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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 11
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Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 11 Post by :bulkmailer007 Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :1874

Click below to download : Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 11 (Format : PDF)

Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 11

The dignity of virtue and its holy flame had expelled the transient impurity of the woman who, splendid in her own peculiar beauty, looked taller in Crevel's eyes. Adeline had, at this moment, the majesty of the figures of Religion clinging to the Cross, as painted by the old Venetians; but she expressed, too, the immensity of her love and the grandeur of the Catholic Church, to which she flew like a wounded dove.

Crevel was dazzled, astounded.

"Madame, I am your slave, without conditions," said he, in an inspiration of generosity. "We will look into this matter--and --whatever you want--the impossible even--I will do. I will pledge my securities at the Bank, and in two hours you shall have the money."

"Good God! a miracle!" said poor Adeline, falling on her knees.

She prayed to Heaven with such fervor as touched Crevel deeply; Madame Hulot saw that he had tears in his eyes when, having ended her prayer, she rose to her feet.

"Be a friend to me, monsieur," said she. "Your heart is better than your words and conduct. God gave you your soul; your passions and the world have given you your ideas. Oh, I will love you truly," she exclaimed, with an angelic tenderness in strange contrast with her attempts at coquettish trickery.

"But cease to tremble so," said Crevel.

"Am I trembling?" said the Baroness, unconscious of the infirmity that had so suddenly come upon her.

"Yes; why, look," said Crevel, taking Adeline by the arm and showing her that she was shaking with nervousness. "Come, madame," he added respectfully, "compose yourself; I am going to the Bank at once."

"And come back quickly! Remember," she added, betraying all her secrets, "that the first point is to prevent the suicide of our poor Uncle Fischer involved by my husband--for I trust you now, and I am telling you everything. Oh, if we should not be on time, I know my brother-in-law, the Marshal, and he has such a delicate soul, that he would die of it in a few days."

"I am off, then," said Crevel, kissing the Baroness' hand. "But what has that unhappy Hulot done?"

"He has swindled the Government."

"Good Heavens! I fly, madame; I understand, I admire you!"

Crevel bent one knee, kissed Madame Hulot's skirt, and vanished, saying, "You will see me soon."

Unluckily, on his way from the Rue Plumet to his own house, to fetch the securities, Crevel went along the Rue Vanneau, and he could not resist going in to see his little Duchess. His face still bore an agitated expression.

He went straight into Valerie's room, who was having her hair dressed. She looked at Crevel in her glass, and, like every woman of that sort, was annoyed, before she knew anything about it, to see that he was moved by some strong feeling of which she was not the cause.

"What is the matter, my dear?" said she. "Is that a face to bring in to your little Duchess? I will not be your Duchess any more, monsieur, no more than I will be your 'little duck,' you old monster."

Crevel replied by a melancholy smile and a glance at the maid.

"Reine, child, that will do for to-day; I can finish my hair myself. Give me my Chinese wrapper; my gentleman seems to me out of sorts."

Reine, whose face was pitted like a colander, and who seemed to have been made on purpose to wait on Valerie, smiled meaningly in reply, and brought the dressing-gown. Valerie took off her combing-wrapper; she was in her shift, and she wriggled into the dressing-gown like a snake into a clump of grass.

"Madame is not at home?"

"What a question!" said Valerie.--"Come, tell me, my big puss, have _Rives Gauches gone down?"

"No."

"They have raised the price of the house?"

"No."

"You fancy that you are not the father of our little Crevel?"

"What nonsense!" replied he, sure of his paternity.

"On my honor, I give it up!" said Madame Marneffe. "If I am expected to extract my friend's woes as you pull the cork out of a bottle of Bordeaux, I let it alone.--Go away, you bore me."

"It is nothing," said Crevel. "I must find two hundred thousand francs in two hours."

"Oh, you can easily get them.--I have not spent the fifty thousand francs we got out of Hulot for that report, and I can ask Henri for fifty thousand--"

"Henri--it is always Henri!" exclaimed Crevel.

"And do you suppose, you great baby of a Machiavelli, that I will cast off Henri? Would France disarm her fleet?--Henri! why, he is a dagger in a sheath hanging on a nail. That boy serves as a weather-glass to show me if you love me--and you don't love me this morning."

"I don't love you, Valerie?" cried Crevel. "I love you as much as a million."

"That is not nearly enough!" cried she, jumping on to Crevel's knee, and throwing both arms round his neck as if it were a peg to hang on by. "I want to be loved as much as ten millions, as much as all the gold in the world, and more to that. Henri would never wait a minute before telling me all he had on his mind. What is it, my great pet? Have it out. Make a clean breast of it to your own little duck!"

And she swept her hair over Crevel's face, while she jestingly pulled his nose.

"Can a man with a nose like that," she went on, "have any secrets from his _Vava--lele--ririe_?"

And at the _Vava she tweaked his nose to the right; at _lele it went to the left; at _ririe she nipped it straight again.

"Well, I have just seen--" Crevel stopped and looked at Madame Marneffe.

"Valerie, my treasure, promise me on your honor--ours, you know?--not to repeat a single word of what I tell you."

"Of course, Mayor, we know all about that. One hand up--so--and one foot--so!" And she put herself in an attitude which, to use Rabelais' phrase, stripped Crevel bare from his brain to his heels, so quaint and delicious was the nudity revealed through the light film of lawn.

"I have just seen virtue in despair."

"Can despair possess virtue?" said she, nodding gravely and crossing her arms like Napoleon.

"It is poor Madame Hulot. She wants two hundred thousand francs, or else Marshal Hulot and old Johann Fischer will blow their brains out; and as you, my little Duchess, are partly at the bottom of the mischief, I am going to patch matters up. She is a saintly creature, I know her well; she will repay you every penny."

At the name of Hulot, at the words two hundred thousand francs, a gleam from Valerie's eyes flashed from between her long eyelids like the flame of a cannon through the smoke.

"What did the old thing do to move you to compassion? Did she show you --what?--her--her religion?"

