An Historical Mystery

Author: Honore de Balzac

Chapter X One and the Same, Yet a Two-Fold Love

While the new farm-house was being built Michu the Judas, so-called, and his family occupied the rooms over the stables at Cinq-Cygne on the side of the chateau next to the famous breach. He bought two horses, one for himself and one for Francois, and they both joined Gothard in accompanying Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne in her many rides, which had for their object, as may well be imagined, the feeding of the four gentlemen and perpetual watching that they were still in safety. Francois and Gothard, assisted by Couraut and the countess’s dogs, went in front and beat the woods all around the hiding-place to make sure that there was no one within sight. Laurence and Michu carried the provisions which Marthe, her mother, and Catherine prepared, unknown to the other servants of the household so as to restrict the secret to themselves, for all were sure that there were spies in the village. These expeditions were never made oftener than twice a week and on different days and at different hours, sometimes by day, sometimes by night.

These precautions lasted until the trial of Riviere, Polignac, and Moreau ended. When the senatus-consultum, which called the dynasty of Bonaparte to the throne and nominated Napoleon as Emperor of the French, was submitted to the French people for acceptance Monsieur d’Hauteserre signed the paper Goulard brought him. When it was made known that the Pope would come to France to crown the Emperor, Mademoiselle de Cinq-Cygne no longer opposed the general desire that her cousins and the young d’Hauteserres should petition to have their names struck off the list of /emigres/, and be themselves reinstated in their rights as citizens. On this, old d’Hauteserre went to Paris and consulted the ci-devant Marquis de Chargeboeuf who knew Talleyrand. That minister, then in favor, conveyed the petition to Josephine, and Josephine gave it to her husband, who was addressed as Emperor, Majesty, Sire, before the result of the popular vote was known. Monsieur de Chargeboeuf, Monsieur d’Hauteserre, and the Abbe Goujet, who also went to Paris, obtained an interview with Talleyrand, who promised them his support. Napoleon had already pardoned several of the principal actors in the great royalist conspiracy; and yet, though the four gentlemen were merely suspected of complicity, the Emperor, after a meeting of the Council of State, called the senator Malin, Fouche, Talleyrand, Cambaceres, Lebrun, and Dubois, prefect of police, into his cabinet.

"Gentlemen," said the future Emperor, who still wore the dress of the First Consul, "we have received from the Sieurs de Simeuse and d’Hauteserre, officers in the army of the Prince de Conde, a request to be allowed to re-enter France."

"They are here now," said Fouche.

"Like many others whom I meet in Paris," remarked Talleyrand.

"I think you have not met these gentlemen," said Malin, "for they are hidden in the forest of Nodesme, where they consider themselves at home."

He was careful not to tell the First Consul and Fouche how he himself had given them warning, by talking with Grevin within hearing of Michu, but he made the most of Corentin’s reports and convinced Napoleon that the four gentlemen were sharers in the plot of Riviere and Polignac, with Michu for an accomplice. The prefect of police confirmed these assertions.

"But how could that bailiff know that the conspiracy was discovered?" said the prefect, "for the Emperor and the council and I were the only persons in the secret."

No one paid attention to this remark.

"If they have been hidden in that forest for the last seven months and you have not been able to find them," said the Emperor to Fouche, "they have expiated their misdeeds."

"Since they are my enemies as well," said Malin, frightened by the Emperor’s clear-sightedness, "I desire to follow the magnanimous example of your Majesty; I therefore make myself their advocate and ask that their names be stricken from the list of /emigres/."

"They will be less dangerous to you here than if they are exiled; for they will now have to swear allegiance to the Empire and the laws," said Fouche, looking at Malin fixedly.

"In what way are they dangerous to the senator?" asked Napoleon.

Talleyrand spoke to the Emperor for some minutes in a low voice. The reinstatement of the Messieurs de Simeuse and d’Hauteserre appeared to be granted.

"Sire," said Fouche, "rely upon it, you will hear of those men again."

Talleyrand, who had been urged by the Duc de Grandlieu, gave the Emperor pledges in the name of the young men on their honor as gentlemen (a term which had great fascination for Napoleon), to abstain from all attacks upon his Majesty and to submit themselves to his government in good faith.

