The Muse of the Department/Part 15
Madame Cardot had expressed a wish to see the prints for Gil Blas, one of the illustrated volumes which the French publishers were at that time bringing out, and Lousteau had taken the first numbers for the lady's inspection. The lawyer's wife had a scheme of her own, she had borrowed the book merely to return it; she wanted an excuse for walking in on her future son-in-law quite unexpectedly. The sight of those bachelor rooms, which her husband had described as charming, would tell her more, she thought, as to Lousteau's habits of life than any information she could pick up. Her sister-in-law, Madame Camusot, who knew nothing of the fateful secret, was terrified at such a marriage for her niece. Monsieur Camusot, a Councillor of the Supreme Court, old Camusot's son by his first marriage, had given his step-mother, who was Cardot's sister, a far from flattering account of the journalist.
Lousteau, clever as he was, did not think it strange that the wife of a rich notary should wish to inspect a volume costing fifteen francs before deciding on the purchase. Your clever man never condescends to study the middle-class, who escape his ken by this want of attention; and while he is making game of them, they are at leisure to throttle him.
So one day early in January 1837, Madame Cardot and her daughter took a hackney coach and went to the Rue des Martyrs to return the parts of Gil Blas to Felicie's betrothed, both delighted at the thought of seeing Lousteau's rooms. These domiciliary visitations are not unusual in the old citizen class. The porter at the front gate was not in; but his daughter, on being informed by the worthy lady that she was in the presence of Monsieur Lousteau's future mother-in-law and bride, handed over the key of the apartment all the more readily because Madame Cardot placed a gold piece in her hand.
It was by this time about noon, the hour at which the journalist would return from breakfasting at the Cafe Anglais. As he crossed the open space between the Church of Notre-Dame de Lorette and the Rue des Martyrs, Lousteau happened to look at a hired coach that was toiling up the Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, and he fancied it was a dream when he saw the face of Dinah! He stood frozen to the spot when, on reaching his house, he beheld his Didine at the coach door.
"What has brought you here?" he inquired. He adopted the familiar tu. The formality of vous was out of the question to a woman he must get rid of.
"Why, my love," cried she, "have you not read my letters?"
"Certainly I have," said Lousteau.
"You are a father," replied the country lady.
"Faugh!" cried he, disregarding the barbarity of such an exclamation. "Well," thought he to himself, "she must be prepared for the blow."
He signed to the coachman to wait, gave his hand to Madame de la Baudraye, and left the man with the chaise full of trunks, vowing that he would send away illico, as he said to himself, the woman and her luggage, back to the place she had come from.
"Monsieur, monsieur," called out little Pamela.
The child had some sense, and felt that three women must not be allowed to meet in a bachelor's rooms.
"Well, well!" said Lousteau, dragging Dinah along.
Pamela concluded that the lady must be some relation; however, she added:
"The key is in the door; your mother-in-law is there."
In his agitation, while Madame de la Baudraye was pouring out a flood of words, Etienne understood the child to say, "Mother is there," the only circumstance that suggested itself as possible, and he went in.
Felicie and her mother, who were by this time in the bed-room, crept into a corner on seeing Etienne enter with a woman.
"At last, Etienne, my dearest, I am yours for life!" cried Dinah, throwing her arms round his neck, and clasping him closely, while he took the key from the outside of the door. "Life is a perpetual anguish to me in that house at Anzy. I could bear it no longer; and when the time came for me to proclaim my happiness well, I had not the courage. Here I am, your wife with your child! And you have not written to me; you have left me two months without a line."
"But, Dinah, you place me in the greatest difficulty "
"Do you love me?"
"How can I do otherwise than love you? But would you not have been wiser to remain at Sancerre? I am in the most abject poverty, and I fear to drag you into it "
"Your misery will be paradise to me. I only ask to live here, never to go out "
"Good God! that is all very fine in words, but " Dinah sat down and melted into tears as she heard this speech, roughly spoken.
Lousteau could not resist this distress. He clasped the Baroness in his arms and kissed her.
