"Have you done?"
"Your dagger?" said the Duke eagerly to the brigand.
"Here it is."
"Good. I hear the clatter of the spring."
"Do not forget me!" cried the robber, who knew what gratitude was.
"No more than my father," cried the Duke.
"Good-bye!" said Rinaldo. "Lord! How he flies up!" he added to him- self as the Duke disappeared.—"No more than his father! If that is all he means to do for me.—And I
OR ROMAN REVENGE 229
had sworn a vow never to injure a woman!"
But let us leave the robber for a moment to his meditations and go up, like the Duke, to the rooms in the palace.
"Another tailpiece, a Cupid on a snail! And page 230 is blank," said the journalist. "Then there are two more blank pages before we come to the word it is such a joy to write when one is unhappily so happy as to be a novelist—Conclusion!
Never had the Duchess been more lovely; she came from her bath clothed like a goddess, and on seeing
Adolphe voluptuously reclining on piles of cushions—
"You are beautiful," said she.
"And so are you, Olympia!"
"And you still love me?"
"More and more," said he.
"Ah, none but a Frenchman knows how to love!" cried the Duchess. "Do you love me well to- night?"
And with an impulse of love and hate—whether it was that Cardinal Borborigano had reminded her of her husband, or that she felt un- wonted passion to display, she pressed the springs and held out her arms.
"That is all," said Lousteau, "for the foreman has torn off the rest in wrapping up my proofs. But it is enough to show that the author was full of promise."
"I cannot make head or tail of it," said Gatien Boirouge, who was the first to break the silence of the party from Sancerre.
"Nor I," replied Monsieur Gravier.
"And yet it is a novel of the time of the Empire," said Lousteau.
"By the way in which the brigand is made to speak," said Monsieur Gravier, "it is evident that the author knew nothing of Italy. Banditti do not allow themselves such graceful conceits."
Madame Gorju came up to Bianchon, seeing him pensive, and with a glance towards her daughter Mademoiselle Euphemie Gorju, the owner of a fairly good fortune—"What a rhodomontade!" said she. "The prescriptions you write are worth more than all that rubbish."
The Mayoress had elaborately worked up this speech, which, in her opinion, showed strong judgment.
"Well, madame, we must be lenient, we have but twenty pages out of a thousand," said Bianchon, looking at Mademoiselle Gorju, whose figure threatened terrible things after the birth of her first child.
"Well, Monsieur de Clagny," said Lousteau, "we were talking yesterday of the forms of revenge invented by husbands. What do you say to those invented by wives?"
"I say," replied the Public Prosecutor, "that the romance is not by a Councillor of State, but by a woman. For extravagant inventions the imagination of women far outdoes that of men; witness Frankenstein by Mrs. Shelley, Leone Leoni by George Sand, the works of Anne Radcliffe, and the Nouveau Promethee (New Prometheus) of Camille de Maupin."
Dinah looked steadily at Monsieur de Clagny, making him feel, by an expression that gave him a chill, that in spite of the illustrious examples he had quoted, she regarded this as a reflection on Paquita la Sevillane.
"Pooh!" said little Baudraye, "the Duke of Bracciano, whom his wife puts into a cage, and to whom she shows herself every night in the arms of her lover, will kill her—and do you call that revenge?—Our laws and our society are far more cruel."
"Why, little La Baudraye is talking!" said Monsieur Boirouge to his wife.
"Why, the woman is left to live on a small allowance, the world turns its back on her, she has no more finery, and no respect paid her—the two things which, in my opinion, are the sum-total of woman," said the little old man.
"But she has happiness!" said Madame de la Baudraye sententiously.
"No," said the master of the house, lighting his candle to go to bed, "for she has a lover."
"For a man who thinks of nothing but his vine-stocks and poles, he has some spunk," said Lousteau.
"Well, he must have something!" replied Bianchon.
Madame de la Baudraye, the only person who could hear Bianchon's remark, laughed so knowingly, and at the same time so bitterly, that the physician could guess the mystery of this woman's life; her premature wrinkles had been puzzling him all day.
But Dinah did not guess, on her part, the ominous prophecy contained for her in her husband's little speech, which her kind old Abbe Duret, if he had been alive, would not have failed to elucidate. Little La Baudraye had detected in Dinah's eyes, when she glanced at the journalist returning the ball of his jests, that swift and luminous flash of tenderness which gilds the gleam of a woman's eye when prudence is cast to the winds, and she is fairly carried away. Dinah paid no more heed to her husband's hint to her to observe the proprieties than Lousteau had done to Dinah's significant warnings on the day of his arrival.
Any other man than Bianchon would have been surprised at Lousteau's immediate success; but he was so much the doctor, that he was not even nettled at Dinah's marked preference for the newspaper-rather than the prescription-writer! In fact, Dinah, herself famous, was naturally more alive to wit than to fame. Love generally prefers contrast to similitude. Everything was against the physician—his frankness, his simplicity, and his profession. And this is why: Women who want to love—and Dinah wanted to love as much as to be loved—have an instinctive aversion for men who are devoted to an absorbing occupation; in spite of superiority, they are all women in the matter of encroachment. Lousteau, a poet and journalist, and a libertine with a veneer of misanthropy, had that tinsel of the intellect, and led the half-idle life that attracts women. The blunt good sense and keen insight of the really great man weighed upon Dinah, who would not confess her own smallness even to herself. She said in her mind—"The doctor is perhaps the better man, but I do not like him."
Then, again, she reflected on his professional duties, wondering whether a woman could ever be anything but a subject to a medical man, who saw so many subjects in the course of a day's work. The first sentence of the aphorism written by Bianchon in her album was a medical observation striking so directly at woman, that Dinah could not fail to be hit by it. And then Bianchon was leaving on the morrow; his practice required his return. What woman, short of having Cupid's mythological dart in her heart, could decide in so short a time?
These little things, which lead to such great catastrophes—having been seen in a mass by Bianchon, he pronounced the verdict he had come to as to Madame de la Baudraye in a few words to Lousteau, to the journalist's great amazement.
While the two friends stood talking together, a storm was gathering in the Sancerre circle, who could not in the least understand Lousteau's paraphrases and commentaries, and who vented it on their hostess. Far from finding in his talk the romance which the Public Prosecutor, the Sous-prefet, the Presiding Judge, and his deputy, Lebas, had discovered there—to say nothing of Monsieur de la Baudraye and Dinah—the ladies now gathered round the tea-table, took the matter as a practical joke, and accused the Muse of Sancerre of having a finger in it. They had all looked forward to a delightful evening, and had all strained in vain every faculty of their mind. Nothing makes provincial folks so angry as the notion of having been a laughing-stock for Paris folks.
Madame Piedefer left the table to say to her daughter, "Do go and talk to the ladies; they are quite annoyed by your behavior."
Lousteau could not fail to see Dinah's great superiority over the best women of Sancerre; she was better dressed, her movements were graceful, her complexion was exquisitely white by candlelight—in short, she stood out against this background of old faces, shy and ill-dressed girls, like a queen in the midst of her court. Visions of Paris faded from his brain; Lousteau was accepting the provincial surroundings; and while he had too much imagination to remain unimpressed by the royal splendor of this chateau, the beautiful carvings, and the antique beauty of the rooms, he had also too much experience to overlook the value of the personality which completed this gem of the Renaissance. So by the time the visitors from Sancerre had taken their leave one by one—for they had an hour's drive before them—when no one remained in the drawing-room but Monsieur de Clagny, Monsieur Lebas, Gatien, and Monsieur Gravier, who were all to sleep at Anzy—the journalist had already changed his mind about Dinah. His opinion had gone through the evolution that Madame de la Baudraye had so audaciously prophesied at their first meeting.
"Ah, what things they will say about us on the drive home!" cried the mistress of the house, as she returned to the drawing-room after seeing the President and the Presidente to their carriage with Madame and Mademoiselle Popinot-Chandier.
The rest of the evening had its pleasant side. In the intimacy of a small party each one brought to the conversation his contribution of epigrams on the figure the visitors from Sancerre had cut during Lousteau's comments on the paper wrapped round the proofs.
"My dear fellow," said Bianchon to Lousteau as they went to bed—they had an enormous room with two beds in it—"you will be the happy man of this woman's choice—nee Piedefer!"
"Do you think so?"
"It is quite natural. You are supposed here to have had many mistresses in Paris; and to a woman there is something indescribably inviting in a man whom other women favor—something attractive and fascinating; is it that she prides herself on being longer remembered than all the rest? that she appeals to his experience, as a sick man will pay more to a famous physician? or that she is flattered by the revival of a world-worn heart?"
"Vanity and the senses count for so much in love affairs," said Lousteau, "that there may be some truth in all those hypotheses. However, if I remain, it will be in consequence of the certificate of innocence, without ignorance, that you have given Dinah. She is handsome, is she not?"
