Honoré de Balzac.

The celibates and other stories online

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his place, dismissed his household, and locked his stable-
doors, Ginevra, as simple and unpretentious as her parents,
had not a regret. Like all great souls, she found luxury in
strength of feeling, as she sought happiness in solitude and

And these three loved each other too much for the externals
of life to have any value in their eyes. Often and especially
since Napoleon's second and fearful fall Bartolomeo and his
wife spent evenings of pure delight in listening to Ginevra as
she played the piano or sang. To them there was an im-
mense mystery of pleasure in their daughter's presence, in her
lightest word ; they followed her with their eyes with tender
solicitude; they heard her step in the courtyard, however
lightly she trod. Like lovers, they would all three sit silent
for hours, hearing, better than in words, the eloquence of
each other's soul. This deep feeling, the very life of the two
old people, filled all their thoughts. Not three lives were
here, but one, which, like the flame on a hearth, burnt up in
three tongues of fire.

Though now and then memories of Napoleon's bounty and
misfortunes, or the politics of the day, took the place of their
constant preoccupation, they could talk of them without
breaking their community of thought. For did not Ginevra


share their political passions ? What could be more natural
than the eagerness with which they withdrew into the heart
of their only child ? Until now the business of public life
had absorbed Baron di Piombo's energies; but in resigning
office the Corsican felt the need of throwing his energy into
the last feeling that was left to him ; and, besides the tie that
bound a father and mother to their daughter, there was,
perhaps, unknown to these three despotic spirits, a powerful
reason in the fanaticism of their reciprocal devotion ; their
love was undivided ; Ginevra's whole heart was given to her
father, as Piombo's was to her ; and certainly, if it is true
that we are more closely attached to one another by our
faults than by our good qualities, Ginevra responded wonder-
fully to all her father's passions. Herein lay the single defect
of this threefold existence. Ginevra was wholly given over
to her vindictive impulses, carried away by them, as Barto-
lomeo had been in his youth. The Corsican delighted in
encouraging these savage emotions in his daughter's heart,
exactly as a lion teaches his whelps to spring on their prey.
But as this apprenticeship to revenge could only be carried
out under the parental roof, Ginevra never forgave her father
anything j he always had to succumb. Piombo regarded
these factitious quarrels as mere childishness, but the child
thus acquired a habit of domineering over her parents. In
the midst of these tempests which Bartolomeo loved to raise,
a tender word, a look, was enough to soothe their angry
spirits, and they were never so near kissing as when threaten-
ing wrath.

However, from the age of about five, Ginevra, growing
wiser than her father, constantly avoided these scenes. Her
faithful nature, her devotion, the affection which governed all
her thoughts, and her admirable good sense, had gotten the
better of her rages ; still a great evil had resulted : Ginevra
lived with her father and mother on a footing of equality
which is always disastrous.


To complete the picture of all the changes that had hap-
pened to these three persons since their arrival in Paris,
Piorabo and his wife, people of no education, had allowed
Ginevra to study as she would. Following her girlish fancy,
she had tried and given up everything, returning to each idea,
and abandoning each in turn, until painting had become her
ruling passion ; she would have been perfect if her mother
had been capable of directing her studies, of enlightening
and harmonizing her natural gifts. Her faults were the out-
come of the pernicious training that the old Corsican had
delighted to give her.

After making the floor creak for some minutes under his
feet, the old man rang the bell. A servant appeared.

"Go to meet Mademoiselle Ginevra," said the master.

" I have always been sorry that we have no longer a carriage
for her," said the Baroness.

" She would not have one," replied Piombo, looking at his
wife ; and she, accustomed for twenty years to obedience as
her part, cast down her eyes.

Tall, thin, pale, and wrinkled, and now past seventy, the
Baroness was exactly like the old woman whom Schnetz intro-
duces into the Italian scenes of his genre-pictures ; she com-
monly sat so silent that she might have been taken for a
second Mrs. Shandy ; but a word, a look, a gesture would
betray that her feelings had all the vigor and freshness of
youth. Her dress, devoid of smartness, was often lacking in
taste. She usually remained passive, sunk in an armchair,
like a Sultana validch, waiting for or admiring Ginevra her
pride and life. Her daughter's beauty, dress, and grace
seemed to have become her own. All was well with her if
Ginevra were content. Her hair had turned white, and a few
locks were visible above her furrowed brow and at the side
of her withered cheeks.