"Do not cry, Didine!" said he; and, as he uttered the words, he saw in the mirror the figure of Madame Cardot, looking at him from the further end of the rooms. "Come, Didine, go with Pamela and get your trunks unloaded," said he in her ear. "Go; do not cry; we will be happy!"
He led her to the door, and then came back to divert the storm.
"Monsieur," said Madame Cardot, "I congratulate myself on having resolved to see for myself the home of the man who was to have been my son-in-law. If my daughter were to die of it, she should never be the wife of such a man as you. You must devote yourself to making your Didine happy, monsieur."
And the virtuous lady walked out, followed by Felicie, who was crying too, for she had become accustomed to Etienne. The dreadful Madame Cardot got into her hackney-coach again, staring insolently at the hapless Dinah, in whose heart the sting still rankled of "that is all very fine in words"; but who, nevertheless, like every woman in love, believed in the murmured, "Do not cry, Didine!"
Lousteau, who was not lacking in the sort of decision which grows out of the vicissitudes of a storm-tossed life, reflected thus:
"Didine is high-minded; when once she knows of my proposed marriage, she will sacrifice herself for my future prospects, and I know how I can manage to let her know." Delighted at having hit on a trick of which the success seemed certain, he danced round to a familiar tune:
"Larifla, fla, fla! And Didine once out of the way," he went on, talking to himself, "I will treat Maman Cardot to a call and a novelette: I have seduced her Felicie at Saint-Eustache Felicie, guilty through passion, bears in her bosom the pledge of our affection and larifla, fla, fla! the father Ergo, the notary, his wife, and his daughter are caught, nabbed "
And, to her great amazement, Dinah discovered Etienne performing a prohibited dance.
"Your arrival and our happiness have turned my head with joy," said he, to explain this crazy mood.
"And I had fancied you had ceased to love me!" exclaimed the poor woman, dropping the handbag she was carrying, and weeping with joy as she sank into a chair.
"Make yourself at home, my darling," said Etienne, laughing in his sleeve; "I must write two lines to excuse myself from a bachelor party, for I mean to devote myself to you. Give your orders; you are at home."
Etienne wrote to Bixiou:
"MY DEAR BOY, My Baroness has dropped into my arms, and will be
fatal to my marriage unless we perform one of the most familiar
stratagems of the thousand and one comedies at the Gymnase. I rely
on you to come here, like one of Moliere's old men, to scold your
nephew Leandre for his folly, while the Tenth Muse lies hidden in
my bedroom; you must work on her feelings; strike hard, be brutal,
offensive. I, you understand, shall express my blind devotion, and
shall seem to be deaf, so that you may have to shout at me.
"Come, if you can, at seven o'clock.
Having sent this letter by a commissionaire to the man who, in all Paris, most delighted in such practical jokes in the slang of artists, a "charge" Lousteau made a great show of settling the Muse of Sancerre in his apartment. He busied himself in arranging the luggage she had brought, and informed her as to the persons and ways of the house with such perfect good faith, and a glee which overflowed in kind words and caresses, that Dinah believed herself the best-beloved woman in the world. These rooms, where everything bore the stamp of fashion, pleased her far better than her old chateau.
Pamela Migeon, the intelligent damsel of fourteen, was questioned by the journalist as to whether she would like to be waiting-maid to the imposing Baroness. Pamela, perfectly enchanted, entered on her duties at once, by going off to order dinner from a restaurant on the boulevard. Dinah was able to judge of the extreme poverty that lay hidden under the purely superficial elegance of this bachelor home when she found none of the necessaries of life. As she took possession of the closets and drawers, she indulged in the fondest dreams; she would alter Etienne's habits, she would make him home-keeping, she would fill his cup of domestic happiness.
The novelty of the position hid its disastrous side; Dinah regarded reciprocated love as the absolution of her sin; she did not yet look beyond the walls of these rooms. Pamela, whose wits were as sharp as those of a lorette, went straight to Madame Schontz to beg the loan of some plate, telling her what had happened to Lousteau. After making the child welcome to all she had, Madame Schontz went off to her friend Malaga, that Cardot might be warned of the catastrophe that had befallen his future son-in-law.
