Part 3 out of 6
"But, mademoiselle, I have two sons and two daughters; we should
greatly inconvenience you."
"Pray do not refuse me," she said earnestly.
"I made you the same offer in the answer I wrote to your letter," said
the abbe; "but you did not receive it."
"What, uncle! then you knew--"
The poor woman stopped. Josette sighed. Neither the viscount nor the
abbe observed anything amiss. After breakfast the Abbe de Sponde
carried off his guest, as agreed upon the previous evening, to show
him the various houses in Alencon which could be bought, and the lots
of lands on which he might build.
Left alone in the salon, Mademoiselle Cormon said to Josette, with a
deeply distressed air, "My child, I am now the talk of the whole
"Well, then, mademoiselle, you should marry."
"But I am not prepared to make a choice."
"Bah! if I were in your place, I should take Monsieur du Bousquier."
"Josette, Monsieur de Valois says he is so republican."
"They don't know what they say, your gentlemen: sometimes they declare
that he robbed the republic; he couldn't love it if he did that," said
"That girl has an amazing amount of sense," thought Mademoiselle
Cormon, who remained alone, a prey to her perplexities.
She saw plainly that a prompt marriage was the only way to silence the
town. This last checkmate, so evidently mortifying, was of a nature to
drive her into some extreme action; for persons deficient in mind find
difficulty in getting out of any path, either good or evil, into which
they have entered.
Each of the two old bachelors had fully understood the situation in
which Mademoiselle Cormon was about to find herself; consequently,
each resolved to call in the course of that morning to ask after her
health, and take occasion, in bachelor language, to "press his point."
Monsieur de Valois considered that such an occasion demanded a
painstaking toilet; he therefore took a bath and groomed himself with
extraordinary care. For the first and last time Cesarine observed him
putting on with incredible art a suspicion of rouge. Du Bousquier, on
the other hand, that coarse republican, spurred by a brisk will, paid
no attention to his dress, and arrived the first.
Such little things decide the fortunes of men, as they do of empires.
Kellerman's charge at Marengo, Blucher's arrival at Waterloo, Louis
XIV.'s disdain for Prince Eugene, the rector of Denain,--all these
great causes of fortune or catastrophe history has recorded; but no
one ever profits by them to avoid the small neglects of their own
life. Consequently, observe what happens: the Duchesse de Langeais
(see "History of the Thirteen") makes herself a nun for the lack of
ten minutes' patience; Judge Popinot (see "Commission in Lunacy") puts
off till the morrow the duty of examining the Marquis d'Espard;
Charles Grandet (see "Eugenie Grandet") goes to Paris from Bordeaux
instead of returning by Nantes; and such events are called chance or
fatality! A touch of rouge carefully applied destroyed the hopes of
the Chevalier de Valois; could that nobleman perish in any other way?
He had lived by the Graces, and he was doomed to die by their hand.
While the chevalier was giving this last touch to his toilet the rough
du Bousquier was entering the salon of the desolate old maid. This
entrance produced a thought in Mademoiselle Cormon's mind which was
favorable to the republican, although in all other respects the
Chevalier de Valois held the advantages.
"God wills it!" she said piously, on seeing du Bousquier.
"Mademoiselle, you will not, I trust, think my eagerness importunate.
I could not trust to my stupid Rene to bring news of your condition,
and therefore I have come myself."
"I am perfectly recovered," she replied, in a tone of emotion. "I
thank you, Monsieur du Bousquier," she added, after a slight pause,
and in a significant tone of voice, "for the trouble you have taken,
and for that which I gave you yesterday--"
She remembered having been in his arms, and that again seemed to her
an order from heaven. She had been seen for the first time by a man
with her laces cut, her treasures violently bursting from their
"I carried you with such joy that you seemed to me light."
Here Mademoiselle Cormon looked at du Bousquier as she had never yet
looked at any man in the world. Thus encouraged, the purveyor cast
upon the old maid a glance which reached her heart.
"I would," he said, "that that moment had given me the right to keep
you as mine forever" [she listened with a delighted air]; "as you lay
fainting upon that bed, you were enchanting. I have never in my life
seen a more beautiful person,--and I have seen many handsome women.
Plump ladies have this advantage: they are superb to look upon; they
have only to show themselves and they triumph."
"I fear you are making fun of me," said the old maid, "and that is not
kind when all the town will probably misinterpret what happened to me
"As true as my name is du Bousquier, mademoiselle, I have never
changed in my feelings toward you; and your first refusal has not
The old maid's eyes were lowered. There was a moment of cruel silence
for du Bousquier, and then Mademoiselle Cormon decided on her course.
She raised her eyelids; tears flowed from her eyes, and she gave du
Bousquier a tender glance.
"If that is so, monsieur," she said, in a trembling voice, "promise me
to live in a Christian manner, and not oppose my religious customs,
but to leave me the right to select my confessors, and I will grant
you my hand"; as she said the words, she held it out to him.
Du Bousquier seized the good fat hand so full of money, and kissed it
"But," she said, allowing him to kiss it, "one thing more I must
require of you."
"If it is a possible thing, it is granted," replied the purveyor.
"Alas!" returned the old maid. "For my sake, I must ask you to take
upon yourself a sin which I feel to be enormous,--for to lie is one of
the capital sins. But you will confess it, will you not? We will do
penance for it together" [they looked at each other tenderly].
"Besides, it may be one of those lies which the Church permits as
"Can she be as Suzanne says she is?" thought du Bousquier. "What luck!
Well, mademoiselle, what is it?" he said aloud.
"That you will take upon yourself to--"
"To say that this marriage has been agreed upon between us for the
last six months."
"Charming woman," said the purveyor, in the tone of a man willing to
devote himself, "such sacrifices can be made only for a creature
adored these ten years."
"In spite of my harshness?" she said.
"Yes, in spite of your harshness."
"Monsieur du Bousquier, I have misjudged you."
Again she held out the fat red hand, which du Bousquier kissed again.
At this moment the door opened; the betrothed pair, looking round to
see who entered, beheld the delightful, but tardy Chevalier de Valois.
"Ah!" he said, on entering, "I see you are about to be up, fair
She smiled at the chevalier, feeling a weight upon her heart. Monsieur
de Valois, remarkably young and seductive, had the air of a Lauzun
re-entering the apartments of the Grande Mademoiselle in the
"Hey! dear du Bousquier," said he, in a jaunty tone, so sure was he of
success, "Monsieur de Troisville and the Abbe de Sponde are examining
your house like appraisers."
"Faith!" said du Bousquier, "if the Vicomte de Troisville wants it, it
it is his for forty thousand francs. It is useless to me now. If
mademoiselle will permit--it must soon be known-- Mademoiselle, may I
tell it?-- Yes! Well, then, be the first, /my dear Chevalier/, to hear"
[Mademoiselle Cormon dropped her eyes] "of the honor that mademoiselle
has done me, the secret of which I have kept for some months. We shall
be married in a few days; the contract is already drawn, and we shall
sign it to-morrow. You see, therefore, that my house in the rue du
Cygne is useless to me. I have been privately looking for a purchaser
for some time; and the Abbe de Sponde, who knew that fact, has
naturally taken Monsieur de Troisville to see the house."
This falsehood bore such an appearance of truth that the chevalier was
taken in by it. That "my dear chevalier" was like the revenge taken by
Peter the Great on Charles XII. at Pultawa for all his past defeats.
Du Bousquier revenged himself deliciously for the thousand little
shafts he had long borne in silence; but in his triumph he made a
lively youthful gesture by running his hands through his hair, and in
so doing he--knocked aside his false front.
"I congratulate you both," said the chevalier, with an agreeable air;
"and I wish that the marriage may end like a fairy tale: /They were
happy ever after, and had--many--children/!" So saying, he took a pinch
of snuff. "But, monsieur," he added satirically, "you forget--that you
are wearing a false front."
Du Bousquier blushed. The false front was hanging half a dozen inches
from his skull. Mademoiselle Cormon raised her eyes, saw that skull in
all its nudity, and lowered them, abashed. Du Bousquier cast upon the
chevalier the most venomous look that toad ever darted on its prey.
"Dogs of aristocrats who despise me," thought he, "I'll crush you some
The chevalier thought he had recovered his advantage. But Mademoiselle
Cormon was not a woman to understand the connection which the
chevalier intimated between his congratulatory wish and the false
front. Besides, even if she had comprehended it, her word was passed,
her hand given. Monsieur de Valois saw at once that all was lost. The
innocent woman, with the two now silent men before her, wished, true
to her sense of duty, to amuse them.
"Why not play a game of piquet together?" she said artlessly, without
the slightest malice.
Du Bousquier smiled, and went, as the future master of the house, to
fetch the piquet table. Whether the Chevalier de Valois lost his head,
or whether he wanted to stay and study the causes of his disaster and
remedy it, certain it is that he allowed himself to be led like a lamb
to the slaughter. He had received the most violent knock-down blow
that ever struck a man; any nobleman would have lost his senses for
The Abbe de Sponde and the Vicomte de Troisville soon returned.
Mademoiselle Cormon instantly rose, hurried into the antechamber, and
took her uncle apart to tell him her resolution. Learning that the
house in the rue du Cygne exactly suited the viscount, she begged her
future husband to do her the kindness to tell him that her uncle knew
it was for sale. She dared not confide that lie to the abbe, fearing
his absent-mindedness. The lie, however, prospered better than if it
had been a virtuous action. In the course of that evening all Alencon
heard the news. For the last four days the town had had as much to
think of as during the fatal days of 1814 and 1815. Some laughed;
others admitted the marriage. These blamed it; those approved it. The
middle classes of Alencon rejoiced; they regarded it as a victory. The
next day, among friends, the Chevalier de Valois said a cruel thing:--
"The Cormons end as they began; there's only a hand's breadth between
a steward and a purveyor."
The news of Mademoiselle Cormon's choice stabbed poor Athanase Granson
to the heart; but he showed no outward sign of the terrible agitation
within him. When he first heard of the marriage he was at the house of
the chief-justice, du Ronceret, where his mother was playing boston.
Madame Granson looked at her son in a mirror, and thought him pale;
but he had been so all day, for a vague rumor of the matter had
already reached him.
Mademoiselle Cormon was the card on which Athanase had staked his
life; and the cold presentiment of a catastrophe was already upon him.
When the soul and the imagination have magnified a misfortune and made
it too heavy for the shoulders and the brain to bear; when a hope long
cherished, the realization of which would pacify the vulture feeding
on the heart, is balked, and the man has faith neither in himself,
despite his powers, nor in the future, despite of the Divine power,
--then that man is lost. Athanase was a fruit of the Imperial system
of education. Fatality, the Emperor's religion, had filtered down from
the throne to the lowest ranks of the army and the benches of the
lyceums. Athanase sat still, with his eyes fixed on Madame du
Ronceret's cards, in a stupor that might so well pass for indifference
that Madame Granson herself was deceived about his feelings. This
apparent unconcern explained her son's refusal to make a sacrifice for
this marriage of his /liberal/ opinions,--the term "liberal" having
lately been created for the Emperor Alexander by, I think, Madame de
Stael, through the lips of Benjamin Constant.
