Honoré de Balzac.

The celibates and other stories online

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you then in your bed, you would not be alive now. He
would have dealt you a hundred deaths."

"Possibly," she said. " But his son has given me more
than life. To see Luigi is a happiness without which I cannot


live. Luigi has revealed to me the world of feeling. I have,
perhaps, seen even handsomer faces than his, but none ever
charmed me so much. I have, perhaps, heard voices no,
no, never one so musical ! Luigi loves me. He shall be my

" Never ! " said Piombo. " Ginevra, I would sooner see
you in your coffin ! "

The old man rose, and paced the room with hurried strides,
uttering fierce words, with pauses between that betrayed all
his indignation.

" You think, perhaps, that you can bend my will ? Unde-
ceive yourself. I will not have a Porta for my son-in-law.
That is my decision. Never speak of the matter again. I
am Bartolomeo di Piombo, do you hear, Ginevra? "

" Do you attach any mysterious meaning to the words?"
she coldly asked.

" They mean that I have a dagger, and that I do not fear
the justice of men. We Corsicans settle such matters with

"Well," said the girl, "I am Ginevra di Piombo, and I
declare that in six months I will be Luigi Porta's wife. You
are a perfect tyrant, father," she spiritedly added, after an
ominous pause.

Bartolomeo clenched his fists, and struck the marble

" Ah ! we are in Paris ! " he muttered.

He said no more, but folded his arms and bowed his head
on his breast ; nor did he say another word the whole even-
ing. Having asserted her will, the girl affected the most
complete indifference ; she sat down to the piano, sang,
played the most charming music, with a grace and feeling
that proclaimed her perfect freedom of mind, triumphing
over her father, whose brow showed no relenting. The old
man deeply felt this tacit insult, and at that moment gathered
the bitter fruits of the education he had given his daughter.


Respect is a barrier which protects the parents and the children
alike, sparing those much sorrow, and these remorse.

The next day, as Ginevra was going out at the hour when
she usually went to the studio, she found the door of the
house closed upon her ; but she soon devised means for
informing Luigi Porta of her father's severity. A waiting-
woman, who could not read, carried to the young officer a
letter written by Ginevra. For five days the lovers contrived
to correspond, thanks to the plots that young people of twenty-
one can always contrive.

The father and daughter rarely spoke to each other. Both
had in the bottom of their hearts an element of hatred ; they
suffered, but in pride and silence. Knowing well how strong
were the bonds of love that tied them to each other, they
tried to wrench them asunder, but without success. No sweet
emotion ever came, as it had been wont, to give light to Bar-
tolomeo's severe features when he gazed at his Ginevra, and
there was something savage in her expression when she looked
at her father. Reproach sat on her innocent brow ; she gave
herself up, indeed, to thoughts of happiness, but remorse
sometimes dimmed her eyes. It was not, indeed, difficult to
divine that she would never enjoy in peace a felicity which
made her parents unhappy. In Bartolomeo, as in his daugh-
ter, all the irresolution arising from their native goodness
of heart was doomed to shipwreck on their fierce pride and
the revengeful spirit peculiar to Corsicans. They encouraged
each other in their wrath, and shut their eyes to the future.
Perhaps, too, each fancied that the other would yield.

On Ginevra's birthday, her mother, heart-broken at this
disunion, which was assuming a serious aspect, planned to
reconcile the father and daughter by an appeal to the mem-
ories of this anniversary. They were all three sitting in Bar-
tolomeo's room. Ginevra guessed her mother's purpose from
the hesitation written in her face, and she smiled sadly. At
this instant a servant announced two lawyers, accompanied


by several witnesses, who all came into the room. Bartolomeo
stared at the men, whose cold, set faces were in themselves an
insult to souls so fevered as those of the three principal actors
in this scene. The old man turned uneasily to his daughter,
and saw on her face a smile of triumph which led him to
suspect some catastrophe ; but he affected, as savages do, to
preserve a deceitful rigidity, while he looked at the two law-
yers with a sort of apathetic curiosity. At a gesture of invita-
tion from the old man the visitors took seats.

" Monsieur is no doubt Baron di Piombo ? " said the elder
of the two lawyers.

