A PRINCE OF BOHEMIA
By Honore de Balzac
"My dear friend," said Mme. de la Baudraye, drawing a pile of
manuscript from beneath her sofa cushion, "will you pardon me in our
present straits for making a short story of something which you told me
a few weeks ago?"
"Anything is fair in these times. Have you not seen writers
serving up their own hearts to the public, or very often their
mistresses' hearts when invention fails? We are coming to this, dear;
we shall go in quest of adventures, not so much for the pleasure of
them as for the sake of having the story to tell afterward."
"After all, you and the Marquise de Rochefide have paid the
rent, and I do not think, from the way things are going here, that I
ever pay yours."
"Who knows. Perhaps the same good luck that befell Mme de
Rochefide may come to you."
"Do you call it good luck to go back to one's husband?"
"No; only great luck. Come, I am listening."
And Mme. de Baudraye read as follows:
Scene -- a splendid salon in the Rue de Chartres-du-Roule. One
of the most famous writers of the day discovered sitting on a sette
beside a very illustrious marquise, with whom he is on such terms of
intimacy as a man has a right to claim when a woman singles him out and
keeps him at her side in a complacent souffredouleur
(drudge) rather than a makeshift.
"Well," says she, "have you found those letters of which you
spoke yesterday? You said that you could not tell me about him
"Yes, I have them."
"It is your turn to speak; I am listening like a child when his
mother begins the tale of Le Grand Serpentin Vert" (The
Big Green Toadstool).
"I count the young man in question in that group of our
acquaintances which we are wont to style our friends. He comes of a
good family; he is a man of infinite parts and ill-luck, full of
excellent dispositions and most charming conversation; young as he is,
he has seen much, and, while awaiting better things, he dwells in
Bohemia. Bohemianism, which by rights should be called the doctrine of
the Boulevard des Italiens, finds its recruits among young men between
twenty and thirty, all of them men of recognition one day, and when
that day comes, of great distinction. They are distinguished as it is
at carnival time, when their exuberant wit, repressed for the rest of
the year, finds a vent in more or less ingenious buffoonery."
"What times we live in! What an irrational central power which
allows such tremendous energies to run to waste. There are diplomatists
in Bohemia quite capable of overturning Russia's designs, if they felt
the power of France at their backs. There are writers, administrators,
soldiers, and artists in Bohemia; every faculty, every kind of brain is
represented there. Bohemia is a microcosm. If the Czar would buy
Bohemia for a score of millions and set its population down in Odessa
-- always supposing that they consented to leave the asphalt of the
boulevards -- Odessa would be Paris within the year. In Bohemia, you
find the flower doomed to wither and come to nothing; the flower of the
wonderful young manhood of France, so sought after by Napoleon and
Louis XIV, so neglected for the last thirty years by the modern
Gerontocracy that is blighting everything else -- that splendid young
manhood of whom a witness so little prejudiced as Professor Tissot
wrote, 'Of all sides the Emperor employed a younger generation in every
way worthy of him; in his councils, in the general administration, in
negotiations bristling with difficulties or full of danger, in the
government of conquered countries; and in all places Youth responded to
his demands upon it. Young men were for Napoleon the missi
dominici of Charlemagne.'"
The word Bohemian tells you everything. Bohemia has nothing and
lives upon what it has. Hope is its religion; faith (in one's self) its
creed; charity is supposed to be its budget. All these young men are
greater than their misfortune; they are under the feet of Fortune, yet
more than equal to Fate. Always ready to mount and tan an if,
a feuilleton (skit), blithe as only those can be
that are deep in debt and drink deep to match, and finally -- for here
I come to my point -- hot lovers, and what lovers! Picture to yourself
Lovelace, and Henri Quatre, and the Regent, and Werther, and
Saint-Preux, and Rene, and Marshal Richelieu -- think of all these in a
single man, and you will have some idea of their way of love. What
lovers! Eclectic of all things in love, they will serve up a passion to
a woman's order; their hearts are like a bill of fare in a restaurant.
Perhaps they have never read Stendahl's 'De l'Amour' (Of Love), but
unconsciously they put it in practice. They have by heart their
chapters -- Love-Taste, Love-Passion, Love-Caprice, Love-Crystallized,
and more than all, Love-Transient. All is good in their eyes. They
invented the burlesque axion, 'In sight of man all women are equal.'
The actual text is more vigorously worded, but as in my opinion the
spirit is false, I do not stand nice upon the letter."
"My friend, madame, is named Gavriel Jean Anne Victor Benjamin
George Ferdinand Charles Edward Rusticoli, Comte de la Palferine. The
Rusticoli came to France with Catherine de Medici, having been ousted
about that time from their infinitesimal Tuscan sovereignty. They are
distantly related to the house of Este, and connected by marriage with
the Guises. On the Day of Saint Bartholomew they slew a goodly number
of Protestants, and Charles IX bestowed the hand of the heiress of the
Comte de la Palferine upon the Rusticoli of that time. The county,
however, being a part of the confiscated lands of the Duke of Savoy,
was repurchased by Henri IV, when that great king so far blundered as
to restore the feif; and in exchange the Rusticoli -- who had borne
arms long before the Medici bore them, to wit, argent a
cross flory azure (the cross flower-de-luced by
letters-patent granted by Charles IX), and a count's coronet, with two
peasants for supporters, with the motto IN HOC SIGNO VINCIMUS - the
Rusticoli, I repeat, retained their title, and received a couple of
offices under the crown with the government of a province."
"From the time of the Valois till the reign of Richelieu, as it
may be called, the Rusticoli played a most illustrious part; under
Louis XIV their glory waned somewhat, under Louis XV it went out
altogether. My friend's grandfather wanted all that was left to the
once brilliant house with Mlle. Laguerre, whom he first discovered, and
brought into fashion before Bouret's time. Charles Edward's own father
was an officer without any fortune in 1789. The Revolution came to his
assistance; he had the sense to drop his title, and became plain
Rusticoli. Among other deeds, M. Rusticoli married a wife during the
war in Italy, a Capponi, a goddaughter of the Countess of Albany (hence
La Palferine's final names.) Rusticoli was one of the best colonels in
the army. The Emperor made him a commander of the Legion of Honor and a
count. His spine was slightly curved, and his son was wont to say of
him, laughingly, that he was un comte refait(contrefait)."
Rusticoli, for he became a briadier-general at Ratisbon
and a general of the division on the field of Wagram, died at Vienna
almost immediately after his promotion, or his name and ability would
sooner or later have brought him the marshal's baton. Under the
Restoration he would certainly have repaired the fortunes of a great
and noble family so brilliant even as far back as 1100, centuries
before they took the French title -- for the Rusticoli had given a pope
to the church and twice revolutionized the kingdom of Naples -- so
illustrious again under the Valois; so dexterous in the days of the
Fronde, that obstinate Frondeurs though they were, they still existed
through the reign of Louis XIV. Mazarin favored them; there was the
Tuscan strain in them still, and he recognized it."
"Today, when Charles Edward de la Palferine's name is
mentioned, not three persons in a hundred know the history of his home.
But the Bourbons have actually left a Foix-Grailly to live by his easel.
"Ah! If you but knew how brilliantly Charles Edward accepts his
obscure position! How he scoffs at the bourgeois of 1830! What attic
sale in his wit! He would be the king of Bohemia, if Bohemia would
endure a king. His verve is inexhaustible. To him we owe
a map of the country and the names of the seven castles which Nodier
could not discover."
"The one thing wanting in one of the cleverest skits of our
time," said the marquise.
"You can form your own opinions of La Palferine from a few
characteristic touches," cautioned Nathan. "He once came upon a friend
of his, a fellow Bohemian, involved in a dispute on the boulevard with
a bourgeois who chose to consider himself affronted. To the modern
powers that be, Bohemia is insolent in the extreme. There was talk of
calling one another out."
"'One moment,' interposed La Palferine, as much Lauzun for the
occasion as Lauzan himself could have been, 'One moment. Monsieur was
born, I suppose?'"
"'Yes, are you born? What is your name?'"
"'Godin, eh!' exclaimed La Palerine's friend."
