By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Puttinati, Milanese Sculptor.
CHAPTER I. PROLOGUE
CHAPTER II. THE STUDIO
CHAPTER III. LABEDOYERE'S FRIEND
CHAPTER IV. LOVE
CHAPTER V. MARRIAGE
CHAPTER VI. RETRIBUTION
CHAPTER I. PROLOGUE
In the year 1800, toward the close of October, a foreigner, accompanied by
a woman and a little girl, was standing for a long time in front of the
palace of the Tuileries, near the ruins of a house recently pulled down,
at the point where in our day the wing begins which was intended to unite
the chateau of Catherine de Medici with the Louvre of the Valois.
The man stood there with folded arms and a bowed head, which he sometimes
raised to look alternately at the consular palace and at his wife, who was
sitting near him on a stone. Though the woman seemed wholly occupied with
the little girl of nine or ten years of age, whose long black hair she
amused herself by handling, she lost not a single glance of those her
companion cast on her. Some sentiment other than love united these two
beings, and inspired with mutual anxiety their movements and their
thoughts. Misery is, perhaps, the most powerful of all ties.
The stranger had one of those broad, serious heads, covered with thick
hair, which we see so frequently in the pictures of the Caracci. The jet
black of the hair was streaked with white. Though noble and proud, his
features had a hardness which spoiled them. In spite of his evident
strength, and his straight, erect figure, he looked to be over sixty years
of age. His dilapidated clothes were those of a foreign country. Though
the faded and once beautiful face of the wife betrayed the deepest
sadness, she forced herself to smile, assuming a calm countenance whenever
her husband looked at her.
The little girl was standing, though signs of weariness were on the
youthful face, which was tanned by the sun. She had an Italian cast of
countenance and bearing, large black eyes beneath their well arched brows,
a native nobleness, and candid grace. More than one of those who passed
them felt strongly moved by the mere aspect of this group, who made no
effort to conceal a despair which seemed as deep as the expression of it
was simple. But the flow of this fugitive sympathy, characteristic of
Parisians, was dried immediately; for as soon as the stranger saw himself
the object of attention, he looked at his observer with so savage an air
that the boldest lounger hurried his step as though he had trod upon a
After standing for some time undecided, the tall stranger suddenly passed
his hand across his face to brush away, as it were, the thoughts that were
ploughing furrows in it. He must have taken some desperate resolution.
Casting a glance upon his wife and daughter, he drew a dagger from his
breast and gave it to his companion, saying in Italian:—
"I will see if the Bonapartes remember us."
Then he walked with a slow, determined step toward the entrance of the
palace, where he was, naturally, stopped by a soldier of the consular
guard, with whom he was not permitted a long discussion. Seeing this man's
obstinate determination, the sentinel presented his bayonet in the form of
an ultimatum. Chance willed that the guard was changed at that moment, and
the corporal very obligingly pointed out to the stranger the spot where
the commander of the post was standing.
"Let Bonaparte know that Bartolomeo di Piombo wishes to speak with him,"
said the Italian to the captain on duty.
In vain the officer represented to Bartolomeo that he could not see the
First Consul without having previously requested an audience in writing;
the Italian insisted that the soldier should go to Bonaparte. The officer
stated the rules of the post, and refused to comply with the order of this
singular visitor. Bartolomeo frowned heavily, casting a terrible look at
the captain, as if he made him responsible for the misfortunes that this
refusal might occasion. Then he kept silence, folded his arms tightly
across his breast, and took up his station under the portico which serves
as an avenue of communication between the garden and the court-yard of the
Tuileries. Persons who will things intensely are very apt to be helped by
chance. At the moment when Bartolomeo di Piombo seated himself on one of
the stone posts which was near the entrance, a carriage drew up, from
which Lucien Bonaparte, minister of the interior, issued.
"Ah, Loucian, it is lucky for me I have met you!" cried the stranger.
These words, said in the Corsican patois, stopped Lucien at the moment
when he was springing under the portico. He looked at his compatriot, and
recognized him. At the first word that Bartolomeo said in his ear, he took
the Corsican away with him.
Murat, Lannes, and Rapp were at that moment in the cabinet of the First
Consul. As Lucien entered, followed by a man so singular in appearance as
Piombo, the conversation ceased. Lucien took Napoleon by the arm and led
him into the recess of a window. After exchanging a few words with his
brother, the First Consul made a sign with his hand, which Murat and
Lannes obeyed by retiring. Rapp pretended not to have seen it, in order to
remain where he was. Bonaparte then spoke to him sharply, and the
aide-de-camp, with evident unwillingness, left the room. The First Consul,
who listened for Rapp's step in the adjoining salon, opened the door
suddenly, and found his aide-de-camp close to the wall of the cabinet.
"Do you choose not to understand me?" said the First Consul. "I wish to be
alone with my compatriot."
"A Corsican!" replied the aide-de-camp. "I distrust those fellows too much
The First Consul could not restrain a smile as he pushed his faithful
officer by the shoulders.
"Well, what has brought you here, my poor Bartolomeo?" said Napoleon.
"To ask asylum and protection from you, if you are a true Corsican,"
replied Bartolomeo, roughly.
"What ill fortune drove you from the island? You were the richest, the
"I have killed all the Portas," replied the Corsican, in a deep voice,
The First Consul took two steps backward in surprise.
"Do you mean to betray me?" cried Bartolomeo, with a darkling look at
Bonaparte. "Do you know that there are still four Piombos in Corsica?"
Lucien took an arm of his compatriot and shook it.
"Did you come here to threaten the savior of France?" he said.
Bonaparte made a sign to Lucien, who kept silence. Then he looked at
Piombo and said:—
"Why did you kill the Portas?"
"We had made friends," replied the man; "the Barbantis reconciled us. The
day after we had drunk together to drown our quarrels, I left home because
I had business at Bastia. The Portas remained in my house, and set fire to
my vineyard at Longone. They killed my son Gregorio. My daughter Ginevra
and my wife, having taken the sacrament that morning, escaped; the Virgin
protected them. When I returned I found no house; my feet were in its
ashes as I searched for it. Suddenly they struck against the body of
Gregorio; I recognized him in the moonlight. 'The Portas have dealt me
this blow,' I said; and, forthwith, I went to the woods, and there I
called together all the men whom I had ever served,—do you hear me,
Bonaparte?—and we marched to the vineyard of the Portas. We got
there at five in the morning; at seven they were all before God. Giacomo
declares that Eliza Vanni saved a child, Luigi. But I myself bound him to
his bed before setting fire to the house. I have left the island with my
wife and child without being able to discover whether, indeed, Luigi Porta
Bonaparte looked with curiosity at Bartolomeo, but without surprise.
"How many were there?" asked Lucien.
"Seven," replied Piombo. "All of them were your persecutors in the olden
These words roused no expression of hatred on the part of the two
"Ha! you are no longer Corsicans!" cried Piombo, with a sort of despair.
"Farewell. In other days I protected you," he added, in a reproachful
tone. "Without me, your mother would never have reached Marseille," he
said, addressing himself to Bonaparte, who was silent and thoughtful, his
elbow resting on a mantel-shelf.
"As a matter of duty, Piombo," said Napoleon at last, "I cannot take you
under my wing. I have become the leader of a great nation; I command the
Republic; I am bound to execute the laws."
"Ha! ha!" said Bartolomeo, scornfully.
"But I can shut my eyes," continued Bonaparte. "The tradition of the
Vendetta will long prevent the reign of law in Corsica," he added, as if
speaking to himself. "But it must be destroyed, at any cost."
Bonaparte was silent for a few moments, and Lucien made a sign to Piombo
not to speak. The Corsican was swaying his head from right to left in deep
"Live here, in Paris," resumed the First Consul, addressing Bartolomeo;
"we will know nothing of this affair. I will cause your property in
Corsica to be bought, to give you enough to live on for the present.
Later, before long, we will think of you. But, remember, no more vendetta!
There are no woods here to fly to. If you play with daggers, you must
expect no mercy. Here, the law protects all citizens; and no one is
allowed to do justice for himself."
"He has made himself the head of a singular nation," said Bartolomeo,
taking Lucien's hand and pressing it. "But you have both recognized me in
misfortune, and I am yours, henceforth, for life or death. You may dispose
as you will of the Piombos."
With these words his Corsican brow unbent, and he looked about him in
"You are not badly off here," he said, smiling, as if he meant to lodge
there himself. "You are all in red, like a cardinal."
"Your success depends upon yourself; you can have a palace, also," said
Bonaparte, watching his compatriot with a keen eye. "It will often happen
that I shall need some faithful friend in whom I can confide."
A sigh of joy heaved the vast chest of the Corsican, who held out his hand
to the First Consul, saying:—
"The Corsican is in you still."
Bonaparte smiled. He looked in silence at the man who brought, as it were,
a waft of air from his own land,—from that isle where he had been so
miraculously saved from the hatred of the "English party"; the land he was
never to see again. He made a sign to his brother, who then took Piombo
away. Lucien inquired with interest as to the financial condition of the
former protector of their family. Piombo took him to a window and showed
him his wife and Ginevra, seated on a heap of stones.
"We came from Fontainebleau on foot; we have not a single penny," he said.
Lucien gave his purse to his compatriot, telling him to come to him the
next day, that arrangements might be made to secure the comfort of the
family. The value of Piombo's property in Corsica, if sold, would scarcely
maintain him honorably in Paris.
Fifteen years elapsed between the time of Piombo's arrival with his family
in Paris and the following event, which would be scarcely intelligible to
the reader without this narrative of the foregoing circumstances.
CHAPTER II. THE STUDIO
Servin, one of our most distinguished artists, was the first to conceive
of the idea of opening a studio for young girls who wished to take lessons
About forty years of age, a man of the purest morals, entirely given up to
his art, he had married from inclination the dowerless daughter of a
general. At first the mothers of his pupils bought their daughters
themselves to the studio; then they were satisfied to send them alone,
after knowing the master's principles and the pains he took to deserve
It was the artist's intention to take no pupils but young ladies belonging
to rich families of good position, in order to meet with no complaints as
to the composition of his classes. He even refused to take girls who
wished to become artists; for to them he would have been obliged to give
certain instructions without which no talent could advance in the
profession. Little by little his prudence and the ability with which he
initiated his pupils into his art, the certainty each mother felt that her
daughter was in company with none but well-bred young girls, and the fact
of the artist's marriage, gave him an excellent reputation as a teacher in
society. When a young girl wished to learn to draw, and her mother asked
advice of her friends, the answer was, invariably: "Send her to Servin's."
Servin became, therefore, for feminine art, a specialty; like Herbault for
bonnets, Leroy for gowns, and Chevet for eatables. It was recognized that
a young woman who had taken lessons from Servin was capable of judging the
paintings of the Musee conclusively, of making a striking portrait,
copying an ancient master, or painting a genre picture. The artist thus
sufficed for the educational needs of the aristocracy. But in spite of
these relations with the best families in Paris, he was independent and
patriotic, and he maintained among them that easy, brilliant,
half-ironical tone, and that freedom of judgment which characterize
He had carried his scrupulous precaution into the arrangements of the
locality where his pupils studied. The entrance to the attic above his
apartments was walled up. To reach this retreat, as sacred as a harem, it
was necessary to go up a small spiral staircase made within his own rooms.
The studio, occupying nearly the whole attic floor under the roof,
presented to the eye those vast proportions which surprise inquirers when,
after attaining sixty feet above the ground-floor, they expect to find an
artist squeezed into a gutter.
This gallery, so to speak, was profusely lighted from above, through
enormous panes of glass furnished with those green linen shades by means
of which all artists arrange the light. A quantity of caricatures, heads
drawn at a stroke, either in color or with the point of a knife, on walls
painted in a dark gray, proved that, barring a difference in expression,
the most distinguished young girls have as much fun and folly in their
minds as men. A small stove with a large pipe, which described a fearful
zigzag before it reached the upper regions of the roof, was the necessary
and infallible ornament of the room. A shelf ran round the walls, on which
were models in plaster, heterogeneously placed, most of them covered with
gray dust. Here and there, above this shelf, a head of Niobe, hanging to a
nail, presented her pose of woe; a Venus smiled; a hand thrust itself
forward like that of a pauper asking alms; a few "ecorches," yellowed by
smoke, looked like limbs snatched over-night from a graveyard; besides
these objects, pictures, drawings, lay figures, frames without paintings,
and paintings without frames gave to this irregular apartment that studio
physiognomy which is distinguished for its singular jumble of ornament and
bareness, poverty and riches, care and neglect. The vast receptacle of an
"atelier," where all seems small, even man, has something of the air of an
Opera "coulisse"; here lie ancient garments, gilded armor, fragments of
stuffs, machinery. And yet there is something mysteriously grand, like
thought, in it; genius and death are there; Diana and Apollo beside a
skull or skeleton, beauty and destruction, poesy and reality, colors
glowing in the shadows, often a whole drama, motionless and silent.
Strange symbol of an artist's head!
At the moment when this history begins, a brilliant July sun was
illuminating the studio, and two rays striking athwart it lengthwise,
traced diaphanous gold lines in which the dust was shimmering. A dozen
easels raised their sharp points like masts in a port. Several young girls
were animating the scene by the variety of their expressions, their
attitudes, and the differences in their toilets. The strong shadows cast
by the green serge curtains, arranged according to the needs of each
easel, produced a multitude of contrasts, and the piquant effects of light
and shade. This group was the prettiest of all the pictures in the studio.
A fair young girl, very simply dressed, sat at some distance from her
companions, working bravely and seeming to be in dread of some mishap. No
one looked at her, or spoke to her; she was much the prettiest, the most
modest, and, apparently, the least rich among them. Two principal groups,
distinctly separated from each other, showed the presence of two sets or
cliques, two minds even here, in this studio, where one might suppose that
rank and fortune would be forgotten.
But, however that might be, these young girls, sitting or standing, in the
midst of their color-boxes, playing with their brushes or preparing them,
handling their dazzling palettes, painting, laughing, talking, singing,
absolutely natural, and exhibiting their real selves, composed a spectacle
unknown to man. One of them, proud, haughty, capricious, with black hair
and beautiful hands, was casting the flame of her glance here and there at
random; another, light-hearted and gay, a smile upon her lips, with
chestnut hair and delicate white hands, was a typical French virgin,
thoughtless, and without hidden thoughts, living her natural real life; a
third was dreamy, melancholy, pale, bending her head like a drooping
flower; her neighbor, on the contrary, tall, indolent, with Asiatic
habits, long eyes, moist and black, said but little, and reflected,
glancing covertly at the head of Antinous.
