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Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny





THE SECRETS OF THE PRINCESSE DE CADIGNAN


By Honore De Balzac



Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley



DEDICATION

To Theophile Gautier





THE SECRETS OF THE PRINCESSE DE CADIGNAN




CHAPTER I. THE LAST WORD OF TWO GREAT COQUETTES


After the disasters of the revolution of July, which destroyed so many
aristocratic fortunes dependent on the court, Madame la Princesse de
Cadignan was clever enough to attribute to political events the total
ruin she had caused by her own extravagance. The prince left France
with the royal family, and never returned to it, leaving the princess in
Paris, protected by the fact of his absence; for their debts, which
the sale of all their salable property had not been able to extinguish,
could only be recovered through him. The revenues of the entailed
estates had been seized. In short, the affairs of this great family were
in as bad a state as those of the elder branch of the Bourbons.

This woman, so celebrated under her first name of Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse, very wisely decided to live in retirement, and to make
herself, if possible, forgotten. Paris was then so carried away by the
whirling current of events that the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, buried in
the Princesse de Cadignan, a change of name unknown to most of the new
actors brought upon the stage of society by the revolution of July, did
really become a stranger in her own city.

In Paris the title of duke ranks all others, even that of prince;
though, in heraldic theory, free of all sophism, titles signify nothing;
there is absolute equality among gentlemen. This fine equality was
formerly maintained by the House of France itself; and in our day it is
so still, at least, nominally; witness the care with which the kings of
France give to their sons the simple title of count. It was in virtue of
this system that Francois I. crushed the splendid titles assumed by the
pompous Charles the Fifth, by signing his answer: "Francois, seigneur
de Vanves." Louis XI. did better still by marrying his daughter to
an untitled gentleman, Pierre de Beaujeu. The feudal system was so
thoroughly broken up by Louis XIV. that the title of duke became, during
his reign, the supreme honor of the aristocracy, and the most coveted.

Nevertheless there are two or three families in France in which the
principality, richly endowed in former times, takes precedence of
the duchy. The house of Cadignan, which possesses the title of Duc de
Maufrigneuse for its eldest sons, is one of these exceptional families.
Like the princes of the house of Rohan in earlier days, the princes of
Cadignan had the right to a throne in their own domain; they could have
pages and gentlemen in their service. This explanation is necessary,
as much to escape foolish critics who know nothing, as to record the
customs of a world which, we are told, is about to disappear, and which,
evidently, so many persons are assisting to push away without knowing
what it is.

The Cadignans bear: or, five lozenges sable appointed, placed fess-wise,
with the word "Memini" for motto, a crown with a cap of maintenance,
no supporters or mantle. In these days the great crowd of strangers
flocking to Paris, and the almost universal ignorance of the science of
heraldry, are beginning to bring the title of prince into fashion.
There are no real princes but those possessed of principalities, to whom
belongs the title of highness. The disdain shown by the French nobility
for the title of prince, and the reasons which caused Louis XIV. to give
supremacy to the title of duke, have prevented Frenchmen from claiming
the appellation of "highness" for the few princes who exist in France,
those of Napoleon excepted. This is why the princes of Cadignan hold an
inferior position, nominally, to the princes of the continent.

The members of the society called the faubourg Saint-Germain protected
the princess by a respectful silence due to her name, which is one
of those that all men honor, to her misfortunes, which they ceased to
discuss, and to her beauty, the only thing she saved of her departed
opulence. Society, of which she had once been the ornament, was thankful
to her for having, as it were, taken the veil, and cloistered herself
in her own home. This act of good taste was for her, more than for any
other woman, an immense sacrifice. Great deeds are always so keenly felt
in France that the princess gained, by her retreat, as much as she had
lost in public opinion in the days of her splendor.

