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the General Council of State; there you may die in peace, and, like
the beaver, abandon all else to the pursuers."

"What, do you think the Marshal would forget - "

"The Marshal has already taken your part so warmly at a General
Meeting of the Ministers, that you will not now be turned out; but it
was seriously discussed! So give them no excuse. I can say no more. At
this moment you may make your own terms; you may sit on the Council of
State and be made a Peer of the Chamber. If you delay too long, if you
give any one a hold against you, I can answer for nothing. - Now, am I
to go?"

"Wait a little. I will see the Marshal," replied Hulot, "and I will
send my brother to see which way the wind blows at headquarters."

The humor in which the Baron came back to Madame Marneffe's may be
imagined; he had almost forgotten his fatherhood, for Roger had taken
the part of a true and kind friend in explaining the position. At the
same time Valerie's influence was so great that, by the middle of
dinner, the Baron was tuned up to the pitch, and was all the more
cheerful for having unwonted anxieties to conceal; but the hapless man
was not yet aware that in the course of that evening he would find
himself in a cleft stick, between his happiness and the danger pointed
out by his friend - compelled, in short, to choose between Madame
Marneffe and his official position.

At eleven o'clock, when the evening was at its gayest, for the room
was full of company, Valerie drew Hector into a corner of her sofa.

"My dear old boy," said she, "your daughter is so annoyed at knowing
that Wenceslas comes here, that she has left him 'planted.' Hortense
is wrong-headed. Ask Wenceslas to show you the letter the little fool
has written to him.

"This division of two lovers, of which I am reputed to be the cause,
may do me the greatest harm, for this is how virtuous women undermine
each other. It is disgraceful to pose as a victim in order to cast the
blame on a woman whose only crime is that she keeps a pleasant house.
If you love me, you will clear my character by reconciling the sweet

"I do not in the least care about your son-in-law's visits; you
brought him here - take him away again! If you have any authority in
your family, it seems to me that you may very well insist on your
wife's patching up this squabble. Tell the worthy old lady from me,
that if I am unjustly charged with having caused a young couple to
quarrel, with upsetting the unity of a family, and annexing both the
father and the son-in-law, I will deserve my reputation by annoying
them in my own way! Why, here is Lisbeth talking of throwing me over!
She prefers to stick to her family, and I cannot blame her for it. She
will throw me over, says she, unless the young people make friends
again. A pretty state of things! Our expenses here will be trebled!"

"Oh, as for that!" said the Baron, on hearing of his daughter's strong
measures, "I will have no nonsense of that kind."

"Very well," said Valerie. "And now for the next thing. - What about
Coquet's place?"

"That," said Hector, looking away, "is more difficult, not to say

"Impossible, my dear Hector?" said Madame Marneffe in the Baron's ear.
"But you do not know to what lengths Marneffe will go. I am completely
in his power; he is immoral for his own gratification, like most men,
but he is excessively vindictive, like all weak and impotent natures.
In the position to which you have reduced me, I am in his power. I am
bound to be on terms with him for a few days, and he is quite capable
of refusing to leave my room any more."

Hulot started with horror.

"He would leave me alone on condition of being head-clerk. It is
abominable - but logical."

"Valerie, do you love me?"

"In the state in which I am, my dear, the question is the meanest

"Well, then - if I were to attempt, merely to attempt, to ask the
Prince for a place for Marneffe, I should be done for, and Marneffe
would be turned out."

"I thought that you and the Prince were such intimate friends."

"We are, and he has amply proved it; but, my child, there is authority
above the Marshal's - for instance, the whole Council of Ministers.
With time and a little tacking, we shall get there. But, to succeed, I
must wait till the moment when some service is required of me. Then I
can say one good turn deserves another - "

"If I tell Marneffe this tale, my poor Hector, he will play us some
mean trick. You must tell him yourself that he has to wait. I will not
undertake to do so. Oh! I know what my fate would be. He knows how to
punish me! He will henceforth share my room - -

"Do not forget to settle the twelve hundred francs a year on the
little one!"

Hulot, seeing his pleasures in danger, took Monsieur Marneffe aside,
and for the first time derogated from the haughty tone he had always
assumed towards him, so greatly was he horrified by the thought of
that half-dead creature in his pretty young wife's bedroom.

