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THE CROSS OF BERNY
BY MADAME EMILE DE GIRARDIN
MM. THEOPHILE GAUTIER
JULES SANDEAU AND MERY
PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION.
Literary partnerships have often been tried, but very rarely with
success in the more imaginative branches of literature. Occasionally two
minds have been found to supplement each other sufficiently to produce
good joint writing, as in the works of MM. Erckman-Chatrian; but when
the partnership has included more than two, it has almost invariably
proved a failure, even when composed of individually the brightest
intellects, and where the highest hopes have been entertained. Standing
almost if not quite alone, in contrast with these failures of the past,
THE CROSS OF BERNY is the more remarkable; and has achieved the success
not merely of being the simply harmonious joint work of four individual
minds,--but of being in itself, and entirely aside from its interest as
a literary curiosity, a _great book_.
A high rank, then, is claimed for it not upon its success as a literary
partnership, for that at best would but excite a sort of curious
interest, but upon its intrinsic merit as a work of fiction. The spirit
of rivalry in which it was undertaken was perhaps not the best guarantee
of harmony in the tone of the whole work, but it has certainly added
materially to the wit and brilliancy of the letters, while harmony has
been preserved by much tact and skill. No one of its authors could alone
have written THE CROSS OF BERNY--together, each one has given us his
best, and their joint effort will long live to their fame.
The shape in which it appears, as a correspondence between four
characters whose names are the pseudonyms of the four authors of the
book, although at first it may seem to the reader a little awkward, will
upon reflection be seen to be wisely chosen, since it allows to each of
the prominent characters an individuality otherwise very difficult of
attainment. In this way also any differences of style which there may
be, tend rather to heighten the effect, and to increase the reality of
The title under which the original French edition appeared has been
retained in the translation, although since its applicability depends
upon a somewhat local allusion, the general reader may possibly fail to
ORIGINAL PREFACE TO THE FRENCH EDITION.
The Cross of Berny was, it will be remembered, a brilliant tourney,
where Madame de Girardin (nee Delphine Gay), Theophile Gautier, Jules
Sandeau and Mery, broke lances like valiant knights of old.
We believe we respond to the general wish by adding to the _Bibliotheque
Nouvelle_ this unique work, which assumed and will ever retain a high
position among the literary curiosities of the day.
Not feeling called upon to decide who is the victor in the tilt, we
merely lift the pseudonymous veil concealing the champions.
The letters signed Irene de Chateaudun are by Madame de Girardin.
" " " Edgar de Meilhan " M. Theophile Gautier.
" " " Raymond de Villiers " M. Jules Sandeau.
" " " Roger de Monbert " M. Mery.
Who are recognised as the four most brilliant of our celebrated
CROSS OF BERNY.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel de la Prefecture,
PARIS, May 16th, 18--.
You are a great prophetess, my dear Valentino. Your predictions are
Thanks to my peculiar disposition, I am already in the most deplorably
false position that a reasonable mind and romantic heart could ever have
With you, naturally and instinctively, I have always been sincere;
indeed it would be difficult to deceive one whom I have so often seen by
a single glance read the startled conscience, and lead it from the ways
of insolence and shame back into the paths of rectitude.
It is to you I would confide all my troubles; your counsel may save me
ere it be too late.
You must not think me absurd in ascribing all my unhappiness to what is
popularly regarded as "a piece of good luck."
Governed by my weakness, or rather by my fatal judgment, I have plighted
my troth!... Good Heavens! is it really true that I am engaged to Prince
If you knew the prince you would laugh at my sadness, and at the
melancholy tone in which I announce this intelligence.
Monsieur de Monbert is the most witty and agreeable man in Paris; he is
noble-hearted, generous and ...in fact fascinating!... and I love him!
He alone pleases me; in his absence I weary of everything; in his
presence I am satisfied and happy--the hours glide away uncounted; I
have perfect faith in his good heart and sound judgment, and proudly
recognise his incontestable superiority--yes, I admire, respect, and, I
repeat it, love him!...
Yet, the promise I have made to dedicate my life to him, frightens me,
and for a month I have had but one thought--to postpone this marriage I
wished for--to fly from this man whom I have chosen!...
I question my heart, my experience, my imagination, for an answer to
this inexplicable contradiction; and to interpret so many fears, find
nothing but school-girl philosophy and poetic fancies, which you will
excuse because you love me, and I _know_ my imaginary sufferings will at
least awaken pity in your sympathetic breast.
Yes, my dear Valentine, I am more to be pitied now, than I was in the
days of my distress and desolation. I, who so courageously braved the
blows of adversity, feel weak and trembling under the weight of a too
This happy destiny for which I alone am responsible, alarms me more than
did the bitter lot that was forced upon me one year ago.
The actual trials of poverty exhaust the field of thought and prevent us
from nursing imaginary cares, for when we have undergone the torture of
our own forebodings, struggled with the impetuosity and agony of a
nature surrendered to itself, we are disposed to look almost with relief
on tangible troubles, and to end by appreciating the cares of poverty as
salutary distractions from the sickly anxieties of an unemployed mind.
Oh! believe me to be serious, and accuse me not of comic-opera
philosophy, my dear Valentine! I feel none of that proud disdain for
importunate fortune that we read of in novels; nor do I regret "my
pretty boat," nor "my cottage by the sea;" here, in this beautiful
drawing-room of the Hotel de Langeac, writing to you, I do not sigh for
my gloomy garret in the Marais, where my labors day and night were most
tiresome, because a mere parody of the noblest arts, an undignified
labor making patience and courage ridiculous, a cruel game which we play
for life while cursing it.
No! I regret not this, but I do regret the indolence, the idleness of
mind succeeding such trivial exertions. For then there were no
resolutions to make, no characters to study, and, above all, no
responsibility to bear, nothing to choose, nothing to change.
I had but to follow every morning the path marked out by necessity the
If I were able to copy or originate some hundred designs; if I possessed
sufficient carmine or cobalt to color some wretched
engravings--worthless, but fashionable--which I must myself deliver on
the morrow; if I could succeed in finding some new patterns for
embroidery and tapestry, I was content--and for recreation indulged at
evenings in the sweetest, that is most absurd, reveries.
Revery then was a rest to me, now it is a labor, and a dangerous labor
when too often resorted to; good thoughts then came to assist me in my
misery; now, vexatious presentiments torment my happiness. Then the
uncertainty of my future made me mistress of events. I could each day
choose a new destiny, and new adventures. My unexpected and undeserved
misfortune was so complete that I had nothing more to dread and
everything to hope for, and experienced a vague feeling of gratitude for
the ultimate succor that I confidently expected.
I would pass long hours gazing from my window at a little light shining
from the fourth-story window of a distant house. What strange
conjectures I made, as I silently watched the mysterious beacon!
Sometimes, in contemplating it, I recalled the questions addressed by
Childe Harold to the tomb of Cecilia Metella, asking the cold marble if
she who rested there were young and beautiful, a dark-eyed,
delicate-featured woman, whose destiny was that reserved by Heaven for
those it loves; or was she a venerable matron who had outlived her
charms, her children and her kindred?
So I also questioned this solitary light:
To what distressed soul did it lend its aid? Some anxious mother
watching and praying beside her sick child, or some youthful student
plunging with stern delight into the arcana of science, to wrest from
the revealing spirits of the night some luminous truth?
But while the poet questioned death and the past, I questioned the
living present, and more than once the distant beacon seemed to answer
me. I even imagined that this busy light flickered in concert with mine,
and that they brightened and faded in unison.
I could only see it through a thick foliage of trees, for a large garden
planted with poplars, pines and sycamores separated the house where I
had taken refuge from the tall building whence the beacon shone for me
night after night.
As I could never succeed in finding the points of the compass, I was
ignorant of the exact locality of the house, or even on what street it
fronted, and knew nothing of its occupants. But still this light was a
friend; it spoke a sympathetic language to my eyes--it said: "Courage!
you do not suffer alone; behind these trees and under those stars there
is one who watches, labors, dreams." And when the night was majestic and
beautiful, when the morn rose slowly in the azure sky, like a radiant
host offered by the invisible hand of God to the adoration of the
faithful who pray, lament and die by night; when these ever-new
splendors dazzled my troubled soul; when I felt myself seized with that
poignant admiration which makes solitary hearts find almost grief in
joys that cannot be shared, it seemed to me that a dear voice came to
calm my excitement, and exclaimed, with fervor, "Is not the night
beautiful? What happiness in enjoying it together!"
When the nightingale, deceived by the silence of the deserted spot, and
attracted by these dark shades, became a Parisian for a few days,
rejuvenating with his vernal songs the old echoes of the city, again it
seemed that the same voice whispered softly through the trembling
leaves: "He sings, come listen!"
So the sad nights glided peacefully away, comforted by these foolish
Then I invoked my dear ideal, beloved shadow, protector of every honest
heart, proud dream, a perfect choice, a jealous love sometimes making
all other love impossible! Oh, my beautiful ideal! Must I then say
farewell? Now I no longer dare to invoke thee!...
But what folly! Why am I so silly as to permit the remembrance of an
ideal to haunt me like a remorse? Why do I suffer it to make me unjust
towards noble and generous qualities that I should worthily appreciate?
Do not laugh at me, Valentine, when I assure you that my greatest
distress is that my lover does not resemble in any respect my ideal, and
I am provoked that I love him--I cannot deceive myself, the contrast is
striking--judge for yourself.
You may laugh if you will, but the whole secret of my distress is the
contrast between these two portraits.
My lover has handsome, intelligent blue eyes--my ideal's eyes are black,
full of sadness and fire, not the soft, troubadour eye with long
drooping lids--no! My ideal's glance has none of the languishing
tenderness of romance, but is proud, powerful, penetrating, the look of
a thinker, of a great mind yielding to the influence of love, the gaze
of a hero disarmed by passion!
My lover is tall and slender--my ideal is only a head taller than myself
... Ah! I know you are laughing at me, Valentine! Well! I sometimes
laugh at myself....
My lover is frankness personified--my ideal is not a sly knave, but he
is mysterious; he never utters his thoughts, but lets you divine, or
rather he speaks to a responsive sentiment in your own bosom.
My lover is what men call "A good fellow," you are intimate with him in
My ideal is by no means "a good fellow," and although he inspires
confidence and respect, you are never at ease in his presence, there is
a graceful dignity in his carriage, an imposing gentleness in his
manner, that always inspires a kind of fear, a pleasing awe.
