Part 4 out of 6
"Why?" asked the count.
"Vilquin is going to fail; and the Bourse thinks you are worth several
millions. What ill-luck for his son!"
"No one knows," said Charles Mignon, coldly, "what my liabilities in
India are; and I do not intend to take the public into my confidence
as to my private affairs. Dumay," he whispered to his friend, "if
Vilquin is embarrassed we could get back the villa by paying him what
he gave for it."
Such was the general state of things, due chiefly to accident, when on
Sunday morning Canalis and La Briere arrived, with a courier in
advance, at the villa of Madame Amaury. It was known that the Duc
d'Herouville, his sister, and his aunt were coming the following
Tuesday to occupy, also under pretext of ill-health, a hired house at
Graville. This assemblage of suitors made the wits of the Bourse
remark that, thanks to Mademoiselle Mignon, rents would rise at
Ingouville. "If this goes on, she will have a hospital here," said the
younger Mademoiselle Vilquin, vexed at not becoming a duchess.
The everlasting comedy of "The Heiress," about to be played at the
Chalet, might very well be called, in view of Modeste's frame of mind,
"The Designs of a Young Girl"; for since the overthrow of her
illusions she had fully made up her mind to give her hand to no man
whose qualifications did not fully satisfy her.
The two rivals, still intimate friends, intended to pay their first
visit at the Chalet on the evening of the day succeeding their
arrival. They had spent Sunday and part of Monday in unpacking and
arranging Madame Amaury's house for a month's stay. The poet, always
calculating effects, wished to make the most of the probable
excitement which his arrival would case in Havre, and which would of
course echo up to the Mignons. Therefore, in his role of a man needing
rest, he did not leave the house. La Briere went twice to walk past
the Chalet, though always with a sense of despair, for he feared to
displease Modeste, and the future seemed to him dark with clouds. The
two friends came down to dinner on Monday dressed for the momentous
visit. La Briere wore the same clothes he had so carefully selected
for the famous Sunday; but he now felt like the satellite of planet,
and resigned himself to the uncertainties of his situation. Canalis,
on the other hand, had carefully attended to his black coat, his
orders, and all those little drawing-room elegancies, which his
intimacy with the Duchesse de Chaulieu and the fashionable world of
the faubourg had brought to perfection. He had gone into the minutiae
of dandyism, while poor La Briere was about to present himself with
the negligence of a man without hope. Germain, as he waited at dinner
could not help smiling to himself at the contrast. After the second
course, however, the valet came in with a diplomatic, that is to say,
"Does Monsieur le baron know," he said to Canalis in a low voice,
"that Monsieur the grand equerry is coming to Graville to get cured of
the same illness which has brought Monsieur de La Briere and Monsieur
le baron to the sea-shore?"
"What, the little Duc d'Herouville?"
"Is he coming for Mademoiselle de La Bastie?" asked La Briere,
"So it appears, monsieur."
"We are cheated!" cried Canalis looking at La Briere.
"Ah!" retorted Ernest quickly, "that is the first time you have said,
'we' since we left Paris: it has been 'I' all along."
"You understood me," cried Canalis, with a burst of laughter. "But we
are not in a position to struggle against a ducal coronet, nor the
duke's title, nor against the waste lands which the Council of State
have just granted, on my report, to the house of Herouville."
"His grace," said La Briere, with a spice of malice that was
nevertheless serious, "will furnish you with compensation in the
person of his sister."
At this instant, the Comte de La Bastie was announced; the two young
men rose at once, and La Briere hastened forward to present Canalis.
"I wished to return the visit that you paid me in Paris," said the
count to the young lawyer, "and I knew that by coming here I should
have the double pleasure of greeting one of our great living poets."
"Great!--Monsieur," replied the poet, smiling, "no one can be great in
a century prefaced by the reign of a Napoleon. We are a tribe of
would-be great poets; besides, second-rate talent imitates genius
nowadays, and renders real distinction impossible."
"Is that the reason why you have thrown yourself into politics?" asked
"It is the same thing in that sphere," said the poet; "there are no
statesmen in these days, only men who handle events more or less. Look
at it, monsieur; under the system of government that we derive from
the Charter, which makes a tax-list of more importance than a coat-of-
arms, there is absolutely nothing solid except that which you went to
seek in China,--wealth."
Satisfied with himself and with the impression he was making on the
prospective father-in-law, Canalis turned to Germain.
"Serve the coffee in the salon," he said, inviting Monsieur de La
Bastie to leave the dining-room.
"I thank you for this visit, monsieur le comte," said La Briere; "it
saves me from the embarrassment of presenting my friend to you in your
own house. You have a heart, and you have also a quick mind."
"Bah! the ready wit of Provence, that is all," said Charles Mignon.
"Ah, do you come from Provence?" cried Canalis.
"You must pardon my friend," said La Briere; "he has not studied, as I
have, the history of La Bastie."
At the word FRIEND Canalis threw a searching glance at Ernest.
"If your health will allow," said the count to the poet, "I shall hope
to receive you this evening under my roof; it will be a day to mark,
as the old writer said 'albo notanda lapillo.' Though we cannot duly
receive so great a fame in our little house, yet your visit will
gratify my daughter, whose admiration for your poems has even led her
to set them to music."
"You have something better than fame in your house," said Canalis;
"you have beauty, if I am to believe Ernest."
"Yes, a good daughter; but you will find her rather countrified," said
"A country girl sought by the Duc d'Herouville," remarked Canalis,
"Oh!" replied Monsieur Mignon, with the perfidious good-humor of a
Southerner, "I leave my daughter free. Dukes, princes, commoners,--
they are all the same to me, even men of genius. I shall make no
pledges, and whoever my Modeste chooses will be my son-in-law, or
rather my son," he added, looking at La Briere. "It could not be
otherwise. Madame de La Bastie is German. She has never adopted our
etiquette, and I let my two women lead me their own way. I have always
preferred to sit in the carriage rather than on the box. I can make a
joke of all this at present, for we have not yet seen the Duc
d'Herouville, and I do not believe in marriages arranged by proxy, any
more than I believe in choosing my daughter's husband."
"That declaration is equally encouraging and discouraging to two young
men who are searching for the philosopher's stone of happiness in
marriage," said Canalis.
"Don't you consider it useful, necessary, and even politic to
stipulate for perfect freedom of action for parents, daughters, and
suitors?" asked Charles Mignon.
Canalis, at a sign from La Briere, kept silence. The conversation
presently became unimportant, and after a few turns round the garden
the count retired, urging the visit of the two friends.
"That's our dismissal," cried Canalis; "you saw it as plainly as I
did. Well, in his place, I should not hesitate between the grand
equerry and either of us, charming as we are."
"I don't think so," said La Briere. "I believe that frank soldier came
here to satisfy his desire to see you, and to warn us of his
neutrality while receiving us in his house. Modeste, in love with your
fame, and misled by my person, stands, as it were, between the real
and the ideal, between poetry and prose. I am, unfortunately, the
"Germain," said Canalis to the valet, who came to take away the
coffee, "order the carriage in half an hour. We will take a drive
before we go to the Chalet."
A SPLENDID FIRST APPEARANCE
The two young men were equally impatient to see Modeste, but La Briere
dreaded the interview, while Canalis approached it with the confidence
of self-conceit. The eagerness with which La Briere had met the
father, and the flattery of his attention to the family pride of the
ex-merchant, showed Canalis his own maladroitness, and determined him
to select a special role. The great poet resolved to pretend
indifference, though all the while displaying his seductive powers; to
appear to disdain the young lady, and thus pique her self-love.
Trained by the handsome Duchesse de Chaulieu, he was bound to be
worthy of his reputation as a man who knew women, when, in fact, he
did not know them at all,--which is often the case with those who are
the happy victims of an exclusive passion. While poor Ernest, gloomily
ensconced in his corner of the caleche, gave way to the terrors of
genuine love, and foresaw instinctively the anger, contempt, and
disdain of an injured and offended young girl, Canalis was preparing
himself, not less silently, like an actor making ready for an
important part in a new play; certainly neither of them presented the
appearance of a happy man. Important interests were involved for
Canalis. The mere suggestion of his desire to marry would bring about
a rupture of the tie which had bound him for the last ten years to the
Duchesse de Chaulieu. Though he had covered the purpose of his journey
with the vulgar pretext of needing rest,--in which, by the bye, women
never believe, even when it is true,--his conscience troubled him
somewhat; but the word "conscience" seemed so Jesuitical to La Briere
that he shrugged his shoulders when the poet mentioned his scruples.
"Your conscience, my friend, strikes me as nothing more nor less than
a dread of losing the pleasures of vanity, and some very real
advantages and habits by sacrificing the affections of Madame de
Chaulieu; for, if you were sure of succeeding with Modeste, you would
renounce without the slightest compunction the wilted aftermath of a
passion that has been mown and well-raked for the last eight years. If
you simply mean that you are afraid of displeasing your protectress,
should she find out the object of your stay here, I believe you. To
renounce the duchess and yet not succeed at the Chalet is too heavy a
risk. You take the anxiety of this alternative for remorse."
"You have no comprehension of feelings," said the poet, irritably,
like a man who hears truth when he expects a compliment.
"That is what a bigamist should tell the jury," retorted La Briere,
This epigram made another disagreeable impression on Canalis. He began
to think La Briere too witty and too free for a secretary.
The arrival of an elegant caleche, driven by a coachman in the Canalis
livery, made the more excitement at the Chalet because the two suitors
were expected, and all the personages of this history were assembled
to receive them, except the duke and Butscha.
"Which is the poet?" asked Madame Latournelle of Dumay in the
embrasure of a window, where she stationed herself as soon as she
heard the wheels.
"The one who walks like a drum-major," answered the lieutenant.
"Ah!" said the notary's wife, examining Canalis, who was swinging his
body like a man who knows he is being looked at. The fault lay with
the great lady who flattered him incessantly and spoiled him,--as all
women older than their adorers invariably spoil and flatter them;
Canalis in his moral being was a sort of Narcissus. When a woman of a
certain age wishes to attach a man forever, she begins by deifying his
defects, so as to cut off all possibility of rivalry; for a rival is
never, at the first approach, aware of the super-fine flattery to
which the man is accustomed. Coxcombs are the product of this feminine
manoeuvre, when they are not fops by nature. Canalis, taken young by
the handsome duchess, vindicated his affectations to his own mind by
telling himself that they pleased that "grande dame," whose taste was
law. Such shades of character may be excessively faint, but it is
improper for the historian not to point them out. For instance,
Melchior possessed a talent for reading which was greatly admired, and
much injudicious praise had given him a habit of exaggeration, which
neither poets nor actors are willing to check, and which made people
say of him (always through De Marsay) that he no longer declaimed, he
bellowed his verses; lengthening the sounds that he might listen to
himself. In the slang of the green-room, Canalis "dragged the time."
