Five years later, on an afternoon in the month of November, Comte Paul de Manerville, wrapped in a cloak, was entering, with a bowed head and a mysterious manner, the house of his old friend Monsieur Mathias at Bordeaux.
Too old to continue in business, the worthy notary had sold his practice and was ending his days peacefully in a quiet house to which he had retired. An urgent affair had obliged him to be absent at the moment of his guest’s arrival, but his housekeeper, warned of Paul’s coming, took him to the room of the late Madame Mathias, who had been dead a year. Fatigued by a rapid journey, Paul slept till evening. When the old man reached home he went up to his client’s room, and watched him sleeping, as a mother watches her child. Josette, the old housekeeper, followed her master and stood before the bed, her hands on her hips.
“It is a year today, Josette, since I received my dear wife’s last sigh; I little knew then that I should stand here again to see the count half dead.”
“Poor man! he moans in his sleep,” said Josette.
“Sac a papier!” cried the old notary, an innocent oath which was a sign with him of the despair on a man of business before insurmountable difficulties. “At any rate,” he thought, “I have saved the title to the Lanstrac estate for him, and that of Ausac, Saint–Froult, and his house, though the usufruct has gone.” Mathias counted his fingers. “Five years! Just five years this month, since his old aunt, now dead, that excellent Madame de Maulincour, asked for the hand of that little crocodile of a woman, who has finally ruined him — as I expected.”
And the gouty old gentleman, leaning on his cane, went to walk in the little garden till his guest should awake. At nine o’clock supper was served, for Mathias took supper. The old man was not a little astonished, when Paul joined him, to see that his old client’s brow was calm and his face serene, though noticeably changed. If at the age of thirty-three the Comte de Manerville seemed to be a man of forty, that change in his appearance was due solely to mental shocks; physically, he was well. He clasped the old man’s hand affectionately, and forced him not to rise, saying:—
“Dear, kind Maitre Mathias, you, too, have had your troubles.”
“Mine were natural troubles, Monsieur le comte; but yours —”
“We will talk of that presently, while we sup.”
“If I had not a son in the magistracy, and a daughter married,” said the good old man, “you would have found in old Mathias, believe me, Monsieur le comte, something better than mere hospitality. Why have you come to Bordeaux at the very moment when posters are on all the walls of the seizure of your farms at Grassol and Guadet, the vineyard of Belle–Rose and the family mansion? I cannot tell you the grief I feel at the sight of those placards — I, who for forty years nursed that property as if it belonged to me; I, who bought it for your mother when I was only third clerk to Monsieur Chesnau, my predecessor, and wrote the deeds myself in my best round hand; I, who have those titles now in my successor’s office; I, who have known you since you were so high”; and the old man stopped to put his hand near the ground. “Ah! a man must have been a notary for forty-one years and a half to know the sort of grief I feel to see my name exposed before the face of Israel in those announcements of the seizure and sale of the property. When I pass through the streets and see men reading these horrible yellow posters, I am ashamed, as if my own honor and ruin were concerned. Some fools will stand there and read them aloud expressly to draw other fools about them — and what imbecile remarks they make! As if a man were not master of his own property! Your father ran through two fortunes before he made the one he left you; and you wouldn’t be a Manerville if you didn’t do likewise. Besides, seizures of real estate have a whole section of the Code to themselves; they are expected and provided for; you are in a position recognized by the law. — If I were not an old man with white hair, I would thrash those fools I hear reading aloud in the streets such an abomination as this,” added the worthy notary, taking up a paper; “‘At the request of Dame Natalie Evangelista, wife of Paul–Francois-Joseph, Comte de Manerville, separated from him as to worldly goods and chattels by the Lower court of the department of the Seine —’”
“Yes, and now separated in body,” said Paul.
“Ah!” exclaimed the old man.
“Oh! against my wife’s will,” added the count, hastily. “I was forced to deceive her; she did not know that I was leaving her.”
“You have left her?”
“My passage is taken; I sail for Calcutta on the ‘Belle–Amelie.’”
“Two day’s hence!” cried the notary. “Then, Monsieur le comte, we shall never meet again.”
“You are only seventy-three, my dear Mathias, and you have the gout, the brevet of old age. When I return I shall find you still afoot. Your good head and heart will be as sound as ever, and you will help me to reconstruct what is now a shaken edifice. I intend to make a noble fortune in seven years. I shall be only forty on my return. All is still possible at that age.”
“You?” said Mathias, with a gesture of amazement — you, Monsieur le comte, to undertake commerce! How can you even think of it?”
“I am no longer Monsieur le comte, dear Mathias. My passage is taken under the name of Camille, one of my mother’s baptismal names. I have acquirements which will enable me to make my fortune otherwise than in business. Commerce, at any rate, will be only my final chance. I start with a sum in hand sufficient for the redemption of my future on a large scale.”
“Where is that money?”
“A friend is to send it to me.”
The old man dropped his fork as he heard the word “friend,” not in surprise, not scoffingly, but in grief; his look and manner expressed the pain he felt in finding Paul under the influence of a deceitful illusion; his practised eye fathomed a gulf where the count saw nothing but solid ground.
“I have been fifty years in the notariat,” he said, “and I never yet knew a ruined man whose friend would lend him money.”
“You don’t know de Marsay. I am certain that he has sold out some of his investments already, and tomorrow you will receive from him a bill of exchange for one hundred and fifty thousand francs.”
“I hope I may. If that be so, cannot your friend settle your difficulties here? You could live quietly at Lanstrac for five or six years on your wife’s income, and so recover yourself.”
“No assignment or economy on my part could pay off fifteen hundred thousand francs of debt, in which my wife is involved to the amount of five hundred and fifty thousand.”
“You cannot mean to say that in four years you have incurred a million and a half of debt?”
“Nothing is more certain, Mathias. Did I not give those diamonds to my wife? Did I not spend the hundred and fifty thousand I received from the sale of Madame Evangelista’s house, in the arrangement of my house in Paris? Was I not forced to use other money for the first payments on that property demanded by the marriage contract? I was even forced to sell out Natalie’s forty thousand a year in the Funds to complete the purchase of Auzac and Saint–Froult. We sold at eighty-seven, therefore I became in debt for over two hundred thousand francs within a month after my marriage. That left us only sixty-seven thousand francs a year; but we spent fully three times as much every year. Add all that up, together with rates of interest to usurers, and you will soon find a million.”
“Br-r-r!” exclaimed the old notary. “Go on. What next?”
“Well, I wanted, in the first place, to complete for my wife that set of jewels of which she had the pearl necklace clasped by the family diamond, the ‘Discreto,’ and her mother’s ear-rings. I paid a hundred thousand francs for a coronet of diamond wheat-ears. There’s eleven hundred thousand. And now I find I owe the fortune of my wife, which amounts to three hundred and sixty-six thousand francs of her ‘dot.’”
“But,” said Mathias, “if Madame la comtesse had given up her diamonds and you had pledged your income you could have pacified your creditors and have paid them off in time.”
“When a man is down, Mathias, when his property is covered with mortgages, when his wife’s claims take precedence of his creditors’, and when that man has notes out for a hundred thousand francs which he must pay (and I hope I can do so out of the increased value of my property here), what you propose is not possible.”
“This is dreadful!” cried Mathias; “would you sell Belle–Rose with the vintage of 1825 still in the cellars?”
“I cannot help myself.”