You remember, Valentine, when we were very young girls how we were wont
to ask each other, in reading the annals of the past, what situations
would have pleased us, what parts we would have liked to play, what
great emotions we would have wished to experience; and how you pityingly
laughed at my odd taste.
My dream,_par excellence_, was to die of fear; I never envied with you
the famed heroines, the sublime shepherdesses who saved their country. I
envied the timid Esther fainting in the arms of her women at the fierce
tones of Ahasuerus, and restored to consciousness by the same voice
musically whispering the fondest words ever inspired by a royal love.
I also admired Semele, dying of fear and admiration at the frowns of a
wrathful Jove, but her least of all, because I am terrified in a
Well, I am still the same--to love tremblingly is my fondest dream; I do
not say, like pretty Madame de S., that I can only be captivated by a
man with the passions of a tiger and the manners of a diplomate, I only
declare that I cannot understand love without fear.
And yet my lover does not inspire me with the least fear, and against
all reasoning, I mistrust a love that so little resembles the love I
The strangest doubts trouble me. When Roger speaks to me tenderly; when
he lovingly calls me his dear Irene, I am troubled, alarmed--I feel as
if I were deceiving some one, that I am not free, that I belong to
another. Oh! what foolish scruples! How little do I deserve sympathy!
You who have known me from my childhood and are interested in my
happiness, will understand and commiserate my folly, for folly I know it
to be, and judge myself as severely as you would.
I have resolved to treat these wretched misgivings and childish fears
as the creations of a diseased mind, and have arranged a plan for their
I will go into the country for a short time; good Madame Taverneau
offers me the hospitality of her house at Pont-de-l'Arche; she knows
nothing of what has happened during the last six months, and still
believes me to be a poor young widow, forced to paint fans and screens
for her daily bread.
I am very much amused at hearing her relate my own story without
imagining she is talking to the heroine of that singular romance.
Where could she have learned about my sad situation, the minute details
that I supposed no one knew?
"A young orphan girl of noble birth, at the age of twenty compelled by
misfortune to change her name and work for her livelihood, is suddenly
restored to affluence by an accident that carried off all her relatives,
an immensely rich uncle, his wife and son."
She also said my uncle detested me, which proved that she was well
informed--only she adds that the young heiress is horribly ugly, which I
hope is not true!
I will go to Mme. Taverneau and again become the interesting widow of
Monsieur Albert Guerin, of the Navy.
Perilous widowhood which invited from my dear Mme. Taverneau confidences
prematurely enlightening, and which Mlle. Irene de Chateaudun had some
difficulty in forgetting.
Ah! misery is a cruel emancipation! Angelic ignorance, spotless
innocence of mind is a luxury that poor young girls, even the most
circumspect, cannot enjoy.
What presence of mind I had to exercise for three long years in order to
sustain my part!
How often have I felt myself blush, when Mme. Taverneau would say: "Poor
Albert! he must have adored you."
How often have I had to restrain my laughter, when, in enumerating the
perfections of her own husband, she would add, with a look of pity: "It
must distress you to see Charles and me together, our love must recall
your sad loss."
To these remarks I listened with marvellous self-possession; if comedy
or acting of any kind were not distasteful to me, I would make a good
But now I must finish telling you of my plan. To-morrow I will set out
ostensibly with my cousin, accompanying her as far as Fontainbleau,
where she is going to join her daughter, then I will return and hide
myself in my modest lodging, for a day or two, before going to
With regard to my cousin, I must say, people abuse her unjustly; she is
not very tiresome, this fat cousin of mine; I heard of nothing but her
absurdities, and was warned against taking up my abode with her and
choosing her for my chaperone, as her persecutions would drive me
frantic and our life would be one continuous quarrel. I am happy to say
that none of these horrors have been realized. We understand each other
perfectly, and, if I am not married next winter, the Hotel de Langeac
will still be my home.
Roger, uninformed of my departure, will be furious, which is exactly
what I want, for from his anger I expect enlightenment, and this is the
test I will apply. Like all inexperienced people, I have a theory, and
this theory I will proceed to explain.
If in your analysis of love you seek sincerity, you must apply a little
judicious discouragement, for the man who loves hopefully, confidently,
is an enigma.
Follow carefully my line of reasoning; it maybe complicated, laborious,
but--it is convincing.
All violent love is involuntary hypocrisy.
The more ardent the lover the more artful the man.
The more one loves, the more one lies.
The reason of all this is very simple.
The first symptom of a profound passion is an all-absorbing
self-abnegation. The fondest dream of a heart really touched, is to make
for the loved one the most extraordinary and difficult sacrifice.
How hard it is to subdue the temper, or to change one's nature! yet from
the moment a man loves he is metamorphosed. If a miser, to please he
will become a spendthrift, and he who feared a shadow, learns to despise
death. The corrupt Don Juan emulates the virtuous Grandison, and,
earnest in his efforts, he believes himself to be really reformed,
converted, purified regenerated.
This happy transformation will last through the hopeful period. But as
soon as the remodelled pretender shall have a presentiment that his
metamorphosis is unprofitable; as soon as the implacable voice of
discouragement shall have pronounced those two magic words, by which
flights are stayed, thoughts paralyzed, and hopeful hearts deadened,
"Never! Impossible!" the probation is over and the candidate returns to
the old idols of graceless, dissolute nature.
The miser is shocked as he reckons the glittering gold he has wasted.
The quondam hero thinks with alarm of his borrowed valor, and turns pale
at the sight of his scars.
The roue, to conceal the chagrin of discomfiture, laughs at the promises
of a virtuous love, calls himself a gay deceiver, great monster, and is
once more self-complacent.
Freed from restraint, their ruling passions rush to the surface, as when
the floodgates are opened the fierce torrent sweeps over the field.
These hypocrites will feel for their beloved vices, lost and found
again, the thirst, the yearning we feel for happiness long denied us.
And they will return to their old habit, with a voracious eagerness, as
the convalescent turns to food, the traveller to the spring, the exile
to his native land, the prisoner to freedom.
Then will reckless despair develop their genuine natures; then, and then
only, can you judge them.
Ah! I breathe freely now that I have explained my feelings What do you
think of my views on this profound subject--discouragement in love?
I am confident that this test must sometimes meet with the most
favorable results. I believe, for example, that with Roger it will be
eminently successful, for his own character is a thousand times more
attractive than the one he has assumed to attract me. He would please me
better if he were less fascinating--his only fault, if it be a fault, is
his lack of seriousness.
He has travelled too much, and studied different manners and subjects
too closely, to have that power of judging character, that stock of
ideas and principles without which we cannot make for ourselves what is
called a philosophy, that is, a truth of our own.
In the savage and civilized lands he traversed, he saw religions so
ridiculous, morals so wanton, points of honor so ludicrous, that he
returned home with an indifference, a carelessness about everything,
which adds brilliancy to his wit, but lessens the dignity of his love.
Roger attaches importance to nothing--a bitter sorrow must teach him the
seriousness of life, that everything must not be treated jestingly.
Grief and trouble are needed to restore his faith.
I hope he will be very unhappy when he hears of my inexplicable flight,
and I intend returning for the express purpose of watching his grief;
nothing is easier than to pass several days in Paris _incog_.
My beloved garret remains unrented, and I will there take sly pleasure
in seeing for myself how much respect is paid to my memory--I very much
enjoy the novel idea of assisting at my own absence.
But I perceive that my letter is unpardonably long; also that in
confiding my troubles to you, I have almost forgotten them; and here I
recognise your noble influence, my dear Valentine; the thought of you
consoles and encourages me. Write soon, and your advice will not be
thrown away. I confess to being foolish, but am sincerely desirous of
being cured of my folly. My philosophy does not prevent my being open to
conviction, and willing to sacrifice my logic to those I love.
Kiss my godchild for me, and give her the pretty embroidered dress I
send with this. I have trimmed it with Valenciennes to my heart's
content. Oh! my friend, how overjoyed I am to once more indulge in
these treasured laces, the only real charm of grandeur, the only
unalloyed gift of fortune. Fine country seats are a bore, diamonds a
weight and a care, fast horses a danger; but lace! without whose
adornment no woman is properly dressed--every other privation is
supportable; but what is life without lace?
I have tried to please your rustic taste in the wagon-load of newly
imported plants, one of which is a _Padwlonia_ (do not call it a
Polonais), and is now acclimated in France; its leaves are a yard in
circumference, and it grows twenty inches a month--malicious people
say it freezes in the winter, but don't you believe the slander.
Adieu, adieu, my Valentine, write to me, a line from you is happiness.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
My address is,
Madame Albert Guerin,
Care Mme. Taverneau, Pont de l'Arche,
Department of the Eure.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ M. DE MEILHAN,
Paris, May 19th, 18--.
Dear Edgar,--It cannot be denied that friendship is the refuge of
adversity--the roof that shelters from the storm.
In my prosperous days I never wrote you. Happiness is selfish. We fear
to distress a friend who may be in sorrow, by sending him a picture of
our own bliss.
I am oppressed with a double burden; your absence, and my misfortunes.
This introduction will, doubtless, impress you with the idea that I
wander about Paris with dejected visage and neglected dress. Undeceive
yourself. It is one of my principles never to expose my sacred griefs to
the gaze of an unsympathetic world, that only looks to laugh.
Pity I regard as an insult to my pride: the comforter humiliates the
inconsolable mourner; besides, there are sorrows that all pretend to
understand, but which none really appreciate. It is useless, then, to
enumerate one's maladies to a would-be physician; and the world is
filled with those who delight in the miseries of others; who follow the
sittings of courts and luxuriate in heart-rending pictures of man's
injustice to his fellow.
I do not care to serve as a relaxation to this class of mankind, who,
since the abolition of the circus and amphitheatre, are compelled to
pick up their pleasure wherever they can find it; seeking the best
places to witness the struggle of Christian fortitude with adversity.
But every civilized age has its savage manners, and, knowing this, I
resemble in public the favorite of fortune. I simulate content, and my
face is radiant with deceit.
The idle and curious of the Boulevard Italien, the benches of the circus
would hardly recognise me as the gladiator struggling with an
iron-clawed monster--they are all deceived.
I feel a repugnance, dear Edgar, to entertaining you with a recital of
my mysterious sorrow. I would prefer to leave you in ignorance, or let
you divine them, but I explain to prevent your friendship imagining
afflictions that are not mine.
In the first place, to reassure you, my fortune has not suffered during
my absence. On my return to Paris, my agent dazzled me with the picture
of my wealth.
