The Lily of the Valley
Honore de Balzac

Part 5 out of 5

shone upon my life. She knew well that the spring of the effulgent
rays shed by our eyes was in our souls, to which they served as
pathways to reach each other, to blend them in one, meeting, parting,
playing, like two confiding women who tell each other all. Bitterly I
felt the wrong of bringing beneath this roof, where pleasure was
unknown, a face on which the wings of pleasure had shaken their
prismatic dust. If, the night before, I had allowed Lady Dudley to
depart alone, if I had then returned to Clochegourde, where, it may
be, Henriette awaited me, perhaps--perhaps Madame de Mortsauf might
not so cruelly have resolved to be my sister. But now she paid me many
ostentatious attentions,--playing her part vehemently for the very
purpose of not changing it. During breakfast she showed me a thousand
civilities, humiliating attentions, caring for me as though I were a
sick man whose fate she pitied.

"You were out walking early," said the count; "I hope you have brought
back a good appetite, you whose stomach is not yet destroyed."

This remark, which brought the smile of a sister to Henriette's lips,
completed my sense of the ridicule of my position. It was impossible
to be at Clochegourde by day and Saint-Cyr by night. During the day I
felt how difficult it was to become the friend of a woman we have long
loved. The transition, easy enough when years have brought it about,
is like an illness in youth. I was ashamed; I cursed the pleasure Lady
Dudley gave me; I wished that Henriette would demand my blood. I could
not tear her rival in pieces before her, for she avoided speaking of
her; indeed, had I spoken of Arabella, Henriette, noble and sublime to
the inmost recesses of her heart, would have despised my infamy. After
five years of delightful intercourse we now had nothing to say to each
other; our words had no connection with our thoughts; we were hiding
from each other our intolerable pain,--we, whose mutual sufferings had
been our first interpreter.

Henriette assumed a cheerful look for me as for herself, but she was
sad. She spoke of herself as my sister, and yet found no ground on
which to converse; and we remained for the greater part of the time in
constrained silence. She increased my inward misery by feigning to
believe that she was the only victim.

"I suffer more than you," I said to her at a moment when my self-
styled sister was betrayed into a feminine sarcasm.

"How so?" she said haughtily.

"Because I am the one to blame."

At last her manner became so cold and indifferent that I resolved to
leave Clochegourde. That evening, on the terrace, I said farewell to
the whole family, who were there assembled. They all followed me to
the lawn where my horse was waiting. The countess came to me as I took
the bridle in my hand.

"Let us walk down the avenue together, alone," she said.

I gave her my arm, and we passed through the courtyard with slow and
measured steps, as though our rhythmic movement were consoling to us.
When we reached the grove of trees which forms a corner of the
boundary she stopped.

"Farewell, my friend," she said, throwing her head upon my breast and
her arms around my neck, "Farewell, we shall never meet again. God has
given me the sad power to look into the future. Do you remember the
terror that seized me the day you first came back, so young, so
handsome! and I saw you turn your back on me as you do this day when
you are leaving Clochegourde and going to Saint-Cyr? Well, once again,
during the past night I have seen into the future. Friend, we are
speaking together for the last time. I can hardly now say a few words
to you, for it is but a part of me that speaks at all. Death has
already seized on something in me. You have taken the mother from her
children, I now ask you to take her place to them. You can; Jacques
and Madeleine love you--as if you had always made them suffer."

"Death!" I cried, frightened as I looked at her and beheld the fire of
her shining eyes, of which I can give no idea to those who have never
known their dear ones struck down by her fatal malady, unless I
compare those eyes to balls of burnished silver. "Die!" I said.
"Henriette, I command you to live. You used to ask an oath of me, I
now ask one of you. Swear to me that you will send for Origet and obey
him in everything."

"Would you oppose the mercy of God?" she said, interrupting me with a
cry of despair at being thus misunderstood.

"You do not love me enough to obey me blindly, as that miserable Lady
Dudley does?"

"Yes, yes, I will do all you ask," she cried, goaded by jealousy.

"Then I stay," I said, kissing her on the eyelids.

Frightened at the words, she escaped from my arms and leaned against a
tree; then she turned and walked rapidly homeward without looking
back. But I followed her; she was weeping and praying. When we reached
the lawn I took her hand and kissed it respectfully. This submission
touched her.

"I am yours--forever, and as you will," I said; "for I love you as
your aunt loved you."

She trembled and wrung my hand.

"One look," I said, "one more, one last of our old looks! The woman
who gives herself wholly," I cried, my soul illumined by the glance
she gave me, "gives less of life and soul than I have now received.
Henriette, thou art my best-beloved--my only love."

"I shall live!" she said; "but cure yourself as well."

That look had effaced the memory of Arabella's sarcasms. Thus I was
the plaything of the two irreconcilable passions I have now described
to you; I was influenced by each alternately. I loved an angel and a
demon; two women equally beautiful,--one adorned with all the virtues
which we decry through hatred of our own imperfections, the other with
all the vices which we deify through selfishness. Returning along that
avenue, looking back again and again at Madame de Mortsauf, as she
leaned against a tree surrounded by her children who waved their
handkerchiefs, I detected in my soul an emotion of pride in finding
myself the arbiter of two such destinies; the glory, in ways so
different, of women so distinguished; proud of inspiring such great
passions that death must come to whichever I abandoned. Ah! believe
me, that passing conceit has been doubly punished!

I know not what demon prompted me to remain with Arabella and await
the moment when the death of the count might give me Henriette; for
she would ever love me. Her harshness, her tears, her remorse, her
Christian resignation, were so many eloquent signs of a sentiment that
could no more be effaced from her heart than from mine. Walking slowly
down that pretty avenue and making these reflections, I was no longer
twenty-five, I was fifty years old. A man passes in a moment, even
more quickly than a woman, from youth to middle age. Though long ago I
drove these evil thoughts away from me, I was then possessed by them,
I must avow it. Perhaps I owed their presence in my mind to the
Tuileries, to the king's cabinet. Who could resist the polluting
spirit of Louis XVIII.?

When I reached the end of the avenue I turned and rushed back in the
twinkling of an eye, seeing that Henriette was still there, and alone!
I went to bid her a last farewell, bathed in repentant tears, the
cause of which she never knew. Tears sincere indeed; given, although I
knew it not, to noble loves forever lost, to virgin emotions--those
flowers of our life which cannot bloom again. Later, a man gives
nothing, he receives; he loves himself in his mistress; but in youth
he loves his mistress in himself. Later, we inoculate with our tastes,
perhaps our vices, the woman who loves us; but in the dawn of life she
whom we love conveys to us her virtues, her conscience. She invites us
with a smile to the noble life; from her we learn the self-devotion
which she practises. Woe to the man who has not had his Henriette. Woe
to that other one who has never known a Lady Dudley. The latter, if he
marries, will not be able to keep his wife; the other will be
abandoned by his mistress. But joy to him who can find the two women
in one woman; happy the man, dear Natalie, whom you love.

After my return to Paris Arabella and I became more intimate than
ever. Soon we insensibly abandoned all the conventional restrictions I
had carefully imposed, the strict observance of which often makes the
world forgive the false position in which Lady Dudley had placed
herself. Society, which delights in looking behind appearances,
sanctions much as soon as it knows the secrets they conceal. Lovers
who live in the great world make a mistake in flinging down these
barriers exacted by the law of salons; they do wrong not to obey
scrupulously all conventions which the manners and customs of a
community impose,--less for the sake of others than for their own.
Outward respect to be maintained, comedies to play, concealments to be
managed; all such strategy of love occupies the life, renews desire,
and protects the heart against the palsy of habit. But all young
passions, being, like youth itself, essentially spendthrift, raze
their forests to the ground instead of merely cutting the timber.
Arabella adopted none of these bourgeois ideas, and yielded to them
only to please me; she wished to exhibit me to the eyes of all Paris
as her "sposo." She employed her powers of seduction to keep me under
her roof, for she was not content with a rumored scandal which, for
want of proof, was only whispered behind the fans. Seeing her so happy
in committing an imprudence which frankly admitted her position, how
could I help believing in her love?

But no sooner was I plunged into the comforts of illegal marriage than
despair seized upon me; I saw my life bound to a course in direct
defiance of the ideas and the advice given me by Henriette.
Thenceforth I lived in the sort of rage we find in consumptive
patients who, knowing their end is near, cannot endure that their
lungs should be examined. There was no corner in my heart where I
could fly to escape suffering; an avenging spirit filled me
incessantly with thoughts on which I dared not dwell. My letters to
Henriette depicted this moral malady and did her infinite harm. "At
the cost of so many treasures lost, I wished you to be at least
happy," she wrote in the only answer I received. But I was not happy.
Dear Natalie, happiness is absolute; it allows of no comparisons. My
first ardor over, I necessarily compared the two women,--a contrast I
had never yet studied. In fact, all great passions press so strongly
on the character that at first they check its asperities and cover the
track of habits which constitute our defects and our better qualities.
But later, when two lovers are accustomed to each other, the features
of their moral physiognomies reappear; they mutually judge each other,
and it often happens during this reaction of the character after
passion, that natural antipathies leading to disunion (which
superficial people seize upon to accuse the human heart of
instability) come to the surface. This period now began with me. Less
blinded by seductions, and dissecting, as it were, my pleasure, I
undertook, without perhaps intending to do so, a critical examination
of Lady Dudley which resulted to her injury.

In the first place, I found her wanting in the qualities of mind which
distinguish Frenchwomen and make them so delightful to love; as all
those who have had the opportunity of loving in both countries
declare. When a Frenchwoman loves she is metamorphosed; her noted
coquetry is used to deck her love; she abandons her dangerous vanity
and lays no claim to any merit but that of loving well. She espouses
the interests, the hatreds, the friendships, of the man she loves; she
acquires in a day the experience of a man of business; she studies the
code, she comprehends the mechanism of credit, and could manage a
banker's office; naturally heedless and prodigal, she will make no
mistakes and waste not a single louis. She becomes, in turn, mother,
adviser, doctor, giving to all her transformations a grace of
happiness which reveals, in its every detail, her infinite love. She
combines the special qualities of the women of other countries and
gives unity to the mixture by her wit, that truly French product,
which enlivens, sanctions, justifies, and varies all, thus relieving
the monotony of a sentiment which rests on a single tense of a single
verb. The Frenchwoman loves always, without abatement and without
fatigue, in public or in solitude. In public she uses a tone which has
meaning for one only; she speaks by silence; she looks at you with
lowered eyelids. If the occasion prevents both speech and look she
will use the sand and write a word with the point of her little foot;
her love will find expression even in sleep; in short, she bends the
world to her love. The Englishwoman, on the contrary, makes her love
bend to the world. Educated to maintain the icy manners, the Britannic
and egotistic deportment which I described to you, she opens and shuts
her heart with the ease of a British mechanism. She possesses an
impenetrable mask, which she puts on or takes off phlegmatically.
Passionate as an Italian when no eye sees her, she becomes coldly
dignified before the world. A lover may well doubt his empire when he
sees the immobility of face, the aloofness of countenance, and hears
the calm voice, with which an Englishwoman leaves her boudoir.
Hypocrisy then becomes indifference; she has forgotten all.

