Honoré de Balzac.

Honoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) online

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A torrent of tears escaped from her flashing eyes.
The four children thereupon uttered a plaintive
shriek, ran to her like chickens to their mother,
and the eldest struck the general and glared threat-
eningly at him.

"Abel, my angel," said she, "I am weeping with


She took him on her knees and the child kissed
her and passed his arm familiarly around her
majestic neck, like a lion's whelp playing with its

"And you are never tired of it?" cried the gen-
eral, dumfounded by his daughter's passionate re-

"Yes," she replied, "when we go on shore; and
even then 1 never leave my husband."

"But you are fond of parties, balls, music?"

"His voice is my music; my parties are the oc-
casions when I wear the toilets 1 invent for him.
When one of them pleases him, is it not as if the
whole world admired me? That is the only reason
why I do not throw into the sea these diamonds,
these necklaces and diadems of precious stones,
these trinkets, these flowers, these masterpieces of
art which he lavishes on me, saying: 'Helene, as
you don't go into society, 1 propose that society shall
come to you.' "

"But there are men on this ship, audacious, ter-
rible men, whose passions "

"1 understand you, father," she said, with a
smile. "Have no fear on that score. Never was


empress surrounded with more consideration than I
receive. These men are superstitious; they be-
lieve that I am the tutelary genius of this vessel, of
their undertakings, of their success. But he is their
god! One day, a single time only, a sailor failed
in due respect to me in words," she added, laugh-
ing. "Before Victor had heard of it, the rest of the
crew threw him into the sea, although I forgave
him. They love me as their good angel, I nurse
them when they are sick, and I have had the good
fortune to save some of them from death by dint of
caring for them with a woman's perseverance. The
poor fellows are giants and babies at once."

"And when there is a battle?"

"I am used to it," she replied. "I have never
trembled since the first one. Now my heart is
inured to the danger, and indeed 1 am your daugh-
ter and I love it."

"And if he should die?"

"I should die too."

"And your children?"

"They are sons of the Ocean and of danger;
they share their parents' lives. Our existence is
one and cannot be divided. We all live the same
lives, all written on the same page, borne by the
same boat, and we know it."

"You love him then so dearly as to prefer him to
all else?"

"To all else," she repeated. "But let us not try
to fathom the mystery. See ! this dear child in my
arms is another he!"


With that she embraced Abel with extraordinary
violence, and passionately kissed his cheeks and

"But," cried the general, "I cannot for get that he
has just ordered nine persons to be thrown into the

"He was obliged to do it, beyond question," she
replied, "for he is humane and generous. He
sheds as little blood as is consistent with the pres-
ervation and the interests of the little world he
has taken under his protection and the sacred cause
he defends. Speak to him of the things that seem
to you wrong, and you will see that he will know
how to make you change your opinion."

"And his crime?" said the general, as if he were
speaking to himself.

"But suppose it were a virtue?" she retorted
with cool dignity; "suppose the justice of mankind
had failed to avenge him?"

"But to avenge himself!" cried the general.

"And what is hell," she demanded, "if it is not
never-ending vengeance for the faults of a day?"

"Ah! you are lost. He has bewitched you,
abandoned girl. You are mad. "

"Remain here one day, father, and if you choose
to listen to him and watch him, you will love him."

"Helene," said the general gravely, "we are only
a few leagues from France."

She started, looked out through the porthole of
her cabin, and pointed to the vast green plains of
water rolling away as far as the eye could reach.


"There is my country," she replied, tapping her
foot on the carpet.

"But won't you come to see your mother and
sister and brothers?"

"Oh! yes," said she in a sobbing voice, "if he
is willing and can go with me."

"Do you mean that you no longer have anything
of your own, Helene, country or family," rejoined
the old soldier sternly.

"I am his wife," she replied proudly, with a
noble gesture. "This is the first happiness I have
known for seven years that has not come to me from
him," she added, seizing her father's hand and
kissing it, "and this is the first reproachful word I
have heard."

"And your conscience?"

"My conscience! why he is my conscience!"

At that moment she started violently.

"Here he is," she said. "Even during a battle
I can always distinguish his step among all the rest
on the deck."

