HONORE DE BALZAC
Translated By Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Puttinati, Milanese Sculptor.
In the year 1800, toward the close of October, a foreigner,
accompanied by a woman and a little girl, was standing for a long time in
front of the palace of the Tuileries, near the ruins of a house recently
pulled down, at the point where in our day the wing begins which was
intended to unite the chateau of Catherine de Medici with the Louvre of
The man stood there with folded arms and a bowed head, which he
sometimes raised to look alternately at the consular palace and at his wife,
who was sitting near him on a stone. Though the woman seemed wholly
occupied with the little girl of nine or ten years of age, whose long black
hair she amused herself by handling, she lost not a single glance of those
her companion cast on her. Some sentiment other than love united these
two beings, and inspired with mutual anxiety their movements and their
thoughts. Misery is, perhaps, the most powerful of all ties.
The stranger had one of those broad, serious heads, covered with thick
hair, which we see so frequently in the pictures of the Caracci. The jet
black of the hair was streaked with white. Though noble and proud, his
features had a hardness which spoiled them. In spite of his evident
strength, and his straight, erect figure, he looked to be over sixty years of
age. His dilapidated clothes were those of a foreign country. Though the
faded and once beautiful face of the wife betrayed the deepest sadness, she
forced herself to smile, assuming a calm countenance whenever her
husband looked at her.
The little girl was standing, though signs of weariness were on the
youthful face, which was tanned by the sun. She had an Italian cast of
countenance and bearing, large black eyes beneath their well arched brows,
a native nobleness, and candid grace. More than one of those who passed
them felt strongly moved by the mere aspect of this group, who made no
effort to conceal a despair which seemed as deep as the expression of it
was simple. But the flow of this fugitive sympathy, characteristic of
Parisians, was dried immediately; for as soon as the stranger saw himself
the object of attention, he looked at his observer with so savage an air that
the boldest lounger hurried his step as though he had trod upon a serpent.
After standing for some time undecided, the tall stranger suddenly
passed his hand across his face to brush away, as it were, the thoughts that
were ploughing furrows in it. He must have taken some desperate
resolution. Casting a glance upon his wife and daughter, he drew a dagger
from his breast and gave it to his companion, saying in Italian:--
"I will see if the Bonapartes remember us."
Then he walked with a slow, determined step toward the entrance of
the palace, where he was, naturally, stopped by a soldier of the consular
guard, with whom he was not permitted a long discussion. Seeing this
man's obstinate determination, the sentinel presented his bayonet in the
form of an ultimatum. Chance willed that the guard was changed at that
moment, and the corporal very obligingly pointed out to the stranger the
spot where the commander of the post was standing.
"Let Bonaparte know that Bartolomeo di Piombo wishes to speak with
him," said the Italian to the captain on duty.
In vain the officer represented to Bartolomeo that he could not see the
First Consul without having previously requested an audience in writing;
the Italian insisted that the soldier should go to Bonaparte. The officer
stated the rules of the post, and refused to comply with the order of this
singular visitor. Bartolomeo frowned heavily, casting a terrible look at the
captain, as if he made him responsible for the misfortunes that this refusal
might occasion. Then he kept silence, folded his arms tightly across his
breast, and took up his station under the portico which serves as an avenue
of communication between the garden and the court-yard of the Tuileries.
Persons who will things intensely are very apt to be helped by chance. At
the moment when Bartolomeo di Piombo seated himself on one of the
stone posts which was near the entrance, a carriage drew up, from which
Lucien Bonaparte, minister of the interior, issued.
"Ah, Loucian, it is lucky for me I have met you!" cried the stranger.
These words, said in the Corsican patois, stopped Lucien at the
moment when he was springing under the portico. He looked at his
compatriot, and recognized him. At the first word that Bartolomeo said in
his ear, he took the Corsican away with him.
Murat, Lannes, and Rapp were at that moment in the cabinet of the
First Consul. As Lucien entered, followed by a man so singular in
appearance as Piombo, the conversation ceased. Lucien took Napoleon by
the arm and led him into the recess of a window. After exchanging a few
words with his brother, the First Consul made a sign with his hand, which
Murat and Lannes obeyed by retiring. Rapp pretended not to have seen it,
in order to remain where he was. Bonaparte then spoke to him sharply, and
the aide-de-camp, with evident unwillingness, left the room. The First
Consul, who listened for Rapp's step in the adjoining salon, opened the
door suddenly, and found his aide-de-camp close to the wall of the cabinet.
"Do you choose not to understand me?" said the First Consul. "I wish
to be alone with my compatriot."
"A Corsican!" replied the aide-de-camp. "I distrust those fellows too
The First Consul could not restrain a smile as he pushed his faithful
officer by the shoulders.
"Well, what has brought you here, my poor Bartolomeo?" said
"To ask asylum and protection from you, if you are a true Corsican,"
replied Bartolomeo, roughly.
"What ill fortune drove you from the island? You were the richest, the
"I have killed all the Portas," replied the Corsican, in a deep voice,
The First Consul took two steps backward in surprise.
