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of vastly greater importance than this gift of his
profits. In the paroxysm of passion in which he
had passed the time from two o'clock to four with
his duchess he bestowed that title upon Madame
de Marneffe in order to complete his illusion for
Valerie had outdone herself at Rue du Dauphin, he
thought it wise to encourage her to persevere in her
promised fidelity, by offering her the prospect of a
pretty little house on Rue Barbette built by an
imprudent contractor, and about to be sold. Valerie
imagined herself living in that charming house with
courtyard and garden, and with her own carriage!

"Where's the virtuous life that will bring one all
this in so short a time, and so easily? " she said to
Lisbeth as she was putting the finishing touches to
her toilette.

Lisbeth dined with Valerie that day, so that she
might say to Steinbock what no woman can say
concerning herself. Madame Marneffe, her face
beaming with happiness, made her entree with
modest grace, followed by Bette, who, being
dressed in black and yellow, served as a set-off, in
studio parlance.

"Good-evening, Claude," said she, giving her
hand to the former famous critic.

Claude Vignon, like many another, had become
a politician, a new word invented to designate an
ambitious man at the first stage of his journey.
The politician of 1840 resembles in some respects



COUSIN BETTE 343

the aWe of the Eighteenth Century. No salon
would be complete without its politician.

"My dear, this is my second-cousin Comte Stein-
bock," said Lisbeth, presenting Wenceslas, whom
Valerie did not appear to have noticed.

"I recognized Monsieur le Comte," said Valerie
with a graceful inclination of her head. "I saw
you frequently on Rue du Doyenne, and I had the
pleasure of being present at your wedding. My
dear," said she to Lisbeth, "it's difficult to forget
your former child even though one had seen him
but once. Monsieur Stidmann is very good,"
she continued, bowing to the sculptor, "to accept
my invitation on such short notice; but necessity
knows no law ! I knew you to be the friend of both
these gentlemen. Nothing is colder or more dis-
agreeable than a dinner where the guests are not
known to each other and I drafted you on their
account; but you will come another time on mine,
won't you ? do say yes ! "

And she walked to and fro a few seconds with Stid-
mann, apparently entirely engrossed with him. One
after another was announced, Crevel, Baron Hulot,
and a deputy named Beauvisage. This personage, a
provincial Crevel, one of those men who were sent
into the world to swell the crowd, voted under the
banner of Giraud, Councilor of State, and Victoria
Hulot These two statesmen aimed at forming a
knot of progressists in the great phalanx of con-
servatives. Giraud sometimes came in the evening
to Madame Marneffe's, who flattered herself that



344 THE POOR RELATIONS

she could hook Victorin Hulot also ; but the Puri-
tanical advocate had thus far succeeded in finding
excuses for resisting his father and father-in-law.
To visit the woman who caused his mother's tears
to flow, seemed to him a crime. Victorin Hulot
was to the Puritans in politics what a piously-
inclined woman is to the devotees. Beauvisage,
formerly a hosier at Arcis, wished to follow the
fashion at Paris. This man, one of the pillars of
the Chamber, formed his manners under the roof of
the delightful, the captivating Madame Marneffe,
where, being charmed with Crevel, he accepted
him from Valerie as his model and his master; he
consulted him in everything, he asked him for his
tailor's address, he copied him, he tried to strike an
attitude like his; in short Crevel was his great
man. Valerie, surrounded by these functionaries
and the three artists, and accompanied by Lisbeth,
appeared to Wenceslas a woman superior to other
women, especially as Claude Vignon praised her
with the enthusiasm of a man in love.

" She's Madame de Maintenon in Ninon's skirts! "
said the former critic. ' ' To please her is a matter
of a single evening, if one has wit, but to win her
love is a triumph which may well satisfy a man's
pride and fill out his life."

Valerie, apparently cold and indifferent to her
former neighbor, touched his vanity; she did it
unconsciously, however, for she knew nothing of
the Polish character. There is a childish side to the
Slav, as there is to all peoples originally in a state of



