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Translated by Miss K. P. Wormeley.

Already Published:
THE MAGIC SKIN (Peau de Chagrin).
BUREAUCRACY (Les Employes).


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Copyright, 1891,
By Roberts Brothers.

All rights reserved.

Snifetttttfi p«M:
John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.

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Member of tfje ftogal ^caUemg of flfolririiu.

Dear Doctor, — Zfc/** /j one of the most carefully
hewn stones in the scconjl course of the foundation of a
literary edifice which I have slowly and laboriously con-
structed. I wish to inscribe your name upon it, as much
to thank the man whose science once saved me as to honor

the friend of my daily life, ^


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I. Two Childhoods 2

II. First Love 95

III. The Two Women 229

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Felix de Vandbnesse to Madame la Comtessb Natalie de

I yield to your wishes. It is the privilege of the
women whom we love more than they love us to make
the men who love them ignore the ordinary rules of
common-sense. To smooth The frown upon their brow, j
to soften the pout upon their lips, what obstacles we .
miraculously overcome ! We shed our blood, we risk
our future!

You exact the history of my past life ; here it is.
But remember this, Natalie; in obeying you I crush
underfoot a rel uctan ce hitherto- unconquerable. Why
are \*ou jealous of the sudden reveries which overtake
me in the midst of our happiness? Why show the
pretty anger of a petted woman when silence grasps
me? Could you not play upon the contradictions
of my character without inquiring into the causes
of them? Are there secrets in your heart which
seek absolution through a knowledge of mine? Ah!
Natalie, you have guessed mine; and it is better
you should know the whole truth. Yes, my life is
shadowed by a phantom ; a word evokes it ; it hovers
vaguely above me and about me ; within my soul are


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solemn memories, buried in its depths like those marine
productions seen in calmest weather and which the
storms of ocean cast in fragments on the shore.

The mental labor which the expression of ideas ne-
cessitates has revived the old, old feelings which give
me so much pain when they come suddenly ; and if in
this confession of mj- past they break forth in a way
that wounds you, remember that you threatened to
punish me if I did not obej' your wishes, and do not,
therefore, punish m} T obedience. I would that this, my
confidence, might increase your love.
Until we meet,



To what genius fed on tears shall we some day owe
that most touching^ of all, elegies, — the tale of tortures
borne silently by souls whose tender roots find stony
ground in the domestic soil, whose earliest buds are
torn apart by rancorous hands, whose flowers are
touched by frost at the moment of their blossoming?
What poet will sing the sorrows of the child whose
lips must suck a bitter breast, whose smiles are checked
by the cruel fire of a stern eye ? The tale that tells of
such poor hearts, oppressed by beings placed about
them to promote the development of their natures,
would contain the true history of my childhood.

What vanity could I have wounded, — la child new-
born? What moral or ph} T sical infirmUy caused my
mother's coldness? Was I the child of duty, whose

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The Lily of the Valley. 3

birth is a mere chance, or was I one whose very life
was a re proa ch ? Put to nurse in the country and for-
gotten by my family for over three years, I was treated
with such indifference on my return to the parental roof
that even the servants pitied me. I do not know to
what feeling or happy accident I owed my rescue from
this first neglect ; as a child I was ignorant of it, as a
man 1 have not discovered it. Far from easing my lot,
my brother and my two sisters found amusement in
making me suffer. The compact in virtue of which
children hide each other's peccadilloes, and which early
teaches them the principles of honor, was null and void
in my case ; more than that, I was often punished for
my brother's faults, without being allowed to prove the
injustice. The fawning spirit which seems instinctive
in children taught my brother and sisters to join in the
persecutions to which I was subjected, and thus keep in
the good graces of a mother whom they feared as much
as I. Was this partly the effect of a childish love of
imitation ; was it from a need of testing their powers ;
or was it simply through lack of pity ? Perhaps these
causes united to deprive me of the sweets of fraternal

Disinherited of all affection, I could love nothing ;
yet nature had made me loving. Is there an angel who
gamers the sighs of feeling hearts rebuffed incessantly?
If in many such hearts the crushed feelings turn to
hatred, in mine they condensed and. hollowed a depth
from which, in after years, they gushed forth upon ray
life. In many characters the habit of trembling relaxes
the fibres and begets fear, and fear ends in submis-
sion ; hence, a weakness which emasculates a man, and

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4 The Lily of the Valley.

makes him more or less a slave. But in mj r case
these perpetual tortures led to the development of a
certain strength, which increased through exercise and
predisposed my spirit to the habit of moral resistance.
Alwaj-s in expectation of some new grief — as the
martyrs expected some fresh blow — my whole being
expressed, I doubt not, a sullen resignation which
smothered the grace and gayety of childhood, and gave
me an appearance of idiocj r which seemed to justify,
my mother's threatening prophecies. The certainty of
injustice prejgaturely roused my pride — that fruit of
reason — and thus, no doubt, checked the evil tenden-
cies which an education like mine encouraged.