The journalist, not in the least uneasy about the crisis as affecting his marriage, was more and more charming to the lady from the provinces. The dinner was the occasion of the delightful child's-play of lovers set at liberty, and happy to be free. When they had had their coffee, and Lousteau was sitting in front of the fire, Dinah on his knee, Pamela ran in with a scared face.
"Here is Monsieur Bixiou!" said she.
"Go into the bedroom," said the journalist to his mistress; "I will soon get rid of him. He is one of my most intimate friends, and I shall have to explain to him my new start in life."
"Oh, ho! dinner for two, and a blue velvet bonnet!" cried Bixiou. "I am off. Ah! that is what comes of marrying one must go through some partings. How rich one feels when one begins to move one's sticks, heh?"
"Who talks of marrying?" said Lousteau.
"What! are you not going to be married, then?" cried Bixiou.
"No? My word, what next? Are you making a fool of yourself, if you please? What! You, who, by the mercy of Heaven, have come across twenty thousand francs a year, and a house, and a wife connected with all the first families of the better middle class a wife, in short, out of the Rue des Lombards "
"That will do, Bixiou, enough; it is at an end. Be off!"
"Be off? I have a friend's privileges, and I shall take every advantage of them. What has come over you?"
"What has 'come over' me is my lady from Sancerre. She is a mother, and we are going to live together happily to the end of our days. You would have heard it to-morrow, so you may as well be told it now."
"Many chimney-pots are falling on my head, as Arnal says. But if this woman really loves you, my dear fellow, she will go back to the place she came from. Did any provincial woman ever yet find her sea-legs in Paris? She will wound all your vanities. Have you forgotten what a provincial is? She will bore you as much when she is happy as when she is sad; she will have as great a talent for escaping grace as a Parisian has in inventing it.
"Lousteau, listen to me. That a passion should lead you to forget to some extent the times in which we live, is conceivable; but I, my dear fellow, have not the mythological bandage over my eyes. Well, then consider your position. For fifteen years you have been tossing in the literary world; you are no longer young, you have padded the hoof till your soles are worn through! Yes, my boy, you turn your socks under like a street urchin to hide the holes, so that the legs cover the heels! In short, the joke is too stale. Your excuses are more familiar than a patent medicine "
"I may say to you, like the Regent to Cardinal Dubois, 'That is kicking enough!'" said Lousteau, laughing.
"Oh, venerable young man," replied Bixiou, "the iron has touched the sore to the quick. You are worn out, aren't you? Well, then; in the heyday of youth, under the pressure of penury, what have you done? You are not in the front rank, and you have not a thousand francs of your own. That is the sum-total of the situation. Can you, in the decline of your powers, support a family by your pen, when your wife, if she is an honest woman, will not have at her command the resources of the woman of the streets, who can extract her thousand-franc note from the depths where milord keeps it safe? You are rushing into the lowest depths of the social theatre.
"And this is only the financial side. Now, consider the political position. We are struggling in an essentially bourgeois age, in which honor, virtue, high-mindedness, talent, learning genius, in short, is summed up in paying your way, owing nobody anything, and conducting your affairs with judgment. Be steady, be respectable, have a wife, and children, pay your rent and taxes, serve in the National Guard, and be on the same pattern as all the men of your company then you may indulge in the loftiest pretensions, rise to the Ministry! and you have the best chances possible, since you are no Montmorency. You were preparing to fulfil all the conditions insisted on for turning out a political personage, you are capable of every mean trick that is necessary in office, even of pretending to be commonplace you would have acted it to the life. And just for a woman, who will leave you in the lurch the end of every eternal passion in three, five, or seven years after exhausting your last physical and intellectual powers, you turn your back on the sacred Hearth, on the Rue des Lombards, on a political career, on thirty thousand francs per annum, on respectability and respect! Ought that to be the end of a man who has done with illusions?