Certainly the woman who can lay aside her love like a garment may be
thought to be capable of changing it. What tempests arise in the heart
of a man, stirred by wounded self-love, when he sees a woman taking
and dropping and again picking up her love like a piece of embroidery.
These women are too completely mistresses of themselves ever to belong
wholly to you; they are too much under the influence of society ever
to let you reign supreme. Where a Frenchwoman comforts by a look, or
betrays her impatience with visitors by witty jests, an Englishwoman's
silence is absolute; it irritates the soul and frets the mind. These
women are so constantly, and, under all circumstances, on their
dignity, that to most of them fashion reigns omnipotent even over
their pleasures. An Englishwoman forces everything into form; though
in her case the love of form does not produce the sentiment of art. No
matter what may be said against it, Protestantism and Catholicism
explain the differences which make the love of Frenchwomen so far
superior to the calculating, reasoning love of Englishwomen.
Protestantism doubts, searches, and kills belief; it is the death of
art and love. Where worldliness is all in all, worldly people must
needs obey; but passionate hearts flee from it; to them its laws are

You can now understand what a shock my self-love received when I found
that Lady Dudley could not live without the world, and that the
English system of two lives was familiar to her. It was no sacrifice
she felt called upon to make; on the contrary she fell naturally into
two forms of life that were inimical to each other. When she loved she
loved madly,--no woman of any country could be compared to her; but
when the curtain fell upon that fairy scene she banished even the
memory of it. In public she never answered to a look or a smile; she
was neither mistress nor slave; she was like an ambassadress, obliged
to round her phrases and her elbows; she irritated me by her
composure, and outraged my heart with her decorum. Thus she degraded
love to a mere need, instead of raising it to an ideal through
enthusiasm. She expressed neither fear, nor regrets, nor desire; but
at a given hour her tenderness reappeared like a fire suddenly

In which of these two women ought I to believe? I felt, as it were by
a thousand pin-pricks, the infinite differences between Henriette and
Arabella. When Madame de Mortsauf left me for a while she seemed to
leave to the air the duty of reminding me of her; the folds of her
gown as she went away spoke to the eye, as their undulating sound to
the ear when she returned; infinite tenderness was in the way she
lowered her eyelids and looked on the ground; her voice, that musical
voice, was a continual caress; her words expressed a constant thought;
she was always like unto herself; she did not halve her soul to suit
two atmospheres, one ardent, the other icy. In short, Madame de
Mortsauf reserved her mind and the flower of her thought to express
her feelings; she was coquettish in ideas with her children and with
me. But Arabella's mind was never used to make life pleasant; it was
never used at all for my benefit; it existed only for the world and by
the world, and it was spent in sarcasm. She loved to rend, to bite, as
it were,--not for amusement but to satisfy a craving. Madame de
Mortsauf would have hidden her happiness from every eye, Lady Dudley
chose to exhibit hers to all Paris; and yet with her impenetrable
English mask she kept within conventions even while parading in the
Bois with me. This mixture of ostentation and dignity, love and
coldness, wounded me constantly; for my soul was both virgin and
passionate, and as I could not pass from one temperature to the other,
my temper suffered. When I complained (never without precaution), she
turned her tongue with its triple sting against me; mingling boasts of
her love with those cutting English sarcasms. As soon as she found
herself in opposition to me, she made it an amusement to hurt my
feelings and humiliate my mind; she kneaded me like dough. To any
remark of mine as to keeping a medium in all things, she replied by
caricaturing my ideas and exaggerating them. When I reproached her for
her manner to me, she asked if I wished her to kiss me at the opera
before all Paris; and she said it so seriously that I, knowing her
desire to make people talk, trembled lest she should execute her
threat. In spite of her real passion she was never meditative, self-
contained, or reverent, like Henriette; on the contrary she was
insatiable as a sandy soil. Madame de Mortsauf was always composed,
able to feel my soul in an accent or a glance. Lady Dudley was never
affected by a look, or a pressure of the hand, nor yet by a tender
word. No proof of love surprised her. She felt so strong a necessity
for excitement, noise, celebrity, that nothing attained to her ideal
in this respect; hence her violent love, her exaggerated fancy,--
everything concerned herself and not me.

The letter you have read from Madame de Mortsauf (a light which still
shone brightly on my life), a proof of how the most virtuous of women
obeyed the genius of a Frenchwoman, revealing, as it did, her
perpetual vigilance, her sound understanding of all my prospects--that
letter must have made you see with what care Henriette had studied my
material interests, my political relations, my moral conquests, and
with what ardor she took hold of my life in all permissible
directions. On such points as these Lady Dudley affected the reticence
of a mere acquaintance. She never informed herself about my affairs,
nor of my likings or dislikings as a man. Prodigal for herself without
being generous, she separated too decidedly self-interest and love.
Whereas I knew very well, without proving it, that to save me a pang
Henriette would have sought for me that which she would never seek for
herself. In any great and overwhelming misfortune I should have gone
for counsel to Henriette, but I would have let myself be dragged to
prison sooner than say a word to Lady Dudley.

Up to this point the contrast relates to feelings; but it was the same
in outward things. In France, luxury is the expression of the man, the
reproduction of his ideas, of his personal poetry; it portrays the
character, and gives, between lovers, a precious value to every little
attention by keeping before them the dominant thought of the being
loved. But English luxury, which at first allured me by its choiceness
and delicacy, proved to be mechanical also. The thousand and one
attentions shown me at Clochegourde Arabella would have considered the
business of servants; each one had his own duty and speciality. The
choice of the footman was the business of her butler, as if it were a
matter of horses. She never attached herself to her servants; the
death of the best of them would not have affected her, for money could
replace the one lost by another equally efficient. As to her duty
towards her neighbor, I never saw a tear in her eye for the
misfortunes of another; in fact her selfishness was so naively candid
that it absolutely created a laugh. The crimson draperies of the great
lady covered an iron nature. The delightful siren who sounded at night
every bell of her amorous folly could soon make a young man forget the
hard and unfeeling Englishwoman, and it was only step by step that I
discovered the stony rock on which my seeds were wasted, bringing no
harvest. Madame de Mortsauf had penetrated that nature at a glance in
their brief encounter. I remembered her prophetic words. She was
right; Arabella's love became intolerable to me. I have since remarked
that most women who ride well on horseback have little tenderness.
Like the Amazons, they lack a breast; their hearts are hard in some
direction, but I do not know in which.

At the moment when I begin to feel the burden of the yoke, when
weariness took possession of soul and body too, when at last I
comprehended the sanctity that true feeling imparts to love, when
memories of Clochegourde were bringing me, in spite of distance, the
fragrance of the roses, the warmth of the terrace, and the warble of
the nightingales,--at this frightful moment, when I saw the stony bed
beneath me as the waters of the torrent receded, I received a blow
which still resounds in my heart, for at every hour its echo wakes.

I was working in the cabinet of the king, who was to drive out at four
o'clock. The Duc de Lenoncourt was on service. When he entered the
room the king asked him news of the countess. I raised my head hastily
in too eager a manner; the king, offended by the action, gave me the
look which always preceded the harsh words he knew so well how to say.

"Sire, my poor daughter is dying," replied the duke.

"Will the king deign to grant me leave of absence?" I cried, with
tears in my eyes, braving the anger which I saw about to burst.

"Go, MY LORD," he answered, smiling at the satire in his words, and
withholding his reprimand in favor of his own wit.

More courtier than father, the duke asked no leave but got into the
carriage with the king. I started without bidding Lady Dudley good-
bye; she was fortunately out when I made my preparations, and I left a
note telling her I was sent on a mission by the king. At the Croix de
Berny I met his Majesty returning from Verrieres. He threw me a look
full of his royal irony, always insufferable in meaning, which seemed
to say: "If you mean to be anything in politics come back; don't
parley with the dead." The duke waved his hand to me sadly. The two
pompous equipages with their eight horses, the colonels and their gold
lace, the escort and the clouds of dust rolled rapidly away, to cries
of "Vive le Roi!" It seemed to me that the court had driven over the
dead body of Madame de Mortsauf with the utter insensibility which
nature shows for our catastrophes. Though the duke was an excellent
man he would no doubt play whist with Monsieur after the king had
retired. As for the duchess, she had long ago given her daughter the
first stab by writing to her of Lady Dudley.

My hurried journey was like a dream,--the dream of a ruined gambler; I
was in despair at having received no news. Had the confessor pushed
austerity so far as to exclude me from Clochegourde? I accused
Madeleine, Jacques, the Abbe Dominis, all, even Monsieur de Mortsauf.
Beyond Tours, as I came down the road bordered with poplars which
leads to Poncher, which I so much admired that first day of my search
for mine Unknown, I met Monsieur Origet. He guessed that I was going
to Clochegourde; I guessed that he was returning. We stopped our
carriages and got out, I to ask for news, he to give it.

"How is Madame de Mortsauf?" I said.

"I doubt if you find her living," he replied. "She is dying a
frightful death--of inanition. When she called me in, last June, no
medical power could control the disease; she had the symptoms which
Monsieur de Mortsauf has no doubt described to you, for he thinks he
has them himself. Madame la comtesse was not in any transient
condition of ill-health, which our profession can direct and which is
often the cause of a better state, nor was she in the crisis of a
disorder the effects of which can be repaired; no, her disease had
reached a point where science is useless; it is the incurable result
of grief, just as a mortal wound is the result of a stab. Her physical
condition is produced by the inertia of an organ as necessary to life
as the action of the heart itself. Grief has done the work of a
dagger. Don't deceive yourself; Madame de Mortsauf is dying of some
hidden grief."

"Hidden!" I exclaimed. "Her children have not been ill?"

"No," he said, looking at me significantly, "and since she has been so
seriously attacked Monsieur de Mortsauf has ceased to torment her. I
am no longer needed; Monsieur Deslandes of Azay is all-sufficient;
nothing can be done; her sufferings are dreadful. Young, beautiful,
and rich, to die emaciated, shrunken with hunger--for she dies of
hunger! During the last forty days the stomach, being as it were
closed up, has rejected all nourishment, under whatever form we
attempt to give it."

Monsieur Origet pressed my hand with a gesture of respect.

"Courage, monsieur," he said, lifting his eyes to heaven.

The words expressed his compassion for sufferings he thought shared;
he little suspected the poisoned arrow which they shot into my heart.
I sprang into the carriage and ordered the postilion to drive on,
promising a good reward if I arrived in time.

