Honoré de Balzac.

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

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candle and led him into her bedroom; when they
had reached the bed where Helene lay sleeping, she
gently put aside the curtains and disclosed her child,
placing one hand in front of the candle so that the
light should not fall upon the little creature's trans-
parent, hardly-closed lids. Helene's arms were
thrown apart and she was smiling in her sleep.
With a glance Julie called Lord Grenville's atten-
tion to the child. That glance said everything.

"We may abandon a husband even if he loves us.
A man is a strong creature and has ways of consol-
ing himself. We can despise the laws of society.
But a motherless child!"

These and a thousand other, even more touching
thoughts were in that glance.

"We can take her away," murmured the English-
man; "I would love her dearly. "

"Mamma!" said Helene, waking up.

At this word Julie burst into tears. Lord Gren-
ville sat down and folded his arms, mute and de-

"Mamma!" That sweet, innocent interruption
awoke so many noble sentiments, such a flood of
irresistible sympathies, that love was for a moment
drowned by the powerful voice of maternity. Julie
was no longer a woman, she was a mother. Lord
Grenville did not long resist; her tears subdued him.

At that moment a door was violently thrown open


with a great noise, and the words: "Are you here,
Madame d'Aiglemont?" echoed like a thunderclap in
the hearts of the two lovers. The marquis had re-
turned. Before Julie could recover her self-posses-
sion the general passed through his chamber on his
way to hers. The two rooms adjoined each other.
Luckily, Julie thought to make a sign to Lord Gren-
ville who darted into a closet, whereupon the
marchioness hastily turned the key upon him.

"Well, my dear, here I am," said Victor. "The
hunting party didn't come off. I am going to bed."

"Good-night," said she, "I am going to do the
same. So let me undress, please."

"You are very cruel to-night. I obey you, Ma-
dame la Marquise."

The general returned to his room; Julie accom-
panied him as far as the door, closed it and rushed
back to set Lord Grenville free. Her presence of
mind returned and it occurred to her that there was
nothing strange about her former doctor paying her
a visit; she might have left him in the salon while
she was putting her child to bed, and she was about
to tell him to go thither without making a noise;
but when she opened the closet door she uttered a
piercing shriek. Lord Grenville's fingers were
caught and crushed in the groove.

"Well, what's the matter?" her husband called

"Nothing, nothing," she replied, "I just ran a
pin into my finger."

The door between the rooms was suddenly thrown


open. The marchioness supposed that her husband
was coming out of concern for her, and cursed his
solicitude in which the heart had no part. She had
barely time to close the closet door, and Lord Gren-
ville had not been able to extricate his hand. The
general appeared; but the marchioness was mis-
taken; his motive in coming was anxiety on his
own account.

"Can you lend me a silk handkerchief? That
rascal Charles leaves me without a single nightcap.
In the early days of our married life you looked
after my affairs so carefully that you bored me with
them. Ah! the honeymoon didn't last long for
me nor for my cravats. Now, I am given over to
the secular arm of these people, all of whom make
sport of me."

"See, here's a handkerchief. You haven't been
to the salon?"


"If you had you might have found Lord Grenville

"Is he in Paris?"


"Oh! I'll go and see him the dear doctor "

"He must have gone before now!" cried Julie.

The marquis was standing at this moment in the
middle of his wife's chamber, tying the silk hand-
kerchief about his head, and viewing himself com-
placently in the mirror.

"I don't know where our people are," said he.
"I have rung for Charles three times already and


he hasn't come. Isn't your maid about? Ring for
her; I would like an extra coverlid on my bed to-

"Pauline has gone out," replied the marchioness,

"At midnight!" said the general.

"I gave her leave to go to the Opera."

"That's strange!" rejoined the husband, begin-
ning to undress, "I thought I saw her going up-

"Then she has returned, no doubt," said Julie,
with an affectation of impatience ; in order to arouse
no suspicion in her husband's mind, she rang the
bell, but very feebly. *

The events of that night have never been accu-
rately known; but they were in all probability as
simple, as horrible as were the commonplace domes-
tic incidents we have described. The next day, the
Marquise d'Aiglemont took to her bed, and remained
there several days.

