Honoré de Balzac.

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

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pression. "Why, realjy, mother "

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Moina, cried Madame d Aiglemont, making a

"I am listening," said the countess, folding her
arms, with

self-possession, "to ring for

She rang.

"My dear child, Pauline cannot hear."

"Mamma," rejoined the countess, with a serious
air which must have seemed extraordinary to her
mother, "1 must "

She cli; K d herself as the maid entered.


"Pauline, go yourself to Baudran, and find out
why I have not yet received my hat."

She resumed her seat and looked attentively at
her mother. The marchioness, whose heart was
bursting though her eyes were dry, and who was
overcome by such painful emotion as only mothers
can understand, tried to make Molna appreciate the
risk she was running. But, whether the countess
was wounded by her mother's suspicions concern-
ing the Marquis de Vandenesse's son, or was seized
with one of those incomprehensible fits of madness,
which can only be explained by the inexperience of
youth, she took advantage of a pause made by her
mother to say to her with a forced laugh :

"Mamma, I thought you were jealous only of the

At those words, Madame d'Aiglemont closed her
eyes, hung her head and sighed the faintest of all
sighs. She glanced upward, as if in obedience to
the invincible impulse that leads us to call upon
God in the great crises of life; then she looked at
her daughter with eyes filled with awe-inspiring
majesty and expressing also the bitterest sorrow.

"My daughter," said she in an almost unrecog-
nizable voice, "you have been more pitiless to your
mother than was the man she outraged, more piti-
less than God will be perhaps!"

Madame d'Aiglemont rose; but, when she reached
the door, she turned and seeing only surprise in her
daughter's eyes, left the room and succeeded in
reaching the garden, where her strength abandoned


her. Feeling a sharp pain at her heart, she fell
upon a bench. As her eyes wandered over the sand,
they spied there the recent footprints of a man,
whose boots had left unmistakable marks. Beyond
question then her daughter was ruined, and she
fancied that she could understand the motive of the
commission given to Pauline. This cruel thought
was accompanied by a revelation more hateful than
all the rest. She imagined that the Marquis de Van-
denesse's son had driven from Moina's heart the
respect due from a daughter to her mother. Her
suffering increased, she lost consciousness gradually
and lay as if she were asleep. The young countess
thought that her mother had been betrayed into giv-
ing her rather too sharp a reprimand, and said to
herself that a caress or a few little attentions in the
evening would readily effect a reconciliation. Hear-
ing a woman's shriek in the garden, she walked in-
differently to the window just as Pauline, who had
not yet gone to do her errand, called for help and
took the marchioness in her arms.

"Don't alarm my daughter!" were the last words
the mother uttered.

Moina saw them bring her mother in, pale, uncon-
scious, breathing with difficulty, but waving her
arms about as if she were trying to do or say some-
thing. Horror-stricken by the sight, Moina folio wed
her mother and assisted silently in undressing her
and putting her upon her bed. Her sin overwhelmed
her. At that supreme moment, she really knew
her mother, and she could do nothing to repair the


wrong she had done. She wished to be alone with
her ; and when there was no one else in the room,
when she felt the cold hand that had been always
caressing to her, she burst into tears. Aroused by
her weeping, the marchioness was still able to look
at her dear Moina ; and when she heard the sobs that
seemed to seek to rend that delicate and disturbed
bosom, she gazed at her daughter with a smile.
That smile proved to the young parricide that a
mother's heart is an abyss at whose bottom for-
giveness may always be found.

As soon as the marchioness's condition was dis-
covered, mounted servants were despatched for
the physician, the surgeon, and her grandchildren.
The young marchioness and her children arrived at
the same time as the medical gentlemen, and formed
an imposing, silent, anxious assemblage, with
whom the servants mingled. The young marchion-
ess, hearing no sound, knocked softly at the bedroom
door. At that signal, Moina, disturbed in the midst
of her grief, abruptly threw the door wide open,
looked out upon the family gathering with haggard
eyes, and exhibited a distress that spoke louder
than any words could have done. At the sight of
that living remorse, everyone was dumb. They
could easily see the marchioness's rigid feet, dis-
torted by convulsions, upon the bed of death.