"If you had kept a pot boiling for some actress who gave you your fun for it well; that is what you may call a cabinet matter. But to live with another man's wife? It is a draft at sight on disaster; it is bolting the bitter pills of vice with none of the gilding."
"That will do. One word answers it all; I love Madame de la Baudraye, and prefer her to every fortune, to every position the world can offer. I may have been carried away by a gust of ambition, but everything must give way to the joy of being a father."
"Ah, ha! you have a fancy for paternity? But, wretched man, we are the fathers only of our legitimate children. What is a brat that does not bear your name? The last chapter of the romance. Your child will be taken from you! We have seen that story in twenty plays these ten years past.
"Society, my dear boy, will drop upon you sooner or later. Read Adolphe once more. Dear me! I fancy I can see you when you and she are used to each other; I see you dejected, hang-dog, bereft of position and fortune, and fighting like the shareholders of a bogus company when they are tricked by a director! Your director is happiness."
"Say no more, Bixiou."
"But I have only just begun," said Bixiou. "Listen, my dear boy. Marriage has been out of favor for some time past; but, apart from the advantages it offers in being the only recognized way of certifying heredity, as it affords a good-looking young man, though penniless, the opportunity of making his fortune in two months, it survives in spite of disadvantages. And there is not the man living who would not repent, sooner or later, of having, by his own fault, lost the chance of marrying thirty thousand francs a year."
"You won't understand me," cried Lousteau, in a voice of exasperation. "Go away she is there "
"I beg your pardon; why did you not tell me sooner? You are of age, and so is she," he added in a lower voice, but loud enough to be heard by Dinah. "She will make you repent bitterly of your happiness! "
"If it is a folly, I intend to commit it. Good-bye."
"A man gone overboard!" cried Bixiou.
"Devil take those friends who think they have a right to preach to you," said Lousteau, opening the door of the bedroom, where he found Madame de la Baudraye sunk in an armchair and dabbing her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief.
"Oh, why did I come here?" sobbed she. "Good Heavens, why indeed? Etienne, I am not so provincial as you think me. You are making a fool of me."
"Darling angel," replied Lousteau, taking Dinah in his arms, lifting her from her chair, and dragging her half dead into the drawing-room, "we have both pledged our future, it is sacrifice for sacrifice. While I was loving you at Sancerre, they were engaging me to be married here, but I refused. Oh! I was extremely distressed "
"I am going," cried Dinah, starting wildly to her feet and turning to the door.
"You will stay here, my Didine. All is at an end. And is this fortune so lightly earned after all? Must I not marry a gawky, tow-haired creature, with a red nose, the daughter of a notary, and saddle myself with a stepmother who could give Madame de Piedefer points on the score of bigotry "
Pamela flew in, and whispered in Lousteau's ear:
Lousteau rose, leaving Dinah on the sofa, and went out.
"It is all over with you, my dear," said the woman. "Cardot does not mean to quarrel with his wife for the sake of a son-in-law. The lady made a scene something like a scene, I can tell you! So, to conclude, the head-clerk, who was the late head-clerk's deputy for two years, agrees to take the girl with the business."
"Mean wretch!" exclaimed Lousteau. "What! in two hours he has made up his mind?"
"Bless me, that is simple enough. The rascal, who knew all the dead man's little secrets, guessed what a fix his master was in from overhearing a few words of the squabble with Madame Cardot. The notary relies on your honor and good feeling, for the affair is settled. The clerk, whose conduct has been admirable, went so far as to attend mass! A finished hypocrite, I say just suits the mamma. You and Cardot will still be friends. He is to be a director in an immense financial concern, and he may be of use to you. So you have been waked from a sweet dream."
"I have lost a fortune, a wife, and "
"And a mistress," said Madame Schontz, smiling. "Here you are, more than married; you will be insufferable, you will be always wanting to get home, there will be nothing loose about you, neither your clothes nor your habits. And, after all, my Arthur does things in style. I will be faithful to him and cut Malaga's acquaintance.
"Let me peep at her through the door your Sancerre Muse," she went on. "Is there no finer bird than that to be found in the desert?" she exclaimed. "You are cheated! She is dignified, lean, lachrymose; she only needs Lady Dudley's turban!"
