Honoré de Balzac.

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professed equal patriotism, and for the same reasons they
wanted to acquire importance. But though they were anxious
to be leaders, they lacked followers. The Liberals of Provins
comprised an old soldier who sold lemonade; an innkeeper;
Monsieur Cournant, a notary, Monsieur Auffray's rival; Mon-



48 THE CELIBATES.

sieur N6raud, a physician, Doctor Martener's rival ; and some
independent persons, farmers scattered about the neighbor-
hood, and holders of national stock. The colonel and the
lawyer, glad to attract an idiot whose money might help them
in their manoeuvres, who would support their subscriptions,
who, in some cases, would take the bull by the horns, and
whose house would be useful as a town-hall for the party, took
advantage of the Rogrons' hostility towards the aristocrats of
the place. The colonel, the lawyer, and Rogron had a slight
bond in their joint subscription to the Constitutionnel ; it
would not be difficult for the colonel to make a Liberal of the
ex-haberdasher, though Rogron knew so little of political
history that he had not heard of the exploits of Sergeant
Mercier ; he thought he was a friend and brother.

The impending arrival of Pierrette hastened the hatching
of certain covetous dreams to which the ignorance and folly
of the old bachelor and old maid had given rise. The
colonel, seeing that Sylvie had lost all chance of getting her
foot into the circle of the Tiphaines, had an idea. Old
soldiers have seen so many horrors in so many lands, so many
naked corpses grimacing hideously on so many battlefields,
that an ugly face has no terror for them, so the colonel took
steady aim at the old maid's fortune. This officer, a short,
fat man, wore rings in his ears, which were already graced by
bushy tufts of hair. His floating gray whiskers were such as
in 1799 had been called "fins." His large, good-natured,
red face was somewhat frost-bitten, as were those of all who
escaped at the Beresina. His huge, prominent stomach had
the flattened angle below, characteristic of an old cavalry
officer j Gouraud had commanded the second regiment of
Hussars. His gray mustache covered a huge mouth a per-
fect trap the only word to describe that abyss ; he did not
eat, he devoured ! A sword-cut had shortened his nose. His
speech was in consequence thick and deeply nasal, like that
ascribed to Capuchin friars. His hands, which were small,



PIERRETTE. 49

short, and broad, were such as make a woman say, " You
have the hands of a thorough scamp." His legs, below such
a huge body, looked frail. Within this active but clumsy
body lay a cunning spirit, entire experience of life and things,
hidden under the apparent carelessness of a soldier, and utter
contempt for the conventionalities of society. Colonel Gou-
raud had the pension of the cross of the Legion of Honor,
and two thousand four hundred francs a year as half-pay a
thousand crowns a year in all for his whole income.

The lawyer, tall and lean, had no talent but his political
opinions, and no income but the meagre profits of his busi-
ness. At Provins attorneys plead their own cases. In view of
his opinions, the court listened with small favor to Maitre
Vinet ; and the most Liberal farmers, when entangled in law-
suits, would rely on an attorney in favor with the bench
rather than employ Vinet. This man was said to have led
astray a rich girl living near Coulommiers, and to have com-
pelled her parents to let her marry him. His wife was one
of the Chargeboeufs, an old family of nobles in La Brie, who
took their name from the exploit of a squire in Saint Louis'
expedition to Egypt. She had incurred her parents' displeas-
ure, and they, to Vinet's knowledge, had arranged to leave
their whole fortune to their eldest son, charged, no doubt,
with a reversion in favor of his sister's children. Thus this
man's first ambitious scheme came to nothing. The lawyer,
soon haunted by poverty, and ashamed of not having enough
to enable his wife to keep up appearances, had made vain
efforts to get his foot into a ministerial career ; but the rich
branch of the Chargeboeufs refused to assist him. These
Royalists were strictly moral, and disapproved of a compul-
sory marriage ; besides, their would-be relation's name was
Vinet ; how could they favor any one so common ? So the
lawyer was handed on from one branch to another when he
tried to utilize his wife's interest with her relations. Madame
Vinet found no assistance but from one of the family, a
4



50 THE CELIBATES.

widowed Madame Chargeboeuf, with a daughter, quite poor,
who lived at Troyes. And a day came when Vinet remem-
bered the kind reception his wife met with from this lady.

