origin in that too heating article of food ! With what joy the
two women would cry, "It is the hare beyond a doubt !"
"Mariette over-seasoned it," mademoiselle would add; "I
always tell her not to overdo it for my uncle and me, but
Mariette has no more memory than "
"Than the hare," suggested Josette.
"It is the truth," returned mademoiselle ; "she has no more
memory than the hare ; you have just hit it."
Four times in a year, at the beginning of each season, Mile.
Cormon went to spend a certain number of days at the
Prebaudet. It was now the middle of May, when she liked
to see how her apple-trees had "snowed," as they say in the
cider country, an allusion to the white blossoms strewn in the
orchards in the spring. When the circles of fallen petals look
like snow-drifts under the trees, the proprietor may hope to
have abundance of cider in the autumn. Mile. Cormon esti-
mated her barrels, and at the same time superintended any
necessary after-winter repairs, planning out work in the
garden and orchard, from which she drew no inconsiderable
supplies. Each time of year had its special business.
Mademoiselle used to give a farewell dinner to her faithful
inner circle before leaving, albeit she would see them again
at the end of three weeks. All Alengon knew when the
journey was to be undertaken. Any one that had fallen behind-
hand immediately paid a call, her drawing-room was filled;
everybody wished her a prosperous journey, as if she had been
starting for Calcutta. Then, in the morning, all the trades-
people were standing in their doorways ; every one, great and
small, watched the cariole go past, and it seemed as if every-
body learned a piece of fresh news when one repeated after
another, "So Mile. Cormon is going to the Prebaudet."
One would remark, "She has bread ready baked, she has !"
And his neighbor would return, "Eh ! my lads, she is a good
woman ; if property always fell into such hands as hers, there
would not be a beggar to be seen in the countryside."
68 THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN
Or another would exclaim, "Hullo ! I should not wonder
if our oldest vines are in flower, for there is Mile. Cormon
setting out for the Prebaudet. How comes it that she is so
little given to marrying?"
"I should be quite ready to marry her, all the same," a wag
would answer. "The marriage is half made one side is
willing, but the other isn't. Pooh! the oven is heating for
M. du Bousquier."
"M . du Bousquier ? She has refused him."
At every house that evening people remarked solemnly,
"Mile. Cormon has gone."
Or perhaps, "So you have let Mile. Cormon go !"
The Wednesday selected by Suzanne for making a scandal
chanced to be this very day of leave-taking, when Mile. Cor-
mon nearly drove Josette to distraction over the packing of
the parcels which she meant to take with her. A good deal
that was done and said in the town that morning was like to
lend additional interest to the farewell gathering at night.
While the old maid was busily making preparations for her
journey; while the astute Chevalier was playing his game of
piquet in the house of Mile. Armande de Gordes, sister of the
aged Marquis de Gordes, and queen of the aristocratic salon,
Mme. Granson had sounded the alarm bell in half a score of
houses. There was not a soul but felt some curiosity to see
what sort of figure the seducer would cut that evening ; and to
Mme. Granson and the Chevalier de Valois it was an impor-
tant matter to know how Mile. Cormon would take the news,
in her double quality of marriageable spinster and lady presi-
dent of the Maternity Fund. As for the unsuspecting du
Bousquier, he was taking the air on the Parade. He was just
beginning to think that Suzanne had made a fool of him ; and
this suspicion only confirmed the rules which he had laid
down with regard to womankind.
On these high days the cloth was laid about half-past three
in the Maison Cormon. Four o'clock was the state dinner
hour in Alenqon, on ordinary days they dined at two, as in the
time of the Empire ; but, then, they supped I
THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN 69
Mile. Cormon always felt an inexpressible sense of satisfac-
tion when she was dressed to receive her guests as mistress of
her house. It was one of the pleasures which she most relished,
be it said without malice, though egoism certainly lay beneath
the feeling. When thus arrayed for conquest, a ray of hope
slid across the darkness of her soul; a voice within her cried
that nature had not endowed her so abundantly in vain, that
surely some enterprising man was about to appear for her.