"Love will make her beautiful," said the doctor. "And, after all, she will be a rich widow some day or other! And a child would secure her the life-interest in the Master of La Baudraye's fortune—"
"Why, it is quite an act of virtue to make love to her," said Lousteau, rolling himself up in the bed-clothes, "and to-morrow, with your help—yes, to-morrow, I—well, good-night."
On the following day, Madame de la Baudraye, to whom her husband had six months since given a pair of horses, which he also used in the fields, and an old carriage that rattled on the road, decided that she would take Bianchon so far on his way as Cosne, where he would get into the Lyons diligence as it passed through. She also took her mother and Lousteau, but she intended to drop her mother at La Baudraye, to go on to Cosne with the two Parisians, and return alone with Etienne. She was elegantly dressed, as the journalist at once perceived—bronze kid boots, gray silk stockings, a muslin dress, a green silk scarf with shaded fringe at the ends, and a pretty black lace bonnet with flowers in it. As to Lousteau, the wretch had assumed his war-paint—patent leather boots, trousers of English kerseymere with pleats in front, a very open waistcoat showing a particularly fine shirt and the black brocade waterfall of his handsome cravat, and a very thin, very short black riding-coat.
Monsieur de Clagny and Monsieur Gravier looked at each other, feeling rather silly as they beheld the two Parisians in the carriage, while they, like two simpletons, were left standing at the foot of the steps. Monsieur de la Baudraye, who stood at the top waving his little hand in a little farewell to the doctor, could not forbear from smiling as he heard Monsieur de Clagny say to Monsieur Gravier:
"You should have escorted them on horseback."
At this juncture, Gatien, riding Monsieur de la Baudraye's quiet little mare, came out of the side road from the stables and joined the party in the chaise.
"Ah, good," said the Receiver-General, "the boy has mounted guard."
"What a bore!" cried Dinah as she saw Gatien. "In thirteen years—for I have been married nearly thirteen years—I have never had three hours' liberty.
"Married, madame?" said the journalist with a smile. "You remind me of a saying of Michaud's—he was so witty! He was setting out for the Holy Land, and his friends were remonstrating with him, urging his age, and the perils of such an expedition. 'And then,' said one, 'you are married.'—'Married!' said he, 'so little married.'"
Even the rigid Madame Piedefer could not repress a smile.
"I should not be surprised to see Monsieur de Clagny mounted on my pony to complete the escort," said Dinah.
"Well, if the Public Prosecutor does not pursue us, you can get rid of this little fellow at Sancerre. Bianchon must, of course, have left something behind on his table—the notes for the first lecture of his course—and you can ask Gatien to go back to Anzy to fetch it."
This simple little plot put Madame de la Baudraye into high spirits. From the road between Anzy to Sancerre, a glorious landscape frequently comes into view, of the noble stretches of the Loire, looking like a lake, and it was got over very pleasantly, for Dinah was happy in finding herself well understood. Love was discussed in theory, a subject allowing lovers in petto to take the measure, as it were, of each other's heart. The journalist took a tone of refined corruption to prove that love obeys no law, that the character of the lovers gives infinite variety to its incidents, that the circumstances of social life add to the multiplicity of its manifestations, that in love all is possible and true, and that any given woman, after resisting every temptation and the seductions of the most passionate lover, may be carried off her feet in the course of a few hours by a fancy, an internal whirlwind of which God alone would ever know the secret!
"Why," said he, "is not that the key to all the adventures we have talked over these three days past?"
For these three days, indeed, Dinah's lively imagination had been full of the most insidious romances, and the conversation of the two Parisians had affected the woman as the most mischievous reading might have done. Lousteau watched the effects of this clever manoeuvre, to seize the moment when his prey, whose readiness to be caught was hidden under the abstraction caused by irresolution, should be quite dizzy.
Dinah wished to show La Baudraye to her two visitors, and the farce was duly played out of remembering the papers left by Bianchon in his room at Anzy. Gatien flew off at a gallop to obey his sovereign; Madame Piedefer went to do some shopping in Sancerre; and Dinah went on to Cosne alone with the two friends. Lousteau took his seat by the lady, Bianchon riding backwards. The two friends talked affectionately and with deep compassion for the fate of this choice nature so ill understood and in the midst of such vulgar surroundings. Bianchon served Lousteau well by making fun of the Public Prosecutor, of Monsieur Gravier, and of Gatien; there was a tone of such genuine contempt in his remarks, that Madame de la Baudraye dared not take the part of her adorers.
"I perfectly understand the position you have maintained," said the doctor as they crossed the Loire. "You were inaccessible excepting to that brain-love which often leads to heart-love; and not one of those men, it is very certain, is capable of disguising what, at an early stage of life, is disgusting to the senses in the eyes of a refined woman. To you, now, love is indispensable."
"Indispensable!" cried Dinah, looking curiously at the doctor. "Do you mean that you prescribe love to me?"
"If you go on living as you live now, in three years you will be hideous," replied Bianchon in a dictatorial tone.
"Monsieur!" said Madame de la Baudraye, almost frightened.
"Forgive my friend," said Lousteau, half jestingly. "He is always the medical man, and to him love is merely a question of hygiene. But he is quite disinterested—it is for your sake only that he speaks—as is evident, since he is starting in an hour—"
At Cosne a little crowd gathered round the old repainted chaise, with the arms on the panels granted by Louis XIV. to the new La Baudraye. Gules, a pair of scales or; on a chief azure (color on color) three cross-crosslets argent. For supporters two greyhounds argent, collared azure, chained or. The ironical motto, Deo sic patet fides et hominibus, had been inflicted on the converted Calvinist by Hozier the satirical.
"Let us get out; they will come and find us," said the Baroness, desiring her coachman to keep watch.
Dinah took Bianchon's arm, and the doctor set off by the banks of the Loire at so rapid a pace that the journalist had to linger behind. The physician had explained by a single wink that he meant to do Lousteau a good turn.
"You have been attracted by Etienne," said Bianchon to Dinah; "he has appealed strongly to your imagination; last night we were talking about you.—He loves you. But he is frivolous, and difficult to hold; his poverty compels him to live in Paris, while everything condemns you to live at Sancerre.—Take a lofty view of life. Make Lousteau your friend; do not ask too much of him; he will come three times a year to spend a few days with you, and you will owe to him your beauty, happiness, and fortune. Monsieur de la Baudraye may live to be a hundred; but he might die in a few days if he should leave off the flannel winding-sheet in which he swathes himself. So run no risks, be prudent both of you.—Say not a work—I have read your heart."
Madame de la Baudraye was defenceless under this serried attack, and in the presence of a man who spoke at once as a doctor, a confessor, and confidential friend.
"Indeed!" said she. "Can you suppose that any woman would care to compete with a journalist's mistresses?—Monsieur Lousteau strikes me as agreeable and witty; but he is blase, etc., etc.——"
Dinah had turned back, and was obliged to check the flow of words by which she tried to disguise her intentions; for Etienne, who seemed to be studying progress in Cosne, was coming to meet them.
"Believe me," said Bianchon, "what he wants is to be truly loved; and if he alters his course of life, it will be to the benefit of his talent."
Dinah's coachman hurried up breathlessly to say that the diligence had come in, and they walked on quickly, Madame de la Baudraye between the two men.
"Good-bye, my children!" said Bianchon, before they got into the town, "you have my blessing!"
He released Madame de la Baudraye's hand from his arm, and allowed Lousteau to draw it into his, with a tender look, as he pressed it to his heart. What a difference to Dinah! Etienne's arm thrilled her deeply. Bianchon's had not stirred her in the least. She and the journalist exchanged one of those glowing looks that are more than an avowal.
"Only provincial women wear muslin gowns in these days," thought Lousteau to himself, "the only stuff which shows every crease. This woman, who has chosen me for her lover, will make a fuss over her frock! If she had but put on a foulard skirt, I should be happy.—What is the meaning of these difficulties——"
While Lousteau was wondering whether Dinah had put on a muslin gown on purpose to protect herself by an insuperable obstacle, Bianchon, with the help of the coachman, was seeing his luggage piled on the diligence. Finally, he came to take leave of Dinah, who was excessively friendly with him.
"Go home, Madame la Baronne, leave me here—Gatien will be coming," he added in an undertone. "It is getting late," said he aloud. "Good-bye!"
"Good-bye—great man!" cried Lousteau, shaking hands with Bianchon.
When the journalist and Madame de la Baudraye, side by side in the rickety old chaise, had recrossed the Loire, they both were unready to speak. In these circumstances, the first words that break the silence are full of terrible meaning.
"Do you know how much I love you?" said the journalist point blank.
