The Lily of the Valley
Honore de Balzac

Part 1 out of 5

Etext prepared by John Bickers,
and Dagny,



Translated By
Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To Monsieur J. B. Nacquart,
Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine.

Dear Doctor--Here is one of the most carefully hewn stones in the
second course of the foundation of a literary edifice which I have
slowly and laboriously constructed. I wish to inscribe your name
upon it, as much to thank the man whose science once saved me as
to honor the friend of my daily life.

De Balzac.



Felix de Vandenesse to Madame la Comtesse Natalie de Manerville:

I yield to your wishes. It is the privilege of the women whom we
love more than they love us to make the men who love them ignore
the ordinary rules of common-sense. To smooth the frown upon their
brow, to soften the pout upon their lips, what obstacles we
miraculously overcome! We shed our blood, we risk our future!

You exact the history of my past life; here it is. But remember
this, Natalie; in obeying you I crush under foot a reluctance
hitherto unconquerable. Why are you jealous of the sudden reveries
which overtake me in the midst of our happiness? Why show the
pretty anger of a petted woman when silence grasps me? Could you
not play upon the contradictions of my character without inquiring
into the causes of them? Are there secrets in your heart which
seek absolution through a knowledge of mine? Ah! Natalie, you have
guessed mine; and it is better you should know the whole truth.
Yes, my life is shadowed by a phantom; a word evokes it; it hovers
vaguely above me and about me; within my soul are solemn memories,
buried in its depths like those marine productions seen in calmest
weather and which the storms of ocean cast in fragments on the

The mental labor which the expression of ideas necessitates has
revived the old, old feelings which give me so much pain when they
come suddenly; and if in this confession of my past they break
forth in a way that wounds you, remember that you threatened to
punish me if I did not obey your wishes, and do not, therefore,
punish my obedience. I would that this, my confidence, might
increase your love.

Until we meet,




To what genius fed on tears shall we some day owe that most touching
of all elegies,--the tale of tortures borne silently by souls whose
tender roots find stony ground in the domestic soil, whose earliest
buds are torn apart by rancorous hands, whose flowers are touched by
frost at the moment of their blossoming? What poet will sing the
sorrows of the child whose lips must suck a bitter breast, whose
smiles are checked by the cruel fire of a stern eye? The tale that
tells of such poor hearts, oppressed by beings placed about them to
promote the development of their natures, would contain the true
history of my childhood.

What vanity could I have wounded,--I a child new-born? What moral or
physical infirmity caused by mother's coldness? Was I the child of
duty, whose birth is a mere chance, or was I one whose very life was a
reproach? Put to nurse in the country and forgotten by my family for
over three years, I was treated with such indifference on my return to
the parental roof that even the servants pitied me. I do not know to
what feeling or happy accident I owed my rescue from this first
neglect; as a child I was ignorant of it, as a man I have not
discovered it. Far from easing my lot, my brother and my two sisters
found amusement in making me suffer. The compact in virtue of which
children hide each other's peccadilloes, and which early teaches them
the principles of honor, was null and void in my case; more than that,
I was often punished for my brother's faults, without being allowed to
prove the injustice. The fawning spirit which seems instinctive in
children taught my brother and sisters to join in the persecutions to
which I was subjected, and thus keep in the good graces of a mother
whom they feared as much as I. Was this partly the effect of a
childish love of imitation; was it from a need of testing their
powers; or was it simply through lack of pity? Perhaps these causes
united to deprive me of the sweets of fraternal intercourse.

Disinherited of all affection, I could love nothing; yet nature had
made me loving. Is there an angel who garners the sighs of feeling
hearts rebuffed incessantly? If in many such hearts the crushed
feelings turn to hatred, in mine they condensed and hollowed a depth
from which, in after years, they gushed forth upon my life. In many
characters the habit of trembling relaxes the fibres and begets fear,
and fear ends in submission; hence, a weakness which emasculates a
man, and makes him more or less a slave. But in my case these
perpetual tortures led to the development of a certain strength, which
increased through exercise and predisposed my spirit to the habit of
moral resistance. Always in expectation of some new grief--as the
martyrs expected some fresh blow--my whole being expressed, I doubt
not, a sullen resignation which smothered the grace and gaiety of
childhood, and gave me an appearance of idiocy which seemed to justify
my mother's threatening prophecies. The certainty of injustice
prematurely roused my pride--that fruit of reason--and thus, no doubt,
checked the evil tendencies which an education like mine encouraged.

Though my mother neglected me I was sometimes the object of her
solicitude; she occasionally spoke of my education and seemed desirous
of attending to it herself. Cold chills ran through me at such times
when I thought of the torture a daily intercourse with her would
inflict upon me. I blessed the neglect in which I lived, and rejoiced
that I could stay alone in the garden and play with the pebbles and
watch the insects and gaze into the blueness of the sky. Though my
loneliness naturally led me to reverie, my liking for contemplation
was first aroused by an incident which will give you an idea of my
early troubles. So little notice was taken of me that the governess
occasionally forgot to send me to bed. One evening I was peacefully
crouching under a fig-tree, watching a star with that passion of
curiosity which takes possession of a child's mind, and to which my
precocious melancholy gave a sort of sentimental intuition. My sisters
were playing about and laughing; I heard their distant chatter like an
accompaniment to my thoughts. After a while the noise ceased and
darkness fell. My mother happened to notice my absence. To escape
blame, our governess, a terrible Mademoiselle Caroline, worked upon my
mother's fears,--told her I had a horror of my home and would long ago
have run away if she had not watched me; that I was not stupid but
sullen; and that in all her experience of children she had never known
one of so bad a disposition as mine. She pretended to search for me. I
answered as soon as I was called, and she came to the fig-tree, where
she very well knew I was. "What are you doing there?" she asked.
"Watching a star." "You were not watching a star," said my mother, who
was listening on her balcony; "children of your age know nothing of
astronomy." "Ah, madame," cried Mademoiselle Caroline, "he has opened
the faucet of the reservoir; the garden is inundated!" Then there was
a general excitement. The fact was that my sisters had amused
themselves by turning the cock to see the water flow, but a sudden
spurt wet them all over and frightened them so much that they ran away
without closing it. Accused and convicted of this piece of mischief
and told that I lied when I denied it, I was severely punished. Worse
than all, I was jeered at for my pretended love of the stars and
forbidden to stay in the garden after dark.

Such tyrannical restrains intensify a passion in the hearts of
children even more than in those of men; children think of nothing but
the forbidden thing, which then becomes irresistibly attractive to
them. I was often whipped for my star. Unable to confide in my kind, I
told it all my troubles in that delicious inward prattle with which we
stammer our first ideas, just as once we stammered our first words. At
twelve years of age, long after I was at school, I still watched that
star with indescribable delight,--so deep and lasting are the
impressions we receive in the dawn of life.

My brother Charles, five years older than I and as handsome a boy as
he now is a man, was the favorite of my father, the idol of my mother,
and consequently the sovereign of the house. He was robust and well-
made, and had a tutor. I, puny and even sickly, was sent at five years
of age as day pupil to a school in the town; taken in the morning and
brought back at night by my father's valet. I was sent with a scanty
lunch, while my school-fellows brought plenty of good food. This
trifling contrast between my privations and their prosperity made me
suffer deeply. The famous potted pork prepared at Tours and called
"rillettes" and "rillons" was the chief feature of their mid-day meal,
between the early breakfast and the parent's dinner, which was ready
when we returned from school. This preparation of meat, much prized by
certain gourmands, is seldom seen at Tours on aristocratic tables; if
I had ever heard of it before I went to school, I certainly had never
had the happiness of seeing that brown mess spread on slices of bread
and butter. Nevertheless, my desire for those "rillons" was so great
that it grew to be a fixed idea, like the longing of an elegant
Parisian duchess for the stews cooked by a porter's wife,--longings
which, being a woman, she found means to satisfy. Children guess each
other's covetousness, just as you are able to read a man's love, by
the look in the eyes; consequently I became an admirable butt for
ridicule. My comrades, nearly all belonging to the lower bourgeoisie,
would show me their "rillons" and ask if I knew how they were made and
where they were sold, and why it was that I never had any. They licked
their lips as they talked of them--scraps of pork pressed in their own
fat and looking like cooked truffles; they inspected my lunch-basket,
and finding nothing better than Olivet cheese or dried fruits, they
plagued me with questions: "Is that all you have? have you really
nothing else?"--speeches which made me realize the difference between
my brother and myself.

This contrast between my own abandonment and the happiness of others
nipped the roses of my childhood and blighted my budding youth. The
first time that I, mistaking my comrades' actions for generosity, put
forth my hand to take the dainty I had so long coveted and which was
now hypocritically held out to me, my tormentor pulled back his slice
to the great delight of his comrades who were expecting that result.
If noble and distinguished minds are, as we often find them, capable
of vanity, can we blame the child who weeps when despised and jeered
at? Under such a trial many boys would have turned into gluttons and
cringing beggars. I fought to escape my persecutors. The courage of
despair made me formidable; but I was hated, and thus had no
protection against treachery. One evening as I left school I was
struck in the back by a handful of small stones tied in a
handkerchief. When the valet, who punished the perpetrator, told this
to my mother she exclaimed: "That dreadful child! he will always be a
torment to us."

Finding that I inspired in my schoolmates the same repulsion that was
felt for me by my family, I sank into a horrible distrust of myself. A
second fall of snow checked the seeds that were germinating in my
soul. The boys whom I most liked were notorious scamps; this fact
roused my pride and I held aloof. Again I was shut up within myself
and had no vent for the feelings with which my heart was full. The
master of the school, observing that I was gloomy, disliked by my
comrades, and always alone, confirmed the family verdict as to my
sulky temper. As soon as I could read and write, my mother transferred
me to Pont-le-Voy, a school in charge of Oratorians who took boys of
my age into a form called the "class of the Latin steps" where dull
lads with torpid brains were apt to linger.

There I remained eight years without seeing my family; living the life
of a pariah,--partly for the following reason. I received but three
francs a month pocket-money, a sum barely sufficient to buy the pens,
ink, paper, knives, and rules which we were forced to supply
ourselves. Unable to buy stilts or skipping-ropes, or any of the
things that were used in the playground, I was driven out of the
games; to gain admission on suffrage I should have had to toady the
rich and flatter the strong of my division. My heart rose against
either of these meannesses, which, however, most children readily
employ. I lived under a tree, lost in dejected thought, or reading the
books distributed to us monthly by the librarian. How many griefs were
in the shadow of that solitude; what genuine anguish filled my
neglected life! Imagine what my sore heart felt when, at the first
distribution of prizes,--of which I obtained the two most valued,
namely, for theme and for translation,--neither my father nor my
mother was present in the theatre when I came forward to receive the
awards amid general acclamations, although the building was filled
with the relatives of all my comrades. Instead of kissing the
distributor, according to custom, I burst into tears and threw myself
on his breast. That night I burned my crowns in the stove. The parents
of the other boys were in town for a whole week preceding the
distribution of the prizes, and my comrades departed joyfully the next
day; while I, whose father and mother were only a few miles distant,
remained at the school with the "outremers,"--a name given to scholars
whose families were in the colonies or in foreign countries.

You will notice throughout how my unhappiness increased in proportion
as the social spheres on which I entered widened. God knows what
efforts I made to weaken the decree which condemned me to live within
myself! What hopes, long cherished with eagerness of soul, were doomed
to perish in a day! To persuade my parents to come and see me, I wrote
them letters full of feeling, too emphatically worded, it may be; but
surely such letters ought not to have drawn upon me my mother's
reprimand, coupled with ironical reproaches for my style. Not
discouraged even then, I implored the help of my sisters, to whom I
always wrote on their birthdays and fete-days with the persistence of
a neglected child; but it was all in vain. As the day for the
distribution of prizes approached I redoubled my entreaties, and told
of my expected triumphs. Misled by my parents' silence, I expected
them with a beating heart. I told my schoolfellows they were coming;
and then, when the old porter's step sounded in the corridors as he
called my happy comrades one by one to receive their friends, I was
sick with expectation. Never did that old man call my name!

