Honoré de Balzac.

A woman of thirty ; The seamy side of history and other stories online

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A woman of thirty ; The seamy
side of history and other stories



Honore de Balzac



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A WOMAN OF THIRTY
A START IN LIFE



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SHE TOOK HER MAID W!TH HER, AND THE OLU SOlDJEh
GALLOPED UESIDE THE CARRIAGE.






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^ H. DE BALZAC



A Woman of Thirty
The Seamy Side of History



AND OTHER STORIES



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ELLEN MARRIAGE and CLARA BELL

WITH PBSPACBi BT

GEORGE SAINTSBURY



PHILADELPHIA

The Gebbie Publishing Co., Ltd.
1899



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CONTENTS

VOLUME I.

PAOB

PREFACE ix

A WOMAN OF' THIRTY

I. KAKLY MISTAKES I

II. A HIDDEN GRIEF 76

III. AT THIRTY YEARS 99

IT. THE FINGER OF GOD I24

V. TWO MEETINGS I39

VI. THE OLD AGE OF A GUILTY MOTHER . . • .193

A START IN LIFE 209

VOLUME II.

PREFACE Ix

THE ^EAMY SIDE OF HISTORY

FIRST EPISODE: MADAME DE LA CHANTERIS ... I

SECOND EPISODE: INITIATED 133

ar THE SIGN OF THE CAT AND RACKET . . 229

THE FIRM OF NUCINGEN 291

AN EPISODE OF THE REIGN OF TERROR ... 371



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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS



VOLUME I.

SHE TOOK HBK MAID WITH HER, AND THE OLD SOLDIER GAL-
LOPED BESIDE THE CARRIAGE (p. 36) . . . FronHspteci

SHE PUT THE CURTAINS SOFTLY ASIDE 72

HE TURNED HIS HEAD TOWARD HIS HOST'S DAUGHTER . • 157

A VAST COLUMN OF SMOKE RISING SPREAD LIKE A BROWN

CLOUD 187

Drawn by W. Boncktr,

PIERROTIN SAT DOWN ON ONE OF THE ENORMOUS CURBSTONES . 2I9
Drawn by F. C. Tiluty,



VOLUME IL

"I AM ALAIN, MONGENOD'S FRIEND" 55

*«I BEG YOUR PARDON A THOUSAND TIMES, MONSIEUR" . . I37

^HSRE, MY DEAR, IS OUR NEIGHBOR OP WHOM I SPOKE TO

YOU" 174

Drawn by y. Ayton Symington,

ISAURE WOULD PUT HER LITTLE FOOT ON A CHAIR . . . 336

Prawn by W, Bomhtr,



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PREFACE.

''La Femme dk Trente Ans," which opens the volume,
is tainted with a kind of sentimentalism which, in Balzac's
hands and to English taste, very rarely escapes a smatch of
the rancid. As M. de Lovenjoul's patient investigations have
shown, and as the curiously wide date 182S-1844 would itself
indicate to any one who has carefully studied Balzac's ways of
proceeding, it is not really a single story at all, but consists
of half a dozen chapters or episodes originally published at
different times and in different places, and stuck together with
so much less than even the author's usual attention to strict
construction, that the general title is totally inapplicable to
the greater part of the book, and that the chronology of that
part to which it does apply fits in very badly with the rest.
This, however, is the least of the faults of the piece. It is
more — though still not most — serious that Balzac never seems
to have made up anything like a clear or consistent idea of
Julie d'Aiglcmont in his mind. First she is a selfish and
thoughtless child ; then an angelic and persecuted but faithful
wife ; then a somewhat facile victim to a very commonplace
seducer, after resisting an exceptional one. So, again, she is
first a devoted mother, then an almost unnatural parent, and
then again devoted, being punished par oU elU a pichi [how-
ever she may sin] once more. Even this, however, might
have been atoned for by truth, or grace, or power of handling.
I cannot find much of any of these things here. Not to men-
tion the unsavoriness of part of Julie's trials, they are not
such as, in me at least, excite any sympathy ; and Balzac has
drenched her with the sickly sentiment above noticed to an
almost nauseous extent. Although he would have us take the
Marquis as a brutal husband, he does not in effect represenJt



