little Madame Marneffe was bent on figuring in all her glory
amid such an assembly. The Baroness had, a month since,
sold her diamonds to set up her daughter's house, while
keeping the finest for the trousseau. The sale realized
fifteen thousand francs, of which five thousand were
sunk in Hortense's clothes. And what was ten thou-
sand francs for the furniture of the young folks' apart-
ment, considering the demands of modern luxury? How-
ever, young Monsieur and Madame Hulot, old Crevel,
and the Comte de Forzheim made very handsome pres-
ents, for the old soldier had set aside a sum for the pur-
chase of plate. Thanks to these contributions, even an ex-
acting Parisian would have been pleased with the rooms the
young couple had taken in the Hue Saint-Dominique, near
the Invalides. Everything seemed in harmony with their
love, pure, honest, and sincere.
184 BALZAC'S WORKS
At last the great day dawned for it was to be a great
day not only for Wenceslas and Hortense, but for old Hulot
too. Madame Mariieffe was to give a housewarming in her
new apartment the day after becoming Hulot' s mistress en
titre, and after the marriage of the lovers.
Who but has once in his life been a guest at a wedding-
ball ? Every reader can refer to his reminiscences, and will
probably smile as he calls up the images of all that company
in their Sunday -best faces as well as their finest frippery.
If any social event can prove the influence of environ-
ment, is it not this ? In fact, the Sunday-best mood of
some reacts so effectually on the rest that the men who are
most accustomed to wearing full dress look just like those
to whom the party is a high festival, unique in their life.
And think too of the serious old men to whom such things
are so completely a matter of indifference that they are
wearing their every-day black coats: the long-married men,
whose faces betray their sad experience of the life the
young pair are but just entering on; and the lighter ele-
ments, present as carbonic acid gas is in champagne; and
the envious girls, the women absorbed in wondering if their
dress is a success, the poor relations whose parsimonious
"get-up" contrasts with that of the officials in uniform;
and the greedy ones, thinking only of the supper; and
the gamblers, thinking only of cards.
There are some of every sort, rich and poor, envious
and envied, philosophers and dreamers, all grouped like
the plants in a flower-bed round the rare, choice blossom,
the bride. A wedding-ball is an epitome of the world.
At the liveliest moment of the evening Crevel led the
Laron aside, and said in a whisper, with the most natural
COUSIN BETTY 185
"By Jove! that's a pretty woman the little lady in pink
who has opened a raking fire on you from her eyes. ' '
"The wife of that clerk you are promoting, heaven
knows how! Madame Marneffe."
"What do you know about it?"
"Listen, Hulot; I will try to forgive you the ill you
have done me if only you will introduce me to her I will
take you to Heloise. Everybody is asking who is that
charming creature. Are you sure that it will strike no
one how and why her husband's appointment got itself
signed? You happy rascal, she is worth a whole office.
I would serve in her office only too gladly. Come,
Cinna, let us be friends."
"Better friends than ever," said the Baron to the
perfumer, "and I promise you I will be a good fellow.
Within a month you shall dine with that little angel.
For it is an angel this time, old boy. And I advise you,
like me, to have done with the devils."
Cousin Betty, who had moved to the Eue Vanneau into
a nice little apartment on the third floor, left the ball at ten
o'clock, but came back to see with her own eyes the two
bonds bearing twelve hundred francs' interest: one of them
was the property of the Countess Steinbock, the other was
in the name of young Madame Hulot.
It is thus intelligible that Monsieur Crevel should have
spoken to Hulot about Madame Marneffe, as knowing what
was a secret to the rest of the world; for, as Monsieur Mar-
neffe was away, no one but Lisbeth Fischer, besides the
Baron and Valerie, was initiated into the mystery.
The Baron had made a blunder in giving Madame Mar-
neffe a dress far too magnificent for the wife of a subordi-
186 BALZAC'S WORKS
nate official : other women were jealous alike of her beauty
and of her gown. There was much whispering behind fans,
for the poverty of the Marneffes was known to every one
in the office; the husband had been petitioning for help at
the very moment when the Baron had been so smitten with
Madame. Also, Hector could not conceal his exultation
at seeing Valerie's success; and she, severely proper, very
ladylike, and greatly envied, was the object of that strict
examination which women so greatly fear when they appear
for the first time in a new circle of society.
After seeing his wife into a carriage with his daughter
and his son-in-law, Hulot managed to escape unperceived,
leaving his son and Celestine to do the honors of the house.
