposition is
one of the screens most often placed by women to ward off a quarrel.
Hulot peeped about, here and there, but could see no spot in Cousin
Betty's room where a Brazilian might lie hidden.
"Your indigestion does honor to my wife's dinner, Lisbeth," said he,
scrutinizing her, for Lisbeth was perfectly well, trying to imitate
the hiccough of spasmodic indigestion as she drank her tea.
"How lucky it is that dear Betty should be living under my roof!" said
Madame Marneffe. "But for me, the poor thing would have died."
"You look as if you only half believed it," added Lisbeth, turning to
the Baron, "and that would be a shame----"
"Why?" asked the Baron. "Do you know the purpose of my visit?"
And he leered at the door of a dressing-closet from which the key had
"Are you talking Greek?" said Madame Marneffe, with an appealing look
of misprized tenderness and devotedness.
"But it is all through you, my dear cousin; yes, it is your doing that
I am in such a state," said Lisbeth vehemently.
This speech diverted the Baron's attention; he looked at the old maid
with the greatest astonishment.
"You know that I am devoted to you," said Lisbeth. "I am here, that
says everything. I am wearing out the last shreds of my strength in
watching over your interests, since they are one with our dear
Valerie's. Her house costs one-tenth of what any other does that is
kept on the same scale. But for me, Cousin, instead of two thousand
francs a month, you would be obliged to spend three or four thousand."
"I know all that," replied the Baron out of patience; "you are our
protectress in many ways," he added, turning to Madame Marneffe and
putting his arm round her neck.--"Is not she, my pretty sweet?"
"On my honor," exclaimed Valerie, "I believe you are gone mad!"
"Well, you cannot doubt my attachment," said Lisbeth. "But I am also
very fond of my cousin Adeline, and I found her in tears. She has not
seen you for a month. Now that is really too bad; you leave my poor
Adeline without a sou. Your daughter Hortense almost died of it when
she was told that it is thanks to your brother that we had any dinner
at all. There was not even bread in your house this day.
"Adeline is heroically resolved to keep her sufferings to herself. She
said to me, 'I will do as you have done!' The speech went to my heart;
and after dinner, as I thought of what my cousin had been in 1811, and
of what she is in 1841--thirty years after--I had a violent
indigestion.--I fancied I should get over it; but when I got home, I
thought I was dying--"
"You see, Valerie, to what my adoration of you has brought me! To
"Oh! I was wise never to marry!" cried Lisbeth, with savage joy. "You
are a kind, good man; Adeline is a perfect angel;--and this is the
reward of her blind devotion."
"An elderly angel!" said Madame Marneffe softly, as she looked half
tenderly, half mockingly, at her Hector, who was gazing at her as an
examining judge gazes at the accused.
"My poor wife!" said Hulot. "For more than nine months I have given
her no money, though I find it for you, Valerie; but at what a cost!
No one else will ever love you so, and what torments you inflict on me
"Torments?" she echoed. "Then what do you call happiness?"
"I do not yet know on what terms you have been with this so-called
cousin whom you never mentioned to me," said the Baron, paying no heed
to Valerie's interjection. "But when he came in I felt as if a
penknife had been stuck into my heart. Blinded I may be, but I am not
blind. I could read his eyes, and yours. In short, from under that
ape's eyelids there flashed sparks that he flung at you--and your
eyes!--Oh! you have never looked at me so, never! As to this mystery,
Valerie, it shall all be cleared up. You are the only woman who ever
made me know the meaning of jealousy, so you need not be surprised by
what I say.--But another mystery which has rent its cloud, and it
seems to me infamous----"
"Go on, go on," said Valerie.
"It is that Crevel, that square lump of flesh and stupidity, is in
love with you, and that you accept his attentions with so good a grace
that the idiot flaunts his passion before everybody."
"Only three! Can you discover no more?" asked Madame Marneffe.
"There may be more!" retorted the Baron.
"If Monsieur Crevel is in love with me, he is in his rights as a man
after all; if I favored his passion, that would indeed be the act of a
coquette, or of a woman who would leave much to be desired on your
part.--Well, love me as you find me, or let me alone. If you restore
me to freedom, neither you nor Monsieur Crevel will ever enter my
doors again. But I will take up with my cousin, just to keep my hand
in, in those charming habits you suppose me to indulge.--Good-bye,
Monsieur le Baron Hulot."
