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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 5
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Cousin Betty (la Cousine Bette) - Part 5 Post by :bulkmailer007 Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :1077

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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 added.

The artist, as pale as the dead, looked at his benefactress with a lustreless eye, which plainly spoke his thoughts. He stood stupefied and open-mouthed.

"I never before was so distinctly told that I am hideous," said she, with a bitter laugh.

"Mademoiselle," said Steinbock, "my benefactress can never be ugly in my eyes; I have the greatest affection for you. But I am not yet thirty, and----"

"I am forty-three," said Lisbeth. "My cousin Adeline is forty-eight, and men are still madly in love with her; but then she is handsome --she is!"

"Fifteen years between us, mademoiselle! How could we get on together! For both our sakes I think we should be wise to think it over. My gratitude shall be fully equal to your great kindness.--And your money shall be repaid in a few days."

"My money!" cried she. "You treat me as if I were nothing but an unfeeling usurer."

"Forgive me," said Wenceslas, "but you remind me of it so often. --Well, it is you who have made me; do not crush me."

"You mean to be rid of me, I can see," said she, shaking her head. "Who has endowed you with this strength of ingratitude--you who are a man of papier-mache? Have you ceased to trust me--your good genius? --me, when I have spent so many nights working for you--when I have given you every franc I have saved in my lifetime--when for four years I have shared my bread with you, the bread of a hard-worked woman, and given you all I had, to my very courage."

"Mademoiselle--no more, no more!" he cried, kneeling before her with uplifted hands. "Say not another word! In three days I will tell you, you shall know all.--Let me, let me be happy," and he kissed her hands. "I love--and I am loved."

"Well, well, my child, be happy," she said, lifting him up. And she kissed his forehead and hair with the eagerness that a man condemned to death must feel as he lives through the last morning.

"Ah! you are of all creatures the noblest and best! You are a match for the woman I love," said the poor artist.

"I love you well enough to tremble for your future fate," said she gloomily. "Judas hanged himself--the ungrateful always come to a bad end! You are deserting me, and you will never again do any good work. Consider whether, without being married--for I know I am an old maid, and I do not want to smother the blossom of your youth, your poetry, as you call it, in my arms, that are like vine-stocks--but whether, without being married, we could not get on together? Listen; I have the commercial spirit; I could save you a fortune in the course of ten years' work, for Economy is my name!--while, with a young wife, who would be sheer Expenditure, you would squander everything; you would work only to indulge her. But happiness creates nothing but memories. Even I, when I am thinking of you, sit for hours with my hands in my lap----

"Come, Wenceslas, stay with me.--Look here, I understand all about it; you shall have your mistresses; pretty ones too, like that little Marneffe woman who wants to see you, and who will give you happiness you could never find with me. Then, when I have saved you thirty thousand francs a year in the funds----"

"Mademoiselle, you are an angel, and I shall never forget this hour," said Wenceslas, wiping away his tears.

"That is how I like to see you, my child," said she, gazing at him with rapture.

Vanity is so strong a power in us all that Lisbeth believed in her triumph. She had conceded so much when offering him Madame Marneffe. It was the crowning emotion of her life; for the first time she felt the full tide of joy rising in her heart. To go through such an experience again she would have sold her soul to the Devil.

"I am engaged to be married," Steinbock replied, "and I love a woman with whom no other can compete or compare.--But you are, and always will be, to me the mother I have lost."

The words fell like an avalanche of snow on a burning crater. Lisbeth sat down. She gazed with despondent eyes on the youth before her, on his aristocratic beauty--the artist's brow, the splendid hair, everything that appealed to her suppressed feminine instincts, and tiny tears moistened her eyes for an instant and immediately dried up. She looked like one of those meagre statues which the sculptors of the Middle Ages carved on monuments.

"I cannot curse you," said she, suddenly rising. "You--you are but a boy. God preserve you!"

She went downstairs and shut herself into her own room.

"She is in love with me, poor creature!" said Wenceslas to himself. "And how fervently eloquent! She is crazy."

This last effort on the part of an arid and narrow nature to keep hold on an embodiment of beauty and poetry was, in truth, so violent that it can only be compared to the frenzied vehemence of a shipwrecked creature making the last struggle to reach shore.

On the next day but one, at half-past four in the morning, when Count Steinbock was sunk in the deepest sleep, he heard a knock at the door of his attic; he rose to open it, and saw two men in shabby clothing, and a third, whose dress proclaimed him a bailiff down on his luck.

"You are Monsieur Wenceslas, Count Steinbock?" said this man.

"Yes, monsieur."

"My name is Grasset, sir, successor to Louchard, sheriff's officer----"

"What then?"

"You are under arrest, sir. You must come with us to prison--to Clichy.--Please to get dressed.--We have done the civil, as you see; I have brought no police, and there is a hackney cab below."

"You are safely nabbed, you see," said one of the bailiffs; "and we look to you to be liberal."

Steinbock dressed and went downstairs, a man holding each arm; when he was in the cab, the driver started without orders, as knowing where he was to go, and within half an hour the unhappy foreigner found himself safely under bolt and bar without even a remonstrance, so utterly amazed was he.

At ten o'clock he was sent for to the prison-office, where he found Lisbeth, who, in tears, gave him some money to feed himself adequately and to pay for a room large enough to work in.

"My dear boy," said she, "never say a word of your arrest to anybody, do not write to a living soul; it would ruin you for life; we must hide this blot on your character. I will soon have you out. I will collect the money--be quite easy. Write down what you want for your work. You shall soon be free, or I will die for it."

"Oh, I shall owe you my life a second time!" cried he, "for I should lose more than my life if I were thought a bad fellow."

Lisbeth went off in great glee; she hoped, by keeping her artist under lock and key, to put a stop to his marriage by announcing that he was a married man, pardoned by the efforts of his wife, and gone off to Russia.

To carry out this plan, at about three o'clock she went to the Baroness, though it was not the day when she was due to dine with her; but she wished to enjoy the anguish which Hortense must endure at the hour when Wenceslas was in the habit of making his appearance.

"Have you come to dinner?" asked the Baroness, concealing her disappointment.

"Well, yes."

"That's well," replied Hortense. "I will go and tell them to be punctual, for you do not like to be kept waiting."

Hortense nodded reassuringly to her mother, for she intended to tell the man-servant to send away Monsieur Steinbock if he should call; the man, however, happened to be out, so Hortense was obliged to give her orders to the maid, and the girl went upstairs to fetch her needlework and sit in the ante-room.