"What is it now?" asked Madame de la Baudraye, who had heard the rustle of a silk dress and the murmur of a woman's voice.
"It is, my darling, that we are now indissolubly united. I have just had an answer to the letter you saw me write, which was to break off my marriage "
"So that was the party which you gave up?"
"Oh, I will be more than your wife I am your slave, I give you my life," said the poor deluded creature. "I did not believe I could love you more than I did! Now I shall not be a mere incident, but your whole life?"
"Yes, my beautiful, my generous Didine."
"Swear to me," said she, "that only death shall divide us."
Lousteau was ready to sweeten his vows with the most fascinating prettinesses. And this was why. Between the door of the apartment where he had taken the lorette's farewell kiss, and that of the drawing-room, where the Muse was reclining, bewildered by such a succession of shocks, Lousteau had remembered little De la Baudraye's precarious health, his fine fortune, and Bianchon's remark about Dinah, "She will be a rich widow!" and he said to himself, "I would a hundred times rather have Madame de la Baudraye for a wife than Felicie!"
His plan of action was quickly decided on; he determined to play the farce of passion once more, and to perfection. His mean
self-interestedness and his false vehemence of passion had disastrous results. Madame de la Baudraye, when she set out from Sancerre for Paris, had intended to live in rooms of her own quite near to Lousteau; but the proofs of devotion her lover had given her by giving up such brilliant prospects, and yet more the perfect happiness of the first days of their illicit union, kept her from mentioning such a parting. The second day was to be and indeed was a high festival, in which such a suggestion proposed to "her angel" would have been a discordant note.
Lousteau, on his part, anxious to make Dinah feel herself dependent on him, kept her in a state of constant intoxication by incessant amusement. These circumstances hindered two persons so clever as these were from avoiding the slough into which they fell that of a life in common, a piece of folly of which, unfortunately, many instances may be seen in Paris in literary circles.
And thus was the whole programme played out of a provincial amour, so satirically described by Lousteau to Madame de la Baudraye a fact which neither he nor she remembered. Passion is born a deaf-mute.
This winter in Paris was to Madame de la Baudraye all that the month of October had been at Sancerre. Etienne, to initiate "his wife" into Paris life, varied this honeymoon by evenings at the play, where Dinah would only go to the stage box. At first Madame de la Baudraye preserved some remnants of her countrified modesty; she was afraid of being seen; she hid her happiness. She would say:
"Monsieur de Clagny or Monsieur Gravier may have followed me to Paris." She was afraid on Sancerre even in Paris.
Lousteau, who was excessively vain, educated Dinah, took her to the best dressmakers, and pointed out to her the most fashionable women, advising her to take them as models for imitation. And Madame de la Baudraye's provincial appearance was soon a thing of the past. Lousteau, when his friends met him, was congratulated on his conquest.
All through that season Etienne wrote little and got very much into debt, though Dinah, who was proud, bought all her clothes out of her savings, and fancied she had not been the smallest expense to her beloved. By the end of three months Dinah was acclimatized; she had reveled in the music at the Italian opera; she knew the pieces "on" at all theatres, and the actors and jests of the day; she had become inured to this life of perpetual excitement, this rapid torrent in which everything is forgotten. She no longer craned her neck or stood with her nose in the air, like an image of Amazement, at the constant surprises that Paris has for a stranger. She had learned to breathe that witty, vitalizing, teeming atmosphere where clever people feel themselves in their element, and which they can no longer bear to quit.
One morning, as she read the papers, for Lousteau had them all, two lines carried her back to Sancerre and the past, two lines that seemed not unfamiliar as follows:
"Monsieur le Baron de Clagny, Public Prosecutor to the Criminal Court at Sancerre, has been appointed Deputy Public Prosecutor to the Supreme Court in Paris."
"How well that worthy lawyer loves you!" said the journalist, smiling.
"Poor man!" said she. "What did I tell you? He is following me."
