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held for her; over and over again she deluged her
forehead, and checked the inflammation that had
begun. After this immersion she recovered her
self-control completely.

" Not a word," said she to Madame Marneffe, as
she wiped her head, "not a word of all this.
Look at me! I am perfectly calm, and it is all for-
gotten! I am thinking of something very different!"

"She will be at Charenton to-morrow, that's
certain," said Madame Marneffe to herself, with a
glance at the Lorrainer.

"What shall I do?" continued Lisbeth. "Look
you, my little angel, I must just hold my tongue,
bow my head, and go straight to the tomb as the
water goes to the river. What could I attempt? I
should like to grind them all to dust, Adeline, her

IX



162 THE POOR RELATIONS

daughter and the baron! But what can one poor
relation do against a whole rich family? It would
be the story of the earthen pot and the iron pot
over again."

" Yes, you are right," Valerie replied; " you must
simply look out and pull all the hay you can out of
the manger. Such is life in Paris."

"And I shall die very soon," said Lisbeth, "if I
lose that child, to whom I thought I should always
be a mother, with whom I expected to pass my
whole life"

Tears were in her eyes, and she stopped. This
exhibition of feeling on the part of this woman of
fire and brimstone made Madame Marneffe shudder.

"After all, I have found you," she said, taking
Valerie's hand; "that's a consolation in this great
disaster We will love each other dearly; and why
should we part? I shall never poach on your pre-
serves. No one will ever fall in love with me!
every one of those who proposed to me would have
married me because I was under my cousin's protec-
tion. To have the energy to carry Paradise by
storm, and to waste it in grubbing for bread, water,
rags and an attic! Ah! that's true martyrdom, my
dear! I have withered away under it."

She paused abruptly and darted into Madame Mar-
neffe's blue-eyes a lowering glance which pierced
that charming creature's soul, as a dagger-blade
might have pierced her heart.

" But why talk about it?" she cried, reproaching
herself. "Ah! I never said so much before, not I!



COUSIN BETTE 163

"The trick will come back to its master!" she
added, after a pause, quoting an expression children
use. "As you wisely suggest: I must sharpen my
teeth and pull all the hay I can out of the manger."

"You are right," said Madame Marneffe, so
alarmed by this outburst that she no longer remem-
bered having uttered that apothegm. "I think you
have the right idea, my love. Life's none too long,
you know, and we must get as much as we can out
of it, and use others for our own ends. I have come
to that already, young as I am ! I was brought up
as a spoiled child, my father made an ambitious
marriage and almost forgot me, after making me
his idol and bringing me up like a queen's daughter!
My poor mother, who fed me on the loveliest dreams,
from my cradle, died of disappointment when I
married a paltry clerk on twelve hundred francs
salary, a cold-blooded old rake of thirty-nine, cor-
rupt as a whole bagnio, and who saw in me only
what your suitors saw in you, a means of helping
on his fortunes ! Well, I ended by finding out that
that beast of a man is the best of husbands. As he pre-
fers the dirty street-walking trulls to me, he leaves
me free. If he takes all his salary himself, he never
asks me to explain the source of my income "

At that point she paused, like one who feels that
she is being carried too far by the torrent of confi-
dence, and, impressed by the attention with which
Lisbeth was listening to her, she deemed it neces-
sary to make sure of her, before disclosing to her
the inmost secrets of her heart



1 64 THE POOR RELATIONS

"You see, my love, what confidence I have in
you! " continued Madame Marneffe, and Lisbeth
replied with a most reassuring gesture.

One often swears with the eyes and with a
movement of the head, more solemnly than at the
Assizes.

"I have all the externals of virtue," Madame
Marneffe resumed, laying her hand upon Lisbeth's
as if to accept her pledge; "I am a married woman,
and I am my own mistress, to such a point that if
Marneffe takes a fancy to say good-bye to me when
he starts for the office in the morning, and finds my
chamber-door locked, he goes his way quite undis-
turbed. He cares less for his child than I care for
one of the marble children playing at the foot of
one of the Fleuves, at the Tuileries. If I don't come
home to dinner, he dines very pleasantly with the
maid, for the maid is everything to monsieur, and
after dinner he goes out, not to return until twelve
or one o clock. Unfortunately, for a year I have had
no maid, which means that I have been a widow for
a year I have had but one passion, one stroke of
luck that was a rich Brazilian, who went away a
year ago, all through my fault ! He went to sell his
property, turn everything into money, so that he
could settle in France. What will he find left of his
Valerie? adust-heap. Pshaw! it will be his fault
and not mine, why didn't he come back sooner?
Perhaps he has been shipwrecked too, like my
virtue* "

"Adieu, my dear," said Lisbeth abruptly; "we



COUSIN BETTE 165

won't live apart any more. I love you and esteem
you, and I am yours! My cousin has been tor-
menting me to go and live in your house that is to
be, on Rue Vanneau ; I wouldn't do it, for I guessed
the cause of his sudden kindness "

"Yes, you were to keep an eye on me, I know
that," said Madame Marneffe.