He got into Madame Marneffe's carriage to see her home,
but he found her silent and pensive, almost melancholy.
"My happiness makes you very sad, Valerie," said he,
putting his arm round her and drawing her to him.
"Can you wonder, my dear," said she, "that a hapless
woman should be a little depressed at the thought of her
first fall from virtue, even when her husband's atrocities
have set her free ? Do you suppose that I have no soul,
no beliefs, no religion? Your glee this evening has been
realty too barefaced; you have paraded me odiously.
Really, a schoolboy would have been less of a coxcomb.
And the ladies have dissected me with their side-glances
and their satirical remarks. Every woman has some care
for her reputation, and you have wrecked mine.
"Oh, I am yours and no mistake! And I have not an
excuse left but that of being faithful to you. Monster that
you are!" she added, laughing, and allowing him to kiss
her, "you knew very well what you were doing! Madame
Coquet, our chief clerk's wife, came to sit down by me,
COUSIN BETTY 187
and admired my lace. 'English point!' said she. 'Was it
very expensive, Madame?' 'I do not know. This lace
was my mother's. I am not rich enough to buy the like,'
Madame Marneffe, in short, had so bewitched the old
beau that he really believed she was sinning for the first
time for his sake, and that he had inspired such a passion
as had led her to this breach of duty. She told him that
the wretch Marneffe had neglected her after they had been
three days married, and for the most odious reasons. Since
then she had lived as innocently as a girl; marriage had
seemed to her so horrible. This was the cause of her
"If love should prove to be like marriage " said she
These insinuating lies, with which almost every woman
in Vale'rie's predicament is ready, gave the Baron distant
visions of the roses of the seventh heaven. And so Vale'rie
coquetted with her lover, while the artist and Hortense
were impatiently awaiting the moment when the Baroness
should have given the girl her last kiss and blessing.
At seven in the morning the Baron, perfectly happy
for his Valerie was at once the most guileless of girls and
the most consummate of demons went back to release his
son and Celestine from their duties. All the dancers, for
the most part strangers, had taken possession of the terri-
tory, as they do at every wedding-ball, and were keeping
up the endless figures of the cotillons, while the gamblers
were still crowding round the bouittotte tables, and old
Crevel had won six thousand francs.
The morning papers, carried round the town, contained
this paragraph in the Paris article:
188 BALZAC'S WORKS
"The marriage was celebrated this morning, at the
Church of Saint-Thomas d'Aquin, between. Monsieur le
Comte Steinbock and Mademoiselle Hortense Hulot, daugh-
ter of Baron Hulot d'Brvy, Councillor of State, and a Di-
rector at the War Office ; niece of the famous General Comte
de Forzheim. The ceremony attracted a large gathering.
There were present some of the most distinguished artists
of the day: Ldon de Lora, Joseph Bridau, Stidmann, and
Bixiou; the magnates of the War Office, of the Council of
State, and many members of the two Chambers; also the
most distinguished of the Polish exiles living in Paris:
Counts Paz, Laginski, and others.
"Monsieur le Comte Wenceslas Steinbock is grand-
nephew to the famous general who served under Charles
XII., King of Sweden. The young Count, having taken
part in the Polish rebellion, found a refuge in France,
where his well-earned fame as a sculptor has procured him
a patent of naturalization "
And so, in spite of the Baron's cruel lack of money,
nothing was lacking that public opinion could require, not
even the trumpeting of the newspapers over his daughter's
marriage, which was solemnized in the same way, in every
particular, as his son's had been to Mademoiselle Crevel.
This display moderated the reports current as to the Baron's
financial position, while the fortune assigned to his daughter
explained the need for having borrowed money.
Here ends what is, in a way, the introduction to this
story. It is to the drama that follows what the premise is
to a syllogism, what the prologue is to a classical tragedy.
In Paris, when a woman determines to make a business,
a trade, of her beauty, it does not follow that she will
COUSIN BETTY 189
make a fortune. Lovely creatures may be found there,
and full of wit, who are in wretched circumstances, ending
in misery a life begun in pleasure. And this is why. It
is not enough merely to accept the shameful life of a
courtesan with a view to earning its profits, and at the
same time to bear the simple garb of a respectable middle-
class wife. Vice does not triumph so easily: it resembles
genius in so far that they both need a concurrence of favor-
able conditions to develop the coalition of fortune and gifts.