"And about my lover?" said Cousin Betty to Hortense, when the girl came back. "You never ask about him now?"

"To be sure, what is he doing?" said Hortense. "He has become famous. You ought to be very happy," she added in an undertone to Lisbeth. "Everybody is talking of Monsieur Wenceslas Steinbock."

"A great deal too much," replied she in her clear tones. "Monsieur is departing.--If it were only a matter of charming him so far as to defy the attractions of Paris, I know my power; but they say that in order to secure the services of such an artist, the Emperor Nichols has pardoned him----"

"Nonsense!" said the Baroness.

"When did you hear that?" asked Hortense, who felt as if her heart had the cramp.

"Well," said the villainous Lisbeth, "a person to whom he is bound by the most sacred ties--his wife--wrote yesterday to tell him so. He wants to be off. Oh, he will be a great fool to give up France to go to Russia!--"

Hortense looked at her mother, but her head sank on one side; the Baroness was only just in time to support her daughter, who dropped fainting, and as white as her lace kerchief.

"Lisbeth! you have killed my child!" cried the Baroness. "You were born to be our curse!"

"Bless me! what fault of mine is this, Adeline?" replied Lisbeth, as she rose with a menacing aspect, of which the Baroness, in her alarm, took no notice.

"I was wrong," said Adeline, supporting the girl. "Ring."

At this instant the door opened, the women both looked round, and saw Wenceslas Steinbock, who had been admitted by the cook in the maid's absence.

"Hortense!" cried the artist, with one spring to the group of women. And he kissed his betrothed before her mother's eyes, on the forehead, and so reverently, that the Baroness could not be angry. It was a better restorative than any smelling salts. Hortense opened her eyes, saw Wenceslas, and her color came back. In a few minutes she had quite recovered.

"So this was your secret?" said Lisbeth, smiling at Wenceslas, and affecting to guess the facts from her two cousins' confusion.

"But how did you steal away my lover?" said she, leading Hortense into the garden.

Hortense artlessly told the romance of her love. Her father and mother, she said, being convinced that Lisbeth would never marry, had authorized the Count's visits. Only Hortense, like a full-blown Agnes, attributed to chance her purchase of the group and the introduction of the artist, who, by her account, had insisted on knowing the name of his first purchaser.

Presently Steinbock came out to join the cousins, and thanked the old maid effusively for his prompt release. Lisbeth replied Jesuitically that the creditor having given very vague promises, she had not hoped to be able to get him out before the morrow, and that the person who had lent her the money, ashamed, perhaps, of such mean conduct, had been beforehand with her. The old maid appeared to be perfectly content, and congratulated Wenceslas on his happiness.

"You bad boy!" said she, before Hortense and her mother, "if you had only told me the evening before last that you loved my cousin Hortense, and that she loved you, you would have spared me many tears. I thought that you were deserting your old friend, your governess; while, on the contrary, you are to become my cousin; henceforth, you will be connected with me, remotely, it is true, but by ties that amply justify the feelings I have for you." And she kissed Wenceslas on the forehead.

Hortense threw herself into Lisbeth's arms and melted into tears.

"I owe my happiness to you," said she, "and I will never forget it."

"Cousin Betty," said the Baroness, embracing Lisbeth in her excitement at seeing matters so happily settled, "the Baron and I owe you a debt of gratitude, and we will pay it. Come and talk things over with me," she added, leading her away.

So Lisbeth, to all appearances, was playing the part of a good angel to the whole family; she was adored by Crevel and Hulot, by Adeline and Hortense.

"We wish you to give up working," said the Baroness. "If you earn forty sous a day, Sundays excepted, that makes six hundred francs a year. Well, then, how much have you saved?"

"Four thousand five hundred francs."

"Poor Betty!" said her cousin.

She raised her eyes to heaven, so deeply was she moved at the thought of all the labor and privation such a sum must represent accumulated during thirty years.

Lisbeth, misunderstanding the meaning of the exclamation, took it as the ironical pity of the successful woman, and her hatred was strengthened by a large infusion of venom at the very moment when her cousin had cast off her last shred of distrust of the tyrant of her childhood.

"We will add ten thousand five hundred francs to that sum," said Adeline, "and put it in trust so that you shall draw the interest for life with reversion to Hortense. Thus, you will have six hundred francs a year."

Lisbeth feigned the utmost satisfaction. When she went in, her handkerchief to her eyes, wiping away tears of joy, Hortense told her of all the favors being showered on Wenceslas, beloved of the family.

So when the Baron came home, he found his family all present; for the Baroness had formally accepted Wenceslas by the title of Son, and the wedding was fixed, if her husband should approve, for a day a fortnight hence. The moment he came into the drawing-room, Hulot was rushed at by his wife and daughter, who ran to meet him, Adeline to speak to him privately, and Hortense to kiss him.

"You have gone too far in pledging me to this, madame," said the Baron sternly. "You are not married yet," he added with a look at Steinbock, who turned pale.

"He has heard of my imprisonment," said the luckless artist to himself.

"Come, children," said he, leading his daughter and the young man into the garden; they all sat down on the moss-eaten seat in the summer-house.

"Monsieur le Comte, do you love my daughter as well as I loved her mother?" he asked.

"More, monsieur," said the sculptor.

"Her mother was a peasant's daughter, and had not a farthing of her own."

"Only give me Mademoiselle Hortense just as she is, without a trousseau even----"

"So I should think!" said the Baron, smiling. "Hortense is the daughter of the Baron Hulot d'Ervy, Councillor of State, high up in the War Office, Grand Commander of the Legion of Honor, and the brother to Count Hulot, whose glory is immortal, and who will ere long be Marshal of France! And--she has a marriage portion.

"It is true," said the impassioned artist. "I must seem very ambitious. But if my dear Hortense were a laborer's daughter, I would marry her----"

"That is just what I wanted to know," replied the Baron. "Run away, Hortense, and leave me to talk business with Monsieur le Comte.--He really loves you, you see!"

"Oh, papa, I was sure you were only in jest," said the happy girl.

"My dear Steinbock," said the Baron, with elaborate grace of diction and the most perfect manners, as soon as he and the artist were alone, "I promised my son a fortune of two hundred thousand francs, of which the poor boy has never had a sou; and he never will get any of it. My daughter's fortune will also be two hundred thousand francs, for which you will give a receipt----"

"Yes, Monsieur le Baron."

