HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Mademoiselle Anna Hanska:
Dear Child,—You, the joy of the household, you, whose pink or
white pelerine flutters in summer among the groves of
Wierzschovnia like a will-o'-the-wisp, followed by the tender eyes
of your father and your mother,—how can I dedicate to you a
story full of melancholy? And yet, ought not sorrows to be spoken
of to a young girl idolized as you are, since the day may come
when your sweet hands will be called to minister to them? It is so
difficult, Anna, to find in the history of our manners and morals
a subject that is worthy of your eyes, that no choice has been
left me; but perhaps you will be made to feel how fortunate your
fate is when you read the story sent to you by
Your old friend,
At the dawn of an October day in 1827 a young fellow about sixteen
years of age, whose clothing proclaimed what modern phraseology so
insolently calls a proletary, was standing in a small square of Lower
Provins. At that early hour he could examine without being observed
the various houses surrounding the open space, which was oblong in
form. The mills along the river were already working; the whirr of
their wheels, repeated by the echoes of the Upper Town in the keen air
and sparkling clearness of the early morning, only intensified the
general silence so that the wheels of a diligence could be heard a
league away along the highroad. The two longest sides of the square,
separated by an avenue of lindens, were built in the simple style
which expresses so well the peaceful and matter-of-fact life of the
bourgeoisie. No signs of commerce were to be seen; on the other hand,
the luxurious porte-cocheres of the rich were few, and those few
turned seldom on their hinges, excepting that of Monsieur Martener, a
physician, whose profession obliged him to keep a cabriolet, and to
use it. A few of the house-fronts were covered by grape vines, others
by roses climbing to the second-story windows, through which they
wafted the fragrance of their scattered bunches. One end of the square
enters the main street of the Lower Town, the gardens of which reach
to the bank of one of the two rivers which water the valley of
Provins. The other end of the square enters a street which runs
parallel to the main street.
At the latter, which was also the quietest end of the square, the
young workman recognized the house of which he was in search, which
showed a front of white stone grooved in lines to represent courses,
windows with closed gray blinds, and slender iron balconies decorated
with rosettes painted yellow. Above the ground floor and the first
floor were three dormer windows projecting from a slate roof; on the
peak of the central one was a new weather-vane. This modern innovation
represented a hunter in the attitude of shooting a hare. The front
door was reached by three stone steps. On one side of this door a
leaden pipe discharged the sink-water into a small street-gutter,
showing the whereabouts of the kitchen. On the other side were two
windows, carefully closed by gray shutters in which were heart-shaped
openings cut to admit the light; these windows seemed to be those of
the dining-room. In the elevation gained by the three steps were
vent-holes to the cellar, closed by painted iron shutters fantastically
cut in open-work. Everything was new. In this repaired and restored
house, the fresh-colored look of which contrasted with the time-worn
exteriors of all the other houses, an observer would instantly
perceive the paltry taste and perfect self-satisfaction of the retired
The young man looked at these details with an expression of pleasure
that seemed to have something rather sad in it; his eyes roved from
the kitchen to the roof, with a motion that showed a deliberate
purpose. The rosy glow of the rising sun fell on a calico curtain at
one of the garret windows, the others being without that luxury. As he
caught sight of it the young fellow's face brightened gaily. He
stepped back a little way, leaned against a linden, and sang, in the
drawling tone peculiar to the west of France, the following Breton
ditty, published by Bruguiere, a composer to whom we are indebted for
many charming melodies. In Brittany, the young villagers sing this
song to all newly-married couples on their wedding-day:—
"We've come to wish you happiness in marriage,
To m'sieur your husband
As well as to you:
"You have just been bound, madam' la mariee,
With bonds of gold
That only death unbinds:
"You will go no more to balls or gay assemblies;
You must stay at home
While we shall go.
"Have you thought well how you are pledged to be
True to your spouse,
And love him like yourself?
"Receive these flowers our hands do now present you;
Alas! your fleeting honors
Will fade as they."
This native air (as sweet as that adapted by Chateaubriand to Ma
soeur, te souvient-il encore), sung in this little town of the Brie
district, must have been to the ears of a Breton maiden the touchstone
of imperious memories, so faithfully does it picture the manners and
customs, the surroundings and the heartiness of her noble old land,
where a sort of melancholy reigns, hardly to be defined; caused,
perhaps, by the aspect of life in Brittany, which is deeply touching.
This power of awakening a world of grave and sweet and tender memories
by a familiar and sometimes lively ditty, is the privilege of those
popular songs which are the superstitions of music,—if we may use the
word "superstition" as signifying all that remains after the ruin of a
people, all that survives their revolutions.
As he finished the first couple, the singer, who never took his eyes
from the attic curtain, saw no signs of life. While he sang the
second, the curtain stirred. When the words "Receive these flowers"
were sung, a youthful face appeared; a white hand cautiously opened
the casement, and a girl made a sign with her head to the singer as he
ended with the melancholy thought of the simple verses,—"Alas! your
fleeting honors will fade as they."
To her the young workman suddenly showed, drawing it from within his
jacket, a yellow flower, very common in Brittany, and sometimes to be
found in La Brie (where, however, it is rare),—the furze, or broom.
"Is it really you, Brigaut?" said the girl, in a low voice.
"Yes, Pierrette, yes. I am in Paris. I have started to make my way;
but I'm ready to settle here, near you."
Just then the fastening of a window creaked in a room on the first
floor, directly below Pierrette's attic. The girl showed the utmost
terror, and said to Brigaut, quickly:—
The lad jumped like a frightened frog to a bend in the street caused
by the projection of a mill just where the square opens into the main
thoroughfare; but in spite of his agility his hob-nailed shoes echoed
on the stones with a sound easily distinguished from the music of the
mill, and no doubt heard by the person who opened the window.
That person was a woman. No man would have torn himself from the
comfort of a morning nap to listen to a minstrel in a jacket; none but
a maid awakes to songs of love. Not only was this woman a maid, but
she was an old maid. When she had opened her blinds with the furtive
motion of the bat, she looked in all directions, but saw nothing, and
only heard, faintly, the flying footfalls of the lad. Can there be
anything more dreadful than the matutinal apparition of an ugly old
maid at her window? Of all the grotesque sights which amuse the eyes
of travellers in country towns, that is the most unpleasant. It is too
repulsive to laugh at. This particular old maid, whose ear was so
keen, was denuded of all the adventitious aids, of whatever kind,
which she employed as embellishments; her false front and her
collarette were lacking; she wore that horrible little bag of black
silk on which old women insist on covering their skulls, and it was
now revealed beneath the night-cap which had been pushed aside in
sleep. This rumpled condition gave a menacing expression to the head,
such as painters bestow on witches. The temples, ears, and nape of the
neck, were disclosed in all their withered horror,—the wrinkles being
marked in scarlet lines that contrasted with the would-be white of the
bed-gown which was tied round her neck by a narrow tape. The gaping of
this garment revealed a breast to be likened only to that of an old
peasant woman who cares nothing about her personal ugliness. The
fleshless arm was like a stick on which a bit of stuff was hung. Seen
at her window, this spinster seemed tall from the length and
angularity of her face, which recalled the exaggerated proportions of
certain Swiss heads. The character of their countenance—the features
being marked by a total want of harmony—was that of hardness in the
lines, sharpness in the tones; while an unfeeling spirit, pervading
all, would have filled a physiognomist with disgust. These
characteristics, fully visible at this moment, were usually modified
in public by a sort of commercial smile,—a bourgeois smirk which
mimicked good-humor; so that persons meeting with this old maid might
very well take her for a kindly woman. She owned the house on shares
with her brother. The brother, by-the-bye, was sleeping so tranquilly
in his own chamber that the orchestra of the Opera-house could not
have awakened him, wonderful as its diapason is said to be.
The old maid stretched her neck out of the window, twisted it, and
raised her cold, pale-blue little eyes, with their short lashes set in
lids that were always rather swollen, to the attic window, endeavoring
to see Pierrette. Perceiving the uselessness of that attempt, she
retreated into her room with a movement like that of a tortoise which
draws in its head after protruding it from its carapace. The blinds
were then closed, and the silence of the street was unbroken except by
peasants coming in from the country, or very early persons moving
When there is an old maid in a house, watch-dogs are unnecessary; not
the slightest event can occur that she does not see and comment upon
and pursue to its utmost consequences. The foregoing trifling
circumstance was therefore destined to give rise to grave
suppositions, and to open the way for one of those obscure dramas
which take place in families, and are none the less terrible because
they are secret,—if, indeed, we may apply the word "drama" to such
Pierrette did not go back to bed. To her, Brigaut's arrival was an
immense event. During the night—that Eden of the wretched—she
escaped the vexations and fault-findings she bore during the day. Like
the hero of a ballad, German or Russian, I forget which, her sleep
seemed to her the happy life; her waking hours a bad dream. She had
just had her only pleasurable waking in three years. The memories of
her childhood had sung their melodious ditties in her soul. The first
couplet was heard in a dream; the second made her spring out of bed;
at the third, she doubted her ears,—the sorrowful are all disciples
of Saint Thomas; but when the fourth was sung, standing in her
night-gown with bare feet by the window, she recognized Brigaut, the
companion of her childhood. Ah, yes! it was truly the well-known
square jacket with the bobtails, the pockets of which stuck out at the
hips,—the jacket of blue cloth which is classic in Brittany; there,
too, were the waistcoat of printed cotton, the linen shirt fastened by
a gold heart, the large rolling collar, the earrings, the stout shoes,
the trousers of blue-gray drilling unevenly colored by the various
lengths of the warp,—in short, all those humble, strong, and durable
things which make the apparel of the Breton peasantry. The big buttons
of white horn which fastened the jacket made the girl's heart beat.
When she saw the bunch of broom her eyes filled with tears; then a
dreadful fear drove back into her heart the happy memories that were
budding there. She thought her cousin sleeping in the room beneath her
might have heard the noise she made in jumping out of bed and running
to the window. The fear was just; the old maid was coming, and she
made Brigaut the terrified sign which the lad obeyed without the least
understanding it. Such instinctive submission to a girl's bidding
shows one of those innocent and absolute affections which appear from
century to century on this earth, where they blossom, like the aloes
of Isola Bella, twice or thrice in a hundred years. Whoever had seen
the lad as he ran away would have loved the ingenuous chivalry of his
most ingenuous feeling.
Jacques Brigaut was worthy of Pierrette Lorrain, who was just fifteen.
Two children! Pierrette could not keep from crying as she watched his
flight in the terror her gesture had conveyed to him. Then she sat
down in a shabby armchair placed before a little table above which
hung a mirror. She rested her elbows on the table, put her head in her
hands, and sat thinking for an hour, calling to memory the Marais, the
village of Pen-Hoel, the perilous voyages on a pond in a boat untied
for her from an old willow by little Jacques; then the old faces of
her grandfather and grandmother, the sufferings of her mother, and the
handsome face of Major Brigaut,—in short, the whole of her careless
childhood. It was all a dream, a luminous joy on the gloomy background
of the present.
Her beautiful chestnut hair escaped in disorder from her cap, rumpled
in sleep,—a cambric cap with ruffles, which she had made herself. On
each side of her forehead were little ringlets escaping from gray
curl-papers. From the back of her head hung a heavy braid of hair that
was half unplaited. The excessive whiteness of her face betrayed that
terrible malady of girlhood which goes by the name of chlorosis,
deprives the body of its natural colors, destroys the appetite, and
shows a disordered state of the organism. The waxy tones were in all
the visible parts of her flesh. The neck and shoulders explained by
their blanched paleness the wasted arms, flung forward and crossed
upon the table. Her feet seemed enervated, shrunken from illness. Her
night-gown came only to her knees and showed the flaccid muscles, the
blue veins, the impoverished flesh of the legs. The cold, to which she
paid no heed, turned her lips violet, and a sad smile, drawing up the
corners of a sensitive mouth, showed teeth that were white as ivory
and quite small,—pretty, transparent teeth, in keeping with the
delicate ears, the rather sharp but dainty nose, and the general
outline of her face, which, in spite of its roundness, was lovely. All
the animation of this charming face was in the eyes, the iris of
which, brown like Spanish tobacco and flecked with black, shone with
golden reflections round pupils that were brilliant and intense.
Pierrette was made to be gay, but she was sad. Her lost gaiety was
still to be seen in the vivacious forms of the eye, in the ingenuous
grace of her brow, in the smooth curve of her chin. The long eyelashes
lay upon the cheek-bones, made prominent by suffering. The paleness of
her face, which was unnaturally white, made the lines and all the
details infinitely pure. The ear alone was a little masterpiece of
modelling,—in marble, you might say. Pierrette suffered in many ways.
Perhaps you would like to know her history, and this is it.
Pierrette's mother was a Demoiselle Auffray of Provins, half-sister by
the father's side of Madame Rogron, mother of the present owners of
Monsieur Auffray, her husband, had married at the age of eighteen; his
second marriage took place when he was nearly sixty-nine. By the
first, he had an only daughter, very plain, who was married at sixteen
to an innkeeper of Provins named Rogron.
By his second marriage the worthy Auffray had another daughter; but
this one was charming. There was, of course, an enormous difference in
the ages of these daughters; the one by the first marriage was fifty
years old when the second child was born. By this time the eldest,
Madame Rogron, had two grown-up children.
The youngest daughter of the old man was married at eighteen to a man
of her choice, a Breton officer named Lorrain, captain in the Imperial
Guard. Love often makes a man ambitious. The captain, anxious to rise
to a colonelcy, exchanged into a line regiment. While he, then a
major, and his wife enjoyed themselves in Paris on the allowance made
to them by Monsieur and Madame Auffray, or scoured Germany at the beck
and call of the Emperor's battles and truces, old Auffray himself
(formerly a grocer) died, at the age of eighty-eight, without having
found time to make a will. His property was administered by his
daughter, Madame Rogron, and her husband so completely in their own
interests that nothing remained for the old man's widow beyond the
house she lived in on the little square, and a few acres of land. This
widow, the mother of Madame Lorrain, was only thirty-eight at the time
of her husband's death. Like many widows, she came to the unwise
decision of remarrying. She sold the house and land to her
step-daughter, Madame Rogron, and married a young physician named
Neraud, who wasted her whole fortune. She died of grief and misery two
Thus the share of her father's property which ought to have come to
Madame Lorrain disappeared almost entirely, being reduced to the small
sum of eight thousand francs. Major Lorrain was killed at the battle
of Montereau, leaving his wife, then twenty-one years of age, with a
little daughter of fourteen months, and no other means than the
pension to which she was entitled and an eventual inheritance from her
late husband's parents, Monsieur and Madame Lorrain, retail
shopkeepers at Pen-Hoel, a village in the Vendee, situated in that
part of it which is called the Marais. These Lorrains, grandfather and
grandmother of Pierrette Lorrain, sold wood for building purposes,
slates, tiles, pantiles, pipes, etc. Their business, either from their
own incapacity or through ill-luck, did badly, and gave them scarcely
enough to live on. The failure of the well-known firm of Collinet at
Nantes, caused by the events of 1814 which led to a sudden fall in
colonial products, deprived them of twenty-four thousand francs which
they had just deposited with that house.
The arrival of their daughter-in-law was therefore welcome to them.
Her pension of eight hundred francs was a handsome income at Pen-Hoel.
The eight thousand francs which the widow's half-brother and sister
Rogron sent to her from her father's estate (after a multitude of
legal formalities) were placed by her in the Lorrains' business, they
giving her a mortgage on a little house which they owned at Nantes,
let for three hundred francs, and barely worth ten thousand.
Madame Lorrain the younger, Pierrette's mother, died in 1819. The
child of old Auffray and his young wife was small, delicate, and
weakly; the damp climate of the Marais did not agree with her. But her
husband's family persuaded her, in order to keep her with them, that
in no other quarter of the world could she find a more healthy region.
She was so petted and tenderly cared for that her death, when it came,
brought nothing but honor to the old Lorrains.
Some persons declared that Brigaut, an old Vendeen, one of those men
of iron who served under Charette, under Mercier, under the Marquis de
Montauran, and the Baron du Guenic, in the wars against the Republic,
counted for a good deal in the willingness of the younger Madame
Lorrain to remain in the Marais. If it were so, his soul must have
been a truly loving and devoted one. All Pen-Hoel saw him—he was
called respectfully Major Brigaut, the grade he had held in the
Catholic army—spending his days and his evenings in the Lorrains'
parlor, beside the window of the imperial major. Toward the last, the
curate of Pen-Hoel made certain representations to old Madame Lorrain,
begging her to persuade her daughter-in-law to marry Brigaut, and
promising to have the major appointed justice of peace for the canton
of Pen-Hoel, through the influence of the Vicomte de Kergarouet. The
death of the poor young woman put an end to the matter.
Pierrette was left in charge of her grandparents who owed her four
hundred francs a year, interest on the little property placed in their
hands. This small sum was now applied to her maintenance. The old
people, who were growing less and less fit for business, soon found
themselves confronted by an active and capable competitor, against
whom they said hard things, all the while doing nothing to defeat him.
Major Brigaut, their friend and adviser, died six months after his
friend, the younger Madame Lorrain,—perhaps of grief, perhaps of his
wounds, of which he had received twenty-seven.
Like a sound merchant, the competitor set about ruining his
adversaries in order to get rid of all rivalry. With his connivance,
the Lorrains borrowed money on notes, which they were unable to meet,
and which drove them in their old days into bankruptcy. Pierrette's
claim upon the house in Nantes was superseded by the legal rights of
her grandmother, who enforced them to secure the daily bread of her
poor husband. The house was sold for nine thousand five hundred
francs, of which one thousand five hundred went for costs. The
remaining eight thousand came to Madame Lorain, who lived upon the
income of them in a sort of almshouse at Nantes, like that of
Sainte-Perine in Paris, called Saint-Jacques, where the two old people
had bed and board for a humble payment.
As it was impossible to keep Pierrette, their ruined little
granddaughter, with them, the old Lorrains bethought themselves of her
uncle and aunt Rogron, in Provins, to whom they wrote. These Rogrons
were dead. The letter might, therefore, have easily been lost; but if
anything here below can take the place of Providence, it is the post.
Postal spirit, incomparably above public spirit, exceeds in brilliancy
of resource and invention the ablest romance-writers. When the post
gets hold of a letter, worth, to it, from three to ten sous, and does
not immediately know where to find the person to whom that letter is
addressed, it displays a financial anxiety only to be met with in very
pertinacious creditors. The post goes and comes and ferrets through
all the eighty-six departments. Difficulties only arouse the genius of
the clerks, who may really be called men-of-letters, and who set about
to search for that unknown human being with as much ardor as the
mathematicians of the Bureau give to longitudes. They literally
ransack the whole kingdom. At the first ray of hope all the
post-offices in Paris are alert. Sometimes the receiver of a missing
letter is amazed at the network of scrawled directions which covers both
back and front of the missive,—glorious vouchers for the administrative
persistency with which the post has been at work. If a man undertook
what the post accomplishes, he would lose ten thousand francs in
travel, time, and money, to recover ten sous. The letter of the old
Lorrains, addressed to Monsieur Rogron of Provins (who had then been
dead a year) was conveyed by the post in due time to Monsieur Rogron,
son of the deceased, a mercer in the rue Saint-Denis in Paris. And
this is where the postal spirit obtains its greatest triumph. An heir
is always more or less anxious to know if he has picked up every scrap
of his inheritance, if he has not overlooked a credit, or a trunk of
old clothes. The Treasury knows that. A letter addressed to the late
Rogron at Provins was certain to pique the curiosity of Rogron, Jr.,
or Mademoiselle Rogron, the heirs in Paris. Out of that human interest
the Treasury was able to earn sixty centimes.
These Rogrons, toward whom the old Lorrains, though dreading to part
with their dear little granddaughter, stretched their supplicating
hands, became, in this way, and most unexpectedly, the masters of
Pierrette's destiny. It is therefore indispensable to explain both
their antecedents and their character.
Pere Rogron, that innkeeper of Provins to whom old Auffray had married
his daughter by his first wife, was an individual with an inflamed
face, a veiny nose, and cheeks on which Bacchus had drawn his scarlet
and bulbous vine-marks. Though short, fat, and pot-bellied, with stout
legs and thick hands, he was gifted with the shrewdness of the Swiss
innkeepers, whom he resembled. Certainly he was not handsome, and his
wife looked like him. Never was a couple better matched. Rogron liked
good living and to be waited upon by pretty girls. He belonged to the
class of egoists whose behavior is brutal; he gave way to his vices
and did their will openly in the face of Israel. Grasping, selfish,
without decency, and always gratifying his own fancies, he devoured
his earnings until the day when his teeth failed him. Selfishness
stayed by him. In his old days he sold his inn, collected (as we have
seen) all he could of his late father-in-law's property, and went to
live in the little house in the square of Provins, bought for a trifle
from the widow of old Auffray, Pierrette's grandmother.
Rogron and his wife had about two thousand francs a year from
twenty-seven lots of land in the neighborhood of Provins, and from the
sale of their inn for twenty thousand. Old Auffray's house, though out
of repair, was inhabited just as it was by the Rogrons,—old rats like
wrack and ruin. Rogron himself took to horticulture and spent his
savings in enlarging the garden; he carried it to the river's edge
between two walls and built a sort of stone embankment across the end,
where aquatic nature, left to herself, displayed the charms of her
In the early years of their marriage the Rogrons had a son and a
daughter, both hideous; for such human beings degenerate. Put out to
nurse at a low price, these luckless children came home in due time,
after the worst of village training,—allowed to cry for hours after
their wet-nurse, who worked in the fields, leaving them shut up to
scream for her in one of those damp, dark, low rooms which serve as
homes for the French peasantry. Treated thus, the features of the
children coarsened; their voices grew harsh; they mortified their
mother's vanity, and that made her strive to correct their bad habits
by a sternness which the severity of their father converted through
comparison to kindness. As a general thing, they were left to run
loose about the stables and courtyards of the inn, or the streets of
the town; sometimes they were whipped; sometimes they were sent, to
get rid of them, to their grandfather Auffray, who did not like them.
The injustice the Rogrons declared the old man did to their children,
justified them to their own minds in taking the greater part of "the
old scoundrel's" property. However, Rogron did send his son to school,
and did buy him a man, one of his own cartmen, to save him from the
conscription. As soon as his daughter, Sylvie, was thirteen, he sent
her to Paris, to make her way as apprentice in a shop. Two years later
he despatched his son, Jerome-Denis, to the same career. When his
friends the carriers and those who frequented the inn, asked him what
he meant to do with his children, Pere Rogron explained his system
with a conciseness which, in view of that of most fathers, had the
merit of frankness.
"When they are old enough to understand me I shall give 'em a kick and
say: 'Go and make your own way in the world!'" he replied, emptying
his glass and wiping his lips with the back of his hand. Then he
winked at his questioner with a knowing look. "Hey! hey! they are no
greater fools than I was," he added. "My father gave me three kicks; I
shall only give them one; he put one louis into my hand; I shall put
ten in theirs, therefore they'll be better off than I was. That's the
way to do. After I'm gone, what's left will be theirs. The notaries
can find them and give it to them. What nonsense to bother one's self
about children. Mine owe me their life. I've fed them, and I don't ask
anything from them,—I call that quits, hey, neighbor? I began as a
cartman, but that didn't prevent me marrying the daughter of that old
Sylvie Rogron was sent (with six hundred francs for her board) as
apprentice to certain shopkeepers originally from Provins and now
settled in Paris in the rue Saint-Denis. Two years later she was "at
par," as they say; she earned her own living; at any rate her parents
paid nothing for her. That is what is called being "at par" in the rue
Saint-Denis. Sylvie had a salary of four hundred francs. At nineteen
years of age she was independent. At twenty, she was the second
demoiselle in the Maison Julliard, wholesale silk dealers at the
"Chinese Worm" rue Saint-Denis. The history of the sister was that of
the brother. Young Jerome-Denis Rogron entered the establishment of
one of the largest wholesale mercers in the same street, the Maison
Guepin, at the "Three Distaffs." When Sylvie Rogron, aged twenty-one,
had risen to be forewoman at a thousand francs a year Jerome-Denis,
with even better luck, was head-clerk at eighteen, with a salary of
twelve hundred francs.
Brother and sister met on Sundays and fete-days, which they passed
in economical amusements; they dined out of Paris, and went to
Saint-Cloud, Meudon, Belleville, or Vincennes. Towards the close of the
year 1815 they clubbed their savings, amounting to about twenty thousand
francs, earned by the sweat of their brows, and bought of Madame
Guenee the property and good-will of her celebrated shop, the "Family
Sister," one of the largest retail establishments in the quarter.
Sylvie kept the books and did the writing. Jerome-Denis was master and
head-clerk both. In 1821, after five years' experience, competition
became so fierce that it was all the brother and sister could do to
carry on the business and maintain its reputation.
Though Sylvie was at this time scarcely forty, her natural ugliness,
combined with hard work and a certain crabbed look (caused as much by
the conformation of her features as by her cares), made her seem like
a woman of fifty. At thirty-eight Jerome Rogron presented to the eyes
of his customers the silliest face that ever looked over a counter.
His retreating forehead, flattened by fatigue, was marked by three
long wrinkles. His grizzled hair, cut close, expressed in some
indefinable way the stupidity of a cold-blooded animal. The glance of
his bluish eyes had neither flame nor thought in it. His round, flat
face excited no sympathy, nor even a laugh on the lips of those who
might be examining the varieties of the Parisian species; on the
contrary, it saddened them. He was, like his father, short and fat,
but his figure lacked the latter's brutal obesity, and showed,
instead, an almost ridiculous debility. His father's high color was
changed in him to the livid flabbiness peculiar to persons who live in
close back-shops, or in those railed cages called counting-rooms,
forever tying up bundles, receiving and making change, snarling at the
clerks, and repeating the same old speeches to customers.
The small amount of brains possessed by the brother and sister had
been wholly absorbed in maintaining their business, in getting and
keeping money, and in learning the special laws and usages of the
Parisian market. Thread, needles, ribbons, pins, buttons, tailors'
furnishings, in short, the enormous quantity of things which go to
make up a mercer's stock, had taken all their capacity. Outside of
their business they knew absolutely nothing; they were even ignorant
of Paris. To them the great city was merely a region spreading around
the Rue Saint-Denis. Their narrow natures could see no field except
the shop. They were clever enough in nagging their clerks and their
young women and in proving them to blame. Their happiness lay in
seeing all hands busy at the counters, exhibiting the merchandise, and
folding it up again. When they heard the six or eight voices of the
young men and women glibly gabbling the consecrated phrases by which
clerks reply to the remarks of customers, the day was fine to them,
the weather beautiful! But on the really fine days, when the blue of
the heavens brightened all Paris, and the Parisians walked about to
enjoy themselves and cared for no "goods" but those they carried on
their back, the day was overcast to the Rogrons. "Bad weather for
sales," said that pair of imbeciles.
The skill with which Rogron could tie up a parcel made him an object
of admiration to all his apprentices. He could fold and tie and see
all that happened in the street and in the farthest recesses of the
shop by the time he handed the parcel to his customer with a "Here it
is, madame; nothing else to-day?" But the poor fool would have been
ruined without his sister. Sylvie had common-sense and a genius for
trade. She advised her brother in their purchases and would pitilessly
send him to remote parts of France to save a trifle of cost. The
shrewdness which all women more or less possess, not being employed in
the service of her heart, had drifted into that of speculation. A
business to pay for,—that thought was the mainspring which kept the
machine going and gave it an infernal activity.
Rogron was really only head-clerk; he understood nothing of his
business as a whole; self-interest, that great motor of the mind, had
failed in his case to instruct him. He was often aghast when his
sister ordered some article to be sold below cost, foreseeing the end
of its fashion; later he admired her idiotically for her cleverness.
He reasoned neither ill nor well; he was simply incapable of reasoning
at all; but he had the sense to subordinate himself to his sister, and
he did so from a consideration that was outside of the business. "She
is my elder," he said. Perhaps an existence like his, always solitary,
reduced to the satisfaction of mere needs, deprived of money and all
pleasures in youth, may explain to physiologists and thinkers the
clownish expression of the face, the feebleness of mind, the vacant
silliness of the man. His sister had steadily prevented him from
marrying, afraid perhaps to lose her power over him, and seeing only a
source of expense and injury in some woman who would certainly be
younger and undoubtedly less ugly than herself.
Silliness has two ways of comporting itself; it talks, or is silent.
Silent silliness can be borne; but Rogron's silliness was loquacious.
The man had a habit of chattering to his clerks, explaining the
minutiae of the business, and ornamenting his talk with those flat
jokes which may be called the "chaff" of shopkeeping. Rogron, listened
to, of course, by his subordinates and perfectly satisfied with
himself, had come at last into possession of a phraseology of his own.
This chatterer believed himself an orator. The necessity of explaining
to customers what they want, of guessing at their desires, and giving
them desires for what they do not want, exercises the tongue of all
retail shopkeepers. The petty dealer acquires the faculty of uttering
words and sentences in which there is absolutely no meaning, but which
have a marked success. He explains to his customers matters of
manufacture that they know nothing of; that alone gives him a passing
superiority over them; but take him away from his thousand and one
explanations about his thousand and one articles, and he is,
relatively to thought, like a fish out of water in the sun.
Rogron and Sylvie, two mechanisms baptized by mistake, did not
possess, latent or active, the feelings which give life to the heart.
Their natures were shrivelled and harsh, hardened by toil, by
privation, by the remembrance of their sufferings during a long and
cruel apprenticeship to life. Neither of them complained of their
trials. They were not so much implacable as impracticable in their
dealings with others in misfortune. To them, virtue, honor, loyalty,
all human sentiments consisted solely in the payment of their bills.
Irritable and irritating, without feelings, and sordid in their
economy, the brother and sister bore a dreadful reputation among the
other merchants of the rue Saint-Denis. Had it not been for their
connection with Provins, where they went three or four times a year,
when they could close the shop for a day or two, they would have had
no clerks or young women. But old Rogron, their father, sent them all
the unfortunate young people of his neighborhood, whose parents wished
to start them in business in Paris. He obtained these apprentices by
boasting, out of vanity, of his son's success. Parents, attracted by
the prospect of their children being well-trained and closely watched,
and also, by the hope of their succeeding, eventually, to the
business, sent whichever child was most in the way at home to the care
of the brother and sister. But no sooner had the clerks or the young
women found a way of escape from that dreadful establishment than they
fled, with rejoicings that increased the already bad name of the
Rogrons. New victims were supplied yearly by the indefatigable old
From the time she was fifteen, Sylvie Rogron, trained to the simpering
of a saleswoman, had two faces,—the amiable face of the seller, the
natural face of a sour spinster. Her acquired countenance was a
marvellous bit of mimicry. She was all smiles. Her voice, soft and
wheedling, gave a commercial charm to business. Her real face was that
we have already seen projecting from the half-opened blinds; the mere
sight of her would have put to flight the most resolute Cossack of
1815, much as that horde were said to like all kinds of Frenchwomen.
