Honoré de Balzac.

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Madame Auffray asked her if she were tired.

"Now that I have nothing to bear but the pain God sends
me, I can endure it. I find strength to bear suffering in the
joy of being loved."

This was the only time she ever alluded, even so remotely,
to her horrible martyrdom at the Rogrons ; she never spoke
of them ; and as the remembrance could not fail to be pain-
ful, no one mentioned their name.

" Dear Madame Auffray," said she one day at noon on the
terrace, while gazing at the valley lighted up by brilliant sun-


shine and dressed in the russet tints of autumn, " my dying
days in your house will have brought me more happiness than
all the three years before."

Madame Auffray looked at her sister, Madame Martener,
and said to her in a whisper :

" How she would have loved ! "

And, indeed, Pierrette's tone and look gave her words
unutterable meaning.

Monsieur Martener kept up a correspondence with Doctor
Bianchon, and tried no serious treatment without his approba-
tion. He hoped first to restore the girl to normal health,
and then to enable the abscess to discharge itself through the
ear. The more acute her pain was, the more hopeful he felt.
With regard to the first point he had some success, and that
was a great triumph. For some days Pierrette recovered her
appetite, and could satisfy it with substantial food, for which
her unhealthy state had hitherto given her great aversion ; her
color improved, but the pain in her head was terrible. The
doctor now begged the great physician, his consultee, to come
to Provins. Bianchon came, stayed two days, and advised
an operation ; he threw himself into all poor Martener's
anxiety, and went himself to fetch the famous Desplein. So
the operation was performed by the greatest surgeon of an-
cient or modern times ; but this terrible augur said to Mar-
tener as he went away with Bianchon, his best-beloved pupil :

" You can save her only by a miracle. As Horace has told
you, necrosis has set in. At that age the bones are still so

The operation was performed early in March, 1828. All
that month Monsieur Martener, alarmed by the fearful tor-
ments Pierrette endured, made several journeys to Paris ; he
consulted Desplein and Bianchon, to whom he even suggested
a treatment resembling that known as lithotrity the insertion
of a tubular instrument into the skull, by which a heroic
remedy might be introduced to arrest the progress of decay


The daring Desplein dared not attempt this surgical feat,
which only despair had suggested to Martener as a last resort
to save Pierrette.

When the doctor returned from his last journey to Paris,
his friends thought him crestfallen and gloomy. One fatal
evening he was compelled to announce to the Auffray family,
to Madame Lorrain, to the confessor, and to Brigaut, who
were all present, that science could do no more for Pierrette,
that her life was in the hands of God alone. Her grand-
mother took a vow and begged the cure to say, every morn-
ing at daybreak, before Pierrette rose, a mass which she and
Brigaut would attend.

The case came up for trial. While the Rogrons' victim
lay dying, Vinet was calumniating her to the court. The
court ratified the decision of the family council, and the
lawyer immediately appealed. The newly appointed public
prosecutor delivered an address which led to an inquiry.
Rogron and his sister were obliged to find sureties to avoid
being sent to prison. The inquiry necessitated the examina-
tion of Pierrette herself. When Monsieur Desfondrilles went
to the Auffrays' house, Pierrette, was actually dying ; the
priest was at her bedside, and she was about to take the last
sacrament. At that moment she was entreating all the assem-
bled family to forgive her cousins as she herself forgave them,
saying, with excellent good-sense, that judgment in such cases
belonged to God alone.

"Grandmother," said she, "leave all you possess to Bri-
gaut" Brigaut melted into tears "and," Pierrette went
on, " give a thousand francs to good Adele, who used to
warm my bed on the sly. If she had stayed with my cou-
sins, I should be alive "

It was at three o'clock on Easter Tuesday, on a beautiful
day, that this little angel ceased to suffer. Her heroical
grandmother insisted on sitting by her all night with the
priests and on sewing the winding-sheet on her with her old


hands. Towards evening Brigaut left the house and went
back to Frappier's.

"I need not ask you the news, my poor boy," said the

" Pere Frappier yes ; it is all over with her, and not with
me ! "

The apprentice looked round the workshop at all the wood
store with gloomy but keen eyes.

" I understand, Brigaut," said the worthy Frappier. "There,
that is what you want," and he pointed to some two-inch oak

"Do not help me, Monsieur Frappier," said the Breton.
"I will do it all myself."

