business, had taught the old notary a habit of distrustful
clear-sighted observation something akin to the mother's
instinct. But Chesnel counted for so little in the house
(especially since he had fallen into something like
disgrace over that unlucky project of a marriage between
a d'Esgrignon and a du Croisier), that he had made up
his mind to adhere blindly in future to the family
He was a common soldier, faithful to his
post, and ready to give his life ; it was never likely that
they would take his advice, even in the height of the
storm ; unless chance should bring him, like the King's
bedesman in The Antiquary , to the edge of the sea, when
the old baronet and his daughter were caught by the
Du Croisier caught a glimpse of his revenge in the
anomalous education given to the lad. He hoped, to
quote the expressive words of the author quoted above,
1 88 The Jealousies of a Country Town
'to drown the lamb in its mother's milk.' This was the
hope which had produced his taciturn resignation and
brought that savage smile on his lips.
The young Comte Victurnien was taught to believe
in his own supremacy so soon as an idea could enter his
head. All the great nobles of the realm were his peers,
his one superior was the King, and the rest of mankind
were his inferiors, people with whom he had nothing in
common, towards whom he had no duties. They were
defeated and conquered enemies, whom he need not take
into account for a moment ; their opinions could not
affect a noble, and they all owed him respect. Un-
luckily, with the rigorous logic of youth, which leads
children and young people to proceed to extremes
whether good or bad, Victurnien pushed these conclu-
sions to their utmost consequences. His own external
advantages, moreover, confirmed him in his beliefs.
He had been extraordinarily beautiful as a child ; he
became as accomplished a young man as any father could
He was of average height, but well proportioned,
slender, and almost delicate-looking, but muscular. He
had the brilliant blue eyes of the d'Esgrignons, the
finely-moulded aquiline nose, the perfect oval of the
face, the auburn hair, the white skin, and the graceful
gait of his family ; he had their delicate extremities, their
long taper fingers with the inward curve, and that pecu-
liar distinction of shapeliness of the wrist and instep,
that supple felicity of line, which is as sure a sign of race
in men as in horses. Adroit and alert in all bodily
exercises, and an excellent shot, he handled arms like a
St. George, he was a paladin on horseback. In short,
he gratified the pride which parents take in their chil-
dren's appearance ; a pride founded, for that matter, on
a just idea of the enormous influence exercised by
physical beauty. Personal beauty has this in common
with noble birth, it cannot be acquired afterwards j it is
The Jealousies of a Country Town 189
everywhere recognised, and often is more valued than
either money or brains ; beauty has only to appear and
triumph ; nobody asks more of beauty than that it
should simply exist.
Fate had endowed Victurnien, over and above the
privileges of good looks and noble birth, with a high
spirit, a wonderful aptitude of comprehension, and a
good memory. His education, therefore, had been com-
plete. He knew a good deal more than is usually
known by young provincial nobles, who develop into
highly-distinguished sportsmen, owners of land, and
consumers of tobacco ; and are apt to treat art,
sciences, letters, poetry, or anything offensively above
their intellects, cavalierly enough. Such gifts of
nature and education surely would one day realise the
Marquis d'Esgrignon's ambitions ; he already saw his
son a Marshal of France if Victurnien's tastes were for
the army ; an ambassador if diplomacy held any attrac-
tions for him ; a cabinet minister if that career seemed
good in his eyes ; every place in the state belonged to
Victurnien. And, most gratifying thought of all for a
father, the young Count would have made his way in
the world by his own merits even if he had not been a
All through his happy childhood and golden youth,
Victurnien had never met with opposition to his wishes.
He had been the king of the house ; no one curbed the
little prince's will ; and naturally he grew up insolent
and audacious, selfish as a prince, self-willed as the most
high-spirited cardinal of the Middle Ages, — defects of
character which any one might guess from his qualities,
essentially those of the noble.
