Have you never remarked that, under circumstances such as these, old maids become, like Richard III., keen-witted, fierce, bold, promissory,—if one may so use the word,—and, like inebriate clerks, no longer in awe of anything?
Immediately the town of Alencon, speedily informed from the farther end of the rue de Saint-Blaise to the gate of Seez of this precipitate return, accompanied by singular circumstances, was perturbed throughout its viscera, both public and domestic. Cooks, shopkeepers, street passengers, told the news from door to door; thence it rose to the upper regions. Soon the words: "Mademoiselle Cormon has returned!" burst like a bombshell into all households. At that moment Jacquelin was descending from his wooden seat (polished by a process unknown to cabinet-makers), on which he perched in front of the carriole. He opened the great green gate, round at the top, and closed in sign of mourning; for during Mademoiselle Cormon's absence the evening assemblies did not take place. The faithful invited the Abbe de Sponde to their several houses; and Monsieur de Valois paid his debt by inviting him to dine at the Marquis d'Esgrignon's. Jacquelin, having opened the gate, called familiarly to Penelope, whom he had left in the middle of the street. That animal, accustomed to this proceeding, turned in of herself, and circled round the courtyard in a manner to avoid injuring the flower-bed. Jacquelin then took her bridle, and led the carriage to the portico.
"Mariette!" cried Mademoiselle Cormon.
"Mademoiselle!" exclaimed Mariette, who was occupied in closing the gate.
"Has the gentleman arrived?"
"Where's my uncle?"
"He is at church, mademoiselle."
Jacquelin and Josette were by this time on the first step of the portico, holding out their hands to manoeuvre the exit of their mistress from the carriole as she pulled herself up by the sides of the vehicle and clung to the curtains. Mademoiselle then threw herself into their arms; because for the last two years she dared not risk her weight on the iron step, affixed to the frame of the carriage by a horrible mechanism of clumsy bolts.
When Mademoiselle Cormon reached the level of the portico she looked about her courtyard with an air of satisfaction.
"Come, come, Mariette, leave that gate alone; I want you."
"There's something in the wind," whispered Jacquelin, as Mariette passed the carriole.
"Mariette, what provisions have you in the house?" asked Mademoiselle Cormon, sitting down on the bench in the long antechamber like a person overcome with fatigue.
"I haven't anything," replied Mariette, with her hands on her hips. "Mademoiselle knows very well that during her absence Monsieur l'abbe dines out every day. Yesterday I went to fetch him from Mademoiselle Armande's."
"Where is he now?"
"Monsieur l'abbe? Why, at church; he won't be in before three o'clock."
"He thinks of nothing! he ought to have told you to go to market. Mariette, go at once; and without wasting money, don't spare it; get all there is that is good and delicate. Go to the diligence office and see if you can send for pates; and I want shrimps from the Brillante. What o'clock is it?"
"A quarter to nine."
"Good heavens! Mariette, don't stop to chatter. The person my uncle expects may arrive at any moment. If we had to give him breakfast, where should we be with nothing in the house?"
Mariette turned back to Penelope in a lather, and looked at Jacquelin as if she would say, "Mademoiselle has put her hand on a husband /this/ time."
"Now, Josette," continued the old maid, "let us see where we had better put Monsieur de Troisville to sleep."
With what joy she said the words, "Put Monsieur de Troisville" (pronounced Treville) "to sleep." How many ideas in those few words! The old maid was bathed in hope.
"Will you put him in the green chamber?"
"The bishop's room? No; that's too near mine," said Mademoiselle Cormon. "All very well for monseigneur; he's a saintly man."
"Give him your uncle's room."
"Oh, that's so bare; it is actually indecent."
"Well, then, mademoiselle, why not arrange a bed in your boudoir? It is easily done; and there's a fire-place. Moreau can certainly find in his warerooms a bed to match the hangings."
"You are right, Josette. Go yourself to Moreau; consult with him what to do; I authorize you to get what is wanted. If the bed could be put up to-night without Monsieur de Troisville observing it (in case Monsieur de Troisville arrives while Moreau is here), I should like it. If Moreau won't engage to do this, then I must put Monsieur de Troisville in the green room, although Monsieur de Troisville would be so very near to me."
Josette was departing when her mistress recalled her.
"Stop! explain the matter to Jacquelin," she cried, in a loud nervous tone. "Tell /him/ to go to Moreau; I must be dressed! Fancy if Monsieur de Troisville surprised me as I am now! and my uncle not here to receive him! Oh, uncle, uncle! Come, Josette; come and dress me at once."
"But Penelope?" said Josette, imprudently.
"Always Penelope! Penelope this, Penelope that! Is Penelope the mistress of this house?"
"But she is all of a lather, and she hasn't had time to eat her oats."
"Then let her starve!" cried Mademoiselle Cormon; "provided I marry," she thought to herself.
Hearing these words, which seemed to her like homicide, Josette stood still for a moment, speechless. Then, at a gesture from her mistress, she ran headlong down the steps of the portico.
"The devil is in her, Jacquelin," were the first words she uttered.
Thus all things conspired on this fateful day to produce the great scenic effect which decided the future life of Mademoiselle Cormon. The town was already topsy-turvy in mind, as a consequence of the five extraordinary circumstances which accompanied Mademoiselle Cormon's return; to wit, the pouring rain; Penelope at a gallop, in a lather, and blown; the early hour; the parcels half-packed; and the singular air of the excited old maid. But when Mariette made an invasion of the market, and bought all the best things; when Jacquelin went to the principal upholsterer in Alencon, two doors from the church, in search of a bed,—there was matter for the gravest conjectures. These extraordinary events were discussed on all sides; they occupied the minds of every one, even Mademoiselle Armande herself, with whom was Monsieur de Valois. Within two days the town of Alencon had been agitated by such startling events that certain good women were heard to remark that the world was coming to an end. This last news, however, resolved itself into a single question, "What is happening at the Cormons?"
The Abbe de Sponde, adroitly questioned when he left Saint-Leonard's to take his daily walk with the Abbe Couturier, replied with his usual kindliness that he expected the Vicomte de Troisville, a nobleman in the service of Russia during the Emigration, who was returning to Alencon to settle there. From two to five o'clock a species of labial telegraphy went on throughout the town; and all the inhabitants learned that Mademoiselle Cormon had at last found a husband by letter, and was about to marry the Vicomte de Troisville. Some said, "Moreau has sold them a bed." The bed was six feet wide in that quarter; it was four feet wide at Madame Granson's, in the rue du Bercail; but it was reduced to a simple couch at Monsieur du Ronceret's, where du Bousquier was dining. The lesser bourgeoisie declared that the cost was eleven hundred francs. But generally it was thought that, as to this, rumor was counting the chickens before they were hatched. In other quarters it was said that Mariette had made such a raid on the market that the price of carp had risen. At the end of the rue Saint-Blaise, Penelope had dropped dead. This decease was doubted in the house of the receiver-general; but at the Prefecture it was authenticated that the poor beast had expired as she turned into the courtyard of the hotel Cormon, with such velocity had the old maid flown to meet her husband. The harness-maker, who lived at the corner of the rue de Seez, was bold enough to call at the house and ask if anything had happened to Mademoiselle Cormon's carriage, in order to discover whether Penelope was really dead. From the end of the rue Saint-Blaise to the end of the rue du Bercail, it was then made known that, thanks to Jacquelin's devotion, Penelope, that silent victim of her mistress's impetuosity, still lived, though she seemed to be suffering.
Along the road to Brittany the Vicomte de Troisville was stated to be a younger son without a penny, for the estates in Perche belonged to the Marquis de Troisville, peer of France, who had children; the marriage would be, therefore, an enormous piece of luck for a poor emigre. The aristocracy along that road approved of the marriage; Mademoiselle Cormon could not do better with her money. But among the Bourgeoisie, the Vicomte de Troisville was a Russian general who had fought against France, and was now returning with a great fortune made at the court of Saint-Petersburg; he was a /foreigner/; one of those /allies/ so hated by the liberals; the Abbe de Sponde had slyly negotiated this marriage. All the persons who had a right to call upon Mademoiselle Cormon determined to do so that very evening.
During this transurban excitement, which made that of Suzanne almost a forgotten affair, Mademoiselle was not less agitated; she was filled with a variety of novel emotions. Looking about her salon, dining-room, and boudoir, cruel apprehensions took possession of her. A species of demon showed her with a sneer her old-fashioned luxury. The handsome things she had admired from her youth up she suddenly suspected of age and absurdity. In short, she felt that fear which takes possession of nearly all authors when they read over a work they have hitherto thought proof against every exacting or blase critic: new situations seem timeworn; the best-turned and most highly polished phrases limp and squint; metaphors and images grin or contradict each other; whatsoever is false strikes the eye. In like manner this poor woman trembled lest she should see on the lips of Monsieur de Troisville a smile of contempt for this episcopal salon; she dreaded the cold look he might cast over that ancient dining-room; in short, she feared the frame might injure and age the portrait. Suppose these antiquities should cast a reflected light of old age upon herself? This question made her flesh creep. She would gladly, at that moment, spend half her savings on refitting her house if some fairy wand could do it in a moment. Where is the general who has not trembled on the eve of a battle? The poor woman was now between her Austerlitz and her Waterloo.
"Madame la Vicomtesse de Troisville," she said to herself; "a noble name! Our property will go to a good family, at any rate."
She fell a prey to an irritation which made every fibre of her nerves quiver to all their papillae, long sunk in flesh. Her blood, lashed by this new hope, was in motion. She felt the strength to converse, if necessary, with Monsieur de Troisville.
