"Conversation is bounded on the south by remarks on the intrigues lying hidden under the stagnant water of provincial life, on the north by proposed marriages, on the west by jealousies, and on the east by sour remarks.
"And so," she went on, striking an attitude, "you see a woman wrinkled at nine-and-twenty, ten years before the time fixed by the rules of Doctor Bianchon, a woman whose skin is ruined at an early age, who turns as yellow as a quince when she is yellow at all—we have seen some turn green. When we have reached that point, we try to justify our normal condition; then we turn and rend the terrible passion of Paris with teeth as sharp as rat's teeth. We have Puritan women here, sour enough to tear the laces of Parisian finery, and eat out all the poetry of your Parisian beauties, who undermine the happiness of others while they cry up their walnuts and rancid bacon, glorify this squalid mouse-hole, and the dingy color and conventual small of our delightful life at Sancerre."
"I admire such courage, madame," said Bianchon. "When we have to endure such misfortunes, it is well to have the wit to make a virtue of necessity."
Amazed at the brilliant move by which Dinah thus placed provincial life at the mercy of her guests, in anticipation of their sarcasms, Gatien Boirouge nudged Lousteau's elbow, with a glance and a smile, which said:
"Well! did I say too much?"
"But, madame," said Lousteau, "you are proving that we are still in Paris. I shall steal this gem of description; it will be worth ten thousand francs to me in an article."
"Oh, monsieur," she retorted, "never trust provincial women."
"And why not?" said Lousteau.
Madame de la Baudraye was wily enough—an innocent form of cunning, to be sure—to show the two Parisians, one of whom she would choose to be her conquerer, the snare into which he would fall, reflecting that she would have the upper hand at the moment when he should cease to see it.
"When you first come," said she, "you laugh at us. Then when you have forgotten the impression of Paris brilliancy, and see us in our own sphere, you pay court to us, if only as a pastime. And you, who are famous for your past passions, will be the object of attentions which will flatter you. Then take care!" cried Dinah, with a coquettish gesture, raising herself above provincial absurdities and Lousteau's irony by her own sarcastic speech. "When a poor little country-bred woman has an eccentric passion for some superior man, some Parisian who has wandered into the provinces, it is to her something more than a sentiment; she makes it her occupation and part of all her life. There is nothing more dangerous than the attachment of such a woman; she compares, she studies, she reflects, she dreams; and she will not give up her dream, she thinks still of the man she loves when he has ceased to think of her.
"Now one of the catastrophes that weigh most heavily on a woman in the provinces is that abrupt termination of her passion which is so often seen in England. In the country, a life under minute observation as keen as an Indian's compels a woman either to keep on the rails or to start aside like a steam engine wrecked by an obstacle. The strategies of love, the coquetting which form half the composition of a Parisian woman, are utterly unknown here."
"That is true," said Lousteau. "There is in a country-bred woman's heart a store of surprises, as in some toys."
"Dear me!" Dinah went on, "a woman will have spoken to you three times in the course of a winter, and without your knowing it, you will be lodged in her heart. Then comes a picnic, an excursion, what not, and all is said—or, if you prefer it, all is done! This conduct, which seems odd to unobserving persons, is really very natural. A poet, such as you are, or a philosopher, an observer, like Doctor Bianchon, instead of vilifying the provincial woman and believing her depraved, would be able to guess the wonderful unrevealed poetry, every chapter, in short, of the sweet romance of which the last phrase falls to the benefit of some happy sub-lieutenant or some provincial bigwig."
"The provincial women I have met in Paris," said Lousteau, "were, in fact, rapid in their proceedings—"
"My word, they are strange," said the lady, giving a significant shrug of her shoulders.
"They are like the playgoers who book for the second performance, feeling sure that the piece will not fail," replied the journalist.
"And what is the cause of all these woes?" asked Bianchon.
"Paris is the monster that brings us grief," replied the Superior Woman. "The evil is seven leagues round, and devastates the whole land. Provincial life is not self-existent. It is only when a nation is divided into fifty minor states that each can have a physiognomy of its own, and then a woman reflects the glory of the sphere where she reigns. This social phenomenon, I am told, may be seen in Italy, Switzerland, and Germany; but in France, as in every country where there is but one capital, a dead level of manners must necessarily result from centralization."
"Then you would say that manners could only recover their individuality and native distinction by the formation of a federation of French states into one empire?" said Lousteau.
"That is hardly to be wished, for France would have to conquer too many countries," said Bianchon.
"This misfortune is unknown in England," exclaimed Dinah. "London does not exert such tyranny as that by which Paris oppresses France—for which, indeed, French ingenuity will at last find a remedy; however, it has a worse disease in its vile hypocrisy, which is a far greater evil!"
"The English aristocracy," said Lousteau, hastening to put a word in, for he foresaw a Byronic paragraph, "has the advantage over ours of assimilating every form of superiority; it lives in the midst of magnificent parks; it is in London for no more than two months. It lives in the country, flourishing there, and making it flourish."
"Yes," said Madame de la Baudraye, "London is the capital of trade and speculation and the centre of government. The aristocracy hold a 'mote' there for sixty days only; it gives and takes the passwords of the day, looks in on the legislative cookery, reviews the girls to marry, the carriages to be sold, exchanges greetings, and is away again; and is so far from amusing, that it cannot bear itself for more than the few days known as 'the season.'"
"Hence," said Lousteau, hoping to stop this nimble tongue by an epigram, "in Perfidious Albion, as the Constitutionnel has it, you may happen to meet a charming woman in any part of the kingdom."
"But charming English women!" replied Madame de la Baudraye with a smile. "Here is my mother, I will introduce you," said she, seeing Madame Piedefer coming towards them.
Having introduced the two Paris lions to the ambitious skeleton that called itself woman under the name of Madame Piedefer—a tall, lean personage, with a red face, teeth that were doubtfully genuine, and hair that was undoubtedly dyed, Dinah left her visitors to themselves for a few minutes.
"Well," said Gatien to Lousteau, "what do you think of her?"
"I think that the clever woman of Sancerre is simply the greatest chatterbox," replied the journalist.
"A woman who wants to see you deputy!" cried Gatien. "An angel!"
"Forgive me, I forgot you were in love with her," said Lousteau. "Forgive the cynicism of an old scamp.—Ask Bianchon; I have no illusions left. I see things as they are. The woman has evidently dried up her mother like a partridge left to roast at too fierce a fire."
Gatien de Boirouge contrived to let Madame de la Baudraye know what the journalist had said of her in the course of the dinner, which was copious, not to say splendid, and the lady took care not to talk too much while it was proceeding. This lack of conversation betrayed Gatien's indiscretion. Etienne tried to regain his footing, but all Dinah's advances were directed to Bianchon.
However, half-way through the evening, the Baroness was gracious to Lousteau again. Have you never observed what great meanness may be committed for small ends? Thus the haughty Dinah, who would not sacrifice herself for a fool, who in the depths of the country led such a wretched life of struggles, of suppressed rebellion, of unuttered poetry, who to get away from Lousteau had climbed the highest and steepest peak of her scorn, and who would not have come down if she had seen the sham Byron at her feet, suddenly stepped off it as she recollected her album.
Madame de la Baudraye had caught the mania for autographs; she possessed an oblong volume which deserved the name of album better than most, as two-thirds of the pages were still blank. The Baronne de Fontaine, who had kept it for three months, had with great difficulty obtained a line from Rossini, six bars written by Meyerbeer, the four lines that Victor Hugo writes in every album, a verse from Lamartine, a few words from Beranger, Calypso ne pouvait se consoler du depart d'Ulysse (the first words of Telemaque) written by George Sand, Scribe's famous lines on the Umbrella, a sentence from Charles Nodier, an outline of distance by Jules Dupre, the signature of David d'Angers, and three notes written by Hector Berlioz. Monsieur de Clagny, during a visit to Paris, added a song by Lacenaire—a much coveted autograph, two lines from Fieschi, and an extremely short note from Napoleon, which were pasted on to pages of the album. Then Monsieur Gravier, in the course of a tour, had persuaded Mademoiselle Mars to write her name on this album, with Mademoiselles Georges, Taglioni, and Grisi, and some distinguished actors, such as Frederick Lemaitre, Monrose, Bouffe, Rubini, Lablache, Nourrit, and Arnal; for he knew a set of old fellows brought up in the seraglio, as they phrased it, who did him this favor.
This beginning of a collection was all the more precious to Dinah because she was the only person for ten leagues round who owned an album. Within the last two years, however, several young ladies had acquired such books, in which they made their friends and acquaintances write more or less absurd quotations or sentiments. You who spend your lives in collecting autographs, simple and happy souls, like Dutch tulip fanciers, you will excuse Dinah when, in her fear of not keeping her guests more than two days, she begged Bianchon to enrich the volume she handed to him with a few lines of his writing.
The doctor made Lousteau smile by showing him this sentence on the first page:
"What makes the populace dangerous is that it has in its pocket an absolution for every crime.
"J. B. DE CLAGNY."
"We will second the man who is brave enough to plead in favor of the Monarchy," Desplein's great pupil whispered to Lousteau, and he wrote below:
"The distinction between Napoleon and a water-carrier is evident only to Society; Nature takes no account of it. Thus Democracy, which resists inequality, constantly appeals to Nature.
"Ah!" cried Dinah, amazed, "you rich men take a gold piece out of your purse as poor men bring out a farthing.... I do not know," she went on, turning to Lousteau, "whether it is taking an unfair advantage of a guest to hope for a few lines—"
"Nay, madame, you flatter me. Bianchon is a great man, but I am too insignificant!—Twenty years hence my name will be more difficult to identify than that of the Public Prosecutor whose axiom, written in your album, will designate him as an obscurer Montesquieu. And I should want at least twenty-four hours to improvise some sufficiently bitter reflections, for I could only describe what I feel."
"I wish you needed a fortnight," said Madame de la Baudraye graciously, as she handed him the book. "I should keep you here all the longer."
At five next morning all the party in the Chateau d'Anzy were astir, little La Baudraye having arranged a day's sport for the Parisians—less for their pleasure than to gratify his own conceit. He was delighted to make them walk over the twelve hundred acres of waste land that he was intending to reclaim, an undertaking that would cost some hundred thousand francs, but which might yield an increase of thirty to sixty thousand francs a year in the returns of the estate of Anzy.
