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Title: The Ball at Sceaux
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Translated By Clara Bell

              To Henri de Balzac, his brother Honore.


The Comte de Fontaine, head of one of the oldest families in Poitou, had
served the Bourbon cause with intelligence and bravery during the war
in La Vendee against the Republic. After having escaped all the dangers
which threatened the royalist leaders during this stormy period of
modern history, he was wont to say in jest, “I am one of the men who
gave themselves to be killed on the steps of the throne.” And the
pleasantry had some truth in it, as spoken by a man left for dead at the
bloody battle of Les Quatre Chemins. Though ruined by confiscation, the
staunch Vendeen steadily refused the lucrative posts offered to him
by the Emperor Napoleon. Immovable in his aristocratic faith, he had
blindly obeyed its precepts when he thought it fitting to choose
a companion for life. In spite of the blandishments of a rich but
revolutionary parvenu, who valued the alliance at a high figure, he
married Mademoiselle de Kergarouet, without a fortune, but belonging to
one of the oldest families in Brittany.

When the second revolution burst on Monsieur de Fontaine he was
encumbered with a large family. Though it was no part of the noble
gentlemen’s views to solicit favors, he yielded to his wife’s wish, left
his country estate, of which the income barely sufficed to maintain his
children, and came to Paris. Saddened by seeing the greediness of his
former comrades in the rush for places and dignities under the new
Constitution, he was about to return to his property when he received a
ministerial despatch, in which a well-known magnate announced to him his
nomination as marechal de camp, or brigadier-general, under a rule
which allowed the officers of the Catholic armies to count the twenty
submerged years of Louis XVIII.’s reign as years of service. Some days
later he further received, without any solicitation, ex officio, the
crosses of the Legion of Honor and of Saint-Louis.

Shaken in his determination by these successive favors, due, as he
supposed, to the monarch’s remembrance, he was no longer satisfied with
taking his family, as he had piously done every Sunday, to cry “Vive le
Roi” in the hall of the Tuileries when the royal family passed through
on their way to chapel; he craved the favor of a private audience.
The audience, at once granted, was in no sense private. The royal
drawing-room was full of old adherents, whose powdered heads, seen from
above, suggested a carpet of snow. There the Count met some old friends,
who received him somewhat coldly; but the princes he thought ADORABLE,
an enthusiastic expression which escaped him when the most gracious of
his masters, to whom the Count had supposed himself to be known only
by name, came to shake hands with him, and spoke of him as the most
thorough Vendeen of them all. Notwithstanding this ovation, none of
these august persons thought of inquiring as to the sum of his losses,
or of the money he had poured so generously into the chests of the
Catholic regiments. He discovered, a little late, that he had made war
at his own cost. Towards the end of the evening he thought he might
venture on a witty allusion to the state of his affairs, similar, as
it was, to that of many other gentlemen. His Majesty laughed heartily
enough; any speech that bore the hall-mark of wit was certain to please
him; but he nevertheless replied with one of those royal pleasantries
whose sweetness is more formidable than the anger of a rebuke. One of
the King’s most intimate advisers took an opportunity of going up to the
fortune-seeking Vendeen, and made him understand by a keen and polite
hint that the time had not yet come for settling accounts with the
sovereign; that there were bills of much longer standing than his on the
books, and there, no doubt, they would remain, as part of the history of
the Revolution. The Count prudently withdrew from the venerable group,
which formed a respectful semi-circle before the august family; then,
having extricated his sword, not without some difficulty, from among the
lean legs which had got mixed up with it, he crossed the courtyard of
the Tuileries and got into the hackney cab he had left on the quay. With
the restive spirit, which is peculiar to the nobility of the old school,
in whom still survives the memory of the League and the day of the
Barricades (in 1588), he bewailed himself in his cab, loudly enough
to compromise him, over the change that had come over the Court.
“Formerly,” he said to himself, “every one could speak freely to the
King of his own little affairs; the nobles could ask him a favor, or for
money, when it suited them, and nowadays one cannot recover the money
advanced for his service without raising a scandal! By Heaven! the cross
of Saint-Louis and the rank of brigadier-general will not make good the
three hundred thousand livres I have spent, out and out, on the royal
cause. I must speak to the King, face to face, in his own room.”

This scene cooled Monsieur de Fontaine’s ardor all the more effectually
because his requests for an interview were never answered. And,
indeed, he saw the upstarts of the Empire obtaining some of the offices
reserved, under the old monarchy, for the highest families.

“All is lost!” he exclaimed one morning. “The King has certainly never
been other than a revolutionary. But for Monsieur, who never derogates,
and is some comfort to his faithful adherents, I do not know what hands
the crown of France might not fall into if things are to go on
like this. Their cursed constitutional system is the worst possible
government, and can never suit France. Louis XVIII. and Monsieur Beugnot
spoiled everything at Saint Ouen.”

The Count, in despair, was preparing to retire to his estate,
abandoning, with dignity, all claims to repayment. At this moment
the events of the 20th March (1815) gave warning of a fresh storm,
threatening to overwhelm the legitimate monarch and his defenders.
Monsieur de Fontaine, like one of those generous souls who do not
dismiss a servant in a torrent of rain; borrowed on his lands to
follow the routed monarchy, without knowing whether this complicity in
emigration would prove more propitious to him than his past devotion.
But when he perceived that the companions of the King’s exile were
in higher favor than the brave men who had protested, sword in hand,
against the establishment of the republic, he may perhaps have hoped to
derive greater profit from this journey into a foreign land than from
active and dangerous service in the heart of his own country. Nor was
his courtier-like calculation one of these rash speculations which
promise splendid results on paper, and are ruinous in effect. He was--to
quote the wittiest and most successful of our diplomates--one of the
faithful five hundred who shared the exile of the Court at Ghent,
and one of the fifty thousand who returned with it. During the short
banishment of royalty, Monsieur de Fontaine was so happy as to be
employed by Louis XVIII., and found more than one opportunity of giving
him proofs of great political honesty and sincere attachment. One
evening, when the King had nothing better to do, he recalled Monsieur de
Fontaine’s witticism at the Tuileries. The old Vendeen did not let such
a happy chance slip; he told his history with so much vivacity that
a king, who never forgot anything, might remember it at a convenient
season. The royal amateur of literature also observed the elegant style
given to some notes which the discreet gentleman had been invited to
recast. This little success stamped Monsieur de Fontaine on the King’s
memory as one of the loyal servants of the Crown.

At the second restoration the Count was one of those special envoys who
were sent throughout the departments charged with absolute jurisdiction
over the leaders of revolt; but he used his terrible powers with
moderation. As soon as the temporary commission was ended, the High
Provost found a seat in the Privy Council, became a deputy, spoke
little, listened much, and changed his opinions very considerably.
Certain circumstances, unknown to historians, brought him into such
intimate relations with the Sovereign, that one day, as he came in, the
shrewd monarch addressed him thus: “My friend Fontaine, I shall take
care never to appoint you to be director-general, or minister. Neither
you nor I, as employees, could keep our place on account of our opinions.
Representative government has this advantage; it saves Us the trouble We
used to have, of dismissing Our Secretaries of State. Our Council is
a perfect inn-parlor, whither public opinion sometimes sends strange
travelers; however, We can always find a place for Our faithful

This ironical speech was introductory to a rescript giving Monsieur de
Fontaine an appointment as administrator in the office of Crown lands.
As a consequence of the intelligent attention with which he listened to
his royal Friend’s sarcasms, his name always rose to His Majesty’s
lips when a commission was to be appointed of which the members were
to receive a handsome salary. He had the good sense to hold his tongue
about the favor with which he was honored, and knew how to entertain the
monarch in those familiar chats in which Louis XVIII. delighted as
much as in a well-written note, by his brilliant manner of
repeating political anecdotes, and the political or parliamentary
tittle-tattle--if the expression may pass--which at that time was rife.
It is well known that he was immensely amused by every detail of his
Gouvernementabilite--a word adopted by his facetious Majesty.

Thanks to the Comte de Fontaine’s good sense, wit, and tact, every
member of his numerous family, however young, ended, as he jestingly
told his Sovereign, in attaching himself like a silkworm to the leaves
of the Pay-List. Thus, by the King’s intervention, his eldest son
found a high and fixed position as a lawyer. The second, before the
restoration a mere captain, was appointed to the command of a legion on
the return from Ghent; then, thanks to the confusion of 1815, when the
regulations were evaded, he passed into the bodyguard, returned to a
line regiment, and found himself after the affair of the Trocadero
a lieutenant-general with a commission in the Guards. The youngest,
appointed sous-prefet, ere long became a legal official and director of
a municipal board of the city of Paris, where he was safe from changes
in Legislature. These bounties, bestowed without parade, and as secret
as the favor enjoyed by the Count, fell unperceived. Though the father
and his three sons each had sinecures enough to enjoy an income in
salaries almost equal to that of a chief of department, their political
good fortune excited no envy. In those early days of the constitutional
system, few persons had very precise ideas of the peaceful domain of the
civil service, where astute favorites managed to find an equivalent for
the demolished abbeys. Monsieur le Comte de Fontaine, who till lately
boasted that he had not read the Charter, and displayed such indignation
at the greed of courtiers, had, before long, proved to his august
master that he understood, as well as the King himself, the spirit
and resources of the representative system. At the same time,
notwithstanding the established careers open to his three sons, and the
pecuniary advantages derived from four official appointments,
Monsieur de Fontaine was the head of too large a family to be able to
re-establish his fortune easily and rapidly.

His three sons were rich in prospects, in favor, and in talent; but
he had three daughters, and was afraid of wearying the monarch’s
benevolence. It occurred to him to mention only one by one, these
virgins eager to light their torches. The King had too much good
taste to leave his work incomplete. The marriage of the eldest with a
Receiver-General, Planat de Baudry, was arranged by one of those royal
speeches which cost nothing and are worth millions. One evening, when
the Sovereign was out of spirits, he smiled on hearing of the existence
of another Demoiselle de Fontaine, for whom he found a husband in the
person of a young magistrate, of inferior birth, no doubt, but wealthy,
and whom he created Baron. When, the year after, the Vendeen spoke of
Mademoiselle Emilie de Fontaine, the King replied in his thin sharp
tones, “Amicus Plato sed magis amica Natio.” Then, a few days later, he
treated his “friend Fontaine” to a quatrain, harmless enough, which
he styled an epigram, in which he made fun of these three daughters so
skilfully introduced, under the form of a trinity. Nay, if report is to
be believed, the monarch had found the point of the jest in the Unity of
the three Divine Persons.

“If your Majesty would only condescend to turn the epigram into an
epithalamium?” said the Count, trying to turn the sally to good account.

“Though I see the rhyme of it, I fail to see the reason,” retorted the
King, who did not relish any pleasantry, however mild, on the subject of
his poetry.

From that day his intercourse with Monsieur de Fontaine showed less
amenity. Kings enjoy contradicting more than people think. Like most
youngest children, Emilie de Fontaine was a Benjamin spoilt by almost
everybody. The King’s coolness, therefore, caused the Count all the more
regret, because no marriage was ever so difficult to arrange as that of
this darling daughter. To understand all the obstacles we must make our
way into the fine residence where the official was housed at the expense
of the nation. Emilie had spent her childhood on the family estate,
enjoying the abundance which suffices for the joys of early youth; her
lightest wishes had been law to her sisters, her brothers, her mother,
and even her father. All her relations doted on her. Having come to
years of discretion just when her family was loaded with the favors of
fortune, the enchantment of life continued. The luxury of Paris seemed
to her just as natural as a wealth of flowers or fruit, or as the
rural plenty which had been the joy of her first years. Just as in her
childhood she had never been thwarted in the satisfaction of her playful
desires, so now, at fourteen, she was still obeyed when she rushed into
the whirl of fashion.

Thus, accustomed by degrees to the enjoyment of money, elegance of
dress, of gilded drawing-rooms and fine carriages, became as necessary
to her as the compliments of flattery, sincere or false, and the
festivities and vanities of court life. Like most spoiled children,
she tyrannized over those who loved her, and kept her blandishments for
those who were indifferent. Her faults grew with her growth, and her
parents were to gather the bitter fruits of this disastrous education.
At the age of nineteen Emilie de Fontaine had not yet been pleased to
make a choice from among the many young men whom her father’s politics
brought to his entertainments. Though so young, she asserted in society
all the freedom of mind that a married woman can enjoy. Her beauty was
so remarkable that, for her, to appear in a room was to be its queen;
but, like sovereigns, she had no friends, though she was everywhere the
object of attentions to which a finer nature than hers might perhaps
have succumbed. Not a man, not even an old man, had it in him to
contradict the opinions of a young girl whose lightest look could
rekindle love in the coldest heart.

