The Marriage Contract
by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
CHAPTER I. PRO AND CON
Monsieur de Manerville, the father, was a worthy Norman gentleman,
well known to the Marechael de Richelieu, who married him to one of
the richest heiresses of Bordeaux in the days when the old duke
reigned in Guienne as governor. The Norman then sold the estate he
owned in Bessin, and became a Gascon, allured by the beauty of the
chateau de Lanstrac, a delightful residence owned by his wife. During
the last days of the reign of Louis XV., he bought the post of major
of the Gate Guards, and lived till 1813, having by great good luck
escaped the dangers of the Revolution in the following manner.
Toward the close of the year, 1790, he went to Martinque, where his
wife had interests, leaving the management of his property in Gascogne
to an honest man, a notary's clerk, named Mathias, who was inclined to
--or at any rate did--give into the new ideas. On his return the Comte
de Manerville found his possessions intact and well-managed. This
sound result was the fruit produced by grafting the Gascon on the
Madame de Manerville died in 1810. Having learned the importance of
worldly goods through the dissipations of his youth, and, giving them,
like many another old man, a higher place than they really hold in
life, Monsieur de Manerville became increasingly economical, miserly,
and sordid. Without reflecting that the avarice of parents prepares
the way for the prodigalities of children, he allowed almost nothing
to his son, although that son was an only child.
Paul de Manerville, coming home from the college of Vendome in 1810,
lived under close paternal discipline for three years. The tyranny by
which the old man of seventy oppressed his heir influenced,
necessarily, a heart and a character which were not yet formed. Paul,
the son, without lacking the physical courage which is vital in the
air of Gascony, dared not struggle against his father, and
consequently lost that faculty of resistance which begets moral
courage. His thwarted feelings were driven to the depths of his heart,
where they remained without expression; later, when he felt them to be
out of harmony with the maxims of the world, he could only think
rightly and act mistakenly. He was capable of fighting for a mere word
or look, yet he trembled at the thought of dismissing a servant,--his
timidity showing itself in those contests only which required a
persistent will. Capable of doing great things to fly from
persecution, he would never have prevented it by systematic
opposition, nor have faced it with the steady employment of force of
will. Timid in thought, bold in actions, he long preserved that inward
simplicity which makes a man the dupe and the voluntary victim of
things against which certain souls hesitate to revolt, preferring to
endure them rather than complain. He was, in point of fact, imprisoned
by his father's old mansion, for he had not enough money to consort
with young men; he envied their pleasures while unable to share them.
The old gentleman took him every evening, in an old carriage drawn by
ill-harnessed old horses, attended by ill-dressed old servants, to
royalist houses, where he met a society composed of the relics of the
parliamentary nobility and the martial nobility. These two nobilities
coalescing after the Revolution, had now transformed themselves into a
landed aristocracy. Crushed by the vast and swelling fortunes of the
maritime cities, this Faubourg Saint-Germain of Bordeaux responded by
lofty disdain to the sumptuous displays of commerce, government
administrations, and the military. Too young to understand social
distinctions and the necessities underlying the apparent assumption
which they create, Paul was bored to death among these ancients,
unaware that the connections of his youth would eventually secure to
him that aristocratic pre-eminence which Frenchmen will forever
He found some slight compensations for the dulness of these evenings
in certain manual exercises which always delight young men, and which
his father enjoined upon him. The old gentleman considered that to
know the art of fencing and the use of arms, to ride well on
horseback, to play tennis, to acquire good manners,--in short, to
possess all the frivolous accomplishments of the old nobility,--made a
young man of the present day a finished gentleman. Accordingly, Paul
took a fencing-lesson every morning, went to the riding-school, and
practised in a pistol-gallery. The rest of his time was spent in
reading novels, for his father would never have allowed the more
abstruse studies now considered necessary to finish an education.
So monotonous a life would soon have killed the poor youth if the
death of the old man had not delivered him from this tyranny at the
moment when it was becoming intolerable. Paul found himself in
possession of considerable capital, accumulated by his father's
avarice, together with landed estates in the best possible condition.
But he now held Bordeaux in horror; neither did he like Lanstrac,
where his father had taken him to spend the summers, employing his
whole time from morning till night in hunting.
As soon as the estate was fairly settled, the young heir, eager for
enjoyment, bought consols with his capital, left the management of the
landed property to old Mathias, his father's notary, and spent the
next six years away from Bordeaux. At first he was attached to the
French embassy at Naples; after that he was secretary of legation at
Madrid, and then in London,--making in this way the tour of Europe.
After seeing the world and life, after losing several illusions, after
dissipating all the loose capital which his father had amassed, there
came a time when, in order to continue his way of life, Paul was
forced to draw upon the territorial revenues which his notary was
laying by. At this critical moment, seized by one of the so-called
virtuous impulses, he determined to leave Paris, return to Bordeaux,
regulate his affairs, lead the life of a country gentleman at
Lanstrac, improve his property, marry, and become, in the end, a
Paul was a count; nobility was once more of matrimonial value; he
could, and he ought to make a good marriage. While many women desire a
title, many others like to marry a man to whom a knowledge of life is
familiar. Now Paul had acquired, in exchange for the sum of seven
hundred thousand francs squandered in six years, that possession,
which cannot be bought and is practically of more value than gold and
silver; a knowledge which exacts long study, probation, examinations,
friends, enemies, acquaintances, certain manners, elegance of form and
demeanor, a graceful and euphonious name,--a knowledge, moreover,
which means many love-affairs, duels, bets lost on a race-course,
disillusions, deceptions, annoyances, toils, and a vast variety of
undigested pleasures. In short, he had become what is called elegant.
But in spite of his mad extravagance he had never made himself a mere
fashionable man. In the burlesque army of men of the world, the man of
fashion holds the place of a marshal of France, the man of elegance is
the equivalent of a lieutenant-general. Paul enjoyed his lesser
reputation, of elegance, and knew well how to sustain it. His servants
were well-dressed, his equipages were cited, his suppers had a certain
vogue; in short, his bachelor establishment was counted among the
seven or eight whose splendor equalled that of the finest houses in
But--he had not caused the wretchedness of any woman; he gambled
without losing; his luck was not notorious; he was far too upright to
deceive or mislead any one, no matter who, even a wanton; never did he
leave his billets-doux lying about, and he possessed no coffer or desk
for love-letters which his friends were at liberty to read while he
tied his cravat or trimmed his beard. Moreover, not willing to dip
into his Guienne property, he had not that bold extravagance which
leads to great strokes and calls attention at any cost to the
proceedings of a young man. Neither did he borrow money, but he had
the folly to lend to friends, who then deserted him and spoke of him
no more either for good or evil. He seemed to have regulated his
dissipations methodically. The secret of his character lay in his
father's tyranny, which had made him, as it were, a social mongrel.
So, one morning, he said to a friend named de Marsay, who afterwards
"My dear fellow, life has a meaning."
"You must be twenty-seven years of age before you can find it out,"
replied de Marsay, laughing.
"Well, I am twenty-seven; and precisely because I am twenty-seven I
mean to live the life of a country gentleman at Lanstrac. I'll
transport my belongings to Bordeaux into my father's old mansion, and
I'll spend three months of the year in Paris in this house, which I
"Will you marry?"
"I will marry."
"I'm your friend, as you know, my old Paul," said de Marsay, after a
moment's silence, "and I say to you: settle down into a worthy father
and husband and you'll be ridiculous for the rest of your days. If you
could be happy and ridiculous, the thing might be thought of; but you
will not be happy. You haven't a strong enough wrist to drive a
household. I'll do you justice and say you are a perfect horseman; no
one knows as well as you how to pick up or thrown down the reins, and
make a horse prance, and sit firm to the saddle. But, my dear fellow,
marriage is another thing. I see you now, led along at a slapping pace
by Madame la Comtesse de Manerville, going whither you would not,
oftener at a gallop than a trot, and presently unhorsed!--yes,
unhorsed into a ditch and your legs broken. Listen to me. You still
have some forty-odd thousand francs a year from your property in the
Gironde. Good. Take your horses and servants and furnish your house in
Bordeaux; you can be king of Bordeaux, you can promulgate there the
edicts that we put forth in Paris; you can be the correspondent of our
stupidities. Very good. Play the rake in the provinces; better still,
commit follies; follies may win you celebrity. But--don't marry. Who
marries now-a-days? Only merchants, for the sake of their capital, or
to be two to drag the cart; only peasants who want to produce children
to work for them; only brokers and notaries who want a wife's 'dot' to
pay for their practice; only miserable kings who are forced to
continue their miserable dynasties. But we are exempt from the pack,
and you want to shoulder it! And why DO you want to marry? You ought
to give your best friend your reasons. In the first place, if you
marry an heiress as rich as yourself, eighty thousand francs a year
for two is not the same thing as forty thousand francs a year for one,
because the two are soon three or four when the children come. You
haven't surely any love for that silly race of Manerville which would
only hamper you? Are you ignorant of what a father and mother have to
be? Marriage, my old Paul, is the silliest of all the social
immolations; our children alone profit by it, and don't know its price
until their horses are nibbling the flowers on our grave. Do you
regret your father, that old tyrant who made your first years
wretched? How can you be sure that your children will love you? The
very care you take of their education, your precautions for their
happiness, your necessary sternness will lessen their affection.
Children love a weak or a prodigal father, whom they will despise in
after years. You'll live betwixt fear and contempt. No man is a good
head of a family merely because he wants to be. Look round on all our
friends and name to me one whom you would like to have for a son. We
have known a good many who dishonor their names. Children, my dear
Paul, are the most difficult kind of merchandise to take care of.
Yours, you think, will be angels; well, so be it! Have you ever
sounded the gulf which lies between the lives of a bachelor and a
married man? Listen. As a bachelor you can say to yourself: 'I shall
never exhibit more than a certain amount of the ridiculous; the public
will think of me what I choose it to think.' Married, you'll drop into
the infinitude of the ridiculous! Bachelor, you can make your own
happiness; you enjoy some to-day, you do without it to-morrow;
married, you must take it as it comes; and the day you want it you
will have to go without it. Marry, and you'll grow a blockhead; you'll
calculate dowries; you'll talk morality, public and religious; you'll
think young men immoral and dangerous; in short, you'll become a
social academician. It's pitiable! The old bachelor whose property the
heirs are waiting for, who fights to his last breath with his nurse
for a spoonful of drink, is blest in comparison with a married man.
I'm not speaking of all that will happen to annoy, bore, irritate,
coerce, oppose, tyrannize, narcotize, paralyze, and idiotize a man in
marriage, in that struggle of two beings always in one another's
presence, bound forever, who have coupled each other under the strange
impression that they were suited. No, to tell you those things would
be merely a repetition of Boileau, and we know him by heart. Still,
I'll forgive your absurd idea if you will promise me to marry "en
grand seigneur"; to entail your property; to have two legitimate
children, to give your wife a house and household absolutely distinct
from yours; to meet her only in society, and never to return from a
journey without sending her a courier to announce it. Two hundred
thousand francs a year will suffice for such a life and your
antecedents will enable you to marry some rich English woman hungry
for a title. That's an aristocratic life which seems to me thoroughly
French; the only life in which we can retain the respect and
friendship of a woman; the only life which distinguishes a man from
the present crowd,--in short, the only life for which a young man
should even think of resigning his bachelor blessings. Thus
established, the Comte de Manerville may advise his epoch, place
himself above the world, and be nothing less than a minister or an
ambassador. Ridicule can never touch him; he has gained the social
advantages of marriage while keeping all the privileges of a
"But, my good friend, I am not de Marsay; I am plainly, as you
yourself do me the honor to say, Paul de Manerville, worthy father and
husband, deputy of the Centre, possibly peer of France,--a destiny
extremely commonplace; but I am modest and I resign myself."
"Yes, but your wife," said the pitiless de Marsay, "will she resign
"My wife, my dear fellow, will do as I wish."
"Ah! my poor friend, is that where you are? Adieu, Paul. Henceforth, I
refuse to respect you. One word more, however, for I cannot agree
coldly to your abdication. Look and see in what the strength of our
position lies. A bachelor with only six thousand francs a year
remaining to him has at least his reputation for elegance and the
memory of success. Well, even that fantastic shadow has enormous value
in it. Life still offers many chances to the unmarried man. Yes, he
can aim at anything. But marriage, Paul, is the social 'Thus far shalt
thou go and no farther.' Once married you can never be anything but
what you then are--unless your wife should deign to care for you."
"But," said Paul, "you are crushing me down with exceptional theories.
I am tired of living for others; of having horses merely to exhibit
them; of doing all things for the sake of what may be said of them; of
wasting my substance to keep fools from crying out: 'Dear, dear! Paul
is still driving the same carriage. What has he done with his fortune?
Does he squander it? Does he gamble at the Bourse? No, he's a
millionaire. Madame such a one is mad about him. He sent to England
for a harness which is certainly the handsomest in all Paris. The
four-horse equipages of Messieurs de Marsay and de Manerville were
much noticed at Longchamps; the harness was perfect'--in short, the
thousand silly things with which a crowd of idiots lead us by the
nose. Believe me, my dear Henri, I admire your power, but I don't envy
it. You know how to judge of life; you think and act as a statesman;
you are able to place yourself above all ordinary laws, received
ideas, adopted conventions, and acknowledged prejudices; in short, you
can grasp the profits of a situation in which I should find nothing
but ill-luck. Your cool, systematic, possibly true deductions are, to
the eyes of the masses, shockingly immoral. I belong to the masses. I
must play my game of life according to the rules of the society in
which I am forced to live. While putting yourself above all human
things on peaks of ice, you still have feelings; but as for me, I
should freeze to death. The life of that great majority, to which I
belong in my commonplace way, is made up of emotions of which I now
have need. Often a man coquets with a dozen women and obtains none.
Then, whatever be his strength, his cleverness, his knowledge of the
world, he undergoes convulsions, in which he is crushed as between two
gates. For my part, I like the peaceful chances and changes of life; I
want that wholesome existence in which we find a woman always at our
"A trifle indecorous, your marriage!" exclaimed de Marsay.
Paul was not to be put out of countenance, and continued: "Laugh if
you like; I shall feel myself a happy man when my valet enters my room
in the morning and says: 'Madame is awaiting monsieur for breakfast';
happier still at night, when I return to find a heart--"
"Altogether indecorous, my dear Paul. You are not yet moral enough to
"--a heart in which to confide my interests and my secrets. I wish to
live in such close union with a woman that our affection shall not
depend upon a yes or a no, or be open to the disillusions of love. In
short, I have the necessary courage to become, as you say, a worthy
husband and father. I feel myself fitted for family joys; I wish to
put myself under the conditions prescribed by society; I desire to
have a wife and children."
"You remind me of a hive of honey-bees! But go your way, you'll be a
dupe all your life. Ha, ha! you wish to marry to have a wife! In other
words, you wish to solve satisfactorily to your own profit the most
difficult problem invented by those bourgeois morals which were
created by the French Revolution; and, what is more, you mean to begin
your attempt by a life of retirement. Do you think your wife won't
crave the life you say you despise? Will SHE be disgusted with it, as
you are? If you won't accept the noble conjugality just formulated for
your benefit by your friend de Marsay, listen, at any rate, to his
final advice. Remain a bachelor for the next thirteen years; amuse
yourself like a lost soul; then, at forty, on your first attack of
gout, marry a widow of thirty-six. Then you may possibly be happy. If
you now take a young girl to wife, you'll die a madman."
"Ah ca! tell me why!" cried Paul, somewhat piqued.
"My dear fellow," replied de Marsay, "Boileau's satire against women
is a tissue of poetical commonplaces. Why shouldn't women have
defects? Why condemn them for having the most obvious thing in human
nature? To my mind, the problem of marriage is not at all at the point
where Boileau puts it. Do you suppose that marriage is the same thing
as love, and that being a man suffices to make a wife love you? Have
you gathered nothing in your boudoir experience but pleasant memories?
I tell you that everything in our bachelor life leads to fatal errors
in the married man unless he is a profound observer of the human
heart. In the happy days of his youth a man, by the caprice of our
customs, is always lucky; he triumphs over women who are all ready to
be triumphed over and who obey their own desires. One thing after
another--the obstacles created by the laws, the sentiments and natural
defences of women--all engender a mutuality of sensations which
deceives superficial persons as to their future relations in marriage,
where obstacles no longer exist, where the wife submits to love
instead of permitting it, and frequently repulses pleasure instead of
desiring it. Then, the whole aspect of a man's life changes. The
bachelor, who is free and without a care, need never fear repulsion;
in marriage, repulsion is almost certain and irreparable. It may be
possible for a lover to make a woman reverse an unfavorable decision,
but such a change, my dear Paul, is the Waterloo of husbands. Like
Napoleon, the husband is thenceforth condemned to victories which, in
spite of their number, do not prevent the first defeat from crushing
him. The woman, so flattered by the perseverance, so delighted with
the ardor of a lover, calls the same things brutality in a husband.
You, who talk of marrying, and who will marry, have you ever meditated
on the Civil Code? I myself have never muddied my feet in that hovel
of commentators, that garret of gossip, called the Law-school. I have
never so much as opened the Code; but I see its application on the
vitals of society. The Code, my dear Paul, makes woman a ward; it
considers her a child, a minor. Now how must we govern children? By
fear. In that one word, Paul, is the curb of the beast. Now, feel your
own pulse! Have you the strength to play the tyrant,--you, so gentle,
so kind a friend, so confiding; you, at whom I have laughed, but whom
I love, and love enough to reveal to you my science? For this is
science. Yes, it proceeds from a science which the Germans are already
calling Anthropology. Ah! if I had not already solved the mystery of
life by pleasure, if I had not a profound antipathy for those who
think instead of act, if I did not despise the ninnies who are silly
enough to believe in the truth of a book, when the sands of the
African deserts are made of the ashes of I know not how many unknown
and pulverized Londons, Romes, Venices, and Parises, I would write a
book on modern marriages made under the influence of the Christian
system, and I'd stick a lantern on that heap of sharp stones among
which lie the votaries of the social 'multiplicamini.' But the
question is, Does humanity require even an hour of my time? And
besides, isn't the more reasonable use of ink that of snaring hearts
by writing love-letters?--Well, shall you bring the Comtesse de
Manerville here, and let us see her?"
"Perhaps," said Paul.
"We shall still be friends," said de Marsay.
"If--" replied Paul.
"Don't be uneasy; we will treat you politely, as Maison-Rouge treated
the English at Fontenoy."
CHAPTER II. THE PINK OF FASHION
Though the foregoing conversation affected the Comte de Manerville
somewhat, he made it a point of duty to carry out his intentions, and
he returned to Bordeaux during the winter of the year 1821.
The expenses he incurred in restoring and furnishing his family
mansion sustained the reputation for elegance which had preceded him.
Introduced through his former connections to the royalist society of
Bordeaux, to which he belonged as much by his personal opinions as by
his name and fortune, he soon obtained a fashionable pre-eminence. His
knowledge of life, his manners, his Parisian acquirements enchanted
the Faubourg Saint-Germain of Bordeaux. An old marquise made use of a
term formerly in vogue at court to express the flowery beauty of the
fops and beaux of the olden time, whose language and demeanor were
social laws: she called him "the pink of fashion." The liberal clique
caught up the word and used it satirically as a nickname, while the
royalist party continued to employ it in good faith.
Paul de Manerville acquitted himself gloriously of the obligations
imposed by his flowery title. It happened to him, as to many a
mediocre actor, that the day when the public granted him their full
attention he became, one may almost say, superior. Feeling at his
ease, he displayed the fine qualities which accompanied his defects.
His wit had nothing sharp or bitter in it; his manners were not
supercilious; his intercourse with women expressed the respect they
like,--it was neither too deferential, nor too familiar; his foppery
went no farther than a care for his personal appearance which made him
agreeable; he showed consideration for rank; he allowed young men a
certain freedom, to which his Parisian experience assigned due limits;
though skilful with sword and pistol, he was noted for a feminine
gentleness for which others were grateful. His medium height and
plumpness (which had not yet increased into obesity, an obstacle to
personal elegance) did not prevent his outer man from playing the part
of a Bordelais Brummell. A white skin tinged with the hues of health,
handsome hands and feet, blue eyes with long lashes, black hair,
graceful motions, a chest voice which kept to its middle tones and
vibrated in the listener's heart, harmonized well with his sobriquet.
Paul was indeed that delicate flower which needs such careful culture,
the qualities of which display themselves only in a moist and suitable
soil,--a flower which rough treatment dwarfs, which the hot sun burns,
and a frost lays low. He was one of those men made to receive
happiness, rather than to give it; who have something of the woman in
their nature, wishing to be divined, understood, encouraged; in short,
a man to whom conjugal love ought to come as a providence.
If such a character creates difficulties in private life, it is
gracious and full of attraction for the world. Consequently, Paul had
great success in the narrow social circle of the provinces, where his
mind, always, so to speak, in half-tints, was better appreciated than
The arrangement of his house and the restoration of the chateau de
Lanstrac, where he introduced the comfort and luxury of an English
country-house, absorbed the capital saved by the notary during the
preceding six years. Reduced now to his strict income of forty-odd
thousand a year, he thought himself wise and prudent in so regulating
his household as not to exceed it.
After publicly exhibiting his equipages, entertaining the most
distinguished young men of the place, and giving various hunting
parties on the estate at Lanstrac, Paul saw very plainly that
provincial life would never do without marriage. Too young to employ
his time in miserly occupations, or in trying to interest himself in
the speculative improvements in which provincials sooner or later
engage (compelled thereto by the necessity of establishing their
children), he soon felt the need of that variety of distractions a
habit of which becomes at last the very life of a Parisian. A name to
preserve, property to transmit to heirs, social relations to be
created by a household where the principal families of the
neighborhood could assemble, and a weariness of all irregular
connections, were not, however, the determining reasons of his
matrimonial desires. From the time he first returned to the provinces
he had been secretly in love with the queen of Bordeaux, the great
beauty, Mademoiselle Evangelista.
About the beginning of the century, a rich Spaniard, named
Evangelista, established himself in Bordeaux, where his letters of
recommendation, as well as his large fortune, gave him an entrance to
the salons of the nobility. His wife contributed greatly to maintain
him in the good graces of an aristocracy which may perhaps have
adopted him in the first instance merely to pique the society of the
class below them. Madame Evangelista, who belonged to the Casa-Reale,
an illustrious family of Spain, was a Creole, and, like all women
served by slaves, she lived as a great lady, knew nothing of the value
of money, repressed no whims, even the most expensive, finding them
ever satisfied by an adoring husband who generously concealed from her
knowledge the running-gear of the financial machine. Happy in finding
her pleased with Bordeaux, where his interests obliged him to live,
the Spaniard bought a house, set up a household, received in much
style, and gave many proofs of possessing a fine taste in all things.
Thus, from 1800 to 1812, Monsieur and Madame Evangelista were objects
of great interest to the community of Bordeaux.
The Spaniard died in 1813, leaving his wife a widow at thirty-two
years of age, with an immense fortune and the prettiest little girl in
the world, a child of eleven, who promised to be, and did actually
become, a most accomplished young woman. Clever as Madame Evangelista
was, the Restoration altered her position; the royalist party cleared
its ranks and several of the old families left Bordeaux. Though the
head and hand of her husband were lacking in the direction of her
affairs, for which she had hitherto shown the indifference of a Creole
and the inaptitude of a lackadaisical woman, she was determined to
make no change in her manner of living. At the period when Paul
resolved to return to his native town, Mademoiselle Natalie
Evangelista was a remarkably beautiful young girl, and, apparently,
the richest match in Bordeaux, where the steady diminution of her
mother's capital was unknown. In order to prolong her reign, Madame
Evangelista had squandered enormous sums. Brilliant fetes and the
continuation of an almost regal style of living kept the public in its
past belief as to the wealth of the Spanish family.
Natalie was now in her nineteenth year, but no proposal of marriage
had as yet reached her mother's ear. Accustomed to gratify her
fancies, Mademoiselle Evangelista wore cashmeres and jewels, and lived
in a style of luxury which alarmed all speculative suitors in a region
and at a period when sons were as calculating as their parents. The
fatal remark, "None but a prince can afford to marry Mademoiselle
Evangelista," circulated among the salons and the cliques. Mothers of
families, dowagers who had granddaughters to establish, young girls
jealous of Natalie, whose elegance and tyrannical beauty annoyed them,
took pains to envenom this opinion with treacherous remarks. When they
heard a possible suitor say with ecstatic admiration, as Natalie
entered a ball-room, "Heavens, how beautiful she is!" "Yes," the
mammas would answer, "but expensive." If some new-comer thought
Mademoiselle Evangelista bewitching and said to a marriageable man
that he couldn't do it better, "Who would be bold enough," some woman
would reply, "to marry a girl whose mother gives her a thousand francs
a month for her toilet,--a girl who has horses and a maid of her own,
and wears laces? Yes, her 'peignoirs' are trimmed with mechlin. The
price of her washing would support the household of a clerk. She wears
pelerines in the morning which actually cost six francs to get up."
These, and other speeches said occasionally in the form of praise
extinguished the desires that some men might have had to marry the
beautiful Spanish girl. Queen of every ball, accustomed to flattery,
"blasee" with the smiles and the admiration which followed her every
step, Natalie, nevertheless, knew nothing of life. She lived as the
bird which flies, as the flower that blooms, finding every one about
her eager to do her will. She was ignorant of the price of things; she
knew neither the value of money, nor whence it came, how it should be
managed, and how spent. Possibly she thought that every household had
cooks and coachmen, lady's-maids and footmen, as the fields have hay
and the trees their fruits. To her, beggars and paupers, fallen trees
and waste lands seemed in the same category. Pampered and petted as
her mother's hope, no fatigue was allowed to spoil her pleasure. Thus
she bounded through life as a courser on his steppe, unbridled and
Six month's after Paul's arrival the Pink of Fashion and the Queen of
Balls met in presence of the highest society of the town of Bordeaux.
The two flowers looked at each other with apparent coldness, and
mutually thought each other charming. Interested in watching the
effects of the meeting, Madame Evangelista divined in the expression
of Paul's eyes the feelings within him, and she muttered to herself,
"He will be my son-in-law." Paul, on the other hand, said to himself,
as he looked at Natalie, "She will be my wife."
The wealth of the Evangelistas, proverbial in Bordeaux, had remained
in Paul's mind as a memory of his childhood. Thus the pecuniary
conditions were known to him from the start, without necessitating
those discussions and inquiries which are as repugnant to a timid mind
as to a proud one. When some persons attempting to say to Paul a few
flattering phrases as to Natalie's manner, language, and beauty,
ending by remarks, cruelly calculated to deter him, on the lavish
extravagance of the Evangelistas, the Pink of Fashion replied with a
disdain that was well-deserved by such provincial pettiness. This
method of receiving such speeches soon silenced them; for he now set
the tone to the ideas and language as well as to the manners of those
about him. He had imported from his travels a certain development of
the Britannic personality with its icy barriers, also a tone of
Byronic pessimism as to life, together with English plate, boot-
polish, ponies, yellow gloves, cigars, and the habit of galloping.
It thus happened that Paul escaped the discouragements hitherto
presented to marriageable men by dowagers and young girls. Madame
Evangelista began by asking him to formal dinners on various
occasions. The Pink of Fashion would not, of course, miss festivities
to which none but the most distinguished young men of the town were
bidden. In spite of the coldness that Paul assumed, which deceived
neither mother nor daughter, he was drawn, step by step, into the path
of marriage. Sometimes as he passed in his tilbury, or rode by on his
fine English horse, he heard the young men of his acquaintance say to
"There's a lucky man. He is rich and handsome, and is to marry, so
they say, Mademoiselle Evangelista. There are some men for whom the
world seems made."
