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The Commission in Lunacy by Honore de Balzac

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you could not think of the woman without the landau, or the landau
without the woman.

"It is I, my dear sir," said she, appearing in the doorway of the
judge's room. "Madame Jeanrenaud, whom you summoned exactly as if I
were a thief, neither more nor less."

The common words were spoken in a common voice, broken by the wheezing
of asthma, and ending in a cough.

"When I go through a damp place, I can't tell you what I suffer, sir.
I shall never make old bones, saving your presence. However, here I

The lawyer was quite amazed at the appearance of this supposed
Marechale d'Ancre. Madame Jeanrenaud's face was pitted with an
infinite number of little holes, was very red, with a pug nose and a
low forehead, and was as round as a ball; for everything about the
good woman was round. She had the bright eyes of a country woman, an
honest gaze, a cheerful tone, and chestnut hair held in place by a
bonnet cap under a green bonnet decked with a shabby bunch of
auriculas. Her stupendous bust was a thing to laugh at, for it made
one fear some grotesque explosion every time she coughed. Her enormous
legs were of the shape which make the Paris street boy describe such a
woman as being built on piles. The widow wore a green gown trimmed
with chinchilla, which looked on her as a splash of dirty oil would
look on a bride's veil. In short, everything about her harmonized with
her last words: "Here I am."

"Madame," said Popinot, "you are suspected of having used some
seductive arts to induce M. d'Espard to hand over to you very
considerable sums of money."

"Of what! of what!" cried she. "Of seductive arts? But, my dear sir,
you are a man to be respected, and, moreover, as a lawyer you ought to
have some good sense. Look at me! Tell me if I am likely to seduce any
one. I cannot tie my own shoes, nor even stoop. For these twenty years
past, the Lord be praised, I have not dared to put on a pair of stays
under pain of sudden death. I was as thin as an asparagus stalk when I
was seventeen, and pretty too--I may say so now. So I married
Jeanrenaud, a good fellow, and headman on the salt-barges. I had my
boy, who is a fine young man; he is my pride, and it is not holding
myself cheap to say he is my best piece of work. My little Jeanrenaud
was a soldier who did Napoleon credit, and who served in the Imperial
Guard. But, alas! at the death of my old man, who was drowned, times
changed for the worse. I had the smallpox. I was kept two years in my
room without stirring, and I came out of it the size you see me,
hideous for ever, and as wretched as could be. These are my seductive

"But what, then, can the reasons be that have induced M. d'Espard to
give you sums----"

"Hugious sums, monsieur, say the word; I do not mind. But as to his
reasons, I am not at liberty to explain them."

"You are wrong. At this moment, his family, very naturally alarmed,
are about to bring an action----"

"Heavens above us!" said the good woman, starting up. "Is it possible
that he should be worried on my account? That king of men, a man that
has not his match! Rather than he should have the smallest trouble, or
hair less on his head I could almost say, we would return every sou,
monsieur. Write that down on your papers. Heaven above us! I will go
at once and tell Jeanrenaud what is going on! A pretty thing indeed!"

And the little old woman went out, rolled herself downstairs, and

"That one tells no lies," said Popinot to himself. "Well, to-morrow I
shall know the whole story, for I shall go to see the Marquis

People who have outlived the age when a man wastes his vitality at
random, know how great an influence may be exercised on more important
events by apparently trivial incidents, and will not be surprised at
the weight here given to the following minor fact. Next day Popinot
had an attack of coryza, a complaint which is not dangerous, and
generally known by the absurd and inadequate name of a cold in the

The judge, who could not suppose that the delay could be serious,
feeling himself a little feverish, kept his room, and did not go to
see the Marquis d'Espard. This day lost was, to this affair, what on
the Day of Dupes the cup of soup had been, taken by Marie de Medici,
which, by delaying her meeting with Louis XIII., enabled Richelieu to
arrive at Saint-Germain before her, and recapture his royal slave.

Before accompanying the lawyer and his registering clerk to the
Marquis d'Espard's house, it may be as well to glance at the home and
the private affairs of this father of sons whom his wife's petition
represented to be a madman.

Here and there in the old parts of Paris a few buildings may still be
seen in which the archaeologist can discern an intention of decorating
the city, and that love of property, which leads the owner to give a
durable character to the structure. The house in which M. d'Espard was
then living, in the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve, was one of
these old mansions, built in stone, and not devoid of a certain
richness of style; but time had blackened the stone, and revolutions
in the town had damaged it both outside and inside. The dignitaries
who formerly dwelt in the neighborhood of the University having
disappeared with the great ecclesiastical foundations, this house had
become the home of industries and of inhabitants whom it was never
destined to shelter. During the last century a printing establishment
had worn down the polished floors, soiled the carved wood, blackened
the walls, and altered the principal internal arrangements. Formerly
the residence of a Cardinal, this fine house was now divided among
plebeian tenants. The character of the architecture showed that it had
been built under the reigns of Henry III., Henry IV., and Louis XIII.,
at the time when the hotels Mignon and Serpente were erected in the
same neighborhood, with the palace of the Princess Palatine, and the
Sorbonne. An old man could remember having heard it called, in the
last century, the hotel Duperron, so it seemed probable that the
illustrious Cardinal of that name had built, or perhaps merely lived
in it.

There still exists, indeed, in the corner of the courtyard, a perron
or flight of several outer steps by which the house is entered; and
the way into the garden on the garden front is down a similar flight
of steps. In spite of dilapidations, the luxury lavished by the
architect on the balustrade and entrance porch crowning these two
perrons suggests the simple-minded purpose of commemorating the
owner's name, a sort of sculptured pun which our ancestors often
allowed themselves. Finally, in support of this evidence,
archaeologists can still discern in the medallions which show on the
principal front some traces of the cords of the Roman hat.

