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days when she dines at home and alone. She will not spend more than
ten sous a day for her food. It is unreasonable. If I were to say
anything about it to Monsieur le Marechal, he might quarrel with
Monsieur le Baron and leave him nothing, whereas you, who are so kind
and clever, can manage things - - "

"But why do you not apply to my cousin the Baron?" said Lisbeth.

"Oh, dear mademoiselle, he has not been here for three weeks or more;
in fact, not since we last had the pleasure of seeing you! Besides,
madame has forbidden me, under threat of dismissal, ever to ask the
master for money. But as for grief! - oh, poor lady, she has been very
unhappy. It is the first time that monsieur has neglected her for so
long. Every time the bell rang she rushed to the window - but for the
last five days she has sat still in her chair. She reads. Whenever she
goes out to see Madame la Comtesse, she says, 'Mariette, if monsieur
comes in,' says she, 'tell him I am at home, and send the porter to
fetch me; he shall be well paid for his trouble.'"

"Poor soul!" said Lisbeth; "it goes to my heart. I speak of her to the
Baron every day. What can I do? 'Yes,' says he, 'Betty, you are right;
I am a wretch. My wife is an angel, and I am a monster! I will go
to-morrow - - ' And he stays with Madame Marneffe. That woman is
ruining him, and he worships her; he lives only in her sight. - I do
what I can; if I were not there, and if I had not Mathurine to depend
upon, he would spend twice as much as he does; and as he has hardly
any money in the world, he would have blown his brains out by this
time. And, I tell you, Mariette, Adeline would die of her husband's
death, I am perfectly certain. At any rate, I pull to make both ends
meet, and prevent my cousin from throwing too much money into the

"Yes, that is what madame says, poor soul! She knows how much she owes
you," replied Mariette. "She said she had judged you unjustly for many
years - - "

"Indeed!" said Lisbeth. "And did she say anything else?"

"No, mademoiselle. If you wish to please her, talk to her about
Monsieur le Baron; she envies you your happiness in seeing him every

"Is she alone?"

"I beg pardon, no; the Marshal is with her. He comes every day, and
she always tells him she saw monsieur in the morning, but that he
comes in very late at night."

"And is there a good dinner to-day?"

Mariette hesitated; she could not meet Lisbeth's eye. The drawing-room
door opened, and Marshal Hulot rushed out in such haste that he bowed
to Lisbeth without looking at her, and dropped a paper. Lisbeth picked
it up and ran after him downstairs, for it was vain to hail a deaf
man; but she managed not to overtake the Marshal, and as she came up
again she furtively read the following lines written in pencil: -

"MY DEAR BROTHER, - My husband has given me the money for my
quarter's expenses; but my daughter Hortense was in such need of
it, that I lent her the whole sum, which was scarcely enough to
set her straight. Could you lend me a few hundred francs? For I
cannot ask Hector for more; if he were to blame me, I could not
bear it."

"My word!" thought Lisbeth, "she must be in extremities to bend her
pride to such a degree!"

Lisbeth went in. She saw tears in Adeline's eyes, and threw her arms
round her neck.

"Adeline, my dearest, I know all," cried Cousin Betty. "Here, the
Marshal dropped this paper - he was in such a state of mind, and
running like a greyhound. - Has that dreadful Hector given you no money
since - - ?"

"He gives it me quite regularly," replied the Baroness, "but Hortense
needed it, and - "

"And you had not enough to pay for dinner to-night," said Lisbeth,
interrupting her. "Now I understand why Mariette looked so confused
when I said something about the soup. You really are childish,
Adeline; come, take my savings."

"Thank you, my kind cousin," said Adeline, wiping away a tear. "This
little difficulty is only temporary, and I have provided for the
future. My expenses henceforth will be no more than two thousand four
hundred francs a year, rent inclusive, and I shall have the money.
- Above all, Betty, not a word to Hector. Is he well?"

"As strong as the Pont Neuf, and as gay as a lark; he thinks of
nothing but his charmer Valerie."

Madame Hulot looked out at a tall silver-fir in front of the window,
and Lisbeth could not see her cousin's eyes to read their expression.

"Did you mention that it was the day when we all dine together here?"