"You go too fast," said Hulot. "Have the goodness to hear me out. I cannot expect from a son-in-law such devotion as I look for from my son. My son knew exactly all I could and would do for his future promotion: he will be a Minister, and will easily make good his two hundred thousand francs. But with you, young man, matters are different. I shall give you a bond for sixty thousand francs in State funds at five per cent, in your wife's name. This income will be diminished by a small charge in the form of an annuity to Lisbeth; but she will not live long; she is consumptive, I know. Tell no one; it is a secret; let the poor soul die in peace.--My daughter will have a trousseau worth twenty thousand francs; her mother will give her six thousand francs worth of diamonds.

"Monsieur, you overpower me!" said Steinbock, quite bewildered.

"As to the remaining hundred and twenty thousand francs----"

"Say no more, monsieur," said Wenceslas. "I ask only for my beloved Hortense----"

"Will you listen to me, effervescent youth!--As to the remaining hundred and twenty thousand francs, I have not got them; but you will have them--"

"Monsieur?"

"You will get them from the Government, in payment for commissions which I will secure for you, I pledge you my word of honor. You are to have a studio, you see, at the Government depot. Exhibit a few fine statues, and I will get you received at the Institute. The highest personages have a regard for my brother and for me, and I hope to succeed in securing for you a commission for sculpture at Versailles up to a quarter of the whole sum. You will have orders from the City of Paris and from the Chamber of Peers; in short, my dear fellow, you will have so many that you will be obliged to get assistants. In that way I shall pay off my debt to you. You must say whether this way of giving a portion will suit you; whether you are equal to it."

"I am equal to making a fortune for my wife single-handed if all else failed!" cried the artist-nobleman.

"That is what I admire!" cried the Baron. "High-minded youth that fears nothing. Come," he added, clasping hands with the young sculptor to conclude the bargain, "you have my consent. We will sign the contract on Sunday next, and the wedding shall be on the following Saturday, my wife's fete-day."

"It is all right," said the Baroness to her daughter, who stood glued to the window. "Your suitor and your father are embracing each other."

On going home in the evening, Wenceslas found the solution of the mystery of his release. The porter handed him a thick sealed packet, containing the schedule of his debts, with a signed receipt affixed at the bottom of the writ, and accompanied by this letter:--

"MY DEAR WENCESLAS,--I went to fetch you at ten o'clock this morning to introduce you to a Royal Highness who wishes to see you. There I learned that the duns had had you conveyed to a certain little domain--chief town, _Clichy Castle_.

"So off I went to Leon de Lora, and told him, for a joke, that you could not leave your country quarters for lack of four thousand francs, and that you would spoil your future prospects if you did not make your bow to your royal patron. Happily, Bridau was there --a man of genius, who has known what it is to be poor, and has heard your story. My boy, between them they have found the money, and I went off to pay the Turk who committed treason against genius by putting you in quod. As I had to be at the Tuileries at noon, I could not wait to see you sniffing the outer air. I know you to be a gentleman, and I answered for you to my two friends --but look them up to-morrow.

"Leon and Bridau do not want your cash; they will ask you to do them each a group--and they are right. At least, so thinks the man who wishes he could sign himself your rival, but is only your faithful ally,

"STIDMANN.

"P. S.--I told the Prince you were away, and would not return till to-morrow, so he said, 'Very good--to-morrow.'"


Count Wenceslas went to bed in sheets of purple, without a rose-leaf to wrinkle them, that Favor can make for us--Favor, the halting divinity who moves more slowly for men of genius than either Justice or Fortune, because Jove has not chosen to bandage her eyes. Hence, lightly deceived by the display of impostors, and attracted by their frippery and trumpets, she spends the time in seeing them and the money in paying them which she ought to devote to seeking out men of merit in the nooks where they hide.

It will now be necessary to explain how Monsieur le Baron Hulot had contrived to count up his expenditure on Hortense's wedding portion, and at the same time to defray the frightful cost of the charming rooms where Madame Marneffe was to make her home. His financial scheme bore that stamp of talent which leads prodigals and men in love into the quagmires where so many disasters await them. Nothing can demonstrate more completely the strange capacity communicated by vice, to which we owe the strokes of skill which ambitious or voluptuous men can occasionally achieve--or, in short, any of the Devil's pupils.

On the day before, old Johann Fischer, unable to pay thirty thousand francs drawn for on him by his nephew, had found himself under the necessity of stopping payment unless the Baron could remit the sum.

This ancient worthy, with the white hairs of seventy years, had such blind confidence in Hulot--who, to the old Bonapartist, was an emanation from the Napoleonic sun--that he was calmly pacing his anteroom with the bank clerk, in the little ground-floor apartment that he rented for eight hundred francs a year as the headquarters of his extensive dealings in corn and forage.

"Marguerite is gone to fetch the money from close by," said he.

The official, in his gray uniform braided with silver, was so convinced of the old Alsatian's honesty, that he was prepared to leave the thirty thousand francs' worth of bills in his hands; but the old man would not let him go, observing that the clock had not yet struck eight. A cab drew up, the old man rushed into the street, and held out his hand to the Baron with sublime confidence--Hulot handed him out thirty thousand-franc notes.

"Go on three doors further, and I will tell you why," said Fischer.

"Here, young man," he said, returning to count out the money to the bank emissary, whom he then saw to the door.

When the clerk was out of sight, Fischer called back the cab containing his august nephew, Napoleon's right hand, and said, as he led him into the house:

"You do not want them to know at the Bank of France that you paid me the thirty thousand francs, after endorsing the bills?--It was bad enough to see them signed by such a man as you!--"

"Come to the bottom of your little garden, Father Fischer," said the important man. "You are hearty?" he went on, sitting down under a vine arbor and scanning the old man from head to foot, as a dealer in human flesh scans a substitute for the conscription.

"Ay, hearty enough for a tontine," said the lean little old man; his sinews were wiry, and his eye bright.

"Does heat disagree with you?"

"Quite the contrary."

"What do you say to Africa?"

"A very nice country!--The French went there with the little Corporal" (Napoleon).

"To get us all out of the present scrape, you must go to Algiers," said the Baron.

"And how about my business?"

"An official in the War Office, who has to retire, and has not enough to live on with his pension, will buy your business."

"And what am I to do in Algiers?"

"Supply the Commissariat with victuals, corn, and forage; I have your commission ready filled in and signed. You can collect supplies in the country at seventy per cent below the prices at which you can credit us."

"How shall we get them?"

