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"Tell me, dear little Bette, that you do not de-
spise me?"

"Aha! if I had been pretty I would have had
adventures ! " cried Lisbeth. "There's your justifi-
cation."

"But you would have listened to your heart
only," said Madame Marneffe, with a sigh.

"Bah!" replied Lisbeth; "Marneffe is a dead
(251)



2$2 THE POOR RELATIONS

man they've forgotten to bury, the baron is like a
husband to you, Crevel is your adorer ; I look upon
you, like all women, as being perfectly unexcep-
tionable."

"No, my dear, adorable girl, it isn't that that
causes my sorrow; you don't choose to understand
me"

"Oh! indeed I do!" cried the Lorrainer; "for
what's understood is part of my vengeance. What
would you have? I am at work at it"

"To love Wenceslas till I fairly lose flesh over
it, and not to be able to succeed in seeing him!"
said Valerie stretching out her arms. "Hulot sug-
gests to him to dine here and my artist refuses!
The monster of a man doesn't know how I idolize
him! What's his wife? a pretty piece of flesh!
yes, she is lovely but I, I know what 1 am ; I am
worse!"

"Never fear, my little girl, he will come," said
Lisbeth, in the tone a nurse might use to an impa-
tient child, "I wish him to "

"But when?"

"This week perhaps."

"Let me kiss you."

As will be seen, the two women were but one;
, all Valerie's acts, even the most giddy, her pleas-
ures, her fits of pouting, were decided upon after
mature deliberation between them.

Lisbeth, strangely moved by this courtesan's life,
advised Valerie in everything, and followed the
course of her vengeance with a pitiless logic. She



COUSIN BETTE 253

adored Valerie too, she had taken her for her daugh-
ter, her friend, her love; she found in her the
obedience of the Creole, the pliability of the volup-
tuary; she chatted with her every morning with
more pleasure than with Wenceslas; they could
laugh at their mutual mischievousness, at the folly
of men, and reckon up together the growing interest
of their respective treasures. Furthermore Lisbeth
had found in her undertaking and in her new friend-
ship a much more extensive field for activity than
in her absurd love for Wenceslas. The pleasures
of satisfied hate are the keenest, the dearest to
the heart Love is, as it were, the gold, and hate
the iron of the mine of sentiments which exists
within us. Lastly Valerie offered to Lisbeth, in all
its glory, the beauty she adored as one adores what-
ever one does not possess ; beauty much more man-
ageable than that of Wenceslas, who had always
been cold and insensible to her.

After nearly three years Lisbeth was able to
mark the progress of the subterranean mine upon
which she was expending her life, and to which
she was devoting all her intelligence. Lisbeth did
the thinking, Madame Marneffe the acting. Madame
Marneffe was the axe, Lisbeth the hand that guided
it, and that hand was hewing down, with oft-repeated
blows, the family that became more hateful to it
from day to day, for one's hate increases just as
one loves more and more every day, when one is
in love. Love and hate are sentiments which feed
upon themselves; but of the two hate is the



254 THE POOR RELATIONS

longer-lived. Love is circumscribed by its limited
forces, it derives its power from life and prodigality;
hate resembles death, or avarice it is in a cer-
tain sense an active abstraction, above beings and
'things. Lisbeth, having entered upon an existence
which was congenial to her, unfolded all her facul-
ties ; she reigned after the manner of the Jesuits,
an unseen power. The regeneration of her per-
son was complete. Her face was radiant Lis-
beth dreamed of becoming Madame la Marechale
Hulot

This scene, in which the two friends bluntly
spoke out their every thought without mincing mat-
ters, took place just after Lisbeth's return from the
market, where she had been to procure the mate-
rials for a dainty dinner. Marneffe, who coveted
the office of Monsieur Coquet, was entertaining him
with the virtuous Madame Coquet, and Valerie
hoped to negotiate through Hulot for the resigna-
tion of the chief of the bureau that very evening.
Lisbeth dressed to go to the baroness's, where she
was to dine.

"You will come back to pour the tea for us, my
Bette?" said Valerie.

"I hope so"

"What ! you hope so ? Have you got to the point
of sleeping with Adeline so as to drink her tears
while she's asleep?"

"If I only could!" replied Lisbeth with a laugh,
"I wouldn't say no. She is paying for her good
luck, and I am happy, for I remember my childhood



COUSIN BETTE 255

Everyone in her turn. She will be in the gutter,
and I shall be Comtesse de Forzheim ! "

Lisbeth bent her steps toward Rue Plumet,
whither she had been in the habit of going for some
time, as one goes to the theatre, to feast upon
emotion.