Among them, like the "jocoso" of a Spanish play, full of wit and
epigrammatic sallies, another girl was watching the rest with a
comprehensive glance, making them laugh, and tossing up her head, too
lively and arch not to be pretty. She appeared to rule the first group of
girls, who were the daughters of bankers, notaries, and merchants,—all
rich, but aware of the imperceptible though cutting slights which another
group belonging to the aristocracy put upon them. The latter were led by
the daughter of one of the King's ushers, a little creature, as silly as
she was vain, proud of being the daughter of a man with "an office at
court." She was a girl who always pretended to understand the remarks of
the master at the first word, and seemed to do her work as a favor to him.
She used an eyeglass, came very much dressed, and always late, and
entreated her companions to speak low.
In this second group were several girls with exquisite figures and
distinguished features, but there was little in their glance or expression
that was simple and candid. Though their attitudes were elegant and their
movements graceful, their faces lacked frankness; it was easy to see that
they belonged to a world where polite manners form the character from
early youth, and the abuse of social pleasures destroys sentiment and
But when the whole class was here assembled, childlike heads were seen
among this bevy of young girls, ravishingly pure and virgin, faces with
lips half-opened, through which shone spotless teeth, and on which a
virgin smile was flickering. The studio then resembled not a studio, but a
group of angels seated on a cloud in ether.
By mid-day, on this occasion, Servin had not appeared. For some days past
he had spent most of his time in a studio which he kept elsewhere, where
he was giving the last touches to a picture for the Exposition. All of a
sudden Mademoiselle Amelie Thirion, the leader of the aristocrats, began
to speak in a low voice, and very earnestly, to her neighbor. A great
silence fell on the group of patricians, and the commercial party,
surprised, were equally silent, trying to discover the subject of this
earnest conference. The secret of the young ultras was soon
Amelie rose, took an easel which stood near hers, carried it to a distance
from the noble group, and placed it close to a board partition which
separated the studio from the extreme end of the attic, where all broken
casts, defaced canvases and the winter supply of wood were kept. Amelie's
action caused a murmur of surprise, which did not prevent her from
accomplishing the change by rolling hastily to the side of the easel the
stool, the box of colors, and even the picture by Prudhon, which the
absent pupil was copying. After this coup d'etat the Right began to work
in silence, but the Left discoursed at length.
"What will Mademoiselle Piombo say to that?" asked a young girl of
Mademoiselle Matilde Roguin, the lively oracle of the banking group.
"She's not a girl to say anything," was the reply; "but fifty years hence
she'll remember the insult as if it were done to her the night before, and
revenge it cruelly. She is a person that I, for one, don't want to be at
"The slight these young ladies mean to put upon her is all the more
unkind," said another young girl, "because yesterday, Mademoiselle Ginevra
was very sad. Her father, they say, has just resigned. They ought not to
add to her trouble, for she was very considerate of them during the
Hundred Days. Never did she say a word to wound them. On the contrary, she
avoided politics. But I think our ultras are acting more from
jealousy than from party spite."
"I have a great mind to go and get Mademoiselle Piombo's easel and place
it next to mine," said Matilde Roguin. She rose, but second thoughts made
her sit down again.
"With a character like hers," she said, "one can't tell how she would take
a civility; better wait events."
"Ecco la," said the young girl with the black eyes, languidly.
The steps of a person coming up the narrow stairway sounded through the
studio. The words: "Here she comes!" passed from mouth to mouth, and then
the most absolute silence reigned.
To understand the importance of the ostracism imposed by the act of Amelie
Thirion, it is necessary to add that this scene took place toward the end
of the month of July, 1815. The second return of the Bourbons had shaken
many friendships which had held firm under the first Restoration. At this
moment families, almost all divided in opinion, were renewing many of the
deplorable scenes which stain the history of all countries in times of
civil or religious wars. Children, young girls, old men shared the
monarchial fever to which the country was then a victim. Discord glided
beneath all roofs; distrust dyed with its gloomy colors the words and the
actions of the most intimate friends.
Ginevra Piombo loved Napoleon to idolatry; how, then, could she hate him?
The emperor was her compatriot and the benefactor of her father. The Baron
di Piombo was among those of Napoleon's devoted servants who had
co-operated most effectually in the return from Elba. Incapable of denying
his political faith, anxious even to confess it, the old baron remained in
Paris in the midst of his enemies. Ginevra Piombo was all the more open to
condemnation because she made no secret of the grief which the second
Restoration caused to her family. The only tears she had so far shed in
life were drawn from her by the twofold news of Napoleon's captivity on
the "Bellerophon," and Labedoyere's arrest.
The girls of the aristocratic group of pupils belonged to the most devoted
royalist families in Paris. It would be difficult to give an idea of the
exaggerations prevalent at this epoch, and of the horror inspired by the
Bonapartists. However insignificant and petty Amelie's action may now seem
to be, it was at that time a very natural expression of the prevailing
hatred. Ginevra Piombo, one of Servin's first pupils, had occupied the
place that was now taken from her since the first day of her coming to the
studio. The aristocratic circle had gradually surrounded her. To drive her
from a place that in some sense belonged to her was not only to insult
her, but to cause her a species of artistic pain; for all artists have a
spot of predilection where they work.
Nevertheless, political prejudice was not the chief influence on the
conduct of the Right clique of the studio. Ginevra, much the ablest of
Servin's pupils, was an object of intense jealousy. The master testified
as much admiration for the talents as for the character of his favorite
pupil, who served as a conclusion to all his comparisons. In fact, without
any one being able to explain the ascendancy which this young girl
obtained over all who came in contact with her, she exercised over the
little world around her a prestige not unlike that of Bonaparte upon his
The aristocracy of the studio had for some days past resolved upon the
fall of this queen, but no one had, as yet, ventured to openly avoid the
Bonapartist. Mademoiselle Thirion's act was, therefore, a decisive stroke,
intended by her to force the others into becoming, openly, the accomplices
of her hatred. Though Ginevra was sincerely loved by several of these
royalists, nearly all of whom were indoctrinated at home with their
political ideas, they decided, with the tactics peculiar to women, that
they should do best to keep themselves aloof from the quarrel.
On Ginevra's arrival she was received, as we have said, in profound
silence. Of all the young women who had, so far, come to Servin's studio,
she was the handsomest, the tallest, and the best made. Her carriage and
demeanor had a character of nobility and grace which commanded respect.
Her face, instinct with intelligence, seemed to radiate light, so inspired
was it with the enthusiasm peculiar to Corsicans,—which does not,
however, preclude calmness. Her long hair and her black eyes and lashes
expressed passion; the corners of her mouth, too softly defined, and the
lips, a trifle too marked, gave signs of that kindliness which strong
beings derive from the consciousness of their strength.
By a singular caprice of nature, the charm of her face was, in some
degree, contradicted by a marble forehead, on which lay an almost savage
pride, and from which seemed to emanate the moral instincts of a Corsican.
In that was the only link between herself and her native land. All the
rest of her person, her simplicity, the easy grace of her Lombard beauty,
was so seductive that it was difficult for those who looked at her to give
her pain. She inspired such keen attraction that her old father caused
her, as matter of precaution, to be accompanied to and from the studio.
The only defect of this truly poetic creature came from the very power of
a beauty so fully developed; she looked a woman. Marriage she had refused
out of love to her father and mother, feeling herself necessary to the
comfort of their old age. Her taste for painting took the place of the
passions and interests which usually absorb her sex.
"You are very silent to-day, mesdemoiselles," she said, after advancing a
little way among her companions. "Good-morning, my little Laure," she
added, in a soft, caressing voice, approaching the young girl who was
painting apart from the rest. "That head is strong,—the flesh tints
a little too rosy, but the drawing is excellent."
Laure raised her head and looked tenderly at Ginevra; their faces beamed
with the expression of a mutual affection. A faint smile brightened the
lips of the young Italian, who seemed thoughtful, and walked slowly to her
easel, glancing carelessly at the drawings and paintings on her way, and
bidding good-morning to each of the young girls of the first group, not
observing the unusual curiosity excited by her presence. She was like a
queen in the midst of her court; she paid no attention to the profound
silence that reigned among the patricians, and passed before their camp
without pronouncing a single word. Her absorption seemed so great that she
sat down before her easel, opened her color-box, took up her brushes, drew
on her brown sleeves, arranged her apron, looked at her picture, examined
her palette, without, apparently, thinking of what she was doing. All
heads in the group of the bourgeoises were turned toward her. If the young
ladies in the Thirion camp did not show their impatience with the same
frankness, their sidelong glances were none the less directed on Ginevra.
"She hasn't noticed it!" said Mademoiselle Roguin.
At this instant Ginevra abandoned the meditative attitude in which she had
been contemplating her canvas, and turned her head toward the group of
aristocrats. She measured, at a glance, the distance that now separated
her from them; but she said nothing.
"It hasn't occurred to her that they meant to insult her," said Matilde;
"she neither colored nor turned pale. How vexed these girls will be if she
likes her new place as well as the old! You are out of bounds,
mademoiselle," she added, aloud, addressing Ginevra.
The Italian pretended not to hear; perhaps she really did not hear. She
rose abruptly; walked with a certain deliberation along the side of the
partition which separated the adjoining closet from the studio, and seemed
to be examining the sash through which her light came,—giving so
much importance to it that she mounted a chair to raise the green serge,
which intercepted the light, much higher. Reaching that height, her eye
was on a level with a slight opening in the partition, the real object of
her efforts, for the glance that she cast through it can be compared only
to that of a miser discovering Aladdin's treasure. Then she sprang down
hastily and returned to her place, changed the position of her picture,
pretended to be still dissatisfied with the light, pushed a table close to
the partition, on which she placed a chair, climbed lightly to the summit
of this erection, and again looked through the crevice. She cast but one
glance into the space beyond, which was lighted through a skylight; but
what she saw produced so strong an effect upon her that she tottered.
"Take care, Mademoiselle Ginevra, you'll fall!" cried Laure.
All the young girls gazed at the imprudent climber, and the fear of their
coming to her gave her courage; she recovered her equilibrium, and
replied, as she balanced herself on the shaking chair:—
"Pooh! it is more solid than a throne!"
She then secured the curtain and came down, pushed the chair and table as
far as possible from the partition, returned to her easel, and seemed to
be arranging it to suit the volume of light she had now thrown upon it.
Her picture, however, was not in her mind, which was wholly bent on
getting as near as possible to the closet, against the door of which she
finally settled herself. Then she began to prepare her palette in the
deepest silence. Sitting there, she could hear, distinctly, a sound which
had strongly excited her curiosity the evening before, and had whirled her
young imagination across vast fields of conjecture. She recognized the
firm and regular breathing of a man whom she had just seen asleep. Her
curiosity was satisfied beyond her expectations, but at the same time she
felt saddled by an immense responsibility. Through the opening in the wall
she had seen the Imperial eagle; and upon the flock bed, faintly lighted
from above, lay the form of an officer of the Guard. She guessed all.
Servin was hiding a proscribed man!
She now trembled lest any of her companions should come near here to
examine her picture, when the regular breathing or some deeper breath
might reveal to them, as it had to her, the presence of this political
victim. She resolved to keep her place beside that door, trusting to her
wits to baffle all dangerous chances that might arise.
"Better that I should be here," thought she, "to prevent some luckless
accident, than leave that poor man at the mercy of a heedless betrayal."
This was the secret of the indifference which Ginevra had apparently shown
to the removal of her easel. She was inwardly enchanted, because the
change had enabled her to gratify her curiosity in a natural manner;
besides, at this moment, she was too keenly preoccupied to perceive the
reason of her removal.
Nothing is more mortifying to young girls, or, indeed, to all the world,
than to see a piece of mischief, an insult, or a biting speech, miss its
effect through the contempt or the indifference of the intended victim. It
seems as if hatred to an enemy grows in proportion to the height that
enemy is raised above us. Ginevra's behavior was an enigma to all her
companions; her friends and enemies were equally surprised; for the former
claimed for her all good qualities, except that of forgiveness of
injuries. Though, of course, the occasions for displaying that vice of
nature were seldom afforded to Ginevra in the life of a studio, still, the
specimens she had now and then given of her vindictive disposition had
left a strong impression on the minds of her companions.
After many conjectures, Mademoiselle Roguin came to the conclusion that
the Italian's silence showed a grandeur of soul beyond all praise; and the
banking circle, inspired by her, formed a project to humiliate the
aristocracy. They succeeded in that aim by a fire of sarcasms which
presently brought down the pride of the Right coterie.
Madame Servin's arrival put a stop to the struggle. With the shrewdness
that usually accompanies malice, Amelie Thirion had noticed, analyzed, and
mentally commented on the extreme preoccupation of Ginevra's mind, which
prevented her from even hearing the bitterly polite war of words of which
she was the object. The vengeance Mademoiselle Roguin and her companions
were inflicting on Mademoiselle Thirion and her group had, therefore, the
fatal effect of driving the young ultras to search for the cause of
the silence so obstinately maintained by Ginevra di Piombo. The beautiful
Italian became the centre of all glances, and she was henceforth watched
by friends and foes alike.
It is very difficult to hide even a slight emotion or sentiment from
fifteen inquisitive and unoccupied young girls, whose wits and mischief
ask for nothing better than secrets to guess, schemes to create or baffle,
and who know how to find too many interpretations for each gesture,
glance, and word, to fail in discovering the right one.
At this moment, however, the presence of Madame Servin produced an
interlude in the drama thus played below the surface in these various
young hearts, the sentiments, ideas, and progress of which were expressed
by phrases that were almost allegorical, by mischievous glances, by
gestures, by silence even, more intelligible than words. As soon as Madame
Servin entered the studio, her eyes turned to the door near which Ginevra
was seated. Under present circumstances the fact of this glance was not
lost. Though at first none of the pupils took notice of it, Mademoiselle
Thirion recollected it later, and it explained to her the doubt, fear, and
mystery which now gave something wild and frightened to Madame Servin's
"Mesdemoiselles," she said, "Monsieur Servin cannot come to-day."
Then she went round complimenting each young girl, receiving in return a
volume of those feminine caresses which are given as much by the tones of
the voice and by looks as by gestures. She presently reached Ginevra,
under the influence of an uneasiness she tried in vain to disguise. They
nodded to each other in a friendly way, but said nothing; one painted, the
other stood looking at the painting. The breathing of the soldier in the
closet could be distinctly heard, but Madame Servin appeared not to notice
it; her feigned ignorance was so obvious that Ginevra recognized it at
once for wilful deafness. Presently the unknown man turned on his pallet.
The Italian then looked fixedly at Madame Servin, who said, without the
slightest change of face:—
"Your copy is as fine as the original; if I had to choose between the two
I should be puzzled."
"Monsieur Servin has not taken his wife into his confidence as to this
mystery," thought Ginevra, who, after replying to the young wife's speech
with a gentle smile of incredulity, began to hum a Corsican "canzonetta"
to cover the noise that was made by the prisoner.
It was so unusual a thing to hear the studious Italian sing, that all the
other young girls looked up at her in surprise. Later, this circumstance
served as proof to the charitable suppositions of jealousy.