He was fond of exchanging glances with his hearers, throwing himself
into postures of self-complacency and practising those tricks of
demeanor which actors call "balancoires,"--the picturesque phrase of
an artistic people. Canalis had his imitators, and was in fact the
head of a school of his kind. This habit of declamatory chanting
slightly affected his conversation, as we have seen in his interview
with Dumay. The moment the mind becomes finical the manners follow
suit, and the great poet ended by studying his demeanor, inventing
attitudes, looking furtively at himself in mirrors, and suiting his
discourse to the particular pose which he happened to have taken up.
He was so preoccupied with the effect he wished to produce, that a
practical joke, Blondet, had bet once or twice, and won the wager,
that he could nonplus him at any moment by merely looking fixedly at
his hair, or his boots, or the tails of his coats.
These airs and graces, which started in life with a passport of
flowery youth, now seemed all the more stale and old because Melchior
himself was waning. Life in the world of fashion is quite as
exhausting to men as it is to women, and perhaps the twenty years by
which the duchess exceeded her lover's age, weighed more heavily upon
him than upon her; for to the eyes of the world she was always
handsome,--without rouge, without wrinkles, and without heart. Alas!
neither men nor women have friends who are friendly enough to warn
them of the moment when the fragrance of their modesty grows stale,
when the caressing glance is but an echo of the stage, when the
expression of the face changes from sentiment to sentimentality, and
the artifices of the mind show their rusty edges. Genius alone renews
its skin like a snake; and in the matter of charm, as in everything
else, it is only the heart that never grows old. People who have
hearts are simple in all their ways. Now Canalis, as we know, had a
shrivelled heart. He misused the beauty of his glance by giving it,
without adequate reason, the fixity that comes to the eyes in
meditation. In short, applause was to him a business, in which he was
perpetually on the lookout for gain. His style of paying compliments,
charming to superficial people, seemed insulting to others of more
delicacy, by its triteness and the cool assurance of its cut-and-
dried flattery. As a matter of fact, Melchior lied like a courtier. He
remarked without blushing to the Duc de Chaulieu, who made no
impression whatever when he was obliged to address the Chamber as
minister of foreign affairs, "Your excellency was truly sublime!" Many
men like Canalis are purged of their affectations by the
administration of non-success in little doses.
These defects, slight in the gilded salons of the faubourg Saint-
Germain, where every one contributes his or her quota of absurdity,
and where these particular forms of exaggerated speech and affected
diction--magniloquence, if you please to call it so--are surrounded by
excessive luxury and sumptuous toilettes, which are to some extent
their excuse, were certain to be far more noticed in the provinces,
whose own absurdities are of a totally different type. Canalis, by
nature over-strained and artificial, could not change his form; in
fact, he had had time to grow stiff in the mould into which the
duchess had poured him; moreover, he was thoroughly Parisian, or, if
you prefer it, truly French. The Parisian is amazed that everything
everywhere is not as it in Paris; the Frenchman, as it is in France.
Good taste, on the contrary, demands that we adapt ourselves to the
customs of foreigners without losing too much of our own character,--
as did Alcibiades, that model of a gentleman. True grace is elastic;
it lends itself to circumstances; it is in harmony with all social
centres; it wears a robe of simple material in the streets, noticeable
only by its cut, in preference to the feathers and flounces of middle-
class vulgarity. Now Canalis, instigated by a woman who loved herself
much more than she loved him, wished to lay down the law and be,
everywhere, such as he himself might see fit to be. He believed he
carried his own public with him wherever he went,--an error shared by
several of the great men of Paris.
While the poet made a studied and effective entrance into the salon of
the Chalet, La Briere slipped in behind him like a person of no
"Ha! do I see my soldier?" said Canalis, perceiving Dumay, after
addressing a compliment to Madame Mignon, and bowing to the other
women. "Your anxieties are relieved, are they not?" he said, offering
his hand effusively; "I comprehend them to their fullest extent after
seeing mademoiselle. I spoke to you of terrestrial creatures, not of
All present seemed by their attitudes to ask the meaning of this
"I shall always consider it a triumph," resumed the poet, observing
that everybody wished for an explanation, "to have stirred to mention
on of those men of iron whom Napoleon had the eye to find and make the
supporting piles on which he tried to build an empire, too colossal to
be lasting: for such structures time alone is the cement. But this
triumph--why should I be proud of it?--I count for nothing. It was the
triumph of ideas over facts. Your battles, my dear Monsieur Dumay,
your heroic charges, Monsieur le comte, nay, war itself was the form
in which Napoleon's idea clothed itself. Of all of these things, what
remains? The sod that covers them knows nothing; harvests come and go
without revealing their resting-place; were it not for the historian,
the writer, futurity would have no knowledge of those heroic days.
Therefore your fifteen years of war are now ideas and nothing more;
that which preserves the Empire forever is the poem that the poets
make of them. A nation that can win such battles must know how to sing
Canalis paused, to gather by a glance that ran round the circle the
tribute of amazement which he expected of provincials.
"You must be aware, monsieur, of the regret I feel at not seeing you,"
said Madame Mignon, "since you compensate me with the pleasure of
Modeste, determined to think Canalis sublime, sat motionless with
amazement; the embroidery slipped from her fingers, which held it only
by the needleful of thread.
"Modeste, this is Monsieur Ernest de La Briere. Monsieur Ernest, my
daughter," said the count, thinking the secretary too much in the
The young girl bowed coldly, giving Ernest a glance that was meant to
prove to every one present that she saw him for the first time.
"Pardon me, monsieur," she said without blushing; "the great
admiration I feel for the greatest of our poets is, in the eyes of my
friends, a sufficient excuse for seeing only him."
The pure, fresh voice, with accents like that of Mademoiselle Mars,
charmed the poor secretary, already dazzled by Modeste's beauty, and
in his sudden surprise he answered by a phrase that would have been
sublime, had it been true.
"He is my friend," he said.
"Ah, then you do pardon me," she replied.
"He is more than a friend," cried Canalis taking Ernest by the
shoulder and leaning upon it like Alexander on Hephaestion, "we love
each other as though we were brothers--"
Madame Latournelle cut short the poet's speech by pointing to Ernest
and saying aloud to her husband, "Surely that is the gentleman we saw
"Why not?" said Charles Mignon, quickly, observing that Ernest
Modeste coldly took up her embroidery.
"Madame may be right; I have been twice in Havre lately," replied La
Briere, sitting down by Dumay.
Canalis, charmed with Modeste's beauty, mistook the admiration she
expressed, and flattered himself he had succeeded in producing his
"I should think a man without heart, if he had no devoted friend near
him," said Modeste, to pick up the conversation interrupted by Madame
"Mademoiselle, Ernest's devotion makes me almost think myself worth
something," said Canalis; "for my dear Pylades is full of talent; he
was the right hand of the greatest minister we have had since the
peace. Though he holds a fine position, he is good enough to be my
tutor in the science of politics; he teaches me to conduct affairs and
feeds me with his experience, when all the while he might aspire to a
much better situation. Oh! he is worth far more than I." At a gesture
from Modeste he continued gracefully: "Yes, the poetry that I express
he carries in his heart; and if I speak thus openly before him it is
because he has the modesty of a nun."
"Enough, oh, enough!" cried La Briere, who hardly knew which way to
look. "My dear Canalis, you remind me of a mother who is seeking to
marry off her daughter."
"How is it, monsieur," said Charles Mignon, addressing Canalis, "that
you can even think of becoming a political character?"
"It is abdication," said Modeste, "for a poet; politics are the
resource of matter-of-fact men."
"Ah, mademoiselle, the rostrum is to-day the greatest theatre of the
world; it has succeeded the tournaments of chivalry, it is now the
meeting-place for all intellects, just as the army has been the
rallying-point of courage."
Canalis stuck spurs into his charger and talked for ten minutes on
political life: "Poetry was but a preface to the statesman." "To-day
the orator has become a sublime reasoner, the shepherd of ideas." "A
poet may point the way to nations or individuals, but can he ever
cease to be himself?" He quoted Chateaubriand and declared that he
would one day be greater on the political side than on the literary.
"The forum of France was to be the pharos of humanity." "Oral battles
supplanted fields of battle: there were sessions of the Chamber finer
than any Austerlitz, and orators were seen to be as lofty as generals;
they spent their lives, their courage, their strength, as freely as
those who went to war." "Speech was surely one of the most prodigal
outlets of the vital fluid that man had ever known," etc.
This improvisation of modern commonplaces, clothed in sonorous phrases
and newly invented words, and intended to prove that the Comte de
Canalis was becoming one of the glories of the French government, made
a deep impression upon the notary and Gobenheim, and upon Madame
Latournelle and Madame Mignon. Modeste looked as though she were at
the theatre, in an attitude of enthusiasm for an actor,--very much
like that of Ernest toward herself; for though the secretary knew all
these high-sounding phrases by heart, he listened through the eyes, as
it were, of the young girl, and grew more and more madly in love with
her. To this true lover, Modeste was eclipsing all the Modestes he had
created as he read her letters and answered them.
This visit, the length of which was predetermined by Canalis, careful
not to allow his admirers a chance to get surfeited, ended by an
invitation to dinner on the following Monday.
"We shall not be at the Chalet," said the Comte de La Bastie. "Dumay
will have sole possession of it. I return to the villa, having bought
it back under a deed of redemption within six months, which I have
to-day signed with Monsieur Vilquin."
"I hope," said Dumay, "that Vilquin will not be able to return to you
the sum you have just lent him, and that the villa will remain yours."
"It is an abode in keeping with your fortune," said Canalis.
"You mean the fortune that I am supposed to have," replied Charles
"It would be too sad," said Canalis, turning to Modeste with a
charming little bow, "if this Madonna were not framed in a manner
worthy of her divine perfections."
That was the only thing Canalis said to Modeste. He affected not to
look at her, and behaved like a man to whom all idea of marriage was
"Ah! my dear Madame Mignon," cried the notary's wife, as soon as the
gravel was heard to grit under the feet of the Parisians, "what an
"Is he rich?--that is the question," said Gobenheim.
Modeste was at the window, not losing a single movement of the great
poet, and paying no attention to his companion. When Monsieur Mignon
returned to the salon, and Modeste, having received a last bow from
the two friends as the carriage turned, went back to her seat, a
weighty discussion took place, such as provincials invariably hold
over Parisians after a first interview. Gobenheim repeated his phrase,
"Is he rich?" as a chorus to the songs of praise sung by Madame
Latournelle, Modeste, and her mother.
"Rich!" exclaimed Modeste; "what can that signify! Do you not see that
Monsieur de Canalis is one of those men who are destined for the
highest places in the State. He has more than fortune; he possesses
that which gives fortune."
