Part 2 out of 7
So saying, she sat down and began to knit with a rapidity which
betrayed her inward emotion.
"My angel," said the mother, weeping, "I foresee some evil coming down
upon you in that house."
"Who is making Fanny weep?" cried the old man, waking with a start at
the sound of his wife's voice. He looked round upon his sister, his
son, and the baroness. "What is the matter?" he asked.
"Nothing, my friend," replied his wife.
"Mamma," said Calyste, whispering in his mother's ear, "it is
impossible for me to explain myself just now; but to-night you and I
will talk of this. When you know all, you will bless Mademoiselle des
"Mothers do not like to curse," replied the baroness. "I could not
curse a woman who truly loved my Calyste."
The young man bade adieu to his father and went out. The baron and his
wife rose to see him pass through the court-yard, open the gate, and
disappear. The baroness did not again take up the newspaper; she was
too agitated. In this tranquil, untroubled life such a discussion was
the equivalent of a quarrel in other homes. Though somewhat calmed,
her motherly uneasiness was not dispersed. Whither would such a
friendship, which might claim the life of Calyste and destroy it, lead
her boy? Bless Mademoiselle des Touches? how could that be? These
questions were as momentous to her simple soul as the fury of
revolutions to a statesman. Camille Maupin was Revolution itself in
that calm and placid home.
"I fear that woman will ruin him," she said, picking up the paper.
"My dear Fanny," said the old baron, with a jaunty air, "you are too
much of an angel to understand these things. Mademoiselle des Touches
is, they say, as black as a crow, as strong as a Turk, and forty years
old. Our dear Calyste was certain to fall in love with her. Of course
he will tell certain honorable little lies to conceal his happiness.
Let him alone to amuse himself with his first illusions."
"If it had been any other woman--" began the baroness.
"But, my dear Fanny, if the woman were a saint she would not accept
your son." The baroness again picked up the paper. "I will go and see
her myself," added the baron, "and tell you all about her."
This speech has no savor at the present moment. But after reading the
biography of Camille Maupin you can then imagine the old baron
entering the lists against that illustrious woman.
BIOGRAPHY OF CAMILLE MAUPIN
The town of Guerande, which for two months past had seen Calyste, its
flower and pride, going, morning or evening, often morning and
evening, to Les Touches, concluded that Mademoiselle Felicite des
Touches was passionately in love with the beautiful youth, and that
she practised upon him all kinds of sorceries. More than one young
girl and wife asked herself by what right an old woman exercised so
absolute an empire over that angel. When Calyste passed along the
Grand' Rue to the Croisic gate many a regretful eye was fastened on
It now became necessary to explain the rumors which hovered about the
person whom Calyste was on his way to see. These rumors, swelled by
Breton gossip, envenomed by public ignorance, had reached the rector.
The receiver of taxes, the /juge de paix/, the head of the Saint-
Nazaire custom-house and other lettered persons had not reassured the
abbe by relating to him the strange and fantastic life of the female
writer who concealed herself under the masculine name of Camille
Maupin. She did not as yet eat little children, nor kill her slaves
like Cleopatra, nor throw men into the river as the heroine of the
Tour de Nesle was falsely accused of doing; but to the Abbe Grimont
this monstrous creature, a cross between a siren and an atheist, was
an immoral combination of woman and philosopher who violated every
social law invented to restrain or utilize the infirmities of
Just as Clara Gazul is the female pseudonym of a distinguished male
writer, George Sand the masculine pseudonym of a woman of genius, so
Camille Maupin was the mask behind which was long hidden a charming
young woman, very well-born, a Breton, named Felicite des Touches, the
person who was now causing such lively anxiety to the Baronne du
Guenic and the excellent rector of Guerande. The Breton des Touches
family has no connection with the family of the same name in Touraine,
to which belongs the ambassador of the Regent, even more famous to-day
for his writings than for his diplomatic talents.
Camille Maupin, one of the few celebrated women of the nineteenth
century, was long supposed to be a man, on account of the virility of
her first writings. All the world now knows the two volumes of plays,
not intended for representation on the stage, written after the manner
of Shakespeare or Lopez de Vega, published in 1822, which made a sort
of literary revolution when the great question of the classics and the
romanticists palpitated on all sides,--in the newspapers, at the
clubs, at the Academy, everywhere. Since then, Camille Maupin has
written several plays and a novel, which have not belied the success
obtained by her first publication--now, perhaps, too much forgotten.
To explain by what net-work of circumstances the masculine incarnation
of a young girl was brought about, why Felicite des Touches became a
man and an author, and why, more fortunate than Madame de Stael, she
kept her freedom and was thus more excusable for her celebrity, would
be to satisfy many curiosities and do justice to one of those abnormal
beings who rise in humanity like monuments, and whose fame is promoted
by its rarity,--for in twenty centuries we can count, at most, twenty
famous women. Therefore, although in these pages she stands as a
secondary character, in consideration of the fact that she plays a
great part in the literary history of our epoch, and that her
influence over Calyste was great, no one, we think, will regret being
made to pause before that figure rather longer than modern art
Mademoiselle Felicite des Touches became an orphan in 1793. Her
property escaped confiscation by reason of the deaths of her father
and brother. The first was killed on the 10th of August, at the
threshold of the palace, among the defenders of the king, near whose
person his rank as major of the guards of the gate had placed him. Her
brother, one of the body-guard, was massacred at Les Carmes.
Mademoiselle des Touches was two years old when her mother died,
killed by grief, a few days after this second catastrophe. When dying,
Madame des Touches confided her daughter to her sister, a nun of
Chelles. Madame de Faucombe, the nun, prudently took the orphan to
Faucombe, a good-sized estate near Nantes, belonging to Madame des
Touches, and there she settled with the little girl and three sisters
of her convent. The populace of Nantes, during the last days of the
Terror, tore down the chateau, seized the nuns and Mademoiselle des
Touches, and threw them into prison on a false charge of receiving
emissaries of Pitt and Coburg. The 9th Thermidor released them.
Felicite's aunt died of fear. Two of the sisters left France, and the
third confided the little girl to her nearest relation, Monsieur de
Faucombe, her maternal great-uncle, who lived in Nantes.
Monsieur de Faucombe, an old man sixty years of age, had married a
young woman to whom he left the management of his affairs. He busied
himself in archaeology,--a passion, or to speak more correctly, one of
those manias which enable old men to fancy themselves still living.
The education of his ward was therefore left to chance. Little cared-
for by her uncle's wife, a young woman given over to the social
pleasures of the imperial epoch, Felicite brought herself up as a boy.
She kept company with Monsieur de Faucombe in his library; where she
read everything it pleased her to read. She thus obtained a knowledge
of life in theory, and had no innocence of mind, though virgin
personally. Her intellect floated on the impurities of knowledge while
her heart was pure. Her learning became extraordinary, the result of a
passion for reading, sustained by a powerful memory. At eighteen years
of age she was as well-informed on all topics as a young man entering
a literary career has need to be in our day. Her prodigious reading
controlled her passions far more than conventual life would have done;
for there the imaginations of young girls run riot. A brain crammed
with knowledge that was neither digested nor classed governed the
heart and soul of the child. This depravity of the intellect, without
action upon the chastity of the body, would have amazed philosophers
and observers, had any one in Nantes even suspected the powers of
Mademoiselle des Touches.
The result of all this was in a contrary direction to the cause.
Felicite had no inclinations toward evil; she conceived everything by
thought, but abstained from deed. Old Faucombe was enchanted with her,
and she helped him in his work,--writing three of his books, which the
worthy old gentleman believed were his own; for his spiritual
paternity was blind. Such mental labor, not agreeing with the
developments of girlhood, had its effect. Felicite fell ill; her blood
was overheated, and her chest seemed threatened with inflammation. The
doctors ordered horseback exercise and the amusements of society.
Mademoiselle des Touches became, in consequence, an admirable
horsewoman, and recovered her health in a few months.
At the age of eighteen she appeared in the world, where she produced
so great a sensation that no one in Nantes called her anything else
than "the beautiful Mademoiselle des Touches." Led to enter society by
one of the imperishable sentiments in the heart of a woman, however
superior she may be, the worship she inspired found her cold and
unresponsive. Hurt by her aunt and her cousins, who ridiculed her
studies and teased her about her unwillingness for society, which they
attributed to a lack of the power of pleasing, Felicite resolved on
making herself coquettish, gay, volatile,--a woman, in short. But she
expected in return an exchange of ideas, seductions, and pleasures in
harmony with the elevation of her own mind and the extent of its
knowledge. Instead of that, she was filled with disgust for the
commonplaces of conversation, the silliness of gallantry; and more
especially was she shocked by the supremacy of military men, to whom
society made obeisance at that period. She had, not unnaturally,
neglected the minor accomplishments. Finding herself inferior to the
pretty dolls who played on the piano and made themselves agreeable by
singing ballads, she determined to be a musician. Retiring into her
former solitude she set to work resolvedly, under the direction of the
best master in the town. She was rich, and she sent for Steibelt when
the time came to perfect herself. The astonished town still talks of
this princely conduct. The stay of that master cost her twelve
thousand francs. Later, when she went to Paris, she studied harmony
and thorough-bass, and composed the music of two operas which have had
great success, though the public has never been admitted to the secret
of their authorship. Ostensibly these operas are by Conti, one of the
most eminent musicians of our day; but this circumstance belongs to
the history of her heart, and will be mentioned later on.
The mediocrity of the society of a provincial town wearied her so
excessively, her imagination was so filled with grandiose ideas that
although she returned to the salons to eclipse other women once more
by her beauty, and enjoy her new triumph as a musician, she again
deserted them; and having proved her power to her cousins, and driven
two lovers to despair, she returned to her books, her piano, the works
of Beethoven, and her old friend Faucombe. In 1812, when she was
twenty-one years of age, the old archaeologist handed over to her his
guardianship accounts. From that year, she took control of her
fortune, which consisted of fifteen thousand francs a year, derived
from Les Touches, the property of her father; twelve thousand a year
from Faucombe (which, however, she increased one-third on renewing the
leases); and a capital of three hundred thousand francs laid by during
her minority by her guardians.
Felicite acquired from her experience of provincial life, an
understanding of money, and that strong tendency to administrative
wisdom which enables the provinces to hold their own under the
ascensional movement of capital towards Paris. She drew her three
hundred thousand francs from the house of business where her guardian
had placed them, and invested them on the Grand-livre at the very
moment of the disasters of the retreat from Moscow. In this way, she
increased her income by thirty thousand francs. All expenses paid, she
found herself with fifty thousand francs a year to invest. At twenty-
one years of age a girl with such force of will is the equal of a man
of thirty. Her mind had taken a wide range; habits of criticism
enabled her to judge soberly of men, and art, and things, and public
questions. Henceforth she resolved to leave Nantes; but old Faucombe
falling ill with his last illness, she, who had been both wife and
daughter to him, remained to nurse him, with the devotion of an angel,
for eighteen months, closing his eyes at the moment when Napoleon was
struggling with all Europe on the corpse of France. Her removal to
Paris was therefore still further postponed until the close of that
As a Royalist, she hastened to be present at the return of the
Bourbons to Paris. There the Grandlieus, to whom she was related,
received her as their guest; but the catastrophes of March 20
intervened, and her future was vague and uncertain. She was thus
enabled to see with her own eyes that last image of the Empire, and
behold the Grand Army when it came to the Champ de Mars, as to a Roman
circus, to salute its Caesar before it went to its death at Waterloo.
The great and noble soul of Felicite was stirred by that magic
spectacle. The political commotions, the glamour of that theatrical
play of three months which history has called the Hundred Days,
occupied her mind and preserved her from all personal emotions in the
midst of a convulsion which dispersed the royalist society among whom
she had intended to reside. The Grandlieus followed the Bourbons to
Ghent, leaving their house to Mademoiselle des Touches. Felicite, who
did not choose to take a subordinate position, purchased for one
hundred and thirty thousand francs one of the finest houses in the rue
Mont Blanc, where she installed herself on the return of the Bourbons
in 1815. The garden of this house is to-day worth two millions.
