Honoré de Balzac.

Honoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) online

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 12 of 22)
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rson. Enchante
(. .< Tivyrt -^M ^

be in the company of a fasnionable lad

wit; he took as a mark-
, t .jsmile on the marchipness's face, whom he annoyed

WffW S* * .** *Ko& raft lUS ^^J ^OL

beyond measure, ana he continuea as ne naauegun.

silent on several occasions when the notary ex-
pected a hearty response; bo^^i^^h^^^ifi-
cant periods of repose, the devil of a fellow sat and
looked at the fire, trying to remember anecdotes.
Then the diplomat had recourse to his watch. At
last the pretty woman put on her hat to go, but did
not ^o. The notary saw nothing, heard nothing;

liastc alia ran
, stupefied


he was enchanted with himself, and felt sure of in-
teresting the marchioness sufficiently to nail her to
her seat.

"1 shall certainly have this lady for a client," he
said to himself.

The marchioness stood up, put on her gloves,
wrung her hands, and looked from Monsieur de
Vandenesse, who shared her impatience, to the
notary, who weighted every one of his shafts of wit
with lead. At every pause the worthy man made,
the comely couple breathed again, saying to each
other by a sign : "At last he is going!" But no. It
was a moral nightmare which was likely to end by
irritating the two passionate beings, upon whom the
notary acted as a serpent acts upon birds, and by
driving them to adopt summary measures. In the
midst of the story of the base means by which Du
Tillet, a man of business then high in favor, had
made his fortune all the infamous details being set
forthwith scrupulous exactness by the notary, the
diplomat heard the clock strike nine; he saw that
his notary was a hopeless imbecile who must be
dismissed without ceremony, and he sealed his de-
termination with a gesture.

"Are you looking for your eye-glasses, Monsieur
le Marquis?" said the notary, offering his to his

"No, monsieur, I am compelled to send you
away. Madame proposes to join her children and I
am to have the honor of accompanying her."

"Nine o'clock already! time passes like a shadow


in the society of agreeable people, "said the notary,
who had been talking all alone for an hour.

He looked for his hat, then planted himself in
front of the fireplace, with difficulty restraining a
hiccough, and said to his client, unconscious of the
withering glances the marchioness was darting at

"To resume, Monsieur le Marquis. Business be-
fore everything. To-morrow, then, we will serve
a summons on monsieur your brother, to make
demand in conformity with the law; we will
proceed to the inventory and then, on my word "
The notary had so entirely misunderstood his
client's intentions that he was going about the busi-
ness in a manner directly opposed to the instructions
that had been given him. It was such a delicate
matter that Vandenesse instinctively attempted to
rectify his stupid notary's ideas, and a discussion
ensued which took a considerable time.

"Look you," said the marquis at last, at a sign
the marchioness made him, "you are driving me
mad; come again to-morrow at nine o'clock with my

"But I have the honor, Monsieur le Marquis, to
call your attention to the fact that we are not certain
of finding Monsieur Desroches to-morrow, and if the
summons isn't served before noon, the time will ex-
pire, and "

At that moment a carriage drove into the court-
yard, and, when she heard the wheels, the poor
woman turned her head away to hide the tears that


came to her eyes. The marquis rang to bid the
servant say that he had gone out ; but the general,
returning unexpectedly from the Gaiete, preceded
the footman, and appeared in the doorway, leading
with one hand his daughter, her eyes red with
weeping, and with the other his little son, as cross
and sulky as you please.

"What has happened to you, pray?" the mar-
chioness asked her husband.

"I will tell you later," the general replied, walk-
ing toward an adjoining boudoir, where he could see
the evening papers through the open door.

The marchioness, annoyed beyond measure, threw
herself in despair on a couch.

The notary, feeling called upon to make himself
agreeable to the children, said to the boy in an
affected tone :

"Well, my little man, what was the play?"

"La Vallee du Torrent," grumbled Gustave.

"On the faith of a man of honor," said the
notary, "the authors of our day are half mad! La
Vallee du Torrent ! Why not Le Torrent de la Vallee ?
It is possible that a valley may not have a torrent,
and, if they said Le Torrent de la Vallee, the authors
would signify something clear, precise, character-
istic, comprehensible. But never mind that. Will
you tell me how there can be a drama in a torrent
and in a valley? You will answer that the princi-
pal attraction of plays of that sort consists in these
days in the scenery, and that that title gives
promise of something very beautiful in that way.