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X PREFACE.

him as such, but merely as a not very refined and rather clumsy
" good fellow," who for his sins is cursed with a mijaurie
[affected] of a wife. The Julie-Arthur love-passages are in the
very worst style of "sensibility;" and though I fully ac-
knowledge the heroism of my countryman Lord Arthur in
allowing his fingers to be crushed and making no sign — al-
though I question very much whether I could have done the
same — I fear this romantic act does not suffice to give verisi-
militude to a figure which is for the most part mere pasteboard,
with sawdust inside and tinsel out. Many of the incidents,
such as the pushing of the child into the water, and, still more,
the scene on shipboard where the princely Corsair takes mil-
lions out of a piano and gives them away, have the crude and
childish absurdity of the "CEuvrcs de Jeunesse," which they
very much resemble, and with which, from the earliest date
given, they may very probably have been contemporary.
Those who are fortunate enough to find Julie, in her early
afternoon of femme incomprise [non -compromised woman],
attractive, may put up with these defects. I own that I am
not quite able to find the compensation sufficient. The worse
side of the French " sensibilfly " school from Rousseau to
Madame de Stael appears here ; and Balzac, genius as he was,
had quite weak points enough of his own without borrowing
other men's and women's.

It takes M. de Lovenjoul nearly three of his large pages of
small type to give an exact bibliography of the extraordinary
mosaic which bears the title of '* I-a Femme de Trente Ans."
It must be sufficient here to say that most of its parts appeared
separately in different periodicals (notably the '* Revue de
Paris ") during the very early thirties ; that when in 1832 most
of them appeared together in the " Scenes de la Vie Priv^e "
they were independent stories ; and that when the author did
put them together, he at first adopted the title "Mtoe His-
toire."

The second story in the volume, a very slight touch of un-



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PREFACE. xl

necessary cruelty excepted, is one of the truest and most amus-
ing of all ^2\zzc^^ repertoire; and it is conducted according
to the orthodox methods of poetical justice. It is impossible
not to recognize the justice of the portraiture of the luckless
Oscar Husson, and the exact verisimilitudeof the way in which
he succumbs to the temptations and practical jokes (the first
title of the story was ** Le Danger des Mystifications ") of his
companions. I am not a good authority on matters dramatic ;
but it seems to me that the story would lend itself to the stage
in the right hands better than almost anything that Balzac
has done. Half an enfant terrible and half a Sir Martin Mar-
all, the luckless Oscar *' puts his foot into it," and emerges in
deplorable condition, with a sustained success which would do
credit to all but the very best writers of farcical comedy, and
would not disgrace the very best.

In such pieces the characters other than the hero have but
to play contributory parts, and here they do not fail to do
so. M. de S^rizy, whom it pleased Balzac to keep in a dozen
books as his stock example of the unfortunate husband, plays
his part with at least as much dignity as is easily possible
to such a personage. Madame^ Clapart is not too absurd as
the fond mother of the cub ; and Moreau, her ancient lover,
is equally commendable in the not very easy part of a "pro-
tector." The easy-going ladies who figure in Oscar's second
collapse display well enough that rather facile generosity and
good-nature which Balzac is fond of attributing to them.
As for the " Mystificators," Balzac, as usual, is decidedly
more lenient to the artist folk than he is elsewhere to men
of letters. Mistigris, or L^on de Lora, is always a pleasant
person, and Joseph Bridau always a respectable one. Georges
Marest is no doubt a bad fellow, but he gets punished.