"Yes. But, dear me! Madame Marneffe is giving a grand dinner; she
hopes to get Monsieur Coquet to resign, and that is of the first
importance. - Now, Adeline, listen to me. You know that I am fiercely
proud as to my independence. Your husband, my dear, will certainly
bring you to ruin. I fancied I could be of use to you all by living
near this woman, but she is a creature of unfathomable depravity, and
she will make your husband promise things which will bring you all to
disgrace." Adeline writhed like a person stabbed to the heart. "My
dear Adeline, I am sure of what I say. I feel it is my duty to
enlighten you. - Well, let us think of the future. The Marshal is an
old man, but he will last a long time yet - he draws good pay; when he
dies his widow would have a pension of six thousand francs. On such an
income I would undertake to maintain you all. Use your influence over
the good man to get him to marry me. It is not for the sake of being
Madame la Marechale; I value such nonsense at no more than I value
Madame Marneffe's conscience; but you will all have bread. I see that
Hortense must be wanting it, since you give her yours."

The Marshal now came in; he had made such haste, that he was mopping
his forehead with his bandana.

"I have given Mariette two thousand francs," he whispered to his

Adeline colored to the roots of her hair. Two tears hung on the
fringes of the still long lashes, and she silently pressed the old
man's hand; his beaming face expressed the glee of a favored lover.

"I intended to spend the money in a present for you, Adeline," said
he. "Instead of repaying me, you must choose for yourself the thing
you would like best."

He took Lisbeth's hand, which she held out to him, and so bewildered
was he by his satisfaction, that he kissed it.

"That looks promising," said Adeline to Lisbeth, smiling so far as she
was able to smile.

The younger Hulot and his wife now came in.

"Is my brother coming to dinner?" asked the Marshal sharply.

Adeline took up a pencil and wrote these words on a scrap of paper:

"I expect him; he promised this morning that he would be here; but if
he should not come, it would be because the Marshal kept him. He is
overwhelmed with business."

And she handed him the paper. She had invented this way of conversing
with Marshal Hulot, and kept a little collection of paper scraps and a
pencil at hand on the work-table.

"I know," said the Marshal, "he is worked very hard over the business
in Algiers."

At this moment, Hortense and Wenceslas arrived, and the Baroness, as
she saw all her family about her, gave the Marshal a significant
glance understood by none but Lisbeth.

Happiness had greatly improved the artist, who was adored by his wife
and flattered by the world. His face had become almost round, and his
graceful figure did justice to the advantages which blood gives to men
of birth. His early fame, his important position, the delusive
eulogies that the world sheds on artists as lightly as we say, "How
d'ye do?" or discuss the weather, gave him that high sense of merit
which degenerates into sheer fatuity when talent wanes. The Cross of
the Legion of Honor was the crowning stamp of the great man he
believed himself to be.

After three years of married life, Hortense was to her husband what a
dog is to its master; she watched his every movement with a look that
seemed a constant inquiry, her eyes were always on him, like those of
a miser on his treasure; her admiring abnegation was quite pathetic.
In her might be seen her mother's spirit and teaching. Her beauty, as
great as ever, was poetically touched by the gentle shadow of
concealed melancholy.

On seeing Hortense come in, it struck Lisbeth that some
long-suppressed complaint was about to break through the thin veil of
reticence. Lisbeth, from the first days of the honeymoon, had been
sure that this couple had too small an income for so great a passion.

Hortense, as she embraced her mother, exchanged with her a few
whispered phrases, heart to heart, of which the mystery was betrayed
to Lisbeth by certain shakes of the head.

"Adeline, like me, must work for her living," thought Cousin Betty.
"She shall be made to tell me what she will do! Those pretty fingers
will know at last, like mine, what it is to work because they must."

At six o'clock the family party went in to dinner. A place was laid
for Hector.

"Leave it so," said the Baroness to Mariette, "monsieur sometimes
comes in late."

"Oh, my father will certainly come," said Victorin to his mother. "He
promised me he would when we parted at the Chamber."

Lisbeth, like a spider in the middle of its net, gloated over all
these countenances. Having known Victorin and Hortense from their
birth, their faces were to her like panes of glass, through which she
could read their young souls. Now, from certain stolen looks directed
by Victorin on his mother, she saw that some disaster was hanging over
Adeline which Victorin hesitated to reveal. The famous young lawyer
had some covert anxiety. His deep reverence for his mother was evident
in the regret with which he gazed at her.

