Honoré de Balzac.

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them in the eyes of all Provins. In the course of the evening
Rogron's engagement to marry Mademoiselle de Chargebceuf
was to be announced. The banns were to be published on
Sunday. The marriage-contract would at once be drawn up
by Cournant, and Mademoiselle Rogron would figure in it as
abandoning, in consideration of this alliance, the capital of
her share of the estate by a deed of gift to her brother, reserv-
ing only a life-interest. Vinet impressed on Rogron and his
sister the necessity of having a draft of this deed drawn up
two or three days before that event, so as to put Madame and
Mademoiselle de Chargebreuf under the necessity, in public
opinion, of continuing their visits to the Rogrons.

" Sign that contract, and I will undertake to get you out of
the scrape," said the lawyer. "It will no doubt be a hard
fight, but I will go into it body and soul, and you will owe
me a very handsome taper."

"Yes, indeed," said Rogron.

By half-past eleven the lawyer was empowered to act for
them, alike as to the contract and as to the management of
the case. At noon the president was informed that a sum-


mons was applied for by Vinet against Brigaut and the widow
Lorrain for abducting Pierrette Lorrain, a minor, from the
domicile of her guardian. Thus the audacious Vinet took up
the offensive, putting Rogron in the position of a man having
the law on his side. This, indeed, was the tone in which the
matter was commented on in the law courts. The president
postponed hearing the parties till four o'clock. The excite-
ment of the town over all these events need not be described.
The president knew that the medical consultation would be
ended by three o'clock; he wished that the legal guardian
should appear armed with the physician's verdict.

The announcement of Rogron's engagement to the fair
Bathilde de Chargebceuf, and of the deed of gift added by
Sylvie to the contract, promptly made the Rogrons two
enemies Mademoiselle Habert and the colonel, who thus
saw all their hopes dashed. Celeste Habert and the colonel
remained ostensibly friends to the Rogrons, but only to
damage them more effectually. So, as soon as Monsieur
Martener spoke of the existence of an abscess on the brain in
the haberdashers' hapless victim, Celeste and the colonel
mentioned the blow Pierrette had given herself that evening
when Sylvie had driven her out of the room, and remembered
Mademoiselle Rogron's cruel and barbarous remarks. They
related various instances of the old maid's utter indifference
to her ward's sufferings. Thus these friends of the couple
admitted serious wrong, while affecting to defend Sylvie and
her brother.

Vinet had foreseen this storm ; but Mademoiselle de Charge-
bceuf was about to acquire the whole of the Rogrons' fortune,
and he promised himself that in a few weeks he should see her
living in the nice house on the piazza, and reign conjointly
with her over Provins ; for he was already scheming for a
coalition with the Breauteys to serve his own ambitions.

From twelve o'clock till four all the ladies of the Tiphaine
faction the Garcelands, the Guepins, the Julliards, Mesdames


Galardon, Guenee, and the sous-prefet's wife all sent to in-
quire after Mademoiselle Lorrain. Pierrette knew nothing
whatever of this commotion in the town on her behalf. In
the midst of acute suffering she felt ineffably happy at finding
herself between her grandmother and Brigaut, the objects of
her affection. Brigaut's eyes were constantly full of tears,
and the old woman petted her beloved grandchild.

God knows the grandmother spared the three men of science
none of the details she had heard from Pierrette about her life
with the Rogrons ! Horace Bianchon expressed his indigna-
tion in unmeasured terms. Horrified by such barbarity, he
insisted that the other doctors of the town should be called
in ; so Monsieur Neraud was present, and was requested, as
being Rogron's friend, to contradict if he could the terrible
inferences derived from the consultation, which, unfortunately
for Rogron, were unanimously subscribed to. Neraud, who
was already credited with having made Pierrette's maternal
grandmother die of grief, was in a false position, of which
Martener adroitly took advantage, delighted to overwhelm
the Rogrons, and also to compromise Monsieur Neraud, his
antagonist. It is needless to give the text of this document,
which also was produced at the trial. If the medical terms
of Moliere's age were barbarous, those of modern medicine
have the advantage of such extreme plain speaking that an
account of Pierrette's maladies, though natural, and unfortu-
nately common, would shock the ear. The verdict was indis-
putably final, attested by so famous a name as that of Horace

After the court sitting was over, the president remained in
his place, while Pierrette's grandmother came in with Mon-
sieur Auffray, Brigaut, and a considerable crowd. Vinet
appeared alone. This contrast struck the spectators, includ-
ing a vast number of merely inquisitive persons. Vinet, who
had kept his gown on, raised his hard face to the president,
settling his spectacles as he began in his harsh, sawing tones


to set forth that certain strangers had made their way into the
house of Monsieur and Mademoiselle Rogron by night, and
had carried away the girl Lorrain, a minor. Her guardian
claimed the protection of the court to recover his ward.

