Honoré de Balzac.

Scenes of Parisian life (Volume 3) online

. (page 16 of 23)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacScenes of Parisian life (Volume 3) → online text (page 16 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

whispered in his ear :

"Be my cousin, or everything is at an end be-
tween us! Well, well, Henri," she continued
aloud, leading the Brazilian to the fireplace, "so
you weren't shipwrecked as they told me you were?
I have wept for you three years."

"How are you, my dear fellow," said Marneffe


extending his hand to the Brazilian, whose costume
was that of a genuine Brazilian millionaire.

Monsieur le Baron Henri Montes de Montejanos,
to whom the equatorial climate had imparted the
physique and coloring which we attribute to the
Othello of the play, was rather a forbidding person-
age, on account of his sombre expression, but the
effect was purely plastic; his disposition was in
reality excessively gentle and affectionate and made
him the predestined victim of the arts weak women
practice upon strong men. The disdainful expres-
sion of his face, the muscular development to which
his well-knit figure bore witness, all his physical
strength was exhibited only toward men, a bit of
flattery aimed at the ladies, and which they relish
so keenly, that men with their mistresses on their
arms assume all the swaggering airs of the Mata-
moras of the old Spanish comedies. With his superb
figure, set off to perfection by a blue coat with but-
tons of solid gold, and black trowsers, his feet en-
cased in shoes of the finest leather immaculately
polished, gloved in the latest fashion, the baron had
nothing of the Brazilian about him save a huge dia-
mond worth about a hundred thousand francs, which
shone like a planet on a rich cravat of blue silk,
framed by a white waist-coat, cut so as to afford a
glimpse of a shirt of fabulously fine linen. His
forehead, bulging like a satyr's, a sign of persist-
ence in passion, was surmounted by an abundance
of jet black hair as thick as a primeval forest, be-
neath which gleamed two bright eyes, so wild in


expression as to lead one to think that the baron's
mother must have been frightened by a jaguar while
she was enceinte.

This magnificent example of the Portuguese-
Brazilian race stood with his back to the fireplace,
in an attitude which disclosed his familiarity with
Parisian ways; and, hat in hand, his arm resting
on the velvet-covered sofa, he stooped over Madame
Marneffe in order to talk with her in an undertone,
paying very little heed to the dreadful bourgeois,
who, according to his idea, were very much in the
way in the salon.

The Brazilian's appearance on the scene, his atti-
tude and expression caused two exactly similar
spasms of curiosity mingled with distrust, in the
breasts of Crevel and the baron. Both of them had
the same foreboding and expressed it in the same
way, and the antics inspired by these two real pas-
sions became so comical, because of their absolute
coincidence in time, that they caused those persons
to smile who were intelligent enough to understand
the revelation contained therein. Crevel, always
and under all circumstances the narrowed-minded
shopkeeper, although he was a Mayor of Paris, un-
luckily remained in position longer than his col-
league, so that the baron was enabled to seize, as it
were in passing, upon his involuntary revelation.
This was one more shaft in the heart of the amorous
old fellow, who determined to have an explanation
with Valerie.

"This evening," Crevel also was saying to


himself, while arranging his cards, "we must make
an end of this "

"You have a heart!" Marneffe cried, "and you
have just renounced hearts."

"Ah! I beg your pardon," said Crevel, trying to
take back his card. "This baron seems to me
very much in the way," he continued to himself.
"Let Valerie live with my baron, that's part of my
revenge, and I know how to get rid of him ; but this
cousin! he's one baron too many; I don't choose to
be gulled, and I propose to find out how he's related
to her!"

That evening, by one of those lucky chances
which fall to the lot of none but pretty women,
Valerie was ravishingly arrayed. Her white breast
glistened beneath guipure lace of a russet shade
which showed off to the best advantage the satin
whiteness of the lovely shoulders, characteristic of
the fair Parisians, who succeed by what process
no one knows! in retaining a beautiful skin and at
the same time remain slender. She was dressed in
a black velvet gown, which seemed ready to slip
from her shoulders at any moment, and her head-
dress was of lace interspersed with grape blossoms.
Her arms, which were dainty and plump at the
same time, emerged from elbow sleeves ruffled with
lace. She resembled luscious fruit, attractively
arranged on a plate, and which makes the knife
blade fairly itch.

"Valerie," said the Brazilian in her ear, "I have
come back faithful to you ; my uncle is dead, and I


am twice as rich as I was when I went away. I
mean to live and die in Paris, with you and for you. "

"Speak lower, Henri! for pity's sake!"