Hortense was evidently absorbed in her own woes; for a fortnight past,
as Lisbeth knew, she had been suffering the first uneasiness which
want of money brings to honest souls, and to young wives on whom life
has hitherto smiled, and who conceal their alarms. Also Lisbeth had
immediately guessed that her mother had given her no money. Adeline's
delicacy had brought her so low as to use the fallacious excuses that
necessity suggests to borrowers.

Hortense's absence of mind, with her brother's and the Baroness' deep
dejection, made the dinner a melancholy meal, especially with the
added chill of the Marshal's utter deafness. Three persons gave a
little life to the scene: Lisbeth, Celestine, and Wenceslas.
Hortense's affection had developed the artist's natural liveliness as
a Pole, the somewhat swaggering vivacity and noisy high spirits that
characterize these Frenchmen of the North. His frame of mind and the
expression of his face showed plainly that he believed in himself, and
that poor Hortense, faithful to her mother's training, kept all
domestic difficulties to herself.

"You must be content, at any rate," said Lisbeth to her young cousin,
as they rose from table, "since your mother has helped you with her

"Mamma!" replied Hortense in astonishment. "Oh, poor mamma! It is for
me that she would like to make money. You do not know, Lisbeth, but I
have a horrible suspicion that she works for it in secret."

They were crossing the large, dark drawing-room where there were no
candles, all following Mariette, who was carrying the lamp into
Adeline's bedroom. At this instant Victorin just touched Lisbeth and
Hortense on the arm. The two women, understanding the hint, left
Wenceslas, Celestine, the Marshal, and the Baroness to go on together,
and remained standing in a window-bay.

"What is it, Victorin?" said Lisbeth. "Some disaster caused by your
father, I dare wager."

"Yes, alas!" replied Victorin. "A money-lender named Vauvinet has
bills of my father's to the amount of sixty thousand francs, and wants
to prosecute. I tried to speak of the matter to my father at the
Chamber, but he would not understand me; he almost avoided me. Had we
better tell my mother?"

"No, no," said Lisbeth, "she has too many troubles; it would be a
death-blow; you must spare her. You have no idea how low she has
fallen. But for your uncle, you would have found no dinner here this

"Dear Heaven! Victorin, what wretches we are!" said Hortense to her
brother. "We ought to have guessed what Lisbeth has told us. My dinner
is choking me!"

Hortense could say no more; she covered her mouth with her
handkerchief to smother a sob, and melted into tears.

"I told the fellow Vauvinet to call on me to-morrow," replied
Victorin, "but will he be satisfied by my guarantee on a mortgage? I
doubt it. Those men insist on ready money to sweat others on usurious

"Let us sell out of the funds!" said Lisbeth to Hortense.

"What good would that do?" replied Victorin. "It would bring fifteen
or sixteen thousand francs, and we want sixty thousand."

"Dear cousin!" cried Hortense, embracing Lisbeth with the enthusiasm
of guilelessness.

"No, Lisbeth, keep your little fortune," said Victorin, pressing the
old maid's hand. "I shall see to-morrow what this man would be up to.
With my wife's consent, I can at least hinder or postpone the
prosecution - for it would really be frightful to see my father's honor
impugned. What would the War Minister say? My father's salary, which
he pledged for three years, will not be released before the month of
December, so we cannot offer that as a guarantee. This Vauvinet has
renewed the bills eleven times; so you may imagine what my father must
pay in interest. We must close this pit."

"If only Madame Marneffe would throw him over!" said Hortense

"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed Victorin. "He would take up some one else;
and with her, at any rate, the worst outlay is over."

What a change in children formerly so respectful, and kept so long by
their mother in blind worship of their father! They knew him now for
what he was.

"But for me," said Lisbeth, "your father's ruin would be more complete
than it is."

"Come in to mamma," said Hortense; "she is very sharp, and will
suspect something; as our kind Lisbeth says, let us keep everything
from her - let us be cheerful."

"Victorin," said Lisbeth, "you have no notion of what your father will
be brought to by his passion for women. Try to secure some future
resource by getting the Marshal to marry me. Say something about it
this evening; I will leave early on purpose."

Victorin went into the bedroom.

"And you, poor little thing!" said Lisbeth in an undertone to
Hortense, "what can you do?"

"Come to dinner with us to-morrow, and we will talk it over," answered
Hortense. "I do not know which way to turn; you know how hard life is,
and you will advise me."

