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Ferragus by Honore de Balzac

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her life,--not without burning tears. I have loved you better
since the day I learned from the priest as he absolved my mother
that there are passions condemned by the world and by the Church.
But surely God will not be severe when they are the sins of souls
as tender as that of my mother; only, that dear woman could never
bring herself to repent. She loved much, Jules; she was all love.
So I have prayed daily for her, but never judged her.

"That night I learned the cause of her deep maternal tenderness;
then I also learned that there was in Paris a man whose life and
whose love centred on me; that your fortune was his doing, and
that he loved you. I learned also that he was exiled from society
and bore a tarnished name; but that he was more unhappy for me,
for us, than for himself. My mother was all his comfort; she was
dying, and I promised to take her place. With all the ardor of a
soul whose feelings had never been perverted, I saw only the
happiness of softening the bitterness of my mother's last moments,
and I pledged myself to continue her work of secret charity,--the
charity of the heart. The first time that I saw my father was
beside the bed where my mother had just expired. When he raised
his tearful eyes, it was to see in me a revival of his dead hopes.
I had sworn, not to tell a lie, but to keep silence; and that
silence what woman could have broken it?

"There is my fault, Jules,--a fault which I expiate by death. I
doubted you. But fear is so natural to a woman; above all, a woman
who knows what it is that she may lose. I trembled for our love.
My father's secret seemed to me the death of my happiness; and the
more I loved, the more I feared. I dared not avow this feeling to
my father; it would have wounded him, and in his situation a wound
was agony. But, without a word from me, he shared my fears. That
fatherly heart trembled for my happiness as much as I trembled for
myself; but it dared not speak, obeying the same delicacy that
kept me mute. Yes, Jules, I believed that you could not love the
daughter of Gratien Bourignard as you loved your Clemence. Without
that terror could I have kept back anything from you,--you who
live in every fold of my heart?

"The day when that odious, unfortunate young officer spoke to you,
I was forced to lie. That day, for the second time in my life, I
knew what pain was; that pain has steadily increased until this
moment, when I speak with you for the last time. What matters now
my father's position? You know all. I could, by the help of my
love, have conquered my illness and borne its sufferings; but I
cannot stifle the voice of doubt. Is it not probable that my
origin would affect the purity of your love and weaken it,
diminish it? That fear nothing has been able to quench in me.
There, Jules, is the cause of my death. I cannot live fearing a
word, a look,--a word you may never say, a look you may never
give; but, I cannot help it, I fear them. I die beloved; there is
my consolation.

"I have known, for the last three years, that my father and his
friends have well-nigh moved the world to deceive the world. That
I might have a station in life, they have bought a dead man, a
reputation, a fortune, so that a living man might live again,
restored; and all this for you, for us. We were never to have
known of it. Well, my death will save my father from that
falsehood, for he will not survive me.

"Farewell, Jules, my heart is all here. To show you my love in its
agony of fear, is not that bequeathing my whole soul to you? I
could never have the strength to speak to you; I have only enough
to write. I have just confessed to God the sins of my life. I have
promised to fill my mind with the King of Heaven only; but I must
confess to him who is, for me, the whole of earth. Alas! shall I
not be pardoned for this last sigh between the life that was and
the life that shall be? Farewell, my Jules, my loved one! I go to
God, with whom is Love without a cloud, to whom you will follow
me. There, before his throne, united forever, we may love each
other throughout the ages. This hope alone can comfort me. If I am
worthy of being there at once, I will follow you through life. My
soul shall bear your company; it will wrap you about, for /you/
must stay here still,--ah! here below. Lead a holy life that you
may the more surely come to me. You can do such good upon this
earth! Is it not an angel's mission for the suffering soul to shed
happiness about him,--to give to others that which he has not? I
bequeath you to the Unhappy. Their smiles, their tears, are the
only ones of which I cannot be jealous. We shall find a charm in
sweet beneficence. Can we not live together still if you would
join my name--your Clemence--in these good works?

"After loving as we have loved, there is naught but God, Jules.
God does not lie; God never betrays. Adore him only, I charge you!
Lead those who suffer up to him; comfort the sorrowing members of
his Church. Farewell, dear soul that I have filled! I know you;
you will never love again. I may die happy in the thought that
makes all women happy. Yes, my grave will be your heart. After
this childhood I have just related, has not my life flowed on
within that heart? Dead, you will never drive me forth. I am proud
of that rare life! You will know me only in the flower of my
youth; I leave you regrets without disillusions. Jules, it is a
happy death.

"You, who have so fully understood me, may I ask one thing more of
you,--superfluous request, perhaps, the fulfilment of a woman's
fancy, the prayer of a jealousy we all must feel,--I pray you to
burn all that especially belonged to /us/, destroy our chamber,
annihilate all that is a memory of our happiness.

