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"If he were walking home," she said to herself,
"something might have happened to him. People
are killed sometimes by stumbling over a curbstone,
or by not looking out for holes in the ground.
Artists are so absent-minded! Suppose he was
waylaid by robbers! This is the first time he has
left me all alone here six hours and a half. Why
do I torment myself so? he loves me only."
(359)



360 THE POOR RELATIONS

Men ought to be faithful to the wives who love
them, were it only for the sake of the never-ending
miracles produced by true love in that sublime
world called the spiritual world. A loving woman
is, in respect to the man she loves, in the position
of a somnambulist, to whom the mesmerist should
give the sad power in ceasing to be the mirror of
the world of being conscious, as a woman, of what
she sees as a somnambulist. Passion exalts a wo-
man's nervous force to that ecstatic state wherein
presentiment is equivalent to the second-sight of
seers. A woman knows that she is betrayed, but
she will not listen, she doubts, so dearly does she
love! and she gives the lie to the cry of her pytho-
ness* power. Men should fall down and worship
this paroxysm of love. In noble minds admiration
of this divine phenomenon will always be a barrier
between them and infidelity. How can one fail to
adore a lovely, intelligent creature whose heart
leads her to such manifestations ? At one in the
morning Hortense's agony had reached such a point
that she rushed frantically to the door when she
recognized Wenceslas by his manner of ringing the
bell ; she took him in her arms and pressed him to
her heart like a mother.

"Here you are atlast! " she said, recoveringthe
use of her tongue. "After this, my dear, I shall go
wherever you go, for I don't want to endure the
torture of such suspense again. I fancied you
stumbling over a curbstone and breaking your neck!
killed by robbers! No, 1 know I should go mad



COUSIN BETTE 361

Bother time. So you've had a good time, have
/ou without me? bad boy ! "

"What would you have, my dear little angel!
There was Bixiou, who gave us some fresh orders;
Leon de Lora, whose wit is as keen as ever;
Claude Vignon, to whom I owe the only encourag-
ing article that has been written on Marechal Mont-
cornet's monument There was "

"There were no women? " inquired Hortense
eagerly.

"The respectable Madame Florent "

' ' You said it was to be at the Rocher de Cancale
it was at their house, was it?

"Yes, at their house; I made a mistake "

"You didn't come home in a carriage?"

"No."

"You walked from Rue des Tournelles?"

"Stidmann and Bixiou came with me along the
boulevards to the Madeleine ; we were busy talking. "

"It must be very dry then on the boulevards and
the Place de la Concorde and Rue de Bourgogne, for
you're not muddy," said Hortense, scrutinizing her
husband's varnished boots.

It had been raining; but between Rue Vanneau
and Rue Saint-Dominique, Wenceslas had had no
chance to soil his boots.

' ' See, here are five thousand francs Chanor was
generous enough to loan me," said Wenceslas to cut
short this quasi-judicial examination.

He had made two packages of his ten one -thou-
sand franc notes, one for Hortense, and one for



362 THE POOR RELATIONS

himself, for he had five thousand francs' worth of
debts of which Hortense knew nothing. He owed
his rough-hewer and his workmen.

"At last your mind can be at rest, my dear," he
said, as he embraced his wife. " I am going to
work to-morrow ! Oh ! to-morrow I must be off at
half-past eight, and I am going to the studio. So
I'll go to bed at once in order to be up bright and
early; you are willing, my pet?"

The suspicion that had crept into Hortense's
heart disappeared ; she was a thousand miles from
the truth. Madame Marneffe ! she did not give her
a thought. She dreaded the society of lorettes for
her Wenceslas. The names of Bixiou and Leon de
Lora, two artists notorious for their licentious lives,
had aroused her anxiety.

The next day, when Wenceslas left the house at
nine o'clock, she was entirely free from distrust

"Now he's really at work," she said to herself
as she dressed her child. "Oh! I can see that now
he's in the mood for it! Ah well, if we don't attain
the renown of Michael Angelo, we shall be as fa-
mous as Benvenuto Cellini ! "

Lulled thus by her own hopes, Hortense dreamed
of a happy future; and she was talking to her son,
then twenty months old, in the onomatopoetic lan-
guage that makes children smile, when, about eleven
o'clock, the cook, who had not seen Wenceslas go
out, ushered in Stidmann.

"Excuse me, madame," said the artist "How's
this; Wenceslas gone already?"



COUSIN BETTE 363

"He's at his workshop."

"I came to have an understanding with him
about our work."

"I will go and send for him," said Hortense,
motioning to Stidmann to be seated.