Rejected by the whole world, full of hatred of his wife's
family, of the government which refused him an appoint-
ment, and of the society of Provins, which would have noth-
ing to say to him, Vinet accepted his poverty. His venom
fermented and gave him energy to endure. He became a
Liberal on perceiving that his fortune was bound up with the
triumph of the Opposition, and vegetated in a wretched little
house in the upper town, which his wife seldom quitted. This
girl, born to a better fate, lived absolutely alone in her home
with her one child. There are cases of poverty nobly met
and cheerfully endured; but Vinet, eaten up by ambition,
and feeling that he had wronged a young creature, cherished
a dark indignation ; his conscience expanded to admit every
means to success. His face, still young, changed for the
worse. People were sometimes terrified in court at the sight
of his flat viperine head, with its wide mouth, and eyes that
glittered through his spectacles; at hearing his sharp, shrill,
rasping voice, that wrung their nerves. His muddy com-
plexion, patchy with sickly hues of yellow and green, re-
vealed his suppressed ambitions, his perpetual mortifications
and hidden penury. He could argue and harangue ; he had
no lack of point and imagery ; he was learned and crafty.
Accustomed to indulge his imagination for the sake of rising
by hook or by crook, he might have made a politician. A
man who hesitates at nothing so long as it is legal is a strong
man, and in this lay Vinet's strength.

This coming athlete of parliamentary debate one of the
men who were to proclaim the supremacy of the House of
Orleans had a disastrous influence over Pierrette's fate. At
present he wanted to provide himself with a weapon by found-
ing a newspaper at Provins. After having studied the Rogrons
from afar, with the assistance of the colonel, he ended by



PIERRETTE. 51

reckoning on the brother. And this time he reckoned with
his host ; his poverty was to come to an end after seven dolor-
ous years, during which more than one day had come round
without bread. On the day when Gouraud announced to
Vinet, on the little square, that the Rogrons had broken with
the citizen aristocracy and official circles of the old town, the
lawyer nudged him significantly in the ribs.

"This wife or that, ugly or handsome, it must be all the
same to you," said he. "You should marry Mademoiselle
Rogron, and then we could get something done here "

" I was thinking of it. But they have sent for the daughter
of poor Colonel Lorrain their heiress," said Gouraud.

"You could make them leave you their money by will.
You would have a very nicely fitted house."

" And the child, after all ! Well, we shall see," said the
colonel, with a jocose and deeply villainous leer, which showed
a man of Vinet's temper how small a thing a little girl was in
the eyes of this old soldier.

Since her grandparents had gone into the asylum where
they were forlornly ending their days, Pierrette, young and
full of pride, was so dreadfully miserable at living there on
charity, that she was happy to learn that she had some rich
connections. On hearing that she was leaving, Brigaut, the
major's son, the companion of her childhood, who was now
a joiner's apprentice at Nantes, came to give her the money
needful for her journey by coach sixty francs, all the savings
of his odd earnings painfully hoarded ; Pierrette accepted it
with the sublime indifference of true friendship, showing that
she in similar circumstances would have been hurt by thanks.
Brigaut had gone every Sunday to Saint-Jacques to play with
Pierrette, and to comfort her. The sturdy young workman
had already gone through his delightful apprenticeship to the
perfect and devoted care that we give to the object of our in-
voluntary choice and affection. More than once ere now,



52 THE CELIBATES.

Pierrette and he, on a Sunday, sitting in a corner of the
garden, had sketched their childish dreams on the veil of the
future ; the young craftsman, mounted on his plane, traveled
round the world, making a fortune for Pierrette, who waited
for him.

So, in the month of October, 1824, when Pierrette had
almost completed her eleventh year, she was placed in the
care of the guard of the diligence from Nantes to Paris by
the two old people and the young apprentice, all three dread-
fully sad. The guard was requested to put her into the coach
for Provins, and to take great care of her. Poor Brigaut ! he
ran after the diligence like a dog, looking at his dear Pierrette
as long as he could. In spite of the child's signals, he ran
on for a league beyond the town, and when he was exhausted
his eyes sent a last tearful glance at Pierrette, who cried when
she could see him no more. Pierrette put her head out of the
window, and discerned her friend standing squarely and
watching the heavy vehicle that left him behind.

The Lorrains and Brigaut had so little knowledge of life
that the little Bretonne had not a sou left when she arrived in
Paris. The guard, to whom the child prattled of rich rela-
tions, paid her expenses at an inn in Paris, made the guard
of the Troyes coach repay him, and desired him to deliver
Pierrette to her family and collect the debt, exactly as if she
were a parcel by carrier.