"Oh, by raids, by taxes in kind, and the Khaliphat.--The country is little known, though we settled there eight years ago; Algeria produces vast quantities of corn and forage. When this produce belongs to Arabs, we take it from them under various pretences; when it belongs to us, the Arabs try to get it back again. There is a great deal of fighting over the corn, and no one ever knows exactly how much each party has stolen from the other. There is not time in the open field to measure the corn as we do in the Paris market, or the hay as it is sold in the Rue d'Enfer. The Arab chiefs, like our Spahis, prefer hard cash, and sell the plunder at a very low price. The Commissariat needs a fixed quantity and must have it. It winks at exorbitant prices calculated on the difficulty of procuring food, and the dangers to which every form of transport is exposed. That is Algiers from the army contractor's point of view.

"It is a muddle tempered by the ink-bottle, like every incipient government. We shall not see our way through it for another ten years --we who have to do the governing; but private enterprise has sharp eyes.--So I am sending you there to make a fortune; I give you the job, as Napoleon put an impoverished Marshal at the head of a kingdom where smuggling might be secretly encouraged.

"I am ruined, my dear Fischer; I must have a hundred thousand francs within a year."

"I see no harm in getting it out of the Bedouins," said the Alsatian calmly. "It was always done under the Empire----"

"The man who wants to buy your business will be here this morning, and pay you ten thousand francs down," the Baron went on. "That will be enough, I suppose, to take you to Africa?"

The old man nodded assent.

"As to capital out there, be quite easy. I will draw the remainder of the money due if I find it necessary."

"All I have is yours--my very blood," said old Fischer.

"Oh, do not be uneasy," said Hulot, fancying that his uncle saw more clearly than was the fact. "As to our excise dealings, your character will not be impugned. Everything depends on the authority at your back; now I myself appointed the authorities out there; I am sure of them. This, Uncle Fischer, is a dead secret between us. I know you well, and I have spoken out without concealment or circumlocution."

"It shall be done," said the old man. "And it will go on----?"

"For two years, You will have made a hundred thousand francs of your own to live happy on in the Vosges."

"I will do as you wish; my honor is yours," said the little old man quietly.

"That is the sort of man I like.--However, you must not go till you have seen your grand-niece happily married. She is to be a Countess."

But even taxes and raids and the money paid by the War Office clerk for Fischer's business could not forthwith provide sixty thousand francs to give Hortense, to say nothing of her trousseau, which was to cost about five thousand, and the forty thousand spent--or to be spent --on Madame Marneffe.

Where, then had the Baron found the thirty thousand francs he had just produced? This was the history.

A few days previously Hulot had insured his life for the sum of a hundred and fifty thousand francs, for three years, in two separate companies. Armed with the policies, of which he paid the premium, he had spoken as follows to the Baron de Nucingen, a peer of the Chamber, in whose carriage he found himself after a sitting, driving home, in fact, to dine with him:--

"Baron, I want seventy thousand francs, and I apply to you. You must find some one to lend his name, to whom I will make over the right to draw my pay for three years; it amounts to twenty-five thousand francs a year--that is, seventy-five thousand francs.--You will say, 'But you may die'"--the banker signified his assent--"Here, then, is a policy of insurance for a hundred and fifty thousand francs, which I will deposit with you till you have drawn up the eighty thousand francs," said Hulot, producing the document form his pocket.

"But if you should lose your place?" said the millionaire Baron, laughing.

The other Baron--not a millionaire--looked grave.

"Be quite easy; I only raised the question to show you that I was not devoid of merit in handing you the sum. Are you so short of cash? for the Bank will take your signature."

"My daughter is to be married," said Baron Hulot, "and I have no fortune--like every one else who remains in office in these thankless times, when five hundred ordinary men seated on benches will never reward the men who devote themselves to the service as handsomely as the Emperor did."

"Well, well; but you had Josepha on your hands!" replied Nucingen, "and that accounts for everything. Between ourselves, the Duc d'Herouville has done you a very good turn by removing that leech from sucking your purse dry. 'I have known what that is, and can pity your case,'" he quoted. "Take a friend's advice: Shut up shop, or you will be done for."

This dirty business was carried out in the name of one Vauvinet, a small money-lender; one of those jobbers who stand forward to screen great banking houses, like the little fish that is said to attend the shark. This stock-jobber's apprentice was so anxious to gain the patronage of Monsieur le Baron Hulot, that he promised the great man to negotiate bills of exchange for thirty thousand francs at eighty days, and pledged himself to renew them four times, and never pass them out of his hands.

Fischer's successor was to pay forty thousand francs for the house and the business, with the promise that he should supply forage to a department close to Paris.

This was the desperate maze of affairs into which a man who had hitherto been absolutely honest was led by his passions--one of the best administrative officials under Napoleon--peculation to pay the money-lenders, and borrowing of the money-lenders to gratify his passions and provide for his daughter. All the efforts of this elaborate prodigality were directed at making a display before Madame Marneffe, and to playing Jupiter to this middle-class Danae. A man could not expend more activity, intelligence, and presence of mind in the honest acquisition of a fortune than the Baron displayed in shoving his head into a wasp's nest: He did all the business of his department, he hurried on the upholsterers, he talked to the workmen, he kept a sharp lookout on the smallest details of the house in the Rue Vanneau. Wholly devoted to Madame Marneffe, he nevertheless attended the sittings of the Chambers; he was everywhere at once, and neither his family nor anybody else discovered where his thoughts were.

Adeline, quite amazed to hear that her uncle was rescued, and to see a handsome sum figure in the marriage-contract, was not altogether easy, in spite of her joy at seeing her daughter married under such creditable circumstances. But, on the day before the wedding, fixed by the Baron to coincide with Madame Marneffe's removal to her new apartment, Hector allayed his wife's astonishment by this ministerial communication:--

"Now, Adeline, our girl is married; all our anxieties on the subject are at an end. The time is come for us to retire from the world: I shall not remain in office more than three years longer--only the time necessary to secure my pension. Why, henceforth, should we be at any unnecessary expense? Our apartment costs us six thousand francs a year in rent, we have four servants, we eat thirty thousand francs' worth of food in a year. If you want me to pay off my bills--for I have pledged my salary for the sums I needed to give Hortense her little money, and pay off your uncle----"

"You did very right!" said she, interrupting her husband, and kissing his hands.

This explanation relieved Adeline of all her fears.

"I shall have to ask some little sacrifices of you," he went on, disengaging his hands and kissing his wife's brow. "I have found in the Rue Plumet a very good flat on the first floor, handsome, splendidly paneled, at only fifteen hundred francs a year, where you would only need one woman to wait on you, and I could be quite content with a boy."

"Yes, my dear."

"If we keep house in a quiet way, keeping up a proper appearance of course, we should not spend more than six thousand francs a year, excepting my private account, which I will provide for."