After that fatal evening the young man took to rambling among the
picturesque regions of the Sarthe, the banks of which are much
frequented by sketchers who come to Alencon for points of view.
Windmills are there, and the river is gay in the meadows. The shores
of the Sarthe are bordered with beautiful trees, well grouped. Though
the landscape is flat, it is not without those modest graces which
distinguish France, where the eye is never wearied by the brilliancy
of Oriental skies, nor saddened by constant fog. The place is
solitary. In the provinces no one pays much attention to a fine view,
either because provincials are blases on the beauty around them, or
because they have no poesy in their souls. If there exists in the
provinces a mall, a promenade, a vantage-ground from which a fine view
can be obtained, that is the point to which no one goes. Athanase was
fond of this solitude, enlivened by the sparkling water, where the
fields were the first to green under the earliest smiling of the
springtide sun. Those persons who saw him sitting beneath a poplar,
and who noticed the vacant eye which he turned to them, would say to
"Something is the matter with your son."
"I know what it is," the mother would reply; hinting that he was
meditating over some great work.
Athanase no longer took part in politics: he ceased to have opinions;
but he appeared at times quite gay,--gay with the satire of those who
think to insult a whole world with their own individual scorn. This
young man, outside of all the ideas and all the pleasures of the
provinces, interested few persons; he was not even an object of
curiosity. If persons spoke of him to his mother, it was for her sake,
not his. There was not a single soul in Alencon that sympathized with
his; not a woman, not a friend came near to dry his tears; they
dropped into the Sarthe. If the gorgeous Suzanne had happened that
way, how many young miseries might have been born of the meeting! for
the two would surely have loved each other.
She did come, however. Suzanne's ambition was early excited by the
tale of a strange adventure which had happened at the tavern of the
More,--a tale which had taken possession of her childish brain. A
Parisian woman, beautiful as the angels, was sent by Fouche to
entangle the Marquis de Montauran, otherwise called "The Gars," in a
love-affair (see "The Chouans"). She met him at the tavern of the More
on his return from an expedition to Mortagne; she cajoled him, made
him love her, and then betrayed him. That fantastic power--the power
of beauty over mankind; in fact, the whole story of Marie de Verneuil
and the Gars--dazzled Suzanne; she longed to grow up in order to play
upon men. Some months after her hasty departure she passed through her
native town with an artist on his way to Brittany. She wanted to see
Fougeres, where the adventure of the Marquis de Montauran culminated,
and to stand upon the scene of that picturesque war, the tragedies of
which, still so little known, had filled her childish mind. Besides
this, she had a fancy to pass through Alencon so elegantly equipped
that no one could recognize her; to put her mother above the reach of
necessity, and also to send to poor Athanase, in a delicate manner, a
sum of money,--which in our age is to genius what in the middle ages
was the charger and the coat of mail that Rebecca conveyed to Ivanhoe.
One month passed away in the strangest uncertainties respecting the
marriage of Mademoiselle Cormon. A party of unbelievers denied the
marriage altogether; the believers, on the other hand, affirmed it. At
the end of two weeks, the faction of unbelief received a vigorous blow
in the sale of du Bousquier's house to the Marquis de Troisville, who
only wanted a simple establishment in Alencon, intending to go to
Paris after the death of the Princess Scherbellof; he proposed to
await that inheritance in retirement, and then to reconstitute his
estates. This seemed positive. The unbelievers, however, were not
crushed. They declared that du Bousquier, married or not, had made an
excellent sale, for the house had only cost him twenty-seven thousand
francs. The believers were depressed by this practical observation of
the incredulous. Choisnel, Mademoiselle Cormon's notary, asserted the
latter, had heard nothing about the marriage contract; but the
believers, still firm in their faith, carried off, on the twentieth
day, a signal victory: Monsieur Lepressoir, the notary of the
liberals, went to Mademoiselle Cormon's house, and the contract was
This was the first of the numerous sacrifices which Mademoiselle
Cormon was destined to make to her husband. Du Bousquier bore the
deepest hatred to Choisnel; to him he owed the refusal of the hand of
Mademoiselle Armande,--a refusal which, as he believed, had influenced
that of Mademoiselle Cormon. This circumstance alone made the marriage
drag along. Mademoiselle received several anonymous letters. She
learned, to her great astonishment, that Suzanne was as truly a virgin
as herself so far as du Bousquier was concerned, for that seducer with
the false toupet could never be the hero of any such adventure.
Mademoiselle Cormon disdained anonymous letters; but she wrote to
Suzanne herself, on the ground of enlightening the Maternity Society.
Suzanne, who had no doubt heard of du Bousquier's proposed marriage,
acknowledged her trick, sent a thousand francs to the society, and did
all the harm she could to the old purveyor. Mademoiselle Cormon
convoked the Maternity Society, which held a special meeting at which
it was voted that the association would not in future assist any
misfortunes about to happen, but solely those that had happened.
In spite of all these various events which kept the town in the
choicest gossip, the banns were published in the churches and at the
mayor's office. Athanase prepared the deeds. As a matter of propriety
and public decency, the bride retired to Prebaudet, where du
Bousquier, bearing sumptuous and horrible bouquets, betook himself
every morning, returning home for dinner.
At last, on a dull and rainy morning in June, the marriage of
Mademoiselle Cormon and the Sieur du Bousquier took place at noon in
the parish church of Alencon, in sight of the whole town. The bridal
pair went from their own house to the mayor's office, and from the
mayor's office to the church in an open caleche, a magnificent vehicle
for Alencon, which du Bousquier had sent for secretly to Paris. The
loss of the old carriole was a species of calamity in the eyes of the
community. The harness-maker of the Porte de Seez bemoaned it, for he
lost the fifty francs a year which it cost in repairs. Alencon saw
with alarm the possibility of luxury being thus introduced into the
town. Every one feared a rise in the price of rents and provisions,
and a coming invasion of Parisian furniture. Some persons were
sufficiently pricked by curiosity to give ten sous to Jacquelin to
allow them a close inspection of the vehicle which threatened to upset
the whole economy of the region. A pair of horses, bought in
Normandie, were also most alarming.
"If we bought our own horses," said the Ronceret circle, "we couldn't
sell them to those who come to buy."
Stupid as it was, this reasoning seemed sound; for surely such a
course would prevent the region from grasping the money of foreigners.
In the eyes of the provinces wealth consisted less in the rapid
turning over of money than in sterile accumulation. It may be
mentioned here that Penelope succumbed to a pleurisy which she
acquired about six weeks before the marriage; nothing could save her.
Madame Granson, Mariette, Madame du Coudrai, Madame du Ronceret, and
through them the whole town, remarked that Madame du Bousquier entered
the church /with her left foot/,--an omen all the more dreadful because
the term Left was beginning to acquire a political meaning. The priest
whose duty it was to read the opening formula opened his book by
chance at the De Profundis. Thus the marriage was accompanied by
circumstances so fateful, so alarming, so annihilating that no one
dared to augur well of it. Matters, in fact, went from bad to worse.
There was no wedding party; the married pair departed immediately for
Prebaudet. Parisian customs, said the community, were about to triumph
over time-honored provincial ways.
The marriage of Jacquelin and Josette now took place: it was gay; and
they were the only two persons in Alencon who refuted the sinister
prophecies relating to the marriage of their mistress.
Du Bousquier determined to use the proceeds of the sale of his late
residence in restoring and modernizing the hotel Cormon. He decided to
remain through two seasons at Prebaudet, and took the Abbe de Sponde
with them. This news spread terror through the town, where every
individual felt that du Bousquier was about to drag the community into
the fatal path of "comfort." This fear increased when the inhabitants
of Alencon saw the bridegroom driving in from Prebaudet one morning to
inspect his works, in a fine tilbury drawn by a new horse, having Rene
at his side in livery. The first act of his administration had been to
place his wife's savings on the Grand-Livre, which was then quoted at
67 fr. 50 cent. In the space of one year, during which he played
constantly for a rise, he made himself a personal fortune almost as
considerable as that of his wife.
But all these foreboding prophecies, these perturbing innovations,
were superseded and surpassed by an event connected with this marriage
which gave a still more fatal aspect to it.
On the very evening of the ceremony, Athanase and his mother were
sitting, after their dinner, over a little fire of fagots, which the
servant lighted usually at dessert.
"Well, we will go this evening to the du Roncerets', inasmuch as we
have lost Mademoiselle Cormon," said Madame Granson. "Heavens! how
shall I ever accustom myself to call her Madame du Bousquier! that
name burns my lips."
Athanase looked at his mother with a constrained and melancholy air;
he could not smile; but he seemed to wish to welcome that naive
sentiment which soothed his wound, though it could not cure his
"Mamma," he said, in the voice of his childhood, so tender was it, and
using the name he had abandoned for several years,--"my dear mamma, do
not let us go out just yet; it is so pleasant here before the fire."
The mother heard, without comprehending, that supreme prayer of a
"Yes, let us stay, my child," she said. "I like much better to talk
with you and listen to your projects than to play at boston and lose
"You are so handsome to-night I love to look at you. Besides, I am in
a current of ideas which harmonize with this poor little salon where
we have suffered so much."
"And where we shall still suffer, my poor Athanase, until your works
succeed. For myself, I am trained to poverty; but you, my treasure! to
see your youth go by without a joy! nothing but toil for my poor boy
in life! That thought is like an illness to a mother; it tortures me
at night; it wakes me in the morning. O God! what have I done? for
what crime dost thou punish me thus?"
She left her sofa, took a little chair, and sat close to Athanase, so
as to lay her head on the bosom of her child. There is always the
grace of love in true motherhood. Athanase kissed her on the eyes, on
her gray hair, on her forehead, with the sacred desire of laying his
soul wherever he applied his lips.
"I shall never succeed," he said, trying to deceive his mother as to
the fatal resolution he was revolving in his mind.
"Pooh! don't get discouraged. As you often say, thought can do all
things. With ten bottles of ink, ten reams of paper, and his powerful
will, Luther upset all Europe. Well, you'll make yourself famous; you
will do good things by the same means which he used to do evil things.
Haven't you said so yourself? For my part, I listen to you; I
understand you a great deal more than you think I do,--for I still
bear you in my bosom, and your every thought still stirs me as your
slightest motion did in other days."
"I shall never succeed here, mamma; and I don't want you to witness
the sight of my struggles, my misery, my anguish. Oh, mother, let me
leave Alencon! I want to suffer away from you."
"And I wish to be at your side," replied his mother, proudly. "Suffer
without your mother!--that poor mother who would be your servant if
necessary; who will efface herself rather than injure you; your
mother, who will never shame you. No, no, Athanase; we must not part."
Athanase clung to his mother with the ardor of a dying man who clings
"But I wish it, nevertheless. If not, you will lose me; this double
grief, yours and mine, is killing me. You would rather I lived than
Madame Granson looked at her son with a haggard eye.
"So this is what you have been brooding?" she said. "They told me
right. Do you really mean to go?"
"You will not go without telling me; without warning me? You must have
an outfit and money. I have some louis sewn into my petticoat; I shall
give them to you."
"That's all I wanted to tell you," he said. "Now I'll take you to the
du Roncerets'. Come."