"Do you know why the Public Prosecutor has not come out with us?" asked Gatien Boirouge of Monsieur Gravier.
"Why he told us that he was obliged to sit to-day; the minor cases are before the Court," replied the other.
"And did you believe that?" cried Gatien. "Well, my papa said to me, 'Monsieur Lebas will not join you early, for Monsieur de Clagny has begged him as his deputy to sit for him!'
"Indeed!" said Gravier, changing countenance. "And Monsieur de la Baudraye is gone to La Charite!"
"But why do you meddle in such matters?" said Bianchon to Gatien.
"Horace is right," said Lousteau. "I cannot imagine why you trouble your heads so much about each other; you waste your time in frivolities."
Horace Bianchon looked at Etienne Lousteau, as much as to say that newspaper epigrams and the satire of the "funny column" were incomprehensible at Sancerre.
On reaching a copse, Monsieur Gravier left the two great men and Gatien, under the guidance of a keeper, to make their way through a little ravine.
"Well, we must wait for Monsieur Gravier," said Bianchon, when they had reached a clearing.
"You may be a great physician," said Gatien, "but you are ignorant of provincial life. You mean to wait for Monsieur Gravier?—By this time he is running like a hare, in spite of his little round stomach; he is within twenty minutes of Anzy by now——" Gatien looked at his watch. "Good! he will be just in time."
"At the chateau for breakfast," replied Gatien. "Do you suppose I could rest easy if Madame de la Baudraye were alone with Monsieur de Clagny? There are two of them now; they will keep an eye on each other. Dinah will be well guarded."
"Ah, ha! Then Madame de la Baudraye has not yet made up her mind?" said Lousteau.
"So mamma thinks. For my part, I am afraid that Monsieur de Clagny has at last succeeded in bewitching Madame de la Baudraye. If he has been able to show her that he had any chance of putting on the robes of the Keeper of the Seals, he may have hidden his moleskin complexion, his terrible eyes, his touzled mane, his voice like a hoarse crier's, his bony figure, like that of a starveling poet, and have assumed all the charms of Adonis. If Dinah sees Monsieur de Clagny as Attorney-General, she may see him as a handsome youth. Eloquence has great privileges.—Besides, Madame de la Baudraye is full of ambition. She does not like Sancerre, and dreams of the glories of Paris."
"But what interest have you in all this?" said Lousteau. "If she is in love with the Public Prosecutor!—Ah! you think she will not love him for long, and you hope to succeed him."
"You who live in Paris," said Gatien, "meet as many different women as there are days in the year. But at Sancerre, where there are not half a dozen, and where, of those six, five set up for the most extravagant virtue, when the handsomest of them all keeps you at an infinite distance by looks as scornful as though she were of the blood royal, a young man of two-and-twenty may surely be allowed to make a guess at her secrets, since she must then treat him with some consideration."
"Consideration! So that is what you call it in these parts?" said the journalist with a smile.
"I should suppose Madame de la Baudraye to have too much good taste to trouble her head about that ugly ape," said Bianchon.
"Horace," said Lousteau, "look here, O learned interpreter of human nature, let us lay a trap for the Public Prosecutor; we shall be doing our friend Gatien a service, and get a laugh out of it. I do not love Public Prosecutors."
"You have a keen intuition of destiny," said Horace. "But what can we do?"
"Well, after dinner we will tell sundry little anecdotes of wives caught out by their husbands, killed, murdered under the most terrible circumstances.—Then we shall see the faces that Madame de la Baudraye and de Clagny will make."
"Not amiss!" said Bianchon; "one or the other must surely, by look or gesture—"
"I know a newspaper editor," Lousteau went on, addressing Gatien, "who, anxious to forefend a grievous fate, will take no stories but such as tell the tale of lovers burned, hewn, pounded, or cut to pieces; of wives boiled, fried, or baked; he takes them to his wife to read, hoping that sheer fear will keep her faithful—satisfied with that humble alternative, poor man! 'You see, my dear, to what the smallest error may lead you!' says he, epitomizing Arnolfe's address to Agnes."
"Madame de la Baudraye is quite guiltless; this youth sees double," said Bianchon. "Madame Piedefer seems to me far too pious to invite her daughter's lover to the Chateau d'Anzy. Madame de la Baudraye would have to hoodwink her mother, her husband, her maid, and her mother's maid; that is too much to do. I acquit her."
"Well with more reason because her husband never 'quits her,' said Gatien, laughing at his own wit.
"We can easily remember two or three stories that will make Dinah quake," said Lousteau. "Young man—and you too, Bianchon—let me beg you to maintain a stern demeanor; be thorough diplomatists, an easy manner without exaggeration, and watch the faces of the two criminals, you know, without seeming to do so—out of the corner of your eye, or in a glass, on the sly. This morning we will hunt the hare, this evening we will hunt the Public Prosecutor."
The evening began with a triumph for Lousteau, who returned the album to the lady with this elegy written in it:
You ask for verse from me, the feeble prey Of this self-seeking world, a waif and stray With none to whom to cling; From me—unhappy, purblind, hopeless devil! Who e'en in what is good see only evil In any earthly thing!
This page, the pastime of a dame so fair, May not reflect the shadow of my care, For all things have their place. Of love, to ladies bright, the poet sings, Of joy, and balls, and dress, and dainty things— Nay, or of God and Grace.
It were a bitter jest to bid the pen Of one so worn with life, so hating men, Depict a scene of joy. Would you exult in sight to one born blind, Or—cruel! of a mother's love remind Some hapless orphan boy?
When cold despair has gripped a heart still fond, When there is no young heart that will respond To it in love, the future is a lie. If there is none to weep when he is sad, And share his woe, a man were better dead!— And so I soon must die.
Give me your pity! often I blaspheme The sacred name of God. Does it not seem That I was born in vain? Why should I bless him? Or why thank Him, since He might have made me handsome, rich, a prince— And I am poor and plain?
ETIENNE LOUSTEAU. September 1836, Chateau d'Anzy.
"And you have written those verses since yesterday?" cried Clagny in a suspicious tone.
"Dear me, yes, as I was following the game; it is only too evident! I would gladly have done something better for madame."
"The verses are exquisite!" cried Dinah, casting up her eyes to heaven.
"They are, alas! the expression of a too genuine feeling," replied Lousteau, in a tone of deep dejection.
The reader will, of course, have guessed that the journalist had stored these lines in his memory for ten years at least, for he had written them at the time of the Restoration in disgust at being unable to get on. Madame de la Baudraye gazed at him with such pity as the woes of genius inspire; and Monsieur de Clagny, who caught her expression, turned in hatred against this sham Jeune Malade (the name of an Elegy written by Millevoye). He sat down to backgammon with the cure of Sancerre. The Presiding Judge's son was so extremely obliging as to place a lamp near the two players in such a way as that the light fell full on Madame de la Baudraye, who took up her work; she was embroidering in coarse wool a wicker-plait paper-basket. The three conspirators sat close at hand.
"For whom are you decorating that pretty basket, madame?" said Lousteau. "For some charity lottery, perhaps?"
"No," she said, "I think there is too much display in charity done to the sound of a trumpet."
"You are very indiscreet," said Monsieur Gravier.
"Can there be any indiscretion," said Lousteau, "in inquiring who the happy mortal may be in whose room that basket is to stand?"
"There is no happy mortal in the case," said Dinah; "it is for Monsieur de la Baudraye."
The Public Prosecutor looked slily at Madame de la Baudraye and her work, as if he had said to himself, "I have lost my paper-basket!"
"Why, madame, may we not think him happy in having a lovely wife, happy in her decorating his paper-baskets so charmingly? The colors are red and black, like Robin Goodfellow. If ever I marry, I only hope that twelve years after, my wife's embroidered baskets may still be for me."
"And why should they not be for you?" said the lady, fixing her fine gray eyes, full of invitation, on Etienne's face.
"Parisians believe in nothing," said the lawyer bitterly. "The virtue of women is doubted above all things with terrible insolence. Yes, for some time past the books you have written, you Paris authors, your farces, your dramas, all your atrocious literature, turn on adultery—"
"Come, come, Monsieur the Public Prosecutor," retorted Etienne, laughing, "I left you to play your game in peace, I did not attack you, and here you are bringing an indictment against me. On my honor as a journalist, I have launched above a hundred articles against the writers you speak of; but I confess that in attacking them it was to attempt something like criticism. Be just; if you condemn them, you must condemn Homer, whose Iliad turns on Helen of Troy; you must condemn Milton's Paradise Lost. Eve and her serpent seem to me a pretty little case of symbolical adultery; you must suppress the Psalms of David, inspired by the highly adulterous love affairs of that Louis XIV. of Judah; you must make a bonfire of Mithridate, le Tartuffe, l'Ecole des Femmes, Phedre, Andromaque, le Mariage de Figaro, Dante's Inferno, Petrarch's Sonnets, all the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the romances of the Middle Ages, the History of France, and of Rome, etc., etc. Excepting Bossuet's Histoire des Variations and Pascal's Provinciales, I do not think there are many books left to read if you insist on eliminating all those in which illicit love is mentioned."
"Much loss that would be!" said Monsieur de Clagny.
Etienne, nettled by the superior air assumed by Monsieur de Clagny, wanted to infuriate him by one of those cold-drawn jests which consist in defending an opinion in which we have no belief, simply to rouse the wrath of a poor man who argues in good faith; a regular journalist's pleasantry.
"If we take up the political attitude into which you would force yourself," he went on, without heeding the lawyer's remark, "and assume the part of Public Prosecutor of all the ages—for every Government has its public ministry—well, the Catholic religion is infected at its fountain-head by a startling instance of illegal union. In the opinion of King Herod, and of Pilate as representing the Roman Empire, Joseph's wife figured as an adulteress, since, by her avowal, Joseph was not the father of Jesus. The heathen judge could no more recognize the Immaculate Conception than you yourself would admit the possibility of such a miracle if a new religion should nowadays be preached as based on a similar mystery. Do you suppose that a judge and jury in a police court would give credence to the operation of the Holy Ghost! And yet who can venture to assert that God will never again redeem mankind? Is it any better now than it was under Tiberius?"