"What extraordinary thing has happened at your
house, to set everybody talking about your wife?"
Monsieur de Ronquerolles asked Monsieur d'Aigle-
mont some days after that night of catastrophes.

"Take my advice and remain a bachelor," said
D'Aiglemont. "The curtains of Helene's bed took
fire ; my wife had such a shock that the doctor says
she is laid up for a year. You marry a pretty
woman, she grows plain; you marry a strong,
healthy girl, she becomes a malingerer; you think
her passionate, she turns out to be cold; or else,


he hasn't come. Isn't your maid about? Ring for
her; 1 would like an extra coverlid on my bed to-

"Pauline has gone out," replied the marchioness,

"At midnight!" said the general.

"1 gave her leave to go to the Opera."

"That's strange!" rejoined the husband, begin-
ning to undress, "I thought I saw her going up-

"Then she has returned, no doubt," said Julie,
with an aff&ctalion af impatifK3e ;\ira order to arouse

ViV.vjVj,Av\.AQ. C. QAoAJ \_ VV

no suspicion in ner husband's mind, she rang the

bell, but very feebly^

The events of that night have never been accu-


ic incidents we have described. The nextdavthe


fire ; my wife had such a shock
she is laid up for a year. You marry a pretty
woman, she grows plain; you marry a strong,
healthy girl, she becomes a malingerer; you think
her passionate, she turns out to be cold; or else,


while she is apparently cold, she is really so pas-
sionate that she kills you or disgraces you. Some-
times the mildest creature turns crotchety, but the
crotchety ones never turn mild; sometimes the
weak, foolish child you have nourished develops
an iron will and the wit of a demon. I am tired of

"Or of your wife."

"That would be hard. By the way, will you
come to Saint-Thomas d'Aquin with me to Lord
Grenville's funeral ?"

"That's a strange pastime. Tell me," continued
Ronquerolles, "do they know certainly what caused
his death?"

"His servant declares that he stayed a whole night
on the outer sill of a window to save his mistress's
honor; and it has been devilish cold lately!"

"Such devotion would be very estimable in us old
stagers; but Lord Grenville was young and an
Englishman. Those English fellows always want
to make themselves conspicuous."

"Bah !" retorted D' Aiglemont, "such heroic freaks
depend on the woman who inspires them, and cer-
tainly poor Arthur didn't die on my wife's ac-


Between the small stream called the Loing and the
Seine stretches a vast plain bordered by the forest
of Fontainebleau, and by the towns of Moret,
Nemours and Montereau. In this arid region hills
are of rare occurrence; here and there, in the midst
of the fields, is a small patch of woodland, which
serves as a covert for game, and on all sides the
endless gray or yellowish lines peculiar to the
horizons of Sologne, Beauce and Berri. In the
centre of this level tract, between Moret and Mon-
tereau, the traveler spies an old chateau called
Saint-Lange, whose surroundings lack neither
grandeur nor majesty. There are avenues of mag-
nificent elms, moats, long walls, immense gardens
and huge seignorial structures, which must have
required, for the building, the profits derived from
unjust taxation, from farming the revenues and from
authorized peculation, or one of the great aristocratic
fortunes destroyed by the hammer of the Civil
Code. If the artist or the dreamer goes astray by
chance in the rutty roads or the rough fields that
defend the approaches to this region, he wonders by
what caprice that poetic chateau was dropped in
that prairie of grain, that desert of chalk and clay


and sand, where gayety dies, where melancholy
inevitably is born, where the soul is incessantly
wearied by the monotony of a voiceless solitude,
by the unbroken horizon negative beauties, but
well adapted to the sorrow that seeks no consolation.
A young woman, renowned at Paris for her grace,
her beauty and her wit, whose social position and
fortune were in harmony with her celebrity, came to
Saint-Lange toward the end of the year 1821, and
took up her abode there, to the vast astonishment of
the little village about a mile away. The farmers
and peasants had not known of the chateau being
inhabited within living memory. Although it
yielded considerable revenue, the estate was left in
charge of a manager and kept up by old servants.
So it was that the advent of Madame la Marquise
caused considerable excitement in the vicinity.
Several persons were standing in a group in the
outskirts of the village street, in the courtyard of a
wretched inn at the junction of the roads to Ne-
mours and Moret, to watch the arrival of a caleche
moving at a slow pace, for the marchioness had
brought her own horses from Paris. Upon the front
seat sat the maid holding a little girl of thoughtful
rather than merry aspect. The mother was lying
back in the carriage like a dying woman sent into
the country by the doctors. The young woman's deli-
cate, dejected countenance gave but little satisfac-
tion to the village politicians who had hoped that
her arrival at Saint-Lange would be the signal
for some sort of awakening in the community.


