The Muse of the Department/Part 11

In the life of a country house a number of practical jokes are considered admissible, some of them odiously treacherous. Monsieur Gravier, who had seen so much of the world, proposed setting seals on the door of Madame de la Baudraye and of the Public Prosecutor. The ducks that denounced the poet Ibycus are as nothing in comparison with the single hair that these country spies fasten across the opening of a door by means of two little flattened pills of wax, fixed so high up, or so low down, that the trick is never suspected. If the gallant comes out of his own door and opens the other, the broken hair tells the tale.

When everybody was supposed to be asleep, the doctor, the journalist, the receiver of taxes, and Gatien came barefoot, like robbers, and silently fastened up the two doors, agreeing to come again at five in the morning to examine the state of the fastenings. Imagine their astonishment and Gatien's delight when all four, candle in hand, and with hardly any clothes on, came to look at the hairs, and found them in perfect preservation on both doors.

"Is it the same wax?" asked Monsieur Gravier.

"Are they the same hairs?" asked Lousteau.

"Yes," replied Gatien.

"This quite alters the matter!" cried Lousteau. "You have been beating the bush for a will-o'-the-wisp."

Monsieur Gravier and Gatien exchanged questioning glances which were meant to convey, "Is there not something offensive to us in that speech? Ought we to laugh or to be angry?"

"If Dinah is virtuous," said the journalist in a whisper to Bianchon, "she is worth an effort on my part to pluck the fruit of her first love."

The idea of carrying by storm a fortress that had for nine years stood out against the besiegers of Sancerre smiled on Lousteau.

With this notion in his head, he was the first to go down and into the garden, hoping to meet his hostess. And this chance fell out all the more easily because Madame de la Baudraye on her part wished to converse with her critic. Half such chances are planned.

"You were out shooting yesterday, monsieur," said Madame de la Baudraye. "This morning I am rather puzzled as to how to find you any new amusement; unless you would like to come to La Baudraye, where you may study more of our provincial life than you can see here, for you have made but one mouthful of my absurdities. However, the saying about the handsomest girl in the world is not less true of the poor provincial woman!"

"That little simpleton Gatien has, I suppose, related to you a speech I made simply to make him confess that he adored you," said Etienne. "Your silence, during dinner the day before yesterday and throughout the evening, was enough to betray one of those indiscretions which we never commit in Paris. — What can I say? I do not flatter myself that you will understand me. In fact, I laid a plot for the telling of all those stories yesterday solely to see whether I could rouse you and Monsieur de Clagny to a pang of remorse. — Oh! be quite easy; your innocence is fully proved.

"If you had the slightest fancy for that estimable magistrate, you would have lost all your value in my eyes. — I love perfection.

"You do not, you cannot love that cold, dried-up, taciturn little usurer on wine casks and land, who would leave any man in the lurch for twenty-five centimes on a renewal. Oh, I have fully recognized Monsieur de la Baudraye's similarity to a Parisian bill-discounter; their nature is identical. — At eight-and-twenty, handsome, well conducted, and childless — I assure you, madame, I never saw the problem of virtue more admirably expressed. — The author of Paquita la Sevillane must have dreamed many dreams!

"I can speak of such things without the hypocritical gloss lent them by young men, for I am old before my time. I have no illusions left. Can a man have any illusions in the trade I follow?"

By opening the game in this tone, Lousteau cut out all excursions in the Pays de Tendre, where genuine passion beats the bush so long; he went straight to the point and placed himself in a position to force the offer of what women often make a man pray for, for years; witness the hapless Public Prosecutor, to whom the greatest favor had consisted in clasping Dinah's hand to his heart more tenderly than usual as they walked, happy man!

And Madame de la Baudraye, to be true to her reputation as a Superior Woman, tried to console the Manfred of the Press by prophesying such a future of love as he had not had in his mind.

"You have sought pleasure," said she, "but you have never loved. Believe me, true love often comes late in life. Remember Monsieur de Gentz, who fell in love in his old age with Fanny Ellsler, and left the Revolution of July to take its course while he attended the dancer's rehearsals."