M. le Marquis d'Espard lived on the ground floor, in order, no doubt,
to enjoy the garden, which might be called spacious for that
neighborhood, and which lay open for his children's health. The
situation of the house, in a street on a steep hill, as its name
indicates, secured these ground-floor rooms against ever being damp.
M. d'Espard had taken them, no doubt, for a very moderate price, rents
being low at the time when he settled in that quarter, in order to be
among the schools and to superintend his boys' education. Moreover,
the state in which he found the place, with everything to repair, had
no doubt induced the owner to be accommodating. Thus M. d'Espard had
been able to go to some expense to settle himself suitably without
being accused of extravagance. The loftiness of the rooms, the
paneling, of which nothing survived but the frames, the decoration of
the ceilings, all displayed the dignity which the prelacy stamped on
whatever it attempted or created, and which artists discern to this
day in the smallest relic that remains, though it be but a book, a
dress, the panel of a bookcase, or an armchair.

The Marquis had the rooms painted in the rich brown tones loved of the
Dutch and of the citizens of Old Paris, hues which lend such good
effects to the painter of genre. The panels were hung with plain paper
in harmony with the paint. The window curtains were of inexpensive
materials, but chosen so as to produce a generally happy result; the
furniture was not too crowded and judiciously placed. Any one on going
into this home could not resist a sense of sweet peacefulness,
produced by the perfect calm, the stillness which prevailed, by the
unpretentious unity of color, the keeping of the picture, in the words
a painter might use. A certain nobleness in the details, the exquisite
cleanliness of the furniture, and a perfect concord of men and things,
all brought the word "suavity" to the lips.

Few persons were admitted to the rooms used by the Marquis and his two
sons, whose life might perhaps seem mysterious to their neighbors. In
a wing towards the street, on the third floor, there are three large
rooms which had been left in the state of dilapidation and grotesque
bareness to which they had been reduced by the printing works. These
three rooms, devoted to the evolution of the Picturesque History of
China, were contrived to serve as a writing-room, a depository, and a
private room, where M. d'Espard sat during part of the day; for after
breakfast till four in the afternoon the Marquis remained in this room
on the third floor to work at the publication he had undertaken.
Visitors wanting to see him commonly found him there, and often the
two boys on their return from school resorted thither. Thus the
ground-floor rooms were a sort of sanctuary where the father and sons
spent their time from the hour of dinner till the next day, and his
domestic life was carefully closed against the public eye.

His only servants were a cook--an old woman who had long been attached
to his family--and a man-servant forty years old, who was with him
when he married Mademoiselle de Blamont. His children's nurse had also
remained with them, and the minute care to which the apartment bore
witness revealed the sense of order and the maternal affections
expended by this woman in her master's interest, in the management of
his house, and the charge of his children. These three good souls,
grave, and uncommunicative folk, seemed to have entered into the idea
which ruled the Marquis' domestic life. And the contrast between their
habits and those of most servants was a peculiarity which cast an air
of mystery over the house, and fomented the calumny to which M.
d'Espard himself lent occasion. Very laudable motives had made him
determine never to be on visiting terms with any of the other tenants
in the house. In undertaking to educate his boys he wished to keep
them from all contact with strangers. Perhaps, too, he wished to avoid
the intrusion of neighbors.

In a man of his rank, at a time when the Quartier Latin was distracted
by Liberalism, such conduct was sure to rouse in opposition a host of
petty passions, of feelings whose folly is only to be measured by
their meanness, the outcome of porters' gossip and malevolent tattle
from door to door, all unknown to M. d'Espard and his retainers. His
man-servant was stigmatized as a Jesuit, his cook as a sly fox; the
nurse was in collusion with Madame Jeanrenaud to rob the madman. The
madman was the Marquis. By degrees the other tenants came to regard as
proofs of madness a number of things they had noticed in M. d'Espard,
and passed through the sieve of their judgment without discerning any
reasonable motive for them.

Having no belief in the success of the History of China, they had
managed to convince the landlord of the house that M. d'Espard had no
money just at a time when, with the forgetfulness which often befalls
busy men, he had allowed the tax-collector to send him a summons for
non-payment of arrears. The landlord forthwith claimed his quarter's
rent from January 1st by sending in a receipt, which the porter's wife
had amused herself by detaining. On the 15th a summons to pay was
served on M. d'Espard, the portress had delivered it at her leisure,
and he supposed it to be some misunderstanding, not conceiving of any
incivility from a man in whose house he had been living for twelve
years. The Marquis was actually seized by a bailiff at the time when
his man-servant had gone to carry the money for the rent to the

This arrest, assiduously reported to the persons with whom he was in
treaty for his undertaking, had alarmed some of them who were already
doubtful of M. d'Espard's solvency in consequence of the enormous sums
which Baron Jeanrenaud and his mother were said to be receiving from
him. And, indeed, these suspicions on the part of the tenants, the
creditors, and the landlord had some excuse in the Marquis' extreme
economy in housekeeping. He conducted it as a ruined man might. His
servants always paid in ready money for the most trifling necessaries
of life, and acted as not choosing to take credit; if now they had
asked for anything on credit, it would probably have been refused,
calumnious gossip had been so widely believed in the neighborhood.
There are tradesmen who like those of their customers who pay badly
when they see them often, while they hate others, and very good ones,
who hold themselves on too high a level to allow of any familiarity as
CHUMS, a vulgar but expressive word. Men are made so; in almost every
class they will allow to a gossip, or a vulgar soul that flatters
them, facilities and favors they refuse to the superiority they
resent, in whatever form it may show itself. The shopkeeper who rails
at the Court has his courtiers.