You enjoyed yourself immensely, eh, my little
man?" he added, sitting down in front of the child.

When the notary asked how there could be a
drama in a torrent, the marchioness's daughter
turned slowly around and wept. The mother was
so intensely annoyed that she did not notice her
daughter's movements.

"Oh! yes, monsieur, I did enjoy myself," the
child replied. "There was a nice little boy in the
play who was all alone in the world because his
papa couldn't be his papa. When he came to a
great high bridge over the river, a tall villain with
a long beard, dressed all in black, threw him into
the water. Helene began to cry and sob, and
everybody in the hall hooted at us, so my father
very quickly, very quickly brought us away "

Monsieur de Vandenesse and the marchioness sat
in a sort of stupor, as if some disease had deprived
them of the power to think or act.

"Hold your tongue, Gustave!" cried the general.
"I forbade you to speak about what happened at the
theatre, and you have forgotten so soon what I told

"I trust your Lordship will forgive me, Monsieur
le Marquis," said the notary, "I did wrong to ques-
tion him, but I was unaware of the gravity of "

"He should not have answered," said the father,
with a cold glance at his son.

The cause of the sudden return of the children
and their father seemed perfectly comprehensible to
the diplomat and the marchioness. The mother


glanced at her daughter, saw that she was weeping
and rose to go to her ; but her features contracted
violently, and assumed an expression of harshness
which nothing could temper.

"Enough of this, Helene," said she; "go and dry
your tears in the boudoir."

"Why, what has the poor little dear done?" said
the notary, attempting to allay the mother's anger
and the daughter's grief at the same time. "She is
so pretty that she ought to be the best little girl in
the world ; I am very sure, madame, that she never
gives you anything but pleasure. Isn't that so, my

Helene glanced tremblingly at her mother, wiped
away her tears, tried to compose her features, and
fled into the boudoir.

"Most assuredly, madame," the notary went on,
"you are too good a mother not to love all your
children equally. You are too virtuous, also, to ex-
hibit those lamentable preferences, whose sad effects
are disclosed more particularly to us notaries.
Society passes through our hands ; and we see its
passions only in their most hideous guise self-
interest For instance, a mother seeks to disinherit
her husband's children for the benefit of other chil-
dren whom she prefers to them ; while, for his part,
the husband sometimes wishes to reserve his fortune
for the child that has merited its mother's hatred.
And then there are contests and apprehensions and
deeds and revocations and pretended sales and
trusts; in short, a pitiful mess pitiful, on my word


of honor! Again, fathers pass their lives disinher-
iting their children and stealing their wives'
property. Yes, stealing is the word. We were
talking of the drama; ah! I assure you that, if we
could tell the secret of certain bequests, our authors
could base some ghastly bourgeois tragedies there-
upon. I don't know what power women use to
enable them to do what they choose ; for, notwith-
standing appearances and their weakness, they
always carry the day. Ah! but they don't catch
me, you know. I always divine the motive of this
favoritism which in society is politely termed in-
definable! But husbands never divine it, we must
do them that justice. You will agree with me in
this that there are charms of "

Helene, who had returned from the boudoir to the
salon with her father, was listening attentively to
the notary, and understood him so perfectly that
she glanced fearfully at her mother, feeling, with
the unerring instinct of youth, that this incident
would redouble the severity that hovered over her.
The marchioness turned pale, as she called Vande-
nesse's attention, with a terrified gesture, to her
husband, who was gazing pensively at the flowers in
the carpet. At that moment, notwithstanding his
good breeding, the diplomat could contain himself no
longer, and darted a withering glance at the notary.

"Come this way, monsieur," said he, walking
hastily toward the room adjoining the salon.

The notary followed, trembling, and left his sen-
tence unfinished.


"Monsieur," said the Marquis de Vandenesse
with concentrated fury, after he had violently closed
the door of the salon where he had left the husband
and wife, "since dinner you have done nothing but
make a fool of yourself and make idiotic speeches.
For God's sake, begone! you will end by causing
some horrible disaster. You may be an excellent
notary, but remain in your office; and if, by any
chance, you do find yourself in society, try to be-
have more circumspectly."