"It seems to me unlikely," replied Lousteau. "I can still believe in love, but I have ceased to believe in woman. There are in me, I suppose, certain defects which hinder me from being loved, for I have often been thrown over. Perhaps I have too strong a feeling for the ideal — like all men who have looked too closely into reality — — "

Madame de la Baudraye at last heard the mind of a man who, flung into the wittiest Parisian circles, represented to her its most daring axioms, its almost artless depravity, its advanced convictions; who, if he were not really superior, acted superiority extremely well. Etienne, performing before Dinah, had all the success of a first night. Paquita of Sancerre scented the storms, the atmosphere of Paris. She spent one of the most delightful days of her life with Lousteau and Bianchon, who told her strange tales about the great men of the day, the anecdotes which will some day form the Ana of our century; sayings and doings that were the common talk of Paris, but quite new to her.

Of course, Lousteau spoke very ill of the great female celebrity of Le Berry, with the obvious intention of flattering Madame de la Baudraye and leading her into literary confidences, by suggesting that she could rival so great a writer. This praise intoxicated Madame de la Baudraye; and Monsieur de Clagny, Monsieur Gravier, and Gatien, all thought her warmer in her manner to Etienne than she had been on the previous day. Dinah's three attaches greatly regretted having all gone to Sancerre to blow the trumpet in honor of the evening at Anzy; nothing, to hear them, had ever been so brilliant. The Hours had fled on feet so light that none had marked their pace. The two Parisians they spoke of as perfect prodigies.

These exaggerated reports loudly proclaimed on the Mall brought sixteen persons to Anzy that evening, some in family coaches, some in wagonettes, and a few bachelors on hired saddle horses. By about seven o'clock this provincial company had made a more or less graceful entry into the huge Anzy drawing-room, which Dinah, warned of the invasion, had lighted up, giving it all the lustre it was capable of by taking the holland covers off the handsome furniture, for she regarded this assembly as one of her great triumphs. Lousteau, Bianchon, and Dinah exchanged meaning looks as they studied the attitudes and listened to the speeches of these visitors, attracted by curiosity.

What invalided ribbons, what ancestral laces, what ancient flowers, more imaginative than imitative, were boldly displayed on some perennial caps! The Presidente Boirouge, Bianchon's cousin, exchanged a few words with the doctor, from whom she extracted some "advice gratis" by expatiating on certain pains in the chest, which she declared were nervous, but which he ascribed to chronic indigestion.

"Simply drink a cup of tea every day an hour after dinner, as the English do, and you will get over it, for what you suffer from is an English malady," Bianchon replied very gravely.

"He is certainly a great physician," said the Presidente, coming back to Madame de Clagny, Madame Popinot-Chandier, and Madame Gorju, the Mayor's wife.

"They say," replied Madame de Clagny behind her fan, "that Dinah sent for him, not so much with a view to the elections as to ascertain why she has no children."

In the first excitement of this success, Lousteau introduced the great doctor as the only possible candidate at the ensuing elections. But Bianchon, to the great satisfaction of the new Sous-prefet, remarked that it seemed to him almost impossible to give up science in favor of politics.

"Only a physician without a practice," said he, "could care to be returned as a deputy. Nominate statesmen, thinkers, men whose knowledge is universal, and who are capable of placing themselves on the high level which a legislator should occupy. That is what is lacking in our Chambers, and what our country needs."

Two or three young ladies, some of the younger men, and the elder women stared at Lousteau as if he were a mountebank.

"Monsieur Gatien Boirouge declares that Monsieur Lousteau makes twenty thousand francs a year by his writings," observed the Mayor's wife to Madame de Clagny. "Can you believe it?"

"Is it possible? Why, a Public Prosecutor gets but a thousand crowns!"

"Monsieur Gatien," said Madame Chandier, "get Monsieur Lousteau to talk a little louder. I have not heard him yet."

"What pretty boots he wears," said Mademoiselle Chandier to her brother, "and how they shine!"

"Yes — patent leather."

"Why haven't you the same?"

Lousteau began to feel that he was too much on show, and saw in the manners of the good townsfolk indications of the desires that had brought them there.

"What trick can I play them?" thought he.