"Happy man!" said he; "a great name, a large fortune, health that has
defied the fires of the tropics, the ice of the poles,--and only
thirty!" The notary reasoned well from a notary's stand-point. If I were
to reduce my possessions to ingots, they would certainly balance a
notary's estimate of happiness; therefore, fear nothing for my fortune.
Nor must you imagine that I grieve over my political and military
prospects that were lost in the royal storm of '30, when plebeian cannon
riddled the Tuilleries and shattered a senile crown. I was only sixteen,
and hardly understood the lamentations of my father, whose daily refrain
was, "My child, your future is destroyed."
A man's future lies in any honorable career. If I have left the
epaulettes of my ancestors reposing in their domestic shrine, I can
bequeath to my children other decorations.
I have just returned from a ten years' campaign against all nations,
bringing back a marvellous quantity of trophies, but without causing one
mother to mourn. In the light of a conqueror, Caesar, Alexander, and
Hannibal pale in comparison, and yet to a certainty my military future
could not have gained me the epaulettes of these illustrious commanders.
You would not, my dear Edgar, suppose, from the gaiety of this letter,
that I had passed a frightful night.
You shall see what becomes of life when not taken care of; when there is
an unguarded moment in the incessant duel that, forced by nature, we
wage with her from the cradle to the grave.
What a long and glorious voyage I had just accomplished! What dangers I
escaped! The treacherous sea defeated by a motion of the helm! The
sirens to whom I turned a deaf ear. The Circes deserted under a baleful
moon, ere the brutalizing change had come!
I returned to Paris, a man with soul so dead that his country was not
dear to him--I felt guilty of an unknown crime, but reflection reduced
the enormity of the offence. Long voyages impart to us a nameless
virtue--or vice, made up of tolerance, stoicism and disdain. After
having trodden over the graveyards of all nations, it seems as if we had
assisted at the funeral ceremonies of the world, and they who survive on
its surface seem like a band of adroit fugitives who have discovered the
secret of prolonging to-day's agony until to-morrow.
I walked upon the Boulevard Italien without wonder, hatred, love, joy or
sorrow. On consulting my inmost thoughts I found there an unimpassioned
serenity, a something akin to ennui; I scarcely heard the noise of the
wheels, the horses--the crowd that surrounded me.
Habituated to the turmoil of those grand dead nations near the vast
ruins of the desert, this little hubbub of wearied citizens scarcely
attracted my attention.
My face must have reflected the disdainful quietude of my soul.
By contemplative communion with the mute, motionless colossal faces of
Egypt's and Persia's monuments, I felt that unwittingly my countenance
typified the cold imperturbable tranquillity of their granite brows.
That evening La Favorita was played at the opera. Charming work! full of
grace, passion, love. Reaching the end of Le Pelletier street, my walk
was blocked by a line of carriages coming down Provence street; not
having the patience to wait the passage of this string of vehicles, nor
being very dainty in my distinction between pavement and street, I
followed in the wake of the carriages, and as they did not conceal the
facade of the opera at the end of the court, I saw it, and said "I will
I took a box below, because my family-box had changed hands, hangings
and keys at least five times in ten years, and seated myself in the
background to avoid recognition, and leave undisturbed friends who would
feel in duty bound to pay fashionable court to a traveller due ten
years. I was not familiar with La Favorita, and my ear took in the new
music slowly. Great scores require of the indolent auditor a long
While I listened indolently to the orchestra and the singers, I examined
the boxes with considerable interest, to discover what little
revolutions a decade could bring about in the aristocratic personnel of
the opera. A confused noise of words and some distinct sentences reached
my ear from the neighboring boxes when the orchestra was silent. I
listened involuntarily; the occupants were not talking secrets, their
conversation was in the domain of idle chat, that divides with the
libretto the attention of the habitues of the opera.
They said, "I could distinguish her in a thousand, I mistrust my sight a
little, but my glass is infallible; it is certainly Mlle. de
Bressuire--a superb figure, but she spoils her beauty by affectation."
"Your glass deceives you, my dear sir, we know Mlle. de Bressuire."
"Madame is right; it is not Mlle. That young lady at whom everybody is
gazing, and who to-night is the favorite--excuse the pun--of the opera,
is a Spaniard; I saw her at the Bois de Boulogne in M. Martinez de la
Hosa's carriage. They told me her name, but I have forgotten. I never
could remember names."
"Ladies," said a young man, who noisily entered the box, "we are at last
enlightened. I have just questioned the box-keeper--she is a maid of
honor to the Queen of Belgium."
"And her name?" demanded five voices.
"She has a Belgian name, unpronounceable by the box-keeper; something
like Wallen, or Meulen."
"We are very much wiser."
From the general commotion it was easy to perceive that the same subject
was being discussed by the whole house, and doubtless in the same
terms; for people do not vary their formulas much on such occasions.
A strain of music recalled to the stage every eye that during the
intermission had been fastened upon one woman. I confess that I felt
some interest in the episode, but, owing to my habitual reserve, barely
discovered by random and careless glances the young girl thus handed
over to the curious glances of the fashionable world. She was in a box
of the first tier, and the native grace of her attitude first riveted my
attention. The cynosure of all eyes, she bore her triumph with the ease
of a woman accustomed to admiration.
To appear unconscious she assumed with charming cleverness a pose of
artistic contemplation. One would have said that she was really absorbed
in the music, or that she was following the advice of the Tuscan poet:
"Bel ange, descendu d'un monde aerien,
Laisse-toi regarder et ne regarde rien."
From my position I could only distinguish the outline of her figure,
except by staring through my glasses, which I regard as a polite
rudeness, but she seemed to merit the homage that all eyes looked and
all voices sang.
Once she appeared in the full blaze of the gas as she leaned forward
from her box, and it seemed as if an apparition by some theatro-optical
delusion approached and dazzled me.
The rapt attention of the audience, the mellow tones of the singer, the
orchestral accompaniment full of mysterious harmony, seemed to awaken
the ineffable joy that love implants in the human heart. How much
weakness there is in the strength of man!
To travel for years over oceans, through deserts, among all varieties of
peoples and sects; shipwrecked, to cling with bleeding hands to
sea-beaten rocks; to laugh at the storm and brave the tiger in his lair;
to be bronzed in torrid climes; to subject one's digestion to the
baleful influences of the salt seas; to study wisdom before the ruins of
every portico where rhetoricians have for three thousand years
paraphrased in ten tongues the words of Solomon, "All is vanity;" to
return to one's native shores a used-up man, persuaded of the emptiness
of all things save the overhanging firmament and the never-fading stars;
to scatter the fancies of too credulous youth by a contemptuous smile,
or a lesson of bitter experience, and yet, while boasting a victory over
all human fallacies and weaknesses, to be enslaved by the melody of a
song, the smile of a woman.
Life is full of hidden mysteries. I looked upon the stranger's face with
a sense of danger, so antagonistic to my previous tranquillity that I
By the side of the beautiful unknown, I saw a large fan open and shut
with a certain affectation, but not until its tenth movement did I
glance at its possessor. She was my nearest relative, the Duchess de
The situation now began to be interesting. In a moment the interlude
would procure for me a position to be envied by every one in the house.
At the end of the act I left my box and made a rapid tour of the lobby
before presenting myself. The Duchess dispelled my embarrassment by a
cordial welcome. Women have a keen and supernatural perception about
everything concerning love, that is alarming.
The Duchess carelessly pronounced Mlle. de Chateaudun's name and mine,
as if to be rid of the ceremonies of introduction as soon as possible,
and touching a sofa with the end of her fan, said:
"My dear Roger, it is quite evident that you have come from everywhere
except from the civilized world. I bowed to you twenty times, and you
declined me the honor of a recognition. Absorbed in the music, I
suppose. La Favorita is not performed among the savages, so they remain
savages. How do you like our barytone? He has sung his aria with
While the Duchess was indulging her unmeaning questions and comments, a
rapid and careless glance at Mlle. de Chateaudun explained the
admiration that she commanded from the crowded house. Were I to tell you
that this young creature was a pretty, a beautiful woman, I would
feebly express my meaning, such phrases mean nothing. It would require a
master hand to paint a peerless woman, and I could not make the attempt
when the bright image of Irene is now surrounded by the gloomy shadows
of an afflicted heart.
After the first exchange of insignificant words, the skirmish of a
conversation, we talk as all talk who are anxious to appear ignorant of
the fact that they are gazed upon by a whole assembly.
Concealing my agitation under a strain of light conversation,
"Mademoiselle," I said, in answer to a question, "music is to-day the
necessity of the universe. France is commissioned to amuse the world.
Suppress our theatre, opera, Paris, and a settled melancholy pervades
the human family. You have no idea of the ennui that desolates the
"Occasionally Paris enlivens the two Indias by dethroning a king. Once
Calcutta was _in extremis_, it was dying of the blues; the East India
company was rich but not amusing; with all its treasure it could not buy
one smile for Calcutta, so Paris sent Robert le Diable, La Muette de
Portici, a drama or two of Hugo and Dumas. Calcutta became convalescent
and recovered. Its neighbor, Chandernagore, scarcely existed then, but
in 1842, when I left the Isle de Bourbon, La Favorita was announced; it
planted roses in the cheeks of the jaundiced inhabitants, and Madras,
possessed by the spleen, was exorcised by William Tell.
"Whenever a tropical city is conscious of approaching decline, she
always stretches her hands beseechingly to Paris, who responds with
music, books, newspapers; and her patient springs into new life.
"Paris does not seem to be aware of her influences. She detracts from
herself; says she is not the Paris of yesterday, the Paris of the great
century; that her influence is gone, she is in the condition of the
"She builds eighty leagues of fortifications to sustain the siege of
Mahomet II. She weeps over her downfall and accuses Heaven of denying
to her children of '44 the genius and talents that characterized the
statesmen and poets of her past.
"But happily the universe does not coincide with Paris; go ask it;
having just come from there, I know it."
Indulging my traveller's extravagancies laughingly, to the amusement of
my fair companion, she said:
"Truly your philosophy is of the happy school, and the burden of life
must be very light when it is so lightly borne."
"You must know, my dear Roger," said the Duchess, feigning
commiseration, "that my young cousin, Mlle. de Chateaudun, is pitiably
unhappy, and you and I can weep over her lot in chorus with orchestral
accompaniment; poor child! she is the richest heiress in Paris."
"How wide you are from the mark!" said Irene, with a charming look of
annoyance in the brightest eye that ever dazzled the sober senses of
man; "it is not an axiom that wealth is happiness. The poor spread such
a report, but the rich know it to be false."
Here the curtain arose, and my return to my box explained my character
as the casual visitor and not the lover. And what intentions could I
have had at that moment? I cannot say.
