Part 4 out of 5
would take my love, such as it is, and death.
While he was whispering this in my ear, his arm round me, my head
resting on his shoulder, the cries of a bat, surprised by an owl,
disturbed us. This death-cry struck me with such terror that Felipe
carried me half-fainting to my bed. But don't be alarmed! Though this
augury of evil still resounds in my soul, I am quite myself this
morning. As soon as I was up, I went to Felipe, and, kneeling before
him, my eyes fixed on his, his hands clasped in mine, I said to him:--
"My love, I am a child, and Renee may be right after all. It may be
only your love that I love in you; but at least I can assure you that
this is the one feeling of my heart, and that I love you as it is
given me to love. But if there be aught in me, in my lightest thought
or deed, which jars on your wishes or conception of me, I implore you
to tell me, to say what it is. It will be a joy to me to hear you and
to take your eyes as the guiding-stars of my life. Renee has
frightened me, for she is a true friend."
Macumer could not find voice to reply, tears choked him.
I can thank you now, Renee. But for your letter I should not have
known the depths of love in my noble, kingly Macumer. Rome is the city
of love; it is there that passion should celebrate its feast, with art
and religion as confederates.
At Venice we shall find the Duc and Duchesse de Soria. If you write,
address now to Paris, for we shall leave Rome in three days. The
ambassador's was a farewell party.
P. S.--Dear, silly child, your letter only shows that you knew nothing
of love, except theoretically. Learn then that love is a quickening
force which may produce fruits so diverse that no theory can embrace
or co-ordinate them. A word this for my little Professor with her
armor of stays.
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO THE BARONNE DE MACUMER
My father has been elected to the Chamber, my father-in-law is dead,
and I am on the point of my second confinement; these are the chief
events marking the end of the year for us. I mention them at once,
lest the sight of the black seal should frighten you.
My dear, your letter from Rome made my flesh creep. You are nothing
but a pair of children. Felipe is either a dissembling diplomat or
else his love for you is the love a man might have for a courtesan, on
whom he squanders his all, knowing all the time that she is false to
him. Enough of this. You say I rave, so I had better hold my tongue.
Only this would I say, from the comparison of our two very different
destinies I draw this harsh moral--Love not if you would be loved.
My dear, when Louis was elected to the provincial Council, he received
the cross of the Legion of Honor. That is now nearly three years ago;
and as my father--whom you will no doubt see in Paris during the
course of the session--has asked the rank of Officer of the Legion for
his son-in-law, I want to know if you will do me the kindness to take
in hand the bigwig, whoever he may be, to whom this patronage belongs,
and to keep an eye upon the little affair. But, whatever you do, don't
get entangled in the concerns of my honored father. The Comte de
Maucombe is fishing for the title of Marquis for himself; but keep
your good services for me, please. When Louis is a deputy--next winter
that is--we shall come to Paris, and then we will move heaven and
earth to get some Government appointment for him, so that we may be
able to save our income by living on his salary. My father sits
between the centre and the right; a title will content him. Our family
was distinguished even in the days of King Rene, and Charles X. will
hardly say no to a Maucombe; but what I fear is that my father may
take it into his head to ask some favor for my younger brother. Now,
if the marquisate is dangled out of his reach, he will have no
thoughts to spare from himself.
Ah! Louise, I have been in hell. If I can bear to tell you of my
anguish, it is because you are another self; even so, I don't know
whether I shall ever be able to live again in thought those five
ghastly days. The mere word "convulsions" makes my very heart sick.
Five days! to me they were five centuries of torture. A mother who has
not been through this martyrdom does not know what suffering is. So
frenzied was I that I even envied you, who never had a child!
The evening before that terrible day the weather was close, almost
hot, and I thought my little Armand was affected by it. Generally so
sweet and caressing, he was peevish, cried for nothing, wanted to
play, and then broke his toys. Perhaps this sort of fractiousness is
the usual sign of approaching illness with children. While I was
wondering about it, I noticed Armand's cheeks flush, but this I set
down to teething, for he is cutting four large teeth at once. So I put
him to bed beside me, and kept constantly waking through the night. He
was a little feverish, but not enough to make me uneasy, my mind being
still full of the teething. Towards morning he cried "Mamma!" and
asked by signs for something to drink; but the cry was spasmodic, and
there were convulsive twitchings in the limbs, which turned me to ice.
I jumped out of bed to fetch him a drink. Imagine my horror when, on
my handing him the cup, he remained motionless, only repeating
"Mamma!" in that strange, unfamiliar voice, which was indeed by this
time hardly a voice at all. I took his hand, but it did not respond to
my pressure; it was quite stiff. I put the cup to his lips; the poor
little fellow gulped down three or four mouthfuls in a convulsive
manner that was terrible to see, and the water made a strange sound in
his throat. He clung to me desperately, and I saw his eyes roll, as
though some hidden force within were pulling at them, till only the
whites were visible; his limbs were turning rigid. I screamed aloud,
and Louis came.
"A doctor! quick! . . . he is dying," I cried.
Louis vanished, and my poor Armand again gasped, "Mamma! Mamma!" The
next moment he lost all consciousness of his mother's existence. The
pretty veins on his forehead swelled, and the convulsions began. For a
whole hour before the doctors came, I held in my arms that merry baby,
all lilies and roses, the blossom of my life, my pride, and my joy,
lifeless as a piece of wood; and his eyes! I cannot think of them
without horror. My pretty Armand was a mere mummy--black, shriveled,
A doctor, two doctors, brought from Marseilles by Louis, hovered about
like birds of ill omen; it made me shudder to look at them. One spoke
of brain fever, the other saw nothing but an ordinary case of
convulsions in infancy. Our own country doctor seemed to me to have
the most sense, for he offered no opinion. "It's teething," said the
second doctor.--"Fever," said the first. Finally it was agreed to put
leeches on his neck and ice on his head. It seemed to me like death.
To look on, to see a corpse, all purple or black, and not a cry, not a
movement from this creature but now so full of life and sound--it was
At one moment I lost my head, and gave a sort of hysterical laugh, as
I saw the pretty neck which I used to devour with kisses, with the
leeches feeding on it, and his darling head in a cap of ice. My dear,
we had to cut those lovely curls, of which we were so proud and with
which you used to play, in order to make room for the ice. The
convulsions returned every ten minutes with the regularity of labor
pains, and then the poor baby writhed and twisted, now white, now
violet. His supple limbs clattered like wood as they struck. And this
unconscious flesh was the being who smiled and prattled, and used to
say Mamma! At the thought, a storm of agony swept tumultuously over my
soul, like the sea tossing in a hurricane. It seemed as though every
tie which binds a child to its mother's heart was strained to rending.
My mother, who might have given me help, advice, or comfort, was in
Paris. Mothers, it is my belief, know more than doctors do about
After four days and nights of suspense and fear, which almost killed
me, the doctors were unanimous in advising the application of a horrid
ointment, which would produce open sores. Sores on my Armand! who only
five days before was playing about, and laughing, and trying to say
"Godmother!" I would not have it done, preferring to trust in nature.
Louis, who believes in doctors, scolded me. A man remains the same
through everything. But there are moments when this terrible disease
takes the likeness of death, and in one of these it seemed borne in
upon me that this hateful remedy was the salvation of Armand. Louise,
the skin was so dry, so rough and parched, that the ointment would not
act. Then I broke into weeping, and my tears fell so long and so fast,
that the bedside was wet through. And the doctors were at dinner!
Seeing myself alone with the child, I stripped him of all medical
appliances, and seizing him like a mad woman, pressed him to my bosom,
laying my forehead against his, and beseeching God to grant him the
life which I was striving to pass into his veins from mine. For some
minutes I held him thus, longing to die with him, so that neither life
nor death might part us. Dear, I felt the limbs relaxing; the
writhings ceased, the child stirred, and the ghastly, corpselike tints
faded away! I screamed, just as I did when he was taken ill; the
doctors hurried up, and I pointed to Armand.
"He is saved!" exclaimed the oldest of them.
What music in those words! The gates of heaven opened! And, in fact,
two hours later Armand came back to life; but I was utterly crushed,
and it was only the healing power of joy which saved me from a serious
illness. My God! by what tortures do you bind a mother to her child!
To fasten him to our heart, need the nails be driven into the very
quick? Was I not mother enough before? I, who wept tears of joy over
his broken syllables and tottering steps, who spent hours together
planning how best to perform my duty, and fit myself for the sweet
post of mother? Why these horrors, these ghastly scenes, for a mother
who already idolized her child?
As I write, our little Armand is playing, shouting, laughing. What can
be the cause of this terrible disease with children? Vainly do I try
to puzzle it out, remembering that I am again with child. Is it
teething? Is it some peculiar process in the brain? Is there something
wrong with the nervous system of children who are subject to
convulsions? All these thoughts disquiet me, in view alike of the
present and the future. Our country doctor holds to the theory of
nervous trouble produced by teething. I would give every tooth in my
head to see little Armand's all through. The sight of one of those
little white pearls peeping out of the swollen gum brings a cold sweat
over me now. The heroism with which the little angel bore his
sufferings proves to me that he will be his mother's son. A look from
him goes to my very heart.
Medical science can give no satisfactory explanation as to the origin
of this sort of tetanus, which passes off as rapidly as it comes on,
and can apparently be neither guarded against nor cured. One thing
alone, as I said before, is certain, that it is hell for a mother to
see her child in convulsions. How passionately do I clasp him to my
heart! I could walk for ever with him in my arms!
To have suffered all this only six weeks before my confinement made it
much worse; I feared for the coming child. Farewell, my dear beloved.
Don't wish for a child--there is the sum and substance of my letter!
THE BARONNE DE MACUMER TO THE VICOMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Poor sweet,--Macumer and I forgave you all your naughtiness when we
heard of your terrible trouble. I thrilled with pain as I read the
details of the double agony, and there seem compensations now in being
I am writing at once to tell you that Louis has been promoted. He can
now wear the ribbon of an officer of the Legion. You are a lucky
woman, Renee, and you will probably have a little girl, since that
used to be your wish!
The marriage of my brother with Mlle. de Mortsauf was celebrated on
our return. Our gracious King, who really is extraordinarily kind, has
given my brother the reversion of the post of first gentleman of the
chamber, which his father-in-law now fills, on the one condition that
the scutcheon of the Mortsaufs should be placed side by side with that
of the Lenoncourts.
"The office ought to go with the title," he said to the Duc de
My father is justified a hundred-fold. Without the help of my fortune
nothing of all this could have taken place. My father and mother came
from Madrid for the wedding, and return there, after the reception
which I give to-morrow for the bride and bridegroom.
The carnival will be a very gay one. The Duc and Duchesse de Soria are
in Paris, and their presence makes me a little uneasy. Marie Heredia
is certainly one of the most beautiful women in Europe, and I don't
like the way Felipe looks at her. Therefore I am doubly lavish of
sweetness and caresses. Every look and gesture speak the words which I
am careful my lips should not utter, "/She/ could not love like this!"
Heaven knows how lovely and fascinating I am! Yesterday Mme. de
Maufrigneuse said to me:
"Dear child, who can compete with you?"