The generous-hearted woman threw her arms round her husband's neck in her joy.

"How happy I shall be, beginning again to show you how truly I love you!" she exclaimed. "And what a capital manager you are!"

"We will have the children to dine with us once a week. I, as you know, rarely dine at home. You can very well dine twice a week with Victorin and twice a week with Hortense. And, as I believe, I may succeed in making matters up completely between Crevel and us; we can dine once a week with him. These five dinners and our own at home will fill up the week all but one day, supposing that we may occasionally be invited to dine elsewhere."

"I shall save a great deal for you," said Adeline.

"Oh!" he cried, "you are the pearl of women!"

"My kind, divine Hector, I shall bless you with my latest breath," said she, "for you have done well for my dear Hortense."

This was the beginning of the end of the beautiful Madame Hulot's home; and, it may be added, of her being totally neglected, as Hulot had solemnly promised Madame Marneffe.

Crevel, the important and burly, being invited as a matter of course to the party given for the signing of the marriage-contract, behaved as though the scene with which this drama opened had never taken place, as though he had no grievance against the Baron. Celestin Crevel was quite amiable; he was perhaps rather too much the ex-perfumer, but as a Major he was beginning to acquire majestic dignity. He talked of dancing at the wedding.

"Fair lady," said he politely to the Baroness, "people like us know how to forget. Do not banish me from your home; honor me, pray, by gracing my house with your presence now and then to meet your children. Be quite easy; I will never say anything of what lies buried at the bottom of my heart. I behaved, indeed, like an idiot, for I should lose too much by cutting myself off from seeing you."

"Monsieur, an honest woman has no ears for such speeches as those you refer to. If you keep your word, you need not doubt that it will give me pleasure to see the end of a coolness which must always be painful in a family."

"Well, you sulky old fellow," said Hulot, dragging Crevel out into the garden, "you avoid me everywhere, even in my own house. Are two admirers of the fair sex to quarrel for ever over a petticoat? Come; this is really too plebeian!"

"I, monsieur, am not such a fine man as you are, and my small attractions hinder me from repairing my losses so easily as you can----"

"Sarcastic!" said the Baron.

"Irony is allowable from the vanquished to the conquerer."

The conversation, begun in this strain, ended in a complete reconciliation; still Crevel maintained his right to take his revenge.

Madame Marneffe particularly wished to be invited to Mademoiselle Hulot's wedding. To enable him to receive his future mistress in his drawing-room, the great official was obliged to invite all the clerks of his division down to the deputy head-clerks inclusive. Thus a grand ball was a necessity. The Baroness, as a prudent housewife, calculated that an evening party would cost less than a dinner, and allow of a larger number of invitations; so Hortense's wedding was much talked about.

Marshal Prince Wissembourg and the Baron de Nucingen signed in behalf of the bride, the Comtes de Rastignac and Popinot in behalf of Steinbock. Then, as the highest nobility among the Polish emigrants had been civil to Count Steinbock since he had become famous, the artist thought himself bound to invite them. The State Council, and the War Office to which the Baron belonged, and the army, anxious to do honor to the Comte de Forzheim, were all represented by their magnates. There were nearly two hundred indispensable invitations. How natural, then, that little Madame Marneffe was bent on figuring in all her glory amid such an assembly. The Baroness had, a month since, sold her diamonds to set up her daughter's house, while keeping the finest for the trousseau. The sale realized fifteen thousand francs, of which five thousand were sunk in Hortense's clothes. And what was ten thousand francs for the furniture of the young folks' apartment, considering the demands of modern luxury? However, young Monsieur and Madame Hulot, old Crevel, and the Comte de Forzheim made very handsome presents, for the old soldier had set aside a sum for the purchase of plate. Thanks to these contributions, even an exacting Parisian would have been pleased with the rooms the young couple had taken in the Rue Saint-Dominique, near the Invalides. Everything seemed in harmony with their love, pure, honest, and sincere.

At last the great day dawned--for it was to be a great day not only for Wenceslas and Hortense, but for old Hulot too. Madame Marneffe was to give a house-warming in her new apartment the day after becoming Hulot's mistress _en titre_, and after the marriage of the lovers.

Who but has once in his life been a guest at a wedding-ball? Every reader can refer to his reminiscences, and will probably smile as he calls up the images of all that company in their Sunday-best faces as well as their finest frippery.

If any social event can prove the influence of environment, is it not this? In fact, the Sunday-best mood of some reacts so effectually on the rest that the men who are most accustomed to wearing full dress look just like those to whom the party is a high festival, unique in their life. And think too of the serious old men to whom such things are so completely a matter of indifference, that they are wearing their everyday black coats; the long-married men, whose faces betray their sad experience of the life the young pair are but just entering on; and the lighter elements, present as carbonic-acid gas is in champagne; and the envious girls, the women absorbed in wondering if their dress is a success, the poor relations whose parsimonious "get-up" contrasts with that of the officials in uniform; and the greedy ones, thinking only of the supper; and the gamblers, thinking only of cards.

There are some of every sort, rich and poor, envious and envied, philosophers and dreamers, all grouped like the plants in a flower-bed round the rare, choice blossom, the bride. A wedding-ball is an epitome of the world.

At the liveliest moment of the evening Crevel led the Baron aside, and said in a whisper, with the most natural manner possible:

"By Jove! that's a pretty woman--the little lady in pink who has opened a racking fire on you from her eyes."

"Which?"

"The wife of that clerk you are promoting, heaven knows how!--Madame Marneffe."

"What do you know about it?"

"Listen, Hulot; I will try to forgive you the ill you have done me if only you will introduce me to her--I will take you to Heloise. Everybody is asking who is that charming creature. Are you sure that it will strike no one how and why her husband's appointment got itself signed?--You happy rascal, she is worth a whole office.--I would serve in her office only too gladly.--Come, cinna, let us be friends."

"Better friends than ever," said the Baron to the perfumer, "and I promise you I will be a good fellow. Within a month you shall dine with that little angel.--For it is an angel this time, old boy. And I advise you, like me, to have done with the devils."

Cousin Betty, who had moved to the Rue Vanneau, into a nice little apartment on the third floor, left the ball at ten o'clock, but came back to see with her own eyes the two bonds bearing twelve hundred francs interest; one of them was the property of the Countess Steinbock, the other was in the name of Madame Hulot.

It is thus intelligible that Monsieur Crevel should have spoken to Hulot about Madame Marneffe, as knowing what was a secret to the rest of the world; for, as Monsieur Marneffe was away, no one but Lisbeth Fischer, besides the Baron and Valerie, was initiated into the mystery.

