Honoré de Balzac.

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chosen by their father as innkeepers know how to choose, cut
up into small holdings of which the largest was less than five
acres, and let to perfectly solvent tenants, themselves owners



PIERRETTE. 73

of some plots of land mortgaged to secure the farm rents,
brought in at Martinmas, in November, 1826, five thousand
francs. The taxes were paid by the tenants, and there were
no buildings to repair or insure against fire.

The brother and sister each possessed four thousand six
hundred francs in the five per cents; and, as their selling
value was above par, Vinet exhorted them to invest the money
in laud, promising them seconded by the notary that they
should not lose a farthing of interest by the transfer.

By the end of this second period life was so intolerable
to Pierrette the indifference of all about her, the senseless
fault-finding and lack of affection in her cousins became so
virulent, she felt so plainly the cold chill of the tomb blowing
upon her, that she entertained the daring project of going
away, on foot, with no money, to Brittany to rejoin her grand-
father and grandmother. Two events prevented this : Old
Lorrain died, and Rogron was appointed Pierrette's guardian
by a family council held at Provins. If her old grandmother
had died first, it is probable that Rogron, advised by Vinet,
would have called upon the grandfather to repay the child's
eight thousand francs, and have reduced him to beggary.

" Why, you may inherit Pierrette's money," said Vinet
with a hideous smile. "You never can tell who will live or
who will die."

Enlightened by this speech, Rogron left the widow Lorrain
no peace as Pierrette's debtor till he had made her secure to
the little girl the capital of the eight thousand francs by a
deed of gift, of which he paid the cost.

Pierrette was strangely affected by this loss. Just as the
blow fell on her she was to be prepared for her first com-
munion, the other event which by its obligations tied her to
Provins. This necessary and simple ceremony was to bring
about great changes for the Rogrons. Sylvie learned that the
cure, Monsieur Peroux, was instructing the little Julliards,



74 THE CELIBATES.

the Lesourds, Garcelands, and others. She made it therefore
a point of honor to put Pierrette under the guidance of the
Abbe Peroux's superior, Monsieur Habert, a man who was
said to belong to the Jesuit congregation very zealous for
the interests of the church, much dreaded in Provins, and
hiding immense ambition under the strictest severity of prin-
ciple. This priest's sister, an unmarried woman of about
thirty, had a school for girls in the town. The brother and
sister were much alike ; both lean, sallow, atrabilious, with
black hair.

Pierrette, a Bretonne nurtured in the practice and poetry
of the Catholic faith, opened her heart and ears to the teach-
ing of this imposing priest. Suffering predisposes the mind
to devoutness ; and most young girls, prompted by instinctive
tenderness, lean towards mysticism, the obscurer side of
religion. So the priest sowed the seed of the gospel and the
dogmas of the church in good ground. He completely
changed Pierrette's frame of mind. Pierrette loved Jesus
Christ, as presented to girls in the sacrament, as a celestial
bridegroom ; her moral and physical sufferings now had their
meaning ; she was taught to see the hand of God in every-
thing. Her soul, so cruelly stricken in this house, while she
could not accuse her cousins, took refuge in the sphere
whither fly all who are wretched, borne on the wings of the
three Christian virtues. She gave up the idea of flight.
Sylvie, amazed at the alteration produced in Pierrette by
Monsieur Habert, became curious. And so, while preparing
the child for her first communion, Monsieur Habert won to
God the hitherto wandering soul of Mademoiselle Sylvie.
Sylvie became a bigot.

Denis Rogron, over whom the supposed Jesuit could get no
hold for at that time the spirit of his late lamented majesty,
Constitution the First, was in some simpletons supreme above
that of the church Denis remained faithful to Colonel
Gouraud, Vinet, and Liberalism.



PIERRETTE. 75

Mademoiselle Rogron, of course, made acquaintance with
Mademoiselle Habert, with whom she was in perfect sympathy.
The two old maids loved each other like two loving sisters.
Mademoiselle Habert proposed to take Pierrette under her
care, and spare Sylvie the trouble and vexations of educating
a child ; but the brother and sister replied that Pierrette's
absence would make the house feel too empty. The Rogrons'
attachment to their little cousin seemed from this expression
to be quite excessive.

On seeing Mademoiselle Habert in possession, Colonel
Gouraud and Vinet ascribed to the ambitious priest, on his
sister's behalf, the matrimonial scheme imagined by the
colonel.

