Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Grand Seigneur
By Paul Bourget (1852–1935)
From ‘L’Émigré: Translation of George Burnham Ives under the title ‘The Weight of the Name.’

WHEN they were seated in the motor, after telling the chauffeur the direction to take, the marquis said to Landri: “We shall be more than thirty at table. I don’t know just how many. I ordered for forty, at a venture. I like that sort of thing! It’s almost the open house of old times. What a generous and proud expression: open house! The men of to-day talk about the social question. But our fathers had solved it. What was a grand seigneur? A living syndicate, nothing else. Consider how many people lived on him, how many live on us! To spend freely a handsome fortune, from father to son, on the same estate, is to support a whole district for many generations. When people prate of the luxury of the nobles of the olden time, they always think of them as like Cleopatra, drinking pearls, selfishly. But that luxury was a public service! It was the fountain which monopolizes the water in order to distribute it. The fountain was overturned, and the water is dribbling away, turning to mud, and disappearing—that’s the whole story!—Ah! Auguste is going wrong!” And seizing the megaphone, he shouted: “To the left, to the left, and then the second avenue to the right. There are three oaks in a clump and a Calvary.”—And turning once more to his son: “I know the forest, tree by tree, leaf by leaf, I have ridden through it so often and on such good horses. Do you remember Toby, my gray Irish horse, and how he jumped? We are going to Père Mauchaussée’s.”  1
  “Our old gardener?” inquired Landri. “What has become of him?”  2
  “He is what he always was.
  “Qu’ils sont doux, bouteille, ma mie,
Qu’ils sont doux, tes petits glouglous!
But it’s his son that I want to see. I made him second gardener when his father retired, do you remember? He crushed his foot last week, not on our land, but at his father’s, cutting down a tree. The doctor thinks he won’t be able to work any more. He is in despair. Fancy, a wife and five children! Chaffin wanted me to help him a little, and nothing more. ‘We don’t come within the law relating to accidents to workmen,’ he said. ‘I don’t need their laws to tell me what my duty is,’ I replied. ‘He shall be paid his wages in full, as long as he lives, like his father.’—I am a socialist, you know, in the old way. It was different from the new way in this, that the poor received the money of the rich directly, whereas to-day the politicians keep it all. It’s very up-to-date, as our young friend Marie de Charlus says. What do you think of her? She is charming isn’t she?”
  “Charming,” Landri replied: “but I am surprised that she pleases you, with such ideas as she has.”  4
  “As she thinks she has,” the marquis corrected him. “That will pass off. It’s the impulse of youth. What will not pass off, is the old stock. She has it to the tips of her fingers and toes. Did you look at her? Ah! she’s a genuine Charlus, and signed! Do you know what I said to myself when I saw her on horseback to-day?—And how beautifully she rides!—That she would make the sweetest little Comtesse de Claviers-Grandchamp.—And do you know this too? That it depends on you alone? But it does. Tell me if it doesn’t begin like a chapter in a novel? A year ago she was twenty years old. She was sought in marriage—by the little Duc de Lautrec, if you please. She refused. Parents astounded. She was so young, they left her in peace. Six months ago, another offer, from Prince de la Tour Enguerrand, the widower. Another refusal. A month ago, Lautrec comes forward again. She refuses again. Then follows an explanation with the mother. Who would have thought that the ‘emancipated gratin,’ as she calls herself, that girl who puts on so many twentieth-century airs, is still governed by sentiment after the old style—the only style, on my word, that is always good and always young! ‘I will marry Monsieur de Claviers,’ she said, ‘or I will die an old maid.’”  5
  “That is impossible,” interposed the young man; “we just speak to each other at a ball two or three times in a winter.”  6
