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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 4
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Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 4 Post by :bulkmailer007 Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :3331

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Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 4

The outer room of the two inhabited by Lisbeth served her as sitting-room, dining-room, kitchen, and workroom. The furniture was such as beseemed a well-to-do artisan--walnut-wood chairs with straw seats, a small walnut-wood dining table, a work table, some colored prints in black wooden frames, short muslin curtains to the windows, the floor well polished and shining with cleanliness, not a speck of dust anywhere, but all cold and dingy, like a picture by Terburg in every particular, even to the gray tone given by a wall paper once blue and now faded to gray. As to the bedroom, no human being had ever penetrated its secrets.

The Baron took it all in at a glance, saw the sign-manual of commonness on every detail, from the cast-iron stove to the household utensils, and his gorge rose as he said to himself, "And _this is virtue!--What am I here for?" said he aloud. "You are far too cunning not to guess, and I had better tell you plainly," cried he, sitting down and looking out across the courtyard through an opening he made in the puckered curtain. "There is a very pretty woman in the house----"

"Madame Marneffe! Now I understand!" she exclaimed, seeing it all. "But Josepha?"

"Alas, Cousin, Josepha is no more. I was turned out of doors like a discarded footman."

"And you would like . . .?" said Lisbeth, looking at the Baron with the dignity of a prude on her guard a quarter of an hour too soon.

"As Madame Marneffe is very much the lady, and the wife of an employe, you can meet her without compromising yourself," the Baron went on, "and I should like to see you neighborly. Oh! you need not be alarmed; she will have the greatest consideration for the cousin of her husband's chief."

At this moment the rustle of a gown was heard on the stairs and the footstep of a woman wearing the thinnest boots. The sound ceased on the landing. There was a tap at the door, and Madame Marneffe came in.

"Pray excuse me, mademoiselle, for thus intruding upon you, but I failed to find you yesterday when I came to call; we are near neighbors; and if I had known that you were related to Monsieur le Baron, I should long since have craved your kind interest with him. I saw him come in, so I took the liberty of coming across; for my husband, Monsieur le Baron, spoke to me of a report on the office clerks which is to be laid before the minister to-morrow."

She seemed quite agitated and nervous--but she had only run upstairs.

"You have no need to play the petitioner, fair lady," replied the Baron. "It is I who should ask the favor of seeing you."

"Very well, if mademoiselle allows it, pray come!" said Madame Marneffe.

"Yes--go, Cousin, I will join you," said Lisbeth judiciously.

The Parisienne had so confidently counted on the chief's visit and intelligence, that not only had she dressed herself for so important an interview--she had dressed her room. Early in the day it had been furnished with flowers purchased on credit. Marneffe had helped his wife to polish the furniture, down to the smallest objects, washing, brushing, and dusting everything. Valerie wished to be found in an atmosphere of sweetness, to attract the chief and to please him enough to have a right to be cruel; to tantalize him as a child would, with all the tricks of fashionable tactics. She had gauged Hulot. Give a Paris woman at bay four-and-twenty hours, and she will overthrow a ministry.

The man of the Empire, accustomed to the ways to the Empire, was no doubt quite ignorant of the ways of modern love-making, of the scruples in vogue and the various styles of conversation invented since 1830, which led to the poor weak woman being regarded as the victim of her lover's desires--a Sister of Charity salving a wound, an angel sacrificing herself.

This modern art of love uses a vast amount of evangelical phrases in the service of the Devil. Passion is martyrdom. Both parties aspire to the Ideal, to the Infinite; love is to make them so much better. All these fine words are but a pretext for putting increased ardor into the practical side of it, more frenzy into a fall than of old. This hypocrisy, a characteristic of the times, is a gangrene in gallantry. The lovers are both angels, and they behave, if they can, like two devils.

Love had no time for such subtle analysis between two campaigns, and in 1809 its successes were as rapid as those of the Empire. So, under the Restoration, the handsome Baron, a lady's man once more, had begun by consoling some old friends now fallen from the political firmament, like extinguished stars, and then, as he grew old, was captured by Jenny Cadine and Josepha.

Madame Marneffe had placed her batteries after due study of the Baron's past life, which her husband had narrated in much detail, after picking up some information in the offices. The comedy of modern sentiment might have the charm of novelty to the Baron; Valerie had made up her mind as to her scheme; and we may say the trial of her power that she made this morning answered her highest expectations. Thanks to her manoeuvres, sentimental, high-flown, and romantic, Valerie, without committing herself to any promises, obtained for her husband the appointment as deputy head of the office and the Cross of the Legion of Honor.

The campaign was not carried out without little dinners at the _Rocher de Cancale_, parties to the play, and gifts in the form of lace, scarves, gowns, and jewelry. The apartment in the Rue du Doyenne was not satisfactory; the Baron proposed to furnish another magnificently in a charming new house in the Rue Vanneau.

Monsieur Marneffe got a fortnight's leave, to be taken a month hence for urgent private affairs in the country, and a present in money; he promised himself that he would spend both in a little town in Switzerland, studying the fair sex.

While Monsieur Hulot thus devoted himself to the lady he was "protecting," he did not forget the young artist. Comte Popinot, Minister of Commerce, was a patron of Art; he paid two thousand francs for a copy of the _Samson on condition that the mould should be broken, and that there should be no _Samson but his and Mademoiselle Hulot's. The group was admired by a Prince, to whom the model sketch for the clock was also shown, and who ordered it; but that again was to be unique, and he offered thirty thousand francs for it.

Artists who were consulted, and among them Stidmann, were of opinion that the man who had sketched those two models was capable of achieving a statue. The Marshal Prince de Wissembourg, Minister of War, and President of the Committee for the subscriptions to the monument of Marshal Montcornet, called a meeting, at which it was decided that the execution of the work should be placed in Steinbock's hands. The Comte de Rastignac, at that time Under-secretary of State, wished to possess a work by the artist, whose glory was waxing amid the acclamations of his rivals. Steinbock sold to him the charming group of two little boys crowning a little girl, and he promised to secure for the sculptor a studio attached to the Government marble-quarries, situated, as all the world knows, at Le Gros-Caillou.

This was a success, such success as is won in Paris, that is to say, stupendous success, that crushes those whose shoulders and loins are not strong enough to bear it--as, be it said, not unfrequently is the case. Count Wenceslas Steinbock was written about in all the newspapers and reviews without his having the least suspicion of it, any more than had Mademoiselle Fischer. Every day, as soon as Lisbeth had gone out to dinner, Wenceslas went to the Baroness' and spent an hour or two there, excepting on the evenings when Lisbeth dined with the Hulots.

This state of things lasted for several days.