The apartments selected by Hulot for his wife
consisted of a large and high antechamber, a
salon and a bed-room with dressing-room. The
dining-room adjoined the salon at the side. Two
servant's chambers and a kitchen, on the third
floor, completed the suite, which was not unworthy
of a Councilor of State and director in the War De-
partment The house itself, the courtyard and the
staircase were majestic. The baroness, being
obliged to furnish her salon, bed-room and dining-
room, with the remnants of her former splendor,
had selected the best from among the ruins at the
mansion on Rue de 1'Universite. Indeed the poor
woman loved these dumb witnesses of her past hap-
piness ; in their very silence there was an eloquence
that helped to comfort her. In her memory she
caught glimpses of bright flowers, just as she could
distinguish in the faded carpets, the roses that were
hardly visible to others.

Upon entering the immense reception-room, where
a dozen chairs, a barometer, a tall stove and long
white calico curtains trimmed with red, recalled the
dreary antechambers of the government depart-
ments, one's heart was fairly wrung ; one instinct-
ively felt the loneliness of the life this woman was



256 THE POOR RELATIONS

living. Grief, like pleasure, creates an atmosphere
of its own. The first glance at the interior of a
house is enough to tell us whether love or despair
rules therein. We should find Adeline in an enormous
bed-room, furnished with handsome pieces manu-
factured by Jacob Desmalters, in spotted mahogany
embellished with ornaments dating from the Empire,
those bronzes which succeeded in being colder than
Louis the Sixteenth's brasses! And we should
shudder to see her sitting in a Roman armchair, in
front of the sphinxes that adorned a work-table, her
color all gone, feigning a deceitful air of cheerful-
ness, and retaining her imperial bearing, as she had
retained the blue velvet dress she wore at home.
Her proud heart sustained her body and kept her
beauty from fading. At the end of her first year in
this abode, the baroness had drunk the cup of
unhappiness to the dregs.

"In bestowing me here, my Hector has made life
even more pleasant for me than it should be for a
simple peasant-girl," she said to herself. "He
wishes me to live thus: his will be done! lam
Baroness Hulot, sister-in-law to a marshal of
France; I have never done the slightest wrong, my
two children are settled in life, and I can await
death, wrapped in the spotless veil of my wifely
purity, in the crpe of my vanished happiness."

The portrait of Hulot in the uniform of commis-
sary-general of the Imperial Guard, painted by
Robert Lefebvre in 1810, hung above the work-
table, where on the announcement of a visitor,



COUSIN BETTE 257

Adeline would close the Imitation of Christ, which
was her ordinary reading. This irreproachable
Madeleine heard also the voice of the Holy Spirit
in her desert

"Mariette, my girl," said Lisbeth to the cook
who opened the door for her, "how's my dear
Adeline?"

"Oh! very well, so far as appearances go, ma-
demoiselle ; but, between you and me, if she goes on
as she's going now she'll kill herself," said Mari-
ette in Lisbeth's ear. "Really you ought to per-
suade her to live better. Yesterday madame made
me give her in the morning two sous' worth of milk
and a little one-sou loaf ; for dinner a herring or a little
cold veal, and told me to cook a pound of it for the
week, when she dines alone here, of course. She
won't spend but ten sous a day on her food. That
isn't reasonable. If I should tell monsieur le mare-
chal of this fine scheme of hers, he might have a
row with monsieur le baron and disinherit him ; but
you, you're so good and clever, you can arrange
things "

"Well, why don't you speak to my cousin the
baron?" said Lisbeth.

"Ah! my dear young lady, it's about twenty or
twenty-five days since he was here, indeed he
hasn't been here since we saw you last! And then
madame told me never to ask monsieur for money
or she'd send me away. But when you talk about
suffering ah! poor madame has suffered! It's the
first time monsieur has forgotten her so long.
17



258 THE POOR RELATIONS

Every time anyone rang she'd run to the window,
but for the last five days she doesn't leave her
chair. She reads! Whenever she goes to see
madame la comtesse she says to me; 'Mariette,'
says she, 'if monsieur comes tell him I'm at home
and send the concierge for me; he shall be well
paid for his run.' "

"Poor cousin! " said Bette, "it breaks my heart
I speak of her to my cousin every day. What can
I do? He says: 'You're right, Bette, I'm a miser-
able wretch; my wife's an angel, and I'm a mon-
ster! I'll go to-morrow.' And he stays at
Madame Marneffe's. That woman is ruining him
and he adores her ; he fairly lives by her side. For
my part, I do what I can ! If I weren't there, if I
hadn't Mathurine with me, the baron would have
spent twice what he has; and, as he has almost
nothing, perhaps he would have blown his brains
out before this. And mark my words, Mariette,
Adeline would die if her husband died, I'm sure.
At all events I try to make both ends meet and to
keep my cousin from wasting too much money. "

"Ah! that's what poor madame says; she knows
how much she owes you," said Mariette; "she said
thr.t she misjudged you for a long time "

"Aha! " said Lisbeth. "She didn't say anything
else?"

