Honoré de Balzac.

The celibates and other stories online

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"Yes, monsieur, thank you for taking so much interest in
him. He is returning to Paris to-night, ordered there by the
minister, who is kindness itself to us, and does not wish him
to retire from the service." {"No, Jesuit, you will not crush
us,' 1 thought she; ( 'we understand your little game. 11 } A
pause. " I have not approved of his conduct in this affair,"
she went on, " but a sailor may be forgiven for not under-


standing the law." ("Come, let us be allies,'" thought she;
" we shall gain nothing by squabbling."}

A faint smile dawned, and was lost, in the furrows of the
abbess face.

" He has done us some service by informing us of the
value of those two pictures," said he, looking at them;
"they will be a worthy ornament to the lady chapel."
(" You fired an epigram at me, madame," thought he ; " there
are two for you and we are quits. 11 )

" If you present them to Saint-Gatien, I would beg you to
allow me to offer to the church two frames worthy of the place
and of the gift." (" I should like to make you confess that you
coveted Birotteau 1 s property" thought she.)

"They do not belong to me," said the priest, well on his

"Well, here is the deed that puts an end to all dispute,"
said Madame de Listomere, " and restores them to Mademoi-
selle Gamard." She laid the document on the table. ("You
see, monsieur, how much I trust you 11 thought she.) "It is
worthy of you, monsieur, worthy of your fine character, to
reconcile two Christians, though I have ceased to take much
interest in Monsieur Birotteau."

" But he is your pensioner," said he, interrupting her.

"No, monsieur, he is no longer under my roof." ("My
brother-in-law 1 s peerage and my nephew* 's promotion are leading
me into very mean actions,' 1 thought she.)

The abb6 remained unmoved, but his calm aspect was a
symptom of violent agitation. Only Monsieur de Bourbonne
had divined the secret of that superficial calm. The priest
was triumphant.

"Why, then, did you take charge of his act of renuncia-
tion?" he asked, moved by a feeling similar to that which
makes a woman fish for compliments.

" I could not help feeling some pity for him. Birotteau,
whose feeble character must be well known to you, entreated


me to see Mademoiselle Gamard in order to obtain from her,
as the price of the surrender of" the abbe frowned "of
his rights, as recognized by many distinguished lawyers, the
portrait " the priest looked hard at Madame de Listomere
"of Chapeloud," she said. " I leave it to you to judge of

his claim to it ' ' (" You would lose if you fought the case, ' '

thought she.)

The tone in which the Baroness uttered the words "dis-
tinguished lawyers ' ' showed the priest that she knew the
enemy's strength and weakness. Madame de Listomere dis-
played so much skill to this experienced connoisseur that at
the end of this conversation, which was carried on for some
time in the same key, he went down to see Mademoiselle
Gamard to bring her answer as to the proposed bargain.

Troubert soon returned.

"Madame," said he, "I can but repeat the poor dying
woman's words, ' Monsieur 1'Abbe Chapeloud showed me too
much kindness,' said she, 'for me to part from his portrait.'
As for myself, if it were mine, I would not give it up to any
one. I was too faithfully attached to my poor dead friend
not to feel that I have a right to claim his likeness against
anybody in the world."

"Well, monsieur, do not let us fall out over a bad picture."
(" 1 'care for it no more than you do," thought she.) "Keep
it ; we will have it copied. I am proud to have brought this
sad and deplorable lawsuit to an end, and I have personally
gained the pleasure of making your acquaintance. I have
heard that you are a fine whist player. You will forgive a
woman for being curious," she added with a smile. " If you
will come and play occasionally at my house, you cannot
doubt that you will be heartily welcomed."

The Abbe Troubert stroked his chin. ("He is caught ;
Bourbonne was right" thought she, "he has his share of

In fact, the vicar-general was at this moment enjoying the


delicious sensation which Mirabeau found irresistible when,
in the day of his power, he saw the gates of some mansion
which formerly had been closed against him opened to admit
his carriage.