Though my mother neglected me I was sometimes
the object of her solicitude ; she occasionallj- spoke of
my education and seemed desirous of attending to it
herself. Cold chills ran through me at such times
when I thought of the torture a daily intercourse
with her would inflict upon me. I blessed the neglect
in which I lived, and rejoiced that I could stay alone in
the garden and play with the pebbles and watch the
insects and gaze into the blueness of the sky. Though
my lo_neliness naturally led me to revery, my liking for
contemplation was first aroused by an incident which
will give you an idea of my earty troubles. So little
notice was taken of me that the governess occasionally
forgot to send me to bed. One evening' I was peace-
fully crouching under a fig-tree, watching a star with that
passion of curiosity which takes possession of a child's
mind, and to which my precocious melancholy gave a
sort of sentimental intuition. My sisters were playing
about and laughing ; I heard their distant chatter like

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The Lily of the Valley. 5

an accompaniment to my thoughts. After a while the
noise ceased and darkness fell. Mj r mother happened
to notice my absence. To escape blame, our govern-
ess, a terrible Mademoiselle Caroline, worked upon my
mother's fears, — told her I had a horror of my home and
would long ago have run away if she had not watched
me ; that I was not stup i d but sullen; and that in all
her experience of children she had never known one of
so bad a disposition as mine. She pretended to search
for me. I answered as soon as I was called, and she
came to the fig-tree, where she very well knew I was.
" What are j r ou doing there?" she asked. " Watching
a star." " You were not watching a star," said my
mtrther, who was listening on her balcony ; " children of
your age know nothing of astronomy." " Ah, madame,"
cried Mademoiselle Caroline, " he has opened the faucet
of the reservoir ; the garden is inundated ! " Then
there was a general excitement. The fact was that my
sisters had amused themselves by turning the cock to
see the water flow, but a sudden spurt wet them all
over and frightened them so much that they ran away
without closing it. Accused and convicted of this piece
of mischief and told that I lied when I denied it, I was
severelj- punished. Worse than all, I was jeered at for
my pretended love of the stars and forbidden to stay in
the garden after dark.

Such t}Tannical restrahits__intensify a passion in the
hearts of children even more than in those of men;
childreirthink of nothing but the forbidden thing, which
then becomes irresistibly attractive to them. I was
often whipped for my star. Unable to confide in my
kind, I told it all my troubles in that delicious inward

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6 The Lily of the Valley.

prattle with which we stammer our first ideas, just as
once we stammered our first words. At twelve years
of age, long after I was at school, I still watched that
star with indescribable delight, — so deep and lasting
are the impressions we receive in the dawn of life.

My brother Charles, five years older than I and as
handsome a boy as he now is a man, was the favorite
of my father, the idol of my mother, and consequently
the sovereign of the house. He was robust and well-
made, and had a tutor. I, puny and even sickly, was
sent at five years of age as day pupil to a school in the
town ; taken in the morning and brought back at night
b3 r .mj r father's valet. I was sent with a scanty lunch,
while my school-fellows brought plenty of good food.
This trifling contrast between my privations and their
prosperity made me suffer deeply. The famous potted
pork prepared at Tours and called " rillettes " and
" rillons " was the chief feature of their mid-da}' meal,
between the early breakfast and the parent's dinner,
which was ready when we returned from school. This
preparation of meat, much prized by certain gourmands,
is seldom seen at Tours on aristocratic tables ; if I had
ever heard of it before I went to school, I certainly had
never had the happiness of seeing that brown mess
spread on slices of bread and butter. Nevertheless, my
desire for those " rillons " was so great that it grew to
be a fixed idea, like the longing of an elegant Parisian
duchess for the stews cooked by a porter's wife, — long-
ings which, being a woman, she found means to satisfy.
Children guess each other's covetousness, just as you
are able to read a man's* love, by the look in the eyes ;
consequently I became an admirable butt for ridicule.

