by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell
To Madame la Comtesse Ida de Bocarme nee du Chasteler.
"HULLO! There is that old Box-coat again!"
This exclamation was made by a lawyer's clerk of the class called in
French offices a gutter-jumper--a messenger in fact--who at this
moment was eating a piece of dry bread with a hearty appetite. He
pulled off a morsel of crumb to make into a bullet, and fired it
gleefully through the open pane of the window against which he was
leaning. The pellet, well aimed, rebounded almost as high as the
window, after hitting the hat of a stranger who was crossing the
courtyard of a house in the Rue Vivienne, where dwelt Maitre Derville,
"Come, Simonnin, don't play tricks on people, or I will turn you out
of doors. However poor a client may be, he is still a man, hang it
all!" said the head clerk, pausing in the addition of a bill of costs.
The lawyer's messenger is commonly, as was Simonnin, a lad of thirteen
or fourteen, who, in every office, is under the special jurisdiction
of the managing clerk, whose errands and billets-doux keep him
employed on his way to carry writs to the bailiffs and petitions to
the Courts. He is akin to the street boy in his habits, and to the
pettifogger by fate. The boy is almost always ruthless, unbroken,
unmanageable, a ribald rhymester, impudent, greedy, and idle. And yet,
almost all these clerklings have an old mother lodging on some fifth
floor with whom they share their pittance of thirty or forty francs a
"If he is a man, why do you call him old Box-coat?" asked Simonnin,
with the air of a schoolboy who has caught out his master.
And he went on eating his bread and cheese, leaning his shoulder
against the window jamb; for he rested standing like a cab-horse, one
of his legs raised and propped against the other, on the toe of his
"What trick can we play that cove?" said the third clerk, whose name
was Godeschal, in a low voice, pausing in the middle of a discourse he
was extemporizing in an appeal engrossed by the fourth clerk, of which
copies were being made by two neophytes from the provinces.
Then he went on improvising:
"But, in his noble and beneficent wisdom, his Majesty, Louis the
Eighteenth--(write it at full length, heh! Desroches the learned--
you, as you engross it!)--when he resumed the reins of Government,
understood--(what did that old nincompoop ever understand?)--the
high mission to which he had been called by Divine Providence!--(a
note of admiration and six stops. They are pious enough at the Courts
to let us put six)--and his first thought, as is proved by the date
of the order hereinafter designated, was to repair the misfortunes
caused by the terrible and sad disasters of the revolutionary times,
by restoring to his numerous and faithful adherents--('numerous' is
flattering, and ought to please the Bench)--all their unsold estates,
whether within our realm, or in conquered or acquired territory, or in
the endowments of public institutions, for we are, and proclaim
ourselves competent to declare, that this is the spirit and meaning of
the famous, truly loyal order given in--Stop," said Godeschal to the
three copying clerks, "that rascally sentence brings me to the end of
my page.--Well," he went on, wetting the back fold of the sheet with
his tongue, so as to be able to fold back the page of thick stamped
paper, "well, if you want to play him a trick, tell him that the
master can only see his clients between two and three in the morning;
we shall see if he comes, the old ruffian!"
And Godeschal took up the sentence he was dictating--"given in--Are
"Yes," cried the three writers.
It all went all together, the appeal, the gossip, and the conspiracy.
"Given in--Here, Daddy Boucard, what is the date of the order? We
must dot our i's and cross our t's, by Jingo! it helps to fill the
"By Jingo!" repeated one of the copying clerks before Boucard, the
head clerk, could reply.
"What! have you written by Jingo?" cried Godeschal, looking at one
of the novices, with an expression at once stern and humorous.
"Why, yes," said Desroches, the fourth clerk, leaning across his
neighbor's copy, "he has written, 'We must dot our i's' and spelt it
All the clerks shouted with laughter.
"Why! Monsieur Hure, you take 'By Jingo' for a law term, and you say
you come from Mortagne!" exclaimed Simonnin.
"Scratch it cleanly out," said the head clerk. "If the judge, whose
business it is to tax the bill, were to see such things, he would say
you were laughing at the whole boiling. You would hear of it from the
chief! Come, no more of this nonsense, Monsieur Hure! A Norman ought
not to write out an appeal without thought. It is the 'Shoulder arms!'
of the law."
"Given in--in?" asked Godeschal.--"Tell me when, Boucard."
"June 1814," replied the head clerk, without looking up from his work.
A knock at the office door interrupted the circumlocutions of the
prolix document. Five clerks with rows of hungry teeth, bright,
mocking eyes, and curly heads, lifted their noses towards the door,
after crying all together in a singing tone, "Come in!"
Boucard kept his face buried in a pile of papers--broutilles (odds
and ends) in French law jargon--and went on drawing out the bill of
costs on which he was busy.
The office was a large room furnished with the traditional stool which
is to be seen in all these dens of law-quibbling. The stove-pipe
crossed the room diagonally to the chimney of a bricked-up fireplace;
on the marble chimney-piece were several chunks of bread, triangles of
Brie cheese, pork cutlets, glasses, bottles, and the head clerk's cup
of chocolate. The smell of these dainties blended so completely with
that of the immoderately overheated stove and the odor peculiar to
offices and old papers, that the trail of a fox would not have been
perceptible. The floor was covered with mud and snow, brought in by
the clerks. Near the window stood the desk with a revolving lid, where
the head clerk worked, and against the back of it was the second
clerk's table. The second clerk was at this moment in Court. It was
between eight and nine in the morning.
The only decoration of the office consisted in huge yellow posters,
announcing seizures of real estate, sales, settlements under trust,
final or interim judgments,--all the glory of a lawyer's office.
Behind the head clerk was an enormous room, of which each division was
crammed with bundles of papers with an infinite number of tickets
hanging from them at the ends of red tape, which give a peculiar
physiognomy to law papers. The lower rows were filled with cardboard
boxes, yellow with use, on which might be read the names of the more
important clients whose cases were juicily stewing at this present
time. The dirty window-panes admitted but little daylight. Indeed,
there are very few offices in Paris where it is possible to write
without lamplight before ten in the morning in the month of February,
for they are all left to very natural neglect; every one comes and no
one stays; no one has any personal interest in a scene of mere routine
--neither the attorney, nor the counsel, nor the clerks, trouble
themselves about the appearance of a place which, to the youths, is a
schoolroom; to the clients, a passage; to the chief, a laboratory. The
greasy furniture is handed down to successive owners with such
scrupulous care, that in some offices may still be seen boxes of
remainders, machines for twisting parchment gut, and bags left by
the prosecuting parties of the Chatelet (abbreviated to Chlet)--a
Court which, under the old order of things, represented the present
Court of First Instance (or County Court).
So in this dark office, thick with dust, there was, as in all its
fellows, something repulsive to the clients--something which made it
one of the most hideous monstrosities of Paris. Nay, were it not for
the mouldy sacristies where prayers are weighed out and paid for like
groceries, and for the old-clothes shops, where flutter the rags that
blight all the illusions of life by showing us the last end of all our
festivities--an attorney's office would be, of all social marts, the
most loathsome. But we might say the same of the gambling-hell, of the
Law Court, of the lottery office, of the brothel.
But why? In these places, perhaps, the drama being played in a man's
soul makes him indifferent to accessories, which would also account
for the single-mindedness of great thinkers and men of great
"Where is my penknife?"
"I am eating my breakfast."
"You go and be hanged! here is a blot on the copy."
These various exclamations were uttered simultaneously at the moment
when the old client shut the door with the sort of humility which
disfigures the movements of a man down on his luck. The stranger tried
to smile, but the muscles of his face relaxed as he vainly looked for
some symptoms of amenity on the inexorably indifferent faces of the
six clerks. Accustomed, no doubt, to gauge men, he very politely
addressed the gutter-jumper, hoping to get a civil answer from this
boy of all work.
"Monsieur, is your master at home?"
The pert messenger made no reply, but patted his ear with the fingers
of his left hand, as much as to say, "I am deaf."
"What do you want, sir?" asked Godeschal, swallowing as he spoke a
mouthful of bread big enough to charge a four-pounder, flourishing his
knife and crossing his legs, throwing up one foot in the air to the
level of his eyes.
"This is the fifth time I have called," replied the victim. "I wish to
speak to M. Derville."
"Yes, but I can explain it to no one but--"
"M. Derville is in bed; if you wish to consult him on some difficulty,
he does no serious work till midnight. But if you will lay the case
before us, we could help you just as well as he can to----"
The stranger was unmoved; he looked timidly about him, like a dog who
has got into a strange kitchen and expects a kick. By grace of their
profession, lawyers' clerks have no fear of thieves; they did not
suspect the owner of the box-coat, and left him to study the place,
where he looked in vain for a chair to sit on, for he was evidently
tired. Attorneys, on principle, do not have many chairs in their
offices. The inferior client, being kept waiting on his feet, goes
away grumbling, but then he does not waste time, which, as an old
lawyer once said, is not allowed for when the bill is taxed.
"Monsieur," said the old man, "as I have already told you, I cannot
explain my business to any one but M. Derville. I will wait till he is
Boucard had finished his bill. He smelt the fragrance of his
chocolate, rose from his cane armchair, went to the chimney-piece,
looked the old man from head to foot, stared at his coat, and made an
indescribable grimace. He probably reflected that whichever way his
client might be wrung, it would be impossible to squeeze out a
centime, so he put in a few brief words to rid the office of a bad
"It is the truth, monsieur. The chief only works at night. If your
business is important, I recommend you to return at one in the
morning." The stranger looked at the head clerk with a bewildered
expression, and remained motionless for a moment. The clerks,
accustomed to every change of countenance, and the odd whimsicalities
to which indecision or absence of mind gives rise in "parties," went
on eating, making as much noise with their jaws as horses over a
manger, and paying no further heed to the old man.
"I will come again to-night," said the stranger at length, with the
tenacious desire, peculiar to the unfortunate, to catch humanity at
The only irony allowed to poverty is to drive Justice and Benevolence
to unjust denials. When a poor wretch has convicted Society of
falsehood, he throws himself more eagerly on the mercy of God.
"What do you think of that for a cracked pot?" said Simonnin, without
waiting till the old man had shut the door.
"He looks as if he had been buried and dug up again," said a clerk.
"He is some colonel who wants his arrears of pay," said the head
"No, he is a retired concierge," said Godeschal.
"I bet you he is a nobleman," cried Boucard.
"I bet you he has been a porter," retorted Godeschal. "Only porters
are gifted by nature with shabby box-coats, as worn and greasy and
frayed as that old body's. And did you see his trodden-down boots that
let the water in, and his stock which serves for a shirt? He has slept
in a dry arch."
"He may be of noble birth, and yet have pulled the doorlatch," cried
Desroches. "It has been known!"
"No," Boucard insisted, in the midst of laughter, "I maintain that he
was a brewer in 1789, and a colonel in the time of the Republic."
"I bet theatre tickets round that he never was a soldier," said
"Done with you," answered Boucard.
"Monsieur! Monsieur!" shouted the little messenger, opening the
"What are you at now, Simonnin?" asked Boucard.
"I am calling him that you may ask him whether he is a colonel or a
porter; he must know."
All the clerks laughed. As to the old man, he was already coming
"What can we say to him?" cried Godeschal.
"Leave it to me," replied Boucard.
The poor man came in nervously, his eyes cast down, perhaps not to
betray how hungry he was by looking too greedily at the eatables.
"Monsieur," said Boucard, "will you have the kindness to leave your
name, so that M. Derville may know----"
"The Colonel who was killed at Eylau?" asked Hure, who, having so far
said nothing, was jealous of adding a jest to all the others.
"The same, monsieur," replied the good man, with antique simplicity.
And he went away.
"The old rogue!"
"Monsieur Desroches, you are going to the play without paying," said
Hure to the fourth clerk, giving him a slap on the shoulder that might
have killed a rhinoceros.
There was a storm of cat-calls, cries, and exclamations, which all the
onomatopeia of the language would fail to represent.
"Which theatre shall we go to?"
"To the opera," cried the head clerk.
"In the first place," said Godeschal, "I never mentioned which
theatre. I might, if I chose, take you to see Madame Saqui."
"Madame Saqui is not the play."
"What is a play?" replied Godeschal. "First, we must define the point
of fact. What did I bet, gentlemen? A play. What is a play? A
spectacle. What is a spectacle? Something to be seen--"
"But on that principle you would pay your bet by taking us to see the
water run under the Pont Neuf!" cried Simonnin, interrupting him.
"To be seen for money," Godeschal added.
"But a great many things are to be seen for money that are not plays.
The definition is defective," said Desroches.
"But do listen to me!"
"You are talking nonsense, my dear boy," said Boucard.
"Is Curtius' a play?" said Godeschal.
"No," said the head clerk, "it is a collection of figures--but it is a
"I bet you a hundred francs to a sou," Godeschal resumed, "that
Curtius' Waxworks forms such a show as might be called a play or
theatre. It contains a thing to be seen at various prices, according
to the place you choose to occupy."
"And so on, and so forth!" said Simonnin.
"You mind I don't box your ears!" said Godeschal.
The clerk shrugged their shoulders.
"Besides, it is not proved that that old ape was not making game of
us," he said, dropping his argument, which was drowned in the laughter
of the other clerks. "On my honor, Colonel Chabert is really and truly
dead. His wife is married again to Comte Ferraud, Councillor of State.
Madame Ferraud is one of our clients."
"Come, the case is remanded till to-morrow," said Boucard. "To work,
gentlemen. The deuce is in it; we get nothing done here. Finish
copying that appeal; it must be handed in before the sitting of the
Fourth Chamber, judgment is to be given to-day. Come, on you go!"
"If he really were Colonel Chabert, would not that impudent rascal
Simonnin have felt the leather of his boot in the right place when he
pretended to be deaf?" said Desroches, regarding this remark as more
conclusive than Godeschal's.
"Since nothing is settled," said Boucard, "let us all agree to go to
the upper boxes of the Francais and see Talma in 'Nero.' Simonnin may
go to the pit."
