The Vendetta, by Honoré de Balzac

CHAPTER V

MARRIAGE

The day after Ginevra was driven from her father’s house she went to ask Madame Servin for asylum and protection until the period fixed by law for her marriage to Luigi.

Here began for her that apprenticeship to trouble which the world strews about the path of those who do not follow its conventions. Madame Servin received her very coldly, being much annoyed by the harm which Ginevra’s affair had inflicted on her husband, and told her, in politely cautious words, that she must not count on her help in future. Too proud to persist, but amazed at a selfishness hitherto unknown to her, the girl took a room in the lodging-house that was nearest to that of Luigi. The son of the Portas passed all his days at the feet of his future wife; and his youthful love, the purity of his words, dispersed the clouds from the mind of the banished daughter; the future was so beautiful as he painted it that she ended by smiling joyfully, though without forgetting her father’s severity.

One morning the servant of the lodging house brought to Ginevra’s room a number of trunks and packages containing stuffs, linen, clothes, and a great quantity of other articles necessary for a young wife in setting up a home of her own. In this welcome provision she recognized her mother’s foresight, and, on examining the gifts, she found a purse, in which the baroness had put the money belonging to her daughter, adding to it the amount of her own savings. The purse was accompanied by a letter, in which the mother implored the daughter to forego the fatal marriage if it were still possible to do so. It had cost her, she said, untold difficulty to send these few things to her daughter; she entreated her not to think her hard if, henceforth, she were forced to abandon her to want; she feared she could never again assist her; but she blessed her and prayed for her happiness in this fatal marriage, if, indeed, she persisted in making it, assuring her that she should never cease to think of her darling child. Here the falling tears had effaced some words of the letter.

“Oh, mother!” cried Ginevra, deeply moved.

She felt the impulse to rush home, to breathe the blessed air of her father’s house, to fling herself at his feet, to see her mother. She was springing forward to accomplish this wish, when Luigi entered. At the mere sight of him her filial emotion vanished; her tears were stopped, and she no longer had the strength to abandon that loving and unfortunate youth. To be the sole hope of a noble being, to love him and then abandon him! — that sacrifice is the treachery of which young hearts are incapable. Ginevra had the generosity to bury her own grief and suffering silently in her soul.

The marriage day arrived. Ginevra had no friend with her. While she was dressing, Luigi fetched the witnesses necessary to sign the certificate of marriage. These witnesses were worthy persons; one, a cavalry sergeant, was under obligations to Luigi, contracted on the battlefield, obligations which are never obliterated from the heart of an honest man; the other, a master-mason, was the proprietor of the house in which the young couple had hired an apartment for their future home. Each witness brought a friend, and all four, with Luigi, came to escort the bride. Little accustomed to social functions, and seeing nothing in the service they were rendering to Luigi but a simple matter of business, they were dressed in their ordinary clothes, without any luxury, and nothing about them denoted the usual joy of a marriage procession.

Ginevra herself was dressed simply, as befitted her present fortunes; and yet her beauty was so noble and so imposing that the words of greeting died away on the lips of the witnesses, who supposed themselves obliged to pay her some usual compliments. They bowed to her with respect, and she returned the bow; but they did so in silence, looking at her with admiration. This reserve cast a chill over the whole party. Joy never bursts forth freely except among those who are equals. Thus chance determined that all should be dull and grave around the bridal pair; nothing reflected, outwardly, the happiness that reigned within their hearts.

The church and the mayor’s office being near by, Luigi and Ginevra, followed by the four witnesses required by law, walked the distance, with a simplicity that deprived of all pomp this greatest event in social life. They saw a crowd of waiting carriages in the mayor’s court-yard; and when they reached the great hall where the civil marriages take place, they found two other wedding-parties impatiently awaiting the mayor’s arrival.

Ginevra sat down beside Luigi at the end of a long bench; their witnesses remained standing, for want of seats. Two brides, elaborately dressed in white, with ribbons, laces, and pearls, and crowned with orange-blossoms whose satiny petals nodded beneath their veils, were surrounded by joyous families, and accompanied by their mothers, to whom they looked up, now and then, with eyes that were content and timid both; the faces of all the rest reflected happiness, and seemed to be invoking blessings on the youthful pairs. Fathers, witnesses, brothers, and sisters went and came, like a happy swarm of insects disporting in the sun. Each seemed to be impressed with the value of this passing moment of life, when the heart finds itself within two hopes — the wishes of the past, the promises of the future.

