the knowledge that he was a mere cipher in that immense
stir of men and interests and things which makes Paris at
once a paradise and a hell, quite quelled Lisbeth Fischer.
She gave up all idea of rivalry and comparison with her
cousin after feeling her great superiority; but envy still
lurked in her heart, like a plague-germ that may hatch and
devastate a city if the fatal bale of wool is opened in which
it is concealed.
Now and again, indeed, she said to herself:
"Vol. 10 (C)
50 BALZAC'S WORKS
"Adeline and I are the same flesh and blood, our fathers
were brothers and she is in a mansion, while I am in a
garret. ' '
But every New Year Lisbeth had presents from the
Baron and Baroness; the Baron, who was always good to
her, paid for her firewood in the winter; old General Hulot
had her to dinner once a week; and there was always a
cover laid for her at her cousin's table. They laughed at
her no doubt, but they never were ashamed to own her.
In short, they had made her independent in Paris, where
she lived as she pleased.
The old maid had, in fact, a terror of any kind of tie.
Her cousin had offered her a room in her own house Lis-
beth suspected the halter of domestic servitude; several
times the Baron had found a solution of the difficult prob-
lem of her marriage; but though tempted in the first in-
stance, she would presently decline, fearing lest she should
be scorned for her want of education, her general ignorance,
and her poverty; finally, when the Baroness suggested that
she should live with their uncle Johann, and keep house
for him, instead of the .upper servant, who must cost him
dear, Lisbeth replied that that was the very last way she
should think of marrying.
Lisbeth Fischer had the sort of strangeness in her ideas
which is often noticeable in characters that have developed
late, in savages, who think much and speak little. Her
peasant's wit had acquired a good deal of Parisian asperity
from hearing the talk of workshops and mixing with work-
men and workwomen. She, whose character had a marked
resemblance to that of the Corsicans, worked upon without
fruition by the instincts of a strong nature, would have
liked to be the protectress of a weak man; but, as a result
COUSIN BETTY 51
of living in the capital, the capital had altered her superfi-
cially. Parisian polish became rust on this coarsely tem-
pered soul. Gifted with a cunning which had become un-
fathomable, as it always does in those whose celibacy is
genuine, with the originality and sharpness with which she
clothed her ideas, in any other position she would have
been formidable. Full of spite, she was capable of bring-
ing discord into the most united family.
In early days, when she indulged in certain secret hopes
which she confided to none, she took to wearing stays, and
dressing in the fashion, and so shone in splendor for a
short time that the Baron thought her marriageable. Lis-
beth at that stage was the piquante brunette of old-fashioned
novels. Her piercing glance, her olive skin, her reed-like
figure, might invite a half -pay major; but she was satisfied,
she would say laughing, with her own admiration.
And, indeed, she found her life pleasant enough when
she had freed it from practical anxieties, for she dined out
every evening after working hard from sunrise. Thus she
had only her rent and her midday meal to provide for; she
had most of her clothes given her, and a variety of very
acceptable stores, such as coffee, sugar, wine, and so forth.
In 1837, after living for twenty-seven years, half main-
t lined by the Hulots and her Uncle Fischer, Cousin Betty,
resigned to being nobody, allowed herself to be treated so.
She herself refused to appear at any grand dinners, prefer-
ring the family party, where she held her own and was
spared all slights to her pride.
"Wherever she went at General Hulot's, at Crevel's, at
the house of the young Hulots, or at Ei vet's (Pens' succes-
sor, with whom she made up her quarrel, and who made
much of her), and at the Baroness's table she was treated
52 BALZAC'S WORKS
as one of the family; in fact, she managed to make friends
of the servants by making them an occasional small present,
and always gossiping with them for a few minutes before
going into the drawing-room. This familiarity, by which
she uncompromisingly put herself on their level, conciliated
their servile good-nature, which is indispensable to a para-
site. "She is a good, steady woman," was everybody's
Her willingness to oblige, which knew no bounds when
it was not demanded of her, was indeed, like her assumed
bluntness, a necessity of her position. She had at length
understood what her life must be, seeing that she was at
everybody's mercy; and needing to please everybody, she
would laugh with young people, who liked her for a sort of
wheedling flattery which always wins them; guessing and
taking part with their fancies, she would make herself their
spokeswoman, and they thought her a delightful confidante,
since she had no right to find fault with them.