"For about a fortnight now," said she, "Ginevra has
been coming in late,'


"Jean will not go fast enough," cried the impatient old
man, crossing over the breast of his blue coat ; he snatched
up his hat, crammed it on his head, and was off.

"You will not get far," his wife called after him.

In fact, the outer gate opened and shut, and the old mother
heard Ginevra's steps in the courtyard. Bartolomeo suddenly
reappeared, carrying his daughter in triumph, while she strug-
gled in his arms.

" Here she is ! La Ginevra, la Ginevrettina, la Ginevrina,
la Ginevrola, la Ginevretta, la Ginevra bella ! " the old
Baron joyfully exclaimed.

" Father ! you are hurting me ! "

Ginevra was immediately set down with a sort of respect.
She nodded her head with a graceful gesture to reassure her
mother, who was alarmed, and to convey that it had been
only an excuse. Then the Baroness' pale, dull face regained
a little color, and even a kind of cheerfulness. Piombo
rubbed his hands together extremely hard the most certain
symptom of gladness ; he had acquired the habit at court
when seeing Napoleon in a rage with any of his generals or
ministers who served him ill, or who had committed some
blunder. When once the muscles of his face were relaxed,
the smallest line in his forehead expressed benevolence.
These two old folks at this moment were exactly like droop-
ing plants, which are restored to life by a little water after a
long drought.

" Dinner, dinner ! " cried the Baron, holding out his hand
to Ginevra, whom he addressed as Signora Piombellina,
another token of good spirits, to which his daughter replied
with a smile.

"By the way," said Piombo, as they rose from table, "do
you know that your mother has remarked that for a month
past you have stayed at the studio much later than usual ?
Painting before parents, it would seem,"

" Oh, dear father "


" Ginevra is preparing some surprise for us, no doubt,"
said the mother.

" You are going to bring me a picture of your painting,"
cried the Corsican, clapping his hands.

" Yes, I am very busy at the studio," she replied.

"What ails you, Ginevra? you are so pale," asked her

" No ! " exclaimed the girl with a resolute gesture. " No !
it shall never be said that Ginevra Piombo ever told a lie
in her life."

On hearing this strange exclamation, Piombo and his wife
looked at their daughter with surprise.

"I love a young man," she added in a broken voice.
Then, not daring to look at her parents, her heavy eyelids
drooped as if to veil the fire in her eyes.

"Is he a prince?" asked her father ironically; but his
tone of voice made both the mother and daughter tremble.

" No, father," she modestly replied, " he is a young man
of no fortune "

"Then is he so handsome?"

" He is unfortunate."

"What is he?"

" As a comrade of Labedoyere's he was outlawed, home-
less ; Servin hid him, and "

" Servin is a good fellow, and did well," cried Piombo.
" But you, daughter, have done ill to love any man but your
father "

"Love is not within my control," said Ginevra, gently.

"I had flattered myself," said her father, "that my Gi-
nevra would be faithful to me till my death ; that my care and
her mother's would be all she would have known ; that our
tenderness would never meet with a rival affection in her
heart; that "

" Did I ever reproach you for your fanatical devotion to
Napoleon ? " said Ginevra. " Have you never loved any one


but me ? Have you not been away on embassies for months
at a time? Have I not borne your absence bravely? Life
has necessities to which we must yield."

"Ginevra! "

" No, you do not love me for my own sake, and your re-
proaches show intolerable selfishness. ' '

" And you accuse your father's love ! " cried Piombo with
flaming looks.

"Father, I will never accuse you," replied Ginevra, more
gently than her trembling mother expected. " You have right
on the side of your egoism, as I have right on the side of my
love. Heaven is my witness that no daughter ever better ful-
filled her duty to her parents. I have never known anything
but love and happiness in what many daughters regard as
obligations. Now, for fifteen years, I have never been any-
where but under your protecting wing, and it has been a very
sweet delight to me to charm your lives. But am I then
ungrateful in giving myself up to the joy of loving, and in
wishing for a husband to protect me after you ? "

"So you balance accounts with your father, Ginevra!"
said the old man in ominous tones.