In short, the manners of the Marquis and his children were certain to
arouse ill-feeling in their neighbors, and to work them up by degrees
to the pitch of malevolence when men do not hesitate at an act of
meanness if only it may damage the adversary they have themselves

M. d'Espard was a gentleman, as his wife was a lady, by birth and
breeding; noble types, already so rare in France that the observer can
easily count the persons who perfectly realize them. These two
characters are based on primitive ideas, on beliefs that may be called
innate, on habits formed in infancy, and which have ceased to exist.
To believe in pure blood, in a privileged race, to stand in thought
above other men, must we not from birth have measured the distance
which divides patricians from the mob? To command, must we not have
never met our equal? And finally, must not education inculcate the
ideas with which Nature inspires those great men on whose brow she has
placed a crown before their mother has ever set a kiss there? These
ideas, this education, are no longer possible in France, where for
forty years past chance has arrogated the right of making noblemen by
dipping them in the blood of battles, by gilding them with glory, by
crowning them with the halo of genius; where the abolition of entail
and of eldest sonship, by frittering away estates, compels the
nobleman to attend to his own business instead of attending to affairs
of state, and where personal greatness can only be such greatness as
is acquired by long and patient toil: quite a new era.

Regarded as a relic of that great institution know as feudalism, M.
d'Espard deserved respectful admiration. If he believed himself to be
by blood the superior of other men, he also believed in all the
obligations of nobility; he had the virtues and the strength it
demands. He had brought up his children in his own principles, and
taught them from the cradle the religion of their caste. A deep sense
of their own dignity, pride of name, the conviction that they were by
birth great, gave rise in them to a kingly pride, the courage of
knights, and the protecting kindness of a baronial lord; their
manners, harmonizing with their notions, would have become princes,
and offended all the world of the Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Genevieve
--a world, above all others, of equality, where every one believed
that M. d'Espard was ruined, and where all, from the lowest to the
highest, refused the privileges of nobility to a nobleman without
money, because they were all ready to allow an enriched bourgeois to
usurp them. Thus the lack of communion between this family and other
persons was as much moral as it was physical.

In the father and the children alike, their personality harmonized
with the spirit within. M. d'Espard, at this time about fifty, might
have sat as a model to represent the aristocracy of birth in the
nineteenth century. He was slight and fair; there was in the outline
and general expression of his face a native distinction which spoke of
lofty sentiments, but it bore the impress of a deliberate coldness
which commanded respect a little too decidedly. His aquiline nose bent
at the tip from left to right, a slight crookedness which was not
devoid of grace; his blue eyes, his high forehead, prominent enough at
the brows to form a thick ridge that checked the light and shaded his
eyes, all indicated a spirit of rectitude, capable of perseverance and
perfect loyalty, while it gave a singular look to his countenance.
This penthouse forehead might, in fact, hint at a touch of madness,
and his thick-knitted eyebrows added to the apparent eccentricity. He
had the white well-kept hands of a gentleman; his foot was high and
narrow. His hesitating speech--not merely as to his pronunciation,
which was that of a stammerer, but also in the expression of his
ideas, his thought and language--produced on the mind of the hearer
the impression of a man who, in familiar phraseology, comes and goes,
feels his way, tries everything, breaks off his gestures, and finishes
nothing. This defect was purely superficial, and in contrast with the
decisiveness of a firmly-set mouth, and the strongly-marked character
of his physiognomy. His rather jerky gait matched his mode of speech.
These peculiarities helped to affirm his supposed insanity. In spite
of his elegant appearance, he was systematically parsimonious in his
personal expenses, and wore the same black frock-coat for three or
four years, brushed with extreme care by his old man-servant.

As to the children, they both were handsome, and endowed with a grace
which did not exclude an expression of aristocratic disdain. They had
the bright coloring, the clear eye, the transparent flesh which reveal
habits of purity, regularity of life, and a due proportion of work and
play. They both had black hair and blue eyes, and a twist in their
nose, like their father; but their mother, perhaps, had transmitted to
them the dignity of speech, of look and mien, which are hereditary in
the Blamont-Chauvrys. Their voices, as clear as crystal, had an
emotional quality, the softness which proves so seductive; they had,
in short, the voice a woman would willingly listen to after feeling
the flame of their looks. But, above all, they had the modesty of
pride, a chaste reserve, a /touch-me-not/ which at a maturer age might
have seemed intentional coyness, so much did their demeanor inspire a
wish to know them. The elder, Comte Clement de Negrepelisse, was close
upon his sixteenth year. For the last two years he had ceased to wear
the pretty English round jacket which his brother, Vicomte Camille
d'Espard, still wore. The Count, who for the last six months went no
more to the College Henri IV., was dressed in the style of a young man
enjoying the first pleasures of fashion. His father had not wished to
condemn him to a year's useless study of philosophy; he was trying to
give his knowledge some consistency by the study of transcendental
mathematics. At the same time, the Marquis was having him taught
Eastern languages, the international law of Europe, heraldry, and
history from the original sources, charters, early documents, and
collections of edicts. Camille had lately begun to study rhetoric.

The day when Popinot arranged to go to question M. d'Espard was a
Thursday, a holiday. At about nine in the morning, before their father
was awake, the brothers were playing in the garden. Clement was
finding it hard to refuse his brother, who was anxious to go to the
shooting-gallery for the first time, and who begged him to second his
request to the Marquis. The Viscount always rather took advantage of
his weakness, and was very fond of wrestling with his brother. So the
couple were quarreling and fighting in play like schoolboys. As they
ran in the garden, chasing each other, they made so much noise as to
wake their father, who came to the window without their perceiving him
in the heat of the fray. The Marquis amused himself with watching his
two children twisted together like snakes, their faces flushed by the
exertion of their strength; their complexion was rose and white, their
eyes flashed sparks, their limbs writhed like cords in the fire; they
fell, sprang up again, and caught each other like athletes in a
circus, affording their father one of those moments of happiness which
would make amends for the keenest anxieties of a busy life. Two other
persons, one on the second and one on the first floor, were also
looking into the garden, and saying that the old madman was amusing
himself by making his children fight. Immediately a number of heads
appeared at the windows; the Marquis, noticing them, called a word to
his sons, who at once climbed up to the window and jumped into his
room, and Clement obtained the permission asked by Camille.