One day, when I accused myself to my confessor of having cursed my
life, he pointed to the skies, where grew, he said, the promised palm
for the "Beati qui lugent" of the Saviour. From the period of my first
communion I flung myself into the mysterious depths of prayer,
attracted to religious ideas whose moral fairyland so fascinates young
spirits. Burning with ardent faith, I prayed to God to renew in my
behalf the miracles I had read of in martyrology. At five years of age
I fled to my star; at twelve I took refuge in the sanctuary. My
ecstasy brought dreams unspeakable, which fed my imagination, fostered
my susceptibilities, and strengthened my thinking powers. I have often
attributed those sublime visions to the guardian angel charged with
moulding my spirit to its divine destiny; they endowed my soul with
the faculty of seeing the inner soul of things; they prepared my heart
for the magic craft which makes a man a poet when the fatal power is
his to compare what he feels within him with reality,--the great
things aimed for with the small things gained. Those visions wrote
upon my brain a book in which I read that which I must voice; they
laid upon my lips the coal of utterance.

My father having conceived some doubts as to the tendency of the
Oratorian teachings, took me from Pont-le-Voy, and sent me to Paris to
an institution in the Marais. I was then fifteen. When examined as to
my capacity, I, who was in the rhetoric class at Pont-le-Voy, was
pronounced worthy of the third class. The sufferings I had endured in
my family and in school were continued under another form during my
stay at the Lepitre Academy. My father gave me no money; I was to be
fed, clothed, and stuffed with Latin and Greek, for a sum agreed on.
During my school life I came in contact with over a thousand comrades;
but I never met with such an instance of neglect and indifference as
mine. Monsieur Lepitre, who was fanatically attached to the Bourbons,
had had relations with my father at the time when all devoted
royalists were endeavoring to bring about the escape of Marie
Antoinette from the Temple. They had lately renewed acquaintance; and
Monsieur Lepitre thought himself obliged to repair my father's
oversight, and to give me a small sum monthly. But not being
authorized to do so, the amount was small indeed.

The Lepitre establishment was in the old Joyeuse mansion where, as in
all seignorial houses, there was a porter's lodge. During a recess,
which preceded the hour when the man-of-all-work took us to the
Charlemagne Lyceum, the well-to-do pupils used to breakfast with the
porter, named Doisy. Monsieur Lepitre was either ignorant of the fact
or he connived at this arrangement with Doisy, a regular smuggler whom
it was the pupils' interest to protect,--he being the secret guardian
of their pranks, the safe confidant of their late returns and their
intermediary for obtaining forbidden books. Breakfast on a cup of
"cafe-au-lait" is an aristocratic habit, explained by the high prices
to which colonial products rose under Napoleon. If the use of sugar
and coffee was a luxury to our parents, with us it was the sign of
self-conscious superiority. Doisy gave credit, for he reckoned on the
sisters and aunts of the pupils, who made it a point of honor to pay
their debts. I resisted the blandishments of his place for a long
time. If my judges knew the strength of its seduction, the heroic
efforts I made after stoicism, the repressed desires of my long
resistance, they would pardon my final overthrow. But, child as I was,
could I have the grandeur of soul that scorns the scorn of others?
Moreover, I may have felt the promptings of several social vices whose
power was increased by my longings.

About the end of the second year my father and mother came to Paris.
My brother had written me the day of their arrival. He lived in Paris,
but had never been to see me. My sisters, he said, were of the party;
we were all to see Paris together. The first day we were to dine in
the Palais-Royal, so as to be near the Theatre-Francais. In spite of
the intoxication such a programme of unhoped-for delights excited, my
joy was dampened by the wind of a coming storm, which those who are
used to unhappiness apprehend instinctively. I was forced to own a
debt of a hundred francs to the Sieur Doisy, who threatened to ask my
parents himself for the money. I bethought me of making my brother the
emissary of Doisy, the mouth-piece of my repentance and the mediator
of pardon. My father inclined to forgiveness, but my mother was
pitiless; her dark blue eye froze me; she fulminated cruel prophecies:
"What should I be later if at seventeen years of age I committed such
follies? Was I really a son of hers? Did I mean to ruin my family? Did
I think myself the only child of the house? My brother Charles's
career, already begun, required large outlay, amply deserved by his
conduct which did honor to the family, while mine would always
disgrace it. Did I know nothing of the value of money, and what I cost
them? Of what use were coffee and sugar to my education? Such conduct
was the first step into all the vices."

After enduring the shock of this torrent which rasped my soul, I was
sent back to school in charge of my brother. I lost the dinner at the
Freres Provencaux, and was deprived of seeing Talma in Britannicus.
Such was my first interview with my mother after a separation of
twelve years.

When I had finished school my father left me under the guardianship of
Monsieur Lepitre. I was to study the higher mathematics, follow a
course of law for one year, and begin philosophy. Allowed to study in
my own room and released from the classes, I expected a truce with
trouble. But, in spite of my nineteen years, perhaps because of them,
my father persisted in the system which had sent me to school without
food, to an academy without pocket-money, and had driven me into debt
to Doisy. Very little money was allowed to me, and what can you do in
Paris without money? Moreover, my freedom was carefully chained up.
Monsieur Lepitre sent me to the law school accompanied by a man-of-
all-work who handed me over to the professor and fetched me home
again. A young girl would have been treated with less precaution than
my mother's fears insisted on for me. Paris alarmed my parents, and
justly. Students are secretly engaged in the same occupation which
fills the minds of young ladies in their boarding-schools. Do what you
will, nothing can prevent the latter from talking of lovers, or the
former of women. But in Paris, and especially at this particular time,
such talk among young lads was influenced by the oriental and sultanic
atmosphere and customs of the Palais-Royal.

The Palais-Royal was an Eldorado of love where the ingots melted away
in coin; there virgin doubts were over; there curiosity was appeased.
The Palais-Royal and I were two asymptotes bearing one towards the
other, yet unable to meet. Fate miscarried all my attempts. My father
had presented me to one of my aunts who lived in the Ile St. Louis.
With her I was to dine on Sundays and Thursdays, escorted to the house
by either Monsieur or Madame Lepitre, who went out themselves on those
days and were to call for me on their way home. Singular amusement for
a young lad! My aunt, the Marquise de Listomere, was a great lady, of
ceremonious habits, who would never have dreamed of offering me money.
Old as a cathedral, painted like a miniature, sumptuous in dress, she
lived in her great house as though Louis XV. were not dead, and saw
none but old women and men of a past day,--a fossil society which made
me think I was in a graveyard. No one spoke to me and I had not the
courage to speak first. Cold and alien looks made me ashamed of my
youth, which seemed to annoy them. I counted on this indifference to
aid me in certain plans; I was resolved to escape some day directly
after dinner and rush to the Palais-Royal. Once seated at whist my
aunt would pay no attention to me. Jean, the footman, cared little for
Monsieur Lepitre and would have aided me; but on the day I chose for
my adventure that luckless dinner was longer than usual,--either
because the jaws employed were worn out or the false teeth more
imperfect. At last, between eight and nine o'clock, I reached the
staircase, my heart beating like that of Bianca Capello on the day of
her flight; but when the porter pulled the cord I beheld in the street
before me Monsieur Lepitre's hackney-coach, and I heard his pursy
voice demanding me!

Three times did fate interpose between the hell of the Palais-Royal
and the heaven of my youth. On the day when I, ashamed at twenty years
of age of my own ignorance, determined to risk all dangers to put an
end to it, at the very moment when I was about to run away from
Monsieur Lepitre as he got into the coach,--a difficult process, for
he was as fat as Louis XVIII. and club-footed,--well, can you believe
it, my mother arrived in a post-chaise! Her glance arrested me; I
stood still, like a bird before a snake. What fate had brought her
there? The simplest thing in the world. Napoleon was then making his
last efforts. My father, who foresaw the return of the Bourbons, had
come to Paris with my mother to advise my brother, who was employed in
the imperial diplomatic service. My mother was to take me back with
her, out of the way of dangers which seemed, to those who followed the
march of events intelligently, to threaten the capital. In a few
minutes, as it were, I was taken out of Paris, at the very moment when
my life there was about to become fatal to me.

The tortures of imagination excited by repressed desires, the
weariness of a life depressed by constant privations had driven me to
study, just as men, weary of fate, confine themselves in a cloister.
To me, study had become a passion, which might even be fatal to my
health by imprisoning me at a period of life when young men ought to
yield to the bewitching activities of their springtide youth.

This slight sketch of my boyhood, in which you, Natalie, can readily
perceive innumerable songs of woe, was needful to explain to you its
influence on my future life. At twenty years of age, and affected by
many morbid elements, I was still small and thin and pale. My soul,
filled with the will to do, struggled with a body that seemed weakly,
but which, in the words of an old physician at Tours, was undergoing
its final fusion into a temperament of iron. Child in body and old in
mind, I had read and thought so much that I knew life metaphysically
at its highest reaches at the moment when I was about to enter the
tortuous difficulties of its defiles and the sandy roads of its
plains. A strange chance had held me long in that delightful period
when the soul awakes to its first tumults, to its desires for joy, and
the savor of life is fresh. I stood in the period between puberty and
manhood,--the one prolonged by my excessive study, the other tardily
developing its living shoots. No young man was ever more thoroughly
prepared to feel and to love. To understand my history, let your mind
dwell on that pure time of youth when the mouth is innocent of
falsehood; when the glance of the eye is honest, though veiled by lids
which droop from timidity contradicting desire; when the soul bends
not to worldly Jesuitism, and the heart throbs as violently from
trepidation as from the generous impulses of young emotion.

I need say nothing of the journey I made with my mother from Paris to
Tours. The coldness of her behavior repressed me. At each relay I
tried to speak; but a look, a word from her frightened away the
speeches I had been meditating. At Orleans, where we had passed the
night, my mother complained of my silence. I threw myself at her feet
and clasped her knees; with tears I opened my heart. I tried to touch
hers by the eloquence of my hungry love in accents that might have
moved a stepmother. She replied that I was playing comedy. I
complained that she had abandoned me. She called me an unnatural
child. My whole nature was so wrung that at Blois I went upon the
bridge to drown myself in the Loire. The height of the parapet
prevented my suicide.

When I reached home, my two sisters, who did not know me, showed more
surprise than tenderness. Afterwards, however, they seemed, by
comparison, to be full of kindness towards me. I was given a room on
the third story. You will understand the extent of my hardships when I
tell you that my mother left me, a young man of twenty, without other
linen than my miserable school outfit, or any other outside clothes
than those I had long worn in Paris. If I ran from one end of the room
to the other to pick up her handkerchief, she took it with the cold
thanks a lady gives to her footman. Driven to watch her to find if
there were any soft spot where I could fasten the rootlets of
affection, I came to see her as she was,--a tall, spare woman, given
to cards, egotistical and insolent, like all the Listomeres, who count
insolence as part of their dowry. She saw nothing in life except
duties to be fulfilled. All cold women whom I have known made, as she
did, a religion of duty; she received our homage as a priest receives
the incense of the mass. My elder brother appeared to absorb the
trifling sentiment of maternity which was in her nature. She stabbed
us constantly with her sharp irony,--the weapon of those who have no
heart,--and which she used against us, who could make her no reply.

Notwithstanding these thorny hindrances, the instinctive sentiments
have so many roots, the religious fear inspired by a mother whom it is
dangerous to displease holds by so many threads, that the sublime
mistake--if I may so call it--of our love for our mother lasted until
the day, much later in our lives, when we judged her finally. This
terrible despotism drove from my mind all thoughts of the voluptuous
enjoyments I had dreamed of finding at Tours. In despair I took refuge
in my father's library, where I set myself to read every book I did
not know. These long periods of hard study saved me from contact with
my mother; but they aggravated the dangers of my moral condition.
Sometimes my eldest sister--she who afterwards married our cousin, the
Marquis de Listomere--tried to comfort me, without, however, being
able to calm the irritation to which I was a victim. I desired to die.