Notwithstanding my impatience I seemed to do the distance in a few
minutes, so absorbed was I in the bitter reflections that crowded upon
my soul. Dying of grief, yet her children were well? then she died
through me! My conscience uttered one of those arraignments which echo
throughout our lives and sometimes beyond them. What weakness, what
impotence in human justice, which avenges none but open deeds! Why
shame and death to the murderer who kills with a blow, who comes upon
you unawares in your sleep and makes it last eternally, who strikes
without warning and spares you a struggle? Why a happy life, an
honored life, to the murderer who drop by drop pours gall into the
soul and saps the body to destroy it? How many murderers go
unpunished! What indulgence for fashionable vice! What condoning of
the homicides caused by moral wrongs! I know not whose avenging hand
it was that suddenly, at that moment, raised the painted curtain that
reveals society. I saw before me many victims known to you and me,--
Madame de Beauseant, dying, and starting for Normandy only a few days
earlier; the Duchesse de Langeais lost; Lady Brandon hiding herself in
Touraine in the little house where Lady Dudley had stayed two weeks,
and dying there, killed by a frightful catastrophe,--you know it. Our
period teems with such events. Who does not remember that poor young
woman who poisoned herself, overcome by jealousy, which was perhaps
killing Madame de Mortsauf? Who has not shuddered at the fate of that
enchanting young girl who perished after two years of marriage, like a
flower torn by the wind, the victim of her chaste ignorance, the
victim of a villain with whom Ronquerolles, Montriveau, and de Marsay
shake hands because he is useful to their political projects? What
heart has failed to throb at the recital of the last hours of the
woman whom no entreaties could soften, and who would never see her
husband after nobly paying his debts? Madame d'Aiglemont saw death
beside her and was saved only by my brother's care. Society and
science are accomplices in crimes for which there are no assizes. The
world declares that no one dies of grief, or of despair; nor yet of
love, of anguish hidden, of hopes cultivated yet fruitless, again and
again replanted yet forever uprooted. Our new scientific nomenclature
has plenty of words to explain these things; gastritis, pericarditis,
all the thousand maladies of women the names of which are whispered in
the ear, all serve as passports to the coffin followed by hypocritical
tears that are soon wiped by the hand of a notary. Can there be at the
bottom of this great evil some law which we do not know? Must the
centenary pitilessly strew the earth with corpses and dry them to dust
about him that he may raise himself, as the millionaire battens on a
myriad of little industries? Is there some powerful and venomous life
which feasts on these gentle, tender creatures? My God! do I belong to
the race of tigers?

Remorse gripped my heart in its scorching fingers, and my cheeks were
furrowed with tears as I entered the avenue of Clochegourde on a damp
October morning, which loosened the dead leaves of the poplars planted
by Henriette in the path where once she stood and waved her
handkerchief as if to recall me. Was she living? Why did I feel her
two white hands upon my head laid prostrate in the dust? In that
moment I paid for all the pleasures that Arabella had given me, and I
knew that I paid dearly. I swore not to see her again, and a hatred of
England took possession of me. Though Lady Dudley was only a variety
of her species, I included all Englishwomen in my judgment.

I received a fresh shock as I neared Clochegourde. Jacques, Madeleine,
and the Abbe Dominis were kneeling at the foot of a wooden cross
placed on a piece of ground that was taken into the enclosure when the
iron gate was put up, which the count and countess had never been
willing to remove. I sprang from the carriage and went towards them,
my heart aching at the sight of these children and that grave old man
imploring the mercy of God. The old huntsman was there too, with bared
head, standing a little apart.

I stooped to kiss Jacques and Madeleine, who gave me a cold look and
continued praying. The abbe rose from his knees; I took him by the arm
to support myself, saying, "Is she still alive?" He bowed his head
sadly and gently. "Tell me, I implore you for Christ's sake, why are
you praying at the foot of this cross? Why are you here, and not with
her? Why are the children kneeling here this chilly morning? Tell me
all, that I may do no harm through ignorance."

"For the last few days Madame le comtesse has been unwilling to see
her children except at stated times.--Monsieur," he continued after a
pause, "perhaps you had better wait a few hours before seeing Madame
de Mortsauf; she is greatly changed. It is necessary to prepare her
for this interview, or it might cause an increase in her sufferings--
death would be a blessed release from them."

I wrung the hand of the good man, whose look and voice soothed the
pangs of others without sharpening them.

"We are praying God to help her," he continued; "for she, so saintly,
so resigned, so fit to die, has shown during the last few weeks a
horror of death; for the first time in her life she looks at others
who are full of health with gloomy, envious eyes. This aberration
comes less, I think, from the fear of death than from some inward
intoxication,--from the flowers of her youth which ferment as they
wither. Yes, an evil angel is striving against heaven for that
glorious soul. She is passing through her struggle on the Mount of
Olives; her tears bathe the white roses of her crown as they fall, one
by one, from the head of this wedded Jephtha. Wait; do not see her
yet. You would bring to her the atmosphere of the court; she would see
in your face the reflection of the things of life, and you would add
to the bitterness of her regret. Have pity on a weakness which God
Himself forgave to His Son when He took our nature upon Him. What
merit would there be in conquering if we had no adversary? Permit her
confessor or me, two old men whose worn-out lives cause her no pain,
to prepare her for this unlooked-for meeting, for emotions which the
Abbe Birotteau has required her to renounce. But, in the things of
this world there is an invisible thread of divine purpose which
religion alone can see; and since you have come perhaps you are led by
some celestial star of the moral world which leads to the tomb as to
the manger--"

He then told me, with that tempered eloquence which falls like dew
upon the heart, that for the last six months the countess had suffered
daily more and more, in spite of Monsieur Origet's care. The doctor
had come to Clochegourde every evening for two months, striving to
rescue her from death; for her one cry had been, "Oh, save me!" "To
heal the body the heart must first be healed," the doctor had
exclaimed one day.

"As the illness increased, the words of this poor woman, once so
gentle, have grown bitter," said the Abbe. "She calls on earth to keep
her, instead of asking God to take her; then she repents these murmurs
against the divine decree. Such alternations of feeling rend her heart
and make the struggle between body and soul most horrible. Often the
body triumphs. 'You have cost me dear,' she said one day to Jacques
and Madeleine; but in a moment, recalled to God by the look on my
face, she turned to Madeleine with these angelic words, 'The happiness
of others is the joy of those who cannot themselves be happy,'--and
the tone with which she said them brought tears to my eyes. She falls,
it is true, but each time that her feet stumble she rises higher
towards heaven."

Struck by the tone of the successive intimations chance had sent me,
and which in this great concert of misfortunes were like a prelude of
mournful modulations to a funereal theme, the mighty cry of expiring
love, I cried out: "Surely you believe that this pure lily cut from
earth will flower in heaven?"

"You left her still a flower," he answered, "but you will find her
consumed, purified by the forces of suffering, pure as a diamond
buried in the ashes. Yes, that shining soul, angelic star, will issue
glorious from the clouds and pass into the kingdom of the Light."

As I pressed the hand of the good evangelist, my heart overflowing
with gratitude, the count put his head, now entirely white, out of the
door and immediately sprang towards me with signs of surprise.

"She was right! He is here! 'Felix, Felix, Felix has come!' she kept
crying. My dear friend," he continued, beside himself with terror,
"death is here. Why did it not take a poor madman like me with one
foot in the grave?"

I walked towards the house summoning my courage, but on the threshold
of the long antechamber which crossed the house and led to the lawn,
the Abbe Birotteau stopped me.

"Madame la comtesse begs you will not enter at present," he said to

Giving a glance within the house I saw the servants coming and going,
all busy, all dumb with grief, surprised perhaps by the orders Manette
gave them.

"What has happened?" cried the count, alarmed by the commotion, as
much from fear of the coming event as from the natural uneasiness of
his character.

"Only a sick woman's fancy," said the abbe. "Madame la comtesse does
not wish to receive monsieur le vicomte as she now is. She talks of
dressing; why thwart her?"

Manette came in search of Madeleine, whom I saw leave the house a few
moments after she had entered her mother's room. We were all, Jacques
and his father, the two abbes and I, silently walking up and down the
lawn in front of the house. I looked first at Montbazon and then at
Azay, noticing the seared and yellow valley which answered in its
mourning (as it ever did on all occasions) to the feelings of my
heart. Suddenly I beheld the dear "mignonne" gathering the autumn
flowers, no doubt to make a bouquet at her mother's bidding. Thinking
of all which that signified, I was so convulsed within me that I
staggered, my sight was blurred, and the two abbes, between whom I
walked, led me to the wall of a terrace, where I sat for some time
completely broken down but not unconscious.

"Poor Felix," said the count, "she forbade me to write to you. She
knew how much you loved her."

Though prepared to suffer, I found I had no strength to bear a scene
which recalled my memories of past happiness. "Ah!" I thought, "I see
it still, that barren moor, dried like a skeleton, lit by a gray sky,
in the centre of which grew a single flowering bush, which again and
again I looked at with a shudder,--the forecast of this mournful

All was gloom in the little castle, once so animated, so full of life.
The servants were weeping; despair and desolation everywhere. The
paths were not raked, work was begun and left undone, the workmen
standing idly about the house. Though the grapes were being gathered
in the vineyard, not a sound reached us. The place seemed uninhabited,
so deep the silence! We walked about like men whose grief rejects all
ordinary topics, and we listened to the count, the only one of us who

After a few words prompted by the mechanical love he felt for his wife
he was led by the natural bent of his mind to complain of her. She had
never, he said, taken care of herself or listened to him when he gave
her good advice. He had been the first to notice the symptoms of her
illness, for he had studied them in his own case; he had fought them
and cured them without other assistance than careful diet and the
avoidance of all emotion. He could have cured the countess, but a
husband ought not to take so much responsibility upon himself,
especially when he has the misfortune of finding his experience, in
this as in everything, despised. In spite of all he could say, the
countess insisted on seeing Origet,--Origet, who had managed his case
so ill, was now killing his wife. If this disease was, as they said,
the result of excessive grief, surely he was the one who had been in a
condition to have it. What griefs could the countess have had? She was
always happy; she had never had troubles or annoyances. Their fortune,
thanks to his care and to his sound ideas, was now in a most
satisfactory state; he had always allowed Madame de Mortsauf to reign
at Clochegourde; her children, well trained and now in health, gave
her no anxiety,--where, then, did this grief they talked of come from?

Thus he argued and discussed the matter, mingling his expressions of
despair with senseless accusations. Then, recalled by some sudden
memory to the admiration which he felt for his wife, tears rolled from
his eyes which had been dry so long.

Madeleine came to tell me that her mother was ready. The Abbe
Birotteau followed me. Madeleine, now a grave young girl, stayed with
her father, saying that the countess desired to be alone with me, and
also that the presence of too many persons would fatigue her. The
solemnity of this moment gave me that sense of inward heat and outward
cold which overcomes us often in the great events of life. The Abbe
Birotteau, one of those men whom God marks for his own by investing
them with sweetness and simplicity, together with patience and
compassion, took me aside.

