Honoré de Balzac.

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were charmed with Pierrette. The outfit, however, was not
achieved without some terrible interjections.

"That child will cost us the eyes in our heads!" said
Sylvie to Rogron.

" Hold yourself up, child, do. The deuce is in it ! the
clothes are for you, not for me," said she to Pierrette, when
she was being measured or fitted.

" Come, let Mademoiselle Borain do her work ; you won't
pay her day's wages ! " she exclaimed, seeing the child ask
the head needlewoman to do something for her.

" Mademoiselle," asked Mademoiselle Borain, " must this
seam be back-stitched ? ' '

"Yes; make everything strongly; I do not want to have
such a piece of work again in a hurry."

But it was the same with the little cousin as with the house.
Pierrette was to be as well dressed as Madame Garceland's
little girl. She had fashionable little boots of bronze kid,
like the little Tiphaine girl. She had very fine cotton stock-
ings, stays by the best maker, a frock of blue reps, a pretty
cape lined with white silk, all in rivalry with young Madame
Julliard's little girl. And the underclothes were as good as



PIERRETTE. 61

the outside show, Sylvie was so much afraid of the keen and
scrutinizing eye of the mothers of children. Pierrette had
pretty shifts of fine calico. Mademoiselle Borain said that
madame the sous-prefet's little girls wore cambric drawers
with embroidery and frilling the latest thing, in short ; Pier-
rette had frilled drawers. A charming drawn bonnet was
ordered for her of blue velvet lined with white satin, like the
little Martener girl's. Thus Pierrette was the smartest little
person in Provins. On Sunday, on coming out from church,
all the ladies kissed her. Mesdames Tipbaine, Garceland,
Galardon, Auffray, Lesourd, Martener, Guepin, and Julliard
doted on the sweet little Bretonne. This excitement flattered
old Sylvie's vanity, and in her lavishness she thought less of
Pierrette than of gratified pride.

However, Sylvie was fated to find offense in her little
cousin's success, and this was how it came about : Pierrette
was asked out, and, still to triumph over her neighbors, Sylvie
allowed her to go. Pierrette was called for to play games and
have dolls' dinner-parties with these ladies' children. Pier-
rette was a much greater success than the Rogrons ; Made-
moiselle Sylvie was aggrieved that Pierrette was in demand at
other houses, but that no one came to see Pierrette at home.
The artless child made no secret of her enjoyment at the houses
of the Tiphaines, the Marteners, the Galardons, the Julliards,
the Lesourds, the Auffrays, and the Garcelands, whose kind-
ness contrasted strangely with the vexatiousness of her cousins.
A mother would have been glad of her child's happiness; but
the Rogrons had taken Pierrette to please themselves, not to
please her ; their feelings, far from being paternal, were tainted
with egoism and a sort of commercial interest.

The beautiful outfit, the fine Sunday clothes, and the every-
day frocks began Pierrette's misfortunes. Like all children
free to amuse themselves and accustomed to follow the dictates
of fancy, she wore out her shoes, boots, and frocks with fright-
ful rapidity, and, above all, her frilled drawers. A mother



62 THE CELIBATES.

when she scolds her child thinks of the child only ; she is
only hard when driven to extremities, and when the child is
in the wrong ; but in this great clothes question, the cousins'
money was the first consideration ; that was the real point,
and not Pierrette. Children have a dog-like instinct for dis-
cerning injustice in those who rule them ; they feel without
fail whether they are tolerated or loved. Innocent hearts are
more alive to shades than to contrasts ; a child that does not
yet understand evil knows when you offend the sense of beauty
bestowed on it by nature. The lessons that Pierrette brought
upon herself as to the behavior of a well-bred young lady, as
to modesty and economy, were the corollary of this main
idea "Pierrette is ruining us."

These scoldings, which had a fatal issue for Pierrette, led
the old couple back into the familiar commercial ruts from
which their home-life at Provins had led them to wander, and
in which their nature could expand and blossom. After being
used to domineer, to make remarks, to give orders, to scold
their clerks sharply, Rogron and his sister were perishing for
lack of victims. Small natures require despotism to exer-
cise their sinews, as great souls thirst for equality to give
play to their heart. Now narrow minds can develop as well
through persecution as through benevolence ; they can assure
themselves of their power by tyrannizing cruelly or benefi-
cently over others ; they go the way their nature guides them.
Add to this the guidance of interest, and you will have the
key to most social riddles. Pierrette now became very neces-
sary to her cousins' existence. Since her arrival the Rogrons
had been absorbed in her outfit, and then attracted by the
novelty of companionship. Every new thing, a feeling, or
even a tyranny, must form its set, its creases. Sylvie began
by calling Pierrette " my child ; " she gave up " my child "
for "Pierrette" unqualified. Her reproofs, at first sourly
gentle, became hard and sharp. As soon as they had started
on this road, the brother and sister made rapid progress.



