It seemed unlikely that Mademoiselle Grandet would marry during the period of her mourning. Her genuine piety was well known. Consequently the Cruchots, whose policy was sagely guided by the old abbe, contented themselves for the time being with surrounding the great heiress and paying her the most affectionate attentions. Every evening the hall was filled with a party of devoted Cruchotines, who sang the praises of its mistress in every key. She had her doctor in ordinary, her grand almoner, her chamberlain, her first lady of honor, her prime minister; above all, her chancellor, a chancellor who would fain have said much to her. If the heiress had wished for a train-bearer, one would instantly have been found. She was a queen, obsequiously flattered. Flattery never emanates from noble souls; it is the gift of little minds, who thus still further belittle themselves to worm their way into the vital being of the persons around whom they crawl.
Flattery means self-interest. So the people who, night after night, assembled in Mademoiselle Grandet's house (they called her Mademoiselle de Froidfond) outdid each other in expressions of admiration. This concert of praise, never before bestowed upon Eugenie, made her blush under its novelty; but insensibly her ear became habituated to the sound, and however coarse the compliments might be, she soon was so accustomed to hear her beauty lauded that if any new-comer had seemed to think her plain, she would have felt the reproach far more than she might have done eight years earlier. She ended at last by loving the incense, which she secretly laid at the feet of her idol. By degrees she grew accustomed to be treated as a sovereign and to see her court pressing around her every evening.
Monsieur de Bonfons was the hero of the little circle, where his wit, his person, his education, his amiability, were perpetually praised.
One or another would remark that in seven years he had largely increased his fortune, that Bonfons brought in at least ten thousand francs a year, and was surrounded, like the other possessions of the Cruchots, by the vast domains of the heiress.
"Do you know, mademoiselle," said an habitual visitor, "that the Cruchots have an income of forty thousand francs among them!""And then, their savings!" exclaimed an elderly female Cruchotine, Mademoiselle de Gribeaucourt.
"A gentleman from Paris has lately offered Monsieur Cruchot two hundred thousand francs for his practice," said another. "He will sell it if he is appointed /juge de paix/.""He wants to succeed Monsieur de Bonfons as president of the Civil courts, and is taking measures," replied Madame d'Orsonval. "Monsieur le president will certainly be made councillor.""Yes, he is a very distinguished man," said another,--"don't you think so, mademoiselle?"Monsieur de Bonfons endeavored to put himself in keeping with the role he sought to play. In spite of his forty years, in spite of his dusky and crabbed features, withered like most judicial faces, he dressed in youthful fashions, toyed with a bamboo cane, never took snuff in Mademoiselle de Froidfond's house, and came in a white cravat and a shirt whose pleated frill gave him a family resemblance to the race of turkeys. He addressed the beautiful heiress familiarly, and spoke of her as "Our dear Eugenie." In short, except for the number of visitors, the change from loto to whist, and the disappearance of Monsieur and Madame Grandet, the scene was about the same as the one with which this history opened. The pack were still pursuing Eugenie and her millions; but the hounds, more in number, lay better on the scent, and beset the prey more unitedly. If Charles could have dropped from the Indian Isles, he would have found the same people and the same interests. Madame des Grassins, to whom Eugenie was full of kindness and courtesy, still persisted in tormenting the Cruchots.
Eugenie, as in former days, was the central figure of the picture; and Charles, as heretofore, would still have been the sovereign of all.
Yet there had been some progress. The flowers which the president formerly presented to Eugenie on her birthdays and fete-days had now become a daily institution. Every evening he brought the rich heiress a huge and magnificent bouquet, which Madame Cornoiller placed conspicuously in a vase, and secretly threw into a corner of the court-yard when the visitors had departed.
Early in the spring, Madame des Grassins attempted to trouble the peace of the Cruchotines by talking to Eugenie of the Marquis de Froidfond, whose ancient and ruined family might be restored if the heiress would give him back his estates through marriage. Madame des Grassins rang the changes on the peerage and the title of marquise, until, mistaking Eugenie's disdainful smile for acquiescence, she went about proclaiming that the marriage with "Monsieur Cruchot" was not nearly as certain as people thought.
"Though Monsieur de Froidfond is fifty," she said, "he does not look older than Monsieur Cruchot. He is a widower, and he has children, that's true. But then he is a marquis; he will be peer of France; and in times like these where you will find a better match? I know it for a fact that Pere Grandet, when he put all his money into Froidfond, intended to graft himself upon that stock; he often told me so. He was a deep one, that old man!""Ah! Nanon," said Eugenie, one night as she was going to bed, "how is it that in seven years he has never once written to me?"