"Do you mean to betray me?" cried Bartolomeo, with a darkling look
at Bonaparte. "Do you know that there are still four Piombos in Corsica?"
Lucien took an arm of his compatriot and shook it.
"Did you come here to threaten the savior of France?" he said.
Bonaparte made a sign to Lucien, who kept silence. Then he looked at
Piombo and said:--
"Why did you kill the Portas?"
"We had made friends," replied the man; "the Barbantis reconciled us.
The day after we had drunk together to drown our quarrels, I left home
because I had business at Bastia. The Portas remained in my house, and
set fire to my vineyard at Longone. They killed my son Gregorio. My
daughter Ginevra and my wife, having taken the sacrament that morning,
escaped; the Virgin protected them. When I returned I found no house; my
feet were in its ashes as I searched for it. Suddenly they struck against the
body of Gregorio; I recognized him in the moonlight. 'The Portas have
dealt me this blow,' I said; and, forthwith, I went to the woods, and there I
called together all the men whom I had ever served, --do you hear me,
Bonaparte?--and we marched to the vineyard of the Portas. We got there at
five in the morning; at seven they were all before God. Giacomo declares
that Eliza Vanni saved a child, Luigi. But I myself bound him to his bed
before setting fire to the house. I have left the island with my wife and
child without being able to discover whether, indeed, Luigi Porta is alive."
Bonaparte looked with curiosity at Bartolomeo, but without surprise.
"How many were there?" asked Lucien.
"Seven," replied Piombo. "All of them were your persecutors in the
These words roused no expression of hatred on the part of the two
"Ha! you are no longer Corsicans!" cried Piombo, with a sort of
despair. "Farewell. In other days I protected you," he added, in a
reproachful tone. "Without me, your mother would never have reached
Marseille," he said, addressing himself to Bonaparte, who was silent and
thoughtful, his elbow resting on a mantel-shelf.
"As a matter of duty, Piombo," said Napoleon at last, "I cannot take
you under my wing. I have become the leader of a great nation; I
command the Republic; I am bound to execute the laws."
"Ha! ha!" said Bartolomeo, scornfully.
"But I can shut my eyes," continued Bonaparte. "The tradition of the
Vendetta will long prevent the reign of law in Corsica," he added, as if
speaking to himself. "But it MUST be destroyed, at any cost."
Bonaparte was silent for a few moments, and Lucien made a sign to
Piombo not to speak. The Corsican was swaying his head from right to left
in deep disapproval.
"Live here, in Paris," resumed the First Consul, addressing Bartolomeo;
"we will know nothing of this affair. I will cause your property in Corsica
to be bought, to give you enough to live on for the present. Later, before
long, we will think of you. But, remember, no more vendetta! There are no
woods here to fly to. If you play with daggers, you must expect no mercy.
Here, the law protects all citizens; and no one is allowed to do justice for
"He has made himself the head of a singular nation," said Bartolomeo,
taking Lucien's hand and pressing it. "But you have both recognized me in
misfortune, and I am yours, henceforth, for life or death. You may dispose
as you will of the Piombos."
With these words his Corsican brow unbent, and he looked about him
"You are not badly off here," he said, smiling, as if he meant to lodge
there himself. "You are all in red, like a cardinal."
"Your success depends upon yourself; you can have a palace, also,"
said Bonaparte, watching his compatriot with a keen eye. "It will often
happen that I shall need some faithful friend in whom I can confide."
A sigh of joy heaved the vast chest of the Corsican, who held out his
hand to the First Consul, saying:--
"The Corsican is in you still."
Bonaparte smiled. He looked in silence at the man who brought, as it
were, a waft of air from his own land,--from that isle where he had been so
miraculously saved from the hatred of the "English party"; the land he was
never to see again. He made a sign to his brother, who then took Piombo
away. Lucien inquired with interest as to the financial condition of the
former protector of their family. Piombo took him to a window and
showed him his wife and Ginevra, seated on a heap of stones.
"We came from Fontainebleau on foot; we have not a single penny," he
Lucien gave his purse to his compatriot, telling him to come to him the
next day, that arrangements might be made to secure the comfort of the
family. The value of Piombo's property in Corsica, if sold, would scarcely
maintain him honorably in Paris.
Fifteen years elapsed between the time of Piombo's arrival with his
family in Paris and the following event, which would be scarcely
intelligible to the reader without this narrative of the foregoing
Servin, one of our most distinguished artists, was the first to conceive
of the idea of opening a studio for young girls who wished to take lessons
About forty years of age, a man of the purest morals, entirely given up
to his art, he had married from inclination the dowerless daughter of a
general. At first the mothers of his pupils bought their daughters
themselves to the studio; then they were satisfied to send them alone, after
knowing the master's principles and the pains he took to deserve their
It was the artist's intention to take no pupils but young ladies
belonging to rich families of good position, in order to meet with no
complaints as to the composition of his classes. He even refused to take
girls who wished to become artists; for to them he would have been
obliged to give certain instructions without which no talent could advance
in the profession. Little by little his prudence and the ability with which he
initiated his pupils into his art, the certainty each mother felt that her
daughter was in company with none but well- bred young girls, and the
fact of the artist's marriage, gave him an excellent reputation as a teacher
in society. When a young girl wished to learn to draw, and her mother
asked advice of her friends, the answer was, invariably: "Send her to
Servin became, therefore, for feminine art, a specialty; like Herbault
for bonnets, Leroy for gowns, and Chevet for eatables. It was recognized
that a young woman who had taken lessons from Servin was capable of
judging the paintings of the Musee conclusively, of making a striking
portrait, copying an ancient master, or painting a genre picture. The artist
thus sufficed for the educational needs of the aristocracy. But in spite of
these relations with the best families in Paris, he was independent and
patriotic, and he maintained among them that easy, brilliant, half-ironical
tone, and that freedom of judgment which characterize painters.