Then I keep Felipe so well amused, that his sister-in-law must seem as
lively as a Spanish cow in comparison. I am the less sorry that a
little Abencerrage is not on his way, because the Duchess will no
doubt stay in Paris over her confinement, and she won't be a beauty
any longer. If the baby is a boy, it will be called Felipe, in honor
of the exile. An unkind chance has decreed that I shall, a second
time, serve as godmother.
Good-bye, dear, I shall go to Chantepleurs early this year, for our
Italian tour was shockingly expensive. I shall leave about the end of
March, and retire to economize in Nivenais. Besides, I am tired of
Paris. Felipe sighs, as I do, after the beautiful quiet of the park,
our cool meadows, and our Loire, with its sparkling sands, peerless
among rivers. Chantepleurs will seem delightful to me after the pomps
and vanities of Italy; for, after all, splendor becomes wearisome, and
a lover's glance has more beauty than a /capo d'opera/ or a /bel
We shall expect you there. Don't be afraid that I shall be jealous
again. You are free to take what soundings you please in Macumer's
heart, and fish up all the interjections and doubts you can. I am
supremely indifferent. Since that day at Rome Felipe's love for me has
grown. He told me yesterday (he is looking over my shoulder now) that
his sister-in-law, the Princess Heredia, his destined bride of old,
the dream of his youth, had no brains. Oh! my dear, I am worse than a
ballet-dancer! If you knew what joy that slighting remark gave me! I
have pointed out to Felipe that she does not speak French correctly.
She says /esemple/ for /exemple/, /sain/ for /cinq/, /cheu/ for /je/.
She is beautiful of course, but quite without charm or the slightest
scintilla of wit. When a compliment is paid her, she looks at you as
though she didn't know what to do with such a strange thing. Felipe,
being what he is, could not have lived two months with Marie after his
marriage. Don Fernand, the Duc de Soria, suits her very well. He has
generous instincts, but it's easy to see he has been a spoilt child. I
am tempted to be naughty and make you laugh; but I won't draw the long
bow. Ever so much love, darling.
RENEE TO LOUISE
My little girl is two months old. She is called Jeanne-Athenais, and
has for godmother and godfather my mother, and an old grand-uncle of
As soon as I possibly can, I shall start for my visit to Chantepleurs,
since you are not afraid of a nursing mother. Your godson can say your
name now; he calls it /Matoumer/, for he can't say /c/ properly. You
will be quite delighted with him. He has got all his teeth, and eats
meat now like a big boy; he is all over the place, trotting about like
a little mouse; but I watch him all the time with anxious eyes, and it
makes me miserable that I cannot keep him by me when I am laid up. The
time is more than usually long with me, as the doctors consider some
special precautions necessary. Alas! my child, habit does not inure
one to child-bearing. There are the same old discomforts and
misgivings. However (don't show this to Felipe), this little girl
takes after me, and she may yet cut out your Armand.
My father thought Felipe looking very thin, and my dear pet also not
quite so blooming. Yet the Duc and Duchesse de Soria have gone; not a
loophole for jealousy is left! Is there any trouble which you are
hiding from me? Your letter is neither so long nor so full of loving
thoughts as usual. Is this only a whim of my dear whimsical friend?
I am running on too long. My nurse is angry with me for writing, and
Mlle. Athenais de l'Estorade wants her dinner. Farewell, then; write
me some nice long letters.
MME. DE MACUMER TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
For the first time in my life, my dear Renee, I have been alone and
crying. I was sitting under a willow, on a wooden bench by the side of
the long Chantepleurs marsh. The view there is charming, but it needs
some merry children to complete it, and I wait for you. I have been
married nearly three years, and no child! The thought of your quiver
full drove me to explore my heart.
And this is what I find there. "Oh! if I had to suffer a hundred-fold
what Renee suffered when my godson was born; if I had to see my child
in convulsions, even so would to God that I might have a cherub of my
own, like your Athenais!" I can see her from here in my mind's eye,
and I know she is beautiful as the day, for you tell me nothing about
her--that is just like my Renee! I believe you divine my trouble.
Each time my hopes are disappointed, I fall a prey for some days to
the blackest melancholy. Then I compose sad elegies. When shall I
embroider little caps and sew lace edgings to encircle a tiny head?
When choose the cambric for the baby-clothes? Shall I never hear baby
lips shout "Mamma," and have my dress pulled by a teasing despot whom
my heart adores? Are there to be no wheelmarks of a little carriage on
the gravel, no broken toys littered about the courtyard? Shall I never
visit the toy-shops, as mothers do, to buy swords, and dolls, and
baby-houses? And will it never be mine to watch the unfolding of a
precious life--another Felipe, only more dear? I would have a son, if
only to learn how a lover can be more to one in his second self.
My park and castle are cold and desolate to me. A childless woman is a
monstrosity of nature; we exist only to be mothers. Oh! my sage in
woman's livery, how well you have conned the book of life! Everywhere,
too, barrenness is a dismal thing. My life is a little too much like
one of Gessner's or Florian's sheepfolds, which Rivarol longed to see
invaded by a wolf. I too have it in me to make sacrifices! There are
forces in me, I feel, which Felipe has no use for; and if I am not to
be a mother, I must be allowed to indulge myself in some romantic
I have just made this remark to my belated Moor, and it brought tears
to his eyes. He cannot stand any joking on his love, so I let him off
easily, and only called him a paladin of folly.
At times I am seized with a desire to go on pilgrimage, to bear my
longings to the shrine of some madonna or to a watering-place. Next
winter I shall take medical advice. I am too much enraged with myself
to write more. Good-bye.
THE SAME TO THE SAME
A whole year passed, my dear, without a letter! What does this mean? I
am a little hurt. Do you suppose that your Louis, who comes to see me
almost every alternate day, makes up for you? It is not enough to know
that you are well and that everything prospers with you; for I love
you, Renee, and I want to know what you are feeling and thinking of,
just as I say everything to you, at the risk of being scolded, or
censured, or misunderstood. Your silence and seclusion in the country,
at the time when you might be in Paris enjoying all the Parliamentary
honors of the Comte de l'Estorade, cause me serious anxiety. You know
that your husband's "gift of gab" and unsparing zeal have won for him
quite a position here, and he will doubtless receive some very good
post when the session is over. Pray, do you spend your life writing
him letters of advice? Numa was not so far removed from his Egeria.
Why did you not take this opportunity of seeing Paris? I might have
enjoyed your company for four months. Louis told me yesterday that you
were coming to fetch him, and would have your third confinement in
Paris--you terrible mother Gigogne! After bombarding Louis with
queries, exclamations, and regrets, I at last defeated his strategy so
far as to discover that his grand-uncle, the godfather of Athenais, is
very ill. Now I believe that you, like a careful mother, would be
quite equal to angling with the member's speeches and fame for a fat
legacy from your husband's last remaining relative on the mother's
side. Keep your mind easy, my Renee--we are all at work for Louis,
Lenoncourts, Chaulieus, and the whole band of Mme. de Macumer's
followers. Martignac will probably put him into the audit department.
But if you won't tell me why you bury yourself in the country, I shall
Tell me, are you afraid that the political wisdom of the house of
l'Estorade should seem to centre in you? Or is it the uncle's legacy?
Perhaps you were afraid you would be less to your children in Paris?
Ah! what I would give to know whether, after all, you were not simply
too vain to show yourself in Paris for the first time in your present
condition! Vain thing! Farewell.
RENEE TO LOUISE
You complain of my silence; have you forgotten, then, those two little
brown heads, at once my subjects and my tyrants? And as to staying at
home, you have yourself hit upon several of my reasons. Apart from the
condition of our dear uncle, I didn't want to drag with me to Paris a
boy of four and a little girl who will soon be three, when I am again
expecting my confinement. I had no intention of troubling you and
upsetting your husband with such a party. I did not care to appear,
looking my worst, in the brilliant circle over which you preside, and
I detest life in hotels and lodgings.
When I come to spend the session in Paris, it will be in my own house.
Louis' uncle, when he heard of the rank his grand-nephew had received,
made me a present of two hundred thousand francs (the half of his
savings) with which to buy a house in Paris, and I have charged Louis
to find one in your neighborhood. My mother has given me thirty
thousand francs for the furnishing, and I shall do my best not to
disgrace the dear sister of my election--no pun intended.
I am grateful to you for having already done so much at Court for
Louis. But though M. de Bourmont and M. de Polignac have paid him the
compliment of asking him to join their ministry, I do not wish so
conspicuous a place for him. It would commit him too much; and I
prefer the Audit Office because it is permanent. Our affairs here are
in very good hands; so you need not fear; as soon as the steward has
mastered the details, I will come and support Louis.
As for writing long letters nowadays, how can I. This one, in which I
want to describe to you the daily routine of my life, will be a week
on the stocks. Who can tell but Armand may lay hold of it to make caps
for his regiments drawn up on my carpet, or vessels for the fleets
which sail his bath! A single day will serve as a sample of the rest,
for they are all exactly alike, and their characteristics reduce
themselves to two--either the children are well, or they are not. For
me, in this solitary grange, it is no exaggeration to say that hours
become minutes, or minutes hours, according to the children's health.
If I have some delightful hours, it is when they are asleep and I am
no longer needed to rock the one or soothe the other with stories.
When I have them sleeping by my side, I say to myself, "Nothing can go
wrong now." The fact is, my sweet, every mother spends her time, so
soon as her children are out of her sight, in imagining dangers for
them. Perhaps it is Armand seizing the razors to play with, or his
coat taking fire, or a snake biting him, or he might tumble in running
and start an abscess on his head, or he might drown himself in a pond.
A mother's life, you see, is one long succession of dramas, now soft
and tender, now terrible. Not an hour but has its joys and fears.
But at night, in my room, comes the hour for waking dreams, when I
plan out their future, which shines brightly in the smile of the
guardian angel, watching over their beds. Sometimes Armand calls me in
his sleep; I kiss his forehead (without rousing him), then his
sister's feet, and watch them both lying in their beauty. These are my
merry-makings! Yesterday, it must have been our guardian angel who
roused me in the middle of the night and summoned me in fear to
Athenais' cradle. Her head was too low, and I found Armand all
uncovered, his feet purple with cold.
"Darling mother!" he cried, rousing up and flinging his arms round me.
There, dear, is one of our night scenes for you.
How important it is for a mother to have her children by her side at
night! It is not for a nurse, however careful she may be, to take them
up, comfort them, and hush them to sleep again, when some horrid
nightmare has disturbed them. For they have their dreams, and the task
of explaining away one of those dread visions of the night is the more
arduous because the child is scared, stupid, and only half awake. It
is a mere interlude in the unconsciousness of slumber. In this way I
have come to sleep so lightly, that I can see my little pair and see
them stirring, through the veil of my eyelids. A sigh or a rustle
wakens me. For me, the demon of convulsions is ever crouching by their
So much for the nights; with the first twitter of the birds my babies
begin to stir. Through the mists of dispersing sleep, their chatter
blends with the warblings that fill the morning air, or with the
swallows' noisy debates--little cries of joy or woe, which make their
way to my heart rather than my ears. While Nais struggles to get at
me, making the passage from her cradle to my bed on all fours or with
staggering steps, Armand climbs up with the agility of a monkey, and
has his arms round me. Then the merry couple turn my bed into a
playground, where mother lies at their mercy. The baby-girl pulls my
hair, and would take to sucking again, while Armand stands guard over
my breast, as though defending his property. Their funny ways, their
peals of laughter, are too much for me, and put sleep fairly to
Then we play the ogress game; mother ogress eats up the white, soft
flesh with hugs, and rains kisses on those rosy shoulders and eyes
brimming over with saucy mischief; we have little jealous tiffs too,
so pretty to see. It has happened to me, dear, to take up my stockings
at eight o'clock and be still bare-footed at nine!