"Bah ! if I have to throw all these people through
the window, I propose to talk with you to-night,
especially after I have wasted two days hunting for
you. I shall be the last to go, shall 1 not?"

Valerie smiled at her pretended cousin.

"Remember," said she, "that you are the son of
my mother's sister, who married your father during
Junot's campaign in Portugal."

"I, Montes de Montejanos, great-grandson of one
of the conquerors of Brazil, lie! "

"Lower, or we shall never meet again "

"Why not, pray?"

"Marneffe, like all dying men, who always take
it into their heads to long for something, has con-
ceived a passion for me "

"That cur? " said the Brazilian who knew his
Marneffe of old; "I'll buy him off"

"How violent you are! "

"Aha ! where did you get all these fine things ? "
said the Brazilian, noticing at last the sumptuous
furnishings of the salon.

She began to laugh.

"What wretched form, Henri ! " said she.

She had received two glances inflamed with jeal-
ousy, which penetrated so far as to compel her to
look at the two souls in torment. Crevel was play-
ing against the baron and Monsieur Coquet, with
Marneffe for his partner. The sides were evenly


matched because of the distracted state of mind of
Crevel and the baron, who piled error upon error.
The two amorous old men confessed, in a twinkling,
the passions Valerie had succeeded in making them
hide for three years ; but she was utterly unable to
extinguish in her eyes the reflection of her happi-
ness at seeing once more the man who first made
her heart beat, the object of her first love. The
rights of such fortunate mortals are as long-lived as
the women over whom they have acquired them.

Between these three despotic passions, one rely-
ing upon the insolence of wealth, another upon the
right of possession, the third upon youth, strength,
fortune and priority, Madame Marneffe remained as
calm and self-possessed as General Bonaparte, when
at the siege of Mantua he had to make head against
two armies seeking to continue the blockade of the
place. Jealousy, playing over Mulct's features,
made them as terrible to look upon as the late Mare-
chal Montcornet leading a cavalry charge upon a
Russian square. In his capacity of squire of dames
the Councilor of State had never known jealousy,
just as Murat never knew fear. He had always
deemed himself certain of triumph. His setback in
the case of Josepha, the first in his life, he attrib-
uted to greed of gold ; he said to himself that he was
beaten by a million of money, and not by an abor-
tion, speaking of the Due d'Herouville. The poison
and the frenzy, which that unreasoning sentiment
produces in torrents, went surging through his heart
in an instant He turned from the whist-table to


the fire-place by dint of contortions a la Mirabeau,
and when he laid down his cards to cast an aggres-
sive glance at Valerie and the Brazilian, the hab-
itues of the house felt that thrill of fear mingled
with curiosity, naturally caused by the conscious-
ness that an ebullition of violence is momentarily
threatened. The pretended cousin looked at the
Councilor of State as he might have examined
a bulky Chinese vase. This state of things
could not last; it must end in a terrible explosion.
Marneffe feared Baron Hulot as much as Crevel
feared Marneffe, for he had no desire to die a
deputy-chief. The moribund believes in life as
galley-slaves believe in liberty. This man was
determined to be chief of his bureau at any price.
Justly alarmed by the pantomime indulged in by
Crevel and the Councilor of State, he rose and said
a word in his wife's ear; to the vast astonishment
of the assemblage, Valerie walked into her bed-room
with the Brazilian and her husband.

"Did Madame Marneffe ever mention that cousin
to you?" Crevel asked Baron Hulot

"Never!" replied the baron as he rose from the
table. "Enough for this evening," he added; "I
have lost two louis and there they are."

He tossed two gold pieces on the table, and took
his seat upon the divan with an expression which
everybody interpreted as notice to quit Monsieur
and Madame Coquet, having exchanged a word or
two, left the salon, and Claude Vignon, in despair,
followed their example. Their departure gave the


signal to the less intelligent guests, who saw that
they were in the way. The baron and Crevel alone
remained behind, without speaking a word. Hulot,
who was so excited that he did not see Crevel,
walked on tiptoe to the door of the bed-room to lis-
ten, and gave a tremendous leap backward when
Monsieur Marneffe opened the door and appeared
with serene countenance, apparently amazed to find
only two persons.

"What about the tea ? " said he.

"Where is Valerie ? ' ' rejoined the baron furiously.