At this moment the footman, so called — a farm-servant put into livery — brought in the letters and papers, and among them a packet of proof, which the journalist left for Bianchon; for Madame de la Baudraye, on seeing the parcel, of which the form and string were obviously from the printers, exclaimed:

"What, does literature pursue you even here?"

"Not literature," replied he, "but a review in which I am now finishing a story to come out ten days hence. I have reached the stage of 'To be concluded in our next,' so I was obliged to give my address to the printer. Oh, we eat very hard-earned bread at the hands of these speculators in black and white! I will give you a description of these editors of magazines."

"When will the conversation begin?" Madame de Clagny asked of Dinah, as one might ask, "When do the fireworks go off?"

"I fancied we should hear some amusing stories," said Madame Popinot to her cousin, the Presidente Boirouge.

At this moment, when the good folks of Sancerre were beginning to murmur like an impatient pit, Lousteau observed that Bianchon was lost in meditation inspired by the wrapper round the proofs.

"What is it?" asked Etienne.

"Why, here is the most fascinating romance possible on some spoiled proof used to wrap yours in. Here, read it. Olympia, or Roman Revenge."

"Let us see," said Lousteau, taking the sheet the doctor held out to him, and he read aloud as follows: —

240 OLYMPIA

  cavern. Rinaldo, indignant at his
  companions' cowardice, for they had
  no courage but in the open field, and
  dared not venture into Rome, looked
  at them with scorn.

  "Then I go alone?" said he. He
  seemed to reflect, and then he went
  on: "You are poor wretches. I shall
  proceed alone, and have the rich
  booty to myself. — You hear me!
  Farewell."

  "My Captain," said Lamberti, "if
  you should be captured without
  having succeeded?"

  "God protects me!" said Rinaldo,
  pointing to the sky.

  With these words he went out,
  and on his way he met the steward

"That is the end of the page," said Lousteau, to whom every one had listened devoutly.

"He is reading his work to us," said Gatien to Madame Popinot-Chandier's son.

"From the first word, ladies," said the journalist, jumping at an opportunity of mystifying the natives, "it is evident that the brigands are in a cave. But how careless romancers of that date were as to details which are nowadays so closely, so elaborately studied under the name of 'local color.' If the robbers were in a cavern, instead of pointing to the sky he ought to have pointed to the vault above him. — In spite of this inaccuracy, Rinaldo strikes me as a man of spirit, and his appeal to God is quite Italian. There must have been a touch of local color in this romance. Why, what with brigands, and a cavern, and one Lamberti who could foresee future possibilities — there is a whole melodrama in that page. Add to these elements a little intrigue, a peasant maiden with her hair dressed high, short skirts, and a hundred or so of bad couplets. — Oh! the public will crowd to see it! And then Rinaldo — how well the name suits Lafont! By giving him black whiskers, tightly-fitting trousers, a cloak, a moustache, a pistol, and a peaked hat — if the manager of the Vaudeville Theatre were but bold enough to pay for a few newspaper articles, that would secure fifty performances, and six thousand francs for the author's rights, if only I were to cry it up in my columns.

"To proceed: —

         OR ROMAN REVENGE 219

  The Duchess of Bracciano found
  her glove. Adolphe, who had brought
  her back to the orange grove, might
  certainly have supposed that there
  was some purpose in her forgetful-
  ness, for at this moment the arbor
  was deserted. The sound of the fes-
  tivities was audible in the distance.
  The puppet show that had been
  promised had attracted all the
  guests to the ballroom. Never had
  Olympia looked more beautiful.
  Her lover's eyes met hers with an
  answering glow, and they under-
  stood each other. There was a mo-
  ment of silence, delicious to their
  souls, and impossible to describe.
  They sat down on the same bench
  where they had sat in the presence
  of the Cavaliere Paluzzi and the

"Devil take it! Our Rinaldo has vanished!" cried Lousteau. "But a literary man once started by this page would make rapid progress in the comprehension of the plot. The Duchesse Olympia is a lady who could intentionally forget her gloves in a deserted arbor."

"Unless she may be classed between the oyster and head-clerk of an office, the two creatures nearest to marble in the zoological kingdom, it is impossible to discern in Olympia — " Bianchon began.