Then comes the getting up. The operation of dressing begins. I slip on
my dressing-gown, turn up my sleeves, and don the mackintosh apron;
with Mary's assistance, I wash and scrub my two little blossoms. I am
sole arbiter of the temperature of the bath, for a good half of
children's crying and whimpering comes from mistakes here. The moment
has arrived for paper fleets and glass ducks, since the only way to
get children thoroughly washed is to keep them well amused. If you
knew the diversions that have to be invented before these despotic
sovereigns will permit a soft sponge to be passed over every nook and
cranny, you would be awestruck at the amount of ingenuity and
intelligence demanded by the maternal profession when one takes it
seriously. Prayers, scoldings, promises, are alike in requisition;
above all, the jugglery must be so dexterous that it defies detection.
The case would be desperate had not Providence to the cunning of the
child matched that of the mother. A child is a diplomatist, only to be
mastered, like the diplomatists of the great world, through his
passions! Happily, it takes little to make these cherubs laugh; the
fall of a brush, a piece of soap slipping from the hand, and what
merry shouts! And if our triumphs are dearly bought, still triumphs
they are, though hidden from mortal eye. Even the father knows nothing
of it all. None but God and His angels--and perhaps you--can fathom
the glances of satisfaction which Mary and I exchange when the little
creatures' toilet is at last concluded, and they stand, spotless and
shining, amid a chaos of soap, sponges, combs, basins, blotting-paper,
flannel, and all the nameless litter of a true English "nursery."
For I am so far a convert as to admit that English women have a talent
for this department. True, they look upon the child only from the
point of view of material well-being; but where this is concerned,
their arrangements are admirable. My children must always be bare-
legged and wear woollen socks. There shall be no swaddling nor
bandages; on the other hand, they shall never be left alone. The
helplessness of the French infant in its swaddling-bands means the
liberty of the nurse--that is the whole explanation. A mother, who is
really a mother, is never free.
There is my answer to your question why I do not write. Besides the
management of the estate, I have the upbringing of two children on my
The art of motherhood involves much silent, unobtrusive self-denial,
an hourly devotion which finds no detail too minute. The soup warming
before the fire must be watched. Am I the kind of woman, do you
suppose, to shirk such cares? The humblest task may earn a rich
harvest of affection. How pretty is a child's laugh when he finds the
food to his liking! Armand has a way of nodding his head when he is
pleased that is worth a lifetime of adoration. How could I leave to
any one else the privilege and delight, as well as the responsibility,
of blowing on the spoonful of soup which is too hot for my little
Nais, my nursling of seven months ago, who still remembers my breast?
When a nurse has allowed a child to burn its tongue and lips with
scalding food, she tells the mother, who hurries up to see what is
wrong, that the child cried from hunger. How could a mother sleep in
peace with the thought that a breath, less pure than her own, has
cooled her child's food--the mother whom Nature has made the direct
vehicle of food to infant lips. To mince a chop for Nais, who has just
cut her last teeth, and mix the meat, cooked to a turn, with potatoes,
is a work of patience, and there are times, indeed, when none but a
mother could succeed in making an impatient child go through with its
No number of servants, then, and no English nurse can dispense a
mother from taking the field in person in that daily contest, where
gentleness alone should grapple with the little griefs and pains of
childhood. Louise, the care of these innocent darlings is a work to
engage the whole soul. To whose hand and eyes, but one's own, intrust
the task of feeding, dressing, and putting to bed? Broadly speaking, a
crying child is the unanswerable condemnation of mother or nurse,
except when the cry is the outcome of natural pain. Now that I have
two to look after (and a third on the road), they occupy all my
thoughts. Even you, whom I love so dearly, have become a memory to me.
My own dressing is not always completed by two o'clock. I have no
faith in mothers whose rooms are in apple-pie order, and who
themselves might have stepped out of a bandbox. Yesterday was one of
those lovely days of early April, and I wanted to take my children for
a walk, while I was still able--for the warning bell is in my ears.
Such an expedition is quite an epic to a mother! One dreams of it the
night before! Armand was for the first time to put on a little black
velvet jacket, a new collar which I had worked, a Scotch cap with the
Stuart colors and cock's feathers; Nais was to be in white and pink,
with one of those delicious little baby caps; for she is a baby still,
though she will lose that pretty title on the arrival of the impatient
youngster, whom I call my beggar, for he will have the portion of a
younger son. (You see, Louise, the child has already appeared to me in
a vision, so I know it is a boy.)
Well, caps, collars, jackets, socks, dainty little shoes, pink
garters, the muslin frock with silk embroidery,--all was laid out on
my bed. Then the little brown heads had to be brushed, twittering
merrily all the time like birds, answering each other's call. Armand's
hair is in curls, while Nais' is brought forward softly on the
forehead as a border to the pink-and-white cap. Then the shoes are
buckled; and when the little bare legs and well-shod feet have trotted
off to the nursery, while two shining faces (/clean/, Mary calls them)
and eyes ablaze with life petition me to start, my heart beats fast.
To look on the children whom one's own hand has arrayed, the pure skin
brightly veined with blue, that one has bathed, laved, and sponged and
decked with gay colors of silk or velvet--why, there is no poem comes
near to it! With what eager, covetous longing one calls them back for
one more kiss on those white necks, which, in their simple collars,
the loveliest woman cannot rival. Even the coarsest lithograph of such
a scene makes a mother pause, and I feast my eyes daily on the living
Once out of doors, triumphant in the result of my labors, while I was
admiring the princely air with which little Armand helped baby to
totter along the path you know, I saw a carriage coming, and tried to
get them out of the way. The children tumbled into a dirty puddle, and
lo! my works of art are ruined! We had to take them back and change
their things. I took the little one in my arms, never thinking of my
own dress, which was ruined, while Mary seized Armand, and the
cavalcade re-entered. With a crying baby and a soaked child, what mind
has a mother left for herself?
Dinner time arrives, and as a rule I have done nothing. Now comes the
problem which faces me twice every day--how to suffice in my own
person for two children, put on their bibs, turn up their sleeves, and
get them to eat. In the midst of these ever-recurring cares, joys, and
catastrophes, the only person neglected in the house is myself. If the
children have been naughty, often I don't get rid of my curl-papers
all day. Their tempers rule my toilet. As the price of a few minutes
in which I write you these half-dozen pages, I have had to let them
cut pictures out of my novels, build castles with books, chessmen, or
mother-of-pearl counters, and give Nais my silks and wools to arrange
in her own fashion, which, I assure you, is so complicated, that she
is entirely absorbed in it, and has not uttered a word.
Yet I have nothing to complain of. My children are both strong and
independent; they amuse themselves more easily then you would think.
They find delight in everything; a guarded liberty is worth many toys.
A few pebbles--pink, yellow, purple, and black, small shells, the
mysteries of sand, are a world of pleasure to them. Their wealth
consists in possessing a multitude of small things. I watch Armand and
find him talking to the flowers, the flies, the chickens, and
imitating them. He is on friendly terms with insects, and never
wearies of admiring them. Everything which is on a minute scale
interests them. Armand is beginning to ask the "why" of everything he
sees. He has come to ask what I am saying to his godmother, whom he
looks on as a fairy. Strange how children hit the mark!
Alas! my sweet, I would not sadden you with the tale of my joys. Let
me give you some notion of your godson's character. The other day we
were followed by a poor man begging--beggars soon find out that a
mother with her child at her side can't resist them. Armand has no
idea what hunger is, and money is a sealed book to him; but I have
just bought him a trumpet which had long been the object of his
desires. He held it out to the old man with a kingly air, saying:
"Here, take this!"
What joy the world can give would compare with such a moment?
"May I keep it?" said the poor man to me. "I too, madame, have had
children," he added, hardly noticing the money I put into his hand.
I shudder when I think that Armand must go to school, and that I have
only three years and a half more to keep him by me. The flowers that
blossom in his sunny childhood will fall before the scythe of a public
school system; his gracious ways and bewitching candor will lose their
spontaneity. They will cut the curls that I have brushed and smoothed
and kissed so often! What will they do with the thinking being that is
And what of you? You tell me nothing of your life. Are you still in
love with Felipe? For, as regards the Saracen, I have no uneasiness.
Good-bye; Nais has just had a tumble, and if I run on like this, my
letter will become a volume.
MME. DE MACUMER TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
My sweet, tender Renee, you will have learned from the papers the
terrible calamity which has overwhelmed me. I have not been able to
write you even a word. For twenty days I never left his bedside; I
received his last breath and closed his eyes; I kept holy watch over
him with the priests and repeated the prayers for the dead. The cruel
pangs I suffered were accepted by me as a rightful punishment; and
yet, when I saw on his calm lips the smile which was his last farewell
to me, how was it possible to believe that I had caused his death!
Be it so or not, he is gone, and I am left. To you, who have known us
both so well, what more need I say? These words contain all. Oh! I
would give my share of Heaven to hear the flattering tale that my
prayers have power to bring him back to life! To see him again, to
have him once more mine, were it only for a second, would mean that I
could draw breath again without mortal agony. Will you not come soon
and soothe me with such promises? Is not your love strong enough to
But stay! it was you who told me beforehand that he would suffer
through me. Was it so indeed? Yes, it is true, I had no right to his
love. Like a thief, I took what was not mine, and my frenzied grasp
has crushed the life out of my bliss. The madness is over now, but I
feel that I am alone. Merciful God! what torture of the damned can
exceed the misery in that word?
When they took him away from me, I lay down on the same bed and hoped
to die. There was but a door between us, and it seemed to me I had
strength to force it! But, alas! I was too young for death; and after
forty days, during which, with cruel care and all the sorry inventions
of medical science, they slowly nursed me back to life, I find myself
in the country, seated by my window, surrounded with lovely flowers,
which he made to bloom for me, gazing on the same splendid view over
which his eyes have so often wandered, and which he was so proud to
have discovered, since it gave me pleasure. Ah! dear Renee, no words
can tell how new surroundings hurt when the heart is dead. I shiver at
the sight of the moist earth in my garden, for the earth is a vast
tomb, and it is almost as though I walked on /him/! When I first went
out, I trembled with fear and could not move. It was so sad to see his
flowers, and he not there!
My father and mother are in Spain. You know what my brothers are, and
you yourself are detained in the country. But you need not be uneasy
about me; two angels of mercy flew to my side. The Duc and the
Duchesse de Soria hastened to their brother in his illness, and have
been everything that heart could wish. The last few nights before the
end found the three of us gathered, in calm and wordless grief, round
the bed where this great man was breathing his last, a man among a
thousand, rare in any age, head and shoulders above the rest of us in
everything. The patient resignation of my Felipe was angelic. The
sight of his brother and Marie gave him a moment's pleasure and easing
of his pain.
"Darling," he said to me with the simple frankness which never
deserted him, "I had almost gone from life without leaving to Fernand
the Barony of Macumer; I must make a new will. My brother will forgive
me; he knows what it is to love!"