Accustomed to control her own life, Felicite soon familiarized herself
with the ways of thought and action which are held to be exclusively
the province of man. In 1816 she was twenty-five years old. She knew
nothing of marriage; her conception of it was wholly that of thought;
she judged it in its causes instead of its effect, and saw only its
objectionable side. Her superior mind refused to make the abdication
by which a married woman begins that life; she keenly felt the value
of independence, and was conscious of disgust for the duties of
It is necessary to give these details to explain the anomalies
presented by the life of Camille Maupin. She had known neither father
nor mother; she had been her own mistress from childhood; her guardian
was an old archaeologist. Chance had flung her into the regions of
knowledge and of imagination, into the world of literature, instead of
holding her within the rigid circle defined by the futile education
given to women, and by maternal instructions as to dress, hypocritical
propriety, and the hunting graces of their sex. Thus, long before she
became celebrated, a glance might have told an observer that she had
never played with dolls.
Toward the close of the year 1817 Felicite des Touches began to
perceive, not the fading of her beauty, but the beginning of a certain
lassitude of body. She saw that a change would presently take place in
her person as the result of her obstinate celibacy. She wanted to
retain her youth and beauty, to which at that time she clung. Science
warned her of the sentence pronounced by Nature upon all her
creations, which perish as much by the misconception of her laws as by
the abuse of them. The macerated face of her aunt returned to her
memory and made her shudder. Placed between marriage and love, her
desire was to keep her freedom; but she was now no longer indifferent
to homage and the admiration that surrounded her. She was, at the
moment when this history begins, almost exactly what she was in 1817.
Eighteen years had passed over her head and respected it. At forty she
might have been thought no more than twenty-five.
Therefore to describe her in 1836 is to picture her as she was in
1817. Women who know the conditions of temperament and happiness in
which a woman should live to resist the ravages of time will
understand how and why Felicite des Touches enjoyed this great
privilege as they study a portrait for which were reserved the
brightest tints of Nature's palette, and the richest setting.
Brittany presents a curious problem to be solved in the predominance
of dark hair, brown eyes, and swarthy complexions in a region so near
England that the atmospheric effects are almost identical. Does this
problem belong to the great question of races? to hitherto unobserved
physical influences? Science may some day find the reason of this
peculiarity, which ceases in the adjoining province of Normandy.
Waiting its solution, this odd fact is there before our eyes; fair
complexions are rare in Brittany, where the women's eyes are as black
and lively as those of Southern women; but instead of possessing the
tall figures and swaying lines of Italy and Spain, they are usually
short, close-knit, well set-up and firm, except in the higher classes
which are crossed by their alliances.
Mademoiselle des Touches, a true Breton, is of medium height, though
she looks taller than she really is. This effect is produced by the
character of her face, which gives height to her form. She has that
skin, olive by day and dazzling by candlelight, which distinguishes a
beautiful Italian; you might, if you pleased, call it animated ivory.
The light glides along a skin of that texture as on a polished
surface; it shines; a violent emotion is necessary to bring the
faintest color to the centre of the cheeks, where it goes away almost
immediately. This peculiarity gives to her face the calm impassibility
of the savage. The face, more long than oval, resembles that of some
beautiful Isis in the Egyptian bas-reliefs; it has the purity of the
heads of sphinxes, polished by the fire of the desert, kissed by a
Coptic sun. The tones of the skin are in harmony with the faultless
modelling of the head. The black and abundant hair descends in heavy
masses beside the throat, like the coif of the statues at Memphis, and
carries out magnificently the general severity of form. The forehead
is full, broad, and swelling about the temples, illuminated by
surfaces which catch the light, and modelled like the brow of the
hunting Diana, a powerful and determined brow, silent and self-
contained. The arch of the eye-brows, vigorously drawn, surmounts a
pair of eyes whose flame scintillates at times like that of a fixed
star. The white of the eye is neither bluish, nor strewn with scarlet
threads, nor is it purely white; it has the texture of horn, but the
tone is warm. The pupil is surrounded by an orange circle; it is of
bronze set in gold, but vivid gold and animated bronze. This pupil
has depth; it is not underlaid, as in certain eyes, by a species of
foil, which sends back the light and makes such eyes resemble those of
cats or tigers; it has not that terrible inflexibility which makes a
sensitive person shudder; but this depth has in it something of the
infinite, just as the external radiance of the eyes suggests the
absolute. The glance of an observer may be lost in that soul, which
gathers itself up and retires with as much rapidity as it gushed for a
second into those velvet eyes. In moments of passion the eyes of
Camille Maupin are sublime; the gold of her glance illuminates them
and they flame. But in repose they are dull; the torpor of meditation
often lends them an appearance of stupidity[*]; in like manner, when
the glow of the soul is absent the lines of the face are sad.
[*] George Sand says of herself, in "L'Histoire de Ma Vie," published
long after the above was written: "The habit of meditation gave me
/l'air bete/ (a stupid air). I say the word frankly, for all my
life I have been told this, and therefore it must be true."--TR.
The lashes of the eyelids are short, but thick and black as the tip of
an ermine's tail; the eyelids are brown and strewn with red fibrils,
which give them grace and strength,--two qualities which are seldom
united in a woman. The circle round the eyes shows not the slightest
blemish nor the smallest wrinkle. There, again, we find the granite of
an Egyptian statue softened by the ages. But the line of the cheek-
bones, though soft, is more pronounced than in other women and
completes the character of strength which the face expresses. The
nose, thin and straight, parts into two oblique nostrils, passionately
dilated at times, and showing the transparent pink of their delicate
lining. This nose is an admirable continuation of the forehead, with
which it blends in a most delicious line. It is perfectly white from
its spring to its tip, and the tip is endowed with a sort of mobility
which does marvels if Camille is indignant, or angry, or rebellious.
There, above all, as Talma once remarked, is seen depicted the anger
or the irony of great minds. The immobility of the human nostril
indicates a certain narrowness of soul; never did the nose of a miser
oscillate; it contracts like the lips; he locks up his face as he does
Camille's mouth, arching at the corners, is of a vivid red; blood
abounds there, and supplies the living, thinking oxide which gives
such seduction to the lips, reassuring the lover whom the gravity of
that majestic face may have dismayed. The upper lip is thin, the
furrow which unites it with the nose comes low, giving it a centre
curve which emphasizes its natural disdain. Camille has little to do
to express anger. This beautiful lip is supported by the strong red
breadth of its lower mate, adorable in kindness, swelling with love, a
lip like the outer petal of a pomegranate such as Phidias might have
carved, and the color of which it has. The chin is firm and rather
full; but it expresses resolution and fitly ends this profile, royal
if not divine. It is necessary to add that the upper lip beneath the
nose is lightly shaded by a charming down. Nature would have made a
blunder had she not cast that tender mist upon the face. The ears are
delicately convoluted,--a sign of secret refinement. The bust is
large, the waist slim and sufficiently rounded. The hips are not
prominent, but very graceful; the line of the thighs is magnificent,
recalling Bacchus rather than the Venus Callipyge. There we may see
the shadowy line of demarcation which separates nearly every woman of
genius from her sex; there such women are found to have a certain
vague similitude to man; they have neither the suppleness nor the soft
abandonment of those whom Nature destines for maternity; their gait is
not broken by faltering motions. This observation may be called
bi-lateral; it has its counterpart in men, whose thighs are those of
women when they are sly, cunning, false, and cowardly. Camille's neck,
instead of curving inward at the nape, curves out in a line that
unites the head to the shoulders without sinuosity, a most signal
characteristic of force. The neck itself presents at certain moments
an athletic magnificence. The spring of the arms from the shoulders,
superb in outline, seems to belong to a colossal woman. The arms are
vigorously modelled, ending in wrists of English delicacy and charming
hands, plump, dimpled, and adorned with rosy, almond-shaped nails;
these hands are of a whiteness which reveals that the body, so round,
so firm, so well set-up, is of another complexion altogether than the
face. The firm, cold carriage of the head is corrected by the mobility
of the lips, their changing expression, and the artistic play of the
And yet, in spite of all these promises--hidden, perhaps, from the
profane--the calm of that countenance has something, I know not what,
that is vexatious. More sad, more serious than gracious, that face is
marked by the melancholy of constant meditation. For this reason
Mademoiselle des Touches listens more than she talks. She startles by
her silence and by that deep-reaching glance of intense fixity. No
educated person could see her without thinking of Cleopatra, that dark
little woman who almost changed the face of the world. But in Camille
the natural animal is so complete, so self-sufficing, of a nature so
leonine, that a man, however little of a Turk he may be, regrets the
presence of so great a mind in such a body, and could wish that she
were wholly woman. He fears to find the strange distortion of an
abnormal soul. Do not cold analysis and matter-of-fact theory point to
passions in such a woman? Does she judge, and not feel? Or, phenomenon
more terrible, does she not feel and judge at one and the same time?
Able for all things through her brain, ought her course to be
circumscribed by the limitations of other women? Has that intellectual
strength weakened her heart? Has she no charm? Can she descend to
those tender nothings by which a woman occupies, and soothes and
interests the man she loves? Will she not cast aside a sentiment when
it no longer responds to some vision of infinitude which she grasps
and contemplates in her soul? Who can scale the heights to which her
eyes have risen? Yes, a man fears to find in such a woman something
unattainable, unpossessable, unconquerable. The woman of strong mind
should remain a symbol; as a reality she must be feared. Camille
Maupin is in some ways the living image of Schiller's Isis, seated in
the darkness of the temple, at whose feet her priests find the dead
bodies of the daring men who have consulted her.
The adventures of her life declared to be true by the world, and which
Camille has never disavowed, enforce the questions suggested by her
personal appearance. Perhaps she likes those calumnies.
The nature of her beauty has not been without its influence on her
fame; it has served it, just as her fortune and position have
maintained her in society. If a sculptor desires to make a statue of
Brittany let him take Mademoiselle des Touches for his model. That
full-blooded, powerful temperament is the only nature capable of
repelling the action of time. The constant nourishment of the pulp, so
to speak, of that polished skin is an arm given to women by Nature to
resist the invasion of wrinkles; in Camille's case it was aided by the
calm impassibility of her features.
In 1817 this charming young woman opened her house to artists, authors
of renown, learned and scientific men, and publicists,--a society
toward which her tastes led her. Her salon resembled that of Baron
Gerard, where men of rank mingled with men of distinction of all
kinds, and the elite of Parisian women came. The parentage of
Mademoiselle des Touches, and her fortune, increased by that of her
aunt the nun, protected her in the attempt, always very difficult in
Paris, to create a society. Her worldly independence was one reason of
her success. Various ambitious mothers indulged in the hope of
inducing her to marry their sons, whose fortunes were out of
proportion to the age of their escutcheons. Several peers of France,
allured by the prospect of eighty thousand francs a year and a house
magnificently appointed, took their womenkind, even the most
fastidious and intractable, to visit her. The diplomatic world, always
in search of amusements of the intellect, came there and found
enjoyment. Thus Mademoiselle des Touches, surrounded by so many forms
of individual interests, was able to study the different comedies
which passion, covetousness, and ambition make the generality of men
perform,--even those who are highest in the social scale. She saw,
early in life, the world as it is; and she was fortunate enough not to
fall early into absorbing love, which warps the mind and faculties of
a woman and prevents her from judging soberly.