It was very evident that anything of that nature
would be most distasteful to that grief-stricken

The wisest head in the village of Saint-Lange
declared that evening, in the common room at the
wine shop, where the notables were drinking to-
gether, that, judging from the settled melancholy of
Madame la Marquise's face, she must be ruined.
In the absence of Monsieur le Marquis, who was to
accompany the Due d'Angoulgme to Spain, so the
newspapers said, she had come to Saint-Lange to
save the amount necessary to settle the deficiencies
arising from certain unlucky speculations on the
Bourse. The marquis was one of the wildest of
gamblers. Perhaps the estate would be sold in
small lots. There would be a good chance for bar-
gains in that case. They must all be thinking
about taking their crowns out of their hiding places,
counting them over and taking stock of their
resources, in order to have each his part in the
holocaust of Saint-Lange. This view of the future
was so attractive that every notable, impatient to
know if it was well founded, sought some means of
finding out the truth through the servants at the
chateau; but not one of them could give any in-
formation as to the catastrophe that brought their
mistress, at the beginning of winter, to the old
chateau of Saint-Lange, when she possessed other
estates famous for their cheerful surroundings and
beautiful gardens. Monsieur le Maire called to offer
his respects to madame, but was not admitted. After


the mayor, the manager of the estate presented him-
self with no better success.

Madame la Marquise did not leave her room, ex-
cept to allow it to be put to rights, when she would
repair to a small salon adjoining, where she dined,
if it can be called dining to take one's seat at the
table, glance with loathing at the dishes placed be-
fore one, and take just the necessary amount of food
to avoid death by starvation. Then she would re-
turn at once to the old-fashioned couch on which she
sat from morning till night, in the recess of the
window that lighted her bedroom. She saw her
daughter only during the few moments employed by
her melancholy repast, and even then seemed to en-
dure her presence with difficulty. Could anything
less than immeasurable suffering impose silence on
the maternal sentiment in a young woman's heart?
None of her servants were admitted to her presence.
Her maid was the only person whose services were
agreeable to her. She required absolute silence in
the chateau and her daughter had to go beyond her
hearing to play. It was so hard for her to endure
the slightest sound, that any human voice, even
her child's, affected her disagreeably. The country
people were much exercised over her peculiarities;
but, when all possible suppositions were exhausted,
the peasants and the inhabitants of the small neigh-
boring towns ceased to think of the invalid.

So the marchioness was left to herself, and was
enabled to live a life of perfect seclusion amid the
silence she had enforced all about her, and she had


no occasion to leave the tapestried chamber where
her grandmother died, and to which she had come to
die peacefully, without annoyance, without being
compelled to undergo the false demonstrations of self-
ishness glossed over with affection, which increase
twofold the agony of death, in cities. She was
twenty-six years old. At that age, a heart still filled
with poetic illusions, loves to taste death, when it
seems a blessing. But death plays the coquette with
young people; for them it advances and withdraws;
its slothful movement disenchants them with it, and
the uncertainty as to what comes after finally casts
them back into the world, where they encounter sor-
row, which, less pitiful than death, strikes them
without delay. Now, this woman, who refused to
live, was destined to experience the bitterness of
death's procrastination in the depths of her solitude,
and, in mental agony that death would not end, to
serve a terrible apprenticeship to selfishness, which
was to pervert her heart and mould it over to suit
the requirements of the world.