"That's just the reason of his generosity,"
rejoined Lisbeth. "In Paris most benefactions are
speculations, just as most ingratitude is revenge!
One treats a poor relation like the rats to whom
one gives a bit of bacon. I will accept the baron's
offer, for this house has become hateful to me.
Surely we both have wit enough to know how to
hold our tongues as to what would injure us, and to
say what ought to be said ; so, no indiscretion, and
a friendship "

"That will stand any test! " cried Madame
Marneffe joyfully, delighted to have a defensive
weapon, a confidante, a sort of virtuous aunt
"Look you! the baron is doing things handsomely
on Rue Vanneau "

"I should say so," replied Lisbeth, "he has laid
out thirty thousand francs! Deuce take me, if I
know where he got them, for Josepha, the singer,
drained him dry. Oh! you have fallen on your
feet," she added. "The baron would steal for the
woman who holds his heart between two little soft,
white hands like yours."

"Well, then, my love," rejoined Madame Marneffe,
with the courtesan's sense of security, which is but



166 THE POOR RELATIONS

recklessness, "just take everything here that will
look well in your new lodgings the commode, the
mirrored- wardrobe, the carpet, the hangings "

Lisbeth's eyes dilated with frantic delight; she
dared not believe in the reality of such a gift

"Why, you do more for me in one moment than
my rich relations in thirty years! " she cried.
"They never so much as asked me if I had any
furniture! At his first visit, a few weeks since,
the baron made a rich man's grimace at sight of my
poverty. But, I thank you, my love, I will be worth
all this to you; later you will see how! "

Valerie accompanied her cousin Bette to the stair-
case where the two women kissed each other.

"How her breath smells! " said the pretty
creature to herself when she was alone; "I'll not
kiss my cousin very often ! However, I must take
care and humor her, and she'll be very useful to
me, she'll put me in a way to make my fortune."

Like a true Parisian Creole, Madame Marneffe
abhorred exertion ; she was as easy-going as a cat, an
animal that never runs or hurries, unless driven to
it by necessity. In her eyes life should be all
pleasure, and the pleasure obtainable without
trouble. She loved flowers, provided that someone
sent them to her. She could not conceive of a the-
atre party without a good box all to herself, and a
carriage to go and come. These courtesan's tastes
Valerie inherited from her mother, who was over-
whelmed with presents by General Montcornet dur-
ing his sojourns at Paris, and who had seen all the



COUSIN BETTE 167

world at her feet for twenty years; being very
extravagant she squandered everything, consumed
everything, in the luxurious mode of life of which
the secret has been lost since the fall of Napoleon.
The grandees of the Empire rivaled, in their
vices, the great noblemen of a former time. Under
the Restoration the nobility never forgot that they
had been whipped and despoiled; and so, barring
two or three exceptions, they had become economical,
virtuous, provident, commonplace in a word, and
utterly devoid of grandeur. Later, 1830 consum-
mated the work of 1793. In France, henceforth,
there will be great names, but no more great fam-
ilies, except in the event of political upheavals,
difficult to forecast Everything bears the stamp of
personal character. The fortune of the wisest is
ephemeral. The family has been destroyed.

The powerful embrace of the distress which was
gnawing at Valerie's heart on the day when,
according to her husband's expression, she made
Hulot, had determined that young woman to use
her beauty as a means of making her fortune. So
it was that she had felt for some days the necessity
of having with her, in her mother's place, a devoted
friend to whom she might confide what she ought
not to confide to her maid, and who might go and
come, and act and think for her, an fame damn'ee in
short, who would consent to an unequal division of
the good things of life. Now she had divined, as
had Lisbeth herself, the baron's purpose in conclud-
ing an alliance between them. Being counseled



168 THE POOR RELATIONS

thereto by the redoubtable wit of the Parisian Cre-
ole, who passes her time lying at full length upon a
couch, turning the lantern of her observation into
all the dark corners of men's hearts and emotions
and schemings, she had conceived the plan of making
an accomplice of the spy. Probably her appalling
candor was premeditated; she had detected the real
nature of this excitable old maid, so passionate over
trifles, and wished to make a friend of her. Thus
this conversation was like the stone the traveler
throws into a chasm to ascertain its depth. And
Madame Marneffe was dismayed to find an lago and
Richard III. combined in this apparently weak,
humble, and by no means alarming, person.