Victory might gratify Lousteau, but defeat could cause him no grief. This indifference was the secret of his audacity. He took Madame de la Baudraye's hand as he spoke these decisive words, and pressed it in both his; but Dinah gently released it.
"Yes, I am as good as an actress or a grisette," she said in a voice that trembled, though she spoke lightly. "But can you suppose that a woman who, in spite of her absurdities, has some intelligence, will have reserved the best treasures of her heart for a man who will regard her merely as a transient pleasure?—I am not surprised to hear from your lips the words which so many men have said to me—but——"
The coachman turned round.
"Here comes Monsieur Gatien," said he.
"I love you, I will have you, you shall be mine, for I have never felt for any woman the passion I have for you!" said Lousteau in her ear.
"In spite of my will, perhaps?" said she, with a smile.
"At least you must seem to have been assaulted to save my honor," said the Parisian, to whom the fatal immaculateness of clean muslin suggested a ridiculous notion.
Before Gatien had reached the end of the bridge, the outrageous journalist had crumpled up Madame de la Baudraye's muslin dress to such an effect that she was absolutely not presentable.
"Oh, monsieur!" she exclaimed in dignified reproof.
"You defied me," said the Parisian.
But Gatien now rode up with the vehemence of a duped lover. To regain a little of Madame de la Baudraye's esteem, Lousteau did his best to hide the tumbled dress from Gatien's eyes by leaning out of the chaise to speak to him from Dinah's side.
"Go back to our inn," said he, "there is still time; the diligence does not start for half an hour. The papers are on the table of the room Bianchon was in; he wants them particularly, for he will be lost without his notes for the lecture."
"Pray go, Gatien," said Dinah to her young adorer, with an imperious glance. And the boy thus commanded turned his horse and was off with a loose rein.
"Go quickly to La Baudraye," cried Lousteau to the coachman. "Madame is not well—Your mother only will know the secret of my trick," added he, taking his seat by Dinah.
"You call such infamous conduct a trick?" cried Madame de la Baudraye, swallowing down a few tears that dried up with the fire of outraged pride.
She leaned back in the corner of the chaise, crossed her arms, and gazed out at the Loire and the landscape, at anything rather than at Lousteau. The journalist put on his most ingratiating tone, and talked till they reached La Baudraye, where Dinah fled indoors, trying not to be seen by any one. In her agitation she threw herself on a sofa and burst into tears.
"If I am an object of horror to you, of aversion or scorn, I will go," said Lousteau, who had followed her. And he threw himself at her feet.
It was at this crisis that Madame Piedefer came in, saying to her daughter:
"What is the matter? What has happened?"
"Give your daughter another dress at once," said the audacious Parisian in the prim old lady's ear.
Hearing the mad gallop of Gatien's horse, Madame de la Baudraye fled to her bedroom, followed by her mother.
"There are no papers at the inn," said Gatien to Lousteau, who went out to meet him.
"And you found none at the Chateau d'Anzy either?" replied Lousteau.
"You have been making a fool of me," said Gatien, in a cold, set voice.
"Quite so," replied Lousteau. "Madame de la Baudraye was greatly annoyed by your choosing to follow her without being invited. Believe me, to bore a woman is a bad way of courting her. Dinah has played you a trick, and you have given her a laugh; it is more than any of you has done in these thirteen years past. You owe that success to Bianchon, for your cousin was the author of the Farce of the 'Manuscript.'—Will the horse get over it?" asked Lousteau with a laugh, while Gatien was wondering whether to be angry or not.
"The horse!" said Gatien.
At this moment Madame de la Baudraye came in, dressed in a velvet gown, and accompanied by her mother, who shot angry flashes at Lousteau. It would have been too rash for Dinah to seem cold or severe to Lousteau in Gatien's presence; and Etienne, taking advantage of this, offered his arm to the supposed Lucretia; however, she declined it.
"Do you mean to cast off a man who has vowed to live for you?" said he, walking close beside her. "I shall stop at Sancerre and go home to-morrow."
"Are you coming, mamma?" said Madame de la Baudraye to Madame Piedefer, thus avoiding a reply to the direct challenge by which Lousteau was forcing her to a decision.
Lousteau handed the mother into the chaise, he helped Madame de la Baudraye by gently taking her arm, and he and Gatien took the front seat, leaving the saddle horse at La Baudraye.
"You have changed your gown," said Gatien, blunderingly, to Dinah.
"Madame la Baronne was chilled by the cool air off the river," replied Lousteau. "Bianchon advised her to put on a warm dress."
Dinah turned as red as a poppy, and Madame Piedefer assumed a stern expression.
"Poor Bianchon! he is on the road to Paris. A noble soul!" said Lousteau.
"Oh, yes!" cried Madame de la Baudraye, "he is high-minded, full of delicate feeling——"
"We were in such good spirits when we set out," said Lousteau; "now you are overdone, and you speak to me so bitterly—why? Are you not accustomed to being told how handsome and how clever you are? For my part, I say boldly, before Gatien, I give up Paris; I mean to stay at Sancerre and swell the number of your cavalieri serventi. I feel so young again in my native district; I have quite forgotten Paris and all its wickedness, and its bores, and its wearisome pleasures.—Yes, my life seems in a way purified."
Dinah allowed Lousteau to talk without even looking at him; but at last there was a moment when this serpent's rhodomontade was really so inspired by the effort he made to affect passion in phrases and ideas of which the meaning, though hidden from Gatien, found a loud response in Dinah's heart, that she raised her eyes to his. This look seemed to crown Lousteau's joy; his wit flowed more freely, and at last he made Madame de la Baudraye laugh. When, under circumstances which so seriously compromise her pride, a woman has been made to laugh, she is finally committed.
As they drove in by the spacious graveled forecourt, with its lawn in the middle, and the large vases filled with flowers which so well set off the facade of Anzy, the journalist was saying:
"When women love, they forgive everything, even our crimes; when they do not love, they cannot forgive anything—not even our virtues.—Do you forgive me," he added in Madame de la Baudraye's ear, and pressing her arm to his heart with tender emphasis. And Dinah could not help smiling.
All through dinner, and for the rest of the evening, Etienne was in the most delightful spirits, inexhaustibly cheerful; but while thus giving vent to his intoxication, he now and then fell into the dreamy abstraction of a man who seems rapt in his own happiness.
After coffee had been served, Madame de la Baudraye and her mother left the men to wander about the gardens. Monsieur Gravier then remarked to Monsieur de Clagny:
"Did you observe that Madame de la Baudraye, after going out in a muslin gown came home in a velvet?"
"As she got into the carriage at Cosne, the muslin dress caught on a brass nail and was torn all the way down," replied Lousteau.
"Oh!" exclaimed Gatien, stricken to the heart by hearing two such different explanations.
The journalist, who understood, took Gatien by the arm and pressed it as a hint to him to be silent. A few minutes later Etienne left Dinah's three adorers and took possession of little La Baudraye. Then Gatien was cross-questioned as to the events of the day. Monsieur Gravier and Monsieur de Clagny were dismayed to hear that on the return from Cosne Lousteau had been alone with Dinah, and even more so on hearing the two versions explaining the lady's change of dress. And the three discomfited gentlemen were in a very awkward position for the rest of the evening.
Next day each, on various business, was obliged to leave Anzy; Dinah remained with her mother, Lousteau, and her husband. The annoyance vented by the three victims gave rise to an organized rebellion in Sancerre. The surrender of the Muse of Le Berry, of the Nivernais, and of Morvan was the cause of a perfect hue and cry of slander, evil report, and various guesses in which the story of the muslin gown held a prominent place. No dress Dinah had ever worn had been so much commented on, or was half as interesting to the girls, who could not conceive what the connection might be, that made the married women laugh, between love and a muslin gown.
The Presidente Boirouge, furious at her son's discomfiture, forgot the praise she had lavished on the poem of Paquita, and fulminated terrific condemnation on the woman who could publish such a disgraceful work.
"The wretched woman commits every crime she writes about," said she. "Perhaps she will come to the same end as her heroine!"
Dinah's fate among the good folks of Sancerre was like that of Marechal Soult in the opposition newspapers; as long as he is minister he lost the battle of Toulouse; whenever he is out of the Government he won it! While she was virtuous, Dinah was a match for Camille de Maupin, a rival of the most famous women; but as soon as she was happy, she was an unhappy creature.
Monsieur de Clagny was her valiant champion; he went several times to the Chateau d'Anzy to acquire the right to contradict the rumors current as to the woman he still faithfully adored, even in her fall; and he maintained that she and Lousteau were engaged together on some great work. But the lawyer was laughed to scorn.