Four days after leaving Nantes, at about nine o'clock one
Monday evening, a kind, burly old guard of the Messageries
Royales took Pierrette by the hand, and, while the coach was
unloading in the High Street such passengers and parcels as
were to be deposited at Provins, he led her, with no luggage
but two frocks, two pairs of stockings, and two shifts, to the
house pointed out to him by the office clerk as that of
Mademoiselle Rogron.

"Good-morning, mademoiselle, and gents all," said the
guard. " I have brought you a cousin of yours, and here she



HAVE BROUGHT YOU A COUSIN OF YOURS, AND
HERE SHE BE."



PIERRETTE. 53

be, and a pretty dear, too. You have forty-seven francs to
pay. Though your little girl has no weight of baggage, please
to sign my way-book."

Mademoiselle Sylvie and her brother gave way to their
delight and astonishment.

"Begging your pardon," said the guard, "my coach is
waiting sign my sheet and give me forty-seven francs and
sixty centimes, and what you please for me and the guard
from Nantes, for we have taken as much care of her as if she
were our own. We have paid out for her bed and food, her
place in the coach here, and other little things."

"Forty-seven francs and twelve sous?" exclaimed Sylvie.

" You're never going to beat me down ? " cried the guard.

" But where is the invoice? " said Rogron.

" The invoice ! Here is my way-bill."

"You can talk afterwards, pay now! " said Sylvie to her
brother; "you see, you cannot help paying."

Rogron went to fetch forty-seven francs twelve sous.

"And nothing for us for my pal and me?" said the
guard.

Sylvia produced a two-franc piece from the depths of her
old velvet bag, where her keys lurked in bunches.

"Thank you keep it," said the man. " We would rather
have looked after the little girl for her own sake." He took
up his sheet and went out, saying to the servant-girl : "A
nice place this is ! There are crocodiles of that sort without
going to Egypt for 'em."

"Those people are horribly coarse ! " said Sylvie, who had
heard his speech.

" Dame ! they took care of the child," replied Adele, with
her hands on her hips.

" We are not obliged to live with him," said Rogron.

" Where is she to sleep? " asked the maid.

Such was the reception that met Pierrette Lorrain on her
arrival at her cousins' house, while they looked at her with a



54 THE CELIBATES.

bewildered air. She was flung on their hands like a parcel,
with no transition between the wretched room in which she
had lived with her grandparents and her cousins' dining-
room, which struck her as palatial. She stood there mute
and shy. To any one but these retired haberdashers the little
Bretonne would have been adorable in her frock of coarse blue
serge, a pink cotton apron, her blue stockings, thick shoes,
and white kerchief; her little red hands were covered by
knitted mittens of red wool edged with white that the guard
had bought for her. Her little Brittany cap, which had been
washed in Paris it had gotten tumbled in the course of the
journey from Nantes really looked like a glory round her
bright face. This native cap, made of fine cambric, with a
stiff lace border ironed into flat pleats, deserves a description,
it is so smart and so simple. The light, filtered through the
muslin and lace, casts a half-shadow, a twilight softness, on
the face ; it gives it the virginal grace which painters try to
find on their palettes, and which Leopold Robert has suc-
ceeded in lending to the Raphael-like face of the woman
holding a child in his picture of "The Reapers." Within
this setting of broken lights shone an artless rose and white
face, beaming with vigorous health. The heat of the room
brought the blood to her head, and it suffused the edge of her
tiny ears with fire, tinging her lips and the tip of a finely cut
nose, while by contrast it made her bright complexion look
whiter than before.

"Well, have you nothing to say to us?" said Sylvie. "I
am your cousin Sylvie, and that is your cousin Denis."

" Are you hungry? " asked Rogron.

"When did you leave Nantes?" asked Sylvie.

" She is dumb," said Rogron.

" Poor child, she has very few clothes to her back ! " ob-
served sturdy Adele, as she untied the bundle wrapped in a
handkerchief belonging to old Lorrain.

" Kiss your cousin," said Sylvie. Pierrette kissed Rogron.



PIERRETTE. 65

"Yes, kiss your cousin," said Rogron. Pierrette kissed
Sylvie.

' ' She is scared by the journey, poor little thing ; perhaps
she is sleepy," said Adele.