“Belle–Rose is worth six hundred thousand francs.”
“Natalie will buy it in; I have advised her to do so.”
“I might push the price to seven hundred thousand, and the farms are worth a hundred thousand each.”
“Then if the house in Bordeaux can be sold for two hundred thousand —”
“Solonet will give more than that; he wants it. He is retiring with a handsome property made by gambling on the Funds. He has sold his practice for three hundred thousand francs, and marries a mulatto woman. God knows how she got her money, but they say it amounts to millions. A notary gambling in stocks! a notary marrying a black woman! What an age! It is said that he speculates for your mother-inlaw with her funds.”
“She has greatly improved Lanstrac and taken great pains with its cultivation. She has amply repaid me for the use of it.”
“I shouldn’t have thought her capable of that.”
“She is so kind and so devoted; she has always paid Natalie’s debts during the three months she spent with us every year in Paris.”
“She could well afford to do so, for she gets her living out of Lanstrac,” said Mathias. “She! grown economical! what a miracle! I am told she has just bought the domain of Grainrouge between Lanstrac and Grassol; so that if the Lanstrac avenue were extended to the high-road, you would drive four and a half miles through your own property to reach the house. She paid one hundred thousand francs down for Grainrouge.”
“She is as handsome as ever,” said Paul; “country life preserves her freshness; I don’t mean to go to Lanstrac and bid her good-bye; her heart would bleed for me too much.”
“You would go in vain; she is now in Paris. She probably arrived there as you left.”
“No doubt she had heard of the sale of my property and came to help me. I have no complaint to make of life, Mathias. I am truly loved, — as much as any man ever could be here below; beloved by two women who outdo each other in devotion; they are even jealous of each other; the daughter blames the mother for loving me too much, and the mother reproaches the daughter for what she calls her dissipations. I may say that this great affection has been my ruin. How could I fail to satisfy even the slightest caprice of a loving wife? Impossible to restrain myself! Neither could I accept any sacrifice on her part. We might certainly, as you say, live at Lanstrac, save my income, and part with her diamonds, but I would rather go to India and work for a fortune than tear my Natalie from the life she enjoys. So it was I who proposed the separation as to property. Women are angels who ought not to be mixed up in the sordid interests of life.”
Old Mathias listened in doubt and amazement.
“You have no children, I think,” he said.
“Fortunately, none,” replied Paul.
“That is not my idea of marriage,” remarked the old notary, naively. “A wife ought, in my opinion, to share the good and evil fortunes of her husband. I have heard that young married people who love like lovers, do not want children? Is pleasure the only object of marriage? I say that object should be the joys of family. Moreover, in this case — I am afraid you will think me too much of notary — your marriage contract made it incumbent upon you to have a son. Yes, monsieur le comte, you ought to have had at once a male heir to consolidate that entail. Why not? Madame Evangelista was strong and healthy; she had nothing to fear in maternity. You will tell me, perhaps, that these are the old-fashioned notions of our ancestors. But in those noble families, Monsieur le comte, the legitimate wife thought it her duty to bear children and bring them up nobly; as the Duchesse de Sully, the wife of the great Sully, said, a wife is not an instrument of pleasure, but the honor and virtue of her household.”
“You don’t know women, my good Mathias,” said Paul. “In order to be happy we must love them as they want to be loved. Isn’t there something brutal in at once depriving a wife of her charms, and spoiling her beauty before she has begun to enjoy it?”
“If you had had children your wife would not have dissipated your fortune; she would have stayed at home and looked after them.”
“If you were right, dear friend,” said Paul, frowning, “I should be still more unhappy than I am. Do not aggravate my sufferings by preaching to me after my fall. Let me go, without the pang of looking backward to my mistakes.”
The next day Mathias received a bill of exchange for one hundred and fifty thousand francs from de Marsay.
“You see,” said Paul, “he does not write a word to me. He begins by obliging me. Henri’s nature is the most imperfectly perfect, the most illegally beautiful that I know. If you knew with what superiority that man, still young, can rise above sentiments, above self-interests, and judge them, you would be astonished, as I am, to find how much heart he has.”
Mathias tried to battle with Paul’s determination, but he found it irrevocable, and it was justified by so many cogent reasons that the old man finally ceased his endeavors to retain his client.
It is seldom that vessels sail promptly at the time appointed, but on this occasion, by a fateful circumstance for Paul, the wind was fair and the “Belle–Amelie” sailed on the morrow, as expected. The quay was lined with relations, and friends, and idle persons. Among them were several who had formerly known Manerville. His disaster, posted on the walls of the town, made him as celebrated as he was in the days of his wealth and fashion. Curiosity was aroused; every one had their word to say about him. Old Mathias accompanied his client to the quay, and his sufferings were sore as he caught a few words of those remarks:—
“Who could recognize in that man you see over there, near old Mathias, the dandy who was called the Pink of Fashion five years ago, and made, as they say, ‘fair weather and foul’ in Bordeaux.”
“What! that stout, short man in the alpaca overcoat, who looks like a groom — is that Comte Paul de Manerville?”
“Yes, my dear, the same who married Mademoiselle Evangelista. Here he is, ruined, without a penny to his name, going out to India to look for luck.”
“But how did he ruin himself? he was very rich.”
“Oh! Paris, women, play, luxury, gambling at the Bourse —”
“Besides,” said another, “Manerville always was a poor creature; no mind, soft as papier-mache, he’d let anybody shear the wool from his back; incapable of anything, no matter what. He was born to be ruined.”
Paul wrung the hand of the old man and went on board. Mathias stood upon the pier, looking at his client, who leaned against the shrouds, defying the crowed before him with a glance of contempt. At the moment when the sailors began to weigh anchor, Paul noticed that Mathias was making signals to him with his handkerchief. The old housekeeper had hurried to her master, who seemed to be excited by some sudden event. Paul asked the captain to wait a moment, and send a boat to the pier, which was done. Too feeble himself to go aboard, Mathias gave two letters to a sailor in the boat.
“My friend,” he said, “this packet” (showing one of the two letters) “is important; it has just arrived by a courier from Paris in thirty-five hours. State this to Monsieur le comte; don’t neglect to do so; it may change his plans.”
“Would he come ashore?”
“Possibly, my friend,” said the notary, imprudently.
The sailor is, in all lands, a being of a race apart, holding all land-folk in contempt. This one happened to be a bas-Breton, who saw but one thing in Maitre Mathias’s request.
“Come ashore, indeed!” he thought, as he rowed. “Make the captain lose a passenger! If one listened to those walruses we’d have nothing to do but embark and disembark ’em. He’s afraid that son of his will catch cold.”
The sailor gave Paul the letter and said not a word of the message. Recognizing the handwriting of his wife and de Marsay, Paul supposed that he knew what they both would urge upon him. Anxious not to be influenced by offers which he believed their devotion to his welfare would inspire, he put the letters in his pocket unread, with apparent indifference.
