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Title: La Grenadiere
Author: Balzac, Honoré de
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "La Grenadiere" ***

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LA GRENADIERE


By Honore De Balzac



Translated By Ellen Marriage



                              To D. W.



LA GRENADIERE


La Grenadiere is a little house on the right bank of the Loire as you go
down stream, about a mile below the bridge of Tours. At this point the
river, broad as a lake, and covered with scattered green islands, flows
between two lines of cliff, where country houses built uniformly of
white stone stand among their gardens and vineyards. The finest fruit
in the world ripens there with a southern exposure. The patient toil of
many generations has cut terraces in the cliff, so that the face of the
rock reflects the rays of the sun, and the produce of hot climates may
be grown out of doors in an artificially high temperature.



A church spire, rising out of one of the shallower dips in the line of
cliffs, marks the little village of Saint-Cyr, to which the scattered
houses all belong. And yet a little further the Choisille flows into the
Loire, through a fertile valley cut in the long low downs.

La Grenadiere itself, half-way up the hillside, and about a hundred
paces from the church, is one of those old-fashioned houses dating back
some two or three hundred years, which you find in every picturesque
spot in Touraine. A fissure in the rock affords convenient space for a
flight of steps descending gradually to the “dike”--the local name for
the embankment made at the foot of the cliffs to keep the Loire in its
bed, and serve as a causeway for the highroad from Paris to Nantes. At
the top of the steps a gate opens upon a narrow stony footpath between
two terraces, for here the soil is banked up, and walls are built
to prevent landslips. These earthworks, as it were, are crowned with
trellises and espaliers, so that the steep path that lies at the foot of
the upper wall is almost hidden by the trees that grow on the top of the
lower, upon which it lies. The view of the river widens out before you
at every step as you climb to the house.

At the end you come to a second gateway, a Gothic archway covered
with simple ornament, now crumbling into ruin and overgrown with
wildflowers--moss and ivy, wallflowers and pellitory. Every stone wall
on the hillside is decked with this ineradicable plant-life, which
springs up along the cracks afresh with new wreaths for every time of
year.

The worm-eaten gate gives into a little garden, a strip of turf, a few
trees, and a wilderness of flowers and rose bushes--a garden won from
the rock on the highest terrace of all, with the dark, old balustrade
along its edge. Opposite the gateway, a wooden summer-house stands
against the neighboring wall, the posts are covered with jessamine and
honeysuckle, vines and clematis.

The house itself stands in the middle of this highest garden, above a
vine-covered flight of steps, with an arched doorway beneath that
leads to vast cellars hollowed out in the rock. All about the dwelling
trellised vines and pomegranate-trees (the _grenadiers_, which give the
name to the little close) are growing out in the open air. The front
of the house consists of two large windows on either side of a very
rustic-looking house door, and three dormer windows in the roof--a slate
roof with two gables, prodigiously high-pitched in proportion to the low
ground-floor. The house walls are washed with yellow color; and door,
and first-floor shutters, all the Venetian shutters of the attic
windows, all are painted green.

Entering the house, you find yourself in a little lobby with a crooked
staircase straight in front of you. It is a crazy wooden structure, the
spiral balusters are brown with age, and the steps themselves take a
new angle at every turn. The great old-fashioned paneled dining-room,
floored with square white tiles from Chateau-Regnault, is on your right;
to the left is the sitting-room, equally large, but here the walls
are not paneled; they have been covered instead with a saffron-colored
paper, bordered with green. The walnut-wood rafters are left visible,
and the intervening spaces filled with a kind of white plaster.

The first story consists of two large whitewashed bedrooms with stone
chimney-pieces, less elaborately carved than those in the rooms beneath.
Every door and window is on the south side of the house, save a single
door to the north, contrived behind the staircase to give access to the
vineyard. Against the western wall stands a supplementary timber-framed
structure, all the woodwork exposed to the weather being fledged with
slates, so that the walls are checkered with bluish lines. This shed
(for it is little more) is the kitchen of the establishment. You can
pass from it into the house without going outside; but, nevertheless,
it boasts an entrance door of its own, and a short flight of steps that
brings you to a deep well, and a very rustical-looking pump, half hidden
by water-plants and savin bushes and tall grasses. The kitchen is a
modern addition, proving beyond doubt that La Grenadiere was originally
nothing but a simple _vendangeoir_--a vintage-house belonging to
townsfolk in Tours, from which Saint-Cyr is separated by the vast
river-bed of the Loire. The owners only came over for the day for
a picnic, or at the vintage-time, sending provisions across in the
morning, and scarcely ever spent the night there except during the
grape harvest; but the English settled down on Touraine like a cloud of
locusts, and La Grenadiere must, of course, be completed if it was to
find tenants. Luckily, however, this recent appendage is hidden from
sight by the first two trees of a lime-tree avenue planted in a gully
below the vineyards.

There are only two acres of vineyard at most, the ground rising at the
back of the house so steeply that it is no very easy matter to scramble
up among the vines. The slope, covered with green trailing shoots, ends
within about five feet of the house wall in a ditch-like passage always
damp and cold and full of strong growing green things, fed by the
drainage of the highly cultivated ground above, for rainy weather washes
down the manure into the garden on the terrace.

A vinedresser’s cottage also leans against the western gable, and is
in some sort a continuation of the kitchen. Stone walls or espaliers
surround the property, and all sorts of fruit-trees are planted among
the vines; in short, not an inch of this precious soil is wasted. If
by chance man overlooks some dry cranny in the rocks, Nature puts in a
fig-tree, or sows wildflowers or strawberries in sheltered nooks among
the stones.

