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boires now and then, and by always chatting with
them a few moments before entering the salon.
This familiarity, by which she frankly put herself on
a level with them, won for her their humble good-
will, a very essential thing for a parasite.

"She's a kind-hearted, excellent woman!" was
the universal verdict concerning her. Her willing-
ness to oblige, which was unlimited when it was not
exacted, was, as was her false good-comradeship, a
necessity of her position. She had come at last to
a true comprehension of life when she saw herself
at everybody's mercy; and, as she was determined
to make herself agreeable to everybody, she laughed



COUSIN BETTE 55

with the young people, with whom she put herself
in sympathy by a sort of wheedling manner which
always attracts them, she divined and espoused
their wishes, she made herself their interpreter, she
seemed to them to be a safe confidant, for she had
not the right to scold them. Her unvarying discre-
tion won for her the confidence of those of mature
years, for, like Ninon, she possessed divers manly
qualities. As a general rule, confidences are made
below rather than above. One employs one's in-
feriors much more frequently than one's superiors
in secret affairs; thus they become the accomplices
of our inmost thoughts, for they are present at their
deliberations; Richelieu looked upon himself as a
made man when he acquired the right to be present
at the council. The poor girl was supposed to be so
dependent upon everybody that she seemed to be
condemned to absolute dumbness. She dubbed
herself the family confessional. The baroness alone,
who did not forget the harsh usage she had received
in childhood at the hands of her more powerful,
though younger cousin, still retained a measure of
distrust. Nor would she, for very shame, have con-
fided her domestic grief to any but God.

At this point it is necessary perhaps to call atten-
tion to the fact that the baroness' establishment
had lost none of its magnificence in the eyes of
Cousin Bette, who was not impressed, like the par-
venu dealer in perfumery, by the distress written
upon the worm-eaten arm-chairs, the discolored dra-
peries and the torn silk. It is with the furniture



56 THE POOR RELATIONS

amidst which we live as with ourselves. As we
look ourselves over every day, we end, as the baron
did, by believing ourselves little changed, still youth-
ful, when others see the hair turning gray on our
heads, circumflex accents on our brows, and huge
pumpkins in our bellies. These apartments, in
Cousin Bette's eyes still illuminated by the Bengal
fires of the imperial victories, were therefore still
magnificent to her.

As time passed Cousin Bette had contracted divers
eccentric habits peculiar to old maids. For example,
instead of following the fashion, it was her good
pleasure that the fashion should adapt itself to her
peculiarities, and abide by her whims, always in ar-
rears. If the baroness presented her with a pretty new
hat, or a dress cut in the prevailing style, Cousin
Bette would immediately make everything over to suit
herself, and as surely spoil it, producing a costume
which reminded one of the fashions in vogue under
the Empire, and of her old Lorraine costumes. The
hat that cost thirty francs was ruined, and the dress
became a shapeless rag. In this respect Cousin
Bette was as obstinate as a mule; she chose to please
herself and nobody else, and deemed herself charm-
ing thus arrayed; though this process of assimilation
which had a certain harmony in it that made her an
old maid from head to foot, it made her at the same
time so ridiculous that nobody, no matter how well
disposed, could receive her on great occasions.

This restless, capricious, independent spirit, the
inexplicable shyness of the girl, for whom the baron



COUSIN BETTE 57

had four times found eligible partis an employe
of his department, a major, a contractor for pro-
visions and a retired captain and who had refused
the hand of a lace-maker, since become wealthy,
earned for her the sobriquet of "Nanny-Goat,"
which the baron laughingly bestowed upon her.
But this sobriquet applied only to superficial pecu-
liarities, to those variations which all of us offer to
one another's sight in society. This young woman,
who, under careful observation, would have ex-
hibited the fierce side of the peasant disposition,
was still the child who tried to tear out her cousin's
nose, and who would perhaps, if she had not become
reasonable, have killed her some day in a paroxysm
of jealousy. Only by knowledge of the laws and
of society did she overcome the natural tendency
which peasants have in common with savages, to
pass instantly from impulse to action. Therein it
may be consists all the difference between man in
his natural state and civilized man. The savage
has impulses only, the civilized man has impulses
and ideas. So it is that in the savage the brain re-
ceives, so to speak, few impressions, it is entirely at
the mercy of the impulse which takes it by storm;
whereas in the civilized man ideas descend from the
brain to the heart, which they transform ; it is swayed
by innumerable interests, innumerable impulses,
while the savage admits but a single idea at one time.
This is the cause of the momentary ascendency of
children over their parents, which ceases when the
wish is gratified, while, in the case of the man who



58 THE POOR RELATIONS

lives close to nature, this cause acts continuously.
Cousin Bette, the Lorraine savage, although a bit
treacherous, belonged to this category of characters,
more common among the people than is generally
supposed, which fact may serve to explain their
conduct during revolutions.