"Monsieur," he said, "I wish you to know that I have done all in my
power to prevent this meeting. The salvation of this saint required
it. I have considered her only, and not you. Now that you are about to
see her to whom access ought to have been denied you by the angels,
let me say that I shall be present to protect you against yourself and
perhaps against her. Respect her weakness. I do not ask this of you as
a priest, but as a humble friend whom you did not know you had, and
who would fain save you from remorse. Our dear patient is dying of
hunger and thirst. Since morning she is a victim to the feverish
irritation which precedes that horrible death, and I cannot conceal
from you how deeply she regrets life. The cries of her rebellious
flesh are stifled in my heart--where they wake echoes of a wound still
tender. But Monsieur de Dominis and I accept this duty that we may
spare the sight of this moral anguish to her family; as it is, they no
longer recognize their star by night and by day in her; they all,
husband, children, servants, all are asking, 'Where is she?'--she is
so changed! When she sees you, her regrets will revive. Lay aside your
thoughts as a man of the world, forget its vanities, be to her the
auxiliary of heaven, not of earth. Pray God that this dear saint die
not in a moment of doubt, giving voice to her despair."

I did not answer. My silence alarmed the poor confessor. I saw, I
heard, I walked, and yet I was no longer on the earth. The thought,
"In what state shall I find her? Why do they use these precautions?"
gave rise to apprehensions which were the more cruel because so
indefinite; all forms of suffering crowded my mind.

We reached the door of the chamber and the abbe opened it. I then saw
Henriette, dressed in white, sitting on her little sofa which was
placed before the fireplace, on which were two vases filled with
flowers; flowers were also on a table near the window. The expression
of the abbe's face, which was that of amazement at the change in the
room, now restored to its former state, showing me that the dying
woman had sent away the repulsive preparations which surround a sick-
bed. She had spent the last waning strength of fever in decorating her
room to receive him whom in that final hour she loved above all things
else. Surrounded by clouds of lace, her shrunken face, which had the
greenish pallor of a magnolia flower as it opens, resembled the first
outline of a cherished head drawn in chalks upon the yellow canvas of
a portrait. To feel how deeply the vulture's talons now buried
themselves in my heart, imagine the eyes of that outlined face
finished and full of life,--hollow eyes which shone with a brilliancy
unusual in a dying person. The calm majesty given to her in the past
by her constant victory over sorrow was there no longer. Her forehead,
the only part of her face which still kept its beautiful proportions,
wore an expression of aggressive will and covert threats. In spite of
the waxy texture of her elongated face, inward fires were issuing from
it like the fluid mist which seems to flame above the fields of a hot
day. Her hollow temples, her sunken cheeks showed the interior
formation of the face, and the smile upon her whitened lips vaguely
resembled the grin of death. Her robe, which was folded across her
breast, showed the emaciation of her beautiful figure. The expression
of her head said plainly that she knew she was changed, and that the
thought filled her with bitterness. She was no longer the arch
Henriette, nor the sublime and saintly Madame de Mortsauf, but the
nameless something of Bossuet struggling against annihilation, driven
to the selfish battle of life against death by hunger and balked
desire. I took her hand, which was dry and burning, to kiss it, as I
seated myself beside her. She guessed my sorrowful surprise from the
very effort that I made to hide it. Her discolored lips drew up from
her famished teeth trying to form a smile,--the forced smile with
which we strive to hide either the irony of vengeance, the expectation
of pleasure, the intoxication of our souls, or the fury of

"Ah, my poor Felix, this is death," she said, "and you do not like
death; odious death, of which every human creature, even the boldest
lover, feels a horror. This is the end of love; I knew it would be so.
Lady Dudley will never see you thus surprised at the change in her.
Ah! why have I so longed for you, Felix? You have come at last, and I
reward your devotion by the same horrible sight that made the Comte de
Rance a Trappist. I, who hoped to remain ever beautiful and noble in
your memory, to live there eternally a lily, I it is who destroy your
illusions! True love cannot calculate. But stay; do not go, stay.
Monsieur Origet said I was much better this morning; I shall recover.
Your looks will bring me back to life. When I regain a little
strength, when I can take some nourishment, I shall be beautiful
again. I am scarcely thirty-five, there are many years of happiness
before me,--happiness renews our youth; yes, I must know happiness! I
have made delightful plans,--we will leave Clochegourde and go to

Tears filled my eyes and I turned to the window as if to look at the
flowers. The abbe followed me hastily, and bending over the bouquet
whispered, "No tears!"

"Henriette, do you no longer care for our dear valley," I said, as if
to explain my sudden movement.

"Oh, yes!" she said, turning her forehead to my lips with a fond
motion. "But without you it is fatal to me,--without THEE," she added,
putting her burning lips to my ear and whispering the words like a

I was horror-struck at the wild caress, and my will was not strong
enough to repress the nervous agitation I felt throughout this scene.
I listened without reply; or rather I replied by a fixed smile and
signs of comprehension; wishing not to thwart her, but to treat her as
a mother does a child. Struck at first with the change in her person,
I now perceived that the woman, once so dignified in her bearing,
showed in her attitude, her voice, her manners, in her looks and her
ideas, the naive ignorance of a child, its artless graces, its eager
movements, its careless indifference to everything that is not its own
desire,--in short all the weaknesses which commend a child to our
protection. Is it so with all dying persons? Do they strip off social
disguises till they are like children who have never put them on? Or
was it that the countess feeling herself on the borders of eternity,
rejected every human feeling except love?

"You will bring me health as you used to do, Felix," she said, "and
our valley will still be my blessing. How can I help eating what you
will give me? You are such a good nurse. Besides, you are so rich in
health and vigor that life is contagious beside you. My friend, prove
to me that I need not die--die blighted. They think my worst suffering
is thirst. Oh, yes, my thirst is great, dear friend. The waters of the
Indre are terrible to see; but the thirst of my heart is greater far.
I thirsted for thee," she said in a smothered voice, taking my hands
in hers, which were burning, and drawing me close that she might
whisper in my ear. "My anguish has been in not seeing thee! Did you
not bid me live? I will live; I too will ride on horseback; I will
know life, Paris, fetes, pleasures, all!"

Ah! Natalie, that awful cry--which time and distance render cold--rang
in the ears of the old priest and in mine; the tones of that glorious
voice pictured the battles of a lifetime, the anguish of a true love
lost. The countess rose with an impatient movement like that of a
child which seeks a plaything. When the confessor saw her thus the
poor man fell upon his knees and prayed with clasped hands.

"Yes, to live!" she said, making me rise and support her; "to live
with realities and not with delusions. All has been delusions in my
life; I have counted them up, these lies, these impostures! How can I
die, I who have never lived? I who have never roamed a moor to meet
him!" She stopped, seemed to listen, and to smell some odor through
the walls. "Felix, the vintagers are dining, and I, I," she said, in
the voice of a child, "I, the mistress, am hungry. It is so in love,--
they are happy, they, they!--"

"Kyrie eleison!" said the poor abbe, who with clasped hands and eyes
raised to heaven was reciting his litanies.

She flung an arm around my neck, kissed me violently, and pressed me
to her, saying, "You shall not escape me now!" She gave the little nod
with which in former days she used, when leaving me for an instant, to
say she would return. "We will dine together," she said; "I will go
and tell Manette." She turned to go, but fainted; and I laid her,
dressed as she was, upon the bed.

"You carried me thus before," she murmured, opening her eyes.

She was very light, but burning; as I took her in my arms I felt the
heat of her body. Monsieur Deslandes entered and seemed surprised at
the decoration of the room; but seeing me, all was explained to him.

"We must suffer much to die," she said in a changed voice.

The doctor sat down and felt her pulse, then he rose quickly and said
a few words in a low voice to the priest, who left the room beckoning
me to follow him.

"What are you going to do?" I said to the doctor.

"Save her from intolerable agony," he replied. "Who could have
believed in so much strength? We cannot understand how she can have
lived in this state so long. This is the forty-second day since she
has either eaten or drunk."

Monsieur Deslandes called for Manette. The Abbe Birotteau took me to
the gardens.

"Let us leave her to the doctor," he said; "with Manette's help he
will wrap her in opium. Well, you have heard her now--if indeed it is
she herself."

"No," I said, "it is not she."

I was stupefied with grief. I left the grounds by the little gate of
the lower terrace and went to the punt, in which I hid to be alone
with my thoughts. I tried to detach myself from the being in which I
lived,--a torture like that with which the Tartars punish adultery by
fastening a limb of the guilty man in a piece of wood and leaving him
with a knife to cut it off if he would not die of hunger. My life was
a failure, too! Despair suggested many strange ideas to me. Sometimes
I vowed to die beside her; sometimes to bury myself at Meilleraye
among the Trappists. I looked at the windows of the room where
Henriette was dying, fancying I saw the light that was burning there
the night I betrothed my soul to hers. Ah! ought I not to have
followed the simple life she had created for me, keeping myself
faithfully to her while I worked in the world? Had she not bidden me
become a great man expressly that I might be saved from base and
shameful passions? Chastity! was it not a sublime distinction which I
had not know how to keep? Love, as Arabella understood it, suddenly
disgusted me. As I raised my humbled head asking myself where, in
future, I could look for light and hope, what interest could hold me
to life, the air was stirred by a sudden noise. I turned to the
terrace and there saw Madeleine walking alone, with slow steps. During
the time it took me to ascend the terrace, intending to ask the dear
child the reason of the cold look she had given me when kneeling at
the foot of the cross, she had seated herself on the bench. When she
saw me approach her, she rose, pretending not to have seen me, and
returned towards the house in a significantly hasty manner. She hated
me; she fled from her mother's murderer.

When I reached the portico I saw Madeleine like a statue, motionless
and erect, evidently listening to the sound of my steps. Jacques was
sitting in the portico. His attitude expressed the same insensibility
to what was going on about him that I had noticed when I first saw
him; it suggested ideas such as we lay aside in some corner of our
mind to take up and study at our leisure. I have remarked that young
persons who carry death within them are usually unmoved at funerals. I
longed to question that gloomy spirit. Had Madeleine kept her thoughts
to herself, or had she inspired Jacques with her hatred?

"You know, Jacques," I said, to begin the conversation, "that in me
you have a most devoted brother."

"Your friendship is useless to me; I shall follow my mother," he said,
giving me a sullen look of pain.

"Jacques!" I cried, "you, too, against me?"

He coughed and walked away; when he returned he showed me his
handkerchief stained with blood.

"Do you understand that?" he said.

Thus they had each of them a fatal secret. I saw before long that the
brother and sister avoided each other. Henriette laid low, all was in
ruins at Clochegourde.

"Madame is asleep," Manette came to say, quite happy in knowing that
the countess was out of pain.

In these dreadful moments, though each person knows the inevitable
end, strong affections fasten on such minor joys. Minutes are
centuries which we long to make restorative; we wish our dear ones to
lie on roses, we pray to bear their sufferings, we cling to the hope
that their last moment may be to them unexpected.

"Monsieur Deslandes has ordered the flowers taken away; they excited
Madame's nerves," said Manette.

Then it was the flowers that caused her delirium; she herself was not
a part of it.

"Come, Monsieur Felix," added Manette, "come and see Madame; she is
beautiful as an angel."