All through the house every one was talking of the Marquis' new form
of insanity. When Popinot arrived at about twelve o'clock, accompanied
by his clerk, the portress, when asked for M. d'Espard, conducted him
to the third floor, telling him "as how M. d'Espard, no longer ago
than that very morning, had set on his two children to fight, and
laughed like the monster he was on seeing the younger biting the elder
till he bled, and as how no doubt he longed to see them kill each
other.--Don't ask me the reason why," she added; "he doesn't show

Just as the woman spoke these decisive words, she had brought the
judge to the landing on the third floor, face to face with a door
covered with notices announcing the successive numbers of the
Picturesque History of China. The muddy floor, the dirty banisters,
the door where the printers had left their marks, the dilapidated
window, and the ceiling on which the apprentices had amused themselves
with drawing monstrosities with the smoky flare of their tallow dips,
the piles of paper and litter heaped up in the corners, intentionally
or from sheer neglect--in short, every detail of the picture lying
before his eyes, agreed so well with the facts alleged by the Marquise
that the judge, in spite of his impartiality, could not help believing

"There you are, gentlemen," said the porter's wife; "there is the
manifactor, where the Chinese swallow up enough to feed the whole

The clerk looked at the judge with a smile, and Popinot found it hard
to keep his countenance. They went together into the outer room, where
sat an old man, who, no doubt, performed the functions of office
clerk, shopman, and cashier. This old man was the Maitre Jacques of
China. Along the walls ran long shelves, on which the published
numbers lay in piles. A partition in wood, with a grating lined with
green curtains, cut off the end of the room, forming a private office.
A till with a slit to admit or disgorge crown pieces indicated the

"M. d'Espard?" said Popinot, addressing the man, who wore a gray

The shopman opened the door into the next room, where the lawyer and
his companion saw a venerable old man, white-headed and simply
dressed, wearing the Cross of Saint-Louis, seated at a desk. He ceased
comparing some sheets of colored prints to look up at the two
visitors. This room was an unpretentious office, full of books and
proof-sheets. There was a black wood table at which some one, at the
moment absent, no doubt was accustomed to work.

"The Marquis d'Espard?" said Popinot.

"No, monsieur," said the old man, rising; "what do you want with him?"
he added, coming forward, and showing by his demeanor the dignified
manners and habits due to a gentlemanly education.

"We wish to speak with him on business exclusively personal to
himself," replied Popinot.

"D'Espard, here are some gentlemen who want to see you," then said the
old man, going into the furthest room, where the Marquis was sitting
by the fire reading the newspaper.

This innermost room had a shabby carpet, the windows were hung with
gray holland curtains; the furniture consisted of a few mahogany
chairs, two armchairs, a desk with a revolving front, an ordinary
office table, and on the chimney-shelf, a dingy clock and two old
candlesticks. The old man led the way for Popinot and his registrar,
and pulled forward two chairs, as though he were master of the place;
M. d'Espard left it to him. After the preliminary civilities, during
which the judge watched the supposed lunatic, the Marquis naturally
asked what was the object of this visit. On this Popinot glanced
significantly at the old gentleman and the Marquis.

"I believe, Monsieur le Marquis," said he, "that the character of my
functions, and the inquiry that has brought me here, make it desirable
that we should be alone, though it is understood by law that in such
cases the inquiries have a sort of family publicity. I am judge on the
Inferior Court of Appeal for the Department of the Seine, and charged
by the President with the duty of examining you as to certain facts
set forth in a petition for a Commission in Lunacy on the part of the
Marquise d'Espard."

The old man withdrew. When the lawyer and the Marquis were alone, the
clerk shut the door, and seated himself unceremoniously at the office
table, where he laid out his papers and prepared to take down his
notes. Popinot had still kept his eye on M. d'Espard; he was watching
the effect on him of this crude statement, so painful for a man in
full possession of his reason. The Marquis d'Espard, whose face was
usually pale, as are those of fair men, suddenly turned scarlet with
anger; he trembled for an instant, sat down, laid his paper on the
chimney-piece, and looked down. In a moment he had recovered his
gentlemanly dignity, and looked steadily at the judge, as if to read
in his countenance the indications of his character.

"How is it, monsieur," he asked, "that I have had no notice of such a

"Monsieur le Marquis, persons on whom such a commission is held not
being supposed to have the use of their reason, any notice of the
petition is unnecessary. The duty of the Court chiefly consists in
verifying the allegations of the petitioner."

"Nothing can be fairer," replied the Marquis. "Well, then, monsieur,
be so good as to tell me what I ought to do----"

"You have only to answer my questions, omitting nothing. However
delicate the reasons may be which may have led you to act in such a
manner as to give Madame d'Espard a pretext for her petition, speak
without fear. It is unnecessary to assure you that lawyers know their
duties, and that in such cases the profoundest secrecy----"

"Monsieur," said the Marquis, whose face expressed the sincerest pain,
"if my explanations should lead to any blame being attached to Madame
d'Espard's conduct, what will be the result?"

"The Court may add its censure to its reasons for its decision."

"Is such censure optional? If I were to stipulate with you, before
replying, that nothing should be said that could annoy Madame d'Espard
in the event of your report being in my favor, would the Court take my
request into consideration?"

The judge looked at the Marquis, and the two men exchanged sentiments
of equal magnanimity.

