Honoré de Balzac.

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tled on an apparently immovable foundation ; its doctrines of
government, as understood by lofty minds, seemed calculated
to bring to France an era of renewed prosperity, and Parisian
society changed its aspect. Madame la Comtessee Ferraud
found that by chance she had achieved for love a marriage
that had brought her fortune and gratified ambition. Still
young and handsome, Madame Ferraud played the part of a
woman of fashion, and lived in the atmosphere of the court.


Rich herself, with a rich husband who was cried up as one of
the ablest men of the Royalist party, and, as a friend of the
King, certain to be made minister, she belonged to the aris-
tocracy, and shared its magnificence. In the midst of this
triumph she was attacked by a moral canker. There are feel-
ings which women guess in spite of the care men take to bury
them. On the first return of the King, Comte Ferraud had
begun to regret his marriage. Colonel Chabert's widow had
not been the means of allying him to anybody ; he was alone
and unsupported in steering his way in a course full of shoals
and beset by enemies. Also, perhaps, when he came to judge
his wife coolly, he may have discerned in her certain vices of
education which made her unfit to second him in his schemes.
A speech he made, a propos of Talleyrand's marriage, en-
lightened the Countess, to whom it proved that if he had still
been a free man she would never have been Madame Ferraud.
What woman could forgive this repentance? Does it not
include the germs of every insult, every crime, every form of
repudiation ? But what a wound must it have left in the
Countess" heart, supposing that she lived in the dread of her
first husband's return ? She had known that he still lived,
and she had ignored him. Then during the time when she
had heard no more of him, she had chosen to believe that
he had fallen at Waterloo with the Imperial Eagle, at the
same time as Boutin. She resolved, nevertheless, to bind the
Count to her by the strongest of all ties, by a chain of gold,
and vowed to be so rich that her fortune might make her
second marriage indissoluble, if by chance Colonel Chabert
should ever reappear. And he had reappeared ; and she could
not explain to herself why the struggle she dreaded had not
already begun. Suffering, sickness, had perhaps delivered
her from that man. Perhaps he was half-mad, and Charenton
might yet do her justice. She had not chosen to take either
Delbecq or the police into her confidnce, for fear of putting
herself in their power, or of hastening the catastrophe. There


are in Paris many women who, like the Countess Ferraud,
live with an unknown moral monster, or on the brink of an
abyss ; a callus forms over the spot that tortures them, and
they can still laugh and enjoy themselves.

" There is something very strange in Comte Ferraud's posi-
tion," said Derville to himself, on emerging from his long
reverie, as his cab stopped at the door of the Hotel Ferraud
in the Rue de Varennes. " How is it that he, so rich as he
is, and such a favorite with the King, is not yet a peer of
France ? It may, to be sure, be true that the King, as Mme.
de Grandlieu was telling me, desires to keep up the value of
the peerage by not bestowing it right and left. And, after all,
the son of a councilor of the Parlement is not a Crillon nor a
Rohan. A Comte Ferraud can only get into the Upper
Chamber surreptitiously. But if his marriage were annulled,
could he not get the dignity of some old peer who has only
daughters transferred to himself, to the King's great satisfac-
tion ? At any rate this will be a good bogey to put forward
and frighten the Countess," thought he as he went up the

Derville had without knowing it laid his finger on the
hidden wound, put his hand on the canker that consumed
Madame Ferraud.

She received him in a pretty, winter dining-room, where
she was at breakfast, while playing with a monkey tethered by
a chain to a little pole with climbing-bars of iron. The
Countess was in an elegant wrapper ; the curls of her hair, care-
lessly pinned up, escaped from a cap, giving her an arch look.
She was fresh and smiling. Silver, gilding, and mother-of-
pearl shone on the table, and all about the room were rare
plants growing in magnificent china jars. As he saw Colonel
Chabert's wife, rich with his spoil, in the lap of luxury and
the height of fashion, while he, poor wretch, was living with
a poor dairymen among the beasts, the lawyer said to himself

" The moral of all this is that a pretty woman will never


acknowledge as her husband, nor even as a lover, a man in
an old box-coat, a tow wig, and boots with holes in them."

A mischievous and bitter smile expressed the feelings, half-
philosophical and half-satirical, which such a man was
certain to experience a man well situated to know the truth
of things in spite of the lies behind which most families in
Paris hide their mode of life.

