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Title: The Deserted Woman
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.

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THE DESERTED WOMAN


By Honore De Balzac



Translated by Ellen Marriage



                             DEDICATION

                To Her Grace the Duchesse d’Abrantes,
                      from her devoted servant,
                          Honore de Balzac.
                         PARIS, August 1835.



THE DESERTED WOMAN


In the early spring of 1822, the Paris doctors sent to Lower Normandy a
young man just recovering from an inflammatory complaint, brought on by
overstudy, or perhaps by excess of some other kind. His convalescence
demanded complete rest, a light diet, bracing air, and freedom from
excitement of every kind, and the fat lands of Bessin seemed to offer
all these conditions of recovery. To Bayeux, a picturesque place about
six miles from the sea, the patient therefore betook himself, and was
received with the cordiality characteristic of relatives who lead very
retired lives, and regard a new arrival as a godsend.

All little towns are alike, save for a few local customs. When M. le
Baron Gaston de Nueil, the young Parisian in question, had spent two or
three evenings in his cousin’s house, or with the friends who made up
Mme. de Sainte-Severe’s circle, he very soon had made the acquaintance
of the persons whom this exclusive society considered to be “the
whole town.” Gaston de Nueil recognized in them the invariable stock
characters which every observer finds in every one of the many capitals
of the little States which made up the France of an older day.

First of all comes the family whose claims to nobility are regarded as
incontestable, and of the highest antiquity in the department, though no
one has so much as heard of them a bare fifty leagues away. This
species of royal family on a small scale is distantly, but unmistakably,
connected with the Navarreins and the Grandlieu family, and related to
the Cadignans, and the Blamont-Chauvrys. The head of the illustrious
house is invariably a determined sportsman. He has no manners, crushes
everybody else with his nominal superiority, tolerates the sub-prefect
much as he submits to the taxes, and declines to acknowledge any of the
novel powers created by the nineteenth century, pointing out to you as
a political monstrosity the fact that the prime minister is a man of no
birth. His wife takes a decided tone, and talks in a loud voice. She has
had adorers in her time, but takes the sacrament regularly at Easter.
She brings up her daughters badly, and is of the opinion that they will
always be rich enough with their name.

Neither husband nor wife has the remotest idea of modern luxury. They
retain a livery only seen elsewhere on the stage, and cling to old
fashions in plate, furniture, and equipages, as in language and manner
of life. This is a kind of ancient state, moreover, that suits passably
well with provincial thrift. The good folk are, in fact, the lords of
the manor of a bygone age, _minus_ the quitrents and heriots, the pack
of hounds and the laced coats; full of honor among themselves, and one
and all loyally devoted to princes whom they only see at a distance.
The historical house _incognito_ is as quaint a survival as a piece of
ancient tapestry. Vegetating somewhere among them there is sure to be
an uncle or a brother, a lieutenant-general, an old courtier of the
Kings’s, who wears the red ribbon of the order of Saint-Louis, and went
to Hanover with the Marechal de Richelieu: and here you will find him
like a stray leaf out of some old pamphlet of the time of Louis Quinze.

This fossil greatness finds a rival in another house, wealthier, though
of less ancient lineage. Husband and wife spend a couple of months of
every winter in Paris, bringing back with them its frivolous tone and
short-lived contemporary crazes. Madame is a woman of fashion, though
she looks rather conscious of her clothes, and is always behind the
mode. She scoffs, however, at the ignorance affected by her neighbors.
_Her_ plate is of modern fashion; she has “grooms,” Negroes, a
valet-de-chambre, and what-not. Her oldest son drives a tilbury, and
does nothing (the estate is entailed upon him), his younger brother is
auditor to a Council of State. The father is well posted up in official
scandals, and tells you anecdotes of Louis XVIII. and Madame du Cayla.
He invests his money in the five per cents, and is careful to avoid the
topic of cider, but has been known occasionally to fall a victim to the
craze for rectifying the conjectural sums-total of the various fortunes
of the department. He is a member of the Departmental Council, has
his clothes from Paris, and wears the Cross of the Legion of Honor. In
short, he is a country gentleman who has fully grasped the significance
of the Restoration, and is coining money at the Chamber, but his
Royalism is less pure than that of the rival house; he takes
the _Gazette_ and the _Debats_, the other family only read the
_Quotidienne_.

His lordship the Bishop, a sometime Vicar-General, fluctuates between
the two powers, who pay him the respect due to religion, but at times
they bring home to him the moral appended by the worthy Lafontaine
to the fable of the _Ass laden with Relics_. The good man’s origin is
distinctly plebeian.

Then come stars of the second magnitude, men of family with ten or
twelve hundred livres a year, captains in the navy or cavalry regiments,
or nothing at all. Out on the roads, on horseback, they rank half-way
between the cure bearing the sacraments and the tax collector on his
rounds. Pretty nearly all of them have been in the Pages or in
the Household Troops, and now are peaceably ending their days in a
_faisance-valoir_, more interested in felling timber and the cider
prospects than in the Monarchy.

Still they talk of the Charter and the Liberals while the cards are
making, or over a game at backgammon, when they have exhausted the
usual stock of _dots_, and have married everybody off according to the
genealogies which they all know by heart. Their womenkind are haughty
dames, who assume the airs of Court ladies in their basket chaises. They
huddle themselves up in shawls and caps by way of full dress; and twice
a year, after ripe deliberation, have a new bonnet from Paris, brought
as opportunity offers. Exemplary wives are they for the most part, and
garrulous.

These are the principal elements of aristocratic gentility, with a
few outlying old maids of good family, spinsters who have solved the
problem: given a human being, to remain absolutely stationary. They
might be sealed up in the houses where you see them; their faces and
their dresses are literally part of the fixtures of the town, and the
province in which they dwell. They are its tradition, its memory, its
quintessence, the _genius loci_ incarnate. There is something frigid and
monumental about these ladies; they know exactly when to laugh and when
to shake their heads, and every now and then give out some utterance
which passes current as a witticism.

A few rich townspeople have crept into the miniature Faubourg
Saint-Germain, thanks to their money or their aristocratic leanings.
But despite their forty years, the circle still say of them, “Young
So-and-so has sound opinions,” and of such do they make deputies. As a
rule, the elderly spinsters are their patronesses, not without comment.

Finally, in this exclusive little set include two or three
ecclesiastics, admitted for the sake of their cloth, or for their wit;
for these great nobles find their own society rather dull, and introduce
the bourgeois element into their drawing-rooms, as a baker puts leaven
into his dough.

The sum-total contained by all heads put together consists of a certain
quantity of antiquated notions; a few new inflections brewed in company
of an evening being added from time to time to the common stock. Like
sea-water in a little creek, the phrases which represent these ideas
surge up daily, punctually obeying the tidal laws of conversation in
their flow and ebb; you hear the hollow echo of yesterday, to-day,
to-morrow, a year hence, and for evermore. On all things here below they
pass immutable judgments, which go to make up a body of tradition into
which no power of mortal man can infuse one drop of wit or sense. The
lives of these persons revolve with the regularity of clockwork in an
orbit of use and wont which admits of no more deviation or change than
their opinions on matters religious, political, moral, or literary.

If a stranger is admitted to the _cenacle_, every member of it in
turn will say (not without a trace of irony), “You will not find the
brilliancy of your Parisian society here,” and proceed forthwith to
criticise the life led by his neighbors, as if he himself were an
exception who had striven, and vainly striven, to enlighten the rest.
But any stranger so ill advised as to concur in any of their freely
expressed criticism of each other, is pronounced at once to be an
ill-natured person, a heathen, an outlaw, a reprobate Parisian “as
Parisians mostly are.”

Before Gaston de Nueil made his appearance in this little world of
strictly observed etiquette, where every detail of life is an integrant
part of a whole, and everything is known; where the values of personalty
and real estate is quoted like stocks on the vast sheet of the
newspaper--before his arrival he had been weighed in the unerring scales
of Bayeusaine judgment.

His cousin, Mme. de Sainte-Severe, had already given out the amount of
his fortune, and the sum of his expectations, had produced the family
tree, and expatiated on the talents, breeding, and modesty of this
particular branch. So he received the precise amount of attentions
to which he was entitled; he was accepted as a worthy scion of a good
stock; and, for he was but twenty-three, was made welcome without
ceremony, though certain young ladies and mothers of daughters looked
not unkindly upon him.

He had an income of eighteen thousand livres from land in the valley of
the Auge; and sooner or later his father, as in duty bound, would leave
him the chateau of Manerville, with the lands thereunto belonging.
As for his education, political career, personal qualities, and
qualifications--no one so much as thought of raising the questions. His
land was undeniable, his rentals steady; excellent plantations had been
made; the tenants paid for repairs, rates, and taxes; the apple-trees
were thirty-eight years old; and, to crown all, his father was in treaty
for two hundred acres of woodland just outside the paternal park, which
he intended to enclose with walls. No hopes of a political career, no
fame on earth, can compare with such advantages as these.

Whether out of malice or design, Mme. de Sainte-Severe omitted to
mention that Gaston had an elder brother; nor did Gaston himself say a
word about him. But, at the same time, it is true that the brother
was consumptive, and to all appearance would shortly be laid in earth,
lamented and forgotten.

At first Gaston de Nueil amused himself at the expense of the circle. He
drew, as it were, for his mental album, a series of portraits of these
folk, with their angular, wrinkled faces, and hooked noses, their
crotchets and ludicrous eccentricities of dress, portraits which
possessed all the racy flavor of truth. He delighted in their
“Normanisms,” in the primitive quaintness of their ideas and characters.
For a short time he flung himself into their squirrel’s life of busy
gyrations in a cage. Then he began to feel the want of variety, and grew
tired of it. It was like the life of the cloister, cut short before it
had well begun. He drifted on till he reached a crisis, which is neither
spleen nor disgust, but combines all the symptoms of both. When a human
being is transplanted into an uncongenial soil, to lead a starved,
stunted existence, there is always a little discomfort over the
transition. Then, gradually, if nothing removes him from his
surroundings, he grows accustomed to them, and adapts himself to the
vacuity which grows upon him and renders him powerless. Even now,
Gaston’s lungs were accustomed to the air; and he was willing to discern
a kind of vegetable happiness in days that brought no mental exertion
and no responsibilities. The constant stirring of the sap of life, the
fertilizing influences of mind on mind, after which he had sought so
eagerly in Paris, were beginning to fade from his memory, and he was in
a fair way of becoming a fossil with these fossils, and ending his
days among them, content, like the companions of Ulysses, in his gross
envelope.