She had been educated with a care which her sisters had not enjoyed;
painted pretty well, spoke Italian and English, and played the piano
brilliantly; her voice, trained by the best masters, had a ring in it
which made her singing irresistibly charming. Clever, and intimate with
every branch of literature, she might have made folks believe that,
as Mascarille says, people of quality come into the world knowing
everything. She could argue fluently on Italian or Flemish painting, on
the Middle Ages or the Renaissance; pronounced at haphazard on books new
or old, and could expose the defects of a work with a cruelly graceful
wit. The simplest thing she said was accepted by an admiring crowd as a
fetfah of the Sultan by the Turks. She thus dazzled shallow persons; as
to deeper minds, her natural tact enabled her to discern them, and for
them she put forth so much fascination that, under cover of her charms,
she escaped their scrutiny. This enchanting veneer covered a careless
heart; the opinion--common to many young girls--that no one else dwelt
in a sphere so lofty as to be able to understand the merits of her
soul; and a pride based no less on her birth than on her beauty. In
the absence of the overwhelming sentiment which, sooner or later, works
havoc in a woman’s heart, she spent her young ardor in an immoderate
love of distinctions, and expressed the deepest contempt for persons of
inferior birth. Supremely impertinent to all newly-created nobility, she
made every effort to get her parents recognized as equals by the most
illustrious families of the Saint-Germain quarter.

These sentiments had not escaped the observing eye of Monsieur de
Fontaine, who more than once, when his two elder girls were married, had
smarted under Emilie’s sarcasm. Logical readers will be surprised to see
the old Royalist bestowing his eldest daughter on a Receiver-General,
possessed, indeed, of some old hereditary estates, but whose name
was not preceded by the little word to which the throne owed so many
partisans, and his second to a magistrate too lately Baronified to
obscure the fact that his father had sold firewood. This noteworthy
change in the ideas of a noble on the verge of his sixtieth year--an age
when men rarely renounce their convictions--was due not merely to his
unfortunate residence in the modern Babylon, where, sooner or later,
country folks all get their corners rubbed down; the Comte de Fontaine’s
new political conscience was also a result of the King’s advice and
friendship. The philosophical prince had taken pleasure in converting
the Vendeen to the ideas required by the advance of the nineteenth
century, and the new aspect of the Monarchy. Louis XVIII. aimed at
fusing parties as Napoleon had fused things and men. The legitimate
King, who was not less clever perhaps than his rival, acted in a
contrary direction. The last head of the House of Bourbon was just as
eager to satisfy the third estate and the creations of the Empire, by
curbing the clergy, as the first of the Napoleons had been to attract
the grand old nobility, or to endow the Church. The Privy Councillor,
being in the secret of these royal projects, had insensibly become one
of the most prudent and influential leaders of that moderate party which
most desired a fusion of opinion in the interests of the nation. He
preached the expensive doctrines of constitutional government, and lent
all his weight to encourage the political see-saw which enabled his
master to rule France in the midst of storms. Perhaps Monsieur de
Fontaine hoped that one of the sudden gusts of legislation, whose
unexpected efforts then startled the oldest politicians, might carry
him up to the rank of peer. One of his most rigid principles was to
recognize no nobility in France but that of the peerage--the only
families that might enjoy any privileges.

“A nobility bereft of privileges,” he would say, “is a tool without a

As far from Lafayette’s party as he was from La Bourdonnaye’s, he
ardently engaged in the task of general reconciliation, which was to
result in a new era and splendid fortunes for France. He strove to
convince the families who frequented his drawing-room, or those whom
he visited, how few favorable openings would henceforth be offered by a
civil or military career. He urged mothers to give their boys a start in
independent and industrial professions, explaining that military posts
and high Government appointments must at last pertain, in a quite
constitutional order, to the younger sons of members of the peerage.
According to him, the people had conquered a sufficiently large share
in practical government by its elective assembly, its appointments to
law-offices, and those of the exchequer, which, said he, would always,
as heretofore, be the natural right of the distinguished men of the
third estate.

These new notions of the head of the Fontaines, and the prudent matches
for his eldest girls to which they had led, met with strong resistance
in the bosom of his family. The Comtesse de Fontaine remained faithful
to the ancient beliefs which no woman could disown, who, through her
mother, belonged to the Rohans. Although she had for a while opposed
the happiness and fortune awaiting her two eldest girls, she yielded
to those private considerations which husband and wife confide to each
other when their heads are resting on the same pillow. Monsieur de
Fontaine calmly pointed out to his wife, by exact arithmetic that their
residence in Paris, the necessity for entertaining, the magnificence of
the house which made up to them now for the privations so bravely shared
in La Vendee, and the expenses of their sons, swallowed up the chief
part of their income from salaries. They must therefore seize, as a boon
from heaven, the opportunities which offered for settling their girls
with such wealth. Would they not some day enjoy sixty--eighty--a hundred
thousand francs a year? Such advantageous matches were not to be met
with every day for girls without a portion. Again, it was time that they
should begin to think of economizing, to add to the estate of Fontaine,
and re-establish the old territorial fortune of the family. The Countess
yielded to such cogent arguments, as every mother would have done in her
place, though perhaps with a better grace; but she declared that Emilie,
at any rate, should marry in such a way as to satisfy the pride she had
unfortunately contributed to foster in the girl’s young soul.

Thus events, which ought to have brought joy into the family, had
introduced a small leaven of discord. The Receiver-General and the young
lawyer were the objects of a ceremonious formality which the Countess
and Emilie contrived to create. This etiquette soon found even ampler
opportunity for the display of domestic tyranny; for Lieutenant-General
de Fontaine married Mademoiselle Mongenod, the daughter of a rich
banker; the President very sensibly found a wife in a young lady whose
father, twice or thrice a millionaire, had traded in salt; and the
third brother, faithful to his plebeian doctrines, married Mademoiselle
Grossetete, the only daughter of the Receiver-General at Bourges. The
three sisters-in-law and the two brothers-in-law found the high
sphere of political bigwigs, and the drawing-rooms of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, so full of charm and of personal advantages, that they
united in forming a little court round the overbearing Emilie. This
treaty between interest and pride was not, however, so firmly cemented
but that the young despot was, not unfrequently, the cause of revolts
in her little realm. Scenes, which the highest circles would not have
disowned, kept up a sarcastic temper among all the members of this
powerful family; and this, without seriously diminishing the regard they
professed in public, degenerated sometimes in private into sentiments
far from charitable. Thus the Lieutenant-General’s wife, having become
a Baronne, thought herself quite as noble as a Kergarouet, and imagined
that her good hundred thousand francs a year gave her the right to be as
impertinent as her sister-in-law Emilie, whom she would sometimes wish
to see happily married, as she announced that the daughter of some peer
of France had married Monsieur So-and-So with no title to his name. The
Vicomtesse de Fontaine amused herself by eclipsing Emilie in the taste
and magnificence that were conspicuous in her dress, her furniture, and
her carriages. The satirical spirit in which her brothers and sisters
sometimes received the claims avowed by Mademoiselle de Fontaine roused
her to wrath that a perfect hailstorm of sharp sayings could hardly
mitigate. So when the head of the family felt a slight chill in the
King’s tacit and precarious friendship, he trembled all the more
because, as a result of her sisters’ defiant mockery, his favorite
daughter had never looked so high.

In the midst of these circumstances, and at a moment when this petty
domestic warfare had become serious, the monarch, whose favor Monsieur
de Fontaine still hoped to regain, was attacked by the malady of which
he was to die. The great political chief, who knew so well how to steer
his bark in the midst of tempests, soon succumbed. Certain then of
favors to come, the Comte de Fontaine made every effort to collect the
elite of marrying men about his youngest daughter. Those who may
have tried to solve the difficult problem of settling a haughty and
capricious girl, will understand the trouble taken by the unlucky
father. Such an affair, carried out to the liking of his beloved child,
would worthily crown the career the Count had followed for these ten
years at Paris. From the way in which his family claimed salaries under
every department, it might be compared with the House of Austria, which,
by intermarriage, threatens to pervade Europe. The old Vendeen was
not to be discouraged in bringing forward suitors, so much had he his
daughter’s happiness at heart, but nothing could be more absurd than
the way in which the impertinent young thing pronounced her verdicts and
judged the merits of her adorers. It might have been supposed that, like
a princess in the Arabian Nights, Emilie was rich enough and beautiful
enough to choose from among all the princes in the world. Her objections
were each more preposterous than the last: one had too thick knees and
was bow-legged, another was short-sighted, this one’s name was Durand,
that one limped, and almost all were too fat. Livelier, more attractive,
and gayer than ever after dismissing two or three suitors, she rushed
into the festivities of the winter season, and to balls, where her keen
eyes criticised the celebrities of the day, delighted in encouraging
proposals which she invariably rejected.

Nature had bestowed on her all the advantages needed for playing the
part of Celimene. Tall and slight, Emilie de Fontaine could assume a
dignified or a frolicsome mien at her will. Her neck was rather long,
allowing her to affect beautiful attitudes of scorn and impertinence.
She had cultivated a large variety of those turns of the head and
feminine gestures, which emphasize so cruelly or so happily a hint of
a smile. Fine black hair, thick and strongly-arched eyebrows, lent her
countenance an expression of pride, to which her coquettish instincts
and her mirror had taught her to add terror by a stare, or gentleness by
the softness of her gaze, by the set of the gracious curve of her lips,
by the coldness or the sweetness of her smile. When Emilie meant to
conquer a heart, her pure voice did not lack melody; but she could
also give it a sort of curt clearness when she was minded to paralyze a
partner’s indiscreet tongue. Her colorless face and alabaster brow were
like the limpid surface of a lake, which by turns is rippled by the
impulse of a breeze and recovers its glad serenity when the air is
still. More than one young man, a victim to her scorn, accused her of
acting a part; but she justified herself by inspiring her detractors
with the desire to please her, and then subjecting them to all her most
contemptuous caprice. Among the young girls of fashion, not one knew
better than she how to assume an air of reserve when a man of talent
was introduced to her, or how to display the insulting politeness which
treats an equal as an inferior, and to pour out her impertinence on all
who tried to hold their heads on a level with hers. Wherever she went
she seemed to be accepting homage rather than compliments, and even in
a princess her airs and manner would have transformed the chair on which
she sat into an imperial throne.

Monsieur de Fontaine discovered too late how utterly the education of
the daughter he loved had been ruined by the tender devotion of the
whole family. The admiration which the world is at first ready to bestow
on a young girl, but for which, sooner or later, it takes its revenge,
had added to Emilie’s pride, and increased her self-confidence.
Universal subservience had developed in her the selfishness natural to
spoilt children, who, like kings, make a plaything of everything that
comes to hand. As yet the graces of youth and the charms of talent hid
these faults from every eye; faults all the more odious in a woman,
since she can only please by self-sacrifice and unselfishness; but
nothing escapes the eye of a good father, and Monsieur de Fontaine
often tried to explain to his daughter the more important pages of the
mysterious book of life. Vain effort! He had to lament his daughter’s
capricious indocility and ironical shrewdness too often to persevere
in a task so difficult as that of correcting an ill-disposed nature. He
contented himself with giving her from time to time some gentle and kind
advice; but he had the sorrow of seeing his tenderest words slide from
his daughter’s heart as if it were of marble. A father’s eyes are slow
to be unsealed, and it needed more than one experience before the old
Royalist perceived that his daughter’s rare caresses were bestowed on
him with an air of condescension. She was like young children, who seem
to say to their mother, “Make haste to kiss me, that I may go to play.”
 In short, Emilie vouchsafed to be fond of her parents. But often, by
those sudden whims, which seem inexplicable in young girls, she kept
aloof and scarcely ever appeared; she complained of having to share her
father’s and mother’s heart with too many people; she was jealous of
every one, even of her brothers and sisters. Then, after creating a
desert about her, the strange girl accused all nature of her unreal
solitude and her wilful griefs. Strong in the experience of her twenty
years, she blamed fate, because, not knowing that the mainspring of
happiness is in ourselves, she demanded it of the circumstances of life.
She would have fled to the ends of the earth to escape a marriage such
as those of her two sisters, and nevertheless her heart was full of
horrible jealousy at seeing them married, rich, and happy. In short, she
sometimes led her mother--who was as much a victim to her vagaries as
Monsieur de Fontaine--to suspect that she had a touch of madness.

But such aberrations are quite inexplicable; nothing is commoner than
this unconfessed pride developed in the heart of young girls belonging
to families high in the social scale, and gifted by nature with great
beauty. They are almost all convinced that their mothers, now forty or
fifty years of age, can neither sympathize with their young souls, nor
conceive of their imaginings. They fancy that most mothers, jealous of
their girls, want to dress them in their own way with the premeditated
purpose of eclipsing them or robbing them of admiration. Hence, often,
secret tears and dumb revolt against supposed tyranny. In the midst of
these woes, which become very real though built on an imaginary basis,
they have also a mania for composing a scheme of life, while casting for
themselves a brilliant horoscope; their magic consists in taking their
dreams for reality; secretly, in their long meditations, they resolve
to give their heart and hand to none but the man possessing this or the
other qualification; and they paint in fancy a model to which, whether
or no, the future lover must correspond. After some little experience
of life, and the serious reflections that come with years, by dint of
seeing the world and its prosaic round, by dint of observing unhappy
examples, the brilliant hues of their ideal are extinguished. Then, one
fine day, in the course of events, they are quite astonished to find
themselves happy without the nuptial poetry of their day-dreams. It was
on the strength of that poetry that Mademoiselle Emilie de Fontaine,
in her slender wisdom, had drawn up a programme to which a suitor must
conform to be excepted. Hence her disdain and sarcasm.