"Your sister wants to see you married," said the lawyer to
the ex-haberdasher.

" And to whom ? " said Rogron.

" To that old sibyl of a schoolmistress," cried the colonel,
curling his mustache.

"She has said nothing to me about it," said Rogron
blankly.

A woman so determined as Sylvie was sure to make great
progress in the ways of salvation. The priest's influence
soon grew in the house, supported as it was by Sylvie, who
managed her brother. The two Liberals, very legitimately
alarmed, understood that if the priest had determined to get
Rogron for his sister's husband a far more suitable match
than that of Sylvie and the colonel he would urge Sylvie to
the excessive practice of religion, and make Pierrette go into
a convent. They would thus lose the reward of eighteen
months of efforts, meanness, and flattery. They took a ter-
ribly dumb hatred of the priest and his sister, and yet, if they
were to keep up with them step for step, they felt the neces-
sity of remaining on good terms with them.

Monsieur and Mademoiselle Habert, who played both whist
and boston, came every evening. Their assiduity excited



76 THE CELIBATES.

that of the others. The lawyer and the soldier felt that they
were pitted against adversaries stronger than themselves, a
preconception which Monsieur Habert and his sister fully
shared. This situation was in itself a battle. Just as the
colonel gave to Sylvie a foretaste of the unhoped-for joys of
an offer of marriage for she had brought herself to regard
Gouraud as a man worthy of her so Mademoiselle Habert
wrapped the retired haberdasher in the cotton wool of her
attentions, her speeches, and her looks. Neither party could
say to itself the great word of great politicians, " Divide the
spoil ! " each insisted on the whole prize.

Besides, the two wily foxes of the Opposition at Provins
an opposition that was growing in strength were rash enough
to believe themselves stronger than the priesthood ; they were
the first to fire. Vinet, whose gratitude was stirred up by
the claw-fingers of self-interest, went to fetch Mademoiselle
de Chargeboeuf and her mother. The two women, who had
about two thousand francs a year, lived very narrowly at
Troyes. Mademoiselle Bathilde de Chargeboeuf was one of
those splendid women who believe in marrying for love, and
change their minds towards their five-and-twentieth year on
finding themselves still unwedded. Vinet succeeded in per-
suading Madame de Chargeboeuf to combine her two thou-
sand francs with the thousand crowns he was making now that
the newspaper was started, and to come and live with him at
Provins, where Bathilde, he said, might marry a simpleton
named Rogron, and, so clever as she was, rival handsome
Madame Tiphaine.

The reinforcement of Vinet's household and ideas by the
arrival of Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargebosuf gave
the utmost cohesion to the Liberal party. This coalition
brought consternation to the aristocracy of Provins and the
Tiphaine party. Madame de Breautey, in dismay at seeing
two women of family so misled, begged them to come to see
her. She bewailed the blunders committed by the Royalists,



PIERRETTE. 77

and was furious with those of Troyes on learning the poverty
of this mother and daughter.

"What! was there no old country gentleman who would
marry that dear girl, born to rule a chateau?" cried she.
" They have let her run to seed, and now she will throw her-
self at the head of a Rogron 1 "

She hunted the department through, and failed to find one
gentleman who would marry a girl whose mother had but two
thousand francs a year. Then the " clique " of the Tiphaines
and the sous-prefet also set to work, but too late, to discover
such a man. Madame de Breautey inveighed loudly against
the selfishness that was eating up France, the result of materi-
alism and of the power conferred on money by the laws ; the
nobility was nothing in these days ! Beauty was nothing !
Rogrons and Vinets were defying the King of France !

Bathilde had the indisputable advantage over her rival not
merely of beauty, but of dress. She was dazzlingly fair.
At five-and-twenty her fully-developed shoulders and splendid
modeling were exquisitely full. The roundness of her throat,
the slenderness of her articulations, the splendor of her fine
fair hair, the charm of her smile, the elegant shape of her
head, the dignity and outline of her face, her fine eyes under
a well-moulded brow, her calm and well-bred movements, and
her still girlish figure, all were in harmony. She had a fine
hand and a narrow foot. Her robust health gave her,
perhaps, the look of a handsome inn-servant; "but that
should be no fault in a Rogron's eyes," said pretty Madame
Tiphaine.

The first time Mademoiselle de Chargebosuf was seen she
was dressed simply enough. Her dress of brown merino,
edged with green embroidery, was cut low ; but a kerchief of
tulle, neatly drawn down by invisible strings, covered her
shoulders, back, and bust, a little open at the throat, though
fastened by a brooch and chain. Under this fine network
Bathilde's beauty was even more attractive, more suggestive.



78 THE CELIBATES.

She took off her velvet bonnet and her shawl on entering,
and showed pretty ears with gold eardrops. She had a little
cross and heart on black velvet round her neck, which con-
trasted with its whiteness like the black that fantastic nature
sets round the tail of a white Angora cat. She was expert in
all the arts of girls on their promotion : twisting her fingers
to arrange curls that are not out of place, displaying her wrists
by begging Rogron to button her cuff, which the hapless man,
quite dazzled, bluntly refused to do, hiding his agitation under
assumed indifference. The bashfulness of the only passion
our haberdasher was ever to know in his life always gave it
the demeanor of hatred. Sylvie, as well as Celeste Habert,
misunderstood it ; not so the lawyer, the superior man of this
company of simpletons, whose only enemy was the priest, for
the colonel had long been his ally.

Gouraud, on his part, thenceforth behaved to Sylvie as
Bathilde did to Rogron. He appeared in clean linen every
evening ; he wore velvet collars, which gave effect to his mar-
tial countenance, set off by the corners of his white shirt
collars ; he adopted white drill waistcoats, and had a new frock-
coat made of blue cloth, on which his red rosette was con-
spicuous, and all under pretense of doing honor to the fair
Bathilde. He never smoked after two o'clock. His grizzled
hair was brushed down in a wave over his ochre-colored skull.
In short, he assumed the appearance and attitude of a party
chief, of a man who was prepared to rout the enemies of
France in one word, the Bourbons with tuck of dram.

The satanical pleader and the cunning colonel played a still
more cruel trick on Monsieur and Mademoiselle Habert than
that of introducing the beautiful Mademoiselle de Charge-
bceuf, who was pronounced by the Liberal party and by the
Breauteys to be ten times handsomer than the beautiful
Madame Tiphaine. These two great country-town politi-
cians had it rumored from one to another that Monsieur
Habert had agreed with them on all points. Provins before



PIERRETTE. 79

long spoke of him as a " Liberal priest." Called up before
the bishop, Monsieur Habert was obliged to give up his even-
ings with the Rogrons, but his sister still went there. Thence-
forth the Rogron drawing-room was a fact and a power.

And so, by the middle of that year, political intrigues were
not less eager than matrimonial intrigues in the Rogrons'
rooms. While covert interests, buried out of sight, were
fighting wildly for the upper hand, the public struggle won
disastrous notoriety. Everybody knows that the Villele min-
istry was overthrown by the elections of 1826. In the Pro-
vins constituency, Vinet, the Liberal candidate for whom
Monsieur Cournant had obtained his qualification by the pur-
chase of some land of which the price remained unpaid
came very near beating Monsieur Tiphaine. The president
had a majority of only two.

Mesdames Vinet and de Chargeboeuf, Vinet and the colonel
were sometimes joined by Monsieur Cournant and his wife ;
then by Neraud the doctor, a man whose youth had been very
"stormy," but who now took serious views of life; he had
devoted himself to science, it was said, and, if the Liberals
were to be believed, was a far cleverer man than Monsieur
Martener. To the Rogrons their triumph was as inexplicable
as their ostracism had been.

The handsome Bathilde de Chargeboeuf, to whom Vinet
spoke of Pierrette as an enemy, was horribly disdainful to the
child. The humiliation of this poor victim was necessary to
the interest of all. Madame Vinet could do nothing for the
little girl who was being brayed in the mortar of the pitiless
egotisms which the lady at last understood. But for her
husband's imperative desire she would never have come to
the Rogrons ; it grieved her too much to see their ill-usage of
the pretty little thing who clung to her, understanding her
secret good-will, and begged her to teach her such or such a
stitch or embroidery pattern. Pierrette had shown that when
she was thus treated she understood and succeeded to admira-



80 THE CELIBATES.

tion. But Madame Vinet was no longer of any use, so she
came no more.