The Baron, assured of Count Steinbock's titles and position; the Baroness, pleased with his character and habits; Hortense, proud of her permitted love and of her suitor's fame, none of them hesitated to speak of the marriage; in short, the artist was in the seventh heaven, when an indiscretion on Madame Marneffe's part spoilt all.

And this was how.

Lisbeth, whom the Baron wished to see intimate with Madame Marneffe, that she might keep an eye on the couple, had already dined with Valerie; and she, on her part, anxious to have an ear in the Hulot house, made much of the old maid. It occurred to Valerie to invite Mademoiselle Fischer to a house-warming in the new apartments she was about to move into. Lisbeth, glad to have found another house to dine in, and bewitched by Madame Marneffe, had taken a great fancy to Valerie. Of all the persons she had made acquaintance with, no one had taken so much pains to please her. In fact, Madame Marneffe, full of attentions for Mademoiselle Fischer, found herself in the position towards Lisbeth that Lisbeth held towards the Baroness, Monsieur Rivet, Crevel, and the others who invited her to dinner.

The Marneffes had excited Lisbeth's compassion by allowing her to see the extreme poverty of the house, while varnishing it as usual with the fairest colors; their friends were under obligations to them and ungrateful; they had had much illness; Madame Fortin, her mother, had never known of their distress, and had died believing herself wealthy to the end, thanks to their superhuman efforts--and so forth.

"Poor people!" said she to her Cousin Hulot, "you are right to do what you can for them; they are so brave and so kind! They can hardly live on the thousand crowns he gets as deputy-head of the office, for they have got into debt since Marshal Montcornet's death. It is barbarity on the part of the Government to suppose that a clerk with a wife and family can live in Paris on two thousand four hundred francs a year."

And so, within a very short time, a young woman who affected regard for her, who told her everything, and consulted her, who flattered her, and seemed ready to yield to her guidance, had become dearer to the eccentric Cousin Lisbeth than all her relations.

The Baron, on his part, admiring in Madame Marneffe such propriety, education, and breeding as neither Jenny Cadine nor Josepha, nor any friend of theirs had to show, had fallen in love with her in a month, developing a senile passion, a senseless passion, which had an appearance of reason. In fact, he found here neither the banter, nor the orgies, nor the reckless expenditure, nor the depravity, nor the scorn of social decencies, nor the insolent independence which had brought him to grief alike with the actress and the singer. He was spared, too, the rapacity of the courtesan, like unto the thirst of dry sand.

Madame Marneffe, of whom he had made a friend and confidante, made the greatest difficulties over accepting any gift from him.

"Appointments, official presents, anything you can extract from the Government; but do not begin by insulting a woman whom you profess to love," said Valerie. "If you do, I shall cease to believe you--and I like to believe you," she added, with a glance like Saint Theresa leering at heaven.

Every time he made her a present there was a fortress to be stormed, a conscience to be over-persuaded. The hapless Baron laid deep stratagems to offer her some trifle--costly, nevertheless--proud of having at last met with virtue and the realization of his dreams. In this primitive household, as he assured himself, he was the god as much as in his own. And Monsieur Marneffe seemed at a thousand leagues from suspecting that the Jupiter of his office intended to descend on his wife in a shower of gold; he was his august chief's humblest slave.

Madame Marneffe, twenty-three years of age, a pure and bashful middle-class wife, a blossom hidden in the Rue du Doyenne, could know nothing of the depravity and demoralizing harlotry which the Baron could no longer think of without disgust, for he had never known the charm of recalcitrant virtue, and the coy Valerie made him enjoy it to the utmost--all along the line, as the saying goes.

The question having come to this point between Hector and Valerie, it is not astonishing that Valerie should have heard from Hector the secret of the intended marriage between the great sculptor Steinbock and Hortense Hulot. Between a lover on his promotion and a lady who hesitates long before becoming his mistress, there are contests, uttered or unexpressed, in which a word often betrays a thought; as, in fencing, the foils fly as briskly as the swords in duel. Then a prudent man follows the example of Monsieur de Turenne. Thus the Baron had hinted at the greater freedom his daughter's marriage would allow him, in reply to the tender Valerie, who more than once had exclaimed:

"I cannot imagine how a woman can go wrong for a man who is not wholly hers."

And a thousand times already the Baron had declared that for five-and-twenty years all had been at an end between Madame Hulot and himself.

"And they say she is so handsome!" replied Madame Marneffe. "I want proof."

"You shall have it," said the Baron, made happy by this demand, by which his Valerie committed herself.

Hector had then been compelled to reveal his plans, already being carried into effect in the Rue Vanneau, to prove to Valerie that he intended to devote to her that half of his life which belonged to his lawful wife, supposing that day and night equally divide the existence of civilized humanity. He spoke of decently deserting his wife, leaving her to herself as soon as Hortense should be married. The Baroness would then spend all her time with Hortense or the young Hulot couple; he was sure of her submission.

"And then, my angel, my true life, my real home will be in the Rue Vanneau."

"Bless me, how you dispose of me!" said Madame Marneffe. "And my husband----"

"That rag!"

"To be sure, as compared with you so he is!" said she with a laugh.

Madame Marneffe, having heard Steinbock's history, was frantically eager to see the young Count; perhaps she wished to have some trifle of his work while they still lived under the same roof. This curiosity so seriously annoyed the Baron that Valerie swore to him that she would never even look at Wenceslas. But though she obtained, as the reward of her surrender of this wish, a little tea-service of old Sevres _pate tendre_, she kept her wish at the bottom of her heart, as if written on tablets.

So one day when she had begged "_my Cousin Betty" to come to take coffee with her in her room, she opened on the subject of her lover, to know how she might see him without risk.

"My dear child," said she, for they called each my dear, "why have you never introduced your lover to me? Do you know that within a short time he has become famous?"

"He famous?"

"He is the one subject of conversation."

"Pooh!" cried Lisbeth.

"He is going to execute the statue of my father, and I could be of great use to him and help him to succeed in the work; for Madame Montcornet cannot lend him, as I can, a miniature by Sain, a beautiful thing done in 1809, before the Wagram Campaign, and given to my poor mother--Montcornet when he was young and handsome."

Sain and Augustin between them held the sceptre of miniature painting under the Empire.

"He is going to make a statue, my dear, did you say?"

"Nine feet high--by the orders of the Minister of War. Why, where have you dropped from that I should tell you the news? Why, the Government is going to give Count Steinbock rooms and a studio at Le Gros-Caillou, the depot for marble; your Pole will be made the Director, I should not wonder, with two thousand francs a year and a ring on his finger."

"How do you know all this when I have heard nothing about it?" said Lisbeth at last, shaking off her amazement.