“Though young and of an ancient family, he must be a peer of France,”
 said she to herself. “I could not bear not to see my coat-of-arms on the
panels of my carriage among the folds of azure mantling, not to drive
like the princes down the broad walk of the Champs-Elysees on the days
of Longchamps in Holy Week. Besides, my father says that it will someday
be the highest dignity in France. He must be a soldier--but I reserve
the right of making him retire; and he must bear an Order, that the
sentries may present arms to us.”

And these rare qualifications would count for nothing if this creature
of fancy had not the most amiable temper, a fine figure, intelligence,
and, above all, if he were not slender. To be lean, a personal grace
which is but fugitive, especially under a representative government,
was an indispensable condition. Mademoiselle de Fontaine had an ideal
standard which was to be the model. A young man who at the first glance
did not fulfil the requisite conditions did not even get a second look.

“Good Heavens! see how fat he is!” was with her the utmost expression of

To hear her, people of respectable corpulence were incapable of
sentiment, bad husbands, and unfit for civilized society. Though it is
esteemed a beauty in the East, to be fat seemed to her a misfortune
for a woman; but in a man it was a crime. These paradoxical views were
amusing, thanks to a certain liveliness of rhetoric. The Count felt
nevertheless that by-and-by his daughter’s affections, of which the
absurdity would be evident to some women who were not less clear-sighted
than merciless, would inevitably become a subject of constant ridicule.
He feared lest her eccentric notions should deviate into bad style. He
trembled to think that the pitiless world might already be laughing at
a young woman who remained so long on the stage without arriving at
any conclusion of the drama she was playing. More than one actor in it,
disgusted by a refusal, seemed to be waiting for the slightest turn
of ill-luck to take his revenge. The indifferent, the lookers-on were
beginning to weary of it; admiration is always exhausting to human
beings. The old Vendeen knew better than any one that if there is an
art in choosing the right moment for coming forward on the boards of the
world, on those of the Court, in a drawing-room or on the stage, it is
still more difficult to quit them in the nick of time. So during
the first winter after the accession of Charles X., he redoubled his
efforts, seconded by his three sons and his sons-in-law, to assemble in
the rooms of his official residence the best matches which Paris and the
various deputations from departments could offer. The splendor of his
entertainments, the luxury of his dining-room, and his dinners, fragrant
with truffles, rivaled the famous banquets by which the ministers of
that time secured the vote of their parliamentary recruits.

The Honorable Deputy was consequently pointed at as a most influential
corrupter of the legislative honesty of the illustrious Chamber that was
dying as it would seem of indigestion. A whimsical result! his efforts
to get his daughter married secured him a splendid popularity. He
perhaps found some covert advantage in selling his truffles twice over.
This accusation, started by certain mocking Liberals, who made up by
their flow of words for their small following in the Chamber, was not
a success. The Poitevin gentleman had always been so noble and so
honorable, that he was not once the object of those epigrams which the
malicious journalism of the day hurled at the three hundred votes of the
centre, at the Ministers, the cooks, the Directors-General, the princely
Amphitryons, and the official supporters of the Villele Ministry.

At the close of this campaign, during which Monsieur de Fontaine had on
several occasions brought out all his forces, he believed that this time
the procession of suitors would not be a mere dissolving view in his
daughter’s eyes; that it was time she should make up her mind. He felt
a certain inward satisfaction at having well fulfilled his duty as a
father. And having left no stone unturned, he hoped that, among so many
hearts laid at Emilie’s feet, there might be one to which her caprice
might give a preference. Incapable of repeating such an effort, and
tired, too, of his daughter’s conduct, one morning, towards the end
of Lent, when the business at the Chamber did not demand his vote, he
determined to ask what her views were. While his valet was artistically
decorating his bald yellow head with the delta of powder which, with
the hanging “ailes de pigeon,” completed his venerable style of
hairdressing, Emilie’s father, not without some secret misgivings, told
his old servant to go and desire the haughty damsel to appear in the
presence of the head of the family.

“Joseph,” he added, when his hair was dressed, “take away that towel,
draw back the curtains, put those chairs square, shake the rug, and
lay it quite straight. Dust everything.--Now, air the room a little by
opening the window.”

The Count multiplied his orders, putting Joseph out of breath, and the
old servant, understanding his master’s intentions, aired and tidied the
room, of course the least cared for of any in the house, and succeeded
in giving a look of harmony to the files of bills, the letter-boxes, the
books and furniture of this sanctum, where the interests of the royal
demesnes were debated over. When Joseph had reduced this chaos to some
sort of order, and brought to the front such things as might be most
pleasing to the eye, as if it were a shop front, or such as by their
color might give the effect of a kind of official poetry, he stood for a
minute in the midst of the labyrinth of papers piled in some places even
on the floor, admired his handiwork, jerked his head, and went.

The anxious sinecure-holder did not share his retainer’s favorable
opinion. Before seating himself in his deep chair, whose rounded back
screened him from draughts, he looked round him doubtfully, examined
his dressing-gown with a hostile expression, shook off a few grains of
snuff, carefully wiped his nose, arranged the tongs and shovel, made the
fire, pulled up the heels of his slippers, pulled out his little
queue of hair which had lodged horizontally between the collar of
his waistcoat and that of his dressing-gown restoring it to its
perpendicular position; then he swept up the ashes of the hearth, which
bore witness to a persistent catarrh. Finally, the old man did not
settle himself till he had once more looked all over the room, hoping
that nothing could give occasion to the saucy and impertinent remarks
with which his daughter was apt to answer his good advice. On this
occasion he was anxious not to compromise his dignity as a father. He
daintily took a pinch of snuff, cleared his throat two or three times,
as if he were about to demand a count out of the House; then he heard
his daughter’s light step, and she came in humming an air from Il

“Good-morning, papa. What do you want with me so early?” Having sung
these words, as though they were the refrain of the melody, she kissed
the Count, not with the familiar tenderness which makes a daughter’s
love so sweet a thing, but with the light carelessness of a mistress
confident of pleasing, whatever she may do.

“My dear child,” said Monsieur de Fontaine, gravely, “I sent for you to
talk to you very seriously about your future prospects. You are at this
moment under the necessity of making such a choice of a husband as may
secure your durable happiness----”

“My good father,” replied Emilie, assuming her most coaxing tone of
voice to interrupt him, “it strikes me that the armistice on which we
agreed as to my suitors is not yet expired.”

“Emilie, we must to-day forbear from jesting on so important a matter.
For some time past the efforts of those who most truly love you, my dear
child, have been concentrated on the endeavor to settle you suitably;
and you would be guilty of ingratitude in meeting with levity those
proofs of kindness which I am not alone in lavishing on you.”

As she heard these words, after flashing a mischievously inquisitive
look at the furniture of her father’s study, the young girl brought
forward the armchair which looked as if it had been least used by
petitioners, set it at the side of the fireplace so as to sit facing
her father, and settled herself in so solemn an attitude that it was
impossible not to read in it a mocking intention, crossing her arms over
the dainty trimmings of a pelerine a la neige, and ruthlessly crushing
its endless frills of white tulle. After a laughing side glance at her
old father’s troubled face, she broke silence.

“I never heard you say, my dear father, that the Government issued its
instructions in its dressing-gown. However,” and she smiled, “that does
not matter; the mob are probably not particular. Now, what are your
proposals for legislation, and your official introductions?”

“I shall not always be able to make them, headstrong girl!--Listen,
Emilie. It is my intention no longer to compromise my reputation, which
is part of my children’s fortune, by recruiting the regiment of dancers
which, spring after spring, you put to rout. You have already been the
cause of many dangerous misunderstandings with certain families. I hope
to make you perceive more truly the difficulties of your position and of
ours. You are two-and-twenty, my dear child, and you ought to have been
married nearly three years since. Your brothers and your two sisters are
richly and happily provided for. But, my dear, the expenses occasioned
by these marriages, and the style of housekeeping you require of your
mother, have made such inroads on our income that I can hardly promise
you a hundred thousand francs as a marriage portion. From this day
forth I shall think only of providing for your mother, who must not be
sacrificed to her children. Emilie, if I were to be taken from my family
Madame de Fontaine could not be left at anybody’s mercy, and ought to
enjoy the affluence which I have given her too late as the reward of her
devotion in my misfortunes. You see, my child, that the amount of your
fortune bears no relation to your notions of grandeur. Even that
would be such a sacrifice as I have not hitherto made for either of my
children; but they have generously agreed not to expect in the future
any compensation for the advantage thus given to a too favored child.”

“In their position!” said Emilie, with an ironical toss of her head.

“My dear, do not so depreciate those who love you. Only the poor are
generous as a rule; the rich have always excellent reasons for not
handing over twenty thousand francs to a relation. Come, my child, do
not pout, let us talk rationally.--Among the young marrying men have you
noticed Monsieur de Manerville?”

“Oh, he minces his words--he says Zules instead of Jules; he is always
looking at his feet, because he thinks them small, and he gazes at
himself in the glass! Besides, he is fair. I don’t like fair men.”

“Well, then, Monsieur de Beaudenord?”

“He is not noble! he is ill made and stout. He is dark, it is true.--If
the two gentlemen could agree to combine their fortunes, and the first
would give his name and his figure to the second, who should keep his
dark hair, then--perhaps----”

“What can you say against Monsieur de Rastignac?”

“Madame de Nucingen has made a banker of him,” she said with meaning.

“And our cousin, the Vicomte de Portenduere?”

“A mere boy, who dances badly; besides, he has no fortune. And, after
all, papa, none of these people have titles. I want, at least, to be a
countess like my mother.”

“Have you seen no one, then, this winter----”

“No, papa.”

“What then do you want?”

“The son of a peer of France.

“My dear girl, you are mad!” said Monsieur de Fontaine, rising.

But he suddenly lifted his eyes to heaven, and seemed to find a fresh
fount of resignation in some religious thought; then, with a look of
fatherly pity at his daughter, who herself was moved, he took her
hand, pressed it, and said with deep feeling: “God is my witness, poor
mistaken child, I have conscientiously discharged my duty to you as a
father--conscientiously, do I say? Most lovingly, my Emilie. Yes, God
knows! This winter I have brought before you more than one good man,
whose character, whose habits, and whose temper were known to me, and
all seemed worthy of you. My child, my task is done. From this day forth
you are the arbiter of your fate, and I consider myself both happy
and unhappy at finding myself relieved of the heaviest of paternal
functions. I know not whether you will for any long time, now, hear a
voice which, to you, has never been stern; but remember that conjugal
happiness does not rest so much on brilliant qualities and ample fortune
as on reciprocal esteem. This happiness is, in its nature, modest, and
devoid of show. So now, my dear, my consent is given beforehand, whoever
the son-in-law may be whom you introduce to me; but if you should be
unhappy, remember you will have no right to accuse your father. I shall
not refuse to take proper steps and help you, only your choice must be
serious and final. I will never twice compromise the respect due to my
white hairs.”

The affection thus expressed by her father, the solemn tones of his
urgent address, deeply touched Mademoiselle de Fontaine; but she
concealed her emotion, seated herself on her father’s knees--for he had
dropped all tremulous into his chair again--caressed him fondly, and
coaxed him so engagingly that the old man’s brow cleared. As soon as
Emilie thought that her father had got over his painful agitation,
she said in a gentle voice: “I have to thank you for your graceful
attention, my dear father. You have had your room set in order to
receive your beloved daughter. You did not perhaps know that you would
find her so foolish and so headstrong. But, papa, is it so difficult
to get married to a peer of France? You declared that they were
manufactured by dozens. At least, you will not refuse to advise me.”

“No, my poor child, no;--and more than once I may have occasion to cry,
‘Beware!’ Remember that the making of peers is so recent a force in our
government machinery that they have no great fortunes. Those who are
rich look to becoming richer. The wealthiest member of our peerage has
not half the income of the least rich lord in the English Upper Chamber.
Thus all the French peers are on the lookout for great heiresses for
their sons, wherever they may meet with them. The necessity in which
they find themselves of marrying for money will certainly exist for at
least two centuries.

“Pending such a fortunate accident as you long for--and this
fastidiousness may cost you the best years of your life--your
attractions might work a miracle, for men often marry for love in these
days. When experience lurks behind so sweet a face as yours it
may achieve wonders. In the first place, have you not the gift of
recognizing virtue in the greater or smaller dimensions of a man’s body?
This is no small matter! To so wise a young person as you are, I need
not enlarge on all the difficulties of the enterprise. I am sure that
you would never attribute good sense to a stranger because he had a
handsome face, or all the virtues because he had a fine figure. And I am
quite of your mind in thinking that the sons of peers ought to have an
air peculiar to themselves, and perfectly distinctive manners. Though
nowadays no external sign stamps a man of rank, those young men will
have, perhaps, to you the indefinable something that will reveal it.
Then, again, you have your heart well in hand, like a good horseman who
is sure his steed cannot bolt. Luck be with you, my dear!”