There was a frightful pause ; no one dared to speak. Fi-
nally, Bartolomeo broke the silence by exclaiming in a heart-
rending voice : " Oh, stay with us ; stay with your old father !
I could not bear to see you love a man. Ginevra, you will
not have long to wait for your liberty "

" But, my dear father, consider ; we shall not leave you,
we shall be two to love you ; you will know the man to whose
care you will bequeath me. You will be doubly loved by me
and by him by him, being part of me, and by me who am
wholly he."

"Oh, Ginevra, Ginevra!" cried the Corsican, clinching
his fists, "why were you not married when Napoleon had
accustomed me to the idea, and introduced dukes and counts
as your suitors?"


"They only loved me to order," said the young girl.
" Besides, I did not wish to leave you ; and they would have
taken me away with them."

"You do not wish to leave us alone," said Piombo, " but
if you marry you isolate us. I know you, my child, you will
love us no more. Elisa," he said, turning to his wife, who
sat motionless and, as it were, stupefied ; " we no longer have
a daughter ; she wants to be married."

The old man sat down, after raising his hands in the air as
though to invoke God ; then he remained bent, crushed by
his grief. Ginevra saw her father's agitation, and the modera-
tion of his wrath pierced her to the heart ; she had expected
a scene and furies ; she had not steeled her soul against his

"My dear father," she said in an appealing voice, "no,
you shall never be abandoned by your Ginevra. But love me
too a little for myself. If only you knew how he loves me !
Ah, he could never bear to cause me pain ! "

" What, comparisons already ! " cried Piombo in a terrible
voice. " No," he went on, " I cannot endure the idea. If
he were to love you as you deserve, he would kill me ; and if
he were not to love you, I should stab him ! "

Piombo's hands were trembling, his lips trembled, his whole
frame trembled, and his eyes flashed lightnings ; Ginevra
alone could meet his gaze ; for then her eyes too flashed fire,
and the daughter was worthy of the father.

" To love you ! What man is worthy of such a life ? " he
went on. " To love you as a father even is it not to live in
paradise? Who then could be worthy to be your husband?"

" He," said Ginevra. "He of whom I feel myself un-

"He," echoed Piombo mechanically. " Who ? He ? "

"The man I love."

"Can he know you well enough already to adore you?"
asked her father.


"But, father," said Ginevra, feeling a surge of impatience,
" even if he did not love me so long as I love him "

"You do love him then?" cried Piombo. Ginevra gently
bowed her head. "You love him more than you love me?"

" The two feelings cannot be compared," she replied.

"One is stronger than the other?" said Piombo.

"Yes, I think so," said Ginevra.

*' You shall not marry him ! " cried the Corsican in a voice
that made the windows rattle.

" I will marry him ! " replied Ginevra calmly.

"Good God! " cried the mother, "how will this quarrel
end ? Santa Virgina, come between them ! ' '

The Baron, who was striding up and down the room, came
and seated himself. An icy sternness darkened his face; he
looked steadfastly at his daughter, and said in a gentle and
affectionate voice, " Nay, Ginevra you will not marry him.
Oh, do not say you will, this evening. Let me believe that
you will not. Do you wish to see your father on his knees
before you, and his white hairs humbled. I will beseech
you "

" Ginevra Piombo is not accustomed to promise and not to
keep her word," said she ; " I am your child."

" She is right," said the Baroness, " we come into the world
to marry."

"And so you encourage her in disobedience," said the
Baron to his wife, who, stricken by the reproof, froze into a

"It is not disobedience to refuse to yield to an unjust com-
mand," replied Ginevra.

" It cannot be unjust when it emanates from your father's
lips, my child. Why do you rise in judgment on me ? Is
not the repugnance I feel a counsel from on high ? I am per-
haps saving you from some misfortune."

" The misfortune would be that he should not love me."

"Always he!"


"Yes, always," she said. "He is my life, my joy, my
thought. Even if I obeyed you, he would be always in my
heart. If you forbid me to marry him, will it not make me
hate you?"

" You love us no longer ! " cried Piombo.

" Oh ! " said Ginevra, shaking her head.

"Well, then, forget him. Be faithful to us. After us

you understand "

"Father, would you make me wish that you were dead?"
cried Ginevra.

"I shall outlive you; children who do not honor their
parents die early," cried her father at the utmost pitch of

" All the more reason for marrying soon and being happy,"
said she.