Suddenly a bright flush mounted to her cheeks,
giving added splendor to her features and brilliancy
to her eyes, and her complexion became a dead
white, there was a suggestion of happiness and
love in the play of her muscles, in her blue veins,
in the involuntary thrill that ran through her whole
person. This display of deep feeling touched the
general. A moment later, the privateer entered
the stateroom, seated himself in an armchair, took
his oldest son in his arms and began to play with


him. Silence prevailed for a moment, while the
general, absorbed in a reverie comparable to the
vague impressions of a dream, gazed about upon
the dainty cabin, resembling a halcyon's nest, in
which that family had been sailing the ocean for
seven years, between sky and water, trusting in
the faith of one man, and guided through the
dangers of battle and tempest, as a family is guided
through life by its head, amid social disasters. He
gazed with admiration at his daughter, the image of
a marine goddess, gentle in her beauty, rich in her
happiness, and putting all the treasures that sur-
rounded her to shame before the treasures of her
heart, the brightness of her eyes and the indescrib-
able poesy that exhaled from her person and floated
in the air about her.

The extraordinary character of the situation be-
wildered him, the sublimity of passion and argu-
ment confounded vulgar ideas. The cold, narrow
conventions of society became of little consequence
before that picture. The old soldier was conscious
of all this, and realized also that his daughter would
never abandon a life so broad, so fruitful in con-
trasts, filled to overflowing with so great a love;
and, if she had once tasted danger without being
terrified thereby, she could never return again to
the dull scenes of a narrow, paltry world.

"Do 1 embarrass you?" the privateer asked,
breaking the silence at last, and looking at his wife.

"No," the general replied; "Helene has told me
everything. 1 see that she is lost to us."


"No," rejoined the privateer, eagerly. "A few
years more and prescription will permit me to re-
turn to France. When a man who has run counter
to your social laws has a pure conscience and has
obeyed "

He paused, disdaining to justify himself.

"How can you," said the general, interrupting
him, "fail to feel some remorse for the new murders
just committed before my eyes?"

"We had no provisions," said the privateer,

"But if you had set the men ashore "

"They would have arranged to have our retreat
cut off by some warship, and we should never have
got back to Chili."

"But, before France could have notified the Span-
ish admiralty " the general began.

"But France might not take kindly to the idea
that a man who is still amenable to its assize court
has taken possession of a brig chartered by Bor-
deaux merchants. However, haven't you sometimes
fired several volleys more than were necessary on
the field of battle ?"

The general, awed by the privateer's glance,
said nothing; and his daughter looked at him
with an air that expressed as much triumph as

"General," said the privateer in a deep voice,
"I have made it an invariable rule that nothing
shall be excepted from the general division of the
booty. But there is no question that my share will


amount to more than your fortune. Permit me to
make restitution to you in another form."

He took from the piano case a mass of bank-notes
and handed a million francs to the marquis without
counting the packages.

"You will understand," he continued, "that I
cannot amuse myself by watching passers-by on the
road to Bordeaux. Now, unless you are attracted
by the risks of our wandering life, by the beautiful
South American shores, by our tropical nights, by
our battles, and by the pleasure of witnessing the
triumph of a youthful nation's flag or of the name of
Simon Bolivar we must part. A boat manned by
trustworthy men awaits you. Let us hope for a
third meeting more completely happy than this."

"Victor, I would like to see my father a moment
longer," said Helene, with a pout

"Ten minutes more or less may bring us face to
face with a frigate. But no matter ! we will have
a little sport Our people are tired of doing

"Oh ! go at once, father, " cried the seaman's wife.
"And take to my sister and brothers, and to my
my mother," she added, "these tokens of my re-

She seized a handful of precious stones, necklaces
and jewels, wrapped them in a cashmere shawl and
timidly offered them to her father.

"What shall I say to them from you?" he asked,
apparently impressed by the hesitation his daughter
had manifested before uttering the word mother.


"Oh! can you doubt my heart? I pray every
day for their happiness."