One evening Gaston de Nueil was seated between a dowager and one of the
vicars-general of the diocese, in a gray-paneled drawing-room, floored
with large white tiles. The family portraits which adorned the walls
looked down upon four card-tables, and some sixteen persons gathered
about them, chattering over their whist. Gaston, thinking of nothing,
digesting one of those exquisite dinners to which the provincial looks
forward all through the day, found himself justifying the customs of the
country.

He began to understand why these good folk continued to play with
yesterday’s pack of cards and shuffle them on a threadbare tablecloth,
and how it was that they had ceased to dress for themselves or others.
He saw the glimmerings of something like a philosophy in the even tenor
of their perpetual round, in the calm of their methodical monotony, in
their ignorance of the refinements of luxury. Indeed, he almost came
to think that luxury profited nothing; and even now, the city of Paris,
with its passions, storms, and pleasures, was scarcely more than a
memory of childhood.

He admired in all sincerity the red hands, and shy, bashful manner
of some young lady who at first struck him as an awkward simpleton,
unattractive to the last degree, and surprisingly ridiculous. His doom
was sealed. He had gone from the provinces to Paris; he had led the
feverish life of Paris; and now he would have sunk back into the
lifeless life of the provinces, but for a chance remark which reached
his ear--a few words that called up a swift rush of such emotion as
he might have felt when a strain of really good music mingles with the
accompaniment of some tedious opera.

“You went to call on Mme. de Beauseant yesterday, did you not?” The
speaker was an elderly lady, and she addressed the head of the local
royal family.

“I went this morning. She was so poorly and depressed, that I could not
persuade her to dine with us to-morrow.”

“With Mme. de Champignelles?” exclaimed the dowager with something like
astonishment in her manner.

“With my wife,” calmly assented the noble. “Mme. de Beauseant is
descended from the House of Burgundy, on the spindle side, ‘tis true,
but the name atones for everything. My wife is very much attached to
the Vicomtesse, and the poor lady has lived alone for such a long while,
that----”

The Marquis de Champignelles looked round about him while he spoke with
an air of cool unconcern, so that it was almost impossible to guess
whether he made a concession to Mme. de Beauseant’s misfortunes, or paid
homage to her noble birth; whether he felt flattered to receive her in
his house, or, on the contrary, sheer pride was the motive that led him
to try to force the country families to meet the Vicomtesse.

The women appeared to take counsel of each other by a glance; there was
a sudden silence in the room, and it was felt that their attitude was
one of disapproval.

“Does this Mme. de Beauseant happen to be the lady whose adventure with
M. d’Ajuda-Pinto made so much noise?” asked Gaston of his neighbor.

“The very same,” he was told. “She came to Courcelles after the marriage
of the Marquis d’Ajuda; nobody visits her. She has, besides, too much
sense not to see that she is in a false position, so she has made no
attempt to see any one. M. de Champignelles and a few gentlemen went to
call upon her, but she would see no one but M. de Champignelles, perhaps
because he is a connection of the family. They are related through
the Beauseants; the father of the present Vicomte married a Mlle.
de Champignelles of the older branch. But though the Vicomtesse de
Beauseant is supposed to be a descendant of the House of Burgundy, you
can understand that we could not admit a wife separated from her husband
into our society here. We are foolish enough still to cling to these
old-fashioned ideas. There was the less excuse for the Vicomtesse,
because M. de Beauseant is a well-bred man of the world, who would have
been quite ready to listen to reason. But his wife is quite mad----” and
so forth and so forth.

M. de Nueil, still listening to the speaker’s voice, gathered nothing of
the sense of the words; his brain was too full of thick-coming fancies.
Fancies? What other name can you give to the alluring charms of an
adventure that tempts the imagination and sets vague hopes springing up
in the soul; to the sense of coming events and mysterious felicity and
fear at hand, while as yet there is no substance of fact on which these
phantoms of caprice can fix and feed? Over these fancies thought hovers,
conceiving impossible projects, giving in the germ all the joys of love.
Perhaps, indeed, all passion is contained in that thought-germ, as the
beauty, and fragrance, and rich color of the flower is all packed in the
seed.

M. de Nueil did not know that Mme. de Beauseant had taken refuge in
Normandy, after a notoriety which women for the most part envy and
condemn, especially when youth and beauty in some sort excuse the
transgression. Any sort of celebrity bestows an inconceivable prestige.
Apparently for women, as for families, the glory of the crime effaces
the stain; and if such and such a noble house is proud of its tale of
heads that have fallen on the scaffold, a young and pretty woman becomes
more interesting for the dubious renown of a happy love or a scandalous
desertion, and the more she is to be pitied, the more she excites our
sympathies. We are only pitiless to the commonplace. If, moreover, we
attract all eyes, we are to all intents and purposes great; how, indeed,
are we to be seen unless we raise ourselves above other people’s heads?
The common herd of humanity feels an involuntary respect for any person
who can rise above it, and is not over-particular as to the means by
which they rise.

It may have been that some such motives influenced Gaston de Nueil at
unawares, or perhaps it was curiosity, or a craving for some interest in
his life, or, in a word, that crowd of inexplicable impulses which, for
want of a better name, we are wont to call “fatality,” that drew him to
Mme. de Beauseant.

The figure of the Vicomtesse de Beauseant rose up suddenly before him
with gracious thronging associations. She was a new world for him,
a world of fears and hopes, a world to fight for and to conquer.
Inevitably he felt the contrast between this vision and the human beings
in the shabby room; and then, in truth, she was a woman; what woman had
he seen so far in this dull, little world, where calculation replaced
thought and feeling, where courtesy was a cut-and-dried formality, and
ideas of the very simplest were too alarming to be received or to pass
current? The sound of Mme. de Beauseant’s name revived a young man’s
dreams and wakened urgent desires that had lain dormant for a little.

Gaston de Nueil was absent-minded and preoccupied for the rest of the
evening. He was pondering how he might gain access to Mme. de Beauseant,
and truly it was no very easy matter. She was believed to be extremely
clever. But if men and women of parts may be captivated by something
subtle or eccentric, they are also exacting, and can read all that lies
below the surface; and after the first step has been taken, the chances
of failure and success in the difficult task of pleasing them are about
even. In this particular case, moreover, the Vicomtesse, besides the
pride of her position, had all the dignity of her name. Her utter
seclusion was the least of the barriers raised between her and the
world. For which reasons it was well-nigh impossible that a stranger,
however well born, could hope for admittance; and yet, the next
morning found M. de Nueil taking his walks abroad in the direction of
Courcelles, a dupe of illusions natural at his age. Several times he
made the circuit of the garden walls, looking earnestly through every
gap at the closed shutters or open windows, hoping for some romantic
chance, on which he founded schemes for introducing himself into this
unknown lady’s presence, without a thought of their impracticability.
Morning after morning was spent in this way to mighty purpose; but with
each day’s walk, that vision of a woman living apart from the world, of
love’s martyr buried in solitude, loomed larger in his thoughts, and
was enshrined in his soul. So Gaston de Nueil walked under the walls
of Courcelles, and some gardener’s heavy footstep would set his heart
beating high with hope.

He thought of writing to Mme. de Beauseant, but on mature consideration,
what can you say to a woman whom you have never seen, a complete
stranger? And Gaston had little self-confidence. Like most young persons
with a plentiful crop of illusions still standing, he dreaded the
mortifying contempt of silence more than death itself, and shuddered at
the thought of sending his first tender epistle forth to face so many
chances of being thrown on the fire. He was distracted by innumerable
conflicting ideas. But by dint of inventing chimeras, weaving romances,
and cudgeling his brains, he hit at last upon one of the hopeful
stratagems that are sure to occur to your mind if you persevere long
enough, a stratagem which must make clear to the most inexperienced
woman that here was a man who took a fervent interest in her. The
caprice of social conventions puts as many barriers between lovers as
any Oriental imagination can devise in the most delightfully fantastic
tale; indeed, the most extravagant pictures are seldom exaggerations. In
real life, as in the fairy tales, the woman belongs to him who can reach
her and set her free from the position in which she languishes. The
poorest of calenders that ever fell in love with the daughter of the
Khalif is in truth scarcely further from his lady than Gaston de Nueil
from Mme. de Beauseant. The Vicomtesse knew absolutely nothing of M. de
Nueil’s wanderings round her house; Gaston de Nueil’s love grew to the
height of the obstacles to overleap; and the distance set between him
and his extemporized lady-love produced the usual effect of distance, in
lending enchantment.

One day, confident in his inspiration, he hoped everything from the love
that must pour forth from his eyes. Spoken words, in his opinion, were
more eloquent than the most passionate letter; and, besides, he would
engage feminine curiosity to plead for him. He went, therefore, to M. de
Champignelles, proposing to employ that gentleman for the better success
of his enterprise. He informed the Marquis that he had been entrusted
with a delicate and important commission which concerned the Vicomtesse
de Beauseant, that he felt doubtful whether she would read a letter
written in an unknown handwriting, or put confidence in a stranger.
Would M. de Champignelles, on his next visit, ask the Vicomtesse if
she would consent to receive him--Gaston de Nueil? While he asked the
Marquis to keep his secret in case of a refusal, he very ingeniously
insinuated sufficient reasons for his own admittance, to be duly passed
on to the Vicomtesse. Was not M. de Champignelles a man of honor, a
loyal gentleman incapable of lending himself to any transaction in bad
taste, nay, the merest suspicion of bad taste! Love lends a young man
all the self-possession and astute craft of an old ambassador; all the
Marquis’ harmless vanities were gratified, and the haughty grandee
was completely duped. He tried hard to fathom Gaston’s secret; but the
latter, who would have been greatly perplexed to tell it, turned off M.
de Champignelles’ adroit questioning with a Norman’s shrewdness, till
the Marquis, as a gallant Frenchman, complimented his young visitor upon
his discretion.