Ordinarily a woman feels, enjoys, and judges, successively; hence
three distinct ages, the last of which coincides with the mournful
period of old age. In Mademoiselle des Touches this order was
reversed. Her youth was wrapped in the snows of knowledge and the ice
of reflection. This transposition is, in truth, an additional
explanation of the strangeness of her life and the nature of her
talent. She observed men at an age when most women can only see one
man; she despised what other women admired; she detected falsehood in
the flatteries they accept as truths; she laughed at things that made
them serious. This contradiction of her life with that of others
lasted long; but it came to a terrible end; she was destined to find
in her soul a first love, young and fresh, at an age when women are
summoned by Nature to renounce all love.
Meantime, a first affair in which she was involved has always remained
a secret from the world. Felicite, like other women, was induced to
believe that beauty of body was that of soul. She fell in love with a
face, and learned, to her cost, the folly of a man of gallantry, who
saw nothing in her but a mere woman. It was some time before she
recovered from the disgust she felt at this episode. Her distress was
perceived by a friend, a man, who consoled her without personal after-
thought, or, at any rate, he concealed any such motive if he had it.
In him Felicite believed she found the heart and mind which were
lacking to her former lover. He did, in truth, possess one of the most
original minds of our age. He, too, wrote under a pseudonym, and his
first publications were those of an adorer of Italy. Travel was the
one form of education which Felicite lacked. A man of genius, a poet
and a critic, he took Felicite to Italy in order to make known to her
that country of all Art. This celebrated man, who is nameless, may be
regarded as the master and maker of "Camille Maupin." He bought into
order and shape the vast amount of knowledge already acquired by
Felicite; increased it by study of the masterpieces with which Italy
teems; gave her the frankness, freedom, and grace, epigrammatic, and
intense, which is the character of his own talent (always rather
fanciful as to form) which Camille Maupin modified by delicacy of
sentiment and the softer terms of thought that are natural to a woman.
He also roused in her a taste for German and English literature and
made her learn both languages while travelling. In Rome, in 1820,
Felicite was deserted for an Italian. Without that misery she might
never have been celebrated. Napoleon called misfortune the midwife of
genius. This event filled Mademoiselle des Touches, and forever, with
that contempt for men which later was to make her so strong. Felicite
died, Camille Maupin was born.
She returned to Paris with Conti, the great musician, for whom she
wrote the librettos of two operas. But she had no more illusions, and
she became, at heart, unknown to the world, a sort of female Don Juan,
without debts and without conquests. Encouraged by success, she
published the two volumes of plays which at once placed the name of
Camille Maupin in the list of illustrious anonymas. Next, she related
her betrayed and deluded love in a short novel, one of the
masterpieces of that period. This book, of a dangerous example, was
classed with "Adolphe," a dreadful lamentation, the counterpart of
which is found in Camille's work. The true secret of her literary
metamorphosis and pseudonym has never been fully understood. Some
delicate minds have thought it lay in a feminine desire to escape fame
and remain obscure, while offering a man's name and work to criticism.
In spite of any such desire, if she had it, her celebrity increased
daily, partly through the influence of her salon, partly from her own
wit, the correctness of her judgments, and the solid worth of her
acquirements. She became an authority; her sayings were quoted; she
could no longer lay aside at will the functions with which Parisian
society invested her. She came to be an acknowledged exception. The
world bowed before the genius and position of this strange woman; it
recognized and sanctioned her independence; women admired her mind,
men her beauty. Her conduct was regulated by all social conventions.
Her friendships seemed purely platonic. There was, moreover, nothing
of the female author about her. Mademoiselle des Touches is charming
as a woman of the world,--languid when she pleases, indolent,
coquettish, concerned about her toilet, pleased with the airy nothings
so seductive to women and to poets. She understands very well that
after Madame de Stael there is no place in this century for a Sappho,
and that Ninon could not exist in Paris without /grands seigneurs/ and
a voluptuous court. She is the Ninon of the intellect; she adores Art
and artists; she goes from the poet to the musician, from the sculptor
to the prose-writer. Her heart is noble, endowed with a generosity
that makes her a dupe; so filled is she with pity for sorrow,--filled
also with contempt for the prosperous. She has lived since 1830, the
centre of a choice circle, surrounded by tried friends who love her
tenderly and esteem each other. Far from the noisy fuss of Madame de
Stael, far from political strifes, she jokes about Camille Maupin,
that junior of George Sand (whom she calls her brother Cain), whose
recent fame has now eclipsed her own. Mademoiselle des Touches admires
her fortunate rival with angelic composure, feeling no jealousy and no
Until the period when this history begins, she had led as happy a life
as a woman strong enough to protect herself can be supposed to live.
From 1817 to 1834 she had come some five or six times to Les Touches.
Her first stay was after her first disillusion in 1818. The house was
uninhabitable, and she sent her man of business to Guerande and took a
lodging for herself in the village. At that time she had no suspicion
of her coming fame; she was sad, she saw no one; she wanted, as it
were, to contemplate herself after her great disaster. She wrote to
Paris to have the furniture necessary for a residence at Les Touches
sent down to her. It came by a vessel to Nantes, thence by small boats
to Croisic, from which little place it was transported, not without
difficulty, over the sands to Les Touches. Workmen came down from
Paris, and before long she occupied Les Touches, which pleased her
immensely. She wanted to meditate over the events of her life, like a
At the beginning of the winter she returned to Paris. The little town
of Guerande was by this time roused to diabolical curiosity; its whole
talk was of the Asiatic luxury displayed at Les Touches. Her man of
business gave orders after her departure that visitors should be
admitted to view the house. They flocked from the village of Batz,
from Croisic, and from Savenay, as well as from Guerande. This public
curiosity brought in an enormous sum to the family of the porter and
gardener, not less, in two years, than seventeen francs.
After this, Mademoiselle des Touches did not revisit Les Touches for
two years, not until her return from Italy. On that occasion she came
by way of Croisic and was accompanied by Conti. It was some time
before Guerande became aware of her presence. Her subsequent
apparitions at Les Touches excited comparatively little interest. Her
Parisian fame did not precede her; her man of business alone knew the
secret of her writings and of her connection with the celebrity of
Camille Maupin. But at the period of which we are now writing the
contagion of the new ideas had made some progress in Guerande, and
several persons knew of the dual form of Mademoiselle des Touches'
existence. Letters came to the post-office, directed to Camille Maupin
at Les Touches. In short, the veil was rent away. In a region so
essentially Catholic, archaic, and full of prejudice, the singular
life of this illustrious woman would of course cause rumors, some of
which, as we have seen, had reached the ears of the Abbe Grimont and
alarmed him; such a life could never be comprehended in Guerande; in
fact, to every mind, it seemed unnatural and improper.
Felicite, during her present stay, was not alone in Les Touches. She
had a guest. That guest was Claude Vignon, a scornful and powerful
writer who, though doing criticism only, has found means to give the
public and literature the impression of a certain superiority.
Mademoiselle des Touches had received this writer for the last seven
years, as she had so many other authors, journalists, artists, and men
of the world. She knew his nerveless nature, his laziness, his utter
penury, his indifference and disgust for all things, and yet by the
way she was now conducting herself she seemed inclined to marry him.
She explained her conduct, incomprehensible to her friends, in various
ways,--by ambition, by the dread she felt of a lonely old age; she
wanted to confide her future to a superior man, to whom her fortune
would be a stepping-stone, and thus increase her own importance in the
With these apparent intentions she had brought Claude Vignon from
Paris to Les Touches, as an eagle bears away a kid in its talons,--to
study him, and decide upon some positive course. But, in truth, she
was misleading both Calyste and Claude; she was not even thinking of
marriage; her heart was in the throes of the most violent convulsion
that could agitate a soul as strong as hers. She found herself the
dupe of her own mind; too late she saw life lighted by the sun of
love, shining as love shines in a heart of twenty.
Let us now see Camille's convent where this was happening.
A few hundred yards from Guerande the soil of Brittany comes to an
end; the salt-marshes and the sandy dunes begin. We descend into a
desert of sand, which the sea has left for a margin between herself
and earth, by a rugged road through a ravine that has never seen a
carriage. This desert contains waste tracts, ponds of unequal size,
round the shores of which the salt is made on muddy banks, and a
little arm of the sea which separates the mainland from the island of
Croisic. Geographically, Croisic is really a peninsula; but as it
holds to Brittany only by the beaches which connect it with the
village of Batz (barren quicksands very difficult to cross), it may be
more correct to call it an island.
At the point where the road from Croisic to Guerande turns off from
the main road of /terra firma/, stands a country-house, surrounded by
a large garden, remarkable for its trimmed and twisted pine-trees,
some being trained to the shape of sun-shades, others, stripped of
their branches, showing their reddened trunks in spots where the bark
has peeled. These trees, victims of hurricanes, growing against wind
and tide (for them the saying is literally true), prepare the mind for
the strange and depressing sight of the marshes and dunes, which
resemble a stiffened ocean. The house, fairly well built of a species
of slaty stone with granite courses, has no architecture; it presents
to the eye a plain wall with windows at regular intervals. These
windows have small leaded panes on the ground-floor and large panes on
the upper floor. Above are the attics, which stretch the whole length
of an enormously high pointed roof, with two gables and two large
dormer windows on each side of it. Under the triangular point of each
gable a circular window opens its cyclopic eye, westerly to the sea,
easterly on Guerande. One facade of the house looks on the road to
Guerande, the other on the desert at the end of which is Croisic;
beyond that little town is the open sea. A brook escapes through an
opening in the park wall which skirts the road to Croisic, crosses the
road, and is lost in the sands beyond it.
The grayish tones of the house harmonize admirably with the scene it
overlooks. The park is an oasis in the surrounding desert, at the
entrance of which the traveller comes upon a mud-hut, where the
custom-house officials lie in wait for him. This house without land
(for the bulk of the estate is really in Guerande) derives an income
from the marshes and a few outlying farms of over ten thousand francs
a year. Such is the fief of Les Touches, from which the Revolution
lopped its feudal rights. The /paludiers/, however, continue to call
it "the chateau," and they would still say "seigneur" if the fief were
not now in the female line. When Felicite set about restoring Les
Touches, she was careful, artist that she is, not to change the
desolate exterior which gives the look of a prison to the isolated
structure. The sole change was at the gate, which she enlivened by two
brick columns supporting an arch, beneath which carriages pass into
the court-yard where she planted trees.
The arrangement of the ground-floor is that of nearly all country
houses built a hundred years ago. It was, evidently, erected on the
ruins of some old castle formerly perched there. A large panelled
entrance-hall has been turned by Felicite into a billiard-room; from
it opens an immense salon with six windows, and the dining-room. The
kitchen communicates with the dining-room through an office. Camille
has displayed a noble simplicity in the arrangement of this floor,
carefully avoiding all splendid decoration. The salon, painted gray,
is furnished in old mahogany with green silk coverings. The furniture
of the dining-room comprises four great buffets, also of mahogany,
chairs covered with horsehair, and superb engravings by Audran in
mahogany frames. The old staircase, of wood with heavy balusters, is
covered all over with a green carpet.
On the floor above are two suites of rooms separated by the staircase.
