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Title: At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
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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AT THE SIGN OF THE CAT AND RACKET


By Honore De Balzac


Translated by Clara Bell



                              DEDICATION

                  To Mademoiselle Marie de Montheau



AT THE SIGN OF THE CAT AND RACKET


Half-way down the Rue Saint-Denis, almost at the corner of the Rue du
Petit-Lion, there stood formerly one of those delightful houses which
enable historians to reconstruct old Paris by analogy. The threatening
walls of this tumbledown abode seemed to have been decorated with
hieroglyphics. For what other name could the passer-by give to the Xs
and Vs which the horizontal or diagonal timbers traced on the front,
outlined by little parallel cracks in the plaster? It was evident that
every beam quivered in its mortices at the passing of the lightest
vehicle. This venerable structure was crowned by a triangular roof of
which no example will, ere long, be seen in Paris. This covering, warped
by the extremes of the Paris climate, projected three feet over the
roadway, as much to protect the threshold from the rainfall as to
shelter the wall of a loft and its sill-less dormer-window. This upper
story was built of planks, overlapping each other like slates, in order,
no doubt, not to overweight the frail house.

One rainy morning in the month of March, a young man, carefully wrapped
in his cloak, stood under the awning of a shop opposite this old house,
which he was studying with the enthusiasm of an antiquary. In point of
fact, this relic of the civic life of the sixteenth century offered
more than one problem to the consideration of an observer. Each story
presented some singularity; on the first floor four tall, narrow
windows, close together, were filled as to the lower panes with boards,
so as to produce the doubtful light by which a clever salesman can
ascribe to his goods the color his customers inquire for. The young man
seemed very scornful of this part of the house; his eyes had not yet
rested on it. The windows of the second floor, where the Venetian blinds
were drawn up, revealing little dingy muslin curtains behind the large
Bohemian glass panes, did not interest him either. His attention was
attracted to the third floor, to the modest sash-frames of wood, so
clumsily wrought that they might have found a place in the Museum of
Arts and Crafts to illustrate the early efforts of French carpentry.
These windows were glazed with small squares of glass so green that, but
for his good eyes, the young man could not have seen the blue-checked
cotton curtains which screened the mysteries of the room from profane
eyes. Now and then the watcher, weary of his fruitless contemplation,
or of the silence in which the house was buried, like the whole
neighborhood, dropped his eyes towards the lower regions. An involuntary
smile parted his lips each time he looked at the shop, where, in fact,
there were some laughable details.

A formidable wooden beam, resting on four pillars, which appeared to
have bent under the weight of the decrepit house, had been encrusted
with as many coats of different paint as there are of rouge on an old
duchess’ cheek. In the middle of this broad and fantastically carved
joist there was an old painting representing a cat playing rackets. This
picture was what moved the young man to mirth. But it must be said
that the wittiest of modern painters could not invent so comical a
caricature. The animal held in one of its forepaws a racket as big as
itself, and stood on its hind legs to aim at hitting an enormous ball,
returned by a man in a fine embroidered coat. Drawing, color, and
accessories, all were treated in such a way as to suggest that the
artist had meant to make game of the shop-owner and of the passing
observer. Time, while impairing this artless painting, had made it yet
more grotesque by introducing some uncertain features which must have
puzzled the conscientious idler. For instance, the cat’s tail had been
eaten into in such a way that it might now have been taken for the
figure of a spectator--so long, and thick, and furry were the tails of
our forefathers’ cats. To the right of the picture, on an azure field
which ill-disguised the decay of the wood, might be read the name
“Guillaume,” and to the left, “Successor to Master Chevrel.” Sun and
rain had worn away most of the gilding parsimoniously applied to the
letters of this superscription, in which the Us and Vs had changed
places in obedience to the laws of old-world orthography.

To quench the pride of those who believe that the world is growing
cleverer day by day, and that modern humbug surpasses everything, it may
be observed that these signs, of which the origin seems so whimsical to
many Paris merchants, are the dead pictures of once living pictures
by which our roguish ancestors contrived to tempt customers into their
houses. Thus the Spinning Sow, the Green Monkey, and others, were
animals in cages whose skills astonished the passer-by, and whose
accomplishments prove the patience of the fifteenth-century artisan.
Such curiosities did more to enrich their fortunate owners than the
signs of “Providence,” “Good-faith,” “Grace of God,” and “Decapitation
of John the Baptist,” which may still be seen in the Rue Saint-Denis.

However, our stranger was certainly not standing there to admire the
cat, which a minute’s attention sufficed to stamp on his memory. The
young man himself had his peculiarities. His cloak, folded after the
manner of an antique drapery, showed a smart pair of shoes, all the more
remarkable in the midst of the Paris mud, because he wore white silk
stockings, on which the splashes betrayed his impatience. He had just
come, no doubt, from a wedding or a ball; for at this early hour he had
in his hand a pair of white gloves, and his black hair, now out of curl,
and flowing over his shoulders, showed that it had been dressed _a la
Caracalla_, a fashion introduced as much by David’s school of painting
as by the mania for Greek and Roman styles which characterized the early
years of this century.

In spite of the noise made by a few market gardeners, who, being late,
rattled past towards the great market-place at a gallop, the busy street
lay in a stillness of which the magic charm is known only to those who
have wandered through deserted Paris at the hours when its roar, hushed
for a moment, rises and spreads in the distance like the great voice
of the sea. This strange young man must have seemed as curious to the
shopkeeping folk of the “Cat and Racket” as the “Cat and Racket” was
to him. A dazzlingly white cravat made his anxious face look even paler
than it really was. The fire that flashed in his black eyes, gloomy
and sparkling by turns, was in harmony with the singular outline of
his features, with his wide, flexible mouth, hardened into a smile. His
forehead, knit with violent annoyance, had a stamp of doom. Is not the
forehead the most prophetic feature of a man? When the stranger’s
brow expressed passion the furrows formed in it were terrible in their
strength and energy; but when he recovered his calmness, so easily
upset, it beamed with a luminous grace which gave great attractiveness
to a countenance in which joy, grief, love, anger, or scorn blazed out
so contagiously that the coldest man could not fail to be impressed.

He was so thoroughly vexed by the time when the dormer-window of the
loft was suddenly flung open, that he did not observe the apparition of
three laughing faces, pink and white and chubby, but as vulgar as the
face of Commerce as it is seen in sculpture on certain monuments. These
three faces, framed by the window, recalled the puffy cherubs floating
among the clouds that surround God the Father. The apprentices snuffed
up the exhalations of the street with an eagerness that showed how hot
and poisonous the atmosphere of their garret must be. After pointing to
the singular sentinel, the most jovial, as he seemed, of the apprentices
retired and came back holding an instrument whose hard metal pipe is now
superseded by a leather tube; and they all grinned with mischief as they
looked down on the loiterer, and sprinkled him with a fine white
shower of which the scent proved that three chins had just been shaved.
Standing on tiptoe, in the farthest corner of their loft, to enjoy
their victim’s rage, the lads ceased laughing on seeing the haughty
indifference with which the young man shook his cloak, and the
intense contempt expressed by his face as he glanced up at the empty
window-frame.

At this moment a slender white hand threw up the lower half of one of
the clumsy windows on the third floor by the aid of the sash runners,
of which the pulley so often suddenly gives way and releases the heavy
panes it ought to hold up. The watcher was then rewarded for his long
waiting. The face of a young girl appeared, as fresh as one of the
white cups that bloom on the bosom of the waters, crowned by a frill
of tumbled muslin, which gave her head a look of exquisite innocence.
Though wrapped in brown stuff, her neck and shoulders gleamed here
and there through little openings left by her movements in sleep. No
expression of embarrassment detracted from the candor of her face, or
the calm look of eyes immortalized long since in the sublime works of
Raphael; here were the same grace, the same repose as in those Virgins,
and now proverbial. There was a delightful contrast between the cheeks
of that face on which sleep had, as it were, given high relief to a
superabundance of life, and the antiquity of the heavy window with its
clumsy shape and black sill. Like those day-blowing flowers, which
in the early morning have not yet unfurled their cups, twisted by the
chills of night, the girl, as yet hardly awake, let her blue eyes wander
beyond the neighboring roofs to look at the sky; then, from habit,
she cast them down on the gloomy depths of the street, where they
immediately met those of her adorer. Vanity, no doubt, distressed her at
being seen in undress; she started back, the worn pulley gave way, and
the sash fell with the rapid run, which in our day has earned for this
artless invention of our forefathers an odious name, _Fenetre a la
Guillotine_. The vision had disappeared. To the young man the most
radiant star of morning seemed to be hidden by a cloud.

During these little incidents the heavy inside shutters that protected
the slight windows of the shop of the “Cat and Racket” had been removed
as if by magic. The old door with its knocker was opened back against
the wall of the entry by a man-servant, apparently coeval with the sign,
who, with a shaking hand, hung upon it a square of cloth, on which were
embroidered in yellow silk the words: “Guillaume, successor to Chevrel.”
 Many a passer-by would have found it difficult to guess the class of
trade carried on by Monsieur Guillaume. Between the strong iron bars
which protected his shop windows on the outside, certain packages,
wrapped in brown linen, were hardly visible, though as numerous as
herrings swimming in a shoal. Notwithstanding the primitive aspect of
the Gothic front, Monsieur Guillaume, of all the merchant clothiers in
Paris, was the one whose stores were always the best provided, whose
connections were the most extensive, and whose commercial honesty never
lay under the slightest suspicion. If some of his brethren in business
made a contract with the Government, and had not the required quantity
of cloth, he was always ready to deliver it, however large the number of
pieces tendered for. The wily dealer knew a thousand ways of extracting
the largest profits without being obliged, like them, to court
patrons, cringing to them, or making them costly presents. When his
fellow-tradesmen could only pay in good bills of long date, he would
mention his notary as an accommodating man, and managed to get a second
profit out of the bargain, thanks to this arrangement, which had made it
a proverb among the traders of the Rue Saint-Denis: “Heaven preserve you
from Monsieur Guillaume’s notary!” to signify a heavy discount.

The old merchant was to be seen standing on the threshold of his shop,
as if by a miracle, the instant the servant withdrew. Monsieur Guillaume
looked at the Rue Saint-Denis, at the neighboring shops, and at the
weather, like a man disembarking at Havre, and seeing France once more
after a long voyage. Having convinced himself that nothing had changed
while he was asleep, he presently perceived the stranger on guard, and
he, on his part, gazed at the patriarchal draper as Humboldt may have
scrutinized the first electric eel he saw in America. Monsieur Guillaume
wore loose black velvet breeches, pepper-and-salt stockings, and square
toed shoes with silver buckles. His coat, with square-cut fronts,
square-cut tails, and square-cut collar clothed his slightly bent figure
in greenish cloth, finished with white metal buttons, tawny from wear.
His gray hair was so accurately combed and flattened over his yellow
pate that it made it look like a furrowed field. His little green eyes,
that might have been pierced with a gimlet, flashed beneath arches
faintly tinged with red in the place of eyebrows. Anxieties had wrinkled
his forehead with as many horizontal lines as there were creases in his
coat. This colorless face expressed patience, commercial shrewdness,
and the sort of wily cupidity which is needful in business. At that
time these old families were less rare than they are now, in which the
characteristic habits and costume of their calling, surviving in
the midst of more recent civilization, were preserved as cherished
traditions, like the antediluvian remains found by Cuvier in the
quarries.

The head of the Guillaume family was a notable upholder of ancient
practices; he might be heard to regret the Provost of Merchants, and
never did he mention a decision of the Tribunal of Commerce without
calling it the _Sentence of the Consuls_. Up and dressed the first of
the household, in obedience, no doubt, to these old customs, he stood
sternly awaiting the appearance of his three assistants, ready to scold
them in case they were late. These young disciples of Mercury knew
nothing more terrible than the wordless assiduity with which the master
scrutinized their faces and their movements on Monday in search of
evidence or traces of their pranks. But at this moment the old clothier
paid no heed to his apprentices; he was absorbed in trying to divine the
motive of the anxious looks which the young man in silk stockings and a
cloak cast alternately at his signboard and into the depths of his shop.
The daylight was now brighter, and enabled the stranger to discern the
cashier’s corner enclosed by a railing and screened by old green silk
curtains, where were kept the immense ledgers, the silent oracles of the
house. The too inquisitive gazer seemed to covet this little nook,
and to be taking the plan of a dining-room at one side, lighted by
a skylight, whence the family at meals could easily see the smallest
incident that might occur at the shop-door. So much affection for his
dwelling seemed suspicious to a trader who had lived long enough to
remember the law of maximum prices; Monsieur Guillaume naturally thought
that this sinister personage had an eye to the till of the Cat and
Racket. After quietly observing the mute duel which was going on between
his master and the stranger, the eldest of the apprentices, having seen
that the young man was stealthily watching the windows of the third
floor, ventured to place himself on the stone flag where Monsieur
Guillaume was standing. He took two steps out into the street, raised
his head, and fancied that he caught sight of Mademoiselle Augustine
Guillaume in hasty retreat. The draper, annoyed by his assistant’s
perspicacity, shot a side glance at him; but the draper and his amorous
apprentice were suddenly relieved from the fears which the young man’s
presence had excited in their minds. He hailed a hackney cab on its
way to a neighboring stand, and jumped into it with an air of affected
indifference. This departure was a balm to the hearts of the other two
lads, who had been somewhat uneasy as to meeting the victim of their
practical joke.

