quisite hypocrisy while admiring the hypocrite.
Valerie had taken entire possession of Baron Hulot; she
had persuaded him to grow old by one of those subtle
touches of flattery which reveal the diabolical wit of women
In all evergreen constitutions a moment arrives
when the truth suddenly comes out, as in a besieged town
which puts a good face on affairs as long as possible. Va-
le'rie, foreseeing the approaching collapse of the old beau of
the Empire, determined to forestall it.
"Why give yourself so much bother, my dear old vet-
eran ?" said she one day, six months after their doubly adul-
terous union. "Do you want to be flirting ? To be unfaithful
to me ? I assure you, I should like you better without your
make-up. Oblige me by giving up all your artificial charms.
Do you suppose that it is for two sous' worth of polish on
your boots that I love you ? For your India-rubber belt,
your strait- waistcoat, and your false hair? And then, the
198 BALZAC'S WORKS
older you look, the less need I fear seeing my Hulot carried
off by a rival. ' '
And Hulot, trusting to Madame MarnenVs heavenly
friendship as much as to her love, intending, too, to end his
days with her, had taken this confidential hint, and ceased
to dye his whiskers and hair. After this touching declara-
tion from his Vale'rie, handsome Hector made his appearance
one morning perfectly white. Madame Marneffe could as-
sure him that she had a hundred times detected the white
line of the growth of the hair.
"And white hair suits your face to perfection," said she;
"it softens it. You look a thousand times better, quite
charming. ' '
The Baron, once started on this path of reform, gave up
his leather waistcoat and stays; he threw off all his bracing.
His stomach fell and increased in size. The oak became a
tower, and the heaviness of his movements was all the more
alarming because the Baron grew immensely older by play-
ing the part of Louis XII. His eyebrows were still black,
and left a ghostly reminiscence of Handsome Hulot, as some-
times on the old wall of some feudal building a faint trace of
sculpture remains to show what the castle was in the days of
its glory. This discordant detail made his eyes, still bright
and youthful, all the more remarkable in his tanned face,
because it had so long been ruddy with the florid hues of a
Rubens; and now a certain discoloration and the deep ten-
sion of the wrinkles betrayed the efforts of a passion at odds
with natural decay. Hulot was now one of those stalwart
ruins in which virile force asserts itself by tufts of hair in
the ears and nostrils and on the fingers, as moss grows on
the almost eternal monuments of the Roman Empire.
How had Vale'rie contrived to keep Crevel and Hulot
COUSIN BETTY 199
side by side, each tied to an apron-string, when the vin-
dictive Major only longed to triumph openly over Hulot?
Without immediately giving an answer to this question,
which the course of the story will supply, it may be said
that Lisbeth and Vale'rie had contrived a powerful piece of
machinery which tended to this result. Marneffe, as he saw
his wife improved in beauty by the setting in which she was
enthroned, like the sun at the centre of the sidereal system,
appeared, in the eyes of the world, to have fallen in love
with her again himself; he was quite crazy about her. Now,
though his jealousy made him somewhat of a marplot, it
gave enhanced value to Valerie's favors. Marneffe mean-
while showed a blind confidence in his chief, which degener-
ated into ridiculous complaisance. The only person whom
he really would not stand was C revel.
Marneffe, wrecked by the debauchery of great cities, de-
scribed by Roman authors, though modern decency has no
name for it, was as hideous as an anatomical figure in wax.
But this disease on feet, clothed in good broadcloth, incased
his lath-like legs in elegant trousers. The hollow chest was
scented with fine linen, and musk disguised the odors of rot-
ten humanity. This hideous specimen of decaying vice,
trotting in red heels for Valerie dressed the man as be-
seemed his income, his cross, and his appointment horrified
Crevel, who could not meet the colorless eyes of the Govern-
ment clerk. Marneffe was an incubus to the Mayor. And
the mean rascal, aware of the strange power conferred on
him by Lisbeth and his wife, was amused by it; he played
on it as on an instrument; and cards being the last resource
of a mind as completely played out as the body, he plucked
Crevel again and again, the Mayor thinking himself bound
to subserviency to the worthy official whom he was cheating.