The month of October was lovely; autumn is the finest season in the valley of the Loire; but in 1836 it was unusually glorious. Nature seemed to aid and abet Dinah, who, as Bianchon had predicted, gradually developed a heart-felt passion. In one month she was an altered woman. She was surprised to find in herself so many inert and dormant qualities, hitherto in abeyance. To her Lousteau seemed an angel; for heart-love, the crowning need of a great nature, had made a new woman of her. Dinah was alive! She had found an outlet for her powers, she saw undreamed-of vistas in the future—in short, she was happy, happy without alarms or hindrances. The vast castle, the gardens, the park, the forest, favored love.
Lousteau found in Madame de la Baudraye an artlessness, nay, if you will, an innocence of mind which made her very original; there was much more of the unexpected and winning in her than in a girl. Lousteau was quite alive to a form of flattery which in most women is assumed, but which in Dinah was genuine; she really learned from him the ways of love; he really was the first to reign in her heart. And, indeed, he took the trouble to be exceedingly amiable.
Men, like women, have a stock in hand of recitatives, of cantabile, of nocturnes, airs and refrains—shall we say of recipes, although we speak of love—which each one believes to be exclusively his own. Men who have reached Lousteau's age try to distribute the "movements" of this repertoire through the whole opera of a passion. Lousteau, regarding this adventure with Dinah as a mere temporary connection, was eager to stamp himself on her memory in indelible lines; and during that beautiful October he was prodigal of his most entrancing melodies and most elaborate barcarolles. In fact, he exhausted every resource of the stage management of love, to use an expression borrowed from the theatrical dictionary, and admirably descriptive of his manoeuvres.
"If that woman ever forgets me!" he would sometimes say to himself as they returned together from a long walk in the woods, "I will owe her no grudge—she will have found something better."
When two beings have sung together all the duets of that enchanting score, and still love each other, it may be said that they love truly.
Lousteau, however, had not time to repeat himself, for he was to leave Anzy in the early days of November. His paper required his presence in Paris. Before breakfast, on the day before he was to leave, the journalist and Dinah saw the master of the house come in with an artist from Nevers, who restored carvings of all kinds.
"What are you going to do?" asked Lousteau. "What is to be done to the chateau?"
"This is what I am going to do," said the little man, leading Lousteau, the local artist, and Dinah out on the terrace.
He pointed out, on the front of the building, a shield supported by two sirens, not unlike that which may be seen on the arcade, now closed, through which there used to be a passage from the Quai des Tuileries to the courtyard of the old Louvre, and over which the words may still be seen, "Bibliotheque du Cabinet du Roi." This shield bore the arms of the noble House of Uxelles, namely, Or and gules party per fess, with two lions or, dexter and sinister as supporters. Above, a knight's helm, mantled of the tincture of the shield, and surmounted by a ducal coronet. Motto, Cy paroist! A proud and sonorous device.
"I want to put my own coat of arms in the place of that of the Uxelles; and as they are repeated six times on the two fronts and the two wings, it is not a trifling affair."
"Your arms, so new, and since 1830!" exclaimed Dinah.
"Have I not created an entail?"
"I could understand it if you had children," said the journalist.
"Oh!" said the old man, "Madame de la Baudraye is still young; there is no time lost."
This allusion made Lousteau smile; he did not understand Monsieur de la Baudraye.
"There, Didine!" said he in Dinah's ear, "what a waste of remorse!"
Dinah begged him to give her one day more, and the lovers parted after the manner of certain theatres, which give ten last performances of a piece that is paying. And how many promises they made! How many solemn pledges did not Dinah exact and the unblushing journalist give her!
Dinah, with superiority of the Superior Woman, accompanied Lousteau, in the face of all the world, as far as Cosne, with her mother and little La Baudraye. When, ten days later, Madame de la Baudraye saw in her drawing-room at La Baudraye, Monsieur de Clagny, Gatien, and Gravier, she found an opportunity of saying to each in turn:
"I owe it to Monsieur Lousteau that I discovered that I had not been loved for my own sake."
And what noble speeches she uttered, on man, on the nature of his feelings, on the end of his base passions, and so forth. Of Dinah's three worshipers, Monsieur de Clagny only said to her: "I love you, come what may"—and Dinah accepted him as her confidant, lavished on him all the marks of friendship which women can devise for the Gurths who are ready thus to wear the collar of gilded slavery.
In Paris once more, Lousteau had, in a few weeks, lost the impression of the happy time he had spent at the Chateau d'Anzy. This is why: Lousteau lived by his pen.
In this century, especially since the triumph of the bourgeoisie—the commonplace, money-saving citizen—who takes good care not to imitate Francis I. or Louis XIV.—to live by the pen is a form of penal servitude to which a galley-slave would prefer death. To live by the pen means to create—to create to-day, and to-morrow, and incessantly—or to seem to create; and the imitation costs as dear as the reality. So, besides his daily contribution to a newspaper, which was like the stone of Sisyphus, and which came every Monday, crashing down on to the feather of his pen, Etienne worked for three or four literary magazines. Still, do not be alarmed; he put no artistic conscientiousness into his work. This man of Sancerre had a facility, a carelessness, if you call it so, which ranked him with those writers who are mere scriveners, literary hacks. In Paris, in our day, hack-work cuts a man off from every pretension to a literary position. When he can do no more, or no longer cares for advancement, the man who can write becomes a journalist and a hack.
The life he leads is not unpleasing. Blue-stockings, beginners in every walk of life, actresses at the outset or the close of a career, publishers and authors, all make much of these writers of the ready pen. Lousteau, a thorough man about town, lived at scarcely any expense beyond paying his rent. He had boxes at all the theatres; the sale of the books he reviewed or left unreviewed paid for his gloves; and he would say to those authors who published at their own expense, "I have your book always in my hands!" He took toll from vanity in the form of drawings or pictures. Every day had its engagements to dinner, every night its theatre, every morning was filled up with callers, visits, and lounging. His serial in the paper, two novels a year for weekly magazines, and his miscellaneous articles were the tax he paid for this easy-going life. And yet, to reach this position, Etienne had struggled for ten years.
At the present time, known to the literary world, liked for the good or the mischief he did with equally facile good humor, he let himself float with the stream, never caring for the future. He ruled a little set of newcomers, he had friendships—or rather, habits of fifteen years' standing, and men with whom he supped, and dined, and indulged his wit. He earned from seven to eight hundred francs a month, a sum which he found quite insufficient for the prodigality peculiar to the impecunious. Indeed, Lousteau found himself now just as hard up as when, on first appearing in Paris, he had said to himself, "If I had but five hundred francs a month, I should be rich!"
The cause of this phenomenon was as follows: Lousteau lived in the Rue des Martyrs in pretty ground-floor rooms with a garden, and splendidly furnished. When he settled there in 1833 he had come to an agreement with an upholsterer that kept his pocket money low for a long time. These rooms were let for twelve hundred francs. The months of January, April, July, and October were, as he phrased it, his indigent months. The rent and the porter's account cleaned him out. Lousteau took no fewer hackney cabs, spend a hundred francs in breakfasts all the same, smoked thirty francs' worth of cigars, and could never refuse the mistress of a day a dinner or a new dress. He thus dipped so deeply into the fluctuating earnings of the following months, that he could no more find a hundred francs on his chimney-piece now, when he was making seven or eight hundred francs a month, than he could in 1822, when he was hardly getting two hundred.
Tired, sometimes, by the incessant vicissitudes of a literary life, and as much bored by amusement as a courtesan, Lousteau would get out of the tideway and sit on the bank, and say to one and another of his intimate allies—Nathan or Bixiou, as they sat smoking in his scrap of garden, looking out on an evergreen lawn as big as a dinner-table:
"What will be the end of us? White hairs are giving us respectful hints!"
"Lord! we shall marry when we choose to give as much thought to the matter as we give to a drama or a novel," said Nathan.
"And Florine?" retorted Bixiou.
"Oh, we all have a Florine," said Etienne, flinging away the end of his cigar and thinking of Madame Schontz.
Madame Schontz was a pretty enough woman to put a very high price on the interest on her beauty, while reserving absolute ownership for Lousteau, the man of her heart. Like all those women who get the name in Paris of Lorettes, from the Church of Notre Dame de Lorette, round about which they dwell, she lived in the Rue Flechier, a stone's throw from Lousteau. This lady took a pride and delight in teasing her friends by boasting of having a Wit for her lover.
These details of Lousteau's life and fortune are indispensable, for this penury and this bohemian existence of a man to whom Parisian luxury had become a necessity, were fated to have a cruel influence on Dinah's life. Those to whom the bohemia of Paris is familiar will now understand how it was that, by the end of a fortnight, the journalist, up to his ears in the literary environment, could laugh about his Baroness with his friends and even with Madame Schontz. To such readers as regard such things as utterly mean, it is almost useless to make excuses which they will not accept.
"What did you do at Sancerre?" asked Bixiou the first time he met Lousteau.
