Honoré de Balzac.

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

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"Adieu, my dear," he said, kissing his wife, who
followed him out to the carriage.

"Oh! Victor, let me go farther than this with
you," she said in a coaxing tone, "I don't want to
leave you."

"Can you think of such a thing?"

"Well, then, adieu," said Julie, "if you will
have it so."

The carriage disappeared.

"So you love my poor Victor very dearly, do
you?" queried the marchioness, questioning her
niece with one of the knowing looks old ladies
sometimes bestow upon their juniors.

"Alas! madame," Julie replied, "must one not
love a man dearly to marry him?"

This last sentence was uttered with an ingenu-
ousness of tone and manner that instantly betrayed
either a pure heart or a heart capable of profound
dissimulation. Now it was very hard for a woman
who had been the friend of Duclos and the Marechal
de Richelieu not to seek to guess the secret of this
young couple. The aunt and niece were at that
moment on the threshold of the porte-cochere,
watching the departing caleche. The countess's
eyes did not express love as the marchioness under-
stood it The good lady was a Provencal and her
passions had been of the perfervid kind.

"So you have allowed yourself to be taken in
by my good-for-nothing nephew, have you?" she

The countess started involuntarily, for the old
coquette's accent and expression seemed to indicate
that her knowledge of Victor's character was per-
haps more extensive than her own. Ill at ease, she
enveloped herself in the awkward dissimulation
which is the first refuge of innocent and suffering


hearts. Madame de Listomere was content with
such replies as Julie chose to give her, but she
thought, gleefully, that her solitude was to be en-
livened by some love secret, for her niece seemed
to her to act as if she had some entertaining intrigue
on foot. When Madame d'Aiglemont found herself
in a large salon hung with tapestry surrounded by
gilt mouldings, when she was seated in front of a
roaring fire, sheltered from the window draughts
by a Chinese screen, she tried in vain to banish
her melancholy humor. It was a difficult matter for
cheerfulness to flourish under such venerable hang-
ings, surrounded by furniture hoary with age.
Nevertheless, the young Parisian experienced a sort
of pleasure in the profound solitude, in the solemn
silence of the province. After exchanging a few
words with this aunt to whom she had but lately
written as a bride, she was as dumb as if she had
been listening to the music of an opera. Not till
after two hours of silence worthy of La Trappe, did
she realize her discourtesy to her aunt and remember
that she had done nothing more than reply coldly to
her questions. The old lady had respected her
niece's whim with the instinctive grace character-
istic of the survivors of the olden time. The
dowager was knitting. She had, indeed, left the
room several times to look after the arrangement of
a certain green room which the countess was to
occupy, and where the servants were bestowing her
luggage; but she had returned to her place in a
capacious easy-chair and cast furtive glances at the


younger woman. Ashamed of having yielded to her
irresistible inclination to muse, Julie tried to obtain
forgiveness by making sport of herself.

"My dear love, we know how widows suffer,"
the aunt replied.

One must be forty years old to appreciate the
ironical expression that played about the old lady's

The next day the countess was much better ; she
talked. Madame de Listomere no longer despaired
of taming this bride of a day, whom she had at first
judged to be a stupid, savage creature; she talked
to her about the pleasures of the country, about the
balls they could attend and the houses at which they
could visit All the marchioness's questions during
that day were so many snares, which, by force of
habit acquired long before at court, she could not
refrain from setting for her niece, to assist in
fathoming her character. Julie resisted all the
solicitations addressed to her for some days to go
abroad in search of amusement. And so, notwith-
standing the old lady's longing to put her pretty
niece on exhibition, she finally abandoned her pur-
pose of taking her into society. The countess had
found a pretext for her sadness and her desire for
solitude in the death of her father, for whom she
was still in mourning. A week passed and the
dowager had come to admire Julie's angelic sweet-
ness, her charming modesty, her indulgent disposi-
tion, and thenceforth interested herself prodigiously
in the mysterious melancholy which was gnawing


