Honoré de Balzac.

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

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guessed that Madame de Serizy was the woman who
had stolen her husband's heart. She sank into a
reverie of despair, and seemed busily occupied in
looking at the fire. Victor turned the screen round
and round in his fingers with the bored expression
of a man who, having enjoyed himself elsewhere,
brings the fatigue of enjoyment home with him.
When he had yawned several times, he took a
candle in one hand and put out the other in a
languid way toward his wife's neck as if to embrace
her ; but Julie bent her head, presented her forehead,


and received there the mechanical, loveless, good-
night kiss, a sort of grimace which seemed hateful
to her at that moment. When Victor had closed
the door, the marchioness fell upon a chair; her legs
trembled, she burst into tears. One must have
undergone the torture of an analogous scene to
realize all the suffering that was hidden in this one,
to understand the long and terrible dramas to which
it led. The simple, senseless words, the periods of
silence between husband and wife, their gestures
and glances, the way in which the marquis had
seated himself in front of the fire, his attitude as he
essayed to kiss his wife's neck, everything had
combined to make that hour a tragic ending to the
solitary, unhappy life led by Julie. In her frenzy,
she fell on her knees before her couch, buried her
face in it so that she could see nothing, and prayed
to Heaven, giving to the familiar words of her prayer
a peculiar accent, a new significance which would
have torn her husband's heart if he had heard her.
She passed a whole week in anxious thought con-
cerning her future, abandoned to her misery, of
which she made a study, seeking a way to avoid
lying to her heart, to regain her influence over the
marquis, and to live long enough to watch over her
daughter's welfare. She thereupon determined to
contest the field with her rival, to reappear in so-
ciety and make a sensation there, to feign an affec-
tion for her husband which she could no longer
feel, to fascinate him; and then, when by her wiles
she had forced him to submit to her power, to be


coquettish with him like those capricious mistresses
who take pleasure in tormenting their lovers. That
hateful scheme was the only possible remedy for her
misfortunes. So she would become the mistress of
her sorrows, she would order them according to her
good pleasure, and would make them less keen by
reducing her husband to subjection, by forcing him
under the yoke of a terrible despotism. She felt no
remorse at the thought of making life hard for him.
At one bound she leaped into the cold scheming of
indifference to save her daughter; she suddenly
divined the perfidy and falsehoods of creatures who
do not love, the lures of coquetry, and the atrocious
wiles that arouse such profound hatred in the heart
of a woman whom men thereupon suppose to be
corrupt by nature. Unknown to Julie, her vanity
as a woman, her self-interest and a vague longing
for vengeance, combined with her maternal love to
lead her into a path where fresh sorrow awaited her.
But her nature was too lovely, her mind too refined
and, more than all, she was too frank, to be for long
an accomplice in such fraud. Accustomed to search
her own heart, at the first step in the path of vice
for this was vice the cry of her conscience
stifled the cry of the passions and of egotism. In-
deed, it often happens in the case of a young woman
whose heart is still pure, and who has known but
one love, that the sentiment of maternity itself is
subject to the voice of modesty. Is not modesty the
very essence of woman? But Julie did not choose
to see any risk, any sin in her new life. She


went to Madame de Serizy's. Her rival expected
to see a pale, languishing creature; the marchioness
had put rouge on her cheeks and made her appear-
ance in all the splendor of a costume that greatly
enhanced her beauty.

Madame la Comtesse de Serizy was one of those
women who lay claim to a sort of empire over so-
ciety and fashion in Paris; she dictated decrees
which, being received in the circle in which she
reigned, seemed to her to be universally adopted;
she claimed the right to invent words; she was the
sovereign arbitress. Literature, politics, men and
women, all underwent her censorship; and Madame
de Serizy seemed to defy the censorship of others.
Her house was in every respect a model of good
taste. Amid her salons, filled with beautiful and
fashionable women, Julie triumphed over the count-
ess. Clever, quick, sprightly, she was surrounded
by the most distinguished men throughout the even-
ing. To the despair of the ladies, her toilette was
beyond reproach, and everybody envied the cut of
her skirt and the shape of her corsage, whose effect
was generally attributed to the genius of some un-
known dressmaker; for women prefer to believe in
the science of putting gowns together, rather than
in the grace and perfect shape of those who are so
made as to carry them off well. When Julie rose to
go to the piano to sing Desdemona's romanza, the
men came running from all the salons to hear that
famous voice, so long mute, and there was absolute
silence. The marchioness was greatly excited