Nowhere else in all the world will you find a human dwelling so humble
and yet so imposing, so rich in fruit, and fragrant scents, and
wide views of country. Here is a miniature Touraine in the heart of
Touraine--all its flowers and fruits and all the characteristic beauty
of the land are fully represented. Here are grapes of every district,
figs and peaches and pears of every kind; melons are grown out of doors
as easily as licorice plants, Spanish broom, Italian oleanders, and
jessamines from the Azores. The Loire lies at your feet. You look down
from the terrace upon the ever-changing river nearly two hundred feet
below; and in the evening the breeze brings a fresh scent of the sea,
with the fragrance of far-off flowers gathered upon its way. Some cloud
wandering in space, changing its color and form at every moment as
it crosses the pure blue of the sky, can alter every detail in the
widespread wonderful landscape in a thousand ways, from every point
of view. The eye embraces first of all the south bank of the Loire,
stretching away as far as Amboise, then Tours with its suburbs and
buildings, and the Plessis rising out of the fertile plain; further
away, between Vouvray and Saint-Symphorien, you see a sort of crescent
of gray cliff full of sunny vineyards; the only limits to your view are
the low, rich hills along the Cher, a bluish line of horizon broken by
many a chateau and the wooded masses of many a park. Out to the west you
lose yourself in the immense river, where vessels come and go, spreading
their white sails to the winds which seldom fail them in the wide
Loire basin. A prince might build a summer palace at La Grenadiere,
but certainly it will always be the home of a poet’s desire, and the
sweetest of retreats for two young lovers--for this vintage house,
which belongs to a substantial burgess of Tours, has charms for every
imagination, for the humblest and dullest as well as for the most
impassioned and lofty. No one can dwell there without feeling that
happiness is in the air, without a glimpse of all that is meant by a
peaceful life without care or ambition. There is that in the air and the
sound of the river that sets you dreaming; the sands have a language,
and are joyous or dreary, golden or wan; and the owner of the vineyard
may sit motionless amid perennial flowers and tempting fruit, and feel
all the stir of the world about him.

If an Englishman takes the house for the summer, he is asked a thousand
francs for six months, the produce of the vineyard not included. If
the tenant wishes for the orchard fruit, the rent is doubled; for the
vintage, it is doubled again. What can La Grenadiere be worth, you
wonder; La Grenadiere, with its stone staircase, its beaten path and
triple terrace, its two acres of vineyard, its flowering roses about
the balustrades, its worn steps, well-head, rampant clematis, and
cosmopolitan trees? It is idle to make a bid! La Grenadiere will never
be in the market; it was brought once and sold, but that was in 1690;
and the owner parted with it for forty thousand francs, reluctant as
any Arab of the desert to relinquish a favorite horse. Since then it
has remained in the same family, its pride, its patrimonial jewel, its
Regent diamond. “While you behold, you have and hold,” says the bard.
And from La Grenadiere you behold three valleys of Touraine and the
cathedral towers aloft in air like a bit of filigree work. How can one
pay for such treasures? Could one ever pay for the health recovered
there under the linden-trees?

In the spring of one of the brightest years of the Restoration, a lady
with her housekeeper and her two children (the oldest a boy thirteen
years old, the youngest apparently about eight) came to Tours to look
for a house. She saw La Grenadiere and took it. Perhaps the distance
from the town was an inducement to live there.

She made a bedroom of the drawing-room, gave the children the two rooms
above, and the housekeeper slept in a closet behind the kitchen. The
dining-room was sitting-room and drawing-room all in one for the little
family. The house was furnished very simply but tastefully; there was
nothing superfluous in it, and no trace of luxury. The walnut-wood
furniture chosen by the stranger lady was perfectly plain, and the
whole charm of the house consisted in its neatness and harmony with its
surroundings.

It was rather difficult, therefore, to say whether the strange lady
(Mme. Willemsens, as she styled herself) belonged to the upper middle or
higher classes, or to an equivocal, unclassified feminine species. Her
plain dress gave rise to the most contradictory suppositions, but her
manners might be held to confirm those favorable to her. She had not
lived at Saint-Cyr, moreover, for very long before her reserve excited
the curiosity of idle people, who always, and especially in the country,
watch anybody or anything that promises to bring some interest into
their narrow lives.

Mme. Willemsens was rather tall; she was thin and slender, but
delicately shaped. She had pretty feet, more remarkable for the grace
of her instep and ankle than for the more ordinary merit of slenderness;
her gloved hands, too, were shapely. There were flitting patches of deep
red in a pale face, which must have been fresh and softly colored once.
Premature wrinkles had withered the delicately modeled forehead beneath
the coronet of soft, well-set chestnut hair, invariably wound about her
head in two plaits, a girlish coiffure which suited the melancholy face.
There was a deceptive look of calm in the dark eyes, with the hollow,
shadowy circles about them; sometimes, when she was off her guard, their
expression told of secret anguish. The oval of her face was somewhat
long; but happiness and health had perhaps filled and perfected the
outlines. A forced smile, full of quiet sadness, hovered continually on
her pale lips; but when the children, who were always with her, looked
up at their mother, or asked one of the incessant idle questions which
convey so much to a mother’s ears, then the smile brightened, and
expressed the joys of a mother’s love. Her gait was slow and dignified.
Her dress never varied; evidently she had made up her mind to think no
more of her toilette, and to forget a world by which she meant no doubt
to be forgotten. She wore a long, black gown, confined at the waist by
a watered-silk ribbon, and by way of scarf a lawn handkerchief with a
broad hem, the two ends passed carelessly through her waistband. The
instinct of dress showed itself in that she was daintily shod, and gray
silk stockings carried out the suggestion of mourning in this unvarying
costume. Lastly, she always wore a bonnet after the English fashion,
always of the same shape and the same gray material, and a black veil.
Her health apparently was extremely weak; she looked very ill. On fine
evenings she would take her only walk, down to the bridge of Tours,
bringing the two children with her to breathe the fresh, cool air along
the Loire, and to watch the sunset effects on a landscape as wide as the
Bay of Naples or the Lake of Geneva.