He had carried his scrupulous precaution into the arrangements of the
locality where his pupils studied. The entrance to the attic above his
apartments was walled up. To reach this retreat, as sacred as a harem, it
was necessary to go up a small spiral staircase made within his own rooms.
The studio, occupying nearly the whole attic floor under the roof,
presented to the eye those vast proportions which surprise inquirers when,
after attaining sixty feet above the ground-floor, they expect to find an
artist squeezed into a gutter.
This gallery, so to speak, was profusely lighted from above, through
enormous panes of glass furnished with those green linen shades by means
of which all artists arrange the light. A quantity of caricatures, heads
drawn at a stroke, either in color or with the point of a knife, on walls
painted in a dark gray, proved that, barring a difference in expression, the
most distinguished young girls have as much fun and folly in their minds
as men. A small stove with a large pipe, which described a fearful zigzag
before it reached the upper regions of the roof, was the necessary and
infallible ornament of the room. A shelf ran round the walls, on which
were models in plaster, heterogeneously placed, most of them covered
with gray dust. Here and there, above this shelf, a head of Niobe, hanging
to a nail, presented her pose of woe; a Venus smiled; a hand thrust itself
forward like that of a pauper asking alms; a few "ecorches," yellowed by
smoke, looked like limbs snatched over-night from a graveyard; besides
these objects, pictures, drawings, lay figures, frames without paintings,
and paintings without frames gave to this irregular apartment that studio
physiognomy which is distinguished for its singular jumble of ornament
and bareness, poverty and riches, care and neglect. The vast receptacle of
an "atelier," where all seems small, even man, has something of the air of
an Opera "coulisse"; here lie ancient garments, gilded armor, fragments of
stuffs, machinery. And yet there is something mysteriously grand, like
thought, in it; genius and death are there; Diana and Apollo beside a skull
or skeleton, beauty and destruction, poesy and reality, colors glowing in
the shadows, often a whole drama, motionless and silent. Strange symbol
of an artist's head!
At the moment when this history begins, a brilliant July sun was
illuminating the studio, and two rays striking athwart it lengthwise, traced
diaphanous gold lines in which the dust was shimmering. A dozen easels
raised their sharp points like masts in a port. Several young girls were
animating the scene by the variety of their expressions, their attitudes, and
the differences in their toilets. The strong shadows cast by the green serge
curtains, arranged according to the needs of each easel, produced a
multitude of contrasts, and the piquant effects of light and shade. This
group was the prettiest of all the pictures in the studio.
A fair young girl, very simply dressed, sat at some distance from her
companions, working bravely and seeming to be in dread of some mishap.
No one looked at her, or spoke to her; she was much the prettiest, the most
modest, and, apparently, the least rich among them. Two principal groups,
distinctly separated from each other, showed the presence of two sets or
cliques, two minds even here, in this studio, where one might suppose that
rank and fortune would be forgotten.
But, however that might be, these young girls, sitting or standing, in
the midst of their color-boxes, playing with their brushes or preparing
them, handling their dazzling palettes, painting, laughing, talking, singing,
absolutely natural, and exhibiting their real selves, composed a spectacle
unknown to man. One of them, proud, haughty, capricious, with black hair
and beautiful hands, was casting the flame of her glance here and there at
random; another, light- hearted and gay, a smile upon her lips, with
chestnut hair and delicate white hands, was a typical French virgin,
thoughtless, and without hidden thoughts, living her natural real life; a
third was dreamy, melancholy, pale, bending her head like a drooping
flower; her neighbor, on the contrary, tall, indolent, with Asiatic habits,
long eyes, moist and black, said but little, and reflected, glancing covertly
at the head of Antinous.
Among them, like the "jocoso" of a Spanish play, full of wit and
epigrammatic sallies, another girl was watching the rest with a
comprehensive glance, making them laugh, and tossing up her head, too
lively and arch not to be pretty. She appeared to rule the first group of girls,
who were the daughters of bankers, notaries, and merchants, --all rich, but
aware of the imperceptible though cutting slights which another group
belonging to the aristocracy put upon them. The latter were led by the
daughter of one of the King's ushers, a little creature, as silly as she was
vain, proud of being the daughter of a man with "an office at court." She
was a girl who always pretended to understand the remarks of the master
at the first word, and seemed to do her work as a favor to him. She used an
eyeglass, came very much dressed, and always late, and entreated her
companions to speak low.