“Well, gentlemen, what ails you that you are standing there with your
arms folded?” said Monsieur Guillaume to his three neophytes. “In former
days, bless you, when I was in Master Chevrel’s service, I should have
overhauled more than two pieces of cloth by this time.”

“Then it was daylight earlier,” said the second assistant, whose duty
this was.

The old shopkeeper could not help smiling. Though two of these
young fellows, who were confided to his care by their fathers, rich
manufacturers at Louviers and at Sedan, had only to ask and to have a
hundred thousand francs the day when they were old enough to settle in
life, Guillaume regarded it as his duty to keep them under the rod of an
old-world despotism, unknown nowadays in the showy modern shops, where
the apprentices expect to be rich men at thirty. He made them work like
Negroes. These three assistants were equal to a business which would
harry ten such clerks as those whose sybaritical tastes now swell the
columns of the budget. Not a sound disturbed the peace of this solemn
house, where the hinges were always oiled, and where the meanest article
of furniture showed the respectable cleanliness which reveals strict
order and economy. The most waggish of the three youths often amused
himself by writing the date of its first appearance on the Gruyere
cheese which was left to their tender mercies at breakfast, and which it
was their pleasure to leave untouched. This bit of mischief, and a few
others of the same stamp, would sometimes bring a smile on the face of
the younger of Guillaume’s daughters, the pretty maiden who has just now
appeared to the bewitched man in the street.

Though each of these apprentices, even the eldest, paid a round sum for
his board, not one of them would have been bold enough to remain at the
master’s table when dessert was served. When Madame Guillaume talked of
dressing the salad, the hapless youths trembled as they thought of the
thrift with which her prudent hand dispensed the oil. They could never
think of spending a night away from the house without having given, long
before, a plausible reason for such an irregularity. Every Sunday, each
in his turn, two of them accompanied the Guillaume family to Mass at
Saint-Leu, and to vespers. Mesdemoiselles Virginie and Augustine, simply
attired in cotton print, each took the arm of an apprentice and walked
in front, under the piercing eye of their mother, who closed the little
family procession with her husband, accustomed by her to carry two large
prayer-books, bound in black morocco. The second apprentice received
no salary. As for the eldest, whose twelve years of perseverance and
discretion had initiated him into the secrets of the house, he was paid
eight hundred francs a year as the reward of his labors. On certain
family festivals he received as a gratuity some little gift, to which
Madame Guillaume’s dry and wrinkled hand alone gave value--netted
purses, which she took care to stuff with cotton wool, to show off the
fancy stitches, braces of the strongest make, or heavy silk stockings.
Sometimes, but rarely, this prime minister was admitted to share the
pleasures of the family when they went into the country, or when, after
waiting for months, they made up their mind to exert the right acquired
by taking a box at the theatre to command a piece which Paris had
already forgotten.

As to the other assistants, the barrier of respect which formerly
divided a master draper from his apprentices was that they would
have been more likely to steal a piece of cloth than to infringe this
time-honored etiquette. Such reserve may now appear ridiculous; but
these old houses were a school of honesty and sound morals. The masters
adopted their apprentices. The young man’s linen was cared for, mended,
and often replaced by the mistress of the house. If an apprentice fell
ill, he was the object of truly maternal attention. In a case of
danger the master lavished his money in calling in the most celebrated
physicians, for he was not answerable to their parents merely for the
good conduct and training of the lads. If one of them, whose character
was unimpeachable, suffered misfortune, these old tradesmen knew how to
value the intelligence he had displayed, and they did not hesitate
to entrust the happiness of their daughters to men whom they had long
trusted with their fortunes. Guillaume was one of these men of the
old school, and if he had their ridiculous side, he had all their good
qualities; and Joseph Lebas, the chief assistant, an orphan without any
fortune, was in his mind destined to be the husband of Virginie, his
elder daughter. But Joseph did not share the symmetrical ideas of his
master, who would not for an empire have given his second daughter in
marriage before the elder. The unhappy assistant felt that his heart was
wholly given to Mademoiselle Augustine, the younger. In order to justify
this passion, which had grown up in secret, it is necessary to inquire
a little further into the springs of the absolute government which ruled
the old cloth-merchant’s household.

Guillaume had two daughters. The elder, Mademoiselle Virginie, was
the very image of her mother. Madame Guillaume, daughter of the Sieur
Chevrel, sat so upright in the stool behind her desk, that more than
once she had heard some wag bet that she was a stuffed figure. Her
long, thin face betrayed exaggerated piety. Devoid of attractions or of
amiable manners, Madame Guillaume commonly decorated her head--that of
a woman near on sixty--with a cap of a particular and unvarying shape,
with long lappets, like that of a widow. In all the neighborhood she was
known as the “portress nun.” Her speech was curt, and her movements had
the stiff precision of a semaphore. Her eye, with a gleam in it like a
cat’s, seemed to spite the world because she was so ugly. Mademoiselle
Virginie, brought up, like her younger sister, under the domestic rule
of her mother, had reached the age of eight-and-twenty. Youth mitigated
the graceless effect which her likeness to her mother sometimes gave
to her features, but maternal austerity had endowed her with two great
qualities which made up for everything. She was patient and gentle.
Mademoiselle Augustine, who was but just eighteen, was not like either
her father or her mother. She was one of those daughters whose total
absence of any physical affinity with their parents makes one believe in
the adage: “God gives children.” Augustine was little, or, to describe
her more truly, delicately made. Full of gracious candor, a man of the
world could have found no fault in the charming girl beyond a certain
meanness of gesture or vulgarity of attitude, and sometimes a want of
ease. Her silent and placid face was full of the transient melancholy
which comes over all young girls who are too weak to dare to resist
their mother’s will.

The two sisters, always plainly dressed, could not gratify the innate
vanity of womanhood but by a luxury of cleanliness which became them
wonderfully, and made them harmonize with the polished counters and
the shining shelves, on which the old man-servant never left a speck of
dust, and with the old-world simplicity of all they saw about them. As
their style of living compelled them to find the elements of happiness
in persistent work, Augustine and Virginie had hitherto always satisfied
their mother, who secretly prided herself on the perfect characters of
her two daughters. It is easy to imagine the results of the training
they had received. Brought up to a commercial life, accustomed to
hear nothing but dreary arguments and calculations about trade, having
studied nothing but grammar, book-keeping, a little Bible-history, and
the history of France in Le Ragois, and never reading any book but what
their mother would sanction, their ideas had not acquired much scope.
They knew perfectly how to keep house; they were familiar with the
prices of things; they understood the difficulty of amassing money; they
were economical, and had a great respect for the qualities that make a
man of business. Although their father was rich, they were as skilled
in darning as in embroidery; their mother often talked of having them
taught to cook, so that they might know how to order a dinner and scold
a cook with due knowledge. They knew nothing of the pleasures of the
world; and, seeing how their parents spent their exemplary lives, they
very rarely suffered their eyes to wander beyond the walls of their
hereditary home, which to their mother was the whole universe. The
meetings to which family anniversaries gave rise filled in the future of
earthly joy to them.

When the great drawing-room on the second floor was to be prepared to
receive company--Madame Roguin, a Demoiselle Chevrel, fifteen months
younger than her cousin, and bedecked with diamonds; young Rabourdin,
employed in the Finance Office; Monsieur Cesar Birotteau, the rich
perfumer, and his wife, known as Madame Cesar; Monsieur Camusot, the
richest silk mercer in the Rue des Bourdonnais, with his father-in-law,
Monsieur Cardot, two or three old bankers, and some immaculate
ladies--the arrangements, made necessary by the way in which everything
was packed away--the plate, the Dresden china, the candlesticks, and the
glass--made a variety in the monotonous lives of the three women, who
came and went and exerted themselves as nuns would to receive their
bishop. Then, in the evening, when all three were tired out with having
wiped, rubbed, unpacked, and arranged all the gauds of the festival, as
the girls helped their mother to undress, Madame Guillaume would say to
them, “Children, we have done nothing today.”

When, on very great occasions, “the portress nun” allowed dancing,
restricting the games of boston, whist, and backgammon within the limits
of her bedroom, such a concession was accounted as the most unhoped
felicity, and made them happier than going to the great balls, to two
or three of which Guillaume would take the girls at the time of the
Carnival.

And once a year the worthy draper gave an entertainment, when he spared
no expense. However rich and fashionable the persons invited might be,
they were careful not to be absent; for the most important houses on
the exchange had recourse to the immense credit, the fortune, or the
time-honored experience of Monsieur Guillaume. Still, the excellent
merchant’s daughters did not benefit as much as might be supposed by the
lessons the world has to offer to young spirits. At these parties, which
were indeed set down in the ledger to the credit of the house, they wore
dresses the shabbiness of which made them blush. Their style of dancing
was not in any way remarkable, and their mother’s surveillance did not
allow of their holding any conversation with their partners beyond Yes
and No. Also, the law of the old sign of the Cat and Racket commanded
that they should be home by eleven o’clock, the hour when balls and
fetes begin to be lively. Thus their pleasures, which seemed to conform
very fairly to their father’s position, were often made insipid by
circumstances which were part of the family habits and principles.

As to their usual life, one remark will sufficiently paint it. Madame
Guillaume required her daughters to be dressed very early in the
morning, to come down every day at the same hour, and she ordered their
employments with monastic regularity. Augustine, however, had been
gifted by chance with a spirit lofty enough to feel the emptiness of
such a life. Her blue eyes would sometimes be raised as if to pierce
the depths of that gloomy staircase and those damp store-rooms. After
sounding the profound cloistral silence, she seemed to be listening to
remote, inarticulate revelations of the life of passion, which accounts
feelings as of higher value than things. And at such moments her cheek
would flush, her idle hands would lay the muslin sewing on the polished
oak counter, and presently her mother would say in a voice, of which
even the softest tones were sour, “Augustine, my treasure, what are
you thinking about?” It is possible that two romances discovered
by Augustine in the cupboard of a cook Madame Guillaume had
lately discharged--_Hippolyte Comte de Douglas_ and _Le Comte de
Comminges_--may have contributed to develop the ideas of the young girl,
who had devoured them in secret, during the long nights of the past
winter.

And so Augustine’s expression of vague longing, her gentle voice, her
jasmine skin, and her blue eyes had lighted in poor Lebas’ soul a
flame as ardent as it was reverent. From an easily understood caprice,
Augustine felt no affection for the orphan; perhaps she did not know
that he loved her. On the other hand, the senior apprentice, with his
long legs, his chestnut hair, his big hands and powerful frame, had
found a secret admirer in Mademoiselle Virginie, who, in spite of her
dower of fifty thousand crowns, had as yet no suitor. Nothing could
be more natural than these two passions at cross-purposes, born in the
silence of the dingy shop, as violets bloom in the depths of a wood. The
mute and constant looks which made the young people’s eyes meet by sheer
need of change in the midst of persistent work and cloistered peace, was
sure, sooner or later, to give rise to feelings of love. The habit of
seeing always the same face leads insensibly to our reading there the
qualities of the soul, and at last effaces all its defects.

“At the pace at which that man goes, our girls will soon have to go on
their knees to a suitor!” said Monsieur Guillaume to himself, as he
read the first decree by which Napoleon drew in advance on the conscript
classes.

From that day the old merchant, grieved at seeing his eldest daughter
fade, remembered how he had married Mademoiselle Chevrel under much the
same circumstances as those of Joseph Lebas and Virginie. A good bit
of business, to marry off his daughter, and discharge a sacred debt
by repaying to an orphan the benefit he had formerly received from
his predecessor under similar conditions! Joseph Lebas, who was now
three-and-thirty, was aware of the obstacle which a difference of
fifteen years placed between Augustine and himself. Being also too
clear-sighted not to understand Monsieur Guillaume’s purpose, he knew
his inexorable principles well enough to feel sure that the second would
never marry before the elder. So the hapless assistant, whose heart was
as warm as his legs were long and his chest deep, suffered in silence.