She now saw only one of her old friends, the Marquise d'Espard, and even
to her she never went on festive occasions or to parties. The princess
and the marquise visited each other in the forenoons, with a certain
amount of secrecy. When the princess went to dine with her friend,
the marquise closed her doors. Madame d'Espard treated the princess
charmingly; she changed her box at the opera, leaving the first tier for
a baignoire on the ground-floor, so that Madame de Cadignan could come
to the theatre unseen, and depart incognito. Few women would have been
capable of a delicacy which deprived them of the pleasure of bearing in
their train a fallen rival, and of publicly being her benefactress. Thus
relieved of the necessity for costly toilets, the princess could enjoy
the theatre, whither she went in Madame d'Espard's carriage, which she
would never have accepted openly in the daytime. No one has ever
known Madame d'Espard's reasons for behaving thus to the Princesse de
Cadignan; but her conduct was admirable, and for a long time included a
number of little acts which, viewed single, seem mere trifles, but taken
in the mass become gigantic.

In 1832, three years had thrown a mantle of snow over the follies and
adventures of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, and had whitened them so
thoroughly that it now required a serious effort of memory to recall
them. Of the queen once adored by so many courtiers, and whose follies
might have given a theme to a variety of novels, there remained a woman
still adorably beautiful, thirty-six years of age, but quite justified
in calling herself thirty, although she was the mother of Duc Georges
de Maufrigneuse, a young man of eighteen, handsome as Antinous, poor as
Job, who was expected to obtain great successes, and for whom his mother
desired, above all things, to find a rich wife. Perhaps this hope was
the secret of the intimacy she still kept up with the marquise, in whose
salon, which was one of the first in Paris, she might eventually be able
to choose among many heiresses for Georges' wife. The princess saw five
years between the present moment and her son's marriage, - five solitary
and desolate years; for, in order to obtain such a marriage for her
son, she knew that her own conduct must be marked in the corner with
discretion.

The princess lived in the rue de Miromesnil, in a small house, of which
she occupied the ground-floor at a moderate rent. There she made the
most of the relics of her past magnificence. The elegance of the great
lady was still redolent about her. She was still surrounded by beautiful
things which recalled her former existence. On her chimney-piece was a
fine miniature portrait of Charles X., by Madame Mirbel, beneath which
were engraved the words, "Given by the King"; and, as a pendant, the
portrait of "Madame", who was always her kind friend. On a table lay an
album of costliest price, such as none of the bourgeoises who now lord
it in our industrial and fault-finding society would have dared to
exhibit. This album contained portraits, about thirty in number, of
her intimate friends, whom the world, first and last, had given her as
lovers. The number was a calumny; but had rumor said ten, it might have
been, as her friend Madame d'Espard remarked, good, sound gossip. The
portraits of Maxime de Trailles, de Marsay, Rastignac, the Marquis
d'Esgrignon, General Montriveau, the Marquis de Ronquerolles and
d'Ajuda-Pinto, Prince Galathionne, the young Ducs de Grandlieu and de
Rhetore, the Vicomte de Serizy, and the handsome Lucien de Rubempre,
had all been treated with the utmost coquetry of brush and pencil by
celebrated artists. As the princess now received only two or three of
these personages, she called the book, jokingly, the collection of her
errors.

Misfortune had made this woman a good mother. During the fifteen years
of the Restoration she had amused herself far too much to think of
her son; but on taking refuge in obscurity, this illustrious egoist
bethought her that the maternal sentiment, developed to its extreme,
might be an absolution for her past follies in the eyes of sensible
persons, who pardon everything to a good mother. She loved her son all
the more because she had nothing else to love. Georges de Maufrigneuse
was, moreover, one of those children who flatter the vanities of a
mother; and the princess had, accordingly, made all sorts of sacrifices
for him. She hired a stable and coach-house, above which he lived in a
little entresol with three rooms looking on the street, and charmingly
furnished; she had even borne several privations to keep a saddle-horse,
a cab-horse, and a little groom for his use. For herself, she had only
her own maid, and as cook, a former kitchen-maid. The duke's groom
had, therefore, rather a hard place. Toby, formerly tiger to the "late"
Beaudenord (such was the jesting term applied by the gay world to that
ruined gentleman), - Toby, who at twenty-five years of age was still
considered only fourteen, was expected to groom the horses, clean the
cabriolet, or the tilbury, and the harnesses, accompany his master, take
care of the apartments, and be in the princess's antechamber to announce
a visitor, if, by chance, she happened to receive one.