Mademoiselle des Touches has taken for herself the one that looks
toward the sea and the marshes, and arranged it with a small salon, a
large chamber, and two cabinets, one for a dressing-room, the other
for a study and writing-room. The other suite, she has made into two
separate apartments for guests, each with a bedroom, an antechamber,
and a cabinet. The servants have rooms in the attic. The rooms for
guests are furnished with what is strictly necessary, and no more. A
certain fantastic luxury has been reserved for her own apartment. In
that sombre and melancholy habitation, looking out upon the sombre and
melancholy landscape, she wanted the most fantastic creations of art
that she could find. The little salon is hung with Gobelin tapestry,
framed in marvellously carved oak. The windows are draped with the
heavy silken hangings of a past age, a brocade shot with crimson and
gold against green and yellow, gathered into mighty pleats and trimmed
with fringes and cords and tassels worthy of a church. This salon
contains a chest or cabinet worth in these days seven or eight
thousand francs, a carved ebony table, a secretary with many drawers,
inlaid with arabesques of ivory and bought in Venice, with other noble
Gothic furniture. Here too are pictures and articles of choice
workmanship bought in 1818, at a time when no one suspected the
ultimate value of such treasures. Her bedroom is of the period of
Louis XV. and strictly exact to it. Here we see the carved wooden
bedstead painted white, with the arched head-board surmounted by
Cupids scattering flowers, and the canopy above it adorned with
plumes; the hangings of blue silk; the Pompadour dressing-table with
its laces and mirror; together with bits of furniture of singular
shape,--a "duchesse," a chaise-longue, a stiff little sofa,--with
window-curtains of silk, like that of the furniture, lined with pink
satin, and caught back with silken ropes, and a carpet of Savonnerie;
in short, we find here all those elegant, rich, sumptuous, and dainty
things in the midst of which the women of the eighteenth century lived
and made love.
The study, entirely of the present day, presents, in contrast with the
Louis XV. gallantries, a charming collection of mahogany furniture; it
resembles a boudoir; the bookshelves are full, but the fascinating
trivialities of a woman's existence encumber it; in the midst of which
an inquisitive eye perceives with uneasy surprise pistols, a narghile,
a riding-whip, a hammock, a rifle, a man's blouse, tobacco, pipes, a
knapsack,--a bizarre combination which paints Felicite.
Every great soul, entering that room, would be struck with the
peculiar beauty of the landscape which spreads its broad savanna
beyond the park, the last vegetation on the continent. The melancholy
squares of water, divided by little paths of white salt crust, along
which the salt-makers pass (dressed in white) to rake up and gather
the salt into /mulons/; a space which the saline exhalations prevent
all birds from crossing, stifling thus the efforts of botanic nature;
those sands where the eye is soothed only by one little hardy
persistent plant bearing rosy flowers and the Chartreux pansy; that
lake of salt water, the sandy dunes, the view of Croisic, a miniature
town afloat like Venice on the sea; and, finally the mighty ocean
tossing its foaming fringe upon the granite rocks as if the better to
bring out their weird formations--that sight uplifts the mind although
it saddens it; an effect produced at last by all that is sublime,
creating a regretful yearning for things unknown and yet perceived by
the soul on far-off heights. These wild and savage harmonies are for
great spirits and great sorrows only.
This desert scene, where at times the sun rays, reflected by the
water, by the sands, whitened the village of Batz and rippled on the
roofs of Croisic with pitiless brilliancy, filled Camille's dreaming
mind for days together. She seldom looked to the cool, refreshing
scenes, the groves, the flowery meadows around Guerande. Her soul was
struggling to endure a horrible inward anguish.
No sooner did Calyste see the vanes of the two gables shooting up
beyond the furze of the roadside and the distorted heads of the pines,
than the air seemed lighter; Guerande was a prison to him; his life
was at Les Touches. Who will not understand the attraction it
presented to a youth in his position. A love like that of Cherubin,
had flung him at the feet of a person who was a great and grand thing
to him before he thought of her as a woman, and it had survived the
repeated and inexplicable refusals of Felicite. This sentiment, which
was more the need of loving than love itself, had not escaped the
terrible power of Camille for analysis; hence, possibly, her
rejection,--a generosity unperceived, of course, by Calyste.
At Les Touches were displayed to the ravished eyes of the ignorant
young countryman, the riches of a new world; he heard, as it were,
another language, hitherto unknown to him and sonorous. He listened to
the poetic sounds of the finest music, that surpassing music of the
nineteenth century, in which melody and harmony blend or struggle on
equal terms,--a music in which song and instrumentation have reached a
hitherto unknown perfection. He saw before his eyes the works of
modern painters, those of the French school, to-day the heir of Italy,
Spain, and Flanders, in which talent has become so common that hearts,
weary of talent, are calling aloud for genius. He read there those
works of imagination, those amazing creations of modern literature
which produced their full effect upon his unused heart. In short, the
great Nineteenth Century appeared to him, in all its collective
magnificence, its criticising spirit, its desires for renovation in
all directions, and its vast efforts, nearly all of them on the scale
of the giant who cradled the infancy of the century in his banners and
sang to it hymns with the lullaby of cannon.
Initiated by Felicite into the grandeur of all these things, which
may, perhaps, escape the eyes of those who work them, Calyste
gratified at Les Touches the taste for the glorious, powerful at his
age, and that artless admiration, the first love of adolescence, which
is always irritated by criticism. It is so natural that flame should
rise! He listened to that charming Parisian raillery, that graceful
satire which revealed to him French wit and the qualities of the
French mind, and awakened in him a thousand ideas, which might have
slumbered forever in the soft torpor of his family life. For him,
Mademoiselle des Touches was the mother of his intellect. She was so
kind to him; a woman is always adorable to a man in whom she inspires
love, even when she seems not to share it.
At the present time Felicite was giving him music-lessons. To him the
grand apartments on the lower floor, and her private rooms above, so
coquettish, so artistic, were vivified, were animated by a light, a
spirit, a supernatural atmosphere, strange and undefinable. The modern
world with its poesy was sharply contrasted with the dull and
patriarchal world of Guerande, in the two systems brought face to face
before him. On one side all the thousand developments of Art, on the
other the sameness of uncivilized Brittany. No one will therefore ask
why the poor lad, bored like his mother with the pleasures of
/mouche/, quivered as he approached the house, and rang the bell, and
crossed the court-yard. Such emotions, we may remark, do not assail a
mature man, trained to the ups and downs of life, whom nothing
surprises, being prepared for all.
As the door opened, Calyste, hearing the sound of the piano, supposed
that Camille was in the salon; but when he entered the billiard-hall
he no longer heard it. Camille, he thought, must be playing on a small
upright piano brought by Conti from England and placed by her in her
own little salon. He began to run up the stairs, where the thick
carpet smothered the sound of his steps; but he went more slowly as he
neared the top, perceiving something unusual and extraordinary about
the music. Felicite was playing for herself only; she was communing
with her own being.
Instead of entering the room, the young man sat down upon a Gothic
seat covered with green velvet, which stood on the landing beneath a
window artistically framed in carved woods stained and varnished.
Nothing was ever more mysteriously melancholy than Camille's
improvisation; it seemed like the cry of a soul /de profundis/ to God
--from the depths of a grave! The heart of the young lover recognized
the cry of despairing love, the prayer of a hidden plaint, the groan
of repressed affliction. Camille had varied, modified, and lengthened
the introduction to the cavatina: "Mercy for thee, mercy for me!"
which is nearly the whole of the fourth act of "Robert le Diable." She
now suddenly sang the words in a heart-rending manner, and then as
suddenly interrupted herself. Calyste entered, and saw the reason.
Poor Camille Maupin! poor Felicite! She turned to him a face bathed
with tears, took out her handkerchief and dried them, and said,
simply, without affectation, "Good-morning." She was beautiful as she
sat there in her morning gown. On her head was one of those red
chenille nets, much worn in those days, through which the coils of her
black hair shone, escaping here and there. A short upper garment made
like a Greek peplum gave to view a pair of cambric trousers with
embroidered frills, and the prettiest of Turkish slippers, red and
"What is the matter?" cried Calyste.
"He has not returned," she replied, going to a window and looking out
upon the sands, the sea and the marshes.
This answer explained all. Camille was awaiting Claude Vignon.
"You are anxious about him?" asked Calyste.
"Yes," she answered, with a sadness the lad was too ignorant to
He started to leave the room.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"To find him," he replied.
"Dear child!" she said, taking his hand and drawing him toward her
with one of those moist glances which are to a youthful soul the best
of recompenses. "You are distracted! Where could you find him on that
"I will find him."
"Your mother would be in mortal terror. Stay. Besides, I choose it,"
she said, making him sit down upon the sofa. "Don't pity me. The tears
you see are the tears a woman likes to shed. We have a faculty that is
not in man,--that of abandoning ourselves to our nervous nature and
driving our feelings to an extreme. By imagining certain situations
and encouraging the imagination we end in tears, and sometimes in
serious states of illness or disorder. The fancies of women are not
the action of the mind; they are of the heart. You have come just in
time; solitude is bad for me. I am not the dupe of his professed
desire to go to Croisic and see the rocks and the dunes and the salt-
marshes without me. He meant to leave us alone together; he is
jealous, or, rather, he pretends jealousy, and you are young, you are
"Why not have told me this before? What must I do? must I stay away?"
asked Calyste, with difficulty restraining his tears, one of which
rolled down his cheek and touched Felicite deeply.
"You are an angel!" she cried. Then she gaily sang the "Stay! stay!"
of Matilde in "Guillaume Tell," taking all gravity from that
magnificent answer of the princess to her subject. "He only wants to
make me think he loves me better than he really does," she said. "He
knows how much I desire his happiness," she went on, looking
attentively at Calyste. "Perhaps he feels humiliated to be inferior to
me there. Perhaps he has suspicions about you and means to surprise
us. But even if his only crime is to take his pleasure without me, and
not to associate me with the ideas this new place gives him, is not
that enough? Ah! I am no more loved by that great brain than I was by
the musician, by the poet, by the soldier! Sterne is right; names
signify much; mine is a bitter sarcasm. I shall die without finding in
any man the love which fills my heart, the poesy that I have in my
She stopped, her arms pendant, her head lying back on the cushions,
her eyes, stupid with thought, fixed on a pattern of the carpet. The
pain of great minds has something grandiose and imposing about it; it
reveals a vast extent of soul which the thought of the spectator
extends still further. Such souls share the privileges of royalty
whose affections belong to a people and so affect a world.
"Why did you reject my--" said Calyste; but he could not end his
sentence. Camille's beautiful hand laid upon his eloquently
"Nature changed her laws in granting me a dozen years of youth beyond
my due," she said. "I rejected your love from egotism. Sooner or later
the difference in our ages must have parted us. I am thirteen years
older than /he/, and even that is too much."
"You will be beautiful at sixty," cried Calyste, heroically.
"God grant it," she answered, smiling. "Besides, dear child, I /want/
to love. In spite of his cold heart, his lack of imagination, his
cowardly indifference, and the envy which consumes him, I believe
there is greatness behind those tatters; I hope to galvanize that
heart, to save him from himself, to attach him to me. Alas! alas! I
have a clear-seeing mind, but a blind heart."
She was terrible in her knowledge of herself. She suffered and
analyzed her feelings as Cuvier and Dupuytren explained to friends the
fatal advance of their disease and the progress that death was making
in their bodies. Camille Maupin knew the passion within her as those
men of science knew their own anatomy.
"I have brought him here to judge him, and he is already bored," she
continued. "He pines for Paris, I tell him; the nostalgia of criticism
is on him; he has no author to pluck, no system to undermine, no poet
to drive to despair, and he dares not commit some debauch in this
house which might lift for a moment the burden of his ennui. Alas! my
love is not real enough, perhaps, to soothe his brain; I don't
intoxicate him! Make him drunk at dinner to-night and I shall know if
I am right. I will say I am ill, and stay in my own room."
Calyste turned scarlet from his neck to his forehead; even his ears
were on fire.
"Oh! forgive me," she cried. "How can I heedlessly deprave your
girlish innocence! Forgive me, Calyste--" She paused. "There are some
superb, consistent natures who say at a certain age: 'If I had my life
to live over again, I would so the same things.' I who do not think
myself weak, I say, 'I would be a woman like your mother, Calyste.' To
have a Calyste, oh! what happiness! I could be a humble and submissive
woman--And yet, I have done no harm except to myself. But alas! dear
child, a woman cannot stand alone in society except it be in what is
called a primitive state. Affections which are not in harmony with
social or with natural laws, affections that are not obligatory, in
short, escape us. Suffering for suffering, as well be useful where we
can. What care I for those children of my cousin Faucombe? I have not
seen them these twenty years, and they are married to merchants. You
are my son, who have never cost me the miseries of motherhood; I shall
leave you my fortune and make you happy--at least, so far as money can
do so, dear treasure of beauty and grace that nothing should ever
change or blast."
