Honoré de Balzac.

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

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have gone to Paris, my poor girl, for my advice is
too necessary to you and Victor, both of you. So I
will make all my arrangements to join you there."
Julie set out with her maid, accompanied by the
old soldier, who galloped beside the carriage, looking
after his mistress's well-being. Toward night, as
they reached a relay station outside of Blois, Julie,
who was somewhat uneasy on the subject of a car-
riage whose wheels she had heard close behind her
own ever since leaving Amboise, stationed herself
at the door to see who her fellow-travelers might
be. By the light of the moon she could distinguish
Arthur, standing within three paces of her, with
his eyes fastened upon her carriage. Their glances
met The countess hastily drew back with a thrill
of fear that made her heart beat fast Like most
young women who are really innocent and inex-
perienced, she looked upon it as a crime to have
inspired a passion in a man's heart She felt an
instinctive terror, caused perhaps by the conscious-
ness of her inability to withstand such an audacious
aggression. One of man's strongest weapons is this
terrible power of compelling the attention of a
woman whose naturally vivid imagination is
alarmed or offended by pursuit. The countess re-
membered her aunt's advice and resolved to remain
in her carriage throughout the journey and not to
leave it on any pretext. But, at every relay, she
heard the Englishman walking about the carriages;
and, upon the road, the incessant rumbling of his
vehicle resounded constantly in her ears. It soon


occurred to the young woman that when she was
with Victor once more, he would know how to defend
her against this extraordinary persecution.

"But suppose this young fellow is not in love
with me, after all ?"

This was the last of all her reflections. Upon
reaching Orleans, her carriage was stopped by the
Prussians, taken to the courtyard of an inn, and
guarded by soldiers. Resistance was out of the
question. The foreigners explained to the three
travelers by imperious signs, that their orders were
to allow no one to leave the carriage. For about
two hours the countess was held a prisoner in the
midst of a number of soldiers, who smoked and joked
and sometimes stared at her with impertinent curi-
osity; but at last she saw them stand aside with
demonstrations of respect, as several horses galloped
up. Soon a party of foreign officers of high rank,
headed by an Austrian general, surrounded the car-

"Madame," said the general, "accept our apolo-
gies; there has been a mistake, you may continue
your journey without apprehension, and here is a
passport which will spare you all annoyance hence-

The countess took the paper with trembling
hand, and uttered a few vague words in a faltering
voice. Standing beside the general, in the uniform
of an English officer, she saw Arthur, to whom,
without doubt, she owed her speedy deliverance.
The young Englishman turned away his face, which


wore an expression of joy mingled with sadness, and
dared not look at Julie except by stealth.

Thanks to the passport, Madame d'Aiglemont
reached Paris without accident She there found
her husband, who, being released from his oath of
fealty to the Emperor, had received a most flattering
welcome from the Comte d'Artois, appointed Lieu-
tenant-General of the kingdom by his brother, Louis
XVIII. Victor held an eminent position in the
Gardes du Corps, which gave him the rank of gen-
eral. But, amid the rejoicing attending the return
of the Bourbons, a very serious disaster which in-
fluenced her whole life, befell poor Julie; she lost
the Marquise de Listomere-Landon. The old lady
died of joy and of an attack of gout of the heart,
when she saw the Due d'Angouleme at Tours.
Thus, the person whose age gave her the right to
speak freely to Victor, the only person who, by
cleverly worded advice, could bring about perfect
concord between husband and wife, was dead.
Julie realized the full extent of her loss. There was
nobody now but herself betwixt herself and her
husband. But, young and timid as she was, she
preferred at first to suffer rather than to complain.
The very perfection of her character prevented her
from neglecting her duty or from trying to fathom
the cause of her suffering; to put an end to it would
have been too delicate an undertaking: Julie would
have been afraid of shocking her maidenly modesty.

A word as to Monsieur d'Aiglemont's career under
the Restoration.