In this second group were several girls with exquisite figures and
distinguished features, but there was little in their glance or expression that
was simple and candid. Though their attitudes were elegant and their
movements graceful, their faces lacked frankness; it was easy to see that
they belonged to a world where polite manners form the character from
early youth, and the abuse of social pleasures destroys sentiment and
But when the whole class was here assembled, childlike heads were
seen among this bevy of young girls, ravishingly pure and virgin, faces
with lips half-opened, through which shone spotless teeth, and on which a
virgin smile was flickering. The studio then resembled not a studio, but a
group of angels seated on a cloud in ether.
By mid-day, on this occasion, Servin had not appeared. For some days
past he had spent most of his time in a studio which he kept elsewhere,
where he was giving the last touches to a picture for the Exposition. All of
a sudden Mademoiselle Amelie Thirion, the leader of the aristocrats,
began to speak in a low voice, and very earnestly, to her neighbor. A great
silence fell on the group of patricians, and the commercial party, surprised,
were equally silent, trying to discover the subject of this earnest
conference. The secret of the young ULTRAS was soon revealed.
Amelie rose, took an easel which stood near hers, carried it to a
distance from the noble group, and placed it close to a board partition
which separated the studio from the extreme end of the attic, where all
broken casts, defaced canvases and the winter supply of wood were kept.
Amelie's action caused a murmur of surprise, which did not prevent her
from accomplishing the change by rolling hastily to the side of the easel
the stool, the box of colors, and even the picture by Prudhon, which the
absent pupil was copying. After this coup d'etat the Right began to work in
silence, but the Left discoursed at length.
"What will Mademoiselle Piombo say to that?" asked a young girl of
Mademoiselle Matilde Roguin, the lively oracle of the banking group.
"She's not a girl to say anything," was the reply; "but fifty years hence
she'll remember the insult as if it were done to her the night before, and
revenge it cruelly. She is a person that I, for one, don't want to be at war
"The slight these young ladies mean to put upon her is all the more
unkind," said another young girl, "because yesterday, Mademoiselle
Ginevra was very sad. Her father, they say, has just resigned. They ought
not to add to her trouble, for she was very considerate of them during the
Hundred Days. Never did she say a word to wound them. On the contrary,
she avoided politics. But I think our ULTRAS are acting more from
jealousy than from party spite."
"I have a great mind to go and get Mademoiselle Piombo's easel and
place it next to mine," said Matilde Roguin. She rose, but second thoughts
made her sit down again.
"With a character like hers," she said, "one can't tell how she would
take a civility; better wait events."
"Ecco la," said the young girl with the black eyes, languidly.
The steps of a person coming up the narrow stairway sounded through
the studio. The words: "Here she comes!" passed from mouth to mouth,
and then the most absolute silence reigned.
To understand the importance of the ostracism imposed by the act of
Amelie Thirion, it is necessary to add that this scene took place toward the
end of the month of July, 1815. The second return of the Bourbons had
shaken many friendships which had held firm under the first Restoration.
At this moment families, almost all divided in opinion, were renewing
many of the deplorable scenes which stain the history of all countries in
times of civil or religious wars. Children, young girls, old men shared the
monarchial fever to which the country was then a victim. Discord glided
beneath all roofs; distrust dyed with its gloomy colors the words and the
actions of the most intimate friends.
Ginevra Piombo loved Napoleon to idolatry; how, then, could she hate
him? The emperor was her compatriot and the benefactor of her father.
The Baron di Piombo was among those of Napoleon's devoted servants
who had co-operated most effectually in the return from Elba. Incapable of
denying his political faith, anxious even to confess it, the old baron
remained in Paris in the midst of his enemies. Ginevra Piombo was all the
more open to condemnation because she made no secret of the grief which
the second Restoration caused to her family. The only tears she had so far
shed in life were drawn from her by the twofold news of Napoleon's
captivity on the "Bellerophon," and Labedoyere's arrest.
The girls of the aristocratic group of pupils belonged to the most
devoted royalist families in Paris. It would be difficult to give an idea of
the exaggerations prevalent at this epoch, and of the horror inspired by the
Bonapartists. However insignificant and petty Amelie's action may now
seem to be, it was at that time a very natural expression of the prevailing
hatred. Ginevra Piombo, one of Servin's first pupils, had occupied the
place that was now taken from her since the first day of her coming to the
studio. The aristocratic circle had gradually surrounded her. To drive her
from a place that in some sense belonged to her was not only to insult her,
but to cause her a species of artistic pain; for all artists have a spot of
predilection where they work.
Nevertheless, political prejudice was not the chief influence on the
conduct of the Right clique of the studio. Ginevra, much the ablest of
Servin's pupils, was an object of intense jealousy. The master testified as
much admiration for the talents as for the character of his favorite pupil,
who served as a conclusion to all his comparisons. In fact, without any one
being able to explain the ascendancy which this young girl obtained over
all who came in contact with her, she exercised over the little world
around her a prestige not unlike that of Bonaparte upon his soldiers.