"Once more, farewell,--the last farewell! It is all love, and so
will be my parting thought, my parting breath."

When Jules had read that letter there came into his heart one of those
wild frenzies of which it is impossible to describe the awful anguish.
All sorrows are individual; their effects are not subjected to any
fixed rule. Certain men will stop their ears to hear nothing; some
women close their eyes hoping never to see again; great and splendid
souls are met with who fling themselves into sorrow as into an abyss.
In the matter of despair, all is true.



Jules escaped from his brother's house and returned home, wishing to
pass the night beside his wife, and see till the last moment that
celestial creature. As he walked along with an indifference to life
known only to those who have reached the last degree of wretchedness,
he thought of how, in India, the law ordained that widows should die;
he longed to die. He was not yet crushed; the fever of his grief was
still upon him. He reached his home and went up into the sacred
chamber; he saw his Clemence on the bed of death, beautiful, like a
saint, her hair smoothly laid upon her forehead, her hands joined, her
body wrapped already in its shroud. Tapers were lighted, a priest was
praying, Josephine kneeling in a corner, wept, and, near the bed, were
two men. One was Ferragus. He stood erect, motionless, gazing at his
daughter with dry eyes; his head you might have taken for bronze: he
did not see Jules.

The other man was Jacquet,--Jacquet, to whom Madame Jules had been
ever kind. Jacquet felt for her one of those respectful friendships
which rejoice the untroubled heart; a gentle passion; love without its
desires and its storms. He had come to pay his debt of tears, to bid a
long adieu to the wife of his friend, to kiss, for the first time, the
icy brow of the woman he had tacitly made his sister.

All was silence. Here death was neither terrible as in the churches,
nor pompous as it makes its way along the streets; no, it was death in
the home, a tender death; here were pomps of the heart, tears drawn
from the eyes of all. Jules sat down beside Jacquet and pressed his
hand; then, without uttering a word, all these persons remained as
they were till morning.

When daylight paled the tapers, Jacquet, foreseeing the painful scenes
which would then take place, drew Jules away into another room. At
this moment the husband looked at the father, and Ferragus looked at
Jules. The two sorrows arraigned each other, measured each other, and
comprehended each other in that look. A flash of fury shone for an
instant in the eyes of Ferragus.

"You killed her," thought he.

"Why was I distrusted?" seemed the answer of the husband.

The scene was one that might have passed between two tigers
recognizing the futility of a struggle and, after a moment's
hesitation, turning away, without even a roar.

"Jacquet," said Jules, "have you attended to everything?"

"Yes, to everything," replied his friend, "but a man had forestalled
me who had ordered and paid for all."

"He tears his daughter from me!" cried the husband, with the violence
of despair.

Jules rushed back to his wife's room; but the father was there no
longer. Clemence had now been placed in a leaden coffin, and workmen
were employed in soldering the cover. Jules returned, horrified by the
sight; the sound of the hammers the men were using made him
mechanically burst into tears.

"Jacquet," he said, "out of this dreadful night one idea has come to
me, only one, but one I must make a reality at any price. I cannot let
Clemence stay in any cemetery in Paris. I wish to burn her,--to gather
her ashes and keep her with me. Say nothing of this, but manage on my
behalf to have it done. I am going to /her/ chamber, where I shall
stay until the time has come to go. You alone may come in there to
tell me what you have done. Go, and spare nothing."

During the morning, Madame Jules, after lying in a mortuary chapel at
the door of her house, was taken to Saint-Roch. The church was hung
with black throughout. The sort of luxury thus displayed had drawn a
crowd; for in Paris all things are sights, even true grief. There are
people who stand at their windows to see how a son deplores a mother
as he follows her body; there are others who hire commodious seats to
see how a head is made to fall. No people in the world have such
insatiate eyes as the Parisians. On this occasion, inquisitive minds
were particularly surprised to see the six lateral chapels at Saint-
Roch also hung in black. Two men in mourning were listening to a
mortuary mass said in each chapel. In the chancel no other persons but
Monsieur Desmarets, the notary, and Jacquet were present; the servants
of the household were outside the screen. To church loungers there was
something inexplicable in so much pomp and so few mourners. But Jules
had been determined that no indifferent persons should be present at
the ceremony.