This coolness, this force of argument, brought Piombo's
agitation to a crisis ; the blood rushed violently to his head,
his face turned purple. Ginevra shuddered ; she flew like a
bird on to her father's knees, threw her arms round his neck,
stroked his hair, and exclaimed, quite overcome

"Oh, yes, let me die first! I could not survive you, my
dear, kind father."

"Oh, my Ginevra, my foolish Ginevretta ! " answered
Piombo, whose rage melted under this caress as an icicle melts
in the sunshine.

"It was time you should put an end to the matter," said
the Baroness in a broken voice.

"Poor mother! "

"Ah, Ginevretta, mia Ginevra bella ! "

And the father played with his daughter as if she were a
child of six ; he amused himself with undoing the waving
tresses of her hair and dancing her on his knee ; there was
dotage in his demonstrations of tenderness. Presently his
daughter scolded him as she kissed him, and tried, half in
jest, to get leave to bring Luigi to the house ; but, jesting


too, her father refused. She sulked, and recovered herself,
and sulked again ; then, at the end of the evening, she was
only too glad to have impressed on her father the ideas of her
love for Luigi and of a marriage ere long.

Next day she said no more about it ; she went later to the
studio and returned early ; she was more affectionate to her
father than she had ever been, and showed herself grateful, as
if to thank him for the consent to her marriage he seemed to
give by silence. In the evening she played and sang for a
long time, and exclaimed now and then, " This nocturne
requires a man's voice! " She was an Italian, and that says

A week later her mother beckoned her ; Ginevra went, and
then in her ear she whispered, " I have persuaded your father
to receive him."

" Oh, mother ! you make me very happy."

So that afternoon, Ginevra had the joy of coming home to
her father's house leaning on Luigi's arm. The poor officer
came out of his hiding-place for the second time. Ginevra's
active intervention addressed to the Due de Feltre, then
minister of war, had been crowned with perfect success.
Luigi had just been reinstated as an officer on the reserve list.
This was a very long step towards a prosperous future.

Informed by Ginevra of all the difficulties he would meet
with in the Baron, the young officer dared not confess his
dread of failing to please him. This man, so brave in ad-
versity, so bold on the field of battle, quaked as he thought
of entering the Piombos' drawing-room. Ginevra felt him
tremble, and this emotion, of which their happiness was the
first cause, was to her a fresh proof of his love.

" How pale you are ! " said she, as they reached the gate
of the hotel.

"Oh, Ginevra! If my life alone were at stake " ex-
claimed Luigi, nervously.

Though Bartolomeo had been informed by his wife of this


official introduction of his daughter's lover, he did not rise to
meet him, but remained in the armchair he usually occupied,
and the severity of his countenance was icy.

" Father," said Ginevra, "I have brought you a gentleman
whom you will no doubt be pleased to see. Monsieur Luigi,
a soldier, who fought quite close to the Emperor at Mont-
Saint-Jean "

The Baron rose, cast a furtive glance at Luigi, and said in
a sardonic tone

" Monsieur wears no orders?"

"I no longer wear the Legion of Honor," replied Luigi
bashfully, and he humbly remained standing.

Ginevra, hurt by her father's rudeness, brought forward a
chair. The officer's reply satisfied the old Republican.
Madame Piombo, seeing that her husband's brows were re-
covering their natural shape, said, to revive the conversation,
" Monsieur is wonderfully like Nina Porta. Do you not think
that he has quite the face of a Porta? "

"Nothing can be more natural," replied the young man,
on whom Piombo's flaming eyes were fixed. " Nina was my

" You are Luigi Porta ? " asked the old man.


Bartolomeo di Piombo rose, tottered, was obliged to lean
on a chair, and looked at his wife. Elisa Piombo came up to
him ; then the two old folks silently left the room, arm in arm,
with a look of horror at their daughter. Luigi Porta, quite
bewildered, gazed at Ginevra, who turned as white as a marble
statue, and remained with her eyes fixed on the door where
her father and mother had disappeared. There was some-
thing so solemn in her silence and their retreat that, for the
first time in his life perhaps, a feeling of fear came over him.
She clasped her hands tightly together, and said in a voice so
choked that it would have been inaudible to any one but a
lover, " How much woe in one word ! "


"In the name of our love, what have I said?" asked
Luigi Porta.

"My father has never told me our deplorable history,"
she replied. " And when we left Corsica I was too young to
know anything about it."

"Is it a Vendetta?" asked Luigi, trembling.