Monsieur Auffray, as the guardian appointed by the court,
rose to speak.

"If Monsieur le President," said he, "will take into his
consideration this consultation, signed by one of the most
eminent Paris physicians, and by all the doctors and surgeons
of Provins, he will perceive how unreasonable is Monsieur
Rogron' s claim, and that sufficient reasons induced the minor's
grandmother to release her at once from her tormentors. The
facts are these : A deliberate consultation, signed unanimously
by a celebrated Paris doctor, sent for in great haste, and by
all the medical authorities of the town, ascribe the almost
dying state of the ward to the ill-treatment she had received
at the hands of the said Rogron and his sister. As a legal
formality a family council will he held, with the least possible
delay, and consulted on the question whether the guardian
ought not to be held disqualified for his office. We petition
that the minor shall not be sent back to her guardian's house,
but shall be placed in the hands of any other member of the
family whom Monsieur le President may see fit to designate."

Vinet wanted to reply, saying that the document of the
consultation ought to be communicated to him that he might
contravene it.

"Certainly not to Vinet's side," said the president
severely, "but perhaps to the public prosecutor. The case is

At the foot of the petition the president wrote the follow-
ing injunction :

"Inasmuch as that by a consultation unanimously signed
by the medical faculty of this town and by Doctor Bianchon
of the medical faculty of Paris, it is proved that the girl
Lorrain, a minor, claimed by her guardian Rogron, is in a


very serious state of sickness brought on by the ill-usage and
cruelty inflicted on her in the house of her guardian and his

" We, president of the lower court of justice at Provins,

" Decree on the petition and enjoin that until the family
council shall have been held, which, as the provisional guardian
appointed by the law declares, is at once to be convened, the
said minor shall not re-enter her guardian's residence, but
shall be transferred to that of the guardian appointed by
the law.

" And in the second place, in consideration of the minor's
present state of health, and the traces of violence which,
in the opinion of the medical men, are to be seen on her
person, we commission the chief physician and chief surgeon
of the hospital of Provins to attend her ; and in the event of
the cruelty being proved to have been constant, we reserve
all the rights and powers of the law, without prejudice to
the civil action taken by Auffray, the legalized temporary

This terrible injunction was pronounced by Monsieur le
President Tiphaine with a loud voice and distinct utterance.

"Why not the hulks at once?" said Vinet. "And all
this fuss about a little girl who carried on an intrigue with a
carpenter's apprentice ! If this is the way the case is con-
ducted," he added insolently, " we shall apply for other
judgment on the plea of legitimate suspicions."

Vinet left the court, and went to the chief leaders of his
party to explain the position of Rogron, who had never given
his little cousin a finger-flip and whom the tribunal had
treated, he declared, less as Pierrette's guardian than as the
chief voter in Provins.

To hear him, the Tiphaines were making much ado about
nothing. The mountain would bring forth a mouse. Sylvie,
an eminently religious and well-conducted person, had detected
an intrigue between her brother's ward and a carpenter's boy,


a Breton named Brigaut. The young rascal knew very well
that the girl would have a fortune from her grandmother, and

wanted to tamper with her Vinet to talk of tampering !

Mademoiselle Rogron, who had kept the letters in

which this little wench's wickedness was made clear, was not
so much to blame as the Tiphaines tried to make her seem.
Even if she had been betrayed into violence to obtain a letter,
which could easily be accounted for by the irritation produced
in her by Breton obstinacy, in what was Rogron to blame ?

The lawyer thus made the action a party matter, and con-
trived to give it political color. And so, from that evening,
there were differences of opinion on the question.

"If you hear but one bell, you hear but one note," said
the wise-heads. "Have you heard what Vinet has to say?
He explains the case very well."

