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The Commission in Lunacy   By: (1799-1850)

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By Honore De Balzac

Translated By Clara Bell


Dedicated to Monsieur le Contre Amiral Bazoche, Governor of the Isle of Bourbon, by the grateful writer. DE BALZAC.


In 1828, at about one o'clock one morning, two persons came out of a large house in the Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore, near the Elysee Bourbon. One was the famous doctor, Horace Bianchon; the other was one of the most elegant men in Paris, the Baron de Rastignac; they were friends of long standing. Each had sent away his carriage, and no cab was to be seen in the street; but the night was fine, and the pavement dry.

"We will walk as far as the boulevard," said Eugene de Rastignac to Bianchon. "You can get a hackney cab at the club; there is always one to be found there till daybreak. Come with me as far as my house."

"With pleasure."

"Well, and what have you to say about it?"

"About that woman?" said the doctor coldly.

"There I recognize my Bianchon!" exclaimed Rastignac.

"Why, how?"

"Well, my dear fellow, you speak of the Marquise d'Espard as if she were a case for your hospital."

"Do you want to know what I think, Eugene? If you throw over Madame de Nucingen for this Marquise, you will swap a one eyed horse for a blind one."

"Madame de Nucingen is six and thirty, Bianchon."

"And this woman is three and thirty," said the doctor quickly.

"Her worst enemies only say six and twenty."

"My dear boy, when you really want to know a woman's age, look at her temples and the tip of her nose. Whatever women may achieve with their cosmetics, they can do nothing against those incorruptible witnesses to their experiences. There each year of life has left its stigmata. When a woman's temples are flaccid, seamed, withered in a particular way; when at the tip of her nose you see those minute specks, which look like the imperceptible black smuts which are shed in London by the chimneys in which coal is burnt.... Your servant, sir! That woman is more than thirty. She may be handsome, witty, loving whatever you please, but she is past thirty, she is arriving at maturity. I do not blame men who attach themselves to that kind of woman; only, a man of your superior distinction must not mistake a winter pippin for a little summer apple, smiling on the bough, and waiting for you to crunch it. Love never goes to study the registers of birth and marriage; no one loves a woman because she is handsome or ugly, stupid or clever; we love because we love."

"Well, for my part, I love for quite other reasons. She is Marquise d'Espard; she was a Blamont Chauvry; she is the fashion; she has soul; her foot is as pretty as the Duchesse de Berri's; she has perhaps a hundred thousand francs a year some day, perhaps, I may marry her! In short, she will put me into a position which will enable me to pay my debts."

"I thought you were rich," interrupted Bianchon.

"Bah! I have twenty thousand francs a year just enough to keep up my stables. I was thoroughly done, my dear fellow, in that Nucingen business; I will tell you about that. I have got my sisters married; that is the clearest profit I can show since we last met; and I would rather have them provided for than have five hundred thousand francs a year. No, what would you have me do? I am ambitious. To what can Madame de Nucingen lead? A year more and I shall be shelved, stuck in a pigeon hole like a married man. I have all the discomforts of marriage and of single life, without the advantages of either; a false position to which every man must come who remains tied too long to the same apron string."

"So you think you will come upon a treasure here?" said Bianchon. "Your Marquise, my dear fellow, does not hit my fancy at all."

"Your liberal opinions blur your eyesight. If Madame d'Espard were a Madame Rabourdin..."

"Listen to me... Continue reading book >>

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