levity with which she treated his affairs or, more
properly speaking, his debts fascinated him.
The charming pair went to the Italiens. Never had
that beautiful and enchanting woman looked more
seraphic, more ethereal. Nobody in the house could
have believed that she had debts which reached the sum-
total mentioned by de Marsay that very morning. No
single one of the cares of earth had touched that sub-
lime forehead of hers, full of woman's pride of the
highest kind. In her, a pensive air seemed to be some
gleam of an earthly love, nobly extinguished. The
men for the most part were wagering that Victurnien,
with his handsome figure, laid her under contribution ;
while the women, sure of their rival's subterfuge,
The Jealousies of a Country Town 239
admired her as Michel Angelo admired Rafael, in petto.
Victurnien loved Diane, according to one of these
ladies, for the sake of her hair — she had the most
beautiful fair hair in France ; another maintained that
Diane's pallor was her principal merit, for she was not
really well shaped, her dress made the most of her
figure j yet others thought that Victurnien loved her
for her foot, her one good point, for she had a flat figure.
But (and this brings the present-day manner of Paris
before you in an astonishing manner) whereas all the
men said that the Duchess was subsidising Victurnien's
splendour, the women, on the other hand, gave people
to understand that it was Victurnien who paid for the
angel's wings, as Rastignac said.
As they drove back again, Victurnien had it on the
tip of his tongue a score of times to open this chapter,
for the Duchess's debts weighed more heavily upon his
mind than his own ; and a score of times his purpose
died away before the attitude of the divine creature
beside him. He could see her by the light of the carriage
lamps ; she was bewitching in the love-languor which
always seemed to be extorted by the violence of passion
from her madonna's purity. The Duchess did not fall
into the mistake of talking of her virtue, of her angel's
estate, as provincial women, her imitators, do. She was
far too clever. She made him, for whom she made such
great sacrifices, think these things for himself. At the
end of six months she could make him feel that a harm-
less kiss on her hand was a deadly sin ; she contrived
that every grace should be extorted from her, and this
with such consummate art, that it was impossible not to
feel that she was more an angel than ever when she
None but Parisian women are clever enough always
to give a new charm to the moon, to romanticise the
stars, to roll in the same sack of charcoal and emerge
each time whiter than ever. This is the highest refine-
240 The Jealousies of a Country Town
ment of intellectual and Parisian civilisation. Women
beyond the Rhine or the English Channel believe non-
sense of this sort when they utter it ; while your
Parisienne makes her lover believe that she is an angel,
the better to add to his bliss by flattering his vanity on
both sides — temporal and spiritual. Certain persons,
detractors of the Duchess, maintain that she was the
first dupe of her own white magic. A wicked slander.
The Duchess believed in nothing but herself.
By the end of the year 1823 the Kellers had supplied
Victurnien with two hundred thousand francs, and
neither Chesnel nor Mile. Armande knew anything
about it. He had had, besides, two thousand crowns
from Chesnel at one time and another, the better to
hide the sources on which he was drawing. He wrote
lying letters to his poor father and aunt, who lived on,
happy and deceived, like most happy people under the
sun. The insidious current of life in Paris was bringing
a dreadful catastrophe upon the great and noble house ;
and only one person was in the secret of it. This was
du Croisier. He rubbed his hands gleefully as he
went past in the dark and looked in at the Antiquities.
He had good hope of attaining his ends; and his
ends were not, as heretofore, the simple ruin of the
d'Esgrignons, but the dishonour of their house. He
felt instinctively at such times that his revenge was at
hand ; he scented it in the wind ! He had been sure of
it indeed from the day when he discovered that the
young Count's burden of debt was growing too heavy
for the boy to bear.
Du Croisier's first step was to rid himself of his most
hated enemy, the venerable Chesnel. The good old
man lived in the Rue du Bercail, in a house with a
steep-pitched roof. There was a little paved courtyard
in front, where the rose-bushes grew and clambered up
to the windows of the upper story. Behind lay a little
country garden, with its box-edged borders, shut in by
The Jealousies of a Country Town 241
damp, gloomy-looking walls. The prim, grey-painted
street door, with its wicket opening and bell attached,
announced quite as plainly as the official scutcheon that
1 a notary lives here.'
