"There is in Dinah," said Etienne to Bixiou, "the stuff to make both a Ninon and a De Stael."
"A woman who combines an encyclopaedia and a seraglio is very dangerous," replied the mocking spirit.
When the expected infant became a visible fact, Madame de la Baudraye would be seen no more; but before shutting herself up, never to go out unless into the country, she was bent on being present at the first performance of a play by Nathan. This literary solemnity occupied the minds of the two thousand persons who regard themselves as constituting "all Paris." Dinah, who had never been at a first night's performance, was very full of natural curiosity. She had by this time arrived at such a pitch of affection for Lousteau that she gloried in her misconduct; she exerted a sort of savage strength to defy the world; she was determined to look it in the face without turning her head aside.
She dressed herself to perfection, in a style suited to her delicate looks and the sickly whiteness of her face. Her pallid complexion gave her an expression of refinement, and her black hair in smooth bands enhanced her pallor. Her brilliant gray eyes looked finer than ever, set in dark rings. But a terribly distressing incident awaited her. By a very simple chance, the box given to the journalist, on the first tier, was next to that which Anna Grossetete had taken. The two intimate friends did not even bow; neither chose to acknowledge the other. At the end of the first act Lousteau left his seat, abandoning Dinah to the fire of eyes, the glare of opera-glasses; while the Baronne de Fontaine and the Comtesse Marie de Vandenesse, who accompanied her, received some of the most distinguished men of fashion.
Dinah's solitude was all the more distressing because she had not the art of putting a good face to the matter by examining the company through her opera-glass. In vain did she try to assume a dignified and thoughtful attitude, and fix her eyes on vacancy; she was overpoweringly conscious of being the object of general attention; she could not disguise her discomfort, and lapsed a little into provincialism, displaying her handkerchief and making involuntary movements of which she had almost cured herself. At last, between the second and third acts, a man had himself admitted to Dinah's box! It was Monsieur de Clagny.
"I am happy to see you, to tell you how much I am pleased by your promotion," said she.
"Oh! Madame, for whom should I come to Paris——?"
"What!" said she. "Have I anything to do with your appointment?"
"Everything," said he. "Since you left Sancerre, it had become intolerable to me; I was dying—"
"Your sincere friendship does me good," replied she, holding out her hand. "I am in a position to make much of my true friends; I now know their value.—I feared I must have lost your esteem, but the proof you have given me by this visit touches me more deeply than your ten years' attachment."
"You are an object of curiosity to the whole house," said the lawyer. "Oh! my dear, is this a part for you to be playing? Could you not be happy and yet remain honored?—I have just heard that you are Monsieur Etienne Lousteau's mistress, that you live together as man and wife!—You have broken for ever with society; even if you should some day marry your lover, the time will come when you will feel the want of the respectability you now despise. Ought you not to be in a home of your own with your mother, who loves you well enough to protect you with her aegis?—Appearances at least would be saved."
"I am in the wrong to have come here," replied she, "that is all.—I have bid farewell to all the advantages which the world confers on women who know how to reconcile happiness and the proprieties. My abnegation is so complete that I only wish I could clear a vast space about me to make a desert of my love, full of God, of him, and of myself.—We have made too many sacrifices on both sides not to be united—united by disgrace if you will, but indissolubly one. I am happy; so happy that I can love freely, my friend, and confide in you more than of old—for I need a friend."
The lawyer was magnanimous, nay, truly great. To this declaration, in which Dinah's soul thrilled, he replied in heartrending tones:
"I wanted to go to see you, to be sure that you were loved: I shall now be easy and no longer alarmed as to your future.—But will your lover appreciate the magnitude of your sacrifice; is there any gratitude in his affection?"
"Come to the Rue des Martyrs and you will see!"
"Yes, I will call," he replied. "I have already passed your door without daring to inquire for you.—You do not yet know the literary world. There are glorious exceptions, no doubt; but these men of letters drag terrible evils in their train; among these I account publicity as one of the greatest, for it blights everything. A woman may commit herself with—"
"With a Public Prosecutor?" the Baronne put in with a smile.
"Well!—and then after a rupture there is still something to fall back on; the world has known nothing. But with a more or less famous man the public is thoroughly informed. Why look there! What an example you have close at hand! You are sitting back to back with the Comtesse Marie Vandenesse, who was within an ace of committing the utmost folly for a more celebrated man than Lousteau—for Nathan—and now they do not even recognize each other. After going to the very edge of the precipice, the Countess was saved, no one knows how; she neither left her husband nor her house; but as a famous man was scorned, she was the talk of the town for a whole winter. But her husband's great fortune, great name, and high position, but for the admirable management of that true statesman—whose conduct to his wife, they say, was perfect—she would have been ruined; in her position no other woman would have remained respected as she is."
"And how was Sancerre when you came away?" asked Madame de la Baudraye, to change the subject.
"Monsieur de la Baudraye announced that your expected confinement after so many years made it necessary that it should take place in Paris, and that he had insisted on your going to be attended by the first physicians," replied Monsieur de Clagny, guessing what it was that Dinah most wanted to know. "And so, in spite of the commotion to which your departure gave rise, you still have your legal status."
"Why!" she exclaimed, "can Monsieur de la Baudraye still hope——"
"Your husband, madame, did what he always does—made a little calculation."
The lawyer left the box when the journalist returned, bowing with dignity.
"You are a greater hit than the piece," said Etienne to Dinah.
This brief triumph brought greater happiness to the poor woman than she had ever known in the whole of her provincial existence; still, as they left the theatre she was very grave.
"What ails you, my Didine?" asked Lousteau.
"I am wondering how a woman succeeds in conquering the world?"
"There are two ways. One is by being Madame de Stael, the other is by having two hundred thousand francs a year."
"Society," said she, "asserts its hold on us by appealing to our vanity, our love of appearances.—Pooh! We will be philosophers!"
That evening was the last gleam of the delusive well-being in which Madame de la Baudraye had lived since coming to Paris. Three days later she observed a cloud on Lousteau's brow as he walked round the little garden-plot smoking a cigar. This woman, who had acquired from her husband the habit and the pleasure of never owing anybody a sou, was informed that the household was penniless, with two quarters' rent owing, and on the eve, in fact, of an execution.
This reality of Paris life pierced Dinah's heart like a thorn; she repented of having tempted Etienne into the extravagances of love. It is so difficult to pass from pleasure to work, that happiness has wrecked more poems than sorrows ever helped to flow in sparkling jets. Dinah, happy in seeing Etienne taking his ease, smoking a cigar after breakfast, his face beaming as he basked like a lizard in the sunshine, could not summon up courage enough to make herself the bum-bailiff of a magazine.
It struck her that through the worthy Migeon, Pamela's father, she might pawn the few jewels she possessed, on which her "uncle," for she was learning to talk the slang of the town, advanced her nine hundred francs. She kept three hundred for her baby-clothes and the expenses of her illness, and joyfully presented the sum due to Lousteau, who was ploughing, furrow by furrow, or, if you will, line by line, through a novel for a periodical.
"Dearest heart," said she, "finish your novel without making any sacrifice to necessity; polish the style, work up the subject.—I have played the fine lady too long; I am going to be the housewife and attend to business."
For the last four months Etienne had been taking Dinah to the Cafe Riche to dine every day, a corner being always kept for them. The countrywoman was in dismay at being told that five hundred francs were owing for the last fortnight.
"What! we have been drinking wine at six francs a bottle! A sole Normande costs five francs!—and twenty centimes for a roll?" she exclaimed, as she looked through the bill Lousteau showed her.
"Well, it makes very little difference to us whether we are robbed at a restaurant or by a cook," said Lousteau.
"Henceforth, for the cost of your dinner, you shall live like a prince."
Having induced the landlord to let her have a kitchen and two servants' rooms, Madame de la Baudraye wrote a few lines to her mother, begging her to send her some linen and a loan of a thousand francs. She received two trunks full of linen, some plate, and two thousand francs, sent by the hand of an honest and pious cook recommended her by her mother.
Ten days after the evening at the theatre when they had met, Monsieur de Clagny came to call at four o'clock, after coming out of court, and found Madame de la Baudraye making a little cap. The sight of this proud and ambitious woman, whose mind was so accomplished, and who had queened it so well at the Chateau d'Anzy, now condescending to household cares and sewing for the coming infant, moved the poor lawyer, who had just left the bench. And as he saw the pricks on one of the taper fingers he had so often kissed, he understood that Madame de la Baudraye was not merely playing at this maternal task.
In the course of this first interview the magistrate saw to the depths of Dinah's soul. This perspicacity in a man so much in love was a superhuman effort. He saw that Didine meant to be the journalist's guardian spirit and lead him into a nobler road; she had seen that the difficulties of his practical life were due to some moral defects. Between two beings united by love—in one so genuine, and in the other so well feigned—more than one confidence had been exchanged in the course of four months. Notwithstanding the care with which Etienne wrapped up his true self, a word now and then had not failed to enlighten Dinah as to the previous life of a man whose talents were so hampered by poverty, so perverted by bad examples, so thwarted by obstacles beyond his courage to surmount. "He will be a greater man if life is easy to him," said she to herself. And she strove to make him happy, to give him the sense of a sheltered home by dint of such economy and method as are familiar to provincial folks. Thus Dinah became a housekeeper, as she had become a poet, by the soaring of her soul towards the heights.