She rose, but the Baron took her by the arm and made her sit down
again. The old man could not do without Valerie. She had become more
imperatively indispensable to him than the necessaries of life; he
preferred remaining in uncertainty to having any proof of Valerie's
"My dearest Valerie," said he, "do you not see how miserable I am? I
only ask you to justify yourself. Give me sufficient reasons--"
"Well, go downstairs and wait for me; for I suppose you do not wish to
look on at the various ceremonies required by your cousin's state."
Hulot slowly turned away.
"You old profligate," cried Lisbeth, "you have not even asked me how
your children are? What are you going to do for Adeline? I, at any
rate, will take her my savings to-morrow."
"You owe your wife white bread to eat at least," said Madame Marneffe,
The Baron, without taking offence at Lisbeth's tone, as despotic as
Josepha's, got out of the room, only too glad to escape so importunate
The door bolted once more, the Brazilian came out of the
dressing-closet, where he had been waiting, and he appeared with his
eyes full of tears, in a really pitiable condition. Montes had heard
"Henri, you must have ceased to love me, I know it!" said Madame
Marneffe, hiding her face in her handkerchief and bursting into tears.
It was the outcry of real affection. The cry of a woman's despair is
so convincing that it wins the forgiveness that lurks at the bottom of
every lover's heart--when she is young and pretty, and wears a gown so
low that she could slip out at the top and stand in the garb of Eve.
"But why, if you love me, do you not leave everything for my sake?"
asked the Brazilian.
This South American born, being logical, as men are who have lived the
life of nature, at once resumed the conversation at the point where it
had been broken off, putting his arm round Valerie's waist.
"Why?" she repeated, gazing up at Henri, whom she subjugated at once
by a look charged with passion, "why, my dear boy, I am married; we
are in Paris, not in the savannah, the pampas, the backwoods of
America.--My dear Henri, my first and only love, listen to me. That
husband of mine, a second clerk in the War Office, is bent on being a
head-clerk and officer of the Legion of Honor; can I help his being
ambitious? Now for the very reason that made him leave us our liberty
--nearly four years ago, do you remember, you bad boy?--he now
abandons me to Monsieur Hulot. I cannot get rid of that dreadful
official, who snorts like a grampus, who has fins in his nostrils, who
is sixty-three years old, and who had grown ten years older by dint of
trying to be young; who is so odious to me that the very day when
Marneffe is promoted, and gets his Cross of the Legion of Honor----"
"How much more will your husband get then?"
"A thousand crowns."
"I will pay him as much in an annuity," said Baron Montes. "We will
leave Paris and go----"
"Where?" said Valerie, with one of the pretty sneers by which a woman
makes fun of a man she is sure of. "Paris is the only place where we
can live happy. I care too much for your love to risk seeing it die
out in a /tete-a-tete/ in the wilderness. Listen, Henri, you are the
only man I care for in the whole world. Write that down clearly in
your tiger's brain."
For women, when they have made a sheep of a man, always tell him that
he is a lion with a will of iron.
"Now, attend to me. Monsieur Marneffe has not five years to live; he
is rotten to the marrow of his bones. He spends seven months of the
twelve in swallowing drugs and decoctions; he lives wrapped in
flannel; in short, as the doctor says, he lives under the scythe, and
may be cut off at any moment. An illness that would not harm another
man would be fatal to him; his blood is corrupt, his life undermined
at the root. For five years I have never allowed him to kiss me--he is
poisonous! Some day, and the day is not far off, I shall be a widow.
Well, then, I--who have already had an offer from a man with sixty
thousand francs a year, I who am as completely mistress of that man as
I am of this lump of sugar--I swear to you that if you were as poor as
Hulot and as foul as Marneffe, if you beat me even, still you are the
only man I will have for a husband, the only man I love, or whose name
I will ever bear. And I am ready to give any pledge of my love that
you may require."
"Well, then, to-night----"
"But you, son of the South, my splendid jaguar, come expressly for me
from the virgin forest of Brazil," said she, taking his hand and
kissing and fondling it, "I have some consideration for the poor
creature you mean to make your wife.--Shall I be your wife, Henri?"