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The Lily of the Valley. 7

My comrades, nearty all belonging to the lower bour-
geoisie, would show me their "rillons" and ask if I
knew how the} r were made and where they were sold,
and why it was that I never had anj-. They licked their
lips as the}' talked of them — scraps of pork pressed
in their own fat and looking like cooked truffles ; they
inspected mj* lunch-basket, and finding nothing better
than Olivet cheese or dried fruits, thej- plagued mc
with questions : " Is that all you have? have 3011 really
nothing else ? " — speeches which made me realize the
difference between my brother and myself.

This contrast between my own abandonment and the
happiness of others nipped the roses of my childhood
and blighted my budding } r outh. The first time that I,
mistaking my comrades' action for generosity, put forth
my hand to take the dainty I had so long coveted and
which was now hypocritically held out to me, my tor-
mentor pulled back his slice to the great delight of his
comrades who were expecting that result. If noble
and distinguished minds are, as we often find them,
capable of vanit}*, can we blame the child who weeps
when despised and jeered at? Under such a trial
maify boys would have turned into gluttons and cring-
ing beggars. I fought to escape my persecutors. The
courage of despair made me formidable ; but I was
hated, and thus had no protection against treachery.
One evening as I left school I was struck in the back
by a handful of small stones tied in a handkerchief. ]
When the valet, who punished the perpetrator, told
this to my mother she exclaimed : u That dreadful
child ! he will always be a torment to us."

Finding that I inspired in my schoolmates the same

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8 The Lily of the Valley.

repulsion that was felt for me by my famity, I sank into
a horrible distrust of myself. A second fall of snow
checked the seeds that were germinating in my soul.
The boys whom I saw most liked were notorious
scamps ; this fact roused my pride and I held aloof.
Again I was shut up within myself and had no vent for
the feelings with which my heart was full. The master
, of the school, observing that I was gloomy, disliked by
my comrades and always alone, confirmed the familj-
verdict as to my sulky temper. As soon as I could
read and write, my mother transferred me to Pont-le-
Voj T , a school in charge of Oratorians who took boys of
mj' age into a form called the " class of the Latin steps "
where dull lads with torpid brains were apt to linger.

There I remained eight years without seeing my
family; living the life of a pariah, — partlj- for the
following reason. I received but three francs a month
pocket-monej-, a sum barely sufficient to buy the pens,
ink, paper, knives, and rulers which we were forced
to suppty ourselves. Unable to bu} r stilts or skipping-
ropes, or any of the things that jfcre used in the play-
ground, I was driven out of the gahes ; to gain admis-
sion on suffrage I should have had to toady the rich* and
flatter the strong of mj T division. My heart rose against
either of these meannesses, which, however, most chil-
dren readily employ. I lived under a tree, lost in de-
jected thought, or reading the books distributed to us
monthly by the librarian. How man} 7 griefs were in the
shadow of that solitude ; what genuine anguish filled my
neglected life ! Imagine what mj T sore heart felt when,
at the first distribution of prizes, — of which I obtained
the two most valued, namelj', for theme and for trans-

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The Lily of the Valley. 9

lation, — neither my father nor my mother was present
in the theatre when I came forward to receive the
awards amid general acclamations, although the build-
ing was filled witli the relatives of all my comrades.
Instead of kissing the distributor, according to custom,
I burst into tears and threw myself on his breast.
That night I burned my crowns in the stove. The par-
ents of the other boys were in town for a whole week
preceding the distribution of the prizes, and mj- com-
rades departed joyfully the next day ; while I, whose
father and mother were only a few miles distant, re-
mained at the school with the outretners^ — a name
given to scholars whose families were in the colonies
or in foreign countries.

You will notice throughout how my unhappiness in-
creased in proportion as the social spheres on which I
entered widened. God knows what efforts I made to
weaken the decree which condemned me to live within
myself! What hopes, long cherished with eagerness of
soul, were doomed to perish in a day ! To persuade
my parents to come and see me, I wrote them letters
full of feeling, too emphatically worded, it may be;
but surely such letters ought not to have drawn upon
me my mother's reprimand, coupled with ironical re-
proaches for my style. Not discouraged even then, I
implored the help of my sisters, to whom I always
wrote on their birthdays and fete-days with the persist-
ence of a neglected child ; but it was all in vain. As
the day for the distribution of prizes approached I re-
doubled my entreaties, and told of my expected tri-
umphs. Misled by my parents' silence, I expected
them with a beating heart. I told mv schoolfellows

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10 The Lily of the Valley.

they were coming ; and then, when the old porter's step
sounded in the corridors as he called ray happy com-
rades one by one to receive their friends, I was sick
with expectation. Never did that old man call my
name !

