By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Katharine Prescott Wormeley
It is somewhat remarkable that Balzac, dealing as he did with traits of character and the minute and daily circumstances of life, has never been accused of representing actual persons in the two or three thousand portraits which he painted of human nature.
In "The Great Man of the Provinces in Paris" some likenesses were imagined: Jules Janin in Etienne Lousteau, Armand Carrel in Michel Chrestien, and, possibly, Berryer in Daniel d'Arthez. But in the present volume, "Beatrix," he used the characteristics of certain persons, which were recognized and admitted at the time of publication. Mademoiselle des Touches (Camille Maupin) is George Sand in character, and the personal description of her, though applied by some to the famous Mademoiselle Georges, is easily recognized from Couture's drawing. Beatrix, Conti, and Claude Vignon are sketches of the Comtesse d'Agoult, Liszt, and the well-known critic Gustave Planche.
The opening scene of this volume, representing the manners and customs of the old Breton family, a social state existing no longer except in history, and the transition period of the vieille roche as it passed into the customs and ideas of the present century, is one of Balzac's remarkable and most famous pictures in the "Comedy of Human Life."
I. A BRETON TOWN AND MANSION
France, especially in Brittany, still possesses certain towns completely outside of the movement which gives to the nineteenth century its peculiar characteristics. For lack of quick and regular communication with Paris, scarcely connected by wretched roads with the sub-prefecture, or the chief city of their own province, these towns regard the new civilization as a spectacle to be gazed at; it amazes them, but they never applaud it; and, whether they fear or scoff at it, they continue faithful to the old manners and customs which have come down to them. Whoso would travel as a moral archaeologist, observing men instead of stones, would find images of the time of Louis XV. in many a village of Provence, of the time of Louis XIV. in the depths of Pitou, and of still more ancient times in the towns of Brittany. Most of these towns have fallen from states of splendor never mentioned by historians, who are always more concerned with facts and dates than with the truer history of manners and customs. The tradition of this splendor still lives in the memory of the people,—as in Brittany, where the native character allows no forgetfulness of things which concern its own land. Many of these towns were once the capitals of a little feudal State,—a county or duchy conquered by the crown or divided among many heirs, if the male line failed. Disinherited from active life, these heads became arms; and arms deprived of nourishment, wither and barely vegetate.
For the last thirty years, however, these pictures of ancient times are beginning to fade and disappear. Modern industry, working for the masses, goes on destroying the creations of ancient art, the works of which were once as personal to the consumer as to the artisan. Nowadays we have products, we no longer have works. Public buildings, monuments of the past, count for much in the phenomena of retrospection; but the monuments of modern industry are freestone quarries, saltpetre mines, cotton factories. A few more years and even these old cities will be transformed and seen no more except in the pages of this iconography.
One of the towns in which may be found the most correct likeness of the feudal ages is Guerande. The name alone awakens a thousand memories in the minds of painters, artists, thinkers who have visited the slopes on which this splendid jewel of feudality lies proudly posed to command the flux and reflux of the tides and the dunes,—the summit, as it were, of a triangle, at the corners of which are two other jewels not less curious: Croisic, and the village of Batz. There are no towns after Guerande except Vitre in the centre of Brittany, and Avignon in the south of France, which preserve so intact, to the very middle of our epoch, the type and form of the middle ages.
Guerande is still encircled with its doughty walls, its moats are full of water, its battlements entire, its loopholes unencumbered with vegetation; even ivy has never cast its mantle over the towers, square or round. The town has three gates, where may be seen the rings of the portcullises; it is entered by a drawbridge of iron-clamped wood, no longer raised but which could be raised at will. The mayoralty was blamed for having, in 1820, planted poplars along the banks of the moat to shade the promenade. It excused itself on the ground that the long and beautiful esplanade of the fortifications facing the dunes had been converted one hundred years earlier into a mall where the inhabitants took their pleasure beneath the elms.
The houses of the old town have suffered no change; and they have neither increased nor diminished. None have suffered upon their frontage from the hammer of the architect, the brush of the plasterer, nor have they staggered under the weight of added stories. All retain their primitive characteristics. Some rest on wooden columns which form arcades under which foot-passengers circulate, the floor planks bending beneath them, but never breaking. The houses of the merchants are small and low; their fronts are veneered with slate. Wood, now decaying, counts for much in the carved material of the window-casings and the pillars, above which grotesque faces look down, while shapes of fantastic beasts climb up the angles, animated by that great thought of Art, which in those old days gave life to inanimate nature. These relics, resisting change, present to the eye of painters those dusky tones and half-blurred features in which the artistic brush delights.
The streets are what they were four hundred years ago,—with one exception; population no longer swarms there; the social movement is now so dead that a traveller wishing to examine the town (as beautiful as a suit of antique armor) may walk alone, not without sadness, through a deserted street, where the mullioned windows are plastered up to avoid the window-tax. This street ends at a postern, flanked with a wall of masonry, beyond which rises a bouquet of trees planted by the hands of Breton nature, one of the most luxuriant and fertile vegetations in France. A painter, a poet would sit there silently, to taste the quietude which reigns beneath the well-preserved arch of the postern, where no voice comes from the life of the peaceful city, and where the landscape is seen in its rich magnificence through the loop-holes of the casemates once occupied by halberdiers and archers, which are not unlike the sashes of some belvedere arranged for a point of view.
It is impossible to walk about the place without thinking at every step of the habits and usages of long-past times; the very stones tell of them; the ideas of the middle ages are still there with all their ancient superstitions. If, by chance, a gendarme passes you, with his silver-laced hat, his presence is an anachronism against which your sense of fitness protests; but nothing is so rare as to meet a being or an object of the present time. There is even very little of the clothing of the day; and that little the inhabitants adapt in a way to their immutable customs, their unchangeable physiognomies. The public square is filled with Breton costumes, which artists flock to draw; these stand out in wonderful relief upon the scene around them. The whiteness of the linen worn by the paludiers (the name given to men who gather salt in the salt-marshes) contrasts vigorously with the blues and browns of the peasantry and the original and sacredly preserved jewelry of the women. These two classes, and that of the sailors in their jerkins and varnished leather caps are as distinct from one another as the castes of India, and still recognize the distance that parts them from the bourgeoisie, the nobility, and the clergy. All lines are clearly marked; there the revolutionary level found the masses too rugged and too hard to plane; its instrument would have been notched, if not broken. The character of immutability which science gives to zoological species is found in Breton human nature. Even now, after the Revolution of 1830, Guerande is still a town apart, essentially Breton, fervently Catholic, silent, self-contained,—a place where modern ideas have little access.
Its geographical position explains this phenomenon. The pretty town overlooks a salt-marsh, the product of which is called throughout Brittany the Guerande salt, to which many Bretons attribute the excellence of their butter and their sardines. It is connected with the rest of France by two roads only: that coming from Savenay, the arrondissement to which it belongs, which stops at Saint-Nazaire; and a second road, leading from Vannes, which connects it with the Morbihan. The arrondissement road establishes communication by land, and from Saint-Nazaire by water, with Nantes. The land road is used only by government; the more rapid and more frequented way being by water from Saint-Nazaire. Now, between this village and Guerande is a distance of eighteen miles, which the mail-coach does not serve, and for good reason; not three coach passengers a year would pass over it.
These, and other obstacles, little fitted to encourage travellers, still exist. In the first place, government is slow in its proceedings; and next, the inhabitants of the region put up readily enough with difficulties which separate them from the rest of France. Guerande, therefore, being at the extreme end of the continent, leads nowhere, and no one comes there. Glad to be ignored, she thinks and cares about herself only. The immense product of her salt-marshes, which pays a tax of not less than a million to the Treasury, is chiefly managed at Croisic, a peninsular village which communicates with Guerande over quicksands, which efface during the night the tracks made by day, and also by boats which cross the arm of the sea that makes the port of Croisic.
This fascinating little town is therefore the Herculaneum of feudality, less its winding sheet of lava. It is afoot, but not living; it has no other ground of existence except that it has not been demolished. If you reach Guerande from Croisic, after crossing a dreary landscape of salt-marshes, you will experience a strong sensation at sight of that vast fortification, which is still as good as ever. If you come to it by Saint-Nazaire, the picturesqueness of its position and the naive grace of its environs will please you no less. The country immediately surrounding it is ravishing; the hedges are full of flowers, honeysuckles, roses, box, and many enchanting plants. It is like an English garden, designed by some great architect. This rich, coy nature, so untrodden, with all the grace of a bunch of violets or a lily of the valley in the glade of a forest, is framed by an African desert banked by the ocean,—a desert without a tree, an herb, a bird; where, on sunny days, the laboring paludiers, clothed in white and scattered among those melancholy swamps where the salt is made, remind us of Arabs in their burrows.
Thus Guerande bears no resemblance to any other place in France. The town produces somewhat the same effect upon the mind as a sleeping-draught upon the body. It is silent as Venice. There is no other public conveyance than the springless wagon of a carrier who carries travellers, merchandise, and occasionally letters from Saint-Nazaire to Guerande and vice versa. Bernus, the carrier, was, in 1829, the factotum of this large community. He went and came when he pleased; all the country knew him; and he did the errands of all. The arrival of a carriage in Guerande, that of a lady or some invalid going to Croisic for sea-bathing (thought to have greater virtue among those rocks than at Boulogne or Dieppe) is still an immense event. The peasants come in on horseback, most of them with commodities for barter in sacks. They are induced to do so (and so are the paludiers) by the necessity of purchasing the jewels distinctive of their caste which are given to all Breton brides, and the white linen, or cloth for their clothing.