200 BALZAC'S WORKS
Seeing Crevel a mere child in the hands of that hideous
and atrocious mummy, of whose utter vileness the Mayor
knew nothing and seeing him, yet more, an object of deep
contempt to Vale'rie, who made game of Crevel as of some
mountebank the Baron apparently thought him so im-
possible as a rival that he constantly invited him to
Valerie, protected by two lovers on guard, and by a jeal-
ous husband, attracted every eye, and excited every desire
in the circle she shone upon. And thus, while keeping up
appearances, she had, in the course of three years, achieved
the most difficult conditions of the success a courtesan most
cares for and most rarely attains, even with the help of au-
dacity and the glitter of an existence in the light of the sun.
Valerie's beauty, formerly buried in the mud of the Eue da
Doyenne", now, like a well-cut diamond exquisitely set by
Chanor, was worth more than its real value it could break
hearts. Claude Vignon adored Valerie in secret.
This retrospective explanation, quite necessary after the
lapse of three years, shows Valerie's balance -sheet. Now for
that of her partner, Lisbeth.
Lisbeth Fischer filled the place in the Marneife house-
hold of a relation who combines the functions of a lady
companion and a housekeeper; but she suffered from none
of the humiliations which, for the most part, weigh upon
the women who are so unhappy as to be obliged to fill
these ambiguous situations. Lisbeth and Vale'rie offered
the touching spectacle of one of those friendships between
women, so cordial and so improbable, that men, always too
keen-tongued in Paris, forthwith slander them. The con-
trast between Lisbeth's dry masculine nature and Valerie's
COUSIN BETTY 201
Creole prettiness encouraged calumny. And Madame Mar-
neife had unconsciously given weight to the scandal by the
care she took of her friend, with matrimonial views, which
were, as will be seen, to complete Lisbeth's revenge.
An immense change had taken place in Cousin Betty;
and Valerie, who wanted to smarten her. had turned it to
the best account. The strange woman had submitted to
stays, and laced tightly; she used bandoline to keep her
hair smooth, wore her gowns as the dressmaker sent them
home, neat little boots, and gray silk stockings, all of which
were included in Valerie's bills, and paid for by the gentle-
man in possession. Thus furbished up, and wearing the
yellow cashmere shawl, Lisbeth would have been unrecog-
nizable by any one who had not seen her for three
This other diamond a black diamond, the rarest of all
cut by a skilled hand, and set as best became her, was ap-
preciated at her full value by certain ambitious clerks. Any
one seeing her for the first time might have shuddered in-
voluntarily at the look of poetic wildness which the clever
Valerie had succeeded in bringing out by the arts of dress
in this Bleeding Nun, framing the ascetic olive face in thick
bands of hair as black as the fiery eyes, and making the
most of the rigid, slim figure. Lisbeth. like a Virgin by
Cranach or Van Eyck, or a Byzantine Madonna stepped
out of its frame, had all the stiffness, the precision of those
mysterious figures, the more modern cousins of Isis and
her sister goddesses sheathed in marble folds by Egyptian
sculptors. It was granite, basalt, porphyry, with life and
Saved from want for the rest of her life, Lisbeth was
most amiable ; wherever she dined she brought merriment.
202 BALZAC'S WORKS
And the Baron paid the rent of her little apartment, fur-
nished, as we know, with the leavings of her friend Valerie's
former boudoir and bedroom.
"I began," she would say, "as a hungry nanny goat, and
I am ending as a lionne. ' '
She still worked for Monsieur Eivet at the more elaborate
kinds of gold-trimming, merely, as she said, not to lose her
time. At the same time, she was, as we shall see, very full
of business; but it is inherent in the nature of country folk
never to give up bread- winning; in this they are like the
Every morning, very early, Cousin Betty went off to
market with the cook. It was part of Lisbeth's scheme
that the house- book, which was ruining Baron Hulot, was
to enrich her dear Yal6rie as it did indeed.
Is there a housewife who, since 1838, has not suffered
from the evil effects of Socialist doctrines diffused among
the lower classes by incendiary writers ? In every house-
hold the plague of servants is nowadays the worst of finan-
cial afflictions. With very few exceptions, who ought to be
rewarded with the Montyon prize, the cook, male or female,
is a domestic robber, a thief taking wages, and perfectly
barefaced, with the Government for a fence, developing the
tendency to dishonesty, which is almost authorized in the
cook by the time-honored jest as to the "handle of the
basket." The women who formerly picked up their forty
sous to buy a lottery ticket now take fifty francs to put into
the savings bank. And the smug Puritans who amuse
themselves in Prance with philanthropic experiments fancy
that they are -making the common people moral !