when she saw the heads grouped together at the
doors and every eye fixed upon her. She looked
about for her husband, darted at him a glance brim-
ming over with coquetry and was overjoyed to see
that his self-love was tremendously flattered. De-
lighted with her triumph, she enchanted the as-
semblage with the first part of Alptu salice. Never
had Malibran or Pasta given utterance to strains so
admirable in intensity of feeling, so perfect in in-
tonation; but as she was about to begin the second
part, she saw Arthur standing in one of the groups,
with his eyes fixed on her face. She started con-
vulsively, and her voice trembled. Madame de
Serizy darted to her from her place.

"What is it, my dear? Oh! poor love, she is so
ill ! I trembled when I saw her undertake some-
thing so far beyond her strength."

The romanza was not finished. Julie, out of
temper, did not feel the courage to continue, and
had to submit to her rival's insincere sympathy.
All the women whispered together, and by dint of
much discussion of the incident, they divined the
struggle that had begun between the marchioness
and Madame de Serizy, whom their venomous
tongues did not spare. The strange presentiments
that had so often agitated Julie's mind were sud-
denly realized. As she thought of Arthur she had
taken pleasure in the thought that a man, appa-
rently so sensitive and modest, would surely remain
true to his first love. Sometimes she had flattered
herself that she was the object of that laudable


passion, the pure, genuine passion of a young man,
whose every thought belongs to his beloved, whose
every moment is devoted to her, who knows no
subterfuges, who blushes at the things that make a
woman blush, thinks like a woman, gives her no
rivals, and abandons himself to her without thought
of ambition or glory or fortune. She had dreamed
all this of Arthur in moments of insanity, of distrac-
tion ; and suddenly she seemed to see that her dream
had come true. She read upon the young English-
man's almost feminine face the same profound
thought, the same gentle melancholy, the same sor-
rowful resignation, of which she was herself the
victim. She recognized herself in him. Misfor-
tune and melancholy are the most eloquent inter-
preters of love, and bring about a correspondence
between two suffering creatures with incredible
rapidity. Where they exist, insight and power of
comprehension are complete and accurate. So the
violence of the shock the marchioness received re-
vealed to her all the dangers of the future. Too
happy to find a pretext for her confusion in her cus-
tomary ill health, she gladly allowed herself to be
overwhelmed by Madame de Serizy's ingenious

The interruption of the romanza was an event
which various people discussed from different stand-
points. Some deplored Julie's fate, and bewailed
the loss to society of so remarkable a woman ; others
were anxious to find out the reason of her ill health
and of her solitary life.


"Well, my dear Ronquerolles," said the marquis
to Madame de Serizy's brother, "so you envied my
good luck when you saw Madame d'Aiglemont and
reproached me for being unfaithful to her, eh?
Nonsense! you would find my lot very little to your
taste, if you should live with a pretty woman for a
year or two, as I have lived with her, without dar-
ing to kiss her hand for fear of breaking it. Don't
ever burden yourself with one of those delicate
jewels, good for nothing but to be kept under glass,
and so fragile and high-priced that we are obliged
always to respect them. Do you often use your fine
horse that you are so afraid to take out in the snow
or heavy rain, as I am told? That's just my case.
True, I am certain of my wife's virtue; but my
marriage is a luxury, and if you think 1 am married,
you are mistaken. So my infidelities are legitimate
in a certain sense. I would like right well to know
what you would do in my place, my worthy scof-
fers? Many men would have less consideration
than I have for my wife. I am sure," he added in
a low voice, "that Madame d'Aiglemont suspects
nothing. So, most assuredly I should do very wrong
to complain I am very lucky. But, nothing is so
tiresome to a sensitive man as to see a poor creature
to whom he is attached suffer "

"Are you so very sensitive, pray ?" rejoined Mon-
sieur de Ronquerolles; "you are rarely at home."

This good-natured epigram made those who heard
it, laugh; but Arthur maintained his cold imper-
turbability, like a gentleman who has taken gravity


for the foundation of his character. The husband's
strange words doubtless aroused some hope in the
young Englishman's heart, and he waited patiently
until he should be alone with Monsieur d'Aiglemont;
an opportunity soon presented itself.