"His happiness will be my absolution."
These words, wrung from Madame de la Baudraye by her friend the lawyer, accounted for the existing state of things. The publicity of his triumph, flaunted by Etienne on the evening of the first performance, had very plainly shown the lawyer what Lousteau's purpose was. To Etienne, Madame de la Baudraye was, to use his own phrase, "a fine feather in his cap." Far from preferring the joys of a shy and mysterious passion, of hiding such exquisite happiness from the eyes of the world, he found a vulgar satisfaction in displaying the first woman of respectability who had ever honored him with her affection.
The Judge, however, was for some time deceived by the attentions which any man would lavish on any woman in Madame de la Baudraye's situation, and Lousteau made them doubly charming by the ingratiating ways characteristic of men whose manners are naturally attractive. There are, in fact, men who have something of the monkey in them by nature, and to whom the assumption of the most engaging forms of sentiment is so easy that the actor is not detected; and Lousteau's natural gifts had been fully developed on the stage on which he had hitherto figured.
Between the months of April and July, when Dinah expected her confinement, she discovered why it was that Lousteau had not triumphed over poverty; he was idle and had no power of will. The brain, to be sure, must obey its own laws; it recognizes neither the exigencies of life nor the voice of honor; a man cannot write a great book because a woman is dying, or to pay a discreditable debt, or to bring up a family; at the same time, there is no great talent without a strong will. These twin forces are requisite for the erection of the vast edifice of personal glory. A distinguished genius keeps his brain in a productive condition, just as the knights of old kept their weapons always ready for battle. They conquer indolence, they deny themselves enervating pleasures, or indulge only to a fixed limit proportioned to their powers. This explains the life of such men as Walter Scott, Cuvier, Voltaire, Newton, Buffon, Bayle, Bossuet, Leibnitz, Lopez de Vega, Calderon, Boccacio, Aretino, Aristotle—in short, every man who delighted, governed, or led his contemporaries.
A man may and ought to pride himself more on his will than on his talent. Though Talent has its germ in a cultivated gift, Will means the incessant conquest of his instincts, of proclivities subdued and mortified, and difficulties of every kind heroically defeated. The abuse of smoking encouraged Lousteau's indolence. Tobacco, which can lull grief, inevitably numbs a man's energy.
Then, while the cigar deteriorated him physically, criticism as a profession morally stultified a man so easily tempted by pleasure. Criticism is as fatal to the critic as seeing two sides to a question is to a pleader. In these professions the judgment is undermined, the mind loses its lucid rectitude. The writer lives by taking sides. Thus, we may distinguish two kinds of criticism, as in painting we may distinguish art from practical dexterity. Criticism, after the pattern of most contemporary leader-writers, is the expression of judgments formed at random in a more or less witty way, just as an advocate pleads in court on the most contradictory briefs. The newspaper critic always finds a subject to work up in the book he is discussing. Done after this fashion, the business is well adapted to indolent brains, to men devoid of the sublime faculty of imagination, or, possessed of it indeed, but lacking courage to cultivate it. Every play, every book comes to their pen as a subject, making no demand on their imagination, and of which they simply write a report, seriously or in irony, according to the mood of the moment. As to an opinion, whatever it may be, French wit can always justify it, being admirably ready to defend either side of any case. And conscience counts for so little, these bravi have so little value for their own words, that they will loudly praise in the greenroom the work they tear to tatters in print.
Nay, men have been known to transfer their services from one paper to another without being at the pains to consider that the opinions of the new sheet must be diametrically antagonistic to those of the old. Madame de la Baudraye could smile to see Lousteau with one article on the Legitimist side and one on the side of the new dynasty, both on the same occasion. She admired the maxim he preached:
"We are the attorneys of public opinion."
The other kind of criticism is a science. It necessitates a thorough comprehension of each work, a lucid insight into the tendencies of the age, the adoption of a system, and faith in fixed principles—that is to say, a scheme of jurisprudence, a summing-up, and a verdict. The critic is then a magistrate of ideas, the censor of his time; he fulfils a sacred function; while in the former case he is but an acrobat who turns somersaults for a living so long as he had a leg to stand on. Between Claude Vignon and Lousteau lay the gulf that divides mere dexterity from art.
Dinah, whose mind was soon freed from rust, and whose intellect was by no means narrow, had ere long taken literary measure of her idol. She saw Lousteau working up to the last minute under the most discreditable compulsion, and scamping his work, as painters say of a picture from which sound technique is absent; but she would excuse him by saying, "He is a poet!" so anxious was she to justify him in her own eyes. When she thus guessed the secret of many a writer's existence, she also guessed that Lousteau's pen could never be trusted to as a resource.
Then her love for him led her to take a step she would never had thought of for her own sake. Through her mother she tried to negotiate with her husband for an allowance, but without Etienne's knowledge; for, as she thought, it would be an offence to his delicate feelings, which must be considered. A few days before the end of July, Dinah crumbled up in her wrath the letter from her mother containing Monsieur de la Baudraye's ultimatum:
"Madame de la Baudraye cannot need an allowance in Paris when she can live in perfect luxury at her Chateau of Anzy: she may return."
Lousteau picked up this letter and read it.
"I will avenge you!" said he to Dinah in the ominous tone that delights a woman when her antipathies are flattered.
Five days after this Bianchon and Duriau, the famous ladies' doctor, were engaged at Lousteau's; for he, ever since little La Baudraye's reply, had been making a great display of his joy and importance over the advent of the infant. Monsieur de Clagny and Madame Piedefer—sent for in all haste were to be the godparents, for the cautious magistrate feared lest Lousteau should commit some compromising blunder. Madame de la Baudraye gave birth to a boy that might have filled a queen with envy who hoped for an heir-presumptive.
Bianchon and Monsieur de Clagny went off to register the child at the Mayor's office as the son of Monsieur and Madame de la Baudraye, unknown to Etienne, who, on his part, rushed off to a printer's to have this circular set up:
"Madame la Baronne de la Baudraye is happily delivered of a son.
"Monsieur Etienne Lousteau has the pleasure of informing you of the fact.
"The mother and child are doing well."
Lousteau had already sent out sixty of these announcements when Monsieur de Clagny, on coming to make inquiries, happened to see the list of persons at Sancerre to whom Lousteau proposed to send this amazing notice, written below the names of the persons in Paris to whom it was already gone. The lawyer confiscated the list and the remainder of the circulars, showed them to Madame Piedefer, begging her on no account to allow Lousteau to carry on this atrocious jest, and jumped into a cab. The devoted friend then ordered from the same printer another announcement in the following words:
_"Madame la Baronne de la Baudraye is happily delivered of a son.
"Monsieur le Baron de la Baudraye has the honor of informing you of the fact.
"Mother and child are doing well."_
After seeing the proofs destroyed, the form of type, everything that could bear witness to the existence of the former document, Monsieur de Clagny set to work to intercept those that had been sent; in many cases he changed them at the porter's lodge, he got back thirty into his own hands, and at last, after three days of hard work, only one of the original notes existed, that, namely sent to Nathan.
Five times had the lawyer called on the great man without finding him. By the time Monsieur de Clagny was admitted, after requesting an interview, the story of the announcement was known to all Paris. Some persons regarded it as one of those waggish calumnies, a sort of stab to which every reputation, even the most ephemeral, is exposed; others said they had read the paper and returned it to some friend of the La Baudraye family; a great many declaimed against the immorality of journalists; in short, this last remaining specimen was regarded as a curiosity. Florine, with whom Nathan was living, had shown it about, stamped in the post as paid, and addressed in Etienne's hand. So, as soon as the judge spoke of the announcement, Nathan began to smile.
"Give up that monument of recklessness and folly?" cried he. "That autograph is one of those weapons which an athlete in the circus cannot afford to lay down. That note proves that Lousteau has no heart, no taste, no dignity; that he knows nothing of the world nor of public morality; that he insults himself when he can find no one else to insult.—None but the son of a provincial citizen imported from Sancerre to become a poet, but who is only the bravo of some contemptible magazine, could ever have sent out such a circular letter, as you must allow, monsieur. This is a document indispensable to the archives of the age.—To-day Lousteau flatters me, to-morrow he may ask for my head.—Excuse me, I forgot you were a judge.
"I have gone through a passion for a lady, a great lady, as far superior to Madame de la Baudraye as your fine feeling, monsieur, is superior to Lousteau's vulgar retaliation; but I would have died rather than utter her name. A few months of her airs and graces cost me a hundred thousand francs and my prospects for life; but I do not think the price too high!—And I have never murmured!—If a woman betrays the secret of her passion, it is the supreme offering of her love, but a man!—He must be a Lousteau!
"No, I would not give up that paper for a thousand crowns."
"Monsieur," said the lawyer at last, after an eloquent battle lasting half an hour, "I have called on fifteen or sixteen men of letters about this affair, and can it be that you are the only one immovable by an appeal of honor? It is not for Etienne Lousteau that I plead, but for a woman and child, both equally ignorant of the damage done to their fortune, their prospects, and their honor.—Who knows, monsieur, whether you might not some day be compelled to plead for some favor of justice for a friend, for some person whose honor was dearer to you than your own.—It might be remembered against you that you had been ruthless.—Can such a man as you are hesitate?" added Monsieur de Clagny.