COUSIN BETTE 345

barbarism, and which have rather made an irrup-
tion among civilized nations than really become
civilized. This race has overspread the globe like
a flood, and has occupied a vast space thereon.
It dwells in deserts where in the boundless space it
can live in comfort; men do not elbow one another
there as in Europe, and civilization is impossible
without the continual friction of minds and inter-
ests. The Ukraine, Russia, the plains of the Dan-
ube, the whole Slavic race in short, are the link
between Europe and Asia, between civilization and
barbarism. So it is that the Poles, the richest frac-
tion of the Slavic race, have in their character the
childish traits and the inconstancy of beardless
nations. They possess courage, intellect and
strength; but they are so inconsistent, that this
courage possesses neither method nor intelligence,
for the Pole is as fickle as the wind that sweeps
over his vast, swampy plains; if he is as im-
petuous as the whirlwinds which tear up and carry
away houses, he also resembles those awful at-
mospheric avalanches in that he disappears in the
nearest pond, dissolved in water. Man always
assimilates something of the surroundings in which
he lives. Being constantly at war with the Turks,
the Poles have acquired the taste for oriental mag-
nificence; they frequently sacrifice the necessaries
of life in order to make a brilliant show, they adorn
themselves like women, and yet the climate has
endowed them with the rugged constitution of the
Arab. So the Pole, sublime in his suffering, has



346 THE POOR RELATIONS

tired out the arms of his oppressors, by his indiffer-
ence to death, thus renewing, in the Nineteenth
Century, the spectacle offered by the early Chris-
tian martyrs. Introduce ten per cent of English
cunning into the frank, outspoken Polish character,
and the noble-hearted white eagle would reign to-
day wherever the two-headed eagle has crept in.
A little Machiavellism would have prevented Po-
land from saving Austria, the author of the par-
tition of Poland; from borrowing from Prussia, her
usurer, who preyed upon her vitals; and from
being rent by factions at the time of the first parti-
tion. At the baptism of Poland, doubtless some
fairy Carabosse, who had been overlooked by the
genii who endowed that attractive nation with its
most brilliant qualities, appeared and said: "Keep
all the gifts my sisters have poured out upon
you, but you shall never know what you desire!"
If, in her heroic duel with Russia, Poland had
triumphed, the Poles would to-day be fighting
among themselves in their Diets, as in former
days, to prevent one another from being king.
On the day when this nation, composed entirely
of brave, sanguine men, has the good sense to
seek out a Louis XI. of its own flesh and blood and
to accept from him tyranny and a new dynasty, it
will be saved. What Poland was in politics, most
Poles are in their private lives, especially when
disaster overtakes them. Thus, Wenceslas Stein-
bock, who had adored his wife for three years, and
who knew that he was a god in her eyes, was so



COUSIN BETTE 347

piqued to find that Madame Marneffe hardly noticed
him, that he made it a point of honor to obtain
some attention from her. As he compared Valerie
with his wife the former carried off the palm.

Hortense was a lovely piece of flesh, as Valerie
said to Lisbeth; but Madame Marneffe was bright
and witty, and her wit was clothed in the alluring
guise of vice. Hortense's devotion was a sentiment,
which, in a husband's eyes, seems no more than
his due; one's appreciation of the immeasurable
value of a woman's undivided love soon passes
away, just as a debtor fancies, after awhile, that
the money loaned him is his own. This sublime
loyalty becomes in a certain sense the daily bread
of the heart, and infidelity is as seductive as a
sweetmeat The disdainful woman, an especially
dangerous type, stimulates one's interest, as spices
give zest to food. Moreover, contempt, so well
feigned by Valerie, was a novelty to Wenceslas,
after three years of pleasure freely bestowed. Hor-
tense was the wife, Valerie the mistress.

Many men desire these two editions of the same
work, although it is a most eloquent proof of a man's
inferiority that he does not know how to make his
wife his mistress. Fickleness in this regard is a
sign of weakness. Constancy will always be the
genius of love, the symbol of a vast force, the force
which makes the poet! A man should have all
wives in his own, as the filthy poets of the Seven-
teenth Century made Irises and Chloes of their
Manons.



348 THE POOR RELATIONS

"Well," said Lisbeth to her cousin, as soon as
she saw that he was fairly fascinated, "what do
you think of Valerie? "

"She's too charming! " Wenceslas replied.

"You wouldn't listen to me," retorted Cousin
Bette. " Ah ! Wenceslas, if we had stayed together,
you might have been this siren's lover, you could
have married her as soon as she was left a widow,
and you would have had her forty thousand francs
a year!"

"Really?"

"Why, yes," said Lisbeth. "But, beware now;
I warned you of the danger, so don't burn your fin-
gers at the candle! Give me your arm, dinner's
served."

No speech could have been more demoralizing than
that, for, show a Pole a precipice and he will instantly
jump over the edge. That race has above all the
true cavalry instinct, that leads them to think that
they can beat down all obstacles and come out vic-
torious. The blow of the spur by which Lisbeth
goaded her cousin's vanity, was supported by the
spectacle of the dining-room, where a magnificent
service of silver plate shone resplendent, and where
Steinbock observed all the refinement and elegancies
of Parisian luxury.

