Beatrix, by Honoré de Balzac

XXV

A Prince of Bohemia

The next day, when Maxime de Trailles rose, Finot (whom he had summoned the night before) was announced. Maxime requested his visitor to arrange, as if by accident, a breakfast at the cafe Anglais, where Finot, Couture, and Lousteau should gossip beside him. Finot, whose position toward the Comte de Trailles was that of a sub-lieutenant before a marshall of France, could refuse him nothing; it was altogether too dangerous to annoy that lion. Consequently, when Maxime came to the breakfast, he found Finot and his two friends at table and the conversation already started on Madame Schontz, about whom Couture, well manoeuvred by Finot and Lousteau (Lousteau being, though not aware of it, Finot’s tool), revealed to the Comte de Trailles all that he wanted to know about her.

About one o’clock, Maxime was chewing a toothpick and talking with du Tillet on Tortoni’s portico, where speculation held a little Bourse, a sort of prelude to the great one. He seemed to be engaged in business, but he was really awaiting the Comte de la Palferine, who, within a given time, was certain to pass that way. The boulevard des Italiens is today what the Pont Neuf was in 1650; all persons known to fame pass along it once, at least, in the course of the day. Accordingly, at the end of about ten minutes, Maxime dropped du Tillet’s arm, and nodding to the young Prince of Bohemia said, smiling:—

“One word with you, count.”

The two rivals in their own principality, the one orb on its decline, the other like the rising sun, sat down upon four chairs before the Cafe de Paris. Maxime took care to place a certain distance between himself and some old fellows who habitually sunned themselves like wall-fruit at that hour in the afternoon, to dry out their rheumatic affections. He had excellent reasons for distrusting old men.

“Have you debts?” said Maxime, to the young count.

“If I had none, should I be worthy of being your successor?” replied La Palferine.

“In putting that question to you I don’t place the matter in doubt; I only want to know if the total is reasonable; if it goes to the five or the six?”

“Six what?”

“Figures; whether you owe fifty or one hundred thousand? I have owed, myself, as much as six hundred thousand.”

La Palferine raised his hat with an air as respectful as it was humorous.

“If I had sufficient credit to borrow a hundred thousand francs,” he replied, “I should forget my creditors and go and pass my life in Venice, amid masterpieces of painting and pretty women and —”

“And at my age what would you be?” asked Maxime.

“I should never reach it,” replied the young count.

Maxime returned the civility of his rival, and touched his hat lightly with an air of laughable gravity.

“That’s one way of looking at life,” he replied in the tone of one connoisseur to another. “You owe —?”

“Oh! a mere trifle, unworthy of being confessed to an uncle; he would disinherit me for such a paltry sum — six thousand.”

“One is often more hampered by six thousand than by a hundred thousand,” said Maxime, sententiously. “La Palferine, you’ve a bold spirit, and you have even more spirit than boldness; you can go far, and make yourself a position. Let me tell you that of all those who have rushed into the career at the close of which I now am, and who have tried to oppose me, you are the only one who has ever pleased me.”

La Palferine colored, so flattered was he by this avowal made with gracious good-humor by the leader of Parisian adventurers. This action of his own vanity was however a recognition of inferiority which wounded him; but Maxime divined that unpleasant reaction, easy to foresee in so clever a mind, and he applied a balm instantly by putting himself at the discretion of the young man.

“Will you do something for me that will facilitate my retreat from the Olympic circus by a fine marriage? I will do as much for you.”

“You make me very proud; it realizes the fable of the Rat and the Lion,” said La Palferine.

“I shall begin by lending you twenty thousand francs,” continued Maxime.

“Twenty thousand francs! I knew very well that by dint of walking up and down this boulevard —” said La Palferine, in the style of a parenthesis.

“My dear fellow, you must put yourself on a certain footing,” said Maxime, laughing. “Don’t go on your own two feet, have six; do as I do, I never get out of my tilbury.”

