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Honoré de Balzac.

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"What calm!" I said to myself as I saw the ghastly pallor of her face
contrasting with her brown hair, and heard the guttural tones of her
voice. The havoc wrought in her drawn features filled me with dumb
amazement.

Those few hours had bleached her; she had lost a woman's last glow of
autumn color. Her eyes were red and swollen, nothing of their beauty
remained, nothing looked out of them save her bitter and exceeding
grief; it was as if a gray cloud covered the place through which the sun
had shone.

I gave her the story of the accident in a few words, without laying too
much stress on some too harrowing details. I told her about our first
day's journey, and how it had been filled with recollections of her and
of love. And she listened eagerly, without shedding a tear, leaning her
face towards me, as some zealous doctor might lean to watch any change
in a patient's face. When she seemed to me to have opened her whole
heart to pain, to be deliberately plunging herself into misery with the
first delirious frenzy of despair, I caught at my opportunity, and told
her of the fears that troubled the poor dying man, told her how and
why it was that he had given me this fatal message. Then her tears were
dried by the fires that burned in the dark depths within her. She grew
even paler. When I drew the letters from beneath my pillow and held them
out to her, she took them mechanically; then, trembling from head to
foot, she said in a hollow voice:

"And _I_ burned all his letters! - I have nothing of him left! - Nothing!
nothing!"

She struck her hand against her forehead.

"Madame - - " I began.

She glanced at me in the convulsion of grief.

"I cut this from his head, this lock of his hair."

And I gave her that last imperishable token that had been a very part
of him she loved. Ah! if you had felt, as I felt then, her burning tears
falling on your hands, you would know what gratitude is, when it follows
so closely upon the benefit. Her eyes shone with a feverish glitter,
a faint ray of happiness gleamed out of her terrible suffering, as she
grasped my hands in hers, and said, in a choking voice:

"Ah! you love! May you be happy always. May you never lose her whom you
love."

She broke off, and fled away with her treasure.

Next morning, this night-scene among my dreams seemed like a dream; to
make sure of the piteous truth, I was obliged to look fruitlessly under
my pillow for the packet of letters. There is no need to tell you how
the next day went. I spent several hours of it with the Juliette whom my
poor comrade had so praised to me. In her lightest words, her gestures,
in all that she did and said, I saw proofs of the nobleness of soul, the
delicacy of feeling which made her what she was, one of those beloved,
loving, and self-sacrificing natures so rarely found upon this earth.

In the evening the Comte de Montpersan came himself as far as Moulins
with me. There he spoke with a kind of embarrassment:

"Monsieur, if it is not abusing your good-nature, and acting very
inconsiderately towards a stranger to whom we are already under
obligations, would you have the goodness, as you are going to Paris, to
remit a sum of money to M. de - - (I forget the name), in the Rue du
Sentier; I owe him an amount, and he asked me to send it as soon as
possible."

"Willingly," said I. And in the innocence of my heart, I took charge
of a rouleau of twenty-five louis d'or, which paid the expenses of
my journey back to Paris; and only when, on my arrival, I went to
the address indicated to repay the amount to M. de Montpersan's
correspondent, did I understand the ingenious delicacy with which
Juliette had obliged me. Was not all the genius of a loving woman
revealed in such a way of lending, in her reticence with regard to a
poverty easily guessed?

And what rapture to have this adventure to tell to a woman who clung to
you more closely in dread, saying, "Oh, my dear, not you! _You_ must not
die!"








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Online LibraryHonoré de BalzacThe Message → online text (page 2 of 2)