"I did good service to three worthy provincials—a Receiver-General of Taxes, a little cousin of his, and a Public Prosecutor, who for ten years had been dancing round and round one of the hundred 'Tenth Muses' who adorn the Departments," said he. "But they had no more dared to touch her than we touch a decorated cream at dessert till some strong-minded person has made a hole in it."
"Poor boy!" said Bixiou. "I said you had gone to Sancerre to turn Pegasus out to grass."
"Your joke is as stupid as my Muse is handsome," retorted Lousteau. "Ask Bianchon, my dear fellow."
"A Muse and a Poet! A homoeopathic cure then!" said Bixiou.
On the tenth day Lousteau received a letter with the Sancerre post-mark.
"Good! very good!" said Lousteau.
"'Beloved friend, idol of my heart and soul——' twenty pages of it! all at one sitting, and dated midnight! She writes when she finds herself alone. Poor woman! Ah, ha! And a postscript—
"'I dare not ask you to write to me as I write, every day; still, I hope to have a few lines from my dear one every week, to relieve my mind.'—What a pity to burn it all! it is really well written," said Lousteau to himself, as he threw the ten sheets of paper into the fire after having read them. "That woman was born to reel off copy!"
Lousteau was not much afraid of Madame Schontz, who really loved him for himself, but he had supplanted a friend in the heart of a Marquise. This Marquise, a lady nowise coy, sometimes dropped in unexpectedly at his rooms in the evening, arriving veiled in a hackney coach; and she, as a literary woman, allowed herself to hunt through all his drawers.
A week later, Lousteau, who hardly remembered Dinah, was startled by another budget from Sancerre—eight leaves, sixteen pages! He heard a woman's step; he thought it announced a search from the Marquise, and tossed these rapturous and entrancing proofs of affections into the fire—unread!
"A woman's letter!" exclaimed Madame Schontz, as she came in. "The paper, the wax, are scented—"
"Here you are, sir," said a porter from the coach office, setting down two huge hampers in the ante-room. "Carriage paid. Please to sign my book."
"Carriage paid!" cried Madame Schontz. "It must have come from Sancerre."
"Yes, madame," said the porter.
"Your Tenth Muse is a remarkably intelligent woman," said the courtesan, opening one of the hampers, while Lousteau was writing his name. "I like a Muse who understands housekeeping, and who can make game pies as well as blots. And, oh! what beautiful flowers!" she went on, opening the second hamper. "Why, you could get none finer in Paris!—And here, and here! A hare, partridges, half a roebuck!—We will ask your friends and have a famous dinner, for Athalie has a special talent for dressing venison."
Lousteau wrote to Dinah; but instead of writing from the heart, he was clever. The letter was all the more insidious; it was like one of Mirabeau's letters to Sophie. The style of a true lover is transparent. It is a clear stream which allows the bottom of the heart to be seen between two banks, bright with the trifles of existence, and covered with the flowers of the soul that blossom afresh every day, full of intoxicating beauty—but only for two beings. As soon as a love letter has any charm for a third reader, it is beyond doubt the product of the head, not of the heart. But a woman will always be beguiled; she always believes herself to be the determining cause of this flow of wit.
By the end of December Lousteau had ceased to read Dinah's letters; they lay in a heap in a drawer of his chest that was never locked, under his shirts, which they scented.
Then one of those chances came to Lousteau which such bohemians ought to clutch by every hair. In the middle of December, Madame Schontz, who took a real interest in Etienne, sent to beg him to call on her one morning on business.
"My dear fellow, you have a chance of marrying."
"I can marry very often, happily, my dear."
"When I say marrying, I mean marrying well. You have no prejudices: I need not mince matters. This is the position: A young lady has got into trouble; her mother knows nothing of even a kiss. Her father is an honest notary, a man of honor; he has been wise enough to keep it dark. He wants to get his daughter married within a fortnight, and he will give her a fortune of a hundred and fifty thousand francs—for he has three other children; but—and it is not a bad idea—he will add a hundred thousand francs, under the rose, hand to hand, to cover the damages. They are an old family of Paris citizens, Rue des Lombards——"
"Well, then, why does not the lover marry her?"
"What a romance! Such things are nowhere to be heard of but in the Rue des Lombards."
"But do not take it into your head that a jealous brother murdered the seducer. The young man died in the most commonplace way of a pleurisy caught as he came out of the theatre. A head-clerk and penniless, the man entrapped the daughter in order to marry into the business—A judgment from heaven, I call it!"
"Where did you hear the story?"
"From Malaga; the notary is her milord."
"What, Cardot, the son of that little old man in hair-powder, Florentine's first friend?"
"Just so. Malaga, whose 'fancy' is a little tomtit of a fiddler of eighteen, cannot in conscience make such a boy marry the girl. Besides, she has no cause to do him an ill turn.—Indeed, Monsieur Cardot wants a man of thirty at least. Our notary, I feel sure, will be proud to have a famous man for his son-in-law. So just feel yourself all over.—You will pay your debts, you will have twelve thousand francs a year, and be a father without any trouble on your part; what do you say to that to the good? And, after all, you only marry a very consolable widow. There is an income of fifty thousand francs in the house, and the value of the connection, so in due time you may look forward to not less than fifteen thousand francs a year more for your share, and you will enter a family holding a fine political position; Cardot is the brother-in-law of old Camusot, the depute who lived so long with Fanny Beaupre."
"Yes," said Lousteau, "old Camusot married little Daddy Cardot's eldest daughter, and they had high times together!"
"Well!" Madame Schontz went on, "and Madame Cardot, the notary's wife, was a Chiffreville—manufacturers of chemical products, the aristocracy of these days! Potash, I tell you! Still, this is the unpleasant side of the matter. You will have a terrible mother-in-law, a woman capable of killing her daughter if she knew—! This Cardot woman is a bigot; she has lips like two faded narrow pink ribbons.
"A man of the town like you would never pass muster with that woman, who, in her well-meaning way, will spy out your bachelor life and know every fact of the past. However, Cardot says he means to exert his paternal authority. The poor man will be obliged to do the civil to his wife for some days; a woman made of wood, my dear fellow; Malaga, who has seen her, calls her a penitential scrubber. Cardot is a man of forty; he will be mayor of his district, and perhaps be elected deputy. He is prepared to give in lieu of the hundred thousand francs a nice little house in the Rue Saint-Lazare, with a forecourt and a garden, which cost him no more than sixty thousand at the time of the July overthrow; he would sell, and that would be an opportunity for you to go and come at the house, to see the daughter, and be civil to the mother.—And it would give you a look of property in Madame Cardot's eyes. You would be housed like a prince in that little mansion. Then, by Camusot's interest, you may get an appointment as librarian to some public office where there is no library.—Well, and then if you invest your money in backing up a newspaper, you will get ten thousand francs a year on it, you can earn six, your librarianship will bring you in four.—Can you do better for yourself?
"If you were to marry a lamb without spot, it might be a light woman by the end of two years. What is the damage?—an anticipated dividend! It is quite the fashion.
"Take my word for it, you can do no better than come to dine with Malaga to-morrow. You will meet your father-in-law; he will know the secret has been let out—by Malaga, with whom he cannot be angry—and then you are master of the situation. As to your wife!—Why her misconduct leaves you as free as a bachelor——"
"Your language is as blunt as a cannon ball."
"I love you for your own sake, that is all—and I can reason. Well! why do you stand there like a wax image of Abd-el-Kader? There is nothing to meditate over. Marriage is heads or tails—well, you have tossed heads up."
"You shall have my reply to-morrow," said Lousteau.
"I would sooner have it at once; Malaga will write you up to-night."
"Well, then, yes."
Lousteau spent the evening in writing a long letter to the Marquise, giving her the reasons which compelled him to marry; his constant poverty, the torpor of his imagination, his white hairs, his moral and physical exhaustion—in short, four pages of arguments.—"As to Dinah, I will send her a circular announcing the marriage," said he to himself. "As Bixiou says, I have not my match for knowing how to dock the tail of a passion."
Lousteau, who at first had been on some ceremony with himself, by next day had come to the point of dreading lest the marriage should not come off. He was pressingly civil to the notary.
"I knew monsieur your father," said he, "at Florentine's, so I may well know you here, at Mademoiselle Turquet's. Like father, like son. A very good fellow and a philosopher, was little Daddy Cardot—excuse me, we always called him so. At that time, Florine, Florentine, Tullia, Coralie, and Mariette were the five fingers of your hand, so to speak—it is fifteen years ago. My follies, as you may suppose, are a thing of the past.—In those days it was pleasure that ran away with me; now I am ambitious; but, in our day, to get on at all a man must be free from debt, have a good income, a wife, and a family. If I pay taxes enough to qualify me, I may be a deputy yet, like any other man."