During the whole time of her stay at La Grenadiere she went but twice
into Tours; once to call on the headmaster of the school, to ask him
to give her the names of the best masters of Latin, drawing, and
mathematics; and a second time to make arrangements for the children’s
lessons. But her appearance on the bridge of an evening, once or twice
a week, was quite enough to excite the interest of almost all the
inhabitants of Tours, who make a regular promenade of the bridge.
Still, in spite of a kind of spy system, by which no harm is meant,
a provincial habit bred of want of occupation and the restless
inquisitiveness of the principal society, nothing was known for certain
of the newcomer’s rank, fortune, or real condition. Only, the owner of
La Grenadiere told one or two of his friends that the name under which
the stranger had signed the lease (her real name, therefore, in all
probability) was Augusta Willemsens, Countess of Brandon. This, of
course, must be her husband’s name. Events, which will be narrated in
their place, confirmed this revelation; but it went no further than the
little world of men of business known to the landlord.

So Madame Willemsens was a continual mystery to people of condition.
Hers was no ordinary nature; her manners were simple and delightfully
natural, the tones of her voice were divinely sweet,--this was all that
she suffered others to discover. In her complete seclusion, her sadness,
her beauty so passionately obscured, nay, almost blighted, there was so
much to charm, that several young gentlemen fell in love; but the more
sincere the lover, the more timid he became; and besides, the lady
inspired awe, and it was a difficult matter to find enough courage to
speak to her. Finally, if a few of the bolder sort wrote to her, their
letters must have been burned unread. It was Mme. Willemsens’ practice
to throw all the letters which she received into the fire, as if she
meant that the time spent in Touraine should be untroubled by any
outside cares even of the slightest. She might have come to the
enchanting retreat to give herself up wholly to the joy of living.

The three masters whose presence was allowed at La Grenadiere spoke with
something like admiring reverence of the touching picture that they saw
there of the close, unclouded intimacy of the life led by this woman and
the children.

The two little boys also aroused no small interest. Mothers could
not see them without a feeling of envy. Both children were like Mme.
Willemsens, who was, in fact, their mother. They had the transparent
complexion and bright color, the clear, liquid eyes, the long lashes,
the fresh outlines, the dazzling characteristics of childish beauty.

The elder, Louis-Gaston, had dark hair and fearless eyes. Everything
about him spoke as plainly of robust, physical health as his broad, high
brow, with its gracious curves, spoke of energy of character. He was
quick and alert in his movements, and strong of limb, without a trace
of awkwardness. Nothing took him unawares, and he seemed to think about
everything that he saw.

Marie-Gaston, the other child, had hair that was almost golden, though
a lock here and there had deepened to the mother’s chestnut tint.
Marie-Gaston was slender; he had the delicate features and the subtle
grace so charming in Mme. Willemsens. He did not look strong. There was
a gentle look in his gray eyes; his face was pale, there was something
feminine about the child. He still wore his hair in long, wavy curls,
and his mother would not have him give up embroidered collars, and
little jackets fastened with frogs and spindle-shaped buttons; evidently
she took a thoroughly feminine pleasure in the costume, a source of as
much interest to the mother as to the child. The elder boy’s plain white
collar, turned down over a closely fitting jacket, made a contrast with
his brother’s clothing, but the color and material were the same; the
two brothers were otherwise dressed alike, and looked alike.

No one could see them without feeling touched by the way in which Louis
took care of Marie. There was an almost fatherly look in the older boy’s
eyes; and Marie, child though he was, seemed to be full of gratitude to
Louis. They were like two buds, scarcely separated from the stem that
bore them, swayed by the same breeze, lying in the same ray of sunlight;
but the one was a brightly colored flower, the other somewhat bleached
and pale. At a glance, a word, an inflection in their mother’s voice,
they grew heedful, turned to look at her and listened, and did at once
what they were bidden, or asked, or recommended to do. Mme. Willemsens
had so accustomed them to understand her wishes and desires, that the
three seemed to have their thoughts in common. When they went for a
walk, and the children, absorbed in their play, ran away to gather
a flower or to look at some insect, she watched them with such deep
tenderness in her eyes, that the most indifferent passer-by would feel
moved, and stop and smile at the children, and give the mother a glance
of friendly greeting. Who would not have admired the dainty neatness of
their dress, their sweet, childish voices, the grace of their movements,
the promise in their faces, the innate something that told of careful
training from the cradle? They seemed as if they had never shed tears
nor wailed like other children. Their mother knew, as it were, by
electrically swift intuition, the desires and the pains which she
anticipated and relieved. She seemed to dread a complaint from one of
them more than the loss of her soul. Everything in her children did
honor to their mother’s training. Their threefold life, seemingly
one life, called up vague, fond thoughts; it was like a vision of the
dreamed-of bliss of a better world. And the three, so attuned to each
other, lived in truth such a life as one might picture for them at first
sight--the ordered, simple, and regular life best suited for a child’s
education.