It is useless to relate the activity with which Josette, Jacquelin, Mariette, Moreau, and his agents went about their functions. It was like the busyness of ants about their eggs. All that daily care had already rendered neat and clean was again gone over and brushed and rubbed and scrubbed. The china of ceremony saw the light; the damask linen marked "A, B, C" was drawn from depths where it lay under a triple guard of wrappings, still further defended by formidable lines of pins. Above all, Mademoiselle Cormon sacrificed on the altar of her hopes three bottles of the famous liqueurs of Madame Amphoux, the most illustrious of all the distillers of the tropics,—a name very dear to gourmets. Thanks to the devotion of her lieutenants, mademoiselle was soon ready for the conflict. The different weapons—furniture, cookery, provisions, in short, all the various munitions of war, together with a body of reserve forces—were ready along the whole line. Jacquelin, Mariette, and Josette received orders to appear in full dress. The garden was raked. The old maid regretted that she couldn't come to an understanding with the nightingales nesting in the trees, in order to obtain their finest trilling.
At last, about four o'clock, at the very moment when the Abbe de Sponde returned home, and just as mademoiselle began to think she had set the table with the best plate and linen and prepared the choicest dishes to no purpose, the click-clack of a postilion was heard in the Val-Noble.
"'Tis he!" she said to herself, the snap of the whip echoing in her heart.
True enough; heralded by all this gossip, a post-chaise, in which was a single gentleman, made so great a sensation coming down the rue Saint-Blaise and turning into the rue du Cours that several little gamains and some grown persons followed it, and stood in groups about the gate of the hotel Cormon to see it enter. Jacquelin, who foresaw his own marriage in that of his mistress, had also heard the click-clack in the rue Saint-Blaise, and had opened wide the gates into the courtyard. The postilion, a friend of his, took pride in making a fine turn-in, and drew up sharply before the portico. The abbe came forward to greet his guest, whose carriage was emptied with a speed that highwaymen might put into the operation; the chaise itself was rolled into the coach-house, the gates closed, and in a few moments all signs of Monsieur de Troisville's arrival had disappeared. Never did two chemicals blend into each other with greater rapidity than the hotel Cormon displayed in absorbing the Vicomte de Troisville.
Mademoiselle, whose heart was beating like a lizard caught by a herdsman, sat heroically still on her sofa, beside the fire in the salon. Josette opened the door; and the Vicomte de Troisville, followed by the Abbe de Sponde, presented himself to the eyes of the spinster.
"Niece, this is Monsieur le Vicomte de Troisville, the grandson of one of my old schoolmates; Monsieur de Troisville, my niece, Mademoiselle Cormon."
"Ah! that good uncle; how well he does it!" thought Rose-Marie-Victoire.
The Vicomte de Troisville was, to paint him in two words, du Bousquier ennobled. Between the two men there was precisely the difference which separates the vulgar style from the noble style. If they had both been present, the most fanatic liberal would not have denied the existence of aristocracy. The viscount's strength had all the distinction of elegance; his figure had preserved its magnificent dignity. He had blue eyes, black hair, an olive skin, and looked to be about forty-six years of age. You might have thought him a handsome Spaniard preserved in the ice of Russia. His manner, carriage, and attitude, all denoted a diplomat who had seen Europe. His dress was that of a well-bred traveller. As he seemed fatigued, the abbe offered to show him to his room, and was much amazed when his niece threw open the door of the boudoir, transformed into a bedroom.
Mademoiselle Cormon and her uncle then left the noble stranger to attend to his own affairs, aided by Jacquelin, who brought up his luggage, and went themselves to walk beside the river until their guest had made his toilet. Although the Abbe de Sponde chanced to be even more absent-minded than usual, Mademoiselle Cormon was not less preoccupied. They both walked on in silence. The old maid had never before met any man as seductive as this Olympean viscount. She might have said to herself, as the Germans do, "This is my ideal!" instead of which she felt herself bound from head to foot, and could only say, "Here's my affair!" Then she flew to Mariette to know if the dinner could be put back a while without loss of excellence.
"Uncle, your Monsieur de Troisville is very amiable," she said, on returning.
"Why, niece, he hasn't as yet said a word."
"But you can see it in his ways, his manners, his face. Is he a bachelor?"
"I'm sure I don't know," replied the abbe, who was thinking of a discussion on mercy, lately begun between the Abbe Couturier and himself. "Monsieur de Troisville wrote me that he wanted to buy a house here. If he was married, he wouldn't come alone on such an errand," added the abbe, carelessly, not conceiving the idea that his niece could be thinking of marriage.
"Is he rich?"
"He is a younger son of the younger branch," replied her uncle. "His grandfather commanded a squadron, but the father of this young man made a bad marriage."
"Young man!" exclaimed the old maid. "It seems to me, uncle, that he must be at least forty-five." She felt the strongest desire to put their years on a par.
"Yes," said the abbe; "but to a poor priest of seventy, Rose, a man of forty seems a youth."
All Alencon knew by this time that Monsieur de Troisville had arrived at the Cormons. The traveller soon rejoined his hosts, and began to admire the Brillante, the garden, and the house.
"Monsieur l'abbe," he said, "my whole ambition is to have a house like this." The old maid fancied a declaration lurked in that speech, and she lowered her eyes. "You must enjoy it very much, mademoiselle," added the viscount.
"How could it be otherwise? It has been in our family since 1574, the period at which one of our ancestors, steward to the Duc d'Alencon, acquired the land and built the house," replied Mademoiselle Cormon. "It is built on piles," she added.
Jacquelin announced dinner. Monsieur de Troisville offered his arm to the happy woman, who endeavored not to lean too heavily upon it; she feared, as usual, to seem to make advances.
"Everything is so harmonious here," said the viscount, as he seated himself at table.
"Yes, our trees are full of birds, which give us concerts for nothing; no one ever frightens them; and the nightingales sing at night," said Mademoiselle Cormon.
"I was speaking of the interior of the house," remarked the viscount, who did not trouble himself to observe Mademoiselle Cormon, and therefore did not perceive the dulness of her mind. "Everything is so in keeping,—the tones of color, the furniture, the general character."
"But it costs a great deal; taxes are enormous," responded the excellent woman.
"Ah! taxes are high, are they?" said the viscount, preoccupied with his own ideas.
"I don't know," replied the abbe. "My niece manages the property of each of us."
"Taxes are not of much importance to the rich," said Mademoiselle Cormon, not wishing to be thought miserly. "As for the furniture, I shall leave it as it is, and change nothing,—unless I marry; and then, of course, everything here must suit the husband."
"You have noble principles, mademoiselle," said the viscount, smiling. "You will make one happy man."
"No one ever made to me such a pretty speech," thought the old maid.
The viscount complimented Mademoiselle Cormon on the excellence of her service and the admirable arrangements of the house, remarking that he had supposed the provinces behind the age in that respect; but, on the contrary, he found them, as the English say, "very comfortable."
"What can that word mean?" she thought. "Oh, where is the chevalier to explain it to me? 'Comfortable,'—there seem to be several words in it. Well, courage!" she said to herself. "I can't be expected to answer a foreign language— But," she continued aloud, feeling her tongue untied by the eloquence which nearly all human creatures find in momentous circumstances, "we have a very brilliant society here, monsieur. It assembles at my house, and you shall judge of it this evening, for some of my faithful friends have no doubt heard of my return and your arrival. Among them is the Chevalier de Valois, a seigneur of the old court, a man of infinite wit and taste; then there is Monsieur le Marquis d'Esgrignon and Mademoiselle Armande, his sister" (she bit her tongue with vexation),—"a woman remarkable in her way," she added. "She resolved to remain unmarried in order to leave all her fortune to her brother and nephew."
"Ah!" exclaimed the viscount. "Yes, the d'Esgrignons,—I remember them."
"Alencon is very gay," continued the old maid, now fairly launched. "There's much amusement: the receiver-general gives balls; the prefect is an amiable man; and Monseigneur the bishop sometimes honors us with a visit—"
"Well, then," said the viscount, smiling, "I have done wisely to come back, like the hare, to die in my form."
"Yes," she said. "I, too, attach myself or I die."
The viscount smiled.
"Ah!" thought the old maid, "all is well; he understands me."
The conversation continued on generalities. By one of those mysterious unknown and undefinable faculties, Mademoiselle Cormon found in her brain, under the pressure of her desire to be agreeable, all the phrases and opinions of the Chevalier de Valois. It was like a duel in which the devil himself pointed the pistol. Never was any adversary better aimed at. The viscount was far too well-bred to speak of the excellence of the dinner; but his silence was praise. As he drank the delicious wines which Jacquelin served to him profusely, he seemed to feel he was with friends, and to meet them with pleasure; for the true connoisseur does not applaud, he enjoys. He inquired the price of land, of houses, of estates; he made Mademoiselle Cormon describe at length the confluence of the Sarthe and the Brillante; he expressed surprise that the town was placed so far from the river, and seemed to be much interested in the topography of the place.
The silent abbe left his niece to throw the dice of conversation; and she truly felt that she pleased Monsieur de Troisville, who smiled at her gracefully, and committed himself during this dinner far more than her most eager suitors had ever done in ten days. Imagine, therefore, the little attentions with which he was petted; you might have thought him a cherished lover, whose return brought joy to the household. Mademoiselle foresaw the moment when the viscount wanted bread; she watched his every look; when he turned his head she adroitly put upon his plate a portion of some dish he seemed to like; had he been a gourmand, she would almost have killed him; but what a delightful specimen of the attentions she would show to a husband! She did not commit the folly of depreciating herself; on the contrary, she set every sail bravely, ran up all her flags, assumed the bearing of the queen of Alencon, and boasted of her excellent preserves. In fact, she fished for compliments in speaking of herself, for she saw that she pleased the viscount; the truth being that her eager desire had so transformed her that she became almost a woman.
