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the dictates of her heart, and believed the glozing tales whispered in her ear by the young squire of the village. She is residing in Paris in a state of semi-matrimony, visited at rare intervals by her quasi-husband, and still happy in believing his promises and tending her boy, now three years of age. But
a young woman residing in this fashion in Paris is regarded as fair game by the gallants, and among other aspirants her young landlord takes the field. He is very rich, and might be happy, were it not that he is certain of death within a short period; so he adheres to the axiom of a short life and a merry one, and spends his time in dissipation. In a conversation he holds with Clara's aunt, he makes various allusions to the state of his mind, and offers to employ Clara as embroideress. For, be it remembered, Clara is too proud to take money from the man who is not her husband, and prefers seeking her livelihood by honest industry. The following little bit is very sparkling :
Lucien. I suppose that embroidering does not bring in much !
Madame Gervais. If persons like yourself, who give money so readily to women who do nothing, were to know what labour a woman who works has to go through before she can earn twenty francs, they would feel some remorse, by my faith! Their only excuse is that they do not know it. Lucien. Sell me some embroidery: I should like nothing better than to buy Madame Gervais. What use can you make of it?
Lucien. For those ladies who do nothing. I would pay them in goods instead of money: they would be furious.
While Clara is making her simple preparations for the dinner, which her husband will eat with her that day, an old provincial friend, Aristide, makes his appearance. He is in high spirits, for he is about to marry his master's daughter, and take to the notarial business. His description of the courtship is capital:
Clara. As far as I can remember, she was pretty.
Aristide. She is so still; prettier than ever. She has a nez retroussé, and I don't dislike those little noses that move when the mouth is speaking, they ani. mate a face; and she is in good health--perfect country health-and is somewhat stout. But, when you love a woman, the more there is of her—And she is kind-hearted, and I mustn't joke with her about love, or she would cry. If she were to hear me now!
Clara. You love her ?
Aristide. Oh! I adore her. She'll bring me a lot of plump children, round as apples-she'll suckle them herself—and she'll look after the house and there'll be plenty of linen in the presses--and she'll make preserves for the winter. Oh! she's just the girl I had dreamed of.
Clara. And the father made no difficulties ?
Aristide. On the contrary, he offered her to me. He saw that we were in love. It was plain enough: we composed heavy poetry at night-Lord Byron by the kilo—we uttered sighs to rust the hinges. She said to her father : " I love him-I want to marry him." The father answered: “Very good, marry him." He took me on one side and said : “My boy, I give you my daughter, and will sell you my office at half its value; you can pay me when it is in your power." I ran to tell my father how matters stood, and he said, “Aha! they want to humiliate me, do they ?-wait a while !" and he settled forty thousand francs on me. But who'd believe that paper-hanging was so good a business ?
After this outbreak of personal satisfaction, Aristide proceeds to crossquestion Clara as to her position, for he knows all the facts. As a
lawyer and man of the world, he does not like M. Sternay's conduct, and believes that his repeated excuses to defer the marriage are evidences of a heartless design on his part. Clara defends her husband, but is soon to have the truth of Aristide's remarks proved. Sternay arrives and employs the old pretext, that family matters compel him to undertake a lengthened journey to America. He offers her a settlement of two thousand francs a year, and Clara, woman-like, believes all he says.
So soon as he is gone, however, Lucien comes in and tells Clara that M. Sternay is about to be married : she rushes off the stage in despair, and the curtain falls on the first act. When it rises again, an interval of twenty years is supposed to have elapsed, and we are brought into contact with the natural son. Things appear, however, to have gone more prosperously with him than with the majority of gentlemen in his situation, for he is in possession of a noble name and an ample fortune, being the while in blissful ignorance of his real position. Better than all, he is happy in the love of Hermine, niece of M. Sternay, to whom he has offered his hand with the assent of Madame Sternay. The following passage from a love-scene is charmingly and gracefully written:
Hermine. My mother often sang me that song, and “Fleuve du Tage.”
Hermine. It is true, there are certain airs which appear like the ladder of remembrance, by means of which we descend into the most distant past. There is a tune which I can never recal without true emotion, “Ma bonne tante Marguerite." When I hear it by chance, it summons up quite a picture before my eyes. It was the favourite song of my grandmamma, not the marchionessthe one who is to arrive to-day, she never sang in her life—but of my maternal grandmother, who died ten years ago. I fancy I can still see her by the side of The fire, with her beautiful white hair, which she formed coquettishly into two rolls under her bright-ribboned cap. She was all gaiety. I would sit on a cushion at her feet; I rested my head on her knees, and fell asleep, lulled by that gently-sung melody. For a while, the conversation of grown-up personsmy father, mother, and friends—buzzed in my ear; then my mother would take me up in her arms, and I felt her lay me on my bed. She kissed me, and I returned it half asleep, then stammered my prayer, and fell off in sleep. Do you remember the same?
Jacques. Yes; except that, so long as I can remember, my mother was always alone. She worked by my bedside ; she lulled me to sleep with a gentle, melancholy tune, for she was often sad; and, like you, I passed from waking to sleep between two kisses.