This was the state of the affairs in the tiny republic which, in the
heart of the Rue Saint-Denis, was not unlike a dependency of La Trappe.
But to give a full account of events as well as of feelings, it is
needful to go back to some months before the scene with which this story
opens. At dusk one evening, a young man passing the darkened shop of the
Cat and Racket, had paused for a moment to gaze at a picture which might
have arrested every painter in the world. The shop was not yet lighted,
and was as a dark cave beyond which the dining-room was visible. A
hanging lamp shed the yellow light which lends such charm to pictures
of the Dutch school. The white linen, the silver, the cut glass, were
brilliant accessories, and made more picturesque by strong contrasts of
light and shade. The figures of the head of the family and his wife, the
faces of the apprentices, and the pure form of Augustine, near whom a
fat chubby-cheeked maid was standing, composed so strange a group; the
heads were so singular, and every face had so candid an expression; it
was so easy to read the peace, the silence, the modest way of life in
this family, that to an artist accustomed to render nature, there was
something hopeless in any attempt to depict this scene, come upon by
chance. The stranger was a young painter, who, seven years before, had
gained the first prize for painting. He had now just come back from
Rome. His soul, full-fed with poetry; his eyes, satiated with Raphael
and Michael Angelo, thirsted for real nature after long dwelling in the
pompous land where art has everywhere left something grandiose. Right or
wrong, this was his personal feeling. His heart, which had long been
a prey to the fire of Italian passion, craved one of those modest
and meditative maidens whom in Rome he had unfortunately seen only
in painting. From the enthusiasm produced in his excited fancy by the
living picture before him, he naturally passed to a profound admiration
for the principal figure; Augustine seemed to be pensive, and did not
eat; by the arrangement of the lamp the light fell full on her face, and
her bust seemed to move in a circle of fire, which threw up the shape of
her head and illuminated it with almost supernatural effect. The artist
involuntarily compared her to an exiled angel dreaming of heaven. An
almost unknown emotion, a limpid, seething love flooded his heart. After
remaining a minute, overwhelmed by the weight of his ideas, he tore
himself from his bliss, went home, ate nothing, and could not sleep.

The next day he went to his studio, and did not come out of it till he
had placed on canvas the magic of the scene of which the memory had, in
a sense, made him a devotee; his happiness was incomplete till he should
possess a faithful portrait of his idol. He went many times past the
house of the Cat and Racket; he even ventured in once or twice, under
a disguise, to get a closer view of the bewitching creature that Madame
Guillaume covered with her wing. For eight whole months, devoted to his
love and to his brush, he was lost to the sight of his most intimate
friends forgetting the world, the theatre, poetry, music, and all his
dearest habits. One morning Girodet broke through all the barriers with
which artists are familiar, and which they know how to evade, went into
his room, and woke him by asking, “What are you going to send to the
Salon?” The artist grasped his friend’s hand, dragged him off to the
studio, uncovered a small easel picture and a portrait. After a long
and eager study of the two masterpieces, Girodet threw himself on his
comrade’s neck and hugged him, without speaking a word. His feelings
could only be expressed as he felt them--soul to soul.

“You are in love?” said Girodet.

They both knew that the finest portraits by Titian, Raphael, and
Leonardo da Vinci, were the outcome of the enthusiastic sentiments
by which, indeed, under various conditions, every masterpiece is
engendered. The artist only bent his head in reply.

“How happy are you to be able to be in love, here, after coming back
from Italy! But I do not advise you to send such works as these to the
Salon,” the great painter went on. “You see, these two works will not
be appreciated. Such true coloring, such prodigious work, cannot yet be
understood; the public is not accustomed to such depths. The pictures
we paint, my dear fellow, are mere screens. We should do better to
turn rhymes, and translate the antique poets! There is more glory to be
looked for there than from our luckless canvases!”

Notwithstanding this charitable advice, the two pictures were exhibited.
The _Interior_ made a revolution in painting. It gave birth to the
pictures of genre which pour into all our exhibitions in such prodigious
quantity that they might be supposed to be produced by machinery. As
to the portrait, few artists have forgotten that lifelike work; and the
public, which as a body is sometimes discerning, awarded it the crown
which Girodet himself had hung over it. The two pictures were surrounded
by a vast throng. They fought for places, as women say. Speculators and
moneyed men would have covered the canvas with double napoleons, but the
artist obstinately refused to sell or to make replicas. An enormous sum
was offered him for the right of engraving them, and the print-sellers
were not more favored than the amateurs.

Though these incidents occupied the world, they were not of a nature to
penetrate the recesses of the monastic solitude in the Rue Saint-Denis.
However, when paying a visit to Madame Guillaume, the notary’s wife
spoke of the exhibition before Augustine, of whom she was very fond,
and explained its purpose. Madame Roguin’s gossip naturally inspired
Augustine with a wish to see the pictures, and with courage enough to
ask her cousin secretly to take her to the Louvre. Her cousin succeeded
in the negotiations she opened with Madame Guillaume for permission to
release the young girl for two hours from her dull labors. Augustine was
thus able to make her way through the crowd to see the crowned work. A
fit of trembling shook her like an aspen leaf as she recognized herself.
She was terrified, and looked about her to find Madame Roguin, from
whom she had been separated by a tide of people. At that moment her
frightened eyes fell on the impassioned face of the young painter. She
at once recalled the figure of a loiterer whom, being curious, she had
frequently observed, believing him to be a new neighbor.

“You see how love has inspired me,” said the artist in the timid
creature’s ear, and she stood in dismay at the words.

She found supernatural courage to enable her to push through the crowd
and join her cousin, who was still struggling with the mass of people
that hindered her from getting to the picture.

“You will be stifled!” cried Augustine. “Let us go.”

But there are moments, at the Salon, when two women are not always free
to direct their steps through the galleries. By the irregular course to
which they were compelled by the press, Mademoiselle Guillaume and her
cousin were pushed to within a few steps of the second picture. Chance
thus brought them, both together, to where they could easily see the
canvas made famous by fashion, for once in agreement with talent. Madame
Roguin’s exclamation of surprise was lost in the hubbub and buzz of the
crowd; Augustine involuntarily shed tears at the sight of this wonderful
study. Then, by an almost unaccountable impulse, she laid her finger on
her lips, as she perceived quite near her the ecstatic face of the young
painter. The stranger replied by a nod, and pointed to Madame Roguin, as
a spoil-sport, to show Augustine that he had understood. This pantomime
struck the young girl like hot coals on her flesh; she felt quite
guilty as she perceived that there was a compact between herself and the
artist. The suffocating heat, the dazzling sight of beautiful dresses,
the bewilderment produced in Augustine’s brain by the truth of coloring,
the multitude of living or painted figures, the profusion of gilt
frames, gave her a sense of intoxication which doubled her alarms. She
would perhaps have fainted if an unknown rapture had not surged up
in her heart to vivify her whole being, in spite of this chaos of
sensations. She nevertheless believed herself to be under the power
of the Devil, of whose awful snares she had been warned of by the
thundering words of preachers. This moment was to her like a moment of
madness. She found herself accompanied to her cousin’s carriage by the
young man, radiant with joy and love. Augustine, a prey to an agitation
new to her experience, an intoxication which seemed to abandon her to
nature, listened to the eloquent voice of her heart, and looked again
and again at the young painter, betraying the emotion that came over
her. Never had the bright rose of her cheeks shown in stronger contrast
with the whiteness of her skin. The artist saw her beauty in all its
bloom, her maiden modesty in all its glory. She herself felt a sort of
rapture mingled with terror at thinking that her presence had brought
happiness to him whose name was on every lip, and whose talent lent
immortality to transient scenes. She was loved! It was impossible to
doubt it. When she no longer saw the artist, these simple words still
echoed in her ear, “You see how love has inspired me!” And the throbs of
her heart, as they grew deeper, seemed a pain, her heated blood revealed
so many unknown forces in her being. She affected a severe headache to
avoid replying to her cousin’s questions concerning the pictures; but
on their return Madame Roguin could not forbear from speaking to Madame
Guillaume of the fame that had fallen on the house of the Cat and
Racket, and Augustine quaked in every limb as she heard her mother say
that she should go to the Salon to see her house there. The young girl
again declared herself suffering, and obtained leave to go to bed.

“That is what comes of sight-seeing,” exclaimed Monsieur Guillaume--“a
headache. And is it so very amusing to see in a picture what you can
see any day in your own street? Don’t talk to me of your artists! Like
writers, they are a starveling crew. Why the devil need they choose my
house to flout it in their pictures?”

“It may help to sell a few ells more of cloth,” said Joseph Lebas.

This remark did not protect art and thought from being condemned once
again before the judgment-seat of trade. As may be supposed, these
speeches did not infuse much hope into Augustine, who, during the night,
gave herself up to the first meditations of love. The events of the day
were like a dream, which it was a joy to recall to her mind. She was
initiated into the fears, the hopes, the remorse, all the ebb and flow
of feeling which could not fail to toss a heart so simple and timid as
hers. What a void she perceived in this gloomy house! What a treasure
she found in her soul! To be the wife of a genius, to share his glory!
What ravages must such a vision make in the heart of a girl brought up
among such a family! What hopes must it raise in a young creature who,
in the midst of sordid elements, had pined for a life of elegance! A
sunbeam had fallen into the prison. Augustine was suddenly in love. So
many of her feelings were soothed that she succumbed without reflection.
At eighteen does not love hold a prism between the world and the eyes
of a young girl? She was incapable of suspecting the hard facts which
result from the union of a loving woman with a man of imagination, and
she believed herself called to make him happy, not seeing any disparity
between herself and him. To her the future would be as the present.
When, next day, her father and mother returned from the Salon, their
dejected faces proclaimed some disappointment. In the first place, the
painter had removed the two pictures; and then Madame Guillaume had lost
her cashmere shawl. But the news that the pictures had disappeared from
the walls since her visit revealed to Augustine a delicacy of sentiment
which a woman can always appreciate, even by instinct.

On the morning when, on his way home from a ball, Theodore de
Sommervieux--for this was the name which fame had stamped on Augustine’s
heart--had been squirted on by the apprentices while awaiting the
appearance of his artless little friend, who certainly did not know that
he was there, the lovers had seen each other for the fourth time only
since their meeting at the Salon. The difficulties which the rule of
the house placed in the way of the painter’s ardent nature gave added
violence to his passion for Augustine.

How could he get near to a young girl seated in a counting-house between
two such women as Mademoiselle Virginie and Madame Guillaume? How could
he correspond with her when her mother never left her side? Ingenious,
as lovers are, to imagine woes, Theodore saw a rival in one of the
assistants, to whose interests he supposed the others to be devoted. If
he should evade these sons of Argus, he would yet be wrecked under the
stern eye of the old draper or of Madame Guillaume. The very vehemence
of his passion hindered the young painter from hitting on the ingenious
expedients which, in prisoners and in lovers, seem to be the last effort
of intelligence spurred by a wild craving for liberty, or by the fire of
love. Theodore wandered about the neighborhood with the restlessness of
a madman, as though movement might inspire him with some device.
After racking his imagination, it occurred to him to bribe the blowsy
waiting-maid with gold. Thus a few notes were exchanged at long
intervals during the fortnight following the ill-starred morning when
Monsieur Guillaume and Theodore had so scrutinized one another. At
the present moment the young couple had agreed to see each other at a
certain hour of the day, and on Sunday, at Saint-Leu, during Mass and
vespers. Augustine had sent her dear Theodore a list of the relations
and friends of the family, to whom the young painter tried to get
access, in the hope of interesting, if it were possible, in his love
affairs, one of these souls absorbed in money and trade, to whom a
genuine passion must appear a quite monstrous speculation, a thing
unheard-of. Nothing meanwhile, was altered at the sign of the Cat and
Racket. If Augustine was absent-minded, if, against all obedience to the
domestic code, she stole up to her room to make signals by means of
a jar of flowers, if she sighed, if she were lost in thought, no one
observed it, not even her mother. This will cause some surprise to those
who have entered into the spirit of the household, where an idea tainted
with poetry would be in startling contrast to persons and things, where
no one could venture on a gesture or a look which would not be seen and
analyzed. Nothing, however, could be more natural: the quiet barque that
navigated the stormy waters of the Paris Exchange, under the flag of
the Cat and Racket, was just now in the toils of one of these tempests
which, returning periodically, might be termed equinoctial. For the
last fortnight the five men forming the crew, with Madame Guillaume and
Mademoiselle Virginie, had been devoting themselves to the hard labor,
known as stock-taking.