At the time when this episode begins, if Cousin
Bette had chosen to allow herself to be dressed
fashionably, if she had accustomed herself, as the
Parisian women do, to follow every new style, she
might have been both presentable and acceptable;
but she remained as stiff as a poker. Now, if she
have no charm of person a woman does not exist in
Paris. So it was that the black hair, the fine but
stern eyes, the rigid outlines of the face, the rough
complexion of a Calabrian, which made of Cousin
Bette a copy of one of Giotto's figures, and which
a true Parisian would have turned to good account,
above all else her extraordinary raiment, gave her
such a fantastic appearance, that she sometimes re-
sembled the monkeys, dressed as women, carried
about by the little Savoyards. As she was well
known in the households united by family ties, in
which she passed her time, as her social evolutions
were restricted to that circle, and as she loved her
home, her eccentricities no longer surprised any-
body, and disappeared out of doors in the ceaseless
motion of the Paris streets, where no one looks at
any save pretty women.

Hortense's laughter at that moment was caused
by a victory she had won over Cousin Bette's



COUSIN BETTE 59

obstinacy; she had surprised her into making a con-
fession demanded for three years past. However
clever at concealment an old maid may be, there is
one sentiment which will always make her break her
tongue's fast, and that is vanity! For three years
Hortense, who had developed excessive curiosity in
a certain direction, had been assailing her cousin
with questions, propounded with the breath of per-
fect innocence be it said; she wished to know why
her cousin had never married. Hortense, who knew
all about the five rejected aspirants, had constructed
her little romance, she attributed to Cousin Bette
an affair of the heart, and a war of pleasantries was
the result. "We young girls!" Hortense would
say, speaking of herself and her cousin. On sev-
eral occasions Cousin Bette had replied jokingly:
"Who says that I haven't a lover?" Cousin Bette 's
lover, real or imaginary, thereupon became the
theme of much harmless banter. At last, after two
years of this petty warfare, Hortense's first word, the
last time that Cousin Bette came to the house, was:

" How's your lover?"

" Oh! pretty well," was the reply; " he's a little
out of sorts, poor boy."

"Ah! is he delicate? "asked the baroness, with a
laugh.

" I should say so; he's very light. A coal-black
creature such as I am can love no one but a moon-
colored blonde."

" But what is he? What does he do?" said Hor-
tense. " Is he a prince?"



CO THE POOR RELATIONS

" Prince of the hand-tool, as I am queen en* the
bobbin. Can a poor girl like me win the love of a
landed proprietor with a house of his own and
money in the funds, or of a duke and peer, or of some
Prince Charming out of your fairytales?"

" Oh! I would like to see him!" cried Hortense,
with a smile.

" To see what sort of a looking creature it is who
can fall in love with an old nanny-goat?" rejoined
Cousin Bette.

" It must be some old monster of a clerk with
a long goatee!" said Hortense, glancing at her
mother.

"That's where you're wrong, mademoiselle."

"Then you have a lover?" queried Hortense,
with an air of triumph.

" As truly as you have none!" retorted Cousin
Bette with an offended air.

" Very well, Bette, if you have a lover why
don't you marry him?" said the baroness, making
a sign to her daughter. " For three years now you
have been talking about him, you have had time to
study him, and, if he has remained true to you,
you ought not to prolong a situation so irksome to
him. Besides it is a matter of conscience, and
then, even if he is young, it's high time for you to
take some one to be the staff of your old age."

Cousin Bette gazed earnestly at the baroness, and
seeing that she was laughing, she replied :

" It would be hunger marrying thirst; he's a
workman, I a workwoman , if we had children they



COUSIN BETTE 6 1

would be workmen too. No, no, we love each other
with the heart it's less expensive."

"Why do you keep him out of sight?" Hortense
asked.

" He wears a jacket," laughingly replied the old
maid.

" Do you love him?" queried the baroness.

"Ah! I should think so. I love him for himself,
the cherub. For four years I have been carrying
him in my heart."