When he met the Evangelistas he felt proud of the particular
distinction which mother and daughter imparted to their bows. If Paul
had not secretly, within his heart, fallen in love with Mademoiselle
Natalie, society would certainly have married him to her in spite of
himself. Society, which never causes good, is the accomplice of much
evil; then when it beholds the evil it has hatched maternally, it
rejects and revenges it. Society in Bordeaux, attributing a "dot" of a
million to Mademoiselle Evangelista, bestowed it upon Paul without
awaiting the consent of either party. Their fortunes, so it was said,
agreed as well as their persons. Paul had the same habits of luxury
and elegance in the midst of which Natalie had been brought up. He had
just arranged for himself a house such as no other man in Bordeaux
could have offered her. Accustomed to Parisian expenses and the
caprices of Parisian women, he alone was fitted to meet the pecuniary
difficulties which were likely to follow this marriage with a girl who
was as much of a Creole and a great lady as her mother. Where they
themselves, remarked the marriageable men, would have been ruined, the
Comte de Manerville, rich as he was, could evade disaster. In short,
the marriage was made. Persons in the highest royalist circles said a
few engaging words to Paul which flattered his vanity:--
"Every one gives you Mademoiselle Evangelista. If you marry her you
will do well. You could not find, even in Paris, a more delightful
girl. She is beautiful, graceful, elegant, and takes after the Casa-
Reales through her mother. You will make a charming couple; you have
the same tastes, the same desires in life, and you will certainly have
the most agreeable house in Bordeaux. Your wife need only bring her
night-cap; all is ready for her. You are fortunate indeed in such a
mother-in-law. A woman of intelligence, and very adroit, she will be a
great help to you in public life, to which you ought to aspire.
Besides, she has sacrificed everything to her daughter, whom she
adores, and Natalie will, no doubt, prove a good wife, for she loves
her mother. You must soon bring the matter to a conclusion."
"That is all very well," replied Paul, who, in spite of his love, was
desirous of keeping his freedom of action, "but I must be sure that
the conclusion shall be a happy one."
He now went frequently to Madame Evangelista's, partly to occupy his
vacant hours, which were harder for him to employ than for most men.
There alone he breathed the atmosphere of grandeur and luxury to which
he was accustomed.
At forty years of age, Madame Evangelista was beautiful, with the
beauty of those glorious summer sunsets which crown a cloudless day.
Her spotless reputation had given an endless topic of conversation to
the Bordeaux cliques; the curiosity of the women was all the more
lively because the widow gave signs of the temperament which makes a
Spanish woman and a Creole particularly noted. She had black eyes and
hair, the feet and form of a Spanish woman,--that swaying form the
movements of which have a name in Spain. Her face, still beautiful,
was particularly seductive for its Creole complexion, the vividness of
which can be described only by comparing it to muslin overlying
crimson, so equally is the whiteness suffused with color. Her figure,
which was full and rounded, attracted the eye by a grace which united
nonchalance with vivacity, strength with ease. She attracted and she
imposed, she seduced, but promised nothing. She was tall, which gave
her at times the air and carriage of a queen. Men were taken by her
conversation like birds in a snare; for she had by nature that genius
which necessity bestows on schemes; she advanced from concession to
concession, strengthening herself with what she gained to ask for
more, knowing well how to retreat with rapid steps when concessions
were demanded in return. Though ignorant of facts, she had known the
courts of Spain and Naples, the celebrated men of the two Americas,
many illustrious families of England and the continent, all of which
gave her so extensive an education superficially that it seemed
immense. She received her society with the grace and dignity which are
never learned, but which come to certain naturally fine spirits like a
second nature; assimilating choice things wherever they are met. If
her reputation for virtue was unexplained, it gave at any rate much
authority to her actions, her conversation, and her character.
Mother and daughter had a true friendship for each other, beyond the
filial and maternal sentiment. They suited one another, and their
perpetual contact had never produced the slightest jar. Consequently
many persons explained Madame Evangelista's actions by maternal love.
But although Natalie consoled her mother's persistent widowhood, she
may not have been the only motive for it. Madame Evangelista had been,
it was said, in love with a man who recovered his titles and property
under the Restoration. This man, desirous of marrying her in 1814 had
discreetly severed the connection in 1816. Madame Evangelista, to all
appearance the best-hearted woman in the world, had, in the depths of
her nature, a fearful quality, explainable only by Catherine de
Medici's device: "Odiate e aspettate"--"Hate and wait." Accustomed to
rule, having always been obeyed, she was like other royalties,
amiable, gentle, easy and pleasant in ordinary life, but terrible,
implacable, if the pride of the woman, the Spaniard, and the Casa-
Reale was touched. She never forgave. This woman believed in the power
of her hatred; she made an evil fate of it and bade it hover above her
enemy. This fatal power she employed against the man who had jilted
her. Events which seemed to prove the influence of her "jettatura"--
the casting of an evil eye--confirmed her superstitious faith in
herself. Though a minister and peer of France, this man began to ruin
himself, and soon came to total ruin. His property, his personal and
public honor were doomed to perish. At this crisis Madame Evangelista
in her brilliant equipage passed her faithless lover walking on foot
in the Champes Elysees, and crushed him with a look which flamed with
triumph. This misadventure, which occupied her mind for two years, was
the original cause of her not remarrying. Later, her pride had drawn
comparisons between the suitors who presented themselves and the
husband who had loved her so sincerely and so well.
She had thus reached, through mistaken calculations and disappointed
hopes, that period of life when women have no other part to take in
life than that of mother; a part which involves the sacrifice of
themselves to their children, the placing of their interests outside
of self upon another household,--the last refuge of human affections.
Madame Evangelista divined Paul's nature intuitively, and hid her own
from his perception. Paul was the very man she desired for a son-in-
law, for the responsible editor of her future power. He belonged,
through his mother, to the family of Maulincour, and the old Baronne
de Maulincour, the friend of the Vidame de Pamiers, was then living in
the centre of the faubourg Saint-Germain. The grandson of the
baroness, Auguste de Maulincour, held a fine position in the army.
Paul would therefore be an excellent introducer for the Evangelistas
into Parisian society. The widow had known something of the Paris of
the Empire, she now desired to shine in the Paris of the Restoration.
There alone were the elements of political fortune, the only business
in which women of the world could decently co-operate. Madame
Evangelista, compelled by her husband's affairs to reside in Bordeaux,
disliked the place. She desired a wider field, as gamblers rush to
higher stakes. For her own personal ends, therefore, she looked to
Paul as a means of destiny, she proposed to employ the resources of
her own talent and knowledge of life to advance her son-in-law, in
order to enjoy through him the delights of power. Many men are thus
made the screens of secret feminine ambitions. Madame Evangelista had,
however, more than one interest, as we shall see, in laying hold of
her daughter's husband.
Paul was naturally captivated by this woman, who charmed him all the
more because she seemed to seek no influence over him. In reality she
was using her ascendancy to magnify herself, her daughter, and all her
surroundings in his eyes, for the purpose of ruling from the start the
man in whom she saw a means of gratifying her social longings. Paul,
on the other hand, began to value himself more highly when he felt
himself appreciated by the mother and daughter. He thought himself
much cleverer than he really was when he found his reflections and
sayings accepted and understood by Mademoiselle Natalie--who raised
her head and smiled in response to them--and by the mother, whose
flattery always seemed involuntary. The two women were so kind and
friendly to him, he was so sure of pleasing them, they ruled him so
delightfully by holding the thread of his self-love, that he soon
passed all his time at the hotel Evangelista.
A year after his return to Bordeaux, Comte Paul, without having
declared himself, was so attentive to Natalie that the world
considered him as courting her. Neither mother nor daughter appeared
to be thinking of marriage. Mademoiselle Evangelista preserved towards
Paul the reserve of a great lady who can make herself charming and
converse agreeably without permitting a single step into intimacy.
This reserve, so little customary among provincials, pleased Paul
immensely. Timid men are shy; sudden proposals alarm them. They
retreat from happiness when it comes with a rush, and accept
misfortune if it presents itself mildly with gentle shadows. Paul
therefore committed himself in his own mind all the more because he
saw no effort on Madame Evangelista's part to bind him. She fairly
seduced him one evening by remarking that to superior women as well as
men there came a period of life when ambition superseded all the
earlier emotions of life.
"That woman is fitted," thought Paul, as he left her, "to advance me
in diplomacy before I am even made a deputy."
If, in all the circumstances of life a man does not turn over and over
both things and ideas in order to examine them thoroughly under their
different aspects before taking action, that man is weak and
incomplete and in danger of fatal failure. At this moment Paul was an
optimist; he saw everything to advantage, and did not tell himself
than an ambitious mother-in-law might prove a tyrant. So, every
evening as he left the house, he fancied himself a married man,
allured his mind with its own thought, and slipped on the slippers of
wedlock cheerfully. In the first place, he had enjoyed his freedom too
long to regret the loss of it; he was tired of a bachelor's life,
which offered him nothing new; he now saw only its annoyances; whereas
if he thought at times of the difficulties of marriage, its pleasures,
in which lay novelty, came far more prominently before his mind.
"Marriage," he said to himself, "is disagreeable for people without
means, but half its troubles disappear before wealth."
Every day some favorable consideration swelled the advantages which he
now saw in this particular alliance.
"No matter to what position I attain, Natalie will always be on the
level of her part," thought he, "and that is no small merit in a
woman. How many of the Empire men I've seen who suffered horribly
through their wives! It is a great condition of happiness not to feel
one's pride or one's vanity wounded by the companion we have chosen. A
man can never be really unhappy with a well-bred wife; she will never
make him ridiculous; such a woman is certain to be useful to him.
Natalie will receive in her own house admirably."
So thinking, he taxed his memory as to the most distinguished women of
the faubourg Saint-Germain, in order to convince himself that Natalie
could, if not eclipse them, at any rate stand among them on a footing
of perfect equality. All comparisons were to her advantage, for they
rested on his own imagination, which followed his desires. Paris would
have shown him daily other natures, young girls of other styles of
beauty and charm, and the multiplicity of impressions would have
balanced his mind; whereas in Bordeaux Natalie had no rivals, she was
the solitary flower; moreover, she appeared to him at a moment when
Paul was under the tyranny of an idea to which most men succumb at his
Thus these reasons of propinquity, joined to reasons of self-love and
a real passion which had no means of satisfaction except by marriage,
led Paul on to an irrational love, which he had, however, the good
sense to keep to himself. He even endeavored to study Mademoiselle
Evangelista as a man should who desires not to compromise his future
life; for the words of his friend de Marsay did sometimes rumble in
his ears like a warning. But, in the first place, persons accustomed
to luxury have a certain indifference to it which misleads them. They
despise it, they use it; it is an instrument, and not the object of
their existence. Paul never imagined, as he observed the habits of
life of the two ladies, that they covered a gulf of ruin. Then, though
there may exist some general rules to soften the asperities of
marriage, there are none by which they can be accurately foreseen and
evaded. When trouble arises between two persons who have undertaken to
render life agreeable and easy to each other, it comes from the
contact of continual intimacy, which, of course, does not exist
between young people before they marry, and will never exist so long
as our present social laws and customs prevail in France. All is more
or less deception between the two young persons about to take each
other for life,--an innocent and involuntary deception, it is true.
Each endeavors to appear in a favorable light; both take a tone and
attitude conveying a more favorable idea of their nature than they are
able to maintain in after years. Real life, like the weather, is made
up of gray and cloudy days alternating with those when the sun shines
and the fields are gay. Young people, however, exhibit fine weather
and no clouds. Later they attribute to marriage the evils inherent in
life itself; for there is in man a disposition to lay the blame of his
own misery on the persons and things that surround him.
To discover in the demeanor, or the countenance, or the words, or the
gestures of Mademoiselle Evangelista any indication that revealed the
imperfections of her character, Paul must have possessed not only the
knowledge of Lavater and Gall, but also a science in which there
exists no formula of doctrine,--the individual and personal science of
an observer, which, for its perfection, requires an almost universal
knowledge. Natalie's face, like that of most young girls, was
impenetrable. The deep, serene peace given by sculptors to the virgin
faces of Justice and Innocence, divinities aloof from all earthly
agitations, is the greatest charm of a young girl, the sign of her
purity. Nothing, as yet, has stirred her; no shattered passion, no
hope betrayed has clouded the placid expression of that pure face. Is
that expression assumed? If so, there is no young girl behind it.
Natalie, closely held to the heart of her mother, had received, like
other Spanish women, an education that was solely religious, together
with a few instructions from her mother as to the part in life she was
called upon to play. Consequently, the calm, untroubled expression of
her face was natural. And yet it formed a casing in which the woman
was wrapped as the moth in its cocoon. Nevertheless, any man clever at
handling the scalpel of analysis might have detected in Natalie
certain indications of the difficulties her character would present
when brought into contact with conjugal or social life. Her beauty,
which was really marvellous, came from extreme regularity of feature
harmonizing with the proportions of the head and the body. This
species of perfection augurs ill for the mind; and there are few
exceptions to the rule. All superior nature is found to have certain
slight imperfections of form which become irresistible attractions,
luminous points from which shine vivid sentiments, and on which the
eye rests gladly. Perfect harmony expresses usually the coldness of a
Natalie's waist was round,--a sign of strength, but also the
infallible indication of a will which becomes obstinacy in persons
whose mind is neither keen nor broad. Her hands, like those of a Greek
statue, confirmed the predictions of face and figure by revealing an
inclination for illogical domination, of willing for will's sake only.
Her eyebrows met,--a sign, according to some observers, which
indicates jealousy. The jealousy of superior minds becomes emulation
and leads to great things; that of small minds turns to hatred. The
"hate and wait" of her mother was in her nature, without disguise. Her
eyes were black apparently, though really brown with orange streaks,
contrasting with her hair, of the ruddy tint so prized by the Romans,
called auburn in England, a color which often appears in the offspring
of persons of jet black hair, like that of Monsieur and Madame
Evangelista. The whiteness and delicacy of Natalie's complexion gave
to the contrast of color in her eyes and hair an inexpressible charm;
and yet it was a charm that was purely external; for whenever the
lines of a face are lacking in a certain soft roundness, whatever may
be the finish and grace of the details, the beauty therein expressed
is not of the soul. These roses of deceptive youth will drop their
leaves, and you will be surprised in a few years to see hardness and
dryness where you once admired what seemed to be the beauty of noble
Though the outlines of Natalie's face had something august about them,
her chin was slightly "empate,"--a painter's expression which will
serve to show the existence of sentiments the violence of which would
only become manifest in after life. Her mouth, a trifle drawn in,
expressed a haughty pride in keeping with her hand, her chin, her
brows, and her beautiful figure. And--as a last diagnostic to guide
the judgment of a connoisseur--Natalie's pure voice, a most seductive
voice, had certain metallic tones. Softly as that brassy ring was
managed, and in spite of the grace with which its sounds ran through
the compass of the voice, that organ revealed the character of the
Duke of Alba, from whom the Casa-Reales were collaterally descended.
These indications were those of violent passions without tenderness,
sudden devotions, irreconcilable dislikes, a mind without
intelligence, and the desire to rule natural to persons who feel
themselves inferior to their pretensions.
These defects, born of temperament and constitution, were buried in
Natalie like ore in a mine, and would only appear under the shocks and
harsh treatment to which all characters are subjected in this world.
Meantime the grace and freshness of her youth, the distinction of her
manners, her sacred ignorance, and the sweetness of a young girl, gave
a delicate glamour to her features which could not fail to mislead an
unthinking or superficial mind. Her mother had early taught her the
trick of agreeable talk which appears to imply superiority, replying
to arguments by clever jests, and attracting by the graceful
volubility beneath which a woman hides the subsoil of her mind, as
Nature disguises her barren strata beneath a wealth of ephemeral
vegetation. Natalie had the charm of children who have never known
what it is to suffer. She charmed by her frankness, and had none of
that solemn air which mothers impose on their daughters by laying down
a programme of behavior and language until the time comes when they
marry and are emancipated. She was gay and natural, like any young
girl who knows nothing of marriage, expects only pleasure from it,
replies to all objections with a jest, foresees no troubles, and
thinks she is acquiring the right to have her own way.
How could Paul, who loved as men love when desire increases love,
perceive in a girl of this nature whose beauty dazzled him, the woman,
such as she would probably be at thirty, when observers themselves
have been misled by these appearances? Besides, if happiness might
prove difficult to find in a marriage with such a girl, it was not
impossible. Through these embryo defects shone several fine qualities.
There is no good quality which, if properly developed by the hand of
an able master, will not stifle defects, especially in a young girl
who loves him. But to render ductile so intractable a woman, the iron
wrist, about which de Marsay had preached to Paul, was needful. The
Parisian dandy was right. Fear, inspired by love is an infallible
instrument by which to manage the minds of women. Whoso loves, fears;
whoso fears is nearer to affection than to hatred.
Had Paul the coolness, firmness, and judgment required for this
struggle, which an able husband ought not to let the wife suspect? Did
Natalie love Paul? Like most young girls, Natalie mistook for love the
first emotions of instinct and the pleasure she felt in Paul's
external appearance; but she knew nothing of the things of marriage
nor the demands of a home. To her, the Comte de Manerville, a rising
diplomatist, to whom the courts of Europe were known, and one of the
most elegant young men in Paris, could not seem, what perhaps he was,
an ordinary man, without moral force, timid, though brave in some
ways, energetic perhaps in adversity, but helpless against the
vexations and annoyances that hinder happiness. Would she, in after
years, have sufficient tact and insight to distinguish Paul's noble
qualities in the midst of his minor defects? Would she not magnify the
latter and forget the former, after the manner of young wives who know
nothing of life? There comes a time when wives will pardon defects in
the husband who spares her annoyances, considering annoyances in the
same category as misfortunes. What conciliating power, what wise
experience would uphold and enlighten the home of this young pair?
Paul and his wife would doubtless think they loved when they had
really not advanced beyond the endearments and compliments of the
honeymoon. Would Paul in that early period yield to the tyranny of his
wife, instead of establishing his empire? Could Paul say, "No?" All
was peril to a man so weak where even a strong man ran some risks.
The subject of this Study is not the transition of a bachelor into a
married man,--a picture which, if broadly composed, would not lack the
attraction which the inner struggles of our nature and feelings give
to the commonest situations in life. The events and the ideas which
led to the marriage of Paul with Natalie Evangelista are an
introduction to our real subject, which is to sketch the great comedy
that precedes, in France, all conjugal pairing. This Scene, until now
singularly neglected by our dramatic authors, although it offers novel
resources to their wit, controlled Paul's future life and was now
awaited by Madame Evangelista with feelings of terror. We mean the
discussion which takes place on the subject of the marriage contract
in all families, whether noble or bourgeois, for human passions are as
keenly excited by small interests as by large ones. These comedies,
played before a notary, all resemble, more or less, the one we shall
now relate, the interest of which will be far less in the pages of
this book than in the memories of married persons.
CHAPTER III. THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT--FIRST DAY
At the beginning of the winter of 1822, Paul de Manerville made a
formal request, through his great-aunt, the Baronne de Maulincour, for
the hand of Mademoiselle Natalie Evangelista. Though the baroness
never stayed more than two months in Medoc, she remained on this
occasion till the last of October, in order to assist her nephew
through the affair and play the part of a mother to him. After
conveying the first suggestions to Madame Evangelista the experienced
old woman returned to inform Paul of the results of the overture.
"My child," she said, "the affair is won. In talking of property, I
found that Madame Evangelista gives nothing of her own to her
daughter. Mademoiselle Natalie's dowry is her patrimony. Marry her, my
dear boy. Men who have a name and an estate to transmit, a family to
continue, must, sooner or later, end in marriage. I wish I could see
my dear Auguste taking that course. You can now carry on the marriage
without me; I have nothing to give you but my blessing, and women as
old as I are out of place at a wedding. I leave for Paris to-morrow.
When you present your wife in society I shall be able to see her and
assist her far more to the purpose than now. If you had had no house
in Paris I would gladly have arranged the second floor of mine for
"Dear aunt," said Paul, "I thank you heartily. But what do you mean
when you say that the mother gives nothing of her own, and that the
daughter's dowry is her patrimony?"
"The mother, my dear boy, is a sly cat, who takes advantage of her
daughter's beauty to impose conditions and allow you only that which
she cannot prevent you from having; namely, the daughter's fortune
from her father. We old people know the importance of inquiring
closely, What has he? What has she? I advise you therefore to give
particular instructions to your notary. The marriage contract, my dear
child, is the most sacred of all duties. If your father and your
mother had not made their bed properly you might now be sleeping
without sheets. You will have children, they are the commonest result
of marriage, and you must think of them. Consult Maitre Mathias our
Madame de Maulincour departed, having plunged Paul into a state of
extreme perplexity. His mother-in-law a sly cat! Must he struggle for
his interests in the marriage contract? Was it necessary to defend
them? Who was likely to attack them?
He followed the advice of his aunt and confided the drawing-up of the
marriage contract to Maitre Mathias. But these threatened discussions
oppressed him, and he went to see Madame Evangelista and announce his
intentions in a state of rather lively agitation. Like all timid men,
he shrank from allowing the distrust his aunt had put into his mind to
be seen; in fact, he considered it insulting. To avoid even a slight
jar with a person so imposing to his mind as his future mother-in-law,
he proceeded to state his intentions with the circumlocution natural
to persons who dare not face a difficulty.
"Madame," he said, choosing a moment when Natalie was absent from the
room, "you know, of course, what a family notary is. Mine is a worthy
old man, to whom it would be a sincere grief if he were not entrusted
with the drawing of my marriage contract."
"Why, of course!" said Madame Evangelista, interrupting him, "but are
not marriage contracts always made by agreement of the notaries of
The time that Paul took to reply to this question was occupied by
Madame Evangelista in asking herself, "What is he thinking of?" for
women possess in an eminent degree the art of reading thoughts from
the play of countenance. She divined the instigations of the great-
aunt in the embarrassed glance and the agitated tone of voice which
betrayed an inward struggle in Paul's mind.
"At last," she thought to herself, "the fatal day has come; the crisis
begins--how will it end? My notary is Monsieur Solonet," she said,
after a pause. "Yours, I think you said, is Monsieur Mathias; I will
invite them to dinner to-morrow, and they can come to an understanding
then. It is their business to conciliate our interests without our
interference; just as good cooks are expected to furnish good food
"Yes, you are right," said Paul, letting a faint sigh of relief escape
By a singular transposition of parts, Paul, innocent of all wrong-
doing, trembled, while Madame Evangelista, though a prey to the utmost
anxiety, was outwardly calm.
The widow owed her daughter one-third of the fortune left by Monsieur
Evangelista,--namely, nearly twelve hundred thousand francs,--and she
knew herself unable to pay it, even by taking the whole of her
property to do so. She would therefore be placed at the mercy of a
son-in-law. Though she might be able to control Paul if left to
himself, would he, when enlightened by his notary, agree to release
her from rendering her account as guardian of her daughter's
patrimony? If Paul withdrew his proposals all Bordeaux would know the
reason and Natalie's future marriage would be made impossible. This
mother, who desired the happiness of her daughter, this woman, who
from infancy had lived honorably, was aware that on the morrow she
must become dishonest. Like those great warriors who fain would blot
from their lives the moment when they had felt a secret cowardice, she
ardently desired to cut this inevitable day from the record of hers.
Most assuredly some hairs on her head must have whitened during the
night, when, face to face with facts, she bitterly regretted her
extravagance as she felt the hard necessities of the situation.
Among these necessities was that of confiding the truth to her notary,
for whom she sent in the morning as soon as she rose. She was forced
to reveal to him a secret defaulting she had never been willing to
admit to herself, for she had steadily advanced to the abyss, relying
on some chance accident, which never happened, to relieve her. There
rose in her soul a feeling against Paul, that was neither dislike, nor
aversion, nor anything, as yet, unkind; but HE was the cause of this
crisis; the opposing party in this secret suit; he became, without
knowing it, an innocent enemy she was forced to conquer. What human
being did ever yet love his or her dupe? Compelled to deceive and
trick him if she could, the Spanish woman resolved, like other women,
to put her whole force of character into the struggle, the dishonor of
which could be absolved by victory only.
In the stillness of the night she excused her conduct to her own mind
by a tissue of arguments in which her pride predominated. Natalie had
shared the benefit of her extravagance. There was not a single base or
ignoble motive in what she had done. She was no accountant, but was
that a crime, a delinquency? A man was only too lucky to obtain a wife
like Natalie without a penny. Such a treasure bestowed upon him might
surely release her from a guardianship account. How many men had
bought the women they loved by greater sacrifices? Why should a man do
less for a wife than for a mistress? Besides, Paul was a nullity, a
man of no force, incapable; she would spend the best resources of her
mind upon him and open to him a fine career; he should owe his future
power and position to her influence; in that way she could pay her
debt. He would indeed be a fool to refuse such a future; and for what?
a few paltry thousands, more or less. He would be infamous if he
withdrew for such a reason.
"But," she added, to herself, "if the negotiation does not succeed at
once, I shall leave Bordeaux. I can still find a good marriage for
Natalie by investing the proceeds of what is left, house and diamonds
and furniture,--keeping only a small income for myself."
When a strong soul constructs a way of ultimate escape,--as Richelieu
did at Brouage,--and holds in reserve a vigorous end, the resolution
becomes a lever which strengthens its immediate way. The thought of
this finale in case of failure comforted Madame Evangelista, who fell
asleep with all the more confidence as she remembered her assistance
in the coming duel.
This was a young man named Solonet, considered the ablest notary in
Bordeaux; now twenty-seven years of age and decorated with the Legion
of honor for having actively contributed to the second return of the
Bourbons. Proud and happy to be received in the home of Madame
Evangelista, less as a notary than as belonging to the royalist
society of Bordeaux, Solonet had conceived for that fine setting sun
one of those passions which women like Madame Evangelista repulse,
although flattered and graciously allowing them to exist upon the
surface. Solonet remained therefore in a self-satisfied condition of
hope and becoming respect. Being sent for, he arrived the next morning
with the promptitude of a slave and was received by the coquettish
widow in her bedroom, where she allowed him to find her in a very
"Can I," she said, "count upon your discretion and your entire
devotion in a discussion which will take place in my house this
evening? You will readily understand that it relates to the marriage
of my daughter."
The young man expended himself in gallant protestations.
"Now to the point," she said.
"I am listening," he replied, checking his ardor.
Madame Evangelista then stated her position baldly.
"My dear lady, that is nothing to be troubled about," said Maitre
Solonet, assuming a confident air as soon as his client had given him
the exact figures. "The question is how have you conducted yourself
toward Monsieur de Manerville? In this matter questions of manner and
deportment are of greater importance than those of law and finance."
Madame Evangelista wrapped herself in dignity. The notary learned to
his satisfaction that until the present moment his client's relations
to Paul had been distant and reserved, and that partly from native
pride and partly from involuntary shrewdness she had treated the Comte
de Manerville as in some sense her inferior and as though it were an
honor for him to be allowed to marry Mademoiselle Evangelista. She
assured Solonet that neither she nor her daughter could be suspected
of any mercenary interests in the marriage; that they had the right,
should Paul make any financial difficulties, to retreat from the
affair to an illimitable distance; and finally, that she had already
acquired over her future son-in-law a very remarkable ascendancy.
"If that is so," said Solonet, "tell me what are the utmost
concessions you are willing to make."
"I wish to make as few as possible," she answered, laughing.
"A woman's answer," cried Solonet. "Madame, are you anxious to marry
"And you want a receipt for the eleven hundred and fifty-six thousand
francs, for which you are responsible on the guardianship account
which the law obliges you to render to your son-in-law?"
"How much do you want to keep back?"
"Thirty thousand a year, at least."
"It is a question of conquer or die, is it?"
"Well, then, I must reflect on the necessary means to that end; it
will need all our cleverness to manage our forces. I will give you
some instructions on my arrival this evening; follow them carefully,
and I think I may promise you a successful issue. Is the Comte de
Manerville in love with Mademoiselle Natalie?" he asked as he rose to
"He adores her."
"That is not enough. Does he desire her to the point of disregarding
all pecuniary difficulties?"
"That's what I call having a lien upon a daughter's property," cried
the notary. "Make her look her best to-night," he added with a sly
"She has a most charming dress for the occasion."
"The marriage-contract dress is, in my opinion, half the battle," said
This last argument seemed so cogent to Madame Evangelista that she
superintended Natalie's toilet herself, as much perhaps to watch her
daughter as to make her the innocent accomplice of her financial
With her hair dressed a la Sevigne and wearing a gown of white tulle
adorned with pink ribbons, Natalie seemed to her mother so beautiful
as to guarantee victory. When the lady's-maid left the room and Madame
Evangelista was certain that no one could overhear her, she arranged a
few curls on her daughter's head by way of exordium.
"Dear child," she said, in a voice that was firm apparently, "do you
sincerely love the Comte de Manerville?"
Mother and daughter cast strange looks at each other.
"Why do you ask that question, little mother? and to-day more than
yesterday> Why have you thrown me with him?"
"If you and I had to part forever would you still persist in the
"I should give it up--and I should not die of grief."
"You do not love him, my dear," said the mother, kissing her
"But why, my dear mother, are you playing the Grand Inquisitor?"