“You are making game of me, papa. Well, I assure you that I would rather
die in Mademoiselle de Conde’s convent than not be the wife of a peer of

She slipped out of her father’s arms, and proud of being her own
mistress, went off singing the air of Cara non dubitare, in the
“Matrimonio Segreto.”

As it happened, the family were that day keeping the anniversary of
a family fete. At dessert Madame Planat, the Receiver-General’s wife,
spoke with some enthusiasm of a young American owning an immense
fortune, who had fallen passionately in love with her sister, and made
through her the most splendid proposals.

“A banker, I rather think,” observed Emilie carelessly. “I do not like
money dealers.”

“But, Emilie,” replied the Baron de Villaine, the husband of the Count’s
second daughter, “you do not like lawyers either; so that if you refuse
men of wealth who have not titles, I do not quite see in what class you
are to choose a husband.”

“Especially, Emilie, with your standard of slimness,” added the

“I know what I want,” replied the young lady.

“My sister wants a fine name, a fine young man, fine prospects, and a
hundred thousand francs a year,” said the Baronne de Fontaine. “Monsieur
de Marsay, for instance.”

“I know, my dear,” retorted Emilie, “that I do not mean to make such a
foolish marriage as some I have seen. Moreover, to put an end to these
matrimonial discussions, I hereby declare that I shall look on anyone
who talks to me of marriage as a foe to my peace of mind.”

An uncle of Emilie’s, a vice-admiral, whose fortune had just been
increased by twenty thousand francs a year in consequence of the Act of
Indemnity, and a man of seventy, feeling himself privileged to say hard
things to his grand-niece, on whom he doted, in order to mollify the
bitter tone of the discussion now exclaimed:

“Do not tease my poor little Emilie; don’t you see she is waiting till
the Duc de Bordeaux comes of age!”

The old man’s pleasantry was received with general laughter.

“Take care I don’t marry you, old fool!” replied the young girl, whose
last words were happily drowned in the noise.

“My dear children,” said Madame de Fontaine, to soften this saucy
retort, “Emilie, like you, will take no advice but her mother’s.”

“Bless me! I shall take no advice but my own in a matter which concerns
no one but myself,” said Mademoiselle de Fontaine very distinctly.

At this all eyes were turned to the head of the family. Every one seemed
anxious as to what he would do to assert his dignity. The venerable
gentleman enjoyed much consideration, not only in the world; happier
than many fathers, he was also appreciated by his family, all its
members having a just esteem for the solid qualities by which he had
been able to make their fortunes. Hence he was treated with the deep
respect which is shown by English families, and some aristocratic houses
on the continent, to the living representatives of an ancient pedigree.
Deep silence had fallen; and the guests looked alternately from the
spoilt girl’s proud and sulky pout to the severe faces of Monsieur and
Madame de Fontaine.

“I have made my daughter Emilie mistress of her own fate,” was the reply
spoken by the Count in a deep voice.

Relations and guests gazed at Mademoiselle de Fontaine with mingled
curiosity and pity. The words seemed to declare that fatherly affection
was weary of the contest with a character that the whole family knew to
be incorrigible. The sons-in-law muttered, and the brothers glanced at
their wives with mocking smiles. From that moment every one ceased to
take any interest in the haughty girl’s prospects of marriage. Her old
uncle was the only person who, as an old sailor, ventured to stand on
her tack, and take her broadsides, without ever troubling himself to
return her fire.

When the fine weather was settled, and after the budget was voted, the
whole family--a perfect example of the parliamentary families on the
northern side of the Channel who have a footing in every government
department, and ten votes in the House of Commons--flew away like a
brood of young birds to the charming neighborhoods of Aulnay, Antony,
and Chatenay. The wealthy Receiver-General had lately purchased in this
part of the world a country-house for his wife, who remained in Paris
only during the session. Though the fair Emilie despised the commonalty,
her feeling was not carried so far as to scorn the advantages of a
fortune acquired in a profession; so she accompanied her sister to the
sumptuous villa, less out of affection for the members of her family who
were visiting there, than because fashion has ordained that every woman
who has any self-respect must leave Paris in the summer. The green
seclusion of Sceaux answered to perfection the requirements of good
style and of the duties of an official position.

As it is extremely doubtful that the fame of the “Bal de Sceaux” should
ever have extended beyond the borders of the Department of the Seine, it
will be necessary to give some account of this weekly festivity, which
at that time was important enough to threaten to become an institution.
The environs of the little town of Sceaux enjoy a reputation due to the
scenery, which is considered enchanting. Perhaps it is quite ordinary,
and owes its fame only to the stupidity of the Paris townsfolk, who,
emerging from the stony abyss in which they are buried, would find
something to admire in the flats of La Beauce. However, as the poetic
shades of Aulnay, the hillsides of Antony, and the valley of the Bieve
are peopled with artists who have traveled far, by foreigners who are
very hard to please, and by a great many pretty women not devoid of
taste, it is to be supposed that the Parisians are right. But Sceaux
possesses another attraction not less powerful to the Parisian. In the
midst of a garden whence there are delightful views, stands a large
rotunda open on all sides, with a light, spreading roof supported on
elegant pillars. This rural baldachino shelters a dancing-floor. The
most stuck-up landowners of the neighborhood rarely fail to make an
excursion thither once or twice during the season, arriving at this
rustic palace of Terpsichore either in dashing parties on horseback,
or in the light and elegant carriages which powder the philosophical
pedestrian with dust. The hope of meeting some women of fashion, and
of being seen by them--and the hope, less often disappointed, of seeing
young peasant girls, as wily as judges--crowds the ballroom at
Sceaux with numerous swarms of lawyers’ clerks, of the disciples of
Aesculapius, and other youths whose complexions are kept pale and moist
by the damp atmosphere of Paris back-shops. And a good many bourgeois
marriages have had their beginning to the sound of the band occupying
the centre of this circular ballroom. If that roof could speak, what
love-stories could it not tell!

This interesting medley gave the Sceaux balls at that time a spice of
more amusement than those of two or three places of the same kind near
Paris; and it had incontestable advantages in its rotunda, and the
beauty of its situation and its gardens. Emilie was the first to
express a wish to play at being COMMON FOLK at this gleeful suburban
entertainment, and promised herself immense pleasure in mingling with
the crowd. Everybody wondered at her desire to wander through such a
mob; but is there not a keen pleasure to grand people in an incognito?
Mademoiselle de Fontaine amused herself with imagining all these
town-bred figures; she fancied herself leaving the memory of a
bewitching glance and smile stamped on more than one shopkeeper’s heart,
laughed beforehand at the damsels’ airs, and sharpened her pencils for
the scenes she proposed to sketch in her satirical album. Sunday could
not come soon enough to satisfy her impatience.

The party from the Villa Planat set out on foot, so as not to betray
the rank of the personages who were about to honor the ball with
their presence. They dined early. And the month of May humored this
aristocratic escapade by one of its finest evenings. Mademoiselle de
Fontaine was quite surprised to find in the rotunda some quadrilles made
up of persons who seemed to belong to the upper classes. Here and there,
indeed, were some young men who look as though they must have saved for
a month to shine for a day; and she perceived several couples whose
too hearty glee suggested nothing conjugal; still, she could only glean
instead of gathering a harvest. She was amused to see that pleasure in
a cotton dress was so very like pleasure robed in satin, and that the
girls of the middle class danced quite as well as ladies--nay, sometimes
better. Most of the women were simply and suitably dressed. Those who
in this assembly represented the ruling power, that is to say,
the country-folk, kept apart with wonderful politeness. In fact,
Mademoiselle Emilie had to study the various elements that composed the
mixture before she could find any subject for pleasantry. But she had
not time to give herself up to malicious criticism, or opportunity for
hearing many of the startling speeches which caricaturists so gladly
pick up. The haughty young lady suddenly found a flower in this wide
field--the metaphor is reasonable--whose splendor and coloring worked
on her imagination with all the fascination of novelty. It often happens
that we look at a dress, a hanging, a blank sheet of paper, with so
little heed that we do not at first detect a stain or a bright spot
which afterwards strikes the eye as though it had come there at the
very instant when we see it; and by a sort of moral phenomenon somewhat
resembling this, Mademoiselle de Fontaine discovered in a young man the
external perfection of which she had so long dreamed.

Seated on one of the clumsy chairs which marked the boundary line of the
circular floor, she had placed herself at the end of the row formed by
the family party, so as to be able to stand up or push forward as her
fancy moved her, treating the living pictures and groups in the hall as
if she were in a picture gallery; impertinently turning her eye-glass
on persons not two yards away, and making her remarks as though she
were criticising or praising a study of a head, a painting of genre. Her
eyes, after wandering over the vast moving picture, were suddenly caught
by this figure, which seemed to have been placed on purpose in one
corner of the canvas, and in the best light, like a person out of all
proportion with the rest.

The stranger, alone and absorbed in thought, leaned lightly against one
of the columns that supported the roof; his arms were folded, and he
leaned slightly on one side as though he had placed himself there to
have his portrait taken by a painter. His attitude, though full of
elegance and dignity, was devoid of affectation. Nothing suggested that
he had half turned his head, and bent it a little to the right like
Alexander, or Lord Byron, and some other great men, for the sole purpose
of attracting attention. His fixed gaze followed a girl who was dancing,
and betrayed some strong feeling. His slender, easy frame recalled the
noble proportions of the Apollo. Fine black hair curled naturally over
a high forehead. At a glance Mademoiselle de Fontaine observed that his
linen was fine, his gloves fresh, and evidently bought of a good maker,
and his feet were small and well shod in boots of Irish kid. He had none
of the vulgar trinkets displayed by the dandies of the National Guard
or the Lovelaces of the counting-house. A black ribbon, to which an
eye-glass was attached, hung over a waistcoat of the most fashionable
cut. Never had the fastidious Emilie seen a man’s eyes shaded by such
long, curled lashes. Melancholy and passion were expressed in this face,
and the complexion was of a manly olive hue. His mouth seemed ready
to smile, unbending the corners of eloquent lips; but this, far from
hinting at gaiety, revealed on the contrary a sort of pathetic grace.
There was too much promise in that head, too much distinction in his
whole person, to allow of one’s saying, “What a handsome man!” or “What
a fine man!” One wanted to know him. The most clear-sighted observer, on
seeing this stranger, could not have helped taking him for a clever man
attracted to this rural festivity by some powerful motive.

All these observations cost Emilie only a minute’s attention, during
which the privileged gentleman under her severe scrutiny became the
object of her secret admiration. She did not say to herself, “He must
be a peer of France!” but “Oh, if only he is noble, and he surely must
be----” Without finishing her thought, she suddenly rose, and followed
by her brother the General, she made her way towards the column,
affecting to watch the merry quadrille; but by a stratagem of the eye,
familiar to women, she lost not a gesture of the young man as she went
towards him. The stranger politely moved to make way for the newcomers,
and went to lean against another pillar. Emilie, as much nettled by his
politeness as she might have been by an impertinence, began talking to
her brother in a louder voice than good taste enjoined; she turned and
tossed her head, gesticulated eagerly, and laughed for no particular
reason, less to amuse her brother than to attract the attention of the
imperturbable stranger. None of her little arts succeeded. Mademoiselle
de Fontaine then followed the direction in which his eyes were fixed,
and discovered the cause of his indifference.

In the midst of the quadrille, close in front of them, a pale girl
was dancing; her face was like one of the divinities which Girodet has
introduced into his immense composition of French Warriors received by
Ossian. Emilie fancied that she recognized her as a distinguished milady
who for some months had been living on a neighboring estate. Her partner
was a lad of about fifteen, with red hands, and dressed in nankeen
trousers, a blue coat, and white shoes, which showed that the damsel’s
love of dancing made her easy to please in the matter of partners.
Her movements did not betray her apparent delicacy, but a faint flush
already tinged her white cheeks, and her complexion was gaining color.
Mademoiselle de Fontaine went nearer, to be able to examine the young
lady at the moment when she returned to her place, while the side
couples in their turn danced the figure. But the stranger went up to the
pretty dancer, and leaning over, said in a gentle but commanding tone:

“Clara, my child, do not dance any more.”

Clara made a little pouting face, bent her head, and finally smiled.
When the dance was over, the young man wrapped her in a cashmere shawl
with a lover’s care, and seated her in a place sheltered from the wind.
Very soon Mademoiselle de Fontaine, seeing them rise and walk round
the place as if preparing to leave, found means to follow them under
pretence of admiring the views from the garden. Her brother lent himself
with malicious good-humor to the divagations of her rather eccentric
wanderings. Emilie then saw the attractive couple get into an elegant
tilbury, by which stood a mounted groom in livery. At the moment when,
from his high seat, the young man was drawing the reins even, she caught
a glance from his eye such as a man casts aimlessly at the crowd; and
then she enjoyed the feeble satisfaction of seeing him turn his head to
look at her. The young lady did the same. Was it from jealousy?

“I imagine you have now seen enough of the garden,” said her brother.
“We may go back to the dancing.”