Nor ought we to omit notice of the careful study of the
apprenticeship of a lawyer's clerk, wherein, as elsewhere no
doubt, Balzac ^profited by his own novitiate. Altogether the
story is a pleasant one, and we acquiesce in the tempering



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xii PREFACE.

of the wind to Oscar when that ordinary person is consoled
for his sufferings with the paradise of the French bourgeois
— 9l respectable place, a wife with no dangerous brilliancy,
and a good dot.

G. S.




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A WOMAN OF THIRTY.

TV Louis Boulanger^ Painter.
I.

SARLY MISTAKES.

It was a Sunday morning in the beginning of April, 1813, a
morning which gave promise of one of those bright days when
Parisians, for the first time in the year, behold dry pavements
underfoot and a cloudless sky overhead. It was not yet noon
when a luxurious cabriolet, drawn by two spirited horses,
turned out of the Rue de Castiglione into the Rue de Rivoli,
and drew up behind a row of carriages standing before the
newly opened barrier half-way down the Fcuillant Terrace.
The owner of the carriage looked anxious and out of health ;
the thin hair on his sallow temples, turning gray already, gave
a look of premature age to his face. He flung the reins to a
servant who followed on horseback, and alighted to take in
his arms a young girl whose dainty beauty had already at-
tracted the eyes of loungers on the terrace. Tiie little lady,
standing upon the carriage step, graciously submitted to be
taken by the waist, putting an arm around the neck of her
guide, who set her down upon the pavement without so much
as ruffling the trimming of her green rep dress. No lover
would have been more careful. The stranger could only be
the father of the young girl, who took his arm familiarly,
without a word of thanks, and hurried him into the garden of
the Tuileries.

The old father noted the wondering stare which some of
the young men gave the couple, and the sad expression left his
face for a moment. Although he had long since reached the

(1)



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2 A WOMAN OF THIRTY.

time of life when a man is fain to be content with such illu-
sory delights as vanity bestows, he began to smile.

.** They think you are ray wife," he said in the young lady's
ear, and he held himself erect and walked with 3low steps,
which filled his daughter with despair.

He seemed to take up the coquette's part for her ; perhaps
of the two, he was the more gratified by the curious glances
directed at those little feet, shod with plum-colored prunella ;
at the dainty figure outlined by a low-cut bodice, filled in
with an embroidered chemisette, which only partially con-
cealed the girlish throat. Her dress was lifted by her move-
ments as she walked, giving glimpses higher than the shoes of
delicately moulded outlines beneath open-work silk stockings.
More than one of the idlers turned and passed the pair again,
to admire or to catch a second glimpse of the young face,
about which the brown tresses played ; there was a glow in its
white and red, partly reflected from the rose-colored satin
lining of her fashionable bonnet, partly due to the eagerness
and impatience which sparkled in every feature. A mischiev-
ous sweetness lighted up the beautiful, almond shaped dark
eyes, bathed in liquid brightness, shaded by the long lashes
and curving arch of eyebrow. Life and youth displayed their
treasures in the petulant face and in the gracious outlines of
the bust, unspoiled even by the fashion of the day, which
brought the girdle under the breast.

The young lady herself appeared to be insensible to admi-
ration. Her eyes were fixed in a sort of anxiety on the palace
of the Tuileries, the goal, doubtless, of her petulant prome-
nade. It wanted but fifteen minutes of noon, yet even at that
early hour several women in gala dress were coming away
from the Tuileries, not without backward glances at the gates
and pouting looks of discontent, as if they regretted the late-
ness of the arrival which had cheated them of a longed-for
spectacle. Chance carried a few words let fall by one of these
disappointed fair ones to the ears of the charming stranger,



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A WOMAfT OF THIRTY, 8

and put her in a more than common uneasiness. The elderly
man watched the signs of impatience and apprehension which
flitted across his companion's pretty face with interest, rather
than amusement, in his eyes, observing her with a close and
careful attention, which perhaps could only be prompted by
some after-thought in the depths of a father's mind.