High mass was celebrated with the sombre magnificence of funeral
services. Beside the ministers in ordinary of Saint-Roch, thirteen
priests from other parishes were present. Perhaps never did the /Dies
irae/ produce upon Christians, assembled by chance, by curiosity, and
thirsting for emotions, an effect so profound, so nervously glacial as
that now caused by this hymn when the eight voices of the precentors,
accompanied by the voices of the priests and the choir-boys, intoned
it alternately. From the six lateral chapels twelve other childish
voices rose shrilly in grief, mingling with the choir voices
lamentably. From all parts of the church this mourning issued; cries
of anguish responded to the cries of fear. That terrible music was the
voice of sorrows hidden from the world, of secret friendships weeping
for the dead. Never, in any human religion, have the terrors of the
soul, violently torn from the body and stormily shaken in presence of
the fulminating majesty of God, been rendered with such force. Before
that clamor of clamors all artists and their most passionate
compositions must bow humiliated. No, nothing can stand beside that
hymn, which sums all human passions, gives them a galvanic life beyond
the coffin, and leaves them, palpitating still, before the living and
avenging God. These cries of childhood, mingling with the tones of
older voices, including thus in the Song of Death all human life and
its developments, recalling the sufferings of the cradle, swelling to
the griefs of other ages in the stronger male voices and the quavering
of the priests,--all this strident harmony, big with lightning and
thunderbolts, does it not speak with equal force to the daring
imagination, the coldest heart, nay, to philosophers themselves? As we
hear it, we think God speaks; the vaulted arches of no church are mere
material; they have a voice, they tremble, they scatter fear by the
might of their echoes. We think we see unnumbered dead arising and
holding out their hands. It is no more a father, a wife, a child,--
humanity itself is rising from its dust.

It is impossible to judge of the catholic, apostolic, and Roman faith,
unless the soul has known that deepest grief of mourning for a loved
one lying beneath the pall; unless it has felt the emotions that fill
the heart, uttered by that Hymn of Despair, by those cries that crush
the mind, by that sacred fear augmenting strophe by strophe, ascending
heavenward, which terrifies, belittles, and elevates the soul, and
leaves within our minds, as the last sound ceases, a consciousness of
immortality. We have met and struggled with the vast idea of the
Infinite. After that, all is silent in the church. No word is said;
sceptics themselves /know not what they are feeling/. Spanish genius
alone was able to bring this untold majesty to untold griefs.

When the solemn ceremony was over, twelve men came from the six
chapels and stood around the coffin to hear the song of hope which the
Church intones for the Christian soul before the human form is buried.
Then, each man entered alone a mourning-coach; Jacquet and Monsieur
Desmarets took the thirteenth; the servants followed on foot. An hour
later, they were at the summit of that cemetery popularly called Pere-
Lachaise. The unknown twelve men stood in a circle round the grave,
where the coffin had been laid in presence of a crowd of loiterers
gathered from all parts of this public garden. After a few short
prayers the priest threw a handful of earth on the remains of this
woman, and the grave-diggers, having asked for their fee, made haste
to fill the grave in order to dig another.

Here this history seems to end; but perhaps it would be incomplete if,
after giving a rapid sketch of Parisian life, and following certain of
its capricious undulations, the effects of death were omitted. Death
in Paris is unlike death in any other capital; few persons know the
trials of true grief in its struggle with civilization, and the
government of Paris. Perhaps, also, Monsieur Jules and Ferragus XXIII.
may have proved sufficiently interesting to make a few words on their
after life not entirely out of place. Besides, some persons like to be
told all, and wish, as one of our cleverest critics has remarked, to
know by what chemical process oil was made to burn in Aladdin's lamp.

Jacquet, being a government employee, naturally applied to the
authorities for permission to exhume the body of Madame Jules and burn
it. He went to see the prefect of police, under whose protection the
dead sleep. That functionary demanded a petition. The blank was
brought that gives to sorrow its proper administrative form; it was
necessary to employ the bureaucratic jargon to express the wishes of a
man so crushed that words, perhaps, were lacking to him, and it was
also necessary to coldly and briefly repeat on the margin the nature
of the request, which was done in these words: "The petitioner
respectfully asks for the incineration of his wife."

When the official charged with making the report to the Councillor of
State and prefect of police read that marginal note, explaining the
object of the petition, and couched, as requested, in the plainest
terms, he said:--

"This is a serious matter! my report cannot be ready under eight

Jules, to whom Jacquet was obliged to speak of this delay,
comprehended the words that Ferragus had said in his hearing, "I'll
burn Paris!" Nothing seemed to him now more natural than to annihilate
that receptacle of monstrous things.

"But," he said to Jacquet, "you must go to the minister of the
Interior, and get your minister to speak to him."