"Your argument is blasphemy," said Monsieur de Clagny.
"I grant it," said the journalist, "but not with malicious intent. You cannot suppress historical fact. In my opinion, Pilate, when he sentenced Jesus, and Anytus—who spoke for the aristocratic party at Athens—when he insisted on the death of Socrates, both represented established social interests which held themselves legitimate, invested with co-operative powers, and obliged to defend themselves. Pilate and Anytus in their time were not less logical than the public prosecutors who demanded the heads of the sergeants of La Rochelle; who, at this day, are guillotining the republicans who take up arms against the throne as established by the revolution of July, and the innovators who aim at upsetting society for their own advantage under pretence of organizing it on a better footing. In the eyes of the great families of Greece and Rome, Socrates and Jesus were criminals; to those ancient aristocracies their opinions were akin to those of the Mountain; and if their followers had been victorious, they would have produced a little 'ninety-three' in the Roman Empire or in Attica."
"What are you trying to come to, monsieur?" asked the lawyer.
"To adultery!—For thus, monsieur, a Buddhist as he smokes his pipe may very well assert that the Christian religion is founded in adultery; as we believe that Mahomet is an impostor; that his Koran is an epitome of the Old Testament and the Gospels; and that God never had the least intention of constituting that camel-driver His Prophet."
"If there were many men like you in France—and there are more than enough, unfortunately—all government would be impossible."
"And there would be no religion at all," said Madame Piedefer, who had been making strangely wry faces all through this discussion.
"You are paining them very much," said Bianchon to Lousteau in an undertone. "Do not talk of religion; you are saying things that are enough to upset them."
"If I were a writer or a romancer," said Monsieur Gravier, "I should take the side of the luckless husbands. I, who have seen many things, and strange things too, know that among the ranks of deceived husbands there are some whose attitude is not devoid of energy, men who, at a crisis, can be very dramatic, to use one of your words, monsieur," he said, addressing Etienne.
"You are very right, my dear Monsieur Gravier," said Lousteau. "I never thought that deceived husbands were ridiculous; on the contrary, I think highly of them—"
"Do you not think a husband's confidence a sublime thing?" said Bianchon. "He believes in his wife, he does not suspect her, he trusts her implicitly. But if he is so weak as to trust her, you make game of him; if he is jealous and suspicious, you hate him; what, then, I ask you, is the happy medium for a man of spirit?"
"If Monsieur de Clagny had not just expressed such vehement disapproval of the immorality of stories in which the matrimonial compact is violated, I could tell you of a husband's revenge," said Lousteau.
Monsieur de Clagny threw the dice with a convulsive jerk, and dared not look up at the journalist.
"A story, from you!" cried Madame de la Baudraye. "I should hardly have dared to hope for such a treat—"
"It is not my story, madame; I am not clever enough to invent such a tragedy. It was told me—and how delightfully!—by one of our greatest writers, the finest literary musician of our day, Charles Nodier."
"Well, tell it," said Dinah. "I never met Monsieur Nodier, so you have no comparison to fear."
"Not long after the 18th Brumaire," Etienne began, "there was, as you know, a call to arms in Brittany and la Vendee. The First Consul, anxious before all things for peace in France, opened negotiations with the rebel chiefs, and took energetic military measures; but, while combining his plans of campaign with the insinuating charm of Italian diplomacy, he also set the Machiavelian springs of the police in movement, Fouche then being at its head. And none of these means were superfluous to stifle the fire of war then blaring in the West.
"At this time a young man of the Maille family was despatched by the Chouans from Brittany to Saumur, to open communications between certain magnates of that town and its environs and the leaders of the Royalist party. The envoy was, in fact, arrested on the very day he landed—for he traveled by boat, disguised as a master mariner. However, as a man of practical intelligence, he had calculated all the risks of the undertaking; his passport and papers were all in order, and the men told off to take him were afraid of blundering.
"The Chevalier de Beauvoir—I now remember his name—had studied his part well; he appealed to the family whose name he had borrowed, persisted in his false address, and stood his examination so boldly that he would have been set at large but for the blind belief that the spies had in their instructions, which were unfortunately only too minute. In this dilemma the authorities were more ready to risk an arbitrary act than to let a man escape to whose capture the Minister attached great importance. In those days of liberty the agents of the powers in authority cared little enough for what we now regard as legal. The Chevalier was therefore imprisoned provisionally, until the superior officials should come to some decision as to his identity. He had not long to wait for it; orders were given to guard the prisoner closely in spite of his denials.
"The Chevalier de Beauvoir was next transferred, in obedience to further orders, to the Castle of l'Escarpe, a name which sufficiently indicates its situation. This fortress, perched on very high rocks, has precipices for its trenches; it is reached on all sides by steep and dangerous paths; and, like every ancient castle, its principal gate has a drawbridge over a wide moat. The commandant of this prison, delighted to have charge of a man of family whose manners were most agreeable, who expressed himself well, and seemed highly educated, received the Chevalier as a godsend; he offered him the freedom of the place on parole, that they might together the better defy its dulness. The prisoner was more than content.
"Beauvoir was a loyal gentleman, but, unfortunately, he was also a very handsome youth. He had attractive features, a dashing air, a pleasing address, and extraordinary strength. Well made, active, full of enterprise, and loving danger, he would have made an admirable leader of guerillas, and was the very man for the part. The commandant gave his prisoner the most comfortable room, entertained him at his table, and at first had nothing but praise for the Vendean. This officer was a Corsican and married; his wife was pretty and charming, and he thought her, perhaps, not to be trusted—at any rate, he was as jealous as a Corsican and a rather ill-looking soldier may be. The lady took a fancy to Beauvoir, and he found her very much to his taste; perhaps they loved! Love in a prison is quick work. Did they commit some imprudence? Was the sentiment they entertained something warmer than the superficial gallantry which is almost a duty of men towards women?
"Beauvoir never fully explained this rather obscure episode of the story; it is at least certain that the commandant thought himself justified in treating his prisoner with excessive severity. Beauvoir was placed in the dungeon, fed on black bread and cold water, and fettered in accordance with the time-honored traditions of the treatment lavished on captives. His cell, under the fortress-yard, was vaulted with hard stone, the walls were of desperate thickness; the tower overlooked the precipice.
"When the luckless man had convinced himself of the impossibility of escape, he fell into those day-dreams which are at once the comfort and the crowning despair of prisoners. He gave himself up to the trifles which in such cases seem so important; he counted the hours and the days; he studied the melancholy trade of being prisoner; he became absorbed in himself, and learned the value of air and sunshine; then, at the end of a fortnight, he was attacked by that terrible malady, that fever for liberty, which drives prisoners to those heroic efforts of which the prodigious achievements seem to us impossible, though true, and which my friend the doctor" (and he turned to Bianchon) "would perhaps ascribe to some unknown forces too recondite for his physiological analysis to detect, some mysteries of the human will of which the obscurity baffles science."
Bianchon shook his head in negation.
"Beauvoir was eating his heart out, for death alone could set him free. One morning the turnkey, whose duty it was to bring him his food, instead of leaving him when he had given him his meagre pittance, stood with his arms folded, looking at him with strange meaning. Conversation between them was brief, and the warder never began it. The Chevalier was therefore greatly surprised when the man said to him: 'Of course, monsieur, you know your own business when you insist on being always called Monsieur Lebrun, or citizen Lebrun. It is no concern of mine; ascertaining your name is no part of my duty. It is all the same to me whether you call yourself Peter or Paul. If every man minds his own business, the cows will not stray. At the same time, I know,' said he, with a wink, 'that you are Monsieur Charles-Felix-Theodore, Chevalier de Beauvoir, and cousin to Madame la Duchesse de Maille.—Heh?' he added after a short silence, during which he looked at his prisoner.
"Beauvoir, seeing that he was safe under lock and key, did not imagine that his position could be any the worse if his real name were known.
"'Well, and supposing I were the Chevalier de Beauvoir, what should I gain by that?' said he.
"'Oh, there is everything to be gained by it,' replied the jailer in an undertone. 'I have been paid to help you to get away; but wait a minute! If I were suspected in the smallest degree, I should be shot out of hand. So I have said that I will do no more in the matter than will just earn the money.—Look here,' said he, taking a small file out of his pocket, 'this is your key; with this you can cut through one of your bars. By the Mass, but it will not be any easy job,' he went on, glancing at the narrow loophole that let daylight into the dungeon.
"It was in a splayed recess under the deep cornice that ran round the top of the tower, between the brackets that supported the embrasures.
"'Monsieur,' said the man, 'you must take care to saw through the iron low enough to get your body through.'
"'I will get through, never fear,' said the prisoner.
"'But high enough to leave a stanchion to fasten a cord to,' the warder went on.
"'And where is the cord?' asked Beauvoir.
"'Here,' said the man, throwing down a knotted rope. 'It is made of raveled linen, that you may be supposed to have contrived it yourself, and it is long enough. When you have got to the bottom knot, let yourself drop gently, and the rest you must manage for yourself. You will probably find a carriage somewhere in the neighborhood, and friends looking out for you. But I know nothing about that.—I need not remind you that there is a man-at-arms to the right of the tower. You will take care, of course, to choose a dark night, and wait till the sentinel is asleep. You must take your chance of being shot; but—'
"'All right! All right! At least I shall not rot here,' cried the young man.
"'Well, that may happen nevertheless,' replied the jailer, with a stupid expression.
"Beauvoir thought this was merely one of the aimless remarks that such folks indulge in. The hope of freedom filled him with such joy that he could not be troubled to consider the words of a man who was no more than a better sort of peasant. He set to work at once, and had filed the bars through in the course of the day. Fearing a visit from the Governor, he stopped up the breaches with bread crumb rubbed in rust to make it look like iron; he hid his rope, and waited for a favorable night with the intensity of anticipation, the deep anguish of soul that makes a prisoner's life dramatic.