" Good-morning, Monsieur Derville," said she, giving the
monkey some coffee to drink.

"Madame," said he, a little sharply, for the light tone in
which she spoke jarred on him, " I have come to speak to you
on a very serious matter."

" I am so grieved, M. le Comte is away "

"I, madame, am delighted. It would be grievous if he
could be present at our interview. Besides, I am informed
through M. Delbecq that you like to manage your own busi-
ness without troubling the Count."

" Then I will send for Delbecq," said she.

" He would be of no use to you, clever as he is," replied
Derville. " Listen to me, madame ; one word will be enough
to make you grave. Colonel Chabert is alive ! "

"Is it by telling me such nonsense as that that you think
you can make me grave ? ' ' said she with a shout of laughter.
But she was suddenly quelled by the singular penetration of
the fixed gaze which Derville turned on her, seeming to read
to the bottom of her soul.

"Madame," he said, with cold and piercing solemnity,
" you know not the extent of the danger which threatens
you. I need say nothing of the indisputable authenticity of
the evidence nor of the fullness of proof which testifies to the
identity of Comte Chabert. I am not, as you know, the man
to take up a bad cause. If you resist our proceedings to show
that the certificate of death was false, you will lose that first
case, and that matter once settled, we shall gain every point."

" What, then, do you wish to discuss with me?"


" Neither the colonel nor yourself. Nor need I allude to
the briefs which clever advocates may draw up when armed
with the curious facts of this case, or the advantage they may
derive from the letters you received from your first husband
before your marriage to your second."

"It is false," she cried, with the violence of a spoilt
woman. " I never had a letter from Comte Chabert ; and if
some one is pretending to be the colonel, it is some swindler,
some returned convict, like Coignard perhaps. It makes me
shudder only to think of it. Can the colonel rise from the
dead, monsieur ? Bonaparte sent an aide-de-camp to inquire
for me on his death, and to this day I draw the pension of
three thousand francs granted to his widow by the govern-
ment. I have been perfectly in the right to turn away all the
Chaberts who have ever come, as I shall all who may come."

" Happily we are alone, madame. We can tell lies at our
ease," said he coolly, and finding it amusing to lash up the
Countess' rage so as to lead her to betray herself, by tactics
familiar to lawyers, who are accustomed to keep cool when
their opponents or their clients are in a passion. " Well,
then, we must fight it out," thought he, instantly hitting on
a plan to entrap her and show her her weakness.

"The proof that you received the first letter, madame, is
that it contained some securities "

" Oh, as to securities that it certainly did not."

"Then you received the letter," said Derville, smiling.
" You are caught, madame, in the first snare laid for you by
an attorney, and you fancy you could fight against jus-
tice "

The Countess colored, and then turned pale, hiding her
face in her hands. Then she shook off her shame, and re-
torted with the natural impertinence of such women, " Since

you are the so-called Chabert's attorney, be so good as
*. >i

" Madam*," said Derville, " I am at this moment as much


your lawyer as I am Colonel Chabert's. Do you suppose I
want to lose so valuable a client as you are ? But you are not

" Nay, speak on, monsieur," said she graciously.

" Your fortune came to you from M. le Comte Chabert,
and you cast him off. Your fortune is immense, and you
leave him to beg. An advocate can be very eloquent when a
cause is eloquent in itself; there are here circumstances which
might turn public opinion strongly against you."

"But, monsieur," said the Comtesse, provoked by the
way in which Derville turned and laid her on the gridiron,
" even if I grant that your M. Chabert is living, the law will
uphold my second marriage on account of the children, and
I shall get off with the restitution of two hundred and
twenty-five thousand francs to M. Chabert."

"It is impossible to foresee what view the bench may take
of the question. If on one side we have a mother and chil-
dren, on the other we have an old man crushed by sorrows,
made old by your refusals to know him. Where is he to find
a wife ? Can the judges contravene the law? Your marriage
with Colonel Chabert has priority on its side and every legal
right. But if you appear under disgraceful colors, you might
have an unlooked-for adversary. That, madame, is the
danger against which I would warn you."

"And who is he?"

"Comte Ferraud."