"Messieurs d’Hauteserre and de Simeuse are not willing to bear arms against France, now that events have taken their present course," he said, aloud; "they have little sympathy, it is true, with the Imperial government, but they are just the men that your Majesty ought to conciliate. They will be satisfied to live on French soil and obey the laws."

Then he laid before the Emperor a letter he had received from the brothers in which these sentiments were expressed.

"Anything so frank is likely to be sincere," said the Emperor, returning the letter and looking at Lebrun and Cambaceres. "Have you any further suggestions?" he asked of Fouche.

"In your Majesty’s interests," replied the future minister of police, "I ask to be allowed to inform these gentlemen of their reinstatement —when it is /really granted/," he added, in a louder tone.

"Very well," said Napoleon, noticing an anxious look on Fouche’s face.

The matter did not seem positively decided when the Council rose; but it had the effect of putting into Napoleon’s mind a vague distrust of the four young men. Monsieur d’Hauteserre, believing that all was gained, wrote a letter announcing the good news. The family at Cinq- Cygne were therefore not surprised when, a few days later, Goulard came to inform the countess and Madame d’Hauteserre that they were to send the four gentlemen to Troyes, where the prefect would show them the decree reinstating them in their rights and administer to them the oath of allegiance to the Empire and the laws. Laurence replied that she would send the notification to her cousins and the Messieurs d’Hauteserre.

"Then they are not here?" said Goulard.

Madame d’Hauteserre looked anxiously after Laurence, who left the room to consult Michu. Michu saw no reason why the young men should not be released at once from their hiding-place. Laurence, Michu, his son, and Gothard therefore started as soon as possible for the forest, taking an extra horse, for the countess resolved to accompany her cousins to Troyes and return with them. The whole household, made aware of the good news, gathered on the lawn to witness the departure of the happy cavalcade. The four young men issued from their long confinement, mounted their horses, and took the road to Troyes, accompanied by Mademoiselle Cinq-Cygne. Michu, with the help of his son and Gothard, closed the entrance to the cellar, and started to return home on foot. On the way he recollected that he had left the forks and spoons and a silver cup, which the young men had been using, in the cave, and he went back for them alone. When he reached the edge of the pond he heard voices, and went straight to the entrance of the cave through the brushwood.

"Have you come for your silver?" said Peyrade, showing his big red nose through the branches.

Without knowing why, for at any rate his young masters were safe, Michu felt a sharp agony in all his joints, so keen was the sense of vague, indefinable coming evil which took possession of him; but he went forward at once, and found Corentin on the stairs with a taper in his hand.

"We are not very harsh," he said to Michu; "we might have seized your ci-devants any day for the last week; but we knew they were reinstated —You’re a tough fellow to deal with, and you gave us too much trouble not to make us anxious to satisfy our curiosity about this hidingplace of yours."

"I’d give something," cried Michu, "to know how and by whom we have been sold."

"If that puzzles you, old fellow," said Peyrade, laughing, "look at your horses’ shoes, and you’ll see that you betrayed yourselves."

"Well, there need be no rancor!" said Corentin, whistling for the captain of gendarmerie and their horses.

"So that rascally Parisian blacksmith who shoed the horses in the English fashion and left Cinq-Cygne only the other day was their spy!" thought Michu. "They must have followed our tracks when the ground was damp. Well, we’re quits now!"

Michu consoled himself by thinking that the discovery was of no consequence, as the young men were now safe, Frenchmen once more, and at liberty. Yet his first presentiment was a true one. The police, like the Jesuits, have the one virtue of never abandoning their friends or their enemies.

Old d’Hauteserre returned from Paris and was more than surprised not to be the first to bring the news. Durieu prepared a succulent dinner, the servants donned their best clothes, and the household impatiently awaited the exiles, who arrived about four o’clock, happy,—and yet humiliated, for they found they were to be under police surveillance for two years, obliged to present themselves at the prefecture every month and ordered to remain in the commune of Cinq-Cygne during the said two years. "I’ll send you the papers for signature," the prefect said to them. "Then, in the course of a few months, you can ask to be relieved of these conditions, which are imposed on all of Pichegru’s accomplices. I will back your request."

