A Woman of Thirty
Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 4
brightness which gives such irresistible charm to the eyes of
children. She was radiant with smiles; she felt the joy of living and
all the possibilities of life. From the very way in which she lifted
her little feet, it was easy to see that no suffering trammeled her
lightest movements; there was no heaviness nor languor in her eyes,
her voice, as heretofore. Under the white silk sunshade which screened
her from the hot sunlight, she looked like some young bride beneath
her veil, or a maiden waiting to yield to the magical enchantments of
Arthur led her with a lover's care, helping her up the pathway as if
she had been a child, finding the smoothest ways, avoiding the stones
for her, bidding her see glimpses of distance, or some flower beside
the path, always with the unfailing goodness, the same delicate design
in all that he did; the intuitive sense of this woman's wellbeing
seemed to be innate in him, and as much, nay, perhaps more, a part of
his being as the pulse of his own life.
The patient and her doctor went step for step. There was nothing
strange for them in a sympathy which seemed to have existed since the
day when they first walked together. One will swayed them both; they
stopped as their senses received the same impression; every word and
every glance told of the same thought in either mind. They had climbed
up through the vineyards, and now they turned to sit on one of the
long white stones, quarried out of the caves in the hillside; but
Julie stood awhile gazing out over the landscape.
"What a beautiful country!" she cried. "Let us put up a tent and live
here. Victor, Victor, do come up here!"
M. d'Aiglemont answered by a halloo from below. He did not, however,
hurry himself, merely giving his wife a glance from time to time when
the windings of the path gave him a glimpse of her. Julie breathed the
air with delight. She looked up at Arthur, giving him one of those
subtle glances in which a clever woman can put the whole of her
"Ah, I should like to live here always," she said. "Would it be
possible to tire of this beautiful valley?--What is the picturesque
river called, do you know?"
"That is the Cise."
"The Cise," she repeated. "And all this country below, before us?"
"Those are the low hills above the Cher."
"And away to the right? Ah, that is Tours. Only see how fine the
cathedral towers look in the distance."
She was silent, and let fall the hand which she had stretched out
towards the view upon Arthur's. Both admired the wide landscape made
up of so much blended beauty. Neither of them spoke. The murmuring
voice of the river, the pure air, and the cloudless heaven were all in
tune with their thronging thoughts and their youth and the love in
"Oh! /mon Dieu/, how I love this country!" Julie continued, with
growing and ingenuous enthusiasm. "You lived here for a long while,
did you not?" she added after a pause.
A thrill ran through Lord Grenville at her words.
"It was down there," he said, in a melancholy voice, indicating as he
spoke a cluster of walnut trees by the roadside, "that I, a prisoner,
saw you for the first time."
"Yes, but even at that time I felt very sad. This country looked wild
to me then, but now----" She broke off, and Lord Grenville did not
dare to look at her.
"All this pleasure I owe to you," Julie began at last, after a long
silence. "Only the living can feel the joy of life, and until now have
I not been dead to it all? You have given me more than health, you
have made me feel all its worth--"
Women have an inimitable talent for giving utterance to strong
feelings in colorless words; a woman's eloquence lies in tone and
gesture, manner and glance. Lord Grenville hid his face in his hands,
for his tears filled his eyes. This was Julie's first word of thanks
since they left Paris a year ago.
For a whole year he had watched over the Marquise, putting his whole
self into the task. D'Aiglemont seconding him, he had taken her first
to Aix, then to la Rochelle, to be near the sea. From moment to moment
he had watched the changes worked in Julie's shattered constitution by
his wise and simple prescriptions. He had cultivated her health as an
enthusiastic gardener might cultivate a rare flower. Yet, to all
appearance, the Marquise had quietly accepted Arthur's skill and care
with the egoism of a spoiled Parisienne, or like a courtesan who has
no idea of the cost of things, nor of the worth of a man, and judges
of both by their comparative usefulness to her.
The influence of places upon us is a fact worth remarking. If
melancholy comes over us by the margin of a great water, another
indelible law of our nature so orders it that the mountains exercise a
purifying influence upon our feelings, and among the hills passion
gains in depth by all that it apparently loses in vivacity. Perhaps it
was the light of the wide country by the Loire, the height of the fair
sloping hillside on which the lovers sat, that induced the calm bliss
of the moment when the whole extent of the passion that lies beneath a
few insignificant-sounding words is divined for the first time with a
delicious sense of happiness.
Julie had scarcely spoken the words which had moved Lord Grenville so
deeply, when a caressing breeze ruffled the treetops and filled the
air with coolness from the river; a few clouds crossed the sky, and
the soft cloud-shadows brought out all the beauty of the fair land
Julie turned away her head, lest Arthur should see the tears which she
succeeded in repressing; his emotion had spread at once to her. She
dried her eyes, but she dared not raise them lest he should read the
excess of joy in a glance. Her woman's instinct told her that during
this hour of danger she must hide her love in the depths of her heart.
Yet silence might prove equally dangerous, and Julie saw that Lord
Grenville was unable to utter a word. She went on, therefore, in a
"You are touched by what I have said. Perhaps such a quick outburst of
feeling is the way in which a gracious and kind nature like yours
reverses a mistaken judgment. You must have thought me ungrateful when
I was cold and reserved, or cynical and hard, all through the journey
which, fortunately, is very near its end. I should not have been
worthy of your care if I had been unable to appreciate it. I have
forgotten nothing. Alas! I shall forget nothing, not the anxious way
in which you watched over me as a mother watches over her child, nor,
and above all else, the noble confidence of our life as brother and
sister, the delicacy of your conduct--winning charms, against which we
women are defenceless. My lord, it is out of my power to make you a
At these words Julie hastily moved further away, and Lord Grenville
made no attempt to detain her. She went to a rock not far away, and
there sat motionless. What either felt remained a secret known to each
alone; doubtless they wept in silence. The singing of the birds about
them, so blithe, so overflowing with tenderness at sunset time, could
only increase the storm of passion which had driven them apart. Nature
took up their story for them, and found a language for the love of
which they did not dare to speak.
"And now, my lord," said Julie, and she came and stood before Arthur
with a great dignity, which allowed her to take his hand in hers. "I
am going to ask you to hallow and purify the life which you have given
back to me. Here, we will part. I know," she added, as she saw how
white his face grew, "I know that I am repaying you for your devotion
by requiring of you a sacrifice even greater than any which you have
hitherto made for me, sacrifices so great that they should receive
some better recompense than this. . . . But it must be. . . You must
not stay in France. By laying this command upon you, do I not give you
rights which shall be held sacred?" she added, holding his hand
against her beating heart.
"Yes," said Arthur, and he rose.
He looked in the direction of d'Aiglemont, who appeared on the
opposite side of one of the hollow walks with the child in his arms.
He had scrambled up on the balustrade by the chateau that little
Helene might jump down.
"Julie, I will not say a word of my love; we understand each other too
well. Deeply and carefully though I have hidden the pleasures of my
heart, you have shared them all, I feel it, I know it, I see it. And
now, at this moment, as I receive this delicious proof of the constant
sympathy of our hearts, I must go. . . . Cunning schemes for getting
rid of him have crossed my mind too often; the temptation might be
irresistible if I stayed with you."
"I had the same thought," she said, a look of pained surprise in her
Yet in her tone and involuntary shudder there was such virtue, such
certainty of herself, won in many a hard-fought battle with a love
that spoke in Julie's tones and involuntary gestures, that Lord
Grenville stood thrilled with admiration of her. The mere shadow of a
crime had been dispelled from that clear conscience. The religious
sentiment enthroned on the fair forehead could not but drive away the
evil thoughts that arise unbidden, engendered by our imperfect nature,
thoughts which make us aware of the grandeur and the perils of human
"And then," she said, "I should have drawn down your scorn upon me,
and--I should have been saved," she added, and her eyes fell. "To be
lowered in your eyes, what is that but death?"
For a moment the two heroic lovers were silent, choking down their
sorrow. Good or ill, it seemed that their thoughts were loyally one,
and the joys in the depths of their heart were no more experiences
apart than the pain which they strove most anxiously to hide.
"I have no right to complain," she said after a while, "my misery is
of my own making," and she raised her tear-filled eyes to the sky.
"Perhaps you don't remember it, but that is the place where we met
each other for the first time," shouted the General from below, and he
waved his hand towards the distance. "There, down yonder, near those
The Englishman nodded abruptly by way of answer.
"So I was bound to die young and to know no happiness," Julie
continued. "Yes, do not think that I live. Sorrow is just as fatal as
the dreadful disease which you have cured. I do not think that I am to
blame. No. My love is stronger than I am, and eternal; but all
unconsciously it grew in me; and I will not be guilty through my love.
Nevertheless, though I shall be faithful to my conscience as a wife,
to my duties as a mother, I will be no less faithful to the instincts
of my heart. Hear me," she cried in an unsteady voice, "henceforth I
belong to /him/ no longer."
By a gesture, dreadful to see in its undisguised loathing she
indicated her husband.
"The social code demands that I shall make his existence happy," she
continued. "I will obey, I will be his servant, my devotion to him
shall be boundless; but from to-day I am a widow. I will neither be a
prostitute in my own eyes nor in those of the world. If I do not
belong to M. d'Aiglemont, I will never belong to another. You shall
have nothing, nothing save this which you have wrung from me. This is
the doom which I have passed upon myself," she said, looking proudly
at him. "And now, know this--if you give way to a single criminal
thought, M. d'Aiglemont's widow will enter a convent in Spain or
Italy. By an evil chance we have spoken of our love; perhaps that
confession was bound to come; but our hearts must never vibrate again
like this. To-morrow you will receive a letter from England, and we
shall part, and never see each other again."
The effort had exhausted all Julie's strength. She felt her knees
trembling, and a feeling of deathly cold came over her. Obeying a
woman's instinct, she sat down, lest she should sink into Arthur's
"/Julie!/" cried Lord Grenville.
The sharp cry rang through the air like a crack of thunder. Till then
he could not speak; now, all the words which the dumb lover could not
utter gathered themselves in that heartrending appeal.
"Well, what is wrong with her?" asked the General, who had hurried up
at that cry, and now suddenly confronted the two.
"Nothing serious," said Julie, with that wonderful self-possession
which a woman's quick-wittedness usually brings to her aid when it is
most called for. "The chill, damp air under the walnut tree made me
feel quite faint just now, and that must have alarmed this doctor of
mine. Does he not look on me as a very nearly finished work of art? He
was startled, I suppose, by the idea of seeing it destroyed." With
ostentatious coolness she took Lord Grenville's arm, smiled at her
husband, took a last look at the landscape, and went down the pathway,
drawing her traveling companion with her.
"This certainly is the grandest view that we have seen," she said; "I
shall never forget it. Just look, Victor, what distance, what an
expanse of country, and what variety in it! I have fallen in love with
Her laughter was almost hysterical, but to her husband it sounded
natural. She sprang gaily down into the hollow pathway and vanished.