The mother and the son went out. Athanase left his mother at the door
of the house where she intended to pass the evening. He looked long at
the light which came through the shutters; he clung closely to the
wall, and a frenzied joy came over him when he presently heard his
mother say, "He has great independence of heart."
"Poor mother! I have deceived her," he cried, as he made his way to
He reached the noble poplar beneath which he had meditated so much for
the last forty days, and where he had placed two heavy stones on which
he now sat down. He contemplated that beautiful nature lighted by the
moon; he reviewed once more the glorious future he had longed for; he
passed through towns that were stirred by his name; he heard the
applauding crowds; he breathed the incense of his fame; he adored that
life long dreamed of; radiant, he sprang to radiant triumphs; he
raised his stature; he evoked his illusions to bid them farewell in a
last Olympic feast. The magic had been potent for a moment; but now it
vanished forever. In that awful hour he clung to the beautiful tree to
which, as to a friend, he had attached himself; then he put the two
stones into the pockets of his overcoat, which he buttoned across his
breast. He had come intentionally without a hat. He now went to the
deep pool he had long selected, and glided into it resolutely, trying
to make as little noise as possible, and, in fact, making scarcely
When, at half-past nine o'clock, Madame Granson returned home, her
servant said nothing of Athanase, but gave her a letter. She opened it
and read these few words,--
"My good mother, I have departed; don't be angry with me."
"A pretty trick he has played me!" she thought. "And his linen! and
the money! Well, he will write to me, and then I'll follow him. These
poor children think they are so much cleverer than their fathers and
And she went to bed in peace.
During the preceding morning the Sarthe had risen to a height foreseen
by the fisherman. These sudden rises of muddy water brought eels from
their various runlets. It so happened that a fisherman had spread his
net at the very place where poor Athanase had flung himself, believing
that no one would ever find him. About six o'clock in the morning the
man drew in his net, and with it the young body. The few friends of
the poor mother took every precaution in preparing her to receive the
dreadful remains. The news of this suicide made, as may well be
supposed, a great excitement in Alencon. The poor young man of genius
had no protector the night before, but on the morrow of his death a
thousand voices cried aloud, "I would have helped him." It is so easy
and convenient to be charitable gratis!
The suicide was explained by the Chevalier de Valois. He revealed, in
a spirit of revenge, the artless, sincere, and genuine love of
Athanase for Mademoiselle Cormon. Madame Granson, enlightened by the
chevalier, remembered a thousand little circumstances which confirmed
the chevalier's statement. The story then became touching, and many
women wept over it. Madame Granson's grief was silent, concentrated,
and little understood. There are two forms of mourning for mothers.
Often the world can enter fully into the nature of their loss: their
son, admired, appreciated, young, perhaps handsome, with a noble path
before him, leading to fortune, possibly to fame, excites universal
regret; society joins in the grief, and alleviates while it magnifies
it. But there is another sorrow of mothers who alone know what their
child was really; who alone have received his smiles and observed the
treasures of a life too soon cut short. That sorrow hides its woe, the
blackness of which surpasses all other mourning; it cannot be
described; happily there are but few women whose heart-strings are
Before Madame du Bousquier returned to town, Madame du Ronceret, one
of her good friends, had driven out to Prebaudet to fling this corpse
upon the roses of her joy, to show her the love she had ignored, and
sweetly shed a thousand drops of wormwood into the honey of her bridal
month. As Madame du Bousquier drove back to Alencon, she chanced to
meet Madame Granson at the corner of the rue Val-Noble. The glance of
the mother, dying of her grief, struck to the heart of the poor woman.
A thousand maledictions, a thousand flaming reproaches, were in that
look: Madame du Bousquier was horror-struck; that glance predicted and
called down evil upon her head.
The evening after the catastrophe, Madame Granson, one of the persons
most opposed to the rector of the town, and who had hitherto supported
the minister of Saint-Leonard, began to tremble as she thought of the
inflexible Catholic doctrines professed by her own party. After
placing her son's body in its shroud with her own hands, thinking of
the mother of the Saviour, she went, with a soul convulsed by anguish,
to the house of the hated rector. There she found the modest priest in
an outer room, engaged in putting away the flax and yarns with which
he supplied poor women, in order that they might never be wholly out
of work,--a form of charity which saved many who were incapable of
begging from actual penury. The rector left his yarns and hastened to
take Madame Granson into his dining-room, where the wretched mother
noticed, as she looked at his supper, the frugal method of his own
"Monsieur l'abbe," she said, "I have come to implore you--" She burst
into tears, unable to continue.
"I know what brings you," replied the saintly man. "I must trust to
you, madame, and to your relation, Madame du Bousquier, to pacify
Monseigneur the Bishop at Seez. Yes, I will pray for your unhappy
child; yes, I will say the masses. But we must avoid all scandal, and
give no opportunity for evil-judging persons to assemble in the
church. I alone, without other clergy, at night--"
"Yes, yes, as you think best; if only he may lie in consecrated
ground," said the poor mother, taking the priest's hand and kissing
Toward midnight a coffin was clandestinely borne to the parish church
by four young men, comrades whom Athanase had liked the best. A few
friends of Madame Granson, women dressed in black, and veiled, were
present; and half a dozen other young men who had been somewhat
intimate with this lost genius. Four torches flickered on the coffin,
which was covered with crape. The rector, assisted by one discreet
choirboy, said the mortuary mass. Then the body of the suicide was
noiselessly carried to a corner of the cemetery, where a black wooden
cross, without inscription, was all that indicated its place hereafter
to the mother. Athanase lived and died in shadow. No voice was raised
to blame the rector; the bishop kept silence. The piety of the mother
redeemed the impiety of the son's last act.
Some months later, the poor woman, half beside herself with grief, and
moved by one of those inexplicable thirsts which misery feels to steep
its lips in the bitter chalice, determined to see the spot where her
son was drowned. Her instinct may have told her that thoughts of his
could be recovered beneath that poplar; perhaps, too, she desired to
see what his eyes had seen for the last time. Some mothers would die
of the sight; others give themselves up to it in saintly adoration.
Patient anatomists of human nature cannot too often enunciate the
truths before which all educations, laws, and philosophical systems
must give way. Let us repeat continually: it is absurd to force
sentiments into one formula: appearing as they do, in each individual
man, they combine with the elements that form his nature and take his
Madame Granson, as she stood on that fatal spot, saw a woman approach
it, who exclaimed,--
"Was it here?"
That woman wept as the mother wept. It was Suzanne. Arriving that
morning at the hotel du More, she had been told of the catastrophe. If
poor Athanase had been living, she meant to do as many noble souls,
who are moneyless, dream of doing, and as the rich never think of
doing,--she meant to have sent him several thousand francs, writing up
the envelope the words: "Money due to your father from a comrade who
makes restitution to you." This tender scheme had been arranged by
Suzanne during her journey.
The courtesan caught sight of Madame Granson and moved rapidly away,
whispering as she passed her, "I loved him!"
Suzanne, faithful to her nature, did not leave Alencon on this
occasion without changing the orange-blossoms of the bride to rue. She
was the first to declare that Madame du Bousquier would never be
anything but Mademoiselle Cormon. With one stab of her tongue she
revenged poor Athanase and her dear chevalier.
Alencon now witnessed a suicide that was slower and quite differently
pitiful from that of poor Athanase, who was quickly forgotten by
society, which always makes haste to forget its dead. The poor
Chevalier de Valois died in life; his suicide was a daily occurrence
for fourteen years. Three months after the du Bousquier marriage
society remarked, not without astonishment, that the linen of the
chevalier was frayed and rusty, that his hair was irregularly combed
and brushed. With a frowsy head the Chevalier de Valois could no
longer be said to exist! A few of his ivory teeth deserted, though the
keenest observers of human life were unable to discover to what body
they had hitherto belonged, whether to a foreign legion or whether
they were indigenous, vegetable or animal; whether age had pulled them
from the chevalier's mouth, or whether they were left forgotten in the
drawer of his dressing-table. The cravat was crooked, indifferent to
elegance. The negroes' heads grew pale with dust and grease. The
wrinkles of the face were blackened and puckered; the skin became
parchment. The nails, neglected, were often seen, alas! with a black
velvet edging. The waistcoat was tracked and stained with droppings
which spread upon its surface like autumn leaves. The cotton in the
ears was seldom changed. Sadness reigned upon that brow, and slipped
its yellowing tints into the depths of each furrow. In short, the
ruins, hitherto so cleverly hidden, now showed through the cracks and
crevices of that fine edifice, and proved the power of the soul over
the body; for the fair and dainty man, the cavalier, the young blood,
died when hope deserted him. Until then the nose of the chevalier was
ever delicate and nice; never had a damp black blotch, nor an amber
drop fall from it; but now that nose, smeared with tobacco around the
nostrils, degraded by the driblets which took advantage of the natural
gutter placed between itself and the upper lip,--that nose, which no
longer cared to seem agreeable, revealed the infinite pains which the
chevalier had formerly taken with his person, and made observers
comprehend, by the extent of its degradation, the greatness and
persistence of the man's designs upon Mademoiselle Cormon.
Alas, too, the anecdotes went the way of the teeth; the clever sayings
grew rare. The appetite, however, remained; the old nobleman saved
nothing but his stomach from the wreck of his hopes; though he
languidly prepared his pinches of snuff, he ate alarming dinners.
Perhaps you will more fully understand the disaster that this marriage
was to the mind and heart of the chevalier when you learn that his
intercourse with the Princess Goritza became less frequent.
One day he appeared in Mademoiselle Armande's salon with the calf of
his leg on the shin-bone. This bankruptcy of the graces was, I do
assure you, terrible, and struck all Alencon with horror. The late
young man had become an old one; this human being, who, by the
breaking-down of his spirit, had passed at once from fifty to ninety
years of age, frightened society. Besides, his secret was betrayed; he
had waited and watched for Mademoiselle Cormon; he had, like a patient
hunter, adjusted his aim for ten whole years, and finally had missed
the game! In short, the impotent Republic had won the day from Valiant
Chivalry, and that, too, under the Restoration! Form triumphed; mind
was vanquished by matter, diplomacy by insurrection. And, O final
blow! a mortified grisette revealed the secret of the chevalier's
mornings, and he now passed for a libertine. The liberals cast at his
door all the foundlings hitherto attributed to du Bousquier. But the
faubourg Saint-Germain of Alencon accepted them proudly: it even said,
"That poor chevalier, what else could he do?" The faubourg pitied him,
gathered him closer to their circle, and brought back a few rare
smiles to his face; but frightful enmity was piled upon the head of du
Bousquier. Eleven persons deserted the Cormon salon, and passed to
that of the d'Esgrignons.
The old maid's marriage had a signal effect in defining the two
parties in Alencon. The salon d'Esgrignon represented the upper
aristocracy (the returning Troisvilles attached themselves to it); the
Cormon salon represented, under the clever influence of du Bousquier,
that fatal class of opinions which, without being truly liberal or
resolutely royalist, gave birth to the 221 on that famous day when the
struggle openly began between the most august, grandest, and only true
power, /royalty/, and the most false, most changeful, most oppressive of
all powers,--the power called /parliamentary/, which elective assemblies
exercise. The salon du Ronceret, secretly allied to the Cormon salon,
was boldly liberal.