"At last, one murky night, an autumn night, he finished cutting through the bars, tied the cord firmly to the stump, and perched himself on the sill outside, holding on by one hand to the piece of iron remaining. Then he waited for the darkest hour of the night, when the sentinels would probably be asleep; this would be not long before dawn. He knew the hours of their rounds, the length of each watch, every detail with which prisoners, almost involuntarily, become familiar. He waited till the moment when one of the men-at-arms had spent two-thirds of his watch and gone into his box for shelter from the fog. Then, feeling sure that the chances were at the best for his escape, he let himself down knot by knot, hanging between earth and sky, and clinging to his rope with the strength of a giant. All was well. At the last knot but one, just as he was about to let himself drop, a prudent impulse led him to feel for the ground with his feet, and he found no footing. The predicament was awkward for a man bathed in sweat, tired, and perplexed, and in a position where his life was at stake on even chances. He was about to risk it, when a trivial incident stopped him; his hat fell off; happily, he listened for the noise it must make in striking the ground, and he heard not a sound.
"The prisoner felt vaguely suspicious as to this state of affairs. He began to wonder whether the Commandant had not laid a trap for him—but if so, why? Torn by doubts, he almost resolved to postpone the attempt till another night. At any rate, he would wait for the first gleam of day, when it would still not be impossible to escape. His great strength enabled him to climb up again to his window; still, he was almost exhausted by the time he gained the sill, where he crouched on the lookout, exactly like a cat on the parapet of a gutter. Before long, by the pale light of dawn, he perceived as he waved the rope that there was a little interval of a hundred feet between the lowest knot and the pointed rocks below.
"'Thank you, my friend, the Governor!' said he, with characteristic coolness. Then, after a brief meditation on this skilfully-planned revenge, he thought it wise to return to his cell.
"He laid his outer clothes conspicuously on the bed, left the rope outside to make it seem that he had fallen, and hid himself behind the door to await the arrival of the treacherous turnkey, arming himself with one of the iron bars he had filed out. The jailer, who returned rather earlier than usual to secure the dead man's leavings, opened the door, whistling as he came in; but when he was at arm's length, Beauvoir hit him such a tremendous blow on the head that the wretch fell in a heap without a cry; the bar had cracked his skull.
"The Chevalier hastily stripped him and put on his clothes, mimicked his walk, and, thanks to the early hour and the undoubting confidence of the warders of the great gate, he walked out and away."
It did not seem to strike either the lawyer or Madame de la Baudraye that there was in this narrative the least allusion that should apply to them. Those in the little plot looked inquiringly at each other, evidently surprised at the perfect coolness of the two supposed lovers.
"Oh! I can tell you a better story than that," said Bianchon.
"Let us hear," said the audience, at a sign from Lousteau, conveying that Bianchon had a reputation as a story-teller.
Among the stock of narratives he had in store, for every clever man has a fund of anecdotes as Madame de la Baudraye had a collection of phrases, the doctor chose that which is known as La Grande Breteche, and is so famous indeed, that it was put on the stage at the Gymnase-Dramatique under the title of Valentine. So it is not necessary to repeat it here, though it was then new to the inhabitants of the Chateau d'Anzy. And it was told with the same finish of gesture and tone which had won such praise for Bianchon when at Mademoiselle des Touches' supper-party he had told it for the first time. The final picture of the Spanish grandee, starved to death where he stood in the cupboard walled up by Madame de Merret's husband, and that husband's last word as he replied to his wife's entreaty, "You swore on that crucifix that there was no one in that closet!" produced their full effect. There was a silent minute, highly flattering to Bianchon.
"Do you know, gentlemen," said Madame de la Baudraye, "love must be a mighty thing that it can tempt a woman to put herself in such a position?"
"I, who have certainly seen some strange things in the course of my life," said Gravier, "was cognizant in Spain of an adventure of the same kind."
"You come forward after two great performers," said Madame de la Baudraye, with coquettish flattery, as she glanced at the two Parisians. "But never mind—proceed."
"Some little time after his entry into Madrid," said the Receiver-General, "the Grand Duke of Berg invited the magnates of the capital to an entertainment given to the newly conquered city by the French army. In spite of the splendor of the affair, the Spaniards were not very cheerful; their ladies hardly danced at all, and most of the company sat down to cards. The gardens of the Duke's palace were so brilliantly illuminated, that the ladies could walk about in as perfect safety as in broad daylight. The fete was of imperial magnificence. Nothing was grudged to give the Spaniards a high idea of the Emperor, if they were to measure him by the standard of his officers.
"In an arbor near the house, between one and two in the morning, a party of French officers were discussing the chances of war, and the not too hopeful outlook prognosticated by the conduct of the Spaniards present at that grand ball.
"'I can only tell you,' said the surgeon-major of the company of which I was paymaster, 'I applied formally to Prince Murat only yesterday to be recalled. Without being afraid exactly of leaving my bones in the Peninsula, I would rather dress the wounds made by our worthy neighbors the Germans. Their weapons do not run quite so deep into the body as these Castilian daggers. Besides, a certain dread of Spain is, with me, a sort of superstition. From my earliest youth I have read Spanish books, and a heap of gloomy romances and tales of adventures in this country have given me a serious prejudice against its manners and customs.
"'Well, now, since my arrival in Madrid, I have already been, not indeed the hero, but the accomplice of a dangerous intrigue, as dark and mysterious as any romance by Lady (Mrs.) Radcliffe. I am apt to attend to my presentiments, and I am off to-morrow. Murat will not refuse me leave, for, thanks to our varied services, we always have influential friends.'
"'Since you mean to cut your stick, tell us what's up,' said an old Republican colonel, who cared not a rap for Imperial gentility and choice language.
"The surgeon-major looked about him cautiously, as if to make sure who were his audience, and being satisfied that no Spaniard was within hearing, he said:
"'We are none but Frenchmen—then, with pleasure, Colonel Hulot. About six days since, I was quietly going home, at about eleven at night, after leaving General Montcornet, whose hotel is but a few yards from mine. We had come away together from the Quartermaster-General's, where we had played rather high at bouillotte. Suddenly, at the corner of a narrow high-street, two strangers, or rather, two demons, rushed upon me and flung a large cloak round my head and arms. I yelled out, as you may suppose, like a dog that is thrashed, but the cloth smothered my voice, and I was lifted into a chaise with dexterous rapidity. When my two companions released me from the cloak, I heard these dreadful words spoken by a woman, in bad French:
"'"If you cry out, or if you attempt to escape, if you make the very least suspicious demonstration, the gentleman opposite to you will stab you without hesitation. So you had better keep quiet.—Now, I will tell you why you have been carried off. If you will take the trouble to put your hand out in this direction, you will find your case of instruments lying between us; we sent a messenger for them to your rooms, in your name. You will need them. We are taking you to a house that you may save the honor of a lady who is about to give birth to a child that she wishes to place in this gentleman's keeping without her husband's knowledge. Though monsieur rarely leaves his wife, with whom he is still passionately in love, watching over her with all the vigilance of Spanish jealousy, she had succeeded in concealing her condition; he believes her to be ill. You must bring the child into the world. The dangers of this enterprise do not concern us: only, you must obey us, otherwise the lover, who is sitting opposite to you in this carriage, and who does not understand a word of French, will kill you on the least rash movement."
"'"And who are you?" I asked, feeling for the speaker's hand, for her arm was inside the sleeve of a soldier's uniform.
"'"I am my lady's waiting-woman," said she, "and ready to reward you with my own person if you show yourself gallant and helpful in our necessities."
"'"Gladly," said I, seeing that I was inevitably started on a perilous adventure.
"'Under favor of the darkness, I felt whether the person and figure of the girl were in keeping with the idea I had formed of her from her tone of voice. The good soul had, no doubt, made up her mind from the first to accept all the chances of this strange act of kidnapping, for she kept silence very obligingly, and the coach had not been more than ten minutes on the way when she accepted and returned a very satisfactory kiss. The lover, who sat opposite to me, took no offence at an occasional quite involuntary kick; as he did not understand French, I conclude he paid no heed to them.
"'"I can be your mistress on one condition only," said the woman, in reply to the nonsense I poured into her ear, carried away by the fervor of an improvised passion, to which everything was unpropitious.
"'"And what is it?"
"'"That you will never attempt to find out whose servant I am. If I am to go to you, it must be at night, and you must receive me in the dark."
"'"Very good," said I.
"'We had got as far as this, when the carriage drew up under a garden wall.
"'"You must allow me to bandage your eyes," said the maid. "You can lean on my arm, and I will lead you."
"'She tied a handkerchief over my eyes, fastening it in a tight knot at the back of my head. I heard the sound of a key being cautiously fitted to the lock of a little side door by the speechless lover who had sat opposite to me. In a moment the waiting-woman, whose shape was slender, and who walked with an elegant jauntiness'—meneho, as they call it," Monsieur Gravier explained in a superior tone, "a word which describes the swing which women contrive to give a certain part of their dress that shall be nameless.—'The waiting-woman'—it is the surgeon-major who is speaking," the narrator went on—"'led me along the gravel walks of a large garden, till at a certain spot she stopped. From the louder sound of our footsteps, I concluded that we were close to the house. "Now silence!" said she in a whisper, "and mind what you are about. Do not overlook any of my signals; I cannot speak without terrible danger for both of us, and at this moment your life is of the first importance." Then she added: "My mistress is in a room on the ground floor. To get into it we must pass through her husband's room and close to his bed. Do not cough, walk softly, and follow me closely, so as not to knock against the furniture or tread anywhere but on the carpets I laid down."
"'Here the lover gave an impatient growl, as a man annoyed by so much delay.
"'The woman said no more, I heard a door open, I felt the warm air of the house, and we stole in like thieves. Presently the girl's light hand removed the bandage. I found myself in a lofty and spacious room, badly lighted by a smoky lamp. The window was open, but the jealous husband had fitted it with iron bars. I was in the bottom of a sack, as it were.
"'On the ground a woman was lying on a mat; her head was covered with a muslin veil, but I could see her eyes through it full of tears and flashing with the brightness of stars; she held a handkerchief in her mouth, biting it so hard that her teeth were set in it: I never saw finer limbs, but her body was writhing with pain like a harp-string thrown on the fire. The poor creature had made a sort of struts of her legs by setting her feet against a chest of drawers, and with both hands she held on to the bar of a chair, her arms outstretched, with every vein painfully swelled. She might have been a criminal undergoing torture. But she did not utter a cry; there was not a sound, all three speechless and motionless. The husband snored with reassuring regularity. I wanted to study the waiting-woman's face, but she had put on a mask, which she had removed, no doubt, during our drive, and I could see nothing but a pair of black eyes and a pleasingly rounded figure.