"What?" she cried, when they had left M. d'Aiglemont far behind. "So
soon? Is it so soon? Another moment, and we can neither of us be
ourselves; we shall never be ourselves again, our life is over, in
"Let us go slowly," said Lord Grenville, "the carriages are still some
way off, and if we may put words into our glances, our hearts may live
a little longer."
They went along the footpath by the river in the late evening light,
almost in silence; such vague words as they uttered, low as the murmur
of the Loire, stirred their souls to the depths. Just as the sun sank,
a last red gleam from the sky fell over them; it was like a mournful
symbol of their ill-starred love.
The General, much put out because the carriage was not at the spot
where they had left it, followed and outstripped the pair without
interrupting their converse. Lord Grenville's high minded and delicate
behavior throughout the journey had completely dispelled the Marquis'
suspicions. For some time past he had left his wife in freedom,
reposing confidence in the noble amateur's Punic faith. Arthur and
Julie walked on together in the close and painful communion of two
hearts laid waste.
So short a while ago as they climbed the cliffs at Montcontour, there
had been a vague hope in either mind, an uneasy joy for which they
dared not account to themselves; but now as they came along the
pathway by the river, they pulled down the frail structure of
imaginings, the child's cardcastle, on which neither of them had dared
to breathe. That hope was over.
That very evening Lord Grenville left them. His last look at Julie
made it miserably plain that since the moment when sympathy revealed
the full extent of a tyrannous passion, he did well to mistrust
The next morning, M. d'Aiglemont and his wife took their places in the
carriage without their traveling companion, and were whirled swiftly
along the road to Blois. The Marquise was constantly put in mind of
the journey made in 1814, when as yet she know nothing of love, and
had been almost ready to curse it for its persistency. Countless
forgotten impressions were revived. The heart has its own memory. A
woman who cannot recollect the most important great events will
recollect through a lifetime things which appealed to her feelings;
and Julie d'Aiglemont found all the most trifling details of that
journey laid up in her mind. It was pleasant to her to recall its
little incidents as they occurred to her one by one; there were points
in the road when she could even remember the thoughts that passed
through her mind when she saw them first.
Victor had fallen violently in love with his wife since she had
recovered the freshness of her youth and all her beauty, and now he
pressed close to her side like a lover. Once he tried to put his arm
round her, but she gently disengaged herself, finding some excuse or
other for evading the harmless caress. In a little while she shrank
from the close contact with Victor, the sensation of warmth
communicated by their position. She tried to take the unoccupied place
opposite, but Victor gallantly resigned the back seat to her. For this
attention she thanked him with a sigh, whereupon he forgot himself,
and the Don Juan of the garrison construed his wife's melancholy to
his own advantage, so that at the end of the day she was compelled to
speak with a firmness which impressed him.
"You have all but killed me, dear, once already, as you know," said
she. "If I were still an inexperienced girl, I might begin to
sacrifice myself afresh; but I am a mother, I have a daughter to bring
up, and I owe as much to her as to you. Let us resign ourselves to a
misfortune which affects us both alike. You are the less to be pitied.
Have you not, as it is, found consolations which duty and the honor of
both, and (stronger still) which Nature forbids to me? Stay," she
added, "you carelessly left three letters from Mme. de Serizy in a
drawer; here they are. My silence about this matter should make it
plain to you that in me you have a wife who has plenty of indulgence
and does not exact from you the sacrifices prescribed by the law. But
I have thought enough to see that the roles of husband and wife are
quite different, and that the wife alone is predestined to misfortune.
My virtue is based upon firmly fixed and definite principles. I shall
live blamelessly, but let me live."
The Marquis was taken aback by a logic which women grasp with the
clear insight of love, and overawed by a certain dignity natural to
them at such crises. Julie's instinctive repugnance for all that
jarred upon her love and the instincts of her heart is one of the
fairest qualities of woman, and springs perhaps from a natural virtue
which neither laws nor civilization can silence. And who shall dare to
blame women? If a woman can silence the exclusive sentiment which bids
her "forsake all other" for the man whom she loves, what is she but a
priest who has lost his faith? If a rigid mind here and there condemns
Julie for a sort of compromise between love and wifely duty,
impassioned souls will lay it to her charge as a crime. To be thus
blamed by both sides shows one of two things very clearly--that misery
necessarily follows in the train of broken laws, or else that there
are deplorable flaws in the institutions upon which society in Europe
Two years went by. M. and Mme. d'Aiglemont went their separate ways,
leading their life in the world, meeting each other more frequently
abroad than at home, a refinement upon divorce, in which many a
marriage in the great world is apt to end.
One evening, strange to say, found husband and wife in their own
drawing-room. Mme. d'Aiglemont had been dining at home with a friend,
and the General, who almost invariably dined in town, had not gone out
"There is a pleasant time in store for you, /Madame la Marquise/,"
said M. d'Aiglemont, setting his coffee cup down upon the table. He
looked at the guest, Mme. de Wimphen, and half-pettishly, half-
mischievously added, "I am starting off for several days' sport with
the Master of the Hounds. For a whole week, at any rate, you will be a
widow in good earnest; just what you wish for, I suppose.--Guillaume,"
he said to the servant who entered, "tell them to put the horses in."
Mme. de Wimphen was the friend to whom Julie had begun the letter upon
her marriage. The glances exchanged by the two women said plainly that
in her Julie had found an intimate friend, an indulgent and invaluable
confidante. Mme. de Wimphen's marriage had been a very happy one.
Perhaps it was her own happiness which secured her devotion to Julie's
unhappy life, for under such circumstances, dissimilarity of destiny
is nearly always a strong bond of union.
"Is the hunting season not over yet?" asked Julie, with an indifferent
glance at her husband.
"The Master of the Hounds comes when and where he pleases, madame. We
are going boar-hunting in the Royal Forest."
"Take care that no accident happens to you."
"Accidents are usually unforeseen," he said, smiling.
"The carriage is ready, my Lord Marquis," said the servant.
"Madame, if I should fall a victim to the boar--" he continued, with a
"What does this mean?" inquired Mme. de Wimphen.
"Come, come," said Mme. d'Aiglemont, turning to her husband; smiling
at her friend as if to say, "You will soon see."
Julie held up her head; but as her husband came close to her, she
swerved at the last, so that his kiss fell not on her throat, but on
the broad frill about it.
"You will be my witness before heaven now that I need a firman to
obtain this little grace of her," said the Marquis, addressing Mme. de
Wimphen. "This is how this wife of mine understands love. She has
brought me to this pass, by what trickery I am at a loss to
know. . . . A pleasant time to you!" and he went.
"But your poor husband is really very good-natured," cried Louisa de
Wimphen, when the two women were alone together. "He loves you."
"Oh! not another syllable after that last word. The name I bear makes
"Yes, but Victor obeys you implicitly," said Louisa.
"His obedience is founded in part upon the great esteem which I have
inspired in him. As far as outward things go, I am a model wife. I
make his house pleasant to him; I shut my eyes to his intrigues; I
touch not a penny of his fortune. He is free to squander the interest
exactly as he pleases; I only stipulate that he shall not touch the
principal. At this price I have peace. He neither explains nor
attempts to explain my life. But though my husband is guided by me,
that does not say that I have nothing to fear from his character. I am
a bear leader who daily trembles lest the muzzle should give way at
last. If Victor once took it into his head that I had forfeited my
right to his esteem, what would happen next I dare not think; for he
is violent, full of personal pride, and vain above all things. While
his wits are not keen enough to enable him to behave discreetly at a
delicate crisis when his lowest passions are involved, his character
is weak, and he would very likely kill me provisionally even if he
died of remorse next day. But there is no fear of that fatal good
A brief pause followed. Both women were thinking of the real cause of
this state of affairs. Julie gave Louisa a glance which revealed her
"I have been cruelly obeyed," she cried. "Yet I never forbade him to
write to me. Oh! /he/ has forgotten me, and he is right. If his life
had been spoiled, it would have been too tragical; one life is enough,
is it not? Would you believe it, dear; I read English newspapers
simply to see his name in print. But he has not yet taken his seat in
the House of Lords."
"So you know English."
"Did I not tell you?--Yes, I learned."
"Poor little one!" cried Louisa, grasping Julie's hand in hers. "How
can you still live?"
"That is the secret," said the Marquise, with an involuntary gesture
almost childlike in its simplicity. "Listen, I take laudanum. That
duchess in London suggested the idea; you know the story, Maturin made
use of it in one of his novels. My drops are very weak, but I sleep; I
am only awake for seven hours in the day, and those house I spend with
Louisa gazed into the fire. The full extent of her friend's misery was
opening out before her for the first time, and she dared not look into
"Keep my secret, Louisa," said Julie, after a moment's silence.
Just as she spoke the footman brought in a letter for the Marquise.
"Ah!" she cried, and her face grew white.
"I need not ask from whom it comes," said Mme. de Wimphen, but the
Marquise was reading the letter, and heeded nothing else.
Mme. de Wimphen, watching her friend, saw strong feeling wrought to
the highest pitch, ecstasy of the most dangerous kind painted on
Julie's face in swift changing white and red. At length Julie flung
the sheet into the fire.
"It burns like fire," she said. "Oh! my heart beats till I cannot
She rose to her feet and walked up and down. Her eyes were blazing.
"He did not leave Paris!" she cried.
Mme. de Wimphen did not dare to interrupt the words that followed,
jerked-out sentences, measured by dreadful pauses in between. After
every break the deep notes of her voice sank lower and lower. There
was something awful about the last words.
"He has seen me, constantly, and I have not known it.--A look, taken
by stealth, every day, helps him to live.--Louisa, you do not know!--
He is dying.--He wants to say good-bye to me. He knows that my husband
has gone away for several days. He will be here in a moment. Oh! I
shall die: I am lost.--Listen, Louisa, stay with me!--/I am afraid!/"
"But my husband knows that I have been dining with you; he is sure to
come for me," said Mme. de Wimphen.
"Well, then, before you go I will send /him/ away. I will play the
executioner for us both. Oh me! he will think that I do not love him
any more--And that letter of his! Dear, I can see those words in
letters of fire."
A carriage rolled in under the archway.
"Ah!" cried the Marquise, with something like joy in her voice, "he is
coming openly. He makes no mystery of it."
"Lord Grenville," announced the servant.
The Marquise stood up rigid and motionless; but at the sight of
Arthur's white face, so thin and haggard, how was it possible to keep
up the show of severity? Lord Grenville saw that Julie was not alone,
but he controlled his fierce annoyance, and looked cool and
unperturbed. Yet for the two women who knew his secret, his face, his
tones, the look in his eyes had something of the power attributed to
the torpedo. Their faculties were benumbed by the sharp shock of
contact with his horrible pain. The sound of his voice set Julie's
heart beating so cruelly that she could not trust herself to speak;
she was afraid that he would see the full extent of his power over
her. Lord Grenville did not dare to look at Julie, and Mme. de Wimphen
was left to sustain a conversation to which no one listened. Julie
glanced at her friend with touching gratefulness in her eyes to thank
her for coming to her aid.