For a circuit ten miles round, Guerande is always GUERANDE,—the illustrious town where the famous treaty was signed in 1365, the key of the coast, which may boast, not less than the village of Batz, of a splendor now lost in the night of time. The jewels, linen, cloth, ribbon, and hats are made elsewhere, but to those who buy them they are from Guerande and nowhere else. All artists, and even certain bourgeois, who come to Guerande feel, as they do at Venice, a desire (soon forgotten) to end their days amid its peace and silence, walking in fine weather along the beautiful mall which surrounds the town from gate to gate on the side toward the sea. Sometimes the image of this town arises in the temple of memory; she enters, crowned with her towers, clasped with her girdle; her flower-strewn robe floats onward, the golden mantle of her dunes enfolds her, the fragrant breath of her briony paths, filled with the flowers of each passing season, exhales at every step; she fills your mind, she calls to you like some enchanting woman whom you have met in other climes and whose presence still lingers in a fold of your heart.
Near the church of Guerande stands a mansion which is to the town what the town is to the region, an exact image of the past, the symbol of a grand thing destroyed,—a poem, in short. This mansion belongs to the noblest family of the province; to the du Guaisnics, who, in the times of the du Guesclins, were as superior to the latter in antiquity and fortune as the Trojans were to the Romans. The Guaisqlains (the name is also spelled in the olden time du Glaicquin), from which comes du Guesclin, issued from the du Guaisnics.
Old as the granite of Brittany, the Guaisnics are neither Frenchmen nor Gauls,—they are Bretons; or, to be more exact, they are Celts. Formerly, they must have been Druids, gathering mistletoe in the sacred forests and sacrificing men upon their dolmens. Useless to say what they were! To-day this race, equal to the Rohans without having deigned to make themselves princes, a race which was powerful before the ancestors of Hugues Capet were ever heard of, this family, pure of all alloy, possesses two thousand francs a year, its mansion in Guerande, and the little castle of Guaisnic. All the lands belonging to the barony of Guaisnic, the first in Brittany, are pledged to farmers, and bring in sixty thousand francs a year, in spite of ignorant culture. The du Gaisnics remain the owners of these lands although they receive none of the revenues, for the reason that for the last two hundred years they have been unable to pay off the money advanced upon them. They are in the position of the crown of France towards its engagistes (tenants of crown-lands) before the year 1789. Where and when could the barons obtain the million their farmers have advanced to them? Before 1789 the tenure of the fiefs subject to the castle of Guaisnic was still worth fifty thousand francs a year; but a vote of the National Assembly suppressed the seigneurs' dues levied on inheritance.
In such a situation this family—of absolutely no account in France, and which would be a subject of laughter in Paris, were it known there—is to Guerande the whole of Brittany. In Guerande the Baron du Guaisnic is one of the great barons of France, a man above whom there is but one man,—the King of France, once elected ruler. To-day the name of du Guaisnic, full of Breton significances (the roots of which will be found explained in "The Chouans") has been subjected to the same alteration which disfigures that of du Guaisqlain. The tax-gatherer now writes the name, as do the rest of the world, du Guenic.
At the end of a silent, damp, and gloomy lane may be seen the arch of a door, or rather gate, high enough and wide enough to admit a man on horseback,—a circumstance which proves of itself that when this building was erected carriages did not exist. The arch, supported by two jambs, is of granite. The gate, of oak, rugged as the bark of the tree itself, is studded with enormous nails placed in geometric figures. The arch is semicircular. On it are carved the arms of the Guaisnics as clean-cut and clear as though the sculptor had just laid down his chisel. This escutcheon would delight a lover of the heraldic art by a simplicity which proves the pride and the antiquity of the family. It is as it was in the days when the crusaders of the Christian world invented these symbols by which to recognize each other; the Guaisnics have never had it quartered; it is always itself, like that of the house of France, which connoisseurs find inescutcheoned in the shields of many of the old families. Here it is, such as you may see it still at Guerande: Gules, a hand proper gonfaloned ermine, with a sword argent in pale, and the terrible motto, FAC. Is not that a grand and noble thing? The circlet of a baronial coronet surmounts this simple escutcheon, the vertical lines of which, used in carving to represent gules, are clear as ever. The artist has given I know not what proud, chivalrous turn to the hand. With what vigor it holds the sword which served but recently the present family!
If you go to Guerande after reading this history you cannot fail to quiver when you see that blazon. Yes, the most confirmed republican would be moved by the fidelity, the nobleness, the grandeur hidden in the depths of that dark lane. The du Guaisnics did well yesterday, and they are ready to do well to-morrow. To DO is the motto of chivalry. "You did well in the battle" was the praise of the Connetable par excellence, the great du Guesclin who drove the English for a time from France. The depth of this carving, which has been protected from the weather by the projecting edges of the arch, is in keeping with the moral depth of the motto in the soul of this family. To those who know the Guaisnics this fact is touching.
The gate when open gives a vista into a somewhat vast court-yard, on the right of which are the stables, on the left the kitchen and offices. The house is build of freestone from cellar to garret. The facade on the court-yard has a portico with a double range of steps, the wall of which is covered with vestiges of carvings now effaced by time, but in which the eye of an antiquary can still make out in the centre of the principal mass the Hand bearing the sword. The granite steps are now disjointed, grasses have forced their way with little flowers and mosses through the fissures between the stones which centuries have displaced without however lessening their solidity. The door of the house must have had a charming character. As far as the relics of the old designs allow us to judge, it was done by an artist of the great Venetian school of the thirteenth century. Here is a mixture, still visible, of the Byzantine and the Saracenic. It is crowned with a circular pediment, now wreathed with vegetation,—a bouquet, rose, brown, yellow, or blue, according to the season. The door, of oak, nail-studded, gives entrance to a noble hall, at the end of which is another door, opening upon another portico which leads to the garden.
This hall is marvellously well preserved. The panelled wainscot, about three feet high, is of chestnut. A magnificent Spanish leather with figures in relief, the gilding now peeled off or reddened, covers the walls. The ceiling is of wooden boards artistically joined and painted and gilded. The gold is scarcely noticeable; it is in the same condition as that of the Cordova leather, but a few red flowers and the green foliage can be distinguished. Perhaps a thorough cleaning might bring out paintings like those discovered on the plank ceilings of Tristan's house at Tours. If so, it would prove that those planks were placed or restored in the reign of Louis XI. The chimney-piece is enormous, of carved stone, and within it are gigantic andirons in wrought-iron of precious workmanship. It could hold a cart-load of wood. The furniture of this hall is wholly of oak, each article bearing upon it the arms of the family. Three English guns equally suitable for chase or war, three sabres, two game-bags, the utensils of a huntsman and a fisherman hang from nails upon the wall.
On one side is a dining-room, which connects with the kitchen by a door cut through a corner tower. This tower corresponds in the design of the facade toward the court-yard with another tower at the opposite corner, in which is a spiral staircase leading to the two upper stories.
The dining-room is hung with tapestries of the fourteenth century; the style and the orthography of the inscription on the banderols beneath each figure prove their age, but being, as they are, in the naive language of the fabliaux, it is impossible to transcribe them here. These tapestries, well preserved in those parts where light has scarcely penetrated, are framed in bands of oak now black as ebony. The ceiling has projecting rafters enriched with foliage which is varied for each rafter; the space between them is filled with planks painted blue, on which twine garlands of golden flowers. Two old buffers face each other; on their shelves, rubbed with Breton persistency by Mariotte the cook, can be seen, as in the days when kings were as poor in 1200 as the du Guaisnics are in 1830, four old goblets, an ancient embossed soup-tureen, and two salt-cellars, all of silver; also many pewter plates and many pitchers of gray and blue pottery, bearing arabesque designs and the arms of the du Guaisnics, covered by hinged pewter lids. The chimney-piece is modernized. Its condition proves that the family has lived in this room for the last century. It is of carved stone in the style of the Louis XV. period, and is ornamented with a mirror, let in to the back with gilt beaded moulding. This anachronism, to which the family is indifferent, would grieve a poet. On the mantel-shelf, covered with red velvet, is a tall clock of tortoise-shell inlaid with brass, flanked on each side with a silver candelabrum of singular design. A large square table, with solid legs, fills the centre of this room; the chairs are of turned wood covered with tapestry. On a round table supported by a single leg made in the shape of a vine-shoot, which stands before a window looking into the garden, is a lamp of an odd kind. This lamp has a common glass globe, about the size of an ostrich egg, which is fastened into a candle-stick by a glass tube. Through a hole at the top of the globe issues a wick which passes through a sort of reed of brass, drawing the nut-oil held in the globe through its own length coiled like a tape-worm in a surgeon's phial. The windows which look into the garden, like those that look upon the court-yard, are mullioned in stone with hexagonal leaded panes, and are draped by curtains, with heavy valances and stout cords, of an ancient stuff of crimson silk with gold reflections, called in former days either brocatelle or small brocade.
On each of the two upper stories of the house there are but two rooms. The first is the bedroom of the head of the family, the second is that of the children. Guests were lodged in chambers beneath the roof. The servants slept above the kitchens and stables. The pointed roof, protected with lead at its angles and edges, has a noble pointed window on each side, one looking down upon the court-yard, the other on the garden. These windows, rising almost to the level of the roof, have slender, delicate casings, the carvings of which have crumbled under the salty vapors of the atmosphere. Above the arch of each window with its crossbars of stone, still grinds, as it turns, the vane of a noble.