I owe my life to the care of my brother-in-law and his wife; they want
to carry me off to Spain!
Ah! Renee, to no one but you can I speak freely of my grief. A sense
of my own faults weighs me to the ground, and there is a bitter solace
in pouring them out to you, poor, unheeded Cassandra. The exactions,
the preposterous jealousy, the nagging unrest of my passion wore him
to death. My love was the more fraught with danger for him because we
had both the same exquisitely sensitive nature, we spoke the same
language, nothing was lost on him, and often the mocking shaft, so
carelessly discharged, went straight to his heart. You can have no
idea of the point to which he carried submissiveness. I had only to
tell him to go and leave me alone, and the caprice, however wounding
to him, would be obeyed without a murmur. His last breath was spent in
blessing me and in repeating that a single morning alone with me was
more precious to him than a lifetime spent with another woman, were
she even the Marie of his youth. My tears fall as I write the words.
This is the manner of my life now. I rise at midday and go to bed at
seven; I linger absurdly long over meals; I saunter about slowly,
standing motionless, an hour at a time, before a single plant; I gaze
into the leafy trees; I take a sober and serious interest in mere
nothings; I long for shade, silence, and night; in a word, I fight
through each hour as it comes, and take a gloomy pleasure in adding it
to the heap of the vanquished. My peaceful park gives me all the
company I care for; everything there is full of glorious images of my
vanished joy, invisible for others but eloquent to me.
"I cannot away with you Spaniards!" I exclaimed one morning, as my
sister-in-law flung herself on my neck. "You have some nobility that
Ah! Renee, if I still live, it is doubtless because Heaven tempers the
sense of affliction to the strength of those who have to bear it. Only
a woman can know what it is to lose a love which sprang from the heart
and was genuine throughout, a passion which was not ephemeral, and
satisfied at once the spirit and the flesh. How rare it is to find a
man so gifted that to worship him brings no sense of degradation! If
such supreme fortune befall us once, we cannot hope for it a second
time. Men of true greatness, whose strength and worth are veiled by
poetic grace, and who charm by some high spiritual power, men made to
be adored, beware of love! Love will ruin you, and ruin the woman of
your heart. This is the burden of my cry as I pace my woodland walks.
And he has left me no child! That love so rich in smiles, which rained
perpetual flowers and joy, has left no fruit. I am a thing accursed.
Can it be that, even as the two extremes of polar ice and torrid sand
are alike intolerant of life, so the very purity and vehemence of a
single-hearted passion render it barren as hate? Is it only a marriage
of reason, such as yours, which is blessed with a family? Can Heaven
be jealous of our passions? There are wild words.
You are, I believe, the one person whose company I could endure. Come
to me, then; none but Renee should be with Louise in her sombre garb.
What a day when I first put on my widow's bonnet! When I saw myself
all arrayed in black, I fell back on a seat and wept till night came;
and I weep again as I recall that moment of anguish.
Good-bye. Writing tires me; thoughts crowd fast, but I have no heart
to put them into words. Bring your children; you can nurse baby here
without making me jealous; all that is gone, /he/ is not here, and I
shall be very glad to see my godson. Felipe used to wish for a child
like little Armand. Come, then, come and help me to bear my woe.
RENEE TO LOUISE
My darling,--When you hold this letter in your hands, I shall be
already near, for I am starting a few minutes after it. We shall be
alone together. Louis is obliged to remain in Provence because of the
approaching elections. He wants to be elected again, and the Liberals
are already plotting against his return.
I don't come to comfort you; I only bring you my heart to beat in
sympathy with yours, and help you to bear with life. I come to bid you
weep, for only with tears can you purchase the joy of meeting him
again. Remember, he is traveling towards Heaven, and every step
forward which you take brings you nearer to him. Every duty done
breaks a link in the chain that keeps you apart.
Louise, in my arms you will once more raise your head and go on your
way to him, pure, noble, washed of all those errors, which had no root
in your heart, and bearing with you the harvest of good deeds which,
in his name, you will accomplish here.
I scribble these hasty lines in all the bustle of preparation, and
interrupted by the babies and by Armand, who keeps saying, "Godmother,
godmother! I want to see her," till I am almost jealous. He might be
THE BARONNE DE MACUMER TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
October 15, 1833.
Yes, Renee, it is quite true; you have been correctly informed. I have
sold my house, I have sold Chantepleurs, and the farms in Seine-et-
Marne, but no more, please! I am neither mad nor ruined, I assure you.
Let us go into the matter. When everything was wound up, there
remained to me of my poor Macumer's fortune about twelve hundred
thousand francs. I will account, as to a practical sister, for every
penny of this.
I put a million in the Three per Cents when they were at fifty, and so
I have got an income for myself of sixty thousand francs, instead of
the thirty thousand which the property yielded. Then, only think what
my life was. Six months of the year in the country, renewing leases,
listening to the grumbles of the farmers, who pay when it pleases
them, and getting as bored as a sportsman in wet weather. There was
produce to sell, and I always sold it at a loss. Then, in Paris, my
house represented a rental of ten thousand francs; I had to invest my
money at the notaries; I was kept waiting for the interest, and could
only get the money back by prosecuting; in addition I had to study the
law of mortgage. In short, there was business in Nivernais, in Seine-
et-Marne, in Paris--and what a burden, what a nuisance, what a vexing
and losing game for a widow of twenty-seven!
Whereas now my fortune is secured on the Budget. In place of paying
taxes to the State, I receive from it, every half-year, in my own
person, and free from cost, thirty thousand francs in thirty notes,
handed over the counter to me by a dapper little clerk at the
Treasury, who smiles when he sees me coming!
Supposing the nation went bankrupt? Well, to begin with:
'Tis not mine to see trouble so far from my door.
At the worst, too, the nation would not dock me of more than half my
income, so I should still be as well off as before my investment, and
in the meantime I shall be drawing a double income until the
catastrophe arrives. A nation doesn't become bankrupt more than once
in a century, so I shall have plenty of time to amass a little capital
out of my savings.
And finally, is not the Comte de l'Estorade a peer of this July semi-
republic? Is he not one of those pillars of royalty offered by the
"people" to the King of the French? How can I have qualms with a
friend at Court, a great financier, head of the Audit Department? I
defy you to arraign my sanity! I am almost as good at sums as your
Do you know what inspires a woman with all this arithmetic? Love, my
Alas! the moment has come for unfolding to you the mysteries of my
conduct, the motives of which have baffled even your keen sight, your
prying affection, and your subtlety. I am to be married in a country
village near Paris. I love and am loved. I love as much as a woman can
who knows love well. I am loved as much as a woman ought to be by the
man she adores.
Forgive me, Renee, for keeping this a secret from you and from every
one. If your friend evades all spies and puts curiosity on a false
track, you must admit that my feeling for poor Macumer justified some
dissimulation. Besides, de l'Estorade and you would have deafened me
with remonstrances, and plagued me to death with your misgivings, to
which the facts might have lent some color. You know, if no one else
does, to what pitch my jealousy can go, and all this would only have
been useless torture to me. I was determined to carry out, on my own
responsibility, what you, Renee, will call my insane project, and I
would take counsel only with my own head and heart, for all the world
like a schoolgirl giving the slip to her watchful parents.
The man I love possesses nothing but thirty thousand francs' worth of
debts, which I have paid. What a theme for comment here! You would
have tried to make Gaston out an adventurer; your husband would have
set detectives on the dear boy. I preferred to sift him for myself. He
has been wooing me now close on two years. I am twenty-seven, he is
twenty-three. The difference, I admit, is huge when it is on the wrong
side. Another source of lamentation!
Lastly, he is a poet, and has lived by his trade--that is to say, on
next to nothing, as you will readily understand. Being a poet, he has
spent more time weaving day-dreams, and basking, lizard-like, in the
sun, than scribing in his dingy garret. Now, practical people have a
way of tarring with the same brush of inconstancy authors, artists,
and in general all men who live by their brains. Their nimble and
fertile wit lays them open to the charge of a like agility in matters
of the heart.
Spite of the debts, spite of the difference in age, spite of the
poetry, an end is to be placed in a few days to a heroic resistance of
more than nine months, during which he has not been allowed even to
kiss my hand, and so also ends the season of our sweet, pure love-
making. This is not the mere surrender of a raw, ignorant, and curious
girl, as it was eight years ago; the gift is deliberate, and my lover
awaits it with such loyal patience that, if I pleased, I could
postpone the marriage for a year. There is no servility in this;
love's slave he may be, but the heart is not slavish. Never have I
seen a man of nobler feeling, or one whose tenderness was more rich in
fancy, whose love bore more the impress of his soul. Alas! my sweet
one, the art of love is his by heritage. A few words will tell his
My friend has no other name than Marie Gaston. He is the illegitimate
son of the beautiful Lady Brandon, whose fame must have reached you,
and who died broken-hearted, a victim to the vengeance of Lady Dudley
--a ghastly story of which the dear boy knows nothing. Marie Gaston
was placed by his brother Louis in a boarding-school at Tours, where
he remained till 1827. Louis, after settling his brother at school,
sailed a few days later for foreign parts "to seek his fortune," to
use the words of an old woman who had played the part of Providence to
him. This brother turned sailor used to write him, at long intervals,
letters quite fatherly in tone, and breathing a noble spirit; but a
struggling life never allowed him to return home. His last letter told
Marie that he had been appointed Captain in the navy of some American
republic, and exhorted him to hope for better days.
Alas! since then three years have passed, and my poor poet has never
heard again. So dearly did he love his brother, that he would have
started to look for him but for Daniel d'Arthez, the well-known
author, who took a generous interest in Marie Gaston, and prevented
him carrying out his mad impulse. Nor was this all; often would he
give him a crust and a corner, as the poet puts it in his graphic
For, in truth, the poor lad was in terrible straits; he was actually
innocent enough to believe--incredible as it seems--that genius was
the shortest road to fortune, and from 1828 to 1833 his one aim has
been to make a name for himself in letters. Naturally his life was a
frightful tissue of toil and hardships, alternating between hope and
despair. The good advice of d'Arthez could not prevail against the
allurements of ambition, and his debts went on growing like a
snowball. Still he was beginning to come into notice when I happened
to meet him at Mme. d'Espard's. At first sight he inspired me,
unconsciously to himself, with the most vivid sympathy. How did it
come about that this virgin heart has been left for me? The fact is
that my poet combines genius and cleverness, passion and pride, and
women are always afraid of greatness which has no weak side to it. How
many victories were needed before Josephine could see the great
Napoleon in the little Bonaparte whom she had married.
Poor Gaston is innocent enough to think he knows the measure of my
love! He simply has not an idea of it, but to you I must make it
clear; for this letter, Renee, is something in the nature of a last
will and testament. Weigh well what I am going to say, I beg of you.
At this moment I am confident of being loved as perhaps not another
women on this earth, nor have I a shadow of doubt as to the perfect
happiness of our wedded life, to which I bring a feeling hitherto
unknown to me. Yes, for the first time in my life, I know the delight
of being swayed by passion. That which every woman seeks in love will
be mine in marriage. As poor Felipe once adored me, so do I now adore
Gaston. I have lost control of myself, I tremble before this boy as
the Arab hero used to tremble before me. In a word, the balance of
love is now on my side, and this makes me timid. I am full of the most
absurd terrors. I am afraid of being deserted, afraid of becoming old
and ugly while Gaston still retains his youth and beauty, afraid of
coming short of his hopes!