By this time the lovers had quelled emotion into silence, and could
preserve the limits laid down by duty and convention. But M. de
Wimphen was announced, and as he came in the two friends exchanged
glances. Both felt the difficulties of this fresh complication. It was
impossible to enter into explanations with M. de Wimphen, and Louisa
could not think of any sufficient pretext for asking to be left.
Julie went to her, ostensibly to wrap her up in her shawl. "I will be
brave," she said, in a low voice. "He came here in the face of all the
world, so what have I to fear? Yet but for you, in that first moment,
when I saw how changed he looked, I should have fallen at his feet."
"Well, Arthur, you have broken your promise to me," she said, in a
faltering voice, when she returned. Lord Grenville did not venture to
take the seat upon the sofa by her side.
"I could not resist the pleasure of hearing your voice, of being near
you. The thought of it came to be a sort of madness, a delirious
frenzy. I am no longer master of myself. I have taken myself to task;
it is no use, I am too weak, I ought to die. But to die without seeing
you, without having heard the rustle of your dress, or felt your
tears. What a death!"
He moved further away from her; but in his hasty uprising a pistol
fell out of his pocket. The Marquise looked down blankly at the
weapon; all passion, all expression had died out of her eyes. Lord
Grenville stooped for the thing, raging inwardly over an accident
which seemed like a piece of lovesick strategy.
"Madame," he said, looking down, "I came here in utter desperation; I
meant----" he broke off.
"You meant to die by your own hand here in my house!"
"Not alone!" he said in a low voice.
"Not alone! My husband, perhaps----?"
"No, no," he cried in a choking voice. "Reassure yourself," he
continued, "I have quite given up my deadly purpose. As soon as I came
in, as soon as I saw you, I felt that I was strong enough to suffer in
silence, and to die alone."
Julie sprang up, and flung herself into his arms. Through her sobbing
he caught a few passionate words, "To know happiness, and then to die.
--Yes, let it be so."
All Julie's story was summed up in that cry from the depths; it was
the summons of nature and of love at which women without a religion
surrender. With the fierce energy of unhoped-for joy, Arthur caught
her up and carried her to the sofa; but in a moment she tore herself
from her lover's arms, looked at him with a fixed despairing gaze,
took his hand, snatched up a candle, and drew him into her room. When
they stood by the cot where Helene lay sleeping, she put the curtains
softly aside, shading the candle with her hand, lest the light should
dazzle the half-closed eyes beneath the transparent lids. Helene lay
smiling in her sleep, with her arms outstretched on the coverlet.
Julie glanced from her child to Arthur's face. That look told him all.
"We may leave a husband, even though he loves us: a man is strong; he
has consolations.--We may defy the world and its laws. But a
motherless child!"--all these thoughts, and a thousand others more
moving still, found language in that glance.
"We can take her with us," muttered he; "I will love her dearly."
"Mamma!" cried little Helene, now awake. Julie burst into tears. Lord
Grenville sat down and folded his arms in gloomy silence.
"Mamma!" At the sweet childish name, so many nobler feelings, so many
irresistible yearnings awoke, that for a moment love was effaced by
the all-powerful instinct of motherhood; the mother triumphed over the
woman in Julie, and Lord Grenville could not hold out, he was defeated
by Julie's tears.
Just at that moment a door was flung noisily open. "Madame
d'Aiglemont, are you hereabouts?" called a voice which rang like a
crack of thunder through the hearts of the two lovers. The Marquis had
Before Julie could recover her presence of mind, her husband was on
the way to the door of her room which opened into his. Luckily, at a
sign, Lord Grenville escaped into the dressing-closet, and she hastily
shut the door upon him.
"Well, my lady, here am I," said Victor, "the hunting party did not
come off. I am just going to bed."
"Good-night, so am I. So go and leave me to undress."
"You are very cross to-night, Madame la Marquise."
The General returned to his room, Julie went with him to the door and
shut it. Then she sprang to the dressing-close to release Arthur. All
her presence of mind returned; she bethought herself that it was quite
natural that her sometime doctor should pay her a visit; she might
have left him in the drawing-room while she put her little girl to
bed. She was about to tell him, under her breath, to go back to the
drawing-room, and had opened the door. Then she shrieked aloud. Lord
Grenville's fingers had been caught and crushed in the door.
"Well, what is it?" demanded her husband.
"Oh! nothing, I have just pricked my finger with a pin."
The General's door opened at once. Julie imagined that the irruption
was due to a sudden concern for her, and cursed a solicitude in which
love had no part. She had barely time to close the dressing-closet,
and Lord Grenville had not extricated his hand. The General did, in
fact, appear, but his wife had mistaken his motives; his apprehensions
were entirely on his own account.
"Can you lend me a bandana handkerchief? The stupid fool Charles
leaves me without a single one. In the early days you used to bother
me with looking after me so carefully. Ah, well, the honeymoon did not
last very long for me, nor yet for my cravats. Nowadays I am given
over to the secular arm, in the shape of servants who do not care one
jack straw for what I say."
"There! There is a bandana for you. Did you go into the drawing-room?"
"Oh! you might perhaps have been in time to see Lord Grenville."
"Is he in Paris?"
"It seems so."
"Oh! I will go at once. The good doctor."
"But he will have gone by now!" exclaimed Julie.
The Marquis, standing in the middle of the room, was tying the
handkerchief over his head. He looked complacently at himself in the
"What has become of the servants is more than I know," he remarked. "I
have rung the bell for Charles, and he has not answered it. And your
maid is not here either. Ring for her. I should like another blanket
on my bed to-night."
"Pauline is out," the Marquise said drily.
"What, at midnight!" exclaimed the General.
"I gave her leave to go to the Opera."
"That is funny!" returned her husband, continuing to undress. "I
thought I saw her coming upstairs."
"She has come in then, of course," said Julie, with assumed
impatience, and to allay any possible suspicion on her husband's part
she pretended to ring the bell.
The whole history of that night has never been known, but no doubt it
was as simple and as tragically commonplace as the domestic incidents
that preceded it.
Next day the Marquise d'Aiglemont took to her bed, nor did she leave
it for some days.
"What can have happened in your family so extraordinary that every one
is talking about your wife?" asked M. de Ronquerolles of M.
d'Aiglemont a short time after that night of catastrophes.
"Take my advice and remain a bachelor," said d'Aiglemont. "The
curtains of Helene's cot caught fire, and gave my wife such a shock
that it will be a twelvemonth before she gets over it; so the doctor
says. You marry a pretty wife, and her looks fall off; you marry a
girl in blooming health, and she turns into an invalid. You think she
has a passionate temperament, and find her cold, or else under her
apparent coldness there lurks a nature so passionate that she is the
death of you, or she dishonors your name. Sometimes the meekest of
them will turn out crotchety, though the crotchety ones never grow any
sweeter. Sometimes the mere child, so simple and silly at first, will
develop an iron will to thwart you and the ingenuity of a fiend. I am
tired of marriage."
"Or of your wife?"
"That would be difficult. By-the-by, do you feel inclined to go to
Saint-Thomas d'Aquin with me to attend Lord Grenville's funeral?"
"A singular way of spending time.--Is it really known how he came by
his death?" added Ronquerolles.
"His man says that he spent a whole night sitting on somebody's window
sill to save some woman's character, and it has been infernally cold
"Such devotion would be highly creditable to one of us old stagers;
but Lord Grenville was a youngster and--an Englishman. Englishmen
never can do anything like anybody else."
"Pooh!" returned d'Aiglemont, "these heroic exploits all depend upon
the woman in the case, and it certainly was not for one that I know,
that poor Arthur came by his death."
A HIDDEN GRIEF
Between the Seine and the little river Loing lies a wide flat country,
skirted on the one side by the Forest of Fontainebleau, and marked out
as to its southern limits by the towns of Moret, Montereau, and
Nemours. It is a dreary country; little knolls of hills appear only at
rare intervals, and a coppice here and there among the fields affords
for game; and beyond, upon every side, stretches the endless gray or
yellowish horizon peculiar to Beauce, Sologne, and Berri.
In the very centre of the plain, at equal distances from Moret and
Montereau, the traveler passes the old chateau of Saint-Lange,
standing amid surroundings which lack neither dignity nor stateliness.
There are magnificent avenues of elm-trees, great gardens encircled by
the moat, and a circumference of walls about a huge manorial pile
which represents the profits of the /maltote/, the gains of farmers-
general, legalized malversation, or the vast fortunes of great houses
now brought low beneath the hammer of the Civil Code.
Should any artist or dreamer of dreams chance to stray along the roads
full of deep ruts, or over the heavy land which secures the place
against intrusion, he will wonder how it happened that this romantic
old place was set down in a savanna of corn-land, a desert of chalk,
and sand, and marl, where gaiety dies away, and melancholy is a
natural product of the soil. The voiceless solitude, the monotonous
horizon line which weigh upon the spirits are negative beauties, which
only suit with sorrow that refuses to be comforted.
Hither, at the close of the year 1820, came a woman, still young, well
known in Paris for her charm, her fair face, and her wit; and to the
immense astonishment of the little village a mile away, this woman of
high rank and corresponding fortune took up her abode at Saint-Lange.
From time immemorial, farmers and laborers had seen no gentry at the
chateau. The estate, considerable though it was, had been left in
charge of a land-steward and the house to the old servants. Wherefore
the appearance of the lady of the manor caused a kind of sensation in
A group had gathered in the yard of the wretched little wineshop at
the end of the village (where the road forks to Nemours and Moret) to
see the carriage pass. It went by slowly, for the Marquise had come
from Paris with her own horses, and those on the lookout had ample
opportunity of observing a waiting-maid, who sat with her back to the
horses holding a little girl, with a somewhat dreamy look, upon her
knee. The child's mother lay back in the carriage; she looked like a
dying woman sent out into the country air by her doctors as a last
resource. Village politicians were by no means pleased to see the
young, delicate, downcast face; they had hoped that the new arrival at
Saint-Lange would bring some life and stir into the neighborhood, and
clearly any sort of stir or movement must be distasteful to the
suffering invalid in the traveling carriage.
That evening, when the notables of Saint-Lange were drinking in the
private room of the wineshop, the longest head among them declared
that such depression could admit of but one construction--the Marquise
was ruined. His lordship the Marquis was away in Spain with the Duc
d'Angouleme (so they said in the papers), and beyond a doubt her
ladyship had come to Saint-Lange to retrench after a run of ill-luck
on the Bourse. The Marquis was one of the greatest gamblers on the
face of the globe. Perhaps the estate would be cut up and sold in
little lots. There would be some good strokes of business to be made
in that case, and it behooved everybody to count up his cash, unearth
his savings and to see how he stood, so as to secure his share of the
spoil of Saint-Lange.