"'The lover threw some towels over his mistress' legs and folded the muslin veil double over her face. As soon as I had examined the lady with care, I perceived from certain symptoms which I had noted once before on a very sad occasion in my life, that the infant was dead. I turned to the maid in order to tell her this. Instantly the suspicious stranger drew his dagger; but I had time to explain the matter to the woman, who explained in a word or two to him in a low voice. On hearing my opinion, a quick, slight shudder ran through him from head to foot like a lightning flash; I fancied I could see him turn pale under his black velvet mask.
"'The waiting-woman took advantage of a moment when he was bending in despair over the dying woman, who had turned blue, to point to some glasses of lemonade standing on a table, at the same time shaking her head negatively. I understood that I was not to drink anything in spite of the dreadful thirst that parched my throat. The lover was thirsty too; he took an empty glass, poured out some fresh lemonade, and drank it off.
"'At this moment the lady had a violent attack of pain, which showed me that now was the time to operate. I summoned all my courage, and in about an hour had succeeded in delivering her of the child, cutting it up to extract it. The Spaniard no longer thought of poisoning me, understanding that I had saved the mother's life. Large tears fell on his cloak. The woman uttered no sound, but she trembled like a hunted animal, and was bathed in sweat.
"'At one horribly critical moment she pointed in the direction of her husband's room; he had turned in his sleep, and she alone had heard the rustle of the sheets, the creaking of the bed or of the curtain. We all paused, and the lover and the waiting-woman, through the eyeholes of their masks, gave each other a look that said, "If he wakes, shall we kill him?"
"'At that instant I put out my hand to take the glass of lemonade the Spaniard had drunk of. He, thinking that I was about to take one of the full glasses, sprang forward like a cat, and laid his long dagger over the two poisoned goblets, leaving me his own, and signing to me to drink what was left. So much was conveyed by this quick action, and it was so full of good feeling, that I forgave him his atrocious schemes for killing me, and thus burying every trace of this event.
"'After two hours of care and alarms, the maid and I put her mistress to bed. The lover, forced into so perilous an adventure, had, to provide means in case of having to fly, a packet of diamonds stuck to paper; these he put into my pocket without my knowing it; and I may add parenthetically, that as I was ignorant of the Spaniard's magnificent gift, my servant stole the jewels the day after, and went off with a perfect fortune.
"'I whispered my instructions to the waiting-woman as to the further care of her patient, and wanted to be gone. The maid remained with her mistress, which was not very reassuring, but I was on my guard. The lover made a bundle of the dead infant and the blood-stained clothes, tying it up tightly, and hiding it under his cloak; he passed his hand over my eyes as if to bid me to see nothing, and signed to me to take hold of the skirt of his coat. He went first out of the room, and I followed, not without a parting glance at my lady of an hour. She, seeing the Spaniard had gone out, snatched off her mask and showed me an exquisite face.
"'When I found myself in the garden, in the open air, I confess that I breathed as if a heavy load had been lifted from my breast. I followed my guide at a respectful distance, watching his least movement with keen attention. Having reached the little door, he took my hand and pressed a seal to my lips, set in a ring which I had seen him wearing on a finger of his left hand, and I gave him to understand that this significant sign would be obeyed. In the street two horses were waiting; we each mounted one. My Spaniard took my bridle, held his own between his teeth, for his right hand held the bloodstained bundle, and we went off at lightning speed.
"'I could not see the smallest object by which to retrace the road we came by. At dawn I found myself close by my own door, and the Spaniard fled towards the Atocha gate.'
"'And you saw nothing which could lead you to suspect who the woman was whom you had attended?' the Colonel asked of the surgeon.
"'One thing only,' he replied. 'When I turned the unknown lady over, I happened to remark a mole on her arm, about half-way down, as big as a lentil, and surrounded with brown hairs.'—At this instant the rash speaker turned pale. All our eyes, that had been fixed on his, followed his glance, and we saw a Spaniard, whose glittering eyes shone through a clump of orange-trees. On finding himself the object of our attention, the man vanished with the swiftness of a sylph. A young captain rushed in pursuit.
"'By Heaven!' cried the surgeon, 'that basilisk stare has chilled me through, my friends. I can hear bells ringing in my ears! I may take leave of you; you will bury me here!'
"'What a fool you are!' exclaimed Colonel Hulot. 'Falcon is on the track of the Spaniard who was listening, and he will call him to account.'
"'Well,' cried one and another, seeing the captain return quite out of breath.
"'The devil's in it,' said Falcon; 'the man went through a wall, I believe! As I do not suppose that he is a wizard, I fancy he must belong to the house! He knows every corner and turning, and easily escaped.'
"'I am done for,' said the surgeon, in a gloomy voice.
"'Come, come, keep calm, Bega,' said I (his name was Bega), 'we will sit on watch with you till you leave. We will not leave you this evening.'
"In point of fact, three young officers who had been losing at play went home with the surgeon to his lodgings, and one of us offered to stay with him.
"Within two days Bega had obtained his recall to France; he made arrangements to travel with a lady to whom Murat had given a strong escort, and had just finished dinner with a party of friends, when his servant came to say that a young lady wished to speak to him. The surgeon and the three officers went down suspecting mischief. The stranger could only say, 'Be on your guard—' when she dropped down dead. It was the waiting-woman, who, finding she had been poisoned, had hoped to arrive in time to warn her lover.
"'Devil take it!' cried Captain Falcon, 'that is what I call love! No woman on earth but a Spaniard can run about with a dose of poison in her inside!'
"Bega remained strangely pensive. To drown the dark presentiments that haunted him, he sat down to table again, and with his companions drank immoderately. The whole party went early to bed, half drunk.
"In the middle of the night the hapless Bega was aroused by the sharp rattle of the curtain rings pulled violently along the rods. He sat up in bed, in the mechanical trepidation which we all feel on waking with such a start. He saw standing before him a Spaniard wrapped in a cloak, who fixed on him the same burning gaze that he had seen through the bushes.
"Bega shouted out, 'Help, help, come at once, friends!' But the Spaniard answered his cry of distress with a bitter laugh.—'Opium grows for all!' said he.
"Having thus pronounced sentence as it were, the stranger pointed to the three other men sleeping soundly, took from under his cloak the arm of a woman, freshly amputated, and held it out to Bega, pointing to a mole like that he had so rashly described. 'Is it the same?' he asked. By the light of the lantern the man had set on the bed, Bega recognized the arm, and his speechless amazement was answer enough.
"Without waiting for further information, the lady's husband stabbed him to the heart."
"You must tell that to the marines!" said Lousteau. "It needs their robust faith to swallow it! Can you tell me which told the tale, the dead man or the Spaniard?"
"Monsieur," replied the Receiver-General, "I nursed poor Bega, who died five days after in dreadful suffering.—That is not the end.
"At the time of the expedition sent out to restore Ferdinand VII. I was appointed to a place in Spain; but, happily for me, I got no further than Tours when I was promised the post of Receiver here at Sancerre. On the eve of setting out I was at a ball at Madame de Listomere's, where we were to meet several Spaniards of high rank. On rising from the card-table, I saw a Spanish grandee, an afrancesado in exile, who had been about a fortnight in Touraine. He had arrived very late at this ball—his first appearance in society—accompanied by his wife, whose right arm was perfectly motionless. Everybody made way in silence for this couple, whom we all watched with some excitement. Imagine a picture by Murillo come to life. Under black and hollow brows the man's eyes were like a fixed blaze; his face looked dried up, his bald skull was red, and his frame was a terror to behold, he was so emaciated. His wife—no, you cannot imagine her. Her figure had the supple swing for which the Spaniards created the word meneho; though pale, she was still beautiful; her complexion was dazzlingly fair—a rare thing in a Spaniard; and her gaze, full of the Spanish sun, fell on you like a stream of melted lead.
"'Madame,' said I to her, towards the end of the evening, 'what occurrence led to the loss of your arm?'
"'I lost it in the war of independence,' said she."
"Spain is a strange country," said Madame de la Baudraye. "It still shows traces of Arab manners."
"Oh!" said the journalist, laughing, "the mania for cutting off arms is an old one there. It turns up every now and then like some of our newspaper hoaxes, for the subject has given plots for plays on the Spanish stage so early as 1570—"
"Then do you think me capable of inventing such a story?" said Monsieur Gravier, nettled by Lousteau's impertinent tone.
"Quite incapable of such a thing," said the journalist with grave irony.
"Pooh!" said Bianchon, "the inventions of romances and play-writers are quite as often transferred from their books and pieces into real life, as the events of real life are made use of on the stage or adapted to a tale. I have seen the comedy of Tartufe played out—with the exception of the close; Orgon's eyes could not be opened to the truth."
"And the tragi-comedy of Adolphe by Benjamin Constant is constantly enacted," cried Lousteau.
"And do you suppose," asked Madame de la Baudraye, "that such adventures as Monsieur Gravier has related could ever occur now, and in France?"
"Dear me!" cried Clagny, "of the ten or twelve startling crimes that are annually committed in France, quite half are mixed up with circumstances at least as extraordinary as these, and often outdoing them in romantic details. Indeed, is not this proved by the reports in the Gazette des Tribunaux—the Police news—in my opinion, one of the worst abuses of the Press? This newspaper, which was started only in 1826 or '27, was not in existence when I began my professional career, and the facts of the crime I am about to speak of were not known beyond the limits of the department where it was committed.
"In the quarter of Saint-Pierre-des-Corps at Tours a woman whose husband had disappeared at the time when the army of the Loire was disbanded, and who had mourned him deeply, was conspicuous for her excess of devotion. When the mission priests went through all the provinces to restore the crosses that had been destroyed and to efface the traces of revolutionary impiety, this widow was one of their most zealous proselytes, she carried a cross and nailed to it a silver heart pierced by an arrow; and, for a long time after, she went every evening to pray at the foot of the cross which was erected behind the Cathedral apse.