"A woman of thirty," Madame de la Baudraye hastily interposed, fearing some all too medical term.

"Then Adolphe must be two-and-twenty," the doctor went on, "for an Italian woman at thirty is equivalent to a Parisian of forty."

"From these two facts, the romance may easily be reconstructed," said Lousteau. "And this Cavaliere Paluzzi — what a man! — The style is weak in these two passages; the author was perhaps a clerk in the Excise Office, and wrote the novel to pay his tailor!"

"In his time," said Bianchon, "the censor flourished; you must show as much indulgence to a man who underwent the ordeal by scissors in 1805 as to those who went to the scaffold in 1793."

"Do you understand in the least?" asked Madame Gorju timidly of Madame de Clagny.

The Public Prosecutor's wife, who, to use a phrase of Monsieur Gravier's, might have put a Cossack to flight in 1814, straightened herself in her chair like a horseman in his stirrups, and made a face at her neighbor, conveying, "They are looking at us; we must smile as if we understood."

"Charming!" said the Mayoress to Gatien. "Pray go on, Monsieur Lousteau."

Lousteau looked at the two women, two Indian idols, and contrived to keep his countenance. He thought it desirable to say, "Attention!" before going on as follows: —

          OR ROMAN REVENGE 209

  dress rustled in the silence. Sud-
  denly Cardinal Borborigano stood
  before the Duchess.

  "His face was gloomy, his brow
  was dark with clouds, and a bitter
  smile lurked in his wrinkles.

  "Madame," said he, "you are under
  suspicion. If you are guilty, fly. If
  you are not, still fly; because,
  whether criminal or innocent, you
  will find it easier to defend yourself
  from a distance."

  "I thank your Eminence for your
  solicitude," said she. "The Duke of
  Bracciano will reappear when I find
  it needful to prove that he is alive."

"Cardinal Borborigano!" exclaimed Bianchon. "By the Pope's keys! If you do not agree with me that there is a magnificent creation in the very name, if at those words dress rustled in the silence you do not feel all the poetry thrown into the part of Schedoni by Mrs. Radcliffe in The Black Penitent, you do not deserve to read a romance."

"For my part," said Dinah, who had some pity on the eighteen faces gazing up at Lousteau, "I see how the story is progressing. I know it all. I am in Rome; I can see the body of a murdered husband whose wife, as bold as she is wicked, has made her bed on the crater of a volcano. Every night, at every kiss, she says to herself, 'All will be discovered!'"

"Can you see her," said Lousteau, "clasping Monsieur Adolphe in her arms, to her heart, throwing her whole life into a kiss? — Adolphe I see as a well-made young man, but not clever — the sort of man an Italian woman likes. Rinaldo hovers behind the scenes of a plot we do not know, but which must be as full of incident as a melodrama by Pixerecourt. Or we can imagine Rinaldo crossing the stage in the background like a figure in one of Victor Hugo's plays."

"He, perhaps, is the husband," exclaimed Madame de la Baudraye.

"Do you understand anything of it all?" Madame Piedefer asked of the Presidente.

"Why, it is charming!" said Dinah to her mother.

All the good folks of Sancerre sat with eyes as large as five-franc pieces.

"Go on, I beg," said the hostess.

Lousteau went on: —

  210 OLYMPIA

  "Your key — — "

  "Have you lost it?"

  "It is in the arbor."

  "Let us hasten."

  "Can the Cardinal have taken it?"

  "No, here it is."

  "What danger we have escaped!"

  Olympia looked at the key, and
  fancied she recognized it as her own.
  But Rinaldo had changed it; his
  cunning had triumphed; he had the
  right key. Like a modern Cartouche,
  he was no less skilful than bold,
  and suspecting that nothing but a
  vast treasure could require a duchess
  to carry it constantly at her belt.

"Guess!" cried Lousteau. "The corresponding page is not here. We must look to page 212 to relieve our anxiety."

  212 OLYMPIA

  "If the key had been lost?"

  "He would now be a dead man."

  "Dead? But ought you not to
  grant the last request he made, and
  to give him his liberty on the con-
  ditions — — "

  "You do not know him."

  "But — "

  "Silence! I took you for my
  lover, not for my confessor."