Great events, of which I knew nothing, were then in preparation. The
Duc d'Angouleme, who had left Bordeaux to join Louis XVIII. in Paris,
was received in every town through which he passed with ovations
inspired by the enthusiasm felt throughout old France at the return of
the Bourbons. Touraine was aroused for its legitimate princes; the
town itself was in a flutter, every window decorated, the inhabitants
in their Sunday clothes, a festival in preparation, and that nameless
excitement in the air which intoxicates, and which gave me a strong
desire to be present at the ball given by the duke. When I summoned
courage to make this request of my mother, who was too ill to go
herself, she became extremely angry. "Had I come from Congo?" she
inquired. "How could I suppose that our family would not be
represented at the ball? In the absence of my father and brother, of
course it was my duty to be present. Had I no mother? Was she not
always thinking of the welfare of her children?"

In a moment the semi-disinherited son had become a personage! I was
more dumfounded by my importance than by the deluge of ironical
reasoning with which my mother received my request. I questioned my
sisters, and then discovered that my mother, who liked such theatrical
plots, was already attending to my clothes. The tailors in Tours were
fully occupied by the sudden demands of their regular customers, and
my mother was forced to employ her usual seamstress, who--according to
provincial custom--could do all kinds of sewing. A bottle-blue coat
had been secretly made for me, after a fashion, and silk stockings and
pumps provided; waistcoats were then worn short, so that I could wear
one of my father's; and for the first time in my life I had a shirt
with a frill, the pleatings of which puffed out my chest and were
gathered in to the knot of my cravat. When dressed in this apparel I
looked so little like myself that my sister's compliments nerved me to
face all Touraine at the ball. But it was a bold enterprise. Thanks to
my slimness I slipped into a tent set up in the gardens of the Papion
house, and found a place close to the armchair in which the duke was
seated. Instantly I was suffocated by the heat, and dazzled by the
lights, the scarlet draperies, the gilded ornaments, the dresses, and
the diamonds of the first public ball I had ever witnessed. I was
pushed hither and thither by a mass of men and women, who hustled each
other in a cloud of dust. The brazen clash of military music was
drowned in the hurrahs and acclamations of "Long live the Duc
d'Angouleme! Long live the King! Long live the Bourbons!" The ball was
an outburst of pent-up enthusiasm, where each man endeavored to outdo
the rest in his fierce haste to worship the rising sun,--an exhibition
of partisan greed which left me unmoved, or rather, it disgusted me
and drove me back within myself.

Swept onward like a straw in the whirlwind, I was seized with a
childish desire to be the Duc d'Angouleme himself, to be one of these
princes parading before an awed assemblage. This silly fancy of a
Tourangean lad roused an ambition to which my nature and the
surrounding circumstances lent dignity. Who would not envy such
worship?--a magnificent repetition of which I saw a few months later,
when all Paris rushed to the feet of the Emperor on his return from
Elba. The sense of this dominion exercised over the masses, whose
feelings and whose very life are thus merged into one soul, dedicated
me then and thenceforth to glory, that priestess who slaughters the
Frenchmen of to-day as the Druidess once sacrificed the Gauls.

Suddenly I met the woman who was destined to spur these ambitious
desires and to crown them by sending me into the heart of royalty. Too
timid to ask any one to dance,--fearing, moreover, to confuse the
figures,--I naturally became very awkward, and did not know what to do
with my arms and legs. Just as I was suffering severely from the
pressure of the crowd an officer stepped on my feet, swollen by the
new leather of my shoes as well as by the heat. This disgusted me with
the whole affair. It was impossible to get away; but I took refuge in
a corner of a room at the end of an empty bench, where I sat with
fixed eyes, motionless and sullen. Misled by my puny appearance, a
woman--taking me for a sleepy child--slid softly into the place beside
me, with the motion of a bird as she drops upon her nest. Instantly I
breathed the woman-atmosphere, which irradiated my soul as, in after
days, oriental poesy has shone there. I looked at my neighbor, and was
more dazzled by that vision than I had been by the scene of the fete.

If you have understood this history of my early life you will guess
the feelings which now welled up within me. My eyes rested suddenly on
white, rounded shoulders where I would fain have laid my head,--
shoulders faintly rosy, which seemed to blush as if uncovered for the
first time; modest shoulders, that possessed a soul, and reflected
light from their satin surface as from a silken texture. These
shoulders were parted by a line along which my eyes wandered. I raised
myself to see the bust and was spell-bound by the beauty of the bosom,
chastely covered with gauze, where blue-veined globes of perfect
outline were softly hidden in waves of lace. The slightest details of
the head were each and all enchantments which awakened infinite
delights within me; the brilliancy of the hair laid smoothly above a
neck as soft and velvety as a child's, the white lines drawn by the
comb where my imagination ran as along a dewy path,--all these things
put me, as it were, beside myself. Glancing round to be sure that no
one saw me, I threw myself upon those shoulders as a child upon the
breast of its mother, kissing them as I laid my head there. The woman
uttered a piercing cry, which the noise of the music drowned; she
turned, saw me, and exclaimed, "Monsieur!" Ah! had she said, "My
little lad, what possesses you?" I might have killed her; but at the
word "Monsieur!" hot tears fell from my eyes. I was petrified by a
glance of saintly anger, by a noble face crowned with a diadem of
golden hair in harmony with the shoulders I adored. The crimson of
offended modesty glowed on her cheeks, though already it was appeased
by the pardoning instinct of a woman who comprehends a frenzy which
she inspires, and divines the infinite adoration of those repentant
tears. She moved away with the step and carriage of a queen.

I then felt the ridicule of my position; for the first time I realized
that I was dressed like the monkey of a barrel organ. I was ashamed.
There I stood, stupefied,--tasting the fruit that I had stolen,
conscious of the warmth upon my lips, repenting not, and following
with my eyes the woman who had come down to me from heaven. Sick with
the first fever of the heart I wandered through the rooms, unable to
find mine Unknown, until at last I went home to bed, another man.

A new soul, a soul with rainbow wings, had burst its chrysalis.
Descending from the azure wastes where I had long admired her, my star
had come to me a woman, with undiminished lustre and purity. I loved,
knowing naught of love. How strange a thing, this first irruption of
the keenest human emotion in the heart of a man! I had seen pretty
women in other places, but none had made the slightest impression upon
me. Can there be an appointed hour, a conjunction of stars, a union of
circumstances, a certain woman among all others to awaken an exclusive
passion at the period of life when love includes the whole sex?

The thought that my Elect lived in Touraine made the air I breathed
delicious; the blue of the sky seemed bluer than I had ever yet seen
it. I raved internally, but externally I was seriously ill, and my
mother had fears, not unmingled with remorse. Like animals who know
when danger is near, I hid myself away in the garden to think of the
kiss that I had stolen. A few days after this memorable ball my mother
attributed my neglect of study, my indifference to her tyrannical
looks and sarcasms, and my gloomy behavior to the condition of my
health. The country, that perpetual remedy for ills that doctors
cannot cure, seemed to her the best means of bringing me out of my
apathy. She decided that I should spend a few weeks at Frapesle, a
chateau on the Indre midway between Montbazon and Azay-le-Rideau,
which belonged to a friend of hers, to whom, no doubt, she gave
private instructions.

By the day when I thus for the first time gained my liberty I had swum
so vigorously in Love's ocean that I had well-nigh crossed it. I knew
nothing of mine unknown lady, neither her name, nor where to find her;
to whom, indeed, could I speak of her? My sensitive nature so
exaggerated the inexplicable fears which beset all youthful hearts at
the first approach of love that I began with the melancholy which
often ends a hopeless passion. I asked nothing better than to roam
about the country, to come and go and live in the fields. With the
courage of a child that fears no failure, in which there is something
really chivalrous, I determined to search every chateau in Touraine,
travelling on foot, and saying to myself as each old tower came in
sight, "She is there!"

Accordingly, of a Thursday morning I left Tours by the barrier of
Saint-Eloy, crossed the bridges of Saint-Sauveur, reached Poncher
whose every house I examined, and took the road to Chinon. For the
first time in my life I could sit down under a tree or walk fast or
slow as I pleased without being dictated to by any one. To a poor lad
crushed under all sorts of despotism (which more or less does weigh
upon all youth) the first employment of freedom, even though it be
expended upon nothing, lifts the soul with irrepressible buoyancy.
Several reasons combined to make that day one of enchantment. During
my school years I had never been taken to walk more than two or three
miles from a city; yet there remained in my mind among the earliest
recollections of my childhood that feeling for the beautiful which the
scenery about Tours inspires. Though quite untaught as to the poetry
of such a landscape, I was, unknown to myself, critical upon it, like
those who imagine the ideal of art without knowing anything of its

To reach the chateau of Frapesle, foot-passengers, or those on
horseback, shorten the way by crossing the Charlemagne moors,--
uncultivated tracts of land lying on the summit of the plateau which
separates the valley of the Cher from that of the Indre, and over
which there is a cross-road leading to Champy. These moors are flat
and sandy, and for more than three miles are dreary enough until you
reach, through a clump of woods, the road to Sache, the name of the
township in which Frapesle stands. This road, which joins that of
Chinon beyond Ballan, skirts an undulating plain to the little hamlet
of Artanne. Here we come upon a valley, which begins at Montbazon,
ends at the Loire, and seems to rise and fall,--to bound, as it were,
--beneath the chateaus placed on its double hillsides,--a splendid
emerald cup, in the depths of which flow the serpentine lines of the
river Indre. I gazed at this scene with ineffable delight, for which
the gloomy moor-land and the fatigue of the sandy walk had prepared

"If that woman, the flower of her sex, does indeed inhabit this earth,
she is here, on this spot."

Thus musing, I leaned against a walnut-tree, beneath which I have
rested from that day to this whenever I return to my dear valley.
Beneath that tree, the confidant of my thoughts, I ask myself what
changes there are in me since last I stood there.

My heart deceived me not--she lived there; the first castle that I saw
on the slope of a hill was the dwelling that held her. As I sat
beneath my nut-tree, the mid-day sun was sparkling on the slates of
her roof and the panes of her windows. Her cambric dress made the
white line which I saw among the vines of an arbor. She was, as you
know already without as yet knowing anything, the Lily of this valley,
where she grew for heaven, filling it with the fragrance of her
virtues. Love, infinite love, without other sustenance than the
vision, dimly seen, of which my soul was full, was there, expressed to
me by that long ribbon of water flowing in the sunshine between the
grass-green banks, by the lines of the poplars adorning with their
mobile laces that vale of love, by the oak-woods coming down between
the vineyards to the shore, which the river curved and rounded as it
chose, and by those dim varying horizons as they fled confusedly away.

If you would see nature beautiful and virgin as a bride, go there of a
spring morning. If you would still the bleeding wounds of your heart,
return in the last days of autumn. In the spring, Love beats his wings
beneath the broad blue sky; in the autumn, we think of those who are
no more. The lungs diseased breathe in a blessed purity; the eyes will
rest on golden copses which impart to the soul their peaceful
stillness. At this moment, when I stood there for the first time, the
mills upon the brooksides gave a voice to the quivering valley; the
poplars were laughing as they swayed; not a cloud was in the sky; the
birds sang, the crickets chirped,--all was melody. Do not ask me again
why I love Touraine. I love it, not as we love our cradle, not as we
love the oasis in a desert; I love it as an artist loves art; I love
it less than I love you; but without Touraine, perhaps I might not now
be living.