" Monsieur Fearaud has too great an affection for me, too
much respect for the mother of his children "

" Do not talk of such absurd things," interrupted Der-
ville, " to lawyers, who are accustomed to read hearts to the
bottom. At this instant Monsieur Ferraud has not the slight-
est wish to annul your union, and I am quite sure that he
adores you ; but if some one were to tell him that his mar-
riage is void, that his wife will be called before the bar of
public opinion as a criminal "


" He would defend me, monsieur."

"No, madame."

" What reason could he have for deserting me, monsieur?"

"That he would be free to marry the only daughter of a
peer of France, whose title would be conferred on him by
patent from the King."

The Countess turned pale.

"A hit! " said Derville to himself. "I have you on the
hip; the poor colonel's case is won. Besides, madame,"
he went on aloud, " he would feel all the less remorse because
a man covered with glory a general, count, grand cross of
the Legion of Honor is not such a bad alternative ; and if
that man insisted on his wife's returning to him "

' ' Enough, enough, monsieur!" she exclaimed. "I will
never have any lawyer but you. What is to be done? "

" Compromise ! " said Derville.

" Does he still love me ? " she said.

" Well, I do not think he can do otherwise."

The Countess raised her head at these words. A flash of
hope shone in her eyes ; she thought perhaps that she could
speculate on her first husband's affection to gain her cause by
some feminine cunning.

"I shall await your orders, madame, to know whether I
am to report our proceedings to you, or if you will come to
my office to agree to the terms of a compromise," said Der-
ville, taking leave.

A week after Derville had paid these two visits, on a fine
morning in June, the husband and wife, who had been sep-
arated by an almost supernatural chance, started from the
opposite ends of Paris to meet in the office of the lawyer who
was engaged by both. The supplies liberally advanced by
Derville to Colonel Chabert had enabled him to dress as
suited his position in life, and the dead man arrived in a very
decent cab. He wore a wig suited to his face, was dressed in


blue cloth with white linen, and wore upon his waistcoat the
broad red ribbon of the higher grade of the Legion of Honor.
In resuming the habits of wealth he had recovered his sol-
dierly style. He held himself up ; his face, grave and mys-
terious-looking, reflected his happiness and all his hopes, and
seemed to have acquired youth and empasto, to borrow a
picturesque word from the painter's art. He was no more
like the Chabert of the old box-coat than a cart-wheel double
sou is like a newly coined forty-franc piece. The passer-by,
only to see him, would have recognized at once one of the
noble wrecks of our old army, one of the heroic men on
whom our national glory is reflected, as a splinter of ice on
which the sun shines seems to reflect every beam. These
veterans are at once a picture and a book.

When the Count jumped out of his carriage to go into
Derville's office, he did it as lightly as a young man. Hardly
had his cab moved off, when a smart brougham drove up,
splendid with coats-of-arms. Madame la Comtesse Ferraud
stepped out in a dress which, though simple, was cleverly
designed to show how youthful her figure was. She wore a
pretty drawn bonnet lined with pink, which framed her face
to perfection, softening its outlines and making it look

If the clients were rejuvenescent, the office was unaltered,
and presented the same picture as that described at the begin-
ning of this story. Simonnin was eating his breakfast, his
shoulder leaning against the window, which was then open,
and he was staring up at the blue sky in the opening of the
courtyard enclosed by four gloomy houses.

"Ah, ha ! " cried the little clerk, " who will bet an even-
ing at the play that Colonel Chabert is a general, and wears a
red ribbon ? ' '

" The chief is a great magician," said Godeschal.

" Then there is no trick to play on him this time? " asked


" His wife has taken that in hand, the Comtesse Ferraud,"
said Boucard.

"What next? "said Godeschal. "Is Comtesse Ferraud
required to belong to two men ? "

" Here she is," answered Simonnin.

At this moment the colonel came in and asked for Derville.

" He is at home, sir," said Simonnin.

"So you are not deaf, you young rogue ! " said Chabert,
taking the gutter-jumper by the ear and twisting it, to the de-
light of the other clerks, who began to laugh, looking at the
colonel with the curious attention due to so singular a per-

Comte Chabert was in Derville's private room at the mo-
ment when his wife came in by the door of the office.