Between the market and the master's table the servants
have their secret toll, and the municipality of Paris is less
sharp in collecting the city dues than the servants are in
taking theirs on every single thing. To say nothing of fifty
per cent charged on every form of food, they demand large
New Year's premiums from the tradesmen. The best class
of dealers tremble before this occult power, and subsidize it
without a word coachmakers, jewellers, tailors, and all. If
any attempt is made to interfere with them, the servants
reply with impudent retorts, or revenge themselves by the
costly blunders of assumed clumsiness; and in these days
they inquire into their master's character as, formerly, the
master inquired into theirs. The mischief is now really at
its height, and the law-courts . are beginning to take cogni-
zance of it; but in vain, for it cannot be remedied but by a
law which shall compel domestic servants, like laborers, to
have a pass-book as a guarantee of conduct. Then the evil
will vanish as if by magic. If every servant were obliged to
show his pass-book, and if masters were required to state in
it the cause of his dismissal, this would certainly prove a
powerful check to the evil.
The men who are giving their attention to the politics of
the day know not to what lengths the depravity of the lower
classes has gone. Statistics are silent as to the startling
number of working men of twenty who marry cooks of be-
tween forty and fifty enriched by robbery. We shudder to
think of the result of such unions from the three points of
view of increasing crime, degeneracy of the race, and miser-
As to the mere financial mischief that results from do-
mestic peculation, that too is immense from a political point
of view. Life being made to cost double, any superfluity
becomes impossible in most households. Now superfluity
means half the trade of the world, as it is half the elegance
204 BALZAC'S WORKS
of life. Books and flowers are to many persons as necessary
Lisbeth, well aware of this dreadful scourge of Parisian
households, determined to manage Valerie's, promising her
every assistance in the terrible scene when the two women
had sworn to be like sisters. So she had brought from the
depths of the Yosges a humble relation on her mother's side,
a very pious and honest soul, who had been cook to the
Bishop of Nancy. Fearing, however, her inexperience of
Paris ways, and yet more the evil counsel which wrecks
such fragile virtue, at first Lisbeth always went to market
with Mathurine, and tried to teach her what to buy. To
know the real prices of things and command the salesman's
respect; to purchase unnecessary delicacies, such as fish,
only when they were cheap ; to be well informed as to the
price current of groceries and provisions, so as to buy when
prices are low in anticipation of a rise all this housekeep-
ing skill is in Paris essential to domestic economy. As
Mathurine got good wages and many presents, she liked the
house well enough to be glad to drive good bargains. And
by this time Lisbeth had made her quite a match for herself,
sufficiently experienced and trustworthy to be sent to market
alone, unless Valerie was giving a dinner which, in fact,
was not infrequently the case. And this was how it came
The Baron had at first observed the strictest decor am;
but his passion for Madame Marneffe had ere long become
so vehement, so greedy, that he would never quit her if he
could help it. At first he dined there four times a week;
then he thought it delightful to dine with her every day.
Six months after his daughter's marriage he was paying her
two thousand francs a month for his board. Madame Mar-
COUSIN BETTY L'O
neffe invited any one her dear Baron wished to entertain.
The dinner was always arranged for six; he could bring
in three unexpected guests. Lisbeth's economy enabled her
to solve the extraordinary problem of keeping up the table
in the best style for a thousand francs a month, giving the
other thousand to Madame Marneffe. Valerie's dress being
chiefly paid for by Crevel and the Baron, the two women
saved another thousand francs a month on this.
And so this pure and innocent being had already accu-
mulated a hundred and fifty thousand francs in savings.
She had capitalized her income and monthly bonus, and
swelled the amount by enormous interest, due to Crevel's
liberality in allowing his "little Duchess" to invest her
money in partnership with him in his financial operations.
Crevel had taught Vale'rie the slang and the procedure of
the money market, and, like every Parisian woman, she had
soon outstripped her master. Lisbeth. who never spent a
sou of her twelve hundred francs, whose rent and dress were
given to her. and who never put her hand in her pocket,
had likewise a small capital of five or six thousand francs,
of which Crevel took fatherly care.
At the same time, two such lovers were a heavy burden
on Vale'rie. On the day when this drama reopens. Valerie,
spurred by one of those incidents which have the effect in
life that the ringing of a bell has in inducing a swarm of
bees to settle, went up to Lisbeth's rooms to give vent
to one of those comforting lamentations a sort of cigarette
blown off from the tongue by which women alleviate the
minor miseries of life.