The Baron had made a blunder in giving Madame Marneffe a dress far too magnificent for the wife of a subordinate official; other women were jealous alike of her beauty and of her gown. There was much whispering behind fans, for the poverty of the Marneffes was known to every one in the office; the husband had been petitioning for help at the very moment when the Baron had been so smitten with madame. Also, Hector could not conceal his exultation at seeing Valerie's success; and she, severely proper, very lady-like, and greatly envied, was the object of that strict examination which women so greatly fear when they appear for the first time in a new circle of society.

After seeing his wife into a carriage with his daughter and his son-in-law, Hulot managed to escape unperceived, leaving his son and Celestine to do the honors of the house. He got into Madame Marneffe's carriage to see her home, but he found her silent and pensive, almost melancholy.

"My happiness makes you very sad, Valerie," said he, putting his arm round her and drawing her to him.

"Can you wonder, my dear," said she, "that a hapless woman should be a little depressed at the thought of her first fall from virtue, even when her husband's atrocities have set her free? Do you suppose that I have no soul, no beliefs, no religion? Your glee this evening has been really too barefaced; you have paraded me odiously. Really, a schoolboy would have been less of a coxcomb. And the ladies have dissected me with their side-glances and their satirical remarks. Every woman has some care for her reputation, and you have wrecked mine.

"Oh, I am yours and no mistake! And I have not an excuse left but that of being faithful to you.--Monster that you are!" she added, laughing, and allowing him to kiss her, "you knew very well what you were doing! Madame Coquet, our chief clerk's wife, came to sit down by me, and admired my lace. 'English point!' said she. 'Was it very expensive, madame?'--'I do not know. This lace was my mother's. I am not rich enough to buy the like,' said I."

Madame Marneffe, in short, had so bewitched the old beau, that he really believed she was sinning for the first time for his sake, and that he had inspired such a passion as had led her to this breach of duty. She told him that the wretch Marneffe had neglected her after they had been three days married, and for the most odious reasons. Since then she had lived as innocently as a girl; marriage had seemed to her so horrible. This was the cause of her present melancholy.

"If love should prove to be like marriage----" said she in tears.

These insinuating lies, with which almost every woman in Valerie's predicament is ready, gave the Baron distant visions of the roses of the seventh heaven. And so Valerie coquetted with her lover, while the artist and Hortense were impatiently awaiting the moment when the Baroness should have given the girl her last kiss and blessing.

At seven in the morning the Baron, perfectly happy--for his Valerie was at once the most guileless of girls and the most consummate of demons--went back to release his son and Celestine from their duties. All the dancers, for the most part strangers, had taken possession of the territory, as they do at every wedding-ball, and were keeping up the endless figures of the cotillions, while the gamblers were still crowding round the _bouillotte tables, and old Crevel had won six thousand francs.

The morning papers, carried round the town, contained this paragraph in the Paris article:--

"The marriage was celebrated this morning, at the Church of Saint-Thomas d'Aquin, between Monsieur le Comte Steinbock and Mademoiselle Hortense Hulot, daughter of Baron Hulot d'Ervy, Councillor of State, and a Director at the War Office; niece of the famous General Comte de Forzheim. The ceremony attracted a large gathering. There were present some of the most distinguished artists of the day: Leon de Lora, Joseph Bridau, Stidmann, and Bixiou; the magnates of the War Office, of the Council of State, and many members of the two Chambers; also the most distinguished of the Polish exiles living in Paris: Counts Paz, Laginski, and others.

"Monsieur le Comte Wenceslas Steinbock is grandnephew to the famous general who served under Charles XII., King of Sweden. The young Count, having taken part in the Polish rebellion, found a refuge in France, where his well-earned fame as a sculptor has procured him a patent of naturalization."

And so, in spite of the Baron's cruel lack of money, nothing was lacking that public opinion could require, not even the trumpeting of the newspapers over his daughter's marriage, which was solemnized in the same way, in every particular, as his son's had been to Mademoiselle Crevel. This display moderated the reports current as to the Baron's financial position, while the fortune assigned to his daughter explained the need for having borrowed money.

Here ends what is, in a way, the introduction to this story. It is to the drama that follows that the premise is to a syllogism, what the prologue is to a classical tragedy.

In Paris, when a woman determines to make a business, a trade, of her beauty, it does not follow that she will make a fortune. Lovely creatures may be found there, and full of wit, who are in wretched circumstances, ending in misery a life begun in pleasure. And this is why. It is not enough merely to accept the shameful life of a courtesan with a view to earning its profits, and at the same time to bear the simple garb of a respectable middle-class wife. Vice does not triumph so easily; it resembles genius in so far that they both need a concurrence of favorable conditions to develop the coalition of fortune and gifts. Eliminate the strange prologue of the Revolution, and the Emperor would never have existed; he would have been no more than a second edition of Fabert. Venal beauty, if it finds no amateurs, no celebrity, no cross of dishonor earned by squandering men's fortunes, is Correggio in a hay-loft, is genius starving in a garret. Lais, in Paris, must first and foremost find a rich man mad enough to pay her price. She must keep up a very elegant style, for this is her shop-sign; she must be sufficiently well bred to flatter the vanity of her lovers; she must have the brilliant wit of a Sophie Arnould, which diverts the apathy of rich men; finally, she must arouse the passions of libertines by appearing to be mistress to one man only who is envied by the rest.

These conditions, which a woman of that class calls being in luck, are difficult to combine in Paris, although it is a city of millionaires, of idlers, of used-up and capricious men.

Providence has, no doubt, vouchsafed protection to clerks and middle-class citizens, for whom obstacles of this kind are at least double in the sphere in which they move. At the same time, there are enough Madame Marneffes in Paris to allow of our taking Valerie to figure as a type in this picture of manners. Some of these women yield to the double pressure of a genuine passion and of hard necessity, like Madame Colleville, who was for long attached to one of the famous orators of the left, Keller the banker. Others are spurred by vanity, like Madame de la Baudraye, who remained almost respectable in spite of her elopement with Lousteau. Some, again, are led astray by the love of fine clothes, and some by the impossibility of keeping a house going on obviously too narrow means. The stinginess of the State--or of Parliament--leads to many disasters and to much corruption.

At the present moment the laboring classes are the fashionable object of compassion; they are being murdered--it is said--by the manufacturing capitalist; but the Government is a hundred times harder than the meanest tradesman, it carries its economy in the article of salaries to absolute folly. If you work harder, the merchant will pay you more in proportion; but what does the State do for its crowd of obscure and devoted toilers?