Her absolute secrecy also won her the confidence of their
seniors; for, like Ninon, she had certain manly qualities.
As a rule, our confidence is given to those below rather than
above us. We employ our inferiors rather than our betters
in secret transactions, and they thus become the recipients
of our inmost thoughts, and look on at our meditations;
Ilichelieu thought he had achieved success when he was
admitted to the Council. This penniless woman was sup-
posed to be so dependent on every one about her that she
seemed doomed to perfect silence. She herself called herself
the Family Confessional.
The Baroness only, remembering her ill-usage in child-
hood by the cousin who, though younger, was stronger than
herself, never wholly trusted her. Besides, out of sheer
COUSIN BETTY 53
modesty, she would never have told her domestic sorrows
to any one but God.
It may here be well to add that the Baron's house pre-
served all its magnificence in the eyes of Lisbeth Fischer,
who was not struck, as the parvenu perfumer had been, with
the penury stamped on the shabby chairs, the dirty hang-
ings, and the ripped silk. The furniture we live with is in
some sort like our own person; seeing ourselves every day,
we end, like the Baron, by thinking ourselves but little
altered, and still youthful, when others see that our head is
covered with chinchilla, our forehead scarred with circumflex
accents, our stomach assuming the rotundity of a pumpkin.
So these rooms, always blazing in Betty's eyes with the Bengal
fire of Imperial victory, were to her perennially splendid.
As time went on, Lisbeth had contracted some rather
strange old-maidish habits. For instance, instead of follow-
ing the fashions, she expected the fashion to accept her ways
and yield to her always out-of-date notions. When the
Baroness gave her a pretty new bonnet, or a gown in the
fashion of the day, Betty remade it completely at home, and
spoiled it by producing a dress of the style of the Empire
or ol her old Lorraine costume. A thirty-franc bonnet came
out a rag, and the gown a disgrace. On this point, Lisbeth
was as obstinate as a mule; she would please no one but
herself, and believed herself charming; whereas this assimi-
lative process harmonious, no doubt, in so far as that it
stamped her for an old maid from head to foot made her
so ridiculous that, with the best will in the world, no one
could admit her on any smart occasion.
This refractory, capricious, and independent spirit, and
the inexplicable wild shyness of the woman for whom the
Baron, had four times found a match an employ^ in his
54 BALZAC'S WORKS
office, a retired major, an army contractor, and a half -pay
captain while she had refused an army lacemaker, who had
since made his fortune, had won her the name of the Nanny
Goat, which the Baron gave her in jest. But this nickname
only met the peculiarities that lay on the surface, the eccen-
tricities which each of us displays to his neighbors in social
life. This woman, who, if closely studied, would have
shown the most savage traits of the peasant class, was still
the girl who had clawed her cousin's nose, and who, if she
had not been trained to reason, would perhaps have killed
her in a fit of jealousy.
It was only her knowledge of the laws and of the world
that enabled her to control the swift instinct with which
countryfolk, like wild men, reduce impulse to action. In
this alone, perhaps, lies the difference between natural and
civilized man. The savage has only impulse; the civilized
man has impulses and ideas. And in the savage the brain
retains, as we may say, but few impressions, it is wholly
at the mercy of the feeling that rushes in upon it: while, in
the civilized man, ideas sink into the heart and change
it; he has a thousand interests and many feelings where the
savage has but one at a time. This is the cause of the tran-
sient ascendency of a child over its parents, which ceases
as soon as it is satisfied; in the man who is still one with
Nature, this cause is constant. Cousin Betty, a savage of
Lorraine, somewhat treacherous too, was of this class of na-
tures, which are commoner among the lower orders than
is supposed, accounting for the conduct of the populace
At the time when this Drama opens, if Cousin Betty
would have allowed herself to be dressed like other people;
COUSIN BETTY 55
if, like the women of Paris, she had been accustomed to
wear each fashion in its turn, she would have been present-
able and acceptable, but she preserved the stiffness of a
stick. Now a woman devoid of all the graces, in Paris
simply does not exist. The fine but hard eyes, the severe
features, the Calabrian fixity of complexion which made
Lisbeth like a figure by Giotto, and of which a true Parisian
would have taken advantage, above all, her strange way of
dressing, gave her such an extraordinary appearance that
she sometimes looked like one of those monkeys in petti-
coats taken about by little Savoyards. As she was well
known in the houses connected by family ties which she
frequented, and restricted her social efforts to that little
circle, as she liked her own home, her singularities no longer
astonished anybody; and out of doors they were lost in the
immense stir of Paris street-life, where only pretty women
are ever looked at.