Maitre Cardot appreciated this profession of faith. Lousteau had laid himself out to please and the notary liked him, feeling himself more at his ease, as may be easily imagined, with a man who had known his father's secrets than he would have been with another. On the following day Lousteau was introduced to the Cardot family as the purchaser of the house in the Rue Saint-Lazare, and three days later he dined there.
Cardot lived in an old house near the Place du Chatelet. In this house everything was "good." Economy covered every scrap of gilding with green gauze; all the furniture wore holland covers. Though it was impossible to feel a shade of uneasiness as to the wealth of the inhabitants, at the end of half an hour no one could suppress a yawn. Boredom perched in every nook; the curtains hung dolefully; the dining-room was like Harpagon's. Even if Lousteau had not known all about Malaga, he could have guessed that the notary's real life was spent elsewhere.
The journalist saw a tall, fair girl with blue eyes, at once shy and languishing. The elder brother took a fancy to him; he was the fourth clerk in the office, but strongly attracted by the snares of literary fame, though destined to succeed his father. The younger sister was twelve years old. Lousteau, assuming a little Jesuitical air, played the Monarchist and Churchman for the benefit of the mother, was quite smooth, deliberate, and complimentary.
Within three weeks of their introduction, at his fourth dinner there, Felicie Cardot, who had been watching Lousteau out of the corner of her eye, carried him a cup of coffee where he stood in the window recess, and said in a low voice, with tears in her eyes:
"I will devote my whole life, monsieur, to thanking you for your sacrifice in favor of a poor girl——"
Lousteau was touched; there was so much expression in her look, her accent, her attitude. "She would make a good man happy," thought he, pressing her hand in reply.
Madame Cardot looked upon her son-in-law as a man with a future before him; but, above all the fine qualities she ascribed to him, she was most delighted by his high tone of morals. Etienne, prompted by the wily notary, had pledged his word that he had no natural children, no tie that could endanger the happiness of her dear Felicie.
"You may perhaps think I go rather too far," said the bigot to the journalist; "but in giving such a jewel as my Felicie to any man, one must think of the future. I am not one of those mothers who want to be rid of their daughters. Monsieur Cardot hurries matters on, urges forward his daughter's marriage; he wishes it over. This is the only point on which we differ.—Though with a man like you, monsieur, a literary man whose youth has been preserved by hard work from the moral shipwreck now so prevalent, we may feel quite safe; still, you would be the first to laugh at me if I looked for a husband for my daughter with my eyes shut. I know you are not an innocent, and I should be very sorry for my Felicie if you were" (this was said in a whisper); "but if you had any liaison—For instance, monsieur, you have heard of Madame Roguin, the wife of a notary who, unhappily for our faculty, was sadly notorious. Madame Roguin has, ever since 1820, been kept by a banker—"
"Yes, du Tillet," replied Etienne; but he bit his tongue as he recollected how rash it was to confess to an acquaintance with du Tillet.
"Yes.—Well, monsieur, if you were a mother, would you not quake at the thought that Madame du Tillet's fate might be your child's? At her age, and nee de Granville! To have as a rival a woman of fifty and more. Sooner would I see my daughter dead than give her to a man who had such a connection with a married woman. A grisette, an actress, you take her and leave her.—There is no danger, in my opinion, from women of that stamp; love is their trade, they care for no one, one down and another to come on!—But a woman who has sinned against duty must hug her sin, her only excuse is constancy, if such a crime can ever have an excuse. At least, that is the view I hold of a respectable woman's fall, and that is what makes it so terrible——"
Instead of looking for the meaning of these speeches, Etienne made a jest of them at Malaga's, whither he went with his father-in-law elect; for the notary and the journalist were the best of friends.
Lousteau had already given himself the airs of a person of importance; his life at last was to have a purpose; he was in luck's way, and in a few days would be the owner of a delightful little house in the Rue Saint-Lazare; he was going to be married to a charming woman, he would have about twenty thousand francs a year, and could give the reins to his ambition; the young lady loved him, and he would be connected with several respectable families. In short, he was in full sail on the blue waters of hope.
Madame Cardot had expressed a wish to see the prints for Gil Blas, one of the illustrated volumes which the French publishers were at that time bringing out, and Lousteau had taken the first numbers for the lady's inspection. The lawyer's wife had a scheme of her own, she had borrowed the book merely to return it; she wanted an excuse for walking in on her future son-in-law quite unexpectedly. The sight of those bachelor rooms, which her husband had described as charming, would tell her more, she thought, as to Lousteau's habits of life than any information she could pick up. Her sister-in-law, Madame Camusot, who knew nothing of the fateful secret, was terrified at such a marriage for her niece. Monsieur Camusot, a Councillor of the Supreme Court, old Camusot's son by his first marriage, had given his step-mother, who was Cardot's sister, a far from flattering account of the journalist.
Lousteau, clever as he was, did not think it strange that the wife of a rich notary should wish to inspect a volume costing fifteen francs before deciding on the purchase. Your clever man never condescends to study the middle-class, who escape his ken by this want of attention; and while he is making game of them, they are at leisure to throttle him.
So one day early in January 1837, Madame Cardot and her daughter took a hackney coach and went to the Rue des Martyrs to return the parts of Gil Blas to Felicie's betrothed, both delighted at the thought of seeing Lousteau's rooms. These domiciliary visitations are not unusual in the old citizen class. The porter at the front gate was not in; but his daughter, on being informed by the worthy lady that she was in the presence of Monsieur Lousteau's future mother-in-law and bride, handed over the key of the apartment—all the more readily because Madame Cardot placed a gold piece in her hand.
It was by this time about noon, the hour at which the journalist would return from breakfasting at the Cafe Anglais. As he crossed the open space between the Church of Notre-Dame de Lorette and the Rue des Martyrs, Lousteau happened to look at a hired coach that was toiling up the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, and he fancied it was a dream when he saw the face of Dinah! He stood frozen to the spot when, on reaching his house, he beheld his Didine at the coach door.
"What has brought you here?" he inquired.—He adopted the familiar tu. The formality of vous was out of the question to a woman he must get rid of.
"Why, my love," cried she, "have you not read my letters?"
"Certainly I have," said Lousteau.
"You are a father," replied the country lady.
"Faugh!" cried he, disregarding the barbarity of such an exclamation. "Well," thought he to himself, "she must be prepared for the blow."
He signed to the coachman to wait, gave his hand to Madame de la Baudraye, and left the man with the chaise full of trunks, vowing that he would send away illico, as he said to himself, the woman and her luggage, back to the place she had come from.
"Monsieur, monsieur," called out little Pamela.
The child had some sense, and felt that three women must not be allowed to meet in a bachelor's rooms.
"Well, well!" said Lousteau, dragging Dinah along.
Pamela concluded that the lady must be some relation; however, she added:
"The key is in the door; your mother-in-law is there."
In his agitation, while Madame de la Baudraye was pouring out a flood of words, Etienne understood the child to say, "Mother is there," the only circumstance that suggested itself as possible, and he went in.
Felicie and her mother, who were by this time in the bed-room, crept into a corner on seeing Etienne enter with a woman.
"At last, Etienne, my dearest, I am yours for life!" cried Dinah, throwing her arms round his neck, and clasping him closely, while he took the key from the outside of the door. "Life is a perpetual anguish to me in that house at Anzy. I could bear it no longer; and when the time came for me to proclaim my happiness—well, I had not the courage.—Here I am, your wife with your child! And you have not written to me; you have left me two months without a line."
"But, Dinah, you place me in the greatest difficulty—"
"Do you love me?"
"How can I do otherwise than love you?—But would you not have been wiser to remain at Sancerre?—I am in the most abject poverty, and I fear to drag you into it—"
"Your misery will be paradise to me. I only ask to live here, never to go out—"
"Good God! that is all very fine in words, but—" Dinah sat down and melted into tears as she heard this speech, roughly spoken.
Lousteau could not resist this distress. He clasped the Baroness in his arms and kissed her.
"Do not cry, Didine!" said he; and, as he uttered the words, he saw in the mirror the figure of Madame Cardot, looking at him from the further end of the rooms. "Come, Didine, go with Pamela and get your trunks unloaded," said he in her ear. "Go; do not cry; we will be happy!"
He led her to the door, and then came back to divert the storm.
"Monsieur," said Madame Cardot, "I congratulate myself on having resolved to see for myself the home of the man who was to have been my son-in-law. If my daughter were to die of it, she should never be the wife of such a man as you. You must devote yourself to making your Didine happy, monsieur."
And the virtuous lady walked out, followed by Felicie, who was crying too, for she had become accustomed to Etienne. The dreadful Madame Cardot got into her hackney-coach again, staring insolently at the hapless Dinah, in whose heart the sting still rankled of "that is all very fine in words"; but who, nevertheless, like every woman in love, believed in the murmured, "Do not cry, Didine!"