In a married woman it is an inexcusable crime when she wanders from the path of honor; still, there are degrees even in such a case. Some women, far from being depraved, conceal their fall and remain to all appearances quite respectable, like those two just referred to, while others add to their fault the disgrace of speculation. Thus Madame Marneffe is, as it were, the type of those ambitious married courtesans who from the first accept depravity with all its consequences, and determine to make a fortune while taking their pleasure, perfectly unscrupulous as to the means. But almost always a woman like Madame Marneffe has a husband who is her confederate and accomplice. These Machiavellis in petticoats are the most dangerous of the sisterhood; of every evil class of Parisian woman, they are the worst.

A mere courtesan--a Josepha, a Malaga, a Madame Schontz, a Jenny Cadine--carries in her frank dishonor a warning signal as conspicuous as the red lamp of a house of ill-fame or the flaring lights of a gambling hell. A man knows that they light him to his ruin.

But mealy-mouthed propriety, the semblance of virtue, the hypocritical ways of a married woman who never allows anything to be seen but the vulgar needs of the household, and affects to refuse every kind of extravagance, leads to silent ruin, dumb disaster, which is all the more startling because, though condoned, it remains unaccounted for. It is the ignoble bill of daily expenses and not gay dissipation that devours the largest fortune. The father of a family ruins himself ingloriously, and the great consolation of gratified vanity is wanting in his misery.

This little sermon will go like a javelin to the heart of many a home. Madame Marneffes are to be seen in every sphere of social life, even at Court; for Valerie is a melancholy fact, modeled from the life in the smallest details. And, alas! the portrait will not cure any man of the folly of loving these sweetly-smiling angels, with pensive looks and candid faces, whose heart is a cash-box.

About three years after Hortense's marriage, in 1841, Baron Hulot d'Ervy was supposed to have sown his wild oats, to have "put up his horses," to quote the expression used by Louis XV.'s head surgeon, and yet Madame Marneffe was costing him twice as much as Josepha had ever cost him. Still, Valerie, though always nicely dressed, affected the simplicity of a subordinate official's wife; she kept her luxury for her dressing-gowns, her home wear. She thus sacrificed her Parisian vanity to her dear Hector. At the theatre, however, she always appeared in a pretty bonnet and a dress of extreme elegance; and the Baron took her in a carriage to a private box.

Her rooms, the whole of the second floor of a modern house in the Rue Vanneau, between a fore-court and a garden, was redolent of respectability. All its luxury was in good chintz hangings and handsome convenient furniture.

Her bedroom, indeed, was the exception, and rich with such profusion as Jenny Cadine or Madame Schontz might have displayed. There were lace curtains, cashmere hangings, brocade portieres, a set of chimney ornaments modeled by Stidmann, a glass cabinet filled with dainty nicknacks. Hulot could not bear to see his Valerie in a bower of inferior magnificence to the dunghill of gold and pearls owned by a Josepha. The drawing-room was furnished with red damask, and the dining-room had carved oak panels. But the Baron, carried away by his wish to have everything in keeping, had at the end of six months, added solid luxury to mere fashion, and had given her handsome portable property, as, for instance, a service of plate that was to cost more than twenty-four thousand francs.

Madame Marneffe's house had in a couple of years achieved a reputation for being a very pleasant one. Gambling went on there. Valerie herself was soon spoken of as an agreeable and witty woman. To account for her change of style, a rumor was set going of an immense legacy bequeathed to her by her "natural father," Marshal Montcornet, and left in trust.

With an eye to the future, Valerie had added religious to social hypocrisy. Punctual at the Sunday services, she enjoyed all the honors due to the pious. She carried the bag for the offertory, she was a member of a charitable association, presented bread for the sacrament, and did some good among the poor, all at Hector's expense. Thus everything about the house was extremely seemly. And a great many persons maintained that her friendship with the Baron was entirely innocent, supporting the view by the gentleman's mature age, and ascribing to him a Platonic liking for Madame Marneffe's pleasant wit, charming manners, and conversation--such a liking as that of the late lamented Louis XVIII. for a well-turned note.

The Baron always withdrew with the other company at about midnight, and came back a quarter of an hour later.

The secret of this secrecy was as follows. The lodge-keepers of the house were a Monsieur and Madame Olivier, who, under the Baron's patronage, had been promoted from their humble and not very lucrative post in the Rue du Doyenne to the highly-paid and handsome one in the Rue Vanneau. Now, Madame Olivier, formerly a needlewoman in the household of Charles X., who had fallen in the world with the legitimate branch, had three children. The eldest, an under-clerk in a notary's office, was object of his parents' adoration. This Benjamin, for six years in danger of being drawn for the army, was on the point of being interrupted in his legal career, when Madame Marneffe contrived to have him declared exempt for one of those little malformations which the Examining Board can always discern when requested in a whisper by some power in the ministry. So Olivier, formerly a huntsman to the King, and his wife would have crucified the Lord again for the Baron or for Madame Marneffe.

What could the world have to say? It knew nothing of the former episode of the Brazilian, Monsieur Montes de Montejanos--it could say nothing. Besides, the world is very indulgent to the mistress of a house where amusement is to be found.

And then to all her charms Valerie added the highly-prized advantage of being an occult power. Claude Vignon, now secretary to Marshal the Prince de Wissembourg, and dreaming of promotion to the Council of State as a Master of Appeals, was constantly seen in her rooms, to which came also some Deputies--good fellows and gamblers. Madame Marneffe had got her circle together with prudent deliberation; only men whose opinions and habits agreed foregathered there, men whose interest it was to hold together and to proclaim the many merits of the lady of the house. Scandal is the true Holy Alliance in Paris. Take that as an axiom. Interests invariably fall asunder in the end; vicious natures can always agree.

Within three months of settling in the Rue Vanneau, Madame Marneffe had entertained Monsieur Crevel, who by that time was Mayor of his _arrondissement and Officer of the Legion of Honor. Crevel had hesitated; he would have to give up the famous uniform of the National Guard in which he strutted at the Tuileries, believing himself quite as much a soldier as the Emperor himself; but ambition, urged by Madame Marneffe, had proved stronger than vanity. Then Monsieur le Maire had considered his connection with Mademoiselle Heloise Brisetout as quite incompatible with his political position.

