Part 1 out of 2
Produced by Dagny, and John Bickers
THE COMMISSION IN LUNACY
HONORE DE BALZAC
Dedicated to Monsieur le Contre-Amiral Bazoche,
Governor of the Isle of Bourbon, by the grateful writer.
In 1828, at about one o'clock one morning, two persons came out of
a large house in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, near the
Elysee-Bourbon. One was the famous doctor, Horace Bianchon; the other
was one of the most elegant men in Paris, the Baron de Rastignac;
they were friends of long standing. Each had sent away his carriage,
and no cab was to be seen in the street; but the night was fine, and
the pavement dry.
"We will walk as far as the boulevard," said Eugene de Rastignac to
Bianchon. "You can get a hackney cab at the club; there is always one
to be found there till daybreak. Come with me as far as my house."
"Well, and what have you to say about it?"
"About that woman?" said the doctor coldly.
"There I recognize my Bianchon!" exclaimed Rastignac.
"Well, my dear fellow, you speak of the Marquise d'Espard as if she
were a case for your hospital."
"Do you want to know what I think, Eugene? If you throw over Madame de
Nucingen for this Marquise, you will swap a one-eyed horse for a blind
"Madame de Nucingen is six-and-thirty, Bianchon."
"And this woman is three-and-thirty," said the doctor quickly.
"Her worst enemies only say six-and-twenty."
"My dear boy, when you really want to know a woman's age, look at her
temples and the tip of her nose. Whatever women may achieve with their
cosmetics, they can do nothing against those incorruptible witnesses
to their experiences. There each year of life has left its stigmata.
When a woman's temples are flaccid, seamed, withered in a particular
way; when at the tip of her nose you see those minute specks, which
look like the imperceptible black smuts which are shed in London by
the chimneys in which coal is burnt. . . . Your servant, sir! That
woman is more than thirty. She may be handsome, witty, loving
--whatever you please, but she is past thirty, she is arriving at
maturity. I do not blame men who attach themselves to that kind of
woman; only, a man of your superior distinction must not mistake a
winter pippin for a little summer apple, smiling on the bough, and
waiting for you to crunch it. Love never goes to study the registers
of birth and marriage; no one loves a woman because she is handsome or
ugly, stupid or clever; we love because we love."
"Well, for my part, I love for quite other reasons. She is Marquise
d'Espard; she was a Blamont-Chauvry; she is the fashion; she has soul;
her foot is as pretty as the Duchesse de Berri's; she has perhaps a
hundred thousand francs a year--some day, perhaps, I may marry her! In
short, she will put me into a position which will enable me to pay my
"I thought you were rich," interrupted Bianchon.
"Bah! I have twenty thousand francs a year--just enough to keep up my
stables. I was thoroughly done, my dear fellow, in that Nucingen
business; I will tell you about that.--I have got my sisters married;
that is the clearest profit I can show since we last met; and I would
rather have them provided for than have five hundred thousand francs a
year. No, what would you have me do? I am ambitious. To what can
Madame de Nucingen lead? A year more and I shall be shelved, stuck in
a pigeon-hole like a married man. I have all the discomforts of
marriage and of single life, without the advantages of either; a false
position to which every man must come who remains tied too long to the
"So you think you will come upon a treasure here?" said Bianchon.
"Your Marquise, my dear fellow, does not hit my fancy at all."
"Your liberal opinions blur your eyesight. If Madame d'Espard were a
Madame Rabourdin . . ."
"Listen to me. Noble or simple, she would still have no soul; she
would still be a perfect type of selfishness. Take my word for it,
medical men are accustomed to judge of people and things; the sharpest
of us read the soul while we study the body. In spite of that pretty
boudoir where we have spent this evening, in spite of the magnificence
of the house, it is quite possible that Madame la Marquise is in
"What makes you think so?"
"I do not assert it; I am supposing. She talked of her soul as Louis
XVIII. used to talk of his heart. I tell you this: That fragile, fair
woman, with her chestnut hair, who pities herself that she may be
pitied, enjoys an iron constitution, an appetite like a wolf's, and
the strength and cowardice of a tiger. Gauze, and silk, and muslin
were never more cleverly twisted round a lie! Ecco."
"Bianchon, you frighten me! You have learned a good many things, then,
since we lived in the Maison Vauquer?"
"Yes, since then, my boy, I have seen puppets, both dolls and
manikins. I know something of the ways of the fine ladies whose bodies
we attend to, saving that which is dearest to them, their child--if
they love it--or their pretty faces, which they always worship. A man
spends his nights by their pillow, wearing himself to death to spare
them the slightest loss of beauty in any part; he succeeds, he keeps
their secret like the dead; they send to ask for his bill, and think
it horribly exorbitant. Who saved them? Nature. Far from recommending
him, they speak ill of him, fearing lest he should become the
physician of their best friends.
"My dear fellow, those women of whom you say, 'They are angels!' I
--I--have seen stripped of the little grimaces under which they hide
their soul, as well as of the frippery under which they disguise their
defects--without manners and without stays; they are not beautiful.
"We saw a great deal of mud, a great deal of dirt, under the waters of
the world when we were aground for a time on the shoals of the Maison
Vauquer.--What we saw there was nothing. Since I have gone into high
society, I have seen monsters dressed in satin, Michonneaus in white
gloves, Poirets bedizened with orders, fine gentlemen doing more
usurious business than old Gobseck! To the shame of mankind, when I
have wanted to shake hands with Virtue, I have found her shivering in
a loft, persecuted by calumny, half-starving on a income or a salary
of fifteen hundred francs a year, and regarded as crazy, or eccentric,
"In short, my dear boy, the Marquise is a woman of fashion, and I have
a particular horror of that kind of woman. Do you want to know why? A
woman who has a lofty soul, fine taste, gentle wit, a generously warm
heart, and who lives a simple life, has not a chance of being the
fashion. Ergo: A woman of fashion and a man in power are analogous;
but there is this difference: the qualities by which a man raises
himself above others ennoble him and are a glory to him; whereas the
qualities by which a woman gains power for a day are hideous vices;
she belies her nature to hide her character, and to live the militant
life of the world she must have iron strength under a frail
"I, as a physician, know that a sound stomach excludes a good heart.
Your woman of fashion feels nothing; her rage for pleasure has its
source in a longing to heat up her cold nature, a craving for
excitement and enjoyment, like an old man who stands night after night
by the footlights at the opera. As she has more brain than heart, she
sacrifices genuine passion and true friends to her triumph, as a
general sends his most devoted subalterns to the front in order to win
a battle. The woman of fashion ceases to be a woman; she is neither
mother, nor wife, nor lover. She is, medically speaking, sex in the
brain. And your Marquise, too, has all the characteristics of her
monstrosity, the beak of a bird of prey, the clear, cold eye, the
gentle voice--she is as polished as the steel of a machine, she
touches everything except the heart."
"There is some truth in what you say, Bianchon."
"Some truth?" replied Bianchon. "It is all true. Do you suppose that I
was not struck to the heart by the insulting politeness by which she
made me measure the imaginary distance which her noble birth sets
between us? That I did not feel the deepest pity for her cat-like
civilities when I remembered what her object was? A year hence she
will not write one word to do me the slightest service, and this
evening she pelted me with smiles, believing that I can influence my
uncle Popinot, on whom the success of her case----"
"Would you rather she should have played the fool with you, my dear
fellow?--I accept your diatribe against women of fashion; but you are
beside the mark. I should always prefer for a wife a Marquise d'Espard
to the most devout and devoted creature on earth. Marry an angel! you
would have to go and bury your happiness in the depths of the country!
The wife of a politician is a governing machine, a contrivance that
makes compliments and courtesies. She is the most important and most
faithful tool which an ambitious man can use; a friend, in short, who
may compromise herself without mischief, and whom he may belie without
harmful results. Fancy Mahomet in Paris in the nineteenth century! His
wife would be a Rohan, a Duchesse de Chevreuse of the Fronde, as keen
and as flattering as an Ambassadress, as wily as Figaro. Your loving
wives lead nowhere; a woman of the world leads to everything; she is
the diamond with which a man cuts every window when he has not the
golden key which unlocks every door. Leave humdrum virtues to the
humdrum, ambitious vices to the ambitious.
"Besides, my dear fellow, do you imagine that the love of a Duchesse
de Langeais, or de Maufrigneuse, or of a Lady Dudley does not bestow
immense pleasure? If only you knew how much value the cold, severe
style of such a woman gives to the smallest evidence of their
affection! What a delight it is to see a periwinkle piercing through
the snow! A smile from below a fan contradicts the reserve of an
assumed attitude, and is worth all the unbridled tenderness of your
middle-class women with their mortgaged devotion; for, in love,
devotion is nearly akin to speculation.
"And, then, a woman of fashion, a Blamont-Chauvry, has her virtues
too! Her virtues are fortune, power, effect, a certain contempt of all
that is beneath her----"
"Thank you!" said Bianchon.
"Old curmudgeon!" said Rastignac, laughing. "Come--do not be so
common, do like your friend Desplein; be a Baron, a Knight of
Saint-Michael; become a peer of France, and marry your daughters
"I! May the five hundred thousand devils----"
"Come, come! Can you be superior only in medicine? Really, you
distress me . . ."
"I hate that sort of people; I long for a revolution to deliver us
from them for ever."
"And so, my dear Robespierre of the lancet, you will not go to-morrow
to your uncle Popinot?"
"Yes, I will," said Bianchon; "for you I would go to hell to fetch
water . . ."
"My good friend, you really touch me. I have sworn that a commission
shall sit on the Marquis. Why, here is even a long-saved tear to thank
"But," Bianchon went on, "I do not promise to succeed as you wish with
Jean-Jules Popinot. You do not know him. However, I will take him to
see your Marquise the day after to-morrow; she may get round him if
she can. I doubt it. If all the truffles, all the Duchesses, all the
mistresses, and all the charmers in Paris were there in the full bloom
of their beauty; if the King promised him the /Prairie/, and the
Almighty gave him the Order of Paradise with the revenues of
Purgatory, not one of all these powers would induce him to transfer a
single straw from one saucer of his scales into the other. He is a
judge, as Death is Death."
The two friends had reached the office of the Minister for Foreign
Affairs, at the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines.
"Here you are at home," said Bianchon, laughing, as he pointed to the
ministerial residence. "And here is my carriage," he added, calling a
hackney cab. "And these--express our fortune."
"You will be happy at the bottom of the sea, while I am still
struggling with the tempests on the surface, till I sink and go to ask
you for a corner in your grotto, old fellow!"
"Till Saturday," replied Bianchon.
"Agreed," said Rastignac. "And you promise me Popinot?"
"I will do all my conscience will allow. Perhaps this appeal for a
commission covers some little dramorama, to use a word of our good bad
"Poor Bianchon! he will never be anything but a good fellow," said
Rastignac to himself as the cab drove off.
