Black Lives Matter. We stand in solidarity with those affected by generations of structural violence. You can help »

The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues
APRIL 2020 Issue
Fiction

inSerial: part sixteen
The Mysteries of Paris

6. The Marquis d’Harville



“So you see, Murph,” said Baron de Graün as he finished reading the report, which he handed to the squire, “based on our information, we must turn to Jacques Ferrand to track down the parents of La Goualeuse, and it is Mlle Rigolette we must question concerning the current whereabouts of François Germain. That is already a large matter, I believe, knowing where to look—for what one is looking for.”

“No doubt, Baron. And I’m sure his Highness will find an abundant crop of observations in that residence. But there is more. Did you learn anything about that business with the Marquis d’Harville?”

“Yes, concerning the question of money at least, his Highness’s fears are unfounded. Badinot claims, and I believe him, that the marquis’s fortune has never been so well established or as wisely administered.”

“Having sought, unsuccessfully, to identify the cause of his deep sorrow, his Highness assumed he was in financial difficulties. He then came to his assistance, tactfully, of course. However, as his assumptions were wrong, he will unfortunately have to abandon his attempts to locate the key to this enigma – most regretfully, since he is very fond of d’Harville.”

“It’s quite simple. His Highness has never forgotten the debt his father owes to the marquis’s father. Are you aware, Murph, that in 1815, when the states of the German Confederation were being reorganized, his Highness’s father ran the risk of being eliminated because of his well-known attachment to Napoleon? At the time, the former Marquis d’Harville was of immense service to our Highness’s father, through his friendship with the Emperor Alexander, a friendship that dated from the marquis’s emigration to Russia, which had a profound influence on the deliberations of the congress just as the interests of the Germanic princes were being debated.”

“You see Baron how noble deeds often follow one another: in ’92 the marquis’s father was banished. In Germany he was given a most generous welcome by his Highness’s father. After living in our court for three years, he left for Russia, where he was given assistance by the czar. And with the help of that aid, he was able in turn to help the prince who had so graciously welcomed him in the past.”

“Wasn’t it in 1815, when the old marquis d’Harville was staying with the reigning grand duke, that his Highness’s friendship with the young Harville began?”

“Yes, both of them have retained pleasant memories of their youth together. But his Highness is so grateful to the memory of the man whose friendship was so useful to his father that everyone in the d’Harville family has benefitted from his Highness’s kindness. So you see, his Highness’s unceasing generosity to poor Mme Georges is as much due to her family ties as it is to her misfortunes and virtues.”

“Mme Georges! Duresnel’s wife? The Schoolmaster!” exclaimed the baron.

“Yes, the mother of the young François Germain we’ve been looking for.”

“She is related to Monsieur d’Harville?”

“She was the cousin of his mother and her close friend. The old marquis was a devoted friend of Mme Georges.”

“But how is it that the d’Harville family allowed her to marry that monster Duresnel?”

“The unfortunate woman’s father, Monsieur de Lagny, district administrator in Languedoc before the revolution, was in possession of a considerable fortune. He succeeded in avoiding banishment and during the calm that followed the terror, he began looking for a husband for his daughter. Duresnel showed up. The man came from an excellent family of parliamentarians and he was rich. He managed to conceal his perverted inclinations behind a hypocritical exterior and married Mademoiselle de Lagny. Although concealed for a time, the man’s vices soon revealed themselves: a drinker and inveterate gambler, given to the basest sort of depravity, he made his wife miserable. She didn’t complain, hid her sorrow, and after her father’s death withdrew to a property that she began to improve in order to distract herself. Soon her husband had squandered their wealth in gambling and debauchery. The property was sold. She then took her son and went to stay with her relative, the Marquise d’Harville, whom she loved like a sister. Duresnel, having run through his inheritance and his wife’s assets, found himself reduced to a state of necessity. He turned to crime for new resources, became a forger, a thief, a murderer, and was condemned to life imprisonment. He took the boy from his wife and entrusted him with a wretch of similar stamp. You know the rest.”

“But how did his Highness find Mme Duresnel?”

“When Duresnel was thrown in jail, his wife, reduced to extreme poverty, took the name of Georges.”