"'One moment, my dear fellow,' interrupted La Palferine. 'There
are the Trigaudins. Are you any of them?'"
"'No? Then you are one of the new dukes of Gaeta, I suppose, of
imperial creation? No? Oh, well, how can you expect my friend to cross
swords with you when he will be secretary of an embassy and ambassador
some day, and you will owe him respect? Godin, the thing is
non-existent! You are a nonentity, Godin. My friend cannot be expected
to beat the air! When one is somebody, one cannot fight with a nobody!
Come, my dear fellow -- good day.'"
"'My respects to madame,' added the friend."
"Another day La Palferine was walking with a friend who flung
his cigar end in the face of a passerby. The recipient had the bad
taste to resent this."
"'You have stood your antagonist's fire,' said the young count.
'The witnesses declare that honor is satisfied.'"
"La Palferine owed his tailor a thousand francs, and the man
instead of going himself sent his assistant to ask for the money. The
assistant found the unfortunate debtor up six pairs of stairs at the
back of a yard at the farther end of the Fauborg du Roule. The room was
unfurnished save for a bed (such a bed!), a table, and such a table! La
Palferine heard the preposterous demand. 'A demand which I should
qualify as illegal,' he said when he told us the story, 'made, as it
was, at seven o'clock in the morning.'"
"'Go', he answered, with the gesture and attitude of a
Mirabeau, 'tell your master in what condition you find me.'"
"The assistant apologized and withdrew. La Palferine, seeing
the young man on the landing, rose in the attire celebrated in verse in
'Britannicus' to add, 'Remark to stairs! Pay particular attention to
the stairs; do not forget to tell him about the stairs!'"
"In every position into which chance has thrown La Palferine,
he has never failed to rise to the occasion. All that he does is witty
and never in bad taste; always and in everything he displays the genius
of Rivarol, the polished subtlety of the old French noble. It was he
who told that delicious anecdote of a friend of Laffitte the banker. A
national fund had been started to give back to Laffitte the mansion in
which the Revolution of 1830 was brewed; and this firend appeared at
the offices of the fund with, 'Here are five francs, give me a hundred
sous change' (as 100 cents=$1). A caricature was made of it. It was
once La Palferine's misfortune, in judicial style, to make a young girl
a mother. The girl, not a very simply innocent, confessed all to her
mother, a respectable matron, who hurried forthwith to La Palferine and
asked what he meant to do."
"'Why, madame,' said he, "I am neither a surgeon nor a
"She collapsed, but three or four years later she returned to
the charge, still persisting in her inquiry: 'What did La Palferine
mean to do?'"
"'Well madame,' returned he, 'when the child is seven years
old, an age at which a boy ought to pass out of women's hands' -- an
indication of entire agreement on the mother's part -- 'if the child is
really mine' -- another gesture of assent -- 'if there is a striking
likeness, if he bids fair to be a gentleman, if I can recognize in him
my turn of mind, and more particularly the Rusticoli air; then, oh --
ah!' -- a new movement from the matron -- 'on my word and honor, I will
make him a cornet
of -- sugar-plums!'"
"All this, if you permit me to make use of the phraseology
employed by M. Sainte-Beuve for his biographies of obscurities -- all
this, I repeat, is the playful and sprightly yet already somewhat
decadent side of a strong race. It smacks rather of Parc-aux-Cerfs than
of the Hotel de Rambouillet. It is a race of the strong rather than of
the sweet; I incline to lay a little debauchery to its charge, and more
than I should wish in brilliant and generous natures; it is gallantry
after the fashion of the Marechal de Richelieu, high spirits and frolic
carried rather too far; perhaps we may see in it the outrances
of another age, the Eighteenth Century pushed to extremes; it harks
back to the Musketeers; it is an exploit stolen from Champcenetz; nay,
such light-hearted inconstancy takes us back to the festooned and
ornate period of the old court of the Valois. In an age as moral as the
present, we are bound to regard audacity of this kind sternly; still,
at the same time that 'cornet of sugar-plums' may serve to warn young
girls of the perils of lingering where fancies, more charming than
chastened, come thickly from the first; on the rosy flowery unguarded
slopes, where trespasses ripen into errors full of equivocal
effervescence, into too palpitating issues. The anecdote puts La
Palferine's genius before you in all its vivacity and completeness. He
realizes Pascal's entre-deux (middle space), he
comprehends the whole scale between tenderness and pitilessness, and,
like Epaminondus, he is equally great in extremes. And not merely so,
his epigram stamps the epoch; the accoucheur is a modern
innovation. All the refinements of modern civilization are summed up in
the phrase. It is monumental."
"Look here, my dear Nathan, what farrago of nonsense is this?"
asked the marquise in bewilderment.
"Madame la Marquise," returned Nathan, "you do not know the
value of these 'precious' phrases; I am talking Sainte-Beuve, the new
kind of French. I resume. Walking one day arm-in-arm with a friend
along the boulevard, he was accosted by a ferocious creditor, who
"'Are you thinking of me, sir?'"
"'Not the least in the world,' answered the count."
"Remark the difficulty of the position. Talleyrand, in similar
circumstances, had already replied, 'You are very inquisitive, my dear
fellow!' To imitate the inimitable great man was out of the question.
La Palferine, generous as Buckingham, could not bear to be caught
empty-handed. One day when he had nothing to give a little Savoyard
chimney-sweeper, he dipped a hand into a barrel of grapes in a grocer's
doorway and filled the child's cap from it. The little one ate away at
his grapes; the grocer began by laughing, and ended by holding out his
"'Ah, fie! monsieur,' said La Palferine. 'your left hand ought
to know what my right hand doth.'"
"With his adventurous courage, he never refuses any odds, but
there is wit in his bravado. In the Passage de l'Opera he chanced to
meet a man who had spoken slightingly of him, elbowed him as he passed,
and then turned and jostled him a second time."
"'You are very clumsy!'"
"'On the contrary; I did it on purpose.'"
"The young man pulled out his card. La Palerine dropped it. 'It
has been carried too long in the pocket. Be good enough to give me
"On the ground he received a thrust; blood was drawn; his
antagonist wished to stop."
"'You are wounded, monsieur!'"
"'I disallow the botte' (thrust), said La
Palferine, as coolly as if he had been in the fencing saloon; then as
he riposted (sending the point home this time), he added, 'There is the
right thrust, monsieur!'"
"His atagonist kept his bed for six months."
"This, still following on Monsieur Sainte-Beuve's tracks,
recalls the raffines (lit.: keen), the fine-edged
raillery of the best days of the monarchy. In this speech you discern
an untrammeled but drifting life; a gaiety of imagination that deserts
us when our first youth is past. The prime of the blossom is over, but
there remains the dry compact seed with the germs of life in it, ready
against the coming winter. Do you not see that these things are
symptoms of something unsatisfied, of an unrest impossible to analyze,
still less to describe, yet not incomprehensible; a something ready to
break out if occasion calls into flying, unleaping flame? It is theaccidia
of the cloister; a trace of sourness, of ferment engendered by the
enforced stagnation of youthful energies, a vague, obscure melancholy."
"That will do," said the marquise; "you are giving me a mental
"It is the early afternoon languor. If a man has nothing to do,
he will sooner get into mischief than do nothing at all; this
invariably happens in France. Youth at the present day has two sides to
it; the studious or unappreciated, and the ardent or impassioned."
"That will do!" repreated Mme. de Rochefide, with an
authoritative gesture. "You are setting my nerves on edge."
"To finish my portrait of La Palferine, I hasten to make the
plunge into the gallant regions of his character, or you will not
understand the peculiar genius of an admirable representative of a
certain section of mischievous youth -- youth strong enough, be it
said, to laugh at the position in which it is put by those in power;
shrewd enough to do no work, since work profiteth nothing, yet so full
of life that it fastens upon pleasure -- the one thing that cannot be
taken away. And meanwhile a bourgeois, mercantile, and bigoted policy
continues to cut off all the sluices through which so much aptitude and
ability would find an outlet. Poets and men of science are not wanted.
"To give you an idea of the stupidity of the new Court, I will
tell you of something which happened to La Palferine. There is a sort
of relieving officer on the civil list. This functionary one day
discovered that La Palferine was in dire distress, drew up a report no
doubt, and brought the descendant of the Rusticoli fifty francs by way
of alms. La Palferine received the visitor with perfect courtesy, and
talked of various persons at Court."