Both children rose an hour after daybreak and repeated a short prayer,
a habit learned in their babyhood. For seven years the sincere petition
had been put up every morning on their mother’s bed, and begun and ended
by a kiss. Then the two brothers went through their morning toilet as
scrupulously as any pretty woman; doubtless they had been trained in
habits of minute attention to the person, so necessary to health of
body and mind, habits in some sort conducive to a sense of wellbeing.
Conscientiously they went through their duties, so afraid were they
lest their mother should say when she kissed them at breakfast-time,
“My darling children, where can you have been to have such black
finger-nails already?” Then the two went out into the garden and shook
off the dreams of the night in the morning air and dew, until sweeping
and dusting operations were completed, and they could learn their
lessons in the sitting-room until their mother joined them. But although
it was understood that they must not go to their mother’s room before a
certain hour, they peeped in at the door continually; and these morning
inroads, made in defiance of the original compact, were delicious
moments for all three. Marie sprang upon the bed to put his arms around
his idolized mother, and Louis, kneeling by the pillow, took her hand
in his. Then came inquiries, anxious as a lover’s, followed by angelic
laughter, passionate childish kisses, eloquent silences, lisping words,
and the little ones’ stories interrupted and resumed by a kiss, stories
seldom finished, though the listener’s interest never failed.

“Have you been industrious?” their mother would ask, but in tones
so sweet and so kindly that she seemed ready to pity laziness as a
misfortune, and to glance through tears at the child who was satisfied
with himself.

She knew that the thought of pleasing her put energy into the children’s
work; and they knew that their mother lived for them, and that all her
thoughts and her time were given to them. A wonderful instinct, neither
selfishness nor reason, perhaps the first innocent beginnings of
sentiment teaches children to know whether or not they are the first and
sole thought, to find out those who love to think of them and for them.
If you really love children, the dear little ones, with open hearts and
unerring sense of justice, are marvelously ready to respond to love.
Their love knows passion and jealousy and the most gracious delicacy
of feeling; they find the tenderest words of expression; they trust
you--put an entire belief in you. Perhaps there are no undutiful
children without undutiful mothers, for a child’s affection is always
in proportion to the affection that it receives--in early care, in the
first words that it hears, in the response of the eyes to which a child
first looks for love and life. All these things draw them closer to the
mother or drive them apart. God lays the child under the mother’s heart,
that she may learn that for a long time to come her heart must be
its home. And yet--there are mothers cruelly slighted, mothers whose
sublime, pathetic tenderness meets only a harsh return, a hideous
ingratitude which shows how difficult it is to lay down hard-and-fast
rules in matters of feeling.

Here, not one of all the thousand heart ties that bind child and mother
had been broken. The three were alone in the world; they lived one life,
a life of close sympathy. If Mme. Willemsens was silent in the morning,
Louis and Marie would not speak, respecting everything in her, even
those thoughts which they did not share. But the older boy, with a
precocious power of thought, would not rest satisfied with his mother’s
assertion that she was perfectly well. He scanned her face with uneasy
forebodings; the exact danger he did not know, but dimly he felt it
threatening in those purple rings about her eyes, in the deepening
hollows under them, and the feverish red that deepened in her face. If
Marie’s play began to tire her, his sensitive tact was quick to discover
this, and he would call to his brother:

“Come, Marie! let us run in to breakfast, I am hungry!”

But when they reached the door, he would look back to catch the
expression on his mother’s face. She still could find a smile for him,
nay, often there were tears in her eyes when some little thing revealed
her child’s exquisite feeling, a too early comprehension of sorrow.

Mme. Willemsens dressed during the children’s early breakfast and game
of play; she was coquettish for her darlings; she wished to be pleasing
in their eyes; for them she would fain be in all things lovely, a
gracious vision, with the charm of some sweet perfume of which one can
never have enough.

She was always dressed in time to hear their lessons, which lasted from
ten till three, with an interval at noon for lunch, the three taking the
meal together in the summer-house. After lunch the children played for
an hour, while she--poor woman and happy mother--lay on a long sofa
in the summer-house, so placed that she could look out over the soft,
ever-changing country of Touraine, a land that you learn to see afresh
in all the thousand chance effects produced by daylight and sky and the
time of year.

The children scampered through the orchard, scrambled about the
terraces, chased the lizards, scarcely less nimble than they;
investigating flowers and seeds and insects, continually referring all
questions to their mother, running to and fro between the garden and the
summer-house. Children have no need of toys in the country, everything
amuses them.

Mme. Willemsens sat at her embroidery during their lessons. She
never spoke, nor did she look at masters or pupils; but she followed
attentively all that was said, striving to gather the sense of the words
to gain a general idea of Louis’ progress. If Louis asked a question
that puzzled his master, his mother’s eyes suddenly lighted up, and she
would smile and glance at him with hope in her eyes. Of Marie she asked
little. Her desire was with her eldest son. Already she treated him,
as it were, respectfully, using all a woman’s, all a mother’s tact to
arouse the spirit of high endeavor in the boy, to teach him to think of
himself as capable of great things. She did this with a secret purpose,
which Louis was to understand in the future; nay, he understood it
already.

Always, the lesson over, she went as far as the gate with the master,
and asked strict account of Louis’ progress. So kindly and so winning
was her manner, that his tutors told her the truth, pointing out where
Louis was weak, so that she might help him in his lessons. Then came
dinner, and play after dinner, then a walk, and lessons were learned
till bedtime.

