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Title: A Prince of Bohemia
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Prince of Bohemia" ***


By Honore De Balzac

Translated by Clara Bell and others


  To Henri Heine.

  I inscribe this to you, my dear Heine, to you that represent in
  Paris the ideas and poetry of Germany, in Germany the lively and
  witty criticism of France; for you better than any other will know
  whatsoever this Study may contain of criticism and of jest, of
  love and truth.

                                                    DE BALZAC.


“My dear friend,” said Mme. de la Baudraye, drawing a pile of manuscript
from beneath her sofa cushion, “will you pardon me in our present
straits for making a short story of something which you told me a few
weeks ago?”

“Anything is fair in these times. Have you not seen writers serving up
their own hearts to the public, or very often their mistress’ hearts
when invention fails? We are coming to this, dear; we shall go in quest
of adventures, not so much for the pleasure of them as for the sake of
having the story to tell afterwards.”

“After all, you and the Marquise de Rochefide have paid the rent, and
I do not think, from the way things are going here, that I ever pay

“Who knows? Perhaps the same good luck that befell Mme. de Rochefide may
come to you.”

“Do you call it good luck to go back to one’s husband?”

“No; only great luck. Come, I am listening.”

And Mme. de la Baudraye read as follows:

  “Scene--a splendid salon in the Rue de Chartres-du-Roule. One
  of the most famous writers of the day discovered sitting on a
  settee beside a very illustrious Marquise, with whom he is on
  such terms of intimacy, as a man has a right to claim when a
  woman singles him out and keeps him at her side as a complacent
  _souffre-douleur_ rather than a makeshift.”

“Well,” says she, “have you found those letters of which you spoke
yesterday? You said that you could not tell me all about _him_ without

“Yes, I have them.”

“It is your turn to speak; I am listening like a child when his mother
begins the tale of _Le Grand Serpentin Vert_.”

“I count the young man in question in that group of our acquaintances
which we are wont to style our friends. He comes of a good family; he is
a man of infinite parts and ill-luck, full of excellent dispositions and
most charming conversation; young as he is, he is seen much, and while
awaiting better things, he dwells in Bohemia. Bohemianism, which by
rights should be called the doctrine of the Boulevard des Italiens,
finds its recruits among young men between twenty and thirty, all of
them men of genius in their way, little known, it is true, as yet,
but sure of recognition one day, and when that day comes, of great
distinction. They are distinguished as it is at carnival time, when
their exuberant wit, repressed for the rest of the year, finds a vent in
more or less ingenious buffoonery.

“What times we live in! What an irrational central power which allows
such tremendous energies to run to waste! There are diplomatists in
Bohemia quite capable of overturning Russia’s designs, if they but felt
the power of France at their backs. There are writers, administrators,
soldiers, and artists in Bohemia; every faculty, every kind of brain is
represented there. Bohemia is a microcosm. If the Czar would buy Bohemia
for a score of millions and set its population down in Odessa--always
supposing that they consented to leave the asphalt of the
boulevards--Odessa would be Paris with the year. In Bohemia, you find
the flower doomed to wither and come to nothing; the flower of the
wonderful young manhood of France, so sought after by Napoleon and Louis
XIV., so neglected for the last thirty years by the modern Gerontocracy
that is blighting everything else--that splendid young manhood of whom
a witness so little prejudiced as Professor Tissot wrote, ‘On all sides
the Emperor employed a younger generation in every way worthy of him; in
his councils, in the general administration, in negotiations bristling
with difficulties or full of danger, in the government of conquered
countries; and in all places Youth responded to his demands upon it.
Young men were for Napoleon the _missi hominici_ of Charlemagne.’

“The word Bohemia tells you everything. Bohemia has nothing and lives
upon what it has. Hope is its religion; faith (in oneself) its creed;
and charity is supposed to be its budget. All these young men are
greater than their misfortune; they are under the feet of Fortune, yet
more than equal to Fate. Always ready to mount and ride an _if_, witty
as a _feuilleton_, blithe as only those can be that are deep in debt
and drink deep to match, and finally--for here I come to my point--hot
lovers and what lovers! Picture to yourself Lovelace, and Henri Quatre,
and the Regent, and Werther, and Saint-Preux, and Rene, and the Marechal
de Richelieu--think of all these in a single man, and you will have some
idea of their way of love. What lovers! Eclectic of all things in love,
they will serve up a passion to a woman’s order; their hearts are like
a bill of fare in a restaurant. Perhaps they have never read Stendhal’s
_De l’Amour_, but unconsciously they put it in practice. They have
by heart their chapters--Love-Taste, Love-Passion, Love-Caprice,
Love-Crystalized, and more than all, Love-Transient. All is good in
their eyes. They invented the burlesque axiom, ‘In the sight of man, all
women are equal.’ The actual text is more vigorously worded, but as in
my opinion the spirit is false, I do not stand nice upon the letter.

“My friend, madame, is named Gabriel Jean Anne Victor Benjamin
George Ferdinand Charles Edward Rusticoli, Comte de la Palferine. The
Rusticolis came to France with Catherine de Medici, having been ousted
about that time from their infinitesimal Tuscan sovereignty. They are
distantly related to the house of Este, and connected by marriage to
the Guises. On the day of Saint-Bartholomew they slew a goodly number
of Protestants, and Charles IX. bestowed the hand of the heiress of
the Comte de la Palferine upon the Rusticoli of that time. The Comte,
however, being a part of the confiscated lands of the Duke of Savoy,
was repurchased by Henri IV. when that great king so far blundered as
to restore the fief; and in exchange, the Rusticoli--who had borne arms
long before the Medici bore them to-wit, _argent_ a cross flory _azure_
(the cross flower-de-luced by letters patent granted by Charles IX.),
and a count’s coronet, with two peasants for supporters with the motto
IN HOC SIGNO VINCIMUS--the Rusticoli, I repeat, retained their title,
and received a couple of offices under the crown with the government of
a province.

“From the time of the Valois till the reign of Richelieu, as it may be
called, the Rusticoli played a most illustrious part; under Louis XIV.
their glory waned somewhat, under Louis XV. it went out altogether.
My friend’s grandfather wasted all that was left to the once brilliant
house with Mlle. Laguerre, whom he first discovered, and brought into
fashion before Bouret’s time. Charles Edward’s own father was an officer
without any fortune in 1789. The Revolution came to his assistance; he
had the sense to drop his title, and became plain Rusticoli. Among other
deeds, M. Rusticoli married a wife during the war in Italy, a Capponi,
a goddaughter of the Countess of Albany (hence La Palferine’s final
names). Rusticoli was one of the best colonels in the army. The Emperor
made him a commander of the Legion of Honor and a count. His spine was
slightly curved, and his son was wont to say of him laughingly that he
was _un comte refait (contrefait)_.

“General Count Rusticoli, for he became a brigadier-general at Ratisbon
and a general of the division on the field of Wagram, died at Vienna
almost immediately after his promotion, or his name and ability
would sooner or later have brought him the marshal’s baton. Under the
Restoration he would certainly have repaired the fortunes of a great
and noble family so brilliant even as far back as 1100, centuries before
they took the French title--for the Rusticoli had given a pope to the
church and twice revolutionized the kingdom of Naples--so illustrious
again under the Valois; so dexterous in the days of the Fronde, that
obstinate Frondeurs though they were, they still existed through the
reign of Louis XIV. Mazarin favored them; there was the Tuscan strain in
them still, and he recognized it.

“Today, when Charles Edward de la Palferine’s name is mentioned, not
three persons in a hundred know the history of his house. But the
Bourbons have actually left a Foix-Grailly to live by his easel.

“Ah, if you but knew how brilliantly Charles Edward accepts his obscure
position! how he scoffs at the bourgeois of 1830! What Attic salt in his
wit! He would be the king of Bohemia, if Bohemia would endure a king.
His _verve_ is inexhaustible. To him we owe a map of the country and the
names of the seven castles which Nodier could not discover.”

“The one thing wanting in one of the cleverest skits of our time,” said
the Marquise.

“You can form your own opinion of La Palferine from a few characteristic
touches,” continued Nathan. “He once came upon a friend of his, a
fellow-Bohemian, involved in a dispute on the boulevard with a bourgeois
who chose to consider himself affronted. To the modern powers that
be, Bohemia is insolent in the extreme. There was talk of calling one
another out.

“‘One moment,’ interposed La Palferine, as much Lauzun for the occasion
as Lauzun himself could have been. ‘One moment. Monsieur was born, I

“‘What, sir?’

“‘Yes, are you born? What is your name?’


“‘Godin, eh!’ exclaimed La Palferine’s friend.

