The Lily of the Valley
Honore de Balzac
Part 4 out of 5
"You see he knows me," she said giving him to drink.
Her accent, her affectionate manner to him seemed to me to take the
feelings that bound us together and immolate them to the sick man.
"Henriette," I said, "go and rest, I entreat you."
"No more Henriette," she said, interrupting me with imperious haste.
"Go to bed if you would not be ill. Your children, HE HIMSELF would
order you to be careful; it is a case where selfishness becomes a
"Yes," she said.
She went away, recommending her husband to my care by a gesture which
would have seemed like approaching delirium if childlike grace had not
been mingled with the supplicating forces of repentance. But the scene
was terrible, judged by the habitual state of that pure soul; it
alarmed me; I feared the exaltation of her conscience. When the doctor
came again, I revealed to him the nature of my pure Henriette's self-
reproach. This confidence, made discreetly, removed Monsieur Origet's
suspicions, and enabled him to quiet the distress of that noble soul
by telling her that in any case the count had to pass through this
crisis, and that as for the nut-tree, his remaining there had done
more good than harm by developing the disease.
For fifty-two days the count hovered between life and death. Henriette
and I each watched twenty-six nights. Undoubtedly, Monsieur de
Mortsauf owed his life to our nursing and to the careful exactitude
with which we carried out the orders of Monsieur Origet. Like all
philosophical physicians, whose sagacious observation of what passes
before them justifies many a doubt of noble actions when they are only
the accomplishment of a duty, this man, while assisting the countess
and me in our rivalry of devotion, could not help watching us, with
scrutinizing glances, so afraid was he of being deceived in his
"In diseases of this nature," he said to me at his third visit, "death
has a powerful auxiliary in the moral nature when that is seriously
disturbed, as it is in this case. The doctor, the family, the nurses
hold the patient's life in their hands; sometimes a single word, a
fear expressed by a gesture, has the effect of poison."
As he spoke Origet studied my face and expression; but he saw in my
eyes the clear look of an honest soul. In fact during the whole course
of this distressing illness there never passed through my mind a
single one of the involuntary evil thoughts which do sometimes sear
the consciences of the innocent. To those who study nature in its
grandeur as a whole all tends to unity through assimilation. The moral
world must undoubtedly be ruled by an analogous principle. In an pure
sphere all is pure. The atmosphere of heaven was around my Henriette;
it seemed as though an evil desire must forever part me from her. Thus
she not only stood for happiness, but for virtue; she WAS virtue.
Finding us always equally careful and attentive, the doctor's words
and manners took a tone of respect and even pity; he seemed to say to
himself, "Here are the real sufferers; they hide their ills, and
forget them." By a fortunate change, which, according to our excellent
doctor, is common enough in men who are completely shattered, Monsieur
de Mortsauf was patient, obedient, complained little, and showed
surprising docility,--he, who when well never did the simplest thing
without discussion. The secret of this submission to medical care,
which he formerly so derided, was an innate dread of death; another
contradiction in a man of tried courage. This dread may perhaps
explain several other peculiarities in the character which the cruel
years of exile had developed.
Shall I admit to you, Natalie, and will you believe me? these fifty
days and the month that followed them were the happiest moments of my
life. Love, in the celestial spaces of the soul is like a noble river
flowing through a valley; the rains, the brooks, the torrents hie to
it, the trees fall upon its surface, so do the flowers, the gravel of
its shores, the rocks of the summits; storms and the loitering tribute
of the crystal streams alike increase it. Yes, when love comes all
comes to love!
The first great danger over, the countess and I grew accustomed to
illness. In spite of the confusion which the care of the sick entails,
the count's room, once so untidy, was now clean and inviting. Soon we
were like two beings flung upon a desert island, for not only do
anxieties isolate, but they brush aside as petty the conventions of
the world. The welfare of the sick man obliged us to have points of
contact which no other circumstances would have authorized. Many a
time our hands, shy or timid formerly, met in some service that we
rendered to the count--was I not there to sustain and help my
Henriette? Absorbed in a duty comparable to that of a soldier at the
pickets, she forgot to eat; then I served her, sometimes on her lap, a
hasty meal which necessitated a thousand little attentions. We were
like children at a grave. She would order me sharply to prepare
whatever might ease the sick man's suffering; she employed me in a
hundred petty ways. During the time when actual danger obscured, as it
does during the battle, the subtile distinctions which characterize
the facts of ordinary life, she necessarily laid aside the reserve
which all women, even the most unconventional, preserve in their looks
and words and actions before the world or their own family. At the
first chirping of the birds she would come to relieve my watch,
wearing a morning garment which revealed to me once more the dazzling
treasures that in my folly I had treated as my own. Always dignified,
nay imposing, she could still be familiar.
Thus it came to pass that we found ourselves unconsciously intimate,
half-married as it were. She showed herself nobly confiding, as sure
of me as she was of herself. I was thus taken deeper and deeper into
her heart. The countess became once more my Henriette, Henriette
constrained to love with increasing strength the friend who endeavored
to be her second soul. Her hand unresistingly met mine at the least
solicitation; my eyes were permitted to follow with delight the lines
of her beauty during the long hours when we listened to the count's
breathing, without driving her from their sight. The meagre pleasures
which we allowed ourselves--sympathizing looks, words spoken in
whispers not to wake the count, hopes and fears repeated and again
repeated, in short, the thousand incidents of the fusion of two hearts
long separated--stand out in bright array upon the sombre background
of the actual scene. Our souls knew each other to their depths under
this test, which many a warm affection is unable to bear, finding life
too heavy or too flimsy in the close bonds of hourly intercourse.
You know what disturbance follows the illness of a master; how the
affairs of life seem to come to a standstill. Though the real care of
the family and estate fell upon Madame de Mortsauf, the count was
useful in his way; he talked with the farmers, transacted business
with his bailiff, and received the rents; if she was the soul, he was
the body. I now made myself her steward so that she could nurse the
count without neglecting the property. She accepted this as a matter
of course, in fact without thanking me. It was another sweet communion
to share her family cares, to transmit her orders. In the evenings we
often met in her room to discuss these interests and those of her
children. Such conversations gave one semblance the more to our
transitory marriage. With what delight she encouraged me to take a
husband's place, giving me his seat at table, sending me to talk with
the bailiff,--all in perfect innocence, yet not without that inward
pleasure the most virtuous woman in the world will feel when she finds
a course where strict obedience to duty and the satisfaction of her
wishes are combined.
Nullified, as it were, by illness, the count no longer oppressed his
wife or his household, the countess then became her natural self; she
busied herself with my affairs and showed me a thousand kindnesses.
With what joy I discovered in her mind a thought, vaguely conceived
perhaps, but exquisitely expressed, namely, to show me the full value
of her person and her qualities and make me see the change that would
come over her if she lived understood. This flower, kept in the cold
atmosphere of such a home, opened to my gaze, and to mine only; she
took as much delight in letting me comprehend her as I felt in
studying her with the searching eyes of love. She proved to me in all
the trifling things of daily life how much I was in her thoughts.
When, after my turn of watching, I went to bed and slept late,
Henriette would keep the house absolutely silent near me; Jacques and
Madeleine played elsewhere, though never ordered to do so; she
invented excuses to serve my breakfast herself--ah, with what
sparkling pleasure in her movements, what swallow-like rapidity, what
lynx-eyed perception! and then! what carnation on her cheeks, what
quiverings in her voice!
Can such expansions of the soul be described in words?
Often she was wearied out; but if, at such moments of lassitude my
welfare came in question, for me, as for her children, she found fresh
strength and sprang up eagerly and joyfully. How she loved to shed her
tenderness like sunbeams in the air! Ah, Natalie, some women share the
privileges of angels here below; they diffuse that light which Saint-
Martin, the mysterious philosopher, declared to be intelligent,
melodious, and perfumed. Sure of my discretion, Henriette took
pleasure in raising the curtain which hid the future and in showing me
two women in her,--the woman bound hand and foot who had won me in
spite of her severity, and the woman freed, whose sweetness should
make my love eternal! What a difference. Madame de Mortsauf was the
skylark of Bengal, transported to our cold Europe, mournful on its
perch, silent and dying in the cage of a naturalist; Henriette was the
singing bird of oriental poems in groves beside the Ganges, flying
from branch to branch like a living jewel amid the roses of a
volkameria that ever blooms. Her beauty grew more beautiful, her mind
recovered strength. The continual sparkle of this happiness was a
secret between ourselves, for she dreaded the eye of the Abbe Dominis,
the representative of the world; she masked her contentment with
playfulness, and covered the proofs of her tenderness with the banner
"We have put your friendship to a severe test, Felix; we may give you
the same rights we give to Jacques, may we not, Monsieur l'abbe?" she
said one day.
The stern abbe answered with the smile of a man who can read the human
heart and see its purity; for the countess he always showed the
respect mingled with adoration which the angels inspire. Twice during
those fifty days the countess passed beyond the limits in which we
held our affection. But even these infringements were shrouded in a
veil, never lifted until the final hour when avowal came. One morning,
during the first days of the count's illness, when she repented her
harsh treatment in withdrawing the innocent privileges she had
formerly granted me, I was expecting her to relieve my watch. Much
fatigued, I fell asleep, my head against the wall. I wakened suddenly
at the touch of something cool upon my forehead which gave me a
sensation as if a rose had rested there. I opened my eyes and saw the
countess, standing a few steps distant, who said, "I have just come."
I rose to leave the room, but as I bade her good-bye I took her hand;
it was moist and trembling.
"Are you ill?" I said.
"Why do you ask that question?" she replied.
I looked at her blushing and confused. "I was dreaming," I replied.
Another time, when Monsieur Origet had announced positively that the
count was convalescent, I was lying with Jacques and Madeleine on the
step of the portico intent on a game of spillikins which we were
playing with bits of straw and hooks made of pins; Monsieur de
Mortsauf was asleep. The doctor, while waiting for his horse to be
harnessed, was talking with the countess in the salon. Monsieur Origet
went away without my noticing his departure. After he left, Henriette
leaned against the window, from which she watched us for some time
without our seeing her. It was one of those warm evenings when the sky
is copper-colored and the earth sends up among the echoes a myriad
mingling noises. A last ray of sunlight was leaving the roofs, the
flowers in the garden perfumed the air, the bells of the cattle
returning to their stalls sounded in the distance. We were all
conforming to the silence of the evening hour and hushing our voices
that we might not wake the count. Suddenly, I heard the guttural sound
of a sob violently suppressed; I rushed into the salon and found the
countess sitting by the window with her handkerchief to her face. She
heard my step and made me an imperious gesture, commanding me to leave
her. I went up to her, my heart stabbed with fear, and tried to take
her handkerchief away by force. Her face was bathed in tears and she
fled into her room, which she did not leave again until the hour for
evening prayer. When that was over, I led her to the terrace and asked
the cause of her emotion; she affected a wild gaiety and explained it
by the news Monsieur Origet had given her.
"Henriette, Henriette, you knew that news when I saw you weeping.
Between you and me a lie is monstrous. Why did you forbid me to dry
your tears? were they mine?"