"At last, overwhelmed by remorse, she confessed to a horrible crime. She had killed her husband, as Fualdes was murdered, by bleeding him; she had salted the body and packed it in pieces into old casks, exactly as if it have been pork; and for a long time she had taken a piece every morning and thrown it into the Loire. Her confessor consulted his superiors, and told her that it would be his duty to inform the public prosecutor. The woman awaited the action of the Law. The public prosecutor and the examining judge, on examining the cellar, found the husband's head still in pickle in one of the casks.—'Wretched woman,' said the judge to the accused, 'since you were so barbarous as to throw your husband's body into the river, why did you not get rid of the head? Then there would have been no proof.'
"'I often tried, monsieur,' said she, 'but it was too heavy.'"
"Well, and what became of the woman?" asked the two Parisians.
"She was sentenced and executed at Tours," replied the lawyer; "but her repentance and piety had attracted interest in spite of her monstrous crime."
"And do you suppose," said Bianchon, "that we know all the tragedies that are played out behind the curtain of private life that the public never lifts?—It seems to me that human justice is ill adapted to judge of crimes as between husband and wife. It has every right to intervene as the police; but in equity it knows nothing of the heart of the matter."
"The victim has in many cases been for so long the tormentor," said Madame de la Baudraye guilelessly, "that the crime would sometimes seem almost excusable if the accused could tell all."
This reply, led up to by Bianchon and by the story which Clagny had told, left the two Parisians excessively puzzled as to Dinah's position.
At bedtime council was held, one of those discussions which take place in the passages of old country-houses where the bachelors linger, candle in hand, for mysterious conversations.
Monsieur Gravier was now informed of the object in view during this entertaining evening which had brought Madame de la Baudraye's innocence to light.
"But, after all," said Lousteau, "our hostess' serenity may indicate deep depravity instead of the most child-like innocence. The Public Prosecutor looks to me quite capable of suggesting that little La Baudraye should be put in pickle——"
"He is not to return till to-morrow; who knows what may happen in the course of the night?" said Gatien.
"We will know!" cried Monsieur Gravier.
In the life of a country house a number of practical jokes are considered admissible, some of them odiously treacherous. Monsieur Gravier, who had seen so much of the world, proposed setting seals on the door of Madame de la Baudraye and of the Public Prosecutor. The ducks that denounced the poet Ibycus are as nothing in comparison with the single hair that these country spies fasten across the opening of a door by means of two little flattened pills of wax, fixed so high up, or so low down, that the trick is never suspected. If the gallant comes out of his own door and opens the other, the broken hair tells the tale.
When everybody was supposed to be asleep, the doctor, the journalist, the receiver of taxes, and Gatien came barefoot, like robbers, and silently fastened up the two doors, agreeing to come again at five in the morning to examine the state of the fastenings. Imagine their astonishment and Gatien's delight when all four, candle in hand, and with hardly any clothes on, came to look at the hairs, and found them in perfect preservation on both doors.
"Is it the same wax?" asked Monsieur Gravier.
"Are they the same hairs?" asked Lousteau.
"Yes," replied Gatien.
"This quite alters the matter!" cried Lousteau. "You have been beating the bush for a will-o'-the-wisp."
Monsieur Gravier and Gatien exchanged questioning glances which were meant to convey, "Is there not something offensive to us in that speech? Ought we to laugh or to be angry?"
"If Dinah is virtuous," said the journalist in a whisper to Bianchon, "she is worth an effort on my part to pluck the fruit of her first love."
The idea of carrying by storm a fortress that had for nine years stood out against the besiegers of Sancerre smiled on Lousteau.
With this notion in his head, he was the first to go down and into the garden, hoping to meet his hostess. And this chance fell out all the more easily because Madame de la Baudraye on her part wished to converse with her critic. Half such chances are planned.
"You were out shooting yesterday, monsieur," said Madame de la Baudraye. "This morning I am rather puzzled as to how to find you any new amusement; unless you would like to come to La Baudraye, where you may study more of our provincial life than you can see here, for you have made but one mouthful of my absurdities. However, the saying about the handsomest girl in the world is not less true of the poor provincial woman!"
"That little simpleton Gatien has, I suppose, related to you a speech I made simply to make him confess that he adored you," said Etienne. "Your silence, during dinner the day before yesterday and throughout the evening, was enough to betray one of those indiscretions which we never commit in Paris.—What can I say? I do not flatter myself that you will understand me. In fact, I laid a plot for the telling of all those stories yesterday solely to see whether I could rouse you and Monsieur de Clagny to a pang of remorse.—Oh! be quite easy; your innocence is fully proved.
"If you had the slightest fancy for that estimable magistrate, you would have lost all your value in my eyes.—I love perfection.
"You do not, you cannot love that cold, dried-up, taciturn little usurer on wine casks and land, who would leave any man in the lurch for twenty-five centimes on a renewal. Oh, I have fully recognized Monsieur de la Baudraye's similarity to a Parisian bill-discounter; their nature is identical.—At eight-and-twenty, handsome, well conducted, and childless—I assure you, madame, I never saw the problem of virtue more admirably expressed.—The author of Paquita la Sevillane must have dreamed many dreams!
"I can speak of such things without the hypocritical gloss lent them by young men, for I am old before my time. I have no illusions left. Can a man have any illusions in the trade I follow?"
By opening the game in this tone, Lousteau cut out all excursions in the Pays de Tendre, where genuine passion beats the bush so long; he went straight to the point and placed himself in a position to force the offer of what women often make a man pray for, for years; witness the hapless Public Prosecutor, to whom the greatest favor had consisted in clasping Dinah's hand to his heart more tenderly than usual as they walked, happy man!
And Madame de la Baudraye, to be true to her reputation as a Superior Woman, tried to console the Manfred of the Press by prophesying such a future of love as he had not had in his mind.
"You have sought pleasure," said she, "but you have never loved. Believe me, true love often comes late in life. Remember Monsieur de Gentz, who fell in love in his old age with Fanny Ellsler, and left the Revolution of July to take its course while he attended the dancer's rehearsals."
"It seems to me unlikely," replied Lousteau. "I can still believe in love, but I have ceased to believe in woman. There are in me, I suppose, certain defects which hinder me from being loved, for I have often been thrown over. Perhaps I have too strong a feeling for the ideal—like all men who have looked too closely into reality——"
Madame de la Baudraye at last heard the mind of a man who, flung into the wittiest Parisian circles, represented to her its most daring axioms, its almost artless depravity, its advanced convictions; who, if he were not really superior, acted superiority extremely well. Etienne, performing before Dinah, had all the success of a first night. Paquita of Sancerre scented the storms, the atmosphere of Paris. She spent one of the most delightful days of her life with Lousteau and Bianchon, who told her strange tales about the great men of the day, the anecdotes which will some day form the Ana of our century; sayings and doings that were the common talk of Paris, but quite new to her.
Of course, Lousteau spoke very ill of the great female celebrity of Le Berry, with the obvious intention of flattering Madame de la Baudraye and leading her into literary confidences, by suggesting that she could rival so great a writer. This praise intoxicated Madame de la Baudraye; and Monsieur de Clagny, Monsieur Gravier, and Gatien, all thought her warmer in her manner to Etienne than she had been on the previous day. Dinah's three attaches greatly regretted having all gone to Sancerre to blow the trumpet in honor of the evening at Anzy; nothing, to hear them, had ever been so brilliant. The Hours had fled on feet so light that none had marked their pace. The two Parisians they spoke of as perfect prodigies.
These exaggerated reports loudly proclaimed on the Mall brought sixteen persons to Anzy that evening, some in family coaches, some in wagonettes, and a few bachelors on hired saddle horses. By about seven o'clock this provincial company had made a more or less graceful entry into the huge Anzy drawing-room, which Dinah, warned of the invasion, had lighted up, giving it all the lustre it was capable of by taking the holland covers off the handsome furniture, for she regarded this assembly as one of her great triumphs. Lousteau, Bianchon, and Dinah exchanged meaning looks as they studied the attitudes and listened to the speeches of these visitors, attracted by curiosity.
What invalided ribbons, what ancestral laces, what ancient flowers, more imaginative than imitative, were boldly displayed on some perennial caps! The Presidente Boirouge, Bianchon's cousin, exchanged a few words with the doctor, from whom she extracted some "advice gratis" by expatiating on certain pains in the chest, which she declared were nervous, but which he ascribed to chronic indigestion.
"Simply drink a cup of tea every day an hour after dinner, as the English do, and you will get over it, for what you suffer from is an English malady," Bianchon replied very gravely.
"He is certainly a great physician," said the Presidente, coming back to Madame de Clagny, Madame Popinot-Chandier, and Madame Gorju, the Mayor's wife.
"They say," replied Madame de Clagny behind her fan, "that Dinah sent for him, not so much with a view to the elections as to ascertain why she has no children."
In the first excitement of this success, Lousteau introduced the great doctor as the only possible candidate at the ensuing elections. But Bianchon, to the great satisfaction of the new Sous-prefet, remarked that it seemed to him almost impossible to give up science in favor of politics.
"Only a physician without a practice," said he, "could care to be returned as a deputy. Nominate statesmen, thinkers, men whose knowledge is universal, and who are capable of placing themselves on the high level which a legislator should occupy. That is what is lacking in our Chambers, and what our country needs."
Two or three young ladies, some of the younger men, and the elder women stared at Lousteau as if he were a mountebank.
"Monsieur Gatien Boirouge declares that Monsieur Lousteau makes twenty thousand francs a year by his writings," observed the Mayor's wife to Madame de Clagny. "Can you believe it?"
"Is it possible? Why, a Public Prosecutor gets but a thousand crowns!"
"Monsieur Gatien," said Madame Chandier, "get Monsieur Lousteau to talk a little louder. I have not heard him yet."
"What pretty boots he wears," said Mademoiselle Chandier to her brother, "and how they shine!"
"Why haven't you the same?"
Lousteau began to feel that he was too much on show, and saw in the manners of the good townsfolk indications of the desires that had brought them there.
"What trick can I play them?" thought he.
At this moment the footman, so called—a farm-servant put into livery—brought in the letters and papers, and among them a packet of proof, which the journalist left for Bianchon; for Madame de la Baudraye, on seeing the parcel, of which the form and string were obviously from the printers, exclaimed:
"What, does literature pursue you even here?"
"Not literature," replied he, "but a review in which I am now finishing a story to come out ten days hence. I have reached the stage of 'To be concluded in our next,' so I was obliged to give my address to the printer. Oh, we eat very hard-earned bread at the hands of these speculators in black and white! I will give you a description of these editors of magazines."