“I am ready,” said she. “Do you think the girl can be a relation of Lady

“Lady Dudley may have some male relation staying with her,” said the
Baron de Fontaine; “but a young girl!--No!”

Next day Mademoiselle de Fontaine expressed a wish to take a ride. Then
she gradually accustomed her old uncle and her brothers to escorting her
in very early rides, excellent, she declared for her health. She had a
particular fancy for the environs of the hamlet where Lady Dudley was
living. Notwithstanding her cavalry manoeuvres, she did not meet the
stranger so soon as the eager search she pursued might have allowed her
to hope. She went several times to the “Bal de Sceaux” without seeing
the young Englishman who had dropped from the skies to pervade and
beautify her dreams. Though nothing spurs on a young girl’s infant
passion so effectually as an obstacle, there was a time when
Mademoiselle de Fontaine was on the point of giving up her strange and
secret search, almost despairing of the success of an enterprise whose
singularity may give some idea of the boldness of her temper. In point
of fact, she might have wandered long about the village of Chatenay
without meeting her Unknown. The fair Clara--since that was the name
Emilie had overheard--was not English, and the stranger who escorted her
did not dwell among the flowery and fragrant bowers of Chatenay.

One evening Emilie, out riding with her uncle, who, during the fine
weather, had gained a fairly long truce from the gout, met Lady Dudley.
The distinguished foreigner had with her in her open carriage Monsieur
Vandenesse. Emilie recognized the handsome couple, and her suppositions
were at once dissipated like a dream. Annoyed, as any woman must be
whose expectations are frustrated, she touched up her horse so suddenly
that her uncle had the greatest difficulty in following her, she had set
off at such a pace.

“I am too old, it would seem, to understand these youthful spirits,”
 said the old sailor to himself as he put his horse to a canter; “or
perhaps young people are not what they used to be. But what ails my
niece? Now she is walking at a foot-pace like a gendarme on patrol in
the Paris streets. One might fancy she wanted to outflank that worthy
man, who looks to me like an author dreaming over his poetry, for he
has, I think, a notebook in his hand. My word, I am a great simpleton!
Is not that the very young man we are in search of!”

At this idea the old admiral moderated his horse’s pace so as to follow
his niece without making any noise. He had played too many pranks in the
years 1771 and soon after, a time of our history when gallantry was held
in honor, not to guess at once that by the merest chance Emilie had met
the Unknown of the Sceaux gardens. In spite of the film which age had
drawn over his gray eyes, the Comte de Kergarouet could recognize the
signs of extreme agitation in his niece, under the unmoved expression
she tried to give to her features. The girl’s piercing eyes were fixed
in a sort of dull amazement on the stranger, who quietly walked on in
front of her.

“Ay, that’s it,” thought the sailor. “She is following him as a pirate
follows a merchantman. Then, when she has lost sight of him, she will be
in despair at not knowing who it is she is in love with, and whether he
is a marquis or a shopkeeper. Really these young heads need an old fogy
like me always by their side...”

He unexpectedly spurred his horse in such a way as to make his niece’s
bolt, and rode so hastily between her and the young man on foot that
he obliged him to fall back on to the grassy bank which rose from the
roadside. Then, abruptly drawing up, the Count exclaimed:

“Couldn’t you get out of the way?”

“I beg your pardon, monsieur. But I did not know that it lay with me to
apologize to you because you almost rode me down.”

“There, enough of that, my good fellow!” replied the sailor harshly, in
a sneering tone that was nothing less than insulting. At the same time
the Count raised his hunting-crop as if to strike his horse, and touched
the young fellow’s shoulder, saying, “A liberal citizen is a reasoner;
every reasoner should be prudent.”

The young man went up the bankside as he heard the sarcasm; then he
crossed his arms, and said in an excited tone of voice, “I cannot
suppose, monsieur, as I look at your white hairs, that you still amuse
yourself by provoking duels----”

“White hairs!” cried the sailor, interrupting him. “You lie in your
throat. They are only gray.”

A quarrel thus begun had in a few seconds become so fierce that the
younger man forgot the moderation he had tried to preserve. Just as the
Comte de Kergarouet saw his niece coming back to them with every sign
of the greatest uneasiness, he told his antagonist his name, bidding him
keep silence before the young lady entrusted to his care. The stranger
could not help smiling as he gave a visiting card to the old man,
desiring him to observe that he was living at a country-house at
Chevreuse; and, after pointing this out to him, he hurried away.

“You very nearly damaged that poor young counter-jumper, my dear,” said
the Count, advancing hastily to meet Emilie. “Do you not know how to
hold your horse in?--And there you leave me to compromise my dignity in
order to screen your folly; whereas if you had but stopped, one of your
looks, or one of your pretty speeches--one of those you can make so
prettily when you are not pert--would have set everything right, even if
you had broken his arm.”

“But, my dear uncle, it was your horse, not mine, that caused the
accident. I really think you can no longer ride; you are not so good a
horseman as you were last year.--But instead of talking nonsense----”

“Nonsense, by Gad! Is it nothing to be so impertinent to your uncle?”

“Ought we not to go on and inquire if the young man is hurt? He is
limping, uncle, only look!”

“No, he is running; I rated him soundly.”

“Oh, yes, uncle; I know you there!”

“Stop,” said the Count, pulling Emilie’s horse by the bridle, “I do not
see the necessity of making advances to some shopkeeper who is only
too lucky to have been thrown down by a charming young lady, or the
commander of La Belle-Poule.”

“Why do you think he is anything so common, my dear uncle? He seems to
me to have very fine manners.”

“Every one has manners nowadays, my dear.”

“No, uncle, not every one has the air and style which come of the habit
of frequenting drawing-rooms, and I am ready to lay a bet with you that
the young man is of noble birth.”

“You had not long to study him.”

“No, but it is not the first time I have seen him.”

“Nor is it the first time you have looked for him,” replied the admiral
with a laugh.

Emilie colored. Her uncle amused himself for some time with her
embarrassment; then he said: “Emilie, you know that I love you as my own
child, precisely because you are the only member of the family who has
the legitimate pride of high birth. Devil take it, child, who could have
believed that sound principles would become so rare? Well, I will be
your confidant. My dear child, I see that his young gentleman is not
indifferent to you. Hush! All the family would laugh at us if we sailed
under the wrong flag. You know what that means. We two will keep our
secret, and I promise to bring him straight into the drawing-room.”

“When, uncle?”


“But, my dear uncle, I am not committed to anything?”

“Nothing whatever, and you may bombard him, set fire to him, and leave
him to founder like an old hulk if you choose. He won’t be the first, I

“You ARE kind, uncle!”

As soon as the Count got home he put on his glasses, quietly took
the card out of his pocket, and read, “Maximilien Longueville, Rue de

“Make yourself happy, my dear niece,” he said to Emilie, “you may
hook him with any easy conscience; he belongs to one of our historical
families, and if he is not a peer of France, he infallibly will be.”

“How do you know so much?”

“That is my secret.”

“Then do you know his name?”

The old man bowed his gray head, which was not unlike a gnarled
oak-stump, with a few leaves fluttering about it, withered by autumnal
frosts; and his niece immediately began to try the ever-new power of her
coquettish arts. Long familiar with the secret of cajoling the old man,
she lavished on him the most childlike caresses, the tenderest names;
she even went so far as to kiss him to induce him to divulge so
important a secret. The old man, who spent his life in playing off these
scenes on his niece, often paying for them with a present of jewelry,
or by giving her his box at the opera, this time amused himself with
her entreaties, and, above all, her caresses. But as he spun out this
pleasure too long, Emilie grew angry, passed from coaxing to sarcasm and
sulks; then, urged by curiosity, she recovered herself. The diplomatic
admiral extracted a solemn promise from his niece that she would for
the future be gentler, less noisy, and less wilful, that she would spend
less, and, above all, tell him everything. The treaty being concluded,
and signed by a kiss impressed on Emilie’s white brow, he led her into
a corner of the room, drew her on to his knee, held the card under the
thumbs so as to hide it, and then uncovered the letters one by one,
spelling the name of Longueville; but he firmly refused to show her
anything more.

This incident added to the intensity of Mademoiselle de Fontaine’s
secret sentiment, and during chief part of the night she evolved the
most brilliant pictures from the dreams with which she had fed her
hopes. At last, thanks to chance, to which she had so often
appealed, Emilie could now see something very unlike a chimera at the
fountain-head of the imaginary wealth with which she gilded her married
life. Ignorant, as all young girls are, of the perils of love and
marriage, she was passionately captivated by the externals of marriage
and love. Is not this as much as to say that her feeling had birth like
all the feelings of extreme youth--sweet but cruel mistakes, which exert
a fatal influence on the lives of young girls so inexperienced as to
trust their own judgment to take care of their future happiness?

Next morning, before Emilie was awake, her uncle had hastened to
Chevreuse. On recognizing, in the courtyard of an elegant little villa,
the young man he had so determinedly insulted the day before, he went up
to him with the pressing politeness of men of the old court.

“Why, my dear sir, who could have guessed that I should have a brush,
at the age of seventy-three, with the son, or the grandson, of one of my
best friends. I am a vice-admiral, monsieur; is not that as much as to
say that I think no more of fighting a duel than of smoking a cigar?
Why, in my time, no two young men could be intimate till they had seen
the color of their blood! But ‘sdeath, sir, last evening, sailor-like,
I had taken a drop too much grog on board, and I ran you down. Shake
hands; I would rather take a hundred rebuffs from a Longueville than
cause his family the smallest regret.”

However coldly the young man tried to behave to the Comte de Kergarouet,
he could not resist the frank cordiality of his manner, and presently
gave him his hand.

“You were going out riding,” said the Count. “Do not let me detain you.
But, unless you have other plans, I beg you will come to dinner to-day
at the Villa Planat. My nephew, the Comte de Fontaine, is a man it is
essential that you should know. Ah, ha! And I propose to make up to you
for my clumsiness by introducing you to five of the prettiest women
in Paris. So, so, young man, your brow is clearing! I am fond of young
people, and I like to see them happy. Their happiness reminds me of the
good times of my youth, when adventures were not lacking, any more
than duels. We were gay dogs then! Nowadays you think and worry over
everything, as though there had never been a fifteenth and a sixteenth

“But, monsieur, are we not in the right? The sixteenth century only gave
religious liberty to Europe, and the nineteenth will give it political

“Oh, we will not talk politics. I am a perfect old woman--ultra you see.
But I do not hinder young men from being revolutionary, so long as they
leave the King at liberty to disperse their assemblies.”

When they had gone a little way, and the Count and his companion were in
the heart of the woods, the old sailor pointed out a slender young
birch sapling, pulled up his horse, took out one of his pistols, and the
bullet was lodged in the heart of the tree, fifteen paces away.

“You see, my dear fellow, that I am not afraid of a duel,” he said with
comical gravity, as he looked at Monsieur Longueville.

“Nor am I,” replied the young man, promptly cocking his pistol; he aimed
at the hole made by the Comte’s bullet, and sent his own close to it.

“That is what I call a well-educated man,” cried the admiral with

During this ride with the youth, whom he already regarded as his nephew,
he found endless opportunities of catechizing him on all the trifles of
which a perfect knowledge constituted, according to his private code, an
accomplished gentleman.

“Have you any debts?” he at last asked of his companion, after many
other inquiries.

“No, monsieur.”

“What, you pay for all you have?”

“Punctually; otherwise we should lose our credit, and every sort of

“But at least you have more than one mistress? Ah, you blush, comrade!
Well, manners have changed. All these notions of lawful order, Kantism,
and liberty have spoilt the young men. You have no Guimard now, no
Duthe, no creditors--and you know nothing of heraldry; why, my dear
young friend, you are not fully fledged. The man who does not sow his
wild oats in the spring sows them in the winter. If I have but eighty
thousand francs a year at the age of seventy, it is because I ran
through the capital at thirty. Oh! with my wife--in decency and honor.
However, your imperfections will not interfere with my introducing you
at the Pavillon Planat. Remember, you have promised to come, and I shall
expect you.”

“What an odd little old man!” said Longueville to himself. “He is so
jolly and hale; but though he wishes to seem a good fellow, I will not
trust him too far.”

Next day, at about four o’clock, when the house party were dispersed
in the drawing-rooms and billiard-room, a servant announced to the
inhabitants of the Villa Planat, “Monsieur DE Longueville.” On hearing
the name of the old admiral’s protege, every one, down to the player who
was about to miss his stroke, rushed in, as much to study Mademoiselle
de Fontaine’s countenance as to judge of this phoenix of men, who had
earned honorable mention to the detriment of so many rivals. A simple
but elegant style of dress, an air of perfect ease, polite manners, a
pleasant voice with a ring in it which found a response in the hearer’s
heart-strings, won the good-will of the family for Monsieur Longueville.
He did not seem unaccustomed to the luxury of the Receiver-General’s
ostentatious mansion. Though his conversation was that of a man of the
world, it was easy to discern that he had had a brilliant education, and
that his knowledge was as thorough as it was extensive. He knew so well
the right thing to say in a discussion on naval architecture, trivial,
it is true, started by the old admiral, that one of the ladies remarked
that he must have passed through the Ecole Polytechnique.