Are there not many men whose utter nullity is a
secret to most of their acquaintances? High rank,
illustrious birth, important functions to perform, a
certain polish of courtesy, a reserved demeanor, the
prestige that attends great wealth, are to them like
bodyguards that prevent critics from prying into
their inmost lives. Such people resemble kings,
whose real stature and character and morals can
never be well understood or properly estimated be-
cause they are seen too far away or too close at
hand. Credited with qualities they do not possess,
such people ask questions instead of talking, and
have the knack of placing others on the stage in
order to avoid the necessity of posing before them;
and then, with happy tact, they pull everyone by
the string of his passions or his selfish interests,
and thus play with men who are really their supe-
riors, make marionettes of them, and fancy they are
small like themselves because they have pulled
them down to their own level. They thereupon
achieve the natural triumph of a trivial, but per-
sistent idea over great, but unstable ideas. And so,
in order to pass judgment upon these empty heads
and estimate their negative value, the observer
should possess a subtle rather than a superior mind,


patience rather than great breadth of view, and
adroitness and tact rather than loftiness and grand-
eur of thought. And yet, however skilful these
usurpers may be in keeping their weaknesses hid-
den from sight, it is very hard for them to deceive
their wives, their mothers, their children, or the
friend of the family; but such persons almost
always keep their own counsel touching a matter
that concerns, in some sense, the family honor, and
very often assist them to impose upon society. If,
thanks to such domestic conspiracies, many fools
pass for superior men, they make up for the number
of superior men who pass for fools, so that the social
hierarchy has always the same proportion of appa-
rent talents.

Now, consider the part a woman of intelligence
has to play in presence of a husband of this sort;
can you not imagine lives filled to overflowing with
sorrow and self-sacrifice, for which nothing to be
obtained here on earth can recompense certain hearts
overcharged with love and delicacy of feeling? Let
a woman be placed in this horrible position and she
extricates herself from it by a crime, as Catherine
II. did, who is called Catherine the Great none the
less. But, as all women do not sit upon thrones,
they submit, as a rule, to domestic catastrophes
which are none the less terrible because they are
unknown. Those who seek instant consolation for
their ills on earth often simply change the form of
their suffering when they seek to remain faithful to
their duties, or commit grievous errors if they violate


the law for the benefit of their pleasures. These
reflections are all applicable to Julie's secret history.
While Napoleon remained at the head of affairs,
Comte d'Aiglemont, a colonel, like many others, a
good orderly officer and an excellent man for a dan-
gerous mission, but incapable of any independent
command of importance, aroused nobody's envy,
was looked upon as one of the gallant soldiers whom
the Emperor particularly affected, and was what is
called in military parlance a good fellow. The
Restoration, which restored his title of marquis,
did not find him ungrateful : he followed the Bour-
bons to Ghent This logical act of fidelity gave the
lie to the horoscope his prospective father-in-law
drew for him when he said that he would always be
a colonel. After the second return of the Bourbons,
Monsieur d'Aiglemont, appointed lieutenant-general
and re-created a marquis, was fired with ambition to
be made a peer; he adopted the opinions and the
policy of the Conservateur, wrapped himself in a
dissimulation which concealed nothing, became
grave, asked many questions, talked but little, and
was deemed a profound thinker. Taking refuge
constantly in the forms of politeness, fortified with
formulas, storing away in his memory and making
lavish use of the set phrases which are coined with
great regularity in Paris to give fools the meaning
of great ideas and great deeds in small change, he
was esteemed by society at large a man of taste
and learning. Obstinate in his aristocratic opin-
ions, he was cited as the possessor of an estimable


character. If, by chance, he manifested some trace
of his former thoughtlessness and gayety, the insig-
nificance of his meaningless words was supposed by
others to cover much unexpressed meaning.

"Oh! he says only what he chooses to say!"
was the thought of many very worthy people.