Jacquet went to the minister of the Interior, and asked an audience;
it was granted, but the time appointed was two weeks later. Jacquet
was a persistent man. He travelled from bureau to bureau, and finally
reached the private secretary of the minister of the Interior, to whom
he had made the private secretary of his own minister say a word.
These high protectors aiding, he obtained for the morrow a second
interview, in which, being armed with a line from the autocrat of
Foreign affairs to the pacha of the Interior, Jacquet hoped to carry
the matter by assault. He was ready with reasons, and answers to
peremptory questions,--in short, he was armed at all points; but he

"This matter does not concern me," said the minister; "it belongs to
the prefect of police. Besides, there is no law giving a husband any
legal right to the body of his wife, nor to fathers those of their
children. The matter is serious. There are questions of public utility
involved which will have to be examined. The interests of the city of
Paris might suffer. Therefore if the matter depended on me, which it
does not, I could not decide /hic et nunc/; I should require a

A /report/ is to the present system of administration what limbo or
hades is to Christianity. Jacquet knew very well the mania for
"reports"; he had not waited until this occasion to groan at that
bureaucratic absurdity. He knew that since the invasion into public
business of the /Report/ (an administrative revolution consummated in
1804) there was never known a single minister who would take upon
himself to have an opinion or to decide the slightest matter, unless
that opinion or matter had been winnowed, sifted, and plucked to bits
by the paper-spoilers, quill-drivers, and splendid intellects of his
particular bureau. Jacquet--he was one of those who are worthy of
Plutarch as biographer--saw that he had made a mistake in his
management of the affair, and had, in fact, rendered it impossible by
trying to proceed legally. The thing he should have done was to have
taken Madame Jules to one of Desmaret's estates in the country; and
there, under the good-natured authority of some village mayor to have
gratified the sorrowful longing of his friend. Law, constitutional and
administrative, begets nothing; it is a barren monster for peoples,
for kings, and for private interests. But the peoples decipher no
principles but those that are writ in blood, and the evils of legality
will always be pacific; it flattens a nation down, that is all.
Jacquet, a man of modern liberty, returned home reflecting on the
benefits of arbitrary power.

When he went with his report to Jules, he found it necessary to
deceive him, for the unhappy man was in a high fever, unable to leave
his bed. The minister of the Interior mentioned, at a ministerial
dinner that same evening, the singular fancy of a Parisian in wishing
to burn his wife after the manner of the Romans. The clubs of Paris
took up the subject, and talked for a while of the burials of
antiquity. Ancient things were just then becoming a fashion, and some
persons declared that it would be a fine thing to re-establish, for
distinguished persons, the funeral pyre. This opinion had its
defenders and its detractors. Some said that there were too many such
personages, and the price of wood would be enormously increased by
such a custom; moreover, it would be absurd to see our ancestors in
their urns in the procession at Longchamps. And if the urns were
valuable, they were likely some day to be sold at auction, full of
respectable ashes, or seized by creditors,--a race of men who
respected nothing. The other side made answer that our ancestors were
much safer in urns than at Pere-Lachaise, for before very long the
city of Paris would be compelled to order a Saint-Bartholomew against
its dead, who were invading the neighboring country, and threatening
to invade the territory of Brie. It was, in short, one of those futile
but witty discussions which sometimes cause deep and painful wounds.
Happily for Jules, he knew nothing of the conversations, the witty
speeches, and arguments which his sorrow had furnished to the tongues
of Paris.

The prefect of police was indignant that Monsieur Jacquet had appealed
to a minister to avoid the wise delays of the commissioners of the
public highways; for the exhumation of Madame Jules was a question
belonging to that department. The police bureau was doing its best to
reply promptly to the petition; one appeal was quite sufficient to set
the office in motion, and once in motion matters would go far. But as
for the administration, that might take the case before the Council of
state,--a machine very difficult indeed to move.

After the second day Jacquet was obliged to tell his friend that he
must renounce his desire, because, in a city where the number of tears
shed on black draperies is tariffed, where the laws recognize seven
classes of funerals, where the scrap of ground to hold the dead is
sold at its weight in silver, where grief is worked for what it is
worth, where the prayers of the Church are costly, and the vestry
claim payment for extra voices in the /Dies irae/,--all attempt to get
out of the rut prescribed by the authorities for sorrow is useless and

"It would have been to me," said Jules, "a comfort in my misery. I
meant to have died away from here, and I hoped to hold her in my arms
in a distant grave. I did not know that bureaucracy could send its
claws into our very coffins."

He now wished to see if room had been left for him beside his wife.
The two friends went to the cemetery. When they reached it they found
(as at the doors of museums, galleries, and coach-offices) /ciceroni/,
who proposed to guide them through the labyrinth of Pere-Lachaise.
Neither Jules nor Jacquet could have found the spot where Clemence
lay. Ah, frightful anguish! They went to the lodge to consult the
porter of the cemetery. The dead have a porter, and there are hours
when the dead are "not receiving." It is necessary to upset all the
rules and regulations of the upper and lower police to obtain
permission to weep at night, in silence and solitude, over the grave
where a loved one lies. There's a rule for summer and a rule for
winter about this.