"Yes. By questioning my mother I learned that the
Porta had killed my brothers and burnt down our house.
My father then massacred all your family. How did you
survive, you whom he thought he had tied to the posts of a
bed before setting fire to the house? "

" I do not know," replied Luigi. " When I was six I was
taken to Genoa, to an old man named Colonna. No account
of my family was ever given to me ; I only knew that I was
an orphan, and penniless. Colonna was like a father to me ;
I bore his name till I entered the army; then, as I needed
papers to prove my identity, old Colonna told me that, help-
less as I was, and hardly more than a child, I had enemies.
He made me promise to take the name of Luigi only, to
evade them."

"Fly, fly, Luigi," cried Ginevra. "Yet, stay; I must go
with you. So long as you are in my father's house you are
safe. As soon as you quit it, take care of yourself. You
will go from one danger to another. My father has two
Corsicans in his service, and if he does not threaten your
life they will."

" Ginevra," he said, "and must this hatred exist between

She smiled sadly and bowed her head. But she soon raised
it again with a sort of pride, and said, "Oh, Luigi, our feel-
ings must be very pure and true that I should have the
strength to walk in the path I am entering on. But it is for
the sake of happiness which will last as long as life, is it

Luigi answered only with a smile, and pressed her hand.


The girl understood that only a great love could at such a
moment scorn mere protestations. This calm and con-
scientious expression of Luigi's feelings seemed to speak for
their strength and permanence. The fate of the couple was
thus sealed. Ginevra foresaw many painful contests to be
fought out, but the idea of deserting Luigi an idea which
had perhaps floated before her mind at once vanished.
His, henceforth and for ever, she suddenly dragged him away
and out of the house with a sort of violence, and did not quit
him till they reached the house where Servin had taken a
humble lodging for him.

When she returned to her father's house she had assumed
the serenity which comes of a strong resolve. No change of
manner revealed any uneasiness. She found her parents
ready to sit down to dinner, and she looked at them with
eyes devoid of defiance and full of sweetness. She saw that
her old mother had been weeping ; at the sight of her red
eyelids for a moment her heart failed her, but she hid her
emotion. Piombo seemed to be a prey to anguish too keen,
too concentrated to be shown by ordinary means of expres-
sion. The servants waited on a meal which no one ate. A
horror of food is one of the symptoms indicative of a great
crisis of the soul. All three rose without any one of them
having spoken a word. When Ginevra was seated in the
great, solemn drawing-room, between her father and mother,
Piombo tried to speak, but he found no voice ; he tried to
walk about, but found no strength ; he sat down again and
rang the bell.

" Pietro," said he to the servant at last, "light the fire, I
am cold."

Ginevra was shocked, and looked anxiously at her father.
The struggle he was going through must be frightful ; his face
looked quite changed. Ginevra knew the extent of the danger
that threatened her, but she did not tremble; while the
glances that Bartolomeo cast at his daughter seemed to pro-


claim that he was at this moment in fear of the character
whose violence was his own work. Between these two every-
thing must be in excess. And the certainty of the possible
change of feeling between the father and daughter filled the
Baroness* face with an expression of terror.

*' Ginevra, you love the enemy of your family," said
Piombo at last, not daring to look at his daughter.

"That is true," she replied.

" You must choose between him and us. Our Vendetta is
part of ourselves. If you do not espouse my cause, you are
not of my family."

" My choice is made," said Ginevra, in a steady voice.

His daughter's calmness misled Bartolomeo.

"Oh, my dear daughter!" cried the old man, whose
eyelids were moist with tears, the first, the only tears he ever
shed in his life.

"I shall be his wife," she said abruptly.

Bartolomeo could not see for a moment ; but he recovered
himself and replied, " This marriage shall never be so long
as I live. I will never consent." Ginevra kept silence.
" But, do you understand," the Baron went on, " that Luigi
is the son of the man who killed your brothers ? "

" He was six years old when the crime was committed ; he
must be innocent of it," she answered.

" A Porta ! " cried Bartolomeo.

" But how could I share this hatred," said the girl eagerly.
" Did you bring me up in the belief that a Porta was a
monster ? Could I imagine that even one was left of those
you had killed ? Is it not in nature that you should make
your Vendetta give way to my feelings? "

" A Porta ! " repeated Piombo. " If his father had found

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 28 of 31)