"'Is it true,' he asked, 'that Mademoiselle d'Oleans
contributes such and such a sum to this benevolent scheme started by
her nephew? If so, it is very gracious of her.'"
"Now La Palferine had a servant, a little Savoyard aged ten,
who waited on him without wages. La Palferine called him Father
Anchise, and used to day, 'I have never seen such a mixture of besotted
foolishness with great intelligence; he would go through fire and water
for me; he understands everything -- and yet he cannot grasp the fact
that I can do nothing for him.'"
"Anchise was dispatched to a livery stable with instructions to
hire a handsome brougham with a man in livery behind it. By the time
the carriage arrived below, La Palferine had skillfully piloted the
conversation to the subject of the functions of this visitor, whom he
has since called 'the unmitigated misery man,' and learned the nature
of his duties and his stipend."
"'Do they allow you a carriage to go about the town in this
"At that, La Palferine and a friend who happened to be with him
went down stairs with the poor soul and insisted on putting him into
the carriage. It was raining in torrents. La Palferine had thought of
everything. He offered to drive the official to the next house on his
list; and when the almoner came down again, he found the carriage
waiting for him at the door. The man in livery handed him a note
written in pencil:"
"'The carriage has been engaged for three days. Count Rusticoli
de la Palferine is too happy to associate himself with Court charities
by lending wings to Royal beneficence.'"
"La Palferine now calls the civil list the uncivil list."
"He was once passionately loved by a lady of somewhat light
conduct. Antonia lived in the Rue du Helder; she had seen and been seen
to some extent, but at the time of her acquaintance with La Palferine
she had not yet 'an establishment.' Antonia was not wanting in the
insolence of the old days, now degenerating into rudeness among women
of her class. After a fortnight of unmixed bliss, she was compelled, in
the interest of her civil list, to return to a less exclusive system;
and La Palferine, discovering a certain lack of sincerity in her
dealings with him, sent Madame Antonia a note which made her famous."
"'MADAME: -- Your conduct causes me much surprise and no less
distress. Not content with rending my heart with your disdain, you have
been so little thoughtful as to retain a toothbrush, which my means
will not permit me to replace, my estates being mortgaged beyond their
"'Adieu, too fair and too ungrateful friend! May we meet again
in a better world.'"
"Assuredly (to avail ourselves yet further of Sainte-Beuve's
Babylonish dialect), this far outpasses the raillery of Sterne's
'Sentimental Journey;' it might be Scarron without his grossness. Nay,
I do not know but that Moliere in his lighter mood would not have said
of it, as of Cyrano de Bergerac's best -- 'This is mine.' Richelieu
himself was not more complete when he wrote to the princess waiting for
him in the Palais Royal -- 'Stay there, my queen, to charm the scullion
lads.' At the same time, Charles Edward's humor is less biting. I am
not sure that this kind of wit was known among the Greeks and Romans.
Plato, possibly, upon a closer inspection, approaches it, but from the
austere and musical side---"
"No more of that jargon," the marquise broke in, "in print it
may be endurable; but to have it grating upon my ears is a punishment
which I do not in the least deserve."
"He first met Claudine on this wise," continued Nathan. "It was
one of the unfilled days, when Youth is a burden to itself; days when
Youth, reduced by the overweening presumption of Age to a condition of
potential energy and dejection, emerges therefrom (like Blondet under
the Resoration), either to get into mischief or to set about some
colossal piece of buffoonery, half excused by the very audacity of its
conception. La Palferine was sauntering, cane in hand, up and down the
pavement between the Rue de Grammont and the Rue de Richelieu, when in
the distance he descried a woman too elegantly dressed, covered, as he
phrased it, with a great deal of portable property, too expensive and
too carelessly worn for its owner to be other than a princess of the
Court or of the stage, it was not easy at first to say which. But after
July, 1830, in his opinion, there was no mistaking the indications --
the princess can only be a princess of the stage.
"The count came up and walked by her side as if she had given
him an assignation. He followed her with a courteous persistence, a
persistence in good taste, giving the lady from time to time, and
always at the right moment, an authoritative glance, which compelled
her to submit to his escort. Anybody, but La Palferine would have been
frozen by his reception, and disconcerted by the lady's first effort to
rid herself of her cavalier, by her chilly air, her curt speeches; but
no gravity, with all the will in the world, could hold out long against
La Palferine's jesting replies. The fair stranger went into her
milliner's store. Charles Edward followed, took a seat, and gave his
opinions and advice like a man that meant to pay. This coolness
disturbed the lady, she went out."
"On the stairs she spoke to her persecutor."
"'Monsieur, I am about to call upon one of my husband's
relatives, and elderly lady, Mme. de Bonfalot --'"
"'Ah! Madame de Bonfalot, charmed, I am sure. I am going
"The pair accordingly went. Charles Edward came in with the
lady, every one believed that she had brought him with her. He took
part in the conversation, was lavish of his polished and brilliant wit.
The visit lengthened out. This was not what he wanted."
"'Madame,' he said addressing the fair stranger, "'do not
forget that your husband is waiting for us, and only allowed us a
quarter of an hour.'"
"Taken aback by such boldness (which, as you know, is never
displeasing to you women), led captive by the conqueror's glance, by
the astute yet candid air which Charles Edward can assume when he
chooses, the lady rose, took the arm of her self-constituted escort,
and went downstairs, but on the threshold she stopped to speak to him."
"'Monsieur, I like a joke --'"
"'And so do I.'"
"'But this may turn to earnest,' he added; 'it only rests with
you. I am the Comte de la Palferine, and I am delighted that it is in
my power to lay my heart and my fortunes at your feet.'"
"La Palferine was at that time twenty-two years old (This
happened in 1834). Luckily for him, he was fashionably dressed. I can
paint his portrait for you in a few words. He was the living image of
Louis XII, with the same white forehead and gracious outline of the
temples, the same olive skin (that Italian olive tint which turns white
where the light falls on it), the grown hair worn rather long, the
black 'royale' (Anglice: imperial), the grave and melancholy
expression, for La Palferine's character and exterior were amazingly at
"At the sound of the name, and the sight of its owner,
something like a quiver thrilled through Claudine. La Palferine saw the
vibration, and shot a glance at her out of the dark depths of
almond-shaped eyes with purpled lids, and those faint lines about them
which tell of pleasures as costly as painful fatigue. With those eyes
upon her, she said -- 'Your address?'"
"'What want of address!'"
"'Oh, pshaw!' she said, smiling. 'A bird on the bough?'"
"'Good-bye, madame, you are such a woman as I seek, but my
fortune is far from equaling my desire --'"
"He bowed, and there and then left her. Two days later, by on
of the strange chances that can only happen in Paris, he had betaken
himself to a money-lending wardrobe dealer to sell such of his clothing
as he could spare. He was just receiving the price with an uneasy air,
after long chaffering, when the strange lady passed and recognized him."
"'Once and for all,' cried he to the bewildered wardrobe
dealer, 'I tell you, I am not going to take your trumpet!'"
"He pointed to a huge, much-dinted musical instrument, hanging
up outside a background of uniforms, civil and military. Then, proudly
and impetuously, he followed the lady."
"From that great day of the trumpet these two understood one
another in admiration. Charles Edward's ideas on the subject of love
are as sound as possible. According to him, a man cannot love twice;
there is but one love in his lifetime, but that love is a deep and
shoreless sea. It may break in upon him at any time, as the grace of
God found St. Paul; and a man may live sixty years and never know love.
Perahps, to quote Heine's superb phrase, it is 'the secret malady of
the heart' -- a sense of the Infinite that there is within us, together
with the revelation of the ideal Beauty in its visible form. This Love,
in short, comprehends both the creature and creation. But so long as
there is no question of this great poetical conception, the loves that
cannot last can only be taken lightly, as if they were in a manner
snatches of song compared with Love the epic."