With that, he returned to the salon, leaving the
notary without so much as bowing to him. That
worthy stood for a moment utterly taken aback,
paralyzed, unable to say where he was. When the
ringing in his ears ceased, he fancied that he heard
groaning and running to and fro in the salon, where
the bells were rung violently. He was afraid of
meeting the Marquis de Vandenesse again and suc-
ceeded in recovering the use of his legs sufficiently
to decamp and make the best of his way to the
stairway ; but, at the door of the apartments, he en-
countered the servants hastening to obey their mas-
ter's summons.

"That's the way with all these great lords," said
he to himself, when he was finally in the street,
looking for a cab; "they ask you to speak and egg
you on with compliments, and you imagine you are
entertaining them; but not at all! They say im-
pertinent things to you, keep you at a distance,
and even throw you out of doors without ceremony.
In point of fact, I was very clever indeed; I said


nothing that wasn't sensible, pertinent and proper.
My word, he advises me to have more circumspec-
tion; I don't lack circumspection. Deuce take me!
I'm a notary and a member of my Chamber. Bah !
it's a mere ambassador's whim; nothing is sacred
to those fellows. To-morrow he shall explain to me
what he means by saying that I did nothing but
make a fool of myself and make idiotic speeches in
his house. I will demand satisfaction, that is to
say, I will ask him what he means ! After all, per-
haps I was ill-advised. 'Faith, it's very kind of me
to bother my head about them ! What is it to me ?"

The notary went home and submitted the problem
to his better half, relating the events of the evening
to the most trifling detail.

"My dear Crottat, his Excellency was quite right
in saying that you had done nothing but make a
fool of yourself and say idiotic things."

"Why so?"

"My dear, if I should tell you, it wouldn't pre-
vent your beginning the same thing to-morrow
somewhere else. But I advise you never to talk
about anything but business in society."

"If you don't tell me, to-morrow I will ask "

"Mon Dieul the greatest fools study how to hide
such things, and you fancy an ambassador will tell
you about them ! Why, Crottat, I never saw you so
utterly bereft of sense."

"Thank you, my dear!"


A former officer of ordnance under Napoleon,
whom we will call simply the marquis or the gen-
eral, and whose fortunes rose very high under the
Restoration, had come to pass the summer at Ver-
sailles, where he occupied a country house situated
between the church and the Barriere de Montreuil,
on the road leading to Avenue de Saint-Cloud. His
duties at court did not permit him to go far away
from Paris.

This country house, originally erected to serve as
a place of shelter for the ephemeral love-affairs of
some great nobleman, had very extensive appurte-
nances. The gardens, in the centre of which it was
situated, separated it by an equal interval on each
side from the first houses of Montreuil and the
hovels built about the barrier; and so, without be-
ing too much isolated, the proprietors of this estate
enjoyed all the pleasures of solitude within two
steps of a city. By a strange contradiction, the
facade of the house and the main entrance were
directly upon the road, which was formerly little
frequented, it may be. This hypothesis seems
the more probable if we remember that it ends
at the lovely pavilion erected by Louis XV. for



Mademoiselle de Romans, and that, before reaching
that point, the interested observer will recognize,
here and there, more than one casino, whose interior
appearance and decoration are eloquent of the wit-
seasoned orgies of our ancestors, who, although all
sorts of debauchery are laid to their charge, never-
theless sought mystery and darkness.

On a certain winter evening, the marquis and his
wife and children were alone in the deserted house.
Their servants had obtained leave to go to Versailles
to attend the wedding of one of their number; and,
presuming that the solemnity of the Christmas
season, in conjunction with the wedding, would
afford them a sufficient excuse with their masters,
they did not scruple to devote a little more time to
the festivities than was provided in the orders
issued. However, as the general was known to be
a man who had never failed to carry out his agree-
ments with inflexible probity, the refractory domes-
tics were conscious of some remorse as they danced
on after the allotted time had expired. The clock
struck eleven and not a servant had arrived. The
profound silence that prevailed in the neighborhood
enabled them to hear, at intervals, the north wind
whistling through the leafless branches, groaning
around the house, or losing itself in the long cor-
ridors. The frost had purified the air, hardened the
ground and solidified the pavements so thoroughly,
that everything gave forth the dry sonorous sound,
whose phenomena constantly surprise us. The
heavy step of a belated reveler, or the rumbling of