"Do not make game of her, sweetheart; she is a very saintly, a very noble and pious woman, worthy of all respect."

"Am I not worthy of respect then, heh?" answered Valerie, with a threatening gaze at Crevel.

"I never said so," replied he, understanding that the praise of virtue might not be gratifying to Madame Marneffe.

"I am pious too," Valerie went on, taking her seat in an armchair; "but I do not make a trade of my religion. I go to church in secret."

She sat in silence, and paid no further heed to Crevel. He, extremely ill at ease, came to stand in front of the chair into which Valerie had thrown herself, and saw her lost in the reflections he had been so foolish as to suggest.

"Valerie, my little Angel!"

Utter silence. A highly problematical tear was furtively dashed away.

"One word, my little duck?"

"Monsieur!"

"What are you thinking of, my darling?"

"Oh, Monsieur Crevel, I was thinking of the day of my first communion! How pretty I was! How pure, how saintly!--immaculate!--Oh! if any one had come to my mother and said, 'Your daughter will be a hussy, and unfaithful to her husband; one day a police-officer will find her in a disreputable house; she will sell herself to a Crevel to cheat a Hulot --two horrible old men--' Poof! horrible--she would have died before the end of the sentence, she was so fond of me, poor dear!--"

"Nay, be calm."

"You cannot think how well a woman must love a man before she can silence the remorse that gnaws at the heart of an adulterous wife. I am quite sorry that Reine is not here; she would have told you that she found me this morning praying with tears in my eyes. I, Monsieur Crevel, for my part, do not make a mockery of religion. Have you ever heard me say a word I ought not on such a subject?"

Crevel shook his head in negation.

"I will never allow it to be mentioned in my presence. I can make fun of anything under the sun: Kings, politics, finance, everything that is sacred in the eyes of the world--judges, matrimony, and love--old men and maidens. But the Church and God!--There I draw the line.--I know I am wicked; I am sacrificing my future life to you. And you have no conception of the immensity of my love."

Crevel clasped his hands.

"No, unless you could see into my heart, and fathom the depth of my conviction so as to know the extent of my sacrifice! I feel in me the making of a Magdalen.--And see how respectfully I treat the priests; think of the gifts I make to the Church! My mother brought me up in the Catholic Faith, and I know what is meant by God! It is to sinners like us that His voice is most awful."

Valerie wiped away two tears that trickled down her cheeks. Crevel was in dismay. Madame Marneffe stood up in her excitement.

"Be calm, my darling--you alarm me!"

Madame Marneffe fell on her knees.

"Dear Heaven! I am not bad all through!" she cried, clasping her hands. "Vouchsafe to rescue Thy wandering lamb, strike her, crush her, snatch her from foul and adulterous hands, and how gladly she will nestle on Thy shoulder! How willingly she will return to the fold!"

She got up and looked at Crevel; her colorless eyes frightened him.

"Yes, Crevel, and, do you know? I, too, am frightened sometimes. The justice of God is exerted in this nether world as well as in the next. What mercy can I expect at God's hands? His vengeance overtakes the guilty in many ways; it assumes every aspect of disaster. That is what my mother told me on her death-bed, speaking of her own old age.--But if I should lose you," she added, hugging Crevel with a sort of savage frenzy--"oh! I should die!"

Madame Marneffe released Crevel, knelt down again at the armchair, folded her hands--and in what a bewitching attitude!--and with incredible fervor poured out the following prayer:--

"And thou, Saint Valerie, my patron saint, why dost thou so rarely visit the pillow of her who was intrusted to thy care? Oh, come this evening, as thou didst this morning, to inspire me with holy thoughts, and I will quit the path of sin; like the Magdalen, I will give up deluding joys and the false glitter of the world, even the man I love so well--"

"My precious duck!"

"No more of the 'precious duck,' monsieur!" said she, turning round like a virtuous wife, her eyes full of tears, but dignified, cold, and indifferent.

"Leave me," she went on, pushing him from her. "What is my duty? To belong wholly to my husband.--He is a dying man, and what am I doing? Deceiving him on the edge of the grave. He believes your child to be his. I will tell him the truth, and begin by securing his pardon before I ask for God's.--We must part. Good-bye, Monsieur Crevel," and she stood up to offer him an icy cold hand. "Good-bye, my friend; we shall meet no more till we meet in a better world.--You have to thank me for some enjoyment, criminal indeed; now I want--oh yes, I shall have your esteem."

Crevel was weeping bitter tears.

"You great pumpkin!" she exclaimed, with an infernal peal of laughter. "That is how your pious women go about it to drag from you a plum of two hundred thousand francs. And you, who talk of the Marechal de Richelieu, the prototype of Lovelace, you could be taken in by such a stale trick as that! I could get hundreds of thousands of francs out of you any day, if I chose, you old ninny!--Keep your money! If you have more than you know what to do with, it is mine. If you give two sous to that 'respectable' woman, who is pious forsooth, because she is fifty-six years of age, we shall never meet again, and you may take her for your mistress! You could come back to me next day bruised all over from her bony caresses and sodden with her tears, and sick of her little barmaid's caps and her whimpering, which must turn her favors into showers--"

"In point of fact," said Crevel, "two hundred thousand francs is a round sum of money."

"They have fine appetites, have the goody sort! By the poker! they sell their sermons dearer than we sell the rarest and realest thing on earth--pleasure.--And they can spin a yarn! There, I know them. I have seen plenty in my mother's house. They think everything is allowable for the Church and for--Really, my dear love, you ought to be ashamed of yourself--for you are not so open-handed! You have not given me two hundred thousand francs all told!"

"Oh yes," said Crevel, "your little house will cost as much as that."

"Then you have four hundred thousand francs?" said she thoughtfully.

"No."

"Then, sir, you meant to lend that old horror the two hundred thousand francs due for my hotel? What a crime, what high treason!"

"Only listen to me."

