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deprived of that position with the fall of the legiti-
mate monarchy, had three children. The eldest,
already a notary's clerk, was the especial object of



COUSIN BETTE 235

the adoration of the Oliviers. This Benjamin, over
whose head hung the threat of being forced to
become a soldier for six years, was about to see his
brilliant career rudely interrupted, when Madame
Marneffe procured his exemption from military ser-
vice for one of those defects in physical conforma-
tion, which the councils of revision had no difficulty
in discovering, when a request to that effect was
whispered in their ears by some ministerial power.
Olivier, once a whipper-in in the employ of Charles
X., and his wife, would therefore have nailed Jesus
to the cross again for Baron Hulot and Madame
Marneffe.

What could the world say, to whom the earlier
episode of the Brazilian, Monsieur Montes de Mon-
tejanos, was unknown? Nothing. Moreover, the
world is full of indulgence for the mistress of a salon
where people enjoy themselves. Madame Marneffe
in addition to all her charms possessed the advan-
tage, highly-valued, of being an occult power. For
instance, Claude Vignon, recently appointed sec-
retary to the Marechal Prince de Wissembourg, and
who dreamed of being admitted to the Council of
State in the capacity of master of requests, was a
frequenter of her salon, whither came, also, several
deputies, who were good fellows and gamblers.
Madame Marneffe's circle was formed with judic-
ious moderation ; it consisted only of people whose
opinions and morals were in accord, who were
interested in upholding each other and in proclaim-
ing the infinite merit of the mistress of the house.



236 THE POOR RELATIONS

Complicity in vice remember this axiom is the
true Holy-Alliance, in Paris. Worldly interests
always end by breaking asunder; vicious people
always understand each other.

In the third month of her residence on Rue Van-
neau, Madame Marneffe had received Monsieur
Crevel, who had forthwith become mayor of his
arrondissement, and officer of the Legion of Honor.
He hesitated long; it was a question of laying aside
the famous uniform of the National Guard in which
he was accustomed to strut about at the Tuileries,
imagining himself as great a soldier as the Emperor ;
but ambition, counseled by Madame Marneffe, was
stronger than vanity. Monsieur le Maire deemed
his liaison with Mademoiselle H61o!se Brisetout
altogether incompatible with his political elevation.
Long before his accession to the civic throne of the
mayoralty his amours were wrapped in profound
mystery. But Crevel, as may be imagined, had
purchased the right to take his revenge for the
abduction of Josepha, as often as he could, by a
certificate for a yearly revenue of six thousand
francs, in the name of Valerie Fortin, wife of Mon-
sieur Marneffe, from whom she was living apart
Valerie, who was endowed, by her mother perhaps,
with the species of genius peculiar to the kept-mis-
tress, divined at a glance the character of this gro-
tesque adorer. The remark: "I have never known
a woman in good position !' ' made by Crevel to Lis-
beth, and by Lisbeth repeated to her dear Valerie, en-
tered largely into her calculations in the transaction



COUSIN BETTE 237

to which she owed her income of six thousand
francs in the five per cents. Since then she had
never allowed her prestige to suffer any diminution
in the eyes of Cesar Birotteau's former traveling
salesman.

Crevel had married, for money, the daughter of a
miller of La Brie, an only child, whose inheritance
made up three-fourths of his fortune, for retail shop-
keepers, in the majority of cases, acquire wealth
not so much in their business, as by an alliance
between the shop and the results of rural thrift. A
great number of farmers, millers, milk-dealers, and
husbandmen in the outskirts of Paris dream of the
glories of the counting-room for their daughters, and
see in a retail shopkeeper, a jeweler, or a money-
changer, a son-in-law much more after their heart
than a notary or an attorney, whose social elevation
gives them a feeling of uneasiness; they are afraid
of being looked down upon later, by these more
eminent members of the middle-class. Madame
Crevel, a very vulgar and foolish person, and far
from beautiful, died seasonably, having afforded her
husband no other enjoyment than that of being a
father. At the outset of his commercial career this
rake, held in check by the demands of his business,
and restrained by lack of means, played the role of
Tantalus. Having relations, as he expressed it,
with the most fashionable ladies in Paris, he would
bow them out of his shop with the effusive courtesy
of the shopkeeper, filled with admiration of their
grace, their manner of wearing the latest styles,