Every bale was turned over, and the length verified to ascertain the
exact value of the remnant. The ticket attached to each parcel was
carefully examined to see at what time the piece had been bought. The
retail price was fixed. Monsieur Guillaume, always on his feet, his pen
behind his ear, was like a captain commanding the working of the ship.
His sharp tones, spoken through a trap-door, to inquire into the
depths of the hold in the cellar-store, gave utterance to the barbarous
formulas of trade-jargon, which find expression only in cipher. “How
much H. N. Z.?”--“All sold.”--“What is left of Q. X.?”--“Two ells.”--“At
what price?”--“Fifty-five three.”--“Set down A. at three, with all of
J. J., all of M. P., and what is left of V. D. O.”--A hundred other
injunctions equally intelligible were spouted over the counters like
verses of modern poetry, quoted by romantic spirits, to excite each
other’s enthusiasm for one of their poets. In the evening Guillaume,
shut up with his assistant and his wife, balanced his accounts, carried
on the balance, wrote to debtors in arrears, and made out bills. All
three were busy over this enormous labor, of which the result could be
stated on a sheet of foolscap, proving to the head of the house that
there was so much to the good in hard cash, so much in goods, so much
in bills and notes; that he did not owe a sou; that a hundred or two
hundred thousand francs were owing to him; that the capital had been
increased; that the farmlands, the houses, or the investments were
extended, or repaired, or doubled. Whence it became necessary to begin
again with increased ardor, to accumulate more crown-pieces, without its
ever entering the brain of these laborious ants to ask--“To what end?”

Favored by this annual turmoil, the happy Augustine escaped the
investigations of her Argus-eyed relations. At last, one Saturday
evening, the stock-taking was finished. The figures of the sum-total
showed a row of 0’s long enough to allow Guillaume for once to relax the
stern rule as to dessert which reigned throughout the year. The shrewd
old draper rubbed his hands, and allowed his assistants to remain at
table. The members of the crew had hardly swallowed their thimbleful
of some home-made liqueur, when the rumble of a carriage was heard. The
family party were going to see _Cendrillon_ at the Varietes, while
the two younger apprentices each received a crown of six francs, with
permission to go wherever they chose, provided they were in by midnight.

Notwithstanding this debauch, the old cloth-merchant was shaving himself
at six next morning, put on his maroon-colored coat, of which the
glowing lights afforded him perennial enjoyment, fastened a pair of gold
buckles on the knee-straps of his ample satin breeches; and then, at
about seven o’clock, while all were still sleeping in the house, he
made his way to the little office adjoining the shop on the first floor.
Daylight came in through a window, fortified by iron bars, and looking
out on a small yard surrounded by such black walls that it was very like
a well. The old merchant opened the iron-lined shutters, which were so
familiar to him, and threw up the lower half of the sash window. The icy
air of the courtyard came in to cool the hot atmosphere of the little
room, full of the odor peculiar to offices.

The merchant remained standing, his hand resting on the greasy arm of
a large cane chair lined with morocco, of which the original hue had
disappeared; he seemed to hesitate as to seating himself. He looked with
affection at the double desk, where his wife’s seat, opposite his own,
was fitted into a little niche in the wall. He contemplated the
numbered boxes, the files, the implements, the cash box--objects all
of immemorial origin, and fancied himself in the room with the shade of
Master Chevrel. He even pulled out the high stool on which he had once
sat in the presence of his departed master. This stool, covered with
black leather, the horse-hair showing at every corner--as it had long
done, without, however, coming out--he placed with a shaking hand on the
very spot where his predecessor had put it, and then, with an emotion
difficult to describe, he pulled a bell, which rang at the head of
Joseph Lebas’ bed. When this decisive blow had been struck, the old man,
for whom, no doubt, these reminiscences were too much, took up three or
four bills of exchange, and looked at them without seeing them.

Suddenly Joseph Lebas stood before him.

“Sit down there,” said Guillaume, pointing to the stool.

As the old master draper had never yet bid his assistant be seated in
his presence, Joseph Lebas was startled.

“What do you think of these notes?” asked Guillaume.

“They will never be paid.”

“Why?”

“Well, I heard the day before yesterday Etienne and Co. had made their
payments in gold.”

“Oh, oh!” said the draper. “Well, one must be very ill to show one’s
bile. Let us speak of something else.--Joseph, the stock-taking is
done.”

“Yes, monsieur, and the dividend is one of the best you have ever made.”

“Do not use new-fangled words. Say the profits, Joseph. Do you know, my
boy, that this result is partly owing to you? And I do not intend to pay
you a salary any longer. Madame Guillaume has suggested to me to take
you into partnership.--‘Guillaume and Lebas;’ will not that make a
good business name? We might add, ‘and Co.’ to round off the firm’s
signature.”

Tears rose to the eyes of Joseph Lebas, who tried to hide them.

“Oh, Monsieur Guillaume, how have I deserved such kindness? I only do my
duty. It was so much already that you should take an interest in a poor
orph----”

He was brushing the cuff of his left sleeve with his right hand, and
dared not look at the old man, who smiled as he thought that this modest
young fellow no doubt needed, as he had needed once on a time, some
encouragement to complete his explanation.

“To be sure,” said Virginie’s father, “you do not altogether deserve
this favor, Joseph. You have not so much confidence in me as I have in
you.” (The young man looked up quickly.) “You know all the secrets
of the cash-box. For the last two years I have told you almost all
my concerns. I have sent you to travel in our goods. In short, I have
nothing on my conscience as regards you. But you--you have a soft place,
and you have never breathed a word of it.” Joseph Lebas blushed. “Ah,
ha!” cried Guillaume, “so you thought you could deceive an old fox like
me? When you knew that I had scented the Lecocq bankruptcy?”

“What, monsieur?” replied Joseph Lebas, looking at his master as keenly
as his master looked at him, “you knew that I was in love?”

“I know everything, you rascal,” said the worthy and cunning old
merchant, pulling the assistant’s ear. “And I forgive you--I did the
same myself.”

“And you will give her to me?”

“Yes--with fifty thousand crowns; and I will leave you as much by will,
and we will start on our new career under the name of a new firm. We
will do good business yet, my boy!” added the old man, getting up and
flourishing his arms. “I tell you, son-in-law, there is nothing like
trade. Those who ask what pleasure is to be found in it are simpletons.
To be on the scent of a good bargain, to hold your own on ‘Change, to
watch as anxiously as at the gaming-table whether Etienne and Co. will
fail or no, to see a regiment of Guards march past all dressed in your
cloth, to trip your neighbor up--honestly of course!--to make the goods
cheaper than others can; then to carry out an undertaking which you
have planned, which begins, grows, totters, and succeeds! to know the
workings of every house of business as well as a minister of police, so
as never to make a mistake; to hold up your head in the midst of wrecks,
to have friends by correspondence in every manufacturing town; is not
that a perpetual game, Joseph? That is life, that is! I shall die in
that harness, like old Chevrel, but taking it easy now, all the same.”

In the heat of his eager rhetoric, old Guillaume had scarcely looked
at his assistant, who was weeping copiously. “Why, Joseph, my poor boy,
what is the matter?”

“Oh, I love her so! Monsieur Guillaume, that my heart fails me; I
believe----”

“Well, well, boy,” said the old man, touched, “you are happier than you
know, by God! For she loves you. I know it.”

And he blinked his little green eyes as he looked at the young man.

“Mademoiselle Augustine! Mademoiselle Augustine!” exclaimed Joseph Lebas
in his rapture.

He was about to rush out of the room when he felt himself clutched by a
hand of iron, and his astonished master spun him round in front of him
once more.

“What has Augustine to do with this matter?” he asked, in a voice which
instantly froze the luckless Joseph.

“Is it not she that--that--I love?” stammered the assistant.

Much put out by his own want of perspicacity, Guillaume sat down
again, and rested his long head in his hands to consider the perplexing
situation in which he found himself. Joseph Lebas, shamefaced and in
despair, remained standing.

“Joseph,” the draper said with frigid dignity, “I was speaking of
Virginie. Love cannot be made to order, I know. I know, too, that you
can be trusted. We will forget all this. I will not let Augustine marry
before Virginie.--Your interest will be ten per cent.”

The young man, to whom love gave I know not what power of courage and
eloquence, clasped his hand, and spoke in his turn--spoke for a quarter
of an hour, with so much warmth and feeling, that he altered the
situation. If the question had been a matter of business the old
tradesman would have had fixed principles to guide his decision; but,
tossed a thousand miles from commerce, on the ocean of sentiment,
without a compass, he floated, as he told himself, undecided in the face
of such an unexpected event. Carried away by his fatherly kindness, he
began to beat about the bush.

“Deuce take it, Joseph, you must know that there are ten years between
my two children. Mademoiselle Chevrel was no beauty, still she has had
nothing to complain of in me. Do as I did. Come, come, don’t cry. Can
you be so silly? What is to be done? It can be managed perhaps. There
is always some way out of a scrape. And we men are not always devoted
Celadons to our wives--you understand? Madame Guillaume is very pious.
... Come. By Gad, boy, give your arm to Augustine this morning as we go
to Mass.”

These were the phrases spoken at random by the old draper, and their
conclusion made the lover happy. He was already thinking of a friend of
his as a match for Mademoiselle Virginie, as he went out of the smoky
office, pressing his future father-in-law’s hand, after saying with a
knowing look that all would turn out for the best.

“What will Madame Guillaume say to it?” was the idea that greatly
troubled the worthy merchant when he found himself alone.

At breakfast Madame Guillaume and Virginie, to whom the draper had not
yet confided his disappointment, cast meaning glances at Joseph Lebas,
who was extremely embarrassed. The young assistant’s bashfulness
commended him to his mother-in-law’s good graces. The matron became
so cheerful that she smiled as she looked at her husband, and allowed
herself some little pleasantries of time-honored acceptance in such
simple families. She wondered whether Joseph or Virginie were the
taller, to ask them to compare their height. This preliminary fooling
brought a cloud to the master’s brow, and he even made such a point of
decorum that he desired Augustine to take the assistant’s arm on their
way to Saint-Leu. Madame Guillaume, surprised at this manly delicacy,
honored her husband with a nod of approval. So the procession left
the house in such order as to suggest no suspicious meaning to the
neighbors.

“Does it not seem to you, Mademoiselle Augustine,” said the assistant,
and he trembled, “that the wife of a merchant whose credit is as good
as Monsieur Guillaume’s, for instance, might enjoy herself a little more
than Madame your mother does? Might wear diamonds--or keep a carriage?
For my part, if I were to marry, I should be glad to take all the work,
and see my wife happy. I would not put her into the counting-house.
In the drapery business, you see, a woman is not so necessary now as
formerly. Monsieur Guillaume was quite right to act as he did--and
besides, his wife liked it. But so long as a woman knows how to turn her
hand to the book-keeping, the correspondence, the retail business, the
orders, and her housekeeping, so as not to sit idle, that is enough. At
seven o’clock, when the shop is shut, I shall take my pleasures, go to
the play, and into company.--But you are not listening to me.”

“Yes, indeed, Monsieur Joseph. What do you think of painting? That is a
fine calling.”

“Yes. I know a master house-painter, Monsieur Lourdois. He is
well-to-do.”

Thus conversing, the family reached the Church of Saint-Leu. There
Madame Guillaume reasserted her rights, and, for the first time, placed
Augustine next herself, Virginie taking her place on the fourth chair,
next to Lebas. During the sermon all went well between Augustine and
Theodore, who, standing behind a pillar, worshiped his Madonna with
fervent devotion; but at the elevation of the Host, Madame Guillaume
discovered, rather late, that her daughter Augustine was holding her
prayer-book upside down. She was about to speak to her strongly, when,
lowering her veil, she interrupted her own devotions to look in the
direction where her daughter’s eyes found attraction. By the help of her
spectacles she saw the young artist, whose fashionable elegance seemed
to proclaim him a cavalry officer on leave rather than a tradesman of
the neighborhood. It is difficult to conceive of the state of violent
agitation in which Madame Guillaume found herself--she, who flattered
herself on having brought up her daughters to perfection--on discovering
in Augustine a clandestine passion of which her prudery and ignorance
exaggerated the perils. She believed her daughter to be cankered to the
core.

“Hold your book right way up, miss,” she muttered in a low voice,
tremulous with wrath. She snatched away the tell-tale prayer-book and
returned it with the letter-press right way up. “Do not allow your
eyes to look anywhere but at your prayers,” she added, “or I shall
have something to say to you. Your father and I will talk to you after
church.”

These words came like a thunderbolt on poor Augustine. She felt faint;
but, torn between the distress she felt and the dread of causing a
commotion in church she bravely concealed her anguish. It was, however,
easy to discern the stormy state of her soul from the trembling of her
prayer-book, and the tears which dropped on every page she turned. From
the furious glare shot at him by Madame Guillaume the artist saw the
peril into which his love affair had fallen; he went out, with a raging
soul, determined to venture all.

“Go to your room, miss!” said Madame Guillaume, on their return home;
“we will send for you, but take care not to quit it.”

The conference between the husband and wife was conducted so secretly
that at first nothing was heard of it. Virginie, however, who had tried
to give her sister courage by a variety of gentle remonstrances, carried
her good nature so far as to listen at the door of her mother’s bedroom
where the discussion was held, to catch a word or two. The first time
she went down to the lower floor she heard her father exclaim, “Then,
madame, do you wish to kill your daughter?”

“My poor dear!” said Virginie, in tears, “papa takes your part.”

“And what do they want to do to Theodore?” asked the innocent girl.