"Rastignac has given me the most difficult negotiation in the world,"
said Bianchon to himself, remembering, as he rose next morning, the
delicate commission intrusted to him. "However, I have never asked the
smallest service from my uncle in Court, and have paid more than a
thousand visits gratis for him. And, after all, we are not apt to
mince matters between ourselves. He will say Yes or No, and there an
After this little soliloquy the famous physician bent his steps, at
seven in the morning, towards the Rue du Fouarre, where dwelt Monsieur
Jean-Jules Popinot, judge of the Lower Court of the Department of the
Seine. The Rue du Fouarre--an old word meaning straw--was in the
thirteenth century the most important street in Paris. There stood the
Schools of the University, where the voices of Abelard and of Gerson
were heard in the world of learning. It is now one of the dirtiest
streets of the Twelfth Arrondissement, the poorest quarter of Paris,
that in which two-thirds of the population lack firing in winter,
which leaves most brats at the gate of the Foundling Hospital, which
sends most beggars to the poorhouse, most rag-pickers to the street
corners, most decrepit old folks to bask against the walls on which
the sun shines, most delinquents to the police courts.
Half-way down this street, which is always damp, and where the gutter
carries to the Seine the blackened waters from some dye-works, there
is an old house, restored no doubt under Francis I., and built of
bricks held together by a few courses of masonry. That it is
substantial seems proved by the shape of its front wall, not
uncommonly seen in some parts of Paris. It bellies, so to speak, in a
manner caused by the protuberance of its first floor, crushed under
the weight of the second and third, but upheld by the strong wall of
the ground floor. At first sight it would seem as though the piers
between the windows, though strengthened by the stone mullions, must
give way, but the observer presently perceives that, as in the tower
at Bologna, the old bricks and old time-eaten stones of this house
persistently preserve their centre of gravity.
At every season of the year the solid piers of the ground floor have
the yellow tone and the imperceptible sweating surface that moisture
gives to stone. The passer-by feels chilled as he walks close to this
wall, where worn corner-stones ineffectually shelter him from the
wheels of vehicles. As is always the case in houses built before
carriages were in use, the vault of the doorway forms a very low
archway not unlike the barbican of a prison. To the right of this
entrance there are three windows, protected outside by iron gratings
of so close a pattern, that the curious cannot possibly see the use
made of the dark, damp rooms within, and the panes too are dirty and
dusty; to the left are two similar windows, one of which is sometimes
open, exposing to view the porter, his wife, and his children;
swarming, working, cooking, eating, and screaming, in a floored and
wainscoted room where everything is dropping to pieces, and into which
you descend two steps--a depth which seems to suggest the gradual
elevation of the soil of Paris.
If on a rainy day some foot-passenger takes refuge under the long
vault, with projecting lime-washed beams, which leads from the door to
the staircase, he will hardly fail to pause and look at the picture
presented by the interior of this house. To the left is a square
garden-plot, allowing of not more than four long steps in each
direction, a garden of black soil, with trellises bereft of vines, and
where, in default of vegetation under the shade of two trees, papers
collect, old rags, potsherds, bits of mortar fallen from the roof; a
barren ground, where time has shed on the walls, and on the trunks and
branches of the trees, a powdery deposit like cold soot. The two parts
of the house, set at a right angle, derive light from this
garden-court shut in by two adjoining houses built on wooden piers,
decrepit and ready to fall, where on each floor some grotesque evidence
is to be seen of the craft pursued by some lodger within. Here long
poles are hung with immense skeins of dyed worsted put out to dry;
there, on ropes, dance clean-washed shirts; higher up, on a shelf,
volumes display their freshly marbled edges; women sing, husbands
whistle, children shout; the carpenter saws his planks, a copper-turner
makes the metal screech; all kinds of industries combine to produce a
noise which the number of instruments renders distracting.
The general system of decoration in this passage, which is neither
courtyard, garden, nor vaulted way, though a little of all, consists
of wooden pillars resting on square stone blocks, and forming arches.
Two archways open on to the little garden; two others, facing the
front gateway, lead to a wooden staircase, with an iron balustrade
that was once a miracle of smith's work, so whimsical are the shapes
given to the metal; the worn steps creak under every tread. The
entrance to each flat has an architrave dark with dirt, grease, and
dust, and outer doors, covered with Utrecht velvet set with brass
nails, once gilt, in a diamond pattern. These relics of splendor show
that in the time of Louis XIV. the house was the residence of some
councillor to the Parlement, some rich priests, or some treasurer of
the ecclesiastical revenue. But these vestiges of former luxury bring
a smile to the lips by the artless contrast of past and present.
M. Jean-Jules Popinot lived on the first floor of this house, where
the gloom, natural to all first floors in Paris houses, was increased
by the narrowness of the street. This old tenement was known to all
the twelfth arrondissement, on which Providence had bestowed this
lawyer, as it gives a beneficent plant to cure or alleviate every
malady. Here is a sketch of a man whom the brilliant Marquise d'Espard
hoped to fascinate.
M. Popinot, as is seemly for a magistrate, was always dressed in black
--a style which contributed to make him ridiculous in the eyes of
those who were in the habit of judging everything from a superficial
examination. Men who are jealous of maintaining the dignity required
by this color ought to devote themselves to constant and minute care
of their person; but our dear M. Popinot was incapable of forcing
himself to the puritanical cleanliness which black demands. His
trousers, always threadbare, looked like camlet--the stuff of which
attorneys' gowns are made; and his habitual stoop set them, in time,
in such innumerable creases, that in places they were traced with
lines, whitish, rusty, or shiny, betraying either sordid avarice, or
the most unheeding poverty. His coarse worsted stockings were twisted
anyhow in his ill-shaped shoes. His linen had the tawny tinge acquired
by long sojourn in a wardrobe, showing that the late lamented Madame
Popinot had had a mania for much linen; in the Flemish fashion,
perhaps, she had given herself the trouble of a great wash no more
than twice a year. The old man's coat and waistcoat were in harmony
with his trousers, shoes, stockings, and linen. He always had the luck
of his carelessness; for, the first day he put on a new coat, he
unfailingly matched it with the rest of his costume by staining it
with incredible promptitude. The good man waited till his housekeeper
told him that his hat was too shabby before buying a new one. His
necktie was always crumpled and starchless, and he never set his
dog-eared shirt collar straight after his judge's bands had disordered
it. He took no care of his gray hair, and shaved but twice a week. He
never wore gloves, and generally kept his hands stuffed into his empty
trousers' pockets; the soiled pocket-holes, almost always torn, added
a final touch to the slovenliness of his person.
Any one who knows the Palais de Justice at Paris, where every variety
of black attire may be studied, can easily imagine the appearance of
M. Popinot. The habit of sitting for days at a time modifies the
structure of the body, just as the fatigue of hearing interminable
pleadings tells on the expression of a magistrate's face. Shut up as
he is in courts ridiculously small, devoid of architectural dignity,
and where the air is quickly vitiated, a Paris judge inevitably
acquires a countenance puckered and seamed by reflection, and
depressed by weariness; his complexion turns pallid, acquiring an
earthy or greenish hue according to his individual temperament. In
short, within a given time the most blooming young man is turned into
an "inasmuch" machine--an instrument which applies the Code to
individual cases with the indifference of clockwork.
Hence, nature, having bestowed on M. Popinot a not too pleasing
exterior, his life as a lawyer had not improved it. His frame was
graceless and angular. His thick knees, huge feet, and broad hands
formed a contrast with a priest-like face having a vague resemblance
to a calf's head, meek to unmeaningness, and but little brightened by
divergent bloodless eyes, divided by a straight flat nose, surmounted
by a flat forehead, flanked by enormous ears, flabby and graceless.
His thin, weak hair showed the baldness through various irregular
One feature only commended this face to the physiognomist. This man
had a mouth to whose lips divine kindness lent its sweetness. They
were wholesome, full, red lips, finely wrinkled, sinuous, mobile, by
which nature had given expression to noble feelings; lips which spoke
to the heart and proclaimed the man's intelligence and lucidity, a
gift of second-sight, and a heavenly temper; and you would have judged
him wrongly from looking merely at his sloping forehead, his fireless
eyes, and his shambling gait. His life answered to his countenance; it
was full of secret labor, and hid the virtue of a saint. His superior
knowledge of law proved so strong a recommendation at a time when
Napoleon was reorganizing it in 1808 and 1811, that, by the advice of
Cambaceres, he was one of the first men named to sit on the Imperial
High Court of Justice at Paris. Popinot was no schemer. Whenever any
demand was made, any request preferred for an appointment, the
Minister would overlook Popinot, who never set foot in the house of
the High Chancellor or the Chief Justice. From the High Court he was
sent down to the Common Court, and pushed to the lowest rung of the
ladder by active struggling men. There he was appointed supernumerary
judge. There was a general outcry among the lawyers: "Popinot a
supernumerary!" Such injustice struck the legal world with dismay--the
attorneys, the registrars, everybody but Popinot himself, who made no
complaint. The first clamor over, everybody was satisfied that all was
for the best in the best of all possible worlds, which must certainly
be the legal world. Popinot remained supernumerary judge till the day
when the most famous Great Seal under the Restoration avenged the
oversights heaped on this modest and uncomplaining man by the Chief
Justices of the Empire. After being a supernumerary for twelve years,
M. Popinot would no doubt die a puisne judge of the Court of the
To account for the obscure fortunes of one of the superior men of the
legal profession, it is necessary to enter here into some details
which will serve to reveal his life and character, and which will, at
the same time, display some of the wheels of the great machine known
as Justice. M. Popinot was classed by the three Presidents who
successively controlled the Court of the Seine under the category of
possible judges, the stuff of which judges are made. Thus classified,
he did not achieve the reputation for capacity which his previous
labors had deserved. Just as a painter is invariably included in a
category as a landscape painter, a portrait painter, a painter of
history, of sea pieces, or of genre, by a public consisting of
artists, connoisseurs, and simpletons, who, out of envy, or critical
omnipotence, or prejudice, fence in his intellect, assuming, one and
all, that there are ganglions in every brain--a narrow judgment which
the world applies to writers, to statesmen, to everybody who begins
with some specialty before being hailed as omniscient; so Popinot's
fate was sealed, and he was hedged round to do a particular kind of
work. Magistrates, attorneys, pleaders, all who pasture on the legal
common, distinguish two elements in every case--law and equity. Equity
is the outcome of facts, law is the application of principles to
facts. A man may be right in equity but wrong in law, without any
blame to the judge. Between his conscience and the facts there is a
whole gulf of determining reasons unknown to the judge, but which
condemn or legitimatize the act. A judge is not God; the duty is to
adapt facts to principles, to judge cases of infinite variety while
measuring them by a fixed standard.