That cruel, bitter lesson is always the result of
our first sorrow. The marchioness really suffered
for the first and perhaps the only time in her life.
Would it not, indeed, be a mistake to think that
one's sentiments are ever re-created? When they
have once come into being, do they not always exist
in the depths of the heart ? They are lulled to sleep
and awake again at the good pleasure of the acci-
dents of life; but they are always there, and their
presence necessarily exerts an influence upon the


heart. And so every sentiment has but one great
day the day, longer or shorter as the case may be,
of its first tempest. And so sorrow, the most con-
stant of our sentiments, is really keen only at its
first outbreak; and its subsequent attacks grow
weaker and weaker, either because we become ac-
customed to its paroxysms, or because of some law
of our nature, which, to keep itself alive, opposes to
that destructive force an equal but inert force, found
in the devices of selfishness. But to which one
among all the forms of suffering shall this name of
sorrow be applied? The loss of relatives is a grief
for which nature has prepared mankind; physical
pain is temporary, does not touch the heart; and if
it persists it ceases to be pain and becomes death.
Let a young woman lose a new-born babe, her hus-
band's love has soon given her another to take its
place. That affliction also is temporary. In a
word, the ills we have mentioned and many other
similar ones are, in a certain sense, blows, wounds;
but no one of them affects life in its essence, and
they must follow upon one another in unusually
rapid succession to kill the sentiment that leads us
to seek happiness. The great, the genuine sorrow,
then, must be caused by some blow deadly enough
to blot out in the same moment past, present and
future, to leave no element of life untouched, to
pervert the mind forever, to make its mark inefface-
ably upon the lips and brow, to break or distend the
springs of enjoyment by planting in the heart a
feeling of disgust for everything on earth. Again,


to have its full effect, to weigh thus on the body
and the heart alike, the blow must fall at a time of
life when all the bodily and mental forces are young
and vigorous, and strike down a quick, living heart.
In such case the blow makes a deep wound; great
is the suffering, and no mortal can recover from its
effects without some radical poetic change: either
he takes the road to heaven, or, if he tarries here
on earth, he returns to the world to lie to the world,
to play a part there ; he knows the secrets of the
wings to which men retire to scheme and weep and
jest After that momentous crisis there are no
more mysteries for him in social life, upon which
his judgment is irrevocably passed. In a young
woman of the marchioness's age, this first and most
poignant of all sorrows always results from the same
cause. A woman, especially a young woman, as
noteworthy for her mental qualities as for her
beauty, never fails to lead the life that nature, sen-
timent and society unite in impelling her to lead.
If that life turns out a failure and she remains on
earth, she experiences the most cruel suffering, for
the same reason that makes the first love the most
beautiful of all sentiments. Why has this form of
misery never had its painter or its poet? But can it
be painted, can it be sung ? No, the nature of the sor-
rows it engenders does not lend itself to analysis or to
the colors of art. Moreover, those sorrows have never
been put into words ; to console a woman so afflicted
one must be able to divine them ; for, being always
stored away with scrupulous exactness and bitter


resentment in the memory, they lie hidden in the
mind, as an avalanche, rushing down into a valley,
levels everything in its way to make room for itself.
The marchioness at this time was afflicted by
such suffering as this, which remains long unknown
because everybody in society frowns upon it;
whereas sentiment smiles upon it and the con-
science of a true woman justifies her in it. It is
the same with such suffering as with children who
are necessarily shut out from all enjoyment of life,
and have a stronger hold upon their mother's heart
than children more happily endowed. Never, per-
haps, had the horrible catastrophe that kills all our
interest in life fallen upon anyone with such crush-
ing, hopeless force as upon the marchioness. A
man she dearly loved, young and generous, whose
desires she had never gratified out of respect for the
laws of society, had died to save for her what so-
ciety calls a woman's honor. To whom could she
say: "I am suffering!" Her tears would have
offended her husband, the proximate cause of the
catastrophe. Morality and law alike forbade her
lamentations; a friend of her own sex would have
reveled in them, a man would have speculated upon
them. No, the poor afflicted creature could weep at
her ease only in a desert, there to devour her grief
or be devoured by it, to die or kill something within
her, mayhap her conscience. For some days she
sat with her eyes fixed upon a flat, unbroken hori-
zon, where, as in her future, there was nothing to
look for, nothing to hope for, where everything could