So fair did this future seem, that the village worthies, dying to know
whether it was founded on fact, began to think of ways of getting at
the truth through the servants at the chateau. None of these, however,
could throw any light on the calamity which had brought their mistress
into the country at the beginning of winter, and to the old chateau of
Saint-Lange of all places, when she might have taken her choice of
cheerful country-houses famous for their beautiful gardens.
His worship the mayor called to pay his respects; but he did not see
the lady. Then the land-steward tried with no better success.
Madame la Marquise kept her room, only leaving it, while it was set in
order, for the small adjoining drawing-room, where she dined; if,
indeed, to sit down to a table, to look with disgust at the dishes,
and take the precise amount of nourishment required to prevent death
from sheer starvation, can be called dining. The meal over, she
returned at once to the old-fashioned low chair, in which she had sat
since the morning, in the embrasure of the one window that lighted her
Her little girl she only saw for a few minutes daily, during the
dismal dinner, and even for a short time she seemed scarcely able to
bear the child's presence. Surely nothing but the most unheard-of
anguish could have extinguished a mother's love so early.
None of the servants were suffered to come near, her own woman was the
one creature whom she liked to have about her; the chateau must be
perfectly quiet, the child must play at the other end of the house.
The slightest sound had grown so intolerable, that any human voice,
even the voice of her own child, jarred upon her.
At first the whole countryside was deeply interested in these
eccentricities; but time passed on, every possible hypothesis had been
advanced to account for them and the peasants and dwellers in the
little country towns thought no more of the invalid lady.
So the Marquise was left to herself. She might live on, perfectly
silent, amid the silence which she herself had created; there was
nothing to draw her forth from the tapestried chamber where her
grandmother died, whither she herself had come that she might die,
gently, without witnesses, without importunate solicitude, without
suffering from the insincere demonstrations of egoism masquerading as
affection, which double the agony of death in great cities.
She was twenty-six years old. At that age, with plenty of romantic
illusions still left, the mind loves to dwell on the thought of death
when death seems to come as a friend. But with youth, death is coy,
coming up close only to go away, showing himself and hiding again,
till youth has time to fall out of love with him during this
dalliance. There is that uncertainty too that hangs over death's
to-morrow. Youth plunges back into the world of living men, there to
find the pain more pitiless than death, that does not wait to strike.
This woman who refused to live was to know the bitterness of these
reprieves in the depths of her loneliness; in moral agony, which death
would not come to end, she was to serve a terrible apprenticeship to
the egoism which must take the bloom from her heart and break her in
to the life of the world.
This harsh and sorry teaching is the usual outcome of our early
sorrows. For the first, and perhaps for the last time in her life, the
Marquise d'Aiglemont was in very truth suffering. And, indeed, would
it not be an error to suppose that the same sentiment can be
reproduced in us? Once develop the power to feel, is it not always
there in the depths of our nature? The accidents of life may lull or
awaken it, but there it is, of necessity modifying the self, its
abiding place. Hence, every sensation should have its great day once
and for all, its first day of storm, be it long or short. Hence,
likewise, pain, the most abiding of our sensations, could be keenly
felt only at its first irruption, its intensity diminishing with every
subsequent paroxysm, either because we grow accustomed to these
crises, or perhaps because a natural instinct of self-preservation
asserts itself, and opposes to the destroying force of anguish an
equal but passive force of inertia.
Yet of all kinds of suffering, to which does the name of anguish
belong? For the loss of parents, Nature has in a manner prepared us;
physical suffering, again, is an evil which passes over us and is
gone; it lays no hold upon the soul; if it persists, it ceases to be
an evil, it is death. The young mother loses her firstborn, but wedded
love ere long gives her a successor. This grief, too, is transient.
After all, these, and many other troubles like unto them, are in some
sort wounds and bruises; they do not sap the springs of vitality, and
only a succession of such blows can crush in us the instinct that
seeks happiness. Great pain, therefore, pain that arises to anguish,
should be suffering so deadly, that past, present, and future are
alike included in its grip, and no part of life is left sound and
whole. Never afterwards can we think the same thoughts as before.
Anguish engraves itself in ineffaceable characters on mouth and brow;
it passes through us, destroying or relaxing the springs that vibrate
to enjoyment, leaving behind in the soul the seeds of a disgust for
all things in this world.
Yet, again, to be measureless, to weigh like this upon body and soul,
the trouble should befall when soul and body have just come to their
full strength, and smite down a heart that beats high with life. Then
it is that great scars are made. Terrible is the anguish. None, it may
be, can issue from this soul-sickness without undergoing some dramatic
change. Those who survive it, those who remain on earth, return to the
world to wear an actor's countenance and to play an actor's part. They
know the side-scenes where actors may retire to calculate chances,
shed their tears, or pass their jests. Life holds no inscrutable dark
places for those who have passed through this ordeal; their judgments
For young women of the Marquise d'Aiglemont's age, this first, this
most poignant pain of all, is always referable to the same cause. A
woman, especially if she is a young woman, greatly beautiful, and by
nature great, never fails to stake her whole life as instinct and
sentiment and society all unite to bid her. Suppose that that life
fails her, suppose that she still lives on, she cannot but endure the
most cruel pangs, inasmuch as a first love is the loveliest of all.
How comes it that this catastrophe has found no painter, no poet? And
yet, can it be painted? Can it be sung? No; for the anguish arising
from it eludes analysis and defies the colors of art. And more than
this, such pain is never confessed. To console the sufferer, you must
be able to divine the past which she hugs in bitterness to her soul
like a remorse; it is like an avalanche in a valley; it laid all waste
before it found a permanent resting-place.
The Marquise was suffering from this anguish, which will for long
remain unknown, because the whole world condemns it, while sentiment
cherishes it, and the conscience of a true woman justifies her in it.
It is with such pain as with children steadily disowned of life, and
therefore bound more closely to the mother's heart than other children
more bounteously endowed. Never, perhaps, was the awful catastrophe in
which the whole world without dies for us, so deadly, so complete, so
cruelly aggravated by circumstance as it had been for the Marquise.
The man whom she had loved was young and generous; in obedience to the
laws of the world, she had refused herself to his love, and he had
died to save a woman's honor, as the world calls it. To whom could she
speak of her misery? Her tears would be an offence against her
husband, the origin of the tragedy. By all laws written and unwritten
she was bound over to silence. A woman would have enjoyed the story; a
man would have schemed for his own benefit. No; such grief as hers can
only weep freely in solitude and in loneliness; she must consume her
pain or be consumed by it; die or kill something within her--her
conscience, it may be.
Day after day she sat gazing at the flat horizon. It lay out before
her like her own life to come. There was nothing to discover, nothing
to hope. The whole of it could be seen at a glance. It was the visible
presentment in the outward world of the chill sense of desolation
which was gnawing restlessly at her heart. The misty mornings, the
pale, bright sky, the low clouds scudding under the gray dome of
heaven, fitted with the moods of her soul-sickness. Her heart did not
contract, was neither more nor less seared, rather it seemed as if her
youth, in its full blossom, was slowly turned to stone by an anguish
intolerable because it was barren. She suffered through herself and
for herself. How could it end save in self-absorption? Ugly torturing
thoughts probed her conscience. Candid self-examination pronounced
that she was double, there were two selves within her; a woman who
felt and a woman who thought; a self that suffered and a self that
could fain suffer no longer. Her mind traveled back to the joys of
childish days; they had gone by, and she had never known how happy
they were. Scenes crowded up in her memory as in a bright mirror
glass, to demonstrate the deception of a marriage which, all that it
should be in the eyes of the world, was in reality wretched. What had
the delicate pride of young womanhood done for her--the bliss
foregone, the sacrifices made to the world? Everything in her
expressed love, awaited love; her movements still were full of perfect
grace; her smile, her charm, were hers as before; why? she asked
herself. The sense of her own youth and physical loveliness no more
affected her than some meaningless reiterated sound. Her very beauty
had grown intolerable to her as a useless thing. She shrank aghast
from the thought that through the rest of life she must remain an
incomplete creature; had not the inner self lost its power of
receiving impressions with that zest, that exquisite sense of
freshness which is the spring of so much of life's gladness? The
impressions of the future would for the most part be effaced as soon
as received, and many of the thoughts which once would have moved her
now would move her no more.
After the childhood of the creature dawns the childhood of the heart;
but this second infancy was over, her lover had taken it down with him
into the grave. The longings of youth remained; she was young yet; but
the completeness of youth was gone, and with that lost completeness
the whole value and savor of life had diminished somewhat. Should she
not always bear within her the seeds of sadness and mistrust, ready to
grow up and rob emotion of its springtide of fervor? Conscious she
must always be that nothing could give her now the happiness so longed
for, that seemed so fair in her dreams. The fire from heaven that
sheds abroad its light in the heart, in the dawn of love, had been
quenched in tears, the first real tears which she had shed; henceforth
she must always suffer, because it was no longer in her power to be
what once she might have been. This is a belief which turns us in
aversion and bitterness of spirit from any proffered new delight.
Julie had come to look at life from the point of view of age about to
die. Young though she felt, the heavy weight of joyless days had
fallen upon her, and left her broken-spirited and old before her time.
With a despairing cry, she asked the world what it could give her in
exchange for the love now lost, by which she had lived. She asked
herself whether in that vanished love, so chaste and pure, her will
had not been more criminal than her deeds, and chose to believe
herself guilty; partly to affront the world, partly for her own
consolation, in that she had missed the close union of body and soul,
which diminishes the pain of the one who is left behind by the
knowledge that once it has known and given joy to the full, and
retains within itself the impress of that which is no more.
Something of the mortification of the actress cheated of her part
mingled with the pain which thrilled through every fibre of her heart
and brain. Her nature had been thwarted, her vanity wounded, her
woman's generosity cheated of self-sacrifice. Then, when she had
raised all these questions, set vibrating all the springs in those
different phases of being which we distinguish as social, moral, and
physical, her energies were so far exhausted and relaxed that she was
powerless to grasp a single thought amid the chase of conflicting
Sometimes as the mists fell, she would throw her window open, and
would stay there, motionless, breathing in unheedingly the damp
earthly scent in the air, her mind to all appearance an unintelligent
blank, for the ceaseless burden of sorrow humming in her brain left
her deaf to earth's harmonies and insensible to the delights of
One day, towards noon, when the sun shone out for a little, her maid
came in without a summons.
"This is the fourth time that M. le Cure has come to see Mme. la
Marquise; to-day he is so determined about it, that we did not know
what to tell him."
"He has come to ask for some money for the poor, no doubt; take him
twenty-five louis from me."
The woman went only to return.
"M. le Cure will not take the money, my lady; he wants to speak to
"Then let him come!" said Mme. d'Aiglemont, with an involuntary shrug
which augured ill for the priest's reception. Evidently the lady meant
to put a stop to persecution by a short and sharp method.