Eliminate the strange prologue of the Revolution, and the
Emperor would never have existed; he would have been
no more than a second edition of Fabert. Venal beauty,
if it finds no amateurs, no celebrity, no cross of dishonor
earned by squandering men's fortunes, is Correggio in a
hay-loft, is genius starving in a garret. Lai's, in Paris,
must first and foremost find a rich man mad enough to pay
her price. She must keep up a very elegant style, for this
is her shop-sign; she must be sufficiently well bred to flatter
the vanity of her lovers ; she must have the brilliant wit of
a Sophie Arnould, which diverts the apathy of rich men;
finally, she must arouse the passions of libertines by ap-
pearing to be mistress to one man only who is envied by
These conditions, which a woman of that class calls
being in luck, are difficult to combine in Paris, although
it is a city of , millionnaires, of idlers, of used-up and
Providence has, no doubt, vouchsafed protection to
clerks and middle-class citizens, for whom obstacles of
this kind are at least double in the sphere in which they
move. At the same time, there are enough Madame Mar-
neffes in Paris to allow of our taking Valerie to figure as
190 BALZAC'S WORKS
a type in this picture of manners. Some of these women
yield to the double pressure of a genuine passion and of
hard necessity, like Madame Colleville, who was for long
attached to one of the famous orators of the Left, Keller
the banker. Others are spurred by vanity, like Madame
de la Baudraye, who remained almost respectable in spite
of her elopement with Lousteau, Some, again, are led
astray by the love of fine clothes, and some by the impos-
sibility of keeping a house going on obviously too narrow
means. The stinginess of the State or of Parliament
leads to many disasters and to much corruption.
At the present moment the laboring classes are the fash-
ionable object of compassion; they are being murdered it
is said by the manufacturing capitalist; but the Govern-
ment is a hundred times harder than the meanest trades-
man, it carries its economy in the article of salaries to
absolute folly. If you work harder, the merchant will pay
you more in proportion ; but what does the State do for its
crowd of obscure and devoted toilers ?
In a married woman it is an inexcusable crime when
she wanders from the path of honor; still, there are degrees
even in such a case. Some women, far from being de-
praved, conceal their fall and remain to all appearance
quite respectable, like those two just referred to, while
others add to their fault the disgrace of speculation. Thus
Madame Marneffe is, as it were, the type of those ambitious
married courtesans who from the first accept depravity with
all its consequences, and determine to make a fortune while
taking their pleasure, perfectly unscrupulous as to the
means. But almost always a woman like Madame Mar-
neffe has a husband who is her confederate and accom-
plice. These Machiavellis in petticoats are the most dan-
COUSIN BETTY 191
gerous of the sisterhood; of every evil class of Parisian
woman, they are the worst.
A mere courtesan a Josepha, a Malaga, a Madame
Schontz, a Jenny Cadine carries in her frank dishonor
a warning signal as conspicuous as the red lamp of a
house of ill-fame or the flaring lights of a gambling hell.
A man knows that they light him to his ruin.
But mealy-mouthed propriety, the semblance of virtue,
the hypocritical ways of a married woman who never al-
lows anything to be seen but the vulgar needs of the
household, and affects to refuse every kind of extrava-
gance, leads to silent ruin, dumb disaster, which is all
the more startling because, though condoned, it remains
unaccounted for. It is the ignoble bill of daily expenses
and not gay dissipation that devours the largest fortune.
The father of a family ruins himself ingloriously, and the
great consolation of gratified vanity is wanting in his misery.
This little sermon will go like a javelin to the heart of
many a home Madame Marneffes are to be seen in every
sphere of social life, even at Court; for Valerie is a melan-
choly fact, modelled from the life in the smallest details.
And, alas ! The portrait will not cure any man of the folly
of loving these sweetly-smiling angels, with pensive looks
and candid faces, whose heart is a cash- box.
About three years after Hortense's marriage, in 1841,
Baron Hulot d'Ervy was supposed to have sown his wild
oats, to have "put up his horses," to quote the expression
used by Louis XV. 's head surgeon, and yet Madame Mar-
iieffe was costing him twice as much as Josepha had ever
cost him. Still, Valerie, though always nicely dressed,
effected the simplicity of a subordinate official's wife; she
192 BALZAC'S WORKS
kept her luxury for her dressing-gowns, her home wear.