The aristocracy of the studio had for some days past resolved upon the
fall of this queen, but no one had, as yet, ventured to openly avoid the
Bonapartist. Mademoiselle Thirion's act was, therefore, a decisive stroke,
intended by her to force the others into becoming, openly, the accomplices
of her hatred. Though Ginevra was sincerely loved by several of these
royalists, nearly all of whom were indoctrinated at home with their
political ideas, they decided, with the tactics peculiar to women, that they
should do best to keep themselves aloof from the quarrel.
On Ginevra's arrival she was received, as we have said, in profound
silence. Of all the young women who had, so far, come to Servin's studio,
she was the handsomest, the tallest, and the best made. Her carriage and
demeanor had a character of nobility and grace which commanded respect.
Her face, instinct with intelligence, seemed to radiate light, so inspired
was it with the enthusiasm peculiar to Corsicans,--which does not,
however, preclude calmness. Her long hair and her black eyes and lashes
expressed passion; the corners of her mouth, too softly defined, and the
lips, a trifle too marked, gave signs of that kindliness which strong beings
derive from the consciousness of their strength.
By a singular caprice of nature, the charm of her face was, in some
degree, contradicted by a marble forehead, on which lay an almost savage
pride, and from which seemed to emanate the moral instincts of a Corsican.
In that was the only link between herself and her native land. All the rest
of her person, her simplicity, the easy grace of her Lombard beauty, was so
seductive that it was difficult for those who looked at her to give her pain.
She inspired such keen attraction that her old father caused her, as matter
of precaution, to be accompanied to and from the studio. The only defect
of this truly poetic creature came from the very power of a beauty so fully
developed; she looked a woman. Marriage she had refused out of love to
her father and mother, feeling herself necessary to the comfort of their old
age. Her taste for painting took the place of the passions and interests
which usually absorb her sex.
"You are very silent to-day, mesdemoiselles," she said, after advancing
a little way among her companions. "Good-morning, my little Laure," she
added, in a soft, caressing voice, approaching the young girl who was
painting apart from the rest. "That head is strong,--the flesh tints a little
too rosy, but the drawing is excellent."
Laure raised her head and looked tenderly at Ginevra; their faces
beamed with the expression of a mutual affection. A faint smile brightened
the lips of the young Italian, who seemed thoughtful, and walked slowly to
her easel, glancing carelessly at the drawings and paintings on her way,
and bidding good-morning to each of the young girls of the first group, not
observing the unusual curiosity excited by her presence. She was like a
queen in the midst of her court; she paid no attention to the profound
silence that reigned among the patricians, and passed before their camp
without pronouncing a single word. Her absorption seemed so great that
she sat down before her easel, opened her color-box, took up her brushes,
drew on her brown sleeves, arranged her apron, looked at her picture,
examined her palette, without, apparently, thinking of what she was doing.
All heads in the group of the bourgeoises were turned toward her. If the
young ladies in the Thirion camp did not show their impatience with the
same frankness, their sidelong glances were none the less directed on
"She hasn't noticed it!" said Mademoiselle Roguin.
At this instant Ginevra abandoned the meditative attitude in which she
had been contemplating her canvas, and turned her head toward the group
of aristocrats. She measured, at a glance, the distance that now separated
her from them; but she said nothing.
"It hasn't occurred to her that they meant to insult her," said Matilde;
"she neither colored nor turned pale. How vexed these girls will be if she
likes her new place as well as the old! You are out of bounds,
mademoiselle," she added, aloud, addressing Ginevra.
The Italian pretended not to hear; perhaps she really did not hear. She
rose abruptly; walked with a certain deliberation along the side of the
partition which separated the adjoining closet from the studio, and seemed
to be examining the sash through which her light came,-- giving so much
importance to it that she mounted a chair to raise the green serge, which
intercepted the light, much higher. Reaching that height, her eye was on a
level with a slight opening in the partition, the real object of her efforts,
for the glance that she cast through it can be compared only to that of a
miser discovering Aladdin's treasure. Then she sprang down hastily and
returned to her place, changed the position of her picture, pretended to be
still dissatisfied with the light, pushed a table close to the partition, on
which she placed a chair, climbed lightly to the summit of this erection,
and again looked through the crevice. She cast but one glance into the
space beyond, which was lighted through a skylight; but what she saw
produced so strong an effect upon her that she tottered.
"Take care, Mademoiselle Ginevra, you'll fall!" cried Laure.
All the young girls gazed at the imprudent climber, and the fear of
their coming to her gave her courage; she recovered her equilibrium, and
replied, as she balanced herself on the shaking chair:--
"Pooh! it is more solid than a throne!"
She then secured the curtain and came down, pushed the chair and
table as far as possible from the partition, returned to her easel, and
seemed to be arranging it to suit the volume of light she had now thrown
upon it. Her picture, however, was not in her mind, which was wholly bent
on getting as near as possible to the closet, against the door of which she
finally settled herself. Then she began to prepare her palette in the deepest
silence. Sitting there, she could hear, distinctly, a sound which had
strongly excited her curiosity the evening before, and had whirled her
young imagination across vast fields of conjecture. She recognized the
firm and regular breathing of a man whom she had just seen asleep. Her
curiosity was satisfied beyond her expectations, but at the same time she
felt saddled by an immense responsibility. Through the opening in the wall
she had seen the Imperial eagle; and upon the flock bed, faintly lighted
from above, lay the form of an officer of the Guard. She guessed all.