Mme. d'Aiglemont had lost her mother in her early childhood; and as a
natural consequence in her bringing-up, she had felt the influence of
the relaxed notions which loosened the hold of religion upon France
during the Revolution. Piety is a womanly virtue which women alone can
really instil; and the Marquise, a child of the eighteenth century,
had adopted her father's creed of philosophism, and practised no
religious observances. A priest, to her way of thinking, was a civil
servant of very doubtful utility. In her present position, the
teaching of religion could only poison her wounds; she had, moreover,
but scanty faith in the lights of country cures, and made up her mind
to put this one gently but firmly in his place, and to rid herself of
him, after the manner of the rich, by bestowing a benefit.
At first sight of the cure the Marquise felt no inclination to change
her mind. She saw before her a stout, rotund little man, with a ruddy,
wrinkled, elderly face, which awkwardly and unsuccessfully tried to
smile. His bald, quadrant-shaped forehead, furrowed by intersecting
lines, was too heavy for the rest of his face, which seemed to be
dwarfed by it. A fringe of scanty white hair encircled the back of his
head, and almost reached his ears. Yet the priest looked as if by
nature he had a genial disposition; his thick lips, his slightly
curved nose, his chin, which vanished in a double fold of wrinkles,--
all marked him out as a man who took cheerful views of life.
At first the Marquise saw nothing but these salient characteristics,
but at the first word she was struck by the sweetness of the speaker's
voice. Looking at him more closely, she saw that the eyes under the
grizzled eyebrows had shed tears, and his face, turned in profile,
wore so sublime an impress of sorrow, that the Marquise recognized the
man in the cure.
"Madame la Marquise, the rich only come within our province when they
are in trouble. It is easy to see that the troubles of a young,
beautiful, and wealthy woman, who has lost neither children nor
relatives, are caused by wounds whose pangs religion alone can soothe.
Your soul is in danger, madame. I am not speaking now of the hereafter
which awaits us. No, I am not in the confessional. But it is my duty,
is it not, to open your eyes to your future life here on earth? You
will pardon an old man, will you not, for importunity which has your
own happiness for its object?"
"There is no more happiness for me, monsieur. I shall soon be, as you
say, in your province; but it will be for ever."
"Nay, madame. You will not die of this pain which lies heavy upon you,
and can be read in your face. If you had been destined to die of it,
you would not be here at Saint-Lange. A definite regret is not so
deadly as hope deferred. I have known others pass through more
intolerable and more awful anguish, and yet they live."
The Marquise looked incredulous.
"Madame, I know a man whose affliction was so sore that your trouble
would seem to you to be light compared with his."
Perhaps the long solitary hours had begun to hang heavily; perhaps in
the recesses of the Marquise's mind lay the thought that here was a
friendly heart to whom she might be able to pour out her troubles.
However, it was, she gave the cure a questioning glance which could
not be mistaken.
"Madame," he continued, "the man of whom I tell you had but three
children left of a once large family circle. He lost his parents, his
daughter, and his wife, whom he dearly loved. He was left alone at
last on the little farm where he had lived so happily for so long. His
three sons were in the army, and each of the lads had risen in
proportion to his time of service. During the Hundred Days, the oldest
went into the Guard with a colonel's commission; the second was a
major in the artillery; the youngest a major in a regiment of
dragoons. Madame, those three boys loved their father as much as he
loved them. If you but knew how careless young fellows grow of home
ties when they are carried away by the current of their own lives, you
would realize from this one little thing how warmly they loved the
lonely old father, who only lived in and for them--never a week passed
without a letter from one of the boys. But then he on his side had
never been weakly indulgent, to lessen their respect for him; nor
unjustly severe, to thwart their affection; or apt to grudge
sacrifices, the thing that estranges children's hearts. He had been
more than a father; he had been a brother to them, and their friend.
"At last he went to Paris to bid them good-bye before they set out for
Belgium; he wished to see that they had good horses and all that they
needed. And so they went, and the father returned to his home again.
Then the war began. He had letters from Fleurus, and again from Ligny.
All went well. Then came the battle of Waterloo, and you know the
rest. France was plunged into mourning; every family waited in intense
anxiety for news. You may imagine, madame, how the old man waited for
tidings, in anxiety that knew no peace nor rest. He used to read the
gazettes; he went to the coach office every day. One evening he was
told that the colonel's servant had come. The man was riding his
master's horse--what need was there to ask any questions?--the colonel
was dead, cut in two by a shell. Before the evening was out the
youngest son's servant arrived--the youngest had died on the eve of
the battle. At midnight came a gunner with tidings of the death of the
last; upon whom, in those few hours, the poor father had centered all
his life. Madame, they all had fallen."
After a pause the good man controlled his feelings, and added gently:
"And their father is still living, madame. He realized that if God had
left him on earth, he was bound to live on and suffer on earth; but he
took refuge in the sanctuary. What could he be?"
The Marquise looked up and saw the cure's face, grown sublime in its
sorrow and resignation, and waited for him to speak. When the words
came, tears broke from her.
"A priest, madame; consecrated by his own tears previously shed at the
foot of the altar."
Silence prevailed for a little. The Marquise and the cure looked out
at the foggy landscape, as if they could see the figures of those who
were no more.
"Not a priest in a city, but a simple country cure," added he.
"At Saint-Lange," she said, drying her eyes.
Never had the majesty of grief seemed so great to Julie. The two words
sank straight into her heart with the weight of infinite sorrow. The
gentle, sonorous tones troubled her heart. Ah! that full, deep voice,
charged with plangent vibration, was the voice of one who had suffered
"And if I do not die, monsieur, what will become of me?" The Marquise
spoke almost reverently.
"Have you not a child, madame?"
"Yes," she said stiffly.
The cure gave her such a glance as a doctor gives a patient whose life
is in danger. Then he determined to do all that in him lay to combat
the evil spirit into whose clutches she had fallen.
"We must live on with our sorrows--you see it yourself, madame, and
religion alone offers us real consolation. Will you permit me to come
again?--to speak to you as a man who can sympathize with every
trouble, a man about whom there is nothing very alarming, I think?"
"Yes, monsieur, come back again. Thank you for your thought of me."
"Very well, madame; then I shall return very shortly."
This visit relaxed the tension of soul, as it were; the heavy strain
of grief and loneliness had been almost too much for the Marquise's
strength. The priest's visit had left a soothing balm in her heart,
his words thrilled through her with healing influence. She began to
feel something of a prisoner's satisfaction, when, after he has had
time to feel his utter loneliness and the weight of his chains, he
hears a neighbor knocking on the wall, and welcomes the sound which
brings a sense of human friendship. Here was an unhoped-for confidant.
But this feeling did not last for long. Soon she sank back into the
old bitterness of spirit, saying to herself, as the prisoner might
say, that a companion in misfortune could neither lighten her own
bondage nor her future.
In the first visit the cure had feared to alarm the susceptibilities
of self-absorbed grief, in a second interview he hoped to make some
progress towards religion. He came back again two days later, and from
the Marquise's welcome it was plain that she had looked forward to the
"Well, Mme. la Marquise, have you given a little thought to the great
mass of human suffering? Have you raised your eyes above our earth and
seen the immensity of the universe?--the worlds beyond worlds which
crush our vanity into insignificance, and with our vanity reduce our
"No, monsieur," she said; "I cannot rise to such heights, our social
laws lie too heavily upon me, and rend my heart with a too poignant
anguish. And laws perhaps are less cruel than the usages of the world.
Ah! the world!"
"Madame, we must obey both. Law is the doctrine, and custom the
practice of society."
"Obey society?" cried the Marquise, with an involuntary shudder. "Eh!
monsieur, it is the source of all our woes. God laid down no law to
make us miserable; but mankind, uniting together in social life, have
perverted God's work. Civilization deals harder measure to us women
than nature does. Nature imposes upon us physical suffering which you
have not alleviated; civilization has developed in us thoughts and
feelings which you cheat continually. Nature exterminates the weak;
you condemn them to live, and by so doing, consign them to a life of
misery. The whole weight of the burden of marriage, an institution on
which society is based, falls upon us; for the man liberty, duties for
the woman. We must give up our whole lives to you, you are only bound
to give us a few moments of yours. A man, in fact, makes a choice,
while we blindly submit. Oh, monsieur, to you I can speak freely.
Marriage, in these days, seems to me to be legalized prostitution.
This is the cause of my wretchedness. But among so many miserable
creatures so unhappily yoked, I alone am bound to be silent, I alone
am to blame for my misery. My marriage was my own doing."
She stopped short, and bitter tears fell in the silence.
"In the depths of my wretchedness, in the midst of this sea of
distress," she went on, "I found some sands on which to set foot and
suffer at leisure. A great tempest swept everything away. And here am
I, helpless and alone, too weak to cope with storms."
"We are never weak while God is with us," said the priest. "And if
your cravings for affection cannot be satisfied here on earth, have
you no duties to perform?"
"Duties continually!" she exclaimed, with something of impatience in
her tone. "But where for me are the sentiments which give us strength
to perform them? Nothing from nothing, nothing for nothing,--this,
monsieur, is one of the most inexorable laws of nature, physical or
spiritual. Would you have these trees break into leaf without the sap
which swells the buds? It is the same with our human nature; and in me
the sap is dried up at its source."
"I am not going to speak to you of religious sentiments of which
resignation is born," said the cure, "but of motherhood, madame,
"Stop, monsieur!" said the Marquise, "with you I will be sincere.
Alas! in future I can be sincere with no one; I am condemned to
falsehood. The world requires continual grimaces, and we are bidden to
obey its conventions if we would escape reproach. There are two kinds
of motherhood, monsieur; once I knew nothing of such distinctions, but
I know them now. Only half of me has become a mother; it were better
for me if I had not been a mother at all. Helene is not /his/ child!
Oh! do not start. At Saint-Lange there are volcanic depths whence come
lurid gleams of light and earthquake shocks to shake the fragile
edifices of laws not based on nature. I have borne a child, that is
enough, I am a mother in the eyes of the law. But you, monsieur, with
your delicately compassionate soul, can perhaps understand this cry
from an unhappy woman who has suffered no lying illusions to enter her
heart. God will judge me, but surely I have only obeyed His laws by
giving way to the affections which He Himself set in me, and this I
have learned from my own soul.--What is a child, monsieur, but the
image of two beings, the fruit of two sentiments spontaneously
blended? Unless it is owned by every fibre of the body, as by every
chord of tenderness in the heart; unless it recalls the bliss of love,
the hours, the places where two creatures were happy, their words that
overflowed with the music of humanity, and their sweet imaginings,
that child is an incomplete creation. Yes, those two should find the
poetic dreams of their intimate double life realized in their child as
in an exquisite miniature; it should be for them a never-failing
spring of emotion, implying their whole past and their whole future.
