Honoré de Balzac.

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Mr. H. H. Kil iani























ON THE VEIL OF THE FUTURE (p. 52) . . . Frontispiece


BE ;) 52





Drawn by W. Boucher.


"LES CELIBATAIRES " (The Celibates), the longest number
of the original " Comedie " under a single title, next to " Il-
lusions Perdues " (Lost Illusions), is not, like that book, con-
nected by any unity of story. Indeed, the general bond of
union is pretty weak; and though it is quite true that bache-
lors and old maids are the heroes and heroines of all three,*
it would be rather hard to establish any other bond of con-
nection, and it is rather unlikely that any one unprompted
would fix on this as a sufficient ground of partnership.

Two at least of the component parts, however, are of very
high excellence. I do not myself think that "Pierrette,"
which opens the series, is quite the equal of its companions.
Written, as it was, for Countess Anna de Hanska, Balzac's
step-daughter of the future, while she was still very young, it
partakes necessarily of the rather elaborate artificiality of all
attempts to suit the young person, of French attempts in par-
ticular, and it may perhaps be said of Balzac's attempts most
of all. It belongs, in a way, to the Arcis series the series
which also includes the fine " Tenebreuse Affaire," and the
unfinished "Depute d' Arcis " but is not very closely con-
nected therewith. The picture of the actual "Celibates," the
brother and sister Rogron, with which it opens, is in one of
Balzac's best-known styles, and is executed with all his usual
mastery both of the minute and of the at least partially repul-
sive, showing also that strange knowledge of the bourgeois de
Paris which, somehow or other, he seems to have attained by

*The third part, "A Bachelor's Establishment," constitutes the title
story of another volume.


dint of unknown foregatherings in his ten years of apprentice-

The other and shorter constituent of the series, " The Abb6
Birotteau," is certainly on a higher level, and has attracted
the most magnificent eulogies from some of the novelist's
admirers. I think both Mr. Henry James and Mr. Wedmore
have singled out this little piece for detailed and elaborate
praise, and there is no doubt that it is a happy example of a
kind in which the author excelled. The opening, with its
evident but not obtruded remembrance of the old and well-
founded superstition derived from the universal belief in
some form of Nemesis that an extraordinary sense of happi-
ness, good-luck, or anything of the kind, is a precursor of
misfortune, and calls for some instant act of sacrifice or
humiliation, is very striking; and the working out of the ven-
geance of the goddess by the very ungoddess-like though
feminine hand of Mademoiselle Gamard has much that is
commendable. Nothing in its well-examplcd kind is better
touched off than the Listomere coterie, from the shrewdness
of Monsieur de Bourbonne to the selfishness of Madame de
Listomere. I do not know that the old maid herself cat,
and far worse than cat as she is is at all exaggerated, and
the sketch of the coveted appartement and its ill-fated mobilier
is about as good as it can be. And the battle between
Madame de Listomere and the Abbe Troubert, which has
served as a model for many similar things, has, if it has often
been equaled, not often been surpassed.

" The Abbe Birotteau " strikes some good judges as of ex-
ceptional character, while no one can refuse it merit in a high
degree. I should not, except for the opening, place it in the
very highest class of the "Com6die," but it is high beyond
all doubt in the second.

"Pierrette," which was earlier called "Pierrette Lorrain,"
was issued in 1840, first in the Siecle, and then in volume
form, published by Souverain. In both issues it had nine


chapter or book divisions with headings. With the other
"Celibates" it entered the "Comedie" as a " Scene de la
Vie de Province " in 1843.

"The Abbe Birotteau" (which Balzac had at one time
intended to call by the name of the cure's enemy, and which
at first was simply called by the general title "Les Celiba-
taires") is much older than its companions, and appeared in
1832 in the " Scenes de la Vie Privee." It was soon properly
shifted to the "Vie de Province," and as such in due time
joined the "Comedie," bearing the title of "Le Cur6 de

The short stories added to the volume are contemporaneous
in point of time, and for this reason have been placed in their
present position. " Colonel Chabert," which would well
have deserved a place in those "Scenes de la Vie Militaire,"
so scantily represented in the "Comedie," has other attrac-
tions. It reminds us of Balzac's sojourn in the tents of Themis,
and of the knowledge that he brought therefrom ; it gives an
example of his affection for the idee fixe, for the man with a
mania ; and it is also no inconsiderable example of his nature.