“‘One moment, my dear fellow,’ interrupted La Palferine. ‘There are the
Trigaudins. Are you one of them?’


“‘No? Then you are one of the new dukes of Gaeta, I suppose, of imperial
creation? No? Oh, well, how can you expect my friend to cross swords
with you when he will be secretary of an embassy and ambassador _some
day_, and you will owe him respect? _Godin!_ the thing is non-existent!
You are a nonentity, Godin. My friend cannot be expected to beat the
air! When one is somebody, one cannot fight with a nobody! Come, my dear

“‘My respects to madame,’ added the friend.

“Another day La Palferine was walking with a friend who flung his cigar
end in the face of a passer-by. The recipient had the bad taste to
resent this.

“‘You have stood your antagonist’s fire,’ said the young Count, ‘the
witnesses declare that honor is satisfied.’

“La Palferine owed his tailor a thousand francs, and the man instead
of going himself sent his assistant to ask for the money. The assistant
found the unfortunate debtor up six pairs of stairs at the back of
a yard at the further end of the Faubourg du Roule. The room was
unfurnished save for a bed (such a bed!), a table, and such a table!
La Palferine heard the preposterous demand--‘A demand which I should
qualify as illegal,’ he said when he told us the story, ‘made, as it
was, at seven o’clock in the morning.’

“‘Go,’ he answered, with the gesture and attitude of a Mirabeau, ‘tell
your master in what condition you find me.’

“The assistant apologized and withdrew. La Palferine, seeing the
young man on the landing, rose in the attire celebrated in verse in
_Britannicus_ to add, ‘Remark the stairs! Pay particular attention to
the stairs; do not forget to tell him about the stairs!’

“In every position into which chance has thrown La Palferine, he has
never failed to rise to the occasion. All that he does is witty and
never in bad taste; always and in everything he displays the genius of
Rivarol, the polished subtlety of the old French noble. It was he who
told that delicious anecdote of a friend of Laffitte the banker. A
national fund had been started to give back to Laffitte the mansion in
which the Revolution of 1830 was brewed, and this friend appeared at the
offices of the fund with, ‘Here are five francs, give me a hundred
sous change!’--A caricature was made of it.--It was once La Palferine’s
misfortune, in judicial style, to make a young girl a mother. The girl,
not a very simple innocent, confessed all to her mother, a respectable
matron, who hurried forthwith to La Palferine and asked what he meant to

“‘Why, madame,’ said he, ‘I am neither a surgeon nor a midwife.’

“She collapsed, but three or four years later she returned to the
charge, still persisting in her inquiry, ‘What did La Palferine mean to

“‘Well, madame,’ returned he, ‘when the child is seven years old, an
age at which a boy ought to pass out of women’s hands’--an indication
of entire agreement on the mother’s part--‘if the child is really
mine’--another gesture of assent--‘if there is a striking likeness, if
he bids fair to be a gentleman, if I can recognize in him my turn of
mind, and more particularly the Rusticoli air; then, oh--ah!’--a new
movement from the matron--‘on my word and honor, I will make him a
cornet of--sugar-plums!’

“All this, if you will permit me to make use of the phraseology employed
by M. Sainte-Beuve for his biographies of obscurities--all this, I
repeat, is the playful and sprightly yet already somewhat decadent side
of a strong race. It smacks rather of the Parc-aux-Cerfs than of the
Hotel de Rambouillet. It is a race of the strong rather than of the
sweet; I incline to lay a little debauchery to its charge, and more than
I should wish in brilliant and generous natures; it is gallantry after
the fashion of the Marechal de Richelieu, high spirits and frolic
carried rather too far; perhaps we may see in it the _outrances_ of
another age, the Eighteenth Century pushed to extremes; it harks back
to the Musketeers; it is an exploit stolen from Champcenetz; nay, such
light-hearted inconstancy takes us back to the festooned and ornate
period of the old court of the Valois. In an age as moral as the
present, we are bound to regard audacity of this kind sternly; still, at
the same time that ‘cornet of sugar-plums’ may serve to warn young girls
of the perils of lingering where fancies, more charming than chastened,
come thickly from the first; on the rosy flowery unguarded slopes, where
trespasses ripen into errors full of equivocal effervescence, into too
palpitating issues. The anecdote puts La Palferine’s genius before you
in all its vivacity and completeness. He realizes Pascal’s _entre-deux_,
he comprehends the whole scale between tenderness and pitilessness, and,
like Epaminondas, he is equally great in extremes. And not merely so,
his epigram stamps the epoch; the _accoucheur_ is a modern innovation.
All the refinements of modern civilization are summed up in the phrase.
It is monumental.”

“Look here, my dear Nathan, what farrago of nonsense is this?” asked the
Marquise in bewilderment.

“Madame la Marquise,” returned Nathan, “you do not know the value of
these ‘precious’ phrases; I am talking Sainte-Beuve, the new kind of
French.--I resume. Walking one day arm in arm with a friend along the
boulevard, he was accosted by a ferocious creditor, who inquired:

“‘Are you thinking of me, sir?’

“‘Not the least in the world,’ answered the Count.

“Remark the difficulty of the position. Talleyrand, in similar
circumstances, had already replied, ‘You are very inquisitive, my
dear fellow!’ To imitate the inimitable great man was out of the
question.--La Palferine, generous as Buckingham, could not bear to
be caught empty-handed. One day when he had nothing to give a little
Savoyard chimney-sweeper, he dipped a hand into a barrel of grapes in a
grocer’s doorway and filled the child’s cap from it. The little one ate
away at his grapes; the grocer began by laughing, and ended by holding
out his hand.

“‘Oh, fie! monsieur,’ said La Palferine, ‘your left hand ought not to
know what my right hand doth.’

“With his adventurous courage, he never refuses any odds, but there is
wit in his bravado. In the Passage de l’Opera he chanced to meet a man
who had spoken slightingly of him, elbowed him as he passed, and then
turned and jostled him a second time.

“‘You are very clumsy!’

“‘On the contrary; I did it on purpose.’

“The young man pulled out his card. La Palferine dropped it. ‘It has
been carried too long in the pocket. Be good enough to give me another.’

“On the ground he received a thrust; blood was drawn; his antagonist
wished to stop.

“‘You are wounded, monsieur!’

“‘I disallow the _botte_,’ said La Palferine, as coolly as if he had
been in the fencing-saloon; then as he riposted (sending the point home
this time), he added, ‘There is the right thrust, monsieur!’

“His antagonist kept his bed for six months.

“This, still following on M. Sainte-Beuve’s tracks, recalls the
_raffines_, the fine-edged raillery of the best days of the monarchy.
In this speech you discern an untrammeled but drifting life; a gaiety of
imagination that deserts us when our first youth is past. The prime of
the blossom is over, but there remains the dry compact seed with the
germs of life in it, ready against the coming winter. Do you not see
that these things are symptoms of something unsatisfied, of an unrest
impossible to analyze, still less to describe, yet not incomprehensible;
a something ready to break out if occasion calls into flying upleaping
flame? It is the _accidia_ of the cloister; a trace of sourness, of
ferment engendered by the enforced stagnation of youthful energies, a
vague, obscure melancholy.”

“That will do,” said the Marquise; “you are giving me a mental shower

“It is the early afternoon languor. If a man has nothing to do, he will
sooner get into mischief than do nothing at all; this invariably happens
in France. Youth at present day has two sides to it; the studious or
unappreciated, and the ardent or _passionne_.”

“That will do!” repeated Mme. de Rochefide, with an authoritative
gesture. “You are setting my nerves on edge.”

“To finish my portrait of La Palferine, I hasten to make the plunge into
the gallant regions of his character, or you will not understand the
peculiar genius of an admirable representative of a certain section
of mischievous youth--youth strong enough, be it said, to laugh at the
position in which it is put by those in power; shrewd enough to do no
work, since work profiteth nothing; yet so full of life that it fastens
upon pleasure--the one thing that cannot be taken away. And meanwhile a
bourgeois, mercantile, and bigoted policy continues to cut off all the
sluices through which so much aptitude and ability would find an outlet.
Poets and men of science are not wanted.

“To give you an idea of the stupidity of the new court, I will tell
you of something which happened to La Palferine. There is a sort of
relieving officer on the civil list. This functionary one day discovered
that La Palferine was in dire distress, drew up a report, no doubt, and
brought the descendant of the Rusticolis fifty francs by way of alms.
La Palferine received the visitor with perfect courtesy, and talked of
various persons at court.

“‘Is it true,’ he asked, ‘that Mlle. d’Orleans contributes such and such
a sum to this benevolent scheme started by her nephew? If so, it is very
gracious of her.’