"Madame," replied he, "my occupations are too impor-
tant to allow of my going into society; but for you what
would not a man do?" ("// is all over with the old girl;
I will make up to the Listomeres, and do them a good turn if
they do me one," thought he. "// is better to have them for
friends than for enemies"}

Madame de Listomere went home, hoping that the arch-
bishop would complete a pacification so happily begun. But
Birotteau was to gain nothing even by his renunciation.
Madame de Listomere heard next day that Mademoiselle
Gamard was dead. The old maid's will being opened, no
one was surprised to learn that she had constituted the Abbe
Troubert her universal legatee. Her property was estimated
at a hundred thousand crowns. The vicar-general sent two
invitations to the service and burial to Madame de Listomere's
house one for herself and the other for her nephew.

"We must go," said she.

"That is just what it means!" exclaimed Monsieur de
Bourbonne. "It is a test by which Monseigneur Troubert
meant to try you. Baron, you must go all the way to the
grave," he added to the navy lieutenant, who, for his sins,
had not yet left Tours.

The service was held, and was marked by ecclesiastical
magnificence. One person only shed tears. That was Birot-
teau, who, alone in a side chapel where he was not seen,
believed himself guilty of this death, and prayed fervently for
the soul of the departed, bitterly bewailing himself because
he had not obtained her forgiveness for having wronged her.

The Abbe Troubert followed his friend's body to the grave
in which she was to be laid. Standing on its brink, he de-
livered an address, and, thanks to his eloquence, gave monu-


mental dignity to his picture of the narrow life led by the
testatrix. The bystanders particularly noted these words in
the peroration :

" This life, full of days devoted to God and to religion
this life, adorned by so many beautiful actions performed in
silence, so many modest and unrecognized virtues, was
blighted by a sorrow which we would call unmerited if, here,
on the verge of eternity, we could forget that all our afflic-
tions are sent us by God. This holy woman's many friends,
knowing how noble was her guileless soul, foresaw that she
could endure anything excepting only such detraction as
would affect her whole existence. And so perhaps Providence
has taken her to rest in God only to rescue her from our petty
griefs. Happy are they who here on earth can live at peace
with themselves, as Sophie now reposes in the realms of the
blest, in her robe of innocence ! "

"And when he had ended this grandiloquent discourse,"
said Monsieur de Bourbonne, who reported all the details of
the funeral to Madame de Listomere that evening when, the
rubbers ended and the doors closed, they were left alone with
the Baron, " imagine, if you can, that Louis XI. in a priest's
gown giving the holy-water sprinkler a final flourish in this
style" and Monsieur de Bourbonne took up the tongs and
imitated the Abbe Troubert's movement so exactly that the
Baron and his aunt could not help smiling. " In this alone,"
added the old man, "did he betray himself. Till then his
reserve had been perfect ; but now, when he had packed away
for ever the old maid he so utterly despised and hated, almost
as much perhaps as he had detested Chapeloud, he, no doubt,
found it impossible to hinder his satisfaction from betraying
itself in a gesture."

Next morning Mademoiselle Salomon came to breakfast
with Madame de Listomere, and as soon as she came in she
said quite sadly ,


" Our poor Abbe Birotteau has just been dealt a dreadful
blow which reveals the most elaborately studied hatred. He
is made cure of Saint-Symphorien."

Saint-Symphorien is a suburb of Tours lying beyond the
bridge. This bridge, one of the finest works of French
architecture, is nearly two thousand feet long, and the open
squares at each end are exactly alike.

"Do you understand?" she added, after a pause, amazed
at the coolness with which Madame de Listomere heard this
news. " The Abbe Birotteau will there be a hundred leagues
from Tours, from his friends, from everything. Is it not
exile, and all the more terrible because he will be torn from
the town that his eyes will behold every day, while he can
hardly ever come to it? He who, since his troubles, has
hardly been able to walk, will be obliged to come a league to
see us. At the present moment the poor man is in bed with
a feverish attack. The priest's residence at Saint-Symphorien
is cold and damp, and the parish is too poor to restore it.
The poor old man will be buried alive in a real tomb. What
a villainous plot ! "

It will now, perhaps, suffice in conclusion of this story to
report briefly a few subsequent events, and to sketch a last

Five months later the vicar-general was a bishop ; Madame
de Listomere was dead, leaving fifteen hundred francs a year
to the Abbe Birotteau. On the day when the Baroness' will
was read, Monseigneur Hyacinthe, bishop of Troyes, was
about to leave Tours and take up his residence in his diocese ;
but he postponed his departure. Furious at having been de-
ceived by a woman to whom he had offered a hand, while
she was secretly holding out hers to the man whom he chose
to regard as an enemy, Troubert again threatened to mar
the Baron's career and hinder the Marquis de Listomere from
receiving his peerage. In full council, at the archbishop's


palace, he uttered one of those priestly speeches, big with
revenge, though smooth with honeyed mildness.