"Now, my dear little Cousin Betty," said Madame Marneffe, in an insinuating voice, "are you capable of devoted friendship, put to any test? Shall we henceforth be sisters? Will you swear to me never to have a secret from me any more than I from you--to act as my spy, as I will be yours?--Above all, will you pledge yourself never to betray me either to my husband or to Monsieur Hulot, and never reveal that it was I who told you----?"

Madame Marneffe broke off in this spurring harangue; Lisbeth frightened her. The peasant-woman's face was terrible; her piercing black eyes had the glare of the tiger's; her face was like that we ascribe to a pythoness; she set her teeth to keep them from chattering, and her whole frame quivered convulsively. She had pushed her clenched fingers under her cap to clutch her hair and support her head, which felt too heavy; she was on fire. The smoke of the flame that scorched her seemed to emanate from her wrinkles as from the crevasses rent by a volcanic eruption. It was a startling spectacle.

"Well, why do you stop?" she asked in a hollow voice. "I will be all to you that I have been to him.--Oh, I would have given him my life-blood!"

"You loved him then?"

"Like a child of my own!"

"Well, then," said Madame Marneffe, with a breath of relief, "if you only love him in that way, you will be very happy--for you wish him to be happy?"

Lisbeth replied by a nod as hasty as a madwoman's.

"He is to marry your Cousin Hortense in a month's time."

"Hortense!" shrieked the old maid, striking her forehead, and starting to her feet.

"Well, but then you were really in love with this young man?" asked Valerie.

"My dear, we are bound for life and death, you and I," said Mademoiselle Fischer. "Yes, if you have any love affairs, to me they are sacred. Your vices will be virtues in my eyes.--For I shall need your vices!"

"Then did you live with him?" asked Valerie.

"No; I meant to be a mother to him."

"I give it up. I cannot understand," said Valerie. "In that case you are neither betrayed nor cheated, and you ought to be very happy to see him so well married; he is now fairly afloat. And, at any rate, your day is over. Our artist goes to Madame Hulot's every evening as soon as you go out to dinner."

"Adeline!" muttered Lisbeth. "Oh, Adeline, you shall pay for this! I will make you uglier than I am."

"You are as pale as death!" exclaimed Valerie. "There is something wrong?--Oh, what a fool I am! The mother and daughter must have suspected that you would raise some obstacles in the way of this affair since they have kept it from you," said Madame Marneffe. "But if you did not live with the young man, my dear, all this is a greater puzzle to me than my husband's feelings----"

"Ah, you don't know," said Lisbeth; "you have no idea of all their tricks. It is the last blow that kills. And how many such blows have I had to bruise my soul! You don't know that from the time when I could first feel, I have been victimized for Adeline. I was beaten, and she was petted; I was dressed like a scullion, and she had clothes like a lady's; I dug in the garden and cleaned the vegetables, and she--she never lifted a finger for anything but to make up some finery!--She married the Baron, she came to shine at the Emperor's Court, while I stayed in our village till 1809, waiting for four years for a suitable match; they brought me away, to be sure, but only to make me a work-woman, and to offer me clerks or captains like coalheavers for a husband! I have had their leavings for twenty-six years!--And now like the story in the Old Testament, the poor relation has one ewe-lamb which is all her joy, and the rich man who has flocks covets the ewe-lamb and steals it--without warning, without asking. Adeline has meanly robbed me of my happiness!--Adeline! Adeline! I will see you in the mire, and sunk lower than myself!--And Hortense--I loved her, and she has cheated me. The Baron.--No, it is impossible. Tell me again what is really true of all this."

"Be calm, my dear child."

"Valerie, my darling, I will be calm," said the strange creature, sitting down again. "One thing only can restore me to reason; give me proofs."

"Your Cousin Hortense has the _Samson group--here is a lithograph from it published in a review. She paid for it out of her pocket-money, and it is the Baron who, to benefit his future son-in-law, is pushing him, getting everything for him."

"Water!--water!" said Lisbeth, after glancing at the print, below which she read, "A group belonging to Mademoiselle Hulot d'Ervy." "Water! my head is burning, I am going mad!"

Madame Marneffe fetched some water. Lisbeth took off her cap, unfastened her black hair, and plunged her head into the basin her new friend held for her. She dipped her forehead into it several times, and checked the incipient inflammation. After this douche she completely recovered her self-command.

"Not a word," said she to Madame Marneffe as she wiped her face--"not a word of all this.--You see, I am quite calm; everything is forgotten. I am thinking of something very different."

"She will be in Charenton to-morrow, that is very certain," thought Madame Marneffe, looking at the old maid.

"What is to be done?" Lisbeth went on. "You see, my angel, there is nothing for it but to hold my tongue, bow my head, and drift to the grave, as all water runs to the river. What could I try to do? I should like to grind them all--Adeline, her daughter, and the Baron --all to dust! But what can a poor relation do against a rich family? It would be the story of the earthen pot and the iron pot."

"Yes; you are right," said Valerie. "You can only pull as much hay as you can to your side of the manger. That is all the upshot of life in Paris."

"Besides," said Lisbeth, "I shall soon die, I can tell you, if I lose that boy to whom I fancied I could always be a mother, and with whom I counted on living all my days----"

There were tears in her eyes, and she paused. Such emotion in this woman made of sulphur and flame, made Valerie shudder.

"Well, at any rate, I have found you," said Lisbeth, taking Valerie's hand, "that is some consolation in this dreadful trouble.--We shall be true friends; and why should we ever part? I shall never cross your track. No one will ever be in love with me!--Those who would have married me, would only have done it to secure my Cousin Hulot's interest. With energy enough to scale Paradise, to have to devote it to procuring bread and water, a few rags, and a garret!--That is martyrdom, my dear, and I have withered under it."

She broke off suddenly, and shot a black flash into Madame Marneffe's blue eyes, a glance that pierced the pretty woman's soul, as the point of a dagger might have pierced her heart.

"And what is the use of talking?" she exclaimed in reproof to herself. "I never said so much before, believe me! The tables will be turned yet!" she added after a pause. "As you so wisely say, let us sharpen our teeth, and pull down all the hay we can get."

"You are very wise," said Madame Marneffe, who had been frightened by this scene, and had no remembrance of having uttered this maxim. "I am sure you are right, my dear child. Life is not so long after all, and we must make the best of it, and make use of others to contribute to our enjoyment. Even I have learned that, young as I am. I was brought up a spoilt child, my father married ambitiously, and almost forgot me, after making me his idol and bringing me up like a queen's daughter! My poor mother, who filled my head with splendid visions, died of grief at seeing me married to an office clerk with twelve hundred francs a year, at nine-and-thirty an aged and hardened libertine, as corrupt as the hulks, looking on me, as others looked on you, as a means of fortune!--Well, in that wretched man, I have found the best of husbands. He prefers the squalid sluts he picks up at the street corners, and leaves me free. Though he keeps all his salary to himself, he never asks me where I get money to live on----"

And she in her turn stopped short, as a woman does who feels herself carried away by the torrent of her confessions; struck, too, by Lisbeth's eager attention, she thought well to make sure of Lisbeth before revealing her last secrets.