"I wished to know if you desired the marriage without being madly in
love with the husband."
"I love him."
"And you are right. He is a count; we will make him a peer of France
between us; nevertheless, there are certain difficulties."
"Difficulties between persons who love each other? Oh, no. The heart
of the Pink of Fashion is too firmly planted here," she said, with a
pretty gesture, "to make the very slightest objection. I am sure of
"But suppose it were otherwise?" persisted Madame Evangelista.
"He would be profoundly and forever forgotten," replied Natalie.
"Good! You are a Casa-Reale. But suppose, though he madly loves you,
suppose certain discussions and difficulties should arise, not of his
own making, but which he must decide in your interests as well as in
mine--hey, Natalie, what then? Without lowering your dignity, perhaps
a little softness in your manner might decide him--a word, a tone, a
mere nothing. Men are so made; they resist a serious argument, but
they yield to a tender look."
"I understand! a little touch to make my Favori leap the barrier,"
said Natalie, making the gesture of striking a horse with her whip.
"My darling! I ask nothing that resembles seduction. You and I have
sentiments of the old Castilian honor which will never permit us to
pass certain limits. Count Paul shall know our situation."
"You would not understand it. But I tell you now that if after seeing
you in all your glory his look betrays the slightest hesitation,--and
I shall watch him,--on that instant I shall break off the marriage; I
will liquidate my property, leave Bordeaux, and go to Douai, to be
near the Claes. Madame Claes is our relation through the Temnincks.
Then I'll marry you to a peer of France, and take refuge in a convent
myself, that I may give up to you my whole fortune."
"Mother, what am I to do to prevent such misfortunes?" cried Natalie.
"I have never seen you so beautiful as you are now," replied her
mother. "Be a little coquettish, and all is well."
Madame Evangelista left Natalie to her thoughts, and went to arrange
her own toilet in such a way that would bear comparison with that of
her daughter. If Natalie ought to make herself attractive to Paul she
ought, none the less, to inflame the ardor of her champion Solonet.
The mother and daughter were therefore under arms when Paul arrived,
bearing the bouquet which for the last few months he had daily offered
to his love. All three conversed pleasantly while awaiting the arrival
of the notaries.
This day brought to Paul the first skirmish of that long and wearisome
warfare called marriage. It is therefore necessary to state the forces
on both sides, the position of the belligerent bodies, and the ground
on which they are about to manoeuvre.
To maintain a struggle, the importance of which had wholly escaped
him, Paul's only auxiliary was the old notary, Mathias. Both were
about to be confronted, unaware and defenceless, by a most unexpected
circumstance; to be pressed by an enemy whose strategy was planned,
and driven to decide on a course without having time to reflect upon
it. Where is the man who would not have succumbed, even though
assisted by Cujas and Barthole? How should he look for deceit and
treachery where all seemed compliant and natural? What could old
Mathias do alone against Madame Evangelista, against Solonet, against
Natalie, especially when a client in love goes over to the enemy as
soon as the rising conflict threatens his happiness? Already Paul was
damaging his cause by making the customary lover's speeches, to which
his passion gave excessive value in the ears of Madame Evangelista,
whose object it was to drive him to commit himself.
The matrimonial condottieri now about to fight for their clients,
whose personal powers were to be so vitally important in this solemn
encounter, the two notaries, on short, represent individually the old
and the new systems,--old fashioned notarial usage, and the new-
fangled modern procedure.
Maitre Mathias was a worthy old gentleman sixty-nine years of age, who
took great pride in his forty years' exercise of the profession. His
huge gouty feet were encased in shoes with silver buckles, making a
ridiculous termination to legs so spindling, with knees so bony, that
when he crossed them they made you think of the emblems on a
tombstone. His puny little thighs, lost in a pair of wide black
breeches fastened with buckles, seemed to bend beneath the weight of a
round stomach and a torso developed, like that of most sedentary
persons, into a stout barrel, always buttoned into a green coat with
square tails, which no man could remember to have ever seen new. His
hair, well brushed and powdered, was tied in a rat's tail that lay
between the collar of his coat and that of his waistcoat, which was
white, with a pattern of flowers. With his round head, his face the
color of a vine-leaf, his blue eyes, a trumpet nose, a thick-lipped
mouth, and a double-chin, the dear old fellow excited, whenever he
appeared among strangers who did not know him, that satirical laugh
which Frenchmen so generously bestow on the ludicrous creations Dame
Nature occasionally allows herself, which Art delights in exaggerating
under the name of caricatures.
But in Maitre Mathias, mind had triumphed over form; the qualities of
his soul had vanquished the oddities of his body. The inhabitants of
Bordeaux, as a rule, testified a friendly respect and a deference that
was full of esteem for him. The old man's voice went to their hearts
and sounded there with the eloquence of uprightness. His craft
consisted in going straight to the fact, overturning all subterfuge
and evil devices by plain questionings. His quick perception, his long
training in his profession gave him that divining sense which goes to
the depths of conscience and reads its secret thoughts. Though grave
and deliberate in business, the patriarch could be gay with the gaiety
of our ancestors. He could risk a song after dinner, enjoy all family
festivities, celebrate the birthdays of grandmothers and children, and
bury with due solemnity the Christmas log. He loved to send presents
at New Year, and eggs at Easter; he believed in the duties of a
godfather, and never deserted the customs which colored the life of
the olden time. Maitre Mathias was a noble and venerable relic of the
notaries, obscure great men, who gave no receipt for the millions
entrusted to them, but returned those millions in the sacks they were
delivered in, tied with the same twine; men who fulfilled their trusts
to the letter, drew honest inventories, took fatherly interest in
their clients, often barring the way to extravagance and dissipation,
--men to whom families confided their secrets, and who felt so
responsible for any error in their deeds that they meditated long and
carefully over them. Never during his whole notarial life, had any
client found reason to complain of a bad investment or an ill-placed
mortgage. His own fortune, slowly but honorably acquired, had come to
him as the result of a thirty years' practice and careful economy. He
had established in life fourteen of his clerks. Religious, and
generous in secret, Mathias was found whenever good was to be done
without remuneration. An active member on hospital and other
benevolent committees, he subscribed the largest sums to relieve all
sudden misfortunes and emergencies, as well as to create certain
useful permanent institutions; consequently, neither he nor his wife
kept a carriage. Also his word was felt to be sacred, and his coffers
held as much of the money of others as a bank; and also, we may add,
he went by the name of "Our good Monsieur Mathias," and when he died,
three thousand persons followed him to his grave.
Solonet was the style of young notary who comes in humming a tune,
affects light-heartedness, declares that business is better done with
a laugh than seriously. He is the notary captain of the national
guard, who dislikes to be taken for a notary, solicits the cross of
the Legion of honor, keeps his cabriolet, and leaves the verification
of his deeds to his clerks; he is the notary who goes to balls and
theatres, buys pictures and plays at ecarte; he has coffers in which
gold is received on deposit and is later returned in bank-bills,--a
notary who follows his epoch, risks capital in doubtful investments,
speculates with all he can lay his hands on, and expects to retire
with an income of thirty thousand francs after ten years' practice; in
short, the notary whose cleverness comes of his duplicity, whom many
men fear as an accomplice possessing their secrets, and who sees in
his practice a means of ultimately marrying some blue-stockinged
When the slender, fair-haired Solonet, curled, perfumed, and booted
like the leading gentleman at the Vaudeville, and dressed like a dandy
whose most important business is a duel, entered Madame Evangelista's
salon, preceding his brother notary, whose advance was delayed by a
twinge of the gout, the two men presented to the life one of those
famous caricatures entitled "Former Times and the Present Day," which
had such eminent success under the Empire. If Madame and Mademoiselle
Evangelista to whom the "good Monsieur Mathias," was personally
unknown, felt, on first seeing him, a slight inclination to laugh,
they were soon touched by the old-fashioned grace with which he
greeted them. The words he used were full of that amenity which
amiable old men convey as much by the ideas they suggest as by the
manner in which they express them. The younger notary, with his
flippant tone, seemed on a lower plane. Mathias showed his superior
knowledge of life by the reserved manner with which he accosted Paul.
Without compromising his white hairs, he showed that he respected the
young man's nobility, while at the same time he claimed the honor due
to old age, and made it felt that social rights are natural. Solonet's
bow and greeting, on the contrary, expressed a sense of perfect
equality, which would naturally affront the pretensions of a man of
society and make the notary ridiculous in the eyes of a real noble.
Solonet made a motion, somewhat too familiar, to Madame Evangelista,
inviting her to a private conference in the recess of a window. For
some minutes they talked to each other in a low voice, giving way now
and then to laughter,--no doubt to lessen in the minds of others the
importance of the conversation, in which Solonet was really
communicating to his sovereign lady the plan of battle.
"But," he said, as he ended, "will you have the courage to sell your
"Undoubtedly," she replied.
Madame Evangelista did not choose to tell her notary the motive of
this heroism, which struck him greatly. Solonet's zeal might have
cooled had he known that his client was really intending to leave
Bordeaux. She had not as yet said anything about that intention to
Paul, in order not to alarm him with the preliminary steps and
circumlocutions which must be taken before he entered on the political
life she planned for him.
After dinner the two plenipotentiaries left the loving pair with the
mother, and betook themselves to an adjoining salon where their
conference was arranged to take place. A dual scene then followed on
this domestic stage: in the chimney-corner of the great salon a scene
of love, in which to all appearances life was smiles and joy; in the
other room, a scene of gravity and gloom, where selfish interests,
baldly proclaimed, openly took the part they play in life under
"My dear master," said Solonet, "the document can remain under your
lock and key; I know very well what I owe to my old preceptor."
Mathias bowed gravely. "But," continued Solonet, unfolding the rough
copy of a deed he had made his clerk draw up, "as we are the oppressed
party, I mean the daughter, I have written the contract--which will
save you trouble. We marry with our rights under the rule of community
of interests; with general donation of our property to each other in
case of death without heirs; if not, donation of one-fourth as life
interest, and one-fourth in fee; the sum placed in community of
interests to be one-fourth of the respective property of each party;
the survivor to possess the furniture without appraisal. It's all as
simple as how d'ye do."
"Ta, ta, ta, ta," said Mathias, "I don't do business as one sings a
tune. What are your claims?"
"What are yours?" said Solonet.
"Our property," replied Mathias, "is: the estate of Lanstrac, which
brings in a rental of twenty-three thousand francs a year, not
counting the natural products. Item: the farms of Grassol and Guadet,
each worth three thousand six hundred francs a year. Item: the
vineyard of Belle-Rose, yielding in ordinary years sixteen thousand
francs; total, forty-six thousand two hundred francs a year. Item: the
patrimonial mansion at Bordeaux taxed for nine hundred francs. Item: a
handsome house, between court and garden in Paris, rue de la
Pepiniere, taxed for fifteen hundred francs. These pieces of property,
the title-deeds of which I hold, are derived from our father and
mother, except the house in Paris, which we bought ourselves. We must
also reckon in the furniture of the two houses, and that of the
chateau of Lanstrac, estimated at four hundred and fifty thousand
francs. There's the table, the cloth, and the first course. What do
you bring for the second course and the dessert?"
"Our rights," replied Solonet.
"Specify them, my friend," said Mathias. "What do you bring us? Where
is the inventory of the property left by Monsieur Evangelista? Show me
the liquidation, the investment of the amount. Where is your capital?
--if there is any capital. Where is your landed property?--if you have
any. In short, let us see your guardianship account, and tell us what
you bring and what your mother will secure to us."
"Does Monsieur le Comte de Manerville love Mademoiselle Evangelista?"
"He wishes to make her his wife if the marriage can be suitably
arranged," said the old notary. "I am not a child; this matter
concerns our business, and not our feelings."
"The marriage will be off unless you show generous feeling; and for
this reason," continued Solonet. "No inventory was made at the death
of our husband; we are Spaniards, Creoles, and know nothing of French
laws. Besides, we were too deeply grieved at our loss to think at such
a time of the miserable formalities which occupy cold hearts. It is
publicly well known that our late husband adored us, and that we
mourned for him sincerely. If we did have a settlement of accounts
with a short inventory attached, made, as one may say, by common
report, you can thank our surrogate guardian, who obliged us to
establish a status and assign to our daughter a fortune, such as it
is, at a time when we were forced to withdraw from London our English
securities, the capital of which was immense, and re-invest the
proceeds in Paris, where interests were doubled."
"Don't talk nonsense to me. There are various ways of verifying the
property. What was the amount of your legacy tax? Those figures will
enable us to get at the total. Come to the point. Tell us frankly what
you received from the father's estate and how much remains of it. If
we are very much in love we'll see then what we can do."
"If you are marrying us for our money you can go about your business.
We have claims to more than a million; but all that remains to our
mother is this house and furniture and four hundred odd thousand
francs invested about 1817 in the Five-per-cents, which yield about
forty-thousand francs a year."
"Then why do you live in a style that requires one hundred thousand a
year at the least?" cried Mathias, horror-stricken.
"Our daughter has cost us the eyes out of our head," replied Solonet.
"Besides, we like to spend money. Your jeremiads, let me tell you,
won't recover two farthings of the money."
"With the fifty thousand francs a year which belong to Mademoiselle
Natalie you could have brought her up handsomely without coming to
ruin. But if you have squandered everything while you were a girl what
will it be when you are a married woman?"
"Then drop us altogether," said Solonet. "The handsomest girl in
Bordeaux has a right to spend more than she has, if she likes."
"I'll talk to my client about that," said the old notary.
"Very good, old father Cassandra, go and tell your client that we
haven't a penny," thought Solonet, who, in the solitude of his study,
had strategically massed his forces, drawn up his propositions, manned
the drawbridge of discussion, and prepared the point at which the
opposing party, thinking the affair a failure, could suddenly be led
into a compromise which would end in the triumph of his client.
The white dress with its rose-colored ribbons, the Sevigne curls,
Natalie's tiny foot, her winning glance, her pretty fingers constantly
employed in adjusting curls that needed no adjustment, these girlish
manoeuvres like those of a peacock spreading his tail, had brought
Paul to the point at which his future mother-in-law desired to see
him. He was intoxicated with love, and his eyes, the sure thermometer
of the soul, indicated the degree of passion at which a man commits a
"Natalie is so beautiful," he whispered to the mother, "that I can
conceive the frenzy which leads a man to pay for his happiness by
Madame Evangelista replied with a shake of her head:--
"Lover's talk, my dear count. My husband never said such charming
things to me; but he married me without a fortune and for thirteen
years he never caused me one moment's pain."
"Is that a lesson you are giving me?" said Paul, laughing.
"You know how I love you, my dear son," she answered, pressing his
hand. "I must indeed love you well to give you my Natalie."
"Give me, give me?" said the young girl, waving a screen of Indian
feathers, "what are you whispering about me?"
"I was telling her," replied Paul, "how much I love you, since
etiquette forbids me to tell it to you."
"I fear to say too much."
"Ah! you know too well how to offer the jewels of flattery. Shall I
tell you my private opinion about you? Well, I think you have more
mind than a lover ought to have. To be the Pink of Fashion and a wit
as well," she added, dropping her eyes, "is to have too many
advantages: a man should choose between them. I fear too, myself."
"We must not talk in this way. Mamma, do you not think that this
conversation is dangerous inasmuch as the contract is not yet signed?"
"It soon will be," said Paul.
"I should like to know what Achilles and Nestor are saying to each
other in the next room," said Natalie, nodding toward the door of the
little salon with a childlike expression of curiosity.
"They are talking of our children and our death and a lot of other
such trifles; they are counting our gold to see if we can keep five
horses in the stables. They are talking also of deeds of gift; but
there, I have forestalled them."
"Have I not given myself wholly to you?" he said, looking straight at
the girl, whose beauty was enhanced by the blush which the pleasure of
this answer brought to her face.
"Mamma, how can I acknowledge so much generosity."
"My dear child, you have a lifetime before you in which to return it.
To make the daily happiness of a home, is to bring a treasure into it.
I had no other fortune when I married."
"Do you like Lanstrac?" asked Paul, addressing Natalie.
"How could I fail to like the place where you were born?" she
answered. "I wish I could see your house."
"OUR house," said Paul. "Do you not want to know if I shall understand
your tastes and arrange the house to suit you? Your mother had made a
husband's task most difficult; you have always been so happy! But
where love is infinite, nothing is impossible."
"My dear children," said Madame Evangelista, "do you feel willing to
stay in Bordeaux after your marriage? If you have the courage to face
the people here who know you and will watch and hamper you, so be it!
But if you feel that desire for a solitude together which can hardly
be expressed, let us go to Paris were the life of a young couple can
pass unnoticed in the stream. There alone you can behave as lovers
without fearing to seem ridiculous."
"You are quite right," said Paul, "but I shall hardly have time to get
my house ready. However, I will write to-night to de Marsay, the
friend on whom I can always count to get things done for me."
At the moment when Paul, like all young men accustomed to satisfy
their desires without previous calculation, was inconsiderately
binding himself to the expenses of a stay in Paris, Maitre Mathias
entered the salon and made a sign to his client that he wished to
speak to him.
"What is it, my friend?" asked Paul, following the old man to the
recess of a window.
"Monsieur le comte," said the honest lawyer, "there is not a penny of
dowry. My advice is: put off the conference to another day, so that
you may gain time to consider your proper course."
"Monsieur Paul," said Natalie, "I have a word to say in private to
Though Madame Evangelista's face was calm, no Jew of the middle ages
ever suffered greater torture in his caldron of boiling oil than she
was enduring in her violet velvet gown. Solonet had pledged the
marriage to her, but she was ignorant of the means and conditions of
success. The anguish of this uncertainty was intolerable. Possibly she
owed her safety to her daughter's disobedience. Natalie had considered
the advice of her mother and noted her anxiety. When she saw the
success of her own coquetry she was struck to the heart with a variety
of contradictory thoughts. Without blaming her mother, she was half-
ashamed of manoeuvres the object of which was, undoubtedly, some
personal game. She was also seized with a jealous curiosity which is
easily conceived. She wanted to find out if Paul loved her well enough
to rise above the obstacles that her mother foresaw and which she now
saw clouding the face of the old lawyer. These ideas and sentiments
prompted her to an action of loyalty which became her well. But, for
all that, the blackest perfidy could not have been as dangerous as her
"Paul," she said in a low voice, and she so called him for the first
time, "if any difficulties as to property arise to separate us,
remember that I free you from all engagements, and will allow you to
let the blame of such a rupture rest on me."
She put such dignity into this expression of her generosity that Paul
believed in her disinterestedness and in her ignorance of the strange
fact that his notary had just told to him. He pressed the young girl's
hand and kissed it like a man to whom love is more precious than
wealth. Natalie left the room.
"Sac-a-papier! Monsieur le comte, you are committing a great folly,"
said the old notary, rejoining his client.
Paul grew thoughtful. He had expected to unite Natalie's fortune with
his own and thus obtain for his married life an income of one hundred
thousand francs a year; and however much a man may be in love he
cannot pass without emotion and anxiety from the prospect of a hundred
thousand to the certainty of forty-six thousand a year and the duty of
providing for a woman accustomed to every luxury.
"My daughter is no longer here," said Madame Evangelista, advancing
almost regally toward her son-in-law and his notary. "May I be told
what is happening?"
"Madame," replied Mathias, alarmed at Paul's silence, "an obstacle
which I fear will delay us has arisen--"
At these words, Maitre Solonet issued from the little salon and cut
short the old man's speech by a remark which restored Paul's
composure. Overcome by the remembrance of his gallant speeches and his
lover-like behavior, he felt unable to disown them or to change his
course. He longed, for the moment, to fling himself into a gulf;
Solonet's words relieved him.
"There is a way," said the younger notary, with an easy air, "by which
madame can meet the payment which is due to her daughter. Madame
Evangelista possesses forty thousand francs a year from an investment
in the Five-per-cents, the capital of which will soon be at par, if
not above it. We may therefore reckon it at eight hundred thousand
francs. This house and garden are fully worth two hundred thousand. On
that estimate, Madame can convey by the marriage contract the titles
of that property to her daughter, reserving only a life interest in it
--for I conclude that Monsieur le comte could hardly wish to leave his
mother-in-law without means? Though Madame has certainly run through
her fortune, she is still able to make good that of her daughter, or
very nearly so."
"Women are most unfortunate in having no knowledge of business," said
Madame Evangelista. "Have I titles to property? and what are life-
Paul was in a sort of ecstasy as he listened to this proposed
arrangement. The old notary, seeing the trap, and his client with one
foot caught in it, was petrified for a moment, as he said to
"I am certain they are tricking us."
"If madame will follow my advice," said Solonet, "she will secure her
own tranquillity. By sacrificing herself in this way she may be sure
that no minors will ultimately harass her--for we never know who may
live and who may die! Monsieur le comte will then give due
acknowledgment in the marriage contract of having received the sum
total of Mademoiselle Evangelista's patrimonial inheritance."
Mathias could not restrain the indignation which shone in his eyes and
flushed his face.
"And that sum," he said, shaking, "is--"
"One million, one hundred and fifty-six thousand francs according to
"Why don't you ask Monsieur le comte to make over 'hic et nunc' his
whole fortune to his future wife?" said Mathias. "It would be more
honest than what you now propose. I will not allow the ruin of the
Comte de Manerville to take place under my very eyes--"
He made a step as if to address his client, who was silent throughout
this scene as if dazed by it; but he turned and said, addressing
"Do not suppose, madame, that I think you a party to these ideas of my
brother notary. I consider you an honest woman and a lady who knows
nothing of business."
"Thank you, brother notary," said Solonet.
"You know that there can be no offence between you and me," replied
Mathias. "Madame," he added, "you ought to know the result of this
proposed arrangement. You are still young and beautiful enough to
marry again--Ah! madame," said the old man, noting her gesture, "who
can answer for themselves on that point?"
"I did not suppose, monsieur," said Madame Evangelista, "that, after
remaining a widow for the seven best years of my life, and refusing
the most brilliant offers for my daughter's sake, I should be
suspected of such a piece of folly as marrying again at thirty-nine
years of age. If we were not talking business I should regard your
suggestion as an impertinence."
"Would it not be more impertinent if I suggested that you could not
"Can and will are separate terms," remarked Solonet, gallantly.
"Well," resumed Maitre Mathias, "we will say nothing of your marriage.
You may, and we all desire it, live for forty-five years to come. Now,
if you keep for yourself the life-interest in your daughter's
patrimony, your children are laid on the shelf for the best years of
"What does that mean?" said the widow. "I don't understand being laid
on a shelf."
Solonet, the man of elegance and good taste, began to laugh.
"I'll translate it for you," said Mathias. "If your children are wise
they will think of the future. To think of the future means laying by
half our income, provided we have only two children, to whom we are
bound to give a fine education and a handsome dowry. Your daughter and
son-in-law will, therefore, be reduced to live on twenty thousand
francs a year, though each has spent fifty thousand while still
unmarried. But that is nothing. The law obliges my client to account,
hereafter, to his children for the eleven hundred and fifty-six
thousand francs of their mother's patrimony; yet he may not have
received them if his wife should die and madame should survive her,
which may very well happen. To sign such a contract is to fling one's
self into the river, bound hand and foot. You wish to make your
daughter happy, do you not? If she loves her husband, a fact which
notaries never doubt, she will share his troubles. Madame, I see
enough in this scheme to make her die of grief and anxiety; you are
consigning her to poverty. Yes, madame, poverty; to persons accustomed
to the use of one hundred thousand francs a year, twenty thousand is
poverty. Moreover, if Monsieur le comte, out of love for his wife,
were guilty of extravagance, she could ruin him by exercising her
rights when misfortunes overtook him. I plead now for you, for them,
for their children, for every one."
"The old fellow makes a lot of smoke with his cannon," thought Maitre
Solonet, giving his client a look, which meant, "Keep on!"
"There is one way of combining all interests," replied Madame
Evangelista, calmly. "I can reserve to myself only the necessary cost
of living in a convent, and my children can have my property at once.
I can renounce the world, if such anticipated death conduces to the
welfare of my daughter."
"Madame," said the old notary, "let us take time to consider and
weigh, deliberately, the course we had best pursue to conciliate all
"Good heavens! monsieur," cried Madame Evangelista, who saw defeat in
delay, "everything has already been considered and weighed. I was
ignorant of what the process of marriage is in France; I am a Spaniard
and a Creole. I did not know that in order to marry my daughter it was
necessary to reckon up the days which God may still grant me; that my
child would suffer because I live; that I do harm by living, and by
having lived! When my husband married me I had nothing but my name and
my person. My name alone was a fortune to him, which dwarfed his own.
What wealth can equal that of a great name? My dowry was beauty,
virtue, happiness, birth, education. Can money give those treasures?
If Natalie's father could overhear this conversation, his generous
soul would be wounded forever, and his happiness in paradise
destroyed. I dissipated, foolishly, perhaps, a few of his millions
without a quiver ever coming to his eyelids. Since his death, I have
grown economical and orderly in comparison with the life he encouraged
me to lead--Come, let us break this thing off! Monsieur de Manerville
is so disappointed that I--"
No descriptive language can express the confusion and shock which the
words, "break off," introduced into the conversation. It is enough to
say that these four apparently well-bred persons all talked at once.
"In Spain people marry in the Spanish fashion, or as they please; but
in France they marry according to French law, sensibly, and as best
they can," said Mathias.
"Ah, madame," cried Paul, coming out of his stupefaction, "you mistake
"This is not a matter of feeling," said the old notary, trying to stop
his client from concessions. "We are concerned now with the interests
and welfare of three generations. Have WE wasted the missing millions?
We are simply endeavoring to solve difficulties of which we are wholly
"Marry us, and don't haggle," said Solonet.
"Haggle! do you call it haggling to defend the interests of father and
mother and children?" said Mathias.
"Yes," said Paul, continuing his remarks to Madame Evangelista, "I
deplore the extravagance of my youth, which does not permit me to stop
this discussion, as you deplore your ignorance of business and your
involuntary wastefulness. God is my witness that I am not thinking, at
this moment, of myself. A simple life at Lanstrac does not alarm me;
but how can I ask Mademoiselle Natalie to renounce her tastes, her
habits? Her very existence would be changed."
"Where did Evangelista get his millions?" said the widow.
"Monsieur Evangelista was in business," replied the old notary; "he
played in the great game of commerce; he despatched ships and made
enormous sums; we are simply a landowner, whose capital is invested,
whose income is fixed."
"There is still a way to harmonize all interests," said Solonet,
uttering this sentence in a high falsetto tone, which silenced the
other three and drew their eyes and their attention upon himself.
This young man was not unlike a skilful coachman who holds the reins
of four horses, and amuses himself by first exciting his animals and
then subduing them. He had let loose these passions, and then, in
turn, he calmed them, making Paul, whose life and happiness were in
the balance, sweat in his harness, as well as his own client, who
could not clearly see her way through this involved discussion.
"Madame Evangelista," he continued, after a slight pause, "can resign
her investment in the Five-per-cents at once, and she can sell this
house. I can get three hundred thousand francs for it by cutting the
land into small lots. Out of that sum she can give you one hundred and
fifty thousand francs. In this way she pays down nine hundred thousand
of her daughter's patrimony, immediately. That, to be sure, is not all
that she owes her daughter, but where will you find, in France, a
"Very good," said Maitre Mathias; "but what, then, becomes of madame?"
At this question, which appeared to imply consent, Solonet said,
softly, to himself, "Well done, old fox! I've caught you!"
"Madame," he replied, aloud, "will keep the hundred and fifty thousand
francs remaining from the sale of the house. This sum, added to the
value of her furniture, can be invested in an annuity which will give
her twenty thousand francs a year. Monsieur le comte can arrange to
provide a residence for her under his roof. Lanstrac is a large house.
You have also a house in Paris," he went on, addressing himself to
Paul. "Madame can, therefore, live with you wherever you are. A widow
with twenty thousand francs a year, and no household to maintain, is
richer than madame was when she possessed her whole fortune. Madame
Evangelista has only this one daughter; Monsieur le comte is without
relations; it will be many years before your heirs attain their
majority; no conflict of interests is, therefore, to be feared. A
mother-in-law and a son-in-law placed in such relations will form a
household of united interests. Madame Evangelista can make up for the
remaining deficit by paying a certain sum for her support from her
annuity, which will ease your way. We know that madame is too generous
and too large-minded to be willing to be a burden on her children. In
this way you can make one household, united and happy, and be able to
spend, in your own right, one hundred thousand francs a year. Is not
that sum sufficient, Monsieur le comte, to enjoy, in all countries,
the luxuries of life, and to satisfy all your wants and caprices?