Moina clung to the door, looked at her relatives,
and said in a hollow voice:

"I have lost my mother!"

Paris, 1828-1844.


Her devoted servant,


\" t -


In 1822, at the beginning of spring, the physi-
cians of Paris sent into Basse Normandie a young
man who was just recovering from an intlamm; T

tdorngn living.' His convalescence demar<

plete repose, nutritious food, cool air and entire ab-

sence of violent sensations. The ri

He went to Bayeux, a pretty t . ..

*Vv>fo *

W- !A " "* te

arrvva^rof a rein: , \.

.. . . "\^?^\v,


All small towns are much alike with the exception
of some special customs. After several evenings
passed with his cousin, Madame de Sainte-Severe,
or with the persons who composed her circle of inti-
mates, this young Parisian, whose name was Mon-
sieur It Baron Gaston de Nueil, soon came to know
everybody *vb ~rn that exclusive circle considered as
making up the whole town. In them, Gaston de

I' '.


In 1822, at the beginning of spring, the physi-
cians of Paris sent into Basse Normandie a young
man who was just recovering from an inflammatory
trouble caused by excessive study, or, it may be, by
too high living. His convalescence demanded com-
plete repose, nutritious food, cool air and entire ab-
sence of violent sensations. The rich fields of the
Bessin and the colorless life of the provinces seemed
therefore well adapted to accelerate his recovery.
He went to Bayeux, a pretty town some two leagues
from the sea, to the house of a female cousin, who
welcomed him with the cordiality characteristic of
persons accustomed to a retired life; to whom the
arrival of a relative or friend is a source of real de-

All small towns are much alike with the exception
of some special customs. After several evenings
passed with his cousin, Madame de Sainte-Severe,
or with the persons who composed her circle of inti-
mates, this young Parisian, whose name was Mon-
sieur le Baron Gaston de Nueil, soon came to know
everybody whom that exclusive circle considered as
making up the whole town. In them, Gaston de


Nueil recognized the perennial types that careful
observers find in the numerous capitals of the
ancient States, which formed the France of long ago.
In the first place, there was the family whose
nobility, unknown at a distance of fifty leagues, is
considered in the department incontestable and of
the most venerable antiquity. This species of
royal family on a small scale rubs elbows, through
its alliances, although no one suspects it, with the
Navarreins and Grandlieus, touches the Cadignans
and clings like a leech to the Blamont-Chauvrys.
The chief of the illustrious race is always a deter-
mined sportsman. Being entirely devoid of breed-
ing, he crushes everybody about him with his
nominal superiority; he tolerates the sub-prefect,
just as he submits to the impost; he acknowledges
none of the new powers created by the nineteenth
century, and calls your attention to the fact, as a
political monstrosity, that the prime minister is not
a man of noble birth. His wife adopts a peremptory
tone, talks very loud, has had her adorers, but par-
takes of the Sacrament regularly at Easter; she
brings up her daughters badly and fancies that they
will always be rich enough in their name. The
husband and wife have no idea of the luxury of the
present day; they continue to dress their servants
in stage liveries, cling to the old styles in plate,
furniture and carriages, as in manners and language.
Moreover, this pomp of the olden time is more con-
sistent with provincial economy. In short, they
are the gentlemen of the old days, less the fines and


escheats, less the hunting packs and laced coats; all
filled to overflowing with lofty ideas of their own
honor, all devoted to princes whom they see only at
a distance. This historic house, unknown to fame,
retains the peculiarity of old-fashioned, high-warp
tapestry. There is sure to be an uncle or a brother
vegetating in the family, a lieutenant-general, cor-
don rouge, hanger-on of the court, who went to Han-
over with Marechal de Richelieu, and whom you
will find lying around like a stray leaf from an old
pamphlet of the time of Louis XV.