I was attracted by the loveliness of Mlle. Chateaudun; chance gave the
opportunity for studying her charms, the fair unknown improved on
acquaintance. Hers was the exquisite grace of face and feature and
winningness of manner which attracts, retains and is never to be
From the superb tranquillity of her attitude, the intelligence of her
eyes, it was easy to infer that a wider field would bring into action
the hidden treasures of a gifted nature. Over the dazzling halo that
surrounded the fair one, which left me the alternative of admiring
silence or heedless vagrancy of speech, one cloud lowered, eclipsing all
her charms and bringing down my divinity from her pedestal--Irene was an
The Duchess had clipped the wings of the angel with the phrase of a
marriage-broker. An heiress! the idea of a beautiful woman, full of
poetry and love, inseparately linked to pounds, shillings and pence!
It was a day of amnesty to men, a fete day in Paradise, when God gave to
this young girl that crown of golden hair, that seraphic brow, those
eyes that purified the moral miasma of earth. The ideal of poetry, the
reality of my love!
Think of this living master-piece of the divine studio as the theme of
money-changers, the prize of the highest bidder!
Of course, my dear Edgar, I saw Mlle. de Chateaudun again and again
after this memorable evening; thanks to the facilities afforded me by my
manoeuvring kinswoman, the Duchess, who worshipped the heiress as I
worshipped the woman, I could Add a useless volume of romantic details
leading you to the denouement, which you have already guessed, for you
must see in me the lover of Mlle. de Chateaudun.
I wished to give you the beginning and end of my story; what do you care
for the rest, since it is but the wearisome calendar of all lovers?--The
journal of a thousand incidents as interesting and important to two
people as they are stupid and ridiculous to every one else. Each day was
one of progress; finally, we loved each other. Excuse the homely
platitude in this avowal.
Irene seemed perfect; her only fault, being an heiress, was lost in the
intoxication of my love; everything was arranged, and in spite of her
money I was to marry her.
I was delirious with joy, my feet spurned the earth. My bliss was the
ecstasy of the blest. My delight seemed to color the contentment of
other men with gloom, and I felt like begging pardon for being so happy.
It seemed that this valley of tears, astonished that any one should from
a terrestrial paradise gaze upon its afflictions and still be happy,
would revolt against me!
My dear Edgar, the smoke of hell has darkened my vision--I grope in the
gloom of a terrible mystery--Vainly do I strive to solve it, and I turn
to you for aid.
Irene has left Paris! Home, street, city, all deserted! A damp, dark
nothingness surrounds me!
Not an adieu! a line! a message! to console me--
Women do such things--
I have done all in my power, and attempted the impossible to find Irene,
but without success. If she only had some ground of complaint against
me, how happy I would be.
A terrible thought possesses my fevered brain--she has fallen into some
snare, my marvellously beautiful Irene.
Hide my sorrows, dear Edgar, from the world as I have hidden them.
You would not have recognised the writer of this, had you seen him on
the boulevard this morning. I was a superb dandy, with the poses of a
Sybarite and the smiles of a young sultan. I trod as one in the clouds,
and looked so benevolently on my fellow man that three beggars sued for
aid as if they recognised Providence in a black coat. The last
observation that reached my ear fell from the lips of an observing
"Heavens! how happy that young man must be!"
Dear Edgar, I long to see you.
ROGER DE MONBERT.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
St. Dominique Street, Paris.
RICHEPORT, 20th May, 18--
No, no, I cannot console you in Paris. I will escort your grief to
Smyrna, Grand Cairo, Chandernagore, New Holland, if you wish, but I
would rather be scalped alive than turn my steps towards that
fascinating city surrounded by fortifications.
Your elegy found me moderately impressible. Fortune has apparently
always treated you like a spoiled child; were your misfortunes mine I
should be delighted, and in your torment I should find a paradise. A
disappearance afflicts you with agony. I was forced to beat a retreat
once, but not from creditors; my debts are things of the past. You are
fled from--I am pursued; and whatever you may say to the contrary, it is
much more agreeable to be the dog than the hare.
Ah! if the beauty that I adore (this is melo-dramatic) had only
conceived such a triumphant idea! I should not be the one who--but no
one knows when he is well off. This Mlle. Irene de Chateaudun pleases
me, for by this opportune and ingenious eclipse she prevents you from
committing a great absurdity. What put marriage into your head,
forsooth! You who have housed with Bengal tigers and treated the lions
of Atlas as lapdogs; who have seen, like Don Caesar de Bazan, women of
every color and clime; how could you have centred your affections upon
this Parisian doll, and chained the fancies of your cosmopolitan soul to
the dull, rolling wheel of domestic and conjugal duty?
So don't swear at her; bless her with a grateful heart, put a bill of
credit in your pocket, and off we'll sail for China. We will make a hole
in the famous wall, and pry into the secrets of lacquered screens and
porcelain cups. I have a strong desire to taste their swallow-nest soup,
their shark's fins served with jujube sauce, the whole washed down by
small glasses of castor oil. We will have a house painted apple-green
and vermilion, presided over by a female mandarin with no feet,
circumflex eyes, and nails that serve as toothpicks. When shall I order
A wise man of the Middle Empire said that we should never attempt to
stem the current of events. Life takes care of itself. The loss of your
fiancee proves that you are not predestined for matrimony, therefore do
not attempt to coerce chance; let it act, for perhaps it is the
pseudonym of God.
Thanks to this very happy disappearance, your love remains young and
fresh; besides, you have, in addition to the Pleasures of Memory, the
Pleasures of Hope (considered the finest work of the poet Campbell); for
there is nothing to show that your divinity has been translated to that
better world, where, however, no one seems over-anxious to go.
Let not my retreat give rise to any unfavorable imputations against my
courage. Achilles, himself, would have incontinently fled if threatened
with the blessings in store for me. From what oriental head-dresses,
burnous affectedly draped, golden rings after the style of the Empress
of the Lower Empire, have I not escaped by my prudence?
But this is all an enigma to you. You are in ignorance of my story,
unless some too-well-posted Englishman hinted it to you in the temple of
Elephanta. I will relate it to you by way of retaliation for the recital
of your love affair with Mlle. Irene de Chateaudun.
You have probably met that celebrated blue-stocking called the "Romantic
Marquise." She is handsome, so the painters say; and, perhaps, they are
not far from right, for she is handsome after the style of an old
picture. Although young, she seems to be covered with yellow varnish,
and to walk surrounded by a frame, with a background of bitumen.
One evening I found myself with this picturesque personage at Madame de
Blery's. I was listlessly intrenched in a corner, far from the circle of
busy talkers, just sufficiently awake to be conscious that I was
asleep--a delirious condition, which I recommend to your consideration,
resembling the beginning of haschish intoxication--when by some turn in
the conversation Madame de Blery mentioned my name and pointed me out. I
was immediately awakened from my torpor and dragged out of my corner.
I have been weak enough at times, as Gubetta says, to jingle words at
the end of an idea, or to speak more modestly, at the end of certain
measured syllables. The Marquise, cognisant of the offence, but not of
the extenuating circumstances, launched forth into praise and flattering
hyperbole that lifted me to the level of Byron, Goethe, Lamartine,
discovered that I had a satanic look, and went on so that I suspected an
This affected me gloomily and ferociously. There is nothing I despise
more than an album, unless it be two of them.
To avoid any such attempt, I broke into the most of the conversation
with several innocent provincialisms, and effected my retreat in a
masterly manner; advancing towards the door by degrees, and reaching it,
I sprang outside so suddenly and nimbly that I had gotten to the bottom
of the stairs before my absence was discovered.
Alas! no one can escape au album when it is predestined! The next day a
book, magnificently bound in Russia, arrived in a superb moire case in
the hands of a groom, with an accompanying note from the Infanta
soliciting the honor, &c.
All great men have their antipathies. James I. could not look upon a
glittering sword; Roger Bacon fainted at the sight of an apple; and
blank paper fills me with melancholy.
However, I resigned myself to the decrees of fate, and scribbled, I
don't know what, in the corner, and subscribed my initials as illegible
as those of Napoleon when in a passion.
This, I flattered myself, was the end of the tragedy, but no: a few days
afterwards I received an invitation to a select gathering, in such
amiable terms that I resolved to decline it.
Talleyrand said, "Never obey your first impulse, because it is good;" I
obeyed this Machiavellian maxim, and erred!
"_Eucharis_" was being performed at the opera; the sky was filled with
ugly, threatening clouds; I sought in vain for a companion to get tight
with, and moralize over a few bottles of wine, and so for want of a
gayer occupation I went to the Marquise.
Her apartments are a perfect series of catafalques, and seem to have
been upholstered by an undertaker. The drawing-room is hung in violet
damask; the bed-rooms in black velvet; the furniture is of ebony or old
oak; crucifixes, holy-water basins, folio bibles, death's-heads and
poniards adorned the enlivening interior. Several Zurbarans, real or
false, representing monks and martyrs, hung on the walls, frightening
visitors with their grimaces. These sombre tints are intended to
contrast with the waxy cheeks and painted eyes of the lady who looks
more like the ghost than the mistress of this dwelling; for she does not
inhabit, she haunts it.
You must not think, dear Roger, from this funereal introduction, that
your friend became the prey of a ghoul or a vampire. The Marquise is
handsome enough, after all. Her features are noble, regular, but a
little Jewish, which induces her to wear a turban earlier and oftener
than is necessary. She would not be so pale, if instead of white she put
on red. Her hands, though too thin, are rather pretty and aristocratic,
and weighted heavily with odd-looking rings. Her foot is not too large
for her slipper. Uncommon thing! for women, in regard to their shoes,
have falsified the geometrical axiom: the receptacle should be greater
than its contents.
She is, however, to a certain point, a gentlewoman, and holds a good
position in society.
I was received with all manner of caresses, stuffed with small cake,
inundated with tea, of which beverage I hold the same opinion as Madame
Gibou. I was assailed by romantic and transcendental dissertations, but
possessing the faculty of abstraction and fixing my gaze upon the facets
of a crystal flagon, my attitude touched the Marquise, who believed me
plunged into a gulf of thought.