I returned to the dying woman just as the setting sun was gilding the
lace-work on the roofs of the chateau of Azay. All was calm and pure.
A soft light lit the bed on which my Henriette was lying, wrapped in
opium. The body was, as it were, annihilated; the soul alone reigned
on that face, serene as the skies when the tempest is over. Blanche
and Henriette, two sublime faces of the same woman, reappeared; all
the more beautiful because my recollection, my thought, my
imagination, aiding nature, repaired the devastation of each dear
feature, where now the soul triumphant sent its gleams through the
calm pulsations of her breathing. The two abbes were sitting at the
foot of the bed. The count stood, as though stupefied by the banners
of death which floated above that adored being. I took her seat on the
sofa. We all four turned to each other looks in which admiration for
that celestial beauty mingled with tears of mourning. The lights of
thought announced the return of the Divine Spirit to that glorious

The Abbe Dominis and I spoke in signs, communicating to each other our
mutual ideas. Yes, the angels were watching her! yes, their flaming
swords shone above that noble brow, which the august expression of her
virtue made, as it were, a visible soul conversing with the spirits of
its sphere. The lines of her face cleared; all in her was exalted and
became majestic beneath the unseen incense of the seraphs who guarded
her. The green tints of bodily suffering gave place to pure white
tones, the cold wan pallor of approaching death. Jacques and Madeleine
entered. Madeleine made us quiver by the adoring impulse which flung
her on her knees beside the bed, crying out, with clasped hand: "My
mother! here is my mother!" Jacques smiled; he knew he would follow
her where she went.

"She is entering the haven," said the Abbe Birotteau.

The Abbe Dominis looked at me as if to say: "Did I not tell you the
star would rise in all its glory?"

Madeleine knelt with her eyes fixed on her mother, breathing when she
breathed, listening to the soft breath, the last thread by which she
held to life, and which we followed in terror, fearing that every
effort of respiration might be the last. Like an angel at the gates of
the sanctuary, the young girl was eager yet calm, strong but reverent.
At that moment the Angelus rang from the village clock-tower. Waves of
tempered air brought its reverberations to remind us that this was the
sacred hour when Christianity repeats the words said by the angel to
the woman who has redeemed the faults of her sex. "Ave Maria!"--
surely, at this moment the words were a salutation from heaven. The
prophecy was so plain, the event so near that we burst into tears. The
murmuring sounds of evening, melodious breezes in the leafage, last
warbling of the birds, the hum and echo of the insects, the voices of
the waters, the plaintive cry of the tree-frog,--all country things
were bidding farewell to the loveliest lily of the valley, to her
simple, rural life. The religious poesy of the hour, now added to that
of Nature, expressed so vividly the psalm of the departing soul that
our sobs redoubled.

Though the door of the chamber was open we were all so plunged in
contemplation of the scene, as if to imprint its memories forever on
our souls, that we did not notice the family servants who were
kneeling as a group and praying fervently. These poor people, living
on hope, had believed their mistress might be spared, and this plain
warning overcame them. At a sign from the Abbe Birotteau the old
huntsman went to fetch the curate of Sache. The doctor, standing by
the bed, calm as science, and holding the hand of the still sleeping
woman, had made the confessor a sign to say that this sleep was the
only hour without pain which remained for the recalled angel. The
moment had come to administer the last sacraments of the Church. At
nine o'clock she awoke quietly, looked at us with surprised but gentle
eyes, and we beheld our idol once more in all the beauty of former

"Mother! you are too beautiful to die--life and health are coming back
to you!" cried Madeleine.

"Dear daughter, I shall live--in thee," she answered, smiling.

Then followed heart-rending embraces of the mother and her children.
Monsieur de Mortsauf kissed his wife upon her brow. She colored when
she saw me.

"Dear Felix," she said, "this is, I think, the only grief that I shall
ever have caused you. Forget all that I may have said,--I, a poor
creature much beside myself." She held out her hand; I took it and
kissed it. Then she said, with her chaste and gracious smile, "As in
the old days, Felix?"

We all left the room and went into the salon during the last
confession. I approached Madeleine. In presence of others she could
not escape me without a breach of civility; but, like her mother, she
looked at no one, and kept silence without even once turning her eyes
in my direction.

"Dear Madeleine," I said in a low voice, "What have you against me?
Why do you show such coldness in the presence of death, which ought to
reconcile us all?"

"I hear in my heart what my mother is saying at this moment," she
replied, with a look which Ingres gave to his "Mother of God,"--that
virgin, already sorrowful, preparing herself to protect the world for
which her son was about to die.

"And you condemn me at the moment when your mother absolves me,--if
indeed I am guilty."

"You, YOU," she said, "always YOUR SELF!"

The tones of her voice revealed the determined hatred of a Corsican,
implacable as the judgments of those who, not having studied life,
admit of no extenuation of faults committed against the laws of the

An hour went by in deepest silence. The Abbe Birotteau came to us
after receiving the countess's general confession, and we followed him
back to the room where Henriette, under one of those impulses which
often come to noble minds, all sisters of one intent, had made them
dress her in the long white garment which was to be her shroud. We
found her sitting up; beautiful from expiation, beautiful in hope. I
saw in the fireplace the black ashes of my letters which had just been
burned, a sacrifice which, as her confessor afterwards told me, she
had not been willing to make until the hour of her death. She smiled
upon us all with the smile of other days. Her eyes, moist with tears,
gave evidence of inward lucidity; she saw the celestial joys of the
promised land.

"Dear Felix," she said, holding out her hand and pressing mine, "stay
with us. You must be present at the last scene of my life, not the
least painful among many such, but one in which you are concerned."

She made a sign and the door was closed. At her request the count sat
down; the Abbe Birotteau and I remained standing. Then with Manette's
help the countess rose and knelt before the astonished count,
persisting in remaining there. A moment after, when Manette had left
the room, she raised her head which she had laid upon her husband's

"Though I have been a faithful wife to you," she said, in a faint
voice, "I have sometimes failed in my duty. I have just prayed to God
to give me strength to ask your pardon. I have given to a friendship
outside of my family more affectionate care than I have shown to you.
Perhaps I have sometimes irritated you by the comparisons you may have
made between these cares, these thoughts, and those I gave to you. I
have had," she said, in a sinking voice, "a deep friendship, which no
one, not even he who has been its object, has fully known. Though I
have continued virtuous according to all human laws, though I have
been a irreproachable wife to you, still other thoughts, voluntary or
involuntary, have often crossed my mind and, in this hour, I fear I
have welcomed them too warmly. But as I have tenderly loved you, and
continued to be your submissive wife, and as the clouds passing
beneath the sky do not alter its purity, I now pray for your blessing
with a clean heart. I shall die without one bitter thought if I can
hear from your lips a tender word for your Blanche, for the mother of
your children,--if I know that you forgive her those things for which
she did not forgive herself till reassured by the great tribunal which
pardons all."

"Blanche, Blanche!" cried the broken man, shedding tears upon his
wife's head, "Would you kill me?" He raised her with a strength
unusual to him, kissed her solemnly on the forehead, and thus holding
her continued: "Have I no forgiveness to ask of you? Have I never been
harsh? Are you not making too much of your girlish scruples?"

"Perhaps," she said. "But, dear friend, indulge the weakness of a
dying woman; tranquillize my mind. When you reach this hour you will
remember that I left you with a blessing. Will you grant me permission
to leave to our friend now here that pledge of my affection?" she
continued, showing a letter that was on the mantelshelf. "He is now my
adopted son, and that is all. The heart, dear friend, makes its
bequests; my last wishes impose a sacred duty on that dear Felix. I
think I do not put too great a burden on him; grant that I do not ask
too much of you in desiring to leave him these last words. You see, I
am always a woman," she said, bending her head with mournful
sweetness; "after obtaining pardon I ask a gift--Read this," she
added, giving me the letter; "but not until after my death."

The count saw her color change: he lifted her and carried her himself
to the bed, where we all surrounded her.

"Felix," she said, "I may have done something wrong to you. Often I
gave you pain by letting you hope for that I could not give you; but
see, it was that very courage of wife and mother that now enables me
to die forgiven of all. You will forgive me too; you who have so often
blamed me, and whose injustice was so dear--"

The Abbe Birotteau laid a finger on his lips. At that sign the dying
woman bowed her head, faintness overcame her; presently she waved her
hands as if summoning the clergy and her children and the servants to
her presence, and then, with an imploring gesture, she showed me the
desolate count and the children beside him. The sight of that father,
the secret of whose insanity was known to us alone, now to be left
sole guardian of those delicate beings, brought mute entreaties to her
face, which fell upon my heart like sacred fire. Before receiving
extreme unction she asked pardon of her servants if by a hasty word
she had sometimes hurt them; she asked their prayers and commended
each one, individually, to the count; she nobly confessed that during
the last two months she had uttered complaints that were not Christian
and might have shocked them; she had repulsed her children and clung
to life unworthily; but she attributed this failure of submission to
the will of God to her intolerable sufferings. Finally, she publicly
thanked the Abbe Birotteau with heartfelt warmth for having shown her
the illusion of all earthly things.

When she ceased to speak, prayers were said again, and the curate of
Sache gave her the viaticum. A few moments later her breathing became
difficult; a film overspread her eyes, but soon they cleared again;
she gave me a last look and died to the eyes of earth, hearing perhaps
the symphony of our sobs. As her last sigh issued from her lips,--the
effort of a life that was one long anguish,--I felt a blow within me
that struck on all my faculties. The count and I remained beside the
bier all night with the two abbes and the curate, watching, in the
glimmer of the tapers, the body of the departed, now so calm, laid
upon the mattress of her bed, where once she had suffered cruelly. It
was my first communion with death. I remained the whole of that night
with my eyes fixed on Henriette, spell-bound by the pure expression
that came from the stilling of all tempests, by the whiteness of that
face where still I saw the traces of her innumerable affections,
although it made no answer to my love. What majesty in that silence,
in that coldness! How many thoughts they expressed! What beauty in
that cold repose, what power in that immobility! All the past was
there and futurity had begun. Ah! I loved her dead as much as I had
loved her living. In the morning the count went to bed; the three
wearied priests fell asleep in that heavy hour of dawn so well known
to those who watch. I could then, without witnesses, kiss that sacred
brow with all the love I had never been allowed to utter.

The third day, in a cool autumn morning, we followed the countess to
her last home. She was carried by the old huntsman, the two
Martineaus, and Manette's husband. We went down by the road I had so
joyously ascended the day I first returned to her. We crossed the
valley of the Indre to the little cemetery of Sache--a poor village
graveyard, placed behind the church on the slope of the hill, where
with true humility she had asked to be buried beneath a simple cross
of black wood, "like a poor country-woman," she said. When I saw, from
the centre of the valley, the village church and the place of the
graveyard a convulsive shudder seized me. Alas! we have all our
Golgothas, where we leave the first thirty-three years of our lives,
with the lance-wound in our side, the crown of thorns and not of roses
on our brow--that hill-slope was to me the mount of expiation.