"Monsieur," said he, "it pains me beyond meas-
ure to see Madame la Marquise's condition, and if
you knew that she is likely to die a lingering death,
for lack of special treatment, I think you would not
joke about her illness. My excuse for speaking to
you thus is my certainty that I can save Madame
d'Aiglemont, and restore her to life and happiness.
It is not an ordinary thing for a man of my rank to
be a physician; and nevertheless chance willed that
I should study medicine. Now, I find life so much
of a bore," he said, affecting a selfish indifference
likely to serve his ends, "that it makes little differ-
ence to me whether I spend my time traveling about
for the benefit of a suffering fellow-creature, or de-
vote it to gratifying any foolish whims of my own.
Diseases of this description are rarely cured, be-
cause they require much care and time and patience ;
above all things one must have plenty of money,
must travel about, and follow scrupulously the pre-
scribed treatment, which varies every day and is in
no wise disagreeable. We are two gentilshommes, "
he said, using that word as synonymous with the
English word gentlemen, "and we can understand
each other. I tell you beforehand that, if you accept
my proposition, you will be able to pass judgment
on my conduct at any moment. I will undertake


for the foundation of his character. The husband's
strange words doubtless aroused some hope in the
young Englishman's heart, and he waited patiently
until h< should be alone with Monsieur d'Aiglemont;
an opportunity soon presented itself.

"Monsieur," said he, "it pains me beyond meas-
ure to see Madame la Marquise's condition, and if
you knew that she is likely to die a lingering death,
for lack of special treatment, I think you would not
joke about her illness. My excuse for speaking to
you thus isgrj^^t^^th^^I-^r^^ye Madame
d'Aiglemont, and restore her to life and happiness.
It is not an ordinary thing for a man of my rank to
be a physician; and nevertheless chance willed that

likely to serve hjs ends ''that it makes JittJe differ;-
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ence to me whether i spend my time traveling about

Diseases of this description are rarely cured, be-

must tray^Jrabcaitiand. follow scrjaeulpus
vb ^swwifi?^. ;w^wS?i ^^^^ ^vV *Kfi /
scribed treatment, which varies every day and is in

no wise disagreea-fe^K^We\w4^te^zW^
he said, using that word as synonymous with the
English word gentlemen, "and we can understand
each other. 1 tell you beforehand that, if you accept
my proposition, you will be able to pass judgment
on my conduct at any moment. 1 will undertake



nothing without consulting you or without your
supervision, and I will guarantee success if you will
consent to obey me. Yes, if you will cease, for
some time to come, to be Madame d'Aiglemont's
husband," he whispered.

"It is certain, milord," laughed the marquis,
"that no one but an Englishman could make such
an extraordinary proposition. Allow me neither to
accept nor reject it; I will think it over. First of
all, it must be submitted to my wife."

At that moment Julie reappeared at the piano.
She sang the aria, Son regina, son guerriera, from
Semiramide. The enthusiasm she aroused was
manifested by applause, unanimous, but hollow,
so to speak, the polite acclamations of Faubourg

When* D'Aiglemont escorted his wife home, Julie
saw with a sort of uneasy pleasure the speedy suc-
cess of her undertaking. Her husband, awakened
by the part she had just played, chose to honor her
with a passing caprice, and took a fancy to her, as
he might have done to an actress. Julie thought it
amusing to be treated so, she, a virtuous, married
woman; she tried to play with her power, and, in
this initial contest, her good-nature led her to yield
once more; but it was the most terrible of all the
lessons fate had in store for her. About two or
three o'clock in the morning, Julie was sitting up
in bed, musing dejectedly; the room was dimly
lighted by a lamp and the most profound silence
reigned; for an hour or more the marchioness, a


prey to poignant remorse, shed tears, whose bitter-
ness can be understood only by women who have
found themselves in the same situation. One must
have a heart like Julie's to feel as she did the horror
of a premeditated caress, to be so bruised by an un-
loving kiss; apostasy of the heart aggravated by
pitiable prostitution. She despised herself, she
cursed the married state, she wished she were dead;
and, had not her daughter cried out, she would per-
haps have thrown herself through the window into
the street. Monsieur d'Aiglemont slept peacefully
beside her, undisturbed by the hot tears that fell
upon him from her eyes.