As she watched them, Ginevra’s heart swelled within her; she pressed Luigi’s arm, and gave him a look. A tear rolled from the eyes of the young Corsican; never did he so well understand the joys that his Ginevra was sacrificing to him. That precious tear caused her to forget all else but him — even the abandonment in which she sat there. Love poured down its treasures of light upon their hearts; they saw nought else but themselves in the midst of the joyous tumult; they were there alone, in that crowd, as they were destined to be, henceforth, in life. Their witnesses, indifferent to what was happening, conversed quietly on their own affairs.

“Oats are very dear,” said the sergeant to the mason.

“But they have not gone up like lime, relatively speaking,” replied the contractor.

Then they walked round the hall.

“How one loses time here,” said the mason, replacing a thick silver watch in his fob.

Luigi and Ginevra, sitting pressed to one another, seemed like one person. A poet would have admired their two heads, inspired by the same sentiment, colored in the same tones, silent and saddened in presence of that humming happiness sparkling in diamonds, gay with flowers — a gayety in which there was something fleeting. The joy of those noisy and splendid groups was visible; that of Ginevra and Luigi was buried in their bosom. On one side the tumult of common pleasure, on the other, the delicate silence of happy souls — earth and heaven!

But Ginevra was not wholly free from the weaknesses of women. Superstitious as an Italian, she saw an omen in this contrast, and in her heart there lay a sense of terror, as invincible as her love.

Suddenly the office servant, in the town livery, opened a folding-door. Silence reigned, and his voice was heard, like the yapping of a dog, calling Monsieur Luigi da Porta and Mademoiselle Ginevra di Piombo. This caused some embarrassment to the young pair. The celebrity of the bride’s name attracted attention, and the spectators seemed to wonder that the wedding was not more sumptuous. Ginevra rose, took Luigi’s arm, and advanced firmly, followed by the witnesses. A murmur of surprise, which went on increasing, and a general whispering reminded Ginevra that all present were wondering at the absence of her parents; her father’s wrath seemed present to her.

“Call in the families,” said the mayor to the clerk whose business it was to read aloud the certificates.

“The father and mother protest,” replied the clerk, phlegmatically.

“On both sides?” inquired the mayor.

“The groom is an orphan.”

“Where are the witnesses?”

“Here,” said the clerk, pointing to the four men, who stood with arms folded, like so many statues.

“But if the parents protest —” began the mayor.

“The respectful summons has been duly served,” replied the clerk, rising, to lay before the mayor the papers annexed to the marriage certificate.

This bureaucratic decision had something blighting about it; in a few words it contained the whole story. The hatred of the Portas and the Piombos and their terrible passions were inscribed on this page of the civil law as the annals of a people (contained, it may be, in one word only — Napoleon, Robespierre) are engraved on a tombstone. Ginevra trembled. Like the dove on the face of the waters, having no place to rest its feet but the ark, so Ginevra could take refuge only in the eyes of Luigi from the cold and dreary waste around her.

The mayor assumed a stern, disapproving air, and his clerk looked up at the couple with malicious curiosity. No marriage was ever so little festal. Like other human beings when deprived of their accessories, it became a simple act in itself, great only in thought.

After a few questions, to which the bride and bridegroom responded, and a few words mumbled by the mayor, and after signing the registers, with their witnesses, duly, Luigi and Ginevra were made one. Then the wedded pair walked back through two lines of joyous relations who did not belong to them, and whose only interest in their marriage was the delay caused to their own wedding by this gloomy bridal. When, at last, Ginevra found herself in the mayor’s court-yard, under the open sky, a sigh escaped her breast.

“Can a lifetime of devotion and love suffice to prove my gratitude for your courage and tenderness, my Ginevra?” said Luigi.

At these words, said with tears of joy, the bride forgot her sufferings; for she had indeed suffered in presenting herself before the public to obtain a happiness her parents refused to sanction.

