THE SECRETS OF
THE PRINCESSE DE CADIGNAN
By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Theophile Gautier
THE SECRETS OF THE
PRINCESSE DE CADIGNAN
CHAPTER I. THE LAST WORD OF TWO GREAT COQUETTES
After the disasters of the revolution of July, which destroyed so many
aristocratic fortunes dependent on the court, Madame la Princesse de
Cadignan was clever enough to attribute to political events the total ruin
she had caused by her own extravagance. The prince left France with the
royal family, and never returned to it, leaving the princess in Paris,
protected by the fact of his absence; for their debts, which the sale of
all their salable property had not been able to extinguish, could only be
recovered through him. The revenues of the entailed estates had been
seized. In short, the affairs of this great family were in as bad a state
as those of the elder branch of the Bourbons.
This woman, so celebrated under her first name of Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse, very wisely decided to live in retirement, and to make
herself, if possible, forgotten. Paris was then so carried away by the
whirling current of events that the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, buried in
the Princesse de Cadignan, a change of name unknown to most of the new
actors brought upon the stage of society by the revolution of July, did
really become a stranger in her own city.
In Paris the title of duke ranks all others, even that of prince; though,
in heraldic theory, free of all sophism, titles signify nothing; there is
absolute equality among gentlemen. This fine equality was formerly
maintained by the House of France itself; and in our day it is so still,
at least, nominally; witness the care with which the kings of France give
to their sons the simple title of count. It was in virtue of this system
that Francois I. crushed the splendid titles assumed by the pompous
Charles the Fifth, by signing his answer: "Francois, seigneur de Vanves."
Louis XI. did better still by marrying his daughter to an untitled
gentleman, Pierre de Beaujeu. The feudal system was so thoroughly broken
up by Louis XIV. that the title of duke became, during his reign, the
supreme honor of the aristocracy, and the most coveted.
Nevertheless there are two or three families in France in which the
principality, richly endowed in former times, takes precedence of the
duchy. The house of Cadignan, which possesses the title of Duc de
Maufrigneuse for its eldest sons, is one of these exceptional families.
Like the princes of the house of Rohan in earlier days, the princes of
Cadignan had the right to a throne in their own domain; they could have
pages and gentlemen in their service. This explanation is necessary, as
much to escape foolish critics who know nothing, as to record the customs
of a world which, we are told, is about to disappear, and which,
evidently, so many persons are assisting to push away without knowing what
The Cadignans bear: or, five lozenges sable appointed, placed fess-wise,
with the word "Memini" for motto, a crown with a cap of maintenance, no
supporters or mantle. In these days the great crowd of strangers flocking
to Paris, and the almost universal ignorance of the science of heraldry,
are beginning to bring the title of prince into fashion. There are no real
princes but those possessed of principalities, to whom belongs the title
of highness. The disdain shown by the French nobility for the title of
prince, and the reasons which caused Louis XIV. to give supremacy to the
title of duke, have prevented Frenchmen from claiming the appellation of
"highness" for the few princes who exist in France, those of Napoleon
excepted. This is why the princes of Cadignan hold an inferior position,
nominally, to the princes of the continent.
The members of the society called the faubourg Saint-Germain protected the
princess by a respectful silence due to her name, which is one of those
that all men honor, to her misfortunes, which they ceased to discuss, and
to her beauty, the only thing she saved of her departed opulence. Society,
of which she had once been the ornament, was thankful to her for having,
as it were, taken the veil, and cloistered herself in her own home. This
act of good taste was for her, more than for any other woman, an immense
sacrifice. Great deeds are always so keenly felt in France that the
princess gained, by her retreat, as much as she had lost in public opinion
in the days of her splendor.
She now saw only one of her old friends, the Marquise d'Espard, and even
to her she never went on festive occasions or to parties. The princess and
the marquise visited each other in the forenoons, with a certain amount of
secrecy. When the princess went to dine with her friend, the marquise
closed her doors. Madame d'Espard treated the princess charmingly; she
changed her box at the opera, leaving the first tier for a baignoire on
the ground-floor, so that Madame de Cadignan could come to the theatre
unseen, and depart incognito. Few women would have been capable of a
delicacy which deprived them of the pleasure of bearing in their train a
fallen rival, and of publicly being her benefactress. Thus relieved of the
necessity for costly toilets, the princess could enjoy the theatre,
whither she went in Madame d'Espard's carriage, which she would never have
accepted openly in the daytime. No one has ever known Madame d'Espard's
reasons for behaving thus to the Princesse de Cadignan; but her conduct
was admirable, and for a long time included a number of little acts which,
viewed single, seem mere trifles, but taken in the mass become gigantic.
In 1832, three years had thrown a mantle of snow over the follies and
adventures of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse, and had whitened them so
thoroughly that it now required a serious effort of memory to recall them.
Of the queen once adored by so many courtiers, and whose follies might
have given a theme to a variety of novels, there remained a woman still
adorably beautiful, thirty-six years of age, but quite justified in
calling herself thirty, although she was the mother of Duc Georges de
Maufrigneuse, a young man of eighteen, handsome as Antinous, poor as Job,
who was expected to obtain great successes, and for whom his mother
desired, above all things, to find a rich wife. Perhaps this hope was the
secret of the intimacy she still kept up with the marquise, in whose
salon, which was one of the first in Paris, she might eventually be able
to choose among many heiresses for Georges' wife. The princess saw five
years between the present moment and her son's marriage,—five
solitary and desolate years; for, in order to obtain such a marriage for
her son, she knew that her own conduct must be marked in the corner with
The princess lived in the rue de Miromesnil, in a small house, of which
she occupied the ground-floor at a moderate rent. There she made the most
of the relics of her past magnificence. The elegance of the great lady was
still redolent about her. She was still surrounded by beautiful things
which recalled her former existence. On her chimney-piece was a fine
miniature portrait of Charles X., by Madame Mirbel, beneath which were
engraved the words, "Given by the King"; and, as a pendant, the portrait
of "Madame", who was always her kind friend. On a table lay an album of
costliest price, such as none of the bourgeoises who now lord it in our
industrial and fault-finding society would have dared to exhibit. This
album contained portraits, about thirty in number, of her intimate
friends, whom the world, first and last, had given her as lovers. The
number was a calumny; but had rumor said ten, it might have been, as her
friend Madame d'Espard remarked, good, sound gossip. The portraits of
Maxime de Trailles, de Marsay, Rastignac, the Marquis d'Esgrignon, General
Montriveau, the Marquis de Ronquerolles and d'Ajuda-Pinto, Prince
Galathionne, the young Ducs de Grandlieu and de Rhetore, the Vicomte de
Serizy, and the handsome Lucien de Rubempre, had all been treated with the
utmost coquetry of brush and pencil by celebrated artists. As the princess
now received only two or three of these personages, she called the book,
jokingly, the collection of her errors.
Misfortune had made this woman a good mother. During the fifteen years of
the Restoration she had amused herself far too much to think of her son;
but on taking refuge in obscurity, this illustrious egoist bethought her
that the maternal sentiment, developed to its extreme, might be an
absolution for her past follies in the eyes of sensible persons, who
pardon everything to a good mother. She loved her son all the more because
she had nothing else to love. Georges de Maufrigneuse was, moreover, one
of those children who flatter the vanities of a mother; and the princess
had, accordingly, made all sorts of sacrifices for him. She hired a stable
and coach-house, above which he lived in a little entresol with three
rooms looking on the street, and charmingly furnished; she had even borne
several privations to keep a saddle-horse, a cab-horse, and a little groom
for his use. For herself, she had only her own maid, and as cook, a former
kitchen-maid. The duke's groom had, therefore, rather a hard place. Toby,
formerly tiger to the "late" Beaudenord (such was the jesting term applied
by the gay world to that ruined gentleman),—Toby, who at twenty-five
years of age was still considered only fourteen, was expected to groom the
horses, clean the cabriolet, or the tilbury, and the harnesses, accompany
his master, take care of the apartments, and be in the princess's
antechamber to announce a visitor, if, by chance, she happened to receive
When one thinks of what the beautiful Duchesse de Maufrigneuse had been
under the Restoration,—one of the queens of Paris, a dazzling queen,
whose luxurious existence equalled that of the richest women of fashion in
London,—there was something touching in the sight of her in that
humble little abode in the rue de Miromesnil, a few steps away from her
splendid mansion, which no amount of fortune had enabled her to keep, and
which the hammer of speculators has since demolished. The woman who
thought she was scarcely well served by thirty servants, who possessed the
most beautiful reception-rooms in all Paris, and the loveliest little
private apartments, and who made them the scene of such delightful fetes,
now lived in a small apartment of five rooms,—an antechamber,
dining-room, salon, one bed-chamber, and a dressing-room, with two
"Ah! she is devoted to her son," said that clever creature, Madame
d'Espard, "and devoted without ostentation; she is happy. Who would ever
have believed so frivolous a woman was capable of such persistent
resolution! Our good archbishop has, consequently, greatly encouraged her;
he is most kind to her, and has just induced the old Comtesse de
Cinq-Cygne to pay her a visit."
Let us admit a truth! One must be a queen to know how to abdicate, and to
descend with dignity from a lofty position which is never wholly lost.
Those only who have an inner consciousness of being nothing in themselves,
show regrets in falling, or struggle, murmuring, to return to a past which
can never return,—a fact of which they themselves are well aware.
Compelled to do without the choice exotics in the midst of which she had
lived, and which set off so charmingly her whole being (for it is
impossible not to compare her to a flower), the princess had wisely chosen
a ground-floor apartment; there she enjoyed a pretty little garden which
belonged to it,—a garden full of shrubs, and an always verdant turf,
which brightened her peaceful retreat. She had about twelve thousand
francs a year; but that modest income was partly made up of an annual
stipend sent her by the old Duchesse de Navarreins, paternal aunt of the
young duke, and another stipend given by her mother, the Duchesse
d'Uxelles, who was living on her estate in the country, where she
economized as old duchesses alone know how to economize; for Harpagon is a
mere novice compared to them. The princess still retained some of her past
relations with the exiled royal family; and it was in her house that the
marshal to whom we owe the conquest of Africa had conferences, at the time
of "Madame's" attempt in La Vendee, with the principal leaders of
legitimist opinion,—so great was the obscurity in which the princess
lived, and so little distrust did the government feel for her in her
Beholding the approach of that terrible fortieth year, the bankruptcy of
love, beyond which there is so little for a woman as woman, the princess
had flung herself into the kingdom of philosophy. She took to reading, she
who for sixteen years had felt a cordial horror for serious things.
Literature and politics are to-day what piety and devotion once were to
her sex,—the last refuge of their feminine pretensions. In her late
social circle it was said that Diane was writing a book. Since her
transformation from a queen and beauty to a woman of intellect, the
princess had contrived to make a reception in her little house a great
honor which distinguished the favored person. Sheltered by her supposed
occupation, she was able to deceive one of her former adorers, de Marsay,
the most influential personage of the political bourgeoisie brought to the
fore in July 1830. She received him sometimes in the evenings, and,
occupied his attention while the marshal and a few legitimists were
talking, in a low voice, in her bedroom, about the recovery of power,
which could be attained only by a general co-operation of ideas,—the
one element of success which all conspirators overlook. It was the clever
vengeance of the pretty woman, who thus inveigled the prime minister, and
made him act as screen for a conspiracy against his own government.
This adventure, worthy of the finest days of the Fronde, was the text of a
very witty letter, in which the princess rendered to "Madame" an account
of the negotiations. The Duc de Maufrigneuse went to La Vendee, and was
able to return secretly without being compromised, but not without taking
part in "Madame's" perils; the latter, however, sent him home the moment
she saw that her cause was lost. Perhaps, had he remained, the eager
vigilance of the young man might have foiled that treachery. However great
the faults of the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse may have seemed in the eyes of
the bourgeoisie, the behavior of her son on this occasion certainly
effaced them in the eyes of the aristocracy. There was great nobility and
grandeur in thus risking her only son, and the heir of an historic name.