At dessert she heard, not without emotions of delight, certain sounds in the antechamber and salon which denoted the arrival of her usual guests. She called the attention of her uncle and Monsieur de Troisville to this prompt attendance as a proof of the affection that was felt for her; whereas it was really the result of the poignant curiosity which had seized upon the town. Impatient to show herself in all her glory, Mademoiselle Cormon told Jacquelin to serve coffee and liqueurs in the salon, where he presently set out, in view of the whole company, a magnificent liqueur-stand of Dresden china which saw the light only twice a year. This circumstance was taken note of by the company, standing ready to gossip over the merest trifle:—
"The deuce!" muttered du Bousquier. "Actually Madame Amphoux's liqueurs, which they only serve at the four church festivals!"
"Undoubtedly the marriage was arranged a year ago by letter," said the chief-justice du Ronceret. "The postmaster tells me his office has received letters postmarked Odessa for more than a year."
Madame Granson trembled. The Chevalier de Valois, though he had dined with the appetite of four men, turned pale even to the left section of his face. Feeling that he was about to betray himself, he said hastily,—
"Don't you think it is very cold to-day? I am almost frozen."
"The neighborhood of Russia, perhaps," said du Bousquier.
The chevalier looked at him as if to say, "Well played!"
Mademoiselle Cormon appeared so radiant, so triumphant, that the company thought her handsome. This extraordinary brilliancy was not the effect of sentiment only. Since early morning her blood had been whirling tempestuously within her, and her nerves were agitated by the presentiment of some great crisis. It required all these circumstances combined to make her so unlike herself. With what joy did she now make her solemn presentation of the viscount to the chevalier, the chevalier to the viscount, and all Alencon to Monsieur de Troisville, and Monsieur de Troisville to all Alencon!
By an accident wholly explainable, the viscount and chevalier, aristocrats by nature, came instantly into unison; they recognized each other at once as men belonging to the same sphere. Accordingly, they began to converse together, standing before the fireplace. A circle formed around them; and their conversation, though uttered in a low voice, was listened to in religious silence. To give the effect of this scene it is necessary to dramatize it, and to picture Mademoiselle Cormon occupied in pouring out the coffee of her imaginary suitor, with her back to the fireplace.
Monsieur de Valois. "Monsieur le vicomte has come, I am told, to settle in Alencon?"
Monsieur de Troisville. "Yes, monsieur, I am looking for a house." [Mademoiselle Cormon, cup in hand, turns round.] "It must be a large house" [Mademoiselle Cormon offers him the cup] "to lodge my whole family." [The eyes of the old maid are troubled.]
Monsieur de Valois. "Are you married?"
Monsieur de Troisville. "Yes, for the last sixteen years, to a daughter of the Princess Scherbellof."
Mademoiselle Cormon fainted; du Bousquier, who saw her stagger, sprang forward and received her in his arms; some one opened the door and allowed him to pass out with his enormous burden. The fiery republican, instructed by Josette, found strength to carry the old maid to her bedroom, where he laid her out on the bed. Josette, armed with scissors, cut the corset, which was terribly tight. Du Bousquier flung water on Mademoiselle Cormon's face and bosom, which, released from the corset, overflowed like the Loire in flood. The poor woman opened her eyes, saw du Bousquier, and gave a cry of modesty at the sight of him. Du Bousquier retired at once, leaving six women, at the head of whom was Madame Granson, radiant with joy, to take care of the invalid.
What had the Chevalier de Valois been about all this time? Faithful to his system, he had covered the retreat.
"That poor Mademoiselle Cormon," he said to Monsieur de Troisville, gazing at the assembly, whose laughter was repressed by his cool aristocratic glances, "her blood is horribly out of order; she wouldn't be bled before going to Prebaudet (her estate),—and see the result!"
"She came back this morning in the rain," said the Abbe de Sponde, "and she may have taken cold. It won't be anything; it is only a little upset she is subject to."
"She told me yesterday she had not had one for three months, adding that she was afraid it would play her a trick at last," said the chevalier.
"Ha! so you are married?" said Jacquelin to himself as he looked at Monsieur de Troisville, who was quietly sipping his coffee.
The faithful servant espoused his mistress's disappointment; he divined it, and he promptly carried away the liqueurs of Madame Amphoux, which were offered to a bachelor, and not to the husband of a Russian woman.
All these details were noticed and laughed at. The Abbe de Sponde knew the object of Monsieur de Troisville's journey; but, absent-minded as usual, he forgot it, not supposing that his niece could have the slightest interest in Monsieur de Troisville's marriage. As for the viscount, preoccupied with the object of his journey, and, like many husbands, not eager to talk about his wife, he had had no occasion to say he was married; besides, he would naturally suppose that Mademoiselle Cormon knew it.
Du Bousquier reappeared, and was questioned furiously. One of the six women came down soon after, and announced that Mademoiselle Cormon was much better, and that the doctor had come. She intended to stay in bed, as it was necessary to bleed her. The salon was now full. Mademoiselle Cormon's absence allowed the ladies present to discuss the tragi-comic scene—embellished, extended, historified, embroidered, wreathed, colored, and adorned—which had just taken place, and which, on the morrow, was destined to occupy all Alencon.
"That good Monsieur du Bousquier! how well he carried you!" said Josette to her mistress. "He was really pale at the sight of you; he loves you still."
That speech served as closure to this solemn and terrible evening.
Throughout the morning of the next day every circumstance of the late comedy was known in the household of Alencon, and—let us say it to the shame of that town,—they caused inextinguishable laughter. But on that day Mademoiselle Cormon (much benefited by the bleeding) would have seemed sublime even to the boldest scoffers, had they witnessed the noble dignity, the splendid Christian resignation which influenced her as she gave her arm to her involuntary deceiver to go into breakfast. Cruel jesters! why could you not have seen her as she said to the viscount,—
"Madame de Troisville will have difficulty in finding a suitable house; do me the favor, monsieur, of accepting the use of mine during the time you are in search of yours."
"But, mademoiselle, I have two sons and two daughters; we should greatly inconvenience you."
"Pray do not refuse me," she said earnestly.
"I made you the same offer in the answer I wrote to your letter," said the abbe; "but you did not receive it."
"What, uncle! then you knew—"
The poor woman stopped. Josette sighed. Neither the viscount nor the abbe observed anything amiss. After breakfast the Abbe de Sponde carried off his guest, as agreed upon the previous evening, to show him the various houses in Alencon which could be bought, and the lots of lands on which he might build.
Left alone in the salon, Mademoiselle Cormon said to Josette, with a deeply distressed air, "My child, I am now the talk of the whole town."
"Well, then, mademoiselle, you should marry."
"But I am not prepared to make a choice."
"Bah! if I were in your place, I should take Monsieur du Bousquier."
"Josette, Monsieur de Valois says he is so republican."
"They don't know what they say, your gentlemen: sometimes they declare that he robbed the republic; he couldn't love it if he did that," said Josette, departing.
"That girl has an amazing amount of sense," thought Mademoiselle Cormon, who remained alone, a prey to her perplexities.
She saw plainly that a prompt marriage was the only way to silence the town. This last checkmate, so evidently mortifying, was of a nature to drive her into some extreme action; for persons deficient in mind find difficulty in getting out of any path, either good or evil, into which they have entered.
Each of the two old bachelors had fully understood the situation in which Mademoiselle Cormon was about to find herself; consequently, each resolved to call in the course of that morning to ask after her health, and take occasion, in bachelor language, to "press his point." Monsieur de Valois considered that such an occasion demanded a painstaking toilet; he therefore took a bath and groomed himself with extraordinary care. For the first and last time Cesarine observed him putting on with incredible art a suspicion of rouge. Du Bousquier, on the other hand, that coarse republican, spurred by a brisk will, paid no attention to his dress, and arrived the first.
Such little things decide the fortunes of men, as they do of empires. Kellerman's charge at Marengo, Blucher's arrival at Waterloo, Louis XIV.'s disdain for Prince Eugene, the rector of Denain,—all these great causes of fortune or catastrophe history has recorded; but no one ever profits by them to avoid the small neglects of their own life. Consequently, observe what happens: the Duchesse de Langeais (see "History of the Thirteen") makes herself a nun for the lack of ten minutes' patience; Judge Popinot (see "Commission in Lunacy") puts off till the morrow the duty of examining the Marquis d'Espard; Charles Grandet (see "Eugenie Grandet") goes to Paris from Bordeaux instead of returning by Nantes; and such events are called chance or fatality! A touch of rouge carefully applied destroyed the hopes of the Chevalier de Valois; could that nobleman perish in any other way? He had lived by the Graces, and he was doomed to die by their hand. While the chevalier was giving this last touch to his toilet the rough du Bousquier was entering the salon of the desolate old maid. This entrance produced a thought in Mademoiselle Cormon's mind which was favorable to the republican, although in all other respects the Chevalier de Valois held the advantages.
"God wills it!" she said piously, on seeing du Bousquier.
"Mademoiselle, you will not, I trust, think my eagerness importunate. I could not trust to my stupid Rene to bring news of your condition, and therefore I have come myself."