“Why should others come between us?” she said with an artlessness of feeling that delighted Luigi.

A sense of accomplished happiness now made the step of the young pair lighter; they saw neither heaven, nor earth, nor houses; they flew, as it were, on wings to the church. When they reached a dark little chapel in one corner of the building, and stood before a plain undecorated altar, an old priest married them. There, as in the mayor’s office, two other marriages were taking place, still pursuing them with pomp. The church, filled with friends and relations, echoed with the roll of carriages, and the hum of beadles, sextons, and priests. Altars were resplendent with sacramental luxury; the wreaths of orange-flowers that crowned the figures of the Virgin were fresh. Flowers, incense, gleaming tapers, velvet cushions embroidered with gold, were everywhere. When the time came to hold above the heads of Luigi and Ginevra the symbol of eternal union — that yoke of satin, white, soft, brilliant, light for some, lead for most — the priest looked about him in vain for the acolytes whose place it was to perform that joyous function. Two of the witnesses fulfilled it for them. The priest addressed a hasty homily to the pair on the perils of life, on the duties they must, some day, inculcate upon their children — throwing in, at this point, an indirect reproach to Ginevra on the absence of her parents; then, after uniting them before God, as the mayor had united them before the law, he left the now married couple.

“God bless them!” said Vergniaud, the sergeant, to the mason, when they reached the church porch. “No two creatures were ever more fitted for one another. The parents of the girl are foolish. I don’t know a braver soldier than Colonel Luigi. If the whole army had behaved like him, ‘l’autre’ would be here still.”

This blessing of the old soldier, the only one bestowed upon their marriage-day, shed a balm on Ginevra’s heart.

They parted with hearty shakings of hand; Luigi thanked his landlord.

“Adieu, ‘mon brave,’” he said to the sergeant. “I thank you.”

“I am now and ever at your service, colonel — soul, body, horses, and carriages; all that is mine is yours.”

“How he loves you!” said Ginevra.

Luigi now hurried his bride to the house they were to occupy. Their modest apartment was soon reached; and there, when the door closed upon them, Luigi took his wife in his arms, exclaiming —

“Oh, my Ginevra! for now you are mine, here is our true wedding. Here,” he added, “all things will smile upon us.”

Together they went through the three rooms contained in their lodging. The room first entered served as salon and dining-room in one; on the right was a bedchamber, on the left a large study which Luigi had arranged for his wife; in it she found easels, color-boxes, lay-figures, casts, pictures, portfolios — in short, the paraphernalia of an artist.

“So here I am to work!” she said, with an expression of childlike happiness.

She looked long at the hangings and the furniture, turning again and again to thank Luigi, for there was something that approached magnificence in the little retreat. A bookcase contained her favorite books; a piano filled an angle of the room. She sat down upon a divan, drew Luigi to her side, and said, in a caressing voice, her hand in his —

“You have good taste.”

“Those words make me happy,” he replied.

“But let me see all,” said Ginevra, to whom Luigi had made a mystery of the adornment of the rooms.

They entered the nuptial chamber, fresh and white as a virgin.

“Oh! come away,” said Luigi, smiling.

“But I wish to see all.”

And the imperious Ginevra looked at each piece of furniture with the minute care of an antiquary examining a coin; she touched the silken hangings, and went over every article with the artless satisfaction of a bride in the treasures of her wedding outfit.

“We begin by ruining ourselves,” she said, in a half-joyous, half-anxious tone.

“True! for all my back pay is there,” replied Luigi. “I have mortgaged it to a worthy fellow named Gigonnet.”

“Why did you do so?” she said, in a tone of reproach, through which could be heard her inward satisfaction. “Do you believe I should be less happy in a garret? But,” she added, “it is all charming, and — it is ours!”

Luigi looked at her with such enthusiasm that she lowered her eyes.

“Now let us see the rest,” she cried.

Above these three rooms, under the roof, was a study for Luigi, a kitchen, and a servant’s-room. Ginevra was much pleased with her little domain, although the view from the windows was limited by the high wall of a neighboring house, and the court-yard, from which their light was derived, was gloomy. But the two lovers were so happy in heart, hope so adorned their future, that they chose to see nothing but what was charming in their hidden nest. They were there in that vast house, lost in the immensity of Paris, like two pearls in their shell in the depths of ocean; to all others it might have seemed a prison; to them it was paradise.