a cab returning to Paris, made a much louder noise
and could be heard at a much greater distance than
usual. The dead leaves, set dancing by a sudden
gust of wind, rustled over the stones of the court-
yard, and gave a voice to the darkness when it
chose to remain dumb. It was, in short, one of
those sharp evenings which extort from our selfish-
ness a sterile word of pity for the poor man or the
wayfarer, and make the chimney corner such a
blissful abiding place. At that moment, the family
assembled in the salon were giving little thought to
the absence of the servants, or to the homeless, or
to the poesy with which a winter evening sparkles.
Without philosophizing upon irrelevant subjects,
the women and children, trusting in the protection
of an old soldier, were enjoying to the full the
pleasures engendered by domestic life, when the
feelings are not under restraint, when words and
looks and amusements alike are animated by affec-
tion and frankness.

The general was seated, or, more correctly speak-
ing, buried in a spacious, high-backed reclining-
chair, at the corner of the hearth, whereon a brisk
fire was burning, giving forth the tingling warmth
that indicates excessive cold without. Resting
against the back of the chair and bent slightly for-
ward, this excellent father's head lay in a languid
attitude that told of perfect tranquillity, of a deli-
cious diffusion of comfort through his whole being.
His arms, half-asleep, were thrown carelessly over
the arms of his chair, and put the finishing touch to


the suggestion of happiness. He was watching the
smallest of his children, a boy of about five years,
who was running about, half-naked, refusing to
allow his mother to undress him. The urchin fled
from the shirt and nightcap with which the mar-
chioness sometimes threatened him ; he kept on his
embroidered collar and laughed at his mother when
she called him, for he saw that she herself laughed
at his childish rebellion ; then he began to play with
his sister, who was as playful as he, but more mis-
chievous, and who spoke more distinctly than he,
his vague words and confused ideas being hardly
intelligible to his parents. Little Moina, his senior
by two years, called forth constant laughter by her
prematurely womanish, coquettish ways, loud
peals of laughter for which there seemed to be no
cause; but to see them both rolling about in front of
the fire, displaying without shame their pretty
plump bodies, their graceful, white figures, mingling
their black and flaxen curls, rubbing their pink
cheeks together, on which joy stamped the dimples
of innocence, surely a father, a mother above all,
would understand those tiny minds, already, in
their eyes, endowed with characters and passions.
The two little angels, with the brilliant coloring of
their humid eyes, their blooming cheeks and their
fair skin, outshone the flowers in the carpet, the
scene of their disputes, upon which they fell and
rolled and fought and overthrew each other without
danger. Sitting upon a couch at the other side of
the hearth, opposite her husband, was the mother,


surrounded by scattered articles of clothing, with a
red shoe in her hand, in an attitude of graceful
negligence. Her irresolute severity expired in a
grave smile that played about her lips. She was
about thirty-six years of age, and still retained a
beauty that was due to the rare perfection of the
lines of her face, to which the heat, the light and
happiness imparted a supernatural brilliancy at that
moment. Frequently she ceased to look at her chil-
dren to turn her eyes caressingly upon her husband's
grave face ; and sometimes, as they met, the eyes
of the husband and wife exchanged a glance of silent
enjoyment and profound reflection. The general's
face was much sunburned. A lock or two of grizzled
hair fell down upon his broad, unwrinkled brow.
The manly gleam of his blue eyes, the courage
written in the wrinkles of his scarred cheeks proved
that he had purchased by hard work, the red ribbon
that adorned the buttonhole of his coat At that
moment the innocent delight expressed by his two
children was reflected upon his strong and resolute
countenance, which was marked by indescribable
kindness of heart and candor. The old captain had
become young again without excessive effort. Is
there not always more or less love for children in
the hearts of soldiers, who have had enough experi-
ence of the woes of life to realize the paltriness of
strength and the privilege of weakness ?