"I am perfectly recovered," she replied, in a tone of emotion. "I thank you, Monsieur du Bousquier," she added, after a slight pause, and in a significant tone of voice, "for the trouble you have taken, and for that which I gave you yesterday—"
She remembered having been in his arms, and that again seemed to her an order from heaven. She had been seen for the first time by a man with her laces cut, her treasures violently bursting from their casket.
"I carried you with such joy that you seemed to me light."
Here Mademoiselle Cormon looked at du Bousquier as she had never yet looked at any man in the world. Thus encouraged, the purveyor cast upon the old maid a glance which reached her heart.
"I would," he said, "that that moment had given me the right to keep you as mine forever" [she listened with a delighted air]; "as you lay fainting upon that bed, you were enchanting. I have never in my life seen a more beautiful person,—and I have seen many handsome women. Plump ladies have this advantage: they are superb to look upon; they have only to show themselves and they triumph."
"I fear you are making fun of me," said the old maid, "and that is not kind when all the town will probably misinterpret what happened to me yesterday."
"As true as my name is du Bousquier, mademoiselle, I have never changed in my feelings toward you; and your first refusal has not discouraged me."
The old maid's eyes were lowered. There was a moment of cruel silence for du Bousquier, and then Mademoiselle Cormon decided on her course. She raised her eyelids; tears flowed from her eyes, and she gave du Bousquier a tender glance.
"If that is so, monsieur," she said, in a trembling voice, "promise me to live in a Christian manner, and not oppose my religious customs, but to leave me the right to select my confessors, and I will grant you my hand"; as she said the words, she held it out to him.
Du Bousquier seized the good fat hand so full of money, and kissed it solemnly.
"But," she said, allowing him to kiss it, "one thing more I must require of you."
"If it is a possible thing, it is granted," replied the purveyor.
"Alas!" returned the old maid. "For my sake, I must ask you to take upon yourself a sin which I feel to be enormous,—for to lie is one of the capital sins. But you will confess it, will you not? We will do penance for it together" [they looked at each other tenderly]. "Besides, it may be one of those lies which the Church permits as necessary—"
"Can she be as Suzanne says she is?" thought du Bousquier. "What luck! Well, mademoiselle, what is it?" he said aloud.
"That you will take upon yourself to—"
"To say that this marriage has been agreed upon between us for the last six months."
"Charming woman," said the purveyor, in the tone of a man willing to devote himself, "such sacrifices can be made only for a creature adored these ten years."
"In spite of my harshness?" she said.
"Yes, in spite of your harshness."
"Monsieur du Bousquier, I have misjudged you."
Again she held out the fat red hand, which du Bousquier kissed again.
At this moment the door opened; the betrothed pair, looking round to see who entered, beheld the delightful, but tardy Chevalier de Valois.
"Ah!" he said, on entering, "I see you are about to be up, fair queen."
She smiled at the chevalier, feeling a weight upon her heart. Monsieur de Valois, remarkably young and seductive, had the air of a Lauzun re-entering the apartments of the Grande Mademoiselle in the Palais-Royal.
"Hey! dear du Bousquier," said he, in a jaunty tone, so sure was he of success, "Monsieur de Troisville and the Abbe de Sponde are examining your house like appraisers."
"Faith!" said du Bousquier, "if the Vicomte de Troisville wants it, it it is his for forty thousand francs. It is useless to me now. If mademoiselle will permit—it must soon be known— Mademoiselle, may I tell it?— Yes! Well, then, be the first, /my dear Chevalier/, to hear" [Mademoiselle Cormon dropped her eyes] "of the honor that mademoiselle has done me, the secret of which I have kept for some months. We shall be married in a few days; the contract is already drawn, and we shall sign it to-morrow. You see, therefore, that my house in the rue du Cygne is useless to me. I have been privately looking for a purchaser for some time; and the Abbe de Sponde, who knew that fact, has naturally taken Monsieur de Troisville to see the house."
This falsehood bore such an appearance of truth that the chevalier was taken in by it. That "my dear chevalier" was like the revenge taken by Peter the Great on Charles XII. at Pultawa for all his past defeats. Du Bousquier revenged himself deliciously for the thousand little shafts he had long borne in silence; but in his triumph he made a lively youthful gesture by running his hands through his hair, and in so doing he—knocked aside his false front.
"I congratulate you both," said the chevalier, with an agreeable air; "and I wish that the marriage may end like a fairy tale: /They were happy ever after, and had—many—children/!" So saying, he took a pinch of snuff. "But, monsieur," he added satirically, "you forget—that you are wearing a false front."
Du Bousquier blushed. The false front was hanging half a dozen inches from his skull. Mademoiselle Cormon raised her eyes, saw that skull in all its nudity, and lowered them, abashed. Du Bousquier cast upon the chevalier the most venomous look that toad ever darted on its prey.
"Dogs of aristocrats who despise me," thought he, "I'll crush you some day."
The chevalier thought he had recovered his advantage. But Mademoiselle Cormon was not a woman to understand the connection which the chevalier intimated between his congratulatory wish and the false front. Besides, even if she had comprehended it, her word was passed, her hand given. Monsieur de Valois saw at once that all was lost. The innocent woman, with the two now silent men before her, wished, true to her sense of duty, to amuse them.
"Why not play a game of piquet together?" she said artlessly, without the slightest malice.
Du Bousquier smiled, and went, as the future master of the house, to fetch the piquet table. Whether the Chevalier de Valois lost his head, or whether he wanted to stay and study the causes of his disaster and remedy it, certain it is that he allowed himself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter. He had received the most violent knock-down blow that ever struck a man; any nobleman would have lost his senses for less.
The Abbe de Sponde and the Vicomte de Troisville soon returned. Mademoiselle Cormon instantly rose, hurried into the antechamber, and took her uncle apart to tell him her resolution. Learning that the house in the rue du Cygne exactly suited the viscount, she begged her future husband to do her the kindness to tell him that her uncle knew it was for sale. She dared not confide that lie to the abbe, fearing his absent-mindedness. The lie, however, prospered better than if it had been a virtuous action. In the course of that evening all Alencon heard the news. For the last four days the town had had as much to think of as during the fatal days of 1814 and 1815. Some laughed; others admitted the marriage. These blamed it; those approved it. The middle classes of Alencon rejoiced; they regarded it as a victory. The next day, among friends, the Chevalier de Valois said a cruel thing:—
"The Cormons end as they began; there's only a hand's breadth between a steward and a purveyor."
The news of Mademoiselle Cormon's choice stabbed poor Athanase Granson to the heart; but he showed no outward sign of the terrible agitation within him. When he first heard of the marriage he was at the house of the chief-justice, du Ronceret, where his mother was playing boston. Madame Granson looked at her son in a mirror, and thought him pale; but he had been so all day, for a vague rumor of the matter had already reached him.
Mademoiselle Cormon was the card on which Athanase had staked his life; and the cold presentiment of a catastrophe was already upon him. When the soul and the imagination have magnified a misfortune and made it too heavy for the shoulders and the brain to bear; when a hope long cherished, the realization of which would pacify the vulture feeding on the heart, is balked, and the man has faith neither in himself, despite his powers, nor in the future, despite of the Divine power, —then that man is lost. Athanase was a fruit of the Imperial system of education. Fatality, the Emperor's religion, had filtered down from the throne to the lowest ranks of the army and the benches of the lyceums. Athanase sat still, with his eyes fixed on Madame du Ronceret's cards, in a stupor that might so well pass for indifference that Madame Granson herself was deceived about his feelings. This apparent unconcern explained her son's refusal to make a sacrifice for this marriage of his /liberal/ opinions,—the term "liberal" having lately been created for the Emperor Alexander by, I think, Madame de Stael, through the lips of Benjamin Constant.
After that fatal evening the young man took to rambling among the picturesque regions of the Sarthe, the banks of which are much frequented by sketchers who come to Alencon for points of view. Windmills are there, and the river is gay in the meadows. The shores of the Sarthe are bordered with beautiful trees, well grouped. Though the landscape is flat, it is not without those modest graces which distinguish France, where the eye is never wearied by the brilliancy of Oriental skies, nor saddened by constant fog. The place is solitary. In the provinces no one pays much attention to a fine view, either because provincials are blases on the beauty around them, or because they have no poesy in their souls. If there exists in the provinces a mall, a promenade, a vantage-ground from which a fine view can be obtained, that is the point to which no one goes. Athanase was fond of this solitude, enlivened by the sparkling water, where the fields were the first to green under the earliest smiling of the springtide sun. Those persons who saw him sitting beneath a poplar, and who noticed the vacant eye which he turned to them, would say to Madame Granson:—
"Something is the matter with your son."
"I know what it is," the mother would reply; hinting that he was meditating over some great work.
Athanase no longer took part in politics: he ceased to have opinions; but he appeared at times quite gay,—gay with the satire of those who think to insult a whole world with their own individual scorn. This young man, outside of all the ideas and all the pleasures of the provinces, interested few persons; he was not even an object of curiosity. If persons spoke of him to his mother, it was for her sake, not his. There was not a single soul in Alencon that sympathized with his; not a woman, not a friend came near to dry his tears; they dropped into the Sarthe. If the gorgeous Suzanne had happened that way, how many young miseries might have been born of the meeting! for the two would surely have loved each other.