The young woman, thanking heaven mentally
for the opportunity, wished to detain Stidmann in,
order to gather from him some details as to the party
of the night before. Stidmann bowed in acknowl-
edgment of the favor. Madame Steinbock rang,
and bade the cook go to the workshop for monsieur.

"You must have had a fine time last night?"
Hortense began, "for Wenceslas didn't come home
until one o'clock in the morning."

"A fine time? Well, not exactly," replied the
artist, who had hoped to do Madame Marneffe on
that occasion. "One doesn't have a fine time in
society, unless there is something to interest one.
That little Madame Marneffe is very clever, but
she's a flirt. "

"And what did Wenceslas think of her? "
asked poor Hortense, trying to remain calm. "He
didn't tell me anything about her."

"I'll only tell you one thing," rejoined Stidmann,
"and that is that I think she's a very dangerous
woman."

Hortense turned as pale as a woman in child-bed.

"So it was really at Madame Marneffe's and
not at Chanor's that you and Wenceslas dined
yesterday?" she faltered, "and he "

Stidmann, without a clear idea as to what the



364 THE POOR RELATIONS

catastrophe was that he had caused, saw that there
was something. The countess did not finish her
sentence, but fainted outright The artist rang,
and the maid answered the bell. When Louise
attempted to carry the countess to her room, she
was seized with an hysterical attack of the greatest
gravity, with horrible convulsions. Stidmann, like
all those who by unwitting indiscretion destroy the
scaffolding of falsehood built by a husband in his
domestic circle, could not believe that his words
could have produced such an effect; bethought that
the countess must be in that delicate condition in
which the slightest annoyance may be attended
with danger. Unfortunately the cook announced
in a loud voice that monsieur was not at his studio.
The countess heard this statement in the midst of
her paroxysm, and the convulsions began again
with renewed violence.

"Go and fetch madame's mother!" said Louise
to the cook; "run!"

"If I knew where Wenceslas is, I would go and
tell him," said Stidmann, at his wits' end.

"He's at that woman's! " cried poor Hortense.
"He dressed very differently than if he were going
to the studio."

Stidmann hurried off to Madame Marneffe's, real-
izing the probable accuracy of this suggestion,
attributable to the second sight of passion. At that
moment Valerie was posing for Delilah. Stidmann,
much too clever to ask for Madame Marneffe, passed
the concierge's quarters, looking neither to right nor



COUSIN BETTE 365

left, and ran hastily up to the second floor, reasoning
thus with himself: "If I ask for Madame Marneffe,
she won't be at home. If, like a fool, I ask for
Steinbock, they'll laugh in my face. So I'll just take
the bull by the horns!"

Reine answered the bell.

"Tell Monsieur le Comte Steinbock to go home,
his wife is dying! "

Reine, being quite as cunning as Stidmann, gazed
at him with a decidedly stupid expression.

"But, monsieur, I don't know what you "

"I tell you that my friend Steinbock is here, and
his wife is dying; it's a matter of sufficient import-
ance for you to disturb your mistress."

With that Stidmann went away.

"Oh! he's there," he said to himself.

Indeed, Stidmann, loitering a few seconds on Rue
Vanneau, saw Wenceslas leave the house, and mo-
tioned to him to make haste. Having described the
tragedy being enacted in Rue Saint-Dominique, Stid-
mann scolded Steinbock for not warning him to say
nothing concerning the dinner-party of the night
before.

"I am lost," Wenceslas replied, "but I forgive
you. I entirely forgot our appointment for this
morning, and I made the fatal mistake of not
telling you that we were supposed to have dined
at Florent's. But what can I do? that Valerie
has driven me mad; but, my dear fellow, re-
nown or misfortune she's worth all. Ah! she's
My God! but I'm in a terrible pickle! Advise



366 THE POOR RELATIONS

me. What shall 1 say? how shall I excuse my-
self?"

"Advise you? I don't know how," rejoined Stid-
mann. "But your wife loves you, doesn't she?
Very well, then she'll believe anything. Above all
things tell her that you were on your way to my
house while I was coming to yours; in that way
you will save your pose of this morning. Adieu! "

At the corner of Rue Hillerin-Bertin, Lisbeth,
who had been informed by Reine, and at once ran
after Steinbock, overtook him ; for she dreaded his
Polish naivete. Not wishing to be compromised
herself, she said a few words to Wenceslas, who,
in his delight, kissed her right in the street Doubt-
less she had thrown the artist a plank on which to
cross this conjugal torrent