And yet I believe I have it in me, I believe I have sufficient
devotion and ability, not only to keep alive the flame of his love in
our solitary life, far from the world, but even to make it burn
stronger and brighter. If I am mistaken, if this splendid idyl of love
in hiding must come to an end--an end! what am I saying?--if I find
Gaston's love less intense any day than it was the evening before, be
sure of this, Renee, I should visit my failure only on myself; no
blame should attach to him. I tell you now it would mean my death. Not
even if I had children could I live on these terms, for I know myself,
Renee, I know that my nature is the lover's rather than the mother's.
Therefore before taking this vow upon my soul, I implore you, my
Renee, if this disaster befall me, to take the place of mother to my
children; let them be my legacy to you! All that I know of you, your
blind attachment to duty, your rare gifts, your love of children, your
affection for me, would help to make my death--I dare not say easy--
but at least less bitter.
The compact I have thus made with myself adds a vague terror to the
solemnity of my marriage ceremony. For this reason I wish to have no
one whom I know present, and it will be performed in secret. Let my
heart fail me if it will, at least I shall not read anxiety in your
dear eyes, and I alone shall know that this new marriage-contract
which I sign may be my death warrant.
I shall not refer again to this agreement entered into between my
present self and the self I am to be. I have confided it to you in
order that you might know the full extent of your responsibilities. In
marrying I retain full control of my property; and Gaston, while aware
that I have enough to secure a comfortable life for both of us, is
ignorant of its amount. Within twenty-four hours I shall dispose of it
as I please; and in order to save him from a humiliating position, I
shall have stock, bringing in twelve thousand francs a year, assigned
to him. He will find this in his desk on the eve of our wedding. If he
declined to accept, I should break off the whole thing. I had to
threaten a rupture to get his permission to pay his debts.
This long confession has tired me. I shall finish it the day after
to-morrow; I have to spend to-morrow in the country.
I will tell you now the steps I have taken to insure secrecy. My
object has been to ward off every possible incitement to my ever-
wakeful jealousy, in imitation of the Italian princess, who, like a
lioness rushing on her prey, carried it off to some Swiss town to
devour in peace. And I confide my plans to you because I have another
favor to beg; namely, that you will respect our solitude and never
come to see us uninvited.
Two years ago I purchased a small property overlooking the ponds of
Ville d'Avray, on the road to Versailles. It consists of twenty acres
of meadow land, the skirts of a wood, and a fine fruit garden. Below
the meadows the land has been excavated so as to make a lakelet of
about three acres in extent, with a charming little island in the
middle. The small valley is shut in by two graceful, thickly-wooded
slopes, where rise delicious springs that water my park by means of
channels cleverly disposed by my architect. Finally, they fall into
the royal ponds, glimpses of which can be seen here and there,
gleaming in the distance. My little park has been admirably laid out
by the architect, who has surrounded it by hedges, walls, or ha-has,
according to the lie of the land, so that no possible point of view
may be lost.
A chalet has been built for me half-way up the hillside, with a
charming exposure, having the woods of the Ronce on either side, and
in front a grassy slope running down to the lake. Externally the
chalet is an exact copy of those which are so much admired by
travelers on the road from Sion to Brieg, and which fascinated me when
I was returning from Italy. The internal decorations will bear
comparison with those of the most celebrated buildings of the kind.
A hundred paces from this rustic dwelling stands a charming and
ornamental house, communicating with it by a subterranean passage.
This contains the kitchen, and other servants' rooms, stables, and
coach-houses. Of all this series of brick buildings, the facade alone
is seen, graceful in its simplicity, against a background of
shrubbery. Another building serves to lodge the gardeners and masks
the entrance to the orchards and kitchen-gardens.
The entrance gate to the property is so hidden in the wall dividing
the park from the wood as almost to defy detection. The plantations,
already well grown, will, in two or three years, completely hide the
buildings, so that, except in winter, when the trees are bare, no
trace of habitation will appear to the outside world, save only the
smoke visible from the neighboring hills.
The surroundings of my chalet have been modeled on what is called the
King's Garden at Versailles, but it has an outlook on my lakelet and
island. The hills on every side display their abundant foliage--those
splendid trees for which your new civil list has so well cared. My
gardeners have orders to cultivate new sweet-scented flowers to any
extent, and no others, so that our home will be a fragrant emerald.
The chalet, adorned with a wild vine which covers the roof, is
literally embedded in climbing plants of all kinds--hops, clematis,
jasmine, azalea, copaea. It will be a sharp eye which can descry our
The chalet, my dear, is a good, solid house, with its heating system
and all the conveniences of modern architecture, which can raise a
palace in the compass of a hundred square feet. It contains a suite of
rooms for Gaston and another for me. The ground-floor is occupied by
an ante-room, a parlor, and a dining room. Above our floor again are
three rooms destined for the nurseries. I have five first-rate horses,
a small light coupe, and a two-horse cabriolet. We are only forty-
minutes' drive from Paris; so that, when the spirit moves us to hear
an opera or see a new play, we can start after dinner and return the
same night to our bower. The road is a good one, and passes under the
shade of our green dividing wall.
My servants--cook, coachman, groom, and gardeners, in addition to my
maid--are all very respectable people, whom I have spent the last six
months in picking up, and they will be superintended by my old
Philippe. Although confident of their loyalty and good faith, I have
not neglected to cultivate self-interest; their wages are small, but
will receive an annual addition in the shape of a New Year's Day
present. They are all aware that the slightest fault, or a mere
suspicion of gossiping, might lose them a capital place. Lovers are
never troublesome to their servants; they are indulgent by
disposition, and therefore I feel that I can reckon on my household.
All that is choice, pretty, or decorative in my house in the Rue du
Bac has been transported to the chalet. The Rembrandt hangs on the
staircase, as though it were a mere daub; the Hobbema faces the Rubens
in /his/ study; the Titian, which my sister-in-law Mary sent me from
Madrid, adorns the boudoir. The beautiful furniture picked up by
Felipe looks very well in the parlor, which the architect has
decorated most tastefully. Everything at the chalet is charmingly
simple, with the simplicity which can't be got under a hundred
thousand francs. Our ground-floor rests on cellars, which are built of
millstone and embedded in concrete; it is almost completely buried in
flowers and shrubs, and is deliciously cool without a vestige of damp.
To complete the picture, a fleet of white swans sail over my lake!
Oh! Renee, the silence which reigns in this valley would bring joy to
the dead! One is awakened by the birds singing or the breeze rustling
in the poplars. A little spring, discovered by the architect in
digging the foundations of the wall, trickles down the hillside over
silvery sand to the lake, between two banks of water-cress, hugging
the edge of the woods. I know nothing that money can buy to equal it.
May not Gaston come to loathe this too perfect bliss? I shudder to
think how complete it is, for the ripest fruits harbor the worms, the
most gorgeous flowers attract the insects. Is it not ever the monarch
of the forest which is eaten away by the fatal brown grub, greedy as
death? I have learned before now that an unseen and jealous power
attacks happiness which has reached perfection. Besides, this is the
moral of all your preaching, and you have been proved a prophet.
When I went, the day before yesterday, to see whether my last whim had
been carried out, tears rose to my eyes; and, to the great surprise of
my architect, I at once passed his account for payment.
"But, madame," he exclaimed, "your man of business will refuse to pay
this; it is a matter of three hundred thousand francs." My only reply
was to add the words, "To be paid without question," with the bearing
of a seventeenth-century Chaulieu.
"But," I said, "there is one condition to my gratitude. No human being
must hear from you of the park and buildings. Promise me, on your
honor, to observe this article in our contract--not to breathe to a
soul the proprietor's name."
Now, can you understand the meaning of my sudden journeys, my
mysterious comings and goings? Now, do you know whither those
beautiful things, which the world supposes to be sold, have flown? Do
you perceive the ultimate motive of my change of investment? Love, my
dear, is a vast business, and they who would succeed in it should have
no other. Henceforth I shall have no more trouble from money matters;
I have taken all the thorns out of my life, and done my housekeeping
work once for all with a vengeance, so as never to be troubled with it
again, except during the daily ten minutes which I shall devote to my
old major-domo Philippe. I have made a study of life and its sharp
curves; there came a day when death also gave me harsh lessons. Now I
want to turn all this to account. My one occupation will be to please
/him/ and love /him/, to brighten with variety what to common mortals
is monotonously dull.
Gaston is still in complete ignorance. At my request he has, like
myself, taken up his quarters at Ville d'Avray; to-morrow we start for
the chalet. Our life there will cost but little; but if I told you the
sum I am setting aside for my toilet, you would exclaim at my madness,
and with reason. I intend to take as much trouble to make myself
beautiful for him every day as other women do for society. My dress in
the country, year in, year out, will cost twenty-four thousand francs,
and the larger portion of this will not go in day costumes. As for
him, he can wear a blouse if he pleases! Don't suppose that I am going
to turn our life into an amorous duel and wear myself out in devices
for feeding passion; all that I want is to have a conscience free from
reproach. Thirteen years still lie before me as a pretty woman, and I
am determined to be loved on the last day of the thirteenth even more
fondly than on the morrow of our mysterious nuptials. This time no
cutting words shall mar my lowly, grateful content. I will take the
part of servant, since that of mistress throve so ill with me before.
Ah! Renee, if Gaston has sounded, as I have, the heights and depths of
love, my happiness is assured! Nature at the chalet wears her fairest
face. The woods are charming; each step opens up to you some fresh
vista of cool greenery, which delights the soul by the sweet thoughts
it wakens. They breathe of love. If only this be not the gorgeous
theatre dressed by my hand for my own martyrdom!
In two days from now I shall be Mme. Gaston. My God! is it fitting a
Christian so to love mortal man?
"Well, at least you have the law with you," was the comment of my man
of business, who is to be one of my witnesses, and who exclaimed, on
discovering why my property was to be realized, "I am losing a
And you, my sweetheart (whom I dare no longer call my loved one), may
you not cry, "I am losing a sister?"
My sweet, address when you write in future to Mme. Gaston, Poste
Restante, Versailles. We shall send there every day for letters. I
don't want to be known to the country people, and we shall get our
provisions from Paris. In this way I hope we may guard the secret of
our lives. Nobody has been seen in the place during the years spent in
preparing our retreat; and the purchase was made in the troubled
period which followed the revolution of July. The only person who has
shown himself here is the architect; he alone is known, and he will
Farewell. As I write this word, I know not whether my heart is fuller
of grief or joy. That proves, does it not, that the pain of losing you
equals my love for Gaston?
MARIE GASTON TO DANIEL D'ARTHEZ
My Dear Daniel,--I need two witnesses for my marriage. I beg of you to
come to-morrow evening for this purpose, bringing with you our worthy
and honored friend, Joseph Bridau. She who is to be my wife, with an
instinctive divination of my dearest wishes, has declared her
intention of living far from the world in complete retirement. You,
who have done so much to lighten my penury, have been left in
ignorance of my love; but you will understand that absolute secrecy
This will explain to you why it is that, for the last year, we have
seen so little of each other. On the morrow of my wedding we shall be
parted for a long time; but, Daniel, you are of stuff to understand
me. Friendship can subsist in the absence of the friend. There may be
times when I shall want you badly, but I shall not see you, at least
not in my own house. Here again /she/ has forestalled our wishes. She
has sacrificed to me her intimacy with a friend of her childhood, who
has been a sister to her. For her sake, then, I also must relinquish
From this fact alone you will divine that ours is no mere passing
fancy, but love, absolute, perfect, godlike; love based upon the
fullest knowledge that can bind two hearts in sympathy. To me it is a
perpetual spring of purest delight.