"Marneffe, my dear fellow," said he, "I have been talking of you
to-day. But you cannot be promoted to the first class just yet. We
must have time."

"I will be, Monsieur le Baron," said Marneffe shortly.

"But, my dear fellow - "

"I _will_ be, Monsieur le Baron," Marneffe coldly repeated, looking
alternately at the Baron and at Valerie. "You have placed my wife in a
position that necessitates her making up her differences with me, and
I mean to keep her; for, _my dear fellow_, she is a charming
creature," he added, with crushing irony. "I am master here - more than
you are at the War Office."

The Baron felt one of those pangs of fury which have the effect, in
the heart, of a fit of raging toothache, and he could hardly conceal
the tears in his eyes.

During this little scene, Valerie had been explaining Marneffe's
imaginary determination to Montes, and thus had rid herself of him for
a time.

Of her four adherents, Crevel alone was exempted from the rule
- Crevel, the master of the little "bijou" apartment; and he displayed
on his countenance an air of really insolent beatitude,
notwithstanding the wordless reproofs administered by Valerie in
frowns and meaning grimaces. His triumphant paternity beamed in every

When Valerie was whispering a word of correction in his ear, he
snatched her hand, and put in:

"To-morrow, my Duchess, you shall have your own little house! The
papers are to be signed to-morrow."

"And the furniture?" said she, with a smile.

"I have a thousand shares in the Versailles _rive gauche_ railway. I
bought them at twenty-five, and they will go up to three hundred in
consequence of the amalgamation of the two lines, which is a secret
told to me. You shall have furniture fit for a queen. But then you
will be mine alone henceforth?"

"Yes, burly Maire," said this middle-class Madame de Merteuil. "But
behave yourself; respect the future Madame Crevel."

"My dear cousin," Lisbeth was saying to the Baron, "I shall go to see
Adeline early to-morrow; for, as you must see, I cannot, with any
decency, remain here. I will go and keep house for your brother the

"I am going home this evening," said Hulot.

"Very well, you will see me at breakfast to-morrow," said Lisbeth,

She understood that her presence would be necessary at the family
scene that would take place on the morrow. And the very first thing in
the morning she went to see Victorin and to tell him that Hortense and
Wenceslas had parted.

When the Baron went home at half-past ten, Mariette and Louise, who
had had a hard day, were locking up the apartment. Hulot had not to

Very much put out at this compulsory virtue, the husband went straight
to his wife's room, and through the half-open door he saw her kneeling
before her Crucifix, absorbed in prayer, in one of those attitudes
which make the fortune of the painter or the sculptor who is so happy
to invent and then to express them. Adeline, carried away by her
enthusiasm, was praying aloud:

"O God, have mercy and enlighten him!"

The Baroness was praying for her Hector.

At this sight, so unlike what he had just left, and on hearing this
petition founded on the events of the day, the Baron heaved a sigh of
deep emotion. Adeline looked round, her face drowned in tears. She was
so convinced that her prayer had been heard, that, with one spring,
she threw her arms round Hector with the impetuosity of happy
affection. Adeline had given up all a wife's instincts; sorrow had
effaced even the memory of them. No feeling survived in her but those
of motherhood, of the family honor, and the pure attachment of a
Christian wife for a husband who has gone astray - the saintly
tenderness which survives all else in a woman's soul.

"Hector!" she said, "are you come back to us? Has God taken pity on
our family?"

"Dear Adeline," replied the Baron, coming in and seating his wife by
his side on a couch, "you are the saintliest creature I ever knew; I
have long known myself to be unworthy of you."

"You would have very little to do, my dear," said she, holding Hulot's
hand and trembling so violently that it was as though she had a palsy,
"very little to set things in order - "

She dared not proceed; she felt that every word would be a reproof,
and she did not wish to mar the happiness with which this meeting was
inundating her soul.

"It is Hortense who has brought me here," said Hulot. "That child may
do us far more harm by her hasty proceeding than my absurd passion for
Valerie has ever done. But we will discuss all this to-morrow morning.
Hortense is asleep, Mariette tells me; we will not disturb her."

"Yes," said Madame Hulot, suddenly plunged into the depths of grief.

She understood that the Baron's return was prompted not so much by the
wish to see his family as by some ulterior interest.

"Leave her in peace till to-morrow," said the mother. "The poor child
is in a deplorable condition; she has been crying all day."