"To Charles Edward the adventure brought neither the
thunderbolt signal of love's coming, nor yet that gradual revelation of
an inward fairness which draws two natures by degrees more and more
strongly each to each. For there are but two ways of love -- love at
first sight, doubtless akin to the Highland 'second-sight,' and that
slow fusion of two natures which realizes Plato's 'man-woman.' But if
Charles Edward did not love, he was loved to distraction. Claudine
found love made complete, body and soul; in her, in short, La Palferine
awakened the one passion of her life; while for him Claudine was only a
most charming mistress. The devil himself, a most potent magician
certainly, with all hell at his back, could never have changed the
natures of these two unequal fires. I dare affirm that Claudine not
infrequently bored Charles Edward."
"'Stale fish and the woman you do not love are only fit to
fling out of the window after three days,' he used to say."
"In Bohemia there is little secrecy observed over these
affairs. La Palferine used to talk a good deal of Claudine; but, at the
same time, none of us saw her, nor so much as knew her name. For us,
Claudine was almost a mythical personage. All of us acted in the same
way, reconciling the requirements of our common life with the rules of
good taste. Claudine, Hortense, the Baroness, the Bourgeoise, the
Empress, the Spaniard, the Lioness -- these were cryptic titles which
permitted us to pour out our joys, our cares, vexations, and hopes, and
to communicate our discoveries. Further, none of us went. It has been
known, in Bohemia, that chance discovered the identity of the fair
unknown; and at once, as by tacit convention, not one of us spoke of
her again. This fact may show how far youth possesses a sense of true
delicacy. How admirably certain natures of a finer clay know the limit
line where jest must end, and all that host of things French covered by
the slang word blague, a word which will shortly be cast
out of the language (let us hope), and yet it is the only one which
conveys an idea of the spirit of Bohemia.
"So we often used to joke about Claudine and the count. 'What
are you making of Claudine?' 'How is Claudine?' 'Toujours Claudine?'
sung to the air of 'Toujours Gessler?'"
"'I wish you all such a mistress, for all the harm I wish you,'
La Palferine began one day. 'No greyhound, no basset-dog, no poodle can
match her in gentleness, submissiveness, and complete tenderness. There
are times when I reproach myself, when I take myself to task for my
hard heart. Claudine obeys with saintly sweetness. She comes to me, I
tell her to go, she goes, she does not even cry till she is out in the
courtyard. I refuse to see her for a whole week at a time. I tell her
to come at such an hour on Tuesday; and be it midnight or six o'clock
in the morning, ten o'clock, five o'clock, breakfast-time, dinner-time,
bed-time, any particular inconvenient hour in the day -- she will come,
punctual to the minute, beautiful, beautifully dressed, and enchanting.
And she is a married woman, with all the complications and duties of a
household. The fibs that she must invent, the reasons she must find for
conforming to my whims would tax the ingenuity of some of us! Claudine
never wearies; you can always count upon her. It is not love, I tell
her, it is infatuation. She writes to me every day; I do not read her
letters; she found that out, but still she writes. See here; there are
two hundred letters in this casket. She begs me to wipe my razors on
one of her letters every day, and I punctually do so. She thinks, and
rightly, that the sight of her handwriting will put me in mind of her.'"
"La Palferine was dressing as he told us this. I took up the
letter which he was about to put to this use, read it, and kept it, as
he did not ask to have it back. Here it is. I looked for it, and I
found it as I promised."
"'Well, my dear, are you satisfied with me? I did not even ask
for your hand, yet you might easily have given it to me, and I longed
so much to hold it to my heart, to my lips. No, I did not ask, I am so
afraid of displeasing you. Do you know one thing? Though I am cruelly
sure that anything I do is a matter of perfect indifference to you, I
am none the less extremely timid in my conduct: the woman that belongs
to you, whatever her title to call herself yours, must not incur so
much as the shadow of blame. In so far as love comes from the angels in
heaven, from whom there are no secrets hid, my love is as pure as the
purest; wherever I am I feel that I am in your presence, and I try to
do you honor.'"
"'All that you said about my manner of dress impressed me very
much; I began to understand how far above others are those that come of
a noble race. There was still something of the opera girl in my gowns,
in my way of dressing my hair. In a moment I saw the distance between
me and good taste. Next time you shall receive a duchess, you shall not
know me again! Ah, how good you have been to your Claudine! How many
and many a time I have thanked you for telling me these things! What
interest lay in those few words! You had taken thought for that thing
belonging to you called Claudine? This imbecile would never have opened
my eyes; he thinks that everything I do is right; and beside, he is
much too hundrum, too matter-of-fact to have any feeling for the
"'Tuesday is very slow of coming for my impatient mind! On
Tuesday I shall be with you for several hours. Ah, when it comes I will
try to think that the hours are months, that it will be so always. I am
living in hope of that morning now, as I shall live upon the memory of
it afterward. Hope is memory that craves; and recollection, memory
sated. What a beautiful life within life thought makes for us in this
"'Sometimes I dream of inventing new ways of tenderness all my
own, a secret which no other woman shall guess. A cold sweat breaks out
over me at the thought that something may happen to prevent this
meeting. Oh, I would break with him for good, if need was, but nothing
here could possibly interfere; it would be from your side. If you take
it from me, Charles, you do not know what he will suffer; I should
drive him wild. But even if you do not want me, if you are going out,
let me come, all the same, to be with you while you dress; only to see
you, I ask no more than that; only to show you that I love you without
a thought of self.'"
"'Since you gave me leave to love you, for you gave me leave,
since I am yours; since that day I loved and love you with the whole
strength of my soul; and I shall love you forever, for once having
loved you, no one could, no one ought to love another. And, you see,
when those eyes that ask nothing but to see you are upon you, you will
feel that in your Claudine there is something divine, called into
existence by you.'"
"'Alas! With you I can never play the coquette. I am like a
mother with her child; I endure anything from you; I, that was once so
imperious and proud. I have made dukes and princes fetch and carry for
me; aides-de-camp, worth more than all the court of Charles X put
together, have done my errands, yet I am treating you as my spoilt
child. But where is the use of coquetry? It would be pure waste. And
yet, monsieur, for want of coquetry I shall never inspire love in you.
I know it; I feel it; yet I do as before, feeling a power that I cannot
withstand, thinking that this utter self-surrender will win me the
sentiment innante in all men (so he tells me) for the thing that
belongs to them.'"
"'Ah, how darkly sadness entered my heart yesterday when I
found that I must give up the joy of seeing you. One single thought
held me back from the arms of Death! It was they will! To stay away was
to do thy will, to obey an order from thee. Oh Charles, I was so
pretty; I looked a lovelier woman for you than that beautiful German
princess whom you gave me for an example, whom I have studied at the
opera. And yet -- you might have thought that I had overstepped the
limits of my nature. You have left me no confidence in myself; perhaps
I am plain after all. Oh! I loathe myself, I dream of my radiant
Charles Edward, and my brain turns. I shall go mad, I know I shall. Do
not laugh, do not talk to me of the fickleness of women. If we are
inconstant you are strangely capricious. You take away the hours of
love that made a poor creature's happiness for ten whole days; the
hours on which she drew to be charming and kind to all that came to see
her! After all, you were the source of my kindness to him; you do not
know what pain you give him. I wonder what I must do to keep you, or
simply to keep the right to be yours sometimes. When I think that you
never would come here to me! With what delicious emotion I would wait
upon you! There are other women more favored than I. There are women to
whom you say, 'I love you.' To me you have never said more than 'You
are a good girl.' Certain speeches of yours, though you do not know it,
gnaw at my heart. Clever men sometimes ask me what I am thinking. I am
thinking of my self-abasement -- the prostration of the poorest outcast
in the presence of the Saviour.'"
"There are still three more pages, you see. La Palferine
allowed me to take the letter, with the traces of tears that still
seemed hot upon it! Here was proof of the truth of his story. Marcas, a
shy man enough with women, was in ecstasies over a second which he read
in his corner before lighting his pipe with it."
"'Why, any woman in love will write that sort of thing!' cried
La Palferine. 'Love gives all women intelligence and style, which
proves that here in France style proceeds from the matter and not from
the words. See now how well this is thought out, how clear-headed
sentiment is' -- and with that he read us another letter, far superior
to the artificial and labored productions which we novelists write."