"Noel," said Popinot to his registrar, "go into the other room. If you
can be of use, I will call you in.--If, as I am inclined to think," he
went on, speaking to the Marquis when the clerk had gone out, "I find
that there is some misunderstanding in this case, I can promise you,
monsieur, that on your application the Court will act with due

"There is a leading fact put forward by Madame d'Espard, the most
serious of all, of which I must beg for an explanation," said the
judge after a pause. "It refers to the dissipation of your fortune to
the advantage of a certain Madame Jeanrenaud, the widow of a
bargemaster--or rather, to that of her son, Colonel Jeanrenaud, for
whom you are said to have procured an appointment, to have exhausted
your influence with the King, and at last to have extended such
protection as secures him a good marriage. The petition suggests that
such a friendship is more devoted than any feelings, even those which
morality must disapprove----"

A sudden flush crimsoned the Marquis' face and forehead, tears even
started to his eyes, for his eyelashes were wet, then wholesome pride
crushed the emotions, which in a man are accounted a weakness.

"To tell you the truth, monsieur," said the Marquis, in a broken
voice, "you place me in a strange dilemma. The motives of my conduct
were to have died with me. To reveal them I must disclose to you some
secret wounds, must place the honor of my family in your keeping, and
must speak of myself, a delicate matter, as you will fully understand.
I hope, monsieur, that it will all remain a secret between us. You
will, no doubt, be able to find in the formulas of the law one which
will allow of judgment being pronounced without any betrayal of my

"So far as that goes, it is perfectly possible, Monsieur le Marquis."

"Some time after my marriage," said M. d'Espard, "my wife having run
into considerable expenses, I was obliged to have recourse to
borrowing. You know what was the position of noble families during the
Revolution; I had not been able to keep a steward or a man of
business. Nowadays gentlemen are for the most part obliged to manage
their affairs themselves. Most of my title-deeds had been brought to
Paris, from Languedoc, Provence, or le Comtat, by my father, who
dreaded, and not without reason, the inquisition which family
title-deeds, and what was then styled the 'parchments' of the
privileged class, brought down on the owners.

"Our name is Negrepelisse; d'Espard is a title acquired in the time of
Henri IV. by a marriage which brought us the estates and titles of the
house of d'Espard, on condition of our bearing an escutcheon of
pretence on our coat-of-arms, those of the house of d'Espard, an old
family of Bearn, connected in the female line with that of Albret:
quarterly, paly of or and sable; and azure two griffins' claws armed,
gules in saltire, with the famous motto Des partem leonis. At the time
of this alliance we lost Negrepelisse, a little town which was as
famous during the religious struggles as was my ancestor who then bore
the name. Captain de Negrepelisse was ruined by the burning of all his
property, for the Protestants did not spare a friend of Montluc's.

"The Crown was unjust to M. de Negrepelisse; he received neither a
marshal's baton, nor a post as governor, nor any indemnity; King
Charles IX., who was fond of him, died without being able to reward
him; Henri IV. arranged his marriage with Mademoiselle d'Espard, and
secured him the estates of that house, but all those of the
Negrepelisses had already passed into the hands of his creditors.

"My great-grandfather, the Marquis d'Espard, was, like me, placed
early in life at the head of his family by the death of his father,
who, after dissipating his wife's fortune, left his son nothing but
the entailed estates of the d'Espards, burdened with a jointure. The
young Marquis was all the more straitened for money because he held a
post at Court. Being in great favor with Louis XIV., the King's
goodwill brought him a fortune. But here, monsieur, a blot stained our
escutcheon, an unconfessed and horrible stain of blood and disgrace
which I am making it my business to wipe out. I discovered the secret
among the deeds relating to the estate of Negrepelisse and the packets
of letters."

At this solemn moment the Marquis spoke without hesitation or any of
the repetition habitual with him; but it is a matter of common
observation that persons who, in ordinary life, are afflicted with
these two defects, are freed from them as soon as any passionate
emotion underlies their speech.

"The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was decreed," he went on. "You
are no doubt aware, monsieur, that this was an opportunity for many
favorites to make their fortunes. Louis XIV. bestowed on the magnates
about his Court the confiscated lands of those Protestant families who
did not take the prescribed steps for the sale of their property. Some
persons in high favor went 'Protestant-hunting,' as the phrase was. I
have ascertained beyond a doubt that the fortune enjoyed to this day
by two ducal families is derived from lands seized from hapless

"I will not attempt to explain to you, a man of law, all the
manoeuvres employed to entrap the refugees who had large fortunes to
carry away. It is enough to say that the lands of Negrepelisse,
comprising twenty-two churches and rights over the town, and those of
Gravenges which had formerly belonged to us, were at that time in the
hands of a Protestant family. My grandfather recovered them by gift
from Louis XIV. This gift was effected by documents hall-marked by
atrocious iniquity. The owner of these two estates, thinking he would
be able to return, had gone through the form of a sale, and was going
to Switzerland to join his family, whom he had sent in advance. He
wished, no doubt, to take advantage of every delay granted by the law,
so as to settle the concerns of his business.

"This man was arrested by order of the governor, the trustee confessed
the truth, the poor merchant was hanged, and my ancestor had the two
estates. I would gladly have been able to ignore the share he took in
the plot; but the governor was his uncle on the mother's side, and I
have unfortunately read the letter in which he begged him to apply to
Deodatus, the name agreed upon by the Court to designate the King. In
this letter there is a tone of jocosity with reference to the victim,
which filled me with horror. In the end, the sums of money sent by the
refugee family to ransom the poor man were kept by the governor, who
despatched the merchant all the same."

The Marquis paused, as though the memory of it were still too heavy
for him to bear.

"This unfortunate family were named Jeanrenaud," he went on. "That
name is enough to account for my conduct. I could never think without
keen pain of the secret disgrace that weighed on my family. That
fortune enabled my grandfather to marry a demoiselle de
Navarreins-Lansac, heiress to the younger branch of that house, who
were at that time much richer than the elder branch of the Navarreins.
My father thus became one of the largest landowners in the kingdom. He
was able to marry my mother, a Grandlieu of the younger branch. Though
ill-gotten, this property has been singularly profitable.