Frappier's house was regarded as unsuitable for Pierrette
on account of the noise, which would cause her much pain in
the head. Her removal from there to her appointed guar-
dian's house was as desirable from a medical as from a legal
point of view. This business was effected with the utmost
care, and calculated to make a great sensation. Pierrette was
placed on a stretcher with many mattresses, carried by two
men, escorted by a gray sister holding in her hand a bottle of
ether, followed by her grandmother, Brigaut, Madame Auffray,
and her maid. The people stood at the windows and in the
doors to see the little procession pass. No doubt the state in
which Pierrette was seen and her death-like pallor gave im-
mense support to the party adverse to the Rogrons. The
Auffrays were bent on showing to all the town how right the
president had been in pronouncing his injunction. Pierrette
and her grandmother were established on the second floor of
Monsieur Auffray's house. The notary and his wife lavished
on them the generosity of the amplest hospitality ; they made
a display of it. Pierrette was nursed by her grandmother,


and Monsieur Martener came to see her again the same even-
ing, with the surgeon.

From that evening dated much exaggeration on both sides.
The Rogrons' room was crowded. Vinet had worked up the
Liberal faction in the matter. The two Chargeboeuf ladies
dined with the Rogrons, for the marriage contract was to be
signed forthwith. Vinet had had the banns put up at the
Mairie that morning. He treated the business of Pierrette as
a mere trifle. If the court of Provins could not judge it dis-
passionately, the superior court would judge of the facts,
said he, and the Auffrays would think twice before rushing
into such an action. Then the connection between the Ro-
grons and the Chargebceufs was of immense weight with cer-
tain people. To them the Rogrons were as white as snow,
and Pierrette an excessively wicked little girl whom they
had cherished in their bosom.

In Madame Tiphaine's drawing-room vengeance was taken
on the horrible scandals the Vinet party had promulgated for
the last two years. The Rogrons were monsters, and the
guardian would find himself in the criminal court. In the
square, Pierrette was perfectly well ; in the upper town, she
must infallibly die ; at the Rogrons, she had a few scratches
on her hand; at Madame Tiphaine's, she had her fingers
smashed ; one would have to be cut off.

Next day the Courrier de Provins had an extremely clever
article, well written, a masterpiece of innuendo mixed up
with legal demurs, which placed the Rogrons above suspicion.
The Ruche, which came out two days later, could not reply
without risk of libel ; but it said that in a case like the pres-
sent, the best thing was to leave justice to take its course.

The family council was constituted by the justice of the
peace of the Provins district, as the legal president, in the
first place, of Rogron and the two Auffrays, Pierrette's next-
of-kin ; then of Monsieur Ciprey, a nephew of Pierrette's
maternal grandmother. He added to these Monsieur Habert,


the young girl's director, and Colonel Gouraud, who had
always given himself out to be a comrade of her father,
Colonel Lorrain. The justice's impartiality \vas highly ap-
plauded in including in this family council Monsieur Habert
and the colonel, whom all the town regarded as great friends
of the Rogrons. In the difficult position in which he found
himself, Rogron begged to be allowed the support of Maitre
Vinet on the occasion. By this manoeuvre, evidently sug-
gested by Vinet, he succeeded in postponing the meeting of
the family council till the end of December.

At that date the president and his wife were in Paris, living
with Madame Roguin, in consequence of the sitting of the
Chambers. Thus the ministerial party at Provins was bereft
of its head. Vinet had already quietly made friends with the
worthy examining judge, Monsieur Desfondrilles, in case the
business should assume the penal or criminal aspect that
Tiphaine had endeavored to give it.

For three hours Vinet addressed the family council ; he
proved an intrigue between Brigaut and Pierrette, to justify
Mademoiselle Rogron's severity; he pointed out how natural
it was that the guardian should have left his ward under the
control of a woman ; he dwelt on his client's non-interference
in the mode of Pierrette's education as conducted by Sylvie.
But in spite of Vinet's efforts, the meeting unanimously de-
cided on abolishing Rogron's guardianship. Monsieur Auf-
fray was appointed Pierrette's guardian, and Monsieur Ciprey
her legal guardian.