at that young heart. The countess was one of the
women who are born to be loved and who seem to
bring happiness in their train. Her company be-
came so pleasant and so invaluable to Madame de
Listomerethat she lost her heart to her and insisted
that she should never leave her. A month sufficed
to cement an everlasting friendship between them.
The old lady noticed, not without surprise, the
changes that took place in Madame d'Aiglemont's
countenance. The vivid coloring that set her cheeks
aflame faded insensibly away, and her face became
pallid and lustreless. As she lost her first bloom,
Julie became less sad. Sometimes the dowager
stirred her young kinswoman to outbursts of gayety
and mad laughter, soon repressed by an unwelcome
thought. She ,felt sure that neither her father's
memory nor Victor's absence was the cause of the
profound melancholy that cast a shadow over her
niece's life and upon that she had so many unchar-
itable suspicions that it was hard for her to decide
upon the real cause of the trouble, for we may say
that we fall in with the truth only by chance. But
one day Julie dazzled the eyes of her astonished
aunt by manifesting utter disregard of her marriage,
by displaying the reckless humor of a giddy girl,
together with an innocence of mind, a childish
simplicity worthy of primitive times and the per-
fection of the refined wit, sometimes so profound,
characteristic of the young women of France. Ma-
dame de Listomere thereupon resolved to sound the
mysterious depths of this mind, whose extreme


ingenuousness was equivalent to the most inscrut-
able dissimulation. Night was coming on and the
two ladies were sitting at a window looking on the
street; Julie had resumed her pensive manner; a
man rode by on horseback.

"There's one of your victims," said the old lady.

Madame d'Aiglemont looked up at her aunt with
an expression of mingled amazement and disquiet.

"He's a young Englishman, of noble birth, the
Honorable Arthur Ormond, eldest son of Lord
Grenville. His is an interesting story. He came
to Montpellier in 1802, hoping that the air of that
province, to which he had been advised to goby his
physicians, would cure him of a lung disease which
would otherwise be fatal. Like all his compatriots,
he was arrested by Bonaparte when the war broke
out, for that monster can't do without war. For
amusement, the young Englishman began to study
his disease, which was supposed to be mortal. In-
sensibly he contracted a taste for anatomy and
medicine generally; he became passionately fond of
the whole science, an extraordinary thing in a
man of quality; but the Regent dabbled in chemis-
try! In short, Monsieur Arthur made wonderful
progress, even in the estimation of the profession in
Montpellier; study consoled him in his captivity,
and at the same time he became completely cured.
They say he went two whole years without speak-
ing, breathing but seldom, lying all the time in a
stable, and living on the milk of a cow brought from
Switzerland and fresh water cresses. Since he has


been at Tours he hasn't called on anyone, he's as
proud as a peacock; but you have certainly made a
conquest of him, for it isn't on my account probably
that he has been passing under our windows twice a
day since you have been here. He certainly is in
love with you."

These words aroused the countess as if by magic.
She allowed a gesture to escape her and a smile that
greatly amazed the marchioness. Far from mani-
festing the instinctive 'satisfaction felt by the most
uncompromising of women when she learns that she
is making a man wretched, Julie's glance was cold
and listless. Her features indicated a feeling of re-
pulsion closely akin to horror. It was not the pro-
scription decreed by a loving woman against the
whole world for the benefit of a single being; no,
Julie was at that moment like a person in whose
mind the memory of a danger still too vividly before
her, keeps alive the suffering it caused. The aunt,
thoroughly convinced as she was that her niece did
not love her nephew, was dumfounded to discover
that she loved no one. She trembled at the thought
of finding that Julie's heart was disenchanted, that
the experience of a single day, of a single night per-
haps, had sufficed to show her Victor's absolute

"If she knows him, it's all over," she thought,
"and my nephew will soon have to undergo the in-
conveniences of married life."

She thereupon determined to convert Julie to the
monarchical doctrines of the age of Louis XV. ; but a


few hours later she learned, or guessed the condition
of affairs by no means an unusual condition to
which the countess's melancholy humor was due.
Julie, who had suddenly become thoughtful, went
to her room earlier than usual. When her maid had
undressed her and had left her all prepared for bed,
she continued to sit before the fire, buried in the
depths of a yellow velvet duchesse, an old-fashioned
couch as comfortable for the afflicted as for happier
folk; she wept, she sighed, she mused; then she
drew up a small table, found some paper and began
to write. The hours flew swiftly by ; the secrets
Julie was confiding to the paper seemed to cost her
dear, for every sentence was preceded by a long fit
of musing; suddenly she burst into tears and
stopped. At that moment, the clocks struck two.
Her head, as heavy as that of a dying person, fell
forward on her breast, and when she raised it again,
she saw her aunt standing before her as if one of
the figures had come forth from the tapestry with
which the walls were hung.