  “You are too modest, monsieur my son,” rejoined the marquis. “It seems that two or three times have sufficed.—In a word, stupefaction of the mother; stupefaction of the father. They tell the story to Madame de Bec-Crespin, their cousin, who tells it to her mother, Madame de Contay, who tells it to Jaubourg, who tells it to me; and as such a daughter-in-law would suit me marvelously, and as I have a horror of beating about the bush, I invited them all three, mother, father, and daughter, and I sent for you. The mother sent her excuses. She’s a little put out; she won’t see you. She knows you, plant and root, I venture to say.—Ah! everything is there: wit, spirit, charm,—I don’t say great beauty, but what a figure, and what eyes! A hundred thousand francs a year at this moment, of her own, if you please, left her by her Uncle Prosny. Later, three hundred thousand more. And such relations! No more mésalliances in that family than in ours. One of those superb trees that resemble a noble action continued for seven hundred years: all the younger sons officers, bishops, or knights of Malta; all the unmarried daughters nuns, abbesses, or prioresses; twenty of the name killed in foreign wars. I have not often annoyed you with suggestions of marriage, my boy. Your dear mother would have known so well how to choose a wife for you! I waited a while for you to open your heart to me. But you are approaching thirty. I am sixty-five. Your three brothers are dead. I have no one but you to keep up the family. I should like not to go away before I have put in the saddle a Geoffroy IX of Claviers-Grandchamp. You are Landri X. We must look to it that the Geoffroys overtake the Landris. Well! what do you say?”  7
  “I say, father,” Landri replied, “that I came to Grandchamp to-day, myself, with the purpose of speaking to you about a project of marriage—a different one,” he added.  8
  “With someone whom I know?” inquired the marquis.  9
  “No, father, a young woman of twenty-seven, the widow of one of my fellow officers in the regiment, who has a child, and no fortune, or very little. It’s a far cry from the marriage-portion of Mademoiselle de Charlus. But I love her passionately, and have for more than three years.”  10
  “Another chapter of a novel,” said M. de Claviers, still without losing his good-humor. “This does not displease me. I will not deny that I have been just a little disgusted with you. I was afraid that you had some wretched liaison in your life. You have a real love. That’s a different matter. I love to have people love, you see—love long and dearly and faithfully. No fortune?” He repeated, “No fortune? My dear boy, how I would like to be able to say to you: ‘Don’t let that disturb you!,’” A cloud passed over his face, which was as transparent as the blue sky of that waning afternoon, stretching above his beloved forest, all turned to gold by the autumn.—“This is not the time to discuss that question, which I have wanted to talk to you about for a long while. We have many charges on the estate. If it still produced what it did once, we could extricate ourselves more easily—and, perhaps, if I had known better how to handle our interests. Consider that there have been two generations over which this outrageous Civil Code has passed, with its compulsory partitions, which are grinding France to powder. Of the income of a million which your great-grandmother saved during the Revolution by not emigrating, and demanding her pretended divorce, how much have I had? Three hundred thousand francs a year, and, in addition, all the burdens of the old days! I say again, this is not the time to talk about it.—For three years?” he added, after a pause. “Who is it? What is her name?”  11
  “Madame Olier,” replied the young man.  12
  “Ah!” exclaimed the father, “and she was born?——”  13
  “Mademoiselle Barral.”  14
  “Olier?—Barral?—Why, in that case, she is not a person of your own rank? Answer me frankly, my boy. I am your father, the head of your family. You owe it to me. You are her lover? You have a misstep to repair? The child is yours?”  15
  “No, father, I give you my word of honor. Twice in my life I have told her that I loved her. Once when her husband was alive. She refused to see me again except on my promise that I would never speak to her again of my sentiments. The second time was to-day. That was the reason of my being late.”  16
  M. de Claviers had listened to this confession with contracted brows and lips tightly closed. His blue eyes took on that sombre hue which his son knew too well. It indicated the clash of profound emotions in that violent temperament. There was between the two men a further pause coincident with the stopping of the motor before the Mauchaussées’ house, a dainty structure which the châtelain of Grandchamp placed at the disposal of his former retainer, without rent. The curtains at the windows and the thread of smoke issuing from the chimney bore witness to the physical well-being of these vassals of his charity. He had, however, the countenance of a magistrate rather than an almsgiver as he alighted from the automobile, without speaking to his son, who did not follow him.  17