"I was thinking," she said, "that for me this illness has been a halt
in pain. Now that I no longer fear for Monsieur de Mortsauf I fear for
She was right. The count's recovery was soon attested by the return of
his fantastic humor. He began by saying that neither the countess, nor
I, nor the doctor had known how to take care of him; we were ignorant
of his constitution and also of his disease; we misunderstood his
sufferings and the necessary remedies. Origet, infatuated with his own
doctrines, had mistaken the case, he ought to have attended only to
the pylorus. One day he looked at us maliciously, with an air of
having guessed our thoughts, and said to his wife with a smile, "Now,
my dear, if I had died you would have regretted me, no doubt, but pray
admit you would have been quite resigned."
"Yes, I should have mourned you in pink and black, court mourning,"
she answered laughing, to change the tone of his remarks.
But it was chiefly about his food, which the doctor insisted on
regulating, that scenes of violence and wrangling now took place,
unlike any that had hitherto occurred; for the character of the count
was all the more violent for having slumbered. The countess, fortified
by the doctor's orders and the obedience of her servants, stimulated
too by me, who thought this struggle a good means to teach her to
exercise authority over the count, held out against his violence. She
showed a calm front to his demented cries, and even grew accustomed to
his insulting epithets, taking him for what he was, a child. I had the
happiness of at last seeing her take the reins in hand and govern that
unsound mind. The count cried out, but he obeyed; and he obeyed all
the better when he had made an outcry. But in spite of the evidence of
good results, Henriette often wept at the spectacle of this emaciated,
feeble old man, with a forehead yellower than the falling leaves, his
eyes wan, his hands trembling. She blamed herself for too much
severity, and could not resist the joy she saw in his eyes when, in
measuring out his food, she gave him more than the doctor allowed. She
was even more gentle and gracious to him than she had been to me; but
there were differences here which filled my heart with joy. She was
not unwearying, and she sometimes called her servants to wait upon the
count when his caprices changed too rapidly, and he complained of not
The countess wished to return thanks to God for the count's recovery;
she directed a mass to be said, and asked if I would take her to
church. I did so, but I left her at the door, and went to see Monsieur
and Madame Chessel. On my return she reproached me.
"Henriette," I said, "I cannot be false. I will throw myself into the
water to save my enemy from drowning, and give him my coat to keep him
warm; I will forgive him, but I cannot forget the wrong."
She was silent, but she pressed my arm.
"You are an angel, and you were sincere in your thanksgiving," I said,
continuing. "The mother of the Prince of the Peace was saved from the
hands of an angry populace who sought to kill her, and when the queen
asked, 'What did you do?' she answered, 'I prayed for them.' Women are
ever thus. I am a man, and necessarily imperfect."
"Don't calumniate yourself," she said, shaking my arm, "perhaps you
are more worthy than I."
"Yes," I replied, "for I would give eternity for a day of happiness,
"I!" she said haughtily.
I was silent and lowered my eyes to escape the lightning of hers.
"There is many an I in me," she said. "Of which do you speak? Those
children," pointing to Jacques and Madeleine, "are one--Felix," she
cried in a heartrending voice, "do you think me selfish? Ought I to
sacrifice eternity to reward him who devotes to me his life? The
thought is dreadful; it wounds every sentiment of religion. Could a
woman so fallen rise again? Would her happiness absolve her? These are
questions you force me to consider.--Yes, I betray at last the secret
of my conscience; the thought has traversed my heart; often do I
expiate it by penance; it caused the tears you asked me to account for
"Do you not give too great importance to certain things which common
women hold at a high price, and--"
"Oh!" she said, interrupting me; "do you hold them at a lower?"
This logic stopped all argument.
"Know this," she continued. "I might have the baseness to abandon that
poor old man whose life I am; but, my friend, those other feeble
creatures there before us, Madeleine and Jacques, would remain with
their father. Do you think, I ask you do you think they would be alive
in three months under the insane dominion of that man? If my failure
of duty concerned only myself--" A noble smile crossed her face. "But
shall I kill my children! My God!" she exclaimed. "Why speak of these
things? Marry, and let me die!"
She said the words in a tone so bitter, so hollow, that they stifled
the remonstrances of my passion.
"You uttered cries that day beneath the walnut-tree; I have uttered my
cries here beneath these alders, that is all," I said; "I will be
"Your generosity shames me," she said, raising her eyes to heaven.
We reached the terrace and found the count sitting in a chair, in the
sun. The sight of that sunken face, scarcely brightened by a feeble
smile, extinguished the last flames that came from the ashes. I leaned
against the balustrade and considered the picture of that poor wreck,
between his sickly children and his wife, pale with her vigils, worn
out by extreme fatigue, by the fears, perhaps also by the joys of
these terrible months, but whose cheeks now glowed from the emotions
she had just passed through. At the sight of that suffering family
beneath the trembling leafage through which the gray light of a cloudy
autumn sky came dimly, I felt within me a rupture of the bonds which
hold the body to the spirit. There came upon me then that moral spleen
which, they say, the strongest wrestlers know in the crisis of their
combats, a species of cold madness which makes a coward of the bravest
man, a bigot of an unbeliever, and renders those it grasps indifferent
to all things, even to vital sentiments, to honor, to love--for the
doubt it brings takes from us the knowledge of ourselves and disgusts
us with life itself. Poor, nervous creatures, whom the very richness
of your organization delivers over to this mysterious, fatal power,
who are your peers and who your judges? Horrified by the thoughts that
rose within me, and demanding, like the wicked man, "Where is now thy
God?" I could not restrain the tears that rolled down my cheeks.
"What is it, dear Felix?" said Madeleine in her childish voice.
Then Henriette put to flight these dark horrors of the mind by a look
of tender solicitude which shone into my soul like a sunbeam. Just
then the old huntsman brought me a letter from Tours, at sight of
which I made a sudden cry of surprise, which made Madame de Mortsauf
tremble. I saw the king's signet and knew it contained my recall. I
gave her the letter and she read it at a glance.
"What will become of me?" she murmured, beholding her desert sunless.
We fell into a stupor of thought which oppressed us equally; never had
we felt more strongly how necessary we were to one another. The
countess, even when she spoke indifferently of other things, seemed to
have a new voice, as if the instrument had lost some chords and others
were out of tune. Her movements were apathetic, her eyes without
light. I begged her to tell me her thoughts.
"Have I any?" she replied in a dazed way.
She drew me into her chamber, made me sit upon the sofa, took a
package from the drawer of her dressing-table, and knelt before me,
saying: "This hair has fallen from my head during the last year; take
it, it is yours; you will some day know how and why."
Slowly I bent to meet her brow, and she did not avoid my lips. I
kissed her sacredly, without unworthy passion, without one impure
impulse, but solemnly, with tenderness. Was she willing to make the
sacrifice; or did she merely come, as I did once, to the verge of the
precipice? If love were leading her to give herself could she have
worn that calm, that holy look; would she have asked, in that pure
voice of hers, "You are not angry with me, are you?"
I left that evening; she wished to accompany me on the road to
Frapesle; and we stopped under my walnut-tree. I showed it to her, and
told her how I had first seen her four years earlier from that spot.
"The valley was so beautiful then!" I cried.
"And now?" she said quickly.
"You are beneath my tree, and the valley is ours!"
She bowed her head and that was our farewell; she got into her
carriage with Madeleine, and I into mine alone.
On my return to Paris I was absorbed in pressing business which took
all my time and kept me out of society, which for a while forgot me. I
corresponded with Madame de Mortsauf, and sent her my journal once a
week. She answered twice a month. It was a life of solitude yet
teeming, like those sequestered spots, blooming unknown, which I had
sometimes found in the depths of woods when gathering the flowers for
Oh, you who love! take these obligations on you; accept these daily
duties, like those the Church imposes upon Christians. The rigorous
observances of the Roman faith contain a great idea; they plough the
furrow of duty in the soul by the daily repetition of acts which keep
alive the sense of hope and fear. Sentiments flow clearer in furrowed
channels which purify their stream; they refresh the heart, they
fertilize the life from the abundant treasures of a hidden faith, the
source divine in which the single thought of a single love is
My love, an echo of the Middle Ages and of chivalry, was known, I know
not how; possibly the king and the Duc de Lenoncourt had spoken of it.
From that upper sphere the romantic yet simple story of a young man
piously adoring a beautiful woman remote from the world, noble in her
solitude, faithful without support to duty, spread, no doubt quickly,
through the faubourg St. Germain. In the salons I was the object of
embarrassing notice; for retired life has advantages which if once
experienced make the burden of a constant social intercourse
insupportable. Certain minds are painfully affected by violent
contrasts, just as eyes accustomed to soft colors are hurt by glaring
light. This was my condition then; you may be surprised at it now, but
have patience; the inconsistencies of the Vandenesse of to-day will be
explained to you.
I found society courteous and women most kind. After the marriage of
the Duc de Berry the court resumed its former splendor and the glory
of the French fetes revived. The Allied occupation was over,
prosperity reappeared, enjoyments were again possible. Noted
personages, illustrious by rank, prominent by fortune, came from all
parts of Europe to the capital of the intellect, where the merits and
the vices of other countries were found magnified and whetted by the
charms of French intellect.
Five months after leaving Clochegourde my good angel wrote me, in the
middle of the winter, a despairing letter, telling me of the serious
illness of her son. He was then out of danger, but there were many
fears for the future; the doctor said that precautions were necessary
for his lungs--the suggestion of a terrible idea which had put the
mother's heart in mourning. Hardly had Jacques begun to convalesce,
and she could breathe again, when Madeleine made them all uneasy. That
pretty plant, whose bloom had lately rewarded the mother's culture,
was now frail and pallid and anemic. The countess, worn-out by
Jacques' long illness, found no courage, she said, to bear this
additional blow, and the ever present spectacle of these two dear
failing creatures made her insensible to the redoubled torment of her
husband's temper. Thus the storms were again raging; tearing up by the
roots the hopes that were planted deepest in her bosom. She was now at
the mercy of the count; weary of the struggle, she allowed him to
regain all the ground he had lost.
"When all my strength is employed in caring for my children," she
wrote, "how is it possible to employ it against Monsieur de Mortsauf;
how can I struggle against his aggressions when I am fighting against
death? Standing here to-day, alone and much enfeebled, between these
two young images of mournful fate, I am overpowered with disgust,
invincible disgust for life. What blow can I feel, to what affection
can I answer, when I see Jacques motionless on the terrace, scarcely a
sign of life about him, except in those dear eyes, large by
emaciation, hollow as those of an old man and, oh, fatal sign, full of
precocious intelligence contrasting with his physical debility. When I
look at my pretty Madeleine, once so gay, so caressing, so blooming,
now white as death, her very hair and eyes seem to me to have paled;
she turns a languishing look upon me as if bidding me farewell;
nothing rouses her, nothing tempts her. In spite of all my efforts I
cannot amuse my children; they smile at me, but their smile is only in
answer to my endearments, it does not come from them. They weep
because they have no strength to play with me. Suffering has enfeebled
their whole being, it has loosened even the ties that bound them to
"Thus you can well believe that Clochegourde is very sad. Monsieur de
Mortsauf now rules everything--Oh my friend! you, my glory!" she
wrote, farther on, "you must indeed love me well to love me still; to
love me callous, ungrateful, turned to stone by grief."