PIERRETTE. 63

They were no longer dull. It was not a deliberate scheme
of malice and cruelty; it was the instinct of unreasoning
tyranny. They believed that they were doing good to Pier-
rette, as of old to their apprentices.

Pierrette, whose sensitiveness was genuine, noble, and over-
strung, the very antipodes of the Rogrons' aridity, had a horror
of being blamed ; it struck her so cruelly that tears rose at
once to her large, clear eyes. She had a hard struggle to sup-
press her engaging liveliness, which charmed every one out of
the house. She might indulge it before the mothers of her
little friends; but at her home, by the end of the first month,
she began to sit silent, and Rogron asked her if she were ill.
At this strange question she flew off to the bottom of the
garden to cry by the river, into which her tears fell, as she
was one day to fall in the torrent of society.

One day, in spite of her care, the little girl tore her best
reps frock at Madame Tiphaine's where she had gone to play
one fine day. She at once burst into tears, foreseeing the
scolding that awaited her at home. On being questioned,
she let fall a few words about her terrible cousin Sylvie in the
midst of her tears. Pretty Madame Tiphaine had some stuff
to match, and she herself put in a new front breadth. Made-
moiselle Rogron heard of the trick, as she called it, played on
her by that limb of a little girl. From that day she would
never let Pierrette visit any of the ladies.

The new life which Pierrette was to lead at Provins was
fated to fall into three very distinct phases. The first lasted
three months, during which she enjoyed a kind of happiness,
divided between the old people's cold caresses and the scold-
ings, which she found scorching. The prohibition that kept
her from seeing her little friends, emphasizing the necessity
for beginning to learn everything that a well-brought-up girl
should know, put an end to the first phase of Pierrette's life
at Provins, the only period when she found existence en-
durable.



C4 THE CELIBATES.

The domestic changes produced at the Rogrons' house by
Pierrette's residence there were studied by Vinet and the
colonel with the cunning of a fox bent on getting into a fowl-
house, and uneasy at discovering a new creature on the scene.
They both paid calls at long intervals, so as not to scare
Mademoiselle Sylvie ; they found various excuses for chatting
with Rogron, and made themselves masters of the situation
with an air of reserve and dignity that the great Tartufe
might have admired. The colonel and the lawyer spent at
the Rogrons the evening of the very day when Sylvie had
refused, in very harsh terms, to let Pierrette go to Madame
Tiphaine's. On hearing of her refusal, the colonel and the
lawyer looked at each other as folks who knew their Provins.

"She positively tried to make a fool of you?" said the
lawyer. " We warned Rogron long ago of what has now
happened. There is no good to be gotten out of those
people."

" What can you expect of the anti-national party?" cried
the colonel, curling up his mustache and interrupting Vinet.
"If we had tried to get you away from them, you might have
thought that we had some malicious motive for speaking to
you so. But why, mademoiselle, if you are fond of a little
game, should you not play boston in the evenings at home in
your own house?. Is it impossible to find any one in the
place of such idiots as the Julliards ? Vinet and I play bos-
ton ; we will find a fourth. Vinet might introduce his wife
to you ; she is very nice, and she is one of the Chargebceufs.
You will not be like those apes in the upper town ; you will
not expect a good little housewife, who is compelled by her
family's disgraceful conduct to do all her own housework, to
dress like a duchess and she has the courage of a lion and
the gentleness of a lamb."

Sylvie Rogron displayed her long yellow teeth in a smile at
the colonel, who endured the horrible phenomenon very well,
and even assumed a flattering air.



PIERRETTE. 65

" If there are but four of us, we cannot play boston every
evening," replied she.

" Why, where else have I to go an old soldier like me
who has nothing to do, and lives on his pensions ? The law-
yer is free every evening. Besides, you will have company, I
promise you," he added, with a mysterious air.