Absorbed in the sad thoughts which assail the strongest man under such circumstances, Paul gave way to his grief as he waved his hand to his old friend, and bade farewell to France, watching the steeples of Bordeaux as they fled out of sight. He seated himself on a coil of rope. Night overtook him still lost in thought. With the semi-darkness of the dying day came doubts; he cast an anxious eye into the future. Sounding it, and finding there uncertainty and danger, he asked his soul if courage would fail him. A vague dread seized his mind as he thought of Natalie left wholly to herself; he repented the step he had taken; he regretted Paris and his life there. Suddenly sea-sickness overcame him. Every one knows the effect of that disorder. The most horrible of its sufferings devoid of danger is a complete dissolution of the will. An inexplicable distress relaxes to their very centre the cords of vitality; the soul no longer performs its functions; the sufferer becomes indifferent to everything; the mother forgets her child, the lover his mistress, the strongest man lies prone, like an inert mass. Paul was carried to his cabin, where he stayed three days, lying on his back, gorged with grog by the sailors, or vomiting; thinking of nothing, and sleeping much. Then he revived into a species of convalescence, and returned by degrees to his ordinary condition. The first morning after he felt better he went on deck and passed the poop, breathing in the salt breezes of another atmosphere. Putting his hands into his pockets he felt the letters. At once he opened them, beginning with that of his wife.
In order that the letter of the Comtesse de Manerville be fully understood, it is necessary to give the one which Paul had written to her on the day that he left Paris.
From Paul de Manerville to his wife:
My beloved — When you read this letter I shall be far away from you; perhaps already on the vessel which is to take me to India, where I am going to repair my shattered fortune.
I have not found courage to tell you of my departure. I have deceived you; but it was best to do so. You would only have been uselessly distressed; you would have wished to sacrifice your fortune, and that I could not have suffered. Dear Natalie, feel no remorse; I have no regrets. When I return with millions I shall imitate your father and lay them at your feet, as he laid his at the feet of your mother, saying to you: “All I have is yours.”
I love you madly, Natalie; I say this without fear that the avowal will lead you to strain a power which none but weak men fear; yours has been boundless from the day I knew you first. My love is the only accomplice in my disaster. I have felt, as my ruin progressed, the delirious joys of a gambler; as the money diminished, so my enjoyment grew. Each fragment of my fortune turned into some little pleasure for you gave me untold happiness. I could have wished that you had more caprices that I might gratify them all. I knew I was marching to a precipice, but I went on crowned with joys of which a common heart knows nothing. I have acted like those lovers who take refuge in a cottage on the shores of some lake for a year or two, resolved to kill themselves at last; dying thus in all the glory of their illusions and their love. I have always thought such persons infinitely sensible.
You have known nothing of my pleasures or my sacrifices. The greatest joy of all was to hide from the one beloved the cost of her desires. I can reveal these secrets to you now, for when you hold this paper, heavy with love, I shall be far away. Though I lose the treasures of your gratitude, I do not suffer that contraction of the heart which would disable me if I spoke to you of these matters. Besides, my own beloved, is there not a tender calculation in thus revealing to you the history of the past? Does it not extend our love into the future? — But we need no such supports! We love each other with a love to which proof is needless — a love which takes no note of time or distance, but lives of itself alone.
Ah! Natalie, I have just looked at you asleep, trustful, restful as a little child, your hand stretched toward me. I left a tear upon the pillow which has known our precious joys. I leave you without fear, on the faith of that attitude; I go to win the future of our love by bringing home to you a fortune large enough to gratify your every taste, and let no shadow of anxiety disturb our joys. Neither you nor I can do without enjoyments in the life we live. To me belongs the task of providing the necessary fortune. I am a man; and I have courage.
Perhaps you might seek to follow me. For that reason I conceal from you the name of the vessel, the port from which I sail, and the day of sailing. After I am gone, when too late to follow me, a friend will tell you all.
Natalie! my affection is boundless. I love you as a mother loves her child, as a lover loves his mistress, with absolute unselfishness. To me the toil, to you the pleasures; to me all sufferings, to you all happiness. Amuse yourself; continue your habits of luxury; go to theatres and operas, enjoy society and balls; I leave you free for all things. Dear angel, when you return to this nest where for five years we have tasted the fruits which love has ripened think of your friend; think for a moment of me, and rest upon my heart.
That is all I ask of you. For myself, dear eternal thought of mine! whether under burning skies, toiling for both of us, I face obstacles to vanquish, or whether, weary with the struggle, I rest my mind on hopes of a return, I shall think of you alone; of you who are my life — my blessed life! Yes, I shall live in you. I shall tell myself daily that you have no troubles, no cares; that you are happy. As in our natural lives of day and night, of sleeping and waking, I shall have sunny days in Paris, and nights of toil in India — a painful dream, a joyful reality; and I shall live so utterly in that reality that my actual life will pass as a dream. I shall have memories! I shall recall, line by line, strophe by strophe, our glorious five years’ poem. I shall remember the days of your pleasure in some new dress or some adornment which made you to my eyes a fresh delight. Yes, dear angel, I go like a man vowed to some great emprize, the guerdon of which, if success attend him, is the recovery of his beautiful mistress. Oh! my precious love, my Natalie, keep me as a religion in your heart. Be the child that I have just seen asleep! If you betray my confidence, my blind confidence, you need not fear my anger — be sure of that; I should die silently. But a wife does not deceive the man who leaves her free — for woman is never base. She tricks a tyrant; but an easy treachery, which would kill its victim, she will not commit — No, no! I will not think of it. Forgive this cry, this single cry, so natural to the heart of man!
Dear love, you will see de Marsay; he is now the lessee of our house, and he will leave you in possession of it. This nominal lease was necessary to avoid a useless loss. Our creditors, ignorant that their payment is a question of time only, would otherwise have seized the furniture and the temporary possession of the house. Be kind to de Marsay; I have the most entire confidence in his capacity and his loyalty. Take him as your defender and adviser, make him your slave. However occupied, he will always find time to be devoted to you. I have placed the liquidation of my affairs and the payment of the debts in his hands. If he should advance some sum of which he should later feel in need I rely on you to pay it back. Remember, however, that I do not leave you to de Marsay, but to yourself; I do not seek to impose him upon you.
Alas! I have but an hour more to stay beside you; I cannot spend that hour in writing business — I count your breaths; I try to guess your thoughts in the slight motions of your sleep. I would I could infuse my blood into your veins that you might be a part of me, my thought your thought, and your heart mine — A murmur has just escaped your lips as though it were a soft reply. Be calm and beautiful forever as you are now! Ah! would that I possessed that fabulous fairy power which, with a wand, could make you sleep while I am absent, until, returning, I should wake you with a kiss.
How much I must love you, how much energy of soul I must possess, to leave you as I see you now! Adieu, my cherished one. Your poor Pink of Fashion is blown away by stormy winds, but — the wings of his good luck shall waft him back to you. No, my Ninie, I am not bidding you farewell, for I shall never leave you. Are you not the soul of my actions? Is not the hope of returning with happiness indestructible for YOU the end and aim of my endeavor? Does it not lead my every step? You will be with me everywhere. Ah! it will not be the sun of India, but the fire of your eyes that lights my way. Therefore be happy — as happy as a woman can be without her lover. I would the last kiss that I take from those dear lips were not a passive one; but, my Ninie, my adored one, I will not wake you. When you wake, you will find a tear upon your forehead — make it a talisman! Think, think of him who may, perhaps, die for you, far from you; think less of the husband than of the lover who confides you to God.
From the Comtesse de Manerville to her husband:
Dear, beloved one — Your letter has plunged me into affliction. Had you the right to take this course, which must affect us equally, without consulting me? Are you free? Do you not belong to me? If you must go, why should I not follow you? You show me, Paul, that I am not indispensable to you. What have I done, to be deprived of my rights? Surely I count for something in this ruin. My luxuries have weighed somewhat in the scale. You make me curse the happy, careless life we have led for the last five years. To know that you are banished from France for years is enough to kill me. How soon can a fortune be made in India? Will you ever return?