When the letter from the Lorrains reached the brother and sister, they
were in mourning for their father, from whom they inherited the house
which had been as good as stolen from Pierrette's grandmother, also
certain lands bought by their father, and certain moneys acquired by
usurious loans and mortgages to the peasantry, whose bits of ground
the old drunkard expected to possess. The yearly taking of stock was
just over. The price of the "Family Sister" had, at last, been paid in
full. The Rogrons owned about sixty thousand francs' worth of
merchandise, forty thousand in a bank or in their cash-box, and the
value of their business. Sitting on a bench covered with striped-green
Utrecht velvet placed in a square recess just behind their private
counter (the counter of their forewoman being similar and directly
opposite) the brother and sister consulted as to what they should do.
All retail shopkeepers aspire to become members of the bourgeoisie. By
selling the good-will of their business, the pair would have over a
hundred and fifty thousand francs, not counting the inheritance from
their father. By placing their present available property in the
public Funds, they would each obtain about four thousand francs a
year, and by taking the proceeds of their business, when sold, they
could repair and improve the house they inherited from their father,
which would thus be a good investment. They could then go and live in
a house of their own in Provins. Their forewoman was the daughter of a
rich farmer at Donnemarie, burdened with nine children, to whom he had
endeavored to give a good start in life, being aware that at his death
his property, divided into nine parts, would be but little for any one
of them. In five years, however, the man had lost seven children,—a
fact which made the forewoman so interesting that Rogron had tried,
unsuccessfully, to get her to marry him; but she showed an aversion
for her master which baffled his manoeuvres. Besides, Mademoiselle
Sylvie was not in favor of the match; in fact, she steadily opposed
her brother's marriage, and sought, instead, to make the shrewd young
woman their successor.
No passing observer can form the least idea of the cryptogramic
existence of a certain class of shopkeepers; he looks at them and asks
himself, "On what, and why, do they live? whence have they come? where
do they go?" He is lost in such questions, but finds no answer to
them. To discover the false seed of poesy which lies in those heads
and fructifies in those lives, it is necessary to dig into them; and
when we do that we soon come to a thin subsoil beneath the surface.
The Parisian shopkeeper nurtures his soul on some hope or other, more
or less attainable, without which he would doubtless perish. One
dreams of building or managing a theatre; another longs for the honors
of mayoralty; this one desires a country-house, ten miles from Paris
with a so-called "park," which he will adorn with statues of tinted
plaster and fountains which squirt mere threads of water, but on which
he will spend a mint of money; others, again, dream of distinction and
a high grade in the National Guard. Provins, that terrestrial
paradise, filled the brother and sister with the fanatical longings
which all the lovely towns of France inspire in their inhabitants. Let
us say it to the glory of La Champagne, this love is warranted.
Provins, one of the most charming towns in all France, rivals
Frangistan and the valley of Cashmere; not only does it contain the
poesy of Saadi, the Persian Homer, but it offers many pharmaceutical
treasures to medical science. The crusades brought roses from Jericho
to this enchanting valley, where by chance they gained new charms
while losing none of their colors. The Provins roses are known the
world over. But Provins is not only the French Persia, it is also
Baden, Aix, Cheltenham,—for it has medicinal springs. This was the
spot which appeared from time to time before the eyes of the two
shopkeepers in the muddy regions of Saint-Denis.
After crossing the gray plains which lie between La Ferte-Gaucher and
Provins, a desert and yet productive, a desert of wheat, you reach a
hill. Suddenly you behold at your feet a town watered by two rivers;
at the feet of the rock on which you stand stretches a verdant valley,
full of enchanting lines and fugitive horizons. If you come from Paris
you will pass through the whole length of Provins on the everlasting
highroad of France, which here skirts the hillside and is encumbered
with beggars and blind men, who will follow you with their pitiful
voices while you try to examine the unexpected picturesqueness of the
region. If you come from Troyes you will approach the town on the
valley side. The chateau, the old town, and its former ramparts are
terraced on the hillside, the new town is below. They go by the names
of Upper and Lower Provins. The upper is an airy town with steep
streets commanding fine views, surrounded by sunken road-ways and
ravines filled with chestnut trees which gash the sides of the hill
with their deep gulleys. The upper town is silent, clean, solemn,
surmounted by the imposing ruins of the old chateau. The lower is a
town of mills, watered by the Voulzie and the Durtain, two rivers of
Brie, narrow, sluggish, and deep; a town of inns, shops, retired
merchants; filled with diligences, travelling-carriages, and waggons.
The two towns, or rather this town with its historical memories, its
melancholy ruins, the gaiety of its valley, the romantic charm of its
ravines filled with tangled shrubbery and wildflowers, its rivers
banked with gardens, excites the love of all its children, who do as
the Auvergnats, the Savoyards, in fact, all French folks do, namely,
leave Provins to make their fortunes, and always return. "Die in one's
form," the proverb made for hares and faithful souls, seems also the
motto of a Provins native.
Thus the two Rogrons thought constantly of their dear Provins. While
Jerome sold his thread he saw the Upper town; as he piled up the cards
on which were buttons he contemplated the valley; when he rolled and
unrolled his ribbons he followed the shining rivers. Looking up at his
shelves he saw the ravines where he had often escaped his father's
anger and gone a-nutting or gathering blackberries. But the little
square in the Lower town was the chief object of his thoughts; he
imagined how he could improve his house: he dreamed of a new front,
new bedrooms, a salon, a billiard-room, a dining-room, and the kitchen
garden out of which he would make an English pleasure-ground, with
lawns, grottos, fountains, and statuary. The bedrooms at present
occupied by the brother and sister, on the second floor of a house
with three windows front and six storeys high in the rue Saint-Denis,
were furnished with the merest necessaries, yet no one in Paris had
finer furniture than they—in fancy. When Jerome walked the streets he
stopped short, struck with admiration at the handsome things in the
upholsterers' windows, and at the draperies he coveted for his house.
When he came home he would say to his sister: "I found in such a shop,
such and such a piece of furniture that will just do for the salon."
The next day he would buy another piece, and another, and so on. He
rejected, the following month, the articles of the months before. The
Budget itself, could not have paid for his architectural schemes. He
wanted everything he saw, but abandoned each thing for the last thing.
When he saw the balconies of new houses, when he studied external
ornamentation, he thought all such things, mouldings, carvings, etc.,
out of place in Paris. "Ah!" he would say, "those fine things would
look much better at Provins." When he stood on his doorstep leaning
against the lintel, digesting his morning meal, with a vacant eye, the
mercer was gazing at the house of his fancy gilded by the sun of his
dream; he walked in his garden; he heard the jet from his fountain
falling in pearly drops upon a slab of limestone; he played on his own
billiard-table; he gathered his own flowers.
Sylvie, on the other hand, was thinking so deeply, pen in hand, that
she forgot to scold the clerks; she was receiving the bourgeoisie of
Provins, she was looking at herself in the mirrors of her salon, and
admiring the beauties of a marvellous cap. The brother and sister
began to think the atmosphere of the rue Saint-Denis unhealthy, and
the smell of the mud in the markets made them long for the fragrance
of the Provins roses. They were the victims of a genuine nostalgia,
and also of a monomania, frustrated at present by the necessity of
selling their tapes and bobbins before they could leave Paris. The
promised land of the valley of Provins attracted these Hebrews all the
more because they had really suffered, and for a long time, as they
crossed breathlessly the sandy wastes of a mercer's business.
The Lorrains' letter reached them in the midst of meditations inspired
by this glorious future. They knew scarcely anything about their
cousin, Pierrette Lorrain. Their father got possession of the Auffray
property after they left home, and the old man said little to any one
of his business affairs. They hardly remembered their aunt Lorrain. It
took an hour of genealogical discussion before they made her out to be
the younger sister of their own mother by the second marriage of their
grandfather Auffray. It immediately struck them that this second
marriage had been fatally injurious to their interests by dividing the
Auffray property between two daughters. In times past they had heard
their father, who was given to sneering, complain of it.
The brother and sister considered the application of the Lorrains from
the point of view of such reminiscences, which were not at all
favorable for Pierrette. To take charge of an orphan, a girl, a
cousin, who might become their legal heir in case neither of them
married,—this was a matter that needed discussion. The question was
considered and debated under all its aspects. In the first place, they
had never seen Pierrette. Then, what a trouble it would be to have a
young girl to look after. Wouldn't it commit them to some obligations
towards her? Could they send the girl away if they did not like her?
Besides, wouldn't they have to marry her? and if Jerome found a
yoke-mate among the heiresses of Provins they ought to keep all their
property for his children. A yokemate for Jerome, according to Sylvie,
meant a stupid, rich and ugly girl who would let herself be governed.
They decided to refuse the Lorrain request. Sylvie agreed to write the
answer. Business being rather urgent just then she delayed writing,
and the forewoman coming forward with an offer for the stock and
good-will of the "Family Sister," which the brother and sister
accepted, the matter went entirely out of the old maid's mind.
Sylvie Rogron and her brother departed for Provins four years before
the time when the coming of Brigaut threw such excitement into
Pierrette's life. But the doings of the pair after their arrival at
Provins are as necessary to relate as their life in Paris; for Provins
was destined to be not less fatal to Pierrette than the commercial
antecedents of her cousins!
PATHOLOGY OF RETIRED MERCERS
When the petty shopkeeper who has come to Paris from the provinces
returns to the provinces from Paris he brings with him a few ideas;
then he loses them in the habits and ways of provincial life into
which he plunges, and his reforming notions leave him. From this there
do result, however, certain trifling, slow, successive changes by
which Paris scratches the surface of the provincial towns. This
process marks the transition of the ex-shopkeeper into the substantial
bourgeois, but it acts like an illness upon him. No retail shopkeeper
can pass with impunity from his perpetual chatter into dead silence,
from his Parisian activity to the stillness of provincial life. When
these worthy persons have laid by property they spend a portion of it
on some desire over which they have long brooded and into which they
now turn their remaining impulses, no longer restrained by force of
will. Those who have not been nursing a fixed idea either travel or
rush into the political interests of their municipality. Others take
to hunting or fishing and torment their farmers or tenants; others
again become usurers or stock-jobbers. As for the scheme of the
Rogrons, brother and sister, we know what that was; they had to
satisfy an imperious desire to handle the trowel and remodel their old
house into a charming new one.
This fixed idea produced upon the square of Lower Provins the front of
the building which Brigaut had been examining; also the interior
arrangements of the house and its handsome furniture. The contractor
did not drive a nail without consulting the owners, without requiring
them to sign the plans and specifications, without explaining to them
at full length and in every detail the nature of each article under
discussion, where it was manufactured, and what were its various
prices. As to the choicer things, each, they were told, had been used
by Monsieur Tiphaine, or Madame Julliard, or Monsieur the mayor, the
notables of the place. The idea of having things done as the rich
bourgeois of Provins did them carried the day for the contractor.
"Oh, if Monsieur Garceland has it in his house, put it in," said
Mademoiselle Rogron. "It must be all right; his taste is good."
"Sylvie, see, he wants us to have ovolos in the cornice of the
"Do you call those ovolos?"
"What an odd name! I never heard it before."
"But you have seen the thing?"
"Do you understand Latin?"
"Well, it means eggs—from the Latin ovum."
"What queer fellows you are, you architects!" cried Rogron. "It is
stepping on egg-shells to deal with you."
"Shall we paint the corridor?" asked the builder.
"Good heavens, no!" cried Sylvie. "That would be five hundred francs
"Oh, but the salon and the staircase are too pretty not to have the
corridor decorated too," said the man. "That little Madame Lesourd had
hers painted last year."
"And now, her husband, as king's attorney, is obliged to leave
"Ah, he'll be chief justice some of these days," said the builder.
"How about Monsieur Tiphaine?"
"Monsieur Tiphaine? he's got a pretty wife and is sure to get on.
He'll go to Paris. Shall we paint the corridor?"
"Yes, yes," said Rogron. "The Lesourds must be made to see that we are
as good as they."
The first year after the Rogrons returned to Provins was entirely
taken up by such discussions, by the pleasure of watching the workmen,
by the surprise occasioned to the townspeople and the replies to
questions of all kinds which resulted therefrom, and also by the
attempts made by Sylvie and her brother to be socially intimate with
the principal families of Provins.
The Rogrons had never gone into any society; they had never left their
shop, knowing absolutely no one in Paris, and now they were athirst
for the pleasures of social life. On their arrival in Provins they
found their former masters in Paris (long since returned to the
provinces), Monsieur and Madame Julliard, lately of the "Chinese
Worm," their children and grandchildren; the Guepin family, or rather
the Guepin clan, the youngest scion of which now kept the "Three
Distaffs"; and thirdly, Madame Guenee from whom they had purchased the
"Family Sister," and whose three daughters were married and settled in
Provins. These three races, Julliard, Guepin, and Guenee, had spread
through the town like dog-grass through a lawn. The mayor, Monsieur
Garceland, was the son-in-law of Monsieur Guepin; the curate, Abbe
Peroux, was own brother to Madame Julliard; the judge, Monsieur
Tiphaine junior, was brother to Madame Guenee, who signed herself
The queen of the town was the beautiful Madame Tiphaine junior, only
daughter of Madame Roguin, the rich wife of a former notary in Paris,
whose name was never mentioned. Clever, delicate, and pretty, married
in the provinces to please her mother, who for special reasons did not
want her with her, and took her from a convent only a few days before
the wedding, Melanie Tiphaine considered herself an exile in Provins,
where she behaved to admiration. Handsomely dowered, she still had
hopes. As for Monsieur Tiphaine, his old father had made to his eldest
daughter Madame Guenee such advances on her inheritance that an estate
worth eight thousand francs a year, situated within fifteen miles of
Provins, was to come wholly to him. Consequently the Tiphaines would
possess, sooner or later, some forty thousand francs a year, and were
not "badly off," as they say. The one overwhelming desire of the
beautiful Madame Tiphaine was to get Monsieur Tiphaine elected deputy.
As deputy he would become a judge in Paris; and she was firmly
resolved to push him up into the Royal courts. For these reasons she
tickled all vanities and strove to please all parties; and—what is
far more difficult—she succeeded. Twice a week she received the
bourgeoisie of Provins at her house in the Upper town. This
intelligent young woman of twenty had not as yet made a single blunder
or misstep on the slippery path she had taken. She gratified
everybody's self-love, and petted their hobbies; serious with the
serious, a girl with girls, instinctively a mother with mothers, gay
with young wives and disposed to help them, gracious to all,—in
short, a pearl, a treasure, the pride of Provins. She had never yet
said a word of her intentions and wishes, but all the electors of
Provins were awaiting the time when their dear Monsieur Tiphaine had
reached the required age for nomination. Every man in the place,
certain of his own talents, regarded the future deputy as his
particular friend, his protector. Of course, Monsieur Tiphaine would
attain to honors; he would be Keeper of the Seals, and then, what
wouldn't he do for Provins!
Such were the pleasant means by which Madame Tiphaine had come to rule
over the little town. Madame Guenee, Monsieur Tiphaine's sister, after
having married her eldest daughter to Monsieur Lesourd, prosecuting
attorney, her second to Monsieur Martener, the doctor, and the third
to Monsieur Auffray, the notary, had herself married Monsieur
Galardon, the collector. Mother and daughters all considered Monsieur
Tiphaine as the richest and ablest man in the family. The prosecuting
attorney had the strongest interest in sending his uncle to Paris,
expecting to step into his shoes as judge of the local court of
Provins. The four ladies formed a sort of court round Madame Tiphaine,
whose ideas and advice they followed on all occasions. Monsieur
Julliard, the eldest son of the old merchant, who had married the only
daughter of a rich farmer, set up a sudden, secret, and disinterested
passion for Madame Tiphaine, that angel descended from the Parisian
skies. The clever Melanie, too clever to involve herself with
Julliard, but quite capable of keeping him in the condition of Amadis
and making the most of his folly, advised him to start a journal,
intending herself to play the part of Egeria. For the last two years,
therefore, Julliard, possessed by his romantic passion, had published
the said newspaper, called the "Bee-hive," which contained articles
literary, archaeological, and medical, written in the family. The
advertisements paid expenses. The subscriptions, two hundred in all,
made the profits. Every now and then melancholy verses, totally
incomprehensible in La Brie, appeared, addressed, "TO HER!!!" with
three exclamation marks. The clan Julliard was thus united to the
other clans, and the salon of Madame Tiphaine became, naturally, the
first in the town. The few aristocrats who lived in Provins were, of
course, apart, and formed a single salon in the Upper town, at the
house of the old Comtesse de Breautey.
During the first six months of their transplantation, the Rogrons,
favored by their former acquaintance with several of these people,
were received, first by Madame Julliard the elder, and by the former
Madame Guenee, now Madame Galardon (from whom they had bought their
business), and next, after a good deal of difficulty, by Madame
Tiphaine. All parties wished to study the Rogrons before admitting
them. It was difficult, of course, to keep out merchants of the rue
Saint-Denis, originally from Provins, who had returned to the town to
spend their fortunes. Still, the object of all society is to
amalgamate persons of equal wealth, education, manners, customs,
accomplishments, and character. Now the Guepins, Guenees, and
Julliards had a better position among the bourgeoisie than the
Rogrons, whose father had been held in contempt on account of his
private life, and his conduct in the matter of the Auffray property,
—the facts of which were known to the notary Auffray, Madame
In the social life of these people, to which Madame Tiphaine had given
a certain tone of elegance, all was homogeneous; the component parts
understood each other, knew each other's characters, and behaved and
conversed in a manner that was agreeable to all. The Rogrons flattered
themselves that being received by Monsieur Garceland, the mayor, they
would soon be on good terms with all the best families in the town.
Sylvie applied herself to learn boston. Rogron, incapable of playing a
game, twirled his thumbs and had nothing to say except to discourse on
his new house. Words seemed to choke him; he would get up, try to
speak, become frightened, and sit down again, with comical distortion
of the lips. Sylvie naively betrayed her natural self at cards. Sharp,
irritable, whining when she lost, insolent when she won, nagging and
quarrelsome, she annoyed her partners as much as her adversaries, and
became the scourge of society. And yet, possessed by a silly,
unconcealed ambition, Rogron and his sister were bent on playing a
part in the society of a little town already in possession of a close
corporation of twelve allied families. Allowing that the restoration
of their house had cost them thirty thousand francs, the brother and
sister possessed between them at least ten thousand francs a year.
This they considered wealth, and with it they endeavored to impress
society, which immediately took the measure of their vulgarity, crass
ignorance, and foolish envy. On the evening when they were presented
to the beautiful Madame Tiphaine, who had already eyed them at Madame
Garceland's and at Madame Julliard the elder's, the queen of the town
remarked to Julliard junior, who stayed a few moments after the rest
of the company to talk with her and her husband:—
"You all seem to be taken with those Rogrons."
"No, no," said Amadis, "they bore my mother and annoy my wife. When
Mademoiselle Sylvie was apprenticed, thirty years ago, to my father,
none of them could endure her."
"I have a great mind," said Madame Tiphaine, putting her pretty foot
on the bar of the fender, "to make it understood that my salon is not
Julliard raised his eyes to the ceiling, as if to say, "Good heavens?
what wit, what intellect!"
"I wish my society to be select; and it certainly will not be if I
admit those Rogrons."
"They have neither heart, nor mind, nor manners"; said Monsieur
Tiphaine. "If, after selling thread for twenty years, as my sister did
"Your sister, my dear," said his wife in a parenthesis, "cannot be out
of place in any salon."
"—if," he continued, "people are stupid enough not to throw off the
shop and polish their manners, if they don't know any better than to
mistake the Counts of Champagne for the accounts of a wine-shop, as
Rogron did this evening, they had better, in my opinion, stay at
"They are simply impudent," said Julliard. "To hear them talk you
would suppose there was no other handsome house in Provins but theirs.
They want to crush us; and after all, they have hardly enough to live
"If it was only the brother," said Madame Tiphaine, "one might put up
with him; he is not so aggressive. Give him a Chinese puzzle and he
will stay in a corner quietly enough; it would take him a whole winter
to find it out. But Mademoiselle Sylvie, with that voice like a hoarse
hyena and those lobster-claws of hands! Don't repeat all this,
When Julliard had departed the little woman said to her husband:—
"I have aborigines enough whom I am forced to receive; these two will
fairly kill me. With your permission, I shall deprive myself of their
"You are mistress in your own house," replied he; "but that will make
enemies. The Rogrons will fling themselves into the opposition, which
hitherto has had no real strength in Provins. That Rogron is already
intimate with Baron Gouraud and the lawyer Vinet."
"Then," said Melanie, laughing, "they will do you some service. Where
there are no opponents, there is no triumph. A liberal conspiracy, an
illegal cabal, a struggle of any kind, will bring you into the
The justice looked at his young wife with a sort of alarmed
The next day it was whispered about that the Rogrons had not
altogether succeeded in Madame Tiphaine's salon. That lady's speech
about an inn was immensely admired. It was a whole month before she
returned Mademoiselle Sylvie's visit. Insolence of this kind is very
much noticed in the provinces.
During the evening which Sylvie had spent at Madame Tiphaine's a
disagreeable scene occurred between herself and old Madame Julliard
while playing boston, apropos of a trick which Sylvie declared the old
lady had made her lose on purpose; for the old maid, who liked to trip
others, could never endure the same game on herself. The next time she
was invited out the mistress took care to make up the card-tables
before she arrived; so that Sylvie was reduced to wandering from table
to table as an onlooker, the players glancing at her with scornful
eyes. At Madame Julliard senior's house, they played whist, a game
Sylvie did not know.
The old maid at last understood that she was under a ban; but she had
no conception of the reason of it. She fancied herself an object of
jealousy to all these persons. After a time she and her brother
received no invitations, but they still persisted in paying evening
visits. Satirical persons made fun of them,—not spitefully, but
amusingly; inveigling them to talk absurdly about the eggs in their
cornice, and their wonderful cellar of wine, the like of which was not
Before long the Rogron house was completely finished, and the brother
and sister then resolved to give several sumptuous dinners, as much to
return the civilities they had received as to exhibit their luxury.
The invited guests accepted from curiosity only. The first dinner was
given to the leading personages of the town; to Monsieur and Madame
Tiphaine, with whom, however the Rogrons had never dined; to Monsieur
and Madame Julliard, senior and junior; to Monsieur Lesourd, Monsieur
le cure, and Monsieur and Madame Galardon. It was one of those
interminable provincial dinners, where you sit at table from five to
nine o'clock. Madame Tiphaine had introduced into Provins the Parisian
custom of taking leave as soon as coffee had been served. On this
occasion she had company at home and was anxious to get away. The
Rogrons accompanied her husband and herself to the street door, and
when they returned to the salon, disconcerted at not being able to
keep their chief guests, the rest of the party were preparing to
imitate Madame Tiphaine's fashion with cruel provincial promptness.
"They won't see our salon lighted up," said Sylvie, "and that's the
show of the house."
The Rogrons had counted on surprising their guests. It was the first
time any one had been admitted to the now celebrated house, and the
company assembled at Madame Tiphaine's was eagerly awaiting her
opinion of the marvels of the "Rogron palace."
"Well!" cried little Madame Martener, "you've seen the Louvre; tell us
all about it."
"All? Well, it would be like the dinner,—not much."
"But do describe it."
"Well, to begin with, that front door, the gilded grating of which we
have all admired," said Madame Tiphaine, "opens upon a long corridor
which divides the house unequally; on the right side there is one
window, on the other, two. At the garden end, the corridor opens with
a glass door upon a portico with steps to the lawn, where there's a
sun dial and a plaster statue of Spartacus, painted to imitate bronze.
Behind the kitchen, the builder has put the staircase, and a sort of
larder which we are spared the sight of. The staircase, painted to
imitate black marble with yellow veins, turns upon itself like those
you see in cafes leading from the ground-floor to the entresol. The
balustrade, of walnut with brass ornaments and dangerously slight, was
pointed out to us as one of the seven wonders of the world. The cellar
stairs run under it. On the other side of the corridor is the
dining-room, which communicates by folding-doors with a salon of equal
size, the windows of which look on the garden."
"Dear me, is there no ante-chamber?" asked Madame Auffray.
"The corridor, full of draughts, answers for an ante-chamber," replied
Madame Tiphaine. "Our friends have had, they assured us, the eminently
national, liberal, constitutional, and patriotic feeling to use none
but French woods in the house; so the floor in the dining-room is
chestnut, the sideboards, tables, and chairs, of the same. White
calico window-curtains, with red borders, are held back by vulgar red
straps; these magnificent draperies run on wooden curtain rods ending
in brass lion's-paws. Above one of the sideboards hangs a dial
suspended by a sort of napkin in gilded bronze,—an idea that seemed
to please the Rogrons hugely. They tried to make me admire the
invention; all I could manage to say was that if it was ever proper to
wrap a napkin round a dial it was certainly in a dining-room. On the
sideboard were two huge lamps like those on the counter of a
restaurant. Above the other sideboard hung a barometer, excessively
ornate, which seems to play a great part in their existence; Rogron
gazed at it as he might at his future wife. Between the two windows is
a white porcelain stove in a niche overloaded with ornament. The walls
glow with a magnificent paper, crimson and gold, such as you see in
the same restaurants, where, no doubt, the Rogrons chose it. Dinner
was served on white and gold china, with a dessert service of light
blue with green flowers, but they showed us another service in
earthenware for everyday use. Opposite to each sideboard was a large
cupboard containing linen. All was clean, new, and horribly sharp in
tone. However, I admit the dining-room; it has some character, though
disagreeable; it represents that of the masters of the house. But
there is no enduring the five engravings that hang on the walls; the
Minister of the Interior ought really to frame a law against them. One
was Poniatowski jumping into the Elster; the others, Napoleon pointing
a cannon, the defence at Clichy, and the two Mazepas, all in gilt
frames of the vulgarest description,—fit to carry off the prize of
disgust. Oh! how much I prefer Madame Julliard's pastels of fruit,
those excellent Louis XV. pastels, which are in keeping with the old
dining-room and its gray panels,—defaced by age, it is true, but they
possess the true provincial characteristics that go well with old
family silver, precious china, and our simple habits. The provinces
are provinces; they are only ridiculous when they mimic Paris. I
prefer this old salon of my husband's forefathers, with its heavy
curtains of green and white damask, the Louis XV. mantelpiece, the
twisted pier-glasses, the old mirrors with their beaded mouldings, and
the venerable card tables. Yes, I prefer my old Sevres vases in royal
blue, mounted on copper, my clock with those impossible flowers, that
rococco chandelier, and the tapestried furniture, to all the finery of
the Rogron salon."
"What is the salon like?" said Monsieur Martener, delighted with the
praise the handsome Parisian bestowed so adroitly on the provinces.
"As for the salon, it is all red,—the red Mademoiselle Sylvie turns
when she loses at cards."
"Sylvan-red," said Monsieur Tiphaine, whose sparkling saying long
remained in the vocabulary of Provins.
"Window-curtains, red; furniture, red; mantelpiece, red, veined
yellow, candelabra and clock ditto mounted on bronze, common and heavy
in design,—Roman standards with Greek foliage! Above the clock is
that inevitable good-natured lion which looks at you with a simper,
the lion of ornamentation, with a big ball under his feet, symbol of
the decorative lion, who passes his life holding a black ball,
—exactly like a deputy of the Left. Perhaps it is meant as a
constitutional myth. The face of the clock is curious. The glass over
the chimney is framed in that new fashion of applied mouldings which
is so trumpery and vulgar. From the ceiling hangs a chandelier
carefully wrapped in green muslin, and rightly too, for it is in the
worst taste, the sharpest tint of bronze with hideous ornaments. The
walls are covered with a red flock paper to imitate velvet enclosed in
panels, each panel decorated with a chromo-lithograph in one of those
frames festooned with stucco flowers to represent wood-carving. The
furniture, in cashmere and elm-wood, consists, with classic
uniformity, of two sofas, two easy-chairs, two armchairs, and six
common chairs. A vase in alabaster, called a la Medicis, kept under
glass stands on a table between the windows; before the windows, which
are draped with magnificent red silk curtains and lace curtains under
them, are card-tables. The carpet is Aubusson, and you may be sure the
Rogrons did not fail to lay hands on that most vulgar of patterns,
large flowers on a red ground. The room looks as if no one ever lived
there; there are no books, no engravings, none of those little
knick-knacks we all have lying about," added Madame Tiphaine, glancing
at her own table covered with fashionable trifles, albums, and little
presents given to her by friends; "and there are no flowers,—it is
all cold and barren, like Mademoiselle Sylvie herself. Buffon says the
style is the man, and certainly salons have styles of their own."
From this sketch everybody can see the sort of house the brother and
sister lived in, though they can never imagine the absurdities into
which a clever builder dragged the ignorant pair,—new inventions,
fantastic ornaments, a system for preventing smoky chimneys, another
for preventing damp walls; painted marquetry panels on the staircase,
colored glass, superfine locks,—in short, all those vulgarities which
make a house expensive and gratify the bourgeois taste.
No one chose to visit the Rogrons, whose social plans thus came to
nothing. Their invitations were refused under various excuses,—the
evenings were already engaged to Madame Garceland and the other ladies
of the Provins world. The Rogrons had supposed that all that was
required to gain a position in society was to give a few dinners. But
no one any longer accepted them, except a few young men who went to
make fun of their host and hostess, and certain diners-out who went
Frightened at the loss of forty thousand francs swallowed up without
profit in what she called her "dear house," Sylvie now set to work to
recover it by economy. She gave no more dinners, which had cost her
forty or fifty francs without the wines, and did not fulfil her social
hopes, hopes that are as hard to realize in the provinces as in Paris.
She sent away her cook, took a country-girl to do the menial work, and
did her own cooking, as she said, "for pleasure."