THE TWO WOMEN
It was at this time, when I was never more deeply moved in my whole
being, when I lived in that soul to which I strove to send the
luminous breeze of the mornings and the hope of the crimsoned
evenings, that I met, in the salons of the Elysee-Bourbon, one of
those illustrious ladies who reign as sovereigns in society. Immensely
rich, born of a family whose blood was pure from all misalliance since
the Conquest, married to one of the most distinguished old men of the
British peerage, it was nevertheless evident that these advantages
were mere accessories heightening this lady's beauty, graces, manners,
and wit, all of which had a brilliant quality which dazzled before it
charmed. She was the idol of the day; reigning the more securely over
Parisian society because she possessed the quality most necessary to
success,--the hand of iron in the velvet glove spoken of by
You know the singular characteristics of English people, the distance
and coldness of their own Channel which they put between them and
whoever has not been presented to them in a proper manner. Humanity
seems to be an ant-hill on which they tread; they know none of their
species except the few they admit into their circle; they ignore even
the language of the rest; tongues may move and eyes may see in their
presence but neither sound nor look has reached them; to them, the
people are as if they were not. The British present an image of their
own island, where law rules everything, where all is automatic in
every station of life, where the exercise of virtue appears to be the
necessary working of a machine which goes by clockwork. Fortifications
of polished steel rise around the Englishwoman behind the golden wires
of her household cage (where the feed-box and the drinking-cup, the
perches and the food are exquisite in quality), but they make her
irresistibly attractive. No people ever trained married women so
carefully to hypocrisy by holding them rigidly between the two
extremes of death or social station; for them there is no middle path
between shame and honor; either the wrong is completed or it does not
exist; it is all or nothing,--Hamlet's "To be or not to be." This
alternative, coupled with the scorn to which the customs of her
country have trained her, make an Englishwoman a being apart in the
world. She is a helpless creature, forced to be virtuous yet ready to
yield, condemned to live a lie in her heart, yet delightful in outward
appearance--for these English rest everything on appearances. Hence
the special charms of their women: the enthusiasm for a love which is
all their life; the minuteness of their care for their persons; the
delicacy of their passion, so charmingly rendered in the famous scene
of Romeo and Juliet in which, with one stroke, Shakespeare's genius
depicted his country-women.
You, who envy them so many things, what can I tell you that you do not
know of these white sirens, impenetrable apparently but easily
fathomed, who believe that love suffices love, and turn enjoyments to
satiety by never varying them; whose soul has one note only, their
voice one syllable--an ocean of love in themselves, it is true, and he
who has never swum there misses part of the poetry of the senses, as
he who has never seen the sea has lost some strings of his lyre. You
know the why and wherefore of these words. My relations with the
Marchioness of Dudley had a disastrous celebrity. At an age when the
senses have dominion over our conduct, and when in my case they had
been violently repressed by circumstances, the image of the saint
bearing her slow martyrdom at Clochegourde shone so vividly before my
mind that I was able to resist all seductions. It was the lustre of
this fidelity which attracted Lady Dudley's attention. My resistance
stimulated her passion. What she chiefly desired, like many
Englishwoman, was the spice of singularity; she wanted pepper,
capsicum, with her heart's food, just as Englishmen need condiments to
excite their appetite. The dull languor forced into the lives of these
women by the constant perfection of everything about them, the
methodical regularity of their habits, leads them to adore the
romantic and to welcome difficulty. I was wholly unable to judge of
such a character. The more I retreated to a cold distance the more
impassioned Lady Dudley became. The struggle, in which she gloried,
excited the curiosity of several persons, and this in itself was a
form of happiness which to her mind made ultimate triumph obligatory.
Ah! I might have been saved if some good friend had then repeated to
me her cruel comment on my relations with Madame de Mortsauf.
"I am wearied to death," she said, "of these turtle-dove sighings."
Without seeking to justify my crime, I ask you to observe, Natalie,
that a man has fewer means of resisting a woman than she has of
escaping him. Our code of manners forbids the brutality of repressing
a woman, whereas repression with your sex is not only allurement to
ours, but is imposed upon you by conventions. With us, on the
contrary, some unwritten law of masculine self-conceit ridicules a
man's modesty; we leave you the monopoly of that virtue, that you may
have the privilege of granting us favors; but reverse the case, and
man succumbs before sarcasm.
Though protected by my love, I was not of an age to be wholly
insensible to the triple seductions of pride, devotion, and beauty.
When Arabella laid at my feet the homage of a ball-room where she
reigned a queen, when she watched by glance to know if my taste
approved of her dress, and when she trembled with pleasure on seeing
that she pleased me, I was affected by her emotion. Besides, she
occupied a social position where I could not escape her; I could not
refuse invitations in the diplomatic circle; her rank admitted her
everywhere, and with the cleverness all women display to obtain what
pleases them, she often contrived that the mistress of the house
should place me beside her at dinner. On such occasions she spoke in
low tones to my ear. "If I were loved like Madame de Mortsauf," she
said once, "I should sacrifice all." She did submit herself with a
laugh in many humble ways; she promised me a discretion equal to any
test, and even asked that I would merely suffer her to love me. "Your
friend always, your mistress when you will," she said. At last, after
an evening when she had made herself so beautiful that she was certain
to have excited my desires, she came to me. The scandal resounded
through England, where the aristocracy was horrified like heaven
itself at the fall of its highest angel. Lady Dudley abandoned her
place in the British empyrean, gave up her wealth, and endeavored to
eclipse by her sacrifices HER whose virtue had been the cause of this
great disaster. She took delight, like the devil on the pinnacle of
the temple, in showing me all the riches of her passionate kingdom.
Read me, I pray you, with indulgence. The matter concerns one of the
most interesting problems of human life,--a crisis to which most men
are subjected, and which I desire to explain, if only to place a
warning light upon the reef. This beautiful woman, so slender, so
fragile, this milk-white creature, so yielding, so submissive, so
gentle, her brow so endearing, the hair that crowns it so fair and
fine, this tender woman, whose brilliancy is phosphorescent and
fugitive, has, in truth, an iron nature. No horse, no matter how fiery
he may be, can conquer her vigorous wrist, or strive against that hand
so soft in appearance, but never tired. She has the foot of a doe, a
thin, muscular little foot, indescribably graceful in outline. She is
so strong that she fears no struggle; men cannot follow her on
horseback; she would win a steeple-chase against a centaur; she can
bring down a stag without stopping her horse. Her body never
perspires; it inhales the fire of the atmosphere, and lives in water
under pain of not living at all. Her love is African; her desires are
like the whirlwinds of the desert--the desert, whose torrid expanse is
in her eyes, the azure, love-laden desert, with its changeless skies,
its cool and starry nights. What a contrast to Clochegourde! the east
and the west! the one drawing into her every drop of moisture for her
own nourishment, the other exuding her soul, wrapping her dear ones in
her luminous atmosphere; the one quick and slender; the other slow and
Have you ever reflected on the actual meaning of the manners and
customs and morals of England? Is it not the deification of matter? a
well-defined, carefully considered Epicureanism, judiciously applied?
No matter what may be said against the statement, England is
materialist,--possibly she does not know it herself. She lays claim to
religion and morality, from which, however, divine spirituality, the
catholic soul, is absent; and its fructifying grace cannot be replaced
by any counterfeit, however well presented it may be. England
possesses in the highest degree that science of existence which turns
to account every particle of materiality; the science that makes her
women's slippers the most exquisite slippers in the world, gives to
their linen ineffable fragrance, lines their drawers with cedar,
serves tea carefully drawn, at a certain hour, banishes dust, nails
the carpets to the floors in every corner of the house, brushes the
cellar walls, polishes the knocker of the front door, oils the springs
of the carriage,--in short, makes matter a nutritive and downy pulp,
clean and shining, in the midst of which the soul expires of enjoyment
and the frightful monotony of comfort in a life without contrasts,
deprived of spontaneity, and which, to sum all in one word, makes a
machine of you.
Thus I suddenly came to know, in the bosom of this British luxury, a
woman who is perhaps unique among her sex; who caught me in the nets
of a love excited by my indifference, and to the warmth of which I
opposed a stern continence,--one of those loves possessed of
overwhelming charm, an electricity of their own, which lead us to the
skies through the ivory gates of slumber, or bear us thither on their
powerful pinions. A love monstrously ungrateful, which laughs at the
bodies of those it kills; love without memory, a cruel love,
resembling the policy of the English nation; a love to which, alas,
most men yield. You understand the problem? Man is composed of matter
and spirit; animality comes to its end in him, and the angel begins in
him. There lies the struggle we all pass through, between the future
destiny of which we are conscious and the influence of anterior
instincts from which we are not wholly detached,--carnal love and
divine love. One man combines them, another abstains altogether; some
there are who seek the satisfaction of their anterior appetites from
the whole sex; others idealize their love in one woman who is to them
the universe; some float irresolutely between the delights of matter
and the joys of soul, others spiritualize the body, requiring of it
that which it cannot give.
If, thinking over these leading characteristics of love, you take into
account the dislikes and the affinities which result from the
diversity of organisms, and which sooner or later break all ties
between those who have not fully tried each other; if you add to this
the mistakes arising from the hopes of those who live more
particularly either by their minds, or by their hearts, or by action,
who either think, or feel, or act, and whose tendency is misunderstood
in the close association in which two persons, equal counterparts,
find themselves, you will have great indulgence for sorrows to which
the world is pitiless. Well, Lady Dudley gratified the instincts,
organs, appetites, the vices and virtues of the subtile matter of
which we are made; she was the mistress of the body; Madame de
Mortsauf was the wife of the soul. The love which the mistress
satisfies has its limits; matter is finite, its inherent qualities
have an ascertained force, it is capable of saturation; often I felt a
void even in Paris, near Lady Dudley. Infinitude is the region of the
heart, love had no limits at Clochegourde. I loved Lady Dudley
passionately; and certainly, though the animal in her was magnificent,
she was also superior in mind; her sparkling and satirical
conversation had a wide range. But I adored Henriette. At night I wept
with happiness, in the morning with remorse.