He was as well served by his good qualities as by
his defects. His gallantry procured him an excel-
lent military reputation which there was nothing to
depreciate, because he had never commanded in
chief. His manly, noble features expressed
breadth of intellect, and his face was an imposture
to none but his wife. When he heard everybody
praising his supposititious talents, the Marquis
d'Aiglemont was eventually persuaded that he was
one of the most noteworthy men at court, where,
thanks to his exterior, he made himself agreeable,
and where his various qualities were accepted with-
out protest

Nevertheless, Monsieur d'Aiglemont bore himself
modestly in his own house; he had an instinctive
consciousness of his wife's superiority, young as
she was; and of his involuntary respect for her was
born an occult power which the marchioness was
compelled to accept, notwithstanding her persistent
efforts to put the burden aside. As her husband's ad-
viser, she guided his actions and directed his fortune.
This unnatural influence was a sort of humiliation
to her, and the source of many sorrows which she
buried in her heart In the first place, her subtle
feminine instinct told her that it is much more


glorious to obey a man of talent than to lead a sot,
and that a young wife, obliged to think and act as a
man, is neither man nor woman, that she abdicates
all the charms of her sex while avoiding none of its
woes, and acquires none of the privileges our laws
bestow upon the stronger sex. Her existence con-
cealed a bitter mockery. Was she not obliged to do
honor to a hollow idol, to protect her protector, a
poor creature who tossed her the selfish love of a
husband as the wages of her unremitting devotion,
who saw in her only the wife, who did not deign or
did not know how and one was as deep an insult
as the other to take thought for her enjoyment, or
to seek the reason of her melancholy and of the
fading of her charms? Like most husbands who
feel the yoke of a superior mind, the marquis saved
his self-esteem by reasoning from Julie's physical
weakness that she was morally weak, and amused
himself by pitying her, calling fate to account for
having given him a sickly girl for his wife. In
short, he posed as the victim, whereas he was the
executioner. The marchioness, burdened with all
the misery of this deplorable existence, must con-
tinue to smile upon her imbecile master, to bedeck
a house of mourning with flowers, and to wear a
mask of happiness upon a face made pale by secret
torment. This responsibility for the family honor,
this magnificent self-abnegation, insensibly im-
parted to the young wife a womanly dignity, a con-
sciousness of virtue, which served as a safeguard
against the perils of the world. Furthermore to


probe this heart to the bottom it may be that the
private, hidden sorrow by which her first, her in-
nocent girlish love was crushed, caused her to con-
ceive a horror of all passion; perhaps she had no
conception of the emotion, the illicit but delirious
bliss that makes some women forget the laws of
wisdom, the principles of virtue upon which society
rests. Renouncing, as an empty dream, the sweet
delights, the loving harmony which Madame de
Listomere-Landon, in the light of her long experi-
ence, had promised her, she awaited with resigna-
tion the end of her misery, hoping to die young.
Since her return from Touraine, her health had failed
every day, and life seemed measured by suffering;
refined suffering, be it understood, an illness that
was almost a luxury so far as appearances went, and
that superficial people might look upon as the whim
of a coquette. The doctors had condemned the
marchioness to spend her time lying on a divan,
where she pined away amid the flowers that sur-
rounded her, fading like them. Her weakness
made it impossible for her to walk in the air; she
never went out except in a closed carriage. Always
encompassed by all the marvelous creations of our
modern ideas of luxury, she resembled an indolent
queen rather than an invalid. Some few friends, in
love perhaps with her unhappiness and her weak-
ness, sure of finding her always at home, and spec-
ulating doubtless upon the possibility of her future
restoration to health, came to bring her the news of
the day and to tell her of the thousand and one


trivial occurrences that give so much variety to life
in Paris. Her melancholy, although deep-seated
and serious, was therefore the melancholy of opu-
lence. The Marquise d'Aiglemont resembled a
lovely flower whose root is gnawed by a black in-
sect She went occasionally into society, not from
inclination, but in obedience to the demands of the
position to which her husband aspired. Her voice
and the perfection of her style of singing might en-
able her to reap a harvest of such applause as
almost always flatters a young woman; but what
cared she for triumphs that had no connection with
her feelings or her hopes? Her husband did not
like music. In short, she was almost always in-
tensely bored in the fashionable salons, where her
beauty attracted selfish tributes. Her position
aroused a sort of cruel compassion, a pitying curi-
osity. She was afflicted with a species of inflam-
mation, not uncommonly fatal, which women
whisper about among themselves, and for which
our neology has not as yet succeeded in inventing a
name. Notwithstanding the silence in which her
life was passed, the cause of her suffering was a
secret to nobody. Still a modest young girl,
although married, the least obtrusive glance made
her ashamed. And so, to avoid having to blush,
she was always laughing and gay, whenever she
appeared in society; she affected a cheerfulness she
did not feel, always said that she was well, or fore-
stalled questions concerning her health by mild


In 1817, however, something happened that con-
tributed materially to modify the lamentable state
in which Julie had previously existed. She had a
daughter and insisted upon nursing it. For two
years, the keen interest and anxious pleasure re-
sulting from the cares of motherhood made her life
less wretched.