238 THE POOR RELATIONS

and all the unnameable effects of what is called race.
To raise himself to the level of one of these salon
fairies, was a longing formed in his youth, and held
in subjection in his heart To obtain favors from
Madame Marneffe therefore was not only to endow
his chimera with life, but it was with him a matter
of pride, of vanity, of self-esteem, as we have seen.
His ambition was intensified by success. His head
was enormously exalted, and when the head is cap-
tivated, the heart feels the effect, and the enjoy-
ment is increased tenfold. Moreover Madame
Marneffe led Crevel into paths of investigation of
which he had no suspicion, for neither Josepha nor
He"Ioise had ever loved him, while Madame Marneffe
deemed it necessary to thoroughly deceive this man,
in whom she saw an inexhaustible treasure-chest
The cajoleries of purchased love are more charming
than the real thing. True love is quite consis-
tent with bitter quarrels, wherein one or other is
wounded to the quick ; but the quarrel in jest is,
on the other hand, a caress bestowed upon the self-
esteem of the dupe. The infrequency of his inter-
views served to maintain Crevel's desire at the
level of ardent passion. He was forever jostling
against the virtuous sternness of Valerie, who would
feign remorse, and talk about what her father must
think of her in the paradise of heroes. There was
a sort of coldness to overcome, and the sly creature
would make him believe that he had triumphed over
it, by making a show of yielding to his mad pas-
sion; but the next moment, as if ashamed, she



COUSIN BETTE 239

would reassert the pride of a respectable woman,
resume her virtuous airs, for all the world like an
Englishwoman, and would crush her Crevel be-
neath the weight of her dignity, for Crevel had at
first willingly believed her virtuous.

In short, Valerie possessed certain specialties in
the matter of gallantry, which rendered her indis-
pensable to Crevel as well as to the baron. In
presence of the world she displayed the fascinating
combination of modest and dreamy innocence,
irreproachable respectability, and wit heightened
by refinement and the charming manners of the
Creole ; but, in a te'te-a-te'te, she excelled the cour-
tesans themselves; she was mischievous, amus-
ing, fertile in inventions. This contrast is vastly
agreeable to a man of the Crevel stamp ; he is flat-
tered at the thought that he is the sole author of the
comedy, he believes that it is played for his sole
benefit, and he laughs at the charming hypocrisy,
while he admires the clever actress.

Valerie had taken possession of Baron Hulot in a
wondrous way; she had compelled him to grow old
by a bit of sly flattery, which will perhaps serve to
depict the diabolical cunning of women of her type.
In generously endowed organizations there comes a
time when, as in a besieged city which long makes
a brave resistance, the real condition of affairs de-
clares itself. As she foresaw the approaching dis-
solution of the old beau of the Empire, Valerie
deemed it advisable to hasten it

"Why do you put yourself to so much trouble.



240 THE POOR RELATIONS

my old grumbler ? ' ' said she, some six months
after their clandestine and doubly- adulterous union.
"Can it be that you have pretensions elsewhere?
would you like to be unfaithful to me? For my
own part, I should like you much better if you
( didn't paint Sacrifice these borrowed charms of
yours to my wish. Do you think that the two
sous' worth of varnish on your boots, your rubber
belt, your corsets and your false forelock are what
I love in you? And then, too, the older you are the
less fear I shall have of my Hulot being stolen from
me by a rival ! ' '

Believing, therefore, as implicitly in the divine
friendship as in the love of Madame Marneffe, with
whom he expected to pass the rest of his life, the
Councilor of State followed the advice of his privy
councilor by ceasing to dye his whiskers and hair.
After he had received from Valerie this touching
declaration, the tall and handsome Hector made his
appearance one fine morning as white as snow.
Madame Marneffe easily satisfied her dear Hector
that she had seen, a hundred times, the white line
at the roots of his hair.

"White hair suits your face admirably," said
she, as she looked him over; "it tones it down;
you are infinitely handsome, you are lovely."