Virginie, inquisitive, went down again; but this time she stayed longer;
she learned that Joseph Lebas loved Augustine. It was written that on
this memorable day, this house, generally so peaceful, should be a hell.
Monsieur Guillaume brought Joseph Lebas to despair by telling him of
Augustine’s love for a stranger. Lebas, who had advised his friend to
become a suitor for Mademoiselle Virginie, saw all his hopes wrecked.
Mademoiselle Virginie, overcome by hearing that Joseph had, in a way,
refused her, had a sick headache. The dispute that had arisen from the
discussion between Monsieur and Madame Guillaume, when, for the third
time in their lives, they had been of antagonistic opinions, had shown
itself in a terrible form. Finally, at half-past four in the afternoon,
Augustine, pale, trembling, and with red eyes, was haled before her
father and mother. The poor child artlessly related the too brief tale
of her love. Reassured by a speech from her father, who promised to
listen to her in silence, she gathered courage as she pronounced to her
parents the name of Theodore de Sommervieux, with a mischievous little
emphasis on the aristocratic _de_. And yielding to the unknown charm of
talking of her feelings, she was brave enough to declare with innocent
decision that she loved Monsieur de Sommervieux, that she had written to
him, and she added, with tears in her eyes: “To sacrifice me to another
man would make me wretched.”

“But, Augustine, you cannot surely know what a painter is?” cried her
mother with horror.

“Madame Guillaume!” said the old man, compelling her to
silence.--“Augustine,” he went on, “artists are generally little better
than beggars. They are too extravagant not to be always a bad sort. I
served the late Monsieur Joseph Vernet, the late Monsieur Lekain, and
the late Monsieur Noverre. Oh, if you could only know the tricks played
on poor Father Chevrel by that Monsieur Noverre, by the Chevalier de
Saint-Georges, and especially by Monsieur Philidor! They are a set of
rascals; I know them well! They all have a gab and nice manners. Ah,
your Monsieur Sumer--, Somm----”

“De Sommervieux, papa.”

“Well, well, de Sommervieux, well and good. He can never have been half
so sweet to you as Monsieur le Chevalier de Saint-Georges was to me the
day I got a verdict of the consuls against him. And in those days they
were gentlemen of quality.”

“But, father, Monsieur Theodore is of good family, and he wrote me that
he is rich; his father was called Chevalier de Sommervieux before the
Revolution.”

At these words Monsieur Guillaume looked at his terrible better half,
who, like an angry woman, sat tapping the floor with her foot while
keeping sullen silence; she avoided even casting wrathful looks
at Augustine, appearing to leave to Monsieur Guillaume the whole
responsibility in so grave a matter, since her opinion was not listened
to. Nevertheless, in spite of her apparent self-control, when she
saw her husband giving way so mildly under a catastrophe which had no
concern with business, she exclaimed:

“Really, monsieur, you are so weak with your daughters! However----”

The sound of a carriage, which stopped at the door, interrupted the
rating which the old draper already quaked at. In a minute Madame Roguin
was standing in the middle of the room, and looking at the actors in
this domestic scene: “I know all, my dear cousin,” said she, with a
patronizing air.

Madame Roguin made the great mistake of supposing that a Paris notary’s
wife could play the part of a favorite of fashion.

“I know all,” she repeated, “and I have come into Noah’s Ark, like
the dove, with the olive-branch. I read that allegory in the _Genie du
Christianisme_,” she added, turning to Madame Guillaume; “the allusion
ought to please you, cousin. Do you know,” she went on, smiling at
Augustine, “that Monsieur de Sommervieux is a charming man? He gave me
my portrait this morning, painted by a master’s hand. It is worth at
least six thousand francs.” And at these words she patted Monsieur
Guillaume on the arm. The old draper could not help making a grimace
with his lips, which was peculiar to him.

“I know Monsieur de Sommervieux very well,” the Dove ran on. “He has
come to my evenings this fortnight past, and made them delightful. He
has told me all his woes, and commissioned me to plead for him. I know
since this morning that he adores Augustine, and he shall have her. Ah,
cousin, do not shake your head in refusal. He will be created Baron, I
can tell you, and has just been made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor,
by the Emperor himself, at the Salon. Roguin is now his lawyer, and
knows all his affairs. Well! Monsieur de Sommervieux has twelve thousand
francs a year in good landed estate. Do you know that the father-in-law
of such a man may get a rise in life--be mayor of his _arrondissement_,
for instance. Have we not seen Monsieur Dupont become a Count of the
Empire, and a senator, all because he went as mayor to congratulate the
Emperor on his entry into Vienna? Oh, this marriage must take place! For
my part, I adore the dear young man. His behavior to Augustine is only
met with in romances. Be easy, little one, you shall be happy, and every
girl will wish she were in your place. Madame la Duchesse de Carigliano,
who comes to my ‘At Homes,’ raves about Monsieur de Sommervieux. Some
spiteful people say she only comes to me to meet him; as if a duchesse
of yesterday was doing too much honor to a Chevrel, whose family have
been respected citizens these hundred years!

“Augustine,” Madame Roguin went on, after a short pause, “I have seen
the portrait. Heavens! How lovely it is! Do you know that the Emperor
wanted to have it? He laughed, and said to the Deputy High Constable
that if there were many women like that in his court while all the kings
visited it, he should have no difficulty about preserving the peace of
Europe. Is not that a compliment?”

The tempests with which the day had begun were to resemble those of
nature, by ending in clear and serene weather. Madame Roguin displayed
so much address in her harangue, she was able to touch so many strings
in the dry hearts of Monsieur and Madame Guillaume, that at last she hit
on one which she could work upon. At this strange period commerce and
finance were more than ever possessed by the crazy mania for seeking
alliance with rank; and the generals of the Empire took full advantage
of this desire. Monsieur Guillaume, as a singular exception, opposed
this deplorable craving. His favorite axioms were that, to secure
happiness, a woman must marry a man of her own class; that every one was
punished sooner or later for having climbed too high; that love could
so little endure under the worries of a household, that both husband and
wife needed sound good qualities to be happy, that it would not do for
one to be far in advance of the other, because, above everything, they
must understand each other; if a man spoke Greek and his wife Latin,
they might come to die of hunger. He had himself invented this sort
of adage. And he compared such marriages to old-fashioned materials of
mixed silk and wool. Still, there is so much vanity at the bottom of
man’s heart that the prudence of the pilot who steered the Cat and
Racket so wisely gave way before Madame Roguin’s aggressive volubility.
Austere Madame Guillaume was the first to see in her daughter’s
affection a reason for abdicating her principles and for consenting to
receive Monsieur de Sommervieux, whom she promised herself she would put
under severe inquisition.

The old draper went to look for Joseph Lebas, and inform him of the
state of affairs. At half-past six, the dining-room immortalized by the
artist saw, united under its skylight, Monsieur and Madame Roguin, the
young painter and his charming Augustine, Joseph Lebas, who found his
happiness in patience, and Mademoiselle Virginie, convalescent from her
headache. Monsieur and Madame Guillaume saw in perspective both their
children married, and the fortunes of the Cat and Racket once more in
skilful hands. Their satisfaction was at its height when, at dessert,
Theodore made them a present of the wonderful picture which they had
failed to see, representing the interior of the old shop, and to which
they all owed so much happiness.

“Isn’t it pretty!” cried Guillaume. “And to think that any one would pay
thirty thousand francs for that!”

“Because you can see my lappets in it,” said Madame Guillaume.

“And the cloth unrolled!” added Lebas; “you might take it up in your
hand.”

“Drapery always comes out well,” replied the painter. “We should be
only too happy, we modern artists, if we could touch the perfection of
antique drapery.”

“So you like drapery!” cried old Guillaume. “Well, then, by Gad! shake
hands on that, my young friend. Since you can respect trade, we shall
understand each other. And why should it be despised? The world began
with trade, since Adam sold Paradise for an apple. He did not strike
a good bargain though!” And the old man roared with honest laughter,
encouraged by the champagne, which he sent round with a liberal hand.
The band that covered the young artist’s eyes was so thick that he
thought his future parents amiable. He was not above enlivening them
by a few jests in the best taste. So he too pleased every one. In the
evening, when the drawing-room, furnished with what Madame Guillaume
called “everything handsome,” was deserted, and while she flitted
from the table to the chimney-piece, from the candelabra to the tall
candlesticks, hastily blowing out the wax-lights, the worthy draper, who
was always clear-sighted when money was in question, called Augustine to
him, and seating her on his knee, spoke as follows:--

“My dear child, you shall marry your Sommervieux since you insist; you
may, if you like, risk your capital in happiness. But I am not going to
be hoodwinked by the thirty thousand francs to be made by spoiling good
canvas. Money that is lightly earned is lightly spent. Did I not hear
that hare-brained youngster declare this evening that money was made
round that it might roll. If it is round for spendthrifts, it is flat
for saving folks who pile it up. Now, my child, that fine gentleman
talks of giving you carriages and diamonds! He has money, let him spend
it on you; so be it. It is no concern of mine. But as to what I can give
you, I will not have the crown-pieces I have picked up with so much toil
wasted in carriages and frippery. Those who spend too fast never grow
rich. A hundred thousand crowns, which is your fortune, will not buy
up Paris. It is all very well to look forward to a few hundred thousand
francs to be yours some day; I shall keep you waiting for them as long
as possible, by Gad! So I took your lover aside, and a man who managed
the Lecocq bankruptcy had not much difficulty in persuading the artist
to marry under a settlement of his wife’s money on herself. I will keep
an eye on the marriage contract to see that what he is to settle on you
is safely tied up. So now, my child, I hope to be a grandfather, by Gad!
I will begin at once to lay up for my grandchildren; but swear to me,
here and now, never to sign any papers relating to money without my
advice; and if I go soon to join old Father Chevrel, promise to consult
young Lebas, your brother-in-law.”

“Yes, father, I swear it.”

At these words, spoken in a gentle voice, the old man kissed his
daughter on both cheeks. That night the lovers slept as soundly as
Monsieur and Madame Guillaume.



Some few months after this memorable Sunday the high altar of Saint-Leu
was the scene of two very different weddings. Augustine and Theodore
appeared in all the radiance of happiness, their eyes beaming with love,
dressed with elegance, while a fine carriage waited for them. Virginie,
who had come in a good hired fly with the rest of the family, humbly
followed her younger sister, dressed in the simplest fashion like a
shadow necessary to the harmony of the picture. Monsieur Guillaume had
exerted himself to the utmost in the church to get Virginie married
before Augustine, but the priests, high and low, persisted in addressing
the more elegant of the two brides. He heard some of his neighbors
highly approving the good sense of Mademoiselle Virginie, who was
making, as they said, the more substantial match, and remaining faithful
to the neighborhood; while they fired a few taunts, prompted by envy of
Augustine, who was marrying an artist and a man of rank; adding, with a
sort of dismay, that if the Guillaumes were ambitious, there was an end
to the business. An old fan-maker having remarked that such a prodigal
would soon bring his wife to beggary, father Guillaume prided himself
_in petto_ for his prudence in the matter of marriage settlements. In
the evening, after a splendid ball, followed by one of those substantial
suppers of which the memory is dying out in the present generation,
Monsieur and Madame Guillaume remained in a fine house belonging to them
in the Rue du Colombier, where the wedding had been held; Monsieur
and Madame Lebas returned in their fly to the old home in the Rue
Saint-Denis, to steer the good ship Cat and Racket. The artist,
intoxicated with happiness, carried off his beloved Augustine, and
eagerly lifting her out of their carriage when it reached the Rue des
Trois-Freres, led her to an apartment embellished by all the arts.

The fever of passion which possessed Theodore made a year fly over the
young couple without a single cloud to dim the blue sky under which they
lived. Life did not hang heavy on the lovers’ hands. Theodore lavished
on every day inexhaustible _fioriture_ of enjoyment, and he delighted
to vary the transports of passion by the soft languor of those hours
of repose when souls soar so high that they seem to have forgotten all
bodily union. Augustine was too happy for reflection; she floated on
an undulating tide of rapture; she thought she could not do enough by
abandoning herself to sanctioned and sacred married love; simple and
artless, she had no coquetry, no reserves, none of the dominion which a
worldly-minded girl acquires over her husband by ingenious caprice; she
loved too well to calculate for the future, and never imagined that so
exquisite a life could come to an end. Happy in being her husband’s sole
delight, she believed that her inextinguishable love would always be
her greatest grace in his eyes, as her devotion and obedience would be
a perennial charm. And, indeed, the ecstasy of love had made her so
brilliantly lovely that her beauty filled her with pride, and gave her
confidence that she could always reign over a man so easy to kindle
as Monsieur de Sommervieux. Thus her position as a wife brought her no
knowledge but the lessons of love.