Believe me, a young couple often feel the need of a third member of
the household; and, I ask you, what third member could be so desirable
as a good mother?"
"A little paradise!" exclaimed the old notary.
Shocked to see his client's joy at this proposal, Mathias sat down on
an ottoman, his head in his hands, plunged in reflections that were
evidently painful. He knew well the involved phraseology in which
notaries and lawyers wrap up, intentionally, malicious schemes, and he
was not the man to be taken in by it. He now began, furtively, to
watch his brother notary and Madame Evangelista as they conversed with
Paul, endeavoring to detect some clew to the deep-laid plot which was
beginning to appear upon the surface.
"Monsieur," said Paul to Solonet, "I thank you for the pains you take
to conciliate our interests. This arrangement will solve all
difficulties far more happily than I expected--if," he added, turning
to Madame Evangelista, "it is agreeable to you, madame; for I could
not desire anything that did not equally please you."
"I?" she said; "all that makes the happiness of my children is joy to
me. Do not consider me in any way."
"That would not be right," said Paul, eagerly. "If your future is not
honorably provided for, Natalie and I would suffer more than you would
suffer for yourself."
"Don't be uneasy, Monsieur le comte," interposed Solonet.
"Ah!" thought old Mathias, "they'll make him kiss the rod before they
"You may feel quite satisfied," continued Solonet. "There are so many
enterprises going on in Bordeaux at this moment that investments for
annuities can be negotiated on very advantageous terms. After
deducting from the proceeds of the house and furniture the hundred and
fifty thousand francs we owe you, I think I can guarantee to madame
that two hundred and fifty thousand will remain to her. I take upon
myself to invest that sum in a first mortgage on property worth a
million, and to obtain ten per cent for it,--twenty-five thousand
francs a year. Consequently, we are marrying on nearly equal fortunes.
In fact, against your forty-six thousand francs a year, Mademoiselle
Natalie brings you forty thousand a year in the Five-per-cents, and
one hundred and fifty thousand in a round sum, which gives, in all,
forty-seven thousand francs a year."
"That is evident," said Paul.
As he ended his speech, Solonet had cast a sidelong glance at his
client, intercepted by Mathias, which meant: "Bring up your reserves."
"But," exclaimed Madame Evangelista, in tones of joy that did not seem
to be feigned, "I can give Natalie my diamonds; they are worth, at
least, a hundred thousand francs."
"We can have them appraised," said the notary. "This will change the
whole face of things. Madame can then keep the proceeds of her house,
all but fifty thousand francs. Nothing will prevent Monsieur le comte
from giving us a receipt in due form, as having received, in full,
Mademoiselle Natalie's inheritance from her father; this will close,
of course, the guardianship account. If madame, with Spanish
generosity, robs herself in this way to fulfil her obligations, the
least that her children can do is to give her a full receipt."
"Nothing could be more just than that," said Paul. "I am simply
overwhelmed by these generous proposals."
"My daughter is another myself," said Madame Evangelista, softly.
Maitre Mathias detected a look of joy on her face when she saw that
the difficulties were being removed: that joy, and the previous
forgetfulness of the diamonds, which were now brought forward like
fresh troops, confirmed his suspicions.
"The scene has been prepared between them as gamblers prepare the
cards to ruin a pigeon," thought the old notary. "Is this poor boy,
whom I saw born, doomed to be plucked alive by that woman, roasted by
his very love, and devoured by his wife? I, who have nursed these fine
estates for years with such care, am I to see them ruined in a single
night? Three million and a half to be hypothecated for eleven hundred
thousand francs these women will force him to squander!"
Discovering thus in the soul of the elder woman intentions which,
without involving crime, theft, swindling, or any actually evil or
blameworthy action, nevertheless belonged to all those criminalities
in embryo, Maitre Mathias felt neither sorrow nor generous
indignation. He was not the Misanthrope; he was an old notary,
accustomed in his business to the shrewd calculations of worldly
people, to those clever bits of treachery which do more fatal injury
than open murder on the high-road committed by some poor devil, who is
guillotined in consequence. To the upper classes of society these
passages in life, these diplomatic meetings and discussions are like
the necessary cesspools where the filth of life is thrown. Full of
pity for his client, Mathias cast a foreseeing eye into the future and
saw nothing good.
"We'll take the field with the same weapons," thought he, "and beat
At this moment, Paul, Solonet and Madame Evangelista, becoming
embarrassed by the old man's silence, felt that the approval of that
censor was necessary to carry out the transaction, and all three
turned to him simultaneously.
"Well, my dear Monsieur Mathias, what do you think of it?" said Paul.
"This is what I think," said the conscientious and uncompromising
notary. "You are not rich enough to commit such regal folly. The
estate of Lanstrac, if estimated at three per cent on its rentals,
represents, with its furniture, one million.; the farms of Grassol and
Guadet and your vineyard of Belle-Rose are worth another million; your
two houses in Bordeaux and Paris, with their furniture, a third
million. Against those three millions, yielding forty-seven thousand
francs a year, Mademoiselle Natalie brings eight hundred thousand
francs in the Five-per-cents, the diamonds (supposing them to be worth
a hundred thousand francs, which is still problematical) and fifty
thousand francs in money; in all, one million and fifty thousand
francs. In presence of such facts my brother notary tells you
boastfully that we are marrying equal fortunes! He expects us to
encumber ourselves with a debt of eleven hundred and fifty-six
thousand francs to our children by acknowledging the receipt of our
wife's patrimony, when we have actually received but little more than
a doubtful million. You are listening to such stuff with the rapture
of a lover, and you think that old Mathias, who is not in love, can
forget arithmetic, and will not point out the difference between
landed estate, the actual value of which is enormous and constantly
increasing, and the revenues of personal property, the capital of
which is subject to fluctuations and diminishment of income. I am old
enough to have learned that money dwindles and land augments. You have
called me in, Monsieur le comte, to stipulate for your interests;
either let me defend those interests, or dismiss me."
"If monsieur is seeking a fortune equal in capital to his own," said
Solonet, "we certainly cannot give it to him. We do not possess three
millions and a half; nothing can be more evident. While you can boast
of your three overwhelming millions, we can only produce our poor one
million,--a mere nothing in your eyes, though three times the dowry of
an archduchess of Austria. Bonaparte received only two hundred and
fifty thousand francs with Maria-Louisa."
"Maria-Louisa was the ruin of Bonaparte," muttered Mathias.
Natalie's mother caught the words.
"If my sacrifices are worth nothing," she cried, "I do not choose to
continue such a discussion; I trust to the discretion of Monsieur le
comte, and I renounce the honor of his hand for my daughter."
According to the strategy marked out by the younger notary, this
battle of contending interests had now reached the point where victory
was certain for Madame Evangelista. The mother-in-law had opened her
heart, delivered up her property, and was therefore practically
released as her daughter's guardian. The future husband, under pain of
ignoring the laws of generous propriety and being false to love, ought
now to accept these conditions previously planned, and cleverly led up
to by Solonet and Madame Evangelista. Like the hands of a clock turned
by mechanism, Paul came faithfully up to time.
"Madame!" he exclaimed, "is it possible you can think of breaking off
"Monsieur," she replied, "to whom am I accountable? To my daughter.
When she is twenty-one years of age she will receive my guardianship
account and release me. She will then possess a million, and can, if
she likes, choose her husband among the sons of the peers of France.
She is a daughter of the Casa-Reale."
"Madame is right," remarked Solonet. "Why should she be more hardly
pushed to-day than she will be fourteen months hence? You ought not to
deprive her of the benefits of her maternity."
"Mathias," cried Paul, in deep distress, "there are two sorts of ruin,
and you are bringing one upon me at this moment."
He made a step towards the old notary, no doubt intending to tell him
that the contract must be drawn at once. But Mathias stopped that
disaster with a glance which said, distinctly, "Wait!" He saw the
tears in Paul's eyes,--tears drawn from an honorable man by the shame
of this discussion as much as by the peremptory speech of Madame
Evangelista, threatening rupture,--and the old man stanched them with
a gesture like that of Archimedes when he cried, "Eureka!" The words
"peer of France" had been to him like a torch in a dark crypt.
Natalie appeared at this moment, dazzling as the dawn, saying, with
infantine look and manner, "Am I in the way?"
"Singularly so, my child," answered her mother, in a bitter tone.
"Come in, dear Natalie," said Paul, taking her hand and leading her to
a chair near the fireplace. "All is settled."
He felt it impossible to endure the overthrow of their mutual hopes.
"Yes, all can be settled," said Mathias, hastily interposing.
Like a general who, in a moment, upsets the plans skilfully laid and
prepared by the enemy, the old notary, enlightened by that genius
which presides over notaries, saw an idea, capable of saving the
future of Paul and his children, unfolding itself in legal form before
Maitre Solonet, who perceived no other way out of these irreconcilable
difficulties than the resolution with which Paul's love inspired him,
and to which this conflict of feelings and thwarted interests had
brought him, was extremely surprised at the sudden exclamation of his
brother notary. Curious to know the remedy that Mathias had found in a
state of things which had seemed to him beyond all other relief, he
said, addressing the old man:--
"What is it you propose?"
"Natalie, my dear child, leave us," said Madame Evangelista.
"Mademoiselle is not in the way," replied Mathias, smiling. "I am
going to speak in her interests as well as in those of Monsieur le
Silence reigned for a moment, during which time everybody present,
oppressed with anxiety, awaited the allocution of the venerable notary
with unspeakable curiosity.
"In these days," continued Maitre Mathias, after a pause, "the
profession of notary has changed from what it was. Political
revolutions now exert an influence over the prospects of families,
which never happened in former times. In those days existences were
clearly defined; so were rank and position--"
"We are not here for a lecture on political ceremony, but to draw up a
marriage contract," said Solonet, interrupting the old man,
"I beg you to allow me to speak in my turn as I see fit," replied the
Solonet turned away and sat down on the ottoman, saying, in a low
voice, to Madame Evangelista:--
"You will now hear what we call in the profession 'balderdash.'"
"Notaries are therefore compelled to follow the course of political
events, which are now intimately connected with private interests.
Here is an example: formerly noble families owned fortunes that were
never shaken, but which the laws, promulgated by the Revolution,
destroyed, and the present system tends to reconstruct," resumed the
old notary, yielding to the loquacity of the "tabellionaris boa-
constrictor" (boa-notary). "Monsieur le comte by his name, his
talents, and his fortune is called upon to sit some day in the
elective Chamber. Perhaps his destiny will take him to the hereditary
Chamber, for we know that he has talent and means enough to fulfil
that expectation. Do you not agree with me, madame?" he added, turning
to the widow.
"You anticipate my dearest hope," she replied. "Monsieur de Manerville
must be a peer of France, or I shall die of mortification."
"Therefore all that leads to that end--" continued Mathias with a
cordial gesture to the astute mother-in-law.
"--will promote my eager desire," she replied.
"Well, then," said Mathias, "is not this marriage the proper occasion
on which to entail the estate and create the family? Such a course
would, undoubtedly, militate in the mind of the present government in
favor of the nomination of my client whenever a batch of appointments
is sent in. Monsieur le comte can very well afford to devote the
estate of Lanstrac (which is worth a million) to this purpose. I do
not ask that mademoiselle should contribute an equal sum; that would
not be just. But we can surely apply eight hundred thousand of her
patrimony to this object. There are two domains adjoining Lanstrac now
to be sold, which can be purchased for that sum, which will return in
rentals four and a half per cent. The house in Paris should be
included in the entail. The surplus of the two fortunes, if
judiciously managed, will amply suffice for the fortunes of the
younger children. If the contracting parties will agree to this
arrangement, Monsieur ought certainly to accept your guardianship
account with its deficiency. I consent to that."
"Questa coda non e di questo gatto (That tail doesn't belong to that
cat)," murmured Madame Evangelista, appealing to Solonet.
"There's a snake in the grass somewhere," answered Solonet, in a low
voice, replying to the Italian proverb with a French one.
"Why do you make this fuss?" asked Paul, leading Mathias into the
"To save you from being ruined," replied the old notary, in a whisper.
"You are determined to marry a girl and her mother who have already
squandered two millions in seven years; you are pledging yourself to a
debt of eleven hundred thousand francs to your children, to whom you
will have to account for the fortune you are acknowledging to have
received with their mother. You risk having your own fortune
squandered in five years, and to be left as naked as Saint-John
himself, besides being a debtor to your wife and children for enormous
sums. If you are determined to put your life in that boat, Monsieur le
comte, of course you can do as you choose; but at least let me, your
old friend, try to save the house of Manerville."
"How is this scheme going to save it?" asked Paul.
"Monsieur le comte, you are in love--"
"A lover is about as discreet as a cannon-ball; therefore, I shall not
explain. If you repeated what I should say, your marriage would
probably be broken off. I protect your love by my silence. Have you
confidence in my devotion?"
"A fine question!"
"Well, then, believe me when I tell you that Madame Evangelista, her
notary, and her daughter, are tricking us through thick and thin; they
are more than clever. Tudieu! what a sly game!"
"Not Natalie," cried Paul.
"I sha'n't put my fingers between the bark and the tree," said the old
man. "You want her, take her! But I wish you were well out of this
marriage, if it could be done without the least wrong-doing on your
"Why do you wish it?"
"Because that girl will spend the mines of Peru. Besides, see how she
rides a horse,--like the groom of a circus; she is half emancipated
already. Such girls make bad wives."
Paul pressed the old man's hand, saying, with a confident air of self-
"Don't be uneasy as to that! But now, at this moment, what am I to
"Hold firm to my conditions. They will consent, for no one's apparent
interest is injured. Madame Evangelista is very anxious to marry her
daughter; I see that in her little game--Beware of her!"
Paul returned to the salon, where he found his future mother-in-law
conversing in a low tone with Solonet. Natalie, kept outside of these
mysterious conferences, was playing with a screen. Embarrassed by her
position, she was thinking to herself: "How odd it is that they tell
me nothing of my own affairs."
The younger notary had seized, in the main, the future effect of the
new proposal, based, as it was, on the self-love of both parties, into
which his client had fallen headlong. Now, while Mathias was more than
a mere notary, Solonet was still a young man, and brought into his
business the vanity of youth. It often happens that personal conceit
makes a man forgetful of the interests of his client. In this case,
Maitre Solonet, who would not suffer the widow to think that Nestor
had vanquished Achilles, advised her to conclude the marriage on the
terms proposed. Little he cared for the future working of the marriage
contract; to him, the conditions of victory were: Madame Evangelista
released from her obligations as guardian, her future secured, and
"Bordeaux shall know that you have ceded eleven hundred thousand
francs to your daughter, and that you still have twenty-five thousand
francs a year left," whispered Solonet to his client. "For my part, I
did not expect to obtain such a fine result."
"But," she said, "explain to me why the creation of this entail should
have calmed the storm at once."
"It relieves their distrust of you and your daughter. An entail is
unchangeable; neither husband nor wife can touch that capital."
"Then this arrangement is positively insulting!"
"No; we call it simply precaution. The old fellow has caught you in a
net. If you refuse to consent to the entail, he can reply: 'Then your
object is to squander the fortune of my client, who, by the creation
of this entail, is protected from all such injury as securely as if
the marriage took place under the "regime dotal."'"
Solonet quieted his own scruples by reflecting: "After all, these
stipulations will take effect only in the future, by which time Madame
Evangelista will be dead and buried."
Madame Evangelista contented herself, for the present, with these
explanations, having full confidence in Solonet. She was wholly
ignorant of law; considering her daughter as good as married, she
thought she had gained her end, and was filled with the joy of
success. Thus, as Mathias had shrewdly calculated, neither Solonet nor
Madame Evangelista understood as yet, to its full extent, this scheme
which he had based on reasons that were undeniable.
"Well, Monsieur Mathias," said the widow, "all is for the best, is it
"Madame, if you and Monsieur le comte consent to this arrangement you
ought to exchange pledges. It is fully understood, I suppose," he
continued, looking from one to the other, "that the marriage will only
take place on condition of creating an entail upon the estate of
Lanstrac and the house in the rue de la Pepiniere, together with eight
hundred thousand francs in money brought by the future wife, the said
sum to be invested in landed property? Pardon me the repetition,
madame; but a positive and solemn engagement becomes absolutely
necessary. The creation of an entail requires formalities, application
to the chancellor, a royal ordinance, and we ought at once to conclude
the purchase of the new estate in order that the property be included
in the royal ordinance by virtue of which it becomes inalienable. In
many families this would be reduced to writing, but on this occasion I
think a simple consent would suffice. Do you consent?"
"Yes," replied Madame Evangelista.
"Yes," said Paul.
"And I?" asked Natalie, laughing.
"You are a minor, mademoiselle," replied Solonet; "don't complain of
It was then agreed that Maitre Mathias should draw up the contract,
Maitre Solonet the guardianship account and release, and that both
documents should be signed, as the law requires some days before the
celebration of the marriage. After a few polite salutations the
"It rains, Mathias; shall I take you home?" said Solonet. "My
cabriolet is here."
"My carriage is here too," said Paul, manifesting an intention to
accompany the old man.
"I won't rob you of a moment's pleasure," said Mathias. "I accept my
friend Solonet's offer."
"Well," said Achilles to Nestor, as the cabriolet rolled away, "you
have been truly patriarchal to-night. The fact is, those young people
would certainly have ruined themselves."
"I felt anxious about their future," replied Mathias, keeping silent
as to the real motives of his proposition.
At this moment the two notaries were like a pair of actors arm in arm
behind the stage on which they have played a scene of hatred and
"But," said Solonet, thinking of his rights as notary, "isn't it my
place to buy that land you mentioned? The money is part of our dowry."
"How can you put property bought in the name of Mademoiselle
Evangelista into the creation of an entail by the Comte de
Manerville?" replied Mathias.
"We shall have to ask the chancellor about that," said Solonet.
"But I am the notary of the seller as well as of the buyer of that
land," said Mathias. "Besides, Monsieur de Manerville can buy in his
own name. At the time of payment we can make mention of the fact that
the dowry funds are put into it."
"You've an answer for everything, old man," said Solonet, laughing.
"You were really surpassing to-night; you beat us squarely."
"For an old fellow who didn't expect your batteries of grape-shot, I
did pretty well, didn't I?"
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Solonet.
The odious struggle in which the material welfare of a family had been
so perilously near destruction was to the two notaries nothing more
than a matter of professional polemics.
"I haven't been forty years in harness for nothing," remarked Mathias.
"Look here, Solonet," he added, "I'm a good fellow; you shall help in
drawing the deeds for the sale of those lands."
"Thanks, my dear Mathias. I'll serve you in return on the very first
While the two notaries were peacefully returning homeward, with no
other sensations than a little throaty warmth, Paul and Madame
Evangelista were left a prey to the nervous trepidation, the quivering
of the flesh and brain which excitable natures pass through after a
scene in which their interests and their feelings have been violently
shaken. In Madame Evangelista these last mutterings of the storm were
overshadowed by a terrible reflection, a lurid gleam which she wanted,
at any cost, to dispel.
"Has Maitre Mathias destroyed in a few minutes the work I have been
doing for six months?" she asked herself. "Was he withdrawing Paul
from my influence by filling his mind with suspicion during their
secret conference in the next room?"
She was standing absorbed in these thoughts before the fireplace, her
elbow resting on the marble mantel-shelf. When the porte-cochere
closed behind the carriage of the two notaries, she turned to her
future son-in-law, impatient to solve her doubts.
"This has been the most terrible day of my life," cried Paul,
overjoyed to see all difficulties vanish. "I know no one so downright
in speech as that old Mathias. May God hear him, and make me peer of
France! Dear Natalie, I desire this for your sake more than for my
own. You are my ambition; I live only in you."
Hearing this speech uttered in the accents of the heart, and noting,
more especially, the limpid azure of Paul's eyes, whose glance
betrayed no thought of double meaning, Madame Evangelista's
satisfaction was complete. She regretted the sharp language with which
she had spurred him, and in the joy of success she resolved to
reassure him as to the future. Calming her countenance, and giving to
her eyes that expression of tender friendship which made her so
attractive, she smiled and answered:--
"I can say as much to you. Perhaps, dear Paul, my Spanish nature has
led me farther than my heart desired. Be what you are,--kind as God
himself,--and do not be angry with me for a few hasty words. Shake
Paul was abashed; he fancied himself to blame, and he kissed Madame
"Dear Paul," she said with much emotion, "why could not those two
sharks have settled this matter without dragging us into it, since it
was so easy to settle?"
"In that case I should not have known how grand and generous you can
be," replied Paul.
"Indeed she is, Paul," cried Natalie, pressing his hand.
"We have still a few little matters to settle, my dear son," said
Madame Evangelista. "My daughter and I are above the foolish vanities
to which so many persons cling. Natalie does not need my diamonds, but
I am glad to give them to her."
"Ah! my dear mother, do you suppose that I will accept them?"
"Yes, my child; they are one of the conditions of the contract."
"I will not allow it; I will not marry at all," cried Natalie,
vehemently. "Keep those jewels which my father took such pride in
collecting for you. How could Monsieur Paul exact--"
"Hush, my dear," said her mother, whose eyes now filled with tears.
"My ignorance of business compels me to a greater sacrifice than
"I must sell my house in order to pay the money that I owe to you."
"What money can you possibly owe to me?" she said; "to me, who owe you
life! If my marriage costs you the slightest sacrifice, I will not
"Dear Natalie, try to understand that neither I, nor your mother, nor
you yourself, require these sacrifices, but our children."
"Suppose I do not marry at all?"
"Do you not love me?" said Paul, tenderly.
"Come, come, my silly child; do you imagine that a contract is like a
house of cards which you can blow down at will? Dear little ignoramus,
you don't know what trouble we have had to found an entail for the
benefit of your eldest son. Don't cast us back into the discussions
from which we have just escaped."
"Why do you wish to ruin my mother?" said Natalie, looking at Paul.
"Why are you so rich?" he replied, smiling.
"Don't quarrel, my children, you are not yet married," said Madame
Evangelista. "Paul," she continued, "you are not to give either
corbeille, or jewels, or trousseau. Natalie has everything in
profusion. Lay by the money you would otherwise put into wedding
presents. I know nothing more stupidly bourgeois and commonplace than
to spend a hundred thousand francs on a corbeille, when five thousand
a year given to a young woman saves her much anxiety and lasts her
lifetime. Besides, the money for a corbeille is needed to decorate
your house in Paris. We will return to Lanstrac in the spring; for
Solonet is to settle my debts during the winter."
"All is for the best," cried Paul, at the summit of happiness.
"So I shall see Paris!" cried Natalie, in a tone that would justly
have alarmed de Marsay.
"If we decide upon this plan," said Paul, "I'll write to de Marsay and
get him to take a box for me at the Bouffons and also at the Italian
"You are very kind; I should never have dared to ask for it," said
Natalie. "Marriage is a very agreeable institution if it gives
husbands a talent for divining the wishes of their wives."
"It is nothing else," replied Paul. "But see how late it is; I ought
"Why leave so soon to-night?" said Madame Evangelista, employing those
coaxing ways to which men are so sensitive.
Though all this passed on the best of terms, and according to the laws
of the most exquisite politeness, the effect of the discussion of
these contending interests had, nevertheless, cast between son and
mother-in-law a seed of distrust and enmity which was liable to sprout
under the first heat of anger, or the warmth of a feeling too harshly
bruised. In most families the settlement of "dots" and the deeds of
gift required by a marriage contract give rise to primitive emotions
of hostility, caused by self-love, by the lesion of certain
sentiments, by regret for the sacrifices made, and by the desire to
diminish them. When difficulties arise there is always a victorious
side and a vanquished one. The parents of the future pair try to
conclude the matter, which is purely commercial in their eyes, to
their own advantage; and this leads to the trickery, shrewdness, and
deception of such negotiations. Generally the husband alone is
initiated into the secret of these discussions, and the wife is kept,
like Natalie, in ignorance of the stipulations which make her rich or
As he left the house, Paul reflected that, thanks to the cleverness of
his notary, his fortune was almost entirely secured from injury. If
Madame Evangelista did not live apart from her daughter their united
household would have an income of more than a hundred thousand francs
to spend. All his expectations of a happy and comfortable life would
"My mother-in-law seems to me an excellent woman," he thought, still
under the influence of the cajoling manner by which she had endeavored
to disperse the clouds raised by the discussion. "Mathias is mistaken.
These notaries are strange fellows; they envenom everything. The harm
started from that little cock-sparrow Solonet, who wanted to play a
While Paul went to bed recapitulating the advantages he had won during
the evening, Madame Evangelista was congratulating herself equally on
"Well, darling mother, are you satisfied?" said Natalie, following
Madame Evangelista into her bedroom.
"Yes, love," replied the mother, "everything went well, according to
my wishes; I feel a weight lifted from my shoulders which was crushing
me. Paul is a most easy-going man. Dear fellow! yes, certainly, we
must make his life prosperous. You will make him happy, and I will be
responsible for his political success. The Spanish ambassador used to
be a friend of mine, and I'll renew the relation--as I will with the
rest of my old acquaintance. Oh! you'll see! we shall soon be in the
very heart of Parisian life; all will be enjoyment for us. You shall
have the pleasures, my dearest, and I the last occupation of
existence,--the game of ambition! Don't be alarmed when you see me
selling this house. Do you suppose we shall ever come back to live in
Bordeaux? no. Lanstrac? yes. But we shall spend all our winters in
Paris, where our real interests lie. Well, Natalie, tell me, was it
very difficult to do what I asked of you?"
"My little mamma! every now and then I felt ashamed."
"Solonet advises me to put the proceeds of this house into an
annuity," said Madame Evangelista, "but I shall do otherwise; I won't
take a penny of my fortune from you."
"I saw you were all very angry," said Natalie. "How did the tempest
"By an offer of my diamonds," replied Madame Evangelista. "Solonet was
right. How ably he conducted the whole affair. Get out my jewel-case,
Natalie. I have never seriously considered what my diamonds are worth.
When I said a hundred thousand francs I talked nonsense. Madame de
Gyas always declared that the necklace and ear-rings your father gave
me on our marriage day were worth at least that sum. My poor husband
was so lavish! Then my family diamond, the one Philip the Second gave
to the Duke of Alba, and which my aunt bequeathed to me, the
'Discreto,' was, I think, appraised in former times at four thousand
quadruples,--one of our Spanish gold coins."
Natalie laid out upon her mother's toilet-table the pearl necklace,
the sets of jewels, the gold bracelets and precious stones of all
description, with that inexpressible sensation enjoyed by certain
women at the sight of such treasures, by which--so commentators on the
Talmud say--the fallen angels seduce the daughters of men, having
sought these flowers of celestial fire in the bowels of the earth.
"Certainly," said Madame Evangelista, "though I know nothing about
jewels except how to accept and wear them, I think there must be a
great deal of money in these. Then, if we make but one household, I
can sell my plate, the weight of which, as mere silver, would bring
thirty thousand francs. I remember when we brought it from Lima, the
custom-house officers weighed and appraised it. Solonet is right, I'll
send to-morrow to Elie Magus. The Jew shall estimate the value of
these things. Perhaps I can avoid sinking any of my fortune in an
"What a beautiful pearl necklace!" said Natalie.
"He ought to give it to you, if he loves you," replied her mother;
"and I think he might have all my other jewels reset and let you keep
them. The diamonds are a part of your property in the contract. And
now, good-night, my darling. After the fatigues of this day we both
The woman of luxury, the Creole, the great lady, incapable of
analyzing the results of a contract which was not yet in force, went
to sleep in the joy of seeing her daughter married to a man who was
easy to manage, who would let them both be mistresses of his home, and
whose fortune, united to theirs, would require no change in their way
of living. Thus having settled her account with her daughter, whose
patrimony was acknowledged in the contract, Madame Evangelista could
feel at her ease.
"How foolish of me to worry as I did," she thought. "But I wish the
marriage were well over."
So Madame Evangelista, Paul, Natalie, and the two notaries were
equally satisfied with the first day's result. The Te Deum was sung in
both camps,--a dangerous situation; for there comes a moment when the
vanquished side is aware of its mistake. To Madame Evangelista's mind,
her son-in-law was the vanquished side.