Yet nature allows of no happiness without alloy; and deep down, in the
innermost recess of my heart, I am conscious of a lurking thought, not
shared with her, the pang of which is for me alone. You have too often
come to the help of my inveterate poverty to be ignorant how desperate
matters were with me. Where should I have found courage to keep up the
struggle of life, after seeing my hopes so often blighted, but for
your cheering words, your tactful aid, and the knowledge of what you
had come through? Briefly, then, my friend, she freed me from that
crushing load of debt, which was no secret to you. She is wealthy, I
am penniless. Many a time have I exclaimed, in one of my fits of
idleness, "Oh for some great heiress to cast her eye on me!" And now,
in presence of this reality, the boy's careless jest, the unscrupulous
cynicism of the outcast, have alike vanished, leaving in their place
only a bitter sense of humiliation, which not the most considerate
tenderness on her part, nor my own assurance of her noble nature, can
remove. Nay, what better proof of my love could there exist, for her
or for myself, than this shame, from which I have not recoiled, even
when powerless to overcome it? The fact remains that there is a point
where, far from protecting, I am the protected.
This is my pain which I confide to you.
Except in this one particular, dear Daniel, my fondest dreams are more
than realized. Fairest and noblest among women, such a bride might
indeed raise a man to giddy heights of bliss. Her gentle ways are
seasoned with wit, her love comes with an ever-fresh grace and charm;
her mind is well informed and quick to understand; in person, she is
fair and lovely, with a rounded slimness, as though Raphael and Rubens
had conspired to create a woman! I do not know whether I could have
worshiped with such fervor at the shrine of a dark beauty; a brunette
always strikes me as an unfinished boy. She is a widow, childless, and
twenty-seven years of age. Though brimful of life and energy, she has
her moods also of dreamy melancholy. These rare gifts go with a proud
aristocratic bearing; she has a fine presence.
She belongs to one of those old families who make a fetich of rank,
yet loves me enough to ignore the misfortune of my birth. Our secret
passion is now of long standing; we have made trial, each of the
other, and find that in the matter of jealousy we are twin spirits;
our thoughts are the reverberation of the same thunderclap. We both
love for the first time, and this bewitching springtime has filled its
days for us with all the images of delight that fancy can paint in
laughing, sweet, or musing mood. Our path has been strewn with the
flowers of tender imaginings. Each hour brought its own wealth, and
when we parted, it was to put our thoughts in verse. Not for a moment
did I harbor the idea of sullying the brightness of such a time by
giving the rein to sensual passion, however it might chafe within. She
was a widow and free; intuitively, she realized all the homage implied
in this constant self-restraint, which often moved her to tears. Can
you not read in this, my friend, a soul of noble temper? In mutual
fear we shunned even the first kiss of love.
"We have each a wrong to reproach ourselves with," she said one day.
"Where is yours?" I asked.
"My marriage," was her reply.
Daniel, you are a giant among us and you love one of the most gifted
women of the aristocracy, which has produced my Armande; what need to
tell you more? Such an answer lays bare to you a woman's heart and all
the happiness which is in store for your friend,
MME. DE L'ESTORADE TO MME. DE MACUMER
Louise, can it be that, with all your knowledge of the deep-seated
mischief wrought by the indulgence of passion, even within the heart
of marriage, you are planning a life of wedded solitude? Having
sacrificed your first husband in the course of a fashionable career,
would you now fly to the desert to consume a second? What stores of
misery you are laying up for yourself!
But I see from the way you have set about it that there is no going
back. The man who has overcome your aversion to a second marriage must
indeed possess some magic of mind and heart; and you can only be left
to your illusions. But have you forgotten your former criticism on
young men? Not one, you would say, but has visited haunts of shame,
and has besmirched his purity with the filth of the streets. Where is
the change, pray--in them or in you?
You are a lucky woman to be able to believe in happiness. I have not
the courage to blame you for it, though the instinct of affection
urges me to dissuade you from this marriage. Yes, a thousand times,
yes, it is true that nature and society are at one in making war on
absolute happiness, because such a condition is opposed to the laws of
both; possibly, also, because Heaven is jealous of its privileges. My
love for you forebodes some disaster to which all my penetration can
give no definite form. I know neither whence nor from whom it will
arise; but one need be no prophet to foretell that the mere weight of
a boundless happiness will overpower you. Excess of joy is harder to
bear than any amount of sorrow.
Against him I have not a word to say. You love him, and in all
probability I have never seen him; but some idle day I hope you will
send me a sketch, however slight, of this rare, fine animal.
If you see me so resigned and cheerful, it is because I am convinced
that, once the honeymoon is over you will both with one accord, fall
back into the common track. Some day, two years hence, when we are
walking along this famous road, you will exclaim, "Why, there is the
chalet which was to be my home for ever!" And you will laugh your dear
old laugh, which shows all your pretty teeth!
I have said nothing yet to Louis; it would be too good an opening for
his ridicule. I shall tell him simply that you are going to be
married, and that you wish it kept secret. Unluckily, you need neither
mother nor sister for your bridal evening. We are in October now; like
a brave woman, you are grappling with winter first. If it were not a
question of marriage, I should say you were taking the bull by the
horns. In any case, you will have in me the most discreet and
intelligent of friends. That mysterious region, known as the centre of
Africa, has swallowed up many travelers, and you seem to me to be
launching on an expedition which, in the domain of sentiment,
corresponds to those where so many explorers have perished, whether in
the sands or at the hands of natives. Your desert is, happily, only
two leagues from Paris, so I can wish you quite cheerfully, "A safe
journey and speedy return."
THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE TO MME. MARIE GASTON
What has come to you, my dear? After a silence of two years, surely
Renee has a right to feel anxious about Louise. So this is love! It
brushes aside and scatters to the winds a friendship such as ours! You
must admit that, devoted as I am to my children--more even perhaps
than you to your Gaston--a mother's love has something expansive about
it which does not allow it to steal from other affections, or
interfere with the claims of friendship. I miss your letters, I long
for a sight of your dear, sweet face. Oh! Louise, my heart has only
conjecture to feed upon!
As regards ourselves, I will try and tell you everything as briefly as
On reading your last letter but one, I find some stinging comments on
our political situation. You mocked at us for keeping the post in the
Audit Department, which, as well as the title of Count, Louis owed to
the favor of Charles X. But I should like to know, please, how it
would be possible out of an income of forty thousand livres, thirty
thousand of which go with the entail, to give a suitable start in life
to Athenais and my poor little beggar Rene. Was it not a duty to live
on our salary and prudently allow the income of the estate to
accumulate? In this way we shall, in twenty years, have put together
about six hundred thousand francs, which will provide portions for my
daughter and for Rene, whom I destine for the navy. The poor little
chap will have an income of ten thousand livres, and perhaps we may
contrive to leave him in cash enough to bring his portion up to the
amount of his sister's.
When he is Captain, my beggar will be able to make a wealthy marriage,
and take a position in society as good as his elder brother's.
These considerations of prudence determined the acceptance in our
family of the new order of things. The new dynasty, as was natural,
raised Louis to the Peerage and made him a grand officer of the Legion
of Honor. The oath once taken, l'Estorade could not be half-hearted in
his services, and he has since then made himself very useful in the
Chamber. The position he has now attained is one in which he can rest
upon his oars till the end of his days. He has a good deal of
adroitness in business matters; and though he can hardly be called an
orator, speaks pleasantly and fluently, which is all that is necessary
in politics. His shrewdness and the extent of his information in all
matters of government and administration are fully appreciated, and
all parties consider him indispensable. I may tell you that he was
recently offered an embassy, but I would not let him accept it. I am
tied to Paris by the education of Armand and Athenais--who are now
respectively thirteen and nearly eleven--and I don't intend leaving
till little Rene has completed his, which is just beginning.
We could not have remained faithful to the elder branch of the dynasty
and returned to our country life without allowing the education and
prospects of the three children to suffer. A mother, my sweet, is
hardly called on to be a Decius, especially at a time when the type is
rare. In fifteen years from now, l'Estorade will be able to retire to
La Crampade on a good pension, having found a place as referendary for
Armand in the Audit Department.
As for Rene, the navy will doubtless make a diplomatist of him. The
little rogue, at seven years old, has all the cunning of an old
Oh! Louise, I am indeed a happy mother. My children are an endless
source of joy to me.
Senza brama sicura ricchezza.
Armand is a day scholar at Henry IV.'s school. I made up my mind he
should have a public-school training, yet could not reconcile myself
to the thought of parting with him; so I compromised, as the Duc
d'Orleans did before he became--or in order that he might become--
Louis Philippe. Every morning Lucas, the old servant whom you will
remember, takes Armand to school in time for the first lesson, and
brings him home again at half-past four. In the house we have a
private tutor, an admirable scholar, who helps Armand with his work in
the evenings, and calls him in the morning at the school hour. Lucas
takes him some lunch during the play hour at midday. In this way I am
with my boy at dinner and until he goes to bed at night, and I see him
off in the morning.
Armand is the same charming little fellow, full of feeling and
unselfish impulse, whom you loved; and his tutor is quite pleased with
him. I still have Nais and the baby--two restless little mortals--but
I am quite as much a child as they are. I could not bring myself to
lose the darlings' sweet caresses. I could not live without the
feeling that at any moment I can fly to Armand's bedside and watch his
slumbers or snatch a kiss.
Yet home education is not without its drawbacks, to which I am fully
alive. Society, like nature, is a jealous power, and will have not her
rights encroached on, or her system set at naught. Thus, children who
are brought up at home are exposed too early to the fire of the world;
they see its passions and become at home with its subterfuges. The
finer distinctions, which regulate the conduct of matured men and
women, elude their perceptions, and they take feeling and passion for
their guide instead of subordinating those to the code of society;
whilst the gay trappings and tinsel which attract so much of the
world's favor blind them to the importance of the more sober virtues.
A child of fifteen with the assurance of a man of the world is a thing
against all nature; at twenty-five he will be prematurely old, and his
precocious knowledge only unfits him for the genuine study on which
all solid ability must rest. Life in society is one long comedy, and
those who take part in it, like other actors, reflect back impressions
which never penetrate below the surface. A mother, therefore, who
wishes not to part from her children, must resolutely determine that
they shall not enter the gay world; she must have courage to resist
their inclinations, as well as her own, and keep them in the
background. Cornelia had to keep her jewels under lock and key. Shall
I do less for the children who are all the world to me?
Now that I am thirty, the heat of the day is over, the hardest bit of
the road lies behind me. In a few years I shall be an old woman, and
the sense of duty done is an immense encouragement. It would almost
seem as though my trio can read my thoughts and shape themselves
accordingly. A mysterious bond of sympathy unites me to these children
who have never left my side. If they knew the blank in my life which
they have to fill, they could not be more lavish of the solace they
Armand, who was dull and dreamy during his first three years at
school, and caused me some uneasiness, has made a sudden start.