"I should have done better," said he to himself,
"to marry Cilimene. "

During the dinner, Hulot, well pleased to see his
son-in-law there, and even more delighted over the
certainty of a reconciliation with Valerie, of whose



COUSIN BETTE 349

fidelity he flattered himself that he had made sure
by the promise of the succession to Coquet, was in
a charming mood. Stidmann responded to the
baron's affability with flashes of Parisian wit,
and the entertaining conceits of an artist Stein-
bock did not choose to be eclipsed by his comrade;
he exerted his powers, he distinguished himself by
his sallies of wit, he made an impression, and was
well content with himself; Madame Marneffe smiled
upon him several times, showing that she under-
stood him. The good cheer, the excellent wines,
completed Wenceslas' immersion in what we must
call the pest-hole of pleasure. Slightly elevated by
the wine he had taken, he stretched himself out
after dinner upon a divan, under the spell of a sense
of physical and moral well-being which Madame
Marneffe heightened beyond measure by sitting
down beside him, a graceful, perfumed creature,
lovely enough to damn the angels. She leaned
over Wenceslas, and almost touched his ear in order
to whisper :

"This evening is no time for us to talk business,
unless you choose to stay till the last. You and
Lisbeth and I, between us, can arrange matters to
accommodate you "

"Oh! madame, you are an angel! "said Wen-
ceslas, replying in the same way. "I did an
awfully foolish thing in not listening to Lisbeth"

"What did she say to you ? "

"On Rue du Doyenne she declared that you
loved me! "



350 THE POOR RELATIONS

Madame Marneffe glanced at Wenceslas, pre-
tended to be confused, and rose abruptly. A young
and pretty woman never with impunity aroused in
a man the idea of instantaneous success. This im-
pulsive movement of a virtuous woman, repressing
a passion stored away in the depths of her heart,
was a thousand times more eloquent than the most
impassioned declaration.

Thus was the flame of desire kindled in the breast
of Wenceslas, and he redoubled his attentions to
Valerie. A woman in sight, a woman desired!
Hence the appalling power of actresses. Madame
Marneffe, realizing that she was being studied, bore
herself like a successful actress. She was fascinat-
ing, and achieved a complete triumph.

" My father-in-law's passion no longer surprises
me," said Wenceslas to Lisbeth.

"If you talk so, Wenceslas/' was her reply, "I
shall repent all my life that I procured you this
loan of ten thousand francs. Shall you be like all
the rest of them," she said, pointing to the guests,
"mad with love for this creature? Consider that
you will be your father-in-law's rival. But most
of all think of all the sorrow you will cause Hor-
tense."

"True," said Wenceslas, "Hortense is an angel,
and I should be a monster! "

"It's quite enough to have one in the family,"
rejoined Lisbeth.

"Artists ought never to marry!" cried Stein-
bock.



COUSIN BETTE 351

"Aha! that's what I told you on Rue du Doy-
enne. Your children are your groups, your statues,
your masterpieces."

"What are you talking about over there ?" de-
manded Valerie, joining Lisbeth. "Pour the tea,
cousin."

Steinbock, with true Polish swagger, chose to
appear on intimate terms with this fairy of the
salon. Having insulted Stidmann, Claude Vignon
and Crevel with a glance, he took Valerie's hand
and forced her to sit beside him on the divan.

"You are much too great a nobleman, Comte
Steinbock! " said she, resisting a little.

And she began to laugh as she sank into a seat
beside him, not without showing him the little rose-
bud which adorned her corsage.

"Alas! if I were a great nobleman," said he, "I
should not come here as a borrower. ' '

"Poor child! 1 remember your nights of toil on
Rue du Doyenne. You have been a little bit
stupid. You got married, as a starving man
pounces on a bit of bread. You don't know Paris!
See what you've come to! But you turned a deaf
ear to Bette's devotion, as well as to the love of the
Parisian, who knows her Paris by heart"

"Say no more! " cried Steinbock, "lam beaten."

"You shall have your ten thousand francs, my
dear Wenceslas ; but only on one condition, ' ' said
she, playing with his beautiful thick locks.

"What is it?"

"Well, I want no interest "



352 THE POOR RELATIONS

"Madame!"