In short, I had the misfortune to charm her, and the weakness, like the
greater part of men, to surrender myself to my good or evil fortune;
for this unhung canvas did not please me, and though tolerably stylish
and pretty well preserved, I suspected some literature underneath, and
closely scanned the edge of her dress to see if some azure reflection
had not altered the whiteness of her stocking. I abhor women who take
blue-ink baths. Alas! they are much worse than the avowed literary
woman; she affects to talk of nothing but ribbons, dress and bonnets,
and confidentially gives you a receipt for preserving lemons and making
strawberry cream; they take pride in not ignoring housekeeping, and
faithfully follow the fashions. At their homes ink, pen and paper are
nowhere to be seen; their odes and elegies are written on the back of a
bill or on a page torn from an account-book.
La Marquise contemplates reform, romances, social poetry, humanitarian
and palingenesic treatises, and scattered about on the tables and chairs
were to be seen solemn old books, dog-leaved at their most tiresome
pages, all of which is very appalling. Nothing is more convenient than a
muse whose complete works are printed; one knows then what to expect,
and you have not always the reading of Damocles hanging over your head.
Dragged by a fatality that so often makes me the victim of women I do
not admire, I became the Conrad, the Lara of this Byronic heroine.
Every morning she sent me folio-sized epistles, dated three hours after
midnight. They were compilations from Frederick Soulie, Eugene Sue, and
Alexander Dumas, glorious authors, whom I delight to read save in my
amorous correspondence, where a feminine mistake in orthography gives me
more pleasure than a phrase plagiarised from George Sand, or a pathetic
tirade stolen from a popular dramatist.
In short, I do not believe in a passion told in language that smells of
the lamp; and the expression "_Je t'aime_" will scarcely persuade me if
it be not written "_Je theme_."
It made no difference how often the beauty wrote, I fortified myself
against her literary visitations by consigning her billets-doux unopened
to an empty drawer. By this means I was enabled to endure her prose
with great equanimity. But she expected me to reply--now, as I did not
care to keep my hand in for my next romance, I viewed her claims as
extravagant and unreasonable, and feigning a strong desire to see my
mother, I fled, less curious than Lot's wife, without looking behind.
Had I not taken this resolution I should have died of ennui in that
dimly-lighted house, among those sepulchral toys, in the presence of
that pale phantom enveloped in a dismal wrapper, cut in the monkish
style, and speaking in a trembling and languishing tone of voice.
La Trappe or Chartreuse would have been preferable--I would have gained
at least my salvation. Although it may be the act of a Cossack, a
shocking irregularity, I have given her no sign of my existence, except
that I told her that my mother's recovery promised to be very slow, and
she would need the devoted attention of a good son.
Judge, dear Roger, after this recital, of which I have subdued the
horrors and dramatic situations out of regard to your sensibility,
whether I could return to Paris to be the comforter in your sorrow. Yet
I could brave an encounter with the Marquise were it not that I am
retained in Normandy by an expected visit of two months from our friend
Raymond. This fact certainly ought to make you decide to share our
solitude. Our friend is so poetical, so witty, so charming. He has but
one fault, that of being a civilized Don Quixote de la Mancha; instead
of the helmet of Mambrino he wears a Gibus hat, a Buisson coat instead
of a cuirass, a Verdier cane by way of a lance. Happy nature! in which
the heart is not sacrificed to the intellect; where the subtlety of a
diplomate is united to the ingenuousness of a child.
Since your ideal has fled, are not all places alike to you? Then why
should you not come to me, to Richeport, but a step from Pont de l'Arch?
I am perched upon the bank of the river, in a strange old building,
which I know will please you. It is an old abbey half in ruins, in which
is enshrined a dwelling, with many windows at regular intrevals, and is
surmounted by a slate roof and chimneys of all sizes. It is built of
hewn stone, that time has covered with its gray leprosy, and the general
effect, looking through the avenue of grand old trees, is fine. Here my
mother dwells. Profiting by the walls and the half-fallen towers of the
old enclosure, for the abbey was fortified to resist the Norman
invasions, she has made upon the brow of the hill a garden terrace
filled with roses, myrtles and orange trees, while the green boxes
surrounding them replace the old battlements. In this quarter of the old
domain, I have not interfered with any of these womanly fancies.
She has collected around her all manner of pretty rusticities; all the
comfortable elegancies she could imagine. I have not opposed any system
of hot-air stoves, nor the upholstering of the rooms, nor objected to
mahogany and ebony, wedgwood ware, china in blue designs, and English
plate. For this is the way that middle-aged, and in fact, all reasonable
For myself, I have reserved the refectory and library of the brave
monks, that is, all that overlooks the river. I have not permitted the
least repairing of the walls, which present the complete flora of the
native wild flowers. An arched door, closed by old boards covered with a
remnant of red paint, and opening on the bank, serves me as a private
entrance. A ferry worked by a rope and pulley establishes communication
with an island opposite the abbey, which is verdant with a mass of
osiers, elder bushes and willows. It is here also that my fleet of boats
Seen from without, nothing would indicate a human habitation; the ruins
lie in all the splendor of their downfall.
I have not replaced one stone--walled up one lizard--the house-leek, St.
John's-wort, bell-flower, sea-green saxifrage, woody nightshade and blue
popion flower have engaged in a struggle upon the walls of arabesques,
and carvings which would discourage the most patient ornamental
sculptor. But above all, a marvel of nature attracts your admiring gaze:
it is a gigantic ivy, dating back at least to Richard Coeur de Lion, it
defies by the intricacy of its windings those geneological trees of
Jesus Christ, which are seen in Spanish churches; the top touching the
clouds, and its bearded roots embedded in the bosom of the patriarchal
Abraham; there are tufts, garlands, clusters, cascades of a green so
lustrous, so metallic, so sombre and yet so brilliant, that it seems as
if the whole body of the old building, the whole life of the dead abbey
had passed into the veins of this parasitic friend, which smothers with
its embrace, holding in place one stone, while it dislodges two to plant
its climbing spurs.
You cannot imagine what tufted elegance, what richness of open-work
tracery this encroachment of the ivy throws upon the rather gaunt and
sharp gable-end of the building, which on this front has for ornament
but four narrow-pointed windows, surmounted by three trefoil
The shell of the adjoining building is flanked at its angle by a turret,
which is chiefly remarkable for its spiral stairway and well. The great
poet who invented Gothic cathedrals would, in the presence of this
architectural caprice, ask the question, "Does the tower contain the
well, or the well the tower?" You can decide; you who know everything,
and more besides--except, however, Mlle. de Chateaudun's place of
Another curiosity of the old building is a moucharaby, a kind of balcony
open at the bottom, picturesquely perched above a door, from which the
good fathers could throw stones, beams and boiling oil on the heads of
those tempted to assault the monastery for a taste of their good fare
and a draught of their good wine.
Here I live alone, or in the company of four or five choice books, in a
lofty hall with pointed roof; the points where the ribs intersect being
covered with rosework of exquisite delicacy. This comprises my suite of
apartments, for I never could understand why the little space that is
given one in this world to dream, to sleep, to live, to die in, should
be divided into a set of compartments like a dressing-case. I detest
hedges, partitions and walls like a phalansterian.
To keep off dampness I have had the sides of the market-house, as my
mother calls it, wainscoted in oak to the height of twelve or fifteen
By a kind of gallery with two stairways, I can reach the windows and
enjoy the beauty of the landscape, which is lovely. My bed is a simple
hammock of aloes-fibre, slung in a corner; very low divans, and huge
tapestry arm-chairs, for the rest of the furniture. Hung up on the
wainscoting are pistols, guns, masks, foils, gloves, plastrons,
dumb-bells and other gymnastic equipments. My favorite horse is
installed in the opposite angle, in a box of _bois des iles_, a
precaution that secures him from the brutalizing society of grooms, and
keeps him a horse of the world.
The whole is heated by a cyclopean chimney, which devours a load of wood
at a mouthful, and before which a mastodon might be roasted.
Come, then, dear Roger, I can offer you a friendly ruin, the chapel with
the trefoil quadrilobes.
We will walk together, axe in hand, through my park, which is as dense
and impenetrable as the virgin forests of America, or the jungles of
India. It has not been touched for sixty years, and I have sworn to
break the head of the first gardener who dares to approach it with a
It is glorious to see the abandonment of Nature in this extravagance of
vegetation, this wild luxuriance of flowers and foliage; the trees
stretch out their arms, breed and intertwine in the most fantastic
manner; the branches make a hundred curiously-distorted turns, and
interlace in beautiful disorder; sometimes hanging the red berries of
the mountain-ash among the silver foliage of the aspen.
The rapid slope of the ground produces a thousand picturesque accidents;
the grass, brightened by a spring which at a little distance plays a
thousand pranks over the rocks, flourishes in rich luxuriance; the
burdock, with large velvet leaves, the stinging nettles, the hemlock
with greenish umbels; the wild oats--every weed prospers wonderfully. No
stranger approaches the enclosure, whose denizens are two or three
little deer with tawny coats gleaming through the trees.
This eminently romantic spot would harmonize with your melancholy. Mlle.
de Chateaudun not being in Paris, you have better chance of finding her
Who knows if she has not taken refuge in one of these pretty
bird's-nests embedded in moss and foliage, their half-open blinds
overlooking the limpid flow of the Seine? Come quickly, my dear fellow;
I will not take advantage of your position as I did of Alfred's, to
overwhelm you from my moucharaby with a shower of green frogs, a miracle
which he has not been able to explain to his entire satisfaction. I will
show you an excellent spot to fish for white-bait; nothing calms the
passions so much as fishing with rod and line; a philosophical
recreation which fools have turned into ridicule, as they do everything
else they do not understand.
If the fish won't bite, you can gaze at the bridge, its piers blooming
with wild flowers and lavender; its noisy mills, its arches obstructed
by nets; the church, with its truncated roof; the village covering the
hill-side, and, against the horizon, the sharp line of woody hills.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS _to_ M. EDGAR DE MEILHAN,
Richeport, near Pont de l'Arche (Eure).
GRENOBLE, Hotel of the Prefecture, May 22d 18--.
Do not expect me, dear Edgar, I shall not be at Richeport the 24th. When
shall I? I cannot tell.
I write to you from a bed of pain, bruised, wounded, burnt, half dead.
It served me right, you will say, on learning that I am here for the
commission of the greatest crime that can be tried before your tribunal.
It is only too true--I have saved the life of an ugly woman!
But I saved her at night, when I innocently supposed her beautiful--let
this be the extenuating circumstance. That no delay may attend your
decision, here is the whole story.
Travel from pole to pole--wander to and fro over the world, it is not
impossible, by God's help, to escape the thousand and one annoyances
that are scattered over the surface of this terraqueous globe, but it is
impossible, go where you will, to evade England, the gayest nation to be
found, especially in travelling.