Servin was hiding a proscribed man!
She now trembled lest any of her companions should come near here
to examine her picture, when the regular breathing or some deeper breath
might reveal to them, as it had to her, the presence of this political victim.
She resolved to keep her place beside that door, trusting to her wits to
baffle all dangerous chances that might arise.
"Better that I should be here," thought she, "to prevent some luckless
accident, than leave that poor man at the mercy of a heedless betrayal."
This was the secret of the indifference which Ginevra had apparently
shown to the removal of her easel. She was inwardly enchanted, because
the change had enabled her to gratify her curiosity in a natural manner;
besides, at this moment, she was too keenly preoccupied to perceive the
reason of her removal.
Nothing is more mortifying to young girls, or, indeed, to all the world,
than to see a piece of mischief, an insult, or a biting speech, miss its effect
through the contempt or the indifference of the intended victim. It seems
as if hatred to an enemy grows in proportion to the height that enemy is
raised above us. Ginevra's behavior was an enigma to all her companions;
her friends and enemies were equally surprised; for the former claimed for
her all good qualities, except that of forgiveness of injuries. Though, of
course, the occasions for displaying that vice of nature were seldom
afforded to Ginevra in the life of a studio, still, the specimens she had now
and then given of her vindictive disposition had left a strong impression on
the minds of her companions.
After many conjectures, Mademoiselle Roguin came to the conclusion
that the Italian's silence showed a grandeur of soul beyond all praise; and
the banking circle, inspired by her, formed a project to humiliate the
aristocracy. They succeeded in that aim by a fire of sarcasms which
presently brought down the pride of the Right coterie.
Madame Servin's arrival put a stop to the struggle. With the
shrewdness that usually accompanies malice, Amelie Thirion had noticed,
analyzed, and mentally commented on the extreme preoccupation of
Ginevra's mind, which prevented her from even hearing the bitterly polite
war of words of which she was the object. The vengeance Mademoiselle
Roguin and her companions were inflicting on Mademoiselle Thirion and
her group had, therefore, the fatal effect of driving the young ULTRAS to
search for the cause of the silence so obstinately maintained by Ginevra di
Piombo. The beautiful Italian became the centre of all glances, and she
was henceforth watched by friends and foes alike.
It is very difficult to hide even a slight emotion or sentiment from
fifteen inquisitive and unoccupied young girls, whose wits and mischief
ask for nothing better than secrets to guess, schemes to create or baffle,
and who know how to find too many interpretations for each gesture,
glance, and word, to fail in discovering the right one.
At this moment, however, the presence of Madame Servin produced an
interlude in the drama thus played below the surface in these various
young hearts, the sentiments, ideas, and progress of which were expressed
by phrases that were almost allegorical, by mischievous glances, by
gestures, by silence even, more intelligible than words. As soon as
Madame Servin entered the studio, her eyes turned to the door near which
Ginevra was seated. Under present circumstances the fact of this glance
was not lost. Though at first none of the pupils took notice of it,
Mademoiselle Thirion recollected it later, and it explained to her the doubt,
fear, and mystery which now gave something wild and frightened to
Madame Servin's eyes.
"Mesdemoiselles," she said, "Monsieur Servin cannot come to-day."
Then she went round complimenting each young girl, receiving in
return a volume of those feminine caresses which are given as much by
the tones of the voice and by looks as by gestures. She presently reached
Ginevra, under the influence of an uneasiness she tried in vain to disguise.
They nodded to each other in a friendly way, but said nothing; one painted,
the other stood looking at the painting. The breathing of the soldier in the
closet could be distinctly heard, but Madame Servin appeared not to notice
it; her feigned ignorance was so obvious that Ginevra recognized it at once
for wilful deafness. Presently the unknown man turned on his pallet.
The Italian then looked fixedly at Madame Servin, who said, without
the slightest change of face:--
"Your copy is as fine as the original; if I had to choose between the
two I should be puzzled."
"Monsieur Servin has not taken his wife into his confidence as to this
mystery," thought Ginevra, who, after replying to the young wife's speech
with a gentle smile of incredulity, began to hum a Corsican "canzonetta" to
cover the noise that was made by the prisoner.
It was so unusual a thing to hear the studious Italian sing, that all the
other young girls looked up at her in surprise. Later, this circumstance
served as proof to the charitable suppositions of jealousy.
Madame Servin soon went away, and the session ended without further
events; Ginevra allowed her companions to depart, and seemed to intend
to work later. But, unconsciously to herself, she betrayed her desire to be
left alone by impatient glances, ill-disguised, at the pupils who were slow
in leaving. Mademoiselle Thirion, a cruel enemy to the girl who excelled
her in everything, guessed by the instinct of jealousy that her rival's
industry hid some purpose. By dint of watching her she was struck by the
attentive air with which Ginevra seemed to be listening to sounds that no
one else had heard. The expression of impatience she now detected in her
companion's eyes was like a flash of light to her.
