Copyright
Honoré de Balzac.

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

. (page 21 of 22)
Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 21 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


knows us, to France, where she would encounter
harsh critics."

Some passionate men do not like women who are
clever enough to choose their own ground, but such
men are too exacting. Besides, there is nothing to
prove that Gaston's supposition was well-founded.



The viscountess took a small house on the lake.
When she was installed there, Gaston made his ap-
pearance one lovely afternoon just at nightfall.
Jacques, an essentially aristocratic valet, was not
surprised to see Monsieur de Nueil, and announced
him with the air of one who was in the habit of
understanding everything. When she heard the
name and saw the young man, Madame de Beau-
seant dropped the book she held; her surprise gave
Gaston time to reach her side and to say to her in
a voice which sounded very sweet to her :

"How delighted I was to take the same horses
that brought you here!"

To find one's secret wishes so quickly obeyed!
Where is the woman who would not have yielded
to such happiness? An Italian woman, one of those
divine creatures whose hearts are the very anti-
podes of those of the Parisian women, and who
would be considered profoundly immoral on this
side of the Alps, said, apropos of French novels :
"I don't see why those poor lovers pass so much
time arranging what ought to be a matter of a morn-
ing. " Why could not the present writer, acting
upon the excellent Italian's theory, refrain from
wearying his readers and wearing out his subject?
There might be, to be sure, a few scenes of charm-
ing coquetry to describe, delays which Madame de
Beauseant chose sweetly to impose upon Gaston's

(349)



350 THE DESERTED MISTRESS

happiness, in order to fall with grace, like the vir-
gins of antiquity; perhaps also to enjoy the chaste
ecstasy of a first love and to cause it to attain its
highest development of strength and power. Mon-
sieur de Nueil was still at the age when a man is
the dupe of his caprices, of the sportiveness that so
delights a woman and that she does her utmost to
prolong, either in order to make such conditions as
she chooses, or to enjoy her power as long as pos-
sible, having instinctively divined its impending
diminution. But these little boudoir protocols, less
numerous than those of the conference at London,
occupy too small a place in the story of a genuine
passion to be mentioned.

Madame de Beauseant and Monsieur de Nueil lived
together for three years in the villa the viscountess
had hired on the Lake. of Geneva. They remained
there quite alone, seeing no one, causing no gossip,
rowing on the lake, rising late, in a word, as
happy as we all dream of being. It was a simple
little house with green blinds surrounded by large
balconies with awnings; a veritable lovers' house,
a house with white couches, noiseless carpets and
fresh hangings, where everything was bright with
joy. From every window, the lake assumed a dif-
ferent aspect; in the distance, the mountains and
their fantastic, many-hued fleeting cloud shapes;
above them, a clear sky, and in front of them, a
broad sheet of capricious, ever-changing water!
Nature seemed to dream for them, and everything
smiled upon them.

\



THE DESERTED MISTRESS 351

Important business recalled Monsieur de Nueil to
France; his brother and father were dead, it was
necessary to leave Geneva. The lovers bought the
house ; they would have liked to break the mountains
in pieces and draw the water off from the lake, so
that they might take everything with them. Ma-
dame de Beauseant accompanied Monsieur de Nueil.
She turned her fortune into cash, purchased an estate
of some size adjoining Gaston's property, near Ma-
nerville, and there they lived together. Monsieur de
Nueil gracefully transferred to his mother, the in-
come of the Manerville property in return for her
policy of non-interference with his bachelor life.
Madame de Beauseant's estate lay near a small town
in one of the pleasantest situations in the valley of
Auge. There the lovers erected barriers between
themselves and the world which neither social ideas
nor persons could pass, and renewed their lovely
days in Switzerland. For nine whole years they
enjoyed happiness which it is vain to describe; the
conclusion of this narrative will doubtless disclose
their beatitude, to those whose minds can compre-
hend poesy and prayer in their infinite variations.

Meanwhile, Monsieur le Marquis de Beauseant
his father and older brother were dead Madame de
Beauseant's husband,, enjoyed perfect health.
Nothing assists us more powerfully to live than the
certainty that our death will make some other per-
son happy. Monsieur de Beauseant was one of
those satirical, obstinate beings who, like annui-
tants, have one source of pleasure that others know



352 THE DESERTED MISTRESS

nothing of in awaking every morning in good
health. He was, by the way, a man of gallantry, a
little precise, ceremonious and calculating, and ca-
pable of declaring his love to a woman as tranquilly
as a servant would say: "Madame is served."