The Abbe de Sponde, after his return from Prebaudet, bore many and
continual sufferings, which he kept within his breast, saying no word
of them to his niece. But to Mademoiselle Armande he opened his heart,
admitting that, folly for folly, he would much have preferred the
Chevalier de Valois to Monsieur du Bousquier. Never would the dear
chevalier have had the bad taste to contradict and oppose a poor old
man who had but a few days more to live; du Bousquier had destroyed
everything in the good old home. The abbe said, with scanty tears
moistening his aged eyes,--
"Mademoiselle, I haven't even the little grove where I have walked for
fifty years. My beloved lindens are all cut down! At the moment of my
death the Republic appears to me more than ever under the form of a
horrible destruction of the Home."
"You must pardon your niece," said the Chevalier de Valois.
"Republican ideas are the first error of youth which seeks for
liberty; later it finds it the worst of despotisms,--that of an
impotent canaille. Your poor niece is punished where she sinned."
"What will become of me in a house where naked women are painted on
the walls?" said the poor abbe. "Where shall I find other lindens
beneath which to read my breviary?"
Like Kant, who was unable to collect his thoughts after the fir-tree
at which he was accustomed to gaze while meditating was cut down, so
the poor abbe could never attain the ardor of his former prayers while
walking up and down the shadeless paths. Du Bousquier had planted an
"It was best," said Madame du Bousquier, without thinking so; but the
Abbe Couterier had authorized her to commit many wrongs to please her
These restorations destroyed all the venerable dignity, cordiality,
and patriarchal air of the old house. Like the Chevalier de Valois,
whose personal neglect might be called an abdication, the bourgeois
dignity of the Cormon salon no longer existed when it was turned to
white and gold, with mahogany ottomans covered in blue satin. The
dining-room, adorned in modern taste, was colder in tone than it used
to be, and the dinners were eaten with less appetite than formerly.
Monsieur du Coudrai declared that he felt his puns stick in his throat
as he glanced at the figures painted on the walls, which looked him
out of countenance. Externally, the house was still provincial; but
internally everything revealed the purveyor of the Directory and the
bad taste of the money-changer,--for instance, columns in stucco,
glass doors, Greek mouldings, meaningless outlines, all styles
conglomerated, magnificence out of place and out of season.
The town of Alencon gabbled for two weeks over this luxury, which
seemed unparalleled; but a few months later the community was proud of
it, and several rich manufacturers restored their houses and set up
fine salons. Modern furniture came into the town, and astral lamps
The Abbe de Sponde was among the first to perceive the secret
unhappiness this marriage now brought to the private life of his
beloved niece. The character of noble simplicity which had hitherto
ruled their lives was lost during the first winter, when du Bousquier
gave two balls every month. Oh, to hear violins and profane music at
these worldly entertainments in the sacred old house! The abbe prayed
on his knees while the revels lasted. Next the political system of the
sober salon was slowly perverted. The abbe fathomed du Bousquier; he
shuddered at his imperious tone; he saw the tears in his niece's eyes
when she felt herself losing all control over her own property; for
her husband now left nothing in her hands but the management of the
linen, the table, and things of a kind which are the lot of women.
Rose had no longer any orders to give. Monsieur's will was alone
regarded by Jacquelin, now become coachman, by Rene, the groom, and by
the chef, who came from Paris, Mariette being reduced to kitchen maid.
Madame du Bousquier had no one to rule but Josette. Who knows what it
costs to relinquish the delights of power? If the triumph of the will
is one of the intoxicating pleasures in the lives of great men, it is
the ALL of life to narrow minds. One must needs have been a minister
dismissed from power to comprehend the bitter pain which came upon
Madame du Bousquier when she found herself reduced to this absolute
servitude. She often got into the carriage against her will; she saw
herself surrounded by servants who were distasteful to her; she no
longer had the handling of her dear money,--she who had known herself
free to spend money, and did not spend it.
All imposed limits make the human being desire to go beyond them. The
keenest sufferings come from the thwarting of self-will. The beginning
of this state of things was, however, rose-colored. Every concession
made to marital authority was an effect of the love which the poor
woman felt for her husband. Du Bousquier behaved, in the first
instance, admirably to his wife: he was wise; he was excellent; he
gave her the best of reasons for each new encroachment. So for the
first two years of her marriage Madame du Bousquier appeared to be
satisfied. She had that deliberate, demure little air which
distinguishes young women who have married for love. The rush of blood
to her head no longer tormented her. This appearance of satisfaction
routed the scoffers, contradicted certain rumors about du Bousquier,
and puzzled all observers of the human heart. Rose-Marie-Victoire was
so afraid that if she displeased her husband or opposed him, she would
lose his affection and be deprived of his company, that she would
willingly have sacrificed all to him, even her uncle. Her silly little
forms of pleasure deceived even the poor abbe for a time, who endured
his own trials all the better for thinking that his niece was happy,
Alencon at first thought the same. But there was one man more
difficult to deceive than the whole town put together. The Chevalier
de Valois, who had taken refuge on the Sacred Mount of the upper
aristocracy, now passed his life at the d'Esgrignons. He listened to
the gossip and the gabble, and he thought day and night upon his
vengeance. He meant to strike du Bousquier to the heart.
The poor abbe fully understood the baseness of this first and last
love of his niece; he shuddered as, little by little, he perceived the
hypocritical nature of his nephew and his treacherous manoeuvres.
Though du Bousquier restrained himself, as he thought of the abbe's
property, and wished not to cause him vexation, it was his hand that
dealt the blow that sent the old priest to his grave. If you will
interpret the word /intolerance/ as /firmness of principle/, if you do
not wish to condemn in the catholic soul of the Abbe de Sponde the
stoicism which Walter Scott has made you admire in the puritan soul of
Jeanie Deans' father; if you are willing to recognize in the Roman
Church the Potius mori quam foedari that you admire in republican
tenets,--you will understand the sorrow of the Abbe de Sponde when he
saw in his niece's salon the apostate priest, the renegade, the
pervert, the heretic, that enemy of the Church, the guilty taker of
the Constitutional oath. Du Bousquier, whose secret ambition was to
lay down the law to the town, wished, as a first proof of his power,
to reconcile the minister of Saint-Leonard with the rector of the
parish, and he succeeded. His wife thought he had accomplished a work
of peace where the immovable abbe saw only treachery. The bishop came
to visit du Bousquier, and seemed glad of the cessation of
hostilities. The virtues of the Abbe Francois had conquered prejudice,
except that of the aged Roman Catholic, who exclaimed with Cornelle,
"Alas! what virtues do you make me hate!"
The abbe died when orthodoxy thus expired in the diocese.
In 1819, the property of the Abbe de Sponde increased Madame du
Bousquier's income from real estate to twenty-five thousand francs
without counting Prebaudet or the house in the Val-Noble. About this
time du Bousquier returned to his wife the capital of her savings
which she had yielded to him; and he made her use it in purchasing
lands contiguous to Prebaudet, which made that domain one of the most
considerable in the department, for the estates of the Abbe de Sponde
also adjoined it. Du Bousquier thus passed for one of the richest men
of the department. This able man, the constant candidate of the
liberals, missing by seven or eight votes only in all the electoral
battles fought under the Restoration, and who ostensibly repudiated
the liberals by trying to be elected as a ministerial royalist
(without ever being able to conquer the aversion of the
administration),--this rancorous republican, mad with ambition,
resolved to rival the royalism and aristocracy of Alencon at the
moment when they once more had the upper hand. He strengthened himself
with the Church by the deceitful appearance of a well-feigned piety:
he accompanied his wife to mass; he gave money for the convents of the
town; he assisted the congregation of the Sacre-Coeur; he took sides
with the clergy on all occasions when the clergy came into collision
with the town, the department, or the State. Secretly supported by the
liberals, protected by the Church, calling himself a constitutional
royalist, he kept beside the aristocracy of the department in the one
hope of ruining it,--and he did ruin it. Ever on the watch for the
faults and blunders of the nobility and the government, he laid plans
for his vengeance against the "chateau-people," and especially against
the d'Esgrignons, in whose bosom he was one day to thrust a poisoned
Among other benefits to the town he gave money liberally to revive the
manufacture of point d'Alencon; he renewed the trade in linens, and
the town had a factory. Inscribing himself thus upon the interests and
heart of the masses, by doing what the royalists did not do, du
Bousquier did not really risk a farthing. Backed by his fortune, he
could afford to wait results which enterprising persons who involve
themselves are forced to abandon to luckier successors.
Du Bousquier now posed as a banker. This miniature Lafitte was a
partner in all new enterprises, taking good security. He served
himself while apparently serving the interests of the community. He
was the prime mover of insurance companies, the protector of new
enterprises for public conveyance; he suggested petitions for asking
the administration for the necessary roads and bridges. Thus warned,
the government considered this action an encroachment of its own
authority. A struggle was begun injudiciously, for the good of the
community compelled the authorities to yield in the end. Du Bousquier
embittered the provincial nobility against the court nobility and the
peerage; and finally he brought about the shocking adhesion of a
strong party of constitutional royalists to the warfare sustained by
the "Journal des Debats," and M. de Chateaubriand against the throne,
--an ungrateful opposition based on ignoble interests, which was one
cause of the triumph of the bourgeoisie and journalism in 1830.
Thus du Bousquier, in common with the class he represented, had the
satisfaction of beholding the funeral of royalty. The old republican,
smothered with masses, who for fifteen years had played that comedy to
satisfy his vendetta, himself threw down with his own hand the white
flag of the mayoralty to the applause of the multitude. No man in
France cast upon the new throne raised in August, 1830, a glance of
more intoxicated, joyous vengeance. The accession of the Younger
Branch was the triumph of the Revolution. To him the victory of the
tricolor meant the resurrection of Montagne, which this time should
surely bring the nobility down to the dust by means more certain than
that of the guillotine, because less violent. The peerage without
heredity; the National Guard, which puts on the same camp-bed the
corner grocer and the marquis; the abolition of the entails demanded
by a bourgeois lawyer; the Catholic Church deprived of its supremacy;
and all the other legislative inventions of August, 1830,--were to du
Bousquier the wisest possible application of the principles of 1793.