M. de Champignelles hurried off at once to Courcelles, with that
eagerness to serve a pretty woman which belongs to his time of life.
In the Vicomtesse de Beauseant’s position, such a message was likely to
arouse keen curiosity; so, although her memory supplied no reason at all
that could bring M. de Nueil to her house, she saw no objection to his
visit--after some prudent inquiries as to his family and condition. At
the same time, she began by a refusal. Then she discussed the propriety
of the matter with M. de Champignelles, directing her questions so as
to discover, if possible, whether he knew the motives for the visit, and
finally revoked her negative answer. The discussion and the discretion
shown perforce by the Marquis had piqued her curiosity.

M. de Champignelles had no mind to cut a ridiculous figure. He
said, with the air of a man who can keep another’s counsel, that the
Vicomtesse must know the purpose of this visit perfectly well; while the
Vicomtesse, in all sincerity, had no notion what it could be. Mme. de
Beauseant, in perplexity, connected Gaston with people whom he had never
met, went astray after various wild conjectures, and asked herself if
she had seen this M. de Nueil before. In truth, no love-letter, however
sincere or skilfully indited, could have produced so much effect as this
riddle. Again and again Mme. de Beauseant puzzled over it.

When Gaston heard that he might call upon the Vicomtesse, his rapture at
so soon obtaining the ardently longed-for good fortune was mingled with
singular embarrassment. How was he to contrive a suitable sequel to this
stratagem?

“Bah! I shall see _her_,” he said over and over again to himself as he
dressed. “See her, and that is everything!”

He fell to hoping that once across the threshold of Courcelles he should
find an expedient for unfastening this Gordian knot of his own tying.
There are believers in the omnipotence of necessity who never turn back;
the close presence of danger is an inspiration that calls out all their
powers for victory. Gaston de Nueil was one of these.

He took particular pains with his dress, imagining, as youth is apt to
imagine, that success or failure hangs on the position of a curl, and
ignorant of the fact that anything is charming in youth. And, in any
case, such women as Mme. de Beauseant are only attracted by the charms
of wit or character of an unusual order. Greatness of character flatters
their vanity, promises a great passion, seems to imply a comprehension
of the requirements of their hearts. Wit amuses them, responds to the
subtlety of their natures, and they think that they are understood. And
what do all women wish but to be amused, understood, or adored? It is
only after much reflection on the things of life that we understand
the consummate coquetry of neglect of dress and reserve at a first
interview; and by the time we have gained sufficient astuteness for
successful strategy, we are too old to profit by our experience.

While Gaston’s lack of confidence in his mental equipment drove him
to borrow charms from his clothes, Madame de Beauseant herself was
instinctively giving more attention to her toilette.

“I would rather not frighten people, at all events,” she said to herself
as she arranged her hair.

In M. de Nueil’s character, person, and manner there was that touch of
unconscious originality which gives a kind of flavor to things that any
one might say or do, and absolves everything that they may choose to
do or say. He was highly cultivated, he had a keen brain, and a face,
mobile as his own nature, which won the goodwill of others. The promise
of passion and tenderness in the bright eyes was fulfilled by an
essentially kindly heart. The resolution which he made as he entered
the house at Courcelles was in keeping with his frank nature and ardent
imagination. But, bold has he was with love, his heart beat violently
when he had crossed the great court, laid out like an English garden,
and the man-servant, who had taken his name to the Vicomtesse, returned
to say that she would receive him.

“M. le Baron de Nueil.”

Gaston came in slowly, but with sufficient ease of manner; and it is a
more difficult thing, be it said, to enter a room where there is but one
woman, than a room that holds a score.

A great fire was burning on the hearth in spite of the mild weather,
and by the soft light of the candles in the sconces he saw a young woman
sitting on a high-backed _bergere_ in the angle by the hearth. The seat
was so low that she could move her head freely; every turn of it was
full of grace and delicate charm, whether she bent, leaning forward,
or raised and held it erect, slowly and languidly, as though it were a
heavy burden, so low that she could cross her feet and let them appear,
or draw them back under the folds of a long black dress.

The Vicomtesse made as if she would lay the book that she was reading on
a small, round stand; but as she did so, she turned towards M. de
Nueil, and the volume, insecurely laid upon the edge, fell to the ground
between the stand and the sofa. This did not seem to disconcert her.
She looked up, bowing almost imperceptibly in response to his greeting,
without rising from the depths of the low chair in which she lay.
Bending forwards, she stirred the fire briskly, and stooped to pick up a
fallen glove, drawing it mechanically over her left hand, while her
eyes wandered in search of its fellow. The glance was instantly checked,
however, for she stretched out a thin, white, all-but-transparent
right hand, with flawless ovals of rose-colored nail at the tips of the
slender, ringless fingers, and pointed to a chair as if to bid Gaston be
seated. He sat down, and she turned her face questioningly towards him.
Words cannot describe the subtlety of the winning charm and inquiry in
that gesture; deliberate in its kindliness, gracious yet accurate in
expression, it was the outcome of early education and of a constant use
and wont of the graciousness of life. These movements of hers, so
swift, so deft, succeeded each other by the blending of a pretty woman’s
fastidious carelessness with the high-bred manner of a great lady.

Mme. de Beauseant stood out in such strong contrast against the
automatons among whom he had spent two months of exile in that
out-of-the-world district of Normandy, that he could not but find in her
the realization of his romantic dreams; and, on the other hand, he
could not compare her perfections with those of other women whom he
had formerly admired. Here in her presence, in a drawing-room like some
salon in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, full of costly trifles lying about
upon the tables, and flowers and books, he felt as if he were back in
Paris. It was a real Parisian carpet beneath his feet, he saw once more
the high-bred type of Parisienne, the fragile outlines of her form, her
exquisite charm, her disdain of the studied effects which did so much to
spoil provincial women.

Mme. de Beauseant had fair hair and dark eyes, and the pale complexion
that belongs to fair hair. She held up her brow nobly like some fallen
angel, grown proud through the fall, disdainful of pardon. Her way of
gathering her thick hair into a crown of plaits above the broad, curving
lines of the bandeaux upon her forehead, added to the queenliness of her
face. Imagination could discover the ducal coronet of Burgundy in the
spiral threads of her golden hair; all the courage of her house seemed
to gleam from the great lady’s brilliant eyes, such courage as women
use to repel audacity or scorn, for they were full of tenderness for
gentleness. The outline of that little head, so admirably poised above
the long, white throat, the delicate, fine features, the subtle curves
of the lips, the mobile face itself, wore an expression of delicate
discretion, a faint semblance of irony suggestive of craft and
insolence. Yet it would have been difficult to refuse forgiveness to
those two feminine failings in her; for the lines that came out in her
forehead whenever her face was not in repose, like her upward glances
(that pathetic trick of manner), told unmistakably of unhappiness, of
a passion that had all but cost her her life. A woman, sitting in the
great, silent salon, a woman cut off from the rest of the world in this
remote little valley, alone, with the memories of her brilliant, happy,
and impassioned youth, of continual gaiety and homage paid on all sides,
now replaced by the horrors of the void--was there not something in the
sight to strike awe that deepened with reflection? Consciousness of her
own value lurked in her smile. She was neither wife nor mother, she was
an outlaw; she had lost the one heart that could set her pulses beating
without shame; she had nothing from without to support her reeling soul;
she must even look for strength from within, live her own life, cherish
no hope save that of forsaken love, which looks forward to Death’s
coming, and hastens his lagging footsteps. And this while life was in
its prime. Oh! to feel destined for happiness and to die--never having
given nor received it! A woman too! What pain was this! These thoughts
flashing across M. de Nueil’s mind like lightning, left him very humble
in the presence of the greatest charm with which woman can be invested.
The triple aureole of beauty, nobleness, and misfortune dazzled him; he
stood in dreamy, almost open-mouthed admiration of the Vicomtesse. But
he found nothing to say to her.

Mme. de Beauseant, by no means displeased, no doubt, by his surprise,
held out her hand with a kindly but imperious gesture; then, summoning a
smile to her pale lips, as if obeying, even yet, the woman’s impulse to
be gracious:

“I have heard from M. de Champignelles of a message which you have
kindly undertaken to deliver, monsieur,” she said. “Can it be from----”

With that terrible phrase Gaston understood, even more clearly than
before, his own ridiculous position, the bad taste and bad faith of his
behavior towards a woman so noble and so unfortunate. He reddened. The
thoughts that crowded in upon him could be read in his troubled eyes;
but suddenly, with the courage which youth draws from a sense of its own
wrongdoing, he gained confidence, and very humbly interrupted Mme. de
Beauseant.

“Madame,” he faltered out, “I do not deserve the happiness of seeing
you. I have deceived you basely. However strong the motive may have
been, it can never excuse the pitiful subterfuge which I used to gain my
end. But, madame, if your goodness will permit me to tell you----”

The Vicomtesse glanced at M. de Nueil, haughty disdain in her whole
manner. She stretched her hand to the bell and rang it.

“Jacques,” she said, “light this gentleman to the door,” and she looked
with dignity at the visitor.

She rose proudly, bowed to Gaston, and then stooped for the fallen
volume. If all her movements on his entrance had been caressingly dainty
and gracious, her every gesture now was no less severely frigid. M. de
Nueil rose to his feet, but he stood waiting. Mme. de Beauseant flung
another glance at him. “Well, why do you not go?” she seemed to say.

There was such cutting irony in that glance that Gaston grew white as if
he were about to faint. Tears came into his eyes, but he would not let
them fall, and scorching shame and despair dried them. He looked back
at Madame de Beauseant, and a certain pride and consciousness of his
own worth was mingled with his humility; the Vicomtesse had a right to
punish him, but ought she to use her right? Then he went out.

