Honoré de Balzac.

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by hollow roads like ravines between rows of walrrit trees,
furrowing the narrow hilltop with deep cuttings : a silent
town this, clean and solemn, overshadowed by the imposing
ruins of the stronghold ; then, below, a town of mills, watered
by the Voulzie and the Durtain, two rivers of Brie, narrow,


sluggish, and deep ; a town of inns and trade, of retired
tradespeople, traversed by diligences, chaises, and heavy carts.
These two towns or this town with its historical associa-
tions, with the melancholy of its ruins, the gaiety of its valley,
its delightful ravines full of unkempt hedgerows and wild-
flowers, its river terraced with gardens, has so sure a hold on
the love of its children that they behave like the sons of
Auvergne, of Savoy, of France. Though they leave Provins
to seek their fortune, they always come back to it. The
phrase, "To die in one's burrow," made for rabbits and
faithful souls, might be taken by the natives of Provins as
their motto.

And so the two Rogrons thought only of their beloved
Provins. As he sold thread, the brother saw the old town.
While packing cards covered with buttons, he was gazing at
the valley. He rolled and unrolled tape, but he was follow-
ing the gleaming course of the rivers. As he looked at his
pigeon-holes he was climbing the sunk roads whither of old
he fled to evade his father's rage, to eat walnuts, and to cram
on blackberries. The little square at Provins above all filled
his thoughts ; he would beautify the house ; he dreamed of
the front he would rebuild, the bedrooms, the sitting-room,
the billiard-room, the dining-room ; then of the kitchen gar-
den, which he would turn into an English garden with a lawn,
grottoes, fountains, statues, and what not ?

The rooms in which the brother and sister slept on the
third floor of the house, three windows wide and six stories
high there are many such in the Rue Saint-Denis had no
furniture beyond what was strictly necessary ; but not a soul
in Paris had finer furniture than this haberdasher. As he
walked in the streets he would stand in the attitude of an
ecstatic, looking at the handsome pieces on show, and examin-
ing hangings with which he filled his house. On coming
home he would say to his sister, " I saw a thing in such or
such a store that would just do for us!" The next day


he would buy another, and invariably he gave up one month
the choice of the month before. The revenue would not have
paid for his architectural projects ; he wanted everything, and
always gave the preference to the newest thing. When he
studied the balconies of a newly built house, and the doubtful
attempts at exterior decoration, he thought the mouldings,
sculpture, and ornament quite out of place. "Ah!" he
would say to himself, " those fine things would look much
better at Provins than they do there." As he digested his
breakfast on his doorstep, leaning his back against the store
side, with a hazy eye the haberdasher saw a fantastic dwelling,
golden in the sunshine of his dream ; he walked in a garden,
listening to his fountain as it splashed in a shower of diamonds
on a round flag of limestone. He played billiards on his own
table; he planted flowers.

When his sister sat, pen in hand, lost in thought, and for-
getting to scold the shopmen, she was seeing herself receiving
the townsfolk of Provins, gazing at herself in the tall mirrors
of her drawing-room, and wearing astounding caps. Both
brother and sister were beginning to think that the atmosphere
of the Rue Saint-Denis was unwholesome, and the smell of
the mud in the market made them long for the scent of the
roses of Provins. They suffered alike from home-sickness and
monomania, both thwarted by the necessity for selling their
last remnants of thread, reels of silk, and buttons. The prom-
ised land of the valley of Provins attracted these Israelites all
the more strongly because they had for a long time really
suffered, and had crossed with gasping breath the sandy
deserts of haberdashery.

The letter from the Lorrains arrived in the middle of a
meditation on that beautiful future. The haberdashers scarcely
knew their cousin Pierrette Lorrain. The settlement of
Auffray's estate, long since, by the old innkeeper, had taken
place when they were going into business, and Rogron never
sajd much about his, money matters. Having been sent to


