Honoré de Balzac.

Honoré de Balzac in twenty-five volumes; the first complete translation into English online

. (page 1 of 43)
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lialzac^ vol. seventeen— Front is

HoNORE DE Balzac

^\)t Sfit&t Complete translation into €ngli0l)


An Episode Under the Terror

The Seamy Side of History

Z. Marcas



i^olume ^etenteen


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Copyright 1900


A Most Mysterious Case

An Episode Under the Terror.

The Seamy Side of History

Madame de la Chanterie


Z. Marcas

Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2009





In memory of happy days spent at the Chateau
de Sache. Be Balzac.



rRE A UTUMN of the year 1808 was among the finest
of the early portion of that epoch which is known to
us under the appellation of "The Empire." Abun-
dant rains had fallen in October, refreshing and rejuvenating
the fields, and now, when November had half run its course,
the trees were still attired in all the glory of their summer
raiment. The people were beginning to believe in the ex-
istence of a compact between heaven and Bonaparte, who
had recently been made Consul for life, a belief to which
the great man was indebted for no small portion of his pres-
tige, and, strange to relate, on the very day when, in 1812,
the sun deserted him, his glory began to wane.

On the 15th of November of the year above mentioned,
about four o'clock in the afternoon, the sun was powdering
with golden dust the hoary summits of the four rows of cen-
tenarian elms that graced a long, seigniorial avenue, and
illuminating with his rays the gravelled walks and verdant
turf of one of those immense round-points that are still to
be met with nowadays in some parts of the country, where
land at one time was held so cheap that its owners could
afford to set apart some portion of it for purposes of orna-
ment. The weather was so clear, the temperature so mild,



that folk sat out beneath the trees as if it had been summer
time. A man dressed in a shooting-jacket of green canvas
with big green buttons and small-clothes of the same mate-
rial, his feet incased in thin-soled shoes surmounted by can-
vas gaiters reaching to the knee, was cleaning a gun with
the care that a veteran huntsman in his leisure moments
bestows on that operation. He displayed about his per-
son, however, no game-bag, nor any other of the parapher-
nalia that indicate departure for or return from the chase,
and two women who were seated near watched him appre-
hensively, apparently under the influence of a terror which
they were unable to conceal. Any one who might have
witnessed the scene from a hiding-place among the shrub-
bery would doubtless have shuddered no less than did the
man's wife and aged mother-in-law. Evidently, a hunts-
man whose object is the killing of small game does not take
such minute precautions, and yet more, in the department
of the Aube, does not carry a long rifle of heavy calibre.

"Are you going after deer, Michu?" his handsome
young wife asked him with an air as cheerful and uncon-
cerned as she could call up.

Before he made answer Michu looked at his dog, which,
stretched at full length and basking in the warm sunshine,
his head cradled between his extended paws in the pretty
attitude characteristic of animals of his breed, had raised
his head, and, looking straight before him, was scenting
the breeze, now down the long avenue that stretched away
for a quarter of a league, now in the direction of a crossroad
that debouched into the round-point on the left.

"No, not deer this time," Michu replied, "but a beast
that I don't want to miss — a lynx." The dog, a handsome
setter with a white and liver-colored coat, gave a low growl.
"Good dog!" Michu ejaculated to himself. "Spies, eh? The
country is overrun with 'em."

Mme. Michu raised her fine eyes appealingly toward
heaven. A pretty, blue-eyed, golden-haired woman, with
the form of an antique statue and a grave, somewhat mel-


ancholy and careworn face, she appeared to be suffering
the corroding influence of some bitter and devastating grief.
The husband's appearance might in some sort serve to ex-
plain the terror of the two women. The .laws of physiog-
nomy are unalterable, not only in their application to the
reading of character, but also relatively to the fatality of
existence. There are faces that speak as loudly as prophe-
cies. If it were possible to obtain absolutely truthful like-
nesses of those who perish on the scaffold — and these theo-
retical statistics are of the highest import to society — the
science of Gall and Lavater would prove beyond a perad-
venture that all those unfortunates, even those of them who
were innocent, were stamped on their face with strange and
abnormal signs and tokens. Yes, Fate sets her seal unmis-
takably on the face of him who is foreordained to die a vio-
lent death! And that seal, plainly visible to the eye of the
observing, was stamped in distinct characters on the counte-
nance of the man with the rifle.