And thereupon the head clerk sat down at his table, and the others
followed his example.
"Given in June eighteen hundred and fourteen (in words)," said
"Yes," replied the two copying-clerks and the engrosser, whose pens
forthwith began to creak over the stamped paper, making as much noise
in the office as a hundred cockchafers imprisoned by schoolboys in
"And we hope that my lords on the Bench," the extemporizing clerk
went on. "Stop! I must read my sentence through again. I do not
understand it myself."
"Forty-six (that must often happen) and three forty-nines," said
"We hope," Godeschal began again, after reading all through the
document, "that my lords on the Bench will not be less magnanimous
than the august author of the decree, and that they will do justice
against the miserable claims of the acting committee of the chief
Board of the Legion of Honor by interpreting the law in the wide sense
we have here set forth----"
"Monsieur Godeschal, wouldn't you like a glass of water?" said the
"That imp of a boy!" said Boucard. "Here, get on your double-soled
shanks-mare, take this packet, and spin off to the Invalides."
"Here set forth," Godeschal went on. "Add in the interest of Madame
la Vicomtesse (at full length) de Grandlieu."
"What!" cried the chief, "are you thinking of drawing up an appeal in
the case of Vicomtesse de Grandlieu against the Legion of Honor--a
case for the office to stand or fall by? You are something like an
ass! Have the goodness to put aside your copies and your notes; you
may keep all that for the case of Navarreins against the Hospitals. It
is late. I will draw up a little petition myself, with a due allowance
of 'inasmuch,' and go to the Courts myself."
This scene is typical of the thousand delights which, when we look
back on our youth, make us say, "Those were good times."
At about one in the morning Colonel Chabert, self-styled, knocked at
the door of Maitre Derville, attorney to the Court of First Instance
in the Department of the Seine. The porter told him that Monsieur
Derville had not yet come in. The old man said he had an appointment,
and was shown upstairs to the rooms occupied by the famous lawyer,
who, notwithstanding his youth, was considered to have one of the
longest heads in Paris.
Having rung, the distrustful applicant was not a little astonished at
finding the head clerk busily arranging in a convenient order on his
master's dining-room table the papers relating to the cases to be
tried on the morrow. The clerk, not less astonished, bowed to the
Colonel and begged him to take a seat, which the client did.
"On my word, monsieur, I thought you were joking yesterday when you
named such an hour for an interview," said the old man, with the
forced mirth of a ruined man, who does his best to smile.
"The clerks were joking, but they were speaking the truth too,"
replied the man, going on with his work. "M. Derville chooses this
hour for studying his cases, taking stock of their possibilities,
arranging how to conduct them, deciding on the line of defence. His
prodigious intellect is freer at this hour--the only time when he can
have the silence and quiet needed for the conception of good ideas.
Since he entered the profession, you are the third person to come to
him for a consultation at this midnight hour. After coming in the
chief will discuss each case, read everything, spend four or five
hours perhaps over the business, then he will ring for me and explain
to me his intentions. In the morning from ten to two he hears what his
clients have to say, then he spends the rest of his day in
appointments. In the evening he goes into society to keep up his
connections. So he has only the night for undermining his cases,
ransacking the arsenal of the code, and laying his plan of battle. He
is determined never to lose a case; he loves his art. He will not
undertake every case, as his brethren do. That is his life, an
exceptionally active one. And he makes a great deal of money."
As he listened to this explanation, the old man sat silent, and his
strange face assumed an expression so bereft of intelligence, that the
clerk, after looking at him, thought no more about him.
A few minutes later Derville came in, in evening dress; his head clerk
opened the door to him, and went back to finish arranging the papers.
The young lawyer paused for a moment in amazement on seeing in the dim
light the strange client who awaited him. Colonel Chabert was as
absolutely immovable as one of the wax figures in Curtius' collection
to which Godeschal had proposed to treat his fellow-clerks. This
quiescence would not have been a subject for astonishment if it had
not completed the supernatural aspect of the man's whole person. The
old soldier was dry and lean. His forehead, intentionally hidden under
a smoothly combed wig, gave him a look of mystery. His eyes seemed
shrouded in a transparent film; you would have compared them to dingy
mother-of-pearl with a blue iridescence changing in the gleam of the
wax lights. His face, pale, livid, and as thin as a knife, if I may
use such a vulgar expression, was as the face of the dead. Round his
neck was a tight black silk stock.
Below the dark line of this rag the body was so completely hidden in
shadow that a man of imagination might have supposed the old head was
due to some chance play of light and shade, or have taken it for a
portrait by Rembrandt, without a frame. The brim of the hat which
covered the old man's brow cast a black line of shadow on the upper
part of the face. This grotesque effect, though natural, threw into
relief by contrast the white furrows, the cold wrinkles, the colorless
tone of the corpse-like countenance. And the absence of all movement
in the figure, of all fire in the eye, were in harmony with a certain
look of melancholy madness, and the deteriorating symptoms
characteristic of senility, giving the face an indescribably ill-
starred look which no human words could render.
But an observer, especially a lawyer, could also have read in this
stricken man the signs of deep sorrow, the traces of grief which had
worn into this face, as drops of water from the sky falling on fine
marble at last destroy its beauty. A physician, an author, or a judge
might have discerned a whole drama at the sight of its sublime horror,
while the least charm was its resemblance to the grotesques which
artists amuse themselves by sketching on a corner of the lithographic
stone while chatting with a friend.
On seeing the attorney, the stranger started, with the convulsive
thrill that comes over a poet when a sudden noise rouses him from a
fruitful reverie in silence and at night. The old man hastily removed
his hat and rose to bow to the young man; the leather lining of his
hat was doubtless very greasy; his wig stuck to it without his
noticing it, and left his head bare, showing his skull horribly
disfigured by a scar beginning at the nape of the neck and ending over
the right eye, a prominent seam all across his head. The sudden
removal of the dirty wig which the poor man wore to hide this gash
gave the two lawyers no inclination to laugh, so horrible to behold
was this riven skull. The first idea suggested by the sight of this
old wound was, "His intelligence must have escaped through that cut."
"If this is not Colonel Chabert, he is some thorough-going trooper!"
"Monsieur," said Derville, "to whom have I the honor of speaking?"
"To Colonel Chabert."
"He who was killed at Eylau," replied the old man.
On hearing this strange speech, the lawyer and his clerk glanced at
each other, as much as to say, "He is mad."
"Monsieur," the Colonel went on, "I wish to confide to you the secret
of my position."
A thing worthy of note is the natural intrepidity of lawyers. Whether
from the habit of receiving a great many persons, or from the deep
sense of the protection conferred on them by the law, or from
confidence in their missions, they enter everywhere, fearing nothing,
like priests and physicians. Derville signed to Boucard, who vanished.
"During the day, sir," said the attorney, "I am not so miserly of my
time, but at night every minute is precious. So be brief and concise.
Go to the facts without digression. I will ask for any explanations I
may consider necessary. Speak."
Having bid his strange client to be seated, the young man sat down at
the table; but while he gave his attention to the deceased Colonel, he
turned over the bundles of papers.
"You know, perhaps," said the dead man, "that I commanded a cavalry
regiment at Eylau. I was of important service to the success of
Murat's famous charge which decided the victory. Unhappily for me, my
death is a historical fact, recorded in Victoires et Conquetes,
where it is related in full detail. We cut through the three Russian
lines, which at once closed up and formed again, so that we had to
repeat the movement back again. At the moment when we were nearing the
Emperor, after having scattered the Russians, I came against a
squadron of the enemy's cavalry. I rushed at the obstinate brutes. Two
Russian officers, perfect giants, attacked me both at once. One of
them gave me a cut across the head that crashed through everything,
even a black silk cap I wore next my head, and cut deep into the
skull. I fell from my horse. Murat came up to support me. He rode over
my body, he and all his men, fifteen hundred of them--there might have
been more! My death was announced to the Emperor, who as a precaution
--for he was fond of me, was the master--wished to know if there were
no hope of saving the man he had to thank for such a vigorous attack.
He sent two surgeons to identify me and bring me into Hospital,
saying, perhaps too carelessly, for he was very busy, 'Go and see
whether by any chance poor Chabert is still alive.' These rascally
saw-bones, who had just seen me lying under the hoofs of the horses of
two regiments, no doubt did not trouble themselves to feel my pulse,
and reported that I was quite dead. The certificate of death was
probably made out in accordance with the rules of military
As he heard his visitor express himself with complete lucidity, and
relate a story so probable though so strange, the young lawyer ceased
fingering the papers, rested his left elbow on the table, and with his
head on his hand looked steadily at the Colonel.
"Do you know, monsieur, that I am lawyer to the Countess Ferraud," he
said, interrupting the speaker, "Colonel Chabert's widow?"
"My wife--yes monsieur. Therefore, after a hundred fruitless attempts
to interest lawyers, who have all thought me mad, I made up my mind to
come to you. I will tell you of my misfortunes afterwards; for the
present, allow me to prove the facts, explaining rather how things
must have fallen out rather than how they did occur. Certain
circumstances, known, I suppose to no one but the Almighty, compel me
to speak of some things as hypothetical. The wounds I had received
must presumably have produced tetanus, or have thrown me into a state
analogous to that of a disease called, I believe, catalepsy. Otherwise
how is it conceivable that I should have been stripped, as is the
custom in time of the war, and thrown into the common grave by the men
ordered to bury the dead?
"Allow me here to refer to a detail of which I could know nothing till
after the event, which, after all, I must speak of as my death. At
Stuttgart, in 1814, I met an old quartermaster of my regiment. This
dear fellow, the only man who chose to recognize me, and of whom I
will tell you more later, explained the marvel of my preservation, by
telling me that my horse was shot in the flank at the moment when I
was wounded. Man and beast went down together, like a monk cut out of
card-paper. As I fell, to the right or to the left, I was no doubt
covered by the body of my horse, which protected me from being
trampled to death or hit by a ball.
"When I came to myself, monsieur, I was in a position and an
atmosphere of which I could give you no idea if I talked till
to-morrow. the little air there was to breathe was foul. I wanted to
move, and found no room. I opened my eyes, and saw nothing. The most
alarming circumstance was the lack of air, and this enlightened me as
to my situation. I understood that no fresh air could penetrate to me,
and that I must die. This thought took off the sense of intolerable
pain which had aroused me. There was a violent singing in my ears. I
heard--or I thought I heard, I will assert nothing--groans from the
world of dead among whom I was lying. Some nights I still think I hear
those stifled moans; though the remembrance of that time is very
obscure, and my memory very indistinct, in spite of my impressions of
far more acute suffering I was fated to go through, and which have
confused my ideas.
"But there was something more awful than cries; there was a silence
such as I have never known elsewhere--literally, the silence of the
grave. At last, by raising my hands and feeling the dead, I discerned
a vacant space between my head and the human carrion above. I could
thus measure the space, granted by a chance of which I knew not the
cause. It would seem that, thanks to the carelessness and the haste
with which we had been pitched into the trench, two dead bodies had
leaned across and against each other, forming an angle like that made
by two cards when a child is building a card castle. Feeling about me
at once, for there was no time for play, I happily felt an arm lying
detached, the arm of a Hercules! A stout bone, to which I owed my
rescue. But for this unhoped-for help, I must have perished. But with
a fury you may imagine, I began to work my way through the bodies
which separated me from the layer of earth which had no doubt been
thrown over us--I say us, as if there had been others living! I worked
with a will, monsieur, for here I am! But to this day I do not know
how I succeeded in getting through the pile of flesh which formed a
barrier between me and life. You will say I had three arms. This
crowbar, which I used cleverly enough, opened out a little air between
the bodies I moved, and I economized my breath. At last I saw
daylight, but through snow!
"At that moment I perceived that my head was cut open. Happily my
blood, or that of my comrades, or perhaps the torn skin of my horse,
who knows, had in coagulating formed a sort of natural plaster. But,
in spite of it, I fainted away when my head came into contact with the
snow. However, the little warmth left in me melted the snow about me;
and when I recovered consciousness, I found myself in the middle of a
round hole, where I stood shouting as long as I could. But the sun was
rising, so I had very little chance of being heard. Was there any one
in the fields yet? I pulled myself up, using my feet as a spring,
resting on one of the dead, whose ribs were firm. You may suppose that
this was not the moment for saying, 'Respect courage in misfortune!'
In short, monsieur, after enduring the anguish, if the word is strong
enough for my frenzy, of seeing for a long time, yes, quite a long
time, those cursed Germans flying from a voice they heard where they
could see no one, I was dug out by a woman, who was brave or curious
enough to come close to my head, which must have looked as though it
had sprouted from the ground like a mushroom. This woman went to fetch
her husband, and between them they got me to their poor hovel.
"It would seem that I must have again fallen into a catalepsy--allow
me to use the word to describe a state of which I have no idea, but
which, from the account given by my hosts, I suppose to have been the
effect of that malady. I remained for six months between life and
death; not speaking, or, if I spoke, talking in delirium. At last, my
hosts got me admitted to the hospital at Heilsberg.
"You will understand, Monsieur, that I came out of the womb of the
grave as naked as I came from my mother's; so that six months
afterwards, when I remembered, one fine morning, that I had been
Colonel Chabert, and when, on recovering my wits, I tried to exact
from my nurse rather more respect than she paid to any poor devil, all
my companions in the ward began to laugh. Luckily for me, the surgeon,
out of professional pride, had answered for my cure, and was naturally
interested in his patient. When I told him coherently about my former
life, this good man, named Sparchmann, signed a deposition, drawn up
in the legal form of his country, giving an account of the miraculous
way in which I had escaped from the trench dug for the dead, the day
and hour when I had been found by my benefactress and her husband, the
nature and exact spot of my injuries, adding to these documents a
description of my person.