It was the thirteenth Sunday of the year 1813. In two
days' time Napoleon was to set out upon the disastrous cam-
paign in which he was to lose first Bessi^res, and then Duroc ;
he was to win the memorable battles of Lutzen and Bautzen,
to see himself treacherously deserted by Austria, Saxony,
Bavaria, and Bernadotte, and to dispute the dreadful field of
Leipsic* The magnificent review commanded for that day by
the Emperor was to be the last of so many which had long
drawn forth the admiration of Paris and of foreign visitors.
For the last time the Old Guard would execute their scientific
military manoeuvres with the pomp and precision which some-
times amazed the Giant himself. Napoleon was nearly ready
for his duel with Europe. It was a sad sentiment which
brought a brilliant and curious throng to the Tuileries.
Each mind seemed to foresee the future ; perhaps, too, in every
mind another thought was dimly present, how that in that
future, when the heroic age of France should have taken the
half-fabulous color with which it is tinged for us to-day, men's
imaginations would more than once seek to retrace the picture
of the pageant which they were assembled to behold.

" Do let us go more quickly, father ; I can hear the drums,"
the young girl said, and in a half-teasing, half-coaxing manner
she urged her companion forward.

"The troops are marching into the Tuileries," said he.

*' Or marching out of it — everybody is coming away," she
answered in childish vexation, which drew a smile from her
father.

* VOlkcrechlacht : Napoleon's first defeat.



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4 A WOMAN OF THIRTY.

" The review only begins at half-past twelve," he said ; he
had fallen half behind his impetuous daughter.

It might have been supposed that she meant to hasten their
progress by the movement of her right arm, for it swung like
an oar-blade through the water. In her impatience she had
crushed her handkerchief into a ball in her tiny, well-gloved
fingers. Now and then the old man smiled, but the smiles
were succeeded by an anxious look which crossed his withered
face and saddened it. In his love for the fair young girl by
his side, he was as fain to exalt the present moment as to
dread the future. '' She is happy to-day ; will her happiness
last 7 " he seemed to ask himself, for the old are somewhat
prone to foresee their own sorrows in the future of the young.

Father and daughter reached the peristyle under the tower
where the tricolor flag was still waving ; but, as they passed
under the arch by which people came and went between the
gardens of the Tuileries and the Place du Carrousel, the
sentries on guard called out sternly —

" No admittance this way I "

By standing on tiptoe the young girl contrived to catch a
glimpse of a crowd of well-dressed women, thronging either
side of the old marble arcade along which the Emperor was
to pass.

'* We were too late in starting, father ; you can see that
quite well." A little piteous pout revealed the immense
importance which she attached to the sight of this particular
review.

** Very well, Julie — ^let us go away. You dislike a crush."

** Do let us stay, father. Even here I may catch a glimpse
of the Emperor ; he might die during this campaign, and then
I should never have seen him."

Her father shuddered at the selfish speech. There were
tears in the girl's voice ; he looked at her, and thought that
he saw tears beneath her lowered eyelids ; tears caused not so
much by the disappointment as by one of the troubles of early



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A WOMAN OF THIRTY. 6

youth, a secret easily guessed by an old father. Suddenly
Julie's face flushed, and she uttered an exclamation. Neither
her father nor the sentinels understood the meaning of the
cry ; but an <^cer within tlie barrier, who sprang across the
court toward the staircase, heard it, and turned abruptly at
the sound. He went to the arcade by the gardens of the
Tuileries, and recognized the young lady who had been hidden
for a moment by the tall bearskin caps of the grenadiers. He
set aside in favor of the pair the order which he himself had
given. Then, • taking no heed of the murmurings of the
fashionable crowd seated under the arcade, he gently drew
the enraptured child toward him.

'' I am no longer surprised at her vexation and enthusiasm,
\lyau are in waiting," the old man said with a half-mocking,
half-serious glance at the officer.