Brigaut spent the night in planing and joining Pierrette's
coffin, and more than once he ripped off with one stroke a
long shaving wet with his tears. His friend Frappier smoked
and watched him. He said nothing to him but these few
words when his man put the four sides together

" Make the lid to slide in a groove, then her poor friends
will not hear you nail it down."

At daybreak Brigaut went for lead to line the coffin. By a
singular coincidence the sheets of lead cost exactly the sum
he had given to Pierrette for her journey from Nantes to
Provins. The brave Breton, who had borne up under the
dreadful pain of making a coffin for the beloved companion
of his childhood, overlaying each funereal board with all his
memories, could not endure this coincidence ; he turned faint
and could not carry the lead ; the plumber accompanied him,
and offered to go with him and solder down the top sheet as
soon as the body should be laid in the coffin.

The Breton burned his plane and all the tools he had used
for the work, he wound up his accounts with Frappier, and
bade him good-by.

The heroism which enabled the poor fellow, like the grand-


mother, to busy himself with doing the last services to the
dead, led to his intervening in the crowning scene which put
a climax to the Rogrons' tyranny.

Brigaut and the plumber arrived at Monsieur Auffray's just
in time to decide by brute force a horrible and shameful legal
question. The chamber of the dead was full of people, and
presented a strange scene to the two workmen. The Rogrons
stood hideous by the victim's corpse to torture it even in
death. The body of the poor girl, sublime in its beauty, lay
on her grandmother's camp-bed. Pierrette's eyes were closed,
her hair smoothly braided, her body sewn into a winding-sheet
of coarse cotton.

By this bed, her hair in disorder, on her knees, with out-
stretched hands and a flaming face, old Madame Lorrain was
crying out

" No, no ; it shall never be ! "

At the foot of the bed were the guardian Monsieur Auffray,
the Cure Monsieur Peroux, and Monsieur Habert. Tapers
were still burning. Opposite the grandmother stood the hos-
pital surgeon, and Monsieur Neraud, supported by the smooth-
tongued and formidable Vinet. A registrar was present. The
surgeon had on his dissecting apron ; one of his assistants
had opened his roll of instruments and was handing him a

This scene was disturbed by the noise made by the fall of
the coffin, which Brigaut and the plumber dropped; and by
Brigaut himself, who, entering first, was seized with horror
on seeing old Madame Lorrain in tears and the significant
actions of the intruders.

"What is the matter?" asked Brigaut, placing himself by
her side, and convulsively clutching a chisel he had brought
with him.

"The matter!" said the old woman. "They want to
open my grandchild's body, to split her skull to rend her
heart after her death as they did in her lifetime ! "


"Who?" said Brigaut, in a voice to crack the drum of
the lawyer's ears.

"The Rogrons."

" By the God above us ! "

" One moment, Brigaut," said Monsieur Auffray, seeing the
Breton brandish his chisel.

" Monsieur Auffray," said Brigaut, as pale as the dead
girl, " I listen to you because you are Monsieur Auffray. But
at this moment I would not listen to "

" Justice ! " Auffray put in.

"Is there such a thing as justice?" cried Brigaut in a
quick and excited tone.

"That that is justice!" he went on, threatening the
lawyer, the surgeon, and the clerk with his chisel that flashed
in the sunlight.

"My good fellow," said the cure, "Monsieur Rogron's
lawyer has appealed to justice. His client lies under a serious
accusation, and it is impossible to refuse a suspected person
the means of clearing himself. According to Monsieur
Rogron's advocate, if this poor child died of the abscess on
the brain, her former guardian must be regarded as guiltless ;
for it is proved that Pierrette for a long time concealed the
blow she had given herself "

" That will do ! " said Brigaut.

" My client " Vinet began.

"Your client," cried the Breton, " shall go to hell, and I
to the scaffold ; for if one of you makes an attempt to touch
her whom your client killed if that sawbones does not put
his knife away, I will strike him dead."

"This is overt resistance," said Vinet; "we shall lay it
before the court."

The five strangers withdrew.

"Oh, my son!" said the old woman, starting up and
throwing her arms round Brigaut's neck, " let us bury her at
once; they will come back."


" When once the lead is soldered," said the plumber,
"perhaps they will not dare."