"Well, monsieur, I have neither these important pieces of evidence,
nor the declaration I made before a notary at Heilsberg, with a view
to establishing my identity. From the day when I was turned out of
that town by the events of the war, I have wandered about like a
vagabond, begging my bread, treated as a madman when I have told my
story, without ever having found or earned a sou to enable me to
recover the deeds which would prove my statements, and restore me to
society. My sufferings have often kept me for six months at a time in
some little town, where every care was taken of the invalid Frenchman,
but where he was laughed at to his face as soon as he said he was
Colonel Chabert. For a long time that laughter, those doubts, used to
put me into rages which did me harm, and which even led to my being
locked up at Stuttgart as a madman. And indeed, as you may judge from
my story, there was ample reason for shutting a man up.
"At the end of two years' detention, which I was compelled to submit
to, after hearing my keepers say a thousand times, 'Here is a poor man
who thinks he is Colonel Chabert' to people who would reply, 'Poor
fellow!' I became convinced of the impossibility of my own adventure.
I grew melancholy, resigned, and quiet, and gave up calling myself
Colonel Chabert, in order to get out of my prison, and see France once
more. Oh, monsieur! To see Paris again was a delirium which I----"
Without finishing his sentence, Colonel Chabert fell into a deep
study, which Derville respected.
"One fine day," his visitor resumed, "one spring day, they gave me the
key of the fields, as we say, and ten thalers, admitting that I talked
quite sensibly on all subjects, and no longer called myself Colonel
Chabert. On my honor, at that time, and even to this day, sometimes I
hate my name. I wish I were not myself. The sense of my rights kills
me. If my illness had but deprived me of all memory of my past life, I
could be happy. I should have entered the service again under any
name, no matter what, and should, perhaps, have been made Field-
Marshal in Austria or Russia. Who knows?"
"Monsieur," said the attorney, "you have upset all my ideas. I feel as
if I heard you in a dream. Pause for a moment, I beg of you."
"You are the only person," said the Colonel, with a melancholy look,
"who ever listened to me so patiently. No lawyer has been willing to
lend me ten napoleons to enable me to procure from Germany the
necessary documents to begin my lawsuit--"
"What lawsuit?" said the attorney, who had forgotten his client's
painful position in listening to the narrative of his past sufferings.
"Why, monsieur, is not the Comtesse Ferraud my wife? She has thirty
thousand francs a year, which belong to me, and she will not give me a
son. When I tell lawyers these things--men of sense; when I propose--
I, a beggar--to bring action against a Count and Countess; when I--a
dead man--bring up as against a certificate of death a certificate of
marriage and registers of births, they show me out, either with the
air of cold politeness, which you all know how to assume to rid
yourself of a hapless wretch, or brutally, like men who think they
have to deal with a swindler or a madman--it depends on their nature.
I have been buried under the dead; but now I am buried under the
living, under papers, under facts, under the whole of society, which
wants to shove me underground again!"
"Pray resume your narrative," said Derville.
" 'Pray resume it!' " cried the hapless old man, taking the young
lawyer's hand. "That is the first polite word I have heard since----"
The Colonel wept. Gratitude choked his voice. The appealing and
unutterable eloquence that lies in the eyes, in a gesture, even in
silence, entirely convinced Derville, and touched him deeply.
"Listen, monsieur," said he; "I have this evening won three hundred
francs at cards. I may very well lay out half that sum in making a man
happy. I will begin the inquiries and researches necessary to obtain
the documents of which you speak, and until they arrive I will give
you five francs a day. If you are Colonel Chabert, you will pardon the
smallness of the loan as it is coming from a young man who has his
fortune to make. Proceed."
The Colonel, as he called himself, sat for a moment motionless and
bewildered; the depth of his woes had no doubt destroyed his powers of
belief. Though he was eager in pursuit of his military distinction, of
his fortune, of himself, perhaps it was in obedience to the
inexplicable feeling, the latent germ in every man's heart, to which
we owe the experiments of alchemists, the passion for glory, the
discoveries of astronomy and of physics, everything which prompts man
to expand his being by multiplying himself through deeds or ideas. In
his mind the Ego was now but a secondary object, just as the vanity
of success or the pleasures of winning become dearer to the gambler
than the object he has at stake. The young lawyer's words were as a
miracle to this man, for ten years repudiated by his wife, by justice,
by the whole social creation. To find in a lawyer's office the ten
gold pieces which had so long been refused him by so many people, and
in so many ways! The colonel was like the lady who, having been ill of
a fever for fifteen years, fancied she had some fresh complaint when
she was cured. There are joys in which we have ceased to believe; they
fall on us, it is like a thunderbolt; they burn us. The poor man's
gratitude was too great to find utterance. To superficial observers he
seemed cold, but Derville saw complete honesty under this amazement. A
swindler would have found his voice.
"Where was I?" said the Colonel, with the simplicity of a child or of
a soldier, for there is often something of the child in a true
soldier, and almost always something of the soldier in a child,
especially in France.
"At Stuttgart. You were out of prison," said Derville.
"You know my wife?" asked the Colonel.
"Yes," said Derville, with a bow.
"What is she like?"
"Still quite charming."
The old man held up his hand, and seemed to be swallowing down some
secret anguish with the grave and solemn resignation that is
characteristic of men who have stood the ordeal of blood and fire on
"Monsieur," said he, with a sort of cheerfulness--for he breathed
again, the poor Colonel; he had again risen from the grave; he had
just melted a covering of snow less easily thawed than that which had
once before frozen his head; and he drew a deep breath, as if he had
just escaped from a dungeon--"Monsieur, if I had been a handsome young
fellow, none of my misfortunes would have befallen me. Women believe
in men when they flavor their speeches with the word Love. They hurry
then, they come, they go, they are everywhere at once; they intrigue,
they assert facts, they play the very devil for a man who takes their
fancy. But how could I interest a woman? I had a face like a Requiem.
I was dressed like a sans-culotte. I was more like an Esquimaux than
a Frenchman--I, who had formerly been considered one of the smartest
of fops in 1799!--I, Chabert, Count of the Empire.
"Well, on the very day when I was turned out into the streets like a
dog, I met the quartermaster of whom I just now spoke. This old
soldier's name was Boutin. The poor devil and I made the queerest pair
of broken-down hacks I ever set eyes on. I met him out walking; but
though I recognized him, he could not possibly guess who I was. We
went into a tavern together. In there, when I told him my name,
Boutin's mouth opened from ear to ear in a roar of laughter, like the
bursting of a mortar. That mirth, monsieur, was one of the keenest
pangs I have known. It told me without disguise how great were the
changes in me! I was, then, unrecognizable even to the humblest and
most grateful of my former friends!
"I had once saved Boutin's life, but it was only the repayment of a
debt I owed him. I need not tell you how he did me this service; it
was at Ravenna, in Italy. The house where Boutin prevented my being
stabbed was not extremely respectable. At that time I was not a
colonel, but, like Boutin himself, a common trooper. Happily there
were certain details of this adventure which could be known only to us
two, and when I recalled them to his mind his incredulity diminished.
I then told him the story of my singular experiences. Although my eyes
and my voice, he told me, were strangely altered, although I had
neither hair, teeth, nor eyebrows, and was as colorless as an Albino,
he at last recognized his Colonel in the beggar, after a thousand
questions, which I answered triumphantly.
"He related his adventures; they were not less extraordinary than my
own; he had lately come back from the frontiers of China, which he had
tried to cross after escaping from Siberia. He told me of the
catastrophe of the Russian campaign, and of Napoleon's first
abdication. That news was one of the things which caused me most
"We were two curious derelicts, having been rolled over the globe as
pebbles are rolled by the ocean when storms bear them from shore to
shore. Between us we had seen Egypt, Syria, Spain, Russia, Holland,
Germany, Italy and Dalmatia, England, China, Tartary, Siberia; the
only thing wanting was that neither of us had been to America or the
Indies. Finally, Boutin, who still was more locomotive than I,
undertook to go to Paris as quickly as might be to inform my wife of
the predicament in which I was. I wrote a long letter full of details
to Madame Chabert. That, monsieur, was the fourth! If I had had any
relations, perhaps nothing of all this might have happened; but, to be
frank with you, I am but a workhouse child, a soldier, whose sole
fortune was his courage, whose sole family is mankind at large, whose
country is France, whose only protector is the Almighty.--Nay, I am
wrong! I had a father--the Emperor! Ah! if he were but here, the dear
man! If he could see his Chabert, as he used to call me, in the
state in which I am now, he would be in a rage! What is to be done?
Our sun is set, and we are all out in the cold now. After all,
political events might account for my wife's silence!
"Boutin set out. He was a lucky fellow! He had two bears, admirably
trained, which brought him in a living. I could not go with him; the
pain I suffered forbade my walking long stages. I wept, monsieur, when
we parted, after I had gone as far as my state allowed in company with
him and his bears. At Carlsruhe I had an attack of neuralgia in the
head, and lay for six weeks on straw in an inn. I should never have
ended if I were to tell you all the distresses of my life as a beggar.
Moral suffering, before which physical suffering pales, nevertheless
excites less pity, because it is not seen. I remember shedding tears,
as I stood in front of a fine house in Strassburg where once I had
given an entertainment, and where nothing was given me, not even a
piece of bread. Having agreed with Boutin on the road I was to take, I
went to every post-office to ask if there were a letter or some money
for me. I arrived at Paris without having found either. What despair I
had been forced to endure! 'Boutin must be dead! I told myself, and in
fact the poor fellow was killed at Waterloo. I heard of his death
later, and by mere chance. His errand to my wife had, of course, been
"At last I entered Paris--with the Cossacks. To me this was grief on
grief. On seeing the Russians in France, I quite forgot that I had no
shoes on my feet nor money in my pocket. Yes, monsieur, my clothes
were in tatters. The evening before I reached Paris I was obliged to
bivouac in the woods of Claye. The chill of the night air no doubt
brought on an attack of some nameless complaint which seized me as I
was crossing the Faubourg Saint-Martin. I dropped almost senseless at
the door of an ironmonger's shop. When I recovered I was in a bed in
the Hotel-Dieu. There I stayed very contentedly for about a month. I
was then turned out; I had no money, but I was well, and my feet were
on the good stones of Paris. With what delight and haste did I make my
way to the Rue du Mont-Blanc, where my wife should be living in a
house belonging to me! Bah! the Rue du Mont-Blanc was now the Rue de
la Chausee d'Antin; I could not find my house; it had been sold and
pulled down. Speculators had built several houses over my gardens. Not
knowing that my wife had married M. Ferraud, I could obtain no
"At last I went to the house of an old lawyer who had been in charge
of my affairs. This worthy man was dead, after selling his connection
to a younger man. This gentleman informed me, to my great surprise, of
the administration of my estate, the settlement of the moneys, of my
wife's marriage, and the birth of her two children. When I told him
that I was Colonel Chabert, he laughed so heartily that I left him
without saying another word. My detention at Stuttgart had suggested
possibilities of Charenton, and I determined to act with caution.
Then, monsieur, knowing where my wife lived, I went to her house, my
heart high with hope.--Well," said the Colonel, with a gesture of
concentrated fury, "when I called under an assumed name I was not
admitted, and on the day when I used my own I was turned out of doors.
"To see the Countess come home from a ball or the play in the early
morning, I have sat whole nights through, crouching close to the wall
of her gateway. My eyes pierced the depths of the carriage, which
flashed past me with the swiftness of lightning, and I caught a
glimpse of the woman who is my wife and no longer mine. Oh, from that
day I have lived for vengeance!" cried the old man in a hollow voice,
and suddenly standing up in front of Derville. "She knows that I am
alive; since my return she has had two letters written with my own
hand. She loves me no more!--I--I know not whether I love or hate her.
I long for her and curse her by turns. To me she owes all her fortune,
all her happiness; well, she has not sent me the very smallest
pittance. Sometimes I do not know what will become of me!"
With these words the veteran dropped on to his chair again and
remained motionless. Derville sat in silence, studying his client.
"It is a serious business," he said at length, mechanically. "Even
granting the genuineness of the documents to be procured from
Heilsberg, it is not proved to me that we can at once win our case. It
must go before three tribunals in succession. I must think such a
matter over with a clear head; it is quite exceptional."
"Oh," said the Colonel, coldly, with a haughty jerk of his head, "if I
fail, I can die--but not alone."
The feeble old man had vanished. The eyes were those of a man of
energy, lighted up with the spark of desire and revenge.
"We must perhaps compromise," said the lawyer.
"Compromise!" echoed Colonel Chabert. "Am I dead, or am I alive?"
"I hope, monsieur," the attorney went on, "that you will follow my
advice. Your cause is mine. You will soon perceive the interest I take
in your situation, almost unexampled in judicial records. For the
moment I will give you a letter to my notary, who will pay to your
order fifty francs every ten days. It would be unbecoming for you to
come here to receive alms. If you are Colonel Chabert, you ought to be
at no man's mercy. I shall record these advances as a loan; you have
estates to recover; you are rich."
This delicate compassion brought tears to the old man's eyes. Derville
rose hastily, for it was perhaps not correct for a lawyer to show
emotion; he went into the adjoining room, and came back with an
unsealed letter, which he gave to the Colonel. When the poor man held
it in his hand, he felt through the paper two gold pieces.
"Will you be good enough to describe the documents, and tell me the
name of the town, and in what kingdom?" said the lawyer.
The Colonel dictated the information, and verified the spelling of the
names of places; then he took his hat in one hand, looked at Derville,
and held out the other--a horny hand, saying with much simplicity:
"On my honor, sir, after the Emperor, you are the man to whom I shall
owe most. You are a splendid fellow!"
The attorney clapped his hand into the Colonel's, saw him to the
stairs, and held a light for him.
"Boucard," said Derville to his head clerk, "I have just listened to a
tale that may cost me five and twenty louis. If I am robbed, I shall
not regret the money, for I shall have seen the most consummate actor
of the day."
When the Colonel was in the street and close to a lamp, he took the
two twenty-franc pieces out of the letter and looked at them for a
moment under the light. It was the first gold he had seen for nine
"I may smoke cigars!" he said to himself.