Some persons are said to intentionally cover the faults of their private
life by public services, and vice versa; but the Princesse de Cadignan
made no such calculation. Possibly those who apparently so conduct
themselves make none. Events count for much in such cases.
On one of the first fine days in the month of May, 1833, the Marquise
d'Espard and the princess were turning about—one could hardly call
it walking—in the single path which wound round the grass-plat in
the garden, about half-past two in the afternoon, just as the sun was
leaving it. The rays reflected on the walls gave a warm atmosphere to the
little space, which was fragrant with flowers, the gift of the marquise.
"We shall soon lose de Marsay," said the marquise; "and with him will
disappear your last hope of fortune for your son. Ever since you played
him that clever trick, he has returned to his affection for you."
"My son will never capitulate to the younger branch," returned the
princess, "if he has to die of hunger, or I have to work with my hands to
feed him. Besides, Berthe de Cinq-Cygne has no aversion to him."
"Children don't bind themselves to their parents' principles," said Madame
"Don't let us talk about it," said the princess. "If I can't coax over the
Marquise de Cinq-Cygne, I shall marry Georges to the daughter of some
iron-founderer, as that little d'Esgrignon did."
"Did you love Victurnien?" asked the marquise.
"No," replied the princess, gravely, "d'Esgrignon's simplicity was really
only a sort of provincial silliness, which I perceived rather too late—or,
if you choose, too soon."
"And de Marsay?"
"De Marsay played with me as if I were a doll. I was so young at the time!
We never love men who pretend to teach us; they rub up all our little
"And that wretched boy who hanged himself?"
"Lucien? An Antinous and a great poet. I worshiped him in all conscience,
and I might have been happy. But he was in love with a girl of the town;
and I gave him up to Madame de Serizy.... If he had cared to love me,
should I have given him up?"
"What an odd thing, that you should come into collision with an Esther!"
"She was handsomer than I," said the Princess.—"Very soon it shall
be three years that I have lived in solitude," she resumed, after a pause,
"and this tranquillity has nothing painful to me about it. To you alone
can I dare to say that I feel I am happy. I was surfeited with adoration,
weary of pleasure, emotional on the surface of things, but conscious that
emotion itself never reached my heart. I have found all the men whom I
have known petty, paltry, superficial; none of them ever caused me a
surprise; they had no innocence, no grandeur, no delicacy. I wish I could
have met with one man able to inspire me with respect."
"Then are you like me, my dear?" asked the marquise; "have you never felt
the emotion of love while trying to love?"
"Never," replied the princess, laying her hand on the arm of her friend.
They turned and seated themselves on a rustic bench beneath a jasmine then
coming into flower. Each had uttered one of those sayings that are solemn
to women who have reached their age.
"Like you," resumed the princess, "I have received more love than most
women; but through all my many adventures, I have never found happiness. I
committed great follies, but they had an object, and that object retreated
as fast as I approached it. I feel to-day in my heart, old as it is, an
innocence which has never been touched. Yes, under all my experience, lies
a first love intact,—just as I myself, in spite of all my losses and
fatigues, feel young and beautiful. We may love and not be happy; we may
be happy and never love; but to love and be happy, to unite those two
immense human experiences, is a miracle. That miracle has not taken place
"Nor for me," said Madame d'Espard.
"I own I am pursued in this retreat by dreadful regret: I have amused
myself all through life, but I have never loved."
"What an incredible secret!" cried the marquise.
"Ah! my dear," replied the princess, "such secrets we can tell to
ourselves, you and I, but nobody in Paris would believe us."
"And," said the marquise, "if we were not both over thirty-six years of
age, perhaps we would not tell them to each other."
"Yes; when women are young they have so many stupid conceits," replied the
princess. "We are like those poor young men who play with a toothpick to
pretend they have dined."
"Well, at any rate, here we are!" said Madame d'Espard, with coquettish
grace, and a charming gesture of well-informed innocence; "and, it seems
to me, sufficiently alive to think of taking our revenge."
"When you told me, the other day, that Beatrix had gone off with Conti, I
thought of it all night long," said the princess, after a pause. "I
suppose there was happiness in sacrificing her position, her future, and
renouncing society forever."
"She was a little fool," said Madame d'Espard, gravely. "Mademoiselle des
Touches was delighted to get rid of Conti. Beatrix never perceived how
that surrender, made by a superior woman who never for a moment defended
her claims, proved Conti's nothingness."
"Then you think she will be unhappy?"
"She is so now," replied Madame d'Espard. "Why did she leave her husband?
What an acknowledgment of weakness!"
"Then you think that Madame de Rochefide was not influenced by the desire
to enjoy a true love in peace?" asked the princess.
"No; she was simply imitating Madame de Beausant and Madame de Langeais,
who, be it said, between you and me, would have been, in a less vulgar
period than ours, the La Villiere, the Diane de Poitiers, the Gabrielle
d'Estrees of history."
"Less the king, my dear. Ah! I wish I could evoke the shades of those
women, and ask them—"
"But," said the marquise, interrupting the princess, "why ask the dead? We
know living women who have been happy. I have talked on this very subject
a score of times with Madame de Montcornet since she married that little
Emile Blondet, who makes her the happiest woman in the world; not an
infidelity, not a thought that turns aside from her; they are as happy as
they were the first day. These long attachments, like that of Rastignac
and Madame de Nucingen, and your cousin, Madame de Camps, for her Octave,
have a secret, and that secret you and I don't know, my dear. The world
has paid us the extreme compliment of thinking we are two rakes worthy of
the court of the regent; whereas we are, in truth, as innocent as a couple
"I should like that sort of innocence," cried the princess, laughing; "but
ours is worse, and it is very humiliating. Well, it is a mortification we
offer up in expiation of our fruitless search; yes, my dear, fruitless,
for it isn't probable we shall find in our autumn season the fine flower
we missed in the spring and summer."
"That's not the question," resumed the marquise, after a meditative pause.
"We are both still beautiful enough to inspire love, but we could never
convince any one of our innocence and virtue."
"If it were a lie, how easy to dress it up with commentaries, and serve it
as some delicious fruit to be eagerly swallowed! But how is it possible to
get a truth believed? Ah! the greatest of men have been mistaken there!"
added the princess, with one of those meaning smiles which the pencil of
Leonardo da Vinci alone has rendered.
"Fools love well, sometimes," returned the marquise.
"But in this case," said the princess, "fools wouldn't have enough
credulity in their nature."
"You are right," said the marquise. "But what we ought to look for is
neither a fool nor even a man of talent. To solve our problem we need a
man of genius. Genius alone has the faith of childhood, the religion of
love, and willingly allows us to band its eyes. Look at Canalis and the
Duchesse de Chaulieu! Though we have both encountered men of genius, they
were either too far removed from us or too busy, and we too absorbed, too
"Ah! how I wish I might not leave this world without knowing the happiness
of true love," exclaimed the princess.
"It is nothing to inspire it," said Madame d'Espard; "the thing is to feel
it. I see many women who are only the pretext for a passion without being
both its cause and its effect."
"The last love I inspired was a beautiful and sacred thing," said the
princess. "It had a future in it. Chance had brought me, for once in a
way, the man of genius who is due to us, and yet so difficult to obtain;
there are more pretty women than men of genius. But the devil interfered
with the affair."
"Tell me about it, my dear; this is all news to me."
"I first noticed this beautiful passion about the middle of the winter of
1829. Every Friday, at the opera, I observed a young man, about thirty
years of age, in the orchestra stalls, who evidently came there for me. He
was always in the same stall, gazing at me with eyes of fire, but,
seemingly, saddened by the distance between us, perhaps by the
hopelessness of reaching me."
"Poor fellow! When a man loves he becomes eminently stupid," said the
"Between every act he would slip into the corridor," continued the
princess, smiling at her friend's epigrammatic remark. "Once or twice,
either to see me or to make me see him, he looked through the glass sash
of the box exactly opposite to mine. If I received a visit, I was certain
to see him in the corridor close to my door, casting a furtive glance upon
me. He had apparently learned to know the persons belonging to my circle;
and he followed them when he saw them turning in the direction of my box,
in order to obtain the benefit of the opening door. I also found my
mysterious adorer at the Italian opera-house; there he had a stall
directly opposite to my box, where he could gaze at me in naive ecstasy—oh!
it was pretty! On leaving either house I always found him planted in the
lobby, motionless; he was elbowed and jostled, but he never moved. His
eyes grew less brilliant if he saw me on the arm of some favorite. But not
a word, not a letter, no demonstration. You must acknowledge that was in
good taste. Sometimes, on getting home late at night, I found him sitting
upon one of the stone posts of the porte-cochere. This lover of mine had
very handsome eyes, a long, thick, fan-shaped beard, with a moustache and
side-whiskers; nothing could be seen of his skin but his white
cheek-bones, and a noble forehead; it was truly an antique head. The
prince, as you know, defended the Tuileries on the riverside, during the
July days. He returned to Saint-Cloud that night, when all was lost, and
said to me: 'I came near being killed at four o'clock. I was aimed at by
one of the insurgents, when a young man, with a long beard, whom I have
often seen at the opera, and who was leading the attack, threw up the
man's gun, and saved me.' So my adorer was evidently a republican! In
1831, after I came to lodge in this house, I found him, one day, leaning
with his back against the wall of it; he seemed pleased with my disasters;
possibly he may have thought they drew us nearer together. But after the
affair of Saint-Merri I saw him no more; he was killed there. The evening
before the funeral of General Lamarque, I had gone out on foot with my
son, and my republican accompanied us, sometimes behind, sometimes in
front, from the Madeleine to the Passage des Panoramas, where I was
"Is that all?" asked the marquise.
"Yes, all," replied the princess. "Except that on the morning Saint-Merri
was taken, a gamin came here and insisted on seeing me. He gave me a
letter, written on common paper, signed by my republican."
"Show it to me," said the marquise.
"No, my dear. Love was too great and too sacred in the heart of that man
to let me violate its secrets. The letter, short and terrible, still stirs
my soul when I think of it. That dead man gives me more emotions than all
the living men I ever coquetted with; he constantly recurs to my mind."
"What was his name?" asked the marquise.
"Oh! a very common one: Michel Chrestien."
"You have done well to tell me," said Madame d'Espard, eagerly. "I have
often heard of him. This Michel Chrestien was the intimate friend of a
remarkable man you have already expressed a wish to see,—Daniel
d'Arthez, who comes to my house some two or three times a year. Chrestien,
who was really killed at Saint-Merri, had no lack of friends. I have heard
it said that he was one of those born statesmen to whom, like de Marsay,
nothing is wanting but opportunity to become all they might be."
"Then he had better be dead," said the princess, with a melancholy air,
under which she concealed her thoughts.
"Will you come to my house some evening and meet d'Arthez?" said the
marquise. "You can talk of your ghost."
"Yes, I will," replied the princess.
CHAPTER II. DANIEL D'ARTHEZ
A few days after this conversation Blondet and Rastignac, who knew
d'Arthez, promised Madame d'Espard that they would bring him to dine with
her. This promise might have proved rash had it not been for the name of
the princess, a meeting with whom was not a matter of indifference to the
Daniel d'Arthez, one of the rare men who, in our day, unite a noble
character with great talent, had already obtained, not all the popularity
his works deserve, but a respectful esteem to which souls of his own
calibre could add nothing. His reputation will certainly increase; but in
the eyes of connoisseurs it had already attained its full development. He
is one of those authors who, sooner or later, are put in their right
place, and never lose it. A poor nobleman, he had understood his epoch
well enough to seek personal distinction only. He had struggled long in
the Parisian arena, against the wishes of a rich uncle who, by a
contradiction which vanity must explain, after leaving his nephew a prey
to the utmost penury, bequeathed to the man who had reached celebrity the
fortune so pitilessly refused to the unknown writer. This sudden change in
his position made no change in Daniel d'Arthez's habits; he continued to
work with a simplicity worthy of the antique past, and even assumed new
toils by accepting a seat in the Chamber of Deputies, where he took his
seat on the Right.