One day, when I accused myself to mj' confessor of
having cursed my life, he pointed to the skies, where
grew, he said, the promised palm for the Beati qui
%ugeht of the Saviour. - From the period of my first
communion I flung myself into the mysterious depths
of prayer, attracted to religious ideas whose moral
fairyland so fascinates 3'onng spirits. Burning with
ardent faith, I prayed to God to renew in my behalf
the miracles 1 had read of in martyrology. At five
years of age I fled to my star ; at twelve I took refuge
in the sanctuary. My ecstasy brought dreams unspeak-
able, which fed my imagination, fostered my suscepti-
bilities, and strengthened my thinking powers. I have
often attributed those sublime visions to the guardian
angel charged with moulding my spirit to its divine
destiny; they endowed my soul with the faculty of
seeing the inner soul of things ; they prepared my heart
for the magic craft which makes a man a poet when the
fatal power is his to compare what he feels within him
with realit} 7 , — the great things aimed for with the small
things gained. Those visions wrote upon my brain a
book in which I read that which I must voice ; they
laid upon my lips the coal of utterance.

My father having conceived some doubts as to the
tendencj- of the Oratorian teachings, took me from
Pont-le-Voy and sent me to Paris to an institution in
the Marais. I was then fifteen. When examined as

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The Lily of the Valley. 11

to my capacity, I, who was in the rhetoric class at
Pont-le-Voy, was pronounced worthy of the third class.
The sufferings I had endured in my family and in
school were continued under another form during my
stay at the Lepitre Academy. My father gave me no
money ; I was to be fed, clothed, and stuffed with
Latin and Greek, for a sum agreed on. During my
school life I came in contact with over a thousand com-
rades ; but I never met with such an instance of neg-
lect and indifference as mine. Monsieur Lepitre, who
was fanatically attached to the Bourbons, had had rela-
tions with my father at the time when all devoted roy-
alists were endeavoring to bring about the escape of
Marie Antoinette from the Temple. They had lately
renewed acquaintance ; and Monsieur Lepitre thought
himself obliged to repair my father's oversight, and to
give me a small sum nionthlj'. But not being author-
ized to do so, the amount was small indeed.

The Lepitre establishment was in the old Joyeuse
mansion where, as in all seignorial houses, there was a
porter's lodge. During a recess, which preceded the
hour when the man-of-all-work took us to the Charle-
magne Lyceum, the well-to-do pupils used to breakfast
with the porter, named Dois^y. Monsieur Lepitre was
either ignorant of the fact or he connived at this arrange-
ment with Doisy, a regular smuggler whom it was the
pupils' interest to protect, — he being the secret guar-
dian of their pranks, the safe confidant of their late re-
turns and their intermediary for obtaining forbidden
books. Breakfast on a cup of cafe-au-lait is an aristo-
cratic habit, explained by the high prices to which colo-
nial products rose under Napoleon. If the use of sugar

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12 The Lily of the Valley.

and coffee was a luxurj* to our parents, with us it was the
sign of self-conscious superiority. Doisy gave credit,
for he reckoned on the sisters and aunts of the pupils,
who made it a point of honor to pa}' their debts. I
resisted the blandishments of his place for a long time.
If my judges knew the strength of its seduction, the
heroic efforts I made after stoicism, the repressed de-
sires of my long resistance, they would pardon my final
overthrow. But, child as I was, could I have the gran-
deur of soul that scorns the scorn of others ? Moreover,
I may have felt the promptings of several social vices
whose power was increased by my longings.

About the end of the second 3*ear my father and
mother came to Paris. My brother had written me the
day of their arrival. He lived in Paris, but had never
been to see me. My sisters, he said, were of the
party; we were all to see Paris together. The first
day we were to dine in the Palais-Royal, so as to be
near the Theatre-Francois. In spite of the intoxication
such a programme of unhoped-for delights excited, my
joy was damped by the wind of a coming storm, which
those who are used to unhappiness apprehend instinc-
tively. I was forced to own a debt of a hundred francs
to the Sieur Doisy, who threatened to ask my parents
himself for the mone}\ I bethought me of making my
brother the emissary of Doisy, the mouth-piece of my
repentance and the mediator of pardon. My father
inclined to forgiveness, but my mother was pitiless;
her dark blue eye froze me ; she fulminated cruel
prophecies : " What should I be later if at seventeen
years of age I committed such follies? Was I really a

Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe lily of the valley → online text (page 1 of 24)