The first few days of their union were given to love. The effort to turn at once to work was too difficult; they could not resist the charm of their own passion. Luigi lay for hours at the feet of his wife, admiring the color of her hair, the moulding of her forehead, the enchanting socket of her eyes, the purity and whiteness of the two arches beneath which the eyes themselves turned slowly, expressing the happiness of a satisfied love. Ginevra caressed the hair of her Luigi, never weary of gazing at what she called his “belta folgorante,” and the delicacy of his features. She was constantly charmed by the nobility of his manners, as she herself attracted him by the grace of hers.

They played together, like children, with nothings — nothings that brought them ever back to their love — ceasing their play only to fall into a revery of the “far niente.” An air sung by Ginevra reproduced to their souls the enchanting lights and shadows of their passion. Together, uniting their steps as they did their souls, they roamed about the country, finding everywhere their love — in the flowers, in the sky, in the glowing tints of the setting sun; they read it in even the capricious vapors which met and struggled in the ether. Each day resembled in nothing its predecessors; their love increased, and still increased, because it was a true love. They had tested each other in what seemed only a short time; and, instinctively, they recognized that their souls were of a kind whose inexhaustible riches promised for the future unceasing joys.

Theirs was love in all its artlessness, with its interminable conversations, unfinished speeches, long silences, oriental reposes, and oriental ardor. Luigi and Ginevra comprehended love. Love is like the ocean: seen superficially, or in haste, it is called monotonous by common souls, whereas some privileged beings can pass their lives in admiring it, and in finding, ceaselessly, the varying phenomena that enchant them.

Soon, however, prudence and foresight drew the young couple from their Eden; it was necessary to work to live. Ginevra, who possessed a special talent for imitating old paintings, took up the business of copying, and soon found many customers among the picture-dealers. Luigi, on his side, sought long and actively for occupation, but it was hard for a young officer whose talents had been restricted to the study of strategy to find anything to do in Paris.

At last, weary of vain efforts, his soul filled with despair at seeing the whole burden of their subsistence falling on Ginevra, it occurred to him to make use of his handwriting, which was excellent. With a persistency of which he saw an example in his wife, he went round among the layers and notaries of Paris, asking for papers to copy. The frankness of his manners and his situation interested many in his favor; he soon obtained enough work to be obliged to find young men to assist him; and this employment became, little by little, a regular business. The profits of his office and the sale of Ginevra’s pictures gave the young couple a competence of which they were justly proud, for it was the fruit of their industry.

This, to the busy pair, was the happiest period of their lives. The days flowed rapidly by, filled with occupation and the joys of their love. At night, after working all day, they met with delight in Ginevra’s studio. Music refreshed their weariness. No expression of regret or melancholy obscured the happy features of the young wife, and never did she utter a complaint. She appeared to her Luigi with a smile upon her lips and her eyes beaming. Each cherished a ruling thought which would have made them take pleasure in a labor still more severe; Ginevra said in her heart that she worked for Luigi, and Luigi the same for Ginevra.

Sometimes, in the absence of her husband, the thought of the perfect happiness she might have had if this life of love could have been lived in the presence of her father and mother overcame the young wife; and then, as she felt the full power of remorse, she dropped into melancholy; mournful pictures passed like shadows across her imagination; she saw her old father alone, or her mother weeping in secret lest the inexorable Piombo should perceive her tears. The two white, solemn heads rose suddenly before her, and the thought came that never again should she see them except in memory. This thought pursued her like a presentiment.

She celebrated the anniversary of her marriage by giving her husband a portrait he had long desired — that of his Ginevra, painted by herself. Never had the young artist done so remarkable a work. Aside from the resemblance, the glow of her beauty, the purity of her feelings, the happiness of love were there depicted by a sort of magic. This masterpiece of her art and her joy was a votive offering to their wedded felicity.

Another year of ease and comfort went by. The history of their life may be given in three words: _They were happy._ No event happened to them of sufficient importance to be recorded.

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