Bartolomeo bowed. The lawyer gave his head a little jerk,
looked at Ginevra with the sly expression of a bailiff nabbing a
debtor ; then he took out his snuff-box, opened it, and, taking
a pinch of snuff, absorbed it in little sniffs while considering
the opening words of his discourse ; and while pronouncing
them he made constant pauses, an oratorical effect which a
dash in printing represents very imperfectly.

" Monsieur," said he, " I am Monsieur Roguin, notary to
mademoiselle, your daughter, and we are here my colleague
and I to carry out the requirements of the law, and to put
an end to the divisions which as it would seem have arisen
between you and mademoiselle, your daughter on the
question of her marriage with Monsieur Luigi Porta."
This speech, made in a pedantic style, seemed, no doubt, to
Monsieur Roguin much top fine to be understood all in a
moment, and he stopped, while looking at Bartolomeo with
an expression peculiar to men of business, and which is half-
way between servility and familiarity. Lawyers are so much
used to feign interest in the persons to whom they speak that
their features at last assume a grimace which they can put on
and off with their official pallium. This caricature of friendli-
ness, so mechanical as to be easily detected, irritated Barto-
lomeo to such a pitch that it took all his self-control not to
throw Monsieur Roguin out of the window; a look of fury


emphasized his wrinkles, and on seeing this the notary said to
himself: " I am making an effect."

"But," he went on in a honeyed voice, "Monsieur le
Baron, on such occasions as these, our intervention must
always, at first, be essentially conciliatory. Have the kind-
ness to listen to me. It is in evidence that Mademoiselle
Ginevra Piombo has to-day attained the age at which,
after a ' respectful summons,' she may proceed to the solemni-
zation of her marriage notwithstanding that her parents re-
fuse their consent. Now it is customary in families which
enjoy a certain consideration which move in society and
preserve their dignity people, in short, to whom it is im-
portant not to let the public into the secret of their differences
and who also do not wish to do themselves an injury by
blighting the future lives of a young husband and wife for
that is doing themselves an injury. It is the custom, I was
saying in such highly respectable families not to allow the
serving of such a summons which must be which always is
a record of a dispute which at last ceases to exist. For as
soon, monsieur, as a young lady has recourse to a ' respectful
summons ' she proclaims a determination so obstinate that
her father and her mother," he added, turning to the
Baroness, "can have no further hope of seeing her follow
their advice. Hence the parental prohibition being nullified
in the first place by this fact and also by the decision of
the law it is always the case that a wise father, after finally
remonstrating with his child, allows her the liberty "

Monsieur Roguin paused, perceiving that he might talk on
for two hours without extracting an answer ; and he also felt
a peculiar agitation as he looked at the man he was trying to
convince. An extraordinary change had come over Barto-
lomeo's countenance. All its lines were set, giving him an
expression of indescribable cruelty, and he glared at the
lawyer like a tiger. The Baroness sat mute and passive.
Ginevra, calm and resolute, was waiting ; she knew that the


notary's voice was stronger than hers, and she seemed to have
made up her mind to keep silence. At the moment when
Roguin ceased speaking, the scene was so terrible that the
witnesses, as strangers, trembled ; never, perhaps, had such a
silence weighed on them. The lawyers looked at each other
as if in consultation, then they rose and went to the window.

" Did you ever come across clients made to this pattern ? "
asked Roguin of his colleague.

" There is nothing to be gotten out of him," said the younger
man. " In your place I should read the summons and nothing
more. The old man is no joke ; he is choleric, and you will
gain nothing by trying to discuss matters with him."

Monsieur Roguin therefore read aloud from a sheet of
stamped paper a summons ready drawn up, and coldly asked
Bartolomeo what his reply was.

" Are there laws in France then that upset a father's au-
thority ! " asked the Corsican.

"Monsieur - " said Roguin smoothly.

"That snatch a child from her father?"

" Monsieur - "

" That rob an old man of his last consolation ? "

" Monsieur, your daughter belongs to you only so long

"That kill her?"

"Monsieur, allow me."