“But given her situation, why didn’t she turn to the Marquise d’Harville? The woman was her relative and her best friend?”

“The marquise died before Duresnel was found guilty, and since then, because of her overwhelming shame, Madame Georges did not dare appeal to her friend’s family, who would certainly have treated her with the consideration such misfortune deserves. However, on one occasion, having been compelled by poverty and sickness, she determined to beg the assistance of Monsieur d’Harville, her best friend’s son. That is how his highness met her.”

“How is that?”

“One day he went to see M. d’Harville. A few steps in front of him walked an indigent woman, poorly dressed, pale, suffering, dejected. Having reached the door of the d’Harville home, just as she was about to knock and after considerable hesitation, she turned suddenly and retraced her steps, as if her courage had abandoned her. Surprised, his highness followed the woman, struck by her air of gentleness and sorrow. She entered a lodging whose poverty was apparent. His Highness made inquiries about her: the reports were the most honorable. She worked in order to survive, but there was little employment at the time and her health was failing. She had been reduced to the most extreme deprivation. The following day I accompanied his highness to her home. Had we not arrived when we did, she would have died of hunger. After a lengthy illness, during which time she was given the finest care, Mme Georges, in her gratitude, told her life story to his Highness, whose name and rank she was ignorant of. She described for him her life, Duresnel’s imprisonment, and the kidnapping of her son.”

“Is that how his Highness learned that Mme Georges belonged to the d’Harville family?”

“Yes, and once it had been explained to him, his Highness, who took an ever greater interest in Mme George’s character, had her leave Paris and settled her on the farm at Bouqueval, where she now lives with Goualeuse. That peaceful retreat afforded her, if not happiness, at least tranquility, and she was able to distract herself from her sorrows by managing the leasehold. His highness did not inform M. d’Harville that he had delivered his relative from her dreadful situation as much out of consideration for Mme George’s tender susceptibility as to avoid publicizing his good works.”

“Now I understand his Highness’s interest in discovering the whereabouts of the poor woman’s son.”

“You also have a better idea, Baron, of his Highness’s affection for the entire family and his great sorrow at seeing the young marquis afflicted by such sadness when he had every reason to be happy.”

“Just what is it that d’Harville lacks? He has everything — birth, wealth, wit, youth, a charming wife.”

“What you say is true. His Highness decided to obtain the information we have been discussing only after vainly attempting to penetrate the cause of d’Harville’s profound melancholy. D’Harville was deeply moved by his Highness’s generosity but he has always remained reticent about the source of his sorrow. A matter of the heart, perhaps?”

“Yet he is said to be very much in love with his wife and she has given him no reason to be jealous. I see her often at social events. She is very popular -- as would be expected of such a charming young woman -- but her reputation is without blemish.”

“The marquis has nothing but praise for his wife. There was only that one small discussion about Countess Sarah MacGregor.”

“So she’s seen her?”

“Through a most unfortunate occurrence. Seventeen or eighteen years ago, the father of the Marquis d’Harville met Sarah Seyton of Halsbury and her brother Tom, during their stay in Paris, where they were sponsored by the English ambassador’s wife. When the old marquis learned that the brother and sister were going to Germany, he provided them with letters of introduction to his Highness’s father, with whom he corresponded on a regular basis. Were it not for that recommendation a number of unfortunate events might have been avoided, for his highness would never have met the woman. So, when Countess Sarah returned here, knowing his Highness’s friendship for the marquis, she sought an introduction at the d’Harville home, hoping to encounter his Highness; for she was as determined to pursue him as he was to escape her.”

“Dressing as a man and chasing his highness into La Cité, that would be something a woman of her stamp would do.”

“Perhaps it was her hope that in this way she might make an impression on his highness and force him into the meeting he has always refused and avoided. But to get back to Mme d’Harville—her husband, with whom his Highness had spoken about Sarah, advised his wife to see her as little as possible. But the young marquise, seduced by the countess’s hypocritical flattery, rebelled against M. d’Harville’s counsel. This led to certain minor disagreements, but certainly nothing that would account for the marquis’s despondency.”

“Ahh! Women! Women! My dear Murph, I greatly regret that Mme d’Harville became involved with this Sarah MacGregor. The young marquise can only be the loser in her dealings with such a diabolical creature.”