About three months after this interview, at night, in Derville's room,
the notary commissioned to advance the half-pay on Derville's account
to his eccentric client, came to consult the attorney on a serious
matter, and began by begging him to refund the six hundred francs that
the old soldier had received.
"Are you amusing yourself with pensioning the old army?" said the
notary, laughing--a young man named Crottat, who had just bought up
the office in which he had been head clerk, his chief having fled in
consequence of a disastrous bankruptcy.
"I have to thank you, my dear sir, for reminding me of that affair,"
replied Derville. "My philanthropy will not carry me beyond twenty-
five louis; I have, I fear, already been the dupe of my patriotism."
As Derville finished the sentence, he saw on his desk the papers his
head clerk had laid out for him. His eye was struck by the appearance
of the stamps--long, square, and triangular, in red and blue ink,
which distinguished a letter that had come through the Prussian,
Austrian, Bavarian, and French post-offices.
"Ah ha!" said he with a laugh, "here is the last act of the comedy;
now we shall see if I have been taken in!"
He took up the letter and opened it; but he could not read it; it was
written in German.
"Boucard, go yourself and have this letter translated, and bring it
back immediately," said Derville, half opening his study door, and
giving the letter to the head clerk.
The notary at Berlin, to whom the lawyer had written, informed him
that the documents he had been requested to forward would arrive
within a few days of this note announcing them. They were, he said,
all perfectly regular and duly witnessed, and legally stamped to serve
as evidence in law. He also informed him that almost all the witnesses
to the facts recorded under these affidavits were still to be found at
Eylau, in Prussia, and that the woman to whom M. le Comte Chabert owed
his life was still living in a suburb of Heilsberg.
"This looks like business," cried Derville, when Boucard had given him
the substance of the letter. "But look here, my boy," he went on,
addressing the notary, "I shall want some information which ought to
exist in your office. Was it not that old rascal Roguin--?"
"We will say that unfortunate, that ill-used Roguin," interrupted
Alexandre Crottat with a laugh.
"Well, was it not that ill-used man who has just carried off eight
hundred thousand francs of his clients' money, and reduced several
families to despair, who effected the settlement of Chabert's estate?
I fancy I have seen that in the documents in our case of Ferraud."
"Yes," said Crottat. "It was when I was third clerk; I copied the
papers and studied them thoroughly. Rose Chapotel, wife and widow of
Hyacinthe, called Chabert, Count of the Empire, grand officer of the
Legion of Honor. They had married without settlement; thus, they held
all the property in common. To the best of my recollections, the
personalty was about six hundred thousand francs. Before his marriage,
Colonel Chabert had made a will in favor of the hospitals of Paris, by
which he left them one-quarter of the fortune he might possess at the
time of his decease, the State to take the other quarter. The will was
contested, there was a forced sale, and then a division, for the
attorneys went at a pace. At the time of the settlement the monster
who was then governing France handed over to the widow, by special
decree, the portion bequeathed to the treasury."
"So that Comte Chabert's personal fortune was no more than three
hundred thousand francs?"
"Consequently so it was, old fellow!" said Crottat. "You lawyers
sometimes are very clear-headed, though you are accused of false
practices in pleading for one side or the other."
Colonel Chabert, whose address was written at the bottom of the first
receipt he had given the notary, was lodging in the Faubourg Saint-
Marceau, Rue du Petit-Banquier, with an old quartermaster of the
Imperial Guard, now a cowkeeper, named Vergniaud. Having reached the
spot, Derville was obliged to go on foot in search of his client, for
his coachman declined to drive along an unpaved street, where the ruts
were rather too deep for cab wheels. Looking about him on all sides,
the lawyer at last discovered at the end of the street nearest to the
boulevard, between two walls built of bones and mud, two shabby stone
gate-posts, much knocked about by carts, in spite of two wooden stumps
that served as blocks. These posts supported a cross beam with a
penthouse coping of tiles, and on the beam, in red letters, were the
words, "Vergniaud, dairyman." To the right of this inscription were
some eggs, to the left a cow, all painted in white. The gate was open,
and no doubt remained open all day. Beyond a good-sized yard there was
a house facing the gate, if indeed the name of house may be applied to
one of the hovels built in the neighborhood of Paris, which are like
nothing else, not even the most wretched dwellings in the country, of
which they have all the poverty without their poetry.
Indeed, in the midst of the fields, even a hovel may have a certain
grace derived from the pure air, the verdure, the open country--a
hill, a serpentine road, vineyards, quickset hedges, moss-grown thatch
and rural implements; but poverty in Paris gains dignity only by
horror. Though recently built, this house seemed ready to fall into
ruins. None of its materials had found a legitimate use; they had been
collected from the various demolitions which are going on every day in
Paris. On a shutter made of the boards of a shop-sign Derville read
the words, "Fancy Goods." The windows were all mismatched and
grotesquely placed. The ground floor, which seemed to be the habitable
part, was on one side raised above the soil, and on the other sunk in
the rising ground. Between the gate and the house lay a puddle full of
stable litter, into which flowed the rain-water and house waste. The
back wall of this frail construction, which seemed rather more solidly
built than the rest, supported a row of barred hutches, where rabbits
bred their numerous families. To the right of the gate was the
cowhouse, with a loft above for fodder; it communicated with the house
through the dairy. To the left was a poultry yard, with a stable and
pig-styes, the roofs finished, like that of the house, with rough deal
boards nailed so as to overlap, and shabbily thatched with rushes.
Like most of the places where the elements of the huge meal daily
devoured by Paris are every day prepared, the yard Derville now
entered showed traces of the hurry that comes of the necessity for
being ready at a fixed hour. The large pot-bellied tin cans in which
milk is carried, and the little pots for cream, were flung pell-mell
at the dairy door, with their linen-covered stoppers. The rags that
were used to clean them, fluttered in the sunshine, riddled with
holes, hanging to strings fastened to poles. The placid horse, of a
breed known only to milk-women, had gone a few steps from the cart,
and was standing in front of the stable, the door being shut. A goat
was munching the shoots of a starved and dusty vine that clung to the
cracked yellow wall of the house. A cat, squatting on the cream jars,
was licking them over. The fowls, scared by Derville's approach,
scuttered away screaming, and the watch-dog barked.
"And the man who decided the victory at Eylau is to be found here!"
said Derville to himself, as his eyes took in at a glance the general
effect of the squalid scene.
The house had been left in charge of three little boys. One, who had
climbed to the top of the cart loaded with hay, was pitching stones
into the chimney of a neighboring house, in the hope that they might
fall into a saucepan; another was trying to get a pig into a cart, to
hoist it by making the whole thing tilt. When Derville asked them if
M. Chabert lived there, neither of them replied, but all three looked
at him with a sort of bright stupidity, if I may combine those two
words. Derville repeated his questions, but without success. Provoked
by the saucy cunning of these three imps, he abused them with the sort
of pleasantry which young men think they have the right to address to
little boys, and they broke the silence with a horse-laugh. Then
Derville was angry.
The Colonel, hearing him, now came out of the little low room, close
to the dairy, and stood on the threshold of his doorway with
indescribable military coolness. He had in his mouth a very finely-
colored pipe--a technical phrase to a smoker--a humble, short clay
pipe of the kind called "brule-queule." He lifted the peak of a
dreadfully greasy cloth cap, saw Derville, and came straight across
the midden to join his benefactor the sooner, calling out in friendly
tones to the boys:
"Silence in the ranks!"
The children at once kept a respectful silence, which showed the power
the old soldier had over them.
"Why did you not write to me?" he said to Derville. "Go along by the
cowhouse! There--the path is paved there," he exclaimed, seeing the
lawyer's hesitancy, for he did not wish to wet his feet in the manure
Jumping from one dry spot to another, Derville reached the door by
which the Colonel had come out. Chabert seemed but ill pleased at
having to receive him in the bed-room he occupied; and, in fact,
Derville found but one chair there. The Colonel's bed consisted of
some trusses of straw, over which his hostess had spread two or three
of those old fragments of carpet, picked up heaven knows where, which
milk-women use to cover the seats of their carts. The floor was simply
the trodden earth. The walls, sweating salt-petre, green with mould,
and full of cracks, were so excessively damp that on the side where
the Colonel's bed was a reed mat had been nailed. The famous box-coat
hung on a nail. Two pairs of old boots lay in a corner. There was not
a sign of linen. On the worm-eaten table the Bulletins de la Grande
Armee, reprinted by Plancher, lay open, and seemed to be the
Colonel's reading; his countenance was calm and serene in the midst of
this squalor. His visit to Derville seemed to have altered his
features; the lawyer perceived in them traces of a happy feeling, a
particular gleam set there by hope.
"Does the smell of the pipe annoy you?" he said, placing the
dilapidated straw-bottomed chair for his lawyer.
"But, Colonel, you are dreadfully uncomfortable here!"
The speech was wrung from Derville by the distrust natural to lawyers,
and the deplorable experience which they derive early in life from the
appalling and obscure tragedies at which they look on.
"Here," said he to himself, "is a man who has of course spent my money
in satisfying a trooper's three theological virtues--play, wine, and
"To be sure, monsieur, we are not distinguished for luxury here. It is
a camp lodging, tempered by friendship, but----" And the soldier shot
a deep glance at the man of law--"I have done no one wrong, I have
never turned my back on anybody, and I sleep in peace."
Derville reflected that there would be some want of delicacy in asking
his client to account for the sums of money he had advanced, so he
"But why would you not come to Paris, where you might have lived as
cheaply as you do here, but where you would have been better lodged?"
"Why," replied the Colonel, "the good folks with whom I am living had
taken me in and fed me gratis for a year. How could I leave them
just when I had a little money? Besides, the father of those three
pickles is an old Egyptian--"
"We give that name to the troopers who came back from the expedition
into Egypt, of which I was one. Not merely are all who get back
brothers; Vergniaud was in my regiment. We have shared a draught of
water in the desert; and besides, I have not yet finished teaching his
brats to read."
"He might have lodged you better for your money," said Derville.
"Bah!" said the Colonel, "his children sleep on the straw as I do. He
and his wife have no better bed; they are very poor you see. They have
taken a bigger business than they can manage. But if I recover my
fortune . . . However, it does very well."
"Colonel, to-morrow or the next day, I shall receive your papers from
Heilsberg. The woman who dug you out is still alive!"
"Curse the money! To think I haven't got any!" he cried, flinging his
pipe on the ground.
Now, a well-colored pipe is to a smoker a precious possession; but the
impulse was so natural, the emotion so generous, that every smoker,
and the excise office itself, would have pardoned this crime of
treason to tobacco. Perhaps the angels may have picked up the pieces.
"Colonel, it is an exceedingly complicated business," said Derville as
they left the room to walk up and down in the sunshine.
"To me," said the soldier, "it appears exceedingly simple. I was
thought to be dead, and here I am! Give me back my wife and my
fortune; give me the rank of General, to which I have a right, for I
was made Colonel of the Imperial Guard the day before the battle of
"Things are not done so in the legal world," said Derville. "Listen to
me. You are Colonel Chabert, I am glad to think it; but it has to be
proved judicially to persons whose interest it will be to deny it.
Hence, your papers will be disputed. That contention will give rise to
ten or twelve preliminary inquiries. Every question will be sent under
contradiction up to the supreme court, and give rise to so many costly
suits, which will hang on for a long time, however eagerly I may push
them. Your opponents will demand an inquiry, which we cannot refuse,
and which may necessitate the sending of a commission of investigation
to Prussia. But even if we hope for the best; supposing that justice
should at once recognize you as Colonel Chabert--can we know how the
questions will be settled that will arise out of the very innocent
bigamy committed by the Comtesse Ferraud?
"In your case, the point of law is unknown to the Code, and can only
be decided as a point in equity, as a jury decides in the delicate
cases presented by the social eccentricities of some criminal
prosecutions. Now, you had no children by your marriage; M. le Comte
Ferraud has two. The judges might pronounce against the marriage where
the family ties are weakest, to the confirmation of that where they
are stronger, since it was contracted in perfect good faith. Would you
be in a very becoming moral position if you insisted, at your age, and
in your present circumstances, in resuming your rights over a woman
who no longer loves you? You will have both your wife and her husband
against you, two important persons who might influence the Bench.
Thus, there are many elements which would prolong the case; you will
have time to grow old in the bitterest regrets."
"And my fortune?"
"Do you suppose you had a fine fortune?"
"Had I not thirty thousand francs a year?"
"My dear Colonel, in 1799 you made a will before your marriage,
leaving one-quarter of your property to hospitals."
"That is true."
"Well, when you were reported dead, it was necessary to make a
valuation, and have a sale, to give this quarter away. Your wife was
not particular about honesty as to the poor. The valuation, in which
she no doubt took care not to include the ready money or jewelry, or
too much of the plate, and in which the furniture would be estimated
at two-thirds of its actual cost, either to benefit her, or to lighten
the succession duty, and also because a valuer can be held responsible
for the declared value--the valuation thus made stood at six hundred
thousand francs. Your wife had a right of half for her share.
Everything was sold and bought in by her; she got something out of it
all, and the hospitals got their seventy-five thousand francs. Then,
as the remainder went to the State, since you had made no mention of
your wife in your will, the Emperor restored to your widow by decree
the residue which would have reverted to the Exchequer. So, now, what
can you claim? Three hundred thousand francs, no more, and minus the
"And you call that justice!" said the Colonel, in dismay.
"A pretty kind of justice!"
"So it is, my dear Colonel. You see, that what you thought so easy is
not so. Madame Ferraud might even choose to keep the sum given to her
by the Emperor."
"But she was not a widow. The decree is utterly void----"
"I agree with you. But every case can get a hearing. Listen to me. I
think that under these circumstances a compromise would be both for
her and for you the best solution of the question. You will gain by it
a more considerable sum than you can prove a right to."
"That would be to sell my wife!"
"With twenty-four thousand francs a year you could find a woman who,
in the position in which you are, would suit you better than your own
wife, and make you happier. I propose going this very day to see the
Comtesse Ferraud and sounding the ground; but I would not take such a
step without giving you due notice."