This little biographical notice concerning the
Marquis de Beauseant is intended to show the im-
possibility of a marriage between the marchioness
and Monsieur de Nueil.

Now, after these nine years of happiness, the
sweetest lease that a woman can ever sign, Mon-
sieur de Nueil and Madame de Beauseant found
themselves in a situation quite as natural and quite
as false as that in which they had lived since the
beginning of their acquaintance; a fatal crisis en-
sued, nevertheless, of which it is impossible to con-
vey an idea, although its elements may be stated
with mathematical accuracy.

Madame la Comtesse de Nueil, Gaston's mother,
had never been willing to meet Madame de Beau-
seant. She was a rigid, virtuous person, who had
accomplished the happiness of Monsieur de Nueil
senior by perfectly legitimate means. Madame de
Beauseant realized that the honorable dowager was
certain to be her enemy, and would try to rescue
Gaston from his immoral, irreligious existence.
The marchioness would have liked to sell her estate
and return to Geneva. But that would have been
to show distrust of Monsieur de Nueil, and she was
incapable of it. Moreover, he had taken a great
fancy to Valleroy, where he was setting out many



THE DESERTED MISTRESS 353

plantations, and opening a great deal of land to cul-
tivation. Would it not be to deprive him of a sort
of mechanical enjoyment which women always like
their husbands, and even their lovers, to have? A
certain Mademoiselle de la Rodiere, twenty-two
years old and with forty thousand francs a year,
had recently come to the province. Gaston met
this heiress at Manerville whenever his duties took
him thither. These characters being thus arranged
like the figures in an arithmetical proportion, the
following letter, written and handed to Gaston one
morning, will explain the terrible problem that Ma-
dame de Beauseant had been trying for a month
past to solve :

" My beloved angel, to write to you when we are living
heart to heart, when nothing separates us, when our caresses
so often take the place of words, and our words are also
caresses, seems a strange thing, does it not? But no, my
love. There are certain things a woman cannot say in her
lover's presence ; the mere thought of them takes away her
voice and sends all her blood back to her heart ; she is help-
less and senseless. To feel so by your side is painful to me ;
and I do often feel so. 1 feel that my heart should be all
truth to you, should conceal none of its thoughts from you,
even the most fleeting; and I love too much the pleasant
unconstraint that becomes me so well, to submit longer to
embarrassment and constraint. And so I am going to confide
my anguish to you; for it is anguish. Listen to me! don't
resort to the little Ta, ta, ta with which you impose silence
on me with an impertinence that I love, because everything
from you pleases me. Dear husband from Heaven, let me
say to you that you have effaced all memory of the sorrow
beneath whose weight my life was long ago on the point of
23



354 THE DESERTED MISTRESS

giving way. I have known love only through you. The
innocence of your noble youth, the purity of your great heart
were necessary to satisfy the exactions of an exacting
woman's heart. My darling, my heart has often throbbed
with joy at the thought that, during these nine years, years
so rapid and yet so long, my jealousy has never been aroused.
I have had all the flowers of your mind, all your thoughts.
There has not been the slightest cloud in our sky, we have
not known what a sacrifice was, we have always obeyed the
inspiration of our hearts. I have enjoyed a happiness that,
for a woman, knows no bounds. Do not the tears that
moisten this page tell the whole story of my gratitude ? I
would have liked to write it on my knees. Ah well ! this
felicity has caused me to suffer torture more frightful than
that of desertion. My dear, a woman's heart has very deep
recesses ; until to-day 1 was ignorant of the depth of mine as
1 was ignorant of the extent of my love. The greatest misery
that can overwhelm us is a trivial matter in comparison with
the mere idea of the unhappiness of the man we love. And
if we were to talk of that unhappiness, should we not die of
it? Such is the thought that oppresses me. But it draws in
its train another much more crushing ; it degrades the glory
of love, it puts it to death, it makes of it a humiliating thing
that casts a stain upon life forever. You are thirty and I am
forty. What terrors that difference in age inspires in a loving
woman ! You may have felt, at first involuntarily, then
seriously, the sacrifices you have made for me by renouncing
the world entirely for me. You have thought perhaps of
your social destiny, of a marriage which must necessarily
augment your fortune, permit you to avow your happiness
and your children, to transmit your name and estates, to
reappear in the world and to fill your place there with honor.
But you have repressed such thoughts, happy to sacrifice an
heiress, a fortune and a glorious future to me, without my
knowledge. In your youthful generosity, you have deter-
mined to remain faithful to the oaths which bind us together
only in God's sight. My past suffering has recurred to you,



