Cousin Betty

Cousin Betty

COUSIN BETTY HONORE DE BALZAC Translated by James Waring DEDICATION To Don Michele Angelo Cajetani Prince of Teano. It is neither to the Roman Prince nor to the representative of the illustrious house of Cajetani which has given more than one Pope to the Christian Church that I dedicate this short portion of a long history; it is to the learned commentator of Dante. It was you who led me to understand the marvelous framework of ideas on which the great Italian poet built his poem the only work which the moderns can place by that of Homer. Till I heard you the Divine Comedy was to me a vast enigma to which none had found the clue--the commentators least of all. Thus to understand Dante is to be as great as he; but every form of greatness is familiar to you. A French savant could make a reputation earn a professor's chair and a dozen decorations by publishing in a dogmatic volume the improvised lecture by which you lent enchantment to one of those evenings which are rest after seeing Rome. You do not know perhaps that most of our professors live on Germany on England on the East or on the North as an insect lives on a tree; and like the insect become an integral part of it borrowing their merit from that of what they feed on. Now Italy hitherto has not yet been worked out in public lectures. No one will ever give me credit for my literary honesty. Merely by plundering you I might have been as learned as three Schlegels in one whereas I mean to remain a humble Doctor of the Faculty of Social Medicine a veterinary surgeon for incurable maladies. Were it only to lay a token of gratitude at the feet of my cicerone I would fain add your illustrious name to those of Porcia of San-Severino of Pareto of di Negro and of Belgiojoso who will represent in this "Human Comedy" the close and constant alliance between Italy and France to which Bandello did honor in the same way in the sixteenth century--Bandello the bishop and author of some strange tales indeed who left us the splendid collection of romances whence Shakespeare derived many of his plots and even complete characters word for word. The two sketches I dedicate to you are the two eternal aspects of one and the same fact. Homo duplex said the great Buffon: why not add Res duplex? Everything has two sides even virtue. Hence Moliere always shows us both sides of every human problem; and Diderot imitating him once wrote "This is not a mere tale"--in what is perhaps Diderot's masterpiece where he shows us the beautiful picture of Mademoiselle de Lachaux sacrificed by Gardanne side by side with that of a perfect lover dying for his mistress. In the same way these two romances form a pair like twins of opposite sexes. This is a literary vagary to which a writer may for once give way especially as part of a work in which I am endeavoring to depict every form that can serve as a garb to mind. Most human quarrels arise from the fact that both wise men and dunces exist who are so constituted as to be incapable of seeing more than one side of any fact or idea while each asserts that the side he sees is the only true and right one. Thus it is written in the Holy Book "God will deliver the world over to divisions." I must confess that this passage of Scripture alone should persuade the Papal See to give you the control of the two Chambers to carry out the text which found its commentary in 1814 in the decree of Louis XVIII. May your wit and the poetry that is in you extend a protecting hand over these two histories of "The Poor Relations" Of your affectionate humble servant DE BALZAC. PARIS August-September 1846. COUSIN BETTY PART I THE PRODIGAL FATHER One day about the middle of July 1838 one of the carriages then lately introduced to Paris cabstands and known as /Milords/ was driving down the Rue de l'Universite conveying a stout man of middle height in the uniform of a captain of the National Guard. Among the Paris crowd who are supposed to be so clever there are some men who fancy themselves infinitely more attractive in uniform than in their ordinary clothes and who attribute to women so depraved a taste that they believe they will be favorably impressed by the aspect of a busby and of military accoutrements. The countenance of this Captain of the Second Company beamed with a self-satisfaction that added splendor to his ruddy and somewhat chubby face. The halo of glory that a fortune made in business gives to a retired tradesman sat on his brow and stamped him as one of the elect of Paris--at least a retired deputy-mayor of his quarter of the town. And you may be sure that the ribbon of the Legion of Honor was not missing from his breast gallantly padded /a la Prussienne/. Proudly seated in one corner of the /milord/ this splendid person let his gaze wander over the passers-by who in Paris often thus meet an ingratiating smile meant for sweet eyes that are absent. The vehicle stopped in the part of the street between the Rue de Bellechasse and the Rue de Bourgogne at the door of a large newly- build house standing on part of the court-yard of an ancient mansion that had a garden. The old house remained in its original state beyond the courtyard curtailed by half its extent. Only from the way in which the officer accepted the assistance of the coachman to help him out it was plain that he was past fifty. There are certain movements so undisguisedly heavy that they are as tell- tale as a register of birth. The captain put on his lemon-colored right-hand glove and without any question to the gatekeeper went up the outer steps to the ground of the new house with a look that proclaimed "She is mine!" The /concierges/ of Paris have sharp eyes; they do not stop visitors who wear an order have a blue uniform and walk ponderously; in short they know a rich man when they see him. This ground floor was entirely occupied by Monsieur le Baron Hulot d'Ervy Commissary General under the Republic retired army contractor and at the present time at the head of one of the most important departments of the War Office Councillor of State officer of the Legion of Honor and so forth. This Baron Hulot had taken the name of d'Ervy--the place of his birth --to distinguish him from his brother the famous General Hulot Colonel of the Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard created by the Emperor Comte de Forzheim after the campaign of 1809. The Count the elder brother being responsible for his junior had with paternal care placed him in the commissariat where thanks to the services of the two brothers the Baron deserved and won Napoleon's good graces. After 1807 Baron Hulot was Commissary General for the army in Spain. Having rung the bell the citizen-captain made strenuous efforts to pull his coat into place for it had rucked up as much at the back as in front pushed out of shape by the working of a piriform stomach. Being admitted as soon as the servant in livery saw him the important and imposing personage followed the man who opened the door of the drawing-room announcing: "Monsieur Crevel." On hearing the name singularly appropriate to the figure of the man who bore it a tall fair woman evidently young-looking for her age rose as if she had received an electric shock. "Hortense my darling go into the garden with your Cousin Betty" she said hastily to her daughter who was working at some embroidery at her mother's side. After curtseying prettily to the captain Mademoiselle Hortense went out by a glass door taking with her a withered-looking spinster who looked older than the Baroness though she was five years younger. "They are settling your marriage" said Cousin Betty in the girl's ear without seeming at all offended at the way in which the Baroness had dismissed them counting her almost as zero. The cousin's dress might at need have explained this free-and-easy demeanor. The old maid wore a merino gown of a dark plum color of which the cut and trimming dated from the year of the Restoration; a little worked collar worth perhaps three francs; and a common straw hat with blue satin ribbons edged with straw plait such as the old- clothes buyers wear at market. On looking down at her kid shoes made it was evident by the veriest cobbler a stranger would have hesitated to recognize Cousin Betty as a member of the family for she looked exactly like a journeywoman sempstress. But she did not leave the room without bestowing a little friendly nod on Monsieur Crevel to which that gentleman responded by a look of mutual understanding. "You are coming to us to-morrow I hope Mademoiselle Fischer?" said he. "You have no company?" asked Cousin Betty. "My children and yourself no one else" replied the visitor. "Very well" replied she; "depend on me." "And here am I madame at your orders" said the citizen-captain bowing again to Madame Hulot. He gave such a look at Madame Hulot as Tartuffe casts at Elmire--when a provincial actor plays the part and thinks it necessary to emphasize its meaning--at Poitiers or at Coutances. "If you will come into this room with me we shall be more conveniently placed for talking business than we are in this room" said Madame Hulot going to an adjoining room which as the apartment was arranged served as a cardroom. It was divided by a slight partition from a boudoir looking out on the garden and Madame Hulot left her visitor to himself for a minute for ...