A Woman of Thirty
Honore de Balzac
Part 1 out of 4
Etext prepared by Dagny, email@example.com
and John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Woman of Thirty
by Honore de Balzac
Translated by Ellen Marriage
To Louis Boulanger, Painter.
A WOMAN OF THIRTY
It was a Sunday morning in the beginning of April 1813, a morning
which gave promise of one of those bright days when Parisians, for the
first time in the year, behold dry pavements underfoot and a cloudless
sky overhead. It was not yet noon when a luxurious cabriolet, drawn by
two spirited horses, turned out of the Rue de Castiglione into the Rue
de Rivoli, and drew up behind a row of carriages standing before the
newly opened barrier half-way down the Terrasse de Feuillants. The
owner of the carriage looked anxious and out of health; the thin hair
on his sallow temples, turning gray already, gave a look of premature
age to his face. He flung the reins to a servant who followed on
horseback, and alighted to take in his arms a young girl whose dainty
beauty had already attracted the eyes of loungers on the Terrasse. The
little lady, standing upon the carriage step, graciously submitted to
be taken by the waist, putting an arm round the neck of her guide, who
set her down upon the pavement without so much as ruffling the
trimming of her green rep dress. No lover would have been so careful.
The stranger could only be the father of the young girl, who took his
arm familiarly without a word of thanks, and hurried him into the
Garden of the Tuileries.
The old father noted the wondering stare which some of the young men
gave the couple, and the sad expression left his face for a moment.
Although he had long since reached the time of life when a man is fain
to be content with such illusory delights as vanity bestows, he began
"They think you are my wife," he said in the young lady's ear, and he
held himself erect and walked with slow steps, which filled his
daughter with despair.
He seemed to take up the coquette's part for her; perhaps of the two,
he was the more gratified by the curious glances directed at those
little feet, shod with plum-colored prunella; at the dainty figure
outlined by a low-cut bodice, filled in with an embroidered
chemisette, which only partially concealed the girlish throat. Her
dress was lifted by her movements as she walked, giving glimpses
higher than the shoes of delicately moulded outlines beneath open-work
silk stockings. More than one of the idlers turned and passed the pair
again, to admire or to catch a second glimpse of the young face, about
which the brown tresses played; there was a glow in its white and red,
partly reflected from the rose-colored satin lining of her fashionable
bonnet, partly due to the eagerness and impatience which sparkled in
every feature. A mischievous sweetness lighted up the beautiful,
almond-shaped dark eyes, bathed in liquid brightness, shaded by the
long lashes and curving arch of eyebrow. Life and youth displayed
their treasures in the petulant face and in the gracious outlines of
the bust unspoiled even by the fashion of the day, which brought the
girdle under the breast.
The young lady herself appeared to be insensible to admiration. Her
eyes were fixed in a sort of anxiety on the Palace of the Tuileries,
the goal, doubtless, of her petulant promenade. It wanted but fifteen
minutes of noon, yet even at that early hour several women in gala
dress were coming away from the Tuileries, not without backward
glances at the gates and pouting looks of discontent, as if they
regretted the lateness of the arrival which had cheated them of a
longed-for spectacle. Chance carried a few words let fall by one of
these disappointed fair ones to the ears of the charming stranger, and
put her in a more than common uneasiness. The elderly man watched the
signs of impatience and apprehension which flitted across his
companion's pretty face with interest, rather than amusement, in his
eyes, observing her with a close and careful attention, which perhaps
could only be prompted by some after-thought in the depths of a
It was the thirteenth Sunday of the year 1813. In two days' time
Napoleon was to set out upon the disastrous campaign in which he was
to lose first Bessieres, and then Duroc; he was to win the memorable
battles of Lutzen and Bautzen, to see himself treacherously deserted
by Austria, Saxony, Bavaria, and Bernadotte, and to dispute the
dreadful field of Leipsic. The magnificent review commanded for that
day by the Emperor was to be the last of so many which had long drawn
forth the admiration of Paris and of foreign visitors. For the last
time the Old Guard would execute their scientific military manoeuvres
with the pomp and precision which sometimes amazed the Giant himself.
Napoleon was nearly ready for his duel with Europe. It was a sad
sentiment which brought a brilliant and curious throng to the
Tuileries. Each mind seemed to foresee the future, perhaps too in
every mind another thought was dimly present, how that in the future,
when the heroic age of France should have taken the half-fabulous
color with which it is tinged for us to-day, men's imaginations would
more than once seek to retrace the picture of the pageant which they
were assembled to behold.
"Do let us go more quickly, father; I can hear the drums," the young
girl said, and in a half-teasing, half-coaxing manner she urged her
"The troops are marching into the Tuileries," said he.
"Or marching out of it--everybody is coming away," she answered in
childish vexation, which drew a smile from her father.
"The review only begins at half-past twelve," he said; he had fallen
half behind his impetuous daughter.
It might have been supposed that she meant to hasten their progress by
a movement of her right arm, for it swung like an oar blade through
the water. In her impatience she had crushed her handkerchief into a
ball in her tiny, well-gloved fingers. Now and then the old man
smiled, but the smiles were succeeded by an anxious look which crossed
his withered face and saddened it. In his love for the fair young girl
by his side, he was as fain to exalt the present moment as to dread
the future. "She is happy to-day; will her happiness last?" he seemed
to ask himself, for the old are somewhat prone to foresee their own
sorrows in the future of the young.
Father and daughter reached the peristyle under the tower where the
tricolor flag was still waving; but as they passed under the arch by
which people came and went between the Gardens of the Tuileries and
the Place du Carrousel, the sentries on guard called out sternly:
"No admittance this way."
By standing on tiptoe the young girl contrived to catch a glimpse of a
crowd of well-dressed women, thronging either side of the old marble
arcade along which the Emperor was to pass.
"We were too late in starting, father; you can see that quite well." A
little piteous pout revealed the immense importance which she attached
to the sight of this particular review.
"Very well, Julie--let us go away. You dislike a crush."
"Do let us stay, father. Even here I may catch a glimpse of the
Emperor; he might die during this campaign, and then I should never
have seen him."
Her father shuddered at the selfish speech. There were tears in the
girl's voice; he looked at her, and thought that he saw tears beneath
her lowered eyelids; tears caused not so much by the disappointment as
by one of the troubles of early youth, a secret easily guessed by an
old father. Suddenly Julie's face flushed, and she uttered an
exclamation. Neither her father nor the sentinels understood the
meaning of the cry; but an officer within the barrier, who sprang
across the court towards the staircase, heard it, and turned abruptly
at the sound. He went to the arcade by the Gardens of the Tuileries,
and recognized the young lady who had been hidden for a moment by the
tall bearskin caps of the grenadiers. He set aside in favor of the
pair the order which he himself had given. Then, taking no heed of the
murmurings of the fashionable crowd seated under the arcade, he gently
drew the enraptured child towards him.
"I am no longer surprised at her vexation and enthusiasm, if /you/ are
in waiting," the old man said with a half-mocking, half-serious glance
at the officer.
"If you want a good position, M. le Duc," the young man answered, "we
must not spend any time in talking. The Emperor does not like to be
kept waiting, and the Grand Marshal has sent me to announce our
As he spoke, he had taken Julie's arm with a certain air of old
acquaintance, and drew her rapidly in the direction of the Place du
Carrousel. Julie was astonished at the sight. An immense crowd was
penned up in a narrow space, shut in between the gray walls of the
palace and the limits marked out by chains round the great sanded
squares in the midst of the courtyard of the Tuileries. The cordon of
sentries posted to keep a clear passage for the Emperor and his staff
had great difficulty in keeping back the eager humming swarm of human
"Is it going to be a very fine sight?" Julie asked (she was radiant
"Pray take care!" cried her guide, and seizing Julie by the waist, he
lifted her up with as much vigor as rapidity and set her down beside a
But for his prompt action, his gazing kinswoman would have come into
collision with the hindquarters of a white horse which Napoleon's
Mameluke held by the bridle; the animal in its trappings of green
velvet and gold stood almost under the arcade, some ten paces behind
the rest of the horses in readiness for the Emperor's staff.
The young officer placed the father and daughter in front of the crowd
in the first space to the right, and recommended them by a sign to the
two veteran grenadiers on either side. Then he went on his way into
the palace; a look of great joy and happiness had succeeded to his
horror-struck expression when the horse backed. Julie had given his
hand a mysterious pressure; had she meant to thank him for the little
service he had done her, or did she tell him, "After all, I shall
really see you?" She bent her head quite graciously in response to the
respectful bow by which the officer took leave of them before he
The old man stood a little behind his daughter. He looked grave. He
seemed to have left the two young people together for some purpose of
his own, and now he furtively watched the girl, trying to lull her
into false security by appearing to give his whole attention to the
magnificent sight in the Place du Carrousel. When Julie's eyes turned
to her father with the expression of a schoolboy before his master, he
answered her glance by a gay, kindly smile, but his own keen eyes had
followed the officer under the arcade, and nothing of all that passed
was lost upon him.
"What a grand sight!" said Julie in a low voice, as she pressed her
father's hand; and indeed the pomp and picturesquesness of the
spectacle in the Place du Carrousel drew the same exclamation from
thousands upon thousands of spectators, all agape with wonder. Another
array of sightseers, as tightly packed as the ranks behind the old
noble and his daughter, filled the narrow strip of pavement by the
railings which crossed the Place du Carrousel from side to side in a
line parallel with the Palace of the Tuileries. The dense living mass,
variegated by the colors of the women's dresses, traced out a bold
line across the centre of the Place du Carrousel, filling in the
fourth side of a vast parallelogram, surrounded on three sides by the
Palace of the Tuileries itself. Within the precincts thus railed off
stood the regiments of the Old Guard about to be passed in review,
drawn up opposite the Palace in imposing blue columns, ten ranks in
depth. Without and beyond in the Place du Carrousel stood several
regiments likewise drawn up in parallel lines, ready to march in
through the arch in the centre; the Triumphal Arch, where the bronze
horses of St. Mark from Venice used to stand in those days. At either
end, by the Galeries du Louvre, the regimental bands were stationed,
masked by the Polish Lancers then on duty.
The greater part of the vast graveled space was empty as an arena,
ready for the evolutions of those silent masses disposed with the
symmetry of military art. The sunlight blazed back from ten thousand
bayonets in thin points of flame; the breeze ruffled the men's helmet
plumes till they swayed like the crests of forest-trees before a gale.
The mute glittering ranks of veterans were full of bright contrasting
colors, thanks to their different uniforms, weapons, accoutrements,
and aiguillettes; and the whole great picture, that miniature
battlefield before the combat, was framed by the majestic towering
walls of the Tuileries, which officers and men seemed to rival in
their immobility. Involuntarily the spectator made the comparison
between the walls of men and the walls of stone. The spring sunlight,
flooding white masonry reared but yesterday and buildings centuries
old, shone full likewise upon thousands of bronzed faces, each one
with its own tale of perils passed, each one gravely expectant of
perils to come.