Paris so young, the brother and sister could hardly remember
their aunt Lorrain. It took them an hour of genealogical
discussion to recall their aunt, the daughter of their grand-
father Auffray's second wife, and their mother's half-sister.
They then remembered that Madame Lorrain's mother was
the Madame Neraud who had died of grief. They concluded
that their grandfather's second marriage had been a disastrous
thing for them, the result being the division of Auffray's
estate between two families. They had, indeed, heard sundry
recriminations from their father, who was always somewhat
of the grudging publican. The pair studied the Lorrains'
letter through the medium of these reminiscences, which
were not in Pierrette's favor. To take charge of an orphan,
a girl, a cousin, who in any case would be their heiress in the
event of neither of them marrying this was matter for
discussion. The question was regarded from every point of
view. In the first place, they had never seen Pierrette.
Then it would be very troublesome to have a young girl to
look after. Would they not be binding themselves to provide
for her ? It would be impossible to send her away if they
did not like her. Would they not have to find her a husband ?
And if, after all, Rogron could find "a. shoe to fit him"
among the heiresses of Provins, would it not be better to keep
all they had for his children ? The shoe that would fit her
brother, according to Sylvie, was a rich girl, stupid and ugly,
who would allow her sister-in-law to rule her. The couple
decided that they would refuse.

Sylvie undertook to reply. Business was sufficiently press-
ing to retard this letter, which she did not deem urgent, and
indeed the old maid thought no more about it when the fore-
woman consented to buy the business and stock-in-trade of
the Sceur de famille.

Sylvie Rogron and her brother had gone to settle in Provins
four years before the time when Brigaut's appearance brought
so much interest into Pierrette's life. But the doings of these


two persons in the country require a description no less than
their life in Paris; for Provins was fated to be as evil an influ-
ence for Pierrette as her cousins' commercial antecedents.

When a small tradesman who has come to Paris from the
provinces returns to the country from Paris, he inevitably
brings with him some notions; presently he loses them in the
habits of the place where he settles down, and where his
fancies for innovation gradually sink. Hence come those
slow, small, successive changes which are gradually scratched
by Paris on the surface of country-town life, and which are
the essential stamp of the change of a retired storekeeper into
a confirmed provincial. This change is a real distemper.
No small tradesman can pass without a shock from perpetual
talk to utter silence, from the activity of his Paris life to the
stagnation of the country. When the good folks have earned
a little money, they spend a certain amount on the passion
they have so long been hatching, and work off the last spasms
of an energy which cannot be stopped short at will. Those
who have never cherished any definite plan, travel or throw
themselves into the political interests of the municipality.
Some go out shooting or fishing, and worry their farmers and
tenants. Some turn usurers, like old father Rogron, or spec-
ulate, like many obscure persons.

The dream of this brother and sister is known to you ; they
wanted to indulge their magnificent fancy for handling the
trowel, for building a delightful house. This fixed idea had
graced the square of lower Provins with the frontage which
Brigaut had just been examining, the interior arrangements
of the house, and its luxurious furniture. The builder drove
never a nail in without consulting the Rogrons, without
making them sign the plans and estimates, without explaining
in lengthy detail the structure of the object under discussion,
where it was made, and the various prices. As to anything
unusual, it had always been introduced by Monsieur Tiphaine
or Madame Julliard the younger, or Monsieur Garceland, the


mayor. Such a resemblance with some wealthy citizen of
Provins always carried the day in the builder's favor.

" Oh, if Monsieur Garceland has one we will have one,
too!" said Mademoiselle Sylvie. "It must be right; he
had good taste."

' ' Sylvie, he also suggests we should have ovolos in the
cornice of the passage."

" You call that an ovolo ? "

" Yes, mademoiselle."

"But why? What a queer name! I never heard it be-

" But you have seen them ? "


"Do you know Latin ? "


"Well, it means egg-shaped; the ovolo is egg-shaped,"
explained the builder.

"You are a queer crew, you architects!" cried Rogron.
"That, no doubt, is the reason you charge so much; you
don't throw away your egg-shells ! "

" Shall we paint the passage ? " asked the builder.

" Certainly not ! " cried Sylvie. " Another five hundred
francs! "

" But the drawing-room and the stairs are so nice, it is a
pity not to decorate the passage," said the builder. " Little
Madame Lesourd had hers painted last year."

"And yet her husband, being crown prosecutor, cannot
stay at Provins "

" Oh ! he will be president of the courts here some day,"
said the builder.

" And what do you think is to become of Monsieur Tiph-
aine then ? "

"Monsieur Tiphaine ! He has a pretty wife ; I am not
uneasy about him. Monsieur Tiphaine will go to Paris."

" Shall we paint the corridor ? "


"Yes; the Lesourds will, at any rate, see that we are as
good as they are," said Rogron.