"I only wished you to understand the extent of the sacrifice," replied Nathan, giving up the letter, as he reflected on the judge's influence and accepted this implied bargain.
When the journalist's stupid jest had been counteracted, Monsieur de Clagny went to give him a rating in the presence of Madame Piedefer; but he found Lousteau fuming with irritation.
"What I did monsieur, I did with a purpose!" replied Etienne. "Monsieur de la Baudraye has sixty thousand francs a year and refuses to make his wife an allowance; I wished to make him feel that the child is in my power."
"Yes, monsieur, I quite suspected it," replied the lawyer. "For that reason I readily agreed to be little Polydore's godfather, and he is registered as the son of the Baron and Baronne de la Baudraye; if you have the feelings of a father, you ought to rejoice in knowing that the child is heir to one of the finest entailed estates in France."
"And pray, sir, is the mother to die of hunger?"
"Be quite easy," said the lawyer bitterly, having dragged from Lousteau the expression of feeling he had so long been expecting. "I will undertake to transact the matter with Monsieur de la Baudraye."
Monsieur de Clagny left the house with a chill at his heart.
Dinah, his idol, was loved for her money. Would she not, when too late, have her eyes opened?
"Poor woman!" said the lawyer, as he walked away. And this justice we will do him—for to whom should justice be done unless to a Judge?—he loved Dinah too sincerely to regard her degradation as a means of triumph one day; he was all pity and devotion; he really loved her.
The care and nursing of the infant, its cries, the quiet needed for the mother during the first few days, and the ubiquity of Madame Piedefer, were so entirely adverse to literary labors, that Lousteau moved up to the three rooms taken on the first floor for the old bigot. The journalist, obliged to go to the first performances without Dinah, and living apart from her, found an indescribable charm in the use of his liberty. More than once he submitted to be taken by the arm and dragged off to some jollification; more than once he found himself at the house of a friend's mistress in the heart of bohemia. He again saw women brilliantly young and splendidly dressed, in whom economy seemed treason to their youth and power. Dinah, in spite of her striking beauty, after nursing her baby for three months, could not stand comparison with these perishable blossoms, so soon faded, but so showy as long as they live rooted in opulence.
Home life had, nevertheless, a strong attraction for Etienne. In three months the mother and daughter, with the help of the cook from Sancerre and of little Pamela, had given the apartment a quite changed appearance. The journalist found his breakfast and his dinner served with a sort of luxury. Dinah, handsome and nicely dressed, was careful to anticipate her dear Etienne's wishes, and he felt himself the king of his home, where everything, even the baby, was subject to his selfishness. Dinah's affection was to be seen in every trifle, Lousteau could not possibly cease the entrancing deceptions of his unreal passion.
Dinah, meanwhile, was aware of a source of ruin, both to her love and to the household, in the kind of life into which Lousteau had allowed himself to drift. At the end of ten months she weaned her baby, installed her mother in the upstairs rooms, and restored the family intimacy which indissolubly links a man and woman when the woman is loving and clever. One of the most striking circumstances in Benjamin Constant's novel, one of the explanations of Ellenore's desertion, is the want of daily—or, if you will, of nightly—intercourse between her and Adolphe. Each of the lovers has a separate home; they have both submitted to the world and saved appearances. Ellenore, repeatedly left to herself, is compelled to vast labors of affection to expel the thoughts of release which captivate Adolphe when absent. The constant exchange of glances and thoughts in domestic life gives a woman such power that a man needs stronger reasons for desertion than she will ever give him so long as she loves him.
This was an entirely new phase both to Etienne and to Dinah. Dinah intended to be indispensable; she wanted to infuse fresh energy into this man, whose weakness smiled upon her, for she thought it a security. She found him subjects, sketched the treatment, and at a pinch, would write whole chapters. She revived the vitality of this dying talent by transfusing fresh blood into his veins; she supplied him with ideas and opinions. In short, she produced two books which were a success. More than once she saved Lousteau's self-esteem by dictating, correcting, or finishing his articles when he was in despair at his own lack of ideas. The secret of this collaboration was strictly preserved; Madame Piedefer knew nothing of it.
This mental galvanism was rewarded by improved pay, enabling them to live comfortably till the end of 1838. Lousteau became used to seeing Dinah do his work, and he paid her—as the French people say in their vigorous lingo—in "monkey money," nothing for her pains. This expenditure in self-sacrifice becomes a treasure which generous souls prize, and the more she gave the more she loved Lousteau; the time soon came when Dinah felt that it would be too bitter a grief ever to give him up.
But then another child was coming, and this year was a terrible trial. In spite of the precautions of the two women, Etienne contracted debts; he worked himself to death to pay them off while Dinah was laid up; and, knowing him as she did, she thought him heroic. But after this effort, appalled at having two women, two children, and two maids on his hands, he was incapable of the struggle to maintain a family by his pen when he had failed to maintain even himself. So he let things take their chance. Then the ruthless speculator exaggerated the farce of love-making at home to secure greater liberty abroad.
Dinah proudly endured the burden of life without support. The one idea, "He loves me!" gave her superhuman strength. She worked as hard as the most energetic spirits of our time. At the risk of her beauty and health, Didine was to Lousteau what Mademoiselle Delachaux was to Gardane in Diderot's noble and true tale. But while sacrificing herself, she committed the magnanimous blunder of sacrificing dress. She had her gowns dyed, and wore nothing but black. She stank of black, as Malaga said, making fun mercilessly of Lousteau.
By the end of 1839, Etienne, following the example of Louis XV., had, by dint of gradual capitulations of conscience, come to the point of establishing a distinction between his own money and the housekeeping money, just as Louis XV. drew the line between his privy purse and the public moneys. He deceived Dinah as to his earnings. On discovering this baseness, Madame de la Baudraye went through fearful tortures of jealousy. She wanted to live two lives—the life of the world and the life of a literary woman; she accompanied Lousteau to every first-night performance, and could detect in him many impulses of wounded vanity, for her black attire rubbed off, as it were, on him, clouding his brow, and sometimes leading him to be quite brutal. He was really the woman of the two; and he had all a woman's exacting perversity; he would reproach Dinah for the dowdiness of her appearance, even while benefiting by the sacrifice, which to a mistress is so cruel—exactly like a woman who, after sending a man through a gutter to save her honor, tells him she "cannot bear dirt!" when he comes out.
Dinah then found herself obliged to gather up the rather loose reins of power by which a clever woman drives a man devoid of will. But in so doing she could not fail to lose much of her moral lustre. Such suspicions as she betrayed drag a woman into quarrels which lead to disrespect, because she herself comes down from the high level on which she had at first placed herself. Next she made some concession; Lousteau was allowed to entertain several of his friends—Nathan, Bixiou, Blondet, Finot, whose manners, language, and intercourse were depraving. They tried to convince Madame de la Baudraye that her principles and aversions were a survival of provincial prudishness; and they preached the creed of woman's superiority.
Before long, her jealousy put weapons into Lousteau's hands. During the carnival of 1840, she disguised herself to go to the balls at the Opera-house, and to suppers where she met courtesans, in order to keep an eye on all Etienne's amusements.
On the day of Mid-Lent—or rather, at eight on the morning after—Dinah came home from the ball in her fancy dress to go to bed. She had gone to spy on Lousteau, who, believing her to be ill, had engaged himself for that evening to Fanny Beaupre. The journalist, warned by a friend, had behaved so as to deceive the poor woman, only too ready to be deceived.
As she stepped out of the hired cab, Dinah met Monsieur de la Baudraye, to whom the porter pointed her out. The little old man took his wife by the arm, saying, in an icy tone:
"So this is you, madame!"
This sudden advent of conjugal authority, before which she felt herself so small, and, above all, these words, almost froze the heart of the unhappy woman caught in the costume of a debardeur. To escape Etienne's eye the more effectually, she had chosen a dress he was not likely to detect her in. She took advantage of the mask she still had on to escape without replying, changed her dress, and went up to her mother's rooms, where she found her husband waiting for her. In spite of her assumed dignity, she blushed in the old man's presence.
"What do you want of me, monsieur?" she asked. "Are we not separated forever?"
"Actually, yes," said Monsieur de la Baudraye. "Legally, no."
Madame Piedefer was telegraphing signals to her daughter, which Dinah presently observed and understood.
"Nothing could have brought you here but your own interests," she said, in a bitter tone.
"Our interests," said the little man coldly, "for we have two children.—Your Uncle Silas Piedefer is dead, at New York, where, after having made and lost several fortunes in various parts of the world, he has finally left some seven or eight hundred thousand francs—they say twelve—but there is stock-in-trade to be sold. I am the chief in our common interests, and act for you."
"Oh!" cried Dinah, "in everything that relates to business, I trust no one but Monsieur de Clagny. He knows the law, come to terms with him; what he does, will be done right."
"I have no occasion for Monsieur de Clagny," answered Monsieur de la Baudraye, "to take my children from you—"
"Your children!" exclaimed Dinah. "Your children, to whom you have not sent a sou! Your children!" She burst into a loud shout of laughter; but Monsieur de la Baudraye's unmoved coolness threw ice on the explosion.