“But you must be going to ask me for something beyond my powers.”

“No, it is only to make a woman love you within a fortnight.”

“Is it a lorette?”

“Why?”

“Because that’s impossible; but if it concerns a woman, and a well-bred one who is also clever —”

“She is a very illustrious marquise.”

“You want her letters?” said the young count.

“Ah! you are after my own heart!” cried Maxime. “No, that’s not it.”

“Then you want me to love her?”

“Yes, in the real sense —”

“If I am to abandon the aesthetic, it is utterly impossible,” said La Palferine. “I have, don’t you see, as to women a certain honor; we may play the fool with them, but not —”

“Ah! I was not mistaken!” cried Maxime. “Do you think I’m a man to propose mere twopenny infamies to you? No, you must go, and dazzle, and conquer. My good mate, I give you twenty thousand francs, and ten days in which to triumph. Meet me to-night at Madame Schontz’.”

“I dine there.”

“Very good,” returned Maxime. “Later, when you have need of me, Monsieur le comte, you will find me,” he added in the tone of a king who binds himself, but promises nothing.

“This poor woman must have done you some deadly harm,” said La Palferine.

“Don’t try to throw a plummet-line into my waters, my boy; and let me tell you that in case of success you will obtain such powerful influence that you will be able, like me, to retire upon a fine marriage when you are bored with your bohemian life.”

“Comes there a time when it is a bore to amuse one’s self,” said La Palferine, “to be nothing, to live like the birds, to hunt the fields of Paris like a savage, and laugh at everything?”

“All things weary, even hell,” said de Trailles, laughing. “Well, this evening.”

The two roues, the old and the young, rose. As Maxime got into his one-horse equipage, he thought to himself: “Madame d’Espard can’t endure Beatrix; she will help me. Hotel de Grandlieu,” he called out to the coachman, observing that Rastignac was just passing him.

Find a great man without some weakness!

The duchess, Madame du Guenic, and Clotilde were evidently weeping.

“What is the matter?” he asked the duchess.

“Calyste did not come home; this is the first time; my poor daughter is in despair.”

“Madame la duchesse,” said Maxime, drawing the pious lady into the embrasure of a window, “for Heaven’s sake keep the utmost secrecy as to my efforts, and ask d’Ajuda to do the same; for if Calyste ever hears of our plot there will be a duel between him and me to the death. When I told you that the affair would not cost much, I meant that you would not be obliged to spend enormous sums; but I do want twenty thousand francs; the rest is my affair; there may be important places to be given, a receiver-generalship possibly.”

The duchess and Maxime left the room. When Madame de Grandlieu returned to her daughter, she again listened to Sabine’s dithyrambics inlaid with family facts even more cruel than those which had already crushed the young wife’s happiness.

“Don’t be so troubled, my darling,” said the duchess. “Beatrix will pay dear for your tears and sufferings; the hand of Satan is upon her; she will meet with ten humiliations for every one she has inflicted upon you.”

Madame Schontz had invited Claude Vignon, who, on several occasions, had expressed a wish to know Maxime de Trailles personally. She also invited Couture, Fabien, Bixiou, Leon de Lora, La Palferine, and Nathan. The latter was asked by Rochefide on account of Maxime. Aurelie thus expected nine guests, all men of the first ability, with the exception of du Ronceret; but the Norman vanity and the brutal ambition of the Heir were fully on a par with Claude Vignon’s literary power, Nathan’s poetic gift, La Palferine’s finesse, Couture’s financial eye, Bixiou’s wit, Finot’s shrewdness, Maxime’s profound diplomacy, and Leon de Lora’s genius.