"I say, Boucard, there is going to be a queer scene in the
chiefs room. There is a woman who can spend her days alter-
nately, the odd with Comte Ferraud, and the even with Comte

"And in leap year," said Godeschal, " they must settle the
count between them.' '

"Silence, gentlemen, you can be heard !" said Boucard
severely. " I never was in an office where there was so much
jesting as there is here over the clients."

Derville had made the colonel retire to the bedroom when
the Countess was admitted.

"Madame," he said, "not knowing whether it would be
agreeable to you to meet M. le Comte Chabert, I have placed
you apart. If, however, you should wish it "

"It is an attention for which I am obliged to you."

" I have drawn up the memorandum of an agreement of
which you and M. Chabert can discuss the conditions, here
and now. I will go alternately to him and to you, and explain
your views respectively."

"Let me see, monsieur," said the Countess impatiently.

Derville read aloud


" ' Between the undersigned :

" ' M. Hyacinthe Chabert, Count, Marechal de Camp and
Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, living in Paris, Rue
du Petit Banquier, on the one part ;

" ' And Madame Rose Chapotel, wife of the aforesaid M.
le Comte Chabert, nee ' '

"Pass over the preliminaries," said she. "Come to the

"Madame," said the lawyer, "the preamble briefly sets
forth the position in which you stand to each other. Then,
by the first clause, you acknowledge, in the presence of three
witnesses, of whom two shall be notaries, and one the dairy-
man with whom your husband has been lodging, to all of
whom your secret is known, and who will be absolutely silent
you acknowledge, I say, that the individual designated in
the documents subjoined to the deed, and whose identity is to
be further proved by an act of recognition prepared by your
notary, Alexandre Crottat, is your first husband, Comte Cha-
bert. By the second clause, Comte Chabert, to secure your
happiness, will undertake to assert his rights only under cer-
tain circumstances set forth in the deed. And these," said
Derville, in a parenthesis, "are none other than a failure to
carry out the conditions of this secret agreement. M. Cha-
bert, on his part, agrees to accept judgment on a friendly suit,
by which his certificate of death shall be annulled and his
marriage dissolved."

" That will not suit me in the least," said the Countess with
surprise. " I will be a party to no suit ; you know why."

" By the third clause," Derville went on, with imperturbable
coolness, " you pledge yourself to secure to Hyacinthe Comte
Chabert an income of twenty-four thousand francs on govern-
ment stock held in his name, to revert to you at his death "

"But it is much too dear ! " exclaimed the Countess.

" Can you compromise the matter cheaper?"



" But what do you want, madame ? "

" I want I will not have a lawsuit. I want "

" You want him to remain dead? " said Derville, interrupt-
ing her hastily.

"Monsieur," said the Countess, "if twenty-four thousand
francs a year are necessary, we will go to law ' '

"Yes, we will go to law," said the colonel in a deep
voice, as he opened the door and stood before his wife, with
one hand in his waistcoat and the other hanging by his side
an attitude to which the recollection of his adventure gave
horrible significance.

"It is he," said the Countess to herself.

" Too dear ! " the old soldier exclaimed. " I have given
you near on a million, and you are cheapening my misfor-
tunes. Very well ; now I will have you you and your
fortune. Our goods are in common, our marriage is not
dissolved ' '

" But monsieur is not Colonel Chabert ! " cried the Coun-
tess, in feigned amazement.

" Indeed ! " said the old man, in a tone of intense irony.
" Do you want proofs? I found you in the Palais Royal '

The Countess turned pale. Seeing her grow white under
her rouge, the old soldier paused, touched by the acute suffer-
ing he was inflicting on the woman he had once so ardently
loved ; but she shot such a venomous glance at him that he
abruptly went on

" You were with La "

" Allow me, Monsieur Derville," said the Countess to the
lawyer. "You must give me leave to retire. I did not come
here to listen to such dreadful things."

She rose and went out. Derville rushed after her ; but the
Countess had taken wings, and seemed to have flown from
the place.

On returning to his private room, he found the colonel in
a towering rage, striding up and down.


" In those times a man took his wife where he chose," said
he. "But I was foolish, and chose badly; I trusted to ap-
pearances. She has no heart."

" Well, colonel, was I not right to beg you not to come ?
I am now positive of your identity ; when you came in, the
Countess gave a little start, of which the meaning was un-
equivocal. But you have lost your chances. Your wife knows
that you are unrecognizable."