“Now La Palferine had a servant, a little Savoyard, aged ten, who waited
on him without wages. La Palferine called him Father Anchises, and used
to say, ‘I have never seen such a mixture of besotted foolishness
with great intelligence; he would go through fire and water for me; he
understands everything--and yet he cannot grasp the fact that I can do
nothing for him.’

“Anchises was despatched to a livery stable with instructions to hire
a handsome brougham with a man in livery behind it. By the time
the carriage arrived below, La Palferine had skilfully piloted the
conversation to the subject of the functions of his visitor, whom he has
since called ‘the unmitigated misery man,’ and learned the nature of his
duties and his stipend.

“‘Do they allow you a carriage to go about the town in this way?’

“‘Oh! no.’

“At that La Palferine and a friend who happened to be with him went
downstairs with the poor soul, and insisted on putting him into the
carriage. It was raining in torrents. La Palferine had thought of
everything. He offered to drive the official to the next house on
his list; and when the almoner came down again, he found the carriage
waiting for him at the door. The man in livery handed him a note written
in pencil:

  “‘The carriage has been engaged for three days. Count Rusticoli
  de la Palferine is too happy to associate himself with Court
  charities by lending wings to Royal beneficence.’

“La Palferine now calls the civil list the uncivil list.

“He was once passionately loved by a lady of somewhat light conduct.
Antonia lived in the Rue du Helder; she had seen and been seen to some
extent, but at the time of her acquaintance with La Palferine she had
not yet ‘an establishment.’ Antonia was not wanting in the insolence of
old days, now degenerating into rudeness among women of her class. After
a fortnight of unmixed bliss, she was compelled, in the interest of
her civil list, to return to a less exclusive system; and La Palferine,
discovering a certain lack of sincerity in her dealings with him, sent
Madame Antonia a note which made her famous.

  “‘MADAME,--Your conduct causes me much surprise and no less
  distress. Not content with rending my heart with your disdain, you
  have been so little thoughtful as to retain a toothbrush, which my
  means will not permit me to replace, my estates being mortgaged
  beyond their value.

  “‘Adieu, too fair and too ungrateful friend! May we meet again in
  a better world.

                                                 “‘CHARLES EDWARD.’”

“Assuredly (to avail ourselves yet further of Sainte-Beuve’s Babylonish
dialect), this far outpasses the raillery of Sterne’s _Sentimental
Journey_; it might be Scarron without his grossness. Nay, I do not know
but that Moliere in his lighter mood would not have said of it, as of
Cyrano de Bergerac’s best--‘This is mine.’ Richelieu himself was not
more complete when he wrote to the princess waiting for him in the
Palais Royal--‘Stay there, my queen, to charm the scullion lads.’ At
the same time, Charles Edward’s humor is less biting. I am not sure that
this kind of wit was known among the Greeks and Romans. Plato, possibly,
upon a closer inspection approaches it, but from the austere and musical

“No more of that jargon,” the Marquise broke in, “in print it may be
endurable; but to have it grating upon my ears is a punishment which I
do not in the least deserve.”

“He first met Claudine on this wise,” continued Nathan. “It was one of
the unfilled days, when Youth is a burden to itself; days when youth,
reduced by the overweening presumption of Age to a condition of
potential energy and dejection, emerges therefrom (like Blondet under
the Restoration), either to get into mischief or to set about some
colossal piece of buffoonery, half excused by the very audacity of its
conception. La Palferine was sauntering, cane in hand, up and down the
pavement between the Rue de Grammont and the Rue de Richelieu, when in
the distance he descried a woman too elegantly dressed, covered, as he
phrased it, with a great deal of portable property, too expensive and
too carelessly worn for its owner to be other than a princess of the
court or of the stage, it was not easy at first to say which. But after
July 1830, in his opinion, there is no mistaking the indications--the
princess can only be a princess of the stage.

“The Count came up and walked by her side as if she had given him an
assignation. He followed her with a courteous persistence, a persistence
in good taste, giving the lady from time to time, and always at the
right moment, an authoritative glance, which compelled her to submit
to his escort. Anybody but La Palferine would have been frozen by his
reception, and disconcerted by the lady’s first efforts to rid herself
of her cavalier, by her chilly air, her curt speeches; but no gravity,
with all the will in the world, could hold out long against La
Palferine’s jesting replies. The fair stranger went into her milliner’s
shop. Charles Edward followed, took a seat, and gave his opinions and
advice like a man that meant to pay. This coolness disturbed the lady.
She went out.

“On the stairs she spoke to her persecutor.

“‘Monsieur, I am about to call upon one of my husband’s relatives, an
elderly lady, Mme. de Bonfalot--’

“‘Ah! Mme. de Bonfalot, charmed, I am sure. I am going there.’

“The pair accordingly went. Charles Edward came in with the lady, every
one believed that she had brought him with her. He took part in the
conversation, was lavish of his polished and brilliant wit. The visit
lengthened out. That was not what he wanted.

“‘Madame,’ he said, addressing the fair stranger, ‘do not forget that
your husband is waiting for us, and only allowed us a quarter of an

“Taken aback by such boldness (which, as you know, is never displeasing
to you women), led captive by the conqueror’s glance, by the astute yet
candid air which Charles Edward can assume when he chooses, the lady
rose, took the arm of her self-constituted escort, and went downstairs,
but on the threshold she stopped to speak to him.

“‘Monsieur, I like a joke----’

“‘And so do I.’

“She laughed.

“‘But this may turn to earnest,’ he added; ‘it only rests with you. I am
the Comte de la Palferine, and I am delighted that it is in my power to
lay my heart and my fortune at your feet.’

“La Palferine was at that time twenty-two years old. (This happened
in 1834.) Luckily for him, he was fashionably dressed. I can paint his
portrait for you in a few words. He was the living image of Louis XIII.,
with the same white forehead and gracious outline of the temples, the
same olive skin (that Italian olive tint which turns white where the
light falls on it), the brown hair worn rather long, the black ‘royale,’
the grave and melancholy expression, for La Palferine’s character and
exterior were amazingly at variance.

“At the sound of the name, and the sight of its owner, something like
a quiver thrilled through Claudine. La Palferine saw the vibration, and
shot a glance at her out of the dark depths of almond-shaped eyes with
purpled lids, and those faint lines about them which tell of pleasures
as costly as painful fatigue. With those eyes upon her, she said--‘Your

“‘What want of address!’

“‘Oh, pshaw!’ she said, smiling. ‘A bird on the bough?’

“‘Good-bye, madame, you are such a woman as I seek, but my fortune is
far from equaling my desire----’

“He bowed, and there and then left her. Two days later, by one of the
strange chances that can only happen in Paris, he had betaken himself to
a money-lending wardrobe dealer to sell such of his clothing as he could
spare. He was just receiving the price with an uneasy air, after long
chaffering, when the stranger lady passed and recognized him.

“‘Once for all,’ cried he to the bewildered wardrobe dealer, ‘I tell you
I am not going to take your trumpet!’

“He pointed to a huge, much-dinted musical instrument, hanging up
outside against a background of uniforms, civil and military. Then,
proudly and impetuously, he followed the lady.

“From that great day of the trumpet these two understood one another to
admiration. Charles Edward’s ideas on the subject of love are as sound
as possible. According to him, a man cannot love twice, there is but one
love in his lifetime, but that love is a deep and shoreless sea. It may
break in upon him at any time, as the grace of God found St. Paul; and a
man may live sixty years and never know love. Perhaps, to quote Heine’s
superb phrase, it is ‘the secret malady of the heart’--a sense of the
Infinite that there is within us, together with the revelation of the
ideal Beauty in its visible form. This love, in short, comprehends both
the creature and creation. But so long as there is no question of this
great poetical conception, the loves that cannot last can only be taken
lightly, as if they were in a manner snatches of song compared with Love
the epic.

“To Charles Edward the adventure brought neither the thunderbolt signal
of love’s coming, nor yet that gradual revelation of an inward fairness
which draws two natures by degrees more and more strongly each to each.
For there are but two ways of love--love at first sight, doubtless akin
to the Highland ‘second-sight,’ and that slow fusion of two natures
which realizes Plato’s ‘man-woman.’ But if Charles Edward did not love,
he was loved to distraction. Claudine found love made complete, body
and soul; in her, in short, La Palferine awakened the one passion of
her life; while for him Claudine was only a most charming mistress. The
Devil himself, a most potent magician certainly, with all hell at his
back, could never have changed the natures of these two unequal fires. I
dare affirm that Claudine not unfrequently bored Charles Edward.

“‘Stale fish and the woman you do not love are only fit to fling out of
the window after three days,’ he used to say.