Monsieur Auffray hurried off to his brother-in-law, Mon-
sieur Lesourd, to try to get this matter settled. Vinet wished
for nothing better. Pierrette once dead, the action as to the
guardianship, which was not yet decided, must die a natural
death, without any possibility of argument either for or
against the Rogrons ; the question remained an open one.
So the shrewd lawyer had perfectly foreseen the effect his
demand would produce.

At noon Monsieur Desfondrilles reported to the bench on
the inquiry relating to the Rogrons, and the court pronounced
a verdict of no case, on self-evident grounds.

Rogron dared not show his face at Pierrette's funeral,
though all the town was present. Vinet tried to drag him
there ; but the ex-haberdasher feared the excitement of uni-
versal reprobation.

Brigaut, after seeing the grave filled up in which Pierrette
was laid, left Provins and went on foot to Paris. He addressed
a petition to the Dauphiness to be allowed, in consideration
of his father's name, to enlist in the Royal Guard, and was soon
afterwards enrolled. When an expedition was fitted out for
Algiers, he again wrote to the Dauphiness, begging to be
ordered on active service. He was then sergeant ; Marshal
Bourmount made him sub-lieutenant of the line. The major's
son behaved like a man seeking death. But death has hitherto
respected Jacques Brigaut, who has distinguished himself in
all the recent expeditions without being once wounded. He
is now at the head of a battalion in the line. There is not a
more taciturn or a better officer. Off duty he is speechless,
walks alone, and lives like a machine. Every one under-
stands and respects some secret sorrow. He has forty-six
thousand francs, left him by old Madame Lorrain, who died
in Paris in 1829.

Vinet was elected deputy in 1830, and the services he has


rendered to the new government have earned him the place
of prosecutor-general. His influence is now so great that he
will always be returned as deputy. Rogron is receiver-general
in the town where Vinet exercises his high functions, and by
a singular coincidence Monsieur Tiphaine is the chief presi-
dent of the supreme court there ; for the judge unhesitatingly
attached himself to the new dynasty of July. The ex-beau-
tiful Madame Tiphaine lives on very good terms with the
beautiful Madame Rogron. Vinet and President Tiphaine
agree perfectly.

As to Rogron, utterly stupid, he says such things as this :

" Louis Philippe will never be really king till he can create

This speech is obviously not his own.

His failing health allows Madame Rogron to hope that ere
long she may be free to marry General the Marquis de Mon-
triveau, a peer of France, who is governor of the depart-
ment, and attentive to her. Vinet is always in a hurry to
condemn a man to death ; he never believes in the innocence
of the accused. This man, born to be a public prosecutor,
is considered one of the most amiable men of his district,
and is not less successful in Paris and in the Chamber ; at
court he is the exquisite courtier.

General Baron Gouraud, that noble relic of our glorious
armies, has married as Vinet promised that he should a
Demoiselle Matifat, five-and-twenty years of age, the daugh-
ter of a druggist in the Rue des Lombards, who had a for-
tune of fifty thousand crowns. He is governor as Vinet
prophesied of a department close to Paris. He was made
a peer of France as the reward of his conduct in the riots
under Casimir Perier's ministry. Baron Gouraud was one of
the generals who took the church of Saint-Merry, delighted
to " rap the knuckles " of the civilians who had bullied them
for fifteen years ; and his zeal won him the grand cordon of
the Legion of Honor.


None of those who were implicated in Pierrette's death
have any remorse. Monsieur Desfondrilles is still an archae-
ologist ; but, to promote his own election, Attorney-General
Vinet took care to have him appointed president of the
court. Sylvie holds a little court and manages her brother's
affairs ; she lends at high interest, and does not spend more
than twelve hundred francs a year.

From time to time, in the little square, when some son of
Provins comes home from Paris to settle there, and is seen
coming out of Mademoiselle Rogron's house, some former
partisan of the Tiphaines will say, " The Rogrons had a very
sad affair once about a ward "

"A mere party question," President Desfondrilles replies.
"Monstrous tales were given out. Out of kindness of heart
they took this little Pierrette to live with them, a nice child
enough, without a penny ; just as she was growing up she had
some intrigue with a joiner's apprentice, and would come to
her window barefoot to talk to the lad, who used to stand just
there, do you see ? The lovers sent each other notes by
means of a string. As you may suppose, in her state, and in
the months of October and November, that was quite enough
to upset a little pale-faced girl. The Rogrons behaved admir-
ably; they never claimed their share of the child's inher-
itance ; they gave everything to the grandmother. The
moral of it all, my friends, is that the devil always punishes
us for a good action."