"Oh. Lisbeth, my love, two hours of Crevel this morn-
ing ! It is crushing ! How I wish I could send you in my
206 BALZAC'S WORKS
"That, unluckily, is impossible," said Lisbeth, smiling.
"I shall die a maid."
"Two old men lovers! Really, I am ashamed some-
times! If my poor mother could see me."
"You are mistaking me for Crevel!" said Lisbeth.
"Tell me, my little Betty, do you not despise me?"
"Oh! if I had but been pretty, what adventures I would
have had!" cried Lisbeth. "That is your justification."
"But you would have acted only at the dictates of your
heart," said Madame Marneffe, with a sigh.
"Pooh! Marneffe is a dead man they have forgotten to
bury," replied Lisbeth. "The Baron is as good as your
husband; Crevel is your adorer; it seems to me that you
are quite in order like every other married woman."
"No, it is not that, dear, adorable thing; that is not
'where the shoe pinches; you do not choose to understand."
"Yes I do," said Lisbeth. "The unexpressed factor is
part of my revenge ; what can I do ? I am working it
"I love Wenceslas so that I am positively growing thin,
and I can never see him," said Vale'rie, throwing up her
arms. "Hulot asks him to dinner, and my artist declines.
He does not know that I idolize him, the wretch! What
is his wife after all? Fine flesh! Yes, she is handsome,
but I I know myself I am worse!"
"Be quite easy, my child, he will come," said Lisbeth,
in the tone of a nurse to an impatient child. "He shall."
"This week perhaps."
"Give me a kiss."
As may be seen, these two women were but one. Every-
thing Vale'rie did, even her most reckless actions, her pleas-
COUSIN BETTY 207
ures, her little sulks, were decided on after serious delibera-
tion between them.
Lisbeth, strangely excited by this harlot existence,
advised Valerie on every step, and pursued her course of
revenge with pitiless logic. She really adored Valerie;
she had taken her to be her child, her friend, her love; she
found her docile, as Creoles are, yielding from voluptuous
indolence; she chattered with her morning after morning
with more pleasure than with Wenceslas; they could laugh
together over the mischief they plotted, and over the folly
of men, and count up the swelling interest on their respec-
Indeed, in this new enterprise and new affection, Lisbeth
had found food for her activity that was far more satisfying
than her insane passion for Wenceslas. The joys of grati-
fied hatred are the fiercest and strongest the heart can know.
Love is the gold, hatred the iron of the mine of feeling that
lies buried in us. And then, Vale'rie was, to Lisbeth,
Beauty in all its glory the beauty she worshipped, as we
worship what we have not; beauty far more plastic to her
hand than that of Wenceslas, who had always been cold
to her and distant.
At the end of nearly three years, Lisbeth was beginning
to perceive the progress of the underground mine on which
she was expending her life and concentrating her mind.
Lisbeth planned, Madame Marneffe acted. Madame Mar-
neffe was the axe, Lisbeth was the hand that wielded it,
and that hand was rapidly demolishing the family which
was every day more odious to her; for we can hate more
and more, just as, when we love, we love better every
Love and hatred are feelings that feed on themselves;
208 BALZAC'S WORKS
but of the two, hatred has the longer vitality. Love is
restricted within limits of power; it derives its energies
from life and from lavis"hness. Hatred is like death, like
avarice; it is, so to speak, an active abstraction, above
beings and things.
Lisbeth, embarked on the existence that was natural to
her, expended in it all her faculties; governing, like the
Jesuits, by occult influences. The regeneration of her per-
son was equally complete; her face was radiant. Lisbeth
dreamed of becoming Madame la Mare"chale Hulot.
This little scene, in which the two friends had bluntly
uttered their ideas without any circumlocution in express-
ing them, took place immediately on Lisbeth's return from
market, whither she had been to procure the materials for
an elegant dinner. Marneffe, who hoped to get Coquet's
place, was to entertain him and the virtuous Madame
Coquet, and Valerie hoped to persuade Hulot, that very
evening, to consider the head-clerk's resignation.
Lisbeth dressed to go to the Baroness, with whom she
was to dine.
"You will come back in time to make tea for us, my
Betty?" said Valerie.
"I hope so."
"You hope so why? Have you come to sleeping with
Adeline to drink her tears while she is asleep?"