When one thinks of what the beautiful Duchesse de Maufrigneuse had been
under the Restoration, - one of the queens of Paris, a dazzling queen,
whose luxurious existence equalled that of the richest women of fashion
in London, - there was something touching in the sight of her in that
humble little abode in the rue de Miromesnil, a few steps away from her
splendid mansion, which no amount of fortune had enabled her to keep,
and which the hammer of speculators has since demolished. The woman who
thought she was scarcely well served by thirty servants, who possessed
the most beautiful reception-rooms in all Paris, and the loveliest
little private apartments, and who made them the scene of such
delightful fetes, now lived in a small apartment of five rooms, - an
antechamber, dining-room, salon, one bed-chamber, and a dressing-room,
with two women-servants only.

"Ah! she is devoted to her son," said that clever creature, Madame
d'Espard, "and devoted without ostentation; she is happy. Who would
ever have believed so frivolous a woman was capable of such persistent
resolution! Our good archbishop has, consequently, greatly encouraged
her; he is most kind to her, and has just induced the old Comtesse de
Cinq-Cygne to pay her a visit."

Let us admit a truth! One must be a queen to know how to abdicate, and
to descend with dignity from a lofty position which is never wholly
lost. Those only who have an inner consciousness of being nothing in
themselves, show regrets in falling, or struggle, murmuring, to return
to a past which can never return, - a fact of which they themselves are
well aware. Compelled to do without the choice exotics in the midst of
which she had lived, and which set off so charmingly her whole being
(for it is impossible not to compare her to a flower), the princess
had wisely chosen a ground-floor apartment; there she enjoyed a pretty
little garden which belonged to it, - a garden full of shrubs, and an
always verdant turf, which brightened her peaceful retreat. She had
about twelve thousand francs a year; but that modest income was partly
made up of an annual stipend sent her by the old Duchesse de Navarreins,
paternal aunt of the young duke, and another stipend given by her
mother, the Duchesse d'Uxelles, who was living on her estate in the
country, where she economized as old duchesses alone know how to
economize; for Harpagon is a mere novice compared to them. The princess
still retained some of her past relations with the exiled royal family;
and it was in her house that the marshal to whom we owe the conquest of
Africa had conferences, at the time of "Madame's" attempt in La Vendee,
with the principal leaders of legitimist opinion, - so great was the
obscurity in which the princess lived, and so little distrust did the
government feel for her in her present distress.

Beholding the approach of that terrible fortieth year, the bankruptcy of
love, beyond which there is so little for a woman as woman, the princess
had flung herself into the kingdom of philosophy. She took to reading,
she who for sixteen years had felt a cordial horror for serious things.
Literature and politics are to-day what piety and devotion once were
to her sex, - the last refuge of their feminine pretensions. In her
late social circle it was said that Diane was writing a book. Since
her transformation from a queen and beauty to a woman of intellect, the
princess had contrived to make a reception in her little house a great
honor which distinguished the favored person. Sheltered by her supposed
occupation, she was able to deceive one of her former adorers, de
Marsay, the most influential personage of the political bourgeoisie
brought to the fore in July 1830. She received him sometimes in the
evenings, and, occupied his attention while the marshal and a few
legitimists were talking, in a low voice, in her bedroom, about
the recovery of power, which could be attained only by a general
co-operation of ideas, - the one element of success which all
conspirators overlook. It was the clever vengeance of the pretty woman,
who thus inveigled the prime minister, and made him act as screen for a
conspiracy against his own government.

This adventure, worthy of the finest days of the Fronde, was the text
of a very witty letter, in which the princess rendered to "Madame" an
account of the negotiations. The Duc de Maufrigneuse went to La Vendee,
and was able to return secretly without being compromised, but not
without taking part in "Madame's" perils; the latter, however, sent
him home the moment she saw that her cause was lost. Perhaps, had he
remained, the eager vigilance of the young man might have foiled that
treachery. However great the faults of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse may
have seemed in the eyes of the bourgeoisie, the behavior of her son on
this occasion certainly effaced them in the eyes of the aristocracy.
There was great nobility and grandeur in thus risking her only son, and
the heir of an historic name. Some persons are said to intentionally
cover the faults of their private life by public services, and vice
versa; but the Princesse de Cadignan made no such calculation. Possibly
those who apparently so conduct themselves make none. Events count for
much in such cases.