At the sight of her mother, who arrived in breath-
less haste, Hortense shed floods of tears. By this
fortunate turn of affairs the nervous hysteria assumed
a very different aspect

"Betrayed, dear mamma!" she cried. "Wen-
ceslas, after giving me his word of honor not to go
there, dined at Madame Marneffe's yesterday, and
didn't come home till one o'clock this morning!
If you only knew the night before we had, not a
quarrel but an understanding. I said such touching
things to him : that I was jealous, that any infidelity
would kill me; that I was suspicious, but he ought
to respect my weaknesses because they all came
from my love for him ; that I had as much of my
father's blood in my veins as of yours; that in the



COUSIN BETTE 367

first moment after learning of his treachery, I
should be insane enough to do insane things, to
avenge myself, to dishonor us all, him and his son
and myself; that I should be capable of killing him
and then myself! etc. And he went there, he's
there now! That woman has undertaken to drive
us all to despair ! Yesterday Victorin and Celestine
bound themselves to take up notes of hand for
seventy-two thousand francs, all given for that vile
creature. Yes, mamma, they were going to
prosecute father and put him in prison. Hasn't
the frightful woman enough, with father and your
tears? Why take Wenceslas from me? I'll go to
her house, and I'll plunge a dagger in her heart!"

Madame Hulot, wounded to the heart's core by
the ghastly secret Hortense in her frenzy had un-
wittingly confided to her, conquered her own grief
by one of those heroic efforts of which noble mothers
are capable, and laid her daughter's head against
her breast to cover it with kisses.

"Wait till Wenceslas comes, my child, and every-
thing will be explained. The harm done can't be
so great as you think! I, too, have been betrayed,
dear Hortense. You think I am beautiful, and I am
virtuous, and yet I have been deserted for twenty-
three years, for the Jenny Cadines and Josephas
and Marneffes! did you know it?"

"You, mamma, you! you have been suffering
like this for twenty? "

She paused, horrified at her own thoughts.

"Follow my example, my child," continued the



368 THE POOR RELATIONS

mother. "Be gentle and kind, and your conscience
will be at rest On his death-bed a man says to
himself: 'My wife has never caused me the slightest
unhappiness ! ' And God, who listens to these last
words, counts them in our favor. If I had abandoned
myself to frenzies of rage, as you are doing, what
would have happened? Your father would have
felt bitterly toward me, perhaps he would have left
me altogether, and he wouldn't have been deterred
by the fear of wounding me; our ruin, which is
now complete, would have come ten years sooner,
we should have afforded the spectacle of a husband
and wife living apart, a hideous and heart-breaking
scandal, for scandal means death to the family.
Neither your brother nor yourself could have been
married. I sacrificed myself, and I did it with
such a cheerful face that, except for this last liaison
of your father the world would still believe me
happy. My courageous and pardonable falsehoods
have protected Hector thus far; he is still highly
considered; but I can see that this old man's passion
is carrying him too far. His mad behavior will,
I fear, break down the screen I have placed between
the world and ourselves. But for twenty-three
years I have held this curtain behind which I have
been weeping, with no mother, no confidant, no
resource save religion, and for twenty-three years I
have kept the family honor intact "

Hortense listened to her mother with her eyes
fixed upon vacancy. The calm voice and the resig-
nation of this supreme sorrow soothed the irritation



COUSIN BETTE 369

of the younger woman's first wound; her tears
flowed in torrents. In a burst of filial devotion,
abashed by her mother's sublimity, she knelt before
her, seized the hem of her dress and kissed it, as
devout Catholics kiss the blessed remains of a
martyr. '

"Rise, my Hortense," said the baroness; "such
a proof of my daughter's love effaces many unpleas-
ant memories! Come to my heart, which is now
oppressed by your sorrow only. My poor little
girl's despair, for her joy was my only joy, has
broken the tomb-like seal which nothing should
have removed from my lips. Yes, 1 intended to
carry my sorrows to the tomb; 'twould have been
but one shroud more. In order to allay your excite-
ment, I spoke God will forgive me ! Oh ! if my
life were to be yours, what would I not do? Men,
society, chance, nature, and even God, I think, sell
love to us at the cost of the most cruel tortures. I
have paid with twenty-four years of despair, of bit-
terness, of incessant pain, for ten happy years "

"You had ten years, dear mamma, and I have
had but three! " said the selfish lover.

"Nothing is lost yet, my love; wait for Wences-
las."