As he crossed the ante-chamber, a clear head, and wits sharpened by
passion, were not slow to grasp the danger of his situation.

“If I leave this house, I can never come back to it again,” he said
to himself. “The Vicomtesse will always think of me as a fool. It is
impossible that a woman, and such a woman, should not guess the
love that she has called forth. Perhaps she feels a little, vague,
involuntary regret for dismissing me so abruptly.--But she could not
do otherwise, and she cannot recall her sentence. It rests with me to
understand her.”

At that thought Gaston stopped short on the flight of steps with an
exclamation; he turned sharply, saying, “I have forgotten something,”
 and went back to the salon. The lackey, all respect for a baron and the
rights of property, was completely deceived by the natural utterance,
and followed him. Gaston returned quietly and unannounced. The
Vicomtesse, thinking that the intruder was the servant, looked up and
beheld M. de Nueil.

“Jacques lighted me to the door,” he said, with a half-sad smile which
dispelled any suspicion of jest in those words, while the tone in which
they were spoken went to the heart. Mme. de Beauseant was disarmed.

“Very well, take a seat,” she said.

Gaston eagerly took possession of a chair. His eyes were shining with
happiness; the Vicomtesse, unable to endure the brilliant light in
them, looked down at the book. She was enjoying a delicious, ever new
sensation; the sense of a man’s delight in her presence is an unfailing
feminine instinct. And then, besides, he had divined her, and a woman is
so grateful to the man who has mastered the apparently capricious, yet
logical, reasoning of her heart; who can track her thought through the
seemingly contradictory workings of her mind, and read the sensations,
shy or bold, written in fleeting red, a bewildering maze of coquetry and
self-revelation.

“Madame,” Gaston exclaimed in a low voice, “my blunder you know, but
you do not know how much I am to blame. If you only knew what joy it was
to----”

“Ah! take care,” she said, holding up one finger with an air of mystery,
as she put out her hand towards the bell.

The charming gesture, the gracious threat, no doubt called up some sad
thought, some memory of the old happy time when she could be wholly
charming and gentle without an afterthought; when the gladness of her
heart justified every caprice, and put charm into every least movement.
The lines in her forehead gathered between her brows, and the expression
of her face grew dark in the soft candle-light. Then looking across at
M. de Nueil gravely but not unkindly, she spoke like a woman who deeply
feels the meaning of every word.

“This is all very ridiculous! Once upon a time, monsieur, when
thoughtless high spirits were my privilege, I should have laughed
fearlessly over your visit with you. But now my life is very much
changed. I cannot do as I like, I am obliged to think. What brings you
here? Is it curiosity? In that case I am paying dearly for a little
fleeting pleasure. Have you fallen _passionately_ in love already with a
woman whom you have never seen, a woman with whose name slander has, of
course, been busy? If so, your motive in making this visit is based on
disrespect, on an error which accident brought into notoriety.”

She flung her book down scornfully upon the table, then, with a terrible
look at Gaston, she went on: “Because I once was weak, must it be
supposed that I am always weak? This is horrible, degrading. Or have you
come here to pity me? You are very young to offer sympathy with heart
troubles. Understand this clearly, sir, that I would rather have scorn
than pity. I will not endure compassion from any one.”

There was a brief pause.

“Well, sir,” she continued (and the face that she turned to him was
gentle and sad), “whatever motive induced this rash intrusion upon my
solitude, it is very painful to me, you see. You are too young to be
totally without good feeling, so surely you will feel that this behavior
of yours is improper. I forgive you for it, and, as you see, I am
speaking of it to you without bitterness. You will not come here again,
will you? I am entreating when I might command. If you come to see me
again, neither you nor I can prevent the whole place from believing that
you are my lover, and you would cause me great additional annoyance. You
do not mean to do that, I think.”

She said no more, but looked at him with a great dignity which abashed
him.

“I have done wrong, madame,” he said, with deep feeling in his voice,
“but it was through enthusiasm and thoughtlessness and eager desire of
happiness, the qualities and defects of my age. Now, I understand that
I ought not to have tried to see you,” he added; “but, at the same time,
the desire was a very natural one”--and, making an appeal to feeling
rather than to the intellect, he described the weariness of his enforced
exile. He drew a portrait of a young man in whom the fires of life were
burning themselves out, conveying the impression that here was a heart
worthy of tender love, a heart which, notwithstanding, had never known
the joys of love for a young and beautiful woman of refinement and
taste. He explained, without attempting to justify, his unusual conduct.
He flattered Mme. de Beauseant by showing that she had realized for him
the ideal lady of a young man’s dream, the ideal sought by so many,
and so often sought in vain. Then he touched upon his morning prowlings
under the walls of Courcelles, and his wild thoughts at the first sight
of the house, till he excited that vague feeling of indulgence which a
woman can find in her heart for the follies committed for her sake.

An impassioned voice was speaking in the chill solitude; the speaker
brought with him a warm breath of youth and the charms of a carefully
cultivated mind. It was so long since Mme. de Beauseant had felt stirred
by real feeling delicately expressed, that it affected her very strongly
now. In spite of herself, she watched M. de Nueil’s expressive face, and
admired the noble countenance of a soul, unbroken as yet by the cruel
discipline of the life of the world, unfretted by continual scheming to
gratify personal ambition and vanity. Gaston was in the flower of his
youth, he impressed her as a man with something in him, unaware as
yet of the great career that lay before him. So both these two made
reflections most dangerous for their peace of mind, and both strove to
conceal their thoughts. M. de Nueil saw in the Vicomtesse a rare type of
woman, always the victim of her perfections and tenderness; her graceful
beauty is the least of her charms for those who are privileged to know
the infinite of feeling and thought and goodness in the soul within;
a woman whose instinctive feeling for beauty runs through all the most
varied expressions of love, purifying its transports, turning them to
something almost holy; wonderful secret of womanhood, the exquisite
gift that Nature so seldom bestows. And the Vicomtesse, on her side,
listening to the ring of sincerity in Gaston’s voice, while he told of
his youthful troubles, began to understand all that grown children of
five-and-twenty suffer from diffidence, when hard work has kept them
alike from corrupting influences and intercourse with men and women of
the world whose sophistical reasoning and experience destroys the
fair qualities of youth. Here was the ideal of a woman’s dreams, a man
unspoiled as yet by the egoism of family or success, or by that narrow
selfishness which blights the first impulses of honor, devotion,
self-sacrifice, and high demands of self; all the flowers so soon wither
that enrich at first the life of delicate but strong emotions, and keep
alive the loyalty of the heart.

But these two, once launched forth into the vast of sentiment, went
far indeed in theory, sounding the depths in either soul, testing the
sincerity of their expressions; only, whereas Gaston’s experiments were
made unconsciously, Mme. de Beauseant had a purpose in all that she
said. Bringing her natural and acquired subtlety to the work, she sought
to learn M. de Nueil’s opinions by advancing, as far as she could do
so, views diametrically opposed to her own. So witty and so gracious was
she, so much herself with this stranger, with whom she felt completely
at ease, because she felt sure that they should never meet again, that,
after some delicious epigram of hers, Gaston exclaimed unthinkingly:

“Oh! madame, how could any man have left you?”

The Vicomtesse was silent. Gaston reddened, he thought that he had
offended her; but she was not angry. The first deep thrill of delight
since the day of her calamity had taken her by surprise. The skill of
the cleverest _roue_ could not have made the impression that M. de Nueil
made with that cry from the heart. That verdict wrung from a young man’s
candor gave her back innocence in her own eyes, condemned the world,
laid the blame upon the lover who had left her, and justified her
subsequent solitary drooping life. The world’s absolution, the heartfelt
sympathy, the social esteem so longed for, and so harshly refused, nay,
all her secret desires were given her to the full in that exclamation,
made fairer yet by the heart’s sweetest flatteries and the admiration
that women always relish eagerly. He understood her, understood all, and
he had given her, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, the
opportunity of rising higher through her fall. She looked at the clock.

“Ah! madame, do not punish me for my heedlessness. If you grant me but
one evening, vouchsafe not to shorten it.”

She smiled at the pretty speech.

“Well, as we must never meet again,” she said, “what signifies a moment
more or less? If you were to care for me, it would be a pity.”

“It is too late now,” he said.

“Do not tell me that,” she answered gravely. “Under any other
circumstances I should be very glad to see you. I will speak frankly,
and you will understand how it is that I do not choose to see you again,
and ought not to do so. You have too much magnanimity not to feel that
if I were so much as suspected of a second trespass, every one would
think of me as a contemptible and vulgar woman; I should be like other
women. A pure and blameless life will bring my character into relief.
I am too proud not to endeavor to live like one apart in the world, a
victim of the law through my marriage, man’s victim through my love. If
I were not faithful to the position which I have taken up, then I should
deserve all the reproach that is heaped upon me; I should be lowered in
my own eyes. I had not enough lofty social virtue to remain with a man
whom I did not love. I have snapped the bonds of marriage in spite of
the law; it was wrong, it was a crime, it was anything you like, but
for me the bonds meant death. I meant to live. Perhaps if I had been
a mother I could have endured the torture of a forced marriage of
suitability. At eighteen we scarcely know what is done with us, poor
girls that we are! I have broken the laws of the world, and the world
has punished me; we both did rightly. I sought happiness. Is it not a
law of our nature to seek for happiness? I was young, I was beautiful...
I thought that I had found a nature as loving, as apparently passionate.
I was loved indeed; for a little while...”

She paused.

“I used to think,” she said, “that no one could leave a woman in such
a position as mine. I have been forsaken; I must have offended in
some way. Yes, in some way, no doubt, I failed to keep some law of our
nature, was too loving, too devoted, too exacting--I do not know. Evil
days have brought light with them! For a long while I blamed another,
now I am content to bear the whole blame. At my own expense, I have
absolved that other of whom I once thought I had a right to complain. I
had not the art to keep him; fate has punished me heavily for my lack
of skill. I only knew how to love; how can one keep oneself in mind when
one loves? So I was a slave when I should have sought to be a tyrant.
Those who know me may condemn me, but they will respect me too. Pain
has taught me that I must not lay myself open to this a second time. I
cannot understand how it is that I am living yet, after the anguish of
that first week of the most fearful crisis in a woman’s life. Only from
three years of loneliness would it be possible to draw strength to speak
of that time as I am speaking now. Such agony, monsieur, usually ends in
death; but this--well, it was the agony of death with no tomb to end it.
Oh! I have known pain indeed!”