"What in the world is the matter with you, my
darling?" said her aunt. "Why do you sit up so
late and above all things, why are you weeping
here all alone, at your age?"

She sat down beside Julie without further cere-
mony, and devoured with her eyes the letter she
had begun.

"Were you writing to your husband?"

"Have I any means of knowing where he is?"
the countess replied


The aunt took up the letter and read it. She had
brought her spectacles, so there was premeditation.
The innocent creature allowed her to take the letter
without the least remonstrance. It was neither a lack
of dignity nor any secret consciousness of guilt,
which thus deprived her of all her energy; no, her
aunt happened upon her at one of those critical
moments when the mind is inert, indifferent to
everything, good and evil, silence and confidence
alike. Like a virtuous maiden who pours out the
vials of her scorn upon a lover, but, when evening
comes, is so depressed and feels so deserted that she
longs for him, and seeks a heart to which to confide
her suffering, Julie, without a word, allowed the
seal that delicacy affixes to an open letter to be vio-
lated, and sat pensively by while her aunt read:


"Why so persistently demand the fulfilment of the most
imprudent promise two ignorant girls can make each other?
You often wonder, you write me, why I haven't answered
your questions for six months past. If you have failed to
understand my silence, perhaps you will guess at the explana-
tion of it to-day, upon learning the mysteries 1 am about to
reveal to you. I should have kept them buried forever in the
deepest recesses of my heart, had you not told me of your
approaching marriage. You are about to marry, Louisa.
The thought makes me shudder. Poor dear love, marry ; and
then, a few months hence, one of your bitterest regrets will
arise from the memory of what we were so short a time ago,
when we sat one evening at Ecouen, under the tallest oaks on
the mountain, and gazed down upon the lovely valley at our
feet and went into ecstasies over the rays of the setting sun,
which enveloped us in a flood of light. We were sitting


upon a fragment of rock and fell into a sort of trance, to
which the sweetest melancholy succeeded. You were the
first to fancy that the distant sun spoke to us of the future.
We were very inquisitive and giddy in those days. Do you
remember all our mad pranks? We embraced like lovers, we
said. We swore that the one who should first be married
would tell the other all the secrets of wedded life, the joys
which our childish hearts pictured as so entrancing. The
memory of that evening will drive you to despair, Louisa.
In those days you were young and fair and thoughtless, if
not happy; a husband will make you, in a few days, what I
already am, ugly, miserable and old. To tell you how
proud I was, how vain and glad, to marry Colonel Victor
d'Aiglemont, would be downright madness ! Indeed, how
could I tell you? I can hardly remember myself. In a few
moments my girlhood became like a dream to me. My
demeanor during the solemn day which gave divine sanction
to a bond, whose full meaning was hidden from me, was not
free from blame. My father over and over again tried to
repress my high spirits, for I manifested my delight to an
extent that was deemed unseemly, and my words seemed
mischievous simply because there was nothing mischievous
about them. I played a thousand childish tricks with my
wedding veil and my gown and flowers. When I was left
alone, at night, in the room to which I had been taken with
great pomp, I tried to devise some roguery to puzzle Victor;
and, while I was waiting for him to come, my heart beat as
it used to do on the awe-inspiring 3ist of December, when
I would steal, unperceived, into the salon where the New
Year's gifts were piled up. When my husband came in and
began to look for me, the stifled laughter that escaped me
behind the muslin curtains was the last manifestation of
the sweet, girlish gayety that enlivened our youthful pleas-
ures "

When the dowager had finished reading what was
written of this letter, which, after such a beginning,


might be expected to contain some very melancholy
reflections, she slowly took off her spectacles and
laid them on the table, placed the letter beside them,
and gazed at Julie with a pair of bright eyes, whose
light was not yet dimmed by age.