She did come, however. Suzanne's ambition was early excited by the tale of a strange adventure which had happened at the tavern of the More,—a tale which had taken possession of her childish brain. A Parisian woman, beautiful as the angels, was sent by Fouche to entangle the Marquis de Montauran, otherwise called "The Gars," in a love-affair (see "The Chouans"). She met him at the tavern of the More on his return from an expedition to Mortagne; she cajoled him, made him love her, and then betrayed him. That fantastic power—the power of beauty over mankind; in fact, the whole story of Marie de Verneuil and the Gars—dazzled Suzanne; she longed to grow up in order to play upon men. Some months after her hasty departure she passed through her native town with an artist on his way to Brittany. She wanted to see Fougeres, where the adventure of the Marquis de Montauran culminated, and to stand upon the scene of that picturesque war, the tragedies of which, still so little known, had filled her childish mind. Besides this, she had a fancy to pass through Alencon so elegantly equipped that no one could recognize her; to put her mother above the reach of necessity, and also to send to poor Athanase, in a delicate manner, a sum of money,—which in our age is to genius what in the middle ages was the charger and the coat of mail that Rebecca conveyed to Ivanhoe.
One month passed away in the strangest uncertainties respecting the marriage of Mademoiselle Cormon. A party of unbelievers denied the marriage altogether; the believers, on the other hand, affirmed it. At the end of two weeks, the faction of unbelief received a vigorous blow in the sale of du Bousquier's house to the Marquis de Troisville, who only wanted a simple establishment in Alencon, intending to go to Paris after the death of the Princess Scherbellof; he proposed to await that inheritance in retirement, and then to reconstitute his estates. This seemed positive. The unbelievers, however, were not crushed. They declared that du Bousquier, married or not, had made an excellent sale, for the house had only cost him twenty-seven thousand francs. The believers were depressed by this practical observation of the incredulous. Choisnel, Mademoiselle Cormon's notary, asserted the latter, had heard nothing about the marriage contract; but the believers, still firm in their faith, carried off, on the twentieth day, a signal victory: Monsieur Lepressoir, the notary of the liberals, went to Mademoiselle Cormon's house, and the contract was signed.
This was the first of the numerous sacrifices which Mademoiselle Cormon was destined to make to her husband. Du Bousquier bore the deepest hatred to Choisnel; to him he owed the refusal of the hand of Mademoiselle Armande,—a refusal which, as he believed, had influenced that of Mademoiselle Cormon. This circumstance alone made the marriage drag along. Mademoiselle received several anonymous letters. She learned, to her great astonishment, that Suzanne was as truly a virgin as herself so far as du Bousquier was concerned, for that seducer with the false toupet could never be the hero of any such adventure. Mademoiselle Cormon disdained anonymous letters; but she wrote to Suzanne herself, on the ground of enlightening the Maternity Society. Suzanne, who had no doubt heard of du Bousquier's proposed marriage, acknowledged her trick, sent a thousand francs to the society, and did all the harm she could to the old purveyor. Mademoiselle Cormon convoked the Maternity Society, which held a special meeting at which it was voted that the association would not in future assist any misfortunes about to happen, but solely those that had happened.
In spite of all these various events which kept the town in the choicest gossip, the banns were published in the churches and at the mayor's office. Athanase prepared the deeds. As a matter of propriety and public decency, the bride retired to Prebaudet, where du Bousquier, bearing sumptuous and horrible bouquets, betook himself every morning, returning home for dinner.
At last, on a dull and rainy morning in June, the marriage of Mademoiselle Cormon and the Sieur du Bousquier took place at noon in the parish church of Alencon, in sight of the whole town. The bridal pair went from their own house to the mayor's office, and from the mayor's office to the church in an open caleche, a magnificent vehicle for Alencon, which du Bousquier had sent for secretly to Paris. The loss of the old carriole was a species of calamity in the eyes of the community. The harness-maker of the Porte de Seez bemoaned it, for he lost the fifty francs a year which it cost in repairs. Alencon saw with alarm the possibility of luxury being thus introduced into the town. Every one feared a rise in the price of rents and provisions, and a coming invasion of Parisian furniture. Some persons were sufficiently pricked by curiosity to give ten sous to Jacquelin to allow them a close inspection of the vehicle which threatened to upset the whole economy of the region. A pair of horses, bought in Normandie, were also most alarming.
"If we bought our own horses," said the Ronceret circle, "we couldn't sell them to those who come to buy."
Stupid as it was, this reasoning seemed sound; for surely such a course would prevent the region from grasping the money of foreigners. In the eyes of the provinces wealth consisted less in the rapid turning over of money than in sterile accumulation. It may be mentioned here that Penelope succumbed to a pleurisy which she acquired about six weeks before the marriage; nothing could save her.
Madame Granson, Mariette, Madame du Coudrai, Madame du Ronceret, and through them the whole town, remarked that Madame du Bousquier entered the church /with her left foot/,—an omen all the more dreadful because the term Left was beginning to acquire a political meaning. The priest whose duty it was to read the opening formula opened his book by chance at the De Profundis. Thus the marriage was accompanied by circumstances so fateful, so alarming, so annihilating that no one dared to augur well of it. Matters, in fact, went from bad to worse. There was no wedding party; the married pair departed immediately for Prebaudet. Parisian customs, said the community, were about to triumph over time-honored provincial ways.
The marriage of Jacquelin and Josette now took place: it was gay; and they were the only two persons in Alencon who refuted the sinister prophecies relating to the marriage of their mistress.
Du Bousquier determined to use the proceeds of the sale of his late residence in restoring and modernizing the hotel Cormon. He decided to remain through two seasons at Prebaudet, and took the Abbe de Sponde with them. This news spread terror through the town, where every individual felt that du Bousquier was about to drag the community into the fatal path of "comfort." This fear increased when the inhabitants of Alencon saw the bridegroom driving in from Prebaudet one morning to inspect his works, in a fine tilbury drawn by a new horse, having Rene at his side in livery. The first act of his administration had been to place his wife's savings on the Grand-Livre, which was then quoted at 67 fr. 50 cent. In the space of one year, during which he played constantly for a rise, he made himself a personal fortune almost as considerable as that of his wife.
But all these foreboding prophecies, these perturbing innovations, were superseded and surpassed by an event connected with this marriage which gave a still more fatal aspect to it.
On the very evening of the ceremony, Athanase and his mother were sitting, after their dinner, over a little fire of fagots, which the servant lighted usually at dessert.
"Well, we will go this evening to the du Roncerets', inasmuch as we have lost Mademoiselle Cormon," said Madame Granson. "Heavens! how shall I ever accustom myself to call her Madame du Bousquier! that name burns my lips."
Athanase looked at his mother with a constrained and melancholy air; he could not smile; but he seemed to wish to welcome that naive sentiment which soothed his wound, though it could not cure his anguish.
"Mamma," he said, in the voice of his childhood, so tender was it, and using the name he had abandoned for several years,—"my dear mamma, do not let us go out just yet; it is so pleasant here before the fire."
The mother heard, without comprehending, that supreme prayer of a mortal sorrow.
"Yes, let us stay, my child," she said. "I like much better to talk with you and listen to your projects than to play at boston and lose my money."
"You are so handsome to-night I love to look at you. Besides, I am in a current of ideas which harmonize with this poor little salon where we have suffered so much."
"And where we shall still suffer, my poor Athanase, until your works succeed. For myself, I am trained to poverty; but you, my treasure! to see your youth go by without a joy! nothing but toil for my poor boy in life! That thought is like an illness to a mother; it tortures me at night; it wakes me in the morning. O God! what have I done? for what crime dost thou punish me thus?"
She left her sofa, took a little chair, and sat close to Athanase, so as to lay her head on the bosom of her child. There is always the grace of love in true motherhood. Athanase kissed her on the eyes, on her gray hair, on her forehead, with the sacred desire of laying his soul wherever he applied his lips.
"I shall never succeed," he said, trying to deceive his mother as to the fatal resolution he was revolving in his mind.
"Pooh! don't get discouraged. As you often say, thought can do all things. With ten bottles of ink, ten reams of paper, and his powerful will, Luther upset all Europe. Well, you'll make yourself famous; you will do good things by the same means which he used to do evil things. Haven't you said so yourself? For my part, I listen to you; I understand you a great deal more than you think I do,—for I still bear you in my bosom, and your every thought still stirs me as your slightest motion did in other days."
"I shall never succeed here, mamma; and I don't want you to witness the sight of my struggles, my misery, my anguish. Oh, mother, let me leave Alencon! I want to suffer away from you."
"And I wish to be at your side," replied his mother, proudly. "Suffer without your mother!—that poor mother who would be your servant if necessary; who will efface herself rather than injure you; your mother, who will never shame you. No, no, Athanase; we must not part."
Athanase clung to his mother with the ardor of a dying man who clings to life.
"But I wish it, nevertheless. If not, you will lose me; this double grief, yours and mine, is killing me. You would rather I lived than died?"
Madame Granson looked at her son with a haggard eye.
"So this is what you have been brooding?" she said. "They told me right. Do you really mean to go?"
"You will not go without telling me; without warning me? You must have an outfit and money. I have some louis sewn into my petticoat; I shall give them to you."
"That's all I wanted to tell you," he said. "Now I'll take you to the du Roncerets'. Come."
The mother and the son went out. Athanase left his mother at the door of the house where she intended to pass the evening. He looked long at the light which came through the shutters; he clung closely to the wall, and a frenzied joy came over him when he presently heard his mother say, "He has great independence of heart."
"Poor mother! I have deceived her," he cried, as he made his way to the Sarthe.