The Vicomtesse raised her beautiful eyes to the ceiling; and the
cornice, no doubt, received all the confidences which a stranger might
not hear. When a woman is afraid to look at her interlocutor, there
is in truth no gentler, meeker, more accommodating confidant than the
cornice. The cornice is quite an institution in the boudoir; what is it
but the confessional, _minus_ the priest?

Mme. de Beauseant was eloquent and beautiful at that moment; nay,
“coquettish,” if the word were not too heavy. By justifying herself and
love, she was stimulating every sentiment in the man before her; nay,
more, the higher she set the goal, the more conspicuous it grew. At
last, when her eyes had lost the too eloquent expression given to them
by painful memories, she let them fall on Gaston.

“You acknowledge, do you not, that I am bound to lead a solitary,
self-contained life?” she said quietly.

So sublime was she in her reasoning and her madness, that M. de Nueil
felt a wild longing to throw himself at her feet; but he was afraid of
making himself ridiculous, so he held his enthusiasm and his thoughts in
check. He was afraid, too, that he might totally fail to express them,
and in no less terror of some awful rejection on her part, or of her
mockery, an apprehension which strikes like ice to the most fervid soul.
The revulsion which led him to crush down every feeling as it sprang
up in his heart cost him the intense pain that diffident and ambitious
natures experience in the frequent crises when they are compelled
to stifle their longings. And yet, in spite of himself, he broke the
silence to say in a faltering voice:

“Madame, permit me to give way to one of the strongest emotions of my
life, and own to all that you have made me feel. You set the heart in
me swelling high! I feel within me a longing to make you forget your
mortifications, to devote my life to this, to give you love for all who
ever have given you wounds or hate. But this is a very sudden outpouring
of the heart, nothing can justify it to-day, and I ought not----”

“Enough, monsieur,” said Mme. de Beauseant; “we have both of us gone too
far. By giving you the sad reasons for a refusal which I am compelled to
give, I meant to soften it and not to elicit homage. Coquetry only suits
a happy woman. Believe me, we must remain strangers to each other. At a
later day you will know that ties which must inevitably be broken ought
not to be formed at all.”

She sighed lightly, and her brows contracted, but almost immediately
grew clear again.

“How painful it is for a woman to be powerless to follow the man she
loves through all the phases of his life! And if that man loves her
truly, his heart must surely vibrate with pain to the deep trouble in
hers. Are they not twice unhappy?”

There was a short pause. Then she rose smiling.

“You little suspected, when you came to Courcelles, that you were to
hear a sermon, did you?”

Gaston felt even further than at first from this extraordinary woman.
Was the charm of that delightful hour due after all to the coquetry of
the mistress of the house? She had been anxious to display her wit. He
bowed stiffly to the Vicomtesse, and went away in desperation.

On the way home he tried to detect the real character of a creature
supple and hard as a steel spring; but he had seen her pass through so
many phases, that he could not make up his mind about her. The tones
of her voice, too, were ringing in his ears; her gestures, the little
movements of her head, and the varying expression of her eyes grew
more gracious in memory, more fascinating as he thought of them.
The Vicomtesse’s beauty shone out again for him in the darkness; his
reviving impressions called up yet others, and he was enthralled anew by
womanly charm and wit, which at first he had not perceived. He fell to
wandering musings, in which the most lucid thoughts grow refractory and
flatly contradict each other, and the soul passes through a brief
frenzy fit. Youth only can understand all that lies in the dithyrambic
outpourings of youth when, after a stormy siege, of the most frantic
folly and coolest common-sense, the heart finally yields to the assault
of the latest comer, be it hope, or despair, as some mysterious power
determines.

At three-and-twenty, diffidence nearly always rules a man’s conduct; he
is perplexed with a young girl’s shyness, a girl’s trouble; he is afraid
lest he should express his love ill, sees nothing but difficulties, and
takes alarm at them; he would be bolder if he loved less, for he has no
confidence in himself, and with a growing sense of the cost of happiness
comes a conviction that the woman he loves cannot easily be won;
perhaps, too, he is giving himself up too entirely to his own pleasure,
and fears that he can give none; and when, for his misfortune, his idol
inspires him with awe, he worships in secret and afar, and unless his
love is guessed, it dies away. Then it often happens that one of these
dead early loves lingers on, bright with illusions in many a young
heart. What man is there but keeps within him these virgin memories that
grow fairer every time they rise before him, memories that hold up to
him the ideal of perfect bliss? Such recollections are like children who
die in the flower of childhood, before their parents have known anything
of them but their smiles.

So M. de Nueil came home from Courcelles, the victim of a mood fraught
with desperate resolutions. Even now he felt that Mme. de Beauseant
was one of the conditions of his existence, and that death would be
preferable to life without her. He was still young enough to feel
the tyrannous fascination which fully-developed womanhood exerts over
immature and impassioned natures; and, consequently, he was to spend one
of those stormy nights when a young man’s thoughts travel from happiness
to suicide and back again--nights in which youth rushes through a
lifetime of bliss and falls asleep from sheer exhaustion. Fateful
nights are they, and the worst misfortune that can happen is to awake a
philosopher afterwards. M. de Nueil was far too deeply in love to
sleep; he rose and betook to inditing letters, but none of them were
satisfactory, and he burned them all.



The next day he went to Courcelles to make the circuit of her garden
walls, but he waited till nightfall; he was afraid that she might
see him. The instinct that led him to act in this way arose out of so
obscure a mood of the soul, that none but a young man, or a man in like
case, can fully understand its mute ecstasies and its vagaries, matter
to set those people who are lucky enough to see life only in its
matter-of-fact aspect shrugging their shoulders. After painful
hesitation, Gaston wrote to Mme. de Beauseant. Here is the letter, which
may serve as a sample of the epistolary style peculiar to lovers, a
performance which, like the drawings prepared with great secrecy by
children for the birthdays of father or mother, is found insufferable by
every mortal except the recipients:--

  “MADAME,--Your power over my heart, my soul, myself, is so great
  that my fate depends wholly upon you to-day. Do not throw this
  letter into the fire; be so kind as to read it through. Perhaps
  you may pardon the opening sentence when you see that it is no
  commonplace, selfish declaration, but that it expresses a simple
  fact. Perhaps you may feel moved, because I ask for so little, by
  the submission of one who feels himself so much beneath you, by
  the influence that your decision will exercise upon my life. At my
  age, madame, I only know how to love, I am utterly ignorant of
  ways of attracting and winning a woman’s love, but in my own heart
  I know raptures of adoration of her. I am irresistibly drawn to
  you by the great happiness that I feel through you; my thoughts
  turn to you with the selfish instinct which bids us draw nearer to
  the fire of life when we find it. I do not imagine that I am
  worthy of you; it seems impossible that I, young, ignorant, and
  shy, could bring you one-thousandth part of the happiness that I
  drink in at the sound of your voice and the sight of you. For me
  you are the only woman in the world. I cannot imagine life without
  you, so I have made up my mind to leave France, and to risk my
  life till I lose it in some desperate enterprise, in the Indies,
  in Africa, I care not where. How can I quell a love that knows no
  limits save by opposing to it something as infinite? Yet, if you
  will allow me to hope, not to be yours, but to win your
  friendship, I will stay. Let me come, not so very often, if you
  require it, to spend a few such hours with you as those stolen
  hours of yesterday. The keen delight of that brief happiness to be
  cut short at the least over-ardent word from me, will suffice to
  enable me to endure the boiling torrent in my veins. Have I
  presumed too much upon your generosity by this entreaty to suffer
  an intercourse in which all the gain is mine alone? You could find
  ways of showing the world, to which you sacrifice so much, that I
  am nothing to you; you are so clever and so proud! What have you
  to fear? If I could only lay bare my heart to you at this moment,
  to convince you that it is with no lurking afterthought that I
  make this humble request! Should I have told you that my love was
  boundless, while I prayed you to grant me friendship, if I had any
  hope of your sharing this feeling in the depths of my soul? No,
  while I am with you, I will be whatever you will, if only I may be
  with you. If you refuse (as you have the power to refuse), I will
  not utter one murmur, I will go. And if, at a later day, any other
  woman should enter into my life, you will have proof that you were
  right; but if I am faithful till death, you may feel some regret
  perhaps. The hope of causing you a regret will soothe my agony,
  and that thought shall be the sole revenge of a slighted
  heart....”

Only those who have passed through all the exceeding tribulations of
youth, who have seized on all the chimeras with two white pinions, the
nightmare fancies at the disposal of a fervid imagination, can realize
the horrors that seized upon Gaston de Nueil when he had reason to
suppose that his ultimatum was in Mme. de Beauseant’s hands. He saw the
Vicomtesse, wholly untouched, laughing at his letter and his love, as
those can laugh who have ceased to believe in love. He could have wished
to have his letter back again. It was an absurd letter. There were a
thousand and one things, now that he came to think of it, that he might
have said, things infinitely better and more moving than those stilted
phrases of his, those accursed, sophisticated, pretentious, fine-spun
phrases, though, luckily, the punctuation had been pretty bad and the
lines shockingly crooked. He tried not to think, not to feel; but he
felt and thought, and was wretched. If he had been thirty years old, he
might have got drunk, but the innocence of three-and-twenty knew
nothing of the resources of opium nor of the expedients of advanced
civilization. Nor had he at hand one of those good friends of the
Parisian pattern who understand so well how to say _Poete, non dolet!_
by producing a bottle of champagne, or alleviate the agony of suspense
by carrying you off somewhere to make a night of it. Capital fellows
are they, always in low water when you are in funds, always off to some
watering-place when you go to look them up, always with some bad bargain
in horse-flesh to sell you; it is true, that when you want to borrow of
them, they have always just lost their last louis at play; but in all
other respects they are the best fellows on earth, always ready to
embark with you on one of the steep down-grades where you lose your
time, your soul, and your life!