France employs about six thousand judges; no generation has six
thousand great men at her command, much less can she find them in the
legal profession. Popinot, in the midst of the civilization of Paris,
was just a very clever cadi, who, by the character of his mind, and by
dint of rubbing the letter of the law into the essence of facts, had
learned to see the error of spontaneous and violent decisions. By the
help of his judicial second-sight he could pierce the double casing of
lies in which advocates hide the heart of a trial. He was a judge, as
the great Desplein was a surgeon; he probed men's consciences as the
anatomist probed their bodies. His life and habits had led him to an
exact appreciation of their most secret thoughts by a thorough study
He sifted a case as Cuvier sifted the earth's crust. Like that great
thinker, he proceeded from deduction to deduction before drawing his
conclusions, and reconstructed the past career of a conscience as
Cuvier reconstructed an Anoplotherium. When considering a brief he
would often wake in the night, startled by a gleam of truth suddenly
sparkling in his brain. Struck by the deep injustice, which is the end
of these contests, in which everything is against the honest man,
everything to the advantage of the rogue, he often summed up in favor
of equity against law in such cases as bore on questions of what may
be termed divination. Hence he was regarded by his colleagues as a man
not of a practical mind; his arguments on two lines of deduction made
their deliberations lengthy. When Popinot observed their dislike to
listening to him he gave his opinion briefly; it was said that he was
not a good judge in this class of cases; but as his gift of
discrimination was remarkable, his opinion lucid, and his penetration
profound, he was considered to have a special aptitude for the
laborious duties of an examining judge. So an examining judge he
remained during the greater part of his legal career.
Although his qualifications made him eminently fitted for its
difficult functions, and he had the reputation of being so learned in
criminal law that his duty was a pleasure to him, the kindness of his
heart constantly kept him in torture, and he was nipped as in a vise
between his conscience and his pity. The services of an examining
judge are better paid than those of a judge in civil actions, but they
do not therefore prove a temptation; they are too onerous. Popinot, a
man of modest and virtuous learning, without ambition, an
indefatigable worker, never complained of his fate; he sacrificed his
tastes and his compassionate soul to the public good, and allowed
himself to be transported to the noisome pools of criminal
examinations, where he showed himself alike severe and beneficent. His
clerk sometimes would give the accused some money to buy tobacco, or a
warm winter garment, as he led him back from the judge's office to the
Souriciere, the mouse-trap--the House of Detention where the accused
are kept under the orders of the Examining Judge. He knew how to be an
inflexible judge and a charitable man. And no one extracted a
confession so easily as he without having recourse to judicial
trickery. He had, too, all the acumen of an observer. This man,
apparently so foolishly good-natured, simple, and absent-minded, could
guess all the cunning of a prison wag, unmask the astutest street
huzzy, and subdue a scoundrel. Unusual circumstances had sharpened his
perspicacity; but to relate these we must intrude on his domestic
history, for in him the judge was the social side of the man; another
man, greater and less known, existed within.
Twelve years before the beginning of this story, in 1816, during the
terrible scarcity which coincided disastrously with the stay in France
of the so-called Allies, Popinot was appointed President of the
Commission Extraordinary formed to distribute food to the poor of his
neighborhood, just when he had planned to move from the Rue du
Fouarre, which he as little liked to live in as his wife did. The
great lawyer, the clear-sighted criminal judge, whose superiority
seemed to his colleagues a form of aberration, had for five years been
watching legal results without seeing their causes. As he scrambled up
into the lofts, as he saw the poverty, as he studied the desperate
necessities which gradually bring the poor to criminal acts, as he
estimated their long struggles, compassion filled his soul. The judge
then became the Saint Vincent de Paul of these grown-up children,
these suffering toilers. The transformation was not immediately
complete. Beneficence has its temptations as vice has. Charity
consumes a saint's purse, as roulette consumes the possessions of a
gambler, quite gradually. Popinot went from misery to misery, from
charity to charity; then, by the time he had lifted all the rags which
cover public pauperism, like a bandage under which an inflamed wound
lies festering, at the end of a year he had become the Providence
incarnate of that quarter of the town. He was a member of the
Benevolent Committee and of the Charity Organization. Wherever any
gratuitous services were needed he was ready, and did everything
without fuss, like the man with the short cloak, who spends his life
in carrying soup round the markets and other places where there are
Popinot was fortunate in acting on a larger circle and in a higher
sphere; he had an eye on everything, he prevented crime, he gave work
to the unemployed, he found a refuge for the helpless, he distributed
aid with discernment wherever danger threatened, he made himself the
counselor of the widow, the protector of homeless children, the
sleeping partner of small traders. No one at the Courts, no one in
Paris, knew of this secret life of Popinot's. There are virtues so
splendid that they necessitate obscurity; men make haste to hide them
under a bushel. As to those whom the lawyer succored, they, hard at
work all day and tired at night, were little able to sing his praises;
theirs was the gracelessness of children, who can never pay because
they owe too much. There is such compulsory ingratitude; but what
heart that has sown good to reap gratitude can think itself great?
By the end of the second year of his apostolic work, Popinot had
turned the storeroom at the bottom of his house into a parlor, lighted
by the three iron-barred windows. The walls and ceiling of this
spacious room were whitewashed, and the furniture consisted of wooden
benches like those seen in schools, a clumsy cupboard, a walnut-wood
writing-table, and an armchair. In the cupboard were his registers of
donations, his tickets for orders for bread, and his diary. He kept
his ledger like a tradesman, that he might not be ruined by kindness.
All the sorrows of the neighborhood were entered and numbered in a
book, where each had its little account, as merchants' customers have
theirs. When there was any question as to a man or a family needing
help, the lawyer could always command information from the police.
Lavienne, a man made for his master, was his aide-de-camp. He redeemed
or renewed pawn-tickets, and visited the districts most threatened
with famine, while his master was in court.
From four till seven in the morning in summer, from six till nine in
winter, this room was full of women, children, and paupers, while
Popinot gave audience. There was no need for a stove in winter; the
crowd was so dense that the air was warmed; only, Lavienne strewed
straw on the wet floor. By long use the benches were as polished as
varnished mahogany; at the height of a man's shoulders the wall had a
coat of dark, indescribable color, given to it by the rags and
tattered clothes of these poor creatures. The poor wretches loved
Popinot so well that when they assembled before his door was opened,
before daybreak on a winter's morning, the women warming themselves
with their foot-brasiers, the men swinging their arms for circulation,
never a sound had disturbed his sleep. Rag-pickers and other toilers
of the night knew the house, and often saw a light burning in the
lawyer's private room at unholy hours. Even thieves, as they passed
by, said, "That is his house," and respected it. The morning he gave
to the poor, the mid-day hours to criminals, the evening to law work.
Thus the gift of observation that characterized Popinot was
necessarily bifrons; he could guess the virtues of a pauper--good
feelings nipped, fine actions in embryo, unrecognized self-sacrifice,
just as he could read at the bottom of a man's conscience the faintest
outlines of a crime, the slenderest threads of wrongdoing, and infer
all the rest.
Popinot's inherited fortune was a thousand crowns a year. His wife,
sister to M. Bianchon /Senior/, a doctor at Sancerre, had brought him
about twice as much. She, dying five years since, had left her fortune
to her husband. As the salary of a supernumerary judge is not large,
and Popinot had been a fully salaried judge only for four years, we
may guess his reasons for parsimony in all that concerned his person
and mode of life, when we consider how small his means were and how
great his beneficence. Besides, is not such indifference to dress as
stamped Popinot an absent-minded man, a distinguishing mark of
scientific attainment, of art passionately pursued, of a perpetually
active mind? To complete this portrait, it will be enough to add that
Popinot was one of the few judges of the Court of the Seine on whom
the ribbon of the Legion of Honor had not been conferred.
Such was the man who had been instructed by the President of the
Second Chamber of the Court--to which Popinot had belonged since his
reinstatement among the judges in civil law--to examine the Marquis
d'Espard at the request of his wife, who sued for a Commission in
The Rue du Fouarre, where so many unhappy wretches swarmed in the
early morning, would be deserted by nine o'clock, and as gloomy and
squalid as ever. Bianchon put his horse to a trot in order to find his
uncle in the midst of his business. It was not without a smile that he
thought of the curious contrast the judge's appearance would make in
Madame d'Espard's room; but he promised himself that he would persuade
him to dress in a way that should not be too ridiculous.
"If only my uncle happens to have a new coat!" said Bianchon to
himself, as he turned into the Rue du Fouarre, where a pale light
shone from the parlor windows. "I shall do well, I believe, to talk
that over with Lavienne."
At the sound of wheels half a score of startled paupers came out from
under the gateway, and took off their hats on recognizing Bianchon;
for the doctor, who treated gratuitously the sick recommended to him
by the lawyer, was not less well known than he to the poor creatures
Bianchon found his uncle in the middle of the parlor, where the
benches were occupied by patients presenting such grotesque
singularities of costume as would have made the least artistic
passer-by turn round to gaze at them. A draughtsman--a Rembrandt, if
there were one in our day--might have conceived of one of his finest
compositions from seeing these children of misery, in artless
attitudes, and all silent.
Here was the rugged countenance of an old man with a white beard and
an apostolic head--a Saint Peter ready to hand; his chest, partly
uncovered, showed salient muscles, the evidence of an iron
constitution which had served him as a fulcrum to resist a whole poem
of sorrows. There a young woman was suckling her youngest-born to keep
it from crying, while another of about five stood between her knees.
Her white bosom, gleaming amid rags, the baby with its transparent
flesh-tints, and the brother, whose attitude promised a street arab in
the future, touched the fancy with pathos by its almost graceful
contrast with the long row of faces crimson with cold, in the midst of
which sat this family group. Further away, an old woman, pale and
rigid, had the repulsive look of rebellious pauperism, eager to avenge
all its past woes in one day of violence.
There, again, was the young workman, weakly and indolent, whose
brightly intelligent eye revealed fine faculties crushed by necessity
struggled with in vain, saying nothing of his sufferings, and nearly
dead for lack of an opportunity to squeeze between the bars of the
vast stews where the wretched swim round and round and devour each
The majority were women; their husbands, gone to their work, left it
to them, no doubt, to plead the cause of the family with the ingenuity
which characterizes the woman of the people, who is almost always
queen in her hovel. You would have seen a torn bandana on every head,
on every form a skirt deep in mud, ragged kerchiefs, worn and dirty
jackets, but eyes that burnt like live coals. It was a horrible
assemblage, raising at first sight a feeling of disgust, but giving a
certain sense of terror the instant you perceived that the resignation
of these souls, all engaged in the struggle for every necessary of
life, was purely fortuitous, a speculation on benevolence. The two
tallow candles which lighted the parlor flickered in a sort of fog
caused by the fetid atmosphere of the ill-ventilated room.
The magistrate himself was not the least picturesque figure in the
midst of this assembly. He had on his head a rusty cotton night-cap;
as he had no cravat, his neck was visible, red with cold and wrinkled,
in contrast with the threadbare collar of his old dressing-gown. His
worn face had the half-stupid look that comes of absorbed attention.