"If you were giving the money to some idiotic philanthropic scheme, you would be regarded as a coming man," she went on, with increasing eagerness, "and I should be the first to advise it; for you are too simple to write a big political book that might make you famous; as for style, you have not enough to butter a pamphlet; but you might do as other men do who are in your predicament, and who get a halo of glory about their name by putting it at the top of some social, or moral, or general, or national enterprise. Benevolence is out of date, quite vulgar. Providing for old offenders, and making them more comfortable than the poor devils who are honest, is played out. What I should like to see is some invention of your own with an endowment of two hundred thousand francs--something difficult and really useful. Then you would be talked about as a man of mark, a Montyon, and I should be very proud of you!

"But as to throwing two hundred thousand francs into a holy-water shell, or lending them to a bigot--cast off by her husband, and who knows why? there is always some reason: does any one cast me off, I ask you?--is a piece of idiocy which in our days could only come into the head of a retired perfumer. It reeks of the counter. You would not dare look at yourself in the glass two days after.

"Go and pay the money in where it will be safe--run, fly; I will not admit you again without the receipt in your hand. Go, as fast and soon as you can!"

She pushed Crevel out of the room by the shoulders, seeing avarice blossoming in his face once more. When she heard the outer door shut, she exclaimed:

"Then Lisbeth is revenged over and over again! What a pity that she is at her old Marshal's now! We would have had a good laugh! So that old woman wants to take the bread out of my mouth. I will startle her a little!"

Marshal Hulot, being obliged to live in a style suited to the highest military rank, had taken a handsome house in the Rue du Mont-Parnasse, where there are three or four princely residences. Though he rented the whole house, he inhabited only the ground floor. When Lisbeth went to keep house for him, she at once wished to let the first floor, which, as she said, would pay the whole rent, so that the Count would live almost rent-free; but the old soldier would not hear of it.

For some months past the Marshal had had many sad thoughts. He had guessed how miserably poor his sister-in-law was, and suspected her griefs without understanding their cause. The old man, so cheerful in his deafness, became taciturn; he could not help thinking that his house would one day be a refuge for the Baroness and her daughter; and it was for them that he kept the first floor. The smallness of his fortune was so well known at headquarters, that the War Minister, the Prince de Wissembourg, begged his old comrade to accept a sum of money for his household expenses. This sum the Marshal spent in furnishing the ground floor, which was in every way suitable; for, as he said, he would not accept the Marshal's baton to walk the streets with.

The house had belonged to a senator under the Empire, and the ground floor drawing-rooms had been very magnificently fitted with carved wood, white-and-gold, still in very good preservation. The Marshal had found some good old furniture in the same style; in the coach-house he had a carriage with two batons in saltire on the panels; and when he was expected to appear in full fig, at the Minister's, at the Tuileries, for some ceremony or high festival, he hired horses for the job.

His servant for more than thirty years was an old soldier of sixty, whose sister was the cook, so he had saved ten thousand francs, adding it by degrees to a little hoard he intended for Hortense. Every day the old man walked along the boulevard, from the Rue du Mont-Parnasse to the Rue Plumet; and every pensioner as he passed stood at attention, without fail, to salute him: then the Marshal rewarded the veteran with a smile.

"Who is the man you always stand at attention to salute?" said a young workman one day to an old captain and pensioner.

"I will tell you, boy," replied the officer.

The "boy" stood resigned, as a man does to listen to an old gossip.

"In 1809," said the captain, "we were covering the flank of the main army, marching on Vienna under the Emperor's command. We came to a bridge defended by three batteries of cannon, one above another, on a sort of cliff; three redoubts like three shelves, and commanding the bridge. We were under Marshal Massena. That man whom you see there was Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, and I was one of them. Our columns held one bank of the river, the batteries were on the other. Three times they tried for the bridge, and three times they were driven back. 'Go and find Hulot!' said the Marshal; 'nobody but he and his men can bolt that morsel.' So we came. The General, who was just retiring from the bridge, stopped Hulot under fire, to tell him how to do it, and he was in the way. 'I don't want advice, but room to pass,' said our General coolly, marching across at the head of his men. And then, rattle, thirty guns raking us at once."

"By Heaven!" cried the workman, "that accounts for some of these crutches!"

"And if you, like me, my boy, had heard those words so quietly spoken, you would bow before that man down to the ground! It is not so famous as Arcole, but perhaps it was finer. We followed Hulot at the double, right up to those batteries. All honor to those we left there!" and the old man lifted his hat. "The Austrians were amazed at the dash of it.--The Emperor made the man you saw a Count; he honored us all by honoring our leader; and the King of to-day was very right to make him a Marshal."

"Hurrah for the Marshal!" cried the workman.

"Oh, you may shout--shout away! The Marshal is as deaf as a post from the roar of cannon."

This anecdote may give some idea of the respect with which the _Invalides regarded Marshal Hulot, whose Republican proclivities secured him the popular sympathy of the whole quarter of the town.

Sorrow taking hold on a spirit so calm and strict and noble, was a heart-breaking spectacle. The Baroness could only tell lies, with a woman's ingenuity, to conceal the whole dreadful truth from her brother-in-law.

In the course of this miserable morning, the Marshal, who, like all old men, slept but little, had extracted from Lisbeth full particulars as to his brother's situation, promising to marry her as the reward of her revelations. Any one can imagine with what glee the old maid allowed the secrets to be dragged from her which she had been dying to tell ever since she had come into the house; for by this means she made her marriage more certain.

"Your brother is incorrigible!" Lisbeth shouted into the Marshal's best ear.

Her strong, clear tones enabled her to talk to him, but she wore out her lungs, so anxious was she to prove to her future husband that to her he would never be deaf.

"He has had three mistresses," said the old man, "and his wife was an Adeline! Poor Adeline!"

"If you will take my advice," shrieked Lisbeth, "you will use your influence with the Prince de Wissembourg to secure her some suitable appointment. She will need it, for the Baron's pay is pledged for three years."

"I will go to the War Office," said he, "and see the Prince, to find out what he thinks of my brother, and ask for his interest to help my sister. Think of some place that is fit for her."