"Yes," said the Brazilian, overpowered by this unbridled volubility of
passion. And he knelt at her feet.
"Well, then, Henri," said Valerie, taking his two hands and looking
straight into his eyes, "swear to me now, in the presence of Lisbeth,
my best and only friend, my sister--that you will make me your wife at
the end of my year's widowhood."
"I swear it."
"That is not enough. Swear by your mother's ashes and eternal
salvation, swear by the Virgin Mary and by all your hopes as a
Valerie knew that the Brazilian would keep that oath even if she
should have fallen into the foulest social slough.
The Baron solemnly swore it, his nose almost touching Valerie's white
bosom, and his eyes spellbound. He was drunk, drunk as a man is when
he sees the woman he loves once more, after a sea voyage of a hundred
and twenty days.
"Good. Now be quite easy. And in Madame Marneffe respect the future
Baroness de Montejanos. You are not to spend a sou upon me; I forbid
it.--Stay here in the outer room; sleep on the sofa. I myself will
come and tell you when you may move.--We will breakfast to-morrow
morning, and you can be leaving at about one o'clock as if you had
come to call at noon. There is nothing to fear; the gate-keepers love
me as much as if they were my father and mother.--Now I must go down
and make tea."
She beckoned to Lisbeth, who followed her out on to the landing. There
Valerie whispered in the old maid's ear:
"My darkie has come back too soon. I shall die if I cannot avenge you
"Make your mind easy, my pretty little devil!" said Lisbeth, kissing
her forehead. "Love and Revenge on the same track will never lose the
game. Hortense expects me to-morrow; she is in beggary. For a thousand
francs you may have a thousand kisses from Wenceslas."
On leaving Valerie, Hulot had gone down to the porter's lodge and made
a sudden invasion there.
On hearing the imperious tone of this address, and seeing the action
by which the Baron emphasized it, Madame Olivier came out into the
courtyard as far as the Baron led her.
"You know that if any one can help your son to a connection by and by,
it is I; it is owing to me that he is already third clerk in a
notary's office, and is finishing his studies."
"Yes, Monsieur le Baron; and indeed, sir, you may depend on our
gratitude. Not a day passes that I do not pray to God for Monsieur le
"Not so many words, my good woman," said Hulot, "but deeds----"
"What can I do, sir?" asked Madame Olivier.
"A man came here to-night in a carriage. Do you know him?"
Madame Olivier had recognized Montes well enough. How could she have
forgotten him? In the Rue du Doyenne the Brazilian had always slipped
a five-franc piece into her hand as he went out in the morning, rather
too early. If the Baron had applied to Monsieur Olivier, he would
perhaps have learned all he wanted to know. But Olivier was in bed. In
the lower orders the woman is not merely the superior of the man--she
almost always has the upper hand. Madame Olivier had long since made
up her mind as to which side to take in case of a collision between
her two benefactors; she regarded Madame Marneffe as the stronger
"Do I know him?" she repeated. "No, indeed, no. I never saw him
"What! Did Madame Marneffe's cousin never go to see her when she was
living in the Rue du Doyenne?"
"Oh! Was it her cousin?" cried Madame Olivier. "I dare say he did
come, but I did not know him again. Next time, sir, I will look at
"He will be coming out," said Hulot, hastily interrupting Madame
"He has left," said Madame Olivier, understanding the situation. "The
carriage is gone."
"Did you see him go?"
"As plainly as I see you. He told his servant to drive to the
This audacious statement wrung a sigh of relief from the Baron; he
took Madame Olivier's hand and squeezed it.
"Thank you, my good Madame Olivier. But that is not all.--Monsieur
"Monsieur Crevel? What can you mean, sir? I do not understand," said
"Listen to me. He is Madame Marneffe's lover----"
"Impossible, Monsieur le Baron; impossible," said she, clasping her
"He is Madame Marneffe's lover," the Baron repeated very positively.
"How do they manage it? I don't know; but I mean to know, and you are
to find out. If you can put me on the tracks of this intrigue, your
son is a notary."
"Don't you fret yourself so, Monsieur le Baron," said Madame Olivier.