So their days went. It was a uniform but full life; work and amusements
left them not a dull hour in the day. Discouragement and quarreling
were impossible. The mother’s boundless love made everything smooth.
She taught her little sons moderation by refusing them nothing, and
submission by making them see underlying Necessity in its many forms;
she put heart into them with timely praise; developing and strengthening
all that was best in their natures with the care of a good fairy. Tears
sometimes rose to her burning eyes as she watched them play, and thought
how they had never caused her the slightest vexation. Happiness
so far-reaching and complete brings such tears, because for us it
represents the dim imaginings of Heaven which we all of us form in our
minds.

Those were delicious hours spent on that sofa in the garden-house,
in looking out on sunny days over the wide stretches of river and the
picturesque landscape, listening to the sound of her children’s voices
as they laughed at their own laughter, to the little quarrels that told
most plainly of their union of heart, of Louis’ paternal care of Marie,
of the love that both of them felt for her. They spoke English
and French equally well (they had had an English nurse since their
babyhood), so their mother talked to them in both languages; directing
the bent of their childish minds with admirable skill, admitting
no fallacious reasoning, no bad principle. She ruled by kindness,
concealing nothing, explaining everything. If Louis wished for books,
she was careful to give him interesting yet accurate books--books of
biography, the lives of great seamen, great captains, and famous men,
for little incidents in their history gave her numberless opportunities
of explaining the world and life to her children. She would point
out the ways in which men, really great in themselves, had risen from
obscurity; how they had started from the lowest ranks of society, with
no one to look to but themselves, and achieved noble destinies.

These readings, and they were not the least useful of Louis’ lessons,
took place while little Marie slept on his mother’s knee in the quiet of
the summer night, and the Loire reflected the sky; but when they ended,
this adorable woman’s sadness always seemed to be doubled; she would
cease to speak, and sit motionless and pensive, and her eyes would fill
with tears.

“Mother, why are you crying?” Louis asked one balmy June evening, just
as the twilight of a soft-lit night succeeded to a hot day.

Deeply moved by his trouble, she put her arm about the child’s neck and
drew him to her.

“Because, my boy, the lot of Jameray Duval, the poor and friendless lad
who succeeded at last, will be your lot, yours and your brother’s, and
I have brought it upon you. Before very long, dear child, you will be
alone in the world, with no one to help or befriend you. While you are
still children, I shall leave you, and yet, if only I could wait till
you are big enough and know enough to be Marie’s guardian! But I shall
not live so long. I love you so much that it makes me very unhappy to
think of it. Dear children, if only you do not curse me some day!----”

“But why should I curse you some day, mother?”

“Some day,” she said, kissing him on the forehead, “you will find out
that I have wronged you. I am going to leave you, here, without money,
without”--and she hesitated--“without a father,” she added, and at the
word she burst into tears and put the boy from her gently. A sort of
intuition told Louis that his mother wished to be alone, and he carried
off Marie, now half awake. An hour later, when his brother was in bed,
he stole down and out to the summer-house where his mother was sitting.

“Louis! come here.”

The words were spoken in tones delicious to his heart. The boy sprang to
his mother’s arms, and the two held each other in an almost convulsive
embrace.

“_Cherie_,” he said at last, the name by which he often called her,
finding that even loving words were too weak to express his feeling,
“_cherie_, why are you afraid that you are going to die?”

“I am ill, my poor darling; every day I am losing strength, and there is
no cure for my illness; I know that.”

“What is the matter with you?”

“Something that I ought to forget; something that you must never
know.--You must not know what caused my death.”

The boy was silent for a while. He stole a glance now and again at
his mother; and she, with her eyes raised to the sky, was watching the
clouds. It was a sad, sweet moment. Louis could not believe that his
mother would die soon, but instinctively he felt trouble which he could
not guess. He respected her long musings. If he had been rather older,
he would have read happy memories blended with thoughts of repentance,
the whole story of a woman’s life in that sublime face--the careless
childhood, the loveless marriage, a terrible passion, flowers springing
up in storm and struck down by the thunderbolt into an abyss from which
there is no return.

“Darling mother,” Louis said at last, “why do you hide your pain from
me?”

“My boy, we ought to hide our troubles from strangers,” she said; “we
should show them a smiling face, never speak of ourselves to them, nor
think about ourselves; and these rules, put in practice in family life,
conduce to its happiness. You will have much to bear one day! Ah me!
then think of your poor mother who died smiling before your eyes, hiding
her sufferings from you, and you will take courage to endure the ills of
life.”

She choked back her tears, and tried to make the boy understand
the mechanism of existence, the value of money, the standing and
consideration that it gives, and its bearing on social position;
the honorable means of gaining a livelihood, and the necessity of a
training. Then she told him that one of the chief causes of her sadness
and her tears was the thought that, on the morrow of her death, he and
Marie would be left almost resourceless, with but a slender stock of
money, and no friend but God.

“How quick I must be about learning!” cried Louis, giving her a piteous,
searching look.

“Oh! how happy I am!” she said, showering kisses and tears on her son.
“He understands me!--Louis,” she went on, “you will be your brother’s
guardian, will you not? You promise me that? You are no longer a child!”

“Yes, I promise,” he said; “but you are not going to die yet--say that
you are not going to die!”

“Poor little ones!” she replied, “love for you keeps the life in me. And
this country is so sunny, the air is so bracing, perhaps----”

“You make me love Touraine more than ever,” said the child.