  The ten minutes which his father passed in the little house seemed immeasurably long to Landri. To be sure he felt as if a weight had been lifted from his heart: the first part of his confession was made, the part that had seemed to him the most formidable to put in words. It touched such a sensitive spot in his heart! Would he have the courage to make the second part, and to inflict another blow upon that man, whom he felt once more to be so impassioned, so loving, and so impetuous? By what sort of an explosion would the wrath vent itself, with which he had seen that powerful brow suddenly overcast? Other questions arose in his mind: why had the marquis, whose repugnance for financial affairs was so intense, spoken with such detail of the wealth of the Charluses, and of his own with that reserve laden with hidden meaning? Landri was too unselfish to think of his own future and of the possible diminution of his inheritance. He knew that his father was very wealthy, and he had never wondered at a lavish expenditure which the marquis had seemed always able to support. He had never even asked for his own property after the guardianship accounts were once settled. The marquis gave him an allowance which represented the fifteen hundred thousand francs he had inherited from his mother. Did this enigmatic plaint mean that the grand seigneur would be compelled eventually to reduce an establishment which was as necessary to him as breathing and moving? At the same time that he revolved this question in his mind without putting it to himself so plainly, the young man was thinking of the negotiator of the Charlus marriage.  18
  “What an idea of Jaubourg’s to meddle again in my affairs! It’s just as it was before about Saint-Cyr. He has never shown anything but antipathy to me, and he is always putting himself between my father and me. That is why he wanted them to send me up to him.—But the door is opening—I must prepare to sustain the assault!—Courage! it’s for Valentine.”  19
  The charming image passed before his mind. It was exorcised instantly by a chorus of voices saying in the accent of the countryside: “Bonjour, Monsieur le Comte. Is everything right with you, Monsieur le Comte?”—It was the five Mauchaussée children, their mother, grandmother, and grandfather, whom the marquis was driving before him toward his son. The wondering, laughing eyes of the little boys and girls, the timid and humble bearing of the two women, the jovial bloated face of the drunkard, supplied a comic illustration of the speech with which M. de Claviers presented them to their future patron.  20
  “Do you recognize them?” he said. “The little monkeys are growing. They are pushing us aside, Mauchaussée, and you too, Madame Martine. Soon they’ll be pushing you too, Landri, but you have the time. Come, children, shout, ‘Vive Monsieur le Comte!’”  21
  “Vive Monsieur le Comte!” chirped the five children.  22
  “And vive Monsieur le Marquis!” exclaimed Mauchaussée. It was amid acclamations as paradoxical, in the year 1906, as the existence of M. de Claviers himself, that the automobile resumed its journey.  23
  “To the château,” he said to Auguste. Then, taking his son’s hand and pressing it: “That is why you cannot make the marriage of which you spoke to me just now. It is because of the Mauchaussées and their like,—and they are legion,—who live on us, on the house of Claviers-Grandchamp: for there is a house of Claviers-Grandchamp. Surely you cannot wish to assist in destroying it. When one demolishes a roof, one destroys all the nests in that roof. When one cuts the trunk of one of these trees, all the branches die. Our family, as I told you just now, is like that of the Charluses. Not a mésalliance since 1260. One can count them on one’s fingers, such lineages as that. You will not demean yourself.”  24
  “Is it demeaning myself,” demanded Landri impatiently, “to bring you as your daughter-in-law a woman of irreproachable character, whom I love profoundly and who loves me,—pretty, refined, and intelligent? One demeans one’s self by lacking a sense of honor. Does it show such a lack to marry according to one’s heart, without regard to money, without any secret prompting of ambition? In what way would Madame Olier, having become Comtesse de Claviers-Grandchamp, embarrass the Mauchaussées and all this generous task of supporting traditionary dependents, which forms one of the moral appanages of great families and a raison d’être of the nobility, I fully agree with you;—in what way?”  25