"Let us go together."
"What, just as you are?" said the lawyer. "No, my dear Colonel, no.
You might lose your case on the spot."
"Can I possibly gain it?"
"On every count," replied Derville. "But, my dear Colonel Chabert, you
overlook one thing. I am not rich; the price of my connection is not
wholly paid up. If the bench should allow you a maintenance, that is
to say, a sum advanced on your prospects, they will not do so till you
have proved that you are Comte Chabert, grand officer of the Legion of
"To be sure, I am a grand officer of the Legion of Honor; I had
forgotten that," said he simply.
"Well, until then," Derville went on, "will you not have to engage
pleaders, to have documents copied, to keep the underlings of the law
going, and to support yourself? The expenses of the preliminary
inquiries will, at a rough guess, amount to ten or twelve thousand
francs. I have not so much to lend you--I am crushed as it is by the
enormous interest I have to pay on the money I borrowed to buy my
business; and you?--Where can you find it."
Large tears gathered in the poor veteran's faded eyes, and rolled down
his withered cheeks. This outlook of difficulties discouraged him. The
social and the legal world weighed on his breast like a nightmare.
"I will go to the foot of the Vendome column!" he cried. "I will call
out: 'I am Colonel Chabert who rode through the Russian square at
Eylau!'--The statue--he--he will know me."
"And you will find yourself in Charenton."
At this terrible name the soldier's transports collapsed.
"And will there be no hope for me at the Ministry of War?"
"The war office!" said Derville. "Well, go there; but take a formal
legal opinion with you, nullifying the certificate of your death. The
government offices would be only too glad if they could annihilate the
men of the Empire."
The Colonel stood for a while, speechless, motionless, his eyes fixed,
but seeing nothing, sunk in bottomless despair. Military justice is
ready and swift; it decides with Turk-like finality, and almost always
rightly. This was the only justice known to Chabert. As he saw the
labyrinth of difficulties into which he must plunge, and how much
money would be required for the journey, the poor old soldier was
mortally hit in that power peculiar to man, and called the Will. He
thought it would be impossible to live as party to a lawsuit; it
seemed a thousand times simpler to remain poor and a beggar, or to
enlist as a trooper if any regiment would pass him.
His physical and mental sufferings had already impaired his bodily
health in some of the most important organs. He was on the verge of
one of those maladies for which medicine has no name, and of which the
seat is in some degree variable, like the nervous system itself, the
part most frequently attacked of the whole human machine, a malady
which may be designated as the heart-sickness of the unfortunate.
However serious this invisible but real disorder might already be, it
could still be cured by a happy issue. But a fresh obstacle, an
unexpected incident, would be enough to wreck this vigorous
constitution, to break the weakened springs, and produce the
hesitancy, the aimless, unfinished movements, which physiologists know
well in men undermined by grief.
Derville, detecting in his client the symptoms of extreme dejection,
said to him:
"Take courage; the end of the business cannot fail to be in your
favor. Only, consider whether you can give me your whole confidence
and blindly accept the result I may think best for your interests."
"Do what you will," said Chabert.
"Yes, but you surrender yourself to me like a man marching to his
"Must I not be left to live without a position, without a name? Is
"That is not my view of it," said the lawyer. "We will try a friendly
suit, to annul both your death certificate and your marriage, so as to
put you in possession of your rights. You may even, by Comte Ferraud's
intervention, have your name replaced on the army list as general, and
no doubt you will get a pension."
"Well, proceed then," said Chabert. "I put myself entirely in your
"I will send you a power of attorney to sign," said Derville. "Good-
bye. Keep up your courage. If you want money, rely on me."
Chabert warmly wrung the lawyer's hand, and remained standing with his
back against the wall, not having the energy to follow him excepting
with his eyes. Like all men who know but little of legal matters, he
was frightened by this unforeseen struggle.
During their interview, several times, the figure of a man posted in
the street had come forward from behind one of the gate-pillars,
watching for Derville to depart, and he now accosted the lawyer. He
was an old man, wearing a blue waistcoat and a white-pleated kilt,
like a brewer's; on his head was an otter-skin cap. His face was
tanned, hollow-cheeked, and wrinkled, but ruddy on the cheek-bones by
hard work and exposure to the open air.
"Asking your pardon, sir," said he, taking Derville by the arm, "if I
take the liberty of speaking to you. But I fancied, from the look of
you, that you were a friend of our General's."
"And what then?" replied Derville. "What concern have you with him?--
But who are you?" said the cautious lawyer.
"I am Louis Vergniaud," he replied at once. "I have a few words to say
"So you are the man who has lodged Comte Chabert as I have found him?"
"Asking your pardon, sir, he has the best room. I would have given him
mine if I had had but one; I could have slept in the stable. A man who
has suffered as he has, who teaches my kids to read, a general, an
Egyptian, the first lieutenant I ever served under--What do you think?
--Of us all, he is best served. I shared what I had with him.
Unfortunately, it is not much to boast of--bread, milk, eggs. Well,
well; it's neighbors' fare, sir. And he is heartily welcome.--But he
has hurt our feelings."
"Yes, sir, hurt our feelings. To be plain with you, I have taken a
larger business than I can manage, and he saw it. Well, it worried
him; he must needs mind the horse! I says to him, 'Really,
General----' 'Bah!' says he, 'I am not going to eat my head off doing
nothing. I learned to rub a horse down many a year ago.'--I had some
bills out for the purchase money of my dairy--a fellow named Grados--
Do you know him, sir?"
"But, my good man, I have not time to listen to your story. Only tell
me how the Colonel offended you."
"He hurt our feelings, sir, as sure as my name is Louis Vergniaud, and
my wife cried about it. He heard from our neighbors that we had not a
sou to begin to meet the bills with. The old soldier, as he is, he
saved up all you gave him, he watched for the bill to come in, and he
paid it. Such a trick! While my wife and me, we knew he had no
tobacco, poor old boy, and went without.--Oh! now--yes, he has his
cigar every morning! I would sell my soul for it--No, we are hurt.
Well, so I wanted to ask you--for he said you were a good sort--to
lend us a hundred crowns on the stock, so that we may get him some
clothes, and furnish his room. He thought he was getting us out of
debt, you see? Well, it's just the other way; the old man is running
us into debt--and hurt our feelings!--He ought not to have stolen a
march on us like that. And we his friends, too!--On my word as an
honest man, as sure as my name is Louis Vergniaud, I would sooner sell
up and enlist than fail to pay you back your money----"
Derville looked at the dairyman, and stepped back a few paces to
glance at the house, the yard, the manure-pool, the cowhouse, the
rabbits, the children.
"On my honor, I believe it is characteristic of virtue to have nothing
to do with riches!" thought he.
"All right, you shall have your hundred crowns, and more. But I shall
not give them to you; the Colonel will be rich enough to help, and I
will not deprive him of the pleasure."
"And will that be soon?"
"Ah, dear God! how glad my wife will be!" and the cowkeeper's tanned
face seemed to expand.
"Now," said Derville to himself, as he got into his cab again, "let us
call on our opponent. We must not show our hand, but try to see hers,
and win the game at one stroke. She must be frightened. She is a
woman. Now, what frightens women most? A woman is afraid of nothing
but . . ."
And he set to work to study the Countess' position, falling into one
of those brown studies to which great politicians give themselves up
when concocting their own plans and trying to guess the secrets of a
hostile Cabinet. Are not attorneys, in a way, statesmen in charge of
But a brief survey of the situation in which the Comte Ferraud and his
wife now found themselves is necessary for a comprehension of the
Monsieur le Comte Ferraud was the only son of a former Councillor in
the old Parlement of Paris, who had emigrated during the Reign of
Terror, and so, though he saved his head, lost his fortune. He came
back under the Consulate, and remained persistently faithful to the
cause of Louis XVIII., in whose circle his father had moved before the
Revolution. He thus was one of the party in the Faubourg Saint-Germain
which nobly stood out against Napoleon's blandishments. The reputation
for capacity gained by the young Count--then simply called Monsieur
Ferraud--made him the object of the Emperor's advances, for he was
often as well pleased at his conquests among the aristocracy as at
gaining a battle. The Count was promised the restitution of his title,
of such of his estates as had not been sold, and he was shown in
perspective a place in the ministry or as senator.
The Emperor fell.
At the time of Comte Chabert's death, M. Ferraud was a young man of
six-and-twenty, without a fortune, of pleasing appearance, who had had
his successes, and whom the Faubourg Saint-Germain had adopted as
doing it credit; but Madame la Comtesse Chabert had managed to turn
her share of her husband's fortune to such good account that, after
eighteen months of widowhood, she had about forty thousand francs a
year. Her marriage to the young Count was not regarded as news in the
circles of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. Napoleon, approving of this
union, which carried out his idea of fusion, restored to Madame
Chabert the money falling to the Exchequer under her husband's will;
but Napoleon's hopes were again disappointed. Madame Ferraud was not
only in love with her lover; she had also been fascinated by the
notion of getting into the haughty society which, in spite of its
humiliation, was still predominant at the Imperial Court. By this
marriage all her vanities were as much gratified as her passions. She
was to become a real fine lady. When the Faubourg Saint-Germain
understood that the young Count's marriage did not mean desertion, its
drawing-rooms were thrown open to his wife.
Then came the Restoration. The Count's political advancement was not
rapid. He understood the exigencies of the situation in which Louis
XVIII. found himself; he was one of the inner circle who waited till
the "Gulf of Revolution should be closed"--for this phrase of the
King's, at which the Liberals laughed so heartily, had a political
sense. The order quoted in the long lawyer's preamble at the beginning
of this story had, however, put him in possession of two tracts of
forest, and of an estate which had considerably increased in value
during its sequestration. At the present moment, though Comte Ferraud
was a Councillor of State, and a Director-General, he regarded his
position as merely the first step of his political career.
Wholly occupied as he was by the anxieties of consuming ambition, he
had attached to himself, as secretary, a ruined attorney named
Delbecq, a more than clever man, versed in all the resources of the
law, to whom he left the conduct of his private affairs. This shrewd
practitioner had so well understood his position with the Count as to
be honest in his own interest. He hoped to get some place by his
master's influence, and he made the Count's fortune his first care.
His conduct so effectually gave the lie to his former life, that he
was regarded as a slandered man. The Countess, with the tact and
shrewdness of which most women have a share more or less, understood
the man's motives, watched him quietly, and managed him so well, that
she had made good use of him for the augmentation of her private
fortune. She had contrived to make Delbecq believe that she ruled her
husband, and had promised to get him appointed President of an
inferior court in some important provincial town, if he devoted
himself entirely to her interests.
The promise of a place, not dependent on changes of ministry, which
would allow of his marrying advantageously, and rising subsequently to
a high political position, by being chosen Depute, made Delbecq the
Countess' abject slave. He had never allowed her to miss one of those
favorable chances which the fluctuations of the Bourse and the
increased value of property afforded to clever financiers in Paris
during the first three years after the Restoration. He had trebled his
protectress' capital, and all the more easily because the Countess had
no scruples as to the means which might make her an enormous fortune
as quickly as possible. The emoluments derived by the Count from the
places he held she spent on the housekeeping, so as to reinvest her
dividends; and Delbecq lent himself to these calculations of avarice
without trying to account for her motives. People of that sort never
trouble themselves about any secrets of which the discovery is not
necessary to their own interests. And, indeed, he naturally found the
reason in the thirst for money, which taints almost every Parisian
woman; and as a fine fortune was needed to support the pretensions of
Comte Ferraud, the secretary sometimes fancied that he saw in the
Countess' greed a consequence of her devotion to a husband with whom
she still was in love. The Countess buried the secrets of her conduct
at the bottom of her heart. There lay the secrets of life and death to
her, there lay the turning-point of this history.
At the beginning of the year 1818 the Restoration was settled on an
apparently immovable foundation; its doctrines of government, as
understood by lofty minds, seemed calculated to bring to France an era
of renewed prosperity, and Parisian society changed its aspect. Madame
la Comtesse Ferraud found that by chance she had achieved for love a
marriage that had brought her fortune and gratified ambition. Still
young and handsome, Madame Ferraud played the part of a woman of
fashion, and lived in the atmosphere of the Court. Rich herself, with
a rich husband who was cried up as one of the ablest men of the
royalist party, and, as a friend of the King, certain to be made
Minister, she belonged to the aristocracy, and shared its
magnificence. In the midst of this triumph she was attacked by a moral
canker. There are feelings which women guess in spite of the care men
take to bury them. On the first return of the King, Comte Ferraud had
begun to regret his marriage. Colonel Chabert's widow had not been the
means of allying him to anybody; he was alone and unsupported in
steering his way in a course full of shoals and beset by enemies.
Also, perhaps, when he came to judge his wife coolly, he may have
discerned in her certain vices of education which made her unfit to
second him in his schemes.
A speech he made, a propos of Talleyrand's marriage, enlightened the
Countess, to whom it proved that if he had still been a free man she
would never have been Madame Ferraud. What woman could forgive this
repentance? Does it not include the germs of every insult, every
crime, every form of repudiation? But what a wound must it have left
in the Countess' heart, supposing that she lived in the dread of her
first husband's return? She had known that he still lived, and she had
ignored him. Then during the time when she had heard no more of him,
she had chosen to believe that he had fallen at Waterloo with the
Imperial Eagle, at the same time as Boutin. She resolved,
nevertheless, to bind the Count to her by the strongest of all ties,
by a chain of gold, and vowed to be so rich that her fortune might
make her second marriage dissoluble, if by chance Colonel Chabert
should ever reappear. And he had reappeared; and she could not explain
to herself why the struggle she had dreaded had not already begun.
Suffering, sickness, had perhaps delivered her from that man. Perhaps
he was half mad, and Charenton might yet do her justice. She had not
chosen to take either Delbecq or the police into her confidence, for
fear of putting herself in their power, or of hastening the
catastrophe. There are in Paris many women who, like the Countess
Ferraud, live with an unknown moral monster, or on the brink of an
abyss; a callus forms over the spot that tortures them, and they can
still laugh and enjoy themselves.