She thus sacrificed her Parisian vanity to her dear Hector.
At the theatre, however, she always appeared in a pretty
bonnet and a dress of extreme elegance; and the Baron
took her in a carriage to a private box.
Her rooms, the whole of the second floor of a modern
house in the Eue Yanneau, between a forecourt and a gar-
den, were redolent of respectability. All its luxury was in
good chintz hangings and handsome convenient furniture.
Her bedroom, indeed, was the exception, and rich with
such profusion as Jenny Cadine or Madame Schontz might
have displayed. There were lace curtains, cashmere hang-
ings, brocade portieres, a set of chimney ornaments modelled
by Stidmann, a glass cabinet filled with dainty knick-knacks.
Hulot could not bear to see his Vale'rie in a bower of infe-
rior magnificence to the dunghill of gold and pearls owned
by a Jose'pha. The drawing-room was furnished with red
damask, and the dining-room had carved oak panels. But
the Baron, carried a\vay by his wish to have everything in
keeping, had, at the end of six mon.ths, added solid lux-
ury to mere fashion, and had given her handsome portable
property, as, for instance, a service of plate that was to
cost more than twenty-four thousand francs.
Madame Marneffe's house had in a couple of years
achieved a reputation for being a very pleasant one.
Gambling went on there. Vale'rie herself was soon
spoken of as an agreeable and witty woman. To ac-
count for her change of style, a rumor was set going
of an immense legacy bequeathed to her by her "natural
father," Marshal Montcornet, and left in trust.
With an eye to the future, Vale'rie had added religious
to social hypocrisy. Punctual at the Sunday services, she
COUSIN BETTY 193
enjoyed all the honors dne to the pious. She carried the
bag for the offertory, she was a member of a charitable
association, presented bread for the sacrament, and did
some good among the poor, all at Hector's expense. Thus
everything about the house was perfectly seemly. And a
great many persons maintained that her friendship with
the Baron was entirely innocent, supporting the view by
the gentleman's mature age, and ascribing to him a Pla-
tonic liking for Madame Marneffe's pleasant wit, charming
manners, and conversation such a liking as that of the
late lamented Louis XVIII. for a well-turned note.
The Baron always withdrew with the other company
at about midnight, and came back a quarter of an hour
The secret of this secrecy was as follows. The lodge-
keepers of the house were a Monsieur and Madame Olivier,
who, under the Baron's patronage, had been promoted from
their humble and not very lucrative post in the Rue du
Doyenne" to the highly-paid and handsome one in the Rue
"Vanneau. Now, Madame Olivier, formerly a needlewoman
in the household of Charles X., who had fallen in the world
with the legitimate branch, had three children. The eldest,
an under-clerk in a notary's office, was the object of his par-
ents' adoration. This Benjamin, for six years in danger
of being drawn for the army, was on the point of being
interrupted in his legal career, when Madame Marneffe
contrived to have him declared exempt for one of those
little malformations which the Examining Board can al-
ways discern when requested in a whisper by some power
in the ministry. So Olivier, formerly a huntsman to the
King, and his wife would have crucified the Lord again
for the Baron or for Madame Marneffe.
Vol. 10 (I)
194 BALZAC'S WORKS
What could the world have to say? It knew nothing
of the former episode of the Brazilian, Monsieur Montes
de Montejanos it could say nothing. Besides, the world is
very indulgent to the mistress of a house where amusement
is to be found.
And then to all her charms Valerie added the highly-
prized advantage of being an occult power. Claude Vignon,
now secretary to Marshal the Prince de Wissembourg, and
dreaming of promotion to the Council of State as a Master
of Appeals, was constantly seen in her rooms., to which
came also some Deputies good fellows and gamblers. Ma-
dame Marneffe had got her circle together with prudent
deliberation; only men whose opinions and habits agreed
forgathered there, men whose interest it was to hold to-
gether and to proclaim the many merits of the lady of the
house. Scandal is the true Holy Alliance in Paris. Take
that as an axiom. Interests invariably fall asunder in the
end; vicious natures can always agree.
Within three months of settling in the Hue Vanneau,
Madame Marneffe had entertained Monsieur Crevel, who
by that time was Mayor of his arrondissement and Officer
of the Legion of Honor. Crevel had hesitated; he would
have to give up the famous uniform of the National Guard
in which he strutted at the Tuileries, believing himself quite
as much a soldier as the Emperor himself; but ambition,
urged by Madame Marneffe, had proved stronger than van-
ity. Then Monsieur le Maire had considered his connection
with Mademoiselle He'loise Bnsetout as quite incompatible
with his political position.