At nine the next morning, the Baron, awaiting his daughter, whom he
had sent for, was pacing the large, deserted drawing-room, trying to
find arguments by which to conquer the most difficult form of
obstinacy there is to deal with - that of a young wife, offended and
implacable, as blameless youth ever is, in its ignorance of the
disgraceful compromises of the world, of its passions and interests.

"Here I am, papa," said Hortense in a tremulous voice, and looking
pale from her miseries.

Hulot, sitting down, took his daughter round the waist, and drew her
down to sit on his knee.

"Well, my child," said he, kissing her forehead, "so there are
troubles at home, and you have been hasty and headstrong? That is not
like a well-bred child. My Hortense ought not to have taken such a
decisive step as that of leaving her house and deserting her husband
on her own account, and without consulting her parents. If my darling
girl had come to see her kind and admirable mother, she would not have
given me this cruel pain I feel! - You do not know the world; it is
malignantly spiteful. People will perhaps say that your husband sent
you back to your parents. Children brought up as you were, on your
mother's lap, remain artless; maidenly passion like yours for
Wenceslas, unfortunately, makes no allowances; it acts on every
impulse. The little heart is moved, the head follows suit. You would
burn down Paris to be revenged, with no thought of the courts of

"When your old father tells you that you have outraged the
proprieties, you may take his word for it. - I say nothing of the cruel
pain you have given me. It is bitter, I assure you, for you throw all
the blame on a woman of whose heart you know nothing, and whose
hostility may become disastrous. And you, alas! so full of guileless
innocence and purity, can have no suspicions; but you may be vilified
and slandered. - Besides, my darling pet, you have taken a foolish jest
too seriously. I can assure you, on my honor, that your husband is
blameless. Madame Marneffe - "

So far the Baron, artistically diplomatic, had formulated his
remonstrances very judiciously. He had, as may be observed, worked up
to the mention of this name with superior skill; and yet Hortense, as
she heard it, winced as if stung to the quick.

"Listen to me; I have had great experience, and I have seen much," he
went on, stopping his daughter's attempt to speak. "That lady is very
cold to your husband. Yes, you have been made the victim of a
practical joke, and I will prove it to you. Yesterday Wenceslas was
dining with her - "

"Dining with her!" cried the young wife, starting to her feet, and
looking at her father with horror in every feature. "Yesterday! After
having had my letter! Oh, great God! - Why did I not take the veil
rather than marry? But now my life is not my own! I have the child!"
and she sobbed.

Her weeping went to Madame Hulot's heart. She came out of her room and
ran to her daughter, taking her in her arms, and asking her those
questions, stupid with grief, which first rose to her lips.

"Now we have tears," said the Baron to himself, "and all was going so
well! What is to be done with women who cry?"

"My child," said the Baroness, "listen to your father! He loves us all
- come, come - "

"Come, Hortense, my dear little girl, cry no more, you make yourself
too ugly!" said the Baron, "Now, be a little reasonable. Go sensibly
home, and I promise you that Wenceslas shall never set foot in that
woman's house. I ask you to make the sacrifice, if it is a sacrifice
to forgive the husband you love so small a fault. I ask you - for the
sake of my gray hairs, and of the love you owe your mother. You do not
want to blight my later years with bitterness and regret?"

Hortense fell at her father's feet like a crazed thing, with the
vehemence of despair; her hair, loosely pinned up, fell about her, and
she held out her hands with an expression that painted her misery.

"Father," she said, "ask my life! Take it if you will, but at least
take it pure and spotless, and I will yield it up gladly. Do not ask
me to die in dishonor and crime. I am not at all like my husband; I
cannot swallow an outrage. If I went back under my husband's roof, I
should be capable of smothering him in a fit of jealousy - or of doing
worse! Do no exact from me a thing that is beyond my powers. Do not
have to mourn for me still living, for the least that can befall me is
to go mad. I feel madness close upon me!

"Yesterday, yesterday, he could dine with that woman, after having
read my letter? - Are other men made so? My life I give you, but do not
let my death be ignominious! - His fault? - A small one! When he has a
child by that woman!"

"A child!" cried Hulot, starting back a step or two. "Come. This is
really some fooling."