We were followed by an immense crowd, seeking to express the grief of
the valley where she had silently buried so many noble actions.
Manette, her faithful woman, told me that when her savings did not
suffice to help the poor she economized upon her dress. There were
babes to be provided for, naked children to be clothed, mothers
succored in their need, sacks of flour brought to the millers in
winter for helpless old men, a cow sent to some poor home,--deeds of a
Christian woman, a mother, and the lady of the manor. Besides these
things, there were dowries paid to enable loving hearts to marry;
substitutes bought for youths to whom the draft had brought despair,
tender offerings of the loving woman who had said: "The happiness of
others is the consolation of those who cannot themselves be happy."
Such things, related at the "veillees," made the crowd immense. I
walked with Jacques and the two abbes behind the coffin. According to
custom neither the count nor Madeleine were present; they remained
alone at Clochegourde. But Manette insisted in coming with us. "Poor
madame! poor madame! she is happy now," I heard her saying to herself
amid her sobs.

As the procession left the road to the mills I heard a simultaneous
moan and a sound of weeping as though the valley were lamenting for
its soul. The church was filled with people. After the service was
over we went to the graveyard where she wished to be buried near the
cross. When I heard the pebbles and the gravel falling upon the coffin
my courage gave way; I staggered and asked the two Martineaus to
steady me. They took me, half-dead, to the chateau of Sache, where the
owners very kindly invited me to stay, and I accepted. I will own to
you that I dreaded a return to Clochegourde, and it was equally
repugnant to me to go to Frapesle, where I could see my Henriette's
windows. Here, at Sache, I was near her. I lived for some days in a
room which looked on the tranquil, solitary valley I have mentioned to
you. It is a deep recess among the hills, bordered by oaks that are
doubly centenarian, through which a torrent rushes after rain. The
scene was in keeping with the stern and solemn meditations to which I
desired to abandon myself.

I had perceived, during the day which followed the fatal night, how
unwelcome my presence might be at Clochegourde. The count had gone
through violent emotions at the death of his wife; but he had expected
the event; his mind was made up to it in a way that was something like
indifference. I had noticed this several times, and when the countess
gave me that letter (which I still dared not read) and when she spoke
of her affection for me, I remarked that the count, usually so quick
to take offence, made no sign of feeling any. He attributed
Henriette's wording to the extreme sensitiveness of a conscience which
he knew to be pure. This selfish insensibility was natural to him. The
souls of these two beings were no more married than their bodies; they
had never had the intimate communion which keeps feeling alive; they
had shared neither pains nor pleasures, those strong links which tear
us by a thousand edges when broken, because they touch on all our
fibers, and are fastened to the inmost recesses of our hearts.

Another consideration forbade my return to Clochegourde,--Madeleine's
hostility. That hard young girl was not disposed to modify her hatred
beside her mother's coffin. Between the count, who would have talked
to me incessantly of himself, and the new mistress of the house, who
would have shown me invincible dislike, I should have found myself
horribly annoyed. To be treated thus where once the very flowers
welcomed me, where the steps of the portico had a voice, where my
memory clothed with poetry the balconies, the fountains, the
balustrades, the trees, the glimpses of the valleys! to be hated where
I once was loved--the thought was intolerable to me. So, from the
first, my mind was made up.

Alas! alas! was this the end of the keenest love that ever entered the
heart of man? To the eyes of strangers my conduct might be
reprehensible, but it had the sanction of my own conscience. It is
thus that the noblest feelings, the sublimest dramas of our youth must
end. We start at dawn, as I from Tours to Clochegourde, we clutch the
world, our hearts hungry for love; then, when our treasure is in the
crucible, when we mingle with men and circumstances, all becomes
gradually debased and we find but little gold among the ashes. Such is
life! life as it is; great pretensions, small realities. I meditated
long about myself, debating what I could do after a blow like this
which had mown down every flower of my soul. I resolved to rush into
the science of politics, into the labyrinth of ambition, to cast woman
from my life and to make myself a statesman, cold and passionless, and
so remain true to the saint I loved. My thoughts wandered into far-off
regions while my eyes were fastened on the splendid tapestry of the
yellowing oaks, the stern summits, the bronzed foothills. I asked
myself if Henriette's virtue were not, after all, that of ignorance,
and if I were indeed guilty of her death. I fought against remorse. At
last, in the sweetness of an autumn midday, one of those last smiles
of heaven which are so beautiful in Touraine, I read the letter which
at her request I was not to open before her death. Judge of my
feelings as I read it.

Madame de Mortsauf to the Vicomte Felix de Vandenesse:

Felix, friend, loved too well, I must now lay bare my heart to
you,--not so much to prove my love as to show you the weight of
obligation you have incurred by the depth and gravity of the
wounds you have inflicted on it. At this moment, when I sink
exhausted by the toils of life, worn out by the shocks of its
battle, the woman within me is, mercifully, dead; the mother alone
survives. Dear, you are now to see how it was that you were the
original cause of all my sufferings. Later, I willingly received
your blows; to-day I am dying of the final wound your hand has
given,--but there is joy, excessive joy in feeling myself
destroyed by him I love.

My physical sufferings will soon put an end to my mental strength;
I therefore use the last clear gleams of intelligence to implore
you to befriend my children and replace the heart of which you
have deprived them. I would solemnly impose this duty upon you if
I loved you less; but I prefer to let you choose it for yourself
as an act of sacred repentance, and also in faithful continuance
of your love--love, for us, was ever mingled with repentant
thoughts and expiatory fears! but--I know it well--we shall
forever love each other. Your wrong to me was not so fatal an act
in itself as the power which I let it have within me. Did I not
tell you I was jealous, jealous unto death? Well, I die of it.
But, be comforted, we have kept all human laws. The Church has
told me, by one of her purest voices, that God will be forgiving
to those who subdue their natural desires to His commandments. My
beloved, you are now to know all, for I would not leave you in
ignorance of any thought of mine. What I confide to God in my last
hour you, too, must know,--you, king of my heart as He is King of

Until the ball given to the Duc d'Angouleme (the only ball at
which I was ever present), marriage had left me in that ignorance
which gives to the soul of a young girl the beauty of the angels.
True, I was a mother, but love had never surrounded me with its
permitted pleasures. How did this happen? I do not know; neither
do I know by what law everything within me changed in a moment.
You remember your kisses? they have mastered my life, they have
furrowed my soul; the ardor of your blood awoke the ardor of mine;
your youth entered my youth, your desires my soul. When I rose and
left you proudly I was filled with an emotion for which I know no
name in any language--for children have not yet found a word to
express the marriage of their eyes with light, nor the kiss of
life laid upon their lips. Yes, it was sound coming in the echo,
light flashing through the darkness, motion shaking the universe;
at least, it was rapid like all these things, but far more
beautiful, for it was the birth of the soul! I comprehended then
that something, I knew not what, existed for me in the world,--a
force nobler than thought; for it was all thoughts, all forces, it
was the future itself in a shared emotion. I felt I was but half a
mother. Falling thus upon my heart this thunderbolt awoke desires
which slumbered there without my knowledge; suddenly I divined all
that my aunt had meant when she kissed my forehead, murmuring,
"Poor Henriette!"

When I returned to Clochegourde, the springtime, the first leaves,
the fragrance of the flowers, the white and fleecy clouds, the
Indre, the sky, all spoke to me in a language till then unknown.
If you have forgotten those terrible kisses, I have never been
able to efface them from my memory,--I am dying of them! Yes, each
time that I have met you since, their impress is revived. I was
shaken from head to foot when I first saw you; the mere
presentiment of your coming overcame me. Neither time nor my firm
will has enabled me to conquer that imperious sense of pleasure. I
asked myself involuntarily, "What must be such joys?" Our mutual
looks, the respectful kisses you laid upon my hand, the pressure
of my arm on yours, your voice with its tender tones,--all, even
the slightest things, shook me so violently that clouds obscured
my sight; the murmur of rebellious senses filled my ears. Ah! if
in those moments when outwardly I increased my coldness you had
taken me in your arms I should have died of happiness. Sometimes I
desired it, but prayer subdued the evil thought. Your name uttered
by my children filled my heart with warmer blood, which gave color
to my cheeks; I laid snares for my poor Madeleine to induce her to
say it, so much did I love the tumults of that sensation. Ah! what
shall I say to you? Your writing had a charm; I gazed at your
letters as we look at a portrait.

If on that first day you obtained some fatal power over me,
conceive, dear friend, how infinite that power became when it was
given to me to read your soul. What delights filled me when I
found you so pure, so absolutely truthful, gifted with noble
qualities, capable of noblest things, and already so tried! Man
and child, timid yet brave! What joy to find we both were
consecrated by a common grief! Ever since that evening when we
confided our childhoods to each other, I have known that to lose
you would be death,--yes, I have kept you by me selfishly. The
certainty felt by Monsieur de la Berge that I should die if I lost
you touched him deeply, for he read my soul. He knew how necessary
I was to my children and the count; he did not command me to
forbid you my house, for I promised to continue pure in deed and
thought. "Thought," he said to me, "is involuntary, but it can be
watched even in the midst of anguish." "If I think," I replied,
"all will be lost; save me from myself. Let him remain beside me
and keep me pure!" The good old man, though stern, was moved by my
sincerity. "Love him as you would a son, and give him your
daughter," he said. I accepted bravely that life of suffering that
I might not lose you, and I suffered joyfully, seeing that we were
called to bear the same yoke--My God! I have been firm, faithful
to my husband; I have given you no foothold, Felix, in your
kingdom. The grandeur of my passion has reacted on my character; I
have regarded the tortures Monsieur de Mortsauf has inflicted on
me as expiations; I bore them proudly in condemnation of my faulty
desires. Formerly I was disposed to murmur at my life, but since
you entered it I have recovered some gaiety, and this has been the
better for the count. Without this strength, which I derived
through you, I should long since have succumbed to the inward life
of which I told you.

If you have counted for much in the exercise of my duty so have my
children also. I felt I had deprived them of something, and I
feared I could never do enough to make amends to them; my life was
thus a continual struggle which I loved. Feeling that I was less a
mother, less an honest wife, remorse entered my heart; fearing to
fail in my obligations, I constantly went beyond them. Often have
I put Madeleine between you and me, giving you to each other,
raising barriers between us,--barriers that were powerless! for
what could stifle the emotions which you caused me? Absent or
present, you had the same power. I preferred Madeleine to Jacques
because Madeleine was sometime to be yours. But I did not yield
you to my daughter without a struggle. I told myself that I was
only twenty-eight when I first met you, and you were nearly
twenty-two; I shortened the distance between us; I gave myself up
to delusive hopes. Oh, Felix! I tell you these things to save you
from remorse; also, perhaps, to show you that I was not cold and
insensible, that our sufferings were cruelly mutual; that Arabella
had no superiority of love over mine. I too am the daughter of a
fallen race, such as men love well.

There came a moment when the struggle was so terrible that I wept
the long nights through; my hair fell off,--you have it! Do you
remember the count's illness? Your nobility of soul far from
raising my soul belittled it. Alas! I dreamed of giving myself to
you some day as the reward of so much heroism; but the folly was a
brief one. I laid it at the feet of God during the mass that day
when you refused to be with me. Jacques' illness and Madeleine's
sufferings seemed to me the warnings of God calling back to Him
His lost sheep.