"Mother," said she, "he lied! he deceived me!
He said: 'I will not go there,' and he went And
that, too, standing by his child's cradle! "

"For their pleasure, my angel, men commit the
most dastardly acts, the greatest infamies and
crimes; it seems to be in their nature. We women
24



370 THE POOR RELATIONS

are offered up as a sacrifice. 1 believed that my
woes were at an end, and they are. just beginning,
for I did not expect to suffer twice by suffering
in my daughter. Courage and silence ! My own
Hortense, swear that you will not mention your
.troubles to anyone but me, that you won't let them
appear before others. Oh! be as proud as your
mother ! "

At that moment Hortense started, for she heard
her husband's step.

"It seems," said Wenceslas as he entered the
room, "that Stidmann came here while I was on
the way to see him."

"Really? " cried poor Hortense with the savage
irony of a woman wounded to the heart, who uses
words as a dagger.

"Why, yes, we just met," replied Wenceslas,
feigning astonishment.

"But last night? " continued Hortense.

"Well, I deceived you, my dear love, and your
mother shall decide between us "

This frank confession relieved the oppression at
Hortense's heart All truly noble women prefer
truth to falsehood. They do not want to see their
idol degraded, but to be proud of the domination to
which they submit

There is something of this sentiment in the Rus-
sians regarding their Czar.

"Listen, dear mother, " said Wenceslas; "I
love my good, sweet Hortense so dearly, that I con-
cealed the extent of our distress from her. What



COUSIN BETTE 371

would you have ! she was still nursing the boy, and
worry would have done her much harm. You know
all that a woman risks at such a time. Her beauty,
her bloom, her health are all in danger. Did I do
wrong? She believes that we owe only five thous-
and francs, but I owe five thousand more. Day
before yesterday we were in despair ! No one on
earth will ever loan to artists. They distrust our
talents as much as they do our vagaries. I knocked
in vain at every door. Lisbeth offered us her sav-
ings."

"Poor girl ! " said Hortense.

"Poor girl ! " echoed the baroness.

"But what did Lisbeth's two thousand francs
amount to? Much to her, nothing to us. Then,
you know, our cousin spoke to us of Madame Mar-
neffe, whose self-respect wouldn't allow her to ac-
cept any interest whatever, she owes so much to
the baron. Hortense wanted to send her diamonds
to the Mont-de-Piete. We might have got two or
three thousand francs on them, and we needed ten
thousand. The ten thousand francs were to be had
there for a year, without interest! I said to myself:
'Hortense won't know anything about it, so I'll go
and take them. ' The woman sent my father-in-law
to me to ask me to dine yesterday, giving me
to understand that Lisbeth had told her that I
should have the money. Between Hortense's de-
spair and that dinner, I did not hesitate. That's
the whole story. How can Hortense, at twenty-
four years, a fresh, pure, virtuous creature, who is



3/2 THE POOR RELATIONS

my whole happiness and my glory, whom I have

not left since we were married, how can she

imagine that I could prefer to her what? a sallow,

faded and seedy creature," said he, resorting to an

atrocious bit of studio slang to induce belief in his

I contempt, by one of those exaggerated flights which

'women delight in.

"Ah! if your father had only spoken to me like
that!" cried the baroness.

Hortense threw herself gracefully upon her hus-
band's neck.

"Yes, that's what I would have done," said Ade-
line. "Wenceslas, my dear, your wife was near
dying," she continued gravely. "You see how she
loves you. She is yours, alas!" And she sighed
heavily.

"He may make her a martyr or a happy woman,"
she said to herself, thinking what all mothers think
at the time of their daughters' marriages. "It
seems to me," she added aloud, "that I suffer
enough to be permitted to see my children happy."

"Never fear, dear mamma," said Wenceslas,
overjoyed at the happy termination of this tempest.
,"In two months I shall have returned that horrible
woman's money. What would you have! " he con-
tinued, repeating that essentially Polish expression
with the Polish charm of manner; "there are times
when one would borrow from the devil. After all,
it's family money. And, after I was once invited,
should I have obtained this money, which costs us
so dear, if I had met courtesy with discourtesy?"



COUSIN BETTE 373

"Oh ! mamma, how papa has wronged us all ! "
cried Hortense.

The baroness placed her finger on her lips, and
Hortense regretted that wail, the first word of re-
proach she had ever allowed her lips to utter con-
cerning the father so heroically sheltered by a
sublime silence.

"Adieu, my children," said Madame Hulot,
"pleasant weather has returned. But don't fall out
again."

When Wenceslas and his wife had returned to
their room after going with the baroness to the
door, Hortense said :

'Tell me about your evening! "

She watched Wenceslas' face as he told his story,
interrupted as it was by the questions which flock
to a woman's lips under such circumstances. What
she heard made Hortense thoughtful, for she guessed
at the diabolical entertainment artists were likely
to find in that vicious circle.