Once started in this direction the baron finally
discarded his leather waistcoat and his corsets, and
got rid of all his paraphernalia. His paunch fell
into place, and obesity declared itself. The oak
became a tower, and the heaviness of his movements



COUSIN BETTE 241

was the more appalling in that the baron had
really aged prodigiously in playing the r61e of
Louis XII. The eyebrows remained black, and
vaguely reminded one of the once handsome Hulot,
as in the ruins of certain old feudal walls, some
trifling detail of carving remains to show what the
castle was in its prime. This incongruity rendered
the still keen and youthful glance all the more
extraordinary in that sallow face, where flesh-tints
a la Rubens had flourished so long ; because one
could detect there, by dint of sundry livid marks,
and in the depth of the wrinkles, the struggles of a
passion in rebellion against nature. Hulot at this
time was one of those grand human ruins where
virility still gives token of its presence by the tufts
of hair in the ears and nose, and on the fingers,
producing the effect of the moss that grows upon the
almost immortal monuments of the Roman Empire.
How had Valerie succeeded in keeping Crevel
and Hulot under her roof side by side, when the
vindictive major was determined to achieve a noto-
rious triumph over Hulot? Without answering
this question at once, for it will be solved as the
drama proceeds, we may remark that Lisbeth and
Valerie, between them, had invented a prodigious
machine, whose powerful agency assisted in bring-
ing about that result. Marneffe, when he saw how
his wife shone in the surroundings amid which she
was enthroned, like the sun of a stellar system,
appeared, in the eyes of the world, to have experi-
enced a renewal of his passion for her, he had gone
16



242 THE POOR RELATIONS

mad over her. If this jealousy made Monsieur
Marneffe a kill-joy, it imparted an extraordinary
value to Valerie's favors. Marneffe nevertheless
exhibited a confidence in his chief, which degener-
ated into a meekness of demeanor that was almost
laughable. The only person who aroused his
resentment was no other than Crevel.

Marneffe, ruined by those varieties of debauchery
peculiar to great capitals, described by the Roman
poets, and for which our modern sense of decency
has no name, had become as hideous as an ana-
tomical wax-figure. But this walking pestilence,
dressed in the finest of broadcloth, crawled along
upon shriveled legs encased in trowsers of the latest
style. The wrinkled breast was swathed in the
whitest of perfumed linen, and the fetid odors of
human decay were smothered with musk. This
ghastly spectacle of expiring vice, with red heels to
his shoes, for Valerie had dressed Marneffe in con-
formity with her means, with his decoration and
his office, terrified Crevel, who found it difficult
to meet the deputy-chief's white eyes. Marneffe was
the mayor's nightmare. When he became conscious
of the extraordinary power Lisbeth and his wife had
conferred upon him, the miserable villain derived
I keen enjoyment from it, and played upon it as upon
a musical instrument; and as the gambling tables in
the salon were the last resource of his mind, which
was as worn out as the body that contained it, he
plucked Crevel, who thought it best to deal gently
with the respectable official, whom he was deceiving !



COUSIN BETTE 243

When he saw that Crevel cut so poor a figure
with this hideous and despicable mummy, whose
corruption was a secret to the worthy mayor, and
more especially when he saw how utterly Valerie
despised him, for she laughed at Crevel as one
laughs at a clown, the baron probably deemed him-
self so secure from all rivalry that he constanly
invited him to dinner.

Valerie, under the protection of these two pas-
sions on sentry duty at her sides, and of a jealous
husband, attracted every eye, and kindled a flame
in every breast, in the circle in which she shone.
Thus, while keeping up appearances, she had suc-
ceeded, in about three years, in fulfilling the most
difficult conditions of the success to which courtesans
aspire, and which they so rarely attain, with the
assistance of scandal, their own audacity, and the
public notoriety of their lives. Like a well-cut
diamond superbly set by Chanor, Valerie's beauty,
once buried in the mine of Rue du Doyenne, was
worth more than its real value ; it made people un-
happy ! Claude Vignon loved her secretly.

This retrospective explanation, a necessary evil
when we meet people again after an interval of
three years, is Valerie's balance-sheet, as it were.
Now let us glance at that of her partner Lisbeth.