Certainly, of all the porters in Paris, the porter of Pere-Lachaise is
the luckiest. In the first place, he has no gate-cord to pull; then,
instead of a lodge, he has a house,--an establishment which is not
quite ministerial, although a vast number of persons come under his
administration, and a good many employees. And this governor of the
dead has a salary, with emoluments, and acts under powers of which
none complain; he plays despot at his ease. His lodge is not a place
of business, though it has departments where the book-keeping of
receipts, expenses, and profits, is carried on. The man is not a
/suisse/, nor a concierge, nor actually a porter. The gate which
admits the dead stands wide open; and though there are monuments and
buildings to be cared for, he is not a care-taker. In short, he is an
indefinable anomaly, an authority which participates in all, and yet
is nothing,--an authority placed, like the dead on whom it is based,
outside of all. Nevertheless, this exceptional man grows out of the
city of Paris,--that chimerical creation like the ship which is its
emblem, that creature of reason moving on a thousand paws which are
seldom unanimous in motion.

This guardian of the cemetery may be called a concierge who has
reached the condition of a functionary, not soluble by dissolution!
His place is far from being a sinecure. He does not allow any one to
be buried without a permit; he must count his dead. He points out to
you in this vast field the six feet square of earth where you will one
day put all you love, or all you hate, a mistress, or a cousin. Yes,
remember this: all the feelings and emotions of Paris come to end
here, at this porter's lodge, where they are administrationized. This
man has registers in which his dead are booked; they are in their
graves, and also on his records. He has under him keepers, gardeners,
grave-diggers, and their assistants. He is a personage. Mourning
hearts do not speak to him at first. He does not appear at all except
in serious cases, such as one corpse mistaken for another, a murdered
body, an exhumation, a dead man coming to life. The bust of the
reigning king is in his hall; possibly he keeps the late royal,
imperial, and quasi-royal busts in some cupboard,--a sort of little
Pere-Lachaise all ready for revolutions. In short, he is a public man,
an excellent man, good husband and good father,--epitaph apart. But so
many diverse sentiments have passed before him on biers; he has seen
so many tears, true and false; he has beheld sorrow under so many
aspects and on so many faces; he has heard such endless thousands of
eternal woes,--that to him sorrow has come to be nothing more than a
stone an inch thick, four feet long, and twenty-four inches wide. As
for regrets, they are the annoyances of his office; he neither
breakfasts nor dines without first wiping off the rain of an
inconsolable affliction. He is kind and tender to other feelings; he
will weep over a stage-hero, over Monsieur Germeuil in the "Auberge
des Adrets," the man with the butter-colored breeches, murdered by
Macaire; but his heart is ossified in the matter of real dead men.
Dead men are ciphers, numbers, to him; it is his business to organize
death. Yet he does meet, three times in a century, perhaps, with an
occasion when his part becomes sublime, and then he /is/ sublime
through every hour of his day,--in times of pestilence.

When Jacquet approached him this absolute monarch was evidently out of

"I told you," he was saying, "to water the flowers from the rue
Massena to the place Regnault de Saint-Jean-d'Angely. You paid no
attention to me! /Sac-a-papier/! suppose the relations should take it
into their heads to come here to-day because the weather is fine, what
would they say to me? They'd shriek as if they were burned; they'd say
horrid things of us, and calumniate us--"

"Monsieur," said Jacquet, "we want to know where Madame Jules is

"Madame Jules /who/?" he asked. "We've had three Madame Jules within
the last week. Ah," he said, interrupting himself, "here comes the
funeral of Monsieur le Baron de Maulincour! A fine procession, that!
He has soon followed his grandmother. Some families, when they begin
to go, rattle down like a wager. Lots of bad blood in Parisians."

"Monsieur," said Jacquet, touching him on the arm, "the person I spoke
of is Madame Jules Desmarets, the wife of the broker of that name."

"Ah, I know!" he replied, looking at Jacquet. "Wasn't it a funeral
with thirteen mourning coaches, and only one mourner in the twelve
first? It was so droll we all noticed it--"

"Monsieur, take care, Monsieur Desmarets is with me; he might hear
you, and what you say is not seemly."

"I beg pardon, monsieur! you are quite right. Excuse me, I took you
for heirs. Monsieur," he continued, after consulting a plan of the
cemetery, "Madame Jules is in the rue Marechal Lefebre, alley No. 4,
between Mademoiselle Raucourt, of the Comedie-Francaise, and Monsieur
Moreau-Malvin, a butcher, for whom a handsome tomb in white marble has
been ordered, which will be one of the finest in the cemetery--"

"Monsieur," said Jacquet, interrupting him, "that does not help us."