"For my part, being determined to remedy the mischief, I wrote to
Switzerland, and knew no peace till I was on the traces of the
Protestant victim's heirs. At last I discovered that the Jeanrenauds,
reduced to abject want, had left Fribourg and returned to live in
France. Finally, I found a M. Jeanrenaud, lieutenant in a cavalry
regiment under Napoleon, the sole heir of this unhappy family. In my
eyes, monsieur, the rights of the Jeanrenauds were clear. To establish
a prescriptive right is it not necessary that there should have been
some possibility of proceeding against those who are in the enjoyment
of it? To whom could these refugees have appealed? Their Court of
Justice was on high, or rather, monsieur, it was here," and the
Marquis struck his hand on his heart. "I did not choose that my
children should be able to think of me as I have thought of my father
and of my ancestors. I aim at leaving them an unblemished inheritance
and escutcheon. I did not choose that nobility should be a lie in my
person. And, after all, politically speaking, ought those emigres who
are now appealing against revolutionary confiscations, to keep the
property derived from antecedent confiscations by positive crimes?

"I found in M. Jeanrenaud and his mother the most perverse honesty; to
hear them you would suppose that they were robbing me. In spite of all
I could say, they will accept no more than the value of the lands at
the time when the King bestowed them on my family. The price was
settled between us at the sum of eleven hundred thousand francs, which
I was to pay at my convenience and without interest. To achieve this I
had to forego my income for a long time. And then, monsieur, began the
destruction of some illusions I had allowed myself as to Madame
d'Espard's character. When I proposed to her that we should leave
Paris and go into the country, where we could live respected on half
of her income, and so more rapidly complete a restitution of which I
spoke to her without going into the more serious details, Madame
d'Espard treated me as a madman. I then understood my wife's real
character. She would have approved of my grandfather's conduct without
a scruple, and have laughed at the Huguenots. Terrified by her
coldness, and her little affection for her children, whom she
abandoned to me without regret, I determined to leave her the command
of her fortune, after paying our common debts. It was no business of
hers, as she told me, to pay for my follies. As I then had not enough
to live on and pay for my sons' education, I determined to educate
them myself, to make them gentlemen and men of feeling. By investing
my money in the funds I have been enabled to pay off my obligation
sooner than I had dared to hope, for I took advantage of the
opportunities afforded by the improvement in prices. If I had kept
four thousand francs a year for my boys and myself, I could only have
paid off twenty thousand crowns a year, and it would have taken almost
eighteen years to achieve my freedom. As it is, I have lately repaid
the whole of the eleven hundred thousand francs that were due. Thus I
enjoy the happiness of having made this restitution without doing my
children the smallest wrong.

"These, monsieur, are the reasons for the payments made to Madame
Jeanrenaud and her son."

"So Madame d'Espard knew the motives of your retirement?" said the
judge, controlling the emotion he felt at this narrative.

"Yes, monsieur."

Popinot gave an expressive shrug; he rose and opened the door into the
next room.

"Noel, you can go," said he to his clerk.

"Monsieur," he went on, "though what you have told me is enough to
enlighten me thoroughly, I should like to hear what you have to say to
the other facts put forward in the petition. For instance, you are
here carrying on a business such as is not habitually undertaken by a
man of rank."

"We cannot discuss that matter here," said the Marquis, signing to the
judge to quit the room. "Nouvion," said he to the old man, "I am going
down to my rooms; the children will soon be in; dine with us."

"Then, Monsieur le Marquis," said Popinot on the stairs, "that is not
your apartment?"

"No, monsieur; I took those rooms for the office of this undertaking.
You see," and he pointed to an advertisement sheet, "the History is
being brought out by one of the most respectable firms in Paris, and
not by me."

The Marquis showed the lawyer into the ground-floor rooms, saying,
"This is my apartment."

Popinot was quite touched by the poetry, not aimed at but pervading
this dwelling. The weather was lovely, the windows were open, the air
from the garden brought in a wholesome earthy smell, the sunshine
brightened and gilded the woodwork, of a rather gloomy brown. At the
sight Popinot made up his mind that a madman would hardly be capable
of inventing the tender harmony of which he was at that moment

"I should like just such an apartment," thought he. "You think of
leaving this part of town?" he inquired.

"I hope so," replied the Marquis. "But I shall remain till my younger
son has finished his studies, and till the children's character is
thoroughly formed, before introducing them to the world and to their
mother's circle. Indeed, after giving them the solid information they
possess, I intend to complete it by taking them to travel to the
capitals of Europe, that they may see men and things, and become
accustomed to speak the languages they have learned. And, monsieur,"
he went on, giving the judge a chair in the drawing-room, "I could not
discuss the book on China with you, in the presence of an old friend
of my family, the Comte de Nouvion, who, having emigrated, has
returned to France without any fortune whatever, and who is my partner
in this concern, less for my profit than his. Without telling him what
my motives were, I explained to him that I was as poor as he, but that
I had enough money to start a speculation in which he might be
usefully employed. My tutor was the Abbe Grozier, whom Charles X. on
my recommendation appointed Keeper of the Books at the Arsenal, which
were returned to that Prince when he was still Monsieur. The Abbe
Grozier was deeply learned with regard to China, its manners and
customs; he made me heir to this knowledge at an age when it is
difficult not to become a fanatic for the things we learn. At
five-and-twenty I knew Chinese, and I confess I have never been able to
check myself in an exclusive admiration for that nation, who conquered
their conquerors, whose annals extend back indisputably to a period
more remote than mythological or Bible times, who by their immutable
institutions have preserved the integrity of their empire, whose
monuments are gigantic, whose administration is perfect, among whom
revolutions are impossible, who have regarded ideal beauty as a barren
element in art, who have carried luxury and industry to such a pitch
that we cannot outdo them in anything, while they are our equals in
things where we believe ourselves superior.

