Copyright
Honoré de Balzac.

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

. (page 2 of 22)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 2 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


and rode off at a gallop; but the shadow of a stone
post on the sand frightened the beast, which shied,
started back and reared, all so suddenly that his
rider seemed in danger. Julie shrieked and turned
pale; everyone turned and stared curiously at her,
but she saw no one ; her eyes were fixed upon the
too spirited horse, which the officer chastised soundly
as he rode away to carry out Napoleon's orders.
The bewildering scene absorbed Julie so completely
that she unconsciously clung to her father's arm,
and involuntarily revealed her thoughts to him by
the pressure of her fingers. When Victor was on
the point of being thrown backward by the horse,
she seized her father more violently than before, as
if she had herself been in danger of falling. The
old man gazed with gloomy, sorrowful disquietude
at his daughter's expressive face, and an expression
of pity, of jealousy, of regret even, crept into every
wrinkle. But, when the unaccustomed brilliancy
of Julie's eyes, the shriek she uttered, and the con-
vulsive movement of her fingers put the final touches
to the disclosure of a secret passion, certain it is



22 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

that he must have had some painful revelations of
the future, for his features assumed a sinister ex-
pression. At that moment, Julie's soul seemed to
have passed into the young officer's body. A
thought even more cruel than all those that had
previously alarmed the old man contracted his care-
worn features, when he saw D'Aiglemont, as he
rode by, exchange a glance of intelligence with
Julie, whose eyes were moist, and whose face glowed
with extraordinary animation. He abruptly led his
daughter into the Tuileries garden.

"Why, father, there are still some regiments on
the Place du Carrousel that are going to drill."

"No, my child, the troops are all marching off."

"I think you're mistaken, father; Monsieur
d'Aiglemont went to order them forward "

"But I am not well, my dear, and I can't stay."

It was not difficult for Julie to believe her father
when she glanced at his face, to which his paternal
anxiety imparted an expression of deep distress.

"Do you feel very ill?" she asked in an indiffer-
ent tone, her mind was so full of other things.

"Isn't every day a day of grace for me?" the old
man replied.

"Are you going to grieve me again by talking
about your death ? I was so happy ! Come, drive
away these miserable black thoughts of yours!"

"Ah! you spoiled child!" cried the father with a
sigh; "the kindest hearts are sometimes very cruel.
Is it nothing, pray, that we devote our lives to you,
think only of you, do everything to secure your



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 23

welfare, sacrifice our own inclinations to your
whims, even shed our blood for you? Alas! yes,
you accept it all with utter indifference. To obtain
your smiles and your disdainful love forever, one
must have God's power. And then another comes!
a lover, a husband steals your heart from us."

Julie gazed at her father in amazement as he
walked slowly along, meeting her gaze with dull,
expressionless eyes.

"You even conceal your thoughts from us," he
continued, "but, perhaps, from yourselves, too "

"What do you mean, father?"

"I think you have secrets from me, Julie. You
are in love," continued the old man hastily, as he
saw that his daughter blushed. "Ah! I hoped that
you would be faithful to your father as long as he
lived, I hoped to keep you by my side, happy and
beautiful ! to admire you as you were a little time
ago. If I had known nothing of your destiny, I
might still have believed in a calm and peaceful
future for you; but now it is impossible for me to
carry with me to the grave a hope that your life
will be a happy one, for you love the colonel more
than the cousin. I can no longer doubt that."

'Why should I be forbidden to love?" cried she
eagerly with awakened interest.

"Ah! my Julie, you wouldn't understand me,"
replied the father with a sigh.

"No matter, tell me," she replied, with a suspi-
cion of rebellion in her tone.

"Well, my child, listen to me, then; young girls



24 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

often create in their own minds noble, fascinating
images, wholly ideal figures, and invent chimerical
ideas as to men and sentiments and the world in
general; then they in their innocence endow a char-
acter with the attributes of perfection they have
dreamed of, and place their trust in it; they love
this creation of their imagination in the man of their
choice ; but, later, when it is too late to avert the
catastrophe, the deceitful phantom they have em-
bellished, their first idol, is transformed into a
hideous skeleton. Julie, I would rather see you in
love with an old rake than with the colonel. Ah !
if you could see yourself as you will be ten years
hence, you would do justice to the warnings of my
experience. I know Victor; his gayety is mere
empty-headed, barrack gayety; he has no talent
and is a spendthrift. He is one of the men created
by Heaven to eat and digest four meals a day, sleep,
love the first woman he sees, and fight. He doesn't
understand life. His kind heart for he has a kind
heart would lead him perhaps to give his purse to
an unfortunate, to a comrade ; but he is a heedless
fellow ; but he hasn't that delicacy of sentiment that
makes us the slaves of a woman's happiness; but
he is ignorant and selfish. There are buts enough."