In the Marneffe household Cousin Bette occupied
the position of a relation who performed the dual
functions of companion and housekeeper; but she
knew nothing of the twofold humiliation to which,
in most cases, the poor creatures are subjected who



244 THE POOR RELATIONS

are so unfortunate as to accept such equivocal posi-
tions. Lisbeth and Vale'rie presented the touching
spectacle of one of those friendships, which are so
strong and so little likely to be formed by women,
that the Parisians, who always know too much,
immediately make scandalous remarks about them.
The contrast between the cold, masculine nature of
the Lorrainer, and Valerie's sprightly Creole tem-
perament helped to give color to the calumny.
Moreover, Madame Marneffe had unwittingly fur-
nished material to the gossips, by the care she took
of her friend, in the interest of a certain matrimonial
project, which was destined, as we shall see, to
complete Lisbeth's vengeance. A tremendous rev-
olution had taken place in Cousin Bette; Vale'rie,
who insisted upon dressing her, had derived the
greatest benefit from it The eccentric old maid,
now in the clutches of the corset, displayed a slen-
der figure; she consummated her submission by
wearing bandoline upon her glossy hair, she ac-
cepted her dresses as they were sent to her from
the dressmaker, and wore stylish boots and gray
silk stockings, all of which, by the way, were in-
cluded by the dealers in Valerie's account and paid
for by whom it may concern. Thus resto/ed,
although still dressed in yellow cashmere, Bette
would have been unrecognizable to one who had
met her after these three years. A black diamond,
rarest of all diamonds, cut by a skilful hand, and
mounted in an appropriate setting, she was appre-
ciated at her full value by certain aspiring clerks.



COUSIN BETTE 245

One who saw Bette for the first time would shudder
involuntarily at sight of the wild poetic beauty
which Valerie had cleverly brought into strong relief
by humanizing this savage nun through the agency
of the toilette, by artfully framing, with broad bands
of ribbon, the sharp, olive-skinned face, in which
shone a pair of eyes that matched the hair in black-
ness, and by making the most of the rigid form.
Like one of Cranach's or Van Eyck's Virgins, or
like a Byzantine Virgin, that had left its frame,
Bette retained the rigidity, the symmetry of those
mysterious figures, cousins-german to Isis and other
divinities reared upon pedestals by the Egyptian
sculptors. She was a walking mass of granite,
basalt, porphyry. Free from want for the rest of
her days, Bette was always in charming humor,
and carried joviality with her, wherever she went
to dine. The baron moreover paid the rent of her
little suite, furnished, as we have seen, with the
cast-off goods and chattels of Valerie's boudoir and
bed-room.

"Having begun life," said she, "like a famished
goat, I am ending it like a lioness."

She continued to do the most difficult bits of lace-
work for Monsieur Rivet, simply, as she said, to
avoid wasting her time. And yet her life was, as
we shall see, very fully occupied; but it is in the
nature of those who come from the country never to
abandon their means of livelihood, in which respect
they resemble the Jews.

Every morning at daybreak, Cousin Bette went



246 THE POOR RELATIONS

herself to the great market, with the cook. In
Bette's scheme, the account-book, which ruined
Baron Hulot, was to enrich her dear Valerie, and so
it did in fact

What mistress of a household has not, since 1838,
felt the disastrous effects of the antisocial doctrines
spread among the lower classes by incendiary
writers? In every household the servant evil is
the most painful of all pecuniary evils. With
very few exceptions, and they deserve the Montyon
prize, a cook, male or female, is a domestic thief,
an insolent, paid thief, to whom the government
obligingly holds itself out as a receiver of the booty,
thus smoothing the path to theft, which is almost
authorized in respect of cooks by the old jest
faire danser I'anse du panier, "to make the handle
of the basket dance" said of cooks who receive
commission on the provisions they buy.

Where these women formerly asked for forty
sous to buy a lottery-ticket, they take to-day fifty
francs for the savings-bank. And the cold-blooded
Puritans, who amuse themselves by making philan-
thropic experiments in France, believe that they have
made us a moral people ! Between the table of the
householder and the market these people have estab-
lished a secret tariff of their own, and the city of Paris
is not so skilful in collecting its entry dues, as they
are in collecting their duties upon everything. In
addition to the fifty per cent which they add to the
cost of the supplies for the kitchen, they exact
handsome presents from the dealers. The most



COUSIN BETTE 247

eminent tradesmen tremble before this occult power ;
they pay what it demands, without a word ; every-
body, carriage-makers, jewelers, tailors, etc. If
anyone undertakes to watch them, the servants
retort with insolence, or with the no less costly
inanities of pretended confusion; to-day they seek
information concerning the masters, as the masters
used to do concerning them. The evil, which has
in very truth reached its height, and against which
the courts are beginning to take stern measures,
but to no purpose, will not disappear until a law be
passed which will require hired domestic servants
to have a workman's certificate. Then the evil will
cease as by enchantment. Every servant being
compelled to produce his certificate, and the masters
being compelled to indorse thereon the cause of dis-
missal, the present demoralization would certainly
meet with a vigorous check. Those people who are
occupied with the important political questions of
the moment, have no idea to what lengths the de-
pravity of the lower classes at Paris has gone ; it is
on a par with the jealousy by which they are con-
sumed. Statistics are silent as to the appalling
number of young workmen of twenty who marry
cooks of forty or fifty, made rich by theft One
shudders to think of the result of such unions from
the three-fold point of view of criminality, degenera-
tion of the race, and unhappy households. As for
the purely financial evil resulting from these thefts
by servants, it is enormous from a political stand-
point The two-fold increase in the cost of living