Madame Schontz, anxious to appear both young and beautiful, armed herself with a toilet which that sort of woman has the art of making. She wore a guipure pelerine of spidery texture, a gown of blue velvet, the graceful corsage of which was buttoned with opals, and her hair in bands as smooth and shining as ebony. Madame Schontz owed her celebrity as a pretty woman to the brilliancy and freshness of a complexion as white and warm as that of Creoles, to a face full of spirited details, the features of which were clearly and firmly drawn, — a type long presented in perennial youth by the Comtesse Merlin, and which is perhaps peculiar to Southern races. Unhappily, little Madame Schontz had tended towards ebonpoint ever since her life had become so happy and calm. Her neck, of exquisite roundness, was beginning to take on flesh about the shoulders; but in France the heads of women are principally treasured; so that fine heads will often keep an ill-formed body unobserved.

“My dear child,” said Maxime, coming in and kissing Madame Schontz on the forehead, “Rochefide wanted me to see your establishment; why, it is almost in keeping with his four hundred thousand francs a year. Well, well, he would never have had them if he hadn’t known you. In less than five years you have made him save what others — Antonia, Malaga, Cadine, or Florentine — would have made him lose.”

“I am not a lorette, I am an artist,” said Madame Schontz, with a sort of dignity, “I hope to end, as they say on the stage, as the progenitrix of honest men.”

“It is dreadful, but we are all marrying,” returned Maxime, throwing himself into an arm-chair beside the fire. “Here am I, on the point of making a Comtesse Maxime.”

“Oh, how I should like to see her!” exclaimed Madame Schontz. “But permit me to present to you Monsieur Claude Vignon — Monsieur Claude Vignon, Monsieur de Trailles.”

“Ah, so you are the man who allowed Camille Maupin, the innkeeper of literature, to go into a convent?” cried Maxime. “After you, God. I never received such an honor. Mademoiselle des Touches treated you, monsieur, as though you were Louis XIV.”

“That is how history is written!” replied Claude Vignon. “Don’t you know that her fortune was used to free the Baron du Guenic’s estates? Ah! if she only knew that Calyste now belongs to her ex-friend,” (Maxime pushed the critic’s foot, motioning to Rochefide), “she would issue from her convent, I do believe, to tear him from her.”

“Upon my word, Rochefide, if I were you,” said Maxime, finding that his warning did not stop Vignon, “I should give back my wife’s fortune, so that the world couldn’t say she attached herself to Calyste from necessity.”

“Maxime is right,” remarked Madame Schontz, looking at Arthur, who colored high. “If I have helped you to gain several thousand francs a year, you couldn’t better employ them. I shall have made the happiness of husband and wife; what a feather in my cap!”

“I never thought of it,” replied the marquis; “but a man should be a gentleman before he’s a husband.”

“Let me tell you when is the time to be generous,” said Maxime.

“Arthur,” said Aurelie, “Maxime is right. Don’t you see, old fellow, that generous actions are like Couture’s investments? — you should make them in the nick of time.”

At that moment Couture, followed by Finot, came in; and, soon after, all the guests were assembled in the beautiful blue and gold salon of the hotel Schontz, a title which the various artists had given to their inn after Rochefide purchased it for his Ninon II. When Maxime saw La Palferine, the last to arrive, enter, he walked up to his lieutenant, and taking him aside into the recess of a window, gave him notes for twenty thousand francs.

“Remember, my boy, you needn’t economize them,” he said, with the particular grace of a true scamp.

“There’s none but you who can double the value of what you seem to give,” replied La Palferine.

“Have you decided?”

“Surely, inasmuch as I take the money,” said the count, with a mixture of haughtiness and jest.

“Well, then, Nathan, who is here to-night, will present you two days hence at the house of Madame la Marquise de Rochefide.”

La Palferine started when he heard the name.

“You are to be madly in love with her, and, not to rouse suspicion, drink heavily, wines, liqueurs! I’ll tell Aurelie to place you beside Nathan at dinner. One thing more, my boy: you and I must meet every night, on the boulevard de la Madeleine at one in the morning — you to give me an account of progress, I to give you instructions.”

“I shall be there, my master,” said the young count, bowing.