She felt the younger for the wish, and the fresher for her
toilet; she looked at her stout figure with a certain elation;
and afterwards, when she went downstairs to submit salon,
study, and boudoir to an awful scrutiny, this sense of satisfac-
tion still remained with her. To and fro she went, with the
naive contentment of the rich man who feels conscious at every
moment that he is rich and will lack for nothing all his life
long. She looked round upon her furniture, the eternal furni-
ture, the antiquities, the lacquered panels, and told herself
that such fine things ought to have a master.
After admiring the dining-room, where the space was
filled by the long table with its snowy cloth, its score of
covers symmetrically laid; after going through the roll-call
of a squadron of bottles ordered up from the cellar, and mak-
ing sure that each bore an honorable label ; and finally, after
a most minute verification of a score of little slips of paper
on which the Abbe had written the names of the guests with a
trembling hand it was the sole occasion on which he took an
active part in the household, and the place of every guest
always gave rise to grave discussion after this review, Mile.
Cormon in her fine array went into the garden to join her
uncle ; for at this pleasantest hour of the day he used to walk
up and down the terrace beside the Brillante, listening to the
twittering of the birds, which, hidden closely among the
leaves in the lime-tree walk, knew no fear of boys or sports-
Mile. Cormon never came out to the Abbe during these
intervals of waiting without asking some hopelessly absurd
Question, in the hope of drawing the good man into a discus-
70 THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN
sion which might interest him. Her reasons for so doing must
be given, for this very characteristic trait adds the finishing
touch to her portrait.
Mile. Cormon considered it a duty to talk; not that she
was naturally loquacious, for, unfortunately, with her dearth
of ideas and very limited stock of phrases, it was difficult to
hold forth at any length ; but she thought that in this way she
was fulfilling the social duties prescribed by religion, which
bids us be agreeable to our neighbor. It was a duty which
weighed so much upon her mind, that she had submitted this
case of conscience out of the Child's Guide to Manners to her
director, the Abbe Couturier. Whereupon, so far from being
disarmed by the penitent's humble admission of the violence
of her mental struggles to find something to say, the old
ecclesiastic, being firm in matters of discipline, read her a
whole chapter out of St. Frangois de Sales on the Duties of a
Woman in the World ; on the decent gaiety of the pious Chris-
tian female, and the duty of confining her austerities to her-
self ; a woman, according to this authority, ought to be amiable
in her home and to act in such a sort that her neighbor never
feels dull in her company. After this Mile. Cormon, with a
deep sense of duty, was anxious to obey her director at any
cost. He had bidden her to discourse agreeably, so every time
the conversation languished she felt the perspiration breaking
out over her with the violence of her exertions to find some-
thing to say which should stimulate the flagging interest. She
would come out with odd remarks at such times. Once she
revived, with some success, a discussion on the ubiquity of the
apostles (of which she understood not a syllable) by the un-
expected observation that "You cannot be in two places at
once unless you are a bird." With such conversational cues as
these, the lady had earned the title of "clear, good Mile.
Cormon" in her set, which phrase, in the mouth of local wits,
might be taken to mean that she was as ignorant as a carp,
and a bit of a "natural;" but there were plenty of people of
her own calibre to take the remark literally, and reply, "Oh
yes, Mile. Cormon is very good."
THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN 71
Sometimes (always in her desire to be agreeable to her
guests and fulfil her duties as a hostess) she asked such ab-
surd questions that everybody burst out laughing. She wanted
to know, for example, what the Government did with the taxes
which it had been receiving all these years; or how it was
that the Bible had not been printed in the time of Christ, see-
ing that it had been written by Moses. Altogether she was on
a par with the English country gentleman, and member
of the House of Commons, who made the famous speech in
which he said, "I am always hearing of Posterity; I should
very much like to know what Posterity has done for the
On such occasions, the heroic Chevalier de Valois came to
the rescue, bringing up all the resources of his wit and tact
at the sight of the smiles exchanged by pitiless smatterers.
He loved to give to woman, did this elderly noble ; he lent his
wit to Mile. Cormon by coming to her assistance with a para-
dox, and covered her retreat so well, that sometimes it seemed
as if she had said nothing foolish. She once owned seriously
that she did not know the difference between an ox and a bull.
The enchanting Chevalier stopped the roars of laughter by
saying that oxen could never be more than uncles to the
bullocks. Another time, hearing much talk of cattle-breeding
and its difficulties a topic which often comes up in conversa-
tion in the neighborhood of the superb du Pin stud she so
far grasped the technicalities of horse breeding to ask, "Why,
if they wanted colts, they did not serve a mare twice a year."