Fourteen months after their return to Provins, the brother and sister
had fallen into a solitary and wholly unoccupied condition. Their
banishment from society roused in Sylvie's heart a dreadful hatred
against the Tiphaines, Julliards and all the other members of the
social world of Provins, which she called "the clique," and with whom
her personal relations became extremely cold. She would gladly have
set up a rival clique, but the lesser bourgeoisie was made up of
either small shopkeepers who were only free on Sundays and fete-days,
or smirched individuals like the lawyer Vinet and Doctor Neraud, and
wholly inadmissible Bonapartists like Baron Gouraud, with whom,
however, Rogron thoughtlessly allied himself, though the upper
bourgeoisie had warned him against them.
The brother and sister were, therefore, forced to sit by the fire of
the stove in the dining-room, talking over their former business,
trying to recall the faces of their customers and other matters they
had intended to forget. By the end of the second winter ennui weighed
heavily on them. They did not know how to get through each day;
sometimes as they went to bed the words escaped them, "There's another
over!" They dragged out the morning by staying in bed, and dressing
slowly. Rogron shaved himself every day, examined his face, consulted
his sister on any changes he thought he saw there, argued with the
servant about the temperature of his hot water, wandered into the
garden, looked to see if the shrubs were budding, sat at the edge of
the water where he had built himself a kiosk, examined the joinery of
his house,—had it sprung? had the walls settled, the panels cracked?
or he would come in fretting about a sick hen, and complaining to his
sister, who was nagging the servant as she set the table, of the
dampness which was coming out in spots upon the plaster. The barometer
was Rogron's most useful bit of property. He consulted it at all
hours, tapped it familiarly like a friend, saying: "Vile weather!" to
which his sister would reply, "Pooh! it is only seasonable." If any
one called to see him the excellence of that instrument was his chief
topic of conversation.
Breakfast took up some little time; with what deliberation those two
human beings masticated their food! Their digestions were perfect;
cancer of the stomach was not to be dreaded by them. They managed to
get along till twelve o'clock by reading the "Bee-hive" and the
"Constitutionnel." The cost of subscribing to the Parisian paper was
shared by Vinet the lawyer, and Baron Gouraud. Rogron himself carried
the paper to Gouraud, who had been a colonel and lived on the square,
and whose long yarns were Rogron's delight; the latter sometimes
puzzled over the warnings he had received, and asked himself how such
a lively companion could be dangerous. He was fool enough to tell the
colonel he had been warned against him, and to repeat all the "clique"
had said. God knows how the colonel, who feared no one, and was
equally to be dreaded with pistols or a sword, gave tongue about
Madame Tiphaine and her Amadis, and the ministerialists of the Upper
town, persons capable of any villany to get places, and who counted
the votes at elections to suit themselves, etc.
About two o'clock Rogron started for a little walk. He was quite happy
if some shopkeeper standing on the threshold of his door would stop
him and say, "Well, pere Rogron, how goes it with you?" Then he
would talk, and ask for news, and gather all the gossip of the town.
He usually went as far as the Upper town, sometimes to the ravines,
according to the weather. Occasionally he would meet old men taking
their walks abroad like himself. Such meetings were joyful events to
him. There happened to be in Provins a few men weary of Parisian life,
quiet scholars who lived with their books. Fancy the bewilderment of
the ignorant Rogron when he heard a deputy-judge named Desfondrilles,
more of an archaeologist than a magistrate, saying to old Monsieur
Martener, a really learned man, as he pointed to the valley:—
"Explain to me why the idlers of Europe go to Spa instead of coming to
Provins, when the springs here have a superior curative value
recognized by the French faculty,—a potential worthy of the medicinal
properties of our roses."
"That is one of the caprices of caprice," said the old gentleman.
"Bordeaux wine was unknown a hundred years ago. Marechal de Richelieu,
one of the noted men of the last century, the French Alcibiades, was
appointed governor of Guyenne. His lungs were diseased, and, heaven
knows why! the wine of the country did him good and he recovered.
Bordeaux instantly made a hundred millions; the marshal widened its
territory to Angouleme, to Cahors,—in short, to over a hundred miles
of circumference! it is hard to tell where the Bordeaux vineyards end.
And yet they haven't erected an equestrian statue to the marshal in
"Ah! if anything of that kind happens to Provins," said Monsieur
Desfondrilles, "let us hope that somewhere in the Upper or Lower town
they will set up a bas-relief of the head of Monsieur Opoix, the
re-discoverer of the mineral waters of Provins."
"My dear friend, the revival of Provins is impossible," replied
Monsieur Martener; "the town was made bankrupt long ago."
"What!" cried Rogron, opening his eyes very wide.
"It was once a capital, holding its own against Paris in the twelfth
century, when the Comtes de Champagne held their court here, just as
King Rene held his in Provence," replied the man of learning; "for in
those days civilization, gaiety, poesy, elegance, and women, in short
all social splendors, were not found exclusively in Paris. It is as
difficult for towns and cities as it is for commercial houses to
recover from ruin. Nothing is left to us of the old Provins but the
fragrance of our historical glory and that of our roses,—and a
"Ah! what mightn't France be if she had only preserved her feudal
capitals!" said Desfondrilles. "Can sub-prefects replace the poetic,
gallant, warlike race of the Thibaults who made Provins what Ferrara
was to Italy, Weimar to Germany,—what Munich is trying to be to-day."
"Was Provins ever a capital?" asked Rogron.
"Why! where do you come from?" exclaimed the archaeologist. "Don't you
know," he added, striking the ground of the Upper town where they
stood with his cane, "don't you know that the whole of this part of
Provins is built on catacombs?"
"Yes, catacombs, the extent and height of which are yet undiscovered.
They are like the naves of cathedrals, and there are pillars in them."
"Monsieur is writing a great archaeological work to explain these
strange constructions," interposed Monsieur Martener, seeing that the
deputy-judge was about to mount his hobby.
Rogron came home much comforted to know that his house was in the
valley. The crypts of Provins kept him occupied for a week in
explorations, and gave a topic of conversation to the unhappy
celibates for many evenings.
In the course of these ramblings Rogron picked up various bits of
information about Provins, its inhabitants, their marriages, together
with stale political news; all of which he narrated to his sister.
Scores of times in his walks he would stop and say,—often to the same
person on the same day,—"Well, what's the news?" When he reached home
he would fling himself on the sofa like a man exhausted with labor,
whereas he was only worn out with the burden of his own dulness.
Dinner came at last, after he had gone twenty times to the kitchen and
back, compared the clocks, and opened and shut all the doors of the
house. So long as the brother and sister could spend their evenings in
paying visits they managed to get along till bedtime; but after they
were compelled to stay at home those evenings became like a parching
desert. Sometimes persons passing through the quiet little square
would hear unearthly noises as though the brother were throttling the
sister; a moment's listening would show that they were only yawning.
These two human mechanisms, having nothing to grind between their
rusty wheels, were creaking and grating at each other. The brother
talked of marrying, but only in despair. He felt old and weary; the
thought of a woman frightened him. Sylvie, who began to see the
necessity of having a third person in the home, suddenly remembered
the little cousin, about whom no one in Provins had yet inquired, the
friends of Madame Lorrain probably supposing that mother and child
were both dead.
Sylvie Rogron never lost anything; she was too thoroughly an old maid
even to mislay the smallest article; but she pretended to have
suddenly found the Lorrains' letter, so as to mention Pierrette
naturally to her brother, who was greatly pleased at the possibility
of having a little girl in the house. Sylvie replied to Madame
Lorrain's letter half affectionately, half commercially, as one may
say, explaining the delay by their change of abode and the settlement
of their affairs. She seemed desirous of receiving her little cousin,
and hinted that Pierrette would perhaps inherit twelve thousand francs
a year if her brother Jerome did not marry.
Perhaps it is necessary to have been, like Nebuchadnezzar, something
of a wild beast, and shut up in a cage at the Jardin des Plantes
without other prey than the butcher's meat doled out by the keeper, or
a retired merchant deprived of the joys of tormenting his clerks, to
understand the impatience with which the brother and sister awaited
the arrival of their cousin Lorrain. Three days after the letter had
gone, the pair were already asking themselves when she would get
Sylvie perceived in her spurious benevolence towards her poor cousin a
means of recovering her position in the social world of Provins. She
accordingly went to call on Madame Tiphaine, of whose reprobation she
was conscious, in order to impart the fact of Pierrette's approaching
arrival,—deploring the girl's unfortunate position, and posing
herself as being only too happy to succor her and give her a position
as daughter and future heiress.
"You have been rather long in discovering her," said Madame Tiphaine,
with a touch of sarcasm.
A few words said in a low voice by Madame Garceland, while the cards
were being dealt, recalled to the minds of those who heard her the
shameful conduct of old Rogron about the Auffray property; the notary
explained the iniquity.
"Where is the little girl now?" asked Monsieur Tiphaine, politely.
"In Brittany," said Rogron.
"Brittany is a large place," remarked Monsieur Lesourd.
"Her grandfather and grandmother Lorrain wrote to us—when was that,
my dear?" said Rogron addressing his sister.
Sylvie, who was just then asking Madame Garceland where she had bought
the stuff for her gown, answered hastily, without thinking of the
effect of her words:—
"Before we sold the business."
"And have you only just answered the letter, mademoiselle?" asked the
Sylvie turned as red as a live coal.
"We wrote to the Institution of Saint-Jacques," remarked Rogron.
"That is a sort of hospital or almshouse for old people," said
Monsieur Desfondrilles, who knew Nantes. "She can't be there; they
receive no one under sixty."
"She is there, with her grandmother Lorrain," said Rogron.
"Her mother had a little fortune, the eight thousand francs which your
father—no, I mean of course your grandfather—left to her," said the
notary, making the blunder intentionally.
"Ah!" said Rogron, stupidly, not understanding the notary's sarcasm.
"Then you know nothing about your cousin's position or means?" asked
"If Monsieur Rogron had known it," said the deputy-judge, "he would
never have left her all this time in an establishment of that kind. I
remember now that a house in Nantes belonging to Monsieur and Madame
Lorrain was sold under an order of the court, and that Mademoiselle
Lorrain's claim was swallowed up. I know this, for I was commissioner
at the time."
The notary spoke of Colonel Lorrain, who, had he lived, would have
been much amazed to know that his daughter was in such an institution.
The Rogrons beat a retreat, saying to each other that the world was
very malicious. Sylvie perceived that the news of her benevolence had
missed its effect,—in fact, she had lost ground in all minds; and she
felt that henceforth she was forbidden to attempt an intimacy with the
upper class of Provins. After this evening the Rogrons no longer
concealed their hatred of that class and all its adherents. The
brother told the sister the scandals that Colonel Gouraud and the
lawyer Vinet had put into his head about the Tiphaines, the Guenees,
the Garcelands, the Julliards, and others:—
"I declare, Sylvie, I don't see why Madame Tiphaine should turn up her
nose at shopkeeping in the rue Saint-Denis; it is more honest than
what she comes from. Madame Roguin, her mother, is cousin to those
Guillaumes of the 'Cat-playing-ball' who gave up the business to
Joseph Lebas, their son-in-law. Her father is that Roguin who failed
in 1819, and ruined the house of Cesar Birotteau. Madame Tiphaine's
fortune was stolen,—for what else are you to call it when a notary's
wife who is very rich lets her husband make a fraudulent bankruptcy?
Fine doings! and she marries her daughter in Provins to get her out of
the way,—all on account of her own relations with du Tillet. And such
people set up to be proud! Well, well, that's the world!"
On the day when Jerome Rogron and his sister began to declaim against
"the clique" they were, without being aware of it, on the road to
having a society of their own; their house was to become a rendezvous
for other interests seeking a centre,—those of the hitherto floating
elements of the liberal party in Provins. And this is how it came
about: The launch of the Rogrons in society had been watched with
great curiosity by Colonel Gouraud and the lawyer Vinet, two men drawn
together, first by their ostracism, next by their opinions. They both
professed patriotism and for the same reason,—they wished to become
of consequence. The Liberals in Provins were, so far, confined to one
old soldier who kept a cafe, an innkeeper, Monsieur Cournant a notary,
Doctor Neraud, and a few stray persons, mostly farmers or those who
had bought lands of the public domain.
The colonel and the lawyer, delighted to lay hands on a fool whose
money would be useful to their schemes, and who might himself, in
certain cases, be made to bell the cat, while his house would serve as
a meeting-ground for the scattered elements of the party, made the
most of the Rogrons' ill-will against the upper classes of the place.
The three had already a slight tie in their united subscription to the
"Constitutionnel"; it would certainly not be difficult for the colonel
to make a Liberal of the ex-mercer, though Rogron knew so little of
politics that he was capable of regarding the exploits of Sergeant
Mercier as those of a brother shopkeeper.
The expected arrival of Pierrette brought to sudden fruition the
selfish ideas of the two men, inspired as they were by the folly and
ignorance of the celibates. Seeing that Sylvie had lost all chance of
establishing herself in the good society of the place, an afterthought
came to the colonel. Old soldiers have seen so many horrors in all
lands, so many grinning corpses on battle-fields, that no
physiognomies repel them; and Gouraud began to cast his eyes on the
old maid's fortune. This imperial colonel, a short, fat man, wore
enormous rings in ears that were bushy with tufts of hair. His sparse
and grizzled whiskers were called in 1799 "fins." His jolly red face
was rather discolored, like those of all who had lived to tell of the
Beresina. The lower half of his big, pointed stomach marked the
straight line which characterizes a cavalry officer. Gouraud had
commanded the Second Hussars. His gray moustache hid a huge blustering
mouth,—if we may use a term which alone describes that gulf. He did
not eat his food, he engulfed it. A sabre cut had slit his nose, by
which his speech was made thick and very nasal, like that attributed
to Capuchins. His hands, which were short and broad, were of the kind
that make women say: "You have the hands of a rascal." His legs seemed
slender for his torso. In that fat and active body an absolutely
lawless spirit disported itself, and a thorough experience of the
things of life, together with a profound contempt for social
convention, lay hidden beneath the apparent indifference of a soldier.
Colonel Gouraud wore the cross of an officer of the Legion of honor,
and his emoluments from that, together with his salary as a retired
officer, gave him in all about three thousand francs a year.
The lawyer, tall and thin, had liberal opinions in place of talent,
and his only revenue was the meagre profits of his office. In Provins
lawyers plead their own cases. The court was unfavorable to Vinet on
account of his opinions; consequently, even the farmers who were
Liberals, when it came to lawsuits preferred to employ some lawyer who
was more congenial to the judges. Vinet was regarded with disfavor in
other ways. He was said to have seduced a rich girl in the
neighborhood of Coulommiers, and thus have forced her parents to marry
her to him. Madame Vinet was a Chargeboeuf, an old and noble family of
La Brie, whose name comes from the exploit of a squire during the
expedition of Saint Louis to Egypt. She incurred the displeasure of
her father and mother, who arranged, unknown to Vinet, to leave their
entire fortune to their son, doubtless charging him privately, to pay
over a portion of it to his sister's children.
Thus the first bold effort of the ambitious man was a failure. Pursued
by poverty, and ashamed not to give his wife the means of making a
suitable appearance, he had made desperate efforts to enter public
life, but the Chargeboeuf family refused him their influence. These
Royalists disapproved, on moral grounds, of his forced marriage;
besides, he was named Vinet, and how could they be expected to protect
a plebian? Thus he was driven from branch to branch when he tried to
get some good out of his marriage. Repulsed by every one, filled with
hatred for the family of his wife, for the government which denied him
a place, for the social world of Provins, which refused to admit him,
Vinet submitted to his fate; but his gall increased. He became a
Liberal in the belief that his fortune might yet be made by the
triumph of the opposition, and he lived in a miserable little house in
the Upper town from which his wife seldom issued. Madame Vinet had
found no one to defend her since her marriage except an old Madame de
Chargeboeuf, a widow with one daughter, who lived at Troyes. The
unfortunate young woman, destined for better things, was absolutely
alone in her home with a single child.
There are some kinds of poverty which may be nobly accepted and gaily
borne; but Vinet, devoured by ambition, and feeling himself guilty
towards his wife, was full of darkling rage; his conscience grew
elastic; and he finally came to think any means of success
permissible. His young face changed. Persons about the courts were
sometimes frightened as they looked at his viperish, flat head, his
slit mouth, his eyes gleaming through glasses, and heard his sharp,
persistent voice which rasped their nerves. His muddy skin, with its
sickly tones of green and yellow, expressed the jaundice of his balked
ambition, his perpetual disappointments and his hidden wretchedness.
He could talk and argue; he was well-informed and shrewd, and was not
without smartness and metaphor. Accustomed to look at everything from
the standpoint of his own success, he was well fitted for a
politician. A man who shrinks from nothing so long as it is legal, is
strong; and Vinet's strength lay there.
This future athlete of parliamentary debate, who was destined to share
in proclaiming the dynasty of the house of Orleans had a terrible
influence on Pierrette's fate. At the present moment he was bent on
making for himself a weapon by founding a newspaper at Provins. After
studying the Rogrons at a distance (the colonel aiding him) he had
come to the conclusion that the brother might be made useful. This
time he was not mistaken; his days of poverty were over, after seven
wretched years, when even his daily bread was sometimes lacking. The
day when Gouraud told him in the little square that the Rogrons had
finally quarrelled with the bourgeois aristocracy of the Upper town,
he nudged the colonel in the ribs significantly, and said, with a
"One woman or another—handsome or ugly—you don't care; marry
Mademoiselle Rogron and we can organize something at once."
"I have been thinking of it," replied Gouraud, "but the fact is they
have sent for the daughter of Colonel Lorrain, and she's their next of
"You can get them to make a will in your favor. Ha! you would get a
very comfortable house."
"As for the little girl—well, well, let's see her," said the colonel,
with a leering and thoroughly wicked look, which proved to a man of
Vinet's quality how little respect the old trooper could feel for any
After her grandfather and grandmother entered the sort of hospital in
which they sadly expected to end their days, Pierrette, being young
and proud, suffered so terribly at living there on charity that she
was thankful when she heard she had rich relations. When Brigaut, the
son of her mother's friend the major, and the companion of her
childhood, who was learning his trade as a cabinet-maker at Nantes,
heard of her departure he offered her the money to pay her way to
Paris in the diligence,—sixty francs, the total of his pour-boires
as an apprentice, slowly amassed, and accepted by Pierrette with the
sublime indifference of true affection, showing that in a like case
she herself would be affronted by thanks.
Brigaut was in the habit of going every Sunday to Saint-Jacques to
play with Pierrette and try to console her. The vigorous young workman
knew the dear delight of bestowing a complete and devoted protection
on an object involuntarily chosen by his heart. More than once he and
Pierrette, sitting on Sundays in a corner of the garden, had
embroidered the veil of the future with their youthful projects; the
apprentice, armed with his plane, scoured the world to make their
fortune, while Pierrette waited.
In October, 1824, when the child had completed her eleventh year, she
was entrusted by the two old people and by Brigaut, all three
sorrowfully sad, to the conductor of the diligence from Nantes to
Paris, with an entreaty to put her safely on the diligence from Paris
to Provins and to take good care of her. Poor Brigaut! he ran like a
dog after the coach looking at his dear Pierrette as long as he was
able. In spite of her signs he ran over three miles, and when at last
he was exhausted his eyes, wet with tears, still followed her. She,
too, was crying when she saw him no longer running by her, and putting
her head out of the window she watched him, standing stock-still and
looking after her, as the lumbering vehicle disappeared.
The Lorrains and Brigaut knew so little of life that the girl had not
a penny when she arrived in Paris. The conductor, to whom she had
mentioned her rich friends, paid her expenses at the hotel, and made
the conductor of the Provins diligence pay him, telling him to take
good care of the girl and to see that the charges were paid by the
family, exactly as though she were a case of goods. Four days after
her departure from Nantes, about nine o'clock of a Monday night, a
kind old conductor of the Messageries-royales, took Pierrette by the
hand, and while the porters were discharging in the Grand'Rue the
packages and passengers for Provins, he led the little girl, whose
only baggage was a bundle containing two dresses, two chemises, and
two pairs of stockings, to Mademoiselle Rogron's house, which was
pointed out to him by the director at the coach office.
"Good-evening, mademoiselle and the rest of the company. I've brought
you a cousin, and here she is; and a nice little girl too, upon my
word. You have forty-seven francs to pay me, and sign my book."
Mademoiselle Sylvie and her brother were dumb with pleasure and
"Excuse me," said the conductor, "the coach is waiting. Sign my book
and pay me forty-seven francs, sixty centimes, and whatever you please
for myself and the conductor from Nantes; we've taken care of the
little girl as if she were our own; and paid for her beds and her
food, also her fare to Provins, and other little things."
"Forty-seven francs, twelve sous!" said Sylvie.
"You are not going to dispute it?" cried the man.
"Where's the bill?" said Rogron.
"Bill! look at the book."
"Stop talking, and pay him," said Sylvie, "You see there's nothing
else to be done."
Rogron went to get the money, and gave the man forty-seven francs,
"And nothing for my comrade and me?" said the conductor.
Sylvie took two francs from the depths of the old velvet bag which
held her keys.
"Thank you, no," said the man; "keep 'em yourself. We would rather
care for the little one for her own sake." He picked up his book and
departed, saying to the servant-girl: "What a pair! it seems there are
crocodiles out of Egypt!"
"Such men are always brutal," said Sylvie, who overhead the words.
"They took good care of the little girl, anyhow," said Adele with her
hands on her hips.
"We don't have to live with him," remarked Rogron.
"Where's the little one to sleep?" asked Adele.
Such was the arrival of Pierrette Lorrain in the home of her cousins,
who gazed at her with stolid eyes; she was tossed to them like a
package, with no intermediate state between the wretched chamber at
Saint-Jacques and the dining-room of her cousins, which seemed to her
a palace. She was shy and speechless. To all other eyes than those of
the Rogrons the little Breton girl would have seemed enchanting as she
stood there in her petticoat of coarse blue flannel, with a pink
cambric apron, thick shoes, blue stockings, and a white kerchief, her
hands being covered by red worsted mittens edged with white, bought
for her by the conductor. Her dainty Breton cap (which had been washed
in Paris, for the journey from Nantes had rumpled it) was like a halo
round her happy little face. This national cap, of the finest lawn,
trimmed with stiffened lace pleated in flat folds, deserves
description, it was so dainty and simple. The light coming through the
texture and the lace produced a partial shadow, the soft shadow of a
light upon the skin, which gave her the virginal grace that all
painters seek and Leopold Robert found for the Raffaelesque face of
the woman who holds a child in his picture of "The Gleaners." Beneath
this fluted frame of light sparkled a white and rosy and artless face,
glowing with vigorous health. The warmth of the room brought the blood
to the cheeks, to the tips of the pretty ears, to the lips and the end
of the delicate nose, making the natural white of the complexion
"Well, are you not going to say anything? I am your cousin Sylvie, and
that is your cousin Rogron."
"Do you want something to eat?" asked Rogron.
"When did you leave Nantes?" asked Sylvie.
"Is she dumb?" said Rogron.
"Poor little dear, she has hardly any clothes," cried Adele, who had
opened the child's bundle, tied up in a handkerchief of the old
"Kiss your cousin," said Sylvie.
Pierrette kissed Rogron.
"Kiss your cousin," said Rogron.
Pierrette kissed Sylvie.
"She is tired out with her journey, poor little thing; she wants to go
to sleep," said Adele.
Pierrette was overcome with a sudden and invincible aversion for her
two relatives,—a feeling that no one had ever before excited in her.
Sylvie and the maid took her up to bed in the room where Brigaut
afterwards noticed the white cotton curtain. In it was a little bed
with a pole painted blue, from which hung a calico curtain; a walnut
bureau without a marble top, a small table, a looking-glass, a very
common night-table without a door, and three chairs completed the
furniture of the room. The walls, which sloped in front, were hung
with a shabby paper, blue with black flowers. The tiled floor, stained
red and polished, was icy to the feet. There was no carpet except for
a strip at the bedside. The mantelpiece of common marble was adorned
by a mirror, two candelabra in copper-gilt, and a vulgar alabaster cup
in which two pigeons, forming handles, were drinking.
"You will be comfortable here, my little girl?" said Sylvie.
"Oh, it's beautiful!" said the child, in her silvery voice.
"She's not difficult to please," muttered the stout servant. "Sha'n't
I warm her bed?" she asked.
"Yes," said Sylvie, "the sheets may be damp."
Adele brought one of her own night-caps when she returned with the
warming-pan, and Pierrette, who had never slept in anything but the
coarsest linen sheets, was amazed at the fineness and softness of the
cotton ones. When she was fairly in bed and tucked up, Adele, going
downstairs with Sylvie, could not refrain from saying, "All she has
isn't worth three francs, mademoiselle."
Ever since her economical regime began, Sylvie had compelled the maid
to sit in the dining-room so that one fire and one lamp could do for
all; except when Colonel Gouraud and Vinet came, on which occasions
Adele was sent to the kitchen.
Pierrette's arrival enlivened the rest of the evening.
"We must get her some clothes to-morrow," said Sylvie; "she has
"No shoes but those she had on, which weigh a pound," said Adele.
"That's always so, in their part of the country," remarked Rogron.
"How she looked at her room! though it really isn't handsome enough
for a cousin of yours, mademoiselle."
"It is good enough; hold your tongue," said Sylvie.
"Gracious, what chemises! coarse enough to scratch her skin off; not a
thing can she use here," said Adele, emptying the bundle.
Master, mistress, and servant were busy till past ten o'clock,
deciding what cambric they should buy for the new chemises, how many
pairs of stockings, how many under-petticoats, and what material, and
in reckoning up the whole cost of Pierrette's outfit.
"You won't get off under three hundred francs," said Rogron, who
could remember the different prices, and add them up from his former
"Three hundred francs!" cried Sylvie.
"Yes, three hundred. Add it up."
The brother and sister went over the calculation once more, and found
the cost would be fully three hundred francs, not counting the making.
"Three hundred francs at one stroke!" said Sylvie to herself as she
got into bed.
* * * * *
Pierrette was one of those children of love whom love endows with its
tenderness, its vivacity, its gaiety, its nobility, its devotion.
Nothing had so far disturbed or wounded a heart that was delicate as
that of a fawn, but which was now painfully repressed by the cold
greeting of her cousins. If Brittany had been full of outward misery,
at least it was full of love. The old Lorrains were the most incapable
of merchants, but they were also the most loving, frank, caressing, of
friends, like all who are incautious and free from calculation. Their
little granddaughter had received no other education at Pen-Hoel than
that of nature. Pierrette went where she liked, in a boat on the pond,
or roaming the village and the fields with Jacques Brigaut, her
comrade, exactly as Paul and Virginia might have done. Petted by
everybody, free as air, they gaily chased the joys of childhood. In
summer they ran to watch the fishing, they caught the many-colored
insects, they gathered flowers, they gardened; in winter they made
slides, they built snow-men or huts, or pelted each other with
snowballs. Welcomed by all, they met with smiles wherever they went.
When the time came to begin their education, disasters came, too.
Jacques, left without means at the death of his father, was
apprenticed by his relatives to a cabinet-maker, and fed by charity,
as Pierrette was soon to be at Saint-Jacques. Until the little girl
was taken with her grandparents to that asylum, she had known nothing
but fond caresses and protection from every one. Accustomed to confide
in so much love, the little darling missed in these rich relatives, so
eagerly desired, the kindly looks and ways which all the world, even
strangers and the conductors of the coaches, had bestowed upon her.
Her bewilderment, already great, was increased by the moral atmosphere
she had entered. The heart turns suddenly cold or hot like the body.
The poor child wanted to cry, without knowing why; but being very
tired she went to sleep.
The next morning, Pierrette being, like all country children,
accustomed to get up early, was awake two hours before the cook. She
dressed herself, stepping on tiptoe about her room, looked out at the
little square, started to go downstairs and was struck with amazement
by the beauties of the staircase. She stopped to examine all its
details: the painted walls, the brasses, the various ornamentations,
the window fixtures. Then she went down to the garden-door, but was
unable to open it, and returned to her room to wait until Adele should
be stirring. As soon as the woman went to the kitchen Pierrette flew
to the garden and took possession of it, ran to the river, was amazed
at the kiosk, and sat down in it; truly, she had enough to see and to
wonder at until her cousins were up. At breakfast Sylvie said to
"Was it you, little one, who was trotting over my head by daybreak,
and making that racket on the stairs? You woke me so that I couldn't
go to sleep again. You must be very good and quiet, and amuse yourself
without noise. Your cousin doesn't like noise."
"And you must wipe your feet," said Rogron. "You went into the kiosk
with your dirty shoes, and they've tracked all over the floor. Your
cousin likes cleanliness. A great girl like you ought to be clean.
Weren't you clean in Brittany? But I recollect when I went down there
to buy thread it was pitiable to see the folks,—they were like
savages. At any rate she has a good appetite," added Rogron, looking
at his sister; "one would think she hadn't eaten anything for days."
Thus, from the very start Pierrette was hurt by the remarks of her two
cousins,—hurt, she knew not why. Her straightforward, open nature,
hitherto left to itself, was not given to reflection. Incapable of
thinking that her cousins were hard, she was fated to find it out
slowly through suffering. After breakfast the brother and sister,
pleased with Pierrette's astonishment at the house and anxious to
enjoy it, took her to the salon to show her its splendors and teach
her not to touch them. Many celibates, driven by loneliness and the
moral necessity of caring for something, substitute factitious
affections for natural ones; they love dogs, cats, canaries, servants,
or their confessor. Rogron and Sylvie had come to the pass of loving
immoderately their house and furniture, which had cost them so dear.
Sylvie began by helping Adele in the mornings to dust and arrange the
furniture, under pretence that she did not know how to keep it looking
as good as new. This dusting was soon a desired occupation to her, and
the furniture, instead of losing its value in her eyes, became ever
more precious. To use things without hurting them or soiling them or
scratching the woodwork or clouding the varnish, that was the problem
which soon became the mania of the old maid's life. Sylvie had a
closet full of bits of wool, wax, varnish, and brushes, which she had
learned to use with the dexterity of a cabinet-maker; she had her
feather dusters and her dusting-cloths; and she rubbed away without
fear of hurting herself,—she was so strong. The glance of her cold
blue eyes, hard as steel, was forever roving over the furniture and
under it, and you could as soon have found a tender spot in her heart
as a bit of fluff under the sofa.