“Why do you make us dine with that queer fellow dressed like the head-waiter of a restaurant?” whispered Maxime to Madame Schontz, with a sign toward Fabien du Ronceret.

“Have you never met the Heir? Du Ronceret of Alencon.”

“Monsieur,” said Maxime to Fabien, “I think you must know my friend d’Esgrignon?”

“Victurnien has ceased to know me for some time,” replied Fabien, “but we used to be very intimate in our youth.”

The dinner was one of those which are given nowhere but in Paris by these great female spendthrifts, for the choiceness of their preparations often surprise the most fastidious of guests. It was at just such a supper, at the house of a courtesan as handsome and rich as Madame Schontz, that Paganini declared he had never eaten such fare at the table of any sovereign, nor drunk such wines with any prince, nor heard such witty conversation, nor seen the glitter of such coquettish luxury.

Maxime and Madame Schontz were the first to re-enter the salon, about ten o’clock, leaving the other guests, who had ceased to tell anecdotes and were now boasting of their various good qualities, with their viscous lips glued to the glasses which they could not drain.

“Well, my dear,” said Maxime, “you are not mistaken; yes, I have come for your beaux yeux and for help in a great affair. You must leave Arthur; but I pledge myself to make him give you two hundred thousand francs.”

“Why should I leave the poor fellow?”

“To marry that idiot, who seems to have been sent from Alencon expressly for the purpose. He has been a judge, and I’ll have him made chief-justice in place of Emile Blondet’s father, who is getting to be eighty years old. Now, if you know how to sail your boat, your husband can be elected deputy. You will both be personages, and you can then look down on Madame la Comtesse du Bruel.”

“Never!” said Madame Schontz; “she’s a countess.”

“Hasn’t he condition enough to be made a count?”

“By the bye, he bears arms,” cried Aurelie, hunting for a letter in an elegant bag hanging at the corner of the fireplace, and giving it to Maxime. “What do they mean? Here are combs.”

“He bears: per fesse argent and azure; on the first, three combs gules, two and one, crossed by three bunches grapes purpure, leaved vert, one and two; on the second, four feathers or, placed fretwise, with Servir for motto, and a squire’s helmet. It is not much; it seems they were ennobled under Louis XIV.; some mercer was doubtless their grandfather, and the maternal line must have made its money in wines; the du Ronceret whom the king ennobled was probably an usher. But if you get rid of Arthur and marry du Ronceret, I promise you he shall be a baron at the very least. But you see, my dear, you’ll have to soak yourself for five or six years in the provinces if you want to bury La Schontz in a baroness. That queer creature has been casting looks at you, the meaning of which is perfectly clear. You’ve got him.”

“No,” replied Aurelie, “when my hand was offered to him he remained, like the brandies I read of today in the market reports, dull.”

“I will undertake to decide him — if he is drunk. Go and see where they all are.”

“It is not worth while to go; I hear no one but Bixiou, who is making jokes to which nobody listens. But I know my Arthur; he feels bound to be polite, and he is probably looking at Bixiou with his eyes shut.”

“Let us go back, then.”

Ah ca!” said Madame Schontz, suddenly stopping short, “in whose interest shall I be working?”

“In that of Madame de Rochefide,” replied Maxime, promptly. “It is impossible to reconcile her with Rochefide as long as you hold him. Her object is to recover her place as head of his household and the enjoyment of four hundred thousand francs a year.”

“And she offers me only two hundred thousand! I want three hundred thousand, since the affair concerns her. What! haven’t I taken care of her brat and her husband? I have filled her place in every way — and does she think to bargain with me? With that, my dear Maxime, I shall have a million; and if you’ll promise me the chief-justiceship at Alencon, I can hold my own as Madame du Ronceret.”

“That’s settled,” said Maxime.

“Oh! won’t it be dull to live in that little town!” cried Aurelie, philosophically. “I have heard so much of that province from d’Esgrignon and the Val–Noble that I seem to have lived there already.”