In the midst of her happiness, she was still the simple child who had
lived in obscurity in the Rue Saint-Denis, and who never thought of
acquiring the manners, the information, the tone of the world she had
to live in. Her words being the words of love, she revealed in them, no
doubt, a certain pliancy of mind and a certain refinement of speech;
but she used the language common to all women when they find themselves
plunged in passion, which seems to be their element. When, by chance,
Augustine expressed an idea that did not harmonize with Theodore’s, the
young artist laughed, as we laugh at the first mistakes of a foreigner,
though they end by annoying us if they are not corrected.

In spite of all this love-making, by the end of this year, as delightful
as it was swift, Sommervieux felt one morning the need for resuming his
work and his old habits. His wife was expecting their first child. He
saw some friends again. During the tedious discomforts of the year when
a young wife is nursing an infant for the first time, he worked,
no doubt, with zeal, but he occasionally sought diversion in the
fashionable world. The house which he was best pleased to frequent
was that of the Duchesse de Carigliano, who had at last attracted the
celebrated artist to her parties. When Augustine was quite well again,
and her boy no longer required the assiduous care which debars a mother
from social pleasures, Theodore had come to the stage of wishing to know
the joys of satisfied vanity to be found in society by a man who shows
himself with a handsome woman, the object of envy and admiration.

To figure in drawing-rooms with the reflected lustre of her husband’s
fame, and to find other women envious of her, was to Augustine a new
harvest of pleasures; but it was the last gleam of conjugal happiness.
She first wounded her husband’s vanity when, in spite of vain efforts,
she betrayed her ignorance, the inelegance of her language, and the
narrowness of her ideas. Sommervieux’s nature, subjugated for nearly two
years and a half by the first transports of love, now, in the calm of
less new possession, recovered its bent and habits, for a while diverted
from their channel. Poetry, painting, and the subtle joys of imagination
have inalienable rights over a lofty spirit. These cravings of a
powerful soul had not been starved in Theodore during these two years;
they had only found fresh pasture. As soon as the meadows of love had
been ransacked, and the artist had gathered roses and cornflowers as the
children do, so greedily that he did not see that his hands could
hold no more, the scene changed. When the painter showed his wife the
sketches for his finest compositions he heard her exclaim, as her father
had done, “How pretty!” This tepid admiration was not the outcome of
conscientious feeling, but of her faith on the strength of love.

Augustine cared more for a look than for the finest picture. The only
sublime she knew was that of the heart. At last Theodore could not
resist the evidence of the cruel fact--his wife was insensible to
poetry, she did not dwell in his sphere, she could not follow him in
all his vagaries, his inventions, his joys and his sorrows; she walked
groveling in the world of reality, while his head was in the skies.
Common minds cannot appreciate the perennial sufferings of a being
who, while bound to another by the most intimate affections, is obliged
constantly to suppress the dearest flights of his soul, and to thrust
down into the void those images which a magic power compels him to
create. To him the torture is all the more intolerable because his
feeling towards his companion enjoins, as its first law, that they
should have no concealments, but mingle the aspirations of their thought
as perfectly as the effusions of their soul. The demands of nature are
not to be cheated. She is as inexorable as necessity, which is, indeed,
a sort of social nature. Sommervieux took refuge in the peace and
silence of his studio, hoping that the habit of living with artists
might mould his wife and develop in her the dormant germs of lofty
intelligence which some superior minds suppose must exist in every
being. But Augustine was too sincerely religious not to take fright
at the tone of artists. At the first dinner Theodore gave, she heard
a young painter say, with the childlike lightness, which to her was
unintelligible, and which redeems a jest from the taint of profanity,
“But, madame, your Paradise cannot be more beautiful than Raphael’s
Transfiguration!--Well, and I got tired of looking at that.”

Thus Augustine came among this sparkling set in a spirit of distrust
which no one could fail to see. She was a restraint on their freedom.
Now an artist who feels restraint is pitiless; he stays away, or laughs
it to scorn. Madame Guillaume, among other absurdities, had an excessive
notion of the dignity she considered the prerogative of a married woman;
and Augustine, though she had often made fun of it, could not help a
slight imitation of her mother’s primness. This extreme propriety, which
virtuous wives do not always avoid, suggested a few epigrams in the
form of sketches, in which the harmless jest was in such good taste
that Sommervieux could not take offence; and even if they had been
more severe, these pleasantries were after all only reprisals from
his friends. Still, nothing could seem a trifle to a spirit so open as
Theodore’s to impressions from without. A coldness insensibly crept over
him, and inevitably spread. To attain conjugal happiness we must climb
a hill whose summit is a narrow ridge, close to a steep and slippery
descent: the painter’s love was falling down it. He regarded his wife as
incapable of appreciating the moral considerations which justified him
in his own eyes for his singular behavior to her, and believed himself
quite innocent in hiding from her thoughts she could not enter into,
and peccadilloes outside the jurisdiction of a _bourgeois_ conscience.
Augustine wrapped herself in sullen and silent grief. These unconfessed
feelings placed a shroud between the husband and wife which could not
fail to grow thicker day by day. Though her husband never failed in
consideration for her, Augustine could not help trembling as she saw
that he kept for the outer world those treasures of wit and grace that
he formerly would lay at her feet. She soon began to find sinister
meaning in the jocular speeches that are current in the world as to the
inconstancy of men. She made no complaints, but her demeanor conveyed
reproach.

Three years after her marriage this pretty young woman, who dashed past
in her handsome carriage, and lived in a sphere of glory and riches
to the envy of heedless folk incapable of taking a just view of the
situations of life, was a prey to intense grief. She lost her color; she
reflected; she made comparisons; then sorrow unfolded to her the first
lessons of experience. She determined to restrict herself bravely within
the round of duty, hoping that by this generous conduct she might
sooner or later win back her husband’s love. But it was not so. When
Sommervieux, fired with work, came in from his studio, Augustine did not
put away her work so quickly but that the painter might find his wife
mending the household linen, and his own, with all the care of a good
housewife. She supplied generously and without a murmur the money needed
for his lavishness; but in her anxiety to husband her dear Theodore’s
fortune, she was strictly economical for herself and in certain details
of domestic management. Such conduct is incompatible with the easy-going
habits of artists, who, at the end of their life, have enjoyed it so
keenly that they never inquire into the causes of their ruin.

It is useless to note every tint of shadow by which the brilliant hues
of their honeymoon were overcast till they were lost in utter blackness.
One evening poor Augustine, who had for some time heard her husband
speak with enthusiasm of the Duchesse de Carigliano, received from a
friend certain malignantly charitable warnings as to the nature of the
attachment which Sommervieux had formed for this celebrated flirt of
the Imperial Court. At one-and-twenty, in all the splendor of youth and
beauty, Augustine saw herself deserted for a woman of six-and-thirty.
Feeling herself so wretched in the midst of a world of festivity which
to her was a blank, the poor little thing could no longer understand
the admiration she excited, or the envy of which she was the object.
Her face assumed a different expression. Melancholy, tinged her features
with the sweetness of resignation and the pallor of scorned love. Ere
long she too was courted by the most fascinating men; but she remained
lonely and virtuous. Some contemptuous words which escaped her husband
filled her with incredible despair. A sinister flash showed her the
breaches which, as a result of her sordid education, hindered the
perfect union of her soul with Theodore’s; she loved him well enough to
absolve him and condemn herself. She shed tears of blood, and perceived,
too late, that there are _mesalliances_ of the spirit as well as of
rank and habits. As she recalled the early raptures of their union,
she understood the full extent of that lost happiness, and accepted the
conclusion that so rich a harvest of love was in itself a whole life,
which only sorrow could pay for. At the same time, she loved too truly
to lose all hope. At one-and-twenty she dared undertake to educate
herself, and make her imagination, at least, worthy of that she admired.
“If I am not a poet,” thought she, “at any rate, I will understand
poetry.”

Then, with all the strength of will, all the energy which every woman
can display when she loves, Madame de Sommervieux tried to alter her
character, her manners, and her habits; but by dint of devouring books
and learning undauntedly, she only succeeded in becoming less ignorant.
Lightness of wit and the graces of conversation are a gift of nature, or
the fruit of education begun in the cradle. She could appreciate
music and enjoy it, but she could not sing with taste. She understood
literature and the beauties of poetry, but it was too late to
cultivate her refractory memory. She listened with pleasure to social
conversation, but she could contribute nothing brilliant. Her religious
notions and home-grown prejudices were antagonistic to the complete
emancipation of her intelligence. Finally, a foregone conclusion against
her had stolen into Theodore’s mind, and this she could not conquer. The
artist would laugh, at those who flattered him about his wife, and his
irony had some foundation; he so overawed the pathetic young creature
that, in his presence, or alone with him, she trembled. Hampered by her
too eager desire to please, her wits and her knowledge vanished in one
absorbing feeling. Even her fidelity vexed the unfaithful husband, who
seemed to bid her do wrong by stigmatizing her virtue as insensibility.
Augustine tried in vain to abdicate her reason, to yield to her
husband’s caprices and whims, to devote herself to the selfishness of
his vanity. Her sacrifices bore no fruit. Perhaps they had both let
the moment slip when souls may meet in comprehension. One day the young
wife’s too sensitive heart received one of those blows which so strain
the bonds of feeling that they seem to be broken. She withdrew into
solitude. But before long a fatal idea suggested to her to seek counsel
and comfort in the bosom of her family.

So one morning she made her way towards the grotesque facade of the
humble, silent home where she had spent her childhood. She sighed as she
looked up at the sash-window, whence one day she had sent her first kiss
to him who now shed as much sorrow as glory on her life. Nothing was
changed in the cavern, where the drapery business had, however, started
on a new life. Augustine’s sister filled her mother’s old place at the
desk. The unhappy young woman met her brother-in-law with his pen behind
his ear; he hardly listened to her, he was so full of business. The
formidable symptoms of stock-taking were visible all round him; he
begged her to excuse him. She was received coldly enough by her sister,
who owed her a grudge. In fact, Augustine, in her finery, and stepping
out of a handsome carriage, had never been to see her but when passing
by. The wife of the prudent Lebas, imagining that want of money was the
prime cause of this early call, tried to keep up a tone of reserve which
more than once made Augustine smile. The painter’s wife perceived that,
apart from the cap and lappets, her mother had found in Virginie a
successor who could uphold the ancient honor of the Cat and Racket. At
breakfast she observed certain changes in the management of the house
which did honor to Lebas’ good sense; the assistants did not rise before
dessert; they were allowed to talk, and the abundant meal spoke of ease
without luxury. The fashionable woman found some tickets for a box at
the Francais, where she remembered having seen her sister from time to
time. Madame Lebas had a cashmere shawl over her shoulders, of which
the value bore witness to her husband’s generosity to her. In short, the
couple were keeping pace with the times. During the two-thirds of the
day she spent there, Augustine was touched to the heart by the equable
happiness, devoid, to be sure, of all emotion, but equally free from
storms, enjoyed by this well-matched couple. They had accepted life as
a commercial enterprise, in which, above all, they must do credit to the
business. Not finding any great love in her husband, Virginie had set to
work to create it. Having by degrees learned to esteem and care for his
wife, the time that his happiness had taken to germinate was to Joseph
Lebas a guarantee of its durability. Hence, when Augustine plaintively
set forth her painful position, she had to face the deluge of
commonplace morality which the traditions of the Rue Saint-Denis
furnished to her sister.

“The mischief is done, wife,” said Joseph Lebas; “we must try to give
our sister good advice.” Then the clever tradesman ponderously analyzed
the resources which law and custom might offer Augustine as a means
of escape at this crisis; he ticketed every argument, so to speak, and
arranged them in their degrees of weight under various categories, as
though they were articles of merchandise of different qualities; then he
put them in the scale, weighed them, and ended by showing the necessity
for his sister-in-law’s taking violent steps which could not satisfy the
love she still had for her husband; and, indeed, the feeling had
revived in all its strength when she heard Joseph Lebas speak of
legal proceedings. Augustine thanked them, and returned home even more
undecided than she had been before consulting them. She now ventured
to go to the house in the Rue du Colombier, intending to confide her
troubles to her father and mother; for she was like a sick man who, in
his desperate plight, tries every prescription, and even puts faith in
old wives’ remedies.