"Very good, if you love him for himself," said
the baroness gravely. " If he really exists, you are
doing him a great wrong. You don't know what it
is to love."

"We all know that trade when we are born,"
said the cousin.

" No; there are women who love and remain
selfish, and that is your case!"

The cousin hung her head; her look would have
made the person shudder upon whom it might have
fallen, but she looked at her bobbin.

"If you would present your love-lorn suitor to
us, Hector might find a place for him and put him in
a position to make his fortune."

" That cannot be," said Cousin Bette

"Why not, pray?"

" He is a Pole or something of the sort, a
refugee."

"A conspirator?" exclaimed Hortense. "Aren't
you lucky! Has he had thrilling adventures?"

"Why, he fought for Poland. He was a professor



62 THE POOR RELATIONS

in the college where the students began the revolu-
tion, and as he was put there by the Grand Duke
Constantine he has no hope of pardon."

"Professor of what?"

" Fine arts!"

, " And he came to Paris after the failure of the
uprising?"

"In 1833 he made his way to Germany on foot."

"Poor boy! He is ?"

" He was barely twenty-four at the time of the
insurrection, he is twenty-nine now."

" Fifteen years younger than you," said the
baroness.

"What does he live on?" asked Hortense.

"On his talents. "

"Ah! he gives lessons?"

" No," said Cousin Bette, " he receives them and
harsh ones, too!"

"And his name? Is it pretty?"

"Wenceslas!"

" What imaginations old maids have!" cried the
baroness. " By your way of speaking any one
might believe you, Lisbeth."

" Don't you see, mamma, that he's a Pole so
used to the knout that Bette reminds him of that
charming little emblem of his fatherland."

All three began to laugh, and Hortense sang :
Wenceslas! idole de mon time! instead of O
Mathttde. And for a few moments there was some-
thing like an armistice.

"These little girls," said Cousin Bette, with a



COUSIN BETTB 63

glance at Hortense when she returned to her side,
"think that no one can love but themselves."

"Come," said Hortense, when she and her
cousin were alone, " prove to me that Wenceslas
isn't a conte, and I'll give you my yellow cashmere
shawl."

" But he is a comte!"

" All Poles are comtes!"

" But he's not, a Pole, he's from Li va, Lith "

"Lithuania?"'

"No."

"Livonia?"

" That's it."

" But what's his name?"

" Look you, 1 want to know if you are capable
of keeping a secret."

"Oh! cousin, I will be dumb "

"As a fish?"

"As a fish!"

" By your eternal life?"

"By my eternal life!"

"No, by your happiness on earth?"

"Yes."

" Well, then, his name is Wenceslas Steinbock!"

" There was one of Charles the Twelfth's gen-
erals who bore that name."

"That was his great-uncle! His father settled
in Livonia after the death of the King of Sweden,
but he lost his fortune at the time of the campaign
of 1812, leaving the poor child penniless at the age
of eight. The Grand Duke Constantine, on account



64 THE POOR RELATIONS

of his name of Steinbock, took him under his patron-
age and put him at school."

" I don't take back what I said," replied Hortense,
"give me a proof of his existence, and you shall
have the yellow shawl. Ah! that color takes the
place of paint for brunettes."

"You will keep my secret?"

"You shall know mine."

" Very well; the next time I come I will bring the
proof."

" But the best proof is the lover himself," said
Hortense.

Cousin Bette, who had upon her arrival at Paris
fallen a prey to a fervent admiration for cashmeres,
was fascinated by the thought of possessing the
yellow shawl given by the baron to his wife in 1808,
and which, in accordance with the custom of some
families, had passed from mother to daughter in
1830. For ten years the shawl had been well worn;
but the precious material, which was always care-
fully laid away in a sandal-wood box, was still new
in the old maid's eyes, like the baroness' furniture.
So she had brought in her reticule a gift which she
intended to present to the baroness on her birthday
and which, in her opinion, should demonstrate the
existence of the eccentric lover.

This gift consisted of a silver seal, composed of
three figures standing back to back, surrounded by
foliage and holding up the globe. The three figures
represented Faith, Hope and Charity. Their feet
rested upon monsters which were tearing one another



COUSIN BETTE 65

to pieces, and among which the symbolic serpent
crawled. In 1846, after the tremendous impulse
given to the art of Benvenuto Cellini by Made-
moiselle de Fauveau, Wagner, Jeanest, Froment-
Meurice, and wood-engravers like Lienard, this
masterpiece would surprise no one; but at the time
of which we are writing a young girl, and a connois-
seur in such matters, might well have been thun-
derstruck upon examining this seal when Cousin
Bette handed it to her, saying:

" Look, what do you say to this?"