Then your love--which is so natural--for that Englishwoman
revealed to me secrets of which I had no knowledge. I loved you
better than I knew. The constant emotions of this stormy life, the
efforts that I made to subdue myself with no other succor than
that religion gave me, all, all has brought about the malady of
which I die. The terrible shocks I have undergone brought on
attacks about which I kept silence. I saw in death the sole
solution of this hidden tragedy. A lifetime of anger, jealousy,
and rage lay in those two months between the time my mother told
me of your relations with Lady Dudley, and your return to
Clochegourde. I wished to go to Paris; murder was in my heart; I
desired that woman's death; I was indifferent to my children.
Prayer, which had hitherto been to me a balm, was now without
influence on my soul. Jealousy made the breach through which death
has entered. And yet I have kept a placid brow. Yes, that period
of struggle was a secret between God and myself. After your return
and when I saw that I was loved, even as I loved you, that nature
had betrayed me and not your thought, I wished to live,--it was
then too late! God had taken me under His protection, filled no
doubt with pity for a being true with herself, true with Him,
whose sufferings had often led her to the gates of the sanctuary.

My beloved! God has judged me, Monsieur de Mortsauf will pardon
me, but you--will you be merciful? Will you listen to this voice
which now issues from my tomb? Will you repair the evils of which
we are equally guilty?--you, perhaps, less than I. You know what I
wish to ask of you. Be to Monsieur de Mortsauf what a sister of
charity is to a sick man; listen to him, love him--no one loves
him. Interpose between him and his children as I have done. Your
task will not be a long one. Jacques will soon leave home to be in
Paris near his grandfather, and you have long promised me to guide
him through the dangers of that life. As for Madeleine, she will
marry; I pray that you may please her. She is all myself, but
stronger; she has the will in which I am lacking; the energy
necessary for the companion of a man whose career destines him to
the storms of political life; she is clever and perceptive. If
your lives are united she will be happier than her mother. By
acquiring the right to continue my work at Clochegourde you will
blot out the faults I have not sufficiently expiated, though they
are pardoned in heaven and also on earth, for HE is generous and
will forgive me. You see I am ever selfish; is it not the proof of
a despotic love? I wish you to still love me in mine. Unable to be
yours in life, I bequeath to you my thoughts and also my duties.
If you do not wish to marry Madeleine you will at least seek the
repose of my soul by making Monsieur de Mortsauf as happy as he
ever can be.

Farewell, dear child of my heart; this is the farewell of a mind
absolutely sane, still full of life; the farewell of a spirit on
which thou hast shed too many and too great joys to suffer thee to
feel remorse for the catastrophe they have caused. I use that word
"catastrophe" thinking of you and how you love me; as for me, I
reach the haven of my rest, sacrificed to duty and not without
regret--ah! I tremble at that thought. God knows better than I
whether I have fulfilled his holy laws in accordance with their
spirit. Often, no doubt, I have tottered, but I have not fallen;
the most potent cause of my wrong-doing lay in the grandeur of the
seductions that encompassed me. The Lord will behold me trembling
when I enter His presence as though I had succumbed. Farewell
again, a long farewell like that I gave last night to our dear
valley, where I soon shall rest and where you will often--will you


I fell into an abyss of terrible reflections, as I perceived the
depths unknown of the life now lighted up by this expiring flame. The
clouds of my egotism rolled away. She had suffered as much as I--more
than I, for she was dead. She believed that others would be kind to
her friend; she was so blinded by love that she had never so much as
suspected the enmity of her daughter. That last proof of her
tenderness pained me terribly. Poor Henriette wished to give me
Clochegourde and her daughter.

Natalie, from that dread day when first I entered a graveyard
following the remains of my noble Henriette, whom now you know, the
sun has been less warm, less luminous, the nights more gloomy,
movement less agile, thought more dull. There are some departed whom
we bury in the earth, but there are others more deeply loved for whom
our souls are winding-sheets, whose memory mingles daily with our
heart-beats; we think of them as we breathe; they are in us by the
tender law of a metempsychosis special to love. A soul is within my
soul. When some good thing is done by me, when some true word is
spoken, that soul acts and speaks. All that is good within me issues
from that grave, as the fragrance of a lily fills the air; sarcasm,
bitterness, all that you blame in me is mine. Natalie, when next my
eyes are darkened by a cloud or raised to heaven after long
contemplation of earth, when my lips make no reply to your words or
your devotion, do not ask me again, "Of what are you thinking?"


Dear Natalie, I ceased to write some days ago; these memories were too
bitter for me. Still, I owe you an account of the events which
followed this catastrophe; they need few words. When a life is made up
of action and movement it is soon told, but when it passes in the
higher regions of the soul its story becomes diffuse. Henriette's
letter put the star of hope before my eyes. In this great shipwreck I
saw an isle on which I might be rescued. To live at Clochegourde with
Madeleine, consecrating my life to hers, was a fate which satisfied
the ideas of which my heart was full. But it was necessary to know the
truth as to her real feelings. As I was bound to bid the count
farewell, I went to Clochegourde to see him, and met him on the
terrace. We walked up and down for some time. At first he spoke of the
countess like a man who knew the extent of his loss, and all the
injury it was doing to his inner self. But after the first outbreak of
his grief was over he seemed more concerned about the future than the
present. He feared his daughter, who, he told me, had not her mother's
gentleness. Madeleine's firm character, in which there was something
heroic blending with her mother's gracious nature, alarmed the old
man, used to Henriette's tenderness, and he now foresaw the power of a
will that never yielded. His only consolation for his irreparable
loss, he said, was the certainty of soon rejoining his wife; the
agitations, the griefs of these last few weeks had increased his
illness and brought back all his former pains; the struggle which he
foresaw between his authority as a father and that of his daughter,
now mistress of the house, would end his days in bitterness; for
though he should have struggled against his wife, he should, he knew,
be forced to give way before his child. Besides, his son was soon to
leave him; his daughter would marry, and what sort of son-in-law was
he likely to have? Though he thus talked of dying, his real distress
was in feeling himself alone for many years to come without sympathy.

During this hour when he spoke only of himself, and asked for my
friendship in his wife's name, he completed a picture in my mind of
the remarkable figure of the Emigre,--one of the most imposing types
of our period. In appearance he was frail and broken, but life seemed
persistent in him because of his sober habits and his country
avocations. He is still living.

Though Madeleine could see me on the terrace, she did not come down.
Several times she came out upon the portico and went back in again, as
if to signify her contempt. I seized a moment when she appeared to beg
the count to go to the house and call her, saying I had a last wish of
her mother to convey to her, and this would be my only opportunity of
doing so. The count brought her, and left us alone together on the

"Dear Madeleine," I said, "if I am to speak to you, surely it should
be here where your mother listened to me when she felt she had less
reason to complain of me than of the circumstances of life. I know
your thoughts; but are you not condemning me without a knowledge of
the facts? My life and happiness are bound up in this place; you know
that, and yet you seek to banish me by the coldness you show, in place
of the brotherly affection which has always united us, and which death
should have strengthened by the bonds of a common grief. Dear
Madeleine, you for whom I would gladly give my life without hope of
recompense, without your even knowing it,--so deeply do we love the
children of those who have succored us,--you are not aware of the
project your adorable mother cherished during the last seven years. If
you knew it your feelings would doubtless soften towards me; but I do
not wish to take advantage of you now. All that I ask is that you do
not deprive me of the right to come here, to breathe the air on this
terrace, and to wait until time has changed your ideas of social life.
At this moment I desire not to ruffle them; I respect a grief which
misleads you, for it takes even from me the power of judging soberly
the circumstances in which I find myself. The saint who now looks down
upon us will approve the reticence with which I simply ask that you
stand neutral between your present feelings and my wishes. I love you
too well, in spite of the aversion you are showing me, to say one word
to the count of a proposal he would welcome eagerly. Be free. Later,
remember that you know no one in the world as you know me, that no man
will ever have more devoted feelings--"

Up to this moment Madeleine had listened with lowered eyes; now she
stopped me by a gesture.

"Monsieur," she said, in a voice trembling with emotion. "I know all
your thoughts; but I shall not change my feelings towards you. I would
rather fling myself into the Indre than ally myself to you. I will not
speak to you of myself, but if my mother's name still possesses any
power over you, in her name I beg you never to return to Clochegourde
so long as I am in it. The mere sight of you causes me a repugnance I
cannot express, but which I shall never overcome."

She bowed to me with dignity, and returned to the house without
looking back, impassible as her mother had been for one day only, but
more pitiless. The searching eye of that young girl had discovered,
though tardily, the secrets of her mother's heart, and her hatred to
the man whom she fancied fatal to her mother's life may have been
increased by a sense of her innocent complicity.

All before me was now chaos. Madeleine hated me, without considering
whether I was the cause or the victim of these misfortunes. She might
have hated us equally, her mother and me, had we been happy. Thus it
was that the edifice of my happiness fell in ruins. I alone knew the
life of that unknown, noble woman. I alone had entered every region of
her soul; neither mother, father, husband, nor children had ever known
her.--Strange truth! I stir this heap of ashes and take pleasure in
spreading them before you; all hearts may find something in them of
their closest experience. How many families have had their Henriette!
How many noble feelings have left this earth with no historian to
fathom their hearts, to measure the depth and breadth of their
spirits. Such is human life in all its truth! Often mothers know their
children as little as their children know them. So it is with
husbands, lovers, brothers. Did I imagine that one day, beside my
father's coffin, I should contend with my brother Charles, for whose
advancement I had done so much? Good God! how many lessons in the
simplest history.

When Madeleine disappeared into the house, I went away with a broken
heart. Bidding farewell to my host at Sache, I started for Paris,
following the right bank of the Indre, the one I had taken when I
entered the valley for the first time. Sadly I drove through the
pretty village of Pont-de-Ruan. Yet I was rich, political life courted
me; I was not the weary plodder of 1814. Then my heart was full of
eager desires, now my eyes were full of tears; once my life was all
before me to fill as I could, now I knew it to be a desert. I was
still young,--only twenty-nine,--but my heart was withered. A few
years had sufficed to despoil that landscape of its early glory, and
to disgust me with life. You can imagine my feelings when, on turning
round, I saw Madeleine on the terrace.

A prey to imperious sadness, I gave no thought to the end of my
journey. Lady Dudley was far, indeed, from my mind, and I entered the
courtyard of her house without reflection. The folly once committed, I
was forced to carry it out. My habits were conjugal in her house, and
I went upstairs thinking of the annoyances of a rupture. If you have
fully understood the character and manners of Lady Dudley, you can
imagine my discomfiture when her majordomo ushered me, still in my
travelling dress, into a salon where I found her sumptuously dressed
and surrounded by four persons. Lord Dudley, one of the most
distinguished old statesmen of England, was standing with his back to
the fireplace, stiff, haughty, frigid, with the sarcastic air he
doubtless wore in parliament; he smiled when he heard my name.
Arabella's two children, who were amazingly like de Marsay (a natural
son of the old lord), were near their mother; de Marsay himself was on
the sofa beside her. As soon as Arabella saw me she assumed a distant
air, and glanced at my travelling cap as if to ask what brought me
there. She looked me over from head to foot, as though I were some
country gentlemen just presented to her. As for our intimacy, that
eternal passion, those vows of suicide if I ceased to love her, those
visions of Armida, all had vanished like a dream. I had never clasped
her hand; I was a stranger; she knew me not. In spite of the
diplomatic self-possession to which I was gradually being trained, I
was confounded; and all others in my place would have felt the same.
De Marsay smiled at his boots, which he examined with remarkable
interest. I decided at once upon my course. From any other woman I
should modestly have accepted my defeat; but, outraged at the glowing
appearance of the heroine who had vowed to die for love, and who had
scoffed at the woman who was really dead, I resolved to meet insolence
with insolence. She knew very well the misfortunes of Lady Brandon; to
remind her of them was to send a dagger to her heart, though the
weapon might be blunted by the blow.