Doubtless he realized, in a way most children never do, the aim of all
this preparatory work, which is to sharpen the intelligence, to get
them into habits of application and accustom them to that fundamental
principle of all society--obedience. My dear, a few days ago I had the
proud joy of seeing Armand crowned at the great interscholastic
competition in the crowded Sorbonne, when your godson received the
first prize for translation. At the school distribution he got two
first prizes--one for verse, and one for an essay. I went quite white
when his name was called out, and longed to shout aloud, "I am his
mother!" Little Nais squeezed my hand till it hurt, if at such a
moment it were possible to feel pain. Ah! Louise, a day like this
might outweigh many a dream of love!
His brother's triumphs have spurred on little Rene, who wants to go to
school too. Sometimes the three children make such a racket, shouting
and rushing about the house, that I wonder how my head stands it. I am
always with them; no one else, not even Mary, is allowed to take care
of my children. But the calling of a mother, if taxing, has so many
compensating joys! To see a child leave its play and run to hug one,
out of the fulness of its heart, what could be sweeter?
Then it is only in being constantly with them that one can study their
characters. It is the duty of a mother, and one which she can depute
to no hired teacher, to decipher the tastes, temper, and natural
aptitudes of her children from their infancy. All home-bred children
are distinguished by ease of manner and tact, two acquired qualities
which may go far to supply the lack of natural ability, whereas no
natural ability can atone for the loss of this early training. I have
already learned to discriminate this difference of tone in the men
whom I meet in society, and to trace the hand of a woman in the
formation of a young man's manners. How could any woman defraud her
children of such a possession? You see what rewards attend the
performance of my tasks!
Armand, I feel certain, will make an admirable judge, the most upright
of public servants, the most devoted of deputies. And where would you
find a sailor bolder, more adventurous, more astute than my Rene will
be a few years hence? The little rascal has already an iron will,
whatever he wants he manages to get; he will try a thousand circuitous
ways to reach his end, and if not successful then, will devise a
thousand and first. Where dear Armand quietly resigns himself and
tries to get at the reason of things, Rene will storm, and strive, and
puzzle, chattering all the time, till at last he finds some chink in
the obstacle; if there is room for the blade of a knife to pass, his
little carriage will ride through in triumph.
And Nais? Nais is so completely a second self that I can hardly
realize her as distinct from my own flesh and blood. What a darling
she is, and how I love to make a little lady of her, to dress her
curly hair, tender thoughts mingling the while with every touch! I
must have her happy; I shall only give her to the man who loves her
and whom she loves. But, Heavens! when I let her put on her little
ornaments, or pass a cherry-colored ribbon through her hair, or fasten
the shoes on her tiny feet, a sickening thought comes over me. How can
one order the destiny of a girl? Who can say that she will not love a
scoundrel or some man who is indifferent to her? Tears often spring to
my eyes as I watch her. This lovely creature, this flower, this
rosebud which has blossomed in one's heart, to be handed over to a man
who will tear it from the stem and leave it bare! Louise, it is you--
you, who in two years have not written three words to tell me of your
welfare--it is you who have recalled to my mind the terrible
possibilities of marriage, so full of anguish for a mother wrapped up,
as I am, in her child. Farewell now, for in truth you don't deserve my
friendship, and I hardly know how to write. Oh! answer me, dear
MME. GASTON TO MME. DE L'ESTORADE
So, after a silence of two years, you are pricked by curiosity, and
want to know why I have not written. My dear Renee, there are no
words, no images, no language to express my happiness. That we have
strength to bear it sums up all I could say. It costs us no effort,
for we are in perfect sympathy. The whole two years have known no note
of discord in the harmony, no jarring word in the interchange of
feeling, no shade of difference in our lightest wish. Not one in this
long succession of days has failed to bear its own peculiar fruit; not
a moment has passed without being enriched by the play of fancy. So
far are we from dreading the canker of monotony in our life, that our
only fear is lest it should not be long enough to contain all the
poetic creations of a love as rich and varied in its development as
Nature herself. Of disappointment not a trace! We find more pleasure
in being together than on the first day, and each hour as it goes by
discloses fresh reason for our love. Every day as we take our evening
stroll after dinner, we tell each other that we really must go and see
what is doing in Paris, just as one might talk of going to
"Only think," Gaston will exclaim, "such and such a boulevard is being
made, the Madeleine is finished. We ought to see it. Let us go
And to-morrow comes, and we are in no hurry to get up, and we
breakfast in our bedroom. Then midday is on us, and it is too hot; a
siesta seems appropriate. Then Gaston wishes to look at me, and he
gazes on my face as though it were a picture, losing himself in this
contemplation, which, as you may suppose, is not one-sided. Tears rise
to the eyes of both as we think of our love and tremble. I am still
the mistress, pretending, that is, to give less than I receive, and I
revel in this deception. To a woman what can be sweeter than to see
passion ever held in check by tenderness, and the man who is her
master stayed, like a timid suitor, by a word from her, within the
limits that she chooses?
You asked me to describe him; but, Renee, it is not possible to make a
portrait of the man we love. How could the heart be kept out of the
work? Besides, to be frank between ourselves, we may admit that one of
the dire effects of civilization on our manners is to make of man in
society a being so utterly different from the natural man of strong
feeling, that sometimes not a single point of likeness can be found
between these two aspects of the same person. The man who falls into
the most graceful operatic poses, as he pours sweet nothings into your
ear by the fire at night, may be entirely destitute of those more
intimate charms which a woman values. On the other hand, an ugly,
boorish, badly-dressed figure may mark a man endowed with the very
genius of love, and who has a perfect mastery over situations which
might baffle us with our superficial graces. A man whose conventional
aspect accords with his real nature, who, in the intimacy of wedded
love, possesses that inborn grace which can be neither given nor
acquired, but which Greek art has embodied in statuary, that careless
innocence of the ancient poets which, even in frank undress, seems to
clothe the soul as with a veil of modesty--this is our ideal, born of
our own conceptions, and linked with the universal harmony which seems
to be the reality underlying all created things. To find this ideal in
life is the problem which haunts the imagination of every woman--in
Gaston I have found it.
Ah! dear, I did not know what love could be, united to youth, talent,
and beauty. Gaston has no affectations, he moves with an instinctive
and unstudied grace. When we walk alone together in the woods, his arm
round my waist, mine resting on his shoulder, body fitting to body,
and head touching head, our step is so even, uniform, and gentle, that
those who see us pass by night take the vision for a single figure
gliding over the graveled walks, like one of Homer's immortals. A like
harmony exists in our desires, our thoughts, our words. More than once
on some evening when a passing shower has left the leaves glistening
and the moist grass bright with a more vivid green, it has chanced
that we ended our walk without uttering a word, as we listened to the
patter of falling drops and feasted our eyes on the scarlet sunset,
flaring on the hilltops or dyeing with a warmer tone the gray of the
Beyond a doubt our thoughts then rose to Heaven in silent prayer,
pleading as it were, for our happiness. At times a cry would escape us
at the moment when some sudden bend on the path opened up fresh
beauties. What words can tell how honey-sweet, how full of meaning, is
a kiss half-timidly exchanged within the sanctuary of nature--it is as
though God had created us to worship in this fashion.
And we return home, each more deeply in love than ever.
A love so passionate between old married people would be an outrage on
society in Paris; only in the heart of the woods, like lovers, can we
give scope to it.
To come to particulars, Gaston is of middle height--the height proper
to all men of purpose. Neither stout nor thin, his figure is admirably
made, with ample fulness in the proportions, while every motion is
agile; he leaps a ditch with the easy grace of a wild animal. Whatever
his attitude, he seems to have an instinctive sense of balance, and
this is very rare in men who are given to thought. Though a dark man,
he has an extraordinarily fair complexion; his jet-black hair
contrasts finely with the lustreless tints of the neck and forehead.
He has the tragic head of Louis XIII. His moustache and tuft have been
allowed to grow, but I made him shave the whiskers and beard, which
were getting too common. An honorable poverty has been his safeguard,
and handed him over to me, unsoiled by the loose life which ruins so
many young men. His teeth are magnificent, and he has a constitution
of iron. His keen blue eyes, for me full of tenderness, will flash
like lightning at any rousing thought.
Like all men of strong character and powerful mind, he has an
admirable temper; its evenness would surprise you, as it did me. I
have listened to the tale of many a woman's home troubles; I have
heard of the moods and depression of men dissatisfied with themselves,
who either won't get old or age ungracefully, men who carry about
through life the rankling memory of some youthful excess, whose veins
run poison and whose eyes are never frankly happy, men who cloak
suspicion under bad temper, and make their women pay for an hour's
peace by a morning of annoyance, who take vengeance on us for a beauty
which is hateful to them because they have ceased themselves to be
attractive,--all these are horrors unknown to youth. They are the
penalty of unequal unions. Oh! my dear, whatever you do, don't marry
Athenais to an old man!
But his smile--how I feast on it! A smile which is always there, yet
always fresh through the play of subtle fancy, a speaking smile which
makes of the lips a storehouse for thoughts of love and unspoken
gratitude, a smile which links present joys to past. For nothing is
allowed to drop out of our common life. The smallest works of nature
have become part and parcel of our joy. In these delightful woods
everything is alive and eloquent of ourselves. An old moss-grown oak,
near the woodsman's house on the roadside, reminds us how we sat
there, wearied, under its shade, while Gaston taught me about the
mosses at our feet and told me their story, till, gradually ascending
from science to science, we touched the very confines of creation.
There is something so kindred in our minds that they seem to me like
two editions of the same book. You see what a literary tendency I have
developed! We both have the habit, or the gift, of looking at every
subject broadly, of taking in all its points of view, and the proof we
are constantly giving ourselves of the singleness of our inward vision
is an ever-new pleasure. We have actually come to look on this
community of mind as a pledge of love; and if it ever failed us, it
would mean as much to us as would a breach of fidelity in an ordinary
My life, full as it is of pleasures, would seem to you, nevertheless,
extremely laborious. To begin with, my dear, you must know that
Louise-Armande-Marie de Chaulieu does her own room. I could not bear
that a hired menial, some woman or girl from the outside, should
become initiated--literary touch again!--into the secrets of my
bedroom. The veriest trifles connected with the worship of my heart
partake of its sacred character. This is not jealousy; it is self-
respect. Thus my room is done out with all the care a young girl in
love bestows on her person, and with the precision of an old maid. My
dressing-room is no chaos of litter; on the contrary, it makes a
charming boudoir. My keen eye has foreseen all contingencies. At
whatever hour the lord and master enters, he will find nothing to
distress, surprise, or shock him; he is greeted by flowers, scents,
and everything that can please the eye.
I get up in the early dawn, while he is still sleeping, and, without
disturbing him, pass into the dressing-room, where, profiting by my
mother's experience, I remove the traces of sleep by bathing in cold
water. For during sleep the skin, being less active, does not perform
its functions adequately; it becomes warm and covered with a sort of
mist or atmosphere of sticky matter, visible to the eye. From a
sponge-bath a woman issues ten years younger, and this, perhaps, is
the interpretation of the myth of Venus rising from the sea. So the
cold water restores to me the saucy charm of dawn, and, having combed
and scented my hair and made a most fastidious toilet, I glide back,
snake-like, in order that my master may find me, dainty as a spring
morning, at his wakening. He is charmed with this freshness, as of a
newly-opened flower, without having the least idea how it is produced.