"There is something very strange in Comte Ferraud's position," said
Derville to himself, on emerging from his long reverie, as his cab
stopped at the door of the Hotel Ferraud in the Rue de Varennes. "How
is it that he, so rich as he is, and such a favorite with the King, is
not yet a peer of France? It may, to be sure, be true that the King,
as Mme. de Grandlieu was telling me, desires to keep up the value of
the pairie by not bestowing it right and left. And, after all, the
son of a Councillor of the Parlement is not a Crillon nor a Rohan. A
Comte Ferraud can only get into the Upper Chamber surreptitiously. But
if his marriage were annulled, could he not get the dignity of some
old peer who has only daughters transferred to himself, to the King's
great satisfaction? At any rate this will be a good bogey to put
forward and frighten the Countess," thought he as he went up the
Derville had without knowing it laid his finger on the hidden wound,
put his hand on the canker that consumed Madame Ferraud.
She received him in a pretty winter dining-room, where she was at
breakfast, while playing with a monkey tethered by a chain to a little
pole with climbing bars of iron. The Countess was in an elegant
wrapper; the curls of her hair, carelessly pinned up, escaped from a
cap, giving her an arch look. She was fresh and smiling. Silver,
gilding, and mother-of-pearl shone on the table, and all about the
room were rare plants growing in magnificent china jars. As he saw
Colonel Chabert's wife, rich with his spoil, in the lap of luxury and
the height of fashion, while he, poor wretch, was living with a poor
dairyman among the beasts, the lawyer said to himself:
"The moral of all this is that a pretty woman will never acknowledge
as her husband, nor even as a lover, a man in an old box-coat, a tow
wig, and boots with holes in them."
A mischievous and bitter smile expressed the feelings, half
philosophical and half satirical, which such a man was certain to
experience--a man well situated to know the truth of things in spite
of the lies behind which most families in Paris hide their mode of
"Good-morning, Monsieur Derville," said she, giving the monkey some
coffee to drink.
"Madame," said he, a little sharply, for the light tone in which she
spoke jarred on him. "I have come to speak with you on a very serious
"I am so grieved, M. le Comte is away--"
"I, madame, am delighted. It would be grievous if he could be present
at our interview. Besides, I am informed through M. Delbecq that you
like to manage your own business without troubling the Count."
"Then I will send for Delbecq," said she.
"He would be of no use to you, clever as he is," replied Derville.
"Listen to me, madame; one word will be enough to make you grave.
Colonel Chabert is alive!"
"Is it by telling me such nonsense as that that you think you can make
me grave?" said she with a shout of laughter. But she was suddenly
quelled by the singular penetration of the fixed gaze which Derville
turned on her, seeming to read to the bottom of her soul.
"Madame," he said with cold and piercing solemnity, "you know not the
extent of the danger that threatens you. I need say nothing of the
indisputable authenticity of the evidence nor of the fulness of proof
which testifies to the identity of Comte Chabert. I am not, as you
know, the man to take up a bad cause. If you resist our proceedings to
show that the certificate of death was false, you will lose that first
case, and that matter once settled, we shall gain every point."
"What, then, do you wish to discuss with me?"
"Neither the Colonel nor yourself. Nor need I allude to the briefs
which clever advocates may draw up when armed with the curious facts
of this case, or the advantage they may derive from the letters you
received from your first husband before your marriage to your second."
"It is false," she cried, with the violence of a spoilt woman. "I
never had a letter from Comte Chabert; and if some one is pretending
to be the Colonel, it is some swindler, some returned convict, like
Coignard perhaps. It makes me shudder only to think of it. Can the
Colonel rise from the dead, monsieur? Bonaparte sent an aide-de-camp
to inquire for me on his death, and to this day I draw the pension of
three thousand francs granted to this widow by the Government. I have
been perfectly in the right to turn away all the Chaberts who have
ever come, as I shall all who may come."
"Happily we are alone, madame. We can tell lies at our ease," said he
coolly, and finding it amusing to lash up the Countess' rage so as to
lead her to betray herself, by tactics familiar to lawyers, who are
accustomed to keep cool when their opponents or their clients are in a
passion. "Well, then, we must fight it out," thought he, instantly
hitting on a plan to entrap her and show her her weakness.
"The proof that you received the first letter, madame, is that it
contained some securities--"
"Oh, as to securities--that it certainly did not."
"Then you received the letter," said Derville, smiling. "You are
caught, madame, in the first snare laid for you by an attorney, and
you fancy you could fight against Justice----"
The Countess colored, and then turned pale, hiding her face in her
hands. Then she shook off her shame, and retorted with the natural
impertinence of such women, "Since you are the so-called Chabert's
attorney, be so good as to--"
"Madame," said Derville, "I am at this moment as much your lawyer as I
am Colonel Chabert's. Do you suppose I want to lose so valuable a
client as you are?--But you are not listening."
"Nay, speak on, monsieur," said she graciously.
"Your fortune came to you from M. le Comte Chabert, and you cast him
off. Your fortune is immense, and you leave him to beg. An advocate
can be very eloquent when a cause is eloquent in itself; there are
here circumstances which might turn public opinion strongly against
"But, monsieur," said the Comtesse, provoked by the way in which
Derville turned and laid her on the gridiron, "even if I grant that
your M. Chabert is living, the law will uphold my second marriage on
account of the children, and I shall get off with the restitution of
two hundred and twenty-five thousand francs to M. Chabert."
"It is impossible to foresee what view the Bench may take of the
question. If on one side we have a mother and children, on the other
we have an old man crushed by sorrows, made old by your refusals to
know him. Where is he to find a wife? Can the judges contravene the
law? Your marriage with Colonel Chabert has priority on its side and
every legal right. But if you appear under disgraceful colors, you
might have an unlooked-for adversary. That, madame, is the danger
against which I would warn you."
"And who is he?"
"Monsieur Ferraud has too great an affection for me, too much respect
for the mother of his children--"
"Do not talk of such absurd things," interrupted Derville, "to
lawyers, who are accustomed to read hearts to the bottom. At this
instant Monsieur Ferraud has not the slightest wish to annual your
union, and I am quite sure that he adores you; but if some one were to
tell him that his marriage is void, that his wife will be called
before the bar of public opinion as a criminal--"
"He would defend me, monsieur."
"What reason could he have for deserting me, monsieur?"
"That he would be free to marry the only daughter of a peer of France,
whose title would be conferred on him by patent from the King."
The Countess turned pale.
"A hit!" said Derville to himself. "I have you on the hip; the poor
Colonel's case is won."--"Besides, madame," he went on aloud, "he
would feel all the less remorse because a man covered with glory--a
General, Count, Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor--is not such a bad
alternative; and if that man insisted on his wife's returning to
"Enough, enough, monsieur!" she exclaimed. "I will never have any
lawyer but you. What is to be done?"
"Compromise!" said Derville.
"Does he still love me?" she said.
"Well, I do not think he can do otherwise."
The Countess raised her head at these words. A flash of hope shone in
her eyes; she thought perhaps that she could speculate on her first
husband's affection to gain her cause by some feminine cunning.
"I shall await your orders, madame, to know whether I am to report our
proceedings to you, or if you will come to my office to agree to the
terms of a compromise," said Derville, taking leave.
A week after Derville had paid these two visits, on a fine morning in
June, the husband and wife, who had been separated by an almost
supernatural chance, started from the opposite ends of Paris to meet
in the office of the lawyer who was engaged by both. The supplies
liberally advanced by Derville to Colonel Chabert had enabled him to
dress as suited his position in life, and the dead man arrived in a
very decent cab. He wore a wig suited to his face, was dressed in blue
cloth with white linen, and wore under his waistcoat the broad red
ribbon of the higher grade of the Legion of Honor. In resuming the
habits of wealth he had recovered his soldierly style. He held himself
up; his face, grave and mysterious-looking, reflected his happiness
and all his hopes, and seemed to have acquired youth and impasto, to
borrow a picturesque word from the painter's art. He was no more like
the Chabert of the old box-coat than a cartwheel double sou is like a
newly coined forty-franc piece. The passer-by, only to see him, would
have recognized at once one of the noble wrecks of our old army, one
of the heroic men on whom our national glory is reflected, as a
splinter of ice on which the sun shines seems to reflect every beam.
These veterans are at once a picture and a book.
When the Count jumped out of his carriage to go into Derville's
office, he did it as lightly as a young man. Hardly had his cab moved
off, when a smart brougham drove up, splendid with coats-of-arms.
Madame la Comtesse Ferraud stepped out in a dress which, though
simple, was cleverly designed to show how youthful her figure was. She
wore a pretty drawn bonnet lined with pink, which framed her face to
perfection, softening its outlines and making it look younger.
If the clients were rejuvenescent, the office was unaltered, and
presented the same picture as that described at the beginning of this
story. Simonnin was eating his breakfast, his shoulder leaning against
the window, which was then open, and he was staring up at the blue sky
in the opening of the courtyard enclosed by four gloomy houses.
"Ah, ha!" cried the little clerk, "who will bet an evening at the play
that Colonel Chabert is a General, and wears a red ribbon?"
"The chief is a great magician," said Godeschal.
"Then there is no trick to play on him this time?" asked Desroches.
"His wife has taken that in hand, the Comtesse Ferraud," said Boucard.
"What next?" said Godeschal. "Is Comtesse Ferraud required to belong
to two men?"
"Here she is," answered Simonnin.
"So you are not deaf, you young rogue!" said Chabert, taking the
gutter-jumper by the ear and twisting it, to the delight of the other
clerks, who began to laugh, looking at the Colonel with the curious
attention due to so singular a personage.
Comte Chabert was in Derville's private room at the moment when his
wife came in by the door of the office.
"I say, Boucard, there is going to be a queer scene in the chief's
room! There is a woman who can spend her days alternately, the odd
with Comte Ferraud, and the even with Comte Chabert."
"And in leap year," said Godeschal, "they must settle the count
"Silence, gentlemen, you can be heard!" said Boucard severely. "I
never was in an office where there was so much jesting as there is
here over the clients."
Derville had made the Colonel retire to the bedroom when the Countess
"Madame," he said, "not knowing whether it would be agreeable to you
to meet M. le Comte Chabert, I have placed you apart. If, however, you
should wish it--"
"It is an attention for which I am obliged to you."
"I have drawn up the memorandum of an agreement of which you and M.
Chabert can discuss the conditions, here, and now. I will go
alternately to him and to you, and explain your views respectively."
"Let me see, monsieur," said the Countess impatiently.
Derville read aloud:
" 'Between the undersigned:
" 'M. Hyacinthe Chabert, Count, Marechal de Camp, and Grand Officer of
the Legion of Honor, living in Paris, Rue du Petit-Banquier, on the
" 'And Madame Rose Chapotel, wife of the aforesaid M. le Comte
Chabert, nee--' "
"Pass over the preliminaries," said she. "Come to the conditions."
"Madame," said the lawyer, "the preamble briefly sets forth the
position in which you stand to each other. Then, by the first clause,
you acknowledge, in the presence of three witnesses, of whom two shall
be notaries, and one the dairyman with whom your husband has been
lodging, to all of whom your secret is known, and who will be
absolutely silent--you acknowledge, I say, that the individual
designated in the documents subjoined to the deed, and whose identity
is to be further proved by an act of recognition prepared by your
notary, Alexandre Crottat, is your first husband, Comte Chabert. By
the second clause Comte Chabert, to secure your happiness, will
undertake to assert his rights only under certain circumstances set
forth in the deed.--And these," said Derville, in a parenthesis, "are
none other than a failure to carry out the conditions of this secret
agreement.--M. Chabert, on his part, agrees to accept judgment on a
friendly suit, by which his certificate of death shall be annulled,
and his marriage dissolved."
"That will not suit me in the least," said the Countess with surprise.
"I will be a party to no suit; you know why."
"By the third clause," Derville went on, with imperturbable coolness,
"you pledge yourself to secure to Hyacinthe Comte Chabert an income of
twenty-four thousand francs on government stock held in his name, to
revert to you at his death--"
"But it is much too dear!" exclaimed the Countess.
"Can you compromise the matter cheaper?"
"But what do you want, madame?"
"I want--I will not have a lawsuit. I want--"
"You want him to remain dead?" said Derville, interrupting her
"Monsieur," said the Countess, "if twenty-four thousand francs a year
are necessary, we will go to law--"
"Yes, we will go to law," said the Colonel in a deep voice, as he
opened the door and stood before his wife, with one hand in his
waistcoat and the other hanging by his side--an attitude to which the
recollection of his adventure gave horrible significance.
"It is he," said the Countess to herself.
"Too dear!" the old soldier exclaimed. "I have given you near on a
million, and you are cheapening my misfortunes. Very well; now I will
have you--you and your fortune. Our goods are in common, our marriage
is not dissolved--"
"But monsieur is not Colonel Chabert!" cried the Countess, in feigned
"Indeed!" said the old man, in a tone of intense irony. "Do you want
proofs? I found you in the Palais Royal----"
The Countess turned pale. Seeing her grow white under her rouge, the
old soldier paused, touched by the acute suffering he was inflicting
on the woman he had once so ardently loved; but she shot such a
venomous glance at him that he abruptly went on:
"You were with La--"
"Allow me, Monsieur Derville," said the Countess to the lawyer. "You
must give me leave to retire. I did not come here to listen to such
She rose and went out. Derville rushed after her; but the Countess had
taken wings, and seemed to have flown from the place.
On returning to his private room, he found the Colonel in a towering
rage, striding up and down.
"In those times a man took his wife where he chose," said he. "But I
was foolish and chose badly; I trusted to appearances. She has no
"Well, Colonel, was I not right to beg you not to come?--I am now
positive of your identity; when you came in, the Countess gave a
little start, of which the meaning was unequivocal. But you have lost
your chances. Your wife knows that you are unrecognizable."