The colonels of the regiments came and went alone before the ranks of
heroes; and behind the masses of troops, checkered with blue and
silver and gold and purple, the curious could discern the tricolor
pennons on the lances of some half-a-dozen indefatigable Polish
cavalry, rushing about like shepherds' dogs in charge of a flock,
caracoling up and down between the troops and the crowd, to keep the
gazers within their proper bounds. But for this slight flutter of
movement, the whole scene might have been taking place in the
courtyard of the palace of the Sleeping Beauty. The very spring
breeze, ruffling up the long fur on the grenadiers' bearskins, bore
witness to the men's immobility, as the smothered murmur of the crowd
emphasized their silence. Now and again the jingling of Chinese bells,
or a chance blow to a big drum, woke the reverberating echoes of the
Imperial Palace with a sound like the far-off rumblings of thunder.
An indescribable, unmistakable enthusiasm was manifest in the
expectancy of the multitude. France was about to take farewell of
Napoleon on the eve of a campaign of which the meanest citizen foresaw
the perils. The existence of the French Empire was at stake--to be, or
not to be. The whole citizen population seemed to be as much inspired
with this thought as that other armed population standing in serried
and silent ranks in the enclosed space, with the Eagles and the genius
of Napoleon hovering above them.
Those very soldiers were the hope of France, her last drop of blood;
and this accounted for not a little of the anxious interest of the
scene. Most of the gazers in the crowd had bidden farewell--perhaps
farewell for ever--to the men who made up the rank and file of the
battalions; and even those most hostile to the Emperor, in their
hearts, put up fervent prayers to heaven for the glory of France; and
those most weary of the struggle with the rest of Europe had left
their hatreds behind as they passed in under the Triumphal Arch. They
too felt that in the hour of danger Napoleon meant France herself.
The clock of the Tuileries struck the half-hour. In a moment the hum
of the crowd ceased. The silence was so deep that you might have heard
a child speak. The old noble and his daughter, wholly intent, seeming
to live only by their eyes, caught a distinct sound of spurs and clank
of swords echoing up under the sonorous peristyle.
And suddenly there appeared a short, somewhat stout figure in a green
uniform, white trousers, and riding boots; a man wearing on his head a
cocked hat well-nigh as magically potent as its wearer; the broad red
ribbon of the Legion of Honor rose and fell on his breast, and a short
sword hung at his side. At one and the same moment the man was seen by
all eyes in all parts of the square.
Immediately the drums beat a salute, both bands struck up a martial
refrain, caught and repeated like a fugue by every instrument from the
thinnest flutes to the largest drum. The clangor of that call to arms
thrilled through every soul. The colors dropped, and the men presented
arms, one unanimous rhythmical movement shaking every bayonet from the
foremost front near the Palace to the last rank in the Place du
Carrousel. The words of command sped from line to line like echoes.
The whole enthusiastic multitude sent up a shout of "Long live the
Everything shook, quivered, and thrilled at last. Napoleon had mounted
his horse. It was his movement that had put life into those silent
masses of men; the dumb instruments had found a voice at his coming,
the Eagles and the colors had obeyed the same impulse which had
brought emotion into all faces.
The very walls of the high galleries of the old palace seemed to cry
aloud, "Long live the Emperor!"
There was something preternatural about it--it was magic at work, a
counterfeit presentment of the power of God; or rather it was a
fugitive image of a reign itself so fugitive.
And /he/ the centre of such love, such enthusiasm and devotion, and so
many prayers, he for whom the sun had driven the clouds from the sky,
was sitting there on his horse, three paces in front of his Golden
Squadron, with the grand Marshal on his left, and the Marshal-in-
waiting on his right. Amid all the outburst of enthusiasm at his
presence not a feature of his face appeared to alter.
"Oh! yes. At Wagram, in the thick of the firing, on the field of
Borodino, among the dead, always as cool as a cucumber /he/ is!" said
the grenadier, in answer to the questions with which the young girl
plied him. For a moment Julie was absorbed in the contemplation of
that face, so quiet in the security of conscious power. The Emperor
noticed Mlle. de Chatillonest, and leaned to make some brief remark to
Duroc, which drew a smile from the Grand Marshal. Then the review
If hitherto the young lady's attention had been divided between
Napoleon's impassive face and the blue, red, and green ranks of
troops, from this time forth she was wholly intent upon a young
officer moving among the lines as they performed their swift
symmetrical evolutions. She watched him gallop with tireless activity
to and from the group where the plainly dressed Napoleon shone
conspicuous. The officer rode a splendid black horse. His handsome
sky-blue uniform marked him out amid the variegated multitude as one
of the Emperor's orderly staff-officers. His gold lace glittered in
the sunshine which lighted up the aigrette on his tall, narrow shako,
so that the gazer might have compared him to a will-o'-the-wisp, or to
a visible spirit emanating from the Emperor to infuse movement into
those battalions whose swaying bayonets flashed into flames; for, at a
mere glance from his eyes, they broke and gathered again, surging to
and fro like the waves in a bay, or again swept before him like the
long ridges of high-crested wave which the vexed Ocean directs against
When the manoeuvres were over the officer galloped back at full speed,
pulled up his horse, and awaited orders. He was not ten paces from
Julie as he stood before the Emperor, much as General Rapp stands in
Gerard's /Battle of Austerlitz/. The young girl could behold her lover
in all his soldierly splendor.
Colonel Victor d'Aiglemont, barely thirty years of age, was tall,
slender, and well made. His well-proportioned figure never showed to
better advantage than now as he exerted his strength to hold in the
restive animal, whose back seemed to curve gracefully to the rider's
weight. His brown masculine face possessed the indefinable charm of
perfectly regular features combined with youth. The fiery eyes under
the broad forehead, shaded by thick eyebrows and long lashes, looked
like white ovals bordered by an outline of black. His nose had the
delicate curve of an eagle's beak; the sinuous lines of the inevitable
black moustache enhanced the crimson of the lips. The brown and tawny
shades which overspread the wide high-colored cheeks told a tale of
unusual vigor, and his whole face bore the impress of dashing courage.
He was the very model which French artists seek to-day for the typical
hero of Imperial France. The horse which he rode was covered with
sweat, the animal's quivering head denoted the last degree of
restiveness; his hind hoofs were set down wide apart and exactly in a
line, he shook his long thick tail to the wind; in his fidelity to his
master he seemed to be a visible presentment of that master's devotion
to the Emperor.
Julie saw her lover watching intently for the Emperor's glances, and
felt a momentary pang of jealousy, for as yet he had not given her a
look. Suddenly at a word from his sovereign Victor gripped his horse's
flanks and set out at a gallop, but the animal took fright at a shadow
cast by a post, shied, backed, and reared up so suddenly that his
rider was all but thrown off. Julie cried out, her face grew white,
people looked at her curiously, but she saw no one, her eyes were
fixed upon the too mettlesome beast. The officer gave the horse a
sharp admonitory cut with the whip, and galloped off with Napoleon's
Julie was so absorbed, so dizzy with sights and sounds, that
unconsciously she clung to her father's arm so tightly that he could
read her thoughts by the varying pressure of her fingers. When Victor
was all but flung out of the saddle, she clutched her father with a
convulsive grip as if she herself were in danger of falling, and the
old man looked at his daughter's tell-tale face with dark and painful
anxiety. Pity, jealousy, something even of regret stole across every
drawn and wrinkled line of mouth and brow. When he saw the unwonted
light in Julie's eyes, when that cry broke from her, when the
convulsive grasp of her fingers drew away the veil and put him in
possession of her secret, then with that revelation of her love there
came surely some swift revelation of the future. Mournful forebodings
could be read in his own face.
Julie's soul seemed at that moment to have passed into the officer's
being. A torturing thought more cruel than any previous dread
contracted the old man's painworn features, as he saw the glance of
understanding that passed between the soldier and Julie. The girl's
eyes were wet, her cheeks glowed with unwonted color. Her father
turned abruptly and led her away into the Garden of the Tuileries.
"Why, father," she cried, "there are still the regiments in the Place
du Carrousel to be passed in review."
"No, child, all the troops are marching out."
"I think you are mistaken, father; M. d'Aiglemont surely told them to
"But I feel ill, my child, and I do not care to stay."
Julie could readily believe the words when she glanced at his face; he
looked quite worn out by his fatherly anxieties.
"Are you feeling very ill?" she asked indifferently, her mind was so
full of other thoughts.
"Every day is a reprieve for me, is it not?" returned her father.
"Now do you mean to make me miserable again by talking about your
death? I was in such spirits! Do pray get rid of those horrid gloomy
ideas of yours."
The father heaved a sigh. "Ah! spoiled child," he cried, "the best
hearts are sometimes very cruel. We devote our whole lives to you, you
are our one thought, we plan for your welfare, sacrifice our tastes to
your whims, idolize you, give the very blood in our veins for you, and
all this is nothing, is it? Alas! yes, you take it all as a matter of
course. If we would always have your smiles and your disdainful love,
we should need the power of God in heaven. Then comes another, a
lover, a husband, and steals away your heart."
Julie looked in amazement at her father; he walked slowly along, and
there was no light in the eyes which he turned upon her.
"You hide yourself even from us," he continued, "but, perhaps, also
you hide yourself from yourself--"
"What do you mean by that, father?"
"I think that you have secrets from me, Julie.--You love," he went on
quickly, as he saw the color rise to her face. "Oh! I hoped that you
would stay with your old father until he died. I hoped to keep you
with me, still radiant and happy, to admire you as you were but so
lately. So long as I knew nothing of your future I could believe in a
happy lot for you; but now I cannot possibly take away with me a hope
of happiness for your life, for you love the colonel even more than
the cousin. I can no longer doubt it."
"And why should I be forbidden to love him?" asked Julie, with lively
curiosity in her face.
"Ah, my Julie, you would not understand me," sighed the father.
"Tell me, all the same," said Julie, with an involuntary petulant
"Very well, child, listen to me. Girls are apt to imagine noble and
enchanting and totally imaginary figures in their own minds; they have
fanciful extravagant ideas about men, and sentiment, and life; and
then they innocently endow somebody or other with all the perfections
of their day-dreams, and put their trust in him. They fall in love
with this imaginary creature in the man of their choice; and then,
when it is too late to escape from their fate, behold their first
idol, the illusion made fair with their fancies, turns to an odious
skeleton. Julie, I would rather have you fall in love with an old man
than with the Colonel. Ah! if you could but see things from the
standpoint of ten years hence, you would admit that my old experience
was right. I know what Victor is, that gaiety of his is simply animal
spirits--the gaiety of the barracks. He has no ability, and he is a
spendthrift. He is one of those men whom Heaven created to eat and
digest four meals a day, to sleep, to fall in love with the first
woman that comes to hand, and to fight. He does not understand life.
His kind heart, for he has a kind heart, will perhaps lead him to give
his purse to a sufferer or to a comrade; /but/ he is careless, he has
not the delicacy of heart which makes us slaves to a woman's
happiness, he is ignorant, he is selfish. There are plenty of
"But, father, he must surely be clever, he must have ability, or he
would not be a colonel--"
"My dear, Victor will be a colonel all his life.--I have seen no one
who appears to me to be worthy of you," the old father added, with a
kind of enthusiasm.
He paused an instant, looked at his daughter, and added, "Why, my poor
Julie, you are still too young, too fragile, too delicate for the
cares and rubs of married life. D'Aiglemont's relations have spoiled
him, just as your mother and I have spoiled you. What hope is there
that you two could agree, with two imperious wills diametrically
opposed to each other? You will be either the tyrant or the victim,
and either alternative means, for a wife, an equal sum of misfortune.
But you are modest and sweet-natured, you would yield from the first.