Since 1830 this man has been a receiver-general. He relied for his
advancement on his relations with the Duc d'Orleans, father of Louis
Philippe, and with Monsieur de Folmon, formerly steward to the
Duchess-dowager of Orleans. He receives about eighty thousand francs a
year. In the eyes of the people about him Monsieur du Bousquier is a
man of means,--a respectable man, steady in his principles, upright,
and obliging. Alencon owes to him its connection with the industrial
movement by which Brittany may possibly some day be joined to what is
popularly called modern civilization. Alencon, which up to 1816 could
boast of only two private carriages, saw, without amazement, in the
course of ten years, coupes, landaus, tilburies, and cabriolets
rolling through her streets. The burghers and the land-owners, alarmed
at first lest the price of everything should increase, recognized
later that this increase in the style of living had a contrary effect
upon their revenues. The prophetic remark of du Ronceret, "Du
Bousquier is a very strong man," was adopted by the whole
But, unhappily for the wife, that saying has a double meaning. The
husband does not in any way resemble the public politician. This great
citizen, so liberal to the world about him, so kindly inspired with
love for his native place, is a despot in his own house, and utterly
devoid of conjugal affection. This man, so profoundly astute,
hypocritical, and sly; this Cromwell of the Val-Noble,--behaves in his
home as he behaves to the aristocracy, whom he caresses in hopes to
throttle them. Like his friend Bernadotte, he wears a velvet glove
upon his iron hand. His wife has given him no children. Suzanne's
remark and the chevalier's insinuations were therefore justified. But
the liberal bourgeoisie, the constitutional-royalist-bourgeoisie, the
country-squires, the magistracy, and the "church party" laid the blame
on Madame du Bousquier. "She was too old," they said; "Monsieur du
Bousquier had married her too late. Besides, it was very lucky for the
poor woman; it was dangerous at her age to bear children!" When Madame
du Bousquier confided, weeping, her periodic despair to Mesdames du
Coudrai and du Ronceret, those ladies would reply,--
"But you are crazy, my dear; you don't know what you are wishing for;
a child would be your death."
Many men, whose hopes were fastened on du Bousquier's triumph, sang
his praises to their wives, who in turn repeated them to the poor wife
in some such speech as this:--
"You are very lucky, dear, to have married such an able man; you'll
escape the misery of women whose husbands are men without energy,
incapable of managing their property, or bringing up their children."
"Your husband is making you queen of the department, my love. He'll
never leave you embarrassed, not he! Why, he leads all Alencon."
"But I wish," said the poor wife, "that he gave less time to the
"You are hard to please, my dear Madame du Bousquier. I assure you
that all the women in town envy you your husband."
Misjudged by society, which began by blaming her, the pious woman
found ample opportunity in her home to display her virtues. She lived
in tears, but she never ceased to present to others a placid face. To
so Christian a soul a certain thought which pecked forever at her
heart was a crime: "I loved the Chevalier de Valois," it said; "but I
have married du Bousquier." The love of poor Athanase Granson also
rose like a phantom of remorse, and pursued her even in her dreams.
The death of her uncle, whose griefs at the last burst forth, made her
life still more sorrowful; for she now felt the suffering her uncle
must have endured in witnessing the change of political and religious
opinion in the old house. Sorrow often falls like a thunderbolt, as it
did on Madame Granson; but in this old maid it slowly spread like a
drop of oil, which never leaves the stuff that slowly imbibes it.
The Chevalier de Valois was the malicious manipulator who brought
about the crowning misfortune of Madame du Bousquier's life. His heart
was set on undeceiving her pious simplicity; for the chevalier, expert
in love, divined du Bousquier, the married man, as he had divined du
Bousquier, the bachelor. But the wary republican was difficult of
attack. His salon was, of course, closed to the Chevalier de Valois,
as to all those who, in the early days of his marriage, had slighted
the Cormon mansion. He was, moreover, impervious to ridicule; he
possessed a vast fortune; he reigned in Alencon; he cared as little
for his wife as Richard III. cared for the dead horse which had helped
him win a battle. To please her husband, Madame du Bousquier had
broken off relations with the d'Esgrignon household, where she went no
longer, except that sometimes when her husband left her during his
trips to Paris, she would pay a brief visit to Mademoiselle Armande.
About three years after her marriage, at the time of the Abbe de
Sponde's death, Mademoiselle Armande joined Madame du Bousquier as
they were leaving Saint-Leonard's, where they had gone to hear a
requiem said for him. The generous demoiselle thought that on this
occasion she owed her sympathy to the niece in trouble. They walked
together, talking of the dear deceased, until they reached the
forbidden house, into which Mademoiselle Armande enticed Madame du
Bousquier by the charm of her manner and conversation. The poor
desolate woman was glad to talk of her uncle with one whom he truly
loved. Moreover, she wanted to receive the condolences of the old
marquis, whom she had not seen for nearly three years. It was
half-past one o'clock, and she found at the hotel d'Esgrignon the
Chevalier de Valois, who had come to dinner. As he bowed to her, he
took her by the hands.
"Well, dear, virtuous, and beloved lady," he said, in a tone of
emotion, "we have lost our sainted friend; we share your grief. Yes,
your loss is as keenly felt here as in your own home,--more so," he
added, alluding to du Bousquier.
After a few more words of funeral oration, in which all present spoke
from the heart, the chevalier took Madame du Bousquier's arm, and,
gallantly placing it within his own, pressed it adoringly as he led
her to the recess of a window.
"Are you happy?" he said in a fatherly voice.
"Yes," she said, dropping her eyes.
Hearing that "Yes," Madame de Troisville, the daughter of the Princess
Scherbellof, and the old Marquise de Casteran came up and joined the
chevalier, together with Mademoiselle Armande. They all went to walk
in the garden until dinner was served, without any perception on the
part of Madame du Bousquier that a little conspiracy was afoot. "We
have her! now let us find out the secret of the case," were the words
written in the eyes of all present.
"To make your happiness complete," said Mademoiselle Armande, "you
ought to have children,--a fine lad like my nephew--"
Tears seemed to start in Madame du Bousquier's eyes.
"I have heard it said that you were the one to blame in the matter,
and that you feared the dangers of a pregnancy," said the chevalier.
"I!" she said artlessly. "I would buy a child with a hundred years of
purgatory if I could."
On the question thus started a discussion arose, conducted by Madame
de Troisville and the old Marquise de Casteran with such delicacy and
adroitness that the poor victim revealed, without being aware of it,
the secrets of her house. Mademoiselle Armande had taken the
chevalier's arm, and walked away so as to leave the three women free
to discuss wedlock. Madame du Bousquier was then enlightened on the
various deceptions of her marriage; and as she was still the same
simpleton she had always been, she amused her advisers by delightful
Although at first the deceptive marriage of Mademoiselle Cormon made a
laugh throughout the town, which was soon initiated into the story of
the case, before long Madame du Bousquier won the esteem and sympathy
of all the women. The fact that Mademoiselle Cormon had flung herself
headlong into marriage without succeeding in being married, made
everybody laugh at her; but when they learned the exceptional position
in which the sternness of her religious principles placed her, all the
world admired her. "That poor Madame du Bousquier" took the place of
"That good Mademoiselle Cormon."
Thus the chevalier contrived to render du Bousquier both ridiculous
and odious for a time; but ridicule ends by weakening; when all had
said their say about him, the gossip died out. Besides, at fifty-seven
years of age the dumb republican seemed to many people to have a right
to retire. This affair, however, envenomed the hatred which du
Bousquier already bore to the house of Esgrignon to such a degree that
it made him pitiless when the day of vengeance came. [See "The Gallery
of Antiquities."] Madame du Bousquier received orders never again to
set foot into that house. By way of reprisals upon the chevalier for
the trick thus played him, du Bousquier, who had just created the
journal called the "Courrier de l'Orne," caused the following notice
to be inserted in it:--
"Bonds to the amount of one thousand francs a year will be paid to
any person who can prove the existence of one Monsieur de
Pombreton before, during, or after the Emigration."
Although her marriage was essentially negative, Madame du Bousquier
saw some advantages in it: was it not better to interest herself in
the most remarkable man in the town than to live alone? Du Bousquier
was preferable to a dog, or cat, or those canaries that spinsters
love. He showed for his wife a sentiment more real and less selfish
than that which is felt by servants, confessors, and hopeful heirs.
Later in life she came to consider her husband as the instrument of
divine wrath; for she then saw innumerable sins in her former desires
for marriage; she regarded herself as justly punished for the sorrow
she had brought on Madame Granson, and for the hastened death of her
uncle. Obedient to that religion which commands us to kiss the rod
with which the punishment is inflicted, she praised her husband, and
publicly approved him. But in the confessional, or at night, when
praying, she wept often, imploring God's forgiveness for the apostasy
of the man who thought the contrary of what he professed, and who
desired the destruction of the aristocracy and the Church,--the two
religions of the house of Cormon.
With all her feelings bruised and immolated within her, compelled by
duty to make her husband happy, attached to him by a certain
indefinable affection, born, perhaps, of habit, her life became one
perpetual contradiction. She had married a man whose conduct and
opinions she hated, but whom she was bound to care for with dutiful
tenderness. Often she walked with the angels when du Bousquier ate her
preserves or thought the dinner good. She watched to see that his
slightest wish was satisfied. If he tore off the cover of his
newspaper and left it on a table, instead of throwing it away, she
"Rene, leave that where it is; monsieur did not place it there without
If du Bousquier had a journey to take, she was anxious about his
trunk, his linen; she took the most minute precautions for his
material benefit. If he went to Prebaudet, she consulted the barometer
the evening before to know if the weather would be fine. She watched
for his will in his eyes, like a dog which hears and sees its master
while sleeping. When the stout du Bousquier, touched by this
scrupulous love, would take her round the waist and kiss her forehead,
saying, "What a good woman you are!" tears of pleasure would come into
the eyes of the poor creature. It is probably that du Bousquier felt
himself obliged to make certain concessions which obtained for him the
respect of Rose-Marie-Victoire; for Catholic virtue does not require a
dissimulation as complete as that of Madame du Bousquier. Often the
good saint sat mutely by and listened to the hatred of men who
concealed themselves under the cloak of constitutional royalists. She
shuddered as she foresaw the ruin of the Church. Occasionally she
risked a stupid word, an observation which du Bousquier cut short with
The worries of such an existence ended by stupefying Madame du
Bousquier, who found it easier and also more dignified to concentrate
her intelligence on her own thoughts and resign herself to lead a life
that was purely animal. She then adopted the submission of a slave,
and regarded it as a meritorious deed to accept the degradation in
which her husband placed her. The fulfilment of his will never once
caused her to murmur. The timid sheep went henceforth in the way the
shepherd led her; she gave herself up to the severest religious
practices, and thought no more of Satan and his works and vanities.
Thus she presented to the eyes of the world a union of all Christian
virtues; and du Bousquier was certainly one of the luckiest men in the
kingdom of France and of Navarre.
"She will be a simpleton to her last breath," said the former
collector, who, however, dined with her twice a week.
This history would be strangely incomplete if no mention were made of
the coincidence of the Chevalier de Valois's death occurring at the
same time as that of Suzanne's mother. The chevalier died with the
monarchy, in August, 1830. He had joined the cortege of Charles X. at
Nonancourt, and piously escorted it to Cherbourg with the Troisvilles,
Casterans, d'Esgrignons, Verneuils, etc. The old gentleman had taken
with him fifty thousand francs,--the sum to which his savings then
amounted. He offered them to one of the faithful friends of the king
for transmission to his master, speaking of his approaching death, and
declaring that the money came originally from the goodness of the
king, and, moreover, that the property of the last of the Valois
belonged of right to the crown. It is not known whether the fervor of
his zeal conquered the reluctance of the Bourbon, who abandoned his
fine kingdom of France without carrying away with him a farthing, and
who ought to have been touched by the devotion of the chevalier. It is
certain, however, that Cesarine, the residuary legate of the old man,
received from his estate only six hundred francs a year. The chevalier
returned to Alencon, cruelly weakened by grief and by fatigue; he died
on the very day when Charles X. arrived on a foreign shore.