Hermine. How strange that men and women should all have the same recollections of childhood.
Jacques. It is because childhood was the same for every being that has loved his mother, and has been loved by her.
Hermine. Tell me, do you regret that such a time has passed away?
Jacques. No. I like better my present age, when I feel, I see. I understand when my chagrin has a cause, and my joy a reason.
When a man arrives at the height of his powers, and the maturity of his reason, and makes an accurate investigation of the great sensations of his mind and heart, why should he regret a period of ignorance and weakness, when nothing affected him, either joy or sorrow? Thus, I was quite a child when I lost my father; I cannot even call him to mind; my mother told me so. Why, at an age when the sight of you causes me such intense joy, should I regret the age when I did not notice my father's death? No! believe me, man does not begin to live till he begins to comprehend. Hermine. And yet I, who lost my parents at an age when I had begun to
comprehend what an intense loss I was undergoing, have continued to live, and have ended, if not by forgetting that double death, at least by familiarising myself with this mournful reminiscence. Is not that ingratitude ? Jacques
. You have followed the law of nature, which forbids eternal regrets. Men and women have a multitude of duties to fulfil, which force them to look ever before them, and accustom themselves to the loss of their dearest affections. The world would have come to an end prematurely had the first child been unable to survive the first mother.
Hermine. To me life is terrifying with the certainty that you cannot rest on. anything. It is enough to make one despair of everything:
Jacques. Why not profit by the day, because we know that night will arrive ? why doubt of the spring, because we foresee a winter? why deny life on behalf of death? You are eighteen, I am twenty-three; I love you, you love me a little; the world is ours. Then, the years will bring with them the disenchantment of certain things, and, at the same time, the revelation of certain others; let the years do their part. We shall grow old, we shall lull our children with songs they will recal some day, as we recalled so recently those of our parents; and full of youth, of strength, of love, as we are now, a day will come when we shall only be useful to play the part of grandpapa and grandmamma, loved for the sugar-plums in our pockets, until there will only be left of us two motionless portraits hanging on the wall of our grandchildren's room, who will become in their turn what we have been, and so in succession. Such is life in its most simple and regular expression. It appears gloomy when we bring the glowing enthusiasm of the present side by side with the cold habits of a future age ; but when time, by the assistance of the gradations of which nature has imparted to it the secret, has quietly led us, resting on each other, to that other horizon, we shall be glad to rest ourselves; and if the offer were made us to recommence the journey, we should refuse.
Hermine. It may be so; but I would sooner talk of the present or the past than of that great but gloomy future.
But the young lovers' hopes are destined to be nipped by the arrival of the old marchioness, Sternay's mother, who, as her brother the marquis says, looks like Louis XIV. in his gardens of Versailles, and seems to be presenting arms to herself. Even the name of the aspirant to Hermine's hand appears to her suspicious : she never heard of a M. de Boisceny, although there was formerly a Boisrémy, first groom to Charles X. However, she presumes that the title came from the Empire, and that his father gained some great battle.* An admirable sparring match then ensues between the marquis and his sister, in which the former reminds her that no great honour ought to be attached to their origin.
The Marquis. Come, my dear sister, we must have an explanation, once for all. You are a demoiselle D'Orgebac; we are both descended from the D'Orgebacs, and we boast, at least you do, about having royal blood in our veins, the great King Henri IV. having evinced his kindness, as they say, to one of our female ancestors. It is curious, by the way, that a woman's fault in a family should be a patent of nobility for her descendants. But things were arranged so, and personally I have no objection. With a little good-will we might, perhaps, have claims to the crown of France, but I believe it would be useless to put them in.
The Marchioness. Go on-go on, pray; don't feel embarrassed.
• What an admirable touch is this ! The affectations of the old régime, which could not be expected to know the name of the Napoleonic triumphs, have never been so cauterised before. Such passages as these reveal the talent of the author more, even, than his most elaborate plots.
The Marquis. I would say, then, that during the revolution, the period of exile and misery, you made a present of your nobility and your hand to M. Sternay, contractor.
The Marchioness. Architect.
The Marquis. Architect, if you like it, who is the father of your two sons, of whom one is a ship-builder, and the other died a general of division, which is highly honourable. The latter was the father of Hermine; and I am bound to say that, when you know her, you will find her father's firmness of character in the daughter.