"Oh ! this is quite another story; old Frappier told it in
a very different way ! "

" Old Frappier consults his cellar more than his memory,"
remarked a frequenter of Mademoiselle Rogron's drawing-

" But then old Monsieur Habert "

" Oh ! you know about his share in the matter? " rejoined



" Why, he wanted to get his sister married to Monsieur
Rogron, the receiver-general."

Two men daily think of Pierrette Doctor Martener and
Major Brigaut, who alone know the terrible truth.

To give that truth immense proportions, it is enough to re-
call the fact that if we change the scene to the middle ages,
and to the vast theatre of Rome, a sublime girl, Beatrice
Cenci, was dragged to the scaffold for reasons and by in-
trigues almost the same as those which brought Pierrette to
the tomb. Beatrice Cenci found none to defend her but an
artist a painter. And to-day history and living people, on
the evidence of Guido Reni's portrait, condemn the pope,
and regard Beatrice as one of the most pathetic victims of
infamous passions and factions.

And we may agree that the law would be a fine thing for
social roguery, if there were no God.

November, 1830.


(Le Curt de Tours.}
To David, Sculptor.

The duration of the work on which I write your
name doubly illustrious in our age is most uncer-
tain, while you inscribe mine on bronze, which outlives
nations even when stamped only by the vulgar die of
the coiner. Will not numismatists be puzzled by the
many croivned heads in your studio, when they find
among the ashes of Paris these lives, prolonged by you
beyond the life of nations, in which they will fancy
they discover dynasties ? Yours is this divine preroga-
tive mine be the gratitude.


In the early autumn of 1826 the Abbe Birotteau, the prin-
cipal personage of this story, was caught in a shower on his
way home from the house where he had spent the evening.
He was just crossing, as fast as his burly weight permitted, a
little deserted square known as the Close, lying behind the
apse of Saint-Gatien at Tours.

The Abbe Birotteau, a short man of apoplectic build, and
now sixty years of age, had already had several attacks of
gout. Hence, of all the minor miseries of human life, that
which the worthy man held in most horror was the sudden
wetting of his shoes with their large silver buckles, and the
immersion of their soles. In fact, notwithstanding the flan-
nel lining in which he packed his feet in all weathers, with



the care a priest always takes of himself, they often got a little
damp ; then, next day, the gout unfailingly gave him proof
of its constancy.

However, as the cobbles in the Close are always dry, and
as the abbe had won three francs and ten sous at whist from
Madame de Listomere, he submitted to the rain with resigna-
tion from the middle of the Place de 1'Archeveche, where it
had begun to fall heavily. Moreover, at this moment he was
brooding over his chimera, a longing already twelve years old,
a priest's day-dream ! A dream which, recurring every even-
ing, now seemed likely to find fulfillment ; in short, he was
too well wrapped in the fur sleeves of a canon's robes to be
sensitive to the severities of the weather. In the course of
this evening the accustomed guests who met at Madame de
Listomere's had as good as promised him a nomination to the
canon's stall at present vacant in the metropolitan chapter of
Saint-Gatien, by proving to him that no one better deserved
it than he, whose claims were indisputable, though so long
ignored. If he had lost at cards, if he had heard that the
canonry was given to the Abbe Poirel, his rival, the good man
would have found the rain very cold ; he might have abused
life. But he was in one of those rare moments when delight-
ful sensations make us forget everything. Though he hastened
his pace, it was in obedience to a mechanical impulse, and
truth so indispensable in a tale of domestic life requires us
to say that he was thinking neither of the shower nor of the

There were formerly round this Close, on the side by the
Grand' Rue, a number of houses standing within a wall, and
belonging to the cathedral, inhabited by certain dignitaries
of the chapter. Since the sequestration of ecclesiastical prop-
erty, the town has taken the alley dividing these houses as a
public way, by the name of Rue de la Psalette, leading from
the Close to the High Street. The name itself shows that


here formerly dwelt the precentor with his schools and those
who were within his jurisdiction. The left side of the street
is formed of one large house, its garden walls being bridged
by the flying buttresses of Saint-Gatien, which spring from the
ground of its strip of garden, making it doubtful whether the
cathedral was built before or after that ancient dwelling.
But by examining the mouldings and the shape of the win-
dows, the arch of the doorway, and the external architecture
of the house, darkened by time, an archaeologist detects that
it had always been part and parcel of the magnificent church
to which it is wedded. An antiquarian if there were one at
Tours, one of the least literary towns of France might even
discern at the entrance to the passage from the Close some
traces of the covered archway which of old served as an entry
to these priestly dwellings, and which must have harmonized
in character with the main edifice.