They heard the evidence given by Adele the maid, who
incriminated her former master and mistress ; by Mademoi-
selle Habert, who repeated Sylvie's cruel remarks the evening
when Pierrette had given herself the dreadful blow that every-
body had heard; and the comments on Pierrette's health made
by Madame de Chargebceuf. Brigaut produced the letter he
had received from Pierrette, which established their inno-
cence. It was proved that the deplorable state in which the


minor now was resulted from the neglect of her guardian,
who was responsible in all that related to his ward. Pierrette's
illness had struck everybody, even persons in the town who
did not know the family. Thus the charge of cruelty against
Rogron was fully sustained. The matter would be made

By Vinet's advice Rogron put in a protest against the con-
firmation by the court of the decision of the family council.
The minister of justice now intervened, in consequence of
the increasingly critical condition of Pierrette Lorrain. This
singular case, though put on the lists forthwith, did not
come up for trial till near the month of March, 1828.

By that time the marriage of Rogron to Mademoiselle de
Chargeboeuf was an accomplished fact. Sylvie was living on
the second floor of the house, which had been arranged to
accommodate her and Madame de Chargeboeuf; for the first
floor was entirely given up to Madame Rogron. The beau-
tiful Madame Rogron now succeeded to the beautiful Madame
Tiphaine. The effect of this marriage was enormous. The
town no longer came to Mademoiselle Sylvie's salon, but to
the beautiful Madame Rogron's.

Monsieur Tiphaine, the president of the Provins court,
pushed by his mother-in-law and supported by du Tillet and by
Nucingen, the Royalist bankers, found an opportunity of being
useful to the ministry. He was one of the most highly re-
spected speakers of the Centre, was made a judge of the lower
court in the Seine district, and got his nephew, Lesourd,
nominated president in his place at Provins. This appoint-
ment greatly annoyed Monsieur Desfondrilles, still an archae-
ologist, and more supernumerary than ever. The keeper of
the seals sent a protegS of his own to fill Lesourd's place.
Thus Monsieur Tiphaine's promotion did not lead to any
advancement in the legal forces at Provins.

Vinet took advantage of these circumstances very cleverly.
He had always told the good folks of Provins that they were


only serving as a step-ladder to Madame Tiphaine's cunning
and ambition. The president laughed in his sleeve at his
friends. Madame Tiphaine secretly disdained the town of
Provins j she would never come back to it.

Monsieur Tiphaine pere presently died ; his son inherited
the estate of Le Fay, and sold his handsome house in the
upper town to Monsieur Julliard. This sale showed how little
he intended to come back to Provins. Vinet was right !
Vinet had been a true prophet ! These facts had no little
influence on the action relating to Rogron's guardianship.

The horrible martyrdom so brutally inflicted on Pierrette
by two imbecile tyrants which led, medically speaking, to
her being subjected by Monsieur Martener, with Bianchon's
approval, to the terrible operation of trepanning ; the whole
dreadful drama, reduced to judicial statements, was left among
the foul medley known to lawyers as outstanding cases. The
action dragged on through the delays and inextricable intri-
cacies of "proceedings," constantly checked by the quibbles
of a contemptible lawyer, while the calumniated Pierrette
languished in suffering from the most terrible pains known to
medical science. We could not avoid these details as to the
strange variations in public opinion and the slow march of
justice before returning to the room where she was living
where she was dying.

Monsieur Martener and the whole of the Auffray family
were in a very few days completely won by Pierrette's adorable
temper, and by the old Bretonne, whose, feelings, ideas, and
manners bore the stamp of an antique Roman type. This
matron of the Marais was like one of Plutarch's women.

The doctor desired to contend with death, at least, for his
prey ; for from the first the Paris and the provincial physi-
cians had agreed in regarding Pierrette as past saving. Then
began between the disease and the doctor, aided by Pierrette's
youth, one of those struggles which medical men alone know;


the reward, in the event of success, is neither in the pecuni-
ary profit nor even in the rescued sufferer ; it lies in sweet
satisfaction of conscience, and in a sort of ideal and invisible
palm of victory gathered by every true artist from the joyful
certainty of having achieved a fine work. The physician
makes for healing as the artist makes for the beautiful, urged
on by a noble sentiment which we call virtue. This daily
recurring battle had extinguished in this man, though a pro-
vincial, the squalid irritation of the warfare going on between
the Vinet party and that of the Tiphaines, as happens with
men who have to fight it out with great suffering.