"He will be minister or ambassador," said Monsieur Mignon.
"That won't hinder tax-payers from having to pay the costs of his
funeral," remarked the notary.
"How so?" asked Charles Mignon.
"He strikes me as a man who will waste all the fortunes with whose
gifts Mademoiselle Modeste so liberally endows him," answered
"Modeste can't avoid being liberal to a poet who called her a
Madonna," said Dumay, sneering, and faithful to the repulsion with
which Canalis had originally inspired him.
Gobenheim arranged the whist-table with all the more persistency
because, since the return of Monsieur Mignon, Latournelle and Dumay
had allowed themselves to play for ten sous points.
"Well, my little darling," said the father to the daughter in the
embrasure of a window. "Admit that papa thinks of everything. If you
send your orders this evening to your former dressmaker in Paris, and
all your other furnishing people, you shall show yourself eight days
hence in all the splendor of an heiress. Meantime we will install
ourselves in the villa. You already have a pretty horse, now order a
habit; you owe that amount of civility to the grand equerry."
"All the more because there will be a number of us to ride," said
Modeste, who was recovering the colors of health.
"The secretary did not say much," remarked Madame Mignon.
"A little fool," said Madame Latournelle; "the poet has an attentive
word for everybody. He thanked Monsieur Latournelle for his help in
choosing the house; and said he must have taken counsel with a woman
of good taste. But the other looked as gloomy as a Spaniard, and kept
his eyes fixed on Modeste as though he would like to swallow her
whole. If he had even looked at me I should have been afraid of him."
"He had a pleasant voice," said Madame Mignon.
"No doubt he came to Havre to inquire about the Mignons in the
interests of his friend the poet," said Modeste, looking furtively at
her father. "It was certainly he whom we saw in church."
Madame Dumay and Monsieur and Madame Latournelle, accepted this as the
natural explanation of Ernest's journey.
OF WHICH THE AUTHOR THINKS A GOOD DEAL
"Do you know, Ernest," cried Canalis, when they had driven a short
distance from the house, "I don't see any marriageable woman in
society in Paris who compares with that adorable girl."
"Ah, that ends it!" replied Ernest. "She loves you, or she will love
you if you desire it. Your fame won half the battle. Well, you may now
have it all your own way. You shall go there alone in future. Modeste
despises me; she is right to do so; and I don't see any reason why I
should condemn myself to see, to love, desire, and adore that which I
can never possess."
After a few consoling remarks, dashed with his own satisfaction at
having made a new version of Caesar's phrase, Canalis divulged a
desire to break with the Duchesse de Chaulieu. La Briere, totally
unable to keep up the conversation, made the beauty of the night an
excuse to be set down, and then rushed like one possessed to the
seashore, where he stayed till past ten, in a half-demented state,
walking hurriedly up and down, talking aloud in broken sentences,
sometimes standing still or sitting down, without noticing the
uneasiness of two custom-house officers who were on the watch. After
loving Modeste's wit and intellect and her aggressive frankness, he
now joined adoration of her beauty--that is to say, love without
reason, love inexplicable--to all the other reasons which had drawn
him ten days earlier, to the church in Havre.
He returned to the Chalet, where the Pyrenees hounds barked at him
till he was forced to relinquish the pleasure of gazing at Modeste's
windows. In love, such things are of no more account to the lover than
the work which is covered by the last layer of color is to an artist;
yet they make up the whole of love, just as the hidden toil is the
whole of art. Out of them arise the great painter and the true lover
whom the woman and the public end, sometimes too late, by adoring.
"Well then!" he cried aloud, "I will stay, I will suffer, I will love
her for myself only, in solitude. Modeste shall be my sun, my life; I
will breathe with her breath, rejoice in her joys and bear her griefs,
be she even the wife of that egoist, Canalis."
"That's what I call loving, monsieur," said a voice which came from a
shrub by the side of the road. "Ha, ha, so all the world is in love
with Mademoiselle de La Bastie?"
And Butscha suddenly appeared and looked at La Briere. La Briere
checked his anger when, by the light of the moon, he saw the dwarf,
and he made a few steps without replying.
"Soldiers who serve in the same company ought to be good comrades,"
remarked Butscha. "You don't love Canalis; neither do I."
"He is my friend," replied Ernest.
"Ha, you are the little secretary?"
"You are to know, monsieur, that I am no man's secretary. I have the
honor to be of counsel to a supreme court of this kingdom."
"I have the honor to salute Monsieur de La Briere," said Butscha. "I
myself have the honor to be head clerk to Latournelle, chief
councillor of Havre, and my position is a better one than yours. Yes,
I have had the happiness of seeing Mademoiselle Modeste de La Bastie
nearly every evening for the last four years, and I expect to live
near her, as a king's servant lives in the Tuileries. If they offered
me the throne of Russia I should answer, 'I love the sun too well.'
Isn't that telling you, monsieur, that I care more for her than for
myself? I am looking after her interests with the most honorable
intentions. Do you believe that the proud Duchesse de Chaulieu would
cast a favorable eye on the happiness of Madame de Canalis if her
waiting-woman, who is in love with Monsieur Germain, not liking that
charming valet's absence in Havre, were to say to her mistress while
brushing her hair--"
"Who do you know about all this?" said La Briere, interrupting
"In the first place, I am clerk to a notary," answered Butscha. "But
haven't you seen my hump? It is full of resources, monsieur. I have
made myself cousin to Mademoiselle Philoxene Jacmin, born at Honfleur,
where my mother was born, a Jacmin,--there are eight branches of the
Jacmins at Honfleur. So my cousin Philoxene, enticed by the bait of a
highly improbable fortune, has told me a good many things."
"The duchess is vindictive?" said La Briere.
"Vindictive as a queen, Philoxene says; she has never yet forgiven the
duke for being nothing more than her husband," replied Butscha. "She
hates as she loves. I know all about her character, her tastes, her
toilette, her religion, and her manners; for Philoxene stripped her
for me, soul and corset. I went to the opera expressly to see her, and
I didn't grudge the ten francs it cost me--I don't mean the play. If
my imaginary cousin had not told me the duchess had seen her fifty
summers, I should have thought I was over-generous in giving her
thirty; she has never known a winter, that duchess!"
"Yes," said La Briere, "she is a cameo--preserved because it is stone.
Canalis would be in a bad way if the duchess were to find out what he
is doing here; and I hope, monsieur, that you will go no further in
this business of spying, which is unworthy of an honest man."
"Monsieur," said Butscha, proudly; "for me Modeste is my country. I do
not spy; I foresee, I take precautions. The duchess will come here if
it is desirable, or she will stay tranquilly where she is, according
to what I judge best."
"And how, pray?"
"Ha, that's it!" said the little hunchback, plucking a blade of grass.
"See here! this herb believes that men build palaces for it to grow
in; it wedges its way between the closest blocks of marble, and brings
them down, just as the masses forced into the edifice of feudality
have brought it to the ground. The power of the feeble life that can
creep everywhere is greater than that of the mighty behind their
cannons. I am one of three who have sworn that Modeste shall be happy,
and we would sell our honor for her. Adieu, monsieur. If you truly
love Mademoiselle de La Bastie, forget this conversation and shake
hands with me, for I think you've got a heart. I longed to see the
Chalet, and I got here just as SHE was putting out her light. I saw
the dogs rush at you, and I overheard your words, and that is why I
take the liberty of saying we serve in the same regiment--that of
"Monsieur," said La Briere, wringing the hunchback's hand, "would you
have the friendliness to tell me if Mademoiselle Modeste ever loved
any one WITH LOVE before she wrote to Canalis?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Butscha in an altered voice; "that thought is an
insult. And even now, who knows if she really loves? does she know
herself? She is enamored of genius, of the soul and intellect of that
seller of verses, that literary quack; but she will study him, we
shall all study him; and I know how to make the man's real character
peep out from under that turtle-shell of fine manners,--we'll soon see
the petty little head of his ambition and his vanity!" cried Butscha,
rubbing his hands. "So, unless mademoiselle is desperately taken with
"Oh! she was seized with admiration when she saw him, as if he were
something marvellous," exclaimed La Briere, letting the secret of his
jealousy escape him.
"If he is a loyal, honest fellow, and loves her; if he is worthy of
her; if he renounces his duchess," said Butscha,--"then I'll manage
the duchess! Here, my dear sir, take this road, and you will get home
in ten minutes."
But as they parted, Butscha turned back and hailed poor Ernest, who,
as a true lover, would gladly have stayed there all night talking of
"Monsieur," said Butscha, "I have not yet had the honor of seeing our
great poet. I am very curious to observe that magnificent phenomenon
in the exercise of his functions. Do me the favor to bring him to the
Chalet to-morrow evening, and stay as long as possible; for it takes
more than an hour for a man to show himself for what he is. I shall be
the first to see if he loves, if he can love, or if he ever will love
"You are very young to--"
"--to be a professor," said Butscha, cutting short La Briere. "Ha,
monsieur, deformed folks are born a hundred years old. And besides, a
sick man who has long been sick, knows more than his doctor; he knows
the disease, and that is more than can be said for the best of
doctors. Well, so it is with a man who cherishes a woman in his heart
when the woman is forced to disdain him for his ugliness or his
deformity; he ends by knowing so much of love that he becomes
seductive, just as the sick man recovers his health; stupidity alone
is incurable. I have had neither father nor mother since I was six
years old; I am now twenty-five. Public charity has been my mother,
the procureur du roi my father. Oh! don't be troubled," he added,
seeing Ernest's gesture; "I am much more lively than my situation.
Well, for the last six years, ever since a woman's eye first told me I
had no right to love, I do love, and I study women. I began with the
ugly ones, for it is best to take the bull by the horns. So I took my
master's wife, who has certainly been an angel to me, for my first
study. Perhaps I did wrong; but I couldn't help it. I passed her
through my alembic and what did I find? this thought, crouching at the
bottom of her heart, 'I am not so ugly as they think me'; and if a man
were to work upon that thought he could bring her to the edge of the
abyss, pious as she is."
"And have you studied Modeste?"
"I thought I told you," replied Butscha, "that my life belongs to her,
just as France belongs to the king. Do you now understand what you
called my spying in Paris? No one but me really knows what nobility,
what pride, what devotion, what mysterious grace, what unwearying
kindness, what true religion, gaiety, wit, delicacy, knowledge, and
courtesy there are in the soul and in the heart of that adorable
Butscha drew out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes, and La Briere
pressed his hand for a long time.
"I live in the sunbeam of her existence; it comes from her, it is
absorbed in me; that is how we are united,--as nature is to God, by
the Light and by the Word. Adieu, monsieur; never in my life have I
talked in this way; but seeing you beneath her windows, I felt in my
heart that you loved her as I love her."