  Adolphe was silent.

"And then comes an exquisite galloping goat, a tail-piece drawn by Normand, and cut by Duplat. — the names are signed," said Lousteau.

"Well, and then?" said such of the audience as understood.

"That is the end of the chapter," said Lousteau. "The fact of this tailpiece changes my views as to the authorship. To have his book got up, under the Empire, with vignettes engraved on wood, the writer must have been a Councillor of State, or Madame Barthelemy-Hadot, or the late lamented Desforges, or Sewrin."

"'Adolphe was silent.' — Ah!" cried Bianchon, "the Duchess must have been under thirty."

"If there is no more, invent a conclusion," said Madame de la Baudraye.

"You see," said Lousteau, "the waste sheet has been printed fair on one side only. In printer's lingo, it is a back sheet, or, to make it clearer, the other side which would have to be printed is covered all over with pages printed one above another, all experiments in making up. It would take too long to explain to you all the complications of a making-up sheet; but you may understand that it will show no more trace of the first twelve pages that were printed on it than you would in the least remember the first stroke of the bastinado if a Pasha condemned you to have fifty on the soles of your feet."

"I am quite bewildered," said Madame Popinot-Chandier to Monsieur Gravier. "I am vainly trying to connect the Councillor of State, the Cardinal, the key, and the making-up — — "

"You have not the key to the jest," said Monsieur Gravier. "Well! no more have I, fair lady, if that can comfort you."

"But here is another sheet," said Bianchon, hunting on the table where the proofs had been laid.

"Capital!" said Lousteau, "and it is complete and uninjured. It is signed IV.; J, Second Edition. Ladies, the figure IV. means that this is part of the fourth volume. The letter J, the tenth letter of the alphabet, shows that this is the tenth sheet. And it is perfectly clear to me, that in spite of any publisher's tricks, this romance in four duodecimo volumes, had a great success, since it came to a second edition. — We will read on and find a clue to the mystery.

          OR ROMAN REVENGE 21

  corridor; but finding that he was
  pursued by the Duchess' people

"Oh, get along!"

"But," said Madame de la Baudraye, "some important events have taken place between your waste sheet and this page."

"This complete sheet, madame, this precious made-up sheet. But does the waste sheet in which the Duchess forgets her gloves in the arbor belong to the fourth volume? Well, deuce take it — to proceed.

  Rinaldo saw no safer refuge than to
  make forthwith for the cellar where
  the treasures of the Bracciano fam-
  ily no doubt lay hid. As light of
  foot as Camilla sung by the Latin
  poet, he flew to the entrance to the
  Baths of Vespasian. The torchlight
  already flickered on the walls when
  Rinaldo, with the readiness be-
  stowed on him by nature, discovered
  the door concealed in the stone-
  work, and suddenly vanished. A
  hideous thought then flashed on
  Rinaldo's brain like lightning rend-
  ing a cloud: He was imprisoned!
  He felt the wall with uneasy haste

"Yes, this made-up sheet follows the waste sheet. The last page of the damaged sheet was 212, and this is 217. In fact, since Rinaldo, who in the earlier fragment stole the key of the Duchess' treasure by exchanging it for another very much like it, is now — on the made-up sheet — in the palace of the Dukes of Bracciano, the story seems to me to be advancing to a conclusion of some kind. I hope it is as clear to you as it is to me. — I understand that the festivities are over, the lovers have returned to the Bracciano Palace; it is night — one o'clock in the morning. Rinaldo will have a good time."

"And Adolphe too!" said President Boirouge, who was considered rather free in his speech.

"And the style!" said Bianchon. — "Rinaldo, who saw no better refuge than to make for the cellar."

"It is quite clear that neither Maradan, nor Treuttel and Wurtz, nor Doguereau, were the printers," said Lousteau, "for they employed correctors who revised the proofs, a luxury in which our publishers might very well indulge, and the writers of the present day, would benefit greatly. Some scrubby pamphlet printer on the Quay — "

"What quay?" a lady asked of her neighbor. "They spoke of baths — "

"Pray go on," said Madame de la Baudraye.

"At any rate, it is not by a councillor," said Bianchon.