I was right when I refused, with instinctive obstinacy, that separation as to property which my mother and you were so determined to carry out. What did I tell you then? Did I not warn you that it was casting a reflection upon you, and would ruin your credit? It was not until you were really angry that I gave way.
My dear Paul, never have you been so noble in my eyes as you are at this moment. To despair of nothing, to start courageously to seek a fortune! Only your character, your strength of mind could do it. I sit at your feet. A man who avows his weakness with your good faith, who rebuilds his fortune from the same motive that made him wreck it, for love’s sake, for the sake of an irresistible passion, oh, Paul, that man is sublime! Therefore, fear nothing; go on, through all obstacles, not doubting your Natalie — for that would be doubting yourself. Poor darling, you mean to live in me? And I shall ever be in you. I shall not be here; I shall be wherever you are, wherever you go.
Though your letter has caused me the keenest pain, it has also filled me with joy — you have made me know those two extremes! Seeing how you love me, I have been proud to learn that my love is truly felt. Sometimes I have thought that I loved you more than you loved me. Now, I admit myself vanquished, you have added the delightful superiority — of loving — to all the others with which you are blest. That precious letter in which your soul reveals itself will lie upon my heart during all your absence; for my soul, too, is in it; that letter is my glory.
I shall go to live at Lanstrac with my mother. I die to the world; I will economize my income and pay your debts to their last farthing. From this day forth, Paul, I am another woman. I bid farewell forever to society; I will have no pleasures that you cannot share. Besides, Paul, I ought to leave Paris and live in retirement. Dear friend, you will soon have a noble reason to make your fortune. If your courage needed a spur you would find it in this. Cannot you guess? We shall have a child. Your cherished desires are granted. I feared to give you one of those false hopes which hurt so much — have we not had grief enough already on that score? I was determined not to be mistaken in this good news. To-day I feel certain, and it makes me happy to shed this joy upon your sorrows.
This morning, fearing nothing and thinking you still at home, I went to the Assumption; all things smiled upon me; how could I foresee misfortune? As I left the church I met my mother; she had heard of your distress, and came, by post, with all her savings, thirty thousand francs, hoping to help you. Ah! what a heart is hers, Paul! I felt joyful, and hurried home to tell you this good news, and to breakfast with you in the greenhouse, where I ordered just the dainties that you like. Well, Augustine brought me your letter — a letter from you, when we had slept together! A cold fear seized me; it was like a dream! I read your letter! I read it weeping, and my mother shared my tears. I was half-dead. Such love, such courage, such happiness, such misery! The richest fortunes of the heart, and the momentary ruin of all interests! To lose you at a moment when my admiration of your greatness thrilled me! what woman could have resisted such a tempest of emotion? To know you far away when your hand upon my heart would have stilled its throbbings; to feel that YOU were not here to give me that look so precious to me, to rejoice in our new hopes; that I was not with you to soften your sorrows by those caresses which made your Natalie so dear to you! I wished to start, to follow you, to fly to you. But my mother told me you had taken passage in a ship which leaves Bordeaux tomorrow, that I could not reach you except by post, and, moreover, that it was madness in my present state to risk our future by attempting to follow you. I could not bear such violent emotions; I was taken ill, and am writing to you now in bed.
My mother is doing all she can to stop certain calumnies which seem to have got about on your disaster. The Vandenesses, Charles and Felix, have earnestly defended you; but your friend de Marsay treats the affair satirically. He laughs at your accusers instead of replying to them. I do not like his way of lightly brushing aside such serious attacks. Are you not deceived in him? However, I will obey you; I will make him my friend. Do not be anxious, my adored one, on the points that concern your honor; is it not mine as well? My diamonds shall be pledged; we intend, mamma and I, to employ our utmost resources in the payment of your debts; and we shall try to buy back your vineyard at Belle–Rose. My mother, who understands business like a lawyer, blames you very much for not having told her of your embarrassments. She would not have bought — thinking to please you — the Grainrouge domain, and then she could have lent you that money as well as the thirty thousand francs she brought with her. She is in despair at your decision; she fears the climate of India for your health. She entreats you to be sober, and not to let yourself be trapped by women — That made me laugh; I am as sure of you as I am of myself. You will return to me rich and faithful. I alone know your feminine delicacy, and the secret sentiments which make you a human flower worthy of the gardens of heaven. The Bordeaux people were right when they gave you your floral nickname.
But alas! who will take care of my delicate flower? My heart is rent with dreadful ideas. I, his wife, Natalie, I am here, and perhaps he suffers far away from me! And not to share your pains, your vexations, your dangers! In whom will you confide? how will you live without that ear into which you have hitherto poured all? Dear, sensitive plant, swept away by this storm, will you be able to survive in another soil than your native land?
It seems to me that I have been alone for centuries. I have wept sorely. To be the cause of your ruin! What a text for the thoughts of a loving woman! You treated me like a child to whom we give all it asks, or like a courtesan, allowed by some thoughtless youth to squander his fortune. Ah! such indulgence was, in truth, an insult. Did you think I could not live without fine dresses, balls and operas and social triumphs? Am I so frivolous a woman? Do you think me incapable of serious thought, of ministering to your fortune as I have to your pleasures? If you were not so far away, and so unhappy, I would blame you for that impertinence. Why lower your wife in that way? Good heavens! what induced me to go into society at all? — to flatter your vanity; I adorned myself for you, as you well know. If I did wrong, I am punished, cruelly; your absence is a harsh expiation of our mutual life.
Perhaps my happiness was too complete; it had to be paid by some great trial — and here it is. There is nothing now for me but solitude. Yes, I shall live at Lanstrac, the place your father laid out, the house you yourself refurnished so luxuriously. There I shall live, with my mother and my child, and await you — sending you daily, night and morning, the prayers of all. Remember that our love is a talisman against all evil. I have no more doubt of you than you can have of me. What comfort can I put into this letter — I so desolate, so broken, with the lonely years before me, like a desert to cross. But no! I am not utterly unhappy; the desert will be brightened by our son — yes, it must be a son, must it not?
And now, adieu, my own beloved; our love and prayers will follow you. The tears you see upon this paper will tell you much that I cannot write. I kiss you on this little square of paper, see! below. Take those kisses from
This letter threw Paul into a reverie caused as much by memories of the past as by these fresh assurances of love. The happier a man is, the more he trembles. In souls which are exclusively tender — and exclusive tenderness carries with it a certain amount of weakness — jealousy and uneasiness exist in direct proportion to the amount of the happiness and its extent. Strong souls are neither jealous nor fearful; jealousy is doubt, fear is meanness. Unlimited belief is the principal attribute of a great man. If he is deceived (for strength as well as weakness may make a man a dupe) his contempt will serve him as an axe with which to cut through all. This greatness, however, is the exception. Which of us has not known what it is to be abandoned by the spirit which sustains our frail machine, and to hearken to that mysterious Voice denying all? Paul, his mind going over the past, and caught here and there by irrefutable facts, believed and doubted all. Lost in thought, a prey to an awful and involuntary incredulity, which was combated by the instincts of his own pure love and his faith in Natalie, he read and re-read that wordy letter, unable to decide the question which it raised either for or against his wife. Love is sometimes as great and true when smothered in words as it is in brief, strong sentences.