"However, father, he must have wit and talent to
have been made a colonel "

"My dear, Victor will remain a colonel all his
life. I have never seen anyone who seemed to
me to be worthy of you," said the old father fer-
vently.



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 25

He paused a moment, looked earnestly at his
daughter, and added :

"But, my dear Julie, you are still too young, too
weak, too delicate to endure the vexations and worry
of marriage. D'Aiglemont has been spoiled by his
parents, just as you have been spoiled by your
mother and myself. How can we hope that you
will understand each other, with your two distinct
wills, tyrannical and irreconcilable? You will
tyrannize or be tyrannized over. Either alternative
brings an equal burden of woe into a woman's life.
But you are sweet-tempered and modest, and you
will bend at first. In short," said he in a faltering
voice, "you have a charm of sentiment which will
be misunderstood, and then "

He did not finish; his tears prevented him.

"Victor," he continued after a pause, "will wound
the ingenuous qualities of your young heart. I
know soldiers, my Julie; I have lived in the
army. It rarely happens that the heart of one
of those fellows can triumph over the habits grow-
ing out of the misery amid which they live, or
of the chances and changes of their adventurous
lives."

"Then you propose, father," retorted Julie in a
tone halfway between jest and earnest, "to disre-
gard my feelings, to marry me to suit yourself and
not to suit myself?"

"Marry you to suit me!" cried the father with a
gesture of surprise; "to suit me, whose friendly
scolding voice you will soon hear for the last time,



26 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

my child. I have always found that children attrib-
ute to personal feeling the sacrifices their parents
make for them! Marry Victor, my Julie. Some
day you will bitterly deplore his worthlessness, his
lack of order, his selfishness, his indelicacy, his in-
sincerity in love, and a thousand other causes of
disappointment that will come to you through him.
When that time comes remember that here, under
these trees, your old father's prophetic voice ap-
pealed to you in vain!"

The old man said no more, for he saw that his
daughter was shaking her head in a rebellious way.
They walked toward the gate where their carriage
was waiting. During this silent walk, the young
girl furtively examined her father's face and the
pouting expression gradually vanished from her
own. The profound sorrow depicted on that down-
cast brow made a deep impression upon her.

"I promise you, father," she said in a sweet,
trembling voice, "to say no more of Victor until you
have laid aside your prejudices against him."

The old man stared at his daughter in amazement
Tears started from his eyes and rolled down his
wrinkled cheeks. He could not kiss Julie in the
presence of the crowd that stood about them, but he
tenderly pressed her hand. When he entered the
carriage, all the anxious thoughts that had clouded
his brow had entirely disappeared. The somewhat
melancholy attitude of his daughter disturbed him
much less than the innocent joy, the secret of which
she had betrayed during the review.



In the early days of the month of March, 1814, a
little less than a year after the Emperor's last re-
view, a caleche rolled along the road from Amboise
to Tours. Upon leaving behind the green summits
of the walnut trees, beneath which lies hidden the
little posting station of La Frilliere, the carriage
proceeded at such a rapid pace that in a very few
moments it reached the bridge over the Cise where
that river empties into the Loire, and there it
stopped. A trace had broken as a result of the en-
ergetic application of the lash by a young postilion,
at his master's order, to the four fresh and vigorous
post horses. So it chanced that the two occupants
of the caleche, upon awakening, were able to con-
template at their leisure, one of the most beautiful
landscapes the charming banks of the Loire can
present At his right the traveler's glance em-
braced all the windings of the Cise, which flows,
like a silvery serpent, through the grass of the level
plains to which the first shoots of the spring gave
the hue of the emerald. At his left the Loire ap-
peared in all its magnificence. The innumerable
faces of the little waves stirred up by the cool morn-
ing breeze, reflected the scintillating rays of the sun
upon the broad bosom of that majestic stream. Here
and there green islands dotted the surface of the
water like the stones of a necklace. Upon the other