There is nothing more hideous than the cold-blooded and
close reasoning of a lawyer in the midst of such scenes of
passion as they are usually mixed up with. The faces which
Piombo saw seemed to him to have escaped from hell ; his
cold and concentrated rage knew no bounds at the moment
when his little opponent's calm and almost piping voice
uttered that fatal, "Allow me." He sprang at along dagger
which hung from a nail over the chimney-piece, and rushed
at his daughter. The younger of the two lawyers and one of
the witnesses threw themselves between him and Ginevra, but


Bartolomeo brutally knocked them over, showing them a face
of fire and glowing eyes which seemed more terrible than the
flash of the dagger. When Ginevra found herself face to face
with her father she looked at him steadily with a glance of
triumph, went slowly towards him, and knelt down.

"No, no! I cannot!" he exclaimed, flinging away the
weapon with such force that it stuck fast in the wainscot.

" Mercy, then, mercy ! " said she. " You hesitate to kill
me, but you refuse me life. Oh, father, I never loved you
so well but give me Luigi. I ask your consent on my
knees ; a daughter may humble herself to her father. My
Luigi, or I must die ! "

The violent excitement that choked her prevented her say-
ing more ; she found no voice ; her convulsive efforts plainly
showed that she was between life and death. Bartolomeo
roughly pushed her away.

"Go," he said, "the wife of Luigi Porta cannot be a
Piombo. I no longer have a daughter ! I cannot bring my-
self to curse you, but I give you up. You have now no
father. My Ginevra Piombo is buried then ! " he exclaimed
in a deep tone, as he clutched at his heart. "Go, I say,
wretched girl," he went on after a moment's silence. " Go,
and never let me see you again."

He took Ginevra by the arm, and in silence led her out of
the house.

"Luigi!" cried Ginevra, as she went into the humble
room where the officer was lodged, " my Luigi, we have no
fortune but our love."

" We are richer than all the kings of the earth," he replied.

"My father and mother have cast me out," said she with
deep melancholy.

" I will love you for them."

" Shall we be very happy ! " she cried, with a gayety that
had something terrible in it.

" And for ever ! " he answered, clasping her to his heart.


On the day following that on which Ginevra had quitted
her father's house, she went to beg Madame Servin to grant
her protection and shelter till the time, fixed by law, when
she could be married to Luigi. There began her apprentice-
ship to the troubles which the world strews in the way of
those who do not obey its rules. Madame Servin, who was
greatly distressed at the injury that Ginevra' s adventure had
done the painter, received the fugitive coldly, and explained
to her with circumspect politeness that she was not to count
on her support. Too proud to insist, but amazed at such
selfishness, to which she was unaccustomed, the young Corsi-
can went to lodge in a furnished house as near as possible to
Luigi. The son of the Portas spent all his days at the feet
of his beloved ; his youthful love, and the purity of his mind,
dispersed the clouds which her father's reprobation had set-
tled on the banished daughter's brow ; and he painted the
future as so fair that she ended by smiling, though she could
not forget her parent's severity.

One morning the maid of the house brought up to her
several trunks containing dress-stuffs, linen, and a quantity of
things needful for a young woman settling for the first time.
In this she recognized the foreseeing kindness of a mother;
for as she examined these gifts she found a purse into which
the Baroness had put some money belonging to Ginevra,
adding all her own savings. With the money was a letter, in
which she implored her daughter to give up her fatal purpose
of marrying, if there were yet time. She had been obliged,
she said, to take unheard-of precautions to get this small
assistance conveyed to Ginevra ; she begged her not to accuse
her of hardness if henceforth she left her neglected ; she
feared she could do no more for her ; she blessed her, hoped
she might find happiness in this fatal marriage if she per-
sisted, and assured her that her one thought was of her be-
loved daughter. At this point tears had blotted out many
words of the letter.


"Oh, mother ! " cried Ginevra, quite overcome.

She felt a longing to throw herself at her mother's feet, to
see her, to breathe the blessed air of home ; she was on the
point of rushing off when Luigi came in. She looked at him,
and filial affection vanished, her tears were dried, she could
not find it in her to leave the unhappy and loving youth.
To be the sole hope of a noble soul, to love and to desert it
such a sacrifice is treason of which no young heart is capa-
ble. Ginevra had the generosity to bury her grief at the
bottom of her soul.