"I will kill her!"
"Madness! you will be caught and executed like any common wretch.
Besides you might miss! That would be unpardonable. A man must not
miss his shot when he wants to kill his wife.--Let me set things
straight; you are only a big child. Go now. Take care of yourself; she
is capable of setting some trap for you and shutting you up in
Charenton. I will notify her of our proceedings to protect you against
The unhappy Colonel obeyed his young benefactor, and went away,
stammering apologies. He slowly went down the dark staircase, lost in
gloomy thoughts, and crushed perhaps by the blow just dealt him--the
most cruel he could feel, the thrust that could most deeply pierce his
heart--when he heard the rustle of a woman's dress on the lowest
landing, and his wife stood before him.
"Come, monsieur," said she, taking his arm with a gesture like those
familiar to him of old. Her action and the accent of her voice, which
had recovered its graciousness, were enough to allay the Colonel's
wrath, and he allowed himself to be led to the carriage.
"Well, get in!" said she, when the footman had let down the step.
And as if by magic, he found himself sitting by his wife in the
"Where to?" asked the servant.
"To Groslay," said she.
The horses started at once, and carried them all across Paris.
"Monsieur," said the Countess, in a tone of voice which betrayed one
of those emotions which are rare in our lives, and which agitate every
part of our being. At such moments the heart, fibres, nerves,
countenance, soul, and body, everything, every pore even, feels a
thrill. Life no longer seems to be within us; it flows out, springs
forth, is communicated as if by contagion, transmitted by a look, a
tone of voice, a gesture, impressing our will on others. The old
soldier started on hearing this single word, this first, terrible
"monsieur!" But still it was at once a reproach and a pardon, a hope
and a despair, a question and an answer. This word included them all;
none but an actress could have thrown so much eloquence, so many
feelings into a single word. Truth is less complete in its utterance;
it does not put everything on the outside; it allows us to see what is
within. The Colonel was filled with remorse for his suspicions, his
demands, and his anger; he looked down not to betray his agitation.
"Monsieur," repeated she, after an imperceptible pause, "I knew you at
"Rosine," said the old soldier, "those words contain the only balm
that can help me to forget my misfortunes."
Two large tears rolled hot on to his wife's hands, which he pressed to
show his paternal affection.
"Monsieur," she went on, "could you not have guessed what it cost me
to appear before a stranger in a position so false as mine now is? If
I have to blush for it, at least let it be in the privacy of my
family. Ought not such a secret to remain buried in our hearts? You
will forgive me, I hope, for my apparent indifference to the woes of a
Chabert in whose existence I could not possibly believe. I received
your letters," she hastily added, seeing in his face the objection it
expressed, "but they did not reach me till thirteen months after the
battle of Eylau. They were opened, dirty, the writing was
unrecognizable; and after obtaining Napoleon's signature to my second
marriage contract, I could not help believing that some clever
swindler wanted to make a fool of me. Therefore, to avoid disturbing
Monsieur Ferraud's peace of mind, and disturbing family ties, I was
obliged to take precautions against a pretended Chabert. Was I not
right, I ask you?"
"Yes, you were right. It was I who was the idiot, the owl, the dolt,
not to have calculated better what the consequences of such a position
might be.--But where are we going?" he asked, seeing that they had
reached the barrier of La Chapelle.
"To my country house near Groslay, in the valley of Montmorency.
There, monsieur, we will consider the steps to be taken. I know my
duties. Though I am yours by right, I am no longer yours in fact. Can
you wish that we should become the talk of Paris? We need not inform
the public of a situation, which for me has its ridiculous side, and
let us preserve our dignity. You still love me," she said, with a sad,
sweet gaze at the Colonel, "but have not I been authorized to form
other ties? In so strange a position, a secret voice bids me trust to
your kindness, which is so well known to me. Can I be wrong in taking
you as the sole arbiter of my fate? Be at once judge and party to the
suit. I trust in your noble character; you will be generous enough to
forgive me for the consequences of faults committed in innocence. I
may then confess to you: I love M. Ferraud. I believed that I had a
right to love him. I do not blush to make this confession to you; even
if it offends you, it does not disgrace us. I cannot conceal the
facts. When fate made me a widow, I was not a mother."
The Colonel with a wave of his hand bid his wife be silent, and for a
mile and a half they sat without speaking a single word. Chabert could
fancy he saw the two little ones before him.
"The dead are very wrong to come to life again."
"Oh, monsieur, no, no! Do not think me ungrateful. Only, you find me a
lover, a mother, while you left me merely a wife. Though it is no
longer in my power to love, I know how much I owe you, and I can still
offer you all the affection of a daughter."
"Rosine," said the old man in a softened tone, "I no longer feel any
resentment against you. We will forget anything," he added, with one
of those smiles which always reflect a noble soul; "I have not so
little delicacy as to demand the mockery of love from a wife who no
longer loves me."
The Countess gave him a flashing look full of such deep gratitude that
poor Chabert would have been glad to sink again into his grave at
Eylau. Some men have a soul strong enough for such self-devotion, of
which the whole reward consists in the assurance that they have made
the person they love happy.
"My dear friend, we will talk all this over later when our hearts have
rested," said the Countess.
The conversation turned to other subjects, for it was impossible to
dwell very long on this one. Though the couple came back again and
again to their singular position, either by some allusion or of
serious purpose, they had a delightful drive, recalling the events of
their former life together and the times of the Empire. The Countess
knew how to lend peculiar charm to her reminiscences, and gave the
conversation the tinge of melancholy that was needed to keep it
serious. She revived his love without awakening his desires, and
allowed her first husband to discern the mental wealth she had
acquired while trying to accustom him to moderate his pleasure to that
which a father may feel in the society of a favorite daughter.
The Colonel had known the Countess of the Empire; he found her a
Countess of the Restoration.
At last, by a cross-road, they arrived at the entrance to a large park
lying in the little valley which divides the heights of Margency from
the pretty village of Groslay. The Countess had there a delightful
house, where the Colonel on arriving found everything in readiness for
his stay there, as well as for his wife's. Misfortune is a kind of
talisman whose virtue consists in its power to confirm our original
nature; in some men it increases their distrust and malignancy, just
as it improves the goodness of those who have a kind heart.
Sorrow had made the Colonel even more helpful and good than he had
always been, and he could understand some secrets of womanly distress
which are unrevealed to most men. Nevertheless, in spite of his loyal
trustfulness, he could not help saying to his wife:
"Then you felt quite sure you would bring me here?"
"Yes," replied she, "if I found Colonel Chabert in Derville's client."
The appearance of truth she contrived to give to this answer
dissipated the slight suspicions which the Colonel was ashamed to have
felt. For three days the Countess was quite charming to her first
husband. By tender attentions and unfailing sweetness she seemed
anxious to wipe out the memory of the sufferings he had endured, and
to earn forgiveness for the woes which, as she confessed, she had
innocently caused him. She delighted in displaying for him the charms
she knew he took pleasure in, while at the same time she assumed a
kind of melancholy; for men are more especially accessible to certain
ways, certain graces of the heart or of the mind which they cannot
resist. She aimed at interesting him in her position, and appealing to
his feelings so far as to take possession of his mind and control him
Ready for anything to attain her ends, she did not yet know what she
was to do with this man; but at any rate she meant to annihilate him
socially. On the evening of the third day she felt that in spite of
her efforts she could not conceal her uneasiness as to the results of
her manoeuvres. To give herself a minute's reprieve she went up to her
room, sat down before her writing-table, and laid aside the mask of
composure which she wore in Chabert's presence, like an actress who,
returning to her dressing-room after a fatiguing fifth act, drops half
dead, leaving with the audience an image of herself which she no
longer resembles. She proceeded to finish a letter she had begun to
Delbecq, whom she desired to go in her name and demand of Derville the
deeds relating to Colonel Chabert, to copy them, and to come to her at
once to Groslay. She had hardly finished when she heard the Colonel's
step in the passage; uneasy at her absence, he had come to look for
"Alas!" she exclaimed, "I wish I were dead! My position is
intolerable . . ."
"Why, what is the matter?" asked the good man.
"Nothing, nothing!" she replied.
She rose, left the Colonel, and went down to speak privately to her
maid, whom she sent off to Paris, impressing on her that she was
herself to deliver to Delbecq the letter just written, and to bring it
back to the writer as soon as he had read it. Then the Countess went
out to sit on a bench sufficiently in sight for the Colonel to join
her as soon as he might choose. The Colonel, who was looking for her,
hastened up and sat down by her.
"Rosine," said he, "what is the matter with you?"
She did not answer.
It was one of those glorious, calm evenings in the month of June,
whose secret harmonies infuse such sweetness into the sunset. The air
was clear, the stillness perfect, so that far away in the park they
could hear the voices of some children, which added a kind of melody
to the sublimity of the scene.
"You do not answer me?" the Colonel said to his wife.
"My husband----" said the Countess, who broke off, started a little,
and with a blush stopped to ask him, "What am I to say when I speak of
"Call him your husband, my poor child," replied the Colonel, in a kind
voice. "Is he not the father of your children?"
"Well, then," she said, "if he should ask what I came here for, if he
finds out that I came here, alone, with a stranger, what am I to say
to him? Listen, monsieur," she went on, assuming a dignified attitude,
"decide my fate, I am resigned to anything--"
"My dear," said the Colonel, taking possession of his wife's hands, "I
have made up my mind to sacrifice myself entirely for your
"That is impossible!" she exclaimed, with a sudden spasmodic movement.
"Remember that you would have to renounce your identity, and in an
"What?" said the Colonel. "Is not my word enough for you?"
The word "authenticated" fell on the old man's heart, and roused
involuntary distrust. He looked at his wife in a way that made her
color, she cast down her eyes, and he feared that he might find
himself compelled to despise her. The Countess was afraid lest she had
scared the shy modesty, the stern honesty, of a man whose generous
temper and primitive virtues were known to her. Though these feelings
had brought the clouds to her brow, they immediately recovered their
harmony. This was the way of it. A child's cry was heard in the
"Jules, leave your sister in peace," the Countess called out.
"What, are your children here?" said Chabert.
"Yes, but I told them not to trouble you."
The old soldier understood the delicacy, the womanly tact of so
gracious a precaution, and took the Countess' hand to kiss it.
"But let them come," said he.
The little girl ran up to complain of her brother.
"It was Jules--"
"It was her--"
Their little hands were held out to their mother, and the two childish
voices mingled; it was an unexpected and charming picture.
"Poor little things!" cried the Countess, no longer restraining her
tears, "I shall have to leave them. To whom will the law assign them?
A mother's heart cannot be divided; I want them, I want them."
"Are you making mamma cry?" said Jules, looking fiercely at the
"Silence, Jules!" said the mother in a decided tone.
The two children stood speechless, examining their mother and the
stranger with a curiosity which it is impossible to express in words.
"Oh yes!" she cried. "If I am separated from the Count, only leave me
my children, and I will submit to anything . . ."
This was the decisive speech which gained all that she had hoped from
"Yes," exclaimed the Colonel, as if he were ending a sentence already
begun in his mind, "I must return underground again. I had told myself
"Can I accept such a sacrifice?" replied his wife. "If some men have
died to save a mistress' honor, they gave their life but once. But in
this case you would be giving your life every day. No, no. It is
impossible. If it were only your life, it would be nothing; but to
sign a declaration that you are not Colonel Chabert, to acknowledge
yourself an imposter, to sacrifice your honor, and live a lie every
hour of the day! Human devotion cannot go so far. Only think!--No. But
for my poor children I would have fled with you by this time to the
other end of the world."
"But," said Chabert, "cannot I live here in your little lodge as one
of your relations? I am as worn out as a cracked cannon; I want
nothing but a little tobacco and the Constitutionnel."
The Countess melted into tears. There was a contest of generosity
between the Comtesse Ferraud and Colonel Chabert, and the soldier came
out victorious. One evening, seeing this mother with her children, the
soldier was bewitched by the touching grace of a family picture in the
country, in the shade and the silence; he made a resolution to remain
dead, and, frightened no longer at the authentication of a deed, he
asked what he could do to secure beyond all risk the happiness of this
"Do exactly as you like," said the Countess. "I declare to you that I
will have nothing to do with this affair. I ought not."
Delbecq had arrived some days before, and in obedience to the
Countess' verbal instructions, the intendant had succeeded in gaining
the old soldier's confidence. So on the following morning Colonel
Chabert went with the erewhile attorney to Saint-Leu-Taverny, where
Delbecq had caused the notary to draw up an affidavit in such terms
that, after hearing it read, the Colonel started up and walked out of
"Turf and thunder! What a fool you must think me! Why, I should make
myself out a swindler!" he exclaimed.
"Indeed, monsieur," said Delbecq, "I should advise you not to sign in
haste. In your place I would get at least thirty thousand francs a
year out of the bargain. Madame would pay them."
After annihilating this scoundrel emeritus by the lightning look of
an honest man insulted, the Colonel rushed off, carried away by a
thousand contrary emotions. He was suspicious, indignant, and calm
again by turns.
Finally he made his way back into the park of Groslay by a gap in a
fence, and slowly walked on to sit down and rest, and meditate at his
ease, in a little room under a gazebo, from which the road to Saint-
Leu could be seen. The path being strewn with the yellowish sand which
is used instead of river-gravel, the Countess, who was sitting in the
upper room of this little summer-house, did not hear the Colonel's
approach, for she was too much preoccupied with the success of her
business to pay the smallest attention to the slight noise made by her
husband. Nor did the old man notice that his wife was in the room over
"Well, Monsieur Delbecq, has he signed?" the Countess asked her
secretary, whom she saw alone on the road beyond the hedge of a haha.
"No, madame. I do not even know what has become of our man. The old
"Then we shall be obliged to put him into Charenton," said she, "since
we have got him."
The Colonel, who recovered the elasticity of youth to leap the haha,
in the twinkling of an eye was standing in front of Delbecq, on whom
he bestowed the two finest slaps that ever a scoundrel's cheeks
"And you may add that old horses can kick!" said he.