"One day poor Claudine heard that La Palferine was in a
critical position; it was a question of meeting a bill of exchange. An
unlucky idea occurred to her; she put a tolerably large sum in gold
into an exquisitely embroidered purse and went to him."
"'Who has taught you to be so bold as to meddle with my
household affairs?' La Palferine cried angrily. 'Mend my socks and work
slippers for me, if it amuses you. So! -- You will play the duchess,
and you turn the story of Danae against the aristocracy.'"
"He emptied the purse into his hand as he spoke, and made as
though he would fling the money in her face. Claudine, in her terror,
did not guess that he was joking; she shrank back, stumbled over a
chair, and fell with her head against the corner of the marble
mantel-piece. She thought she should have died. When she could speak,
poor woman, as she lay on the bed, all that she said was, 'I deserved
"For a moment La Palferine was in despair; his anguish revived
Claudine. She rejoiced in the mishap; she took advantage of her
suffering to compel La Palferine to take the money and release him from
an awkward position. Then followed a variation on la Fontaine's fable,
in which a man blesses the thieves that brought him a sudden impulse of
tenderness from his wife. And while we are upon this subject, another
saying will paint the man for you."
"Claudine went home again, made up some kind of tale as best
she could to account for her bruised forehead, and fell dangerously
ill. An abscess formed in the head. The doctor -- Bianchon, I believe
-- yes, it was Bianchon -- wanted to cut off her hair. The Duchesse de
Berri's hair is not more beautiful than Claudine's; she would not hear
of it, she told Bianchon in confidence that she could not allow it to
be cut without leave from the Comte de la Palferine. Bianchon went to
Charles Edward. Charles Edward heard him with much seriousness. The
doctor had explained the case at length, and showed that it was
absolutely necessary to sacrifice the hair to insure the success of the
"'Cut off Claudine's hair!' cried he in peremptory tones. 'No.
I would sooner lose her.'"
"Even now, after a lapse of four years, Bianchon still quotes
that speech; we have laughed over it for half an hour together.
Claudine, informed of the verdict, saw in it a proof of affection; she
felt sure that she was loved. In the face of her weeping family, with
her husband on his knees, she was inexorable. She kept the hair. The
strength that came with the belief that she was loved came to her aid,
the operation succeeded perfectly."
There are stirrings of the inner life which throw all the
calculations of surgery into disorder and baffle all the laws of
"Claudine wrote a delicious letter to La Palferine, a letter in
which the orthography was doubtful and the punctuation all to seek, to
tell him of the happy result of the operation, and to add that Love was
wiser than all the sciences."
"'Now,' said La Palferine one day. 'What am I to do to get rid
"'Why, she is not at all troublesome; she leaves you master of
your actions,' objected we."
"'That is true,' returned La Palferine, 'but I do not choose
that anything shall slip into my life without my consent.'"
"From that day he set himself to torment Claudine. It seemed
that he held the bourgeoise, the nobody, in utter horror; nothing would
satisfy him but a woman with a title. Claudine, it was true, had made
progress; she had learned to dress as well as the best dressed women of
the Saint-Germain suburb; she had freed her bearing of unhallowed
traces; she walked with a chastened, inimitable grace; but this was not
enough. The praise of her enabled Claudine to swallow down the rest."
"But one day La Palferine said, 'If you wish to be the mistress
of one La Palferine, poor, penniless, and without prospects as he is,
you ought at least to represent him worthily. You should have a
carriage and liveried servants and a title. Give me all the
gratifications of vanity that will never be mine in my own person. The
woman whom I honor with my regard ought never to go on foot; if she is
bespattered with mud, I suffer. That is how I am made. If she is mine,
she must be admired by all Paris. All Paris shall envy me my good
fortune. If some little whipper-snapper seeing a brilliant countess
pass in her briliant carriage shal say to himself: "Who can call such a
divinity his?" and grow thoughtful -- why, it will double my pleasure.'"
"La Palferine owned to us that he flung this programme at
Claudine's head simply to rid himself of her. As a result he was
stupefied with astonishment for the first and probably the only time in
"'Dear,' she said, and there was a ring in her voice that
betrayed the great agitation which shook her whole being, 'it is well.
All this shall be done, or I will die.'"
"She let fall a few happy tears on his hand as she kissed it."
"'You have told me what I must do to be your mistress still,'
she added. 'I am glad.'"
"'And then' (La Palferine told us), 'she went out with a little
coquettish gesture like a woman that has had her way. As she stood in
my garret doorway, tall and proud, she seemed to reach the stature of
an antique sibyl.'"
"All this should sufficiently explain the manners and customs
of the Bohemia in which this young condottiere
is one of the most brilliant figures," Nathan continued after a pause.
"Now it so happened that I discovered Claudine's identity, and could
understand the appalling truth of one line which you perhaps overlooked
in that letter of hers. It was on this wise."
The marquise, too thoughtful now for laughter, bade Nathan "Go
on," in a tone that told him plainly how deeply she had been impressed
by these strange things, and even more plainly how much she was
interested in La Palferine, of the many Christian names.
"In 1829, one of the most influential, steady, and clever of
dramatic writers was du Bruel. His real name is unknown to the public;
on the playbills he is de Cursy. Under the Restoration he had a place
in the Civil Service; and being really attached to the elder branch, he
sent in his resignation bravely in 1830, and ever since has written
twice as many plays to fill the deficit in his budget made by his noble
conduct. At that time du Bruel was forty years old; you know the story
of his life. Like many of his brethren, he bore a stage dancer an
affection hard to explain, but well known in the whole world of
letters. The woman, as you know, was Tullia, one of the 'first ladies'
of the Academie Royale de Musique. Tullia is merely a pseudonym like du
Bruel's name of de Cursy."
"For ten years between 1817 and 1827 Tullia was in her glory on
the heights of the stage of the opera. With more beauty than education,
a mediocre dancer with rather more sense than most of her class, she
took no part in the virtuous reforms which ruined the corps de ballet;
she continued the Guimard dynasty. She owed her ascendency, moreover,
to various well-known protectors, to the Duc de Rhetore (the Duc de
Chaulieu's eldest son), to the influence of a famous superintendent of
Fine Arts, and sundry diplomatists and rich foreigners. During her
apogee she had a neat little house in the Rue Chauchat, and lived as
opera nymphs used to live in the old days. Du Bruel was smitten with
her about the time when the duke's fancy came to an end in 1823. Being
a mere subordinate in the Civil Service, du Bruel tolerated the
superintendent of Fine Arts, believing that he himself was really
preferred. After six years this connection was almost a marriage.
Tullia has always been very careful to say nothing of her family; we
have a vague idea that she comes from Nanterre. One of her uncles,
formerly a simple bricklayer or carpenter, is now, it is said, a very
rich contractor, thanks to her influence and generous loans. This fact
leaked out through du Bruel. He happened to say that Tullia would
inherit a fine fortune sooner or later. The contractor was a bachelor;
he had a weakness for the niece to whom he is indebted."
"'He is not clever enough to be ungrateful,' said she."
"In 1829 Tullia retired from the stage of her own accord. At
the age of thirty she saw that she was growing somewhat stouter, and
she had tried pantomime without success. Her whole art consisted in the
trick of raising her skirts, after Noblet's manner, in a pirouette
which inflated them balloon-fashion and exhibited the smallest possible
quantity of clothing to the pit. The aged Vestris had told her at the
very beginning that this temps, well executed by a fine
woman, is worth all the art imaginable. It is the chest-note C of
dancing. For which reason, he said, the very greatest dancers
--Camargo, Guimard, and Taglioni, all of them thin, brown, and plain --
could only redeem their physical defects by their genius. Tullia, still
in the height of her glory, retired before younger and cleverer
dancers; she did wisely. She was an aristocrat; she had scarcely
stopped below the noblesse in her liaisons; she declined to dip her
ankles in the troubled waters of July. Insolent and beautiful as she
was, Claudine possessed handsome souvenirs, but very little ready
money; still, her jewels were magnificent, and she had as fine
furniture as any one in Paris."