Indeed, long before his accession to the civic chair of the Mayoralty, his gallant intimacies had been wrapped in the deepest mystery. But, as the reader may have guessed, Crevel had soon purchased the right of taking his revenge, as often as circumstances allowed, for having been bereft of Josepha, at the cost of a bond bearing six thousand francs of interest in the name of Valerie Fortin, wife of Sieur Marneffe, for her sole and separate use. Valerie, inheriting perhaps from her mother the special acumen of the kept woman, read the character of her grotesque adorer at a glance. The phrase "I never had a lady for a mistress," spoken by Crevel to Lisbeth, and repeated by Lisbeth to her dear Valerie, had been handsomely discounted in the bargain by which she got her six thousand francs a year in five per cents. And since then she had never allowed her prestige to grow less in the eyes of Cesar Birotteau's erewhile bagman.

Crevel himself had married for money the daughter of a miller of la Brie, an only child indeed, whose inheritance constituted three-quarters of his fortune; for when retail-dealers grow rich, it is generally not so much by trade as through some alliance between the shop and rural thrift. A large proportion of the farmers, corn-factors, dairy-keepers, and market-gardeners in the neighborhood of Paris, dream of the glories of the desk for their daughters, and look upon a shopkeeper, a jeweler, or a money-changer as a son-in-law after their own heart, in preference to a notary or an attorney, whose superior social position is a ground of suspicion; they are afraid of being scorned in the future by these citizen bigwigs.

Madame Crevel, ugly, vulgar, and silly, had given her husband no pleasures but those of paternity; she died young. Her libertine husband, fettered at the beginning of his commercial career by the necessity for working, and held in thrall by want of money, had led the life of Tantalus. Thrown in--as he phrased it--with the most elegant women in Paris, he let them out of the shop with servile homage, while admiring their grace, their way of wearing the fashions, and all the nameless charms of what is called breeding. To rise to the level of one of these fairies of the drawing-room was a desire formed in his youth, but buried in the depths of his heart. Thus to win the favors of Madame Marneffe was to him not merely the realization of his chimera, but, as has been shown, a point of pride, of vanity, of self-satisfaction. His ambition grew with success; his brain was turned with elation; and when the mind is captivated, the heart feels more keenly, every gratification is doubled.

Also, it must be said that Madame Marneffe offered to Crevel a refinement of pleasure of which he had no idea; neither Josepha nor Heloise had loved him; and Madame Marneffe thought it necessary to deceive him thoroughly, for this man, she saw, would prove an inexhaustible till. The deceptions of a venal passion are more delightful than the real thing. True love is mixed up with birdlike squabbles, in which the disputants wound each other to the quick; but a quarrel without animus is, on the contrary, a piece of flattery to the dupe's conceit.

The rare interviews granted to Crevel kept his passion at white heat. He was constantly blocked by Valerie's virtuous severity; she acted remorse, and wondered what her father must be thinking of her in the paradise of the brave. Again and again he had to contend with a sort of coldness, which the cunning slut made him believe he had overcome by seeming to surrender to the man's crazy passion; and then, as if ashamed, she entrenched herself once more in her pride of respectability and airs of virtue, just like an Englishwoman, neither more nor less; and she always crushed her Crevel under the weight of her dignity--for Crevel had, in the first instance, swallowed her pretensions to virtue.

In short, Valerie had special veins of affections which made her equally indispensable to Crevel and to the Baron. Before the world she displayed the attractive combination of modest and pensive innocence, of irreproachable propriety, with a bright humor enhanced by the suppleness, the grace and softness of the Creole; but in a _tete-a-tete she would outdo any courtesan; she was audacious, amusing, and full of original inventiveness. Such a contrast is irresistible to a man of the Crevel type; he is flattered by believing himself sole author of the comedy, thinking it is performed for his benefit alone, and he laughs at the exquisite hypocrisy while admiring the hypocrite.

Valerie had taken entire possession of Baron Hulot; she had persuaded him to grow old by one of those subtle touches of flattery which reveal the diabolical wit of women like her. In all evergreen constitutions a moment arrives when the truth suddenly comes out, as in a besieged town which puts a good face on affairs as long as possible. Valerie, foreseeing the approaching collapse of the old beau of the Empire, determined to forestall it.

"Why give yourself so much bother, my dear old veteran?" said she one day, six months after their doubly adulterous union. "Do you want to be flirting? To be unfaithful to me? I assure you, I should like you better without your make-up. Oblige me by giving up all your artificial charms. Do you suppose that it is for two sous' worth of polish on your boots that I love you? For your india-rubber belt, your strait-waistcoat, and your false hair? And then, the older you look, the less need I fear seeing my Hulot carried off by a rival."

And Hulot, trusting to Madame Marneffe's heavenly friendship as much as to her love, intending, too, to end his days with her, had taken this confidential hint, and ceased to dye his whiskers and hair. After this touching declaration from his Valerie, handsome Hector made his appearance one morning perfectly white. Madame Marneffe could assure him that she had a hundred times detected the white line of the growth of the hair.

"And white hair suits your face to perfection," said she; "it softens it. You look a thousand times better, quite charming."

The Baron, once started on this path of reform, gave up his leather waistcoat and stays; he threw off all his bracing. His stomach fell and increased in size. The oak became a tower, and the heaviness of his movements was all the more alarming because the Baron grew immensely older by playing the part of Louis XII. His eyebrows were still black, and left a ghostly reminiscence of Handsome Hulot, as sometimes on the wall of some feudal building a faint trace of sculpture remains to show what the castle was in the days of its glory. This discordant detail made his eyes, still bright and youthful, all the more remarkable in his tanned face, because it had so long been ruddy with the florid hues of a Rubens; and now a certain discoloration and the deep tension of the wrinkles betrayed the efforts of a passion at odds with natural decay. Hulot was now one of those stalwart ruins in which virile force asserts itself by tufts of hair in the ears and nostrils and on the fingers, as moss grows on the almost eternal monuments of the Roman Empire.

How had Valerie contrived to keep Crevel and Hulot side by side, each tied to an apron-string, when the vindictive Mayor only longed to triumph openly over Hulot? Without immediately giving an answer to this question, which the course of the story will supply, it may be said that Lisbeth and Valerie had contrived a powerful piece of machinery which tended to this result. Marneffe, as he saw his wife improved in beauty by the setting in which she was enthroned, like the sun at the centre of the sidereal system, appeared, in the eyes of the world, to have fallen in love with her again himself; he was quite crazy about her. Now, though his jealousy made him somewhat of a marplot, it gave enhanced value to Valerie's favors. Marneffe meanwhile showed a blind confidence in his chief, which degenerated into ridiculous complaisance. The only person whom he really would not stand was Crevel.

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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
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