"The charitable ladies of Paris, in concert with the Archbishop, have formed various beneficent associations; they employ superintendents, very decently paid, whose business it is to seek out cases of real want. Such an occupation would exactly suit dear Adeline; it would be work after her own heart."

"Send to order the horses," said the Marshal. "I will go and dress. I will drive to Neuilly if necessary."

"How fond he is of her! She will always cross my path wherever I turn!" said Lisbeth to herself.

Lisbeth was already supreme in the house, but not with the Marshal's cognizance. She had struck terror into the three servants--for she had allowed herself a housemaid, and she exerted her old-maidish energy in taking stock of everything, examining everything, and arranging in every respect for the comfort of her dear Marshal. Lisbeth, quite as Republican as he could be, pleased him by her democratic opinions, and she flattered him with amazing dexterity; for the last fortnight the old man, whose house was better kept, and who was cared for as a child by its mother, had begun to regard Lisbeth as a part of what he had dreamed of.

"My dear Marshal," she shouted, following him out on to the steps, "pull up the windows, do not sit in a draught, to oblige me!"

The Marshal, who had never been so cosseted in his life, went off smiling at Lisbeth, though his heart was aching.

At the same hour Baron Hulot was quitting the War Office to call on his chief, Marshal the Prince de Wissembourg, who had sent for him. Though there was nothing extraordinary in one of the Generals on the Board being sent for, Hulot's conscience was so uneasy that he fancied he saw a cold and sinister expression in Mitouflet's face.

"Mitouflet, how is the Prince?" he asked, locking the door of his private room and following the messenger who led the way.

"He must have a crow to pluck with you, Monsieur le Baron," replied the man, "for his face is set at stormy."

Hulot turned pale, and said no more; he crossed the anteroom and reception rooms, and, with a violently beating heart, found himself at the door of the Prince's private study.

The chief, at this time seventy years old, with perfectly white hair, and the tanned complexion of a soldier of that age, commanded attention by a brow so vast that imagination saw in it a field of battle. Under this dome, crowned with snow, sparkled a pair of eyes, of the Napoleon blue, usually sad-looking and full of bitter thoughts and regrets, their fire overshadowed by the penthouse of the strongly projecting brow. This man, Bernadotte's rival, had hoped to find his seat on a throne. But those eyes could flash formidable lightnings when they expressed strong feelings.

Then, his voice, always somewhat hollow, rang with strident tones. When he was angry, the Prince was a soldier once more; he spoke the language of Lieutenant Cottin; he spared nothing--nobody. Hulot d'Ervy found the old lion, his hair shaggy like a mane, standing by the fireplace, his brows knit, his back against the mantel-shelf, and his eyes apparently fixed on vacancy.

"Here! At your orders, Prince!" said Hulot, affecting a graceful ease of manner.

The Marshal looked hard at the Baron, without saying a word, during the time it took him to come from the door to within a few steps of where the chief stood. This leaden stare was like the eye of God; Hulot could not meet it; he looked down in confusion.

"He knows everything!" said he to himself.

"Does your conscience tell you nothing?" asked the Marshal, in his deep, hollow tones.

"It tells me, sir, that I have been wrong, no doubt, in ordering _razzias in Algeria without referring the matter to you. At my age, and with my tastes, after forty-five years of service, I have no fortune.--You know the principles of the four hundred elect representatives of France. Those gentlemen are envious of every distinction; they have pared down even the Ministers' pay--that says everything! Ask them for money for an old servant!--What can you expect of men who pay a whole class so badly as they pay the Government legal officials?--who give thirty sous a day to the laborers on the works at Toulon, when it is a physical impossibility to live there and keep a family on less than forty sous?--who never think of the atrocity of giving salaries of six hundred francs, up to a thousand or twelve hundred perhaps, to clerks living in Paris; and who want to secure our places for themselves as soon as the pay rises to forty thousand?--who, finally, refuse to restore to the Crown a piece of Crown property confiscated from the Crown in 1830--property acquired, too, by Louis XVI. out of his privy purse!--If you had no private fortune, Prince, you would be left high and dry, like my brother, with your pay and not another sou, and no thought of your having saved the army, and me with it, in the boggy plains of Poland."

"You have robbed the State! You have made yourself liable to be brought before the bench at Assizes," said the Marshal, "like that clerk of the Treasury! And you take this, monsieur, with such levity."

"But there is a great difference, monseigneur!" cried the baron. "Have I dipped my hands into a cash box intrusted to my care?"

"When a man of your rank commits such an infamous crime," said the Marshal, "he is doubly guilty if he does it clumsily. You have compromised the honor of our official administration, which hitherto has been the purest in Europe!--And all for two hundred thousand francs and a hussy!" said the Marshal, in a terrible voice. "You are a Councillor of State--and a private soldier who sells anything belonging to his regiment is punished with death! Here is a story told to me one day by Colonel Pourin of the Second Lancers. At Saverne, one of his men fell in love with a little Alsatian girl who had a fancy for a shawl. The jade teased this poor devil of a lancer so effectually, that though he could show twenty years' service, and was about to be promoted to be quartermaster--the pride of the regiment --to buy this shawl he sold some of his company's kit.--Do you know what this lancer did, Baron d'Ervy? He swallowed some window-glass after pounding it down, and died in eleven hours, of an illness, in hospital.--Try, if you please, to die of apoplexy, that we may not see you dishonored."

Hulot looked with haggard eyes at the old warrior; and the Prince, reading the look which betrayed the coward, felt a flush rise to his cheeks; his eyes flamed.

"Will you, sir, abandon me?" Hulot stammered.

Marshal Hulot, hearing that only his brother was with the Minister, ventured at this juncture to come in, and, like all deaf people, went straight up to the Prince.

"Oh," cried the hero of Poland, "I know what you are here for, my old friend! But we can do nothing."

"Do nothing!" echoed Marshal Hulot, who had heard only the last word.

"Nothing; you have come to intercede for your brother. But do you know what your brother is?"

"My brother?" asked the deaf man.

"Yes, he is a damned infernal blackguard, and unworthy of you."

The Marshal in his rage shot from his eyes those fulminating fires which, like Napoleon's, broke a man's will and judgment.