"Helene," said the old man, gazing earnestly at
her, "shall I never see you again? Shall I never
know the motive that led you to fly from my

"That secret does not belong to me," she said in
a grave tone. "Even if I had the right to tell you,
perhaps I would not do it. I suffered incredible
misery for ten years "

She said no more, but handed her father the gifts
intended for her family. The general, accustomed
by the chances of war to somewhat broad ideas on
the subject of booty, accepted the presents his
daughter offered him, and took pleasure in the
thought that, under the inspiration of a mind as
pure and exalted as Heiene's, the Parisian captain
might remain an honest man while making war on
the Spaniards. His admiration for brave men won
the day. Reflecting that it would be absurd in him
to play the prude, he pressed the privateer's hand
warmly, embraced his Helene, his only daughter,
with the effusiveness characteristic of soldiers, and
dropped a tear upon that face, whose proud, virile
expression had more than once rejoiced his heart.
The sailor, deeply moved, put forward his children
to receive his blessing. At last, they bade one
another adieu for the last time with a long earnest
gaze that was not devoid of deep feeling.

"May you always be happy!" cried the grand-
father, rushing on deck.


A singular spectacle awaited the general on the
ocean. The Saint- Ferdinand had been set on fire,
and was blazing like a heap of straw. The sailors,
who were employed in boring holes in her bottom to
sink her, discovered that she had a large supply, of
rum on board a liquor that abounded on the Othello,
and they thought it a good joke to light a huge bowl
of punch in mid-ocean. It was an amusement
readily forgiven in men whom the apparent mo-
notony of their life at sea made only too quick to seize
every opportunity of adding zest thereto. As he
went over the brig's side into the Saint- Ferdinand's
gig, manned by six sturdy sailors, the general in-
voluntarily divided his attention between the burn-
ing Saint- Ferdinand and his daughter, as she stood,
leaning on the privateer's arm, at the stern of their
vessel. With his mind so filled with memories, as
he watched Helene's white dress blowing about, like
an additional sail, as he saw that tall, noble figure
outlined against the sky, imposing enough to domi-
nate everything, even the sea itself, he forgot, with
a soldier's heedlessness, that he was rowing over
the grave of the brave Gomez. Above him, a huge
column of smoke floated like a dark cloud, and the
sun's rays, piercing it here and there, cast poetic
beams upon the sea. It was a second sky, a sombre
dome, beneath which shone a sort of lustre, as it
were, while above it stretched away the unchang-
ing azure expanse of the firmament, seeming a
thousand times more beautiful by reason of the
momentary contrast. The strange hues of the


smoke, yellow, white, red and black by turns, or
all blended, enveloped the vessel, which cracked
and snapped and groaned. The flames hissed as
they bit at the rigging, and ran through the vessel
as a popular uprising flies through the streets of a
city. The rum produced a bluish flame, which
flickered as if the genius of the ocean were stirring
up the maddened liquor, as a student's hand causes
the joyous flames upon the surface of a bowl of
punch to dance and soar aloft. But the sun, with
its more powerful light, jealous of this insolent
blaze, hardly allowed the eye to distinguish the
colors of the conflagration amid its rays. It was
like a net, or like a scarf floating about in the tor-
rent of the sun's dazzling beams. The Othello
made the most of the light wind that blew from this
new direction, to put to sea, and swayed gracefully
to this side and to that, like a kite balancing itself
in the air. The beautiful craft stood away on a long
tack to the southward ; and now she would disappear
from the general's sight behind the straight column
of smoke, whose shadow was projected in fantastic
shapes upon the water, and in another moment
would appear again rising gracefully to the swell,
and flying fast. Whenever Helene could make out
her father, she waved her handkerchief to bid him
farewell once more. Soon the Saint- Ferdinand sank,
producing a slight eddy that was soon effaced by the
waves. Naught then remained of the whole scene
but a cloud floating in the breeze. The Othello was
far away; the boat was nearing the shore; the


cloud came between the frail craft and the brig.
The last time the general saw his daughter was
through a rift in that waving smoke. Prophetic
vision! The white handkerchief and dress alone
stood out against that dark background. Between
the green water and the blue sky the brig was not
even visible. Helene was no more than an almost
imperceptible point, a slender, graceful line, an
angel in heaven, an idea, a memory.