Monsieur Martener had at first wished to practice his profes-
sion in Paris; but the activity of the great city, the callous-
ness produced at last in a doctor's mind by the terrific number
of sick people and a multitude of serious cases, had appalled
his gentle soul, which was made for a country life. He was
in bondage, too, to his pretty birihplace. So he had come
back to Provins to marry and settle there, and take almost
tender care of a population he could think of as a large family.
All the time Pierrette was ill he could not bear to speak of
her illness. His aversion to reply when any one asked for
news of the poor child was so evident, that at last nobody
questioned him about her. Pierrette was to him what she
could not help being one of those deep, mysterious poems,
immense in its misery, such as occur in the terrible life of a
physician. He had for this frail girl an admiration of which
he would betray the secret to no one.

This feeling for his patient was infectious, as all true senti-
ments are ; Monsieur and Madame Auffray's house, so long as
Pierrette lived in it, was peaceful and still. Even the chil-
dren, who of old had such famous games with Pierrette, un-
derstood, with childlike grace, that they were not to be noisy
or troublesome. They made it a point of honor to be good
because Pierrette was ill.

Monsieur Auffray's house is in the upper town, below the


ruined castle; built, indeed, on one of the cliff-like knolls
formed by the overthrow of the old ramparts. From there
the residents have a view over the valley as they walk in a
little orchard supported by the thick walls rising straight up
from the lower town. The roofs of the houses rise to the
level of the wall that upholds this garden. Along this terrace
is a walk ending at the glass-door of Monsieur Auffray's study.
At the other end are a vine-covered arbor and a fig-tree shel-
tering a round table, a bench, and some chairs, all painted

Pierrette had a room over that of her new guardian.
Madame Lorrain slept there on a camp-bed by her grand-
child's side. From her window Pierrette could see the
beautiful valley of Provins, which she hardly knew she had
so rarely been out of the Rogrons' sinister dwelling. When-
ever it was fine, she liked to drag herself, on her grand-
mother's arm, as far as this arbor. Brigaut, who now did no
work, came three times a day to see his little friend ; he was
absorbed in grief, which made him indifferent to life ; he
watched for Monsieur Martener with the eagerness of a
spaniel, always went in with him and came out with him.

It would be difficult to imagine all the follies every one was
ready to commit for the dear little invalid. Her grand-
mother, drunk with grief, hid her despair; she showed the
child the same smiling face as at Pen-Hoel. In her wish to
delude herself, she made her a Breton cap such as Pierrette
had worn when she came to Provins, and put it on her ; the
girl then looked to her more like herself; she was sweet to
behold, with her face framed in the aureola of cambric edged
with starched lace. Her face, as white as fine white porce-
lain, her forehead on which suffering set a semblance of deep
thought fulness, the purity of outline refined by sickness, the
slowness and occasional fixity of her gaze, all made Pierrette
a master-work of melancholy.

The child was waited on with fanatical devotion ; she was


so tender, so loving. Madame Martener had sent her piano
to Madame Auffray, her sister, thinking it might amuse Pier-
rette, to whom music was rapture. It was a poem to watch
her listening to a piece by Weber, Beethoven, or Herold, her
eyes raised to heaven in silence, regretting, no doubt, the life
she felt slipping from her. Monsieur Peroux the cure and
Monsieur Habert, her two priestly comforters, admired her
pious resignation.

Is it not a strange fact, worthy of the attention alike of
philosophers and of mere observers, that a sort of seraphic
perfection is characteristic of youths and maidens marked
amid the crowd with the red cross of death, like saplings in
a forest ? He who has witnessed such a death can never re-
main or become an infidel. These beings exhale, as it were,
a heavenly fragrance, their looks speak of God, their voice is
eloquent in the most trivial speech, and often sounds like a
divine instrument, expressing the secrets of futurity. When
Monsieur Martener congratulated Pierrette on having carried
out some disagreeable prescription, this angel would say in the
presence of all, and with what a look !

"I wish to live, dear Monsieur Martener, less for my own
sake than for my grandmother's, for my poor Brigaut's, and
for you all, who will be sorry when I die."

The first time she took a walk, in the month of November,
under a bright Martinmas sun, escorted by all the family,

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 12 of 31)