The Chevalier was a man of the good old times when
the Grey Musketeers were the terror of the Paris
theatres, when they horsewhipped the watch and
drubbed servers of writs, and played a host of page's
pranks, at which Majesty was wont to smile so long as
190 The Jealousies of a Country Town
they were amusing. This charming deceiver and hero
of the ruelles had no small share in bringing about the
disasters which afterwards befell. The amiable old
gentleman, with nobody to understand him, was not a
little pleased to find a budding Faublas, who looked the
part to admiration, and put him in mind of his own
young days. So, making no allowance for the differ-
ence of the times, he sowed the maxims of a roue of the
Encyclopaedic period broadcast in the boy's mind. He
told wicked anecdotes of the reign of His Majesty
Louis xv. ; he glorified the manners and customs of the
year 1750 ; he told of the orgies in petites maisons^ the
follies of courtesans, the capital tricks played on
creditors, the manners, in short, which furnished forth
Dancourt's comedies and Beaumarchais's epigrams. And
unfortunately, the corruption lurking beneath the
utmost polish tricked itself out in Voltairean wit. If
the Chevalier went rather too far at times, he always
added as a corrective that a man must always behave
himself like a gentleman.
Of all this discourse, Victurnien comprehended just so
much as flattered his passions. From the first he saw
his old father laughing with the Chevalier. The two
elderly men considered that the pride of a d'Esgrignon
was a sufficient safeguard against anything unbefitting ;
as for a dishonourable action, no one in the house
imagined that a d'Esgrignon could be guilty of it.
Honour, the great principle of Monarchy, was
planted firm like a beacon in the hearts of the family;
it lighted up the least action, it kindled the least
thought of a d'Esgrignon. ' A d'Esgrignon ought not
to permit himself to do such and such a thing, he bears
a name, which pledges him to make the future worthy
of the past ' — a noble teaching which should have
been sufficient in itself to keep alive the tradition of
noblesse — had been, as it were, the burden of Victur-
nien's cradle song. He heard them from the old
The Jealousies of a Country Town 191
Marquis, from Mile. Armande, from Chesnel, from the
intimates of the house. And so it came to pass that
good and evil met, and in equal forces, in the boy's soul.
At the age of eighteen, Victurnien went into society.
He noticed some slight discrepancies between the outer
world of the town and the inner world of the Hotel
d'Esgrignon, but he in no wise tried to seek the causes
of them. And, indeed, the causes were to be found in
Paris. He had yet to learn that the men who spoke
their minds out so boldly in evening talk with his father,
were extremely careful of what they said in the presence
of the hostile persons with whom their interests com-
pelled them to mingle. His own father had won the
right of freedom of speech. Nobody dreamed of con-
tradicting an old man of seventy, and besides, every one
was willing to overlook fidelity to the old order of
things in a man who had been violently despoiled.
Victurnien was deceived by appearances, and his
behaviour set up the backs of the townspeople. In his
impetuous way he tried to carry matters with too high
a hand over some difficulties in the way of sport, which
ended in formidable lawsuits, hushed up by Chesnel for
money paid down. Nobody dared to tell the Marquis
of these things. You may judge of his astonishment if
he had heard that his son had been prosecuted for
shooting over his lands, his domains, his covers, under
the reign of a son of St. Louis ! People were too much
afraid of the possible consequences to tell him about such
trifles, Chesnel said.
The young Count indulged in other escapades in the
town. These the Chevalier regarded as c amourettes ,'
but they cost Chesnel something considerable in portions
for forsaken damsels seduced under imprudent promises of
marriage : yet other cases there were which came under an
article of the Code as to the abduction of minors; and but
for Chesnel's timely intervention, the new law would have
been allowed to take its brutal course, and it is hard to
192 The Jealousies of a Country Town
say where the Count might have ended. Victurnien
grew the bolder for these victories over bourgeois
justice. He was so accustomed to be pulled out of
scrapes, that he never thought twice before any prank.
Courts of law, in his opinion, were bugbears to frighten
people who had no hold on him. Things which he
would have blamed in common people were for him
only pardonable amusements. His disposition to treat
the new laws cavalierly while obeying the maxims of a
Code for aristocrats, his behaviour and character, were
all pondered, analysed, and tested by a few adroit persons
in du Croisier's interests. These folic supported each
other in the effort to make the people believe that
Liberal slanders were revelations, and that the Minis-
terial policy at bottom meant a return to the old order
What a bit of luck to find something by way of proof
of their assertions ! President du Ronceret, and the
public prosecutor likewise, lent themselves admirably, so
far as was compatible with their duty as magistrates, to
the design of letting off the offender as easily as possible ;
indeed, they went deliberately out of their way to do
this, well pleased to raise a Liberal clamour against
their overlarge concessions. And so, while seeming to
serve the interests of the d'Esgrignons, they stirred up
ill feeling against them. The treacherous du Ronceret
had it in his mind to pose as incorruptible at the right
moment over some serious charge, with public opinion
to back him up. The young Count's worst tendencies,
moreover, were insidiously encouraged by two or three
young men who followed in his train, paid court to him,
won his favour, and flattered and obeyed him, with
a view to confirming his belief in a noble's supremacy ;
and all this at a time when a noble's one chance of pre-
serving his power lay in using it with the utmost dis-
cretion for half a century to come.