Since his accession to fame he had sometimes gone into society. One of his
old friends, the now-famous physician, Horace Bianchon, persuaded him to
make the acquaintance of the Baron de Rastignac, under-secretary of State,
and a friend of de Marsay, the prime minister. These two political
officials acquiesced, rather nobly, in the strong wish of d'Arthez,
Bianchon, and other friends of Michel Chrestien for the removal of the
body of that republican to the church of Saint-Merri for the purpose of
giving it funeral honors. Gratitude for a service which contrasted with
the administrative rigor displayed at a time when political passions were
so violent, had bound, so to speak, d'Arthez to Rastignac. The latter and
de Marsay were much too clever not to profit by that circumstance; and
thus they won over other friends of Michel Chrestien, who did not share
his political opinions, and who now attached themselves to the new
government. One of them, Leon Giraud, appointed in the first instance
master of petitions, became eventually a Councillor of State.
The whole existence of Daniel d'Arthez is consecrated to work; he sees
society only by snatches; it is to him a sort of dream. His house is a
convent, where he leads the life of a Benedictine; the same sobriety of
regimen, the same regularity of occupation. His friends knew that up to
the present time woman had been to him no more than an always dreaded
circumstance; he had observed her too much not to fear her; but by dint of
studying her he had ceased to understand her,—like, in this, to
those deep strategists who are always beaten on unexpected ground, where
their scientific axioms are either modified or contradicted. In character
he still remains a simple-hearted child, all the while proving himself an
observer of the first rank. This contrast, apparently impossible, is
explainable to those who know how to measure the depths which separate
faculties from feelings; the former proceed from the head, the latter from
the heart. A man can be a great man and a wicked one, just as he can be a
fool and a devoted lover. D'Arthez is one of those privileged beings in
whom shrewdness of mind and a broad expanse of the qualities of the brain
do not exclude either the strength or the grandeur of sentiments. He is,
by rare privilege, equally a man of action and a man of thought. His
private life is noble and generous. If he carefully avoided love, it was
because he knew himself, and felt a premonition of the empire such a
passion would exercise upon him.
For several years the crushing toil by which he prepared the solid ground
of his subsequent works, and the chill of poverty, were marvellous
preservatives. But when ease with his inherited fortune came to him, he
formed a vulgar and most incomprehensible connection with a rather
handsome woman, belonging to the lower classes, without education or
manners, whom he carefully concealed from every eye. Michel Chrestien
attributed to men of genius the power of transforming the most massive
creatures into sylphs, fools into clever women, peasants into countesses;
the more accomplished a woman was, the more she lost her value in their
eyes, for, according to Michel, their imagination had the less to do. In
his opinion love, a mere matter of the senses to inferior beings, was to
great souls the most immense of all moral creations and the most binding.
To justify d'Arthez, he instanced the example of Raffaele and the
Fornarina. He might have offered himself as an instance for this theory,
he who had seen an angel in the Duchesse de Maufrigneuse. This strange
fancy of d'Arthez might, however, be explained in other ways; perhaps he
had despaired of meeting here below with a woman who answered to that
delightful vision which all men of intellect dream of and cherish; perhaps
his heart was too sensitive, too delicate, to yield itself to a woman of
society; perhaps he thought best to let nature have her way, and keep his
illusions by cultivating his ideal; perhaps he had laid aside love as
being incompatible with his work and the regularity of a monastic life
which love would have wholly upset.
For several months past d'Arthez had been subjected to the jests and
satire of Blondet and Rastignac, who reproached him with knowing neither
the world nor women. According to them, his authorship was sufficiently
advanced, and his works numerous enough, to allow him a few distractions;
he had a fine fortune, and here he was living like a student; he enjoyed
nothing,—neither his money nor his fame; he was ignorant of the
exquisite enjoyments of the noble and delicate love which well-born and
well-bred women could inspire and feel; he knew nothing of the charming
refinements of language, nothing of the proofs of affection incessantly
given by refined women to the commonest things. He might, perhaps, know
woman; but he knew nothing of the divinity. Why not take his rightful
place in the world, and taste the delights of Parisian society?
"Why doesn't a man who bears party per bend gules and or, a bezant and
crab counterchanged," cried Rastignac, "display that ancient escutcheon of
Picardy on the panels of a carriage? You have thirty thousand francs a
year, and the proceeds of your pen; you have justified your motto: Ars
thesaurusque virtus, that punning device our ancestors were always
seeking, and yet you never appear in the Bois de Boulogne! We live in
times when virtue ought to show itself."
"If you read your works to that species of stout Laforet, whom you seem to
fancy, I would forgive you," said Blondet. "But, my dear fellow, you are
living on dry bread, materially speaking; in the matter of intellect you
haven't even bread."
This friendly little warfare had been going on for several months between
Daniel and his friends, when Madame d'Espard asked Rastignac and Blondet
to induce d'Arthez to come and dine with her, telling them that the
Princesse de Cadignan had a great desire to see that celebrated man. Such
curiosities are to certain women what magic lanterns are to children,—a
pleasure to the eyes, but rather shallow and full of disappointments. The
more sentiments a man of talent excites at a distance, the less he
responds to them on nearer view; the more brilliant fancy has pictured
him, the duller he will seem in reality. Consequently, disenchanted
curiosity is often unjust.
Neither Blondet nor Rastignac could deceive d'Arthez; but they told him,
laughing, that they now offered him a most seductive opportunity to polish
up his heart and know the supreme fascinations which love conferred on a
Parisian great lady. The princess was evidently in love with him; he had
nothing to fear but everything to gain by accepting the interview; it was
quite impossible he could descend from the pedestal on which madame de
Cadignan had placed him. Neither Blondet nor Rastignac saw any impropriety
in attributing this love to the princess; she whose past had given rise to
so many anecdotes could very well stand that lesser calumny. Together they
began to relate to d'Arthez the adventures of the Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse: her first affair with de Marsay; her second with d'Ajuda,
whom she had, they said, distracted from his wife, thus avenging Madame de
Beausant; also her later connection with young d'Esgrignon, who had
travelled with her in Italy, and had horribly compromised himself on her
account; after that they told him how unhappy she had been with a certain
celebrated ambassador, how happy with a Russian general, besides becoming
the Egeria of two ministers of Foreign affairs, and various other
anecdotes. D'Arthez replied that he knew a great deal more than they could
tell him about her through their poor friend, Michel Chrestien, who adored
her secretly for four years, and had well-nigh gone mad about her.
"I have often accompanied him," said Daniel, "to the opera. He would make
me run through the streets as far as her horses that he might see the
princess through the window of her coupe."
"Well, there you have a topic all ready for you," said Blondet, smiling.
"This is the very woman you need; she'll initiate you most gracefully into
the mysteries of elegance; but take care! she has wasted many fortunes.
The beautiful Diane is one of those spendthrifts who don't cost a penny,
but for whom a man spends millions. Give yourself up to her, body and
soul, if you choose; but keep your money in your hand, like the old fellow
in Girodet's 'Deluge.'"
From the tenor of these remarks it was to be inferred that the princess
had the depth of a precipice, the grace of a queen, the corruption of
diplomatists, the mystery of a first initiation, and the dangerous
qualities of a siren. The two clever men of the world, incapable of
foreseeing the denouement of their joke, succeeded in presenting Diane
d'Uxelles as a consummate specimen of the Parisian woman, the cleverest of
coquettes, the most enchanting mistress in the world. Right or wrong, the
woman whom they thus treated so lightly was sacred to d'Arthez; his desire
to meet her needed no spur; he consented to do so at the first word, which
was all the two friends wanted of him.
Madame d'Espard went to see the princess as soon as she had received this
"My dear, do you feel yourself in full beauty and coquetry?" she said. "If
so, come and dine with me a few days hence, and I'll serve up d'Arthez.
Our man of genius is by nature, it seems, a savage; he fears women, and
has never loved! Make your plans on that. He is all intellect, and so
simple that he'll mislead you into feeling no distrust. But his
penetration, which is wholly retrospective, acts later, and frustrates
calculation. You may hoodwink him to-day, but to-morrow nothing can dupe
"Ah!" cried the princess, "if I were only thirty years old what amusement
I might have with him! The one enjoyment I have lacked up to the present
is a man of intellect to fool. I have had only partners, never
adversaries. Love was a mere game instead of being a battle."
"Dear princess, admit that I am very generous; for, after all, you know!—charity
begins at home."
The two women looked at each other, laughing, and clasped hands in a
friendly way. Assuredly they both knew each other's secrets, and this was
not the first man nor the first service that one had given to the other;
for sincere and lasting friendships between women of the world need to be
cemented by a few little crimes. When two friends are liable to kill each
other reciprocally, and see a poisoned dagger in each other's hand, they
present a touching spectacle of harmony, which is never troubled, unless,
by chance, one of them is careless enough to drop her weapon.
So, eight days later, a little dinner such as are given to intimates by
verbal invitation only, during which the doors are closed to all other
visitors, took place at Madame d'Espard's house. Five persons were
invited,—Emile Blondet and Madame de Montcornet, Daniel d'Arthez,
Rastignac, and the Princesse de Cadignan. Counting the mistress of the
house, there were as many men as women.
Chance never exerted itself to make wiser preparations than those which
opened the way to a meeting between d'Arthez and Madame de Cadignan. The
princess is still considered one of the chief authorities on dress, which,
to women, is the first of arts. On this occasion she wore a gown of blue
velvet with flowing white sleeves, and a tulle guimpe, slightly frilled
and edged with blue, covering the shoulders, and rising nearly to the
throat, as we see in several of Raffaele's portraits. Her maid had dressed
her hair with white heather, adroitly placed among its blond cascades,
which were one of the great beauties to which she owed her celebrity.
Certainly Diane did not look to be more than twenty-five years old. Four
years of solitude and repose had restored the freshness of her complexion.
Besides, there are moments when the desire to please gives an increase of
beauty to women. The will is not without influence on the variations of
the face. If violent emotions have the power to yellow the white tones of
persons of bilious and melancholy temperament, and to green lymphatic
faces, shall we not grant to desire, hope, and joy, the faculty of
clearing the skin, giving brilliancy to the eye, and brightening the glow
of beauty with a light as jocund as that of a lovely morning? The
celebrated faintness of the princess had taken on a ripeness which now
made her seem more august. At this moment of her life, impressed by her
many vicissitudes and by serious reflections, her noble, dreamy brow
harmonized delightfully with the slow, majestic glance of her blue eyes.
It was impossible for the ablest physiognomist to imagine calculation or
self-will beneath that unspeakable delicacy of feature. There were faces
of women which deceive knowledge, and mislead observation by their
calmness and delicacy; it is necessary to examine such faces when passions
speak, and that is difficult, or after they have spoken, which is no
longer of any use, for then the woman is old and has ceased to
The princess is one of those impenetrable women; she can make herself what
she pleases to be: playful, childlike, distractingly innocent; or
reflective, serious, and profound enough to excite anxiety. She came to
Madame d'Espard's dinner with the intention of being a gentle, simple
woman, to whom life was known only through its deceptions: a woman full of
soul, and calumniated, but resigned,—in short, a wounded angel.
She arrived early, so as to pose on a sofa near the fire beside Madame
d'Espard, as she wished to be first seen: that is, in one of those
attitudes in which science is concealed beneath an exquisite naturalness;
a studied attitude, putting in relief the beautiful serpentine outline
which, starting from the foot, rises gracefully to the hip, and continues
with adorable curves to the shoulder, presenting, in fact, a profile of
the whole body. With a subtlety which few women would have dreamed of,
Diane, to the great amazement of the marquise, had brought her son with
her. After a moment's reflection, Madame d'Espard pressed the princess's
hand, with a look of intelligence that seemed to say:—
"I understand you! By making d'Arthez accept all the difficulties at once
you will not have to conquer them later."