After the remarks made at Madame Tiphaine's, Sylvie dared not flinch
from the three hundred francs for Pierrette's clothes. During the
first week her time was wholly taken up, and Pierrette's too, by
frocks to order and try on, chemises and petticoats to cut out and
have made by a seamstress who went out by the day. Pierrette did not
know how to sew.
"That's pretty bringing up!" said Rogron. "Don't you know how to do
anything, little girl?"
Pierrette, who knew nothing but how to love, made a pretty, childish
"What did you do in Brittany?" asked Rogron.
"I played," she answered, naively. "Everybody played with me.
Grandmamma and grandpapa they told me stories. Ah! they all loved me!"
"Hey!" said Rogron; "didn't you take it easy!"
Pierrette opened her eyes wide, not comprehending.
"She is as stupid as an owl," said Sylvie to Mademoiselle Borain, the
best seamstress in Provins.
"She's so young," said the workwoman, looking kindly at Pierrette,
whose delicate little muzzle was turned up to her with a coaxing look.
Pierrette preferred the sewing-women to her relations. She was
endearing in her ways with them, she watched their work, and made them
those pretty speeches that seem like the flowers of childhood, and
which her cousin had already silenced, for that gaunt woman loved to
impress those under her with salutary awe. The sewing-women were
delighted with Pierrette. Their work, however, was not carried on
without many and loud grumblings.
"That child will make us pay through the nose!" cried Sylvie to her
"Stand still, my dear, and don't plague us; it is all for you and not
for me," she would say to Pierrette when the child was being measured.
Sometimes it was, when Pierrette would ask the seamstress some
question, "Let Mademoiselle Borain do her work, and don't talk to her;
it is not you who are paying for her time."
"Mademoiselle," said Mademoiselle Borain, "am I to back-stitch this?"
"Yes, do it firmly; I don't want to be making such an outfit as this
Sylvie put the same spirit of emulation into Pierrette's outfit that
she had formerly put into the house. She was determined that her
cousin should be as well dressed as Madame Garceland's little girl.
She bought the child fashionable boots of bronzed kid like those the
little Tiphaines wore, very fine cotton stockings, a corset by the
best maker, a dress of blue reps, a pretty cape lined with white silk,
—all this that she, Sylvie, might hold her own against the children
of the women who had rejected her. The underclothes were quite in
keeping with the visible articles of dress, for Sylvie feared the
examining eyes of the various mothers. Pierrette's chemises were of
fine Madapolam calico. Mademoiselle Borain had mentioned that the
sub-prefect's little girls wore cambric drawers, embroidered and
trimmed in the latest style. Pierrette had the same. Sylvie ordered
for her a charming little drawn bonnet of blue velvet lined with white
satin, precisely like the one worn by Dr. Martener's little daughter.
Thus attired, Pierrette was the most enchanting little girl in all
Provins. On Sunday, after church, all the ladies kissed her; Mesdames
Tiphaine, Garceland, Galardon, Julliard, and the rest fell in love
with the sweet little Breton girl. This enthusiasm was deeply
flattering to old Sylvie's self-love; she regarded it as less due to
Pierrette than to her own benevolence. She ended, however, in being
affronted by her cousin's success. Pierrette was constantly invited
out, and Sylvie allowed her to go, always for the purpose of
triumphing over "those ladies." Pierrette was much in demand for games
or little parties and dinners with their own little girls. She had
succeeded where the Rogrons had failed; and Mademoiselle Sylvie soon
grew indignant that Pierrette was asked to other children's houses
when those children never came to hers. The artless little thing did
not conceal the pleasure she found in her visits to these ladies,
whose affectionate manners contrasted strangely with the harshness of
her two cousins. A mother would have rejoiced in the happiness of her
little one, but the Rogrons had taken Pierrette for their own sakes,
not for hers; their feelings, far from being parental, were dyed in
selfishness and a sort of commercial calculation.
The handsome outfit, the fine Sunday dresses, and the every-day frocks
were the beginning of Pierrette's troubles. Like all children free to
amuse themselves, who are accustomed to follow the dictates of their
own lively fancies, she was very hard on her clothes, her shoes, and
above all on those embroidered drawers. A mother when she reproves her
child thinks only of the child; her voice is gentle; she does not
raise it unless driven to extremities, or when the child is much in
fault. But here, in this great matter of Pierrette's clothes, the
cousins' money was the first consideration; their interests were to be
thought of, not the child's. Children have the perceptions of the
canine race for the sentiments of those who rule them; they know
instinctively whether they are loved or only tolerated. Pure and
innocent hearts are more distressed by shades of difference than by
contrasts; a child does not understand evil, but it knows when the
instinct of the good and the beautiful which nature has implanted in
it is shocked. The lectures which Pierrette now drew upon herself on
propriety of behavior, modesty, and economy were merely the corollary
of the one theme, "Pierrette will ruin us."
These perpetual fault-findings, which were destined to have a fatal
result for the poor child, brought the two celibates back to the old
beaten track of their shop-keeping habits, from which their removal to
Provins had parted them, and in which their natures were now to expand
and flourish. Accustomed in the old days to rule and to make
inquisitions, to order about and reprove their clerks sharply, Rogron
and his sister had actually suffered for want of victims. Little minds
need to practise despotism to relieve their nerves, just as great
souls thirst for equality in friendship to exercise their hearts.
Narrow natures expand by persecuting as much as others through
beneficence; they prove their power over their fellows by cruel
tyranny as others do by loving kindness; they simply go the way their
temperaments drive them. Add to this the propulsion of self-interest
and you may read the enigma of most social matters.
Thenceforth Pierrette became a necessity to the lives of her cousins.
From the day of her coming their minds were occupied,—first, with her
outfit, and then with the novelty of a third presence. But every new
thing, a sentiment and even a tyranny, is moulded as time goes on into
fresh shapes. Sylvie began by calling Pierrette "my dear," or "little
one." Then she abandoned the gentler terms for "Pierrette" only. Her
reprimands, at first only cross, became sharp and angry; and no sooner
were their feet on the path of fault-finding than the brother and
sister made rapid strides. They were no longer bored to death! It was
not their deliberate intention to be wicked and cruel; it was simply
the blind instinct of an imbecile tyranny. The pair believed they were
doing Pierrette a service, just as they had thought their harshness a
benefit to their apprentices.
Pierrette, whose true and noble and extreme sensibility was the
antipodes of the Rogrons' hardness, had a dread of being scolded; it
wounded her so sharply that the tears would instantly start in her
beautiful, pure eyes. She had a great struggle with herself before she
could repress the enchanting sprightliness which made her so great a
favorite elsewhere. After a time she displayed it only in the homes of
her little friends. By the end of the first month she had learned to
be passive in her cousins' house,—so much so that Rogron one day
asked her if she was ill. At that sudden question, she ran to the end
of the garden, and stood crying beside the river, into which her tears
may have fallen as she herself was about to fall into the social
One day, in spite of all her care, she tore her best reps frock at
Madame Tiphaine's, where she was spending a happy day. The poor child
burst into tears, foreseeing the cruel things which would be said to
her at home. Questioned by her friends, she let fall a few words about
her terrible cousin. Madame Tiphaine happened to have some reps
exactly like that of the frock, and she put in a new breadth herself.
Mademoiselle Rogron found out the trick, as she expressed it, which
the little devil had played her. From that day forth she refused to
let Pierrette go to any of "those women's" houses.
The life the poor girl led in Provins was divided into three distinct
phases. The first, already shown, in which she had some joy mingled
with the cold kindness of her cousins and their sharp reproaches,
lasted three months. Sylvie's refusal to let her go to her little
friends, backed by the necessity of beginning her education, ended the
first phase of her life at Provins, the only period when that life was
bearable to her.
These events, produced at the Rogrons by Pierrette's presence, were
studied by Vinet and the colonel with the caution of foxes preparing
to enter a poultry-yard and disturbed by seeing a strange fowl. They
both called from time to time,—but seldom, so as not to alarm the old
maid; they talked with Rogron under various pretexts, and made
themselves masters of his mind with an affectation of reserve and
modesty which the great Tartuffe himself would have respected. The
colonel and the lawyer were spending the evening with Rogron on the
very day when Sylvie had refused in bitter language to let Pierrette
go again to Madame Tiphaine's, or elsewhere. Being told of this
refusal the colonel and the lawyer looked at each other with an air
which seemed to say that they at least knew Provins well.
"Madame Tiphaine intended to insult you," said the lawyer. "We have
long been warning Rogron of what would happen. There's no good to be
got from those people."
"What can you expect from the anti-national party!" cried the colonel,
twirling his moustache and interrupting the lawyer. "But,
mademoiselle, if we had tried to warn you from those people you might
have supposed we had some malicious motive in what we said. If you
like a game of cards in the evening, why don't you have it at home;
why not play your boston here, in your own house? Is it impossible to
fill the places of those idiots, the Julliards and all the rest of
them? Vinet and I know how to play boston, and we can easily find a
fourth. Vinet might present his wife to you; she is charming, and,
what is more, a Chargeboeuf. You will not be so exacting as those apes
of the Upper town; you won't require a good little housewife, who is
compelled by the meanness of her family to do her own work, to dress
like a duchess. Poor woman, she has the courage of a lion and the
meekness of a lamb."
Sylvie Rogron showed her long yellow teeth as she smiled on the
colonel, who bore the sight heroically and assumed a flattered air.
"If we are only four we can't play boston every night," said Sylvie.
"Why not? What do you suppose an old soldier of the Empire like me
does with himself? And as for Vinet, his evenings are always free.
Besides, you'll have plenty of other visitors; I warrant you that," he
added, with a rather mysterious air.
"What you ought to do," said Vinet, "is to take an open stand against
the ministerialists of Provins and form an opposition to them. You
would soon see how popular that would make you; you would have a
society about you at once. The Tiphaines would be furious at an
opposition salon. Well, well, why not laugh at others, if others laugh
at you?—and they do; the clique doesn't mince matters in talking
"How's that?" demanded Sylvie.
In the provinces there is always a valve or a faucet through which
gossip leaks from one social set to another. Vinet knew all the slurs
cast upon the Rogrons in the salons from which they were now excluded.
The deputy-judge and archaeologist Desfondrilles belonged to neither
party. With other independents like him, he repeated what he heard on
both sides and Vinet made the most of it. The lawyer's spiteful tongue
put venom into Madame Tiphaine's speeches, and by showing Rogron and
Sylvie the ridicule they had brought upon themselves he roused an
undying spirit of hatred in those bitter natures, which needed an
object for their petty passions.
A few days later Vinet brought his wife, a well-bred woman, neither
pretty nor plain, timid, very gentle, and deeply conscious of her
false position. Madame Vinet was fair-complexioned, faded by the cares
of her poor household, and very simply dressed. No woman could have
pleased Sylvie more. Madame Vinet endured her airs, and bent before
them like one accustomed to subjection. On the poor woman's rounded
brow and delicately timid cheek and in her slow and gentle glance,
were the traces of deep reflection, of those perceptive thoughts which
women who are accustomed to suffer bury in total silence.
The influence of the colonel (who now displayed to Sylvie the graces
of a courtier, in marked contradiction to his usual military
brusqueness), together with that of the astute Vinet, was soon to harm
the Breton child. Shut up in the house, no longer allowed to go out
except in company with her old cousin, Pierrette, that pretty little
squirrel, was at the mercy of the incessant cry, "Don't touch that,
child, let that alone!" She was perpetually being lectured on her
carriage and behavior; if she stooped or rounded her shoulders her
cousin would call to her to be as erect as herself (Sylvie was rigid
as a soldier presenting arms to his colonel); sometimes indeed the
ill-natured old maid enforced the order by slaps on the back to make
the girl straighten up.
Thus the free and joyous little child of the Marais learned by degrees
to repress all liveliness and to make herself, as best she could, an
HISTORY OF POOR COUSINS IN THE HOME OF RICH ONES
One evening, which marked the beginning of Pierrette's second phase of
life in her cousin's house, the child, whom the three guests had not
seen during the evening, came into the room to kiss her relatives and
say good-night to the company. Sylvie turned her cheek coldly to the
pretty creature, as if to avoid kissing her. The motion was so cruelly
significant that the tears sprang to Pierrette's eyes.
"Did you prick yourself, little girl?" said the atrocious Vinet.
"What is the matter?" asked Sylvie, severely.
"Nothing," said the poor child, going up to Rogron.
"Nothing?" said Sylvie, "that's nonsense; nobody cries for nothing."
"What is it, my little darling?" said Madame Vinet.
"My rich cousin isn't as kind to me as my poor grandmother was,"
"Your grandmother took your money," said Sylvie, "and your cousin will
leave you hers."
The colonel and the lawyer glanced at each other.
"I would rather be robbed and loved," said Pierrette.
"Then you shall be sent back whence you came."
"But what has the dear little thing done?" asked Madame Vinet.
Vinet gave his wife the terrible, fixed, cold look with which men
enforce their absolute dominion. The hapless helot, punished
incessantly for not having the one thing that was wanted of her, a
fortune, took up her cards.
"What has she done?" said Sylvie, throwing up her head with such
violence that the yellow wall-flowers in her cap nodded. "She is
always looking about to annoy us. She opened my watch to see the
inside, and meddled with the wheel and broke the mainspring.
Mademoiselle pays no heed to what is said to her. I am all day long
telling her to take care of things, and I might just as well talk to
Pierrette, ashamed at being reproved before strangers, crept softly
out of the room.
"I am thinking all the time how to subdue that child," said Rogron.
"Isn't she old enough to go to school?" asked Madame Vinet.
Again she was silenced by a look from her husband, who had been
careful to tell her nothing of his own or the colonel's schemes.
"This is what comes of taking charge of other people's children!"
cried the colonel. "You may still have some of your own, you or your
brother. Why don't you both marry?"
Sylvie smiled agreeably on the colonel. For the first time in her life
she met a man to whom the idea that she could marry did not seem
"Madame Vinet is right," cried Rogron; "perhaps teaching would keep
Pierrette quiet. A master wouldn't cost much."
The colonel's remark so preoccupied Sylvie that she made no answer to
"If you are willing to be security for that opposition journal I was
talking to you about," said Vinet, "you will find an excellent master
for the little cousin in the managing editor; we intend to engage that
poor schoolmaster who lost his employment through the encroachments of
the clergy. My wife is right; Pierrette is a rough diamond that wants
"I thought you were a baron," said Sylvie to the colonel, while the
cards were being dealt, and after a long pause in which they had all
been rather thoughtful.
"Yes; but when I was made baron, in 1814, after the battle of Nangis,
where my regiment performed miracles, I had money and influence enough
to secure the rank. But now my barony is like the grade of general
which I held in 1815,—it needs a revolution to give it back to me."
"If you will secure my endorsement by a mortgage," said Rogron,
answering Vinet after long consideration, "I will give it."
"That can easily be arranged," said Vinet. "The new paper will soon
restore the colonel's rights, and make your salon more powerful in
Provins than those of Tiphaine and company."
"How so?" asked Sylvie.
While his wife was dealing and Vinet himself explaining the importance
they would all gain by the publication of an independent newspaper,
Pierrette was dissolved in tears; her heart and her mind were one in
this matter; she felt and knew that her cousin was more to blame than
she was. The little country girl instinctively understood that charity
and benevolence ought to be a complete offering. She hated her
handsome frocks and all the things that were made for her; she was
forced to pay too dearly for such benefits. She wept with vexation at
having given cause for complaint against her, and resolved to behave
in future in such a way as to compel her cousins to find no further
fault with her. The thought then came into her mind how grand Brigaut
had been in giving her all his savings without a word. Poor child! she
fancied her troubles were now at their worst; she little knew that
other misfortunes were even now being planned for her in the salon.
A few days later Pierrette had a writing-master. She was taught to
read, write, and cipher. Enormous injury was thus supposed to be done
to the Rogrons' house. Ink-spots were found on the tables, on the
furniture, on Pierrette's clothes; copy-books and pens were left
about; sand was scattered everywhere, books were torn and dog's-eared
as the result of these lessons. She was told in harsh terms that she
would have to earn her own living, and not be a burden to others. As
she listened to these cruel remarks Pierrette's throat contracted
violently with acute pain, her heart throbbed. She was forced to
restrain her tears, or she was scolded for weeping and told it was an
insult to the kindness of her magnanimous cousins. Rogron had found
the life that suited him. He scolded Pierrette as he used to scold his
clerks; he would call her when at play, and compel her to study; he
made her repeat her lessons, and became himself the almost savage
master of the poor child. Sylvie, on her side, considered it a duty to
teach Pierrette the little that she knew herself about women's work.
Neither Rogron nor his sister had the slightest softness in their
natures. Their narrow minds, which found real pleasure in worrying the
poor child, passed insensibly from outward kindness to extreme
severity. This severity was necessitated, they believed, by what they
called the self-will of the child, which had not been broken when
young and was very obstinate. Her masters were ignorant how to give to
their instructions a form suited to the intelligence of the pupil,—a
thing, by the bye, which marks the difference between public and
private education. The fault was far less with Pierrette than with her
cousins. It took her an infinite length of time to learn the
rudiments. She was called stupid and dull, clumsy and awkward for mere
nothings. Incessantly abused in words, the child suffered still more
from the harsh looks of her cousins. She acquired the doltish ways of
a sheep; she dared not do anything of her own impulse, for all she did
was misinterpreted, misjudged, and ill-received. In all things she
awaited silently the good pleasure and the orders of her cousins,
keeping her thoughts within her own mind and sheltering herself behind
a passive obedience. Her brilliant colors began to fade. Sometimes she
complained of feeling ill. When her cousin asked, "Where?" the poor
little thing, who had pains all over her, answered, "Everywhere."
"Nonsense! who ever heard of any one suffering everywhere?" cried
Sylvie. "If you suffered everywhere you'd be dead."
"People suffer in their chests," said Rogron, who liked to hear
himself harangue, "or they have toothache, headache, pains in their
feet or stomach, but no one has pains everywhere. What do you mean by
everywhere? I can tell you; 'everywhere' means nowhere. Don't you
know what you are doing?—you are complaining for complaining's sake."
Pierrette ended by total silence, seeing how all her girlish remarks,
the flowers of her dawning intelligence, were replied to with ignorant
commonplaces which her natural good sense told her were ridiculous.
"You complain," said Rogron, "but you've got the appetite of a monk."
The only person who did not bruise the delicate little flower was the
fat servant woman, Adele. Adele would go up and warm her bed,—doing
it on the sly after a certain evening when Sylvie had scolded her for
giving that comfort to the child.
"Children should be hardened, to give them strong constitutions. Am I
and my brother the worse for it?" said Sylvie. "You'll make Pierrette
a peakling"; this was a word in the Rogron vocabulary which meant a
puny and suffering little being.
The naturally endearing ways of the angelic child were treated as
dissimulation. The fresh, pure blossoms of affection which bloomed
instinctively in that young soul were pitilessly crushed. Pierrette
suffered many a cruel blow on the tender flesh of her heart. If she
tried to soften those ferocious natures by innocent, coaxing wiles
they accused her of doing it with an object. "Tell me at once what you
want?" Rogron would say, brutally; "you are not coaxing me for
Neither brother nor sister believed in affection, and Pierrette's
whole being was affection. Colonel Gouraud, anxious to please
Mademoiselle Rogron, approved of all she did about Pierrette. Vinet
also encouraged them in what they said against her. He attributed all
her so-called misdeeds to the obstinacy of the Breton character, and
declared that no power, no will, could ever conquer it. Rogron and his
sister were so shrewdly flattered by the two manoeuvrers that the
former agreed to go security for the "Courrier de Provins," and the
latter invested five thousand francs in the enterprise.
On this, the colonel and lawyer took the field. They got a hundred
shares, of five hundred francs each, taken among the farmers and
others called independents, and also among those who had bought lands
of the national domains,—whose fears they worked upon. They even
extended their operations throughout the department and along its
borders. Each shareholder of course subscribed to the paper. The
judicial advertisements were divided between the "Bee-hive" and the
"Courrier." The first issue of the latter contained a pompous eulogy
on Rogron. He was presented to the community as the Laffitte of
Provins. The public mind having thus received an impetus in this new
direction, it was manifest, of course, that the coming elections would
be contested. Madame Tiphaine, whose highest hope was to take her
husband to Paris as deputy, was in despair. After reading an article
in the new paper aimed at her and at Julliard junior, she remarked:
"Unfortunately for me, I forgot that there is always a scoundrel close
to a dupe, and that fools are magnets to clever men of the fox breed."
As soon as the "Courrier" was fairly launched on a radius of fifty
miles, Vinet bought a new coat and decent boots, waistcoats, and
trousers. He set up the gray slouch hat sacred to liberals, and showed
his linen. His wife took a servant, and appeared in public dressed as
the wife of a prominent man should be; her caps were pretty. Vinet
proved grateful—out of policy. He and his friend Cournant, the
liberal notary and the rival of the ministerial notary Auffray, became
the close advisers of the Rogrons, to whom they were able to do a
couple of signal services. The leases granted by old Rogron to their
father in 1815, when matters were at a low ebb, were about to expire.
Horticulture and vegetable gardening had developed enormously in the
neighborhood of Provins. The lawyer and notary set to work to enable
the Rogrons to increase their rentals. Vinet won two lawsuits against
two districts on a question of planting trees, which involved five
hundred poplars. The proceeds of the poplars, added to the savings of
the brother and sister, who for the last three years had laid by six
thousand a year at high interest, was wisely invested in the purchase
of improved lands. Vinet also undertook and carried out the ejectment
of certain peasants to whom the elder Rogron had lent money on their
farms, and who had strained every nerve to pay off the debt, but in
vain. The cost of the Rogrons' fine house was thus in a measure
recouped. Their landed property, lying around Provins and chosen by
their father with the sagacious eye of an innkeeper, was divided into
small holdings, the largest of which did not exceed five acres, and
rented to safe tenants, men who owned other parcels of land, that were
ample security for their leases. These investments brought in, by
1826, five thousand francs a year. Taxes were charged to the tenants,
and there were no buildings needing insurance or repairs.
By the end of the second period of Pierrette's stay in Provins life
had become so hard for her, the cold indifference of all who came to
the house, the silly fault-finding, and the total absence of affection
on the part of her cousins grew so bitter, she was conscious of a
chill dampness like that of a grave creeping round her, that the bold
idea of escaping, on foot and without money, to Brittany and to her
grandparents took possession of her mind. Two events hindered her from
attempting it. Old Lorrain died, and Rogron was appointed guardian of
his little cousin. If the grandmother had died first, we may believe
that Rogron, advised by Vinet, would have claimed Pierrette's eight
thousand francs and reduced the old man to penury.
"You may, perhaps, inherit from Pierrette," said Vinet, with a horrid
smile. "Who knows who may live and who may die?"
Enlightened by that remark, Rogron gave old Madame Lorrain no peace
until she had secured to Pierrette the reversion of the eight thousand
francs at her death.
Pierrette was deeply shocked by these events. She was on the point of
making her first communion,—another reason for resigning the hope of
escape from Provins. This ceremony, simple and customary as it was,
led to great changes in the Rogron household. Sylvie learned that
Monsieur le cure Peroux was instructing the little Julliards,
Lesourds, Garcelands, and the rest. She therefore made it a point of
honor that Pierrette should be instructed by the vicar himself,
Monsieur Habert, a priest who was thought to belong to the
Congregation, very zealous for the interests of the Church, and much
feared in Provins,—a man who hid a vast ambition beneath the
austerity of stern principles. The sister of this priest, an unmarried
woman about thirty years of age, kept a school for young ladies.
Brother and sister looked alike; both were thin, yellow, black-haired,
Like a true Breton girl, cradled in the practices and poetry of
Catholicism, Pierrette opened her heart and ears to the words of this
imposing priest. Sufferings predispose the mind to devotion, and
nearly all young girls, impelled by instinctive tenderness, are
inclined to mysticism, the deepest aspect of religion. The priest
found good soil in which to sow the seed of the Gospel and the dogmas
of the Church. He completely changed the current of the girl's
thoughts. Pierrette loved Jesus Christ in the light in which he is
presented to young girls at the time of their first communion, as a
celestial bridegroom; her physical and moral sufferings gained a
meaning for her; she saw the finger of God in all things. Her soul, so
cruelly hurt although she could not accuse her cousins of actual
wrong, took refuge in that sphere to which all sufferers fly on the
wings of the cardinal virtues,—Faith, Hope, Charity. She abandoned
her thoughts of escape. Sylvie, surprised by the transformation
Monsieur Habert had effected in Pierrette, was curious to know how it
had been done. And it thus came about that the austere priest, while
preparing Pierrette for her first communion, also won to God the
hitherto erring soul of Mademoiselle Sylvie. Sylvie became pious.
Jerome Rogron, on whom the so-called Jesuit could get no grip (for
just then the influence of His Majesty the late Constitutionnel the
First was more powerful over weaklings than the influence of the
Church), Jerome Rogron remained faithful to Colonel Gouraud, Vinet,
Mademoiselle Rogron naturally made the acquaintance of Mademoiselle
Habert, with whom she sympathized deeply. The two spinsters loved each
other as sisters. Mademoiselle Habert offered to take Pierrette into
her school to spare Sylvie the annoyance of her education; but the
brother and sister both declared that Pierrette's absence would make
the house too lonely; their attachment to their little cousin seemed
When Gouraud and Vinet became aware of the advent of Mademoiselle
Habert on the scene they concluded that the ambitious priest her
brother had the same matrimonial plan for his sister that the colonel
was forming for himself and Sylvie.
"Your sister wants to get you married," said Vinet to Rogron.
"With whom?" asked Rogron.
"With that old sorceress of a schoolmistress," cried the colonel,
twirling his moustache.
"She hasn't said anything to me about it," said Rogron, naively.
So thorough an old maid as Sylvie was certain to make good progress in
the way of salvation. The influence of the priest would as certainly
increase, and in the end affect Rogron, over whom Sylvie had great
power. The two Liberals, who were naturally alarmed, saw plainly that
if the priest were resolved to marry his sister to Rogron (a far more
suitable marriage than that of Sylvie to the colonel) he could then
drive Sylvie in extreme devotion to the Church, and put Pierrette in a
convent. They might therefore lose eighteen months' labor in flattery
and meannesses of all sorts. Their minds were suddenly filled with a
bitter, silent hatred to the priest and his sister, though they felt
the necessity of living on good terms with them in order to track
their manoeuvres. Monsieur and Mademoiselle Habert, who could play
both whist and boston, now came every evening to the Rogrons. The
assiduity of the one pair induced the assiduity of the other. The
colonel and lawyer felt that they were pitted against adversaries who
were fully as strong as they,—a presentiment that was shared by the
priest and his sister. The situation soon became that of a
battle-field. Precisely as the colonel was enabling Sylvie to taste
the unhoped-for joys of being sought in marriage, so Mademoiselle
Habert was enveloping the timid Rogron in the cotton-wool of her
attentions, words, and glances. Neither side could utter that grand
word of statesmanship, "Let us divide!" for each wanted the whole prey.
The two clever foxes of the Opposition made the mistake of pulling the
first trigger. Vinet, under the spur of self-interest, bethought
himself of his wife's only friends, and looked up Mademoiselle de
Chargeboeuf and her mother. The two women were living in poverty at
Troyes on two thousand francs a year. Mademoiselle Bathilde de
Chargeboeuf was one of those fine creatures who believe in marriage
for love up to their twenty-fifth year, and change their opinion when
they find themselves still unmarried. Vinet managed to persuade Madame
de Chargeboeuf to join her means to his and live with his family in
Provins, where Bathilde, he assured her, could marry a fool named
Rogron, and, clever as she was, take her place in the best society of
The arrival of Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf in the lawyer's
household was a great reinforcement for the liberal party; and it
created consternation among the aristocrats of Provins and also in the
Tiphaine clique. Madame de Breautey, horrified to see two women of
rank so misled, begged them to come to her. She was shocked that the
royalists of Troyes had so neglected the mother and daughter, whose
situation she now learned for the first time.
"How is it that no old country gentleman has married that dear girl,
who is cut out for a lady of the manor?" she said. "They have let her
run to seed, and now she is to be flung at the head of a Rogron!"
She ransacked the whole department but did not succeed in finding any
gentleman willing to marry a girl whose mother had only two thousand
francs a year. The "clique" and the subprefect also looked about them
with the same object, but they were all too late. Madame de Breautey
made terrible charges against the selfishness which degraded France,
—the consequence, she said, of materialism, and of the importance
now given by the laws to money: nobility was no longer of value! nor
beauty either! Such creatures as the Rogrons, the Vinets, could stand
up and fight with the King of France!
Bathilde de Chargeboeuf had not only the incontestable superiority of
beauty over her rival, but that of dress as well. She was dazzlingly
fair. At twenty-five her shoulders were fully developed, and the
curves of her beautiful figure were exquisite. The roundness of her
throat, the purity of its lines, the wealth of her golden hair, the
charming grace of her smile, the distinguished carriage of her head,
the character of her features, the fine eyes finely placed beneath a
well-formed brow, her every motion, noble and high-bred, and her light
and graceful figure,—all were in harmony. Her hands were beautiful,
and her feet slender. Health gave her, perhaps, too much the look of a
handsome barmaid. "But that can't be a defect in the eyes of a
Rogron," sighed Madame Tiphaine. Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf's dress
when she made her first appearance in Provins at the Rogrons' house
was very simple. Her brown merino gown edged with green embroidery was
worn low-necked; but a tulle fichu, carefully drawn down by hidden
strings, covered her neck and shoulders, though it opened a little in
front, where its folds were caught together with a sevigne. Beneath
this delicate fabric Bathilde's beauties seemed all the more enticing
and coquettish. She took off her velvet bonnet and her shawl on
arriving, and showed her pretty ears adorned with what were then
called "ear-drops" in gold. She wore a little jeannette—a black
velvet ribbon with a heart attached—round her throat, where it shone
like the jet ring which fantastic nature had fastened round the tail
of a white angora cat. She knew all the little tricks of a girl who
seeks to marry; her fingers arranged her curls which were not in the
least out of order; she entreated Rogron to fasten a cuff-button, thus
showing him her wrist, a request which that dazzled fool rudely
refused, hiding his emotions under the mask of indifference. The
timidity of the only love he was ever to feel in the whole course of
his life took an external appearance of dislike. Sylvie and her friend
Celeste Habert were deceived by it; not so Vinet, the wise head of
this doltish circle, among whom no one really coped with him but the
priest,—the colonel being for a long time his ally.