"On quitting the stage when she, forgotten today, was yet in
the height of her fame, one thought possessed her -- she meant du Bruel
to marry her; and at the time of this story, you must understand that
the marriage had taken place, but was kept a secret. How do women of
her class contrive to make a man marry them after seven or eight years
of intimacy? What springs do they touch? What machinery do they set in
motion? But, however comical such domestic dramas may be, we are not
now concerned with them. Du Bruel was secretly married; the thing was
"Cursy before his marriage was supposed to be a jolly
companion; now and again he strayed out all night, and to some extent
led the life of a Bohemian; he would unbend at a supper party. He went
out to all appearance to a rehearsal at the Opera-Comique, or found
himself in some unaccountable way at Dieppe, or Baden, or
Saint-Germain; he gave dinners, led the Titanic thriftless life of
artists, journalists, and writers; levied his tribute on all greenrooms
of Paris; and, in short, was one of us. Finot, Lousteau, du Tillet,
Desroches, Bixiou, Blondet, Couture, and des Lupeaulx tolerated him in
spite of his pedantic manner and ponderous official attitude. But once
married, Tullia made a slave of de Bruel. There was no help for it. He
was in love with Tullia, poor devil."
"'Tullia' (so he said), 'had left the stage to be his alone, to
be a good and charming wife.' And somehow Tullia managed to induce the
most puritanical members of du Bruel's family to accept her. From the
very first, before any one suspected her motives, she assiduously
visited old Madame de Bonfalot, who bored her horridly; she made
handsome presents to mean old Madame de Chisse, du Bruel's great aunt;
she spent a summer with the latter lady, and never missed a single
mass. She even went to confession, received absolution, and took the
sacrament; but this, you must remember, was in the country and under
the aunt's eyes."
"'I shall have real aunts now, do you understand?' she said to
us when she came back in the winter."
"She was so delighted with her respectability, so glad to
renounce her independence, that she found means to compass her end. She
flattered the old people. She went on foot every day to sit for a
couple of hours with Mme. du Bruel the elder while that lady was ill --
a Maintenon's strategem which amazed du Bruel. And he admired his wife
without criticism; he was so fast in the toils already that he did not
feel his bonds."
"Claudine succeeded in making him understand that only under
the elastic system of a bourgeois government, only at the bourgeois
court of the Citizen-King, could a Tullia, now metamorphosed into a
Mme. du Bruel, be accepted in the society which her good sense
prevented her from attempting to enter. Mme. de Bonfalot, Mme. de
Chisse, and Mme. du Bruel received her: she was satisfied. She took up
the position of a well-conducted, simple, and virtuous woman, and never
acted out of character. In three years' time she was introduced to the
friends of these ladies."
"'And still I cannot persuade myself that young Madame du Bruel
used to display her ankles, and the rest, to all Paris, with the light
of a hundred gas-jets pouring upon her,' Mme. Anselme Popinot remarked
"From this point of view, July 1830, inaugurated an era not
unlike the time of the Empire, when a waiting-woman was received at
Court in the person of Mme. Garat, a chief justice's 'lady.' Tullia had
completely broken, as you may guess, with all her old associates; of
her former acquaintances, she only recognized those who could not
compromise her. At the time of her marriage she had taken a very
charming little hotel between a court and a garden, lavishing money on
it with wild extravagance and putting the best part of her furniture
and du Bruel's into it. Everything that she thought common or ordinary
was sold. To find anything comparable to her sparkling splendor, you
could only look back to the days when a Sophie Arnould, a Guimard, or a
Duthe, in all her glory, squandered the fortunes of princes."
"How far did this sumptuous existence affect du Bruel? It is a
delicate question to ask, and a still more delicate one to answer. A
single incident will suffice to give you an idea of Tullia's crotchets.
Her bedspread of Brussels lace was worth ten thousand francs. A famous
actress had another like it. As soon as Claudine heard this, she
allowed her cat, a splendid Angora, to sleep on the bed. That trait
gives you the woman. Du Bruel dared not say a word; he was ordered to
spread abroad that challenge in luxury, so that it might reach the
other. Tullia was very fond of this gift from the Duc de Rhetore; but
one day, five years after her marriage, she played with her cat to such
purpose that the coverlet -- furbelows, flounces, and all -- was torn
to shreds, and replaced by a sensible quilt, a quilt that was a quilt,
and not a symptom of the peculiar form of insanity which drives these
women to make up by an insensate luxury for the childish days when they
lived on raw apples, to quote the expression of a journalist. The day
when the bedspread was torn to tatters marked a new epoch in her
"Cursy was remarkable for his ferocious industry. Nobody
suspects the source to which Paris owes the patch-and-powder eighteenth
century vaudevilles that flooded the stage. Those thousand and one
vaudevilles, which raised such an outcry among the feuilletonistes,
at Mme. du Bruel's express desire. She insisted that her
husband should purchase the hotel on which she had spent so much, where
she had housed five hundred francs' worth of furniture. Wherefore?
Tullia never enters into explanations; she understands the sovereign
woman's reason to admiration."
"'People made a good deal of fun of Cursy,' said she. 'But, as
a matter of fact, he found this house in the eighteenth century
rouge-box, powder, puffs, and spangles. He would never have thought of
it but for me,' she added, burying herself in her cushions in her
"She delivered herself thus on her return from a first night.
Du Bruel's piece had succeeded, and she foresaw an avalanche of
criticisms. Tullia had her At Homes. Every Monday she gave a tea party;
her society was as select as might be, and she neglected nothing that
could make her house pleasant. There was bouillotte in one room,
conversation in another, and sometimes a concert (always short) in the
large drawing room. None but the most eminent artists performed in her
house. Tullia had so much good sense that she attained to the most
exquisite tact, and herein, in all probablity, lay the secret of her
ascendency over du Bruel; at any rate, he loved her with the love which
use and wont at length makes indispensable to life. Every day adds
another thread to the strong, irresistable, intangible web, which
enmeshes the most delicate fancies, takes captive every most transient
mood, and, binding them together, holds a man tightly bound hand and
foot, heart and head."
"Tullia knew Cursy well; she knew every weak point in his
armor, knew also how to heal his wounds."
"A passion of this kind is inscrutable for any observer, even
for a man who prides himself, as I do, on a certain expertness. It is
everywhere unfathomable; the dark depths in it are darker than in any
other mystery; the colors confused even in the highest lights."
"Cursy was an old playwright, jaded by the life of the
theatrical world. He liked comfort; he liked a luxurious, affluent,
easy existence; he enjoyed being a king in his own house; he liked to
be host to a party of men of letters in a hotel resplendent with the
royal luxury, with carefully chosen works of art shining in the
setting. Tullia allowed du Bruel to enthrone himself amide the tribe;
there were plenty of journalists whom it was easy enough to catch and
ensnare; and, thanks to her evening parties and a well timed loan here
and there, Cursy was not attacked too seriously -- his plays succeeded.
For these reasons he would not have been separated from Tullia for an
empire. If she had been unfaithful, he would probably have passed it
over, on condition that none of his accustomed joys should be
retrenched; yet, strange to say, Tullia caused him no twinges on this
account. No fancy was laid to her charge; if there had been any, she
certainly had been very careful of appearances."
"'My dear fellow,' du Bruel would say, laying down the law to
us on the boulevard, 'there is nothing like one of these women who have
sown their wild oats and got over their passions. Such women as
Claudine have lived their bachelor life; they have been over head and
ears in pleasure, and make the most adorable wives that could be
wished; they have nothing to learn, they are formed, they are not in
the least prudish; they are well broken in, and indulgent. So I
strongly recommend everybody to take the "remains of a racer." I am the
most fortunate man on earth.'"
"Du Bruel said this to me himself with Bixiou there to hear it."
"'My dear fellow,' said the caricaturist, 'perhaps he is right
to be in the wrong.'"
"About a week afterward, du Bruel asked us to dine with him one
Tuesday. That morning I went to see him on a piece of theatrical
business, a case submitted to us for arbitration by the commission of
dramatic authors. We were obliged to go out again; but before we
started he went to Claudine's room, knocked, as he always does, and
asked for leave to enter."
"'We live in the grand style,' said he, smiling. 'We are free.
Each is independent.'"