Pierrette felt a sudden and invincible aversion for her two
relations, a feeling she had never before known. Sylvie and
the maid went to put the little girl to bed in the room on the
second floor where Brigaut was to see the cotton curtain.
There were in this attic a small bed with a pole painted blue,
from which hung a cotton curtain, a chest of drawers of
walnut-wood, with no marble top, a smaller table of the same
wood, a looking-glass, a common bed-table, and three wretched
chairs. The walls and sloping roof to the front were covered
with a cheap blue paper flowered with black. The floor was
painted and waxed, and struck cold to the feet. There was
no carpet but a thin bedside rug made of selvages. The
chimney-shelf, of cheap marble, was graced with a mirror,
two candlesticks of copper gilt, and a vulgar alabaster vase
with two pigeons drinking to serve as handles ; this Sylvie
had had in her room in Paris.

" Shall you be comfortable here, child ? " asked Sylvie.

" Oh ! it is beautiful? " replied the little girl in her silvery
treble.

" She is not hard to please," muttered the sturdy peasant-
woman to herself. " I had better warm the bed, I suppose ? "
she asked.

"Yes," said Sylvie, " the sheets may be damp."

Adele brought a headkerchief of her own when she came
up with the warming-pan ; and Pierrette, who had hitherto
slept in sheets of coarse Brittany linen, was amazed at the
fine, soft cotton sheets. When the little girl was settled and
in bed, Adele, as she went downstairs, could not help ex-
claiming, " All her things put together are not worth three
francs, mademoiselle ! "

Since adopting her system of strict economy, Sylvie always



56 THE CELIBATES.

made the servant sit in the dining-room, so as to have but one
lamp and one fire. When Colonel Gouraud and Vinet came,
Adele withdrew to her kitchen. Pierrette's arrival kept
them talking for the rest of the evening.

"We must get her some clothes to-morrow," said Sylvie.
" She has hardly a stitch."

" She has no shoes but those thick ones she had on, and
they weigh a pound," said Adele.

''They wear them so in those parts," said Rogron.

" How she looked at the room, which is none too fine
either, for a cousin of yours, mademoiselle ! "

" So much the better ; hold your tongue. You see she is
delighted with it."

" Lord above us ! what shifts ! They must rub her skin
raw. But none of these things are of any use," said Adele,
turning out the contents of Pierrette's bundle.

Till ten o'clock master, mistress, and maid were busy de-
ciding of what stuff and at what price the shifts should be
made, how many pairs of stockings and of what quality, and
how many under-petticoats would be needed, and calculating
the cost of Pierrette's wardrobe.

" You will not get off for less than three hundred francs,"
said Rogron to his sister, as he carried the price of each
article in his head from long practice, and added up the
total from memory.

"Three hundred francs ! " exclaimed Sylvie.

" Yes, three hundred ; work it out yourself."

The brother and sister began again, and made it three hun-
dred francs without the sewing.

"Three hundred francs at one cast of the net!" cried
Sylvie, who went to bed on the idea so ingeniously expressed
by this proverbial figure of speech.

Pierrette was one of those children of love whom love has
blessed with tenderness, cheerfulness, brightness, generosity,
and devotedness ; nothing had as yet chilled or crushed her



PIERRETTE. 57

heart ; it was almost wildly sensitive, and the way she was re-
ceived by her relations weighed on it painfully. Though
Brittany had to her been a home of poverty, it had also been
a home of affection. Though the old Lorrains were the most
unskillful traders, they were the simplest, most loving, most
caressing souls in the world, as all disinterested people are.
At Pen-Hocl their little granddaughter had had no teaching
but that of nature. Pierrette went as she would in a boat on
the pools, she ran about the village or the fields with her
companion Jacques Brigaut, exactly like Paul and Virginia.
Both the children, spoiled and petted by every one, and as
free as the air, ran after the thousand joys of childhood ; in
summer they went to watch the fishermen, they caught in-
sects, plucked flowers, and gardened ; in winter they made
slides, built smart snow-palaces and snow-men, or made
snowballs to pelt each other They were everywhere wel-
come ; everybody smiled on them.

When it was time that they should learn something, mis-
fortunes came. Jacques, left destitute by his father's death,
was apprenticed by his relations to a cabinetmaker, and main-
tained by charity, as Pierrette was soon after in the asylum of
Saint-Jacques. But even in this almshouse, pretty little Pier-
rette had been made much of, loved, and kindly treated by
all. The child, thus accustomed to so much affection, no
longer found, in the home of these longed-for and wealthy re-
lations, the look, the tone, the words, the manner which she
had hitherto met with in every one, even in the guards of
the diligences. Thus her amazement, already great, was
complicated by the changed moral atmosphere into which she
had been plunged. The heart can turn suddenly cold and
hot as the body can. The poor child longed to cry without
knowing what for. She was tired, and she fell asleep.