"You see, dear child, how entire is my confidence in you!" she presently added, to which Lisbeth replied by a most comforting nod.

An oath may be taken by a look and a nod more solemnly than in a court of justice.

"I keep up every appearance of respectability," Valerie went on, laying her hand on Lisbeth's as if to accept her pledge. "I am a married woman, and my own mistress, to such a degree, that in the morning, when Marneffe sets out for the office, if he takes it into his head to say good-bye and finds my door locked, he goes off without a word. He cares less for his boy than I care for one of the marble children that play at the feet of one of the river-gods in the Tuileries. If I do not come home to dinner, he dines quite contentedly with the maid, for the maid is devoted to monsieur; and he goes out every evening after dinner, and does not come in till twelve or one o'clock. Unfortunately, for a year past, I have had no ladies' maid, which is as much as to say that I am a widow!

"I have had one passion, once have been happy--a rich Brazilian--who went away a year ago--my only lapse!--He went away to sell his estates, to realize his land, and come back to live in France. What will he find left of his Valerie? A dunghill. Well! it is his fault and not mine; why does he delay coming so long? Perhaps he has been wrecked--like my virtue."

"Good-bye, my dear," said Lisbeth abruptly; "we are friends for ever. I love you, I esteem you, I am wholly yours! My cousin is tormenting me to go and live in the house you are moving to, in the Rue Vanneau; but I would not go, for I saw at once the reasons for this fresh piece of kindness----"

"Yes; you would have kept an eye on me, I know!" said Madame Marneffe.

"That was, no doubt, the motive of his generosity," replied Lisbeth. "In Paris, most beneficence is a speculation, as most acts of ingratitude are revenge! To a poor relation you behave as you do to rats to whom you offer a bit of bacon. Now, I will accept the Baron's offer, for this house has grown intolerable to me. You and I have wit enough to hold our tongues about everything that would damage us, and tell all that needs telling. So, no blabbing--and we are friends."

"Through thick and thin!" cried Madame Marneffe, delighted to have a sheep-dog, a confidante, a sort of respectable aunt. "Listen to me; the Baron is doing a great deal in the Rue Vanneau----"

"I believe you!" interrupted Lisbeth. "He has spent thirty thousand francs! Where he got the money, I am sure I don't know, for Josepha the singer bled him dry.--Oh! you are in luck," she went on. "The Baron would steal for a woman who held his heart in two little white satin hands like yours!"

"Well, then," said Madame Marneffe, with the liberality of such creatures, which is mere recklessness, "look here, my dear child; take away from here everything that may serve your turn in your new quarters--that chest of drawers, that wardrobe and mirror, the carpet, the curtains----"

Lisbeth's eyes dilated with excessive joy; she was incredulous of such a gift.

"You are doing more for me in a breath than my rich relations have done in thirty years!" she exclaimed. "They have never even asked themselves whether I had any furniture at all. On his first visit, a few weeks ago, the Baron made a rich man's face on seeing how poor I was.--Thank you, my dear; and I will give you your money's worth, you will see how by and by."

Valerie went out on the landing with _her Cousin Betty, and the two women embraced.

"Pouh! How she stinks of hard work!" said the pretty little woman to herself when she was alone. "I shall not embrace you often, my dear cousin! At the same time, I must look sharp. She must be skilfully managed, for she can be of use, and help me to make my fortune."

Like the true Creole of Paris, Madame Marneffe abhorred trouble; she had the calm indifference of a cat, which never jumps or runs but when urged by necessity. To her, life must be all pleasure; and the pleasure without difficulties. She loved flowers, provided they were brought to her. She could not imagine going to the play but to a good box, at her own command, and in a carriage to take her there. Valerie inherited these courtesan tastes from her mother, on whom General Montcornet had lavished luxury when he was in Paris, and who for twenty years had seen all the world at her feet; who had been wasteful and prodigal, squandering her all in the luxurious living of which the programme has been lost since the fall of Napoleon.

The grandees of the Empire were a match in their follies for the great nobles of the last century. Under the Restoration the nobility cannot forget that it has been beaten and robbed, and so, with two or three exceptions, it has become thrifty, prudent, and stay-at-home, in short, bourgeois and penurious. Since then, 1830 has crowned the work of 1793. In France, henceforth, there will be great names, but no great houses, unless there should be political changes which we can hardly foresee. Everything takes the stamp of individuality. The wisest invest in annuities. Family pride is destroyed.

The bitter pressure of poverty which had stung Valerie to the quick on the day when, to use Marneffe's expression, she had "caught on" with Hulot, had brought the young woman to the conclusion that she would make a fortune by means of her good looks. So, for some days, she had been feeling the need of having a friend about her to take the place of a mother--a devoted friend, to whom such things may be told as must be hidden from a waiting-maid, and who could act, come and go, and think for her, a beast of burden resigned to an unequal share of life. Now, she, quite as keenly as Lisbeth, had understood the Baron's motives for fostering the intimacy between his cousin and herself.

Prompted by the formidable perspicacity of the Parisian half-breed, who spends her days stretched on a sofa, turning the lantern of her detective spirit on the obscurest depths of souls, sentiments, and intrigues, she had decided on making an ally of the spy. This supremely rash step was, perhaps premeditated; she had discerned the true nature of this ardent creature, burning with wasted passion, and meant to attach her to herself. Thus, their conversation was like the stone a traveler casts into an abyss to demonstrate its depth. And Madame Marneffe had been terrified to find this old maid a combination of Iago and Richard III., so feeble as she seemed, so humble, and so little to be feared.

For that instant, Lisbeth Fischer had been her real self; that Corsican and savage temperament, bursting the slender bonds that held it under, had sprung up to its terrible height, as the branch of a tree flies up from the hand of a child that has bent it down to gather the green fruit.

To those who study the social world, it must always be a matter of astonishment to see the fulness, the perfection, and the rapidity with which an idea develops in a virgin nature.

Virginity, like every other monstrosity, has its special richness, its absorbing greatness. Life, whose forces are always economized, assumes in the virgin creature an incalculable power of resistance and endurance. The brain is reinforced in the sum-total of its reserved energy. When really chaste natures need to call on the resources of body or soul, and are required to act or to think, they have muscles of steel, or intuitive knowledge in their intelligence--diabolical strength, or the black magic of the Will.