Hortense's laughter was at this moment caused by a vic-
tory won over her Cousin Lisbeth's perversity; she had just
wrung from her an avowal she had been hoping for these
three years past. However secretive an old maid may be,
there is one sentiment which will always avail to make her
break her fast from words, and that is her vanity. For the
last three years, Hortense, having become very inquisitive
on such matters, had pestered her cousin with questions,
which, however, bore the stamp of perfect innocence. She
wanted to know why her cousin had never married. Hor-
tense, who knew of the five offers that she had refused, had
constructed her little romance; she supposed that Lisbeth
had had a passionate attachment, and a war of banter was
the result. Hortense would talk of "We young girls I"
when speaking of herself and her cousin.
56 BALZAC'S WORKS
Cousin Betty had on several occasions answered in the
same tone "And who says I have not a lover?" So Cousin
Betty's lover, real or fictitious, became a subject of mild
jesting. At last, after two years of this petty warfare, the
last time Lisbeth had come to the house Hortense's first
question had been:
"And how is your lover?"
"Pretty well, thank you," was the answer. "He is
rather ailing, poor young man."
"He has delicate health? 1 ' asked the Baroness, laughing.
"I should think so! He is fair. A sooty thing like me
can love none but a fair man with a color like the moon."
"But who is he? What does he do?" asked Hortense.
"Is he a prince?"
"A prince of artisans, as I am queen of the bobbin. Is
a poor woman like me likely to find a lover in a man with
a fine house and money in the funds, or in a duke of the
realm, or some Prince Charming out of a fairy tale?"
"Oh, I should so much like to see him?" cried Hor-
"To see what a man can be like who can love the Nanny
Goat?" retorted Lisbeth.
"He must be some monster of an old clerk, with a goat's
beard!" Hortense said to her mother.
"Well, then, you are quite mistaken, Mademoiselle."
"Then you mean that you really have a lover?" Hor-
tense exclaimed in triumph.
"As sure as you have not!" retorted Lisbeth, nettled.
"But if you have a lover, why don't you marry him, Lis-
beth?" said the Baroness, shaking her head at her daughter.
"We have been hearing rumors about him these three years.
You have had time to study him ; and if he has been faithful
COUSIN BETTY 57
so long, you should not persist in a delay which must be
hard upon him. After all, it is a matter of conscience; and
if he is young, it is time to take a brevet of dignity."
Cousin Betty had fixed her gaze on Adeline, and seeing
that she was jesting, she replied:
"It would be marrying hunger and thirst; he is a work-
man, I am a workwoman. If we had children, they would
be workmen. No, no; we love each other spiritually; it is
"Why do you keep him in hiding?" Hortense asked.
"He wears a round jacket," replied the old maid, laugh-
"You truly love him?" the Baroness inquired.
"I believe you! I love him for his own sake, the dear
cherub. For four years his home has been in my heart."
"Well, then, if you love him for himself," said the
Baroness gravely, "and if he really exists, you are treating
him criminally. You do not know how to love truly."
"We all know that from our birth," said Lisbeth.
"No, there are women who love and yet are selfish, and
that is your case."
Cousin Betty's head fell, and her glance would have
made any one shiver who had seen it; but her eyes were
on her reel of thread.
"If you would introduce your so-called lover to us,
Hector might find him employment, or put him in a position
to make money."
"That is out of the question," said Cousin Betty.
"He is a sort of Pole a refugee "
"A conspirator?" cried Hortense. "What luck for you I
Has he had any adventures?"
58 BALZAC'S WORKS
"He has fought for Poland. He was a professor in the
school where the students began the rebellion; and as he
had been placed there by the Grand Duke Constantino,
he has no hope of mercy "
"A professor of what?"
"Of fine arts."
"And he came to Paris when the rebellion was quelled ?"
"In 1838. He came through Germany on foot."
"Poor young man! And how old is he?"
"He was just four-and-twenty when the insurrection
broke out he is twenty-nine now."
"Fifteen years your junior," said the Baroness.
"And what does he live on ?" asked Hortense.
"Oh, he gives lessons?"