His lips, like those of all men who work, were puckered up like a bag
with the strings drawn tight. His knitted brows seemed to bear the
burden of all the sorrows confided to him: he felt, analyzed, and
judged them all. As watchful as a Jew money-lender, he never raised
his eyes from his books and registers but to look into the very heart
of the persons he was examining, with the flashing glance by which a
miser expresses his alarm.
Lavienne, standing behind his master, ready to carry out his orders,
served no doubt as a sort of police, and welcomed newcomers by
encouraging them to get over their shyness. When the doctor appeared
there was a stir on the benches. Lavienne turned his head, and was
strangely surprised to see Bianchon.
"Ah! It is you, old boy!" exclaimed Popinot, stretching himself. "What
brings you so early?"
"I was afraid lest you should make an official visit about which I
wish to speak to you before I could see you."
"Well," said the lawyer, addressing a stout little woman who was still
standing close to him, "if you do not tell me what it is you want, I
cannot guess it, child."
"Make haste," said Lavienne. "Do not waste other people's time."
"Monsieur," said the woman at last, turning red, and speaking so low
as only to be heard by Popinot and Lavienne, "I have a green-grocery
truck, and I have my last baby to nurse, and I owe for his keep. Well,
I had hidden my little bit of money----"
"Yes; and your man took it?" said Popinot, guessing the sequel.
"What is your name?"
"And your husband's?"
"Rue du Petit-Banquier?" said Popinot, turning over his register. "He
is in prison," he added, reading a note at the margin of the section
in which this family was described.
"For debt, my kind monsieur."
Popinot shook his head.
"But I have nothing to buy any stock for my truck; the landlord came
yesterday and made me pay up; otherwise I should have been turned
Lavienne bent over his master, and whispered in his ear.
"Well, how much do you want to buy fruit in the market?"
"Why, my good monsieur, to carry on my business, I should want--Yes, I
should certainly want ten francs."
Popinot signed to Lavienne, who took ten francs out of a large bag,
and handed them to the woman, while the lawyer made a note of the loan
in his ledger. As he saw the thrill of delight that made the poor
hawker tremble, Bianchon understood the apprehensions that must have
agitated her on her way to the lawyer's house.
"You next," said Lavienne to the old man with the white beard.
Bianchon drew the servant aside, and asked him how long this audience
"Monsieur has had two hundred persons this morning, and there are
eight to be turned off," said Lavienne. "You will have time to pay
your early visit, sir."
"Here, my boy," said the lawyer, turning round and taking Horace by
the arm; "here are two addresses near this--one in the Rue de Seine,
and the other in the Rue de l'Arbalete. Go there at once. Rue de
Seine, a young girl has just asphyxiated herself; and Rue de
l'Arbalete, you will find a man to remove to your hospital. I will
wait breakfast for you."
Bianchon returned an hour later. The Rue du Fouarre was deserted; day
was beginning to dawn there; his uncle had gone up to his rooms; the
last poor wretch whose misery the judge had relieved was departing,
and Lavienne's money bag was empty.
"Well, how are they going on?" asked the old lawyer, as the doctor
"The man is dead," replied Bianchon; "the girl will get over it."
Since the eye and hand of a woman had been lacking, the flat in which
Popinot lived had assumed an aspect in harmony with its master's. The
indifference of a man who is absorbed in one dominant idea had set its
stamp of eccentricity on everything. Everywhere lay unconquerable
dust, every object was adapted to a wrong purpose with a pertinacity
suggestive of a bachelor's home. There were papers in the flower
vases, empty ink-bottles on the tables, plates that had been
forgotten, matches used as tapers for a minute when something had to
be found, drawers or boxes half-turned out and left unfinished; in
short, all the confusion and vacancies resulting from plans for order
never carried out. The lawyer's private room, especially disordered by
this incessant rummage, bore witness to his unresting pace, the hurry
of a man overwhelmed with business, hunted by contradictory
necessities. The bookcase looked as if it had been sacked; there were
books scattered over everything, some piled up open, one on another,
others on the floor face downwards; registers of proceedings laid on
the floor in rows, lengthwise, in front of the shelves; and that floor
had not been polished for two years.
The tables and shelves were covered with ex votos, the offerings of
the grateful poor. On a pair of blue glass jars which ornamented the
chimney-shelf there were two glass balls, of which the core was made
up of many-colored fragments, giving them the appearance of some
singular natural product. Against the wall hung frames of artificial
flowers, and decorations in which Popinot's initials were surrounded
by hearts and everlasting flowers. Here were boxes of elaborate and
useless cabinet work; there letter-weights carved in the style of work
done by convicts in penal servitude. These masterpieces of patience,
enigmas of gratitude, and withered bouquets gave the lawyer's room the
appearance of a toyshop. The good man used these works of art as
hiding-places which he filled with bills, worn-out pens, and scraps of
paper. All these pathetic witnesses to his divine charity were thick
with dust, dingy, and faded.
Some birds, beautifully stuffed, but eaten by moth, perched in this
wilderness of trumpery, presided over by an Angora cat, Madame
Popinot's pet, restored to her no doubt with all the graces of life by
some impecunious naturalist, who thus repaid a gift of charity with a
perennial treasure. Some local artist whose heart had misguided his
brush had painted portraits of M. and Madame Popinot. Even in the
bedroom there were embroidered pin-cushions, landscapes in
cross-stitch, and crosses in folded paper, so elaborately cockled as to
show the senseless labor they had cost.
The window-curtains were black with smoke, and the hangings absolutely
colorless. Between the fireplace and the large square table at which
the magistrate worked, the cook had set two cups of coffee on a small
table, and two armchairs, in mahogany and horsehair, awaited the uncle
and nephew. As daylight, darkened by the windows, could not penetrate
to this corner, the cook had left two dips burning, whose unsnuffed
wicks showed a sort of mushroom growth, giving the red light which
promises length of life to the candle from slowness of combustion--a
discovery due to some miser.
"My dear uncle, you ought to wrap yourself more warmly when you go
down to that parlor."
"I cannot bear to keep them waiting, poor souls!--Well, and what do
you want of me?"
"I have come to ask you to dine to-morrow with the Marquise d'Espard."
"A relation of ours?" asked Popinot, with such genuine absence of mind
that Bianchon laughed.
"No, uncle; the Marquise d'Espard is a high and puissant lady, who has
laid before the Courts a petition desiring that a Commission in Lunacy
should sit on her husband, and you are appointed----"
"And you want me to dine with her! Are you mad?" said the lawyer,
taking up the code of proceedings. "Here, only read this article,
prohibiting any magistrate's eating or drinking in the house of either
of two parties whom he is called upon to decide between. Let her come
and see me, your Marquise, if she has anything to say to me. I was, in
fact, to go to examine her husband to-morrow, after working the case
He rose, took up a packet of papers that lay under a weight where he
could see it, and after reading the title, he said:
"Here is the affidavit. Since you take an interest in this high and
puissant lady, let us see what she wants."
Popinot wrapped his dressing-gown across his body, from which it was
constantly slipping and leaving his chest bare; he sopped his bread in
the half-cold coffee, and opened the petition, which he read, allowing
himself to throw in a parenthesis now and then, and some discussions,
in which his nephew took part:--
"'To Monsieur the President of the Civil Tribunal of the Lower Court
of the Department of the Seine, sitting at the Palais de Justice.
"'Madame Jeanne Clementine Athenais de Blamont-Chauvry, wife of M.
Charles Maurice Marie Andoche, Comte de Negrepelisse, Marquis
d'Espard'--a very good family--'landowner, the said Mme. d'Espard
living in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore, No. 104, and the said M.
d'Espard in the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve, No. 22,'--to be
sure, the President told me he lived in this part of the town--'having
for her solicitor Maitre Desroches'--Desroches! a pettifogging jobber,
a man looked down upon by his brother lawyers, and who does his
clients no good--"
"Poor fellow!" said Bianchon, "unluckily he has no money, and he
rushes round like the devil in holy water--That is all."
"'Has the honor to submit to you, Monsieur the President, that for a
year past the moral and intellectual powers of her husband, M.
d'Espard, have undergone so serious a change, that at the present day
they have reached the state of dementia and idiocy provided for by
Article 448 of the Civil Code, and require the application of the
remedies set forth by that article, for the security of his fortune
and his person, and to guard the interest of his children whom he
keeps to live with him.
"'That, in point of fact, the mental condition of M. d'Espard, which
for some years has given grounds for alarm based on the system he has
pursued in the management of his affairs, has reached, during the last
twelvemonth, a deplorable depth of depression; that his infirm will
was the first thing to show the results of the malady; and that its
effete state leaves M. the Marquis d'Espard exposed to all the perils
of his incompetency, as is proved by the following facts:
"'For a long time all the income accruing from M. d'Espard's estates
are paid, without any reasonable cause, or even temporary advantage,
into the hands of an old woman, whose repulsive ugliness is generally
remarked on, named Madame Jeanrenaud, living sometimes in Paris, Rue
de la Vrilliere, No. 8, sometimes at Villeparisis, near Claye, in the
Department of Seine et Marne, and for the benefit of her son, aged
thirty-six, an officer in the ex-Imperial Guards, whom the Marquis
d'Espard has placed by his influence in the King's Guards, as Major in
the First Regiment of Cuirassiers. These two persons, who in 1814 were
in extreme poverty, have since then purchased house-property of
considerable value; among other items, quite recently, a large house
in the Grand Rue Verte, where the said Jeanrenaud is laying out
considerable sums in order to settle there with the woman Jeanrenaud,
intending to marry: these sums amount already to more than a hundred
thousand francs. The marriage has been arranged by the intervention of
M. d'Espard with his banker, one Mongenod, whose niece he has asked in
marriage for the said Jeanrenaud, promising to use his influence to
procure him the title and dignity of baron. This has in fact been
secured by His Majesty's letters patent, dated December 29th of last
year, at the request of the Marquis d'Espard, as can be proved by His
Excellency the Keeper of the Seals, if the Court should think proper
to require his testimony.
"'That no reason, not even such as morality and the law would concur
in disapproving, can justify the influence which the said Mme.
Jeanrenaud exerts over M. d'Espard, who, indeed, sees her very seldom;
nor account for his strange affection for the said Baron Jeanrenaud,
Major with whom he has but little intercourse. And yet their power is
so considerable, that whenever they need money, if only to gratify a
mere whim, this lady, or her son----' Heh, heh! /No reason even such as
morality and the law concur in disapproving!/ What does the clerk or
the attorney mean to insinuate?" said Popinot.
"'This lady, or her son, obtain whatever they ask of the Marquis
d'Espard without demur; and if he has not ready money, M. d'Espard
draws bills to be paid by the said Mongenod, who has offered to give
evidence to that effect for the petitioner.