From that day, when Mme. Willemsens, foreseeing the approach of death,
spoke to Louis of his future, he concentrated his attention on his work,
grew more industrious, and less inclined to play than heretofore. When
he had coaxed Marie to read a book and to give up boisterous games,
there was less noise in the hollow pathways and gardens and terraced
walks of La Grenadiere. They adapted their lives to their mother’s
melancholy. Day by day her face was growing pale and wan, there were
hollows now in her temples, the lines in her forehead grew deeper night
after night.

August came. The little family had been five months at La Grenadiere,
and their whole life was changed. The old servant grew anxious and
gloomy as she watched the almost imperceptible symptoms of slow decline
in the mistress, who seemed to be kept in life by an impassioned soul
and intense love of her children. Old Annette seemed to see that death
was very near. That mistress, beautiful still, was more careful of her
appearance than she had ever been; she was at pains to adorn her wasted
self, and wore paint on her cheeks; but often while she walked on the
upper terrace with the children, Annette’s wrinkled face would peer out
from between the savin trees by the pump. The old woman would forget her
work, and stand with wet linen in her hands, scarce able to keep back
her tears at the sight of Mme. Willemsens, so little like the enchanting
woman she once had been.

The pretty house itself, once so gay and bright, looked melancholy; it
was a very quiet house now, and the family seldom left it, for the walk
to the bridge was too great an effort for Mme. Willemsens. Louis had
almost identified himself, as it were, with his mother, and with his
suddenly developed powers of imagination he saw the weariness and
exhaustion under the red color, and constantly found reasons for taking
some shorter walk.

So happy couples coming to Saint-Cyr, then the Petite Courtille of
Tours, and knots of folk out for their evening walk along the “dike,”
 saw a pale, thin figure dressed in black, a woman with a worn yet bright
face, gliding like a shadow along the terraces. Great suffering
cannot be concealed. The vinedresser’s household had grown quiet also.
Sometimes the laborer and his wife and children were gathered about the
door of their cottage, while Annette was washing linen at the well-head,
and Mme. Willemsens and the children sat in the summer-house, and there
was not the faintest sound in those gardens gay with flowers. Unknown to
Mme. Willemsens, all eyes grew pitiful at the sight of her, she was
so good, so thoughtful, so dignified with those with whom she came in
contact.

And as for her.--When the autumn days came on, days so sunny and bright
in Touraine, bringing with them grapes and ripe fruits and healthful
influences which must surely prolong life in spite of the ravages of
mysterious disease--she saw no one but her children, taking the utmost
that the hour could give her, as if each hour had been her last.

Louis had worked at night, unknown to his mother, and made immense
progress between June and September. In algebra he had come as far
as equations with two unknown quantities; he had studied descriptive
geometry, and drew admirably well; in fact, he was prepared to pass the
entrance examination of the Ecole polytechnique.

Sometimes of an evening he went down to the bridge of Tours. There was
a lieutenant there on half-pay, an Imperial naval officer, whose manly
face, medal, and gait had made an impression on the boy’s imagination,
and the officer on his side had taken a liking to the lad, whose eyes
sparkled with energy. Louis, hungering for tales of adventure, and eager
for information, used to follow in the lieutenant’s wake for the chance
of a chat with him. It so happened that the sailor had a friend and
comrade in the colonel of a regiment of infantry, struck off the rolls
like himself; and young Louis-Gaston had a chance of learning what
life was like in camp or on board a man-of-war. Of course, he plied
the veterans with questions; and when he had made up his mind to the
hardships of their rough callings, he asked his mother’s leave to take
country walks by way of amusement. Mme. Willemsens was beyond measure
glad that he should ask; the boy’s astonished masters had told her that
he was overworking himself. So Louis went for long walks. He tried to
inure himself to fatigue, climbed the tallest trees with incredible
quickness, learned to swim, watched through the night. He was not like
the same boy; he was a young man already, with a sunburned face, and a
something in his expression that told of deep purpose.

When October came, Mme. Willemsens could only rise at noon. The
sunshine, reflected by the surface of the Loire, and stored up by the
rocks, raised the temperature of the air till it was almost as warm
and soft as the atmosphere of the Bay of Naples, for which reason the
faculty recommend the place of abode. At mid-day she came out to sit
under the shade of green leaves with the two boys, who never wandered
from her now. Lessons had come to an end. Mother and children wished to
live the life of heart and heart together, with no disturbing element,
no outside cares. No tears now, no joyous outcries. The elder boy, lying
in the grass at his mother’s side, basked in her eyes like a lover and
kissed her feet. Marie, the restless one, gathered flowers for her, and
brought them with a subdued look, standing on tiptoe to put a girlish
kiss on her lips. And the pale woman, with the great tired eyes and
languid movements, never uttered a word of complaint, and smiled upon
her children, so full of life and health--it was a sublime picture,
lacking no melancholy autumn pomp of yellow leaves and half-despoiled
branches, nor the softened sunlight and pale clouds of the skies of
Touraine.

At last the doctor forbade Mme. Willemsens to leave her room. Every day
it was brightened by the flowers that she loved, and her children were
always with her. One day, early in November, she sat at the piano for
the last time. A picture--a Swiss landscape--hung above the instrument;
and at the window she could see her children standing with their heads
close together. Again and again she looked from the children to the
landscape, and then again at the children. Her face flushed, her fingers
flew with passionate feeling over the ivory keys. This was her last
great day, an unmarked day of festival, held in her own soul by the
spirit of her memories. When the doctor came, he ordered her to stay in
bed. The alarming dictum was received with bewildered silence.