From this point of view the Virgin Mary, even if we regard her only as a symbol, is supremely great above every other type, whether Hindoo, Egyptian, or Greek. Virginity, the mother of great things, _magna parens rerum_, holds in her fair white hands the keys of the upper worlds. In short, that grand and terrible exception deserves all the honors decreed to her by the Catholic Church.

Thus, in one moment, Lisbeth Fischer had become the Mohican whose snares none can escape, whose dissimulation is inscrutable, whose swift decisiveness is the outcome of the incredible perfection of every organ of sense. She was Hatred and Revenge, as implacable as they are in Italy, Spain, and the East. These two feelings, the obverse of friendship and love carried to the utmost, are known only in lands scorched by the sun. But Lisbeth was also a daughter of Lorraine, bent on deceit.

She accepted this detail of her part against her will; she began by making a curious attempt, due to her ignorance. She fancied, as children do, that being imprisoned meant the same thing as solitary confinement. But this is the superlative degree of imprisonment, and that superlative is the privilege of the Criminal Bench.

As soon as she left Madame Marneffe, Lisbeth hurried off to Monsieur Rivet, and found him in his office.

"Well, my dear Monsieur Rivet," she began, when she had bolted the door of the room. "You were quite right. Those Poles! They are low villains--all alike, men who know neither law nor fidelity."

"And who want to set Europe on fire," said the peaceable Rivet, "to ruin every trade and every trader for the sake of a country that is all bog-land, they say, and full of horrible Jews, to say nothing of the Cossacks and the peasants--a sort of wild beasts classed by mistake with human beings. Your Poles do not understand the times we live in; we are no longer barbarians. War is coming to an end, my dear mademoiselle; it went out with the Monarchy. This is the age of triumph for commerce, and industry, and middle-class prudence, such as were the making of Holland.

"Yes," he went on with animation, "we live in a period when nations must obtain all they need by the legal extension of their liberties and by the pacific action of Constitutional Institutions; that is what the Poles do not see, and I hope----

"You were saying, my dear?--" he added, interrupting himself when he saw from his work-woman's face that high politics were beyond her comprehension.

"Here is the schedule," said Lisbeth. "If I don't want to lose my three thousand two hundred and ten francs, I must clap this rogue into prison."

"Didn't I tell you so?" cried the oracle of the Saint-Denis quarter.

The Rivets, successor to Pons Brothers, had kept their shop still in the Rue des Mauvaises-Paroles, in the ancient Hotel Langeais, built by that illustrious family at the time when the nobility still gathered round the Louvre.

"Yes, and I blessed you on my way here," replied Lisbeth.

"If he suspects nothing, he can be safe in prison by eight o'clock in the morning," said Rivet, consulting the almanac to ascertain the hour of sunrise; "but not till the day after to-morrow, for he cannot be imprisoned till he has had notice that he is to be arrested by writ, with the option of payment or imprisonment. And so----"

"What an idiotic law!" exclaimed Lisbeth. "Of course the debtor escapes."

"He has every right to do so," said the Assessor, smiling. "So this is the way----"

"As to that," said Lisbeth, interrupting him, "I will take the paper and hand it to him, saying that I have been obliged to raise the money, and that the lender insists on this formality. I know my gentleman. He will not even look at the paper; he will light his pipe with it."

"Not a bad idea, not bad, Mademoiselle Fischer! Well, make your mind easy; the job shall be done.--But stop a minute; to put your man in prison is not the only point to be considered; you only want to indulge in that legal luxury in order to get your money. Who is to pay you?"

"Those who give him money."

"To be sure; I forgot that the Minister of War had commissioned him to erect a monument to one of our late customers. Ah! the house has supplied many an uniform to General Montcornet; he soon blackened them with the smoke of cannon. A brave man, he was! and he paid on the nail."

A marshal of France may have saved the Emperor or his country; "He paid on the nail" will always be the highest praise he can have from a tradesman.

"Very well. And on Saturday, Monsieur Rivet, you shall have the flat tassels.--By the way, I am moving from the Rue du Doyenne; I am going to live in the Rue Vanneau."

"You are very right. I could not bear to see you in that hole which, in spite of my aversion to the Opposition, I must say is a disgrace; I repeat it, yes! is a disgrace to the Louvre and the Place du Carrousel. I am devoted to Louis-Philippe, he is my idol; he is the august and exact representative of the class on whom he founded his dynasty, and I can never forget what he did for the trimming-makers by restoring the National Guard----"

"When I hear you speak so, Monsieur Rivet, I cannot help wondering why you are not made a deputy."

"They are afraid of my attachment to the dynasty," replied Rivet. "My political enemies are the King's. He has a noble character! They are a fine family; in short," said he, returning to the charge, "he is our ideal: morality, economy, everything. But the completion of the Louvre is one of the conditions on which we gave him the crown, and the civil list, which, I admit, had no limits set to it, leaves the heart of Paris in a most melancholy state.--It is because I am so strongly in favor of the middle course that I should like to see the middle of Paris in a better condition. Your part of the town is positively terrifying. You would have been murdered there one fine day.--And so your Monsieur Crevel has been made Major of his division! He will come to us, I hope, for his big epaulette."

"I am dining with him to-night, and will send him to you."

Lisbeth believed that she had secured her Livonian to herself by cutting him off from all communication with the outer world. If he could no longer work, the artist would be forgotten as completely as a man buried in a cellar, where she alone would go to see him. Thus she had two happy days, for she hoped to deal a mortal blow at the Baroness and her daughter.

To go to Crevel's house, in the Rue des Saussayes, she crossed the Pont du Carrousel, went along the Quai Voltaire, the Quai d'Orsay, the Rue Bellechasse, Rue de l'Universite, the Pont de la Concorde, and the Avenue de Marigny. This illogical route was traced by the logic of passion, always the foe of the legs.

Cousin Betty, as long as she followed the line of the quays, kept watch on the opposite shore of the Seine, walking very slowly. She had guessed rightly. She had left Wenceslas dressing; she at once understood that, as soon as he should be rid of her, the lover would go off to the Baroness' by the shortest road. And, in fact, as she wandered along by the parapet of the Quai Voltaire, in fancy suppressing the river and walking along the opposite bank, she recognized the artist as he came out of the Tuileries to cross the Pont Royal. She there came up with the faithless one, and could follow him unseen, for lovers rarely look behind them. She escorted him as far as Madame Hulot's house, where he went in like an accustomed visitor.

This crowning proof, confirming Madame Marneffe's revelations, put Lisbeth quite beside herself.