Let us not forget a precious detail, full of naivete, which will be of value in the eyes of an archaeologist. The tower in which the spiral staircase goes up is placed at the corner of a great gable wall in which there is no window. The staircase comes down to a little arched door, opening upon a gravelled yard which separates the house from the stables. This tower is repeated on the garden side by another of five sides, ending in a cupola in which is a bell-turret, instead of being roofed, like the sister-tower, with a pepper-pot. This is how those charming architects varied the symmetry of their sky-lines. These towers are connected on the level of the first floor by a stone gallery, supported by what we must call brackets, each ending in a grotesque human head. This gallery has a balustrade of exquisite workmanship. From the gable above depends a stone dais like those that crown the statues of saints at the portal of churches. Can you not see a woman walking in the morning along this balcony and gazing over Guerande at the sunshine, where it gilds the sands and shimmers on the breast of Ocean? Do you not admire that gable wall flanked at its angles with those varied towers? The opposite gable of the Guaisnic mansion adjoins the next house. The harmony so carefully sought by the architects of those days is maintained in the facade looking on the court-yard by the tower which communicates between the dining-room and the kitchen, and is the same as the staircase tower, except that it stops at the first upper story and its summit is a small open dome, beneath which stands a now blackened statue of Saint Calyste.
The garden is magnificent for so old a place. It covers half an acre of ground, its walls are all espaliered, and the space within is divided into squares for vegetables, bordered with cordons of fruit-trees, which the man-of-all-work, named Gasselin, takes care of in the intervals of grooming the horses. At the farther end of the garden is a grotto with a seat in it; in the middle, a sun-dial; the paths are gravelled. The facade on the garden side has no towers corresponding to those on the court-yard; but a slender spiral column rises from the ground to the roof, which must in former days have borne the banner of the family, for at its summit may still be seen an iron socket, from which a few weak plants are straggling. This detail, in harmony with the vestiges of sculpture, proves to a practised eye that the mansion was built by a Venetian architect. The graceful staff is like a signature revealing Venice, chivalry, and the exquisite delicacy of the thirteenth century. If any doubts remained on this point, a feature of the ornamentation would dissipate them. The trefoils of the hotel du Guaisnic have four leaves instead of three. This difference plainly indicates the Venetian school depraved by its commerce with the East, where the semi-Saracenic architects, careless of the great Catholic thought, give four leaves to clover, while Christian art is faithful to the Trinity. In this respect Venetian art becomes heretical.
If this ancient dwelling attracts your imagination, you may perhaps ask yourself why such miracles of art are not renewed in the present day. Because to-day mansions are sold, pulled down, and the ground they stood on turned into streets. No one can be sure that the next generation will possess the paternal dwelling; homes are no more than inns; whereas in former times when a dwelling was built men worked, or thought they worked, for a family in perpetuity. Hence the grandeur of these houses. Faith in self, as well as faith in God, did prodigies.
As for the arrangement of the upper rooms they may be imagined after this description of the ground-floor, and after reading an account of the manners, customs, and physiognomy of the family. For the last fifty years the du Guaisnics have received their friends in the two rooms just described, in which, as in the court-yard and the external accessories of the building, the spirit, grace, and candor of the old and noble Brittany still survives. Without the topography and description of the town, and without this minute depicting of the house, the surprising figures of the family might be less understood. Therefore the frames have preceded the portraits. Every one is aware that things influence beings. There are public buildings whose effect is visible upon the persons living in their neighborhood. It would be difficult indeed to be irreligious in the shadow of a cathedral like that of Bourges. When the soul is everywhere reminded of its destiny by surrounding images, it is less easy to fail of it. Such was the thought of our immediate grandfathers, abandoned by a generation which was soon to have no signs and no distinctions, and whose manners and morals were to change every decade. If you do not now expect to find the Baron du Guaisnic sword in hand, all here written would be falsehood.
II. THE BARON, HIS WIFE, AND SISTER
Early in the month of May, in the year 1836, the period when this scene opens, the family of Guenic (we follow henceforth the modern spelling) consisted of Monsieur and Madame du Guenic, Mademoiselle du Guenic the baron's elder sister, and an only son, aged twenty-one, named, after an ancient family usage, Gaudebert-Calyste-Louis. The father's name was Gaudebert-Calyste-Charles. Only the last name was ever varied. Saint Gaudebert and Saint Calyste were forever bound to protect the Guenics.
The Baron du Guenic had started from Guerande the moment that La Vendee and Brittany took arms; he fought through the war with Charette, with Cathelineau, La Rochejaquelein, d'Elbee, Bonchamps, and the Prince de Loudon. Before starting he had, with a prudence unique in revolutionary annals, sold his whole property of every kind to his elder and only sister, Mademoiselle Zephirine du Guenic. After the death of all those heroes of the West, the baron, preserved by a miracle from ending as they did, refused to submit to Napoleon. He fought on till 1802, when being at last defeated and almost captured, he returned to Guerande, and from Guerande went to Croisic, whence he crossed to Ireland, faithful to the ancient Breton hatred for England.
The people of Guerande feigned utter ignorance of the baron's existence. In the whole course of twenty years not a single indiscreet word was ever uttered. Mademoiselle du Guenic received the rents and sent them to her brother by fishermen. Monsieur du Guenic returned to Guerande in 1813, as quietly and simply as if he had merely passed a season at Nantes. During his stay in Dublin the old Breton, despite his fifty years, had fallen in love with a charming Irish woman, daughter of one of the noblest and poorest families of that unhappy kingdom. Fanny O'Brien was then twenty-one years old. The Baron du Guenic came over to France to obtain the documents necessary for his marriage, returned to Ireland, and, after about ten months (at the beginning of 1814), brought his wife to Guerande, where she gave him Calyste on the very day that Louis XVIII. landed at Calais,—a circumstance which explains the young man's final name of Louis.
The old and loyal Breton was now a man of seventy-three; but his long-continued guerilla warfare with the Republic, his exile, the perils of his five crossings through a turbulent sea in open boats, had weighed upon his head, and he looked a hundred; therefore, at no period had the chief of the house of Guenic been more in keeping with the worn-out grandeur of their dwelling, built in the days when a court reigned at Guerande.
Monsieur du Guenic was a tall, straight, wiry, lean old man. His oval face was lined with innumerable wrinkles, which formed a net-work over his cheek-bones and above his eyebrows, giving to his face a resemblance to those choice old men whom Van Ostade, Rembrandt, Mieris, and Gerard Dow so loved to paint, in pictures which need a microscope to be fully appreciated. His countenance might be said to be sunken out of sight beneath those innumerable wrinkles, produced by a life in the open air and by the habit of watching his country in the full light of the sun from the rising of that luminary to the sinking of it. Nevertheless, to an observer enough remained of the imperishable forms of the human face which appealed to the soul, even though the eye could see no more than a lifeless head. The firm outline of the face, the shape of the brow, the solemnity of the lines, the rigidity of the nose, the form of the bony structure which wounds alone had slightly altered,—all were signs of intrepidity without calculation, faith without reserve, obedience without discussion, fidelity without compromise, love without inconstancy. In him, the Breton granite was made man.
The baron had no longer any teeth. His lips, once red, now violet, and backed by hard gums only (with which he ate the bread his wife took care to soften by folding it daily in a damp napkin), drew inward to the mouth with a sort of grin, which gave him an expression both threatening and proud. His chin seemed to seek his nose; but in that nose, humped in the middle, lay the signs of his energy and his Breton resistance. His skin, marbled with red blotches appearing through his wrinkles, showed a powerfully sanguine temperament, fitted to resist fatigue and to preserve him, as no doubt it did, from apoplexy. The head was crowned with abundant hair, as white as silver, which fell in curls upon his shoulders. The face, extinguished, as we have said, in part, lived through the glitter of the black eyes in their brown orbits, casting thence the last flames of a generous and loyal soul. The eyebrows and lashes had disappeared; the skin, grown hard, could not unwrinkle. The difficulty of shaving had obliged the old man to let his beard grow, and the cut of it was fan-shaped. An artist would have admired beyond all else in this old lion of Brittany with his powerful shoulders and vigorous chest, the splendid hands of the soldier,—hands like those du Guesclin must have had, large, broad, hairy; hands that once had clasped the sword never, like Joan of Arc, to relinquish it until the royal standard floated in the cathedral of Rheims; hands that were often bloody from the thorns and furze of the Bocage; hands which had pulled an oar in the Marais to surprise the Blues, or in the offing to signal Georges; the hands of a guerilla, a cannoneer, a common solder, a leader; hands still white though the Bourbons of the Elder branch were again in exile. Looking at those hands attentively, one might have seen some recent marks attesting the fact that the Baron had recently joined MADAME in La Vendee. To-day that fact may be admitted. These hands were a living commentary on the noble motto to which no Guenic had proved recreant: Fac!
His forehead attracted attention by the golden tones of the temples, contrasting with the brown tints of the hard and narrow brow, which the falling off of the hair had somewhat broadened, giving still more majesty to that noble ruin. The countenance—a little material, perhaps, but how could it be otherwise?—presented, like all the Breton faces grouped about the baron, a certain savagery, a stolid calm which resembled the impassibility of the Huguenots; something, one might say, stupid, due perhaps to the utter repose which follows extreme fatigue, in which the animal nature alone is visible. Thought was rare. It seemed to be an effort; its seat was in the heart more than in the head; it led to acts rather than ideas. But, examining that grand old man with sustained observation, one could penetrate the mystery of this strange contradiction to the spirit of the century. He had faiths, sentiments, inborn so to speak, which allowed him to dispense with thought. His duty, life had taught him. Institutions and religion thought for him. He reserved his mind, he and his kind, for action, not dissipating it on useless things which occupied the minds of other persons. He drew his thought from his heart like his sword from its scabbard, holding it aloft in his ermined hand, as on his scutcheon, shining with sincerity. That secret once penetrated, all is clear. We can comprehend the depth of convictions that are not thoughts, but living principles,—clear, distinct, downright, and as immaculate as the ermine itself. We understand that sale made to his sister before the war; which provided for all, and faced all, death, confiscation, exile. The beauty of the character of these two old people (for the sister lived only for and by the brother) cannot be understood to its full extent by the right of the selfish morals, the uncertain aims, and the inconstancy of this our epoch. An archangel, charged with the duty of penetrating to the inmost recesses of their hearts could not have found one thought of personal interest. In 1814, when the rector of Guerande suggested to the baron that he should go to Paris and claim his recompense from the triumphant Bourbons, the old sister, so saving and miserly for the household, cried out:—
"Oh, fy! does my brother need to hold out his hand like a beggar?"