"'That, moreover, in further proof of these facts, lately, on the
occasion of the renewal of the leases on the Espard estate, the
farmers having paid a considerable premium for the renewal of their
leases on the old terms, M. Jeanrenaud at once secured the payment of
it into his own hands.
"'That the Marquis d'Espard parts with these sums of money so little
of his own free-will, that when he was spoken to on the subject he
seemed to remember nothing of the matter; that whenever anybody of any
weight has questioned him as to his devotion to these two persons, his
replies have shown so complete an absence of ideas and of sense of his
own interests, that there obviously must be some occult cause at work
to which the petitioner begs to direct the eye of justice, inasmuch as
it is impossible but that this cause should be criminal, malignant,
and wrongful, or else of a nature to come under medical jurisdiction;
unless this influence is of the kind which constitutes an abuse of
moral power--such as can only be described by the word /possession/
----'The devil!" exclaimed Popinot. "What do you say to that, doctor.
These are strange statements."
"They might certainly," said Bianchon, "be an effect of magnetic
"Then do you believe in Mesmer's nonsense, and his tub, and seeing
"Yes, uncle," said the doctor gravely. "As I heard you read that
petition I thought of that. I assure you that I have verified, in
another sphere of action, several analogous facts proving the
unlimited influence one man may acquire over another. In contradiction
to the opinion of my brethren, I am perfectly convinced of the power
of the will regarded as a motor force. All collusion and charlatanism
apart, I have seen the results of such a possession. Actions promised
during sleep by a magnetized patient to the magnetizer have been
scrupulously performed on waking. The will of one had become the will
of the other."
"Every kind of action?"
"Even a criminal act?"
"Even a crime."
"If it were not from you, I would not listen to such a thing."
"I will make you witness it," said Bianchon.
"Hm, hm," muttered the lawyer. "But supposing that this so-called
possession fell under this class of facts, it would be difficult to
prove it as legal evidence."
"If this woman Jeanrenaud is so hideously old and ugly, I do not see
what other means of fascination she can have used," observed Bianchon.
"But," observed the lawyer, "in 1814, the time at which this
fascination is supposed to have taken place, this woman was fourteen
years younger; if she had been connected with M. d'Espard ten years
before that, these calculations take us back four-and-twenty years, to
a time when the lady may have been young and pretty, and have won for
herself and her son a power over M. d'Espard which some men do not
know how to evade. Though the source of this power is reprehensible in
the sight of justice, it is justifiable in the eye of nature. Madame
Jeanrenaud may have been aggrieved by the marriage, contracted
probably at about that time, between the Marquis d'Espard and
Mademoiselle de Blamont-Chauvry, and at the bottom of all this there
may be nothing more than the rivalry of two women, since the Marquis
had for a long time lived apart from Mme. d'Espard."
"But her repulsive ugliness, uncle?"
"Power of fascination is in direct proportion to ugliness," said the
lawyer; "that is the old story. And then think of the smallpox,
doctor. But to proceed.
"'That so long ago as in 1815, in order to supply the sums of money
required by these two persons, the Marquis d'Espard went with his two
children to live in the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve, in rooms
quite unworthy of his name and rank'--well, we may live as we please
--'that he keeps his two children there, the Comte Clement d'Espard
and Vicomte Camille d'Espard, in a style of living quite unsuited to
their future prospects, their name and fortune; that he often wants
money, to such a point, that not long since the landlord, one Mariast,
put in an execution on the furniture in the rooms; that when this
execution was carried out in his presence, the Marquis d'Espard helped
the bailiff, whom he treated like a man of rank, paying him all the
marks of attention and respect which he would have shown to a person
of superior birth and dignity to himself.'"
The uncle and nephew glanced at each other and laughed.
"'That, moreover, every act of his life, besides the facts with
reference to the widow Jeanrenaud and the Baron Jeanrenaud, her son,
are those of a madman; that for nearly ten years he has given his
thoughts exclusively to China, its customs, manners, and history; that
he refers everything to a Chinese origin; that when he is questioned
on the subject, he confuses the events of the day and the business of
yesterday with facts relating to China; that he censures the acts of
the Government and the conduct of the King, though he is personally
much attached to him, by comparing them with the politics of China;
"'That this monomania has driven the Marquis d'Espard to conduct
devoid of all sense: against the customs of men of rank, and, in
opposition to his own professed ideas as to the duties of the
nobility, he has joined a commercial undertaking, for which he
constantly draws bills which, as they fall due, threaten both his
honor and his fortune, since they stamp him as a trader, and in
default of payment may lead to his being declared insolvent; that
these debts, which are owing to stationers, printers, lithographers,
and print-colorists, who have supplied the materials for his
publication, called A Picturesque History of China, now coming out in
parts, are so heavy that these tradesmen have requested the petitioner
to apply for a Commission in Lunacy with regard to the Marquis
d'Espard in order to save their own credit.'"
"The man is mad!" exclaimed Bianchon.
"You think so, do you?" said his uncle. "If you listen to only one
bell, you hear only one sound."
"But it seems to me----" said Bianchon.
"But it seems to me," said Popinot, "that if any relation of mine
wanted to get hold of the management of my affairs, and if, instead of
being a humble lawyer, whose colleagues can, any day, verify what his
condition is, I were a duke of the realm, an attorney with a little
cunning, like Desroches, might bring just such a petition against me.
"'That his children's education has been neglected for this
monomania; and that he has taught them, against all the rules of
education, the facts of Chinese history, which contradict the tenets
of the Catholic Church. He also has them taught the Chinese
"Here Desroches strikes me as funny," said Bianchon.
"The petition is drawn up by his head-clerk Godeschal, who, as you
know, is not strong in Chinese," said the lawyer.
"'That he often leaves his children destitute of the most necessary
things; that the petitioner, notwithstanding her entreaties, can never
see them; that the said Marquis d'Espard brings them to her only once
a year; that, knowing the privations to which they are exposed, she
makes vain efforts to give them the things most necessary for their
existence, and which they require----' Oh! Madame la Marquise, this is
preposterous. By proving too much you prove nothing.--My dear boy,"
said the old man, laying the document on his knee, "where is the
mother who ever lacked heart and wit and yearning to such a degree as
to fall below the inspirations suggested by her animal instinct? A
mother is as cunning to get at her children as a girl can be in the
conduct of a love intrigue. If your Marquise really wanted to give her
children food and clothes, the Devil himself would not have hindered
her, heh? That is rather too big a fable for an old lawyer to swallow!
"'That at the age the said children have now attained it is necessary
that steps should be taken to preserve them from the evil effects of
such an education; that they should be provided for as beseems their
rank, and that they should cease to have before their eyes the sad
example of their father's conduct;
"'That there are proofs in support of these allegations which the
Court can easily order to be produced. Many times has M. d'Espard
spoken of the judge of the Twelfth Arrondissement as a mandarin of the
third class; he often speaks of the professors of the College Henri
IV. as "men of letters"'--and that offends them! 'In speaking of the
simplest things, he says, "They were not done so in China;" in the
course of the most ordinary conversation he will sometimes allude to
Madame Jeanrenaud, or sometimes to events which happened in the time
of Louis XIV., and then sit plunged in the darkest melancholy;
sometimes he fancies he is in China. Several of his neighbors, among
others one Edme Becker, medical student, and Jean Baptiste Fremiot, a
professor, living under the same roof, are of opinion, after frequent
intercourse with the Marquis d'Espard, that his monomania with regard
to everything Chinese is the result of a scheme laid by the said Baron
Jeanrenaud and the widow his mother to bring about the deadening of
all the Marquis d'Espard's mental faculties, since the only service
which Mme. Jeanrenaud appears to render M. d'Espard is to procure him
everything that relates to the Chinese Empire;
"'Finally, that the petitioner is prepared to show to the Court that
the moneys absorbed by the said Baron and Mme. Jeanrenaud between 1814
and 1828 amount to not less than one million francs.
"'In confirmation of the facts herein set forth, the petitioner can
bring the evidence of persons who are in the habit of seeing the
Marquis d'Espard, whose names and professions are subjoined, many of
whom have urged her to demand a commission in lunacy to declare M.
d'Espard incapable of managing his own affairs, as being the only way
to preserve his fortune from the effects of his maladministration and
his children from his fatal influence.
"'Taking all this into consideration, M. le President, and the
affidavits subjoined, the petitioner desires that it may please you,
inasmuch as the foregoing facts sufficiently prove the insanity and
incompetency of the Marquis d'Espard herein described with his titles
and residence, to order that, to the end that he may be declared
incompetent by law, this petition and the documents in evidence may be
laid before the King's public prosecutor; and that you will charge one
of the judges of this Court to make his report to you on any day you
may be pleased to name, and thereupon to pronounce judgment,' etc.
"And here," said Popinot, "is the President's order instructing me!
--Well, what does the Marquise d'Espard want with me? I know
everything. But I shall go to-morrow with my registrar to see M. le
Marquis, for this does not seem at all clear to me."
"Listen, my dear uncle, I have never asked the least little favor of
you that had to do with your legal functions; well, now I beg you to
show Madame d'Espard the kindness which her situation deserves. If she
came here, you would listen to her?"
"Well, then, go and listen to her in her own house. Madame d'Espard is
a sickly, nervous, delicate woman, who would faint in your rat-hole of
a place. Go in the evening, instead of accepting her dinner, since the
law forbids your eating or drinking at your client's expense."
"And does not the law forbid you from taking any legacy from your
dead?" said Popinot, fancying that he saw a touch of irony on his
"Come, uncle, if it were only to enable you to get at the truth of
this business, grant my request. You will come as the examining judge,
since matters do not seem to you very clear. Deuce take it! It is as
necessary to cross-question the Marquise as it is to examine the
"You are right," said the lawyer. "It is quite possible that it is she
who is mad. I will go."
"I will call for you. Write down in your engagement book: 'To-morrow
evening at nine, Madame d'Espard.'--Good!" said Bianchon, seeing his
uncle make a note of the engagement.
Next evening at nine Bianchon mounted his uncle's dusty staircase, and
found him at work on the statement of some complicated judgment. The
coat Lavienne had ordered of the tailor had not been sent, so Popinot
put on his old stained coat, and was the Popinot unadorned whose
appearance made those laugh who did not know the secrets of his
private life. Bianchon, however, obtained permission to pull his
cravat straight, and to button his coat, and he hid the stains by
crossing the breast of it with the right side over the left, and so
displaying the new front of the cloth. But in a minute the judge
rucked the coat up over his chest by the way in which he stuffed his
hands into his pockets, obeying an irresistible habit. Thus the coat,
deeply wrinkled both in front and behind, made a sort of hump in the
middle of the back, leaving a gap between the waistcoat and trousers
through which his shirt showed. Bianchon, to his sorrow, only
discovered this crowning absurdity at the moment when his uncle
entered the Marquise's room.