"If only I could!" said Lisbeth, laughing. "I would
not refuse. She is expiating her happiness and I am glad,
for I remember our young days. It is my turn now. She
will be in the mire, and I shall be Comtesse de For-
Lisbeth set out for the Hue Plumet, where she now went
as to the theatre to indulge her emotions.
COUSIN BETTY 209
The residence Hulot had found for his wife consisted
of a large, bare entrance-room, a drawing-room, and a bed-
and dressing-room. The dining-room was next the draw-
ing-room on one side. Two servants' rooms and a kitchen
on the third floor completed the accommodation, which was
not unworthy of a Councillor of State, high up in the War
Office. The house, the courtyard, and the stairs were
The Baroness, who had to furnish her drawing-room,
bedroom, and dining-room with the relics of her splendor,
had brought away the best of the remains from the house
in the Rue de TUniversit^. Indeed, the poor woman was
attached to these mute witnesses of her happier life; to her
they had an almost consoling eloquence. In memory she
saw her flowers, as in the carpets she could trace patterns
hardly visible now to other eyes.
On going into the spacious anteroom, where twelve
chairs, a barometer, a large stove, and long, white cotton
curtains, bordered with red, suggested the dreadful waiting-
room of a Government office, the visitor felt oppressed, con-
scious at once of the isolation in which the mistress lived.
Grief, like pleasure, infects the atmosphere. A first glance
into any home is enough to tell you whether love or despair
Adeline would be found sitting in an immense bedroom
with beautiful furniture by Jacob Desmalters. of mahogany
finished in the Empire style with ormolu, which looks even
less inviting than the brass-work of Louis XVI. ! It gave
one a shiver to see this lonely woman sitting on a Roman
chair, a work-table with sphinxes before her, colorless, af-
fecting false cheerfulness, but preserving her imperial air,
as she had preserved the blue velvet gown she always wore
210 BALZAC'S WORKS
in the house. Her proud spirit sustained her strength and
preserved her beauty.
The Baroness, by the end of her first year of banish-
ment to this apartment, had gauged every depth of mis-
"Still, even here my Hector has made my life much
handsomer than it should be for a mere peasant," said she
to herself. "He chooses that it should be so; his will be
done! I am Baroness Hulot, the sister-in-law of a Marshal
of France. I have done nothing wrong; my two children
are settled in life; I can wait for death, wrapped in the
spotless veil of an immaculate wife and the crape of departed
happiness. ' '
A portrait of Hulot, in the uniform of a Commissary-
General of the Imperial Guard, painted in 1810 by Robert
Lefebvre, hung above the work-table, and when visitors
were announced, Adeline threw into a drawer an "Imita-
tion of Jesus Christ," her habitual study. This blame-
less Magdalen thus heard the Voice of the Spirit in her
"Mariette, my child," said Lisbeth to the woman who
opened the door, "how is my dear Adeline to-day?"
"Oh, she looks pretty well, Mademoiselle; but between
you and me, if she goes on in this way, she will kill her-
self, " said Mariette in a whisper. "You really ought to
persuade her to live better. Now, yesterday Madame told
me to give her two sous' worth of milk and a roll for one
sou; to get her a herring for dinner or a bit of cold veal;
she had a pound cooked to last her the week of course,
for the days when she dines at home and alone. She will
not spend more than ten sous a day for her food. It is
unreasonable. If I were to say anything about it to Mon-
COUSIN BETTY 211
sieur le Marechal, he might quarrel with Monsieur le Baron
and leave him nothing, whereas you, who are so kind and
clever, can manage things "
"But why do you not apply to my cousin the Baron?"
"Oh, dear Mademoiselle, he has not been here for three
weeks or more; in fact, not since we last had the pleasure
of seeing you! Besides. Madame has forbidden me, under
threat of dismissal, ever to ask the master for money. But
as for grief! oh, poor lady, she has been very unhappy.
It is the first time that Monsieur has neglected her for so
long. Every time the bell rang she rushed to the window
but for the last five days she has sat still in her chair.
She reads. Whenever she goes out to see Madame la Com-
tesse, she says, 'Mariette, if Monsieur comes in,' says she,
'tell him I am at home, and send the porter to fetch me;
he shall be well paid for his trouble.' '
"Poor soul!" said Lisbeth; "it goes to my heart. I
speak of her to the Baron every day. What can I do?
'Yes,' says he, 'Betty, you are right; I am a wretch. My
wife is an angel, and I am a monster! I will go to-mor-