On the other hand the colonel was behaving to Sylvie very much as
Bathilde behaved to Rogron. He put on a clean shirt every evening and
wore velvet stocks, which set off his martial features and the
spotless white of his collar. He adopted the fashion of white pique
waistcoats, and caused to be made for him a new surtout of blue cloth,
on which his red rosette glowed finely; all this under pretext of
doing honor to the new guests Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf.
He even refrained from smoking for two hours previous to his
appearance in the Rogrons' salon. His grizzled hair was brushed in a
waving line across a cranium which was ochre in tone. He assumed the
air and manner of a party leader, of a man who was preparing to drive
out the enemies of France, the Bourbons, on short, to beat of drum.
The satanic lawyer and the wily colonel played the priest and his
sister a more cruel trick than even the importation of the beautiful
Madame de Chargeboeuf, who was considered by all the Liberal party and
by Madame de Breautey and her aristocratic circle to be far handsomer
than Madame Tiphaine. These two great statesmen of the little
provincial town made everybody believe that the priest was in sympathy
with their ideas; so that before long Provins began to talk of him as
a liberal ecclesiastic. As soon as this news reached the bishop
Monsieur Habert was sent for and admonished to cease his visits to the
Rogrons; but his sister continued to go there. Thus the salon Rogron
became a fixed fact and a constituted power.
Before the year was out political intrigues were not less lively than
the matrimonial schemes of the Rogron salon. While the selfish
interests hidden in these hearts were struggling in deadly combat the
events which resulted from them had a fatal celebrity. Everybody knows
that the Villele ministry was overthrown by the elections of 1826.
Vinet, the Liberal candidate at Provins, who had borrowed money of his
notary to buy a domain which made him eligible for election, came very
near defeating Monsieur Tiphaine, who saved his election by only two
votes. The headquarters of the Liberals was the Rogron salon; among
the habitues were the notary Cournant and his wife, and Doctor
Neraud, whose youth was said to have been stormy, but who now took a
serious view of life; he gave himself up to study and was, according
to all Liberals, a far more capable man than Monsieur Martener, the
aristocratic physician. As for the Rogrons, they no more understood
their present triumph than they had formerly understood their
The beautiful Bathilde, to whom Vinet had explained Pierrette as an
enemy, was extremely disdainful to the girl. It seemed as though
everybody's selfish schemes demanded the humiliation of that poor
victim. Madame Vinet could do nothing for her, ground as she herself
was beneath those implacable self-interests which the lawyer's wife
had come at last to see and comprehend. Her husband's imperious will
had alone taken her to the Rogron's house, where she had suffered much
at the harsh treatment of the pretty little creature, who would often
press up against her as if divining her secret thoughts, sometimes
asking the poor lady to show her a stitch in knitting or to teach her
a bit of embroidery. The child proved in return that if she were
treated gently she would understand what was taught her, and succeed
in what she tried to do quite marvellously. But Madame Vinet was soon
no longer necessary to her husband's plans, and after the arrival of
Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf she ceased to visit the
Sylvie, who now indulged in the idea of marrying, began to consider
Pierrette as an obstacle. The girl was nearly fourteen; the pallid
whiteness of her skin, a symptom of illness entirely overlooked by the
ignorant old maid, made her exquisitely lovely. Sylvie took it into
her head to balance the cost which Pierrette had been to them by
making a servant of her. All the habitues of the house to whom she
spoke of the matter advised that she should send away Adele. Why
shouldn't Pierrette take care of the house and cook? If there was too
much work at any time Mademoiselle Rogron could easily employ the
colonel's woman-of-all-work, an excellent cook and a most respectable
person. Pierrette ought to learn how to cook, and rub floors, and
sweep, said the lawyer; every girl should be taught to keep house
properly and go to market and know the price of things. The poor
little soul, whose self-devotion was equal to her generosity, offered
herself willingly, pleased to think that she could earn the bitter
bread which she ate in that house. Adele was sent away, and Pierrette
thus lost the only person who might have protected her.
In spite of the poor child's strength of heart she was henceforth
crushed down physically as well as mentally. Her cousins had less
consideration for her than for a servant; she belonged to them! She
was scolded for mere nothings, for an atom of dust left on a glass
globe or a marble mantelpiece. The handsome ornaments she had once
admired now became odious to her. No matter how she strove to do
right, her inexorable cousins always found something to reprove in
whatever she did. In the course of two years Pierrette never received
the slightest praise, or heard a kindly word. Happiness for her lay in
not being scolded. She bore with angelic patience the morose ill-humor
of the two celibates, to whom all tender feelings were absolutely
unknown, and who daily made her feel her dependence on them.
Such a life for a young girl, pressed as it were between the two chops
of a vise, increased her illness. She began to feel violent internal
distresses, secret pangs so sudden in their attacks that her strength
was undermined and her natural development arrested. By slow degrees
and through dreadful, though hidden sufferings, the poor child came to
the state in which the companion of her childhood found her when he
sang to her his Breton ditty at the dawn of the October day.
AN OLD MAID'S JEALOUSY
Before we relate the domestic drama which the coming of Jacques
Brigaut was destined to bring about in the Rogron family it is best to
explain how the lad came to be in Provins; for he is, as it were, a
somewhat mute personage on the scene.
When he ran from the house Brigaut was not only frightened by
Pierrette's gesture, he was horrified by the change he saw in his
little friend. He could scarcely recognize the voice, the eyes, the
gestures that were once so lively, gay, and withal so tender. When he
had gained some distance from the house his legs began to tremble
under him; hot flushes ran down his back. He had seen the shadow of
Pierrette, but not Pierrette herself! The lad climbed to the Upper
town till he found a spot from which he could see the square and the
house where Pierrette lived. He gazed at it mournfully, lost in many
thoughts, as though he were entering some grief of which he could not
see the end. Pierrette was ill; she was not happy; she pined for
Brittany—what was the matter with her? All these questions passed and
repassed through his heart and rent it, revealing to his own soul the
extent of his love for his little adopted sister.
It is extremely rare to find a passion existing between two children
of opposite sexes. The charming story of Paul and Virginia does not,
any more than this of Pierrette and Brigaut, answer the question put
by that strange moral fact. Modern history offers only the illustrious
instance of the Marchesa di Pescara and her husband. Destined to marry
by their parents from their earliest years, they adored each other and
were married, and their union gave to the sixteenth century the noble
spectacle of a perfect conjugal love without a flaw. When the marchesa
became a widow at the age of thirty-four, beautiful, intellectually
brilliant, universally adored, she refused to marry sovereigns and
buried herself in a convent, seeing and knowing thenceforth only nuns.
Such was the perfect love that suddenly developed itself in the heart
of the Breton workman. Pierrette and he had often protected each
other; with what bliss had he given her the money for her journey; he
had almost killed himself by running after the diligence when she left
him. Pierrette had known nothing of all that; but for him the
recollection had warmed and comforted the cold, hard life he had led
for the last three years. For Pierrette's sake he had struggled to
improve himself; he had learned his trade for Pierrette; he had come
to Paris for Pierrette, intending to make his fortune for her. After
spending a fortnight in the city, he had not been able to hold out
against the desire to see her, and he had walked from Saturday night
to Monday morning. He intended to return to Paris; but the moving
sight of his little friend nailed him to Provins. A wonderful
magnetism (still denied in spite of many proofs) acted upon him
without his knowledge. Tears rolled from his eyes when they rose in
hers. If to her he was Brittany and her happy childhood, to him she
was life itself.
At sixteen years of age Brigaut did not yet know how to draw or to
model a cornice; he was ignorant of much, but he had earned, by
piece-work done in the leisure of his apprenticeship, some four or five
francs a day. On this he could live in Provins and be near Pierrette;
he would choose the best cabinet-maker in the town, and learn the rest
of his trade in working for him, and thus keep watch over his darling.
Brigaut's mind was made up as he sat there thinking. He went back to
Paris and fetched his certificate, tools, and baggage, and three days
later he was a journeyman in the establishment of Monsieur Frappier,
the best cabinet-maker in Provins. Active, steady workmen, not given
to junketing and taverns, are so rare that masters hold to young men
like Brigaut when they find them. To end Brigaut's history on this
point, we will say here that by the end of the month he was made
foreman, and was fed and lodged by Frappier, who taught him arithmetic
and line drawing. The house and shop were in the Grand'Rue, not a
hundred feet from the little square where Pierrette lived.
Brigaut buried his love in his heart and committed no imprudence. He
made Madame Frappier tell him all she knew about the Rogrons. Among
other things, she related to him the way in which their father had
laid hands on the property of old Auffray, Pierrette's grandfather.
Brigaut obtained other information as to the character of the brother
and sister. He met Pierrette sometimes in the market with her cousin,
and shuddered to see the heavy basket she was carrying on her arm. On
Sundays he went to church to look for her, dressed in her best
clothes. There, for the first time, he became aware that Pierrette was
Mademoiselle Lorrain. Pierrette saw him and made him a hasty sign to
keep out of sight. To him, there was a world of things in that little
gesture, as there had been, a fortnight earlier, in the sign by which
she told him from her window to run away. Ah! what a fortune he must
make in the coming ten years in order to marry his little friend, to
whom, he was told, the Rogrons were to leave their house, a hundred
acres of land, and twelve thousand francs a year, not counting their
The persevering Breton was determined to be thoroughly educated for
his trade, and he set about acquiring all the knowledge that he
lacked. As long as only the principles of his work were concerned he
could learn those in Provins as well as in Paris, and thus remain near
Pierrette, to whom he now became anxious to explain his projects and
the sort of protection she could rely on from him. He was determined
to know the reason of her pallor, and of the debility which was
beginning to appear in the organ which is always the last to show the
signs of failing life, namely the eyes; he would know, too, the cause
of the sufferings which gave her that look as though death were near
and she might drop at any moment beneath its scythe. The two signs,
the two gestures—not denying their friendship but imploring caution
—alarmed the young Breton. Evidently Pierrette wished him to wait and
not attempt to see her; otherwise there was danger, there was peril
for her. As she left the church she was able to give him one look, and
Brigaut saw that her eyes were full of tears. But he could have sooner
squared the circle than have guessed what had happened in the Rogrons'
house during the fortnight which had elapsed since his arrival.
It was not without keen apprehension that Pierrette came downstairs on
the morning after Brigaut had invaded her morning dreams like another
dream. She was certain that her cousin Sylvie must have heard the
song, or she would not have risen and opened her window; but Pierrette
was ignorant of the powerful reasons that made the old maid so alert.
For the last eight days, strange events and bitter feelings agitated
the minds of the chief personages who frequented the Rogron salon.
These hidden matters, carefully concealed by all concerned, were
destined to fall in their results like an avalanche on Pierrette. Such
mysterious things, which we ought perhaps to call the putrescence of
the human heart, lie at the base of the greatest revolutions,
political, social or domestic; but in telling of them it is desirable
to explain that their subtle significance cannot be given in a
matter-of-fact narrative. These secret schemes and calculations do not
show themselves as brutally and undisguisedly while taking place as
they must when the history of them is related. To set down in writing
the circumlocutions, oratorical precautions, protracted conversations,
and honeyed words glossed over the venom of intentions, would make as
long a book as that magnificent poem called "Clarissa Harlowe."
Mademoiselle Habert and Mademoiselle Sylvie were equally desirous of
marrying, but one was ten years older than the other, and the
probabilities of life allowed Celeste Habert to expect that her
children would inherit all the Rogron property. Sylvie was forty-two,
an age at which marriage is beset by perils. In confiding to each
other their ideas, Celeste, instigated by her vindictive brother the
priest, enlightened Sylvie as to the dangers she would incur. Sylvie
trembled; she was terribly afraid of death, an idea which shakes all
celibates to their centre. But just at this time the Martignac
ministry came into power,—a Liberal victory which overthrew the
Villele administration. The Vinet party now carried their heads high
in Provins. Vinet himself became a personage. The Liberals prophesied
his advancement; he would certainly be deputy and attorney-general. As
for the colonel, he would be made mayor of Provins. Ah, to reign as
Madame Garceland, the wife of the present mayor, now reigned! Sylvie
could not hold out against that hope; she determined to consult a
doctor, though the proceeding would only cover her with ridicule. To
consult Monsieur Neraud, the Liberal physician and the rival of
Monsieur Martener, would be a blunder. Celeste Habert offered to hide
Sylvie in her dressing-room while she herself consulted Monsieur
Martener, the physician of her establishment, on this difficult
matter. Whether Martener was, or was not, Celeste's accomplice need
not be discovered; at any rate, he told his client that even at thirty
the danger, though slight, did exist. "But," he added, "with your
constitution, you need fear nothing."
"But how about a woman over forty?" asked Mademoiselle Celeste.
"A married woman who has had children has nothing to fear."
"But I mean an unmarried woman, like Mademoiselle Rogron, for
"Oh, that's another thing," said Monsieur Martener. "Successful
childbirth is then one of those miracles which God sometimes allows
himself, but rarely."
"Why?" asked Celeste.
The doctor answered with a terrifying pathological description; he
explained that the elasticity given by nature to youthful muscles and
bones did not exist at a later age, especially in women whose lives
"So you think that an unmarried woman ought not to marry after forty?"
"Not unless she waits some years," replied the doctor. "But then, of
course, it is not marriage, it is only an association of interests."
The result of the interview, clearly, seriously, scientifically and
sensibly stated, was that an unmarried woman would make a great
mistake in marrying after forty. When the doctor had departed
Mademoiselle Celeste found Sylvie in a frightful state, green and
yellow, and with the pupils of her eyes dilated.
"Then you really love the colonel?" asked Celeste.
"I still hoped," replied Sylvie.
"Well, then, wait!" cried Mademoiselle Habert, Jesuitically, aware
that time would rid her of the colonel.
Sylvie's new devotion to the church warned her that the morality of
such a marriage might be doubtful. She accordingly sounded her
conscience in the confessional. The stern priest explained the
opinions of the Church, which sees in marriage only the propagation of
humanity, and rebukes second marriages and all passions but those with
a social purpose. Sylvie's perplexities were great. These internal
struggles gave extraordinary force to her passion, investing it with
that inexplicable attraction which, from the days of Eve, the thing
forbidden possesses for women. Mademoiselle Rogron's perturbation did
not escape the lynx-eyed lawyer.
One evening, after the game had ended, Vinet approached his dear
friend Sylvie, took her hand, and led her to a sofa.
"Something troubles you," he said.
She nodded sadly. The lawyer let the others depart; Rogron walked home
with the Chargeboeufs, and when Vinet was alone with the old maid he
wormed the truth out of her.
"Cleverly played, abbe!" thought he. "But you've played into my
The foxy lawyer was more decided in his opinion than even the doctor.
He advised marriage in ten years. Inwardly he was vowing that the
whole Rogron fortune should go to Bathilde. He rubbed his hands, his
pinched lips closed more tightly as he hurried home. The influence
exercised by Monsieur Habert, physician of the soul, and by Vinet,
doctor of the purse, balanced each other perfectly. Rogron had no
piety in him; so the churchman and the man of law, the black-robed
pair, were fairly matched.
On discovering the victory obtained by Celeste, in her anxiety to
marry Rogron herself, over Sylvie, torn between the fear of death and
the joy of being baronness and mayoress, the lawyer saw his chance of
driving the colonel from the battlefield. He knew Rogron well enough
to be certain he could marry him to Bathilde; Jerome had already
succumbed inwardly to her charms, and Vinet knew that the first time
the pair were alone together the marriage would be settled. Rogron had
reached the point of keeping his eyes fixed on Celeste, so much did he
fear to look at Bathilde. Vinet had now possessed himself of Sylvie's
secrets, and saw the force with which she loved the colonel. He fully
understood the struggle of such a passion in the heart of an old maid
who was also in the grasp of religious emotion, and he saw his way to
rid himself of Pierrette and the colonel both by making each the cause
of the other's overthrow.
The next day, after the court had risen, Vinet met the colonel and
Rogron talking a walk together, according to their daily custom.
Whenever the three men were seen in company the whole town talked of
it. This triumvirate, held in horror by the sub-prefect, the
magistracy, and the Tiphaine clique, was, on the other hand, a source
of pride and vanity to the Liberals of Provins. Vinet was sole editor
of the "Courrier" and the head of the party; the colonel, the working
manager, was its arm; Rogron, by means of his purse, its nerves. The
Tiphaines declared that the three men were always plotting evil to the
government; the Liberals admired them as the defenders of the people.
When Rogron turned to go home, recalled by a sense of his dinner-hour,
Vinet stopped the colonel from following him by taking Gouraud's arm.
"Well, colonel," he said, "I am going to take a fearful load off your
shoulders; you can do better than marry Sylvie; if you play your cards
properly you can marry that little Pierrette in two years' time."
He thereupon related the Jesuit's manoeuvre and its effect on Sylvie.
"What a skulking trick!" cried the colonel; "and spreading over years,
"Colonel," said Vinet, gravely, "Pierrette is a charming creature;
with her you can be happy for the rest of your life; your health is so
sound that the difference in your ages won't seem disproportionate.
But, all the same, you mustn't think it an easy thing to change a
dreadful fate to a pleasant one. To turn a woman who loves you into a
friend and confidant is as perilous a business as crossing a river
under fire of the enemy. Cavalry colonel as you are, and daring too,
you must study the position and manoeuvre your forces with the same
wisdom you have displayed hitherto, and which has won us our present
position. If I get to be attorney-general you shall command the
department. Oh! if you had been an elector we should be further
advanced than we are now; I should have bought the votes of those two
clerks by threatening them with the loss of their places, and we
should have had a majority."
The colonel had long been thinking about Pierrette, but he concealed
his thoughts with the utmost dissimulation. His roughness to the child
was only a mask; but she could not understand why the man who claimed
to be her father's old comrade should usually treat her so ill, when
sometimes, if he met her alone, he would chuck her under the chin and
give her a friendly kiss. But after the conversation with Vinet
relating to Sylvie's fears of marriage Gouraud began to seek
opportunities to find Pierrette alone; the rough colonel made himself
as soft as a cat; he told her how brave her father was and what a
misfortune it had been for her that she lost him.
A few days before Brigaut's arrival Sylvie had come suddenly upon
Gouraud and Pierrette talking together. Instantly, jealousy rushed
into her heart with monastic violence. Jealousy, eminently credulous
and suspicious, is the passion in which fancy has most freedom, but
for all that it does not give a person intelligence; on the contrary,
it hinders them from having any; and in Sylvie's case jealousy only
filled her with fantastic ideas. When (a few mornings later) she heard
Brigaut's ditty, she jumped to the conclusion that the man who had
used the words "Madam' le mariee," addressing them to Pierrette, must
be the colonel. She was certain she was right, for she had noticed for
a week past a change in his manners. He was the only man who, in her
solitary life, had ever paid her any attention. Consequently she
watched him with all her eyes, all her mind; and by giving herself up
to hopes that were sometimes flourishing, sometimes blighted, she had
brought the matter to such enormous proportions that she saw all
things in a mental mirage. To use a common but excellent expression,
by dint of looking intently she saw nothing. Alternately she repelled,
admitted, and conquered the supposition of this rivalry. She compared
herself with Pierrette; she was forty-two years old, with gray hair;
Pierrette was delicately fair, with eyes soft enough to warm a
withered heart. She had heard it said that men of fifty were apt to
love young girls of just that kind. Before the colonel had come
regularly to the house Sylvie had heard in the Tiphaines' salon
strange stories of his life and morals. Old maids preserve in their
love-affairs the exaggerated Platonic sentiments which young girls of
twenty are wont to profess; they hold to these fixed doctrines like
all who have little experience of life and no personal knowledge of
how great social forces modify, impair, and bring to nought such grand
and noble ideas. The mere thought of being jilted by the colonel was
torture to Sylvie's brain. She lay in her bed going over and over her
own desires, Pierrette's conduct, and the song which had awakened her
with the word "marriage." Like the fool she was, instead of looking
through the blinds to see the lover, she opened her window without
reflecting that Pierrette would hear her. If she had had the common
instinct of a spy she would have seen Brigaut, and the fatal drama
then begun would never have taken place.
It was Pierrette's duty, weak as she was, to take down the bars that
closed the wooden shutters of the kitchen, which she opened and
fastened back; then she opened in like manner the glass door leading
from the corridor to the garden. She took the various brooms that were
used for sweeping the carpets, the dining-room, the passages and
stairs, together with the other utensils, with a care and
particularity which no servant, not even a Dutchwoman, gives to her
work. She hated reproof. Happiness for her was in seeing the cold blue
pallid eyes of her cousin, not satisfied (that they never were), but
calm, after glancing about her with the look of an owner,—that
wonderful glance which sees what escapes even the most vigilant eyes
of others. Pierrette's skin was moist with her labor when she returned
to the kitchen to put it in order, and light the stove that she might
carry up hot water to her two cousins (a luxury she never had for
herself) and the means of lighting fires in their rooms. After this
she laid the table for breakfast and lit the stove in the dining-room.
For all these various fires she had to fetch wood and kindling from
the cellar, leaving the warm rooms for a damp and chilly atmosphere.
Such sudden transitions, made with the quickness of youth, often to
escape a harsh word or obey an order, aggravated the condition of her
health. She did not know she was ill, and yet she suffered. She began
to have strange cravings; she liked raw vegetables and salads, and ate
them secretly. The innocent child was quite unaware that her condition
was that of serious illness which needed the utmost care. If Neraud,
the Rogrons' doctor, had told this to Pierrette before Brigaut's
arrival she would only have smiled; life was so bitter she could smile
at death. But now her feelings changed; the child, to whose physical
sufferings was added the anguish of Breton homesickness (a moral
malady so well-known that colonels in the army allow for it among
their men), was suddenly content to be in Provins. The sight of that
yellow flower, the song, the presence of her friend, revived her as a
plant long without water revives under rain. Unconsciously she wanted
to live, and even thought she did not suffer.
Pierrette slipped timidly into her cousin's bedroom, made the fire,
left the hot water, said a few words, and went to wake Rogron and do
the same offices for him. Then she went down to take in the milk, the
bread, and the other provisions left by the dealers. She stood some
time on the sill of the door hoping that Brigaut would have the sense
to come to her; but by that time he was already on his way to Paris.
She had finished the arrangement of the dining-room and was busy in
the kitchen when she heard her cousin Sylvie coming down. Mademoiselle
Rogron appeared in a brown silk dressing-gown and a cap with bows; her
false front was awry, her night-gown showed above the silk wrapper,
her slippers were down at heel. She gave an eye to everything and then
came straight to Pierrette, who was awaiting her orders to know what
to prepare for breakfast.
"Ha! here you are, lovesick young lady!" said Sylvie, in a mocking
"What is it, cousin?"
"You came into my room like a sly cat, and you crept out the same way,
though you knew very well I had something to say to you."
"You had a serenade this morning, as if you were a princess."
"A serenade!" exclaimed Pierrette.
"A serenade!" said Sylvie, mimicking her; "and you've a lover, too."
"What is a lover, cousin?"
Sylvie avoided answering, and said:—
"Do you dare to tell me, mademoiselle, that a man did not come under
your window and talk to you of marriage?"
Persecution had taught Pierrette the wariness of slaves; so she
"I don't know what you mean,—"
"Who means?—your dog?" said Sylvie, sharply.
"I should have said 'cousin,'" replied the girl, humbly.
"And didn't you get up and go in your bare feet to the window?—which
will give you an illness; and serve you right, too. And perhaps you
didn't talk to your lover, either?"
"I know you have many faults, but I did not think you told lies. You
had better think this over, mademoiselle; you will have to explain
this affair to your cousin and to me, or your cousin will be obliged
to take severe measures."
The old maid, exasperated by jealousy and curiosity, meant to frighten
the girl. Pierrette, like all those who suffer more than they have
strength to bear, kept silence. Silence is the only weapon by which
such victims can conquer; it baffles the Cossack charges of envy, the
savage skirmishings of suspicion; it does at times give victory,
crushing and complete,—for what is more complete than silence? it is
absolute; it is one of the attributes of infinity. Sylvie watched
Pierrette narrowly. The girl colored; but the color, instead of rising
evenly, came out in patches on her cheekbones, in burning and
significant spots. A mother, seeing that symptom of illness, would
have changed her tone at once; she would have taken the child on her
lap and questioned her; in fact, she would long ago have tenderly
understood the signs of Pierrette's pure and perfect innocence; she
would have seen her weakness and known that the disturbance of the
digestive organs and the other functions of the body was about to
affect the lungs. Those eloquent patches would have warned her of an
imminent danger. But an old maid, one in whom the family instincts
have never been awakened, to whom the needs of childhood and the
precautions required for adolescence were unknown, had neither the
indulgence nor the compassionate intelligence of a mother; such
sufferings as those of Pierrette, instead of softening her heart only
made it more callous.
"She blushes, she is guilty!" thought Sylvie.
Pierrette's silence was thus interpreted to her injury.
"Pierrette," continued Sylvie, "before your cousin comes down we must
have some talk together. Come," she said, in a rather softer tone,
"shut the street door; if any one comes they will rung and we shall
In spite of the damp mist which was rising from the river, Sylvie took
Pierrette along the winding gravel path which led across the lawn to
the edge of the rock terrace,—a picturesque little quay, covered with
iris and aquatic plants. She now changed her tactics, thinking she
might catch Pierrette tripping by softness; the hyena became a cat.
"Pierrette," she said, "you are no longer a child; you are nearly
fifteen, and it is not at all surprising that you should have a
"But, cousin," said Pierrette, raising her eyes with angelic sweetness
to the cold, sour face of her cousin, "What is a lover?"
It would have been impossible for Sylvie to define a lover with truth
and decency to the girl's mind. Instead of seeing in that question the
proof of adorable innocence, she considered it a piece of insincerity.
"A lover, Pierrette, is a man who loves us and wishes to marry us."
"Ah," said Pierrette, "when that happens in Brittany we call the young
man a suitor."
"Well, remember that in owning your feelings for a man you do no
wrong, my dear. The wrong is in hiding them. Have you pleased some of
the men who visit here?"
"I don't think so, cousin."
"Do you love any of them?"
"Look at me, Pierrette."
Pierrette looked at Sylvie.
"A man called to you this morning in the square."
Pierrette lowered her eyes.
"You went to your window, you opened it, and you spoke to him."
"No cousin, I went to look out and I saw a peasant."
"Pierrette, you have much improved since you made your first
communion; you have become pious and obedient, you love God and your
relations; I am satisfied with you. I don't say this to puff you up
The horrible creature had mistaken despondency, submission, the
silence of wretchedness, for virtues!
The sweetest of all consolations to suffering souls, to martyrs, to
artists, in the worst of that divine agony which hatred and envy force
upon them, is to meet with praise where they have hitherto found
censure and injustice. Pierrette raised her grateful eyes to her
cousin, feeling that she could almost forgive her for the sufferings
she had caused.
"But if it is all hypocrisy, if I find you a serpent that I have
warmed in my bosom, you will be a wicked girl, an infamous creature!"
"I think I have nothing to reproach myself with," said Pierrette, with
a painful revulsion of her heart at the sudden change from unexpected
praise to the tones of the hyena.
"You know that to lie is a mortal sin?"
"Well, you are now under the eye of God," said the old maid, with a
solemn gesture towards the sky; "swear to me that you did not know
"I will not swear," said Pierrette.
"Ha! he was no peasant, you little viper."
Pierrette rushed away like a frightened fawn terrified at her tone.
Sylvie called her in a dreadful voice.
"The bell is ringing," she answered.
"Artful wretch!" thought Sylvie. "She is depraved in mind; and now I
am certain the little adder has wound herself round the colonel. She
has heard us say he was a baron. To be a baroness! little fool! Ah!
I'll get rid of her, I'll apprentice her out, and soon too!"
Sylvie was so lost in thought that she did not notice her brother
coming down the path and bemoaning the injury the frost had done to
"Sylvie! what are you thinking about? I thought you were looking at
the fish; sometimes they jump out of the water."
"No," said Sylvie.
"How did you sleep?" and he began to tell her about his own dreams.
"Don't you think my skin is getting tabid?"—a word in the Rogron
Ever since Rogron had been in love,—but let us not profane the word,
—ever since he had desired to marry Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf, he
was very uneasy about himself and his health. At this moment Pierrette
came down the garden steps and called to them from a distance that
breakfast was ready. At sight of her cousin, Sylvie's skin turned
green and yellow, her bile was in commotion. She looked at the floor
of the corridor and declared that Pierrette ought to rub it.
"I will rub it now if you wish," said the little angel, not aware of
the injury such work may do to a young girl.
The dining-room was irreproachably in order. Sylvie sat down and
pretended all through breakfast to want this, that, and the other
thing which she would never have thought of in a quieter moment, and
which she now asked for only to make Pierrette rise again and again
just as the child was beginning to eat her food. But such mere teasing
was not enough; she wanted a subject on which to find fault, and was
angry with herself for not finding one. She scarcely answered her
brother's silly remarks, yet she looked at him only; her eyes avoided
Pierrette. Pierrette was deeply conscious of all this. She brought the
milk mixed with cream for each cousin in a large silver goblet, after
heating it carefully in the bain-marie. The brother and sister
poured in the coffee made by Sylvie herself on the table. When Sylvie
had carefully prepared hers, she saw an atom of coffee-grounds
floating on the surface. On this the storm broke forth.
"What is the matter?" asked Rogron.
"The matter is that mademoiselle has put dust in my milk. Do you
suppose I am going to drink coffee with ashes in it? Well, I am not
surprised; no one can do two things at once. She wasn't thinking of
the milk! a blackbird might have flown through the kitchen to-day and
she wouldn't have seen it! how should she see the dust flying! and
then it was my coffee, ha! that didn't signify!"
As she spoke she was laying on the side of her plate the
coffee-grounds that had run through the filter.
"But, cousin, that is coffee," said Pierrette.
"Oh! then it is I who tell lies, is it?" cried Sylvie, looking at
Pierrette and blasting her with a fearful flash of anger from her
Organizations which have not been exhausted by powerful emotions often
have a vast amount of the vital fluid at their service. This
phenomenon of the extreme clearness of the eye in moments of anger was
the more marked in Mademoiselle Rogron because she had often exercised
the power of her eyes in her shop by opening them to their full extent
for the purpose of inspiring her dependents with salutary fear.