*^ If you want a good position. Monsieur le Due," the young
man answered, '' we must not spend any time in talking. The
Emperor does not like to be kept waiting, and the grand
marshal has sent me to announce our readiness."

As he spoke, he had taken Julie's arm with a certain air of
old acquaintance, and drew her rapidly in the direction of the
Place du Carrousel. Julie was astonished at the sight. An
immense crowd was penned up in a narrow space, shut in
between the gray walls of the palace and the limits marked
out by chains round the great sanded squares in the midst of
the courtyard of the Tuileries. The cordon of sentries posted
to keep a clear passage for the Emperor and his stafi" had great
difficulty in keeping back the eager humming swarm of human
beings.

'^ Is it going to be a very fine sight 7 " Julie asked (she was
radiant now).

** Pray take care ! " cried her guide, and, seizing Julie by
the waist, he lifted her up with as much vigor as rapidity and
set her down beside a pillar.

But for bis prompt action, hb gazing kinswoman would



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e A WOMAN OF THIRTY.

have come into collision with the hindquarters of a white
horse which Napoleon's Mameluke held by the bridle ; the
animal in its trappings of green velvet and gold stood almost
under the arcade, some ten paces behind the rest of the
horses in readiness for the Emperor's staff.

The young officer placed the father and daughter in front
of the crowd in the first space to the right, and recommended
them by a sign to the two veteran grenadiers on either side.
Then he went on his way into the palace ; a look of great joy
and happiness had succeeded to his horror-stricken expression
when the horse backed. Julie had given his hand a mysterious
pressure ; had she meant to thank him for the little service he
had done her, or did she tell him : ** After all, I shall really
see you? " She bent her head quite graciously in response to
the respectful bow by which the officer took leave of them
before he vanished.

The old man stood a little behind his daughter. He looked
grave. He seemed to have left the two young people together
for some purpose of his own, and now he furtively watched
the girl, trying to lull her into false security by appearing to
give his whole attention to the magnificent sight in the Place
du Carrousel. When Julie's eyes turned to her father with
the expression of a schoolboy before his master, he answered
her glance by a gay, kindly smile, but his own keen eyes had
followed the officer under the arcade, and nothing of all that
passed was lost upon him.

"What a grand sight I " said Julie in a low voice, as she
pressed her father's hand ; and, indeed, the pomp and pic-
turesqueness of the spectacle in the Place du Carrousel drew
the same exclamation from thousands upon thousands of spec-
tators, all agape with wonder. Another array of sightseers,
as tightly packed as the ranks behind the old noble and his
daughter, filled the narrow strip of pavement by the railings
which crossed the Place du Carrousel from side to side in a
line parallel with the Tuileries. The dense living mass, varie-



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A WOMAN OF THIRTY. 7

gated by the colors of the women's dresses, traced out a bold
line across the centre of the Place du Carrousel, filling in
the fourth side of a vast parallelogram, surrounded on three
sides by the Tuileries itself. Within the precincts thus railed
off stood the regiments of the Old Guard about to be passed
in review, drawn up opposite the palace in imposing blue
columns, ten ranks in depth. Without and beyond in the
Place du Carrousel stood several regiments likewise drawn up
in parallel lines, ready to march in through the arch in the
centre ; the Triumphal Arch, where the bronze horses of St.
Mark from Venice used to stand in those days. At either
end, by the Louvre Galleries, the regimental bands were
stationed, masked by the Polish Lancers then on duty.

The greater part of the vast graveled space was empty as an
arena, ready for the evolutions of those silent masses disposed
with the symmetry of military art. The sunlight blazed back
from ten thousand bayonets in thin points of flame; the
breeze ruffled the men's helmet plumes till they swayed like
the crests of forest trees before a gale. The mute, glittering
ranks of veterans were full of bright contrasting colors, thanks
to their different uniforms, weapons, accoutrements, and



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacA woman of thirty ; The seamy side of history and other stories → online text (page 1 of 63)