Etienne and Dinah were just then at the most dazzling and fervid stage of a passion when each is perfectly accustomed to the other, and yet love has not lost its freshness and relish. The lovers know each other well, but all is not yet understood; they have not been a second time to the same secret haunts of the soul; they have not studied each other till they know, as they must later, the very thought, word, and gesture that responds to every event, the greatest and the smallest. Enchantment reigns; there are no collisions, no differences of opinion, no cold looks. Their two souls are always on the same side. And Dinah would speak the magical words, emphasized by the yet more magical expression and looks which every woman can use under such circumstances.
"When you cease to love me, kill me. If you should cease to love me, I believe I could kill you first and myself after."
To this sweet exaggeration, Lousteau would reply:
"All I ask of God is to see you as constant as I shall be. It is you who will desert me!"
"My love is supreme."
"Supreme," echoed Lousteau. "Come, now? Suppose I am dragged away to a bachelor party, and find there one of my former mistresses, and she makes fun of me; I, out of vanity, behave as if I were free, and do not come in here till next morning would you still love me?"
"A woman is only sure of being loved when she is preferred; and if you came back to me, if Oh! you make me understand what the happiness would be of forgiving the man I adore."
"Well, then, I am truly loved for the first time in my life!" cried Lousteau.
"At last you understand that!" said she.
Lousteau proposed that they should each write a letter setting forth the reasons which would compel them to end by suicide. Once in possession of such a document, each might kill the other without danger in case of infidelity. But in spite of mutual promises, neither wrote the letter.
The journalist, happy for the moment, promised himself that he would deceive Dinah when he should be tired of her, and would sacrifice everything to the requirements of that deception. To him Madame de la Baudraye was a fortune in herself. At the same time, he felt the yoke.
Dinah, by consenting to this union, showed a generous mind and the power derived from self-respect. In this absolute intimacy, in which both lovers put off their masks, the young woman never abdicated her modesty, her masculine rectitude, and the strength peculiar to ambitious souls, which formed the basis of her character. Lousteau involuntarily held her in high esteem. As a Parisian, Dinah was superior to the most fascinating courtesan; she could be as amusing and as witty as Malaga; but her extensive information, her habits of mind, her vast reading enabled her to generalize her wit, while the Florines and the Schontzes exerted theirs over a very narrow circle.
"There is in Dinah," said Etienne to Bixiou, "the stuff to make both a Ninon and a De Stael."
"A woman who combines an encyclopaedia and a seraglio is very dangerous," replied the mocking spirit.
When the expected infant became a visible fact, Madame de la Baudraye would be seen no more; but before shutting herself up, never to go out unless into the country, she was bent on being present at the first performance of a play by Nathan. This literary solemnity occupied the minds of the two thousand persons who regard themselves as constituting "all Paris." Dinah, who had never been at a first night's performance, was very full of natural curiosity. She had by this time arrived at such a pitch of affection for Lousteau that she gloried in her misconduct; she exerted a sort of savage strength to defy the world; she was determined to look it in the face without turning her head aside.
She dressed herself to perfection, in a style suited to her delicate looks and the sickly whiteness of her face. Her pallid complexion gave her an expression of refinement, and her black hair in smooth bands enhanced her pallor. Her brilliant gray eyes looked finer than ever, set in dark rings. But a terribly distressing incident awaited her. By a very simple chance, the box given to the journalist, on the first tier, was next to that which Anna Grossetete had taken. The two intimate friends did not even bow; neither chose to acknowledge the other. At the end of the first act Lousteau left his seat, abandoning Dinah to the fire of eyes, the glare of opera-glasses; while the Baronne de Fontaine and the Comtesse Marie de Vandenesse, who accompanied her, received some of the most distinguished men of fashion.
Dinah's solitude was all the more distressing because she had not the art of putting a good face to the matter by examining the company through her opera-glass. In vain did she try to assume a dignified and thoughtful attitude, and fix her eyes on vacancy; she was overpoweringly conscious of being the object of general attention; she could not disguise her discomfort, and lapsed a little into provincialism, displaying her handkerchief and making involuntary movements of which she had almost cured herself. At last, between the second and third acts, a man had himself admitted to Dinah's box! It was Monsieur de Clagny.