She necessarily lived apart from her husband.
The doctors predicted that her health would be im-
proved; but the marchioness placed no faith in
their hypothetical diagnosis. Perhaps, like all
those for whom life has ceased to have any charm,
she looked forward to death as a happy ending.

At the beginning of the year 1819, her life was
harder to bear than ever. Just when she was con-
gratulating herself upon the negative happiness she
had succeeded in attaining, she caught a glimpse of
yawning chasms in her path ; her husband had, by
degrees, weaned himself from her. This cooling
off of a passion which had already become so luke-
warm and selfish might have more than one deplor-
able result, which her keen tact and her prudence
enabled her to foresee. Although she was certain
of retaining great influence over Victor, certain that
his esteem was hers forever, she feared the effect of
his passions upon a man so empty-headed, vain and
unreflecting as he. Often it happened that Julie's
friends surprised her buried in meditation; the less
far-sighted jokingly asked her why it was, as if a
young woman ought never to think of aught but
trifles, as if there were not almost always great


depth of feeling in a mother's thoughts. Moreover,
unhappiness leads to reverie no less than genuine
happiness. Sometimes, as she was playing with
her little Helene, Julie would gaze at her with a
gloomy expression in her eyes and cease to reply to
the childish questions that so delight a mother's
heart, to muse upon her destiny, present and future.
Her eyes would be wet with tears, when suddenly
something would remind her of the scene at the re-
view at the Tuileries. Once more her father's pro-
phetic words would ring in her ears, and her
conscience would reproach her for having failed to
appreciate their wisdom. All her woes were due
to her wilful disobedience; and it often happened
that she could not make up her mind which of them
all was hardest to bear. Not only did the sweet
treasures that her heart contained remain unknown,
but she could never succeed in making herself under-
stood by her husband, even in the most ordinary
affairs of life. Just when the faculty of loving was
attaining its most vigorous and most active devel-
opment, at that moment lawful love, conjugal love
vanished, while she was afflicted by serious physical
and mental ills. Then she felt for her husband that
compassion which is akin to contempt, and in the
end withers all sentiment. But even if her conver-
sation with some of her friends, if the examples she
saw before her, if certain occurrences in high life
had not taught her that love sometimes brings un-
told bliss, her own wounds would have enabled her
to divine the deep, pure joy that should form a


lasting bond between the hearts of those who love
like brothers. In the picture her memory drew of
the past, Arthur's innocent face appeared, purer and
fairer day by day but for a moment only, for she
dared not dwell upon it. The young Englishman's
silent, bashful love was the only incident since her
marriage that had left the memory of a soothing
touch upon her lonely, dejected heart. Perhaps all
the crushed hopes, all the abortive longings which
had gradually cast a gloom upon Julie's mind, might
be referred, by the natural working of the imagina-
tion, to that young man, whose manners, sentiments
and character seemed to touch her own at so many
points. But that thought always seemed a mere
fancy, a dream. After the impossible vision, always
ending with a sigh, Julie would awake more
wretched than before, and feel her latent sorrows
even more keenly when she had sought to lull them
to sleep beneath the wings of imaginary happiness.
Sometimes her lamentations took on a tone of mad-
ness, of audacity she would have pleasure in her
life at any price; but more frequently she sat as if
benumbed and stupefied, listened without under-
standing, or conceived such vague, hesitating ideas
of what was said to her, that she could have found
no words in which to set them forth. Wounded in
her most secret desires, disenchanted as to matters
she had dreamed of as a girl, she was obliged to
restrain her tears. To whom could she complain?
by whom could she be heard ? Moreover, she had the
extreme womanly delicacy, the charming modesty