Michu, short and stocky of build and, albeit he was of
a somewhat lymphatic temperament, agile and quick as a
monkey in his movements, had a white, tallowy face with
stunted, misshapen features of the true Tartar type and a
pair of small bloodshot eyes, the decidedly unornamental
and sinister appearance of all which was not improved by
a shock of coarse, crinkly red hair. In particular the eyes,
of a yellowish cast, fixed, stony and unwinking as those of
the tiger or of some deadly ophidian, affording no evidence
of inward warmth, nor any the slightest scintilla of respon-
sive feeling, struck terror to the heart of the beholder and
chilled his soul. The ever-present contrast between the im-
mobility of those eyes and the activity of the body helped
to accentuate the involuntary repulsion that Michu infalli-
bly inspired in every one at first sight. Action in this man,
with whom it was always a word and a blow, and sometimes
the blow before the word, flowed from a single dominating
idea; as in animals life, devoid of all reflection, is wholly at
the service of the ruling instinct. Since 1793 he had worn


his red beard en iventail. Even thoagh, in the time of the
Terror, he had not been president of a Jacobini club, this
distinctive peculiarity of his appearance would of itself have
made him an object terrible to behold. The Socratic face,
with its short, turned-up nose, was surmounted by a lofty
forehead, so prominent, however, as to overshadow the other
features and give them by comparison an aspect of insig-
nificance. The ears, large and well placed, seemed endowed
with the faculty of motion, as are those of wild animals, al-
ways on the qui vive. The lips, generally parted, as is the
way with country folk, disclosed a set of teeth white and
strong as almonds, but unevenly distributed. A luxuriant
growth of whiskers served as a frame to the dull white face
with its purple mottlings. The hair, cut short over the fore-
head but falling in ringlets beside the cheeks and at the
back of the head, served by its ruddy lines as an admirable
foil to bring out all that was strange and unusual on that phys-
iognomy so strongly marked by the hand of Fate. At that
moment the rays of the declining sun, falling aslant upon
the little group, cast their full radiance on the three faces,
up into which the dog from time to time looked with a wist-
ful, inquiring glance. The setting of the stage, too, on
which the drama was enacted, was of the most magnificent
description. The round-point of which we have spoken is
situated at the farthest extremity of Gondreville Park, one
of the finest estates in France, and certainly quite the finest
in the department of the Aube. It comprises magnificent
avenues of immemorial elms, a stately chateau erected under
the supervision of Mansard, a park of fifteen hundred acres
fenced in by walls, nine large and productive farms, a for-
est, mills, and fertile fields and meadows. This property,
fit almost to be the residence of Kings, previous to the Rev-
olution, had belonged to the Simeuse family. Ximeuse is
the name of a fief situated in Lorraine. The name was pro-
nounced Simeuse, and in course of time it had come to be
spelled in the same way that it was pronounced.

The great fortune of the Simeuses, an ancient race at-


tached to the House of Burgundy, dates back to the time
when the G-uises menaced the existence of the Valois.
Eichelieu first, and after him Louis XIY., could not but
remember the devotion sliown by the Simeuses to the fac-
tious House of Lorraine, and frowned on them. The Mar-
quis de Simeuse of those days, an old Burgundian, an old
Guisard, and a Leaguer and Frondeur from away back (he
had imbibed with his mother's milk all four of the great
animosities that the nobility harbored toward the throne),
came to live at Cinq-Cygne. This frequenter of courts, ban-
ished from the Louvre, had married the widow of the Comte
de Cinq-Cygne, the younger branch of the famous House of
Chargeboeuf, one of the most illustrious names m the annals
of the old province of Champagne, but the younger ulti-
mately came to equal in celebrity and surpass in wealth the
elder branch. This was how the Marquis, one of the richest
men of his time, instead of ruining himself at court came to
build Gondreville, constantly extending its bounds by the
purchase of adjacent properties with the sole object of creat-
ing for himself an immense game preserve. He also erected
in Troyes, at a short distance from the Hotel de Cinq-Cygne,
the Hotel de Simeuse. These two houses, together with the
Episcopal rCvSidence, were for a long time the only stone
structures that Troyes could boast of. The Marquis dis-
posed of Simeuse, the patrimonial fief, to the Duke of Lor-
raine. His son, during Louis XV. 's reign, made ducks and
drakes of the paternal accumulations and even dipped a lit-
tle into that splendid fortune, but that son, rising to be an
officer of division and subsequently vice-admiral, made by
his achievements glorious atonement for the follies of his
youth. The Marquis de Simeuse, son of this intrepid mari-
ner, yielded up his life at Troyes on the scaffold, leaving
two sons, twins, who joined the emigration and at the pres-
ent moment were in foreign parts, following the fortunes of
the House of Conde.