"I am happy to see you, to tell you how much I am pleased by your promotion," said she.
"Oh! Madame, for whom should I come to Paris ?"
"What!" said she. "Have I anything to do with your appointment?"
"Everything," said he. "Since you left Sancerre, it had become intolerable to me; I was dying "
"Your sincere friendship does me good," replied she, holding out her hand. "I am in a position to make much of my true friends; I now know their value. I feared I must have lost your esteem, but the proof you have given me by this visit touches me more deeply than your ten years' attachment."
"You are an object of curiosity to the whole house," said the lawyer. "Oh! my dear, is this a part for you to be playing? Could you not be happy and yet remain honored? I have just heard that you are Monsieur Etienne Lousteau's mistress, that you live together as man and wife! You have broken for ever with society; even if you should some day marry your lover, the time will come when you will feel the want of the respectability you now despise. Ought you not to be in a home of your own with your mother, who loves you well enough to protect you with her aegis? Appearances at least would be saved."
"I am in the wrong to have come here," replied she, "that is all. I have bid farewell to all the advantages which the world confers on women who know how to reconcile happiness and the proprieties. My abnegation is so complete that I only wish I could clear a vast space about me to make a desert of my love, full of God, of him, and of myself. We have made too many sacrifices on both sides not to be united united by disgrace if you will, but indissolubly one. I am happy; so happy that I can love freely, my friend, and confide in you more than of old for I need a friend."
The lawyer was magnanimous, nay, truly great. To this declaration, in which Dinah's soul thrilled, he replied in heartrending tones:
"I wanted to go to see you, to be sure that you were loved: I shall now be easy and no longer alarmed as to your future. But will your lover appreciate the magnitude of your sacrifice; is there any gratitude in his affection?"
"Come to the Rue des Martyrs and you will see!"
"Yes, I will call," he replied. "I have already passed your door without daring to inquire for you. You do not yet know the literary world. There are glorious exceptions, no doubt; but these men of letters drag terrible evils in their train; among these I account publicity as one of the greatest, for it blights everything. A woman may commit herself with "
"With a Public Prosecutor?" the Baronne put in with a smile.
"Well! and then after a rupture there is still something to fall back on; the world has known nothing. But with a more or less famous man the public is thoroughly informed. Why look there! What an example you have close at hand! You are sitting back to back with the Comtesse Marie Vandenesse, who was within an ace of committing the utmost folly for a more celebrated man than Lousteau for Nathan and now they do not even recognize each other. After going to the very edge of the precipice, the Countess was saved, no one knows how; she neither left her husband nor her house; but as a famous man was scorned, she was the talk of the town for a whole winter. But her husband's great fortune, great name, and high position, but for the admirable management of that true statesman whose conduct to his wife, they say, was perfect she would have been ruined; in her position no other woman would have remained respected as she is."
"And how was Sancerre when you came away?" asked Madame de la Baudraye, to change the subject.
"Monsieur de la Baudraye announced that your expected confinement after so many years made it necessary that it should take place in Paris, and that he had insisted on your going to be attended by the first physicians," replied Monsieur de Clagny, guessing what it was that Dinah most wanted to know. "And so, in spite of the commotion to which your departure gave rise, you still have your legal status."
"Why!" she exclaimed, "can Monsieur de la Baudraye still hope "
"Your husband, madame, did what he always does made a little calculation."
The lawyer left the box when the journalist returned, bowing with dignity.
"You are a greater hit than the piece," said Etienne to Dinah.
This brief triumph brought greater happiness to the poor woman than she had ever known in the whole of her provincial existence; still, as they left the theatre she was very grave.
"What ails you, my Didine?" asked Lousteau.
"I am wondering how a woman succeeds in conquering the world?"
"There are two ways. One is by being Madame de Stael, the other is by having two hundred thousand francs a year."
"Society," said she, "asserts its hold on us by appealing to our vanity, our love of appearances. Pooh! We will be philosophers!"