Without knowing why, my eyes reverted ever to that white spot, to the
woman who shone in that garden as the bell of a convolvulus shines
amid the underbrush, and wilts if touched. Moved to the soul, I
descended the slope and soon saw a village, which the superabounding
poetry that filled my heart made me fancy without an equal. Imagine
three mills placed among islands of graceful outline crowned with
groves of trees and rising from a field of water,--for what other name
can I give to that aquatic vegetation, so verdant, so finely colored,
which carpeted the river, rose above its surface and undulated upon
it, yielding to its caprices and swaying to the turmoil of the water
when the mill-wheels lashed it. Here and there were mounds of gravel,
against which the wavelets broke in fringes that shimmered in the
sunlight. Amaryllis, water-lilies, reeds, and phloxes decorated the
banks with their glorious tapestry. A trembling bridge of rotten
planks, the abutments swathed with flowers, and the hand-rails green
with perennials and velvet mosses drooping to the river but not
falling to it; mouldering boats, fishing-nets; the monotonous sing-
song of a shepherd; ducks paddling among the islands or preening on
the "jard,"--a name given to the coarse sand which the Loire brings
down; the millers, with their caps over one ear, busily loading their
mules,--all these details made the scene before me one of primitive
simplicity. Imagine, also, beyond the bridge two or three farm-houses,
a dove-cote, turtle-doves, thirty or more dilapidated cottages,
separated by gardens, by hedges of honeysuckle, clematis, and jasmine;
a dunghill beside each door, and cocks and hens about the road. Such
is the village of Pont-de-Ruan, a picturesque little hamlet leading up
to an old church full of character, a church of the days of the
Crusades, such a one as painters desire for their pictures. Surround
this scene with ancient walnut-trees and slim young poplars with their
pale-gold leaves; dot graceful buildings here and there along the
grassy slopes where sight is lost beneath the vaporous, warm sky, and
you will have some idea of one of the points of view of this most
lovely region.

I followed the road to Sache along the left bank of the river,
noticing carefully the details of the hills on the opposite shore. At
length I reached a park embellished with centennial trees, which I
knew to be that of Frapesle. I arrived just as the bell was ringing
for breakfast. After the meal, my host, who little suspected that I
had walked from Tours, carried me over his estate, from the borders of
which I saw the valley on all sides under its many aspects,--here
through a vista, there to its broad extent; often my eyes were drawn
to the horizon along the golden blade of the Loire, where the sails
made fantastic figures among the currents as they flew before the
wind. As we mounted a crest I came in sight of the chateau d'Azay,
like a diamond of many facets in a setting of the Indre, standing on
wooden piles concealed by flowers. Farther on, in a hollow, I saw the
romantic masses of the chateau of Sache, a sad retreat though full of
harmony; too sad for the superficial, but dear to a poet with a soul
in pain. I, too, came to love its silence, its great gnarled trees,
and the nameless mysterious influence of its solitary valley. But now,
each time that we reached an opening towards the neighboring slope
which gave to view the pretty castle I had first noticed in the
morning, I stopped to look at it with pleasure.

"Hey!" said my host, reading in my eyes the sparkling desires which
youth so ingenuously betrays, "so you scent from afar a pretty woman
as a dog scents game!"

I did not like the speech, but I asked the name of the castle and of
its owner.

"It is Clochegourde," he replied; "a pretty house belonging to the
Comte de Mortsauf, the head of an historic family in Touraine, whose
fortune dates from the days of Louis XI., and whose name tells the
story to which they owe their arms and their distinction. Monsieur de
Mortsauf is descended from a man who survived the gallows. The family
bear: Or, a cross potent and counter-potent sable, charged with a
fleur-de-lis or; and 'Dieu saulve le Roi notre Sire,' for motto. The
count settled here after the return of the emigration. The estate
belongs to his wife, a demoiselle de Lenoncourt, of the house of
Lenoncourt-Givry which is now dying out. Madame de Mortsauf is an only
daughter. The limited fortune of the family contrasts strangely with
the distinction of their names; either from pride, or, possibly, from
necessity, they never leave Clochegourde and see no company. Until now
their attachment to the Bourbons explained this retirement, but the
return of the king has not changed their way of living. When I came to
reside here last year I paid them a visit of courtesy; they returned
it and invited us to dinner; the winter separated us for some months,
and political events kept me away from Frapesle until recently. Madame
de Mortsauf is a woman who would hold the highest position wherever
she might be."

"Does she often come to Tours?"

"She never goes there. However," he added, correcting himself, "she
did go there lately to the ball given to the Duc d'Angouleme, who was
very gracious to her husband."

"It was she!" I exclaimed.

"She! who?"

"A woman with beautiful shoulders."

"You will meet a great many women with beautiful shoulders in
Touraine," he said, laughing. "But if you are not tired we can cross
the river and call at Clochegourde and you shall renew acquaintance
with those particular shoulders."

I agreed, not without a blush of shame and pleasure. About four
o'clock we reached the little chateau on which my eyes had fastened
from the first. The building, which is finely effective in the
landscape, is in reality very modest. It has five windows on the
front; those at each end of the facade, looking south, project about
twelve feet,--an architectural device which gives the idea of two
towers and adds grace to the structure. The middle window serves as a
door from which you descend through a double portico into a terraced
garden which joins the narrow strip of grass-land that skirts the
Indre along its whole course. Though this meadow is separated from the
lower terrace, which is shaded by a double line of acacias and
Japanese ailanthus, by the country road, it nevertheless appears from
the house to be a part of the garden, for the road is sunken and
hemmed in on one side by the terrace, on the other side by a Norman
hedge. The terraces being very well managed put enough distance
between the house and the river to avoid the inconvenience of too
great proximity to water, without losing the charms of it. Below the
house are the stables, coach-house, green-houses, and kitchen, the
various openings to which form an arcade. The roof is charmingly
rounded at the angles, and bears mansarde windows with carved mullions
and leaden finials on their gables. This roof, no doubt much neglected
during the Revolution, is stained by a sort of mildew produced by
lichens and the reddish moss which grows on houses exposed to the sun.
The glass door of the portico is surmounted by a little tower which
holds the bell, and on which is carved the escutcheon of the Blamont-
Chauvry family, to which Madame de Mortsauf belonged, as follows:
Gules, a pale vair, flanked quarterly by two hands clasped or, and two
lances in chevron sable. The motto, "Voyez tous, nul ne touche!"
struck me greatly. The supporters, a griffin and dragon gules,
enchained or, made a pretty effect in the carving. The Revolution has
damaged the ducal crown and the crest, which was a palm-tree vert with
fruit or. Senart, the secretary of the committee of public safety was
bailiff of Sache before 1781, which explains this destruction.

These arrangements give an elegant air to the little castle, dainty as
a flower, which seems to scarcely rest upon the earth. Seen from the
valley the ground-floor appears to be the first story; but on the
other side it is on a level with a broad gravelled path leading to a
grass-plot, on which are several flower-beds. To right and left are
vineyards, orchards, and a few acres of tilled land planted with
chestnut-trees which surround the house, the ground falling rapidly to
the Indre, where other groups of trees of variegated shades of green,
chosen by Nature herself, are spread along the shore. I admired these
groups, so charmingly disposed, as we mounted the hilly road which
borders Clochegourde; I breathed an atmosphere of happiness. Has the
moral nature, like the physical nature, its own electrical
communications and its rapid changes of temperature? My heart was
beating at the approach of events then unrevealed which were to change
it forever, just as animals grow livelier when foreseeing fine

This day, so marked in my life, lacked no circumstance that was needed
to solemnize it. Nature was adorned like a woman to meet her lover. My
soul heard her voice for the first time; my eyes worshipped her, as
fruitful, as varied as my imagination had pictured her in those
school-dreams the influence of which I have tried in a few unskilful
words to explain to you, for they were to me an Apocalypse in which my
life was figuratively foretold; each event, fortunate or unfortunate,
being mated to some one of these strange visions by ties known only to
the soul.

We crossed a court-yard surrounded by buildings necessary for the farm
work,--a barn, a wine-press, cow-sheds, and stables. Warned by the
barking of the watch-dog, a servant came to meet us, saying that
Monsieur le comte had gone to Azay in the morning but would soon
return, and that Madame la comtesse was at home. My companion looked
at me. I fairly trembled lest he should decline to see Madame de
Mortsauf in her husband's absence; but he told the man to announce us.
With the eagerness of a child I rushed into the long antechamber which
crosses the whole house.

"Come in, gentlemen," said a golden voice.

Though Madame de Mortsauf had spoken only one word at the ball, I
recognized her voice, which entered my soul and filled it as a ray of
sunshine fills and gilds a prisoner's dungeon. Thinking, suddenly,
that she might remember my face, my first impulse was to fly; but it
was too late,--she appeared in the doorway, and our eyes met. I know
not which of us blushed deepest. Too much confused for immediate
speech she returned to her seat at an embroidery frame while the
servant placed two chairs, then she drew out her needle and counted
some stitches, as if to explain her silence; after which she raised
her head, gently yet proudly, in the direction of Monsieur de Chessel
as she asked to what fortunate circumstance she owed his visit. Though
curious to know the secret of my unexpected appearance, she looked at
neither of us,--her eyes were fixed on the river; and yet you could
have told by the way she listened that she was able to recognize, as
the blind do, the agitations of a neighboring soul by the
imperceptible inflexions of the voice.

Monsieur de Chessel gave my name and biography. I had lately arrived
at Tours, where my parents had recalled me when the armies threatened
Paris. A son of Touraine to whom Touraine was as yet unknown, she
would find me a young man weakened by excessive study and sent to
Frapesle to amuse himself; he had already shown me his estate, which I
saw for the first time. I had just told him that I had walked from
Tours to Frapesle, and fearing for my health--which was really
delicate--he had stopped at Clochegourde to ask her to allow me to
rest there. Monsieur de Chessel told the truth; but the accident
seemed so forced that Madame de Mortsauf distrusted us. She gave me a
cold, severe glance, under which my own eyelids fell, as much from a
sense of humiliation as to hide the tears that rose beneath them. She
saw the moisture on my forehead, and perhaps she guessed the tears;
for she offered me the restoratives I needed, with a few kind and
consoling words, which gave me back the power of speech. I blushed
like a young girl, and in a voice as tremulous as that of an old man I
thanked her and declined.

"All I ask," I said, raising my eyes to hers, which mine now met for
the second time in a glance as rapid as lightning,--"is to rest here.
I am so crippled with fatigue I really cannot walk farther."

"You must not doubt the hospitality of our beautiful Touraine," she
said; then, turning to my companion, she added: "You will give us the
pleasure of your dining at Clochegourde?"

I threw such a look of entreaty at Monsieur de Chessel that he began
the preliminaries of accepting the invitation, though it was given in
a manner that seemed to expect a refusal. As a man of the world, he
recognized these shades of meaning; but I, a young man without
experience, believed so implicitly in the sincerity between word and
thought of this beautiful woman that I was wholly astonished when my
host said to me, after we reached home that evening, "I stayed because
I saw you were dying to do so; but if you do not succeed in making it
all right, I may find myself on bad terms with my neighbors." That
expression, "if you do not make it all right," made me ponder the
matter deeply. In other words, if I pleased Madame de Mortsauf, she
would not be displeased with the man who introduced me to her. He
evidently thought I had the power to please her; this in itself gave
me that power, and corroborated my inward hope at a moment when it
needed some outward succor.

"I am afraid it will be difficult," he began; "Madame de Chessel
expects us."

"She has you every day," replied the countess; "besides, we can send
her word. Is she alone?"

"No, the Abbe de Quelus is there."

"Well, then," she said, rising to ring the bell, "you really must dine
with us."

This time Monsieur de Chessel thought her in earnest, and gave me a
congratulatory look. As soon as I was sure of passing a whole evening
under that roof I seemed to have eternity before me. For many
miserable beings to-morrow is a word without meaning, and I was of the
number who had no faith in it; when I was certain of a few hours of
happiness I made them contain a whole lifetime of delight.