On one of the first fine days in the month of May, 1833, the Marquise
d'Espard and the princess were turning about - one could hardly call
it walking - in the single path which wound round the grass-plat in
the garden, about half-past two in the afternoon, just as the sun was
leaving it. The rays reflected on the walls gave a warm atmosphere
to the little space, which was fragrant with flowers, the gift of the
marquise.

"We shall soon lose de Marsay," said the marquise; "and with him will
disappear your last hope of fortune for your son. Ever since you played
him that clever trick, he has returned to his affection for you."

"My son will never capitulate to the younger branch," returned the
princess, "if he has to die of hunger, or I have to work with my hands
to feed him. Besides, Berthe de Cinq-Cygne has no aversion to him."

"Children don't bind themselves to their parents' principles," said
Madame d'Espard.

"Don't let us talk about it," said the princess. "If I can't coax over
the Marquise de Cinq-Cygne, I shall marry Georges to the daughter of
some iron-founderer, as that little d'Esgrignon did."

"Did you love Victurnien?" asked the marquise.

"No," replied the princess, gravely, "d'Esgrignon's simplicity was
really only a sort of provincial silliness, which I perceived rather too
late - or, if you choose, too soon."

"And de Marsay?"

"De Marsay played with me as if I were a doll. I was so young at the
time! We never love men who pretend to teach us; they rub up all our
little vanities."

"And that wretched boy who hanged himself?"

"Lucien? An Antinous and a great poet. I worshiped him in all
conscience, and I might have been happy. But he was in love with a girl
of the town; and I gave him up to Madame de Serizy.... If he had cared
to love me, should I have given him up?"

"What an odd thing, that you should come into collision with an Esther!"

"She was handsomer than I," said the Princess. - "Very soon it shall be
three years that I have lived in solitude," she resumed, after a pause,
"and this tranquillity has nothing painful to me about it. To you
alone can I dare to say that I feel I am happy. I was surfeited with
adoration, weary of pleasure, emotional on the surface of things, but
conscious that emotion itself never reached my heart. I have found all
the men whom I have known petty, paltry, superficial; none of them ever
caused me a surprise; they had no innocence, no grandeur, no delicacy. I
wish I could have met with one man able to inspire me with respect."

"Then are you like me, my dear?" asked the marquise; "have you never
felt the emotion of love while trying to love?"

"Never," replied the princess, laying her hand on the arm of her friend.

They turned and seated themselves on a rustic bench beneath a jasmine
then coming into flower. Each had uttered one of those sayings that are
solemn to women who have reached their age.

"Like you," resumed the princess, "I have received more love than most
women; but through all my many adventures, I have never found happiness.
I committed great follies, but they had an object, and that object
retreated as fast as I approached it. I feel to-day in my heart, old
as it is, an innocence which has never been touched. Yes, under all my
experience, lies a first love intact, - just as I myself, in spite of all
my losses and fatigues, feel young and beautiful. We may love and not
be happy; we may be happy and never love; but to love and be happy, to
unite those two immense human experiences, is a miracle. That miracle
has not taken place for me."

"Nor for me," said Madame d'Espard.

"I own I am pursued in this retreat by dreadful regret: I have amused
myself all through life, but I have never loved."

"What an incredible secret!" cried the marquise.

"Ah! my dear," replied the princess, "such secrets we can tell to
ourselves, you and I, but nobody in Paris would believe us."

"And," said the marquise, "if we were not both over thirty-six years of
age, perhaps we would not tell them to each other."

"Yes; when women are young they have so many stupid conceits," replied
the princess. "We are like those poor young men who play with a
toothpick to pretend they have dined."

"Well, at any rate, here we are!" said Madame d'Espard, with coquettish
grace, and a charming gesture of well-informed innocence; "and, it seems
to me, sufficiently alive to think of taking our revenge."

"When you told me, the other day, that Beatrix had gone off with Conti,
I thought of it all night long," said the princess, after a pause. "I
suppose there was happiness in sacrificing her position, her future, and
renouncing society forever."