"We were admitted. Du Bruel spoke to Claudine. 'I have asked a
few people to dinner today --'"
"'Just like you!' cried she. 'You ask people without speaking
to me; I count for nothing here. Now' (taking me as arbitrator by a
glance) 'I ask you yourself. When a man has been so foolish as to live
with a woman of my sort; for, after all, I was an opera-dancer -- yes,
I ought always to remember that, if other people are to forget it --
well, under those circumstances, a clever man seeking to raise his wife
in public opinion would do his best to impose her upon the world as a
remarkable woman, to justify the step he had taken by acknowledging
that in some ways she was something more than ordinary women. The best
way of compelling respect from others is to pay respect to her at home,
and to leave her absolute mistress of the house. Well, and yet it is
enough to waken one's vanity to see how frightened he is of seeming to
listen to me. I must be in the right ten times over if he concedes a
"(Emphatic negative gestures from du Bruel at every other
"'Oh yes, yes,' she continued quickly, in answer to this mute
dissent. 'I know all about it, du Bruel, my dear, I that have been like
a queen in my house all my life till I married you. My wishes are
guessed, fulfilled, and more than fulfilled. After all, I am
thirty-five, and at five-and-thirty a woman cannot expect to be loved.
Ah, if I were a girl of sixteen, if I had not lost something that is
dearly bought at the opera, what attention you would pay me, Monsieur
du Bruel! I feel the most supreme contempt for men who boast that they
can love and grow careless and neglectful in little things as time
grows on. You are short and insignificant, you see, du Bruel; you love
to torment a woman; it is your only way of showing your strength. A
Napoleon is ready to be swayed by the woman he loves; he loses nothing
by it; but as for such as you, you believe that you are nothing
apparently, you do not wish to be ruled. Five-and-thirty, my dear boy,'
she continued, turning to me, 'that is the clue to the riddle. "No,"
does he say again? You know quite well I am thirty-seven. I am very
sorry, but just ask your friends to dine at the Rocher de Cancale. I
could have them here, but I will not; they shall not come. And then
perhaps my poor little monologue may engrave that salutary maxim: "Each
is master at home," upon your memory. That is our charter,' she added,
laughing, with a return of the opera girl's giddiness and caprice."
"'Well, well, my dear little puss; there, there, never mind. We
can manage to get on together,' said du Bruel, and he kissed her hands,
and we came away. But he was very, very wroth."
"The whole way from the Rue de la Victoire to the boulevard a
perfect torrent of venomous words pounded from his mouth like a
waterfall in flood; but as the shocking language which he used on the
occasion was quite unfit to print, the report is necessarily
"'My dear fellow, I will leave that vile, shameless
opera-dancer, a worn out jade that has been set spinning like a top to
every operatic air; a foul hussy, an organ-grinder's monkey! Oh, my
dear boy, you have taken up with an actress; may the notion of marrying
your mistress never get a hold on you. It is a torment omitted from the
hell of Dante, you see. Look here! I will beat her; I will give her a
thrashing; I will give it to her! Poison of my life, she sent me off
like a running footman.'"
"By this time we had reached the boulevard, and he had worked
himself up to such a pitch of fury that the words stuck in his throat."
"'I will kick the stuffing out of her!'"
"'My dear fellow, you will never know the thousand and one
fancies that slut takes into her head. When I want to stay at home,
she, forsooth, must go out; when I want to go out, she wants me to stop
at home; and she spouts out arguments and accusations and reasoning,
and talks and talks till she drives you crazy. Right means any whim
that they happen to take into their heads, and wrong means our notion.
Overwhelm them with something that cuts their arguments to pieces --
they hold their tongues and look at you as if you were a dead dog. My
happiness indeed! I lead the life of a yard dog; I am a perfect slave.
Confound it all. I will leave her everything and take myself off to a
garret. Yes, a garret and liberty. I have not dared to have my own way
once in these five years.'"
"But, instead of going to his guests, Cursy strode up and down
the boulevard between the Rue de Richelieu and the Rue du Mont Blanc,
indulging in the most fearful imprecations; his unbounded language was
most comical to hear. His paroxysm of fury in the street contrasted
oddly with his peaceable demeanor in the house. Exercise assisted him
to work off his nervous agitation and inward tempest. About two
o'clock, on a sudden frantic impulse, he exclaimed --"
"'These damned females never know what they want. I will wager
my head now that if I go home and tell her that I have sent to ask my
friends to dine with me at the Rocher de Cancale, she will not be
satisfied though she made the arrangement herself. But she will have
gone off somewhere or other. I wonder whether there is something at the
bottom of all this, an assignation with some goat? No. In the bottom of
her heart she loves me!'"
The marquise could not help smiling.
"Ah, madame," said Nathan, looking keenly at her, "only women
and prophets know how to turn faith to account. Du Bruel would have me
go home with him," he continued, "and we went slowly back. It was three
o'clock. Before he appeared, he heard a stir in the kitchen, saw
preparations going forward, and glanced at me as he asked the cook the
reason of this."
"'Madame ordered dinner,' said the woman. 'Madame dressed and
ordered a cab, and then she changed her mind and ordered it again for
the theatre this evening.'"
"'Good,' exclaimed du Bruel, 'what did I tell you?'"
"We entered the house stealthily. No one was there. We went
from room to room until we reached a little boudoir and come upon
Tullia in tears. She dried her eyes without affectation, and spoke to
"'Send a note to the Rocher de Cancale,' she said, 'and ask
your guests to dine here.'"
"She was dressed as only women of the theatre can dress, in a
simply made gown of some dainty material, neither too costly nor too
common, graceful, and harmonious in outline and coloring; there was
nothing conspicuous about her, nothing exaggerated -- a word now
dropping out of use, to be replaced by the word 'artistic,' used by
fools as current coin. In short, Tullia looked like a gentlewoman. At
thirty-seven she had reached the prime of a Frenchwoman's beauty. At
this moment the celebrated oval of her face was divinely pale; she had
laid her hat aside; I could see a faint down like the bloom of fruit
softening the silken contours of a cheek itself so delicate. There was
a pathetic charm about her face with its double cluster of fair hair;
her brilliant gray eyes were veiled by a mist of tears; her nose,
delicately carved as a Roman cameo, with its quivering nostrils; her
little mouth, like a child's even now; her long, queenly throat, with
the veins standing out upon it; her chin flushed for the moment by some
secret despair; the pink tips of her ears, the hands that trembled
under her gloves, everything about her told of violent feeling. The
feverish twitching of her eyebrows betrayed her pain. She looked
"Her first words had crushed on du Bruel. She looked at us
both, with that penetrating, impenetrable cat-like glance which only
actresses and great ladies can use. Then she held out her hand to her
"'Poor dear, you had scarcely gone before I blamed myself a
thousand times over. It seemed to me that I had been horribly
ungrateful; I told myself that I had been unkind. Was I very unkind?'
she asked, turning to me. 'Why not receive your friends? Is it not your
house? So you want to know the reason of it all? Well, I was afraid
that I was not loved; and indeed I was half way between repentance and
the shame of going back. I read the newspapers, and saw that there was
a first night at the Varietes, and I thought you had meant to give the
dinner to a collaborator. Left to myself, I gave way, I dressed to
hurry out after you -- poor pet.'"
"Du Bruel looked at me triumphantly, not a vestige of a
recollection of his orations contra Tullia in his mind."
"'Well, dearest, I have not spoken to any one of them,' he
"'How well we understand each other!' quoth she."
"Even as she uttered those bewildering sweet words, I caught
sight of something in her belt, the corner of a little note thrust
sidewise into it; but I did not need that indication to tell me that
Tullia's fantastic conduct was referable to occult causes. Woman, in my
opinion, is the most logical of created beings, the child alone
excepted. In both we behold a sublime phenomenon, the unvarying triumph
of one dominant, all-excluding thought. The child's thought changes
every moment; but while it possesses him, he acts upon it with such
ardor that others give way before him, fascinated by the ingenuity, the
persistance of a strong desire. Woman is less changeable, but to call
her capricious is a stupid insult. Whenever she acts, she is always
swayed by one dominant passion; and wonderful it is to see how she
makes that passion the very center of her world."