THE DESERTED MISTRESS 355

and I have been protected by the misery from which you
rescued me. To owe your love to compassion ! that thought
is even more horrible to me than the fear of making your life
a failure. Those men who can make up their minds to plunge
a dagger in their mistresses' hearts are very charitable when
they kill them while they are still happy and unsuspecting,
and in all the glory of their illusion. Yes, death is preferable
to the two thoughts that have secretly cast a shadow over
my hours for some days past. Yesterday, when you asked
me so gently: Whai is the matter? your voice made me
shudder. I fancied that you were reading my heart as usual,
and 1 awaited your confidences, imagining that my presenti-
ments were realized, that I had rightly divined the arguments
of your reason. 1 thereupon remembered certain little atten-
tions which you are in the habit of paying me, but in which I
thought 1 could detect that sort of affectation with which men
show that their loyalty has become a grievous burden. At
that moment I paid very dearly for my happiness ; I felt that
nature always sells us the treasures of love. Indeed, has not
fate separated us? You will have said to yourself: ' Sooner
or later, I shall have to leave dear Claire ; why not part from
her in time?' That phrase was written in your glance. I
left you, to go and weep alone. To hide my tears from you !
they were the first tears grief had caused me to shed for ten
years, and I was too proud to show them to you ; but 1 did
not blame you. Yes, you are right, I must not be so selfish
as to make your long, brilliant life subordinate to mine, which
will soon be worn out. But suppose 1 made a mistake? Sup-
pose 1 took one of the melancholy fits of your love for an
effort of your reason ? Oh! my angel, do not leave me in
uncertainty ; punish your jealous wife, but restore to her the
certainty of her love and yours ; the whole existence of woman
is in that sentiment, which sanctifies everything. Since your
mother's arrival, and since you saw Mademoiselle de la
Rodiere at her house, I have been besieged with doubts which
dishonor us. Force me to suffer, but do not deceive me ; I
wish to know everything what your mother says and what



356 THE DESERTED MISTRESS

you think ! If you have hesitated between anybody else and
me, I give you back your liberty. I will hide my fate from
you ; I shall be able to refrain from weeping before you ; but
I do not want to see you again. Oh ! I must stop, for my
heart is breaking *

" For some moments I sat here dazed and stupid. My
darling, 1 can summon no pride to my assistance against you,
you are so frank, so good ! You could not wound me or
deceive me ; but you will tell me the truth, however cruel it
may be. Shall 1 encourage your confession ? Very well ;
my dear heart, I shall be comforted by a woman's reflection.
Shall I not have possessed you when you were young and
pure, all grace, all beauty, all refinement, a Gaston whom no
woman can ever know again, and whom I have enjoyed
beyond words? No, you will never love again as you have
loved me ; I shall never have a rival. My memories will be
devoid of bitterness when I think of our love, and I shall
think of nothing else. Is it not beyond your power to enchant
any woman hereafter with the childish cajolery, the youthful
playfulness of a young heart, with the graces of mind and
body and the swift appreciation of pleasure, in a word, by
the adorable cortege that follows in the train of youthful love?
Ah ! you are a man now, you will obey your destiny by con-
sidering the effect of whatever you do. You will have duties,
anxieties, ambitions, cares that will deprive her of the con-
stant, unchanging smile with which your lips were always
embellished for me. Your voice, always so soft to me, will
sometimes be cross. Your eyes, which always shone with a
divine light when they fell upon me, will often be clouded for
her. And then, as it is impossible to love you as I do, that
woman will never be as dear to you as I have been. She
will not devote the constant attention to her own appearance
that I have done, and will not make the continual study of
your happiness which has enabled me infallibly to divine
its needs. Yes, the man, the heart, the mind that I have
known, will no longer exist; I will bury them in my
memory, that I may still enjoy them, and live happy in the



THE DESERTED MISTRESS 357

lovely past, but a stranger to everything that does not con-
cern ourselves.