The old people received their daughter with an effusiveness that touched
her deeply. Her visit brought them some little change, and that to them
was worth a fortune. For the last four years they had gone their way
like navigators without a goal or a compass. Sitting by the chimney
corner, they would talk over their disasters under the old law of
_maximum_, of their great investments in cloth, of the way they had
weathered bankruptcies, and, above all, the famous failure of Lecocq,
Monsieur Guillaume’s battle of Marengo. Then, when they had exhausted
the tale of lawsuits, they recapitulated the sum total of their most
profitable stock-takings, and told each other old stories of the
Saint-Denis quarter. At two o’clock old Guillaume went to cast an eye on
the business at the Cat and Racket; on his way back he called at all the
shops, formerly the rivals of his own, where the young proprietors hoped
to inveigle the old draper into some risky discount, which, as was his
wont, he never refused point-blank. Two good Normandy horses were dying
of their own fat in the stables of the big house; Madame Guillaume never
used them but to drag her on Sundays to high Mass at the parish church.
Three times a week the worthy couple kept open house. By the influence
of his son-in-law Sommervieux, Monsieur Guillaume had been named a
member of the consulting board for the clothing of the Army. Since her
husband had stood so high in office, Madame Guillaume had decided
that she must receive; her rooms were so crammed with gold and silver
ornaments, and furniture, tasteless but of undoubted value, that the
simplest room in the house looked like a chapel. Economy and expense
seemed to be struggling for the upper hand in every accessory. It was as
though Monsieur Guillaume had looked to a good investment, even in the
purchase of a candlestick. In the midst of this bazaar, where splendor
revealed the owner’s want of occupation, Sommervieux’s famous picture
filled the place of honor, and in it Monsieur and Madame Guillaume found
their chief consolation, turning their eyes, harnessed with eye-glasses,
twenty times a day on this presentment of their past life, to them so
active and amusing. The appearance of this mansion and these rooms,
where everything had an aroma of staleness and mediocrity, the spectacle
offered by these two beings, cast away, as it were, on a rock far from
the world and the ideas which are life, startled Augustine; she could
here contemplate the sequel of the scene of which the first part had
struck her at the house of Lebas--a life of stir without movement, a
mechanical and instinctive existence like that of the beaver; and then
she felt an indefinable pride in her troubles, as she reflected that
they had their source in eighteen months of such happiness as, in her
eyes, was worth a thousand lives like this; its vacuity seemed to her
horrible. However, she concealed this not very charitable feeling, and
displayed for her parents her newly-acquired accomplishments of mind,
and the ingratiating tenderness that love had revealed to her, disposing
them to listen to her matrimonial grievances. Old people have a weakness
for this kind of confidence. Madame Guillaume wanted to know the most
trivial details of that alien life, which to her seemed almost fabulous.
The travels of Baron da la Houtan, which she began again and again and
never finished, told her nothing more unheard-of concerning the Canadian
savages.

“What, child, your husband shuts himself into a room with naked women!
And you are so simple as to believe that he draws them?”

As she uttered this exclamation, the grandmother laid her spectacles
on a little work-table, shook her skirts, and clasped her hands on her
knees, raised by a foot-warmer, her favorite pedestal.

“But, mother, all artists are obliged to have models.”

“He took good care not to tell us that when he asked leave to marry
you. If I had known it, I would never had given my daughter to a man who
followed such a trade. Religion forbids such horrors; they are immoral.
And at what time of night do you say he comes home?”

“At one o’clock--two----”

The old folks looked at each other in utter amazement.

“Then he gambles?” said Monsieur Guillaume. “In my day only gamblers
stayed out so late.”

Augustine made a face that scorned the accusation.

“He must keep you up through dreadful nights waiting for him,” said
Madame Guillaume. “But you go to bed, don’t you? And when he has lost,
the wretch wakes you.”

“No, mamma, on the contrary, he is sometimes in very good spirits. Not
unfrequently, indeed, when it is fine, he suggests that I should get up
and go into the woods.”

“The woods! At that hour? Then have you such a small set of rooms that
his bedroom and his sitting-room are not enough, and that he must run
about? But it is just to give you cold that the wretch proposes such
expeditions. He wants to get rid of you. Did one ever hear of a man
settled in life, a well-behaved, quiet man galloping about like a
warlock?”

“But, my dear mother, you do not understand that he must have excitement
to fire his genius. He is fond of scenes which----”

“I would make scenes for him, fine scenes!” cried Madame Guillaume,
interrupting her daughter. “How can you show any consideration to such a
man? In the first place, I don’t like his drinking water only; it is not
wholesome. Why does he object to see a woman eating? What queer notion
is that! But he is mad. All you tell us about him is impossible. A man
cannot leave his home without a word, and never come back for ten days.
And then he tells you he has been to Dieppe to paint the sea. As if
any one painted the sea! He crams you with a pack of tales that are too
absurd.”

Augustine opened her lips to defend her husband; but Madame Guillaume
enjoined silence with a wave of her hand, which she obeyed by a survival
of habit, and her mother went on in harsh tones: “Don’t talk to me about
the man! He never set foot in church excepting to see you and to be
married. People without religion are capable of anything. Did Guillaume
ever dream of hiding anything from me, of spending three days without
saying a word to me, and of chattering afterwards like a blind magpie?”

“My dear mother, you judge superior people too severely. If their ideas
were the same as other folks’, they would not be men of genius.”

“Very well, then let men of genius stop at home and not get married.
What! A man of genius is to make his wife miserable? And because he is a
genius it is all right! Genius, genius! It is not so very clever to
say black one minute and white the next, as he does, to interrupt other
people, to dance such rigs at home, never to let you know which foot you
are to stand on, to compel his wife never to be amused unless my lord is
in gay spirits, and to be dull when he is dull.”

“But, mother, the very nature of such imaginations----”

“What are such ‘imaginations’?” Madame Guillaume went on, interrupting
her daughter again. “Fine ones his are, my word! What possesses a man
that all on a sudden, without consulting a doctor, he takes it into his
head to eat nothing but vegetables? If indeed it were from religious
motives, it might do him some good--but he has no more religion than a
Huguenot. Was there ever a man known who, like him, loved horses better
than his fellow-creatures, had his hair curled like a heathen, laid
statues under muslin coverlets, shut his shutters in broad day to work
by lamp-light? There, get along; if he were not so grossly immoral, he
would be fit to shut up in a lunatic asylum. Consult Monsieur Loraux,
the priest at Saint Sulpice, ask his opinion about it all, and he will
tell you that your husband, does not behave like a Christian.”

“Oh, mother, can you believe----?”

“Yes, I do believe. You loved him, and you can see none of these things.
But I can remember in the early days after your marriage. I met him
in the Champs-Elysees. He was on horseback. Well, at one minute he was
galloping as hard as he could tear, and then pulled up to a walk. I said
to myself at that moment, ‘There is a man devoid of judgement.’”

“Ah, ha!” cried Monsieur Guillaume, “how wise I was to have your money
settled on yourself with such a queer fellow for a husband!”

When Augustine was so imprudent as to set forth her serious grievances
against her husband, the two old people were speechless with
indignation. But the word “divorce” was ere long spoken by Madame
Guillaume. At the sound of the word divorce the apathetic old draper
seemed to wake up. Prompted by his love for his daughter, and also by
the excitement which the proceedings would bring into his uneventful
life, father Guillaume took up the matter. He made himself the leader of
the application for a divorce, laid down the lines of it, almost argued
the case; he offered to be at all the charges, to see the lawyers, the
pleaders, the judges, to move heaven and earth. Madame de Sommervieux
was frightened, she refused her father’s services, said she would not
be separated from her husband even if she were ten times as unhappy, and
talked no more about her sorrows. After being overwhelmed by her parents
with all the little wordless and consoling kindnesses by which the
old couple tried in vain to make up to her for her distress of heart,
Augustine went away, feeling the impossibility of making a superior mind
intelligible to weak intellects. She had learned that a wife must hide
from every one, even from her parents, woes for which it is so difficult
to find sympathy. The storms and sufferings of the upper spheres
are appreciated only by the lofty spirits who inhabit there. In any
circumstance we can only be judged by our equals.

Thus poor Augustine found herself thrown back on the horror of her
meditations, in the cold atmosphere of her home. Study was indifferent
to her, since study had not brought her back her husband’s heart.
Initiated into the secret of these souls of fire, but bereft of their
resources, she was compelled to share their sorrows without sharing
their pleasures. She was disgusted with the world, which to her seemed
mean and small as compared with the incidents of passion. In short, her
life was a failure.

One evening an idea flashed upon her that lighted up her dark grief like
a beam from heaven. Such an idea could never have smiled on a heart less
pure, less virtuous than hers. She determined to go to the Duchesse de
Carigliano, not to ask her to give her back her husband’s heart, but to
learn the arts by which it had been captured; to engage the interest of
this haughty fine lady for the mother of her lover’s children; to appeal
to her and make her the instrument of her future happiness, since she
was the cause of her present wretchedness.

So one day Augustine, timid as she was, but armed with supernatural
courage, got into her carriage at two in the afternoon to try for
admittance to the boudoir of the famous coquette, who was never visible
till that hour. Madame de Sommervieux had not yet seen any of the
ancient and magnificent mansions of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. As she
made her way through the stately corridors, the handsome staircases,
the vast drawing-rooms--full of flowers, though it was in the depth of
winter, and decorated with the taste peculiar to women born to opulence
or to the elegant habits of the aristocracy, Augustine felt a terrible
clutch at her heart; she coveted the secrets of an elegance of which
she had never had an idea; she breathed in an air of grandeur which
explained the attraction of the house for her husband. When she reached
the private rooms of the Duchess she was filled with jealousy and a sort
of despair, as she admired the luxurious arrangement of the furniture,
the draperies and the hangings. Here disorder was a grace, here luxury
affected a certain contempt of splendor. The fragrance that floated
in the warm air flattered the sense of smell without offending it.
The accessories of the rooms were in harmony with a view, through
plate-glass windows, of the lawns in a garden planted with evergreen
trees. It was all bewitching, and the art of it was not perceptible. The
whole spirit of the mistress of these rooms pervaded the drawing-room
where Augustine awaited her. She tried to divine her rival’s character
from the aspect of the scattered objects; but there was here something
as impenetrable in the disorder as in the symmetry, and to the
simple-minded young wife all was a sealed letter. All that she could
discern was that, as a woman, the Duchess was a superior person. Then a
painful thought came over her.

“Alas! And is it true,” she wondered, “that a simple and loving heart
is not all-sufficient to an artist; that to balance the weight of these
powerful souls they need a union with feminine souls of a strength equal
to their own? If I had been brought up like this siren, our weapons at
least might have been equal in the hour of struggle.”

“But I am not at home!” The sharp, harsh words, though spoken in an
undertone in the adjoining boudoir, were heard by Augustine, and her
heart beat violently.

“The lady is in there,” replied the maid.

“You are an idiot! Show her in,” replied the Duchess, whose voice was
sweeter, and had assumed the dulcet tones of politeness. She evidently
now meant to be heard.

Augustine shyly entered the room. At the end of the dainty boudoir she
saw the Duchess lounging luxuriously on an ottoman covered with brown
velvet and placed in the centre of a sort of apse outlined by soft folds
of white muslin over a yellow lining. Ornaments of gilt bronze, arranged
with exquisite taste, enhanced this sort of dais, under which the
Duchess reclined like a Greek statue. The dark hue of the velvet gave
relief to every fascinating charm. A subdued light, friendly to her
beauty, fell like a reflection rather than a direct illumination. A few
rare flowers raised their perfumed heads from costly Sevres vases. At
the moment when this picture was presented to Augustine’s astonished
eyes, she was approaching so noiselessly that she caught a glance from
those of the enchantress. This look seemed to say to some one whom
Augustine did not at first perceive, “Stay; you will see a pretty woman,
and make her visit seem less of a bore.”

On seeing Augustine, the Duchess rose and made her sit down by her.

“And to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, madame?” she said with
a most gracious smile.

“Why all the falseness?” thought Augustine, replying only with a bow.

Her silence was compulsory. The young woman saw before her a superfluous
witness of the scene. This personage was, of all the Colonels in the
army, the youngest, the most fashionable, and the finest man. His face,
full of life and youth, but already expressive, was further enhanced by
a small moustache twirled up into points, and as black as jet, by a full
imperial, by whiskers carefully combed, and a forest of black hair in
some disorder. He was whisking a riding whip with an air of ease and
freedom which suited his self-satisfied expression and the elegance of
his dress; the ribbons attached to his button-hole were carelessly tied,
and he seemed to pride himself much more on his smart appearance than
on his courage. Augustine looked at the Duchesse de Carigliano, and
indicated the Colonel by a sidelong glance. All its mute appeal was
understood.

“Good-bye, then, Monsieur d’Aiglemont, we shall meet in the Bois de
Boulogne.”

These words were spoken by the siren as though they were the result of
an agreement made before Augustine’s arrival, and she winged them with a
threatening look that the officer deserved perhaps for the admiration he
showed in gazing at the modest flower, which contrasted so well with the
haughty Duchess. The young fop bowed in silence, turned on the heels
of his boots, and gracefully quitted the boudoir. At this instant,
Augustine, watching her rival, whose eyes seemed to follow the brilliant
officer, detected in that glance a sentiment of which the transient
expression is known to every woman. She perceived with the deepest
anguish that her visit would be useless; this lady, full of artifice,
was too greedy of homage not to have a ruthless heart.