"No," said Cousin Betty; "he gets them, and hard
"And his Christian name is it a pretty name?"
"What a wonderful imagination you old maids have!"
exclaimed the Baroness. "To hear you talk, Lisbeth, one
might really believe you."
"You see, mamma, he is a Pole, and so accustomed to
the knout that Lisbeth reminds him of the joys of his
They all three laughed, and Hortense sang Wenceslasl
idole de mon dmef instead of Mathilde.
Then for a few minutes there was a truce.
"These children," said Cousin Betty, looking at Hor-
tense as she went up to her, "fancy that no one but them-
selves can have lovers-."
"Listen," Hortense replied, finding herself alone with
COUSIN BETTY 59
her cousin, "if you prove to me that Wenceslas is not a
pure invention, I will give you my yellow cashmere shawl."
"He is a Count."
"Every Pole is a Count!"
"But he is not a Pole; he comes from Liva Litha
"Yes, that's it!"
"But what is his name?"
"I wonder if you are capable of keeping a secret."
"Cousin Betty, I will be as mute I"
"As a fish?"
"As a fish."
"By your life eternal?"
"By my life eternal!"
"No, by your happiness in this world?"
"Well, then, his name is Wenceslas Steinbock."
"One of Charles XII. 's Generals was named Steinbock."
"He was his granduncle. His own father settled in
Livonia after the death of the King of Sweden; but he
lost all his fortune during the campaign of 1812, and died,
leaving the poor boy at the age of eight without a penny.
The Grandduke Constantine, for the honor of the name
of Steinbock, took him under his protection and sent him
"I will not break my word," Hortense replied; "prove
his existence, and you shall have the yellow shawl. The
color is most becoming to dark skins."
"And you will keep my secret?"
"And tell you mine."
00 BALZAC'S WORKS
"Well, then, the next time I come you shall have the
"But the proof will be the lover," said Hortense.
Cousin Betty, who, since her first arrival in Paris, had
been bitten by a mania for shawls, was bewitched by the
idea of owning the yellow cashmere given to his wife by
the Baron in 1808, and handed down from mother to daugh-
ter after the manner of some families in 1830. The shawl
had been a good deal worn ten years ago; but the costly
object, now always kept in its sandal-wood box, seemed to
the old maid ever new, like the drawing-room furniture. So
she brought in her handbag, a present for the Baroness's
birthday, by which she proposed to prove the existence of
her romantic lover.
This present was a silver seal formed of three little fig-
ures back to back, wreathed with foliage, and supporting
the Globe. They represented Faith, Hope, and Charity;
their feet rested on monsters rending each other, among
them the symbolical serpent. In 1846, now that such im-
mense strides have been made in the art of which Benvenuto
Cellini was the master, by Mademoiselle de Fauveau, Wag-
ner, Jeanest, Froment-Meurice, and wood-carvers like Lie-
nard, this little masterpiece would amaze nobody; but at
that time a girl who understood the silversmith's art stood
astonished as she held the seal which Lisbeth put into her
"There! what do you think of that?"
In design, attitude, and drapery the figures were of the
school of Rafael; but the execution was in the style of
the Florentine metal-workers the school created by Dona-
tello, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, Benvenuto Cellini, John of
Bologna, and others. The French masters of the Eenais-
COUSIN BETTY tt
sance had never invented more strangely twining monsters
than these that symbolized the evil passions. The palms,
ferns, reeds, and foliage that wreathed the Virtues showed
a style, a taste, a handling that might have driven a prac-
ticed craftsman to despair; a scroll floated above the three
fignres ; and on its surface, between the heads, were a W,
a chamois, and the word fecit.
"Who carved this?" asked Hortense.
"Well, just my lover," replied Lisbeth. "There are
ten months' work in it; I could earn more at making sword-
knots. He told me that Steinbock means a rock goat, a
chamois, in German. And he intends to mark all his work
in that way. Ah, ha! I shall have the shawl."
"Do you suppose I could buy such a thing, or order it?
Impossible! Well, then, it must have been given to me.
And who would make me such a present? A lover!"
Hortense, with an artfulness that would have frightened
Lisbeth Fischer if she had detected it, took care not to ex-
press all her admiration, though she was full of the delight
which every soul that is open to a sense of beauty must feel
on seeing a faultless piece of work perfect and unexpected.