At this juncture Victorin and Lisbeth arrived, and stood dumfounded at
the scene. The daughter was prostrate at her father's feet. The
Baroness, speechless between her maternal feelings and her conjugal
duty, showed a harassed face bathed in tears.

"Lisbeth," said the Baron, seizing his cousin by the hand and pointing
to Hortense, "you can help me here. My poor child's brain is turned;
she believes that her Wenceslas is Madame Marneffe's lover, while all
that Valerie wanted was to have a group by him."

"_Delilah_!" cried the young wife. "The only thing he has done since
our marriage. The man would not work for me or for his son, and he has
worked with frenzy for that good-for-nothing creature. - Oh, father,
kill me outright, for every word stabs like a knife!"

Lisbeth turned to the Baroness and Victorin, pointing with a pitying
shrug to the Baron, who could not see her.

"Listen to me," said she to him. "I had no idea - when you asked me to
go to lodge over Madame Marneffe and keep house for her - I had no idea
of what she was; but many things may be learned in three years. That
creature is a prostitute, and one whose depravity can only be compared
with that of her infamous and horrible husband. You are the dupe, my
lord pot-boiler, of those people; you will be led further by them than
you dream of! I speak plainly, for you are at the bottom of a pit."

The Baroness and her daughter, hearing Lisbeth speak in this style,
cast adoring looks at her, such as the devout cast at a Madonna for
having saved their life.

"That horrible woman was bent on destroying your son-in-law's home. To
what end? - I know not. My brain is not equal to seeing clearly into
these dark intrigues - perverse, ignoble, infamous! Your Madame
Marneffe does not love your son-in-law, but she will have him at her
feet out of revenge. I have just spoken to the wretched woman as she
deserves. She is a shameless courtesan; I have told her that I am
leaving her house, that I would not have my honor smirched in that
muck-heap. - I owe myself to my family before all else.

"I knew that Hortense had left her husband, so here I am. Your
Valerie, whom you believe to be a saint, is the cause of this
miserable separation; can I remain with such a woman? Our poor little
Hortense," said she, touching the Baron's arm, with peculiar meaning,
"is perhaps the dupe of a wish of such women as these, who, to possess
a toy, would sacrifice a family.

"I do not think Wenceslas guilty; but I think him weak, and I cannot
promise that he will not yield to her refinements of temptation. - My
mind is made up. The woman is fatal to you; she will bring you all to
utter ruin. I will not even seem to be concerned in the destruction of
my own family, after living there for three years solely to hinder it.

"You are cheated, Baron; say very positively that you will have
nothing to say to the promotion of that dreadful Marneffe, and you
will see then! There is a fine rod in pickle for you in that case."

Lisbeth lifted up Hortense and kissed her enthusiastically.

"My dear Hortense, stand firm," she whispered.

The Baroness embraced Lisbeth with the vehemence of a woman who sees
herself avenged. The whole family stood in perfect silence round the
father, who had wit enough to know what that silence implied. A storm
of fury swept across his brow and face with evident signs; the veins
swelled, his eyes were bloodshot, his flesh showed patches of color.
Adeline fell on her knees before him and seized his hands.

"My dear, forgive, my dear!"

"You loathe me!" cried the Baron - the cry of his conscience.

For we all know the secret of our own wrong-doing. We almost always
ascribe to our victims the hateful feelings which must fill them with
the hope of revenge; and in spite of every effort of hypocrisy, our
tongue or our face makes confession under the rack of some unexpected
anguish, as the criminal of old confessed under the hands of the

"Our children," he went on, to retract the avowal, "turn at last to be
our enemies - "

"Father!" Victorin began.

"You dare to interrupt your father!" said the Baron in a voice of
thunder, glaring at his son.

"Father, listen to me," Victorin went on in a clear, firm voice, the
voice of a puritanical deputy. "I know the respect I owe you too well
ever to fail in it, and you will always find me the most respectful
and submissive of sons."

Those who are in the habit of attending the sittings of the Chamber
will recognize the tactics of parliamentary warfare in these
fine-drawn phrases, used to calm the factions while gaining time.

"We are far from being your enemies," his son went on. "I have
quarreled with my father-in-law, Monsieur Crevel, for having rescued
your notes of hand for sixty thousand francs from Vauvinet, and that
money is, beyond doubt, in Madame Marneffe's pocket. - I am not finding
fault with you, father," said he, in reply to an impatient gesture of
the Baron's; "I simply wish to add my protest to my cousin Lisbeth's,
and to point out to you that though my devotion to you as a father is
blind and unlimited, my dear father, our pecuniary resources,
unfortunately, are very limited."