Without waiting for an answer Butscha quitted the poor lover, into
whose heart his words had put an inexpressible balm. Ernest resolved
to make a friend of him, not suspecting that the chief object of the
clerk's loquacity was to gain communication with some one connected
with Canalis. Ernest was rocked to sleep that night by the ebb and
flow of thoughts and resolutions and plans for his future conduct,
whereas Canalis slept the sleep of the conqueror, which is the
sweetest of slumbers after that of the just.
At breakfast next morning, the friends agreed to spend the evening of
the following day at the Chalet and initiate themselves into the
delights of provincial whist. To get rid of the day they ordered their
horses, purchased by Germain at a large price, and started on a voyage
of discovery round the country, which was quite as unknown to them as
China; for the most foreign thing to Frenchmen in France is France
By dint of reflecting on his position as an unfortunate and despised
lover, Ernest went through something of the same process as Modeste's
first letter had forced upon him. Though sorrow is said to develop
virtue, it only develops it in virtuous persons; that cleaning-out of
the conscience takes place only in persons who are by nature clean. La
Briere vowed to endure his sufferings in Spartan silence, to act
worthily, and give way to no baseness; while Canalis, fascinated by
the enormous "dot," was telling himself to take every means of
captivating the heiress. Selfishness and devotion, the key-notes of
the two characters, therefore took, by the action of a moral law which
is often very odd in its effects, certain measures that were contrary
to their respective natures. The selfish man put on self-abnegation;
the man who thought chiefly of others took refuge on the Aventinus of
pride. That phenomenon is often seen in political life. Men frequently
turn their characters wrong side out, and it sometimes happens that
the public is unable to tell which is the right side.
After dinner the two friends heard of the arrival of the grand
equerry, who was presented at the Chalet the same evening by
Latournelle. Mademoiselle d'Herouville had contrived to wound that
worthy man by sending a footmen to tell him to come to her, instead of
sending her nephew in person; thus depriving the notary of a
distinguished visit he would certainly have talked about for the rest
of his natural life. So Latournelle curtly informed the grand equerry,
when he proposed to drive him to the Chalet, that he was engaged to
take Madame Latournelle. Guessing from the little man's sulky manner
that there was some blunder to repair, the duke said graciously:--
"Then I shall have the pleasure, if you will allow me, of taking
Madame Latournelle also."
Disregarding Mademoiselle d'Herouville's haughty shrug, the duke left
the room with the notary. Madame Latournelle, half-crazed with joy at
seeing the gorgeous carriage at her door, with footmen in royal livery
letting down the steps, was too agitated on hearing that the grand
equerry had called for her, to find her gloves, her parasol, her
absurdity, or her usual air of pompous dignity. Once in the carriage,
however, and while expressing confused thanks and civilities to the
little duke, she suddenly exclaimed, from a thought in her kind
"But Butscha, where is he?"
"Let us take Butscha," said the duke, smiling.
When the people on the quays, attracted in groups by the splendor of
the royal equipage, saw the funny spectacle, the three little men with
the spare gigantic woman, they looked at one another and laughed.
"If you melt all three together, they might make one man fit to mate
with that big cod-fish," said a sailor from Bordeaux.
"Is there any other thing you would like to take with you, madame?"
asked the duke, jestingly, while the footman awaited his orders.
"No, monseigneur," she replied, turning scarlet and looking at her
husband as much as to say, "What did I do wrong?"
"Monsieur le duc honors me by considering that I am a thing," said
Butscha; "a poor clerk is usually thought to be a nonentity."
Though this was said with a laugh, the duke colored and did not
answer. Great people are to blame for joking with their social
inferiors. Jesting is a game, and games presuppose equality; it is to
obviate any inconvenient results of this temporary equality that
players have the right, after the game is over, not to recognize each
The visit of the grand equerry had the ostensible excuse of an
important piece of business; namely, the retrieval of an immense tract
of waste land left by the sea between the mouths of the two rivers,
which tract had just been adjudged by the Council of State to the
house of Herouville. The matter was nothing less than putting flood-
gates with double bridges, draining three or four hundred acres,
cutting canals, and laying out roadways. When the duke had explained
the condition of the land, Charles Mignon remarked that time must be
allowed for the soil, which was still moving, to settle and grow solid
in a natural way.
"Time, which has providentially enriched your house, Monsieur le duc,
can alone complete the work," he said, in conclusion. "It would be
prudent to let fifty years elapse before you reclaim the land."
"Do not let that be your final word, Monsieur le comte," said the
duke. "Come to Herouville and see things for yourself."
Charles Mignon replied that every capitalist should take time to
examine into such matters with a cool head, thus giving the duke a
pretext for his visits to the Chalet. The sight of Modeste made a
lively impression on the young man, and he asked the favor of
receiving her at Herouville with her father, saying that his sister
and his aunt had heard much of her, and wished to make her
acquaintance. On this the count proposed to present his daughter to
those ladies himself, and invited the whole party to dinner on the day
of his return to the villa. The duke accepted the invitation. The blue
ribbon, the title, and above all, the ecstatic glances of the noble
gentleman had an effect upon Modeste; but she appeared to great
advantage in carriage, dignity, and conversation. The duke withdrew
reluctantly, carrying with him an invitation to visit the Chalet every
evening,--an invitation based on the impossibility of a courtier of
Charles X. existing for a single evening without his rubber.
The following evening, therefore, Modeste was to see all three of her
lovers. No matter what young girls may say, and though the logic of
the heart may lead them to sacrifice everything to preference, it is
extremely flattering to their self-love to see a number of rival
adorers around them,--distinguished or celebrated men, or men of
ancient lineage,--all endeavoring to shine and to please. Suffer as
Modeste may in general estimation, it must be told she subsequently
admitted that the sentiments expressed in her letters paled before the
pleasure of seeing three such different minds at war with one another,
--three men who, taken separately, would each have done honor to the
most exacting family. Yet this luxury of self-love was checked by a
misanthropical spitefulness, resulting from the terrible wound she had
received,--although by this time she was beginning to think of that
wound as a disappointment only. So when her father said to her,
laughing, "Well, Modeste, do you want to be a duchess?" she answered,
with a mocking curtsey,--
"Sorrows have made me philosophical."
"Do you mean to be only a baroness?" asked Butscha.
"Or a viscountess?" said her father.
"How could that be?" she asked quickly.
"If you accept Monsieur de La Briere, he has enough merit and
influence to obtain permission from the king to bear my titles and
"Oh, if it comes to disguising himself, HE will not make any
difficulty," said Modeste, scornfully.
Butscha did not understand this epigram, whose meaning could only be
guessed by Monsieur and Madame Mignon and Dumay.
"When it is a question of marriage, all men disguise themselves,"
remarked Latournelle, "and women set them the example. I've heard it
said ever since I came into the world that 'Monsieur this or
Mademoiselle that has made a good marriage,'--meaning that the other
side had made a bad one."
"Marriage," said Butscha, "is like a lawsuit; there's always one side
discontented. If one dupes the other, certainly half the husbands in
the world are playing a comedy at the expense of the other half."
"From which you conclude, Sieur Butscha?" inquired Modeste.
"To pay the utmost attention to the manoeuvres of the enemy," answered
"What did I tell you, my darling?" said Charles Mignon, alluding to
their conversation on the seashore.
"Men play as many parts to get married as mothers make their daughters
play to get rid of them," said Latournelle.
"Then you approve of stratagems?" said Modeste.
"On both sides," cried Gobenheim, "and that brings it even."
This conversation was carried on by fits and starts, as they say, in
the intervals of cutting and dealing the cards; and it soon turned
chiefly on the merits of the Duc d'Herouville, who was thought very
good-looking by little Latournelle, little Dumay, and little Butscha.
Without the foregoing discussion on the lawfulness of matrimonial
tricks, the reader might possibly find the forthcoming account of the
evening so impatiently awaited by Butscha, somewhat too long.
Desplein, the famous surgeon, arrived the next morning, and stayed
only long enough to send to Havre for fresh horses and have them put-
to, which took about an hour. After examining Madame Mignon's eyes, he
decided that she could recover her sight, and fixed a suitable time, a
month later, to perform the operation. This important consultation
took place before the assembled members of the Chalet, who stood
trembling and expectant to hear the verdict of the prince of science.
That illustrious member of the Academy of Sciences put about a dozen
brief questions to the blind woman as he examined her eyes in the
strong light from a window. Modeste was amazed at the value which a
man so celebrated attached to time, when she saw the travelling-
carriage piled with books which the great surgeon proposed to read
during the journey; for he had left Paris the evening before, and had
spent the night in sleeping and travelling. The rapidity and clearness
of Desplein's judgment on each answer made by Madame Mignon, his
succinct tone, his decisive manner, gave Modeste her first real idea
of a man of genius. She perceived the enormous difference between a
second-rate man, like Canalis, and Desplein, who was even more than a
superior man. A man of genius finds in the consciousness of his talent
and in the solidity of his fame an arena of his own, where his
legitimate pride can expand and exercise itself without interfering
with others. Moreover, his perpetual struggle with men and things
leave them no time for the coxcombry of fashionable genius, which
makes haste to gather in the harvests of a fugitive season, and whose
vanity and self-love are as petty and exacting as a custom-house which
levies tithes on all that comes in its way.
Modeste was the more enchanted by this great practical genius, because
he was evidently charmed with the exquisite beauty of Modeste,--he,
through whose hands so many women had passed, and who had long since
examined the sex, as it were, with magnifier and scalpel.
"It would be a sad pity," he said, with an air of gallantry which he
occasionally put on, and which contrasted with his assumed
brusqueness, "if a mother were deprived of the sight of so charming a
Modeste insisted on serving the simple breakfast which was all the
great surgeon would accept. She accompanied her father and Dumay to
the carriage stationed at the garden-gate, and said to Desplein at
parting, her eyes shining with hope,--
"And will my dear mamma really see me?"
"Yes, my little sprite, I'll promise you that," he answered, smiling;
"and I am incapable of deceiving you, for I, too, have a daughter."
The horses started and carried him off as he uttered the last words
with unexpected grace and feeling. Nothing is more charming than the
peculiar unexpectedness of persons of talent.
THE POET DOES HIS EXERCISES
This visit of the great surgeon was the event of the day, and it left
a luminous trace in Modeste's soul. The young enthusiast ardently
admired the man whose life belonged to others, and in whom the habit
of studying physical suffering had destroyed the manifestations of
egoism. That evening, when Gobenheim, the Latournelles, and Butscha,
Canalis, Ernest, and the Duc d'Herouville were gathered in the salon,
they all congratulated the Mignon family on the hopes which Desplein
encouraged. The conversation, in which the Modeste of her letters was
once more in the ascendant, turned naturally on the man whose genius,
unfortunately for his fame, was appreciable only by the faculty and
men of science. Gobenheim contributed a phrase which is the sacred
chrism of genius as interpreted in these days by public economists and
"He makes a mint of money."