Rastignac brought d'Arthez. The princess made none of those compliments to
the celebrated author with which vulgar persons overwhelmed him; but she
treated him with a kindness full of graceful respect, which, with her, was
the utmost extent of her concessions. Her manner was doubtless the same
with the King of France and the royal princes. She seemed happy to see
this great man, and glad that she had sought him. Persons of taste, like
the princess, are especially distinguished for their manner of listening,
for an affability without superciliousness, which is to politeness what
practice is to virtue. When the celebrated man spoke, she took an
attentive attitude, a thousand times more flattering than the
best-seasoned compliments. The mutual presentation was made quietly,
without emphasis, and in perfectly good taste, by the marquise.
At dinner d'Arthez was placed beside the princess, who, far from imitating
the eccentricities of diet which many affected women display, ate her
dinner with a very good appetite, making it a point of honor to seem a
natural woman, without strange ways or fancies. Between two courses she
took advantage of the conversation becoming general to say to d'Arthez, in
a sort of aside:—
"The secret of the pleasure I take in finding myself beside you, is the
desire I feel to learn something of an unfortunate friend of yours,
monsieur. He died for another cause greater than ours; but I was under the
greatest obligations to him, although unable to acknowledge or thank him
for them. I know that you were one of his best friends. Your mutual
friendship, pure and unalterable, is a claim upon me. You will not, I am
sure, think it extraordinary, that I have wished to know all you could
tell me of a man so dear to you. Though I am attached to the exiled
family, and bound, of course, to hold monarchical opinions, I am not among
those who think it is impossible to be both republican and noble in heart.
Monarchy and the republic are two forms of government which do not stifle
"Michel Chrestien was an angel, madame," replied Daniel, in a voice of
emotion. "I don't know among the heroes of antiquity a greater than he. Be
careful not to think him one of those narrow-minded republicans who would
like to restore the Convention and the amenities of the Committee of
Public Safety. No, Michel dreamed of the Swiss federation applied to all
Europe. Let us own, between ourselves, that after the glorious
government of one man only, which, as I think, is particularly suited to
our nation, Michel's system would lead to the suppression of war in this
old world, and its reconstruction on bases other than those of conquest,
which formerly feudalized it. From this point of view the republicans came
nearest to his idea. That is why he lent them his arm in July, and was
killed at Saint-Merri. Though completely apart in opinion, he and I were
closely bound together as friends."
"That is noble praise for both natures," said Madame de Cadignan, timidly.
"During the last four years of his life," continued Daniel, "he made to me
alone a confidence of his love for you, and this confidence knitted closer
than ever the already strong ties of brotherly affection. He alone,
madame, can have loved you as you ought to be loved. Many a time I have
been pelted with rain as we accompanied your carriage at the pace of the
horses, to keep at a parallel distance, and see you—admire you."
"Ah! monsieur," said the princess, "how can I repay such feelings!"
"Why is Michel not here!" exclaimed Daniel, in melancholy accents.
"Perhaps he would not have loved me long," said the princess, shaking her
head sadly. "Republicans are more absolute in their ideas than we
absolutists, whose fault is indulgence. No doubt he imagined me perfect,
and society would have cruelly undeceived him. We are pursued, we women,
by as many calumnies as you authors are compelled to endure in your
literary life; but we, alas! cannot defend ourselves either by our works
or by our fame. The world will not believe us to be what we are, but what
it thinks us to be. It would soon have hidden from his eyes the real but
unknown woman that is in me, behind the false portrait of the imaginary
woman which the world considers true. He would have come to think me
unworthy of the noble feelings he had for me, and incapable of
Here the princess shook her head, swaying the beautiful blond curls, full
of heather, with a touching gesture. This plaintive expression of grievous
doubts and hidden sorrows is indescribable. Daniel understood them all;
and he looked at the princess with keen emotion.
"And yet, the night on which I last saw him, after the revolution of July,
I was on the point of giving way to the desire I felt to take his hand and
press it before all the world, under the peristyle of the opera-house. But
the thought came to me that such a proof of gratitude might be
misinterpreted; like so many other little things done from noble motives
which are called to-day the follies of Madame de Maufrigneuse—things
which I can never explain, for none but my son and God have understood
These words, breathed into the ear of the listener, in tones inaudible to
the other guests, and with accents worthy of the cleverest actress, were
calculated to reach the heart; and they did reach that of d'Arthez. There
was no question of himself in the matter; this woman was seeking to
rehabilitate herself in favor of the dead. She had been calumniated; and
she evidently wanted to know if anything had tarnished her in the eyes of
him who had loved her; had he died with all his illusions?
"Michel," replied d'Arthez, "was one of those men who love absolutely, and
who, if they choose ill, can suffer without renouncing the woman they have
"Was I loved thus?" she said, with an air of exalted beatitude.
"I made his happiness?"
"For four years."
"A woman never hears of such a thing without a sentiment of proud
satisfaction," she said, turning her sweet and noble face to d'Arthez with
a movement full of modest confusion.
One of the most skilful manoeuvres of these actresses is to veil their
manner when words are too expressive, and speak with their eyes when
language is restrained. These clever discords, slipped into the music of
their love, be it false or true, produce irresistible attractions.
"Is it not," she said, lowering her voice and her eyes, after feeling well
assured they had produced her effect,—"is it not fulfilling one's
destiny to have rendered a great man happy?"
"Did he not write that to you?"
"Yes; but I wanted to be sure, quite sure; for, believe me, monsieur, in
putting me so high he was not mistaken."
Women know how to give a peculiar sacredness to their words; they
communicate something vibrant to them, which extends the meaning of their
ideas, and gives them depth; though later their fascinated listener may
not remember precisely what they said, their end has been completely
attained,—which is the object of all eloquence. The princess might
at that moment have been wearing the diadem of France, and her brow could
not have seemed more imposing than it was beneath that crown of golden
hair, braided like a coronet, and adorned with heather. She was simple and
calm; nothing betrayed a sense of any necessity to appear so, nor any
desire to seem grand or loving. D'Arthez, the solitary toiler, to whom the
ways of the world were unknown, whom study had wrapped in its protecting
veils, was the dupe of her tones and words. He was under the spell of
those exquisite manners; he admired that perfect beauty, ripened by
misfortune, placid in retirement; he adored the union of so rare a mind
and so noble a soul; and he longed to become, himself, the heir of Michel
The beginning of this passion was, as in the case of almost all deep
thinkers, an idea. Looking at the princess, studying the shape of her
head, the arrangement of those sweet features, her figure, her hand, so
finely modelled, closer than when he accompanied his friend in their wild
rush through the streets, he was struck by the surprising phenomenon of
the moral second-sight which a man exalted by love invariably finds within
him. With what lucidity had Michel Chrestien read into that soul, that
heart, illumined by the fires of love! Thus the princess acquired, in
d'Arthez's eyes, another charm; a halo of poesy surrounded her.
As the dinner proceeded, Daniel called to mind the various confidences of
his friend, his despair, his hopes, the noble poems of a true sentiment
sung to his ear alone, in honor of this woman. It is rare that a man
passes without remorse from the position of confidant to that of rival,
and d'Arthez was free to do so without dishonor. He had suddenly, in a
moment, perceived the enormous differences existing between a well-bred
woman, that flower of the great world, and common women, though of the
latter he did not know beyond one specimen. He was thus captured on the
most accessible and sensitive sides of his soul and of his genius.
Impelled by his simplicity, and by the impetuosity of his ideas, to lay
immediate claim to this woman, he found himself restrained by society,
also by the barrier which the manners and, let us say the word, the
majesty of the princess placed between them. The conversation, which
remained upon the topic of Michel Chrestien until the dessert, was an
excellent pretext for both to speak in a low voice: love, sympathy,
comprehension! she could pose as a maligned and misunderstood woman; he
could slip his feet into the shoes of the dead republican. Perhaps his
candid mind detected itself in regretting his dead friend less. The
princess, at the moment when the dessert appeared upon the table, and the
guests were separated by a brilliant hedge of fruits and sweetmeats,
thought best to put an end to this flow of confidences by a charming
little speech, in which she delicately expressed the idea that Daniel and
Michel were twin souls.
After this d'Arthez threw himself into the general conversation with the
gayety of a child, and a self-conceited air that was worthy of a
schoolboy. When they left the dining-room, the princess took d'Arthez's
arm, in the simplest manner, to return to Madame d'Espard's little salon.
As they crossed the grand salon she walked slowly, and when sufficiently
separated from the marquise, who was on Blondet's arm, she stopped.
"I do not wish to be inaccessible to the friend of that poor man," she
said to d'Arthez; "and though I have made it a rule to receive no
visitors, you will always be welcome in my house. Do not think this a
favor. A favor is only for strangers, and to my mind you and I seem old
friends; I see in you the brother of Michel."
D'Arthez could only press her arm, unable to make other reply.
After coffee was served, Diane de Cadignan wrapped herself, with
coquettish motions, in a large shawl, and rose. Blondet and Rastignac were
too much men of the world, and too polite to make the least remonstrance,
or try to detain her; but Madame d'Espard compelled her friend to sit down
again, whispering in her ear:—
"Wait till the servants have had their dinner; the carriage is not ready
So saying, the marquise made a sign to the footman, who was taking away
the coffee-tray. Madame de Montcornet perceived that the princess and
Madame d'Espard had a word to say to each other, and she drew around her
d'Arthez, Rastignac, and Blondet, amusing them with one of those clever
paradoxical attacks which Parisian women understand so thoroughly.
"Well," said the marquise to Diane, "what do you think of him?"
"He is an adorable child, just out of swaddling-clothes! This time, like
all other times, it will only be a triumph without a struggle."
"Well, it is disappointing," said Madame d'Espard. "But we might evade
"Let me be your rival."
"Just as you please," replied the princess. "I've decided on my course.
Genius is a condition of the brain; I don't know what the heart gets out
of it; we'll talk about that later."
Hearing the last few words, which were wholly incomprehensible to her,
Madame d'Espard returned to the general conversation, showing neither
offence at that indifferent "As you please," nor curiosity as to the
outcome of the interview. The princess stayed an hour longer, seated on
the sofa near the fire, in the careless, nonchalant attitude of Guerin's
Dido, listening with the attention of an absorbed mind, and looking at
Daniel now and then, without disguising her admiration, which never went,
however, beyond due limits. She slipped away when the carriage was
announced, with a pressure of the hand to the marquise, and an inclination
of the head to Madame de Montcornet.
The evening concluded without any allusion to the princess. The other
guests profited by the sort of exaltation which d'Arthez had reached, for
he put forth the treasures of his mind. In Blondet and Rastignac he
certainly had two acolytes of the first quality to bring forth the
delicacy of his wit and the breadth of his intellect. As for the two
women, they had long been counted among the cleverest in society. This
evening was like a halt in the oasis of a desert,—a rare enjoyment,
and well appreciated by these four persons, habitually victimized to the
endless caution entailed by the world of salons and politics. There are
beings who have the privilege of passing among men like beneficent stars,
whose light illumines the mind, while its rays send a glow to the heart.
D'Arthez was one of those beings. A writer who rises to his level,
accustoms himself to free thought, and forgets that in society all things
cannot be said; it is impossible for such a man to observe the restraint
of persons who live in the world perpetually; but as his eccentricities of
thought bore the mark of originality, no one felt inclined to complain.
This zest, this piquancy, rare in mere talent, this youthfulness and
simplicity of soul which made d'Arthez so nobly original, gave a
delightful charm to this evening. He left the house with Rastignac, who,
as they drove home, asked him how he liked the princess.
"Michel did well to love her," replied d'Arthez; "she is, indeed, an
"Very extraordinary," replied Rastignac, dryly. "By the tone of your voice
I should judge you were in love with her already. You will be in her house
within three days; and I am too old a denizen of Paris not to know what
will be the upshot of that. Well, my dear Daniel, I do entreat you not to
allow yourself to be drawn into any confusion of interests, so to speak.
Love the princess if you feel any love for her in your heart, but keep an
eye on your fortune. She has never taken or asked a penny from any man on
earth, she is far too much of a d'Uxelles and a Cadignan for that; but, to
my knowledge, she has not only spent her own fortune, which was very
considerable, but she has made others waste millions. How? why? by what
means? No one knows; she doesn't know herself. I myself saw her swallow
up, some thirteen years ago, the entire fortune of a charming young
fellow, and that of an old notary, in twenty months."