(27)



28 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

shore, the loveliest countryside in Touraine unfolded
its treasures as far as the eye could reach. In the
distance, the view was limited only by the hills
along the Cher, whose summits at that moment
traced lines of light against the transparent azure of
the sky. Through the delicate foliage of the islands,
in the background of the picture, Tours seemed,
like Venice, to rise from the bosom of the waters.
The spires of its venerable cathedral shot up into
the air, where they blended with the fantastic
masses of grayish-white clouds. Beyond the bridge
at which the carriage had stopped, the traveler could
see in front of him, extending along the Loire to
Tours, a chain of cliffs which, by a whim of nature,
seem to have been stationed there to imprison the
river, whose waves resistlessly wear the rock away
a sight that always arouses the wonder of travel-
ers. The village of Vouvray nestles among the
gorges and depressions of these cliffs, which begin
to describe a curve just below the bridge over the
Cise. From Vouvray to Tours the terrifying de-
clivities of this broken hillside are inhabited by
vinedressers. In more than one spot there are
three rows of houses, one above another, upon sites
hollowed out of the cliff, and connected by dangerous
staircases hewn in the rock. On the roof of one
house, a young woman in a short red petticoat is
tending her garden. The smoke from a chimney
floats up between the vine-branches. Laborers are
ploughing almost perpendicular fields. An old
woman, living tranquilly upon a caved-in section of



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 29

the cliff, turns her spinning-wheel under the flower-
ing branches of an almond tree, and watches the
travelers passing at her feet, smiling at their terror.
She pays no more heed to the fissures in the ground
than to the overhanging ruin of an old wall, the
courses of which are held in place only by the twin-
ing roots of a cloak of ivy. The cooper's hammer
wakes the echoes under the arches of aerial cellars.
In a word, every inch of ground is cultivated and
fruitful, where nature has provided no room for the
purposes of human industry. For this reason, there
is nothing along the whole course of the Loire worthy
to be compared to the superb panorama which
Touraine here presents to the traveler's eyes. The
threefold picture, whose beauties we have scarcely
hinted at, produces an impression upon the mind
which is inscribed forever in its memory; and when
a poet has feasted his eyes upon it, in his dreams
he often reconstructs its romantic effects in fabulous
guise.

As the carriage reached the bridge over the Cise,
several white sails came out from between the
islands of the Loire and added one more element of
harmony to the harmonious spectacle. The odor of
the willows that border the river added a penetrat-
ing perfume to the savor of the moist breeze. The
birds kept up a ceaseless concert; the monotonous
song of a goatherd imparted a tinge of sadness to
the scene, while the cries of the bargemen told of
life and excitement in the distance. Light wreaths
of vapor, clinging capriciously about the scattered



30 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

trees in the vast landscape, added a last charm. It
was Touraine in all its glory, the springtime in all
its splendor. This part of France, the only part that
foreign armies are not likely to disturb, was at that
moment the only part that enjoyed a semblance of
tranquillity; one would have said that it defied the
invader.

A head arrayed in a foraging cap was thrust out
of the caleche as soon as it ceased to move ; but the
next moment an officer, impatient at f.he delay,
opened the door for himself and leaped down into
the road as if to berate the postilion. But the skill
with which that Tourainian was splicing the broken
trace, reassured Colonel Comte d'Aiglemont, who
walked back toward the carriage, stretching his arms
as if to limber up his sleeping muscles. He yawned,
glanced at the landscape, and placed his hand upon
the arm of a young woman carefully enveloped in a
fur cloak.

"Look, Julie," he said in a hoarse voice, "wake
up and look at the country! It is magnificent."

Julie put her head out of the caleche. She wore
a marten fur cap, and the folds of the cloak in which
she was wrapped, so effectually concealed her figure
that naught of her could be seen but the face. Julie
d'Aiglemont was no longer the light-hearted girl
who was so joyous and happy at the review at the
Tuileries a few short months before. Her face, still
delicate in outline, had lost the fresh, rosy coloring
that gave it its rich glow. The black tufts of hair,
uncurled by the damp night air, brought into strong



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 31

relief the ivory-whiteness of her skin, whose lustre
seemed dead. But her eyes shone with unnatural
fire, and beneath their lids there were dark violet
patches upon her worn cheeks. She cast an indif-
ferent glance at the distant hills beside the Cher,
the Loire and its islands and the long cliffs of Vou-
vray; then, without taking the trouble to look at
the lovely valley of the Cise, she threw herself
back into the caleche, and said, in a voice that
seemed extremely weak in the open air:

"Yes, it is lovely."