It was half-past five o'clock in the afternoon, at which
hour the old man usually sat digesting his dinner. He
had drawn his black leather-covered armchair before the
fire, and put on his armour, a painted pasteboard con-
trivance shaped like a top boot, which protected his
stockinged legs from the heat of the fire ; for it was one
of the good man's habits to sit for a while after dinner
with his feet on the dogs and to stir up the glowing
coals. He always ate too much ; he was fond of good
living. Alas ! if it had not been for that little failing,
would he not have been more perfect than it is per-
mitted to mortal man to be ? Chesnel had finished
his cup of coffee. His old housekeeper had just taken
away the tray which had been used for this purpose for
the last twenty years. He was waiting for his clerks to
go before he himself went out for his game at cards, and
meanwhile he was thinking — no need to ask of whom
or what. A day seldom passed but he asked himself,
1 Where is he ? What is he doing ? ' He thought that
the Count was in Italy with the fair Duchesse de
When every franc of a man's fortune has come to him,
not by inheritance, but through his own earning and
saving, it is one of his sweetest pleasures to look back
upon the pains that have gone to the making of it, and
then to plan out a future for his crowns. This it is to
conjugate the verb ' to enjoy ' in every tense. And
the old lawyer, whose affections were all bound up in a
single attachment, was thinking that all the carefully-
chosen, well-tilled land which he had pinched and scraped
to buy would one day go to round out the d'Esgrignon
estates, and the thought doubled his pleasure. His
pride swelled as he sat at his ease in the old armchair ;
242 The Jealousies of a Country Town
and the building of glowing coals, which he raised with
the tongs, sometimes seemed to him to be the old noble
house built up again, thanks to his care. He pictured
the young Count's prosperity, and told himself that he
had done well to live for such an aim. Chesnel was not
lacking in intelligence ; sheer goodness was not the sole
source of his great devotion ; he had a pride of his own ;
he was like the nobles who used to rebuild a pillar in a
cathedral to inscribe their name upon it ; he meant his
name to be remembered by the great house which he
had restored. Future generations of d'Esgrignons should
speak of old Chesnel. Just at this point his old house-
keeper came in with signs of extreme alarm in her
4 Is the house on fire, Brigitte ? '
1 Something of the sort,' said she. 'Here is M. du
Croisier wanting to speak to you '
4 M. du Croisier,' repeated the old lawyer. A stab of
cold misgiving gave him so sharp a pang at the heart
that he dropped the tongs. ' M. du Croisier here ! '
thought he, 'our chief enemy ! '
Du Croisier came in at that moment, like a cat that
scents milk in a dairy. He made a bow, seated himself
quietly in the easy-chair which the lawyer brought for-
ward, and produced a bill for two hundred and twenty-
seven thousand francs, principal and interest, the total
amount of sums advanced to M. Victurnien in bills of
exchange drawn upon du Croisier, and duly honoured by
him. Of these, he now demanded immediate repayment,
with a threat of proceeding to extremities with the
heir-presumptive of the house. Chesnel turned the
unlucky letters over one by one, and asked the enemy to
keep the secret. This he engaged to do if he were paid
within forty-eight hours. He was pressed for money ;
he had obliged various manufacturers; and there followed
a series of the financial fictions by which neither notaries
nor borrowers are deceived. Chesnel's eves were dim ;
The Jealousies of a Country Town 243
he could scarcely keep back the tears. There was but
one way of raising the money ; he must mortgage his
own lands up to their full value. But when du Croisier
learned the difficulty in the way of repayment, he forgot
that he was hard pressed ; he no longer wanted ready
money, and suddenly came out with a proposal to buy
the old lawyer's property. The sale was completed
within two days. Poor Chesnel could not bear the
thought of the son of the house undergoing a five years'
imprisonment for debt. So in a few days' time nothing
remained to him but his practice, the sums that were
due to him, and the house in which he lived. Chesnel,
stripped of all his lands, paced to and fro in his private
office, panelled with dark oak, his eyes fixed on the
bevelled edges of the chestnut cross-beams of the ceiling,
or on the trellised vines in the garden outside. He was
not thinking of his farms now, nor of Le Jard, his dear
house in the country ; not he.
4 What will become of him ? He ought to come
back ; they must marry him to some rich heiress,' he
said to himself; and his eyes were dim, his head heavy.