"No, mademoiselle. If you want to please her,
talk to her about monsieur ; she thinks you're very
lucky to see him every day. "

"Is she alone?"



COUSIN BETTE 259

"No, the marshal's here. Oh! he comes every
day and she always tells him that she saw monsieur
in the morning and that he comes home very late
at night"

"Is there a good dinner to-day? " queried Bette.

Mariette was hesitating how to answer, and seek- >
ing to avoid the Lorrainer's eye, when the door of
the salon opened and Marechal Hulot rushed out in
such haste that he bowed to Bette without looking
at her, and dropped a piece of paper. Bette picked
up the paper and ran out to the stairs, for it was
useless to cry out to a deaf man ; however, she took
good care not to overtake the marshal, but soon
returned and furtively read what follows, written
in pencil:

"MY DEAR BROTHER : My husband gave me money for
the quarter's expenses ; but my daughter Hortense needed it
so sadly that I loaned her the whole amount, which was
hardly enough to relieve her embarrassment. Can you loan
me a few hundred francs? for I don't want to ask Hector
again for the money; a reproach from him would cut too deep."

"Aha!" thought Lisbeth, "what extremity can
she be in now that she has subdued her pride to
this point?"

She entered the salon, surprised Adeline weeping
and threw herself upon her neck.

"Adeline, my dear child, I know all ! " said
Cousin Bette. "See, the marshal dropped this
paper, he was so excited; he was running like a
greyhound. That wretched Hector hasn't given
you any money since ? "



260 THE POOR RELATIONS

"He gives it to me very promptly," replied the
baroness, "but Hortense needed it, and "

"And you hadn't the means of buying dinner for
us," interrupted Bette. "Now I understand Mari-
ette's embarrassment, when I spoke about the soup.
You are acting like a child, Adeline! Come, let me
give you my savings."

"Thanks, dear Bette," Adeline replied, wiping
away a tear. "This little pinch is only temporary,
and I have provided for the future. My expenses
after this will be twenty-four hundred francs a year,
including rent, and I shall have them. Above all
things, Bette, not a word to Hector. Is he well ? "

"Oh! as the Pont Neuf! he's as gay as a lark,
and thinks of nothing but his little witch of a
Valerie."

Madame Hulot was gazing at a tall silver pine
which she could see from her window, and Lisbeth
was unable to read anything of what her cousin's
eyes might express.

"Did you remind him that it was the day when
we were all to dine together here? "

"Yes; but, pshaw! Madame Marneffe gives a
large dinner, and hopes to arrange for Monsieur
Coquet's resignation ! and that takes precedence of
everything. Adeline, listen to me: you know my
disposition, how fierce I am in the matter of being
independent Your husband, my dear, will certainly
ruin you* I thought I might possibly be of service
to all of you under that woman's roof, but she is a
creature whose depravity goes beyond all bounds,



COUSIN BETTE 26 1

and she will obtain things from your husband that
will put him in a fair way to disgrace you all."

Adeline started like one who receives a dagger-
thrust in the heart

"But I tell you I am sure of it, my dear Adeline.
I must try to enlighten you. Let us think of the
future! The marshal is old, but he will live a long
while, and he has a handsome salary ; his widow,
if he should die, would have a pension of six thous-
and francs. With that sum I would undertake to
provide for you all. Use your influence with the
good old man to make a match between us. It isn't
for the sake of being Madame la Marechale; I care
as little for such trifles as for Madame Marneffe's
conscience; but you will all have bread. I see that
Hortense must be in want of it, as you give her
yours."

The marshal made his appearance at this junc-
ture ; the old soldier had run so fast that he was
wiping his forehead with his silk handkerchief.

"I handed two thousand francs to Mariette," he
said in his sister-in-law's ear.

Adeline blushed to the roots of her hair. Two
tears trembled on her still long eye-lashes, and
she silently pressed the hand of the old man, whose
face shone with the joy of a happy lover.