She had, as we see, triumphed over her father, to
her undoing.

"Julie, wouldn't you like to live here?"

"Oh! here or somewhere else," she said, care-
lessly.

"Aren't you well?" Colonel d'Aiglemont asked.

"Perfectly," replied the young woman, with
momentary animation.

She looked at her husband with a smile, and
added :

"I am very sleepy."

Suddenly they heard a horse galloping behind
them. Victor d'Aiglemont released his wife's hand
and turned his head toward the bend in the road a
short distance away. As soon as his eyes were re-
moved from her, the cheerful expression she had
forced her pale face to wear vanished as if some
light had ceased to shine upon it. As she had no
desire to look again at the landscape, nor curiosity
to know who the horseman was who was galloping



32 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

up at such a furious rate, she sank back into the
corner of the caleche and fixed her eyes upon the
horses' backs without a trace of emotion of any sort.
Her whole manner was as stupid as that of a Breton
peasant listening to his cure's sermon.

A young man, riding a blooded horse, suddenly
emerged from a clump of poplars and flowering haw-
thorns.

"That's an Englishman," said the colonel.

"Mon Dieu, yes, general," replied the postilion.
"He's one of the fellows that want to eat up France,
so they say."

The stranger was one of the travelers who hap-
pened to be upon the continent when Napoleon
caused the arrest of all the English in France, by
way of reprisal for the assault upon the law of
nations by the cabinet of Saint James at the time of
the rupture of the Peace of Amiens. Being subject
to the imperial caprice, these prisoners did not all
remain in the residences where they were seized,
nor in those places which they were at first allowed
to select for themselves. The majority of those
who were at this time living in Touraine had been
transferred thither from different parts of the Em-
pire, where their residence seemed likely to en-
danger the success of the Emperor's continental
policy. The young captive who was taking the
morning air for his ennui at that moment was a vic-
tim of the bureaucratic power. Two years before,
an order emanating from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs had torn him away from the mild climate of



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 33

Montpellier, where the rupture of the peace found
him seeking relief from an affection of the lungs.

As soon as the young man saw that Comte
d'Aiglemont was a military man, -he showed great
eagerness to avoid his scrutiny, and turned his head
abruptly toward the plains of the Cise.

"These Englishmen are all as insolent as if the
world belonged to them," muttered the colonel.
"Fortunately Soult's in a fair way to give them a
sound thrashing."

As the prisoner passed the caleche, he cast his
eyes inside. Although it was but a glance his ad-
miration was awakened by the melancholy expres-
sion which gave an indefinable charm to the
countess's pensive face. There are many men
whose hearts are deeply moved by the slightest in-
dication of suffering in a woman: in their eyes,
pain seems to be a token of constancy or of love.
Julie, gazing fixedly at one of the cushions of the
caleche, paid no heed to horse or rider. The trace
was speedily and satisfactorily repaired. The count
re-entered the carriage. The postilion exerted him-
self to make up for lost time, and drove his two pas-
sengers rapidly along that part of the levee which
runs at the foot of the overhanging cliffs, in whose
bosom the wines of Vouvray ripen, where so many
attractive houses raise their heads among the foliage,
and where, in the distance, can be seen the ruins of
the famous abbey of Marmoutiers, the retreat of
Saint-Martin.

"What does that diaphanous milord want of us?"
3



34 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

cried the colonel, turning his head to make sure that
the horseman who had been following his carriage
from the bridge over the Cise was the young
Englishman.