"Your mother has just brought them to show me," he went on. "They are charming boys. I do not intend to part from them. I shall take them to our house at Anzy, if it were only to save them from seeing their mother disguised like a—"
"Silence!" said Madame de la Baudraye imperatively. "What do you want of me that brought you here?"
"A power of attorney to receive our Uncle Silas' property."
Dinah took a pen, wrote two lines to Monsieur de Clagny, and desired her husband to call again in the afternoon.
At five o'clock, Monsieur de Clagny—who had been promoted to the post of Attorney-General—enlightened Madame de la Baudraye as to her position; still, he undertook to arrange everything by a bargain with the old fellow, whose visit had been prompted by avarice alone. Monsieur de la Baudraye, to whom his wife's power of attorney was indispensable to enable him to deal with the business as he wished, purchased it by certain concessions. In the first place, he undertook to allow her ten thousand francs a year so long as she found it convenient—so the document was worded—to reside in Paris; the children, each on attaining the age of six, were to be placed in Monsieur de la Baudraye's keeping. Finally, the lawyer extracted the payment of the allowance in advance.
Little La Baudraye, who came jauntily enough to say good-bye to his wife and his children, appeared in a white india-rubber overcoat. He was so firm on his feet, and so exactly like the La Baudraye of 1836, that Dinah despaired of ever burying the dreadful little dwarf. From the garden, where he was smoking a cigar, the journalist could watch Monsieur de la Baudraye for so long as it took the little reptile to cross the forecourt, but that was enough for Lousteau; it was plain to him that the little man had intended to wreck every hope of his dying that his wife might have conceived.
This short scene made a considerable change in the writer's secret scheming. As he smoked a second cigar, he seriously reviewed the position.
His life with Madame de la Baudraye had hitherto cost him quite as much as it had cost her. To use the language of business, the two sides of the account balanced, and they could, if necessary, cry quits. Considering how small his income was, and how hardly he earned it, Lousteau regarded himself, morally speaking, as the creditor. It was, no doubt, a favorable moment for throwing the woman over. Tired at the end of three years of playing a comedy which never can become a habit, he was perpetually concealing his weariness; and this fellow, who was accustomed to disguise none of his feelings, compelled himself to wear a smile at home like that of a debtor in the presence of his creditor. This compulsion was every day more intolerable.
Hitherto the immense advantages he foresaw in the future had given him strength; but when he saw Monsieur de la Baudraye embark for the United States, as briskly as if it were to go down to Rouen in a steamboat, he ceased to believe in the future.
He went in from the garden to the pretty drawing-room, where Dinah had just taken leave of her husband.
"Etienne," said Madame de la Baudraye, "do you know what my lord and master has proposed to me? In the event of my wishing to return to live at Anzy during his absence, he has left his orders, and he hopes that my mother's good advice will weigh with me, and that I shall go back there with my children."
"It is very good advice," replied Lousteau drily, knowing the passionate disclaimer that Dinah expected, and indeed begged for with her eyes.
The tone, the words, the cold look, all hit the hapless woman so hard, who lived only in her love, that two large tears trickled slowly down her cheeks, while she did not speak a word, and Lousteau only saw them when she took out her handkerchief to wipe away these two beads of anguish.
"What is it, Didine?" he asked, touched to the heart by this excessive sensibility.
"Just as I was priding myself on having won our freedom," said she—"at the cost of my fortune—by selling—what is most precious to a mother's heart—selling my children!—for he is to have them from the age of six—and I cannot see them without going to Sancerre!—and that is torture!—Ah, dear God! What have I done——?"
Lousteau knelt down by her and kissed her hands with a lavish display of coaxing and petting.
"You do not understand me," said he. "I blame myself, for I am not worth such sacrifices, dear angel. I am, in a literary sense, a quite second-rate man. If the day comes when I can no longer cut a figure at the bottom of the newspaper, the editors will let me lie, like an old shoe flung into the rubbish heap. Remember, we tight-rope dancers have no retiring pension! The State would have too many clever men on its hands if it started on such a career of beneficence. I am forty-two, and I am as idle as a marmot. I feel it—I know it"—and he took her by the hand—"my love can only be fatal to you.
"As you know, at two-and-twenty I lived on Florine; but what is excusable in a youth, what then seems smart and charming, is a disgrace to a man of forty. Hitherto we have shared the burden of existence, and it has not been lovely for this year and half. Out of devotion to me you wear nothing but black, and that does me no credit."—Dinah gave one of those magnanimous shrugs which are worth all the words ever spoken.—"Yes," Etienne went on, "I know you sacrifice everything to my whims, even your beauty. And I, with a heart worn out in past struggles, a soul full of dark presentiments as to the future, I cannot repay your exquisite love with an equal affection. We were very happy—without a cloud—for a long time.—Well, then, I cannot bear to see so sweet a poem end badly. Am I wrong?"
Madame de la Baudraye loved Etienne so truly, that this prudence, worthy of de Clagny, gratified her and stanched her tears.
"He loves me for myself alone!" thought she, looking at him with smiling eyes.
After four years of intimacy, this woman's love now combined every shade of affection which our powers of analysis can discern, and which modern society has created; one of the most remarkable men of our age, whose death is a recent loss to the world of letters, Beyle (Stendhal), was the first to delineate them to perfection.
Lousteau could produce in Dinah the acute agitation which may be compared to magnetism, that upsets every power of the mind and body, and overcomes every instinct of resistance in a woman. A look from him, or his hand laid on hers, reduced her to implicit obedience. A kind word or a smile wreathed the poor woman's soul with flowers; a fond look elated, a cold look depressed her. When she walked, taking his arm and keeping step with him in the street or on the boulevard, she was so entirely absorbed in him that she lost all sense of herself. Fascinated by this fellow's wit, magnetized by his airs, his vices were but trivial defects in her eyes. She loved the puffs of cigar smoke that the wind brought into her room from the garden; she went to inhale them, and made no wry faces, hiding herself to enjoy them. She hated the publisher or the newspaper editor who refused Lousteau money on the ground of the enormous advances he had had already. She deluded herself so far as to believe that her bohemian was writing a novel, for which the payment was to come, instead of working off a debt long since incurred.
This, no doubt, is true love, and includes every mode of loving; the love of the heart and of the head—passion, caprice, and taste—to accept Beyle's definitions. Didine loved him so wholly, that in certain moments when her critical judgment, just by nature, and constantly exercised since she had lived in Paris, compelled her to read to the bottom of Lousteau's soul, sense was still too much for reason, and suggested excuses.
"And what am I?" she replied. "A woman who has put herself outside the pale. Since I have sacrificed all a woman's honor, why should you not sacrifice to me some of a man's honor? Do we not live outside the limits of social conventionality? Why not accept from me what Nathan can accept from Florine? We will square accounts when we part, and only death can part us—you know. My happiness is your honor, Etienne, as my constancy and your happiness are mine. If I fail to make you happy, all is at an end. If I cause you a pang, condemn me.
"Our debts are paid; we have ten thousand francs a year, and between us we can certainly make eight thousand francs a year—I will write theatrical articles.—With fifteen hundred francs a month we shall be as rich as Rothschild.—Be quite easy. I will have some lovely dresses, and give you every day some gratified vanity, as on the first night of Nathan's play—"
"And what about your mother, who goes to Mass every day, and wants to bring a priest to the house and make you give up this way of life?"
"Every one has a pet vice. You smoke, she preaches at me, poor woman! But she takes great care of the children, she takes them out, she is absolutely devoted, and idolizes me. Would you hinder her from crying?"
"What will be thought of me?"
"But we do not live for the world!" cried she, raising Etienne and making him sit by her. "Besides, we shall be married some day—we have the risks of a sea voyage——"
"I never thought of that," said Lousteau simply; and he added to himself, "Time enough to part when little La Baudraye is safe back again."
From that day forth Etienne lived in luxury; and Dinah, on first nights, could hold her own with the best dressed women in Paris. Lousteau was so fatuous as to affect, among his friends, the attitude of a man overborne, bored to extinction, ruined by Madame de la Baudraye.
"Oh, what would I not give to the friend who would deliver me from Dinah! But no one ever can!" said he. "She loves me enough to throw herself out of the window if I told her."
The journalist was duly pitied; he would take precautions against Dinah's jealousy when he accepted an invitation. And then he was shamelessly unfaithful. Monsieur de Clagny, really in despair at seeing Dinah in such disgraceful circumstances when she might have been so rich, and in so wretched a position at the time when her original ambitions would have been fulfilled, came to warn her, to tell her—"You are betrayed," and she only replied, "I know it."
The lawyer was silenced; still he found his tongue to say one thing.
Madame de la Baudraye interrupted him when he had scarcely spoken a word.
"Do you still love me?" she asked.
"I would lose my soul for you!" he exclaimed, starting to his feet.
The hapless man's eyes flashed like torches, he trembled like a leaf, his throat was rigid, his hair thrilled to the roots; he believed he was so blessed as to be accepted as his idol's avenger, and this poor joy filled him with rapture.
"Why are you so startled?" said she, making him sit down again. "That is how I love him."
The lawyer understood this argument ad hominem. And there were tears in the eyes of the Judge, who had just condemned a man to death!