Madame Servin soon went away, and the session ended without further
events; Ginevra allowed her companions to depart, and seemed to intend to
work later. But, unconsciously to herself, she betrayed her desire to be
left alone by impatient glances, ill-disguised, at the pupils who were
slow in leaving. Mademoiselle Thirion, a cruel enemy to the girl who
excelled her in everything, guessed by the instinct of jealousy that her
rival's industry hid some purpose. By dint of watching her she was struck
by the attentive air with which Ginevra seemed to be listening to sounds
that no one else had heard. The expression of impatience she now detected
in her companion's eyes was like a flash of light to her.
Amelie was the last of the pupils to leave the studio; from there she went
down to Madame Servin's apartment and talked with her for a moment; then
she pretended to have left her bag, ran softly back to the studio, and
found Ginevra once more mounted on her frail scaffolding, and so absorbed
in the contemplation of an unknown object that she did not hear the slight
noise of her companion's footsteps. It is true that, to use an expression
of Walter Scott, Amelie stepped as if on eggs. She hastily withdrew
outside the door and coughed. Ginevra quivered, turned her head, saw her
enemy, blushed, hastened to alter the shade to give meaning to her
position, and came down from her perch leisurely. She soon after left the
studio, bearing with her, in her memory, the image of a man's head, as
beauteous as that of the Endymion, a masterpiece of Girodet's which she
had lately copied.
"To banish so young a man! Who can he be? for he is not Marshal Ney—"
These two sentences are the simplest expression of the many ideas that
Ginevra turned over in her mind for two days. On the third day, in spite
of her haste to be first at the studio, she found Mademoiselle Thirion
already there, having come in a carriage.
Ginevra and her enemy observed each other for a long time, but they made
their faces impenetrable. Amelie had seen the handsome head of the
mysterious man, but, fortunately, and unfortunately also, the Imperial
eagles and uniform were so placed that she did not see them through the
crevice in the partition. She was lost in conjectures. Suddenly Servin
came in, much earlier than usual.
"Mademoiselle Ginevra," he said, after glancing round the studio, "why
have you placed yourself there? The light is bad. Come nearer to the rest
of the young ladies and pull down that curtain a little."
Then he sat down near Laure, whose work deserved his most cordial
"Well, well!" he cried; "here, indeed, is a head extremely well done.
You'll be another Ginevra."
The master then went from easel to easel, scolding, flattering, jesting,
and making, as usual, his jests more dreaded than his reprimands. Ginevra
had not obeyed the professor's order, but remained at her post, firmly
resolved not to quit it. She took a sheet of paper and began to sketch in
sepia the head of the hidden man. A work done under the impulse of an
emotion has always a stamp of its own. The faculty of giving to
representations of nature or of thought their true coloring constitutes
genius, and often, in this respect, passion takes the place of it. So,
under the circumstances in which Ginevra now found herself, the intuition
which she owed to a powerful effect upon her memory, or, possibly, to
necessity, that mother of great things, lent her, for the moment, a
supernatural talent. The head of the young officer was dashed upon the
paper in the midst of an awkward trembling which she mistook for fear, and
in which a physiologist would have recognized the fire of inspiration.
From time to time she glanced furtively at her companions, in order to
hide the sketch if any of them came near her. But in spite of her
watchfulness, there was a moment when she did not see the eyeglass of the
pitiless Amelie turned full upon the drawing from the shelter of a great
portfolio. Mademoiselle Thirion, recognizing the portrait of the
mysterious man, showed herself abruptly, and Ginevra hastily covered the
sheet of paper.
"Why do you stay there in spite of my advice, mademoiselle?" asked the
The pupil turned her easel so that no one but the master could see the
sketch, which she placed upon it, and said, in an agitated voice:—
"Do you not think, as I do, that the light is very good? Had I not better
Servin turned pale. As nothing escapes the piercing eyes of malice,
Mademoiselle Thirion became, as it were, a sharer in the sudden emotion of
master and pupil.
"You are right," said Servin; "but really," he added, with a forced laugh,
"you will soon come to know more than I do."
A pause followed, during which the professor studied the drawing of the
"It is a masterpiece! worthy of Salvator Rosa!" he exclaimed, with the
energy of an artist.
All the pupils rose on hearing this, and Mademoiselle Thirion darted
forward with the velocity of a tiger on its prey. At this instant, the
prisoner, awakened, perhaps, by the noise, began to move. Ginevra knocked
over her stool, said a few incoherent sentences, and began to laugh; but
she had thrown the portrait into her portfolio before Amelie could get to
her. The easel was now surrounded; Servin descanted on the beauty of the
copy which his favorite pupil was then making, and the whole class was
duped by this stratagem, except Amelie, who, slipping behind her
companions, attempted to open the portfolio where she had seen Ginevra
throw the sketch. But the latter took it up without a word, and placed it
in front of her. The two young girls then looked at each other fixedly, in
"Come, mesdemoiselles, take your places," said Servin. "If you wish to do
as well as Mademoiselle di Piombo, you mustn't be always talking fashions
and balls, and trifling away your time as you do."
When they were all reseated before their easels, Servin sat down beside
"Was it not better that I should be the one to discover the mystery rather
than the others?" asked the girl, in a low voice.
"Yes," replied the painter, "you are one of us, a patriot; but even if you
were not, I should still have confided the matter to you."
Master and pupil understood each other, and Ginevra no longer feared to
"Who is he?"
"An intimate friend of Labedoyere, who contributed more than any other
man, except the unfortunate colonel, to the union of the 7th regiment with
the grenadiers of Elba. He was a major in the Imperial guard and was at
"Why not have burned his uniform and shako, and supplied him with
citizen's clothes?" said Ginevra, impatiently.
"He will have them to-night."
"You ought to have closed the studio for some days."
"He is going away."
"Then they'll kill him," said the girl. "Let him stay here with you till
the present storm is over. Paris is still the only place in France where a
man can be hidden safely. Is he a friend of yours?" she asked.
"No; he has no claim upon me but that of his ill-luck. He came into my
hands in this way. My father-in-law, who returned to the army during the
campaign, met this young fellow, and very cleverly rescued him from the
claws of those who captured Labedoyere. He came here to defend the
general, foolish fellow!"
"Do you call him that!" cried Ginevra, casting a glance of astonishment at
the painter, who was silent for a moment.
"My father-in-law is too closely watched to be able to keep him in his own
house," he resumed. "So he brought him to me, by night, about a week ago.
I hoped to keep him out of sight in this corner, the only spot in the
house where he could be safe."
"If I can be useful to you, employ me," said Ginevra. "I know the Marechal
"Well, we'll see," replied the painter.
This conversation lasted too long not to be noticed by all the other
girls. Servin left Ginevra, went round once more to each easel, and gave
such long lessons that he was still there at the hour when the pupils were
in the habit of leaving.
"You are forgetting your bag, Mademoiselle Thirion," said the professor,
running after the girl, who was now condescending to the work of a spy to
satisfy her jealousy.
The baffled pupil returned for the bag, expressing surprise at her
carelessness; but this act of Servin's was to her fresh proof of the
existence of a mystery, the importance of which was evident. She now ran
noisily down the staircase, and slammed the door which opened into the
Servins' apartment, to give an impression that she had gone; then she
softly returned and stationed herself outside the door of the studio.
CHAPTER III. LABEDOYERE'S FRIEND
When the painter and Ginevra thought themselves alone, Servin rapped in a
peculiar manner on the door of the dark garret, which turned at once on
its rusty and creaking hinges. Ginevra then saw a tall and well-made young
man, whose Imperial uniform set her heart to beating. The officer had one
arm in a sling, and the pallor of his face revealed sharp suffering.
Seeing an unknown woman, he recoiled.
Amelie, who was unable to look into the room, the door being closed, was
afraid to stay longer; she was satisfied with having heard the opening of
the garret door, and departed noiselessly.
"Fear nothing," said the painter to the officer. "Mademoiselle is the
daughter of a most faithful friend of the Emperor, the Baron di Piombo."
The young soldier retained no doubts as to Ginevra's patriotism as soon as
he saw her.
"You are wounded," she said.
"Oh! it is nothing, mademoiselle," he replied; "the wound is healing."
Just at this moment the loud cries of the vendors of newspapers came up
from the street: "Condemned to death!" They all trembled, and the soldier
was the first to hear a name that turned him pale.
"Labedoyere!" he cried, falling on a stool.
They looked at each other in silence. Drops gathered on the livid forehead
of the young man; he seized the black tufts of his hair in one hand with a
gesture of despair, and rested his elbow on Ginevra's easel.
"After all," he said, rising abruptly, "Labedoyere and I knew what we were
doing. We were certain of the fate that awaited us, whether from triumph
or defeat. He dies for the Cause, and here am I, hiding myself!"
He rushed toward the door of the studio; but, quicker than he, Ginevra
reached it, and barred his way.
"Can you restore the Emperor?" she said. "Do you expect to raise that
giant who could not maintain himself?"
"But what can I do?" said the young man, addressing the two friends whom
chance had sent to him. "I have not a relation in the world. Labedoyere
was my protector and my friend; without him, I am alone. To-morrow I
myself may be condemned; my only fortune was my pay. I spent my last penny
to come here and try to snatch Labedoyere from his fate; death is,
therefore, a necessity for me. When a man decides to die he ought to know
how to sell his life to the executioner. I was thinking just now that the
life of an honest man is worth that of two traitors, and the blow of a
dagger well placed may give immortality."
This spasm of despair alarmed the painter, and even Ginevra, whose own
nature comprehended that of the young man. She admired his handsome face
and his delightful voice, the sweetness of which was scarcely lessened by
its tones of fury. Then, all of a sudden, she poured a balm upon the
wounds of the unfortunate man:—
"Monsieur," she said, "as for your pecuniary distress, permit me to offer
you my savings. My father is rich; I am his only child; he loves me, and I
am sure he will never blame me. Have no scruple in accepting my offer; our
property is derived from the Emperor; we do not own a penny that is not
the result of his munificence. Is it not gratitude to him to assist his
faithful soldiers? Take the sums you need as indifferently as I offer
them. It is only money!" she added, in a tone of contempt. "Now, as for
friends,—those you shall have."
She raised her head proudly, and her eyes shone with dazzling brilliancy.
"The head which falls to-morrow before a dozen muskets will save yours,"
she went on. "Wait till the storm is over; you can then escape and take
service in foreign countries if you are not forgotten here; or in the
French army, if you are."
In the comfort that women give there is always a delicacy which has
something maternal, foreseeing, and complete about it. But when the words
of hope and peace are said with grace of gesture and that eloquence of
tone which comes from the heart, and when, above all, the benefactress is
beautiful, a young man does not resist. The prisoner breathed in love
through all his senses. A rosy tinge colored his white cheeks; his eyes
lost something of the sadness that dulled them, and he said, in a peculiar
tone of voice:—
"You are an angle of goodness—But Labedoyere!" he added. "Oh,
At this cry they all three looked at one another in silence, each
comprehending the others' thoughts. No longer friends of twenty minutes
only, they were friends of twenty years.
"Dear friend," said Servin, "can you save him?"
"I can avenge him."
Ginevra quivered. Though the stranger was handsome, his appearance had not
influenced her; the soft pity in a woman's heart for miseries that are not
ignoble had stifled in Ginevra all other emotions; but to hear a cry of
vengeance, to find in that proscribed being an Italian soul, devotion to
Napoleon, Corsican generosity!—ah! that was, indeed, too much for
her. She looked at the officer with a respectful emotion which shook his
heart. For the first time in her life a man had caused her a keen emotion.
She now, like other women, put the soul of the stranger on a par with the
noble beauty of his features and the happy proportions of his figure,
which she admired as an artist. Led by accidental curiosity to pity, from
pity to a powerful interest, she came, through that interest, to such
profound sensations that she felt she was in danger if she stayed there
"Until to-morrow, then," she said, giving the officer a gentle smile by
way of a parting consolation.
Seeing that smile, which threw a new light on Ginevra's features, the
stranger forgot all else for an instant.
"To-morrow," he said, sadly; "but to-morrow, Labedoyere—"
Ginevra turned, put a finger on her lips, and looked at him, as if to say:
"Be calm, be prudent."
And the young man cried out in his own language:
"Ah! Dio! che non vorrei vivere dopo averla veduta?—who would not
wish to live after seeing her?"
The peculiar accent with which he pronounced the words made Ginevra
"Are you Corsican?" she cried, returning toward him with a beating heart.
"I was born in Corsica," he replied; "but I was brought, while very young,
to Genoa, and as soon as I was old enough for military service I
The beauty of the young man, the mighty charm lent to him by his
attachment to the Emperor, his wound, his misfortunes, his danger, all
disappeared to Ginevra's mind, or, rather, all were blended in one
sentiment,—a new and delightful sentiment. This persecuted man was a
child of Corsica; he spoke its cherished language! She stood, for a
moment, motionless; held by a magical sensation; before her eyes was a
living picture, to which all human sentiments, united by chance, gave
vivid colors. By Servin's invitation, the officer had seated himself on a
divan, and the painter, after removing the sling which supported the arm
of his guest, was undoing the bandages in order to dress the wound.
Ginevra shuddered when she saw the long, broad gash made by the blade of a
sabre on the young man's forearm, and a moan escaped her. The stranger
raised his head and smiled to her. There was something touching which went
to the soul, in the care with which Servin lifted the lint and touched the
lacerated flesh, while the face of the wounded man, though pale and
sickly, expressed, as he looked at the girl, more pleasure than suffering.
An artist would have admired, involuntarily, this opposition of
sentiments, together with the contrasts produced by the whiteness of the
linen and the bared arm to the red and blue uniform of the officer.
At this moment a soft half-light pervaded the studio; but a parting ray of
the evening sunlight suddenly illuminated the spot where the soldier sat,
so that his noble, blanched face, his black hair, and his clothes were
bathed in its glow. The effect was simple enough, but to the girl's
Italian imagination it was a happy omen. The stranger seemed to her a
celestial messenger, speaking the language of her own country. He thus
unconsciously put her under the spell of childhood's memories, while in
her heart there dawned another feeling as fresh, as pure as her own
innocence. For a short, very short moment, she was motionless and dreamy,
as though she were plunged in boundless thought. Then she blushed at
having allowed her absorption to be noticed, exchanged one soft and rapid
glance with the wounded man, and fled with the vision of him still before
The next day was not a class-day, but Ginevra came to the studio, and the
prisoner was free to sit beside her easel. Servin, who had a sketch to
finish, played the part of mentor to the two young people, who talked to
each other chiefly in Corsican. The soldier related the sufferings of the
retreat from Moscow; for, at nineteen years of age, he had made the
passage of the Beresins, and was almost the last man left of his regiment.