"My love," said she, "a married woman cannot
write thus to an unmarried friend without offending
against the proprieties "

"That's what I thought," Julie interrupted, "and
I was ashamed while you were reading "

"If something that is offered us at table doesn't
suit our taste, my child," continued the old lady
good-humoredly, "we mustn't try to make others
turn up their noses at it; especially as marriage has
seemed such an excellent thing, from Eve's days to
our own. You have no mother?"

The countess started, then raised her head slowly,
and said:

"I have had reason to long for my mother more
than once this last year ; but I did wrong not to heed
my father's objections; he didn't desire Victor for a

She glanced at her aunt, and a thrill of joy dried
her cheeks when she saw the kindly expression on
that venerable face. She held out her slender, girlish
hand to the marchioness, who seemed to solicit it;
and when their fingers met, a complete understand-
ing was established between the two women.

"Poor orphan!" exclaimed the aunt.

The word was like a ray of light to Julie. She
seemed still to hear her father's prophetic voice.


"Your hands are burning! Are they always so?"
the old lady asked.

"I haven't been without this fever for seven or
eight days," she replied.

"You have been suffering with fever and have
concealed it from me!"

"I have had it a year," said Julie, with a sort of
shamefaced anxiety.

"And so, my dearest angel," continued her aunt,
"marriage thus far has been nothing but one long
affliction to you?"

The younger woman dared not reply, but she
made an affirmative gesture which betrayed her

"You are unhappy?"

"Oh! no, dear aunt, Victor loves me idolatrously,
and I worship him, he is so good!"

"Yes, you love him; but you avoid him, don't

"Yes sometimes. He seeks me too often."

"Aren't you often troubled, when you are alone,
by the fear that he will come and take you by sur-

"Alas! yes, dear aunt But I love him dearly
I promise you."

"Do you not even blame yourself in secret be-
cause you cannot share his enjoyment? Does it
not sometimes occur to you that legitimate love is
harder to bear than an illicit passion would be?"

"Ah! that is just it," she said, weeping. "And
you understand everything, where it is all an



enigma to me. My mind is benumbed, I haven't an
idea in my head, indeed I find it hard to see. My
heart is oppressed by an indescribable apprehension
that freezes my emotions and casts me into a con-
stant stupor. I have no voice to complain, no words
to express my anguish. I suffer, and I am ashamed
to suffer when I see that Victor is made happy by
what is killing me."

"This is all nonsense, child's play!" cried the
aunt, her withered face suddenly lighted up by a
bright smile, the reflection of the enjoyments of her
younger days.

"And you laugh with the rest!" exclaimed the
young woman despairingly.

"I have been through the same experience," re-
plied the marchioness without hesitation. "Now
that Victor has left you alone, aren't you a young
girl again, calm, without pleasure it is true, but also
without suffering?"

Julie gazed at her in open-eyed bewilderment.

"In a word, my angel, you adore Victor, eh? but
you would rather be his sister than his wife, and
marriage hasn't been a success with you?"

"Well, yes, aunt that is true. But why smile?"

"You are right, my poor child. There's nothing
very amusing in all this. Your future would have
more than one disaster in store for you, if I didn't
take you under my protection, and if I, with my
long experience, were not able to guess the innocent
cause of your disappointment. My nephew didn't
deserve his good luck, the idiot! In the reign of


Louis XV., the Well-Beloved, a young woman who
found herself in a position you are in would soon
have punished her husband for acting like a moss-
trooper. The selfish brute ! That imperial tyrant's
soldiers are all ignorant wretches. They take
brutality for gallantry, and they know no more
about women than they know about loving; they
think that they are relieved of the duty of showing
us any consideration or attention because they may
be going out to be killed the next day. In the old
days military men knew how to love as well as how
to die when the time came. I will put him in shape
for you, my niece, I will put an end to the lament-
able disunion natural enough which will eventu-
ally bring you to hate each other and to long for
divorce, unless you die of it before you are driven
to despair."