The first year of their residence in Provins was wholly
given up to these discussions, to the pleasure of seeing the
workmen busy, to the surprises and information of all kinds
that they got by it, and to the attempts made by the brother
and sister to scrape acquaintance with the most important
families in the town.

The Rogrons had never had any kind of society ; they
had never gone out of their store; they knew literally no one
in Paris, and they thirsted for the pleasures of visiting. On
their return they found first Monsieur and Madame Julliard,
of the Ver chinois, with their children and grandchildren ;
then the Guepin family, or, to be exact, the Guepin clan ;
the grandson still kept the shop of the Trots Quenouilles ;
and, finally, Madame Guenee, who had sold them the business
of the Sceur defamille ; her three daughters were married in
Provins. These three great tribes the Julliards, the Guepins,
and the Guenees spread over the town like couch-grass on a
lawn. Monsieur Garceland, the mayor, was Monsieur Gu-
pin's son-in-law. The cure, Monsieur 1'Abbe Peroux, was
own brother to Madame Julliard, who was a Peroux. The
president of the court, Monsieur Tiphaine, was brother to
Madame Gu6n6e, who signed herself "nee Tiphaine."

The queen of the town was Madame Tiphaine, jum'ar, the
handsome only daughter of Madame Roguin, who was the
wealthy wife of a notary of Paris ; but he was never mentioned.
Delicate, pretty, and clever, married to a provincial husband
by the express management of her mother, who would not
have her with her, and had taken her from school only a few
days before her marriage, Melanie felt herself an exile at
Provins, where she behaved admirably well. She was already
rich, and had great expectations. As to Monsieur Tiphaine,
his old father had advanced his eldest daughter, Madame
Guenee, so much money on account of her share of the


property, that an estate worth eight thousand francs a year, at
about five leagues from Provins, would fall to the president.
Thus the Tiphaines, who had married on twenty thousand
francs a year, exclusive of the president's salary and residence,
expected some day to have twenty thousand francs a year
more. They were not out of luck, people said.

Madame Tiphaine's great and only object in life was to
secure her husband's election as deputy. Once in Paris, the
deputy would be made judge, and from the lower court she
promised herself he should soon be promoted to the high
court of justice. Hence she humored everybody's vanity, and
strove to please; more difficult still, she succeeded. The
young woman of two-and-twenty received twice a week, in
her handsome house in the old town, all the citizen class of
Provins. She had not yet taken a single awkward step on
the slippery ground where she stood. She gratified every
conceit, patted every hobby ; grave with serious folks and a
girl with girls, of all things a mother with the mothers, cheer-
ful with the young wives, eager to oblige, polite to all; in
short, a pearl, a gem, the pride of Provins. She had not yet
said the word, but all the electors of the town awaited the
day when their dear president should be old enough to nomi-
nate him at once. Every voter, sure of his talents, made him
his man and his patron. Oh, yes, Monsieur Tiphaine would
get on ; he would be keeper of the seals, and he would pro-
mote the interests of Provins.

These were the means by which Madame Tiphaine had
been so fortunate as to obtain her ascendency over the little
town of Provins. Madame Guenee, Monsieur Tiphaine's sis-
ter, after seeing her three daughters married the eldest to
Monsieur Lesourd the public prosecutor, the second to Mon-
sieur Martener the doctor, and the third to Monsieur Auffray
the notary had herself married again Monsieur Galardon,
the collector of taxes. Mesdames Lesourd, Martener, and
Auffray, and their mother Madame Galardon, regarded the


president as the wealthiest and cleverest man in the family.
The public prosecutor, Monsieur Tiphaine's nephew by mar-
riage, had the greatest interest in getting his uncle to Paris,
so as to be made president himself. Hence these four ladies
for Madame Galardon adored her brother formed a little
court about Madame Tiphaine, taking her opinion and advice
on every subject.