He described, in words of fire, the great disaster of Waterloo. His voice
was music itself to the Italian girl. Brought up as a Corsican, Ginevra
was, in some sense, a child of Nature; falseness was a thing unknown to
her; she gave herself up without reserve to her impressions; she
acknowledged them, or, rather, allowed them to be seen without the
affectations of petty and calculating coquetry, characteristic of Parisian
girlhood. During this day she sat more than once with her palette in one
hand, her brushes in another, without touching a color. With her eyes
fastened on the officer, and her lips slightly apart, she listened, in the
attitude of painting a stroke which was never painted. She was not
surprised to see such softness in the eyes of the young man, for she felt
that her own were soft in spite of her will to keep them stern and calm.
After periods like this she painted diligently, without raising her head,
for he was there, near her, watching her work. The first time he sat down
beside her to contemplate her silently, she said, in a voice of some
emotion, after a long pause:—
"Does it amuse you to see me paint?"
That day she learned that his name was Luigi. Before separating, it was
agreed between them that if, on class-days when they could not see each
other, any important political event occurred, Ginevra was to inform him
by singing certain Corsican melodies then agreed upon.
The following day Mademoiselle Thirion informed all the members of the
class, under pledge of secrecy that Ginevra di Piombo had a lover, a young
man who came during the hours for the lesson, and concealed himself in the
garret beyond the studio.
"You, who take her part," she said to Mademoiselle Roguin, "watch her
carefully, and you will see how she spends her time."
Ginevra was, therefore, observed with diabolical attention. They listened
to her songs, they watched her glances. At times, when she supposed that
no one saw her, a dozen pairs of eyes were furtively upon her. Thus
enlightened, the girls were able to interpret truly the emotions that
crossed the features of the beautiful Italian,—her gestures, the
peculiar tones in which she hummed a tune, and the attention with which
they saw her listen to sounds which only she could hear through the
By the end of a week, Laure was the only one of Servin's fifteen pupils
who had resisted the temptation of looking at Luigi through the crevice of
the partition; and she, through an instinct of weakness, still defended
her beautiful friend. Mademoiselle Roguin endeavored to make her wait on
the staircase after the class dispersed, that she might prove to her the
intimacy of Ginevra and the young man by entering the studio and
surprising them together. But Laure refused to condescend to an act of
espial which no curiosity could justify, and she consequently became the
object of much reprobation.
Before long Mademoiselle Thirion made known that she thought it improper
to attend the classes of a painter whose opinions were tainted with
patriotism and Bonapartism (in those days the terms were synonymous), and
she ceased her attendance at the studio. But, although she herself forgot
Ginevra, the harm she had planted bore fruit. Little by little, the other
young girls revealed to their mothers the strange events which were
happening at the studio. One day Matilde Roguin did not come; the next day
another girl was missing, and so on, till the last three or four who were
left came no more. Ginevra and Laure, her little friend, were the sole
occupants of the deserted studio for three or four days.
Ginevra did not observe this falling off, nor ask the cause of her
companions' absence. As soon as she had invented means of communication
with Luigi she lived in the studio in a delightful solitude, alone amid
her own world, thinking only of the officer and the dangers that
threatened him. Though a sincere admirer of noble characters that never
betray their political faiths, she nevertheless urged Luigi to submit
himself to the royal authority, that he might be released from his present
life and remain in France. But to this he would not consent. If passions
are born and nourished, as they say, under the influence of romantic
causes, never did so many circumstances of that kind concur in uniting two
young souls by one and the same sentiment. The friendship of Ginevra for
Luigi and that of Luigi for Ginevra made more progress in a month than a
friendship in society would make in ten years. Adversity is the touchstone
of character. Ginevra was able, therefore, to study Luigi, to know him;
and before long they mutually esteemed each other. The girl, who was older
than Luigi, found a charm in being courted by a youth already so grand, so
tried by fate,—a youth who joined to the experience of a man the
graces of adolescence. Luigi, on his side, felt an unspeakable pleasure in
allowing himself to be apparently protected by a woman, now twenty-five
years of age. Was it not a proof of love? The union of gentleness and
pride, strength and weakness in Ginevra were, to him, irresistible
attractions, and he was utterly subjugated by her. In short, before long,
they loved each other so profoundly that they felt no need of denying to
each other their love, nor yet of telling it.
One day, towards evening, Ginevra heard the accustomed signal. Luigi
scratched with a pin on the woodwork in a manner that produced no more
noise than a spider might make as he fastened his thread. The signal meant
that he wished to come out of his retreat.
Ginevra glanced around the studio, and not seeing Laure, opened the door;
but as she did so Luigi caught sight of the little pupil and abruptly
retired. Surprised at his action, Ginevra looked round, saw Laure, and
said, as she went up to the girl's easel:—
"You are staying late, my dear. That head seems to me finished; you only
want a high-light,—see! on that knot of hair."
"You would do me a great kindness," said Laure, in a trembling voice, "if
you would give this copy a few touches; for then I could carry away with
me something to remind me of you."
"Willingly," said Ginevra, painting a few strokes on the picture. "But I
thought it was a long way from your home to the studio, and it is late."
"Oh! Ginevra, I am going away, never to return," cried the poor girl,
"You mean to leave Monsieur Servin!" exclaimed Ginevra, less affected,
however, by this news than she would have been a month earlier.
"Haven't you noticed, Ginevra, that for some days past you and I have been
alone in the studio?"
"True," said Ginevra, as if struck by a sudden recollection. "Are all
those young ladies ill, or going to be married, or are their fathers on
duty at court?"
"They have left Monsieur Servin," replied Laure.
"On your account, Ginevra."
"My account!" repeated the Corsican, springing up, with a threatening brow
and her eyes flashing.
"Oh! don't be angry, my kind Ginevra," cried Laure, in deep distress. "My
mother insists on my leaving the studio. The young ladies say that you
have some intrigue, and that Monsieur Servin allows the young man whom you
love to stay in the dark attic. I have never believed these calumnies nor
said a word to my mother about them. But last night Madame Roguin met her
at a ball and asked her if she still sent me here. When my mother answered
yes, Madame Roguin told her the falsehoods of those young ladies. Mamma
scolded me severely; she said I must have known it all, and that I had
failed in proper confidence between mother and daughter by not telling
her. Oh! my dear Ginevra! I, who took you for my model, oh! how grieved I
am that I can't be your companion any longer."
"We shall meet again in life; girls marry—" said Ginevra.
"When they are rich," signed Laure.
"Come and see me; my father has a fortune—"
"Ginevra," continued Laure, tenderly. "Madame Roguin and my mother are
coming to see Monsieur Servin to-morrow and reproach him; hadn't you
better warn him."
A thunderbolt falling at Ginevra's feet could not have astonished her more
than this revelation.
"What matter is it to them?" she asked, naively.
"Everybody thinks it very wrong. Mamma says it is immoral."
"And you, Laure, what do you say?"
The young girl looked up at Ginevra, and their thoughts united. Laure
could no longer keep back her tears; she flung herself on her friend's
breast and sobbed. At this moment Servin came into the studio.
"Mademoiselle Ginevra," he cried, with enthusiasm, "I have finished my
picture! it is now being varnished. What have you been doing, meanwhile?
Where are the young ladies; are they taking a holiday, or are they in the
Laure dried her tears, bowed to Monsieur Servin, and went away.
"The studio has been deserted for some days," replied Ginevra, "and the
young ladies are not coming back."
"Oh! don't laugh," said Ginevra. "Listen: I am the involuntary cause of
the loss of your reputation—"
The artist smiled, and said, interrupting his pupil:—
"My reputation? Why, in a few days my picture will make it at the
"That relates to your talent," replied the girl. "I am speaking of your
morality. Those young ladies have told their mothers that Luigi was shut
up here, and that you lent yourself—to—our love."
"There is some truth in that, mademoiselle," replied the professor. "The
mothers of those young ladies are foolish women; if they had come straight
to me I should have explained the matter. But I don't care a straw about
it! Life is short, anyhow."
And the painter snapped his fingers above his head. Luigi, who had heard
part of the conversation, came in.
"You have lost all your scholars," he cried. "I have ruined you!"
The artist took Luigi's hand and that of Ginevra, and joined them.
"Marry one another, my children," he said, with fatherly kindness.
They both dropped their eyes, and their silence was the first avowal they
had made to each other of their love.
"You will surely be happy," said Servin. "There is nothing in life to
equal the happiness of two beings like yourselves when bound together in
Luigi pressed the hand of his protector without at first being able to
utter a word; but presently he said, in a voice of emotion:—
"To you I owe it all."
"Be happy! I bless and wed you," said the painter, with comic unction,
laying his hands upon the heads of the lovers.
This little jest put an end to their strained emotion. All three looked at
one another and laughed merrily. Ginevra pressed Luigi's hand in a strong
clasp, with a simplicity of action worthy of the customs of her native
"Ah ca, my dear children," resumed Servin, "you think that all will go
right now, but you are much mistaken."
The lovers looked at him in astonishment.
"Don't be anxious. I'm the only one that your romance will harm. But the
fact is, Madame Servin is a little straitlaced; and I don't really see how
we are to settle it with her."
"Heavens! and I forgot to tell you," exclaimed Ginevra, "that Madame
Roguin and Laure's mother are coming here to-morrow to—"
"I understand," said the painter.
"But you can easily justify yourself," continued the girl, with a proud
movement of her head. "Monsieur Luigi," she added, turning to him with an
arch look, "will no longer object to entering the royal service. Well,
then," after receiving a smile from the young man, "to-morrow morning I
will send a petition to one of the most influential persons at the
ministry of War,—a man who will refuse nothing to the daughter of
the Baron di Piombo. We shall obtain a 'tacit' pardon for Captain Luigi,
for, of course, they will not allow him the rank of major. And then," she
added, addressing Servin, "you can confound the mothers of my charitable
companions by telling them the truth."
"You are an angel!" cried Servin.
While this scene was passing at the studio the father and mother of
Ginevra were becoming impatient at her non-return.
"It is six o'clock, and Ginevra not yet home!" cried Bartolomeo.
"She was never so late before," said his wife.
The two old people looked at each other with an anxiety that was not usual
with them. Too anxious to remain in one place, Bartolomeo rose and walked
about the salon with an active step for a man who was over seventy-seven
years of age. Thanks to his robust constitution, he had changed but little
since the day of his arrival in Paris, and, despite his tall figure, he
walked erect. His hair, now white and sparse, left uncovered a broad and
protuberant skull, which gave a strong idea of his character and firmness.
His face, seamed with deep wrinkles, had taken, with age, a nobler
expression, preserving the pallid tones which inspire veneration. The
ardor of passions still lived in the fire of his eyes, while the eyebrows,
which were not wholly whitened, retained their terrible mobility. The
aspect of the head was stern, but it conveyed the impression that Piombo
had a right to be so. His kindness, his gentleness were known only to his
wife and daughter. In his functions, or in presence of strangers, he never
laid aside the majesty that time had impressed upon his person; and the
habit of frowning with his heavy eyebrows, contracting the wrinkles of his
face, and giving to his eyes a Napoleonic fixity, made his manner of
accosting others icy.
During the course of his political life he had been so generally feared
that he was thought unsocial, and it is not difficult to explain the
causes of that opinion. The life, morals, and fidelity of Piombo made him
obnoxious to most courtiers. In spite of the fact that delicate missions
were constantly intrusted to his discretion which to any other man about
the court would have proved lucrative, he possessed an income of not more
than thirty thousand francs from an investment in the Grand Livre. If we
recall the cheapness of government securities under the Empire, and the
liberality of Napoleon towards those of his faithful servants who knew how
to ask for it, we can readily see that the Baron di Piombo must have been
a man of stern integrity. He owed his plumage as baron to the necessity
Napoleon felt of giving him a title before sending him on missions to
Bartolomeo had always professed a hatred to the traitors with whom
Napoleon surrounded himself, expecting to bind them to his cause by dint
of victories. It was he of whom it is told that he made three steps to the
door of the Emperor's cabinet after advising him to get rid of three men
in France on the eve of Napoleon's departure for his celebrated and
admirable campaign of 1814. After the second return of the Bourbons
Bartolomeo ceased to wear the decoration of the Legion of honor. No man
offered a finer image of those old Republicans, incorruptible friends to
the Empire, who remained the living relics of the two most energetic
governments the world has ever seen. Though the Baron di Piombo displeased
mere courtiers, he had the Darus, Drouots, and Carnots with him as
friends. As for the rest of the politicians, he cared not a whiff of his
cigar's smoke for them, especially since Waterloo.
Bartolomeo di Piombo had bought, for the very moderate sum which Madame
Mere, the Emperor's mother, had paid him for his estates in Corsica, the
old mansion of the Portenduere family, in which he had made no changes.
Lodged, usually, at the cost of the government, he did not occupy this
house until after the catastrophe of Fontainebleau. Following the habits
of simple persons of strict virtue, the baron and his wife gave no heed to
external splendor; their furniture was that which they bought with the
mansion. The grand apartments, lofty, sombre, and bare, the wide mirrors
in gilded frames that were almost black, the furniture of the period of
Louis XIV. were in keeping with Bartolomeo and his wife, personages worthy
Under the Empire, and during the Hundred Days, while exercising functions
that were liberally rewarded, the old Corsican had maintained a great
establishment, more for the purpose of doing honor to his office than from
any desire to shine himself. His life and that of his wife were so frugal,
so tranquil, that their modest fortune sufficed for all their wants. To
them, their daughter Ginevra was more precious than the wealth of the
whole world. When, therefore, in May, 1814, the Baron di Piombo resigned
his office, dismissed his crowd of servants, and closed his stable door,
Ginevra, quiet, simple and unpretending like her parents, saw nothing to
regret in the change. Like all great souls, she found her luxury in
strength of feeling, and derived her happiness from quietness and work.
These three beings loved each other too well for the externals of
existence to be of value in their eyes.
Often, and especially after the second dreadful fall of Napoleon,
Bartolomeo and his wife passed delightful evenings alone with their
daughter, listening while she sang and played. To them there was a vast
secret pleasure in the presence, in the slightest word of that child;
their eyes followed her with tender anxiety; they heard her step in the
court-yard, lightly as she trod. Like lovers, the three would often sit
silently together, understanding thus, better than by speech, the
eloquence of their souls. This profound sentiment, the life itself of the
two old people, animated their every thought. Here were not three
existences, but one,—one only, which, like the flame on the hearth,
divided itself into three tongues of fire. If, occasionally, some memory
of Napoleon's benefits and misfortunes, if the public events of the moment
distracted the minds of the old people from this source of their constant
solicitude, they could always talk of those interests without affecting
their community of thought, for Ginevra shared their political passions.
What more natural, therefore, than the ardor with which they found a
refuge in the heart of their only child?
Until now the occupations of public life had absorbed the energy of the
Baron di Piombo; but after leaving those employments he felt the need of
casting that energy into the last sentiment that remained to him. Apart
from the ties of parentage, there may have been, unknown to these three
despotic souls, another powerful reason for the intensity of their
reciprocal love: it was love undivided. Ginevra's whole heart belonged to
her father, as Piombo's whole heart belonged to his child; and if it be
true that we are bound to one another more by our defects than by our
virtues, Ginevra echoed in a marvellous manner the passions of her father.