"True," said the official, looking round him. "Jean," he cried, to a
man whom he saw at a little distance, "conduct these gentlemen to the
grave of Madame Jules Desmarets, the broker's wife. You know where it
is,--near to Mademoiselle Raucourt, the tomb where there's a bust."

The two friends followed the guide; but they did not reach the steep
path which leads to the upper part of the cemetery without having to
pass through a score of proposals and requests, made, with honied
softness, by the touts of marble-workers, iron-founders, and
monumental sculptors.

"If monsieur would like to order /something/, we would do it on the
most reasonable terms."

Jacquet was fortunate enough to be able to spare his friend the
hearing of these proposals so agonizing to bleeding hearts; and
presently they reached the resting-place. When Jules beheld the earth
so recently dug, into which the masons had stuck stakes to mark the
place for the stone posts required to support the iron railing, he
turned, and leaned upon Jacquet's shoulder, raising himself now and
again to cast long glances at the clay mound where he was forced to
leave the remains of the being in and by whom he still lived.

"How miserably she lies there!" he said.

"But she is not there," said Jacquet, "she is in your memory. Come,
let us go; let us leave this odious cemetery, where the dead are
adorned like women for a ball."

"Suppose we take her away?"

"Can it be done?"

"All things can be done!" cried Jules. "So, I shall lie there," he
added, after a pause. "There is room enough."

Jacquet finally succeeded in getting him to leave the great enclosure,
divided like a chessboard by iron railings and elegant compartments,
in which were tombs decorated with palms, inscriptions, and tears as
cold as the stones on which sorrowing hearts had caused to be carved
their regrets and coats of arms. Many good words are there engraved in
black letters, epigrams reproving the curious, /concetti/, wittily
turned farewells, rendezvous given at which only one side appears,
pretentious biographies, glitter, rubbish and tinsel. Here the
floriated thyrsus, there a lance-head, farther on Egyptian urns, now
and then a few cannon; on all sides the emblems of professions, and
every style of art,--Moorish, Greek, Gothic,--friezes, ovules,
paintings, vases, guardian-angels, temples, together with innumerable
/immortelles/, and dead rose-bushes. It is a forlorn comedy! It is
another Paris, with its streets, its signs, its industries, and its
lodgings; but a Paris seen through the diminishing end of an opera-
glass, a microscopic Paris reduced to the littleness of shadows,
spectres, dead men, a human race which no longer has anything great
about it, except its vanity. There Jules saw at his feet, in the long
valley of the Seine, between the slopes of Vaugirard and Meudon and
those of Belleville and Montmartre, the real Paris, wrapped in a misty
blue veil produced by smoke, which the sunlight tendered at that
moment diaphanous. He glanced with a constrained eye at those forty
thousand houses, and said, pointing to the space comprised between the
column of the Place Vendome and the gilded cupola of the Invalides:--

"She was wrenched from me there by the fatal curiosity of that world
which excites itself and meddles solely for excitement and

Twelve miles from where they were, on the banks of the Seine, in a
modest village lying on the slope of a hill of that long hilly basin
the middle of which great Paris stirs like a child in its cradle, a
death scene was taking place, far indeed removed from Parisian pomps,
with no accompaniment of torches or tapers or mourning-coaches,
without prayers of the Church, in short, a death in all simplicity.
Here are the facts: The body of a young girl was found early in the
morning, stranded on the river-bank in the slime and reeds of the
Seine. Men employed in dredging sand saw it as they were getting into
their frail boat on their way to their work.

"/Tiens/! fifty francs earned!" said one of them.

"True," said the other.

They approached the body.

"A handsome girl! We had better go and make our statement."

And the two dredgers, after covering the body with their jackets, went
to the house of the village mayor, who was much embarrassed at having
to make out the legal papers necessitated by this discovery.

The news of this event spread with the telegraphic rapidity peculiar
to regions where social communications have no distractions, where
gossip, scandal, calumny, in short, the social tale which feasts the
world has no break of continuity from one boundary to another. Before
long, persons arriving at the mayor's office released him from all
embarrassment. They were able to convert the /proces-verbal/ into a
mere certificate of death, by recognizing the body as that of the
Demoiselle Ida Gruget, corset-maker, living rue de la Corderie-du-
Temple, number 14. The judiciary police of Paris arrived, and the
mother, bearing her daughter's last letter. Amid the mother's moans, a
doctor certified to death by asphyxia, through the injection of black
blood into the pulmonary system,--which settled the matter. The
inquest over, and the certificates signed, by six o'clock the same
evening authority was given to bury the grisette. The rector of the
parish, however, refused to receive her into the church or to pray for
her. Ida Gruget was therefore wrapped in a shroud by an old peasant-
woman, put into a common pine-coffin, and carried to the village
cemetery by four men, followed by a few inquisitive peasant-women, who
talked about the death with wonder mingled with some pity.