"Thirteen years ago!" exclaimed d'Arthez,—"why, how old is she now?"
"Didn't you see, at dinner," replied Rastignac, laughing, "her son, the
Duc de Maufrigneuse. That young man is nineteen years old; nineteen and
"Thirty-six!" cried the amazed author. "I gave her twenty."
"She'll accept them," said Rastignac; "but don't be uneasy, she will
always be twenty to you. You are about to enter the most fantastic of
worlds. Good-night, here you are at home," said the baron, as they entered
the rue de Bellefond, where d'Arthez lived in a pretty little house of his
own. "We shall meet at Mademoiselle des Touches's in the course of the
CHAPTER III. THE PRINCESS GOES TO WORK
D'Arthez allowed love to enter his heart after the manner of my Uncle
Toby, without making the slightest resistance; he proceeded by adoration
without criticism, and by exclusive admiration. The princess, that noble
creature, one of the most remarkable creations of our monstrous Paris,
where all things are possible, good as well as evil, became—whatever
vulgarity the course of time may have given to the expression—the
angel of his dreams. To fully understand the sudden transformation of this
illustrious author, it is necessary to realize the simplicity that
constant work and solitude leave in the heart; all that love—reduced
to a mere need, and now repugnant, beside an ignoble woman—excites
of regret and longings for diviner sentiments in the higher regions of the
soul. D'Arthez was, indeed, the child, the boy that Madame de Cadignan had
recognized. An illumination something like his own had taken place in the
beautiful Diane. At last she had met that superior man whom all women
desire and seek, if only to make a plaything of him,—that power
which they consent to obey, if only for the pleasure of subduing it; at
last she had found the grandeurs of the intellect united with the
simplicity of a heart all new to love; and she saw, with untold happiness,
that these merits were contained in a form that pleased her. She thought
d'Arthez handsome, and perhaps he was. Though he had reached the age of
gravity (for he was now thirty-eight), he still preserved a flower of
youth, due to the sober and ascetic life which he had led. Like all men of
sedentary habits, and statesmen, he had acquired a certainly reasonable
embonpoint. When very young, he bore some resemblance to Bonaparte; and
the likeness still continued, as much as a man with black eyes and thick,
dark hair could resemble a sovereign with blue eyes and scanty, chestnut
hair. But whatever there once was of ardent and noble ambition in the
great author's eyes had been somewhat quenched by successes. The thoughts
with which that brow once teemed had flowered; the lines of the hollow
face were filling out. Ease now spread its golden tints where, in youth,
poverty had laid the yellow tones of the class of temperament whose forces
band together to support a crushing and long-continued struggle. If you
observe carefully the noble faces of ancient philosophers, you will always
find those deviations from the type of a perfect human face which show the
characteristic to which each countenance owes its originality, chastened
by the habit of meditation, and by the calmness necessary for intellectual
labor. The most irregular features, like those of Socrates, for instance,
become, after a time, expressive of an almost divine serenity.
To the noble simplicity which characterized his head, d'Arthez added a
naive expression, the naturalness of a child, and a touching kindliness.
He did not have that politeness tinged with insincerity with which, in
society, the best-bred persons and the most amiable assume qualities in
which they are often lacking, leaving those they have thus duped wounded
and distressed. He might, indeed, fail to observe certain rules of social
life, owing to his isolated mode of living; but he never shocked the
sensibilities, and therefore this perfume of savagery made the peculiar
affability of a man of great talent the more agreeable; such men know how
to leave their superiority in their studies, and come down to the social
level, lending their backs, like Henry IV., to the children's leap-frog,
and their minds to fools.
If d'Arthez did not brace himself against the spell which the princess had
cast about him, neither did she herself argue the matter in her own mind,
on returning home. It was settled for her. She loved with all her
knowledge and all her ignorance. If she questioned herself at all, it was
to ask whether she deserved so great a happiness, and what she had done
that Heaven should send her such an angel. She wanted to be worthy of that
love, to perpetuate it, to make it her own forever, and to gently end her
career of frivolity in the paradise she now foresaw. As for coquetting,
quibbling, resisting, she never once thought of it. She was thinking of
something very different!—of the grandeur of men of genius, and the
certainty which her heart divined that they would never subject the woman
they chose to ordinary laws.
Here begins one of those unseen comedies, played in the secret regions of
the consciousness between two beings of whom one will be the dupe of the
other, though it keeps on this side of wickedness; one of those dark and
comic dramas to which that of Tartuffe is mere child's play,—dramas
that do not enter the scenic domain, although they are natural,
conceivable, and even justifiable by necessity; dramas which may be
characterized as not vice, only the other side of it.
The princess began by sending for d'Arthez's books, of which she had
never, as yet, read a single word, although she had managed to maintain a
twenty minutes' eulogism and discussion of them without a blunder. She now
read them all. Then she wanted to compare these books with the best that
contemporary literature had produced. By the time d'Arthez came to see her
she was having an indigestion of mind. Expecting this visit, she had daily
made a toilet of what may be called the superior order; that is, a toilet
which expresses an idea, and makes it accepted by the eye without the
owner of the eye knowing why or wherefore. She presented an harmonious
combination of shades of gray, a sort of semi-mourning, full of graceful
renunciation,—the garments of a woman who holds to life only through
a few natural ties,—her child, for instance,—but who is weary
of life. Those garments bore witness to an elegant disgust, not reaching,
however, as far as suicide; no, she would live out her days in these
She received d'Arthez as a woman who expected him, and as if he had
already been to see her a hundred times; she did him the honor to treat
him like an old acquaintance, and she put him at his ease by pointing to a
seat on a sofa, while she finished a note she was then writing. The
conversation began in a commonplace manner: the weather, the ministry, de
Marsay's illness, the hopes of the legitimists. D'Arthez was an
absolutist; the princess could not be ignorant of the opinions of a man
who sat in the Chamber among the fifteen or twenty persons who represented
the legitimist party; she found means to tell him how she had fooled de
Marsay to the top of his bent, then, by an easy transition to the royal
family and to "Madame," and the devotion of the Prince de Cadignan to
their service, she drew d'Arthez's attention to the prince:—
"There is this to be said for him: he loved his masters, and was faithful
to them. His public character consoles me for the sufferings his private
life has inflicted upon me—Have you never remarked," she went on,
cleverly leaving the prince aside, "you who observe so much, that men have
two natures: one of their homes, their wives, their private lives,—this
is their true self; here no mask, no dissimulation; they do not give
themselves the trouble to disguise a feeling; they are what they ARE, and
it is often horrible! The other man is for others, for the world, for
salons; the court, the sovereign, the public often see them grand, and
noble, and generous, embroidered with virtues, adorned with fine language,
full of admirable qualities. What a horrible jest it is!—and the
world is surprised, sometimes, at the caustic smile of certain women, at
their air of superiority to their husbands, and their indifference—"
She let her hand fall along the arm of her chair, without ending her
sentence, but the gesture admirably completed the speech. She saw d'Arthez
watching her flexible figure, gracefully bending in the depths of her
easy-chair, noting the folds of her gown, and the pretty little ruffle
which sported on her breast,—one of those audacities of the toilet
that are suited only to slender waists,—and she resumed the thread
of her thoughts as if she were speaking to herself:—
"But I will say no more. You writers have ended by making ridiculous all
women who think they are misunderstood, or ill-mated, and who try to make
themselves dramatically interesting,—attempts which seem to me, I
must say, intolerably vulgar. There are but two things for women in that
plight to do,—yield, and all is over; resist, and amuse themselves;
in either case they should keep silence. It is true that I neither yielded
wholly, nor resisted wholly; but, perhaps, that was only the more reason
why I should be silent. What folly for women to complain! If they have not
proved the stronger, they have failed in sense, in tact, in capacity, and
they deserve their fate. Are they not queens in France? They can play with
you as they like, when they like, and as much as they like." Here she
danced her vinaigrette with an airy movement of feminine impertinence and
mocking gayety. "I have often heard miserable little specimens of my sex
regretting that they were women, wishing they were men; I have always
regarded them with pity. If I had to choose, I should still elect to be a
woman. A fine pleasure, indeed, to owe one's triumph to force, and to all
those powers which you give yourselves by the laws you make! But to see
you at our feet, saying and doing foolish things,—ah! it is an
intoxicating pleasure to feel within our souls that weakness triumphs! But
when we triumph, we ought to keep silence, under pain of losing our
empire. Beaten, a woman's pride should gag her. The slave's silence alarms
This chatter was uttered in a voice so softly sarcastic, so dainty, and
with such coquettish motions of the head, that d'Arthez, to whom this
style of woman was totally unknown, sat before her exactly like a
partridge charmed by a setter.
"I entreat you, madame," he said, at last, "to tell me how it was possible
that a man could make you suffer? Be assured that where, as you say, other
women are common and vulgar, you can only seem distinguished; your manner
of saying things would make a cook-book interesting."
"You go fast in friendship," she said, in a grave voice which made
d'Arthez extremely uneasy.
The conversation changed; the hour was late, and the poor man of genius
went away contrite for having seemed curious, and for wounding the
sensitive heart of that rare woman who had so strangely suffered. As for
her, she had passed her life in amusing herself with men, and was another
Don Juan in female attire, with this difference: she would certainly not
have invited the Commander to supper, and would have got the better of any
It is impossible to continue this tale without saying a word about the
Prince de Cadignan, better known under the name of the Duc de
Maufrigneuse, otherwise the spice of the princess's confidences would be
lost, and strangers would not understand the Parisian comedy she was about
to play for her man of genius.
The Duc de Maufrigneuse, like a true son of the old Prince de Cadignan, is
a tall, lean man, of elegant shape, very graceful, a sayer of witty
things, colonel by the grace of God, and a good soldier by accident; brave
as a Pole, which means without sense or discernment, and hiding the
emptiness of his mind under the jargon of good society. After the age of
thirty-six he was forced to be as absolutely indifferent to the fair sex
as his master Charles X., punished, like that master, for having pleased
it too well. For eighteen years the idol of the faubourg Saint-Germain, he
had, like other heirs of great families led a dissipated life, spent
solely on pleasure. His father, ruined by the revolution, had somewhat
recovered his position on the return of the Bourbons, as governor of a
royal domain, with salary and perquisites; but this uncertain fortune the
old prince spent, as it came, in keeping up the traditions of a great
seigneur before the revolution; so that when the law of indemnity was
passed, the sums he received were all swallowed up in the luxury he
displayed in his vast hotel.
The old prince died some little time before the revolution of July aged
eighty-seven. He had ruined his wife, and had long been on bad terms with
the Duc de Navarreins, who had married his daughter for a first wife, and
to whom he very reluctantly rendered his accounts. The Duc de
Maufrigneuse, early in life, had had relations with the Duchesse
d'Uxelles. About the year 1814, when Monsieur de Maufrigneuse was
forty-six years of age, the duchess, pitying his poverty, and seeing that
he stood very well at court, gave him her daughter Diane, then in her
seventeenth year, and possessing, in her own right, some fifty or sixty
thousand francs a year, not counting her future expectations. Mademoiselle
d'Uxelles thus became a duchess, and, as her mother very well knew, she
enjoyed the utmost liberty. The duke, after obtaining the unexpected
happiness of an heir, left his wife entirely to her own devices, and went
off to amuse himself in the various garrisons of France, returning
occasionally to Paris, where he made debts which his father paid. He
professed the most entire conjugal indulgence, always giving the duchess a
week's warning of his return; he was adored by his regiment, beloved by
the Dauphin, an adroit courtier, somewhat of a gambler, and totally devoid
of affectation. Having succeeded to his father's office as governor of one
of the royal domains, he managed to please the two kings, Louis XVIII. and
Charles X., which proves he made the most of his nonentity; and even the
liberals liked him; but his conduct and life were covered with the finest
varnish; language, noble manners, and deportment were brought by him to a
state of perfection. But, as the old prince said, it was impossible for
him to continue the traditions of the Cadignans, who were all well known
to have ruined their wives, for the duchess was running through her
property on her own account.