"She was a little fool," said Madame d'Espard, gravely. "Mademoiselle
des Touches was delighted to get rid of Conti. Beatrix never perceived
how that surrender, made by a superior woman who never for a moment
defended her claims, proved Conti's nothingness."

"Then you think she will be unhappy?"

"She is so now," replied Madame d'Espard. "Why did she leave her
husband? What an acknowledgment of weakness!"

"Then you think that Madame de Rochefide was not influenced by the
desire to enjoy a true love in peace?" asked the princess.

"No; she was simply imitating Madame de Beausant and Madame de Langeais,
who, be it said, between you and me, would have been, in a less vulgar
period than ours, the La Villiere, the Diane de Poitiers, the Gabrielle
d'Estrees of history."

"Less the king, my dear. Ah! I wish I could evoke the shades of those
women, and ask them - "

"But," said the marquise, interrupting the princess, "why ask the dead?
We know living women who have been happy. I have talked on this very
subject a score of times with Madame de Montcornet since she married
that little Emile Blondet, who makes her the happiest woman in the
world; not an infidelity, not a thought that turns aside from her; they
are as happy as they were the first day. These long attachments, like
that of Rastignac and Madame de Nucingen, and your cousin, Madame de
Camps, for her Octave, have a secret, and that secret you and I don't
know, my dear. The world has paid us the extreme compliment of thinking
we are two rakes worthy of the court of the regent; whereas we are, in
truth, as innocent as a couple of school-girls."

"I should like that sort of innocence," cried the princess, laughing;
"but ours is worse, and it is very humiliating. Well, it is a
mortification we offer up in expiation of our fruitless search; yes,
my dear, fruitless, for it isn't probable we shall find in our autumn
season the fine flower we missed in the spring and summer."

"That's not the question," resumed the marquise, after a meditative
pause. "We are both still beautiful enough to inspire love, but we could
never convince any one of our innocence and virtue."

"If it were a lie, how easy to dress it up with commentaries, and
serve it as some delicious fruit to be eagerly swallowed! But how is
it possible to get a truth believed? Ah! the greatest of men have been
mistaken there!" added the princess, with one of those meaning smiles
which the pencil of Leonardo da Vinci alone has rendered.

"Fools love well, sometimes," returned the marquise.

"But in this case," said the princess, "fools wouldn't have enough
credulity in their nature."

"You are right," said the marquise. "But what we ought to look for is
neither a fool nor even a man of talent. To solve our problem we need a
man of genius. Genius alone has the faith of childhood, the religion of
love, and willingly allows us to band its eyes. Look at Canalis and the
Duchesse de Chaulieu! Though we have both encountered men of genius,
they were either too far removed from us or too busy, and we too
absorbed, too frivolous."

"Ah! how I wish I might not leave this world without knowing the
happiness of true love," exclaimed the princess.

"It is nothing to inspire it," said Madame d'Espard; "the thing is to
feel it. I see many women who are only the pretext for a passion without
being both its cause and its effect."

"The last love I inspired was a beautiful and sacred thing," said the
princess. "It had a future in it. Chance had brought me, for once in a
way, the man of genius who is due to us, and yet so difficult to obtain;
there are more pretty women than men of genius. But the devil interfered
with the affair."

"Tell me about it, my dear; this is all news to me."

"I first noticed this beautiful passion about the middle of the winter
of 1829. Every Friday, at the opera, I observed a young man, about
thirty years of age, in the orchestra stalls, who evidently came there
for me. He was always in the same stall, gazing at me with eyes of fire,
but, seemingly, saddened by the distance between us, perhaps by the
hopelessness of reaching me."

"Poor fellow! When a man loves he becomes eminently stupid," said the
marquise.

"Between every act he would slip into the corridor," continued the
princess, smiling at her friend's epigrammatic remark. "Once or twice,
either to see me or to make me see him, he looked through the glass
sash of the box exactly opposite to mine. If I received a visit, I was
certain to see him in the corridor close to my door, casting a furtive
glance upon me. He had apparently learned to know the persons belonging
to my circle; and he followed them when he saw them turning in the
direction of my box, in order to obtain the benefit of the opening door.
I also found my mysterious adorer at the Italian opera-house; there he


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