Julie listened to her aunt with no less amazement
than stupefaction, surprised to hear words whose
wisdom was felt rather than understood by her and
almost terrified to hear from the mouth of a kins-
woman of wide experience the same judgment,
albeit in a somewhat milder form, that her father
had passed upon Victor. It may be that she had an
intuition of what her future was to be, and felt in
anticipation the weight of the misfortunes that were
destined to overwhelm her, for she burst into tears
and threw herself into the old lady's arms, crying:

"Be my mother!"

The aunt did not weep, for the Revolution left
but few tears in the eyes of the women of the old


monarchy. Love in the old days, and, later, the
Terror have familiarized them with the most pain-
ful ups and downs of fortune, so that amid the perils
of life, they preserve a cold dignity, a sincere, but
unexpansive affection, which enables them to re-
main faithful to the etiquette of the old court and to
the nobility of bearing which the new regime has
been so ill-advised as to cast off. The dowager took
the young woman in her arms, and kissed her on
the forehead with an affectionate grace which is
found in the manners and customs of such women
more frequently than in their hearts; she cajoled
her with soft words, promised her a happy future,
and soothed her with promises of love to come, as-
sisting her to undress as if she had been her daugh-
ter, a dearly-loved daughter whose hopes and griefs
were her own ; she seemed to see herself, young once
more, and inexperienced and attractive, in the per-
son of her niece. The countess fell asleep, happy
in the thought that she had found a friend, a
mother, to whom thenceforth she could tell every-

The next morning, as the aunt and niece were
exchanging kisses with the heartfelt cordiality and
air of mutual understanding which prove a step for-
ward in affection, a more perfect cohesion between
two hearts, they heard the sound of a horse's hoofs
in the street, turned their heads at the same
moment, and saw the young Englishman riding
slowly by, as his custom was. He seemed to have
made a study of the life led by these two lone


women, and never failed to make his appearance
when they were at breakfast or dinner. His horse
slackened his pace without being told to do so, and
during the time required to pass the space between
the two windows of the dining-room, Arthur would
cast a melancholy glance within, which was for the
most part disdained by the countess, who paid no
heed whatever to it. But the marchioness, long
since inoculated with the prying curiosity touching
the most trivial things that help to give zest to life
in the provinces, and which superior minds find it
difficult to escape altogether, was much diverted by
the shy but serious passion tacitly manifested by
the Englishman. His periodic glances had become a
part of the daily routine to her, and every day she
had some new jest to make concerning the passing
of Arthur. As they took their seats, the two women
looked simultaneously at the islander. Julie's eyes
and Arthur's met so squarely on this occasion that
the young woman blushed. The Englishman im-
mediately put spurs to his horse and galloped away.

"What are we to do, madame?" said Julie to her
aunt. "People who see that Englishman pass ought
to know that I am "

"Yes?" the marchioness interrupted.

"Well, couldn't I tell him not to ride by here as
he does?"

"Wouldn't that be likely to make him think that
he is dangerous ? And then can you prevent a man
from going and coming where he sees fit? To-mor-
row we won't have our meals in this room; when


he sees that we are not here the young gentleman
will discontinue loving you through the window.
That, my dear child, is the way a woman acts, who
knows the ways of the world."

But Julie's cup of woe was to be filled to over-
flowing. The two ladies had hardly left the table
when Victor's valet de chambre made his appear-
ance. He had come from Bourges at full speed, by
the shortest route, and brought the countess a letter
from her husband. Victor, who had left the Em-
peror, wrote to inform his wife of the fall of the
Empire, the capture of Paris, and the enthusiasm
for the Bourbons that was breaking out in every
part of France ; but as he did not know how to make
his way safely to Tours, he begged her to come in
all haste to Orleans, where he hoped to be waiting
for her with passports. The valet, an old soldier,
was to accompany Julie from Tours to Orleans, as
Victor believed the road between those places to be
still open.

"You haven't a moment to lose, madame, " said
the man; "the Prussians, Austrians and English are
to make their junction either at Blois or Orleans "

The young woman was ready in a few hours, and
left Tours in an old traveling carriage loaned her by
her aunt.

"Why don't you come to Paris with us?" she
said to the marchioness as she embraced her. ' ' Now
that the Bourbons are in power once more, you will
find there "

"Even without this unhoped-for overturn, I should

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 3 of 22)