"I intended to make you a present of that money,
Adeline," he continued; "instead of returning it to
me, do you select whatever you would like best"

He took the hand Lisbeth held out to him and
kissed it, so distraught was he by his delight



262 THE POOR RELATIONS

"That is promising," said Adeline to Lisbeth,
with something as near a smile as she could com-
mand.

At that moment the younger Hulot and his wife
arrived.

"Does my brother dine with us?" asked the
marshal sharply.

Adeline took a pencil and wrote these words upon
a little square of paper :

"I expect him; he promised me this morning to
dine here ; but if he doesn't come the marshal must
have detained him, for he is overburdened with
business."

Then she handed him the paper. She had in-
vented this method of conversing with the marshal,
and a supply of small square pieces of paper and a
pencil were placed upon her work-table.

"I know," rejoined the marshal, "that he is over-
burdened with work on Algerian affairs."

Hortense and Wenceslas entered at this moment,
and when she saw all her family about her, the
baroness cast a glance at the marshal, the meaning
of which was understood by Lisbeth alone.

Good fortune had considerably improved the
artist, who was adored by his wife, and petted by
the world. His face had become almost full, his
graceful figure brought out in relief the advantages
that blood confers on all true noblemen. His pre-
mature renown, his eminent position, the deceitful
praise which the world tosses to artists, as care-
lessly as we say "good morning," or talk about the



COUSIN BETTE 263

weather, gave him that consciousness of his own
importance, which degenerates into fatuity, when
the talent disappears. The cross of the Legion of
Honor put the finishing touch, in his own eyes, to the
great man he believed he had become.

After three years of married life Hortense and her
husband were like a dog and its master; she fol-
lowed his every movement with a look which
resembled a question, she kept her eyes constantly
fixed upon him, like a miser on his hoard, she
touched one's heart by her admirable self-abnega-
tion. In her behavior could be seen the spirit and
the counsel of her mother. Her beauty, still as
great as ever, was for the moment clouded, poetically
clouded, by the soft shadows of hidden melancholy.

As she watched her cousin's entrance Lisbeth
thought that the lamentation, long held in check,
was about to break through the fragile envelope of
discretion. Since the early days of the honey-
moon it had seemed to her that the revenues of the
young couple were too slender to support so great a
passion.

As she kissed her mother, Hortense exchanged
with her from lip to ear and from heart to heart a
few words, whose secret was betrayed to Bette by
sundry shakings of their heads.

"Adeline is going to work for her living like
me," thought Cousin Bette. "I propose that she
shall let me know what she does. So at last those
pretty fingers will know, as mine do, what enforced
work means."



264 THE POOR RELATIONS

At six o'clock the family went to the dining-
room. A cover was laid for Hector.

"Let it stay!" said the baroness to Mariette;
"monsieur sometimes comes late."

"Oh! father will come," said the younger Hulot
to his mother; "he promised me when he left us at
the Chamber."

Lisbeth, like a spider in the centre of its web,
kept an eye on all the faces about her. Having
known Hortense and Victorin from their birth, their
faces were to her like glass through which she could
read what was taking place in their young hearts.
By certain covert glances that Victorin cast in his
mother's direction, she was convinced that some
disaster was likely to befall Adeline, and that
Victorin hesitated to make it known. The eminent
young advocate was sad at heart His deep venera-
tion for his mother was manifest in the sorrowful
expression with which he glanced at her. Hortense
was evidently absorbed in her own troubles ; for a
fortnight Lisbeth had known that she was suffering
from the first anxiety that lack of money brings to
honest people, to young wives on whom life has
always smiled, and who conceal their suffering.
And so Cousin Bette instantly divined that the
mother had given nothing to her daughter. So the
fastidious Adeline had descended to the falsehoods
which want suggests to borrowers. Hortense's pre-
occupation and her brother's, and the profound sad-
ness of the baroness made the dinner a melancholy
affair, especially if we consider the inevitable



COUSIN BETTE 265

constraint caused by the old marshal's deafness.
Three persons contributed to the animation of
the occasion, Lisbeth, Celestine and Wenceslas.
Hortense's affection had developed in the artist the
natural animation of the Pole, the Gascon quickness
of wit, the good-natured boisterousness characteristic
of those Frenchmen of the North. His state of mind
and the expression of his face were enough to make
it plain that he believed in himself, and that poor
Hortense, faithfully following her mother's advice,
concealed all her domestic afflictions.

"You ought to be very happy," said Lisbeth to
her younger cousin as they left the table; "your
mamma helped you out of your difficulty by giving
you her money."