"It would be thought I served a king from interest," said the old man. "Besides, it is for him to remember. Poor king! he must be weary indeed of those who harass him. If he gave them all France in bits, they still would ask."
This loyal servant, who had spent his life and means on Louis XVIII., received the rank of colonel, the cross of Saint-Louis, and a stipend of two thousand francs a year.
"The king did remember!" he said when the news reached him.
No one undeceived him. The gift was really made by the Duc de Feltre. But, as an act of gratitude to the king, the baron sustained a siege at Guerande against the forces of General Travot. He refused to surrender the fortress, and when it was absolutely necessary to evacuate it he escaped into the woods with a band of Chouans, who continued armed until the second restoration of the Bourbons. Guerande still treasures the memory of that siege.
We must admit that the Baron du Guenic was illiterate as a peasant. He could read, write, and do some little ciphering; he knew the military art and heraldry, but, excepting always his prayer-book, he had not read three volumes in the course of his life. His clothing, which is not an insignificant point, was invariably the same; it consisted of stout shoes, ribbed stockings, breeches of greenish velveteen, a cloth waistcoat, and a loose coat with a collar, from which hung the cross of Saint-Louis. A noble serenity now reigned upon that face where, for the last year or so, sleep, the forerunner of death, seemed to be preparing him for rest eternal. This constant somnolence, becoming daily more and more frequent, did not alarm either his wife, his blind sister, or his friends, whose medical knowledge was of the slightest. To them these solemn pauses of a life without reproach, but very weary, were naturally explained: the baron had done his duty, that was all.
In this ancient mansion the absorbing interests were the fortunes of the dispossessed Elder branch. The future of the exiled Bourbons, that of the Catholic religion, the influence of political innovations on Brittany were the exclusive topics of conversation in the baron's family. There was but one personal interest mingled with these most absorbing ones: the attachment of all for the only son, for Calyste, the heir, the sole hope of the great name of the du Guenics.
The old Vendean, the old Chouan, had, some years previously, a return of his own youth in order to train his son to those manly exercises which were proper for a gentleman liable to be summoned at any moment to take arms. No sooner was Calyste sixteen years of age than his father accompanied him to the marshes and the forest, teaching him through the pleasures of the chase the rudiments of war, preaching by example, indifferent to fatigue, firm in his saddle, sure of his shot whatever the game might be,—deer, hare, or a bird on the wing,—intrepid in face of obstacles, bidding his son follow him into danger as though he had ten other sons to take Calyste's place.
So, when the Duchesse de Berry landed in France to conquer back the kingdom for her son, the father judged it right to take his boy to join her, and put in practice the motto of their ancestors. The baron started in the dead of night, saying no word to his wife, who might perhaps have weakened him; taking his son under fire as if to a fete, and Gasselin, his only vassal, who followed him joyfully. The three men of the family were absent for three months without sending news of their whereabouts to the baroness, who never read the "Quotidienne" without trembling from line to line, nor to his old blind sister, heroically erect, whose nerve never faltered for an instance as she heard that paper read. The three guns hanging to the walls had therefore seen service recently. The baron, who considered the enterprise useless, left the region before the affair of La Penissiere, or the house of Guenic would probably have ended in that hecatomb.
When, on a stormy night after parting from MADAME, the father, son, and servant returned to the house in Guerande, they took their friends and the baroness and old Mademoiselle du Guenic by surprise, although the latter, by the exercise of senses with which the blind are gifted, recognized the steps of the three men in the little lane leading to the house. The baron looked round upon the circle of his anxious friends, who were seated beside the little table lighted by the antique lamp, and said in a tremulous voice, while Gasselin replaced the three guns and the sabres in their places, these words of feudal simplicity:—
"The barons did not all do their duty."
Then, having kissed his wife and sister, he sat down in his old arm-chair and ordered supper to be brought for his son, for Gasselin, and for himself. Gasselin had thrown himself before Calyste on one occasion, to protect him, and received the cut of a sabre on his shoulder; but so simple a matter did it seem that even the women scarcely thanked him. The baron and his guests uttered neither curses nor complaints of their conquerors. Such silence is a trait of Breton character. In forty years no one ever heard a word of contumely from the baron's lips about his adversaries. It was for them to do their duty as he did his. This utter silence is the surest indication of an unalterable will.
This last effort, the flash of an energy now waning, had caused the present weakness and somnolence of the old man. The fresh defeat and exile of the Bourbons, as miraculously driven out as miraculously re-established, were to him a source of bitter sadness.
About six o'clock on the evening of the day on which this history begins, the baron, who, according to ancient custom, had finished dining by four o'clock, fell asleep as usual while his wife was reading to him the "Quotidienne." His head rested against the back of the arm-chair which stood beside the fireplace on the garden side.
Near this gnarled trunk of an ancient tree, and in front of the fireplace, the baroness, seated on one of the antique chairs, presented the type of those adorable women who exist in England, Scotland, or Ireland only. There alone are born those milk-white creatures with golden hair the curls of which are wound by the hands of angels, for the light of heaven seems to ripple in their silken spirals swaying to the breeze. Fanny O'Brien was one of those sylphs,—strong in tenderness, invincible under misfortune, soft as the music of her voice, pure as the azure of her eyes, of a delicate, refined beauty, blessed with a skin that was silken to the touch and caressing to the eye, which neither painter's brush nor written word can picture. Beautiful still at forty-two years of age, many a man would have thought it happiness to marry her as she looked at the splendors of that autumn coloring, redundant in flowers and fruit, refreshed and refreshing with the dews of heaven.
The baroness held the paper in the dimpled hand, the fingers of which curved slightly backward, their nails cut square like those of an antique statue. Half lying, without ill-grace or affectation, in her chair, her feet stretched out to warm them, she was dressed in a gown of black velvet, for the weather was now becoming chilly. The corsage, rising to the throat, moulded the splendid contour of the shoulders and the rich bosom which the suckling of her son had not deformed. Her hair was worn in ringlets, after the English fashion, down her cheeks; the rest was simply twisted to the crown of her head and held there with a tortoise-shell comb. The color, not undecided in tone as other blond hair, sparkled to the light like a filagree of burnished gold. The baroness always braided the short locks curling on the nape of her neck—which are a sign of race. This tiny braid, concealed in the mass of hair always carefully put up, allowed the eye to follow with delight the undulating line by which her neck was set upon her shoulders. This little detail will show the care which she gave to her person; it was her pride to rejoice the eyes of the old baron. What a charming, delicate attention! When you see a woman displaying in her own home the coquetry which most women spend on a single sentiment, believe me, that woman is as noble a mother as she is a wife; she is the joy and the flower of the home; she knows her obligations as a woman; in her soul, in her tenderness, you will find her outward graces; she is doing good in secret; she worships, she adores without a calculation of return; she loves her fellows, as she loves God,—for their own sakes. And so one might fancy that the Virgin of paradise, under whose care she lived, had rewarded the chaste girlhood and the sacred life of the old man's wife by surrounding her with a sort of halo which preserved her beauty from the wrongs of time. The alterations of that beauty Plato would have glorified as the coming of new graces. Her skin, so milk-white once, had taken the warm and pearly tones which painters adore. Her broad and finely modelled brow caught lovingly the light which played on its polished surface. Her eyes, of a turquoise blue, shone with unequalled sweetness; the soft lashes, and the slightly sunken temples inspired the spectator with I know now what mute melancholy. The nose, which was aquiline and thin, recalled the royal origin of the high-born woman. The pure lips, finely cut, wore happy smiles, brought there by loving-kindness inexhaustible. Her teeth were small and white; she had gained of late a slight embonpoint, but her delicate hips and slender waist were none the worse for it. The autumn of her beauty presented a few perennial flowers of her springtide among the richer blooms of summer. Her arms became more nobly rounded, her lustrous skin took a finer grain; the outlines of her form gained plenitude. Lastly and best of all, her open countenance, serene and slightly rosy, the purity of her blue eyes, that a look too eager might have wounded, expressed illimitable sympathy, the tenderness of angels.
At the other chimney-corner, in an arm-chair, the octogenarian sister, like in all points save clothes to her brother, sat listening to the reading of the newspaper and knitting stockings, a work for which sight is needless. Both eyes had cataracts; but she obstinately refused to submit to an operation, in spite of the entreaties of her sister-in-law. The secret reason of that obstinacy was known to herself only; she declared it was want of courage; but the truth was that she would not let her brother spend twenty-five louis for her benefit. That sum would have been so much the less for the good of the household.