These restrictions, fairly deserved, rather dispirited the young men, but Laurence laughed at them.

"The Emperor of the French," she said, "was badly brought up; he has not yet acquired the habit of bestowing favors graciously."

The party found all the inhabitants of the chateau at the gates, and a goodly proportion of the people of the village waiting on the road to see the young men, whose adventures had made them famous throughout the department. Madame d’Hauteserre held her sons to her breast for a long time, her face covered with tears; she was unable to speak and remained silent, though happy, through a part of the evening. No sooner had the Simeuse twins dismounted than a cry of surprise arose on all sides, caused by their amazing resemblance,—the same look, the same voice, the same actions. They both had the same movement in rising from their saddles, in throwing their leg over the crupper of their horses when dismounting, in flinging the reins upon the animal’s neck. Their dress, precisely the same, contributed to this likeness. They wore boots /a la/ Suwaroff, made to fit the instep, tight trousers of white leather, green hunting-jackets with metal buttons, black cravats, and buckskin gloves. The two young men, just thirty-one years of age, were—to use a term in vogue in those days—charming cavaliers, of medium height but well set up, brilliant eyes with long lashes, floating in liquid like those of children, black hair, noble brows, and olive skin. Their speech, gentle as that of a woman, fell graciously from their fresh red lips; their manners, more elegant and polished than those of the provincial gentlemen, showed that knowledge of men and things had given them that supplementary education which makes its possessor a man of the world.

Not lacking money, thanks to Michu, during their emigration, they had been able to travel and be received at foreign courts. Old d’Hauteserre and the abbe thought them rather haughty; but in their present position this may have been the sign of nobility of character. They possessed all the eminent little marks of a careful education, to which they added a wonderful dexterity in bodily exercises. Their only dissimilarity was in the region of ideas. The youngest charmed others by his gaiety, the eldest by his melancholy; but the contrast, which was purely spiritual, was not at first observable.

"Ah, wife," whispered Michu in Marthe’s ear, "how could one help devoting one’s self to those young fellows?"

Marthe, who admired them as a wife and mother, nodded her head prettily and pressed her husband’s hand. The servants were allowed to kiss their new masters.

During their seven months’ seclusion in the forest (which the young men had brought upon themselves) they had several times committed the imprudence of taking walks about their hiding-place, carefully guarded by Michu, his son, and Gothard. During these walks, taken usually on starlit nights, Laurence, reuniting the thread of their past and present lives, felt the utter impossibility of choosing between the brothers. A pure and equal love for each divided her heart. She fancied indeed that she had two hearts. On their side, the brothers dared not speak to themselves of their impending rivalry. Perhaps all three were trusting to time and accident. The condition of her mind on this subject acted no doubt upon Laurence as they entered the house, for she hesitated a moment, and then took an arm of each as she entered the salon followed by Monsieur and Madame d’Hauteserre, who were occupied with their sons. Just then a cheer burst from the servants, "Long live the Cinq-Cygne and the Simeuse families!" Laurence turned round, still between the brothers, and made a charming gesture of acknowledgement

When these nine persons came to actually observe each other,—for in all meetings, even in the bosom of families, there comes a moment when friends observe those from whom they have been long parted,—the first glance which Adrien d’Hauteserre cast upon Laurence seemed to his mother and to the abbe to betray love. Adrien, the youngest of the d’Hauteserres, had a sweet and tender soul; his heart had remained adolescent in spite of the catastrophes which had nerved the man. Like many young heroes, kept virgin in spirit by perpetual peril, he was daunted by the timidities of youth. In this he was very different from his brother, a man of rough manners, a great hunter, an intrepid soldier, full of resolution, but coarse in fibre and without activity of mind or delicacy in matters of the heart. One was all soul, the other all action; and yet they both possessed in the same degree that sense of honor which is the vital essence of a gentleman. Dark, short, slim and wiry, Adrien d’Hauteserre gave an impression of strength; whereas Robert, who was tall, pale and fair, seemed weakly. Adrien, nervous in temperament, was stronger in soul; while his brother though lymphatic, was fonder of bodily exercise. Families often present these singularities of contrast, the causes of which it might be interesting to examine; but they are mentioned here merely to explain how it was that Adrien was not likely to find a rival in his brother. Robert’s affection for Laurence was that of a relation, the respect of a noble for a girl of his own caste. In matters of sentiment the elder d’Hauteserre belonged to the class of men who consider woman as an appendage to man, limiting her sphere to the physical duties of maternity; demanding perfection in that respect, but regarding her mentally as of no account. To such men the admittance of woman as an actual sharer in society, in the body politic, in the family, meant the subversion of the social system. In these days we are so far removed from this theory of primitive people that almost all women, even those who do not desire the fatal emancipation offered by the new sects, will be shocked in merely hearing of it; but it must be owned that Robert d’Hauteserre had the misfortune to think in that way. Robert was a man of the middle-ages, Adrien a man of to-day. These differences instead of hindering their affection had drawn its bonds the closer. On the first evening after the return of the young men these shades of character were caught and understood by the abbe, Mademoiselle Goujet, and Madame d’Hauteserre, who, while playing their boston, were secretly foreseeing the difficulties of the future.