Some women have the art to hide their jealousy under a tone of angelic
kindness; they are, like Lady Dudley, over thirty years of age. Such
women know how to feel and how to calculate; they press out the juices
of to-day and think of the future also; they can stifle a moan, often
a natural one, with the will of a huntsman who pays no heed to a wound
in the ardor of the chase. Without ever speaking of Madame de
Mortsauf, Arabella endeavored to kill her in my soul, where she ever
found her, her own passion increasing with the consciousness of that
invincible love. Intending to triumph by comparisons which would turn
to her advantage, she was never suspicious, or complaining, or
inquisitive, as are most young women; but, like a lioness who has
seized her prey and carries it to her lair to devour, she watched that
nothing should disturb her feast, and guarded me like a rebellious
captive. I wrote to Henriette under her very eyes, but she never read
a line of my letters; she never sought in any way to know to whom they
were addressed. I had my liberty; she seemed to say to herself, "If I
lose him it shall be my own fault," and she proudly relied on a love
that would have given me her life had I asked for it,--in fact she
often told me that if I left her she would kill herself. I have heard
her praise the custom of Indian widows who burn themselves upon their
husband's grave. "In India that is a distinction reserved for the
higher classes," she said, "and is very little understood by
Europeans, who are incapable of understanding the grandeur of the
privilege; you must admit, however, that on the dead level of our
modern customs aristocracy can rise to greatness only through
unparalleled devotions. How can I prove to the middle classes that the
blood in my veins is not the same as theirs, unless I show them that I
can die as they cannot? Women of no birth can have diamonds and satins
and horses--even coats-of-arms, which ought to be sacred to us, for
any one can buy a name. But to love, with our heads up, in defiance of
law; to die for the idol we have chosen, with the sheets of our bed
for a shroud; to lay earth and heaven at his feet, robbing the
Almighty of his right to make a god, and never to betray that man,
never, never, even for virtue's sake,--for, to refuse him anything in
the name of duty is to devote ourselves to something that is not HE,
and let that something be a man or an idea, it is betrayal all the
same,--these are heights to which common women cannot attain; they
know but two matter-of-fact ways; the great high-road of virtue, or
the muddy path of the courtesan."
Pride, you see, was her instrument; she flattered all vanities by
deifying them. She put me so high that she might live at my feet; in
fact, the seductions of her spirit were literally expressed by an
attitude of subserviency and her complete submission. In what words
shall I describe those first six months when I was lost in enervating
enjoyments, in the meshes of a love fertile in pleasures and knowing
how to vary them with a cleverness learned by long experience, yet
hiding that knowledge beneath the transports of passion. These
pleasures, the sudden revelation of the poetry of the senses,
constitute the powerful tie which binds young men to women older than
they. It is the chain of the galley-slave; it leaves an ineffaceable
brand upon the soul, filling it with disgust for pure and innocent
love decked with flowers only, which serves no alcohol in curiously
chased cups inlaid with jewels and sparkling with unquenchable fires.
Recalling my early dreams of pleasures I knew nothing of, expressed at
Clochegourde in my "selams," the voice of my flowers, pleasures which
the union of souls renders all the more ardent, I found many
sophistries by which I excused to myself the delight with which I
drained that jewelled cup. Often, when, lost in infinite lassitude, my
soul disengaged itself from the body and floated far from earth, I
thought that these pleasures might be the means of abolishing matter
and of rendering to the spirit its power to soar. Sometimes Lady
Dudley, like other women, profited by the exaltation in which I was to
bind me by promises; under the lash of a desire she wrung blasphemies
from my lips against the angel at Clochegourde. Once a traitor I
became a scoundrel. I continued to write to Madame de Mortsauf, in the
tone of the lad she had first known in his strange blue coat; but, I
admit it, her gift of second-sight terrified me when I thought what
ruin the indiscretion of a word might bring to the dear castle of my
hopes. Often, in the midst of my pleasure a sudden horror seized me; I
heard the name of Henriette uttered by a voice above me, like that in
the Scriptures, demanding: "Cain, where is thy brother Abel?"
At last my letters remained unanswered. I was seized with horrible
anxiety and wished to leave for Clochegourde. Arabella did not oppose
it, but she talked of accompanying me to Touraine. Her woman's wit
told her that the journey might be a means of finally detaching me
from her rival; while I, blind with fear and guilelessly unsuspicious,
did not see the trap she set for me. Lady Dudley herself proposed the
humblest concessions. She would stay near Tours, at a little country-
place, alone, disguised; she would refrain from going out in the day-
time, and only meet me in the evening when people were not likely to
be about. I left Tours on horseback. I had my reasons for this; my
evening excursions to meet her would require a horse, and mine was an
Arab which Lady Hester Stanhope had sent to the marchioness, and which
she had lately exchanged with me for that famous picture of Rembrandt
which I obtained in so singular a way, and which now hangs in her
drawing-room in London. I took the road I had traversed on foot six
years earlier and stopped beneath my walnut-tree. From there I saw
Madame de Mortsauf in a white dress standing at the edge of the
terrace. Instantly I rode towards her with the speed of lightning, in
a straight line and across country. She heard the stride of the
swallow of the desert and when I pulled him up suddenly at the
terrace, she said to me: "Oh, you here!"
Those three words blasted me. She knew my treachery. Who had told her?
her mother, whose hateful letter she afterwards showed me. The feeble,
indifferent voice, once so full of life, the dull pallor of its tones
revealed a settled grief, exhaling the breath of flowers cut and left
to wither. The tempest of infidelity, like those freshets of the Loire
which bury the meadows for all time in sand, had torn its way through
her soul, leaving a desert where once the verdure clothed the fields.
I led my horse through the little gate; he lay down on the grass at my
command and the countess, who came forward slowly, exclaimed, "What a
fine animal!" She stood with folded arms lest I should try to take her
hand; I guessed her meaning.
"I will let Monsieur de Mortsauf know you are here," she said, leaving
I stood still, confounded, letting her go, watching her, always noble,
slow, and proud,--whiter than I had ever seen her; on her brow the
yellow imprint of bitterest melancholy, her head bent like a lily
heavy with rain.
"Henriette!" I cried in the agony of a man about to die.
She did not turn or pause; she disdained to say that she withdrew from
me that name, but she did not answer to it and continued on. I may
feel paltry and small in this dreadful vale of life where myriads of
human beings now dust make the surface of the globe, small indeed
among that crowd, hurrying beneath the luminous spaces which light
them; but what sense of humiliation could equal that with which I
watched her calm white figure inflexibly mounting with even steps the
terraces of her chateau of Clochegourde, the pride and the torture of
that Christian Dido? I cursed Arabella in a single imprecation which
might have killed her had she heard it, she who had left all for me as
some leave all for God. I remained lost in a world of thought,
conscious of utter misery on all sides. Presently I saw the whole
family coming down; Jacques, running with the eagerness of his age.
Madeleine, a gazelle with mournful eyes, walked with her mother.
Monsieur de Mortsauf came to me with open arms, pressed me to him and
kissed me on both cheeks crying out, "Felix, I know now that I owed
you my life."
Madame de Mortsauf stood with her back towards me during this little
scene, under pretext of showing the horse to Madeleine.
"Ha, the devil! that's what women are," cried the count; "admiring
Madeleine turned, came up to me, and I kissed her hand, looking at the
countess, who colored.
"Madeleine seems much better," I said.
"Poor little girl!" said the countess, kissing her on her forehead.
"Yes, for the time being they are all well," answered the count.
"Except me, Felix; I am as battered as an old tower about to fall."
"The general is still depressed," I remarked to Madame de Mortsauf.
"We all have our blue devils--is not that the English term?" she
The whole party walked on towards the vineyard with the feeling that
some serious event had happened. She had no wish to be alone with me.
Still, I was her guest.
"But about your horse? why isn't he attended to?" said the count.
"You see I am wrong if I think of him, and wrong if I do not,"
remarked the countess.
"Well, yes," said her husband; "there is a time to do things, and a
time not to do them."
"I will attend to him," I said, finding this sort of greeting
intolerable. "No one but myself can put him into his stall; my groom
is coming by the coach from Chinon; he will rub him down."
"I suppose your groom is from England," she said.
"That is where they all come from," remarked the count, who grew
cheerful in proportion as his wife seemed depressed. Her coldness gave
him an opportunity to oppose her, and he overwhelmed me with
"My dear Felix," he said, taking my hand, and pressing it
affectionately, "pray forgive Madame de Mortsauf; women are so
whimsical. But it is owing to their weakness; they cannot have the
evenness of temper we owe to our strength of character. She really
loves you, I know it; only--"
While the count was speaking Madame de Mortsauf gradually moved away
from us so as to leave us alone.
"Felix," said the count, in a low voice, looking at his wife, who was
now going up to the house with her two children, "I don't know what is
going on in Madame de Mortsauf's mind, but for the last six weeks her
disposition has completely changed. She, so gentle, so devoted
hitherto, is now extraordinarily peevish."
Manette told me later that the countess had fallen into a state of
depression which made her indifferent to the count's provocations. No
longer finding a soft substance in which he could plant his arrows,
the man became as uneasy as a child when the poor insect it is
tormenting ceases to move. He now needed a confidant, as the hangman
needs a helper.
"Try to question Madame de Mortsauf," he said after a pause, "and find
out what is the matter. A woman always has secrets from her husband;
but perhaps she will tell you what troubles her. I would sacrifice
everything to make her happy, even to half my remaining days or half
my fortune. She is necessary to my very life. If I have not that angel
at my side as I grow old I shall be the most wretched of men. I do
desire to die easy. Tell her I shall not be here long to trouble her.
Yes, Felix, my poor friend, I am going fast, I know it. I hide the
fatal truth from every one; why should I worry them beforehand? The
trouble is in the orifice of the stomach, my friend. I have at last
discovered the true cause of this disease; it is my sensibility that
is killing me. Indeed, all our feelings affect the gastric centre."
"Then do you mean," I said, smiling, "that the best-hearted people die
of their stomachs?"
"Don't laugh, Felix; nothing is more absolutely true. Too keen a
sensibility increases the play of the sympathetic nerve; these
excitements of feeling keep the mucous membrane of the stomach in a
state of constant irritation. If this state continues it deranges, at
first insensibly, the digestive functions; the secretions change, the
appetite is impaired, and the digestion becomes capricious; sharp
pains are felt; they grow worse day by day, and more frequent; then
the disorder comes to a crisis, as if a slow poison were passing the
alimentary canal; the mucous membrane thickens, the valve of the
pylorus becomes indurated and forms a scirrhus, of which the patient
dies. Well, I have reached that point, my dear friend. The induration
is proceeding and nothing checks it. Just look at my yellow skin, my
feverish eyes, my excessive thinness. I am withering away. But what is
to be done? I brought the seeds of the disease home with me from the
emigration; heaven knows what I suffered then! My marriage, which
might have repaired the wrong, far from soothing my ulcerated mind
increased the wound. What did I find? ceaseless fears for the
children, domestic jars, a fortune to remake, economies which required
great privations, which I was obliged to impose upon my wife, but
which I was the one to suffer from; and then,--I can tell this to none
but you, Felix,--I have a worse trouble yet. Though Blanche is an
angel, she does not understand me; she knows nothing of my sufferings
and she aggravates them; but I forgive her. It is a dreadful thing to
say, my friend, but a less virtuous woman might have made me more
happy by lending herself to consolations which Blanche never thinks
of, for she is as silly as a child. Moreover my servants torment me;
blockheads who take my French for Greek! When our fortune was finally
remade inch by inch, and I had some relief from care, it was too late,
the harm was done; I had reached the period when the appetite is
vitiated. Then came my severe illness, so ill-managed by Origet. In
short, I have not six months to live."
I listened to the count in terror. On meeting the countess I had been
struck with her yellow skin and the feverish brilliancy of her eyes. I
led the count towards the house while seeming to listen to his
complaints and his medical dissertations; but my thoughts were all
with Henriette, and I wanted to observe her. We found her in the
salon, where she was listening to a lesson in mathematics which the
Abbe Dominis was giving Jacques, and at the same time showing
Madeleine a stitch of embroidery. Formerly she would have laid aside
every occupation the day of my arrival to be with me. But my love was
so deeply real that I drove back into my heart the grief I felt at
this contrast between the past and the present, and thought only of
the fatal yellow tint on that celestial face, which resembled the halo
of divine light Italian painters put around the faces of their saints.