He reached the noble poplar beneath which he had meditated so much for the last forty days, and where he had placed two heavy stones on which he now sat down. He contemplated that beautiful nature lighted by the moon; he reviewed once more the glorious future he had longed for; he passed through towns that were stirred by his name; he heard the applauding crowds; he breathed the incense of his fame; he adored that life long dreamed of; radiant, he sprang to radiant triumphs; he raised his stature; he evoked his illusions to bid them farewell in a last Olympic feast. The magic had been potent for a moment; but now it vanished forever. In that awful hour he clung to the beautiful tree to which, as to a friend, he had attached himself; then he put the two stones into the pockets of his overcoat, which he buttoned across his breast. He had come intentionally without a hat. He now went to the deep pool he had long selected, and glided into it resolutely, trying to make as little noise as possible, and, in fact, making scarcely any.
When, at half-past nine o'clock, Madame Granson returned home, her servant said nothing of Athanase, but gave her a letter. She opened it and read these few words,—
"My good mother, I have departed; don't be angry with me."
"A pretty trick he has played me!" she thought. "And his linen! and the money! Well, he will write to me, and then I'll follow him. These poor children think they are so much cleverer than their fathers and mothers."
And she went to bed in peace.
During the preceding morning the Sarthe had risen to a height foreseen by the fisherman. These sudden rises of muddy water brought eels from their various runlets. It so happened that a fisherman had spread his net at the very place where poor Athanase had flung himself, believing that no one would ever find him. About six o'clock in the morning the man drew in his net, and with it the young body. The few friends of the poor mother took every precaution in preparing her to receive the dreadful remains. The news of this suicide made, as may well be supposed, a great excitement in Alencon. The poor young man of genius had no protector the night before, but on the morrow of his death a thousand voices cried aloud, "I would have helped him." It is so easy and convenient to be charitable gratis!
The suicide was explained by the Chevalier de Valois. He revealed, in a spirit of revenge, the artless, sincere, and genuine love of Athanase for Mademoiselle Cormon. Madame Granson, enlightened by the chevalier, remembered a thousand little circumstances which confirmed the chevalier's statement. The story then became touching, and many women wept over it. Madame Granson's grief was silent, concentrated, and little understood. There are two forms of mourning for mothers. Often the world can enter fully into the nature of their loss: their son, admired, appreciated, young, perhaps handsome, with a noble path before him, leading to fortune, possibly to fame, excites universal regret; society joins in the grief, and alleviates while it magnifies it. But there is another sorrow of mothers who alone know what their child was really; who alone have received his smiles and observed the treasures of a life too soon cut short. That sorrow hides its woe, the blackness of which surpasses all other mourning; it cannot be described; happily there are but few women whose heart-strings are thus severed.
Before Madame du Bousquier returned to town, Madame du Ronceret, one of her good friends, had driven out to Prebaudet to fling this corpse upon the roses of her joy, to show her the love she had ignored, and sweetly shed a thousand drops of wormwood into the honey of her bridal month. As Madame du Bousquier drove back to Alencon, she chanced to meet Madame Granson at the corner of the rue Val-Noble. The glance of the mother, dying of her grief, struck to the heart of the poor woman. A thousand maledictions, a thousand flaming reproaches, were in that look: Madame du Bousquier was horror-struck; that glance predicted and called down evil upon her head.
The evening after the catastrophe, Madame Granson, one of the persons most opposed to the rector of the town, and who had hitherto supported the minister of Saint-Leonard, began to tremble as she thought of the inflexible Catholic doctrines professed by her own party. After placing her son's body in its shroud with her own hands, thinking of the mother of the Saviour, she went, with a soul convulsed by anguish, to the house of the hated rector. There she found the modest priest in an outer room, engaged in putting away the flax and yarns with which he supplied poor women, in order that they might never be wholly out of work,—a form of charity which saved many who were incapable of begging from actual penury. The rector left his yarns and hastened to take Madame Granson into his dining-room, where the wretched mother noticed, as she looked at his supper, the frugal method of his own living.
"Monsieur l'abbe," she said, "I have come to implore you—" She burst into tears, unable to continue.
"I know what brings you," replied the saintly man. "I must trust to you, madame, and to your relation, Madame du Bousquier, to pacify Monseigneur the Bishop at Seez. Yes, I will pray for your unhappy child; yes, I will say the masses. But we must avoid all scandal, and give no opportunity for evil-judging persons to assemble in the church. I alone, without other clergy, at night—"
"Yes, yes, as you think best; if only he may lie in consecrated ground," said the poor mother, taking the priest's hand and kissing it.
Toward midnight a coffin was clandestinely borne to the parish church by four young men, comrades whom Athanase had liked the best. A few friends of Madame Granson, women dressed in black, and veiled, were present; and half a dozen other young men who had been somewhat intimate with this lost genius. Four torches flickered on the coffin, which was covered with crape. The rector, assisted by one discreet choirboy, said the mortuary mass. Then the body of the suicide was noiselessly carried to a corner of the cemetery, where a black wooden cross, without inscription, was all that indicated its place hereafter to the mother. Athanase lived and died in shadow. No voice was raised to blame the rector; the bishop kept silence. The piety of the mother redeemed the impiety of the son's last act.
Some months later, the poor woman, half beside herself with grief, and moved by one of those inexplicable thirsts which misery feels to steep its lips in the bitter chalice, determined to see the spot where her son was drowned. Her instinct may have told her that thoughts of his could be recovered beneath that poplar; perhaps, too, she desired to see what his eyes had seen for the last time. Some mothers would die of the sight; others give themselves up to it in saintly adoration. Patient anatomists of human nature cannot too often enunciate the truths before which all educations, laws, and philosophical systems must give way. Let us repeat continually: it is absurd to force sentiments into one formula: appearing as they do, in each individual man, they combine with the elements that form his nature and take his own physiognomy.
Madame Granson, as she stood on that fatal spot, saw a woman approach it, who exclaimed,—
"Was it here?"
That woman wept as the mother wept. It was Suzanne. Arriving that morning at the hotel du More, she had been told of the catastrophe. If poor Athanase had been living, she meant to do as many noble souls, who are moneyless, dream of doing, and as the rich never think of doing,—she meant to have sent him several thousand francs, writing up the envelope the words: "Money due to your father from a comrade who makes restitution to you." This tender scheme had been arranged by Suzanne during her journey.
The courtesan caught sight of Madame Granson and moved rapidly away, whispering as she passed her, "I loved him!"
Suzanne, faithful to her nature, did not leave Alencon on this occasion without changing the orange-blossoms of the bride to rue. She was the first to declare that Madame du Bousquier would never be anything but Mademoiselle Cormon. With one stab of her tongue she revenged poor Athanase and her dear chevalier.
Alencon now witnessed a suicide that was slower and quite differently pitiful from that of poor Athanase, who was quickly forgotten by society, which always makes haste to forget its dead. The poor Chevalier de Valois died in life; his suicide was a daily occurrence for fourteen years. Three months after the du Bousquier marriage society remarked, not without astonishment, that the linen of the chevalier was frayed and rusty, that his hair was irregularly combed and brushed. With a frowsy head the Chevalier de Valois could no longer be said to exist! A few of his ivory teeth deserted, though the keenest observers of human life were unable to discover to what body they had hitherto belonged, whether to a foreign legion or whether they were indigenous, vegetable or animal; whether age had pulled them from the chevalier's mouth, or whether they were left forgotten in the drawer of his dressing-table. The cravat was crooked, indifferent to elegance. The negroes' heads grew pale with dust and grease. The wrinkles of the face were blackened and puckered; the skin became parchment. The nails, neglected, were often seen, alas! with a black velvet edging. The waistcoat was tracked and stained with droppings which spread upon its surface like autumn leaves. The cotton in the ears was seldom changed. Sadness reigned upon that brow, and slipped its yellowing tints into the depths of each furrow. In short, the ruins, hitherto so cleverly hidden, now showed through the cracks and crevices of that fine edifice, and proved the power of the soul over the body; for the fair and dainty man, the cavalier, the young blood, died when hope deserted him. Until then the nose of the chevalier was ever delicate and nice; never had a damp black blotch, nor an amber drop fall from it; but now that nose, smeared with tobacco around the nostrils, degraded by the driblets which took advantage of the natural gutter placed between itself and the upper lip,—that nose, which no longer cared to seem agreeable, revealed the infinite pains which the chevalier had formerly taken with his person, and made observers comprehend, by the extent of its degradation, the greatness and persistence of the man's designs upon Mademoiselle Cormon.
Alas, too, the anecdotes went the way of the teeth; the clever sayings grew rare. The appetite, however, remained; the old nobleman saved nothing but his stomach from the wreck of his hopes; though he languidly prepared his pinches of snuff, he ate alarming dinners. Perhaps you will more fully understand the disaster that this marriage was to the mind and heart of the chevalier when you learn that his intercourse with the Princess Goritza became less frequent.
One day he appeared in Mademoiselle Armande's salon with the calf of his leg on the shin-bone. This bankruptcy of the graces was, I do assure you, terrible, and struck all Alencon with horror. The late young man had become an old one; this human being, who, by the breaking-down of his spirit, had passed at once from fifty to ninety years of age, frightened society. Besides, his secret was betrayed; he had waited and watched for Mademoiselle Cormon; he had, like a patient hunter, adjusted his aim for ten whole years, and finally had missed the game! In short, the impotent Republic had won the day from Valiant Chivalry, and that, too, under the Restoration! Form triumphed; mind was vanquished by matter, diplomacy by insurrection. And, O final blow! a mortified grisette revealed the secret of the chevalier's mornings, and he now passed for a libertine. The liberals cast at his door all the foundlings hitherto attributed to du Bousquier. But the faubourg Saint-Germain of Alencon accepted them proudly: it even said, "That poor chevalier, what else could he do?" The faubourg pitied him, gathered him closer to their circle, and brought back a few rare smiles to his face; but frightful enmity was piled upon the head of du Bousquier. Eleven persons deserted the Cormon salon, and passed to that of the d'Esgrignons.