  “In this,—that she is Madame Olier, born Barral, simply; that her child has Olier uncles and aunts and Olier cousins, and she has Barral cousins, perhaps brothers and sisters,—a whole social circle. That circle, by marrying her, you make akin to us. That family you ally with ours. You ally it! Dig into that word, so profound in its significance, like all those in which the language simply translates instinctively the experience of ages. That means that between the Oliers, the Barrals, and the Claviers-Grandchamps, you establish a bond of fellowship, that all those existences are bound together.—I will suggest but one question to you: tell the Mauchaussées that Madame de Claviers’ cousin keeps a shop, for instance, that he is like one of their own relations. Do you think that Madame de Claviers will retain the same prestige in their eyes? And let us assume that there are no Oliers, no Barrals in this case,—do you think that our kinsfolk, the Candales, the Vardes, the Nancays, the Tillières, in France, and all the others, and the Ardrahans in Scotland, the Gorkas in Poland, and the Stenos in Italy, will be altogether the same to your wife as if she were a Charlus? So that our family unity will be impaired. You will have diminished the importance of the house of Claviers, without failing in honor—that goes without saying. But, do you see, a name like ours is honor with something more.”  26
  “Or less,” retorted Landri. “Why, yes,” he insisted, as his father recoiled in amazement, “less life, life, to which all men have a right, but not I. No right to individual happiness,—you just told me so. No right to individual action. How much it cost you to allow me even to enter the army! What else is there for us to do? Defend tombs? You have the strength for that, but I haven’t.”  27
  He had never said so much concerning his secret thoughts. It had been too painful to him to hear from the marquis’ lips the same objections, in almost the same words, as from Valentine’s. He had felt too strongly their implacable and brutal truth. The pain had been all the keener. He had no sooner uttered that cry of rebellion, than he had a passionate reflux of emotion toward his father. He took his hand, saying: “Forgive me!” while M. de Claviers returned the pressure, and answered in an affectionate voice, but so firm, so virile,—the voice of a man who, having reached the evening of his days, girds up his loins and declares that he has not gone astray in his faith.  28
  “Forgive you, and for what, my poor boy? For loving, and for feeling an impulse of rebellion of your whole heart before an obstacle in which all boys of your age, and even of your class, would see to-day, as you do, only a prejudice? For being young, and for having this longing to employ your energy to some purpose, which you cheat by playing at soldiering,—for it is only a game and you know it perfectly well? Suppose that to-morrow the people who rule us order you to execute one of their infamous jobs, the burglarizing of a church, what shall you do?”  29
  As he uttered these words, which by their unconscious divination proved how much he thought about his son, the marquis was looking at his idea. He did not notice the young man’s sudden start. On the latter’s lips was an exclamation which he did not utter. He listened to the words in which his father continued, with an interest all the more intense, because M. de Claviers was not in the habit of discussing his convictions. He asserted them by his mere presence. Doubtless his affection for Landri warned him that that was a fateful moment, such as most frequently occurs unexpectedly, in the relations of a father and son, when a word misunderstood may lead to tragic dissensions; and as if he were determined to justify in advance the sternness of his veto by arguments impossible of refutation even by him who was destined to be their victim, he explained himself, he confessed himself, or, better still, he thought aloud:—  30
  “Do you think that I have not gone through such rebellions? Do you think that I, too, when my father spoke to me as I am speaking to you, did not ask myself if he were not a man of another century, who did not understand his epoch and who wished to involve me in his error? Do you think that I was not attracted by action, by actions of all sorts, by war, by diplomacy, the tribune? that I never heard the voice of the tempter whispering: ‘One does not serve the government, one serves France’? How many of my friends listened to that voice! I do not judge them. I could not do it, and I do not repent. This is why. Listen. What I am going to say will seem to you a long way from the starting-point of our conversation. But I do not lose sight of it.—No, I could not do it, because by dint of studying her, I realized that this France, offspring of the Revolution, had other workmen than me to employ, in its barracks, its public offices, its assemblies, and that we were very little able to serve her elsewhere. You have told me sometimes that I had the heart of an ‘émigré.’ It is true. But who saved France from dismemberment in 1815, if not the ‘émigrés,’ and Louis XVIII., first of all? Had there been no ‘émigrés,’ had not the King, supported by that handful of loyal subjects, made himself felt during twenty years in the councils of the coalition, the country would have been partitioned. What did they preserve for it, for that country which was so cruelly hostile to them?