"They say he is very grasping," added Canalis.
The praises which Modeste showered on Desplein had annoyed the poet.
Vanity acts like a woman,--they both think they are defrauded when
love or praise is bestowed on others. Voltaire was jealous of the wit
of a roue whom Paris admired for two days; and even a duchess takes
offence at a look bestowed upon her maid. The avarice excited by these
two sentiments is such that a fraction of them given to the poor is
"Do you think, monsieur," said Modeste, smiling, "that we should judge
genius by ordinary standards?"
"Perhaps we ought first of all to define the man of genius," replied
Canalis. "One of the conditions of genius is invention,--invention of
a form, a system, a force. Napoleon was an inventor, apart from his
other conditions of genius. He invented his method of making war.
Walter Scott is an inventor, Linnaeus is an inventor, Geoffrey Saint-
Hilaire and Cuvier are inventors. Such men are men of genius of the
first rank. They renew, increase, or modify both science and art. But
Desplein is merely a man whose vast talent consists in properly
applying laws already known; in observing, by means of a natural gift,
the limits laid down for each temperament, and the time appointed by
Nature for an operation. He has not founded, like Hippocrates, the
science itself. He has invented no system, as did Galen, Broussais,
and Rasori. He is merely an executive genius, like Moscheles on the
piano, Paganini on the violin, or Farinelli on his own larynx,--men
who have developed enormous faculties, but who have not created music.
You must permit me to discriminate between Beethoven and la Catalani:
to one belongs the immortal crown of genius and of martyrdom, to the
other innumerable five-franc pieces; one we can pay in coin, but the
world remains throughout all time a debtor to the other. Each day
increases our debt to Moliere, but Baron's comedies have been
"I think you make the prerogative of ideas too exclusive," said Ernest
de La Briere, in a quiet and melodious voice, which formed a sudden
contrast to the peremptory tones of the poet, whose flexible organ had
abandoned its caressing notes for the strident and magisterial voice
of the rostrum. "Genius must be estimated according to its utility;
and Parmentier, who brought potatoes into general use, Jacquart, the
inventor of silk looms; Papin, who first discovered the elastic
quality of steam, are men of genius, to whom statues will some day be
erected. They have changed, or they will change in a certain sense,
the face of the State. It is in that sense that Desplein will always
be considered a man of genius by thinkers; they see him attended by a
generation of sufferers whose pains are stifled by his hand."
That Ernest should give utterance to this opinion was enough to make
Modeste oppose it.
"If that be so, monsieur," she said, "then the man who could discover
a way to mow wheat without injuring the straw, by a machine that could
do the work of ten men, would be a man of genius."
"Yes, my daughter," said Madame Mignon; "and the poor would bless him
for cheaper bread,--he that is blessed by the poor is blessed of God."
"That is putting utility above art," said Modeste, shaking her head.
"Without utility what would become of art?" said Charles Mignon. "What
would it rest on? what would it live on? Where would you lodge, and
how would you pay the poet?"
"Oh! my dear papa, such opinions are fearfully flat and antediluvian!
I am not surprised that Gobenheim and Monsieur de La Briere, who are
interested in the solution of social problems should think so; but
you, whose life has been the most useless poetry of the century,--
useless because the blood you shed all over Europe, and the horrible
sufferings exacted by your colossus, did not prevent France from
losing ten departments acquired under the Revolution,--how can YOU
give in to such excessively pig-tail notions, as the idealists say? It
is plain you've just come from China."
The impertinence of Modeste's speech was heightened by a little air of
contemptuous disdain which she purposely put on, and which fairly
astounded Madame Mignon, Madame Latournelle, and Dumay. As for Madame
Latournelle, she opened her eyes so wide she no longer saw anything.
Butscha, whose alert attention was comparable to that of a spy, looked
at Monsieur Mignon, expecting to see him flush with sudden and violent
"A little more, young lady, and you will be wanting in respect for
your father," said the colonel, smiling, and noticing Butscha's look.
"See what it is to spoil one's children!"
"I am your only child," she said saucily.
"Child, indeed," remarked the notary, significantly.
"Monsieur," said Modeste, turning upon him, "my father is delighted to
have me for his governess; he gave me life and I give him knowledge;
he will soon owe me something."
"There seems occasion for it," said Madame Mignon.
"But mademoiselle is right," said Canalis, rising and standing before
the fireplace in one of the finest attitudes of his collection. "God,
in his providence, has given food and clothing to man, but he has not
directly given him art. He says to man: 'To live, thou must bow
thyself to earth; to think, thou shalt lift thyself to Me.' We have as
much need of the life of the soul as of the life of the body,--hence,
there are two utilities. It is true we cannot be shod by books or
clothed by poems. An epic song is not, if you take the utilitarian
view, as useful as the broth of a charity kitchen. The noblest ideas
will not sail a vessel in place of canvas. It is quite true that the
cotton-gin gives us calicoes for thirty sous a yard less than we ever
paid before; but that machine and all other industrial perfections
will not breathe the breath of life into a people, will not tell
futurity of a civilization that once existed. Art, on the contrary,
Egyptian, Mexican, Grecian, Roman art, with their masterpieces--now
called useless!--reveal the existence of races back in the vague
immense of time, beyond where the great intermediary nations, denuded
of men of genius, have disappeared, leaving not a line nor a trace
behind them! The works of genius are the 'summum' of civilization, and
presuppose utility. Surely a pair of boots are not as agreeable to
your eyes as a fine play at the theatre; and you don't prefer a
windmill to the church of Saint-Ouen, do you? Well then, nations are
imbued with the same feelings as the individual man, and the man's
cherished desire is to survive himself morally just as he propagates
himself physically. The survival of a people is the work of its men of
genius. At this very moment France is proving, energetically, the
truth of that theory. She is, undoubtedly, excelled by England in
commerce, industry, and navigation, and yet she is, I believe, at the
head of the world,--by reason of her artists, her men of talent, and
the good taste of her products. There is no artist and no superior
intellect that does not come to Paris for a diploma. There is no
school of painting at this moment but that of France; and we shall
reign far longer and perhaps more securely by our books than by our
swords. In La Briere's system, on the other hand, all that is glorious
and lovely must be suppressed,--woman's beauty, music, painting,
poetry. Society will not be overthrown, that is true, but, I ask you,
who would willingly accept such a life? All useful things are ugly and
forbidding. A kitchen is indispensable, but you take care not to sit
there; you live in the salon, which you adorn, like this, with
superfluous things. Of what USE, let me ask you, are these charming
wall-paintings, this carved wood-work? There is nothing beautiful but
that which seems to us useless. We called the sixteenth century the
Renascence with admirable truth of language. That century was the dawn
of a new era. Men will continue to speak of it when all remembrance of
anterior centuries had passed away,--their only merit being that they
once existed, like the million beings who count as the rubbish of a
"Rubbish! yes, that may be, but my rubbish is dear to me," said the
Duc d'Herouville, laughing, during the silent pause which followed the
poet's pompous oration.
"Let me ask," said Butscha, attacking Canalis, "does art, the sphere
in which, according to you, genius is required to evolve itself, exist
at all? Is it not a splendid lie, a delusion, of the social man? Do I
want a landscape scene of Normandy in my bedroom when I can look out
and see a better one done by God himself? Our dreams make poems more
glorious than Iliads. For an insignificant sum of money I can find at
Valogne, at Carentan, in Provence, at Arles, many a Venus as beautiful
as those of Titian. The police gazette publishes tales, differing
somewhat from those of Walter Scott, but ending tragically with blood,
not ink. Happiness and virtue exist above and beyond both art and
"Bravo, Butscha!" cried Madame Latournelle.
"What did he say?" asked Canalis of La Briere, failing to gather from
the eyes and attitude of Mademoiselle Mignon the usual signs of
The contemptuous indifference which Modeste had exhibited toward La
Briere, and above all, her disrespectful speeches to her father, so
depressed the young man that he made no answer to Canalis; his eyes,
fixed sorrowfully on Modeste, were full of deep meditation. The Duc
d'Herouville took up Butscha's argument and reproduced it with much
intelligence, saying finally that the ecstasies of Saint-Theresa were
far superior to the creations of Lord Byron.
"Oh, Monsieur le duc," exclaimed Modeste, "hers was a purely personal
poetry, whereas the genius of Lord Byron and Moliere benefit the
"How do you square that opinion with those of Monsieur le baron?"
cried Charles Mignon, quickly. "Now you are insisting that genius must
be useful, and benefit the world as though it were cotton,--but
perhaps you think logic as antediluvian as your poor old father."
Butscha, La Briere, and Madame Latournelle exchanged glances that were
more than half derisive, and drove Modeste to a pitch of irritation
that kept her silent for a moment.
"Mademoiselle, do not mind them," said Canalis, smiling upon her, "we
are neither beaten, nor caught in a contradiction. Every work of art,
let it be in literature, music, painting, sculpture, or architecture,
implies a positive social utility, equal to that of all other
commercial products. Art is pre-eminently commerce; presupposes it, in
short. An author pockets ten thousand francs for his book; the making
of books means the manufactory of paper, a foundry, a printing-office,
a bookseller,--in other words, the employment of thousands of men. The
execution of a symphony of Beethoven or an opera by Rossini requires
human arms and machinery and manufactures. The cost of a monument is
an almost brutal case in point. In short, I may say that the works of
genius have an extremely costly basis and are, necessarily, useful to
Astride of that theme, Canalis spoke for some minutes with a fine
luxury of metaphor, and much inward complacency as to his phrases; but
it happened with him, as with many another great speaker, that he
found himself at last at the point from which the conversation
started, and in full agreement with La Briere without perceiving it.
"I see with much pleasure, my dear baron," said the little duke,
slyly, "that you will make an admirable constitutional minister."
"Oh!" said Canalis, with the gesture of a great man, "what is the use
of all these discussions? What do they prove?--the eternal verity of
one axiom: All things are true, all things are false. Moral truths as
well as human beings change their aspect according to their
surroundings, to the point of being actually unrecognizable."
"Society exists through settled opinions," said the Duc d'Herouville.
"What laxity!" whispered Madame Latournelle to her husband.
"He is a poet," said Gobenheim, who overheard her.
Canalis, who was ten leagues above the heads of his audience, and who
may have been right in his last philosophical remark, took the sort of
coldness which now overspread the surrounding faces of a symptom of
provincial ignorance; but seeing that Modeste understood him, he was
content, being wholly unaware that monologue is particularly
disagreeable to country-folk, whose principal desire it is to exhibit
the manner of life and the wit and wisdom of the provinces to
"It is long since you have seen the Duchesse de Chaulieu?" asked the
duke, addressing Canalis, as if to change the conversation.