The figures, in design, in their drapery, and in
their attitudes, belonged to the school of Raphael;
by the manner in which they were executed they
recalled the school of the Florentine bronze-workers,
the school founded by Donatello, Brunelleschi, Ghi-
berti, Benvenuto Cellini, John of Bologna, etc.
The French Renaissance could show no distorted
monsters more fantastic in design than those which
symbolized the bad passions. The palms, the ferns,
the reeds and rushes which surrounded the Virtues
were grouped so effectively and with such good
taste as to drive the ordinary craftsman to despair.
A ribbon joined the three heads together, and upon
the vacant spaces between each two heads, was a
W, a chamois and the word fecit.

"Who engraved this?" Hortense asked.

"My lover, to be sure," replied Cousin Bette.

" There is ten months' work in that; so I earn more

making sword-tassels. He told me that Steinbock

means, in German, animal of the cliffs, or chamois.

5



66 THE POOR RELATIONS

He proposes to sign his works in this way. Ah! I
shall have your shawl "

"How so?"

"Can I buy such a trinket? or order it? it's im-
possible; so it must have been given to me. Who
could make such presents? a lover!"

Hortense, with a capacity for dissimulation at
which Lisbeth Fischer would have been dismayed
had she detected it, carefully avoided expressing all
her admiration, although she felt that thrill which
all people feel whose souls are susceptible to the
beautiful when they see a perfect, flawless and
unexpected masterpiece.

"Really," she said, "it's very pretty."

"Yes, it is pretty," rejoined the old maid, "but
I prefer an orange cashmere. You see, little one,
my lover passes his time working at that sort of
thing. Since his arrival in Paris he has made three
or four stupid little things like this, and that's the
result of four years of study and labor. He has
served as apprentice to founders, moulders and
jewelers bah! hundreds and thousands have gone
the same way. Monsieur tells me that in a few
months now he will be famous and rich "

"Why, do you see him?"

"See him! do you think it's a fable? I told you
the truth jokingly."

"And he loves you?" asked Hortense, eagerly.

"He adores me!" replied her cousin, with a
serious expression. "You see, little one, he has
never known any but pale, insipid women, such as



COUSIN BETTE 67

they all are in the North; a dark, graceful young
girl like me warms his heart. But not a word of
this! You promised me."

" It will be with this one as with the other five,"
said the young girl with a bantering air, as she
looked at the seal.

" Six, mademoiselle; I left one in Lorraine who
would unhook the moon for me to this day."

" This one does better than that," rejoined Hor-
tense, "he brings you the sun."

"Where can you have that coined into money?"
asked Cousin Bette. " One must have a lot of land
to get the benefit of the sun."

These jocose remarks on one side and the other,
followed by others no less absurd, which the reader
can imagine, gave rise to the laughter which had
redoubled the agony of the baroness by forcing her
to compare her daughter's future with the present,
when she saw her yielding freely to the joyous
impulses of her age.

" But if he gives you jewels that require six
months' work, he must be under great obligations
to you?" queried Hortense, in whose mind the seal
gave rise to profound reflections.

"Ah! you want to know too much at one time,"
replied Cousin Bette.

" But, listen, I am going to let you into a con-
spiracy."

" Shall I be associated with your lover in it?"

"Ah! you would like to see him! But you
must understand that an old maid like your Bette,



68 THE POOR RELATIONS

who has succeeded in keeping a lover for five years,
keeps him well hidden. So let me alone. I am not
a cat, you know, nor a canary, nor a dog, nor a
parrot; an old nanny-goat like me must have some
little thing to love and fondle, so I take a Pole."

"Has he moustaches?"

"As long as these," said Bette, pointing to a
shuttle filled with gold threads.

She always carried her work with her, and worked
while waiting for dinner to be served.

" If you keep asking me questions, you shall know
nothing," she resumed. "You are only twenty-two
and you are more of a chatter-box than I who am
forty -two, yes, forty-three."

" I am made of wood and I listen," said Hortense.