To understand the situation into which Paul de Manerville was about to enter we must think of him as he was at this moment, floating upon the ocean as he floated upon his past, looking back upon the years of his life as he looked at the limitless water and cloudless sky about him, and ending his reverie by returning, through tumults of doubt, to faith, the pure, unalloyed and perfect faith of the Christian and the lover, which enforced the voice of his faithful heart.
It is necessary to give here his own letter to de Marsay written on leaving Paris, to which his friend replied in the letter he received through old Mathias from the dock:—
From Comte Paul de Manerville to Monsieur le Marquis Henri de Marsay:
Henri — I have to say to you one of the most vital words a man can say to his friend:— I am ruined. When you read this I shall be on the point of sailing from Bordeaux to Calcutta on the brig “Belle–Amelie.”
You will find in the hands of your notary a deed which only needs your signature to be legal. In it, I lease my house to you for six years at a nominal rent. Send a duplicate of that deed to my wife. I am forced to take this precaution that Natalie may continue to live in her own home without fear of being driven out by creditors.
I also convey to you by deed the income of my share of the entailed property for four years; the whole amounting to one hundred and fifty thousand francs, which sum I beg you to lend me and to send in a bill of exchange on some house in Bordeaux to my notary, Maitre Mathias. My wife will give you her signature to this paper as an endorsement of your claim to my income. If the revenues of the entail do not pay this loan as quickly as I now expect, you and I will settle on my return. The sum I ask for is absolutely necessary to enable me to seek my fortune in India; and if I know you, I shall receive it in Bordeaux the night before I sail.
I have acted as you would have acted in my place. I held firm to the last moment, letting no one suspect my ruin. Before the news of the seizure of my property at Bordeaux reached Paris, I had attempted, with one hundred thousand francs which I obtained on notes, to recover myself by play. Some lucky stroke might still have saved me. I lost.
How have I ruined myself? By my own will, Henri. From the first month of my married life I saw that I could not keep up the style in which I started. I knew the result; but I chose to shut my eyes; I could not say to my wife, “We must leave Paris and live at Lanstrac.” I have ruined myself for her as men ruin themselves for a mistress, but I knew it all along. Between ourselves, I am neither a fool nor a weak man. A fool does not let himself be ruled with his eyes open by a passion; and a man who starts for India to reconstruct his fortune, instead of blowing out his brains, is not weak.
I shall return rich, or I shall never return at all. Only, my dear friend, as I want wealth solely for her, as I must be absent six years at least, and as I will not risk being duped in any way, I confide to you my wife. I know no better guardian. Being childless, a lover might be dangerous to her. Henri! I love her madly, basely, without proper pride. I would forgive her, I think, an infidelity, not because I am certain of avenging it, but because I would kill myself to leave her free and happy — since I could not make her happiness myself. But what have I to fear? Natalie feels for me that friendship which is independent of love, but which preserves love. I have treated her like a petted child. I took such delight in my sacrifices, one led so naturally to another, that she can never be false; she would be a monster if she were. Love begets love.
Alas! shall I tell you all, my dear Henri? I have just written her a letter in which I let her think that I go with heart of hope and brow serene; that neither jealousy, nor doubt, nor fear is in my soul — a letter, in short, such as a son might write to his mother, aware that he is going to his death. Good God! de Marsay, as I wrote it hell was in my soul! I am the most wretched man on earth. Yes, yes, to you the cries, to you the grinding of my teeth! I avow myself to you a despairing lover; I would rather live these six years sweeping the streets beneath her windows than return a millionaire at the end of them — if I could choose. I suffer agony; I shall pass from pain to pain until I hear from you that you will take the trust which you alone can fulfil or accomplish.
Oh! my dear de Marsay, this woman is indispensable to my life; she is my sun, my atmosphere. Take her under your shield and buckler, keep her faithful to me, even if she wills it not. Yes, I could be satisfied with a half-happiness. Be her guardian, her chaperon, for I could have no distrust of you. Prove to her that in betraying me she would do a low and vulgar thing, and be no better than the common run of women; tell her that faithfulness will prove her lofty spirit.
She probably has fortune enough to continue her life of luxury and ease. But if she lacks a pleasure, if she has caprices which she cannot satisfy, be her banker, and do not fear, I will return with wealth.
But, after all, these fears are in vain! Natalie is an angel of purity and virtue. When Felix de Vandenesse fell deeply in love with her and began to show her certain attentions, I had only to let her see the danger, and she instantly thanked me so affectionately that I was moved to tears. She said that her dignity and reputation demanded that she should not close her doors abruptly to any man, but that she knew well how to dismiss him. She did, in fact, receive him so coldly that the affair all ended for the best. We have never had any other subject of dispute — if, indeed, a friendly talk could be called a dispute — in all our married life.
And now, my dear Henri, I bid you farewell in the spirit of a man. Misfortune has come. No matter what the cause, it is here. I strip to meet it. Poverty and Natalie are two irreconcilable terms. The balance may be close between my assets and my liabilities, but no one shall have cause to complain of me. But, should any unforeseen event occur to imperil my honor, I count on you.
Send letters under cover to the Governor of India at Calcutta. I have friendly relations with his family, and some one there will care for all letters that come to me from Europe. Dear friend, I hope to find you the same de Marsay on my return — the man who scoffs at everything and yet is receptive of the feelings of others when they accord with the grandeur he is conscious of in himself. You stay in Paris, friend; but when you read these words, I shall be crying out, “To Carthage!”
The Marquis Henri de Marsay to Comte Paul de Manerville:
So, so, Monsieur le comte, you have made a wreck of it! Monsieur l’ambassadeur has gone to the bottom! Are these the fine things that you were doing?
Why, Paul, why have you kept away from me? If you had said a single word, my poor old fellow, I would have made your position plain to you. Your wife has refused me her endorsement. May that one word unseal your eyes! But, if that does not suffice, learn that your notes have been protested at the instigation of a Sieur Lecuyer, formerly head-clerk to Maitre Solonet, a notary in Bordeaux. That usurer in embryo (who came from Gascony for jobbery) is the proxy of your very honorable mother-inlaw, who is the actual holder of your notes for one hundred thousand francs, on which I am told that worthy woman doled out to you only seventy thousand. Compared with Madame Evangelista, papa Gobseck is flannel, velvet, vanilla cream, a sleeping draught. Your vineyard of Belle–Rose is to fall into the clutches of your wife, to whom her mother pays the difference between the price it goes for at the auction sale and the amount of her dower claim upon it. Madame Evangelista will also have the farms at Guadet and Grassol, and the mortgages on your house in Bordeaux already belong to her, in the names of straw men provided by Solonet.
Thus these two excellent women will make for themselves a united income of one hundred and twenty thousand francs a year out of your misfortunes and forced sale of property, added to the revenue of some thirty-odd thousand on the Grand-livre which these cats already possess.
The endorsement of your wife was not needed; for this morning the said Sieur Lecuyer came to offer me a return of the sum I had lent you in exchange for a legal transfer of my rights. The vintage of 1825 which your mother-inlaw keeps in the cellars at Lanstrac will suffice to pay me.
These two women have calculated, evidently, that you are now upon the ocean; but I send this letter by courier, so that you may have time to follow the advice I now give you.