How to approach Mile. Armande, and in what words
to break the news to her, he did not know. The man
who had just paid the debts of the family quaked at the
thought of confessing these things. He went from the
Rue du Bercail to the Hotel d'Esgrignon with pulses
throbbing like some girl's heart when she leaves her
father's roof by stealth, not to return again till she is a
mother and her heart is broken.
Mile. Armande had just received a charming letter,
charming in its hypocrisy. Her nephew was the happiest
man under the son. He had been to the baths, he had
been travelling in Italy with Mme. de Maufrigneuse,
and now sent his journal to his aunt. Every sentence
was instinct with love. There were enchanting descrip-
tions of Venice, and fascinating appreciations of the
great works of Venetian art ; there were most wonder-
244 The Jealousies of a Country Town
ful pages full of the Duomo at Milan, and again of
Florence ; he described the Apennines, and how they
differed from the Alps, and how in some village like
Chiavari happiness lay all around you, ready made.
The poor aunt was under the spell. She saw the far-
off country of love, she saw, hovering above the land,
the angel whose tenderness gave to all that beauty a
burning glow. She was drinking in the letter at long
draughts; how should it have been otherwise ? The girl
who had put love from her was now a woman ripened
by repressed and pent-up passion, by all the longings
continually and gladly offered up as a sacrifice on the
altar of the hearth. Mile. Armande was not like
the Duchess. She did not look like an angel. She
was rather like the little, straight, slim and slender,
ivory-tinted statues, which those wonderful sculptors,
the builders of cathedrals, placed here and there about
the buildings. Wild plants sometimes find a hold in
the damp niches, and weave a crown of beautiful
bluebell flowers about the carved stone. At this
moment the blue buds were unfolding in the fair saint's
eyes. Mile. Armande loved the charming couple as if
they stood apart from real life ; she saw nothing wrong
in a married woman's love for Victurnien ; any other
woman she would have judged harshly ; but in this case,
not to have loved her nephew would have been the un-
pardonable sin. Aunts, mothers, and sisters have a code
of their own for nephews and sons and brothers.
Mile. Armande was in Venice ; she saw the lines of
fairy palaces that stand on either side of the Grand
Canal ; she was sitting in Victurnien's gondola ; he was
telling her what happiness it had been to feel that the
Duchess's beautiful hand lay in his own, to know that
she loved him as they floated together on the breast of
the amorous Queen of Italian seas. But even in that
moment of bliss, such as angels know, some one appeared
in the garden walk. It was Chesnel ! Alas ! the sound
The Jealousies of a Country Town 245
of his tread on the gravel might have been the sound of
the sands running from Death's hour-glass to be trodden
under his unshod feet. The sound, the sight of a
dreadful hopelessness in Chesnel's face, 'gave her that
painful shock which follows a sudden recall of the senses
when the soul has sent them forth into the world of
4 What is it ? ' she cried, as if some stab had pierced
to her heart.
' All is lost ! ' said Chesnel. * M. le Comte will bring
dishonour upon the house if we do not set it in order.'
He held out the bills, and described the agony of the
last few days in a few simple but vigorous and touching
c He is deceiving us ! The miserable boy ! ' cried
Mile. Armande, her heart swelling as the blood surged
back to it in heavy throbs.
4 Let us both say mea culpa^ mademoiselle,' the old
lawyer said stoutly ; c we have always allowed him to have
his own way ; he needed stern guidance ; he could not
have it from you with your inexperience of life ; nor
from me, for he would not listen to me. He has had
4 Fate sometimes deals terribly with a noble house in
decay,' said Mile. Armande, with tears in her eyes.
The Marquis came up as she spoke. He had been
walking up and down the garden while he read the letter
sent by his son after his return. Victurnien gave his
itinerary from an aristocrat's point of view ; telling how
he had been welcomed by the greatest Italian families of
Genoa, Turin, Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, and
Naples. This flattering reception he owed to his name,
he said, and partly, perhaps, to the Duchess as well. In
short, he had made his appearance magnificently, and as
befitted a d'Esgrignon.
4 Have you been at your old tricks, Chesnel ? ' asked
246 The Jealousies of a Country Town
Mile. Armande made Chesnel an eager sign, dreadful
to see. They understood each other. The poor father,
the flower of feudal honour, must die with all his illusions.
A compact of silence and devotion was ratified between
the two noble hearts by a simple inclination of the head.