"You would not take my love," said Calyste, "and I shall return your
fortune to your heirs."
"Child!" answered Camille, in a guttural voice, letting the tears roll
down her cheeks. "Will nothing save me from myself?" she added,
"You said you had a history to tell me, and a letter to--" said the
generous youth, wishing to divert her thoughts from her grief; but she
did not let him finish.
"You are right to remind me of that. I will be an honest woman before
all else. I will sacrifice no one--Yes, it was too late, yesterday,
but to-day we have time," she said, in a cheerful tone. "I will keep
my promise; and while I tell you that history I will sit by the window
and watch the road to the marshes."
Calyste arranged a great Gothic chair for her near the window, and
opened one of the sashes. Camille Maupin, who shared the oriental
taste of her illustrious sister-author, took a magnificent Persian
narghile, given to her by an ambassador. She filled the nipple with
patchouli, cleaned the /bochettino/, perfumed the goose-quill, which
she attached to the mouthpiece and used only once, set fire to the
yellow leaves, placing the vase with its long neck enamelled in blue
and gold at some distance from her, and rang the bell for tea.
"Will you have cigarettes?--Ah! I am always forgetting that you do not
smoke. Purity such as yours is so rare! The hand of Eve herself, fresh
from the hand of her Maker, is alone innocent enough to stroke your
Calyste colored; sitting down on a stool at Camille's feet, he did not
see the deep emotion that seemed for a moment to overcome her.
LA MARQUISE BEATRIX
"I promised you this tale of the past, and here it is," said Camille.
"The person from whom I received that letter yesterday, and who may be
here to-morrow, is the Marquise de Rochefide. The old marquis (whose
family is not as old as yours), after marrying his eldest daughter to
a Portuguese grandee, was anxious to find an alliance among the higher
nobility for his son, in order to obtain for him the peerage he had
never been able to get for himself. The Comtesse de Montcornet told
him of a young lady in the department of the Orne, a Mademoiselle
Beatrix-Maximilienne-Rose de Casteran, the youngest daughter of the
Marquis de Casteran, who wished to marry his two daughters without
dowries in order to reserve his whole fortune for the Comte de
Casteran, his son. The Casterans are, it seems, of the bluest blood.
Beatrix, born and brought up at the chateau de Casteran, was twenty
years old at the time of her marriage in 1828. She was remarkable for
what you provincials call originality, which is simply independence of
ideas, enthusiasm, a feeling for the beautiful, and a certain impulse
and ardor toward the things of Art. You may believe a poor woman who
has allowed herself to be drawn along the same lines, there is nothing
more dangerous for a woman. If she follows them, they lead her where
you see me, and where the marquise came,--to the verge of abysses. Men
alone have the staff on which to lean as they skirt those precipices,
--a force which is lacking to most women, but which, if we do possess
it, makes abnormal beings of us. Her old grandmother, the dowager de
Casteran, was well pleased to see her marry a man to whom she was
superior in every way. The Rochefides were equally satisfied with the
Casterans, who connected them with the Verneuils, the d'Esgrignons,
the Troisvilles, and gave them a peerage for their son in that last
big batch of peers made by Charles X., but revoked by the revolution
of July. The first days of marriage are perilous for little minds as
well as for great loves. Rochefide, being a fool, mistook his wife's
ignorance for coldness; he classed her among frigid, lymphatic women,
and made that an excuse to return to his bachelor life, relying on the
coldness of the marquise, her pride, and the thousand barriers that
the life of a great lady sets up about a woman in Paris. You'll know
what I mean when you go there. People said to Rochefide: 'You are very
lucky to possess a cold wife who will never have any but head
passions. She will always be content if she can shine; her fancies are
purely artistic, her desires will be satisfied if she can make a
salon, and collect about her distinguished minds; her debauches will
be in music and her orgies literary.' Rochefide, however, is not an
ordinary fool; he has as much conceit and vanity as a clever man,
which gives him a mean and squinting jealousy, brutal when it comes to
the surface, lurking and cowardly for six months, and murderous the
seventh. He thought he was deceiving his wife, and yet he feared her,
--two causes for tyranny when the day came on which the marquise let
him see that she was charitably assuming indifference to his
unfaithfulness. I analyze all this in order to explain her conduct.
Beatrix had the keenest admiration for me; there is but one step,
however, from admiration to jealousy. I have one of the most
remarkable salons in Paris; she wished to make herself another; and in
order to do so she attempted to draw away my circle. I don't know how
to keep those who wish to leave me. She obtained the superficial
people who are friends with every one from mere want of occupation,
and whose object is to get out of a salon as soon as they have entered
it; but she did not have time to make herself a real society. In those
days I thought her consumed with a desire for celebrity of one kind or
another. Nevertheless, she has really much grandeur of soul, a regal
pride, distinct ideas, and a marvellous facility for apprehending and
understanding all things; she can talk metaphysics and music, theology
and painting. You will see her, as a mature woman, what the rest of us
saw her as a bride. And yet there is something of affectation about
her in all this. She has too much the air of knowing abstruse things,
--Chinese, Hebrew, hieroglyphics perhaps, or the papyrus that they
wrapped round mummies. Personally, Beatrix is one of those blondes
beside whom Eve the fair would seem a Negress. She is slender and
straight and white as a church taper; her face is long and pointed;
the skin is capricious, to-day like cambric, to-morrow darkened with
little speckles beneath its surface, as if her blood had left a
deposit of dust there during the night. Her forehead is magnificent,
though rather daring. The pupils of her eyes are pale sea-green,
floating on their white balls under thin lashes and lazy eyelids. Her
eyes have dark rings around them often; her nose, which describes one-
quarter of a circle, is pinched about the nostrils; very shrewd and
clever, but supercilious. She has an Austrian mouth; the upper lip has
more character than the lower, which drops disdainfully. Her pale
cheeks have no color unless some very keen emotion moves her. Her chin
is rather fat; mine is not thin, and perhaps I do wrong to tell you
that women with fat chins are exacting in love. She has one of the
most exquisite waists I ever saw; the shoulders are beautiful, but the
bust has not developed as well, and the arms are thin. She has,
however, an easy carriage and manner, which redeems all such defects
and sets her beauties in full relief. Nature has given her that
princess air which can never be acquired; it becomes her, and reveals
at sudden moments the woman of high birth. Without being faultlessly
beautiful, or prettily pretty, she produces, when she chooses,
ineffaceable impressions. She has only to put on a gown of cherry
velvet with clouds of lace, and wreathe with roses that angelic hair
of hers, which resembles floods of light, and she becomes divine. If,
on some excuse or other, she could wear the costume of the time when
women had long, pointed bodices, rising, slim and slender, from
voluminous brocaded skirts with folds so heavy that they stood alone,
and could hide her arms in those wadded sleeves with ruffles, from
which the hand comes out like a pistil from a calyx, and could fling
back the curls of her head into the jewelled knot behind her head,
Beatrix would hold her own victoriously with ideal beauties like
And Felicite showed Calyste a fine copy of a picture by Mieris, in
which was a woman robed in white satin, standing with a paper in her
hand, and singing with a Brabancon seigneur, while a Negro beside them
poured golden Spanish wine into a goblet, and the old housekeeper in
the background arranged some biscuits.
"Fair women, blonds," said Camille, "have the advantage over us poor
brown things of a precious diversity; there are a hundred ways for a
blonde to charm, and only one for a brunette. Besides, blondes are
more womanly; we are too like men, we French brunettes--Well, well!"
she cried, "pray don't fall in love with Beatrix from the portrait I
am making of her, like that prince, I forget his name, in the Arabian
Nights. You would be too late, my dear boy."
These words were said pointedly. The admiration depicted on the young
man's face was more for the picture than for the painter whose /faire/
was failing of its purpose. As she spoke, Felicite was employing all
the resources of her eloquent physiognomy.
"Blond as she is, however," she went on, "Beatrix has not the grace of
her color; her lines are severe; she is elegant, but hard; her face
has a harsh contour, though at times it reveals a soul with Southern
passions; an angel flashes out and then expires. Her eyes are thirsty.
She looks best when seen full face; the profile has an air of being
squeezed between two doors. You will see if I am mistaken. I will tell
you now what made us intimate friends. For three years, from 1828 to
1831, Beatrix, while enjoying the last fetes of the Restoration,
making the round of the salons, going to court, taking part in the
fancy-balls of the Elysee-Bourbon, was all the while judging men, and
things, events, and life itself, from the height of her own thought.
Her mind was busy. These first years of the bewilderment the world
caused her prevented her heart from waking up. From 1830 to 1831 she
spent the time of the revolutionary disturbance at her husband's
country-place, where she was bored like a saint in paradise. On her
return to Paris she became convinced, perhaps justly, that the
revolution of July, in the minds of some persons purely political,
would prove to be a moral revolution. The social class to which she
belonged, not being able, during its unhoped-for triumph in the
fifteen years of the Restoration to reconstruct itself, was about to
go to pieces, bit by bit, under the battering-ram of the bourgeoisie.
She heard the famous words of Monsieur Laine: 'Kings are departing!'
This conviction, I believe was not without its influence on her
conduct. She took an intellectual part in the new doctrines, which
swarmed, during the three years succeeding July, 1830, like gnats in
the sunshine, and turned some female heads. But, like all nobles,
Beatrix, while thinking these novel ideals superb, wanted always to
protect the nobility. Finding before long that there was no place in
this new regime for individual superiority, seeing that the higher
nobility were beginning once more the mute opposition it had formerly
made to Napoleon,--which was, in truth, its wisest course under an
empire of deeds and facts, but which in an epoch of moral causes was
equivalent to abdication,--she chose personal happiness rather than
such eclipse. About the time we were all beginning to breathe again,
Beatrix met at my house a man with whom I had expected to end my days,
--Gennaro Conti, the great composer, a man of Neapolitan origin,
though born in Marseilles. Conti has a brilliant mind; as a composer
he has talent, though he will never attain to the first rank. Without
Rossini, without Meyerbeer, he might perhaps have been taken for a man
of genius. He has one advantage over those men,--he is in vocal music
what Paganini is on the violin, Liszt on the piano, Taglioni in the
ballet, and what the famous Garat was; at any rate he recalls that
great singer to those who knew him. His is not a voice, my friend, it
is a soul. When its song replies to certain ideas, certain states of
feeling difficult to describe in which a woman sometimes finds
herself, that woman is lost. The marquise conceived the maddest
passion for him, and took him from me. The act was provincial, I
allow, but it was all fair play. She won my esteem and friendship by
the way she behaved to me. She thought me a woman who was likely to
defend her own; she did not know that to me the most ridiculous thing
in the world is such a struggle. She came to see me. That woman, proud
as she is, was so in love that she told me her secret and made me the
arbiter of her destiny. She was really adorable, and she kept her
place as woman and as marquise in my eyes. I must tell you, dear
friend, that while women are sometimes bad, they have hidden grandeurs
in their souls that men can never appreciate. Well, as I seem to be
making my last will and testament like a woman on the verge of old
age, I shall tell you that I was ever faithful to Conti, and should
have been till death, and yet I /know him/. His nature is charming,
apparently, and detestable beneath its surface. He is a charlatan in
matters of the heart. There are some men, like Nathan, of whom I have
already spoken to you, who are charlatans externally, and yet honest.