The Marchioness. And a pretty present he made her. The Marquis. When the Empire came, you put on your visiting cards, "Madame Sternay, née D'Orgebac;", when your husband died, you only signed “ Marchioness d’Orgebac," and ended by believing that your children were of the first nobility in France. It is an error, my poor sister-it is even more, it is an absurdity-which is forgiven you because you are an old woman, and in France we are apt to forgive all sorts of absurdity; but when we are en famille, and a question arises as to the nobility of a claimant to Hermine's hand, you cannot demand too much, because you are a bourgeoise, and your children are bourgeois, and are not ashamed of it. It is I who am noble; only I have the right to bear the title and name of the D'Orgebacs, which would not be of the slightest use to me bad I not had the excellent idea of making my fortune in India; and as I have no children, the great name of the D'Orgebacs, rendered so illustrious by the freaks of our ancestress Christine Angélique, Countess d'Orgebac, Lady of Parvilliers, and of other places, will become extinct on the day when I consent to die, nobles like myself only dying on the day when they think proper. Believe me, my sister, let us prove our nobility by our qualities, and not by exaggerating our nobility; do not be angry with your son for having attached his name to an honest trade—there are other defects to criticise; and let us not examine M. de Boisceny too closely about the antiquity of his name. The important point is, whether he is an honest man, loves Hermine, and is loved by her in turn. It is the man that makes the title, and not the title the man. And with that I sit down, for I never spoke so much before, not even in the House of Peers, to which I belong, and to which you do not, my sister. What a disgrace!
The marchioness's predictions are wonderfully fulfilled by the appearance of Aristide, who, in his official capacity of notary, tells her who Jacques really is, and tries in vain to persuade her into expiating the sin her son had committed by giving Jacques the hand of her niece, and thus tacitly receiving him into the family. Jacques, outraged by the secret now confided to him for the first time, learns from his mother that their money was left them by Lucien, with whom she lived as nurse, after indignantly rejecting the money Sternay had wished to settle on her. A stormy interview ensues with the father, who parades all the platitudes usually employed, and ends by declining to recognise his son legally. Jacques, crushed by the sudden weight of grief, assents to the justice of his remarks, and gives up all claim to Hermine's hand.
At the commencement of the third act we find M. Sternay retired from business, and ambitioning a political career. To aid his
progress, however, he wishes to induce the old marquis to adopt him as his heir. Unaccountably, however, the marquis declines, and tells his nephew point-blank that he does not approve of his conduct to his son. On Sternay naturally expressing his surprise that the old bachelor should entertain such moral views, the marquis replies firmily:
My dear fellow, I cannot reproach myself with ever having compromised a
wife or dishonoured a daughter. Fortunately, I have always met with persons who had taken their precautions beforehand. I have only had table d'hôte amours. I eat of the dish handed to me by my neighbour on the right, passed it on to my neighbour on the left, and went my way.
The family assembles, and, to their surprise, in walks Jacques, to take his leave of the marquis, prior to going abroad. To the horror of the marchioness, Hermine assures Jacques of her firm love to him, and quietly states that she shall await her majority, when she will marry him, if her relations do not give their consent before. She is haled off to her convent again instanter, leaving the stage to Jacques and his father. In the course of the conversation, Jacques surprises him by the information that he is secretary of a minister, and on the eve of starting for the East, whither an important mission has been entrusted to him. To add to Sternay's perplexities, the old marquis tells the circumstances of the case to his wife, who upbraids him for his reserve, and terrifies him by the statement that the marquis is strenuously inclined to adopt the natural son as his heir. A
very amusing scene occurs, in which Aristide proves logically that Sternay has no legal right to his son, and that the marquis can adopt him at once. Sternay then offers a compromise. If the marquis will adopt him, he is prepared to recognise Jacques, or, as Aristide tersely puts it, “ Passez-moi le séné, je prendrai la rhubarbe." To this the marquis assents, and nothing is left but to find Jacques and inform him of his good fortune. But where is he? That, the fourth act will tell us.
On the curtain drawing up, we find the marchioness busily engaged in cajoling Clara, and offering her polite attentions, which Aristide regards with an air of suspicion, exposing his views as thus :
I have my own notions : I do not believe that at the age the marchioness has reached, old habits, and associations, and prejudices can be put aside, except from interested motives. She is flattering you—nothing else. She is not the woman to become good-hearted in a moment. A person who has not a heart when young, will never have one. The heart is not a winter fruit; it does not grow in the snow. Ah! if I were Jacques
Clara. Oh, pray, do not give him bad advice.
Aristide. You can be calm ; it would be the first time. I promised to say nothing, and will not; but you cannot prevent me from seeing and judging facts. M. Sternay did not recognise his son for twenty-five years. At the end of that time, he consents to recognise him. Why? Because his son is in a position to do him honour, and because he gains his uncle's title. The marchioness, his mother, wished to have you turned out of her house when you came to protest against the abandonment of your child, and to-day she recognises Jacques as her grandson. And why? Because her brother consents to give M. Sternay. his title, and consequently his fortune, which amounts to six or seven hundred thousand francs. She has paid you four visits in the same number of days. Why did she not come sooner ? Because she did not know, four days ago, what she has learned since, namely, that Jacques has fulfilled an important mission; that all the papers are talking of him; that he can cast renown upon the family; that he is well respected at court; and that by his influence anything required may be obtained. The marchioness, perhaps, loves her son-M. Sternay, perhaps, loves his mother, but that she loves you, or M. Sternay loves Jacques, no, no, a thousand times no! it is pride, calculation, ambition, anything you please, but not paternal love. I am a connoisseur in that. I know what it is to be a father. I am so often enough--you cannot tell me anything about it. I have spoken.