The next day Julie was able to assume a mask of
cheerfulness. She found strength to appear happy,
and to conceal, not her melancholy, but an invin-
cible feeling of horror. From that day she ceased
to look upon herself as a woman without reproach.
Had she not lied to herself? thenceforth, was she
not capable of dissimulation, and might she not dis-
play amazing craft in the matter of conjugal short-
comings? Her marriage was the cause of this a
priori perversity, which as yet had had nothing to
exercise itself upon. But she had already asked
herself why she should resist a lover whom she
loved, when she gave herself, against the prompt-
ings of her heart and against her natural instincts,
to a husband she no longer loved? All sins, and
crimes it may be, are based upon some false reason-
ing or upon excess of egoism. Society cannot exist
save by the individual sacrifices that the laws


demand. If one accepts its advantages, is not that
equivalent to an agreement to uphold the conditions
necessary to its existence? Now, the wretched
creatures who have nothing to eat and are obliged
to conform to the rules of propriety, are no less to
be pitied than women who are wounded in their
natural yearnings and sensibility.

A few days after this scene, the secret of which
was buried in the conjugal bed, D'Aiglemont pre-
sented Lord Grenville to his wife. Julie received
Arthur with cold courtesy that did honor to her
powers of dissimulation. She imposed silence on
her heart, veiled her glances, imparted firmness to
her voice, and thus remained mistress of her future.
Having by these means, inbred in her sex, so to
speak, discovered the full extent of the passion she
had inspired, Madame d'Aiglemont smiled at the
suggestion of a prospect of speedy cure, and made
no opposition to her husband's emphatically ex-
pressed desire that she should accept the young
doctor's services. However, she would not trust
herself in Lord Grenville's hands until she had
studied his words and his manner sufficiently to feel
sure that he would be generous enough to suffer in
silence. She had the most absolute power over him
and she was abusing it already: was she not a
woman ?

Montcontour is a venerable manor-house situated
upon the summit of one of the light-colored cliffs at
whose base flows the Loire, not far from the spot
where Julie's carriage had stopped in 1814. It is
one of the pretty little white chateaux, characteris-
tic of Touraine, with sculptured turrets, embellished
with the delicate tracery of Mechlin lace, one of
the dainty, spruce chateaux that mirror their re-
flections in the waters of the stream, with their
clumps of mulberry trees, their vines, their hidden
paths, their long open-work balustrades, their cellars
hollowed out of the cliff, their mantles of ivy and
their sloping terraces. The roofs of Montcontour
sparkle beneath the sun's rays, the whole place is
aglow with light. Innumerable hints of Spain give
a poetic flavor to this charming habitation; the
golden broom and bell flower perfume the air; the
breeze is soft and caressing, the earth smiles all
about, and all about sweet witchery steals over the
heart, and makes it amorous and slothful, relaxes
the tense chords and soothes its agitation. This fair
and fascinating country lulls pain to sleep and
awakens passion. Beneath that cloudless sky, be-
side those sparkling waters, no one can remain cold.
There many an ambition dies; there you sink to
rest upon the bosom of unruffled happiness, as the


sun sinks to rest each evening in his sheets of pur-
ple and of azure.

On a soft, balmy evening in the month of August,
1821, two persons were climbing the rocky paths
that cut the cliff on which the chateau is perched,
bending their steps toward the highest point, there
doubtless to enjoy the many lovely views to be ob-
tained. These two persons were Julie and Lord
Grenville; but this Julie seemed a different woman.
Her cheeks had the fresh coloring of health. Her
eyes, enlivened by a life-giving force, shone through
a misty vapor like that that gives a child's eyes
their irresistible fascination. Her smile was ex-
pansive, she was happy to live and realized what
life might be. By the way in which she lifted her
dainty feet it was easy to see that no infirmity
made her slightest movements dull and listless, as
in the old days, nor gave an air of languor to her
looks and words and gestures. Beneath the white
silk parasol that sheltered her from the sun's hot
rays, she resembled a young bride beneath her veil,
a virgin ready to abandon herself to the enchant-
ments of love. Arthur escorted her with a lover's
solicitude, guided her as one guides a child, showed
her the best places to walk, helped her to avoid the
rolling stdnes, pointed out a vista here and there or
a lovely flower, always moved by a kindly feeling,
a delicacy of purpose, a perfect familiarity with his
companion's tastes, sentiments which seemed to
be as natural to him, even more natural perhaps,
than the necessary forethought concerning his own


existence. The invalid and her physician walked
with equal steps, in no respect surprised at the har-
mony that seemed to have existed since the first
day they had walked together; they obeyed the
same will, went forward and stopped, impelled by
the same sensations; their looks, their words cor-
responded to their mutual thoughts.