Amelie was the last of the pupils to leave the studio; from there she
went down to Madame Servin's apartment and talked with her for a
moment; then she pretended to have left her bag, ran softly back to the
studio, and found Ginevra once more mounted on her frail scaffolding,
and so absorbed in the contemplation of an unknown object that she did
not hear the slight noise of her companion's footsteps. It is true that, to use
an expression of Walter Scott, Amelie stepped as if on eggs. She hastily
withdrew outside the door and coughed. Ginevra quivered, turned her head,
saw her enemy, blushed, hastened to alter the shade to give meaning to her
position, and came down from her perch leisurely. She soon after left the
studio, bearing with her, in her memory, the image of a man's head, as
beauteous as that of the Endymion, a masterpiece of Girodet's which she
had lately copied.
"To banish so young a man! Who can he be? for he is not Marshal
These two sentences are the simplest expression of the many ideas that
Ginevra turned over in her mind for two days. On the third day, in spite of
her haste to be first at the studio, she found Mademoiselle Thirion already
there, having come in a carriage.
Ginevra and her enemy observed each other for a long time, but they
made their faces impenetrable. Amelie had seen the handsome head of the
mysterious man, but, fortunately, and unfortunately also, the Imperial
eagles and uniform were so placed that she did not see them through the
crevice in the partition. She was lost in conjectures. Suddenly Servin came
in, much earlier than usual.
"Mademoiselle Ginevra," he said, after glancing round the studio,
"why have you placed yourself there? The light is bad. Come nearer to the
rest of the young ladies and pull down that curtain a little."
Then he sat down near Laure, whose work deserved his most cordial
"Well, well!" he cried; "here, indeed, is a head extremely well done.
You'll be another Ginevra."
The master then went from easel to easel, scolding, flattering, jesting,
and making, as usual, his jests more dreaded than his reprimands. Ginevra
had not obeyed the professor's order, but remained at her post, firmly
resolved not to quit it. She took a sheet of paper and began to sketch in
sepia the head of the hidden man. A work done under the impulse of an
emotion has always a stamp of its own. The faculty of giving to
representations of nature or of thought their true coloring constitutes
genius, and often, in this respect, passion takes the place of it. So, under
the circumstances in which Ginevra now found herself, the intuition which
she owed to a powerful effect upon her memory, or, possibly, to necessity,
that mother of great things, lent her, for the moment, a supernatural talent.
The head of the young officer was dashed upon the paper in the midst of
an awkward trembling which she mistook for fear, and in which a
physiologist would have recognized the fire of inspiration. From time to
time she glanced furtively at her companions, in order to hide the sketch if
any of them came near her. But in spite of her watchfulness, there was a
moment when she did not see the eyeglass of the pitiless Amelie turned
full upon the drawing from the shelter of a great portfolio. Mademoiselle
Thirion, recognizing the portrait of the mysterious man, showed herself
abruptly, and Ginevra hastily covered the sheet of paper.
"Why do you stay there in spite of my advice, mademoiselle?" asked
the professor, gravely.
The pupil turned her easel so that no one but the master could see the
sketch, which she placed upon it, and said, in an agitated voice:--
"Do you not think, as I do, that the light is very good? Had I not better
Servin turned pale. As nothing escapes the piercing eyes of malice,
Mademoiselle Thirion became, as it were, a sharer in the sudden emotion
of master and pupil.
"You are right," said Servin; "but really," he added, with a forced laugh,
"you will soon come to know more than I do."
A pause followed, during which the professor studied the drawing of
the officer's head.
"It is a masterpiece! worthy of Salvator Rosa!" he exclaimed, with the
energy of an artist.
All the pupils rose on hearing this, and Mademoiselle Thirion darted
forward with the velocity of a tiger on its prey. At this instant, the prisoner,
awakened, perhaps, by the noise, began to move. Ginevra knocked over
her stool, said a few incoherent sentences, and began to laugh; but she had
thrown the portrait into her portfolio before Amelie could get to her. The
easel was now surrounded; Servin descanted on the beauty of the copy
which his favorite pupil was then making, and the whole class was duped
by this stratagem, except Amelie, who, slipping behind her companions,
attempted to open the portfolio where she had seen Ginevra throw the
sketch. But the latter took it up without a word, and placed it in front of
her. The two young girls then looked at each other fixedly, in silence.
"Come, mesdemoiselles, take your places," said Servin. "If you wish
to do as well as Mademoiselle di Piombo, you mustn't be always talking
fashions and balls, and trifling away your time as you do."
When they were all reseated before their easels, Servin sat down
"Was it not better that I should be the one to discover the mystery
rather than the others?" asked the girl, in a low voice.
"Yes," replied the painter, "you are one of us, a patriot; but even if you
were not, I should still have confided the matter to you."
Master and pupil understood each other, and Ginevra no longer feared
"Who is he?"
"An intimate friend of Labedoyere, who contributed more than any
other man, except the unfortunate colonel, to the union of the 7th regiment
with the grenadiers of Elba. He was a major in the Imperial guard and was
"Why not have burned his uniform and shako, and supplied him with
citizen's clothes?" said Ginevra, impatiently.