“Suppose I promise you the support of the nobility?”

“Ah! Maxime, you don’t mean that? — but the pigeon won’t fly.”

“And he is very ugly with his purple skin and bristles for whiskers; he looks like a wild boar with the eyes of a bird of prey. But he’ll make the finest chief-justice of a provincial court. Now don’t be uneasy! in ten minutes he shall be singing to you Isabelle’s air in the fourth act of Robert le Diable: ‘At thy feet I kneel’— you promise, don’t you? to send Arthur back to Beatrix?”

“It will be difficult; but perseverance wins.”

About half-past ten o’clock the guests returned to the salon for coffee. Under the circumstances in which Madame Schontz, Couture, and du Ronceret were placed, it is easy to imagine the effect produced upon the Heir by the following conversation which Maxime held with Couture in a corner and in a low voice, but so placed that Fabien could listen to them.

“My dear Couture, if you want to lead a steady life you had better accept a receiver-generalship which Madame de Rochefide will obtain for you. Aurelie’s million will furnish the security, and you’ll share the property in marrying her. You can be made deputy, if you know how to trim your sails; and the premium I want for thus saving you is your vote in the chamber.”

“I shall always be proud to be a follower of yours.”

“Ah! my dear fellow, you have had quite an escape. Just imagine! Aurelie took a fancy for that Norman from Alencon; she asked to have him made a baron, and chief-justice in his native town, and officer of the Legion of honor! The fool never guessed her value, and you will owe your fortune to her disappointment. You had better not leave that clever creature time for reflection. As for me, I am already putting the irons in the fire.”

And Maxime left Couture at the summit of happiness, saying to La Palferine, “Shall I drive you home, my boy?”

By eleven o’clock Aurelie was alone with Couture, Fabien, and Rochefide. Arthur was asleep on a sofa. Couture and Fabien each tried to outstay the other, without success; and Madame Schontz finally terminated the struggle by saying to Couture —

“Good-night, I shall see you tomorrow.”

A dismissal which he took in good part.

“Mademoiselle,” said Fabien, in a low voice, “because you saw me thoughtful at the offer which you indirectly made to me, do not think there was the slightest hesitation on my part. But you do not know my mother; she would never consent to my happiness.”

“You have reached an age for respectful summons,” retorted Aurelie, insolently. “But if you are afraid of mamma you won’t do for me.”

“Josephine!” said the Heir, tenderly, passing his arm audaciously round Madame Schontz’ waist, “I thought you loved me!”

“Well?”

“Perhaps I could appease my mother, and obtain her consent.”

“How?”

“If you would employ your influence —”

“To have you made baron, officer of the Legion of honor, and chief-justice at Alencon — is that it, my friend? Listen to me: I have done so many things in my life that I am capable of virtue. I can be an honest woman and a loyal wife; and I can push my husband very high. But I wish to be loved by him without one look or one thought being turned away from me. Does that suit you? Don’t bind yourself imprudently; it concerns your whole life, my little man.”

“With a woman like you I can do it blind,” cried Fabien, intoxicated by the glance she gave him as much as by the liqueurs des Iles.

“You shall never repent that word, my dear; you shall be peer of France. As for that poor old fellow,” she continued, looking at Rochefide, who was sound asleep, “after today I have d-o-n-e with him.”

Fabien caught Madame Schontz around the waist and kissed her with an impulse of fury and joy, in which the double intoxication of wine and love was secondary to ambition.

“Remember, my dear child,” she said, “the respect you ought to show to your wife; don’t play the lover; leave me free to retire from my mud-hole in a proper manner. Poor Couture, who thought himself sure of wealth and a receiver-generalship!”

“I have a horror of that man,” said Fabien; “I wish I might never see him again.”

“I will not receive him any more,” replied Madame Schontz, with a prudish little air. “Now that we have come to an understanding, my Fabien, you must go; it is one o’clock.”