"You have only to declare yourselves frankly opposed to
the ministerial party in Provins, and hold your own against
them," said Vinet. " You would see how popular you would
be in Provins ; you would have a great many people on your
side. You would make the Tiphaines furious by having an
opposition salon. Well, then, let us laugh at others, if others
laugh at us. The ' clique ' do not spare you, I can tell you."

" What do they say? " asked Sylvie.

In country towns there is always more than one safety-
valve by which gossip finds a vent from one set into another.
Vinet had heard all that had been said about the Rogrons in
the drawing-rooms from which the haberdashers had been
definitively banished. The supernumerary judge Desfon-
drilles, the archaeologist, was of neither party. This man,
like some other independent members of society, repeated
everything he heard, out of provincial habit, and Vinet had
had the benefit of his chit-chat. The malicious lawyer re-
peated Madame Tiphaine's pleasantries with added venom.
As he revealed the practical jokes of which Sylvie and
Rogron had been the unconscious victims, he stirred the
rage and aroused the revengeful spirit of these two arid souls,
craving some aliment for their mean passions.

A few days later Vinet brought his wife, a well-bred woman,
shy, neither plain nor pretty, very meek, and very conscious
of her misfortune. Madame Vinet was fair, rather worn by
the cares of her penurious housekeeping, and very simply
dressed. No woman could have better pleased Sylvie.
Madame Vinet put up with Sylvie's airs, and gave way to her
like a woman accustomed to give way. On her round fore-
5



G6 THE CELIBATES.

head, her rose-pink cheeks, in her slow, gentle eyes, there
were traces of those deep reflections, that clear-sighted thought-
fulness, which women who are used to suffering bury under
perfect silence. The influence of the colonel, displaying for
Sylvie's behoof courtiercsque graces that seemed wrung from
his soldierly roughness, with that of the wily Vinet, soon
made itself felt by Pierrette. The child, the pretty squirrel,
shut up in the house, or going out only with old Sylvie, was
every instant checked by a " Don't touch that, Pierrette ! "
and by incessant sermons on holding herself up. Pierrette
stooped and held her shoulders high ; her cousin wanted her
to be as straight as herself, and she was like a soldier present-
ing arms to his colonel ; she would sometimes give her little
slaps on her back to make her hold herself up. The free and
light-hearted child of the Marais learned to measure her
movements and imitate an automaton.

One evening, which marked the beginning of the second
period, Pierrette, whom the three visitors had not seen in the
drawing-room during the evening, came to kiss her cousins
and curtsey to the company before going to bed. Sylvie
coldly offered her cheek to the pretty little thing, as if to be
kissed and have done with it. The action was so cruelly
significant that tears started from Pierrette's eyes.

"Have you pricked yourself, my little Pierrette," said the
abominable Vinet.

" What is the matter with you? " asked Sylvie severely.

" Nothing," said the poor child, going to kiss Rogron.

"Nothing?" repeated Sylvie. "You cannot be crying
for nothing ! "

"What is it, my little pet ?" asked Madame Vinet.

"My rich cousin Sylvie does not treat me so well as my
poor grandmother ! "

" Your grandmother stole your money," said Sylvie, " and
your cousin will leave you hers."

The colonel and Vinet exchanged covert glances.



PIERRETTE. 67

"I would rather be robbed and loved," meekly replied
Pierrette in return.

"Very well, you shall be sent back to the place you came
from."

"But what has the dear child done?" asked Madame
Vinet.

Vinet fixed his eye on his wife, with that terrible cold,
fixed stare that belongs to those who rule despotically. The
poor lonely woman, unceasingly punished for not having the
one thing required of her namely, a fortune took up her
cards again.

" What has she done ? " cried Sylvie, raising her head with
a jerk so sudden that the yellow wallflowers in her cap were
shaken. " She does not know what to do next to annoy us.
She opened my watch to examine the works, and touched the
wheel, and broke the mainspring. Mademoiselle listens to
nothing. All day long I am telling her to take care what she
is about, and I might as well talk to the lamp."

Pierrette, ashamed of being reprimanded in the presence of
strangers, went out of the room very gently.

"I cannot think how to quell that child's turbulence,"
said Rogron.

"Why, she is old enough to go to school," said Madame
Vinet.

Another look from Vinet silenced his wife, to whom he
had been careful not to confide his plans and the colonel's
with regard to the bachelor couple.

" That is what comes of taking charge of other people's
children," cried Gouraud. " You might have some of your
own yet, you or your brother; why do you not both marry?"