The Chevalier drew down the laughter upon himself.
"It is quite possible," said he. The company pricked up
"The fault lies with the naturalists," he continued; "they
have not found out how to breed mares that are less than
eleven months in foal."
Poor Mile. Cormon no more understood the meaning of the
words than the difference between the ox and the bull. The
Chevalier met with no gratitude for his pains ; his chivalrous
services were beyond the reach of the lady's comprehension.
72 THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN
She saw that the conversation grew livelier; she was relieved
to find that she was not so stupid as she imagined. A day
came at last when she settled down in her ignorance, like the
Due de Brancas; and the hero of Le Distrait, it may be re-
membered, made himself so comfortable in the ditch after his
fall, that when the people came to pull him out, he asked what
they wanted with him. Since a somewhat recent period Mile.
Cormon had lost her fears. She brought out her conversa-
tional cues with a self-possession akin to that solemn manner
the very coxcombry of stupidity which accompanies the
fatuous utterances of British patriotism.
As she went with stately steps towards the terrace there-
fore, she was chewing the cud of reflection, seeking for some
question which should draw her uncle out of a silence
which always hurt her feelings ; she thought that he felt dull.
"Uncle," she began, hanging on his arm, and nestling joy-
ously close to him (for this was another of her make-believes,
"If I had a husband, I should do just so!" she thought)
"Uncle, if everything on earth happens by the will of God,
there must be a reason for everything."
"Assuredly," the Abbe de Sponde answered gravely. He
loved his niece, and submitted with angelic patience to be torn
from his meditations.
"Then if I never marry at all, it will be because it is the
will of God?"
"Yes, my child."
"But still, as there is nothing to prevent me from marrying
to-morrow, my will perhaps might thwart the will of God ?"
"That might be so, if we really knew God's will," returned
the sub-prior of the Sorbonne. "Eemark, my dear, that you
insert an if."
Poor Rose was bewildered. She had hoped to lead her
uncle to the subject of marriage by way of an argument ad
omnipotentem. But the naturally obtuse are wont to adopt
the remorseless logic of childhood, which is to say, they pro-
ceed from the answer to another question, a method frequently
"But, uncle," she persisted, "God cannot mean women never
to marry; for if He did, all of them ought to be either un-
married or married. Their lots are distributed unjustly."
"My child/' said the good Abbe, "you are finding fault with
the Church, which teaches that celibacy is a more excellent
way to God."
"But if the Church was right, and everybody was a good
Catholic, there would soon be no more people, uncle."
"You are too ingenious, Eose ; there is no need to be so in-
genious to be happy."
Such words brought a smile of satisfaction to poor Hose's
lips and confirmed her in the good opinion which she began
to conceive of herself. Behold how the world, like our friends
and enemies, contributes to strengthen our faults. At this
moment guests began to arrive, and the conversation was in-
terrupted. On these high festival occasions, the disposition
of the rooms brought about little familiarities between the
servants and invited guests. Mariette saw the President of
the Tribunal, a triple expansion glutton, as he passed by her
"Oh, M. du Ronceret, I have been making cauliflower au
gratin on purpose for you, for mademoiselle knows how fond
you are of it. 'Mind you do not fail with it, Mariette/ she
said ; 'M. le President is coming.' ''
"Good Mile. Cormon," returned the man of law. "Mari-
ette, did you baste the cauliflowers with gravy instead of
stock? It is more savory." And the President did not dis-
dain to enter the council-chamber where Mariette ruled the
roast, nor to cast an epicure's eye over her preparations, and
give his opinion as a master of the craft.
"Good-day, madame," said Josette, addressing Mme. Gran-
son, who sedulously cultivated the waiting-woman. "Made-
moiselle has not forgotten you ; you are to have a dish of fish."
As for the Chevalier de Yalois, he spoke to Mariette with
the jocularity of a great noble unbending to an inferior :
"Well, dear cordon bleu, I would give you the Cross of the
Legion of Honor if I could; tell me, is there any dainty
morsel for which one ought to sajg oneself ?"