Lousteau's satiety, that odious conclusion of such illicit relations, had betrayed itself in a thousand little things, which are like grains of sand thrown against the panes of the little magical hut where those who love dwell and dream. These grains of sand, which grow to be pebbles, had never been discerned by Dinah till they were as big as rocks. Madame de la Baudraye had at last thoroughly understood Lousteau's character.
"He is," she said to her mother, "a poet, defenceless against disaster, mean out of laziness, not for want of heart, and rather too prone to pleasure; in short, a great cat, whom it is impossible to hate. What would become of him without me? I hindered his marriage; he has no prospects. His talent would perish in privations."
"Oh, my Dinah!" Madame Piedefer had exclaimed, "what a hell you live in! What is the feeling that gives you strength enough to persist?"
"I will be a mother to him!" she had replied.
There are certain horrible situations in which we come to no decision till the moment when our friends discern our dishonor. We accept compromises with ourself so long as we escape a censor who comes to play prosecutor. Monsieur de Clagny, as clumsy as a tortured man, had been torturing Dinah.
"To preserve my love I will be all that Madame de Pompadour was to preserve her power," said she to herself when Monsieur de Clagny had left her. And this phrase sufficiently proves that her love was becoming a burden to her, and would presently be a toil rather than a pleasure.
The part now assumed by Dinah was horribly painful, and Lousteau made it no easier to play. When he wanted to go out after dinner he would perform the tenderest little farces of affection, and address Dinah in words full of devotion; he would take her by the chain, and when he had bruised her with it, even while he hurt her, the lordly ingrate would say, "Did I wound you?"
These false caresses and deceptions had degrading consequences for Dinah, who believed in a revival of his love. The mother, alas, gave way to the mistress with shameful readiness. She felt herself a mere plaything in the man's hands, and at last she confessed to herself:
"Well, then, I will be his plaything!" finding joy in it—the rapture of damnation.
When this woman, of a really manly spirit, pictured herself as living in solitude, she felt her courage fail. She preferred the anticipated and inevitable miseries of this fierce intimacy to the absence of the joys, which were all the more exquisite because they arose from the midst of remorse, of terrible struggles with herself, of a No persuaded to be Yes. At every moment she seemed to come across the pool of bitter water found in a desert, and drunk with greater relish than the traveler would find in sipping the finest wines at a prince's table.
When Dinah wondered to herself at midnight:
"Will he come home, or will he not?" she was not alive again till she heard the familiar sound of Lousteau's boots, and his well-known ring at the bell.
She would often try to restrain him by giving him pleasure; she would hope to be a match for her rivals, and leave them no hold on that agitated heart. How many times a day would she rehearse the tragedy of Le Dernier Jour d'un condamne, saying to herself, "To-morrow we part." And how often would a word, a look, a kiss full of apparently artless feeling, bring her back to the depths of her love!
It was terrible. More than once had she meditated suicide as she paced the little town garden where a few pale flowers bloomed. In fact, she had not yet exhausted the vast treasure of devotion and love which a loving woman bears in her heart.
The romance of Adolphe was her Bible, her study, for above all else she would not be an Ellenore. She allowed herself no tears, she avoided all the bitterness so cleverly described by the critic to whom we owe an analysis of this striking work; whose comments indeed seemed to Dinah almost superior to the book. And she read again and again this fine essay by the only real critic who has written in the Revue des Deux Mondes, an article now printed at the beginning of the new edition of Adolphe.
"No," she would say to herself, as she repeated the author's fateful words, "no, I will not 'give my requests the form of an order,' I will not 'fly to tears as a means of revenge,' I will not 'condemn the things I once approved without reservation,' I will not 'dog his footsteps with a prying eye'; if he plays truant, he shall not on his return 'see a scornful lip, whose kiss is an unanswerable command.' No, 'my silence shall not be a reproach nor my first word a quarrel.'—I will not be like every other woman!" she went on, laying on her table the little yellow paper volume which had already attracted Lousteau's remark, "What! are you studying Adolphe?"—"If for one day only he should recognize my merits and say, 'That victim never uttered a cry!'—it will be all I ask. And besides, the others only have him for an hour; I have him for life!"
Thinking himself justified by his private tribunal in punishing his wife, Monsieur de la Baudraye robbed her to achieve his cherished enterprise of reclaiming three thousand acres of moorland, to which he had devoted himself ever since 1836, living like a mouse. He manipulated the property left by Monsieur Silas Piedefer so ingeniously, that he contrived to reduce the proved value to eight hundred thousand francs, while pocketing twelve hundred thousand. He did not announce his return; but while his wife was enduring unspeakable woes, he was building farms, digging trenches, and ploughing rough ground with a courage that ranked him among the most remarkable agriculturists of the province.
The four hundred thousand francs he had filched from his wife were spent in three years on this undertaking, and the estate of Anzy was expected to return seventy-two thousand francs a year of net profits after the taxes were paid. The eight hundred thousand he invested at four and a half per cent in the funds, buying at eighty francs, at the time of the financial crisis brought about by the Ministry of the First of March, as it was called. By thus securing to his wife an income of forty-eight thousand francs he considered himself no longer in her debt. Could he not restore the odd twelve hundred thousand as soon as the four and a half per cents had risen above a hundred? He was now the greatest man in Sancerre, with the exception of one—the richest proprietor in France—whose rival he considered himself. He saw himself with an income of a hundred and forty thousand francs, of which ninety thousand formed the revenue from the lands he had entailed. Having calculated that besides this net income he paid ten thousand francs in taxes, three thousand in working expenses, ten thousand to his wife, and twelve hundred to his mother-in-law, he would say in the literary circles of Sancerre:
"I am reputed miserly, and said to spend nothing; but my outlay amounts to twenty-six thousand five hundred francs a year. And I have still to pay for the education of my two children! I daresay it is not a pleasing fact to the Milauds of Nevers, but the second house of La Baudraye may yet have as noble a center as the first.—I shall most likely go to Paris and petition the King of the French to grant me the title of Count—Monsieur Roy is a Count—and my wife would be pleased to be Madame la Comtesse."
And this was said with such splendid coolness that no one would have dared to laugh at the little man. Only Monsieur Boirouge, the Presiding Judge, remarked:
"In your place, I should not be happy unless I had a daughter."
"Well, I shall go to Paris before long——" said the Baron.
In the early part of 1842 Madame de la Baudraye, feeling that she was to Lousteau no more than a reserve in the background, had again sacrificed herself absolutely to secure his comfort; she had resumed her black raiment, but now it was in sign of mourning, for her pleasure was turning to remorse. She was too often put to shame not to feel the weight of the chain, and her mother found her sunk in those moods of meditation into which visions of the future cast unhappy souls in a sort of torpor.
Madame Piedefer, by the advice of her spiritual director, was on the watch for the moment of exhaustion, which the priest told her would inevitably supervene, and then she pleaded in behalf of the children. She restricted herself to urging that Dinah and Lousteau should live apart, not asking her to give him up. In real life these violent situations are not closed as they are in books, by death or cleverly contrived catastrophes; they end far less poetically—in disgust, in the blighting of every flower of the soul, in the commonplace of habit, and very often too in another passion, which robs a wife of the interest which is traditionally ascribed to women. So, when common sense, the law of social proprieties, family interest—all the mixed elements which, since the Restoration, have been dignified by the mane of Public Morals, out of sheer aversion to the name of the Catholic religion—where this is seconded by a sense of insults a little too offensive; when the fatigue of constant self-sacrifice has almost reached the point of exhaustion; and when, under these circumstances, a too cruel blow—one of those mean acts which a man never lets a woman know of unless he believes himself to be her assured master—puts the crowning touch to her revulsion and disenchantment, the moment has come for the intervention of the friend who undertakes the cure. Madame Piedefer had no great difficulty now in removing the film from her daughter's eyes.
She sent for Monsieur de Clagny, who completed the work by assuring Madame de la Baudraye that if she would give up Etienne, her husband would allow her to keep the children and to live in Paris, and would restore her to the command of her own fortune.
"And what a life you are leading!" said he. "With care and judgment, and the support of some pious and charitable persons, you may have a salon and conquer a position. Paris is not Sancerre."
Dinah left it to Monsieur de Clagny to negotiate a reconciliation with the old man.
Monsieur de la Baudraye had sold his wine well, he had sold his wool, he had felled his timber, and, without telling his wife, he had come to Paris to invest two hundred thousand francs in the purchase of a delightful residence in the Rue de l'Arcade, that was being sold in liquidation of an aristocratic House that was in difficulties. He had been a member of the Council for the Department since 1826, and now, paying ten thousand francs in taxes, he was doubly qualified for a peerage under the conditions of the new legislation.
Some time before the elections of 1842 he had put himself forward as candidate unless he were meanwhile called to the Upper House as Peer of France. At the same time, he asked for the title of Count, and for promotion to the higher grade of the Legion of Honor. In the matter of the elections, the dynastic nominations; now, in the event of Monsieur de la Baudraye being won over to the Government, Sancerre would be more than ever a rotten borough of royalism. Monsieur de Clagny, whose talents and modesty were more and more highly appreciated by the authorities, gave Monsieur de la Baudraye his support; he pointed out that by raising this enterprising agriculturist to the peerage, a guarantee would be offered to such important undertakings.