I felt the icy wind of death pass over me. Then when the fire of her
eyes, no longer softened by the liquid light in which in former times
they moved, fell upon me, I shuddered; I noticed several changes,
caused by grief, which I had not seen in the open air. The slender
lines which, at my last visit, were so lightly marked upon her
forehead had deepened; her temples with their violet veins seemed
burning and concave; her eyes were sunk beneath the brows, their
circles browned;--alas! she was discolored like a fruit when decay is
beginning to show upon the surface, or a worm is at the core. I, whose
whole ambition had been to pour happiness into her soul, I it was who
embittered the spring from which she had hoped to refresh her life and
renew her courage. I took a seat beside her and said in a voice filled
with tears of repentance, "Are you satisfied with your own health?"
"Yes," she answered, plunging her eyes into mine. "My health is
there," she added, motioning to Jacques and Madeleine.
The latter, just fifteen, had come victoriously out of her struggle
with anaemia, and was now a woman. She had grown tall; the Bengal
roses were blooming in her once sallow cheeks. She had lost the
unconcern of a child who looks every one in the face, and now dropped
her eyes; her movements were slow and infrequent, like those of her
mother; her figure was slim, but the gracefulness of the bust was
already developing; already an instinct of coquetry had smoothed the
magnificent black hair which lay in bands upon her Spanish brow. She
was like those pretty statuettes of the Middle Ages, so delicate in
outline, so slender in form that the eye as it seizes their charm
fears to break them. Health, the fruit of untold efforts, had made her
cheeks as velvety as a peach and given to her throat the silken down
which, like her mother's, caught the light. She was to live! God had
written it, dear bud of the loveliest of human flowers, on the long
lashes of her eyelids, on the curve of those shoulders which gave
promise of a development as superb as her mother's! This brown young
girl, erect as a poplar, contrasted with Jacques, a fragile youth of
seventeen, whose head had grown immensely, causing anxiety by the
rapid expansion of the forehead, while his feverish, weary eyes were
in keeping with a voice that was deep and sonorous. The voice gave
forth too strong a volume of tone, the eye too many thoughts. It was
Henriette's intellect and soul and heart that were here devouring with
swift flames a body without stamina; for Jacques had the milk-white
skin and high color which characterize young English women doomed
sooner or later to the consumptive curse,--an appearance of health
that deceives the eye. Following a sign by which Henriette, after
showing me Madeleine, made me look at Jacques drawing geometrical
figures and algebraic calculations on a board before the Abbe Dominis,
I shivered at the sight of death hidden beneath the roses, and was
thankful for the self-deception of his mother.
"When I see my children thus, happiness stills my griefs--just as
those griefs are dumb, and even disappear, when I see them failing. My
friend," she said, her eyes shining with maternal pleasure, "if other
affections fail us, the feelings rewarded here, the duties done and
crowned with success, are compensation enough for defeat elsewhere.
Jacques will be, like you, a man of the highest education, possessed
of the worthiest knowledge; he will be, like you, an honor to his
country, which he may assist in governing, helped by you, whose
standing will be so high; but I will strive to make him faithful to
his first affections. Madeleine, dear creature, has a noble heart; she
is pure as the snows on the highest Alps; she will have a woman's
devotion and a woman's graceful intellect. She is proud; she is worthy
of being a Lenoncourt. My motherhood, once so tried, so tortured, is
happy now, happy with an infinite happiness, unmixed with pain. Yes,
my life is full, my life is rich. You see, God makes my joy to blossom
in the heart of these sanctified affections, and turns to bitterness
those that might have led me astray--"
"Good!" cried the abbe, joyfully. "Monsieur le vicomte begins to know
as much as I--"
Just then Jacques coughed.
"Enough for to-day, my dear abbe," said the countess, "above all, no
chemistry. Go for a ride on horseback, Jacques," she added, letting
her son kiss her with the tender and yet dignified pleasure of a
mother. "Go, dear, but take care of yourself."
"But," I said, as her eyes followed Jacques with a lingering look,
"you have not answered me. Do you feel ill?"
"Oh, sometimes, in my stomach. If I were in Paris I should have the
honors of gastritis, the fashionable disease."
"My mother suffers very much and very often," said Madeleine.
"Ah!" she said, "does my health interest you?"
Madeleine, astonished at the irony of these words, looked from one to
the other; my eyes counted the roses on the cushion of the gray and
green sofa which was in the salon.
"This situation is intolerable," I whispered in her ear.
"Did I create it?" she asked. "Dear child," she said aloud, with one
of those cruel levities by which women point their vengeance, "don't
you read history? France and England are enemies, and ever have been.
Madeleine knows that; she knows that a broad sea, and a cold and
stormy one, separates them."
The vases on the mantelshelf had given place to candelabra, no doubt
to deprive me of the pleasure of filling them with flowers; I found
them later in my own room. When my servant arrived I went out to give
him some orders; he had brought me certain things I wished to place in
"Felix," said the countess, "do not make a mistake. My aunt's old room
is now Madeleine's. Yours is over the count's."
Though guilty, I had a heart; those words were dagger thrusts coldly
given at its tenderest spot, for which she seemed to aim. Moral
sufferings are not fixed quantities; they depend on the sensitiveness
of souls. The countess had trod each round of the ladder of pain; but,
for that very reason, the kindest of women was now as cruel as she was
once beneficent. I looked at Henriette, but she averted her head. I
went to my new room, which was pretty, white and green. Once there I
burst into tears. Henriette heard me as she entered with a bunch of
flowers in her hand.
"Henriette," I said, "will you never forgive a wrong that is indeed
"Do not call me Henriette," she said. "She no longer exists, poor
soul; but you may feel sure of Madame de Mortsauf, a devoted friend,
who will listen to you and who will love you. Felix, we will talk of
these things later. If you have still any tenderness for me let me
grow accustomed to seeing you. Whenever words will not rend my heart,
if the day should ever come when I recover courage, I will speak to
you, but not till then. Look at the valley," she said, pointing to the
Indre, "it hurts me, I love it still."
"Ah, perish England and all her women! I will send my resignation to
the king; I will live and die here, pardoned."
"No, love her; love that woman! Henriette is not. This is no play, and
you should know it."
She left the room, betraying by the tone of her last words the extent
of her wounds. I ran after her and held her back, saying, "Do you no
longer love me?"
"You have done me more harm than all my other troubles put together.
To-day I suffer less, therefore I love you less. Be kind; do not
increase my pain; if you suffer, remember that--I--live."
She withdrew her hand, which I held, cold, motionless, but moist, in
mine, and darted like an arrow through the corridor in which this
scene of actual tragedy took place.
At dinner, the count subjected me to a torture I had little expected.
"So the Marchioness of Dudley is not in Paris?" he said.
I blushed excessively, but answered, "No."
"She is not in Tours," continued the count.
"She is not divorced, and she can go back to England. Her husband
would be very glad if she would return to him," I said, eagerly.
"Has she children?" asked Madame de Mortsauf, in a changed voice.
"Two sons," I replied.
"Where are they?"
"In England, with their father."
"Come, Felix," interposed the count; "be frank; is she as handsome as
"How can you ask him such a question?" cried the countess. "Is not the
woman you love always the handsomest of women?"
"Yes, always," I said, firmly, with a glance which she could not
"You are a happy fellow," said the count; "yes, a very happy one. Ha!
in my young days, I should have gone mad over such a conquest--"
"Hush!" said Madame de Mortsauf, reminding the count of Madeleine by a
"I am not a child," he said.
When we left the table I followed the countess to the terrace. When we
were alone she exclaimed, "How is it possible that some women can
sacrifice their children to a man? Wealth, position, the world, I can
conceive of; eternity? yes, possibly; but children! deprive one's self
of one's children!"
"Yes, and such women would give even more if they had it; they
The world was suddenly reversed before her, her ideas became confused.
The grandeur of that thought struck her; a suspicion entered her mind
that sacrifice, immolation justified happiness; the echo of her own
inward cry for love came back to her; she stood dumb in presence of
her wasted life. Yes, for a moment horrible doubts possessed her; then
she rose, grand and saintly, her head erect.
"Love her well, Felix," she said, with tears in her eyes; "she shall
be my happy sister. I will forgive her the harm she has done me if she
gives you what you could not have here. You are right; I have never
told you that I loved you, and I never have loved you as the world
loves. But if she is a mother how can she love you so?"
"Dear saint," I answered, "I must be less moved than I am now, before
I can explain to you how it is that you soar victoriously above her.
She is a woman of earth, the daughter of decaying races; you are the
child of heaven, an angel worthy of worship; you have my heart, she my
flesh only. She knows this and it fills her with despair; she would
change parts with you even though the cruellest martyrdom were the
price of the change. But all is irremediable. To you the soul, to you
the thoughts, the love that is pure, to you youth and old age; to her
the desires and joys of passing passion; to you remembrance forever,
to her oblivion--"
"Tell me, tell me that again, oh, my friend!" she turned to a bench
and sat down, bursting into tears. "If that be so, Felix, virtue,
purity of life, a mother's love, are not mistakes. Oh, pour that balm
upon my wounds! Repeat the words which bear me back to heaven, where
once I longed to rise with you. Bless me by a look, by a sacred word,
--I forgive you for the sufferings you have caused me the last two
"Henriette, there are mysteries in the life of men of which you know
nothing. I met you at an age when the feelings of the heart stifle the
desires implanted in our nature; but many scenes, the memory of which
will kindle my soul to the hour of death, must have told you that this
age was drawing to a close, and it was your constant triumph still to
prolong its mute delights. A love without possession is maintained by
the exasperation of desire; but there comes a moment when all is
suffering within us--for in this we have no resemblance to you. We
possess a power we cannot abdicate, or we cease to be men. Deprived of
the nourishment it needs, the heart feeds upon itself, feeling an
exhaustion which is not death, but which precedes it. Nature cannot
long be silenced; some trifling accident awakens it to a violence that
seems like madness. No, I have not loved, but I have thirsted in the
"The desert!" she said bitterly, pointing to the valley. "Ah!" she
exclaimed, "how he reasons! what subtle distinctions! Faithful hearts
are not so learned."
"Henriette," I said, "do not quarrel with me for a chance expression.
No, my soul has not vacillated, but I have not been master of my
senses. That woman is not ignorant that you are the only one I ever
loved. She plays a secondary part in my life; she knows it and is
resigned. I have the right to leave her as men leave courtesans."
"She tells me that she will kill herself," I answered, thinking that
this resolve would startle Henriette. But when she heard it a
disdainful smile, more expressive than the thoughts it conveyed,
flickered on her lips. "My dear conscience," I continued, "if you
would take into account my resistance and the seductions that led to
my fall you would understand the fatal--"
"Yes, fatal!" she cried. "I believed in you too much. I believed you
capable of the virtue a priest practises. All is over," she continued,
after a pause. "I owe you much, my friend; you have extinguished in me
the fires of earthly life. The worst of the way is over; age is coming
on. I am ailing now, soon I may be ill; I can never be the brilliant
fairy who showers you with favors. Be faithful to Lady Dudley.