At last the day of their wedding came. Ginevra found no
one near her. Luigi took advantage of the moment when
she was dressing to go in v search of the necessary witnesses to
their marriage act. These were very good people. One of
them, an ex-quartermaster of Hussars, had, when in the army,
found himself under such obligations to Luigi as an honest
man never forgets ; he had become a job-master, and had
several hackney carriages. The other, a builder, was the
proprietor of the house where the young couple were to lodge.
Each of these brought a friend, and all four came with Luigi
to fetch the bride. Unaccustomed as they were to social
grimacing, seeing nothing extraordinary in the service they
were doing to Luigi, these men were decently but quite plainly
dressed, and there was nothing to proclaim the gay escort of
a wedding. Ginevra herself was very simply clad, to be in
keeping with her fortune ; but, nevertheless, there was some-
thing so noble and impressive in her beauty that at the sight
of her the words died on the lips of the good folks who had
been prepared to pay her some compliment ; they bowed
respectfully, and she bowed in return ; they looked at her in
silence, and could only admire her. Joy can only express
itself among equals. So, as fate would have it, all was
gloomy and serious around the lovers ; there was nothing to
reflect their happiness.

The church and the mayor were not far away. The two


Corsicans, followed by the four witnesses required by law,
decided to go on foot, with a simplicity which robbed this
great event of social life of all parade. In the courtyard
of the mayor they found a crowd of carriages, which an-
nounced a numerous party within. They went upstairs and
entered a large room, where the couples who were to be made
happy on this particular day were awaiting the mayor of that
quarter of Paris with considerable impatience. Ginevra sat
down by Luigi on the end of a long bench, and their wit-
nesses remained standing for lack of seats. Two brides,
pompously arrayed in white, loaded with ribbons and lace
and pearls, and crowned with bunches of orange-blossoms of
which the sheeny buds quivered under their veils, were sur-
rounded by their families and accompanied by their mothers,
to whom they turned with looks at once timid and satisfied ;
every eye reflected their happiness, and every face seemed to
exhale benedictions. Fathers, witnesses, brothers and sisters
were coming and going like a swarm of insects playing in a
sunbeam which soon must vanish. Every one seemed to
understand the preciousness of this brief hour in life when
the heart stands poised between two hopes the wishes of the
past, the promise of the future.

At this sight Ginevra felt her heart swell, and she pressed
Luigi's arm. He gave her a look, and a tear rose to the
young man's eye ; he never saw more clearly than at that
moment all that his Ginevra had sacrificed for him. That
rare tear made the young girl forget the forlorn position in
which she stood. Love poured treasures of light between the
lovers, who from that moment saw nothing but each other in
the midst of the confusion.

Their witnesses, indifferent to the ceremony, were quietly
discussing business matters.

" Oats are very dear," said the ex-quartermaster to the

" They have not yet gone up so high as plaster in proper-


tion," said the builder. And they walked round the large

"What a lot of valuable time we are losing here! " im-
patiently exclaimed the mason, putting a huge silver watch
back into his pocket.

Luigi and Ginevra, clinging to each other, seemed to be
but one person. A poet would certainly have admired these
two heads, full of the same feeling, alike in coloring, melan-
choly and silent in the presence of the two buzzing wedding-
parties, of four excited families sparkling with diamonds and
flowers, and full of gaiety which seemed a mere effervescence.
All the joys of which these loud and gorgeous groups made a
display, Luigi and Ginevra kept buried at the bottom of their
hearts. On one side was the coarse clamor of pleasure ; on
the other the delicate silence of happy souls : earth and

But Ginevra trembled, and could not altogether shake off
her woman's weakness. Superstitious, as Italians are, she re-
garded this contrast as an omen, and in the depths of her
heart she harbored a feeling of dread, as unconquerable as
her love itself.

Suddenly an official in livery threw open the double doors;
silence fell, and his voice sounded like a yelp as he called out
the names of Monsieur Luigi Porta and Mademoiselle Ginevra
Piombo. This incident caused the pair some embarrassment.
The celebrity of the name of Piombo attracted attention ;
the spectators looked about them for a wedding-party which
must surely be a splendid one. Ginevra rose ; her eyes, thun-
derous with pride, subdued the crowd ; she took Luigi's arm
and went forward with a firm step, followed by the witnesses.
A murmur of astonishment, which rapidly grew louder, and
whispering on all sides, reminded Ginevra that the world was
calling her to account for her parents' absence. Her father's
curse seemed to be pursuing her.