There lay the sole imperfection of this triple life. Ginevra was born
unyielding of will, vindictive, and passionate, like her father in his
The Corsican had taken pleasure in developing these savage sentiments in
the heart of his daughter, precisely as a lion teaches the lion-cubs to
spring upon their prey. But this apprenticeship to vengeance having no
means of action in their family life, it came to pass that Ginevra turned
the principle against her father; as a child she forgave him nothing, and
he was forced to yield to her. Piombo saw nothing more than childish
nonsense in these fictitious quarrels, but the child was all the while
acquiring a habit of ruling her parents. In the midst, however, of the
tempests which the father was fond of exciting, a look, a word of
tenderness, sufficed to pacify their angry souls, and often they were
never so near to a kiss as when they were threatening each other
Nevertheless, for the last five years, Ginevra, grown wiser than her
father, avoided such scenes. Her faithfulness, her devotion, the love
which filled her every thought, and her admirable good sense had got the
better of her temper. And yet, for all that, a very great evil had
resulted from her training; Ginevra lived with her father and mother on
the footing of an equality which is always dangerous.
Piombo and his wife, persons without education, had allowed Ginevra to
study as she pleased. Following her caprices as a young girl, she had
studied all things for a time, and then abandoned them,—taking up
and leaving each train of thought at will, until, at last, painting had
proved to be her dominant passion. Ginevra would have made a noble woman
had her mother been capable of guiding her studies, of enlightening her
mind, and bringing into harmony her gifts of nature; her defects came from
the fatal education which the old Corsican had found delight in giving
After marching up and down the room for some time, Piombo rang the bell; a
"Go and meet Mademoiselle Ginevra," said his master.
"I always regret our carriage on her account," remarked the baroness.
"She said she did not want one," replied Piombo, looking at his wife, who,
accustomed for forty years to habits of obedience, lowered her eyes and
said no more.
Already a septuagenarian, tall, withered, pale, and wrinkled, the baroness
exactly resembled those old women whom Schnetz puts into the Italian
scenes of his "genre" pictures. She was so habitually silent that she
might have been taken for another Mrs. Shandy; but, occasionally, a word,
look, or gesture betrayed that her feelings still retained all the vigor
and the freshness of their youth. Her dress, devoid of coquetry, was often
in bad taste. She usually sat passive, buried in a low sofa, like a
Sultana Valide, awaiting or admiring her Ginevra, her pride, her life. The
beauty, toilet, and grace of her daughter seemed to have become her own.
All was well with her if Ginevra was happy. Her hair was white, and a few
strands only were seen above her white and wrinkled forehead, or beside
her hollow cheeks.
"It is now fifteen days," she said, "since Ginevra made a practice of
"Jean is so slow!" cried the impatient old man, buttoning up his blue coat
and seizing his hat, which he dashed upon his head as he took his cane and
"You will not get far," said his wife, calling after him.
As she spoke, the porte-cochere was opened and shut, and the old mother
heard the steps of her Ginevra in the court-yard. Bartolomeo almost
instantly reappeared, carrying his daughter, who struggled in his arms.
CHAPTER IV. LOVE
"Here she is, my Ginevra, Ginevrettina, Ginevrola, mia Ginevra bella!"
cried the old man.
"Oh, father, you hurt me!"
Instantly Ginevra was put down with an air of respect. She nodded her head
with a graceful movement at her mother, who was frightened by her cry, as
if to say, "Don't be alarmed, it was only a trick to get away."
The pale, wan face of the baroness recovered its usual tones, and even
assumed a look of gayety. Piombo rubbed his hands violently,—with
him the surest symptom of joy; he had taken to this habit at court when he
saw Napoleon becoming angry with those of his generals and ministers who
served him ill or committed blunders. When, as now, the muscles of his
face relaxed, every wrinkle on his forehead expressed benevolence. These
two old people presented at this moment precisely the aspect of a drooping
plant to which a little water has given fresh life after long dryness.
"Now, to dinner! to dinner!" cried the baron, offering his large hand to
his daughter, whom he called "Signora Piombellina,"—another symptom
of gayety, to which Ginevra replied by a smile.
"Ah ca!" said Piombo, as they left the table, "your mother has called my
attention to the fact that for some weeks you have stayed much longer than
usual at the studio. It seems that painting is more to you than your
"Ginevra is preparing some surprise for us, I think," said the mother.
"A picture of your own! will you bring us that?" cried the Corsican,
clapping his hands.
"Yes, I am very much occupied at the studio," replied Ginevra, rather
"What is the matter, Ginevra? You are turning pale!" cried her mother.
"No!" exclaimed the young girl in a tone of resolution,—"no! it
shall never be said that Ginevra Piombo acted a lie."
Hearing this singular exclamation, Piombo and his wife looked at their
daughter in astonishment.
"I love a young man," she added, in a voice of emotion.
Then, not venturing to look at her parents, she lowered her large eyelids
as if to veil the fire of her eyes.
"Is he a prince?" asked her father, ironically, in a tone of voice which
made the mother quail.
"No, father," she said, gently, "he is a young man without fortune."
"Is he very handsome?"
"He is very unfortunate."
"What is he?"
"Labedoyere's comrade; he was proscribed, without a refuge; Servin
concealed him, and—"
"Servin is a good fellow, who has done well," cried Piombo; "but you, my
daughter, you do wrong to love any man, except your father."
"It does not depend on me to love, or not to love," replied Ginevra, still
"I flattered myself," continued her father, "that my Ginevra would be
faithful to me until I died; and that my love and that of her mother would
suffice her till then; I did not expect that our tenderness would find a
rival in her soul, and—"
"Did I ever reproach you for your fanaticism for Napoleon?" said Ginevra.
"Have you never loved any one but me? Did you not leave me for months
together when you went on missions. I bore your absence courageously. Life
has necessities to which we must all submit."
"No, you don't love me for myself; your reproaches betray your intolerable
"You dare to blame your father's love!" exclaimed Piombo, his eyes
"Father, I don't blame you," replied Ginevra, with more gentleness than
her trembling mother expected. "You have grounds for your egotism, as I
have for my love. Heaven is my witness that no girl has ever fulfilled her
duty to her parents better than I have done to you. I have never felt
anything but love and happiness where others often see obligation. It is
now fifteen years that I have never left your protecting wing, and it has
been a most dear pleasure to me to charm your life. But am I ungrateful
for all this in giving myself up to the joy of loving; is it ingratitude
to desire a husband who will protect me hereafter?"
"What! do you reckon benefits with your father, Ginevra?" said Piombo, in
a dangerous tone.
A dreadful pause then followed, during which no one dared to speak.
Bartolomeo at last broke the silence by crying out in a heart-rending
"Oh! stay with us! stay with your father, your old father! I cannot have
you love another man. Ginevra, you will not have long to await your
"But, father, remember that I need not leave you; we shall be two to love
you; you will learn to know the man to whose care you bequeath me. You
will be doubly cherished by me and by him,—by him who is my other
self, by me who am all his."
"Oh! Ginevra, Ginevra!" cried the Corsican, clenching his fists; "why did
you not marry when Napoleon brought me to accept the idea? Why did you not
take the counts and dukes he presented to you?"
"They loved me to order," said the girl. "Besides, they would have made me
live with them, and I did not wish to leave you alone."
"You don't wish to leave me alone," said Piombo, "and yet you marry!—that
is leaving me alone. I know you, my daughter; in that case, you would
cease to love us. Elisa," he added, looking at his wife, who remained
motionless, and as if stupefied, "we have no longer a daughter; she wishes
The old man sat down, after raising his hands to heaven with a gesture of
invoking the Divine power; then he bowed himself over as if weighed down
Ginevra saw his agitation, and the restraint which he put upon his anger
touched her to the heart; she expected some violent crisis, some
ungovernable fury; she had not armed her soul against paternal gentleness.
"Father," she said, in a tender voice, "no, you shall never be abandoned
by your Ginevra. But love her a little for her own sake. If you know how
he loves me! Ah! He would never make me unhappy!"
"Comparisons already!" cried Piombo, in a terrible voice. "No, I can never
endure the idea of your marriage. If he loved you as you deserve to be
loved he would kill me; if he did not love you, I should put a dagger
The hands of the old man trembled, his lips trembled, his body trembled,
but his eyes flashed lightnings. Ginevra alone was able to endure his
glance, for her eyes flamed also, and the daughter was worthy of the sire.
"Oh! to love you! What man is worthy of such a life?" continued Piombo.
"To love you as a father is paradise on earth; who is there worthy to be
"He," said Ginevra; "he of whom I am not worthy."
"He?" repeated Piombo, mechanically; "who is he?"
"He whom I love."
"How can he know you enough to love you?"
"Father," said Ginevra, with a gesture of impatience, "whether he loves me
or not, if I love him—"
"You love him?" cried Piombo.
Ginevra bent her head softly.
"You love him more than you love us?"
"The two feelings cannot be compared," she replied.
"Is one stronger than the other?"
"I think it is," said Ginevra.
"You shall not marry him," cried the Corsican, his voice shaking the
"I shall marry him," replied Ginevra, tranquilly.
"Oh, God!" cried the mother, "how will this quarrel end? Santa Virgina!
place thyself between them!"
The baron, who had been striding up and down the room, now seated himself;
an icy sternness darkened his face; he looked fixedly at his daughter, and
said to her, in a gentle, weakened voice,—
"Ginevra, no! you will not marry him. Oh! say nothing more to-night—let
me think the contrary. Do you wish to see your father on his knees, his
white hairs prostrate before you? I supplicate you—"
"Ginevra Piombo does not pass her word and break it," she replied. "I am
"She is right," said the baroness. "We are sent into the world to marry."
"Do you encourage her in disobedience?" said the baron to his wife, who,
terrified by the word, now changed to marble.
"Refusing to obey an unjust order is not disobedience," said Ginevra.
"No order can be unjust from the lips of your father, my daughter. Why do
you judge my action? The repugnance that I feel is counsel from on high,
sent, it may be, to protect you from some great evil."
"The only evil could be that he did not love me."
"Yes, always," she answered. "He is my life, my good, my thought. Even if
I obeyed you he would be ever in my soul. To forbid me to marry him is to
make me hate you."
"You love us not!" cried Piombo.
"Oh!" said Ginevra, shaking her head.
"Well, then, forget him; be faithful to us. After we are gone—you
"Father, do you wish me to long for your death?" cried Ginevra.
"I shall outlive you. Children who do not honor their parents die early,"
said the father, driven to exasperation.
"All the more reason why I should marry and be happy," she replied.
This coolness and power of argument increased Piombo's trouble; the blood
rushed violently to his head, and his face turned purple. Ginevra
shuddered; she sprang like a bird on her father's knee, threw her arms
around his neck, and caressed his white hair, exclaiming, tenderly:—
"Oh, yes, yes, let me die first! I could never survive you, my father, my
"Oh! my Ginevra, my own Ginevra!" replied Piombo, whose anger melted under
this caress like snow beneath the rays of the sun.
"It was time you ceased," said the baroness, in a trembling voice.
"Ah! Ginevretta! mia bella Ginevra!"
And the father played with his daughter as though she were a child of six.
He amused himself by releasing the waving volume of her hair, by dandling
her on his knee; there was something of madness in these expressions of
his love. Presently his daughter scolded while kissing him, and tried, by
jesting, to obtain admission for Luigi; but her father, also jesting,
refused. She sulked, then returned to coax once more, and sulked again,
until, by the end of the evening, she was forced to be content with having
impressed upon her father's mind both her love for Luigi and the idea of
an approaching marriage.
The next day she said no more about her love; she was more caressing to
her father than she had ever been, and testified the utmost gratitude, as
if to thank him for the consent he seemed to have given by his silence.
That evening she sang and played to him for a long time, exclaiming now
and then: "We want a man's voice for this nocturne." Ginevra was an
Italian, and that says all.
At the end of a week her mother signed to her. She went; and Elisa Piombo
whispered in her ear:—
"I have persuaded your father to receive him."
"Oh! mother, how happy you have made me!"
That day Ginevra had the joy of coming home on the arm of her Luigi. The
officer came out of his hiding-place for the second time only. The earnest
appeals which Ginevra made to the Duc de Feltre, then minister of war, had
been crowned with complete success. Luigi's name was replaced upon the
roll of officers awaiting orders. This was the first great step toward
better things. Warned by Ginevra of the difficulties he would encounter
with her father, the young man dared not express his fear of finding it
impossible to please the old man. Courageous under adversity, brave on a
battlefield, he trembled at the thought of entering Piombo's salon.
Ginevra felt him tremble, and this emotion, the source of which lay in
her, was, to her eyes, another proof of love.
"How pale you are!" she said to him when they reached the door of the
"Oh! Ginevra, if it concerned my life only!—"
Though Bartolomeo had been notified by his wife of the formal presentation
Ginevra was to make of her lover, he would not advance to meet him, but
remained seated in his usual arm-chair, and the sternness of his brow was
"Father," said Ginevra, "I bring you a person you will no doubt be pleased
to see,—a soldier who fought beside the Emperor at Mont-Saint-Jean."
The baron rose, cast a sidelong glance at Luigi, and said, in a sardonic
"Monsieur is not decorated."
"I no longer wear the Legion of honor," replied Luigi, timidly, still
Ginevra, mortified by her father's incivility, dragged forward a chair.
The officer's answer seemed to satisfy the old servant of Napoleon. Madame
Piombo, observing that her husband's eyebrows were resuming their natural
position, said, by way of conversation:
"Monsieur's resemblance to a person we knew in Corsica, Nina Porta, is
"Nothing could be more natural," replied the young man, on whose face
Piombo's flaming eyes now rested. "Nina was my sister."
"Are you Luigi Porta?" asked the old man.
Bartolomeo rose, tottered, was forced to lean against a chair and beckon
to his wife. Elisa Piombo came to him. Then the two old people, silently,
each supporting the other, left the room, abandoning their daughter with a
sort of horror.
Luigi Porta, bewildered, looked at Ginevra, who had turned as white as a
marble statue, and stood gazing at the door through which her father and
mother had disappeared. This departure and this silence seemed to her so
solemn that, for the first time, in her whole life, a feeling of fear
entered her soul. She struck her hands together with great force, and
said, in a voice so shaken that none but a lover could have heard the
"What misery in a word!"
"In the name of our love, what have I said?" asked Luigi Porta.
"My father," she replied, "never spoke to me of our deplorable history,
and I was too young when we left Corsica to know anything about it."
"Are we in vendetta?" asked Luigi, trembling.
"Yes. I have heard my mother say that the Portas killed my brother and
burned our house. My father then massacred the whole family. How is it
that you survived?—for you were tied to the posts of the bed before
they set fire to the house."
"I do not know," replied Luigi. "I was taken to Genoa when six years old,
and given in charge of an old man named Colonna. No detail about my family
was told to me. I knew only that I was an orphan, and without property.
Old Colonna was a father to me; and I bore his name until I entered the
army. In order to do that, I had to show my certificate of birth in order
to prove my identity. Colonna then told me, still a mere child, that I had
enemies. And he advised me to take Luigi as my surname, and so evade
"Go, go, Luigi!" cried Ginevra. "No, stay; I must go with you. So long as
you are in my father's house you have nothing to fear; but the moment you
leave it, take care! you will go from danger to danger. My father has two
Corsicans in his service, and if he does not lie in wait to kill you, they
"Ginevra," he said, "this feud, does it exist between you and me?"
The girl smiled sadly and bowed her head. Presently she raised it, and
said, with a sort of pride:—
"Oh, Luigi, our love must be pure and sincere, indeed, to give me strength
to tread the path I am about to enter. But it involves a happiness that
will last throughout our lives, will it not?"
Luigi answered by a smile, and pressed her hand.
Ginevra comprehended that true love could despise all vulgar protestations
at such a moment. This calm and restrained expression of his feelings
foreshadowed, in some sense, their strength and their duration.
The destiny of the pair was then and there decided. Ginevra foresaw a
cruel struggle, but the idea of abandoning Luigi—an idea which may
have floated in her soul—vanished completely. His forever, she
dragged him suddenly, with a desperate sort of energy, from her father's
house, and did not leave him till she saw him reach the house where Servin
had engaged a modest lodging.
By the time she reached home, Ginevra had attained to that serenity which
is caused by a firm resolution; no sign in her manner betrayed uneasiness.
She turned on her father and mother, whom she found in the act of sitting
down to dinner, a glance of exceeding gentleness devoid of hardihood. She
saw that her mother had been weeping; the redness of those withered
eyelids shook her heart, but she hid her emotion. No one touched the
dinner which was served to them. A horror of food is one of the chief
symptoms which reveal a great crisis in life. All three rose from table
without having addressed a single word to one another.
When Ginevra had placed herself between her father and mother in the great
and gloomy salon, Piombo tried to speak, but his voice failed him; he
tried to walk, but he had no strength in his legs. He returned to his seat
and rang the bell.
"Pietro," he said, at last, to the footman, "light the fire; I am cold."
Ginevra trembled, and looked at her father anxiously. The struggle within
him must have been horrible, for his face was distorted. Ginevra knew the
extent of the peril before her, but she did not flinch. Bartolomeo,
meanwhile, cast furtive glances at his daughter, as if he feared a
character whose violence was the work of his own hands.
Between such natures all things must be extreme. The certainty of some
impending change in the feelings of father and daughter gave to the worn
and weary face of the baroness an expression of terror.
"Ginevra, you love the enemy of your family," said Piombo, at last, not
daring to look at his daughter.
"That is true," she replied.
"You must choose between us. Our vendetta is a part of our being. Whoso
does not share my vengeance is not a member of my family."
"My choice is made," replied Ginevra, calmly.
His daughter's tranquillity misled Bartolomeo.
"Oh! my dear child!" he cried, letting her see his eyes moistened with
tears, the first and only tears he ever shed in life.
"I shall be his wife," said Ginevra, abruptly.
Bartolomeo seemed dazed for a moment, but he recovered his coolness
instantly, and replied:—
"The marriage will not take place in my lifetime; I will never consent to
Ginevra kept silence.
"Ginevra," continued the baron, "have you reflected that Luigi is the son
of the man who killed your brother?"
"He was six years old when that crime was committed; he was, therefore,
not guilty of it," she replied.
"He is a Porta!" cried Bartolomeo.
"I have never shared that hatred," said Ginevra, eagerly. "You did not
bring me up to think a Porta must be a monster. How could I know that one
of those whom you thought you had killed survived? Is it not natural that
you should now yield your vendetta to my feelings?"
"A Porta!" repeated Piombo. "If his father had found you in your bed you
would not be living now; he would have taken your life a hundred times."
"It may be so," she answered; "but his son has given me life, and more
than life. To see Luigi is a happiness without which I cannot live. Luigi
has revealed to me the world of sentiments. I may, perhaps, have seen
faces more beautiful than his, but none has ever charmed me thus; I may
have heard voices—no, no, never any so melodious! Luigi loves me; he
will be my husband."
"Never," said Piombo. "I would rather see you in your coffin, Ginevra."
The old Corsican rose and began to stride up and down the salon, dropping
the following sentences, one by one, after pauses which betrayed his
"You think you can bend my will. Undeceive yourself. A Porta shall never
be my son; that is my decree. Let there be no further question of this
between us. I am Bartolomeo di Piombo; do you hear me, Ginevra?"
"Do you attach some mysterious meaning to those words?" she asked, coldly.
"They mean that I have a dagger, and that I do not fear man's justice.
Corsicans explain themselves to God."
"And I," said the daughter, rising, "am Ginevra Piombo, and I declare that
within six months I shall be the wife of Luigi Porta. You are a tyrant, my
father," she added, after a terrifying pause.
Bartolomeo clenched his fists and struck them on the marble of the
"Ah! we are in Paris!" he muttered.
Then he was silent, crossed his arms, bowed his head on his breast, and
said not another word during the whole evening.
After once giving utterance to her will, Ginevra affected inconceivable
coolness. She opened the piano and sang, played charming nocturnes and
scherzos with a grace and sentiment which displayed a perfect freedom of
mind, thus triumphing over her father, whose darkling face showed no
softening. The old man was cruelly hurt by this tacit insult; he gathered
in this one moment the bitter fruits of the training he had given to his
daughter. Respect is a barrier which protects parents as it does children,
sparing grief to the former, remorse to the latter.
The next day, when Ginevra sought to leave the house at the hour when she
usually went to the studio, she found the gates of the mansion closed to
her. She said nothing, but soon found means to inform Luigi Porta of her
father's severity. A chambermaid, who could neither read nor write, was
able to carry letters between the lovers. For five days they corresponded
thus, thanks to the inventive shrewdness of the youth.
The father and daughter seldom spoke to each other. Both were nursing in
the depths of their heart a sentiment of hatred; they suffered, but they
suffered proudly, and in silence. Recognizing how strong were the ties of
love which bound them to each other, they each tried to break them, but
without success. No gentle thought came, as formerly, to brighten the
stern features of Piombo when he contemplated his Ginevra. The girl had
something savage in her eye when she looked at her father; reproach sat
enthroned on that innocent brow; she gave herself up, it is true, to happy
thoughts, and yet, at times, remorse seemed to dull her eyes. It was not
difficult to believe that she could never enjoy, peacefully, any happiness
which caused sorrow to her parents.
With Bartolomeo, as with his daughter, the hesitations of this period
caused by the native goodness of their souls were, nevertheless, compelled
to give way before their pride and the rancor of their Corsican nature.
They encouraged each other in their anger, and closed their eyes to the
future. Perhaps they mutually flattered themselves that the one would
yield to the other.
At last, on Ginevra's birthday, her mother, in despair at the estrangement
which, day by day, assumed a more serious character, meditated an attempt
to reconcile the father and daughter, by help of the memories of this
family anniversary. They were all three sitting in Bartolomeo's study.
Ginevra guessed her mother's intention by the timid hesitation on her
face, and she smiled sadly.
At this moment a servant announced two notaries, accompanied by witnesses.
Bartolomeo looked fixedly at these persons, whose cold and formal faces
were grating to souls so passionately strained as those of the three chief
actors in this scene. The old man turned to his daughter and looked at her
uneasily. He saw upon her face a smile of triumph which made him expect
some shock; but, after the manner of savages, he affected to maintain a
deceitful indifference as he gazed at the notaries with an assumed air of
calm curiosity. The strangers sat down, after being invited to do so by a
gesture of the old man.
"Monsieur is, no doubt, M. le Baron di Piombo?" began the oldest of the
Bartolomeo bowed. The notary made a slight inclination of the head, looked
at Ginevra with a sly expression, took out his snuff-box, opened it, and
slowly inhaled a pinch, as if seeking for the words with which to open his
errand; then, while uttering them, he made continual pauses (an oratorical
manoeuvre very imperfectly represented by the printer's dash—).
"Monsieur," he said, "I am Monsieur Roguin, your daughter's notary, and we
have come—my colleague and I—to fulfil the intentions of the
law and—put an end to the divisions which—appear—to
exist—between yourself and Mademoiselle, your daughter,—on the
subject—of—her—marriage with Monsieur Luigi Porta."
This speech, pedantically delivered, probably seemed to Monsieur Roguin so
fine that his hearer could not at once understand it. He paused, and
looked at Bartolomeo with that peculiar expression of the mere business
lawyer, a mixture of servility with familiarity. Accustomed to feign much
interest in the persons with whom they deal, notaries have at last
produced upon their features a grimace of their own, which they take on
and off as an official "pallium." This mask of benevolence, the mechanism
of which is so easy to perceive, irritated Bartolomeo to such an extent
that he was forced to collect all the powers of his reason to prevent him
from throwing Monsieur Roguin through the window. An expression of anger
ran through his wrinkles, which caused the notary to think to himself:
"I've produced an effect."
"But," he continued, in a honeyed tone, "Monsieur le baron, on such
occasions our duties are preceded by—efforts at—conciliation—Deign,
therefore, to have the goodness to listen to me—It is in evidence
that Mademoiselle Ginevra di Piombo—attains this very day—the
age at which the law allows a respectful summons before proceeding to the
celebration of a marriage—in spite of the non-consent of the
parents. Now—it is usual in families—who enjoy a certain
consideration—who belong to society—who preserve some dignity—to
whom, in short, it is desirable not to let the public into the secret of
their differences—and who, moreover, do not wish to injure
themselves by blasting with reprobation the future of a young couple (for—that
is injuring themselves), it is usual, I say—among these honorable
families—not to allow these summonses—to take place—or
remain—a monument to—divisions which should end—by
ceasing—Whenever, monsieur, a young lady has recourse to respectful
summons, she exhibits a determination too marked to allow of a father—of
a mother," here he turned to the baroness, "hoping or expecting that she
will follow their wishes—Paternal resistance being null—by
reason of this fact—in the first place—and also from its being
nullified by law, it is customary—for every sensible man—after
making a final remonstrance to his child—and before she proceeds to
the respectful summons—to leave her at liberty to—"
Monsieur Roguin stopped, perceiving that he might talk on for two hours
without obtaining any answer; he felt, moreover, a singular emotion at the
aspect of the man he was attempting to convert. An extraordinary
revolution had taken place on Piombo's face; his wrinkles, contracting
into narrow lines, gave him a look of indescribable cruelty, and he cast
upon the notary the glance of a tiger. The baroness was mute and passive.
Ginevra, calm and resolute, waited silently; she knew that the notary's
voice was more potent than hers, and she seemed to have decided to say
nothing. At the moment when Roguin ceased speaking, the scene had become
so terrifying that the men who were there as witnesses trembled; never,
perhaps, had they known so awful a silence. The notaries looked at each
other, as if in consultation, and finally rose and walked to the window.
"Did you ever meet people born into the world like that?" asked Roguin of
his brother notary.
"You can't get anything out of him," replied the younger man. "In your
place, I should simply read the summons. That old fellow isn't a
comfortable person; he is furious, and you'll gain nothing whatever by
arguing with him."
Monsieur Roguin then read a stamped paper, containing the "respectful
summons," prepared for the occasion; after which he proceeded to ask
Bartolomeo what answer he made to it.
"Are there laws in France which destroy paternal authority?—"
demanded the Corsican.
"Monsieur—" said Roguin, in his honeyed tones.
"Which tear a daughter from her father?—"
"Which deprive an old man of his last consolation?—"
"Monsieur, your daughter only belongs to you if—"
"And kill him?—"
"Monsieur, permit me—"
There is nothing more horrible than the coolness and precise reasoning of
notaries amid the many passionate scenes in which they are accustomed to
The forms that Piombo saw about him seemed, to his eyes, escaped from
hell; his repressed and concentrated rage knew no longer any bounds as the
calm and fluted voice of the little notary uttered the words: "permit me."
By a sudden movement he sprang to a dagger that was hanging to a nail
above the fireplace, and rushed toward his daughter. The younger of the
two notaries and one of the witnesses threw themselves before Ginevra; but
Piombo knocked them violently down, his face on fire, and his eyes casting
flames more terrifying than the glitter of the dagger. When Ginevra saw
him approach her she looked at him with an air of triumph, and advancing
slowly, knelt down. "No, no! I cannot!" he cried, flinging away the
weapon, which buried itself in the wainscot.
"Well, then! have mercy! have pity!" she said. "You hesitate to be my
death, and you refuse me life! Oh! father, never have I loved you as I do
at this moment; give me Luigi! I ask for your consent upon my knees: a
daughter can humiliate herself before her father. My Luigi, give me my
Luigi, or I die!"
The violent excitement which suffocated her stopped her words, for she had
no voice; her convulsive movements showed plainly that she lay, as it
were, between life and death. Bartolomeo roughly pushed her from him.
"Go," he said. "The wife of Luigi Porta cannot be a Piombo. I have no
daughter. I have not the strength to curse you, but I cast you off; you
have no father. My Ginevra Piombo is buried here," he said, in a deep
voice, pressing violently on his heart. "Go, leave my house, unhappy
girl," he added, after a moment's silence. "Go, and never come into my
So saying, he took Ginevra by the arm to the gate of the house and
silently put her out.
"Luigi!" cried Ginevra, entering the humble lodging of her lover,—"my
Luigi, we have no other fortune than our love."
"Then am I richer than the kings of the earth!" he cried.
"My father and my mother have cast me off," she said, in deepest sadness.
"I will love you in place of them."
"Then let us be happy,—we WILL be happy!" she cried, with a gayety
in which there was something dreadful.
CHAPTER V. MARRIAGE
The day after Ginevra was driven from her father's house she went to ask
Madame Servin for asylum and protection until the period fixed by law for
her marriage to Luigi.
Here began for her that apprenticeship to trouble which the world strews
about the path of those who do not follow its conventions. Madame Servin
received her very coldly, being much annoyed by the harm which Ginevra's
affair had inflicted on her husband, and told her, in politely cautious
words, that she must not count on her help in future. Too proud to
persist, but amazed at a selfishness hitherto unknown to her, the girl
took a room in the lodging-house that was nearest to that of Luigi. The
son of the Portas passed all his days at the feet of his future wife; and
his youthful love, the purity of his words, dispersed the clouds from the
mind of the banished daughter; the future was so beautiful as he painted
it that she ended by smiling joyfully, though without forgetting her
One morning the servant of the lodging house brought to Ginevra's room a
number of trunks and packages containing stuffs, linen, clothes, and a
great quantity of other articles necessary for a young wife in setting up
a home of her own. In this welcome provision she recognized her mother's
foresight, and, on examining the gifts, she found a purse, in which the
baroness had put the money belonging to her daughter, adding to it the
amount of her own savings. The purse was accompanied by a letter, in which
the mother implored the daughter to forego the fatal marriage if it were
still possible to do so. It had cost her, she said, untold difficulty to
send these few things to her daughter; she entreated her not to think her
hard if, henceforth, she were forced to abandon her to want; she feared
she could never again assist her; but she blessed her and prayed for her
happiness in this fatal marriage, if, indeed, she persisted in making it,
assuring her that she should never cease to think of her darling child.