"You lie, Cottin!" said Marshal Hulot, turning white. "Throw down your baton as I throw mine! I am ready."

The Prince went up to his old comrade, looked him in the face, and shouted in his ear as he grasped his hand:

"Are you a man?"

"You will see that I am."

"Well, then, pull yourself together! You must face the worst misfortune that can befall you."

The Prince turned round, took some papers from the table, and placed them in the Marshal's hands, saying, "Read that."

The Comte de Forzheim read the following letter, which lay uppermost:--

"To his Excellency the President of the Council.

"_Private and Confidential_.

"ALGIERS.

"MY DEAR PRINCE,--We have a very ugly business on our hands, as you will see by the accompanying documents.

"The story, briefly told, is this: Baron Hulot d'Ervy sent out to the province of Oran an uncle of his as a broker in grain and forage, and gave him an accomplice in the person of a storekeeper. This storekeeper, to curry favor, has made a confession, and finally made his escape. The Public Prosecutor took the matter up very thoroughly, seeing, as he supposed, that only two inferior agents were implicated; but Johann Fischer, uncle to your Chief of the Commissariat Department, finding that he was to be brought up at the Assizes, stabbed himself in prison with a nail.

"That would have been the end of the matter if this worthy and honest man, deceived, it would seem, by his agent and by his nephew, had not thought proper to write to Baron Hulot. This letter, seized as a document, so greatly surprised the Public Prosecutor, that he came to see me. Now, the arrest and public trial of a Councillor of State would be such a terrible thing--of a man high in office too, who has a good record for loyal service --for after the Beresina, it was he who saved us all by reorganizing the administration--that I desired to have all the papers sent to me.

"Is the matter to take its course? Now that the principal agent is dead, will it not be better to smother up the affair and sentence the storekeeper in default?

"The Public Prosecutor has consented to my forwarding the documents for your perusal; the Baron Hulot d'Ervy, being resident in Paris, the proceedings will lie with your Supreme Court. We have hit on this rather shabby way of ridding ourselves of the difficulty for the moment.

"Only, my dear Marshal, decide quickly. This miserable business is too much talked about already, and it will do as much harm to us as to you all if the name of the principal culprit--known at present only to the Public Prosecutor, the examining judge, and myself--should happen to leak out."

At this point the letter fell from Marshal Hulot's hands; he looked at his brother; he saw that there was no need to examine the evidence. But he looked for Johann Fischer's letter, and after reading it at a glance, held it out to Hector:--

"FROM THE PRISON AT ORAN.

"DEAR NEPHEW,--When you read this letter, I shall have ceased to live.

"Be quite easy, no proof can be found to incriminate you. When I am dead and your Jesuit of a Chardin fled, the trial must collapse. The face of our Adeline, made so happy by you, makes death easy to me. Now you need not send the two hundred thousand francs. Good-bye.

"This letter will be delivered by a prisoner for a short term whom I can trust, I believe.

"JOHANN FISCHER."

"I beg your pardon," said Marshal Hulot to the Prince de Wissembourg with pathetic pride.

"Come, come, say _tu_, not the formal _vous_," replied the Minister, clasping his old friend's hand. "The poor lancer killed no one but himself," he added, with a thunderous look at Hulot d'Ervy.

"How much have you had?" said the Comte de Forzheim to his brother.

"Two hundred thousand francs."

"My dear friend," said the Count, addressing the Minister, "you shall have the two hundred thousand francs within forty-eight hours. It shall never be said that a man bearing the name of Hulot has wronged the public treasury of a single sou."

"What nonsense!" said the Prince. "I know where the money is, and I can get it back.--Send in your resignation and ask for your pension!" he went on, sending a double sheet of foolscap flying across to where the Councillor of State had sat down by the table, for his legs gave way under him. "To bring you to trial would disgrace us all. I have already obtained from the superior Board their sanction to this line of action. Since you can accept life with dishonor--in my opinion the last degradation--you will get the pension you have earned. Only take care to be forgotten."

The Minister rang.

"Is Marneffe, the head-clerk, out there?"

"Yes, monseigneur."

"Show him in!"

"You," said the Minister as Marneffe came in, "you and your wife have wittingly and intentionally ruined the Baron d'Ervy whom you see."

"Monsieur le Ministre, I beg your pardon. We are very poor. I have nothing to live on but my pay, and I have two children, and the one that is coming will have been brought into the family by Monsieur le Baron."

"What a villain he looks!" said the Prince, pointing to Marneffe and addressing Marshal Hulot.--"No more of Sganarelle speeches," he went on; "you will disgorge two hundred thousand francs, or be packed off to Algiers."

"But, Monsieur le Ministre, you do not know my wife. She has spent it all. Monsieur le Baron asked six persons to dinner every evening. --Fifty thousand francs a year are spent in my house."

"Leave the room!" said the Minister, in the formidable tones that had given the word to charge in battle. "You will have notice of your transfer within two hours. Go!"

"I prefer to send in my resignation," said Marneffe insolently. "For it is too much to be what I am already, and thrashed into the bargain. That would not satisfy me at all."

And he left the room.

"What an impudent scoundrel!" said the Prince.

Marshal Hulot, who had stood up throughout this scene, as pale as a corpse, studying his brother out of the corner of his eye, went up to the Prince, and took his hand, repeating:

"In forty-eight hours the pecuniary mischief shall be repaired; but honor!--Good-bye, Marshal. It is the last shot that kills. Yes, I shall die of it!" he said in his ear.

"What the devil brought you here this morning?" said the Prince, much moved.

"I came to see what can be done for his wife," replied the Count, pointing to his brother. "She is wanting bread--especially now!"

"He has his pension."

"It is pledged!"