“In Bohemia there is little secrecy observed over these affairs. La
Palferine used to talk a good deal of Claudine; but, at the same time,
none of us saw her, nor so much as knew her name. For us Claudine
was almost a mythical personage. All of us acted in the same way,
reconciling the requirements of our common life with the rules of good
taste. Claudine, Hortense, the Baroness, the Bourgeoise, the Empress,
the Spaniard, the Lioness,--these were cryptic titles which permitted
us to pour out our joys, our cares, vexations, and hopes, and to
communicate our discoveries. Further, none of us went. It has been
shown, in Bohemia, that chance discovered the identity of the fair
unknown; and at once, as by tacit convention, not one of us spoke of
her again. This fact may show how far youth possesses a sense of true
delicacy. How admirably certain natures of a finer clay know the limit
line where jest must end, and all that host of things French covered by
the slang word _blague_, a word which will shortly be cast out of the
language (let us hope), and yet it is the only one which conveys an idea
of the spirit of Bohemia.

“So we often used to joke about Claudine and the Count--‘_Toujours
Claudine?_’ sung to the air of _Toujours Gessle_.--‘What are you making
of Claudine?’--‘How is Claudine?’

“‘I wish you all such a mistress, for all the harm I wish you,’ La
Palferine began one day. ‘No greyhound, no basset-dog, no poodle can
match her in gentleness, submissiveness, and complete tenderness. There
are times when I reproach myself, when I take myself to task for my hard
heart. Claudine obeys with saintly sweetness. She comes to me, I tell
her to go, she goes, she does not even cry till she is out in the
courtyard. I refuse to see her for a whole week at a time. I tell her
to come at such an hour on Tuesday; and be it midnight or six o’clock in
the morning, ten o’clock, five o’clock, breakfast time, dinner time,
bed time, any particularly inconvenient hour in the day--she will come,
punctual to the minute, beautiful, beautifully dressed, and enchanting.
And she is a married woman, with all the complications and duties of a
household. The fibs that she must invent, the reasons she must find
for conforming to my whims would tax the ingenuity of some of us!...
Claudine never wearies; you can always count upon her. It is not love,
I tell her, it is infatuation. She writes to me every day; I do not read
her letters; she found that out, but still she writes. See here; there
are two hundred letters in this casket. She begs me to wipe my razors
on one of her letters every day, and I punctually do so. She thinks, and
rightly, that the sight of her handwriting will put me in mind of her.’

“La Palferine was dressing as he told us this. I took up the letter
which he was about to put to this use, read it, and kept it, as he did
not ask to have it back. Here it is. I looked for it, and found it as I

“_Monday (Midnight)._

  “‘Well, my dear, are you satisfied with me? I did not even ask
  for your hand, yet you might easily have given it to me, and I
  longed so much to hold it to my heart, to my lips. No, I did not
  ask, I am so afraid of displeasing you. Do you know one thing?
  Though I am cruelly sure that anything I do is a matter of perfect
  indifference to you, I am none the less extremely timid in my
  conduct: the woman that belongs to you, whatever her title to call
  herself yours, must not incur so much as the shadow of blame. In
  so far as love comes from the angels in heaven, from whom are no
  secrets hid, my love is as pure as the purest; wherever I am I
  feel that I am in your presence, and I try to do you honor.

  “‘All that you said about my manner of dress impressed me very
  much; I began to understand how far above others are those that
  come of a noble race. There was still something of the opera girl
  in my gowns, in my way of dressing my hair. In a moment I saw the
  distance between me and good taste. Next time you will receive a
  duchess, you shall not know me again! Ah! how good you have been
  to your Claudine! How many and many a time I have thanked you for
  telling me those things! What interest lay in those few words! You
  have taken thought for that thing belonging to you called
  Claudine? _This_ imbecile would never have opened my eyes; he
  thinks that everything I do is right; and besides, he is much too
  humdrum, too matter-of-fact to have any feeling for the beautiful.

  “‘Tuesday is very slow of coming for my impatient mind! On
  Tuesday I shall be with you for several hours. Ah! when it comes I
  will try to think that the hours are months, that it will be so
  always. I am living in hope of that morning now, as I shall live
  upon the memory of it afterwards. Hope is memory that craves; and
  recollection, memory sated. What a beautiful life within life
  thought makes for us in this way!

  “‘Sometimes I dream of inventing new ways of tenderness all my
  own, a secret which no other woman shall guess. A cold sweat
  breaks out over me at the thought that something may happen to
  prevent this morning. Oh, I would break with _him_ for good, if
  need was, but nothing here could possibly interfere; it would be
  from your side. Perhaps you may decide to go out, perhaps to go to
  see some other woman. Oh! spare me this Tuesday for pity’s sake.
  If you take it from me, Charles, you do not know what _he_ will
  suffer; I should drive him wild. But even if you do not want me,
  or you are going out, let me come, all the same, to be with you
  while you dress; only to see you, I ask no more than that; only to
  show you that I love you without a thought of self.

  “‘Since you gave me leave to love you, for you gave me leave,
  since I am yours; since that day I loved and love you with the
  whole strength of my soul; and I shall love you for ever, for once
  having loved _you_, no one could, no one ought to love another.
  And, you see, when those eyes that ask nothing but to see you are
  upon you, you will feel that in your Claudine there is a something
  divine, called into existence by you.

  “‘Alas! with you I can never play the coquette. I am like a
  mother with her child; I endure anything from you; I, that was
  once so imperious and proud. I have made dukes and princes fetch
  and carry for me; aides-de-camp, worth more than all the court of
  Charles X. put together, have done my errands, yet I am treating
  you as my spoilt child. But where is the use of coquetry? It would
  be pure waste. And yet, monsieur, for want of coquetry I shall
  never inspire love in you. I know it; I feel it; yet I do as
  before, feeling a power that I cannot withstand, thinking that
  this utter self-surrender will win me the sentiment innate in all
  men (so _he_ tells me) for the thing that belongs to them.


  “‘Ah! how darkly sadness entered my heart yesterday when I found
  that I must give up the joy of seeing you. One single thought held
  me back from the arms of Death!--It was thy will! To stay away was
  to do thy will, to obey an order from thee. Oh! Charles, I was so
  pretty; I looked a lovelier woman for you than that beautiful
  German princess whom you gave me for an example, whom I have
  studied at the Opera. And yet--you might have thought that I had
  overstepped the limits of my nature. You have left me no
  confidence in myself; perhaps I am plain after all. Oh! I loathe
  myself, I dream of my radiant Charles Edward, and my brain turns.
  I shall go mad, I know I shall. Do not laugh, do not talk to me of
  the fickleness of women. If we are inconstant, _you_ are strangely
  capricious. You take away the hours of love that made a poor
  creature’s happiness for ten whole days; the hours on which she
  drew to be charming and kind to all that came to see her! After
  all, you were the source of my kindness to _him_; you do not know
  what pain you give him. I wonder what I must do to keep you, or
  simply to keep the right to be yours sometimes.... When I think
  that you never would come here to me!... With what delicious
  emotion I would wait upon you!--There are other women more favored
  than I. There are women to whom you say, ‘I love you.’ To me you
  have never said more than ‘You are a good girl.’ Certain speeches
  of yours, though you do not know it, gnaw at my heart. Clever men
  sometimes ask me what I am thinking.... I am thinking of my
  self-abasement--the prostration of the poorest outcast in the
  presence of the Saviour.

“There are still three more pages, you see. La Palferine allowed me to
take the letter, with the traces of tears that still seemed hot upon it!
Here was proof of the truth of his story. Marcas, a shy man enough with
women, was in ecstacies over a second which he read in his corner before
lighting his pipe with it.

“‘Why, any woman in love will write that sort of thing!’ cried La
Palferine. ‘Love gives all women intelligence and style, which proves
that here in France style proceeds from the matter and not from the
words. See now how well this is thought out, how clear-headed sentiment
is’--and with that he reads us another letter, far superior to the
artificial and labored productions which we novelists write.

“One day poor Claudine heard that La Palferine was in a critical
position; it was a question of meeting a bill of exchange. An unlucky
idea occurred to her; she put a tolerably large sum in gold into an
exquisitely embroidered purse and went to him.

“‘Who has taught you as to be so bold as to meddle with my household
affairs?’ La Palferine cried angrily. ‘Mend my socks and work slippers
for me, if it amuses you. So!--you will play the duchess, and you turn
the story of Danae against the aristocracy.’

“He emptied the purse into his hand as he spoke, and made as though
he would fling the money in her face. Claudine, in her terror, did not
guess that he was joking; she shrank back, stumbled over a chair, and
fell with her head against the corner of the marble chimney-piece. She
thought she should have died. When she could speak, poor woman, as she
lay on the bed, all that she said was, ‘I deserved it, Charles!’