“Speaking of diabolical creatures, I have here a dispatch about Cecily, David’s unworthy spouse.”

“Between us, Murph, that brazen mulatto would have well deserved the punishment her husband inflicted on the Schoolmaster. She too has caused blood to flow, the woman is entirely corrupt.”

“But yet so beautiful, so seductive. A perverse soul with a graceful exterior, I find that doubly terrifying.”

“Then she is doubly worthy of our disdain. But I hope this dispatch cancels his Highness’s latest orders concerning the wretched creature.”

“On the contrary, Baron.”

“Does he still intend to help her escape from the fortress where she has been imprisoned for life?”

“Yes.”

“And will her so-called abductor bring her to France? To Paris?”

“Yes. But there’s more. This dispatch orders that we hasten Cecily’s escape and bring her here with all haste, so she might arrive within two weeks at the latest.”

“I don’t understand. His Highness has always shown the greatest aversion for her.”

“And it has grown stronger, if such a thing is possible.”

“And yet he insists that she be brought here. However, it will be easy, as his Highness believes, to obtain Cecily’s extradition should she fail to carry out his wishes. The son of the jailer in the fortress of Gerolstein has been ordered to abduct the woman by pretending to be in love with her. He has been given everything he needs to carry out this affair. She will be more than pleased with this opportunity to escape and will follow her assumed ravisher to Paris. But she will still remain a condemned woman and an escaped prisoner. And I am perfectly capable, whenever it please his Highness, of demanding, and obtaining, her extradition.”

“Only time will tell, my dear de Graün. I also ask, as his highness has requested, that you write to our chancellery to request, in writing, a legal copy of David’s marriage certificate, for he was married in the ducal palace, having been an officer in his highness’s residence.”

“If it goes out with today’s mail, we’ll have it in a week at the latest.”

“When David found out from his Highness that Cecily was coming here, he stood stock still, then shouted, ‘I hope your highness will not force me to see that monster?’ His Highness responded, ‘rest assured, you won’t see her, but I need her for my own purposes.’ David was relieved of an enormous weight. However, I’m sure that it brought back painful memories for him.”

“Poor man. He may still love her. She is a good-looking woman still.”

“Charming, excessively charming. It would require the pitiless eye of a Creole to detect any mixed blood in the barely perceptible bistre tint that lightly colors her pink fingernails. Not even our fresh northern beauties possess such a clear complexion or such ivory skin, or such chestnut hair.”

“I was in France when his Highness returned from America with David and Cecily. Since then, that excellent man has remained devoted to his Highness out of gratitude, but I never discovered how he came to be in our master’s service and how he married Cecily, who I saw for the first time about a year after their marriage. And God knows the scandal she had already caused!”

“I’d be happy to tell you, Baron. I was with his Highness during his voyage to America, where he saved David and the mulatto from a most terrible fate.”

“You are too kind, my dear Murph. Please proceed.”

This work received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States through their publishing assistance program.

Contributors

Eugène Sue

French author, Eugène Sue (1804 – 1857) was born near the city of Cannes in southern France and came from a distinguished family of doctors. Like his father, Sue also studied medicine. He began his career as a naval doctor but retired in 1829 to write.

In 1842 he began writing Les Mystères de Paris, a novel in parts published serially in Le Journal des Débats. It was the first time in a novel that readers had been exposed to the social agitation and mixing of classes experienced in the bars and cabarets of Paris’s dense core on Ile de la Cité.

His complete works, depending on the edition, run to 78 volumes.

Robert Bononno

ROBERT BONONNO is credited with the translation of over two dozen full-length works of fiction and nonfiction and numerous shorter pieces. These include René Crevel’s My Body and I—a finalist for the 2005 French-American Foundation Prize—Hervé Guibert’s Ghost Image, and Henri Raczymo’s Swan’s Way. In 2002 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to complete a translation of the non-fiction work of Isabelle Eberhardt and in 2010 he received an NEA grant for the retranslation of Eugène Sue’s classic crime novel, The Mysteries of Paris. Mr. Bononno’s latest translation, Pascal Kramer’s Autopsy of a Father, was recently published by Bellevue Literary Press.

close

The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues