Honoré de Balzac.

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phenomenon of extreme brightness in her eye under the influ-
ence of rage was all the more confirmed in Mademoiselle
Rogron because formerly, in her shop, she had had occasion
to try the power of her gaze by opening her eyes enormously
wide, always to fill her dependents with salutary terror.

" I will teach you to give me the lie," she went on ; " you,
who deserve to be sent away from table to feed by yourself in
the kitchen."

"What is the matter with you both?" cried Rogron.
"You are as cross as two sticks this morning."

" Oh, my lady knows what I mean ! I am giving her time
to make up her mind before speaking to you about it, for I
am much kinder to her than she deserves."

Pierrette looked through the window out on to the square,
so as not to meet her cousin's eyes, which frightened her.

" She pays no more heed than if I were talking to this
sugar-basin ! And she has sharp ears, too ; she can speak
from the top of the house to answer some one below. She is
that perverse ! Your ward is aggravating beyond words, and
you need look for nothing good from her ; do you hear me,

"What has she done that is so wicked ? " asked Rogron.

"At her age too ! It is beginning young ! " cried the old
maid in a fury.

Pierrette rose to clear away, just to keep herself in counte-
nance ; she did not know which way to look. Though such
language was nothing new to her, she never could get used to


it. Her cousin's rage made her feel as though she had com-
mitted some crime. She wondered what her rage would be
if she knew of Brigaut's escapade. Perhaps they would keep
Brigaut away. All the thousand ideas of a slave crowded on
her at once, thoughts swift and deep, and she resolved to
resist by absolute silence as to an incident in which her con-
science could see no evil.

She had to endure words so cruel, so harsh, insinuations so
insulting, that on her return to the kitchen she was seized
with cramp in the stomach and a violent attack of sickness.
She dared not complain ; she was not sure of getting any
care. She turned pale and faint, said that she felt ill, and
went up to bed, clinging to the banisters at every step, and
believing that her last hour had come. "Poor Brigaut!"
thought she.

"She is ill," said Rogron.

"She ill! It is all megrims," said Sylvie, loud enough
to be overheard. " She was not ill this morning, I can
tell you!"

This last shot was too much for Pierrette, who crept to bed
in tears, praying to God to remove her from this world.

For a month past Rogron had no longer carried the Con-
stitutionnel to Gouraud ; the colonel obsequiously came to
fetch the newspaper, to make talk, and take Rogron out when
the weather was fine. Sylvie, sure of seeing the colonel, and
being able to question him, dressed herself coquettishly. The
old maid thought she achieved this by putting on a green
gown, a little yellow cashmere shawl bordered with red, and
a white bonnet with meagre gray feathers. At the hour when
the colonel was due, she settled herself in the drawing-room
with her brother, making him keep on his dressing-gown and

"It is a fine morning, colonel," said Rogron, hearing
Gouraud's heavy step; " but I am not dressed, my sister perhaps


wanted to go out, she left me to mind the house ; wait

Rogron went off, leaving Sylvie with the colonel.

"Where are you going? you are dressed like a goddess,"
observed Gouraud, seeing a certain solemnity of expression
on the old maid's battered face.

" Yes, I was going out ; but as the child is not well, I must
stay at home."

" What is the matter with her? "

" I do not know ; she asked to go to bed."

Gouraud's cautiousness, not to say his distrust, was con-
stantly on the alert as a result of his collusion with Vinet.
The lawyer evidently had the best of it. He edited the
paper, he ruled it as a master, and applied the profits to the
editing ; whereas the colonel, the responsible stalking-horse,
got little enough. Who was to be the depute ? Vinet. Who
the great electioneer ? Vinet. Who was always consulted ?

Then he knew, at least as well as Vinet, the extent and
depth of the passion consuming Rogron for the fair Bathilde
de Chargebceuf. This passion was becoming a mania, as all
the lowest passions of men do. Bathilde's voice made the
old bachelor thrill. Rogron, thinking only of his desire,
concealed it ; he dared not hope for such a match. The
colonel, to sound him, had told Rogron that he was about to
propose for Bathilde's hand ; Rogron had turned pale at the
mere thought of such a formidable rival ; he had become
cold to Gouraud, almost hostile. Thus Vinet in every way
ruled the roost, while he, the colonel, was tied to the house
only by the doubtful bond of a love which, on his part, was
but feigned, and on Sylvie's as yet unconfessed. When the
lawyer had divulged the priest's manoeuvre and advised him
to throw over Sylvie and pay his addresses to Pierrette, Vinet
had humored his inclinations ; still, as the colonel analyzed
the true purport of this suggestion, and examined the ground


on which he stood, he fancied he could discern in his ally
some hope of making mischief between him and Sylvie, and
taking advantage of the old maid's fears to make the whole
of Rogron's fortune fall into Mademoiselle de Chargebceufs

Hence, when Rogron left him alone with Sylvie, the col-
onel's acumen seized on the slight indications which betrayed
some uneasiness in Sylvie. He saw that she had planned to
be under arms and alone with him for a minute. Gouraud,
who already vehemently suspected Vinet of playing him some
malignant trick, ascribed this conference to a secret sugges-
tion of this legal ape ; he put himself on guard, as when he
had been making a reconnoissance in the enemy's country,
keeping an eye on the whole prospect, listening for the least
sound, his mind alert, his hand on his weapon. It was the
colonel's weakness never to believe a word said by a woman;
and when the old maid spoke of Pierrette, and said she was in
bed at midday, he concluded that Sylvie had simply put her
in disgrace in her room out of jealousy.

" The child is growing very pretty," said he, in an indiffer-
ent tone.

"Yes, she will be pretty," replied Mademoiselle Rogron.

" You ought now to send her to a shop in Paris," added the
colonel. " She would make a fortune. They look out for
very pretty girls now in the milliners' shops."

"Is that really your advice?" asked Sylvie, in an anxious

"Good! I have hit it!" thought the colonel. "Vinet's
advice that Pierrette and I should marry by-and-by was only
intended to place me in this old witch's black-books. Why,"
he said aloud, " what do you expect to do with her? Do you
not see a perfectly lovely girl, Bathilde de Chargeboeuf, of
noble birth, well connected, and left to become an old maid.
No one will have anything to say to her. Pierrette has noth-
ing ; she will never marry. Do you suppose that youth and


beauty have any attraction for me, for instance? for me,
who, as captain of artillery in the Imperial Guard from the
first day when the Emperor had a guard, have had my feet
in every capital in Europe, and known the prettiest women in
them all ? Youth and beauty they are deuced common and
silly. Don't talk of them to me !

"At eight-and-forty," he went on, adding to his age, "when
a man has gone through the retreat from Moscow and the
dreadful campaign in France, his loins are a bit weary ; I am
an old fellow. Now, a wife like you would cosset me and take
care of me ; her fortune, added to my few thousand francs of
pension, would secure me suitable comfort for my old age,
and I should like her a thousand times better than a minx
who would give me no end of trouble, who would be thirty
and have her passions when I should be sixty and have the
rheumatism. At my time of life we think of these things.
And, between you and me, I may add that if I marry, I should
hope to have no children."

Sylvie's face was transparent to the colonel all through this
speech, and her reply was enough to assure him of Vinet's

" So you are not in love with Pierrette? " she exclaimed.

"Bless me! Are you crazy, my dear Sylvie?" cried he.
" When we have lost all our teeth, is it time to crack nuts ?
Thank God, I still have my wits, and know myself."

Sylvie would not then say more about herself; she thought
herself very wily in using her brother's name.

"My brother," said she, "had thought of your marrying

"Your brother can never have had such a preposterous
notion. A few days ago, to find out his secret, I told
him that I was in love with Bathilde ; he turned as white as
your collar."

"Is he in love with Bathilde?" said Sylvie.

" Madly ! And Bathilde certainly loves only his money."


(" One for you, Vinet," thought Gouraud.) " What should
have made him speak of Pierrette? No, Sylvie," he went
on, taking her hand and pressing it with meaning, " since
you have led to the subject " he went close to her " well "
he kissed her hand ; he was a cavalry colonel, and had
given proofs of courage "know this: I want no wife but
you. Though the marriage will look like a marriage for
money, I feel true affection for you."

'' But it was I who wished that you should marry Pier-
rette ; and if I were to give her my money what then,

" But I do not want to have a wretched home, or to
see, ten years hence, some young whippersnapper, such as
Julliard, hovering around my wife, and writing verses to
her in the newspaper. I am too much a man on that
score; I will never marry a woman out of all proportion,
too young."

"Well, colonel, we will talk that over seriously," said
Sylvie, with a glance she thought amorous, and which was
very like that of an ogress. Her cold, raw purple lips
parted over her yellow teeth, and she fancied she was

"Here I am," said Rogron, and he led away the colonel,
who bowed courteously to the old maid.

Gouraud was determined to hasten his marriage with Sylvie
and so become master of the house; promising himself that,
through the influence he would acquire over Sylvie during the
honeymoon, he would get rid both of Bathilde and of Celeste
Habert. So, as they walked, he told Rogron that he had
been making fun of him the other day ; that he had no
intentions of winning Bathilde's heart, not being rich enough
to take a wife who had no money. Then he confided his
projects ; he had long since chosen Sylvie for her admirable
qualities ; in short, he aspired to the honor of becoming his


"Oh, colonel! Oh, Baron! If only my consent were
needed, it would be done as soon as legal delays should
allow! " cried Rogron, delighted to find himself relieved of
this terrible rival.

Sylvie spent the whole morning examining her own rooms
to see if there were accommodation for a couple. She deter-
mined on building another story for her brother, and having
the second floor for herself and her husband ; but she also prom-
ised herself, in accordance with the notions of every old maid,
to put the colonel to some tests, so as to judge of his heart
and habits before making up her mind. She still had doubts,
and wanted to make sure that Pierrette had no intimacy with
the colonel.

At dinner-time the girl came down to lay the cloth. Sylvie
had been obliged to do the cooking, and had spotted her
gown, exclaiming, " Curse Pierrette ! " For it was evident,
indeed, that if Pierrette had cooked the dinner, Sylvie would
not have had a grease-stain on her silk dress.

" So here you are, you little coddle. You are like the
blacksmith's dog that sleeps under the forge and wakes at the
sound of a saucepan. So you want me to believe that you
are ill, you little story-teller! "

The one idea, "You did not confess the truth as to what
took place this morning, therefore everything you say is a
lie," was like a hammer with which Sylvie was prepared to
hit incessantly on Pierrette's head and heart.

To Pierrette's great astonishment, Sylvie sent her after
dinner to dress for the evening. The liveliest imagination is
no match for the energy which suspicion gives to the mind
of an old maid. In such a case, the old maid beats politi-
cians, attorneys, and notaries, bill-brokers and misers. Sylvie
promised herself that she would consult Vinet after looking
well about her. She meant to keep Pierrette in the room, so
as to judge for herself by the child's face whether the colonel
had told the truth.


The first to come were Madame de Chargeboeuf and her
daughter. By her cousin Vinet's advice, Bathilde had
dressed with twice her usual elegance. She wore a most
becoming blue cotton-velvet gown, the clear kerchief as
before, bunches of grapes in garnets and gold for earrings,
her hair in ringlets, the artful necklet, little black satin shoes,
gray silk stockings, and Suede gloves, and then queenly airs
and girlish coquettishness enough to catch every Rogron in
the river. Her mother, calm and dignified, had preserved,
as had Bathilde, a certain aristocratic impertinence by which
these two women redeemed everything, betraying the spirit
of their caste. Bathilde was gifted with superior intelligence,
though Vinet alone had been able to discern it after the two
months that these ladies had spent in his house. When he
had sounded the depths of this girl, depressed by the useless-
ness of her youth and beauty, but enlightened by the con-
tempt she felt for the men of a period when money was their
sole idol, Vinet exclaimed in surprise

" If I had but married you, Bathilde, by this time I should
have been keeper of the seals ; I would have called myself
Vinet de Chargeboeuf, and have sat on the right."

Bathilde had no vulgar aims in her wish to be married ;
she would not marry for motherhood, nor for the sake of hav-
ing a husband; she would marry to be free, to have a "re-
sponsible publisher," as it were to be called madame, and to
act as men act. Rogron to her was a name ; she thought she
could make something of this imbecile creature a depute,
who might vote while she pulled the wires ; she wanted to be
revenged on her family, who had paid little heed to a penni-
less girl. Vinet, admiring and encouraging her ideas, had
greatly extended and strengthened them.

" My dear cousin," said he, explaining to her the influence
exerted by women, and pointing out the sphere of action
proper to them, " do you suppose that Tiphaine, a profoundly
mediocre man. can by his own merits rise to sit on the lower


bench in Paris? It is Madame Tiphaine who got him re-
turned as deputy ; it is she who will carry him to Paris. Her
mother, Madame Roguin, is a cunning body, who does what
she pleases with du Tillet the banker, one of Nucingen's
chief allies, both of them close friends of Keller's ; and these
three houses do great services to the government or its most
devoted adherents ; the offices are on the best possible terms
with these lynxes of the financial world, and men like those
know all Paris. There is nothing to hinder Tiphaine from
rising to be the presiding judge of one of the higher courts.
Marry Rogron ; we will make him deputy for Provins as soon
as I have secured for myself some other constituency in Seine-
et-Marne. Then you will have a receivership one of those
places where Rogron will have nothing to do but sign his
name. We will stick to the Opposition if it triumphs ; but if
the Bourbons remain in power, O how gently we will incline
towards the centre ! Besides, Rogron will not live for ever,
and you can marry a title by-and-by. And then, if you are
in a good position, the Chargeboeufs will help us. Your
poverty like mine has, no doubt, enabled you to estimate
what men are worth ; they are to be made use of only as
post-horses. A man or a woman can take us from one stage
to the next! "

Vinet had made a little Catherine de Medici of Bathilde.
He left his wife at home, happy with her two children, and
always attended Madame de Chargeboeuf and Bathilde to the
Rogrons. He appeared in all his glory as the tribune of
Champagne. He wore neat gold spectacles, a silk waistcoat,
a white cravat, black trousers, thin boots, a black coat made
in Paris, a gold watch and chain. Instead of the Vinet of
old pale, lean, haggard, and gloomy he exhibited the
Vinet of the day, in all the bravery of a political personage ;
sure of his luck, he trod with the decision peculiar to a busy
advocate familiar with the caverns of justice. His small,




cunning head was so smartly brushed, and his clean-shaven
chin gave him such a finished though cold appearance, that he
looked quite pleasing, in the style of Robespierre. He might
certainly become a delightful public prosecutor, with an elas-
tic, dangerous, and deadly flow of eloquence, or an orator,
with all the subtlety of Benjamin Constant. The acrimony
and hatred which had formerly animated him had turned to
perfidious softness. The poison had become medicine.

"Good-evening, my dear, how are you?" said Madame
de Chargeboeuf to Sylvie.

Bathilde went straight to the fireplace, took off her hat,
looked at herself in the glass, and put her pretty foot on the
bar of the fender to display it to Rogron.

"What ails you, monsieur?" said she, looking at him.
" You give me no greeting ? Well, indeed ! I may put on a
velvet frock for your benefit "

She stopped Pierrette, bidding her put her hat on a chair,
and the girl took it from her, Bathilde resigning it to her as
though Pierrette had been the housemaid.

Men are thought very fierce, and so are tigers ; but neither
tigers, nor vipers, nor diplomats, nor men of law, nor execu-
tioners, nor kings, can in their utmost atrocities come near
the gentle cruelty, the poisoned sweetness, the savage scorn
of young ladies to each other when certain of them think
themselves superior to others in birth, fortune, or grace, and
when marriage is in question, or precedence, or, in short, any
feminine rivalry. The "Thank you, mademoiselle," spoken
by Bathilde to Pierrette, was a poem in twelve cantos.

Her name was Bathilde, the other's was Pierrette ; she was a
Chargeboeuf, the other a Lorrain ! Pierrette was undersized
and fragile, Bathilde was tall and full of vitality! Pierrette
was fed by charity, Bathilde and her mother lived on their
own money ! Pierrette wore a stuff frock with a deep tucker,
Bathilde dragged the serpentine folds of her blue velvet ;
Bathilde had the finest shoulders in the department and an


arm like a queen's, Pierrette's shoulder-blades and arms were
skinny ; Pierrette was Cinderella, Bathilde the fairy ; Bathilde
would get married, Pierrette would die a maid ! Bathilde was
worshiped, Pierrette had no one to love her ! Bathilde had
her hair dressed she had taste; Pierrette hid her hair under
a little cap, and knew nothing of the fashions ! Epilogue
Bathilde was everything, Pierrette was nothing. The proud
little Bretonne perfectly understood this cruel poem.

" Good-evening, child," said Madame de Chargeboeuf from
the summit of her grandeur, and with an accent given by her
narrow-pinched nose.

Vinet put the crowning touch to these insulting civilities by
looking at Pierrette and saying, on three notes, "Oh, oh,
oh ! How fine we are this evening, Pierrette ! "

" I ! " said the poor child. "You should say that to your
cousin, not to me. She is beautiful ! "

"Oh, my cousin is always beautiful," replied the lawyer.
" Do you not say so, Pere Rogron?" he added, turning to
the master of the house, and shaking hands with him.