Madame du Val-Noble and her protector, who was just then afraid of the
vengeance of the liberal party, were glad of a pretext to remain
incognito in the village where Suzanne's mother died. At the sale of
the chevalier's effects, which took place at that time, Suzanne,
anxious to obtain a souvenir of her first and last friend, pushed up
the price of the famous snuff-box, which was finally knocked down to
her for a thousand francs. The portrait of the Princess Goritza was
alone worth that sum. Two years later, a young dandy, who was making a
collection of the fine snuff-boxes of the last century, obtained from
Madame du Val-Noble the chevalier's treasure. The charming confidant
of many a love and the pleasure of an old age is now on exhibition in
a species of private museum. If the dead could know what happens after
them, the chevalier's head would surely blush upon its left cheek.
If this history has no other effect than to inspire the possessors of
precious relics with holy fear, and induce them to make codicils to
secure these touching souvenirs of joys that are no more by
bequeathing them to loving hands, it will have done an immense service
to the chivalrous and romantic portion of the community; but it does,
in truth, contain a far higher moral. Does it not show the necessity
for a new species of education? Does it not invoke, from the
enlightened solicitude of the ministers of Public Instruction, the
creation of chairs of anthropology,--a science in which Germany
outstrips us? Modern myths are even less understood than ancient ones,
harried as we are with myths. Myths are pressing us from every point;
they serve all theories, they explain all questions. They are,
according to human ideas, the torches of history; they would save
empires from revolution if only the professors of history would force
the explanations they give into the mind of the provincial masses. If
Mademoiselle Cormon had been a reader or a student, and if there had
existed in the department of the Orne a professor of anthropology, or
even had she read Ariosto, the frightful disasters of her conjugal
life would never have occurred. She would probably have known why the
Italian poet makes Angelica prefer Medoro, who was a blond Chevalier
de Valois, to Orlando, whose mare was dead, and who knew no better
than to fly into a passion. Is not Medoro the mythic form for all
courtiers of feminine royalty, and Orlando the myth of disorderly,
furious, and impotent revolutions, which destroy but cannot produce?
We publish, but without assuming any responsibility for it, this
opinion of a pupil of Monsieur Ballanche.
No information has reached us as to the fate of the negroes' heads in
diamonds. You may see Madame du Val-Noble every evening at the Opera.
Thanks to the education given her by the Chevalier de Valois, she has
almost the air of a well-bred woman.
Madame du Bousquier still lives; is not that as much as to say she
still suffers? After reaching the age of sixty--the period at which
women allow themselves to make confessions--she said confidentially to
Madame du Coudrai, that she had never been able to endure the idea of
dying an old maid.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
(Note: The Collection of Antiquities is a companion piece to The Old
Maid. In other Addendum appearances they are combined under the title
of The Jealousies of a Country Town.)
The Gondreville Mystery
The Seamy Side of History
The Commission in Lunacy
Bousquier, Du (or Du Croisier or Du Bourguier)
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
The Middle Classes
Bousquier, Madame du (du Croisier) (Mlle. Cormon)
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
The Seamy Side of History
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Chesnel (or Choisnel)
The Seamy Side of History
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Esgrignon, Charles-Marie-Victor-Ange-Carol, Marquis d' (or Des Grignons)
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Esgrignon, Marie-Armande-Claire d'
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Gaillard, Madame Theodore (Suzanne)
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Bachelor's Establishment
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Unconscious Humorists
The Government Clerks (mentioned only)
Lenoncourt, Duc de
The Lily of the Valley
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
The Gondreville Mystery
Navarreins, Duc de
The Muse of the Department
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Country Parson
The Magic Skin
The Gondreville Mystery
The Secrets of a Princess
Pombreton, Marquis de
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Ronceret, Madame Du
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Simeuse, Admiral de
The Gondreville Mystery
Troisville, Guibelin, Vicomte de
The Seamy Side of History
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Valois, Chevalier de
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
Verneuil, Duc de
The Collection of Antiquities (companion piece)
THE COLLECTION OF ANTIQUITIES
HONORE DE BALZAC
To Baron Von Hammer-Purgstall, Member of the Aulic Council, Author
of the History of the Ottoman Empire.
Dear Baron,--You have taken so warm an interest in my long, vast
"History of French Manners in the Nineteenth Century," you have
given me so much encouragement to persevere with my work, that you
have given me a right to associate your name with some portion of
it. Are you not one of the most important representatives of
conscientious, studious Germany? Will not your approval win for me
the approval of others, and protect this attempt of mine? So proud
am I to have gained your good opinion, that I have striven to
deserve it by continuing my labors with the unflagging courage
characteristic of your methods of study, and of that exhaustive
research among documents without which you could never have given
your monumental work to the world of letters. Your sympathy with
such labor as you yourself have bestowed upon the most brilliant
civilization of the East, has often sustained my ardor through
nights of toil given to the details of our modern civilization.
And will not you, whose naive kindliness can only be compared with
that of our own La Fontaine, be glad to know of this?
May this token of my respect for you and your work find you at
Dobling, dear Baron, and put you and yours in mind of one of your
most sincere admirers and friends.
THE COLLECTION OF ANTIQUITIES
There stands a house at a corner of a street, in the middle of a town,
in one of the least important prefectures in France, but the name of
the street and the name of the town must be suppressed here. Every one
will appreciate the motives of this sage reticence demanded by
convention; for if a writer takes upon himself the office of annalist
of his own time, he is bound to touch on many sore subjects. The house
was called the Hotel d'Esgrignon; but let d'Esgrignon be considered a
mere fancy name, neither more nor less connected with real people than
the conventional Belval, Floricour, or Derville of the stage, or the
Adalberts and Mombreuses of romance. After all, the names of the
principal characters will be quite as much disguised; for though in
this history the chronicler would prefer to conceal the facts under a
mass of contradictions, anachronisms, improbabilities, and
absurdities, the truth will out in spite of him. You uproot a
vine-stock, as you imagine, and the stem will send up lusty shoots
after you have ploughed your vineyard over.
The "Hotel d'Esgrignon" was nothing more nor less than the house in
which the old Marquis lived; or, in the style of ancient documents,
Charles Marie Victor Ange Carol, Marquis d'Esgrignon. It was only an
ordinary house, but the townspeople and tradesmen had begun by calling
it the Hotel d'Esgrignon in jest, and ended after a score of years by
giving it that name in earnest.
The name of Carol, or Karawl, as the Thierrys would have spelt it, was
glorious among the names of the most powerful chieftains of the
Northmen who conquered Gaul and established the feudal system there.
Never had Carol bent his head before King or Communes, the Church or
Finance. Intrusted in the days of yore with the keeping of a French
March, the title of marquis in their family meant no shadow of
imaginary office; it had been a post of honor with duties to
discharge. Their fief had always been their domain. Provincial nobles
were they in every sense of the word; they might boast of an unbroken
line of great descent; they had been neglected by the court for two
hundred years; they were lords paramount in the estates of a province
where the people looked up to them with superstitious awe, as to the
image of the Holy Virgin that cures the toothache. The house of
d'Esgrignon, buried in its remote border country, was preserved as the
charred piles of one of Caesar's bridges are maintained intact in a
river bed. For thirteen hundred years the daughters of the house had
been married without a dowry or taken the veil; the younger sons of
every generation had been content with their share of their mother's
dower and gone forth to be captains or bishops; some had made a
marriage at court; one cadet of the house became an admiral, a duke,
and a peer of France, and died without issue. Never would the Marquis
d'Esgrignon of the elder branch accept the title of duke.
"I hold my marquisate as His Majesty holds the realm of France, and on
the same conditions," he told the Constable de Luynes, a very paltry
fellow in his eyes at that time.
You may be sure that d'Esgrignons lost their heads on the scaffold
during the troubles. The old blood showed itself proud and high even
in 1789. The Marquis of that day would not emigrate; he was answerable
for his March. The reverence in which he was held by the countryside
saved his head; but the hatred of the genuine sans-culottes was strong
enough to compel him to pretend to fly, and for a while he lived in
hiding. Then, in the name of the Sovereign People, the d'Esgrignon
lands were dishonored by the District, and the woods sold by the
Nation in spite of the personal protest made by the Marquis, then
turned forty. Mlle. d'Esgrignon, his half-sister, saved some portions
of the fief, thanks to the young steward of the family, who claimed on
her behalf the partage de presuccession, which is to say, the right of
a relative to a portion of the emigre's lands. To Mlle. d'Esgrignon,
therefore, the Republic made over the castle itself and a few farms.
Chesnel [Choisnel], the faithful steward, was obliged to buy in his
own name the church, the parsonage house, the castle gardens, and
other places to which his patron was attached--the Marquis advancing
The slow, swift years of the Terror went by, and the Marquis, whose
character had won the respect of the whole country, decided that he
and his sister ought to return to the castle and improve the property
which Maitre Chesnel--for he was now a notary--had contrived to save
for them out of the wreck. Alas! was not the plundered and dismantled
castle all too vast for a lord of the manor shorn of all his ancient
rights; too large for the landowner whose woods had been sold
piecemeal, until he could scarce draw nine thousand francs of income
from the pickings of his old estates?
It was in the month of October 1800 that Chesnel brought the Marquis
back to the old feudal castle, and saw with deep emotion, almost
beyound his control, his patron standing in the midst of the empty
courtyard, gazing round upon the moat, now filled up with rubbish, and
the castle towers razed to the level of the roof. The descendant of
the Franks looked for the missing Gothic turrets and the picturesque
weather vanes which used to rise above them; and his eyes turned to
the sky, as if asking of heaven the reason of this social upheaval. No
one but Chesnel could understand the profound anguish of the great
d'Esgrignon, now known as Citizen Carol. For a long while the Marquis
stood in silence, drinking in the influences of the place, the ancient
home of his forefathers, with the air that he breathed; then he flung
out a most melancholy exclamation.
"Chesnel," he said, "we will come back again some day when the
troubles are over; I could not bring myself to live here until the
edict of pacification has been published; /they/ will not allow me to
set my scutcheon on the wall."
He waved his hand toward the castle, mounted his horse, and rode back
beside his sister, who had driven over in the notary's shabby
The Hotel d'Esgrignon in the town had been demolished; a couple of
factories now stood on the site of the aristocrat's house. So Maitre
Chesnel spent the Marquis' last bag of louis on the purchase of the
old-fashioned building in the square, with its gables, weather-vane,
turret, and dovecote. Once it had been the courthouse of the
bailiwick, and subsequently the presidial; it had belonged to the
d'Esgrignons from generation to generation; and now, in consideration
of five hundred louis d'or, the present owner made it over with the
title given by the Nation to its rightful lord. And so, half in jest,
half in earnest, the old house was christened the Hotel d'Esgrignon.