In short," he added, in a quivering voice, "there is a grace of
feeling in you which would never be valued, and then----" he broke
off, for the tears overcame him.
"Victor will give you pain through all the girlish qualities of your
young nature," he went on, after a pause. "I know what soldiers are,
my Julie; I have been in the army. In a man of that kind, love very
seldom gets the better of old habits, due partly to the miseries amid
which soldiers live, partly to the risks they run in a life of
"Then you mean to cross my inclinations, do you, father?" asked Julie,
half in earnest, half in jest. "Am I to marry to please you and not to
"To please me!" cried her father, with a start of surprise. "To please
/me/, child? when you will not hear the voice that upbraids you so
tenderly very much longer! But I have always heard children impute
personal motives for the sacrifices that their parents make for them.
Marry Victor, my Julie! Some day you will bitterly deplore his
ineptitude, his thriftless ways, his selfishness, his lack of
delicacy, his inability to understand love, and countless troubles
arising through him. Then, remember, that here under these trees your
old father's prophetic voice sounded in your ears in vain."
He said no more; he had detected a rebellious shake of the head on his
daughter's part. Both made several paces towards the carriage which
was waiting for them at the grating. During that interval of silence,
the young girl stole a glance at her father's face, and little by
little her sullen brow cleared. The intense pain visible on his bowed
forehead made a lively impression upon her.
"Father," she began in gentle tremulous tones, "I promise to say no
more about Victor until you have overcome your prejudices against
The old man looked at her in amazement. Two tears which filled his
eyes overflowed down his withered cheeks. He could not take Julie in
his arms in that crowded place; but he pressed her hand tenderly. A
few minutes later when they had taken their places in the cabriolet,
all the anxious thought which had gathered about his brow had
completely disappeared. Julie's pensive attitude gave him far less
concern than the innocent joy which had betrayed her secret during the
Nearly a year had passed since the Emperor's last review. In early
March 1814 a caleche was rolling along the highroad from Amboise to
Tours. As the carriage came out from beneath the green-roofed aisle of
walnut trees by the post-house of la Frilliere, the horses dashed
forward with such speed that in a moment they gained the bridge built
across the Cise at the point of its confluence with the Loire. There,
however, they come to a sudden stand. One of the traces had given way
in consequence of the furious pace at which the post-boy, obedient to
his orders, had urged on four horses, the most vigorous of their
breed. Chance, therefore, gave the two recently awakened occupants of
the carriage an opportunity of seeing one of the most lovely
landscapes along the enchanting banks of the Loire, and that at their
At a glance the travelers could see to the right the whole winding
course of the Cise meandering like a silver snake among the meadows,
where the grass had taken the deep, bright green of early spring. To
the left lay the Loire in all its glory. A chill morning breeze,
ruffling the surface of the stately river, had fretted the broad
sheets of water far and wide into a network of ripples, which caught
the gleams of the sun, so that the green islets here and there in its
course shone like gems set in a gold necklace. On the opposite bank
the fair rich meadows of Touraine stretched away as far as the eye
could see; the low hills of the Cher, the only limits to the view, lay
on the far horizon, a luminous line against the clear blue sky. Tours
itself, framed by the trees on the islands in a setting of spring
leaves, seemed to rise like Venice out of the waters, and her old
cathedral towers soaring in air were blended with the pale fantastic
cloud shapes in the sky.
Over the side of the bridge, where the carriage had come to a stand,
the traveler looks along a line of cliffs stretching as far as Tours.
Nature in some freakish mood must have raised these barriers of rock,
undermined incessantly by the rippling Loire at their feet, for a
perpetual wonder for spectators. The village of Vouvray nestles, as it
were, among the clefts and crannies of the crags, which begin to
describe a bend at the junction of the Loire and Cise. A whole
population of vine-dressers lives, in fact, in appalling insecurity in
holes in their jagged sides for the whole way between Vouvray and
Tours. In some places there are three tiers of dwellings hollowed out,
one above the other, in the rock, each row communicating with the next
by dizzy staircases cut likewise in the face of the cliff. A little
girl in a short red petticoat runs out into her garden on the roof of
another dwelling; you can watch a wreath of hearth-smoke curling up
among the shoots and trails of the vines. Men are at work in their
almost perpendicular patches of ground, an old woman sits tranquilly
spinning under a blossoming almond tree on a crumbling mass of rock,
and smiles down on the dismay of the travelers far below her feet. The
cracks in the ground trouble her as little as the precarious state of
the old wall, a pendant mass of loose stones, only kept in position by
the crooked stems of its ivy mantle. The sound of coopers' mallets
rings through the skyey caves; for here, where Nature stints human
industry of soil, the soil is everywhere tilled, and everywhere
No view along the whole course of the Loire can compare with the rich
landscape of Touraine, here outspread beneath the traveler's eyes. The
triple picture, thus barely sketched in outline, is one of those
scenes which the imagination engraves for ever upon the memory; let a
poet fall under its charm, and he shall be haunted by visions which
shall reproduce its romantic loveliness out of the vague substance of
As the carriage stopped on the bridge over the Cise, white sails came
out here and there from among the islands in the Loire to add new
grace to the perfect view. The subtle scent of the willows by the
water's edge was mingled with the damp odor of the breeze from the
river. The monotonous chant of a goat-herd added a plaintive note to
the sound of birds' songs in a chorus which never ends; the cries of
the boatmen brought tidings of distant busy life. Here was Touraine in
all its glory, and the very height of the splendor of spring. Here was
the one peaceful district in France in those troublous days; for it
was so unlikely that a foreign army should trouble its quiet that
Touraine might be said to defy invasion.
As soon as the caleche stopped, a head covered with a foraging cap was
put out of the window, and soon afterwards an impatient military man
flung open the carriage door and sprang down into the road to pick a
quarrel with the postilion, but the skill with which the Tourangeau
was repairing the trace restored Colonel d'Aiglemont's equanimity. He
went back to the carriage, stretched himself to relieve his benumbed
muscles, yawned, looked about him, and finally laid a hand on the arm
of a young woman warmly wrapped up in a furred pelisse.
"Come, Julie," he said hoarsely, "just wake up and take a look at this
country. It is magnificent."
Julie put her head out of the window. She wore a traveling cap of
sable fur. Nothing could be seen of her but her face, for the whole of
her person was completely concealed by the folds of her fur pelisse.
The young girl who tripped to the review at the Tuileries with light
footsteps and joy and gladness in her heart was scarcely recognizable
in Julie d'Aiglemont. Her face, delicate as ever, had lost the rose-
color which once gave it so rich a glow. A few straggling locks of
black hair, straightened out by the damp night air, enhanced its dead
whiteness, and all its life and sparkle seemed to be torpid. Yet her
eyes glittered with preternatural brightness in spite of the violet
shadows under the lashes upon her wan cheeks.
She looked out with indifferent eyes over the fields towards the Cher,
at the islands in the river, at the line of the crags of Vouvray
stretching along the Loire towards Tours; then she sank back as soon
as possible into her seat in the caleche. She did not care to give a
glance to the enchanting valley of the Cise.
"Yes, it is wonderful," she said, and out in the open air her voice
sounded weak and faint to the last degree. Evidently she had had her
way with her father, to her misfortune.
"Would you not like to live here, Julie?"
"Yes; here or anywhere," she answered listlessly.
"Do you feel ill?" asked Colonel d'Aiglemont.
"No, not at all," she answered with momentary energy; and, smiling at
her husband, she added, "I should like to go to sleep."
Suddenly there came a sound of a horse galloping towards them. Victor
d'Aiglemont dropped his wife's hand and turned to watch the bend in
the road. No sooner had he taken his eyes from Julie's pale face than
all the assumed gaiety died out of it; it was as if a light had been
extinguished. She felt no wish to look at the landscape, no curiosity
to see the horseman who was galloping towards them at such a furious
pace, and, ensconcing herself in her corner, stared out before her at
the hindquarters of the post-horses, looking as blank as any Breton
peasant listening to his /recteur's/ sermon.
Suddenly a young man riding a valuable horse came out from behind the
clump of poplars and flowering briar-rose.
"It is an Englishman," remarked the Colonel.
"Lord bless you, yes, General," said the post-boy; "he belongs to the
race of fellows who have a mind to gobble up France, they say."
The stranger was one of the foreigners traveling in France at the time
when Napoleon detained all British subjects within the limits of the
Empire, by way of reprisals for the violation of the Treaty of Amiens,
an outrage of international law perpetrated by the Court of St. James.
These prisoners, compelled to submit to the Emperor's pleasure, were
not all suffered to remain in the houses where they were arrested, nor
yet in the places of residence which at first they were permitted to
choose. Most of the English colony in Touraine had been transplanted
thither from different places where their presence was supposed to be
inimical to the interests of the Continental Policy.
The young man, who was taking the tedium of the early morning hours on
horseback, was one of these victims of bureaucratic tyranny. Two years
previously, a sudden order from the Foreign Office had dragged him
from Montpellier, whither he had gone on account of consumptive
tendencies. He glanced at the Comte d'Aiglemont, saw that he was a
military man, and deliberately looked away, turning his head somewhat
abruptly towards the meadows by the Cise.
"The English are all as insolent as if the globe belonged to them,"
muttered the Colonel. "Luckily, Soult will give them a thrashing
The prisoner gave a glance to the caleche as he rode by. Brief though
that glance was, he had yet time to notice the sad expression which
lent an indefinable charm to the Countess' pensive face. Many men are
deeply moved by the mere semblance of suffering in a woman; they take
the look of pain for a sign of constancy or of love. Julie herself was
so much absorbed in the contemplation of the opposite cushion that she
saw neither the horse nor the rider. The damaged trace meanwhile had
been quickly and strongly repaired; the Count stepped into his place
again; and the post-boy, doing his best to make up for lost time,
drove the carriage rapidly along the embankment. On they drove under
the overhanging cliffs, with their picturesque vine-dressers' huts and
stores of wine maturing in their dark sides, till in the distance
uprose the spire of the famous Abbey of Marmoutiers, the retreat of
"What can that diaphanous milord want with us?" exclaimed the Colonel,
turning to assure himself that the horseman who had followed them from
the bridge was the young Englishman.
After all, the stranger committed no breach of good manners by riding
along on the footway, and Colonel d'Aiglemont was fain to lie back in
his corner after sending a scowl in the Englishman's direction. But in
spite of his hostile instincts, he could not help noticing the beauty
of the animal and the graceful horsemanship of the rider. The young
man's face was of that pale, fair-complexioned, insular type, which is
almost girlish in the softness and delicacy of its color and texture.
He was tall, thin, and fair-haired, dressed with the extreme and
elaborate neatness characteristic of a man of fashion in prudish
England. Any one might have thought that bashfulness rather than
pleasure at the sight of the Countess had called up that flush into
his face. Once only Julie raised her eyes and looked at the stranger,
and then only because she was in a manner compelled to do so, for her
husband called upon her to admire the action of the thoroughbred. It
so happened that their glances clashed; and the shy Englishman,
instead of riding abreast of the carriage, fell behind on this, and
followed them at a distance of a few paces.
Yet the Countess had scarcely given him a glance; she saw none of the
various perfections, human and equine, commended to her notice, and
fell back again in the carriage, with a slight movement of the eyelids
intended to express her acquiescence in her husband's views. The
Colonel fell asleep again, and both husband and wife reached Tours
without another word. Not one of those enchanting views of
everchanging landscape through which they sped had drawn so much as a
glance from Julie's eyes.