248 THE POOR RELATIONS

debars many households from all luxuries. Lux-
uries ! they make the half of international com-
merce, even as they are the refining element of
life. Books and flowers are as necessary as bread,
to many people.

Lisbeth, who was well aware of this terrible
ulcer of Parisian households, was thinking of under-
taking the management of Valerie's establishment,
when she promised her her support, in the terrible
scene when they swore to be as sisters to each
other. She sent for a relation on her mother's side,
from the heart of the Vosges, once cook for the
Bishop of Nancy, a pious old maid and honest to
the last degree. Fearing, however, her lack of
experience of Paris, and especially the evil counsels
which make a wreck of so much weak-kneed loy-
alty, Lisbeth always went with Mathurine to the
great market, and tried to teach her how to buy.
To know the actual price of articles in order to
secure the dealer's respect, to live on unsubstantial
dishes, such as fish, for example, when they are
cheap, to be posted as to the market value of articles
of food, and to foresee a rise in price so as to pur-
chase cheaply, this housekeeper's instinct is most
essential to domestic economy in Paris. As Mathu-
rine received good wages, as she was overwhelmed
with presents, she liked the place well enough to
exult over good bargains. So it was that for some
time past she had rivaled Lisbeth herself, who con-
sidered her sufficiently-well instructed and reliable
to go alone to the market except on days when



COUSIN BETTE 249

Valerie was to have company, which, by the way,
happened quite frequently. This is the reason.
The baron began by maintaining the strictest deco-
rum ; but his passion for Madame Marneffe became
in a short time so ardent and so exacting, that he
wished to be separated from her as little as possible.
After dining there at first four times a week, he
thought it would be delightful to take his dinner
there every day. Six months after his daughter's
marriage, he began to pay two thousand francs a
month under the name of board. Madame Marneffe
invited those persons whom her dear baron desired
to entertain. The dinner-table was always laid for
six, as the baron might bring three friends unex-
pectedly. Lisbeth, by her thrifty ways, solved the
difficult problem of keeping up the table handsomely
for a thousand francs a month and giving a thousand
francs to Madame Marneffe. As Valerie's toilette
was paid for, in great measure, by Crevel and the
baron, the two friends found it possible to lay aside
a thousand-franc note each month on account of that
item. Thus this pure, innocent creature possessed
at this time about a hundred and fifty thousand
francs that she had saved. She had capitalized her
income and her monthly perquisites, and had added
enormously to them, thanks to the generosity with
which Crevel admitted the capital of his little duchess
to a share in his successful financial operations.
Crevel had initiated Valerie into all the slang of the
Bourse and the methods of speculation; and like all
Parisian women she speedily became more skilful



2$0 THE POOR RELATIONS

than her master. Lisbeth, who did not spend a sou
of her twelve hundred francs, whose rent and dresses
were paid for, who never took a sou from her pocket,
also possessed a little capital of five to six thousand
francs which Crevel, with fatherly interest, invested
for her.



Nevertheless, the baron's love and Crevel's were
a heavy burden for Valerie. On the day when the
story of this drama recommences, excited by one of
those events which perform in life the function of
the bell, at the stroke of which the bees begin to
swarm, Valerie had gone up to Lisbeth's room to
indulge in one of those lengthy plaints, emitted
languidly, as women smoke cigarettes, to soothe
their petty miseries.

"Lisbeth, my love, this morning two hours of
Crevel to endure ; it's murderous ! Oh ! how I wish
I could send you in my place! "

"Unfortunately that cannot be," said Lisbeth
with a smile. "I shall die a virgin."

"To think of belonging to these two old men!
there are times when I am ashamed of myself! Ah!
if my poor mother could see me! "

"You mistake me for Crevel," said Lisbeth.


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