Accustomed to rise very early, like all country-bred chil-
dren, Pierrette awoke next morning two hours before the cook.
She dressed, trotted about her room over her cousin's head.



58 THE CELIBATES.

looked out on the little square, and was going downstairs ;
she was astonished at the splendor of the staircase ; she exam-
ined every detail the rosettes, the brass-work, the mouldings,
the painting, etc. Then she went down ; she could not open
the garden door, so she came up again ; went down once
more when Adele was about, and sprang into the garden.
She took possession of it, ran to the river, was amazed by
the summer-house, went into the summer-house; she had
enough to see and wonder at in all she saw till her cousin
Sylvie was up. During breakfast Sylvie said to her

" So it was you, little bird, who was trotting up and down-
stairs at daybreak, and making such a noise ? You woke me
so completely that I could not get to sleep again. You must
be very quiet, very good, and learn to play without making a
sound. Your cousin does not like noise ? "

"And you must take care about your feet," said Rogron.
"You went into the summer-house with muddy shoes, and
left your footsteps printed on the floor. Your cousin likes
everything to be clean. A great girl like you ought to be
cleanly. Were you not taught to be clean in Brittany? To
be sure, when I went there to buy flax it was dreadful to see
what savages they were ! She has a fine appetite at any rate,"
said Rogron, turning to his sister; "you might think she
had not seen food these three days."

And so, from the very first, Pierrette felt hurt by her
cousins' remarks, hurt without knowing why. Her frank and
upright nature, hitherto left to itself, had never been used to
reflect ; incapable, therefore, of understanding wherein her
cousins were wrong, she was doomed to tardy enlightenment
through suffering.

After breakfast, the couple, delighted by Pierrette's aston-
ishment, and eager to enjoy it, showed her their fine drawing-
room, to teach her to respect its splendor. Unmarried people,
as a result of their isolation, and prompted by the craving for
something to interest them, are led to supply the place of



PIERRETTE. 59

natural affections by artificial affections the love of dogs,
cats, or canary birds, or their servant or their spiritual
director. Thus Rogron and Sylvie had an immoderate affec-
tion for the house and furniture that had cost them so much.
Sylvie had taken to helping Adele every morning, being of
opinion that the woman did not know how to wipe furniture,
to brush it, and make it look like new. This cleaning was
soon her constant occupation. Thus, far from diminishing
in value, the furniture was improved. Then the problem was
to use it without wearing it out, without staining it, without
scratching the wood or chilling the polish. This idea ere
long became an old maid's monomania. Sylvie kept in a
closet woolen rags, wax, varnish, and brushes; she learned
to use them as skillfully as a polisher ; she had feather brooms
and dusters, and she could rub without fear of hurting herself,
she was so strong ! Her clear, blue eye, as cold and hard as
steel, constantly peered under the furniture, and you were
more likely to find a tender chord in her heart than a speck
of flue under a chair.

After what had passed at Madame Tiphaine's, Sylvie could
not possibly shirk the outlay of three hundred francs. Dur-
ing the first week Sylvie was wholly occupied, and Pierrette
constantly amused, by the frocks to be ordered and tried on,
the shifts and petticoats to be cut out and made by needle-
women working by the day. Pierrette did not know how to
sew.

" She has been nicely brought up ! " cried Rogron. " Do
you know nothing, child?"

Pierrette, who only knew how to love, answered but by a
pretty childish shrug.

"What did you do all daylong in Brittany?" asked her
cousin Rogron.

"I played," she replied guilelessly. " Everybody played
with me. Grandmamma and grandpapa and everybody told
me stories. Oh ! they were very fond of me."



60 THE CELIBATES.

" Indeed ! " replied Rogron, " and so you lived like a
lady."

Pierrette did not understand this tradesman's wit. She
opened her eyes wide.

" She is as stupid as a wooden stool," said Sylvie to Made-
moiselle Borain, the best workwoman in Provins.

" So young ! " said the needlewoman, looking at Pierrette,
whose delicate little face looked up at her with a knowing
expression.

Pierrette liked the workwomen better than her cousins ;
she put on pretty airs for them, watched them sewing, said
quaint things the flowers of childhood, such as Rogron and
Sylvie had already silenced by fear, for they liked to impress
all dependents with a wholesome alarm. The sewing-women



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 5 of 31)