Monsieur de la Baudraye, then, a Count, a Peer of France, and Commander of the Legion of Honor, was vain enough to wish to cut a figure with a wife and handsomely appointed house.—"He wanted to enjoy life," he said.
He therefore addressed a letter to his wife, dictated by Monsieur de Clagny, begging her to live under his roof and to furnish the house, giving play to the taste of which the evidences, he said, had charmed him at the Chateau d'Anzy. The newly made Count pointed out to his wife that while the interests of their property forbade his leaving Sancerre, the education of their boys required her presence in Paris. The accommodating husband desired Monsieur de Clagny to place sixty thousand francs at the disposal of Madame la Comtesse for the interior decoration of their mansion, requesting that she would have a marble tablet inserted over the gateway with the inscription: Hotel de la Baudraye.
He then accounted to his wife for the money derived from the estate of Silas Piedefer, told her of the investment at four and a half per cent of the eight hundred thousand francs he had brought from New York, and allowed her that income for her expenses, including the education of the children. As he would be compelled to stay in Paris during some part of the session of the House of Peers, he requested his wife to reserve for him a little suite of rooms in an entresol over the kitchens.
"Bless me! why, he is growing young again—a gentleman!—a magnifico!—What will he become next? It is quite alarming," said Madame de la Baudraye.
"He now fulfils all your wishes at the age of twenty," replied the lawyer.
The comparison of her future prospects with her present position was unendurable to Dinah. Only the day before, Anna de Fontaine had turned her head away in order to avoid seeing her bosom friend at the Chamarolles' school.
"I am a countess," said Dinah to herself. "I shall have the peer's blue hammer-cloth on my carriage, and the leaders of the literary world in my drawing-room—and I will look at her!"—And it was this little triumph that told with all its weight at the moment of her rehabilitation, as the world's contempt had of old weighed on her happiness.
One fine day, in May 1842, Madame de la Baudraye paid all her little household debts and left a thousand crowns on top of the packet of receipted bills. After sending her mother and the children away to the Hotel de la Baudraye, she awaited Lousteau, dressed ready to leave the house. When the deposed king of her heart came into dinner, she said:
"I have upset the pot, my dear. Madame de la Baudraye requests the pleasure of your company at the Rocher de Cancale."
She carried off Lousteau, quite bewildered by the light and easy manners assumed by the woman who till that morning has been the slave of his least whim, for she too had been acting a farce for two months past.
"Madame de la Baudraye is figged out as if for a first night," said he—une premiere, the slang abbreviation for a first performance.
"Do not forget the respect you owe to Madame de la Baudraye," said Dinah gravely. "I do not mean to understand such a word as figged out."
"Didine a rebel!" said he, putting his arm round her waist.
"There is no such person as Didine; you have killed her, my dear," she replied, releasing herself. "I am taking you to the first performance of Madame la Comtesse de la Baudraye."
"It is true, then, that our insect is a peer of France?"
"The nomination is to be gazetted in this evening's Moniteur, as I am told by Monsieur de Clagny, who is promoted to the Court of Appeal."
"Well, it is quite right," said the journalist. "The entomology of society ought to be represented in the Upper House."
"My friend, we are parting for ever," said Madame de la Baudraye, trying to control the trembling of her voice. "I have dismissed the two servants. When you go in, you will find the house in order, and no debts. I shall always feel a mother's affection for you, but in secret. Let us part calmly, without a fuss, like decent people.
"Have you had a fault to find with my conduct during the past six years?"
"None, but that you have spoiled my life, and wrecked my prospects," said he in a hard tone. "You have read Benjamin Constant's book very diligently; you have even studied the last critique on it; but you have read with a woman's eyes. Though you have one of those superior intellects which would make a fortune of a poet, you have never dared to take the man's point of view.
"That book, my dear, is of both sexes.—We agreed that books were male or female, dark or fair. In Adolphe women see nothing but Ellenore; young men see only Adolphe; men of experience see Ellenore and Adolphe; political men see the whole of social existence. You did not think it necessary to read the soul of Adolphe—any more than your critic indeed, who saw only Ellenore. What kills that poor fellow, my dear, is that he has sacrificed his future for a woman; that he never can be what he might have been—an ambassador, a minister, a chamberlain, a poet—and rich. He gives up six years of his energy at that stage of his life when a man is ready to submit to the hardships of any apprenticeship—to a petticoat, which he outstrips in the career of ingratitude, for the woman who has thrown over her first lover is certain sooner or later to desert the second. Adolphe is, in fact, a tow-haired German, who has not spirit enough to be false to Ellenore. There are Adolphes who spare their Ellenores all ignominious quarreling and reproaches, who say to themselves, 'I will not talk of what I have sacrificed; I will not for ever be showing the stump of my wrist to let that incarnate selfishness I have made my queen,' as Ramorny does in The Fair Maid of Perth. But men like that, my dear, get cast aside.
"Adolphe is a man of birth, an aristocratic nature, who wants to get back into the highroad to honors and recover his social birthright, his blighted position.—You, at this moment, are playing both parts. You are suffering from the pangs of having lost your position, and think yourself justified in throwing over a hapless lover whose misfortune it has been that he fancied you so far superior as to understand that, though a man's heart ought to be true, his sex may be allowed to indulge its caprices."
"And do you suppose that I shall not make it my business to restore to you all you have lost by me? Be quite easy," said Madame de la Baudraye, astounded by this attack. "Your Ellenore is not dying; and if God gives her life, if you amend your ways, if you give up courtesans and actresses, we will find you a better match than a Felicie Cardot."
The two lovers were sullen. Lousteau affected dejection, he aimed at appearing hard and cold; while Dinah, really distressed, listened to the reproaches of her heart.
"Why," said Lousteau presently, "why not end as we ought to have begun—hide our love from all eyes, and see each other in secret?"
"Never!" cried the new-made Countess, with an icy look. "Do you not comprehend that we are, after all, but finite creatures? Our feelings seem infinite by reason of our anticipation of heaven, but here on earth they are limited by the strength of our physical being. There are some feeble, mean natures which may receive an endless number of wounds and live on; but there are some more highly-tempered souls which snap at last under repeated blows. You have—"
"Oh! enough!" cried he. "No more copy! Your dissertation is unnecessary, since you can justify yourself by merely saying—'I have ceased to love!'"
"What!" she exclaimed in bewilderment. "Is it I who have ceased to love?"
"Certainly. You have calculated that I gave you more trouble, more vexation than pleasure, and you desert your partner—"
"I desert!——" cried she, clasping her hands.
"Have not you yourself just said 'Never'?"
"Well, then, yes! Never," she repeated vehemently.
This final Never, spoken in the fear of falling once more under Lousteau's influence, was interpreted by him as the death-warrant of his power, since Dinah remained insensible to his sarcastic scorn.
The journalist could not suppress a tear. He was losing a sincere and unbounded affection. He had found in Dinah the gentlest La Valliere, the most delightful Pompadour that any egoist short of a king could hope for; and, like a boy who has discovered that by dint of tormenting a cockchafer he has killed it, Lousteau shed a tear.
Madame de la Baudraye rushed out of the private room where they had been dining, paid the bill, and fled home to the Rue de l'Arcade, scolding herself and thinking herself a brute.
Dinah, who had made her house a model of comfort, now metamorphosed herself. This double metamorphosis cost thirty thousand francs more than her husband had anticipated.
The fatal accident which in 1842 deprived the House of Orleans of the heir-presumptive having necessitated a meeting of the Chambers in August of that year, little La Baudraye came to present his titles to the Upper House sooner than he had expected, and then saw what his wife had done. He was so much delighted, that he paid the thirty thousand francs without a word, just as he had formerly paid eight thousand for decorating La Baudraye.
On his return from the Luxembourg, where he had been presented according to custom by two of his peers—the Baron de Nucingen and the Marquis de Montriveau—the new Count met the old Duc de Chaulieu, a former creditor, walking along, umbrella in hand, while he himself sat perched in a low chaise on which his coat-of-arms was resplendent, with the motto, Deo sic patet fides et hominibus. This contrast filled his heart with a large draught of the balm on which the middle class has been getting drunk ever since 1840.
Madame de la Baudraye was shocked to see her husband improved and looking better than on the day of his marriage. The little dwarf, full of rapturous delight, at sixty-four triumphed in the life which had so long been denied him; in the family, which his handsome cousin Milaud of Nevers had declared he would never have; and in his wife—who had asked Monsieur and Madame de Clagny to dinner to meet the cure of the parish and his two sponsors to the Chamber of Peers. He petted the children with fatuous delight.
The handsome display on the table met with his approval.
"These are the fleeces of the Berry sheep," said he, showing Monsieur de Nucingen the dish-covers surmounted by his newly-won coronet. "They are of silver, you see!"
Though consumed by melancholy, which she concealed with the determination of a really superior woman, Dinah was charming, witty, and above all, young again in her court mourning.
"You might declare," cried La Baudraye to Monsieur de Nucingen with a wave of his hand to his wife, "that the Countess was not yet thirty."
"Ah, ha! Matame is a voman of dirty!" replied the baron, who was prone to time-honored remarks, which he took to be the small change of conversation.