"You had better dare to give me the lie!" continued Sylvie; "you
deserve to be sent from the table to go and eat by yourself in the
"What's the matter with you two?" cried Rogron, "you are as cross as
bears this morning."
"Mademoiselle knows what I have against her," said Sylvie. "I leave
her to make up her mind before speaking to you; for I mean to show her
more kindness than she deserves."
Pierrette was looking out of the window to avoid her cousin's eyes,
which frightened her.
"Look at her! she pays no more attention to what I am saying than if I
were that sugar-basin! And yet mademoiselle has a sharp ear; she can
hear and answer from the top of the house when some one talks to her
from below. She is perversity itself,—perversity, I say; and you
needn't expect any good of her; do you hear me, Jerome?"
"What has she done wrong?" asked Rogron.
"At her age, too! to begin so young!" screamed the angry old maid.
Pierrette rose to clear the table and give herself something to do,
for she could hardly bear the scene any longer. Though such language
was not new to her, she had never been able to get used to it. Her
cousin's rage seemed to accuse her of some crime. She imagined what
her fury would be if she came to know about Brigaut. Perhaps her
cousin would have him sent away, and she should lose him! All the many
thoughts, the deep and rapid thoughts of a slave came to her, and she
resolved to keep absolute silence about a circumstance in which her
conscience told her there was nothing wrong. But the cruel, bitter
words she had been made to hear and the wounding suspicion so shocked
her that as she reached the kitchen she was taken with a convulsion of
the stomach and turned deadly sick. She dared not complain; she was
not sure that any one would help her. When she returned to the
dining-room she was white as a sheet, and, saying she was not well, she
started to go to bed, dragging herself up step by step by the baluster
and thinking that she was going to die. "Poor Brigaut!" she thought.
"The girl is ill," said Rogron.
"She ill! That's only shamming," replied Sylvie, in a loud voice
that Pierrette might hear. "She was well enough this morning, I can
This last blow struck Pierrette to the earth; she went to bed weeping
and praying to God to take her out of this world.
For a month past Rogron had ceased to carry the "Constitutionnel" to
Gouraud; the colonel came obsequiously to fetch his paper, gossip a
little, and take Rogron off to walk if the weather was fine. Sure of
seeing the colonel and being able to question him, Sylvie dressed
herself as coquettishly as she knew how. The old maid thought she was
attractive in a green gown, a yellow shawl with a red border, and a
white bonnet with straggling gray feathers. About the hour when the
colonel usually came Sylvie stationed herself in the salon with her
brother, whom she had compelled to stay in the house in his
dressing-gown and slippers.
"It is a fine day, colonel," said Rogron, when Gouraud with his heavy
step entered the room. "But I'm not dressed; my sister wanted to go
out, and I was going to keep the house. Wait for me; I'll be ready
So saying, Rogron left Sylvie alone with the colonel.
"Where were you going? you are dressed divinely," said Gouraud, who
noticed a certain solemnity on the pock-marked face of the old maid.
"I wanted very much to go out, but my little cousin is ill, and I
cannot leave her."
"What is the matter with her?"
"I don't know; she had to go to bed."
Gouraud's caution, not to say his distrust, was constantly excited by
the results of his alliance with Vinet. It certainly appeared that the
lawyer had got the lion's share in their enterprise. Vinet controlled
the paper, he reigned as sole master over it, he took the revenues;
whereas the colonel, the responsible editor, earned little. Vinet and
Cournant had done the Rogrons great services; whereas Gouraud, a
colonel on half-pay, could do nothing. Who was to be deputy? Vinet.
Who was the chief authority in the party? Vinet. Whom did the liberals
all consult? Vinet. Moreover, the colonel knew fully as well as Vinet
himself the extent and depth of the passion suddenly aroused in Rogron
by the beautiful Bathilde de Chargeboeuf. This passion had now become
intense, like all the last passions of men. Bathilde's voice made him
tremble. Absorbed in his desires Rogron hid them; he dared not hope
for such a marriage. To sound him, the colonel mentioned that he was
thinking himself of asking for Bathilde's hand. Rogron turned pale at
the thought of such a formidable rival, and had since then shown
coldness and even hatred to Gouraud.
Thus Vinet reigned supreme in the Rogron household while he, the
colonel, had no hold there except by the extremely hypothetical tie of
his mendacious affection for Sylvie, which it was not yet clear that
Sylvie reciprocated. When the lawyer told him of the priest's
manoeuvre, and advised him to break with Sylvie and marry Pierrette,
he certainly flattered Gouraud's foible; but after analyzing the inner
purpose of that advice and examining the ground all about him, the
colonel thought he perceived in his ally the intention of separating
him from Sylvie, and profiting by her fears to throw the whole Rogron
property into the hands of Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf.
Therefore, when the colonel was left alone with Sylvie his
perspicacity possessed itself immediately of certain signs which
betrayed her uneasiness. He saw at once that she was under arms and
had made this plan for seeing him alone. As he already suspected Vinet
of playing him some trick, he attributed the conference to the
instigation of the lawyer, and was instantly on his guard, as he would
have been in an enemy's country,—with an eye all about him, an ear to
the faintest sound, his mind on the qui vive, and his hand on a
weapon. The colonel had the defect of never believing a single word
said to him by a woman; so that when the old maid brought Pierrette on
the scene, and told him she had gone to bed before midday, he
concluded that Sylvie had locked her up by way of punishment and out
"She is getting to be quite pretty, that little thing," he said with
an easy air.
"She will be pretty," replied Mademoiselle Rogron.
"You ought to send her to Paris and put her in a shop," continued the
colonel. "She would make her fortune. The milliners all want pretty
"Is that really your advice?" asked Sylvie, in a troubled voice.
"Good!" thought the colonel, "I was right. Vinet advised me to marry
Pierrette just to spoil my chance with the old harridan. But," he said
aloud, "what else can you do with her? There's that beautiful girl
Bathilde de Chargeboeuf, noble and well-connected, reduced to
single-blessedness,—nobody will have her. Pierrette has nothing, and
she'll never marry. As for beauty, what is it? To me, for example,
youth and beauty are nothing; for haven't I been a captain of cavalry
in the imperial guard, and carried my spurs into all the capitals of
Europe, and known all the handsomest women of these capitals? Don't
talk to me; I tell you youth and beauty are devilishly common and
silly. At forty-eight," he went on, adding a few years to his age, to
match Sylvie's, "after surviving the retreat from Moscow and going
through that terrible campaign of France, a man is broken down; I'm
nothing but an old fellow now. A woman like you would pet me and care
for me, and her money, joined to my poor pension, would give me ease
in my old days; of course I should prefer such a woman to a little
minx who would worry the life out of me, and be thirty years old, with
passions, when I should be sixty, with rheumatism. At my age, a man
considers and calculates. To tell you the truth between ourselves, I
should not wish to have children."
Sylvie's face was an open book to the colonel during this tirade, and
her next question proved to him Vinet's perfidy.
"Then you don't love Pierrette?" she said.
"Heavens! are you out of your mind, my dear Sylvie?" he cried. "Can
those who have no teeth crack nuts? Thank God I've got some
common-sense and know what I'm about."
Sylvie thus reassured resolved not to show her own hand, and thought
herself very shrewd in putting her own ideas into her brother's mouth.
"Jerome," she said, "thought of the match."
"How could your brother take up such an incongruous idea? Why, it is
only a few days ago that, in order to find out his secrets, I told him
I loved Bathilde. He turned as white as your collar."
"My brother! does he love Bathilde?" asked Sylvie.
"Madly,—and yet Bathilde is only after his money." ("One for you,
Vinet!" thought the colonel.) "I can't understand why he should have
told you that about Pierrette. No, Sylvie," he said, taking her hand
and pressing it in a certain way, "since you have opened this matter"
(he drew nearer to her), "well" (he kissed her hand; as a cavalry
captain he had already proved his courage), "let me tell you that I
desire no wife but you. Though such a marriage may look like one of
convenience, I feel, on my side, a sincere affection for you."
"But if I wish you to marry Pierrette? if I leave her my fortune
"But I don't want to be miserable in my home, and in less than ten
years see a popinjay like Julliard hovering round my wife and
addressing verses to her in the newspapers. I'm too much of a man to
stand that. No, I will never make a marriage that is disproportionate
"Well, colonel, we will talk seriously of this another time," said
Sylvie, casting a glance upon him which she supposed to be full of
love, though, in point of fact, it was a good deal like that of an
ogress. Her cold, blue lips of a violet tinge drew back from the
yellow teeth, and she thought she smiled.
"I'm ready," said Rogron, coming in and carrying off the colonel, who
bowed in a lover-like way to the old maid.
Gouraud determined to press on his marriage with Sylvie, and make
himself master of the house; resolving to rid himself, through his
influence over Sylvie during the honeymoon, of Bathilde and Celeste
Habert. So, during their walk, he told Rogron he had been joking the
other day; that he had no real intention of aspiring to Bathilde; that
he was not rich enough to marry a woman without fortune; and then he
confided to him his real wishes, declaring that he had long chosen
Sylvie for her good qualities,—in short, he aspired to the honor of
being Rogron's brother-in-law.
"Ah, colonel, my dear baron! if nothing is wanting but my consent you
have it with no further delay than the law requires," cried Rogron,
delighted to be rid of his formidable rival.
Sylvie spent the morning in her own room considering how the new
household could be arranged. She determined to build a second storey
for her brother and to furnish the rest for herself and her husband;
but she also resolved, in the true old-maidish spirit, to subject the
colonel to certain proofs by which to judge of his heart and his
morals before she finally committed herself. She was still suspicious,
and wanted to make sure that Pierrette had no private intercourse with
Pierrette came down before the dinner-hour to lay the table. Sylvie
had been forced to cook the dinner, and had sworn at that "cursed
Pierrette" for a spot she had made on her gown,—wasn't it plain that
if Pierrette had done her own work Sylvie wouldn't have got that
grease-spot on her silk dress?
"Oh, here you are, peakling? You are like the dog of the marshal who
woke up as soon as the saucepans rattled. Ha! you want us to think you
are ill, you little liar!"
That idea: "You did not tell the truth about what happened in the
square this morning, therefore you lie in everything," was a hammer
with which Sylvie battered the head and also the heart of the poor
To Pierrette's great astonishment Sylvie sent her to dress in her best
clothes after dinner. The liveliest imagination is never up to the
level of the activity which suspicion excites in the mind of an old
maid. In this particular case, this particular old maid carried the
day against politicians, lawyers, notaries, and all other
self-interests. Sylvie determined to consult Vinet, after examining
herself into all the suspicious circumstances. She kept Pierrette
close to her, so as to find out from the girl's face whether the
colonel had told her the truth.
On this particular evening the Chargeboeuf ladies were the first to
arrive. Bathilde, by Vinet's advice, had become more elaborate in her
dress. She now wore a charming gown of blue velveteen, with the same
transparent fichu, garnet pendants in her ears, her hair in ringlets,
the wily jeannette round her throat, black satin slippers, gray silk
stockings, and gants de Suede; add to these things the manners of a
queen and the coquetry of a young girl determined to capture Rogron.
Her mother, calm and dignified, retained, as did her daughter, a
certain aristocratic insolence, with which the two women hedged
themselves and preserved the spirit of their caste. Bathilde was a
woman of intelligence, a fact which Vinet alone had discovered during
the two months' stay the ladies had made at his house. When he had
fully fathomed the mind of the girl, wounded and disappointed as it
was by the fruitlessness of her beauty and her youth, and enlightened
by the contempt she felt for the men of a period in which money was
the only idol, Vinet, himself surprised, exclaimed,—
"If I could only have married you, Bathilde, I should to-day be Keeper
of the Seals. I should call myself Vinet de Chargeboeuf, and take my
seat as deputy of the Right."
Bathilde had no vulgar idea in her marriage intentions. She did not
marry to be a mother, nor to possess a husband; she married for
freedom, to gain a responsible position, to be called "madame," and to
act as men act. Rogron was nothing but a name to her; she expected to
make something of the fool,—a voting deputy, for instance, whose
instigator she would be; moreover, she longed to avenge herself on her
family, who had taken no notice of a girl without money. Vinet had
much enlarged and strengthened her ideas by admiring and approving
"My dear Bathilde," he said, while explaining to her the influence of
women, and showing her the sphere of action in which she ought to
work, "do you suppose that Tiphaine, a man of the most ordinary
capacity, could ever get to be a judge of the Royal court in Paris by
himself? No, it is Madame Tiphaine who has got him elected deputy, and
it is she who will push him when they get to Paris. Her mother, Madame
Roguin, is a shrewd woman, who does what she likes with the famous
banker du Tillet, a crony of Nucingen, and both of them allies of the
Kellers. The administration is on the best of terms with those lynxes
of the bank. There is no reason why Tiphaine should not be judge,
through his wife, of a Royal court. Marry Rogron; we'll have him
elected deputy from Provins as soon as I gain another precinct in the
Seine-et-Marne. You can then get him a place as receiver-general,
where he'll have nothing to do but sign his name. We shall belong to
the opposition if the Liberals triumph, but if the Bourbons remain
—ah! then we shall lean gently, gently towards the centre. Besides,
you must remember Rogron can't live forever, and then you can marry a
titled man. In short, put yourself in a good position, and the
Chargeboeufs will be ready enough to serve us. Your poverty has no
doubt taught you, as mine did me, to know what men are worth. We must
make use of them as we do of post-horses. A man, or a woman, will take
us along to such or such a distance."
Vinet ended by making Bathilde a small edition of Catherine de
Medicis. He left his wife at home, rejoiced to be alone with her two
children, while he went every night to the Rogrons' with Madame and
Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf. He arrived there in all the glory of
better circumstances. His spectacles were of gold, his waistcoat silk;
a white cravat, black trousers, thin boots, a black coat made in
Paris, and a gold watch and chain, made up his apparel. In place of
the former Vinet, pale and thin, snarling and gloomy, the present
Vinet bore himself with the air and manner of a man of importance; he
marched boldly forward, certain of success, with that peculiar show of
security which belongs to lawyers who know the hidden places of the
law. His sly little head was well-brushed, his chin well-shaved, which
gave him a mincing though frigid look, that made him seem agreeable
in the style of Robespierre. Certainly he would make a fine
attorney-general, endowed with elastic, mischievous, and even murderous
eloquence, or an orator of the shrewd type of Benjamin Constant. The
bitterness and the hatred which formerly actuated him had now turned
into soft-spoken perfidy; the poison was transformed into anodyne.
"Good-evening, my dear; how are you?" said Madame de Chargeboeuf,
Bathilde went straight to the fireplace, took off her bonnet, looked
at herself in the glass, and placed her pretty foot on the fender that
Rogron might admire it.
"What is the matter with you?" she said to him, looking directly in
his face. "You have not bowed to me. Pray why should we put on our
best velvet gowns to please you?"
She pushed past Pierrette to lay down her hat, which the latter took
from her hand, and which she let her take exactly as though she were a
servant. Men are supposed to be ferocious, and tigers too; but neither
tigers, vipers, diplomatists, lawyers, executioners or kings ever
approach, in their greatest atrocities, the gentle cruelty, the
poisoned sweetness, the savage disdain of one young woman for another,
when she thinks herself superior in birth, or fortune, or grace, and
some question of marriage, or precedence, or any of the feminine
rivalries, is raised. The "Thank you, mademoiselle," which Bathilde
said to Pierrette was a poem in many strophes. She was named Bathilde,
and the other Pierrette. She was a Chargeboeuf, the other a Lorrain.
Pierrette was small and weak, Bathilde was tall and full of life.
Pierrette was living on charity, Bathilde and her mother lived on
their means. Pierrette wore a stuff gown with a chemisette, Bathilde
made the velvet of hers undulate. Bathilde had the finest shoulders in
the department, and the arm of a queen; Pierrette's shoulder-blades
were skin and bone. Pierrette was Cinderella, Bathilde was the fairy.
Bathilde was about to marry, Pierrette was to die a maid. Bathilde was
adored, Pierrette was loved by none. Bathilde's hair was ravishingly
dressed, she had so much taste; Pierrette's was hidden beneath her
Breton cap, and she knew nothing of the fashions. Moral, Bathilde was
everything, Pierrette nothing. The proud little Breton girl understood
this tragic poem.
"Good-evening, little girl," said Madame de Chargeboeuf, from the
height of her condescending grandeur, and in the tone of voice which
her pinched nose gave her.
Vinet put the last touch to this sort of insult by looking fixedly at
Pierrette and saying, in three keys, "Oh! oh! oh! how fine we are
"Fine!" said the poor child; "you should say that to Mademoiselle de
Chargeboeuf, not to me."
"Oh! she is always beautifully dressed," replied the lawyer. "Isn't
she, Rogron?" he added, turning to the master of the house, and
grasping his hand.
"Yes," said Rogron.
"Why do you force him to say what he does not think?" said Bathilde;
"nothing about me pleases him. Isn't that true?" she added, going up
to Rogron and standing before him. "Look at me, and say if it isn't
Rogron looked at her from head to foot, and gently closed his eyes
like a cat whose head is being scratched.
"You are too beautiful," he said; "too dangerous."
Rogron looked at the fire and was silent. Just then Mademoiselle
Habert entered the room, followed by the colonel.
Celeste Habert, who had now become the common enemy, could only reckon
Sylvie on her side; nevertheless, everybody present showed her the
more civility and amiable attention because each was undermining her.
Her brother, though no longer able to be on the scene of action, was
well aware of what was going on, and as soon as he perceived that his
sister's hopes were killed he became an implacable and terrible
antagonist to the Rogrons.
Every one will immediately picture to themselves Mademoiselle Habert
when they know that if she had not kept an institution for young
ladies she would still have had the air of a school-mistress.
School-mistresses have a way of their own in putting on their caps.
Just as old Englishwomen have acquired a monopoly in turbans,
school-mistresses have a monopoly of these caps. Flowers nod above
the frame-work, flowers that are more than artificial; lying by in
closets for years the cap is both new and old, even on the day it is
first worn. These spinsters make it a point of honor to resemble the
lay figures of a painter; they sit on their hips, never on their
chairs. When any one speaks to them they turn their whole busts
instead of simply turning their heads; and when their gowns creak one
is tempted to believe that the mechanism of these beings is out of
order. Mademoiselle Habert, an ideal of her species, had a stern eye,
a grim mouth, and beneath her wrinkled chin the strings of her cap,
always limp and faded, floated as she moved. Two moles, rather large
and brown, adorned that chin, and from them sprouted hairs which she
allowed to grow rampant like clematis. And finally, to complete her
portrait, she took snuff, and took it ungracefully.
The company went to work at their boston. Mademoiselle Habert sat
opposite to Sylvie, with the colonel at her side opposite to Madame de
Chargeboeuf. Bathilde was near her mother and Rogron. Sylvie placed
Pierrette between herself and the colonel; Rogron had set out a second
card-table, in case other company arrived. Two lamps were on the
chimney-piece between the candelabra and the clock, and the tables
were lighted by candles at forty sous a pound, paid for by the price
of the cards.
"Come, Pierrette, take your work, my dear," said Sylvie, with
treacherous softness, noticing that the girl was watching the
She usually affected to treat Pierrette well before company. This
deception irritated the honest Breton girl, and made her despise her
cousin. She took her embroidery, but as she drew her stitches she
still watched Gouraud's play. Gouraud behaved as if he did not know
the girl was near him. Sylvie noticed this apparent indifference and
thought it extremely suspicious. Presently she undertook a grande
misere in hearts, the pool being full of counters, besides containing
twenty-seven sous. The rest of the company had now arrived; among them
the deputy-judge Desfondrilles, who for the last two months had
abandoned the Tiphaine party and connected himself more or less with
the Vinets. He was standing before the chimney-piece, with his back to
the fire and the tails of his coat over his arms, looking round the
fine salon of which Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf was the shining
ornament; for it really seemed as if all the reds of its decoration
had been made expressly to enhance her style of beauty. Silence
reigned; Pierrette was watching the game, Sylvie's attention was
distracted from her by the interest of the grande misere.
"Play that," said Pierrette to the colonel, pointing to a heart in his
The colonel began a sequence in hearts; the hearts all lay between
himself and Sylvie; the colonel won her ace, though it was protected
by five small hearts.
"That's not fair!" she cried. "Pierrette saw my hand, and the colonel
took her advice."
"But, mademoiselle," said Celeste, "it was the colonel's game to play
hearts after you began them."
The scene made Monsieur Desfondrilles smile; his was a keen mind,
which found much amusement in watching the play of all the
self-interests in Provins.
"Yes, it was certainly the colonel's game," said Cournant the notary,
not knowing what the question was.
Sylvie threw a look at Mademoiselle Habert,—one of those glances
which pass from old maid to old maid, feline and cruel.
"Pierrette, you did see my hand," said Sylvie fixing her eyes on the
"I was looking at you all," said the deputy-judge, "and I can swear
that Pierrette saw no one's hand but the colonel's."
"Pooh!" said Gouraud, alarmed, "little girls know how to slide their
eyes into everything."
"Ah!" exclaimed Sylvie.
"Yes," continued Gouraud. "I dare say she looked into your hand to
play you a trick. Didn't you, little one?"
"No," said the truthful Breton, "I wouldn't do such a thing; if I had,
it would have been in my cousin's interests."
"You know you are a story-teller and a little fool," cried Sylvie.
"After what happened this morning do you suppose I can believe a word
you say? You are a—"
Pierrette did not wait for Sylvie to finish her sentence; foreseeing a
torrent of insults, she rushed away without a light and ran to her
room. Sylvie turned white with anger and muttered between her teeth,
"She shall pay for this!"
"Shall you pay for the misere?" said Madame de Chargeboeuf.
As she spoke Pierrette struck her head against the door of the passage
which some one had left open.
"Good! I'm glad of it," cried Sylvie, as they heard the blow.
"She must be hurt," said Desfondrilles.
"She deserves it," replied Sylvie.
"It was a bad blow," said Mademoiselle Habert.
Sylvie thought she might escape paying her misere if she went to see
after Pierrette, but Madame de Chargeboeuf stopped her.
"Pay us first," she said, laughing; "you will forget it when you come
The remark, based on the old maid's trickery and her bad faith in
paying her debts at cards was approved by the others. Sylvie sat down
and thought no more of Pierrette,—an indifference which surprised no
one. When the game was over, about half past nine o'clock, she flung
herself into an easy chair at the corner of the fireplace and did not
even rise as her guests departed. The colonel was torturing her; she
did not know what to think of him.
"Men are so false!" she cried, as she went to bed.
Pierrette had given herself a frightful blow on the head, just above
the ear, at the spot where young girls part their hair when they put
their "front hair" in curlpapers. The next day there was a large
"God has punished you," said Sylvie at the breakfast table. "You
disobeyed me; you treated me with disrespect in leaving the room
before I had finished my sentence; you got what you deserved."
"Nevertheless," said Rogron, "she ought to put on a compress of salt
"Oh, it is nothing at all, cousin," said Pierrette.
The poor child had reached a point where even such a remark seemed to
her a proof of kindness.
THE LOVES OF JACQUES AND PIERRETTE
The week ended as it had begun, in continual torture. Sylvie grew
ingenious, and found refinements of tyranny with almost savage
cruelty; the red Indians might have taken a lesson from her. Pierrette
dared not complain of her vague sufferings, nor of the actual pains
she now felt in her head. The origin of her cousin's present anger was
the non-revelation of Brigaut's arrival. With Breton obstinacy
Pierrette was determined to keep silence,—a resolution that is
perfectly explicable. It is easy to see how her thoughts turned to
Brigaut, fearing some danger for him if he were discovered, yet
instinctively longing to have him near her, and happy in knowing he
was in Provins. What joy to have seen him! That single glimpse was
like the look an exile casts upon his country, or the martyr lifts to
heaven, where his eyes, gifted with second-sight, can enter while
flames consume his body.
Pierrette's glance had been so thoroughly understood by the major's
son that, as he planed his planks or took his measures or joined his
wood, he was working his brains to find out some way of communicating
with her. He ended by choosing the simplest of all schemes. At a
certain hour of the night Pierrette must lower a letter by a string
from her window. In the midst of the girl's own sufferings, she too
was sustained by the hope of being able to communicate with Brigaut.
The same desire was in both hearts; parted, they understood each
other! At every shock to her heart, every throb of pain in her head,
Pierrette said to herself, "Brigaut is here!" and that thought enabled
her to live without complaint.
One morning in the market, Brigaut, lying in wait, was able to get
near her. Though he saw her tremble and turn pale, like an autumn leaf
about to flutter down, he did not lose his head, but quietly bought
fruit of the market-woman with whom Sylvie was bargaining. He found
his chance of slipping a note to Pierrette, all the while joking the
woman with the ease of a man accustomed to such manoeuvres; so cool
was he in action, though the blood hummed in his ears and rushed
boiling through his veins and arteries. He had the firmness of a
galley-slave without, and the shrinkings of innocence within him,
—like certain mothers in their moments of mortal trial, when held
between two dangers, two catastrophes.
Pierrette's inward commotion was like Brigaut's. She slipped the note
into the pocket of her apron. The hectic spots upon her cheekbones
turned to a cherry-scarlet. These two children went through, all
unknown to themselves, many more emotions than go to the make-up of a
dozen ordinary loves. This moment in the market-place left in their
souls a well-spring of passionate feeling. Sylvie, who did not
recognize the Breton accent, took no notice of Brigaut, and Pierrette
went home safely with her treasure.
The letters of these two poor children were fated to serve as
documents in a terrible judicial inquiry; otherwise, without the fatal
circumstances that occasioned that inquiry, they would never have been
heard of. Here is the one which Pierrette read that night in her
My dear Pierrette,—At midnight, when everybody is asleep but me,
who am watching you, I will come every night under your window.
Let down a string long enough to reach me; it will not make any
noise; you must fasten to the end of it whatever you write to me.
I will tie my letter in the same way. I hear they have taught
you to read and write,—those wicked relations who were to do you
good, and have done you so much harm. You, Pierrette, the daughter
of a colonel who died for France, reduced by those monsters to be
their servant! That is where all your pretty color and health have
gone. My Pierrette, what has become of her? what have they done
with her. I see plainly you are not the same, not happy. Oh!
Pierrette, let us go back to Brittany. I can earn enough now to
give you what you need; for you yourself can earn three francs a
day and I can earn four or five; and thirty sous is all I want to
live on. Ah! Pierrette, how I have prayed the good God for you
ever since I came here! I have asked him to give me all your
sufferings, and you all pleasures. Why do you stay with them? why
do they keep you? Your grandmother is more to you than they. They
are vipers; they have taken your gaiety away from you. You do not
even walk as you once did in Brittany. Let us go back. I am here
to serve you, to do your will; tell me what you wish. If you need
money I have a hundred and fifty francs; I can send them up by the
string, though I would like to kiss your dear hands and lay the
money in them. Ah, dear Pierrette, it is a long time now that the
blue sky has been overcast for me. I have not had two hours'
happiness since I put you into that diligence of evil. And when I
saw you the other morning, looking like a shadow, I could not
reach you; that hag of a cousin came between us. But at least we
can have the consolation of praying to God together every Sunday
in church; perhaps he will hear us all the more when we pray
Not good-by, my dear, Pierrette, but to-night.
This letter so affected Pierrette that she sat for more than an hour
reading and re-reading and gazing at it. Then she remembered with
anguish that she had nothing to write with. She summoned courage to
make the difficult journey from her garret to the dining-room, where
she obtained pen, paper, and ink, and returned safely without waking
her terrible cousin. A few minutes before midnight she had finished
the following letter:—
My Friend,—Oh! yes, my friend; for there is no one but you,
Jacques, and my grandmother to love me. God forgive me, but you
are the only two persons whom I love, both alike, neither more nor
less. I was too little to know my dear mamma; but you, Jacques,
and my grandmother, and my grandfather,—God grant him heaven, for
he suffered much from his ruin, which was mine,—but you two who
are left, I love you both, unhappy as I am. Indeed, to know how
much I love you, you will have to know how much I suffer; but I
don't wish that, it would grieve you too much. They speak to me
as we would not speak to a dog; they treat me like the worst of
girls; and yet I do examine myself before God, and I cannot find
that I do wrong by them. Before you sang to me the marriage song I
saw the mercy of God in my sufferings; for I had prayed to him to
take me from the world, and I felt so ill I said to myself, "God
hears me!" But, Jacques, now you are here, I want to live and go
back to Brittany, to my grandmamma who loves me, though they say
she stole eight thousand francs of mine. Jacques, is that so? If
they are mine could you get them! But it is not true, for if my
grandmother had eight thousand francs she would not live at
I don't want to trouble her last days, my kind, good grandmamma,
with the knowledge of my troubles; she might die of it. Ah! if she
knew they made her grandchild scrub the pots and pans,—she who
used to say to me, when I wanted to help her after her troubles,
"Don't touch that, my darling; leave it—leave it—you will spoil
your pretty fingers." Ah! my hands are never clean now. Sometimes
I can hardly carry the basket home from market, it cuts my arm.
Still I don't think my cousins mean to be cruel; but it is their
way always to scold, and it seems that I have no right to leave
them. My cousin Rogron is my guardian. One day when I wanted to
run away because I could not bear it, and told them so, my cousin
Sylvie said the gendarmes would go after me, for the law was my
master. Oh! I know now that cousins cannot take the place of
father or mother, any more than the saints can take the place of
My poor Jacques, what do you suppose I could do with your money?
Keep it for our journey. Oh! how I think of you and Pen-Hoel, and
the big pong,—that's where we had our only happy days. I shall
have no more, for I feel I am going from bad to worse. I am very
ill, Jacques. I have dreadful pains in my head, and in my bones,
and back, which kill me, and I have no appetite except for horrid
things,—roots and leaves and such things. Sometimes I cry, when I
am all alone, for they won't let me do anything I like if they
know it, not even cry. I have to hide to offer my tears to Him to
whom we owe the mercies which we call afflictions. It must have
been He who gave you the blessed thought to come and sing the
marriage song beneath my window. Ah! Jacques, my cousin heard you,
and she said I had a lover. If you wish to be my lover, love me
well. I promise to love you always, as I did in the past, and to
Your faithful servant,
You will love me always, won't you?
She had brought a crust of bread from the kitchen, in which she now
made a hole for the letter, and fastened it like a weight to her
string. At midnight, having opened her window with extreme caution,
she lowered the letter with the crust, which made no noise against
either the wall of the house or the blinds. Presently she felt the
string pulled by Brigaut, who broke it and then crept softly away.