"My poor little Helene is her father's child, the offspring of duty
and of chance. In me she finds nothing but the affection of instinct,
the woman's natural compassion for the child of her womb. Socially
speaking, I am above reproach. Have I not sacrificed my life and my
happiness to my child? Her cries go to my heart; if she were to fall
into the water, I should spring to save her, but she is not in my
"Ah! love set me dreaming of a motherhood far greater and more
complete. In a vanished dream I held in my arms a child conceived in
desire before it was begotten, the exquisite flower of life that
blossoms in the soul before it sees the light of day. I am Helene's
mother only in the sense that I brought her forth. When she needs me
no longer, there will be an end of my motherhood; with the extinction
of the cause, the effects will cease. If it is a woman's adorable
prerogative that her motherhood may last through her child's life,
surely that divine persistence of sentiment is due to the far-reaching
glory of the conception of the soul? Unless a child has lain wrapped
about from life's first beginnings by the mother's soul, the instinct
of motherhood dies in her as in the animals. This is true; I feel that
it is true. As my poor little one grows older, my heart closes. My
sacrifices have driven us apart. And yet I know, monsieur, that to
another child my heart would have gone out in inexhaustible love; for
that other I should not have known what sacrifice meant, all had been
delight. In this, monsieur, my instincts are stronger than reason,
stronger than religion or all else in me. Does the woman who is
neither wife nor mother sin in wishing to die when, for her
misfortune, she has caught a glimpse of the infinite beauty of love,
the limitless joy of motherhood? What can become of her? /I/ can tell
you what she feels. I cannot put that memory from me so resolutely but
that a hundred times, night and day, visions of a happiness, greater
it may be than the reality, rise before me, followed by a shudder
which shakes brain and heart and body. Before these cruel visions, my
feelings and thoughts grow colorless, and I ask myself, 'What would my
life have been /if/----?' "
She hid her face in her hands and burst into tears.
"There you see the depths of my heart!" she continued. "For /his/
child I could have acquiesced in any lot however dreadful. He who
died, bearing the burden of the sins of the world will forgive this
thought of which I am dying; but the world, I know, is merciless. In
its ears my words are blasphemies; I am outraging all its codes. Oh!
that I could wage war against this world and break down and refashion
its laws and traditions! Has it not turned all my thoughts, and
feelings, and longings, and hopes, and every fibre in me into so many
sources of pain? Spoiled my future, present, and past? For me the
daylight is full of gloom, my thoughts pierce me like a sword, my
child is and is not.
"Oh, when Helene speaks to me, I wish that her voice were different,
when she looks into my face I wish that she had other eyes. She
constantly keeps me in mind of all that should have been and is not. I
cannot bear to have her near me. I smile at her, I try to make up to
her for the real affection of which she is defrauded. I am wretched,
monsieur, too wretched to live. And I am supposed to be a pattern
wife. And I have committed no sins. And I am respected! I have fought
down forbidden love which sprang up at unawares within me; but if I
have kept the letter of the law, have I kept it in my heart? There has
never been but one here," she said, laying her right hand on her
breast, "one and no other; and my child feels it. Certain looks and
tones and gestures mould a child's nature, and my poor little one
feels no thrill in the arm I put about her, no tremor comes into my
voice, no softness into my eyes when I speak to her or take her up.
She looks at me, and I cannot endure the reproach in her eyes. There
are times when I shudder to think that some day she may be my judge
and condemn her mother unheard. Heaven grant that hate may not grow up
between us! Ah! God in heaven, rather let the tomb open for me, rather
let me end my days here at Saint-Lange!--I want to go back to the
world where I shall find my other soul and become wholly a mother. Ah!
forgive me, sir, I am mad. Those words were choking me; now they are
spoken. Ah! you are weeping too! You will not despise me--"
She heard the child come in from a walk. "Helene, my child, come
here!" she called. The words sounded like a cry of despair.
The little girl ran in, laughing and calling to her mother to see a
butterfly which she had caught; but at the sight of that mother's
tears she grew quiet of a sudden, and went up close, and received a
kiss on her forehead.
"She will be very beautiful some day," said the priest.
"She is her father's child," said the Marquise, kissing the little one
with eager warmth, as if she meant to pay a debt of affection or to
extinguish some feeling of remorse.
"How hot you are, mamma!"
"There, go away, my angel," said the Marquise.
The child went. She did not seem at all sorry to go; she did not look
back; glad perhaps to escape from a sad face, and instinctively
comprehending already an antagonism of feeling in its expression. A
mother's love finds language in smiles, they are a part of the divine
right of motherhood. The Marquise could not smile. She flushed red as
she felt the cure's eyes. She had hoped to act a mother's part before
him, but neither she nor her child could deceive him. And, indeed,
when a woman loves sincerely, in the kiss she gives there is a divine
honey; it is as if a soul were breathed forth in the caress, a subtle
flame of fire which brings warmth to the heart; the kiss that lacks
this delicious unction is meagre and formal. The priest had felt the
difference. He could fathom the depths that lie between the motherhood
of the flesh and the motherhood of the heart. He gave the Marquise a
keen, scrutinizing glance, then he said:
"You are right, madame; it would be better for you if you were
"Ah!" she cried, "then you know all my misery; I see you do if,
Christian priest as you are, you can guess my determination to die and
sanction it. Yes, I meant to die, but I have lacked the courage. The
spirit was strong, but the flesh was weak, and when my hand did not
tremble, the spirit within me wavered.
"I do not know the reason of these inner struggles, and alternations.
I am very pitiably a woman no doubt, weak in my will, strong only to
love. Oh, I despise myself. At night, when all my household was
asleep, I would go out bravely as far as the lake; but when I stood on
the brink, my cowardice shrank from self-destruction. To you I will
confess my weakness. When I lay in my bed, again, shame would come
over me, and courage would come back. Once I took a dose of laudanum;
I was ill, but I did not die. I thought I had emptied the phial, but I
had only taken half the dose."
"You are lost, madame," the cure said gravely, with tears in his
voice. "You will go back into the world, and you will deceive the
world. You will seek and find a compensation (as you imagine it to be)
for your woes; then will come a day of reckoning for your pleasures--"
"Do you think," she cried, "that /I/ shall bestow the last, the most
precious treasures of my heart upon the first base impostor who can
play the comedy of passion? That I would pollute my life for a moment
of doubtful pleasure? No; the flame which shall consume my soul shall
be love, and nothing but love. All men, monsieur, have the senses of
their sex, but not all have the man's soul which satisfies all the
requirements of our nature, drawing out the melodious harmony which
never breaks forth save in response to the pressure of feeling. Such a
soul is not found twice in our lifetime. The future that lies before
me is hideous; I know it. A woman is nothing without love; beauty is
nothing without pleasure. And even if happiness were offered to me a
second time, would not the world frown upon it? I owe my daughter an
honored mother. Oh! I am condemned to live in an iron circle, from
which there is but one shameful way of escape. The round of family
duties, a thankless and irksome task, is in store for me. I shall
curse life; but my child shall have at least a fair semblance of a
mother. I will give her treasures of virtue for the treasures of love
of which I defraud her.
"I have not even the mother's desire to live to enjoy her child's
happiness. I have no belief in happiness. What will Helene's fate be?
My own, beyond doubt. How can a mother ensure that the man to whom she
gives her daughter will be the husband of her heart? You pour scorn on
the miserable creatures who sell themselves for a few coins to any
passer-by, though want and hunger absolve the brief union; while
another union, horrible for quite other reasons, is tolerated, nay
encouraged, by society, and a young and innocent girl is married to a
man whom she has only met occasionally during the previous three
months. She is sold for her whole lifetime. It is true that the price
is high! If you allow her no compensation for her sorrows, you might
at least respect her; but no, the most virtuous of women cannot escape
calumny. This is our fate in its double aspect. Open prostitution and
shame; secret prostitution and unhappiness. As for the poor,
portionless girls, they may die or go mad, without a soul to pity
them. Beauty and virtue are not marketable in the bazaar where souls
and bodies are bought and sold--in the den of selfishness which you
call society. Why not disinherit daughters? Then, at least, you might
fulfil one of the laws of nature, and guided by your own inclinations,
choose your companions."
"Madame, from your talk it is clear to me that neither the spirit of
family nor the sense of religion appeals to you. Why should you
hesitate between the claims of the social selfishness which irritates
you, and the purely personal selfishness which craves satisfactions--"
"The family, monsieur--does such a thing exist? I decline to recognize
as a family a knot of individuals bidden by society to divide the
property after the death of father and mother, and to go their
separate ways. A family means a temporary association of persons
brought together by no will of their own, dissolved at once by death.
Our laws have broken up homes and estates, and the old family
tradition handed down from generation to generation. I see nothing but
wreck and ruin about me."
"Madame, you will only return to God when His hand has been heavy upon
you, and I pray that you have time enough given to you in which to
make your peace with Him. Instead of looking to heaven for comfort,
you are fixing your eyes on earth. Philosophism and personal interest
have invaded your heart; like the children of the sceptical eighteenth
century, you are deaf to the voice of religion. The pleasures of this
life bring nothing but misery. You are about to make an exchange of
sorrows, that is all."
She smiled bitterly.
"I will falsify your predictions," she said. "I shall be faithful to
him who died for me."
"Sorrow," he answered, "is not likely to live long save in souls
disciplined by religion," and he lowered his eyes respectfully lest
the Marquise should read his doubts in them. The energy of her
outburst had grieved him. He had seen the self that lurked beneath so
many forms, and despaired of softening a heart which affliction seemed
to sear. The divine Sower's seed could not take root in such a soil,
and His gentle voice was drowned by the clamorous outcry of self-pity.
Yet the good man returned again and again with an apostle's earnest
persistence, brought back by a hope of leading so noble and proud a
soul to God; until the day when he made the discovery that the
Marquise only cared to talk with him because it was sweet to speak of
him who was no more. He would not lower his ministry by condoning her
passion, and confined the conversation more and more to generalities
Spring came, and with the spring the Marquise found distraction from
her deep melancholy. She busied herself for lack of other occupation
with her estate, making improvements for amusement.
In October she left the old chateau. In the life of leisure at Saint-
Lange she had recovered from her grief and grown fair and fresh. Her
grief had been violent at first in its course, as the quoit hurled
forth with all the player's strength, and like the quoit after many
oscillations, each feebler than the last, it had slackened into
melancholy. Melancholy is made up of a succession of such
oscillations, the first touching upon despair, the last on the border
between pain and pleasure; in youth, it is the twilight of dawn; in
age, the dusk of night.
As the Marquise drove through the village in her traveling carriage,
she met the cure on his way back from the church. She bowed in
response to his farewell greeting, but it was with lowered eyes and
averted face. She did not wish to see him again. The village cure had
judged this poor Diana of Ephesus only too well.
AT THIRTY YEARS
Madame Firmiani was giving a ball. M. Charles de Vandenesse, a young
man of great promise, the bearer of one of those historic names which,
in spite of the efforts of legislation, are always associated with the
glory of France, had received letters of introduction to some of the
great lady's friends in Naples, and had come to thank the hostess and
to take his leave.