Du Croisier hoped to reduce the d'Esgrignons to the
The Jealousies of a Country Town 193
last extremity of poverty ; he hoped to see their castle
demolished, and their lands sold piecemeal by auction,
through the follies which this harebrained boy was
pretty certain to commit. This was as far as he went ;
he did not think, with President du Ronceret, that
Victurnien was likely to give justice another kind of
hold upon him. Both men found an ally for their
schemes of revenge in Victurnien's overweening vanity
and love of pleasure. President du Ronceret's son, a
lad of seventeen, was admirably fitted for the part of
instigator. He was one of the Count's companions, a
new kind of spy in du Croisier's pay ; du Croisier taught
him his lesson, set him to track down the noble and
beautiful boy through his better qualities, and sardoni-
cally prompted him to encourage his victim in his
worst faults. Fabien du Ronceret was a sophisticated
youth, to whom such a mystification was attractive ; he
had precisely the keen brain and envious nature which
finds in such a pursuit as this the absorbing amusement
which a man of an ingenious turn lacks in the pro-
In three years, between the ages of eighteen and
one-and-twenty, Victurnien cost poor Chesnel nearly
eighty thousand francs ! And this without the know-
ledge of Mile. Armande or the Marquis. More than
half of the money had been spent in buying off law-
suits ; the lad's extravagance had squandered the rest.
Of the Marquis's income of ten thousand livres, five
thousand were necessary for the housekeeping ; two
thousand more represented Mile. Armande's allowance
(parsimonious though she was) and the Marquis's
expenses. The handsome young heir-presumptive,
therefore, had not a hundred louis to spend. And what
sort of figure can a man make on two thousand
livres ? Victurnien's tailor's bills alone absorbed his
whole allowance. He had his linen, his clothes, gloves,
and perfumery from Paris. He wanted a good English
194 The Jealousies of a Country Town
saddle-horse, a tilbury, and a second horse. M. du
Croisier had a tilbury and a thoroughbred. Was the
bourgeoisie to cut out the noblesse ? Then, the young
Count must have a man in the d'Esgrignon livery.
He prided himself on setting the fashion among young
men in the town and the department ; he entered that
world of luxuries and fancies which suit youth and
good looks and wit so well. Chesnel paid for it all, not
without using, like ancient parliaments, the right of
protest, albeit he spoke with angelic kindness.
'What a pity it is that so good a man should be so
tiresome ! ' Victurnien would say to himself every time
that the notary staunched some wound in his purse.
Chesnel had been left a widower, and childless ; he
had taken his old master's son to fill the void in his
heart. It was a pleasure to him to watch the lad
driving up the High Street, perched aloft on the box-
seat of the tilbury, whip in hand, and a rose in his
button-hole, handsome, well turned out, envied by every
Pressing need would bring Victurnien with uneasy
eyes and coaxing manner, but steady voice, to the modest
house in the Rue du Bercail ; there had been losses at
cards at the Troisvilles, or the Due de Verneuil's, or the
prefecture, or the receiver-general's, and the Count had
come to his providence, the notary. He had only to
show himself to carry the day.
'Well, what is it, M. le Comte ? What has hap-
pened ? ' the old man would ask, with a tremor in his
On great occasions Victurnien would sit down, assume
a melancholy, pensive expression, and submit with
little coquetries of voice and gesture to be questioned.
Then when he had thoroughly roused the old man's
fears (for Chesnel was beginning to fear how such a course
of extravagance would end), he would own up to a
peccadillo which a bill for a thousand francs would
The Jealousies of a Country Town 195
absolve. Chesnel possessed a private income of some
twelve thousand livres, but the fund was not inexhaus-
tible. The eighty thousand francs thus squandered
represented his savings, accumulated for the day when
the Marquis should send his son to Paris, or open
negotiations for a wealthy marriage.
