The Muse of the Department/Part 19
One fine day, in May 1842, Madame de la Baudraye paid all her little household debts and left a thousand crowns on top of the packet of receipted bills. After sending her mother and the children away to the Hotel de la Baudraye, she awaited Lousteau, dressed ready to leave the house. When the deposed king of her heart came into dinner, she said:
"I have upset the pot, my dear. Madame de la Baudraye requests the pleasure of your company at the Rocher de Cancale."
She carried off Lousteau, quite bewildered by the light and easy manners assumed by the woman who till that morning has been the slave of his least whim, for she too had been acting a farce for two months past.
"Madame de la Baudraye is figged out as if for a first night," said he une premiere, the slang abbreviation for a first performance.
"Do not forget the respect you owe to Madame de la Baudraye," said Dinah gravely. "I do not mean to understand such a word as figged out."
"Didine a rebel!" said he, putting his arm round her waist.
"There is no such person as Didine; you have killed her, my dear," she replied, releasing herself. "I am taking you to the first performance of Madame la Comtesse de la Baudraye."
"It is true, then, that our insect is a peer of France?"
"The nomination is to be gazetted in this evening's Moniteur, as I am told by Monsieur de Clagny, who is promoted to the Court of Appeal."
"Well, it is quite right," said the journalist. "The entomology of society ought to be represented in the Upper House."
"My friend, we are parting for ever," said Madame de la Baudraye, trying to control the trembling of her voice. "I have dismissed the two servants. When you go in, you will find the house in order, and no debts. I shall always feel a mother's affection for you, but in secret. Let us part calmly, without a fuss, like decent people.
"Have you had a fault to find with my conduct during the past six years?"
"None, but that you have spoiled my life, and wrecked my prospects," said he in a hard tone. "You have read Benjamin Constant's book very diligently; you have even studied the last critique on it; but you have read with a woman's eyes. Though you have one of those superior intellects which would make a fortune of a poet, you have never dared to take the man's point of view.
"That book, my dear, is of both sexes. We agreed that books were male or female, dark or fair. In Adolphe women see nothing but Ellenore; young men see only Adolphe; men of experience see Ellenore and Adolphe; political men see the whole of social existence. You did not think it necessary to read the soul of Adolphe any more than your critic indeed, who saw only Ellenore. What kills that poor fellow, my dear, is that he has sacrificed his future for a woman; that he never can be what he might have been an ambassador, a minister, a chamberlain, a poet and rich. He gives up six years of his energy at that stage of his life when a man is ready to submit to the hardships of any apprenticeship to a petticoat, which he outstrips in the career of ingratitude, for the woman who has thrown over her first lover is certain sooner or later to desert the second. Adolphe is, in fact, a tow-haired German, who has not spirit enough to be false to Ellenore. There are Adolphes who spare their Ellenores all ignominious quarreling and reproaches, who say to themselves, 'I will not talk of what I have sacrificed; I will not for ever be showing the stump of my wrist to let that incarnate selfishness I have made my queen,' as Ramorny does in The Fair Maid of Perth. But men like that, my dear, get cast aside.
"Adolphe is a man of birth, an aristocratic nature, who wants to get back into the highroad to honors and recover his social birthright, his blighted position. You, at this moment, are playing both parts. You are suffering from the pangs of having lost your position, and think yourself justified in throwing over a hapless lover whose misfortune it has been that he fancied you so far superior as to understand that, though a man's heart ought to be true, his sex may be allowed to indulge its caprices."
"And do you suppose that I shall not make it my business to restore to you all you have lost by me? Be quite easy," said Madame de la Baudraye, astounded by this attack. "Your Ellenore is not dying; and if God gives her life, if you amend your ways, if you give up courtesans and actresses, we will find you a better match than a Felicie Cardot."
The two lovers were sullen. Lousteau affected dejection, he aimed at appearing hard and cold; while Dinah, really distressed, listened to the reproaches of her heart.
"Why," said Lousteau presently, "why not end as we ought to have begun hide our love from all eyes, and see each other in secret?"
"Never!" cried the new-made Countess, with an icy look. "Do you not comprehend that we are, after all, but finite creatures? Our feelings seem infinite by reason of our anticipation of heaven, but here on earth they are limited by the strength of our physical being. There are some feeble, mean natures which may receive an endless number of wounds and live on; but there are some more highly-tempered souls which snap at last under repeated blows. You have "
"Oh! enough!" cried he. "No more copy! Your dissertation is unnecessary, since you can justify yourself by merely saying 'I have ceased to love!'"
"What!" she exclaimed in bewilderment. "Is it I who have ceased to love?"
"Certainly. You have calculated that I gave you more trouble, more vexation than pleasure, and you desert your partner "
"I desert! " cried she, clasping her hands.
"Have not you yourself just said 'Never'?"
"Well, then, yes! Never," she repeated vehemently.
This final Never, spoken in the fear of falling once more under Lousteau's influence, was interpreted by him as the death-warrant of his power, since Dinah remained insensible to his sarcastic scorn.
The journalist could not suppress a tear. He was losing a sincere and unbounded affection. He had found in Dinah the gentlest La Valliere, the most delightful Pompadour that any egoist short of a king could hope for; and, like a boy who has discovered that by dint of tormenting a cockchafer he has killed it, Lousteau shed a tear.
Madame de la Baudraye rushed out of the private room where they had been dining, paid the bill, and fled home to the Rue de l'Arcade, scolding herself and thinking herself a brute.