Indeed, long before his accession to the civic chair of
the Mayoralty, his gallant intimacies had been wrapped in
the deepest mystery. But, as the reader may have guessed,
COUSIN BETTY 195
Crevel Lad soon purchased the right of taking his revenge,
as often as circumstances allowed, for having been bereft
of Jose"pha, at the cost of a bond bearing six thousand
francs of interest in the name of ValeVie Fortin, wife of the
Sieur Marneffe, for her sole and separate use. Vale'rie, in-
heriting perhaps from her mother the special acumen of the
kept woman, read the character of her grotesque adorer at
a glance. The phrase "I never had a lady for a mistress,"
spoken by Crevel to Lisbeth, and repeated by Lisbeth to
her dear Valerie, had been handsomely discounted in the
bargain by which she got her six thousand francs a year in
five -per- cents. And since then she had never allowed her
prestige to grow less in the eyes of Ce'sar Birotteau's ere-
Crevel himself had married for money the daughter of
a miller of la Brie, an only child indeed, whose inheritance
constituted three-quarters of his fortune; for when retail-
dealers grow rich, it is generally not so much by trade as
through some alliance between the shop and rural thrift. A
large proportion of the farmers, corn-factors, dairy -keepers,
and market-gardeners in the neighborhood of Paris, dream
of the glories of the desk for their daughters, and look upon
a shopkeeper, a jeweller, or a money-changer as a son-in-
law after their own heart, in preference to a notary or an
attorney, whose superior social position is a ground of sus-
picion; they are afraid of being scorned in the future by
these citizen bigwigs.
Madame Crevel, ugly, vulgar, and silly, had given her
husband no pleasures but those of paternity; she had died
young. Her libertine husband, fettered at the beginning
of his commercial career by the necessity for working, and
held in thrall by want of money, had led the life of Tan-
196 BALZAC'S WORKS
talus. Thrown in as lie phrased it with the most elegant
women in Paris, he let them out of the shop with servile
homage, while admiring their grace, their way of wearing
the fashions, and all the nameless charms of what is called
breeding. To rise to the level of one of these fairies of the
drawing-room was a desire formed in his youth, but buried
in the depths of his heart. Thus to win the favors of Ma-
dame Marneffe was to him not merely the realization of his
chimera, but, as has been shown, a point of pride, of van-
ity, of self-satisfaction. His ambition grew with success;
his brain was turned with elation; and when the mind is
captivated, the heart feels more keenly, every gratification
Also, it must be said that Madame Marneffe offered to
Crevel a refinement of pleasure of which he had had no
idea; neither Jose'pha nor Helo'ise had loved him; and
Madame Marneffe thought it necessary to deceive him
thoroughly, for this man, she saw, would prove an inex-
haustible till. The deceptions of a venal passion are more
delightful than the real thing. True love is mixed up with
birdlike squabbles, in which the disputants wound each
other to the quick; but a quarrel without animus is, on
the contrary, a piece of flattery to the dupe's conceit.
The rare interviews granted to Crevel kept his passion
at white heat. He was constantly blocked by Valerie's
virtuous severity; she acted remorse, and wondered what
her father must be thinking of her in the paradise of the
brave. Again and again he had to contend with a sort of
coldness, which the cunning slut made him believe he had
overcome by seeming to surrender to the man's crazy pas-
sion; and then, as if ashamed, she intrenched herself once
more in her pride of respectability and airs of virtue, just
COUSIN BETTY 197
like an Englishwoman, neither more nor less; and she al-
ways crushed her Crevel under the weight of her dignity
for Crevel had, in the first instance, swallowed her pre-
tensions to virtue.
In short, Valerie had special veins of affection which
made her equally indispensable to Crevel and to the Baron.
Before the world she displayed the attractive combination
of modest and pensive innocence, of irreproachable pro-
priety, with a bright humor enhanced by the suppleness,
the grace and softness of the Creole; but in a tete-d-tete she
would outdo any courtesan: she was audacious, amusing,
and full of original inventiveness. Such a contrast is irre-
sistible to a man of the Crevel type ; he is flattered by be-
lieving himself sole author of the comedy, thinking it is
performed for his benefit alone, and he laughs at the ex-