Madeleine, whom I was training to be yours, ah! who will have her now?
Poor Madeleine, poor Madeleine!" she repeated, like the mournful
burden of a song. "I would you had heard her say to me when you came:
'Mother, you are not kind to Felix!' Dear creature!"
She looked at me in the warm rays of the setting sun as they glided
through the foliage. Seized with compassion for the shipwreck of our
lives she turned back to memories of our pure past, yielding to
meditations which were mutual. We were silent, recalling past scenes;
our eyes went from the valley to the fields, from the windows of
Clochegourde to those of Frapesle, peopling the dream with my
bouquets, the fragrant language of our desires. It was her last hour
of pleasure, enjoyed with the purity of her Catholic soul. This scene,
so grand to each of us, cast its melancholy on both. She believed my
words, and saw where I placed her--in the skies.
"My friend," she said, "I obey God, for his hand is in all this."
I did not know until much later the deep meaning of her words. We
slowly returned up the terraces. She took my arm and leaned upon it
resignedly, bleeding still, but with a bandage on her wound.
"Human life is thus," she said. "What had Monsieur de Mortsauf done to
deserve his fate? It proves the existence of a better world. Alas, for
those who walk in happier ways!"
She went on, estimating life so truly, considering its diverse aspects
so profoundly that these cold judgments revealed to me the disgust
that had come upon her for all things here below. When we reached the
portico she dropped my arm and said these last words: "If God has
given us the sentiment and the desire for happiness ought he not to
take charge himself of innocent souls who have found sorrow only in
this low world? Either that must be so, or God is not, and our life is
no more than a cruel jest."
She entered and turned the house quickly; I found her on the sofa,
crouching, as though blasted by the voice which flung Saul to the
"What is the matter?" I asked.
"I no longer know what is virtue," she replied; "I have no
consciousness of my own."
We were silent, petrified, listening to the echo of those words which
fell like a stone cast into a gulf.
"If I am mistaken in my life SHE is right in HERS," Henriette said at
Thus her last struggle followed her last happiness. When the count
came in she complained of illness, she who never complained. I
conjured her to tell me exactly where she suffered; but she refused to
explain and went to bed, leaving me a prey to unending remorse.
Madeleine went with her mother, and the next day I heard that the
countess had been seized with nausea, caused, she said, by the violent
excitements of that day. Thus I, who longed to give my life for hers,
I was killing her.
"Dear count," I said to Monsieur de Mortsauf, who obliged me to play
backgammon, "I think the countess very seriously ill. There is still
time to save her; pray send for Origet, and persuade her to follow his
"Origet, who half killed me?" cried the count. "No, no; I'll consult
During this week, especially the first days of it, everything was
anguish to me--the beginning of paralysis of the heart--my vanity was
mortified, my soul rent. One must needs have been the centre of all
looks and aspirations, the mainspring of the life about him, the torch
from which all others drew their light, to understand the horror of
the void that was now about me. All things were there, the same, but
the spirit that gave life to them was extinct, like a blown-out flame.
I now understood the desperate desire of lovers never to see each
other again when love has flown. To be nothing where we were once so
much! To find the chilling silence of the grave where life so lately
sparkled! Such comparisons are overwhelming. I came at last to envy
the dismal ignorance of all happiness which had darkened my youth. My
despair became so great that the countess, I thought, felt pity for
it. One day after dinner as we were walking on the meadows beside the
river I made a last effort to obtain forgiveness. I told Jacques to go
on with his sister, and leaving the count to walk alone, I took
Henriette to the punt.
"Henriette," I said; "one word of forgiveness, or I fling myself into
the Indre! I have sinned,--yes, it is true; but am I not like a dog in
his faithful attachments? I return like him, like him ashamed. If he
does wrong he is struck, but he loves the hand that strikes him;
strike me, bruise me, but give me back your heart."
"Poor child," she said, "are you not always my son?"
She took my arm and silently rejoined her children, with whom she
returned to Clochegourde, leaving me to the count, who began to talk
politics apropos of his neighbors.
"Let us go in," I said; "you are bare-headed, and the dew may do you
"You pity me, my dear Felix," he answered; "you understand me, but my
wife never tries to comfort me,--on principle, perhaps."
Never would she have left me to walk home with her husband; it was now
I who had to find excuses to join her. I found her with her children,
explaining the rules of backgammon to Jacques.
"See there," said the count, who was always jealous of the affection
she showed for her children; "it is for them that I am neglected.
Husbands, my dear Felix, are always suppressed. The most virtuous
woman in the world has ways of satisfying her desire to rob conjugal
She said nothing and continued as before.
"Jacques," he said, "come here."
Jacques objected slightly.
"Your father wants you; go at once, my son," said his mother, pushing
"They love me by order," said the old man, who sometimes perceived his
"Monsieur," she answered, passing her hand over Madeleine's smooth
tresses, which were dressed that day "a la belle Ferronniere"; "do not
be unjust to us poor women; life is not so easy for us to bear.
Perhaps the children are the virtues of a mother."
"My dear," said the count, who took it into his head to be logical,
"what you say signifies that women who have no children would have no
virtue, and would leave their husbands in the lurch."
The countess rose hastily and took Madeleine to the portico.
"That's marriage, my dear fellow," remarked the count to me. "Do you
mean to imply by going off in that manner that I am talking nonsense?"
he cried to his wife, taking his son by the hand and going to the
portico after her with a furious look in his eyes.
"On the contrary, Monsieur, you frightened me. Your words hurt me
cruelly," she added, in a hollow voice. "If virtue does not consist in
sacrificing everything to our children and our husband, what is
"Sac-ri-ficing!" cried the count, making each syllable the blow of a
sledge-hammer on the heart of his victim. "What have you sacrificed to
your children? What do you sacrifice to me? Speak! what means all
this? Answer. What is going on here? What did you mean by what you
"Monsieur," she replied, "would you be satisfied to be loved for love
of God, or to know your wife virtuous for virtue's sake?"
"Madame is right," I said, interposing in a shaken voice which
vibrated in two hearts; "yes, the noblest privilege conferred by
reason is to attribute our virtues to the beings whose happiness is
our work, and whom we render happy, not from policy, nor from duty,
but from an inexhaustible and voluntary affection--"
A tear shone in Henriette's eyes.
"And, dear count," I continued, "if by chance a woman is involuntarily
subjected to feelings other than those society imposes on her, you
must admit that the more irresistible that feeling is, the more
virtuous she is in smothering it, in sacrificing herself to her
husband and children. This theory is not applicable to me who
unfortunately show an example to the contrary, nor to you whom it will
"You have a noble soul, Felix," said the count, slipping his arm, not
ungracefully, round his wife's waist and drawing her towards him to
say: "Forgive a poor sick man, dear, who wants to be loved more than
"There are some hearts that are all generosity," she said, resting her
head upon his shoulder. The scene made her tremble to such a degree
that her comb fell, her hair rolled down, and she turned pale. The
count, holding her up, gave a sort of groan as he felt her fainting;
he caught her in his arms as he might a child, and carried her to the
sofa in the salon, where we all surrounded her. Henriette held my hand
in hers as if to tell me that we two alone knew the secret of that
scene, so simple in itself, so heart-rending to her.
"I do wrong," she said to me in a low voice, when the count left the
room to fetch a glass of orange-flower water. "I have many wrongs to
repent of towards you; I wished to fill you with despair when I ought
to have received you mercifully. Dear, you are kindness itself, and I
alone can appreciate it. Yes, I know there is a kindness prompted by
passion. Men have various ways of being kind; some from contempt,
others from impulse, from calculation, through indolence of nature;
but you, my friend, you have been absolutely kind."
"If that be so," I replied, "remember that all that is good or great
in me comes through you. You know well that I am of your making."
"That word is enough for any woman's happiness," she said, as the
count re-entered the room. "I feel better," she said, rising; "I want
We went down to the terrace, fragrant with the acacias which were
still in bloom. She had taken my right arm, and pressed it against her
heart, thus expressing her sad thoughts; but they were, she said, of a
sadness dear to her. No doubt she would gladly have been alone with
me; but her imagination, inexpert in women's wiles, did not suggest to
her any way of sending her children and the count back to the house.
We therefore talked on indifferent subjects, while she pondered a
means of pouring a few last thoughts from her heart to mine.
"It is a long time since I have driven out," she said, looking at the
beauty of the evening. "Monsieur, will you please order the carriage
that I may take a turn?"
She knew that after evening prayer she could not speak with me, for
the count was sure to want his backgammon. She might have returned to
the warm and fragrant terrace after her husband had gone to bed, but
she feared, perhaps, to trust herself beneath those shadows, or to
walk by the balustrade where our eyes could see the course of the
Indre through the dear valley. As the silent and sombre vaults of a
cathedral lift the soul to prayer, so leafy ways, lighted by the moon,
perfumed with penetrating odors, alive with the murmuring noises of
the spring-tide, stir the fibres and weaken the resolves of those who
love. The country calms the old, but excites the young. We knew it
well. Two strokes of the bell announced the hour of prayer. The
"Dear Henriette, are you ill?"
"There is no Henriette," she said. "Do not bring her back. She was
capricious and exacting; now you have a friend whose courage has been
strengthened by the words which heaven itself dictated to you. We will
talk of this later. We must be punctual at prayers, for it is my day
to lead them."
As Madame de Mortsauf said the words in which she begged the help of
God through all the adversities of life, a tone came into her voice
which struck all present. Did she use her gift of second sight to
foresee the terrible emotion she was about to endure through my
forgetfulness of an engagement made with Arabella?
"We have time to make three kings before the horses are harnessed,"
said the count, dragging me back to the salon. "You can go and drive
with my wife, and I'll go to bed."
The game was stormy, like all others. The countess heard the count's
voice either from her room or from Madeleine's.
"You show a strange hospitality," she said, re-entering the salon.
I looked at her with amazement; I could not get accustomed to the
change in her; formerly she would have been most careful not to
protect me against the count; then it gladdened her that I should
share her sufferings and bear them with patience for love of her.
"I would give my life," I whispered in her ear, "if I could hear you
say again, as you once said, 'Poor dear, poor dear!'"
She lowered her eyes, remembering the moment to which I alluded, yet
her glance turned to me beneath her eyelids, expressing the joy of a
woman who finds the mere passing tones from her heart preferred to the
delights of another love. The count was losing the game; he said he
was tired, as an excuse to give it up, and we went to walk on the lawn
while waiting for the carriage. When the count left us, such pleasure
shone on my face that Madame de Mortsauf questioned me by a look of
surprise and curiosity.
"Henriette does exist," I said. "You love me still. You wound me with
an evident intention to break my heart. I may yet be happy!"
"There was but a fragment of that poor woman left, and you have now
destroyed even that," she said. "God be praised; he gives me strength
to bear my righteous martyrdom. Yes, I still love you, and I might
have erred; the English woman shows me the abyss."
We got into the carriage and the coachman asked for orders.