His rage spent, the Colonel no longer felt vigorous enough to leap the
ditch. He had seen the truth in all its nakedness. The Countess'
speech and Delbecq's reply had revealed the conspiracy of which he was
to be the victim. The care taken of him was but a bait to entrap him
in a snare. That speech was like a drop of subtle poison, bringing on
in the old soldier a return of all his sufferings, physical and moral.
He came back to the summer-house through the park gate, walking slowly
like a broken man.
Then for him there was to be neither peace nor truce. From this moment
he must begin the odious warfare with this woman of which Derville had
spoken, enter on a life of litigation, feed on gall, drink every
morning of the cup of bitterness. And then--fearful thought!--where
was he to find the money needful to pay the cost of the first
proceedings? He felt such disgust of life, that if there had been any
water at hand he would have thrown himself into it; that if he had had
a pistol, he would have blown out his brains. Then he relapsed into
the indecision of mind which, since his conversation with Derville at
the dairyman's had changed his character.
At last, having reached the kiosque, he went up to the gazebo, where
little rose-windows afforded a view over each lovely landscape of the
valley, and where he found his wife seated on a chair. The Countess
was gazing at the distance, and preserved a calm countenance, showing
that impenetrable face which women can assume when resolved to do
their worst. She wiped her eyes as if she had been weeping, and played
absently with the pink ribbons of her sash. Nevertheless, in spite of
her apparent assurance, she could not help shuddering slightly when
she saw before her her venerable benefactor, standing with folded
arms, his face pale, his brow stern.
"Madame," he said, after gazing at her fixedly for a moment and
compelling her to blush, "Madame, I do not curse you--I scorn you. I
can now thank the chance that has divided us. I do not feel even a
desire for revenge; I no longer love you. I want nothing from you.
Live in peace on the strength of my word; it is worth more than the
scrawl of all the notaries in Paris. I will never assert my claim to
the name I perhaps have made illustrious. I am henceforth but a poor
devil named Hyacinthe, who asks no more than his share of the
The Countess threw herself at his feet; she would have detained him by
taking his hands, but he pushed her away with disgust, saying:
"Do not touch me!"
The Countess' expression when she heard her husband's retreating steps
is quite indescribable. Then, with the deep perspicacity given only by
utter villainy, or by fierce worldly selfishness, she knew that she
might live in peace on the word and the contempt of this loyal
Chabert, in fact, disappeared. The dairyman failed in business, and
became a hackney-cab driver. The Colonel, perhaps, took up some
similar industry for a time. Perhaps, like a stone flung into a chasm,
he went falling from ledge to ledge, to be lost in the mire of rags
that seethes through the streets of Paris.
Six months after this event, Derville, hearing no more of Colonel
Chabert or the Comtesse Ferraud, supposed that they had no doubt come
to a compromise, which the Countess, out of revenge, had had arranged
by some other lawyer. So one morning he added up the sums he had
advanced to the said Chabert with the costs, and begged the Comtesse
Ferraud to claim from M. le Comte Chabert the amount of the bill,
assuming that she would know where to find her first husband.
The very next day Comte Ferraud's man of business, lately appointed
President of the County Court in a town of some importance, wrote this
distressing note to Derville:
"Madame la Comtesse Ferraud desires me to inform you that your
client took complete advantage of your confidence, and that the
individual calling himself Comte Chabert has acknowledged that he
came forward under false pretences.
"Yours, etc., DELBECQ."
"One comes across people who are, on my honor, too stupid by half,"
cried Derville. "They don't deserve to be Christians! Be humane,
generous, philanthropical, and a lawyer, and you are bound to be
cheated! There is a piece of business that will cost me two thousand-
Some time after receiving this letter, Derville went to the Palais de
Justice in search of a pleader to whom he wished to speak, and who was
employed in the Police Court. As chance would have it, Derville went
into Court Number 6 at the moment when the Presiding Magistrate was
sentencing one Hyacinthe to two months' imprisonment as a vagabond,
and subsequently to be taken to the Mendicity House of Detention, a
sentence which, by magistrates' law, is equivalent to perpetual
imprisonment. On hearing the name of Hyacinthe, Derville looked at the
deliquent, sitting between two gendarmes on the bench for the
accused, and recognized in the condemned man his false Colonel
The old soldier was placid, motionless, almost absentminded. In spite
of his rags, in spite of the misery stamped on his countenance, it
gave evidence of noble pride. His eye had a stoical expression which
no magistrate ought to have misunderstood; but as soon as a man has
fallen into the hands of justice, he is no more than a moral entity, a
matter of law or of fact, just as to statists he has become a zero.
When the veteran was taken back to the lock-up, to be removed later
with the batch of vagabonds at that moment at the bar, Derville
availed himself of the privilege accorded to lawyers of going wherever
they please in the Courts, and followed him to the lock-up, where he
stood scrutinizing him for some minutes, as well as the curious crew
of beggars among whom he found himself. The passage to the lock-up at
that moment afforded one of those spectacles which, unfortunately,
neither legislators, nor philanthropists, nor painters, nor writers
come to study. Like all the laboratories of the law, this ante-room is
a dark and malodorous place; along the walls runs a wooden seat,
blackened by the constant presence there of the wretches who come to
this meeting-place of every form of social squalor, where not one of
them is missing.
A poet might say that the day was ashamed to light up this dreadful
sewer through which so much misery flows! There is not a spot on that
plank where some crime has not sat, in embryo or matured; not a corner
where a man has never stood who, driven to despair by the blight which
justice has set upon him after his first fault, has not there begun a
career, at the end of which looms the guillotine or the pistol-snap of
the suicide. All who fall on the pavement of Paris rebound against
these yellow-gray walls, on which a philanthropist who was not a
speculator might read a justification of the numerous suicides
complained of by hypocritical writers who are incapable of taking a
step to prevent them--for that justification is written in that ante-
room, like a preface to the dramas of the Morgue, or to those enacted
on the Place de la Greve.
At this moment Colonel Chabert was sitting among these men--men with
coarse faces, clothed in the horrible livery of misery, and silent at
intervals, or talking in a low tone, for three gendarmes on duty paced
to and fro, their sabres clattering on the floor.
"Do you recognize me?" said Derville to the old man, standing in front
"Yes, sir," said Chabert, rising.
"If you are an honest man," Derville went on in an undertone, "how
could you remain in my debt?"
The old soldier blushed as a young girl might when accused by her
mother of a clandestine love affair.
"What! Madame Ferraud has not paid you?" cried he in a loud voice.
"Paid me?" said Derville. "She wrote to me that you were a swindler."
The Colonel cast up his eyes in a sublime impulse of horror and
imprecation, as if to call heaven to witness to this fresh subterfuge.
"Monsieur," said he, in a voice that was calm by sheer huskiness, "get
the gendarmes to allow me to go into the lock-up, and I will sign an
order which will certainly be honored."
At a word from Derville to the sergeant he was allowed to take his
client into the room, where Hyacinthe wrote a few lines, and addressed
them to the Comtesse Ferraud.
"Send her that," said the soldier, "and you will be paid your costs
and the money you advanced. Believe me, monsieur, if I have not shown
you the gratitude I owe you for your kind offices, it is not the less
there," and he laid his hand on his heart. "Yes, it is there, deep and
sincere. But what can the unfortunate do? They live, and that is all."
"What!" said Derville. "Did you not stipulate for an allowance?"
"Do not speak of it!" cried the old man. "You cannot conceive how deep
my contempt is for the outside life to which most men cling. I was
suddenly attacked by a sickness--disgust of humanity. When I think
that Napoleon is at Saint-Helena, everything on earth is a matter of
indifference to me. I can no longer be a soldier; that is my only real
grief. After all," he added with a gesture of childish simplicity, "it
is better to enjoy luxury of feeling than of dress. For my part, I
fear nobody's contempt."
And the Colonel sat down on his bench again.
Derville went away. On returning to his office, he sent Godeschal, at
that time his second clerk, to the Comtesse Ferraud, who, on reading
the note, at once paid the sum due to Comte Chabert's lawyer.
In 1840, towards the end of June, Godeschal, now himself an attorney,
went to Ris with Derville, to whom he had succeeded. When they reached
the avenue leading from the highroad to Bicetre, they saw, under one
of the elm-trees by the wayside, one of those old, broken, and hoary
paupers who have earned the Marshal's staff among beggars by living on
at Bicetre as poor women live on at la Salpetriere. This man, one of
the two thousand poor creatures who are lodged in the infirmary for
the aged, was seated on a corner-stone, and seemed to have
concentrated all his intelligence on an operation well known to these
pensioners, which consists in drying their snuffy pocket-handkerchiefs
in the sun, perhaps to save washing them. This old man had an
attractive countenance. He was dressed in a reddish cloth wrapper-coat
which the work-house affords to its inmates, a sort of horrible
"I say, Derville," said Godeschal to his traveling companion, "look at
that old fellow. Isn't he like those grotesque carved figures we get
from Germany? And it is alive, perhaps it is happy."
Derville looked at the poor man through his eyeglass, and with a
little exclamation of surprise he said:
"That old man, my dear fellow, is a whole poem, or, as the romantics
say, a drama.--Did you ever meet the Comtesse Ferraud?"
"Yes; she is a clever woman, and agreeable; but rather too pious,"
"That old Bicetre pauper is her lawful husband, Comte Chabert, the old
Colonel. She has had him sent here, no doubt. And if he is in this
workhouse instead of living in a mansion, it is solely because he
reminded the pretty Countess that he had taken her, like a hackney
cab, on the street. I can remember now the tiger's glare she shot at
him at that moment."
This opening having excited Godeschal's curiosity, Derville related
the story here told.
Two days later, on Monday morning, as they returned to Paris, the two
friends looked again at Bicetre, and Derville proposed that they
should call on Colonel Chabert. Halfway up the avenue they found the
old man sitting on the trunk of a felled tree. With his stick in one
hand, he was amusing himself with drawing lines in the sand. On
looking at him narrowly, they perceived that he had been breakfasting
elsewhere than at Bicetre.
"Good-morning, Colonel Chabert," said Derville.
"Not Chabert! not Chabert! My name is Hyacinthe," replied the veteran.
"I am no longer a man, I am No. 164, Room 7," he added, looking at
Derville with timid anxiety, the fear of an old man and a child.--"Are
you going to visit the man condemned to death?" he asked after a
moment's silence. "He is not married! He is very lucky!"
"Poor fellow!" said Godeschal. "Would you like something to buy
With all the simplicity of a street Arab, the Colonel eagerly held out
his hand to the two strangers, who each gave him a twenty-franc piece;
he thanked them with a puzzled look, saying:
He ported arms, pretended to take aim at them, and shouted with a
"Fire! both arms! Vive Napoleon!" And he drew a flourish in the air
with his stick.
"The nature of his wound has no doubt made him childish," said
"Childish! he?" said another old pauper, who was looking on. "Why,
there are days when you had better not tread on his corns. He is an
old rogue, full of philosophy and imagination. But to-day, what can
you expect! He has had his Monday treat.--He was here, monsieur, so
long ago as 1820. At that time a Prussian officer, whose chaise was
crawling up the hill of Villejuif, came by on foot. We two were
together, Hyacinthe and I, by the roadside. The officer, as he walked,
was talking to another, a Russian, or some animal of the same species,
and when the Prussian saw the old boy, just to make fun, he said to
him, 'Here is an old cavalry man who must have been at Rossbach.'--'I
was too young to be there,' said Hyacinthe. 'But I was at Jena.' And
the Prussian made off pretty quick, without asking any more
"What a destiny!" exclaimed Derville. "Taken out of the Foundling
Hospital to die in the Infirmary for the Aged, after helping Napoleon
between whiles to conquer Egypt and Europe.--Do you know, my dear
fellow," Derville went on after a pause, "there are in modern society
three men who can never think well of the world--the priest, the
doctor, and the man of law? And they wear black robes, perhaps because
they are in mourning for every virtue and every illusion. The most
hapless of the three is the lawyer. When a man comes in search of the
priest, he is prompted by repentance, by remorse, by beliefs which
make him interesting, which elevate him and comfort the soul of the
intercessor whose task will bring him a sort of gladness; he purifies,
repairs and reconciles. But we lawyers, we see the same evil feelings
repeated again and again, nothing can correct them; our offices are
sewers which can never be cleansed.
"How many things have I learned in the exercise of my profession! I
have seen a father die in a garret, deserted by two daughters, to whom
he had given forty thousand francs a year! I have known wills burned;
I have seen mothers robbing their children, wives killing their
husbands, and working on the love they could inspire to make the men
idiotic or mad, that they might live in peace with a lover. I have
seen women teaching the child of their marriage such tastes as must
bring it to the grave in order to benefit the child of an illicit
affection. I could not tell you all I have seen, for I have seen
crimes against which justice is impotent. In short, all the horrors
that romancers suppose they have invented are still below the truth.
You will know something of these pretty things; as for me, I am going
to live in the country with my wife. I have a horror of Paris."
"I have seen plenty of them already in Desroches' office," replied
PARIS, February-March 1832.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
The Gondreville Mystery
The Seamy Side of History
A Woman of Thirty
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty
A Start in Life
The Gondreville Mystery
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
A Woman of Thirty
The Commission in Lunacy
The Government Clerks
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Firm of Nucingen
A Man of Business
The Middle Classes
The Government Clerks
A Bachelor's Establishment
A Start in Life
The Commission in Lunacy
The Middle Classes
Grandlieu, Vicomtesse de
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Louis XVIII., Louis-Stanislas-Xavier
The Seamy Side of History
The Gondreville Mystery
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
The Lily of the Valley
The Government Clerks
Murat, Joachim, Prince
The Gondreville Mystery
The Country Doctor
Navarreins, Duc de
A Bachelor's Establishment
The Muse of the Department
Jealousies of a Country Town
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Country Parson
The Magic Skin
The Gondreville Mystery
The Secrets of a Princess