" My lover has made a bronze group ten inches
high," continued Cousin Bette. " It represents
Samson tearing a lion to pieces, and he has buried
it and rusted it so that he can make people believe
now that it is old as Samson. This chef-d'oeuvre is
on exposition at one of the bric-a-brac shops on the
Place du Carrousel, near my house. If your father,
who knows M. Popinot, the Minister of Commerce
and Agriculture, and the Comte de Rastignac, could
say a word to them about this group as a fine piece
of antique work he had seen in passing! It seems
that great personages devote themselves to such mat-
ters instead of interesting themselves in our sword-
tassels, and that my lover's fortune would be made
if they would buy or even go and examine that
wretched bit of copper. The poor boy insists that



COUSIN BETTE 69

they would take the trifle for a real antique, and
pay a big price for it. Then if it is one of the
ministers who takes the group, he will go to him,
prove that he is the maker of it and be awarded a
triumph! Oh! he fancies himself on the pinnacle
of fame; he has as much pride, has the youth, as
two new counts."

"He is Michael Angelo born again; but, for a
lover, he doesn't'lack shrewdness," said Hortense.
" How much does he want for it?"

" Fifteen hundred francs! The dealer ought not
to sell the bronze for less than that, for he must
have his commission."

"Papa is the king's commissioner at this mo-
ment," said Hortense; "he sees the two ministers
every day at the Chamber, and I will see to it that
he does the business for you. You will be a rich
woman, Madame la Comtesse Steinbock!"

" No, my man is too lazy; he does nothing for
whole weeks but play with red wax, and nothing
goes forward. Bah! he passes his life at the Louvre
and the Bibliotheque, looking at engravings and
sketching them. He's an idler."

The two cousins continued their conversation in
a jocose vein. Hortense laughed as one does when
one forces one's self to laugh, for she was assailed
by a passion which all young ladies have experi-
enced, the love of the unknown, the vague love in
which the thoughts take shape about any image
which chance throws in their way, as the frost col-
lects upon the bits of straw left hanging by the



70 THE POOR RELATIONS

wind upon the window-sill. For ten months she
had transformed into a real being her cousin's im-
aginary lover, believing, as did her mother, in her
cousin's vow of perpetual celibacy; and within a
week the phantom had become Count Wenceslas
Steinbock, the dream had a certificate of birth, the
vapor condensed and became a young man of thirty
years. The seal she held in her hand, a sort of
Annunciation, in which genius burst forth like a ray
of light, had the power of a talisman. Hortense
was so elated by her good fortune that she began
to suspect that the fable was true; her blood was
in a state of fermentation, and she laughed like a
mad woman to throw her cousin off the scent.

"Ah! I think the door of the salon is open," said
Cousin Bette; " let us go and see if M. Crevel has
gone."

" Mamma has been very sad for two days; the
marriage that was suggested is broken off, no
doubt."

" Pshaw! it can be arranged; the man in the
case I may tell you so much is a councilor of the
royal court. Would you like to be Madame la
Prsidente? Well, if it rests with M. Crevel, he
will say something to me about it, and I shall know
to-morrow whether there is any hope!"

" Cousin, leave the seal with me," said Hortense;
" I won't show it. Mamma's birthday is within a
month, and I will give it back to you that morning."

"No, give it to me now, I must have a case
for it."



COUSIN BETTE 71

" But I will let papa see it so that he can speak to
the minister with some knowledge of what he is
talking about, for the authorities will not take any
risks," said she.

" Very well, but don't show it to your mother,
that's all I ask of you; for if she should know that I
have a lover, she would laugh at me."

"I promise."



The two cousins reached the door of the boudoir
just as the baroness swooned, and the cry uttered
by Hortense sufficed to bring her to herself. Bette
ran to fetch the salts. When she returned she found
the mother and daughter in each other's arms, the
mother soothing her daughter's fears, and saying:

"It's nothing; a mere nervous attack. Here's
your father," she added, recognizing her husband's
ring; " on no account say a word to him of this."

Adeline rose to go and meet her husband, with
the purpose of taking him to the garden until dinner,
of speaking to him of the abandoned marriage, of
forcing him to an explanation concerning the future,
and of trying to give him a little advice.

Baron Hector Hulot made his appearance clad in
parliamentary and Napoleonic garb, for it is easy to
distinguish the imperialists those who served under
the Empire by their military carriage, their blue
coats with gilt buttons, buttoned to the throat, their
black silk cravats, and by the authoritative manner
growing out of the habit of despotic command which


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