The ambitious lieutenant came to see this ruthless prelate,
who dictated hard terms no doubt, for the Baron's conduct
showed absolute subservience to the terrible Jesuit's will.

The new bishop, by a deed of gift, bestowed Mademoiselle
Gamard's house on the cathedral chapter ; he gave Chape-
loud's bookcase and books to the little seminary ; he dedi-
cated the two disputed pictures to the lady chapel ; but he
kept the portrait of Chapeloud. No one could understand
this almost complete surrender of all Mademoiselle Gamard's
property. Monsieur de Bourbonne imagined that he secretly
kept all the actual money to enable him to maintain his rank
in Paris, if he should be called to sit on the bench of bishops
in the upper chamber.

At last, on the very day before Monseigneur Troubert left
Tours, the " old fox" detected the last plot which these gifts
had covered, a coup de grace dealt by the most relentless
vengeance to the most helpless of victims. The Baron de
Listomere disputed Madame de Listomere's bequest to Birot-
teau on the ground of undue influence ! Within a few days
of the first steps being taken in this action, the Baron was
appointed to a ship with the rank of captain ; the cure of
Saint-Symphorien was, by an act of discipline, placed under
an interdict. His ecclesiastical superiors condemned him by
anticipation ; so the assassin of the late Sophie Gamard was
a rogue as well ! Now, if Monseigneur Troubert had kept
the old maid's property, he could hardly have secured Birot-
teau's disgrace.

At the moment, when Monseigneur Hyacinthe, bishop of
Troyes, was passing in a post-chaise, along the quay of Saint-
Symphorien, on his way to Paris, poor Birotteau had just been
brought out in an armchair to sit in the sun on a terrace.
The unhappy priest, stricken by his archbishop, was pale and
haggard. Grief, stamped on every feature, had completely


altered the face, which of old had been so blandly cheerful.
Ill-health had cast a dimness that simulated thought over his
eyes, which had been bright once with the pleasures of good
living, and devoid of any weight of ideas. This was but the
skeleton of that Birotteau who, only a year ago, vacuous but
happy, had waddled across the Close. The bishop shot a glance
of contempt and pity at his victim ; then he vouchsafed to
forget him, and passed on.

In other times Troubert would certainly have been a Hilde-
brand or an Alexander VI. Nowadays the church is no longer
a political force, and does not absorb all the powers of isolated
men. Hence celibacy has this crying evil, that by concentra-
ting the powers of a man on one single passion, namely, egoism,
it makes the unwedded soul mischievous or useless.

We live in a time when the fault of most governments is
that they make man for society rather than society for man.
A perpetual struggle is going on between the individual and
the system that tries to turn him to account, while he tries to
turn it to account for his own advantage ; formerly, man hav-
ing really more liberty, showed greater generosity for the
public weal. The circle in which men move has insensibly
widened; the soul that can apprehend it synthetically will
never be anything but a grand exception, since, constantly,
in moral as in physical force, what is gained in extent is lost
in intensity. Society cannot be based on exceptions.

Originally, man was simply and solely a father ; his heart
beat warmly, concentrated within the radius of the family.
Later on he lived for the clan or for a small republic ; hence
the grand historical heroism of Greece and Rome. Next, he
became the member of a caste, or of a religion, and often was
truly sublime in his devotion to its greatness ; but then the
field of his interests was increased by the addition of every
intellectual realm. In these days his life is bound up with
that of a vast fatherland ; ere long his family will be the whole
human race.


Will not this moral cosmopolitanism, the thing the Roman
church hopes for, be a sublime mistake ? It is so natural to
believe in that noble chimera the brotherhood of men. But,
alas ! the human machine has not such godlike proportions.
The souls that are vast enough to wed a sentiment that is the
prerogative of a great man will never be those of plain citizens,
of fathers of families.