Such men lie to themselves. Mounted on their stilts, they think they
are on their feet, and perform their jugglery with a sort of
innocence; their humbuggery is in their blood; they are born
comedians, braggarts; extravagant in form as a Chinese vase; perhaps
they even laugh at themselves. Their personality is generous; like
Murat's kingly garments, it attracts danger. But Conti's duplicity
will be known only to the women who love him. In his art he has that
deep Italian jealousy which led the Carlone to murder Piola, and stuck
a stiletto into Paesiello. That terrible envy lurks beneath the
warmest comradeship. Conti has not the courage of his vice; he smiles
at Meyerbeer and flatters him, when he fain would tear him to bits. He
knows his weakness, and cultivates an appearance of sincerity; his
vanity still further leads him to play at sentiments which are far
indeed from his real heart. He represents himself as an artist who
receives his inspirations from heaven; Art is something saintly and
sacred to him; he is fanatic; he is sublime in his contempt for
worldliness; his eloquence seems to come from the deepest convictions.
He is a seer, a demon, a god, an angel. Calyste, although I warn you
about him, you will be his dupe. That Southern nature, that
impassioned artist is cold as a well-rope. Listen to him: the artist
is a missionary. Art is a religion, which has its priests and ought to
have its martyrs. Once started on that theme, Gennaro reaches the most
dishevelled pathos that any German professor of philosophy ever
spluttered to his audience. You admire his convictions, but he hasn't
any. Bearing his hearers to heaven on a song which seems a mysterious
fluid shedding love, he casts an ecstatic glance upon them; he is
examining their enthusiasm; he is asking himself: 'Am I really a god
to them?' and he is also thinking: 'I ate too much macaroni to-day.'
He is insatiable of applause, and he wins it. He delights, he is
beloved; he is admired whensoever he will. He owes his success more to
his voice than to his talent as a composer, though he would rather be
a man of genius like Rossini than a performer like Rubini. I had
committed the folly of attaching myself to him, and I was determined
and resigned to deck this idol to the end. Conti, like a great many
artists, is dainty in all his ways; he likes his ease, his enjoyments;
he is always carefully, even elegantly dressed. I do respect his
courage; he is brave; bravery, they say, is the only virtue into which
hypocrisy cannot enter. While we were travelling I saw his courage
tested; he risked the life he loved; and yet, strange contradiction! I
have seen him, in Paris, commit what I call the cowardice of thought.
My friend, all this was known to me. I said to the poor marquise: 'You
don't know into what a gulf you are plunging. You are the Perseus of a
poor Andromeda; you release me from my rock. If he loves you, so much
the better! but I doubt it; he loves no one but himself.' Gennaro was
transported to the seventh heaven of pride. I was not a marquise, I
was not born a Casteran, and he forgot me in a day. I then gave myself
the savage pleasure of probing that nature to the bottom. Certain of
the result, I wanted to see the twistings and turnings Conti would
perform. My dear child, I saw in one week actual horrors of sham
sentiment, infamous buffooneries of feeling. I will not tell you about
them; you shall see the man here in a day or two. He now knows that I
know him, and he hates me accordingly. If he could stab me with safety
to himself I shouldn't be alive two seconds. I have never said one
word of all this to Beatrix. The last and constant insult Geranno
offers me is to suppose that I am capable of communicating my sad
knowledge of him to her; but he has no belief in the good feeling of
any human being. Even now he is playing a part with me; he is posing
as a man who is wretched at having left me. You will find what I may
call the most penetrating cordiality about him; he is winning; he is
chivalrous. To him, all women are madonnas. One must live with him
long before we get behind the veil of this false chivalry and learn
the invisible signs of his humbug. His tone of conviction about
himself might almost deceive the Deity. You will be entrapped, my dear
child, by his catlike manners, and you will never believe in the
profound and rapid arithmetic of his inmost thought. But enough; let
us leave him. I pushed indifference so far as to receive them together
in my house. This circumstance kept that most perspicacious of all
societies, the great world of Paris, ignorant of the affair. Though
intoxicated with pride, Gennaro was compelled to dissimulate; and he
did it admirably. But violent passions will have their freedom at any
cost. Before the end of the year, Beatrix whispered in my ear one
evening: 'My dear Felicite, I start to-morrow for Italy with Conti.' I
was not surprised; she regarded herself as united for life to Gennaro,
and she suffered from the restraints imposed upon her; she escaped one
evil by rushing into a greater. Conti was wild with happiness,--the
happiness of vanity alone. 'That's what it is to love truly,' he said
to me. 'How many women are there who would sacrifice their lives,
their fortune, their reputation?'--'Yes, she loves you,' I replied,
'but you do not love her.' He was furious, and made me a scene; he
stormed, he declaimed, he depicted his love, declaring that he had
never supposed it possible to love as much. I remained impassible, and
lent him money for his journey, which, being unexpected, found him
unprepared. Beatrix left a letter for her husband and started the next
day for Italy. There she has remained two years; she has written to me
several times, and her letters are enchanting. The poor child attaches
herself to me as the only woman who will comprehend her. She says she
adores me. Want of money has compelled Gennaro to accept an offer to
write a French opera; he does not find in Italy the pecuniary gains
which composers obtain in Paris. Here's the letter I received
yesterday from Beatrix. Take it and read it; you can now understand
it,--that is, if it is possible, at your age, to analyze the things of
So saying, she held out the letter to him.
At this moment Claude Vignon entered the room. At his unexpected
apparition Calyste and Felicite were both silent for a moment,--she
from surprise, he from a vague uneasiness. The vast forehead, broad
and high, of the new-comer, who was bald at the age of thirty-seven,
now seemed darkened by annoyance. His firm, judicial mouth expressed a
habit of chilling sarcasm. Claude Vignon is imposing, in spite of the
precocious deteriorations of a face once magnificent, and now grown
haggard. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five he strongly
resembled the divine Raffaelle. But his nose, that feature of the
human face that changes most, is growing to a point; the countenance
is sinking into mysterious depressions, the outlines are thickening;
leaden tones predominate in the complexion, giving tokens of
weariness, although the fatigues of this young man are not apparent;
perhaps some bitter solitude has aged him, or the abuse of his gift of
comprehension. He scrutinizes the thought of every one, yet without
definite aim or system. The pickaxe of his criticism demolishes, it
never constructs. Thus his lassitude is that of a mechanic, not of an
architect. The eyes, of a pale blue, once brilliant, are clouded now
by some hidden pain, or dulled by gloomy sadness. Excesses have laid
dark tints above the eyelids; the temples have lost their freshness.
The chin, of incomparable distinction, is getting doubled, but without
dignity. His voice, never sonorous, is weakening; without being either
hoarse or extinct, it touches the confines of hoarseness and
extinction. The impassibility of that fine head, the fixity of that
glance, cover irresolution and weakness, which the keenly intelligent
and sarcastic smile belies. The weakness lies wholly in action, not in
thought; there are traces of an encyclopedic comprehension on that
brow, and in the habitual movement of a face that is childlike and
splendid both. The man is tall, slightly bent already, like all those
who bear the weight of a world of thought. Such long, tall bodies are
never remarkable for continuous effort or creative activity.
Charlemagne, Belisarious, and Constantine are noted exceptions to this
Certainly Claude Vignon presents a variety of mysteries to be solved.
In the first place, he is very simple and very wily. Though he falls
into excesses with the readiness of a courtesan, his powers of thought
remain untouched. Yet his intellect, which is competent to criticise
art, science, literature, and politics, is incompetent to guide his
external life. Claude contemplates himself within the domain of his
intellectual kingdom, and abandons his outer man with Diogenic
indifference. Satisfied to penetrate all, to comprehend all by
thought, he despises materialities; and yet, if it becomes a question
of creating, doubt assails him; he sees obstacles, he is not inspired
by beauties, and while he is debating means, he sits with his arms
pendant, accomplishing nothing. He is the Turk of the intellect made
somnolent by meditation. Criticism is his opium; his harem of books to
read disgusts him with real work. Indifferent to small things as well
as great things, he is sometimes compelled, by the very weight of his
head, to fall into a debauch, and abdicate for a few hours the fatal
power of omnipotent analysis. He is far too preoccupied with the wrong
side of genius, and Camille Maupin's desire to put him back on the
right side is easily conceivable. The task was an attractive one.
Claude Vignon thinks himself a great politician as well as a great
writer; but this unpublished Machiavelli laughs within himself at all
ambitions; he knows what he can do; he has instinctively taken the
measure of his future on his faculties; he sees his greatness, but he
also sees obstacles, grows alarmed or disgusted, lets the time roll
by, and does not go to work. Like Etienne Lousteau the feuilletonist,
like Nathan the dramatic author, like Blondet, another journalist, he
came from the ranks of the bourgeoisie, to which we owe the greater
number of our writers.
"Which way did you come?" asked Mademoiselle des Touches, coloring
with either pleasure or surprise.'
"By the door," replied Claude Vignon, dryly.
"Oh," she cried, shrugging her shoulders, "I am aware that you are not
a man to climb in by a window."
"Scaling a window is a badge of honor for a beloved woman."
"Enough!" said Felicite.
"Am I in the way?" asked Claude.
"Monsieur," said Calyste, artlessly, "this letter--"
"Pray keep it; I ask no questions; at our age we understand such
affairs," he answered, interrupting Calyste with a sardonic air.
"But, monsieur," began Calyste, much provoked.
"Calm yourself, young man; I have the utmost indulgence for
"My dear Calyste," said Camille, wishing to speak.
"'Dear'?" said Vignon, interrupting her.
"Claude is joking," said Camille, continuing her remarks to Calyste.
"He is wrong to do it with you, who know nothing of Parisian ways."
"I did not know that I was joking," said Claude Vignon, very gravely.
"Which way did you come?" asked Felicite again. "I have been watching
the road to Croisic for the last two hours."
"Not all the time," replied Vignon.
"You are too bad to jest in this way."
"Am I jesting?"
"Why should you go so soon? You are certainly at your ease here," said
"Quite the contrary," replied the angry young Breton, to whom Camille
Maupin stretched out a hand, which he took and kissed, dropping a tear
upon it, after which he took his leave.
"I should like to be that little young man," said the critic, sitting
down, and taking one end of the hookah. "How he will love!"
"Too much; for then he will not be loved in return," replied
Mademoiselle des Touches. "Madame de Rochefide is coming here," she
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Claude. "With Conti?"
"She will stay here alone, but he accompanies her."
"Have they quarrelled?"
"Play me a sonata of Beethoven's; I know nothing of the music he wrote
for the piano."
Claude began to fill the tube of the hookah with Turkish tobacco, all
the while examining Camille much more attentively than she observed. A
dreadful thought oppressed him; he fancied he was being used for a
blind by this woman. The situation was a novel one.
Calyste went home thinking no longer of Beatrix de Rochefide and her
letter; he was furious against Claude Vignon for what he considered
the utmost indelicacy, and he pitied poor Felicite. How was it
possible to be beloved by that sublime creature and not adore her on
his knees, not believe her on the faith of a glance or a smile? He
felt a desire to turn and rend that cold, pale spectre of a man.
Ignorant he might be, as Felicite had told him, of the tricks of
thought of the jesters of the press, but one thing he knew--Love was
the human religion.
When his mother saw him entering the court-yard she uttered an
exclamation of joy, and Zephirine whistled for Mariotte.
"Mariotte, the boy is coming! cook the fish!"
"I see him, mademoiselle," replied the woman.
Fanny, uneasy at the sadness she saw on her son's brow, picked up her
worsted-work; the old aunt took out her knitting. The baron gave his
arm-chair to his son and walked about the room, as if to stretch his
legs before going out to take a turn in the garden. No Flemish or
Dutch picture ever presented an interior in tones more mellow, peopled
with faces and forms so harmoniously blending. The handsome young man
in his black velvet coat, the mother, still so beautiful, and the aged
brother and sister framed by that ancient hall, were a moving domestic
Fanny would fain have questioned Calyste, but he had already pulled a
letter from his pocket,--that letter of the Marquise Beatrix, which
was, perhaps, destined to destroy the happiness of this noble family.