CHAPTER IV. THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT--SECOND DAY
The next day Elie Magus (who happened at that time to be in Bordeaux)
obeyed Madame Evangelista's summons, believing, from general rumor as
to the marriage of Comte Paul with Mademoiselle Natalie, that it
concerned a purchase of jewels for the bride. The Jew was, therefore,
astonished when he learned that, on the contrary, he was sent for to
estimate the value of the mother-in-law's property. The instinct of
his race, as well as certain insidious questions, made him aware that
the value of the diamonds was included in the marriage-contract. The
stones were not to be sold, and yet he was to estimate them as if some
private person were buying them from a dealer. Jewellers alone know
how to distinguish between the diamonds of Asia and those of Brazil.
The stones of Golconda and Visapur are known by a whiteness and
glittering brilliancy which others have not,--the water of the
Brazilian diamonds having a yellow tinge which reduces their selling
value. Madame Evangelista's necklace and ear-rings, being composed
entirely of Asiatic diamonds, were valued by Elie Magus at two hundred
and fifty thousand francs. As for the "Discreto," he pronounced it one
of the finest diamonds in the possession of private persons; it was
known to the trade and valued at one hundred thousand francs. On
hearing this estimate, which proved to her the lavishness of her
husband, Madame Evangelista asked the old Jew whether she should be
able to obtain that money immediately.
"Madame," replied the Jew, "if you wish to sell I can give you only
seventy-five thousand for the brilliant, and one hundred and sixty
thousand for the necklace and earrings."
"Why such reduction?"
"Madame," replied Magus, "the finer the diamond, the longer we keep it
unsold. The rarity of such investments is one reason for the high
value set upon precious stones. As the merchant cannot lose the
interest of his money, this additional sum, joined to the rise and
fall to which such merchandise is subject, explains the difference
between the price of purchase and the price of sale. By owning these
diamonds you have lost the interest on three hundred thousand francs
for twenty years. If you wear your jewels ten times a year, it costs
you three thousand francs each evening to put them on. How many
beautiful gowns you could buy with that sum. Those who own diamonds
are, therefore, very foolish; but, luckily for us, women are never
willing to understand the calculation."
"I thank you for explaining it to me, and I shall profit by it."
"Do you wish to sell?" asked Magus, eagerly.
"What are the other jewels worth?"
The Jew examined the gold of the settings, held the pearls to the
light, scrutinized the rubies, the diadems, clasps, bracelets, and
chains, and said, in a mumbling tone:--
"A good many Portuguese diamonds from Brazil are among them. They are
not worth more than a hundred thousand to me. But," he added, "a
dealer would sell them to a customer for one hundred and fifty
thousand, at least."
"I shall keep them," said Madame Evangelista.
"You are wrong," replied Elie Magus. "With the income from the sum
they represent you could buy just as fine diamonds in five years, and
have the capital to boot."
This singular conference became known, and corroborated certain rumors
excited by the discussion of the contract. The servants of the house,
overhearing high voices, supposed the difficulties greater than they
really were. Their gossip with other valets spread the information,
which from the lower regions rose to the ears of the masters. The
attention of society, and of the town in general, became so fixed on
the marriage of two persons equally rich and well-born, that every
one, great and small, busied themselves about the matter, and in less
than a week the strangest rumors were bruited about.
"Madame Evangelista sells her house; she must be ruined. She offered
her diamonds to Elie Magus. Nothing is really settled between herself
and the Comte de Manerville. Is it probable that the marriage will
ever take place?"
To this question some answered yes, and others said no. The two
notaries, when questioned, denied these calumnies, and declared that
the difficulties arose only from the official delay in constituting
the entail. But when public opinion has taken a trend in one direction
it is very difficult to turn it back. Though Paul went every day to
Madame Evangelista's house, and though the notaries denied these
assertions continually, the whispered calumny went on. Young girls,
and their mothers and aunts, vexed at a marriage they had dreamed of
for themselves or for their families, could not forgive the Spanish
ladies for their happiness, as authors cannot forgive each other for
their success. A few persons revenged themselves for the twenty-years
luxury and grandeur of the family of Evangelista, which had lain
heavily on their self-love. A leading personage at the prefecture
declared that the notaries could have chosen no other language and
followed no other conduct in the case of a rupture. The time actually
required for the establishment of the entail confirmed the suspicions
of the Bordeaux provincials.
"They will keep the ball going through the winter; then, in the
spring, they will go to some watering-place, and we shall learn before
the year is out that the marriage is off."
"And, of course, we shall be given to understand," said others, "for
the sake of the honor of the two families, that the difficulties did
not come from either side, but the chancellor refused to consent; you
may be sure it will be some quibble about that entail which will cause
"Madame Evangelista," some said, "lived in a style that the mines of
Valencia couldn't meet. When the time came to melt the bell, and pay
the daughter's patrimony, nothing would be found to pay it with."
The occasion was excellent to add up the spendings of the handsome
widow and prove, categorically, her ruin. Rumors were so rife that
bets were made for and against the marriage. By the laws of worldly
jurisprudence this gossip was not allowed to reach the ears of the
parties concerned. No one was enemy or friend enough to Paul or to
Madame Evangelista to inform either of what was being said. Paul had
some business at Lanstrac, and used the occasion to make a hunting-
party for several of the young men of Bordeaux,--a sort of farewell,
as it were, to his bachelor life. This hunting party was accepted by
society as a signal confirmation of public suspicion.
When this event occurred, Madame de Gyas, who had a daughter to marry,
thought it high time to sound the matter, and to condole, with joyful
heart, the blow received by the Evangelistas. Natalie and her mother
were somewhat surprised to see the lengthened face of the marquise,
and they asked at once if anything distressing had happened to her.
"Can it be," she replied, "that you are ignorant of the rumors that
are circulating? Though I think them false myself, I have come to
learn the truth in order to stop this gossip, at any rate among the
circle of my own friends. To be the dupes or the accomplices of such
an error is too false a position for true friends to occupy."
"But what is it? what has happened?" asked mother and daughter.
Madame de Gyas thereupon allowed herself the happiness of repeating
all the current gossip, not sparing her two friends a single stab.
Natalie and Madame Evangelista looked at each other and laughed, but
they fully understood the meaning of the tale and the motives of their
friend. The Spanish lady took her revenge very much as Celimene took
hers on Arsinoe.
"My dear, are you ignorant--you who know the provinces so well--can
you be ignorant of what a mother is capable when she has on her hands
a daughter whom she cannot marry for want of 'dot' and lovers, want of
beauty, want of mind, and, sometimes, want of everything? Why, a
mother in that position would rob a diligence or commit a murder, or
wait for a man at the corner of a street--she would sacrifice herself
twenty times over, if she was a mother at all. Now, as you and I both
know, there are many such in that situation in Bordeaux, and no doubt
they attribute to us their own thoughts and actions. Naturalists have
depicted the habits and customs of many ferocious animals, but they
have forgotten the mother and daughter in quest of a husband. Such
women are hyenas, going about, as the Psalmist says, seeking whom they
may devour, and adding to the instinct of the brute the intellect of
man, and the genius of woman. I can understand that those little
spiders, Mademoiselle de Belor, Mademoiselle de Trans, and others,
after working so long at their webs without catching a fly, without so
much as hearing a buzz, should be furious; I can even forgive their
spiteful speeches. But that you, who can marry your daughter when you
please, you, who are rich and titled, you who have nothing of the
provincial about you, whose daughter is clever and possesses fine
qualities, with beauty and the power to choose--that you, so
distinguished from the rest by your Parisian grace, should have paid
the least heed to this talk does really surprise me. Am I bound to
account to the public for the marriage stipulations which our notaries
think necessary under the political circumstances of my son-in-law's
future life? Has the mania for public discussion made its way into
families? Ought I to convoke in writing the fathers and mothers of the
province to come here and give their vote on the clauses of our
A torrent of epigram flowed over Bordeaux. Madame Evangelista was
about to leave the city, and could safely scan her friends and
enemies, caricature them and lash them as she pleased, with nothing to
fear in return. Accordingly, she now gave vent to her secret
observations and her latent dislikes as she sought for the reason why
this or that person denied the shining of the sun at mid-day.
"But, my dear," said the Marquise de Gyas, "this stay of the count at
Lanstrac, these parties given to young men under such circumstances--"
"Ah! my dear," said the great lady, interrupting the marquise, "do you
suppose that we adopt the pettiness of bourgeois customs? Is Count
Paul held in bonds like a man who might seek to get away? Think you we
ought to watch him with a squad of gendarmes lest some provincial
conspiracy should get him away from us?"
"Be assured, my dearest friend, that it gives me the greatest pleasure
Here her words were interrupted by a footman who entered the room to
announce Paul. Like many lovers, Paul thought it charming to ride
twelve miles to spend an hour with Natalie. He had left his friends
while hunting, and came in booted and spurred, and whip in hand.
"Dear Paul," said Natalie, "you don't know what an answer you are
giving to madame."
When Paul heard of the gossip that was current in Bordeaux, he laughed
instead of being angry.
"These worthy people have found out, perhaps, that there will be no
wedding festivities, according to provincial usages, no marriage at
mid-day in the church, and they are furious. Well, my dear mother," he
added, kissing her hand, "let us pacify them with a ball on the day
when we sign the contract, just as the government flings a fete to the
people in the great square of the Champs-Elysees, and we will give our
dear friends the dolorous pleasure of signing a marriage-contract such
as they have seldom heard of in the provinces."
This little incident proved of great importance. Madame Evangelista
invited all Bordeaux to witness the signature of the contract, and
showed her intention of displaying in this last fete a luxury which
should refute the foolish lies of the community.
The preparations for this event required over a month, and it was
called the fete of the camellias. Immense quantities of that beautiful
flower were massed on the staircase, and in the antechamber and
supper-room. During this month the formalities for constituting the
entail were concluded in Paris; the estates adjoining Lanstrac were
purchased, the banns were published, and all doubts finally
dissipated. Friends and enemies thought only of preparing their
toilets for the coming fete.
The time occupied by these events obscured the difficulties raised by
the first discussion, and swept into oblivion the words and arguments
of that stormy conference. Neither Paul nor his mother-in-law
continued to think of them. Were they not, after all, as Madame
Evangelista had said, the affair of the two notaries?
But--to whom has it never happened, when life is in its fullest flow,
to be suddenly changed by the voice of memory, raised, perhaps, too
late, reminding us of some important new fact, some threatened danger?
On the morning of the day when the contract was to be signed and the
fete given, one of these flashes of the soul illuminated the mind of
Madame Evangelista during the semi-somnolence of her waking hour. The
words that she herself had uttered at the moment when Mathias acceded
to Solonet's conditions, "Questa coda non e di questo gatto," were
cried aloud in her mind by that voice of memory. In spite of her
incapacity for business, Madame Evangelista's shrewdness told her:--
"If so clever a notary as Mathias was pacified, it must have been that
he saw compensation at the cost of SOME ONE."
That some one could not be Paul, as she had blindly hoped. Could it be
that her daughter's fortune was to pay the costs of war? She resolved
to demand explanations on the tenor of the contract, not reflecting on
the course she would have to take in case she found her interests
seriously compromised. This day had so powerful an influence on Paul
de Manerville's conjugal life that it is necessary to explain certain
of the external circumstances which accompanied it.
Madame Evangelista had shrunk from no expense for this dazzling fete.
The court-yard was gravelled and converted into a tent, and filled
with shrubs, although it was winter. The camellias, of which so much
had been said from Angouleme to Dax, were banked on the staircase and
in the vestibules. Wall partitions had disappeared to enlarge the
supper-room and the ball-room where the dancing was to be. Bordeaux, a
city famous for the luxury of colonial fortunes, was on a tiptoe of
expectation for this scene of fairyland. About eight o'clock, as the
last discussion of the contract was taking place within the house, the
inquisitive populace, anxious to see the ladies in full dress getting
out of their carriages, formed in two hedges on either side of the
porte-cochere. Thus the sumptuous atmosphere of a fete acted upon all
minds at the moment when the contract was being signed, illuminating
colored lamps lighted up the shrubs, and the wheels of the arriving
guests echoed from the court-yard. The two notaries had dined with the
bridal pair and their mother. Mathias's head-clerk, whose business it
was to receive the signatures of the guests during the evening (taking
due care that the contract was not surreptitiously read by the
signers), was also present at the dinner.
No bridal toilet was ever comparable with that of Natalie, whose
beauty, decked with laces and satin, her hair coquettishly falling in
a myriad of curls about her throat, resembled that of a flower encased
in its foliage. Madame Evangelista, robed in a gown of cherry velvet,
a color judiciously chosen to heighten the brilliancy of her skin and
her black hair and eyes, glowed with the beauty of a woman at forty,
and wore her pearl necklace, clasped with the "Discreto," a visible
contradiction to the late calumnies.
To fully explain this scene, it is necessary to say that Paul and
Natalie sat together on a sofa beside the fireplace and paid no
attention to the reading of the documents. Equally childish and
equally happy, regarding life as a cloudless sky, rich, young, and
loving, they chattered to each other in a low voice, sinking into
whispers. Arming his love with the presence of legality, Paul took
delight in kissing the tips of Natalie's fingers, in lightly touching
her snowy shoulders and the waving curls of her hair, hiding from the
eyes of others these joys of illegal emancipation. Natalie played with
a screen of peacock's feathers given to her by Paul,--a gift which is
to love, according to superstitious belief in certain countries, as
dangerous an omen as the gift of scissors or other cutting
instruments, which recall, no doubt, the Parces of antiquity.
Seated beside the two notaries, Madame Evangelista gave her closest
attention to the reading of the documents. After listening to the
guardianship account, most ably written out by Solonet, in which
Natalie's share of the three million and more francs left by Monsieur
Evangelista was shown to be the much-debated eleven hundred and fifty-
six thousand, Madame Evangelista said to the heedless young couple:--
"Come, listen, listen, my children; this is your marriage contract."
The clerk drank a glass of iced-water, Solonet and Mathias blew their
noses, Paul and Natalie looked at the four personages before them,
listened to the preamble, and returned to their chatter. The statement
of the property brought by each party; the general deed of gift in the
event of death without issue; the deed of gift of one-fourth in life-
interest and one-fourth in capital without interest, allowed by the
Code, whatever be the number of the children; the constitution of a
common fund for husband and wife; the settlement of the diamonds on
the wife, the library and horses on the husband, were duly read and
passed without observations. Then followed the constitution of the
entail. When all was read and nothing remained but to sign the
contract, Madame Evangelista demanded to know what would be the
ultimate effect of the entail.
"An entail, madam," replied Solonet, "means an inalienable right to
the inheritance of certain property belonging to both husband and
wife, which is settled from generation to generation on the eldest son
of the house, without, however, depriving him of his right to share in
the division of the rest of the property."
"What will be the effect of this on my daughter's rights?"
Maitre Mathias, incapable of disguising the truth, replied:--
"Madame, an entail being an appanage, or portion of property set aside
for this purpose from the fortunes of husband and wife, it follows
that if the wife dies first, leaving several children, one of them a
son, Monsieur de Manerville will owe those children three hundred and
sixty thousand francs only, from which he will deduct his fourth in
life-interest and his fourth in capital. Thus his debt to those
children will be reduced to one hundred and sixty thousand francs, or
thereabouts, exclusive of his savings and profits from the common fund
constituted for husband and wife. If, on the contrary, he dies first,
leaving a male heir, Madame de Manerville has a right to three hundred
and sixty thousand francs only, and to her deeds of gift of such of
her husband's property as is not included in the entail, to the
diamonds now settled upon her, and to her profits and savings from the
The effect of Maitre Mathias's astute and far-sighted policy were now
"My daughter is ruined," said Madame Evangelista in a low voice.
The old and the young notary both overheard the words.
"Is it ruin," replied Mathias, speaking gently, "to constitute for her
family an indestructible fortune?"
The younger notary, seeing the expression of his client's face,
thought it judicious in him to state the disaster in plain terms.
"We tried to trick them out of three hundred thousand francs," he
whispered to the angry woman. "They have actually laid hold of eight
hundred thousand; it is a loss of four hundred thousand from our
interests for the benefit of the children. You must now either break
the marriage off at once, or carry it through," concluded Solonet.
It is impossible to describe the moment of silence that followed.
Maitre Mathias waited in triumph the signature of the two persons who
had expected to rob his client. Natalie, not competent to understand
that she had lost half her fortune, and Paul, ignorant that the house
of Manerville had gained it, were laughing and chattering still.
Solonet and Madame Evangelista gazed at each other; the one
endeavoring to conceal his indifference, the other repressing the rush
of a crowd of bitter feelings.
After suffering in her own mind the struggles of remorse, after
blaming Paul as the cause of her dishonesty, Madame Evangelista had
decided to employ those shameful manoeuvres to cast on him the burden
of her own unfaithful guardianship, considering him her victim. But
now, in a moment, she perceived that where she thought she triumphed
she was about to perish, and her victim was her own daughter. Guilty
without profit, she saw herself the dupe of an honorable old man,
whose respect she had doubtless lost. Her secret conduct must have
inspired the stipulation of old Mathias; and Mathias must have
enlightened Paul. Horrible reflection! Even if he had not yet done so,
as soon as that contract was signed the old wolf would surely warn his
client of the dangers he had run and had now escaped, were it only to
receive the praise of his sagacity. He would put him on his guard
against the wily woman who had lowered herself to this conspiracy; he
would destroy the empire she had conquered over her son-in-law! Feeble
natures, once warned, turn obstinate, and are never won again. At the
first discussion of the contract she had reckoned on Paul's weakness,
and on the impossibility he would feel of breaking off a marriage so
far advanced. But now, she herself was far more tightly bound. Three
months earlier Paul had no real obstacles to prevent the rupture; now,
all Bordeaux knew that the notaries had smoothed the difficulties; the
banns were published; the wedding was to take place immediately; the
friends of both families were at that moment arriving for the fete,
and to witness the contract. How could she postpone the marriage at
this late hour? The cause of the rupture would surely be made known;
Maitre Mathias's stern honor was too well known in Bordeaux; his word
would be believed in preference to hers. The scoffers would turn
against her and against her daughter. No, she could not break it off;
she must yield!
These reflections, so cruelly sound, fell upon Madame Evangelista's
brain like a water-spout and split it. Though she still maintained the
dignity and reserve of a diplomatist, her chin was shaken by that
apoplectic movement which showed the anger of Catherine the Second on
the famous day when, seated on her throne and in presence of her court
(very much in the present circumstances of Madame Evangelista), she
was braved by the King of Sweden. Solonet observed that play of the
muscles, which revealed the birth of a mortal hatred, a lurid storm to
which there was no lightning. At this moment Madame Evangelista vowed
to her son-in-law one of those unquenchable hatreds the seeds of which
were left by the Moors in the atmosphere of Spain.
"Monsieur," she said, bending to the ear of her notary, "you called
that stipulation balderdash; it seems to me that nothing could have
been more clear."
"Madame, allow me--"
"Monsieur," she continued, paying no heed to his interruption, "if you
did not perceive the effect of that entail at the time of our first
conference, it is very extraordinary that it did not occur to you in
the silence of your study. This can hardly be incapacity."
The young notary drew his client into the next room, saying to
himself, as he did so:--
"I get a three-thousand franc fee for the guardianship account, three
thousand for the contract, six thousand on the sale of the house,
fifteen thousand in all--better not be angry."
He closed the door, cast on Madame Evangelista the cool look of a
business man, and said:--
"Madame, having, for your sake, passed--as I did--the proper limits of
legal craft, do you seriously intend to reward my devotion by such
"Madame, I did not, it is true, calculate the effect of the deeds of
gift. But if you do not wish Comte Paul for your son-in-law you are
not obliged to accept him. The contract is not signed. Give your fete,
and postpone the signing. It is far better to brave Bordeaux than
"How can I justify such a course to society, which is already
prejudiced against us by the slow conclusion of the marriage?"
"By some error committed in Paris; some missing document not sent with
the rest," replied Solonet.
"But those purchases of land near Lanstrac?"
"Monsieur de Manerville will be at no loss to find another bride and
"Yes, he'll lose nothing; but we lose all, all!"
"You?" replied Solonet; "why, you can easily find another count who
will cost you less money, if a title is the chief object of this
"No, no! we can't stake our honor in that way. I am caught in a trap,
monsieur. All Bordeaux will ring with this to-morrow. Our solemn words
"You wish the happiness of Mademoiselle Natalie."
"Above all things."
"To be happy in France," said the notary, "means being mistress of the
home. She can lead that fool of a Manerville by the nose if she
chooses; he is so dull he has actually seen nothing of all this. Even
if he now distrusts you, he will always trust his wife; and his wife
is YOU, is she not? The count's fate is still within your power if you
choose to play the cards in your hand."
"If that were true, monsieur, I know not what I would not do to show
my gratitude," she said, in a transport of feeling that colored her
"Let us now return to the others, madame," said Solonet. "Listen
carefully to what I shall say; and then--you shall think me incapable
if you choose."
"My dear friend," said the young notary to Maitre Mathias, "in spite
of your great ability, you have not foreseen either the case of
Monsieur de Manerville dying without children, nor that in which he
leaves only female issue. In either of those cases the entail would
pass to the Manervilles, or, at any rate, give rise to suits on their
part. I think, therefore, it is necessary to stipulate that in the
first case the entailed property shall pass under the general deed of
gift between husband and wife; and in the second case that the entail
shall be declared void. This agreement concerns the wife's interest."
"Both clauses seem to me perfectly just," said Maitre Mathias. "As to
their ratification, Monsieur le comte can, doubtless, come to an
understanding with the chancellor, if necessary."
Solonet took a pen and added this momentous clause on the margin of
the contract. Paul and Natalie paid no attention to the matter; but
Madame Evangelista dropped her eyes while Maitre Mathias read the
added sentence aloud.
"We will now sign," said the mother.
The volume of voice which Madame Evangelista repressed as she uttered
those words betrayed her violent emotion. She was thinking to herself:
"No, my daughter shall not be ruined--but he! My daughter shall have
the name, the title, and the fortune. If she should some day discover
that she does not love him, that she loves another, irresistibly, Paul
shall be driven out of France! My daughter shall be free, and happy,
If Maitre Mathias understood how to analyze business interests, he
knew little of the analysis of human passions. He accepted Madame
Evangelista's words as an honorable "amende," instead of judging them
for what they were, a declaration of war. While Solonet and his clerk
superintended Natalie as she signed the documents,--an operation which
took time,--Mathias took Paul aside and told him the meaning of the
stipulation by which he had saved him from ultimate pain.
"The whole affair is now 'en regle.' I hold the documents. But the
contract contains a rescript for the diamonds; you must ask for them.
Business is business. Diamonds are going up just now, but may go down.
The purchase of those new domains justifies you in turning everything
into money that you can. Therefore, Monsieur le comte, have no false
modesty in this matter. The first payment is due after the formalities
are over. The sum is two hundred thousand francs; put the diamonds
into that. You have the lien on this house, which will be sold at
once, and will pay the rest. If you have the courage to spend only
fifty thousand francs for the next three years, you can save the two
hundred thousand francs you are now obliged to pay. If you plant
vineyards on your new estates, you can get an income of over twenty-
five thousand francs upon them. You may be said, in short, to have
made a good marriage."
Paul pressed the hand of his old friend very affectionately, a gesture
which did not escape Madame Evangelista, who now came forward to offer
him the pen. Suspicion became certainty to her mind. She was confident
that Paul and Mathias had come to an understanding about her. Rage and
hatred sent the blood surging through her veins to her heart. The
worst had come.
After verifying that all the documents were duly signed and the
initials of the parties affixed to the bottom of the leaves, Maitre
Mathias looked from Paul to his mother-in-law, and seeing that his
client did not intend to speak of the diamonds, he said:--
"I do not suppose there can be any doubt about the transfer of the
diamonds, as you are now one family."
"It would be more regular if Madame Evangelista made them over now, as
Monsieur de Manerville has become responsible for the guardianship
funds, and we never know who may live or die," said Solonet, who
thought he saw in this circumstance fresh cause of anger in the
mother-in-law against the son-in-law.
"Ah! mother," cried Paul, "it would be insulting to us all to do that,
--'Summum jus, summum injuria,' monsieur," he said to Solonet.
"And I," said Madame Evangelista, led by the hatred now surging in her
heart to see a direct insult to her in the indirect appeal of Maitre
Mathias, "I will tear that contract up if you do not take them."
She left the room in one of those furious passions which long for the
power to destroy everything, and which the sense of impotence drives
almost to madness.
"For Heaven's sake, take them, Paul," whispered Natalie in his ear.
"My mother is angry; I shall know why to-night, and I will tell you.
We must pacify her."
Calmed by this first outburst, madame kept the necklace and ear-rings,
which she was wearing, and brought the other jewels, valued at one
hundred and fifty thousand francs by Elie Magus. Accustomed to the
sight of family diamonds in all valuations of inheritance, Maitre
Mathias and Solonet examined these jewels in their cases and exclaimed
upon their duty.
"You will lose nothing, after all, upon the 'dot,' Monsieur le comte,"
said Solonet, bringing the color to Paul's face.
"Yes," said Mathias, "these jewels will meet the first payment on the
purchase of the new estate."
"And the costs of the contract," added Solonet.
Hatred feeds, like love, on little things; the least thing strengthens
it; as one beloved can do no evil, so the person hated can do no good.
Madame Evangelista assigned to hypocrisy the natural embarrassment of
Paul, who was unwilling to take the jewels, and not knowing where to
put the cases, longed to fling them from the window. Madame
Evangelista spurred him with a glance which seemed to say, "Take your
property from here."
"Dear Natalie," said Paul, "put away these jewels; they are yours; I
give them to you."
Natalie locked them into the drawer of a console. At this instant the
noise of the carriages in the court-yard and the murmur of voices in
the receptions-rooms became so loud that Natalie and her mother were
forced to appear. The salons were filled in a few moments, and the
"Profit by the honeymoon to sell those diamonds," said the old notary
to Paul as he went away.
While waiting for the dancing to begin, whispers went round about the
marriage, and doubts were expressed as to the future of the promised
"Is it finally arranged?" said one of the leading personages of the
town to Madame Evangelista.
"We had so many documents to read and sign that I fear we are rather
late," she replied; "but perhaps we are excusable."
"As for me, I heard nothing," said Natalie, giving her hand to her
lover to open the ball.
"Both of those young persons are extravagant, and the mother is not of
a kind to check them," said a dowager.
"But they have founded an entail, I am told, worth fifty thousand
francs a year."
"In that I see the hand of our worthy Monsieur Mathias," said a
magistrate. "If it is really true, he has done it to save the future
of the family."
"Natalie is too handsome not to be horribly coquettish. After a couple
of years of marriage," said one young woman, "I wouldn't answer for
Monsieur de Manerville's happiness in his home."
"The Pink of Fashion will then need staking," said Solonet, laughing.
"Don't you think Madame Evangelista looks annoyed?" asked another.
"But, my dear, I have just been told that all she is able to keep is
twenty-five thousand francs a year, and what is that to her?"
"Yes, she has robbed herself for Natalie. Monsieur de Manerville has
been so exacting--"
"Extremely exacting," put in Maitre Solonet. "But before long he will
be peer of France. The Maulincours and the Vidame de Pamiers will use
their influence. He belongs to the faubourg Saint-Germain."
"Oh! he is received there, and that is all," said a lady, who had
tried to obtain him as a son-in-law. "Mademoiselle Evangelista, as the
daughter of a merchant, will certainly not open the doors of the
chapter-house of Cologne to him!"
"She is grand-niece to the Duke of Casa-Reale."
"Through the female line!"
The topic was presently exhausted. The card-players went to the
tables, the young people danced, the supper was served, and the ball
was not over till morning, when the first gleams of the coming day
whitened the windows.
Having said adieu to Paul, who was the last to go away, Madame
Evangelista went to her daughter's room; for her own had been taken by
the architect to enlarge the scene of the fete. Though Natalie and her
mother were overcome with sleep, they said a few words to each other
as soon as they were alone.
"Tell me, mother dear, what was the matter with you?"
"My darling, I learned this evening to what lengths a mother's
tenderness can go. You know nothing of business, and you are ignorant
of the suspicions to which my integrity has been exposed. I have
trampled my pride under foot, for your happiness and my reputation
were at stake."
"Are you talking of the diamonds? Poor boy, he wept; he did not want
them; I have them."
"Sleep now, my child. We will talk business when we wake--for," she
added, sighing, "you and I have business now; another person has come
"Ah! my dear mother, Paul will never be an obstacle to our happiness,
yours and mine," murmured Natalie, as she went to sleep.
"Poor darling! she little knows that the man has ruined her."
Madame Evangelista's soul was seized at that moment with the first
idea of avarice, a vice to which many become a prey as they grow aged.