In days long past and gone the round-point had been the
designated rendezvous for the hunting parties of the Grand


Marquis. That was the name given by the family to the
Simeuse who founded Gondreville. The lodge, situated
within the park boundaries, built in the time of Louis
XIV. and known as the pavilion of Cinq-Cygne, had had
Michu as occupant since 1789. The village of Cinq-Cygne
nestles under the trees of the extreme verge of the forest of
Nodesme (a corruption of Notre-Dame), to which conducts
the broad avenue with the quadruple rows of elms in which
we have seen the faithful Courant, with his unerring scent,
detect the trace of spies. Since the death of the Grand
Marquis this pavilion had been neglected. The sea and
the court had had greater attractions for the vice-admiral
than the fields of fair Champagne, and his son had assigned
the dilapidated pavilion as a dwelling-place to Michu.

This imposing structure is of red brick, with ornamenta-
tion of vermiculated stone at the angles and about the doors
and windows. On either side is placed a great wrought-iron
gateway of elaborate workmanship, but badly eaten by
rust. Behind the grille extends a hollow way of great
width and depth, from which has sprung a dense growth
of lusty trees, while the parapets are capped by an intricate
maze of heavy iron scrollwork of which the countless sharp-
pointed spikes and prongs serve to warn oflE intruders.

The park walls had their beginning at two points directly
opposite each other on the perimeter of the circle described
by the round-point. Outside the park the magnificent
demi-lane was encompassed by gentle slopes planted with
elm-trees, while the other and corresponding portion inside
the park was recognizable by its clumps of exotic trees.
Thus the pavilion occupied the centre of the round-point
described by those two horseshoes. Michu had converted
tbe several apartments of the rez-de-chauss6e into stables
for his cows and horses, a kitchen, and a storeroom for
firewood. Of the pavilion's ancient splendor the only re-
maining trace was an antechamber paved with alternate
squares of black and white marble, access to which on the
park side was afforded by one of those windows reaching to


the floor and glazed with little square panes, the like of
which might still have been seen at Versailles, not so very
long ago, before Louis-Philippe made the venerable city a
hospital for the glories of France. Inside, the pavilion was
bisected by a narrow hallway, in which, threatening early
collapse, but not without a certain distinction, was an old
wooden stairway conducting to the tirst story, in which
were found five low-ceiled chambers of moderate dimen-
sions. Over the bedrooms, not finished off, was a vast loft.
The venerable edifice was topped by one of those towering,
hood-like, slated roofs, pierced with numerous ceils -de-boeiif
and crowned by way of ornament with leaden figures, so
much affected by Mansard, and with good reason; for, here
in France, the flat roof, which finds such favor with the
Italians, is entirely unsuited to the climate. Michu used
these lofts as a place in which to store the provender of his
cattle. The portion of the park contiguous to the old
pavilion is laid out in the English style. At a distance of
a hundred paces or so what had once been dignified with the
title of "The Lake," but was now nothing more than a sim-
ple fish-pond well peopled by the finny tribe, made known
its presence as well by the thin wreaths of mist that curled
above the trees as by the clamors of countless toads, frogs,
and other garrulous amphibians that are wont to lift up
their voices about the sunset hour. A thousand small de-
tails — the hoary antiquity that rested on everything, the
deep stillness of the woods, the dim, vaporous perspective
of the avenue, the forest in the distance, the rust-gnawed
ironwork and the great bowlders with their velvet-like
coating of moss and lichens— all contributed to lend an air
of poesy to the structure, the remains of which may still be
seen to-day.