“And I think, madame,” he replied, “that I may regard it as an honor to
have got in.”

In spite of urgent pressing, he refused politely but firmly to be kept
to dinner, and put an end to the persistency of the ladies by saying
that he was the Hippocrates of his young sister, whose delicate health
required great care.

“Monsieur is perhaps a medical man?” asked one of Emilie’s
sisters-in-law with ironical meaning.

“Monsieur has left the Ecole Polytechnique,” Mademoiselle de Fontaine
kindly put in; her face had flushed with richer color, as she learned
that the young lady of the ball was Monsieur Longueville’s sister.

“But, my dear, he may be a doctor and yet have been to the Ecole
Polytechnique--is it not so, monsieur?”

“There is nothing to prevent it, madame,” replied the young man.

Every eye was on Emilie, who was gazing with uneasy curiosity at the
fascinating stranger. She breathed more freely when he added, not
without a smile, “I have not the honor of belonging to the medical
profession; and I even gave up going into the Engineers in order to
preserve my independence.”

“And you did well,” said the Count. “But how can you regard it as an
honor to be a doctor?” added the Breton nobleman. “Ah, my young friend,
such a man as you----”

“Monsieur le Comte, I respect every profession that has a useful

“Well, in that we agree. You respect those professions, I imagine, as a
young man respects a dowager.”

Monsieur Longueville made his visit neither too long nor too short. He
left at the moment when he saw that he had pleased everybody, and that
each one’s curiosity about him had been roused.

“He is a cunning rascal!” said the Count, coming into the drawing-room
after seeing him to the door.

Mademoiselle de Fontaine, who had been in the secret of this call, had
dressed with some care to attract the young man’s eye; but she had the
little disappointment of finding that he did not bestow on her so much
attention as she thought she deserved. The family were a good deal
surprised at the silence into which she had retired. Emilie generally
displayed all her arts for the benefit of newcomers, her witty prattle,
and the inexhaustible eloquence of her eyes and attitudes. Whether
it was that the young man’s pleasing voice and attractive manners had
charmed her, that she was seriously in love, and that this feeling had
worked a change in her, her demeanor had lost all its affectations.
Being simple and natural, she must, no doubt, have seemed more
beautiful. Some of her sisters, and an old lady, a friend of the family,
saw in this behavior a refinement of art. They supposed that Emilie,
judging the man worthy of her, intended to delay revealing her merits,
so as to dazzle him suddenly when she found that she pleased him. Every
member of the family was curious to know what this capricious creature
thought of the stranger; but when, during dinner, every one chose to
endow Monsieur Longueville with some fresh quality which no one else
had discovered, Mademoiselle de Fontaine sat for some time in silence. A
sarcastic remark of her uncle’s suddenly roused her from her apathy;
she said, somewhat epigrammatically, that such heavenly perfection
must cover some great defect, and that she would take good care how she
judged so gifted a man at first sight.

“Those who please everybody, please nobody,” she added; “and the worst
of all faults is to have none.”

Like all girls who are in love, Emilie cherished the hope of being
able to hide her feelings at the bottom of her heart by putting the
Argus-eyes that watched on the wrong tack; but by the end of a fortnight
there was not a member of the large family party who was not in this
little domestic secret. When Monsieur Longueville called for the third
time, Emilie believed it was chiefly for her sake. This discovery gave
her such intoxicating pleasure that she was startled as she reflected on
it. There was something in it very painful to her pride. Accustomed as
she was to be the centre of her world, she was obliged to recognize a
force that attracted her outside herself; she tried to resist, but she
could not chase from her heart the fascinating image of the young man.

Then came some anxiety. Two of Monsieur Longueville’s qualities,
very adverse to general curiosity, and especially to Mademoiselle de
Fontaine’s, were unexpected modesty and discretion. He never spoke of
himself, of his pursuits, or of his family. The hints Emilie threw out
in conversation, and the traps she laid to extract from the young fellow
some facts concerning himself, he could evade with the adroitness of a
diplomatist concealing a secret. If she talked of painting, he responded
as a connoisseur; if she sat down to play, he showed without conceit
that he was a very good pianist; one evening he delighted all the
party by joining his delightful voice to Emilie’s in one of Cimarosa’s
charming duets. But when they tried to find out whether he were a
professional singer, he baffled them so pleasantly that he did not
afford these women, practised as they were in the art of reading
feelings, the least chance of discovering to what social sphere he
belonged. However boldly the old uncle cast the boarding-hooks over the
vessel, Longueville slipped away cleverly, so as to preserve the charm
of mystery; and it was easy to him to remain the “handsome Stranger”
 at the Villa, because curiosity never overstepped the bounds of good

Emilie, distracted by this reserve, hoped to get more out of the sister
than the brother, in the form of confidences. Aided by her uncle, who
was as skilful in such manoeuvres as in handling a ship, she endeavored
to bring upon the scene the hitherto unseen figure of Mademoiselle Clara
Longueville. The family party at the Villa Planat soon expressed the
greatest desire to make the acquaintance of so amiable a young lady, and
to give her some amusement. An informal dance was proposed and accepted.
The ladies did not despair of making a young girl of sixteen talk.

Notwithstanding the little clouds piled up by suspicion and created by
curiosity, a light of joy shone in Emilie’s soul, for she found life
delicious when thus intimately connected with another than herself. She
began to understand the relations of life. Whether it is that happiness
makes us better, or that she was too fully occupied to torment other
people, she became less caustic, more gentle, and indulgent. This change
in her temper enchanted and amazed her family. Perhaps, at last, her
selfishness was being transformed to love. It was a deep delight to her
to look for the arrival of her bashful and unconfessed adorer. Though
they had not uttered a word of passion, she knew that she was loved, and
with what art did she not lead the stranger to unlock the stores of his
information, which proved to be varied! She perceived that she, too,
was being studied, and that made her endeavor to remedy the defects her
education had encouraged. Was not this her first homage to love, and
a bitter reproach to herself? She desired to please, and she was
enchanting; she loved, and she was idolized. Her family, knowing that
her pride would sufficiently protect her, gave her enough freedom to
enjoy the little childish delights which give to first love its charm
and its violence. More than once the young man and Mademoiselle de
Fontaine walked, tete-a-tete, in the avenues of the garden, where nature
was dressed like a woman going to a ball. More than once they had those
conversations, aimless and meaningless, in which the emptiest phrases
are those which cover the deepest feelings. They often admired together
the setting sun and its gorgeous coloring. They gathered daisies to pull
the petals off, and sang the most impassioned duets, using the notes set
down by Pergolesi or Rossini as faithful interpreters to express their

The day of the dance came. Clara Longueville and her brother, whom the
servants persisted in honoring with the noble DE, were the principle
guests. For the first time in her life Mademoiselle de Fontaine felt
pleasure in a young girl’s triumph. She lavished on Clara in all
sincerity the gracious petting and little attentions which women
generally give each other only to excite the jealousy of men. Emilie,
had, indeed, an object in view; she wanted to discover some secrets.
But, being a girl, Mademoiselle Longueville showed even more mother-wit
than her brother, for she did not even look as if she were hiding a
secret, and kept the conversation to subjects unconnected with personal
interests, while, at the same time, she gave it so much charm that
Mademoiselle de Fontaine was almost envious, and called her “the Siren.”
 Though Emilie had intended to make Clara talk, it was Clara, in fact,
who questioned Emilie; she had meant to judge her, and she was judged by
her; she was constantly provoked to find that she had betrayed her own
character in some reply which Clara had extracted from her, while her
modest and candid manner prohibited any suspicion of perfidy. There was
a moment when Mademoiselle de Fontaine seemed sorry for an ill-judged
sally against the commonalty to which Clara had led her.

“Mademoiselle,” said the sweet child, “I have heard so much of you from
Maximilien that I had the keenest desire to know you, out of affection
for him; but is not a wish to know you a wish to love you?”

“My dear Clara, I feared I might have displeased you by speaking thus of
people who are not of noble birth.”

“Oh, be quite easy. That sort of discussion is pointless in these days.
As for me, it does not affect me. I am beside the question.”

Ambitious as the answer might seem, it filled Mademoiselle de Fontaine
with the deepest joy; for, like all infatuated people, she explained it,
as oracles are explained, in the sense that harmonized with her wishes;
she began dancing again in higher spirits than ever, as she watched
Longueville, whose figure and grace almost surpassed those of her
imaginary ideal. She felt added satisfaction in believing him to be well
born, her black eyes sparkled, and she danced with all the pleasure that
comes of dancing in the presence of the being we love. The couple had
never understood each other as well as at this moment; more than once
they felt their finger tips thrill and tremble as they were married in
the figures of the dance.

The early autumn had come to the handsome pair, in the midst of country
festivities and pleasures; they had abandoned themselves softly to the
tide of the sweetest sentiment in life, strengthening it by a thousand
little incidents which any one can imagine; for love is in some respects
always the same. They studied each other through it all, as much as
lovers can.

“Well, well; a flirtation never turned so quickly into a love match,”
 said the old uncle, who kept an eye on the two young people as a
naturalist watches an insect in the microscope.

The speech alarmed Monsieur and Madame Fontaine. The old Vendeen had
ceased to be so indifferent to his daughter’s prospects as he had
promised to be. He went to Paris to seek information, and found none.
Uneasy at this mystery, and not yet knowing what might be the outcome
of the inquiry which he had begged a Paris friend to institute with
reference to the family of Longueville, he thought it his duty to warn
his daughter to behave prudently. The fatherly admonition was received
with mock submission spiced with irony.

“At least, my dear Emilie, if you love him, do not own it to him.”

“My dear father, I certainly do love him; but I will await your
permission before I tell him so.”

“But remember, Emilie, you know nothing of his family or his pursuits.”

“I may be ignorant, but I am content to be. But, father, you wished to
see me married; you left me at liberty to make my choice; my choice is
irrevocably made--what more is needful?”

“It is needful to ascertain, my dear, whether the man of your choice
is the son of a peer of France,” the venerable gentleman retorted

Emilie was silent for a moment. She presently raised her head, looked at
her father, and said somewhat anxiously, “Are not the Longuevilles----?”

“They became extinct in the person of the old Duc de Rostein-Limbourg,
who perished on the scaffold in 1793. He was the last representative of
the last and younger branch.”

“But, papa, there are some very good families descended from bastards.
The history of France swarms with princes bearing the bar sinister on
their shields.”

“Your ideas are much changed,” said the old man, with a smile.

The following day was the last that the Fontaine family were to spend at
the Pavillon Planat. Emilie, greatly disturbed by her father’s warning,
awaited with extreme impatience the hour at which young Longueville was
in the habit of coming, to wring some explanation from him. She went out
after dinner, and walked alone across the shrubbery towards an arbor fit
for lovers, where she knew that the eager youth would seek her; and
as she hastened thither she considered of the best way to discover so
important a matter without compromising herself--a rather difficult
thing! Hitherto no direct avowal had sanctioned the feelings which bound
her to this stranger. Like Maximilien, she had secretly enjoyed the
sweetness of first love; but both were equally proud, and each feared to
confess that love.

Maximilien Longueville, to whom Clara had communicated her not unfounded
suspicions as to Emilie’s character, was by turns carried away by the
violence of a young man’s passion, and held back by a wish to know and
test the woman to whom he would be entrusting his happiness. His love
had not hindered him from perceiving in Emilie the prejudices which
marred her young nature; but before attempting to counteract them, he
wished to be sure that she loved him, for he would no sooner risk the
fate of his love than of his life. He had, therefore, persistently kept
a silence to which his looks, his behavior, and his smallest actions
gave the lie.

On her side, the self-respect natural to a young girl, augmented in
Mademoiselle de Fontaine by the monstrous vanity founded on her birth
and beauty, kept her from meeting the declaration half-way, which her
growing passion sometimes urged her to invite. Thus the lovers had
instinctively understood the situation without explaining to each
other their secret motives. There are times in life when such vagueness
pleases youthful minds. Just because each had postponed speaking too
long, they seemed to be playing a cruel game of suspense. He was trying
to discover whether he was beloved, by the effort any confession would
cost his haughty mistress; she every minute hoped that he would break a
too respectful silence.

Emilie, seated on a rustic bench, was reflecting on all that had
happened in these three months full of enchantment. Her father’s
suspicions were the last that could appeal to her; she even disposed
of them at once by two or three of those reflections natural to an
inexperienced girl, which, to her, seemed conclusive. Above all, she was
convinced that it was impossible that she should deceive herself. All
the summer through she had not been able to detect in Maximilien a
single gesture, or a single word, which could indicate a vulgar origin
or vulgar occupations; nay more, his manner of discussing things
revealed a man devoted to the highest interests of the nation.
“Besides,” she reflected, “an office clerk, a banker, or a merchant,
would not be at leisure to spend a whole season in paying his addresses
to me in the midst of woods and fields; wasting his time as freely as a
nobleman who has life before him free of all care.”