Mme. d'Aiglemont looked now and again at her sleeping husband. While
she looked, a sudden jolt shook something down upon her knees. It was
her father's portrait, a miniature which she wore suspended about her
neck by a black cord. At the sight of it, the tears, till then kept
back, overflowed her eyes, but no one, save perhaps the Englishman,
saw them glitter there for a brief moment before they dried upon her
Colonel d'Aiglemont was on his way to the South. Marshal Soult was
repelling an English invasion of Bearn; and d'Aiglemont, the bearer of
the Emperor's orders to the Marshal, seized the opportunity of taking
his wife as far as Tours to leave her with an elderly relative of his
own, far away from the dangers threatening Paris.
Very shortly the carriage rolled over the paved road of Tours, over
the bridge, along the Grande-Rue, and stopped at last before the old
mansion of the /ci-devant/ Marquise de Listomere-Landon.
The Marquise de Listomere-Landon, with her white hair, pale face, and
shrewd smile, was one of those fine old ladies who still seem to wear
the paniers of the eighteenth century, and affects caps of an extinct
mode. They are nearly always caressing in their manners, as if the
heyday of love still lingered on for these septuagenarian portraits of
the age of Louis Quinze, with the faint perfume of /poudre a la
marechale/ always clinging about them. Bigoted rather than pious, and
less of bigots than they seem, women who can tell a story well and
talk still better, their laughter comes more readily for an old memory
than for a new jest--the present intrudes upon them.
When an old waiting-woman announced to the Marquise de Listomere-
Landon (to give her the title which she was soon to resume) the
arrival of a nephew whom she had not seen since the outbreak of the
war with Spain, the old lady took off her spectacles with alacrity,
shut the /Galerie de l'ancienne Cour/ (her favorite work), and
recovered something like youthful activity, hastening out upon the
flight of steps to greet the young couple there.
Aunt and niece exchanged a rapid glance of survey.
"Good-morning, dear aunt," cried the Colonel, giving the old lady a
hasty embrace. "I am bringing a young lady to put under your wing. I
have come to put my treasure in your keeping. My Julie is neither
jealous nor a coquette, she is as good as an angel. I hope that she
will not be spoiled here," he added, suddenly interrupting himself.
"Scapegrace!" returned the Marquise, with a satirical glance at her
She did not wait for her niece to approach her, but with a certain
kindly graciousness went forward herself to kiss Julie, who stood
there thoughtfully, to all appearance more embarrassed than curious
concerning her new relation.
"So we are to make each other's acquaintance, are we, my love?" the
Marquise continued. "Do not be too much alarmed of me. I always try
not to be an old woman with young people."
On the way to the drawing-room, the Marquise ordered breakfast for her
guests in provincial fashion; but the Count checked his aunt's flow of
words by saying soberly that he could only remain in the house while
the horses were changing. On this the three hurried into the drawing-
room. The Colonel had barely time to tell the story of the political
and military events which had compelled him to ask his aunt for a
shelter for his young wife. While he talked on without interruption,
the older lady looked from her nephew to her niece, and took the
sadness in Julie's white face for grief at the enforced separation.
"Eh! eh!" her looks seemed to say, "these young things are in love
with each other."
The crack of the postilion's whip sounded outside in the silent old
grass-grown courtyard. Victor embraced his aunt once more, and rushed
"Good-bye, dear," he said, kissing his wife, who had followed him down
to the carriage.
"Oh! Victor, let me come still further with you," she pleaded
coaxingly. "I do not want to leave you----"
"Can you seriously mean it?"
"Very well," said Julie, "since you wish it." The carriage
"So you are very fond of my poor Victor?" said the Marquise,
interrogating her niece with one of those sagacious glances which
dowagers give younger women.
"Alas, madame!" said Julie, "must one not love a man well indeed to
The words were spoken with an artless accent which revealed either a
pure heart or inscrutable depths. How could a woman, who had been the
friend of Duclos and the Marechal de Richelieu, refrain from trying to
read the riddle of this marriage? Aunt and niece were standing on the
steps, gazing after the fast vanishing caleche. The look in the young
Countess' eyes did not mean love as the Marquise understood it. The
good lady was a Provencale, and her passions had been lively.
"So you were captivated by my good-for-nothing of a nephew?" she
Involuntarily Julie shuddered, something in the experienced coquette's
look and tone seemed to say that Mme. de Listomere-Landon's knowledge
of her husband's character went perhaps deeper than his wife's. Mme.
d'Aiglemont, in dismay, took refuge in this transparent dissimulation,
ready to her hand, the first resource of an artless unhappiness. Mme.
de Listomere appeared to be satisfied with Julie's answers; but in her
secret heart she rejoiced to think that here was a love affair on hand
to enliven her solitude, for that her niece had some amusing
flirtation on foot she was fully convinced.
In the great drawing-room, hung with tapestry framed in strips of
gilding, young Mme. d'Aiglemont sat before a blazing fire, behind a
Chinese screen placed to shut out the cold draughts from the window,
and her heavy mood scarcely lightened. Among the old eighteenth-
century furniture, under the old paneled ceiling, it was not very easy
to be gay. Yet the young Parisienne took a sort of pleasure in this
entrance upon a life of complete solitude and in the solemn silence of
the old provincial house. She exchanged a few words with the aunt, a
stranger, to whom she had written a bride's letter on her marriage,
and then sat as silent as if she had been listening to an opera. Not
until two hours had been spent in an atmosphere of quiet befitting la
Trappe, did she suddenly awaken to a sense of uncourteous behavior,
and bethink herself of the short answers which she had given her aunt.
Mme. de Listomere, with the gracious tact characteristic of a bygone
age, had respected her niece's mood. When Mme. d'Aiglemont became
conscious of her shortcomings, the dowager sat knitting, though as a
matter of fact she had several times left the room to superintend
preparations in the Green Chamber, whither the Countess' luggage had
been transported; now, however, she had returned to her great
armchair, and stole a glance from time to time at this young relative.
Julie felt ashamed of giving way to irresistible broodings, and tried
to earn her pardon by laughing at herself.
"My dear child, /we/ know the sorrows of widowhood," returned her
aunt. But only the eyes of forty years could have distinguished the
irony hovering about the old lady's mouth.
Next morning the Countess improved. She talked. Mme. de Listomere no
longer despaired of fathoming the new-made wife, whom yesterday she
had set down as a dull, unsociable creature, and discoursed on the
delights of the country, of dances, of houses where they could visit.
All that day the Marquise's questions were so many snares; it was the
old habit of the old Court, she could not help setting traps to
discover her niece's character. For several days Julie, plied with
temptations, steadfastly declined to seek amusement abroad; and much
as the old lady's pride longed to exhibit her pretty niece, she was
fain to renounce all hope of taking her into society, for the young
Countess was still in morning for her father, and found in her loss
and her mourning dress a pretext for her sadness and desire for
By the end of the week the dowager admired Julie's angelic sweetness
of disposition, her diffident charm, her indulgent temper, and
thenceforward began to take a prodigious interest in the mysterious
sadness gnawing at this young heart. The Countess was one of those
women who seem born to be loved and to bring happiness with them. Mme.
de Listomere found her niece's society grown so sweet and precious,
that she doted upon Julie, and could no longer think of parting with
her. A month sufficed to establish an eternal friendship between the
two ladies. The dowager noticed, not without surprise, the changes
that took place in Mme. d'Aiglemont; gradually her bright color died
away, and her face became dead white. Yet, Julie's spirits rose as the
bloom faded from her cheeks. Sometimes the dowager's sallies provoked
outbursts of merriment or peals of laughter, promptly repressed,
however, by some clamorous thought.
Mme. de Listomere had guessed by this time that it was neither
Victor's absence nor a father's death which threw a shadow over her
niece's life; but her mind was so full of dark suspicions, that she
found it difficult to lay a finger upon the real cause of the
mischief. Possibly truth is only discoverable by chance. A day came,
however, at length when Julie flashed out before her aunt's astonished
eyes into a complete forgetfulness of her marriage; she recovered the
wild spirits of careless girlhood. Mme. de Listomere then and there
made up her mind to fathom the depths of this soul, for its exceeding
simplicity was as inscrutable as dissimulation.
Night was falling. The two ladies were sitting by the window which
looked out upon the street, and Julie was looking thoughtful again,
when some one went by on horseback.
"There goes one of your victims," said the Marquise.
Mme. d'Aiglemont looked up; dismay and surprise blended in her face.
"He is a young Englishman, the Honorable Arthur Ormand, Lord
Grenville's eldest son. His history is interesting. His physician sent
him to Montpellier in 1802; it was hoped that in that climate he might
recover from the lung complaint which was gaining ground. He was
detained, like all his fellow-countrymen, by Bonaparte when war broke
out. That monster cannot live without fighting. The young Englishman,
by way of amusing himself, took to studying his own complaint, which
was believed to be incurable. By degrees he acquired a liking for
anatomy and physic, and took quite a craze for that kind of thing, a
most extraordinary taste in a man of quality, though the Regent
certainly amused himself with chemistry! In short, Monsieur Arthur
made astonishing progress in his studies; his health did the same
under the faculty of Montpellier; he consoled his captivity, and at
the same time his cure was thoroughly completed. They say that he
spent two whole years in a cowshed, living on cresses and the milk of
a cow brought from Switzerland, breathing as seldom as he could, and
never speaking a word. Since he come to Tours he has lived quite
alone; he is as proud as a peacock; but you have certainly made a
conquest of him, for probably it is not on my account that he has
ridden under the window twice every day since you have been here.--He
has certainly fallen in love with you."
That last phrase roused the Countess like magic. Her involuntary start
and smile took the Marquise by surprise. So far from showing a sign of
the instinctive satisfaction felt by the most strait-laced of women
when she learns that she has destroyed the peace of mind of some male
victim, there was a hard, haggard expression in Julie's face--a look
of repulsion amounting almost to loathing.
A woman who loves will put the whole world under the ban of Love's
empire for the sake of the one whom she loves; but such a woman can
laugh and jest; and Julie at that moment looked as if the memory of
some recently escaped peril was too sharp and fresh not to bring with
it a quick sensation of pain. Her aunt, by this time convinced that
Julie did not love her nephew, was stupefied by the discovery that she
loved nobody else. She shuddered lest a further discovery should show
her Julie's heart disenchanted, lest the experience of a day, or
perhaps of a night, should have revealed to a young wife the full
extent of Victor's emptiness.
"If she has found him out, there is an end of it," thought the
dowager. "My nephew will soon be made to feel the inconveniences of
The Marquise now proposed to convert Julie to the monarchical
doctrines of the times of Louis Quinze; but a few hours later she
discovered, or, more properly speaking, guessed, the not uncommon
state of affairs, and the real cause of her niece's low spirits.
Julie turned thoughtful on a sudden, and went to her room earlier than
usual. When her maid left her for the night, she still sat by the fire
in the yellow velvet depths of a great chair, an old-world piece of
furniture as well suited for sorrow as for happy people. Tears flowed,
followed by sighs and meditation. After a while she drew a little
table to her, sought writing materials, and began to write. The hours
went by swiftly. Julie's confidences made to the sheet of paper seemed
to cost her dear; every sentence set her dreaming, and at last she
suddenly burst into tears. The clocks were striking two. Her head,
grown heavy as a dying woman's, was bowed over her breast. When she
raised it, her aunt appeared before her as suddenly as if she had
stepped out of the background of tapestry upon the walls.