This little scene gave birth in the household of Arthur and Aurelie (so completely happy until now) to a phase of domestic warfare produced in the bosom of all homes by some secret and alien interest in one of the partners. The next day when Arthur awoke he found Madame Schontz as frigid as that class of woman knows how to make herself.

“What happened last night?” he said, as he breakfasted, looking at Aurelie.

“What often happens in Paris,” she replied, “one goes to bed in damp weather and the next morning the pavements are dry and frozen so hard that they are dusty. Do you want a brush?”

“What’s the matter with you, dearest?”

“Go and find your great scarecrow of a wife!”

“My wife!” exclaimed the poor marquis.

“Don’t I know why you brought Maxime here? You mean to make up with Madame de Rochefide, who wants you perhaps for some indiscreet brat. And I, whom you call so clever, I advised you to give back her fortune! Oh! I see your scheme. At the end of five years Monsieur is tired of me. I’m getting fat, Beatrix is all bones — it will be a change for you! You are not the first I’ve known to like skeletons. Your Beatrix knows how to dress herself, that’s true; and you are man who likes figure-heads. Besides, you want to send Monsieur du Guenic to the right-about. It will be a triumph! You’ll cut quite an appearance in the world! How people will talk of it! Why! you’ll be a hero!”

Madame Schontz did not make an end of her sarcasms for two hours after mid-day, in spite of Arthur’s protestations. She then said she was invited out to dinner, and advised her “faithless one” to go without her to the Opera, for she herself was going to the Ambigu–Comique to meet Madame de la Baudraye, a charming woman, a friend of Lousteau. Arthur proposed, as proof of his eternal attachment to his little Aurelie and his detestation of his wife, to start the next day for Italy, and live as a married couple in Rome, Naples, Florence — in short, wherever she liked, offering her a gift of sixty thousand francs.

“All that is nonsense,” she said. “It won’t prevent you from making up with your wife, and you’ll do a wise thing.”

Arthur and Aurelie parted on this formidable dialogue, he to play cards and dine at the club, she to dress and spend the evening tete-a-tete with Fabien.

Monsieur de Rochefide found Maxime at the club, and complained to him like a man who feels that his happiness is being torn from his heart by the roots, every fibre of which clung to it. Maxime listened to his moans, as persons of social politeness are accustomed to listen, while thinking of other things.

“I’m a man of good counsel in such matters, my dear fellow,” he answered. “Well, let me tell you, you are on the wrong road in letting Aurelie see how dear she is to you. Allow me to present you to Madame Antonia. There’s a heart to let. You’ll soon see La Schontz with other eyes. She is thirty-seven years old, that Schontz of yours, and Madame Antonia is only twenty-six! And what a woman! I may say she is my pupil. If Madame Schontz persists in keeping on the hind heels of her pride, don’t you know what that means?”

“Faith, no!”

“That she wants to marry, and if that’s the case, nothing can hinder her from leaving you. After a lease of six years a woman has a right to do so. Now, if you will only listen to me, you can do a better thing for yourself. Your wife is today worth more than all the Schontzes and Antonias of the quartier Saint–Georges. I admit the conquest is difficult, but it is not impossible; and after all that has happened she will make you as happy as an Orgon. In any case, you mustn’t look like a fool; come and sup to-night with Antonia.”

“No, I love Aurelie too well; I won’t give her any reason to complain of me.”

“Ah! my dear fellow, what a future you are preparing for yourself!” cried Maxime.

“It is eleven o’clock; she must have returned from the Ambigu,” said Rochefide, leaving the club.

And he called out his coachman to drive at top speed to the rue de la Bruyere.

Madame Schontz had given precise directions; monsieur could enter as master with the fullest understanding of madame; but, warned by the noise of monsieur’s arrival, madame had so arranged that the sound of her dressing-door closing as women’s doors do close when they are surprised, was to reach monsieur’s ears. Then, at a corner of the piano, Fabien’s hat, forgotten intentionally, was removed very awkwardly by a maid the moment after monsieur had entered the room.