A short distance away, at a round table lighted
by astral lamps, whose bright light overpowered the
pale glimmer of the candles on the mantelpiece, was


a boy of thirteen, rapidly turning the pages of a
bulky volume. The shouts of his brother and sister
did not distract his attention, and his face betrayed
the curiosity of youth. His profound abstraction
was justified by the fascinating marvels of the
Thousand and One Nights, and by his lyceum pupil's
uniform. He was sitting quite still, in a meditative
attitude, one elbow on the table and his head resting
on one of his hands, whose white fingers were thrust
through his dark-brown hair. With the light fall-
ing from above upon his face, the rest of his body
being in the shadow, he resembled the dark portraits
in which Raphael has represented himself, leaning
forward in rapt attention, thinking of the future.
Between the table and the marchioness, a tall, lovely
young girl sat before an embroidery frame, alter-
nately putting forward and withdrawing her head;
the light of the lamp was reflected in her artistically
dressed jet-black hair. Helene in herself was a
marvelous spectacle. Her beauty was distinguished
by a rare combination of character and refinement.
Although so arranged as to present sharply marked
lines around her head, her hair was so abundant
that it resisted the teeth of the comb and curled
rebelliously where the neck joined the shoulders.
Her eyebrows, which were very thick and regular,
were in striking contrast with the pure white-
ness of her forehead. She had a few symbols
of courage on her upper lip, too, forming a slight
dark line beneath a Grecian nose of most exqui-
sitely perfect shape. But the captivating roundness


of outlines, the candid expression of the features,
the delicate, transparent carnation of the complex-
ion, the voluptuous fulness of the lips, the perfec-
tion of the oval described by the lines of the face,
and above all, the sanctity of her virgin glance im-
pressed upon her robust beauty the feminine sweet-
ness, the enchanting modesty that we require in
such angels of peace and love as she. There was
no sign of frailty, however, in the girl's make-up,
and her heart was likely to be as gentle, her soul as
strong, as her proportions were magnificent and her
face attractive. She imitated the silence of her
brother, the student, and was apparently absorbed
in the profound maidenly meditation that is often
impenetrable to the observation of a father, and in-
deed to the sagacious instinct of a mother; so that
it was impossible to say whether the fitful shadows
that passed over her face, like fleecy clouds across a
clear sky, should be attributed to the play of the
light or to secret suffering.

The two elder children were at that moment com-
pletely forgotten by the husband and wife. More
than once, however, the general had cast a ques-
tioning glance upon the silent scene in the middle
distance, which presented a comforting realization
of the hopes aroused anew by the childish frolics
represented in the foreground of this domestic pic-
ture. These various figures, interpreting life by
insensible gradations, composed a sort of living
poem. The sumptuous accessories in the decora-
tions of the salon, the diversity of attitudes, the


contrasts afforded by clothing of many different
colors, by the faces characteristic of the various
ages and by the figures sharply defined in the light,
spread over those human pages all the rich details
demanded of sculptors, painters and authors.
Lastly, the silence and the cold, the solitude and
the darkness, lent their majesty to the sublime pic-
ture of artless innocence, a most enchanting effect
of nature. Conjugal life is full of such sacred hours
whose indefinable charm is due perhaps to some
remembrance of a better world. Celestial beams
are shed, doubtless, upon scenes of this sort, which
indemnify man for a part of his suffering, and make
him. resigned to accept life as it is. It seems as if
the universe were there, before us, in an entrancing
form, that it unfolds its grand scheme of order, that
social life pleads for the observance of its laws by
speaking of the future.

Meanwhile, notwithstanding the wistful glance
Helene cast at Abel and Moina when their joyful
laughter rang out; notwithstanding the light of hap-
piness upon her speaking face when she glanced fur-
tively at her father, there was every indication of
profound melancholy in her movements, in her atti-
tude, and above all in her eyes, veiled by long
lashes. Her strong white hands, through which
the light seemed to pass, imparting to them a
diaphanous, almost impalpable tinge of red her
hands trembled perceptibly. Once only, without
concert, did her eyes and the marchioness's meet.
The two women at that time exchanged a glance of


mutual understanding, listless and cold but respect-

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 12 of 22)