A brief sketch of the person and the career of the lady in whose
presence the doctor and the judge now found themselves is necessary
for an understanding of her interview with Popinot.
Madame d'Espard had, for the last seven years, been very much the
fashion in Paris, where Fashion can raise and drop by turns various
personages who, now great and now small, that is to say, in view or
forgotten, are at last quite intolerable--as discarded ministers are,
and every kind of decayed sovereignty. These flatterers of the past,
odious with their stale pretensions, know everything, speak ill of
everything, and, like ruined profligates, are friends with all the
world. Since her husband had separated from her in 1815, Madame
d'Espard must have married in the beginning of 1812. Her children,
therefore, were aged respectively fifteen and thirteen. By what luck
was the mother of a family, about three-and-thirty years of age, still
Though Fashion is capricious, and no one can foresee who shall be her
favorites, though she often exalts a banker's wife, or some woman of
very doubtful elegance and beauty, it certainly seems supernatural
when Fashion puts on constitutional airs and gives promotion for age.
But in this case Fashion had done as the world did, and accepted
Madame d'Espard as still young.
The Marquise, who was thirty-three by her register of birth, was
twenty-two in a drawing-room in the evening. But by what care, what
artifice! Elaborate curls shaded her temples. She condemned herself to
live in twilight, affecting illness so as to sit under the protecting
tones of light filtered through muslin. Like Diane de Poitiers, she
used cold water in her bath, and, like her again, the Marquise slept
on a horse-hair mattress, with morocco-covered pillows to preserve her
hair; she ate very little, only drank water, and observed monastic
regularity in the smallest actions of her life.
This severe system has, it is said, been carried so far as to the use
of ice instead of water, and nothing but cold food, by a famous Polish
lady of our day who spends a life, now verging on a century old, after
the fashion of a town belle. Fated to live as long as Marion Delorme,
whom history has credited with surviving to be a hundred and thirty,
the old vice-queen of Poland, at the age of nearly a hundred, has the
heart and brain of youth, a charming face, an elegant shape; and in
her conversation, sparkling with brilliancy like faggots in the fire,
she can compare the men and books of our literature with the men and
books of the eighteenth century. Living in Warsaw, she orders her caps
of Herbault in Paris. She is a great lady with the amiability of a
mere girl; she swims, she runs like a schoolboy, and can sink on to a
sofa with the grace of a young coquette; she mocks at death, and
laughs at life. After having astonished the Emperor Alexander, she can
still amaze the Emperor Nicholas by the splendor of her
entertainments. She can still bring tears to the eyes of a youthful
lover, for her age is whatever she pleases, and she has the exquisite
self-devotion of a grisette. In short, she is herself a fairy tale,
unless, indeed, she is a fairy.
Had Madame d'Espard known Madame Zayonseck? Did she mean to imitate
her career? Be that as it may, the Marquise proved the merits of the
treatment; her complexion was clear, her brow unwrinkled, her figure,
like that of Henri II.'s lady-love, preserved the litheness, the
freshness, the covered charms which bring a woman love and keep it
alive. The simple precautions of this course, suggested by art and
nature, and perhaps by experience, had met in her with a general
system which confirmed the results. The Marquise was absolutely
indifferent to everything that was not herself: men amused her, but no
man had ever caused her those deep agitations which stir both natures
to their depths, and wreck one on the other. She knew neither hatred
nor love. When she was offended, she avenged herself coldly, quietly,
at her leisure, waiting for the opportunity to gratify the ill-will
she cherished against anybody who dwelt in her unfavorable
remembrance. She made no fuss, she did not excite herself, she talked,
because she knew that by two words a woman may cause the death of
She had parted from M. d'Espard with the greatest satisfaction. Had he
not taken with him two children who at present were troublesome, and
in the future would stand in the way of her pretensions? Her most
intimate friends, as much as her least persistent admirers, seeing
about her none of Cornelia's jewels, who come and go, and
unconsciously betray their mother's age, took her for quite a young
woman. The two boys, about whom she seemed so anxious in her petition,
were, like their father, as unknown in the world as the northwest
passage is unknown to navigators. M. d'Espard was supposed to be an
eccentric personage who had deserted his wife without having the
smallest cause for complaint against her.
Mistress of herself at two-and-twenty, and mistress of her fortune of
twenty-six thousand francs a year, the Marquise hesitated long before
deciding on a course of action and ordering her life. Though she
benefited by the expenses her husband had incurred in his house,
though she had all the furniture, the carriages, the horses, in short,
all the details of a handsome establishment, she lived a retired life
during the years 1816, 17, and 18, a time when families were
recovering from the disasters resulting from political tempests. She
belonged to one of the most important and illustrious families of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, and her parents advised her to live with them
as much as possible after the separation forced upon her by her
husband's inexplicable caprice.
In 1820 the Marquise roused herself from her lethargy; she went to
Court, appeared at parties, and entertained in her own house. From
1821 to 1827 she lived in great style, and made herself remarked for
her taste and her dress; she had a day, an hour, for receiving visits,
and ere long she had seated herself on the throne, occupied before her
by Madame la Vicomtesse de Beauseant, the Duchesse de Langeais, and
Madame Firmiani--who on her marriage with M. de Camps had resigned the
sceptre in favor of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, from whom Madame
d'Espard snatched it. The world knew nothing beyond this of the
private live of the Marquise d'Espard. She seemed likely to shine for
long on the Parisian horizon, like the sun near its setting, but which
will never set.
The Marquise was on terms of great intimacy with a duchess as famous
for her beauty as for her attachment to a prince just now in
banishment, but accustomed to play a leading part in every prospective
government. Madame d'Espard was also a friend of a foreign lady, with
whom a famous and very wily Russian diplomate was in the habit of
discussing public affairs. And then an antiquated countess, who was
accustomed to shuffle the cards for the great game of politics, had
adopted her in a maternal fashion. Thus, to any man of high ambitions,
Madame d'Espard was preparing a covert but very real influence to
follow the public and frivolous ascendency she now owed to fashion.
Her drawing-room was acquiring political individuality: "What do they
say at Madame d'Espard's?" "Are they against the measure in Madame
d'Espard's drawing-room?" were questions repeated by a sufficient
number of simpletons to give the flock of the faithful who surrounded
her the importance of a coterie. A few damaged politicians whose
wounds she had bound up, and whom she flattered, pronounced her as
capable in diplomacy as the wife of the Russian ambassador to London.
The Marquise had indeed several times suggested to deputies or to
peers words and ideas that had rung through Europe. She had often
judged correctly of certain events on which her circle of friends
dared not express an opinion. The principal persons about the Court
came in the evening to play whist in her rooms.
Then she also had the qualities of her defects; she was thought to be
--and she was--indiscreet. Her friendship seemed to be staunch; she
worked for her proteges with a persistency which showed that she cared
less for patronage than for increased influence. This conduct was
based on her dominant passion, Vanity. Conquests and pleasure, which
so many women love, to her seemed only means to an end; she aimed at
living on every point of the largest circle that life can describe.
Among the men still young, and to whom the future belonged, who
crowded her drawing-room on great occasions, were to be seen MM. de
Marsay and de Ronquerolles, de Montriveau, de la Roche-Hugon, de
Serizy, Ferraud, Maxime de Trailles, de Listomere, the two
Vandenesses, du Chatelet, and others. She would frequently receive a
man whose wife she would not admit, and her power was great enough to
induce certain ambitious men to submit to these hard conditions, such
as two famous royalist bankers, M. de Nucingen and Ferdinand du
Tillet. She had so thoroughly studied the strength and the weakness of
Paris life, that her conduct had never given any man the smallest
advantage over her. An enormous price might have been set on a note or
letter by which she might have compromised herself, without one being
If an arid soul enabled her to play her part to the life, her person
was no less available for it. She had a youthful figure. Her voice
was, at will, soft and fresh, or clear and hard. She possessed in the
highest degree the secret of that aristocratic pose by which a woman
wipes out the past. The Marquise knew well the art of setting an
immense space between herself and the sort of man who fancies he may
be familiar after some chance advances. Her imposing gaze could deny
everything. In her conversation fine and beautiful sentiments and
noble resolutions flowed naturally, as it seemed, from a pure heart
and soul; but in reality she was all self, and quite capable of
blasting a man who was clumsy in his negotiations, at the very time
when she was shamelessly making a compromise for the benefit of her
Rastignac, in trying to fasten on to this woman, had discerned her to
be the cleverest of tools, but he had not yet used it; far from
handling it, he was already finding himself crushed by it. This young
Condottiere of the brain, condemned, like Napoleon, to give battle
constantly, while knowing that a single defeat would prove the grave
of his fortunes, had met a dangerous adversary in his protectress. For
the first time in his turbulent life, he was playing a game with a
partner worthy of him. He saw a place as Minister in the conquest of
Madame d'Espard, so he was her tool till he could make her his--a
The Hotel d'Espard needed a large household, and the Marquise had a
great number of servants. The grand receptions were held in the
ground-floor rooms, but she lived on the first floor of the house. The
perfect order of a fine staircase splendidly decorated, and rooms
fitted in the dignified style which formerly prevailed at Versailles,
spoke of an immense fortune. When the judge saw the carriage gates
thrown open to admit his nephew's cab, he took in with a rapid glance
the lodge, the porter, the courtyard, the stables, the arrangement of
the house, the flowers that decorated the stairs, the perfect
cleanliness of the banisters, walls, and carpets, and counted the
footmen in livery who, as the bell rang, appeared on the landing. His
eyes, which only yesterday in his parlor had sounded the dignity of
misery under the muddy clothing of the poor, now studied with the same
penetrating vision the furniture and splendor of the rooms he passed
through, to pierce the misery of grandeur.
"M. Popinot--M. Bianchon."
The two names were pronounced at the door of the boudoir where the
Marquise was sitting, a pretty room recently refurnished, and looking
out on the garden behind the house. At the moment Madame d'Espard was
seated in one of the old rococo armchairs of which Madame had set the
fashion. Rastignac was at her left hand on a low chair, in which he
looked settled like an Italian lady's "cousin." A third person was
standing by the corner of the chimney-piece. As the shrewd doctor had
suspected, the Marquise was a woman of a parched and wiry
constitution. But for her regimen her complexion must have taken the
ruddy tone that is produced by constant heat; but she added to the
effect of her acquired pallor by the strong colors of the stuffs she
hung her rooms with, or in which she dressed. Reddish-brown, marone,
bistre with a golden light in it, suited her to perfection. Her
boudoir, copied from that of a famous lady then at the height of
fashion in London, was in tan-colored velvet; but she had added
various details of ornament which moderated the pompous splendor of
this royal hue. Her hair was dressed like a girl's in bands ending in
curls, which emphasized the rather long oval of her face; but an oval
face is as majestic as a round one is ignoble. The mirrors, cut with
facets to lengthen or flatten the face at will, amply proved the rule
as applied to the physiognomy.