At Rome, this winter, Lord K. told me seriously that he had set out from
London, some years since, with the one object of finding some corner of
the earth on which no foot had ever trod before, and there to fix the
first glorious impress of a British boot. The English occasionally, for
amusement, indulge in such notions.
After having examined a scale of the comparative heights of the
mountains of the universe, he noted the two highest points. Lord K.
first reached the Peruvian Andes, and began to climb the sides of
Chimborazo with that placidity, that sang-froid, which is the
characteristic of an elevated soul instinctively attracted to realms
Reaching the summit with torn feet and bleeding hands, he was about to
fix a conqueror's grasp upon the rock, when he saw in one of the
crevices a heap of visiting-cards, placed there successively, during a
half century, by two or three hundred of his compatriots.
Disappointed but not discouraged, Lord K. drew from his case a shining,
satiny card, and having gravely added it to the many others, began to
descend Chimborazo with the same coolness and deliberation that he had
Half way down he found himself face to face with Sir Francis P., about
to attempt the ascent that Lord K. had just accomplished. Although
alienated by difference of party, they were old friends, dating their
acquaintance, I believe, from the University of Oxford.
Without appearing astonished at so unexpected an encounter, they bowed
politely, and on Chimborazo, as in politics, went their separate ways.
Betrayed by the New World, Lord K. directed his steps towards the Old.
He penetrated the heart of Asia, plunged into the Dobrudja region, and
paused only at the foot of Tschamalouri, upon the borders of Bootan. It
is fair that I should thus visit on you the formidable erudition
inflicted upon me by Milord.
You must know, then, dear Edgar, that the Tschamalouri is the highest
peak of the Himalayan group.
The Jungfrau, Mount Blanc, Mount Cervin, and Mount Rosa, piled one upon
the other, would make at best but a stepping-stone to it. Judge, then,
of Milord's transports in the presence of this giant, whose hoary head
was lost in the clouds! They might rob him of Chimborazo, but
Tschamalouri was his.
After a few days for repose and preparation, one fine morning at
sunrise, behold Milord commencing the ascent, with the proud
satisfaction of a lover who sees his rival dancing attendance in the
antechamber while he glides unseen up the secret stairway with a key to
the boudoir in his pocket.
He journeyed up, and on the first day had passed the region of
tempests. Passing the night in his cloak, he began again his task at the
dawn of day.
Nothing dismayed him--no obstacle discouraged him. He bounded like a
chamois from ridge to ridge, he crawled like a snake and hung like a
vine from the sharp aretes--wounds and lacerations covered his
body--after scorching he froze. The eagles whirled about his head and
flapped their wings in his face. But on he went. His lungs, distended by
the rarified atmosphere, threatened to burst with an explosion akin to a
steamboat's. Finally, after superhuman efforts, bleeding, panting,
gasping for breath, Milord sank exhausted upon the rocks.
What a labor! but what a triumph! what a struggle! but what a conquest!
The thought of being able, the coming winter, to boast of having carved
his name where, until then, God alone had written his.
And Sir Francis! who would not fail to plume himself on the joint favors
of Chimborazo, how humiliated he would be to learn that Lord K., more
fastidious in his amours, more exalted in his ambition, had not, four
thousand fathoms above sea, feared to pluck the rose of Tschamalouri!
I remember that the first night I passed in Rome I heard in my sleep a
mysterious voice murmuring at my pillow: "Rome! Rome! thou art in Rome!"
Milord, shattered, sore and helpless, also heard a charming voice
singing sweetly in his ear: "Thou art stretched full length upon the
summit of Tschamalouri."
This melody insensibly affected him as the balm of Fier-a-Bras. He
rallied, he arose, and with radiant face, sparkling eyes and bosom
swelling with pride, drew a poniard from its sheath and prepared to cut
his name upon the rock. Suddenly he turned pale, his limbs gave way
under him, the knife dropped from his grasp and fell blunted upon the
rocks. What had he seen? What could have happened to so agitate him in
these inaccessible regions?
There, upon the tablet of granite where he was about to inscribe the
name of his ancestors, he read, unhappy man, distinctly read, these two
names distinctly cut in the flint, "William and Lavinia," with the
following inscription, in English, underneath: "Here, July 25th, 1831,
two tender hearts communed."
Surmounting the whole was a flaming double heart pierced by an arrow, an
arrow that then pierced three hearts at once. The rock was covered
besides with more than fifty names, all English, and as many
inscriptions, all English too, of a kindred character to the one he had
read. Milord's first impulse was to throw himself head foremost down the
mountain side; but, fortunately, raising his eyes in his despair, he
discovered a final plateau, so steep that neither cat nor lizard could
climb it. Lord K. became a bird and flew up, and what did he see? Oh,
the vanity of human ambition! Upon the last round of the most gigantic
ladder, extending from earth to heaven, Milord perceived Sir Francis,
who, having just effected the same ascent from the other side of the
colossus, was quietly reading the "Times" and breakfasting upon a chop
and a bottle of porter!
The two friends coolly saluted each other, as they had before done on
the side of Chimborazo; then, with death in his heart, but impassive and
grave, Lord K. silently drew forth a box of conserves, a flask of ale
and a copy of the "Standard." The repast and the two journals being
finished, the tourists separated and descended, each on his own side,
without having exchanged a word.
Lord K. has never forgiven Sir Francis; they accuse each other of
plagiarism, a mortal hatred has sprung up between them, and thus
Tschamalouri finished what politics began.
I had this story from Lord K. himself, who drags out a disenchanted and
gloomy existence, which would put an end to itself had he not in present
contemplation a journey to the moon; still he is half convinced that he
would find Sir Francis there.
Entertain your mother with this story, it would be improved by your
You must agree with me that if the English grow four thousand fathoms
above the sea, the plant must necessarily thrive on the plains and the
low countries. It is acclimated everywhere, like the strawberry, without
possessing its sweet savor.
Italy is, I believe, the land where it best flourishes. There I have
traversed fields of English, sown everywhere, mixed with a few Italians.
But I would have been happy if I had encountered only Englishmen along
my route. Some poet has said that England is a swan's nest in the midst
of the waves. Alas! how few are the swans that come to us at long
intervals, compared with the old ostriches in bristling plumage, and the
young storks with their long, thin necks that flock to us.
When in Rome only a few hours, and wandering through the Campo Vaccino,
I found among the ruins one I did not seek. It was Lady Penock. I had
met her so often that I could not fail to know her name. Edgar, you know
Lady Penock; it is impossible that you should not. But if not, it is
easy for you to picture her to yourself. Take a keepsake, pick out one
of those faces more beautiful than the fairies of our dreams, so lovely
that it might be doubted whether the painter found his model among the
daughters of earth. Passionate lover of form, feast your eye upon the
graceful curve of that neck, those shoulders; gaze upon that pure brow
where grace and youth preside; bathe your soul in the soft brightness of
that blue and limpid glance; bend to taste the perfumed breath of that
smiling mouth; tremble at the touch of those blonde tresses, twined in
bewildering mazes behind the head and falling over the temples in waving
masses; fervent worshipper at the shrine of beauty, fall into ecstasies;
then imagine the opposite of this charming picture, and you have Lady
This apparition, in the centre of the ancient forum, completely upset my
meditations. J.J. Rousseau says in his Confessions that he forgot Mme.
de Larnage in seeing the Pont du Gard. So I forgot the Coliseum at the
sight of Lady Penock. Explain, dear Edgar, what fatality attended my
steps, that ever afterwards this baleful beauty pursued me?
Under the arches of the Coliseum, beneath the dome of St. Peter, in
Pagan Rome and in Catholic Rome, in front of the Laocoeon, before the
Communion of St. Jerome, by Dominichino, on the banks of Lake Albano,
under the shades of the Villa Borghese, at Tivoli in the Sibyl's temple,
at Subiaco in the Convent of St. Benoit, under every moon and by every
sun I saw her start up at my side. To get away from her I took flight
and travelled post to Tuscany. I found her at the foot of the falls of
Terni, at the tomb of St. Francis d'Assise, under Hannibal's gate at
Spoletta, at the table d'hote Perouse at Arezzo, on the threshold of
Petrarch's house; finally, the first person I met in the Piazza of the
Grand Duke at Florence, before the Perseus of Benvenuto Cellini, Edgar,
was Lady Penock. At Pisa she appeared to me in the Campo Santo; in the
Gulf of Genoa her bark came near capsizing mine; at Turin I found her at
the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities; her and no one else! And, what was
so amusing, my Lady on seeing me became agitated, blushed and looked
down, and believing herself the object of an ungovernable passion, she
mumbled through her long teeth, "Shocking! Shocking!"
Tired of war, I bade adieu to Italy and crossed the mountains; besides,
dear country, I sighed to see you once more. I passed through Savoy and
when I saw the mountains of Dauphiny loom up against the distant horizon
my heart beat wildly, my eyes filled with tears, and I felt like a
returning exile, and know not what false pride restrained me from
springing to the ground and kissing the soil of France!
Hail! noble and generous land, the home of intelligence and of liberty!
On touching thee the soul swells within us, the mind expands; no child
of thine can return to thy bosom without a throb of holy joy, a feeling
of noble pride. I passed along filled with delirious happiness. The
trees smiled on me, the winds whispered softly in my ear, the little
flowers that carpeted the wayside welcomed me; it required an effort to
restrain myself from embracing as brothers the noble fellows that passed
me on the way.
Then, Edgar, I was to find you again, and it was the spot of my
birthplace, the paternal acres which in our common land seem to us a
The night was dark, no moon, no stars; I had just left Grenoble and was
passing through Voreppe, a little village not without some importance
because in the neighborhood of the Grande Chartreuse, which, at this
season of the year, attracts more curiosity-hunters than
believers--suddenly the horses stopped, I heard a rumbling noise
outside, and a crimson glare lighted up the carriage windows. I might
have taken it for sunset, if the sun had not set long since.
I got out and found the only inn of the village on fire; great was the
confusion in the small hamlet, there was a general screaming, struggling
and running about. The innkeeper with his wife, children, and servants
emptied the stables and barns. The horses neighed, the oxen bellowed,
and the pigs, feeling that they were predestined to be roasted anyhow,
offered to their rescuers an obstinate and philosophical resistance.
Meantime the notables of the place, formed in groups, discussed
magisterially the origin of a fire which no one made an effort to stay.