Michu, at the moment of the commencement of this
narrative, was leaning against a moss-grown parapet on
which were spread his powder-flask, his cap, his handker-
chief, a screwdriver, some woollen rags — all the implements
required by the occupation that then engaged him and


which was regarded with such suspicioQ. His wife's chair
was backed up against the outer door of the pavilion, over
which, graven with great wealth of detail, was the escutch-
eon of the Sinieuses with their proud device, jSi meursf
The mother, in the garb of a peasant woman, had drawn
her chair forward in front of Mme. Michu, so that the
latter might place her feet upon its rounds and be protected
from the moisture of the ground.

"Where is the youngster?" inquired Michu, speaking
to his wife.

"Oh, prowling around the pond, as usual. Frogs and
bugs have an attraction for him that the boy can't resist,"
replied the mother.

Michu gave an ear-splitting whistle. The alacrity with
which his son responded to the summons showed the mas-
tery which the foreman of Gondreville exerted over every-
body. Since 1789, and more particularly since 1793, Michu
had been almost the supreme ruler of the property. The
terror with which he inspired his wife, his mother-in-law,
a young farmhand, Gaucher by name, and Marianne, the
maid of all work, was experienced in the same degree by
every one for ten leagues round about. We may as well
proceed to state the reasons for this feeling, which, more-
over, will complete the portrait of Michu that we attempted
and left unfinished.

The old Marquis de Simeuse had alienated his property
in 1790, but in the hurry and bustle of those troublous times
he had not been able to find a person to whom he dared
intrust his great domain of Gondreville. Accused of carry-
ing on a correspondence with the Duke of Brunswick and
the Prince de Coburg, the Marquis de Simeuse and his wife
were thrown into prison and condemned to death by the
revolutionary tribunal of Troyes, of which Marthe's father
was then president. The magnificent domain was put up
and sold on behalf of the nation. It was cause of much
comment, as well as of pretty general horror and indigna-
tion, that when the Marquis and the Marquise were exe-


cuted the head keeper of the Gondreville preserves, who
had been elected president of the Jacobin club at Arcis,
came over to Troyes to witness the proceedings. Michu,
son of a simple peasant and an orphan, the recipient of
countless favors from the Marquise, who had given him
employment in her household and subsequently raised him
to the responsible position of head keeper, was regarded by
the fanatics as another Brutus; but all the more decent
people of the community, after that exhibition of ingrati-
tude, dropped him from the list of their acquaintance. The
purchaser of the property was a man of Arcis named
Marion, grandson of a former intendant of the Simeuse
family. This man, who had been a lawyer previous and
subsequent to the Ee volution, feared the keeper and took
him on as his foreman, paying him a stipend of three thou-
sand francs and allowing him an interest in the proceeds of
what was sold off the property. Michu, protected by his
reputation as a patriot, and even at that time estimated to
be worth some ten or twelve thousand francs, married the
daughter of a tanner of Troyes, the apostle of the Revolu-
tion in that city, where he was president of the revolution-
ary tribunal. The tanner, a man of convictions, and whose
character was in some respects not unlike Saint-Just's, was
afterward implicated in the Babeuf conspiracy and, rather
than stand a trial, killed himself. Marthe was the prettiest
girl in Troyes, and for that reason her headstrong father,
notwithstanding her shrinking modesty, compelled her to
appear as the Goddess of Liberty at all republican junket-

The purchaser of Gondreville visited his new acquisition
not more than three times in seven years. His grandfather
having held the position of intendant for the Simeuses,
everybody in Arcis took it for granted that Citizen Marion
was acting in the interest of the MM. Simeuse. As long as
the Terror lasted the foreman of Gondreville, a fervent
patriot, son-in-law to the president of the revolutionary
tribunal of Troyes, and favored by Malin (Aube), one of