At twenty-three years of age, having passed through the many reflections of a long solitude and the anguish of a defeated enterprise, Laurence had become a woman, and felt within her an absorbing desire for affection. She now put forth all her graces of her mind and was charming; she revealed the hidden beauties of her tender heart with the simple candor of a child. For the last thirteen years she had been a woman only through suffering; she longed to obtain amends for it, and she showed herself as loving and winning as she had been, up to this time, strong and great.

The four elders, who were the last to leave the salon that night, admitted to each other that they felt uneasy at the new position of this charming girl. What power might not passion have on a young woman of her character and with her nobility of soul? The twin brothers loved her with one and the same love and a blind devotion; which of the two would Laurence choose? To choose one was to kill the other. Countess in her own right, she could bring her husband a title and certain prerogatives, together with a long lineage. Perhaps in thinking of these advantages the elder of the twins, the Marquis de Simeuse, would sacrifice himself to give Laurence to his brother, who, according to the old laws, was poor and without a title. But would the younger brother deprive the elder of the happiness of having Laurence for a wife? At a distance, this strife of love and generosity might do no harm,—in fact, so long as the brothers were facing danger the chances of war might end the difficulty; but what would be the result of this reunion? When Marie-Paul and Paul-Marie reached the age when passions rise to their greatest height could they share, as now, the looks and words and attentions of their cousin? must there not inevitably arise a jealousy between them the consequences of which might be horrible? What would then become of the unity of those beautiful lives, one in heart though twain in body? To these questionings, passed from one to another as they finished their game, Madame d’Hauteserre replied that in her opinion Laurence would not marry either of her cousins. The poor lady had experienced that evening one of those inexplicable presentiments which are secrets between the mother’s heart and God.

Laurence, in her inward consciousness, was not less alarmed at finding herself tete-a-tete with her cousins. To the active drama of conspiracy, to the dangers which the brothers had incurred, to the pain and penalties of their exile, was now succeeding another sort of drama, of which she had never thought. This noble girl could not resort to the violent means of refusing to marry either of the twins; and she was too honest a woman to marry one and keep an irresistible passion for the other in her heart. To remain unmarried, to weary her cousins’ love by no decision, and then to take the one who was faithful to her in spite of her caprices, was a solution of the difficulty not so much sought for by her as vaguely admitted. As she fell asleep that night she told herself the wisest course to follow was to let things take their chance. Chance is, in love, the providence of women.

The next morning Michu went to Paris, whence he returned a few days later with four fine horses for his new masters. In six weeks’ time the hunting would begin, and the young countess sagely reflected that the violent excitements of that exercise would be a help against the tete-a-tetes of the chateau. At first, however, an unexpected result surprised the spectators of these strange loves and roused their admiration. Without any premeditated agreement the brothers rivalled each other in attentions to Laurence, with a sense of pleasure in so doing which appeared to suffice them. The relation between themselves and Laurence was just as fraternal as that between themselves. What could be more natural? After so long an absence they felt the necessity of studying her, of knowing her well and letting her know them, leaving to her the right of choice. They were sustained in this first trial by the mutual affection which made their double life one and the same life.