These two old persons brought out in fine relief the beauty of the baroness. Mademoiselle Zephirine, being deprived of sight, was not aware of the changes which eighty years had wrought in her features. Her pale, hollow face, to which the fixedness of the white and sightless eyes gave almost the appearance of death, and three or four solitary and projecting teeth made menacing, was framed by a little hood of brown printed cotton, quilted like a petticoat, trimmed with a cotton ruche, and tied beneath the chin by strings which were always a little rusty. She wore a cotillon, or short skirt of coarse cloth, over a quilted petticoat (a positive mattress, in which were secreted double louis-d'ors), and pockets sewn to a belt which she unfastened every night and put on every morning like a garment. Her body was encased in the casaquin of Brittany, a species of spencer made of the same cloth as the cotillon, adorned with a collarette of many pleats, the washing of which caused the only dispute she ever had with her sister-in-law,—her habit being to change it only once a week. From the large wadded sleeves of the casaquin issued two withered but still vigorous arms, at the ends of which flourished her hands, their brownish-red color making the white arms look like poplar-wood. These hands, hooked or contracted from the habit of knitting, might be called a stocking-machine incessantly at work; the phenomenon would have been had they stopped. From time to time Mademoiselle du Guenic took a long knitting needle which she kept in the bosom of her gown, and passed it between her hood and her hair to poke or scratch her white locks. A stranger would have laughed to see the careless manner in which she thrust back the needle without the slightest fear of wounding herself. She was straight as a steeple. Her erect and imposing carriage might pass for one of those coquetries of old age which prove that pride is a necessary passion of life. Her smile was gay. She, too, had done her duty.
As soon as the baroness saw that her husband was asleep she stopped reading. A ray of sunshine, stretching from one window to the other, divided by a golden band the atmosphere of that old room and burnished the now black furniture. The light touched the carvings of the ceiling, danced on the time-worn chests, spread its shining cloth on the old oak table, enlivening the still, brown room, as Fanny's voice cast into the heart of her octogenarian blind sister a music as luminous and as cheerful as that ray of sunlight. Soon the ray took on the ruddy colors which, by insensible gradations, sank into the melancholy tones of twilight. The baroness also sank into a deep meditation, one of those total silences which her sister-in-law had noticed for the last two weeks, trying to explain them to herself, but making no inquiry. The old woman studied the causes of this unusual pre-occupation, as blind persons, on whose soul sound lingers like a divining echo, read books in which the pages are black and the letters white. Mademoiselle Zephirine, to whom the dark hour now meant nothing, continued to knit, and the silence at last became so deep that the clicking of her knitting-needles was plainly heard.
"You have dropped the paper, sister, but you are not asleep," said the old woman, slyly.
At this moment Mariotte came in to light the lamp, which she placed on a square table in front of the fire; then she fetched her distaff, her ball of thread, and a small stool, on which she seated herself in the recess of a window and began as usual to spin. Gasselin was still busy about the offices; he looked to the horses of the baron and Calyste, saw that the stable was in order for the night, and gave the two fine hunting-dogs their daily meal. The joyful barking of the animals was the last noise that awakened the echoes slumbering among the darksome walls of the ancient house. The two dogs and the two horses were the only remaining vestiges of the splendors of its chivalry. An imaginative man seated on the steps of the portico and letting himself fall into the poesy of the still living images of that dwelling, might have quivered as he heard the baying of the hounds and the trampling of the neighing horses.
Gasselin was one of those short, thick, squat little Bretons, with black hair and sun-browned faces, silent, slow, and obstinate as mules, but always following steadily the path marked out for them. He was forty-two years old, and had been twenty-five years in the household. Mademoiselle had hired him when he was fifteen, on hearing of the marriage and probable return of the baron. This retainer considered himself as part of the family; he had played with Calyste, he loved the horses and dogs of the house, and talked to them and petted them as though they were his own. He wore a blue linen jacket with little pockets flapping about his hips, waistcoat and trousers of the same material at all seasons, blue stockings, and stout hob-nailed shoes. When it was cold or rainy he put on a goat's-skin, after the fashion of his country.
Mariotte, who was also over forty, was as a woman what Gasselin was as a man. No team could be better matched,—same complexion, same figure, same little eyes that were lively and black. It is difficult to understand why Gasselin and Mariotte had never married; possibly it might have seemed immoral, they were so like brother and sister. Mariotte's wages were ninety francs a year; Gasselin's, three hundred. But thousands of francs offered to them elsewhere would not have induced either to leave the Guenic household. Both were under the orders of Mademoiselle, who, from the time of the war in La Vendee to the period of her brother's return, had ruled the house. When she learned that the baron was about to bring home a mistress, she had been moved to great emotion, believing that she must yield the sceptre of the household and abdicate in favor of the Baronne du Guenic, whose subject she was now compelled to be.
Mademoiselle Zephirine was therefore agreeably surprised to find in Fanny O'Brien a young woman born to the highest rank, to whom the petty cares of a poor household were extremely distasteful,—one who, like other fine souls, would far have preferred to eat plain bread rather than the choicest food if she had to prepare it for herself; a woman capable of accomplishing all the duties, even the most painful, of humanity, strong under necessary privations, but without courage for commonplace avocations. When the baron begged his sister in his wife's name to continue in charge of the household, the old maid kissed the baroness like a sister; she made a daughter of her, she adored her, overjoyed to be left in control of the household, which she managed rigorously on a system of almost inconceivable economy, which was never relaxed except for some great occasion, such as the lying-in of her sister, and her nourishment, and all that concerned Calyste, the worshipped son of the whole household.
Though the two servants were accustomed to this stern regime, and no orders need ever have been given to them, for the interests of their masters were greater in their minds than their own,—were their own in fact,—Mademoiselle Zephirine insisted on looking after everything. Her attention being never distracted, she knew, without going up to verify her knowledge, how large was the heap of nuts in the barn; and how many oats remained in the bin without plunging her sinewy arm into the depths of it. She carried at the end of a string fastened to the belt of her casaquin, a boatswain's whistle, with which she was wont to summon Mariotte by one, and Gasselin by two notes.
Gasselin's greatest happiness was to cultivate the garden and produce fine fruits and vegetables. He had so little work to do that without this occupation he would certainly have felt lost. After he had groomed his horses in the morning, he polished the floors and cleaned the rooms on the ground-floor, then he went to his garden, where weed or damaging insect was never seen. Sometimes Gasselin was observed motionless, bare-headed, under a burning sun, watching for a field-mouse or the terrible grub of the cockchafer; then, as soon as it was caught, he would rush with the joy of a child to show his masters the noxious beast that had occupied his mind for a week. He took pleasure in going to Croisic on fast-days, to purchase a fish to be had for less money there than at Guerande.
Thus no household was ever more truly one, more united in interests, more bound together than this noble family sacredly devoted to its duty. Masters and servants seemed made for one another. For twenty-five years there had been neither trouble nor discord. The only griefs were the petty ailments of the little boy, the only terrors were caused by the events of 1814 and those of 1830. If the same things were invariably done at the same hours, if the food was subjected to the regularity of times and seasons, this monotony, like that of Nature varied only by alterations of cloud and rain and sunshine, was sustained by the affection existing in the hearts of all,—the more fruitful, the more beneficent because it emanated from natural causes.
III. THREE BRETON SILHOUETTES
When night had fairly fallen, Gasselin came into the hall and asked his master respectfully if he had further need of him.
"You can go out, or go to bed, after prayers," replied the baron, waking up, "unless Madame or my sister—"
The two ladies here made a sign of consent. Gasselin then knelt down, seeing that his masters rose to kneel upon their chairs; Mariotte also knelt before her stool. Mademoiselle du Guenic then said the prayer aloud. After it was over, some one rapped at the door on the lane. Gasselin went to open it.
"I dare say it is Monsieur le cure; he usually comes first," said Mariotte.
Every one now recognized the rector's foot on the resounding steps of the portico. He bowed respectfully to the three occupants of the room, and addressed them in phrases of that unctuous civility which priests are accustomed to use. To the rather absent-minded greeting of the mistress of the house, he replied by an ecclesiastically inquisitive look.
"Are you anxious or ill, Madame la baronne?" he asked.
"Thank you, no," she replied.
Monsieur Grimont, a man of fifty, of middle height, lost in his cassock, from which issued two stout shoes with silver buckles, exhibited above his hands a plump visage, and a generally white skin though yellow in spots. His hands were dimpled. His abbatial face had something of the Dutch burgomaster in the placidity of its complexion and its flesh tones, and of the Breton peasant in the straight black hair and the vivacity of the brown eyes, which preserved, nevertheless, a priestly decorum. His gaiety, that of a man whose conscience was calm and pure, admitted a joke. His manner had nothing uneasy or dogged about it, like that of many poor rectors whose existence or whose power is contested by their parishioners, and who instead of being, as Napoleon sublimely said, the moral leaders of the population and the natural justices of peace, are treated as enemies. Observing Monsieur Grimont as he marched through Guerande, the most irreligious of travellers would have recognized the sovereign of that Catholic town; but this same sovereign lowered his spiritual superiority before the feudal supremacy of the du Guenics. In their salon he was as a chaplain in his seigneur's house. In church, when he gave the benediction, his hand was always first stretched out toward the chapel belonging to the Guenics, where their mailed hand and their device were carved upon the key-stone of the arch.
"I thought that Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had already arrived," said the rector, sitting down, and taking the hand of the baroness to kiss it. "She is getting unpunctual. Can it be that the fashion of dissipation is contagious? I see that Monsieur le chevalier is again at Les Touches this evening."
"Don't say anything about those visits before Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel," cried the old maid, eagerly.
"Ah! mademoiselle," remarked Mariotte, "you can't prevent the town from gossiping."
"What do they say?" asked the baroness.
"The young girls and the old women all say that he is in love with Mademoiselle des Touches."
"A lad of Calyste's make is playing his proper part in making the women love him," said the baron.
"Here comes Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel," said Mariotte.
The gravel in the court-yard crackled under the discreet footsteps of the coming lady, who was accompanied by a page supplied with a lantern. Seeing this lad, Mariotte removed her stool to the great hall for the purpose of talking with him by the gleam of his rush-light, which was burned at the cost of his rich and miserly mistress, thus economizing those of her own masters.