“Did you go to the Ambigu, my little girl?”

“No, I changed my mind, and stayed at home to play music.”

“Who came to see you?” asked the marquis, good-humoredly, seeing the hat carried off by the maid.

“No one.”

At that audacious falsehood Arthur bowed his head; he passed beneath the Caudine forks of submission. A real love descends at times to these sublime meannesses. Arthur behaved with Madame Schontz as Sabine with Calyste, and Calyste with Beatrix.

Within a week the transition from larva to butterfly took place in the young, handsome, and clever Charles–Edouard, Comte Rusticoli de la Palferine. Until this moment of his life he had lived miserably, covering his deficits with an audacity equal to that of Danton. But he now paid his debts; he now, by advice of Maxime, had a little carriage; he was admitted to the Jockey Club and to the club of the rue de Gramont; he became supremely elegant, and he published in the “Journal des Debats” a novelette which won him in a few days a reputation which authors by profession obtain after years of toil and successes only; for there is nothing so usurping in Paris as that which ought to be ephemeral. Nathan, very certain that the count would never publish anything else, lauded the graceful and presuming young man so highly to Beatrix that she, spurred by the praise of the poet, expressed a strong desire to see this king of the vagabonds of good society.

“He will be all the more delighted to come here,” replied Nathan, “because, as I happen to know, he has fallen in love with you to the point of committing all sorts of follies.”

“But I am told he has already committed them.”

“No, not all; he has not yet committed that of falling in love with a virtuous woman.”

Some ten days after the scheme plotted on the boulevard between Maxime and his henchman, the seductive Charles–Edouard, the latter, to whom Nature had given, no doubt sarcastically, a face of charming melancholy, made his first irruption into the nest of the dove of the rue de Chartres, who took for his reception an evening when Calyste was obliged to go to a party with his wife.

If you should ever meet La Palferine you will understand perfectly the success obtained in a single evening by that sparkling mind, that animated fancy, especially if you take into consideration the admirable adroitness of the showman who consented to superintend this debut. Nathan was a good comrade, and he made the young count shine, as a jeweller showing off an ornament in hopes to sell it, makes the diamonds glitter. La Palferine was, discreetly, the first to withdraw; he left Nathan and the marquise together, relying on the collaboration of the celebrated author, which was admirable. Seeing that Beatrix was quite astounded, Raoul put fire into her heart by pretended reticences which stirred the fibres of a curiosity she did not know she possessed. Nathan hinted that La Palferine’s wit was not so much the cause of his success with women as his superiority in the art of love; a statement which magnified the count immensely.

This is the place to record a new effect of that great law of contraries, which produces so many crises in the human heart and accounts for such varied eccentricities that we are forced to remember it sometimes as well as its counterpart, the law of similitudes. All courtesans preserve in the depths of their heart a perennial desire to recover their liberty; to this they would sacrifice everything. They feel this antithetical need with such intensity that it is rare to meet with one of these women who has not aspired several times to a return to virtue through love. They are not discouraged by the most cruel deceptions. On the other hand, women restrained by their education, by the station they occupy, chained by the rank of their families, living in the midst of opulence, and wearing a halo of virtue, are drawn at times, secretly be it understood, toward the tropical regions of love. These two natures of woman, so opposed to each other, have at the bottom of their hearts, the one that faint desire for virtue, the other that faint desire for libertinism which Jean–Jacques Rousseau was the first to have the courage to diagnose. In one, it is a last reflexion of the ray divine that is not extinct; in the other, it is the last remains of our primitive clay.

This claw of the beast was rapped, this hair of the devil was pulled by Nathan with extreme cleverness. The marquise began to ask herself seriously if, up to the present time, she had not been the dupe of her head, and whether her education was complete. Vice — what is it? Possibly only the desire to know everything.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31