Here the falling tears had effaced some words of the letter.
"Oh, mother!" cried Ginevra, deeply moved.
She felt the impulse to rush home, to breathe the blessed air of her
father's house, to fling herself at his feet, to see her mother. She was
springing forward to accomplish this wish, when Luigi entered. At the mere
sight of him her filial emotion vanished; her tears were stopped, and she
no longer had the strength to abandon that loving and unfortunate youth.
To be the sole hope of a noble being, to love him and then abandon him!—that
sacrifice is the treachery of which young hearts are incapable. Ginevra
had the generosity to bury her own grief and suffering silently in her
The marriage day arrived. Ginevra had no friend with her. While she was
dressing, Luigi fetched the witnesses necessary to sign the certificate of
marriage. These witnesses were worthy persons; one, a cavalry sergeant,
was under obligations to Luigi, contracted on the battlefield, obligations
which are never obliterated from the heart of an honest man; the other, a
master-mason, was the proprietor of the house in which the young couple
had hired an apartment for their future home. Each witness brought a
friend, and all four, with Luigi, came to escort the bride. Little
accustomed to social functions, and seeing nothing in the service they
were rendering to Luigi but a simple matter of business, they were dressed
in their ordinary clothes, without any luxury, and nothing about them
denoted the usual joy of a marriage procession.
Ginevra herself was dressed simply, as befitted her present fortunes; and
yet her beauty was so noble and so imposing that the words of greeting
died away on the lips of the witnesses, who supposed themselves obliged to
pay her some usual compliments. They bowed to her with respect, and she
returned the bow; but they did so in silence, looking at her with
admiration. This reserve cast a chill over the whole party. Joy never
bursts forth freely except among those who are equals. Thus chance
determined that all should be dull and grave around the bridal pair;
nothing reflected, outwardly, the happiness that reigned within their
The church and the mayor's office being near by, Luigi and Ginevra,
followed by the four witnesses required by law, walked the distance, with
a simplicity that deprived of all pomp this greatest event in social life.
They saw a crowd of waiting carriages in the mayor's court-yard; and when
they reached the great hall where the civil marriages take place, they
found two other wedding-parties impatiently awaiting the mayor's arrival.
Ginevra sat down beside Luigi at the end of a long bench; their witnesses
remained standing, for want of seats. Two brides, elaborately dressed in
white, with ribbons, laces, and pearls, and crowned with orange-blossoms
whose satiny petals nodded beneath their veils, were surrounded by joyous
families, and accompanied by their mothers, to whom they looked up, now
and then, with eyes that were content and timid both; the faces of all the
rest reflected happiness, and seemed to be invoking blessings on the
youthful pairs. Fathers, witnesses, brothers, and sisters went and came,
like a happy swarm of insects disporting in the sun. Each seemed to be
impressed with the value of this passing moment of life, when the heart
finds itself within two hopes,—the wishes of the past, the promises
of the future.
As she watched them, Ginevra's heart swelled within her; she pressed
Luigi's arm, and gave him a look. A tear rolled from the eyes of the young
Corsican; never did he so well understand the joys that his Ginevra was
sacrificing to him. That precious tear caused her to forget all else but
him,—even the abandonment in which she sat there. Love poured down
its treasures of light upon their hearts; they saw nought else but
themselves in the midst of the joyous tumult; they were there alone, in
that crowd, as they were destined to be, henceforth, in life. Their
witnesses, indifferent to what was happening, conversed quietly on their
"Oats are very dear," said the sergeant to the mason.
"But they have not gone up like lime, relatively speaking," replied the
Then they walked round the hall.
"How one loses time here," said the mason, replacing a thick silver watch
in his fob.
Luigi and Ginevra, sitting pressed to one another, seemed like one person.
A poet would have admired their two heads, inspired by the same sentiment,
colored in the same tones, silent and saddened in presence of that humming
happiness sparkling in diamonds, gay with flowers,—a gayety in which
there was something fleeting. The joy of those noisy and splendid groups
was visible; that of Ginevra and Luigi was buried in their bosom. On one
side the tumult of common pleasure, on the other, the delicate silence of
happy souls,—earth and heaven!
But Ginevra was not wholly free from the weaknesses of women.
Superstitious as an Italian, she saw an omen in this contrast, and in her
heart there lay a sense of terror, as invincible as her love.
Suddenly the office servant, in the town livery, opened a folding-door.
Silence reigned, and his voice was heard, like the yapping of a dog,
calling Monsieur Luigi da Porta and Mademoiselle Ginevra di Piombo. This
caused some embarrassment to the young pair. The celebrity of the bride's
name attracted attention, and the spectators seemed to wonder that the
wedding was not more sumptuous. Ginevra rose, took Luigi's arm, and
advanced firmly, followed by the witnesses. A murmur of surprise, which
went on increasing, and a general whispering reminded Ginevra that all
present were wondering at the absence of her parents; her father's wrath
seemed present to her.
"Call in the families," said the mayor to the clerk whose business it was
to read aloud the certificates.
"The father and mother protest," replied the clerk, phlegmatically.
"On both sides?" inquired the mayor.
"The groom is an orphan."
"Where are the witnesses?"
"Here," said the clerk, pointing to the four men, who stood with arms
folded, like so many statues.
"But if the parents protest—" began the mayor.
"The respectful summons has been duly served," replied the clerk, rising,
to lay before the mayor the papers annexed to the marriage certificate.
This bureaucratic decision had something blighting about it; in a few
words it contained the whole story. The hatred of the Portas and the
Piombos and their terrible passions were inscribed on this page of the
civil law as the annals of a people (contained, it may be, in one word
only,—Napoleon, Robespierre) are engraved on a tombstone. Ginevra
trembled. Like the dove on the face of the waters, having no place to rest
its feet but the ark, so Ginevra could take refuge only in the eyes of
Luigi from the cold and dreary waste around her.
The mayor assumed a stern, disapproving air, and his clerk looked up at
the couple with malicious curiosity. No marriage was ever so little
festal. Like other human beings when deprived of their accessories, it
became a simple act in itself, great only in thought.
After a few questions, to which the bride and bridegroom responded, and a
few words mumbled by the mayor, and after signing the registers, with
their witnesses, duly, Luigi and Ginevra were made one. Then the wedded
pair walked back through two lines of joyous relations who did not belong
to them, and whose only interest in their marriage was the delay caused to
their own wedding by this gloomy bridal. When, at last, Ginevra found
herself in the mayor's court-yard, under the open sky, a sigh escaped her
"Can a lifetime of devotion and love suffice to prove my gratitude for
your courage and tenderness, my Ginevra?" said Luigi.
At these words, said with tears of joy, the bride forgot her sufferings;
for she had indeed suffered in presenting herself before the public to
obtain a happiness her parents refused to sanction.
"Why should others come between us?" she said with an artlessness of
feeling that delighted Luigi.
A sense of accomplished happiness now made the step of the young pair
lighter; they saw neither heaven, nor earth, nor houses; they flew, as it
were, on wings to the church. When they reached a dark little chapel in
one corner of the building, and stood before a plain undecorated altar, an
old priest married them. There, as in the mayor's office, two other
marriages were taking place, still pursuing them with pomp. The church,
filled with friends and relations, echoed with the roll of carriages, and
the hum of beadles, sextons, and priests. Altars were resplendent with
sacramental luxury; the wreaths of orange-flowers that crowned the figures
of the Virgin were fresh. Flowers, incense, gleaming tapers, velvet
cushions embroidered with gold, were everywhere. When the time came to
hold above the heads of Luigi and Ginevra the symbol of eternal union,—that
yoke of satin, white, soft, brilliant, light for some, lead for most,—the
priest looked about him in vain for the acolytes whose place it was to
perform that joyous function. Two of the witnesses fulfilled it for them.
The priest addressed a hasty homily to the pair on the perils of life, on
the duties they must, some day, inculcate upon their children,—throwing
in, at this point, an indirect reproach to Ginevra on the absence of her
parents; then, after uniting them before God, as the mayor had united them
before the law, he left the now married couple.
"God bless them!" said Vergniaud, the sergeant, to the mason, when they
reached the church porch. "No two creatures were ever more fitted for one
another. The parents of the girl are foolish. I don't know a braver
soldier than Colonel Luigi. If the whole army had behaved like him,
'l'autre' would be here still."
This blessing of the old soldier, the only one bestowed upon their
marriage-day, shed a balm on Ginevra's heart.
They parted with hearty shakings of hand; Luigi thanked his landlord.
"Adieu, 'mon brave,'" he said to the sergeant. "I thank you."
"I am now and ever at your service, colonel,—soul, body, horses, and
carriages; all that is mine is yours."
"How he loves you!" said Ginevra.
Luigi now hurried his bride to the house they were to occupy. Their modest
apartment was soon reached; and there, when the door closed upon them,
Luigi took his wife in his arms, exclaiming,—
"Oh, my Ginevra! for now you are mine, here is our true wedding. Here," he
added, "all things will smile upon us."
Together they went through the three rooms contained in their lodging. The
room first entered served as salon and dining-room in one; on the right
was a bedchamber, on the left a large study which Luigi had arranged for
his wife; in it she found easels, color-boxes, lay-figures, casts,
pictures, portfolios,—in short, the paraphernalia of an artist.
"So here I am to work!" she said, with an expression of childlike
She looked long at the hangings and the furniture, turning again and again
to thank Luigi, for there was something that approached magnificence in
the little retreat. A bookcase contained her favorite books; a piano
filled an angle of the room. She sat down upon a divan, drew Luigi to her
side, and said, in a caressing voice, her hand in his,—
"You have good taste."
"Those words make me happy," he replied.
"But let me see all," said Ginevra, to whom Luigi had made a mystery of
the adornment of the rooms.
They entered the nuptial chamber, fresh and white as a virgin.
"Oh! come away," said Luigi, smiling.
"But I wish to see all."
And the imperious Ginevra looked at each piece of furniture with the
minute care of an antiquary examining a coin; she touched the silken
hangings, and went over every article with the artless satisfaction of a
bride in the treasures of her wedding outfit.
"We begin by ruining ourselves," she said, in a half-joyous, half-anxious
"True! for all my back pay is there," replied Luigi. "I have mortgaged it
to a worthy fellow named Gigonnet."
"Why did you do so?" she said, in a tone of reproach, through which could
be heard her inward satisfaction. "Do you believe I should be less happy
in a garret? But," she added, "it is all charming, and—it is ours!"
Luigi looked at her with such enthusiasm that she lowered her eyes.
"Now let us see the rest," she cried.
Above these three rooms, under the roof, was a study for Luigi, a kitchen,
and a servant's-room. Ginevra was much pleased with her little domain,
although the view from the windows was limited by the high wall of a
neighboring house, and the court-yard, from which their light was derived,
was gloomy. But the two lovers were so happy in heart, hope so adorned
their future, that they chose to see nothing but what was charming in
their hidden nest. They were there in that vast house, lost in the
immensity of Paris, like two pearls in their shell in the depths of ocean;
to all others it might have seemed a prison; to them it was paradise.
The first few days of their union were given to love. The effort to turn
at once to work was too difficult; they could not resist the charm of
their own passion. Luigi lay for hours at the feet of his wife, admiring
the color of her hair, the moulding of her forehead, the enchanting socket
of her eyes, the purity and whiteness of the two arches beneath which the
eyes themselves turned slowly, expressing the happiness of a satisfied
love. Ginevra caressed the hair of her Luigi, never weary of gazing at
what she called his "belta folgorante," and the delicacy of his features.
She was constantly charmed by the nobility of his manners, as she herself
attracted him by the grace of hers.
They played together, like children, with nothings,—nothings that
brought them ever back to their love,—ceasing their play only to
fall into a revery of the "far niente." An air sung by Ginevra reproduced
to their souls the enchanting lights and shadows of their passion.
Together, uniting their steps as they did their souls, they roamed about
the country, finding everywhere their love,—in the flowers, in the
sky, in the glowing tints of the setting sun; they read it in even the
capricious vapors which met and struggled in the ether. Each day resembled
in nothing its predecessors; their love increased, and still increased,
because it was a true love. They had tested each other in what seemed only
a short time; and, instinctively, they recognized that their souls were of
a kind whose inexhaustible riches promised for the future unceasing joys.
Theirs was love in all its artlessness, with its interminable
conversations, unfinished speeches, long silences, oriental reposes, and
oriental ardor. Luigi and Ginevra comprehended love. Love is like the
ocean: seen superficially, or in haste, it is called monotonous by common
souls, whereas some privileged beings can pass their lives in admiring it,
and in finding, ceaselessly, the varying phenomena that enchant them.
Soon, however, prudence and foresight drew the young couple from their
Eden; it was necessary to work to live. Ginevra, who possessed a special
talent for imitating old paintings, took up the business of copying, and
soon found many customers among the picture-dealers. Luigi, on his side,
sought long and actively for occupation, but it was hard for a young
officer whose talents had been restricted to the study of strategy to find
anything to do in Paris.
At last, weary of vain efforts, his soul filled with despair at seeing the
whole burden of their subsistence falling on Ginevra, it occurred to him
to make use of his handwriting, which was excellent. With a persistency of
which he saw an example in his wife, he went round among the layers and
notaries of Paris, asking for papers to copy. The frankness of his manners
and his situation interested many in his favor; he soon obtained enough
work to be obliged to find young men to assist him; and this employment
became, little by little, a regular business. The profits of his office
and the sale of Ginevra's pictures gave the young couple a competence of
which they were justly proud, for it was the fruit of their industry.
This, to the busy pair, was the happiest period of their lives. The days
flowed rapidly by, filled with occupation and the joys of their love. At
night, after working all day, they met with delight in Ginevra's studio.
Music refreshed their weariness. No expression of regret or melancholy
obscured the happy features of the young wife, and never did she utter a
complaint. She appeared to her Luigi with a smile upon her lips and her
eyes beaming. Each cherished a ruling thought which would have made them
take pleasure in a labor still more severe; Ginevra said in her heart that
she worked for Luigi, and Luigi the same for Ginevra.