the representatives of the department, was treated with a
certain amount of respect. But with the fall of the Moun-
tain, and on his father-in-law's suicide, Michu saw himself
made a scapegoat; everybody made haste to saddle on him,
and on his father-in-law, actions with which he, individu-
ally, had no more to do than the man in the moon. The
foreman rebelled against the injustice of the rabble; he
stiffened himself and assumed a hostile attitude. Brumaire
18, however, wrought a change in him; he assumed and
maintained that impenetrable reserve which is the philoso-
phy of the strong and resolute; he ceased to kick against
the pricks, he bowed to public opinion (in appearance, at
least), and was content to act, not talk. This well-considered
line of conduct gained for him a reputation for shrewdness
and profundity, for public report assigned to his landed
property alone at that time a value somewhere in the neigh-
borhood of a hundred thousand francs. In the first place,
his expenditure was next to nothing, and then no one could
question the means by which he had acquired his fortune,
coming as it did from what was left him by his father-in-law
and from the six thousand francs that his salary and per-
quisites brought him in year by year. Although he had
occupied his responsible position for a dozen years, and
there was no secret whence he had derived his wealth,
when, in the early years of the Consulate, he purchased a
farm for which he counted out fifty thousand francs in cold
cash, there was no end of insinuation against the former
adherent of the Mountain, and everybody in Arcis declared
that he was trying to amass a great fortune in order to
thereby reinstate himself in public opinion. Unfortunately,
however, just as he was passing out of men's minds and
beginning to be forgotten, a trivial incident, distorted and
exaggerated as usual by the gossip of the neighborhood,
revived the general belief as to the inherent ferocity of his

Returning from Troyes one evening in company with
some peasants, among whom chanced to be the farmer who


held the lease of Cinq-Cygne, he dropped a paper in the
road; the farmer, who was the last man in the little pro-
cession and could read writing, stoops and picks it up;
Michu turns and sees the paper in the man's hand; quick
as a flash his hand goes to his belt, he draws a pistol, cocks
it, and warns the farmer on peril of his life not to attempt
to unfold the document. Michu's action was so swift, so
violent, his eyes flashed with such fierceness, his accents
were so terrifying, that everybody shook with terror. As
was quite natural, there was feud from that time between
Michu and the lessee of Cinq-Cygne. The fortune of Mile.
de Cinq-Cygne, own cousin to the Simeuses, was reduced
to one solitary farm; she occupied her chateau of Cinq-
Cygne. She lived only for her cousins, whose playmate
and constant companion she had been in the old days at
Troyes and Gondreville. Her only brother, Jules de Cinq-
Cygne, who had emigrated before the Simeuses, had died a
soldier's death before Mayence, but, owing to a somewhat
unusual circumstance, and of which further mention will be
made hereafter, the family name did not become extinct in
default of male heirs. The trouble between Michu and the
tenant of Cinq-Cygne created a tremendous pother in the
department, and lent additional darkness to the mystery
that seemed to enshroud Michu ; but that was not the only
circumstance which caused people to look at him askance.
A few months after these occurrences Citizen Marion, ac-
companied by Citizen Malin, paid Gondreville a visit.
There was a rumor in circulation that Marion was about to
transfer the property to the latter individual, who had been
much befriended of late by political events and whom the
First Consul had seated in the Council of State by way of
recompense for services rendered on the 18th of Brumaire.
The quidnuncs of the little city of Arcis thereon made up
their minds that Marion had been acting as the instrument
of M, Malin, and not of the MM. Simeuse. The all-
powerful Councillor of State was the most important per-
sonage in Arcis. His recommendation had placed one of


his political allies in the prefecture at Troyes, he had saved
from the conscription the son of one of the Gondreville
farmers, a man named Beau visage; his helpfulness seemed
inexhaustible. The transaction between the two friends,
therefore, was not likely to find any one to object to it in
the neighborhood, where Malin's influence was then, and is
to-day, paramount. It was the beginning of the Empire.
Those who to-day read the history of the French Eevolu-
tion will never know what immense strides were made by
public opinion between the momentous events which suc-
ceeded one another so rapidly in those stirring times. The
universal longing for peace and tranquillity experienced by
everybody after so many years of turmoil and confusion
engendered complete oblivion of antecedent occurrences,
even when they were of the gravest and most important
character. History aged rapidly, matured as it was contin-
ually by so many and such ever-changing interests, always
fresh, always burning. So nobody, unless possibly it might
have been Michu, bothered himself to look into the ante-
cedents of the transaction, which appeared perfectly simple
and aboveboard. Marion, who at the time had bought

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