“Madame,” said Augustine in a broken voice, “the step I am about to take
will seem to you very strange; but there is a madness of despair which
ought to excuse anything. I understand only too well why Theodore
prefers your house to any other, and why your mind has so much power
over his. Alas! I have only to look into myself to find more than ample
reasons. But I am devoted to my husband, madame. Two years of tears have
not effaced his image from my heart, though I have lost his. In my folly
I dared to dream of a contest with you; and I have come to you to ask
you by what means I may triumph over yourself. Oh, madame,” cried the
young wife, ardently seizing the hand which her rival allowed her to
hold, “I will never pray to God for my own happiness with so much
fervor as I will beseech Him for yours, if you will help me to win back
Sommervieux’s regard--I will not say his love. I have no hope but in
you. Ah! tell me how you could please him, and make him forget the first
days----” At these words Augustine broke down, suffocated with sobs she
could not suppress. Ashamed of her weakness, she hid her face in her
handkerchief, which she bathed with tears.

“What a child you are, my dear little beauty!” said the Duchess, carried
away by the novelty of such a scene, and touched, in spite of herself,
at receiving such homage from the most perfect virtue perhaps in Paris.
She took the young wife’s handkerchief, and herself wiped the tears from
her eyes, soothing her by a few monosyllables murmured with gracious
compassion. After a moment’s silence the Duchess, grasping poor
Augustine’s hands in both her own--hands that had a rare character of
dignity and powerful beauty--said in a gentle and friendly voice:
“My first warning is to advise you not to weep so bitterly; tears are
disfiguring. We must learn to deal firmly with the sorrows that make us
ill, for love does not linger long by a sick-bed. Melancholy, at first,
no doubt, lends a certain attractive grace, but it ends by dragging the
features and blighting the loveliest face. And besides, our tyrants are
so vain as to insist that their slaves should be always cheerful.”

“But, madame, it is not in my power not to feel. How is it possible,
without suffering a thousand deaths, to see the face which once beamed
with love and gladness turn chill, colorless, and indifferent? I cannot
control my heart!”

“So much the worse, sweet child. But I fancy I know all your story.
In the first place, if your husband is unfaithful to you, understand
clearly that I am not his accomplice. If I was anxious to have him in my
drawing-room, it was, I own, out of vanity; he was famous, and he went
nowhere. I like you too much already to tell you all the mad things he
has done for my sake. I will only reveal one, because it may perhaps
help us to bring him back to you, and to punish him for the audacity of
his behavior to me. He will end by compromising me. I know the world
too well, my dear, to abandon myself to the discretion of a too superior
man. You should know that one may allow them to court one, but marry
them--that is a mistake! We women ought to admire men of genius, and
delight in them as a spectacle, but as to living with them? Never.--No,
no. It is like wanting to find pleasure in inspecting the machinery of
the opera instead of sitting in a box to enjoy its brilliant illusions.
But this misfortune has fallen on you, my poor child, has it not? Well,
then, you must try to arm yourself against tyranny.”

“Ah, madame, before coming in here, only seeing you as I came in, I
already detected some arts of which I had no suspicion.”

“Well, come and see me sometimes, and it will not be long before you
have mastered the knowledge of these trifles, important, too, in their
way. Outward things are, to fools, half of life; and in that matter more
than one clever man is a fool, in spite of all his talent. But I dare
wager you never could refuse your Theodore anything!”

“How refuse anything, madame, if one loves a man?”

“Poor innocent, I could adore you for your simplicity. You should know
that the more we love the less we should allow a man, above all, a
husband, to see the whole extent of our passion. The one who loves most
is tyrannized over, and, which is worse, is sooner or later neglected.
The one who wishes to rule should----”

“What, madame, must I then dissimulate, calculate, become false, form an
artificial character, and live in it? How is it possible to live in such
a way? Can you----” she hesitated; the Duchess smiled.

“My dear child,” the great lady went on in a serious tone, “conjugal
happiness has in all times been a speculation, a business demanding
particular attention. If you persist in talking passion while I am
talking marriage, we shall soon cease to understand each other. Listen
to me,” she went on, assuming a confidential tone. “I have been in
the way of seeing some of the superior men of our day. Those who have
married have for the most part chosen quite insignificant wives. Well,
those wives governed them, as the Emperor governs us; and if they were
not loved, they were at least respected. I like secrets--especially
those which concern women--well enough to have amused myself by seeking
the clue to the riddle. Well, my sweet child, those worthy women had the
gift of analyzing their husbands’ nature; instead of taking fright, like
you, at their superiority, they very acutely noted the qualities they
lacked, and either by possessing those qualities, or by feigning to
possess them, they found means of making such a handsome display of them
in their husbands’ eyes that in the end they impressed them. Also, I
must tell you, all these souls which appear so lofty have just a speck
of madness in them, which we ought to know how to take advantage of. By
firmly resolving to have the upper hand and never deviating from that
aim, by bringing all our actions to bear on it, all our ideas, our
cajolery, we subjugate these eminently capricious natures, which, by
the very mutability of their thoughts, lend us the means of influencing
them.”

“Good heavens!” cried the young wife in dismay. “And this is life. It is
a warfare----”

“In which we must always threaten,” said the Duchess, laughing. “Our
power is wholly factitious. And we must never allow a man to despise
us; it is impossible to recover from such a descent but by odious
manoeuvring. Come,” she added, “I will give you a means of bringing your
husband to his senses.”

She rose with a smile to guide the young and guileless apprentice
to conjugal arts through the labyrinth of her palace. They came to
a back-staircase, which led up to the reception rooms. As Madame de
Carigliano pressed the secret springlock of the door she stopped,
looking at Augustine with an inimitable gleam of shrewdness and grace.
“The Duc de Carigliano adores me,” said she. “Well, he dare not enter by
this door without my leave. And he is a man in the habit of commanding
thousands of soldiers. He knows how to face a battery, but before
me,--he is afraid!”

Augustine sighed. They entered a sumptuous gallery, where the painter’s
wife was led by the Duchess up to the portrait painted by Theodore of
Mademoiselle Guillaume. On seeing it, Augustine uttered a cry.

“I knew it was no longer in my house,” she said, “but--here!----”

“My dear child, I asked for it merely to see what pitch of idiocy a man
of genius may attain to. Sooner or later I should have returned it to
you, for I never expected the pleasure of seeing the original here face
to face with the copy. While we finish our conversation I will have it
carried down to your carriage. And if, armed with such a talisman,
you are not your husband’s mistress for a hundred years, you are not a
woman, and you deserve your fate.”

Augustine kissed the Duchess’ hand, and the lady clasped her to her
heart, with all the more tenderness because she would forget her by the
morrow. This scene might perhaps have destroyed for ever the candor and
purity of a less virtuous woman than Augustine, for the astute politics
of the higher social spheres were no more consonant to Augustine than
the narrow reasoning of Joseph Lebas, or Madame Guillaume’s vapid
morality. Strange are the results of the false positions into which
we may be brought by the slightest mistake in the conduct of life!
Augustine was like an Alpine cowherd surprised by an avalanche; if he
hesitates, if he listens to the shouts of his comrades, he is almost
certainly lost. In such a crisis the heart steels itself or breaks.

Madame de Sommervieux returned home a prey to such agitation as it is
difficult to describe. Her conversation with the Duchesse de Carigliano
had roused in her mind a crowd of contradictory thoughts. Like the sheep
in the fable, full of courage in the wolf’s absence, she preached
to herself, and laid down admirable plans of conduct; she devised a
thousand coquettish stratagems; she even talked to her husband, finding,
away from him, all the springs of true eloquence which never desert a
woman; then, as she pictured to herself Theodore’s clear and steadfast
gaze, she began to quake. When she asked whether monsieur were at home
her voice shook. On learning that he would not be in to dinner, she felt
an unaccountable thrill of joy. Like a criminal who has appealed against
sentence of death, a respite, however short, seemed to her a lifetime.
She placed the portrait in her room, and waited for her husband in all
the agonies of hope. That this venture must decide her future life, she
felt too keenly not to shiver at every sound, even the low ticking of
the clock, which seemed to aggravate her terrors by doling them out to
her. She tried to cheat time by various devices. The idea struck her of
dressing in a way which would make her exactly like the portrait. Then,
knowing her husband’s restless temper, she had her room lighted up with
unusual brightness, feeling sure that when he came in curiosity would
bring him there at once. Midnight had struck when, at the call of the
groom, the street gate was opened, and the artist’s carriage rumbled in
over the stones of the silent courtyard.

“What is the meaning of this illumination?” asked Theodore in glad
tones, as he came into her room.

Augustine skilfully seized the auspicious moment; she threw herself into
her husband’s arms, and pointed to the portrait. The artist stood rigid
as a rock, and his eyes turned alternately on Augustine, on the accusing
dress. The frightened wife, half-dead, as she watched her husband’s
changeful brow--that terrible brow--saw the expressive furrows gathering
like clouds; then she felt her blood curdling in her veins when, with a
glaring look, and in a deep hollow voice, he began to question her:

“Where did you find that picture?”

“The Duchess de Carigliano returned it to me.”

“You asked her for it?”

“I did not know that she had it.”

The gentleness, or rather the exquisite sweetness of this angel’s voice,
might have touched a cannibal, but not an artist in the clutches of
wounded vanity.

“It is worthy of her!” exclaimed the painter in a voice of thunder. “I
will be avenged!” he cried, striding up and down the room. “She shall
die of shame; I will paint her! Yes, I will paint her as Messalina
stealing out at night from the palace of Claudius.”

“Theodore!” said a faint voice.

“I will kill her!”

“My dear----”

“She is in love with that little cavalry colonel, because he rides
well----”

“Theodore!”

“Let me be!” said the painter in a tone almost like a roar.

It would be odious to describe the whole scene. In the end the frenzy
of passion prompted the artist to acts and words which any woman not so
young as Augustine would have ascribed to madness.

At eight o’clock next morning Madame Guillaume, surprising her
daughter, found her pale, with red eyes, her hair in disorder, holding a
handkerchief soaked with tears, while she gazed at the floor strewn with
the torn fragments of a dress and the broken fragments of a large gilt
picture-frame. Augustine, almost senseless with grief, pointed to the
wreck with a gesture of deep despair.

“I don’t know that the loss is very great!” cried the old mistress of
the Cat and Racket. “It was like you, no doubt; but I am told that there
is a man on the boulevard who paints lovely portraits for fifty crowns.”

“Oh, mother!”

“Poor child, you are quite right,” replied Madame Guillaume, who
misinterpreted the expression of her daughter’s glance at her. “True,
my child, no one ever can love you as fondly as a mother. My darling,
I guess it all; but confide your sorrows to me, and I will comfort you.
Did I not tell you long ago that the man was mad! Your maid has told me
pretty stories. Why, he must be a perfect monster!”

Augustine laid a finger on her white lips, as if to implore a moment’s
silence. During this dreadful night misery had led her to that patient
resignation which in mothers and loving wives transcends in its
effects all human energy, and perhaps reveals in the heart of women the
existence of certain chords which God has withheld from men.



An inscription engraved on a broken column in the cemetery at Montmartre
states that Madame de Sommervieux died at the age of twenty-seven. In
the simple words of this epitaph one of the timid creature’s friends can
read the last scene of a tragedy. Every year, on the second of November,
the solemn day of the dead, he never passes this youthful monument
without wondering whether it does not need a stronger woman than
Augustine to endure the violent embrace of genius?

“The humble and modest flowers that bloom in the valley,” he reflects,
“perish perhaps when they are transplanted too near the skies, to the
region where storms gather and the sun is scorching.”



ADDENDUM

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

     Aiglemont, General, Marquis Victor d’
       The Firm of Nucingen
       A Woman of Thirty

     Birotteau, Cesar
       Cesar Birotteau
       A Bachelor’s Establishment

     Camusot
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Cousin Pons
       The Muse of the Department
       Cesar Birotteau

     Cardot, Jean-Jerome-Severin
       A Start in Life
       Lost Illusions
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       A Bachelor’s Establishment
       Cesar Birotteau

     Carigliano, Marechal, Duc de
       Father Goriot
       Sarrasine

     Carigliano, Duchesse de
       A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
       The Peasantry
       The Member for Arcis

     Guillaume
       Cesar Birotteau

     Lebas, Joseph
       Cesar Birotteau
       Cousin Betty

     Lebas, Madame Joseph (Virginie)
       Cesar Birotteau
       Cousin Betty

     Lourdois
       Cesar Birotteau

     Rabourdin, Xavier
       The Government Clerks
       Cesar Birotteau
       The Middle Classes

     Roguin, Madame
       Cesar Birotteau
       Pierrette
       A Second Home
       A Daughter of Eve

     Sommervieux, Theodore de
       The Government Clerks
       Modeste Mignon

     Sommervieux, Madame Theodore de (Augustine)
       At the Sign of the Cat and Racket
       Cesar Birotteau





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Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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