In 1800 little or no difficulty was made over erasing names from the
fatal list, and some few emigres began to return. Among the very first
nobles to come back to the old town were the Baron de Nouastre and his
daughter. They were completely ruined. M. d'Esgrignon generously
offered them the shelter of his roof; and in his house, two months
later, the Baron died, worn out with grief. The Nouastres came of
the best blood in the province; Mlle. de Nouastre was a girl of
two-and-twenty; the Marquis d'Esgrignon married her to continue his
line. But she died in childbirth, a victim to the unskilfulness of her
physician, leaving, most fortunately, a son to bear the name of the
d'Esgrignons. The old Marquis--he was but fifty-three, but adversity
and sharp distress had added months to every year--the poor old
Marquis saw the death of the loveliest of human creatures, a noble
woman in whom the charm of the feminine figures of the sixteenth
century lived again, a charm now lost save to men's imaginations. With
her death the joy died out of his old age. It was one of those
terrible shocks which reverberate through every moment of the years
that follow. For a few moments he stood beside the bed where his wife
lay, with her hands folded like a saint, then he kissed her on the
forehead, turned away, drew out his watch, broke the mainspring, and
hung it up beside the hearth. It was eleven o'clock in the morning.
"Mlle. d'Esgrignon," he said, "let us pray God that this hour may not
prove fatal yet again to our house. My uncle the archbishop was
murdered at this hour; at this hour also my father died----"
He knelt down beside the bed and buried his face in the coverlet; his
sister did the same, in another moment they both rose to their feet.
Mlle. d'Esgrignon burst into tears; but the old Marquis looked with
dry eyes at the child, round the room, and again on his dead wife. To
the stubbornness of the Frank he united the fortitude of a Christian.
These things came to pass in the second year of the nineteenth
century. Mlle. d'Esgrignon was then twenty-seven years of age. She was
a beautiful woman. An ex-contractor for forage to the armies of the
Republic, a man of the district, with an income of six thousand
francs, persuaded Chesnel to carry a proposal of marriage to the lady.
The Marquis and his sister were alike indignant with such presumption
in their man of business, and Chesnel was almost heartbroken; he could
not forgive himself for yielding to the Sieur du Croisier's [du
Bousquier] blandishments. The Marquis' manner with his old servant
changed somewhat; never again was there quite the old affectionate
kindliness, which might almost have been taken for friendship. From
that time forth the Marquis was grateful, and his magnanimous and
sincere gratitude continually wounded the poor notary's feelings. To
some sublime natures gratitude seems an excessive payment; they would
rather have that sweet equality of feeling which springs from similar
ways of thought, and the blending of two spirits by their own choice
and will. And Maitre Chesnel had known the delights of such high
friendship; the Marquis had raised him to his own level. The old noble
looked on the good notary as something more than a servant, something
less than a child; he was the voluntary liege man of the house, a serf
bound to his lord by all the ties of affection. There was no balancing
of obligations; the sincere affection on either side put them out of
In the eyes of the Marquis, Chesnel's official dignity was as nothing;
his old servitor was merely disguised as a notary. As for Chesnel, the
Marquis was now, as always, a being of a divine race; he believed in
nobility; he did not blush to remember that his father had thrown open
the doors of the salon to announce that "My Lord Marquis is served."
His devotion to the fallen house was due not so much to his creed as
to egoism; he looked on himself as one of the family. So his vexation
was intense. Once he had ventured to allude to his mistake in spite
of the Marquis' prohibition, and the old noble answered gravely
--"Chesnel, before the troubles you would not have permitted yourself
to entertain such injurious suppositions. What can these new doctrines
be if they have spoiled /you/?"
Maitre Chesnel had gained the confidence of the whole town; people
looked up to him; his high integrity and considerable fortune
contributed to make him a person of importance. From that time forth
he felt a very decided aversion for the Sieur du Crosier; and though
there was little rancor in his composition, he set others against the
sometime forage-contractor. Du Croisier, on the other hand, was a man
to bear a grudge and nurse a vengeance for a score of years. He hated
Chesnel and the d'Esgrignon family with the smothered, all-absorbing
hate only to be found in a country town. His rebuff had simply ruined
him with the malicious provincials among whom he had come to live,
thinking to rule over them. It was so real a disaster that he was not
long in feeling the consequences of it. He betook himself in
desperation to a wealthy old maid, and met with a second refusal. Thus
failed the ambitious schemes with which he had started. He had lost
his hope of a marriage with Mlle. d'Esgrignon, which would have opened
the Faubourg Saint-Germain of the province to him; and after the
second rejection, his credit fell away to such an extent that it was
almost as much as he could do to keep his position in the second rank.
In 1805, M. de la Roche-Guyon, the oldest son of an ancient family
which had previously intermarried with the d'Esgrignons, made
proposals in form through Maitre Chesnel for Mlle. Marie Armande Clair
d'Esgrignon. She declined to hear the notary.
"You must have guessed before now that I am a mother, dear Chesnel,"
she said; she had just put her nephew, a fine little boy of five, to
The old Marquis rose and went up to his sister, but just returned from
the cradle; he kissed her hand reverently, and as he sat down again,
found words to say:
"My sister, you are a d'Esgrignon."
A quiver ran through the noble girl; the tears stood in her eyes. M.
d'Esgrignon, the father of the present Marquis, had married a second
wife, the daughter of a farmer of taxes ennobled by Louis XIV. It was
a shocking mesalliance in the eyes of his family, but fortunately of
no importance, since a daughter was the one child of the marriage.
Armande knew this. Kind as her brother had always been, he looked on
her as a stranger in blood. And this speech of his had just recognized
her as one of the family.
And was not her answer the worthy crown of eleven years of her noble
life? Her every action since she came of age had borne the stamp of
the purest devotion; love for her brother was a sort of religion with
"I shall die Mlle. d'Esgrignon," she said simply, turning to the
"For you there could be no fairer title," returned Chesnel, meaning to
convey a compliment. Poor Mlle. d'Esgrignon reddened.
"You have blundered, Chesnel," said the Marquis, flattered by the
steward's words, but vexed that his sister had been hurt. "A
d'Esgrignon may marry a Montmorency; their descent is not so pure as
ours. The d'Esgrignons bear or, two bends, gules," he continued, "and
nothing during nine hundred years has changed their scutcheon; as it
was at first, so it is to-day. Hence our device, Cil est nostre, taken
at a tournament in the reign of Philip Augustus, with the supporters,
a knight in armor or on the right, and a lion gules on the left."
"I do not remember that any woman I have ever met has struck my
imagination as Mlle. d'Esgrignon did," said Emile Blondet, to whom
contemporary literature is indebted for this history among other
things. "Truth to tell, I was a boy, a mere child at the time, and
perhaps my memory-pictures of her owe something of their vivid color
to a boy's natural turn for the marvelous.
"If I was playing with other children on the Parade, and she came to
walk there with her nephew Victurnien, the sight of her in the
distance thrilled me with very much the effect of galvanism on a dead
body. Child as I was, I felt as though new life had been given me.
"Mlle. Armande had hair of tawny gold; there was a delicate fine down
on her cheek, with a silver gleam upon it which I loved to catch,
putting myself so that I could see the outlines of her face lit up by
the daylight, and feel the fascination of those dreamy emerald eyes,
which sent a flash of fire through me whenever they fell upon my face.
I used to pretend to roll on the grass before her in our games, only
to try to reach her little feet, and admire them on a closer view. The
soft whiteness of her skin, her delicate features, the clearly cut
lines of her forehead, the grace of her slender figure, took me with a
sense of surprise, while as yet I did not know that her shape was
graceful, nor her brows beautiful, nor the outline of her face a
perfect oval. I admired as children pray at that age, without too
clearly understanding why they pray. When my piercing gaze attracted
her notice, when she asked me (in that musical voice of hers, with
more volume in it, as it seemed to me, than all other voices), 'What
are you doing little one? Why do you look at me?'--I used to come
nearer and wriggle and bite my finger-nails, and redden and say, 'I do
not know.' And if she chanced to stroke my hair with her white hand,
and ask me how old I was, I would run away and call from a distance,
Every princess and fairy of my visions, as I read the Arabian Nights,
looked and walked like Mlle. d'Esgrignon; and afterwards, when my
drawing-master gave me heads from the antique to copy, I noticed that
their hair was braided like Mlle. d'Esgrignon's. Still later, when the
foolish fancies had vanished one by one, Mlle. Armande remained
vaguely in my memory as a type; that Mlle. Armande for whom men made
way respectfully, following the tall brown-robed figure with their
eyes along the Parade and out of sight. Her exquisitely graceful form,
the rounded curves sometimes revealed by a chance gust of wind, and
always visible to my eyes in spite of the ample folds of stuff,
revisited my young man's dreams. Later yet, when I came to think
seriously over certain mysteries of human thought, it seemed to me
that the feeling of reverence was first inspired in me by something
expressed in Mlle. d'Esgrignon's face and bearing. The wonderful calm
of her face, the suppressed passion in it, the dignity of her
movements, the saintly life of duties fulfilled,--all this touched and
awed me. Children are more susceptible than people imagine to the
subtle influences of ideas; they never make game of real dignity; they
feel the charm of real graciousness, and beauty attracts them, for
childhood itself is beautiful, and there are mysterious ties between
things of the same nature.
"Mlle. d'Esgrignon was one of my religions. To this day I can never
climb the staircase of some old manor-house but my foolish imagination
must needs picture Mlle. Armande standing there, like the spirit of
feudalism. I can never read old chronicles but she appears before my
eyes in the shape of some famous woman of old times; she is Agnes
Sorel, Marie Touchet, Gabrielle; and I lend her all the love that was
lost in her heart, all the love that she never expressed. The angel
shape seen in glimpses through the haze of childish fancies visits me
now sometimes across the mists of dreams."
Keep this portrait in mind; it is a faithful picture and sketch of
character. Mlle. d'Esgrignon is one of the most instructive figures in
this story; she affords an example of the mischief that may be done by
the purest goodness for lack of intelligence.
Two-thirds of the emigres returned to France during 1804 and 1805, and
almost every exile from the Marquis d'Esgrignon's province came back
to the land of his fathers. There were certainly defections. Men of
good birth entered the service of Napoleon, and went into the army or
held places at the Imperial court, and others made alliances with the
upstart families. All those who cast in their lots with the Empire
retrieved their fortunes and recovered their estates, thanks to the
Emperor's munificence; and these for the most part went to Paris and
stayed there. But some eight or nine families still remained true to
the proscribed noblesse and loyal to the fallen monarchy. The La
Roche-Guyons, Nouastres, Verneuils, Casterans, Troisvilles, and the
rest were some of them rich, some of them poor; but money, more or
less, scarcely counted for anything among them. They took an
antiquarian view of themselves; for them the age and preservation of
the pedigree was the one all-important matter; precisely as, for an
amateur, the weight of metal in a coin is a small matter in comparison
with clean lettering, a flawless stamp, and high antiquity. Of these
families, the Marquis d'Esgrignon was the acknowledged head. His house
became their cenacle. There His Majesty, Emperor and King, was never
anything but "M. de Bonaparte"; there "the King" meant Louis XVIII.,
then at Mittau; there the Department was still the Province, and the
prefecture the intendance.