This house, being to the north of Saint-Gatien, lies always
in the shadow of this vast cathedral, on which time has cast
its gloomy mantle, stamped wrinkles, and set its damp chill,
its mosses, and straggling weeds. And it is perennially
wrapped in the deepest silence, broken only by the tolling of
the bells, the chanted service heard through the cathedral
walls, or the cawing of jackdaws nesting at the top of the bel-
fries. The spot is a desert of masonry, a solitude full of in-
dividuality, in which none could dwell but beings absolutely
mindless, or gifted with immense strength of soul.

The house in question had always been the home of abbes,
and belonged to an old maid named Mademoiselle Gamard.
Although during the Terror the property had been bought
from the nation by Mademoiselle Gamard's father, as the
worthy maiden had for twenty years past let the rooms to
priests, no one, at the Restoration, could take it ill that a bigot
should not surrender a piece of national property ; religious
persons may have supposed that she meant to bequeath it to
the chapter, and the worldly saw no change in its uses.


It was to this house, then, that the Abbe Birotteau was
making his way ; he had lived in it for two years. His rooms
there had been till then, as the canonry was now, the object
of his desires, and his hoc erat in votis for a dozen years before.
To board with Mademoiselle Gamard and to be made a canon
were the two great aims of his life ; and perhaps they com-
pletely sum up the ambitions of a priest who, regarding him-
self as a pilgrim to eternity, can in this world wish for no
more than a good room, a good table, clean clothes, shoes
with silver buckles all-sufficient for his animal needs and a
canonry to satisfy his pride, the indefinable feeling which
will accompany us, no doubt, into the presence of God, since
there are grades of rank among the saints in the heavenly

But the Abbe Birotteau's desire for the rooms he now
occupied, so trivial a feeling in the eyes of the worldly wise,
had been to him a perfect passion, a passion full of obstacles,
and, like the most criminal passions, full of hopes, joys, and

The arrangements and space in her house did not allow
Mademoiselle Gamard to take more than two resident board-
ers. Now, about twelve years before the day when Birotteau
went to lodge with this maiden lady, she had undertaken to
preserve in health and contentment Monsieur l'Abb6 Troubert
and Monsieur 1'Abbe Chapeloud. The Abbe Troubert still
lived, the Abb6 Chapeloud was dead, and Birotteau had been
his immediate successor.

The late Abb Chapeloud, in his lifetime canon of Saint-
Gatien, had been the Abbe Birotteau's intimate friend.
Every time the priest had gone into the canon's rooms he
had unfailingly admired them, the furniture, and the books.
This admiration one day gave birth to a desire to possess
these fine things. The Abbe Birotteau had found it impos-
sible to smother this desire, which often made him dreadfully
unhappy when he reflected that only the death of his best


friend could satisfy this hidden covetousness, which never-
theless constantly increased.

The Abb6 Chapeloud and his friend Birotteau were not
rich. Both sons of peasants, they had nothing but the poor
emolument doled out to priests, and their small savings had
been spent in tiding over the evil days of the Revolution.
When Napoleon re-established Catholic worship, the Abbe
Chapeloud was made canon of Saint-Gatien, and the Abbe
Birotteau became vicar, or mass-priest, of the cathedral.
It was then that Chapeloud went to board with Mademoiselle
Gamard. When Birotteau first called on the canon in his
new residence, he thought the rooms delightfully arranged,
but that was all. The beginnings of this concupiscence for
furniture were like those of a real passion in a young man,
which often at first is no more than cold admiration of the
woman he subsequently loves for ever.

These rooms, reached by a stone staircase, were on the side
of the house looking south. The Abbe Troubert inhabited
the first floor, and Mademoiselle Gamard the second floor of
the main front to the street. When Chapeloud went in, the

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 13 of 31)