Opposed to this fossilized family is another, pos-
sessed of greater wealth but of less ancient nobility.
The husband and wife go to Paris for two months
every winter, and bring back therefrom its fleeting
tone and ephemeral passions. Madame is fashion-
able, but a little stiff and always behindhand with
the styles. However, she sneers at the ignorance
affected by her neighbors; her silver-plate is mod-
ern ; she has grooms, negroes and a valet de cham-
bre. Her elder son sports a tilbury and has no
business; he has a majorat ; the younger is auditor
to the Council of State. The father, who. is thor-
oughly posted in the intrigues of the ministry, has
a store of anecdotes concerning Louis XVIII. and
Madame du Cayla; he invests in -the five per cents,
avoids talking about cider, but is sometimes at-
tacked by a mania for rectifying estimates of de-
partmental fortunes ; he is a member of the Conseil
General, has his clothes made in Paris, and wears
the Cross of the Legion of Honor. In short, this


gentleman has rightly understood the Restoration
and coins money in the Chamber; but his royalism
is less pure than that of the family with which he
maintains a constant rivalry. He takes in the
Gazette and the Debats. The other family reads
nothing but the Quotidienne.

Monseigneur the bishop, formerly vicar-general,
wavers between these two powers which render him
the honors due to religion but sometimes make him
feel the force of the moral that good La Fontaine
placed at the end of The Ass Laden with Relics.
The worthy man is of plebeian extraction.

Then come the secondary stars, the gentlemen
who enjoy incomes of from ten to twelve thousand
francs, and who have been naval commanders or
captains of cavalry, or nothing at all. As they ride
about over the roads, they occupy a middle position
between the cure carrying the Sacraments to a
dying man and the tax-collector on his round.
Almost all of them have been pages or in the
guards, and are ending their days peacefully in
exploiting their estates, more concerned about a
felling of wood or the yield of their cider-mills than
about the monarchy. However, they talk about
the Charter and the Liberals between their rubbers
of whist, or over a game of backgammon, after cal-
culating dowries and arranging marriages with due
regard to the genealogies they know by heart.
Their wives play at pride and assume the airs of
ladies of the court, in their wicker cabriolets; they
consider themselves in full dress when they are


decked out in a shawl and bonnet; they purchase
two hats a year, but only after mature deliberation,
and have them sent from Paris second-hand; they
are generally virtuous and garrulous.

Around these leading elements of the aristocratic
class are grouped two or three old maids of quality
who have solved the problem of immobilizing the
human creature. They seem to be sealed up in the
houses in which you see them ; their faces and their
toilets are a part of the realty of the town, of the
province; they are its tradition, its memory, its
mind. There is something rigid and monumental
about them all ; they know how to smile or shake
their heads at the proper time, and now and then
make remarks that are considered clever.

A few wealthy bourgeois have wormed them-
selves into this little Faubourg Saint-Germain,
thanks to their aristocratic opinions or their for-
tunes. But despite their forty years, everyone says
of them there : "Little so-and-so thinks !" and they
make deputies of them. Generally, they are pa-
tronized by the old maids, but people talk about it

Lastly, two or three ecclesiastics are received into
this select circle, on account of their stoles, or be-
cause they have some pretensions to wit, and these
noble persons, wearying of their own company, in-
troduce the bourgeois element into their salons, as
a baker puts yeast in his dough.

The sum total of intelligence amassed in all these
heads consists of a certain quantity of old-fashioned
ideas with which are mingled some few new notions



brewed in common every evening. Like the water
in a little creek, the phrases that represent these
ideas have their daily ebb and flow, their perpetual
eddies, always the same in every instance ; he who
hears the empty sounds to-day, will hear the same
to-morrow, a year hence, forever. Their unchange-
able decisions upon earthly matters form a tradi-
tional mass of knowledge, to which no one can
possibly add one drop of wisdom; The life of these
slaves of routine gravitates in a sphere of habits as
immutable as their religious, political, moral and
literary opinions.

If a stranger is admitted to this holy of holies,
everyone will say to him, not without a shade of
irony: "You won't find your brilliant Parisian
society here!" and everyone will speak slightingly
of his neighbors' mode of life, attempting to convey
the impression that he is an exception to the rule
prevailing in that social circle, and that he has tried
unsuccessfully to remodel it. But if the stranger,
unluckily for himself, confirms by some remark the
opinion that these people mutually entertain of one
another, he is at once set down as a shameless
creature, a faithless and lawless Parisian, and cor-
rupt, as all Parisians are, generally speaking.