It came into her mind to recover in her daughter's interest the whole
of the property left by her husband. She told herself that her honor
demanded it. Her devotion to Natalie made her, in a moment, as shrewd
and calculating as she had hitherto been careless and wasteful. She
resolved to turn her capital to account, after investing a part of it
in the Funds, which were then selling at eighty francs. A passion
often changes the whole character in a moment; an indiscreet person
becomes a diplomatist, a coward is suddenly brave. Hate made this
prodigal woman a miser. Chance and luck might serve the project of
vengeance, still undefined and confused, which she would now mature in
her mind. She fell asleep, muttering to herself, "To-morrow!" By an
unexplained phenomenon, the effects of which are familiar to all
thinkers, her mind, during sleep, marshalled its ideas, enlightened
them, classed them, prepared a means by which she was to rule Paul's
life, and showed her a plan which she began to carry out on that very
CHAPTER V. THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT--THIRD DAY
Though the excitement of the fete had driven from Paul's mind the
anxious thoughts that now and then assailed it, when he was alone with
himself and in his bed they returned to torment him.
"It seems to me," he said to himself, "that without that good Mathias
my mother-in-law would have tricked me. And yet, is that believable?
What interest could lead her to deceive me? Are we not to join
fortunes and live together? Well, well, why should I worry about it?
In two days Natalie will be my wife, our money relations are plainly
defined, nothing can come between us. Vogue la galere--Nevertheless,
I'll be upon my guard. Suppose Mathias was right? Well, if he was, I'm
not obliged to marry my mother-in-law."
In this second battle of the contract Paul's future had completely
changed in aspect, though he was not aware of it. Of the two persons
whom he was marrying, one, the cleverest, was now his mortal enemy,
and meditated already withdrawing her interests from the common fund.
Incapable of observing the difference that a Creole nature placed
between his mother-in-law and other women, Paul was far from
suspecting her craftiness. The Creole nature is apart from all others;
it derives from Europe by its intellect, from the tropics by the
illogical violence of its passions, from the East by the apathetic
indifference with which it does, or suffers, either good or evil,
equally,--a graceful nature withal, but dangerous, as a child is
dangerous if not watched. Like a child, the Creole woman must have her
way immediately; like a child, she would burn a house to boil an egg.
In her soft and easy life she takes no care upon her mind; but when
impassioned, she thinks of all things. She has something of the
perfidy of the Negroes by whom she has been surrounded from her
cradle, but she is also as naive and even, at times, as artless as
they. Like them and like the children, she wishes doggedly for one
thing with a growing intensity of desire, and will brood upon that
idea until she hatches it. A strange assemblage of virtues and
defects! which her Spanish nature had strengthened in Madame
Evangelista, and over which her French experience had cast the glaze
of its politeness.
This character, slumbering in married happiness for sixteen years,
occupied since then with the trivialities of social life, this nature
to which a first hatred had revealed its strength, awoke now like a
conflagration; at the moment of the woman's life when she was losing
the dearest object of her affections and needed another element for
the energy that possessed her, this flame burst forth. Natalie could
be but three days more beneath her influence! Madame Evangelista,
vanquished at other points, had one clear day before her, the last of
those that a daughter spends beside her mother. A few words, and the
Creole nature could influence the lives of the two beings about to
walk together through the brambled paths and the dusty high-roads of
Parisian society, for Natalie believed in her mother blindly. What
far-reaching power would the counsel of that Creole nature have on a
mind so subservient! The whole future of these lives might be
determined by one single speech. No code, no human institution can
prevent the crime that kills by words. There lies the weakness of
social law; in that is the difference between the morals of the great
world and the morals of the people: one is frank, the other
hypocritical; one employs the knife, the other the venom of ideas and
language; to one death, to the other impunity.
The next morning, about mid-day, Madame Evangelista was half seated,
half lying on the edge of her daughter's bed. During that waking hour
they caressed and played together in happy memory of their loving
life; a life in which no discord had ever troubled either the harmony
of their feelings, the agreement of their ideas, or the mutual choice
and enjoyment of their pleasures.
"Poor little darling!" said the mother, shedding true tears, "how can
I help being sorrowful when I think that after I have fulfilled your
every wish during your whole life you will belong, to-morrow night, to
a man you must obey?"
"Oh, my dear mother, as for obeying!--" and Natalie made a little
motion of her head which expressed a graceful rebellion. "You are
joking," she continued. "My father always gratified your caprices; and
why not? he loved you. And I am loved, too."
"Yes, Paul has a certain love for you. But if a married woman is not
careful nothing more rapidly evaporates than conjugal love. The
influence a wife ought to have over her husband depends entirely on
how she begins with him. You need the best advice."
"But you will be with us."
"Possibly, my child. Last night, while the ball was going on, I
reflected on the dangers of our being together. If my presence were to
do you harm, if the little acts by which you ought slowly, but surely,
to establish your authority as a wife should be attributed to my
influence, your home would become a hell. At the first frown I saw
upon your husband's brow I, proud as I am, should instantly leave his
house. If I were driven to leave it, better, I think, not to enter it.
I should never forgive your husband if he caused trouble between us.
Whereas, when you have once become the mistress, when your husband is
to you what your father was to me, that danger is no longer to be
feared. Though this wise policy will cost your young and tender heart
a pang, your happiness demands that you become the absolute sovereign
of your home."
"Then why, mamma, did you say just now I must obey him?"
"My dear little daughter, in order that a wife may rule, she must
always seem to do what her husband wishes. If you were not told this
you might by some impulsive opposition destroy your future. Paul is a
weak young man; he might allow a friend to rule him; he might even
fall under the dominion of some woman who would make you feel her
influence. Prevent such disasters by making yourself from the very
start his ruler. Is it not better that he be governed by you than by
"Yes, certainly," said Natalie. "I should think only of his
"And it is my privilege, darling, to think only of yours, and to wish
not to leave you at so crucial a moment without a compass in the midst
of the reefs through which you must steer."
"But, dearest mother, are we not strong enough, you and I, to stay
together beside him, without having to fear those frowns you seem to
dread. Paul loves you, mamma."
"Oh! oh! He fears me more than he loves me. Observe him carefully
to-day when I tell him that I shall let you go to Paris without me,
and you will see on his face, no matter what pains he takes to conceal
it, his inward joy."
"Why should he feel so?"
"Why? Dear child! I am like Saint-Jean Bouche-d'Or. I will tell that
to himself, and before you."
"But suppose I marry on condition that you do not leave me?" urged
"Our separation is necessary," replied her mother. "Several
considerations have greatly changed my future. I am now poor. You will
lead a brilliant life in Paris, and I could not live with you suitably
without spending the little that remains to me. Whereas, if I go to
Lanstrac, I can take care of your property there and restore my
fortune by economy."
"You, mamma! YOU practise economy!" cried Natalie, laughing. "Don't
begin to be a grandmother yet. What! do you mean to leave me for such
reasons as those? Dear mother, Paul may seem to you a trifle stupid,
but he is not one atom selfish or grasping."
"Ah!" replied Madame Evangelista, in a tone of voice big with
suggestions which made the girl's heart throb, "those discussions
about the contract have made me distrustful. I have my doubts about
him--But don't be troubled, dear child," she added, taking her
daughter by the neck and kissing her. "I will not leave you long
alone. Whenever my return can take place without making difficulty
between you, whenever Paul can rightly judge me, we will begin once
more our happy little life, our evening confidences--"
"Oh! mother, how can you think of living without your Natalie?"
"Because, dear angel, I shall live for her. My mother's heart will be
satisfied in the thought that I contribute, as I ought, to your future
"But, my dear, adorable mother, must I be alone with Paul, here, now,
all at once? What will become of me? what will happen? what must I do?
what must I not do?"
"Poor child! do you think that I would utterly abandon you to your
first battle? We will write to each other three times a week like
lovers. We shall thus be close to each other's hearts incessantly.
Nothing can happen to you that I shall not know, and I can save you
from all misfortune. Besides, it would be too ridiculous if I never
went to see you; it would seem to show dislike or disrespect to your
husband; I will always spend a month or two every year with you in
"Alone, already alone, and with him!" cried Natalie in terror,
interrupting her mother.
"But you wish to be his wife?"
"Yes, I wish it. But tell me how I should behave,--you, who did what
you pleased with my father. You know the way; I'll obey you blindly."
Madame Evangelista kissed her daughter's forehead. She had willed and
awaited this request.
"Child, my counsels must adept themselves to circumstances. All men
are not alike. The lion and the frog are not more unlike than one man
compared with another,--morally, I mean. Do I know to-day what will
happen to you to-morrow? No; therefore I can only give you general
advice upon the whole tenor of your conduct."
"Dear mother, tell me, quick, all that you know yourself."
"In the first place, my dear child, the cause of the failure of
married women who desire to keep their husbands' hearts--and," she
said, making a parenthesis, "to keep their hearts and rule them is one
and the same thing--Well, the principle cause of conjugal disunion is
to be found in perpetual intercourse, which never existed in the olden
time, but which has been introduced into this country of late years
with the mania for family. Since the Revolution the manners and
customs of the bourgeois have invaded the homes of the aristocracy.
This misfortune is due to one of their writers, Rousseau, an infamous
heretic, whose ideas were all anti-social and who pretended, I don't
know how, to justify the most senseless things. He declared that all
women had the same rights and the same faculties; that living in a
state of society we ought, nevertheless, to obey nature--as if the
wife of a Spanish grandee, as if you or I had anything in common with
the women of the people! Since then, well-bred women have suckled
their children, have educated their daughters, and stayed in their own
homes. Life has become so involved that happiness is almost
impossible,--for a perfect harmony between natures such as that which
has made you and me live as two friends is an exception. Perpetual
contact is as dangerous for parents and children as it is for husband
and wife. There are few souls in which love survives this fatal
omnipresence. Therefore, I say, erect between yourself and Paul the
barriers of society; go to balls and operas; go out in the morning,
dine out in the evenings, pay visits constantly, and grant but little
of your time to your husband. By this means you will always keep your
value to him. When two beings bound together for life have nothing to
live upon but sentiment, its resources are soon exhausted,
indifference, satiety, and disgust succeed. When sentiment has
withered what will become of you? Remember, affection once
extinguished can lead to nothing but indifference or contempt. Be ever
young and ever new to him. He may weary you,--that often happens,--but
you must never weary him. The faculty of being bored without showing
it is a condition of all species of power. You cannot diversify
happiness by the cares of property or the occupations of a family. If
you do not make your husband share your social interests, if you do
not keep him amused you will fall into a dismal apathy. Then begins
the SPLEEN of love. But a man will always love the woman who amuses
him and keeps him happy. To give happiness and to receive it are two
lines of feminine conduct which are separated by a gulf."
"Dear mother, I am listening to you, but I don't understand one word
"If you love Paul to the extent of doing all he asks of you, if you
make your happiness depend on him, all is over with your future life;
you will never be mistress of your home, and the best precepts in the
world will do you no good."
"That is plainer; but I see the rule without knowing how to apply it,"
said Natalie, laughing. "I have the theory; the practice will come."
"My poor Ninie," replied the mother, who dropped an honest tear at the
thought of her daughter's marriage, "things will happen to teach it to
you--And," she continued, after a pause, during which the mother and
daughter held each other closely embraced in the truest sympathy,
"remember this, my Natalie: we all have our destiny as women, just as
men have their vocation as men. A woman is born to be a woman of the
world and a charming hostess, as a man is born to be a general or a
poet. Your vocation is to please. Your education has formed you for
society. In these days women should be educated for the salon as they
once were for the gynoecium. You were not born to be the mother of a
family or the steward of a household. If you have children, I hope
they will not come to spoil your figure on the morrow of your
marriage; nothing is so bourgeois as to have a child at once. If you
have them two or three years after your marriage, well and good;
governesses and tutors will bring them up. YOU are to be the lady, the
great lady, who represents the luxury and the pleasure of the house.
But remember one thing--let your superiority be visible in those
things only which flatter a man's self-love; hide the superiority you
must also acquire over him in great things."
"But you frighten me, mamma," cried Natalie. "How can I remember all
these precepts? How shall I ever manage, I, such a child, and so
heedless, to reflect and calculate before I act?"
"But, my dear little girl, I am telling you to-day that which you must
surely learn later, buying your experience by fatal faults and errors
of conduct which will cause you bitter regrets and embarrass your
"But how must I begin?" asked Natalie, artlessly.
"Instinct will guide you," replied her mother. "At this moment Paul
desires you more than he loves you; for love born of desires is a
hope; the love that succeeds their satisfaction is the reality. There,
my dear, is the question; there lies your power. What woman is not
loved before marriage? Be so on the morrow and you shall remain so
always. Paul is a weak man who is easily trained to habit. If he
yields to you once he will yield always. A woman ardently desired can
ask all things; do not commit the folly of many women who do not see
the importance of the first hours of their sway,--that of wasting your
power on trifles, on silly things with no result. Use the empire your
husband's first emotions give you to accustom him to obedience. And
when you make him yield, choose that it be on some unreasonable point,
so as to test the measure of your power by the measure of his
concession. What victory would there be in making him agree to a
reasonable thing? Would that be obeying you? We must always, as the
Castilian proverb says, take the bull by the horns; when a bull has
once seen the inutility of his defence and of his strength he is
beaten. When your husband does a foolish thing for you, you can govern
"Because, my child, marriage lasts a lifetime, and a husband is not a
man like other men. Therefore, never commit the folly of giving
yourself into his power in everything. Keep up a constant reserve in
your speech and in your actions. You may even be cold to him without
danger, for you can modify coldness at will. Besides, nothing is more
easy to maintain than our dignity. The words, 'It is not becoming in
your wife to do thus and so,' is a great talisman. The life of a woman
lies in the words, 'I will not.' They are the final argument. Feminine
power is in them, and therefore they should only be used on real
occasions. But they constitute a means of governing far beyond that of
argument or discussion. I, my dear child, reigned over your father by
his faith in me. If your husband believes in you, you can do all
things with him. To inspire that belief you must make him think that
you understand him. Do not suppose that that is an easy thing to do. A
woman can always make a man think that he is loved, but to make him
admit that he is understood is far more difficult. I am bound to tell
you all now, my child, for to-morrow life with its complications, life
with two wills which MUST be made one, begins for you. Bear in mind,
at all moments, that difficulty. The only means of harmonizing your
two wills is to arrange from the first that there shall be but one;
and that will must be yours. Many persons declare that a wife creates
her own unhappiness by changing sides in this way; but, my dear, she
can only become the mistress by controlling events instead of bearing
them; and that advantage compensates for any difficulty."
Natalie kissed her mother's hands with tears of gratitude. Like all
women in whom mental emotion is never warmed by physical emotion, she
suddenly comprehended the bearings of this feminine policy; but, like
a spoiled child that never admits the force of reason and returns
obstinately to its one desire, she came back to the charge with one of
those personal arguments which the logic of a child suggests:--
"Dear mamma," she said, "it is only a few days since you were talking
of Paul's advancement, and saying that you alone could promote it;
why, then, do you suddenly turn round and abandon us to ourselves?"
"I did not then know the extent of my obligations nor the amount of my
debts," replied the mother, who would not suffer her real motive to be
seen. "Besides, a year or two hence I can take up that matter again.
Come, let us dress; Paul will be here soon. Be as sweet and caressing
as you were,--you know?--that night when we first discussed this fatal
contract; for to-day we must save the last fragments of our fortune,
and I must win for you a thing to which I am superstitiously attached."
"What is it?"
Paul arrived about four o'clock. Though he endeavored to meet his
mother-in-law with a gracious look upon his face, Madame Evangelista
saw traces of the clouds which the counsels of the night and the
reflections of the morning had brought there.
"Mathias has told him!" she thought, resolving to defeat the old
notary's action. "My dear son," she said, "you left your diamonds in
the drawer of the console, and I frankly confess that I would rather
not see again the things that threatened to bring a cloud between us.
Besides, as Monsieur Mathias said, they ought to be sold at once to
meet the first payment on the estates you have purchased."
"They are not mine," he said. "I have given them to Natalie, and when
you see them upon her you will forget the pain they caused you."
Madame Evangelista took his hand and pressed it cordially, with a tear
"Listen to me, my dear children," she said, looking from Paul to
Natalie; "since you really feel thus, I have a proposition to make to
both of you. I find myself obliged to sell my pearl necklace and my
earrings. Yes, Paul, it is necessary; I do not choose to put a penny
of my fortune into an annuity; I know what I owe to you. Well, I admit
a weakness; to sell the 'Discreto' seems to me a disaster. To sell a
diamond which bears the name of Philip the Second and once adorned his
royal hand, an historic stone which the Duke of Alba touched for ten
years in the hilt of his sword--no, no, I cannot! Elie Magus estimates
my necklace and ear-rings at a hundred and some odd thousand francs
without the clasps. Will you exchange the other jewels I made over to
you for these? you will gain by the transaction, but what of that? I
am not selfish. Instead of those mere fancy jewels, Paul, your wife
will have fine diamonds which she can really enjoy. Isn't it better
that I should sell those ornaments which will surely go out of
fashion, and that you should keep in the family these priceless
"But, my dear mother, consider yourself," said Paul.
"I," replied Madame Evangelista, "I want such things no longer. Yes,
Paul, I am going to be your bailiff at Lanstrac. It would be folly in
me to go to Paris at the moment when I ought to be here to liquidate
my property and settle my affairs. I shall grow miserly for my
"Dear mother," said Paul, much moved, "ought I to accept this exchange
without paying you the difference?"
"Good heavens! are you not, both of you, my dearest interests? Do you
suppose I shall not find happiness in thinking, as I sit in my
chimney-corner, 'Natalie is dazzling to-night at the Duchesse de
Berry's ball'? When she sees my diamond at her throat and my ear-rings
in her ears she will have one of those little enjoyments of vanity
which contribute so much to a woman's happiness and make her so gay
and fascinating. Nothing saddens a woman more than to have her vanity
repressed; I have never seen an ill-dressed woman who was amiable or
"Heavens! what was Mathias thinking about?" thought Paul. "Well, then,
mamma," he said, in a low voice, "I accept."
"But I am confounded!" said Natalie.
At this moment Solonet arrived to announce the good news that he had
found among the speculators of Bordeaux two contractors who were much
attracted by the house, the gardens of which could be covered with
"They offer two hundred and fifty thousand francs," he said; "but if
you consent to the sale, I can make them give you three hundred
thousand. There are three acres of land in the garden."
"My husband paid two hundred thousand for the place, therefore I
consent," she replied. "But you must reserve the furniture and the
"Ah!" said Solonet, "you are beginning to understand business."
"Alas! I must," she said, sighing.
"I am told that a great many persons are coming to your midnight
service," said Solonet, perceiving that his presence was inopportune,
and preparing to go.
Madame Evangelista accompanied him to the door of the last salon, and
there she said, in a low voice:--
"I now have personal property to the amount of two hundred and fifty
thousand francs; if I can get two hundred thousand for my share of the
house it will make a handsome capital, which I shall want to invest to
the very best advantage. I count on you for that. I shall probably
live at Lanstrac."
The young notary kissed his client's hand with a gesture of gratitude;
for the widow's tone of voice made Solonet fancy that this alliance,
really made from self-interest only, might extend a little farther.
"You can count on me," he replied. "I can find you investments in
merchandise on which you will risk nothing and make very considerable
"Adieu until to-morrow," she said; "you are to be our witness, you
know, with Monsieur le Marquis de Gyas."
"My dear mother," said Paul, when she returned to them, "why do you
refuse to come to Paris? Natalie is provoked with me, as if I were the
cause of your decision."
"I have thought it all over, my children, and I am sure that I should
hamper you. You would feel obliged to make me a third in all you did,
and young people have ideas of their own which I might,
unintentionally, thwart. Go to Paris. I do not wish to exercise over
the Comtesse de Manerville the gentle authority I have held over
Natalie. I desire to leave her wholly to you. Don't you see, Paul,
that there are habits and ways between us which must be broken up? My
influence ought to yield to yours. I want you to love me, and to
believe that I have your interests more at heart than you think for.
Young husbands are, sooner or later, jealous for the love of a wife
for her mother. Perhaps they are right. When you are thoroughly
united, when love has blended your two souls into one, then, my dear
son, you will not fear an opposing influence if I live in your house.
I know the world, and men, and things; I have seen the peace of many a
home destroyed by the blind love of mothers who made themselves in the
end as intolerable to their daughters as to their sons-in-law. The
affection of old people is often exacting and querulous. Perhaps I
could not efface myself as I should. I have the weakness to think
myself still handsome; I have flatterers who declare that I am still
agreeable; I should have, I fear, certain pretensions which might
interfere with your lives. Let me, therefore, make one more sacrifice
for your happiness. I have given you my fortune, and now I desire to
resign to you my last vanities as a woman. Your notary Mathias is
getting old. He cannot look after your estates as I will. I will be
your bailiff; I will create for myself those natural occupations which
are the pleasures of old age. Later, if necessary, I will come to you
in Paris, and second you in your projects of ambition. Come, Paul, be
frank; my proposal suits you, does it not?"
Paul would not admit it, but he was at heart delighted to get his
liberty. The suspicions which Mathias had put into his mind respecting
his mother-in-law were, however, dissipated by this conversation,
which Madame Evangelista carried on still longer in the same tone.
"My mother was right," thought Natalie, who had watched Paul's
countenance. "He IS glad to know that I am separated from her--why?"
That "why" was the first note of a rising distrust; did it prove the
power of those maternal instructions?
There are certain characters which on the faith of a single proof
believe in friendship. To persons thus constituted the north wind
drives away the clouds as rapidly as the south wind brings them; they
stop at effects and never hark back to causes. Paul had one of those
essentially confiding natures, without ill-feelings, but also without
foresight. His weakness proceeded far more from his kindness, his
belief in goodness, than from actual debility of soul.
Natalie was sad and thoughtful, for she knew not what to do without
her mother. Paul, with that self-confident conceit which comes of
love, smiled to himself at her sadness, thinking how soon the
pleasures of marriage and the excitements of Paris would drive it
away. Madame Evangelista saw this confidence with much satisfaction.
She had already taken two great steps. Her daughter possessed the
diamonds which had cost Paul two hundred thousand francs; and she had
gained her point of leaving these two children to themselves with no
other guide than their illogical love. Her revenge was thus preparing,
unknown to her daughter, who would, sooner or later, become its
accomplice. Did Natalie love Paul? That was a question still
undecided, the answer to which might modify her projects, for she
loved her daughter too sincerely not to respect her happiness. Paul's
future, therefore, still depended on himself. If he could make his
wife love him, he was saved.
The next day, at midnight, after an evening spent together, with the
addition of the four witnesses, to whom Madame Evangelista gave the
formal dinner which follows the legal marriage, the bridal pair,
accompanied by their friends, heard mass by torchlight, in presence of
a crowd of inquisitive persons. A marriage celebrated at night always
suggests to the mind an unpleasant omen. Light is the symbol of life
and pleasure, the forecasts of which are lacking to a midnight
wedding. Ask the intrepid soul why it shivers; why the chill of those
black arches enervates it; why the sound of steps startles it; why it
notices the cry of bats and the hoot of owls. Though there is
absolutely no reason to tremble, all present do tremble, and the
darkness, emblem of death, saddens them. Natalie, parted from her
mother, wept. The girl was now a prey to those doubts which grasp the
heart as it enters a new career in which, despite all assurances of
happiness, a thousand pitfalls await the steps of a young wife. She
was cold and wanted a mantle. The air and manner of Madame Evangelista
and that of the bridal pair excited some comment among the elegant
crowd which surrounded the altar.
"Solonet tells me that the bride and bridegroom leave for Paris
to-morrow morning, all alone."
"Madame Evangelista was to live with them, I thought."
"Count Paul has got rid of her already."
"What a mistake!" said the Marquise de Gyas. "To shut the door on the
mother of his wife is to open it to a lover. Doesn't he know what a
"He has been very hard on Madame Evangelista; the poor woman has had
to sell her house and her diamonds, and is going to live at Lanstrac."
"Natalie looks very sad."
"Would you like to be made to take a journey the day after your
"It is very awkward."
"I am glad I came here to-night," said a lady. "I am now convinced of
the necessity of the pomps of marriage and of wedding fetes; a scene
like this is very bare and sad. If I may say what I think," she added,
in a whisper to her neighbor, "this marriage seems to me indecent."
Madame Evangelista took Natalie in her carriage and accompanied her,
alone, to Paul's house.
"Well, mother, it is done!"
"Remember, my dear child, my last advice, and you will be a happy
woman. Be his wife, and not his mistress."
When Natalie had retired, the mother played the little comedy of
flinging herself with tears into the arms of her son-in-law. It was
the only provincial thing that Madame Evangelista allowed herself, but
she had her reasons for it. Amid tears and speeches, apparently half
wild and despairing, she obtained of Paul those concessions which all
The next day she put the married pair into their carriage, and
accompanied them to the ferry, by which the road to Paris crosses the
Gironde. With a look and a word Natalie enabled her mother to see that
if Paul had won the trick in the game of the contract, her revenge was
beginning. Natalie was already reducing her husband to perfect
CHAPTER VI. CONCLUSION
Five years later, on an afternoon in the month of November, Comte Paul
de Manerville, wrapped in a cloak, was entering, with a bowed head and
a mysterious manner, the house of his old friend Monsieur Mathias at
Too old to continue in business, the worthy notary had sold his
practice and was ending his days peacefully in a quiet house to which
he had retired. An urgent affair had obliged him to be absent at the
moment of his guest's arrival, but his housekeeper, warned of Paul's
coming, took him to the room of the late Madame Mathias, who had been
dead a year. Fatigued by a rapid journey, Paul slept till evening.
When the old man reached home he went up to his client's room, and
watched him sleeping, as a mother watches her child. Josette, the old
housekeeper, followed her master and stood before the bed, her hands
on her hips.
"It is a year to-day, Josette, since I received my dear wife's last
sigh; I little knew then that I should stand here again to see the
count half dead."
"Poor man! he moans in his sleep," said Josette.
"Sac a papier!" cried the old notary, an innocent oath which was a
sign with him of the despair on a man of business before
insurmountable difficulties. "At any rate," he thought, "I have saved
the title to the Lanstrac estate for him, and that of Ausac, Saint-
Froult, and his house, though the usufruct has gone." Mathias counted
his fingers. "Five years! Just five years this month, since his old
aunt, now dead, that excellent Madame de Maulincour, asked for the
hand of that little crocodile of a woman, who has finally ruined him--
as I expected."
And the gouty old gentleman, leaning on his cane, went to walk in the
little garden till his guest should awake. At nine o'clock supper was
served, for Mathias took supper. The old man was not a little
astonished, when Paul joined him, to see that his old client's brow
was calm and his face serene, though noticeably changed. If at the age
of thirty-three the Comte de Manerville seemed to be a man of forty,
that change in his appearance was due solely to mental shocks;
physically, he was well. He clasped the old man's hand affectionately,
and forced him not to rise, saying:--
"Dear, kind Maitre Mathias, you, too, have had your troubles."
"Mine were natural troubles, Monsieur le comte; but yours--"
"We will talk of that presently, while we sup."
"If I had not a son in the magistracy, and a daughter married," said
the good old man, "you would have found in old Mathias, believe me,
Monsieur le comte, something better than mere hospitality. Why have
you come to Bordeaux at the very moment when posters are on all the
walls of the seizure of your farms at Grassol and Guadet, the vineyard
of Belle-Rose and the family mansion? I cannot tell you the grief I
feel at the sight of those placards,--I, who for forty years nursed
that property as if it belonged to me; I, who bought it for your
mother when I was only third clerk to Monsieur Chesnau, my
predecessor, and wrote the deeds myself in my best round hand; I, who
have those titles now in my successor's office; I, who have known you
since you were so high"; and the old man stopped to put his hand near
the ground. "Ah! a man must have been a notary for forty-one years and
a half to know the sort of grief I feel to see my name exposed before
the face of Israel in those announcements of the seizure and sale of
the property. When I pass through the streets and see men reading
these horrible yellow posters, I am ashamed, as if my own honor and
ruin were concerned. Some fools will stand there and read them aloud
expressly to draw other fools about them--and what imbecile remarks
they make! As if a man were not master of his own property! Your
father ran through two fortunes before he made the one he left you;
and you wouldn't be a Manerville if you didn't do likewise. Besides,
seizures of real estate have a whole section of the Code to
themselves; they are expected and provided for; you are in a position
recognized by the law.--If I were not an old man with white hair, I
would thrash those fools I hear reading aloud in the streets such an
abomination as this," added the worthy notary, taking up a paper; "'At
the request of Dame Natalie Evangelista, wife of Paul-Francois-Joseph,
Comte de Manerville, separated from him as to worldly goods and
chattels by the Lower court of the department of the Seine--'"
"Yes, and now separated in body," said Paul.