As the stranger violated none of the canons of
courtesy by riding along the edge of the levee, the
colonel fell back into the corner of the caleche, after
darting a threatening glance at the Englishman.
But he could not, despite his involuntary feeling of
hostility, refrain from noticing the beauty of the
horse and the grace of the rider. The young man
had one of those typical English faces, with a skin
so soft and white, and complexion so clear that one
is sometimes tempted to fancy that they belong to
the slender body of a girl. He was tall and slender,
and fair. His dress was marked by the neatness
and distinction characteristic of the men of fashion
in prudish England. One would have said that he
blushed from modesty rather than from pleasure at
seeing the countess. Once only did Julie raise her
eyes to look at him ; and then she was in a measure
forced to do so by her husband, who wanted her to
admire the legs of a thoroughbred horse. Julie's
eyes thereupon met the bashful Englishman's.
From that moment instead of keeping his horse
near the caleche he followed it some few paces be-
hind. The countess barely looked at him. She
noticed none of the human or equine points of excel-
lence that were called to her attention, and threw
herself back into the carriage after expressing her
agreement with her husband by a slight movement



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 35

of the eyebrows. The colonel fell asleep and the
husband and wife reached Tours without exchang-
ing a word; nor had the fascinating, ever-changing
landscapes through which they passed, once at-
tracted Julie's attention. She glanced at her hus-
band several times while he was asleep. Just as
she looked at him the last time, the jolting of the
carriage caused a medallion that was hanging from
her neck by a mourning chain to fall upon her
knees, and her father's portrait suddenly looked up
into her face. At that sight the tears, until then
held back, filled her eyes. Perhaps the Englishman
saw the glistening lines the tears made for a
moment on the countess's pale cheeks, although the
wind quickly dried them.

Entrusted by the Emperor with orders for Marechal
Soult, who was defending France from the invasion
of the English in Beam, Colonel d'Aiglemont availed
himself of the opportunity afforded by his mission,
to remove his wife from the perils by which Paris
was then threatened; and he was taking her to an
old kinswoman of his own at Tours. Soon the car-
riage crossed the bridge, rumbled over the pave-
ments through Grande Rue, and halted in front of
the ancient mansion in which the former Marquise
de Listomere-Landon dwelt

The Marquise de Listomere-Landon was one of the
lovely old women with pale cheeks and white hair,
who have a winning smile, who seem made to wear
hoopskirts, and who wear caps of no known style.
Such women are septuagenarian portraits of the age



36 A WOMAN OF THIRTY

of Louis XV. ; they are almost always caressing in
their manner as if they were still in love; they are
less reverent than pious, and less pious than they
seem to be; always exhaling the odor of powder
la marechale ; good story-tellers, better talkers, and
more inclined to laugh at a memory than a jest.
They care little for the present. When an aged
maid-servant informed the marchioness for she
was soon to resume her title of the arrival of a
nephew whom she had not seen since the outbreak
of the war in Spain, she hastily removed her spec-
tacles, closed the Galerie de V Ancienm Cour, her
favorite book, and with something resembling
agility of movement, reached the landing as the
husband and wife were coming up the stairs.

The aunt and the niece exchanged a swift glance.

"Good-morning, my dear aunt, " cried the colonel,
putting his arms about the old lady and kissing her
hurriedly, "I am bringing you a young person to
keep for me. I confide my treasure to you. My
Julie is neither a flirt nor jealous; she has an
angelic disposition But she won't be spoiled here,
I trust," he added, without completing his sentence.

"Bad boy!" the marchioness rejoined with a
mischievous glance at him.

She took the initiative, offering, with a certain
attractive grace, to kiss Julie, who retained her
thoughtful expression and seemed more embarrassed
than interested.

"So we are to know each other at last, my dear
heart," said the marchioness. "Don't be too much



A WOMAN OF THIRTY 37

afraid of me; I try never to be old with young
people."

Before escorting her guests to the salon, the
marchioness ordered breakfast for them in accord-
ance with provincial customs; but the count inter-
rupted his aunt's flow of talk to say to her in a
serious tone that he could give her no more time
than was required to change horses at the posting
station. The three, therefore, repaired at once to
the salon, and the colonel hardly had time to narrate
to his kinswoman the events, political and military,
which forced him to ask her to give shelter to his
young wife. During this narration, the aunt looked
alternately at her nephew, who talked on without
interruption, and at her niece, whose pallor and
melancholy she assumed to be due to this enforced
separation. She seemed to be saying to herself:
"Oho! these young people really love each other!"

At that moment, the cracking of a whip was heard
in the silent old courtyard, where the flagstones
were outlined by tufts of grass. Victor embraced
his aunt again and rushed out of the house.


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 2 of 22)