"Mamma!" replied Hortense in amazement.
"Oh! poor mamma; money, to me who would
gladly make some for her! You don't know, Lis-
beth, but I have a dreadful suspicion that she is
working in secret"

They were then walking across the immense
dark, unlighted salon, following Mariette, who car-
ried the lamp, from the dining-room to Adeline's
bed-room. At that moment Victorin touched Lis-
beth's arm and Hortense's; both of them, under-
standing the meaning of the touch, left Wenceslas,
Celestine, the marshal and the baroness to go to the
bed-room, and remained standing together in a
window-recess.

"What is it, Victorin ? " said Lisbeth. "I'll bet
it's some trouble caused by your father."



266 THE POOR RELATIONS

"Alas! yes," Victoria replied. "A money-lender
named Vauvinet holds father's notes of hand for
sixty thousand francs, and means to proceed against
him ! I tried to talk to father about the wretched
affair at the Chamber, but he pretended not to un-
derstand me, and almost avoided me. Shall we tell
mother?"

"No, no, " said Lisbeth, "she has too much trouble
now, you would give her her death-blow; we must
be very careful what we say to her. You don't
know what a plight she's in; but for your uncle
you would have had no dinner here to-day."

"Oh! my God, Victorin, we are monsters," said
Hortense; "Lisbeth has to tell us what we ought to
have guessed. My dinner chokes me! "

Hortense did not finish; she put her handkerchief
over her mouth to stifle a sob and wept

"I told this Vauvinet to come and see me to-mor-
row," continued Victorin, "but will he be content to
accept me as a guarantor ? I don't think it Those
people want cash in order to sweat people with
their usurious rates of discount"

"Let us sell our property," said Lisbeth to Hor-
) tense.

' "What would that amount to? fifteen or sixteen
thousand francs," rejoined Victorin, "and we must
have sixty thousand ! "

"Dear cousin!" cried Hortense, embracing Lis-
beth with the enthusiasm of a pure heart

"No, Lisbeth, keep your little fortune," said
Victorin, after pressing the Lorrainer's hand. "I



COUSIN BETTE 267

shall see to-morrow what the fellow has in his bag.
If my wife consents, I will find a way to prevent,
or delay his proceedings; for to see father's reputa-
tion assailed ! why, it would be frightful. What
would the Minister of War say? Father's salary,
which was assigned for three years, won't be free
until December; so we can't offer that as security.
This Vauvinet has renewed the notes eleven times,
so you can judge of the sum father has paid in
interest! We must close up that hole."

"If Madame Marneffe would only leave him, "
said Hortense bitterly.

"God forbid!" said Victorin. "Father might
then go elsewhere, and there the most considerable
expenses have already been incurred."

What a change in children formerly so respectful,
and whom their mother had so long maintained in
absolute admiration of their father! they had
already passed judgment upon him.

"If it weren't for me," said Lisbeth, "your father
would be more nearly ruined than he is."

"Let us go back to the others," said Hortense;
"mamma is very sharp, she will suspect something,
and, as dear Lisbeth says, we must keep it all from
her let's seem to be in good spirits! "

"Victorin, you have no idea where your father is
carrying you all with his passion for women," said
Lisbeth. "Think about making sure of sufficient
means for yourselves by making a match between
the marshal and me. You must all speak to him
about it this evening; I will go early on purpose."



268 THE POOR RELATIONS

Victoria entered the bed-room.

"Well, my poor little dear," whispered Lisbeth
to her second cousin, "how will you get along?"

"Come and dine with us to-morrow, and we will
talk it over," replied Hortense. "1 don't know
which way to turn ; you are acquainted with the
difficulties of life, you will advise me."



While the whole family were endeavoring to
preach marriage to the marshal, and while Lisbeth
was returning to Rue Vanneau, there occurred there
one of those catastrophes which stimulate the energy
of vice in women like Madame Marneffe, by forcing
them to bring into play every resource of perversity.
Let us bear in mintl, however, this constant fact:
life is too fully occupied in Paris for vicious people
to do evil by instinct; they defend themselves,
with the aid of vice, against aggression, that's all.

Madame Marneffe, whose salon was filled with
her faithful subjects, had just started the whist
tables, when the footman, a retired soldier lured
into her service by the baron, announced :

"Monsieur le Baron Montes de Montejanos."

Valerie's heart gave a violent bound, but she
darted quickly to the door, crying :

"My cousin! "

And when she reached the Brazilian's side she


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