At length M. de Nueil received a missive through the instrumentality of
Jacques, a letter that bore the arms of Burgundy on the scented seal, a
letter written on vellum notepaper.

He rushed away at once to lock himself in, and read and re-read _her_
letter:--

  “You are punishing me very severely, monsieur, both for the
  friendliness of my effort to spare you a rebuff, and for the
  attraction which intellect always has for me. I put confidence in
  the generosity of youth, and you have disappointed me. And yet, if
  I did not speak unreservedly (which would have been perfectly
  ridiculous), at any rate I spoke frankly of my position, so that
  you might imagine that I was not to be touched by a young soul. My
  distress is the keener for my interest in you. I am naturally
  tender-hearted and kindly, but circumstances force me to act
  unkindly. Another woman would have flung your letter, unread, into
  the fire; I read it, and I am answering it. My answer will make it
  clear to you that while I am not untouched by the expression of
  this feeling which I have inspired, albeit unconsciously, I am
  still far from sharing it, and the step which I am about to take
  will show you still more plainly that I mean what I say. I wish
  besides, to use, for your welfare, that authority, as it were,
  which you give me over your life; and I desire to exercise it this
  once to draw aside the veil from your eyes.

  “I am nearly thirty years old, monsieur; you are barely
  two-and-twenty. You yourself cannot know what your thoughts will
  be at my age. The vows that you make so lightly to-day may seem a
  very heavy burden to you then. I am quite willing to believe that
  at this moment you would give me your whole life without a regret,
  you would even be ready to die for a little brief happiness; but
  at the age of thirty experience will take from you the very power
  of making daily sacrifices for my sake, and I myself should feel
  deeply humiliated if I accepted them. A day would come when
  everything, even Nature, would bid you leave me, and I have
  already told you that death is preferable to desertion. Misfortune
  has taught me to calculate; as you see, I am arguing perfectly
  dispassionately. You force me to tell you that I have no love for
  you; I ought not to love, I cannot, and I will not. It is too late
  to yield, as women yield, to a blind unreasoning impulse of the
  heart, too late to be the mistress whom you seek. My consolations
  spring from God, not from earth. Ah, and besides, with the
  melancholy insight of disappointed love, I read hearts too clearly
  to accept your proffered friendship. It is only instinct. I
  forgive the boyish ruse, for which you are not responsible as yet.
  In the name of this passing fancy of yours, for the sake of your
  career and my own peace of mind, I bid you stay in your own
  country; you must not spoil a fair and honorable life for an
  illusion which, by its very nature, cannot last. At a later day,
  when you have accomplished your real destiny, in the fully
  developed manhood that awaits you, you will appreciate this answer
  of mine, though to-day it may be that you blame its hardness. You
  will turn with pleasure to an old woman whose friendship will
  certainly be sweet and precious to you then; a friendship untried
  by the extremes of passion and the disenchanting processes of
  life; a friendship which noble thoughts and thoughts of religion
  will keep pure and sacred. Farewell; do my bidding with the
  thought that your success will bring a gleam of pleasure into my
  solitude, and only think of me as we think of absent friends.”

Gaston de Nueil read the letter, and wrote the following lines:--

  “MADAME,--If I could cease to love you, to take the chances of
  becoming an ordinary man which you hold out to me, you must admit
  that I should thoroughly deserve my fate. No, I shall not do as
  you bid me; the oath of fidelity which I swear to you shall only
  be absolved by death. Ah! take my life, unless indeed you do not
  fear to carry a remorse all through your own----”

When the man returned from his errand, M. de Nueil asked him with whom
he left the note?

“I gave it to Mme. la Vicomtesse herself, sir; she was in her carriage
and just about to start.”

“For the town?”

“I don’t think so, sir. Mme. la Vicomtesse had post-horses.”

“Ah! then she is going away,” said the Baron.

“Yes, sir,” the man answered.

Gaston de Nueil at once prepared to follow Mme. de Beauseant. She led
the way as far as Geneva, without a suspicion that he followed. And
he? Amid the many thoughts that assailed him during that journey, one
all-absorbing problem filled his mind--“Why did she go away?” Theories
grew thickly on such ground for supposition, and naturally he inclined
to the one that flattered his hopes--“If the Vicomtesse cares for me,
a clever woman would, of course, choose Switzerland, where nobody knows
either of us, in preference to France, where she would find censorious
critics.”

An impassioned lover of a certain stamp would not feel attracted to a
woman clever enough to choose her own ground; such women are too clever.
However, there is nothing to prove that there was any truth in Gaston’s
supposition.

The Vicomtesse took a small house by the side of the lake. As soon as
she was installed in it, Gaston came one summer evening in the twilight.
Jacques, that flunkey in grain, showed no sign of surprise, and
announced _M. le Baron de Nueil_ like a discreet domestic well
acquainted with good society. At the sound of the name, at the sight
of its owner, Mme. de Beauseant let her book fall from her hands; her
surprise gave him time to come close to her, and to say in tones that
sounded like music in her ears:

“What a joy it was to me to take the horses that brought you on this
journey!”

To have the inmost desires of the heart so fulfilled! Where is the woman
who could resist such happiness as this? An Italian woman, one of those
divine creatures who, psychologically, are as far removed from the
Parisian as if they lived at the Antipodes, a being who would be
regarded as profoundly immoral on this side of the Alps, an Italian (to
resume) made the following comment on some French novels which she had
been reading. “I cannot see,” she remarked, “why these poor lovers take
such a time over coming to an arrangement which ought to be the affair
of a single morning.” Why should not the novelist take a hint from this
worthy lady, and refrain from exhausting the theme and the reader?
Some few passages of coquetry it would certainly be pleasant to give in
outline; the story of Mme. de Beauseant’s demurs and sweet delayings,
that, like the vestal virgins of antiquity, she might fall gracefully,
and by lingering over the innocent raptures of first love draw from it
its utmost strength and sweetness. M. de Nueil was at an age when a
man is the dupe of these caprices, of the fence which women delight to
prolong; either to dictate their own terms, or to enjoy the sense of
their power yet longer, knowing instinctively as they do that it must
soon grow less. But, after all, these little boudoir protocols, less
numerous than those of the Congress of London, are too small to be worth
mention in the history of this passion.

For three years Mme. de Beauseant and M. de Nueil lived in the villa on
the lake of Geneva. They lived quite alone, received no visitors, caused
no talk, rose late, went out together upon the lake, knew, in short,
the happiness of which we all of us dream. It was a simple little house,
with green shutters, and broad balconies shaded with awnings, a house
contrived of set purpose for lovers, with its white couches, soundless
carpets, and fresh hangings, everything within it reflecting their
joy. Every window looked out on some new view of the lake; in the far
distance lay the mountains, fantastic visions of changing color and
evanescent cloud; above them spread the sunny sky, before them stretched
the broad sheet of water, never the same in its fitful changes. All
their surroundings seemed to dream for them, all things smiled upon
them.

Then weighty matters recalled M. de Nueil to France. His father and
brother died, and he was obliged to leave Geneva. The lovers bought the
house; and if they could have had their way, they would have removed the
hills piecemeal, drawn off the lake with a siphon, and taken everything
away with them.

Mme. de Beauseant followed M. de Nueil. She realized her property, and
bought a considerable estate near Manerville, adjoining Gaston’s
lands, and here they lived together; Gaston very graciously giving
up Manerville to his mother for the present in consideration of the
bachelor freedom in which she left him.

Mme. de Beauseant’s estate was close to a little town in one of the
most picturesque spots in the valley of the Auge. Here the lovers raised
barriers between themselves and social intercourse, barriers which no
creature could overleap, and here the happy days of Switzerland were
lived over again. For nine whole years they knew happiness which it
serves no purpose to describe; happiness which may be divined from the
outcome of the story by those whose souls can comprehend poetry and
prayer in their infinite manifestations.

All this time Mme. de Beauseant’s husband, the present Marquis (his
father and elder brother having died), enjoyed the soundest health.
There is no better aid to life than a certain knowledge that our demise
would confer a benefit on some fellow-creature. M. de Beauseant was
one of those ironical and wayward beings who, like holders of
life-annuities, wake with an additional sense of relish every morning to
a consciousness of good health. For the rest, he was a man of the world,
somewhat methodical and ceremonious, and a calculator of consequences,
who could make a declaration of love as quietly as a lackey announces
that “Madame is served.”

This brief biographical notice of his lordship the Marquis de Beauseant
is given to explain the reasons why it was impossible for the Marquise
to marry M. de Nueil.

So, after a nine years’ lease of happiness, the sweetest agreement to
which a woman ever put her hand, M. de Nueil and Mme. de Beauseant
were still in a position quite as natural and quite as false as at the
beginning of their adventure. And yet they had reached a fatal crisis,
which may be stated as clearly as any problem in mathematics.

Mme. la Comtesse de Nueil, Gaston’s mother, a strait-laced and virtuous
person, who had made the late Baron happy in strictly legal fashion
would never consent to meet Mme. de Beauseant. Mme. de Beauseant quite
understood that the worthy dowager must of necessity be her enemy, and
that she would try to draw Gaston from his unhallowed and immoral way of
life. The Marquise de Beauseant would willingly have sold her property
and gone back to Geneva, but she could not bring herself to do it; it
would mean that she distrusted M. de Nueil. Moreover, he had taken
a great fancy to this very Valleroy estate, where he was making
plantations and improvements. She would not deprive him of a piece of
pleasurable routine-work, such as women always wish for their husbands,
and even for their lovers.