" But, my dearest treasure, if you have not conceived the
slightest thought of liberty, if my love is not a burden to you,
if my tears are chimerical, if I am still your EVE, the only
woman in the world for you, then, when you have read this
letter, come ! fly ! Ah ! I will love you in an instant more
than I have ever loved you, I think, during these nine years.
After undergoing the vain torture of these suspicions with
which I reproach myself, every day will add to our love yes,
a single day will be a whole lifetime of happiness. So,
speak ! be frank : do not deceive me, for it would be a crime.
Tell me ! do you want your liberty? Have you reflected upon
your life as a man? Have you one regret? I cause you one
regret ! I should die of it. I have said to you : I love you
enough to prefer your happiness to my own, your life to my
own. Lay aside, if you can, the rich memory of our nine
years of happiness, so that they may not influence your
decision ; but speak ! I submit my fate to you as to God,
the only comforter who remains to me if you desert me."

When Madame de Beauseant knew that the letter
was in Monsieur deNueil's hands, she fell into such
a state of prostration, her meditations were so be-
wildered on account of the superabundance of her
thoughts, that she was like one asleep. In very
truth, she suffered such agony as women alone
know, agony that has never been adjusted to
woman's powers of endurance. While the unhappy
marchioness was awaiting her fate, Monsieur de
Nueil was, upon reading her letter, very much em-
barrassed, to use the term employed by young men at
such crises. He had at that time almost yielded
to his mother's instigations and the attractions of



358 THE DESERTED MISTRESS

Mademoiselle de la Rodiere, a decidedly insignifi-
cant young person straight as a poplar, pink and
white, and half-dumb, according to the programme
prescribed for all marriageable maidens; but her
forty thousand francs a year in real estate spoke
sufficiently for her. Madame de Nueil, assisted by
her sincere maternal affection, sought to enlist her
son on the side of virtue. She called his attention
to the fact that it was most flattering to him to be
preferred by Mademoiselle de la Rodiere, when so
many rich partis were offered her; it was high time
to think of his future; such an excellent opportunity
would not occur again; some day he would have
eighty thousand a year in landed property; fortune
makes up for everything; if Madame de Beauseant
loved him for himself, she should be the first to urge
him to marry; in short, the fond mother forgot none
of the methods by which a woman can influence a
man's mind. And she had made her son waver.
Madame de Beauseant's letter arrived at a moment
when Gaston's love was struggling against all the
seductions of a life arranged in conformity with
worldly ideas and with due regard to propriety; but
that letter decided the battle. He resolved to leave
the marchioness and marry.

"One must live a man's life !" he said to himself.

Then he thought of the grief his resolution would
cause his mistress. His vanity as a man, as well
as his conscience as a lover, increased his idea of
what that grief would be, and he was seized with
sincere compassion. He suddenly became conscious



THE DESERTED MISTRESS 359

of the immensity of the disaster, and deemed it both
necessary and charitable to deaden the cruel wound.
He hoped to be able to bring Madame de Beauseant
to a tranquil frame of mind and to lead her to com-
mand him to enter into this marriage, by accus-
toming her gradually to the idea of a necessary
separation, by leaving Mademoiselle de la Rodiere
always between them as a phantom, and by sacrific-
ing her to the marchioness in the first place, only
to delude the marchioness into sacrificing herself
voluntarily later. He went so far, in order to suc-
ceed in this compassionate undertaking, as to rely
upon her nobility and pride and the grandeur of her
heart He answered her therefore, in order to put
her suspicions to sleep. Answered her ! To a
woman who combined with the intention of true
love the most delicate perception the human mind is
capable of, the letter was a death-sentence. And so,
when Jacques entered the room, when he walked
toward Madame de Beauseant to hand her a paper
folded triangularly, the poor woman started like a
swallow caught in a net. A strange shiver passed
over her from head to foot, enveloping her like an
icy shroud. If he did not rush to her feet, if he did
not come to her weeping, pale, loving, it was all
over. And yet hope is so buoyant in the hearts of
women who love; so many dagger-thrusts are re-
quired to destroy their hope, and they love and
bleed to the last

"Does madame require anything?" Jacques asked
softly as he withdrew.



360 THE DESERTED MISTRESS

"No," said she.

"Poor man!" she thought, wiping away a tear;
"he guesses my secret, he, a valet!"