Then Monsieur Julliard's eldest son, married to the only
daughter of a rich farmer, was taken with a sudden passion, a
grande passion, secret and disinterested, for the president's
wife that angel dropped from the sky of Paris. Melanie,
very wily, incapable of burdening herself with a Julliard, but
perfectly capable of keeping him as an Amadis and making
use of his folly, advised him to start a newspaper to which
she was the Egeria. So for two years now Julliard, animated
by his romantic passion, had managed a paper and run a
diligence for Provins. The newspaper, entitled La Ruche
(The Beehive), included literary, archaeological, and medical
papers concocted in the family. The advertisements of the
district paid the expenses ; the subscriptions about two hun-
dred were all profit. Melancholy verses sometimes appeared
in it, unintelligible to the country people, and addressed "To
Her!!!" with the three points of exclamation. Thus the
young Julliard couple, singing the merits of Madame Tiphaine,
had allied the clan Julliard to that of the Guenees. Thence-
forward the president's drawing-room, of course, led the society
of the town. The very few aristocrats who lived at Provins
met in a single house in the old town, that of the old Com-
tesse de Breautey.

During the first six months after their transplanting, the
Rogrons, by favor of their old-time connection with the
Julliards, the Guepins, and the Guenees, and by emphasizing
their relationship to Monsieur Auffray the notary a great
grand-nephew of their grandfather were received at first by


Madame Julliard the elder and Madame Galardon ; then, not
without difficulty, they found admission to the beautiful
Madame Tiphaine's drawing-room. Everybody wished to
know something about the Rogrons before inviting them
to call. It was a little difficult to avoid receiving trades-
people of the Rue Saint-Denis, natives of Provins, who had
come back to spend their money there. Nevertheless, the
instinct of society is always to bring together persons of
similar fortune, education, manners, acquaintance, and char-

Now the Guepins, the Guenees, and the Julliards were
of a higher grade and of older family than the Rogrons
the children of a money-lending innkeeper who could not
be held blameless in his private life, nor with regard to the
Auffray inheritance. Auffray the notary, Madame Galardon's
son-in-law, knew all about it ; the estate had been wound up
in his predecessor's office. Those older merchants, who had
retired twelve years since, had found themselves on the level
of education, breeding, and manners of the circle to which
Madame Tiphaine imparted a certain stamp of elegance, of
Paris varnish. Everything was homogeneous ; they all under-
stood each other, and knew how to conduct themselves, and
talk so as to be agreeable to the rest. They knew each other's
characters, and were accustomed to agree. Having been once
received by Monsieur Garceland the mayor, the Rogrons flat-
tered themselves that they should soon be on intimate terms
with the best society of the town. Sylvie learned to play
boston. Rogron, far too stupid to play any game, twirled his
thumbs and swallowed his words when once he had talked
about his house. But the words acted like medicine ; they
seemed to torture him cruelly; he rose, he looked as if he
were about to speak ; he took fright and sat down again, his
lips comically convulsed. Sylvie unconsciously displayed
her nature at games. Fractious and complaining whenever
she lost, insolently triumphant when she won, contentious


and fretful, she irritated her adversaries and her partners, and
was a nuisance to everybody.

Eaten up with silly and undisguised envy, Rogron and his
sister tried to play a part in a town where a dozen families
had formed a net of close meshes ; all their interests, all their
vanities made, as it were, a slippery floor on which newcomers
had to tread very cautiously to avoid running up against some-
thing or getting a fall. Allowing that the rebuilding of their
house might cost thirty thousand francs, the brother and sister
between them would still have ten thousand francs a year.
They fancied themselves very rich, bored their acquaintance
to death with their talk of future splendor, and so gave the
measure of their meanness, their crass ignorance, and their
idiotic jealousy. The evening they were introduced to
Madame Tiphaine the beauty who had already watched
them at Madame Garceland's, at her sister-in-law's, Madame
Galardon's, and at the elder Madame Julliard's the queen
of Provins said in a confidential tone to Julliard, junior, who
remained alone with her and the president a few minutes
after every one was gone

"You all seem to be much smitten with these Rogrons? "

" I ! " said the Amadis of Provins ; " they bore my mother;
they overpower my wife ; and when Mademoiselle Sylvie was
sent, thirty years ago, as an apprentice to my father, even
then he could not endure her."

" But I have a very great mind," said the pretty lady, put-
ing a little foot on the bar of the fender, "to give them to
understand that my drawing-room is not an inn-parlor."

Julliard cast up his eyes to the ceiling as much as to say

" Dear heaven, what wit, what subtlety ! "

" I wish my company to be select, and if I admit the Ro-
grons it will certainly not be that."