She had given herself up to meditations far more interesting to her
than these preliminary thoughts, when a slight rustling in the leaves
announced to her than Maximilien had been watching her for a minute, not
probably without admiration.

“Do you know that it is very wrong to take a young girl thus unawares?”
 she asked him, smiling.

“Especially when they are busy with their secrets,” replied Maximilien

“Why should I not have my secrets? You certainly have yours.”

“Then you really were thinking of your secrets?” he went on, laughing.

“No, I was thinking of yours. My own, I know.”

“But perhaps my secrets are yours, and yours mine,” cried the young man,
softly seizing Mademoiselle de Fontaine’s hand and drawing it through
his arm.

After walking a few steps they found themselves under a clump of trees
which the hues of the sinking sun wrapped in a haze of red and brown.
This touch of natural magic lent a certain solemnity to the moment. The
young man’s free and eager action, and, above all, the throbbing of his
surging heart, whose hurried beating spoke to Emilie’s arm, stirred her
to an emotion that was all the more disturbing because it was produced
by the simplest and most innocent circumstances. The restraint under
which the young girls of the upper class live gives incredible force to
any explosion of feeling, and to meet an impassioned lover is one of
the greatest dangers they can encounter. Never had Emilie and Maximilien
allowed their eyes to say so much that they dared never speak. Carried
a way by this intoxication, they easily forgot the petty stipulations
of pride, and the cold hesitancies of suspicion. At first, indeed, they
could only express themselves by a pressure of hands which interpreted
their happy thoughts.

After slowing pacing a few steps in long silence, Mademoiselle de
Fontaine spoke. “Monsieur, I have a question to ask you,” she said
trembling, and in an agitated voice. “But, remember, I beg, that it is
in a manner compulsory on me, from the rather singular position I am in
with regard to my family.”

A pause, terrible to Emilie, followed these sentences, which she had
almost stammered out. During the minute while it lasted, the girl,
haughty as she was, dared not meet the flashing eye of the man she
loved, for she was secretly conscious of the meanness of the next words
she added: “Are you of noble birth?”

As soon as the words were spoken she wished herself at the bottom of a

“Mademoiselle,” Longueville gravely replied, and his face assumed a sort
of stern dignity, “I promise to answer you truly as soon as you shall
have answered in all sincerity a question I will put to you!”--He
released her arm, and the girl suddenly felt alone in the world, as he
said: “What is your object in questioning me as to my birth?”

She stood motionless, cold, and speechless.

“Mademoiselle,” Maximilien went on, “let us go no further if we do not
understand each other. I love you,” he said, in a voice of deep emotion.
“Well, then,” he added, as he heard the joyful exclamation she could not
suppress, “why ask me if I am of noble birth?”

“Could he speak so if he were not?” cried a voice within her, which
Emilie believed came from the depths of her heart. She gracefully raised
her head, seemed to find new life in the young man’s gaze, and held out
her hand as if to renew the alliance.

“You thought I cared very much for dignities?” said she with keen

“I have no titles to offer my wife,” he replied, in a half-sportive,
half-serious tone. “But if I choose one of high rank, and among women
whom a wealthy home has accustomed to the luxury and pleasures of a
fine fortune, I know what such a choice requires of me. Love gives
everything,” he added lightly, “but only to lovers. Once married,
they need something more than the vault of heaven and the carpet of a

“He is rich,” she reflected. “As to titles, perhaps he only wants to try
me. He has been told that I am mad about titles, and bent on marrying
none but a peer’s son. My priggish sisters have played me that
trick.”--“I assure you, monsieur,” she said aloud, “that I have had
very extravagant ideas about life and the world; but now,” she added
pointedly, looking at him in a perfectly distracting way, “I know where
true riches are to be found for a wife.”

“I must believe that you are speaking from the depths of your heart,”
 he said, with gentle gravity. “But this winter, my dear Emilie, in less
than two months perhaps, I may be proud of what I shall have to offer
you if you care for the pleasures of wealth. This is the only secret I
shall keep locked here,” and he laid his hand on his heart, “for on its
success my happiness depends. I dare not say ours.”

“Yes, yes, ours!”

Exchanging such sweet nothings, they slowly made their way back to
rejoin the company. Mademoiselle de Fontaine had never found her lover
more amiable or wittier: his light figure, his engaging manners, seemed
to her more charming than ever, since the conversation which had made
her to some extent the possessor of a heart worthy to be the envy of
every woman. They sang an Italian duet with so much expression that the
audience applauded enthusiastically. Their adieux were in a conventional
tone, which concealed their happiness. In short, this day had been to
Emilie like a chain binding her more closely than ever to the Stranger’s
fate. The strength and dignity he had displayed in the scene when they
had confessed their feelings had perhaps impressed Mademoiselle de
Fontaine with the respect without which there is no true love.

When she was left alone in the drawing-room with her father, the old man
went up to her affectionately, held her hands, and asked her whether she
had gained any light at to Monsieur Longueville’s family and fortune.

“Yes, my dear father,” she replied, “and I am happier than I could have
hoped. In short, Monsieur de Longueville is the only man I could ever

“Very well, Emilie,” said the Count, “then I know what remains for me to

“Do you know of any impediment?” she asked, in sincere alarm.

“My dear child, the young man is totally unknown to me; but unless he
is not a man of honor, so long as you love him, he is as dear to me as a

“Not a man of honor!” exclaimed Emilie. “As to that, I am quite easy.
My uncle, who introduced him to us, will answer for him. Say, my dear
uncle, has he been a filibuster, an outlaw, a pirate?”

“I knew I should find myself in this fix!” cried the old sailor,
waking up. He looked round the room, but his niece had vanished “like
Saint-Elmo’s fires,” to use his favorite expression.

“Well, uncle,” Monsieur de Fontaine went on, “how could you hide from
us all you knew about this young man? You must have seen how anxious we
have been. Is Monsieur de Longueville a man of family?”

“I don’t know him from Adam or Eve,” said the Comte de Kergarouet.
“Trusting to that crazy child’s tact, I got him here by a method of my
own. I know that the boy shoots with a pistol to admiration, hunts well,
plays wonderfully at billiards, at chess, and at backgammon; he handles
the foils, and rides a horse like the late Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
He has a thorough knowledge of all our vintages. He is as good an
arithmetician as Bareme, draws, dances, and sings well. The devil’s in
it! what more do you want? If that is not a perfect gentleman, find me
a bourgeois who knows all this, or any man who lives more nobly than he
does. Does he do anything, I ask you? Does he compromise his dignity
by hanging about an office, bowing down before the upstarts you call
Directors-General? He walks upright. He is a man.--However, I have
just found in my waistcoat pocket the card he gave me when he fancied
I wanted to cut his throat, poor innocent. Young men are very
simple-minded nowadays! Here it is.”

“Rue du Sentier, No. 5,” said Monsieur de Fontaine, trying to recall
among all the information he had received, something which might concern
the stranger. “What the devil can it mean? Messrs. Palma, Werbrust &
Co., wholesale dealers in muslins, calicoes, and printed cotton goods,
live there.--Stay, I have it: Longueville the deputy has an interest in
their house. Well, but so far as I know, Longueville has but one son
of two-and-thirty, who is not at all like our man, and to whom he gave
fifty thousand francs a year that he might marry a minister’s daughter;
he wants to be made a peer like the rest of ‘em.--I never heard him
mention this Maximilien. Has he a daughter? What is this girl Clara?
Besides, it is open to any adventurer to call himself Longueville.
But is not the house of Palma, Werbrust & Co. half ruined by some
speculation in Mexico or the Indies? I will clear all this up.”

“You speak a soliloquy as if you were on the stage, and seem to account
me a cipher,” said the old admiral suddenly. “Don’t you know that if he
is a gentleman, I have more than one bag in my hold that will stop any
leak in his fortune?”

“As to that, if he is a son of Longueville’s, he will want nothing;
but,” said Monsieur de Fontaine, shaking his head from side to side,
“his father has not even washed off the stains of his origin. Before the
Revolution he was an attorney, and the DE he has since assumed no more
belongs to him than half of his fortune.”

“Pooh! pooh! happy those whose fathers were hanged!” cried the admiral

Three or four days after this memorable day, on one of those fine
mornings in the month of November, which show the boulevards cleaned by
the sharp cold of an early frost, Mademoiselle de Fontaine, wrapped in a
new style of fur cape, of which she wished to set the fashion, went out
with two of her sisters-in-law, on whom she had been wont to discharge
her most cutting remarks. The three women were tempted to the drive,
less by their desire to try a very elegant carriage, and wear gowns
which were to set the fashion for the winter, than by their wish to see
a cape which a friend had observed in a handsome lace and linen shop at
the corner of the Rue de la Paix. As soon as they were in the shop the
Baronne de Fontaine pulled Emilie by the sleeve, and pointed out to her
Maximilien Longueville seated behind the desk, and engaged in paying out
the change for a gold piece to one of the workwomen with whom he seemed
to be in consultation. The “handsome stranger” held in his hand a parcel
of patterns, which left no doubt as to his honorable profession.

Emilie felt an icy shudder, though no one perceived it. Thanks to the
good breeding of the best society, she completely concealed the rage in
her heart, and answered her sister-in-law with the words, “I knew it,”
 with a fulness of intonation and inimitable decision which the most
famous actress of the time might have envied her. She went straight up
to the desk. Longueville looked up, put the patterns in his pocket
with distracting coolness, bowed to Mademoiselle de Fontaine, and came
forward, looking at her keenly.

“Mademoiselle,” he said to the shopgirl, who followed him, looking very
much disturbed, “I will send to settle that account; my house deals
in that way. But here,” he whispered into her ear, as he gave her a
thousand-franc note, “take this--it is between ourselves.--You will
forgive me, I trust, mademoiselle,” he added, turning to Emilie. “You
will kindly excuse the tyranny of business matters.”

“Indeed, monsieur, it seems to me that it is no concern of mine,”
 replied Mademoiselle de Fontaine, looking at him with a bold expression
of sarcastic indifference which might have made any one believe that she
now saw him for the first time.

“Do you really mean it?” asked Maximilien in a broken voice.

Emilie turned her back upon him with amazing insolence. These words,
spoken in an undertone, had escaped the ears of her two sisters-in-law.
When, after buying the cape, the three ladies got into the carriage
again, Emilie, seated with her back to the horses, could not resist one
last comprehensive glance into the depths of the odious shop, where she
saw Maximilien standing with his arms folded, in the attitude of a man
superior to the disaster that has so suddenly fallen on him. Their eyes
met and flashed implacable looks. Each hoped to inflict a cruel wound
on the heart of a lover. In one instant they were as far apart as if one
had been in China and the other in Greenland.

Does not the breath of vanity wither everything? Mademoiselle de
Fontaine, a prey to the most violent struggle that can torture the heart
of a young girl, reaped the richest harvest of anguish that prejudice
and narrow-mindedness ever sowed in a human soul. Her face, but just now
fresh and velvety, was streaked with yellow lines and red patches; the
paleness of her cheeks seemed every now and then to turn green. Hoping
to hide her despair from her sisters, she would laugh as she pointed out
some ridiculous dress or passer-by; but her laughter was spasmodic. She
was more deeply hurt by their unspoken compassion than by any satirical
comments for which she might have revenged herself. She exhausted her
wit in trying to engage them in a conversation, in which she tried to
expend her fury in senseless paradoxes, heaping on all men engaged in
trade the bitterest insults and witticisms in the worst taste.

On getting home, she had an attack of fever, which at first assumed
a somewhat serious character. By the end of a month the care of her
parents and of the physician restored her to her family.

Every one hoped that this lesson would be severe enough to subdue
Emilie’s nature; but she insensibly fell into her old habits and threw
herself again into the world of fashion. She declared that there was no
disgrace in making a mistake. If she, like her father, had a vote in the
Chamber, she would move for an edict, she said, by which all merchants,
and especially dealers in calico, should be branded on the forehead,
like Berri sheep, down to the third generation. She wished that none but
nobles should have the right to wear the antique French costume, which
was so becoming to the courtiers of Louis XV. To hear her, it was a
misfortune for France, perhaps, that there was no outward and visible
difference between a merchant and a peer of France. And a hundred more
such pleasantries, easy to imagine, were rapidly poured out when any
accident brought up the subject.

But those who loved Emilie could see through all her banter a tinge of
melancholy. It was clear that Maximilien Longueville still reigned over
that inexorable heart. Sometimes she would be as gentle as she had been
during the brief summer that had seen the birth of her love; sometimes,
again, she was unendurable. Every one made excuses for her inequality of
temper, which had its source in sufferings at once secret and known to
all. The Comte de Kergarouet had some influence over her, thanks to his
increased prodigality, a kind of consolation which rarely fails of its
effect on a Parisian girl.

The first ball at which Mademoiselle de Fontaine appeared was at the
Neapolitan ambassador’s. As she took her place in the first quadrille
she saw, a few yards away from her, Maximilien Longueville, who nodded
slightly to her partner.

“Is that young man a friend of yours?” she asked, with a scornful air.

“Only my brother,” he replied.