“For a moment La Palferine was in despair; his anguish revived Claudine.
She rejoiced in the mishap; she took advantage of her suffering to
compel La Palferine to take the money and release him from an awkward
position. Then followed a variation on La Fontaine’s fable, in which a
man blesses the thieves that brought him a sudden impulse of tenderness
from his wife. And while we are upon this subject, another saying will
paint the man for you.

“Claudine went home again, made up some kind of tale as best she could
to account for her bruised forehead, and fell dangerously ill. An
abscess formed in the head. The doctor--Bianchon, I believe--yes, it was
Bianchon--wanted to cut off her hair. The Duchesse de Berri’s hair is
not more beautiful than Claudine’s; she would not hear of it, she told
Bianchon in confidence that she could not allow it to be cut without
leave from the Comte de Palferine. Bianchon went to Charles Edward.
Charles Edward heard him with much seriousness. The doctor had explained
the case at length, and showed that it was absolutely necessary to
sacrifice the hair to insure the success of the operation.

“‘Cut off Claudine’s hair!’ cried he in peremptory tones. ‘No. I would
sooner lose her.’

“Even now, after a lapse of four years, Bianchon still quotes that
speech; we have laughed over it for half an hour together. Claudine,
informed of the verdict, saw in it a proof of affections; she felt sure
that she was loved. In the face of her weeping family, with her husband
on his knees, she was inexorable. She kept the hair. The strength that
came with the belief that she was loved came to her aid, the operation
succeeded perfectly. There are stirrings of the inner life which throw
all the calculations of surgery into disorder and baffle the laws of
medical science.

“Claudine wrote a delicious letter to La Palferine, a letter in which
the orthography was doubtful and the punctuation all to seek, to tell
him of the happy result of the operation, and to add that Love was wiser
than all the sciences.

“‘Now,’ said La Palferine one day, ‘what am I to do to get rid of

“‘Why, she is not at all troublesome; she leaves you master of your
actions,’ objected we.

“‘That is true,’ returned La Palferine, ‘but I do not choose that
anything shall slip into my life without my consent.’

“From that day he set himself to torment Claudine. It seemed that he
held the bourgeoise, the nobody, in utter horror; nothing would satisfy
him but a woman with a title. Claudine, it was true, had made progress;
she had learned to dress as well as the best-dressed woman of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain; she had freed her bearing of the unhallowed
traces; she walked with a chastened, inimitable grace; but this was not
enough. This praise of her enabled Claudine to swallow down the rest.

“But one day La Palferine said, ‘If you wish to be the mistress of one
La Palferine, poor, penniless, and without prospects as he is, you
ought at least to represent him worthily. You should have a carriage and
liveried servants and a title. Give me all the gratifications of vanity
that will never be mine in my own person. The woman whom I honor with
my regard ought never to go on foot; if she is bespattered with mud, I
suffer. That is how I am made. If she is mine, she must be admired
of all Paris. All Paris shall envy me my good fortune. If some little
whipper-snapper seeing a brilliant countess pass in her brilliant
carriage shall say to himself, “Who can call such a divinity his?” and
grow thoughtful--why, it will double my pleasure.’

“La Palferine owned to us that he flung this programme at Claudine’s
head simply to rid himself of her. As a result he was stupefied with
astonishment for the first and probably the only time in his life.

“‘Dear,’ she said, and there was a ring in her voice that betrayed the
great agitation which shook her whole being, ‘it is well. All this shall
be done, or I will die.’

“She let fall a few happy tears on his hand as she kissed it.

“‘You have told me what I must do to be your mistress still,’ she added;
‘I am glad.’

“‘And then’ (La Palferine told us) ‘she went out with a little
coquettish gesture like a woman that has had her way. As she stood in my
garrett doorway, tall and proud, she seemed to reach the stature of an
antique sibyl.’

“All this should sufficiently explain the manners and customs of the
Bohemia in which the young _condottiere_ is one of the most brilliant
figures,” Nathan continued after a pause. “Now it so happened that I
discovered Claudine’s identity, and could understand the appalling truth
of one line which you perhaps overlooked in that letter of hers. It was
on this wise.”

The Marquise, too thoughtful now for laughter, bade Nathan “Go on,” in
a tone that told him plainly how deeply she had been impressed by these
strange things, and even more plainly how much she was interested in La

“In 1829, one of the most influential, steady, and clever of dramatic
writers was du Bruel. His real name is unknown to the public, on the
play-bills he is de Cursy. Under the Restoration he had a place in the
Civil Service; and being really attached to the elder branch, he sent
in his resignation bravely in 1830, and ever since has written twice as
many plays to fill the deficit in his budget made by his noble conduct.
At that time du Bruel was forty years old; you know the story of his
life. Like many of his brethren, he bore a stage dancer an affection
hard to explain, but well known in the whole world of letters. The
woman, as you know, was Tullia, one of the _premiers sujets_ of the
Academie Royale de Musique. Tullia is merely a pseudonym like du Bruel’s
name of de Cursy.

“For the ten years between 1817 and 1827 Tullia was in her glory on the
heights of the stage of the Opera. With more beauty than education, a
mediocre dancer with rather more sense than most of her class, she took
no part in the virtuous reforms which ruined the corps de ballet; she
continued the Guimard dynasty. She owed her ascendency, moreover,
to various well-known protectors, to the Duc de Rhetore (the Due de
Chaulieu’s eldest son), to the influence of a famous Superintendent
of Fine Arts, and sundry diplomatists and rich foreigners. During her
apogee she had a neat little house in the Rue Chauchat, and lived as
Opera nymphs used to live in the old days. Du Bruel was smitten with
her about the time when the Duke’s fancy came to an end in 1823. Being
a mere subordinate in the Civil Service, du Bruel tolerated the
Superintendent of Fine Arts, believing that he himself was really
preferred. After six years this connection was almost a marriage. Tullia
has always been very careful to say nothing of her family; we have a
vague idea that she comes from Nanterre. One of her uncles, formerly
a simple bricklayer or carpenter, is now, it is said, a very rich
contractor, thanks to her influence and generous loans. This fact leaked
out through du Bruel. He happened to say that Tullia would inherit a
fine fortune sooner or later. The contractor was a bachelor; he had a
weakness for the niece to whom he is indebted.

“‘He is not clever enough to be ungrateful,’ said she.

“In 1829 Tullia retired from the stage of her own accord. At the age of
thirty she saw that she was growing somewhat stouter, and she had tried
pantomime without success. Her whole art consisted in the trick of
raising her skirts, after Noblet’s manner, in a pirouette which inflated
them balloon-fashion and exhibited the smallest possible quantity of
clothing to the pit. The aged Vestris had told her at the very beginning
that this _temps_, well executed by a fine woman, is worth all the art
imaginable. It is the chest-note C of dancing. For which reason, he
said, the very greatest dancers--Camargo, Guimard, and Taglioni, all of
them thin, brown, and plain--could only redeem their physical defects by
their genius. Tullia, still in the height of her glory, retired before
younger and cleverer dancers; she did wisely. She was an aristocrat; she
had scarcely stooped below the noblesse in her _liaisons_; she declined
to dip her ankles in the troubled waters of July. Insolent and beautiful
as she was, Claudine possessed handsome souvenirs, but very little ready
money; still, her jewels were magnificent, and she had as fine furniture
as any one in Paris.

“On quitting the stage when she, forgotten to-day, was yet in the height
of her fame, one thought possessed her--she meant du Bruel to marry her;
and at the time of this story, you must understand that the marriage had
taken place, but was kept a secret. How do women of her class contrive
to make a man marry them after seven or eight years of intimacy? What
springs do they touch? What machinery do they set in motion? But,
however comical such domestic dramas may be, we are not now concerned
with them. Du Bruel was secretly married; the thing was done.

“Cursy before his marriage was supposed to be a jolly companion; now
and again he stayed out all night, and to some extent led the life of
a Bohemian; he would unbend at a supper-party. He went out to all
appearance to a rehearsal at the Opera-Comique, and found himself in
some unaccountable way at Dieppe, or Baden, or Saint-Germain; he gave
dinners, led the Titanic thriftless life of artists, journalists, and
writers; levied his tribute on all the greenrooms of Paris; and, in
short, was one of us. Finot, Lousteau, du Tillet, Desroches, Bixiou,
Blondet, Couture, and des Lupeaulx tolerated him in spite of his
pedantic manner and ponderous official attitude. But once married,
Tullia made a slave of du Bruel. There was no help for it. He was in
love with Tullia, poor devil.