"Be frank, my Wenceslas! Stidmann was there,
Claude Vignon, Vernisset, and who else? At all
events you enjoyed yourself! "

"Enjoyed myself? I thought of nothing but our
ten thousand francs, and I kept saying to myself :
'My Hortense need have no more anxiety! ' "

This cross-examination was vastly fatiguing to
the Livonian, and he seized upon a moment of
gaiety to say to Hortense :

"Tell me, my angel, what would you have done
if your artist had been guilty? "



374 THE POOR RELATIONS

"I would have taken Stidmann," said she with a
little determined nod, "but without loving him, of
course!"

"Hortense!" cried Steinbock, rising abruptly,
and with a theatrical gesture, "you wouldn't have
had time, I would have killed you."

Hortense threw herself upon her husband, em-
braced him almost to the point of suffocation, cov-
ered him with kisses, and said :

"Ah! you do love me, Wenceslas! come, I have
no fear now! But no more Marneffe. Don't again
plunge into such mud-holes "

"I swear, my dear Hortense, that I will not go
there again except to take up my note "

She pouted, but as loving women pout, who seek
the reward of their pouting. Wenceslas, tired out
by such a morning, left his wife pouting, and started
for his studio to make the clay model of the Samson
and Delilah group, the sketch of which he had in
his pocket. Hortense, disturbed at the result of her
pouting, and thinking that Wenceslas was angry,
went to the studio after him, and walked in just
as he was retouching the clay with the intense
eagerness which artists exhibit when under the
sway of a fresh fancy. At the sight of his wife,
he hastily threw a damp cloth over the rough
draught of the group, and took Hortense in his arms.

"Ah! my pet, we are not angry, are we?" he
said.

Hortense had seen the group and the cloth thrown
over it; she said nothing then, but before leaving



COUSIN BETTE 375

the studio she turned, snatched off the rag, looked
at the sketch, and asked :

"What's that?"

"A group that came into my head."

"Why did you hide it from me? "

"Because I didn't want to show it to you till it
was done."

"The woman's very pretty! " said Hortense.

And a myriad suspicions sprang up in her heart,
as the tall, luxuriant plants of the Indies spring
up between night and morning.



After about three weeks Madame Marneffe became
deeply irritated with Hortense. Women of her
stamp have a species of self-esteem, they would
have their victims kiss the devil's hoof, they never
forgive the virtue that does not fear their power or
that contends with them. Now, Wenceslas had
not paid a single visit to Rue Vanneau, not even
the visit simple politeness demanded after a lady
had posed as Delilah for him. Every time that
Lisbeth had called at the Steinbocks* she had found
nobody at home. Monsieur and madame were liv-
ing at the studio. Lisbeth, who hunted down the
turtle-doves even to their nest at Gros-Caillou, saw
Wenceslas working with great ardor, and learned
from the cook that madame never left monsieur.
Wenceslas was undergoing the despotism of love.
Thereupon Valerie espoused Lisbeth's hatred for
Hortense on her own account. Women cling as per-
sistently to the lovers whose possession is disputed
with them, as men cling to the women who are
sought by several dandies. And so the reflections
we have indulged in concerning Madame Marneffe
apply equally well to libertines, who are, so to
speak, man-courtesans. Valerie's whim was a pas-
sion, and she was particularly bent upon having
her group; she was contemplating going to call on
Wenceslas at his studio, when there occurred one of
(377)



378 THE POOR RELATIONS

those events of grave importance, which may be
called, in the case of such women, fructus belli.
This is the way in which Valerie made known this
event, which was entirely personal. She was break-
fasting with Lisbeth and Monsieur Marneffe.
, "Tell me, Marneffe, do you suspect yourself of
being a father for the second time? "

"Are you really enceinte? Oh! let me kiss
you "

He rose and walked around the table, and his
wife held up her forehead to him in such a way
that the kiss was imprinted on her hair.

"By this stroke," said he, "I am chief of bureau,
and officer of the Legion of Honor ! Look you, my
dear, I don't want Stanislas to be ruined! Poor
little fellow!"

"Poor little fellow?" cried Lisbeth. "It's
seven months since you saw him ; at the boarding-
school I am supposed to be his mother, for I'm the
only one in this house who ever thinks of him ! "

"A child that costs us a hundred crowns every
three months! " said Valerie. "However, he's
your child, that one, Marneffe ! you certainly ought
to pay his board out of your salary. The new-


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