"I left her about six days ago."
"Is she well?" persisted the duke.
"Have the kindness to remember me to her when you write."
"They say she is charming," remarked Modeste, addressing the duke.
"Monsieur le baron can speak more confidently than I," replied the
"More than charming," said Canalis, making the best of the duke's
perfidy; "but I am partial, mademoiselle; she has been a friend to me
for the last ten years; I owe all that is good in me to her; she has
saved me from the dangers of the world. Moreover, Monsieur le Duc de
Chaulieu launched me in my present career. Without the influence of
that family the king and the princesses would have forgotten a poor
poet like me; therefore my affection for the duchess must always be
full of gratitude."
His voice quivered.
"We ought to love the woman who has led you to write those sublime
poems, and who inspires you with such noble feelings," said Modeste,
quite affected. "Who can think of a poet without a muse!"
"He would be without a heart," replied Canalis. "He would write barren
verses like Voltaire, who never loved any one but Voltaire."
"I thought you did me the honor to say, in Paris," interrupted Dumay,
"that you never felt the sentiments you expressed."
"The shoe fits, my soldier," replied the poet, smiling; "but let me
tell you that it is quite possible to have a great deal of feeling
both in the intellectual life and in real life. My good friend here,
La Briere, is madly in love," continued Canalis, with a fine show of
generosity, looking at Modeste. "I, who certainly love as much as he,
--that is, I think so unless I delude myself,--well, I can give to my
love a literary form in harmony with its character. But I dare not
say, mademoiselle," he added, turning to Modeste with too studied a
grace, "that to-morrow I may not be without inspiration."
Thus the poet triumphed over all obstacles. In honor of his love he
rode a-tilt at the hindrances that were thrown in his way, and Modeste
remained wonder-struck at the Parisian wit that scintillated in his
declamatory discourse, of which she had hitherto known little or
"What an acrobat!" whispered Butscha to Latournelle, after listening
to a magnificent tirade on the Catholic religion and the happiness of
having a pious wife,--served up in response to a remark by Madame
Modeste's eyes were blindfolded as it were; Canalis's elocution and
the close attention which she was predetermined to pay to him
prevented her from seeing that Butscha was carefully noting the
declamation, the want of simplicity, the emphasis that took the place
of feeling, and the curious incoherencies in the poet's speech which
led the dwarf to make his rather cruel comment. At certain points of
Canalis's discourse, when Monsieur Mignon, Dumay, Butscha, and
Latournelle wondered at the man's utter want of logic, Modeste admired
his suppleness, and said to herself, as she dragged him after her
through the labyrinth of fancy, "He loves me!" Butscha, in common with
the other spectators of what we must call a stage scene, was struck
with the radiant defect of all egoists, which Canalis, like many men
accustomed to perorate, allowed to be too plainly seen. Whether he
understood beforehand what the person he was speaking to meant to say,
whether he was not listening, or whether he had the faculty of
listening when he was thinking of something else, it is certain that
Melchior's face wore an absent-minded look in conversation, which
disconcerted the ideas of others and wounded their vanity. Not to
listen is not merely a want of politeness, it is a mark of disrespect.
Canalis pushed this habit too far; for he often forgot to answer a
speech which required an answer, and passed, without the ordinary
transitions of courtesy, to the subject, whatever it was, that
preoccupied him. Though such impertinence is accepted without protest
from a man of marked distinction, it stirs a leaven of hatred and
vengeance in many hearts; in those of equals it even goes so far as to
destroy a friendship. If by chance Melchior was forced to listen, he
fell into another fault; he merely lent his attention, and never gave
it. Though this may not be so mortifying, it shows a kind of semi-
concession which is almost as unsatisfactory to the hearer and leaves
him dissatisfied. Nothing brings more profit in the commerce of
society than the small change of attention. He that heareth let him
hear, is not only a gospel precept, it is an excellent speculation;
follow it, and all will be forgiven you, even vice. Canalis took a
great deal of trouble in his anxiety to please Modeste; but though he
was compliant enough with her, he fell back into his natural self with
Modeste, pitiless for the ten martyrs she was making, begged Canalis
to read some of his poems; she wanted, she said, a specimen of his
gift for reading, of which she had heard so much. Canalis took the
volume which she gave him, and cooed (for that is the proper word) a
poem which is generally considered his finest,--an imitation of
Moore's "Loves of the Angels," entitled "Vitalis," which Monsieur and
Madame Dumay, Madame Latournelle, and Gobenheim welcomed with a few
"If you are a good whist-player, monsieur," said Gobenheim,
flourishing five cards held like a fan, "I must say I have never met a
man as accomplished as you."
The remark raised a laugh, for it was the translation of everybody's
"I play it sufficiently well to live in the provinces for the rest of
my days," replied Canalis. "That, I think, is enough, and more than
enough literature and conversation for whist-players," he added,
throwing the volume impatiently on a table.
This little incident serves to show what dangers environ a drawing-
room hero when he steps, like Canalis, out of his sphere; he is like
the favorite actor of a second-rate audience, whose talent is lost
when he leaves his own boards and steps upon those of an upper-class
MODESTE PLAYS HER PART
The game opened with the baron and the duke, Gobenheim and Latournelle
as partners. Modeste took a seat near the poet, to Ernest's deep
disappointment; he watched the face of the wayward girl, and marked
the progress of the fascination which Canalis exerted over her. La
Briere had not the gift of seduction which Melchior possessed. Nature
frequently denies it to true hearts, who are, as a rule, timid. This
gift demands fearlessness, an alacrity of ways and means that might be
called the trapeze of the mind; a little mimicry goes with it; in fact
there is always, morally speaking, something of the comedian in a
poet. There is a vast difference between expressing sentiments we do
not feel, though we may imagine all their variations, and feigning to
feel them when bidding for success on the theatre of private life. And
yet, though the necessary hypocrisy of a man of the world may have
gangrened a poet, he ends by carrying the faculties of his talent into
the expression of any required sentiment, just as a great man doomed
to solitude ends by infusing his heart into his mind.
"He is after the millions," thought La Briere, sadly; "and he can play
passion so well that Modeste will believe him."
Instead of endeavoring to appear more amiable and wittier than his
rival, Ernest imitated the Duc d'Herouville, and was gloomy, anxious,
and watchful; but whereas the courier studied the freaks of the young
heiress, Ernest simply fell a prey to the pains of dark and
concentrated jealousy. He had not yet been able to obtain a glance
from his idol. After a while he left the room with Butscha.
"It is all over!" he said; "she is caught by him; I am more
disagreeable to her, and moreover, she is right. Canalis is charming;
there's intellect in his silence, passion in his eyes, poetry in his
"Is he an honest man?" asked Butscha.
"Oh, yes," replied La Briere. "He is loyal and chivalrous, and capable
of getting rid, under Modeste's influence, of those affectations which
Madame de Chaulieu has taught him."
"You are a fine fellow," said the hunchback; "but is he capable of
loving,--will he love her?"
"I don't know," answered La Briere. "Has she said anything about me?"
he asked after a moment's silence.
"Yes," said Butscha, and he repeated Modeste's speech about disguises.
Poor Ernest flung himself upon a bench and held his head in his hands.
He could not keep back his tears, and he did not wish Butscha to see
them; but the dwarf was the very man to guess his emotion.
"What troubles you?" he asked.
"She is right!" cried Ernest, springing up; "I am a wretch."
And he related the deception into which Canalis had led him when
Modeste's first letter was received, carefully pointing out to Butscha
that he had wished to undeceive the young girl before she herself took
off the mask, and apostrophizing, in rather juvenile fashion, his
luckless destiny. Butscha sympathetically understood the love in the
flavor and vigor of his simple language, and in his deep and genuine
"But why don't you show yourself to Mademoiselle Modeste for what you
are?" he said; "why do you let your rival do his exercises?"
"Have you never felt your throat tighten when you wished to speak to
her?" cried La Briere; "is there never a strange feeling in the roots
of your hair and on the surface of your skin when she looks at you,--
even if she is thinking of something else?"
"But you had sufficient judgment to show displeasure when she as good
as told her excellent father that he was a dolt."
"Monsieur, I love her too well not to have felt a knife in my heart
when I heard her contradicting her own perfections."
"Canalis supported her."
"If she had more self-love than heart there would be nothing for a man
to regret in losing her," answered La Briere.
At this moment, Modeste, followed by Canalis, who had lost the rubber,
came out with her father and Madame Dumay to breathe the fresh air of
the starry night. While his daughter walked about with the poet,
Charles Mignon left her and came up to La Briere.
"Your friend, monsieur, ought to have been a lawyer," he said, smiling
and looking attentively at the young man.
"You must not judge a poet as you would an ordinary man,--as you would
me, for example, Monsieur le comte," said La Briere. "A poet has a
mission. He is obliged by his nature to see the poetry of questions,
just as he expresses that of things. When you think him inconsistent
with himself he is really faithful to his vocation. He is a painter
copying with equal truth a Madonna and a courtesan. Moliere is as true
to nature in his old men as in his young ones, and Moliere's judgment
was assuredly a sound and healthy one. These witty paradoxes might be
dangerous for second-rate minds, but they have no real influence on
the character of great men."
Charles Mignon pressed La Briere's hand.
"That adaptability, however, leads a man to excuse himself in his own
eyes for actions that are diametrically opposed to each other; above
all, in politics."
"Ah, mademoiselle," Canalis was at this moment saying, in a caressing
voice, replying to a roguish remark of Modeste, "do not think that a
multiplicity of emotions can in any way lessen the strength of
feelings. Poets, even more than other men, must needs love with
constancy and faith. You must not be jealous of what is called the
Muse. Happy is the wife of a man whose days are occupied. If you heard
the complaints of women who have to endure the burden of an idle
husband, either a man without duties, or one so rich as to have
nothing to do, you would know that the highest happiness of a Parisian
wife is freedom,--the right to rule in her own home. Now we writers
and men of functions and occupations, we leave the sceptre to our
wives; we cannot descend to the tyranny of little minds; we have
something better to do. If I ever marry,--which I assure you is a
catastrophe very remote at the present moment,--I should wish my wife
to enjoy the same moral freedom that a mistress enjoys, and which is
perhaps the real source of her attraction."
Canalis talked on, displaying the warmth of his fancy and all his
graces, for Modeste's benefit, as he spoke of love, marriage, and the
adoration of women, until Monsieur Mignon, who had rejoined them,
seized the opportunity of a slight pause to take his daughter's arm
and lead her up to Ernest de La Briere, whom he had been advising to
seek an open explanation with her.