Madame de Mortsauf talked about local affairs, the harvest, the
vintage, and other matters to which I was a total stranger. This
usually argues either a want of breeding or great contempt for the
stranger present who is thus shut out from the conversation, but in
this case it was embarrassment. Though at first I thought she treated
me as a child and I envied the man of thirty to whom she talked of
serious matters which I could not comprehend, I came, a few months
later, to understand how significant a woman's silence often is, and
how many thoughts a voluble conversation masks. At first I attempted
to be at my ease and take part in it, then I perceived the advantages
of my situation and gave myself up to the charm of listening to Madame
de Mortsauf's voice. The breath of her soul rose and fell among the
syllables as sound is divided by the notes of a flute; it died away to
the ear as it quickened the pulsation of the blood. Her way of
uttering the terminations in "i" was like a bird's song; the "ch" as
she said it was a kiss, but the "t's" were an echo of her heart's
despotism. She thus extended, without herself knowing that she did so,
the meaning of her words, leading the soul of the listener into
regions above this earth. Many a time I have continued a discussion I
could easily have ended, many a time I have allowed myself to be
unjustly scolded that I might listen to those harmonies of the human
voice, that I might breathe the air of her soul as it left her lips,
and strain to my soul that spoken light as I would fain have strained
the speaker to my breast. A swallow's song of joy it was when she was
gay!--but when she spoke of her griefs, a swan's voice calling to its

Madame de Mortsauf's inattention to my presence enabled me to examine
her. My eyes rejoiced as they glided over the sweet speaker; they
kissed her feet, they clasped her waist, they played with the ringlets
of her hair. And yet I was a prey to terror, as all who, once in their
lives, have experienced the illimitable joys of a true passion will
understand. I feared she would detect me if I let my eyes rest upon
the shoulder I had kissed, and the fear sharpened the temptation. I
yielded, I looked, my eyes tore away the covering; I saw the mole
which lay where the pretty line between the shoulders started, and
which, ever since the ball, had sparkled in that twilight which seems
the region of the sleep of youths whose imagination is ardent and
whose life is chaste.

I can sketch for you the leading features which all eyes saw in Madame
de Mortsauf; but no drawing, however correct, no color, however warm,
can represent her to you. Her face was of those that require the
unattainable artist, whose hand can paint the reflection of inward
fires and render that luminous vapor which defies science and is not
revealable by language--but which a lover sees. Her soft, fair hair
often caused her much suffering, no doubt through sudden rushes of
blood to the head. Her brow, round and prominent like that of Joconda,
teemed with unuttered thoughts, restrained feelings--flowers drowning
in bitter waters. The eyes, of a green tinge flecked with brown, were
always wan; but if her children were in question, or if some keen
condition of joy or suffering (rare in the lives of all resigned
women) seized her, those eyes sent forth a subtile gleam as if from
fires that were consuming her,--the gleam that wrung the tears from
mine when she covered me with her contempt, and which sufficed to
lower the boldest eyelid. A Grecian nose, designed it might be by
Phidias, and united by its double arch to lips that were gracefully
curved, spiritualized the face, which was oval with a skin of the
texture of a white camellia colored with soft rose-tints upon the
cheeks. Her plumpness did not detract from the grace of her figure nor
from the rounded outlines which made her shape beautiful though well
developed. You will understand the character of this perfection when I
say that where the dazzling treasures which had so fascinated me
joined the arm there was no crease or wrinkle. No hollow disfigured
the base of her head, like those which make the necks of some women
resemble trunks of trees; her muscles were not harshly defined, and
everywhere the lines were rounded into curves as fugitive to the eye
as to the pencil. A soft down faintly showed upon her cheeks and on
the outline of her throat, catching the light which made it silken.
Her little ears, perfect in shape, were, as she said herself, the ears
of a mother and a slave. In after days, when our hearts were one, she
would say to me, "Here comes Monsieur de Mortsauf"; and she was right,
though I, whose hearing is remarkably acute, could hear nothing.

Her arms were beautiful. The curved fingers of the hand were long, and
the flesh projected at the side beyond the finger-nails, like those of
antique statues. I should displease you, I know, if you were not
yourself an exception to my rule, when I say that flat waists should
have the preference over round ones. The round waist is a sign of
strength; but women thus formed are imperious, self-willed, and more
voluptuous than tender. On the other hand, women with flat waists are
devoted in soul, delicately perceptive, inclined to sadness, more
truly woman than the other class. The flat waist is supple and
yielding; the round waist is inflexible and jealous.

You now know how she was made. She had the foot of a well-bred woman,
--the foot that walks little, is quickly tired, and delights the eye
when it peeps beneath the dress. Though she was the mother of two
children, I have never met any woman so truly a young girl as she. Her
whole air was one of simplicity, joined to a certain bashful
dreaminess which attracted others, just as a painter arrests our steps
before a figure into which his genius has conveyed a world of
sentiment. If you recall the pure, wild fragrance of the heath we
gathered on our return from the Villa Diodati, the flower whose tints
of black and rose you praised so warmly, you can fancy how this woman
could be elegant though remote from the social world, natural in
expression, fastidious in all things which became part of herself,--in
short, like the heath of mingled colors. Her body had the freshness we
admire in the unfolding leaf; her spirit the clear conciseness of the
aboriginal mind; she was a child by feeling, grave through suffering,
the mistress of a household, yet a maiden too. Therefore she charmed
artlessly and unconsciously, by her way of sitting down or rising, of
throwing in a word or keeping silence. Though habitually collected,
watchful as the sentinel on whom the safety of others depends and who
looks for danger, there were moments when smiles would wreathe her
lips and betray the happy nature buried beneath the saddened bearing
that was the outcome of her life. Her gift of attraction was
mysterious. Instead of inspiring the gallant attentions which other
women seek, she made men dream, letting them see her virginal nature
of pure flame, her celestial visions, as we see the azure heavens
through rifts in the clouds. This involuntary revelation of her being
made others thoughtful. The rarity of her gestures, above all, the
rarity of her glances--for, excepting her children, she seldom looked
at any one--gave a strange solemnity to all she said and did when her
words or actions seemed to her to compromise her dignity.

On this particular morning Madame de Mortsauf wore a rose-colored gown
patterned in tiny stripes, a collar with a wide hem, a black belt, and
little boots of the same hue. Her hair was simply twisted round her
head, and held in place by a tortoise-shell comb. Such, my dear
Natalie, is the imperfect sketch I promised you. But the constant
emanation of her soul upon her family, that nurturing essence shed in
floods around her as the sun emits its light, her inward nature, her
cheerfulness on days serene, her resignation on stormy ones,--all
those variations of expression by which character is displayed depend,
like the effects in the sky, on unexpected and fugitive circumstances,
which have no connection with each other except the background against
which they rest, though all are necessarily mingled with the events of
this history,--truly a household epic, as great to the eyes of a wise
man as a tragedy to the eyes of the crowd, an epic in which you will
feel an interest, not only for the part I took in it, but for the
likeness that it bears to the destinies of so vast a number of women.

Everything at Clochegourde bore signs of a truly English cleanliness.
The room in which the countess received us was panelled throughout and
painted in two shades of gray. The mantelpiece was ornamented with a
clock inserted in a block of mahogany and surmounted with a tazza, and
two large vases of white porcelain with gold lines, which held bunches
of Cape heather. A lamp was on a pier-table, and a backgammon board on
legs before the fireplace. Two wide bands of cotton held back the
white cambric curtains, which had no fringe. The furniture was covered
with gray cotton bound with a green braid, and the tapestry on the
countess's frame told why the upholstery was thus covered. Such
simplicity rose to grandeur. No apartment, among all that I have seen
since, has given me such fertile, such teeming impressions as those
that filled my mind in that salon of Clochegourde, calm and composed
as the life of its mistress, where the conventual regularity of her
occupations made itself felt. The greater part of my ideas in science
or politics, even the boldest of them, were born in that room, as
perfumes emanate from flowers; there grew the mysterious plant that
cast upon my soul its fructifying pollen; there glowed the solar
warmth which developed my good and shrivelled my evil qualities.
Through the windows the eye took in the valley from the heights of
Pont-de-Ruan to the chateau d'Azay, following the windings of the
further shore, picturesquely varied by the towers of Frapesle, the
church, the village, and the old manor-house of Sache, whose venerable
pile looked down upon the meadows.

In harmony with this reposeful life, and without other excitements to
emotion than those arising in the family, this scene conveyed to the
soul its own serenity. If I had met her there for the first time,
between the count and her two children, instead of seeing her
resplendent in a ball dress, I should not have ravished that delirious
kiss, which now filled me with remorse and with the fear of having
lost the future of my love. No; in the gloom of my unhappy life I
should have bent my knee and kissed the hem of her garment, wetting it
with tears, and then I might have flung myself into the Indre. But
having breathed the jasmine perfume of her skin and drunk the milk of
that cup of love, my soul had acquired the knowledge and the hope of
human joys; I would live and await the coming of happiness as the
savage awaits his hour of vengeance; I longed to climb those trees, to
creep among the vines, to float in the river; I wanted the
companionship of night and its silence, I needed lassitude of body, I
craved the heat of the sun to make the eating of the delicious apple
into which I had bitten perfect. Had she asked of me the singing
flower, the riches buried by the comrades of Morgan the destroyer, I
would have sought them, to obtain those other riches and that mute
flower for which I longed.

When my dream, the dream into which this first contemplation of my
idol plunged me, came to an end and I heard her speaking of Monsieur
de Mortsauf, the thought came that a woman must belong to her husband,
and a raging curiosity possessed me to see the owner of this treasure.
Two emotions filled my mind, hatred and fear,--hatred which allowed of
no obstacles and measured all without shrinking, and a vague, but real
fear of the struggle, of its issue, and above all of HER.

"Here is Monsieur de Mortsauf," she said.

I sprang to my feet like a startled horse. Though the movement was
seen by Monsieur de Chessel and the countess, neither made any
observation, for a diversion was effected at this moment by the
entrance of a little girl, whom I took to be about six years old, who
came in exclaiming, "Here's papa!"

"Madeleine?" said her mother, gently.

The child at once held out her hand to Monsieur de Chessel, and looked
attentively at me after making a little bow with an air of

"Are you more satisfied about her health?" asked Monsieur de Chessel.

"She is better," replied the countess, caressing the little head which
was already nestling in her lap.

The next question of Monsieur de Chessel let me know that Madeleine
was nine years old; I showed great surprise, and immediately the
clouds gathered on the mother's brow. My companion threw me a
significant look,--one of those which form the education of men of the
world. I had stumbled no doubt upon some maternal wound the covering
of which should have been respected. The sickly child, whose eyes were
pallid and whose skin was white as a porcelain vase with a light
within it, would probably not have lived in the atmosphere of a city.
Country air and her mother's brooding care had kept the life in that
frail body, delicate as a hot-house plant growing in a harsh and
foreign climate. Though in nothing did she remind me of her mother,
Madeleine seemed to have her soul, and that soul held her up. Her hair
was scanty and black, her eyes and cheeks hollow, her arms thin, her
chest narrow, showing a battle between life and death, a duel without
truce in which the mother had so far been victorious. The child willed
to live,--perhaps to spare her mother, for at times, when not
observed, she fell into the attitude of a weeping-willow. You might
have thought her a little gypsy dying of hunger, begging her way,
exhausted but always brave and dressed up to play her part.

"Where have you left Jacques?" asked the countess, kissing the white
line which parted the child's hair into two bands that looked like a
crow's wings.

"He is coming with papa."

Just then the count entered, holding his son by the hand. Jacques, the
image of his sister, showed the same signs of weakness. Seeing these
sickly children beside a mother so magnificently healthy it was
impossible not to guess at the causes of the grief which clouded her
brow and kept her silent on a subject she could take to God only. As
he bowed, Monsieur de Mortsauf gave me a glance that was less
observing than awkwardly uneasy,--the glance of a man whose distrust
grows out of his inability to analyze. After explaining the
circumstances of our visit, and naming me to him, the countess gave
him her place and left the room. The children, whose eyes were on
those of their mother as if they drew the light of theirs from hers,
tried to follow her; but she said, with a finger on her lips, "Stay
dears!" and they obeyed, but their eyes filled. Ah! to hear that one
word "dears" what tasks they would have undertaken!