Sylvie looked very sweetly at the colonel ; for the first time
in her life she beheld a man to whom the idea that she might
marry did not seem absurd.

"Madame Vinet is right!" cried Rogron, "that would
keep Pierrette quiet. A master would not cost much."



68 THE CELIBATES.

The colonel's speech so entirely occupied Sylvie that she
did not answer her brother.

"If only you would stand the money for the opposition
paper we were talking about, you might find a tutor for your
little cousin in the responsible editor. We could get that
poor schoolmaster who was victimized by the encroachments
of the priests. My wife is right ; Pierrette is a rough dia-
mond that needs polishing," said Vinet to Rogron.

"I fancied that you were a baron," said Sylvie to the
colonel, after a long pause, while each player seemed medi-
tative.

"Yes. But having won the title in 1814, after the battle
of Nangis, where my regiment did wonders, how could I find
the money or the assistance needed to get it duly registered ?
The barony, like the rank of general, which I won in 1815,
must wait for a revolution to secure them to me."

"If you could give a mortgage as your guarantee for the
money," said Rogron presently, " I could do it."

"That could be arranged with Cournant," replied Vinet.
" The newspaper would lead to the colonel's triumph, and
make your drawing-room more powerful than those of Ti-
phaine and Co."

" How is that ? " asked Sylvie.

At this moment, while Madame Vinet was dealing, and the
lawyer explaining all the importance that the publication of
an independent paper for the district of Provins must confer
on Rogron, the colonel, and himself, Pierrette was bathed in
tears. Her heart and brain were agreed ; she thought Sylvie
far more to blame than herself. The little Bretonne instinc-
tively perceived how unfailing charity and benevolence should
be. She hated her fine frocks and all that was done for her.
She paid too dear for these benefits. She cried with rage at
having given her cousins a hold over her, and determined to
behave in such a way as to reduce them to silence, poor child !
Then she saw how noble Brigaut had been to give her his



PIERRETTE. 69

savings. She thought her woes had reached a climax, not
knowing that at that moment new misfortunes were being
plotted in the drawing-room.

A few days later Pierrette had a writing-master. She was
to learn to read, write, and do sums. Pierrette's education
involved the house of Rogron in fearful disaster. There was
ink on the tables, on the furniture, and on her clothes ; writ-
ing-books and pens strewn everywhere, powder on the uphol-
stery, books torn and dog's-eared while she was learning her
lessons. They already spoke to her and in what a way !
of the necessity for earning her living and being a burden on
no one. As she heard these dreadful warnings, Pierrette felt
a burning in her throat ; she was choking, her heart beat
painfully fast. She was obliged to swallow down her tears;
for each one was reckoned with an offense against her mag-
nanimous relations. Rogron had found the occupation that
suited him. He scolded Pierrette as he had formerly scolded
his shopmen ; he would fetch her in from the midst of her
play to compel her to study ; he heard her repeat her lessons ;
he was the poor child's fierce tutor. Sylvie, on her part,
thought it her duty to teach Pierrette the little she knew of
womanly accomplishments.

Neither Rogron nor his sister had any gentleness of nature.
These narrow souls, finding a real pleasure in bullying the
poor little thing, changed unconsciously from mildness to the
greatest severity. This severity was, they said, the con-
sequence of the child's obstinacy ; she had begun too late to
learn, and was dull of comprehension. Her teachers did not
understand the art of giving lessons in a form suited to the
pupil's intelligence, which is what should distinguish private
from public education. The fault lay far less with Pierrette
than with her cousins. It took her an immensely long time
to learn the beginnings. For the merest trifle she was called
stupid and silly, foolish and awkward. Incessantly ill used
by hard words, Pierrette never met any but cold looks from



70 THE CELIBATES.

the two old people. She fell into the stolid dullness of a
sheep ; she dared do nothing when she found her actions mis.
judged, misunderstood, misinterpreted. In everything she
awaited Sylvie's orders and the expression of her cousin's
will, keeping her thoughts to herself and shutting herself up
in passive obedience. Her bright color began to fade.
Sometimes she complained of aches and pains. When Sylvie
asked her where? the poor child, who felt generally ailing,
replied, " All over."

" Was there ever such a thing heard of as aching all over?
If you were ill all over, you would certainly be dead ! " re-
torted Sylvie.