A Mlle. de la Rodiere, twenty-two years of age, an heiress with
a rent-roll of forty thousand livres, had come to live in the
neighborhood. Gaston always met her at Manerville whenever he was
obliged to go thither. These various personages being to each other as
the terms of a proportion sum, the following letter will throw light on
the appalling problem which Mme. de Beauseant had been trying for the
past month to solve:--

  “My beloved angel, it seems like nonsense, does it not, to write
  to you when there is nothing to keep us apart, when a caress so
  often takes the place of words, and words too are caresses? Ah,
  well, no, love. There are some things that a woman cannot say when
  she is face to face with the man she loves; at the bare thought of
  them her voice fails her, and the blood goes back to her heart;
  she has no strength, no intelligence left. It hurts me to feel
  like this when you are near me, and it happens often. I feel that
  my heart should be wholly sincere for you; that I should disguise
  no thought, however transient, in my heart; and I love the sweet
  carelessness, which suits me so well, too much to endure this
  embarrassment and constraint any longer. So I will tell you about
  my anguish--yes, it is anguish. Listen to me! do not begin with
  the little ‘Tut, tut, tut,’ that you use to silence me, an
  impertinence that I love, because anything from you pleases me.
  Dear soul from heaven, wedded to mine, let me first tell you that
  you have effaced all memory of the pain that once was crushing the
  life out of me. I did not know what love was before I knew you.
  Only the candor of your beautiful young life, only the purity of
  that great soul of yours, could satisfy the requirements of an
  exacting woman’s heart. Dear love, how very often I have thrilled
  with joy to think that in these nine long, swift years, my
  jealousy has not been once awakened. All the flowers of your soul
  have been mine, all your thoughts. There has not been the faintest
  cloud in our heaven; we have not known what sacrifice is; we have
  always acted on the impulses of our hearts. I have known
  happiness, infinite for a woman. Will the tears that drench this
  sheet tell you all my gratitude? I could wish that I had knelt to
  write the words!--Well, out of this felicity has arisen torture
  more terrible than the pain of desertion. Dear, there are very
  deep recesses in a woman’s heart; how deep in my own heart, I did
  not know myself until to-day, as I did not know the whole extent
  of love. The greatest misery which could overwhelm us is a light
  burden compared with the mere thought of harm for him whom we
  love. And how if we cause the harm, is it not enough to make one
  die?... This is the thought that is weighing upon me. But
  it brings in its train another thought that is heavier far, a
  thought that tarnishes the glory of love, and slays it, and turns
  it into a humiliation which sullies life as long as it lasts. You
  are thirty years old; I am forty. What dread this difference in
  age calls up in a woman who loves! It is possible that, first of
  all unconsciously, afterwards in earnest, you have felt the
  sacrifices that you have made by renouncing all in the world for
  me. Perhaps you have thought of your future from the social point
  of view, of the marriage which would, of course, increase your
  fortune, and give you avowed happiness and children who would
  inherit your wealth; perhaps you have thought of reappearing in
  the world, and filling your place there honorably. And then, if
  so, you must have repressed those thoughts, and felt glad to
  sacrifice heiress and fortune and a fair future to me without my
  knowledge. In your young man’s generosity, you must have resolved
  to be faithful to the vows which bind us each to each in the sight
  of God. My past pain has risen up before your mind, and the misery
  from which you rescued me has been my protection. To owe your love
  to your pity! The thought is even more painful to me than the fear
  of spoiling your life for you. The man who can bring himself to
  stab his mistress is very charitable if he gives her her deathblow
  while she is happy and ignorant of evil, while illusions are in
  full blossom.... Yes, death is preferable to the two thoughts
  which have secretly saddened the hours for several days. To-day,
  when you asked ‘What ails you?’ so tenderly, the sound of your
  voice made me shiver. I thought that, after your wont, you were
  reading my very soul, and I waited for your confidence to come,
  thinking that my presentiments had come true, and that I had
  guessed all that was going on in your mind. Then I began to think
  over certain little things that you always do for me, and I
  thought I could see in you the sort of affection by which a man
  betrays a consciousness that his loyalty is becoming a burden. And
  in that moment I paid very dear for my happiness. I felt that
  Nature always demands the price for the treasure called love.
  Briefly, has not fate separated us? Can you have said, ‘Sooner or
  later I must leave poor Claire; why not separate in time?’ I read
  that thought in the depths of your eyes, and went away to cry by
  myself. Hiding my tears from you! the first tears that I have shed
  for sorrow for these ten years; I am too proud to let you see
  them, but I did not reproach you in the least.

  “Yes, you are right. I ought not to be so selfish as to bind your
  long and brilliant career to my so-soon out-worn life.... And
  yet--how if I have been mistaken? How if I have taken your love
  melancholy for a deliberation? Oh, my love, do not leave me in
  suspense; punish this jealous wife of yours, but give her back the
  sense of her love and yours; the whole woman lies in that--that
  consciousness sanctifies everything.

  “Since your mother came, since you paid a visit to Mlle. de
  Rodiere, I have been gnawed by doubts dishonoring to us both. Make
  me suffer for this, but do not deceive me; I want to know
  everything that your mother said and that you think! If you have
  hesitated between some alternative and me, I give you back your
  liberty.... I will not let you know what happens to me; I will
  not shed tears for you to see; only--I will not see you again....
  Ah! I cannot go on, my heart is breaking..................
  I have been sitting  benumbed and stupid for some moments. Dear love,
  I do not find that any feeling of pride rises against you; you are so
  kind-hearted, so open; you would find it impossible to hurt me or
  to deceive me; and you will tell me the truth, however cruel it may
  be. Do you wish me to encourage your confession? Well, then, heart
  of mine, I shall find comfort in a woman’s thought. Has not the
  youth of your being been mine, your sensitive, wholly gracious,
  beautiful, and delicate youth? No woman shall find henceforth the
  Gaston whom I have known, nor the delicious happiness that he has
  given me.... No; you will never love again as you have loved,
  as you love me now; no, I shall never have a rival, it is
  impossible. There will be no bitterness in my memories of our
  love, and I shall think of nothing else. It is out of your power
  to enchant any woman henceforth by the childish provocations, the
  charming ways of a young heart, the soul’s winning charm, the
  body’s grace, the swift communion of rapture, the whole divine
  cortege of young love, in fine.

  “Oh, you are a man now, you will obey your destiny, weighing and
  considering all things. You will have cares, and anxieties, and
  ambitions, and concerns that will rob _her_ of the unchanging
  smile that made your lips fair for me. The tones that were always
  so sweet for me will be troubled at times; and your eyes that
  lighted up with radiance from heaven at the sight of me, will
  often be lustreless for _her_. And besides, as it is impossible to
  love you as I love you, you will never care for that woman as you
  have cared for me. She will never keep a constant watch over
  herself as I have done; she will never study your happiness at
  every moment with an intuition which has never failed me. Ah, yes,
  the man, the heart and soul, which I shall have known will exist
  no longer. I shall bury him deep in my memory, that I may have the
  joy of him still; I shall live happy in that fair past life of
  ours, a life hidden from all but our inmost selves.

  “Dear treasure of mine, if all the while no least thought of
  liberty has risen in your mind, if my love is no burden on you, if
  my fears are chimerical, if I am still your Eve--the one woman in
  the world for you--come to me as soon as you have read this
  letter, come quickly! Ah, in one moment I will love you more than
  I have ever loved you, I think, in these nine years. After
  enduring the needless torture of these doubts of which I am
  accusing myself, every added day of love, yes, every single day,
  will be a whole lifetime of bliss. So speak, and speak openly; do
  not deceive me, it would be a crime. Tell me, do you wish for your
  liberty? Have you thought of all that a man’s life means? Is there
  any regret in your mind? That _I_ should cause you a regret! I
  should die of it. I have said it: I love you enough to set your
  happiness above mine, your life before my own. Leave on one side,
  if you can, the wealth of memories of our nine years’ happiness,
  that they may not influence your decision, but speak! I submit
  myself to you as to God, the one Consoler who remains if you
  forsake me.”

When Mme. de Beauseant knew that her letter was in M. de Nueil’s hands,
she sank in such utter prostration, the over-pressure of many thoughts
so numbed her faculties, that she seemed almost drowsy. At any rate, she
was suffering from a pain not always proportioned in its intensity to
a woman’s strength; pain which women alone know. And while the unhappy
Marquise awaited her doom, M. de Nueil, reading her letter, felt that he
was “in a very difficult position,” to use the expression that young men
apply to a crisis of this kind.

By this time he had all but yielded to his mother’s importunities and
to the attractions of Mlle. de la Rodiere, a somewhat insignificant,
pink-and-white young person, as straight as a poplar. It is true that,
in accordance with the rules laid down for marriageable young ladies,
she scarcely opened her mouth, but her rent-roll of forty thousand
livres spoke quite sufficiently for her. Mme. de Nueil, with a mother’s
sincere affection, tried to entangle her son in virtuous courses. She
called his attention to the fact that it was a flattering distinction
to be preferred by Mlle. de la Rodiere, who had refused so many great
matches; it was quite time, she urged, that he should think of his
future, such a good opportunity might not repeat itself, some day
he would have eighty thousand livres of income from land; money made
everything bearable; if Mme. de Beauseant loved him for his own
sake, she ought to be the first to urge him to marry. In short, the
well-intentioned mother forgot no arguments which the feminine intellect
can bring to bear upon the masculine mind, and by these means she had
brought her son into a wavering condition.

Mme. de Beauseant’s letter arrived just as Gaston’s love of her was
holding out against the temptations of a settled life conformable to
received ideas. That letter decided the day. He made up his mind to
break off with the Marquise and to marry.

“One must live a man’s life,” said he to himself.

Then followed some inkling of the pain that this decision would give to
Mme. de Beauseant. The man’s vanity and the lover’s conscience further
exaggerated this pain, and a sincere pity for her seized upon him.
All at once the immensity of the misery became apparent to him, and he
thought it necessary and charitable to deaden the deadly blow. He
hoped to bring Mme. de Beauseant to a calm frame of mind by gradually
reconciling her to the idea of separation; while Mlle. de la Rodiere,
always like a shadowy third between them, should be sacrificed to her at
first, only to be imposed upon her later. His marriage should take place
later, in obedience to Mme. de Beauseant’s expressed wish. He went so
far as to enlist the Marquise’s nobleness and pride and all the great
qualities of her nature to help him to succeed in this compassionate
design. He would write a letter at once to allay her suspicions. _A
letter!_ For a woman with the most exquisite feminine perception, as
well as the intuition of passionate love, a letter in itself was a
sentence of death.