"The Devil must possess such a man," said the Prince, with a shrug. "What philtre do those baggages give you to rob you of your wits?" he went on to Hulot d'Ervy. "How could you--you, who know the precise details with which in French offices everything is written down at full length, consuming reams of paper to certify to the receipt or outlay of a few centimes--you, who have so often complained that a hundred signatures are needed for a mere trifle, to discharge a soldier, to buy a curry-comb--how could you hope to conceal a theft for any length of time? To say nothing of the newspapers, and the envious, and the people who would like to steal!--those women must rob you of your common-sense! Do they cover your eyes with walnut-shells? or are you yourself made of different stuff from us?--You ought to have left the office as soon as you found that you were no longer a man, but a temperament. If you have complicated your crime with such gross folly, you will end--I will not say where----"

"Promise me, Cottin, that you will do what you can for her," said the Marshal, who heard nothing, and was still thinking of his sister-in-law.

"Depend on me!" said the Minister.

"Thank you, and good-bye then!--Come, monsieur," he said to his brother.

The Prince looked with apparent calmness at the two brothers, so different in their demeanor, conduct, and character--the brave man and the coward, the ascetic and the profligate, the honest man and the peculator--and he said to himself:

"That mean creature will not have courage to die! And my poor Hulot, such an honest fellow! has death in his knapsack, I know!"

He sat down again in his big chair and went on reading the despatches from Africa with a look characteristic at once of the coolness of a leader and of the pity roused by the sight of a battle-field! For in reality no one is so humane as a soldier, stern as he may seem in the icy determination acquired by the habit of fighting, and so absolutely essential in the battle-field.

Next morning some of the newspapers contained, under various headings, the following paragraphs:--

"Monsieur le Baron Hulot d'Ervy has applied for his retiring pension. The unsatisfactory state of the Algerian exchequer, which has come out in consequence of the death and disappearance of two employes, has had some share in this distinguished official's decision. On hearing of the delinquencies of the agents whom he had unfortunately trusted, Monsieur le Baron Hulot had a paralytic stroke in the War Minister's private room.

"Monsieur Hulot d'Ervy, brother to the Marshal Comte de Forzheim, has been forty-five years in the service. His determination has been vainly opposed, and is greatly regretted by all who know Monsieur Hulot, whose private virtues are as conspicuous as his administrative capacity. No one can have forgotten the devoted conduct of the Commissary General of the Imperial Guard at Warsaw, or the marvelous promptitude with which he organized supplies for the various sections of the army so suddenly required by Napoleon in 1815.

"One more of the heroes of the Empire is retiring from the stage. Monsieur le Baron Hulot has never ceased, since 1830, to be one of the guiding lights of the State Council and of the War Office."

"ALGIERS.--The case known as the forage supply case, to which some of our contemporaries have given absurd prominence, has been closed by the death of the chief culprit. Johann Wisch has committed suicide in his cell; his accomplice, who had absconded, will be sentenced in default.

"Wisch, formerly an army contractor, was an honest man and highly respected, who could not survive the idea of having been the dupe of Chardin, the storekeeper who has disappeared."

And in the _Paris News the following paragraph appeared:

"Monsieur le Marechal the Minister of War, to prevent the recurrence of such scandals for the future, has arranged for a regular Commissariat office in Africa. A head-clerk in the War Office, Monsieur Marneffe, is spoken of as likely to be appointed to the post of director."

"The office vacated by Baron Hulot is the object of much ambition. The appointment is promised, it is said, to Monsieur le Comte Martial de la Roche-Hugon, Deputy, brother-in-law to Monsieur le Comte de Rastignac. Monsieur Massol, Master of Appeals, will fill his seat on the Council of State, and Monsieur Claude Vignon becomes Master of Appeals."

Of all kinds of false gossip, the most dangerous for the Opposition newspapers is the official bogus paragraph. However keen journalists may be, they are sometimes the voluntary or involuntary dupes of the cleverness of those who have risen from the ranks of the Press, like Claude Vignon, to the higher realms of power. The newspaper can only be circumvented by the journalist. It may be said, as a parody on a line by Voltaire:

"The Paris news is never what the foolish folk believe."

Marshal Hulot drove home with his brother, who took the front seat, respectfully leaving the whole of the back of the carriage to his senior. The two men spoke not a word. Hector was helpless. The Marshal was lost in thought, like a man who is collecting all his strength, and bracing himself to bear a crushing weight. On arriving at his own house, still without speaking, but by an imperious gesture, he beckoned his brother into his study. The Count had received from the Emperor Napoleon a splendid pair of pistols from the Versailles factory; he took the box, with its inscription. "_Given by the Emperor Napoleon to General Hulot_," out of his desk, and placing it on the top, he showed it to his brother, saying, "There is your remedy."

Lisbeth, peeping through the chink of the door, flew down to the carriage and ordered the coachman to go as fast as he could gallop to the Rue Plumet. Within about twenty minutes she had brought back Adeline, whom she had told of the Marshal's threat to his brother.

The Marshal, without looking at Hector, rang the bell for his factotum, the old soldier who had served him for thirty years.

"Beau-Pied," said he, "fetch my notary, and Count Steinbock, and my niece Hortense, and the stockbroker to the Treasury. It is now half-past ten; they must all be here by twelve. Take hackney cabs --and go faster than _that_!" he added, a republican allusion which in past days had been often on his lips. And he put on the scowl that had brought his soldiers to attention when he was beating the broom on the heaths of Brittany in 1799. (See _Les Chouans_.)

"You shall be obeyed, Marechal," said Beau-Pied, with a military salute.

Still paying no heed to his brother, the old man came back into his study, took a key out of his desk, and opened a little malachite box mounted in steel, the gift of the Emperor Alexander.

By Napoleon's orders he had gone to restore to the Russian Emperor the private property seized at the battle of Dresden, in exchange for which Napoleon hoped to get back Vandamme. The Czar rewarded General Hulot very handsomely, giving him this casket, and saying that he hoped one day to show the same courtesy to the Emperor of the French; but he kept Vandamme. The Imperial arms of Russia were displayed in gold on the lid of the box, which was inlaid with gold.

The Marshal counted the bank-notes it contained; he had a hundred and fifty-two thousand francs. He saw this with satisfaction. At the same moment Madame Hulot came into the room in a state to touch the heart of the sternest judge. She flew into Hector's arms, looking alternately with a crazy eye at the Marshal and at the case of pistols.