Chesnel was clear-sighted so long as Victurnien was
not there before him. One by one he lost the illusions
which the Marquis and his sister still fondly cherished.
He saw that the young fellow could not be depended
upon in the least, and wished to see him married to
some modest, sensible girl of good birth, wondering
within himself how a young man could mean so well
and do so ill, for he made promises one day only to break
them all on the next.
But there is never any good to be expected of young
men who confess their sins and repent, and straightway
fall into them again. A man of strong character only
confesses his faults to himself, and punishes himself for
them ; as for the weak, they drop back into the old ruts
when they find that the bank is too steep to climb.
The springs of pride which lie in a great man's secret
soul had been slackened in Victurnien. With such guar-
dians as he had, such company as he kept, such a life as
he had led, he had suddenly become an enervated
voluptuary at that turning-point in his life when a man
most stands in need of the harsh discipline of misfortune
and poverty to bring out the strength that is in
him, the pinch of adversity which formed a Prince
Eugene, a Frederick II., a Napoleon. Chesnel saw
that Victurnien possessed that uncontrollable appetite
for enjoyments which should be the prerogative of men
endowed with giant powers ; the men who feel the need
of counterbalancing their gigantic labours by pleasures
which bring one-sided mortals to the pit.
At times the good man stood aghast ; then, again,
some profound sally, some sign of the lad's remarkable
196 The Jealousies of a Country Town
range of intellect, would reassure him. He would say,
as the Marquis said at the rumour of some escapade,
c Boys will be boys.' Chesnel had spoken to the
Chevalier, lamenting the young lord's propensity for
getting into debt ; but the Chevalier manipulated his
pinch of snuff, and listened with a smile of amusement.
c My dear Chesnel, just explain to me what a national
debt is,' he answered. c If France has debts, egad !
why should not Victurnien have debts ? At this time
and at all times princes have debts, every gentleman
has debts. Perhaps you would rather that Victurnien
should bring you his savings ? — Do you know what our
great Richelieu (not the Cardinal, a pitiful fellow that
put nobles to death, but the Marechal), do you know
what he did once when his grandson the Prince de
Chinon, the last of the line, let him see that he had not
spent his pocket-money at the University ? '
1 No, M. le Chevalier.'
1 Oh, well ; he flung the purse out of the window to
a sweeper in the courtyard, and said to his grandson,
i Then they do not teach you to be a prince here ? '
Chesnel bent his head and made no answer. But
that night, as he lay awake, he thought that such doctrines
as these were fatal in times when there was one law for
everybody, and foresaw the first beginnings of the ruin
of the d'Esgrignons.
But for these explanations which depict one side of
provincial life in the time of the Empire and the
Restoration, it would not be easy to understand the
opening scene of this history, an incident which took
place in the great salon one evening towards the end of
October 1822. The card-tables were forsaken, the
Collection of Antiquities — elderly nobles, elderly
countesses, young marquises, and simple baronesses — had
settled their losses and winnings. The master of the
house was pacing up and down the room, while Mile.
The Jealousies of a Country Town 197
Armande was putting out the candles on the card-
tables. He was not talcing exercise alone, the Chevalier
was with him, and the two wrecks of the eighteenth
century were talking of Victurnien. The Chevalier had
undertaken to broach the subject with the Marquis.
1 Yes, Marquis,' he was saying, ' your son is wasting
his time and his youth ; you ought to send him to
'I have always thought,' said the Marquis, 'that if
my great age prevents me from going to court — where,
between ourselves, I do not know what I should do
among all these new people whom His Majesty receives,
and all that is going on there — that if I could not go
myself, I could at least send my son to present our
homage to His Majesty. The King surely would do
something for the Count — give him a company, for
instance, or a place in the Household, a chance, in short,
for the boy to win his spurs. My uncle the Archbishop
suffered a cruel martyrdom ; I have fought for the cause
without deserting the camp with those who thought it
their duty to follow the Princes. I held that while the
King was in France, his nobles should rally round him. —
Ah ! well, no one gives us a thought ; a Henri iv.
would have written before now to the d'Esgrignons,
" Come to me, my friends ; we have won the day ! " —
After all, we are something better than the Troisvilles,
yet here are two Troisvilles made peers of France j and
another, I hear, represents the nobles in the Chamber.'