This elderly demoiselle was a thin, dried-up old maid, yellow as the parchment of a Parliament record, wrinkled as a lake ruffled by the wind, with gray eyes, large prominent teeth, and the hands of a man. She was rather short, a little crooked, possibly hump-backed; but no one had ever been inquisitive enough to ascertain the nature of her perfections or her imperfections. Dressed in the same style as Mademoiselle du Guenic, she stirred an enormous quantity of petticoats and linen whenever she wanted to find one or other of the two apertures of her gown through which she reached her pockets. The strangest jingling of keys and money then echoed among her garments. She always wore, dangling from one side, the bunch of keys of a good housekeeper, and from the other her silver snuff-box, thimble, knitting-needles, and other implements that were also resonant. Instead of Mademoiselle Zephirine's wadded hood, she wore a green bonnet, in which she may have visited her melons, for it had passed, like them, from green to yellowish; as for its shape, our present fashions are just now bringing it back to Paris, after twenty years absence, under the name of Bibi. This bonnet was constructed under her own eye and by the hands of her nieces, out of green Florence silk bought at Guerande, and an old bonnet-shape, renewed every five years at Nantes,—for Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel allowed her bonnets the longevity of a legislature. Her nieces also made her gowns, cut by an immutable pattern. The old lady still used the cane with the short hook that all women carried in the early days of Marie-Antoinette. She belonged to the very highest nobility of Brittany. Her arms bore the ermine of its ancient dukes. In her and in her sister the illustrious Breton house of the Pen-Hoels ended. Her younger sister had married a Kergarouet, who, in spite of the deep disapproval of the whole region, added the name of Pen-Hoel to his own and called himself the Vicomte de Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel.
"Heaven has punished him," said the old lady; "he has nothing but daughters, and the Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel name will be wiped out."
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel possessed about seven thousand francs a year from the rental of lands. She had come into her property at thirty-six years of age, and managed it herself, inspecting it on horseback, and displaying on all points the firmness of character which is noticeable in most deformed persons. Her avarice was admired by the whole country round, never meeting with the slightest disapproval. She kept one woman-servant and the page. Her yearly expenses, not including taxes, did not amount to over a thousand francs. Consequently, she was the object of the cajoleries of the Kergarouet-Pen-Hoels, who passed the winters at Nantes, and the summers at their estate on the banks of the Loire below l'Indret. She was supposed to be ready to leave her fortune and her savings to whichever of her nieces pleased her best. Every three months one or other of the four demoiselles de Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel, (the youngest of whom was twelve, and the eldest twenty years of age) came to spend a few days with her.
A friend of Zephirine du Guenic, Jacqueline de Pen-Hoel, brought up to adore the Breton grandeur of the du Guenics, had formed, ever since the birth of Calyste, the plan of transmitting her property to the chevalier by marrying him to whichever of her nieces the Vicomtesse de Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel, their mother, would bestow upon him. She dreamed of buying back some of the best of the Guenic property from the farmer engagistes. When avarice has an object it ceases to be a vice; it becomes a means of virtue; its privations are a perpetual offering; it has the grandeur of an intention beneath its meannesses. Perhaps Zephirine was in the secret of Jacqueline's intention. Perhaps even the baroness, whose whole soul was occupied by love for her son and tenderness for his father, may have guessed it as she saw with what wily perseverance Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel brought with her her favorite niece, Charlotte de Kergarouet, now sixteen years of age. The rector, Monsieur Grimont, was certainly in her confidence; it was he who helped the old maid to invest her savings.
But Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel might have had three hundred thousand francs in gold, she might have had ten times the landed property she actually possessed, and the du Guenics would never have allowed themselves to pay her the slightest attention that the old woman could construe as looking to her fortune. From a feeling of truly Breton pride, Jacqueline de Pen-Hoel, glad of the supremacy accorded to her old friend Zephirine and the du Guenics, always showed herself honored by her relations with Madame du Guenic and her sister-in-law. She even went so far as to conceal the sort of sacrifice to which she consented every evening in allowing her page to burn in the Guenic hall that singular gingerbread-colored candle called an oribus which is still used in certain parts of western France.
Thus this rich old maid was nobility, pride, and grandeur personified. At the moment when you are reading this portrait of her, the Abbe Grimont has just indiscreetly revealed that on the evening when the old baron, the young chevalier, and Gasselin secretly departed to join MADAME (to the terror of the baroness and the great joy of all Bretons) Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had given the baron ten thousand francs in gold,—an immense sacrifice, to which the abbe added another ten thousand, a tithe collected by him,—charging the old hero to offer the whole, in the name of the Pen-Hoels and of the parish of Guerande, to the mother of Henri V.
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel treated Calyste as if she felt that her intentions gave her certain rights over him; her plans seemed to authorize a supervision. Not that her ideas were strict in the matter of gallantry, for she had, in fact, the usual indulgence of the old women of the old school, but she held in horror the modern ways of revolutionary morals. Calyste, who might have gained in her estimation by a few adventures with Breton girls, would have lost it considerably had she seen him entangled in what she called innovations. She might have disinterred a little gold to pay for the results of a love-affair, but if Calyste had driven a tilbury or talked of a visit to Paris she would have thought him dissipated, and declared him a spendthrift. Impossible to say what she might not have done had she found him reading novels or an impious newspaper. To her, novel ideas meant the overthrow of succession of crops, ruin under the name of improvements and methods; in short, mortgaged lands as the inevitable result of experiments. To her, prudence was the true method of making your fortune; good management consisted in filling your granaries with wheat, rye, and flax, and waiting for a rise at the risk of being called a monopolist, and clinging to those grain-sacks obstinately. By singular chance she had often made lucky sales which confirmed her principles. She was thought to be maliciously clever, but in fact she was not quick-witted; on the other hand, being as methodical as a Dutchman, prudent as a cat, and persistent as a priest, those qualities in a region of routine like Brittany were, practically, the equivalent of intellect.
"Will Monsieur du Halga join us this evening?" asked Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, taking off her knitted mittens after the usual exchange of greetings.
"Yes, mademoiselle; I met him taking his dog to walk on the mall," replied the rector.
"Ha! then our mouche will be lively to-night. Last evening we were only four."
At the word mouche the rector rose and took from a drawer in one of the tall chests a small round basket made of fine osier, a pile of ivory counters yellow as a Turkish pipe after twenty years' usage, and a pack of cards as greasy as those of the custom-house officers at Saint-Nazaire, who change them only once in two weeks. These the abbe brought to the table, arranging the proper number of counters before each player, and putting the basket in the centre of the table beside the lamp, with infantine eagerness, and the manner of a man accustomed to perform this little service.
A knock at the outer gate given firmly in military fashion echoed through the stillness of the ancient mansion. Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's page went gravely to open the door, and presently the long, lean, methodically-clothed person of the Chevalier du Halga, former flag-captain to Admiral de Kergarouet, defined itself in black on the penumbra of the portico.
"Welcome, chevalier!" cried Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel.
"The altar is raised," said the abbe.
The chevalier was a man in poor health, who wore flannel for his rheumatism, a black-silk skull-cap to protect his head from fog, and a spencer to guard his precious chest from the sudden gusts which freshen the atmosphere of Guerande. He always went armed with a gold-headed cane to drive away the dogs who paid untimely court to a favorite little bitch who usually accompanied him. This man, fussy as a fine lady, worried by the slightest contretemps, speaking low to spare his voice, had been in his early days one of the most intrepid and most competent officers of the old navy. He had won the confidence of de Suffren in the Indian Ocean, and the friendship of the Comte de Portenduere. His splendid conduct while flag-captain to Admiral Kergarouet was written in visible letters on his scarred face. To see him now no one would have imagined the voice that ruled the storm, the eye that compassed the sea, the courage, indomitable, of the Breton sailor.
The chevalier never smoked, never swore; he was gentle and tranquil as a girl, as much concerned about his little dog Thisbe and her caprices as though he were an elderly dowager. In this way he gave a high idea of his departed gallantry, but he never so much as alluded to the deeds of surpassing bravery which had astonished the doughty old admiral, Comte d'Estaing. Though his manner was that of an invalid, and he walked as if stepping on eggs and complained about the sharpness of the wind or the heat of the sun, or the dampness of the misty atmosphere, he exhibited a set of the whitest teeth in the reddest of gums,—a fact reassuring as to his maladies, which were, however, rather expensive, consisting as they did of four daily meals of monastic amplitude. His bodily frame, like that of the baron, was bony, and indestructibly strong, and covered with a parchment glued to his bones as the skin of an Arab horse on the muscles which shine in the sun. His skin retained the tawny color it received in India, whence, however, he did not bring back either facts or ideas. He had emigrated with the rest of his friends, lost his property, and was now ending his days with the cross of Saint-Louis and a pension of two thousand francs, as the legal reward of his services, paid from the fund of the Invalides de la Marine. The slight hypochondria which made him invent his imaginary ills is easily explained by his actual suffering during the emigration. He served in the Russian navy until the day when the Emperor Alexander ordered him to be employed against France; he then resigned and went to live at Odessa, near the Duc de Richelieu, with whom he returned to France. It was the duke who obtained for this glorious relic of the old Breton navy the pension which enabled him to live. On the death of Louis XVIII. he returned to Guerande, and became, after a while, mayor of the city.
The rector, the chevalier, and Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had regularly passed their evenings for the last fifteen years at the hotel de Guenic, where the other noble personages of the neighborhood also came. It will be readily understood that the du Guenics were at the head of the faubourg Saint-Germain of the old Breton province, where no member of the new administration sent down by the government was ever allowed to penetrate. For the last six years the rector coughed when he came to the crucial words, Domine, salvum fac regem. Politics were still at that point in Guerande.