"It may be by Madame Hadot," replied Lousteau.

"What has Madame Hadot of La Charite to do with it?" the Presidente asked of her son.

"This Madame Hadot, my dear friend," the hostess answered, "was an authoress, who lived at the time of the Consulate."

"What, did women write in the Emperor's time?" asked Madame Popinot-Chandier.

"What of Madame de Genlis and Madame de Stael?" cried the Public Prosecutor, piqued on Dinah's account by this remark.

"To be sure!"

"I beg you to go on," said Madame de la Baudraye to Lousteau.

Lousteau went on saying: "Page 218.

  218 OLYMPIA

  and gave a shriek of despair when
  he had vainly sought any trace of a
  secret spring. It was impossible to
  ignore the horrible truth. The door,
  cleverly constructed to serve the
  vengeful purposes of the Duchess,
  could not be opened from within.
  Rinaldo laid his cheek against the
  wall in various spots; nowhere
  could he feel the warmer air from
  the passage. He had hoped he
  might find a crack that would show
  him where there was an opening in
  the wall, but nothing, nothing! The
  whole seemed to be of one block of
  marble.

  Then he gave a hollow roar like
  that of a hyaena — —

"Well, we fancied that the cry of the hyaena was a recent invention of our own!" said Lousteau, "and here it was already known to the literature of the Empire. It is even introduced with a certain skill in natural history, as we see in the word hollow."

"Make no more comments, monsieur," said Madame de la Baudraye.

"There, you see!" cried Bianchon. "Interest, the romantic demon, has you by the collar, as he had me a while ago."

"Read on," cried de Clagny, "I understand."

"What a coxcomb!" said the Presiding Judge in a whisper to his neighbor the Sous-prefet.

"He wants to please Madame de la Baudraye," replied the new Sous-prefet.

"Well, then I will read straight on," said Lousteau solemnly.

Everybody listened in dead silence.

         OR ROMAN REVENGE 219

  A deep groan answered Rinaldo's
  cry, but in his alarm he took it for
  an echo, so weak and hollow was
  the sound. It could not proceed
  from any human breast.

  "Santa Maria!" said the voice.

  "If I stir from this spot I shall
  never find it again," thought Ri-
  naldo, when he had recovered his
  usual presence of mind. "If I knock,
  I shall be discovered. What am I
  to do?"

  "Who is here?" asked the voice.

  "Hallo!" cried the brigand; "do
  the toads here talk?"

  "I am the Duke of Bracciano.
  Whoever you may be, if you are not
  a follower of the Duchess', in the
  name of all the saints, come towards
  me."

  220 OLYMPIA

  "I should have to know where to
  find you, Monsieur le Duc," said Ri-
  naldo, with the insolence of a man
  who knows himself to be necessary.

  "I can see you, my friend, for my
  eyes are accustomed to the darkness.
  Listen: walk straight forward —
  good; now turn to the left — come
  on — this way. There, we are close
  to each other."

  Rinaldo putting out his hands as
  a precaution, touched some iron
  bars.

  "I am being deceived," cried the
  bandit.

  "No, you are touching my cage.

         OR ROMAN REVENGE 221

  Sit down on a broken shaft of por-
  phyry that is there."

  "How can the Duke of Bracciano
  be in a cage?" asked the brigand.

  "My friend, I have been here for
  thirty months, standing up, unable
  to sit down — — But you, who are
  you?"

  "I am Rinaldo, prince of the Cam-
  pagna, the chief of four-and-twenty
  brave men whom the law describes
  as miscreants, whom all the ladies
  admire, and whom judges hang in
  obedience to an old habit."

  "God be praised! I am saved.
  An honest man would have been
  afraid, whereas I am sure of coming
  to an understanding with you,"
  cried the Duke. "Oh, my worthy

  222 OLYMPIA

  deliverer, you must be armed to the
  teeth."

  "E verissimo" (most true).

  "Do you happen to have — "

  "Yes, files, pincers — Corpo di
  Bacco! I came to borrow the treas-
  ures of the Bracciani on a long
  loan."

  "You will earn a handsome share
  of them very legitimately, my good
  Rinaldo, and we may possibly go
  man hunting together — "

  "You surprise me, Eccellenza!"