Sometimes, in the absence of her husband, the thought of the perfect
happiness she might have had if this life of love could have been lived in
the presence of her father and mother overcame the young wife; and then,
as she felt the full power of remorse, she dropped into melancholy;
mournful pictures passed like shadows across her imagination; she saw her
old father alone, or her mother weeping in secret lest the inexorable
Piombo should perceive her tears. The two white, solemn heads rose
suddenly before her, and the thought came that never again should she see
them except in memory. This thought pursued her like a presentiment.
She celebrated the anniversary of her marriage by giving her husband a
portrait he had long desired,—that of his Ginevra, painted by
herself. Never had the young artist done so remarkable a work. Aside from
the resemblance, the glow of her beauty, the purity of her feelings, the
happiness of love were there depicted by a sort of magic. This masterpiece
of her art and her joy was a votive offering to their wedded felicity.
Another year of ease and comfort went by. The history of their life may be
given in three words: They were happy. No event happened to them of
sufficient importance to be recorded.
CHAPTER VI. RETRIBUTION
At the beginning of the year 1819 the picture-dealers requested Ginevra to
give them something beside copies; for competition had so increased that
they could no longer sell her work to advantage. Madame Porta then
perceived the mistake she had made in not exercising her talent for
"genre" painting, which might, by this time, have brought her reputation.
She now attempted portrait-painting. But here she was forced to compete
against a crowd of artists in greater need of money than herself. However,
as Luigi and Ginevra had laid by a few savings, they were not, as yet,
uneasy about the future.
Toward the end of the winter of that year Luigi worked without
intermission. He, too, was struggling against competitors. The payment for
writing had so decreased that he found it impossible to employ assistance;
he was forced, therefore, to work a much longer time himself to obtain the
same emolument. His wife had finished several pictures which were not
without merit; but the dealers were scarcely buying those of artists with
reputations; consequently, her paintings had little chance. Ginevra
offered them for almost nothing, but without success.
The situation of the household now began to be alarming. The souls of the
husband and wife floated on the ocean of their happiness, love overwhelmed
them with its treasures, while poverty rose, like a skeleton, amid their
harvest of joy. Yet, all the while, they hid from each other their secret
anxiety. When Ginevra felt like weeping as she watched Luigi's worn and
suffering face, she redoubled her caresses; and Luigi, keeping his dark
forebodings in the depths of his soul, expressed to his Ginevra the
tenderest love. They sought a compensation for their troubles in exalting
their feelings; and their words, their joys, their caresses became
suffused, as it were, with a species of frenzy. They feared the future.
What feeling can be compared in strength with that of a passion which may
cease on the morrow, killed by death or want? When they talked together of
their poverty each felt the necessity of deceiving the other, and they
fastened with mutual ardor on the slightest hope.
One night Ginevra woke and missed Luigi from her side. She rose in terror.
A faint light shining on the opposite wall of the little court-yard
revealed to her that her husband was working in his study at night. Luigi
was now in the habit of waiting till his wife was asleep, and then going
up to his garret to write. Four o'clock struck. Ginevra lay down again,
and pretended to sleep. Presently Luigi returned, overcome with fatigue
and drowsiness. Ginevra looked sadly on the beautiful, worn face, where
toil and care were already drawing lines of wrinkles.
"It is for me he spends his nights in writing," she said to herself,
A thought dried her tears. She would imitate Luigi. That same day she went
to a print-shop, and, by help of a letter of recommendation she had
obtained from Elie Magus, one of her picture-dealers, she obtained an
order for the coloring of lithographs. During the day she painted her
pictures and attended to the cares of the household; then, when night
came, she colored the engravings. This loving couple entered their nuptial
bed only to deceive each other; both feigned sleep, and left it,—Luigi,
as soon as he thought his wife was sleeping, Ginevra as soon as he had
One night Luigi, burning with a sort of fever, induced by a toil under
which his strength was beginning to give way, opened the casement of his
garret to breathe the morning air, and shake off, for a moment, the burden
of his care. Happening to glance downward, he saw the reflection of
Ginevra's lamp on the opposite wall, and the poor fellow guessed the
truth. He went down, stepping softly, and surprised his wife in her
studio, coloring engravings.
"Oh, Ginevra!" he cried.
She gave a convulsive bound in her chair, and blushed.
"Could I sleep while you were wearing yourself out with toil?" she said.
"But to me alone belongs the right to work in this way," he answered.
"Could I be idle," she asked, her eyes filling with tears, "when I know
that every mouthful we eat costs a drop of your blood? I should die if I
could not add my efforts to yours. All should be in common between us:
pains and pleasures, both."
"She is cold!" cried Luigi, in despair. "Wrap your shawl closer round you,
my own Ginevra; the night is damp and chilly."
They went to the window, the young wife leaning on the breast of her
beloved, who held her round the waist, and, together, in deep silence,
they gazed upward at the sky, which the dawn was slowly brightening.
Clouds of a grayish hue were moving rapidly; the East was growing
"See!" said Ginevra. "It is an omen. We shall be happy."
"Yes, in heaven," replied Luigi, with a bitter smile. "Oh, Ginevra! you
who deserved all the treasures upon earth—"
"I have your heart," she said, in tones of joy.
"Ah! I complain no more!" he answered, straining her tightly to him, and
covering with kisses the delicate face, which was losing the freshness of
youth, though its expression was still so soft, so tender that he could
not look at it and not be comforted.
"What silence!" said Ginevra, presently. "Dear friend, I take great
pleasure in sitting up. The majesty of Night is so contagious, it awes, it
inspires. There is I know not what great power in the thought: all sleep,
"Oh, my Ginevra," he cried, "it is not to-night alone I feel how
delicately moulded is your soul. But see, the dawn is shining,—come
"Yes," replied Ginevra, "if I do not sleep alone. I suffered too much that
night I first discovered that you were waking while I slept."
The courage with which these two young people fought with misery received
for a while its due reward; but an event which usually crowns the
happiness of a household to them proved fatal. Ginevra had a son, who was,
to use the popular expression, "as beautiful as the day." The sense of
motherhood doubled the strength of the young wife. Luigi borrowed money to
meet the expenses of Ginevra's confinement. At first she did not feel the
fresh burden of their situation; and the pair gave themselves wholly up to
the joy of possessing a child. It was their last happiness.
Like two swimmers uniting their efforts to breast a current, these two
Corsican souls struggled courageously; but sometimes they gave way to an
apathy which resembled the sleep that precedes death. Soon they were
obliged to sell their jewels. Poverty appeared to them suddenly,—not
hideous, but plainly clothed, almost easy to endure; its voice had nothing
terrifying; with it came neither spectres, nor despair, nor rags; but it
made them lose the memory and the habits of comfort; it dried the springs
of pride. Then, before they knew it, came want,—want in all its
horror, indifferent to its rags, treading underfoot all human sentiments.
Seven or eight months after the birth of the little Bartolomeo, it would
have been hard to see in the mother who suckled her sickly babe the
original of the beautiful portrait, the sole remaining ornament of the
squalid home. Without fire through a hard winter, the graceful outlines of
Ginevra's figure were slowly destroyed; her cheeks grew white as
porcelain, and her eyes dulled as though the springs of life were drying
up within her. Watching her shrunken, discolored child, she felt no
suffering but for that young misery; and Luigi had no courage to smile
upon his son.
"I have wandered over Paris," he said, one day. "I know no one; can I ask
help of strangers? Vergniaud, my old sergeant, is concerned in a
conspiracy, and they have put him in prison; besides, he has already lent
me all he could spare. As for our landlord, it is over a year since he
asked me for any rent."
"But we are not in want," replied Ginevra, gently, affecting calmness.
"Every hour brings some new difficulty," continued Luigi, in a tone of
Another day Luigi took Ginevra's pictures, her portrait, and the few
articles of furniture which they could still exist without, and sold them
for a miserable sum, which prolonged the agony of the hapless household
for a time. During these days of wretchedness Ginevra showed the sublimity
of her nature and the extent of her resignation.
Stoically she bore the strokes of misery; her strong soul held her up
against all woes; she worked with unfaltering hand beside her dying son,
performed her household duties with marvellous activity, and sufficed for
all. She was even happy, still, when she saw on Luigi's lips a smile of
surprise at the cleanliness she produced in the one poor room where they
had taken refuge.
"Dear, I kept this bit of bread for you," she said, one evening, when he
"I? I have dined, dear Luigi; I want nothing more."
And the tender look on her beseeching face urged him more than her words
to take the food of which she had deprived herself.
Luigi kissed her, with one of those kisses of despair that were given in
1793 between friends as they mounted the scaffold. In such supreme moments
two beings see each other, heart to heart. The hapless Luigi,
comprehending suddenly that his wife was starving, was seized with the
fever which consumed her. He shuddered, and went out, pretending that some
business called him; for he would rather have drunk the deadliest poison
than escape death by eating that last morsel of bread that was left in his
He wandered wildly about Paris; amid the gorgeous equipages, in the bosom
of that flaunting luxury that displays itself everywhere; he hurried past
the windows of the money-changers where gold was glittering; and at last
he resolved to sell himself to be a substitute for military service,
hoping that this sacrifice would save Ginevra, and that her father, during
his absence, would take her home.
He went to one of those agents who manage these transactions, and felt a
sort of happiness in recognizing an old officer of the Imperial guard.
"It is two days since I have eaten anything," he said to him in a slow,
weak voice. "My wife is dying of hunger, and has never uttered one word of
complaint; she will die smiling, I think. For God's sake, comrade," he
added, bitterly, "buy me in advance; I am robust; I am no longer in the
service, and I—"
The officer gave Luigi a sum on account of that which he promised to
procure for him. The wretched man laughed convulsively as he grasped the
gold, and ran with all his might, breathless, to his home, crying out at
"Ginevra! Oh, my Ginevra!"
It was almost night when he reached his wretched room. He entered very
softly, fearing to cause too strong an emotion to his wife, whom he had
left so weak. The last rays of the sun, entering through the garret
window, were fading from Ginevra's face as she sat sleeping in her chair,
and holding her child upon her breast.
"Wake, my dear one," he said, not observing the infant, which shone, at
that moment, with supernatural light.
Hearing that voice, the poor mother opened her eyes, met Luigi's look, and
smiled; but Luigi himself gave a cry of horror; he scarcely recognized his
wife, now half mad. With a gesture of savage energy he showed her the
gold. Ginevra began to laugh mechanically; but suddenly she cried, in a
"The child, Luigi, he is cold!"
She looked at her son and swooned. The little Bartolomeo was dead. Luigi
took his wife in his arms, without removing the child, which she clasped
with inconceivable force; and after laying her on the bed he went out to
"Oh! my God!" he said, as he met his landlord on the stairs. "I have gold,
gold, and my child has died of hunger, and his mother is dying, too! Help
He returned like one distraught to his wife, leaving the worthy mason, and
also the neighbors who heard him to gather a few things for the needs of
so terrible a want, hitherto unknown, for the two Corsicans had carefully
hidden it from a feeling of pride.
Luigi had cast his gold upon the floor and was kneeling by the bed on
which lay his wife.
"Father! take care of my son, who bears your name," she was saying in her
"Oh, my angel! be calm," said Luigi, kissing her; "our good days are
coming back to us."
"My Luigi," she said, looking at him with extraordinary attention, "listen
to me. I feel that I am dying. My death is natural; I suffered too much;
besides, a happiness so great as mine has to be paid for. Yes, my Luigi,
be comforted. I have been so happy that if I were to live again I would
again accept our fate. I am a bad mother; I regret you more than I regret
my child—My child!" she added, in a hollow voice.
Two tears escaped her dying eyes, and suddenly she pressed the little body
she had no power to warm.
"Give my hair to my father, in memory of his Ginevra," she said. "Tell him
I have never blamed him."
Her head fell upon her husband's arm.
"No, you cannot die!" cried Luigi. "The doctor is coming. We have food.
Your father will take you home. Prosperity is here. Stay with us, angel!"
But the faithful heart, so full of love, was growing cold. Ginevra turned
her eyes instinctively to him she loved, though she was conscious of
nought else. Confused images passed before her mind, now losing memory of
earth. She knew that Luigi was there, for she clasped his icy hand
tightly, and more tightly still, as though she strove to save herself from
some precipice down which she feared to fall.
"Dear," she said, at last, "you are cold; I will warm you."
She tried to put his hand upon her heart, but died.
Two doctors, a priest, and several neighbors came into the room, bringing
all that was necessary to save the poor couple and calm their despair.
These strangers made some noise in entering; but after they had entered,
an awful silence filled the room.
While that scene was taking place, Bartolomeo and his wife were sitting in
their antique chairs, each at a corner of the vast fireplace, where a
glowing fire scarcely warmed the great spaces of their salon. The clock
For some time past the old couple had lost the ability to sleep. At the
present moment they sat there silent, like two persons in their dotage,
gazing about them at things they did not see. Their deserted salon, so
filled with memories to them, was feebly lighted by a single lamp which
seemed expiring. Without the sparkling of the flame upon the hearth, they
might soon have been in total darkness.
A friend had just left them; and the chair on which he had been sitting,
remained where he left it, between the two Corsicans. Piombo was casting
glances at that chair,—glances full of thoughts, crowding one upon
another like remorse,—for the empty chair was Ginevra's. Elisa
Piombo watched the expressions that now began to cross her husband's
pallid face. Though long accustomed to divine his feelings from the
changeful agitations of his face, they seemed to-night so threatening, and
anon so melancholy that she felt she could no longer read a soul that was
now incomprehensible, even to her.
Would Bartolomeo yield, at last, to the memories awakened by that chair?
Had he been shocked to see a stranger in that chair, used for the first
time since his daughter left him? Had the hour of his mercy struck,—that
hour she had vainly prayed and waited for till now?
These reflections shook the mother's heart successively. For an instant
her husband's countenance became so terrible that she trembled at having
used this simple means to bring about a mention of Ginevra's name. The
night was wintry; the north wind drove the snowflakes so sharply against
the blinds that the old couple fancied that they heard a gentle rustling.
Ginevra's mother dropped her head to hide her tears. Suddenly a sigh burst
from the old man's breast; his wife looked at him; he seemed to her
crushed. Then she risked speaking—for the second time in three long
years—of his daughter.
"Ginevra may be cold," she said, softly.
"She may be hungry," she continued.
The old man dropped a tear.
"Perhaps she has a child and cannot suckle it; her milk is dried up!" said
the mother, in accents of despair.
"Let her come! let her come to me!" cried Piombo. "Oh! my precious child,
thou hast conquered me."
The mother rose as if to fetch her daughter. At that instant the door
opened noisily, and a man, whose face no longer bore the semblance of
humanity, stood suddenly before them.
"Dead! Our two families were doomed to exterminate each other. Here is all
that remains of her," he said, laying Ginevra's long black hair upon the
The old people shook and quivered as if a stroke of lightning had blasted
Luigi no longer stood before them.
"He has spared me a shot, for he is dead," said Bartolomeo, slowly, gazing
on the ground at his feet.