When the doctor had gone, she turned to the older boy.

“Louis,” she said, “take me out on the terrace, so that I may see my
country once more.”

The boy gave his arm at those simply uttered words, and brought his
mother out upon the terrace; but her eyes turned, perhaps unconsciously,
to heaven rather than to the earth, and indeed, it would have been hard
to say whether heaven or earth was the fairer--for the clouds traced
shadowy outlines, like the grandest Alpine glaciers, against the sky.
Mme. Willemsens’ brows contracted vehemently; there was a look of
anguish and remorse in her eyes. She caught the children’s hands, and
clutched them to a heavily-throbbing heart.

“‘Parentage unknown!’” she cried, with a look that went to their hearts.
“Poor angels, what will become of you? And when you are twenty years
old, what strict account may you not require of my life and your own?”

She put the children from her, and leaning her arms upon the balustrade,
stood for a while hiding her face, alone with herself, fearful of all
eyes. When she recovered from the paroxysm, she saw Louis and Marie
kneeling on either side of her, like two angels; they watched the
expression of her face, and smiled lovingly at her.

“If only I could take that smile with me!” she said, drying her eyes.

Then she went into the house and took to the bed, which she would only
leave for her coffin.

A week went by, one day exactly like another. Old Annette and Louis took
it in turns to sit up with Mme. Willemsens, never taking their eyes
from the invalid. It was the deeply tragical hour that comes in all
our lives, the hour of listening in terror to every deep breath lest it
should be the last, a dark hour protracted over many days. On the fifth
day of that fatal week the doctor interdicted flowers in the room. The
illusions of life were going one by one.

Then Marie and his brother felt their mother’s lips hot as fire beneath
their kisses; and at last, on the Saturday evening, Mme. Willemsens was
too ill to bear the slightest sound, and her room was left in disorder.
This neglect for a woman of refined taste, who clung so persistently to
the graces of life, meant the beginning of the death-agony. After this,
Louis refused to leave his mother. On Sunday night, in the midst of the
deepest silence, when Louis thought that she had grown drowsy, he saw a
white, moist hand move the curtain in the lamplight.

“My son!” she said. There was something so solemn in the dying woman’s
tones, that the power of her wrought-up soul produced a violent reaction
on the boy; he felt an intense heat pass through the marrow of his
bones.

“What is it, mother?”

“Listen! To-morrow all will be over for me. We shall see each other no
more. To-morrow you will be a man, my child. So I am obliged to make
some arrangements, which must remain a secret, known only to us. Take
the key of my little table. That is it. Now open the drawer. You will
find two sealed papers to the left. There is the name of LOUIS on one,
and on the other MARIE.”

“Here they are, mother.”

“Those are your certificates of birth, darling; you will want them. Give
them to our poor, old Annette to keep for you; ask her for them when
you need them. Now,” she continued, “is there not another paper as well,
something in my handwriting?”

“Yes, mother,” and Louis began to read, “_Marie Willemsens, born
at_----”

“That is enough,” she broke in quickly, “do not go on. When I am
dead, give that paper, too, to Annette, and tell her to send it to the
registrar at Saint-Cyr; it will be wanted if my certificate of death
is to be made out in due form. Now find writing materials for a letter
which I will dictate to you.”

When she saw that he was ready to begin, and turned towards her for the
words, they came from her quietly:--

“Monsieur le Comte, your wife, Lady Brandon, died at Saint-Cyr, near
Tours, in the department of Indre-et-Loire. She forgave you.”

“Sign yourself----” she stopped, hesitating and perturbed.

“Are you feeling worse?” asked Louis.

“Put ‘Louis-Gaston,’” she went on.

She sighed, then she went on.

“Seal the letter, and direct it. To Lord Brandon, Brandon Square, Hyde
Park, London, Angleterre.--That is right. When I am dead, post the
letter in Tours, and prepay the postage.--Now,” she added, after a
pause, “take the little pocketbook that you know, and come here, my dear
child.... There are twelve thousand francs in it,” she said, when Louis
had returned to her side. “That is all your own. Oh me! you would have
been better off if your father----”

“My father,” cried the boy, “where is he?”

“He is dead,” she said, laying her finger on her lips; “he died to save
my honor and my life.”

She looked upwards. If any tears had been left to her, she would have
wept for pain.

“Louis,” she continued, “swear to me, as I lie here, that you will
forget all that you have written, all that I have told you.”

“Yes, mother.”

“Kiss me, dear angel.”

She was silent for a long while, she seemed to be drawing strength from
God, and to be measuring her words by the life that remained in her.

“Listen,” she began. “Those twelve thousand francs are all that you have
in the world. You must keep the money upon you, because when I am dead
the lawyers will come and seal everything up. Nothing will be yours
then, not even your mother. All that remains for you to do will be to go
out, poor orphan children, God knows where. I have made Annette’s future
secure. She will have an annuity of a hundred crowns, and she will stay
at Tours no doubt. But what will you do for yourself and your brother?”

She raised herself, and looked at the brave child, standing by her
bedside. There were drops of perspiration on his forehead, he was pale
with emotion, and his eyes were dim with tears.

“I have thought it over, mother,” he answered in a deep voice. “I will
take Marie to the school here in Tours. I will give ten thousand francs
to our old Annette, and ask her to take care of them, and to look after
Marie. Then, with the remaining two thousand francs, I will go to Brest,
and go to sea as an apprentice. While Marie is at school, I will rise to
be a lieutenant on board a man-of-war. There, after all, die in peace,
my mother; I shall come back again a rich man, and our little one shall
go to the Ecole polytechnique, and I will find a career to suit his
bent.”