"In every sense of the words," replied the Countess. "I am, in fact, five-and-thirty, and mean to set up a little passion—"
"Oh, yes, my wife ruins me in curiosities and china images—"
"She started that mania at an early age," said the Marquis de Montriveau with a smile.
"Yes," said La Baudraye, with a cold stare at the Marquis, whom he had known at Bourges, "you know that in '25, '26, and '27, she picked a million francs' worth of treasures. Anzy is a perfect museum."
"What a cool hand!" thought Monsieur de Clagny, as he saw this little country miser quite on the level of his new position.
But misers have savings of all kinds ready for use.
On the day after the vote on the Regency had passed the Chambers, the little Count went back to Sancerre for the vintage and resumed his old habits.
In the course of that winter, the Comtesse de la Baudraye, with the support of the Attorney-General to the Court of Appeals, tried to form a little circle. Of course, she had an "at home" day, she made a selection among men of mark, receiving none but those of serious purpose and ripe years. She tried to amuse herself by going to the Opera, French and Italian. Twice a week she appeared there with her mother and Madame de Clagny, who was made by her husband to visit Dinah. Still, in spite of her cleverness, her charming manners, her fashionable stylishness, she was never really happy but with her children, on whom she lavished all her disappointed affection.
Worthy Monsieur de Clagny tried to recruit women for the Countess' circle, and he succeeded; but he was more successful among the advocates of piety than the women of fashion.
"And they bore her!" said he to himself with horror, as he saw his idol matured by grief, pale from remorse, and then, in all the splendor of recovered beauty, restored by a life of luxury and care for her boys. This devoted friend, encouraged in his efforts by her mother and by the cure was full of expedient. Every Wednesday he introduced some celebrity from Germany, England, Italy, or Prussia to his dear Countess; he spoke of her as a quite exceptional woman to people to whom she hardly addressed two words; but she listened to them with such deep attention that they went away fully convinced of her superiority. In Paris, Dinah conquered by silence, as at Sancerre she had conquered by loquacity. Now and then, some smart saying about affairs, or sarcasm on an absurdity, betrayed a woman accustomed to deal with ideas—the woman who, four years since, had given new life to Lousteau's articles.
This phase was to the poor lawyer's hapless passion like the late season known as the Indian summer after a sunless year. He affected to be older than he was, to have the right to befriend Dinah without doing her an injury, and kept himself at a distance as though he were young, handsome, and compromising, like a man who has happiness to conceal. He tried to keep his little attentions a profound secret, and the trifling gifts which Dinah showed to every one; he endeavored to suggest a dangerous meaning for his little services.
"He plays at passion," said the Countess, laughing. She made fun of Monsieur de Clagny to his face, and the lawyer said, "She notices me."
"I impress that poor man so deeply," said she to her mother, laughing, "that if I would say Yes, I believe he would say No."
One evening Monsieur de Clagny and his wife were taking his dear Countess home from the theatre, and she was deeply pensive. They had been to the first performance of Leon Gozlan's first play, La Main Droite et la Main Gauche (The Right Hand and the Left).
"What are you thinking about?" asked the lawyer, alarmed at his idol's dejection.
This deep and persistent melancholy, though disguised by the Countess, was a perilous malady for which Monsieur de Clagny knew no remedy; for true love is often clumsy, especially when it is not reciprocated. True love takes its expression from the character. Now, this good man loved after the fashion of Alceste, when Madame de la Baudraye wanted to be loved after the manner of Philinte. The meaner side of love can never get on with the Misanthrope's loyalty. Thus, Dinah had taken care never to open her heart to this man. How could she confess to him that she sometimes regretted the slough she had left?
She felt a void in this fashionable life; she had no one for whom to dress, or whom to tell of her successes and triumphs. Sometimes the memory of her wretchedness came to her, mingled with memories of consuming joys. She would hate Lousteau for not taking any pains to follow her; she would have liked to get tender or furious letters from him.
Dinah made no reply, so Monsieur de Clagny repeated the question, taking the Countess' hand and pressing it between his own with devout respect.
"Will you have the right hand or the left?" said she, smiling.
"The left," said he, "for I suppose you mean the truth or a fib."
"Well, then, I saw him," she said, speaking into the lawyer's ear. "And as I saw him looking so sad, so out of heart, I said to myself, Has he a cigar? Has he any money?"
"If you wish for the truth, I can tell it you," said the lawyer. "He is living as a husband with Fanny Beaupre. You have forced me to tell you this secret; I should never have told you, for you might have suspected me perhaps of an ungenerous motive."
Madame de la Baudraye grasped his hand.
"Your husband," said she to her chaperon, "is one of the rarest souls!—Ah! Why——"
She shrank into her corner, looking out of the window, but she did not finish her sentence, of which the lawyer could guess the end: "Why had not Lousteau a little of your husband's generosity of heart?"
This information served, however, to cure Dinah of her melancholy; she threw herself into the whirl of fashion. She wished for success, and she achieved it; still, she did not make much way with women, and found it difficult to get introductions.
In the month of March, Madame Piedefer's friends the priests and Monsieur de Clagny made a fine stroke by getting Madame de la Baudraye appointed receiver of subscriptions for the great charitable work founded by Madame de Carcado. Then she was commissioned to collect from the Royal Family their donations for the benefit of the sufferers from the earthquake at Guadeloupe. The Marquise d'Espard, to whom Monsieur de Canalis read the list of ladies thus appointed, one evening at the Opera, said, on hearing that of the Countess:
"I have lived a long time in the world, and I can remember nothing finer than the manoeuvres undertaken for the rehabilitation of Madame de la Baudraye."
In the early spring, which, by some whim of our planets, smiled on Paris in the first week of March in 1843, making the Champs-Elysees green and leafy before Longchamp, Fanny Beaupre's attache had seen Madame de la Baudraye several times without being seen by her. More than once he was stung to the heart by one of those promptings of jealousy and envy familiar to those who are born and bred provincials, when he beheld his former mistress comfortably ensconced in a handsome carriage, well dressed, with dreamy eyes, and his two little boys, one at each window. He accused himself with all the more virulence because he was waging war with the sharpest poverty of all—poverty unconfessed. Like all essentially light and frivolous natures, he cherished the singular point of honor which consists in never derogating in the eyes of one's own little public, which makes men on the Bourse commit crimes to escape expulsion from the temple of the goddess Per-cent, and has given some criminals courage enough to perform acts of virtue.
Lousteau dined and breakfasted and smoked as if he were a rich man. Not for an inheritance would he have bought any but the dearest cigars, for himself as well as for the playwright or author with whom he went into the shop. The journalist took his walks abroad in patent leather boots; but he was constantly afraid of an execution on goods which, to use the bailiff's slang, had already received the last sacrament. Fanny Beaupre had nothing left to pawn, and her salary was pledged to pay her debts. After exhausting every possible advance of pay from newspapers, magazines, and publishers, Etienne knew not of what ink he could churn gold. Gambling-houses, so ruthlessly suppressed, could no longer, as of old, cash I O U's drawn over the green table by beggary in despair. In short, the journalist was reduced to such extremity that he had just borrowed a hundred francs of the poorest of his friends, Bixiou, from whom he had never yet asked for a franc. What distressed Lousteau was not the fact of owing five thousand francs, but seeing himself bereft of his elegance, and of the furniture purchased at the cost of so many privations, and added to by Madame de la Baudraye.
On April the 3rd, a yellow poster, torn down by the porter after being displayed on the wall, announced the sale of a handsome suite of furniture on the following Saturday, the day fixed for sales under legal authority. Lousteau was taking a walk, smoking cigars, and seeking ideas—for, in Paris, ideas are in the air, they smile on you from a street corner, they splash up with a spurt of mud from under the wheels of a cab! Thus loafing, he had been seeking ideas for articles, and subjects for novels for a month past, and had found nothing but friends who carried him off to dinner or to the play, and who intoxicated his woes, telling him that champagne would inspire him.
"Beware," said the virulent Bixiou one night, the man who would at the same moment give a comrade a hundred francs and stab him to the heart with a sarcasm; "if you go to sleep drunk every night, one day you will wake up mad."
On the day before, the Friday, the unhappy wretch, although he was accustomed to poverty, felt like a man condemned to death. Of old he would have said:
"Well, the furniture is very old! I will buy new."
But he was incapable now of literary legerdemain. Publishers, undermined by piracy, paid badly; the newspapers made close bargains with hard-driven writers, as the Opera managers did with tenors that sang flat.
He walked on, his eye on the crowd, though seeing nothing, a cigar in his mouth, and his hands in his pockets, every feature of his face twitching, and an affected smile on his lips. Then he saw Madame de la Baudraye go by in a carriage; she was going to the Boulevard by the Rue de la Chaussee d'Antin to drive in the Bois.
"There is nothing else left!" said he to himself, and he went home to smarten himself up.
That evening, at seven, he arrived in a hackney cab at Madame de la Baudraye's door, and begged the porter to send a note up to the Countess—a few lines, as follows:
"Would Madame la Comtesse do Monsieur Lousteau the favor of receiving him for a moment, and at once?"
This note was sealed with a seal which as lovers they had both used. Madame de la Baudraye had had the word Parce que engraved on a genuine Oriental carnelian—a potent word—a woman's word—the word that accounts for everything, even for the Creation.