"Madame cares for you, and for no one but you; her maid knows that for
true, and we say, between her and me, that you are the luckiest man in
this world--for you know what madame is.--Just perfection!
"She gets up at ten every morning; then she breakfasts. Well and good.
After that she takes an hour or so to dress; that carries her on till
two; then she goes for a walk in the Tuileries in the sight of all
men, and she is always in by four to be ready for you. She lives like
clockwork. She keeps no secrets from her maid, and Reine keeps nothing
from me, you may be sure. Reine can't if she would--along of my son,
for she is very sweet upon him. So, you see, if madame had any
intimacy with Monsieur Crevel, we should be bound to know it."
The Baron went upstairs again with a beaming countenance, convinced
that he was the only man in the world to that shameless slut, as
treacherous, but as lovely and as engaging as a siren.
Crevel and Marneffe had begun a second rubber at piquet. Crevel was
losing, as a man must who is not giving his thoughts to his game.
Marneffe, who knew the cause of the Mayor's absence of mind, took
unscrupulous advantage of it; he looked at the cards in reverse, and
discarded accordingly; thus, knowing his adversary's hand, he played
to beat him. The stake being a franc a point, he had already robbed
the Mayor of thirty francs when Hulot came in.
"Hey day!" said he, amazed to find no company. "Are you alone? Where
is everybody gone?"
"Your pleasant temper put them all to flight," said Crevel.
"No, it was my wife's cousin," replied Marneffe. "The ladies and
gentlemen supposed that Valerie and Henri might have something to say
to each other after three years' separation, and they very discreetly
retired.--If I had been in the room, I would have kept them; but then,
as it happens, it would have been a mistake, for Lisbeth, who always
comes down to make tea at half-past ten, was taken ill, and that upset
"Then is Lisbeth really unwell?" asked Crevel in a fury.
"So I was told," replied Marneffe, with the heartless indifference of
a man to whom women have ceased to exist.
The Mayor looked at the clock; and, calculating the time, the Baron
seemed to have spent forty minutes in Lisbeth's rooms. Hector's
jubilant expression seriously incriminated Valerie, Lisbeth, and
"I have just seen her; she is in great pain, poor soul!" said the
"Then the sufferings of others must afford you much joy, my friend,"
retorted Crevel with acrimony, "for you have come down with a face
that is positively beaming. Is Lisbeth likely to die? For your
daughter, they say, is her heiress. You are not like the same man. You
left this room looking like the Moor of Venice, and you come back with
the air of Saint-Preux!--I wish I could see Madame Marneffe's face at
"And pray, what do you mean by that?" said Marneffe to Crevel, packing
his cards and laying them down in front of him.
A light kindled in the eyes of this man, decrepit at the age of
forty-seven; a faint color flushed his flaccid cold cheeks, his
ill-furnished mouth was half open, and on his blackened lips a sort
of foam gathered, thick, and as white as chalk. This fury in such a
helpless wretch, whose life hung on a thread, and who in a duel would
risk nothing while Crevel had everything to lose, frightened the
"I said," repeated Crevel, "that I should like to see Madame
Marneffe's face. And with all the more reason since yours, at this
moment, is most unpleasant. On my honor, you are horribly ugly, my
"Do you know that you are very uncivil?"
"A man who has won thirty francs of me in forty-five minutes cannot
look handsome in my eyes."
"Ah, if you had but seen me seventeen years ago!" replied the clerk.
"You were so good-looking?" asked Crevel.
"That was my ruin; now, if I had been like you--I might be a mayor and
"Yes," said Crevel, with a smile, "you have been too much in the wars;
and of the two forms of metal that may be earned by worshiping the god
of trade, you have taken the worse--the dross!" [This dialogue is
garnished with puns for which it is difficult to find any English
equivalent.] And Crevel roared with laughter. Though Marneffe could
take offence if his honor were in peril, he always took these rough
pleasantries in good part; they were the small coin of conversation
between him and Crevel.
"The daughters of Eve cost me dear, no doubt; but, by the powers!
'Short and sweet' is my motto."
"'Long and happy' is more to my mind," returned Crevel.