"My wife," replied Marneffe; "why she has
gone up to mademoiselle your cousin, who has just

"Why has she left us planted here, for the sake
of that stupid goat? "

"Why," said Marneffe, "Mademoiselle Lisbeth
came home from the baroness's, your wife's, with
an attack of indigestion, and Mathurine came and
asked Valerie for tea, so she went up to see what
was the matter with mademoiselle, your cousin. ' '

"And her cousin? "

"He's gone!"

"Do you believe that? " queried the baron.

"I put him in his carriage, " said Marneffe, with a
hideous smile.

The rumbling of a carriage was heard on Rue
Vanneau. The baron, looking upon Marneffe as a
cipher, left the room and went up to Lisbeth 's
apartments. There passed through his brain one
of those thoughts which the heart sends thither


when it is on fire with jealousy. Marneffe's despic-
able character was so well known to him that he
imagined the most scandalous connivance between
the husband and wife.

"What has become of all the ladies and gentle-
men?" asked Marneffe, finding himself alone with

"When the sun goes to rest, the barn-yard does
likewise," was the reply; "Madame Marneffe dis-
appeared, her adorers took their leave. Suppose
we play a game of piquet, ' ' added Crevel, who was
determined to remain.

He also believed the Brazilian to be in the house.
Monsieur Marneffe accepted. The mayor was as
shrewd as the baron; he could stay on indefinitely
playing with the husband, who, since the suppres-
sion of public gaming-houses, had to content himself
with the petty, insignificant game played in society.

Baron Hulot ran rapidly up to his cousin Bette's
room ; but he found the door locked and the cus-
tomary questions and answers through the door con-
sumed enough time to allow two active and tricky
women to arrange the spectacle of indigestion killed
by tea. Lisbeth was in such pain, that she inspired
in Valerie the keenest anxiety ; and so Valerie hardly
noticed the baron's tempestuous entrance. Illness
is one of the screens which women most frequently
interpose between themselves and the stormy gusts
of a quarrel. Hulot furtively looked all about, and
failed to detect in Cousin Bette's bed-room any suit-
able place to conceal a Brazilian.


"Your indigestion, Bette, is very complimentary
to my wife's dinner," he said, as he scrutinized
the old maid, who played her part marvelously well,
and tried to imitate the convulsive gurgling of the
stomach as she swallowed her tea.

''See how lucky it is that dear Bette is living
with me! If it weren't for me the poor girl would
die " said Madame Marneffe.

"You look as if you believe that I am perfectly
well," said Lisbeth to the baron, "and that would
be an outrage. ' '

"Why?" asked the baron; "so you know the
cause of my visit ? ' '

And he peeped at the door of a dressing-room from
which the key had been taken.

"Are you talking Greek? " rejoined Madame
Marneffe with a heartrending expression of unap-
preciated affection and fidelity.

"Why it's on your account, my dear cousin ; yes,
it's your fault that I'm in the state you see me in, ' '
said Lisbeth vehemently.

This exclamation changed the current of the
baron's thoughts, and he stared at the old maid in
profound amazement.

"You know whether I am fond of you, ' ' continued
Lisbeth; "I am here, that tells the whole story. I
am wearing my life out looking after your interests in
caring for those of our dear Valerie. It doesn't cost
one-tenth as much to run her house as it does to
run any other house that is kept up like hers. If
it weren't for me, cousin, you would have to turn


in three or four thousand francs a month instead of
two thousand.

"I know all that," retorted the baron testily;
"you protect our interests in many ways, ' ' he added,
returning to Madame Marneffe and putting his arm
about her neck, "doesn't she, my dear little love? "

"Upon my word," cried Valerie, "I believe
you're mad! "

"Very well, you don't doubt my attachment to
you," said Lisbeth; "but I love my cousin Adeline
too, and I found her in tears. She hasn't seen you
for a month! No, that isn't to be allowed. You
leave poor Adeline without money. Your daughter
Hortense nearly died when she learned that it was
due to your brother that we had any dinner to eat!
There wasn't a crust in your house to-day ! Adeline
has made the heroic resolve to be sufficient unto
herself. 'I will do as you do!' she said to me.
Those words made my heart ache so, that, after
dinner, as I sat thinking of what my cousin was in
1811 and what she is in 1841, thirty years after!
my digestion stopped. I tried to fight down the
pain, but when I reached home I thought I was
dying ' '

"You see, Valerie, how far my adoration for you
carries me! to commit crimes against my own

"Oh! 1 did well to remain an old maid! " cried
Lisbeth with savage delight "You are a kind-
hearted good man, Adeline's an angel, and this is
the reward of blind devotion."