"What have you to say against your brother? What has my husband done to you?" said she, in such a voice that the Marshal heard her.

"He has disgraced us all!" replied the Republican veteran, who spoke with a vehemence that reopened one of his old wounds. "He has robbed the Government! He has cast odium on my name, he makes me wish I were dead--he has killed me!--I have only strength enough left to make restitution!

"I have been abased before the Conde of the Republic, the man I esteem above all others, and to whom I unjustifiably gave the lie--the Prince of Wissembourg!--Is that nothing? That is the score his country has against him!"

He wiped away a tear.

"Now, as to his family," he went on. "He is robbing you of the bread I had saved for you, the fruit of thirty years' economy, of the privations of an old soldier! Here is what was intended for you," and he held up the bank-notes. "He has killed his Uncle Fischer, a noble and worthy son of Alsace who could not--as he can--endure the thought of a stain on his peasant's honor.

"To crown all, God, in His adorable clemency, had allowed him to choose an angel among women; he has had the unspeakable happiness of having an Adeline for his wife! And he has deceived her, he has soaked her in sorrows, he has neglected her for prostitutes, for street-hussies, for ballet-girls, actresses--Cadine, Josepha, Marneffe! --And that is the brother I treated as a son and made my pride!

"Go, wretched man; if you can accept the life of degradation you have made for yourself, leave my house! I have not the heart to curse a brother I have loved so well--I am as foolish about him as you are, Adeline--but never let me see him again. I forbid his attending my funeral or following me to the grave. Let him show the decency of a criminal if he can feel no remorse."

The Marshal, as pale as death, fell back on the settee, exhausted by his solemn speech. And, for the first time in his life perhaps, tears gathered in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks.

"My poor uncle!" cried Lisbeth, putting a handkerchief to her eyes.

"Brother!" said Adeline, kneeling down by the Marshal, "live for my sake. Help me in the task of reconciling Hector to the world and making him redeem the past."

"He!" cried the Marshal. "If he lives, he is not at the end of his crimes. A man who has misprized an Adeline, who has smothered in his own soul the feelings of a true Republican which I tried to instill into him, the love of his country, of his family, and of the poor --that man is a monster, a swine!--Take him away if you still care for him, for a voice within me cries to me to load my pistols and blow his brains out. By killing him I should save you all, and I should save him too from himself."

The old man started to his feet with such a terrifying gesture that poor Adeline exclaimed:

"Hector--come!"

She seized her husband's arm, dragged him away, and out of the house; but the Baron was so broken down, that she was obliged to call a coach to take him to the Rue Plumet, where he went to bed. The man remained there for several days in a sort of half-dissolution, refusing all nourishment without a word. By floods of tears, Adeline persuaded him to swallow a little broth; she nursed him, sitting by his bed, and feeling only, of all the emotions that once had filled her heart, the deepest pity for him.

At half-past twelve, Lisbeth showed into her dear Marshal's room--for she would not leave him, so much was she alarmed at the evident change in him--Count Steinbock and the notary.

"Monsieur le Comte," said the Marshal, "I would beg you to be so good as to put your signature to a document authorizing my niece, your wife, to sell a bond for certain funds of which she at present holds only the reversion.--You, Mademoiselle Fischer, will agree to this sale, thus losing your life interest in the securities."

"Yes, dear Count," said Lisbeth without hesitation.

"Good, my dear," said the old soldier. "I hope I may live to reward you. But I did not doubt you; you are a true Republican, a daughter of the people." He took the old maid's hand and kissed it.

"Monsieur Hannequin," he went on, speaking to the notary, "draw up the necessary document in the form of a power of attorney, and let me have it within two hours, so that I may sell the stock on the Bourse to-day. My niece, the Countess, holds the security; she will be here to sign the power of attorney when you bring it, and so will mademoiselle. Monsieur le Comte will be good enough to go with you and sign it at your office."

The artist, at a nod from Lisbeth, bowed respectfully to the Marshal and went away.

Next morning, at ten o'clock, the Comte de Forzheim sent in to announce himself to the Prince, and was at once admitted.

"Well, my dear Hulot," said the Prince, holding out the newspapers to his old friend, "we have saved appearances, you see.--Read."

Marshal Hulot laid the papers on his comrade's table, and held out to him the two hundred thousand francs.

"Here is the money of which my brother robbed the State," said he.

"What madness!" cried the Minister. "It is impossible," he said into the speaking-trumpet handed to him by the Marshal, "to manage this restitution. We should be obliged to declare your brother's dishonest dealings, and we have done everything to hide them."

"Do what you like with the money; but the family shall not owe one sou of its fortune to a robbery on the funds of the State," said the Count.

"I will take the King's commands in the matter. We will discuss it no further," replied the Prince, perceiving that it would be impossible to conquer the old man's sublime obstinacy on the point.

"Good-bye, Cottin," said the old soldier, taking the Prince's hand. "I feel as if my soul were frozen--"

Then, after going a step towards the door, he turned round, looked at the Prince, and seeing that he was deeply moved, he opened his arms to clasp him in them; the two old soldiers embraced each other.

"I feel as if I were taking leave of the whole of the old army in you," said the Count.

"Good-bye, my good old comrade!" said the Minister.

"Yes, it is good-bye; for I am going where all our brave men are for whom we have mourned--"

Just then Claude Vignon was shown in. The two relics of the Napoleonic phalanx bowed gravely to each other, effacing every trace of emotion.

"You have, I hope, been satisfied by the papers," said the Master of Appeals-elect. "I contrived to let the Opposition papers believe that they were letting out our secrets."

"Unfortunately, it is all in vain," replied the Minister, watching Hulot as he left the room. "I have just gone through a leave-taking that has been a great grief to me. For, indeed, Marshal Hulot has not three days to live; I saw that plainly enough yesterday. That man, one of those honest souls that are above proof, a soldier respected by the bullets in spite of his valor, received his death-blow--there, in that armchair--and dealt by my hand, in a letter!--Ring and order my carriage. I must go to Neuilly," said he, putting the two hundred thousand francs into his official portfolio.