Madame Marneffe now came in; she saw that her husband was at cards
with Crevel, and only the Baron in the room besides; a mere glance at
the municipal dignitary showed her the frame of mind he was in, and
her line of conduct was at once decided on.
"Marneffe, my dear boy," said she, leaning on her husband's shoulder,
and passing her pretty fingers through his dingy gray hair, but
without succeeding in covering his bald head with it, "it is very late
for you; you ought to be in bed. To-morrow, you know, you must dose
yourself by the doctor's orders. Reine will give you your herb tea at
seven. If you wish to live, give up your game."
"We will pay it out up to five points," said Marneffe to Crevel.
"Very good--I have scored two," replied the Mayor.
"How long will it take you?"
"Ten minutes," said Marneffe.
"It is eleven o'clock," replied Valerie. "Really, Monsieur Crevel, one
might fancy you meant to kill my husband. Make haste, at any rate."
This double-barreled speech made Crevel and Hulot smile, and even
Marneffe himself. Valerie sat down to talk to Hector.
"You must leave, my dearest," said she in Hulot's ear. "Walk up and
down the Rue Vanneau, and come in again when you see Crevel go out."
"I would rather leave this room and go into your room through the
dressing-room door. You could tell Reine to let me in."
"Reine is upstairs attending to Lisbeth."
"Well, suppose then I go up to Lisbeth's rooms?"
Danger hemmed in Valerie on every side; she foresaw a discussion with
Crevel, and could not allow Hulot to be in her room, where he could
hear all that went on.--And the Brazilian was upstairs with Lisbeth.
"Really, you men, when you have a notion in your head, you would burn
a house down to get into it!" exclaimed she. "Lisbeth is not in a fit
state to admit you.--Are you afraid of catching cold in the street? Be
off there--or good-night."
"Good evening, gentlemen," said the Baron to the other two.
Hulot, when piqued in his old man's vanity, was bent on proving that
he could play the young man by waiting for the happy hour in the open
air, and he went away.
Marneffe bid his wife good-night, taking her hands with a semblance of
devotion. Valerie pressed her husband's hand with a significant
"Get rid of Crevel."
"Good-night, Crevel," said Marneffe. "I hope you will not stay long
with Valerie. Yes! I am jealous--a little late in the day, but it has
me hard and fast. I shall come back to see if you are gone."
"We have a little business to discuss, but I shall not stay long,"
"Speak low.--What is it?" said Valerie, raising her voice, and looking
at him with a mingled expression of haughtiness and scorn.
Crevel, as he met this arrogant stare, though he was doing Valerie
important services, and had hoped to plume himself on the fact, was at
once reduced to submission.
"That Brazilian----" he began, but, overpowered by Valerie's fixed
look of contempt, he broke off.
"What of him?" said she.
"Is no cousin of mine," said she. "He is my cousin to the world and to
Monsieur Marneffe. And if he were my lover, it would be no concern of
yours. A tradesman who pays a woman to be revenged on another man, is,
in my opinion, beneath the man who pays her for love of her. You did
not care for me; all you saw in me was Monsieur Hulot's mistress. You
bought me as a man buys a pistol to kill his adversary. I wanted
bread--I accepted the bargain."
"But you have not carried it out," said Crevel, the tradesman once
"You want Baron Hulot to be told that you have robbed him of his
mistress, to pay him out for having robbed you of Josepha? Nothing can
more clearly prove your baseness. You say you love a woman, you treat
her like a duchess, and then you want to degrade her? Well, my good
fellow, and you are right. This woman is no match for Josepha. That
young person has the courage of her disgrace, while I--I am a
hypocrite, and deserve to be publicly whipped.--Alas! Josepha is
protected by her cleverness and her wealth. I have nothing to shelter
me but my reputation; I am still the worthy and blameless wife of a
plain citizen; if you create a scandal, what is to become of me? If I
were rich, then indeed; but my income is fifteen thousand francs a
year at most, I suppose."
"Much more than that," said Crevel. "I have doubled your savings in
these last two months by investing in /Orleans/."
"Well, a position in Paris begins with fifty thousand. And you
certainly will not make up to me for the position I should surrender.