She arrived at the newly promoted Major's door in the state of mental irritation which prompts men to commit murder, and found Monsieur Crevel _senior in his drawing-room awaiting his children, Monsieur and Madame Hulot _junior_.

But Celestin Crevel was so unconscious and so perfect a type of the Parisian parvenu, that we can scarcely venture so unceremoniously into the presence of Cesar Birotteau's successor. Celestin Crevel was a world in himself; and he, even more than Rivet, deserves the honors of the palette by reason of his importance in this domestic drama.

Have you ever observed how in childhood, or at the early stages of social life, we create a model for our own imitation, with our own hands as it were, and often without knowing it? The banker's clerk, for instance, as he enters his master's drawing-room, dreams of possessing such another. If he makes a fortune, it will not be the luxury of the day, twenty years later, that you will find in his house, but the old-fashioned splendor that fascinated him of yore. It is impossible to tell how many absurdities are due to this retrospective jealousy; and in the same way we know nothing of the follies due to the covert rivalry that urges men to copy the type they have set themselves, and exhaust their powers in shining with a reflected light, like the moon.

Crevel was deputy mayor because his predecessor had been; he was Major because he coveted Cesar Birotteau's epaulettes. In the same way, struck by the marvels wrought by Grindot the architect, at the time when Fortune had carried his master to the top of the wheel, Crevel had "never looked at both sides of a crown-piece," to use his own language, when he wanted to "do up" his rooms; he had gone with his purse open and his eyes shut to Grindot, who by this time was quite forgotten. It is impossible to guess how long an extinct reputation may survive, supported by such stale admiration.

So Grindot, for the thousandth time had displayed his white-and-gold drawing-room paneled with crimson damask. The furniture, of rosewood, clumsily carved, as such work is done for the trade, had in the country been the source of just pride in Paris workmanship on the occasion of an industrial exhibition. The candelabra, the fire-dogs, the fender, the chandelier, the clock, were all in the most unmeaning style of scroll-work; the round table, a fixture in the middle of the room, was a mosaic of fragments of Italian and antique marbles, brought from Rome, where these dissected maps are made of mineralogical specimens--for all the world like tailors' patterns--an object of perennial admiration to Crevel's citizen friends. The portraits of the late lamented Madame Crevel, of Crevel himself, of his daughter and his son-in-law, hung on the walls, two and two; they were the work of Pierre Grassou, the favored painter of the bourgeoisie, to whom Crevel owed his ridiculous Byronic attitude. The frames, costing a thousand francs each, were quite in harmony with this coffee-house magnificence, which would have made any true artist shrug his shoulders.

Money never yet missed the smallest opportunity of being stupid. We should have in Paris ten Venices if our retired merchants had had the instinct for fine things characteristic of the Italians. Even in our own day a Milanese merchant could leave five hundred thousand francs to the Duomo, to regild the colossal statue of the Virgin that crowns the edifice. Canova, in his will, desired his brother to build a church costing four million francs, and that brother adds something on his own account. Would a citizen of Paris--and they all, like Rivet, love their Paris in their heart--ever dream of building the spires that are lacking to the towers of Notre-Dame? And only think of the sums that revert to the State in property for which no heirs are found.

All the improvements of Paris might have been completed with the money spent on stucco castings, gilt mouldings, and sham sculpture during the last fifteen years by individuals of the Crevel stamp.

Beyond this drawing-room was a splendid boudoir furnished with tables and cabinets in imitation of Boulle.

The bedroom, smart with chintz, also opened out of the drawing-room. Mahogany in all its glory infested the dining-room, and Swiss views, gorgeously framed, graced the panels. Crevel, who hoped to travel in Switzerland, had set his heart on possessing the scenery in painting till the time should come when he might see it in reality.

So, as will have been seen, Crevel, the Mayor's deputy, of the Legion of Honor and of the National Guard, had faithfully reproduced all the magnificence, even as to furniture, of his luckless predecessor. Under the Restoration, where one had sunk, this other, quite overlooked, had come to the top--not by any strange stroke of fortune, but by the force of circumstance. In revolutions, as in storms at sea, solid treasure goes to the bottom, and light trifles are floated to the surface. Cesar Birotteau, a Royalist, in favor and envied, had been made the mark of bourgeois hostility, while bourgeoisie triumphant found its incarnation in Crevel.

This apartment, at a rent of a thousand crowns, crammed with all the vulgar magnificence that money can buy, occupied the first floor of a fine old house between a courtyard and a garden. Everything was as spick-and-span as the beetles in an entomological case, for Crevel lived very little at home.

This gorgeous residence was the ambitious citizen's legal domicile. His establishment consisted of a woman-cook and a valet; he hired two extra men, and had a dinner sent in by Chevet, whenever he gave a banquet to his political friends, to men he wanted to dazzle or to a family party.

The seat of Crevel's real domesticity, formerly in the Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette, with Mademoiselle Heloise Brisetout, had lately been transferred, as we have seen, to the Rue Chauchat. Every morning the retired merchant--every ex-tradesman is a retired merchant--spent two hours in the Rue des Saussayes to attend to business, and gave the rest of his time to Mademoiselle Zaire, which annoyed Zaire very much. Orosmanes-Crevel had a fixed bargain with Mademoiselle Heloise; she owed him five hundred francs worth of enjoyment every month, and no "bills delivered." He paid separately for his dinner and all extras. This agreement, with certain bonuses, for he made her a good many presents, seemed cheap to the ex-attache of the great singer; and he would say to widowers who were fond of their daughters, that it paid better to job your horses than to have a stable of your own. At the same time, if the reader remembers the speech made to the Baron by the porter at the Rue Chauchat, Crevel did not escape the coachman and the groom.

Crevel, as may be seen, had turned his passionate affection for his daughter to the advantage of his self-indulgence. The immoral aspect of the situation was justified by the highest morality. And then the ex-perfumer derived from this style of living--it was the inevitable, a free-and-easy life, _Regence, Pompadour, Marechal de Richelieu_, what not--a certain veneer of superiority. Crevel set up for being a man of broad views, a fine gentleman with an air and grace, a liberal man with nothing narrow in his ideas--and all for the small sum of about twelve to fifteen hundred francs a month. This was the result not of hypocritical policy, but of middle-class vanity, though it came to the same in the end.

On the Bourse Crevel was regarded as a man superior to his time, and especially as a man of pleasure, a _bon vivant_. In this particular Crevel flattered himself that he had overtopped his worthy friend Birotteau by a hundred cubits.

"And is it you?" cried Crevel, flying into a rage as he saw Lisbeth enter the room, "who have plotted this marriage between Mademoiselle Hulot and your young Count, whom you have been bringing up by hand for her?"