“‘Tullia’ (so he said) ‘had left the stage to be his alone, to be a
good and charming wife.’ And somehow Tullia managed to induce the most
Puritanical members of du Bruel’s family to accept her. From the very
first, before any one suspected her motives, she assiduously visited old
Mme. de Bonfalot, who bored her horribly; she made handsome presents to
mean old Mme. de Chisse, du Bruel’s great-aunt; she spent a summer
with the latter lady, and never missed a single mass. She even went to
confession, received absolution, and took the sacrament; but this, you
must remember, was in the country, and under the aunt’s eyes.

“‘I shall have real aunts now, do you understand?’ she said to us when
she came back in the winter.

“She was so delighted with her respectability, so glad to renounce her
independence, that she found means to compass her end. She flattered the
old people. She went on foot every day to sit for a couple of hours with
Mme. du Bruel the elder while that lady was ill--a Maintenon’s stratagem
which amazed du Bruel. And he admired his wife without criticism; he was
so fast in the toils already that he did not feel his bonds.

“Claudine succeeded in making him understand that only under the elastic
system of a bourgeois government, only at the bourgeois court of the
Citizen-King, could a Tullia, now metamorphosed into a Mme. du Bruel,
be accepted in the society which her good sense prevented her from
attempting to enter. Mme. de Bonfalot, Mme. de Chisse, and Mme. du
Bruel received her; she was satisfied. She took up the position of
a well-conducted, simple, and virtuous woman, and never acted out of
character. In three years’ time she was introduced to the friends of
these ladies.

“‘And still I cannot persuade myself that young Mme. du Bruel used to
display her ankles, and the rest, to all Paris, with the light of
a hundred gas-jets pouring upon her,’ Mme. Anselme Popinot remarked

“From this point of view, July 1830 inaugurated an era not unlike the
time of the Empire, when a waiting woman was received at Court in the
person of Mme. Garat, a chief-justice’s ‘lady.’ Tullia had completely
broken, as you may guess, with all her old associates; of her former
acquaintances, she only recognized those who could not compromise her.
At the time of her marriage she had taken a very charming little
hotel between a court and a garden, lavishing money on it with wild
extravagance and putting the best part of her furniture and du Bruel’s
into it. Everything that she thought common or ordinary was sold. To
find anything comparable to her sparkling splendor, you could only look
back to the days when Sophie Arnould, a Guimard, or a Duthe, in all her
glory, squandered the fortunes of princes.

“How far did this sumptuous existence affect du Bruel? It is a delicate
question to ask, and a still more delicate one to answer. A single
incident will suffice to give you an idea of Tullia’s crotchets. Her
bed-spread of Brussels lace was worth ten thousand francs. A famous
actress had another like it. As soon as Claudine heard this, she allowed
her cat, a splendid Angora, to sleep on the bed. That trait gives you
the woman. Du Bruel dared not say a word; he was ordered to spread
abroad that challenge in luxury, so that it might reach the other.
Tullia was very fond of this gift from the Duc de Rhetore; but one day,
five years after her marriage, she played with her cat to such purpose
that the coverlet--furbelows, flounces, and all--was torn to shreds,
and replaced by a sensible quilt, a quilt that was a quilt, and not a
symptom of the peculiar form of insanity which drives these women to
make up by an insensate luxury for the childish days when they lived on
raw apples, to quote the expression of a journalist. The day when the
bed-spread was torn to tatters marked a new epoch in her married life.

“Cursy was remarkable for his ferocious industry. Nobody suspects the
source to which Paris owes the patch-and-powder eighteenth century
vaudevilles that flooded the stage. Those thousand-and-one vaudevilles,
which raised such an outcry among the _feuilletonistes_, were written
at Mme. du Bruel’s express desire. She insisted that her husband should
purchase the hotel on which she had spent so much, where she had housed
five hundred thousand francs’ worth of furniture. Wherefore Tullia never
enters into explanations; she understands the sovereign woman’s reason
to admiration.

“‘People made a good deal of fun of Cursy,’ said she; ‘but, as a matter
of fact, he found this house in the eighteenth century rouge-box,
powder, puffs, and spangles. He would never have thought of it but for
me,’ she added, burying herself in the cushions in her fireside corner.

“She delivered herself thus on her return from a first night. Du Bruel’s
piece had succeeded, and she foresaw an avalanche of criticisms. Tullia
had her At Homes. Every Monday she gave a tea-party; her society was as
select as might be, and she neglected nothing that could make her house
pleasant. There was a bouillotte in one room, conversation in another,
and sometimes a concert (always short) in the large drawing-room. None
but the most eminent artists performed in the house. Tullia had so much
good sense, that she attained to the most exquisite tact, and herein, in
all probability, lay the secret of her ascendency over du Bruel; at
any rate, he loved her with the love which use and wont at length makes
indispensable to life. Every day adds another thread to the strong,
irresistible, intangible web, which enmeshes the most delicate fancies,
takes captive every most transient mood, and binding them together,
holds a man captive hand and foot, heart and head.

“Tullia knew Cursy well; she knew every weak point in his armor, knew
also how to heal his wounds.

“A passion of this kind is inscrutable for any observer, even for a man
who prides himself, as I do, on a certain expertness. It is everywhere
unfathomable; the dark depths in it are darker than in any other
mystery; the colors confused even in the highest lights.

“Cursy was an old playwright, jaded by the life of the theatrical world.
He liked comfort; he liked a luxurious, affluent, easy existence; he
enjoyed being a king in his own house; he liked to be host to a party of
men of letters in a hotel resplendent with royal luxury, with carefully
chosen works of art shining in the setting. Tullia allowed du Bruel to
enthrone himself amid the tribe; there were plenty of journalists whom
it was easy enough to catch and ensnare; and, thanks to her evening
parties and a well-timed loan here and there, Cursy was not attacked
too seriously--his plays succeeded. For these reasons he would not have
separated from Tullia for an empire. If she had been unfaithful, he
would probably have passed it over, on condition that none of his
accustomed joys should be retrenched; yet, strange to say, Tullia caused
him no twinges on this account. No fancy was laid to her charge; if
there had been any, she certainly had been very careful of appearances.

“‘My dear fellow,’ du Bruel would say, laying down the law to us on the
boulevard, ‘there is nothing like one of these women who have sown their
wild oats and got over their passions. Such women as Claudine have lived
their bachelor life; they have been over head and ears in pleasure, and
make the most adorable wives that could be wished; they have nothing to
learn, they are formed, they are not in the least prudish; they are well
broken in, and indulgent. So I strongly recommend everybody to take the
“remains of a racer.” I am the most fortunate man on earth.’

“Du Bruel said this to me himself with Bixiou there to hear it.

“‘My dear fellow,’ said the caricaturist, ‘perhaps he is right to be in
the wrong.’

“About a week afterwards, du Bruel asked us to dine with him one
Tuesday. That morning I went to see him on a piece of theatrical
business, a case submitted to us for arbitration by the commission of
dramatic authors. We were obliged to go out again; but before we started
he went to Claudine’s room, knocked, as he always does, and asked for
leave to enter.

“‘We live in grand style,’ said he, smiling; ‘we are free. Each is

“We were admitted. Du Bruel spoke to Claudine. ‘I have asked a few
people to dinner to-day--”

“‘Just like you!’ cried she. ‘You ask people without speaking to me; I
count for nothing here.--Now’ (taking me as arbitrator by a glance) ‘I
ask you yourself. When a man has been so foolish as to live with a woman
of my sort; for, after all, I was an opera dancer--yes, I ought always
to remember that, if other people are to forget it--well, under those
circumstances, a clever man seeking to raise his wife in public opinion
would do his best to impose her upon the world as a remarkable woman, to
justify the step he had taken by acknowledging that in some ways she was
something more than ordinary women. The best way of compelling respect
from others is to pay respect to her at home, and to leave her absolute
mistress of the house. Well, and yet it is enough to awaken one’s vanity
to see how frightened he is of seeming to listen to me. I must be in the
right ten times over if he concedes a single point.’

“(Emphatic negative gestures from du Bruel at every other word.)

“‘Oh, yes, yes,’ she continued quickly, in answer to this mute dissent.
‘I know all about it, du Bruel, my dear, I that have been like a queen
in my house all my life till I married you. My wishes were guessed,
fulfilled, and more than fulfilled. After all, I am thirty-five, and at
five-and-thirty a woman cannot expect to be loved. Ah, if I were a girl
of sixteen, if I had not lost something that is dearly bought at the
Opera, what attention you would pay me, M. du Bruel! I feel the most
supreme contempt for men who boast that they can love and grow careless
and neglectful in little things as time grows on. You are short and
insignificant, you see, du Bruel; you love to torment a woman; it is
your only way of showing your strength. A Napoleon is ready to be swayed
by the woman he loves; he loses nothing by it; but as for such as you,
you believe that you are nothing apparently, you do not wish to be
ruled.--Five-and-thirty, my dear boy,’ she continued, turning to me,
‘that is the clue to the riddle.--“No,” does he say again?--You know
quite well that I am thirty-seven. I am very sorry, but just ask your
friends to dine at the _Rocher de Cancale_. I _could_ have them here,
but I will not; they shall not come. And then perhaps my poor little
monologue may engrave that salutary maxim, “Each is master at home,”
 upon your memory. That is our character,’ she added, laughing, with a
return of the opera girl’s giddiness and caprice.