"They have no heart, no brain, no manners," said the
president. " When after having sold thread for twenty years,
as my sister did, for instance "


" My dear, your sister would not be out of place in any
drawing-room," said Madame Tiphaine, in a parenthesis.

"If people are so stupid as to remain haberdashers to the
end," the president went on ; "if they do not cast their
skin ; if they think that ' Comtes de Champagne ' means ' ac-
counts for wine,' as the Rogrons did this evening, they should
stay at home."

"They are noisome ! " said Julliard. "You might think
there was only one house in Provins. They want to crush us,
and, after all, they have hardly enough to live on."

"If it were only the brother," said Madame Tiphaine, "we
might put up with him. He is not offensive. Give him a
Chinese puzzle, and he would sit quietly in a corner. It
would take him the whole winter to put up one pattern. But
Mademoiselle Sylvie ! What a voice like a hyena with a
cold ! What lobster's claws ! Do not repeat anything of
this Julliard."

When Julliard was gone, the little lady said to her hus-

" My dear, there are enough of the natives that I am obliged
to receive ; these two more will be the death of me ; and with
your permission, we will deprive ourselves of the pleasure."

"You are the mistress in your own house," said the presi-
dent, " but we shall make many enemies. The Rogrons will
join the Opposition, which hitherto has had no solidity in
Provins. That Rogron is already hanging on to Baron Gou-
raud and Vinet the lawyer."

" Heh ! " said Melanie, with a smile, "they will do you
service then. Where there are no enemies, there is no tri-
umph. A Liberal conspiracy, an illegal society, a fight of
some kind, would bring you into the foreground."

The president looked at his young wife with a sort of
alarmed admiration.

Next day every one at Madame Garceland's said in every
one else's ear that the Rogrons had not had a success at


Madame Tiphaine's, and her remark about the inn-parlor was
much applauded. Madame Tiphaine took a month before re-
turning Mademoiselle Sylvie's visit. This rudeness is much
remarked on in the country. Then, at Madame Tiphaine's
when playing boston with the elder Madame Julliard, Sylvie
made a most unpleasant scene about a splendid misere hand,
on which her erewhile mistress caused her to lose maliciously
and on purpose, she declared. Sylvie, who loved to play
nasty tricks on others, could never accept a return in kind.
Madame Tiphaine, therefore, set the example of making up
the card-parties before the Rogrons arrived, so that Sylvie was
reduced to wandering from table to table, watching others
play, while they looked askance at her with meaning glances.
At old Madame Julliard's whist was now the game, and Sylvie
could not play it. The old maid at last understood that she
was an outlaw, but without understanding the reason. She
believed herself to be an object of jealousy to everybody.

Ere long the Rogrons were asked nowhere ; but they per-
sistently spent their evenings at various houses. Clever people
made game of them, without venom, quite mildly, leading
them to talk utter nonsense about the ovolos in their house,
and about a certain cellaret for liqueurs, matchless in Provins.
Meanwhile they gave themselves the final blow. Of course,
they gave a few sumptuous dinners, as much in return for the
civilities they had received as to show off their splendor.
The guests came solely out of curiosity. The first dinner was
given to Monsieur and Madame Tiphaine, with whom the
Rogrons had not once dined ; to Messieurs and Mesdames
Julliard, father and son, mother and daughter-in-law; to
Monsieur Lesourd, Monsieur the cure, Monsieur and Madame
Galardon. It was one of those provincial spreads, where the
guests sit at table from five o'clock till nine. Madame
Tiphaine had introduced the grand Paris style to Provins, the
well-bred guests going away as soon as coffee had been served.
She had some friends that evening at home, and tried to steal


away, but the Rogrons escorted the couple to the very street ;
and when they returned, bewildered at having failed to keep
the president and his wife, the other guests explained Madame
Tiphaine's good taste, and imitated it with a promptitude that
was cruel in a country-town.

"They will not see our drawing-room lighted up! " cried
Sylvie, " and candle-light is like rouge to it."

The Rogrons had hoped to give their guests a surprise. No
one hitherto had been admitted to see this much-talked-of
house. And all the frequenters of Madame Tiphaine's draw-
ing-room impatiently awaited her verdict as to the marvels of
the "Palais Rogron."

" Well," said little Madame Martener, " you have seen the
Louvre ? Tell us all about it."

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 3 of 31)