"He will have them to-night."
"You ought to have closed the studio for some days."
"He is going away."
"Then they'll kill him," said the girl. "Let him stay here with you till
the present storm is over. Paris is still the only place in France where a
man can be hidden safely. Is he a friend of yours?" she asked.
"No; he has no claim upon me but that of his ill-luck. He came into my
hands in this way. My father-in-law, who returned to the army during the
campaign, met this young fellow, and very cleverly rescued him from the
claws of those who captured Labedoyere. He came here to defend the
general, foolish fellow!"
"Do you call him that!" cried Ginevra, casting a glance of
astonishment at the painter, who was silent for a moment.
"My father-in-law is too closely watched to be able to keep him in his
own house," he resumed. "So he brought him to me, by night, about a
week ago. I hoped to keep him out of sight in this corner, the only spot in
the house where he could be safe."
"If I can be useful to you, employ me," said Ginevra. "I know the
Marechal de Feltre."
"Well, we'll see," replied the painter.
This conversation lasted too long not to be noticed by all the other
girls. Servin left Ginevra, went round once more to each easel, and gave
such long lessons that he was still there at the hour when the pupils were
in the habit of leaving.
"You are forgetting your bag, Mademoiselle Thirion," said the
professor, running after the girl, who was now condescending to the work
of a spy to satisfy her jealousy.
The baffled pupil returned for the bag, expressing surprise at her
carelessness; but this act of Servin's was to her fresh proof of the existence
of a mystery, the importance of which was evident. She now ran noisily
down the staircase, and slammed the door which opened into the Servins'
apartment, to give an impression that she had gone; then she softly
returned and stationed herself outside the door of the studio.
When the painter and Ginevra thought themselves alone, Servin
rapped in a peculiar manner on the door of the dark garret, which turned at
once on its rusty and creaking hinges. Ginevra then saw a tall and wellmade young man, whose Imperial uniform set her heart to beating. The
officer had one arm in a sling, and the pallor of his face revealed sharp
suffering. Seeing an unknown woman, he recoiled.
Amelie, who was unable to look into the room, the door being closed,
was afraid to stay longer; she was satisfied with having heard the opening
of the garret door, and departed noiselessly.
"Fear nothing," said the painter to the officer. "Mademoiselle is the
daughter of a most faithful friend of the Emperor, the Baron di Piombo."
The young soldier retained no doubts as to Ginevra's patriotism as
soon as he saw her.
"You are wounded," she said.
"Oh! it is nothing, mademoiselle," he replied; "the wound is healing."
Just at this moment the loud cries of the vendors of newspapers came
up from the street: "Condemned to death!" They all trembled, and the
soldier was the first to hear a name that turned him pale.
"Labedoyere!" he cried, falling on a stool.
They looked at each other in silence. Drops gathered on the livid
forehead of the young man; he seized the black tufts of his hair in one
hand with a gesture of despair, and rested his elbow on Ginevra's easel.
"After all," he said, rising abruptly, "Labedoyere and I knew what we
were doing. We were certain of the fate that awaited us, whether from
triumph or defeat. He dies for the Cause, and here am I, hiding myself!"
He rushed toward the door of the studio; but, quicker than he, Ginevra
reached it, and barred his way.
"Can you restore the Emperor?" she said. "Do you expect to raise that
giant who could not maintain himself?"
"But what can I do?" said the young man, addressing the two friends
whom chance had sent to him. "I have not a relation in the world.
Labedoyere was my protector and my friend; without him, I am alone. Tomorrow I myself may be condemned; my only fortune was my pay. I spent
my last penny to come here and try to snatch Labedoyere from his fate;
death is, therefore, a necessity for me. When a man decides to die he ought
to know how to sell his life to the executioner. I was thinking just now that
the life of an honest man is worth that of two traitors, and the blow of a
dagger well placed may give immortality."
This spasm of despair alarmed the painter, and even Ginevra, whose
own nature comprehended that of the young man. She admired his
handsome face and his delightful voice, the sweetness of which was
scarcely lessened by its tones of fury. Then, all of a sudden, she poured a
balm upon the wounds of the unfortunate man:--
"Monsieur," she said, "as for your pecuniary distress, permit me to
offer you my savings. My father is rich; I am his only child; he loves me,
and I am sure he will never blame me. Have no scruple in accepting my
offer; our property is derived from the Emperor; we do not own a penny
that is not the result of his munificence. Is it not gratitude to him to assist
his faithful soldiers? Take the sums you need as indifferently as I offer
them. It is only money!" she added, in a tone of contempt. "Now, as for
friends,--those you shall have."
She raised her head proudly, and her eyes shone with dazzling
"The head which falls to-morrow before a dozen muskets will save
yours," she went on. "Wait till the storm is over; you can then escape and
take service in foreign countries if you are not forgotten here; or in the
French army, if you are."
In the comfort that women give there is always a delicacy which has
something maternal, foreseeing, and complete about it. But when the
words of hope and peace are said with grace of gesture and that eloquence
of tone which comes
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