"When will the conversation begin?" Madame de Clagny asked of Dinah, as one might ask, "When do the fireworks go off?"
"I fancied we should hear some amusing stories," said Madame Popinot to her cousin, the Presidente Boirouge.
At this moment, when the good folks of Sancerre were beginning to murmur like an impatient pit, Lousteau observed that Bianchon was lost in meditation inspired by the wrapper round the proofs.
"What is it?" asked Etienne.
"Why, here is the most fascinating romance possible on some spoiled proof used to wrap yours in. Here, read it. Olympia, or Roman Revenge."
"Let us see," said Lousteau, taking the sheet the doctor held out to him, and he read aloud as follows:—
cavern. Rinaldo, indignant at his companions' cowardice, for they had no courage but in the open field, and dared not venture into Rome, looked at them with scorn.
"Then I go alone?" said he. He seemed to reflect, and then he went on: "You are poor wretches. I shall proceed alone, and have the rich booty to myself.—You hear me! Farewell."
"My Captain," said Lamberti, "if you should be captured without having succeeded?"
"God protects me!" said Rinaldo, pointing to the sky.
With these words he went out, and on his way he met the steward
"That is the end of the page," said Lousteau, to whom every one had listened devoutly.
"He is reading his work to us," said Gatien to Madame Popinot-Chandier's son.
"From the first word, ladies," said the journalist, jumping at an opportunity of mystifying the natives, "it is evident that the brigands are in a cave. But how careless romancers of that date were as to details which are nowadays so closely, so elaborately studied under the name of 'local color.' If the robbers were in a cavern, instead of pointing to the sky he ought to have pointed to the vault above him.—In spite of this inaccuracy, Rinaldo strikes me as a man of spirit, and his appeal to God is quite Italian. There must have been a touch of local color in this romance. Why, what with brigands, and a cavern, and one Lamberti who could foresee future possibilities—there is a whole melodrama in that page. Add to these elements a little intrigue, a peasant maiden with her hair dressed high, short skirts, and a hundred or so of bad couplets.—Oh! the public will crowd to see it! And then Rinaldo—how well the name suits Lafont! By giving him black whiskers, tightly-fitting trousers, a cloak, a moustache, a pistol, and a peaked hat—if the manager of the Vaudeville Theatre were but bold enough to pay for a few newspaper articles, that would secure fifty performances, and six thousand francs for the author's rights, if only I were to cry it up in my columns.
OR ROMAN REVENGE 219
The Duchess of Bracciano found her glove. Adolphe, who had brought her back to the orange grove, might certainly have supposed that there was some purpose in her forgetful- ness, for at this moment the arbor was deserted. The sound of the fes- tivities was audible in the distance. The puppet show that had been promised had attracted all the guests to the ballroom. Never had Olympia looked more beautiful. Her lover's eyes met hers with an answering glow, and they under- stood each other. There was a mo- ment of silence, delicious to their souls, and impossible to describe. They sat down on the same bench where they had sat in the presence of the Cavaliere Paluzzi and the
"Devil take it! Our Rinaldo has vanished!" cried Lousteau. "But a literary man once started by this page would make rapid progress in the comprehension of the plot. The Duchesse Olympia is a lady who could intentionally forget her gloves in a deserted arbor."
"Unless she may be classed between the oyster and head-clerk of an office, the two creatures nearest to marble in the zoological kingdom, it is impossible to discern in Olympia—" Bianchon began.
"A woman of thirty," Madame de la Baudraye hastily interposed, fearing some all too medical term.
"Then Adolphe must be two-and-twenty," the doctor went on, "for an Italian woman at thirty is equivalent to a Parisian of forty."
"From these two facts, the romance may easily be reconstructed," said Lousteau. "And this Cavaliere Paluzzi—what a man!—The style is weak in these two passages; the author was perhaps a clerk in the Excise Office, and wrote the novel to pay his tailor!"
"In his time," said Bianchon, "the censor flourished; you must show as much indulgence to a man who underwent the ordeal by scissors in 1805 as to those who went to the scaffold in 1793."
"Do you understand in the least?" asked Madame Gorju timidly of Madame de Clagny.
The Public Prosecutor's wife, who, to use a phrase of Monsieur Gravier's, might have put a Cossack to flight in 1814, straightened herself in her chair like a horseman in his stirrups, and made a face at her neighbor, conveying, "They are looking at us; we must smile as if we understood."
"Charming!" said the Mayoress to Gatien. "Pray go on, Monsieur Lousteau."
Lousteau looked at the two women, two Indian idols, and contrived to keep his countenance. He thought it desirable to say, "Attention!" before going on as follows:—
OR ROMAN REVENGE 209
dress rustled in the silence. Sud- denly Cardinal Borborigano stood before the Duchess.
"His face was gloomy, his brow was dark with clouds, and a bitter smile lurked in his wrinkles.
"Madame," said he, "you are under suspicion. If you are guilty, fly. If you are not, still fly; because, whether criminal or innocent, you will find it easier to defend yourself from a distance."
"I thank your Eminence for your solicitude," said she. "The Duke of Bracciano will reappear when I find it needful to prove that he is alive."
"Cardinal Borborigano!" exclaimed Bianchon. "By the Pope's keys! If you do not agree with me that there is a magnificent creation in the very name, if at those words dress rustled in the silence you do not feel all the poetry thrown into the part of Schedoni by Mrs. Radcliffe in The Black Penitent, you do not deserve to read a romance."
"For my part," said Dinah, who had some pity on the eighteen faces gazing up at Lousteau, "I see how the story is progressing. I know it all. I am in Rome; I can see the body of a murdered husband whose wife, as bold as she is wicked, has made her bed on the crater of a volcano. Every night, at every kiss, she says to herself, 'All will be discovered!'"
"Can you see her," said Lousteau, "clasping Monsieur Adolphe in her arms, to her heart, throwing her whole life into a kiss?—Adolphe I see as a well-made young man, but not clever—the sort of man an Italian woman likes. Rinaldo hovers behind the scenes of a plot we do not know, but which must be as full of incident as a melodrama by Pixerecourt. Or we can imagine Rinaldo crossing the stage in the background like a figure in one of Victor Hugo's plays."
"He, perhaps, is the husband," exclaimed Madame de la Baudraye.
"Do you understand anything of it all?" Madame Piedefer asked of the Presidente.
"Why, it is charming!" said Dinah to her mother.
All the good folks of Sancerre sat with eyes as large as five-franc pieces.
"Go on, I beg," said the hostess.
Lousteau went on:—
"Have you lost it?"
"It is in the arbor."
"Let us hasten."
"Can the Cardinal have taken it?"
"No, here it is."
"What danger we have escaped!"
Olympia looked at the key, and fancied she recognized it as her own. But Rinaldo had changed it; his cunning had triumphed; he had the right key. Like a modern Cartouche, he was no less skilful than bold, and suspecting that nothing but a vast treasure could require a duchess to carry it constantly at her belt.
"Guess!" cried Lousteau. "The corresponding page is not here. We must look to page 212 to relieve our anxiety."
"If the key had been lost?"
"He would now be a dead man."
"Dead? But ought you not to grant the last request he made, and to give him his liberty on the con- ditions——"
"You do not know him."
"Silence! I took you for my lover, not for my confessor."
Adolphe was silent.
"And then comes an exquisite galloping goat, a tail-piece drawn by Normand, and cut by Duplat.—the names are signed," said Lousteau.
"Well, and then?" said such of the audience as understood.
"That is the end of the chapter," said Lousteau. "The fact of this tailpiece changes my views as to the authorship. To have his book got up, under the Empire, with vignettes engraved on wood, the writer must have been a Councillor of State, or Madame Barthelemy-Hadot, or the late lamented Desforges, or Sewrin."
"'Adolphe was silent.'—Ah!" cried Bianchon, "the Duchess must have been under thirty."
"If there is no more, invent a conclusion," said Madame de la Baudraye.
"You see," said Lousteau, "the waste sheet has been printed fair on one side only. In printer's lingo, it is a back sheet, or, to make it clearer, the other side which would have to be printed is covered all over with pages printed one above another, all experiments in making up. It would take too long to explain to you all the complications of a making-up sheet; but you may understand that it will show no more trace of the first twelve pages that were printed on it than you would in the least remember the first stroke of the bastinado if a Pasha condemned you to have fifty on the soles of your feet."
"I am quite bewildered," said Madame Popinot-Chandier to Monsieur Gravier. "I am vainly trying to connect the Councillor of State, the Cardinal, the key, and the making-up——"
"You have not the key to the jest," said Monsieur Gravier. "Well! no more have I, fair lady, if that can comfort you."
"But here is another sheet," said Bianchon, hunting on the table where the proofs had been laid.
"Capital!" said Lousteau, "and it is complete and uninjured. It is signed IV.; J, Second Edition. Ladies, the figure IV. means that this is part of the fourth volume. The letter J, the tenth letter of the alphabet, shows that this is the tenth sheet. And it is perfectly clear to me, that in spite of any publisher's tricks, this romance in four duodecimo volumes, had a great success, since it came to a second edition.—We will read on and find a clue to the mystery.
OR ROMAN REVENGE 21
corridor; but finding that he was pursued by the Duchess' people
"Oh, get along!"
"But," said Madame de la Baudraye, "some important events have taken place between your waste sheet and this page."
"This complete sheet, madame, this precious made-up sheet. But does the waste sheet in which the Duchess forgets her gloves in the arbor belong to the fourth volume? Well, deuce take it—to proceed.
Rinaldo saw no safer refuge than to make forthwith for the cellar where the treasures of the Bracciano fam- ily no doubt lay hid. As light of foot as Camilla sung by the Latin poet, he flew to the entrance to the Baths of Vespasian. The torchlight already flickered on the walls when Rinaldo, with the readiness be- stowed on him by nature, discovered the door concealed in the stone- work, and suddenly vanished. A hideous thought then flashed on Rinaldo's brain like lightning rend- ing a cloud: He was imprisoned! He felt the wall with uneasy haste
"Yes, this made-up sheet follows the waste sheet. The last page of the damaged sheet was 212, and this is 217. In fact, since Rinaldo, who in the earlier fragment stole the key of the Duchess' treasure by exchanging it for another very much like it, is now—on the made-up sheet—in the palace of the Dukes of Bracciano, the story seems to me to be advancing to a conclusion of some kind. I hope it is as clear to you as it is to me.—I understand that the festivities are over, the lovers have returned to the Bracciano Palace; it is night—one o'clock in the morning. Rinaldo will have a good time."