IV. A NORMAL EVENING
Mouche is a game played with five cards dealt to each player, and one turned over. The turned-over card is trumps. At each round the player is at liberty to run his chances or to abstain from playing his card. If he abstains he loses nothing but his own stake, for as long as there are no forfeits in the basket each player puts in a trifling sum. If he plays and wins a trick he is paid pro rata to the stake; that is, if there are five sous in the basket, he wins one sou. The player who fails to win a trick is made mouche; he has to pay the whole stake, which swells the basket for the next game. Those who decline to play throw down their cards during the game; but their play is held to be null. The players can exchange their cards with the remainder of the pack, as in ecarte, but only by order of sequence, so that the first and second players may, and sometimes do, absorb the remainder of the pack between them. The turned-over trump card belongs to the dealer, who is always the last; he has the right to exchange it for any card in his own hand. One powerful card is of more importance than all the rest; it is called Mistigris. Mistigris is the knave of clubs.
This game, simple as it is, is not lacking in interest. The cupidity natural to mankind develops in it; so does diplomatic wiliness; also play of countenance. At the hotel du Guenic, each of the players took twenty counters, representing five sous; which made the sum total of the stake for each game five farthings, a large amount in the eyes of this company. Supposing some extraordinary luck, fifty sous might be won,—more capital than any person in Guerande spent in the course of any one day. Consequently Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel put into this game (the innocence of which is only surpassed in the nomenclature of the Academy by that of La Bataille) a passion corresponding to that of the hunters after big game. Mademoiselle Zephirine, who went shares in the game with the baroness, attached no less importance to it. To put up one farthing for the chance of winning five, game after game, was to this confirmed hoarder a mighty financial operation, into which she put as much mental action as the most eager speculator at the Bourse expends during the rise and fall of consols.
By a certain diplomatic convention, dating from September, 1825, when Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel lost thirty-five sous, the game was to cease as soon as a person losing ten sous should express the wish to retire. Politeness did not allow the rest to give the retiring player the pain of seeing the game go on without him. But, as all passions have their Jesuitism, the chevalier and the baron, those wily politicians, had found a means of eluding this charter. When all the players but one were anxious to continue an exciting game, the daring sailor, du Halga, one of those rich fellows prodigal of costs they do not pay, would offer ten counters to Mademoiselle Zephirine or Mademoiselle Jacqueline, when either of them, or both of them, had lost their five sous, on condition of reimbursement in case they won. An old bachelor could allow himself such gallantries to the sex. The baron also offered ten counters to the old maids, but under the honest pretext of continuing the game. The miserly maidens accepted, not, however, without some pressing, as is the use and wont of maidens. But, before giving way to this vast prodigality the baron and the chevalier were required to have won; otherwise the offer would have been taken as an insult.
Mouche became a brilliant affair when a Demoiselle de Kergarouet was in transit with her aunt. We use the single name, for the Kergarouets had never been able to induce any one to call them Kergarouet-Pen-Hoel,—not even their servants, although the latter had strict orders so to do. At these times the aunt held out to the niece as a signal treat the mouche at the du Guenics. The girl was ordered to look amiable, an easy thing to do in the presence of the beautiful Calyste, whom the four Kergarouet young ladies all adored. Brought up in the midst of modern civilization, these young persons cared little for five sous a game, and on such occasions the stakes went higher. Those were evenings of great emotion to the old blind sister. The baroness would give her sundry hints by pressing her foot a certain number of times, according to the size of the stake it was safe to play. To play or not to play, if the basket were full, involved an inward struggle, where cupidity fought with fear. If Charlotte de Kergarouet, who was usually called giddy, was lucky in her bold throws, her aunt on their return home (if she had not won herself), would be cold and disapproving, and lecture the girl: she had too much decision in her character; a young person should never assert herself in presence of her betters; her manner of taking the basket and beginning to play was really insolent; the proper behavior of a young girl demanded much more reserve and greater modesty; etc.
It can easily be imagined that these games, carried on nightly for twenty years, were interrupted now and then by narratives of events in the town, or by discussions on public events. Sometimes the players would sit for half an hour, their cards held fan-shape on their stomachs, engaged in talking. If, as a result of these inattentions, a counter was missing from the basket, every one eagerly declared that he or she had put in their proper number. Usually the chevalier made up the deficiency, being accused by the rest of thinking so much of his buzzing ears, his chilly chest, and other symptoms of invalidism that he must have forgotten his stake. But no sooner did he supply the missing counter than Zephirine and Jacqueline were seized with remorse; they imagined that, possibly, they themselves had forgotten their stake; they believed—they doubted—but, after all, the chevalier was rich enough to bear such a trifling misfortune. These dignified and noble personages had the delightful pettiness of suspecting each other. Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel would almost invariably accuse the rector of cheating when he won the basket.
"It is singular," he would reply, "that I never cheat except when I win the trick."
Often the baron would forget where he was when the talk fell on the misfortunes of the royal house. Sometimes the evening ended in a manner that was quite unexpected to the players, who all counted on a certain gain. After a certain number of games and when the hour grew late, these excellent people would be forced to separate without either loss or gain, but not without emotion. On these sad evenings complaints were made of mouche itself; it was dull, it was long; the players accused their mouche as Negroes stone the moon in the water when the weather is bad. On one occasion, after an arrival of the Vicomte and Vicomtesse de Kergarouet, there was talk of whist and boston being games of more interest than mouche. The baroness, who was bored by mouche, encouraged the innovation, and all the company—but not without reluctance—adopted it. But it proved impossible to make them really understand the new games, which, on the departure of the Kergarouets, were voted head-splitters, algebraic problems, and intolerably difficult to play. All preferred their mouche, their dear, agreeable mouche. Mouche accordingly triumphed over modern games, as all ancient things have ever triumphed in Brittany over novelties.
While the rector was dealing the cards the baroness was asking the Chevalier du Halga the same questions which she had asked him the evening before about his health. The chevalier made it a point of honor to have new ailments. Inquiries might be alike, but the nautical hero had singular advantages in the way of replies. To-day it chanced that his ribs troubled him. But here's a remarkable thing! never did the worthy chevalier complain of his wounds. The ills that were really the matter with him he expected, he knew them and he bore them; but his fancied ailments, his headaches, the gnawings in his stomach, the buzzing in his ears, and a thousand other fads and symptoms made him horribly uneasy; he posed as incurable,—and not without reason, for doctors up to the present time have found no remedy for diseases that don't exist.
"Yesterday the trouble was, I believe, in your legs," said the rector.
"It moves about," replied the chevalier.
"Legs to ribs?" asked Mademoiselle Zephirine.
"Without stopping on the way?" said Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, smiling.
The chevalier bowed gravely, making a negative gesture which was not a little droll, and proved to an observer that in his youth the sailor had been witty and loving and beloved. Perhaps his fossil life at Guerande hid many memories. When he stood, solemnly planted on his two heron-legs in the sunshine on the mall, gazing at the sea or watching the gambols of his little dog, perhaps he was living again in some terrestrial paradise of a past that was rich in recollections.
"So the old Duc de Lenoncourt is dead," said the baron, remembering the paragraph of the "Quotidienne," where his wife had stopped reading. "Well, the first gentleman of the Bedchamber followed his master soon. I shall go next."
"My dear, my dear!" said his wife, gently tapping the bony calloused hand of her husband.
"Let him say what he likes, sister," said Zephirine; "as long as I am above ground he can't be under it; I am the elder."
A gay smile played on the old woman's lips. Whenever the baron made reflections of that kind, the players and the visitors present looked at each other with emotion, distressed by the sadness of the king of Guerande; and after they had left the house they would say, as they walked home: "Monsieur du Guenic was sad to-night. Did you notice how he slept?" And the next day the whole town would talk of the matter. "The Baron du Guenic fails," was a phrase that opened the conversation in many houses.
"How is Thisbe?" asked Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel of the chevalier, as soon as the cards were dealt.
"The poor little thing is like her master," replied the chevalier; "she has some nervous trouble, she goes on three legs constantly. See, like this."
In raising and crooking his arm to imitate the dog, the chevalier exposed his hand to his cunning neighbor, who wanted to see if he had Mistigris or the trump,—a first wile to which he succumbed.
"Oh!" said the baroness, "the end of Monsieur le cure's nose is turning white; he has Mistigris."
The pleasure of having Mistigris was so great to the rector—as it was to the other players—that the poor priest could not conceal it. In all human faces there is a spot where the secret emotions of the heart betray themselves; and these companions, accustomed for years to observe each other, had ended by finding out that spot on the rector's face: when he had Mistigris the tip of his nose grew pale.
"You had company to-day," said the chevalier to Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel.
"Yes, a cousin of my brother-in-law. He surprised me by announcing the marriage of the Comtesse de Kergarouet, a Demoiselle de Fontaine."
"The daughter of 'Grand-Jacques,'" cried the chevalier, who had lived with the admiral during his stay in Paris.
"The countess is his heir; she has married an old ambassador. My visitor told me the strangest things about our neighbor, Mademoiselle des Touches,—so strange that I can't believe them. If they were true, Calyste would never be so constantly with her; he has too much good sense not to perceive such monstrosities—"
"Monstrosities?" said the baron, waked up by the word.
The baroness and the rector exchanged looks. The cards were dealt; Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel had Mistigris! Impossible to continue the conversation! But she was glad to hide her joy under the excitement caused by her last word.
"Your play, monsieur le baron," she said, with an air of importance.
"My nephew is not one of those youths who like monstrosities," remarked Zephirine, taking out her knitting-needle and scratching her head.
"Mistigris!" cried Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, making no reply to her friend.
The rector, who appeared to be well-informed in the matter of Calyste and Mademoiselle des Touches, did not enter the lists.