As he unfolded it, Calyste's awakened imagination showed him the
marquise dressed as Camille Maupin had fancifully depicted her.
From the Marquise de Rochefide to Mademoiselle des Touches.
Genoa, July 2.
I have not written to you since our stay in Florence, my dear
friend, for Venice and Rome have absorbed my time, and, as you
know, happiness occupies a large part of life; so far, we have
neither of us dropped from its first level. I am a little
fatigued; for when one has a soul not easy to /blaser/, the
constant succession of enjoyments naturally causes lassitude.
Our friend has had a magnificent triumph at the Scala and the
Fenice, and now at the San Carlo. Three Italian operas in two
years! You cannot say that love has made him idle. We have been
warmly received everywhere,--though I myself would have preferred
solitude and silence. Surely that is the only suitable manner of
life for women who have placed themselves in direct opposition to
society? I expected such a life; but love, my dear friend, is a
more exacting master than marriage,--however, it is sweet to obey
him; though I did not think I should have to see the world again,
even by snatches, and the attentions I receive are so many stabs.
I am no longer on a footing of equality with the highest rank of
women; and the more attentions are paid to me, the more my
inferiority is made apparent.
Gennaro could not comprehend this sensitiveness; but he has been
so happy that it would ill become me not to have sacrificed my
petty vanity to that great and noble thing,--the life of an
artist. We women live by love, whereas men live by love and
action; otherwise they would not be men. Still, there are great
disadvantages for a woman in the position in which I have put
myself. You have escaped them; you continue to be a person in the
eyes of the world, which has no rights over you; you have your own
free will, and I have lost mine. I am speaking now of the things
of the heart, not those of social life, which I have utterly
renounced. You can be coquettish and self-willed, and have all the
graces of a woman who loves, a woman who can give or refuse her
love as she pleases; you have kept the right to have caprices, in
the interests even of your love. In short, to-day you still
possess your right of feeling, while I, I have no longer any
liberty of heart, which I think precious to exercise in love, even
though the love itself may be eternal. I have no right now to that
privilege of quarrelling in jest to which so many women cling, and
justly; for is it not the plummet line with which to sound the
hearts of men? I have no threat at my command. I must draw my
power henceforth from obedience, from unlimited gentleness; I must
make myself imposing by the greatness of my love. I would rather
die than leave Gennaro, and my pardon lies in the sanctity of my
love. Between social dignity and my petty personal dignity, I did
right not to hesitate. If at times I have a few melancholy
feelings, like clouds that pass through a clear blue sky, and to
which all women like to yield themselves, I keep silence about
them; they might seem like regrets. Ah me! I have so fully
understood the obligations of my position that I have armed myself
with the utmost indulgence; but so far, Gennaro has not alarmed my
susceptible jealousy. I don't as yet see where that dear great
genius may fail.
Dear angel, I am like those pious souls who argue with their God,
for are not you my Providence? do I not owe my happiness to you?
You must never doubt, therefore, that you are constantly in my
I have seen Italy at last; seen it as you saw it, and as it ought
to be seen,--lighted to our souls by love, as it is by its own
bright sun and its masterpieces. I pity those who, being moved to
adoration at every step, have no hand to press, no heart in which
to shed the exuberance of emotions which calm themselves when
shared. These two years have been to me a lifetime, in which my
memory has stored rich harvests. Have you made plans, as I do, to
stay forever at Chiavari, to buy a palazzo in Venice, a summer-
house at Sorrento, a villa in Florence? All loving women dread
society; but I, who am cast forever outside of it, ought I not to
bury myself in some beautiful landscape, on flowery slopes, facing
the sea, or in a valley that equals a sea, like that of Fiesole?
But alas! we are only poor artists, and want of money is bringing
these two bohemians back to Paris. Gennaro does not want me to
feel that I have lost my luxury, and he wishes to put his new
work, a grand opera, into rehearsal at once. You will understand,
of course, my dearest, that I cannot set foot in Paris. I could
not, I would not, even if it costs me my love, meet one of those
glances of women, or of men, which would make me think of murder
or suicide. Yes, I could hack in pieces whoever insulted me with
pity; like Chateauneuf, who, in the time of Henri III., I think,
rode his horse at the Provost of Paris for a wrong of that kind,
and trampled him under hoof.
I write, therefore, to say that I shall soon pay you a visit at
Les Touches. I want to stay there, in that Chartreuse, while
awaiting the success of our Gennaro's opera. You will see that I
am bold with my benefactress, my sister; but I prove, at any rate,
that the greatness of obligations laid upon me has not led me, as
it does so many people, to ingratitude. You have told me so much
of the difficulties of the land journey that I shall go to Croisic
by water. This idea came to me on finding that there is a little
Danish vessel now here, laden with marble, which is to touch at
Croisic for a cargo of salt on its way back to the Baltic. I shall
thus escape the fatigue and the cost of the land journey. Dear
Felicite, you are the only person with whom I could be alone
without Conti. Will it not be some pleasure to have a woman with
you who understands your heart as fully as you do hers?
Adieu, /a bientot/. The wind is favorable, and I set sail, wafting
you a kiss.
"Ah! she loves, too!" thought Calyste, folding the letter sadly.
That sadness flowed to the heart of the mother as if some gleam had
lighted up a gulf to her. The baron had gone out; Fanny went to the
door of the tower and pushed the bolt, then she returned, and leaned
upon the back of her boy's chair, like the sister of Dido in Guerin's
picture, and said,--
"What is it, my Calyste? what makes you so sad? You promised to
explain to me these visits to Les Touches; I am to bless its mistress,
--at least, you said so."
"Yes, indeed you will, dear mother," he replied. "She has shown me the
insufficiency of my education at an epoch when the nobles ought to
possess a personal value in order to give life to their rank. I was as
far from the age we live in as Guerande is from Paris. She has been,
as it were, the mother of my intellect."
"I cannot bless her for that," said the baroness, with tears in her
"Mamma!" cried Calyste, on whose forehead those hot tears fell, two
pearls of sorrowful motherhood, "mamma, don't weep! Just now, when I
wanted to do her a service, and search the country round, she said,
'It will make your mother so uneasy.'"
"Did she say that? Then I can forgive her many things," replied Fanny.
"Felicite thinks only of my good," continued Calyste. "She often
checks the lively, venturesome language of artists so as not to shake
me in a faith which is, though she knows it not, unshakable. She has
told me of the life in Paris of several young men of the highest
nobility coming from their provinces, as I might do,--leaving families
without fortune, but obtaining in Paris, by the power of their will
and their intellect, a great career. I can do what the Baron de
Rastignac, now a minister of State, has done. Felicite has taught me;
I read with her; she gives me lessons on the piano; she is teaching me
Italian; she has initiated me into a thousand social secrets, about
which no one in Guerande knows anything at all. She could not give me
the treasures of her love, but she has given me those of her vast
intellect, her mind, her genius. She does not want to be a pleasure,
but a light to me; she lessens not one of my faiths; she herself has
faith in the nobility, she loves Brittany, she--"
"She has changed our Calyste," said his blind old aunt, interrupting
him. "I do not understand one word he has been saying. You have a
solid roof over your head, my good nephew; you have parents and
relations who adore you, and faithful servants; you can marry some
good little Breton girl, religious and accomplished, who will make you
happy. Reserve your ambitions for your eldest son, who may be four
times as rich as you, if you choose to live tranquilly, thriftily, in
obscurity,--but in the peace of God,--in order to release the burdens
on your estate. It is all as simple as a Breton heart. You will be,
not so rapidly perhaps, but more solidly, a rich nobleman."
"Your aunt is right, my darling; she plans for your happiness with as
much anxiety as I do myself. If I do not succeed in marrying you to my
niece, Margaret, the daughter of your uncle, Lord Fitzwilliam, it is
almost certain that Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel will leave her fortune to
whichever of her nieces you may choose."
"And besides, there's a little gold to be found here," added the old
aunt in a low voice, with a mysterious glance about her.
"Marry! at my age!" he said, casting on his mother one of those looks
which melt the arguments of mothers. "Am I to live without my
beautiful fond loves? Must I never tremble or throb or fear or gasp,
or lie beneath implacable looks and soften them? Am I never to know
beauty in its freedom, the fantasy of the soul, the clouds that course
through the azure of happiness, which the breath of pleasure
dissipates? Ah! shall I never wander in those sweet by-paths moist
with dew; never stand beneath the drenching of a gutter and not know
it rains, like those lovers seen by Diderot; never take, like the Duc
de Lorraine, a live coal in my hand? Are there no silken ladders for
me, no rotten trellises to cling to and not fall? Shall I know nothing
of woman but conjugal submission; nothing of love but the flame of its
lamp-wick? Are my longings to be satisfied before they are roused?
Must I live out my days deprived of that madness of the heart that
makes a man and his power? Would you make me a married monk? No! I
have eaten of the fruit of Parisian civilization. Do you not see that
you have, by the ignorant morals of this family, prepared the fire
that consumes me, that /will/ consume me utterly, unless I can adore
the divineness I see everywhere,--in those sands gleaming in the sun,
in the green foliage, in all the women, beautiful, noble, elegant,
pictured in the books and in the poems I have read with Camille? Alas!
there is but one such woman in Guerande, and it is you, my mother! The
birds of my beautiful dream, they come from Paris, they fly from the
pages of Scott, of Byron,--Parisina, Effie, Minna! yes, and that royal
duchess, whom I saw on the moors among the furze and the ferns, whose
very aspect sent the blood to my heart."
The baroness saw these thoughts flaming in the eyes of her son,
clearer, more beautiful, more living than art can tell to those who
read them. She grasped them rapidly, flung to her as they were in
glances like arrows from an upset quiver. Without having read
Beaumarchais, she felt, as other women would have felt, that it would
be a crime to marry Calyste.
"Oh! my child!" she said, taking him in her arms, and kissing the
beautiful hair that was still hers, "marry whom you will, and when you
will, but be happy! My part in life is not to hamper you."
Mariotte came to lay the table. Gasselin was out exercising Calyste's
horse, which the youth had not mounted for two months. The three
women, mother, aunt, and Mariotte, shared in the tender feminine
wiliness, which taught them to make much of Calyste when he dined at
home. Breton plainness fought against Parisian luxury, now brought to
the very doors of Guerande. Mariotte endeavored to wean her young
master from the accomplished service of Camille Maupin's kitchen, just
as his mother and aunt strove to hold him in the net of their
tenderness and render all comparison impossible.
"There's a salmon-trout for dinner, Monsieur Calyste, and snipe, and
pancakes such as I know you can't get anywhere but here," said
Mariotte, with a sly, triumphant look as she smoothed the cloth, a
cascade of snow.
After dinner, when the old aunt had taken up her knitting, and the
rector and Monsieur du Halga had arrived, allured by their precious
/mouche/, Calyste went back to Les Touches on the pretext of returning
Claude Vignon and Felicite were still at table. The great critic was
something of a gourmand, and Felicite pampered the vice, knowing how
indispensable a woman makes herself by such compliance. The dinner-
table presented that rich and brilliant aspect which modern luxury,
aided by the perfecting of handicrafts, now gives to its service. The
poor and noble house of Guenic little knew with what an adversary it
was attempting to compete, or what amount of fortune was necessary to
enter the lists against the silverware, the delicate porcelain, the
beautiful linen, the silver-gilt service brought from Paris by
Mademoiselle des Touches, and the science of her cook. Calyste
declined the liqueurs contained in one of those superb cases of
precious woods, which are something like tabernacles.
"Here's the letter," he said, with innocent ostentation, looking at
Claude, who was slowly sipping a glass of /liqueur-des-iles/.