The regular toilet of the day is a matter for my maid, and this takes
place later in a larger room, set aside for the purpose. As you may
suppose, there is also a toilet for going to bed. Three times a day,
you see, or it may be four, do I array myself for the delight of my
husband; which, again, dear one, is suggestive of certain ancient
But our work is not all play. We take a great deal of interest in our
flowers, in the beauties of the hothouse, and in our trees. We give
ourselves in all seriousness to horticulture, and embosom the chalet
in flowers, of which we are passionately fond. Our lawns are always
green, our shrubberies as well tended as those of a millionaire. And
nothing I assure you, can match the beauty of our walled garden. We
are regular gluttons over our fruit, and watch with tender interest
our Montreuil peaches, our hotbeds, our laden trellises, and pyramidal
But lest these rural pursuits should fail to satisfy my beloved's
mind, I have advised him to finish, in the quiet of this retreat, some
plays which were begun in his starvation days, and which are really
very fine. This is the only kind of literary work which can be done in
odd moments, for it requires long intervals of reflection, and does
not demand the elaborate pruning essential to a finished style. One
can't make a task-work of dialogue; there must be biting touches,
summings-up, and flashes of wit, which are the blossoms of the mind,
and come rather by inspiration than reflection. This sort of
intellectual sport is very much in my line. I assist Gaston in his
work, and in this way manage to accompany him even in the boldest
flights of his imagination. Do you see now how it is that my winter
evenings never drag?
Our servants have such an easy time, that never once since we were
married have we had to reprimand any of them. When questioned about
us, they have had wit enough to draw on their imaginations, and have
given us out as the companion and secretary of a lady and gentleman
supposed to be traveling. They never go out without asking permission,
which they know will not be refused; they are contented too, and see
plainly that it will be their own fault if there is a change for the
worse. The gardeners are allowed to sell the surplus of our fruits and
vegetables. The dairymaid does the same with the milk, the cream, and
the fresh butter, on condition that the best of the produce is
reserved for us. They are well pleased with their profits, and we are
delighted with an abundance which no money and no ingenuity can
procure in that terrible Paris, where it costs a hundred francs to
produce a single fine peach.
All this is not without its meaning, my dear. I wish to fill the place
of society to my husband; now society is amusing, and therefore his
solitude must not be allowed to pall on him. I believed myself jealous
in the old days, when I merely allowed myself to be loved; now I know
real jealousy, the jealousy of the lover. A single indifferent glance
unnerves me. From time to time I say to myself, "Suppose he ceased to
love me!" And a shudder goes through me. I tremble before him, as the
Christian before his God.
Alas! Renee, I am still without a child. The time will surely come--it
must come--when our hermitage will need a father's and a mother's care
to brighten it, when we shall both pine to see the little frocks and
pelisses, the brown or golden heads, leaping, running through our
shrubberies and flowery paths. Oh! it is a cruel jest of Nature's, a
flowering tree that bears no fruit. The thought of your lovely
children goes through me like a knife. My life has grown narrower,
while yours has expanded and shed its rays afar. The passion of love
is essentially selfish, while motherhood widens the circle of our
feelings. How well I felt this difference when I read your kind,
tender letter! To see you thus living in three hearts roused my envy.
Yes, you are happy; you have had wisdom to obey the laws of social
life, whilst I stand outside, an alien.
Children, dear and loving children, can alone console a woman for the
loss of her beauty. I shall soon be thirty, and at that age the dirge
within begins. What though I am still beautiful, the limits of my
woman's reign are none the less in sight. When they are reached, what
then? I shall be forty before he is; I shall be old while he is still
young. When this thought goes to my heart, I lie at his feet for an
hour at a time, making him swear to tell me instantly if ever he feels
his love diminishing.
But he is a child. He swears, as though the mere suggestion were an
absurdity, and he is so beautiful that--Renee, you understand--I
Good-bye, sweet one. Shall we ever again let years pass without
writing? Happiness is a monotonous theme, and that is, perhaps, the
reason why, to souls who love, Dante appears even greater in the
/Paradiso/ than in the /Inferno/. I am not Dante; I am only your
friend, and I don't want to bore you. You can write, for in your
children you have an ever-growing, every-varying source of happiness,
while mine . . . No more of this. A thousand loves.
MME. DE L'ESTORADE TO MME. GASTON
My dear Louise,--I have read and re-read your letter, and the more
deeply I enter into its spirit, the clearer does it become to me that
it is the letter, not of a woman, but of a child. You are the same old
Louise, and you forget, what I used to repeat over and over again to
you, that the passion of love belongs rightly to a state of nature,
and has only been purloined by civilization. So fleeting is its
character, that the resources of society are powerless to modify its
primitive condition, and it becomes the effort of all noble minds to
make a man of the infant Cupid. But, as you yourself admit, such love
ceases to be natural.
Society, my dear abhors sterility; but substituting a lasting
sentiment for the mere passing frenzy of nature, it has succeeded in
creating that greatest of all human inventions--the family, which is
the enduring basis of all organized society. To the accomplishment of
this end, it has sacrificed the individual, man as well as woman; for
we must not shut our eyes to the fact that a married man devotes his
energy, his power, and all his possession to his wife. Is it not she
who reaps the benefit of all his care? For whom, if not for her, are
the luxury and wealth, the position and distinction, the comfort and
the gaiety of the home?
Oh! my sweet, once again you have taken the wrong turning in life. To
be adored is a young girl's dream, which may survive a few
springtimes; it cannot be that of the mature woman, the wife and
mother. To a woman's vanity it is, perhaps, enough to know that she
can command adoration if she likes. If you would live the life of a
wife and mother, return, I beg of you, to Paris. Let me repeat my
warning: It is not misfortune which you have to dread, as others do--
it is happiness.
Listen to me, my child! It is the simple things of life--bread, air,
silence--of which we do not tire; they have no piquancy which can
create distaste; it is highly-flavored dishes which irritate the
palate, and in the end exhaust it. Were it possible that I should
to-day be loved by a man for whom I could conceive a passion, such as
yours for Gaston, I would still cling to the duties and the children,
who are so dear to me. To a woman's heart the feelings of a mother are
among the simple, natural, fruitful, and inexhaustible things of life.
I can recall the day, now nearly fourteen years ago, when I embarked
on a life of self-sacrifice with the despair of a shipwrecked mariner
clinging to the mast of his vessel; now, as I invoke the memory of
past years, I feel that I would make the same choice again. No other
guiding principle is so safe, or leads to such rich reward. The
spectacle of your life, which, for all the romance and poetry with
which you invest it, still remains based on nothing but a ruthless
selfishness, has helped to strengthen my convictions. This is the last
time I shall speak to you in this way; but I could not refrain from
once more pleading with you when I found that your happiness had been
proof against the most searching of all trials.
And one more point I must urge on you, suggested by my meditations on
your retirement. Life, whether of the body or the heart, consists in
certain balanced movements. Any excess introduced into the working of
this routine gives rise either to pain or to pleasure, both of which
are a mere fever of the soul, bound to be fugitive because nature is
not so framed as to support it long. But to make of life one long
excess is surely to choose sickness for one's portion. You are sick
because you maintain at the temperature of passion a feeling which
marriage ought to convert into a steadying, purifying influence.
Yes, my sweet, I see it clearly now; the glory of a home consists in
this very calm, this intimacy, this sharing alike of good and evil,
which the vulgar ridicule. How noble was the reply of the Duchesse de
Sully, the wife of the great Sully, to some one who remarked that her
husband, for all his grave exterior, did not scruple to keep a
mistress. "What of that?" she said. "I represent the honor of the
house, and should decline to play the part of a courtesan there."
But you, Louise, who are naturally more passionate than tender, would
be at once the wife and the mistress. With the soul of a Heloise and
the passions of a Saint Theresa, you slip the leash on all your
impulses, so long as they are sanctioned by law; in a word, you
degrade the marriage rite. Surely the tables are turned. The
reproaches you once heaped on me for immorally, as you said, seizing
the means of happiness from the very outset of my wedded life, might
be directed against yourself for grasping at everything which may
serve your passion. What! must nature and society alike be in bondage
to your caprice? You are the old Louise; you have never acquired the
qualities which ought to be a woman's; self-willed and unreasonable as
a girl, you introduce withal into your love the keenest and most
mercenary of calculations! Are you sure that, after all, the price you
ask for your toilets is not too high? All these precautions are to my
mind very suggestive of mistrust.
Oh, dear Louise, if only you knew the sweetness of a mother's efforts
to discipline herself in kindness and gentleness to all about her! My
proud, self-sufficing temper gradually dissolved into a soft
melancholy, which in turn has been swallowed up by those delights of
motherhood which have been its reward. If the early hours were
toilsome, the evening will be tranquil and clear. My dread is lest the
day of your life should take the opposite course.
When I had read your letter to a close, I prayed God to send you among
us for a day, that you might see what family life really is, and learn
the nature of those joys, which are lasting and sweeter than tongue
can tell, because they are genuine, simple, and natural. But, alas!
what chance have I with the best of arguments against a fallacy which
makes you happy? As I write these words, my eyes fill with tears. I
had felt so sure that some months of honeymoon would prove a surfeit
and restore you to reason. But I see that there is no limit to your
appetite, and that, having killed a man who loved you, you will not
cease till you have killed love itself. Farewell, dear misguided
friend. I am in despair that the letter which I hoped might reconcile
you to society by its picture of my happiness should have brought
forth only a paean of selfishness. Yes, your love is selfish; you love
Gaston far less for himself than for what he is to you.
MME. GASTON TO THE COMTESSE DE L'ESTORADE
Renee, calamity has come--no, that is no word for it--it has burst
like a thunderbolt over your poor Louise. You know what that means;
calamity for me is doubt; certainty would be death.
The day before yesterday, when I had finished my first toilet, I
looked everywhere for Gaston to take a little turn with me before
lunch, but in vain. I went to the stable, and there I saw his mare all
in a lather, while the groom was removing the foam with a knife before
rubbing her down.
"Who in the world has put Fedelta in such a state?" I asked.
"Master," replied the lad.
I saw the mud of Paris on the mare's legs, for country mud is quite
different; and at once it flashed through me, "He has been to Paris."
This thought raised a swarm of others in my heart, and it seemed as
though all the life in my body rushed there. To go to Paris without
telling me, at the hour when I leave him alone, to hasten there and
back at such speed as to distress Fedelta. Suspicion clutched me in
its iron grip, till I could hardly breathe. I walked aside a few steps
to a seat, where I tried to recover my self-command.
Here Gaston found me, apparently pale and fluttered, for he
immediately exclaimed, "What is wrong?" in a tone of such alarm, that
I rose and took his arm. But my muscles refused to move, and I was
forced to sit down again. Then he took me in his arms and carried me
to the parlor close by, where the frightened servants pressed after
us, till Gaston motioned them away. Once left to ourselves, I refused
to speak, but was able to reach my room, where I shut myself in, to
weep my fill. Gaston remained something like two hours at my door,
listening to my sobs and questioning with angelic patience his poor