"Mademoiselle," said Ernest, in a voice that was scarcely his own, "it
is impossible for me to remain any longer under the weight of your
displeasure. I do not defend myself; I do not seek to justify my
conduct; I desire only to make you see that BEFORE reading your most
flattering letter, addressed to the individual and no longer to the
poet,--the last which you sent to me,--I wished, and I told you in my
note written at Havre that I wished, to correct the error under which
you were acting. All the feelings that I have had the happiness to
express to you are sincere. A hope dawned on me in Paris when your
father told me he was comparatively poor,--but now that all is lost,
now that nothing is left for me but endless regrets, why should I stay
here where all is torture? Let me carry away with me one smile to live
forever in my heart."
"Monsieur," answered Modeste, who seemed cold and absent-minded, "I am
not the mistress of this house; but I certainly should deeply regret
to retain any one where he finds neither pleasure nor happiness."
She left La Briere and took Madame Dumay's arm to re-enter the house.
A few moments later all the actors in this domestic scene reassembled
in the salon, and were a good deal surprised to see Modeste sitting
beside the Duc d'Herouville and coquetting with him like an
accomplished Parisian woman. She watched his play, gave him the advice
he wanted, and found occasion to say flattering things by ranking the
merits of noble birth with those of genius and beauty. Canalis thought
he knew the reason of this change; he had tried to pique Modeste by
calling marriage a catastrophe, and showing that he was aloof from it;
but like others who play with fire, he had burned his fingers.
Modeste's pride and her present disdain frightened him, and he
endeavored to recover his ground, exhibiting a jealousy which was all
the more visible because it was artificial. Modeste, implacable as an
angel, tasted the sweets of power, and, naturally enough, abused it.
The Duc d'Herouville had never known such a happy evening; a woman
smiled on him! At eleven o'clock, an unheard-of hour at the Chalet,
the three suitors took their leave,--the duke thinking Modeste
charming, Canalis believing her excessively coquettish, and La Briere
heart-broken by her cruelty.
For eight days the heiress continued to be to her three lovers very
much what she had been during that evening; so that the poet appeared
to carry the day against his rivals, in spite of certain freaks and
caprices which from time to time gave the Duc d'Herouville a little
hope. The disrespect she showed to her father, and the great liberties
she took with him; her impatience with her blind mother, to whom she
seemed to grudge the little services which had once been the delight
of her filial piety,--seemed the result of a capricious nature and a
heedless gaiety indulged from childhood. When Modeste went too far,
she turned round and openly took herself to task, ascribing her
impertinence and levity to a spirit of independence. She acknowledged
to the duke and Canalis her distaste for obedience, and professed to
regard it as an obstacle to her marriage; thus investigating the
nature of her suitors, after the manner of those who dig into the
earth in search of metals, coal, tufa, or water.
"I shall never," she said, the evening before the day on which the
family were to move into the villa, "find a husband who will put up
with my caprices as my father does; his kindness never flags. I am
sure no one will ever be as indulgent to me as my precious mother."
"They know that you love them, mademoiselle," said La Briere.
"You may be very sure, mademoiselle, that your husband will know the
full value of his treasure," added the duke.
"You have spirit and resolution enough to discipline a husband," cried
Modeste smiled as Henri IV. must have smiled after drawing out the
characters of his three principal ministers, for the benefit of a
foreign ambassador, by means of three answers to an insidious
On the day of the dinner, Modeste, led away by the preference she
bestowed on Canalis, walked alone with him up and down the gravelled
space which lay between the house and the lawn with its flower-beds.
From the gestures of the poet, and the air and manner of the young
heiress, it was easy to see that she was listening favorably to him.
The two demoiselles d'Herouville hastened to interrupt the scandalous
tete-a-tete; and with the natural cleverness of women under such
circumstances, they turned the conversation on the court, and the
distinction of an appointment under the crown,--pointing out the
difference that existed between appointments in the household of the
king and those of the crown. They tried to intoxicate Modeste's mind
by appealing to her pride, and describing one of the highest stations
to which a woman could aspire.
"To have a duke for a son," said the elder lady, "is an actual
advantage. The title is a fortune that we secure to our children
without the possibility of loss."
"How is it, then," said Canalis, displeased at his tete-a-tete being
thus broken in upon, "that Monsieur le duc has had so little success
in a matter where his title would seem to be of special service to
The two ladies cast a look at Canalis as full of venom as the tooth of
a snake, and they were so disconcerted by Modeste's amused smile that
they were actually unable to reply.
"Monsieur le duc has never blamed you," she said to Canalis, "for the
humility with which you bear your fame; why should you attack him for
"Besides, we have never yet met a woman worthy of my nephew's rank,"
said Mademoiselle d'Herouville. "Some had only the wealth of the
position; others, without fortune, had the wit and birth. I must admit
that we have done well to wait till God granted us an opportunity to
meet one in whom we find the noble blood, the mind, and fortune of a
"My dear Modeste," said Helene d'Herouville, leading her new friend
apart, "there are a thousand barons in the kingdom, just as there are
a hundred poets in Paris, who are worth as much as he; he is so little
of a great man that even I, a poor girl forced to take the veil for
want of a 'dot,' I would not take him. You don't know what a young man
is who has been for ten years in the hands of a Duchesse de Chaulieu.
None but an old woman of sixty could put up with the little ailments
of which, they say, the great poet is always complaining,--a habit in
Louis XIV. that became a perfectly insupportable annoyance. It is true
the duchess does not suffer from it as much as a wife, who would have
him always about her."
Then, practising a well-known manoeuvre peculiar to her sex, Helene
d'Herouville repeated in a low voice all the calumnies which women
jealous of the Duchesse de Chaulieu were in the habit of spreading
about the poet. This little incident, common as it is in the
intercourse of women, will serve to show with what fury the hounds
were after Modeste's wealth.
Ten days saw a great change in the opinions at the Chalet as to the
three suitors for Mademoiselle de La Bastie's hand. This change, which
was much to the disadvantage of Canalis, came about through
considerations of a nature which ought to make the holders of any kind
of fame pause, and reflect. No one can deny, if we remember the
passion with which people seek for autographs, that public curiosity
is greatly excited by celebrity. Evidently most provincials never form
an exact idea in their own minds of how illustrious Parisians put on
their cravats, walk on the boulevards, stand gaping at nothing, or eat
a cutlet; because, no sooner do they perceive a man clothed in the
sunbeams of fashion or resplendent with some dignity that is more or
less fugitive (though always envied), than they cry out, "Look at
that!" "How queer!" and other depreciatory exclamations. In a word,
the mysterious charm that attaches to every kind of fame, even that
which is most justly due, never lasts. It is, and especially with
superficial people who are envious or sarcastic, a sensation which
passes off with the rapidity of lightning, and never returns. It would
seem as though fame, like the sun, hot and luminous at a distance, is
cold as the summit of an alp when you approach it. Perhaps man is only
really great to his peers; perhaps the defects inherent in his
constitution disappear sooner to the eyes of his equals than to those
of vulgar admirers. A poet, if he would please in ordinary life, must
put on the fictitious graces of those who are able to make their
insignificances forgotten by charming manners and complying speeches.
The poet of the faubourg Saint-Germain, who did not choose to bow
before this social dictum, was made before long to feel that an
insulting provincial indifference had succeeded to the dazed
fascination of the earlier evenings. The prodigality of his wit and
wisdom had produced upon these worthy souls somewhat the effect which
a shopful of glass-ware produces on the eye; in other words, the fire
and brilliancy of Canalis's eloquence soon wearied people who, to use
their own words, "cared more for the solid."
Forced after a while to behave like an ordinary man, the poet found an
unexpected stumbling-block on ground where La Briere had already won
the suffrage of the worthy people who at first had thought him sulky.
They felt the need of compensating themselves for Canalis's reputation
by preferring his friend. The best of men are influenced by such
feelings as these. The simple and straightforward young fellow jarred
no one's self-love; coming to know him better they discovered his
heart, his modesty, his silent and sure discretion, and his excellent
bearing. The Duc d'Herouville considered him, as a political element,
far above Canalis. The poet, ill-balanced, ambitious, and restless as
Tasso, loved luxury, grandeur, and ran into debt; while the young
lawyer, whose character was equable and well-balanced, lived soberly,
was useful without proclaiming it, awaited rewards without begging for
them, and laid by his money.
Canalis had moreover laid himself open in a special way to the
bourgeois eyes that were watching him. For two or three days he had
shown signs of impatience; he had given way to depression, to states
of melancholy without apparent reason, to those capricious changes of
temper which are the natural results of the nervous temperament of
poets. These originalities (we use the provincial word) came from the
uneasiness that his conduct toward the Duchesse de Chaulieu which grew
daily less explainable, caused him. He knew he ought to write to her,
but could not resolve on doing so. All these fluctuations were
carefully remarked and commented on by the gentle American, and the
excellent Madame Latournelle, and they formed the topic of many a
discussion between these two ladies and Madame Mignon. Canalis felt
the effects of these discussions without being able to explain them.
The attention paid to him was not the same, the faces surrounding him
no longer wore the entranced look of the earlier days; while at the
same time Ernest was evidently gaining ground.
For the last two days the poet had endeavored to fascinate Modeste
only, and he took advantage of every moment when he found himself
alone with her, to weave the web of passionate language around his
love. Modeste's blush, as she listened to him on the occasion we have
just mentioned, showed the demoiselles d'Herouville the pleasure with
which she was listening to sweet conceits that were sweetly said; and
they, horribly uneasy at the sight, had immediate recourse to the
"ultima ratio" of women in such cases, namely, those calumnies which
seldom miss their object. Accordingly, when the party met at the
dinner-table the poet saw a cloud on the brow of his idol; he knew
that Mademoiselle d'Herouville's malignity allowed him to lose no
time, and he resolved to offer himself as a husband at the first
moment when he could find himself alone with Modeste.
Overhearing a few acid though polite remarks exchanged between the
poet and the two noble ladies, Gobenheim nudged Butscha with his
elbow, and said in an undertone, motioning towards the poet and the
"They'll demolish one another!"