"On my word," said she, "it is very pretty."
"Yes, it is pretty," said her cousin; "but I like an
orange-colored shawl better. Well, child, my lover spends
his time in doing such work as that. Since he came to
Paris he has turned out three or four little trifles in that
style, and that is the fruit of four years' study and toil. He
has served as apprentice to founders, metal-casters, and gold-
smiths. There, he has paid away thousands and hundreds
of francs. And my gentleman tells me that in a few months
now he will be famous and rich "
62 BALZAC'S WORKS
"Then you often see him?"
"Bless me, do you think it is all a fable? I told you
truth in jest."
"And he is in love with you?" asked Hortense eagerly.
"He adores me," replied Lisbeth very seriously. "You
see, child, he had never seen any women but the washed-
out, pale things they all' are in the north, and a slender,
brown, youthful thing like me warmed his heart. But,
mum; you promised, you know!"
"And he will fare like the five others," said the girl
ironically, as she looked at the seal.
"Six others, Miss. I left one in Lorraine, who, to this
day, would fetch the moon down for me."
"This one does better than that," said Hortense; "he
has brought down the sun."
"Where can that be turned into money?" asked her
cousin. "It takes wide lands to benefit by the sunshine."
These witticisms^ fired in quick retort, and leading to
the sort of giddy play that may be imagined, had given
cause for the laughter which had added to the Baroness's
troubles by making her compare her daughter's future lot
with the present, when she was free to indulge the light-
heartedness of youth.
"But to give you a gem which cost him six months of
work, he must be under some great obligations to you?"
said Hortense, in whom the silver seal had suggested very
"Oh, you want to know too much at once!" said her
cousin. "But, listen, I will let you into a little plot."
"Is your lover in it too?"
"Oh, ho! you want so much to see him! But, as you
may suppose, an old maid like Cousin Betty, who had man-
aged to keep a lover for five years, keeps him well hidden.
Now, just let me alone. You see, I have neither cat nor
canary, neither a dog nor a parrot, and the old Nanny Goat
wanted something to pet and tease so I treated myself to
a Polish Count."
"Has he a mustache?"
"As long as that," said Lisbeth, holding up her shuttle
filled with gold thread. She always took her lacework with
her, and worked till dinner was served.
"If you ask too many questions, you will be told noth-
ing," she went on. "You are but two-and-twenty, and you
chatter more than I do though I am forty-two not to say
"I am listening; I am a wooden image," said Hor-
"My lover has finished a bronze group ten inches high,"
Lisbeth went on. "It represents Samson slaying a lion, and
he has kept it buried till it is so rusty that you might be-
lieve it to be as old as Samson himself. This fine piece is
shown at the shop of one of the old curiosity sellers on the
Place du Carrousel, near my lodgings. Now, your father
knows Monsieur Popinot, the Minister of Commerce and
Agriculture, and the Comte de Rastignac, and if he would
only mention the group to them as a fine antique he had
seen by chance ! It seems that such things take the fancy
of your grand folk, who don't care so much about gold
lace, and that my man's fortune would be made if one of
them would buy or even look at the wretched piece of
metal. The poor fellow is sure that it might be mistaken
for old work, and that the rubbish is worth a great deal of
money. And then, if one of the ministers should purchase
the group, he would go to pay his respects, and prove that
64: BALZAC'S WORKS
he was the maker, and be almost carried in triumph ! Oh !
he believes he has reached the pinnacle ; poor young man,
and he is as proud as two newly- made Counts."
"Michelangelo over again; but, for a lover, he has
kept his head on his shoulders!" said Hortense. "And
how much does he want for it?"
"Fifteen hundred francs. The dealer will not let it go
for less, since he must take his commission."
"Papa is in the King's household just now," said Hor-
tense. "He sees those two ministers every day at the Cham-
ber, and he will do the thing I undertake that. You will
be a rich woman, Madame la Corntesse de Steinbock. "
"No, the boy is too lazy; for whole weeks he sits twid-
dling with bits of red wax, and nothing comes of it. Why,
he spends all his days at the Louvre and the Library, look-
ing at prints and sketching things. He is an idler!"
The cousins chatted and giggled; Hortense laughing a
forced laugh, for she was invaded by a kind of love which
every girl has gone through the love of the unknown, love
in its vaguest form, when every thought is accreted round
some form which is suggested by a chance word, as the