Having re-established his fortunes, the marquis
died, worn out with over-exertion. Some months
after his death, in 1833, the marchioness was obliged
to take Moina to the waters of the Pyrenees. The
capricious child insisted upon seeing the beauties of
those mountains. She returned to the waters, and,
soon after her return, the following horrible scene
took place :

"Mon Dieu," said Moina, "we made a great
mistake, mother, in not staying a few days more
in the mountains. We were much better off there
than here. Have you noticed the constant groan-
ing of that cursed child and the everlasting
chatter of that wretched woman, who must talk
some patois or other, for I can't understand a
single word she says? What sort of people have
they given us for neighbors? Last night was
one of the most frightful I ever passed in my

"I heard nothing," the marchioness replied;
"but I will go and see the landlady, my dear child,
and ask her to give us the next room ; we shall be


alone there and shall have no more noise. How do
you feel this morning? Are you tired?"

As she said these last words, the marchioness
rose and went to Moina's bedside.

"Let me see," said she, feeling for her daughter's

"Oh! go away, mother," Moina replied, "you're

With that, the girl buried her head in her pillow,
with a sulky movement, but so graceful withal that
it was hard for a mother to take offence at it. At
that moment, they heard in the adjoining room
a prolonged wail, in a sweet, pitiful voice well cal-
culated to rend a mother's heart.

"If you heard that all night, why didn't you call
me? We would have "

A deeper groan than any that had gone before, in-
terrupted the marchioness.

"There's someone dying there!" she cried.

And she left the room in haste.

"Send Pauline to me !" cried Moina ; "I am going
to dress."

The marchioness hurried downstairs and found
the hostess in the courtyard, surrounded by several
persons who seemed to be listening attentively to
what she was saying.

"Madame, you have put in the room next to ours
a person who seems to be suffering terribly."

"Oh! don't say a word!" cried the mistress of
the establishment, "I have just sent for the mayor.
Fancy, it's a woman, a poor unfortunate creature,


who arrived last night, on foot; she comes from
Spain and has no passport or money. She had a
little child on her back, that was dying. I couldn't
refuse to take her in here. This morning I went
myself to see her ; for when she arrived here yes-
terday, she gave me a horrible shock. Poor little
woman! she was in bed with her child and both
were struggling with death. 'Madame,' she said,
taking a gold ring from her finger, 'I have nothing
left but this ; take it to pay what I owe you; it will
be enough, for my stay here will not be long. Poor
little fellow! we shall die together!' said she, look-
ing at her child. 1 took her ring and asked her who
she was; but she wouldn't tell me her name. I
have just sent for the doctor and the mayor."

"Pray let her have everything she can possibly
need," cried the marchioness. "Mon Dieu! per-
haps there is still time to save her! I will pay you
for whatever you provide."

"Ah! madame, she seems to me to have a good
deal of pride of her own, and 1 don't know whether
she would consent."

"I will go and see her."

And the marchioness went up to the stranger's
room, not thinking of the possible ill-effect of her
appearance upon the woman, who was said to be
moribund, for she was still in mourning. The mar-
chioness turned pale as she looked at the dying
woman. Despite the horrible suffering that had
wrought sad havoc in Helene's lovely face, she
recognized her oldest daughter.


At the sight of a woman dressed in black, Helene
sat up in bed with a cry of terror, and fell
slowly back when she recognized that woman as
her mother.

"My child," said Madame d'Aiglemont, "what do
you need? Pauline! Moina!"

"I need nothing now," Helene replied in a feeble
voice. "I hoped to see my father again, but your
mourning tells me "

She did not finish; she pressed her child to her
heart as if to give it warmth, kissed its forehead,
and cast a glance at her mother, in which reproach
could still be read, although tempered by forgive-
ness. The marchioness chose not to see the re-
proach; she forgot that Helene was a child conceived
in tears and despair, a child of duty, a child who
had been the cause of her greatest unhappiness;
she walked forward gently to her oldest daughter,
remembering only that Helene had first taught her
the joys of maternity. The mother's eyes filled
with tears, and as she embraced her daughter, she
cried :

"Helene! my child!"

Helene made no reply. She had just inhaled the
last breath of her last child.