—A principle. Who will measure the strength of principles, of social truths, maintained by a group of men, by a single man sometimes, if he is called the King? Ah, well! the disease of France, offspring of the Revolution, does not lie in facts, nor in men, but in lack of principles, or in false principles, which is worse. I am not unjust to her, to this France I speak of. She has worked hard during these hundred years. She is working hard. What an endurance, what a sturdy will, what impetuosity! With all these is she bankrupt in all her aspirations—yes or no? Yes or no, does this country hold in Europe an inferior place to that she held in the worst days of the old monarchy? She is no older than England, however, her great rival in the Middle Ages! Has she progressed in social tranquillity? Has she found stability, that test of all political doctrines, as the regular beating of the pulse is the test of health? The fact is that the Revolution tried to base society on the individual, and that nature insists that it be based on the family. When I understood that great law, I understood the nobility. I understood then, that our prejudices were profound social truths, elaborated by the result of experience during long ages which is called custom, and transformed into instinct. It is a profound social truth that there is no increase in the strength of a country unless the efforts of successive generations are combined, unless the living consider themselves as enjoying the usufruct only, between their dead and their descendants. But that is the law of primogeniture and entails! Another profound social truth: families must be deeply rooted in order to endure; they must have territorial interests, they must be amalgamated with the soil. But that means patrimonial domains, which are left undivided that they may not be sold!—Another profound social truth: there must be diverse environments, in order that there may be morals, and there are no environments unless there are classes, and distinct classes. But that means the three estates! Another profound social truth: every individual is simply the sum of those who have preceded him, a single moment in a long lineage. By marrying him to another individual at the same stage of family development, there is the chance of obtaining a superior creature, of solidifying acquired characteristics. But that means race!—All these truths the old France put in practice, and they were incarnate in the great Houses! On the instant that I realized their importance and that they were the working-out of the very laws of the family, the rôle of the noble in the presence of the Revolution was made clear to me; to maintain his House first of all. If we had all acted on that theory, what a reserve force France would have had for the hour of the inevitable crisis! However, there are still enough of us who fulfilled that duty, each as he could, especially in the provinces, and in that sturdy rural aristocracy which you will find in existence to-day, as in ’71. But, even if I were alone of my kind, I should be no less assured of my duty. If we are fated never to be wanted again, let us at least make a noble end. Decenter mori. An aristocrat should either remain an aristocrat or die. I have remained one. The misfortunes of the time have not allowed me to add a page to the history of the Claviers-Grandchamps, but I have written that history, and I have maintained our House in its place. I have sounded the splendor of the name, as our ancestors said. What more can I say, Landri? Your father has continued his father, who had continued his. They all ask you by my mouth: ‘Will you continue us?’”  31
  “I revere you and love you,” replied the young man; and it was true that that profession of faith, pronounced by the old nobleman among the trees of the hereditary domain, assumed an almost painful grandeur. After an interval of a hundred years the Claviers-Grandchamp of Condé’s army expressed his thoughts by the mouth of his grandson with that self-consciousness which is one of the characteristics of the thoroughbred. He realized that, before they disappear, the social species like the animal species spend their last vigor in producing most perfect types in which all the excellences of all that have gone before are consummated. Once more Landri had a realizing sense of the superiority of that man who, for lack of a suitable environment, had spent his long life in attitudinizing, and for motives so profound, so blended with the most generous idealism! He was too intelligent not to understand the bearing of the lofty philosophy amassed by M. de Claviers in his solemn harangue. In spite of himself, as was so often the case, his mind acquiesced in ideas which, none the less, he did not choose to accept. In what utter solitude they had confined his father! His heart, too, rebelled against it. “The profound social truths,” as the marquis had said, are but cold friends of mature years. A lover of less than thirty will always sacrifice them to a glance from two bright blue eyes, to a reflection of the light upon golden hair. Images of that sort were still floating before Landri’s eyes; they gave him strength to argue with his father.  32