The old maid's marriage had a signal effect in defining the two parties in Alencon. The salon d'Esgrignon represented the upper aristocracy (the returning Troisvilles attached themselves to it); the Cormon salon represented, under the clever influence of du Bousquier, that fatal class of opinions which, without being truly liberal or resolutely royalist, gave birth to the 221 on that famous day when the struggle openly began between the most august, grandest, and only true power, /royalty/, and the most false, most changeful, most oppressive of all powers,—the power called /parliamentary/, which elective assemblies exercise. The salon du Ronceret, secretly allied to the Cormon salon, was boldly liberal.
The Abbe de Sponde, after his return from Prebaudet, bore many and continual sufferings, which he kept within his breast, saying no word of them to his niece. But to Mademoiselle Armande he opened his heart, admitting that, folly for folly, he would much have preferred the Chevalier de Valois to Monsieur du Bousquier. Never would the dear chevalier have had the bad taste to contradict and oppose a poor old man who had but a few days more to live; du Bousquier had destroyed everything in the good old home. The abbe said, with scanty tears moistening his aged eyes,—
"Mademoiselle, I haven't even the little grove where I have walked for fifty years. My beloved lindens are all cut down! At the moment of my death the Republic appears to me more than ever under the form of a horrible destruction of the Home."
"You must pardon your niece," said the Chevalier de Valois. "Republican ideas are the first error of youth which seeks for liberty; later it finds it the worst of despotisms,—that of an impotent canaille. Your poor niece is punished where she sinned."
"What will become of me in a house where naked women are painted on the walls?" said the poor abbe. "Where shall I find other lindens beneath which to read my breviary?"
Like Kant, who was unable to collect his thoughts after the fir-tree at which he was accustomed to gaze while meditating was cut down, so the poor abbe could never attain the ardor of his former prayers while walking up and down the shadeless paths. Du Bousquier had planted an English garden.
"It was best," said Madame du Bousquier, without thinking so; but the Abbe Couterier had authorized her to commit many wrongs to please her husband.
These restorations destroyed all the venerable dignity, cordiality, and patriarchal air of the old house. Like the Chevalier de Valois, whose personal neglect might be called an abdication, the bourgeois dignity of the Cormon salon no longer existed when it was turned to white and gold, with mahogany ottomans covered in blue satin. The dining-room, adorned in modern taste, was colder in tone than it used to be, and the dinners were eaten with less appetite than formerly. Monsieur du Coudrai declared that he felt his puns stick in his throat as he glanced at the figures painted on the walls, which looked him out of countenance. Externally, the house was still provincial; but internally everything revealed the purveyor of the Directory and the bad taste of the money-changer,—for instance, columns in stucco, glass doors, Greek mouldings, meaningless outlines, all styles conglomerated, magnificence out of place and out of season.
The town of Alencon gabbled for two weeks over this luxury, which seemed unparalleled; but a few months later the community was proud of it, and several rich manufacturers restored their houses and set up fine salons. Modern furniture came into the town, and astral lamps were seen!
The Abbe de Sponde was among the first to perceive the secret unhappiness this marriage now brought to the private life of his beloved niece. The character of noble simplicity which had hitherto ruled their lives was lost during the first winter, when du Bousquier gave two balls every month. Oh, to hear violins and profane music at these worldly entertainments in the sacred old house! The abbe prayed on his knees while the revels lasted. Next the political system of the sober salon was slowly perverted. The abbe fathomed du Bousquier; he shuddered at his imperious tone; he saw the tears in his niece's eyes when she felt herself losing all control over her own property; for her husband now left nothing in her hands but the management of the linen, the table, and things of a kind which are the lot of women. Rose had no longer any orders to give. Monsieur's will was alone regarded by Jacquelin, now become coachman, by Rene, the groom, and by the chef, who came from Paris, Mariette being reduced to kitchen maid. Madame du Bousquier had no one to rule but Josette. Who knows what it costs to relinquish the delights of power? If the triumph of the will is one of the intoxicating pleasures in the lives of great men, it is the ALL of life to narrow minds. One must needs have been a minister dismissed from power to comprehend the bitter pain which came upon Madame du Bousquier when she found herself reduced to this absolute servitude. She often got into the carriage against her will; she saw herself surrounded by servants who were distasteful to her; she no longer had the handling of her dear money,—she who had known herself free to spend money, and did not spend it.
All imposed limits make the human being desire to go beyond them. The keenest sufferings come from the thwarting of self-will. The beginning of this state of things was, however, rose-colored. Every concession made to marital authority was an effect of the love which the poor woman felt for her husband. Du Bousquier behaved, in the first instance, admirably to his wife: he was wise; he was excellent; he gave her the best of reasons for each new encroachment. So for the first two years of her marriage Madame du Bousquier appeared to be satisfied. She had that deliberate, demure little air which distinguishes young women who have married for love. The rush of blood to her head no longer tormented her. This appearance of satisfaction routed the scoffers, contradicted certain rumors about du Bousquier, and puzzled all observers of the human heart. Rose-Marie-Victoire was so afraid that if she displeased her husband or opposed him, she would lose his affection and be deprived of his company, that she would willingly have sacrificed all to him, even her uncle. Her silly little forms of pleasure deceived even the poor abbe for a time, who endured his own trials all the better for thinking that his niece was happy, after all.
Alencon at first thought the same. But there was one man more difficult to deceive than the whole town put together. The Chevalier de Valois, who had taken refuge on the Sacred Mount of the upper aristocracy, now passed his life at the d'Esgrignons. He listened to the gossip and the gabble, and he thought day and night upon his vengeance. He meant to strike du Bousquier to the heart.
The poor abbe fully understood the baseness of this first and last love of his niece; he shuddered as, little by little, he perceived the hypocritical nature of his nephew and his treacherous manoeuvres. Though du Bousquier restrained himself, as he thought of the abbe's property, and wished not to cause him vexation, it was his hand that dealt the blow that sent the old priest to his grave. If you will interpret the word /intolerance/ as /firmness of principle/, if you do not wish to condemn in the catholic soul of the Abbe de Sponde the stoicism which Walter Scott has made you admire in the puritan soul of Jeanie Deans' father; if you are willing to recognize in the Roman Church the Potius mori quam foedari that you admire in republican tenets,—you will understand the sorrow of the Abbe de Sponde when he saw in his niece's salon the apostate priest, the renegade, the pervert, the heretic, that enemy of the Church, the guilty taker of the Constitutional oath. Du Bousquier, whose secret ambition was to lay down the law to the town, wished, as a first proof of his power, to reconcile the minister of Saint-Leonard with the rector of the parish, and he succeeded. His wife thought he had accomplished a work of peace where the immovable abbe saw only treachery. The bishop came to visit du Bousquier, and seemed glad of the cessation of hostilities. The virtues of the Abbe Francois had conquered prejudice, except that of the aged Roman Catholic, who exclaimed with Cornelle, "Alas! what virtues do you make me hate!"
The abbe died when orthodoxy thus expired in the diocese.
In 1819, the property of the Abbe de Sponde increased Madame du Bousquier's income from real estate to twenty-five thousand francs without counting Prebaudet or the house in the Val-Noble. About this time du Bousquier returned to his wife the capital of her savings which she had yielded to him; and he made her use it in purchasing lands contiguous to Prebaudet, which made that domain one of the most considerable in the department, for the estates of the Abbe de Sponde also adjoined it. Du Bousquier thus passed for one of the richest men of the department. This able man, the constant candidate of the liberals, missing by seven or eight votes only in all the electoral battles fought under the Restoration, and who ostensibly repudiated the liberals by trying to be elected as a ministerial royalist (without ever being able to conquer the aversion of the administration),—this rancorous republican, mad with ambition, resolved to rival the royalism and aristocracy of Alencon at the moment when they once more had the upper hand. He strengthened himself with the Church by the deceitful appearance of a well-feigned piety: he accompanied his wife to mass; he gave money for the convents of the town; he assisted the congregation of the Sacre-Coeur; he took sides with the clergy on all occasions when the clergy came into collision with the town, the department, or the State. Secretly supported by the liberals, protected by the Church, calling himself a constitutional royalist, he kept beside the aristocracy of the department in the one hope of ruining it,—and he did ruin it. Ever on the watch for the faults and blunders of the nobility and the government, he laid plans for his vengeance against the "chateau-people," and especially against the d'Esgrignons, in whose bosom he was one day to thrust a poisoned dagger.
Among other benefits to the town he gave money liberally to revive the manufacture of point d'Alencon; he renewed the trade in linens, and the town had a factory. Inscribing himself thus upon the interests and heart of the masses, by doing what the royalists did not do, du Bousquier did not really risk a farthing. Backed by his fortune, he could afford to wait results which enterprising persons who involve themselves are forced to abandon to luckier successors.
Du Bousquier now posed as a banker. This miniature Lafitte was a partner in all new enterprises, taking good security. He served himself while apparently serving the interests of the community. He was the prime mover of insurance companies, the protector of new enterprises for public conveyance; he suggested petitions for asking the administration for the necessary roads and bridges. Thus warned, the government considered this action an encroachment of its own authority. A struggle was begun injudiciously, for the good of the community compelled the authorities to yield in the end. Du Bousquier embittered the provincial nobility against the court nobility and the peerage; and finally he brought about the shocking adhesion of a strong party of constitutional royalists to the warfare sustained by the "Journal des Debats," and M. de Chateaubriand against the throne, —an ungrateful opposition based on ignoble interests, which was one cause of the triumph of the bourgeoisie and journalism in 1830.