"Take the road to Chinon by the avenue, and come back by the
Charlemagne moor and the road to Sache."
"What day is it?" I asked, with too much eagerness.
"Then don't go that way, madame, the road will be crowded with
poultry-men and their carts returning from Tours."
"Do as I told you," she said to the coachman. We knew the tones of our
voices too well to be able to hide from each other our least emotion.
Henriette understood all.
"You did not think of the poultry-men when you appointed this
evening," she said with a tinge of irony. "Lady Dudley is at Tours,
and she is coming here to meet you; do not deny it. 'What day is
it?--the poultry-men--their carts!' Did you ever take notice of such
things in our old drives?"
"It only shows that at Clochegourde I forget everything," I answered,
"She is coming to meet you?"
"At what hour?"
"On the moor."
"Do not deceive me; is it not at the walnut-tree?"
"On the moor."
"We will go there," she said, "and I shall see her."
When I heard these words I regarded my future life as settled. I at
once resolved to marry Lady Dudley and put an end to the miserable
struggle which threatened to exhaust my sensibilities and destroy by
these repeated shocks the delicate delights which had hitherto
resembled the flower of fruits. My sullen silence wounded the
countess, the grandeur of whose mind I misjudged.
"Do not be angry with me," she said, in her golden voice. "This, dear,
is my punishment. You can never be loved as you are here," she
continued, laying my hand upon her heart. "I now confess it; but Lady
Dudley has saved me. To her the stains,--I do not envy them,--to me
the glorious love of angels! I have traversed vast tracts of thought
since you returned here. I have judged life. Lift up the soul and you
rend it; the higher we go the less sympathy we meet; instead of
suffering in the valley, we suffer in the skies, as the soaring eagle
bears in his heart the arrow of some common herdsman. I comprehend at
last that earth and heaven are incompatible. Yes, to those who would
live in the celestial sphere God must be all in all. We must love our
friends as we love our children,--for them, not for ourselves. Self is
the cause of misery and grief. My soul is capable of soaring higher
than the eagle; there is a love which cannot fail me. But to live for
this earthly life is too debasing,--here the selfishness of the senses
reigns supreme over the spirituality of the angel that is within us.
The pleasures of passion are stormy, followed by enervating anxieties
which impair the vigor of the soul. I came to the shores of the sea
where such tempests rage; I have seen them too near; they have wrapped
me in their clouds; the billows did not break at my feet, they caught
me in a rough embrace which chilled my heart. No! I must escape to
higher regions; I should perish on the shores of this vast sea. I see
in you, as in all others who have grieved me, the guardian of my
virtue. My life has been mingled with anguish, fortunately
proportioned to my strength; it has thus been kept free from evil
passions, from seductive peace, and ever near to God. Our attachment
was the mistaken attempt, the innocent effort of two children striving
to satisfy their own hearts, God, and men--folly, Felix! Ah," she said
quickly, "what does that woman call you?"
"'Amedee,'" I answered, "'Felix' is a being apart, who belongs to none
"'Henriette' is slow to die," she said, with a gentle smile, "but die
she will at the first effort of the humble Christian, the self-
respecting mother; she whose virtue tottered yesterday and is firm
to-day. What may I say to you? This. My life has been, and is,
consistent with itself in all its circumstances, great and small. The
heart to which the rootlets of my first affection should have clung,
my mother's heart, was closed to me, in spite of my persistence in
seeking a cleft through which they might have slipped. I was a girl; I
came after the death of three boys; and I vainly strove to take their
place in the hearts of my parents; the wound I gave to the family
pride was never healed. When my gloomy childhood was over and I knew
my aunt, death took her from me all too soon. Monsieur de Mortsauf, to
whom I vowed myself, has repeatedly, nay without respite, smitten me,
not being himself aware of it, poor man! His love has the simple-
minded egotism our children show to us. He has no conception of the
harm he does me, and he is heartily forgiven for it. My children,
those dear children who are bound to my flesh through their
sufferings, to my soul by their characters, to my nature by their
innocent happiness,--those children were surely given to show me how
much strength and patience a mother's breast contains. Yes, my
children are my virtues. You know how my heart has been harrowed for
them, by them, in spite of them. To be a mother was, for me, to buy
the right to suffer. When Hagar cried in the desert an angel came and
opened a spring of living water for that poor slave; but I, when the
limpid stream to which (do you remember?) you tried to guide me flowed
past Clochegourde, its waters changed to bitterness for me. Yes, the
sufferings you have inflicted on my soul are terrible. God, no doubt,
will pardon those who know affection only through its pains. But if
the keenest of these pains has come to me through you, perhaps I
deserved them. God is not unjust. Ah, yes, Felix, a kiss furtively
taken may be a crime. Perhaps it is just that a woman should harshly
expiate the few steps taken apart from husband and children that she
might walk alone with thoughts and memories that were not of them, and
so walking, marry her soul to another. Perhaps it is the worst of
crimes when the inward being lowers itself to the region of human
kisses. When a woman bends to receive her husband's kiss with a mask
upon her face, that is a crime! It is a crime to think of a future
springing from a death, a crime to imagine a motherhood without
terrors, handsome children playing in the evening with a beloved
father before the eyes of a happy mother. Yes, I sinned, sinned
greatly. I have loved the penances inflicted by the Church,--which did
not redeem the faults, for the priest was too indulgent. God has
placed the punishment in the faults themselves, committing the
execution of his vengeance to the one for whom the faults were
committed. When I gave my hair, did I not give myself? Why did I so
often dress in white? because I seemed the more your lily; did you not
see me here, for the first time, all in white? Alas! I have loved my
children less, for all intense affection is stolen from the natural
affections. Felix, do you not see that all suffering has its meaning.
Strike me, wound me even more than Monsieur de Mortsauf and my
children's state have wounded me. That woman is the instrument of
God's anger; I will meet her without hatred; I will smile upon her;
under pain of being neither Christian, wife, nor mother, I ought to
love her. If, as you tell me, I contributed to keep your heart
unsoiled by the world, that Englishwoman ought not to hate me. A woman
should love the mother of the man she loves, and I am your mother.
What place have I sought in your heart? that left empty by Madame de
Vandenesse. Yes, yes, you have always complained of my coldness; yes,
I am indeed your mother only. Forgive me therefore the involuntary
harshness with which I met you on your return; a mother ought to
rejoice that her son is so well loved--"
She laid her head for a moment on my breast, repeating the words,
"Forgive me! oh, forgive me!" in a voice that was neither her girlish
voice with its joyous notes, nor the woman's voice with despotic
endings; not the sighing sound of the mother's woe, but an agonizing
new voice for new sorrows.
"You, Felix," she presently continued, growing animated; "you are the
friend who can do no wrong. Ah! you have lost nothing in my heart; do
not blame yourself, do not feel the least remorse. It was the height
of selfishness in me to ask you to sacrifice the joys of life to an
impossible future; impossible, because to realize it a woman must
abandon her children, abdicate her position, and renounce eternity.
Many a time I have thought you higher than I; you were great and
noble, I, petty and criminal. Well, well, it is settled now; I can be
to you no more than a light from above, sparkling and cold, but
unchanging. Only, Felix, let me not love the brother I have chosen
without return. Love me, cherish me! The love of a sister has no
dangerous to-morrow, no hours of difficulty. You will never find it
necessary to deceive the indulgent heart which will live in future
within your life, grieve for your griefs, be joyous with your joys,
which will love the women who make you happy, and resent their
treachery. I never had a brother to love in that way. Be noble enough
to lay aside all self-love and turn our attachment, hitherto so
doubtful and full of trouble, into this sweet and sacred love. In this
way I shall be enabled to still live. I will begin to-night by taking
Lady Dudley's hand."
She did not weep as she said these words so full of bitter knowledge,
by which, casting aside the last remaining veil which hid her soul
from mine, she showed by how many ties she had linked herself to me,
how many chains I had hewn apart. Our emotions were so great that for
a time we did not notice it was raining heavily.
"Will Madame la comtesse wait here under shelter?" asked the coachman,
pointing to the chief inn of Ballan.
She made a sign of assent, and we stayed nearly half an hour under the
vaulted entrance, to the great surprise of the inn-people who wondered
what brought Madame de Mortsauf on that road at eleven o'clock at
night. Was she going to Tours? Had she come from there? When the storm
ceased and the rain turned to what is called in Touraine a "brouee,"
which does not hinder the moon from shining through the higher mists
as the wind with its upper currents whirls them away, the coachman
drove from our shelter, and, to my great delight, turned to go back
the way we came.
"Follow my orders," said the countess, gently.
We now took the road across the Charlemagne moor, where the rain began
again. Half-way across I heard the barking of Arabella's dog; a horse
came suddenly from beneath a clump of oaks, jumped the ditch which
owners of property dig around their cleared lands when they consider
them suitable for cultivation, and carried Lady Dudley to the moor to
meet the carriage.
"What pleasure to meet a love thus if it can be done without sin,"
The barking of the dog had told Lady Dudley that I was in the
carriage. She thought, no doubt, that I had brought it to meet her on
account of the rain. When we reached the spot where she was waiting,
she urged her horse to the side of the road with the equestrian
dexterity for which she was famous, and which to Henriette seemed
"Amedee," she said, and the name in her English pronunciation had a
"He is here, madame," said the countess, looking at the fantastic
creature plainly visible in the moonlight, whose impatient face was
oddly swathed in locks of hair now out of curl.
You know with what swiftness two women examine each other. The
Englishwoman recognized her rival, and was gloriously English; she
gave us a look full of insular contempt, and disappeared in the
underbrush with the rapidity of an arrow.
"Drive on quickly to Clochegourde," cried the countess, to whom that
cutting look was like the blow of an axe upon her heart.
The coachman turned to get upon the road to Chinon which was better
than that to Sache. As the carriage again approached the moor we heard
the furious galloping of Arabella's horse and the steps of her dog.
All three were skirting the wood behind the bushes.
"She is going; you will lose her forever," said Henriette.
"Let her go," I answered, "and without a regret."
"Oh, poor woman!" cried the countess, with a sort of compassionate
horror. "Where will she go?"
"Back to La Grenadiere,--a little house near Saint-Cyr," I said,
"where she is staying."
Just as we were entering the avenue of Clochegourde Arabella's dog
barked joyfully and bounded up to the carriage.
"She is here before us!" cried the countess; then after a pause she
added, "I have never seen a more beautiful woman. What a hand and what
a figure! Her complexion outdoes the lily, her eyes are literally
bright as diamonds. But she rides too well; she loves to display her
strength; I think her violent and too active,--also too bold for our
conventions. The woman who recognizes no law is apt to listen only to
her caprices. Those who seek to shine, to make a stir, have not the
gift of constancy. Love needs tranquillity; I picture it to myself
like a vast lake in which the lead can find no bottom; where tempests
may be violent, but are rare and controlled within certain limits;
where two beings live on a flowery isle far from the world whose
luxury and display offend them. Still, love must take the imprint of
the character. Perhaps I am wrong. If nature's elements are compelled
to take certain forms determined by climate, why is it not the same
with the feelings of individuals? No doubt sentiments, feelings, which
hold to the general law in the mass, differ in expression only. Each
soul has its own method. Lady Dudley is the strong woman who can
traverse distances and act with the vigor of a man; she would rescue
her lover and kill jailers and guards; while other women can only love
with their whole souls; in moments of danger they kneel down to pray,
and die. Which of the two women suits you best? That is the question.