The widow Gruget was charitably taken in by an old lady who prevented
her from following the sad procession of her daughter's funeral. A man
of triple functions, the bell-ringer, beadle, and grave-digger of the
parish, had dug a grave in the half-acre cemetery behind the church,--
a church well known, a classic church, with a square tower and pointed
roof covered with slate, supported on the outside by strong corner
buttresses. Behind the apse of the chancel, lay the cemetery, enclosed
with a dilapidated wall,--a little field full of hillocks; no marble
monuments, no visitors, but surely in every furrow, tears and true
regrets, which were lacking to Ida Gruget. She was cast into a corner
full of tall grass and brambles. After the coffin had been laid in
this field, so poetic in its simplicity, the grave-digger found
himself alone, for night was coming on. While filling the grave, he
stopped now and then to gaze over the wall along the road. He was
standing thus, resting on his spade, and looking at the Seine, which
had brought him the body.

"Poor girl!" cried the voice of a man who suddenly appeared.

"How you made me jump, monsieur," said the grave-digger.

"Was any service held over the body you are burying?"

"No, monsieur. Monsieur le cure wasn't willing. This is the first
person buried here who didn't belong to the parish. Everybody knows
everybody else in this place. Does monsieur--Why, he's gone!"

Some days had elapsed when a man dressed in black called at the house
of Monsieur Jules Desmarets, and without asking to see him carried up
to the chamber of his wife a large porphyry vase, on which were
inscribed the words:--


"What a man!" cried Jules, bursting into tears.

Eight days sufficed the husband to obey all the wishes of his wife,
and to arrange his own affairs. He sold his practice to a brother of
Martin Falleix, and left Paris while the authorities were still
discussing whether it was lawful for a citizen to dispose of the body
of his wife.


Who has not encountered on the boulevards of Paris, at the turn of a
street, or beneath the arcades of the Palais-Royal, or in any part of
the world where chance may offer him the sight, a being, man or woman,
at whose aspect a thousand confused thoughts spring into his mind? At
that sight we are suddenly interested, either by features of some
fantastic conformation which reveal an agitated life, or by a singular
effect of the whole person, produced by gestures, air, gait, clothes;
or by some deep, intense look; or by other inexpressible signs which
seize our minds suddenly and forcibly without our being able to
explain even to ourselves the cause of our emotion. The next day other
thoughts and other images have carried out of sight that passing
dream. But if we meet the same personage again, either passing at some
fixed hour, like the clerk of a mayor's office, or wandering about the
public promenades, like those individuals who seem to be a sort of
furniture of the streets of Paris, and who are always to be found in
public places, at first representations or noted restaurants,--then
this being fastens himself or herself on our memory, and remains there
like the first volume of a novel the end of which is lost. We are
tempted to question this unknown person, and say, "Who are you?" "Why
are you lounging here?" "By what right do you wear that pleated
ruffle, that faded waistcoat, and carry that cane with an ivory top;
why those blue spectacles; for what reason do you cling to that cravat
of a dead and gone fashion?" Among these wandering creations some
belong to the species of the Greek Hermae; they say nothing to the
soul; /they are there/, and that is all. Why? is known to none. Such
figure are a type of those used by sculptors for the four Seasons, for
Commerce, for Plenty, etc. Some others--former lawyers, old merchants,
elderly generals--move and walk, and yet seem stationary. Like old
trees that are half uprooted by the current of a river, they seem
never to take part in the torrent of Paris, with its youthful, active
crowd. It is impossible to know if their friends have forgotten to
bury them, or whether they have escaped out of their coffins. At any
rate, they have reached the condition of semi-fossils.

One of these Parisian Melmoths had come within a few days into a
neighborhood of sober, quiet people, who, when the weather is fine,
are invariably to be found in the space which lies between the south
entrance of the Luxembourg and the north entrance of the Observatoire,
--a space without a name, the neutral space of Paris. There, Paris is
no longer; and there, Paris still lingers. The spot is a mingling of
street, square, boulevard, fortification, garden, avenue, high-road,
province, and metropolis; certainly, all of that is to be found there,
and yet the place is nothing of all that,--it is a desert. Around this
spot without a name stand the Foundling hospital, the Bourbe, the
Cochin hospital, the Capucines, the hospital La Rochefoucauld, the
Deaf and Dumb Asylum, the hospital of the Val-de-Grace; in short, all
the vices and all the misfortunes of Paris find their asylum there.
And (that nothing may lack in this philanthropic centre) Science there
studies the tides and longitudes, Monsieur de Chateaubriand has
erected the Marie-Therese Infirmary, and the Carmelites have founded a
convent. The great events of life are represented by bells which ring
incessantly through this desert,--for the mother giving birth, for the
babe that is born, for the vice that succumbs, for the toiler who
dies, for the virgin who prays, for the old man shaking with cold, for
genius self-deluded. And a few steps off is the cemetery of Mont-
Parnasse, where, hour after hour, the sorry funerals of the faubourg
Saint-Marceau wend their way. This esplanade, which commands a view of
Paris, has been taken possession of by bowl-players; it is, in fact, a
sort of bowling green frequented by old gray faces, belonging to
kindly, worthy men, who seem to continue the race of our ancestors,
whose countenances must only be compared with those of their