When he reached the middle of the square she could see him
indistinctly by the starlight; but he saw her quite clearly in the
zone of light thrown by the candle. The two children stood thus for
over an hour, Pierrette making him signs to go, he starting, she
remaining, he coming back to his post, and Pierrette again signing
that he must leave her. This was repeated till the child closed her
window, went to bed, and blew out the candle. Once in bed she fell
asleep, happy in heart though suffering in body,—she had Brigaut's
letter under her pillow. She slept as the persecuted sleep,—a slumber
bright with angels; that slumber full of heavenly arabesques, in
atmospheres of gold and lapis-lazuli, perceived and given to us by
The moral nature had such empire over that frail physical nature that
on the morrow Pierrette rose light and joyous as a lark, as radiant
and as gay. Such a change could not escape the vigilant eye of her
cousin Sylvie, who, this time, instead of scolding her, set about
watching her with the scrutiny of a magpie. "What reason is there for
such happiness?" was a thought of jealousy, not of tyranny. If the
colonel had not been in Sylvie's mind she would have said to Pierrette
as formerly, "Pierrette, you are very noise, and very regardless of
what you have often been told." But now the old maid resolved to spy
upon her as only old maids can spy. The day was still and gloomy, like
the weather that precedes a storm.
"You don't appear to be ill now, mademoiselle," said Sylvie at dinner.
"Didn't I tell you she put it all on to annoy us?" she cried,
addressing her brother, and not waiting for Pierrette's answer.
"On the contrary, cousin, I have a sort of fever—"
"Fever! what fever? You are as gay as a lark. Perhaps you have seen
some one again?"
Pierrette trembled and dropped her eyes on her plate.
"Tartufe!" cried Sylvie; "and only fourteen years old! what a nature!
Do you mean to come to a bad end?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Pierrette, raising her sweet and
luminous brown eyes to her cousin.
"This evening," said Sylvie, "you are to stay in the dining-room with
a candle, and do your sewing. You are not wanted in the salon; I
sha'n't have you looking into my hand to help your favorites."
Pierrette made no sign.
"Artful creature!" cried Sylvie, leaving the room.
Rogron, who did not understand his sister's anger, said to Pierrette:
"What is all this about? Try to please your cousin, Pierrette; she is
very indulgent to you, very gentle, and if you put her out of temper
the fault is certainly yours. Why do you squabble so? For my part I
like to live in peace. Look at Mademoiselle Bathilde and take pattern
Pierrette felt able to bear everything. Brigaut would come at midnight
and bring her an answer, and that hope was the viaticum of her day.
But she was using up her last strength. She did not go to bed, and
stood waiting for the hour to strike. At last midnight sounded; softly
she opened the window; this time she used a string made by tying bits
of twine together. She heard Brigaut's step, and on drawing up the
cord she found the following letter, which filled her with joy:—
My dear Pierrette,—As you are so ill you must not tire yourself
by waiting for me. You will hear me if I cry like an owl. Happily
my father taught me to imitate their note. So when you hear the
cry three times you will know I am there, and then you must let
down the cord. But I shall not come again for some days. I hope
then to bring you good news.
Oh! Pierrette, don't talk of dying! Pierrette, don't think such
things! All my heart shook, I felt as though I were dead myself at
the mere idea. No, my Pierrette, you must not die; you will live
happy, and soon you shall be delivered from your persecutors. If I
do not succeed in what I am undertaking for your rescue, I shall
appeal to the law, and I shall speak out before heaven and earth
and tell how your wicked relations are treating you. I am certain
that you have not many more days to suffer; have patience, my
Pierrette! Jacques is watching over you as in the old days when we
slid on the pond and I pulled you out of the hole in which we were
nearly drowned together.
Adieu, my dear Pierrette; in a few days, if God wills, we shall be
happy. Alas, I dare not tell you the only thing that may hinder
our meeting. But God loves us! In a few days I shall see my dear
Pierrette at liberty, without troubles, without any one to hinder
my looking at you—for, ah! Pierrette, I hunger to see you
—Pierrette, Pierrette, who deigns to love me and to tell me so.
Yes, Pierrette, I will be your lover when I have earned the
fortune you deserve; till then I will be to you only a devoted
servant whose life is yours to do what you please with it. Adieu.
Here is a letter of which the major's son said nothing to Pierrette.
He wrote it to Madame Lorrain at Nantes:—
Madame Lorrain,—Your granddaughter will die, worn-out with
ill-treatment, if you do not come to fetch her. I could scarcely
recognize her; and to show you the state of things I enclose a
letter I have received from Pierrette. You are thought here to
have taken the money of your granddaughter, and you ought to
justify yourself. If you can, come at once. We may still be happy;
but if delay Pierrette will be dead.
I am, with respect, your devoted servant,
At Monsieur Frappier's, Cabinet-maker, Grand'Rue, Provins.
Brigaut's fear was that the grandmother was dead.
Though this letter of the youth whom in her innocence she called her
lover was almost enigmatical to Pierrette, she believed in it with all
her virgin faith. Her heart was filled with that sensation which
travellers in the desert feel when they see from afar the palm-trees
round a well. In a few days her misery would end—Jacques said so. She
relied on this promise of her childhood's friend; and yet, as she laid
the letter beside the other, a dreadful thought came to her in
"Poor Jacques," she said to herself, "he does not know the hole into
which I have now fallen!"
Sylvie had heard Pierrette, and she had also heard Brigaut under her
window. She jumped out of bed and rushed to the window to look through
the blinds into the square and there she saw, in the moonlight, a man
hurrying in the direction of the colonel's house, in front of which
Brigaut happened to stop. The old maid gently opened her door, went
upstairs, was amazed to find a light in Pierrette's room, looked
through the keyhole, and could see nothing.
"Pierrette," she said, "are you ill?"
"No, cousin," said Pierrette, surprised.
"Why is your candle burning at this time of night? Open the door; I
must know what this means."
Pierrette went to the door bare-footed, and as soon as Sylvie entered
the room she saw the cord, which Pierrette had forgotten to put away,
not dreaming of a surprise. Sylvie jumped upon it.
"What is that for?" she asked.
"Nothing!" she cried. "Always lying; you'll never get to heaven that
way. Go to bed; you'll take cold."
She asked no more questions and went away, leaving Pierrette terrified
by her unusual clemency. Instead of exploding with rage, Sylvie had
suddenly determined to surprise Pierrette and the colonel together, to
seize their letters and confound the two lovers who were deceiving
her. Pierrette, inspired by a sense of danger, sewed the letters into
her corset and covered them with calico.
Here end the loves of Pierrette and Brigaut.
Pierrette rejoiced in the thought that Jacques had determined to hold
no communication with her for some days, because her cousin's
suspicions would be quieted by finding nothing to feed them. Sylvie
did in fact spend the next three nights on her legs, and each evening
in watching the innocent colonel, without discovering either in him or
in Pierrette, or in the house or out of it, anything that betrayed
their understanding. She sent Pierrette to confession, and seized that
moment to search the child's room, with the method and penetration of
a spy or a custom-house officer. She found nothing. Her fury reached
the apogee of human sentiments. If Pierrette had been there she would
certainly have struck her remorselessly. To a woman of her temper,
jealousy was less a sentiment than an occupation; she existed in it,
it made her heart beat, she felt emotions hitherto completely unknown
to her; the slightest sound or movement kept her on the qui vive; she
watched Pierrette with gloomy intentness.
"That miserable little wretch will kill me," she said.
Sylvie's severity to her cousin reached the point of refined cruelty,
and made the deplorable condition of the poor girl worse daily. She
had fever regularly, and the pains in her head became intolerable. By
the end of the week even the visitors at the house noticed her
suffering face, which would have touched to pity all selfishness less
cruel than theirs. It happened that Doctor Neraud, possibly by Vinet's
advice, did not come to the house during that week. The colonel,
knowing himself suspected by Sylvie, was afraid to risk his marriage
by showing any solicitude for Pierrette. Bathilde explained the
visible change in the girl by her natural growth. But at last, one
Sunday evening, when Pierrette was in the salon, her sufferings
overcame her and she fainted away. The colonel, who first saw her
going, caught her in his arms and carried her to a sofa.
"She did it on purpose," said Sylvie, looking at Mademoiselle Habert
and the rest who were playing boston with her.
"I assure you that your cousin is very ill," said the colonel.
"She seemed well enough in your arms," Sylvie said to him in a low
voice, with a savage smile.
"The colonel is right," said Madame de Chargeboeuf. "You ought to send
for a doctor. This morning at church every one was speaking, as they
came out, of Mademoiselle Lorrain's appearance."
"I am dying," said Pierrette.
Desfondrilles called to Sylvie and told her to unfasten her cousin's
gown. Sylvie went up to the girl, saying, "It is only a tantrum."
She unfastened the gown and was about to touch the corset, when
Pierrette, roused by the danger, sat up with superhuman strength,
exclaiming, "No, no, I will go to bed."
Sylvie had, however, touched the corset and felt the papers. She let
Pierrette go, saying to the company:
"What do you think now of her illness? I tell you it is all a
pretence. You have no idea of the perversity of that child."
After the card-playing was over she kept Vinet from following the
other guests; she was furious and wanted vengeance, and was grossly
rude to the colonel when he bade her good-night. Gouraud threw a look
at the lawyer which threatened him to the depths of his being and
seemed to put a ball in his entrails. Sylvie told Vinet to remain.
When they were alone, she said,—
"Never in my life, never in my born days, will I marry the colonel."
"Now that you have come to that decision I may speak," said the
lawyer. "The colonel is my friend, but I am more yours than his.
Rogron has done me services which I can never forget. I am as strong a
friend as I am an enemy. Once in the Chamber I shall rise to power,
and I will make your brother a receiver-general. Now swear to me,
before I say more, that you will never repeat what I tell you."
(Sylvie made an affirmative sign.) "In the first place, the brave
colonel is a gambler—"
"Ah!" exclaimed Sylvie.
"If it had not been for the embarrassments this vice has brought upon
him, he might have been a marshal of France," continued Vinet. "He is
capable of running through your property; but he is very astute; you
cannot be sure of not having children, and you told me yourself the
risks you feared. No, if you want to marry, wait till I am in the
Chamber and then take that old Desfondrilles, who shall be made chief
justice. If you want revenge on the colonel make your brother marry
Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf,—I can get her consent; she has two
thousand francs a year, and you will be connected with the de
Chargeboeufs as I am. Recollect what I tell you, the Chargeboeufs will
be glad to claim us for cousins some day."
"Gouraud loves Pierrette," was Sylvie's only answer.
"He is quite capable of it," said Vinet, "and capable of marrying her
after your death."
"A fine calculation!" she said.
"I tell you that man has the shrewdness of the devil. Marry your
brother and announce that you mean to remain unmarried and will leave
your property to your nephews and nieces. That will strike a blow at
Gouraud and Pierrette both! and you'll see the faces they'll make."
"Ah! that's true," cried the old maid, "I can serve them both right.
She shall go to a shop, and get nothing from me. She hasn't a sou; let
her do as we did,—work."
Vinet departed, having put his plan into Sylvie's head, her dogged
obstinacy being well-known to him. The old maid, he was certain, would
think the scheme her own, and carry it out.
The lawyer found the colonel in the square, smoking a cigar while he
waited for him.
"Halt!" said Gouraud; "you have pulled me down, but stones enough came
with me to bury you—"
"Colonel or not, I shall give you your deserts. In the first place,
you shall not be deputy—"
"I control ten votes and the election depends on—"
"Colonel, listen to me. Is there no one to marry but that old Sylvie?
I have just been defending you to her; you are accused and convicted
of writing to Pierrette; she saw you leave your house at midnight and
come to the girl's window—"
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"She means to marry her brother to Bathilde and leave her fortune to
"Rogron won't have any."
"Yes he will," replied Vinet. "But I promise to find you some young
and agreeable woman with a hundred and fifty thousand francs? Don't be
a fool; how can you and I afford to quarrel? Things have gone against
you in spite of all my care; but you don't understand me."
"Then we must understand each other," said the colonel. "Get me a wife
with a hundred and fifty thousand francs before the elections; if not
—look out for yourself! I don't like unpleasant bed-fellows, and
you've pulled the blankets all over to your side. Good-evening."
"You shall see," said Vinet, grasping the colonel's hand
* * * * *
About one o'clock that night three clear, sharp cries of an owl,
wonderfully well imitated, echoed through the square. Pierrette heard
them in her feverish sleep; she jumped up, moist with perspiration,
opened her window, saw Brigaut, and flung down a ball of silk, to
which he fastened a letter. Sylvie, agitated by the events of the day
and her own indecision of mind, was not asleep; she heard the owl.
"Ah, bird of ill-omen!" she thought. "Why, Pierrette is getting up!
What is she after?"
Hearing the attic window open softly, Sylvie rushed to her own window
and heard the rustle of paper against her blinds. She fastened the
strings of her bed-gown and went quickly upstairs to Pierrette's room,
where she found the poor girl unwinding the silk and freeing the
"Ha! I've caught you!" cried the old woman, rushing to the window,
from which she saw Jacques running at full speed. "Give me that
"No, cousin," said Pierrette, who, by one of those strong inspirations
of youth sustained by her own soul, rose to a grandeur of resistance
such as we admire in the history of certain peoples reduced to
"Ha! you will not?" cried Sylvie, advancing upon the girl with a face
full of hatred and fury.
Pierrette fell back to get time to put her letter in her hand, which
she clenched with unnatural force. Seeing this manoeuvre Sylvie
grasped the delicate white hand of the girl in her lobster claws and
tried to open it. It was a frightful struggle, an infamous struggle;
it was more than a physical struggle; it assailed the mind, the sole
treasure of the human being, the thought, which God has placed beyond
all earthly power and guards as the secret way between the sufferer
and Himself. The two women, one dying, the other in the vigor of
health, looked at each other fixedly. Pierrette's eyes darted on her
executioner the look the famous Templar on the rack cast upon Philippe
le Bel, who could not bear it and fled thunderstricken. Sylvie, a
woman and a jealous woman, answered that magnetic look with malignant
flashes. A dreadful silence reigned. The clenched hand of the Breton
girl resisted her cousin's efforts like a block of steel. Sylvie
twisted Pierrette's arm, she tried to force the fingers open; unable
to do so she stuck her nails into the flesh. At last, in her madness,
she set her teeth into the wrist, trying to conquer the girl by pain.
Pierrette defied her still, with that same terrible glance of
innocence. The anger of the old maid grew to such a pitch that it
became blind fury. She seized Pierrette's arm and struck the closed
fist upon the window-sill, and then upon the marble of the
mantelpiece, as we crack a nut to get the kernel.
"Help! help!" cried Pierrette, "they are murdering me!"
"Ha! you may well scream, when I catch you with a lover in the dead of
And she beat the hand pitilessly.
"Help! help!" cried Pierrette, the blood flowing.
At that instant, loud knocks were heard at the front door. Exhausted,
the two women paused a moment.
Rogron, awakened and uneasy, not knowing what was happening, had got
up, gone to his sister's room, and not finding her was frightened.
Hearing the knocks he went down, unfastened the front door, and was
nearly knocked over by Brigaut, followed by a sort of phantom.
At this moment Sylvie's eyes chanced to fall on Pierrette's corset,
and she remembered the papers. Releasing the girl's wrist she sprang
upon the corset like a tiger on its prey, and showed it to Pierrette
with a smile,—the smile of an Iroquois over his victim before he
"I am dying," said Pierrette, falling on her knees, "oh, who will save
"I!" said a woman with white hair and an aged parchment face, in which
two gray eyes glittered.
"Ah! grandmother, you have come too late," cried the poor child,
bursting into tears.
Pierrette fell upon her bed, her strength all gone, half-dead with the
exhaustion which, in her feeble state, followed so violent a struggle.
The tall gray woman took her in her arms, as a nurse lifts a child,
and went out, followed by Brigaut, without a word to Sylvie, on whom
she cast one glance of majestic accusation.
The apparition of that august old woman, in her Breton costume,
shrouded in her coif (a sort of hooded mantle of black cloth),
accompanied by Brigaut, appalled Sylvie; she fancied she saw death.
She slowly went down the stairs, listened to the front door closing
behind them, and came face to face with her brother, who exclaimed:
"Then they haven't killed you?"
"Go to bed," said Sylvie. "To-morrow we will see what we must do."
She went back to her own bed, ripped open the corset, and read
Brigaut's two letters, which confounded her. She went to sleep in the
greatest perplexity,—not imagining the terrible results to which her
conduct was to lead.
* * * * *
The letters sent by Brigaut to old Madame Lorrain reached her in a
moment of ineffable joy, which the perusal of them troubled. The poor
old woman had grieved deeply in living without her Pierrette beside
her, but she had consoled her loneliness with the thought that the
sacrifice of herself was in the interests of her grandchild. She was
blessed with one of those ever-young hearts which are upheld and
invigorated by the idea of sacrifice. Her old husband, whose only joy
was his little granddaughter, had grieved for Pierrette; every day he
had seemed to look for her. It was an old man's grief,—on which such
old men live, of which they die.
Every one can now imagine the happiness which this poor old woman,
living in a sort of almshouse, felt when she learned of a generous
action, rare indeed but not impossible in France. The head of the
house of Collinet, whose failure in 1814 had caused the Lorrains a
loss of twenty-four thousand francs, had gone to America with his
children after his disasters. He had too high a courage to remain a
ruined man. After eleven years of untold effort crowned by success he
returned to Nantes to recover his position, leaving his eldest son in
charge of his transatlantic house. He found Madame Lorrain of Pen-Hoel
in the institution of Saint-Jacques, and was witness of the
resignation with which this most unfortunate of his creditors bore her
"God forgive you!" said the old woman, "since you give me on the
borders of my grave the means of securing the happiness of my dear
granddaughter; but alas! it will not clear the debts of my poor
Monsieur Collinet made over to the widow both the capital and the
accrued interest, amounting to about forty-two thousand francs. His
other creditors, prosperous, rich, and intelligent merchants, had
easily born their losses, whereas the misfortunes of the Lorrains
seemed so irremediable to old Monsieur Collinet that he promised the
widow to pay off her husband's debts, to the amount of forty thousand
francs more. When the Bourse of Nantes heard of this generous
reparation they wished to receive Collinet to their board before his
certificates were granted by the Royal court at Rennes; but the
merchant refused the honor, preferring to submit to the ordinary
Madame Lorrain had received the money only the day before the post
brought her Brigaut's letter, enclosing that of Pierrette. Her first
thought had been, as she signed the receipt: "Now I can live with my
Pierrette and marry her to that good Brigaut, who will make a fortune
with my money."
Therefore the moment she had read the fatal letters she made instant
preparations to start for Provins. She left Nantes that night by the
mail; for some one had explained to her its celerity. In Paris she
took the diligence for Troyes, which passes through Provins, and by
half-past eleven at night she reached Frappier's, where Brigaut,
shocked at her despairing looks, told her of Pierrette's state and
promised to bring the poor girl to her instantly. His words so
terrified the grandmother that she could not control her impatience
and followed him to the square. When Pierrette screamed, the horror of
that cry went to her heart as sharply as it did to Brigaut's. Together
they would have roused the neighborhood if Rogron, in his terror, had
not opened the door. The scream of the young girl at bay gave her
grandmother the sudden strength of anger with which she carried her
dear Pierrette in her arms to Frappier's house, where Madame Frappier
hastily arranged Brigaut's own room for the old woman and her
treasure. In that poor room, on a bed half-made, the sufferer was
deposited; and there she fainted away, holding her hand still
clenched, wounded, bleeding, with the nails deep bedded in the flesh.
Brigaut, Frappier, his wife, and the old woman stood looking at
Pierrette in silence, all four of them in a state of indescribable
"Why is her hand bloody?" said the grandmother at last.
Pierrette, overcome by the sleep which follows all abnormal displays
of strength, and dimly conscious that she was safe from violence,
gradually unbent her fingers. Brigaut's letter fell from them like an
"They tried to take my letter from her," said Brigaut, falling on his
knees and picking up the lines in which he had told his little friend
to come instantly and softly away from the house. He kissed with pious
love the martyr's hand.
It was a sight that made those present tremble when they saw the old
gray woman, a sublime spectre, standing beside her grandchild's
pillow. Terror and vengeance wrote their fierce expressions in the
wrinkles that lined her skin of yellow ivory; her forehead, half
hidden by the straggling meshes of her gray hair, expressed a solemn
anger. She read, with a power of intuition given to the aged when near
their grave, Pierrette's whole life, on which her mind had dwelt
throughout her journey. She divined the illness of her darling, and
knew that she was threatened with death. Two big tears painfully rose
in her wan gray eyes, from which her troubles had worn both lashes and
eyebrows, two pearls of anguish, forming within them and giving them a
dreadful brightness; then each tear swelled and rolled down the
withered cheek, but did not wet it.
"They have killed her!" she said at last, clasping her hands.
She fell on her knees which struck sharp blows on the brick-laid
floor, making a vow no doubt to Saint Anne d'Auray, the most powerful
of the madonnas of Brittany.
"A doctor from Paris," she said to Brigaut. "Go and fetch one,
She took him by the shoulder and gave him a despotic push to send him
from the room.
"I was coming, my lad, when you wrote me; I am rich,—here, take
this," she cried, recalling him, and unfastening as she spoke the
strings that tied her short-gown. Then she drew a paper from her bosom
in which were forty-two bank-bills, saying, "Take what is necessary,
and bring back the greatest doctor in Paris."
"Keep those," said Frappier; "he can't change thousand franc notes
now. I have money, and the diligence will be passing presently; he can
certainly find a place on it. But before he goes we had better consult
Doctor Martener; he will tell us the best physician in Paris. The
diligence won't pass for over an hour,—we have time enough."
Brigaut woke up Monsieur Martener, and brought him at once. The doctor
was not a little surprised to find Mademoiselle Lorrain at Frappier's.
Brigaut told him of the scene that had just taken place at the
Rogrons'; but even so the doctor did not at first suspect the horror
of it, nor the extent of the injury done. Martener gave the address of
the celebrated Horace Bianchon, and Brigaut started for Paris by the
diligence. Monsieur Martener then sat down and examined first the
bruised and bloody hand which lay outside the bed.
"She could not have given these wounds herself," he said.
"No; the horrible woman to whom I had the misfortune to trust her was
murdering her," said the grandmother. "My poor Pierrette was screaming
'Help! help! I'm dying,'—enough to touch the heart of an
"But why was it?" said the doctor, feeling Pierrette's pulse. "She is
very ill," he added, examining her with a light. "She must have
suffered terribly; I don't understand why she has not been properly
"I shall complain to the authorities," said the grandmother. "Those
Rogrons asked me for my child in a letter, saying they had twelve
thousand francs a year and would take care of her; had they the right
to make her their servant and force her to do work for which she had
not the strength?"
"They did not choose to see the most visible of all maladies to which
young girls are liable. She needed the utmost care," cried Monsieur
Pierrette was awakened by the light which Madame Frappier was holding
near her face, and by the horrible sufferings in her head caused by
the reaction of her struggle.
"Ah! Monsieur Martener, I am very ill," she said in her pretty voice.
"Where is the pain, my little friend?" asked the doctor.
"Here," she said, touching her head above the left ear.
"There's an abscess," said the doctor, after feeling the head for a
long time and questioning Pierrette on her sufferings. "You must tell
us all, my child, so that we may know how to cure you. Why is your
hand like this? You could not have given yourself that wound."
Pierrette related the struggle between herself and her cousin Sylvie.
"Make her talk," said the doctor to the grandmother, "and find out the
whole truth. I will await the arrival of the doctor from Paris; and we
will send for the surgeon in charge of the hospital here, and have a
consultation. The case seems to me a very serious one. Meantime I will
send you a quieting draught so that mademoiselle may sleep; she needs
Left alone with her granddaughter the old Breton woman exerted her
influence over the child and made her tell all; she let her know that
she had money enough now for all three, and promised that Brigaut
should live with them. The poor girl admitted her martyrdom, not
imagining the events to which her admissions would give rise. The
monstrosity of two beings without affection and without conception of
family life opened to the old woman a world of woe as far from her
knowledge as the morals of savages may have seemed to the first
discoverers who set foot in America.
The arrival of her grandmother, the certainty of living with her in
comfort soothed Pierrette's mind as the sleeping draught soothed her
body. The old woman watched her darling, kissing her forehead, hair,
and hands, as the holy women of old kissed the hands of Jesus when
they laid him in the tomb.
THE FAMILY COUNCIL
At nine o'clock that morning Monsieur Martener went to see Monsieur
Tiphaine, and related to him the scene between Pierrette and Sylvie,
and the tortures of all kinds, moral and physical, to which the
Rogrons had subjected their cousin, and the two alarming forms of
illness which their cruelty had developed. Monsieur Tiphaine sent for
Auffray the notary, one of Pierrette's own relations on the maternal
At this particular time the war between the Vinet party and the
Tiphaine party was at its height. The scandals which the Rogrons and
their adherents were disseminating through the town about the liaison
of Madame Tiphaine's mother with the banker du Tillet, and the
bankruptcy of her father (a forger, they said), were all the more
exasperating to the Tiphaines because these things were malicious
truths, not libels. Such wounds cut deep; they go to the quick of
feelings and of interests. These speeches, repeated to the partisans
of the Tiphaines by the same mouths which told the Rogrons of the
sneers of "those women" of the Tiphaine clique, fed the hatreds of
both sides, now increased by the political element. The animosities
caused at this time in France by the spirit of party, the violences of
which were excessive, were everywhere mixed up, as in Provins, with
selfish schemes and wounded or vindictive individual interests. Each
party eagerly seized on whatever might injure the rival party.
Personal hatreds and self-love mingled as much as political animosity
in even the smallest matters, and were carried to hitherto unheard-of
lengths. A whole town would be roused to excitement over some private
struggle, until it took the character of a political debate.
Monsieur Tiphaine at once perceived in the case of Pierrette against
the Rogrons a means of humbling, mortifying, and dishonoring the
masters of that salon where plans against the monarchy were made and
an opposition journal born. The public prosecutor was called in; and
together with Monsieur Auffray the notary, Pierrette's relation, and
Monsieur Martener, a cautious consultation was held in the utmost
secrecy as to the proper course to follow. Monsieur Martener agreed to
advise Pierrette's grandmother to apply to the courts to have Auffray
appointed guardian to his young relation. The guardian could then
convene a "Family Council," and, backed by the testimony of three
doctors, demand the girl's release from the authority of the Rogrons.
The affair thus managed would have to go before the courts, and the
public prosecutor, Monsieur Lesourd, would see that it was taken to a
criminal court by demanding an inquiry.
Towards midday all Provins was roused by the strange news of what had
happened during the night at the Rogrons'. Pierrette's cries had been
faintly heard, though they were soon over. No one had risen to inquire
what they meant, but every one said the next day, "Did you hear those
screams about one in the morning?" Gossip and comments soon magnified
the horrible drama, and a crowd collected in front of Frappier's shop,
asking the worthy cabinet-maker for information, and hearing from him
how Pierrette was brought to his house with her fingers broken and the
Towards one in the afternoon the post-chaise of Doctor Bianchon, who
was accompanied by Brigaut, stopped before the house, and Madame
Frappier went at once to summon Monsieur Martener and the surgeon in
charge of the hospital. Thus the gossip of the town received
confirmation. The Rogrons were declared to have ill-used their cousin
deliberately, and to have come near killing her. Vinet heard the news
while attending to his business in the law courts; he left everything
and hurried to the Rogrons. Rogron and his sister had just finished
breakfast. Sylvie was reluctant to tell her brother of her
discomfiture of the night before; but he pressed her with questions,
to which she would make no answer than, "That's not your business."
She went and came from the kitchen to the dining-room on pretence of
preparing the breakfast, but chiefly to avoid discussion. She was
alone when Vinet entered.
"You know what's happened?" said the lawyer.
"No," said Sylvie.
"You will be arrested on a criminal charge," replied Vinet, "from the
way things are now going about Pierrette."
"A criminal charge!" cried Rogron, who had come into the room. "Why?
"First of all," said the lawyer, looking at Sylvie, "explain to me
without concealment and as if you stood before God, what happened in
this house last night—they talk of amputating Pierrette's hand."
Sylvie turned livid and shuddered.
"Then there is some truth in it?" said Vinet.
Mademoiselle Rogron related the scene, trying to excuse herself; but,
prodded with questions, she acknowledged the facts of the horrible
"If you have only injured her fingers you will be taken before the
police court for a misdemeanor; but if they cut off her hand you may
be tried at the Assizes for a worse offence. The Tiphaines will do
their best to get you there."
Sylvie, more dead than alive, confessed her jealousy, and, what was
harder to do, confessed also that her suspicions were unfounded.
"Heavens, what a case this will make!" cried the lawyer. "You and your
brother may be ruined by it; you will be abandoned by most people
whether you win or lose. If you lose, you will have to leave Provins."
"Oh, my dear Monsieur Vinet, you who are such a great lawyer," said
Rogron, terrified, "advise us! save us!"
The crafty Vinet worked the terror of the two imbeciles to its utmost,
declaring that Madame and Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf might be
unwilling to enter their house again. To be abandoned by women of
their rank would be a terrible condemnation. At length, after an hour
of adroit manoeuvring, it was agreed that Vinet must have some
powerful motive in taking the case, that would impress the minds of
all Provins and explain his efforts on behalf of the Rogrons. This
motive they determined should be Rogron's marriage to Mademoiselle de
Chargeboeuf; it should be announced that very day and the banns
published on Sunday. The contract could be drawn immediately.
Mademoiselle Rogron agreed, in consideration of the marriage, to
appear in the contract as settling her capital on her brother,
retaining only the income of it. Vinet made Rogron and his sister
comprehend the necessity of antedating the document by two or three
days, so as to commit the mother and daughter in the eyes of the
public and give them a reason for continuing their visits.
"Sign that contract and I'll take upon myself to get you safely out of
this affair," said the lawyer. "There will be a terrible fight; but I
will put my whole soul into it—you'll have to make me a votive
"Oh, yes, yes," said Rogron.
By half-past eleven the lawyer had plenary powers to draw the contract
and conduct the defence of the Rogrons. At twelve o'clock application
was made to Monsieur Tiphaine, as a judge sitting in chambers, against
Brigaut and the widow Lorrain for having abducted Pierrette Lorrain, a
minor, from the house of her legal guardian. In this way the bold
lawyer became the aggressor and made Rogron the injured party. He
spoke of the matter from this point of view in the court-house.