Thus du Bousquier, in common with the class he represented, had the satisfaction of beholding the funeral of royalty. The old republican, smothered with masses, who for fifteen years had played that comedy to satisfy his vendetta, himself threw down with his own hand the white flag of the mayoralty to the applause of the multitude. No man in France cast upon the new throne raised in August, 1830, a glance of more intoxicated, joyous vengeance. The accession of the Younger Branch was the triumph of the Revolution. To him the victory of the tricolor meant the resurrection of Montagne, which this time should surely bring the nobility down to the dust by means more certain than that of the guillotine, because less violent. The peerage without heredity; the National Guard, which puts on the same camp-bed the corner grocer and the marquis; the abolition of the entails demanded by a bourgeois lawyer; the Catholic Church deprived of its supremacy; and all the other legislative inventions of August, 1830,—were to du Bousquier the wisest possible application of the principles of 1793.
Since 1830 this man has been a receiver-general. He relied for his advancement on his relations with the Duc d'Orleans, father of Louis Philippe, and with Monsieur de Folmon, formerly steward to the Duchess-dowager of Orleans. He receives about eighty thousand francs a year. In the eyes of the people about him Monsieur du Bousquier is a man of means,—a respectable man, steady in his principles, upright, and obliging. Alencon owes to him its connection with the industrial movement by which Brittany may possibly some day be joined to what is popularly called modern civilization. Alencon, which up to 1816 could boast of only two private carriages, saw, without amazement, in the course of ten years, coupes, landaus, tilburies, and cabriolets rolling through her streets. The burghers and the land-owners, alarmed at first lest the price of everything should increase, recognized later that this increase in the style of living had a contrary effect upon their revenues. The prophetic remark of du Ronceret, "Du Bousquier is a very strong man," was adopted by the whole country-side.
But, unhappily for the wife, that saying has a double meaning. The husband does not in any way resemble the public politician. This great citizen, so liberal to the world about him, so kindly inspired with love for his native place, is a despot in his own house, and utterly devoid of conjugal affection. This man, so profoundly astute, hypocritical, and sly; this Cromwell of the Val-Noble,—behaves in his home as he behaves to the aristocracy, whom he caresses in hopes to throttle them. Like his friend Bernadotte, he wears a velvet glove upon his iron hand. His wife has given him no children. Suzanne's remark and the chevalier's insinuations were therefore justified. But the liberal bourgeoisie, the constitutional-royalist-bourgeoisie, the country-squires, the magistracy, and the "church party" laid the blame on Madame du Bousquier. "She was too old," they said; "Monsieur du Bousquier had married her too late. Besides, it was very lucky for the poor woman; it was dangerous at her age to bear children!" When Madame du Bousquier confided, weeping, her periodic despair to Mesdames du Coudrai and du Ronceret, those ladies would reply,—
"But you are crazy, my dear; you don't know what you are wishing for; a child would be your death."
Many men, whose hopes were fastened on du Bousquier's triumph, sang his praises to their wives, who in turn repeated them to the poor wife in some such speech as this:—
"You are very lucky, dear, to have married such an able man; you'll escape the misery of women whose husbands are men without energy, incapable of managing their property, or bringing up their children."
"Your husband is making you queen of the department, my love. He'll never leave you embarrassed, not he! Why, he leads all Alencon."
"But I wish," said the poor wife, "that he gave less time to the public and—"
"You are hard to please, my dear Madame du Bousquier. I assure you that all the women in town envy you your husband."
Misjudged by society, which began by blaming her, the pious woman found ample opportunity in her home to display her virtues. She lived in tears, but she never ceased to present to others a placid face. To so Christian a soul a certain thought which pecked forever at her heart was a crime: "I loved the Chevalier de Valois," it said; "but I have married du Bousquier." The love of poor Athanase Granson also rose like a phantom of remorse, and pursued her even in her dreams. The death of her uncle, whose griefs at the last burst forth, made her life still more sorrowful; for she now felt the suffering her uncle must have endured in witnessing the change of political and religious opinion in the old house. Sorrow often falls like a thunderbolt, as it did on Madame Granson; but in this old maid it slowly spread like a drop of oil, which never leaves the stuff that slowly imbibes it.
The Chevalier de Valois was the malicious manipulator who brought about the crowning misfortune of Madame du Bousquier's life. His heart was set on undeceiving her pious simplicity; for the chevalier, expert in love, divined du Bousquier, the married man, as he had divined du Bousquier, the bachelor. But the wary republican was difficult of attack. His salon was, of course, closed to the Chevalier de Valois, as to all those who, in the early days of his marriage, had slighted the Cormon mansion. He was, moreover, impervious to ridicule; he possessed a vast fortune; he reigned in Alencon; he cared as little for his wife as Richard III. cared for the dead horse which had helped him win a battle. To please her husband, Madame du Bousquier had broken off relations with the d'Esgrignon household, where she went no longer, except that sometimes when her husband left her during his trips to Paris, she would pay a brief visit to Mademoiselle Armande.
About three years after her marriage, at the time of the Abbe de Sponde's death, Mademoiselle Armande joined Madame du Bousquier as they were leaving Saint-Leonard's, where they had gone to hear a requiem said for him. The generous demoiselle thought that on this occasion she owed her sympathy to the niece in trouble. They walked together, talking of the dear deceased, until they reached the forbidden house, into which Mademoiselle Armande enticed Madame du Bousquier by the charm of her manner and conversation. The poor desolate woman was glad to talk of her uncle with one whom he truly loved. Moreover, she wanted to receive the condolences of the old marquis, whom she had not seen for nearly three years. It was half-past one o'clock, and she found at the hotel d'Esgrignon the Chevalier de Valois, who had come to dinner. As he bowed to her, he took her by the hands.
"Well, dear, virtuous, and beloved lady," he said, in a tone of emotion, "we have lost our sainted friend; we share your grief. Yes, your loss is as keenly felt here as in your own home,—more so," he added, alluding to du Bousquier.
After a few more words of funeral oration, in which all present spoke from the heart, the chevalier took Madame du Bousquier's arm, and, gallantly placing it within his own, pressed it adoringly as he led her to the recess of a window.
"Are you happy?" he said in a fatherly voice.
"Yes," she said, dropping her eyes.
Hearing that "Yes," Madame de Troisville, the daughter of the Princess Scherbellof, and the old Marquise de Casteran came up and joined the chevalier, together with Mademoiselle Armande. They all went to walk in the garden until dinner was served, without any perception on the part of Madame du Bousquier that a little conspiracy was afoot. "We have her! now let us find out the secret of the case," were the words written in the eyes of all present.
"To make your happiness complete," said Mademoiselle Armande, "you ought to have children,—a fine lad like my nephew—"
Tears seemed to start in Madame du Bousquier's eyes.
"I have heard it said that you were the one to blame in the matter, and that you feared the dangers of a pregnancy," said the chevalier.
"I!" she said artlessly. "I would buy a child with a hundred years of purgatory if I could."
On the question thus started a discussion arose, conducted by Madame de Troisville and the old Marquise de Casteran with such delicacy and adroitness that the poor victim revealed, without being aware of it, the secrets of her house. Mademoiselle Armande had taken the chevalier's arm, and walked away so as to leave the three women free to discuss wedlock. Madame du Bousquier was then enlightened on the various deceptions of her marriage; and as she was still the same simpleton she had always been, she amused her advisers by delightful naivetes.
Although at first the deceptive marriage of Mademoiselle Cormon made a laugh throughout the town, which was soon initiated into the story of the case, before long Madame du Bousquier won the esteem and sympathy of all the women. The fact that Mademoiselle Cormon had flung herself headlong into marriage without succeeding in being married, made everybody laugh at her; but when they learned the exceptional position in which the sternness of her religious principles placed her, all the world admired her. "That poor Madame du Bousquier" took the place of "That good Mademoiselle Cormon."
Thus the chevalier contrived to render du Bousquier both ridiculous and odious for a time; but ridicule ends by weakening; when all had said their say about him, the gossip died out. Besides, at fifty-seven years of age the dumb republican seemed to many people to have a right to retire. This affair, however, envenomed the hatred which du Bousquier already bore to the house of Esgrignon to such a degree that it made him pitiless when the day of vengeance came. [See "The Gallery of Antiquities."] Madame du Bousquier received orders never again to set foot into that house. By way of reprisals upon the chevalier for the trick thus played him, du Bousquier, who had just created the journal called the "Courrier de l'Orne," caused the following notice to be inserted in it:—
"Bonds to the amount of one thousand francs a year will be paid to any person who can prove the existence of one Monsieur de Pombreton before, during, or after the Emigration."
Although her marriage was essentially negative, Madame du Bousquier saw some advantages in it: was it not better to interest herself in the most remarkable man in the town than to live alone? Du Bousquier was preferable to a dog, or cat, or those canaries that spinsters love. He showed for his wife a sentiment more real and less selfish than that which is felt by servants, confessors, and hopeful heirs. Later in life she came to consider her husband as the instrument of divine wrath; for she then saw innumerable sins in her former desires for marriage; she regarded herself as justly punished for the sorrow she had brought on Madame Granson, and for the hastened death of her uncle. Obedient to that religion which commands us to kiss the rod with which the punishment is inflicted, she praised her husband, and publicly approved him. But in the confessional, or at night, when praying, she wept often, imploring God's forgiveness for the apostasy of the man who thought the contrary of what he professed, and who desired the destruction of the aristocracy and the Church,—the two religions of the house of Cormon.