74 THE JEALOUSIES OP A COUNTRY TOWN
"Yes, yes, M. de Valois, a hare from the Prebaudet; it
weighed fourteen pounds I"
"That's a good girl," said the Chevalier, patting Josette on
the cheek with two fingers. "Ah! weighs fourteen pounds,
Du Bousquier was not of the party. Mile. Cormon treated
him hardly, faithful to her system before described. In the
very bottom of her heart she felt an inexplicable drawing
towards this man of fifty, whom she had once refused. Some-
times she repented of that refusal, and yet she had a pre-
sentiment that she should marry him after all, and a dread of
him which forbade her to wish for the marriage. These ideas
stimulated her interest in du Bousquier. The Eepublican's
herculean proportions produced an effect upon her which she
would not admit to herself; and the Chevalier de Valois and
Mme. Granson, while they could not explain Mile. Cormon's
inconsistencies, had detected naive, furtive glances, sufficiently
clear in their significance to set them both on the watch to
ruin the hopes which du Bousquier clearly entertained in spite
of a first check.
Two guests kept the others waiting, but their official duties
excused them both. One was M. du Coudrai, registrar of
mortgages; the other, M. Choisnel, had once acted as land-
steward to the Marquis de Gordes. Choisnel was the notary
of the old noblesse, and received everywhere among them with
the distinction which his merits deserved ; he had besides a not
inconsiderable private fortune. When the two late comers ar-
rived, Jacquelin, the man-servant, seeing them turn to go into
the drawing-room, came forward with, " 'They' are all in the
The registrar of mortgages was one of the most amiable
men in the town. There were but two things against him
he had married an old woman for her money in the first place,
and in the second it was his habit to perpetrate outrageous
puns, at which he was the first jto laugh. But, doubtless, the
stomachs of the guests were growing impatient, for at first
Bight he was hailed with that faint sigh which usually wel-
THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN 75
comes last comers under such circumstances. Pending the
official announcement of dinner, the company strolled up and
down the terrace by the Brillante, looking out over the stream
with its bed of mosaic and its water-plants, at the so pictur-
esque details of the row of houses huddled together on the
opposite bank; the old-fashioned wooden balconies, the
tumble-down window sills, the balks of timber that shored
up a story projecting over the river, the cabinet-maker's work-
shop, the tiny gardens where odds and ends of clothing were
hanging out to dry. It was, in short, the poor quarter of a
country town, to which the near neighborhood of the water,
a weeping willow drooping over the bank, a rosebush or so,
and a few flowers, had lent an indescribable charm, worthy of
a landscape painter's brush.
The Chevalier meanwhile was narrowly watching the faces
of the guests. He knew that his firebrand had very success-
fully taken hold of the best coteries in the town ; but no one
spoke openly of Suzanne and du Bousquier and the great news
as yet. The art of distilling scandal is possessed by pro-
vincials in a supreme degree. It was felt that the time was
not yet ripe for open discussion of the strange event. Every
one was bound to go through a private rehearsal first. So it
"Have you heard ?"
"And the fair Suzanne."
"Does Mile. Cormon know anything ?"
This was gossip piano, presently destined to swell into a
crescendo when they were ready to discuss the first dish of
All of a sudden the Chevalier confronted Mme. Granson.
That lady had sported her green bonnet, trimmed with au-
riculas ; her face was beaming. Was she simply longing to
begin the concert ? Such news is as good as a gold-mine to be
76 THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN
worked in the monotonous lives of these people ; but the ob-
servant and uneasy Chevalier fancied that he read something
more in the good lady's expression to wit, the exultation of
self-interest! At once he turned to look at Athanase, and
detected in his silence the signs of profound concentration of
some kind. In another moment the young man's glance at
Mile. Cormon's figure, which sufficiently resembled a pair of
regimental kettledrums, shot a sudden light across the Cheva-
lier's brain. By that gleam he could read the whole past.
"Egad !" he said to himself, "what a slap in the face I have
laid myself out to get !"