Like the children, I felt less warm when she had left us. My name
seemed to change the count's feeling toward me. Cold and supercilious
in his first glance, he became at once, if not affectionate, at least
politely attentive, showing me every consideration and seeming pleased
to receive me as a guest. My father had formerly done devoted service
to the Bourbons, and had played an important and perilous, though
secret part. When their cause was lost by the elevation of Napoleon,
he took refuge in the quietude of the country and domestic life,
accepting the unmerited accusations that followed him as the
inevitable reward of those who risk all to win all, and who succumb
after serving as pivot to the political machine. Knowing nothing of
the fortunes, nor of the past, nor of the future of my family, I was
unaware of this devoted service which the Comte de Mortsauf well
remembered. Moreover, the antiquity of our name, the most precious
quality of a man in his eyes, added to the warmth of his greeting. I
knew nothing of these reasons until later; for the time being the
sudden transition to cordiality put me at my ease. When the two
children saw that we were all three fairly engaged in conversation,
Madeleine slipped her head from her father's hand, glanced at the open
door, and glided away like an eel, Jacques following her. They
rejoined their mother, and I heard their voices and their movements,
sounding in the distance like the murmur of bees about a hive.

I watched the count, trying to guess his character, but I became so
interested in certain leading traits that I got no further than a
superficial examination of his personality. Though he was only forty-
five years old, he seemed nearer sixty, so much had the great
shipwreck at the close of the eighteenth century aged him. The
crescent of hair which monastically fringed the back of his head,
otherwise completely bald, ended at the ears in little tufts of gray
mingled with black. His face bore a vague resemblance to that of a
white wolf with blood about its muzzle, for his nose was inflamed and
gave signs of a life poisoned at its springs and vitiated by diseases
of long standing. His flat forehead, too broad for the face beneath
it, which ended in a point, and transversely wrinkled in crooked
lines, gave signs of a life in the open air, but not of any mental
activity; it also showed the burden of constant misfortunes, but not
of any efforts made to surmount them. His cheekbones, which were brown
and prominent amid the general pallor of his skin, showed a physical
structure which was likely to ensure him a long life. His hard, light-
yellow eye fell upon mine like a ray of wintry sun, bright without
warmth, anxious without thought, distrustful without conscious cause.
His mouth was violent and domineering, his chin flat and long. Thin
and very tall, he had the bearing of a gentleman who relies upon the
conventional value of his caste, who knows himself above others by
right, and beneath them in fact. The carelessness of country life had
made him neglect his external appearance. His dress was that of a
country-man whom peasants and neighbors no longer considered except
for his territorial worth. His brown and wiry hands showed that he
wore no gloves unless he mounted a horse, or went to church, and his
shoes were thick and common.

Though ten years of emigration and ten years more of farm-life had
changed his physical condition, he still retained certain vestiges of
nobility. The bitterest liberal (a term not then in circulation) would
readily have admitted his chivalric loyalty and the imperishable
convictions of one who puts his faith to the "Quotidienne"; he would
have felt respect for the man religiously devoted to a cause, honest
in his political antipathies, incapable of serving his party but very
capable of injuring it, and without the slightest real knowledge of
the affairs of France. The count was in fact one of those upright men
who are available for nothing, but stand obstinately in the way of
all; ready to die under arms at the post assigned to them, but
preferring to give their life rather than to give their money.

During dinner I detected, in the hanging of his flaccid cheeks and the
covert glances he cast now and then upon his children, the traces of
some wearing thought which showed for a moment upon the surface.
Watching him, who could fail to understand him? Who would not have
seen that he had fatally transmitted to his children those weakly
bodies in which the principle of life was lacking. But if he blamed
himself he denied to others the right to judge him. Harsh as one who
knows himself in fault, yet without greatness of soul or charm to
compensate for the weight of misery he had thrown into the balance,
his private life was no doubt the scene of irascibilities that were
plainly revealed in his angular features and by the incessant
restlessness of his eye. When his wife returned, followed by the
children who seemed fastened to her side, I felt the presence of
unhappiness, just as in walking over the roof of a vault the feet
become in some way conscious of the depths below. Seeing these four
human beings together, holding them all as it were in one glance,
letting my eye pass from one to the other, studying their countenances
and their respective attitudes, thoughts steeped in sadness fell upon
my heart as a fine gray rain dims a charming landscape after the sun
has risen clear.

When the immediate subject of conversation was exhausted the count
told his wife who I was, and related certain circumstances connected
with my family that were wholly unknown to me. He asked me my age.
When I told it, the countess echoed my own exclamation of surprise at
her daughter's age. Perhaps she had thought me fifteen. Later on, I
discovered that this was still another tie which bound her strongly to
me. Even then I read her soul. Her motherhood quivered with a tardy
ray of hope. Seeing me at over twenty years of age so slight and
delicate and yet so nervously strong, a voice cried to her, "They too
will live!" She looked at me searchingly, and in that moment I felt
the barriers of ice melting between us. She seemed to have many
questions to ask, but uttered none.

"If study has made you ill," she said, "the air of our valley will
soon restore you."

"Modern education is fatal to children," remarked the count. "We stuff
them with mathematics and ruin their health with sciences, and make
them old before their time. You must stay and rest here," he added,
turning to me. "You are crushed by the avalanche of ideas that have
rolled down upon you. What sort of future will this universal
education bring upon us unless we prevent its evils by replacing
public education in the hands of the religious bodies?"

These words were in harmony with a speech he afterwards made at the
elections when he refused his support to a man whose gifts would have
done good service to the royalist cause. "I shall always distrust men
of talent," he said.

Presently the count proposed that we should make the tour of the

"Monsieur--" said his wife.

"Well, what, my dear?" he said, turning to her with an arrogant
harshness which showed plainly enough how absolute he chose to be in
his own home.

"Monsieur de Vandenesse walked from Tours this morning and Monsieur de
Chessel, not aware of it, has already taken him on foot over

"Very imprudent of you," the count said, turning to me; "but at your
age--" and he shook his head in sign of regret.

The conversation was resumed. I soon saw how intractable his royalism
was, and how much care was needed to swim safely in his waters. The
man-servant, who had now put on his livery, announced dinner. Monsieur
de Chessel gave his arm to Madame de Mortsauf, and the count gaily
seized mine to lead me into the dining-room, which was on the ground-
floor facing the salon.

This room, floored with white tiles made in Touraine, and wainscoted
to the height of three feet, was hung with a varnished paper divided
into wide panels by wreaths of flowers and fruit; the windows had
cambric curtains trimmed with red, the buffets were old pieces by
Boulle himself, and the woodwork of the chairs, which were covered by
hand-made tapestry, was carved oak. The dinner, plentifully supplied,
was not luxurious; family silver without uniformity, Dresden china
which was not then in fashion, octagonal decanters, knives with agate
handles, and lacquered trays beneath the wine-bottles, were the chief
features of the table, but flowers adorned the porcelain vases and
overhung the gilding of their fluted edges. I delighted in these
quaint old things. I thought the Reveillon paper with its flowery
garlands beautiful. The sweet content that filled my sails hindered me
from perceiving the obstacles which a life so uniform, so unvarying in
solitude of the country placed between her and me. I was near her,
sitting at her right hand, serving her with wine. Yes, unhoped-for
joy! I touched her dress, I ate her bread. At the end of three hours
my life had mingled with her life! That terrible kiss had bound us to
each other in a secret which inspired us with mutual shame. A glorious
self-abasement took possession of me. I studied to please the count, I
fondled the dogs, I would gladly have gratified every desire of the
children, I would have brought them hoops and marbles and played horse
with them; I was even provoked that they did not already fasten upon
me as a thing of their own. Love has intuitions like those of genius;
and I dimly perceived that gloom, discontent, hostility would destroy
my footing in that household.

The dinner passed with inward happiness on my part. Feeling that I was
there, under her roof, I gave no heed to her obvious coldness, nor to
the count's indifference masked by his politeness. Love, like life,
has an adolescence during which period it suffices unto itself. I made
several stupid replies induced by the tumults of passion, but no one
perceived their cause, not even SHE, who knew nothing of love. The
rest of my visit was a dream, a dream which did not cease until by
moonlight on that warm and balmy night I recrossed the Indre, watching
the white visions that embellished meadows, shores, and hills, and
listening to the clear song, the matchless note, full of deep
melancholy and uttered only in still weather, of a tree-frog whose
scientific name is unknown to me. Since that solemn evening I have
never heard it without infinite delight. A sense came to me then of
the marble wall against which my feelings had hitherto dashed
themselves. Would it be always so? I fancied myself under some fatal
spell; the unhappy events of my past life rose up and struggled with
the purely personal pleasure I had just enjoyed. Before reaching
Frapesle I turned to look at Clochegourde and saw beneath its windows
a little boat, called in Touraine a punt, fastened to an ash-tree and
swaying on the water. This punt belonged to Monsieur de Mortsauf, who
used it for fishing.

"Well," said Monsieur de Chessel, when we were out of ear-shot. "I
needn't ask if you found those shoulders; I must, however,
congratulate you on the reception Monsieur de Mortsauf gave you. The
devil! you stepped into his heart at once."

These words followed by those I have already quoted to you raised my
spirits. I had not as yet said a word, and Monsieur de Chessel may
have attributed my silence to happiness.

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"He never, to my knowledge, received any one so well."

"I will admit that I am rather surprised myself," I said, conscious of
a certain bitterness underlying my companion's speech.

Though I was too inexpert in social matters to understand its cause, I
was much struck by the feeling Monsieur de Chessel betrayed. His real
name was Durand, but he had had the weakness to discard the name of a
worthy father, a merchant who had made a large fortune under the
Revolution. His wife was sole heiress of the Chessels, an old
parliamentary family under Henry IV., belonging to the middle classes,
as did most of the Parisian magistrates. Ambitious of higher flights
Monsieur de Chessel endeavored to smother the original Durand. He
first called himself Durand de Chessel, then D. de Chessel, and that
made him Monsieur de Chessel. Under the Restoration he entailed an
estate with the title of count in virtue of letters-patent from Louis
XVIII. His children reaped the fruits of his audacity without knowing
what it cost him in sarcastic comments. Parvenus are like monkeys,
whose cleverness they possess; we watch them climbing, we admire their
agility, but once at the summit we see only their absurd and
contemptible parts. The reverse side of my host's character was made
up of pettiness with the addition of envy. The peerage and he were on
diverging lines. To have an ambition and gratify it shows merely the
insolence of strength, but to live below one's avowed ambition is a
constant source of ridicule to petty minds. Monsieur de Chessel did
not advance with the straightforward step of a strong man. Twice
elected deputy, twice defeated; yesterday director-general, to-day
nothing at all, not even prefect, his successes and his defeats had
injured his nature, and given him the sourness of invalided ambition.
Though a brave man and a witty one and capable of great things, envy,
which is the root of existence in Touraine, the inhabitants of which
employ their native genius in jealousy of all things, injured him in
upper social circles, where a dissatisfied man, frowning at the
success of others, slow at compliments and ready at epigram, seldom
succeeds. Had he sought less he might perhaps have obtained more; but
unhappily he had enough genuine superiority to make him wish to
advance in his own way.

At this particular time Monsieur de Chessel's ambition had a second
dawn. Royalty smiled upon him, and he was now affecting the grand
manner. Still he was, I must say, most kind to me, and he pleased me
for the very simple reason that with him I had found peace and rest
for the first time. The interest, possibly very slight, which he
showed in my affairs, seemed to me, lonely and rejected as I was, an
image of paternal love. His hospitable care contrasted so strongly
with the neglect to which I was accustomed, that I felt a childlike
gratitude to the home where no fetters bound me and where I was
welcomed and even courted.