"You don't seem best pleased at it?" said Lisbeth, fixing a piercing eye on Crevel. "What interest can you have in hindering my cousin's marriage? For it was you, I am told, who hindered her marrying Monsieur Lebas' son."

"You are a good soul and to be trusted," said Crevel. "Well, then, do you suppose that I will ever forgive Monsieur Hulot for the crime of having robbed me of Josepha--especially when he turned a decent girl, whom I should have married in my old age, into a good-for-nothing slut, a mountebank, an opera singer!--No, no. Never!"

"He is a very good fellow, too, is Monsieur Hulot," said Cousin Betty.

"Amiable, very amiable--too amiable," replied Crevel. "I wish him no harm; but I do wish to have my revenge, and I will have it. It is my one idea."

"And is that desire the reason why you no longer visit Madame Hulot?"


"Ah, ha! then you were courting my fair cousin?" said Lisbeth, with a smile. "I thought as much."

"And she treated me like a dog!--worse, like a footman; nay, I might say like a political prisoner.--But I will succeed yet," said he, striking his brow with his clenched fist.

"Poor man! It would be dreadful to catch his wife deceiving him after being packed off by his mistress."

"Josepha?" cried Crevel. "Has Josepha thrown him over, packed him off, turned him out neck and crop? Bravo, Josepha, you have avenged me! I will send you a pair of pearls to hang in your ears, my ex-sweetheart! --I knew nothing of it; for after I had seen you, on the day after that when the fair Adeline had shown me the door, I went back to visit the Lebas, at Corbeil, and have but just come back. Heloise played the very devil to get me into the country, and I have found out the purpose of her game; she wanted me out of the way while she gave a house-warming in the Rue Chauchat, with some artists, and players, and writers.--She took me in! But I can forgive her, for Heloise amuses me. She is a Dejazet under a bushel. What a character the hussy is! There is the note I found last evening:

"'DEAR OLD CHAP,--I have pitched my tent in the Rue Chauchat. I have taken the precaution of getting a few friends to clean up the paint. All is well. Come when you please, monsieur; Hagar awaits her Abraham.'

"Heloise will have some news for me, for she has her bohemia at her fingers' end."

"But Monsieur Hulot took the disaster very calmly," said Lisbeth.

"Impossible!" cried Crevel, stopping in a parade as regular as the swing of a pendulum.

"Monsieur Hulot is not as young as he was," Lisbeth remarked significantly.

"I know that," said Crevel, "but in one point we are alike: Hulot cannot do without an attachment. He is capable of going back to his wife. It would be a novelty for him, but an end to my vengeance. You smile, Mademoiselle Fischer--ah! perhaps you know something?"

"I am smiling at your notions," replied Lisbeth. "Yes, my cousin is still handsome enough to inspire a passion. I should certainly fall in love with her if I were a man."

"Cut and come again!" exclaimed Crevel. "You are laughing at me.--The Baron has already found consolation?"

Lisbeth bowed affirmatively.

"He is a lucky man if he can find a second Josepha within twenty-four hours!" said Crevel. "But I am not altogether surprised, for he told me one evening at supper that when he was a young man he always had three mistresses on hand that he might not be left high and dry--the one he was giving over, the one in possession, and the one he was courting for a future emergency. He had some smart little work-woman in reserve, no doubt--in his fish-pond--his _Parc-aux-cerfs_! He is very Louis XV., is my gentleman. He is in luck to be so handsome! --However, he is ageing; his face shows it.--He has taken up with some little milliner?"

"Dear me, no," replied Lisbeth.

"Oh!" cried Crevel, "what would I not do to hinder him from hanging up his hat! I could not win back Josepha; women of that kind never come back to their first love.--Besides, it is truly said, such a return is not love.--But, Cousin Betty, I would pay down fifty thousand francs --that is to say, I would spend it--to rob that great good-looking fellow of his mistress, and to show him that a Major with a portly stomach and a brain made to become Mayor of Paris, though he is a grandfather, is not to have his mistress tickled away by a poacher without turning the tables."

"My position," said Lisbeth, "compels me to hear everything and know nothing. You may talk to me without fear; I never repeat a word of what any one may choose to tell me. How can you suppose I should ever break that rule of conduct? No one would ever trust me again."

"I know," said Crevel; "you are the very jewel of old maids. Still, come, there are exceptions. Look here, the family have never settled an allowance on you?"

"But I have my pride," said Lisbeth. "I do not choose to be an expense to anybody."

"If you will but help me to my revenge," the tradesman went on, "I will sink ten thousand francs in an annuity for you. Tell me, my fair cousin, tell me who has stepped into Josepha's shoes, and you will have money to pay your rent, your little breakfast in the morning, the good coffee you love so well--you might allow yourself pure Mocha, heh! And a very good thing is pure Mocha!"

"I do not care so much for the ten thousand francs in an annuity, which would bring me nearly five hundred francs a year, as for absolute secrecy," said Lisbeth. "For, you see, my dear Monsieur Crevel, the Baron is very good to me; he is to pay my rent----"

"Oh yes, long may that last! I advise you to trust him," cried Crevel. "Where will he find the money?"

"Ah, that I don't know. At the same time, he is spending more than thirty thousand francs on the rooms he is furnishing for this little lady."

"A lady! What, a woman in society; the rascal, what luck he has! He is the only favorite!"

"A married woman, and quite the lady," Lisbeth affirmed.

"Really and truly?" cried Crevel, opening wide eyes flashing with envy, quite as much as at the magic words _quite the lady_.

"Yes, really," said Lisbeth. "Clever, a musician, three-and-twenty, a pretty, innocent face, a dazzling white skin, teeth like a puppy's, eyes like stars, a beautiful forehead--and tiny feet, I never saw the like, they are not wider than her stay-busk."

"And ears?" asked Crevel, keenly alive to this catalogue of charms.

"Ears for a model," she replied.

"And small hands?"

"I tell you, in few words, a gem of a woman--and high-minded, and modest, and refined! A beautiful soul, an angel--and with every distinction, for her father was a Marshal of France----"

"A Marshal of France!" shrieked Crevel, positively bounding with excitement. "Good Heavens! by the Holy Piper! By all the joys in Paradise!--The rascal!--I beg your pardon, Cousin, I am going crazy! --I think I would give a hundred thousand francs----"

"I dare say you would, and, I tell you, she is a respectable woman--a woman of virtue. The Baron has forked out handsomely."

"He has not a sou, I tell you."

"There is a husband he has pushed----"

"Where did he push him?" asked Crevel, with a bitter laugh.

"He is promoted to be second in his office--this husband who will oblige, no doubt;--and his name is down for the Cross of the Legion of Honor."