So when Jacques came and brought Mme. de Beauseant a sheet of paper
folded in a triangle, she trembled, poor woman, like a snared swallow. A
mysterious sensation of physical cold spread from head to foot, wrapping
her about in an icy winding sheet. If he did not rush to her feet, if he
did not come to her in tears, and pale, and like a lover, she knew that
all was lost. And yet, so many hopes are there in the heart of a woman
who loves, that she is only slain by stab after stab, and loves on till
the last drop of life-blood drains away.

“Does madame need anything?” Jacques asked gently, as he went away.

“No,” she said.

“Poor fellow!” she thought, brushing a tear from her eyes, “he guesses
my feelings, servant though he is!”

She read: “My beloved, you are inventing idle terrors for yourself...”
 The Marquise gazed at the words, and a thick mist spread before her
eyes. A voice in her heart cried, “He lies!”--Then she glanced down the
page with the clairvoyant eagerness of passion, and read these words at
the foot, “_Nothing has been decided as yet..._” Turning to the
other side with convulsive quickness, she saw the mind of the writer
distinctly through the intricacies of the wording; this was no
spontaneous outburst of love. She crushed it in her fingers, twisted it,
tore it with her teeth, flung it in the fire, and cried aloud, “Ah! base
that he is! I was his, and he had ceased to love me!”

She sank half dead upon the couch.



M. de Nueil went out as soon as he had written his letter. When he came
back, Jacques met him on the threshold with a note. “Madame la Marquise
has left the chateau,” said the man.

M. de Nueil, in amazement, broke the seal and read:--

  “MADAME,--If I could cease to love you, to take the chances of
  becoming an ordinary man which you hold out to me, you must admit
  that I should thoroughly deserve my fate. No, I shall not do as
  you bid me; the oath of fidelity which I swear to you shall only
  be absolved by death. Ah! take my life, unless indeed you do not
  fear to carry a remorse all through your own...”

It was his own letter, written to the Marquise as she set out for Geneva
nine years before. At the foot of it Claire de Bourgogne had written,
“Monsieur, you are free.”

M. de Nueil went to his mother at Manerville. In less than three weeks
he married Mlle. Stephanie de la Rodiere.



If this commonplace story of real life ended here, it would be to some
extent a sort of mystification. The first man you meet can tell you a
better. But the widespread fame of the catastrophe (for, unhappily, this
is a true tale), and all the memories which it may arouse in those who
have known the divine delights of infinite passion, and lost them
by their own deed, or through the cruelty of fate,--these things may
perhaps shelter the story from criticism.

Mme. la Marquise de Beauseant never left Valleroy after her parting from
M. de Nueil. After his marriage she still continued to live there, for
some inscrutable woman’s reason; any woman is at liberty to assign
the one which most appeals to her. Claire de Bourgogne lived in such
complete retirement that none of the servants, save Jacques and her own
woman, ever saw their mistress. She required absolute silence all about
her, and only left her room to go to the chapel on the Valleroy estate,
whither a neighboring priest came to say mass every morning.

The Comte de Nueil sank a few days after his marriage into something
like conjugal apathy, which might be interpreted to mean happiness or
unhappiness equally easily.

“My son is perfectly happy,” his mother said everywhere.

Mme. Gaston de Nueil, like a great many young women, was a rather
colorless character, sweet and passive. A month after her marriage she
had expectations of becoming a mother. All this was quite in accordance
with ordinary views. M. de Nueil was very nice to her; but two months
after his separation from the Marquise, he grew notably thoughtful and
abstracted. But then he always had been serious, his mother said.

After seven months of this tepid happiness, a little thing occurred, one
of those seemingly small matters which imply such great development of
thought and such widespread trouble of the soul, that only the bare fact
can be recorded; the interpretation of it must be left to the fancy of
each individual mind. One day, when M. de Nueil had been shooting over
the lands of Manerville and Valleroy, he crossed Mme. de Beauseant’s
park on his way home, summoned Jacques, and when the man came, asked
him, “Whether the Marquise was as fond of game as ever?”

Jacques answering in the affirmative, Gaston offered him a good round
sum (accompanied by plenty of specious reasoning) for a very little
service. Would he set aside for the Marquise the game that the Count
would bring? It seemed to Jacques to be a matter of no great importance
whether the partridge on which his mistress dined had been shot by
her keeper or by M. de Nueil, especially since the latter particularly
wished that the Marquise should know nothing about it.

“It was killed on her land,” said the Count, and for some days Jacques
lent himself to the harmless deceit. Day after day M. de Nueil went
shooting, and came back at dinner-time with an empty bag. A whole week
went by in this way. Gaston grew bold enough to write a long letter
to the Marquise, and had it conveyed to her. It was returned to him
unopened. The Marquise’s servant brought it back about nightfall. The
Count, sitting in the drawing-room listening, while his wife at the
piano mangled a _Caprice_ of Herold’s, suddenly sprang up and rushed
out to the Marquise, as if he were flying to an assignation. He dashed
through a well-known gap into the park, and went slowly along the
avenues, stopping now and again for a little to still the loud beating
of his heart. Smothered sounds as he came nearer the chateau told him
that the servants must be at supper, and he went straight to Mme. de
Beauseant’s room.

Mme. de Beauseant never left her bedroom. M. de Nueil could gain the
doorway without making the slightest sound. There, by the light of two
wax candles, he saw the thin, white Marquise in a great armchair; her
head was bowed, her hands hung listlessly, her eyes gazing fixedly at
some object which she did not seem to see. Her whole attitude spoke of
hopeless pain. There was a vague something like hope in her bearing,
but it was impossible to say whither Claire de Bourgogne was
looking--forwards to the tomb or backwards into the past. Perhaps M.
de Nueil’s tears glittered in the deep shadows; perhaps his breathing
sounded faintly; perhaps unconsciously he trembled, or again it may have
been impossible that he should stand there, his presence unfelt by that
quick sense which grows to be an instinct, the glory, the delight, the
proof of perfect love. However it was, Mme. de Beauseant slowly turned
her face towards the doorway, and beheld her lover of bygone days. Then
Gaston de Nueil came forward a few paces.

“If you come any further, sir,” exclaimed the Marquise, growing paler,
“I shall fling myself out of the window!”

She sprang to the window, flung it open, and stood with one foot on
the ledge, her hand upon the iron balustrade, her face turned towards
Gaston.

“Go out! go out!” she cried, “or I will throw myself over.”

At that dreadful cry the servants began to stir, and M. de Nueil fled
like a criminal.

When he reached his home again he wrote a few lines and gave them to his
own man, telling him to give the letter himself into Mme. de Beauseant’s
hands, and to say that it was a matter of life and death for his master.
The messenger went. M. de Nueil went back to the drawing-room where his
wife was still murdering the _Caprice_, and sat down to wait till the
answer came. An hour later, when the _Caprice_ had come to an end, and
the husband and wife sat in silence on opposite sides of the hearth,
the man came back from Valleroy and gave his master his own letter,
unopened.

M. de Nueil went into a small room beyond the drawing-room, where he had
left his rifle, and shot himself.

The swift and fatal ending of the drama, contrary as it is to all the
habits of young France, is only what might have been expected. Those who
have closely observed, or known for themselves by delicious experience,
all that is meant by the perfect union of two beings, will understand
Gaston de Nueil’s suicide perfectly well. A woman does not bend and form
herself in a day to the caprices of passion. The pleasure of loving,
like some rare flower, needs the most careful ingenuity of culture.
Time alone, and two souls attuned each to each, can discover all its
resources, and call into being all the tender and delicate delights for
which we are steeped in a thousand superstitions, imagining them to be
inherent in the heart that lavishes them upon us. It is this wonderful
response of one nature to another, this religious belief, this certainty
of finding peculiar or excessive happiness in the presence of one we
love, that accounts in part for perdurable attachments and long-lived
passion. If a woman possesses the genius of her sex, love never comes to
be a matter of use and wont. She brings all her heart and brain to love,
clothes her tenderness in forms so varied, there is such art in her
most natural moments, or so much nature in her art, that in absence
her memory is almost as potent as her presence. All other women are as
shadows compared with her. Not until we have lost or known the dread of
losing a love so vast and glorious, do we prize it at its just worth.
And if a man who has once possessed this love shuts himself out from it
by his own act and deed, and sinks to some loveless marriage; if by some
incident, hidden in the obscurity of married life, the woman with whom
he hoped to know the same felicity makes it clear that it will never
be revived for him; if, with the sweetness of divine love still on his
lips, he has dealt a deadly wound to _her_, his wife in truth, whom he
forsook for a social chimera,--then he must either die or take refuge
in a materialistic, selfish, and heartless philosophy, from which
impassioned souls shrink in horror.


As for Mme. de Beauseant, she doubtless did not imagine that her
friend’s despair could drive him to suicide, when he had drunk deep of
love for nine years. Possibly she may have thought that she alone was
to suffer. At any rate, she did quite rightly to refuse the most
humiliating of all positions; a wife may stoop for weighty social
reasons to a kind of compromise which a mistress is bound to hold in
abhorrence, for in the purity of her passion lies all its justification.


ANGOULEME, September 1832.



ADDENDUM

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

     Beauseant, Marquis and Comte de
       Father Goriot
       An Episode under the Terror

     Beauseant, Marquise de
       Letters of Two Brides

     Beauseant, Vicomte de
       Father Goriot

     Beauseant, Vicomtesse de
       Father Goriot
       Albert Savarus

     Champignelles, De
       The Seamy Side of History

     Jacques (M. de Beauseant’s butler)
       Father Goriot

     Nueil, Gaston de
       The Deserted Woman
       Albert Savarus





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