Sylvie, who still cherished the notion of marriage, now
regarded Pierrette as an obstacle. Pierrette was nearly four-
teen ; her sickly fairness, a symptom that was quite over-
looked by the ignorant old maid, made her lovely. Then
Sylvie had the bright idea of indemnifying herself for the
expenses caused by Pierrette by making a servant of her.
Vinet, as representing the interests of the Chargeboeufs,
Mademoiselle Habert, Gouraud, all the influential visitors,
advised Sylvie by all means to dismiss Adele. Could not
Pierrette cook and keep the house in order ? When there
was too much to be done, she need only engage the colonel's
housekeeper, a very accomplished person, and one of the best
cooks in Provins. Pierrette ought to learn to cook and to
polish the floors, said the baleful lawyer, to sweep, keep the
house neat, go to market, and know the price of things. The
poor little girl, whose unselfishness was as great as her gener-
osity, offered it herself, glad to pay thus for the hard bread
she ate under that roof.

Adele went. Thus Pierrette lost the only person who
might perhaps have protected her. Strong as she was, from
that hour she was crushed body and soul. The old people
had less mercy on her than on a servant ; she was their prop-
erty ! She was scolded for mere nothings, for a little dust
left on the corner of a chimney-shelf or a glass shade. These
objects of luxury that she had so much admired became odious
to her. In spite of her anxiety to do right, her relentless
cousin Sylvie always found some fault with everything she
did. In two years Pierrette never heard a word of praise or
of affection. Her whole happiness consisted in not being
scolded. She submitted with angelic patience to the dark
moods of these two unmarried beings, to whom the gentler
feelings were unknown, and who made her suffer every day
for her dependency. This life in which the young girl was



PIERRETTE. 81

gripped, as it were, between the two haberdashers as in the
jaws of a vise, increased her malady. She had such violent
fits of inexplicable distress, such sudden bursts of secret grief,
that her physical development was irremediably checked.
And thus, by slow degrees, through terrible though concealed
sufferings, Pierrette had come to the state in which the friend
of her childhood had seen her as he stood on the little square
and greeted her with his Breton ballad.

Before entering on the story of the domestic drama in the
Rogrons' house, to which Brigaut's arrival gave rise, it will be
necessary, to avoid digressions, to account for the lad's set-
tling at Provins, since he is in some sort a silent personage
on the stage.

Brigaut, as he fled, was alarmed not merely by Pierrette's
signal, but also by the change in his little friend ; hardly
could he recognize her, but for the voice, eyes, and move-
ments which recalled his lively little playfellow, at once so
gay and so loving. When he had gotten far away from the
house, his legs quaked under him, his spine felt on fire ! He
had seen the shadow of Pierrette, and not Pierrette herself.
He made his way up to the old town, thoughtful and uneasy,
till he found a spot whence he could see the place and the
house where Pierrette lived ; he gazed at it sadly, lost in
thought as infinite as the troubles into which we plunge with-
out knowing where they may end. Pierrette was ill ; she was
unhappy ; she regretted Brittany ! What ailed her ? All
these questions passed again and again through Brigaut's
mind, and racked his breast, revealing to him the extent of
his affection for his little adopted sister.

It is very rarely that a passion between two children of dif-
ferent sexes remains permanent. The charming romance of
Paul and Virginia no more solves the problem of this strange
moral fact than does that of Brigaut and Pierrette. Modern
history offers the single illustrious exception of the sublime
6



82 THE CELIBATES.

Marchesa di Pescara and her husband, who, destined for each
other by their parents at the age of fourteen, adored each
other, and were married. Their union gave to the sixteenth
century the spectacle of boundless conjugal affection, never
clouded. The Marchesa, a widow at four-and-thirty, beauti-
ful, witty, universally beloved, refused monarchs, and buried
herself in a convent, where she never saw, never heard, any
one but nuns.

Such perfect love as this blossomed suddenly in the heart
of the poor Breton artisan. Pierrette and he had so often
been each other's protectors, he had been so happy in giving
her the money for her journey, he had almost died of running
after the diligence, and Pierrette had not known it ! The
memory of it had often warmed him during the chill hours of
his toilsome life these three years past. He had improved
himself for Pierrette ; he had learned his craft for Pierrette ;
he had come to Paris for Pierrette, intending to make a for-
tune for her. After being there a fortnight, he could no
longer control his longing to see her ; he had walked from
Saturday evening till Monday morning. He had intended to
return to Paris, but the pathetic appearance of his little friend
held him fast to Provins. A wonderful magnetism still dis-
puted, it is true, in spite of so many instances acted on him
without his knowing it ; and tears filled his eyes, while they
also dimmed Pierrette's sight. If to her he was Brittany and
all her happy childhood, to him Pierrette was life ! At six-
teen Brigaut had not yet learned to draw or give the section
of a moulding ; there were many things he did not know ;
but at piecework he had earned from four to five francs a day.
So he could live at Provins ; he would be within reach of
Pierrette ; he would finish learning his business by working
under the best cabinetmaker in the town, and watch over the
little girl.