The owners of Frapesle are so associated with the dawn of my life's
happiness that I mingle them in all those memories I love to revive.
Later, and more especially in connection with his letters-patent, I
had the pleasure of doing my host some service. Monsieur de Chessel
enjoyed his wealth with an ostentation that gave umbrage to certain of
his neighbors. He was able to vary and renew his fine horses and
elegant equipages; his wife dressed exquisitely; he received on a
grand scale; his servants were more numerous than his neighbors
approved; for all of which he was said to be aping princes. The
Frapesle estate is immense. Before such luxury as this the Comte de
Mortsauf, with one family cariole,--which in Touraine is something
between a coach without springs and a post-chaise,--forced by limited
means to let or farm Clochegourde, was Tourangean up to the time when
royal favor restored the family to a distinction possibly unlooked
for. His greeting to me, the younger son of a ruined family whose
escutcheon dated back to the Crusades, was intended to show contempt
for the large fortune and to belittle the possessions, the woods, the
arable lands, the meadows, of a neighbor who was not of noble birth.
Monsieur de Chessel fully understood this. They always met politely;
but there was none of that daily intercourse or that agreeable
intimacy which ought to have existed between Clochegourde and
Frapesle, two estates separated only by the Indre, and whose
mistresses could have beckoned to each other from their windows.

Jealousy, however, was not the sole reason for the solitude in which
the Count de Mortsauf lived. His early education was that of the
children of great families,--an incomplete and superficial instruction
as to knowledge, but supplemented by the training of society, the
habits of a court life, and the exercise of important duties under the
crown or in eminent offices. Monsieur de Mortsauf had emigrated at the
very moment when the second stage of his education was about to begin,
and accordingly that training was lacking to him. He was one of those
who believed in the immediate restoration of the monarchy; with that
conviction in his mind, his exile was a long and miserable period of
idleness. When the army of Conde, which his courage led him to join
with the utmost devotion, was disbanded, he expected to find some
other post under the white flag, and never sought, like other
emigrants, to take up an industry. Perhaps he had not the sort of
courage that could lay aside his name and earn his living in the sweat
of a toil he despised. His hopes, daily postponed to the morrow, and
possibly a scruple of honor, kept him from offering his services to
foreign powers. Trials undermined his courage. Long tramps afoot on
insufficient nourishment, and above all, on hopes betrayed, injured
his health and discouraged his mind. By degrees he became utterly
destitute. If to some men misery is a tonic, on others it acts as a
dissolvent; and the count was of the latter.

Reflecting on the life of this poor Touraine gentleman, tramping and
sleeping along the highroads of Hungary, sharing the mutton of Prince
Esterhazy's shepherds, from whom the foot-worn traveller begged the
food he would not, as a gentleman, have accepted at the table of the
master, and refusing again and again to do service to the enemies of
France, I never found it in my heart to feel bitterness against him,
even when I saw him at his worst in after days. The natural gaiety of
a Frenchman and a Tourangean soon deserted him; he became morose, fell
ill, and was charitably cared for in some German hospital. His disease
was an inflammation of the mesenteric membrane, which is often fatal,
and is liable, even if cured, to change the constitution and produce
hypochondria. His love affairs, carefully buried out of sight and
which I alone discovered, were low-lived, and not only destroyed his
health but ruined his future.

After twelve years of great misery he made his way to France, under
the decree of the Emperor which permitted the return of the emigrants.
As the wretched wayfarer crossed the Rhine and saw the tower of
Strasburg against the evening sky, his strength gave way. "'France!
France!' I cried. 'I see France!'" (he said to me) "as a child cries
'Mother!' when it is hurt." Born to wealth, he was now poor; made to
command a regiment or govern a province, he was now without authority
and without a future; constitutionally healthy and robust, he returned
infirm and utterly worn out. Without enough education to take part
among men and affairs, now broadened and enlarged by the march of
events, necessarily without influence of any kind, he lived despoiled
of everything, of his moral strength as well as his physical. Want of
money made his name a burden. His unalterable opinions, his
antecedents with the army of Conde, his trials, his recollections, his
wasted health, gave him susceptibilities which are but little spared
in France, that land of jest and sarcasm. Half dead he reached Maine,
where, by some accident of the civil war, the revolutionary government
had forgotten to sell one of his farms of considerable extent, which
his farmer had held for him by giving out that he himself was the
owner of it.

When the Lenoncourt family, living at Givry, an estate not far from
this farm, heard of the arrival of the Comte de Mortsauf, the Duc de
Lenoncourt invited him to stay at Givry while a house was being
prepared for him. The Lenoncourt family were nobly generous to him,
and with them he remained some months, struggling to hide his
sufferings during that first period of rest. The Lenoncourts had
themselves lost an immense property. By birth Monsieur de Mortsauf was
a suitable husband for their daughter. Mademoiselle de Lenoncourt,
instead of rejecting a marriage with a feeble and worn-out man of
thirty-five, seemed satisfied to accept it. It gave her the
opportunity of living with her aunt, the Duchesse de Verneuil, sister
of the Prince de Blamont-Chauvry, who was like a mother to her.

Madame de Verneuil, the intimate friend of the Duchesse de Bourbon,
was a member of the devout society of which Monsieur Saint-Martin
(born in Touraine and called the Philosopher of Mystery) was the soul.
The disciples of this philosopher practised the virtues taught them by
the lofty doctrines of mystical illumination. These doctrines hold the
key to worlds divine; they explain existence by reincarnations through
which the human spirit rises to its sublime destiny; they liberate
duty from its legal degradation, enable the soul to meet the trials of
life with the unalterable serenity of the Quaker, ordain contempt for
the sufferings of this life, and inspire a fostering care of that
angel within us who allies us to the divine. It is stoicism with an
immortal future. Active prayer and pure love are the elements of this
faith, which is born of the Roman Church but returns to the
Christianity of the primitive faith. Mademoiselle de Lenoncourt
remained, however, in the Catholic communion, to which her aunt was
equally bound. Cruelly tried by revolutionary horrors, the Duchesse de
Verneuil acquired in the last years of her life a halo of passionate
piety, which, to use the phraseology of Saint-Martin, shed the light
of celestial love and the chrism of inward joy upon the soul of her
cherished niece.

After the death of her aunt, Madame de Mortsauf received several
visits at Clochegourde from Saint-Martin, a man of peace and of
virtuous wisdom. It was at Clochegourde that he corrected his last
books, printed at Tours by Letourmy. Madame de Verneuil, wise with the
wisdom of an old woman who has known the stormy straits of life, gave
Clochegourde to the young wife for her married home; and with the
grace of old age, so perfect where it exists, the duchess yielded
everything to her niece, reserving for herself only one room above the
one she had always occupied, and which she now fitted up for the
countess. Her sudden death threw a gloom over the early days of the
marriage, and connected Clochegourde with ideas of sadness in the
sensitive mind of the bride. The first period of her settlement in
Touraine was to Madame de Mortsauf, I cannot say the happiest, but the
least troubled of her life.

After the many trials of his exile, Monsieur de Mortsauf, taking
comfort in the thought of a secure future, had a certain recovery of
mind; he breathed anew in this sweet valley the intoxicating essence
of revived hope. Compelled to husband his means, he threw himself into
agricultural pursuits and began to find some happiness in life. But
the birth of his first child, Jacques, was a thunderbolt which ruined
both the past and the future. The doctor declared the child had not
vitality enough to live. The count concealed this sentence from the
mother; but he sought other advice, and received the same fatal
answer, the truth of which was confirmed at the subsequent birth of
Madeleine. These events and a certain inward consciousness of the
cause of this disaster increased the diseased tendencies of the man
himself. His name doomed to extinction, a pure and irreproachable
young woman made miserable beside him and doomed to the anguish of
maternity without its joys--this uprising of his former into his
present life, with its growth of new sufferings, crushed his spirit
and completed its destruction.

The countess guessed the past from the present, and read the future.
Though nothing is so difficult as to make a man happy when he knows
himself to blame, she set herself to that task, which is worthy of an
angel. She became stoical. Descending into an abyss, whence she still
could see the sky, she devoted herself to the care of one man as the
sister of charity devotes herself to many. To reconcile him with
himself, she forgave him that for which he had no forgiveness. The
count grew miserly; she accepted the privations he imposed. Like all
who have known the world only to acquire its suspiciousness, he feared
betrayal; she lived in solitude and yielded without a murmur to his
mistrust. With a woman's tact she made him will to do that which was
right, till he fancied the ideas were his own, and thus enjoyed in his
own person the honors of a superiority that was never his. After due
experience of married life, she came to the resolution of never
leaving Clochegourde; for she saw the hysterical tendencies of the
count's nature, and feared the outbreaks which might be talked of in
that gossipping and jealous neighborhood to the injury of her
children. Thus, thanks to her, no one suspected Monsieur de Mortsauf's
real incapacity, for she wrapped his ruins in a mantle of ivy. The
fickle, not merely discontented but embittered nature of the man found
rest and ease in his wife; his secret anguish was lessened by the balm
she shed upon it.

This brief history is in part a summary of that forced from Monsieur
de Chessel by his inward vexation. His knowledge of the world enabled
him to penetrate several of the mysteries of Clochegourde. But the
prescience of love could not be misled by the sublime attitude with
which Madame de Mortsauf deceived the world. When alone in my little
bedroom, a sense of the full truth made me spring from my bed; I could
not bear to stay at Frapesle when I saw the lighted windows of
Clochegourde. I dressed, went softly down, and left the chateau by the
door of a tower at the foot of a winding stairway. The coolness of the
night calmed me. I crossed the Indre by the bridge at the Red Mill,
took the ever-blessed punt, and rowed in front of Clochegourde, where
a brilliant light was streaming from a window looking towards Azay.

Again I plunged into my old meditations; but they were now peaceful,
intermingled with the love-note of the nightingale and the solitary
cry of the sedge-warbler. Ideas glided like fairies through my mind,
lifting the black veil which had hidden till then the glorious future.
Soul and senses were alike charmed. With what passion my thoughts rose
to her! Again and again I cried, with the repetition of a madman,
"Will she be mine?" During the preceding days the universe had
enlarged to me, but now in a single night I found its centre. On her
my will and my ambition henceforth fastened; I desired to be all in
all to her, that I might heal and fill her lacerated heart.

Beautiful was that night beneath her windows, amid the murmur of
waters rippling through the sluices, broken only by a voice that told
the hours from the clock-tower of Sache. During those hours of
darkness bathed in light, when this sidereal flower illumined my
existence, I betrothed to her my soul with the faith of the poor
Castilian knight whom we laugh at in the pages of Cervantes,--a faith,
nevertheless, with which all love begins.

At the first gleam of day, the first note of the waking birds, I fled
back among the trees of Frapesle and reached the house; no one had
seen me, no one suspected by absence, and I slept soundly until the
bell rang for breakfast. When the meal was over I went down, in spite
of the heat, to the meadow-lands for another sight of the Indre and
its isles, the valley and its slopes, of which I seemed so passionate
an admirer. But once there, thanks to a swiftness of foot like that of
a loose horse, I returned to my punt, the willows, and Clochegourde.
All was silent and palpitating, as a landscape is at midday in summer.
The still foliage lay sharply defined on the blue of the sky; the
insects that live by light, the dragon-flies, the cantharides, were
flying among the reeds and the ash-trees; cattle chewed the cud in the
shade, the ruddy earth of the vineyards glowed, the adders glided up
and down the banks. What a change in the sparkling and coquettish
landscape while I slept! I sprang suddenly from the boat and ran up
the road which went round Clochegourde for I fancied that I saw the
count coming out. I was not mistaken; he was walking beside the hedge,
evidently making for a gate on the road to Azay which followed the
bank of the river.

"How are you this morning, Monsieur le comte?"

He looked at me pleasantly, not being used to hear himself thus

"Quite well," he answered. "You must love the country, to be rambling
about in this heat!"

"I was sent here to live in the open air."

"Then what do you say to coming with me to see them cut my rye?"

"Gladly," I replied. "I'll own to you that my ignorance is past
belief; I don't know rye from wheat, nor a poplar from an aspen; I
know nothing of farming, nor of the various methods of cultivating the

"Well, come and learn," he cried gaily, returning upon his steps.
"Come in by the little gate above."