“‘Well, well, my dear little puss; there, there, never mind. We can
manage to get on together,’ said du Bruel, and he kissed her hands, and
we came away. But he was very wroth.

“The whole way from the Rue de la Victoire to the boulevard a perfect
torrent of venomous words poured from his mouth like a waterfall in
flood; but as the shocking language which he used on occasion was quite
unfit to print, the report is necessarily inadequate.

“‘My dear fellow, I will leave that vile, shameless opera dancer, a
worn-out jade that has been set spinning like a top to every operatic
air; a foul hussy, an organ-grinder’s monkey! Oh, my dear boy, you have
taken up with an actress; may the notion of marrying your mistress never
get a hold on you. It is a torment omitted from the hell of Dante, you
see. Look here! I will beat her; I will give her a thrashing; I will
give it to her! Poison of my life, she sent me off like a running

“By this time we had reached the boulevard, and he had worked himself up
to such a pitch of fury that the words stuck in his throat.

“‘I will kick the stuffing out of her!’

“‘And why?’

“‘My dear fellow, you will never know the thousand-and-one fancies that
slut takes into her head. When I want to stay at home, she, forsooth,
must go out; when I want to go out, she wants me to stop at home; and
she spouts out arguments and accusations and reasoning and talks and
talks till she drives you crazy. Right means any whim that they happen
to take into their heads, and wrong means our notion. Overwhelm them
with something that cuts their arguments to pieces--they hold their
tongues and look at you as if you were a dead dog. My happiness
indeed! I lead the life of a yard-dog; I am a perfect slave. The little
happiness that I have with her costs me dear. Confound it all. I will
leave her everything and take myself off to a garret. Yes, a garret and
liberty. I have not dared to have my own way once in these five years.’

“But instead of going to his guests, Cursy strode up and down the
boulevard between the Rue de Richelieu and the Rue du Mont Blanc,
indulging in the most fearful imprecations, his unbounded language was
most comical to hear. His paroxysm of fury in the street contrasted
oddly with his peaceable demeanor in the house. Exercise assisted him to
work off his nervous agitation and inward tempest. About two o’clock, on
a sudden frantic impulse, he exclaimed:

“‘These damned females never know what they want. I will wager my head
now that if I go home and tell her that I have sent to ask my friends
to dine with me at the _Rocher de Cancale_, she will not be satisfied
though she made the arrangement herself.--But she will have gone off
somewhere or other. I wonder whether there is something at the bottom of
all this, an assignation with some goat? No. In the bottom of her heart
she loves me!’”

The Marquise could not help smiling.

“Ah, madame,” said Nathan, looking keenly at her, “only women and
prophets know how to turn faith to account.--Du Bruel would have me go
home with him,” he continued, “and we went slowly back. It was three
o’clock. Before he appeared, he heard a stir in the kitchen, saw
preparations going forward, and glanced at me as he asked the cook the
reason of this.

“‘Madame ordered dinner,’ said the woman. ‘Madame dressed and ordered a
cab, and then she changed her mind and ordered it again for the theatre
this evening.’

“‘Good,’ exclaimed du Bruel, ‘what did I tell you?’

“We entered the house stealthily. No one was there. We went from room to
room until we reached a little boudoir, and came upon Tullia in tears.
She dried her eyes without affectation, and spoke to du Bruel.

“‘Send a note to the _Rocher de Cancale_,’ she said, ‘and ask your
guests to dine here.’

“She was dressed as only women of the theatre can dress, in a
simply-made gown of some dainty material, neither too costly nor too
common, graceful and harmonious in outline and coloring; there was
nothing conspicuous about her, nothing exaggerated--a word now dropping
out of use, to be replaced by the word ‘artistic,’ used by fools
as current coin. In short, Tullia looked like a gentlewoman. At
thirty-seven she had reached the prime of a Frenchwoman’s beauty. At
this moment the celebrated oval of her face was divinely pale; she had
laid her hat aside; I could see a faint down like the bloom of fruit
softening the silken contours of a cheek itself so delicate. There was a
pathetic charm about her face with its double cluster of fair hair; her
brilliant gray eyes were veiled by a mist of tears; her nose, delicately
carved as a Roman cameo, with its quivering nostrils; her little
mouth, like a child’s even now; her long queenly throat, with the veins
standing out upon it; her chin, flushed for the moment by some secret
despair; the pink tips of her ears, the hands that trembled under her
gloves, everything about her told of violent feeling. The feverish
twitching of her eyebrows betrayed her pain. She looked sublime.

“Her first words had crushed du Bruel. She looked at us both, with that
penetrating, impenetrable cat-like glance which only actresses and great
ladies can use. Then she held out her hand to her husband.

“‘Poor dear, you had scarcely gone before I blamed myself a thousand
times over. It seemed to me that I had been horribly ungrateful. I told
myself that I had been unkind.--Was I very unkind?’ she asked, turning
to me.--‘Why not receive your friends? Is it not your house? Do you want
to know the reason of it all? Well, I was afraid that I was not loved;
and indeed I was half-way between repentance and the shame of going
back. I read the newspapers, and saw that there was a first night at
the Varietes, and I thought you had meant to give the dinner to a
collaborator. Left to myself, I gave way, I dressed to hurry out after
you--poor pet.’

“Du Bruel looked at me triumphantly, not a vestige of a recollection of
his orations _contra Tullia_ in his mind.

“‘Well, dearest, I have not spoken to any one of them,’ he said.

“‘How well we understand each other!’ quoth she.

“Even as she uttered those bewildering sweet words, I caught sight of
something in her belt, the corner of a little note thrust sidewise
into it; but I did not need that indication to tell me that Tullia’s
fantastic conduct was referable to occult causes. Woman, in my opinion,
is the most logical of created beings, the child alone excepted. In both
we behold a sublime phenomenon, the unvarying triumph of one dominant,
all-excluding thought. The child’s thought changes every moment; but
while it possesses him, he acts upon it with such ardor that others give
way before him, fascinated by the ingenuity, the persistence of a strong
desire. Woman is less changeable, but to call her capricious is a stupid
insult. Whenever she acts, she is always swayed by one dominant passion;
and wonderful it is to see how she makes that passion the very centre of
her world.

“Tullia was irresistible; she twisted du Bruel round her fingers, the
sky grew blue again, the evening was glorious. And ingenious writer
of plays as he is, he never so much as saw that his wife had buried a
trouble out of sight.

“‘Such is life, my dear fellow,’ he said to me, ‘ups and downs and

“‘Especially life off the stage,’ I put in.

“‘That is just what I mean,’ he continued. ‘Why, but for these violent
emotions, one would be bored to death! Ah! that woman has the gift of
rousing me.’

“We went to the Varietes after dinner; but before we left the house
I slipped into du Bruel’s room, and on a shelf among a pile of waste
papers found the copy of the _Petites-Affiches_, in which, agreeably to
the reformed law, notice of the purchase of the house was inserted. The
words stared me in the face--‘At the request of Jean Francois du Bruel
and Claudine Chaffaroux, his wife----’ _Here_ was the explanation of the
whole matter. I offered my arm to Claudine, and allowed the guests to
descend the stairs in front of us. When we were alone--‘If I were La
Palferine,’ I said, ‘I would not break an appointment.’

“Gravely she laid her finger on her lips. She leant on my arm as we went
downstairs, and looked at me with almost something like happiness in
her eyes because I knew La Palferine. Can you see the first idea that
occurred to her? She thought of making a spy of me, but I turned her off
with the light jesting talk of Bohemia.

“A month later, after a first performance of one of du Bruel’s plays,
we met in the vestibule of the theatre. It was raining; I went to call
a cab. We had been delayed for a few minutes, so that there were no cabs
in sight. Claudine scolded du Bruel soundly; and as we rolled through
the streets (for she set me down at Florine’s), she continued the
quarrel with a series of most mortifying remarks.

“‘What is this about?’ I inquired.

“‘Oh, my dear fellow, she blames me for allowing you to run out for a
cab, and thereupon proceeds to wish for a carriage.’