"What does she do that is so extraordinary, Mademoiselle des Touches?" asked the baron.
"She smokes," replied Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel.
"That's very wholesome," said the chevalier.
"About her property?" asked the baron.
"Her property?" continued the old maid. "Oh, she is running through it."
"The game is mine!" said the baroness. "See, I have king, queen, knave of trumps, Mistigris, and a king. We win the basket, sister."
This victory, gained at one stroke, without playing a card, horrified Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, who ceased to concern herself about Calyste and Mademoiselle des Touches. By nine o'clock no one remained in the salon but the baroness and the rector. The four old people had gone to their beds. The chevalier, according to his usual custom, accompanied Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel to her house in the Place de Guerande, making remarks as they went along on the cleverness of the last play, on the joy with which Mademoiselle Zephirine engulfed her gains in those capacious pockets of hers,—for the old blind woman no longer repressed upon her face the visible signs of her feelings. Madame du Guenic's evident preoccupation was the chief topic of conversation, however. The chevalier had remarked the abstraction of the beautiful Irish woman. When they reached Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's door-step, and her page had gone in, the old lady answered, confidentially, the remarks of the chevalier on the strangely abstracted air of the baroness:—
"I know the cause. Calyste is lost unless we marry him promptly. He loves Mademoiselle des Touches, an actress!"
"In that case, send for Charlotte."
"I have sent; my sister will receive my letter to-morrow," replied Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, bowing to the chevalier.
Imagine from this sketch of a normal evening the hubbub excited in Guerande homes by the arrival, the stay, the departure, or even the mere passage through the town, of a stranger.
When no sounds echoed from the baron's chamber nor from that of his sister, the baroness looked at the rector, who was playing pensively with the counters.
"I see that you begin to share my anxiety about Calyste," she said to him.
"Did you notice Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's displeased looks to-night?" asked the rector.
"Yes," replied the baroness.
"She has, as I know, the best intentions about our dear Calyste; she loves him as though he were her son, his conduct in Vendee beside his father, the praises that MADAME bestowed upon his devotion, have only increased her affection for him. She intends to execute a deed of gift by which she gives her whole property at her death to whichever of her nieces Calyste marries. I know that you have another and much richer marriage in Ireland for your dear Calyste, but it is well to have two strings to your bow. In case your family will not take charge of Calyste's establishment, Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's fortune is not to be despised. You can always find a match of seven thousand francs a year for the dear boy, but it is not often that you could come across the savings of forty years and landed property as well managed, built up, and kept in repair as that of Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel. That ungodly woman, Mademoiselle des Touches, has come here to ruin many excellent things. Her life is now known."
"And what is it?" asked the mother.
"Oh! that of a trollop," replied the rector,—"a woman of questionable morals, a writer for the stage; frequenting theatres and actors; squandering her fortune among pamphleteers, painters, musicians, a devilish society, in short. She writes books herself, and has taken a false name by which she is better known, they tell me, than by her own. She seems to be a sort of circus woman who never enters a church except to look at the pictures. She has spent quite a fortune in decorating Les Touches in a most improper fashion, making it a Mohammedan paradise where the houris are not women. There is more wine drunk there, they say, during the few weeks of her stay than the whole year round in Guerande. The Demoiselles Bougniol let their lodgings last year to men with beards, who were suspected of being Blues; they sang wicked songs which made those virtuous women blush and weep, and spent their time mostly at Les Touches. And this is the woman our dear Calyste adores! If that creature wanted to-night one of the infamous books in which the atheists of the present day scoff at holy things, Calyste would saddle his horse himself and gallop to Nantes for it. I am not sure that he would do as much for the Church. Moreover, this Breton woman is not a royalist! If Calyste were again called upon to strike a blow for the cause, and Mademoiselle des Touches—the Sieur Camille Maupin, that is her other name, as I have just remembered—if she wanted to keep him with her the chevalier would let his old father go to the field without him."
"Oh, no!" said the baroness.
"I should not like to put him to the proof; you would suffer too much," replied the rector. "All Guerande is turned upside down about Calyste's passion for this amphibious creature, who is neither man nor woman, who smokes like an hussar, writes like a journalist, and has at this very moment in her house the most venomous of all writers,—so the postmaster says, and he's a juste-milieu man who reads the papers. They are even talking about her at Nantes. This morning the Kergarouet cousin who wants to marry Charlotte to a man with sixty thousand francs a year, went to see Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, and filled her mind with tales about Mademoiselle des Touches which lasted seven hours. It is now striking a quarter to ten, and Calyste is not home; he is at Les Touches,—perhaps he won't come in all night."
The baroness listened to the rector, who was substituting monologue for dialogue unconsciously as he looked at this lamb of his fold, on whose face could be read her anxiety. She colored and trembled. When the worthy man saw the tears in the beautiful eyes of the mother, he was moved to compassion.
"I will see Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel to-morrow," he said. "Don't be too uneasy. The harm may not be as great as they say it is. I will find out the truth. Mademoiselle Jacqueline has confidence in me. Besides, Calyste is our child, our pupil,—he will never let the devil inveigle him; neither will he trouble the peace of his family or destroy the plans we have made for his future. Therefore, don't weep; all is not lost, madame; one fault is not vice."
"You are only informing me of details," said the baroness. "Was not I the first to notice the change in my Calyste? A mother keenly feels the shock of finding herself second in the heart of her son. She cannot be deceived. This crisis in a man's life is one of the trials of motherhood. I have prepared myself for it, but I did not think it would come so soon. I hoped, at least, that Calyste would take into his heart some noble and beautiful being,—not a stage-player, a masquerader, a theatre woman, an author whose business it is to feign sentiments, a creature who will deceive him and make him unhappy! She has had adventures—"
"With several men," said the rector. "And yet this impious creature was born in Brittany! She dishonors her land. I shall preach a sermon upon her next Sunday."
"Don't do that!" cried the baroness. "The peasants and the paludiers would be capable of rushing to Les Touches. Calyste is worthy of his name; he is Breton; some dreadful thing might happen to him, for he would surely defend her as he would the Blessed Virgin."
"It is now ten o'clock; I must bid you good-night," said the abbe, lighting the wick of his lantern, the glass of which was clear and the metal shining, which testified to the care his housekeeper bestowed on the household property. "Who could ever have told me, madame," he added, "that a young man brought up by you, trained by me to Christian ideas, a fervent Catholic, a child who has lived as a lamb without spot, would plunge into such mire?"
"But is it certain?" said the mother. "How could any woman help loving Calyste?"
"What other proof is needed than her staying on at Les Touches. In all the twenty-four years since she came of age she has never stayed there so long as now; her visits to these parts, happily for us, were few and short."
"A woman over forty years old!" exclaimed the baroness. "I have heard say in Ireland that a woman of this description is the most dangerous mistress a young man can have."
"As to that, I have no knowledge," replied the rector, "and I shall die in my ignorance."
"And I, too, alas!" said the baroness, naively. "I wish now that I had loved with love, so as to understand and counsel and comfort Calyste."
The rector did not cross the clean little court-yard alone; the baroness accompanied him to the gate, hoping to hear Calyste's step coming through the town. But she heard nothing except the heavy tread of the rector's cautious feet, which grew fainter in the distance, and finally ceased when the closing of the door of the parsonage echoed behind him.
The poor mother returned to the salon deeply distressed at finding that the whole town was aware of what she had thought was known to her alone. She sat down, trimmed the wick of the lamp by cutting it with a pair of old scissors, took up once more the worsted-work she was doing, and awaited Calyste. The baroness fondly hoped to induce her son by this means to come home earlier and spend less time with Mademoiselle des Touches. Such calculations of maternal jealousy were wasted. Day after day, Calyste's visits to Les Touches became more frequent, and every night he came in later. The night before the day of which we speak it was midnight when he returned.
The baroness, lost in maternal meditation, was setting her stitches with the rapidity of one absorbed in thought while engaged in manual labor. Whoever had seen her bending to the light of the lamp beneath the quadruply centennial hangings of that ancient room would have admired the sublimity of the picture. Fanny's skin was so transparent that it was possible to read the thoughts that crossed her brow beneath it. Piqued with a curiosity that often comes to a pure woman, she asked herself what devilish secrets these daughters of Baal possessed to so charm men as to make them forgetful of mother, family, country, and self-interests. Sometimes she longed to meet this woman and judge her soberly for herself. Her mind measured to its full extent the evils which the innovative spirit of the age—described to her as so dangerous for young souls by the rector—would have upon her only child, until then so guileless; as pure as an innocent girl, and beautiful with the same fresh beauty.
Calyste, that splendid offspring of the oldest Breton race and the noblest Irish blood, had been nurtured by his mother with the utmost care. Until the moment when the baroness made over the training of him to the rector of Guerande, she was certain that no impure word, no evil thought had sullied the ears or entered the mind of her precious son. After nursing him at her bosom, giving him her own life twice, as it were, after guiding his footsteps as a little child, the mother had put him with all his virgin innocence into the hands of the pastor, who, out of true reverence for the family, had promised to give him a thorough and Christian education. Calyste thenceforth received the instruction which the abbe himself had received at the Seminary. The baroness taught him English, and a teacher of mathematics was found, not without difficulty, among the employes at Saint-Nazaire. Calyste was therefore necessarily ignorant of modern literature, and the advance and present progress of the sciences. His education had been limited to geography and the circumspect history of a young ladies' boarding-school, the Latin and Greek of seminaries, the literature of the dead languages, and to a very restricted choice of French writers. When, at sixteen, he began what the Abbe Grimont called his philosophy, he was neither more nor less than what he was when Fanny placed him in the abbe's hands. The Church had proved as maternal as the mother. Without being over-pious or ridiculous, the idolized young lad was a fervent Catholic.