"Ah!" exclaimed the old man.
"Oh! against my wife's will," added the count, hastily. "I was forced
to deceive her; she did not know that I was leaving her."
"You have left her?"
"My passage is taken; I sail for Calcutta on the 'Belle-Amelie.'"
"Two day's hence!" cried the notary. "Then, Monsieur le comte, we
shall never meet again."
"You are only seventy-three, my dear Mathias, and you have the gout,
the brevet of old age. When I return I shall find you still afoot.
Your good head and heart will be as sound as ever, and you will help
me to reconstruct what is now a shaken edifice. I intend to make a
noble fortune in seven years. I shall be only forty on my return. All
is still possible at that age."
"You?" said Mathias, with a gesture of amazement,--you, Monsieur le
comte, to undertake commerce! How can you even think of it?"
"I am no longer Monsieur le comte, dear Mathias. My passage is taken
under the name of Camille, one of my mother's baptismal names. I have
acquirements which will enable me to make my fortune otherwise than in
business. Commerce, at any rate, will be only my final chance. I start
with a sum in hand sufficient for the redemption of my future on a
"Where is that money?"
"A friend is to send it to me."
The old man dropped his fork as he heard the word "friend," not in
surprise, not scoffingly, but in grief; his look and manner expressed
the pain he felt in finding Paul under the influence of a deceitful
illusion; his practised eye fathomed a gulf where the count saw
nothing but solid ground.
"I have been fifty years in the notariat," he said, "and I never yet
knew a ruined man whose friend would lend him money."
"You don't know de Marsay. I am certain that he has sold out some of
his investments already, and to-morrow you will receive from him a
bill of exchange for one hundred and fifty thousand francs."
"I hope I may. If that be so, cannot your friend settle your
difficulties here? You could live quietly at Lanstrac for five or six
years on your wife's income, and so recover yourself."
"No assignment or economy on my part could pay off fifteen hundred
thousand francs of debt, in which my wife is involved to the amount of
five hundred and fifty thousand."
"You cannot mean to say that in four years you have incurred a million
and a half of debt?"
"Nothing is more certain, Mathias. Did I not give those diamonds to my
wife? Did I not spend the hundred and fifty thousand I received from
the sale of Madame Evangelista's house, in the arrangement of my house
in Paris? Was I not forced to use other money for the first payments
on that property demanded by the marriage contract? I was even forced
to sell out Natalie's forty thousand a year in the Funds to complete
the purchase of Auzac and Saint-Froult. We sold at eighty-seven,
therefore I became in debt for over two hundred thousand francs within
a month after my marriage. That left us only sixty-seven thousand
francs a year; but we spent fully three times as much every year. Add
all that up, together with rates of interest to usurers, and you will
soon find a million."
"Br-r-r!" exclaimed the old notary. "Go on. What next?"
"Well, I wanted, in the first place, to complete for my wife that set
of jewels of which she had the pearl necklace clasped by the family
diamond, the 'Discreto,' and her mother's ear-rings. I paid a hundred
thousand francs for a coronet of diamond wheat-ears. There's eleven
hundred thousand. And now I find I owe the fortune of my wife, which
amounts to three hundred and sixty-six thousand francs of her 'dot.'"
"But," said Mathias, "if Madame la comtesse had given up her diamonds
and you had pledged your income you could have pacified your creditors
and have paid them off in time."
"When a man is down, Mathias, when his property is covered with
mortgages, when his wife's claims take precedence of his creditors',
and when that man has notes out for a hundred thousand francs which he
must pay (and I hope I can do so out of the increased value of my
property here), what you propose is not possible."
"This is dreadful!" cried Mathias; "would you sell Belle-Rose with the
vintage of 1825 still in the cellars?"
"I cannot help myself."
"Belle-Rose is worth six hundred thousand francs."
"Natalie will buy it in; I have advised her to do so."
"I might push the price to seven hundred thousand, and the farms are
worth a hundred thousand each."
"Then if the house in Bordeaux can be sold for two hundred thousand--"
"Solonet will give more than that; he wants it. He is retiring with a
handsome property made by gambling on the Funds. He has sold his
practice for three hundred thousand francs, and marries a mulatto
woman. God knows how she got her money, but they say it amounts to
millions. A notary gambling in stocks! a notary marrying a black
woman! What an age! It is said that he speculates for your mother-in-
law with her funds."
"She has greatly improved Lanstrac and taken great pains with its
cultivation. She has amply repaid me for the use of it."
"I shouldn't have thought her capable of that."
"She is so kind and so devoted; she has always paid Natalie's debts
during the three months she spent with us every year in Paris."
"She could well afford to do so, for she gets her living out of
Lanstrac," said Mathias. "She! grown economical! what a miracle! I am
told she has just bought the domain of Grainrouge between Lanstrac and
Grassol; so that if the Lanstrac avenue were extended to the high-
road, you would drive four and a half miles through your own property
to reach the house. She paid one hundred thousand francs down for
"She is as handsome as ever," said Paul; "country life preserves her
freshness; I don't mean to go to Lanstrac and bid her good-bye; her
heart would bleed for me too much."
"You would go in vain; she is now in Paris. She probably arrived there
as you left."
"No doubt she had heard of the sale of my property and came to help
me. I have no complaint to make of life, Mathias. I am truly loved,--
as much as any man ever could be here below; beloved by two women who
outdo each other in devotion; they are even jealous of each other; the
daughter blames the mother for loving me too much, and the mother
reproaches the daughter for what she calls her dissipations. I may say
that this great affection has been my ruin. How could I fail to
satisfy even the slightest caprice of a loving wife? Impossible to
restrain myself! Neither could I accept any sacrifice on her part. We
might certainly, as you say, live at Lanstrac, save my income, and
part with her diamonds, but I would rather go to India and work for a
fortune than tear my Natalie from the life she enjoys. So it was I who
proposed the separation as to property. Women are angels who ought not
to be mixed up in the sordid interests of life."
Old Mathias listened in doubt and amazement.
"You have no children, I think," he said.
"Fortunately, none," replied Paul.
"That is not my idea of marriage," remarked the old notary, naively.
"A wife ought, in my opinion, to share the good and evil fortunes of
her husband. I have heard that young married people who love like
lovers, do not want children? Is pleasure the only object of marriage?
I say that object should be the joys of family. Moreover, in this case
--I am afraid you will think me too much of notary--your marriage
contract made it incumbent upon you to have a son. Yes, monsieur le
comte, you ought to have had at once a male heir to consolidate that
entail. Why not? Madame Evangelista was strong and healthy; she had
nothing to fear in maternity. You will tell me, perhaps, that these
are the old-fashioned notions of our ancestors. But in those noble
families, Monsieur le comte, the legitimate wife thought it her duty
to bear children and bring them up nobly; as the Duchesse de Sully,
the wife of the great Sully, said, a wife is not an instrument of
pleasure, but the honor and virtue of her household."
"You don't know women, my good Mathias," said Paul. "In order to be
happy we must love them as they want to be loved. Isn't there
something brutal in at once depriving a wife of her charms, and
spoiling her beauty before she has begun to enjoy it?"
"If you had had children your wife would not have dissipated your
fortune; she would have stayed at home and looked after them."
"If you were right, dear friend," said Paul, frowning, "I should be
still more unhappy than I am. Do not aggravate my sufferings by
preaching to me after my fall. Let me go, without the pang of looking
backward to my mistakes."
The next day Mathias received a bill of exchange for one hundred and
fifty thousand francs from de Marsay.
"You see," said Paul, "he does not write a word to me. He begins by
obliging me. Henri's nature is the most imperfectly perfect, the most
illegally beautiful that I know. If you knew with what superiority
that man, still young, can rise above sentiments, above self-
interests, and judge them, you would be astonished, as I am, to find
how much heart he has."
Mathias tried to battle with Paul's determination, but he found it
irrevocable, and it was justified by so many cogent reasons that the
old man finally ceased his endeavors to retain his client.
It is seldom that vessels sail promptly at the time appointed, but on
this occasion, by a fateful circumstance for Paul, the wind was fair
and the "Belle-Amelie" sailed on the morrow, as expected. The quay was
lined with relations, and friends, and idle persons. Among them were
several who had formerly known Manerville. His disaster, posted on the
walls of the town, made him as celebrated as he was in the days of his
wealth and fashion. Curiosity was aroused; every one had their word to
say about him. Old Mathias accompanied his client to the quay, and his
sufferings were sore as he caught a few words of those remarks:--
"Who could recognize in that man you see over there, near old Mathias,
the dandy who was called the Pink of Fashion five years ago, and made,
as they say, 'fair weather and foul' in Bordeaux."
"What! that stout, short man in the alpaca overcoat, who looks like a
groom,--is that Comte Paul de Manerville?"
"Yes, my dear, the same who married Mademoiselle Evangelista. Here he
is, ruined, without a penny to his name, going out to India to look
"But how did he ruin himself? he was very rich."
"Oh! Paris, women, play, luxury, gambling at the Bourse--"
"Besides," said another, "Manerville always was a poor creature; no
mind, soft as papier-mache, he'd let anybody shear the wool from his
back; incapable of anything, no matter what. He was born to be
Paul wrung the hand of the old man and went on board. Mathias stood
upon the pier, looking at his client, who leaned against the shrouds,
defying the crowed before him with a glance of contempt. At the moment
when the sailors began to weigh anchor, Paul noticed that Mathias was
making signals to him with his handkerchief. The old housekeeper had
hurried to her master, who seemed to be excited by some sudden event.
Paul asked the captain to wait a moment, and send a boat to the pier,
which was done. Too feeble himself to go aboard, Mathias gave two
letters to a sailor in the boat.
"My friend," he said, "this packet" (showing one of the two letters)
"is important; it has just arrived by a courier from Paris in thirty-
five hours. State this to Monsieur le comte; don't neglect to do so;
it may change his plans."
"Would he come ashore?"
"Possibly, my friend," said the notary, imprudently.
The sailor is, in all lands, a being of a race apart, holding all
land-folk in contempt. This one happened to be a bas-Breton, who saw
but one thing in Maitre Mathias's request.
"Come ashore, indeed!" he thought, as he rowed. "Make the captain lose
a passenger! If one listened to those walruses we'd have nothing to do
but embark and disembark 'em. He's afraid that son of his will catch
The sailor gave Paul the letter and said not a word of the message.
Recognizing the handwriting of his wife and de Marsay, Paul supposed
that he knew what they both would urge upon him. Anxious not to be
influenced by offers which he believed their devotion to his welfare
would inspire, he put the letters in his pocket unread, with apparent
Absorbed in the sad thoughts which assail the strongest man under such
circumstances, Paul gave way to his grief as he waved his hand to his
old friend, and bade farewell to France, watching the steeples of
Bordeaux as they fled out of sight. He seated himself on a coil of
rope. Night overtook him still lost in thought. With the semi-darkness
of the dying day came doubts; he cast an anxious eye into the future.
Sounding it, and finding there uncertainty and danger, he asked his
soul if courage would fail him. A vague dread seized his mind as he
thought of Natalie left wholly to herself; he repented the step he had
taken; he regretted Paris and his life there. Suddenly sea-sickness
overcame him. Every one knows the effect of that disorder. The most
horrible of its sufferings devoid of danger is a complete dissolution
of the will. An inexplicable distress relaxes to their very centre the
cords of vitality; the soul no longer performs its functions; the
sufferer becomes indifferent to everything; the mother forgets her
child, the lover his mistress, the strongest man lies prone, like an
inert mass. Paul was carried to his cabin, where he stayed three days,
lying on his back, gorged with grog by the sailors, or vomiting;
thinking of nothing, and sleeping much. Then he revived into a species
of convalescence, and returned by degrees to his ordinary condition.
The first morning after he felt better he went on deck and passed the
poop, breathing in the salt breezes of another atmosphere. Putting his
hands into his pockets he felt the letters. At once he opened them,
beginning with that of his wife.
In order that the letter of the Comtesse de Manerville be fully
understood, it is necessary to give the one which Paul had written to
her on the day that he left Paris.
From Paul de Manerville to his wife:
My beloved,--When you read this letter I shall be far away from
you; perhaps already on the vessel which is to take me to India,
where I am going to repair my shattered fortune.
I have not found courage to tell you of my departure. I have
deceived you; but it was best to do so. You would only have been
uselessly distressed; you would have wished to sacrifice your
fortune, and that I could not have suffered. Dear Natalie, feel no
remorse; I have no regrets. When I return with millions I shall
imitate your father and lay them at your feet, as he laid his at
the feet of your mother, saying to you: "All I have is yours."
I love you madly, Natalie; I say this without fear that the
avowal will lead you to strain a power which none but weak men
fear; yours has been boundless from the day I knew you first. My
love is the only accomplice in my disaster. I have felt, as my
ruin progressed, the delirious joys of a gambler; as the money
diminished, so my enjoyment grew. Each fragment of my fortune
turned into some little pleasure for you gave me untold happiness.
I could have wished that you had more caprices that I might
gratify them all. I knew I was marching to a precipice, but I went
on crowned with joys of which a common heart knows nothing. I have
acted like those lovers who take refuge in a cottage on the shores
of some lake for a year or two, resolved to kill themselves at
last; dying thus in all the glory of their illusions and their
love. I have always thought such persons infinitely sensible.
You have known nothing of my pleasures or my sacrifices. The
greatest joy of all was to hide from the one beloved the cost of
her desires. I can reveal these secrets to you now, for when you
hold this paper, heavy with love, I shall be far away. Though I
lose the treasures of your gratitude, I do not suffer that
contraction of the heart which would disable me if I spoke to you
of these matters. Besides, my own beloved, is there not a tender
calculation in thus revealing to you the history of the past? Does
it not extend our love into the future?--But we need no such
supports! We love each other with a love to which proof is
needless,--a love which takes no note of time or distance, but
lives of itself alone.
Ah! Natalie, I have just looked at you asleep, trustful, restful
as a little child, your hand stretched toward me. I left a tear
upon the pillow which has known our precious joys. I leave you
without fear, on the faith of that attitude; I go to win the
future of our love by bringing home to you a fortune large enough
to gratify your every taste, and let no shadow of anxiety disturb
our joys. Neither you nor I can do without enjoyments in the life
we live. To me belongs the task of providing the necessary
fortune. I am a man; and I have courage.
Perhaps you might seek to follow me. For that reason I conceal
from you the name of the vessel, the port from which I sail, and
the day of sailing. After I am gone, when too late to follow me, a
friend will tell you all.
Natalie! my affection is boundless. I love you as a mother loves
her child, as a lover loves his mistress, with absolute
unselfishness. To me the toil, to you the pleasures; to me all
sufferings, to you all happiness. Amuse yourself; continue your
habits of luxury; go to theatres and operas, enjoy society and
balls; I leave you free for all things. Dear angel, when you
return to this nest where for five years we have tasted the fruits
which love has ripened think of your friend; think for a moment of
me, and rest upon my heart.
That is all I ask of you. For myself, dear eternal thought of
mine! whether under burning skies, toiling for both of us, I face
obstacles to vanquish, or whether, weary with the struggle, I rest
my mind on hopes of a return, I shall think of you alone; of you
who are my life,--my blessed life! Yes, I shall live in you. I
shall tell myself daily that you have no troubles, no cares; that
you are happy. As in our natural lives of day and night, of
sleeping and waking, I shall have sunny days in Paris, and nights
of toil in India,--a painful dream, a joyful reality; and I shall
live so utterly in that reality that my actual life will pass as a
dream. I shall have memories! I shall recall, line by line,
strophe by strophe, our glorious five years' poem. I shall
remember the days of your pleasure in some new dress or some
adornment which made you to my eyes a fresh delight. Yes, dear
angel, I go like a man vowed to some great emprize, the guerdon of
which, if success attend him, is the recovery of his beautiful
mistress. Oh! my precious love, my Natalie, keep me as a religion
in your heart. Be the child that I have just seen asleep! If you
betray my confidence, my blind confidence, you need not fear my
anger--be sure of that; I should die silently. But a wife does not
deceive the man who leaves her free--for woman is never base. She
tricks a tyrant; but an easy treachery, which would kill its
victim, she will not commit--No, no! I will not think of it.
Forgive this cry, this single cry, so natural to the heart of man!
Dear love, you will see de Marsay; he is now the lessee of our
house, and he will leave you in possession of it. This nominal
lease was necessary to avoid a useless loss. Our creditors,
ignorant that their payment is a question of time only, would
otherwise have seized the furniture and the temporary possession
of the house. Be kind to de Marsay; I have the most entire
confidence in his capacity and his loyalty. Take him as your
defender and adviser, make him your slave. However occupied, he
will always find time to be devoted to you. I have placed the
liquidation of my affairs and the payment of the debts in his
hands. If he should advance some sum of which he should later feel
in need I rely on you to pay it back. Remember, however, that I do
not leave you to de Marsay, but TO YOURSELF; I do not seek to
impose him upon you.
Alas! I have but an hour more to stay beside you; I cannot spend
that hour in writing business--I count your breaths; I try to
guess your thoughts in the slight motions of your sleep. I would I
could infuse my blood into your veins that you might be a part of
me, my thought your thought, and your heart mine--A murmur has
just escaped your lips as though it were a soft reply. Be calm and
beautiful forever as you are now! Ah! would that I possessed that
fabulous fairy power which, with a wand, could make you sleep
while I am absent, until, returning, I should wake you with a
How much I must love you, how much energy of soul I must possess,
to leave you as I see you now! Adieu, my cherished one. Your poor
Pink of Fashion is blown away by stormy winds, but--the wings of
his good luck shall waft him back to you. No, my Ninie, I am not
bidding you farewell, for I shall never leave you. Are you not the
soul of my actions? Is not the hope of returning with happiness
indestructible for YOU the end and aim of my endeavor? Does it not
lead my every step? You will be with me everywhere. Ah! it will
not be the sun of India, but the fire of your eyes that lights my
way. Therefore be happy--as happy as a woman can be without her
lover. I would the last kiss that I take from those dear lips were
not a passive one; but, my Ninie, my adored one, I will not wake
you. When you wake, you will find a tear upon your forehead--make
it a talisman! Think, think of him who may, perhaps, die for you,
far from you; think less of the husband than of the lover who
confides you to God.
From the Comtesse de Manerville to her husband:
Dear, beloved one,--Your letter has plunged me into affliction.
Had you the right to take this course, which must affect us
equally, without consulting me? Are you free? Do you not belong to
me? If you must go, why should I not follow you? You show me,
Paul, that I am not indispensable to you. What have I done, to be
deprived of my rights? Surely I count for something in this ruin.
My luxuries have weighed somewhat in the scale. You make me curse
the happy, careless life we have led for the last five years. To
know that you are banished from France for years is enough to kill
me. How soon can a fortune be made in India? Will you ever return?
I was right when I refused, with instinctive obstinacy, that
separation as to property which my mother and you were so
determined to carry out. What did I tell you then? Did I not warn
you that it was casting a reflection upon you, and would ruin your
credit? It was not until you were really angry that I gave way.
My dear Paul, never have you been so noble in my eyes as you are
at this moment. To despair of nothing, to start courageously to
seek a fortune! Only your character, your strength of mind could
do it. I sit at your feet. A man who avows his weakness with your
good faith, who rebuilds his fortune from the same motive that
made him wreck it, for love's sake, for the sake of an
irresistible passion, oh, Paul, that man is sublime! Therefore,
fear nothing; go on, through all obstacles, not doubting your
Natalie--for that would be doubting yourself. Poor darling, you
mean to live in me? And I shall ever be in you. I shall not be
here; I shall be wherever you are, wherever you go.
Though your letter has caused me the keenest pain, it has also
filled me with joy--you have made me know those two extremes!
Seeing how you love me, I have been proud to learn that my love is
truly felt. Sometimes I have thought that I loved you more than
you loved me. Now, I admit myself vanquished, you have added the
delightful superiority--of loving--to all the others with which
you are blest. That precious letter in which your soul reveals
itself will lie upon my heart during all your absence; for my
soul, too, is in it; that letter is my glory.
I shall go to live at Lanstrac with my mother. I die to the world;
I will economize my income and pay your debts to their last
farthing. From this day forth, Paul, I am another woman. I bid
farewell forever to society; I will have no pleasures that you
cannot share. Besides, Paul, I ought to leave Paris and live in
retirement. Dear friend, you will soon have a noble reason to make
your fortune. If your courage needed a spur you would find it in
this. Cannot you guess? We shall have a child. Your cherished
desires are granted. I feared to give you one of those false hopes
which hurt so much--have we not had grief enough already on that
score? I was determined not to be mistaken in this good news.
To-day I feel certain, and it makes me happy to shed this joy upon
This morning, fearing nothing and thinking you still at home, I
went to the Assumption; all things smiled upon me; how could I
foresee misfortune? As I left the church I met my mother; she had
heard of your distress, and came, by post, with all her savings,
thirty thousand francs, hoping to help you. Ah! what a heart is
hers, Paul! I felt joyful, and hurried home to tell you this good
news, and to breakfast with you in the greenhouse, where I ordered
just the dainties that you like. Well, Augustine brought me your
letter,--a letter from you, when we had slept together! A cold
fear seized me; it was like a dream! I read your letter! I read it
weeping, and my mother shared my tears. I was half-dead. Such
love, such courage, such happiness, such misery! The richest
fortunes of the heart, and the momentary ruin of all interests! To
lose you at a moment when my admiration of your greatness thrilled
me! what woman could have resisted such a tempest of emotion? To
know you far away when your hand upon my heart would have stilled
its throbbings; to feel that YOU were not here to give me that
look so precious to me, to rejoice in our new hopes; that I was
not with you to soften your sorrows by those caresses which made
your Natalie so dear to you! I wished to start, to follow you, to
fly to you. But my mother told me you had taken passage in a ship
which leaves Bordeaux to-morrow, that I could not reach you except
by post, and, moreover, that it was madness in my present state to
risk our future by attempting to follow you. I could not bear such
violent emotions; I was taken ill, and am writing to you now in
My mother is doing all she can to stop certain calumnies which
seem to have got about on your disaster. The Vandenesses, Charles
and Felix, have earnestly defended you; but your friend de Marsay
treats the affair satirically. He laughs at your accusers instead
of replying to them. I do not like his way of lightly brushing
aside such serious attacks. Are you not deceived in him? However,
I will obey you; I will make him my friend. Do not be anxious, my
adored one, on the points that concern your honor; is it not mine
as well? My diamonds shall be pledged; we intend, mamma and I, to
employ our utmost resources in the payment of your debts; and we
shall try to buy back your vineyard at Belle-Rose. My mother, who
understands business like a lawyer, blames you very much for not
having told her of your embarrassments. She would not have bought
--thinking to please you--the Grainrouge domain, and then she
could have lent you that money as well as the thirty thousand
francs she brought with her. She is in despair at your decision;
she fears the climate of India for your health. She entreats you
to be sober, and not to let yourself be trapped by women--That
made me laugh; I am as sure of you as I am of myself. You will
return to me rich and faithful. I alone know your feminine
delicacy, and the secret sentiments which make you a human flower
worthy of the gardens of heaven. The Bordeaux people were right
when they gave you your floral nickname.
But alas! who will take care of my delicate flower? My heart is
rent with dreadful ideas. I, his wife, Natalie, I am here, and
perhaps he suffers far away from me! And not to share your pains,
your vexations, your dangers! In whom will you confide? how will
you live without that ear into which you have hitherto poured all?
Dear, sensitive plant, swept away by this storm, will you be able
to survive in another soil than your native land?
It seems to me that I have been alone for centuries. I have wept
sorely. To be the cause of your ruin! What a text for the thoughts
of a loving woman! You treated me like a child to whom we give all
it asks, or like a courtesan, allowed by some thoughtless youth to
squander his fortune. Ah! such indulgence was, in truth, an
insult. Did you think I could not live without fine dresses, balls
and operas and social triumphs? Am I so frivolous a woman? Do you
think me incapable of serious thought, of ministering to your
fortune as I have to your pleasures? If you were not so far away,
and so unhappy, I would blame you for that impertinence. Why lower
your wife in that way? Good heavens! what induced me to go into
society at all?--to flatter your vanity; I adorned myself for you,
as you well know. If I did wrong, I am punished, cruelly; your
absence is a harsh expiation of our mutual life.
Perhaps my happiness was too complete; it had to be paid by some
great trial--and here it is. There is nothing now for me but
solitude. Yes, I shall live at Lanstrac, the place your father
laid out, the house you yourself refurnished so luxuriously. There
I shall live, with my mother and my child, and await you,--sending
you daily, night and morning, the prayers of all. Remember that
our love is a talisman against all evil. I have no more doubt of
you than you can have of me. What comfort can I put into this
letter,--I so desolate, so broken, with the lonely years before
me, like a desert to cross. But no! I am not utterly unhappy; the
desert will be brightened by our son,--yes, it must be a SON, must
And now, adieu, my own beloved; our love and prayers will follow
you. The tears you see upon this paper will tell you much that I
cannot write. I kiss you on this little square of paper, see!
below. Take those kisses from
This letter threw Paul into a reverie caused as much by memories of
the past as by these fresh assurances of love. The happier a man is,
the more he trembles. In souls which are exclusively tender--and
exclusive tenderness carries with it a certain amount of weakness--
jealousy and uneasiness exist in direct proportion to the amount of
the happiness and its extent. Strong souls are neither jealous nor
fearful; jealousy is doubt, fear is meanness. Unlimited belief is the
principal attribute of a great man. If he is deceived (for strength as
well as weakness may make a man a dupe) his contempt will serve him as
an axe with which to cut through all. This greatness, however, is the
exception. Which of us has not known what it is to be abandoned by the
spirit which sustains our frail machine, and to hearken to that
mysterious Voice denying all? Paul, his mind going over the past, and
caught here and there by irrefutable facts, believed and doubted all.
Lost in thought, a prey to an awful and involuntary incredulity, which
was combated by the instincts of his own pure love and his faith in
Natalie, he read and re-read that wordy letter, unable to decide the
question which it raised either for or against his wife. Love is
sometimes as great and true when smothered in words as it is in brief,
To understand the situation into which Paul de Manerville was about to
enter we must think of him as he was at this moment, floating upon the
ocean as he floated upon his past, looking back upon the years of his
life as he looked at the limitless water and cloudless sky about him,
and ending his reverie by returning, through tumults of doubt, to
faith, the pure, unalloyed and perfect faith of the Christian and the
lover, which enforced the voice of his faithful heart.
It is necessary to give here his own letter to de Marsay written on
leaving Paris, to which his friend replied in the letter he received
through old Mathias from the dock:--
From Comte Paul de Manerville to Monsieur le Marquis Henri de
Henri,--I have to say to you one of the most vital words a man can
say to his friend:--I am ruined. When you read this I shall be on
the point of sailing from Bordeaux to Calcutta on the brig "Belle-
You will find in the hands of your notary a deed which only needs
your signature to be legal. In it, I lease my house to you for six
years at a nominal rent. Send a duplicate of that deed to my wife.
I am forced to take this precaution that Natalie may continue to
live in her own home without fear of being driven out by
I also convey to you by deed the income of my share of the
entailed property for four years; the whole amounting to one
hundred and fifty thousand francs, which sum I beg you to lend me
and to send in a bill of exchange on some house in Bordeaux to my
notary, Maitre Mathias. My wife will give you her signature to
this paper as an endorsement of your claim to my income. If the
revenues of the entail do not pay this loan as quickly as I now
expect, you and I will settle on my return. The sum I ask for is
absolutely necessary to enable me to seek my fortune in India; and
if I know you, I shall receive it in Bordeaux the night before I
I have acted as you would have acted in my place. I held firm to
the last moment, letting no one suspect my ruin. Before the news
of the seizure of my property at Bordeaux reached Paris, I had
attempted, with one hundred thousand francs which I obtained on
notes, to recover myself by play. Some lucky stroke might still
have saved me. I lost.