--What was my aim? I want to see Marneffe a first-class clerk; he will
then draw a salary of six thousand francs. He has been twenty-seven
years in his office; within three years I shall have a right to a
pension of fifteen hundred francs when he dies. You, to whom I have
been entirely kind, to whom I have given your fill of happiness--you
cannot wait!--And that is what men call love!" she exclaimed.
"Though I began with an ulterior purpose," said Crevel, "I have become
your poodle. You trample on my heart, you crush me, you stultify me,
and I love you as I have never loved in my life. Valerie, I love you
as much as I love my Celestine. I am capable of anything for your
sake.--Listen, instead of coming twice a week to the Rue du Dauphin,
come three times."
"Is that all! You are quite young again, my dear boy!"
"Only let me pack off Hulot, humiliate him, rid you of him," said
Crevel, not heeding her impertinence! "Have nothing to say to the
Brazilian, be mine alone; you shall not repent of it. To begin with, I
will give you eight thousand francs a year, secured by bond, but only
as an annuity; I will not give you the capital till the end of five
"Always a bargain! A tradesman can never learn to give. You want to
stop for refreshments on the road of love--in the form of Government
bonds! Bah! Shopman, pomatum seller! you put a price on everything!
--Hector told me that the Duc d'Herouville gave Josepha a bond for
thirty thousand francs a year in a packet of sugar almonds! And I am
worth six of Josepha.
"Oh! to be loved!" she went on, twisting her ringlets round her
fingers, and looking at herself in the glass. "Henri loves me. He
would smash you like a fly if I winked at him! Hulot loves me; he
leaves his wife in beggary! As for you, go my good man, be the worthy
father of a family. You have three hundred thousand francs over and
above your fortune, only to amuse yourself, a hoard, in fact, and you
think of nothing but increasing it--"
"For you, Valerie, since I offer you half," said he, falling on his
"What, still here!" cried Marneffe, hideous in his dressing-gown.
"What are you about?"
"He is begging my pardon, my dear, for an insulting proposal he has
dared to make me. Unable to obtain my consent, my gentleman proposed
to pay me----"
Crevel only longed to vanish into the cellar, through a trap, as is
done on the stage.
"Get up, Crevel," said Marneffe, laughing, "you are ridiculous. I can
see by Valerie's manner that my honor is in no danger."
"Go to bed and sleep in peace," said Madame Marneffe.
"Isn't she clever?" thought Crevel. "She has saved me. She is
As Marneffe disappeared, the Mayor took Valerie's hands and kissed
them, leaving on them the traces of tears.
"It shall all stand in your name," he said.
"That is true love," she whispered in his ear. "Well, love for love.
Hulot is below, in the street. The poor old thing is waiting to return
when I place a candle in one of the windows of my bedroom. I give you
leave to tell him that you are the man I love; he will refuse to
believe you; take him to the Rue du Dauphin, give him every proof,
crush him; I allow it--I order it! I am tired of that old seal; he
bores me to death. Keep your man all night in the Rue du Dauphin,
grill him over a slow fire, be revenged for the loss of Josepha. Hulot
may die of it perhaps, but we shall save his wife and children from
utter ruin. Madame Hulot is working for her bread--"
"Oh! poor woman! On my word, it is quite shocking!" exclaimed Crevel,
his natural feeling coming to the top.
"If you love me, Celestin," said she in Crevel's ear, which she
touched with her lips, "keep him there, or I am done for. Marneffe is
suspicious. Hector has a key of the outer gate, and will certainly
Crevel clasped Madame Marneffe to his heart, and went away in the
seventh heaven of delight. Valerie fondly escorted him to the landing,
and then followed him, like a woman magnetized, down the stairs to the
"My Valerie, go back, do not compromise yourself before the porters.
--Go back; my life, my treasure, all is yours.--Go in, my duchess!"
"Madame Olivier," Valerie called gently when the gate was closed.
"Why, madame! You here?" said the woman in bewilderment.
"Bolt the gates at top and bottom, and let no one in."
"Very good, madame."
Having barred the gate, Madame Olivier told of the bribe that the War
Office chief had tried to offer her.
"You behaved like an angel, my dear Olivier; we shall talk of that
Valerie flew like an arrow to the third floor, tapped three times at
Lisbeth's door, and then went down to her room, where she gave
instructions to Mademoiselle Reine, for a woman must make the most of
the opportunity when a Montes arrives from Brazil.