When Gaston de Nueil made his appearance in
this little world, where etiquette was rigidly ob-
served, where all the details of life were in perfect
harmony, where everything was open to the day,
where aristocratic and territorial stocks were quoted
just as the funds are quoted on the last page of the


newspapers, he had been weighed beforehand in the
infallible scales of Bayeux opinion. His cousin,
Madame de Sainte-Severe, had already disclosed
the exact figure of his fortune and his prospects, ex-
hibited his genealogical tree, boasted of his knowl-
edge, his courtesy and his modesty. He received
the welcome to which he was strictly entitled, was
accepted without cavil as a genuine nobleman, be-
cause he was only twenty-three years old ; but cer-
tain young ladies and some mothers made soft eyes
at him. He possessed an income of eighteen thou-
sand francs from an estate in the valley of Auge,
and his father was certain, sooner or later, to leave
him the chateau of Manerville with all its depend-
encies. As for his education, his political future,
his personal worth, his talents, they were simply
not considered at all. His estates were in excellent
condition and the rents assured ; some fine planta-
tions had been laid out there; the repairs and taxes
were all borne by the tenants; the apple trees were
thirty-eight years old; and his father was in the
market to purchase two hundred acres of woodland
adjoining his park, which he proposed to surround
with walls; no ministerial prospects, no human
celebrity could carry the day against such advan-
tages. Whether in a spirit of mischief or to forward
some scheme of her own, Madame de Sainte-Severe
had not mentioned Gaston's elder brother, and Gas-
ton said not a word about him. But the brother in
question was consumptive and seemed in a fair way
to be buried, mourned, forgotten. Gaston de Nueil


began by making sport of these various personages;
he sketched their faces, so to speak, in his album,
picturing their angular, hooked, wrinkled faces with
delicious accuracy and hitting off their amusingly
original costumes and tricks of speech and gesture
to the very life; he took much pleasure in the Nor-
manisms of their idiom, and their antiquated ideas
and characters. But after he had had a momentary
experience of that existence, which much resembled
the life of a squirrel whose whole time is passed in
making his cage revolve; he felt the absence of
variety in a life in which everything is prescribed
beforehand like that of a monk in a cloister, and
reached a state of feeling which was neither ennui
nor disgust, but produced almost all the effects of
both. After the slight inconvenience caused by the
transition, the individual finds himself transplanted
into soil that is not favorable to his growth, where
he is likely to wither and fade and to lead a stunted
life. Indeed, if nothing happens to remove him
from that circle, he insensibly adopts its customs
and accommodates himself to its emptiness, which
takes possession of him and emasculates him. Gas-
ton's lungs were already becoming accustomed to
this atmosphere. Prepared to discover a sort of
vegetating happiness in these aimless, thoughtless
days, he began to lose all memory of the movement
of sap in the veins, of the constant fructification of
the intellect which he had so ardently followed in
the Parisian world, and was on the point of be-
coming petrified among the petrifactions, there to


remain forever, like the companions of Ulysses,
content with his thick envelope. One evening,
Gaston de Nueil found himself sitting between an
old lady and one of the vicars-general of the diocese,
in a salon with gray wainscoting, floored with large,
square, white tiles, with a few family portraits on
the walls and four card-tables around which sixteen
people were chattering volubly over their games of
whist As he sat there, thinking of nothing, but
digesting one of those exquisite dinners which one
always looks forward to throughout the day in the
provinces, he surprised himself in the act of justify-
ing the customs of the country. He understood why
those people continued to use old cards and deal
them upon worn out cloths, and how it came about
that they had ceased to dress to suit themselves or
other people. He imagined some philosophical ex-
planation or other of the uniform current of this life
in a circle, of their tranquil adherence to these log-
ical costumes, of their ignorance of true refinement.
In a word, he almost appreciated the uselessness of
luxury. The city of Paris, with its passions, its
tempests and its dissipation, had ceased to exist in
his mind, save as a memory of his childhood. He
admired in good faith the red hands and the modest,
timid manner of a young woman, whose face, when
he first saw it, had seemed utterly inane to him,
her manners devoid of charm, her general appear-
ance repulsive, and her bearing supremely ridicu-
lous. It was all over with him. Having gone
originally to Paris from the provinces, he was on the


point of relapsing from the exciting existence of
Paris into the dull routine of the provinces, when
a single sentence fell upon his ear and caused him a
sudden thrill of emotion like that he would have felt
upon hearing some new and striking TWO/// amid the
music of a tiresome opera.