"You may have a pain in your chest," said Rogron the
expositor, "or in your teeth, or your head, or your feet, or
your stomach, but no one ever had pains everywhere. What
do you mean by ' all over ? ' Pain all over is pain nowhere.
Do you know what you are doing ? You are talking for talk-
ing's sake."

Pierrette at last never spoke, finding that her artless girlish
remarks, the flowers of her opening mind, were met with
commonplace retorts which her good sense told her were
ridiculous.

" You are always complaining, and you eat like a fasting
friar ! " said Rogron.

The only person who never distressed this sweet fragile
flower was the sturdy servant Adele. Adele always warmed
the little girl's bed, but in secret, since one evening when,
being discovered in the act of thus "spoiling" her master's
heiress, she was scolded by Sylvie.

" Children must be hardened ; that is the way to give
them strong constitutions. Have we been any the worse for
it, my brother and I?" said Sylvie. " You will make Pier-
rette a peeky coddle ! " une picheline, a word of the Rogron
vocabulary used by them to designate weakly and complaining
persons.



PIERRETTE. 71

The little angel's caressing expressions were regarded as
mere acting. The roses of affection that budded so fresh
and lovely in this young soul, and longed to open to the day,
were mercilessly crushed. Pierrette felt the hardest blows on
the tenderest spots of her heart. If she tried to soften these
two savage natures by her pretty ways, she was accused of ex-
pressing her tenderness out of self-interest. " Tell me plainly
what you want," Rogron would exclaim roughly; "you are
certainly not coaxing me for nothing."

Neither the sister nor the brother recognized affection, and
Pierrette was all affection.

Colonel Gouraud, anxious to please Mademoiselle Rogron,
declared her right in all that concerned Pierrette. Vinet no
less supported the old cousins in their abuse of Pierrette ; he
ascribed all the reported misdeeds of this angel to the obsti-
nacy of the Breton character, and said that no power, no
strength of will, could ever conquer it. Rogron and his
sister were flattered with the utmost skill by these two cour-
tiers, who had at last succeeded in extracting from Rogron
the surety money for the newspaper, the Provins Courtier,
and from Sylvie five thousand francs, as a shareholder. The
colonel and Vinet now took the field. They disposed of a
hundred shares at five hundred francs each to the electors who
held state securities, and whom the Liberal journals filled
with alarms, to farmers, and to persons who were called in-
dependent. They even extended their ramifications over the
whole department, and beyond it, to some adjacent townships.
Each shareholder subscribed for the paper, of course. Then
the legal and other advertisements were divided between the
Ruche and the Courrier. The first number contained a
grandiloquent column in praise of Rogron, who was repre-
sented as the Lafiitte of Provins.

As soon as the public mind found a leader, it became easy
to perceive that the coming elections would be hotly con-
tested. Madame Tiphaine was in despair.



72 THE CELIBATES.

" Unfortunately," said she, as she read an article attacking
her and Monsieur Julliard, " unfortunately, I forgot that there
is always a rogue not very far away from a dupe, and that
folly always attracts a clever man of the fox species."

As soon as the newspaper was to be seen for twenty leagues
round, Vinet had a new coat and boots, and a decent waist-
coat and trousers. He displayed the famous white hat affected
by Liberals, and showed his collar and cuffs. His wife en-
gaged a servant, and appeared dressed as became the wife of
an influential man ; she wore pretty caps.

Vinet, out of self-interest, was grateful. He and his friend,
Cournant, notary to the Liberal side, and Auffray's opponent,
became the Rogrons' advisers, and did them two great ser-
vices. The leases granted by old Rogron, their father, in
1815, under unfortunate circumstances, were about to fall in.
Horticulture and market gardening had lately developed
enormously in the Provins district. The pleader and the
notary made it their business to effect an increase of fourteen
hundred francs a year on granting the new leases. Vinet
also won for them two lawsuits against two villages, relating
to plantations of trees, in which the loss of five hundred
poplars was involved. The money for the poplars, with the
Rogrons' savings, which for the last three years had amounted
to six thousand francs deposited at compound interest, was
skillfully laid out in the purchase of several plots of land.
Finally, Vinet proposed and carried out the eviction of certain
peasant proprietors, to whom Rogron the elder had loaned
money, and who had killed themselves with cultivating and
manuring their land to enable them to repay it, but in vain.

Thus the damage done to the Rogrons' capital by the
reconstruction of their house was to a great extent remedied.
Their estates in the immediate neighborhood of the town,



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 6 of 31)