Yes, yes, Lady Dudley must surely love; she has made many sacrifices.
Perhaps she will love you when you have ceased to love her!"
"Dear angel," I said, "let me ask the question you asked me; how is it
that you know these things?"
"Every sorrow teaches a lesson, and I have suffered on so many points
that my knowledge is vast."
My servant had heard the order given, and thinking we should return by
the terraces he held my horse ready for me in the avenue. Arabella's
dog had scented the horse, and his mistress, drawn by very natural
curiosity, had followed the animal through the woods to the avenue.
"Go and make your peace," said Henriette, smiling without a tinge of
sadness. "Say to Lady Dudley how much she mistakes my intention; I
wished to show her the true value of the treasure which has fallen to
her; my heart holds none but kind feelings, above all neither anger
nor contempt. Explain to her that I am her sister, and not her rival."
"I shall not go," I said.
"Have you never discovered," she said with lofty pride, "that certain
propitiations are insulting? Go!"
I rode towards Lady Dudley wishing to know the state of her mind. "If
she would only be angry and leave me," I thought, "I could return to
The dog led me to an oak, from which, as I came up, Arabella galloped
crying out to me, "Come! away! away!" All that I could do was to
follow her to Saint Cyr, which we reached about midnight.
"That lady is in perfect health," said Arabella as she dismounted.
Those who know her can alone imagine the satire contained in that
remark, dryly said in a tone which meant, "I should have died!"
"I forbid you to utter any of your sarcasms about Madame de Mortsauf,"
"Do I displease your Grace in remarking upon the perfect health of one
so dear to your precious heart? Frenchwomen hate, so I am told, even
their lover's dog. In England we love all that our masters love; we
hate all they hate, because we are flesh of their flesh. Permit me
therefore to love this lady as much as you yourself love her. Only, my
dear child," she added, clasping me in her arms which were damp with
rain, "if you betray me, I shall not be found either lying down or
standing up, not in a carriage with liveried lackeys, nor on horseback
on the moors of Charlemagne, nor on any other moor beneath the skies,
nor in my own bed, nor beneath a roof of my forefathers; I shall not
be anywhere, for I will live no longer. I was born in Lancashire, a
country where women die for love. Know you, and give you up? I will
yield you to none, not even to Death, for I should die with you."
She led me to her rooms, where comfort had already spread its charms.
"Love her, dear," I said warmly. "She loves you sincerely, not in
"Sincerely! you poor child!" she said, unfastening her habit.
With a lover's vanity I tried to exhibit Henriette's noble character
to this imperious creature. While her waiting-woman, who did not
understand a word of French, arranged her hair I endeavored to picture
Madame de Mortsauf by sketching her life; I repeated many of the great
thoughts she had uttered at a crisis when nearly all women become
either petty or bad. Though Arabella appeared to be paying no
attention she did not lose a single word.
"I am delighted," she said when we were alone, "to learn your taste
for pious conversation. There's an old vicar on one of my estates who
understands writing sermons better than any one I know; the country-
people like him, for he suits his prosing to his hearers. I'll write
to my father to-morrow and ask him to send the good man here by
steamboat; you can meet him in Paris, and when once you have heard him
you will never wish to listen to any one else,--all the more because
his health is perfect. His moralities won't give you shocks that make
you weep; they flow along without tempests, like a limpid stream, and
will send you to sleep. Every evening you can if you like satisfy your
passion for sermons by digesting one with your dinner. English
morality, I do assure you, is as superior to that of Touraine as our
cutlery, our plate, and our horses are to your knives and your turf.
Do me the kindness to listen to my vicar; promise me. I am only a
woman, my dearest; I can love, I can die for you if you will; but I
have never studied at Eton, or at Oxford, or in Edinburgh. I am
neither a doctor of laws nor a reverend; I can't preach morality; in
fact, I am altogether unfit for it, I should be awkward if I tried. I
don't blame your tastes; you might have others more depraved, and I
should still endeavor to conform to them, for I want you to find near
me all you like best,--pleasures of love, pleasures of food, pleasures
of piety, good claret, and virtuous Christians. Shall I wear hair-
cloth to-night? She is very lucky, that woman, to suit you in
morality. From what college did she graduate? Poor I, who can only
give you myself, who can only be your slave--"
"Then why did you rush away when I wanted to bring you together?"
"Are you crazy, Amedee? I could go from Paris to Rome disguised as a
valet; I would do the most unreasonable thing for your sake; but how
can you expect me to speak to a woman on the public roads who has
never been presented to me,--and who, besides, would have preached me
a sermon under three heads? I speak to peasants, and if I am hungry I
would ask a workman to share his bread with me and pay him in guineas,
--that is all proper enough; but to stop a carriage on the highway,
like the gentlemen of the road in England, is not at all within my
code of manners. You poor child, you know only how to love; you don't
know how to live. Besides, I am not like you as yet, dear angel; I
don't like morality. Still, I am capable of great efforts to please
you. Yes, I will go to work; I will learn how to preach; you shall
have no more kisses without verses of the Bible interlarded."
She used her power and abused it as soon as she saw in my eyes the
ardent expression which was always there when she began her sorceries.
She triumphed over everything, and I complacently told myself that the
woman who loses all, sacrifices the future, and makes love her only
virtue, is far above Catholic polemics.
"So she loves herself better than she loves you?" Arabella went on.
"She sets something that is not you above you. Is that love? how can
we women find anything to value in ourselves except that which you
value in us? No woman, no matter how fine a moralist she may be, is
the equal of a man. Tread upon us, kill us; never embarrass your lives
on our account. It is for us to die, for you to live, great and
honored. For us the dagger in your hand; for you our pardoning love.
Does the sun think of the gnats in his beams, that live by his light?
they stay as long as they can and when he withdraws his face they
"Or fly somewhere else," I said interrupting her.
"Yes, somewhere else," she replied, with an indifference that would
have piqued any man into using the power with which she invested him.
"Do you really think it is worthy of womanhood to make a man eat his
bread buttered with virtue, and to persuade him that religion is
incompatible with love? Am I a reprobate? A woman either gives herself
or she refuses. But to refuse and moralize is a double wrong, and is
contrary to the rule of the right in all lands. Here, you will get
only excellent sandwiches prepared by the hand of your servant
Arabella, whose sole morality is to imagine caresses no man has yet
felt and which the angels inspire."
I know nothing more destructive than the wit of an Englishwoman; she
gives it the eloquent gravity, the tone of pompous conviction with
which the British hide the absurdities of their life of prejudice.
French wit and humor, on the other hand, is like a lace with which our
women adorn the joys they give and the quarrels they invent; it is a
mental jewelry, as charming as their pretty dresses. English wit is an
acid which corrodes all those on whom it falls until it bares their
bones, which it scrapes and polishes. The tongue of a clever
Englishwoman is like that of a tiger tearing the flesh from the bone
when he is only in play. All-powerful weapon of a sneering devil,
English satire leaves a deadly poison in the wound it makes. Arabella
chose to show her power like the sultan who, to prove his dexterity,
cut off the heads of unoffending beings with his own scimitar.
"My angel," she said, "I can talk morality too if I choose. I have
asked myself whether I commit a crime in loving you; whether I violate
the divine laws; and I find that my love for you is both natural and
pious. Why did God create some beings handsomer than others if not to
show us that we ought to adore them? The crime would be in not loving
you. This lady insults you by confounding you with other men; the laws
of morality are not applicable to you; for God has created you above
them. Am I not drawing nearer to divine love in loving you? will God
punish a poor woman for seeking the divine? Your great and luminous
heart so resembles the heavens that I am like the gnats which flutter
about the torches of a fete and burn themselves; are they to be
punished for their error? besides, is it an error? may it not be pure
worship of the light? They perish of too much piety,--if you call it
perishing to fling one's self on the breast of him we love. I have the
weakness to love you, whereas that woman has the strength to remain in
her Catholic shrine. Now, don't frown. You think I wish her ill. No, I
do not. I adore the morality which has led her to leave you free, and
enables me to win you and hold you forever--for you are mine forever,
are you not?"
"Forever and ever?"
"Ah! I have found favor in my lord! I alone have understood his worth!
She knows how to cultivate her estate, you say. Well, I leave that to
farmers; I cultivate your heart."
I try to recall this intoxicating babble, that I may picture to you
the woman as she is, confirm all I have said of her, and let you into
the secret of what happened later. But how shall I describe the
accompaniment of the words? She sought to annihilate by the passion of
her impetuous love the impressions left in my heart by the chaste and
dignified love of my Henriette. Lady Dudley had seen the countess as
plainly as the countess had seen her; each had judged the other. The
force of Arabella's attack revealed to me the extent of her fear, and
her secret admiration for her rival. In the morning I found her with
tearful eyes, complaining that she had not slept.
"What troubles you?" I said.
"I fear that my excessive love will ruin me," she answered; "I have
given all. Wiser than I, that woman possesses something that you still
desire. If you prefer her, forget me; I will not trouble you with my
sorrows, my remorse, my sufferings; no, I will go far away and die,
like a plant deprived of the life-giving sun."
She was able to wring protestations of love from my reluctant lips,
which filled her with joy.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, drying her eyes, "I am happy. Go back to her; I
do not choose to owe you to the force of my love, but to the action of
your own will. If you return here I shall know that you love me as
much as I love you, the possibility of which I have always doubted."
She persuaded me to return to Clochegourde. The false position in
which I thus placed myself did not strike me while still under the
influence of her wiles. Yet, had I refused to return I should have
given Lady Dudley a triumph over Henriette. Arabella would then have
taken me to Paris. To go now to Clochegourde was an open insult to
Madame de Mortsauf; in that case Arabella was sure of me. Did any
woman ever pardon such crimes against love? Unless she were an angel
descended from the skies, instead of a purified spirit ascending to
them, a loving woman would rather see her lover die than know him
happy with another. Thus, look at it as I would, my situation, after I
had once left Clochegourde for the Grenadiere, was as fatal to the
love of my choice as it was profitable to the transient love that held
me. Lady Dudley had calculated all this with consummate cleverness.
She owned to me later that if she had not met Madame de Mortsauf on
the moor she had intended to compromise me by haunting Clochegourde
until she did so.
When I met the countess that morning, and found her pale and depressed
like one who has not slept all night, I was conscious of exercising
the instinctive perception given to hearts still fresh and generous to
show them the true bearing of actions little regarded by the world at
large, but judged as criminal by lofty spirits. Like a child going
down a precipice in play and gathering flowers, who sees with dread
that it can never climb that height again, feels itself alone, with
night approaching, and hears the howls of animals, so I now knew that
she and I were separated by a universe. A wail arose within our souls
like an echo of that woeful "Consummatum est" heard in the churches on
Good Friday at the hour the Saviour died,--a dreadful scene which awes
young souls whose first love is religion. All Henriette's illusions
were killed at one blow; her heart had endured its passion. She did
not look at me; she refused me the light that for six long years had
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