In an instant Cousin Bette was herself once
more; in an instant that wild Corsican nature,
having broken the feeble bonds which held it down,
once more stood threateningly erect, as the branch
of a tree escapes from the hands of the child who
pulls it down to him to steal the green fruit.

To every student of social questions, the abund-
ance, the perfection and the rapid succession of
ideas in virgin natures will always be objects of
admiration.

Virginity, like all abnormal things, has a special
richness, an absorbing grandeur of its own. Life,
the forces of which are expended economically, has
taken on in the virgin nature a quality of incalcula-
ble resistance and endurance. The brain is
enriched in the sum total of its reserved faculties.
When undefiled creatures have occasion to call upon
their bodies or their minds, when they resort to
action or to thought, they find at such times that
their muscles are of steel, that their intellects are
infused with sagacity, and they are conscious of a
diabolic strength or the black magic of will.

In this view the Virign Mary, considered for a
moment simply as a symbol, by her grandeur casts
in the shade all the Hindoo, Greek, or Egyptian
types. Virginity, mother of great things, magna
parens rerum holds in her lovely white hands the
(169)



170 THE POOR RELATIONS

key to the worlds above. In short, this grand and
exalted exception deserves all the honors which the
Catholic Church has conferred upon it

In a moment then, Cousin Bette became the
Mohican, whose snares cannot be avoided, whose
dissimulation is impenetrable, whose swift decision
is based upon the incredible perfection of his
organs. She was the personification of uncompro-
mising hate and revenge, as they exist in Italy, in
Spain and the East These two emotions, which
have twice the force of friendship, or of love in
their most extreme form, are known only in coun-
tries bathed by the sun. But Lisbeth was first of
all a child of Lorraine, that is to say, bold in de-
ception.

She did not willingly assume this last part of her
r61e; she attempted to do a singular thing, the
result of her profound ignorance. She had the
same idea of a prison that all children have, she
confounded solitary confinement with imprison-
ment Solitary confinement is the superlative
degree of imprisonment, and is a prerogative of
the criminal tribunals.

j When she left Madame Marneffe, Lisbeth hurried
to Monsieur Rivet's and found him in his office.
i "Well, my dear Monsieur Rivet," said she, after
she had turned the key in the office-door, "you were
right; these Poles! they're canaille faithless,
lawless people, all of them."

"People who would like to set Europe on fire,"
said the pacific Rivet, "ruin all sorts of trade and



COUSIN BETTE 17!

traders for a country which is all swamp, they say,
and filled with disgusting Jews, to say nothing of
the Cossacks and peasants, varieties of wild beasts
wrongly classed with the human race. These Poles
misunderstand the present age. We are no longer
savages ! War is dying out, my dear young lady,
it vanished with the kings. Our time isthetri-/
umph of commerce, industry and the middle-class
shrewdness which made Holland what she is.
Yes," he continued, warming to his subject, "we
live in an age when the nations are sure to obtain
everything by the lawful development of their lib-
erties, and by the pacific working of constitutional
institutions ; that's just what the Poles know nothing
about, and I hope You were saying, my dear?"
he added, breaking off his sentence, as he saw by
his workgirl's expression that his lofty political
flights were beyond her comprehension.

"Here are the papers," said Bette; "if I don't
want to lose my three thousand two hundred and
ten francs I must put that rascal in prison. "

"Aha! I told you so!" cried the oracle of the
Saint-Denis quarter.

The Rivet establishment, successor to Pons
Brothers, was still located on Rue des Mauvaises-
Paroles, in what was once the Langeais mansion,
built by that illustrious family in the days when
the great noblemen were grouped about the Louvre.

"For that reason I blessed you as I came along! "
replied Lisbeth.

"If he has no suspicion he'll be in limbo at four



172 THE POOR RELATIONS

o'clock in the morning," said the magistrate, con-
sulting his almanac to ascertain the hour of sunrise;
"but not until day after to-morrow, for we can't im-
prison him without notifying him that application
has been made for a warrant of arrest, with extra-
judicial notice of the time fixed. And so "

"What an idiotic law," said Cousin Bette, "for
the debtor will run away."