"Money!" cried the excitable old man, dropping on to a chair, quite
crushed by this argument. "From my son! - You shall be repaid your
money, sir," said he, rising, and he went to the door.


At this cry the Baron turned round, suddenly showing his wife a face
bathed in tears; she threw her arms round him with the strength of

"Do not leave us thus - do not go away in anger. I have not said a word
- not I!"

At this heart-wrung speech the children fell at their father's feet.

"We all love you," said Hortense.

Lisbeth, as rigid as a statue, watched the group with a superior smile
on her lips. Just then Marshal Hulot's voice was heard in the
anteroom. The family all felt the importance of secrecy, and the scene
suddenly changed. The young people rose, and every one tried to hide
all traces of emotion.

A discussion was going on at the door between Mariette and a soldier,
who was so persistent that the cook came in.

"Monsieur, a regimental quartermaster, who says he is just come from
Algiers, insists on seeing you."

"Tell him to wait."

"Monsieur," said Mariette to her master in an undertone, "he told me
to tell you privately that it has to do with your uncle there."

The Baron started; he believed that the funds had been sent at last
which he had been asking for these two months, to pay up his bills; he
left the family-party, and hurried out to the anteroom.

"You are Monsieur de Paron Hulot?"


"Your own self?"

"My own self."

The man, who had been fumbling meanwhile in the lining of his cap,
drew out a letter, of which the Baron hastily broke the seal, and read
as follows: -

"DEAR NEPHEW, - Far from being able to send you the hundred
thousand francs you ask of me, my present position is not tenable
unless you can take some decisive steps to save me. We are saddled
with a public prosecutor who talks goody, and rhodomontades
nonsense about the management. It is impossible to get the
black-chokered pump to hold his tongue. If the War Minister allows
civilians to feed out of his hand, I am done for. I can trust the
bearer; try to get him promoted; he has done us good service. Do
not abandon me to the crows!"

This letter was a thunderbolt; the Baron could read in it the
intestine warfare between civil and military authorities, which to
this day hampers the Government, and he was required to invent on the
spot some palliative for the difficulty that stared him in the face.
He desired the soldier to come back next day, dismissing him with
splendid promises of promotion, and he returned to the drawing-room.
"Good-day and good-bye, brother," said he to the Marshal. - "Good-bye,
children. - Good-bye, my dear Adeline. - And what are you going to do,
Lisbeth?" he asked.

"I? - I am going to keep house for the Marshal, for I must end my days
doing what I can for one or another of you."

"Do not leave Valerie till I have seen you again," said Hulot in his
cousin's ear. - "Good-bye, Hortense, refractory little puss; try to be
reasonable. I have important business to be attended to at once; we
will discuss your reconciliation another time. Now, think it over, my
child," said he as he kissed her.

And he went away, so evidently uneasy, that his wife and children felt
the gravest apprehensions.

"Lisbeth," said the Baroness, "I must find out what is wrong with
Hector; I never saw him in such a state. Stay a day or two longer with
that woman; he tells her everything, and we can then learn what has so
suddenly upset him. Be quite easy; we will arrange your marriage to
the Marshal, for it is really necessary."

"I shall never forget the courage you have shown this morning," said
Hortense, embracing Lisbeth.

"You have avenged our poor mother," said Victorin.

The Marshal looked on with curiosity at all the display of affection
lavished on Lisbeth, who went off to report the scene to Valerie.

This sketch will enable guileless souls to understand what various
mischief Madame Marneffes may do in a family, and the means by which
they reach poor virtuous wives apparently so far out of their ken. And
then, if we only transfer, in fancy, such doings to the upper class of
society about a throne, and if we consider what kings' mistresses must
have cost them, we may estimate the debt owed by a nation to a
sovereign who sets the example of a decent and domestic life.

In Paris each ministry is a little town by itself, whence women are
banished; but there is just as much detraction and scandal as though
the feminine population were admitted there. At the end of three
years, Monsieur Marneffe's position was perfectly clear and open to

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacPoor Relations → online text (page 22 of 62)