  "Listen to me, Rinaldo. I will
  say nothing of the craving for
  vengeance that gnaws at my heart.
  I have been here for thirty months
   — you too are Italian — you will un-

         OR ROMAN REVENGE 223

  derstand me! Alas, my friend, my
  fatigue and my horrible incarcera-
  tion are nothing in comparison
  with the rage that devours my soul.
  The Duchess of Bracciano is still
  one of the most beautiful women in
  Rome. I loved her well enough to
  be jealous — "

  "You, her husband!"

  "Yes, I was wrong, no doubt."

  "It is not the correct thing, to be
  sure," said Rinaldo.

  "My jealousy was roused by the
  Duchess' conduct," the Duke went
  on. "The event proved me right. A
  young Frenchman fell in love with
  Olympia, and she loved him. I had
  proofs of their reciprocal affection

"Pray excuse me, ladies," said Lousteau, "but I find it impossible to go on without remarking to you how direct this Empire literature is, going to the point without any details, a characteristic, as it seems to me, of a primitive time. The literature of that period holds a place between the summaries of chapters in Telemaque and the categorical reports of a public office. It had ideas, but refrained from expressing them, it was so scornful! It was observant, but would not communicate its observations to any one, it was so miserly! Nobody but Fouche ever mentioned what he had observed. 'At that time,' to quote the words of one of the most imbecile critics in the Revue des Deux Mondes, 'literature was content with a clear sketch and the simple outline of all antique statues. It did not dance over its periods.' — I should think not! It had no periods to dance over. It had no words to play with. You were plainly told that Lubin loved Toinette; that Toinette did not love Lubin; that Lubin killed Toinette and the police caught Lubin, who was put in prison, tried at the assizes, and guillotined. — A strong sketch, a clear outline! What a noble drama! Well, in these days the barbarians make words sparkle."

"Like a hair in a frost," said Monsieur de Clagny.

"So those are the airs you affect?"[1] retorted Lousteau.

"What can he mean?" asked Madame de Clagny, puzzled by this vile pun.

"I seem to be walking in the dark," replied the Mayoress.

"The jest would be lost in an explanation," remarked Gatien.

"Nowadays," Lousteau went on, "a novelist draws characters, and instead of a 'simple outline,' he unveils the human heart and gives you some interest either in Lubin or in Toinette."

"For my part, I am alarmed at the progress of public knowledge in the matter of literature," said Bianchon. "Like the Russians, beaten by Charles XII., who at least learned the art of war, the reader has learned the art of writing. Formerly all that was expected of a romance was that it should be interesting. As to style, no one cared for that, not even the author; as to ideas — zero; as to local color — non est. By degrees the reader has demanded style, interest, pathos, and complete information; he insists on the five literary senses — Invention, Style, Thought, Learning, and Feeling. Then some criticism commenting on everything. The critic, incapable of inventing anything but calumny, pronounces every work that proceeds from a not perfect brain to be deformed. Some magicians, as Walter Scott, for instance, having appeared in the world, who combined all the five literary senses, such writers as had but one — wit or learning, style or feeling — these cripples, these acephalous, maimed or purblind creatures — in a literary sense — have taken to shrieking that all is lost, and have preached a crusade against men who were spoiling the business, or have denounced their works."

"The history of your last literary quarrel!" Dinah observed.

"For pity's sake, come back to the Duke of Bracciano," cried Monsieur de Clagny.

To the despair of all the company, Lousteau went on with the made-up sheet.

  224 OLYMPIA

  I then wished to make sure of my
  misfortune that I might be avenged
  under the protection of Providence
  and the Law. The Duchess guessed
  my intentions. We were at war in
  our purposes before we fought with
  poison in our hands. We tried to
  tempt each other to such confidence
  as we could not feel, I to induce her
  to drink a potion, she to get posses-
  sion of me. She was a woman, and
  she won the day; for women have a
  snare more than we men. I fell into
  it — I was happy; but I awoke next
  day in this iron cage. All through
  the day I bellowed with rage in the

          OR ROMAN REVENGE 225

  darkness of this cellar, over which
  is the Duchess' bedroom. At night
  an ingenious counterpoise acting as
  a lift raised me through the floor,
  and I saw the Duchess in her lover's
  arms. She threw me a piece of
  bread, my daily pittance.