On seeing Popinot, who stood in the doorway craning his neck like a
startled animal, with his left hand in his pocket, and the right hand
holding a hat with a greasy lining, the Marquise gave Rastignac a look
wherein lay a germ of mockery. The good man's rather foolish
appearance was so completely in harmony with his grotesque figure and
scared looks, that Rastignac, catching sight of Bianchon's dejected
expression of humiliation through his uncle, could not help laughing,
and turned away. The Marquise bowed a greeting, and made a great
effort to rise from her seat, falling back again, not without grace,
with an air of apologizing for her incivility by affected weakness.
At this instant the person who was standing between the fireplace and
the door bowed slightly, and pushed forward two chairs, which he
offered by a gesture to the doctor and the judge; then, when they had
seated themselves, he leaned against the wall again, crossing his
A word as to this man. There is living now, in our day, a painter
--Decamps--who possesses in the very highest degree the art of
commanding your interest in everything he sets before your eyes,
whether it be a stone or a man. In this respect his pencil is more
skilful than his brush. He will sketch an empty room and leave a broom
against the wall. If he chooses, you shall shudder; you shall believe
that this broom has just been the instrument of crime, and is dripping
with blood; it shall be the broom which the widow Bancal used to clean
out the room where Fualdes was murdered. Yes, the painter will touzle
that broom like a man in a rage; he will make each hair of it stand
on-end as though it were on your own bristling scalp; he will make it
the interpreter between the secret poem of his imagination and the
poem that shall have its birth in yours. After terrifying you by the
aspect of that broom, to-morrow he will draw another, and lying by it
a cat, asleep, but mysterious in its sleep, shall tell you that this
broom is that on which the wife of a German cobbler rides off to the
Sabbath on the Brocken. Or it will be a quite harmless broom, on which
he will hang the coat of a clerk in the Treasury. Decamps had in his
brush what Paganini had in his bow--a magnetically communicative
Well, I should have to transfer to my style that striking genius, that
marvelous knack of the pencil, to depict the upright, tall, lean man
dressed in black, with black hair, who stood there without speaking a
word. This gentleman had a face like a knife-blade, cold and harsh,
with a color like Seine water when it was muddy and strewn with
fragments of charcoal from a sunken barge. He looked at the floor,
listening and passing judgment. His attitude was terrifying. He stood
there like the dreadful broom to which Decamps has given the power of
revealing a crime. Now and then, in the course of conversation, the
Marquise tried to get some tacit advice; but however eager her
questioning, he was as grave and as rigid as the statue of the
The worthy Popinot, sitting on the edge of his chair in front of the
fire, his hat between his knees, stared at the gilt chandeliers, the
clock, and the curiosities with which the chimney-shelf was covered,
the velvet and trimmings of the curtains, and all the costly and
elegant nothings that a woman of fashion collects about her. He was
roused from his homely meditations by Madame d'Espard, who addressed
him in a piping tone:
"Monsieur, I owe you a million thanks----"
"A million thanks," thought he to himself, "that is too many; it does
not mean one."
"For the trouble you condescend----"
"Condescend!" thought he; "she is laughing at me."
"To take in coming to see an unhappy client, who is too ill to go
Here the lawyer cut the Marquise short by giving her an inquisitorial
look, examining the sanitary condition of the unhappy client.
"As sound as a bell," said he to himself.
"Madame," said he, assuming a respectful mien, "you owe me nothing.
Although my visit to you is not in strict accordance with the practice
of the Court, we ought to spare no pains to discover the truth in
cases of this kind. Our judgment is then guided less by the letter of
the law than by the promptings of our conscience. Whether I seek the
truth here or in my own consulting-room, so long as I find it, all
will be well."
While Popinot was speaking, Rastignac was shaking hands with Bianchon;
the Marquise welcomed the doctor with a little bow full of gracious
"Who is that?" asked Bianchon in a whisper of Rastignac, indicating
the dark man.
"The Chevalier d'Espard, the Marquis' brother."
"Your nephew told me," said the Marquise to Popinot, "how much you are
occupied, and I know too that you are so good as to wish to conceal
your kind actions, so as to release those whom you oblige from the
burden of gratitude. The work in Court is most fatiguing, it would
seem. Why have they not twice as many judges?"
"Ah, madame, that would not be difficult; we should be none the worse
if they had. But when that happens, fowls will cut their teeth!"
As he heard this speech, so entirely in character with the lawyer's
appearance, the Chevalier measured him from head to foot, out of one
eye, as much as to say, "We shall easily manage him."
The Marquise looked at Rastignac, who bent over her. "That is the sort
of man," murmured the dandy in her ear, "who is trusted to pass
judgments on the life and interests of private individuals."
Like most men who have grown old in a business, Popinot readily let
himself follow the habits he had acquired, more particularly habits of
mind. His conversation was all of "the shop." He was fond of
questioning those he talked to, forcing them to unexpected
conclusions, making them tell more than they wished to reveal. Pozzo
di Borgo, it is said, used to amuse himself by discovering other
folks' secrets, and entangling them in his diplomatic snares, and
thus, by invincible habit, showed how his mind was soaked in wiliness.
As soon as Popinot had surveyed the ground, so to speak, on which he
stood, he saw that it would be necessary to have recourse to the
cleverest subtleties, the most elaborately wrapped up and disguised,
which were in use in the Courts, to detect the truth.
Bianchon sat cold and stern, as a man who has made up his mind to
endure torture without revealing his sufferings; but in his heart he
wished that his uncle could only trample on this woman as we trample
on a viper--a comparison suggested to him by the Marquise's long
dress, by the curve of her attitude, her long neck, small head, and
"Well, monsieur," said Madame d'Espard, "however great my dislike to
be or seem selfish, I have been suffering too long not to wish that
you may settle matters at once. Shall I soon get a favorable
"Madame, I will do my best to bring matters to a conclusion," said
Popinot, with an air of frank good-nature. "Are you ignorant of the
reason which made the separation necessary which now subsists between
you and the Marquis d'Espard?"
"Yes, monsieur," she replied, evidently prepared with a story to tell.
"At the beginning of 1816 M. d'Espard, whose temper had completely
changed within three months or so, proposed that we should go to live
on one of his estates near Briancon, without any regard for my health,
which that climate would have destroyed, or for my habits of life; I
refused to go. My refusal gave rise to such unjustifiable reproaches
on his part, that from that hour I had my suspicions as to the
soundness of his mind. On the following day he left me, leaving me his
house and the free use of my own income, and he went to live in the
Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve, taking with him my two
"One moment, madame," said the lawyer, interrupting her. "What was
"Twenty-six thousand francs a year," she replied parenthetically. "I
at once consulted old M. Bordin as to what I ought to do," she went
on; "but it seems that there are so many difficulties in the way of
depriving a father of the care of his children, that I was forced to
resign myself to remaining alone at the age of twenty-two--an age at
which many young women do very foolish things. You have read my
petition, no doubt, monsieur; you know the principal facts on which I
rely to procure a Commission in Lunacy with regard to M. d'Espard?"
"Have you ever applied to him, madame, to obtain the care of your
"Yes, monsieur; but in vain. It is very hard on a mother to be
deprived of the affection of her children, particularly when they can
give her such happiness as every woman clings to."
"The elder must be sixteen," said Popinot.
"Fifteen," said the Marquise eagerly.
Here Bianchon and Rastignac looked at each other. Madame d'Espard bit
"What can the age of my children matter to you?"
"Well, madame," said the lawyer, without seeming to attach any
importance to his words, "a lad of fifteen and his brother, of
thirteen, I suppose, have legs and their wits about them; they might
come to see you on the sly. If they do not, it is because they obey
their father, and to obey him in that matter they must love him very
"I do not understand," said the Marquise.
"You do not know, perhaps," replied Popinot, "that in your petition
your attorney represents your children as being very unhappy with
Madame d'Espard replied with charming innocence:
"I do not know what my attorney may have put into my mouth."
"Forgive my inferences," said Popinot, "but Justice weighs everything.
What I ask you, madame, is suggested by my wish thoroughly to
understand the matter. By your account M. d'Espard deserted you on the
most frivolous pretext. Instead of going to Briancon, where he wished
to take you, he remained in Paris. This point is not clear. Did he
know this Madame Jeanrenaud before his marriage?"
"No, monsieur," replied the Marquise, with some asperity, visible only
to Rastignac and the Chevalier d'Espard.
She was offended at being cross-examined by this layer when she had
intended to beguile his judgment; but as Popinot still looked stupid
from sheer absence of mind, she ended by attributing his interrogatory
to the Questioning Spirit of Voltaire's bailiff.
"My parents," she went on, "married me at the age of sixteen to M.
d'Espard, whose name, fortune, and mode of life were such as my family
looked for in the man who was to be my husband. M. d'Espard was then
six-and-twenty; he was a gentleman in the English sense of the word;
his manners pleased me, he seemed to have plenty of ambition, and I
like ambitious people," she added, looking at Rastignac. "If M.
d'Espard had never met that Madame Jeanrenaud, his character, his
learning, his acquirements would have raised him--as his friends then
believed--to high office in the Government. King Charles X., at that
time Monsieur, had the greatest esteem for him, and a peer's seat, an
appointment at Court, some important post certainly would have been
his. That woman turned his head, and has ruined all the prospects of
"What were M. d'Espard's religious opinions at that time?"
"He was, and is still, a very pious man."
"You do not suppose that Madame Jeanrenaud may have influenced him by
"You have a very fine house, madame," said Popinot suddenly, taking
his hands out of his pockets, and rising to pick up his coat-tails and
warm himself. "This boudoir is very nice, those chairs are
magnificent, the whole apartment is sumptuous. You must indeed be most
unhappy when, seeing yourself here, you know that your children are
ill lodged, ill clothed, and ill fed. I can imagine nothing more
terrible for a mother."
"Yes, indeed. I should be so glad to give the poor little fellows some
amusement, while their father keeps them at work from morning till
night at that wretched history of China."
"You give handsome balls; they would enjoy them, but they might
acquire a taste for dissipation. However, their father might send them
to you once or twice in the course of the winter."
"He brings them here on my birthday and on New Year's Day. On those
days M. d'Espard does me the favor of dining here with them."
"It is very singular behaviour," said the judge, with an air of
conviction. "Have you ever seen this Dame Jeanrenaud?"
"My brother-in-law one day, out of interest in his brother----"
"Ah! monsieur is M. d'Espard's brother?" said the lawyer, interrupting
The Chevalier bowed, but did not speak.
"M. d'Espard, who has watched this affair, took me to the Oratoire,
where this woman goes to sermon, for she is a Protestant. I saw her;
she is not in the least attractive; she looks like a butcher's wife,
extremely fat, horribly marked with the smallpox; she has feet and
hands like a man's, she squints, in short, she is monstrous!"