"Canalis has genius enough to demolish himself all alone," answered
A RIDDLE GUESSED
During the dinner, which was magnificent and admirably well served,
the duke obtained a signal advantage over Canalis. Modeste, who had
received her habit and other equestrian equipments the night before,
spoke of taking rides about the country. A turn of the conversation
led her to express the wish to see a hunt with hounds, a pleasure she
had never yet enjoyed. The duke at once proposed to arrange a hunt in
one of the crown forests, which lay a few leagues from Havre. Thanks
to his intimacy with the Prince de Cadignan, Master of the Hunt, he
saw his chance of displaying an almost regal pomp before Modeste's
eyes, and alluring her with a glimpse of court fascinations, to which
she could be introduced by marriage. Glances were exchanged between
the duke and the two demoiselles d'Herouville, which plainly said,
"The heiress is ours!" and the poet, who detected them, and who had
nothing but his personal splendors to depend on, determined all the
more firmly to obtain some pledge of affection at once. Modeste, on
the other hand, half-frightened at being thus pushed beyond her
intentions by the d'Herouvilles, walked rather markedly apart with
Melchior, when the company adjourned to the park after dinner. With
the pardonable curiosity of a young girl, she let him suspect the
calumnies which Helene had poured into her ears; but on Canalis's
exclamation of anger, she begged him to keep silence about them, which
"These stabs of the tongue," he said, "are considered fair in the
great world. They shock your upright nature; but as for me, I laugh at
them; I am even pleased. These ladies must feel that the duke's
interests are in great peril, when they have recourse to such
Making the most of the advantage Modeste had thus given him, Canalis
entered upon his defence with such warmth, such eagerness, and with a
passion so exquisitely expressed, as he thanked her for a confidence
in which he could venture to see the dawn of love, that she found
herself suddenly as much compromised with the poet as she feared to be
with the grand equerry. Canalis, feeling the necessity of prompt
action, declared himself plainly. He uttered vows and protestations in
which his poetry shone like a moon, invoked for the occasion, and
illuminating his allusions to the beauty of his mistress and the
charms of her evening dress. This counterfeit enthusiasm, in which the
night, the foliage, the heavens and the earth, and Nature herself
played a part, carried the eager lover beyond all bounds; for he dwelt
on his disinterestedness, and revamped in his own charming style,
Diderot's famous apostrophe to "Sophie and fifteen hundred francs!"
and the well-worn "love in a cottage" of every lover who knows
perfectly well the length of the father-in-law's purse.
"Monsieur," said Modeste, after listening with delight to the melody
of this concerto; "the freedom granted to me by my parents has allowed
me to listen to you; but it is to them that you must address
"But," exclaimed Canalis, "tell me that if I obtain their consent, you
will ask nothing better than to obey them."
"I know beforehand," she replied, "that my father has certain fancies
which may wound the proper pride of an old family like yours. He
wishes to have his own title and name borne by his grandsons."
"Ah! dear Modeste, what sacrifices would I not make to commit my life
to the guardian care of an angel like you."
"You will permit me not to decide in a moment the fate of my whole
life," she said, turning to rejoin the demoiselles d'Herouville.
Those noble ladies were just then engaged in flattering the vanity of
little Latournelle, intending to win him over to their interests.
Mademoiselle d'Herouville, to whom we shall in future confine the
family name, to distinguish her from her niece Helene, was giving the
notary to understand that the post of judge of the Supreme Court in
Havre, which Charles X. would bestow as she desired, was an office
worthy of his legal talent and his well-known probity. Butscha,
meanwhile, who had been walking about with La Briere, was greatly
alarmed at the progress Canalis was evidently making, and he waylaid
Modeste at the lower step of the portico when the whole party returned
to the house to endure the torments of their inevitable whist.
"Mademoiselle," he said, in a low whisper, "I do hope you don't call
"I'm very near it, my Black Dwarf," she said, with a smile that might
have made an angel swear.
"Good God!" exclaimed Butscha, letting fall his hands, which struck
the marble steps.
"Well! and isn't he worth more than that spiteful and gloomy secretary
in whom you take such an interest?" she retorted, assuming, at the
mere thought of Ernest, the haughty manner whose secret belongs
exclusively to young girls,--as if their virginity lent them wings to
fly to heaven. "Pray, would your little La Briere accept me without a
fortune?" she said, after a pause.
"Ask your father," replied Butscha, who walked a few steps from the
house, to get Modeste at a safe distance from the windows. "Listen to
me, mademoiselle. You know that he who speaks to you is ready to give
not only his life but his honor for you, at any moment, and at all
times. Therefore you may believe in him; you can confide to him that
which you may not, perhaps, be willing to say to your father. Tell me,
has that sublime Canalis been making you the disinterested offer that
you now fling as a reproach at poor Ernest?"
"Do you believe it?"
"That question, my manikin," she replied, giving him one of the ten or
a dozen nicknames she had invented for him, "strikes me as
undervaluing the strength of my self-love."
"Ah, you are laughing, my dear Mademoiselle Modeste; then there's no
danger: I hope you are only making a fool of him."
"Pray what would you think of me, Monsieur Butscha, if I allowed
myself to make fun of those who do me the honor to wish to marry me?
You ought to know, master Jean, that even if a girl affects to despise
the most despicable attentions, she is flattered by them."
"Then I flatter you?" said the young man, looking up at her with a
face that was illuminated like a city for a festival.
"You?" she said; "you give me the most precious of all friendships,--a
feeling as disinterested as that of a mother for her child. Compare
yourself to no one; for even my father is obliged to be devoted to
me." She paused. "I cannot say that I love you, in the sense which men
give to that word, but what I do give you is eternal and can know no
"Then," said Butscha, stooping to pick up a pebble that he might kiss
the hem of her garment, "suffer me to watch over you as a dragon
guards a treasure. The poet was covering you just now with the lace-
work of his precious phrases, the tinsel of his promises; he chanted
his love on the best strings of his lyre, I know he did. If, as soon
as this noble lover finds out how small your fortune is, he makes a
sudden change in his behavior, and is cold and embarrassed, will you
still marry him? shall you still esteem him?"
"He would be another Francisque Althor," she said, with a gesture of
"Let me have the pleasure of producing that change of scene," said
Butscha. "Not only shall it be sudden, but I believe I can change it
back and make your poet as loving as before,--nay, it is possible to
make him blow alternately hot and cold upon your heart, just as
gracefully as he has talked on both sides of an argument in one
evening without ever finding it out."
"If you are right," she said, "who can be trusted?"
"One who truly loves you."
"The little duke?"
Butscha looked at Modeste. The pair walked some distance in silence;
the girl was impenetrable and not an eyelash quivered.
"Mademoiselle, permit me to be the exponent of the thoughts that are
lying at the bottom of your heart like sea-mosses under the waves, and
which you do not choose to gather up."
"Eh!" said Modeste, "so my intimate friend and counsellor thinks
himself a mirror, does he?"
"No, an echo," he answered, with a gesture of sublime humility. "The
duke loves you, but he loves you too much. If I, a dwarf, have
understood the infinite delicacy of your heart, it would be repugnant
to you to be worshipped like a saint in her shrine. You are eminently
a woman; you neither want a man perpetually at your feet of whom you
are eternally sure, nor a selfish egoist like Canalis, who will always
prefer himself to you. Why? ah, that I don't know. But I will make
myself a woman, an old woman, and find out the meaning of the plan
which I have read in your eyes, and which perhaps is in the heart of
every girl. Nevertheless, in your great soul you feel the need of
worshipping. When a man is at your knees, you cannot put yourself at
his. You can't advance in that way, as Voltaire might say. The little
duke has too many genuflections in his moral being and the poet has
too few,--indeed, I might say, none at all. Ha, I have guessed the
mischief in your smiles when you talk to the grand equerry, and when
he talks to you and you answer him. You would never be unhappy with
the duke, and everybody will approve your choice, if you do choose
him; but you will never love him. The ice of egotism, and the burning
heat of ecstasy both produce indifference in the heart of every woman.
It is evident to my mind that no such perpetual worship will give you
the infinite delights which you are dreaming of in marriage,--in some
marriage where obedience will be your pride, where noble little
sacrifices can be made and hidden, where the heart is full of
anxieties without a cause, and successes are awaited with eager hope,
where each new chance for magnanimity is hailed with joy, where souls
are comprehended to their inmost recesses, and where the woman
protects with her love the man who protects her."
"You are a sorcerer!" exclaimed Modeste.
"Neither will you find that sweet equality of feeling, that continual
sharing of each other's life, that certainty of pleasing which makes
marriage tolerable, if you take Canalis,--a man who thinks of himself
only, whose 'I' is the one string to his lute, whose mind is so fixed
on himself that he has hitherto taken no notice of your father or the
duke,--a man of second-rate ambitions, to whom your dignity and your
devotion will matter nothing, who will make you a mere appendage to
his household, and who already insults you by his indifference to your
behavior; yes, if you permitted yourself to go so far as to box your
mother's ears Canalis would shut his eyes to it, and deny your crime
even to himself, because he thirsts for your money. And so,
mademoiselle, when I spoke of the man who truly loves you I was not
thinking of the great poet who is nothing but a little comedian, nor
of the duke, who might be a good marriage for you, but never a
"Butscha, my heart is a blank page on which you are yourself writing
all that you read there," cried Modeste, interrupting him. "You are
carried away by your provincial hatred for everything that obliges you
to look higher than your own head. You can't forgive a poet for being
a statesman, for possessing the gift of speech, for having a noble
future before him,--and you calumniate his intentions."
"His!--mademoiselle, he will turn his back upon you with the baseness
of an Althor."
"Make him play that pretty little comedy, and--"
"That I will! he shall play it through and through within three days,
--on Wednesday,--recollect, Wednesday! Until then, mademoiselle, amuse
yourself by listening to the little tunes of the lyre, so that the
discords and the false notes may come out all the more distinctly."
Modeste ran gaily back to the salon, where La Briere, who was sitting
by the window, where he had doubtless been watching his idol, rose to
his feet as if a groom of the chambers had suddenly announced, "The
Queen." It was a movement of spontaneous respect, full of that living
eloquence that lies in gesture even more than in speech. Spoken love
cannot compare with acts of love; and every young girl of twenty has
the wisdom of fifty in applying the axiom. In it lies the great secret
of attraction. Instead of looking Modeste in the face, as Canalis who
paid her public homage would have done, the neglected lover followed
her with a furtive look between his eyelids, humble after the manner
of Butscha, and almost timid. The young heiress observed it, as she
took her place by Canalis, to whose game she proceeded to pay
attention. During a conversation which ensued, La Briere heard Modeste
say to her father that she should ride out for the first time on the
following Wednesday; and she also reminded him that she had no whip in
keeping with her new equipments. The young man flung a lightning
glance at the dwarf, and a few minutes later the two were pacing the
"It is nine o'clock," cried Ernest. "I shall start for Paris at full
gallop; I can get there to-morrow morning by ten. My dear Butscha,
from you she will accept anything, for she is attached to you; let me
give her a riding-whip in your name. If you will do me this immense
kindness, you shall have not only my friendship but my devotion."
"Ah, you are very happy," said Butscha, ruefully; "you have money,
"Tell Canalis not to expect me, and that he must find some pretext to
account for my absence."
An hour later Ernest had ridden out of Havre. He reached Paris in
twelve hours, where his first act was to secure a place in the mail-
coach for Havre on the following evening. Then he went to three of the
chief jewellers in Paris and compared all the whip-handles that they
could offer; he was in search of some artistic treasure that was
regally superb. He found one at last, made by Stidmann for a Russian,
who was unable to pay for it when finished,--a fox-head in gold, with