"What can be the matter with you, child?" asked the Marquise. "Why are
you sitting up so late? And why, in the first place, are you crying
alone, at your age?"
Without further ceremony she sat down beside her niece, her eyes the
while devouring the unfinished letter.
"Were you writing to your husband?"
"Do I know where he is?" returned the Countess.
Her aunt thereupon took up the sheet and proceeded to read it. She had
brought her spectacles; the deed was premeditated. The innocent writer
of the letter allowed her to take it without the slightest remark. It
was neither lack of dignity nor consciousness of secret guilt which
left her thus without energy. Her aunt had come in upon her at a
crisis. She was helpless; right or wrong, reticence and confidence,
like all things else, were matters of indifference. Like some young
maid who had heaped scorn upon her lover, and feels so lonely and sad
when evening comes, that she longs for him to come back or for a heart
to which she can pour out her sorrow, Julie allowed her aunt to
violate the seal which honor places upon an open letter, and sat
musing while the Marquise read on:--
"MY DEAR LOUISA,--Why do you ask so often for the fulfilment of as
rash a promise as two young and inexperienced girls could make?
You say that you often ask yourself why I have given no answer to
your questions for these six months. If my silence told you
nothing, perhaps you will understand the reasons for it to-day, as
you read the secrets which I am about to betray. I should have
buried them for ever in the depths of my heart if you had not
announced your own approaching marriage. You are about to be
married, Louisa. The thought makes me shiver. Poor little one!
marry, yes, in a few months' time one of the keenest pangs of
regret will be the recollection of a self which used to be, of the
two young girls who sat one evening under one of the tallest oak-
trees on the hillside at Ecouen, and looked along the fair valley
at our feet in the light of the sunset, which caught us in its
glow. We sat on a slab of rock in ecstasy, which sobered down into
melancholy of the gentlest. You were the first to discover that
the far-off sun spoke to us of the future. How inquisitive and how
silly we were! Do you remember all the absurd things we said and
did? We embraced each other; 'like lovers,' said we. We solemnly
promised that the first bride should faithfully reveal to the
other the mysteries of marriage, the joys which our childish minds
imagined to be so delicious. That evening will complete your
despair, Louisa. In those days you were young and beautiful and
careless, if not radiantly happy; a few days of marriage, and you
will be, what I am already--ugly, wretched, and old. Need I tell
you how proud I was and how vain and glad to be married to Colonel
Victor d'Aiglemont? And besides, how could I tell you now? for I
cannot remember that old self. A few moments turned my girlhood to
a dream. All through the memorable day which consecrated a chain,
the extent of which was hidden from me, my behavior was not free
from reproach. Once and again my father tried to repress my
spirits; the joy which I showed so plainly was thought unbefitting
the occasion, my talk scarcely innocent, simply because I was so
innocent. I played endless child's tricks with my bridal veil, my
wreath, my gown. Left alone that night in the room whither I had
been conducted in state, I planned a piece of mischief to tease
Victor. While I awaited his coming, my heart beat wildly, as it
used to do when I was a child stealing into the drawing-room on
the last day of the old year to catch a glimpse of the New Year's
gifts piled up there in heaps. When my husband came in and looked
for me, my smothered laughter ringing out from beneath the lace in
which I had shrouded myself, was the last outburst of the
delicious merriment which brightened our games in childhood . . ."
When the dowager had finished reading the letter, and after such a
beginning the rest must have been sad indeed, she slowly laid her
spectacles on the table, put the letter down beside them, and looked
fixedly at her niece. Age had not dimmed the fire in those green eyes
"My little girl," she said, "a married woman cannot write such a
letter as this to a young unmarried woman; it is scarcely proper--"
"So I was thinking," Julie broke in upon her aunt. "I felt ashamed of
myself while you were reading it."
"If a dish at table is not to our taste, there is no occasion to
disgust others with it, child," the old lady continued benignly,
"especially when marriage has seemed to us all, from Eve downwards, so
excellent an institution. . . You have no mother?"
The Countess trembled, then she raised her face meekly, and said:
"I have missed my mother many times already during the past year; but
I have myself to blame, I would not listen to my father. He was
opposed to my marriage; he disapproved of Victor as a son-in-law."
She looked at her aunt. The old face was lighted up with a kindly
look, and a thrill of joy dried Julie's tears. She held out her young,
soft hand to the old Marquise, who seemed to ask for it, and the
understanding between the two women was completed by the close grasp
of their fingers.
"Poor orphan child!"
The words came like a final flash of enlightenment to Julie. It seemed
to her that she heard her father's prophetic voice again.
"Your hands are burning! Are they always like this?" asked the
"The fever only left me seven or eight days ago."
"You had a fever upon you, and said nothing about it to me!"
"I have had it for a year," said Julie, with a kind of timid anxiety.
"My good little angel, then your married life hitherto has been one
long time of suffering?"
Julie did not venture to reply, but an affirmative sign revealed the
"Then you are unhappy?"
"On! no, no, aunt. Victor loves me, he almost idolizes me, and I adore
him, he is so kind."
"Yes, you love him; but you avoid him, do you not?"
"Yes . . . sometimes . . . He seeks me too often."
"And often when you are alone you are troubled with the fear that he
may suddenly break in on your solitude?"
"Alas! yes, aunt. But, indeed, I love him, I do assure you."
"Do you not, in your own thoughts, blame yourself because you find it
impossible to share his pleasures? Do you never think at times that
marriage is a heavier yoke than an illicit passion could be?"
"Oh, that is just it," she wept. "It is all a riddle to me, and can
you guess it all? My faculties are benumbed, I have no ideas, I can
scarcely see at all. I am weighed down by vague dread, which freezes
me till I cannot feel, and keeps me in continual torpor. I have no
voice with which to pity myself, no words to express my trouble. I
suffer, and I am ashamed to suffer when Victor is happy at my cost."
"Babyish nonsense, and rubbish, all of it!" exclaimed the aunt, and a
gay smile, an after-glow of the joys of her own youth, suddenly
lighted up her withered face.
"And do you too laugh!" the younger woman cried despairingly.
"It was just my own case," the Marquise returned promptly. "And now
Victor has left you, you have become a girl again, recovering a
tranquillity without pleasure and without pain, have you not?"
Julie opened wide eyes of bewilderment.
"In fact, my angel, you adore Victor, do you not? But still you would
rather be a sister to him than a wife, and, in short, your marriage is
emphatically not a success?"
"Well--no, aunt. But why do you smile?"
"Oh! you are right, poor child! There is nothing very amusing in all
this. Your future would be big with more than one mishap if I had not
taken you under my protection, if my old experience of life had not
guessed the very innocent cause of your troubles. My nephew did not
deserve his good fortune, the blockhead! In the reign of our well-
beloved Louis Quinze, a young wife in your position would very soon
have punished her husband for behaving like a ruffian. The selfish
creature! The men who serve under this Imperial tyrant are all of them
ignorant boors. They take brutality for gallantry; they know no more
of women than they know of love; and imagine that because they go out
to face death on the morrow, they may dispense to-day with all
consideration and attentions for us. The time was when a man could
love and die too at the proper time. My niece, I will form you. I will
put an end to this unhappy divergence between you, a natural thing
enough, but it would end in mutual hatred and desire for a divorce,
always supposing that you did not die on the way to despair."
Julie's amazement equaled her surprise as she listened to her aunt.
She was surprised by her language, dimly divining rather than
appreciating the wisdom of the words she heard, and very much dismayed
to find what this relative, out of great experience, passed judgment
upon Victor as her father had done, though in somewhat milder terms.
Perhaps some quick prevision of the future crossed her mind;
doubtless, at any rate, she felt the heavy weight of the burden which
must inevitably overwhelm her, for she burst into tears, and sprang to
the old lady's arms. "Be my mother," she sobbed.
The aunt shed no tears. The Revolution had left old ladies of the
Monarchy but few tears to shed. Love, in bygone days, and the Terror
at a later time, had familiarized them with extremes of joy and
anguish in such a sort that, amid the perils of life, they preserved
their dignity and coolness, a capacity for sincere but undemonstrative
affection which never disturbed their well-bred self-possession, and a
dignity of demeanor which a younger generation has done very ill to
The dowager took Julie in her arms, and kissed her on the forehead
with a tenderness and pity more often found in women's ways and manner
than in their hearts. Then she coaxed her niece with kind, soothing
words, assured her of a happy future, lulled her with promises of
love, and put her to bed as if she had been not a niece, but a
daughter, a much-beloved daughter whose hopes and cares she had made
her own. Perhaps the old Marquise had found her own youth and
inexperience and beauty again in this nephew's wife. And the Countess
fell asleep, happy to have found a friend, nay a mother, to whom she
could tell everything freely.
Next morning, when the two women kissed each other with heartfelt
kindness, and that look of intelligence which marks a real advance in
friendship, a closer intimacy between two souls, they heard the sound
of horsehoofs, and, turning both together, saw the young Englishman
ride slowly past the window, after his wont. Apparently he had made a
certain study of the life led by the two lonely women, for he never
failed to ride by as they sat at breakfast, and again at dinner. His
horse slackened pace of its own accord, and for the space of time
required to pass the two windows in the room, its rider turned a
melancholy look upon the Countess, who seldom deigned to take the
slightest notion of him. Not so the Marquise. Minds not necessarily
little find it difficult to resist the little curiosity which fastens
upon the most trifling event that enlivens provincial life; and the
Englishman's mute way of expressing his timid, earnest love tickled
Mme. de Listomere. For her the periodically recurrent glance became a
part of the day's routine, hailed daily with new jests. As the two
women sat down to table, both of them looked out at the same moment.
This time Julie's eyes met Arthur's with such a precision of sympathy
that the color rose to her face. The stranger immediately urged his
horse into a gallop and went.
"What is to be done, madame?" asked Julie. "People see this Englishman
go past the house, and they will take it for granted that I--"
"Yes," interrupted her aunt.
"Well, then, could I not tell him to discontinue his promenades?"
"Would not that be a way of telling him that he was dangerous? You
might put that notion into his head. And besides, can you prevent a
man from coming and going as he pleases? Our meals shall be served in
another room to-morrow; and when this young gentleman sees us no
longer, there will be an end of making love to you through the window.
There, dear child, that is how a woman of the world does."
But the measure of Julie's misfortune was to be filled up. The two
women had scarcely risen from table when Victor's man arrived in hot
haste from Bourges with a letter for the Countess from her husband.
The servant had ridden by unfrequented ways.
Victor sent his wife news of the downfall of the Empire and the
capitulation of Paris. He himself had gone over to the Bourbons, and
all France was welcoming them back with transports of enthusiasm. He
could not go so far as Tours, but he begged her to come at once to
join him at Orleans, where he hoped to be in readiness with passports
for her. His servant, an old soldier, would be her escort so far as
Orleans; he (Victor) believed that the road was still open.
"You have not a moment to lose, madame," said the man. "The Prussians,
Austrians, and English are about to effect a junction either at Blois
or at Orleans."