"Well, what did you think of it?" asked Mademoiselle des Touches,
throwing the letter across the table to Vignon, who began to read it,
taking up and putting down at intervals his little glass.
"I thought--well, that Parisian women were very fortunate to have men
of genius to adore who adore them."
"Ah! you are still in your village," said Felicite, laughing. "What!
did you not see that she loves him less, and--"
"That is evident," said Claude Vignon, who had only read the first
page. "Do people reason on their situation when they really love; are
they as shrewd as the marquise, as observing, as discriminating? Your
dear Beatrix is held to Conti now by pride only; she is condemned to
love him /quand meme/."
"Poor woman!" said Camille.
Calyste's eyes were fixed on the table; he saw nothing about him. The
beautiful woman in the fanciful dress described that morning by
Felicite appeared to him crowned with light; she smiled to him, she
waved her fan; the other hand, issuing from its ruffle of lace, fell
white and pure on the heavy folds of her crimson velvet robe.
"She is just the thing for you," said Claude Vignon, smiling
sardonically at Calyste.
The young man was deeply wounded by the words, and by the manner in
which they were said.
"Don't put such ideas into Calyste's mind; you don't know how
dangerous such jokes may prove to be," said Mademoiselle des Touches,
hastily. "I know Beatrix, and there is something too grandiose in her
nature to allow her to change. Besides, Conti will be here."
"Ha!" said Claude Vignon, satirically, "a slight touch of jealousy,
"Can you really think so?" said Camille, haughtily.
"You are more perspicacious than a mother," replied Claude Vignon,
"But it would be impossible," said Camille, looking at Calyste.
"They are very well matched," remarked Vignon. "She is ten years older
than he; and it is he who appears to be the girl--"
"A girl, monsieur," said Calyste, waking from his reverie, "who has
been twice under fire in La Vendee! If the Cause had had twenty
thousand more such girls--"
"I was giving you some well-deserved praise, and that is easier than
to give you a beard," remarked Vignon.
"I have a sword for those who wear their beards too long," cried
"And I am very good at an epigram," said the other, smiling. "We are
Frenchmen; the affair can easily be arranged."
Mademoiselle des Touches cast a supplicating look on Calyste, which
calmed him instantly.
"Why," said Felicite, as if to break up the discussion, "do young men
like my Calyste, begin by loving women of a certain age?"
"I don't know any sentiment more artless or more generous," replied
Vignon. "It is the natural consequence of the adorable qualities of
youth. Besides, how would old women end if it were not for such love?
You are young and beautiful, and will be for twenty years to come, so
I can speak of this matter before you," he added, with a keen look at
Mademoiselle des Touches. "In the first place the semi-dowagers, to
whom young men pay their first court, know much better how to make
love than younger women. An adolescent youth is too like a young woman
himself for a young woman to please him. Such a passion trenches on
the fable of Narcissus. Besides that feeling of repugnance, there is,
as I think, a mutual sense of inexperience which separates them. The
reason why the hearts of young women are only understood by mature
men, who conceal their cleverness under a passion real or feigned, is
precisely the same (allowing for the difference of minds) as that
which renders a woman of a certain age more adroit in attracting
youth. A young man feels that he is sure to succeed with her, and the
vanities of the woman are flattered by his suit. Besides, isn't it
natural for youth to fling itself on fruits? The autumn of a woman's
life offers many that are very toothsome,--those looks, for instance,
bold, and yet reserved, bathed with the last rays of love, so warm, so
sweet; that all-wise elegance of speech, those magnificent shoulders,
so nobly developed, the full and undulating outline, the dimpled
hands, the hair so well arranged, so cared for, that charming nape of
the neck, where all the resources of art are displayed to exhibit the
contrast between the hair and the flesh-tones, and to set in full
relief the exuberance of life and love. Brunettes themselves are fair
at such times, with the amber colors of maturity. Besides, such women
reveal in their smiles and display in their words a knowledge of the
world; they know how to converse; they can call up the whole of social
life to make a lover laugh; their dignity and their pride are
stupendous; or, in other moods, they can utter despairing cries which
touch his soul, farewells of love which they take care to render
useless, and only make to intensify his passion. Their devotions are
absolute; they listen to us; they love us; they catch, they cling to
love as a man condemned to death clings to the veriest trifles of
existence,--in short, love, absolute love, is known only through them.
I think such women can never be forgotten by a man, any more than he
can forget what is grand and sublime. A young woman has a thousand
distractions; these women have none. No longer have they self-love,
pettiness, or vanity; their love--it is the Loire at its mouth, it is
vast, it is swelled by all the illusions, all the affluents of life,
and this is why--but my muse is dumb," he added, observing the
ecstatic attitude of Mademoiselle des Touches, who was pressing
Calyste's hand with all her strength, perhaps to thank him for having
been the occasion of such a moment, of such an eulogy, so lofty that
she did not see the trap that it laid for her.
During the rest of the evening Claude Vignon and Felicite sparkled
with wit and happy sayings; they told anecdotes, and described
Parisian life to Calyste, who was charmed with Claude, for mind has
immense seductions for persons who are all heart.
"I shouldn't be surprised to see the Marquise de Rochefide and Conti,
who, of course, will accompany her, at the landing-place to-morrow,"
said Claude Vignon, as the evening ended. "When I was at Croisic this
afternoon, the fishermen were saying that they had seen a little
vessel, Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian, in the offing."
This speech brought a flush to the cheeks of the impassible Camille.
Again Madame du Guenic sat up till one o'clock that night, waiting for
her son, unable to imagine why he should stay so late if Mademoiselle
des Touches did not love him.
"He must be in their way," said this adorable mother. "What were you
talking about?" she asked, when at last he came in.
"Oh, mother, I have never before spent such a delightful evening.
Genius is a great, a sublime thing! Why didn't you give me genius?
With genius we can make our lives, we can choose among all women the
woman to love, and she must be ours."
"How handsome you are, my Calyste!"
"Claude Vignon is handsome. Men of genius have luminous foreheads and
eyes, through which the lightnings flash--but I, alas! I know nothing
--only to love."
"They say that suffices, my angel," she said, kissing him on the
"Do you believe it?"
"They say so, but I have never known it."
Calyste kissed his mother's hand as if it was a sacred thing.
"I will love you for all those that would have adored you," he said.
"Dear child! perhaps it is a little bit your duty to do so, for you
inherit my nature. But, Calyste, do not be unwise, imprudent; try to
love only noble women, if love you must."
A FIRST MEETING
What young man full of abounding but restrained life and emotion would
not have had the glorious idea of going to Croisic to see Madame de
Rochefide land, and examine her incognito? Calyste greatly surprised
his father and mother by going off in the morning without waiting for
the mid-day breakfast. Heaven knows with what agility the young
Breton's feet sped along. Some unknown vigor seemed lent to him; he
walked on air, gliding along by the walls of Les Touches that he might
not be seen from the house. The adorable boy was ashamed of his ardor,
and afraid of being laughed at; Felicite and Vignon were so
perspicacious! besides, in such cases young fellows fancy that their
foreheads are transparent.
He reached the shore, strengthened by a stone embankment, at the foot
of which is a house where travellers can take shelter in storms of
wind or rain. It is not always possible to cross the little arm of the
sea which separates the landing-place of Guerande from Croisic; the
weather may be bad, or the boats not ready; and during this time of
waiting, it is necessary to put not only the passengers but their
horses, donkeys, baggages, and merchandise under cover.
Calyste presently saw two boats coming over from Croisic, laden with
baggage,--trunks, packages, bags, and chests,--the shape and
appearance of which proved to a native of these parts that such
extraordinary articles must belong to travellers of distinction. In
one of the boats was a young woman in a straw bonnet with a green
veil, accompanied by a man. This boat was the first to arrive. Calyste
trembled until on closer view he saw they were a maid and a man-
"Are you going over to Croisic, Monsieur Calyste?" said one of the
boatmen; to whom he replied with a shake of the head, annoyed at being
called by his name.
He was captivated by the sight of a chest covered with tarred cloth on
which were painted the words, MME. LA MARQUISE DE ROCHEFIDE. The name
shone before him like a talisman; he fancied there was something
fateful in it. He knew in some mysterious way, which he could not
doubt, that he should love that woman. Why? In the burning desert of
his new and infinite desires, still vague and without an object, his
fancy fastened with all its strength on the first woman that presented
herself. Beatrix necessarily inherited the love which Camille had
Calyste watched the landing of the luggage, casting from time to time
a glance at Croisic, from which he hoped to see another boat put out
to cross to the little promontory, and show him Beatrix, already to
his eyes what Beatrice was to Dante, a marble statue on which to hang
his garlands and his flowers. He stood with arms folded, lost in
meditation. Here is a fact worthy of remark, which, nevertheless, has
never been remarked: we often subject ourselves to sentiments by our
own volition,--deliberately bind ourselves, and create our own fate;
chance has not as much to do with it as we believe.
"I don't see any horses," said the maid, sitting on a trunk.
"And I don't see any road," said the footman.
"Horses have been here, though," replied the woman, pointing to the
proofs of their presence. "Monsieur," she said, addressing Calyste,
"is this really the way to Guerande?"
"Yes," he replied, "are you expecting some one to meet you?"
"We were told that they would fetch us from Les Touches. If they don't
come," she added to the footman, "I don't know how Madame la marquise
will manage to dress for dinner. You had better go and find
Mademoiselle des Touches. Oh! what a land of savages!"
Calyste had a vague idea of having blundered.
"Is your mistress going to Les Touches?" he inquired.
"She is there; Mademoiselle came for her this morning at seven
o'clock. Ah! here come the horses."
Calyste started toward Guerande with the lightness and agility of a
chamois, doubling like a hare that he might not return upon his tracks
or meet any of the servants of Les Touches. He did, however, meet two
of them on the narrow causeway of the marsh along which he went.
"Shall I go in, or shall I not?" he thought when the pines of Les
Touches came in sight. He was afraid; and continued his way rather
sulkily to Guerande, where he finished his excursion on the mall and
continued his reflections.
"She has no idea of my agitation," he said to himself.
His capricious thoughts were so many grapnels which fastened his heart
to the marquise. He had known none of these mysterious terrors and
joys in his intercourse with Camille. Such vague emotions rise like
poems in the untutored soul. Warmed by the first fires of imagination,
souls like his have been known to pass through all phases of
preparation and to reach in silence and solitude the very heights of
love, without having met the object of so many efforts.
Presently Calyste saw, coming toward him, the Chevalier du Halga and
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel, who were walking together on the mall. He
heard them say his name, and he slipped aside out of sight, but not
out of hearing. The chevalier and the old maid, believing themselves
alone, were talking aloud.
"If Charlotte de Kergarouet comes," said the chevalier, "keep her four
or five months. How can you expect her to coquette with Calyste? She
is never here long enough to undertake it. Whereas, if they see each
other every day, those two children will fall in love, and you can
marry them next winter. If you say two words about it to Charlotte
she'll say four to Calyste, and a girl of sixteen can certainly carry
off the prize from a woman of forty."
Here the old people turned to retrace their steps and Calyste heard no
more. But remembering what his mother had told him, he saw
Mademoiselle de Pen-Hoel's intention, and, in the mood in which he
then was, nothing could have been more fatal. The mere idea of a girl
thus imposed upon him sent him with greater ardor into his imaginary
love. He had never had a fancy for Charlotte de Kergarouet, and he now
felt repugnance at the very thought of her. Calyste was quite
unaffected by questions of fortune; from infancy he had accustomed his
life to the poverty and the restricted means of his father's house. A
young man brought up as he had been, and now partially emancipated,
was likely to consider sentiments only, and all his sentiments, all
his thought now belonged to the marquise. In presence of the portrait
which Camille had drawn for him of her friend, what was that little
Charlotte? the companion of his childhood, whom he thought of as a