Vandenesse had already acquitted himself creditably on several
diplomatic missions; and now that he had received an appointment as
attache to a plenipotentiary at the Congress of Laybach, he wished to
take advantage of the opportunity to make some study of Italy on the
way. This ball was a sort of farewell to Paris and its amusements and
its rapid whirl of life, to the great eddying intellectual centre and
maelstrom of pleasure; and a pleasant thing it is to be borne along by
the current of this sufficiently slandered great city of Paris. Yet
Charles de Vandenesse had little to regret, accustomed as he had been
for the past three years to salute European capitals and turn his back
upon them at the capricious bidding of a diplomatist's destiny. Women
no longer made any impression upon him; perhaps he thought that a real
passion would play too large a part in a diplomatist's life; or
perhaps that the paltry amusements of frivolity were too empty for a
man of strong character. We all of us have huge claims to strength of
character. There is no man in France, be he ever so ordinary a member
of the rank and file of humanity, that will waive pretensions to
something beyond mere cleverness.
Charles, young though he was--he was scarcely turned thirty--looked at
life with a philosophic mind, concerning himself with theories and
means and ends, while other men of his age were thinking of pleasure,
sentiments, and the like illusions. He forced back into some inner
depth the generosity and enthusiasms of youth, and by nature he was
generous. He tried hard to be cool and calculating, to coin the fund
of wealth which chanced to be in his nature into gracious manners, and
courtesy, and attractive arts; 'tis the proper task of an ambitious
man, to play a sorry part to gain "a good position," as we call it in
He had been dancing, and now he gave a farewell glance over the rooms,
to carry away a distinct impression of the ball, moved, doubtless, to
some extent by the feeling which prompts a theatre-goer to stay in his
box to see the final tableau before the curtain falls. But M. de
Vandenesse had another reason for his survey. He gazed curiously at
the scene before him, so French in character and in movement, seeking
to carry away a picture of the light and laughter and the faces at
this Parisian fete, to compare with the novel faces and picturesque
surroundings awaiting him at Naples, where he meant to spend a few
days before presenting himself at his post. He seemed to be drawing
the comparison now between this France so variable, changing even as
you study her, with the manners and aspects of that other land known
to him as yet only by contradictory hearsay tales or books of travel,
for the most part unsatisfactory. Thoughts of a somewhat poetical
cast, albeit hackneyed and trite to our modern ideas, crossed his
brain, in response to some longing of which, perhaps, he himself was
hardly conscious, a desire in the depths of a heart fastidious rather
than jaded, vacant rather than seared.
"These are the wealthiest and most fashionable women and the greatest
ladies in Paris," he said to himself. "These are the great men of the
day, great orators and men of letters, great names and titles; artists
and men in power; and yet in it all it seems to me as if there were
nothing but petty intrigues and still-born loves, meaningless smiles
and causeless scorn, eyes lighted by no flame within, brain-power in
abundance running aimlessly to waste. All those pink-and-white faces
are here not so much for enjoyment, as to escape from dulness. None of
the emotion is genuine. If you ask for nothing but court feathers
properly adjusted, fresh gauzes and pretty toilettes and fragile, fair
women, if you desire simply to skim the surface of life, here is your
world for you. Be content with meaningless phrases and fascinating
simpers, and do not ask for real feeling. For my own part, I abhor the
stale intrigues which end in sub-prefectures and receiver-generals'
places and marriages; or, if love comes into the question, in stealthy
compromises, so ashamed are we of the mere semblance of passion. Not a
single one of all these eloquent faces tells you of a soul, a soul
wholly absorbed by one idea as by remorse. Regrets and misfortune go
about shame-facedly clad in jests. There is not one woman here whose
resistance I should care to overcome, not one who could drag you down
to the pit. Where will you find energy in Paris? A poniard here is a
curious toy to hang from a gilt nail, in a picturesque sheath to
match. The women, the brains, and hearts of Paris are all on a par.
There is no passion left, because we have no individuality. High birth
and intellect and fortune are all reduced to one level; we all have
taken to the uniform black coat by way of mourning for a dead France.
There is no love between equals. Between two lovers there should be
differences to efface, wide gulfs to fill. The charm of love fled from
us in 1789. Our dulness and our humdrum lives are the outcome of the
political system. Italy at any rate is the land of sharp contrasts.
Woman there is a malevolent animal, a dangerous unreasoning siren,
guided only by her tastes and appetites, a creature no more to be
trusted than a tiger--"
Mme. Firmiani here came up to interrupt this soliloquy made up of
vague, conflicting, and fragmentary thoughts which cannot be
reproduced in words. The whole charm of such musing lies in its
vagueness--what is it but a sort of mental haze?
"I want to introduce you to some one who has the greatest wish to make
your acquaintance, after all that she has heard of you," said the
lady, taking his arm.
She brought him into the next room, and with such a smile and glance
as a Parisienne alone can give, she indicated a woman sitting by the
"Who is she?" the Comte de Vandenesse asked quickly.
"You have heard her name more than once coupled with praise or blame.
She is a woman who lives in seclusion--a perfect mystery."
"Oh! if ever you have been merciful in your life, for pity's sake tell
me her name."
"She is the Marquise d'Aiglemont."
"I will take lessons from her; she had managed to make a peer of
France of that eminently ordinary person her husband, and a dullard
into a power in the land. But, pray tell me this, did Lord Grenville
die for her sake, do you think, as some women say?"
"Possibly. Since that adventure, real or imaginary, she is very much
changed, poor thing! She has not gone into society since. Four years
of constancy--that is something in Paris. If she is here to-night----"
Here Mme. Firmiani broke off, adding with a mysterious expression, "I
am forgetting that I must say nothing. Go and talk with her."
For a moment Charles stood motionless, leaning lightly against the
frame of the doorway, wholly absorbed in his scrutiny of a woman who
had become famous, no one exactly knew how or why. Such curious
anomalies are frequent enough in the world. Mme. d'Aiglemont's
reputation was certainly no more extraordinary than plenty of other
great reputations. There are men who are always in travail of some
great work which never sees the light, statisticians held to be
profound on the score of calculations which they take very good care
not to publish, politicians who live on a newspaper article, men of
letters and artists whose performances are never given to the world,
men of science, much as Sganarelle is a Latinist for those who know no
Latin; there are the men who are allowed by general consent to possess
a peculiar capacity for some one thing, be it for the direction of
arts, or for the conduct of an important mission. The admirable
phrase, "A man with a special subject," might have been invented on
purpose for these acephalous species in the domain of literature and
Charles gazed longer than he intended. He was vexed with himself for
feeling so strongly interested; it is true, however, that the lady's
appearance was a refutation of the young man's ballroom
The Marquise had reached her thirtieth year. She was beautiful in
spite of her fragile form and extremely delicate look. Her greatest
charm lay in her still face, revealing unfathomed depths of soul. Some
haunting, ever-present thought veiled, as it were, the full brilliance
of eyes which told of a fevered life and boundless resignation. So
seldom did she raise the eyelids soberly downcast, and so listless
were her glances, that it almost seemed as if the fire in her eyes
were reserved for some occult contemplation. Any man of genius and
feeling must have felt strangely attracted by her gentleness and
silence. If the mind sought to explain the mysterious problem of a
constant inward turning from the present to the past, the soul was no
less interested in initiating itself into the secrets of a heart proud
in some sort of its anguish. Everything about her, moreover, was in
keeping with these thoughts which she inspired. Like almost all women
who have very long hair, she was very pale and perfectly white. The
marvelous fineness of her skin (that almost unerring sign) indicated a
quick sensibility which could be seen yet more unmistakably in her
features; there was the same minute and wonderful delicacy of finish
in them that the Chinese artist gives to his fantastic figures.
Perhaps her neck was rather too long, but such necks belong to the
most graceful type, and suggest vague affinities between a woman's
head and the magnetic curves of the serpent. Leave not a single one of
the thousand signs and tokens by which the most inscrutable character
betrays itself to an observer of human nature, he has but to watch
carefully the little movements of a woman's head, the ever-varying
expressive turns and curves of her neck and throat, to read her
Mme. d'Aiglemont's dress harmonized with the haunting thought that
informed the whole woman. Her hair was gathered up into a tall coronet
of broad plaits, without ornament of any kind; she seemed to have
bidden farewell for ever to elaborate toilettes. Nor were any of the
small arts of coquetry which spoil so many women to be detected in
her. Perhaps her bodice, modest though it was, did not altogether
conceal the dainty grace of her figure, perhaps, too, her gown looked
rich from the extreme distinction of its fashion, and if it is
permissible to look for expression in the arrangement of stuffs,
surely those numerous straight folds invested her with a great
dignity. There may have been some lingering trace of the indelible
feminine foible in the minute care bestowed upon her hand and foot;
yet, if she allowed them to be seen with some pleasure, it would have
tasked the utmost malice of a rival to discover any affectation in her
gestures, so natural did they seem, so much a part of old childish
habit, that her careless grace absolved this vestige of vanity.
All these little characteristics, the nameless trifles which combine
to make up the sum of a woman's prettiness or ugliness, her charm or
lack of charm, can only be indicated, when, as with Mme. d'Aiglemont,
a personality dominates and gives coherence to the details, informing
them, blending them all in an exquisite whole. Her manner was
perfectly in accord with her style of beauty and her dress. Only to
certain women at a certain age is it given to put language into their
attitude. Is it joy or is it sorrow that teaches a woman of thirty the
secret of that eloquence of carriage, so that she must always remain
an enigma which each interprets by the aid of his hopes, desires, or
The way in which the Marquise leaned both elbows on the arm of her
chair, the toying of her interclasped fingers, the curve of her
throat, the indolent lines of her languid but lissome body as she lay
back in graceful exhaustion, as it were; her indolent limbs, her
unstudied pose, the utter lassitude of her movements,--all suggested
that this was a woman for whom life had lost its interest, a woman who
had known the joys of love only in dreams, a woman bowed down by the
burden of memories of the past, a woman who had long since despaired
of the future and despaired of herself, an unoccupied woman who took
the emptiness of her own life for the nothingness of life.
Charles de Vandenesse saw and admired the beautiful picture before
him, as a kind of artistic success beyond an ordinary woman's powers
of attainment. He was acquainted with d'Aiglemont; and now, at the
first sight of d'Aiglemont's wife, the young diplomatist saw at a
glance a disproportionate marriage, an incompatibility (to use the
legal jargon) so great that it was impossible that the Marquise should
love her husband. And yet--the Marquise d'Aiglemont's life was above
reproach, and for any observer the mystery about her was the more
interesting on this account. The first impulse of surprise over,
Vandenesse cast about for the best way of approaching Mme.
d'Aiglemont. He would try a commonplace piece of diplomacy, he
thought; he would disconcert her by a piece of clumsiness and see how
she would receive it.
"Madame," he said, seating himself near her, "through a fortunate
indiscretion I have learned that, for some reason unknown to me, I
have had the good fortune to attract your notice. I owe you the more
thanks because I have never been so honored before. At the same time,
you are responsible for one of my faults, for I mean never to be
"You will make a mistake, monsieur," she laughed; "vanity should be
left to those who have nothing else to recommend them."