Brigaut made up his mind at once. He flew back to Paris,
settled his accounts, collected his pass, his luggage, and his



PIERRETTE. 83

tools. Three days later he was working for Monsieur Frap-
pier, the best carpenter in Provins. Energetic workmen,
steady, and averse to turbulency and taverns, are rare enough
to make a master glad to get a young fellow like Brigaut.
To conclude his story on that score, by the end of a fortnight
he was foreman, lodging and boarding with Frappier, who
taught him arithmetic and linear drawing. The carpenter
lived in the High Street, about a hundred yards from the little
oblong piazza, at the end of which stood the Rogrons' house.

Brigaut buried his love in his heart, and was not guilty of
the smallest indiscretion. He got Madame Frappier to tell
him the history of the Rogrons; from her he learned how
the old innkeeper had set to work to get the money left by
old Auffray. Brigaut was fully informed as to the character
of the haberdasher and his sister. One morning he met
Pierrette at market with Mademoiselle Sylvie, and shuddered
to see her with a basket on her arm full of provisions. He
went to see Pierrette again at church on Sunday, where the
girl appeared in all her best ; there, for the first time, Brigaut
understood that Pierrette was Mademoiselle Lorrain.

Pierrette saw her friend, but she made him a mysterious
signal to keep himself out of sight. There was a world of
meaning in this gesture, as in that by which, a fortnight since,
she had bidden him vanish. What a fortune he would have
to make in ten years to enable him to marry the companion
of his childhood, to whom the Rogrons would leave a house,
a hundred acres of land, and twelve thousand francs a year,
not to mention their savings ! The persevering Breton would
not tempt fortune till he had acquired the knowledge he still
lacked. So long as it was theory alone, it was all the same
whether he learned in Paris or at Provins, and he preferred
to remain near Pierrette, to whom he also proposed to explain
his plans and the sort of help she might count on. Finally,
he would certainly not leave her till he understood the secret
of the pallor which had already dimmed the life of the feature



64 THE CELIBATES.

which generally retains it longest the eyes; till he knew
what caused the sufferings that gave her the look of a girl
bowing before the scythe of death, and about to be cut down.
Her two pathetic signals, which were not false to their
friendship, but which enjoined the greatest caution, struck
terror into the lad's heart. Evidently Pierrette desired him
to wait, and not to try to see her, or there would be danger
and peril for her. As she came out of church she gave him a
look, and Brigaut saw that her eyes were full of tears. The
Breton would more easily have squared the circle than have
guessed what had happened in the Rogrons' house since his
arrival.

It was not without lively apprehensions that Pierrette came
down from her room that day when Brigaut had plunged into
her morning dream like another dream. Having risen and
opened her window, Mademoiselle Rogron must have heard
the song and its words compromising, no doubt, in the ears
of an old maid ; but Pierrette knew nothing of the causes
that made her cousin so alert. Sylvie had good reasons for
getting up and running to the window. For about a week
past strange secret events and cruel pangs of feeling had
agitated the principal figures in the Rogron salon. These
unknown events, carefully concealed by all concerned, were
to fall on Pierrette like an icy avalanche.

The realm of mysteries, which ought perhaps to be called
the foul places of the human heart, lies at the bottom of the
greatest revolutions, political, social, or domestic; but in
speaking of them it may be extremely useful to explain that
their algebraical expression, though accurate, is not faithful
so far as form is concerned. These deep calculations do not
express themselves so brutally as history reports them. Any
attempt to relate the circumlocutions, the rhetorical involu-
tions, the long colloquies, in which the mind designedly
darkens the light it casts, the honeyed words diluting the



PIERRETTE. 85

venom of certain insinuations, would mean writing a book as
long as the noble poem called " Clarissa Harlowe."

Mademoiselle Habert and Mademoiselle Rogron were
equally desirous of marrying ; but one was ten years younger
than the other, and probability allowed Celeste Habert to
think that her children would inherit the Rogrons' whole
fortune. Sylvie was almost forty-two, an age at which



Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 7 of 31)