of feeling which consists in repressing a fruit-
less complaint, in refusing to take an unfair
advantage when the triumph is certain to humiliate
both victor and vanquished. Julie tried to confer
her own talents, her own virtues upon Monsieur
d'Aiglemont and pretended to enjoy a happiness
that her life lacked. All her woman's wit was em-
ployed to no purpose in manoeuvres unheeded by the
very man whose despotism they perpetuated. At
times she was fairly drunk with unhappiness, be-
reft of ideas and of mental balance ; but, happily,
true piety always brought her back to the supreme
hope of the believer; she took refuge in the thought
of the life to come, marvelous faith which enabled
her to take up anew her grievous burden. These
terrible struggles, these internal convulsions brought
her no glory, her long fits of melancholy were un-
known; no mortal saw her dull, glazed eyes, her
bitter tears shed at random and in solitude.

The perils of the critical situation at which the
marchioness had insensibly arrived by force of cir-
cumstances were revealed to her in all their gravity
on a certain evening in the month of January, 1820.
When a husband and wife know each other perfectly
and have been long accustomed to each other's
peculiarities, when a woman knows how to inter-
pret a man's slightest gesture and can fathom the
thoughts or the facts he is concealing from her, then
the light often breaks suddenly upon her, after re-
flection or observation due entirely to chance, or
made heedlessly in the first instance. It often hap-
pens that a woman awakes suddenly on the brink
or at the bottom of a precipice. So it was that the
marchioness, happy to have been alone for some
days, divined the secret of her solitude. Inconstant
or weary, generous or compassionate, her husband
no longer belonged to her. At that moment she
ceased to think of herself, of her suffering, of her
sacrifices; she was the mother only, and could think
of nothing but the fortune, the future, the welfare
of her daughter; her daughter, the only being who
ever brought her happiness; her Helene, the only
treasure that bound her to life. Now Julie wished
to live, to preserve her child from the terrible yoke
beneath which a cruel step-mother might choke the


dear creature to death. At this new foreboding of
a miserable future, she fell into one of those fits of
feverish meditation which consume whole years of
one's life. Between her husband and herself
thenceforth there would be a whole world of
thoughts, the weight of which must be borne by her
alone. Hitherto, sure that Victor loved her as
much as it was in his power to love, she had de-
voted herself to the interests of a happiness she did
not share; but, to-day, having no longer the satis-
faction of knowing that her tears were her husband's
joy, alone in the world, naught remained to her but
a choice between two evils. In the midst of the
discouragement which, in the calm silence of the
night, deprived her of all strength, just as she left
her couch and her almost extinct fire and went
to gaze, dry-eyed, upon her daughter, Monsieur
d'Aiglemont returned home in high spirits. Julie
called him to admire Helene as she lay asleep; but
he greeted his wife's enthusiasm with a trite

"At that age, all children are pretty," he said.

Then, having carelessly kissed his daughter on
the brow, he lowered the curtains of the cradle,
looked at Julie, took her hand and led her to a seat
beside him on the couch where so many fatal
thoughts had had their birth.

"You are very lovely to-night, Madame d'Aigle-
mont!" he cried with the intolerable gayety that
was so well known to the marchioness to mean
nothing at all.


"Where did you pass the evening?" she asked,
feigning the utmost indifference.

"At Madame de Serizy's."

He had taken a screen from the mantelpiece and
was scrutinizing it attentively, paying no heed to
the traces of the tears his wife had shed. Julie
shuddered. Words are powerless to describe the
torrent of thoughts which struggled to escape from
her heart, and which she had to retain there.

"Madame de Serizy gives a concert next Monday,
and she is dying to have you come. The fact that
you haven't been seen in society for a long while is
enough to make her want to have you at her house.
She's a good soul and is very fond of you. You will
please me by going; I almost promised for you."

"I will go," was Julie's reply.

There was something so searching, so unusual in
the marchioness's tone and accent and look, that
Victor, despite his heedlessness, gazed at his wife
in amazement That was the end. Julie ha'i

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 4 of 22)