Love, like their own mother, was unable to distinguish between the brothers. Laurence was obliged (in order to know them apart and make no mistakes) to give them different cravats—to the elder a white one, to the younger black. Without this perfect resemblance, this identity of life, which misled all about them, such a situation would be justly thought impossible. It can, indeed, be explained only by the fact itself, which is one of those which men do not believe in unless they see them; and then the mind is more bewildered by having to explain them than by the actual sight which caused belief. If Laurence spoke, her voice echoed in two hearts equally faithful and loving with one tone. Did she give utterance to an intelligent, or witty, or noble thought, her glance encountered the delight expressed in two glances which followed her every movement, interpreted her slightest wish, and beamed upon her ever with a new expression, gaiety in the one, tender melancholy in the other. In any matter that concerned their mistress the brothers showed an admirable quick-wittedness of heart coupled with instant action which (to use the abbe’s own expression) approached the sublime. Often, if something had to be fetched, if it was a question of some little attention which men delight to pay to a beloved woman, the elder would leave that pleasure to the younger with a look at Laurence that was proud and tender. The younger, on the other hand, put all his own pride into paying such debts. This rivalry of noble natures in a feeling which leads men often to the jealous ferocity of the beasts amazed the old people who were watching it, and bewildered their ideas.

Such little details often drew tears to the eyes of the countess. A single sensation, which is perhaps all-powerful in some rare organizations, will give an idea of Laurence’s emotions; it may be perceived by recalling the perfect unison of two fine voices (like those of Malibran and Sontag) in some harmonious /duo/, or the blending of two instruments touched by the hand of genius, their melodious tones entering the soul like the passionate sighing of one heart. Sometimes, seeing the Marquis de Simeuse buried in an arm-chair and glancing from time to time with deepest melancholy at his brother and Laurence who were talking and laughing, the abbe believed him capable of making the great sacrifice; presently, however, the priest would see in the young man’s eyes the flash of an unconquerable passion. Whenever either of the brothers found himself alone with Laurence he might reasonably suppose himself the one preferred.

"I fancy then that there is but one of them," explained the countess to the abbe when he questioned her. That answer showed the priest her total want of coquetry. Laurence did not conceive that she was loved by two men.

"But, my dear child," said Madame d’Hauteserre one evening (her own son silently dying of love for Laurence), "you must choose!"

"Oh, let us be happy," she replied; "God will save us from ourselves."

Adrien d’Hauteserre buried within his breast the jealousy that was consuming him; he kept the secret of his torture, aware of how little he could hope. He tried to be content with the happiness of seeing the charming woman who during the few months this struggle lasted shone in all her brilliancy. In one sense Laurence had become coquettish, taking that dainty care of her person which women who are loved delight in. She followed the fashions, and went more than once to Paris to deck her beauty with /chiffons/ or some choice novelty. Desirous of giving her cousins a sense of home and its every enjoyment, from which they had so long been severed, she made her chateau, in spite of the remonstrances of her late guardian, the most completely comfortable house in Champagne.

Robert d’Hauteserre saw nothing of this hidden drama; he never noticed his brother’s love for Laurence. As to the girl herself, he liked to tease her about her coquetry,—for he confounded that odious defect with the natural desire to please; he was always mistaken in matters of feeling, taste, and the higher ethics. So, whenever this man of the middle-ages appeared on the scene, Laurence immediately made him, unknown to himself, the clown of the play; she amused her cousins by arguing with Robert, and leading him, step by step, into some bog of ignorance and stupidity. She excelled in such clever mischief, which, to be really successful, must leave the victim content with himself. And yet, though his nature was a coarse one, Robert never, during those delightful months (the only happy period in the lives of the three young people) said one virile word which might have brought matters to a crisis between Laurence and her cousins. He was struck with the sincerity of the brothers; he saw how the one could be glad at the happiness of the other and yet suffer anguish in the depths of his heart, and he did perceive how a woman might shrink from showing tenderness to one which would grieve the other. This perception on Robert’s part was a just one; it explains a situation which, in times of faith, when the sovereign pontiff had power to intervene and cut the Gordian knot of such phenomena (allied to the deepest and most impenetrable mysteries), would have found its solution. The Revolution had deepened the Catholic faith in these young hearts, and religion now rendered this crisis in their lives the more severe, because nobility of character is ever heightened by the grandeur of circumstances. A sense of this truth kept Monsieur and Madame d’Hauteserre and the abbe from the slightest fear of any unworthy result on the part of the brothers or of Laurence.