I made Lecuyer talk. I disentangled from his lies, his language, and his reticence, the threads I lacked to bring to light the whole plot of the domestic conspiracy hatched against you. This evening, at the Spanish embassy, I shall offer my admiring compliments to your mother-inlaw and your wife. I shall pay court to Madame Evangelista; I intend to desert you basely, and say sly things to your discredit — nothing openly, or that Mascarille in petticoats would detect my purpose. How did you make her such an enemy? That is what I want to know. If you had had the wit to be in love with that woman before you married her daughter, you would today be peer of France, Duc de Manerville, and, possibly, ambassador to Madrid.
If you had come to me at the time of your marriage, I would have helped you to analyze and know the women to whom you were binding yourself; out of our mutual observations safety might have been yours. But, instead of that, these women judged me, became afraid of me, and separated us. If you had not stupidly given in to them and turned me the cold shoulder, they would never have been able to ruin you. Your wife brought on the coldness between us, instigated by her mother, to whom she wrote two letters a week — a fact to which you paid no attention. I recognized my Paul when I heard that detail.
Within a month I shall be so intimate with your mother-inlaw that I shall hear from her the reasons of the hispano-italiano hatred which she feels for you — for you, one of the best and kindest men on earth! Did she hate you before her daughter fell in love with Felix de Vandenesse; that’s a question in my mind. If I had not taken a fancy to go to the East with Montriveau, Ronquerolles, and a few other good fellows of your acquaintance, I should have been in a position to tell you something about that affair, which was beginning just as I left Paris. I saw the first gleams even then of your misfortune. But what gentleman is base enough to open such a subject unless appealed to? Who shall dare to injure a woman, or break that illusive mirror in which his friend delights in gazing at the fairy scenes of a happy marriage? Illusions are the riches of the heart.
Your wife, dear friend, is, I believe I may say, in the fullest application of the word, a fashionable woman. She thinks of nothing but her social success, her dress, her pleasures; she goes to opera and theatre and balls; she rises late and drives to the Bois, dines out, or gives a dinner-party. Such a life seems to me for women very much what war is for men; the public sees only the victors; it forgets the dead. Many delicate women perish in this conflict; those who come out of it have iron constitutions, consequently no heart, but good stomachs. There lies the reason of the cold insensibility of social life. Fine souls keep themselves reserved, weak and tender natures succumb; the rest are cobblestones which hold the social organ in its place, water-worn and rounded by the tide, but never worn-out. Your wife has maintained that life with ease; she looks made for it; she is always fresh and beautiful. To my mind the deduction is plain, — she has never loved you; and you have loved her like a madman.
To strike out love from that siliceous nature a man of iron was needed. After standing, but without enduring, the shock of Lady Dudley, Felix was the fitting mate to Natalie. There is no great merit in divining that to you she was indifferent. In love with her yourself, you have been incapable of perceiving the cold nature of a young woman whom you have fashioned and trained for a man like Vandenesse. The coldness of your wife, if you perceived it, you set down, with the stupid jurisprudence of married people, to the honor of her reserve and her innocence. Like all husbands, you thought you could keep her virtuous in a society where women whisper from ear to ear that which men are afraid to say.
No, your wife has liked the social benefits she derived from marriage, but the private burdens of it she found rather heavy. Those burdens, that tax was — you! Seeing nothing of all this, you have gone on digging your abysses (to use the hackneyed words of rhetoric) and covering them with flowers. You have mildly obeyed the law which rules the ruck of men; from which I desired to protect you. Dear fellow! only one thing was wanting to make you as dull as the bourgeois deceived by his wife, who is all astonishment or wrath, and that is that you should talk to me of your sacrifices, your love for Natalie, and chant that psalm: “Ungrateful would she be if she betrayed me; I have done this, I have done that, and more will I do; I will go to the ends of the earth, to the Indies for her sake. I— I—” etc. My dear Paul, have you never lived in Paris, have you never had the honor of belonging by ties of friendship to Henri de Marsay, that you should be so ignorant of the commonest things, the primitive principles that move the feminine mechanism, the a-b-c of their hearts? Then hear me:—
Suppose you exterminate yourself, suppose you go to Saint–Pelagie for a woman’s debts, suppose you kill a score of men, desert a dozen women, serve like Laban, cross the deserts, skirt the galleys, cover yourself with glory, cover yourself with shame, refuse, like Nelson, to fight a battle until you have kissed the shoulder of Lady Hamilton, dash yourself, like Bonaparte, upon the bridge at Arcola, go mad like Roland, risk your life to dance five minutes with a woman — my dear fellow, what have all those things to do with love? If love were won by samples such as those mankind would be too happy. A spurt of prowess at the moment of desire would give a man the woman that he wanted. But love, love, my good Paul, is a faith like that in the Immaculate conception of the Holy Virgin; it comes, or it does not come. Will the mines of Potosi, or the shedding of our blood, or the making of our fame serve to waken an involuntary, an inexplicable sentiment? Young men like you, who expect to be loved as the balance of your account, are nothing else than usurers. Our legitimate wives owe us virtue and children, but they don’t owe us love.
Love, my dear Paul, is the sense of pleasure given and received, and the certainty of giving and receiving it; love is a desire incessantly moving and growing, incessantly satisfied and insatiable. The day when Vandenesse stirred the cord of a desire in your wife’s heart which you had left untouched, all your self-satisfied affection, your gifts, your deeds, your money, ceased to be even memories; one emotion of love in your wife’s heart has cast out the treasures of your own passion, which are now nothing better than old iron. Felix has the virtues and the beauties in her eyes, and the simple moral is that blinded by your own love you never made her love you.
Your mother-inlaw is on the side of the lover against the husband — secretly or not; she may have closed her eyes, or she may have opened them; I know not what she has done — but one thing is certain, she is for her daughter, and against you. During the fifteen years that I have observed society, I have never yet seen a mother who, under such circumstances, abandons her daughter. This indulgence seems to be an inheritance transmitted in the female line. What man can blame it? Some copyist of the Civil code, perhaps, who sees formulas only in the place of feelings.
As for your present position, the dissipation into which the life of a fashionable woman cast you, and your own easy nature, possibly your vanity, have opened the way for your wife and her mother to get rid of you by this ruin so skilfully contrived. From all of which you will conclude, my good friend, that the mission you entrusted to me, and which I would all the more faithfully fulfil because it amused me, is, necessarily, null and void. The evil you wish me to prevent is accomplished — “consummatum est.”
Forgive me, dear friend, if I write to you, as you say, a la de Marsay on subjects which must seem to you very serious. Far be it from me to dance upon the grave of a friend, like heirs upon that of a progenitor. But you have written to me that you mean to act the part of a man, and I believe you; I therefore treat you as a man of the world, and not as a lover. For you, this blow ought to be like the brand on the shoulder of a galley-slave, which flings him forever into a life of systematic opposition to society. You are now freed of one evil; marriage possessed you; it now behooves you to turn round and possess marriage.
Paul, I am your friend in the fullest acceptation of the word. If you had a brain in an iron skull, if you had the energy which has come to you too late, I would have proved my friendship by telling you things that would have made you walk upon humanity as upon a carpet. But when I did talk to you guardedly of Parisian civilization, when I told you in the disguise of fiction some of the actual adventures of my youth, you regarded them as mere romance and would not see their bearing. When I told you that history of a lawyer at the galleys branded for forgery, who committed the crime to give his wife, adored like yours, an income of thirty thousand francs, and whom his wife denounced that she might be rid of him and free to love another man, you exclaimed, and other fools who were supping with us exclaimed against me. Well, my dear Paul, you were that lawyer, less the galleys.