A few hours later, Julie's preparations were made, and she started out
upon her journey in an old traveling carriage lent by her aunt.
"Why should you not come with us to Paris?" she asked, as she put her
arms about the Marquise. "Now that the Bourbons have come back you
"Even if there had not been this unhoped-for return, I should still
have gone to Paris, my poor child, for my advice is only too necessary
to both you and Victor. So I shall make all my preparations for
rejoining you there."
Julie set out. She took her maid with her, and the old soldier
galloped beside the carriage as escort. At nightfall, as they changed
horses for the last stage before Blois, Julie grew uneasy. All the way
from Amboise she had heard the sound of wheels behind them, a carriage
following hers had kept at the same distance. She stood on the step
and looked out to see who her traveling companions might be, and in
the moonlight saw Arthur standing three paces away, gazing fixedly at
the chaise which contained her. Again their eyes met. The Countess
hastily flung herself back in her seat, but a feeling of dread set her
pulses throbbing. It seemed to her, as to most innocent and
inexperienced young wives, that she was herself to blame for this love
which she had all unwittingly inspired. With this thought came an
instinctive terror, perhaps a sense of her own helplessness before
aggressive audacity. One of a man's strongest weapons is the terrible
power of compelling a woman to think of him when her naturally lively
imagination takes alarm or offence at the thought that she is
The Countess bethought herself of her aunt's advice, and made up her
mind that she would not stir from her place during the rest of the
journey; but every time the horses were changed she heard the
Englishman pacing round the two carriages, and again upon the road
heard the importunate sound of the wheels of his caleche. Julie soon
began to think that, when once reunited to her husband, Victor would
know how to defend her against this singular persecution.
"Yet suppose that in spite of everything, this young man does not love
me?" This was the thought that came last of all.
No sooner did she reach Orleans than the Prussians stopped the chaise.
It was wheeled into an inn-yard and put under a guard of soldiers.
Resistance was out of the question. The foreign soldiers made the
three travelers understand by signs that they were obeying orders, and
that no one could be allowed to leave the carriage. For about two
hours the Countess sat in tears, a prisoner surrounded by the guard,
who smoked, laughed, and occasionally stared at her with insolent
curiosity. At last, however, she saw her captors fall away from the
carriage with a sort of respect, and heard at the same time the sound
of horses entering the yard. Another moment, and a little group of
foreign officers, with an Austrian general at their head, gathered
about the door of the traveling carriage.
"Madame," said the General, "pray accept our apologies. A mistake has
been made. You may continue your journey without fear; and here is a
passport which will spare you all further annoyance of any kind."
Trembling the Countess took the paper, and faltered out some vague
words of thanks. She saw Arthur, now wearing an English uniform,
standing beside the General, and could not doubt that this prompt
deliverance was due to him. The young Englishman himself looked half
glad, half melancholy; his face was turned away, and he only dared to
steal an occasional glance at Julie's face.
Thanks to the passport, Mme. d'Aiglemont reached Paris without further
misadventure, and there she found her husband. Victor d'Aiglemont,
released from his oath of allegiance to the Emperor, had met with a
most flattering reception from the Comte d'Artois, recently appointed
Lieutenant-General of the kingdom by his brother Louis XVIII.
D'Aiglemont received a commission in the Life Guards, equivalent to
the rank of general. But amid the rejoicings over the return of the
Bourbons, fate dealt poor Julie a terrible blow. The death of the
Marquise de Listomere-Landon was an irreparable loss. The old lady
died of joy and of an accession of gout to the heart when the Duc
d'Angouleme came back to Tours, and the one living being entitled by
her age to enlighten Victor, the woman who, by discreet counsels,
might have brought about perfect unanimity of husband and wife, was
dead; and Julie felt the full extent of her loss. Henceforward she
must stand alone between herself and her husband. But she was young
and timid; there could be no doubt of the result, or that from the
first she would elect to bear her lot in silence. The very perfections
of her character forbade her to venture to swerve from her duties, or
to attempt to inquire into the cause of her sufferings, for to put an
end to them would have been to venture on delicate ground, and Julie's
girlish modesty shrank from the thought.
A word as to M. d'Aiglemont's destinies under the Restoration.
How many men are there whose utter incapacity is a secret kept from
most of their acquaintance. For such as these high rank, high office,
illustrious birth, a certain veneer of politeness, and considerable
reserve of manner, or the /prestige/ of great fortunes, are but so
many sentinels to turn back critics who would penetrate to the
presence of the real man. Such men are like kings, in that their real
figure, character, and life can never be known nor justly appreciated,
because they are always seen from too near or too far. Factitious
merit has a way of asking questions and saying little; and understands
the art of putting others forward to save the necessity of posing
before them; then, with a happy knack of its own, it draws and
attaches others by the thread of the ruling passion of self-interest,
keeping men of far greater abilities to play like puppets, and
despising those whom it has brought down to its own level. The petty
fixed idea naturally prevails; it has the advantage of persistence
over the plasticity of great thoughts.
The observer who should seek to estimate and appraise the negative
values of these empty heads needs subtlety rather than superior wit
for the task; patience is a more necessary part of his judicial outfit
than great mental grasp, cunning and tact rather than any elevation or
greatness of ideas. Yet skilfully as such usurpers can cover and
defend their weak points, it is difficult to delude wife and mother
and children and the house-friend of the family; fortunately for them,
however, these persons almost always keep a secret which in a manner
touches the honor of all, and not unfrequently go so far as to help to
foist the imposture upon the public. And if, thanks to such domestic
conspiracy, many a noodle passes current for a man of ability, on the
other hand many another who has real ability is taken for a noodle to
redress the balance, and the total average of this kind of false coin
in circulation in the state is a pretty constant quantity.
Bethink yourself now of the part to be played by a clever woman quick
to think and feel, mated with a husband of this kind, and can you not
see a vision of lives full of sorrow and self-sacrifice? Nothing upon
earth can repay such hearts so full of love and tender tact. Put a
strong-willed woman in this wretched situation, and she will force a
way out of it for herself by a crime, like Catherine II., whom men
nevertheless style "the Great." But these women are not all seated
upon thrones, they are for the most part doomed to domestic
unhappiness none the less terrible because obscure.
Those who seek consolation in this present world for their woes often
effect nothing but a change of ills if they remain faithful to their
duties; or they commit a sin if they break the laws for their
pleasure. All these reflections are applicable to Julie's domestic
Before the fall of Napoleon nobody was jealous of d'Aiglemont. He was
one colonel among many, an efficient orderly staff-officer, as good a
man as you could find for a dangerous mission, as unfit as well could
be for an important command. D'Aiglemont was looked upon as a dashing
soldier such as the Emperor liked, the kind of man whom his mess
usually calls "a good fellow." The Restoration gave him back his title
of Marquis, and did not find him ungrateful; he followed the Bourbons
into exile at Ghent, a piece of logical loyalty which falsified the
horoscope drawn for him by his late father-in-law, who predicted that
Victor would remain a colonel all his life. After the Hundred Days he
received the appointment of Lieutenant-General, and for the second
time became a marquis; but it was M. d'Aiglemont's ambition to be a
peer of France. He adopted, therefore, the maxims and the politics of
the /Conservateur/, cloaked himself in dissimulation which hid nothing
(there being nothing to hide), cultivated gravity of countenance and
the art of asking questions and saying little, and was taken for a man
of profound wisdom. Nothing drew him from his intrenchments behind the
forms of politeness; he laid in a provision of formulas, and made
lavish use of his stock of the catch-words coined at need in Paris to
give fools the small change for the ore of great ideas and events.
Among men of the world he was reputed a man of taste and discernment;
and as a bigoted upholder of aristocratic opinions he was held up for
a noble character. If by chance he slipped now and again into his old
light-heartedness or levity, others were ready to discover an
undercurrent of diplomatic intention beneath his inanity and
silliness. "Oh! he only says exactly as much as he means to say,"
thought these excellent people.
So d'Aiglemont's defects and good qualities stood him alike in good
stead. He did nothing to forfeit a high military reputation gained by
his dashing courage, for he had never been a commander-in-chief. Great
thoughts surely were engraven upon that manly aristocratic
countenance, which imposed upon every one but his own wife. And when
everybody else believed in the Marquis d'Aiglemont's imaginary
talents, the Marquis persuaded himself before he had done that he was
one of the most remarkable men at Court, where, thanks to his purely
external qualifications, he was in favor and taken at his own
At home, however, M. d'Aiglemont was modest. Instinctively he felt
that his wife, young though she was, was his superior; and out of this
involuntary respect there grew an occult power which the Marquise was
obliged to wield in spite of all her efforts to shake off the burden.
She became her husband's adviser, the director of his actions and his
fortunes. It was an unnatural position; she felt it as something of a
humiliation, a source of pain to be buried in the depths of her heart.
From the first her delicately feminine instinct told her that it is a
far better thing to obey a man of talent than to lead a fool; and that
a young wife compelled to act and think like a man is neither man nor
woman, but a being who lays aside all the charms of her womanhood
along with its misfortunes, yet acquires none of the privileges which
our laws give to the stronger sex. Beneath the surface her life was a
bitter mockery. Was she not compelled to protect her protector, to
worship a hollow idol, a poor creature who flung her the love of a
selfish husband as the wages of her continual self-sacrifice; who saw
nothing in her but the woman; and who either did not think it worth
while, or (wrong quite as deep) did not think at all of troubling
himself about her pleasures, of inquiring into the cause of her low
spirits and dwindling health? And the Marquis, like most men who chafe
under a wife's superiority, saved his self-love by arguing from
Julie's physical feebleness a corresponding lack of mental power, for
which he was pleased to pity her; and he would cry out upon fate which
had given him a sickly girl for a wife. The executioner posed, in
fact, as the victim.
All the burdens of this dreary lot fell upon the Marquise, who still
must smile upon her foolish lord, and deck a house of mourning with
flowers, and make a parade of happiness in a countenance wan with
secret torture. And with this sense of responsibility for the honor of
both, with the magnificent immolation of self, the young Marquise
unconsciously acquired a wifely dignity, a consciousness of virtue
which became her safeguard amid many dangers.
Perhaps, if her heart were sounded to the very depths, this intimate
closely hidden wretchedness, following upon her unthinking, girlish
first love, had roused in her an abhorrence of passion; possibly she
had no conception of its rapture, nor of the forbidden but frenzied
bliss for which some women will renounce all the laws of prudence and
the principles of conduct upon which society is based. She put from
her like a dream the thought of bliss and tender harmony of love
promised by Mme. de Listomere-Landon's mature experience, and waited
resignedly for the end of her troubles with a hope that she might die
Her health had declined daily since her return from Touraine; her life
seemed to be measured to her in suffering; yet her ill-health was
graceful, her malady seemed little more than languor, and might well
be taken by careless eyes for a fine lady's whim of invalidism.
Her doctors had condemned her to keep to the sofa, and there among her
flowers lay the Marquise, fading as they faded. She was not strong
enough to walk, nor to bear the open air, and only went out in a
closed carriage. Yet with all the marvels of modern luxury and
invention about her, she looked more like an indolent queen than an
invalid. A few of her friends, half in love perhaps with her sad
plight and her fragile look, sure of finding her at home, and
speculating no doubt upon her future restoration to health, would come
to bring her the news of the day, and kept her informed of the
thousand and one small events which fill life in Paris with variety.