"The Vendetta" ranked with the "Scenes de la Vie Pri-
vee " from their first edition, but had an earlier separate pub-
lication in part, for it is one of those stories which Balzac
originally divided into chapters and afterwards printed with-
out them. The first of these, which appeared in the Sil-
houette of April, 1830, was entitled "L'Atelier," and the
others were "La Desobeissance," " La Mariage," and "La
Chatiment." G. S.


To Mademoiselle Anna de ffanska.

Dear Child : You, the joy of a whole house, you
whose white or rose-colored cape flutters in the
summer like a will-J -the-wisp through the arbors of
Wierzchownia, followed by the wistful eyes of your
father and mother how can I dedicate to you a
tale full of sadness ? But is it not well to tell you
of sorrows such as a girl so fondly loved as you are
will never know ? For some day your fair hands
may take them comfort. It is so difficult, Anna, to
find in the picture of our manners any incident worthy
to meet your eye, that an author has no choice ; but
perhaps you may discern how happy you are from
reading this tale, sent by

Your old friend,


IN October, 1827, at break of day, a youth of about sixteen,
whose dress proclaimed him to be what modern phraseology
insolently calls a proletarian, was standing on a little square
in the lower part of the town of Provins. At this early hour
he could, without being observed, study the various houses
set round the piazza in an oblong square. The mills on the
streams of Provins were already at work. Their noise,
repeated by the echoes from the upper town, and harmonizing
with the sharp air and the clear freshness of the morning,


bewrayed the perfect silence so complete that the clatter of
a diligence was audible still a league away on the high-road.

The two longer rows of houses, divided by an arched
avenue of lime trees, are artless in style, confessing the peace-
ful and circumscribed life of the townsfolk. In this part of
the town there are no signs of trade. At that time there was
hardly a carriage-gate suggesting the luxury of the rich or,
if there were, it rarely turned on its hinges excepting that
of Monsieur Martener, a doctor who was obliged to keep and
use a cab. Some of the fronts were graced by a long vine stem,
others with climbing roses growing up to the second floor,
and scenting the windows with their large scattered bunches
of flowers. One end of this square almost joins the High
Street of the lower town ; the other end is shut in by a street
parallel with the High Street, and the gardens beyond run down
to one of the two rivers that water the valley of Provins.

At this end, the quietest part of the piazza, the young
workman recognized the house that had been described to
him a front of white stone, scored with seams to represent
joints in the masonry, and windows with light iron balconies,
decorated with rosettes painted yellow, and closed with gray
Venetian shutters. Above this front a first floor and a
second floor only three attic windows pierce a slate-roof, and
on one of the gables twirls a brand-new weather-cock. This
modern weather-cock represents a sportsman aiming at a hare.
The front door is reached by three stone steps. On one side
of the door an end of leaden pipe spouts dirty water into a
little gutter, revealing the kitchen ; on the other, two windows,
carefully guarded by gray wooden shutters in which heart-
shaped holes are cut to admit a little light, seemed to our
youth to be those of the dining-room. In the basement
secured by the three steps, under each window is an air-open-
ing into the cellars, closed by painted iron shutters pierced
with holes in a pattern. Everything was then quite new.
An observer, looking at this house freshly repaired, its still


raw splendor contrasting with the antique aspect of all the
rest, would at once have seen in it the mean ideas and perfect
contentment of a retired tradesman.

The young fellow gazed at every detail with an expression
of pleasure mingled with sadness ; his eyes wandered from the
kitchen to the garret with a look that denoted meditation.
The pink gleams of sunshine showed in one of the attic win-
dows a cotton curtain which was wanting to the others. Then
the lad's face brightened completely ; he withdrew a few steps,
leaned his back against a lime tree, and sang, in the drawling
tones peculiar to the natives of the west, this ballad of Brit-
tany, published by Bruguiere, a composer to whom we owe
some charming airs. In Brittany the young swains of the
villages sing this song to newly-married couples on their
wedding-day :

" We come to wish you every happiness,
To tK maister at your side,
As well as to the bride.

" You, mistress bride, are bound for life and death,
With a bright golden chain,
That none may break in twain.

"Now you to fairs and junkets go no more ;
Nay, you must stay at home,
While we may dance and roam.

"And do you know how trusty you must be,
And faithful to your mate,
To love him rathe and late ?

"Then take this posy I have made for you.
Alack ! for happy hours
Must perish like these flowers"

This national air, as sweet as that arranged by Chateaubriand
to the words Ma sceur, te souvicnt-il encore ? sung in a little


town of La Brie in Champagne, could not fail to arouse irre-
sistible memories in a native of Brittany, so faithfully does it
paint the manners, the simplicity, the scenery of that noble
old province. There is in it an intangible melancholy, caused
by the realities of life, which is deeply touching. And is not
this power to awaken a whole world of grave, sweet, sad
things by a familiar and often cheerful strain characteristic
of those popular airs which are the superstitions of music, if
we accept the word superstition as meaning what remains from
the ruin of nations, the flotsam left by revolutions ?

As he ended the first verse, the workman, who never took
his eyes off the curtain in the attic, saw no one astir. While
he was singing the second, it moved a little. As he sang
the words, "Take this posy," a young girl's face was seen.
A fair hand cautiously opened the window, and the girl
nodded to the wanderer as he ended with the melancholy
reflection contained in the two last lines :

" Alack ! for happy hours
Must perish like these flowers"

The lad suddenly took from under his jacket, and held up to
her, a golden-yellow spray of a flower very common in Brit-
tany, which he had picked no doubt in a field in La Brie,
where it is somewhat rare the flower of the furze.

" Why, is it you, Brigaut ? " said the girl in a low voice.

"Yes, Pierrette, yes. I am living in Paris; I am walking
about France ; but I might settle down here, since you are

At this moment the window-fastening of the room on the
first floor, below Pierrette's, was heard to creak. The girl
showed the greatest alarm, and said to Brigaut, " Fly ! "

The young fellow jumped like a frog to a bend in the street,
round a mill, before entering the wider street that is the artery
of the lower town ; but in spite of his agility, his hobnailed


shoes, ringing on the paving-cobbles of Provins, made a noise
easily distinguished from the music of the mill, and heard by
the individual who opened the window.

This person was a woman. No man ever tears himself from
the delights of his morning slumbers to listen to a minstrel in a
round jacket. None but a maid is roused by a love song. And
this was a maid and an old maid. When she had thrown
open her shutters with the action of a bat, she looked about
her on all sides, and faintly heard Brigaut's steps as he made
his escape. Is there on earth anything more hideous than the
matutinal apparition of an ugly old maid at her window? Of
all the grotesque spectacles that are the amusement of travelers
as they go through little towns, is it not the most unpleasing ?
It is too depressing, too repulsive to be laughed at.

This particular old maid, whose ear was so keen, appeared
bereft of the artifices of all kinds that she used to improve
herself; she had no front of false hair, and no collar. Her
headgear was the frightful little caul of black sarsnet which
old women draw over their skull, showing beyond her night-
cap, which had been pushed aside in her sleep. This untidi-
ness gave her head the sinister appearance ascribed by painters
to witches. The temples, ears, and nape, scarcely concealed,
betrayed their withered leanness, the coarse wrinkles were con-
spicuous for a redness that did not charm the eye, and that
was thrown into relief by the comparative whiteness of a bed-
gown tied at the throat with twisted tapes. The gaps where
this bedgown fell open revealed a chest like that of some
old peasant-woman careless of her ugliness. The fleshless
arm might have been a stick covered with stuff. Seen at the
window, the lady appeared tall by reason of the strength and
breadth of her face, which reminded the spectator of the ex-
travagant size of some Swiss countenances. The chief char-
acteristic of the features, which presented a singular lack of
harmony, was a hardness of line, a harshness of coloring, and
a lack of feeling in the expression which would have filled a


physiognomist with disgust. These peculiarities, visible now,
were habitually modified by a sort of business smile, and a
vulgar stupidity which aped good-nature so successfully that
the people among whom she lived might easily have supposed
her to be a kind woman.

She and her brother shared the ownership of this house.
The brother was sleeping so soundly in his room that the
opera-house orchestra would not have roused him ; and the
power of that orchestra is famous ! The old maid put her
head out of the window, and raised her eyes to that of the
attic eyes of a cold, pale blue, with short lashes set in lids
that were almost always swollen. She tried to see Pierrette ;
but recognizing the futility of the attempt, she withdrew into
her room with a movement not unlike that of a tortoise hiding
its head after putting it out of its shell. The shutters were
closed again, and the silence of the square was no more dis-
turbed but by peasants coming into the town, or early risers.
When there is an old maid in the house a watch-dog is not
needed ; not the smallest event occurs without her seeing it,
commenting on it, and deducing every possible consequence.
Thus this incident was destined to give rise to serious infer-
ences, and to be the opening of one of those obscure dramas
which are played out in the family, but which are none the
less terrible for being unseen if indeed the name of drama
may be applied to this tragedy of home-life.

Pierrette did not get into bed again. To her Brigaut's
arrival was an event of immense importance. During the
night the Eden of the wretched she escaped from the an-
noyances and fault-finding she had to endure all day. Like the
hero of some German or Russian ballad, to her sleep seemed
a happy life, and the day a bad dream. This morning, for
the first time in three years, she had had a happy waking.
The memories of infancy had sweetly sung their poetry to her
soul. She had heard the first verse in her dreams ; the sec-
ond had roused her with a start ; at the third she had doubted


the unfortunate are of the school of Saint Thomas ; at the
fourth verse, standing at her window, barefoot, and in her
shift, she had recognized Brigaut, the friend of her earlier

Yes, that was indeed the short square jacket with quaint
little tails and pockets swinging just over the hips, the classical
blue-cloth jacket of the Breton ; the coarse-knit waistcoat,
the linen shirt buttoned with a golden heart, the wide-rolled
collar, the earrings, heavy shoes, trousers of blue drill, mot-
tled in streaks of lighter shades ; in short, all the humble and
durable items of a poor Breton's costume. The large white
horn buttons of the jacket and waistcoat had set Pierrette's
heart beating. At the sight of the branch of furze the tears
had started to her eyes ; then a spasm of terror clutched her
heart, crushing the flowers of remembrance that had blossomed
for a moment. It struck her that her cousin might have heard
her rise and go to the window. She knew the old woman,
and made the signal of alarm to Brigaut, which the poor boy
had hastened to obey without understanding it. Does not
this instinctive obedience betray one of those innocent and
mastering affections such as are to be seen once in an age, on
this earth where they bloom, like the aloe trees on Isola
Bella, but two or three times in a century. Any one seeing
Brigaut fly would have admired the artless heroism of a most
artless love.

Jacques Brigaut was worthy of Pierrette Lorrain, who was
now nearly fourteen two children ! Pierrette could not help
weeping as she saw him take to his heels with the terror
inspired by her warning gesture.

She then sat down in a rickety armchair, in front of a
looking-glass above a little table. On this she set her elbows,
and remained pensive for an hour, trying to recall Le Marais,
the hamlet of Pen-Hoel, the adventurous voyages on a pond
in a boat untied from an old willow tree by little Jacques ;
then the old faces her grandmother and grandfather, her


mother's look of suffering, and General Brigaut's handsome
head ; a whole childhood of careless joy ! And this again
was a dream the lights of happiness against a gray back-

She had fine light-brown hair, all in disorder, under a little
nightcap tumbled in her sleep, a little cambric cap with frills
that she herself had made. On each side curls fell over her
temples, escaping from their gray papers. At the back of her
head a thick plait hung down to her shoulders. The exces-
sive pallor of her face showed that she was a victim to a girlish
ailment to which medical science gives the pretty name of
chlorosis, which robs the blood of its natural hue, disturbing
the appetite, and betraying much disorderment of the whole
system. This waxen hue was apparent in all the flesh-tints.
The whiteness of her neck and shoulders, the colorlessness of
an etiolated plant, accounted for the thinness of her arms
crossed in front of her. Pierrette's feet even looked weak and
shrunken by disease; her shift, falling only to her calf, showed
the relaxed sinews, blue veins, and bloodless muscles. As
the cold air chilled her, her lips turned purple. The mourn-
ful smile that parted her fairly delicate mouth showed teeth
of ivory whiteness, even and small, pretty transparent teeth,
in harmony with well-shaped ears and a nose that was elegant,
if a little sharp; her face, though perfectly round, was very
sweet. All the life of this charming countenance lay in the
eyes ; the iris, of a bright snuff-brown mottled with black,
shone with golden lights round a deep bright retina. Pier-
rette ought to have been gay; she was sad. Her vanished
gaiety lingered in the vivid modeling of her eyes, in the in-
genuous form of her brow, and the moulding of her short chin.
The long eyelashes lay like brushes on the cheeks worn by
debility ; the whiteness, too lavishly diffused, gave great
purity to the lines and features of her countenance. The ear
was a little masterpiece of modeling ; it might have been of


Pierrette suffered in many ways. Perhaps you would like
to have her story ? Here it is.

Pierrette's mother was a Demoiselle Auffray of Provins, half-
sister to Madame Rogron, the mother of the present owners
of this house. Monsieur Auffray, after marrying for the first
time at the age of eighteen, took a second wife at the age of
sixty-nine. The child of his first marriage was an only
daughter, ugly enough, who, when she was sixteen, married
an innkeeper of Provins named Rogron. By his second mar-
riage old Auffray had another daughter, but she was very
pretty. Thus the quaint result was an enormous difference in
age between Monsieur Auffray's two daughters. The child of
his first wife was fifty when the second was born. By the
time her father gave her a sister Madame Rogron had two
children of her own, both of full age.

The uxorious old man's younger child was married for
love, at eighteen, to a Breton officer named Lorrain, a captain
in the Imperial Guard. Love often begets ambition. The
captain, eager to get his colonelcy, exchanged into the line.
While the major and his wife, comfortable enough with the
allowance given them by Monsieur and Madame Auffray, were
living handsomely in Paris, or running about Germany as the
Emperor's wars or truces might guide them, old Auffray, a
retired grocer at Provins, died suddenly, before he had time
to make his will. The good man's estate was so cleverly
manipulated by the innkeeper and his wife that they absorbed
the larger part of it, leaving to old Auffray's widow no more
than the house in the little square and a few acres of land.
This widow, little Madame Lorrain's mother, was but eight-
and-thirty when her husband died. Like many other widows,
she had an unwholesome wish to marry again. She sold to
her stepdaughter, old Madame Rogron, the land and house
she had inherited under her marriage settlement, to marry a
young doctor named Neraud, who ran through her fortune,
and she died of grief in great poverty two years afterwards.


Thus Madame Lorrain's share of the Auffray property had
in great part disappeared, being reduced to about eight thou-
sand francs.

Major Lorrain died on the field of honor at Montereau,
leaving his widow, then one-and-twenty, burthened with a
little girl fourteen months old, and with no fortune but the
pension she could claim from the government, and whatever
money might come to her from Monsieur and Madame Lor-
rain, tradespeople at Pen-Hoel, a town of La Vendee, in the
district known as Le Marais. These Lorrains, the parents of
the deceased officer, and Pierrette's paternal grandfather and
grandmother, sold building-timber, slates, tiles, cornices,
pipes, and the like. Their business was a poor one, either
from their incapacity or from ill luck, and brought them in a
bare living. The failure of the great house of Colinet at
Nantes, brought about by the events of 1814, which caused a
sudden fall in the price of colonial produce, resulted in a loss
to them of eighty thousand francs they had placed on deposit.
Their daughter-in-law was therefore warmly received ; the
major's widow brought with her a pension of eight hundred
francs, an enormous sum at Pen-Hoel. When her half-sister
and brother-in-law Rogron sent her the eight thousand francs
due to her, after endless formalities, prolonged by distance,
she placed the money in the Lorrain's hands, taking a mort-
gage, however, on a little house they owned at Nantes, let for

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 1 of 31)