Notwithstanding Lisbeth's nursing, Marshal Hulot three days later was a dead man. Such men are the glory of the party they support. To Republicans, the Marshal was the ideal of patriotism; and they all attended his funeral, which was followed by an immense crowd. The army, the State officials, the Court, and the populace all came to do homage to this lofty virtue, this spotless honesty, this immaculate glory. Such a last tribute of the people is not a thing to be had for the asking.

This funeral was distinguished by one of those tributes of delicate feeling, of good taste, and sincere respect which from time to time remind us of the virtues and dignity of the old French nobility. Following the Marshal's bier came the old Marquis de Montauran, the brother of him who, in the great rising of the Chouans in 1799, had been the foe, the luckless foe, of Hulot. That Marquis, killed by the balls of the "Blues," had confided the interests of his young brother to the Republican soldier. (See _Les Chouans_.) Hulot had so faithfully acted on the noble Royalist's verbal will, that he succeeded in saving the young man's estates, though he himself was at the time an emigre. And so the homage of the old French nobility was not wanting to the leader who, nine years since, had conquered MADAME.

This death, happening just four days before the banns were cried for the last time, came upon Lisbeth like the thunderbolt that burns the garnered harvest with the barn. The peasant of Lorraine, as often happens, had succeeded too well. The Marshal had died of the blows dealt to the family by herself and Madame Marneffe.

The old maid's vindictiveness, which success seemed to have somewhat mollified, was aggravated by this disappointment of her hopes. Lisbeth went, crying with rage, to Madame Marneffe; for she was homeless, the Marshal having agreed that his lease was at any time to terminate with his life. Crevel, to console Valerie's friend, took charge of her savings, added to them considerably, and invested the capital in five per cents, giving her the life interest, and putting the securities into Celestine's name. Thanks to this stroke of business, Lisbeth had an income of about two thousand francs.

When the Marshal's property was examined and valued, a note was found, addressed to his sister-in-law, to his niece Hortense, and to his nephew Victorin, desiring that they would pay among them an annuity of twelve hundred francs to Mademoiselle Lisbeth Fischer, who was to have been his wife.

Adeline, seeing her husband between life and death, succeeded for some days in hiding from him the fact of his brother's death; but Lisbeth came, in mourning, and the terrible truth was told him eleven days after the funeral.

The crushing blow revived the sick man's energies. He got up, found his family collected in the drawing-room, all in black, and suddenly silent as he came in. In a fortnight, Hulot, as lean as a spectre, looked to his family the mere shadow of himself.

"I must decide on something," said he in a husky voice, as he seated himself in an easy-chair, and looked round at the party, of whom Crevel and Steinbock were absent.

"We cannot stay here, the rent is too high," Hortense was saying just as her father came in.

"As to a home," said Victorin, breaking the painful silence, "I can offer my mother----"

As he heard these words, which excluded him, the Baron raised his head, which was sunk on his breast as though he were studying the pattern of the carpet, though he did not even see it, and he gave the young lawyer an appealing look. The rights of a father are so indefeasibly sacred, even when he is a villain and devoid of honor, that Victorin paused.

"To your mother," the Baron repeated. "You are right, my son."

"The rooms over ours in our wing," said Celestine, finishing her husband's sentence.

"I am in your way, my dears?" said the Baron, with the mildness of a man who has judged himself. "But do not be uneasy as to the future; you will have no further cause for complaint of your father; you will not see him till the time when you need no longer blush for him."

He went up to Hortense and kissed her brow. He opened his arms to his son, who rushed into his embrace, guessing his father's purpose. The Baron signed to Lisbeth, who came to him, and he kissed her forehead. Then he went to his room, whither Adeline followed him in an agony of dread.

"My brother was quite right, Adeline," he said, holding her hand. "I am unworthy of my home life. I dared not bless my children, who have behaved so nobly, but in my heart; tell them that I could only venture to kiss them; for the blessing of a bad man, a father who has been an assassin and the scourge of his family instead of its protector and its glory, might bring evil on them; but assure them that I shall bless them every day.--As to you, God alone, for He is Almighty, can ever reward you according to your merits!--I can only ask your forgiveness!" and he knelt at her feet, taking her hands and wetting them with his tears.

"Hector, Hector! Your sins have been great, but Divine Mercy is infinite, and you may repair all by staying with me.--Rise up in Christian charity, my dear--I am your wife, and not your judge. I am your possession; do what you will with me; take me wherever you go, I feel strong enough comfort you, to make life endurable to you, by the strength of my love, my care, and respect.--Our children are settled in life; they need me no more. Let me try to be an amusement to you, an occupation. Let me share the pain of your banishment and of your poverty, and help to mitigate it. I could always be of some use, if it were only to save the expense of a servant."

"Can you forgive, my dearly-beloved Adeline?"

"Yes, only get up, my dear!"

"Well, with that forgiveness I can live," said he, rising to his feet. "I came back into this room that my children should not see their father's humiliation. Oh! the sight constantly before their eyes of a father so guilty as I am is a terrible thing; it must undermine parental influence and break every family tie. So I cannot remain among you, and I must go to spare you the odious spectacle of a father bereft of dignity. Do not oppose my departure Adeline. It would only be to load with your own hand the pistol to blow my brains out. Above all, do not seek me in my hiding-place; you would deprive me of the only strong motive remaining in me, that of remorse."

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Valerie opened her astonished eyes, gave such a shriek as actresses use to depict madness on the stage, writhed in convulsions on the bed, like a witch of the Middle Ages in her sulphur-colored frock on a bed of faggots. "Death, and I am ready! my dear Hector--but a police court?--Oh! never." With one bound she passed the three spectators and crouched under the little writing-table, hiding her face in her hands. "Ruin! Death!" she cried. "Monsieur," said Marneffe to Hulot, "if Madame Marneffe goes mad, you are worse than a profligate; you will be a murderer." What can a man
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