Lousteau, who was not lacking in the sort of decision which grows out of the vicissitudes of a storm-tossed life, reflected thus:
"Didine is high-minded; when once she knows of my proposed marriage, she will sacrifice herself for my future prospects, and I know how I can manage to let her know." Delighted at having hit on a trick of which the success seemed certain, he danced round to a familiar tune:
"Larifla, fla, fla!—And Didine once out of the way," he went on, talking to himself, "I will treat Maman Cardot to a call and a novelette: I have seduced her Felicie at Saint-Eustache—Felicie, guilty through passion, bears in her bosom the pledge of our affection—and larifla, fla, fla! the father Ergo, the notary, his wife, and his daughter are caught, nabbed——"
And, to her great amazement, Dinah discovered Etienne performing a prohibited dance.
"Your arrival and our happiness have turned my head with joy," said he, to explain this crazy mood.
"And I had fancied you had ceased to love me!" exclaimed the poor woman, dropping the handbag she was carrying, and weeping with joy as she sank into a chair.
"Make yourself at home, my darling," said Etienne, laughing in his sleeve; "I must write two lines to excuse myself from a bachelor party, for I mean to devote myself to you. Give your orders; you are at home."
Etienne wrote to Bixiou:
"MY DEAR BOY,—My Baroness has dropped into my arms, and will be fatal to my marriage unless we perform one of the most familiar stratagems of the thousand and one comedies at the Gymnase. I rely on you to come here, like one of Moliere's old men, to scold your nephew Leandre for his folly, while the Tenth Muse lies hidden in my bedroom; you must work on her feelings; strike hard, be brutal, offensive. I, you understand, shall express my blind devotion, and shall seem to be deaf, so that you may have to shout at me.
"Come, if you can, at seven o'clock.
"Yours, "E. LOUSTEAU."
Having sent this letter by a commissionaire to the man who, in all Paris, most delighted in such practical jokes—in the slang of artists, a charge—Lousteau made a great show of settling the Muse of Sancerre in his apartment. He busied himself in arranging the luggage she had brought, and informed her as to the persons and ways of the house with such perfect good faith, and a glee which overflowed in kind words and caresses, that Dinah believed herself the best-beloved woman in the world. These rooms, where everything bore the stamp of fashion, pleased her far better than her old chateau.
Pamela Migeon, the intelligent damsel of fourteen, was questioned by the journalist as to whether she would like to be waiting-maid to the imposing Baroness. Pamela, perfectly enchanted, entered on her duties at once, by going off to order dinner from a restaurant on the boulevard. Dinah was able to judge of the extreme poverty that lay hidden under the purely superficial elegance of this bachelor home when she found none of the necessaries of life. As she took possession of the closets and drawers, she indulged in the fondest dreams; she would alter Etienne's habits, she would make him home-keeping, she would fill his cup of domestic happiness.
The novelty of the position hid its disastrous side; Dinah regarded reciprocated love as the absolution of her sin; she did not yet look beyond the walls of these rooms. Pamela, whose wits were as sharp as those of a lorette, went straight to Madame Schontz to beg the loan of some plate, telling her what had happened to Lousteau. After making the child welcome to all she had, Madame Schontz went off to her friend Malaga, that Cardot might be warned of the catastrophe that had befallen his future son-in-law.
The journalist, not in the least uneasy about the crisis as affecting his marriage, was more and more charming to the lady from the provinces. The dinner was the occasion of the delightful child's-play of lovers set at liberty, and happy to be free. When they had had their coffee, and Lousteau was sitting in front of the fire, Dinah on his knee, Pamela ran in with a scared face.
"Here is Monsieur Bixiou!" said she.
"Go into the bedroom," said the journalist to his mistress; "I will soon get rid of him. He is one of my most intimate friends, and I shall have to explain to him my new start in life."
"Oh, ho! dinner for two, and a blue velvet bonnet!" cried Bixiou. "I am off.—Ah! that is what comes of marrying—one must go through some partings. How rich one feels when one begins to move one's sticks, heh?"
"Who talks of marrying?" said Lousteau.
"What! are you not going to be married, then?" cried Bixiou.
"No? My word, what next? Are you making a fool of yourself, if you please?—What!—You, who, by the mercy of Heaven, have come across twenty thousand francs a year, and a house, and a wife connected with all the first families of the better middle class—a wife, in short, out of the Rue des Lombards—"
"That will do, Bixiou, enough; it is at an end. Be off!"
"Be off? I have a friend's privileges, and I shall take every advantage of them.—What has come over you?"
"What has 'come over' me is my lady from Sancerre. She is a mother, and we are going to live together happily to the end of our days.—You would have heard it to-morrow, so you may as well be told it now."
"Many chimney-pots are falling on my head, as Arnal says. But if this woman really loves you, my dear fellow, she will go back to the place she came from. Did any provincial woman ever yet find her sea-legs in Paris? She will wound all your vanities. Have you forgotten what a provincial is? She will bore you as much when she is happy as when she is sad; she will have as great a talent for escaping grace as a Parisian has in inventing it.
"Lousteau, listen to me. That a passion should lead you to forget to some extent the times in which we live, is conceivable; but I, my dear fellow, have not the mythological bandage over my eyes.—Well, then consider your position. For fifteen years you have been tossing in the literary world; you are no longer young, you have padded the hoof till your soles are worn through!—Yes, my boy, you turn your socks under like a street urchin to hide the holes, so that the legs cover the heels! In short, the joke is too stale. Your excuses are more familiar than a patent medicine—"
"I may say to you, like the Regent to Cardinal Dubois, 'That is kicking enough!'" said Lousteau, laughing.
"Oh, venerable young man," replied Bixiou, "the iron has touched the sore to the quick. You are worn out, aren't you? Well, then; in the heyday of youth, under the pressure of penury, what have you done? You are not in the front rank, and you have not a thousand francs of your own. That is the sum-total of the situation. Can you, in the decline of your powers, support a family by your pen, when your wife, if she is an honest woman, will not have at her command the resources of the woman of the streets, who can extract her thousand-franc note from the depths where milord keeps it safe? You are rushing into the lowest depths of the social theatre.
"And this is only the financial side. Now, consider the political position. We are struggling in an essentially bourgeois age, in which honor, virtue, high-mindedness, talent, learning—genius, in short, is summed up in paying your way, owing nobody anything, and conducting your affairs with judgment. Be steady, be respectable, have a wife, and children, pay your rent and taxes, serve in the National Guard, and be on the same pattern as all the men of your company—then you may indulge in the loftiest pretensions, rise to the Ministry!—and you have the best chances possible, since you are no Montmorency. You were preparing to fulfil all the conditions insisted on for turning out a political personage, you are capable of every mean trick that is necessary in office, even of pretending to be commonplace—you would have acted it to the life. And just for a woman, who will leave you in the lurch—the end of every eternal passion—in three, five, or seven years—after exhausting your last physical and intellectual powers, you turn your back on the sacred Hearth, on the Rue des Lombards, on a political career, on thirty thousand francs per annum, on respectability and respect!—Ought that to be the end of a man who has done with illusions?
"If you had kept a pot boiling for some actress who gave you your fun for it—well; that is what you may call a cabinet matter. But to live with another man's wife? It is a draft at sight on disaster; it is bolting the bitter pills of vice with none of the gilding."
"That will do. One word answers it all; I love Madame de la Baudraye, and prefer her to every fortune, to every position the world can offer.—I may have been carried away by a gust of ambition, but everything must give way to the joy of being a father."
"Ah, ha! you have a fancy for paternity? But, wretched man, we are the fathers only of our legitimate children. What is a brat that does not bear your name? The last chapter of the romance.—Your child will be taken from you! We have seen that story in twenty plays these ten years past.
"Society, my dear boy, will drop upon you sooner or later. Read Adolphe once more.—Dear me! I fancy I can see you when you and she are used to each other;—I see you dejected, hang-dog, bereft of position and fortune, and fighting like the shareholders of a bogus company when they are tricked by a director!—Your director is happiness."
"Say no more, Bixiou."
"But I have only just begun," said Bixiou. "Listen, my dear boy. Marriage has been out of favor for some time past; but, apart from the advantages it offers in being the only recognized way of certifying heredity, as it affords a good-looking young man, though penniless, the opportunity of making his fortune in two months, it survives in spite of disadvantages. And there is not the man living who would not repent, sooner or later, of having, by his own fault, lost the chance of marrying thirty thousand francs a year."
"You won't understand me," cried Lousteau, in a voice of exasperation. "Go away—she is there——"
"I beg your pardon; why did you not tell me sooner?—You are of age, and so is she," he added in a lower voice, but loud enough to be heard by Dinah. "She will make you repent bitterly of your happiness!——"
"If it is a folly, I intend to commit it.—Good-bye."