While the whole family with one consent tried to persuade the Marshal
to marry, and while Lisbeth was making her way home to the Rue
Vanneau, one of those incidents occurred which, in such women as
Madame Marneffe, are a stimulus to vice by compelling them to exert
their energy and every resource of depravity. One fact, at any rate,
must however be acknowledged: life in Paris is too full for vicious
persons to do wrong instinctively and unprovoked; vice is only a
weapon of defence against aggressors - that is all.

Madame Marneffe's drawing-room was full of her faithful admirers, and
she had just started the whist-tables, when the footman, a pensioned
soldier recruited by the Baron, announced:

"Monsieur le Baron Montes de Montejanos."

Valerie's heart jumped, but she hurried to the door, exclaiming:

"My cousin!" and as she met the Brazilian, she whispered:

"You are my relation - or all is at an end between us! - And so you were
not wrecked, Henri?" she went on audibly, as she led him to the fire.
"I heard you were lost, and have mourned for you these three years."

"How are you, my good fellow?" said Marneffe, offering his hand to the
stranger, whose get-up was indeed that of a Brazilian and a

Monsieur le Baron Henri Montes de Montejanos, to whom the climate of
the equator had given the color and stature we expect to see in
Othello on the stage, had an alarming look of gloom, but it was a
merely pictorial illusion; for, sweet and affectionate by nature, he
was predestined to be the victim that a strong man often is to a weak
woman. The scorn expressed in his countenance, the muscular strength
of his stalwart frame, all his physical powers were shown only to his
fellow-men; a form of flattery which women appreciate, nay, which so
intoxicates them, that every man with his mistress on his arm assumes
a matador swagger that provokes a smile. Very well set up, in a
closely fitting blue coat with solid gold buttons, in black trousers,
spotless patent evening boots, and gloves of a fashionable hue, the
only Brazilian touch in the Baron's costume was a large diamond, worth
about a hundred thousand francs, which blazed like a star on a
handsome blue silk cravat, tucked into a white waistcoat in such a way
as to show corners of a fabulously fine shirt front.

His brow, bossy like that of a satyr, a sign of tenacity in his
passions, was crowned by thick jet-black hair like a virgin forest,
and under it flashed a pair of hazel eyes, so wild looking as to
suggest that before his birth his mother must have been scared by a

This fine specimen of the Portuguese race in Brazil took his stand
with his back to the fire, in an attitude that showed familiarity with
Paris manners; holding his hat in one hand, his elbow resting on the
velvet-covered shelf, he bent over Madame Marneffe, talking to her in
an undertone, and troubling himself very little about the dreadful
people who, in his opinion, were so very much in the way.

This fashion of taking the stage, with the Brazilian's attitude and
expression, gave, alike to Crevel and to the baron, an identical shock
of curiosity and anxiety. Both were struck by the same impression and
the same surmise. And the manoeuvre suggested in each by their very
genuine passion was so comical in its simultaneous results, that it
made everybody smile who was sharp enough to read its meaning. Crevel,
a tradesman and shopkeeper to the backbone, though a mayor of Paris,
unluckily, was a little slower to move than his rival partner, and
this enabled the Baron to read at a glance Crevel's involuntary
self-betrayal. This was a fresh arrow to rankle in the very amorous
old man's heart, and he resolved to have an explanation from Valerie.

"This evening," said Crevel to himself too, as he sorted his hand, "I
must know where I stand."

"You have a heart!" cried Marneffe. "You have just revoked."

"I beg your pardon," said Crevel, trying to withdraw his card. - "This
Baron seems to me very much in the way," he went on, thinking to
himself. "If Valerie carries on with my Baron, well and good - it is a
means to my revenge, and I can get rid of him if I choose; but as for
this cousin! - He is one Baron too many; I do not mean to be made a
fool of. I will know how they are related."

That evening, by one of those strokes of luck which come to pretty
women, Valerie was charmingly dressed. Her white bosom gleamed under a
lace tucker of rusty white, which showed off the satin texture of her
beautiful shoulders - for Parisian women, Heaven knows how, have some
way of preserving their fine flesh and remaining slender. She wore a
black velvet gown that looked as if it might at any moment slip off
her shoulders, and her hair was dressed with lace and drooping
flowers. Her arms, not fat but dimpled, were graced by deep ruffles to
her sleeves. She was like a luscious fruit coquettishly served in a
handsome dish, and making the knife-blade long to be cutting it.

"Valerie," the Brazilian was saying in her ear, "I have come back
faithful to you. My uncle is dead; I am twice as rich as I was when I
went away. I mean to live and die in Paris, for you and with you."