Certain physiologists opine that if the brain expands, the
heart must necessarily shrink. That is a mistake. Is not
what looks like egoism in the men who bear in their breast a
science, a nation, or its laws, the noblest of passions ? Is it
not, in a way, a motherhood of the people ? To bring forth
new races or new ideas, must they not combine in their
powerful brain the breast of the mother with the force of
God? The history of an Innocent III., of a Peter the Great,
of all who have guided an epoch or a nation, would at need
prove to be, in the highest order of minds, the immense idea
represented by Troubert in the depths of the Close of Saint-
Gat ien.

SAINT-FIRMIN, April, 1832.


To Madame la Comtesse Ida de Bocarme ne'e
du Chasteler.

" HULLO ! There is that old box-coat again ! "

This exclamation was made by a lawyer's clerk of the class
called in French offices a gutter-jumper a messenger in fact
who at this moment was eating a piece of dry bread with a
hearty appetite. He pulled off a morsel of crumb to make
into a bullet, and fired it gleefully through the open pane of
the window against which he was leaning. The pellet, well
aimed, rebounded almost as high as the window, after hitting
the hat of a stranger who was crossing the courtyard of a
house in the Rue Vivienne, where dwelt Maitre Derville,

" Come, Simonnin, don't pli.y tricks on people, or I will
turn you out of doors. However poor a client may be, he is
still a man, hang it all ! " said the head clerk, pausing in the
addition of a bill of costs.

The lawyer's messenger is commonly, as was Simonnin, a
lad of thirteen or fourteen, who, in every office, is under the
special jurisdiction of the managing clerk, whose errands and
billets-doux keep him employed on his way to carry writs to
the bailiffs and petitions to the courts. He is akin to the
street boy in his habits and to the pettifogger by fate. The
boy is almost always ruthless, unbroken, unmanageable, a
ribald rhymester, impudent, greedy, and idle. And yet
almost all these clerklings have an old mother lodging on
some fifth floor with whom they share their pittance of thirty
or forty francs a month.

"If he is a man, why do you call him old box-coat?"



asked Simon nin, with the air of a schoolboy who has caught
out his master.

And he went on eating his bread and cheese, leaning his
shoulder against the window jamb ; for he rested standing
like a cab-horse, one of his legs raised and propped against
the other, on the toe of his shoe.

"What trick can we play that chap?" said the third
clerk, whose name was Godeschal, in a low voice, pausing in
the middle of a discourse he was extemporizing in an appeal
engrossed by the fourth clerk, of which copies were being
made by two neophytes from the provinces.

Then he went on improvising :

" But, in his noble and beneficent wisdom, his majesty, Louis
the Eighteenth (write it at full length, heh ! Desroches the
learned you, as you engross it) when he resumed the reins
of government, understood (what did that old nincompoop
ever understand ?) the high mission to which he had been
called by Divine Providence ! (a note of exclamation and six
stops. They are pious enough at the courts to let us put six)
and his first thought, as is proved by the date of the order
hereinafter designated, was to repair the misfortunes caused by
the terrible and sad disasters of the revolutionary times, by restor-
ing to his numerous and faithful adherents ('numerous' is
flattering, and ought to please the bench) all their unsold
estates, whether within our realm or in conquered or acquired ter-
ritory, or in the endowments of public institutions, for we are,
and proclaim ourselves competent to declare, that this is the spirit
and meaning of the famous, truly loyal order given in Stop,"
said Godeschal to the three copying clerks, "that rascally
sentence brings me to the end of my page. Well," he went
on, wetting the back fold of the sheet with his tongue, so as
to be able to fold back the page of thick stamped paper,
" well, if you want to play him a trick, tell him that the
master can only see his clients between two and three in the
morning ; we shall see if he comes, the old ruffian ! "


And Godeschal took up the sentence he was dictating
" given in Are you ready? "

" Yes," cried the three writers.

It all went on together, the appeal, the gossip, and the

" Given in Here, Daddy Boucard, what is the date of
the order ? We must dot our i's and cross our /'s, by Jingo !
It helps to fill the pages. ' '

" By Jingo ! ' ' repeated one of the copying clerks before
Boucard, the head clerk, could reply.

"What! have you written by Jingo?" cried Godeschal,
looking at one of the novices, with an expression at once
stern and humorous.

"Why, yes," said Desroches, the fourth clerk, leaning
across his neighbor's copy, "he has written ' We must
dot our i'j and cross our t's, by GingoJ and spells it

All the clerks shouted with laughter.