How have I ruined myself? By my own will, Henri. From the first
month of my married life I saw that I could not keep up the style
in which I started. I knew the result; but I chose to shut my
eyes; I could not say to my wife, "We must leave Paris and live at
Lanstrac." I have ruined myself for her as men ruin themselves for
a mistress, but I knew it all along. Between ourselves, I am
neither a fool nor a weak man. A fool does not let himself be
ruled with his eyes open by a passion; and a man who starts for
India to reconstruct his fortune, instead of blowing out his
brains, is not weak.
I shall return rich, or I shall never return at all. Only, my dear
friend, as I want wealth solely for HER, as I must be absent six
years at least, and as I will not risk being duped in any way, I
confide to you my wife. I know no better guardian. Being
childless, a lover might be dangerous to her. Henri! I love her
madly, basely, without proper pride. I would forgive her, I think,
an infidelity, not because I am certain of avenging it, but
because I would kill myself to leave her free and happy--since I
could not make her happiness myself. But what have I to fear?
Natalie feels for me that friendship which is independent of love,
but which preserves love. I have treated her like a petted child.
I took such delight in my sacrifices, one led so naturally to
another, that she can never be false; she would be a monster if
she were. Love begets love.
Alas! shall I tell you all, my dear Henri? I have just written her
a letter in which I let her think that I go with heart of hope and
brow serene; that neither jealousy, nor doubt, nor fear is in my
soul,--a letter, in short, such as a son might write to his
mother, aware that he is going to his death. Good God! de Marsay,
as I wrote it hell was in my soul! I am the most wretched man on
earth. Yes, yes, to you the cries, to you the grinding of my
teeth! I avow myself to you a despairing lover; I would rather
live these six years sweeping the streets beneath her windows than
return a millionaire at the end of them--if I could choose. I
suffer agony; I shall pass from pain to pain until I hear from you
that you will take the trust which you alone can fulfil or
Oh! my dear de Marsay, this woman is indispensable to my life; she
is my sun, my atmosphere. Take her under your shield and buckler,
keep her faithful to me, even if she wills it not. Yes, I could be
satisfied with a half-happiness. Be her guardian, her chaperon,
for I could have no distrust of you. Prove to her that in
betraying me she would do a low and vulgar thing, and be no better
than the common run of women; tell her that faithfulness will
prove her lofty spirit.
She probably has fortune enough to continue her life of luxury and
ease. But if she lacks a pleasure, if she has caprices which she
cannot satisfy, be her banker, and do not fear, I WILL return with
But, after all, these fears are in vain! Natalie is an angel of
purity and virtue. When Felix de Vandenesse fell deeply in love
with her and began to show her certain attentions, I had only to
let her see the danger, and she instantly thanked me so
affectionately that I was moved to tears. She said that her
dignity and reputation demanded that she should not close her
doors abruptly to any man, but that she knew well how to dismiss
him. She did, in fact, receive him so coldly that the affair all
ended for the best. We have never had any other subject of dispute
--if, indeed, a friendly talk could be called a dispute--in all
our married life.
And now, my dear Henri, I bid you farewell in the spirit of a man.
Misfortune has come. No matter what the cause, it is here. I strip
to meet it. Poverty and Natalie are two irreconcilable terms. The
balance may be close between my assets and my liabilities, but no
one shall have cause to complain of me. But, should any unforeseen
event occur to imperil my honor, I count on you.
Send letters under cover to the Governor of India at Calcutta. I
have friendly relations with his family, and some one there will
care for all letters that come to me from Europe. Dear friend, I
hope to find you the same de Marsay on my return,--the man who
scoffs at everything and yet is receptive of the feelings of
others when they accord with the grandeur he is conscious of in
himself. You stay in Paris, friend; but when you read these words,
I shall be crying out, "To Carthage!"
The Marquis Henri de Marsay to Comte Paul de Manerville:
So, so, Monsieur le comte, you have made a wreck of it! Monsieur
l'ambassadeur has gone to the bottom! Are these the fine things
that you were doing?
Why, Paul, why have you kept away from me? If you had said a
single word, my poor old fellow, I would have made your position
plain to you. Your wife has refused me her endorsement. May that
one word unseal your eyes! But, if that does not suffice, learn
that your notes have been protested at the instigation of a Sieur
Lecuyer, formerly head-clerk to Maitre Solonet, a notary in
Bordeaux. That usurer in embryo (who came from Gascony for
jobbery) is the proxy of your very honorable mother-in-law, who is
the actual holder of your notes for one hundred thousand francs,
on which I am told that worthy woman doled out to you only seventy
thousand. Compared with Madame Evangelista, papa Gobseck is
flannel, velvet, vanilla cream, a sleeping draught. Your vineyard
of Belle-Rose is to fall into the clutches of your wife, to whom
her mother pays the difference between the price it goes for at
the auction sale and the amount of her dower claim upon it. Madame
Evangelista will also have the farms at Guadet and Grassol, and
the mortgages on your house in Bordeaux already belong to her, in
the names of straw men provided by Solonet.
Thus these two excellent women will make for themselves a united
income of one hundred and twenty thousand francs a year out of
your misfortunes and forced sale of property, added to the revenue
of some thirty-odd thousand on the Grand-livre which these cats
The endorsement of your wife was not needed; for this morning the
said Sieur Lecuyer came to offer me a return of the sum I had lent
you in exchange for a legal transfer of my rights. The vintage of
1825 which your mother-in-law keeps in the cellars at Lanstrac
will suffice to pay me.
These two women have calculated, evidently, that you are now upon
the ocean; but I send this letter by courier, so that you may have
time to follow the advice I now give you.
I made Lecuyer talk. I disentangled from his lies, his language,
and his reticence, the threads I lacked to bring to light the
whole plot of the domestic conspiracy hatched against you. This
evening, at the Spanish embassy, I shall offer my admiring
compliments to your mother-in-law and your wife. I shall pay
court to Madame Evangelista; I intend to desert you basely, and
say sly things to your discredit,--nothing openly, or that
Mascarille in petticoats would detect my purpose. How did you make
her such an enemy? That is what I want to know. If you had had the
wit to be in love with that woman before you married her daughter,
you would to-day be peer of France, Duc de Manerville, and,
possibly, ambassador to Madrid.
If you had come to me at the time of your marriage, I would have
helped you to analyze and know the women to whom you were binding
yourself; out of our mutual observations safety might have been
yours. But, instead of that, these women judged me, became afraid
of me, and separated us. If you had not stupidly given in to them
and turned me the cold shoulder, they would never have been able
to ruin you. Your wife brought on the coldness between us,
instigated by her mother, to whom she wrote two letters a week,--a
fact to which you paid no attention. I recognized my Paul when I
heard that detail.
Within a month I shall be so intimate with your mother-in-law that
I shall hear from her the reasons of the hispano-italiano hatred
which she feels for you,--for you, one of the best and kindest men
on earth! Did she hate you before her daughter fell in love with
Felix de Vandenesse; that's a question in my mind. If I had not
taken a fancy to go to the East with Montriveau, Ronquerolles, and
a few other good fellows of your acquaintance, I should have been
in a position to tell you something about that affair, which was
beginning just as I left Paris. I saw the first gleams even then
of your misfortune. But what gentleman is base enough to open such
a subject unless appealed to? Who shall dare to injure a woman, or
break that illusive mirror in which his friend delights in gazing
at the fairy scenes of a happy marriage? Illusions are the riches
of the heart.
Your wife, dear friend, is, I believe I may say, in the fullest
application of the word, a fashionable woman. She thinks of
nothing but her social success, her dress, her pleasures; she goes
to opera and theatre and balls; she rises late and drives to the
Bois, dines out, or gives a dinner-party. Such a life seems to me
for women very much what war is for men; the public sees only the
victors; it forgets the dead. Many delicate women perish in this
conflict; those who come out of it have iron constitutions,
consequently no heart, but good stomachs. There lies the reason of
the cold insensibility of social life. Fine souls keep themselves
reserved, weak and tender natures succumb; the rest are
cobblestones which hold the social organ in its place, water-worn
and rounded by the tide, but never worn-out. Your wife has
maintained that life with ease; she looks made for it; she is
always fresh and beautiful. To my mind the deduction is plain,--
she has never loved you; and you have loved her like a madman.
To strike out love from that siliceous nature a man of iron was
needed. After standing, but without enduring, the shock of Lady
Dudley, Felix was the fitting mate to Natalie. There is no great
merit in divining that to you she was indifferent. In love with
her yourself, you have been incapable of perceiving the cold
nature of a young woman whom you have fashioned and trained for a
man like Vandenesse. The coldness of your wife, if you perceived
it, you set down, with the stupid jurisprudence of married people,
to the honor of her reserve and her innocence. Like all husbands,
you thought you could keep her virtuous in a society where women
whisper from ear to ear that which men are afraid to say.
No, your wife has liked the social benefits she derived from
marriage, but the private burdens of it she found rather heavy.
Those burdens, that tax was--you! Seeing nothing of all this, you
have gone on digging your abysses (to use the hackneyed words of
rhetoric) and covering them with flowers. You have mildly obeyed
the law which rules the ruck of men; from which I desired to
protect you. Dear fellow! only one thing was wanting to make you
as dull as the bourgeois deceived by his wife, who is all
astonishment or wrath, and that is that you should talk to me of
your sacrifices, your love for Natalie, and chant that psalm:
"Ungrateful would she be if she betrayed me; I have done this, I
have done that, and more will I do; I will go to the ends of the
earth, to the Indies for her sake. I--I--" etc. My dear Paul, have
you never lived in Paris, have you never had the honor of
belonging by ties of friendship to Henri de Marsay, that you
should be so ignorant of the commonest things, the primitive
principles that move the feminine mechanism, the a-b-c of their
hearts? Then hear me:--
Suppose you exterminate yourself, suppose you go to Saint-Pelagie
for a woman's debts, suppose you kill a score of men, desert a
dozen women, serve like Laban, cross the deserts, skirt the
galleys, cover yourself with glory, cover yourself with shame,
refuse, like Nelson, to fight a battle until you have kissed the
shoulder of Lady Hamilton, dash yourself, like Bonaparte, upon the
bridge at Arcola, go mad like Roland, risk your life to dance five
minutes with a woman--my dear fellow, what have all those things
to do with LOVE? If love were won by samples such as those mankind
would be too happy. A spurt of prowess at the moment of desire
would give a man the woman that he wanted. But love, LOVE, my good
Paul, is a faith like that in the Immaculate conception of the
Holy Virgin; it comes, or it does not come. Will the mines of
Potosi, or the shedding of our blood, or the making of our fame
serve to waken an involuntary, an inexplicable sentiment? Young
men like you, who expect to be loved as the balance of your
account, are nothing else than usurers. Our legitimate wives owe
us virtue and children, but they don't owe us love.
Love, my dear Paul, is the sense of pleasure given and received,
and the certainty of giving and receiving it; love is a desire
incessantly moving and growing, incessantly satisfied and
insatiable. The day when Vandenesse stirred the cord of a desire
in your wife's heart which you had left untouched, all your self-
satisfied affection, your gifts, your deeds, your money, ceased to
be even memories; one emotion of love in your wife's heart has
cast out the treasures of your own passion, which are now nothing
better than old iron. Felix has the virtues and the beauties in
her eyes, and the simple moral is that blinded by your own love
you never made her love you.
Your mother-in-law is on the side of the lover against the
husband,--secretly or not; she may have closed her eyes, or she
may have opened them; I know not what she has done--but one thing
is certain, she is for her daughter, and against you. During the
fifteen years that I have observed society, I have never yet seen
a mother who, under such circumstances, abandons her daughter.
This indulgence seems to be an inheritance transmitted in the
female line. What man can blame it? Some copyist of the Civil
code, perhaps, who sees formulas only in the place of feelings.
As for your present position, the dissipation into which the life
of a fashionable woman cast you, and your own easy nature,
possibly your vanity, have opened the way for your wife and her
mother to get rid of you by this ruin so skilfully contrived. From
all of which you will conclude, my good friend, that the mission
you entrusted to me, and which I would all the more faithfully
fulfil because it amused me, is, necessarily, null and void. The
evil you wish me to prevent is accomplished,--"consummatum est."
Forgive me, dear friend, if I write to you, as you say, a la de
Marsay on subjects which must seem to you very serious. Far be it
from me to dance upon the grave of a friend, like heirs upon that
of a progenitor. But you have written to me that you mean to act
the part of a man, and I believe you; I therefore treat you as a
man of the world, and not as a lover. For you, this blow ought to
be like the brand on the shoulder of a galley-slave, which flings
him forever into a life of systematic opposition to society. You
are now freed of one evil; marriage possessed you; it now behooves
you to turn round and possess marriage.
Paul, I am your friend in the fullest acceptation of the word. If
you had a brain in an iron skull, if you had the energy which has
come to you too late, I would have proved my friendship by telling
you things that would have made you walk upon humanity as upon a
carpet. But when I did talk to you guardedly of Parisian
civilization, when I told you in the disguise of fiction some of
the actual adventures of my youth, you regarded them as mere
romance and would not see their bearing. When I told you that
history of a lawyer at the galleys branded for forgery, who
committed the crime to give his wife, adored like yours, an income
of thirty thousand francs, and whom his wife denounced that she
might be rid of him and free to love another man, you exclaimed,
and other fools who were supping with us exclaimed against me.
Well, my dear Paul, you were that lawyer, less the galleys.
Your friends here are not sparing you. The sister of the two
Vandenesses, the Marquise de Listomere and all her set, in which,
by the bye, that little Rastignac has enrolled himself,--the scamp
will make his way!--Madame d'Aiglemont and her salon, the
Lenoncourts, the Comtesse Ferraud, Madame d'Espard, the Nucingens,
the Spanish ambassador, in short, all the cliques in society are
flinging mud upon you. You are a bad man, a gambler, a dissipated
fellow who has squandered his property. After paying your debts a
great many times, your wife, an angel of virtue, has just redeemed
your notes for one hundred thousand francs, although her property
was separate from yours. Luckily, you had done the best you could
do by disappearing. If you had stayed here you would have made her
bed in the straw; the poor woman would have been the victim of her
When a man attains to power, my dear Paul, he has all the virtues
of an epitaph; let him fall into poverty, and he has more sins
than the Prodigal Son; society at the present moment gives you the
vices of a Don Juan. You gambled at the Bourse, you had licentious
tastes which cost you fabulous sums of money to gratify; you paid
enormous interests to money-lenders. The two Vandenesses have told
everywhere how Gigonnet gave you for six thousand francs an ivory
frigate, and made your valet buy it back for three hundred in
order to sell it to you again. The incident did really happen to
Maxime de Trailles about nine years ago; but it fits your present
circumstances so well that Maxime has forever lost the command of
In short, I can't tell you one-half that is said; you have
supplied a whole encyclopaedia of gossip which the women have an
interest in swelling. Your wife is having an immense success. Last
evening at the opera Madame Firmiani began to repeat to me some of
the things that are being said. "Don't talk of that," I replied.
"You know nothing of the real truth, you people. Paul has robbed
the Bank, cheated the Treasury, murdered Ezzelin and three Medoras
in the rue Saint-Denis, and I think, between ourselves, that he is
a member of the Dix-Mille. His associate is the famous Jacques
Collin, on whom the police have been unable to lay a hand since he
escaped from the galleys. Paul gave him a room in his house; you
see he is capable of anything; in fact, the two have gone off to
India together to rob the Great Mogul." Madame Firmiani, like the
distinguished woman that she is, saw that she ought not to convert
her beautiful lips into a mouthpiece for false denunciation.
Many persons, when they hear of these tragi-comedies of life,
refuse to believe them. They take the side of human nature and
fine sentiments; they declare that these things do not exist. But
Talleyrand said a fine thing, my dear fellow: "All things happen."
Truly, things happen under our very noses which are more amazing
than this domestic plot of yours; but society has an interest in
denying them, and in declaring itself calumniated. Often these
dramas are played so naturally and with such a varnish of good
taste that even I have to rub the lens of my opera-glass to see to
the bottom of them. But, I repeat to you, when a man is a friend
of mine, when we have received together the baptism of champagne
and have knelt together before the altar of the Venus Commodus,
when the crooked fingers of play have given us their benediction,
if that man finds himself in a false position I'd ruin a score of
families to do him justice.
You must be aware from all this that I love you. Have I ever in my
life written a letter as long as this? No. Therefore, read with
attention what I still have to say.
Alas! Paul, I shall be forced to take to writing, for I am taking
to politics. I am going into public life. I intend to have, within
five years, the portfolio of a ministry or some embassy. There
comes an age when the only mistress a man can serve is his
country. I enter the ranks of those who intend to upset not only
the ministry, but the whole present system of government. In
short, I swim in the waters of a certain prince who is lame of the
foot only,--a man whom I regard as a statesman of genius whose
name will go down to posterity; a prince as complete in his way as
a great artist may be in his.
Several of us, Ronquerolles, Montriveau, the Grandlieus, La Roche-
Hugon, Serisy, Feraud, and Granville, have allied ourselves
against the "parti-pretre," as the party-ninny represented by the
"Constitutionnel" has ingeniously said. We intend to overturn the
Navarreins, Lenoncourts, Vandenesses, and the Grand Almonry. In
order to succeed we shall even ally ourselves with Lafayette, the
Orleanists, and the Left,--people whom we can throttle on the
morrow of victory, for no government in the world is possible with
their principles. We are capable of anything for the good of the
country--and our own.
Personal questions as to the King's person are mere sentimental
folly in these days; they must be cleared away. From that point of
view, the English with their sort of Doge, are more advanced than
we are. Politics have nothing to do with that, my dear fellow.
Politics consist in giving the nation an impetus by creating an
oligarchy embodying a fixed theory of government, and able to
direct public affairs along a straight path, instead of allowing
the country to be pulled in a thousand different directions, which
is what has been happening for the last forty years in our
beautiful France--at once so intelligent and so sottish, so wise
and so foolish; it needs a system, indeed, much more than men.
What are individuals in this great question? If the end is a great
one, if the country may live happy and free from trouble, what do
the masses care for the profits of our stewardship, our fortune,
privileges, and pleasures?
I am now standing firm on my feet. I have at the present moment a
hundred and fifty thousand francs a year in the Three per Cents,
and a reserve of two hundred thousand francs to repair damages.
Even this does not seem to me very much ballast in the pocket of a
man starting left foot foremost to scale the heights of power.
A fortunate accident settled the question of my setting out on
this career, which did not particularly smile on me, for you know
my predilection for the life of the East. After thirty-five years
of slumber, my highly-respected mother woke up to the recollection
that she had a son who might do her honor. Often when a vine-stock
is eradicated, some years after shoots come up to the surface of
the ground; well, my dear boy, my mother had almost torn me up by
the roots from her heart, and I sprouted again in her head. At the
age of fifty-eight, she thinks herself old enough to think no more
of any men but her son. At this juncture she has met in some hot-
water cauldron, at I know not what baths, a delightful old maid--
English, with two hundred and forty thousand francs a year; and,
like a good mother, she has inspired her with an audacious
ambition to become my wife. A maid of six-and-thirty, my word!
Brought up in the strictest puritanical principles, a steady
sitting hen, who maintains that unfaithful wives should be
publicly burnt. 'Where will you find wood enough?' I asked her. I
could have sent her to the devil, for two hundred and forty
thousand francs a year are no equivalent for liberty, nor a fair
price for my physical and moral worth and my prospects. But she is
the sole heiress of a gouty old fellow, some London brewer, who
within a calculable time will leave her a fortune equal at least
to what the sweet creature has already. Added to these advantages,
she has a red nose, the eyes of a dead goat, a waist that makes
one fear lest she should break into three pieces if she falls
down, and the coloring of a badly painted doll. But--she is
delightfully economical; but--she will adore her husband, do what
he will; but--she has the English gift; she will manage my house,
my stables, my servants, my estates better than any steward. She
has all the dignity of virtue; she holds herself as erect as a
confidante on the stage of the Francais; nothing will persuade me
that she has not been impaled and the shaft broken off in her
body. Miss Stevens is, however, fair enough to be not too
unpleasing if I must positively marry her. But--and this to me is
truly pathetic--she has the hands of a woman as immaculate as the
sacred ark; they are so red that I have not yet hit on any way to
whiten them that will not be too costly, and I have no idea how to
fine down her fingers, which are like sausages. Yes; she evidently
belongs to the brew-house by her hands, and to the aristocracy by
her money; but she is apt to affect the great lady a little too
much, as rich English women do who want to be mistaken for them,
and she displays her lobster's claws too freely.
She has, however, as little intelligence as I could wish in a
woman. If there were a stupider one to be found, I would set out
to seek her. This girl, whose name is Dinah, will never criticise
me; she will never contradict me; I shall be her Upper Chamber,
her Lords and Commons. In short, Paul, she is indefeasible
evidence of the English genius; she is a product of English
mechanics brought to their highest pitch of perfection; she was
undoubtedly made at Manchester, between the manufactory of Perry's
pens and the workshops for steam-engines. It eats, it drinks, it
walks, it may have children, take good care of them, and bring
them up admirably, and it apes a woman so well that you would
believe it real.
When my mother introduced us, she had set up the machine so
cleverly, had so carefully fitted the pegs, and oiled the wheels
so thoroughly, that nothing jarred; then, when she saw I did not
make a very wry face, she set the springs in motion, and the woman
spoke. Finally, my mother uttered the decisive words, "Miss Dinah
Stevens spends no more than thirty thousand francs a year, and has
been traveling for seven years in order to economize."--So there
is another image, and that one is silver.
Matters are so far advanced that the banns are to be published. We
have got as far as "My dear love." Miss makes eyes at me that
might floor a porter. The settlements are prepared. My fortune is
not inquired into; Miss Stevens devotes a portion of hers to
creating an entail in landed estate, bearing an income of two
hundred and forty thousand francs, and to the purchase of a house,
likewise entailed. The settlement credited to me is of a million
francs. She has nothing to complain of. I leave her uncle's money
The worthy brewer, who has helped to found the entail, was near
bursting with joy when he heard that his niece was to be a
marquise. He would be capable of doing something handsome for my
I shall sell out of the funds as soon as they are up to eighty,
and invest in land. Thus, in two years I may look to get six
hundred thousand francs a year out of real estate. So, you see,
Paul, I do not give my friends advice that I am not ready to act
If you had but listened to me, you would have an English wife,
some Nabob's daughter, who would leave you the freedom of a
bachelor and the independence necessary for playing the whist of
ambition. I would concede my future wife to you if you were not
married already. But that cannot be helped, and I am not the man
to bid you chew the cud of the past.
All this preamble was needful to explain to you that for the
future my position in life will be such as a man needs if he wants
to play the great game of pitch-and-toss. I cannot do without you,
my friend. Now, then, my dear Paul, instead of setting sail for
India you would do a much wiser thing to navigate with me the
waters of the Seine. Believe me, Paris is still the place where
fortune, abundant fortune, can be won. Potosi is in the rue
Vivienne, the rue de la Paix, the Place Vendome, the rue de
Rivoli. In all other places and countries material works and
labors, marches and counter-marches, and sweatings of the brow are
necessary to the building up of fortune; but in Paris THOUGHT
suffices. Here, every man even mentally mediocre, can see a mine
of wealth as he puts on his slippers, or picks his teeth after
dinner, in his down-sitting and his up-rising. Find me another
place on the globe where a good round stupid idea brings in more
money, or is sooner understood than it is here.
If I reach the top of the ladder, as I shall, am I the man to
refuse you a helping hand, an influence, a signature? We shall
want, we young roues, a faithful friend on whom to count, if only
to compromise him and make him a scape-goat, or send him to die
like a common soldier to save his general. Government is
impossible without a man of honor at one's side, in whom to
confide and with whom we can do and say everything.
Here is what I propose. Let the "Belle-Amelie" sail without you;
come back here like a thunderbolt; I'll arrange a duel for you
with Vandenesse in which you shall have the first shot, and you
can wing him like a pigeon. In France the husband who shoots his
rival becomes at once respectable and respected. No one ever
cavils at him again. Fear, my dear fellow, is a valuable social
element, a means of success for those who lower their eyes before
the gaze of no man living. I who care as little to live as to
drink a glass of milk, and who have never felt the emotion of
fear, I have remarked the strange effects produced by that
sentiment upon our modern manners. Some men tremble to lose the
enjoyments to which they are attached, others dread to leave a
woman. The old adventurous habits of other days when life was
flung away like a garment exist no longer. The bravery of a great
many men is nothing more than a clever calculation on the fear of
their adversary. The Poles are the only men in Europe who fight
for the pleasure of fighting; they cultivate the art for the art's
sake, and not for speculation.
Now hear me: kill Vandenesse, and your wife trembles, your mother-
in-law trembles, the public trembles, and you recover your
position, you prove your grand passion for your wife, you subdue
society, you subdue your wife, you become a hero. Such is France.
As for your embarrassments, I hold a hundred thousand francs for
you; you can pay your principal debts, and sell what property you
have left with a power of redemption, for you will soon obtain an
office which will enable you by degrees to pay off your creditors.
Then, as for your wife, once enlightened as to her character you
can rule her. When you loved her you had no power to manage her;
not loving her, you will have an unconquerable force. I will
undertake, myself, to make your mother-in-law as supple as a
glove; for you must recover the use of the hundred and fifty
thousand francs a year those two women have squeezed out of you.
Therefore, I say, renounce this expatriation which seems to me no
better than a pan of charcoal or a pistol to your head. To go away
is to justify all calumnies. The gambler who leaves the table to
get his money loses it when he returns; we must have our gold in
our pockets. Let us now, you and I, be two gamblers on the green
baize of politics; between us loans are in order. Therefore take
post-horses, come back instantly, and renew the game. You'll win
it with Henri de Marsay for your partner, for Henri de Marsay
knows how to will, and how to strike.
See how we stand politically. My father is in the British
ministry; we shall have close relations with Spain through the
Evangelistas, for, as soon as your mother-in-law and I have
measured claws she will find there is nothing to gain by fighting
the devil. Montriveau is our lieutenant-general; he will certainly
be minister of war before long, and his eloquence will give him
great ascendancy in the Chamber. Ronquerolles will be minister of
State and privy-councillor; Martial de la Roche-Hugon is minister
to Germany and peer of France; Serisy leads the Council of State,
to which he is indispensable; Granville holds the magistracy, to
which his sons belong; the Grandlieus stand well at court; Ferraud
is the soul of the Gondreville coterie,--low intriguers who are
always on the surface of things, I'm sure I don't know why. Thus
supported, what have we to fear? The money question is a mere
nothing when this great wheel of fortune rolls for us. What is a
woman?--you are not a schoolboy. What is life, my dear fellow, if
you let a woman be the whole of it? A boat you can't command,
without a rudder, but not without a magnet, and tossed by every
wind that blows. Pah!
The great secret of social alchemy, my dear Paul, is to get the
most we can out of each age of life through which we pass; to have
and to hold the buds of our spring, the flowers of our summer, the
fruits of our autumn. We amused ourselves once, a few good fellows
and I, for a dozen or more years, like mousquetaires, black, red,
and gray; we denied ourselves nothing, not even an occasional
filibustering here and there. Now we are going to shake down the
plums which age and experience have ripened. Be one of us; you
shall have your share in the PUDDING we are going to cook.
Come; you will find a friend all yours in the skin of
H. de Marsay.
As Paul de Manerville ended the reading of this letter, which fell
like the blows of a pickaxe on the edifice of his hopes, his
illusions, and his love, the vessel which bore him from France was
beyond the Azores. In the midst of this utter devastation a cold and
impotent anger laid hold of him.
"What had I done to them?" he said to himself.
That is the question of fools, of feeble beings, who, seeing nothing,
can nothing foresee. Then he cried aloud: "Henri! Henri!" to his loyal
friend. Many a man would have gone mad; Paul went to bed and slept
that heavy sleep which follows immense disasters,--the sleep that
seized Napoleon after Waterloo.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Casa-Real, Duc de
The Quest of the Absolute
Claes, Josephine de Temninck, Madame
The Quest of the Absolute
A Bachelor's Establishment
Manerville, Paul Francois-Joseph, Comte de
The Ball at Sceaux
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Manerville, Comtesse Paul de
The Lily of the Valley
A Daughter of Eve
Marsay, Henri de
The Unconscious Humorists
Another Study of Woman
The Lily of the Valley
Jealousies of a Country Town
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
The Ball at Sceaux
The Secrets of a Princess
The Gondreville Mystery
A Daughter of Eve
Maulincour, Baronne de
Vandenesse, Comte Felix de
The Lily of the Valley
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
A Start in Life
The Secrets of a Princess
Another Study of Woman
The Gondreville Mystery
A Daughter of Eve