Left alone, it brightened the night, fired the surrounding hills and
shot its jets and rockets of sparks far into the sky. You, a poet, would
have thought it fine. Sublime egotist that you are, everything is
effect, color, mirages, decorations. Endeavoring to make myself useful
in this disaster, I thought I heard it whispered around me that some
travellers remained in the inn, who, if not already destroyed, were
Among others a young stranger was mentioned who had come that day from
the Grande Chartreuse, which she had been visiting. I went straight to
the innkeeper who was dragging one of his restive pigs by the tail,
reminding me of one of the most ridiculous pictures of Charlet. "All
right," said the man, "all the travellers are gone, and as to those who
remain--" "Then some do remain?" I asked, and by insisting learned that
an Englishwoman occupied a room in the second story.
I hate England--I hate it absurdly, in true, old-fashioned style. To me
England is still "Perfidious Albion."
You may laugh, but I hate in proportion to the love I bear my country. I
hate because my heart has always bled for the wounds she has opened in
the bosom of France. Yes, but coward is he who has the ability to save a
fellow-creature, yet folds his arms, deaf to pity! My enemy in the jaws
of death is my brother. If need be I would jump into the flood to save
Sir Hudson Lowe, free to challenge him afterwards, and try to kill him
as I would a dog.
The ground-floor of the inn was enveloped in flames. I took a ladder,
and resting it against the sill, I mounted to the window that had been
pointed out to me. On the hospitable soil of France a stranger must not
perish for want of a Frenchman to save him. Like Anthony, with one blow
I broke the glass and raised the sash; I found myself in a passage that
the fire had not reached. I sprang towards a door.--an excited voice
said, "Don't come in." I entered, looked around for the young stranger,
and, immortal gods! what did I see? In the charming neglige of a beauty
suddenly awakened,--you are right, it was she. Yes, my dear fellow, it
was Lady Penock--Lady Penock, who recognised and screamed furiously!
"Madame," said I, turning away with a sincere and proper feeling of
respect, "you are mistaken. The house is on fire, and if you do not
leave it"--"You! you!" she cried, "have set fire to it, like Lovelace,
to carry me off." "Madame," said I, "we have no time to lose." The floor
smoked under our feet, the rafters cracked over our heads, the flames
roared at the door, delay was dangerous; so, in spite of the eternal
refrain that sounded like the crying of a bird,--"Shocking! shocking!" I
dragged Lady Penock from behind the bed where she cowered to escape my
wild embraces, picked her up as if she were a stick of dry wood, and
bearing the precious burden, appeared at the top of the ladder.
Meanwhile the fire raged, the flames and the smoke enveloped us on all
sides. "For pity's sake, madame," said I, "don't scream and kick so." My
lady screamed all the louder and struggled all the worse. When half way
down the ladder she said, "Young man, go back immediately, I have
forgotten something very valuable to me." At these words the roof fell
in, the walls crumbled away, the ladder shook, the earth opened under my
feet, and I felt as if I were falling into the abyss of Taenarus.
I awoke, under an humble roof whose poor owner had received me.
I had a fracture of my shoulder, and three doctors by my side. I have
known many men to die with less. As for Lady Penock, I learned with
satisfaction of her escape, barring a sprained ankle; she had departed
indignant at the impertinence of my conduct, and to the people who had
charitably suggested to her to instal herself as a gray nun at the
bedside of her preserver, she said, coloring angrily, "Oh, I should die
if I were to see that young man again."
Be reassured, France has again atoned for Albion. My adventure having
made some noise, a few days after the fire Providence came into my room
and sat beside my bed in the shape of a noble woman named Madame de
It appears that M. de Braimes has been, for a year past, prefect of
Grenoble; that he knew my father intimately, and my name sufficed to
bring these two noble beings to my side.
As soon as I could bear the motion of a carriage, they took me from
Voreppe, and I am now writing to you, my dear Edgar, from the hotel of
I received in Florence the last letter you directed to me at Rome. What
a number of questions you ask, and how am I to answer them all?
Don't speak to me of Jerusalem, Cedron, Lebanon, Palmyra and Baalbec, or
anything of the sort. Read over again Rene's Guide-book, Jocelyn's
Travels, the Orientales of Olympio, and you will know as much about the
East as I do, though I have been there, according to your account, for
the last two years. However, I have performed all the commissions you
gave me, on the eve of my departure, three years ago. I bring you pipes
from Constantinople, to your mother chaplets from Bethlehem--only I
bought the pipes at Leghorn, and the chaplets at Rome.
Do you remember a cold, rainy December evening in Paris, eighteen months
ago, when I should have been on the borders of Afghanistan, or the
shores of the Euphrates, you were walking along the quays, between
eleven o'clock and midnight, walking rapidly, wrapped like a Castilian
in the folds of your cloak?
Do you remember that between the Pont Neuf and the Pont Saint Michel you
stumbled against a young man, enveloped likewise in a cloak, and
following rapidly the course of the Seine in a direction opposite to
yours? The shock was violent, and nailed us both to the spot. Do you
remember that having scrutinized each other under the gaslight, you
exclaimed, "Raymond," and opened your arms to embrace me; then, seeing
the cold and reserved attitude of him who stood silently before you, how
you changed your mind and went your way, laughing at the mistake but
struck by the resemblance?
The resemblance still exists; the young man that you called Raymond, was
One more story, and I have done. I will tell it without pride or
pretence, a thing so natural, so simple, that it is neither worth
boasting of nor concealing.
You know Frederick B. You remember that I have always spoken of him as a
brother. We played together in the same cradle; we grew up, as it were,
under the same roof. At school I prepared his lessons: out of gratitude
he ate my sugar-plums. At college I performed his tasks and fought his
battles. At twenty, I received a sword-thrust in my breast on his
account. Later he plunged into matrimony and business, and we lost sight
of, without ceasing to love each other. I knew that he prospered, and I
asked nothing more. As for myself, tired of the sterile life I was
leading, called fashionable life, I turned my fortune into ready money,
and prepared to set out on a long journey.
The day of my departure--I had bidden you good-bye the evening
before--Frederick entered my room. A year had nearly passed since we
had met; I did not know that he was in Paris. I found him changed; his
preoccupied air alarmed me. However, I concealed my anxiety. We cannot
treat with too much reserve and delicacy the sadness of our married
friends. As he talked, two big tears rolled silently down his cheeks. I
had to speak.
"What is the matter?" I asked abruptly; and I pressed him with
questions, tormented him until he told me all. Bankruptcy was at his
door; and he spoke of his wife and children in such heart-rending terms,
that I mingled my tears with his, thinking of course that I was not rich
enough to give him the money he needed.
"My poor Frederic," I finally said, "is it such a very large amount?" He
replied with a gesture of despair. "Come, how much?" I asked again.
"Five hundred thousand francs!" he cried, in a gloomy stupor. I arose,
took him by the arm, and under the pretext of diverting him, drew him on
the boulevards. I left him at the door of my notary and joined him on
coming out. "Frederick," I said, giving him a line I had just written,
"take that and hasten to embrace your wife and children." Then I jumped
into a cab which carried me home; my journey was over. I returned from
Dupe! I hear you say, Ah, no, Edgar! I am young and I understand men,
but there dwell in them both the good and the beautiful, and to expect
to derive any other satisfaction than that found in cultivating these
qualities has always seemed to me to be an unreasonable expectation.
What! you, as a poet, enjoy the intoxication of inspiration, the feast
of solitude, the silence of serene and starry nights and that does not
satisfy you; you would have fortune hasten to the sound of the Muses'
What! as a generous man, you can enjoy the delights of giving and only
sow a field of benefits in the hope of reaping some day the golden
harvest of gratitude!
Of what do you complain? wretched man! You are the ingrate. Besides,
even with this view, be convinced, dear Edgar, that the good and the
beautiful are still two of the best speculations that can be made here
below, and nothing in the world succeeds better than fine verses and
noble deeds. Only wicked hearts and bad poets dare to affirm the
contrary. For myself, experience has taught me that self-abnegation is
profit enough to him who exercises it, and disinterestedness is a
blossom of luxury that well cultivated bears most savory fruit. I
encountered fortune in turning my back on her. I owe to Lady Penock the
touching care and precious friendship of Madame de Braimes, and if this
system of remuneration continue I shall end by believing that in
throwing myself into the gulf of Curtius I would fall upon a bed of
The fact is, I was ruined, but whoever could have seen me at the moment
would have said I was overcome with delight. I must tell you all, Edgar;
I pictured to myself the transports of Frederick and his wife on seeing
the abyss that was about to engulf them so easily closed; these sweet
images alone did not cause my wild delight; would you believe it, the
thought of my ruin and poverty intoxicated me more. I had suffered for a
long time from an unoccupied youth, and was indignant at my uneventful
life. At twenty I quietly assumed a position prepared for me; to play
this part in the world I had taken the trouble to be born; to gather the
fruits of life I had only to stretch out my hand. Irritated at the
quietude of my days, wearied with a happiness that cost me nothing, I
sought heroic struggles, chivalrous encounters, and not finding them in
a well-regulated society, where strong interests have been substituted
for strong passions, I fretted in secret and wept over my impotence.
But now my hour was come! I was about to put my will, strength and
courage to the proof. I was about to wrest from study the secrets of
talent. I was about to reclaim from labor the fortune I had given away,
and which I owed to chance. Until that deed I had only been the son of
my father, the heir of my ancestors; now I was to become the child of my
own deeds. The prisoner who sees his chains fall off and sends to
heaven a wild shout of liberty, does not feel a deeper joy than I felt
when ready to struggle with destiny I could exclaim, "I am poor!"
I have seen everywhere _blase_ young men, old before their time, who,
according to their own account, have known and exhausted every pleasure;
have felt the nothingness of human things. 'Tis true these young
unfortunates have tried everything but labor and devotion to some holy
There remained of my patrimony fifteen thousand francs, which were laid
aside to defray my travelling expenses. This, with a very moderate
revenue accruing from two little farms, contiguous to the castle of my
father, made up my possessions.
Putting the best face on things, supposing I might recover my fortune,
an event so uncertain that it were best not to count on it, I wisely
traced the line of duty with a firm hand and joyous heart.
I decided immediately that I would not undeceive my friends as to my
departure, and that I would employ, in silence and seclusion, the time I
was supposed to be spending abroad.
Not that it did not occur to me to proclaim boldly what I had done, for
in a country where a dozen wretches are every year publicly beheaded for
the sake of example, perhaps it would be well also, for example's sake,
to do good publicly. To do this, however, would have been to compromise
Frederick's credit, who, besides, would never have accepted my sacrifice
if he could have measured its extent.
I could have retired to my estates; but felt no inclination to make an
exposure of my poverty to the comments of a charitable province; nor had
I taste for the life of a ruined country squire.