She read : My beloved, you invent chimeras. As
she saw those words, a thick veil fell over the mar-
chioness's eyes. The secret voice of her heart
cried to her: "He lies!" Then her glance em-
braced the whole first page with the species of lucid
avidity that passion imparts, and she read at the
bottom these words : Nothing is decided. Turning the
page with convulsive eagerness, she saw distinctly
the sentiment that had dictated the involved phrases
of the letter, in which she no longer recognized
the impetuous outbursts of love; she crumpled it,
twisted it, tore it, bit at it, threw it into the fire,
and cried:

"Oh! the villain! he has possessed me since he
ceased to love me!"

And, half-dead, she fell upon a couch.

Monsieur de Nueil went out after writing his
letter. When he returned, he found Jacques in the
doorway, and Jacques handed him a letter saying:

"Madame la Marquise is no longer at the chateau. "

Monsieur de Nueil, in great surprise, broke the
seal and read :

" Madame, confess that if I should cease to love you and
should accept the prospects you put before me of being a man
like other men, I should deserve my fate. No, I will not obey
you, and I swear to be faithful to you until death dissolves
my oath. Oh ! take my life, unless indeed you fear to give
yourself cause for remorse."



THE DESERTED MISTRESS 361

It was the note he had written the marchioness
when she was setting out for Geneva. Claire de
Bourgogne had added these words: Monsieur, you
are free.

Monsieur de Nueil returned to his mother at Ma-
nerville. Three weeks later, he married Mademoi-
selle Stephanie de la Rodiere.

If this narrative of a commonplace truth should
end at this point, it would be almost a mystifica-
tion. Have not almost all men a more interesting
story to tell themselves ? But the noise made by
the denoumenl, unhappily true, and such memories
as it may awaken in the hearts of those who have
known the divine joys of a boundless passion, and
have shattered it themselves or lost it through some
cruel fatality, will perhaps place this tale beyond
the reach of criticism.

Madame la Marquise de Beauseant did not leave
her chateau of Valleroy at the time of her separation
from Monsieur de Nueil. For a multitude of reasons
which we must leave buried in women's hearts
moreover, every woman will divine those that seem
convincing to her Claire continued to live there
after Monsieur de Nueil's marriage. She lived in
such complete retirement, that her own servants
her maid and Jacques alone excepted never saw
her. She exacted absolute silence in her house and
never left her apartments except to go to the chapel
at Valleroy, where a priest from the neighborhood
said mass every morning.

Some days after his marriage, the Comte de Nueil



362 THE DESERTED MISTRESS

fell into a sort of conjugal apathy, which might
imply happiness as well as unhappiness.

His mother said to everybody:

"My son is perfectly happy."

Madame Gaston de Nueil, like many young
wives, was a little dull, meek and patient; she be-
came enceinte after they had been married a month.
All this was quite in conformity with the accepted
ideas. Monsieur de Nueil was very kind to her;
but, two months after leaving the marchioness, he
became very thoughtful and absent-minded. But he
had always been serious, his mother said.

After seven months of this lukewarm felicity, cer-
tain events happened, apparently of slight impor-
tance, which denoted, however, such momentous
mental developments and such vast upheavals of the
heart, that they should not be set down without
explanation and left to the capricious interpretation
of each individual mind. One day, when Monsieur
de Nueil had been hunting upon the estates of Ma-
nerville and Valleroy, he returned through Madame
de Beauseant's park, sent for Jacques and waited
until he came, when he asked :

"Is the marchioness still fond of game?"

Upon receiving an affirmative reply from Jacques,
Gaston offered him a considerable sum, accompanied
with very specious arguments, to obtain from him
the trifling favor of setting aside for the marchion-
ess the contents of his game bag. It seemed to
Jacques of small importance whether his mistress
ate a partridge killed by her keepers or by Monsieur



THE DESERTED MISTRESS 363

de Nueil, as that gentleman did not desire the mar-
chioness to know where the game came from.

"It was killed on her land," said the count.

Jacques assisted in this harmless deception for
several days. Monsieur de Nueil would go out
hunting in the morning, and not return until dinner,
but he had never shot anything. A whole week
passed in this way. Gaston made bold to write a
long letter to the marchioness and to make sure that
it reached her. The letter was returned to him
unopened. It was almost dark when the marchion-
ess's valet brought it to him. The count rushed


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 21 of 22)