"He has a right to do so," said the magistrate
with a smile. "So, look, this is the way "

"As for that, I will take the paper," said Bette
interrupting him. "I'll hand it to him and say that
I have been compelled to raise money and that the
lender demanded that formality. I know my Pole;
he won't even unfold the paper, but will light his
pipe with it!"

"Ah! not bad! not bad, Mademoiselle Fischer!
Very well, don't be afraid; the affair will be put
through in haste. But one moment ! to shut a man
up isn't the whole of it; that judicial luxury is
only resorted to in order to get at his money. Who
will pay you?"

"They who give him money."

"Oh yes! I forgot that the Minister of War has
commissioned him to make the monument to be
erected to one of our customers. Ah ! the house has
furnished many a uniform for General Montcornet,
he soon blackened them in the smoke of the cannon !
What a gallant fellow! and he paid promptly! "

Though a marshal of France may have saved the
Emperor or his country, " he paid promptly " will



COUSIN BETTE 173

always be his warmest eulogy in the mouth of a
tradesman.

"Well, Monsieur Rivet, on Saturday you shall
have your flat tassels. By the way, I am leaving
Rue du Doyenne, and am going to live on Rue
Vanneau."

"You are doing wisely, it has pained me to see
you in that hole, which dishonors, yes! notwith-
standing my distaste for anything resembling oppo-
sition, I dare to say that it dishonors the Louvre
and the Place du Carrousel. I adore Louis-Phil-
lippe, he is my idol, he is the august and perfect
type of the class upon which he has founded his
dynasty, and I shall never forget what he has done
for the gol^-lace trade by reorganizing the National
Guard"

"When I hear you talk in that way," said Lis-
beth, "I wonder why you aren't a deputy."

"They distrust my attachment to the dynasty,"
rejoined Rivet, "my political foes are the King's.
Ah! he's a noble character, it's a fine family; in
short," he continued, resuming his argument,
"he's our ideal; morals, economy, everything!
But the "completion" of the Louvre was one of the
conditions on which we gave the crown, and the
Civil List, to which no limit of time was fixed,
leaves, I admit, the heart of Paris in a shocking
state. Just for the reason that I am juste milieu
myself I would like to see the middle of Paris in a
different condition. Your neighborhood makes one
shudder. You'd have been murdered there some day



174 THE POOR RELATIONS

By the way, your Monsieur Crevel is appointed
major of his legion ; I hope we shall furnish his new
epaulettes."

"I dine there to-day, and I will send him to you."
Lisbeth thought that she would have her Livonian
all to herself, flattering herself that she was about
to cut off all communication between him and the
world. The artist, as he would cease to work,
would be forgotten, like a man buried in a cavern,
where she alone would go to see him. She had two
days of bliss before her, for she hoped to deal a
deadly blow at the baroness and her daughter.

To reach Monsieur Crevel's house on Rue des Saus-
sayes, she went by the Pont du Carrousel, Qua!
Voltaire, Quai d'Orsay, Rue Bellechass^, Rue de
rUniversite", Pont de la Concorde, and Avenue de
Marigny. This illogical route was marked out for
her by the logic of the passions, which are always
bitterly hostile to the legs. So long as she was on
the quays Cousin Bette walked very slowly, gazing
at the right bank of the Seine. Her reckoning was
accurate. She had left Wenceslas dressing, and
she reasoned that as soon as he was rid of her, the
lover would go to the baroness's by the shortest
road. Indeed, just as she was walking along the
parapet of Quai Voltaire, devouring the stream
with her gaze, and walking in imagination on the
other bank, she recognized the artist as he came
through the wicket of the Tuileries garden on his
way to the Pont Royal. She overtook her faithless
one there, and was able to follow him unseen, for



COUSIN BETTE 175

lovers rarely turn; she followed him as far as
Madame Hulot's house and saw him go in like a
frequent visitor.

This last proof, which confirmed Madame
Marneffe's confidential statements, drove Lisbeth
to frenzy.

She reached the abode of the newly-chosen major,
in that state of mental irritation which leads to
murder, and found Pere Crevel in his salon, await-
ing the arrival of his children, Monsieur and
Madame Hulot junior.