"An old angel! " said Madame Marneffe, casting
a glance, half tender, half mocking, at her Hector,
who was eyeing her as a magistrate eyes a sus-
pected criminal.

"Poor woman!'* said the baron. "Here it is
more than nine months since I gave her any money,
but I find some for you Valerie, and at what a price !
No one else will ever love you as I do, and what
unhappiness you cause me in return! "

"Unhappiness! " she repeated. "Pray, what do
you call happiness then? "

"I don't know yet what your relations may have
been with this pretended cousin, whom you have
never mentioned to me," continued the baron,
without noticing the words let fall by Valerie.
"But when he came in I felt something like a knife-
thrust in my heart However blinded I may be I
am not blind. I read what was said by your eyes
and his. In short that monkey's eyes shot sparks
which fell in a shower upon you, and your look
Oh! you never looked at me so, never! But this
mystery will be cleared up, Valerie. You are
the only woman who ever taught me what jealousy
means, so don't be surprised at what I say to you.
But another mystery which has burst its shell, and
which seems to me infamous "

"Go on ! go on ! " said Valerie.

"Is that Crevel, that mass of flesh and idiocy,
loves you, and that you receive his attentions
kindly enough for the donkey to have exhibited his
passion to everybody "


"And number three ? Did you notice no others ? ' '
queried Madame Marneffe.

"There may be others! " said the baron.

"If Monsieur Crevel loves me, he's within his
rights as a man ; if I should look favorably on his
passion it would be the act of a coquette or else of
a woman to whom you leave many things to be
desired. Well, love me with my faults, or leave
me. If you give me back my liberty, neither you
nor Monsieur Crevel will come here again. I will
take my cousin in order not to lay aside the charm-
ing habits you give me credit for. Adieu, Monsieur
le Baron Hulot"

She rose, but the Councilor of State seized her
arm and forced her to sit down again. The old man
could not replace Valerie now, she had become a
necessity to him, more imperious than the necessaries
of life, and he preferred to remain in uncertainty
than to obtain the slightest proof of Valerie's in-

"My dear Valerie," said he, "don't you see what
I suffer ? I only ask you to justify yourself. Give
me good reasons "

"Very well, go and wait for me below, for I pre-
sume you don't care to be present at the various
ceremonies your cousin's condition necessitates."

Hulot slowly withdrew.

"You old rake," cried Cousin Bette, "so. you
don't even ask for news of your children ? What
will you do for Adeline? In the first place, I shall
carry her my savings to-morrow."


"One ought at least to supply his wife with
wheaten bread," said Madame Marneffe with a

The baron, without taking offense at the tone
assumed by Lisbeth, who bullied him as roughly as
Josepha, left the room like a man overjoyed to
avoid an embarrassing question.

The key was no sooner turned in the lock than
the Brazilian left the dressing-room, where he was
waiting, and appeared with his eyes filled with
tears, in a pitiable state. He had evidently heard all.

"You no longer love me, Henri! I see that," said
Madame Marneffe, hiding her face in her handker-
chief and bursting into tears.

It was the cry of true love. A woman's noisy
despair is so persuasive that it extorts the forgive-
ness which lies waiting in the hearts of all lovers,
when the woman is young, pretty, and so dfaolletee
that she could readily emerge from her dress, at the
top, in the costume of Eve.

"But why don't you leave everything for me, if
you love me?" demanded the Brazilian.

The American, after the manner of all men born
where nature still reigns, as he put his arm around
Valerie's waist, at once took up the conversation at
the point where he had dropped it

"Why? " said she, raising her head and subju-
gating Henri with a love-saturated glance. "Why,
my pet, I am married; we are in Paris, and not
among the savannas, the pampas, the solitudes of
America. My dear Henri, my first and only love,


pray listen to me. This husband of mine, a simple
deputy-chief in the War Department, is ambitious
to be chief of bureau and officer of the Legion
of Honor; can I prevent him from having that am-
bition ? Now, for the same reason that he left us
two entirely alone it was nearly four years ago, do
you remember, bad boy? Marneffe to-day forces
Monsieur Hulot upon me. I cannot rid myself of
this horrible functionary who breathes like a seal
and has whiskers in his nostrils, who is sixty-three
years old, and has aged ten years in three by trying
to be young, who is so hateful to me that on the
day after Marneffe becomes chief of bureau and
officer of the Legion of Honor "

' ' How much will that be worth to your husband ? "

"A thousand crowns."