The conversation thus opened ranged at large, in the usual way, over a
multitude of topics--art and literature, politics, men and things--
till insensibly they fell to talking of the eternal theme in France
and all the world over--love, sentiment, and women.
"We are bond-slaves."
"You are queens."
This was the gist and substance of all the more or less ingenious
discourse between Charles and the Marquise, as of all such discourses
--past, present, and to come. Allow a certain space of time, and the
two formulas shall begin to mean "Love me," and "I will love you."
"Madame," Charles de Vandenesse exclaimed under his breath, "you have
made me bitterly regret that I am leaving Paris. In Italy I certainly
shall not pass hours in intellectual enjoyment such as this has been."
"Perhaps, monsieur, you will find happiness, and happiness is worth
more than all the brilliant things, true and false, that are said
every evening in Paris."
Before Charles took leave, he asked permission to pay a farewell call
on the Marquise d'Aiglemont, and very lucky did he feel himself when
the form of words in which he expressed himself for once was used in
all sincerity; and that night, and all day long on the morrow, he
could not put the thought of the Marquise out of his mind.
At times he wondered why she had singled him out, what she had meant
when she asked him to come to see her, and thought supplied an
inexhaustible commentary. Again it seemed to him that he had
discovered the motives of her curiosity, and he grew intoxicated with
hope or frigidly sober with each new construction put upon that piece
of commonplace civility. Sometimes it meant everything, sometimes
nothing. He made up his mind at last that he would not yield to this
inclination, and--went to call on Mme. d'Aiglemont.
There are thoughts which determine our conduct, while we do not so
much as suspect their existence. If at first sight this assertion
appears to be less a truth than a paradox, let any candid inquirer
look into his own life and he shall find abundant confirmation
therein. Charles went to Mme. d'Aiglemont, and so obeyed one of these
latent, pre-existent germs of thought, of which our experience and our
intellectual gains and achievements are but later and tangible
For a young man a woman of thirty has irresistible attractions. There
is nothing more natural, nothing better established, no human tie of
stouter tissue than the heart-deep attachment between such a woman as
the Marquise d'Aiglemont and such a man as Charles de Vandenesse. You
can see examples of it every day in the world. A girl, as a matter of
fact, has too many young illusions, she is too inexperienced, the
instinct of sex counts for too much in her love for a young man to
feel flattered by it. A woman of thirty knows all that is involved in
the self-surrender to be made. Among the impulses of the first, put
curiosity and other motives than love; the second acts with integrity
of sentiment. The first yields; the second makes deliberate choice. Is
not that choice in itself an immense flattery? A woman armed with
experience, forewarned by knowledge, almost always dearly bought,
seems to give more than herself; while the inexperienced and credulous
girl, unable to draw comparisons for lack of knowledge, can appreciate
nothing at its just worth. She accepts love and ponders it. A woman is
a counselor and a guide at an age when we love to be guided and
obedience is delight; while a girl would fain learn all things,
meeting us with a girl's /naivete/ instead of a woman's tenderness.
She affords a single triumph; with a woman there is resistance upon
resistance to overcome; she has but joy and tears, a woman has rapture
A girl cannot play the part of a mistress unless she is so corrupt
that we turn from her with loathing; a woman has a thousand ways of
preserving her power and her dignity; she has risked so much for love,
that she must bid him pass through his myriad transformations, while
her too submissive rival gives a sense of too serene security which
palls. If the one sacrifices her maidenly pride, the other immolates
the honor of a whole family. A girl's coquetry is of the simplest, she
thinks that all is said when the veil is laid aside; a woman's
coquetry is endless, she shrouds herself in veil after veil, she
satisfies every demand of man's vanity, the novice responds but to
And there are terrors, fears, and hesitations--trouble and storm in
the love of a woman of thirty years, never to be found in a young
girl's love. At thirty years a woman asks her lover to give her back
the esteem she has forfeited for his sake; she lives only for him, her
thoughts are full of his future, he must have a great career, she bids
him make it glorious; she can obey, entreat, command, humble herself,
or rise in pride; times without number she brings comfort when a young
girl can only make moan. And with all the advantages of her position,
the woman of thirty can be a girl again, for she can play all parts,
assume a girl's bashfulness, and grow the fairer even for a mischance.
Between these two feminine types lies the immeasurable difference
which separates the foreseen from the unforeseen, strength from
weakness. The woman of thirty satisfies every requirement; the young
girl must satisfy none, under penalty of ceasing to be a young girl.
Such ideas as these, developing in a young man's mind, help to
strengthen the strongest of all passions, a passion in which all
spontaneous and natural feeling is blended with the artificial
sentiment created by conventional manners.
The most important and decisive step in a woman's life is the very one
that she invariably regards as the most insignificant. After her
marriage she is no longer her own mistress, she is the queen and the
bond-slave of the domestic hearth. The sanctity of womanhood is
incompatible with social liberty and social claims; and for a woman
emancipation means corruption. If you give a stranger the right of
entry into the sanctuary of home, do you not put yourself at his
mercy? How then if she herself bids him enter it? Is not this an
offence, or, to speak more accurately, a first step towards an
offence? You must either accept this theory with all its consequences,
or absolve illicit passion. French society hitherto has chosen the
third and middle course of looking on and laughing when offences come,
apparently upon the Spartan principle of condoning the theft and
punishing clumsiness. And this system, it may be, is a very wise one.
'Tis a most appalling punishment to have all your neighbors pointing
the finger of scorn at you, a punishment that a woman feels in her
very heart. Women are tenacious, and all of them should be tenacious
of respect; without esteem they cannot exist, esteem is the first
demand that they make of love. The most corrupt among them feels that
she must, in the first place, pledge the future to buy absolution for
the past, and strives to make her lover understand that only for
irresistible bliss can she barter the respect which the world
henceforth will refuse to her.
Some such reflections cross the mind of any woman who for the first
time and alone receives a visit from a young man; and this especially
when, like Charles de Vandenesse, the visitor is handsome or clever.
And similarly there are not many young men who would fail to base some
secret wish on one of the thousand and one ideas which justify the
instinct that attracts them to a beautiful, witty, and unhappy woman
like the Marquise d'Aiglemont.
Mme. d'Aiglemont, therefore, felt troubled when M. de Vandenesse was
announced; and as for him, he was almost confused in spite of the
assurance which is like a matter of costume for a diplomatist. But not
for long. The Marquise took refuge at once in the friendliness of
manner which women use as a defence against the misinterpretations of
fatuity, a manner which admits of no afterthought, while it paves the
way to sentiment (to make use of a figure of speech), tempering the
transition through the ordinary forms of politeness. In this ambiguous
position, where the four roads leading respectively to Indifference,
Respect, Wonder, and Passion meet, a woman may stay as long as she
pleases, but only at thirty years does she understand all the
possibilities of the situation. Laughter, tenderness, and jest are all
permitted to her at the crossing of the ways; she has acquired the
tact by which she finds all the responsive chords in a man's nature,
and skill in judging the sounds which she draws forth. Her silence is
as dangerous as her speech. You will never read her at that age, nor
discover if she is frank or false, nor how far she is serious in her
admissions or merely laughing at you. She gives you the right to
engage in a game of fence with her, and suddenly by a glance, a
gesture of proved potency, she closes the combat and turns from you
with your secret in her keeping, free to offer you up in a jest, free
to interest herself in you, safe alike in her weakness and your
Although the Marquise d'Aiglemont took up her position upon this
neutral ground during the first interview, she knew how to preserve a
high womanly dignity. The sorrows of which she never spoke seemed to
hang over her assumed gaiety like a light cloud obscuring the sun.
When Vandenesse went out, after a conversation which he had enjoyed
more than he had thought possible, he carried with him the conviction
that this was like to be too costly a conquest for his aspirations.
"It would mean sentiment from here to yonder," he thought, "and
correspondence enough to wear out a deputy second-clerk on his
promotion. And yet if I really cared----"
Luckless phrase that has been the ruin of many an infatuated mortal.
In France the way to love lies through self-love. Charles went back to
Mme. d'Aiglemont, and imagined that she showed symptoms of pleasure in
his conversion. And then, instead of giving himself up like a boy to
the joy of falling in love, he tried to play a double role. He did his
best to act passion and to keep cool enough to analyze the progress of
this flirtation, to be lover and diplomatist at once; but youth and
hot blood and analysis could only end in one way, over head and ears
in love; for, natural or artificial, the Marquise was more than his
match. Each time he went out from Mme. d'Aiglemont, he strenuously
held himself to his distrust, and submitted the progressive situations
of his case to a rigorous scrutiny fatal to his own emotions.
"To-day she gave me to understand that she has been very unhappy and
lonely," said he to himself, after the third visit, "and that but for
her little girl she would have longed for death. She was perfectly
resigned. Now as I am neither her brother nor her spiritual director,
why should she confide her troubles to /me/? She loves me."
Two days later he came away apostrophizing modern manners.
"Love takes on the hue of every age. In 1822 love is a doctrinaire.
Instead of proving love by deeds, as in times past, we have taken to
argument and rhetoric and debate. Women's tactics are reduced to three
shifts. In the first place, they declare that we cannot love as they
love. (Coquetry! the Marquise simply threw it at me, like a challenge,
this evening!) Next they grow pathetic, to appeal to our natural
generosity or self-love; for does it not flatter a young man's vanity
to console a woman for a great calamity? And lastly, they have a craze
for virginity. She must have thought that I thought her very innocent.
My good faith is like to become an excellent speculation."
But a day came when every suspicious idea was exhausted. He asked
himself whether the Marquise was not sincere; whether so much
suffering could be feigned, and why she should act the part of
resignation? She lived in complete seclusion; she drank in silence of
a cup of sorrow scarcely to be guessed unless from the accent of some
chance exclamation in a voice always well under control. From that
moment Charles felt a keen interest in Mme. d'Aiglemont. And yet,
though his visits had come to be a recognized thing, and in some sort
a necessity to them both, and though the hour was kept free by tacit
agreement, Vandenesse still thought that this woman with whom he was
in love was more clever than sincere. "Decidedly, she is an uncommonly
clever woman," he used to say to himself as he went away.
When he came into the room, there was the Marquise in her favorite
attitude, melancholy expressed in her whole form. She made no movement
when he entered, only raised her eyes and looked full at him, but the
glance that she gave him was like a smile. Mme. d'Aiglemont's manner
meant confidence and sincere friendship, but of love there was no
trace. Charles sat down and found nothing to say. A sensation for
which no language exists troubled him.
"What is the matter with you?" she asked in a softened voice.
"Nothing. . . . Yes; I am thinking of something of which, as yet, you
have not thought at all."
"What is it?"
"Why--the Congress is over."
"Well," she said, "and ought you to have been at the Congress?"
A direct answer would have been the most eloquent and delicate
declaration of love; but Charles did not make it. Before the candid
friendship in Mme. d'Aiglemont's face all the calculations of vanity,
the hopes of love, and the diplomatist's doubts died away. She did not
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