"Still, monsieur, though I often make a jest of comparing China with
the present condition of European states, I am not a Chinaman, I am a
French gentleman. If you entertain any doubts as to the financial side
of this undertaking, I can prove to you that at this moment we have
two thousand five hundred subscribers to this work, which is literary,
iconographical, statistical, and religious; its importance has been
generally appreciated; our subscribers belong to every nation in
Europe, we have but twelve hundred in France. Our book will cost about
three hundred francs, and the Comte de Nouvion will derive from it
from six to seven thousand francs a year, for his comfort was the real
motive of the undertaking. For my part, I aimed only at the
possibility of affording my children some pleasures. The hundred
thousand francs I have made, quite in spite of myself, will pay for
their fencing lessons, horses, dress, and theatres, pay the masters
who teach them accomplishments, procure them canvases to spoil, the
books they may wish to buy, in short, all the little fancies which a
father finds so much pleasure in gratifying. If I had been compelled
to refuse these indulgences to my poor boys, who are so good and work
so hard, the sacrifice I made to the honor of my name would have been
doubly painful.

"In point of fact, the twelve years I have spent in retirement from
the world to educate my children have led to my being completely
forgotten at Court. I have given up the career of politics; I have
lost my historical fortune, and all the distinctions which I might
have acquired and bequeathed to my children; but our house will have
lost nothing; my boys will be men of mark. Though I have missed the
senatorship, they will win it nobly by devoting themselves to the
affairs of the country, and doing such service as is not soon
forgotten. While purifying the past record of my family, I have
insured it a glorious future; and is not that to have achieved a noble
task, though in secret and without glory?--And now, monsieur, have you
any other explanations to ask me?"

At this instant the tramp of horses was heard in the courtyard.

"Here they are!" said the Marquis. In a moment the two lads,
fashionably but plainly dressed, came into the room, booted, spurred,
and gloved, and flourishing their riding-whips. Their beaming faces
brought in the freshness of the outer air; they were brilliant with
health. They both grasped their father's hand, giving him a look, as
friends do, a glance of unspoken affection, and then they bowed coldly
to the lawyer. Popinot felt that it was quite unnecessary to question
the Marquis as to his relations towards his sons.

"Have you enjoyed yourselves?" asked the Marquis.

"Yes, father; I knocked down six dolls in twelve shots at the first
trial!" cried Camille.

"And where did you ride?"

"In the Bois; we saw my mother."

"Did she stop?"

"We were riding so fast just then that I daresay she did not see us,"
replied the young Count.

"But, then, why did you not go to speak to her?"

"I fancy I have noticed, father, that she does not care that we should
speak to her in public," said Clement in an undertone. "We are a
little too big."

The judge's hearing was keen enough to catch these words, which
brought a cloud to the Marquis' brow. Popinot took pleasure in
contemplating the picture of the father and his boys. His eyes went
back with a sense of pathos to M. d'Espard's face; his features, his
expression, and his manner all expressed honesty in its noblest
aspect, intellectual and chivalrous honesty, nobility in all its

"You--you see, monsieur," said the Marquis, and his hesitation had
returned, "you see that Justice may look in--in here at any time--yes,
at any time--here. If there is anybody crazy, it can only be the
children--the children--who are a little crazy about their father, and
the father who is very crazy about his children--but that sort of
madness rings true."

At this juncture Madame Jeanrenaud's voice was heard in the ante-room,
and the good woman came bustling in, in spite of the man-servant's

"I take no roundabout ways, I can tell you!" she exclaimed. "Yes,
Monsieur le Marquis, I want to speak to you, this very minute," she
went on, with a comprehensive bow to the company. "By George, and I am
too late as it is, since Monsieur the criminal Judge is before me."

"Criminal!" cried the two boys.

"Good reason why I did not find you at your own house, since you are
here. Well, well! the Law is always to the fore when there is mischief
brewing.--I came, Monsieur le Marquis, to tell you that my son and I
are of one mind to give you everything back, since our honor is
threatened. My son and I, we had rather give you back everything than
cause you the smallest trouble. My word, they must be as stupid as
pans without handles to call you a lunatic----"

"A lunatic! My father?" exclaimed the boys, clinging to the Marquis.
"What is this?"

"Silence, madame," said Popinot.

"Children, leave us," said the Marquis.

The two boys went into the garden without a word, but very much

"Madame," said the judge, "the moneys paid to you by Monsieur le
Marquis were legally due, though given to you in virtue of a very
far-reaching theory of honesty. If all the people possessed of
confiscated goods, by whatever cause, even if acquired by treachery,
were compelled to make restitution every hundred and fifty years,
there would be few legitimate owners in France. The possessions of
Jacques Coeur enriched twenty noble families; the confiscations
pronounced by the English to the advantage of their adherents at the
time when they held a part of France made the fortune of several
princely houses.

"Our law allows M. d'Espard to dispose of his income without
accounting for it, or suffering him to be accused of its
misapplication. A Commission in Lunacy can only be granted when a
man's actions are devoid of reason; but in this case, the remittances
made to you have a reason based on the most sacred and most honorable
motives. Hence you may keep it all without remorse, and leave the
world to misinterpret a noble action. In Paris, the highest virtue is
the object of the foulest calumny. It is, unfortunately, the present
condition of society that makes the Marquis' actions sublime. For the
honor of my country, I would that such deeds were regarded as a matter
of course; but, as things are, I am forced by comparison to look upon
M. d'Espard as a man to whom a crown should be awarded, rather than
that he should be threatened with a Commission in Lunacy.

"In the course of a long professional career, I have seen and heard
nothing that has touched me more deeply than that I have just seen and
heard. But it is not extraordinary that virtue should wear its noblest
aspect when it is practised by men of the highest class.