(He took the upper electoral colleges for assemblies of
his own order.) c Really, they think no more of us than
if we did not exist. I was waiting for the Princes to
make their journey through this part of the world ; but
as the Princes do not come to us, we must go to the
4 1 am enchanted to learn that you think of introduc-
ing our dear Victurnien into society,' the Chevalier put
in adroitly. ' He ought not to bury his talents in a hole
198 The Jealousies of a Country Town
like this town. The best fortune that he can look for
here is to come across some Norman girl' (mimicking
the accent), 'country-bred, stupid, and rich. What
could he make of her ? — his wife ? Oh ! good
Lord ! '
'I sincerely hope that he will defer his marriage until
he has obtained some great office or appointment under
the Crown,' returned the grey-haired Marquis. ' Still,
there are serious difficulties in the way.'
And these were the only difficulties which the Mar-
quis saw at the outset of his son's career.
'My son, the Comte d'Esgrignon, cannot make his
appearance at court like a tatterdemalion,' he continued
after a pause, marked by a sigh ; 'he must be equipped.
Alas ! for these two hundred years we have had no
retainers. Ah ! Chevalier, this demolition from top to
bottom always brings me back to the first hammer
stroke delivered by M. de Mirabeau. The one thing
needful nowadays is money ; that is all that the Revo-
lution has done that I can see. The Kin? does not
ask you whether you are a descendant of the Valois or
a conqueror of Gaul ; he asks whether you pay a thou-
sand francs in tallies which nobles never used to pay.
So I cannot well send the Count to court without a
matter of twenty thousand crowns '
'Yes,' assented the Chevalier, 'with that trifling sum
he could cut a brave figure.'
'Well,' said Mile. Armande, 'I have asked Chesnel
to come to-night. Would you believe it, Chevalier,
ever since the day when Chesnel proposed that I should
marry that miserable du Croisier '
' Ah ! that was truly unworthy, mademoiselle ! ' cried
' Unpardonable ! ' said the Marquis.
' Well, since then my brother has never brought
himself to ask anything whatsoever of Chesnel,' con-
tinued Mile. Armande.
The Jealousies of a Country Town 199
* Of your old household servant ? Why, Marquis,
you would do Chesnel honour — an honour which he
would gratefully remember till his latest breath.'
* No,' said the Marquis, ' the thing is beneath one's
dignity, it seems to me.'
'There is not much question of dignity; it is a
matter of necessity,' said the Chevalier, with the trace
of a shrug.
4 Never,' said the Marquis, riposting with a gesture
which decided the Chevalier to risk a great stroke to
open his old friend's eyes.
'Very well,' he said, 'since you do not know it, I
will tell you myself that Chesnel has let your son have
something already, something like '
' My son is incapable of accepting anything whatever
from Chesnel,' the Marquis broke in, drawing himself
up as he spoke. 4 He might have come to you to ask
you for twenty-five louis '
4 Something like a hundred thousand livres,' said the
Chevalier, finishing his sentence.
4 The Comte d'Esgrignon owes a hundred thousand
livres to a Chesnel ! ' cried the Marquis, with every sign
of deep pain. 4 Oh ! if he were not an only son, he
should set out to-night for Mexico with a captain's
commission. A man may be in debt to money-lenders,
they charge a heavy interest, and you are quits ; that is
right enough ; but Chesnel ! a man to whom one is
attached ! '
4 Yes, our adorable Victurnien has run through a
hundred thousand livres, dear Marquis,' resumed the
Chevalier, flicking a trace of snufF from his waistcoat ; it
is not much, I know. I myself at his age But, after
all, let us let old memories be, Marquis. The Count is
living in the provinces ; all things taken into considera-
tion, it is not so much amiss. He will go far ; these
irregularities are common in men who do great things
200 The Jealousies of a Country Town
* And he is sleeping upstairs, without a word of this
to his father,' exclaimed the Marquis.
'Sleeping innocently as a child who has merely got
five or six little bourgeoises into trouble, and now must
have duchesses,' returned the Chevalier.
1 Why, he deserves a lettre de cachet ! '
'" They" have done away with lettres de cachet^ said
the Chevalier. ' You know what a hubbub there was
when they tried to institute a law for special cases.
We could not keep the provost's courts, which M. de