These particulars were so well understood in the court circles and in the
faubourg Saint-Germain, that during the last five years of the Restoration
they were considered ancient history, and any one who mentioned them would
have been laughed at. Women never spoke of the charming duke without
praising him; he was excellent, they said, to his wife; could a man be
better? He had left her the entire disposal of her own property, and had
always defended her on every occasion. It is true that, whether from
pride, kindliness, or chivalry, Monsieur de Maufrigneuse had saved the
duchess under various circumstances which might have ruined other women,
in spite of Diane's surroundings, and the influence of her mother and that
of the Duc de Navarreins, her father-in-law, and her husband's aunt.
For several ensuing days the princess revealed herself to d'Arthez as
remarkable for her knowledge of literature. She discussed with perfect
fearlessness the most difficult questions, thanks to her daily and nightly
reading, pursued with an intrepidity worthy of the highest praise.
D'Arthez, amazed, and incapable of suspecting that Diane d'Uxelles merely
repeated at night that which she read in the morning (as some writers do),
regarded her as a most superior woman. These conversations, however, led
away from Diane's object, and she tried to get back to the region of
confidences from which d'Arthez had prudently retired after her coquettish
rebuff; but it was not as easy as she expected to bring back a man of his
nature who had once been startled away.
However, after a month of literary campaigning and the finest platonic
discourses, d'Arthez grew bolder, and arrived every day at three o'clock.
He retired at six, and returned at nine, to remain until midnight, or one
in the morning, with the regularity of an ardent and impatient lover. The
princess was always dressed with more or less studied elegance at the hour
when d'Arthez presented himself. This mutual fidelity, the care they each
took of their appearance, in fact, all about them expressed sentiments
that neither dared avow, for the princess discerned very plainly that the
great child with whom she had to do shrank from the combat as much as she
desired it. Nevertheless d'Arthez put into his mute declarations a
respectful awe which was infinitely pleasing to her. Both felt, every day,
all the more united because nothing acknowledged or definite checked the
course of their ideas, as occurs between lovers when there are formal
demands on one side, and sincere or coquettish refusals on the other.
Like all men younger than their actual age, d'Arthez was a prey to those
agitating irresolutions which are caused by the force of desires and the
terror of displeasing,—a situation which a young woman does not
comprehend when she shares it, but which the princess had too often
deliberately produced not to enjoy its pleasures. In fact, Diane enjoyed
these delightful juvenilities all the more keenly because she knew that
she could put an end to them at any moment. She was like a great artist
delighting in the vague, undecided lines of his sketch, knowing well that
in a moment of inspiration he can complete the masterpiece still waiting
to come to birth. Many a time, seeing d'Arthez on the point of advancing,
she enjoyed stopping him short, with an imposing air and manner. She drove
back the hidden storms of that still young heart, raised them again, and
stilled them with a look, holding out her hand to be kissed, or saying
some trifling insignificant words in a tender voice.
These manoeuvres, planned in cold blood, but enchantingly executed, carved
her image deeper and deeper on the soul of that great writer and thinker
whom she revelled in making childlike, confiding, simple, and almost silly
beside her. And yet she had moments of repulsion against her own act,
moments in which she could not help admiring the grandeur of such
simplicity. This game of choicest coquetry attached her, insensibly, to
her slave. At last, however, Diane grew impatient with an Epictetus of
love; and when she thought she had trained him to the utmost credulity,
she set to work to tie a thicker bandage still over his eyes.
CHAPTER IV. THE CONFESSION OF A PRETTY WOMAN
One evening Daniel found the princess thoughtful, one elbow resting on a
little table, her beautiful blond head bathed in light from the lamp. She
was toying with a letter which lay on the table-cloth. When d'Arthez had
seen the paper distinctly, she folded it up, and stuck it in her belt.
"What is the matter?" asked d'Arthez; "you seem distressed."
"I have received a letter from Monsieur de Cadignan," she replied.
"However great the wrongs he has done me, I cannot help thinking of his
exile—without family, without son—from his native land."
These words, said in a soulful voice, betrayed angelic sensibility.
D'Arthez was deeply moved. The curiosity of the lover became, so to speak,
a psychological and literary curiosity. He wanted to know the height that
woman had attained, and what were the injuries she thus forgave; he longed
to know how these women of the world, taxed with frivolity,
cold-heartedness, and egotism, could be such angels. Remembering how the
princess had already repulsed him when he first tried to read that
celestial heart, his voice, and he himself, trembled as he took the
transparent, slender hand of the beautiful Diane with its curving
finger-tips, and said,—
"Are we now such friends that you will tell me what you have suffered?"
"Yes," she said, breathing forth the syllable like the most mellifluous
note that Tulou's flute had ever sighed.
Then she fell into a revery, and her eyes were veiled. Daniel remained in
a state of anxious expectation, impressed with the solemnity of the
occasion. His poetic imagination made him see, as it were, clouds slowly
dispersing and disclosing to him the sanctuary where the wounded lamb was
kneeling at the divine feet.
"Well?" he said, in a soft, still voice.
Diane looked at the tender petitioner; then she lowered her eyes slowly,
dropping their lids with a movement of noble modesty. None but a monster
would have been capable of imagining hypocrisy in the graceful undulation
of the neck with which the princess again lifted her charming head, to
look once more into the eager eyes of that great man.
"Can I? ought I?" she murmured, with a gesture of hesitation, gazing at
d'Arthez with a sublime expression of dreamy tenderness. "Men have so
little faith in things of this kind; they think themselves so little bound
to be discreet!"
"Ah! if you distrust me, why am I here?" cried d'Arthez.
"Oh, friend!" she said, giving to the exclamation the grace of an
involuntary avowal, "when a woman attaches herself for life, think you she
calculates? It is not question of refusal (how could I refuse you
anything?), but the idea of what you may think of me if I speak. I would
willingly confide to you the strange position in which I am at my age; but
what would you think of a woman who could reveal the secret wounds of her
married life? Turenne kept his word to robbers; do I not owe to my
torturers the honor of a Turenne?"
"Have you passed your word to say nothing?"
"Monsieur de Cadignan did not think it necessary to bind me to secrecy—You
are asking more than my soul! Tyrant! you want me to bury my honor itself
in your breast," she said, casting upon d'Arthez a look, by which she gave
more value to her coming confidence than to her personal self.
"You must think me a very ordinary man, if you fear any evil, no matter
what, from me," he said, with ill-concealed bitterness.
"Forgive me, friend," she replied, taking his hand in hers caressingly,
and letting her fingers wander gently over it. "I know your worth. You
have related to me your whole life; it is noble, it is beautiful, it is
sublime, and worthy of your name; perhaps, in return, I owe you mine. But
I fear to lower myself in your eyes by relating secrets which are not
wholly mine. How can you believe—you, a man of solitude and poesy—the
horrors of social life? Ah! you little think when you invent your dramas
that they are far surpassed by those that are played in families
apparently united. You are wholly ignorant of certain gilded sorrows."
"I know all!" he cried.
"No, you know nothing."
D'Arthez felt like a man lost on the Alps of a dark night, who sees, at
the first gleam of dawn, a precipice at his feet. He looked at the
princess with a bewildered air, and felt a cold chill running down his
back. Diane thought for a moment that her man of genius was a weakling,
but a flash from his eyes reassured her.
"You have become to me almost my judge," she said, with a desperate air.
"I must speak now, in virtue of the right that all calumniated beings have
to show their innocence. I have been, I am still (if a poor recluse forced
by the world to renounce the world is still remembered) accused of such
light conduct, and so many evil things, that it may be allowed me to find
in one strong heart a haven from which I cannot be driven. Hitherto I have
always considered self-justification an insult to innocence; and that is
why I have disdained to defend myself. Besides, to whom could I appeal?
Such cruel things can be confided to none but God or to one who seems to
us very near Him—a priest, or another self. Well! I do know this, if
my secrets are not as safe there," she said, laying her hand on d'Arthez's
heart, "as they are here" (pressing the upper end of her busk beneath her
fingers), "then you are not the grand d'Arthez I think you—I shall
have been deceived."
A tear moistened d'Arthez's eyes, and Diane drank it in with a side look,
which, however, gave no motion either to the pupils or the lids of her
eyes. It was quick and neat, like the action of a cat pouncing on a mouse.
D'Arthez, for the first time, after sixty days of protocols, ventured to
take that warm and perfumed hand, and press it to his lips with a
long-drawn kiss, extending from the wrist to the tip of the fingers, which
made the princess augur well of literature. She thought to herself that
men of genius must know how to love with more perfection than conceited
fops, men of the world, diplomatists, and even soldiers, although such
beings have nothing else to do. She was a connoisseur, and knew very well
that the capacity for love reveals itself chiefly in mere nothings. A
woman well informed in such matters can read her future in a simple
gesture; just as Cuvier could say from the fragment of a bone: This
belonged to an animal of such or such dimensions, with or without horns,
carnivorous, herbivorous, amphibious, etc., age, so many thousand years.
Sure now of finding in d'Arthez as much imagination in love as there was
in his written style, she thought it wise to bring him up at once to the
highest pitch of passion and belief.
She withdrew her hand hastily, with a magnificent movement full of varied
emotions. If she had said in words: "Stop, or I shall die," she could not
have spoken more plainly. She remained for a moment with her eyes in
d'Arthez's eyes, expressing in that one glance happiness, prudery, fear,
confidence, languor, a vague longing, and virgin modesty. She was twenty
years old! but remember, she had prepared for this hour of comic falsehood
by the choicest art of dress; she was there in her armchair like a flower,
ready to blossom at the first kiss of sunshine. True or false, she
It if is permissible to risk a personal opinion we must avow that it would
be delightful to be thus deceived for a good long time. Certainly Talma on
the stage was often above and beyond nature, but the Princesse de Cadignan
is the greatest true comedian of our day. Nothing was wanting to this
woman but an attentive audience. Unfortunately, at epochs perturbed by
political storms, women disappear like water-lilies which need a cloudless
sky and balmy zephyrs to spread their bloom to our enraptured eyes.
The hour had come; Diane was now to entangle that great man in the
inextricable meshes of a romance carefully prepared, to which he was fated
to listen as the neophyte of early Christian times listened to the
epistles of an apostle.
"My friend," began Diane, "my mother, who still lives at Uxelles, married
me in 1814, when I was seventeen years old (you see how old I am now!) to
Monsieur de Maufrigneuse, not out of affection for me, but out of regard
for him. She discharged her debt to the only man she had ever loved, for
the happiness she had once received from him. Oh! you need not be
astonished at so horrible a conspiracy; it frequently takes place. Many
women are more lovers than mothers, though the majority are more mothers
than wives. The two sentiments, love and motherhood, developed as they are
by our manners and customs, often struggle together in the hearts of
women; one or other must succumb when they are not of equal strength; when
they are, they produce some exceptional women, the glory of our sex. A man
of your genius must surely comprehend many things that bewilder fools but
are none the less true; indeed I may go further and call them justifiable
through difference of characters, temperaments, attachments, situations.
I, for example, at this moment, after twenty years of misfortunes, of
deceptions, of calumnies endured, and weary days and hollow pleasures, is
it not natural that I should incline to fall at the feet of a man who
would love me sincerely and forever? And yet, the world would condemn me.
But twenty years of suffering might well excuse a few brief years which
may still remain to me of youth given to a sacred and real love. This will
not happen. I am not so rash as to sacrifice my hopes of heaven. I have
borne the burden and heat of the day, I shall finish my course and win my
"Angel!" thought d'Arthez.
"After all, I have never blamed my mother; she knew little of me. Mothers
who lead a life like that of the Duchesse d'Uxelles keep their children at
a distance. I saw and knew nothing of the world until my marriage. You can
judge of my innocence! I knew nothing; I was incapable of understanding
the causes of my marriage. I had a fine fortune; sixty thousand francs a
year in forests, which the Revolution overlooked (or had not been able to
sell) in the Nivernais, with the noble chateau of d'Anzy. Monsieur de
Maufrigneuse was steeped in debt. Later I learned what it was to have
debts, but then I was too utterly ignorant of life to suspect my position;
the money saved out of my fortune went to pacify my husband's creditors.