Upon coming to a vineyard, they decided to rest
for a while upon one of the long white stones that
are continually taken from the cliffs in the process
of digging cellars; but before sitting down, Julie
glanced at the landscape.

"Oh! what a lovely country \" she cried. "Let
us pitch a tent and live here. Victor," she cried,
"come! come!"

Monsieur d'Aiglemont replied from below with a
huntsman's "tally-ho!" but did not quicken his
pace; he simply looked up at his wife from time to
time when the winding path permitted. Julie in-
haled the fresh air with ecstasy, raising her head
and bestowing upon Arthur a subtle glance of the
sort by which a clever woman discloses her whole

"Oh!" said she, "I would like to stay here for
ever. Could one ever weary of feasting one's eyes
on this lovely valley? Do you know the name of
yonder pretty little stream, milord?"

"That is the Cise."

"The Cise," she repeated. '"And what is that
over there, in front of us?"

"The banks of the Cher," he replied.


"And off at the right? Oh! that is Tours. Just
see the lovely effect of the cathedral towers in
the distance!"

She relapsed into silence and allowed the hand she
had held out toward the city to fall upon Arthur's
hand. Together they admired in silence the land-
scape and the harmonious beauty of nature. The
murmuring of the river, the purity of the air and
sky, all were in accord with the thoughts that came
rushing to their young and loving hearts.

"Ah! mon Dieu! howl love this country!" Julie
repeated with increasing innocent enthusiasm.
"Have you lived here long?" she asked after a pause.

At these words Lord Grenville started.

"It was over yonder," he said sadly, pointing to
a clump of walnut trees on the road, "that I, a
prisoner, first saw you "

"Yes, but I was in a very depressed state then;
this country seemed a perfect wilderness to me, and
now "

She paused; Lord Grenville dared not look at her.

"It is to you," said Julie at last after a long
silence, "that I owe this pleasure. Must one not
be alive to appreciate the joys of living, and was I
not dead to everything until now ? You have done
more than restore me to health you have taught me
to realize all its worth "

Women have an inimitable faculty of expressing
their feelings without employing too expressive
words; their eloquence lies principally in their ac-
cent, their gestures, their attitude and the expression


of their eyes. Lord Grenville hid his face in his
hands, for his eyes were filled with tears. These
were the first words of thanks Julie had offered him
since they left Paris. For a whole year he had at-
tended upon the marchioness with the most absolute
devotion. Seconded by D'Aiglemont, he had taken
her to the waters at Aix, then to the seashore at La
Rochelle. Keeping close watch upon the changes,
his simple but wise prescriptions had produced upon
Julie's shattered constitution, he had cultivated it
with the care an enthusiastic horticulturist might
lavish upon a rare flower. The marchioness seemed
to receive all Arthur's judicious nursing with the
selfishness of a Parisian belle accustomed to homage,
or with the thoughtlessness of a courtesan who has
no idea of the price of things or the worth of men,
and estimates their value according to their useful-
ness to her. The influence of localities upon the
heart is a matter worthy of remark. If melancholy
infallibly steals over us when we are near the water,
there is another law of an impressible nature that
causes our sentiments to assume a purer tone among
the mountains; there, passion gains in depth what
it seems to lose in vivacity. The view of the vast
basin of the Loire, the elevation of the miniature
mountain where the two lovers were seated, caused
perhaps the delicious atmosphere of tranquillity in
which they first tasted the happiness one feels upon
divining the extent of a passion hidden beneath
words of seeming insignificance. As Julie fin-
ished the sentence that had so deeply moved Lord


Grenville, a soft breeze moved the tops of the trees

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 5 of 22)