The man who had become, during the last few days, an inhabitant of
this desert region, proved an assiduous attendant at these games of
bowls; and must, undoubtedly, be considered the most striking creature
of these various groups, who (if it is permissible to liken Parisians
to the different orders of zoology) belonged to the genus mollusk. The
new-comer kept sympathetic step with the /cochonnet/,--the little bowl
which serves as a goal and on which the interest of the game must
centre. He leaned against a tree when the /cochonnet/ stopped; then,
with the same attention that a dog gives to his master's gestures, he
looked at the other bowls flying through the air, or rolling along the
ground. You might have taken him for the weird and watchful genii of
the /cochonnet/. He said nothing; and the bowl-players--the most
fanatic men that can be encountered among the sectarians of any faith
--had never asked the reason of his dogged silence; in fact, the most
observing of them thought him deaf and dumb.

When it happened that the distances between the bowls and the
/cochonnet/ had to be measured, the cane of this silent being was used
as a measure, the players coming up and taking it from the icy hands
of the old man and returning it without a word or even a sign of
friendliness. The loan of his cane seemed a servitude to which he had
negatively consented. When a shower fell, he stayed near the
/cochonnet/, the slave of the bowls, and the guardian of the
unfinished game. Rain affected him no more than the fine weather did;
he was, like the players themselves, an intermediary species between a
Parisian who has the lowest intellect of his kind and an animal which
has the highest.

In other respects, pallid and shrunken, indifferent to his own person,
vacant in mind, he often came bareheaded, showing his sparse white
hair, and his square, yellow, bald skull, like the knee of a beggar
seen through his tattered trousers. His mouth was half-open, no ideas
were in his glance, no precise object appeared in his movements; he
never smiled; he never raised his eyes to heaven, but kept them
habitually on the ground, where he seemed to be looking for something.
At four o'clock an old woman arrived, to take him Heaven knows where;
which she did by towing him along by the arm, as a young girl drags a
wilful goat which still wants to browse by the wayside. This old man
was a horrible thing to see.

In the afternoon of the day when Jules Desmarets left Paris, his
travelling-carriage, in which he was alone, passed rapidly through the
rue de l'Est, and came out upon the esplanade of the Observatoire at
the moment when the old man, leaning against a tree, had allowed his
cane to be taken from his hand amid the noisy vociferations of the
players, pacifically irritated. Jules, thinking that he recognized
that face, felt an impulse to stop, and at the same instant the
carriage came to a standstill; for the postilion, hemmed in by some
handcarts, had too much respect for the game to call upon the players
to make way for him.

"It is he!" said Jules, beholding in that human wreck, Ferragus
XXIII., chief of the Devorants. Then, after a pause, he added, "How he
loved her!--Go on, postilion."


Note: Ferragus is the first part of a trilogy. Part two is
entitled The Duchesse de Langeais and part three is The Girl with
the Golden Eyes. In other addendum references all three stories
are usually combined under the title The Thirteen.

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

Bourignard, Gratien-Henri-Victor-Jean-Joseph
The Girl with the Golden Eyes

Desmartes, Jules
Cesar Birotteau

Desmartes, Madame Jules
Cesar Birotteau

The Atheist's Mass
Cousin Pons
Lost Illusions
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Seamy Side of History
Modeste Mignon
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Gruget, Madame Etienne
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor's Establishment

Haudry (doctor)
Cesar Birotteau
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Seamy Side of History
Cousin Pons

Langeais, Duchesse Antoinette de
Father Goriot
The Duchesse of Langeais

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

Maulincour, Baronne de
A Marriage Settlement

Meynardie, Madame
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

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

Pamiers, Vidame de
The Duchesse of Langeais
Jealousies of a Country Town

Ronquerolles, Marquis de
The Imaginary Mistress
The Duchess of Langeais
The Girl with the Golden Eyes
The Peasantry
Ursule Mirouet
A Woman of Thirty
Another Study of Woman
The Member for Arcis

Serizy, Comtesse de
A Start in Life
The Duchesse of Langeais
Ursule Mirouet
A Woman of Thirty
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Another Study of Woman
The Imaginary Mistress

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