"I will kill her!"

" Madness ! you will be caught and executed like any
common wretch. Besides, you might miss ! That would be
unpardonable. A man must not miss his shot when he wants
to kill his wife. Let me set things straight : you are only a
big child. Go now. Take care of yourself; she is capable
of setting some trap for you and shutting you up in Charenton.
I will notify her of our proceedings to protect you against a

The unhappy colonel obeyed his young benefactor, and
went away, stammering apologies. He slowly went down the
dark staircase, lost in gloomy thoughts, and crushed perhaps
by the blow just dealt him the most cruel he could feel, the
thrust that could most deeply pierce his heart when he heard
the rustle of a woman's dress on the lowest landing, and his
wife stood before him.

" Come, monsieur," said she, taking his arm with a gesture
like those familiar to him of old. Her action and the accent
of her voice, which had recovered its graciousness, were
enough to allay the colonel's wrath, and he allowed himself
to be led to the carriage.

"Well, get in ! " said she, when the footman had let down
the step.

And as if by magic, he found himself sitting by his wife in
the brougham.

"Where to?" asked the servant.

" To Groslay," said she.


The horses started at once, and carried them all across

"Monsieur," said the Countess, in a tone of voice which
betrayed one of those emotions which are rare in our lives,
and which agitate every part of our being. At such moments
the heart, fibres, nerves, countenance, soul, and body, every-
thing, every pore even, feels a thrill. Life no longer seems
to be within us; it flows out, springs forth, is communicated
as by contagion, transmitted by a look, a tone of voice, a
gesture, impressing our will on others. The old soldier
started on hearing this single word, this first, terrible " mon-
sieur ! " But still it was at once a reproach and a pardon, a
hope and a despair, a question and an answer. This word
included them all; none but an actress could have thrown
so much eloquence, so many feelings into a single word.
Truth is less complete in its utterance ; it does not put every-
thing on the outside ; it allows us to see what is within. The
colonel was filled with remorse for his suspicions, his demands,
and his anger ; he looked down not to betray his agitation.

"Monsieur," repeated she, after an imperceptible pause,
"I knew you at once."

"Rosine," said the old soldier, "those words contain the
only balm that can help me to forget my misfortunes."

Two large hot tears rolled on to his wife's hands, which he
pressed to show his deeply rooted affection.

"Monsieur," she went on, "could you not have guessed
what it cost me to appear before a stranger in a position so
false as mine now is ? If I have to blush for it, at least let it
be in the privacy of my family. Ought not such a secret to
remain buried in our hearts? You will forgive me, I hope,
for my apparent indifference to the woes of a Chabert in whose
existence I could not possibly believe. I received your let-
ters," she hastily added, seeing in his face the objection it
expressed, " but they did not reach me till thirteen months
after the battle of Eylau. They were opened, dirty, the


writing was unrecognizable ; and after obtaining Napoleon's
signature to my second marriage contract, I could not help
believing that some clever swindler wanted to make a fool
of me. Therefore, to avoid disturbing Monsieur Ferraud's
peace of mind and disrupting family ties, I was obliged to
take precautions against a pretended Chabert. Was I not
right, I ask you?"

"Yes, you were right. It was I who was the idiot, the
owl, the dolt, not to have calculated better what the conse-
quences of such a position might be. But where are we
going ; " he asked, seeing that they had reached the barrier
of La Chapelle.

" To my country house near Groslay, in the valley of
Montmorency. There, monsieur, we will consider the steps
to be taken. I know my duties. Though I am yours by right,
I am no longer yours in fact. Can you wish that we should
become the talk of Paris? We need not inform the public
of a situation, which for me has its ridiculous side, and let
us preserve our dignity. You still love me," she said, with
a sad, sweet gaze at the colonel, "but have I not been au-
thorized to form other ties ? In so strange a position, a secret
voice bids me trust to your kindness, which is so well known
to me. Can I be wrong in taking you as the sole arbiter of
my fate ? Be at once judge and party to the suit. I trust in
your noble character ; you will be generous enough to forgive
me for the consequences of faults committed in innocence.
I may then confess to you : I love M. Ferraud. I believed
that I had a right to love him. I do not blush to make this
confession to you ; even if it offends you, it does not disgrace

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 23 of 31)