Monsieur de Maufrigneuse was forty-eight years of age when I married him;
but those years were like military campaigns, they ought to count for
twice what they were. Ah! what a life I led for ten years! If any one had
known the suffering of this poor, calumniated little woman! To be watched
by a mother jealous of her daughter! Heavens! You who make dramas, you
will never invent anything as direful as that. Ordinarily, according to
the little that I know of literature, a drama is a suite of actions,
speeches, movements which hurry to a catastrophe; but what I speak of was
a catastrophe in action. It was an avalanche fallen in the morning and
falling again at night only to fall again the next day. I am cold now as I
speak to you of that cavern without an opening, cold, sombre, in which I
lived. I, poor little thing that I was! brought up in a convent like a
mystic rose, knowing nothing of marriage, developing late, I was happy at
first; I enjoyed the goodwill and harmony of our family. The birth of my
poor boy, who is all me—you must have been struck by the likeness?
my hair, my eyes, the shape of my face, my mouth, my smile, my teeth!—well,
his birth was a relief to me; my thoughts were diverted by the first joys
of maternity from my husband, who gave me no pleasure and did nothing for
me that was kind or amiable; those joys were all the keener because I knew
no others. It had been so often rung into my ears that a mother should
respect herself. Besides, a young girl loves to play the mother. I was so
proud of my flower—for Georges was beautiful, a miracle, I thought!
I saw and thought of nothing but my son, I lived with my son. I never let
his nurse dress or undress him. Such cares, so wearing to mothers who have
a regiment of children, were all my pleasure. But after three or four
years, as I was not an actual fool, light came to my eyes in spite of the
pains taken to blindfold me. Can you see me at that final awakening, in
1819? The drama of 'The Brothers at enmity' is a rose-water tragedy beside
that of a mother and daughter placed as we then were. But I braved them
all, my mother, my husband, the world, by public coquetries which society
talked of,—and heaven knows how it talked! You can see, my friend,
how the men with whom I was accused of folly were to me the dagger with
which to stab my enemies. Thinking only of my vengeance, I did not see or
feel the wounds I was inflicting on myself. Innocent as a child, I was
thought a wicked woman, the worst of women, and I knew nothing of it! The
world is very foolish, very blind, very ignorant; it can penetrate no
secrets but those which amuse it and serve its malice: noble things, great
things, it puts its hand before its eyes to avoid seeing. But, as I look
back, it seems to me that I had an attitude and aspect of indignant
innocence, with movements of pride, which a great painter would have
recognized. I must have enlivened many a ball with my tempests of anger
and disdain. Lost poesy! such sublime poems are only made in the glowing
indignation which seizes us at twenty. Later, we are wrathful no longer,
we are too weary, vice no longer amazes us, we are cowards, we fear. But
then—oh! I kept a great pace! For all that I played the silliest
personage in the world; I was charged with crimes by which I never
benefited. But I had such pleasure in compromising myself. That was my
revenge! Ah! I have played many childish tricks! I went to Italy with a
thoughtless youth, whom I crushed when he spoke to me of love, but later,
when I herd that he was compromised on my account (he had committed a
forgery to get money) I rushed to save him. My mother and husband kept me
almost without means; but, this time, I went to the king. Louis XVIII.,
that man without a heart, was touched; he gave me a hundred thousand
francs from his privy purse. The Marquis d'Esgrignon—you must have
seen him in society for he ended by making a rich marriage—was saved
from the abyss into which he had plunged for my sake. That adventure,
caused by my own folly, led me to reflect. I saw that I myself was the
first victim of my vengeance. My mother, who knew I was too proud, too
d'Uxelles, to conduct myself really ill, began to see the harm that she
had done me and was frightened by it. She was then fifty-two years of age;
she left Paris and went to live at Uxelles. There she expiates her
wrong-doing by a life of devotion and expresses the utmost affection for
me. After her departure I was face to face, alone, with Monsieur de
Maufrigneuse. Oh! my friend, you men can never know what an old man of
gallantry can be. What a home is that of a man accustomed to the adulation
of women of the world, when he finds neither incense nor censer in his own
house! dead to all! and yet, perhaps for that very reason, jealous. I
wished—when Monsieur de Maufrigneuse was wholly mine—I wished
to be a good wife, but I found myself repulsed with the harshness of a
soured spirit by a man who treated me like a child and took pleasure in
humiliating my self-respect at every turn, in crushing me under the scorn
of his experience, and in convicting me of total ignorance. He wounded me
on all occasions. He did everything to make me detest him and to give me
the right to betray him; but I was still the dupe of my own hope and of my
desire to do right through several years. Shall I tell you the cruel
saying that drove me to further follies? 'The Duchesse de Maufrigneuse has
gone back to her husband,' said the world. 'Bah! it is always a triumph to
bring the dead to life; it is all she can now do,' replied my best friend,
a relation, she, at whose house I met you—"
"Madame d'Espard!" cried Daniel, with a gesture of horror.
"Oh! I have forgiven her. Besides, it was very witty; and I have myself
made just as cruel epigrams on other poor women as innocent as myself."
D'Arthez again kissed the hand of that saintly woman who, having hacked
her mother in pieces, and turned the Prince de Cadignan into an Othello,
now proceeded to accuse herself in order to appear in the eyes of that
innocent great man as immaculate as the silliest or the wisest of women
desire to seem at all costs to their lovers.
"You will readily understand, my friend, that I returned to society for
the purpose of excitement and I may say of notoriety. I felt that I must
conquer my independence. I led a life of dissipation. To divert my mind,
to forget my real life in fictitious enjoyments I was gay, I shone, I gave
fetes, I played the princess, and I ran in debt. At home I could forget
myself in the sleep of weariness, able to rise the next day gay, and
frivolous for the world; but in that sad struggle to escape my real life I
wasted my fortune. The revolution of 1830 came; it came at the very moment
when I had met, at the end of that Arabian Nights' life, a pure and
sacred love which (I desire to be honest) I had longed to know. Was it not
natural in a woman whose heart, repressed by many causes and accidents,
was awakening at an age when a woman feels herself cheated if she has
never known, like the women she sees about her, a happy love? Ah! why was
Michel Chrestien so respectful? Why did he not seek to meet me? There
again was another mockery! But what of that? in falling, I have lost
everything; I have no illusions left; I had tasted of all things except
the one fruit for which I have no longer teeth. Yes, I found myself
disenchanted with the world at the very moment when I was forced to leave
it. Providential, was it not? like all those strange insensibilities which
prepare us for death" (she made a gesture full of pious unction). "All
things served me then," she continued; "the disasters of the monarchy and
its ruin helped me to bury myself. My son consoles me for much. Maternal
love takes the place of all frustrated feelings. The world is surprised at
my retirement, but to me it has brought peace. Ah! if you knew how happy
the poor creature before you is in this little place. In sacrificing all
to my son I forget to think of joys of which I am and ever must be
ignorant. Yes, hope has flown, I now fear everything; no doubt I should
repulse the truest sentiment, the purest and most veritable love, in
memory of the deceptions and the miseries of my life. It is all horrible,
is it not? and yet, what I have told you is the history of many women."
The last few words were said in a tone of easy pleasantry which recalled
the presence of the woman of the world. D'Arthez was dumbfounded. In his
eyes convicts sent to the galleys for murder, or aggravated robbery, or
for putting a wrong name to checks, were saints compared to the men and
women of society. This atrocious elegy, forged in the arsenal of lies, and
steeped in the waters of the Parisian Styx, had been poured into his ears
with the inimitable accent of truth. The grave author contemplated for a
moment that adorable woman lying back in her easy-chair, her two hands
pendant from its arms like dewdrops from a rose-leaf, overcome by her own
revelation, living over again the sorrows of her life as she told them—in
short an angel of melancholy.
"And judge," she cried, suddenly lifting herself with a spring and raising
her hand, while lightning flashed from eyes where twenty chaste years
shone—"judge of the impression the love of a man like Michel must
have made upon me. But by some irony of fate—or was it the hand of
God?—well, he died; died in saving the life of, whom do you suppose?
of Monsieur de Cadignan. Are you now surprised to find me thoughtful?"
This was the last drop; poor d'Arthez could bear no more. He fell upon his
knees, and laid his head on Diane's hand, weeping soft tears such as the
angels shed,—if angels weep. As Daniel was in that bent posture,
Madame de Cadignan could safely let a malicious smile of triumph flicker
on her lips, a smile such as the monkeys wear after playing a sly trick—if
"Ah! I have him," thought she; and, indeed, she had him fast.
"But you are—" he said, raising his fine head and looking at her
with eyes of love.
"Virgin and martyr," she replied, smiling at the commonness of that
hackneyed expression, but giving it a freshness of meaning by her smile,
so full of painful gayety. "If I laugh," she continued, "it is that I am
thinking of that princess whom the world thinks it knows, that Duchesse de
Maufrigneuse to whom it gives as lovers de Marsay, that infamous de
Trailles (a political cutthroat), and that little fool of a d'Esgrignon,
and Rastignac, Rubempre, ambassadors, ministers, Russian generals, heaven
knows who! all Europe! They have gossiped about that album which I ordered
made, believing that those who admired me were my friends. Ah! it is
frightful! I wonder that I allow a man at my feet! Despise them all, THAT
should be my religion."
She rose and went to the window with a gait and bearing magnificent in
D'Arthez remained on the low seat to which he had returned not daring to
follow the princess; but he looked at her; he heard her blowing her nose.
Was there ever a princess who blew her nose? but Diane attempted the
impossible to convey an idea of her sensibility. D'Arthez believed his
angel was in tears; he rushed to her side, took her round the waist, and
pressed her to his heart.
"No, no, leave me!" she murmured in a feeble voice. "I have too many
doubts to be good for anything. To reconcile me with life is a task beyond
the powers of any man."
"Diane! I will love you for your whole lost life."
"No; don't speak to me thus," she answered. "At this moment I tremble, I
am ashamed as though I had committed the greatest sins."
She was now entirely restored to the innocence of little girls, and yet
her bearing was august, grand, noble as that of a queen. It is impossible
to describe the effect of these manoeuvres, so clever that they acted like
the purest truth on a soul as fresh and honest as that of d'Arthez. The
great author remained dumb with admiration, passive beside her in the
recess of that window awaiting a word, while the princess awaited a kiss;
but she was far too sacred to him for that. Feeling cold, the princess
returned to her easy-chair; her feet were frozen.
"It will take a long time," she said to herself, looking at Daniel's noble
brow and head.
"Is this a woman?" thought that profound observer of human nature. "How
ought I to treat her?"
Until two o'clock in the morning they spent their time in saying to each
other the silly things that women of genius, like the princess, know how
to make adorable. Diane pretended to be too worn, too old, too faded;
D'Arthez proved to her (facts of which she was well convinced) that her
skin was the most delicate, the softest to the touch, the whitest to the
eye, the most fragrant; she was young and in her bloom, how could she
think otherwise? Thus they disputed, beauty by beauty, detail by detail
with many: "Oh! do you think so?"—"You are beside yourself!"—"It
is hope, it is fancy!"—"You will soon see me as I am.—I am
almost forty years of age. Can a man love so old a woman?"
D'Arthez responded with impetuous and school-boy eloquence, larded with
exaggerated epithets. When the princess heard this wise and witty writer
talking the nonsense of an amorous sub-lieutenant she listened with an
absorbed air and much sensibility; but she laughed in her sleeve.
When d'Arthez was in the street, he asked himself whether he might not
have been rather less respectful. He went over in memory those strange
confidences—which have, naturally, been much abridged here, for they
needed a volume to convey their mellifluous abundance and the graces which
accompanied them. The retrospective perspicacity of this man, so natural,
so profound, was baffled by the candor of that tale and its poignancy, and
by the tones of the princess.
"It is true," he said to himself, being unable to sleep, "there are such
dramas as that in society. Society covers great horrors with the flowers
of its elegance, the embroidery of its gossip, the wit of its lies. We
writers invent no more than the truth. Poor Diane! Michel had penetrated
that enigma; he said that beneath her covering of ice there lay volcanoes!