The count walked back along the hedge, he being within it and I

"You will learn nothing from Monsieur de Chessel," he remarked; "he is
altogether too fine a gentleman to do more than receive the reports of
his bailiff."

The count then showed me his yards and the farm buildings, the
pleasure-grounds, orchards, vineyards, and kitchen garden, until we
finally came to the long alley of acacias and ailanthus beside the
river, at the end of which I saw Madame de Mortsauf sitting on a
bench, with her children. A woman is very lovely under the light and
quivering shade of such foliage. Surprised, perhaps, at my prompt
visit, she did not move, knowing very well that we should go to her.
The count made me admire the view of the valley, which at this point
is totally different from that seen from the heights above. Here I
might have thought myself in a corner of Switzerland. The meadows,
furrowed with little brooks which flow into the Indre, can be seen to
their full extent till lost in the misty distance. Towards Montbazon
the eye ranges over a vast green plain; in all other directions it is
stopped by hills, by masses of trees, and rocks. We quickened our
steps as we approached Madame de Mortsauf, who suddenly dropped the
book in which Madeleine was reading to her and took Jacques upon her
knees, in the paroxysms of a violent cough.

"What's the matter?" cried the count, turning livid.

"A sore throat," answered the mother, who seemed not to see me; "but
it is nothing serious."

She was holding the child by the head and body, and her eyes seemed to
shed two rays of life into the poor frail creature.

"You are so extraordinarily imprudent," said the count, sharply; "you
expose him to the river damps and let him sit on a stone bench."

"Why, papa, the stone is burning hot," cried Madeleine.

"They were suffocating higher up," said the countess.

"Women always want to prove they are right," said the count, turning
to me.

To avoid agreeing or disagreeing with him by word or look I watched
Jacques, who complained of his throat. His mother carried him away,
but as she did so she heard her husband say:--

"When they have brought such sickly children into the world they ought
to learn how to take care of them."

Words that were cruelly unjust; but his self-love drove him to defend
himself at the expense of his wife. The countess hurried up the steps
and across the portico, and I saw her disappear through the glass
door. Monsieur de Mortsauf seated himself on the bench, his head bowed
in gloomy silence. My position became annoying; he neither spoke nor
looked at me. Farewell to the walk he had proposed, in the course of
which I had hoped to fathom him. I hardly remember a more unpleasant
moment. Ought I to go away, or should I not go? How many painful
thoughts must have arisen in his mind, to make him forget to follow
Jacques and learn how he was! At last however he rose abruptly and
came towards me. We both turned and looked at the smiling valley.

"We will put off our walk to another day, Monsieur le comte," I said

"No, let us go," he replied. "Unfortunately, I am accustomed to such
scenes--I, who would give my life without the slightest regret to save
that of the child."

"Jacques is better, my dear; he has gone to sleep," said a golden
voice. Madame de Mortsauf suddenly appeared at the end of the path.
She came forward, without bitterness or ill-will, and bowed to me.

"I am glad to see that you like Clochegourde," she said.

"My dear, should you like me to ride over and fetch Monsieur
Deslandes?" said the count, as if wishing her to forgive his

"Don't be worried," she said. "Jacques did not sleep last night,
that's all. The child is very nervous; he had a bad dream, and I told
him stories all night to keep him quiet. His cough is purely nervous;
I have stilled it with a lozenge, and he has gone to sleep."

"Poor woman!" said her husband, taking her hand in his and giving her
a tearful look, "I knew nothing of it."

"Why should you be troubled when there is no occasion?" she replied.
"Now go and attend to the rye. You know if you are not there the men
will let the gleaners of the other villages get into the field before
the sheaves are carried away."

"I am going to take a first lesson in agriculture, madame," I said to

"You have a very good master," she replied, motioning towards the
count, whose mouth screwed itself into that smile of satisfaction
which is vulgarly termed a "bouche en coeur."

Two months later I learned she had passed that night in great anxiety,
fearing that her son had the croup; while I was in the boat, rocked by
thoughts of love, imagined that she might see me from her window
adoring the gleam of the candle which was then lighting a forehead
furrowed by fears! The croup prevailed at Tours, and was often fatal.
When we were outside the gate, the count said in a voice of emotion,
"Madame de Mortsauf is an angel!" The words staggered me. As yet I
knew but little of the family, and the natural conscience of a young
soul made me exclaim inwardly: "What right have I to trouble this
perfect peace?"

Glad to find a listener in a young man over whom he could lord it so
easily, the count talked to me of the future which the return of the
Bourbons would secure to France. We had a desultory conversation, in
which I listened to much childish nonsense which positively amazed me.
He was ignorant of facts susceptible of proof that might be called
geometric; he feared persons of education; he rejected superiority,
and scoffed, perhaps with some reason, at progress. I discovered in
his nature a number of sensitive fibres which it required the utmost
caution not to wound; so that a conversation with him of any length
was a positive strain upon the mind. When I had, as it were, felt of
his defects, I conformed to them with the same suppleness that his
wife showed in soothing him. Later in life I should certainly have
made him angry, but now, humble as a child, supposing that I knew
nothing and believing that men in their prime knew all, I was
genuinely amazed at the results obtained at Clochegourde by this
patient agriculturist. I listened admiringly to his plans; and with an
involuntary flattery which won his good-will, I envied him the estate
and its outlook--a terrestrial paradise, I called it, far superior to

"Frapesle," I said, "is a massive piece of plate, but Clochegourde is
a jewel-case of gems,"--a speech which he often quoted, giving credit
to its author.

"Before we came here," he said, "it was desolation itself."

I was all ears when he told of his seed-fields and nurseries. New to
country life, I besieged him with questions about prices, means of
preparing and working the soil, etc., and he seemed glad to answer all
in detail.

"What in the world do they teach you in your colleges?" he exclaimed
at last in astonishment.

On this first day the count said to his wife when he reached home,
"Monsieur Felix is a charming young man."

That evening I wrote to my mother and asked her to send my clothes and
linen, saying that I should remain at Frapesle. Ignorant of the great
revolution which was just taking place, and not perceiving the
influence it was to have upon my fate, I expected to return to Paris
to resume my legal studies. The Law School did not open till the first
week in November; meantime I had two months and a half before me.

The first part of my stay, while I studied to understand the count,
was a period of painful impressions to me. I found him a man of
extreme irascibility without adequate cause; hasty in action in
hazardous cases to a degree that alarmed me. Sometimes he showed
glimpses of the brave gentleman of Conde's army, parabolic flashes of
will such as may, in times of emergency, tear through politics like
bomb-shells, and may also, by virtue of honesty and courage, make a
man condemned to live buried on his property an Elbee, a Bonchamp, or
a Charette. In presence of certain ideas his nostril contracted, his
forehead cleared, and his eyes shot lightnings, which were soon
quenched. Sometimes I feared he might detect the language of my eyes
and kill me. I was young then and merely tender. Will, that force that
alters men so strangely, had scarcely dawned within me. My passionate
desires shook me with an emotion that was like the throes of fear.
Death I feared not, but I would not die until I knew the happiness of
mutual love--But how tell of what I felt! I was a prey to perplexity;
I hoped for some fortunate chance; I watched; I made the children love
me; I tried to identify myself with the family.

Little by little the count restrained himself less in my presence. I
came to know his sudden outbreaks of temper, his deep and ceaseless
melancholy, his flashes of brutality, his bitter, cutting complaints,
his cold hatreds, his impulses of latent madness, his childish moans,
his cries of a man's despair, his unexpected fury. The moral nature
differs from the physical nature inasmuch as nothing is absolute in
it. The force of effects is in direct proportion to the characters or
the ideas which are grouped around some fact. My position at
Clochegourde, my future life, depended on this one eccentric will.

I cannot describe to you the distress that filled my soul (as quick in
those days to expand as to contract), whenever I entered Clochegourde,
and asked myself, "How will he receive me?" With what anxiety of heart
I saw the clouds collecting on that stormy brow. I lived in a
perpetual "qui-vive." I fell under the dominion of that man; and the
sufferings I endured taught me to understand those of Madame de
Mortsauf. We began by exchanging looks of comprehension; tried by the
same fire, how many discoveries I made during those first forty days!
--of actual bitterness, of tacit joys, of hopes alternately submerged
and buoyant. One evening I found her pensively watching a sunset which
reddened the summits with so ravishing a glow that it was impossible
not to listen to that voice of the eternal Song of Songs by which
Nature herself bids all her creatures love. Did the lost illusions of
her girlhood return to her? Did the woman suffer from an inward
comparison? I fancied I perceived a desolation in her attitude that
was favorable to my first appeal, and I said, "Some days are hard to

"You read my soul," she answered; "but how have you done so?"

"We touch at many points," I replied. "Surely we belong to the small
number of human beings born to the highest joys and the deepest
sorrows; whose feeling qualities vibrate in unison and echo each other
inwardly; whose sensitive natures are in harmony with the principle of
things. Put such beings among surroundings where all is discord and
they suffer horribly, just as their happiness mounts to exaltation
when they meet ideas, or feelings, or other beings who are congenial
to them. But there is still a third condition, where sorrows are known
only to souls affected by the same distress; in this alone is the
highest fraternal comprehension. It may happen that such souls find no
outlet either for good or evil. Then the organ within us endowed with
expression and motion is exercised in a void, expends its passion
without an object, utters sounds without melody, and cries that are
lost in solitude,--terrible defeat of a soul which revolts against the
inutility of nothingness. These are struggles in which our strength
oozes away without restraint, as blood from an inward wound. The
sensibilities flow to waste and the result is a horrible weakening of
the soul; an indescribable melancholy for which the confessional
itself has no ears. Have I not expressed our mutual sufferings?"

She shuddered, and then without removing her eyes from the setting
sun, she said, "How is it that, young as you are, you know these
things? Were you once a woman?"

"Ah!" I replied, "my childhood was like a long illness--"

"I hear Madeleine coughing," she cried, leaving me abruptly.

The countess showed no displeasure at my constant visits, and for two
reasons. In the first place she was pure as a child, and her thoughts
wandered into no forbidden regions; in the next I amused the count and
made a sop for that lion without claws or mane. I found an excuse for
my visits which seemed plausible to every one. Monsieur de Mortsauf
proposed to teach me backgammon, and I accepted; as I did so the
countess was betrayed into a look of compassion, which seemed to say,
"You are flinging yourself into the jaws of the lion." If I did not
understand this at the time, three days had not passed before I knew
what I had undertaken. My patience, which nothing exhausts, the fruit
of my miserable childhood, ripened under this last trial. The count
was delighted when he could jeer at me for not putting in practice the
principles or the rules he had explained; if I reflected before I
played he complained of my slowness; if I played fast he was angry
because I hurried him; if I forgot to mark my points he declared,
making his profit out of the mistake, that I was always too rapid. It
was like the tyranny of a schoolmaster, the despotism of the rod, of
which I can really give you no idea unless I compare myself to
Epictetus under the yoke of a malicious child. When we played for
money his winnings gave him the meanest and most abject delight.

A word from his wife was enough to console me, and it frequently
recalled him to a sense of politeness and good-breeding. But before
long I fell into the furnace of an unexpected misery. My money was
disappearing under these losses. Though the count was always present
during my visits until I left the house, which was sometimes very
late, I cherished the hope of finding some moment when I might say a
word that would reach my idol's heart; but to obtain that moment, for
which I watched and waited with a hunter's painful patience, I was
forced to continue these weary games, during which my feelings were
lacerated and my money lost. Still, there were moments when we were
silent, she and I, looking at the sunlight on the meadows, the clouds
in a gray sky, the misty hills, or the quivering of the moon on the
sandbanks of the river; saying only, "Night is beautiful!"

"Night is woman, madame."

"What tranquillity!"

"Yes, no one can be absolutely wretched here."

Then she would return to her embroidery frame. I came at last to hear


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