  "Thus have I lived for thirty
  months! From this marble prison
  my cries can reach no ear. There is
  no chance for me. I will hope no
  more. Indeed, the Duchess' room is
  at the furthest end of the palace,
  and when I am carried up there
  none can hear my voice. Each time
  I see my wife she shows me the

  226 OLYMPIA

  poison I had prepared for her and
  her lover. I crave it for myself, but
  she will not let me die; she gives
  me bread, and I eat it.

  "I have done well to eat and live;
  I had not reckoned on robbers!"

  "Yes, Eccellenza, when those fools
  the honest men are asleep, we are
  wide awake."

  "Oh, Rinaldo, all I possess shall
  be yours; we will share my treasure
  like brothers; I would give you
  everything — even to my Duchy — — "

  "Eccellenza, procure from the
  Pope an absolution in articulo mor-
  tis. It would be of more use to me
  in my walk of life."

          OR ROMAN REVENGE 227

  "What you will. Only file
  through the bars of my cage and
  lend me your dagger. We have but
  little time, quick, quick! Oh, if my
  teeth were but files! — I have tried
  to eat through this iron."

  "Eccellenza," said Rinaldo, "I
  have already filed through one bar."

  "You are a god!"

  "Your wife was at the fete given
  by the Princess Villaviciosa. She
  brought home her little Frenchman;
  she is drunk with love. — You have
  plenty of time."

  "Have you done?"

  "Yes."

  228 OLYMPIA

  "Your dagger?" said the Duke
  eagerly to the brigand.

  "Here it is."

  "Good. I hear the clatter of the
  spring."

  "Do not forget me!" cried the
  robber, who knew what gratitude
  was.

  "No more than my father," cried
  the Duke.

  "Good-bye!" said Rinaldo. "Lord!
  How he flies up!" he added to him-
  self as the Duke disappeared. — "No
  more than his father! If that is
  all he means to do for me. — And I

         OR ROMAN REVENGE 229

  had sworn a vow never to injure a
  woman!"

  But let us leave the robber for a
  moment to his meditations and go
  up, like the Duke, to the rooms in
  the palace.

"Another tailpiece, a Cupid on a snail! And page 230 is blank," said the journalist. "Then there are two more blank pages before we come to the word it is such a joy to write when one is unhappily so happy as to be a novelist — Conclusion!

              CONCLUSION

  Never had the Duchess been more
  lovely; she came from her bath
  clothed like a goddess, and on seeing

  234 OLYMPIA

  Adolphe voluptuously reclining on
  piles of cushions —

  "You are beautiful," said she.

  "And so are you, Olympia!"

  "And you still love me?"

  "More and more," said he.

  "Ah, none but a Frenchman
  knows how to love!" cried the
  Duchess. "Do you love me well to-
  night?"

  "Yes."

  "Then come!"

  And with an impulse of love and
  hate — whether it was that Cardinal
  Borborigano had reminded her of
  her husband, or that she felt un-
  wonted passion to display, she
  pressed the springs and held out her
  arms.

"That is all," said Lousteau, "for the foreman has torn off the rest in wrapping up my proofs. But it is enough to show that the author was full of promise."

"I cannot make head or tail of it," said Gatien Boirouge, who was the first to break the silence of the party from Sancerre.

"Nor I," replied Monsieur Gravier.

"And yet it is a novel of the time of the Empire," said Lousteau.

"By the way in which the brigand is made to speak," said Monsieur Gravier, "it is evident that the author knew nothing of Italy. Banditti do not allow themselves such graceful conceits."


FootnotesEdit

  1. The rendering given above is only intended to link the various speeches into coherence; it has no resemblance with the French. In the original, "Font chatoyer les mots."
    "Et quelquefois les morts," dit Monsieur de Clagny.
    "Ah! Lousteau! vous vous donnez de ces R-la (airs-la)."
    Literally: "And sometimes the dead." — "Ah, are those the airs you assume?" — the play on the insertion of the letter R (mots, morts) has no meaning in English.