" Wait for the families of the bride and bridegroom," said


the mayor to the clerk, who at once began to read the con-

"The father and mother enter a protest," said the clerk

"On both sides?" asked the mayor.

"The man is an orphan."

" Where are the witnesses ? "

"They are here," said the clerk, pointing to the four mo-
tionless and silent men who stood like statues, with their arms

"But if the parents protest ?" said the mayor.

"The 'respectful summons' has been presented in due
form," replied the man, rising to place the various documents
in the functionary's hands.

This discussion in an office seemed to brand them, and in
a few words told a whole history. The hatred of the Porta
and the Piombo, all these terrible passions, were thus recorded
on a page of a register, as the annals of a nation may be in-
scribed on a tombstone in a few lines, nay, even in a single
name : Robespierre or Napoleon. Ginevra was trembling.
Like the dove crossing the waters, which had no rest for her
foot but in the ark, her eyes could take refuge only in Luigi's,
for all else was cold and sad. The mayor had a stern, disap-
proving look, and his clerk stared at the couple with ill-natured
curiosity. Nothing ever had less the appearance of a festivity.
Like all the other events of human life when they are stripped
of their accessories, it was a simple thing in itself, immense in
its idea.

After some questions, to which they replied, the mayor
muttered a few words, and then, having signed their names in
the register, Luigi and Ginevra were man and wife. The
young Corsicans, whose union had all the poetry which genius
has consecrated in Romeo and Juliet, went away between two
lines of jubilant relations to whom they did not belong, and
who were out of patience at the delay caused by a marriage


apparently so forlorn. When the girl found herself in the
courtyard and under the open sky, a deep sigh broke from
her very heart.

" Oh, will a whole life of love and devotion suffice to
repay my Ginevra for her courage and tenderness?" said

At these words, spoken with tears of joy, the bride forgot
all her suffering, for she had suffered in showing herself to
the world, claiming a happiness which her parents refused to

"Why do men try to come between us? " she said, with a
simplicity of feeling that enchanted Luigi.

Gladness made them more light-hearted. They saw neither
the sky, nor the earth, nor the houses, and flew on wings to
the church. At last they found themselves in a small, dark
chapel, and in front of a humble altar where an old priest
married them. There, as at the mayor's, they were pursued
by the two weddings that persecuted them with their splendor.
The church, filled with friends and relations, rang with the
noise made by carriages, beadles, porters, and priests. Altars
glittered with ecclesiastical magnificence ; the crowns of
orange-blossom that decked the statues of the Virgin seemed
quite new. Nothing was to be seen but flowers, with per-
fumes, gleaming tapers, and velvet cushions embroidered with
gold. God seemed to have a share in this rapture of a day.

When the symbol of eternal union was to be held above
the heads of Luigi and Ginevra the yoke of white satin
which for some is so soft, so bright, so light, and for the
greater number is made of lead the priest looked round in
vain for two young boys to fill the happy office ; two of the
witnesses took their place. The priest gave the couple a
hasty discourse on the dangers of life, and on the duties they
must one day inculcate in their children, and he here took
occasion to insinuate a reflection on the absence of Ginevra's
parents ; then having united them in the presence of God, as


the mayor had united them in the presence of the law, he
ended the mass, and left them.

" God bless them," said Vergniaud to the mason at the
church-door. "Never were two creatures better made for
each other. That girl's parents are wretches. I know no
braver soldier than Colonel Luigi ! If all the world had
behaved as he did, L 1 autre* would still be with us."

The soldier's blessing, the only one breathed for them this
day, fell like balm on Ginevra's heart.

They all parted with shaking of hands, and Luigi cordially
thanked his landlord.

" Good-by, old fellow," said Luigi to the quartermaster.
" And thank you."

"At your service, colonel, soul and body, horses and
chaises all that is mine is yours."

" How well he loves you ! " said Ginevra.

Luigi eagerly led his wife home to the house they were to
live in ; they soon reached the modest apartment, and there,
when the door was closed, Luigi took her in his arms, ex-
claiming, " Oh, my Ginevra for you are mine now here is
our real festival! Here," he went on, "all will smile
on us."

Together they went through the three rooms which com-
posed their dwelling. The entrance hall served as drawing-
room and dining-room. To the right was a bedroom, to the

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 29 of 31)