Emilie could not help starting. “Ah!” he continued, “and he is the
noblest soul living----”

“Do you know my name?” asked Emilie, eagerly interrupting him.

“No, mademoiselle. It is a crime, I confess, not to remember a name
which is on every lip--I ought to say in every heart. But I have a valid
excuse. I have but just arrived from Germany. My ambassador, who is in
Paris on leave, sent me here this evening to take care of his amiable
wife, whom you may see yonder in that corner.”

“A perfect tragic mask!” said Emilie, after looking at the ambassadress.

“And yet that is her ballroom face!” said the young man, laughing.
“I shall have to dance with her! So I thought I might have some
compensation.” Mademoiselle de Fontaine courtesied. “I was very much
surprised,” the voluble young secretary went on, “to find my brother
here. On arriving from Vienna I heard that the poor boy was ill in bed;
and I counted on seeing him before coming to this ball; but good policy
will always allow us to indulge family affection. The Padrona della case
would not give me time to call on my poor Maximilien.”

“Then, monsieur, your brother is not, like you, in diplomatic

“No,” said the attache, with a sigh, “the poor fellow sacrificed himself
for me. He and my sister Clara have renounced their share of my father’s
fortune to make an eldest son of me. My father dreams of a peerage, like
all who vote for the ministry. Indeed, it is promised him,” he added
in an undertone. “After saving up a little capital my brother joined a
banking firm, and I hear he has just effected a speculation in Brazil
which may make him a millionaire. You see me in the highest spirits at
having been able, by my diplomatic connections, to contribute to his
success. I am impatiently expecting a dispatch from the Brazilian
Legation, which will help to lift the cloud from his brow. What do you
think of him?”

“Well, your brother’s face does not look to me like that of a man busied
with money matters.”

The young attache shot a scrutinizing glance at the apparently calm face
of his partner.

“What!” he exclaimed, with a smile, “can young ladies read the thoughts
of love behind the silent brow?”

“Your brother is in love, then?” she asked, betrayed into a movement of

“Yes; my sister Clara, to whom he is as devoted as a mother, wrote to
me that he had fallen in love this summer with a very pretty girl; but I
have had no further news of the affair. Would you believe that the poor
boy used to get up at five in the morning, and went off to settle his
business that he might be back by four o’clock in the country where the
lady was? In fact, he ruined a very nice thoroughbred that I had just
given him. Forgive my chatter, mademoiselle; I have but just come home
from Germany. For a year I have heard no decent French, I have been
weaned from French faces, and satiated with Germans, to such a degree
that, I believe, in my patriotic mania, I could talk to the chimeras on
a French candlestick. And if I talk with a lack of reserve unbecoming
in a diplomatist, the fault is yours, mademoiselle. Was it not you who
pointed out my brother? When he is the theme I become inexhaustible. I
should like to proclaim to all the world how good and generous he is. He
gave up no less than a hundred thousand francs a year, the income from
the Longueville property.”

If Mademoiselle de Fontaine had the benefit of these important
revelations, it was partly due to the skill with which she continued to
question her confiding partner from the moment when she found that he
was the brother of her scorned lover.

“And could you, without being grieved, see your brother selling muslin
and calico?” asked Emilie, at the end of the third figure of the

“How do you know that?” asked the attache. “Thank God, though I pour out
a flood of words, I have already acquired the art of not telling more
than I intend, like all the other diplomatic apprentices I know.”

“You told me, I assure you.”

Monsieur de Longueville looked at Mademoiselle de Fontaine with a
surprise that was full of perspicacity. A suspicion flashed upon him. He
glanced inquiringly from his brother to his partner, guessed everything,
clasped his hands, fixed his eyes on the ceiling, and began to laugh,
saying, “I am an idiot! You are the handsomest person here; my brother
keeps stealing glances at you; he is dancing in spite of his illness,
and you pretend not to see him. Make him happy,” he added, as he led
her back to her old uncle. “I shall not be jealous, but I shall always
shiver a little at calling you my sister----”

The lovers, however, were to prove as inexorable to each other as they
were to themselves. At about two in the morning, refreshments were
served in an immense corridor, where, to leave persons of the same
coterie free to meet each other, the tables were arranged as in a
restaurant. By one of those accidents which always happen to lovers,
Mademoiselle de Fontaine found herself at a table next to that at which
the more important guests were seated. Maximilien was of the group.
Emilie, who lent an attentive ear to her neighbors’ conversation,
overheard one of those dialogues into which a young woman so easily
falls with a young man who has the grace and style of Maximilien
Longueville. The lady talking to the young banker was a Neapolitan
duchess, whose eyes shot lightning flashes, and whose skin had the sheen
of satin. The intimate terms on which Longueville affected to be with
her stung Mademoiselle de Fontaine all the more because she had just
given her lover back twenty times as much tenderness as she had ever
felt for him before.

“Yes, monsieur, in my country true love can make every kind of
sacrifice,” the Duchess was saying, in a simper.

“You have more passion than Frenchwomen,” said Maximilien, whose burning
gaze fell on Emilie. “They are all vanity.”

“Monsieur,” Emilie eagerly interposed, “is it not very wrong to
calumniate your own country? Devotion is to be found in every nation.”

“Do you imagine, mademoiselle,” retorted the Italian, with a sardonic
smile, “that a Parisian would be capable of following her lover all over
the world?”

“Oh, madame, let us understand each other. She would follow him to a
desert and live in a tent but not to sit in a shop.”

A disdainful gesture completed her meaning. Thus, under the influence of
her disastrous education, Emile for the second time killed her budding
happiness, and destroyed its prospects of life. Maximilien’s apparent
indifference, and a woman’s smile, had wrung from her one of those
sarcasms whose treacherous zest always let her astray.

“Mademoiselle,” said Longueville, in a low voice, under cover of the
noise made by the ladies as they rose from the table, “no one will ever
more ardently desire your happiness than I; permit me to assure you
of this, as I am taking leave of you. I am starting for Italy in a few

“With a Duchess, no doubt?”

“No, but perhaps with a mortal blow.”

“Is not that pure fancy?” asked Emilie, with an anxious glance.

“No,” he replied. “There are wounds which never heal.”

“You are not to go,” said the girl, imperiously, and she smiled.

“I shall go,” replied Maximilien, gravely.

“You will find me married on your return, I warn you,” she said

“I hope so.”

“Impertinent wretch!” she exclaimed. “How cruel a revenge!”

A fortnight later Maximilien set out with his sister Clara for the warm
and poetic scenes of beautiful Italy, leaving Mademoiselle de Fontaine
a prey to the most vehement regret. The young Secretary to the Embassy
took up his brother’s quarrel, and contrived to take signal vengeance on
Emilie’s disdain by making known the occasion of the lovers’ separation.
He repaid his fair partner with interest all the sarcasm with which
she had formerly attacked Maximilien, and often made more than one
Excellency smile by describing the fair foe of the counting-house, the
amazon who preached a crusade against bankers, the young girl whose
love had evaporated before a bale of muslin. The Comte de Fontaine was
obliged to use his influence to procure an appointment to Russia for
Auguste Longueville in order to protect his daughter from the ridicule
heaped upon her by this dangerous young persecutor.

Not long after, the Ministry being compelled to raise a levy of peers to
support the aristocratic party, trembling in the Upper Chamber under the
lash of an illustrious writer, gave Monsieur Guiraudin de Longueville a
peerage, with the title of Vicomte. Monsieur de Fontaine also obtained
a peerage, the reward due as much to his fidelity in evil days as to his
name, which claimed a place in the hereditary Chamber.

About this time Emilie, now of age, made, no doubt, some serious
reflections on life, for her tone and manners changed perceptibly.
Instead of amusing herself by saying spiteful things to her uncle, she
lavished on him the most affectionate attentions; she brought him his
stick with a persevering devotion that made the cynical smile, she
gave him her arm, rode in his carriage, and accompanied him in all his
drives; she even persuaded him that she liked the smell of tobacco, and
read him his favorite paper La Quotidienne in the midst of clouds of
smoke, which the malicious old sailor intentionally blew over her;
she learned piquet to be a match for the old count; and this fantastic
damsel even listened without impatience to his periodical narratives of
the battles of the Belle-Poule, the manoeuvres of the Ville de Paris, M.
de Suffren’s first expedition, or the battle of Aboukir.

Though the old sailor had often said that he knew his longitude and
latitude too well to allow himself to be captured by a young corvette,
one fine morning Paris drawing-rooms heard the news of the marriage of
Mademoiselle de Fontaine to the Comte de Kergarouet. The young Countess
gave splendid entertainments to drown thought; but she, no doubt,
found a void at the bottom of the whirlpool; luxury was ineffectual to
disguise the emptiness and grief of her sorrowing soul; for the most
part, in spite of the flashes of assumed gaiety, her beautiful face
expressed unspoken melancholy. Emilie appeared, however, full of
attentions and consideration for her old husband, who, on retiring to
his rooms at night, to the sounds of a lively band, would often say, “I
do not know myself. Was I to wait till the age of seventy-two to embark
as pilot on board the Belle Emilie after twenty years of matrimonial

The conduct of the young Countess was marked by such strictness that the
most clear-sighted criticism had no fault to find with her. Lookers on
chose to think that the vice-admiral had reserved the right of disposing
of his fortune to keep his wife more tightly in hand; but this was a
notion as insulting to the uncle as to the niece. Their conduct was
indeed so delicately judicious that the men who were most interested in
guessing the secrets of the couple could never decide whether the old
Count regarded her as a wife or as a daughter. He was often heard to say
that he had rescued his niece as a castaway after shipwreck; and that,
for his part, he had never taken a mean advantage of hospitality when
he had saved an enemy from the fury of the storm. Though the Countess
aspired to reign in Paris and tried to keep pace with Mesdames the
Duchesses de Maufrigneuse and du Chaulieu, the Marquises d’Espard and
d’Aiglemont, the Comtesses Feraud, de Montcornet, and de Restaud,
Madame de Camps, and Mademoiselle des Touches, she did not yield to the
addresses of the young Vicomte de Portenduere, who made her his idol.

Two years after her marriage, in one of the old drawing-rooms in the
Faubourg Saint-Germain, where she was admired for her character, worthy
of the old school, Emilie heard the Vicomte de Longueville announced.
In the corner of the room where she was sitting, playing piquet with
the Bishop of Persepolis, her agitation was not observed; she turned her
head and saw her former lover come in, in all the freshness of youth.
His father’s death, and then that of his brother, killed by the severe
climate of Saint-Petersburg, had placed on Maximilien’s head the
hereditary plumes of the French peer’s hat. His fortune matched his
learning and his merits; only the day before his youthful and fervid
eloquence had dazzled the Assembly. At this moment he stood before the
Countess, free, and graced with all the advantages she had formerly
required of her ideal. Every mother with a daughter to marry made
amiable advances to a man gifted with the virtues which they attributed
to him, as they admired his attractive person; but Emilie knew, better
than any one, that the Vicomte de Longueville had the steadfast nature
in which a wise woman sees a guarantee of happiness. She looked at the
admiral who, to use his favorite expression, seemed likely to hold his
course for a long time yet, and cursed the follies of her youth.

At this moment Monsieur de Persepolis said with Episcopal grace: “Fair
lady, you have thrown away the king of hearts--I have won. But do not
regret your money. I keep it for my little seminaries.”

PARIS, December 1829.


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

     Beaudenord, Godefroid de
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Firm of Nucingen

     Dudley, Lady Arabella
       The Lily of the Valley
       The Magic Skin
       The Secrets of a Princess
       A Daughter of Eve
       Letters of Two Brides

     Fontaine, Comte de
       The Chouans
       Modeste Mignon
       Cesar Birotteau
       The Government Clerks

     Kergarouet, Comte de
       The Purse
       Ursule Mirouet

     Louis XVIII., Louis-Stanislas-Xavier
       The Chouans
       The Seamy Side of History
       The Gondreville Mystery
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Lily of the Valley
       Colonel Chabert
       The Government Clerks

     Manerville, Paul Francois-Joseph, Comte de
       The Thirteen
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Marriage Settlement

     Marsay, Henri de
       The Thirteen
       The Unconscious Humorists
       Another Study of Woman
       The Lily of the Valley
       Father Goriot
       Jealousies of a Country Town
       Ursule Mirouet
       A Marriage Settlement
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Letters of Two Brides
       Modest Mignon
       The Secrets of a Princess
       The Gondreville Mystery
       A Daughter of Eve

     Palma (banker)
       The Firm of Nucingen
       Cesar Birotteau
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris

     Portenduere, Vicomte Savinien de
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       Ursule Mirouet

     Rastignac, Eugene de
       Father Goriot
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Interdiction
       A Study of Woman
       Another Study of Woman
       The Magic Skin
       The Secrets of a Princess
       A Daughter of Eve
       The Gondreville Mystery
       The Firm of Nucingen
       Cousin Betty
       The Member for Arcis
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Vandenesse, Marquise Charles de (Emilie de Fontaine)
       Cesar Birotteau
       Ursule Mirouet
       A Daughter of Eve

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Ball at Sceaux" ***

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