"And Adolphe too!" said President Boirouge, who was considered rather free in his speech.
"And the style!" said Bianchon.—"Rinaldo, who saw no better refuge than to make for the cellar."
"It is quite clear that neither Maradan, nor Treuttel and Wurtz, nor Doguereau, were the printers," said Lousteau, "for they employed correctors who revised the proofs, a luxury in which our publishers might very well indulge, and the writers of the present day, would benefit greatly. Some scrubby pamphlet printer on the Quay—"
"What quay?" a lady asked of her neighbor. "They spoke of baths—"
"Pray go on," said Madame de la Baudraye.
"At any rate, it is not by a councillor," said Bianchon.
"It may be by Madame Hadot," replied Lousteau.
"What has Madame Hadot of La Charite to do with it?" the Presidente asked of her son.
"This Madame Hadot, my dear friend," the hostess answered, "was an authoress, who lived at the time of the Consulate."
"What, did women write in the Emperor's time?" asked Madame Popinot-Chandier.
"What of Madame de Genlis and Madame de Stael?" cried the Public Prosecutor, piqued on Dinah's account by this remark.
"To be sure!"
"I beg you to go on," said Madame de la Baudraye to Lousteau.
Lousteau went on saying: "Page 218.
and gave a shriek of despair when he had vainly sought any trace of a secret spring. It was impossible to ignore the horrible truth. The door, cleverly constructed to serve the vengeful purposes of the Duchess, could not be opened from within. Rinaldo laid his cheek against the wall in various spots; nowhere could he feel the warmer air from the passage. He had hoped he might find a crack that would show him where there was an opening in the wall, but nothing, nothing! The whole seemed to be of one block of marble.
Then he gave a hollow roar like that of a hyaena——
"Well, we fancied that the cry of the hyaena was a recent invention of our own!" said Lousteau, "and here it was already known to the literature of the Empire. It is even introduced with a certain skill in natural history, as we see in the word hollow."
"Make no more comments, monsieur," said Madame de la Baudraye.
"There, you see!" cried Bianchon. "Interest, the romantic demon, has you by the collar, as he had me a while ago."
"Read on," cried de Clagny, "I understand."
"What a coxcomb!" said the Presiding Judge in a whisper to his neighbor the Sous-prefet.
"He wants to please Madame de la Baudraye," replied the new Sous-prefet.
"Well, then I will read straight on," said Lousteau solemnly.
Everybody listened in dead silence.
OR ROMAN REVENGE 219
A deep groan answered Rinaldo's cry, but in his alarm he took it for an echo, so weak and hollow was the sound. It could not proceed from any human breast.
"Santa Maria!" said the voice.
"If I stir from this spot I shall never find it again," thought Ri- naldo, when he had recovered his usual presence of mind. "If I knock, I shall be discovered. What am I to do?"
"Who is here?" asked the voice.
"Hallo!" cried the brigand; "do the toads here talk?"
"I am the Duke of Bracciano. Whoever you may be, if you are not a follower of the Duchess', in the name of all the saints, come towards me."
"I should have to know where to find you, Monsieur le Duc," said Ri- naldo, with the insolence of a man who knows himself to be necessary.
"I can see you, my friend, for my eyes are accustomed to the darkness. Listen: walk straight forward— good; now turn to the left—come on—this way. There, we are close to each other."
Rinaldo putting out his hands as a precaution, touched some iron bars.
"I am being deceived," cried the bandit.
"No, you are touching my cage.
OR ROMAN REVENGE 221
Sit down on a broken shaft of por- phyry that is there."
"How can the Duke of Bracciano be in a cage?" asked the brigand.
"My friend, I have been here for thirty months, standing up, unable to sit down——But you, who are you?"
"I am Rinaldo, prince of the Cam- pagna, the chief of four-and-twenty brave men whom the law describes as miscreants, whom all the ladies admire, and whom judges hang in obedience to an old habit."
"God be praised! I am saved. An honest man would have been afraid, whereas I am sure of coming to an understanding with you," cried the Duke. "Oh, my worthy
deliverer, you must be armed to the teeth."
"E verissimo" (most true).
"Do you happen to have—"
"Yes, files, pincers—Corpo di Bacco! I came to borrow the treas- ures of the Bracciani on a long loan."
"You will earn a handsome share of them very legitimately, my good Rinaldo, and we may possibly go man hunting together—"
"You surprise me, Eccellenza!"
"Listen to me, Rinaldo. I will say nothing of the craving for vengeance that gnaws at my heart. I have been here for thirty months —you too are Italian—you will un- OR ROMAN REVENGE 223
derstand me! Alas, my friend, my fatigue and my horrible incarcera- tion are nothing in comparison with the rage that devours my soul. The Duchess of Bracciano is still one of the most beautiful women in Rome. I loved her well enough to be jealous—"
"You, her husband!"
"Yes, I was wrong, no doubt."
"It is not the correct thing, to be sure," said Rinaldo.
"My jealousy was roused by the Duchess' conduct," the Duke went on. "The event proved me right. A young Frenchman fell in love with Olympia, and she loved him. I had proofs of their reciprocal affection
"Pray excuse me, ladies," said Lousteau, "but I find it impossible to go on without remarking to you how direct this Empire literature is, going to the point without any details, a characteristic, as it seems to me, of a primitive time. The literature of that period holds a place between the summaries of chapters in Telemaque and the categorical reports of a public office. It had ideas, but refrained from expressing them, it was so scornful! It was observant, but would not communicate its observations to any one, it was so miserly! Nobody but Fouche ever mentioned what he had observed. 'At that time,' to quote the words of one of the most imbecile critics in the Revue des Deux Mondes, 'literature was content with a clear sketch and the simple outline of all antique statues. It did not dance over its periods.'—I should think not! It had no periods to dance over. It had no words to play with. You were plainly told that Lubin loved Toinette; that Toinette did not love Lubin; that Lubin killed Toinette and the police caught Lubin, who was put in prison, tried at the assizes, and guillotined.—A strong sketch, a clear outline! What a noble drama! Well, in these days the barbarians make words sparkle."
"Like a hair in a frost," said Monsieur de Clagny.
"So those are the airs you affect?"[*] retorted Lousteau.
[*] The rendering given above is only intended to link the various speeches into coherence; it has no resemblance with the French. In the original, "Font chatoyer les mots."
"Et quelquefois les morts," dit Monsieur de Clagny.
"Ah! Lousteau! vous vous donnez de ces R-la (airs-la)."
Literally: "And sometimes the dead."—"Ah, are those the airs you assume?"—the play on the insertion of the letter R (mots, morts) has no meaning in English.
"What can he mean?" asked Madame de Clagny, puzzled by this vile pun.
"I seem to be walking in the dark," replied the Mayoress.
"The jest would be lost in an explanation," remarked Gatien.
"Nowadays," Lousteau went on, "a novelist draws characters, and instead of a 'simple outline,' he unveils the human heart and gives you some interest either in Lubin or in Toinette."
"For my part, I am alarmed at the progress of public knowledge in the matter of literature," said Bianchon. "Like the Russians, beaten by Charles XII., who at least learned the art of war, the reader has learned the art of writing. Formerly all that was expected of a romance was that it should be interesting. As to style, no one cared for that, not even the author; as to ideas—zero; as to local color—non est. By degrees the reader has demanded style, interest, pathos, and complete information; he insists on the five literary senses—Invention, Style, Thought, Learning, and Feeling. Then some criticism commenting on everything. The critic, incapable of inventing anything but calumny, pronounces every work that proceeds from a not perfect brain to be deformed. Some magicians, as Walter Scott, for instance, having appeared in the world, who combined all the five literary senses, such writers as had but one—wit or learning, style or feeling—these cripples, these acephalous, maimed or purblind creatures—in a literary sense—have taken to shrieking that all is lost, and have preached a crusade against men who were spoiling the business, or have denounced their works."
"The history of your last literary quarrel!" Dinah observed.
"For pity's sake, come back to the Duke of Bracciano," cried Monsieur de Clagny.
To the despair of all the company, Lousteau went on with the made-up sheet.
I then wished to make sure of my misfortune that I might be avenged under the protection of Providence and the Law. The Duchess guessed my intentions. We were at war in our purposes before we fought with poison in our hands. We tried to tempt each other to such confidence as we could not feel, I to induce her to drink a potion, she to get posses- sion of me. She was a woman, and she won the day; for women have a snare more than we men. I fell into it—I was happy; but I awoke next day in this iron cage. All through the day I bellowed with rage in the
OR ROMAN REVENGE 225
darkness of this cellar, over which is the Duchess' bedroom. At night an ingenious counterpoise acting as a lift raised me through the floor, and I saw the Duchess in her lover's arms. She threw me a piece of bread, my daily pittance.
"Thus have I lived for thirty months! From this marble prison my cries can reach no ear. There is no chance for me. I will hope no more. Indeed, the Duchess' room is at the furthest end of the palace, and when I am carried up there none can hear my voice. Each time I see my wife she shows me the
poison I had prepared for her and her lover. I crave it for myself, but she will not let me die; she gives me bread, and I eat it.
"I have done well to eat and live; I had not reckoned on robbers!"
"Yes, Eccellenza, when those fools the honest men are asleep, we are wide awake."
"Oh, Rinaldo, all I possess shall be yours; we will share my treasure like brothers; I would give you everything—even to my Duchy——"
"Eccellenza, procure from the Pope an absolution in articulo mor- tis. It would be of more use to me in my walk of life."
OR ROMAN REVENGE 227
"What you will. Only file through the bars of my cage and lend me your dagger. We have but little time, quick, quick! Oh, if my teeth were but files!—I have tried to eat through this iron."
"Eccellenza," said Rinaldo, "I have already filed through one bar."
"You are a god!"
"Your wife was at the fete given by the Princess Villaviciosa. She brought home her little Frenchman; she is drunk with love.—You have plenty of time."