At that moment, Moina, Pauline, her maid, the
hostess and a physician entered the room. The
marchioness was holding her daughter's icy hand in
hers, and gazing at her in genuine despair. Exas-
perated by misfortune, the sailor's widow, who had
just escaped from a shipwreck, saving only one child


of all her lovely family, said to her mother in a
voice that was horrible to hear:

"All this is your work! If you had been to me
what you were to "

"Leave the room, Moina everybody leave the
room!" cried Madame d'Aiglemont, drowning
Helene's voice with her own loud commands. "In
pity's name, my child," she added, "let us not re-
new at this moment the lamentable strife "

"1 will hold my peace," said Helene, making a
superhuman effort. "I am a mother and I know
that Moina ought not Where is my child?"

Moma returned to the room, impelled by curiosity.

"Sister," said the spoiled child, "the doctor "

"It is all of no use," Helene replied. "Oh! why
did I not die at sixteen, when 1 tried to kill myself!
Happiness cannot exist outside of the law. Moina
you "

She died, leaning over her child, whom she had
pressed convulsively to her heart at the last.

"Your sister undoubtedly meant to say to you,
Moina," said Madame d'Aiglemont, when she re-
turned to her room, where she burst into tears,
"that a girl can never be happy in a merely roman-
tic life, outside of accepted ideas, and above all
things, away from her mother."



During one of the first days of the month of June
1844, a lady of some fifty years of age, but who
seemed older than her years, was walking in the
sunlight, about midday, along a path in the garden
of a large mansion on Rue Plumet, Paris. Having
made several turns up and down the slightly wind-
ing path, on which she remained in order not to
lose sight of the windows of an apartment to which
her attention seemed to be exclusively devoted, she
seated herself on one of the half-rustic armchairs
made of young branches from which the bark is not
removed. From that comfortable seat the lady was
able to see, through one of the openings in the gar-
den wall, the inner boulevards, in the centre of
which the beautiful dome of the Invalides rears its
golden cupola among the waving tops of countless
elms a superb landscape; and also the less pre-
tentious view presented by her own garden, termi-
nated by the gray facade of one of the finest mansions
in Faubourg Saint-Germain. There, all was silent,
the neighboring gardens, the boulevards, the In-
valides; for in that aristocratic quarter the day
hardly begins before noon. Unless by reason of



some whim, unless some young woman wishes to
ride, or some old diplomat has a protocol to revise,
valets, masters, all at that hour are asleep or just
opening their eyes.

The old lady who was abroad so early was the
Marquise d'Aiglemont, mother of Madame de Saint-
Hereen, to whom the noble mansion belonged. The
marchioness had transferred it to her daughter, to
whom she had given her whole fortune, reserving
only an annuity for herself. Comtesse Moina de
Saint-Hereen was Madame d'Aiglemont's last child.
The marchioness had sacrificed everything to induce
the heir of one of the most illustrious houses in
France to marry her. Nothing could be more nat-
ural; she had lost two sons in rapid succession;
Gustave, Marquis d'Aiglemont, had died of cholera;
Abel had been killed before Constantine. Gustave
left a widow and children. But the decidedly luke-
warm affection Madame d'Aiglemont had felt for her
two sons became still weaker as applied to her
grandchildren. She treated Madame d'Aiglemont
the younger with courtesy ; but she confined herself
to the superficial sentiment which good taste and
social conventions compel us to manifest for our
kindred. The fortunes of her deceased children
having been satisfactorily adjusted, she had put
aside for Moina her own property and her savings.
Moina, who had been ravishingly beautiful from
infancy, had always been the object on Madame
d'Aiglemont's part of one of those predilections
which are inborn or involuntary in mothers of


families; fatal sympathies which seem inexplicable,
or which observers are only too ready to explain.
Moina's charming face, the sound of that cherished
darling's voice, her manners, her gait, her figure,
her gestures, everything about her awakened in the
marchioness's heart the deepest emotions that can
vivify, disturb or charm a mother's heart. The
moving principle of her present life, of her future
and her past, was in that young woman's heart, into
which she had cast all her treasures. Molna had
happily survived four children, all her seniors.
Madame d'Aiglemont had, in truth, lost in a most
unfortunate way, so said the gossips, a charming
daughter, whose fate was almost unknown, and a
little boy, the victim of a horrible catastrophe, at
the age of five. Doubtless the marchioness saw a

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 16 of 22)