The Marquis was honored among them for his admirable behavior, his
loyalty as a noble, his undaunted courage; even as he was respected
throughout the town for his misfortunes, his fortitude, his steadfast
adherence to his political convictions. The man so admirable in
adversity was invested with all the majesty of ruined greatness. His
chivalrous fair-mindedness was so well known, that litigants many a
time had referred their disputes to him for arbitration. All gently
bred Imperalists and the authorities themselves showed as much
indulgence for his prejudices as respect for his personal character;
but there was another and a large section of the new society which was
destined to be known after the Restoration as the Liberal party; and
these, with du Croisier as their unacknowledged head, laughed at an
aristocratic oasis which nobody might enter without proof of
irreproachable descent. Their animosity was all the more bitter
because honest country squires and the higher officials, with a good
many worthy folk in the town, were of the opinion that all the best
society thereof was to be found in the Marquis d'Esgrignon's salon.
The prefect himself, the Emperor's chamberlain, made overtures to the
d'Esgrignons, humbly sending his wife (a Grandlieu) as ambassadress.
Wherefore, those excluded from the miniature provincial Faubourg
Saint-Germain nicknamed the salon "The Collection of Antiquities," and
called the Marquis himself "M. Carol." The receiver of taxes, for
instance, addressed his applications to "M. Carol (ci-devant des
Grignons)," maliciously adopting the obsolete way of spelling.
"For my own part," said Emile Blondet, "if I try to recall my
childhood memories, I remember that the nickname of 'Collection of
Antiquities' always made me laugh, in spite of my respect--my love, I
ought to say--for Mlle. d'Esgrignon. The Hotel d'Esgrignon stood at
the angle of two of the busiest thoroughfares in the town, and not
five hundred paces away from the market place. Two of the drawing-room
windows looked upon the street and two upon the square; the room was
like a glass cage, every one who came past could look through it from
side to side. I was only a boy of twelve at the time, but I thought,
even then, that the salon was one of those rare curiosities which
seem, when you come to think of them afterwards, to lie just on the
borderland between reality and dreams, so that you can scarcely tell
to which side they most belong.
"The room, the ancient Hall of Audience, stood above a row of cellars
with grated air-holes, once the prison cells of the old court-house,
now converted into a kitchen. I do not know that the magnificent lofty
chimney-piece of the Louvre, with its marvelous carving, seemed more
wonderful to me than the vast open hearth of the salon d'Esgrignon
when I saw it for the first time. It was covered like a melon with a
network of tracery. Over it stood an equestrian portrait of Henri
III., under whom the ancient duchy of appanage reverted to the crown;
it was a great picture executed in low relief, and set in a carved and
gilded frame. The ceiling spaces between the chestnut cross-beams in
the fine old roof were decorated with scroll-work patterns; there was
a little faded gilding still left along the angles. The walls were
covered with Flemish tapestry, six scenes from the Judgment of
Solomon, framed in golden garlands, with satyrs and cupids playing
among the leaves. The parquet floor had been laid down by the present
Marquis, and Chesnel had picked up the furniture at sales of the
wreckage of old chateaux between 1793 and 1795; so that there were
Louis Quatorze consoles, tables, clock-cases, andirons, candle-sconces
and tapestry-covered chairs, which marvelously completed a stately
room, large out of all proportion to the house. Luckily, however,
there was an equally lofty ante-chamber, the ancient Salle des Pas
Perdus of the presidial, which communicated likewise with the
magistrate's deliberating chamber, used by the d'Esgrignons as a
"Beneath the old paneling, amid the threadbare braveries of a bygone
day, some eight or ten dowagers were drawn up in state in a quavering
line; some with palsied heads, others dark and shriveled like mummies;
some erect and stiff, others bowed and bent, but all of them tricked
out in more or less fantastic costumes as far as possible removed from
the fashion of the day, with be-ribboned caps above their curled and
powdered 'heads,' and old discolored lace. No painter however earnest,
no caricature however wild, ever caught the haunting fascination of
those aged women; they come back to me in dreams; their puckered faces
shape themselves in my memory whenever I meet an old woman who puts me
in mind of them by some faint resemblance of dress or feature. And
whether it is that misfortune has initiated me into the secrets of
irremediable and overwhelming disaster; whether that I have come to
understand the whole range of human feelings, and, best of all, the
thoughts of Old Age and Regret; whatever the reason, nowhere and never
again have I seen among the living or in the faces of the dying the
wan look of certain gray eyes that I remember, nor the dreadful
brightness of others that were black.
"Neither Hoffmann nor Maturin, the two weirdest imaginations of our
time, ever gave me such a thrill of terror as I used to feel when I
watched the automaton movements of those bodies sheathed in whalebone.
The paint on actors' faces never caused me a shock; I could see below
it the rouge in grain, the rouge de naissance, to quote a comrade at
least as malicious as I can be. Years had leveled those women's faces,
and at the same time furrowed them with wrinkles, till they looked
like the heads on wooden nutcrackers carved in Germany. Peeping
in through the window-panes, I gazed at the battered bodies, and
ill-jointed limbs (how they were fastened together, and, indeed,
their whole anatomy was a mystery I never attempted to explain); I saw
the lantern jaws, the protuberant bones, the abnormal development of
the hips; and the movements of these figures as they came and went
seemed to me no whit less extraordinary than their sepulchral
immobility as they sat round the card-tables.
"The men looked gray and faded like the ancient tapestries on the
wall, in dress they were much more like the men of the day, but even
they were not altogether convincingly alive. Their white hair, their
withered waxen-hued faces, their devastated foreheads and pale eyes,
revealed their kinship to the women, and neutralized any effects of
reality borrowed from their costume.
"The very certainty of finding all these folk seated at or among the
tables every day at the same hours invested them at length in my eyes
with a sort of spectacular interest as it were; there was something
theatrical, something unearthly about them.
"Whenever, in after times, I have gone through museums of old
furniture in Paris, London, Munich, or Vienna, with the gray-headed
custodian who shows you the splendors of time past, I have peopled the
rooms with figures from the Collection of Antiquities. Often, as
little schoolboys of eight or ten we used to propose to go and take a
look at the curiosities in their glass cage, for the fun of the thing.
But as soon as I caught sight of Mlle. Armande's sweet face, I used to
tremble; and there was a trace of jealousy in my admiration for the
lovely child Victurnien, who belonged, as we all instinctively felt,
to a different and higher order of being from our own. It struck me as
something indescribably strange that the young fresh creature should
be there in that cemetery awakened before the time. We could not have
explained our thoughts to ourselves, yet we felt that we were
bourgeois and insignificant in the presence of that proud court."
The disasters of 1813 and 1814, which brought about the downfall of
Napoleon, gave new life to the Collection of Antiquities, and what was
more than life, the hope of recovering their past importance; but the
events of 1815, the troubles of the foreign occupation, and the
vacillating policy of the Government until the fall of M. Decazes, all
contributed to defer the fulfilment of the expectations of the
personages so vividly described by Blondet. This story, therefore,
only begins to shape itself in 1822.
In 1822 the Marquis d'Esgrignon's fortunes had not improved in spite
of the changes worked by the Restoration in the condition of emigres.
Of all the nobles hardly hit by Revolutionary legislation, his case
was the hardest. Like other great families, the d'Esgrignons before
1789 derived the greater part of their income from their rights as
lords of the manor in the shape of dues paid by those who held of
them; and, naturally, the old seigneurs had reduced the size of the
holdings in order to swell the amounts paid in quit-rents and heriots.
Families in this position were hopelessly ruined. They were not
affected by the ordinance by which Louis XVIII. put the emigres into
possession of such of their lands as had not been sold; and at a later
date it was impossible that the law of indemnity should indemnify
them. Their suppressed rights, as everybody knows, were revived in the
shape of a land tax known by the very name of domaines, but the money
went into the coffers of the State.
The Marquis by his position belonged to that small section of the
Royalist party which would hear of no kind of compromise with those
whom they styled, not Revolutionaries, but revolted subjects, or, in
more parliamentary language, they had no dealings with Liberals or
Constitutionnels. Such Royalists, nicknamed Ultras by the opposition,
took for leaders and heroes those courageous orators of the Right, who
from the very beginning attempted, with M. de Polignac, to protest
against the charter granted by Louis XVIII. This they regarded as an
ill-advised edict extorted from the Crown by the necessity of the
moment, only to be annulled later on. And, therefore, so far from
co-operating with the King to bring about a new condition of things,
the Marquis d'Esgrignon stood aloof, an upholder of the straitest sect
of the Right in politics, until such time as his vast fortune should
be restored to him. Nor did he so much as admit the thought of the
indemnity which filled the minds of the Villele ministry, and formed a
part of a design of strengthening the Crown by putting an end to those
fatal distinctions of ownership which still lingered on in spite of
The miracles of the Restoration of 1814, the still greater miracle of
Napoleon's return in 1815, the portents of a second flight of the
Bourbons, and a second reinstatement (that almost fabulous phase of
contemporary history), all these things took the Marquis by
surprise at the age of sixty-seven. At that time of life, the most
high-spirited men of their age were not so much vanquished as worn out
in the struggle with the Revolution; their activity, in their remote
provincial retreats, had turned into a passionately held and immovable
conviction; and almost all of them were shut in by the enervating,
easy round of daily life in the country. Could worse luck befall a
political party than this--to be represented by old men at a time when
its ideas are already stigmatized as old-fashioned?
When the legitimate sovereign appeared to be firmly seated on the
throne again in 1818, the Marquis asked himself what a man of seventy
should do at court; and what duties, what office he could discharge
there? The noble and high-minded d'Esgrignon was fain to be content
with the triumph of the Monarchy and Religion, while he waited for the
results of that unhoped-for, indecisive victory, which proved to be
simply an armistice. He continued as before, lord-paramount of his
salon, so felicitously named the Collection of Antiquities.
But when the victors of 1793 became the vanquished in their turn, the
nickname given at first in jest began to be used in bitter earnest.
The town was no more free than other country towns from the hatreds
and jealousies bred of party spirit. Du Croisier, contrary to all
expectation, married the old maid who had refused him at first;
carrying her off from his rival, the darling of the aristocratic
quarter, a certain Chevalier whose illustrious name will be
sufficiently hidden by suppressing it altogether, in accordance with
the usage formerly adopted in the place itself, where he was known by
his title only. He was "the Chevalier" in the town, as the Comte
d'Artois was "Monsieur" at court. Now, not only had that marriage
produced a war after the provincial manner, in which all weapons are
fair; it had hastened the separation of the great and little noblesse,
of the aristocratic and bourgeois social elements, which had been
united for a little space by the heavy weight of Napoleonic rule.
After the pressure was removed, there followed that sudden revival of
class divisions which did so much harm to the country.
The most national of all sentiments in France is vanity. The wounded
vanity of the many induced a thirst for Equality; though, as the most
ardent innovator will some day discover, Equality is an impossibility.
The Royalists pricked the Liberals in the most sensitive spots, and
this happened specially in the provinces, where either party accused
the other of unspeakable atrocities. In those days the blackest deeds
were done in politics, to secure public opinion on one side or the
other, to catch the votes of that public of fools which holds up hands
for those that are clever enough to serve out weapons to them.
Individuals are identified with their political opinions, and
opponents in public life forthwith became private enemies. It is very
difficult in a country town to avoid a man-to-man conflict of this
kind over interests or questions which in Paris appear in a more