This private drama, secretly developing within the limits of the family life where each member watched it silently, ran its course so rapidly and withal so slowly, it carried with it so many unhoped-for pleasures, trifling jars, frustrated fancies, hopes reversed, anxious waitings, delayed explanations and mute avowals that the dwellers at Cinq-Cygne paid no attention to the public drama of the Emperor’s coronation. At times these passions made a truce and sought distraction in the violent enjoyment of hunting, when weariness of body took from the soul all occasions to wander in the dangerous meadows of reverie. Neither Laurence nor her cousins had a thought now for public affairs; each day brought its palpitating and absorbing interests for their hearts.

"Really," said Mademoiselle Goujet one evening, "I don’t know which of all the lovers loves the most."

Adrien, who happened to be alone in the salon with the four cardplayers, raised his eyes and turned pale. For the last few days his only hold on life had been the pleasure of seeing Laurence and of listening to her.

"I think," said the abbe, "that the countess, being a woman, loves with the greater abandonment to love."

Laurence, the twins, and Robert entered the room soon after. The newspapers had just arrived. England, seeing the failure of all conspiracies attempted within the borders of France, was now arming all Europe against their common enemy. The disaster at Trafalgar had overthrown one of the most amazing plans which human genius ever conceived; by which, if it had succeeded, the Emperor would have paid the nation for his election by the ruin of the British power. The camp at Boulogne had just been raised. Napoleon, whose solders were, as always, inferior in numbers to the enemy, was about to carry the war into parts of Europe where he had not before waged it. The whole world was breathless, awaiting the results of the campaign.

"He’ll surely be defeated this time," said Robert, laying down the paper.

"The armies of Austria and of Russia are before him," said Marie-Paul.

"He has never fought in Germany," added Paul-Marie.

"Of whom are you speaking?" asked Laurence.

"The Emperor," answered the three gentlemen.

The jealous girl threw a disdainful look at her twin lovers, which humiliated them while it rejoiced the heart of Adrien, who made a gesture of admiration and gave her one proud look, which said plainly that /he/ thought only of her,—of Laurence.

"I told you," said the abbe in a low voice, "that love would some day cause her to forget her animosity."

It was the first, last, and only reproach the brothers ever received from her; but certainly at that moment their love, which could still be distracted by national events, was inferior to that of Laurence, which, absorbed her mind so completely that she only knew of the amazing triumph at Austerlitz by overhearing a discussion between Monsieur d’Hauteserre and his sons.

Faithful to his ideas of submission, the old man wished both Robert and Adrien to re-enter the French army and apply for service; they could, he thought, be reinstated in their rank and soon find an opening to military honors. But royalist opinions were now allpowerful at Cinq-Cygne. The four young men and Laurence laughed at their prudent elder, who seemed to foresee a coming evil. Possibly, prudence is less virtue than the exercise of some instinct, or /sense/ of the mind (if it is allowable to couple those two words). A day will come, no doubt, when physiologists and philosophers will both admit that the senses are, in some way, the sheath or vehicle of a keen and penetrative active power which issues from the mind.


Related Resources

Honoré de Balzac

Download Options

Title: An Historical Mystery

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: An Historical Mystery

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Honore de Balzac, "Chapter X One and the Same, Yet a Two-Fold Love," An Historical Mystery, trans. Marriage, Ellen in An Historical Mystery Original Sources, accessed June 17, 2024,

MLA: de Balzac, Honore. "Chapter X One and the Same, Yet a Two-Fold Love." An Historical Mystery, translted by Marriage, Ellen, in An Historical Mystery, Original Sources. 17 Jun. 2024.

Harvard: de Balzac, H, 'Chapter X One and the Same, Yet a Two-Fold Love' in An Historical Mystery, trans. . cited in , An Historical Mystery. Original Sources, retrieved 17 June 2024, from