"Did you not go to call upon Madame de Beau-
seant yesterday," said an old lady to the head of
the princely family of the province.

"I went this morning," was the reply. "I found
her very much cast down and so ill that I could not
prevail upon her to dine with us to-morrow."

"With Madame de Champignelles?" cried the
dowager, manifesting something very like surprise.

"With my wife," said the gentleman, calmly.
"Is not Madame de Beauseant of the family of
Bourgogne? Through the female line, to be sure,
but the name atones for everything. My wife is
very fond of Madame la Vicomtesse, and the poor
woman has been alone so long, that "

As he spoke, the Marquis de Champignelles be-
stowed a calm, cold glance upon the persons who
were listening to him with their eyes fixed upon his
face; but it was almost impossible to guess whether
he was making a concession to ill-fortune or to Ma-
dame de Beauseant's noble blood, whether he was
flattered at the thought of entertaining her, or was
determined as a matter of pride, to force the gentle-
men of the country and their wives to meet her.

All the ladies apparently consulted one another
by an exchange of glances, all of exactly the same


character ; and as the most profound silence there-
after reigned throughout the salon, their attitude
was as an indication of their disapproval.

"Is this Madame de Beauseant, by any chance,
the one whose affair with Monsieur d'Ajuda-Pinto
caused so much talk?" Gaston inquired of his
nearest neighbor.

"The same," was the reply. "She came to
Courcelles to live after the Marquis d'Ajuda's mar-
riage; no one receives her here. Indeed she knows
too much not to have realized her false position; so
she has not attempted to see anyone. Monsieur de
Champignelles and some few men have called upon
her, but she has received no one but Monsieur de
Champignelles, perhaps because of their relation-
ship; they are connected through the Beauseants.
The elder Marquis de Beauseant married a Cham-
pignelles of the elder branch. Although the Vicom-
tesse de Beauseant is said to descend from the
house of Bourgogne, you will understand that we
could not receive a woman who is separated from
her husband. There are some old-fashioned ideas to
which we are foolish enough to adhere. The vis-
countess is all the more blameworthy for her
escapades because Monsieur de Beauseant is a most
excellent man and connected with the court; he
would have been very willing to listen to reason.
But his wife is a mad creature "

Monsieur de Nueil, although he heard his inter-
locutor's voice, was no longer listening. He was
absorbed by a multitude of fancies. Is there another


word to express the allurements of an adventure at
the moment when it first smiles on the imagination,
at the moment when the heart conceives vague
hopes, foresees unspeakable delights, fears and
events, although there is as yet nothing with which
to feed or shape the capricious vision? The mind
flies hither and thither, forms impossible schemes
and puts forth in germ the delight of passion. But
perhaps that germ contains the whole passion, just
as a seed contains a lovely flower with its odor and
rich coloring. Monsieur de Nueil did not know
that Madame deBeauseant had taken refuge in Nor-
mandie after a scandal of the sort that most women
envy and condemn, especially when the fascinations
of youth and beauty almost justify the false step
that caused it. Every sort of celebrity, no matter
upon what it may be based, carries with it an ex-
traordinary prestige. It seems as if the glory of a
crime effaces its shame in the case of women, as it
used to do in the case of families. Just as a certain
family prides itself upon its severed heads, so a
young and pretty woman becomes more attractive
by virtue of the fatal renown of a fortunate in-
trigue or a shocking act of treachery. The more
she is to be pitied, the more sympathy she excites.
We are pitiless only in respect to vulgar sentiments,
vulgar adventures, vulgar matters of every sort.
By attracting attention, we make ourselves appear
great. In truth, must we not raise ourselves above
other people, in order to be seen? Now, the com-
mon herd involuntarily respects every one who


has increased his own stature, without scrutiniz-
ing the means too closely. At that moment, Gaston
de Nueil felt drawn toward Madame de Beauseant
by the secret influence of these arguments, or
perhaps by curiosity, by the need of introducing

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