"Yes," said Rogron.

"Why force him to say what he does not think? I never
was to his taste," replied Bathilde, placing herself in front of
Rogron. " Is not that the truth ? Look at me."

Rogron looked at her from head to foot, and gently closed
his eyes, like a cat when its poll is scratched.

"You are too beautiful," said he, "too dangerous to look

" Why ? "

Rogron gazed at the fire-logs and said nothing.

At this moment Mademoiselle Habert came, followed by
the colonel. Celeste Habert, everybody's enemy now, had
none but Sylvie on her side ; but each one showed her all the
greater consideration, politeness, and amiable attention be-
cause all were undermining her, so that she doubted between
this display of civil interest and the distrust which her brother


had implanted in her. The priest, though standing apart
from the theatre of war, guessed everything; and so, when
he perceived that his sister's hopes were at an end, he became
one of the Rogrons' most formidable antagonists.

The reader can at once imagine what Mademoiselle Habert
was like on being told that even if she had not been mistress
arch-mistress of a school, she would still always have
looked like a governess. Governesses have a particular way
of putting on their caps. Just as elderly Englishwomen have
monopolized the fashion of turbans, so governesses have the
monopoly of these caps ; the crown of the cap towers above
the flowers, the flowers are more than artificial ; stored care-
fully in a wardrobe, this cap is always new and always old,
even on the first day. These old maids make it a point of
honor to be like a painter's lay-figure ; they sit on their
haunches, not on their chairs. When they are spoken to they
turn their whole body ; and when their gowns creak, we are
tempted to believe that the springs of the machinery are out
of order. Mademoiselle Habert, a type of her kind, had a
hard eye, a set mouth, and under her chin, furrowed with
wrinkles, the limp and crumpled cap-strings wagged and
frisked as she moved. She had an added charm in two
moles, rather large and rather brown, with hairs that she left
to grow like untied clematis. Finally, she took snuff, and
without grace.

They sat down to the toil of boston. Sylvie had opposite
to her Mademoiselle Habert, and the colonel sat on one side,
opposite Madame de Chargeboeuf. Bathilde placed herself
near her mother and Rogron. Sylvie put Pierrette between
herself and the colonel. Rogron opened another card-table
in case Monsieur Neraud should come, and Monsieur Cour-
nant and his wife. Vinet and Bathilde could both play
whist, which was Monsieur and Madame Cournant's game.
Ever since the Chargebceuf ladies as they say in Provins
had been in the habit of coming to the Rogrons, the two


lamps blazed on the chimney-piece between the candelabra
and the clock, and the tables were lighted by wax-lights at
two francs a pound, which, however, were paid for by win-
nings at cards.

" Now, Pierrette, my child, take your sewing," said Sylvie
with treacherous gentleness, seeing her watch the colonel's

In public she always pretended to treat Pierrette very
kindly. This mean deceit irritated the honest Bretonne,
and made her despise her cousin. Pierrette fetched her
embrodiery ; but as she set the stitches, she looked now and
then at the colonel's game. Gouraud seemed not to know
that there was a little girl at his side. Sylvie began to think
this indifference extremely suspicious. At a certain moment
in the game the old maid declared misere in hearts ; the pool
was full of counters, and there were twenty-seven sous in it
besides. The Cournants and Neraud had come. The old
supernumerary judge, Desfondrilles a man in whom the
minister of justice had discerned the qualifications for a judge
when appointing him examining magistrate, but who was
never thought clever enough for a superior position had for
the last two months forsaken the Tiphaines and shown a
leaning towards Vinet's party. He was now standing in
front of the fire, holding up his coat-tails, and gazing at the
gorgeous drawing-room in which Mademoiselle de Charge-
boeuf shone ; for the setting of crimson looked as if it had
been contrived on purpose to show off the beauty of this
magnificent young woman. Silence reigned ; Pierrette
watched the play, and Sylvie's attention was diverted by the
excitement of the game.

" Play that," said Pierrette to the colonel, pointing to a

The colonel led from a sequence in hearts ; the hearts lay
between him and Sylvie ; the colonel forced the ace, though
it was guarded in Sylvie's hand by five small cards.


"It is not fair play ! Pierrette saw my hand, and the
colonel allowed her to advise him ! "

"But, mademoiselle," said Celeste, " it was the colonel's

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe celibates and other stories → online text (page 9 of 31)