“‘As a dancer,’ said she, ‘I have never been accustomed to use my feet
except on the boards. If you have any spirit, you will turn out four
more plays or so in a year; you will make up your mind that succeed they
must, when you think of the end in view, and that your wife will not
walk in the mud. It is a shame that I should have to ask for it. You
ought to have guessed my continual discomfort during the five years
since I married you.’

“‘I am quite willing,’ returned du Bruel. ‘But we shall ruin ourselves.’

“‘If you run into debt,’ she said, ‘my uncle’s money will clear it off
some day.’

“‘You are quite capable of leaving me the debts and taking the

“‘Oh! is that the way you take it?’ retorted she. ‘I have nothing more
to say to you; such a speech stops my mouth.’

“Whereupon du Bruel poured out his soul in excuses and protestations of
love. Not a word did she say. He took her hands, she allowed him to take
them; they were like ice, like a dead woman’s hands. Tullia, you can
understand, was playing to admiration the part of corpse that women
can play to show you that they refuse their consent to anything and
everything; that for you they are suppressing soul, spirit, and life,
and regard themselves as beasts of burden. Nothing so provokes a man
with a heart as this strategy. Women can only use it with those who
worship them.

“She turned to me. ‘Do you suppose,’ she said scornfully, ‘that a Count
would have uttered such an insult even if the thought had entered his
mind? For my misfortune I have lived with dukes, ambassadors, and great
lords, and I know their ways. How intolerable it makes bourgeois life!
After all, a playwright is not a Rastignac nor a Rhetore----’

“Du Bruel looked ghastly at this. Two days afterwards we met in the
_foyer_ at the Opera, and took a few turns together. The conversation
fell on Tullia.

“‘Do not take my ravings on the boulevard too seriously,’ said he; ‘I
have a violent temper.’

“For two winters I was a tolerably frequent visitor at du Bruel’s house,
and I followed Claudine’s tactics closely. She had a splendid carriage.
Du Bruel entered public life; she made him abjure his Royalist opinions.
He rallied himself; he took his place again in the administration; the
National Guard was discreetly canvassed, du Bruel was elected major, and
behaved so valorously in a street riot, that he was decorated with the
rosette of an officer of the Legion of Honor. He was appointed Master
of Requests and head of a department. Uncle Chaffaroux died and left his
niece forty thousand francs per annum, three-fourths of his fortune.
Du Bruel became a deputy; but beforehand, to save the necessity of
re-election, he secured his nomination to the Council of State. He
reprinted divers archaeological treatises, a couple of political
pamphlets, and a statistical work, by way of pretext for his appointment
to one of the obliging academies of the Institut. At this moment he is
a Commander of the Legion, and (after fishing in the troubled waters of
political intrigue) has quite recently been made a peer of France and a
count. As yet our friend does not venture to bear his honors; his wife
merely puts ‘La Comtesse du Bruel’ on her cards. The sometime
playwright has the Order of Leopold, the Order of Isabella, the cross of
Saint-Vladimir, second class, the Order of Civil Merit of Bavaria,
the Papal Order of the Golden Spur,--all the lesser orders, in short,
besides the Grand Cross.

“Three months ago Claudine drove to La Palferine’s door in her splendid
carriage with its armorial bearings. Du Bruel’s grandfather was a farmer
of taxes ennobled towards the end of Louis Quatorze’s reign. Cherin
composed his coat-of-arms for him, so the Count’s coronet looks not
amiss above a scutcheon innocent of Imperial absurdities. In this
way, in the short space of three years, Claudine had carried out the
programme laid down for her by the charming, light-hearted La Palferine.

“One day, just above a month ago, she climbed the miserable staircase to
her lover’s lodging; climbed in her glory, dressed like a real countess
of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, to our friend’s garret. La Palferine,
seeing her, said, ‘You have made a peeress of yourself I know. But it
is too late, Claudine; every one is talking just now about the Southern
Cross, I should like it see it!’

“‘I will get it for you.’

“La Palferine burst into a peal of Homeric laughter.

“‘Most distinctly,’ he returned, ‘I do _not_ wish to have a woman as
ignorant as a carp for my mistress, a woman that springs like a flying
fish from the green-room of the Opera to Court, for I should like to see
you at the Court of the Citizen King.’

“She turned to me.

“‘What is the Southern Cross?’ she asked, in a sad, downcast voice.

“I was struck with admiration for this indomitable love, outdoing the
most ingenious marvels of fairy tales in real life--a love that would
spring over a precipice to find a roc’s egg, or to gather the singing
flower. I explained that the Southern Cross was a nebulous constellation
even brighter than the Milky Way, arranged in the form of a cross, and
that it could only be seen in southern latitudes.

“‘Very well, Charles, let us go,’ said she.

“La Palferine, ferocious though he was, had tears in his eyes; but what
a look there was in Claudine’s face, what a note in her voice! I have
seen nothing like the thing that followed, not even in the supreme touch
of a great actor’s art; nothing to compare with her movement when she
saw the hard eyes softened in tears; Claudine sank upon her knees
and kissed La Palferine’s pitiless hand. He raised her with his grand
manner, his ‘Rusticoli air,’ as he calls it--‘There, child!’ he said, ‘I
will do something for you; I will put you--in my will.’

“Well,” concluded Nathan, “I ask myself sometimes whether du Bruel is
really deceived. Truly there is nothing more comic, nothing stranger
than the sight of a careless young fellow ruling a married couple, his
slightest whims received as law, the weightiest decisions revoked at a
word from him. That dinner incident, as you can see, is repeated times
without number, it interferes with important matters. Still, but for
Claudine’s caprices, du Bruel would be de Cursy still, one vaudevillist
among five hundred; whereas he is in the House of Peers.”

“You will change the names, I hope!” said Nathan, addressing Mme. de la

“I should think so! I have only set names to the masks for you. My dear
Nathan,” she added in the poet’s ear, “I know another case on which the
wife takes du Bruel’s place.”

“And the catastrophe?” queried Lousteau, returning just at the end of
Mme. de la Baudraye’s story.

“I do not believe in catastrophes. One has to invent such good ones
to show that art is quite a match for chance; and nobody reads a book
twice, my friend, except for the details.”

“But there is a catastrophe,” persisted Nathan.

“What is it?”

“The Marquise de Rochefide is infatuated with Charles Edward. My story
excited her curiosity.”

“Oh, unhappy woman!” cried Mme. de la Baudraye.

“Not so unhappy,” said Nathan, “for Maxime de Trailles and La Palferine
have brought about a rupture between the Marquis and Mme. Schontz, and
they mean to make it up between Arthur and Beatrix.”

1839 - 1845.


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

     Bianchon, Horace
       Father Goriot
       The Atheist’s Mass
       Cesar Birotteau
       The Commission in Lunacy
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       The Secrets of a Princess
       The Government Clerks
       A Study of Woman
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Seamy Side of History
       The Magic Skin
       A Second Home
       Letters of Two Brides
       The Muse of the Department
       The Imaginary Mistress
       The Middle Classes
       Cousin Betty
       The Country Parson
     In addition, M. Bianchon narrated the following:
       Another Study of Woman
       La Grande Breteche

     Bruel, Jean Francois du
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       The Government Clerks
       A Start in Life
       The Middle Classes
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Daughter of Eve

     Bruel, Claudine Chaffaroux, Madame du
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       A Distinguished  Provincial at Paris
       Letters of Two Brides
       The Middle Classes

       Cesar Birotteau
       The Middle Classes

     Chocardelle, Mademoiselle
       A Man of Business
       Cousin Betty
       The Member for Arcis

     La Baudraye, Madame Polydore Milaud de
       The Muse of the Department
       Cousin Betty

     Laguerre, Mademoiselle
       The Peasantry

     La Palferine, Comte de
       A Man of Business
       Cousin Betty
       The Imaginary Mistress

     Lousteau, Etienne
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       A Daughter of Eve
       The Muse of the Department
       Cousin Betty
       A Man of Business
       The Middle Classes
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Marcas, Zephirin
       Z. Marcas

     Nathan, Raoul
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Secrets of a Princess
       A Daughter of Eve
       Letters of Two Brides
       The Seamy Side of History
       The Muse of the Department
       A Man of Business
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Nathan, Madame Raoul
       The Muse of the Department
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life
       The Government Clerks
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Ursule Mirouet
       Eugenie Grandet
       The Imaginary Mistress
       A Daughter of Eve
       The Unconscious Humorists

     Popinot, Madame Anselme
       Cesar Birotteau
       Cousin Betty
       Cousin Pons

     Rochefide, Marquise de
       The Secrets of a Princess
       A Daughter of Eve

     Tissot, Pierre-Francois
       Father Goriot

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Prince of Bohemia" ***

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