4 Ah ! Chesnel, it was not exactly in this way that
the d'Esgrignons went into Italy at the end of the
fourteenth century, when Marshal Trivulzio, in the ser-
vice of the King of France, served under a d'Esgrignon,
who had a Bayard too under his orders. Other times,
other pleasures. And, for that matter, the Duchesse
de Maufrigneuse is at least the equal of a Marchesa di
And, on the strength of his genealogical tree, the old
man swung himself ofF with a coxcomb's air, as if he
himself had once made a conquest of the Marchesa di
Spinola, and still possessed the Duchess of to-day.
The two companions in unhappiness were left together
on the garden bench, with the same thought for a bond
of union. They sat for a long time, saying little save
vague, unmeaning words, watching the father walk
away in his happiness, gesticulating as if he were talking
4 What will become of him now ? ' Mile. Armande
asked after a while.
4 Du Croisier has sent instructions to the MM.
Keller ; he is not to be allowed to draw any more with-
4 And there are debts,' continued Mile. Armande.
c I am afraid so.'
' If he is left without resources, what will he do ? '
4 1 dare not answer that question to myself.'
4 But he must be drawn out of that life, he must come
back to us, or he will have nothing left.'
4 And nothing else left to him,' Chesnel said gloomily.
But Mile. Armande as yet did not and could not under-
stand the full force of those words.
The Jealousies of a Country Town 247
' Is there any hope of getting him away from that
woman, that Duchess ? Perhaps she leads him on.'
' He would not stick at a crime to be with her,'
said Chesnel, trying to pave the way to an intolerable
thought by others less intolerable.
4 Crime,' repeated Mile. Armande. ' Oh, Chesnel,
no one but you would think of such a thing ! ' she
added, with a withering look ; before such a look from a
woman's eyes no mortal can stand. c There is but one
crime that a noble can commit — the crime of high
treason ; and when he is beheaded, the block is covered
with a black cloth, as it is for kings.'
4 The times have changed very much,' said Chesnel,
shaking his head. Victurnien had thinned his last thin,
white hairs. 4 Our Martyr-King did not die like the
English King Charles.'
That thought soothed Mile. Armande's splendid in-
dignation ; a shudder ran through her ; but still she did
not realise what Chesnel meant.
4 To-morrow we will decide what we must do,' she
said ; ' it needs thought. At the worst, we have our
4 Yes,' said Chesnel. c You and M. le Marquis own
the estate conjointly ; but the larger part of it is yours.
You can raise money upon it without saying a word to
The players at whist, reversis, boston, and back-
gammon noticed that evening that Mile. Armande's
features, usually so serene and pure, showed signs of
4 That poor heroic child ! ' said the old Marquise de
Casteran, 'she must be suffering still. A woman never
knows what her sacrifices to her family may cost her.'
Next day it was arranged with Chesnel that Mile.
Armande should go to Paris to snatch her nephew from
perdition. If any one could carry off Victurnien, was it
not the woman whose mother's heart yearned over him ?
248 The Jealousies of a Country Town
Mile. Armande made up her mind that she would go to
the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse and tell her all. Still,
some sort of pretext was necessary to explain the journey
to the Marquis and the whole town. At some cost to
her maidenly delicacy, Mile. Armande allowed it to be
thought that she was suffering from a complaint which
called for a consultation of skilled and celebrated physi-
cians. Goodness knows whether the town talked of
this or no ! But Mile. Armande saw that something
far more to her than her own reputation was at stake.
She set out. Chesnel brought her his last bag of louis ;
she took it, without paying any attention to it, as she
took her white capuchine and thread mittens.
4 Generous girl ! What grace ! ' he said, as he put
her into the carriage with her maid, a woman who
looked like a grey sister.
Du Croisier had thought out his revenge, as pro-
vincials think out everything. For studying out a
question in all its bearings, there are no folk in this
world like savages, peasants, and provincials j and this
is how, when they proceed from thought to action, you
find every contingency provided for from beginning to
end. Diplomatists are children compared with these
classes of mammals ; they have time before them, an
element which is lacking to those people who are
obliged to think about a great many things, to super-
intend the progress of all kinds of schemes, to look
forward for all sorts of contingencies in the wider
interests of human affairs. Had du Croisier sounded
poor Victurnien's nature so well, that he foresaw how
easily the young Count would lend himself to his
schemes of revenge ? Or was he merely profiting by
an opportunity for which he had been on the watch
for years ? One circumstance there was, to be sure, in
his manner of preparing his stroke, which shows a
certain skill. Who was it that gave du Croisier warn-
ing of the moment ? Was it the Kellers ? Or could
The Jealousies of a Country Town 249
it have been President du Ronceret's son, then finishing
his law studies in Paris?