"Having heard me express myself in this way, I hope, Monsieur le
Marquis, that you feel certain of my silence, and that you will not
for a moment be uneasy as to the decision pronounced in the case--if
it comes before the Court."

"There, now! Well said," cried Madame Jeanrenaud. "That is something
like a judge! Look here, my dear sir, I would hug you if I were not so
ugly; you speak like a book."

The Marquis held out his hand to Popinot, who gently pressed it with a
look full of sympathetic comprehension at this great man in private
life, and the Marquis responded with a pleasant smile. These two
natures, both so large and full--one commonplace but divinely kind,
the other lofty and sublime--had fallen into unison gently, without a
jar, without a flash of passion, as though two pure lights had been
merged into one. The father of a whole district felt himself worthy to
grasp the hand of this man who was doubly noble, and the Marquis felt
in the depths of his soul an instinct that told him that the judge's
hand was one of those from which the treasures of inexhaustible
beneficence perennially flow.

"Monsieur le Marquis," added Popinot, with a bow, "I am happy to be
able to tell you that, from the first words of this inquiry, I
regarded my clerk as quite unnecessary."

He went close to M. d'Espard, led him into the window-bay, and said:
"It is time that you should return home, monsieur. I believe that
Madame la Marquise has acted in this matter under an influence which
you ought at once to counteract."

Popinot withdrew. He looked back several times as he crossed the
courtyard, touched by the recollection of the scene. It was one of
those which take root in the memory to blossom again in certain hours
when the soul seeks consolation.

"Those rooms would just suit me," said he to himself as he reached
home. "If M. d'Espard leaves them, I will take up his lease."

The next day, at about ten in the morning, Popinot, who had written
out his report the previous evening, made his way to the Palais de
Justice, intending to have prompt and righteous justice done. As he
went to the robing-room to put on his gown and bands, the usher told
him that the President of his Court begged him to attend in his
private room, where he was waiting for him. Popinot forthwith obeyed.

"Good-morning, my dear Popinot," said the President, "I have been
waiting for you."

"Why, Monsieur le President, is anything wrong?"

"A mere silly trifle," said the President. "The Keeper of the Seals,
with whom I had the honor of dining yesterday, led me apart into a
corner. He had heard that you had been to tea with Madame d'Espard, in
whose case you were employed to make inquiries. He gave me to
understand that it would be as well that you should not sit on this

"But, Monsieur le President, I can prove that I left Madame d'Espard's
house at the moment when tea was brought in. And my conscience----"

"Yes, yes; the whole Bench, the two Courts, all the profession know
you. I need not repeat what I said about you to his Eminence; but, you
know, 'Caesar's wife must not be suspected.' So we shall not make this
foolish trifle a matter of discipline, but only of proprieties.
Between ourselves, it is not on your account, but on that of the

"But, monsieur, if you only knew the kind of woman----" said the
judge, trying to pull his report out of his pocket.

"I am perfectly certain that you have proceeded in this matter with
the strictest independence of judgment. I myself, in the provinces,
have often taken more than a cup of tea with the people I had to try;
but the fact that the Keeper of the Seals should have mentioned it,
and that you might be talked about, is enough to make the Court avoid
any discussion of the matter. Any conflict with public opinion must
always be dangerous for a constitutional body, even when the right is
on its side against the public, because their weapons are not equal.
Journalism may say or suppose anything, and our dignity forbids us
even to reply. In fact, I have spoken of the matter to your President,
and M. Camusot has been appointed in your place on your retirement,
which you will signify. It is a family matter, so to speak. And I now
beg you to signify your retirement from the case as a personal favor.
To make up, you will get the Cross of the Legion of Honor, which has
so long been due to you. I make that my business."

When he saw M. Camusot, a judge recently called to Paris from a
provincial Court of the same class, as he went forward bowing to the
Judge and the President, Popinot could not repress an ironical smile.
This pale, fair young man, full of covert ambition, looked ready to
hang and unhang, at the pleasure of any earthy king, the innocent and
the guilty alike, and to follow the example of a Laubardemont rather
than that of a Mole.

Popinot withdrew with a bow; he scorned to deny the lying accusation
that had been brought against him.

PARIS, February 1836.


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

Note: The Commission in Lunacy is also known as The Interdiction and
is referred to by that title in certain of the addendums.

Bianchon, Horace
Father Goriot
The Atheist's Mass
Cesar Birotteau
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Secrets of a Princess
The Government Clerks
A Study of Woman
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Seamy Side of History
The Magic Skin
A Second Home
A Prince of Bohemia
Letters of Two Brides
The Muse of the Department
The Imaginary Mistress
The Middle Classes
Cousin Betty
The Country Parson
In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following:
Another Study of Woman
La Grande Breteche

The Gondreville Mystery
The Seamy Side of History
Jealousies of a Country Town

Camusot de Marville
Cousin Pons
Jealousies of a Country Town
Scenes from a Cuortesan's Life

Desroches (son)
A Bachelor's Establishment
Colonel Chabert
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty
The Government Clerks
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Firm of Nucingen
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes

Espard, Charles-Maurice-Marie-Andoche, Comte de Negrepelisse, Marquis d'
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Espard, Chevalier d'
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Secrets of a Princess

Espard, Jeanne-Clementine-Athenais de Blamont-Chauvry, Marquise d'
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Letters of Two Brides
Another Study of Woman
The Gondreville Mystery
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve

Godeschal, Francois-Claude-Marie
Colonel Chabert
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
The Middle Classes
Cousin Pons

Grozier, Abbe
Lost Illusions

Albert Savarus

Mongenod, Frederic
The Seamy Side of History

Negrepelisse, De
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

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

Popinot, Jean-Jules
Cesar Birotteau
The Seamy Side of History
The Middle Classes

Rabourdin, Madame
The Government Clerks

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