"I'll pay him that sum for life," said Baron
Montes; "let us leave Paris and go "

"Where?" said Valerie with one of those be-
witching pouts with which women defy men of
whom they are sure. "Paris is the only city where
we can live happily. I depend too much upon your
love to care to see it grow less when we are living
alone in some desert; Henri, you are the only man
I love in the universe; write that on your tiger's

Women invariably convince men of whom they
have made sheep that they are lions and have an
iron will.

"Now, listen to what I say! Monsieur Marneffe
hasn't five years to live; he is tainted to the very


marrow of his bones ; he spends seven months out
of the twelve drinking drugs and potions, and he
lives in flannel ; in a word, he is liable to be mowed
down at any moment, so the doctor says ; a sick-
ness that would amount to nothing for a sound man
would be fatal to him, for his blood is corrupt, the
vital principle is undermined. For five years I
have refused to let him kiss me once, for the man
is the plague in person ! Some day, and that day
is not far distant, I shall be a widow; when that
day comes, I, who have already been sought by a
man with an income of sixty thousand francs, and
who have him under my control as completely as I
have this piece of sugar, I swear to you that if you
were a pauper like Hulot, a leper like Marneffe, and
if you should beat me, I would have you for my
husband, for you are the only man I love and whose
name I choose to bear, and I am ready to give you
all the pledges of love you wish "

"Well, then, this evening "

"But, child of Rio, my superb jaguar, who has
left the primeval forests of Brazil for my sake,"
said she, taking his hand and kissing and caressing
it, "pray have a little respect for a creature you
would make your wife. Shall I be your wife,

"Yes," said the Brazilian, vanquished by the
unbridled volubility of her passion.

And he knelt at her feet

"Look you, Henri," said Valerie taking both his
hands and gazing earnestly into his eyes, "will you


swear to me here, in the presence of Lisbeth, my
best and only friend, my sister, that you will take
me for your wife at the end of my year of widow-

"I swear it"

"That's not enough! swear by your mother's
ashes and her everlasting salvation, swear by the
Virgin Mary and your hopes as a good Catholic! "

Valerie knew that the Brazilian would keep that
oath even if she should have fallen to the bottom of
the foulest social pest-hole. He took the solemn
oath, with his nose almost touching Valerie's white
breast, and with fascinated eyes; he was drunk
with passion, as one is drunk upon meeting again
the woman one loves, especially after a voyage of
a hundred and twenty days !

"Very good; now have no fear. Respect in
Madame Marneffe the Baronne de Montejanos that
is to be. Don't spend a sou upon me, I forbid it
Stay here, in the next room, and lie down on the
little couch; I will come myself and tell you when
you can leave your post To-morrow morning
we will breakfast together, and you will leave us
about one o'clock, as if you had come to call on me
at noon. You need have no fear, for the concierges
belong to me as if they were my father and mother.
I am going down to my own rooms now to serve the

She made a sign to Lisbeth who went out to the
head of the stairs with her. There Valerie whis-
pered in the old maid's ear :


"That black-a-moor came back a little too soon!
for I shall die if I don't revenge you on Hortense! "

"Never fear, my dear pretty little demon," said
the old maid kissing her on the forehead, ' ' love and
vengeance, hunting in couples, will never have the
underhand. Hortense expects me to-morrow; she
is in want To get a thousand francs Wenceslas
will kiss you a thousand times."

On leaving Valerie, Hulot had gone down to the
office and appeared suddenly before Madame Olivier.

"Madame Olivier?"

When she heard this imperious question and saw
the gesture with which the baron emphasized it,
Madame Olivier left her room and followed him
into the court-yard, to the spot to which he led the

' ' You know that if anyone can smooth the way
for your son to set up an office for himself, some
day, I am the man ; you can thank me that he is
now third clerk to a notary and is finishing his law

"Yes, Monsieur le Baron; and Monsieur le Baron
may count on our gratitude. There isn't a day that
I don't pray God for Monsieur le Baron's happiness. "

"Not so many words, my good woman," said
Hulot, " but proofs "

"What must I do? " asked Madame Olivier.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacScenes of Parisian life (Volume 3) → online text (page 16 of 23)