  “But in that old France, which you claim to continue, the classes intermingled and by marriages, too. Colbert’s daughter was a duchess, Monsieur de Mesmes’ daughter a duchess, Gilles Ruellan’s daughter a duchess, and Colbert’s father was a draper, Monsieur de Mesmes’ father a peasant of Mont-de-Marsan, and Gilles Ruellan had been a carter.”  33
  “That is true,” rejoined M. de Claviers. “But in those days France was sound. She was like those strong constitutions which can safely indulge in deviations from a regular diet. The great houses were not attacked. The great social truths which their existence alone represents to-day did not need to be defended in every detail. There is not enough ‘irreconcilability’ in our time, even among us, for me to renounce mine. I admired nothing so much in my youth as the attitude of the Comte de Chambord, when he carried his white banner,—and how many understood it, even among our friends? No, Landri, one does not compromise in the defense of a vanquished principle. One can never defend it too vigorously.”  34
  “Then, if I should come some day to ask your consent”—the young man queried with a tremor.  35
  “To marry Madame Olier? I shall refuse to give it.”  36
  “And if I should do without it?” he ventured to say.  37
  “You will not do without it. She is the one, do you hear, she is the one who will not allow it. I know you, my Landri,” continued the father, in an affectionate tone in striking contrast to the evident inflexibility of his decision. “For you to love this woman so dearly, she must be very pure and of a very delicate sense of honor. It was she who insisted that you should speak to me before she gave you her answer, was it not? Such a woman will never consent to marry you against your father’s declared wish. If she were not magnanimous and high-minded to that degree, you would not love her.”  38
  “And if it were so, you would not be touched?”  39
  “There is no question here of my emotions, my son, nor of yours. It is a question of our name. Military heroism is not the only sort. There is a family heroism. As a soldier, you would consider it a perfectly natural thing to sacrifice your life. A man of a certain name should consider it natural to sacrifice his happiness. But is there really so much at stake? It is a crisis, and it will pass away. In any event,” he added, in a tone of affectionate banter, “you haven’t asked for my consent. So that I have not refused it. We have talked about plans, probabilities, supposititious cases—nothing more. All the same, be agreeable to Marie de Charlus this evening. Don’t be too angry with her for having distinguished you, as our grandmothers used so prettily to say. And now let us enjoy what my grandmother left us. Here we are out of the forest and in the park. If the fearless woman had not stayed here, during the Terror, everything would have been cut down, devastated, burned, pillaged. I never return to Grandchamp without giving her a thought.”  40
  He ceased to speak, and his blue eyes were filled with pious veneration as he looked at the château, a sedate and grandiose structure in Mansart’s very earliest manner. In the eighteenth century a Claviers-Grandchamp, to whom a friend, in gratitude for a service rendered him, had bequeathed a fortune made in the Compagnie des Indes, had reconstructed it inside without touching the façade. In front lay an immense garden à la française. Twelve gardeners were required to keep up this marvel, laid out in flower-beds, ponds, and tree-lined paths, with many bronze groups about the ponds, and stone statues in the paths. In that closing hour of a lovely day, in that atmosphere now so delicately tinged with gray, the garden was a beautiful sight. Like those of Versailles, and of the whole seventeenth century, it bore the physiognomy of nature respected in its strength and at the same time guided, regulated, and harmonized in its expansions. It was in truth visible “order,” the order of the society of olden time whence the Claviers-Grandchamps had sprung. The trees, which were still vigorous, but pruned and trimmed, did not put forth their leaves until they had been disciplined.  41

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