" Why ! Monsieur Hure, you take ' By Jingo ' for a law
term, and you say you come from Mortagne ! " exclaimed

"Scratch it cleanly out," said the head clerk. "If the
judge, whose business it is to tax the bill, were to see such
things, he would say you were laughing at the whole boiling.
You would hear of it from the chief ! Come, no more of
this nonsense, Monsieur Hure ! A Norman ought not to
write out an appeal without thought. It is the ' Shoulder
arms ! ' of the law."

" 'Given in in?" asked Godeschal. "Tell me when,

" June, 1814," replied the head clerk, without looking up
from his work.

A knock at the office door interrupted the circumlocutions
of the prolix document. Five clerks with rows of hungry
teeth, bright, mocking eyes, and curly heads, lifted their


noses towards the door, after crying all together in a singing
tone, "Come in ! "

Boucard kept his face buried in a pile of papers broutillcs
(odds and ends) in French law jargon and went on drawing
out the bill of costs on which he was busy.

The office was a large room furnished with the traditional
stool which is to be seen in all these dens of law-quibbling.
The stovepipe crossed the room diagonally to the chimney of
a bricked-up fireplace ; on the marble chimney-piece were
several chunks of bread, triangles of Brie cheese, pork cutlets,
glasses, bottles, and the head-clerk's cup of chocolate. The
smell of these dainties blended so completely with that of
the immoderately overheated stove and the odor peculiar to
offices and old papers, that the trail of a fox would not have
been perceptible. The floor was covered with mud and snow,
brought in by the clerks. Near the window stood the desk
with a revolving lid, where the head clerk worked, and against
the back of it was the second clerk's table. The second clerk
was at this moment in court. It was between eight and nine
in the morning.

The only decoration of the office consisted in huge yellow
posters, announcing seizures of real estate, sales, settlements
under trust, final or interim judgments all the glory of a
lawyer's office. Behind the head clerk was an enormous stack
of pigeon-holes from the top to the bottom of the room, of
which each division was crammed with bundles of papers
with an infinite number of tickets hanging from them at the
ends of red tape, which give a peculiar physiognomy to law-
papers. The lower rows were filled with cardboard boxes,
yellow with use, on which might be read the names of the
more important clients whose cases were juicily stewing at
this present time. The dirty window-panes admitted but
little daylight. Indeed, there are very few offices in Paris
where it is possible to write without lamplight before ten in
the morning in the month of February, for they are all left


to very natural neglect ; every one comes and no one stays ;
no one has any personal interest in a scene of mere routine
neither the attorney, nor the counsel, nor the clerks trouble
themselves about the appearance of a place which, to the
youths, is a schoolroom ; to the clients, a passage ; to the
chief, a laboratory. The greasy furniture is handed down to
successive owners with such scrupulous care that in some
offices may still be seen boxes of remainders, machines for
twisting parchment gut, and bags left by the prosecuting
parties of the chatelet (abbreviated to chief) a court which,
under the old order of things, represented the present court
of first instance (or county court).

So in this dark office, thick with dust, there was, as in all
its fellows, something repulsive to the clients something
which made it one of the most hideous monstrosities of Paris.
Nay, were it not for the mouldy sacristies where prayers are
weighed out and paid for like groceries and for the old-clothes
shops, where flutter the rags that blight all the illusions of
life by showing us the last end of all our festivities an
attorney's office would be, of all social marts, the most loath-
some. But we might say the same of the gambling-hell, of the
law court, of the lottery office, of the brothel.

But why ? In these places, perhaps, the drama being played
in a man's soul makes him indifferent to accessories, which
would also account for the single-mindedness of great
thinkers and men of great ambitions.

" Where is my penknife ?"

" I am eating my breakfast."

" You go and be hanged ! here is a blot on the copy."

" Silence, gentlemen ! "

These various exclamations were uttered simultaneously at
the moment when the old client shut the door with the sort
of humility which disfigures the movements of a man down
on his luck. The stranger tried to smile, but the muscles of
his face relaxed as he vainly looked for some symptoms of


amenity on the inexorably indifferent faces of the six clerks.
Accustomed, no doubt, to gauge men, he very politely ad-
dressed the gutter-jumper, hoping to get a civil answer from
this boy of all work.

" Monsieur, is your master at home? "

The pert messenger made no reply, but patted his ear w'th
the fingers of his left hand, as much as to say, "I am deaf."

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 19 of 31)