Your friends here are not sparing you. The sister of the two Vandenesses, the Marquise de Listomere and all her set, in which, by the bye, that little Rastignac has enrolled himself — the scamp will make his way! — Madame d’Aiglemont and her salon, the Lenoncourts, the Comtesse Ferraud, Madame d’Espard, the Nucingens, the Spanish ambassador, in short, all the cliques in society are flinging mud upon you. You are a bad man, a gambler, a dissipated fellow who has squandered his property. After paying your debts a great many times, your wife, an angel of virtue, has just redeemed your notes for one hundred thousand francs, although her property was separate from yours. Luckily, you had done the best you could do by disappearing. If you had stayed here you would have made her bed in the straw; the poor woman would have been the victim of her conjugal devotion!
When a man attains to power, my dear Paul, he has all the virtues of an epitaph; let him fall into poverty, and he has more sins than the Prodigal Son; society at the present moment gives you the vices of a Don Juan. You gambled at the Bourse, you had licentious tastes which cost you fabulous sums of money to gratify; you paid enormous interests to money-lenders. The two Vandenesses have told everywhere how Gigonnet gave you for six thousand francs an ivory frigate, and made your valet buy it back for three hundred in order to sell it to you again. The incident did really happen to Maxime de Trailles about nine years ago; but it fits your present circumstances so well that Maxime has forever lost the command of his frigate.
In short, I can’t tell you one-half that is said; you have supplied a whole encyclopaedia of gossip which the women have an interest in swelling. Your wife is having an immense success. Last evening at the opera Madame Firmiani began to repeat to me some of the things that are being said. “Don’t talk of that,” I replied. “You know nothing of the real truth, you people. Paul has robbed the Bank, cheated the Treasury, murdered Ezzelin and three Medoras in the rue Saint–Denis, and I think, between ourselves, that he is a member of the Dix–Mille. His associate is the famous Jacques Collin, on whom the police have been unable to lay a hand since he escaped from the galleys. Paul gave him a room in his house; you see he is capable of anything; in fact, the two have gone off to India together to rob the Great Mogul.” Madame Firmiani, like the distinguished woman that she is, saw that she ought not to convert her beautiful lips into a mouthpiece for false denunciation.
Many persons, when they hear of these tragi-comedies of life, refuse to believe them. They take the side of human nature and fine sentiments; they declare that these things do not exist. But Talleyrand said a fine thing, my dear fellow: “All things happen.” Truly, things happen under our very noses which are more amazing than this domestic plot of yours; but society has an interest in denying them, and in declaring itself calumniated. Often these dramas are played so naturally and with such a varnish of good taste that even I have to rub the lens of my opera-glass to see to the bottom of them. But, I repeat to you, when a man is a friend of mine, when we have received together the baptism of champagne and have knelt together before the altar of the Venus Commodus, when the crooked fingers of play have given us their benediction, if that man finds himself in a false position I’d ruin a score of families to do him justice.
You must be aware from all this that I love you. Have I ever in my life written a letter as long as this? No. Therefore, read with attention what I still have to say.
Alas! Paul, I shall be forced to take to writing, for I am taking to politics. I am going into public life. I intend to have, within five years, the portfolio of a ministry or some embassy. There comes an age when the only mistress a man can serve is his country. I enter the ranks of those who intend to upset not only the ministry, but the whole present system of government. In short, I swim in the waters of a certain prince who is lame of the foot only — a man whom I regard as a statesman of genius whose name will go down to posterity; a prince as complete in his way as a great artist may be in his.
Several of us, Ronquerolles, Montriveau, the Grandlieus, La Roche–Hugon, Serisy, Feraud, and Granville, have allied ourselves against the “parti-pretre,” as the party-ninny represented by the “Constitutionnel” has ingeniously said. We intend to overturn the Navarreins, Lenoncourts, Vandenesses, and the Grand Almonry. In order to succeed we shall even ally ourselves with Lafayette, the Orleanists, and the Left — people whom we can throttle on the morrow of victory, for no government in the world is possible with their principles. We are capable of anything for the good of the country — and our own.
Personal questions as to the King’s person are mere sentimental folly in these days; they must be cleared away. From that point of view, the English with their sort of Doge, are more advanced than we are. Politics have nothing to do with that, my dear fellow. Politics consist in giving the nation an impetus by creating an oligarchy embodying a fixed theory of government, and able to direct public affairs along a straight path, instead of allowing the country to be pulled in a thousand different directions, which is what has been happening for the last forty years in our beautiful France — at once so intelligent and so sottish, so wise and so foolish; it needs a system, indeed, much more than men. What are individuals in this great question? If the end is a great one, if the country may live happy and free from trouble, what do the masses care for the profits of our stewardship, our fortune, privileges, and pleasures?
I am now standing firm on my feet. I have at the present moment a hundred and fifty thousand francs a year in the Three per Cents, and a reserve of two hundred thousand francs to repair damages. Even this does not seem to me very much ballast in the pocket of a man starting left foot foremost to scale the heights of power.
A fortunate accident settled the question of my setting out on this career, which did not particularly smile on me, for you know my predilection for the life of the East. After thirty-five years of slumber, my highly-respected mother woke up to the recollection that she had a son who might do her honor. Often when a vine-stock is eradicated, some years after shoots come up to the surface of the ground; well, my dear boy, my mother had almost torn me up by the roots from her heart, and I sprouted again in her head. At the age of fifty-eight, she thinks herself old enough to think no more of any men but her son. At this juncture she has met in some hot-water cauldron, at I know not what baths, a delightful old maid — English, with two hundred and forty thousand francs a year; and, like a good mother, she has inspired her with an audacious ambition to become my wife. A maid of six-and-thirty, my word! Brought up in the strictest puritanical principles, a steady sitting hen, who maintains that unfaithful wives should be publicly burnt. ‘Where will you find wood enough?’ I asked her. I could have sent her to the devil, for two hundred and forty thousand francs a year are no equivalent for liberty, nor a fair price for my physical and moral worth and my prospects. But she is the sole heiress of a gouty old fellow, some London brewer, who within a calculable time will leave her a fortune equal at least to what the sweet creature has already. Added to these advantages, she has a red nose, the eyes of a dead goat, a waist that makes one fear lest she should break into three pieces if she falls down, and the coloring of a badly painted doll. But — she is delightfully economical; but — she will adore her husband, do what he will; but — she has the English gift; she will manage my house, my stables, my servants, my estates better than any steward. She has all the dignity of virtue; she holds herself as erect as a confidante on the stage of the Francais; nothing will persuade me that she has not been impaled and the shaft broken off in her body. Miss Stevens is, however, fair enough to be not too unpleasing if I must positively marry her. But — and this to me is truly pathetic — she has the hands of a woman as immaculate as the sacred ark; they are so red that I have not yet hit on any way to whiten them that will not be too costly, and I have no idea how to fine down her fingers, which are like sausages. Yes; she evidently belongs to the brew-house by her hands, and to the aristocracy by her money; but she is apt to affect the great lady a little too much, as rich English women do who want to be mistaken for them, and she displays her lobster’s claws too freely.