"Lower, Henri, I implore you - - "

"Pooh! I mean to speak to you this evening, even if I should have to
pitch all these creatures out of window, especially as I have lost two
days in looking for you. I shall stay till the last. - I can, I

Valerie smiled at her adopted cousin, and said:

"Remember that you are the son of my mother's sister, who married your
father during Junot's campaign in Portugal."

"What, I, Montes de Montejanos, great grandson of a conquerer of
Brazil! Tell a lie?"

"Hush, lower, or we shall never meet again."

"Pray, why?"

"Marneffe, like all dying wretches, who always take up some last whim,
has a revived passion for me - - "

"That cur?" said the Brazilian, who knew his Marneffe; "I will settle

"What violence!"

"And where did you get all this splendor?" the Brazilian went on, just
struck by the magnificence of the apartment.

She began to laugh.

"Henri! what bad taste!" said she.

She had felt two burning flashes of jealousy which had moved her so
far as to make her look at the two souls in purgatory. Crevel, playing
against Baron Hulot and Monsieur Coquet, had Marneffe for his partner.
The game was even, because Crevel and the Baron were equally
absent-minded, and made blunder after blunder. Thus, in one instant,
the old men both confessed the passion which Valerie had persuaded them
to keep secret for the past three years; but she too had failed to hide
the joy in her eyes at seeing the man who had first taught her heart
to beat, the object of her first love. The rights of such happy
mortals survive as long as the woman lives over whom they have
acquired them.

With these three passions at her side - one supported by the insolence
of wealth, the second by the claims of possession, and the third by
youth, strength, fortune, and priority - Madame Marneffe preserved her
coolness and presence of mind, like General Bonaparte when, at the
siege of Mantua, he had to fight two armies, and at the same time
maintain the blockade.

Jealousy, distorting Hulot's face, made him look as terrible as the
late Marshal Montcornet leading a cavalry charge against a Russian
square. Being such a handsome man, he had never known any ground for
jealousy, any more than Murat knew what it was to be afraid. He had
always felt sure that he should triumph. His rebuff by Josepha, the
first he had ever met, he ascribed to her love of money; "he was
conquered by millions, and not by a changeling," he would say when
speaking of the Duc d'Herouville. And now, in one instant, the poison
and delirium that the mad passion sheds in a flood had rushed to his
heart. He kept turning from the whist-table towards the fireplace with
an action _a la_ Mirabeau; and as he laid down his cards to cast a
challenging glance at the Brazilian and Valerie, the rest of the
company felt the sort of alarm mingled with curiosity that is caused
by evident violence ready to break out at any moment. The sham cousin
stared at Hulot as he might have looked at some big China mandarin.

This state of things could not last; it was bound to end in some
tremendous outbreak. Marneffe was as much afraid of Hulot as Crevel
was of Marneffe, for he was anxious not to die a mere clerk. Men
marked for death believe in life as galley-slaves believe in liberty;
this man was bent on being a first-class clerk at any cost. Thoroughly
frightened by the pantomime of the Baron and Crevel, he rose, said a
few words in his wife's ear, and then, to the surprise of all, Valerie
went into the adjoining bedroom with the Brazilian and her husband.

"Did Madame Marneffe ever speak to you of this cousin of hers?" said
Crevel to Hulot.

"Never!" replied the Baron, getting up. "That is enough for this
evening," said he. "I have lost two louis - there they are."

He threw the two gold pieces on the table, and seated himself on the
sofa with a look which everybody else took as a hint to go. Monsieur
and Madame Coquet, after exchanging a few words, left the room, and
Claude Vignon, in despair, followed their example. These two
departures were a hint to less intelligent persons, who now found that
they were not wanted. The Baron and Crevel were left together, and
spoke never a word. Hulot, at last, ignoring Crevel, went on tiptoe to
listen at the bedroom door; but he bounded back with a prodigious
jump, for Marneffe opened the door and appeared with a calm face,
astonished to find only the two men.

"And the tea?" said he.

"Where is Valerie?" replied the Baron in a rage.

"My wife," said Marneffe. "She is gone upstairs to speak to
mademoiselle your cousin. She will come down directly."

"And why has she deserted us for that stupid creature?"

"Well," said Marneffe, "Mademoiselle Lisbeth came back from dining
with the Baroness with an attack of indigestion and Mathurine asked

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacPoor Relations → online text (page 15 of 62)