He went across to offer his arm to Mile. Cormon, so that he
might afterwards take her in to dinner. She regarded the
Chevalier with respectful esteem ; for, in truth, with his name
and position in the aristocratic constellations of the province,
he was one of the most brilliant ornaments of her salon. In
her heart of hearts, she had longed to be Mme. de Valois at
any time during the past twelve years. The name was like a
branch for the swarming thoughts of her brain to cling about
he fulfilled all her ideals as to the birth, quality, and ex-
ternals of an eligible man. But while the Chevalier de Valois
was the choice of heart and brain and social ambition, the
elderly ruin, curled though he was like a St. John of a proces-
sion-day, filled Mile. Cormon with dismay; the heiress saw
nothing but the noble ; the woman could not think of him as
a husband. The Chevalier's affectation of indifference to mar-
riage, and still more his unimpeachable character in a house-
ful of work-girls, had seriously injured him, contrary to his
own expectations. The man of quality, so clear-sighted in the
matter of the annuity, miscalculated on this subject; and
Mile. Cormon herself was not aware that her private reflec-
tions upon the too well-conducted Chevalier might have been
translated by the remark, "What a pity that he is not a little
bit of a rake !"
Students of human nature have remarked these leanings of
the saint towards the sinner, and wondered at a taste so little
in accordance, as they imagine, with Christian virtue. But, to
At once he turned to look at Athanase
THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN 77
go no further, what nobler destiny for a virtuous woman.than
the task of cleansing, after the manner of charcoal, the turbid
waters of vice? How is it that nobody has seen that these
generous creatures, confined by their principles to strict con-
jugal fidelity, must naturally desire a mate of great practical
experience? A reformed rake makes the best husband. And
so it came to pass that the poor spinster must sigh over the
chosen vessel, offered her as it were in two pieces. Heaven
alone could weld the Chevalier de Yalois and du Bousquier
If the significance of the few words exchanged between the
Chevalier and Mile. Cormon is to be properly understood, it is
necessary to put other matters before the reader. Two very
serious questions were dividing Alengon into two camps, and,
moreover, du Bousquier was mixed up in both affairs in some
mysterious way. The first of these debates concerned the cure.
He had taken the oath of allegiance in the time of the Revolu-
tion, and now was living down orthodox prejudices by setting
an example of the loftiest goodness. He was a Cheverus on a
smaller scale, and so much was he appreciated, that when he
died the whole town wept for him. Mile. Cormon and the
Abbe de Sponde belonged, however, to the minority, to the
Church sublime in its orthodoxy, a section which was to the
Court of Rome as the Ultras were shortly to be to the Court
of Louis XVIII. The Abbe, in particular, declined to recog-
nize the Church that had submitted to force and made terms
with the Constitutionnels. So the cure was never seen in the
salon of the Maison Cormon, and the sympathies of its fre-
quenters were with the officiating priest of St. Leonard's, the
aristocratic church in Alengon. Du Bousquier, that rabid Lib-
eral under a Royalist's skin, knew how necessary it is to find
standards to rally the discontented, who form, as it were, the
back-shop of every opposition, and therefore he had already
enlisted the sympathies of the trading classes for the cure.
Now for the second affair. The same blunt diplomatist was
the secret instigator of a scheme for building a theatre, an
idea which had only lately sprouted in Alengon. Du Bous-
78 THE JEALOUSIES OF A COUNTRY TOWN
quiets zealots knew not their Mahomet, but they were more
ardent in their defence of what they believed to be their own
plan. Athanase was one of the very hottest of the partisans
in favor of the theatre ; in the mayor's office for several days
past he had been pleading for the cause which all the younger
men had taken up.
To return to the Chevalier. He offered his arm to Mile.
Cormon, who thanked him with a radiant glance for this at-
tention. For all answer, the Chevalier indicated Athanase by
a meaning look.
"Mademoiselle," he began, "as you have such well-balanced
judgment in matters of social convention, and as that young
man is related to you in some way "
"Very distantly," she broke in.
"Ought you not to use the influence which you possess with
him and his mother to prevent him from going utterly to the
bad? He is not very religious as it is; he defends that per-
jured priest; but that is nothing. It is a much more serious
matter ; is he not plunging thoughtlessly into opposition with-
out realizing how his conduct may affect his prospects? He
is scheming to build this theatre ; he is the dupe of that Ee-
publican in disguise, du Bousquier
"Dear me, M. de Valois, his mother tells me that he is so
clever, and he has not a word to say for himself; he always
stands planted before you like a statute "
"Of limitations," cried the registrar. "I caught that fly-
ing. I present my devoars to the Chevalier de Valois," he