"Tullia was irresistable; she twisted du Bruel round her
fingers, the sky grew blue again, the evening was glorious. And
ingenious writer of plays as he is, he never so much as saw that his
wife had buried a trouble out of sight."
"'Such is life, my dear fellow,' he said to me, 'ups and downs
"'Especially life off the stage,' I put in."
"'That is just what I mean,' he continued. 'Why, but for these
violent emotions, one would be bored to death! Ah! That woman has the
gift of rousing me.'"
"We went to the Varietes after dinner; but before we left the
house I slipped into du Bruel's room, and on a shelf among a pile of
waste papers found the copy of the 'Pettes-Affiches,' in which,
agreeably to the reformed law, notice of the purchase of the house was
inserted. The words stared me in the face -- 'At the request of Jean
Francois du Bruel and Claudine Chaffaroux, his wife --' Here was the
explanation of the whole matter. I offered my arm to Claudine, and
allowed the guests to descend the stairs in front of us. When we were
alone -- 'If I were La Palferine,' I said, 'I would not break an
"Gravely she laid her fingers on her lips. She leant on my arm
as we went downstairs, and looked at me with almost something like
happiness in her eyes because I knew La Palferine. Can you see the
first idea that occurred to her? She thought of making a spy of me, but
I turned her off with the light jesting talk of Bohemia."
"A month later, after a first performance of one of du Bruel's
plays, we met in the vestibule of the theatre. It was raining; I went
to call a hack. We had been delayed for a few minutes, so that there
were no hacks in sight. Claudine scolded du Burel soundly; and as we
rolled through the streets (for she set me down at Florine's), she
continued the quarrel with a series of most mortifying remarks."
"'What is this about?' I inquired."
"'Oh, my dear fellow, she blames me for allowing you to run out
for a hack, and thereupon proceeds to wish for a carriage.'"
"'As a dancer,' said she, 'I have never been accustomed to use
my feet except on the boards. If you have any spirit, you will turn out
four more plays or so in a year; you will make up your mind that
succeed they must, when you think of the end in view, and that your
wife will not walk in the mud. It is a shame that I should have to ask
for it. You ought to have guessed my continual discomfort during the
five years since I married you.'"
"'I am quite willing,' returned du Bruel. 'But we shall ruin
"'If you run into debt,' she said, 'my uncle's money will cear
it off some day.'"
"'You are quite capable of leaving me the debts and taking the
"'Oh! Is that the way you take it?' retorted she. 'I have
nothing more to say to you; such a speech stops my mouth.'"
"Whereupon du Bruel poured out his soul in excuses and
protestations of love. Not a word did she say. He took her hands, she
allowed him to take them; they were like ice, like a dead woman's
hands. Tullia, you can understand, was playing to admiration the part
of corpse that women can play to show you that they refuse their
consent to anything and everything; that for you they are suppressing
soul, spirit, and life, and regard themselves as beasts of burden.
Nothing so provokes a man with a heart as this stratagem. Women can
only use it with those who worship them."
"She turned to me. 'Do you suppose,' she said scornfully, 'that
a count would have uttered such an insult even if the thought had
entered his mind? For my misfortune I have lived with dukes,
ambassadors, and great lords, and I know their ways. How intolerable it
makes bourgeois life! After all, a playwright is not a Rastignac nor a
"Du Bruel looked ghastly at this. Two days afterward we met in
the greenroom at the opera, and took a few turns together. The
conversation fell on Tullia."
"'Do not take my ravings on the boulevard too seriously,' said
he; 'I have a violent temper.'"
"For two winters I was a tolerably frequent visitor at du
Bruel's house, and I followed Claudine's tactics closely. She had a
splendid carriage. Du Bruel entered public life; she made him abjure
his Royalist opinions. He rallied himself; he took his place again in
the administration; the National Guard was discreetly canvassed, du
Bruel was elected major, and behaved so valorously in a street riot
that he was decorated with the rosette of an officer of the Legion of
Honor. He was appointed master of requests and head of a department.
Uncle Chaffaroux died and left his niece forty thousand francs per
annum, three-fourths of his fortune. Du Bruel became a deputy; but
beforehand, to save the necessity of reelection, he secured his
nomination to the Council of State. He reprinted diverse archaeological
treatises, a couple of political pamphlets, and a statistical work, by
way of pretext for his appointment to one of the obliging academies of
the Institute. At this moment he is a commander of the Legion, and
(after fishing in the troubled waters of political intrigue) has quite
recently been made a peer of France and a count. As yet our friend does
not venture to bear his honors; his wife merely puts 'La Comtesse du
Bruel' on her cards. The sometime playwright has the order of Leopold,
the order of Isabella, the cross of Saint-Vladimir, second-class, the
order of Civil Merit of Bavaria, the papal order of the Golden Spur --
all the lessers orders, in short, beside the Grand Cross."
"Three months ago Claudine drove to La Palferine's door in her
splendid carriage with its armorial bearings. Du Bruel's grandfather
was a farmer of taxes ennobled toward the end of Louis Quatorze's
reign. Cherin composed his coat-of-arms for him, so the count's coronet
looked not amiss above an escutcheon innocent of Imperial absurdities.
In this way, in the short space of three years, Claudine had carried
out the programme laid down for her by the charming, light-hearted La
"One day, just a month ago, she climbed the miserable staircase
to her lover's lodging; climbed in her glory, dressed like a real
countess of the faubourg Saint-Germain, to our friend's garret. La
Palferine seeing her, said, 'You have made a peeress of yourself I
know. But it is too late, Claudine; everyone is talking just now about
the Southern Cross, I should like to see it!'"
"'I will get it for you.'"
"La Palferine burst into a peal of Homeric laughter."
"'Most distinctly,' he returned, 'I do not wish to have a woman
as ignorant as a carp for my mistress, a woman that springs like a
flying-fish from the greenroom of the opera to Court, for I should like
to see you at the Court of the Citizen-King.'"
"She turned to me."
"'What is the Southern Cross?' she asked, in a sad, downcast
"I was struck with admiration for this indomitable love,
outdoing the most ingenious marvels of fairy tales in real life -- a
love that would spring over a precipice to find a roc's egg, or to
gather the singing flower. I explained that the Southern Cross was a
nebulous constellation even brighter than the Milky Way, arranged in
the form of a cross, and that it could only be seen in southern
"'Very well, Charles, let us go,' said she."
"La Palferine, ferocious though he was, had tears in his eyes;
but what a look there was in Claudine's face, what a note in her voice!
I have seen nothing like the thing that followed, not even in the
supreme touch of a great actor's art; nothing to compare with her
movement when she saw the hard eyes softened by tears; Claudine sank
upon her knees and kissed La Palferine's pitiless hand. He raised her
with his grand manner, his 'Rusticoli air,' as he calls it -- 'There
child!' he said, 'I will do something for you; I will put you -- in my
"Well," concluded Nathan, "I ask myself sometimes whether du
Bruel is really deceived. Truly, there is nothing more comic, nothing
stranger than the sight of a careless young fellow ruling a married
couple, his slightest whims received as law, the weightiest decisions
revoked at a word from him. That dinner incident, as you can see, is
repeated times without number; it interferes with important matters.
Still, but for Claudine's caprices, du Bruel would be de Cursy still,
one vaudevilist among five hundered; whereas he is in the House of
"You will change the names, I hope!" said Nathan, addressing
Mme de la Baudraye.
"I should think so! I have only set names to the masks for you.
My dear Nathan," she added in the poet's ear, "I know another case in
which the wife takes du Bruel's place."
"And the catastrophe?" queried Lousteau, returning just at the
end of Mme. de la Baudraye's story.
"I do not believe in catastrophes. One has to invent such good
ones to show that art is quite a match for chance; and nobody reads a
book twice, my friend, except for the details."
"But there is a catastrophe," persisted Nathan.
"What is it?"
"The Marquise de Rochefide is infatuated with Charles Edward.
My story excited her curiosity."
"Oh, unhappy woman!" cried Mme. de la Baudraye.
"Not so unhappy," said Nathan, "for Maxime de Trailles and La
Palferine have brought about a rupture between the marquis and Madame
Schontz, and they mean to make it up between Arthur and Beatrix."