Bianchon and Rastignac were right; when a man can join the grandeurs of
the ideal and the enjoyments of human passion in loving a woman of perfect
manners, of intellect, of delicacy, it must be happiness beyond words."
So thinking, he sounded the love that was in him and found it infinite.
CHAPTER V. A TRIAL OF FAITH
The next day, about two in the afternoon, Madame d'Espard, who had seen
and heard nothing of the princess for more than a month, went to see her
under the impulse of extreme curiosity. Nothing was ever more amusing of
its kind than the conversation of these two crafty adders during the first
half-hour of this visit.
Diane d'Uxelles cautiously avoided, as she would the wearing of a yellow
gown, all mention of d'Arthez. The marquise circled round and round that
topic like a Bedouin round a caravan. Diane amused herself; the marquise
fumed. Diane waited; she intended to utilize her friend and use her in the
chase. Of these two women, both so celebrated in the social world, one was
far stronger than the other. The princess rose by a head above the
marquise, and the marquise was inwardly conscious of that superiority. In
this, perhaps, lay the secret of their intimacy. The weaker of the two
crouched low in her false attachment, watching for the hour, long awaited
by feeble beings, of springing at the throat of the stronger and leaving
the mark of a joyful bite. Diane saw clear; but the world was the dupe of
the wile caresses of the two friends.
The instant that the princess perceived a direct question on the lips of
her friend, she said:—
"Ah! dearest, I owe you a most complete, immense, infinite, celestial
"What can you mean?"
"Have you forgotten what we ruminated three months ago in the little
garden, sitting on a bench in the sun, under the jasmine? Ah! there are
none but men of genius who know how to love! I apply to my grand Daniel
d'Arthez the Duke of Alba's saying to Catherine de' Medici: 'The head of a
single salmon is worth all the frogs in the world.'"
"I am not surprised that I no longer see you," said Madame d'Espard.
"Promise me, if you meet him, not to say to him one word about me, my
angel," said the princess, taking her friend's hand. "I am happy, oh!
happy beyond all expression; but you know that in society a word, a mere
jest can do much harm. One speech can kill, for they put such venom into a
single sentence! Ah! if you knew how I long that you might meet with a
love like this! Yes, it is a sweet, a precious triumph for women like
ourselves to end our woman's life in this way; to rest in an ardent, pure,
devoted, complete and absolute love; above all, when we have sought it
"Why do you ask me to be faithful to my dearest friend?" said Madame
d'Espard. "Do you think me capable of playing you some villainous trick?"
"When a woman possesses such a treasure the fear of losing it is so strong
that it naturally inspires a feeling of terror. I am absurd, I know;
forgive me, dear."
A few moments later the marquise departed; as she watched her go the
princess said to herself:—
"How she will pluck me! But to save her the trouble of trying to get
Daniel away from here I'll send him to her."
At three o'clock, or a few moments after, d'Arthez arrived. In the midst
of some interesting topic on which he was discoursing eloquently, the
princess suddenly cut him short by laying her hand on his arm.
"Pardon me, my dear friend," she said, interrupting him, "but I fear I may
forget a thing which seems a mere trifle but may be of great importance.
You have not set foot in Madame d'Espard's salon since the ever-blessed
day when I met you there. Pray go at once; not for your sake, nor by way
of politeness, but for me. You may already have made her an enemy of mine,
if by chance she has discovered that since her dinner you have scarcely
left my house. Besides, my friend, I don't like to see you dropping your
connection with society, and neglecting your occupations and your work. I
should again be strangely calumniated. What would the world say? That I
held you in leading-strings, absorbed you, feared comparisons, and clung
to my conquest knowing it to be my last! Who will know that you are my
friend, my only friend? If you love me indeed, as you say you love me, you
will make the world believe that we are purely and simply brother and
sister—Go on with what you were saying."
In his armor of tenderness, riveted by the knowledge of so many splendid
virtues, d'Arthez obeyed this behest on the following day and went to see
Madame d'Espard, who received him with charming coquetry. The marquise
took very good care not to say a single word to him about the princess,
but she asked him to dinner on a coming day.
On this occasion d'Arthez found a numerous company. The marquise had
invited Rastignac, Blondet, the Marquis d'Ajuda-Pinto, Maxime de Trailles,
the Marquis d'Esgrignon, the two brothers Vandenesse, du Tillet, one of
the richest bankers in Paris, the Baron de Nucingen, Raoul Nathan, Lady
Dudley, two very treacherous secretaries of embassies and the Chevalier
d'Espard, the wiliest person in this assemblage and the chief instigator
of his sister-in-law's policy.
When dinner was well under way, Maxime de Trailles turned to d'Arthez and
"You see a great deal, don't you, of the Princesse de Cadignan?"
To this question d'Arthez responded by curtly nodding his head. Maxime de
Trailles was a "bravo" of the social order, without faith or law, capable
of everything, ruining the women who trusted him, compelling them to pawn
their diamonds to give him money, but covering this conduct with a
brilliant varnish; a man of charming manners and satanic mind. He inspired
all who knew him with equal contempt and fear; but as no one was bold
enough to show him any sentiments but those of the utmost courtesy he saw
nothing of this public opinion, or else he accepted and shared the general
dissimulation. He owed to the Comte de Marsay the greatest degree of
elevation to which he could attain. De Marsay, whose knowledge of Maxime
was of long-standing, judged him capable of fulfilling certain secret and
diplomatic functions which he confided to him and of which de Trailles
acquitted himself admirably. D'Arthez had for some time past mingled
sufficiently in political matters to know the man for what he was, and he
alone had sufficient strength and height of character to express aloud
what others thought or said in a whisper.
"Is it for her that you neglect the Chamber?" asked Baron de Nucingen in
his German accent.
"Ah! the princess is one of the most dangerous women a man can have
anything to do with. I owe to her the miseries of my marriage," exclaimed
the Marquis d'Esgrignon.
"Dangerous?" said Madame d'Espard. "Don't speak so of my nearest friend. I
have never seen or known anything in the princess that did not seem to
come from the noblest sentiments."
"Let the marquis say what he thinks," cried Rastignac. "When a man has
been thrown by a fine horse he thinks it has vices and he sells it."
Piqued by these words, the Marquis d'Esgrignon looked at d'Arthez and
"Monsieur is not, I trust, on such terms with the princess that we cannot
speak freely of her?"
D'Arthez kept silence. D'Esgrignon, who was not wanting in cleverness,
replied to Rastignac's speech with an apologetic portrait of the princess,
which put the whole table in good humor. As the jest was extremely obscure
to d'Arthez he leaned towards his neighbor, Madame de Montcornet, and
asked her, in a whisper, what it meant.
"Excepting yourself—judging by the excellent opinion you seem to
have of the princess—all the other guests are said to have been in
her good graces."
"I can assure you that such an accusation is absolutely false," said
"And yet, here is Monsieur d'Esgrignon of an old family of Alencon, who
completely ruined himself for her some twelve years ago, and, if all is
true, came very near going to the scaffold."
"I know the particulars of that affair," said d'Arthez. "Madame de
Cadignan went to Alencon to save Monsieur d'Esgrignon from a trial before
the court of assizes; and this is how he rewards her to-day!"
Madame de Montcornet looked at d'Arthez with a surprise and curiosity that
were almost stupid, then she turned her eyes on Madame d'Espard with a
look which seemed to say: "He is bewitched!"
During this short conversation Madame de Cadignan was protected by Madame
d'Espard, whose protection was like that of the lightning-rod which draws
the flash. When d'Arthez returned to the general conversation Maxime de
Trailles was saying:—
"With Diane, depravity is not an effect but a cause; perhaps she owes that
cause to her exquisite nature; she doesn't invent, she makes no effort,
she offers you the choicest refinements as the inspiration of a
spontaneous and naive love; and it is absolutely impossible not to believe
This speech, which seemed to have been prepared for a man of d'Arthez's
stamp, was so tremendous an arraignment that the company appeared to
accept it as a conclusion. No one said more; the princess was crushed.
D'Arthez looked straight at de Trailles and then at d'Esgrignon with a
sarcastic air, and said:—
"The greatest fault of that woman is that she has followed in the wake of
men. She squanders patrimonies as they do; she drives her lovers to
usurers; she pockets 'dots'; she ruins orphans; she inspires, possibly she
commits, crimes, but—"
Never had the two men, whom d'Arthez was chiefly addressing, listened to
such plain talk. At that BUT the whole table was startled, every one
paused, fork in air, their eyes fixed alternately on the brave author and
on the assailants of the princess, awaiting the conclusion of that
"But," said d'Arthez, with sarcastic airiness, "Madame la Princesse
de Cadignan has one advantage over men: when they have put themselves in
danger for her sake, she saves them, and says no harm of any one. Among
the multitude, why shouldn't there be one woman who amuses herself with
men as men amuse themselves with women? Why not allow the fair sex to
take, from time to time, its revenge?"
"Genius is stronger than wit," said Blondet to Nathan.
This broadside of sarcasms was in fact the discharge of a battery of
cannons against a platoon of musketry. When coffee was served, Blondet and
Nathan went up to d'Arthez with an eagerness no one else dared to imitate,
so unable were the rest of the company to show the admiration his conduct
inspired from the fear of making two powerful enemies.
"This is not the first time we have seen that your character equals your
talent in grandeur," said Blondet. "You behaved just now more like a
demi-god than a man. Not to have been carried away by your heart or your
imagination, not to have taken up the defence of a beloved woman—a
fault they were enticing you to commit, because it would have given those
men of society eaten up with jealousy of your literary fame a triumph over
you—ah! give me leave to say you have attained the height of private
"Yes, you are a statesman," said Nathan. "It is as clever as it is
difficult to avenge a woman without defending her."
"The princess is one of those heroines of the legitimist party, and it is
the duty of all men of honor to protect her quand meme," replied d'Arthez,
coldly. "What she has done for the cause of her masters would excuse all
"He keeps his own counsel!" said Nathan to Blondet.
"Precisely as if the princess were worth it," said Rastignac, joining the
D'Arthez went to the princess, who was awaiting him with the keenest
anxiety. The result of this experiment, which Diane had herself brought
about, might be fatal to her. For the first time in her life this woman
suffered in her heart. She knew not what she should do in case d'Arthez
believed the world which spoke the truth, instead of believing her who
lied; for never had so noble a nature, so complete a man, a soul so pure,
a conscience so ingenuous come beneath her hand. Though she had told him
cruel lies she was driven to do so by the desire of knowing a true love.
That love—she felt it dawning in her heart; yes, she loved d'Arthez;
and now she was condemned forever to deceive him! She must henceforth
remain to him the actress who had played that comedy to blind his eyes.
When she heard Daniel's step in the dining-room a violent commotion, a
shudder which reached to her very vitals came over her. That convulsion,
never felt during all the years of her adventurous existence, told her
that she had staked her happiness on this issue. Her eyes, gazing into
space, took in the whole of d'Arthez's person; their light poured through
his flesh, she read his soul; suspicion had not so much as touched him
with its bat's-wing. The terrible emotion of that fear then came to its
reaction; joy almost stifled her; for there is no human being who is not
more able to endure grief than to bear extreme felicity.
"Daniel, they have calumniated me, and you have avenged me!" she cried,
rising, and opening her arms to him.
In the profound amazement caused by these words, the roots of which were
utterly unknown to him, Daniel allowed his hand to be taken between her
beautiful hands, as the princess kissed him sacredly on the forehead.
"But," he said, "how could you know—"
"Oh! illustrious ninny! do you not see that I love you fondly?"
Since that day nothing has been said of the Princess de Cadignan, nor of
d'Arthez. The princess has inherited some fortune from her mother and she
spends all her summers in a villa on the lake of Geneva, where the great
writer joins her. She returns to Paris for a few months in winter.
D'Arthez is never seen except in the Chamber. His writings are becoming
exceedingly rare. Is this a conclusion? Yes, for people of sense; no, for
persons who want to know everything.