"A man gone overboard!" cried Bixiou.
"Devil take those friends who think they have a right to preach to you," said Lousteau, opening the door of the bedroom, where he found Madame de la Baudraye sunk in an armchair and dabbing her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief.
"Oh, why did I come here?" sobbed she. "Good Heavens, why indeed?—Etienne, I am not so provincial as you think me.—You are making a fool of me."
"Darling angel," replied Lousteau, taking Dinah in his arms, lifting her from her chair, and dragging her half dead into the drawing-room, "we have both pledged our future, it is sacrifice for sacrifice. While I was loving you at Sancerre, they were engaging me to be married here, but I refused.—Oh! I was extremely distressed——"
"I am going," cried Dinah, starting wildly to her feet and turning to the door.
"You will stay here, my Didine. All is at an end. And is this fortune so lightly earned after all? Must I not marry a gawky, tow-haired creature, with a red nose, the daughter of a notary, and saddle myself with a stepmother who could give Madame de Piedefer points on the score of bigotry—"
Pamela flew in, and whispered in Lousteau's ear:
Lousteau rose, leaving Dinah on the sofa, and went out.
"It is all over with you, my dear," said the woman. "Cardot does not mean to quarrel with his wife for the sake of a son-in-law. The lady made a scene—something like a scene, I can tell you! So, to conclude, the head-clerk, who was the late head-clerk's deputy for two years, agrees to take the girl with the business."
"Mean wretch!" exclaimed Lousteau. "What! in two hours he has made up his mind?"
"Bless me, that is simple enough. The rascal, who knew all the dead man's little secrets, guessed what a fix his master was in from overhearing a few words of the squabble with Madame Cardot. The notary relies on your honor and good feeling, for the affair is settled. The clerk, whose conduct has been admirable, went so far as to attend mass! A finished hypocrite, I say—just suits the mamma. You and Cardot will still be friends. He is to be a director in an immense financial concern, and he may be of use to you.—So you have been waked from a sweet dream."
"I have lost a fortune, a wife, and—"
"And a mistress," said Madame Schontz, smiling. "Here you are, more than married; you will be insufferable, you will be always wanting to get home, there will be nothing loose about you, neither your clothes nor your habits. And, after all, my Arthur does things in style. I will be faithful to him and cut Malaga's acquaintance.
"Let me peep at her through the door—your Sancerre Muse," she went on. "Is there no finer bird than that to be found in the desert?" she exclaimed. "You are cheated! She is dignified, lean, lachrymose; she only needs Lady Dudley's turban!"
"What is it now?" asked Madame de la Baudraye, who had heard the rustle of a silk dress and the murmur of a woman's voice.
"It is, my darling, that we are now indissolubly united.—I have just had an answer to the letter you saw me write, which was to break off my marriage——"
"So that was the party which you gave up?"
"Oh, I will be more than your wife—I am your slave, I give you my life," said the poor deluded creature. "I did not believe I could love you more than I did!—Now I shall not be a mere incident, but your whole life?"
"Yes, my beautiful, my generous Didine."
"Swear to me," said she, "that only death shall divide us."
Lousteau was ready to sweeten his vows with the most fascinating prettinesses. And this was why. Between the door of the apartment where he had taken the lorette's farewell kiss, and that of the drawing-room, where the Muse was reclining, bewildered by such a succession of shocks, Lousteau had remembered little De la Baudraye's precarious health, his fine fortune, and Bianchon's remark about Dinah, "She will be a rich widow!" and he said to himself, "I would a hundred times rather have Madame de la Baudraye for a wife than Felicie!"
His plan of action was quickly decided on; he determined to play the farce of passion once more, and to perfection. His mean self-interestedness and his false vehemence of passion had disastrous results. Madame de la Baudraye, when she set out from Sancerre for Paris, had intended to live in rooms of her own quite near to Lousteau; but the proofs of devotion her lover had given her by giving up such brilliant prospects, and yet more the perfect happiness of the first days of their illicit union, kept her from mentioning such a parting. The second day was to be—and indeed was—a high festival, in which such a suggestion proposed to "her angel" would have been a discordant note.
Lousteau, on his part, anxious to make Dinah feel herself dependent on him, kept her in a state of constant intoxication by incessant amusement. These circumstances hindered two persons so clever as these were from avoiding the slough into which they fell—that of a life in common, a piece of folly of which, unfortunately, many instances may be seen in Paris in literary circles.
And thus was the whole programme played out of a provincial amour, so satirically described by Lousteau to Madame de la Baudraye—a fact which neither he nor she remembered. Passion is born a deaf-mute.
This winter in Paris was to Madame de la Baudraye all that the month of October had been at Sancerre. Etienne, to initiate "his wife" into Paris life, varied this honeymoon by evenings at the play, where Dinah would only go to the stage box. At first Madame de la Baudraye preserved some remnants of her countrified modesty; she was afraid of being seen; she hid her happiness. She would say:
"Monsieur de Clagny or Monsieur Gravier may have followed me to Paris." She was afraid on Sancerre even in Paris.
Lousteau, who was excessively vain, educated Dinah, took her to the best dressmakers, and pointed out to her the most fashionable women, advising her to take them as models for imitation. And Madame de la Baudraye's provincial appearance was soon a thing of the past. Lousteau, when his friends met him, was congratulated on his conquest.
All through that season Etienne wrote little and got very much into debt, though Dinah, who was proud, bought all her clothes out of her savings, and fancied she had not been the smallest expense to her beloved. By the end of three months Dinah was acclimatized; she had reveled in the music at the Italian opera; she knew the pieces "on" at all theatres, and the actors and jests of the day; she had become inured to this life of perpetual excitement, this rapid torrent in which everything is forgotten. She no longer craned her neck or stood with her nose in the air, like an image of Amazement, at the constant surprises that Paris has for a stranger. She had learned to breathe that witty, vitalizing, teeming atmosphere where clever people feel themselves in their element, and which they can no longer bear to quit.
One morning, as she read the papers, for Lousteau had them all, two lines carried her back to Sancerre and the past, two lines that seemed not unfamiliar—as follows:
"Monsieur le Baron de Clagny, Public Prosecutor to the Criminal Court at Sancerre, has been appointed Deputy Public Prosecutor to the Supreme Court in Paris."
"How well that worthy lawyer loves you!" said the journalist, smiling.
"Poor man!" said she. "What did I tell you? He is following me."
Etienne and Dinah were just then at the most dazzling and fervid stage of a passion when each is perfectly accustomed to the other, and yet love has not lost its freshness and relish. The lovers know each other well, but all is not yet understood; they have not been a second time to the same secret haunts of the soul; they have not studied each other till they know, as they must later, the very thought, word, and gesture that responds to every event, the greatest and the smallest. Enchantment reigns; there are no collisions, no differences of opinion, no cold looks. Their two souls are always on the same side. And Dinah would speak the magical words, emphasized by the yet more magical expression and looks which every woman can use under such circumstances.
"When you cease to love me, kill me.—If you should cease to love me, I believe I could kill you first and myself after."
To this sweet exaggeration, Lousteau would reply:
"All I ask of God is to see you as constant as I shall be. It is you who will desert me!"
"My love is supreme."
"Supreme," echoed Lousteau. "Come, now? Suppose I am dragged away to a bachelor party, and find there one of my former mistresses, and she makes fun of me; I, out of vanity, behave as if I were free, and do not come in here till next morning—would you still love me?"
"A woman is only sure of being loved when she is preferred; and if you came back to me, if—Oh! you make me understand what the happiness would be of forgiving the man I adore."
"Well, then, I am truly loved for the first time in my life!" cried Lousteau.
"At last you understand that!" said she.
Lousteau proposed that they should each write a letter setting forth the reasons which would compel them to end by suicide. Once in possession of such a document, each might kill the other without danger in case of infidelity. But in spite of mutual promises, neither wrote the letter.
The journalist, happy for the moment, promised himself that he would deceive Dinah when he should be tired of her, and would sacrifice everything to the requirements of that deception. To him Madame de la Baudraye was a fortune in herself. At the same time, he felt the yoke.
Dinah, by consenting to this union, showed a generous mind and the power derived from self-respect. In this absolute intimacy, in which both lovers put off their masks, the young woman never abdicated her modesty, her masculine rectitude, and the strength peculiar to ambitious souls, which formed the basis of her character. Lousteau involuntarily held her in high esteem. As a Parisian, Dinah was superior to the most fascinating courtesan; she could be as amusing and as witty as Malaga; but her extensive information, her habits of mind, her vast reading enabled her to generalize her wit, while the Florines and the Schontzes exerted theirs over a very narrow circle.