"Oh! don't be angry; you must give me a
bronze group instead. You began the story of
Samson finish it Make a Delilah cutting off
the locks of her Jewish Hercules! But I hope that
you you will be a great artist, if you take my
advice I hope that you will grasp the subject
The idea is to bring out the power of the woman.
Samson counts for nothing in that scene. He is the
dead body of strength. Delilah is the passion that
destroys everything. Just as that replica is that
what you call it? " she added, cunningly, as she
saw Claude Vignon and Stidmann approaching
them when they heard them talking about sculpture;
"just as that replica of Hercules at Omphale's feet
is much more beautiful than the Grecian myth!
Did Greece copy from Judea? or did Judea derive
that symbol from Greece ? ' '

"Ah! there you touch upon a serious question,
madame ! that of the periods at which the various
books of the Bible were composed. The great and
immortal Spinoza, who is so absurdly ranked among
atheists, although he has mathematically demon-
strated the existence of God, claimed that Genesis
and the political portion of the Bible, so to speak,
date from the time of Moses, and he pointed out the
interpolated passages by philological proofs. For
that reason he was stabbed three times at the door
of the synagogue."

"I didn't know 1 was so learned," said Valerie,
disgusted at the interruption of her te'te-ajte'te.



COUSIN BETTE 353

"Women know everything by instinct," rejoined
Claude Vignon.

"Well, will you promise me?" she asked Stein-
bock, taking his hand with the shrinking gesture of
a love-lorn maiden.

"You are very lucky, my dear fellow," cried
Stidmann, "to have madame ask you for any-
thing"

"What is it? " said Claude Vignon.

"A little bronze group," replied Steinbock;
Delilah cutting off Samson' s hair.

"That will be difficult," observed Claude Vignon,
"on account of the bed "

"On the contrary it's extremely easy," retorted
Valerie with a smile.

"Ah! give us some sculpture of your own!"
jaid Stidmann.

"Madame's the thing to be sculptured!" ex-
claimed Claude Vignon with a meaning glance at
Valerie.

"Now," she continued, "this is my idea of the
composition. Samson has awakened without his
hair, like many a dandy with a false forelock. The
hero is sitting on the edge of the bed, so you have
only to imagine the base, hidden by the bedclothes,
draperies, etc. He sits there like Marius on the
ruins of Carthage, with arms folded and shaven
head Napoleon at St Helena, how's that? Deli-
lah is on her knees, almost like Canova's Magdalen.
When a woman has ruined her man, she adores
him. According to my idea the Jewess was afraid
23



354 THE POOR RELATIONS

of Samson when he was powerful and awe-inspir-
ing, but she must have loved him when he was a
child again. So Delilah bewails her sin, she would
like to restore his locks to her lover, she dares not
look at him, yet she does look at him with a smile
on her face, for she sees her pardon in Samson's
weakness. This group and the group of the barba-
rian Judith would together expound the nature of
woman. Virtue cuts off your head, Vice only cuts
off your hair. Look out for your forelocks, mes-
sieurs!"

And she left the two bewildered artists, singing
a chorus of praise in her honor with the critic.

"No one could be more fascinating!" cried Stid-
mann.

''Oh! she's the brightest, the most desirable
woman I ever saw," said Claude Vignon. "It is so
rare to see wit and beauty united ! "

"If you, who have had the honor of an intimate
acquaintance with Camille Maupin, pronounce such
a judgment," said Stidmann, "what are we to
think?"

"If you will make your Delilah a portrait of
Valerie, my dear count," said Crevel, who had left
the card-table for a moment and had heard the whole
conversation, "I will give you a thousand crowns
for a copy of the group. Oh! yes, sapristi! I'll
fritter away a thousand crowns! "

11 1'U fritter away! what does that mean?" Beau-
visage asked Claude Vignon.

1 ' In that case Madame must condescend to pose



COUSIN BETTE 355

for me," said Steinbock to Crevel, with a wave
of his hand towards Valerie. " Go and ask
her."

At that moment Valerie herself brought Stein-
bock a cup of tea. This was more than a distinc-
tion, it was a marked favor. There is an entire
language in the way a woman acquits herself of that
duty; but they know it well, and so it is a curious
study to watch their movements, gestures, glances
or looks, tones, accents, when they perform this act
of courtesy, apparently so simple. Between the
question: "Do you take tea? Will you have some
tea? A cup of tea?" asked in an indifferent tone,
and followed by the order to the nymph who tends
the urn to bring it, to the inspiring poem of the
odalisk coming from the tea-table, cup in hand, to
the pacha of her heart, and presenting it to him
with a submissive air, a caressing voice, and a
glance overflowing with voluptuous promises be-
tween the two a physiologist may discover every
feminine sentiment, from aversion or indifference,
to Phasdra's declaration to Hippolyte. At such
times a woman can, at will, make herself disdainful
to the point of insult, or as humble as the slave in
an Eastern harem. Valerie was more than a wo-
man, she was the serpent in the guise of woman,
and she completed her devilish work by walking up
to Steinbock, a cup of tea in her hand.