But Celestin Crevel is so perfect and outspoken a
representative of the Parisian parvenu, that it is
difficult to enter the dwelling of this fortunate suc-
cessor of Cesar Birotteau without some ceremony.
Celestin Crevel is a whole world in himself; and
he deserves, more than Rivet, the honors of the
palette, because of the important part he plays in
this domestic drama.

Have you noticed how prone we are in childhood,
or in the beginnings of social life, to fashion a
model for ourselves with our own hands, often with-
out our own volition? For instance, a clerk in a
banking-house, as he enters his employer's salon,
dreams of possessing a similar salon himself. If he
prospers, the magnificence that will sit enthroned
under his roof twenty years later will not conform to
the fashions then in vogue, but to the old-fashioned
magnificence which caught his fancy years before.
Nobody knows all the absurd performances attribut-
able to this retrospective jealousy, just as nobody



1 76 THE POOR RELATIONS

knows how many idiotic acts are due to the unac-
knowledged rivalry which impels men to copy the
pattern they have set themselves, to expend their
strength to attain the emptiness of moonshine.
Crevel was deputy-mayor because his employer had
been deputy-mayor; he was a major because he had
envied Csar Birotteau's epaulettes. In like man-
ner, impressed as he had been, by the marvellous
creations of the architect Grindot at the time when
fortune had carried his employer to the top of the
wheel, Crevel, as he expressed it, didn't think
twice about it, when he came to furnish his own
apartments; he applied, with eyes closed and purse
open, to Grindot, then altogether forgotten. We
cannot tell how long extinct celebrities may live
on, when upheld by belated admirers.

Grindot thereupon started in for the thousandth
time on one of his white and gold salons hung with
red damask. The violet-wood furniture, carved
without delicacy, as are the carvings of to-day, had
aroused in the province a just pride in Parisian
handicraft at the time of the Exposition of industrial
products. The candelabra, the sconces, the fender,
the chandelier, the clock, were all in the rocaille
style. The round table, immovably fixed in the
centre of the salon, had a marble top inlaid with all
varieties of Italian and antique marbles brought
from Rome, arranged in a sort of mineralogical map,
strongly resembling a tailor's samples, and which
periodically excited the admiration of all the good
bourgeois whom Crevel invited to his house. The



COUSIN BETTE 177

portraits of the late Madame Crevel, of Crevel, of his
daughter and his son-in-law, products of the pencil
of Pierre Grassou, the favorite painter with the
bourgeoisie, to whom Crevel owed his absurd By-
ronic attitude, were hung in couples upon the walls.
The frames, which cost a thousand francs each,
were quite in harmony with all this restaurant-like
splendor, which would surely have made a true
artist shrug his shoulders in disdain.

Never did wealth lose the slightest occasion to
exhibit its stupidity. We might reckon up ten
Venices in Paris to-day if our retired merchants had
the instinctive appreciation of great things which
distinguishes the Italians. Even in our days a Mil-
anese merchant bequeaths five hundred thousand
francs to the Duomo to gild the colossal Virgin which
crowns its cupola. Canova, in his testament, en-
joins upon his brother to build a church worth
four millions, and the brother adds something of
his own.

Would a citizen of Paris and they all have, like
Rivet, love for their Paris at the bottom of their
hearts ever think of building the spires which are
lacking on the towers of Notre-Dame? Just reckon
up the sums that revert to the State for lack of heirs.
All the much-needed embellishment of Paris might
have been completed for the money expended upon
absurdities in cardboard statuary, gilded pasteboard,
miscalled sculptures, during the past fifteen years
by individuals of the genus Crevel.

At the end of the salon was a smaller room

12



178 THE POOR RELATIONS

magnificently furnished with tables and cabinets in
imitation of Boulle.

The bed-room, with chintz hangings and chintz-
covered furniture, also opened into the salon. Ma-
hogany, in all its glory, held sway in the dining-
room, where the walls were adorned with Swiss
landscapes, handsomely framed. Pere Crevel, who
dreamed of a trip to Switzerland, was determined to
own that country in the form of paintings until such
time as he should visit the reality. Crevel, a for-
mer deputy-mayor, decorated, and an officer in the
National Guard, had, as we see, faithfully repro-
duced all the grandeur, even in the way of furni-
ture, of his unfortunate predecessor. Where the
one had fallen, under the Restoration, the other,
altogether forgotten, had risen, not by any mere
freak of fortune, but by the force of events. In
revolutions, as in tempests at sea, the solidly built
vessels go to the bottom, while objects of little


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