"It is inconceivable," said the judge, looking like the most imbecile
judge in the whole kingdom. "And this creature lives near here, Rue
Verte, in a fine house? There are no plain folk left, it would seem?"
"In a mansion on which her son has spent absurd sums."
"Madame," said Popinot, "I live in the Faubourg Saint-Marceau; I know
nothing of such expenses. What do you call absurd sums?"
"Well," said the Marquise, "a stable with five horses and three
carriages, a phaeton, a brougham, and a cabriolet."
"That costs a large sum, then?" asked Popinot in surprise.
"Enormous sums!" said Rastignac, intervening. "Such an establishment
would cost, for the stables, the keeping the carriages in order, and
the liveries for the men, between fifteen and sixteen thousand francs
"Should you think so, madame?" said the judge, looking much
"Yes, at least," replied the Marquise.
"And the furniture, too, must have cost a lot of money?"
"More than a hundred thousand francs," replied Madame d'Espard, who
could not help smiling at the lawyer's vulgarity.
"Judges, madame, are apt to be incredulous; it is what they are paid
for, and I am incredulous. The Baron Jeanrenaud and his mother must
have fleeced M. d'Espard most preposterously, if what you say is
correct. There is a stable establishment which, by your account, costs
sixteen thousand francs a year. Housekeeping, servants' wages, and the
gross expenses of the house itself must run to twice as much; that
makes a total of from fifty to sixty thousand francs a year. Do you
suppose that these people, formerly so extremely poor, can have so
large a fortune? A million yields scarcely forty thousand a year."
"Monsieur, the mother and son invested the money given them by M.
d'Espard in the funds when they were at 60 to 80. I should think their
income must be more than sixty thousand francs. And then the son has
"If they spend sixty thousand francs a year," said the judge, "how
much do you spend?"
"Well," said Madame d'Espard, "about the same." The Chevalier started
a little, the Marquise colored; Bianchon looked at Rastignac; but
Popinot preserved an expression of simplicity which quite deceived
Madame d'Espard. The chevalier took no part in the conversation; he
saw that all was lost.
"These people, madame, might be indicted before the superior Court,"
"That was my opinion," exclaimed the Marquise, enchanted. "If
threatened with the police, they would have come to terms."
"Madame," said Popinot, "when M. d'Espard left you, did he not give
you a power of attorney enabling you to manage and control your own
"I do not understand the object of all these questions," said the
Marquise with petulance. "It seems to me that if you would only
consider the state in which I am placed by my husband's insanity, you
ought to be troubling yourself about him, and not about me."
"We are coming to that, madame," said the judge. "Before placing in
your hands, or in any others, the control of M. d'Espard's property,
supposing he were pronounced incapable, the Court must inquire as to
how you have managed your own. If M. d'Espard gave you the power, he
would have shown confidence in you, and the Court would recognize the
fact. Had you any power from him? You might have bought or sold house
property or invested money in business?"
"No, monsieur, the Blamont-Chauvrys are not in the habit of trading,"
said she, extremely nettled in her pride as an aristocrat, and
forgetting the business in hand. "My property is intact, and M.
d'Espard gave me no power to act."
The Chevalier put his hand over his eyes not to betray the vexation he
felt at his sister-in-law's short-sightedness, for she was ruining
herself by her answers. Popinot had gone straight to the mark in spite
of his apparent doublings.
"Madame," said the lawyer, indicating the Chevalier, "this gentleman,
of course, is your near connection? May we speak openly before these
"Speak on," said the Marquise, surprised at this caution.
"Well, madame, granting that you spend only sixty thousand francs a
year, to any one who sees your stables, your house, your train of
servants, and a style of housekeeping which strikes me as far more
luxurious than that of the Jeanrenauds, that sum would seem well laid
The Marquise bowed an agreement.
"But," continued the judge, "if you have no more than twenty-six
thousand francs a year, you may have a hundred thousand francs of
debt. The Court would therefore have a right to imagine that the
motives which prompt you to ask that your husband may be deprived of
the control of his property are complicated by self-interest and the
need of paying your debts--if--you--have--any. The requests addressed
to me have interested me in your position; consider fully and make
your confession. If my suppositions have hit the truth, there is yet
time to avoid the blame which the Court would have a perfect right to
express in the saving clauses of the verdict if you could not show
your attitude to be absolutely honorable and clear.
"It is our duty to examine the motives of the applicant as well as to
listen to the plea of the witness under examination, to ascertain
whether the petitioner may not have been prompted by passion, by a
desire for money, which is unfortunately too common----"
The Marquise was on Saint Laurence's gridiron.
"And I must have explanations on this point. Madame, I have no wish to
call you to account; I only want to know how you have managed to live
at the rate of sixty thousand francs a year, and that for some years
past. There are plenty of women who achieve this in their
housekeeping, but you are not one of those. Tell me, you may have the
most legitimate resources, a royal pension, or some claim on the
indemnities lately granted; but even then you must have had your
husband's authority to receive them."
The Marquise did not speak.
"You must remember," Popinot went on, "that M. d'Espard may wish to
enter a protest, and his counsel will have a right to find out whether
you have any creditors. This boudoir is newly furnished, your rooms
are not now furnished with the things left to you by M. d'Espard in
1816. If, as you did me the honor of informing me, furniture is costly
for the Jeanrenauds, it must be yet more so for you, who are a great
lady. Though I am a judge, I am but a man; I may be wrong--tell me so.
Remember the duties imposed on me by the law, and the rigorous
inquiries it demands, when the case before it is the suspension from
all his functions of the father of a family in the prime of life. So
you will pardon me, Madame la Marquise, for laying all these
difficulties before you; it will be easy for you to give me an
"When a man is pronounced incapable of the control of his own affairs,
a trustee has to be appointed. Who will be the trustee?"
"His brother," said the Marquise.
The Chevalier bowed. There was a short silence, very uncomfortable for
the five persons who were present. The judge, in sport as it were, had
laid open the woman's sore place. Popinot's countenance of common,
clumsy good-nature, at which the Marquise, the Chevalier, and
Rastignac had been inclined to laugh, had gained importance in their
eyes. As they stole a look at him, they discerned the various
expressions of that eloquent mouth. The ridiculous mortal was a judge
of acumen. His studious notice of the boudoir was accounted for: he
had started from the gilt elephant supporting the chimney-clock,
examining all this luxury, and had ended by reading this woman's soul.
"If the Marquis d'Espard is mad about China, I see that you are not
less fond of its products," said Popinot, looking at the porcelain on
the chimney-piece. "But perhaps it was from M. le Marquis that you had
these charming Oriental pieces," and he pointed to some precious
This irony, in very good taste, made Bianchon smile, and petrified
Rastignac, while the Marquise bit her thin lips.
"Instead of being the protector of a woman placed in a cruel dilemma
--an alternative between losing her fortune and her children, and being
regarded as her husband's enemy," she said, "you accuse me, monsieur!
You suspect my motives! You must own that your conduct is strange!"
"Madame," said the judge eagerly, "the caution exercised by the Court
in such cases as these might have given you, in any other judge, a
perhaps less indulgent critic than I am.--And do you suppose that M.
d'Espard's lawyer will show you any great consideration? Will he not
be suspicious of motives which may be perfectly pure and
disinterested? Your life will be at his mercy; he will inquire into it
without qualifying his search by the respectful deference I have for
"I am much obliged to you, monsieur," said the Marquise satirically.
"Admitting for the moment that I owe thirty thousand or fifty thousand
francs, in the first place, it would be a mere trifle to the d'Espards
and the Blamont-Chauvrys. But if my husband is not in the possession
of his mental faculties, would that prevent his being pronounced
"No, madame," said Popinot.
"Although you have questioned me with a sort of cunning which I should
not have suspected in a judge, and under circumstances where
straightforwardness would have answered your purpose," she went on, "I
will tell you without subterfuge that my position in the world, and
the efforts I have to make to keep up my connection, are not in the
least to my taste. I began my life by a long period of solitude; but
my children's interest appealed to me; I felt that I must fill their
father's place. By receiving my friends, by keeping up all this
connection, by contracting these debts, I have secured their future
welfare; I have prepared for them a brilliant career where they will
find help and favor; and to have what has thus been acquired, many a
man of business, lawyer or banker, would gladly pay all it has cost
"I appreciate your devoted conduct, madame," replied Popinot. "It does
you honor, and I blame you for nothing. A judge belongs to all: he
must know and weigh every fact."
Madame d'Espard's tact and practice in estimating men made her
understand that M. Popinot was not to be influenced by any
consideration. She had counted on an ambitious lawyer, she had found a
man of conscience. She at once thought of finding other means for
securing the success of her side.
The servants brought in tea.
"Have you any further explanations to give me, madame?" said Popinot,
seeing these preparations.
"Monsieur," she replied haughtily, "do your business your own way;
question M. d'Espard, and you will pity me, I am sure." She raised her
head, looking Popinot in the face with pride, mingled with
impertinence; the worthy man bowed himself out respectfully.
"A nice man is your uncle," said Rastignac to Bianchon. "Is he really
so dense? Does not he know what the Marquise d'Espard is, what her
influence means, her unavowed power over people? The Keeper of the
Seals will be with her to-morrow----"
"My dear fellow, how can I help it?" said Bianchon. "Did not I warn
you? He is not a man you can get over."
"No," said Rastignac; "he is a man you must run over."
The doctor was obliged to make his bow to the Marquise and her mute
Chevalier to catch up Popinot, who, not being the man to endure an
embarrassing position, was pacing through the rooms.
"That woman owes a hundred thousand crowns," said the judge, as he
stepped into his nephew's cab.
"And what do you think of the case?"
"I," said the judge. "I never have an opinion till I have gone into
everything. To-morrow early I will send to Madame Jeanrenaud to call
on me in my private office at four o'clock, to make her explain the
facts which concern her, for she is compromised."
"I should very much like to know what the end will be."
"Why, bless me, do not you see that the Marquise is the tool of that
tall lean man who never uttered a word? There is a strain of Cain in
him, but of the Cain who goes to the Law Courts for his bludgeon, and
there, unluckily for him, we keep more than one Damocles' sword."
"Oh, Rastignac! what brought you into that boat, I wonder?" exclaimed
"Ah, we are used to seeing these little family conspiracies," said
Popinot. "Not a year passes without a number of verdicts of
'insufficient evidence' against applications of this kind. In our
state of society such an attempt brings no dishonor, while we send a
poor devil to the galleys who breaks a pane of glass dividing him from
a bowl full of gold. Our Code is not faultless."
"But these are the facts?"
"My boy, do you not know all the judicial romances with which clients
impose on their attorneys? If the attorneys condemned themselves to
state nothing but the truth, they would not earn enough to keep their
Next day, at four in the afternoon, a very stout dame, looking a good
deal like a cask dressed up in a gown and belt, mounted Judge
Popinot's stairs, perspiring and panting. She had, with great
difficulty, got out of a green landau, which suited her to a miracle;