"I will take," said the artist in Valerie's ear, as
he rose and touched her fingers with his own, "as
many cups of tea as you choose to offer me, for the



356 THE POOR RELATIONS

sake of seeing you come and give them to me like
ihis! "

"What are you saying about posing? " she asked,
giving no sign that she had received, full in the
heart, the explosion so passionately awaited.

"Pere Crevel offers to buy a copy of your group
for a thousand crowns."

"A thousand crowns for a group?"

"Yes, if you will pose for Delilah," said Stein-
bock.

"He won't be there, I trust," she replied; "in
that case the group would be worth more than his
whole fortune, for Delilah should be slightly
dkcolletee."

Just as Crevel had his favorite attitude, so all
women have a triumphant, carefully studied pose,
in which they are irresistible. Some there are who
pass all their time, when in a salon, looking at the
lace of their chemisettes, and adjusting the
shoulder-straps of their dresses, or displaying the
brilliancy of their eyes by looking up at the cornice.
Madame Marneffe did not display her triumph facing
tier victim, as all other women do. She turned
about abruptly as if to join Lisbeth at the tea-table.
This dancer's movement, in fluttering her dress,
which had conquered Hulot, now fascinated Stein-
bock.

"Your vengeance is complete," Valerie whispered
to Lisbeth. "Hortense will cry her eyes out and
curse the day she stole Wenceslas from you."

"So long as I am not Madame la Marchale, I



COUSIN BETTE 357

shall have accomplished nothing," replied the Lor-
rainer; "but they are all beginning to desire it
This morning I went to Victorin's, I forgot to tell
you that. The young Hulots have taken up the
baron's notes of band held by Vauvinet, and to-
morrow they will sign a bond for seventy-two thous-
and francs at five per cent, payable in three years,
secured by a mortgage on their house. So they are
safe to be in straitened circumstances for three
years to come; it would be impossible for them to
raise money on the property now. Victorin is in
a terribly depressed state, for he has found his
father out Crevel is quite capable of disowning
his children, he'll be so enraged at this devotion."

"The baron must be without means now?" said
Valerie in Lisbeth's ear, with a smile at Hulot

"I don't see what he can have; but his salary
will be unencumbered again in September."

"And he has his insurance policy, he's renewed
that! It's high time he made Marneffe chief of
bureau; I must play the deuce with him this even-
ing."

"Go now, my cousin, I beg you," said Lisbeth,
going over to Wenceslas. "You are making your-
self ridiculous, staring at Valerie in a way to com-
promise her, and her husband's jealousy goes
beyond all bounds. Don't imitate your father-in-law,
but return home; I am sure Hortense expects you."

"Madame Marneffe bade me stay till the last, to
arrange our little affair between us three," said
Wenceslas.



358 THE POOR RELATIONS

"No," said Lisbeth, "I'll hand you the ten thou-
sand francs, for her husband has his eye on you,
and it would be imprudent for you to remain. Bring
the note of hand to-morrow at eleven ; at that hour
that old ass Marneffe will be at his office, and
.Valerie will be left in peace. So you've asked her
'to pose for a group, have you? Come to my room
first. Ah! I knew," said Lisbeth, catching Stein-
bock's glance as he saluted Valerie, "that you were
a libertine in germ. Valerie is very lovely, but
try not to make Hortense unhappy."

Nothing annoys a married man so much as to
have his wife at every turn stand between him and
any whim, however ephemeral.



Wenceslas returned home about one o'clock in
the morning; Hortense had been expecting him
since half-past nine. From half-past nine until ten
she listened to the carriages, saying to herself that
Wenceslas never returned so late when he, with-
out her, dined with Chanor and Florent She sat
sewing by her son's crib, for she was beginning to
save a seamstress's wages by doing some mending
with her own hands. Between ten and half-past
ten she had a moment of suspicion and asked her-
self: "Has he really gone to dine with Chanor and
Florent, as he said ? He wanted his best scarf and
his prettiest pin. He took more time to dress than
a woman who wants to look even prettier than she
is. But I am mad! he loves me. Here he is, too."

But the carriage she heard passed on, instead of
stopping. From eleven o'clock till midnight, Hor-
tense was in an unheard of terror, caused by the
solitude of the neighborhood.


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