Du Croisier wrote to Victurnien, telling him that the
Kellers had been instructed to advance no more money;
and that letter was timed to arrive just as the Duchesse
de Maufrigneuse was in the utmost perplexity, and the
Comte d'Esgrignon consumed by the sense of a poverty
as dreadful as it was cunningly hidden. The wretched
young man was exerting all his ingenuity to seem as
if he were wealthy !
Now in the letter which informed the victim that in
future the Kellers would make no further advances
without security, there was a tolerably wide space left
between the forms of an exaggerated respect and the
signature. It was quite easy to tear off the best part of
the letter and convert it into a bill of exchange for any
amount. The diabolical missive had even been enclosed
in an envelope, so that the other side of the sheet was
blank. When it arrived, Victurnien was writhing in
the lowest depths of despair. After two years of the
most prosperous, sensual, thoughtless, and luxurious life,
he found himself face to face with the most inexorable
poverty ; it was an absolute impossibility to procure
money. There had been some throes of crisis before the
journey came to an end. With the Duchess's help he
had managed to extort various sums from bankers ; but
it had been with the greatest difficulty, and, moreover,
those very amounts were about to start up again before
him as overdue bills of exchange in all their rigour, with
a stern summons to pay from the Bank of France and the
commercial court. All through the enjoyments of those
last weeks the unhappy boy had felt the point of the
Commander's sword ; at every supper-party he heard, like
Don Juan, the heavy tread of the statue outside upon
the stairs. He felt an unaccountable creeping of the
flesh, a warning that the sirocco of debt is nigh at hand.
He reckoned on chance. For five years he had never
250 The Jealousies of a Country Town
turned up a blank in the lottery ; his purse had always
been replenished. After Chesnel had come du Croisier
(he told himself), after du Croisier surely another gold
mine would pour out its wealth. And besides, he was
winning great sums at play ; his luck at play had saved
him several unpleasant steps already ; and often a wild
hope sent him to the Salon des Etrangers only to lose
his winnings afterwards at whist at the club. His life
for the past two months had been like the immortal
finale of Mozart's Don Giovanni ; and of a truth, if a
young man has come to such a plight as Victurnien's,
that finale is enough to make him shudder. Can any-
thing better prove the enormous power of music than
that sublime rendering of the disorder and confusion
arising out of a life wholly given up to sensual indul-
gence ? that fearful picture of a deliberate effort to shut
out the thought of debts and duels, deceit and evil luck ?
In that music Mozart disputes the palm with Moliere.
The terrific finale, with its glow, its power, its despair
and laughter, its grisly spectres and elfish women,
centres about the prodigal's last effort made in the
after-supper heat of wine, the frantic struggle which
ends the drama. Victurnien was living through this
infernal poem, and alone. He saw visions of himself —
a friendless, solitary outcast, reading the words carved on
the stone, the last words on the last page of the book
that had held him spellbound — the end !
Yes ; for him all would be at an end, and that soon.
Already he saw the cold, ironical eyes which his
associates would turn upon him, and their amusement
over his downfall. Some of them he knew were plaving
high on that gambling-table kept open all day long at the
Bourse, or in private houses, at the clubs, and anywhere
and everywhere in Paris ; but not one of these men
could spare a banknote to save an intimate. There
was no help for it — Chesnel must be ruined. He had
devoured Chesnel's living.
The Jealousies of a Country Town 251
He sat with the Duchess in their box at the Italiens,
the whole house envying them their happiness, and while
he smiled at her, all the Furies were tearing at his heart.
Indeed, to give some idea of the depths of doubt,
despair, and incredulity in which the boy was grovel-
ling ; he who so clung to life — the life which the angel
had made so fair — who so loved it, that he would have
stooped to baseness merely to live ; he, the pleasure-
loving scapegrace, the degenerate d'Esgrignon, had even