Besides, solitude was essential to my plans, and solitude is impossible
out of Paris; one is never really lost save in a crowd. I soon found in
the Masario a little room very near the clouds, but brightened by the
rising sun, overlooking a sea of verdure marked here and there by a few
northern pines, with their gloomy and motionless branches.
This nest pleased me. I furnished it simply, filled it with books and
hung over my bed the portrait of my sainted mother, who seemed to smile
on and encourage me, while you, Frederick and others believed me
steaming towards the shores of the East; and here I quietly installed
myself, prouder and more triumphant than a soldier of fortune taking
possession of a kingdom.
Edgar, these two years I really lived--. In that little room I spent
what will remain, I very much fear, the purest, the brightest, the best
period of my whole life. I am not of much account now, formerly I was
nothing; the little good that is in me was developed in those two years
of deep vigils. I thought, reflected, suffered and nourished myself with
the bread of the strong. I initiated myself into the stern delights of
study, the austere joys of poverty.
O! days of labor and privation, beautiful days! Where have you gone?
Holy enchantments, shall I ever taste you again? Silent and meditative
nights! when at the first glimmer of dawn I saw the angel of revery
alight at my side, bend his beautiful face over me, and fold my wearied
limbs in his white wings; blissful nights! will you ever return?
If you only knew the life I led through these two years! If you knew
what dreams visited me in that humble nest by the dim light of the lamp,
you would be jealous of them, my poet!
The days were passed in serious study. At evening I took my frugal
repast, in winter, by the hearth, in summer by the open window. In
December I had guests that kings might have envied. Hugo, George Sand,
Lamartine, De Musset, yourself, dear Edgar. In April I had the soft
breezes, the perfume of the lilacs, the song of the birds warbling among
the branches, and the joyous cries of the children playing in the
distant alleys, while the young mothers passed slowly through the fresh
grass, their faces wreathed with sweet smiles, like the happy shadows
that wander through the Elysian fields.
Sometimes on a dark night I would venture into the streets of Paris, my
hat drawn over my eyes to keep out the glare of gas. On one of these
solitary rambles I met you. Imagine the courage I required not to rush
into your open arms. I returned frequently along the quays, listening to
the confused roar, like the distant swell of the ocean, made by the
great city before falling to sleep, listening to the murmurs of the
river and gazing at the moon like a burning disk from the furnace,
slowly rising behind the towers of Notre Dame.
Often I prowled under the windows of my friends, stopping at yours to
send you a good-night.
Returning home I would rekindle my fire and begin anew my labors,
interrupted from time to time by the bells of the neighboring convents
and the sound of the hours striking sadly in the darkness.
O! nights more beautiful than the day. It was then that I felt germinate
and flourish in my heart a strange love.
Opposite me, beyond the garden that separated us, was a window, in a
story on a level with mine; it was hid during the day by the tall pines,
but its light shone clear and bright through the foliage. This lamp was
lit invariably at the same hour every evening and was rarely
extinguished before dawn. There, I thought, one of God's poor creatures
works and suffers. Sometimes I rose from my desk to look at this little
star twinkling between heaven and earth, and with my brow pressed
against the pane gazed sadly at it.
In the beginning it excited me to watch, and I made it a point of honor
never to extinguish my lamp as long as the rival lamp was burning; at
last it became the friend of my solitude, the companion of my destiny. I
ended by giving it a soul to understand and answer me. I talked to it; I
questioned. I sometimes said, "Who art thou?"
Now I imagined a pale youth enamored with glory, and called him my
brother. Then it was a young and lovely Antigone, laboring to sustain
her old father, and I called her my sister, and by a sweeter name too.
Finally, shall I tell you, there were moments when I fancied that the
light of our fraternal lamps was but the radiance of two mysterious
sympathies, drawn together to be blended into one.
One must have passed two years in solitude to be able to comprehend
these puerilities. How many prisoners have become attached to some
wall-flower, blooming between the bars of their cell, like the Marvel of
Peru of the garden, which closes to the beams of day to open its petals
to the kisses of the evening; the flower that I loved was a star.
Anxiously I watched its awakening, and could not repose until it had
disappeared. Did it grow dim and flicker, I cried--"Courage and hope!
God blesses labor, he keeps for thee a purer and brighter seat in
Did I in turn feel sad, it threw out a brighter light and a voice said,
"Hope, friend, I watch and suffer with thee!" No! I cannot but believe
now that between that lamp and mine there passed an electric current, by
which two hearts, created for each other, communicated with and
understood their mutual pulsations. Of course I tried to find the house
and room from whence shone my beloved light, but each day I received a
new direction that contradicted the one they gave before; so I concluded
that the occupant of this room had an object, like myself, in
concealment, and I respected his secret.
Thus my life glided by--so much happiness lasted too short a time!
The gods and goddesses of Olympus had a messenger named Iris, who
carried their billets-doux from star to star. We mortals have a fairy in
our employ that leaves Iris far behind; this fairy is called the post;
dwell upon the summit of Tschamalouri, and some fine morning you will
see the carrier arrive with his box upon his shoulder, and a letter to
your address. One evening, on returning from one of those excursions I
told you of, I found at my porter's a letter addressed to me. I never
receive letters without a feeling of terror. This, the only one in two
years, had a formidable look; the envelope was covered with odd-looking
signs, and the seal of every French consulate in the East; under this
multitude of stamps was written in large characters--"In haste--very
important." The square of paper I held in my hand had been in search of
me from Paris to Jerusalem, and from consulate to consulate, had
returned from Jerusalem to Paris, to the office of the Minister of
Foreign Affairs. There they had let loose some blood-hounds of the
police, who with their usual instinct followed my tracks and discovered
my abode in less than a day.
I glanced first at the signature, and saw Frederick's name; I vow,
unaffectedly, that for two years I had not thought of his affairs, and
his letter brought me the first news of him.
After a preamble, devoted entirely to the expression of an exaggerated
gratitude, Frederick announced with a flourish of trumpets, that Fortune
had made magnificent reparation for her wrongs to him; he had saved his
honor and strengthened his tottering credit. From which time forward he
had prospered beyond his wildest hopes. In a few months he gained, by a
rise in railroad stocks, fabulous sums. He concluded with the
information that, having interested me in his fortunate speculations, my
capital was doubled, and that I now possessed a clear million, which I
owed to no one. At the end of this letter, bristling with figures and
terms that savoured of money, were a few simple, touching lines from
Frederick's wife, which went straight to my heart, and brought tears to
When I had read the letter through, I took a long survey of my little
room, where I had lived so happily; then, sitting upon the sill of the
open window, whence I could see my faithful star shine peacefully in the
darkness, I remained until morning, absorbed in sad and melancholy
Fortune has its duties as well as poverty. _Comme noblesse, fortune
If I were really so rich, I could not, ought not to live as I had done.
After a few days, I went to Frederick, who believed that I had suddenly
been brought from Jerusalem by his letter, and I allowed him to rest in
that belief, not wishing to add to a gratitude that already seemed
Excuse the particulars, I was a veritable millionaire; I call Heaven to
witness that my first impulse was to go in search of my beloved beacon,
to relieve, if possible, the unfortunate one to whom it gave light.
But then I thought so industrious a being was certainly proud, and I
paused, fearing to offend a noble spirit.
One month later, a night in May, I saw extinguished one by one, the
thousand lights of the neighboring houses. Two single lamps burned in
the gloom; they were the two old friends. For some time I stood gazing
at the bright ray shining through the foliage, and when I felt upon my
brow the first chill of the morning breeze, I cried in my saddened
"Farewell! farewell, little star, benign ray, beloved companion of my
solitude! At this hour to-morrow, my eyes will seek but find thee not.
And thou, whosoever thou art, working and suffering by that pale gleam,
adieu, my sister! adieu, my brother! pursue thy destiny, watch and pray;
may God shorten the time of thy probation."
I bade also to my little room, not an eternal farewell, for I have kept
it since, and will keep it all my life. I do not wish that while I live
strangers shall scare away such a covey of beautiful dreams as I left in
that humble nest.
To see it again is one of the liveliest pleasures that my return to
Paris offers. I shall find everything in the same order as when I left;
but will the little star shine from the same corner of the heavens?
Thanks to Frederick's care my affairs were in order, and I set out
immediately for Rome, because when one is expected from the end of the
world one must at least return from somewhere.
Such is, dear Edgar, the history of my journeys and my love affairs.
Keep them sacred. We are all so worthless, that, when one of us does
some good by chance, he should remain silent for fear of humiliating his
My health once established, I shall go to my mountains of Creuse and
then come to you. Do not expect me until July; at that time Don Quixote
will make his appearance under the apple trees of Richeport, provided,
however, he is not caught up on this route by Lady Penock or some
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ MONSIEUR DE MEILHAN,
PARIS, 24th May, 18--,
Your letter did me good, my dear Edgar, because it came unexpected, from
the domain of epistolary consolation. From any friend but you I would
have received a sympathizing re-echo of my own accents of despair. From
you I looked for a tranquillizing sedative, and you surprise me with a
Your charming philosophy has indeed invented for mortals a remedy
unknown to the four faculties.
Thanks to you, I breathe freely this morning. 'Tis necessary for us to
take breath during ardent crises of despair. A deep breath brings back
the power of resignation to our hearts. Yet I am not duped by your too
skilful friendship. I clearly perceive the interest you take in my
situation in spite of your artistically labored adroitness to conceal
it. This knowledge induces me to write you the second chapter of my
history, quite sure that you will read it with a serious brow and answer
it with a smiling pen.
Young people of your disposition, either from deep calculation or by
happy instinct, substitute caprice for passion; they amuse themselves by
walking by the side of love, but never meet it face to face. For them
women exist, but never one woman. This system with them succeeds for a
season, sometimes it lasts for ever. I have known some old men who made
this scheme the glory of their lives, and who kept it up from mere force
of habit till their heads were white.
You, my dear Edgar, will not have the benefit of final impenitence. At
present the ardor of your soul is tempered by the suave indolence of
Love is the most merciless and wearisome of all labors, and you are far
too lazy to toil at it. When you suddenly look into the secret depths
of your _self_, you will be frightened by discovering the germ of a
serious passion; then you will try to escape on the wings of fancy to
the realms of easy and careless pleasure. The fact of my having
penetrated, unknown to you, this secret recess of your soul, makes me
venture to confide my sorrows to you; continue to laugh at them, your
railing will be understood, while friendship will ignore the borrowed
mask and trust in the faithful face beneath.