Her melancholy, deep and real though it was was still the melancholy
of a woman rich in many ways. The Marquise d'Aiglemont was like a
flower, with a dark insect gnawing at its root.
Occasionally she went into society, not to please herself, but in
obedience to the exigencies of the position which her husband aspired
to take. In society her beautiful voice and the perfection of her
singing could always gain the social success so gratifying to a young
woman; but what was social success to her, who drew nothing from it
for her heart or her hopes? Her husband did not care for music. And,
moreover, she seldom felt at her ease in salons, where her beauty
attracted homage not wholly disinterested. Her position excited a sort
of cruel compassion, a morbid curiosity. She was suffering from an
inflammatory complaint not infrequently fatal, for which our nosology
as yet has found no name, a complaint spoken of among women in
confidential whispers. In spite of the silence in which her life was
spent, the cause of her ill-health was no secret. She was still but a
girl in spite of her marriage; the slightest glance threw her into
confusion. In her endeavor not to blush, she was always laughing,
always apparently in high spirits; she would never admit that she was
not perfectly well, and anticipated questions as to her health by
In 1817, however, an event took place which did much to alleviate
Julie's hitherto deplorable existence. A daughter was born to her, and
she determined to nurse her child herself. For two years motherhood,
its all-absorbing multiplicity of cares and anxious joys, made life
less hard for her. She and her husband lived necessarily apart. Her
physicians predicted improved health, but the Marquise herself put no
faith in these auguries based on theory. Perhaps, like many a one for
whom life has lost its sweetness, she looked forward to death as a
happy termination of the drama.
But with the beginning of the year 1819 life grew harder than ever.
Even while she congratulated herself upon the negative happiness which
she had contrived to win, she caught a terrifying glimpse of yawning
depths below it. She had passed by degrees out of her husband's life.
Her fine tact and her prudence told her that misfortune must come, and
that not singly, of this cooling of an affection already lukewarm and
wholly selfish. Sure though she was of her ascendency over Victor, and
certain as she felt of his unalterable esteem, she dreaded the
influence of unbridled passions upon a head so empty, so full of rash
Julie's friends often found her absorbed in prolonged musings; the
less clairvoyant among them would jestingly ask her what she was
thinking about, as if a young wife would think of nothing but
frivolity, as if there were not almost always a depth of seriousness
in a mother's thoughts. Unhappiness, like great happiness, induces
dreaming. Sometimes as Julie played with her little Helene, she would
gaze darkly at her, giving no reply to the childish questions in which
a mother delights, questioning the present and the future as to the
destiny of this little one. Then some sudden recollection would bring
back the scene of the review at the Tuileries and fill her eyes with
tears. Her father's prophetic warnings rang in her ears, and
conscience reproached her that she had not recognized its wisdom. Her
troubles had all come of her own wayward folly, and often she knew not
which among so many were the hardest to bear. The sweet treasures of
her soul were unheeded, and not only so, she could never succeed in
making her husband understand her, even in the commonest everyday
things. Just as the power to love developed and grew strong and
active, a legitimate channel for the affections of her nature was
denied her, and wedded love was extinguished in grave physical and
mental sufferings. Add to this that she now felt for her husband that
pity closely bordering upon contempt, which withers all affection at
last. Even if she had not learned from conversations with some of her
friends, from examples in life, from sundry occurrences in the great
world, that love can bring ineffable bliss, her own wounds would have
taught her to divine the pure and deep happiness which binds two
kindred souls each to each.
In the picture which her memory traced of the past, Arthur's frank
face stood out daily nobler and purer; it was but a flash, for upon
that recollection she dared not dwell. The young Englishman's shy,
silent love for her was the one event since her marriage which had
left a lingering sweetness in her darkened and lonely heart. It may be
that all the blighted hopes, all the frustrated longings which
gradually clouded Julie's mind, gathered, by a not unnatural trick of
imagination, about this man--whose manners, sentiments, and character
seemed to have so much in common with her own. This idea still
presented itself to her mind fitfully and vaguely, like a dream; yet
from that dream, which always ended in a sigh, Julie awoke to greater
wretchedness, to keener consciousness of the latent anguish brooding
beneath her imaginary bliss.
Occasionally her self-pity took wilder and more daring flights. She
determined to have happiness at any cost; but still more often she lay
a helpless victim of an indescribable numbing stupor, the words she
heard had no meaning to her, or the thoughts which arose in her mind
were so vague and indistinct that she could not find language to
express them. Balked of the wishes of her heart, realities jarred
harshly upon her girlish dreams of life, but she was obliged to devour
her tears. To whom could she make complaint? Of whom be understood?
She possessed, moreover, that highest degree of woman's sensitive
pride, the exquisite delicacy of feeling which silences useless
complainings and declines to use an advantage to gain a triumph which
can only humiliate both victor and vanquished.
Julie tried to endow M. d'Aiglemont with her own abilities and
virtues, flattering herself that thus she might enjoy the happiness
lacking in her lot. All her woman's ingenuity and tack was employed in
making the best of the situation; pure waste of pains unsuspected by
him, whom she thus strengthened in his despotism. There were moments
when misery became an intoxication, expelling all ideas, all self-
control; but, fortunately, sincere piety always brought her back to
one supreme hope; she found a refuge in the belief in a future life, a
wonderful thought which enabled her to take up her painful task
afresh. No elation of victory followed those terrible inward battles
and throes of anguish; no one knew of those long hours of sadness; her
haggard glances met no response from human eyes, and during the brief
moments snatched by chance for weeping, her bitter tears fell unheeded
and in solitude.
One evening in January 1820, the Marquise became aware of the full
gravity of the crisis, gradually brought on by force of circumstances.
When a husband and wife know each other thoroughly, and their relation
has long been a matter of use and wont, when the wife has learned to
interpret every slightest sign, when her quick insight discerns
thoughts and facts which her husband keeps from her, a chance word, or
a remark so carelessly let fall in the first instance, seems, upon
subsequent reflection, like the swift breaking out of light. A wife
not seldom suddenly awakes upon the brink of a precipice or in the
depths of the abyss; and thus it was with the Marquise. She was
feeling glad to have been left to herself for some days, when the real
reason of her solitude flashed upon her. Her husband, whether fickle
and tired of her, or generous and full of pity for her, was hers no
In the moment of that discovery she forgot herself, her sacrifices,
all that she had passed through, she remembered only that she was a
mother. Looking forward, she thought of her daughter's fortune, of the
future welfare of the one creature through whom some gleams of
happiness came to her, of her Helene, the only possession which bound
her to life.
Then Julie wished to live to save her child from a stepmother's
terrible thraldom, which might crush her darling's life. Upon this new
vision of threatened possibilities followed one of those paroxysms of
thought at fever-heat which consume whole years of life.
Henceforward husband and wife were doomed to be separated by a whole
world of thought, and all the weight of that world she must bear
alone. Hitherto she had felt sure that Victor loved her, in so far as
he could be said to love; she had been the slave of pleasures which
she did not share; to-day the satisfaction of knowing that she
purchased his contentment with her tears was hers no longer. She was
alone in the world, nothing was left to her now but a choice of evils.
In the calm stillness of the night her despondency drained her of all
her strength. She rose from her sofa beside the dying fire, and stood
in the lamplight gazing, dry-eyed, at her child, when M. d'Aiglemont
came in. He was in high spirits. Julie called to him to admire Helene
as she lay asleep, but he met his wife's enthusiasm with a
"All children are nice at that age."
He closed the curtains about the cot after a careless kiss on the
child's forehead. Then he turned his eyes on Julie, took her hand and
drew her to sit beside him on the sofa, where she had been sitting
with such dark thoughts surging up in her mind.
"You are looking very handsome to-night, Mme. d'Aiglemont," he
exclaimed, with the gaiety intolerable to the Marquise, who knew its
emptiness so well.
"Where have you spent the evening?" she asked, with a pretence of
"At Mme. de Serizy's."
He had taken up a fire-screen, and was looking intently at the gauze.
He had not noticed the traces of tears on his wife's face. Julie
shuddered. Words could not express the overflowing torrent of thoughts
which must be forced down into inner depths.
"Mme. de Serizy is giving a concert on Monday, and is dying for you to
go. You have not been anywhere for some time past, and that is enough
to set her longing to see you at her house. She is a good-natured
woman, and very fond of you. I should be glad if you would go; I all
but promised that you should----"
"I will go."
There was something so penetrating, so significant in the tones of
Julie's voice, in her accent, in the glance that went with the words,
that Victor, startled out of his indifference, stared at his wife in
That was all, Julie had guessed that it was Mme. de Serizy who had
stolen her husband's heart from her. Her brooding despair benumbed
her. She appeared to be deeply interested in the fire. Victor
meanwhile still played with the fire-screen. He looked bored, like a
man who has enjoyed himself elsewhere, and brought home the consequent
lassitude. He yawned once or twice, then he took up a candle in one
hand, and with the other languidly sought his wife's neck for the
usual embrace; but Julie stooped and received the good-night kiss upon
her forehead; the formal, loveless grimace seemed hateful to her at
As soon as the door closed upon Victor, his wife sank into a seat. Her
limbs tottered beneath her, she burst into tears. None but those who
have endured the torture of some such scene can fully understand the
anguish that it means, or divine the horror of the long-drawn tragedy
arising out of it.
Those simple, foolish words, the silence that followed between the
husband and wife, the Marquis' gesture and expression, the way in
which he sat before the fire, his attitude as he made that futile
attempt to put a kiss on his wife's throat,--all these things made up
a dark hour for Julie, and the catastrophe of the drama of her sad and
lonely life. In her madness she knelt down before the sofa, burying
her face in it to shut out everything from sight, and prayed to
Heaven, putting a new significance into the words of the evening
prayer, till it became a cry from the depths of her own soul, which
would have gone to her husband's heart if he had heard it.
The following week she spent in deep thought for her future, utterly
overwhelmed by this new trouble. She made a study of it, trying to
discover a way to regain her ascendency over the Marquis, scheming how
to live long enough to watch over her daughter's happiness, yet to
live true to her own heart. Then she made up her mind. She would
struggle with her rival. She would shine once more in society. She
would feign the love which she could no longer feel, she would
captivate her husband's fancy; and when she had lured him into her
power, she would coquet with him like a capricious mistress who takes
delight in tormenting a lover. This hateful strategy was the only
possible way out of her troubles. In this way she would become
mistress of the situation; she would prescribe her own sufferings at
her good pleasure, and reduce them by enslaving her husband, and
bringing him under a tyrannous yoke. She felt not the slightest
remorse for the hard life which he should lead. At a bound she reached
cold, calculating indifference--for her daughter's sake. She had
gained a sudden insight into the treacherous, lying arts of degraded
women; the wiles of coquetry, the revolting cunning which arouses such
profound hatred in men at the mere suspicion of innate corruption in a
Julie's feminine vanity, her interests, and a vague desire to inflict
punishment, all wrought unconsciously with the mother's love within
her to force her into a path where new sufferings awaited her. But her
nature was too noble, her mind too fastidious, and, above all things,
too open, to be the accomplice of these frauds for very long.
Accustomed as she was to self-scrutiny, at the first step in vice--for
vice it was--the cry of conscience must inevitably drown the clamor of
the passions and of selfishness. Indeed, in a young wife whose heart
is still pure, whose love has never been mated, the very sentiment of
motherhood is overpowered by modesty. Modesty; is not all womanhood
summed up in that? But just now Julie would not see any danger,
anything wrong, in her life.