"By Heaven! only a woman of the world is capable of such love," said
Crevel to himself. "How she came down those stairs, lighting them up
with her eyes, following me! Never did Josepha--Josepha! she is
cag-mag!" cried the ex-bagman. "What have I said? /Cag-mag/--why, I
might have let the word slip out at the Tuileries! I can never do any
good unless Valerie educates me--and I was so bent on being a
gentleman.--What a woman she is! She upsets me like a fit of the
colic when she looks at me coldly. What grace! What wit! Never did
Josepha move me so. And what perfection when you come to know her!
--Ha, there is my man!"
He perceived in the gloom of the Rue de Babylone the tall, somewhat
stooping figure of Hulot, stealing along close to a boarding, and he
went straight up to him.
"Good-morning, Baron, for it is past midnight, my dear fellow. What
the devil are your doing here? You are airing yourself under a
pleasant drizzle. That is not wholesome at our time of life. Will you
let me give you a little piece of advice? Let each of us go home; for,
between you and me, you will not see the candle in the window."
The last words made the Baron suddenly aware that he was sixty-three,
and that his cloak was wet.
"Who on earth told you--?" he began.
"Valerie, of course, /our/ Valerie, who means henceforth to be /my/
Valerie. We are even now, Baron; we will play off the tie when you
please. You have nothing to complain of; you know, I always stipulated
for the right of taking my revenge; it took you three months to rob me
of Josepha; I took Valerie from you in--We will say no more about
that. Now I mean to have her all to myself. But we can be very good
friends, all the same."
"Crevel, no jesting," said Hulot, in a voice choked by rage. "It is a
matter of life and death."
"Bless me, is that how you take it!--Baron, do you not remember what
you said to me the day of Hortense's marriage: 'Can two old gaffers
like us quarrel over a petticoat? It is too low, too common. We are
/Regence/, we agreed, Pompadour, eighteenth century, quite the
Marechal Richelieu, Louis XV., nay, and I may say, /Liaisons
Crevel might have gone on with his string of literary allusions; the
Baron heard him as a deaf man listens when he is but half deaf. But,
seeing in the gaslight the ghastly pallor of his face, the triumphant
Mayor stopped short. This was, indeed, a thunderbolt after Madame
Olivier's asservations and Valerie's parting glance.
"Good God! And there are so many other women in Paris!" he said at
"That is what I said to you when you took Josepha," said Crevel.
"Look here, Crevel, it is impossible. Give me some proof.--Have you a
key, as I have, to let yourself in?"
And having reached the house, the Baron put the key into the lock; but
the gate was immovable; he tried in vain to open it.
"Do not make a noise in the streets at night," said Crevel coolly. "I
tell you, Baron, I have far better proof than you can show."
"Proofs! give me proof!" cried the Baron, almost crazy with
"Come, and you shall have them," said Crevel.
And in obedience to Valerie's instructions, he led the Baron away
towards the quay, down the Rue Hillerin-Bertin. The unhappy Baron
walked on, as a merchant walks on the day before he stops payment; he
was lost in conjectures as to the reasons of the depravity buried in
the depths of Valerie's heart, and still believed himself the victim
of some practical joke. As they crossed the Pont Royal, life seemed to
him so blank, so utterly a void, and so out of joint from his
financial difficulties, that he was within an ace of yielding to the
evil prompting that bid him fling Crevel into the river and throw
himself in after.
On reaching the Rue du Dauphin, which had not yet been widened, Crevel
stopped before a door in a wall. It opened into a long corridor paved
with black-and-white marble, and serving as an entrance-hall, at the
end of which there was a flight of stairs and a doorkeeper's lodge,
lighted from an inner courtyard, as is often the case in Paris. This
courtyard, which was shared with another house, was oddly divided into
two unequal portions. Crevel's little house, for he owned it, had
additional rooms with a glass skylight, built out on to the adjoining
plot, under conditions that it should have no story added above the
ground floor, so that the structure was entirely hidden by the lodge
and the projecting mass of the staircase.
This back building had long served as a store-room, backshop, and
kitchen to one of the shops facing the street. Crevel had cut off