She has, however, as little intelligence as I could wish in a woman. If there were a stupider one to be found, I would set out to seek her. This girl, whose name is Dinah, will never criticise me; she will never contradict me; I shall be her Upper Chamber, her Lords and Commons. In short, Paul, she is indefeasible evidence of the English genius; she is a product of English mechanics brought to their highest pitch of perfection; she was undoubtedly made at Manchester, between the manufactory of Perry’s pens and the workshops for steam-engines. It eats, it drinks, it walks, it may have children, take good care of them, and bring them up admirably, and it apes a woman so well that you would believe it real.
When my mother introduced us, she had set up the machine so cleverly, had so carefully fitted the pegs, and oiled the wheels so thoroughly, that nothing jarred; then, when she saw I did not make a very wry face, she set the springs in motion, and the woman spoke. Finally, my mother uttered the decisive words, “Miss Dinah Stevens spends no more than thirty thousand francs a year, and has been traveling for seven years in order to economize.”— So there is another image, and that one is silver.
Matters are so far advanced that the banns are to be published. We have got as far as “My dear love.” Miss makes eyes at me that might floor a porter. The settlements are prepared. My fortune is not inquired into; Miss Stevens devotes a portion of hers to creating an entail in landed estate, bearing an income of two hundred and forty thousand francs, and to the purchase of a house, likewise entailed. The settlement credited to me is of a million francs. She has nothing to complain of. I leave her uncle’s money untouched.
The worthy brewer, who has helped to found the entail, was near bursting with joy when he heard that his niece was to be a marquise. He would be capable of doing something handsome for my eldest boy.
I shall sell out of the funds as soon as they are up to eighty, and invest in land. Thus, in two years I may look to get six hundred thousand francs a year out of real estate. So, you see, Paul, I do not give my friends advice that I am not ready to act upon.
If you had but listened to me, you would have an English wife, some Nabob’s daughter, who would leave you the freedom of a bachelor and the independence necessary for playing the whist of ambition. I would concede my future wife to you if you were not married already. But that cannot be helped, and I am not the man to bid you chew the cud of the past.
All this preamble was needful to explain to you that for the future my position in life will be such as a man needs if he wants to play the great game of pitch-and-toss. I cannot do without you, my friend. Now, then, my dear Paul, instead of setting sail for India you would do a much wiser thing to navigate with me the waters of the Seine. Believe me, Paris is still the place where fortune, abundant fortune, can be won. Potosi is in the rue Vivienne, the rue de la Paix, the Place Vendome, the rue de Rivoli. In all other places and countries material works and labors, marches and counter-marches, and sweatings of the brow are necessary to the building up of fortune; but in Paris thought suffices. Here, every man even mentally mediocre, can see a mine of wealth as he puts on his slippers, or picks his teeth after dinner, in his down-sitting and his up-rising. Find me another place on the globe where a good round stupid idea brings in more money, or is sooner understood than it is here.
If I reach the top of the ladder, as I shall, am I the man to refuse you a helping hand, an influence, a signature? We shall want, we young roues, a faithful friend on whom to count, if only to compromise him and make him a scape-goat, or send him to die like a common soldier to save his general. Government is impossible without a man of honor at one’s side, in whom to confide and with whom we can do and say everything.
Here is what I propose. Let the “Belle–Amelie” sail without you; come back here like a thunderbolt; I’ll arrange a duel for you with Vandenesse in which you shall have the first shot, and you can wing him like a pigeon. In France the husband who shoots his rival becomes at once respectable and respected. No one ever cavils at him again. Fear, my dear fellow, is a valuable social element, a means of success for those who lower their eyes before the gaze of no man living. I who care as little to live as to drink a glass of milk, and who have never felt the emotion of fear, I have remarked the strange effects produced by that sentiment upon our modern manners. Some men tremble to lose the enjoyments to which they are attached, others dread to leave a woman. The old adventurous habits of other days when life was flung away like a garment exist no longer. The bravery of a great many men is nothing more than a clever calculation on the fear of their adversary. The Poles are the only men in Europe who fight for the pleasure of fighting; they cultivate the art for the art’s sake, and not for speculation.
Now hear me: kill Vandenesse, and your wife trembles, your mother-inlaw trembles, the public trembles, and you recover your position, you prove your grand passion for your wife, you subdue society, you subdue your wife, you become a hero. Such is France. As for your embarrassments, I hold a hundred thousand francs for you; you can pay your principal debts, and sell what property you have left with a power of redemption, for you will soon obtain an office which will enable you by degrees to pay off your creditors. Then, as for your wife, once enlightened as to her character you can rule her. When you loved her you had no power to manage her; not loving her, you will have an unconquerable force. I will undertake, myself, to make your mother-inlaw as supple as a glove; for you must recover the use of the hundred and fifty thousand francs a year those two women have squeezed out of you.
Therefore, I say, renounce this expatriation which seems to me no better than a pan of charcoal or a pistol to your head. To go away is to justify all calumnies. The gambler who leaves the table to get his money loses it when he returns; we must have our gold in our pockets. Let us now, you and I, be two gamblers on the green baize of politics; between us loans are in order. Therefore take post-horses, come back instantly, and renew the game. You’ll win it with Henri de Marsay for your partner, for Henri de Marsay knows how to will, and how to strike.
See how we stand politically. My father is in the British ministry; we shall have close relations with Spain through the Evangelistas, for, as soon as your mother-inlaw and I have measured claws she will find there is nothing to gain by fighting the devil. Montriveau is our lieutenant-general; he will certainly be minister of war before long, and his eloquence will give him great ascendancy in the Chamber. Ronquerolles will be minister of State and privy-councillor; Martial de la Roche–Hugon is minister to Germany and peer of France; Serisy leads the Council of State, to which he is indispensable; Granville holds the magistracy, to which his sons belong; the Grandlieus stand well at court; Ferraud is the soul of the Gondreville coterie — low intriguers who are always on the surface of things, I’m sure I don’t know why. Thus supported, what have we to fear? The money question is a mere nothing when this great wheel of fortune rolls for us. What is a woman? — you are not a schoolboy. What is life, my dear fellow, if you let a woman be the whole of it? A boat you can’t command, without a rudder, but not without a magnet, and tossed by every wind that blows. Pah!
The great secret of social alchemy, my dear Paul, is to get the most we can out of each age of life through which we pass; to have and to hold the buds of our spring, the flowers of our summer, the fruits of our autumn. We amused ourselves once, a few good fellows and I, for a dozen or more years, like mousquetaires, black, red, and gray; we denied ourselves nothing, not even an occasional filibustering here and there. Now we are going to shake down the plums which age and experience have ripened. Be one of us; you shall have your share in the pudding we are going to cook.
Come; you will find a friend all yours in the skin of
H. de Marsay.
As Paul de Manerville ended the reading of this letter, which fell like the blows of a pickaxe on the edifice of his hopes, his illusions, and his love, the vessel which bore him from France was beyond the Azores. In the midst of this utter devastation a cold and impotent anger laid hold of him.
“What had I done to them?” he said to himself.
That is the question of fools, of feeble beings, who, seeing nothing, can nothing foresee. Then he cried aloud: “Henri! Henri!” to his loyal friend. Many a man would have gone mad; Paul went to bed and slept that heavy sleep which follows immense disasters — the sleep that seized Napoleon after Waterloo.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05