The judge postponed the hearing till four o'clock. Needless to
describe the excitement in the town. Monsieur Tiphaine knew that by
three o'clock the consultation of doctors would be over and their
report drawn up; he wished Auffray, as surrogate-guardian, to be at
the hearing armed with that report.
The announcement of Rogron's marriage and the sacrifices made to it by
Sylvie in the contract alienated two important supporters from the
brother and sister, namely,—Mademoiselle Habert and the colonel,
whose hopes were thus annihilated. They remained, however, ostensibly
on the Rogron side for the purpose of injuring it. Consequently, as
soon as Monsieur Martener mentioned the alarming condition of
Pierrette's head, Celeste and the colonel told of the blow she had
given herself during the evening when Sylvie had forced her to leave
the salon; and they related the old maid's barbarous and unfeeling
comments, with other statements proving her cruelty to her suffering
cousin. Vinet had foreseen this storm; but he had secured the entire
fortune of the Rogrons for Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf, and he
promised himself that in a few weeks she should be mistress of the
Rogron house, and reign with him over Provins, and even bring about a
fusion with the Breauteys and the aristocrats in the interests of his
From midday to four o'clock all the ladies of the Tiphaine clique sent
to inquire after Mademoiselle Lorrain. She, poor girl, was wholly
ignorant of the commotion she was causing in the little town. In the
midst of her sufferings she was ineffably happy in recovering her
grandmother and Brigaut, the two objects of her affection. Brigaut's
eyes were constantly full of tears. The old grandmother sat by the bed
and caressed her darling. To the three doctors she told every detail
she had obtained from Pierrette as to her life in the Rogron house.
Horace Bianchon expressed his indignation in vehement language.
Shocked at such barbarity he insisted on all the physicians in the
town being called in to see the case; the consequence was that Dr.
Neraud, the friend of the Rogrons, was present. The report was
unanimously signed. It is useless to give a text of it here. If
Moliere's medical terms were barbarous, those of modern science have
the advantage of being so clear that the explanation of Pierrette's
malady, though natural and unfortunately common, horrified all ears.
At four o'clock, after the usual rising of the court, president
Tiphaine again took his seat, when Madame Lorrain, accompanied by
Monsieur Auffray and Brigaut and a crowd of interested persons,
entered the court-room. Vinet was alone. This contrast struck the
minds of those present. The lawyer, who still wore his robe, turned
his cold face to the judge, settled his spectacles on his pallid green
eyes, and then in a shrill, persistent voice he stated that two
strangers had forced themselves at night into the Rogron domicile and
had abducted therefrom the minor Lorrain. The legal rights were with
the guardian, who now demanded the restoration of his ward.
Monsieur Auffray rose, as surrogate-guardian, and requested to be
"If the judge," he said, "will admit the report, which I hold in my
hand, signed by one of the most famous physicians in Paris, and by all
the physicians in Provins, he will understand not only that the demand
of the Sieur Rogron is senseless, but also that the grandmother of the
minor had grave cause to instantly remove her from her persecutors.
Here are the facts. The report of these physicians attribute the
almost dying condition of the said minor to the ill-treatment she has
received from the Sieur Rogron and his sister. We shall, as the law
directs, convoke a Family Council with the least possible delay, and
discuss the question as to whether or not the guardian should be
deposed. And we now ask that the minor be not returned to the domicile
of the said guardian but that she be confided to some member of her
family who shall be designated by the judge."
Vinet replied, declaring that the physicians' report ought to have
been submitted to him in order that he might have disproved it.
"Not submitted to your side," said the judge, severely, "but possibly
to the procureur du roi. The case is heard."
The judge then wrote at the bottom of the petition the following
"Whereas it appears, from a deliberate and unanimous report of all
the physicians of this town, together with Doctor Bianchon of the
medical faculty of Paris, that the minor Lorrain, claimed by
Jerome-Denis Rogron, her guardian, is extremely ill in consequence
of ill-treatment and personal assault in the house of the said
guardian and his sister:
"We, president of the court of Provins, passing upon the said
petition, order that until the Family Council is held the minor
Lorrain is not to be returned to the household of her said
guardian, but shall be kept in that of her surrogate-guardian.
"And further, considering the state in which the said minor now
is, and the traces of violence which, according to the report of
the physicians, are now upon her person, we commission the
attending physician and the surgeon in charge of the hospital of
Provins to visit her, and in case the injuries from the said
assault become alarming, the matter will be held to await the
action of the criminal courts; and this without prejudice to the
civil suit undertaken by Auffray the surrogate-guardian."
This severe judgment was read out by President Tiphaine in a loud and
"Why not send them to the galleys at once?" said Vinet. "And all this
fuss about a girl who was carrying on an intrigue with an apprentice
to a cabinet-maker! If the case goes on in this way," he cried,
insolently, "we shall demand other judges on the ground of legitimate
Vinet left the court-room, and went among the chief men of his party
to explain Rogron's position, declaring that he had never so much as
given a flip to his cousin, and that the judge had viewed him much
less as Pierrette's guardian than as a leading elector in Provins.
To hear Vinet, people might have supposed that the Tiphaines were
making a great fuss about nothing; the mounting was bringing forth a
mouse. Sylvie, an eminently virtuous and pious woman, had discovered
an intrigue between her brother's ward and a workman, a Breton named
Brigaut. The scoundrel knew very well that the girl would have her
grandmother's money, and he wished to seduce her (Vinet to talk of
that!). Mademoiselle Rogron, who had discovered letters proving the
depravity of the girl, was not as much to blame as the Tiphaines were
trying to make out. If she did use some violence to get possession of
those letters (which was no wonder, when we consider what Breton
obstinacy is), how could Rogron be considered responsible for all
The lawyer went on to make the matter a partisan affair, and to give
it a political color.
"They who listen to only one bell hear only one sound," said the wise
men. "Have you heard what Vinet says? Vinet explains things clearly."
Frappier's house being thought injurious to Pierrette, owing to the
noise in the street which increased the sufferings in her head, she
was taken to that of her surrogate guardian, the change being as
necessary medically as it was judicially. The removal was made with
the utmost caution, and was calculated to produce a great public
effect. Pierrette was laid on a mattress and carried on a stretcher by
two men; a Gray Sister walked beside her with a bottle of sal volatile
in her hand, while the grandmother, Brigaut, Madame Auffray, and her
maid followed. People were at their windows and doors to see the
procession pass. Certainly the state in which they saw Pierrette, pale
as death, gave immense advantage to the party against the Rogrons. The
Auffrays were determined to prove to the whole town that the judge was
right in the decision he had given. Pierrette and her grandmother were
installed on the second floor of Monsieur Auffray's house. The notary
and his wife gave her every care with the greatest hospitality, which
was not without a little ostentation in it. Pierrette had her
grandmother to nurse her; and Monsieur Martener and the head-surgeon
of the hospital attended her.
On the evening of this day exaggerations began on both sides. The
Rogron salon was crowded. Vinet had stirred up the whole Liberal party
on the subject. The Chargeboeuf ladies dined with the Rogrons, for the
contract was to be signed that evening. Vinet had had the banns posted
at the mayor's office in the afternoon. He made light of the Pierrette
affair. If the Provins court was prejudiced, the Royal courts would
appreciate the facts, he said, and the Auffrays would think twice
before they flung themselves into such a suit. The alliance of the
Rogrons with the Chargeboeufs was an immense consideration in the
minds of a certain class of people. To them it made the Rogrons as
white as snow and Pierrette an evilly disposed little girl, a serpent
warmed in their bosom.
In Madame Tiphaine's salon vengeance was had for all the mischievous
scandals that the Vinet party had disseminated for the past two years.
The Rogrons were monsters, and the guardian should undergo a criminal
trial. In the Lower town, Pierrette was quite well; in the Upper town
she was dying; at the Rogrons' she scratched her wrist; at Madame
Tiphaine's her fingers were fractured and one was to be cut off. The
next day the "Courrier de Provins," had a plausible article, extremely
well-written, a masterpiece of insinuations mixed with legal points,
which showed that there was no case whatever against Rogron. The
"Bee-hive," which did not appear till two days later, could not answer
without becoming defamatory; it replied, however, that in an affair
like this it was best to wait until the law took its course.
The Family Council was selected by the juge de paix of the canton of
Provins, and consisted of Rogron and the two Messieurs Auffray, the
nearest relatives, and Monsieur Ciprey, nephew of Pierrette's maternal
grandmother. To these were joined Monsieur Habert, Pierrette's
confessor, and Colonel Gouraud, who had always professed himself a
comrade and friend of her father, Colonel Lorrain. The impartiality of
the judge in these selections was much applauded,—Monsieur Habert and
Colonel Gouraud being considered the firm friends of the Rogrons.
The serious situation in which Rogron found himself made him ask for
the assistance of a lawyer (and he named Vinet) at the Family Council.
By this manoeuvre, evidently advised by Vinet himself, Rogron
succeeded in postponing the meeting of the council till the end of
December. At that time Monsieur Tiphaine and his wife would be settled
in Paris for the opening of the Chambers; and the ministerial party
would be left without its head. Vinet had already worked upon
Desfondrilles, the deputy-judge, in case the matter should go, after
the hearing before the council, to the criminal courts.
Vinet spoke for three hours before the Family Council; he proved the
existence of an intrigue between Pierrette and Brigaut, which
justified all Mademoiselle Rogron's severity. He showed how natural it
was that the guardian should have left the management of his ward to a
woman; he dwelt on the fact that Rogron had not interfered with
Pierrette's education as planned by his sister Sylvie. But in spite of
Vinet's efforts the Council were unanimous in removing Rogron from the
guardianship. Monsieur Auffray was appointed in his place, and
Monsieur Ciprey was made surrogate. The Council summoned before it and
examined Adele, the servant-woman, who testified against her late
masters; also Mademoiselle Habert, who related the cruel remarks made
by Mademoiselle Rogron on the evening when Pierrette had given herself
a frightful blow, heard by all the company, and the speech of Madame
de Chargeboeuf about the girl's health. Brigaut produced the letter he
had received from Pierrette, which proved their innocence and stated
her ill-treatment. Proof was given that the condition of the minor was
the result of neglect on the part of the guardian, who was responsible
for all that concerned his ward. Pierrette's illness had been apparent
to every one, even to persons in the town who were strangers to the
family, yet the guardian had done nothing for her. The charge of
ill-treatment was therefore sustained against Rogron; and the case
would now go before the public.
Rogron, advised by Vinet, opposed the acceptance of the report of the
Council by the court. The authorities then intervened in consequence
of Pierrette's state, which was daily growing worse. The trial of the
case, though placed at once upon the docket, was postponed until the
month of March, 1828, to wait events.
VERDICTS—LEGAL AND OTHER
Meantime Rogron's marriage with Mademoiselle de Chargeboeuf took
place. Sylvie moved to the second floor of the house, which she shared
with Madame de Chargeboeuf, for the first floor was entirely taken up
by the new wife. The beautiful Madame Rogron succeeded to the social
place of the beautiful Madame Tiphaine. The influence of the marriage
was immense. No one now came to visit Sylvie, but Madame Rogron's
salon was always full.
Sustained by the influence of his mother-in-law and the bankers du
Tillet and Nucingen, Monsieur Tiphaine was fortunate enough to do some
service to the administration; he became one of its chief orators, was
made judge in the civil courts, and obtained the appointment of his
nephew Lesourd to his own vacant place as president of the court of
Provins. This appointment greatly annoyed Desfondrilles. The Keeper of
the Seals sent down one of his own proteges to fill Lesourd's place.
The promotion of Monsieur Tiphaine and his translation to Paris were
therefore of no benefit at all to the Vinet party; but Vinet
nevertheless made a clever use of the result. He had always told the
Provins people that they were being used as a stepping-stone to raise
the crafty Madame Tiphaine into grandeur; Tiphaine himself had tricked
them; Madame Tiphaine despised both Provins and its people in her
heart, and would never return there again. Just at this crisis
Monsieur Tiphaine's father died; his son inherited a fine estate and
sold his house in Provins to Monsieur Julliard. The sale proved to the
minds of all how little the Tiphaines thought of Provins. Vinet was
right; Vinet had been a true prophet. These things had great influence
on the question of Pierrette's guardianship.
Thus the dreadful martyrdom brutally inflicted on the poor child by
two imbecile tyrants (which led, through its consequences, to the
terrible operation of trepanning, performed by Monsieur Martener under
the advice of Doctor Bianchon),—all this horrible drama reduced to
judicial form was left to float in the vile mess called in legal
parlance the calendar. The case was made to drag through the delays
and the interminable labyrinths of the law, by the shufflings of an
unprincipled lawyer; and during all this time the calumniated girl
languished in the agony of the worst pain known to science.
Monsieur Martener, together with the Auffray family, were soon charmed
by the beauty of Pierrette's nature and the character of her old
grandmother, whose feelings, ideas, and ways bore the stamp of Roman
antiquity,—this matron of the Marais was like a woman in Plutarch.
Doctor Martener struggled bravely with death, which already grasped
its prey. From the first, Bianchon and the hospital surgeon had
considered Pierrette doomed; and there now took place between the
doctor and the disease, the former relying on Pierrette's youth, one
of those struggles which physicians alone comprehend,—the reward of
which, in case of success, is never found in the venal pay nor in the
patients themselves, but in the gentle satisfaction of conscience, in
the invisible ideal palm gathered by true artists from the contentment
which fills their soul after accomplishing a noble work. The physician
strains towards good as an artist towards beauty, each impelled by
that grand sentiment which we call virtue. This daily contest wiped
out of Doctor Martener's mind the petty irritations of that other
contest of the Tiphaines and the Vinets,—as always happens to men
when they find themselves face to face with a great and real misery to
Monsieur Martener had begun his career in Paris; but the cruel
activity of the city and its insensibility to its masses of suffering
had shocked his gentle soul, fitted only for the quiet life of the
provinces. Moreover, he was under the yoke of his beautiful native
land. He returned to Provins, where he married and settled, and cared
almost lovingly for the people, who were to him like a large family.
During the whole of Pierrette's illness he was careful not to speak of
her. His reluctance to answer the questions of those who asked about
her was so evident that persons soon ceased to put them. Pierrette was
to him, what indeed she truly was, a poem, mysterious, profound, vast
in suffering, such as doctors find at times in their terrible
experience. He felt an admiration for this delicate young creature
which he would not share with any one.
This feeling of the physician for his patient was, however,
unconsciously communicated (like all true feelings) to Monsieur and
Madame Auffray, whose house became, so long as Pierrette was in it,
quiet and silent. The children, who had formerly played so joyously
with her, agreed among themselves with the loving grace of childhood
to be neither noisy nor troublesome. They made it a point of honor to
be good because Pierrette was ill. Monsieur Auffray's house was in the
Upper town, beneath the ruins of the Chateau, and it was built upon a
sort of terrace formed by the overthrow of the old ramparts. The
occupants could have a view of the valley from the little fruit-garden
enclosed by walls which overlooked the town. The roofs of the other
houses came to about the level of the lower wall of this garden. Along
the terrace ran a path, by which Monsieur Auffray's study could be
entered through a glass door; at the other end of the path was an
arbor of grape vines and a fig-tree, beneath which stood a round
table, a bench and some chairs, painted green. Pierrette's bedroom was
above the study of her new guardian. Madame Lorrain slept in a cot
beside her grandchild. From her window Pierrette could see the whole
of the glorious valley of Provins, which she hardly knew, so seldom
had she left that dreadful house of the Rogrons. When the weather was
fine she loved to drag herself, resting on her grandmother's arm, to
the vine-clad arbor. Brigaut, unable to work, came three times a day
to see his little friend; he was gnawed by a grief which made him
indifferent to life. He lay in wait like a dog for Monsieur Martener,
and followed him when he left the house. The old grandmother, drunk
with grief, had the courage to conceal her despair; she showed her
darling the smiling face she formerly wore at Pen-Hoel. In her desire
to produce that illusion in the girl's mind, she made her a little
Breton cap like the one Pierrette had worn on her first arrival in
Provins; it made the darling seem more like her childlike self; in it
she was delightful to look upon, her sweet face circled with a halo of
cambric and fluted lace. Her skin, white with the whiteness of
unglazed porcelain, her forehead, where suffering had printed the
semblance of deep thought, the purity of the lines refined by illness,
the slowness of the glances, and the occasional fixity of the eyes,
made Pierrette an almost perfect embodiment of melancholy. She was
served by all with a sort of fanaticism; she was felt to be so gentle,
so tender, so loving. Madame Martener sent her piano to her sister
Madame Auffray, thinking to amuse Pierrette who was passionately fond
of music. It was a poem to watch her listening to a theme of Weber, or
Beethoven, or Herold,—her eyes raised, her lips silent, regretting no
doubt the life escaping her. The cure Peroux and Monsieur Habert, her
two religious comforters, admired her saintly resignation. Surely the
seraphic perfection of young girls and young men marked with the
hectic of death, is a wonderful fact worthy of the attention alike of
philosophers and of heedless minds. He who has ever seen one of these
sublime departures from this life can never remain, or become, an
unbeliever. Such beings exhale, as it were, a celestial fragrance;
their glances speak of God; the voices are eloquent in the simplest
words; often they ring like some seraphic instrument revealing the
secrets of the future. When Monsieur Martener praised her for having
faithfully followed a harsh prescription the little angel replied, and
with what a glance!—
"I want to live, dear Monsieur Martener; but less for myself than for
my grandmother, for my Brigaut, for all of you who will grieve at my
The first time she went into the garden on a beautiful sunny day in
November attended by all the household, Madame Auffray asked her if
she was tired.
"No, now that I have no sufferings but those God sends I can bear
all," she said. "The joy of being loved gives me strength to suffer."
That was the only time (and then vaguely) that she ever alluded to her
horrible martyrdom at the Rogrons, whom she never mentioned, and of
whom no one reminded her, knowing well how painful the memory must be.
"Dear Madame Auffray," she said one day at noon on the terrace, as she
gazed at the valley, warmed by a glorious sun and colored with the
glowing tints of autumn, "my death in your house gives me more
happiness than I have had since I left Brittany."
Madame Auffray whispered in her sister Martener's ear:—
"How she would have loved!"
In truth, her tones, her looks gave to her words a priceless value.
Monsieur Martener corresponded with Doctor Bianchon, and did nothing
of importance without his advice. He hoped in the first place to
regular the functions of nature and to draw away the abscess in the
head through the ear. The more Pierrette suffered, the more he hoped.
He gained some slight success at times, and that was a great triumph.
For several days Pierrette's appetite returned and enabled her to take
nourishing food for which her illness had given her a repugnance; the
color of her skin changed; but the condition of her head was terrible.
Monsieur Martener entreated the great physician his adviser to come
down. Bianchon came, stayed two days, and resolved to undertake an
operation. To spare the feelings of poor Martener he went to Paris and
brought back with him the celebrated Desplein. Thus the operation was
performed by the greatest surgeon of ancient or modern times; but that
terrible diviner said to Martener as he departed with Bianchon, his
"Nothing but a miracle can save her. As Horace told you, caries of the
bone has begun. At her age the bones are so tender."
The operation was performed at the beginning of March, 1828. During
all that month, distressed by Pierrette's horrible sufferings,
Monsieur Martener made several journeys to Paris; there he consulted
Desplein and Bianchon, and even went so far as to propose to them an
operation of the nature of lithotrity, which consists in passing into
the head a hollow instrument by the help of which an heroic remedy can
be applied to the diseased bone, to arrest the progress of the caries.
Even the bold Desplein dared not attempt that high-handed surgical
measure, which despair alone had suggested to Martener. When he
returned home from Paris he seemed to his friends morose and gloomy.
He was forced to announce on that fatal evening to the Auffrays and
Madame Lorrain and to the two priests and Brigaut that science could
do no more for Pierrette, whose recovery was now in God's hands only.
The consternation among them was terrible. The grandmother made a vow,
and requested the priests to say a mass every morning at daybreak
before Pierrette rose,—a mass at which she and Brigaut might be
The trial came on. While the victim lay dying, Vinet was calumniating
her in court. The judge approved and accepted the report of the Family
Council, and Vinet instantly appealed. The newly appointed procureur
du roi made a requisition which necessitated fresh evidence. Rogron
and his sister were forced to give bail to avoid going to prison. The
order for fresh evidence included that of Pierrette herself. When
Monsieur Desfondrilles came to the Auffrays' to receive it, Pierrette
was dying, her confessor was at her bedside about to administer
extreme unction. At that moment she entreated all present to forgive
her cousins as she herself forgave them, saying with her simple good
sense that the judgment of these things belonged to God alone.
"Grandmother," she said, "leave all you have to Brigaut" (Brigaut
burst into tears); "and," continued Pierrette, "give a thousand francs
to that kind Adele who warmed my bed. If Adele had remained with my
cousins I should not now be dying."
It was at three o'clock on the Tuesday of Easter week, on a beautiful,
bright day, that the angel ceased to suffer. Her heroic grandmother
wished to watch all that night with the priests, and to sew with her
stiff old fingers her darling's shroud. Towards evening Brigaut left
the Auffray's house and went to Frappier's.
"I need not ask you, my poor boy, for news," said the cabinet-maker.
"Pere Frappier, yes, it is ended for her—but not for me."
He cast a look upon the different woods piled up around the shop,—a
look of painful meaning.
"I understand you, Brigaut," said his worthy master. "Take all you
want." And he showed him the oaken planks of two-inch thickness.
"Don't help me, Monsieur Frappier," said the Breton, "I wish to do it
He passed the night in planing and fitting Pierrette's coffin, and
more than once his plane took off at a single pass a ribbon of wood
which was wet with tears. The good man Frappier smoked his pipe and
watched him silently, saying only, when the four pieces were joined
"Make the cover to slide; her poor grandmother will not hear the
At daybreak Brigaut went out to fetch the lead to line the coffin. By
a strange chance, the sheets of lead cost just the sum he had given
Pierrette for her journey from Nantes to Provins. The brave Breton,
who was able to resist the awful pain of himself making the coffin of
his dear one and lining with his memories those burial planks, could
not bear up against this strange reminder. His strength gave way; he
was not able to lift the lead, and the plumber, seeing this, came with
him, and offered to accompany him to the house and solder the last
sheet when the body had been laid in the coffin.
The Breton burned the plane and all the tools he had used. Then he
settled his accounts with Frappier and bade him farewell. The heroism
with which the poor lad personally performed, like the grandmother,
the last offices for Pierrette made him a sharer in the awful scene
which crowned the tyranny of the Rogrons.
Brigaut and the plumber reached the house of Monsieur Auffray just in
time to decide by their own main force an infamous and shocking
judicial question. The room where the dead girl lay was full of
people, and presented to the eyes of the two men a singular sight. The
Rogron emissaries were standing beside the body of their victim, to
torture her even after death. The corpse of the child, solemn in its
beauty, lay on the cot-bed of her grandmother. Pierrette's eyes were
closed, the brown hair smoothed upon her brow, the body swathed in a
coarse cotton sheet.
Before the bed, on her knees, her hair in disorder, her hands
stretched out, her face on fire, the old Lorrain was crying out, "No,
no, it shall not be done!"
At the foot of the bed stood Monsieur Auffray and the two priests. The
tapers were still burning.
Opposite to the grandmother was the surgeon of the hospital, with an
assistant, and near him stood Doctor Neraud and Vinet. The surgeon
wore his dissecting apron; the assistant had opened a case of
instruments and was handing him a knife.
This scene was interrupted by the noise of the coffin which Brigaut
and the plumber set down upon the floor. Then Brigaut, advancing, was
horrified at the sight of Madame Lorrain, who was now weeping.
"What is the matter?" he asked, standing beside her and grasping the
chisel convulsively in his hand.
"This," said the old woman, "this, Brigaut: they want to open the
body of my child and cut into her head, and stab her heart after her
death as they did when she was living."
"Who?" said Brigaut, in a voice that might have deafened the men of
"In the sacred name of God!—"
"Stop, Brigaut," said Monsieur Auffray, seeing the lad brandish his
"Monsieur Auffray," said Brigaut, as white as his dead companion, "I
hear you because you are Monsieur Auffray, but at this moment I will
not listen to—"
"The law!" said Auffray.
"Is there law? is there justice?" cried the Breton. "Justice, this is
it!" and he advanced to the lawyer and the doctors, threatening them
with his chisel.
"My friend," said the curate, "the law has been invoked by the lawyer
of Monsieur Rogron, who is under the weight of a serious accusation;
and it is impossible for us to refuse him the means of justification.
The lawyer of Monsieur Rogron claims that if the poor child died of an
abscess in her head her former guardian cannot be blamed, for it is
proved that Pierrette concealed the effects of the blow which she gave
"Enough!" said Brigaut.
"My client—" began Vinet.
"Your client," cried the Breton, "shall go to hell and I to the
scaffold; for if one of you dares to touch her whom your client has
killed, I will kill him if my weapon does its duty."
"This is interference with the law," said Vinet. "I shall instantly
inform the court."
The five men left the room.
"Oh, my son!" cried the old woman, rising from her knees and falling
on Brigaut's neck, "let us bury her quick,—they will come back."
"If we solder the lead," said the plumber, "they may not dare to open
Monsieur Auffray hastened to his brother-in-law, Monsieur Lesourd, to
try and settle the matter. Vinet was not unwilling. Pierrette being
dead the suit about the guardianship fell, of course, to the ground.
All the astute lawyer wanted was the effect produced by his request.
At midday Monsieur Desfondrilles made his report on the case, and the
court rendered a decision that there was no ground for further action.
Rogron dared not go to Pierrette's funeral, at which the whole town
was present. Vinet wished to force him there, but the miserable man
was afraid of exciting universal horror.
Brigaut left Provins after watching the filling up of the grave where
Pierrette lay, and went on foot to Paris. He wrote a petition to the
Dauphiness asking, in the name of his father, that he might enter the
Royal guard, to which he was at once admitted. When the expedition to
Algiers was undertaken he wrote to her again, to obtain employment in
it. He was then a sergeant; Marshal Bourmont gave him an appointment
as sub-lieutenant in a line regiment. The major's son behaved like a
man who wished to die. Death has, however, respected Jacques Brigaut
up to the present time; although he has distinguished himself in all
the recent expeditions he has never yet been wounded. He is now major
in a regiment of infantry. No officer is more taciturn or more
trustworthy. Outside of his duty he is almost mute; he walks alone and
lives mechanically. Every one divines and respects a hidden sorrow. He
possesses forty-six thousand francs, which old Madame Lorrain, who
died in Paris in 1829, bequeathed to him.
At the elections of 1830 Vinet was made a deputy. The services he
rendered the new government have now earned him the position of
procureur-general. His influence is such that he will always remain
a deputy. Rogron is receiver-general in the same town where Vinet
fulfils his legal functions; and by one of those curious tricks of
chance which do so often occur, Monsieur Tiphaine is president of the
Royal court in the same town,—for the worthy man gave in his adhesion
to the dynasty of July without the slightest hesitation. The
ex-beautiful Madame Tiphaine lives on excellent terms with the
beautiful Madame Rogron. Vinet is hand in glove with Madame Tiphaine.
As to the imbecile Rogron, he makes such remarks as, "Louis-Philippe
will never be really king till he is able to make nobles."
The speech is evidently not his own. His health is failing, which
allows Madame Rogron to hope she may soon marry the General Marquis de
Montriveau, peer of France, who commands the department, and is paying
her attentions. Vinet is in his element, seeking victims; he never
believes in the innocence of an accused person. This thoroughbred
prosecutor is held to be one of the most amiable men on the circuit;
and he is no less liked in Paris and in the Chamber; at court he is a
According to a certain promise made by Vinet, General Baron Gouraud,
that noble relic of our glorious armies, married a Mademoiselle
Matifat, twenty-five years old, daughter of a druggist in the rue des
Lombards, whose dowry was a hundred thousand francs. He commands (as
Vinet prophesied) a department in the neighborhood of Paris. He was
named peer of France for his conduct in the riots which occurred
during the ministry of Casimir Perier. Baron Gouraud was one of the
generals who took the church of Saint-Merry, delighted to rap those
rascally civilians who had vexed him for years over the knuckles; for
which service he was rewarded with the grand cordon of the Legion of
None of the personages connected with Pierrette's death ever felt the
slightest remorse about it. Monsieur Desfondrilles is still
archaeological, but, in order to compass his own election, the
procureur general Vinet took pains to have him appointed president
of the Provins court. Sylvie has a little circle, and manages her
brother's property; she lends her own money at high interest, and does
not spend more than twelve hundred francs a year.
From time to time, when some former son or daughter of Provins returns
from Paris to settle down, you may hear them ask, as they leave
Mademoiselle Rogron's house, "Wasn't there a painful story against the
Rogrons,—something about a ward?"
"Mere prejudice," replies Monsieur Desfondrilles. "Certain persons
tried to make us believe falsehoods. Out of kindness of heart the
Rogrons took in a girl named Pierrette, quite pretty but with no
money. Just as she was growing up she had an intrigue with a young
man, and stood at her window barefooted talking to him. The lovers
passed notes to each other by a string. She took cold in this way and
died, having no constitution. The Rogrons behaved admirably. They made
no claim on certain property which was to come to her,—they gave it
all up to the grandmother. The moral of it was, my good friend, that
the devil punishes those who try to benefit others."
"Ah! that is quite another story from the one old Frappier told me."
"Frappier consults his wine-cellar more than he does his memory,"
remarked another of Mademoiselle Rogron's visitors.
"But that old priest, Monsieur Habert says—"
"Oh, he! don't you know why?"
"He wanted to marry his sister to Monsieur Rogron, the
* * * * *
Two men think of Pierrette daily: Doctor Martener and Major Brigaut;
they alone know the hideous truth.
To give that truth its true proportions we must transport the scene to
the Rome of the middle ages, where a sublime young girl, Beatrice
Cenci, was brought to the scaffold by motives and intrigues that were
almost identical with those which laid our Pierrette in her grave.
Beatrice Cenci had but one defender,—an artist, a painter. In our day
history, and living men, on the faith of Guido Reni's portrait,
condemn the Pope, and know that Beatrice was a most tender victim of
infamous passions and base feuds.
We must all agree that legality would be a fine thing for social
scoundrelism IF THERE WERE NO GOD.