"Madame," I said, "I am sure you will pardon my unceremonious
entrance, when I tell you that I have just arrived from Touraine, and
that Lady Brandon has given me a message for you which allows of no
delay. I feared you had already started for Lancashire, but as you are
still in Paris I will await your orders at any hour you may be pleased
to appoint."

She bowed, and I left the room. Since that day I have only met her in
society, where we exchange a friendly bow, and occasionally a sarcasm.
I talk to her of the inconsolable women of Lancashire; she makes
allusion to Frenchwomen who dignify their gastric troubles by calling
them despair. Thanks to her, I have a mortal enemy in de Marsay, of
whom she is very fond. In return, I call her the wife of two

So my disaster was complete; it lacked nothing. I followed the plan I
had laid out for myself during my retreat at Sache; I plunged into
work and gave myself wholly to science, literature, and politics. I
entered the diplomatic service on the accession of Charles X., who
suppressed the employment I held under the late king. From that moment
I was firmly resolved to pay no further attention to any woman, no
matter how beautiful, witty, or loving she might be. This
determination succeeded admirably; I obtained a really marvellous
tranquillity of mind, and great powers of work, and I came to
understand how much these women waste our lives, believing, all the
while, that a few gracious words will repay us.

But--all my resolutions came to naught; you know how and why. Dear
Natalie, in telling you my life, without reserve, without concealment,
precisely as I tell it to myself, in relating to you feelings in which
you have had no share, perhaps I have wounded some corner of your
sensitive and jealous heart. But that which might anger a common woman
will be to you--I feel sure of it--an additional reason for loving me.
Noble women have indeed a sublime mission to fulfil to suffering and
sickened hearts,--the mission of the sister of charity who stanches
the wound, of the mother who forgives a child. Artists and poets are
not the only ones who suffer; men who work for their country, for the
future destiny of the nations, enlarging thus the circle of their
passions and their thoughts, often make for themselves a cruel
solitude. They need a pure, devoted love beside them,--believe me,
they understand its grandeur and its worth.

To-morrow I shall know if I have deceived myself in loving you.



Madame la Comtesse Natalie de Manerville to Monsieur le Comte
Felix de Vandenesse.

Dear Count,--You received a letter from poor Madame de Mortsauf,
which, you say, was of use in guiding you through the world,--a
letter to which you owe your distinguished career. Permit me to
finish your education.

Give up, I beg of you, a really dreadful habit; do not imitate
certain widows who talk of their first husband and throw the
virtues of the deceased in the face of their second. I am a
Frenchwoman, dear count; I wish to marry the whole of the man I
love, and I really cannot marry Madame de Mortsauf too. Having
read your tale with all the attention it deserves,--and you know
the interest I feel in you,--it seems to me that you must have
wearied Lady Dudley with the perfections of Madame de Mortsauf,
and done great harm to the countess by overwhelming her with the
experiences of your English love. Also you have failed in tact to
me, poor creature without other merit than that of pleasing you;
you have given me to understand that I cannot love as Henriette or
Arabella loved you. I acknowledge my imperfections; I know them;
but why so roughly make me feel them?

Shall I tell you whom I pity?--the fourth woman whom you love. She
will be forced to struggle against three others. Therefore, in
your interests as well as in hers, I must warn you against the
dangers of your tale. For myself, I renounce the laborious glory
of loving you,--it needs too many virtues, Catholic or Anglican,
and I have no fancy for rivalling phantoms. The virtues of the
virgin of Clochegourde would dishearten any woman, however sure of
herself she might be, and your intrepid English amazon discourages
even a wish for that sort of happiness. No matter what a poor
woman may do, she can never hope to give you the joys she will
aspire to give. Neither heart nor senses can triumph against these
memories of yours. I own that I have never been able to warm the
sunshine chilled for you by the death of your sainted Henriette. I
have felt you shuddering beside me.

My friend,--for you will always be my friend,--never make such
confidences again; they lay bare your disillusions; they
discourage love, and compel a woman to feel doubtful of herself.
Love, dear count, can only live on trustfulness. The woman who
before she says a word or mounts her horse, must ask herself
whether a celestial Henriette might not have spoken better,
whether a rider like Arabella was not more graceful, that woman
you may be very sure, will tremble in all her members. You
certainly have given me a desire to receive a few of those
intoxicating bouquets--but you say you will make no more. There
are many other things you dare no longer do; thoughts and
enjoyments you can never reawaken. No woman, and you ought to know
this, will be willing to elbow in your heart the phantom whom you
hold there.

You ask me to love you out of Christian charity. I could do much,
I candidly admit, for charity; in fact I could do all--except
love. You are sometimes wearisome and wearied; you call your
dulness melancholy. Very good,--so be it; but all the same it is
intolerable, and causes much cruel anxiety to one who loves you. I
have often found the grave of that saint between us. I have
searched my own heart, I know myself, and I own I do not wish to
die as she did. If you tired out Lady Dudley, who is a very
distinguished woman, I, who have not her passionate desires,
should, I fear, turn coldly against you even sooner than she did.
Come, let us suppress love between us, inasmuch as you can find
happiness only with the dead, and let us be merely friends--I wish

Ah! my dear count, what a history you have told me! At your
entrance into life you found an adorable woman, a perfect
mistress, who thought of your future, made you a peer, loved you
to distraction, only asked that you would be faithful to her, and
you killed her! I know nothing more monstrous. Among all the
passionate and unfortunate young men who haunt the streets of
Paris, I doubt if there is one who would not stay virtuous ten
years to obtain one half of the favors you did not know how to
value! When a man is loved like that how can he ask more? Poor
woman! she suffered indeed; and after you have written a few
sentimental phrases you think you have balanced your account with
her coffin. Such, no doubt, is the end that awaits my tenderness
for you. Thank you, dear count, I will have no rival on either
side of the grave. When a man has such a crime upon his
conscience, at least he ought not to tell of it. I made you an
imprudent request; but I was true to my woman's part as a daughter
of Eve,--it was your part to estimate the effect of the answer.
You ought to have deceived me; later I should have thanked you. Is
it possible that you have never understood the special virtue of
lovers? Can you not feel how generous they are in swearing that
they have never loved before, and love at last for the first time?

No, your programme cannot be carried out. To attempt to be both
Madame de Mortsauf and Lady Dudley,--why, my dear friend, it would
be trying to unite fire and water within me! Is it possible that
you don't know women? Believe me, they are what they are, and they
have therefore the defects of their virtues. You met Lady Dudley
too early in life to appreciate her, and the harm you say of her
seems to me the revenge of your wounded vanity. You understood
Madame de Mortsauf too late; you punished one for not being the
other,--what would happen to me if I were neither the one nor the
other? I love you enough to have thought deeply about your future;
in fact, I really care for you a great deal. Your air of the
Knight of the Sad Countenance has always deeply interested me; I
believed in the constancy of melancholy men; but I little thought
that you had killed the loveliest and the most virtuous of women
at the opening of your life.

Well, I ask myself, what remains for you to do? I have thought it
over carefully. I think, my friend, that you will have to marry a
Mrs. Shandy, who will know nothing of love or of passion, and will
not trouble herself about Madame de Mortsauf or Lady Dudley; who
will be wholly indifferent to those moments of ennui which you
call melancholy, during which you are as lively as a rainy day,--a
wife who will be to you, in short, the excellent sister of charity
whom you are seeking. But as for loving, quivering at a word,
anticipating happiness, giving it, receiving it, experiencing all
the tempests of passion, cherishing the little weaknesses of a
beloved woman--my dear count, renounce it all! You have followed
the advice of your good angel about young women too closely; you
have avoided them so carefully that now you know nothing about
them. Madame de Mortsauf was right to place you high in life at
the start; otherwise all women would have been against you, and
you never would have risen in society.

It is too late now to begin your training over again; too late to
learn to tell us what we long to hear; to be superior to us at the
right moment, or to worship our pettiness when it pleases us to be
petty. We are not so silly as you think us. When we love we place
the man of our choice above all else. Whatever shakes our faith in
our supremacy shakes our love. In flattering us men flatter
themselves. If you intend to remain in society, to enjoy an
intercourse with women, you must carefully conceal from them all
that you have told me; they will not be willing to sow the flowers
of their love upon the rocks or lavish their caresses to soothe a
sickened spirit. Women will discover the barrenness of your heart
and you will be ever more and more unhappy. Few among them would
be frank enough to tell you what I have told you, or sufficiently
good-natured to leave you without rancor, offering their
friendship, like the woman who now subscribes herself

Your devoted friend,

Natalie de Manerville.


The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

Birotteau, Abbe Francois
Cesar Birotteau
The Vicar of Tours

Blamont-Chauvry, Princesse de
The Thirteen
Madame Firmiani

Brandon, Lady Marie Augusta
The Member for Arcis
La Grenadiere

Chessel, Madame de
The Government Clerks

Dudley, Lord
The Thirteen
A Man of Business
Another Study of Woman
A Daughter of Eve

Dudley, Lady Arabella
The Ball at Sceaux
The Magic Skin
The Secrets of a Princess
A Daughter of Eve
Letters of Two Brides

Letters of Two Brides
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Lenoncourt, Duc de
Cesar Birotteau
Jealousies of a Country Town
The Gondreville Mystery

Lenoncourt-Givry, Duchesse de
Letters of Two Brides
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life

Listomere, Marquis de
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Study of Woman

Listomere, Marquise de
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
A Study of Woman
A Daughter of Eve

Louis XVIII., Louis-Stanislas-Xavier
The Chouans
The Seamy Side of History
The Gondreville Mystery
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
The Ball at Sceaux
Colonel Chabert
The Government Clerks

Manerville, Comtesse Paul de
A Marriage Settlement
A Daughter of Eve

Marsay, Henri de
The Thirteen
The Unconscious Humorists
Another Study of Woman
Father Goriot
Jealousies of a Country Town
Ursule Mirouet
A Marriage Settlement
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Letters of Two Brides
The Ball at Sceaux
Modeste Mignon
The Secrets of a Princess
The Gondreville Mystery
A Daughter of Eve

Stanhope, Lady Esther
Lost Illusions

Vandenesse, Comte Felix de
Lost Illusions
A Distinguished Provincial at Paris
Cesar Birotteau
Letters of Two Brides
A Start in Life
The Marriage Settlement
The Secrets of a Princess
Another Study of Woman
The Gondreville Mystery
A Daughter of Eve


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