She went to Mme. de Serizy's concert. Her rival had expected to see a
pallid, drooping woman. The Marquise wore rouge, and appeared in all
the splendor of a toilet which enhanced her beauty.
Mme. de Serizy was one of those women who claim to exercise a sort of
sway over fashions and society in Paris; she issued her decrees, saw
them received in her own circle, and it seemed to her that all the
world obeyed them. She aspired to epigram, she set up for an authority
in matters of taste. Literature, politics, men and women, all alike
were submitted to her censorship, and the lady herself appeared to
defy the censorship of others. Her house was in every respect a model
of good taste.
Julie triumphed over the Countess in her own salon, filled as it was
with beautiful women and women of fashion. Julie's liveliness and
sparkling wit gathered all the most distinguished men in the rooms
about her. Her costume was faultless, for the despair of the women,
who one and all envied her the fashion of her dress, and attributed
the moulded outline of her bodice to the genius of some unknown
dressmaker, for women would rather believe in miracles worked by the
science of chiffons than in the grace and perfection of the form
When Julie went to the piano to sing Desdemona's song, the men in the
rooms flocked about her to hear the celebrated voice so long mute, and
there was a deep silence. The Marquise saw the heads clustered thickly
in the doorways, saw all eyes turned upon her, and a sharp thrill of
excitement quivered through her. She looked for her husband, gave him
a coquettish side-glance, and it pleased her to see that his vanity
was gratified to no small degree. In the joy of triumph she sang the
first part of /Al piu salice/. Her audience was enraptured. Never had
Malibran nor Pasta sung with expression and intonation so perfect. But
at the beginning of the second part she glanced over the glistening
groups and saw--Arthur. He never took his eyes from her face. A quick
shudder thrilled through her, and her voice faltered. Up hurried Mme.
de Serizy from her place.
"What is it, dear? Oh! poor little thing! she is in such weak health;
I was so afraid when I saw her begin a piece so far beyond her
The song was interrupted. Julie was vexed. She had not courage to sing
any longer, and submitted to her rival's treacherous sympathy. There
was a whisper among the women. The incident led to discussions; they
guessed that the struggle had begun between the Marquise and Mme. de
Serizy, and their tongues did not spare the latter.
Julie's strange, perturbing presentiments were suddenly realized.
Through her preoccupation with Arthur she had loved to imagine that
with that gentle, refined face he must remain faithful to his first
love. There were times when she felt proud that this ideal, pure, and
passionate young love should have been hers; the passion of the young
lover whose thoughts are all for her to whom he dedicates every moment
of his life, who blushes as a woman blushes, thinks as a woman might
think, forgetting ambition, fame, and fortune in devotion to his love,
--she need never fear a rival. All these things she had fondly and
idly dreamed of Arthur; now all at once it seemed to her that her
dream had come true. In the young Englishman's half-feminine face she
read the same deep thoughts, the same pensive melancholy, the same
passive acquiescence in a painful lot, and an endurance like her own.
She saw herself in him. Trouble and sadness are the most eloquent of
love's interpreters, and response is marvelously swift between two
suffering creatures, for in them the powers of intuition and of
assimilation of facts and ideas are well-nigh unerring and perfect. So
with the violence of the shock the Marquise's eyes were opened to the
whole extent of the future danger. She was only too glad to find a
pretext for her nervousness in her chronic ill-health, and willingly
submitted to be overwhelmed by Mme. de Serizy's insidious compassion.
That incident of the song caused talk and discussion which differed
with the various groups. Some pitied Julie's fate, and regretted that
such a remarkable woman was lost to society; others fell to wondering
what the cause of her ill-health and seclusion could be.
"Well, now, my dear Ronquerolles," said the Marquis, addressing Mme.
de Serizy's brother, "you used to envy me my good fortune, and you
used to blame me for my infidelities. Pshaw, you would not find much
to envy in my lot, if, like me, you had a pretty wife so fragile that
for the past two years you might not so much as kiss her hand for fear
of damaging her. Do not you encumber yourself with one of those
fragile ornaments, only fit to put in a glass case, so brittle and so
costly that you are always obliged to be careful of them. They tell me
that you are afraid of snow or wet for that fine horse of yours; how
often do you ride him? That is just my own case. It is true that my
wife gives me no ground for jealousy, but my marriage is purely
ornamental business; if you think that I am a married man, you are
grossly mistaken. So there is some excuse for my unfaithfulness. I
should dearly like to know what you gentlemen who laugh at me would do
in my place. Not many men would be so considerate as I am. I am sure,"
(here he lowered his voice) "that Mme. d'Aiglemont suspects nothing.
And then, of course, I have no right to complain at all; I am very
well off. Only there is nothing more trying for a man who feels things
than the sight of suffering in a poor creature to whom you are
"You must have a very sensitive nature, then," said M. de
Ronquerolles, "for you are not often at home."
Laughter followed on the friendly epigram; but Arthur, who made one of
the group, maintained a frigid imperturbability in his quality of an
English gentleman who takes gravity for the very basis of his being.
D'Aiglemont's eccentric confidence, no doubt, had kindled some kind of
hope in Arthur, for he stood patiently awaiting an opportunity of a
word with the Marquis. He had not to wait long.
"My Lord Marquis," he said, "I am unspeakably pained to see the state
of Mme. d'Aiglemont's health. I do not think that you would talk
jestingly about it if you knew that unless she adopts a certain course
of treatment she must die miserably. If I use this language to you, it
is because I am in a manner justified in using it, for I am quite
certain that I can save Mme. d'Aiglemont's life and restore her to
health and happiness. It is odd, no doubt, that a man of my rank
should be a physician, yet nevertheless chance determined that I
should study medicine. I find life dull enough here," he continued,
affecting a cold selfishness to gain his ends, "it makes no difference
to me whether I spend my time and travel for the benefit of a
suffering fellow-creature, or waste it in Paris on some nonsense or
other. It is very, very seldom that a cure is completed in these
complaints, for they require constant care, time, and patience, and,
above all things, money. Travel is needed, and a punctilious following
out of prescriptions, by no means unpleasant, and varied daily. Two
/gentlemen/" (laying a stress on the word in its English sense) "can
understand each other. I give you warning that if you accept my
proposal, you shall be a judge of my conduct at every moment. I will
do nothing without consulting you, without your superintendence, and I
will answer for the success of my method if you will consent to follow
it. Yes, unless you wish to be Mme. d'Aiglemont's husband no longer,
and that before long," he added in the Marquis' ear.
The Marquis laughed. "One thing is certain--that only an Englishman
could make me such an extraordinary proposal," he said. "Permit me to
leave it unaccepted and unrejected. I will think it over; and my wife
must be consulted first in any case."
Julie had returned to the piano. This time she sang a song from
/Semiramide, Son regina, son guerriera/, and the whole room applauded,
a stifled outburst of wellbred acclamation which proved that the
Faubourg Saint-Germain had been roused to enthusiasm by her singing.
The evening was over. D'Aiglemont brought his wife home, and Julie saw
with uneasy satisfaction that her first attempt had at once been
successful. Her husband had been roused out of indifference by the
part which she had played, and now he meant to honor her with such a
passing fancy as he might bestow upon some opera nymph. It amused
Julie that she, a virtuous married woman, should be treated thus. She
tried to play with her power, but at the outset her kindness broke
down once more, and she received the most terrible of all the lessons
held in store for her by fate.
Between two and three o'clock in the morning Julie sat up, sombre and
moody, beside her sleeping husband, in the room dimly lighted by the
flickering lamp. Deep silence prevailed. Her agony of remorse had
lasted near an hour; how bitter her tears had been none perhaps can
realize save women who have known such an experience as hers. Only
such natures as Julie's can feel her loathing for a calculated caress,
the horror of a loveless kiss, of the heart's apostasy followed by
dolorous prostitution. She despised herself; she cursed marriage. She
could have longed for death; perhaps if it had not been for a cry from
her child, she would have sprung from the window and dashed herself
upon the pavement. M. d'Aiglemont slept on peacefully at her side; his
wife's hot dropping tears did not waken him.
But next morning Julie could be gay. She made a great effort to look
happy, to hide, not her melancholy, as heretofore, but an insuperable
loathing. From that day she no longer regarded herself as a blameless
wife. Had she not been false to herself? Why should she not play a
double part in the future, and display astounding depths of cunning in
deceiving her husband? In her there lay a hitherto undiscovered latent
depravity, lacking only opportunity, and her marriage was the cause.
Even now she had asked herself why she should struggle with love,
when, with her heart and her whole nature in revolt, she gave herself
to the husband whom she loved no longer. Perhaps, who knows? some
piece of fallacious reasoning, some bit of special pleading, lies at
the root of all sins, of all crimes. How shall society exist unless
every individual of which it is composed will make the necessary
sacrifices of inclination demanded by its laws? If you accept the
benefits of civilized society, do you not by implication engage to
observe the conditions, the conditions of its very existence? And yet,
starving wretches, compelled to respect the laws of property, are not
less to be pitied than women whose natural instincts and sensitiveness
are turned to so many avenues of pain.
A few days after that scene of which the secret lay buried in the
midnight couch, d'Aiglemont introduced Lord Grenville. Julie gave the
guest a stiffly polite reception, which did credit to her powers of
dissimulation. Resolutely she silenced her heart, veiled her eyes,
steadied her voice, and she kept her future in her own hands. Then,
when by these devices, this innate woman-craft, as it may be called,
she had discovered the full extent of the love which she inspired,
Mme. d'Aiglemont welcomed the hope of a speedy cure, and no longer
opposed her husband, who pressed her to accept the young doctor's
offer. Yet she declined to trust herself with Lord Grenville until
after some further study of his words and manner, she could feel
certain that he had sufficient generosity to endure his pain in
silence. She had absolute power over him, and she had begun to abuse
that power already. Was she not a woman?
Montcontour is an old manor-house build upon the sandy cliffs above
the Loire, not far from the bridge where Julie's journey was
interrupted in 1814. It is a picturesque, white chateau, with turrets
covered with fine stone carving like Mechlin lace; a chateau such as
you often see in Touraine, spick and span, ivy clad, standing among
its groves of mulberry trees and vineyards, with its hollow walks, its
stone balustrades, and cellars mined in the rock escarpments mirrored
in the Loire. The roofs of Montcontour gleam in the sun; the whole
land glows in the burning heat. Traces of the romantic charm of Spain
and the south hover about the enchanting spot. The breeze brings the
scent of bell flowers and golden broom, the air is soft, all about you
lies a sunny land, a land which casts its dreamy spell over your soul,
a land of languor and of soft desire, a fair, sweet-scented country,
where pain is lulled to sleep and passion wakes. No heart is cold for
long beneath its clear sky, beside its sparkling waters. One ambition
dies after another, and you sink into serene content and repose, as
the sun sinks at the end of the day swathed about with purple and
One warm August evening in 1821 two people were climbing the paths cut
in the crags above the chateau, doubtless for the sake of the view
from the heights above. The two were Julie and Lord Grenville, but
this Julie seemed to be a new creature. The unmistakable color of
health glowed in her face. Overflowing vitality had brought a light
into her eyes, which sparkled through a moist film with that liquid
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