A gleam of joy shone in the dying woman’s eyes. Two tears brimmed over,
and fell over her fevered cheeks; then a deep sigh escaped between her
lips. The sudden joy of finding the father’s spirit in the son, who had
grown all at once to be a man, almost killed her.

“Angel of heaven,” she cried, weeping, “by one word you have effaced all
my sorrows. Ah! I can bear them.--This is my son,” she said, “I bore, I
reared this man,” and she raised her hands above her, and clasped them
as if in ecstasy, then she lay back on the pillow.

“Mother, your face is growing pale!” cried the lad.

“Some one must go for a priest,” she answered, with a dying voice.

Louis wakened Annette, and the terrified old woman hurried to the
parsonage at Saint-Cyr.

When morning came, Mme. Willemsens received the sacrament amid the most
touching surroundings. Her children were kneeling in the room, with
Annette and the vinedresser’s family, simple folk, who had already
become part of the household. The silver crucifix, carried by a
chorister, a peasant child from the village, was lifted up, and the
dying mother received the Viaticum from an aged priest. The Viaticum!
sublime word, containing an idea yet more sublime, an idea only
possessed by the apostolic religion of the Roman church.

“This woman has suffered greatly!” the old cure said in his simple way.

Marie Willemsens heard no voices now, but her eyes were still fixed upon
her children. Those about her listened in terror to her breathing in the
deep silence; already it came more slowly, though at intervals a deep
sigh told them that she still lived, and of a struggle within her; then
at last it ceased. Every one burst into tears except Marie. He, poor
child, was still too young to know what death meant.

Annette and the vinedresser’s wife closed the eyes of the adorable
woman, whose beauty shone out in all its radiance after death. Then the
women took possession of the chamber of death, removed the furniture,
wrapped the dead in her winding-sheet, and laid her upon the couch. They
lit tapers about her, and arranged everything--the crucifix, the sprigs
of box, and the holy-water stoup--after the custom of the countryside,
bolting the shutters and drawing the curtains. Later the curate came to
pass the night in prayer with Louis, who refused to leave his mother. On
Tuesday morning an old woman and two children and a vinedresser’s wife
followed the dead to her grave. These were the only mourners. Yet
this was a woman whose wit and beauty and charm had won a European
reputation, a woman whose funeral, if it had taken place in London,
would have been recorded in pompous newspaper paragraphs, as a sort of
aristocratic rite, if she had not committed the sweetest of crimes, a
crime always expiated in this world, so that the pardoned spirit may
enter heaven. Marie cried when they threw the earth on his mother’s
coffin; he understood that he should see her no more.

A simple, wooden cross, set up to mark her grave, bore this inscription,
due to the cure of Saint-Cyr:--

                         HERE LIES
                     AN UNHAPPY WOMAN,
             WHO DIED AT THE AGE OF THIRTY-SIX.
          KNOWN IN HEAVEN BY THE NAME OF AUGUSTA.
                      _Pray for her!_

When all was over, the children came back to La Grenadiere to take a
last look at their home; then, hand in hand, they turned to go with
Annette, leaving the vinedresser in charge, with directions to hand over
everything duly to the proper authorities.

At this moment, Annette called to Louis from the steps by the kitchen
door, and took him aside with, “Here is madame’s ring, Monsieur Louis.”

The sight of this vivid remembrance of his dead mother moved him so
deeply that he wept. In his fortitude, he had not even thought of this
supreme piety; and he flung his arms round the old woman’s neck. Then
the three set out down the beaten path, and the stone staircase, and so
to Tours, without turning their heads.

“Mamma used to come there!” Marie said when they reached the bridge.

Annette had a relative, a retired dressmaker, who lived in the Rue de la
Guerche. She took the two children to this cousin’s house, meaning that
they should live together thenceforth. But Louis told her of his plans,
gave Marie’s certificate of birth and the ten thousand francs into her
keeping, and the two went the next morning to take Marie to school.

Louis very briefly explained his position to the headmaster, and went.
Marie came with him as far as the gateway. There Louis gave solemn
parting words of the tenderest counsel, telling Marie that he would now
be left alone in the world. He looked at his brother for a moment, and
put his arms about him, took one more long look, brushed a tear from his
eyes, and went, turning again and again till the very last to see his
brother standing there in the gateway of the school.



A month later Louis-Gaston, now an apprentice on board a man-of-war,
left the harbor of Rochefort. Leaning over the bulwarks of the corvette
Iris, he watched the coast of France receding swiftly till it became
indistinguishable from the faint blue horizon line. In a little while
he felt that he was really alone, and lost in the wide ocean, lost and
alone in the world and in life.

“There is no need to cry, lad; there is a God for us all,” said an old
sailor, with rough kindliness in his thick voice.

The boy thanked him with pride in his eyes. Then he bowed his head, and
resigned himself to a sailor’s life. He was a father.


ANGOULEME, August, 1832.



ADDENDUM

The following personages appear in other stories of the Human Comedy.

     Brandon, Lady Marie Augusta
       The Member for Arcis
       The Lily of the Valley
       La Grenadiere

     Gaston, Louis
       La Grenadiere
       Letters of Two Brides

     Gaston, Marie
       La Grenadiere
       Letters of Two Brides
       The Member for Arcis





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