The Countess had just finished dressing to go to the Opera; Friday was her night in turn for her box. At the sight of this seal she turned pale.
"I will come," she said, tucking the note into her dress.
She was firm enough to conceal her agitation, and begged her mother to see the children put to bed. She then sent for Lousteau, and received him in a boudoir, next to the great drawing-room, with open doors. She was going to a ball after the Opera, and was wearing a beautiful dress of brocade in stripes alternately plain and flowered with pale blue. Her gloves, trimmed with tassels, showed off her beautiful white arms. She was shimmering with lace and all the dainty trifles required by fashion. Her hair, dressed a la Sevigne, gave her a look of elegance; a necklace of pearls lay on her bosom like bubbles on snow.
"What is the matter, monsieur?" said the Countess, putting out her foot from below her skirt to rest it on a velvet cushion. "I thought, I hoped, I was quite forgotten."
"If I should reply Never, you would refuse to believe me," said Lousteau, who remained standing, or walked about the room, chewing the flowers he plucked from the flower-stands full of plants that scented the room.
For a moment silence reigned. Madame de la Baudraye, studying Lousteau, saw that he was dressed as the most fastidious dandy might have been.
"You are the only person in the world who can help me, or hold out a plank to me—for I am drowning, and have already swallowed more than one mouthful——" said he, standing still in front of Dinah, and seeming to yield to an overpowering impulse. "Since you see me here, it is because my affairs are going to the devil."
"That is enough," said she; "I understand."
There was another pause, during which Lousteau turned away, took out his handkerchief, and seemed to wipe away a tear.
"How much do you want, Etienne," she went on in motherly tones. "We are at this moment old comrades; speak to me as you would to—to Bixiou."
"To save my furniture from vanishing into thin air to-morrow morning at the auction mart, eighteen hundred francs! To repay my friends, as much again! Three quarters' rent to the landlord—whom you know.—My 'uncle' wants five hundred francs—"
"And you!—to live on?"
"Oh! I have my pen——"
"It is heavier to lift than any one could believe who reads your articles," said she, with a subtle smile.—"I have not such a sum as you need, but come to-morrow at eight; the bailiff will surely wait till nine, especially if you bring him away to pay him."
She must, she felt, dismiss Lousteau, who affected to be unable to look at her; she herself felt such pity as might cut every social Gordian knot.
"Thank you," she added, rising and offering her hand to Lousteau. "Your confidence has done me good! It is long indeed since my heart has known such joy——"
Lousteau took her hand and pressed it tenderly to his heart.
"A drop of water in the desert—and sent by the hand of an angel! God always does things handsomely!"
He spoke half in jest and half pathetically; but, believe me, as a piece of acting it was as fine as Talma's in his famous part of Leicester, which was played throughout with touches of this kind. Dinah felt his heart beating through his coat; it was throbbing with satisfaction, for the journalist had had a narrow escape from the hulks of justice; but it also beat with a very natural fire at seeing Dinah rejuvenescent and restored by wealth.
Madame de la Baudraye, stealing an examining glance at Etienne, saw that his expression was in harmony with the flowers of love, which, as she thought, had blossomed again in that throbbing heart; she tried to look once into the eyes of the man she had loved so well, but the seething blood rushed through her veins and mounted to her brain. Their eyes met with the same fiery glow as had encouraged Lousteau on the Quay by the Loire to crumple Dinah's muslin gown. The Bohemian put his arm round her waist, she yielded, and their cheeks were touching.
"Here comes my mother, hide!" cried Dinah in alarm. And she hurried forward to intercept Madame Piedefer.
"Mamma," said she—this word was to the stern old lady a coaxing expression which never failed of its effect—"will you do me a great favor? Take the carriage and go yourself to my banker, Monsieur Mongenod, with a note I will give you, and bring back six thousand francs. Come, come—it is an act of charity; come into my room."
And she dragged away her mother, who seemed very anxious to see who it was that her daughter had been talking with in the boudoir.
Two days afterwards, Madame Piedefer held a conference with the cure of the parish. After listening to the lamentations of the old mother, who was in despair, the priest said very gravely:
"Any moral regeneration which is not based on a strong religious sentiment, and carried out in the bosom of the Church, is built on sand.—The many means of grace enjoined by the Catholic religion, small as they are, and not understood, are so many dams necessary to restrain the violence of evil promptings. Persuade your daughter to perform all her religious duties, and we shall save her yet."
Within ten days of this meeting the Hotel de la Baudraye was shut up. The Countess, the children, and her mother, in short, the whole household, including a tutor, had gone away to Sancerre, where Dinah intended to spend the summer. She was everything that was nice to the Count, people said.
And so the Muse of Sancerre had simply come back to family and married life; but certain evil tongues declared that she had been compelled to come back, for that the little peer's wishes would no doubt be fulfilled—he hoped for a little girl.
Gatien and Monsieur Gravier lavished every care, every servile attention on the handsome Countess. Gatien, who during Madame de la Baudraye's long absence had been to Paris to learn the art of lionnerie or dandyism, was supposed to have a good chance of finding favor in the eyes of the disenchanted "Superior Woman." Others bet on the tutor; Madame Piedefer urged the claims of religion.
In 1844, about the middle of June, as the Comte de la Baudraye was taking a walk on the Mall at Sancerre with the two fine little boys, he met Monsieur Milaud, the Public Prosecutor, who was at Sancerre on business, and said to him:
"These are my children, cousin."
"Ah, ha! so these are our children!" replied the lawyer, with a mischievous twinkle.
PARIS, June 1843-August 1844.
The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Beaupre, Fanny A Start in Life Modeste Mignon Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
Berthier, Madame (Felicie Cardot) Cousin Pons
Bianchon, Horace Father Goriot The Atheist's Mass Cesar Birotteau The Commission in Lunacy Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris A Bachelor's Establishment The Secrets of a Princess The Government Clerks Pierrette A Study of Woman Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Honorine The Seamy Side of History The Magic Skin A Second Home A Prince of Bohemia Letters of Two Brides The Imaginary Mistress The Middle Classes Cousin Betty The Country Parson In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following: Another Study of Woman La Grande Breteche
Bixiou, Jean-Jacques The Purse A Bachelor's Establishment The Government Clerks Modeste Mignon Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Firm of Nucingen Cousin Betty The Member for Arcis Beatrix A Man of Business Gaudissart II. The Unconscious Humorists Cousin Pons
Camusot A Distinguished Provincial at Paris A Bachelor's Establishment Cousin Pons Cesar Birotteau At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
Cardot (Parisian notary) A Man of Business Jealousies of a Country Town Pierre Grassou The Middle Classes Cousin Pons
Chargeboeuf, Melchior-Rene, Vicomte de The Member for Arcis
Falcon, Jean The Chouans Cousin Betty
Grosstete (younger brother of F. Grosstete) The Country Parson
Hulot (Marshal) The Chouans Cousin Betty
La Baudraye, Madame Polydore Milaud de A Prince of Bohemia Cousin Betty
Lebas Cousin Betty
Listomere, Baronne de The Vicar of Tours Cesar Birotteau
Lousteau, Etienne A Distinguished Provincial at Paris A Bachelor's Establishment Scenes from a Courtesan's Life A Daughter of Eve Beatrix Cousin Betty A Prince of Bohemia A Man of Business The Middle Classes The Unconscious Humorists
Lupeaulx, Clement Chardin des Eugenie Grandet A Bachelor's Establishment A Distinguished Provincial at Paris The Government Clerks Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Ursule Mirouet
Maufrigneuse, Duchesse de The Secrets of a Princess Modeste Mignon Jealousies of a Country Town Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Letters of Two Brides Another Study of Woman The Gondreville Mystery The Member for Arcis
Milaud Lost Illusions
Nathan, Raoul Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Secrets of a Princess A Daughter of Eve Letters of Two Brides The Seamy Side of History A Prince of Bohemia A Man of Business The Unconscious Humorists
Nathan, Madame Raoul Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Government Clerks A Bachelor's Establishment Ursule Mirouet Eugenie Grandet The Imaginary Mistress A Prince of Bohemia A Daughter of Eve The Unconscious Humorists
Navarreins, Duc de A Bachelor's Establishment Colonel Chabert The Thirteen Jealousies of a Country Town The Peasantry Scenes from a Courtesan's Life The Country Parson The Magic Skin The Gondreville Mystery The Secrets of a Princess Cousin Betty
Nucingen, Baron Frederic de The Firm of Nucingen Father Goriot Pierrette Cesar Birotteau Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris Scenes from a Courtesan's Life Another Study of Woman The Secrets of a Princess A Man of Business Cousin Betty The Unconscious Humorists
Ronceret, Madame Fabien du Beatrix Cousin Betty The Unconscious Humorists
Rouget, Jean-Jacques A Bachelor's Establishment
Touches, Mademoiselle Felicite des Beatrix Lost Illusions A Distinguished Provincial at Paris A Bachelor's Establishment Another Study of Woman A Daughter of Eve Honorine Beatrix
Turquet, Marguerite The Imaginary Mistress A Man of Business Cousin Betty
Vandenesse, Comtesse Felix de A Second Home A Daughter of Eve