be seen at a single glance, and where her eye
recognized the image of the dull desolation that tore
her heart incessantly. The morning mists, the
overcast sky, clouds scudding near the earth beneath
a canopy of gray, were suited to the phases of her
moral malady. She had no sense of oppression at
her heart, nor was her heart withered in any sense;
no, her fresh, blooming nature was petrified by the
slow action of intolerable grief, intolerable because
it had no end. She suffered in herself and for her-
self. To suffer thus is to take the first step in
egoism, is it not? And so, horrible thoughts passed
through her mind and wounded her conscience. She
questioned herself in good faith and found that her
personality was twofold. There was in her a
woman who reasoned and a woman who felt, a
woman who suffered and a woman who wished to
suffer no more. Her mind went back to the joys of
her childhood days, which passed without apprecia-
tion of their happiness; and now memories of that
peaceful time came crowding upon her as if to em-
phasize the mockery of a marriage, admirable in the
eyes of the world, horrible in reality. What had
the sweet modesty of her girlhood availed her, her
victories over temptation, or the sacrifices she had
made to society? Although everything about her
seemed to speak of love and ask for love, of what
use now, she asked herself, were her grace of move-
ment, her smile and her power of fascination ? She
no more liked to feel that she was fresh and lovely
than one likes to hear a sound repeated again and


again. Her very beauty was intolerable to her as
a useless thing. She realized with horror that she
could no longer be a complete creature. Had not
her inner / lost the faculty of enjoying the delicious
impression of novelty that adds so much zest to life?
In the future, most of her sensations would be effaced
as soon as received, and many of those which had
once moved her would become indifferent to her.
After the infancy of the creature comes the infancy
of the heart That second infancy her lover had
carried with him to the tomb. Still youthful so far
as her desires were concerned, she had no longer
that absolute youthfulness of heart which imparts a
value and a savor to everything in life. Would she
not always have in her heart a strain of melancholy,
of distrust which would deprive her emotions of their
sudden freshness, their enthusiasm ? for nothing
could give her back the happiness she had hoped for
and had seen in such glowing colors in her dreams.
Her first genuine tears extinguished the celestial
fire that sheds light upon the first emotions of the
heart; she must always suffer because she was not
what she might have been. From that belief pro-
ceeded the bitter loathing that made her turn her
head when pleasure presented itself anew. She
looked upon life then with the eyes of an aged man
ready to leave it. Although she was conscious of
the vigor of youth, the burden of her joyless days
fell heavily upon her heart and crushed it, and made
her old before her time. She asked the world, with
a shriek of despair, what it had to give her in


exchange for the love that had made life possible for
her and that she had lost. She asked herself if, in
her vanished love, chaste and spotless as it was,
her thoughts had not been more guilty than her acts.
She accused herself without stint, to insult society
and to console herself for not having had with him
she mourned, that perfect understanding, which, by
placing two hearts in touch with each other, allays
the sorrow of the one left behind by the certainty
of having enjoyed perfect happiness, of having been
able to bestow the like, and of retaining undimmed
forever the image of the one that has gone. She
was discontented, too, like an actress who has failed
to obtain a coveted r&le, for her misery assailed all
her fibres, heart and head alike. If nature had hurt
her by foiling her dearest hopes, her vanity also
was wounded no less than the kindness of heart that
leads a woman to sacrifice herself. And then, too,
by propounding all sorts of questions to herself, by
working all the springs that keep in motion the differ-
ent forms of existence that social, moral and physical
nature offer us, she so thoroughly relaxed her mental
faculties that, amid a throng of contradictory reflec-
tions, she could lay hold of nothing. And so some-
times, when the mist settled down upon the fields, she
would open her window and stand, without power
of thought, mechanically inhaling the damp, earthy
odor with which the air was laden, motionless, an
idiot to all appearance, for the buzzing of her sor-
rows in her ear made her deaf alike to the harmo-
nious sounds of nature and the charms of thought

One day, about noon, just as the sun had driven
away the clouds, the marchioness's maid entered
her room, without a summons, and said :

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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacHonoré de Balzac, now for the first time completely translated into English.. (Volume 18) → online text (page 7 of 22)