"The Government ought to be judicious and respect those who have the Cross by not flinging it broadcast," said Crevel, with the look of an aggrieved politician. "But what is there about the man--that old bulldog of a Baron?" he went on. "It seems to me that I am quite a match for him," and he struck an attitude as he looked at himself in the glass. "Heloise has told me many a time, at moments when a woman speaks the truth, that I was wonderful."

"Oh," said Lisbeth, "women like big men; they are almost always good-natured; and if I had to decide between you and the Baron, I should choose you. Monsieur Hulot is amusing, handsome, and has a figure; but you, you are substantial, and then--you see--you look an even greater scamp than he does."

"It is incredible how all women, even pious women, take to men who have that about them!" exclaimed Crevel, putting his arm round Lisbeth's waist, he was so jubilant.

"The difficulty does not lie there," said Betty. "You must see that a woman who is getting so many advantages will not be unfaithful to her patron for nothing; and it would cost you more than a hundred odd thousand francs, for our little friend can look forward to seeing her husband at the head of his office within two years' time.--It is poverty that is dragging the poor little angel into that pit."

Crevel was striding up and down the drawing-room in a state of frenzy.

"He must be uncommonly fond of the woman?" he inquired after a pause, while his desires, thus goaded by Lisbeth, rose to a sort of madness.

"You may judge for yourself," replied Lisbeth. "I don't believe he has had _that of her," said she, snapping her thumbnail against one of her enormous white teeth, "and he has given her ten thousand francs' worth of presents already."

"What a good joke it would be!" cried Crevel, "if I got to the winning post first!"

"Good heavens! It is too bad of me to be telling you all this tittle-tattle," said Lisbeth, with an air of compunction.

"No.--I mean to put your relations to the blush. To-morrow I shall invest in your name such a sum in five-per-cents as will give you six hundred francs a year; but then you must tell me everything--his Dulcinea's name and residence. To you I will make a clean breast of it.--I never have had a real lady for a mistress, and it is the height of my ambition. Mahomet's houris are nothing in comparison with what I fancy a woman of fashion must be. In short, it is my dream, my mania, and to such a point, that I declare to you the Baroness Hulot to me will never be fifty," said he, unconsciously plagiarizing one of the greatest wits of the last century. "I assure you, my good Lisbeth, I am prepared to sacrifice a hundred, two hundred--Hush! Here are the young people, I see them crossing the courtyard. I shall never have learned anything through you, I give you my word of honor; for I do not want you to lose the Baron's confidence, quite the contrary. He must be amazingly fond of this woman--that old boy."

"He is crazy about her," said Lisbeth. "He could not find forty thousand francs to marry his daughter off, but he has got them somehow for his new passion."

"And do you think that she loves him?"

"At his age!" said the old maid.

"Oh, what an owl I am!" cried Crevel, "when I myself allowed Heloise to keep her artist exactly as Henri IX. allowed Gabrielle her Bellegrade. Alas! old age, old age!--Good-morning, Celestine. How do, my jewel!--And the brat? Ah! here he comes; on my honor, he is beginning to be like me!--Good-day, Hulot--quite well? We shall soon be having another wedding in the family."

Celestine and her husband, as a hint to their father, glanced at the old maid, who audaciously asked, in reply to Crevel:


Crevel put on an air of reserve which was meant to convey that he would make up for her indiscretions.

"That of Hortense," he replied; "but it is not yet quite settled. I have just come from the Lebas', and they were talking of Mademoiselle Popinot as a suitable match for their son, the young councillor, for he would like to get the presidency of a provincial court.--Now, come to dinner."

By seven o'clock Lisbeth had returned home in an omnibus, for she was eager to see Wenceslas, whose dupe she had been for three weeks, and to whom she was carrying a basket filled with fruit by the hands of Crevel himself, whose attentions were doubled towards _his Cousin Betty.

She flew up to the attic at a pace that took her breath away, and found the artist finishing the ornamentation of a box to be presented to the adored Hortense. The framework of the lid represented hydrangeas--in French called _Hortensias_--among which little Loves were playing. The poor lover, to enable him to pay for the materials of the box, of which the panels were of malachite, had designed two candlesticks for Florent and Chanor, and sold them the copyright--two admirable pieces of work.

"You have been working too hard these last few days, my dear fellow," said Lisbeth, wiping the perspiration from his brow, and giving him a kiss. "Such laborious diligence is really dangerous in the month of August. Seriously, you may injure your health. Look, here are some peaches and plums from Monsieur Crevel.--Now, do not worry yourself so much; I have borrowed two thousand francs, and, short of some disaster, we can repay them when you sell your clock. At the same time, the lender seems to me suspicious, for he has just sent in this document."

She laid the writ under the model sketch of the statue of General Montcornet.

"For whom are you making this pretty thing?" said she, taking up the model sprays of hydrangea in red wax which Wenceslas had laid down while eating the fruit.

"For a jeweler."

"For what jeweler?"

"I do not know. Stidmann asked me to make something out of them, as he is very busy."

"But these," she said in a deep voice, "are _Hortensias_. How is it that you have never made anything in wax for me? Is it so difficult to design a pin, a little box--what not, as a keepsake?" and she shot a fearful glance at the artist, whose eyes were happily lowered. "And yet you say you love me?"

"Can you doubt it, mademoiselle?"

"That is indeed an ardent _mademoiselle_!--Why, you have been my only thought since I found you dying--just there. When I saved you, you vowed you were mine, I mean to hold you to that pledge; but I made a vow to myself! I said to myself, 'Since the boy says he is mine, I mean to make him rich and happy!' Well, and I can make your fortune."

"How?" said the hapless artist, at the height of joy, and too artless to dream of a snare.

"Why, thus," said she.

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Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 5 Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 5

Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 5
Lisbeth could not deprive herself of the savage pleasure of gazing at Wenceslas, who looked up at her with filial affection, the expression really of his love for Hortense, which deluded the old maid. Seeing in a man's eyes, for the first time in her life, the blazing torch of passion, she fancied it was for her that it was lighted. "Monsieur Crevel will back us to the extent of a hundred thousand francs to start in business, if, as he says, you will marry me. He has queer ideas, has the worthy man.--Well, what do you say to it?" she

Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 3 Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 3

Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 3
Five months after he was out of his apprenticeship as a finisher, he made acquaintance with Stidmann, the famous head of Florent's studios. Within twenty months Wenceslas was ahead of his master; but in thirty months the old maid's savings of sixteen years had melted entirely. Two thousand five hundred francs in gold!--a sum with which she had intended to purchase an annuity; and what was there to show for it? A Pole's receipt! And at this moment Lisbeth was working as hard as in her young days to supply the needs of her Livonian. When she found herself the possessor